The rescue took an eternity.
It was hours before someone responded to the distress call, then several more hours before a ship arrived to collect them. In the meantime, the pods simply drifted in space, gently turning this way and that, now looking out on the wreckage of the Normandy and the cold stars beyond, now looking down at the ice planet, Alchera, below.
When the shining orb came into view, Kaidan closed his eyes behind his mask. He could not look at the world that had pulled Shepard down into its orbit. He could scarcely stand to look at the worried faces of the rest of the crew.
When the rescue ships finally arrived, Kaidan directed the rescue operation via the comm link in his pod. He was glad to have something to occupy him. The work gave him ground under his feet and allowed him to walk again. Walking was better than floating.
When his pod was brought into the hold of the SSV VanGogh, Kaidan was the first of the Normandy crew to step onto the carrier. He went through the elaborate ritual of greeting the captain and asking for permission to come aboard. He acted as if on auto pilot. He turned to the medics on hand and assessed the situation in terms of injuries. He began to work down the list he’d created in his head of what needed to be done, what a commanding officer had to do to ensure the safety of the remaining crew.
The worst part was when the other pods were brought in and opened. The moment she stumbled out of the airlock, Liara tried to speak to him about Shepard. Garrus did the same. Kaidan brushed them aside, his voice cold as the planet they now left behind. He saw the hurt in their eyes, but he could not bring himself to deal with it. He had too much hurt of his own. To stop and tend their wounds would mean to open his own.
The worst moment was when Joker’s pod was brought aboard – Joker’s pod which should have held Shepard as well.
Kaidan couldn’t look Joker in the eye. The helmsman had been his best friend after Shepard on the Normandy and yet he simply couldn’t look at him. All he could do was hold Wrex and Garrus back when the two aliens looked ready to rip Joker apart for having stayed on the ship, for having forced Shepard to go and save him.
Kaidan heard himself break up the fight, even as he didn’t look into the eyes of any of the people he was speaking to. He ordered Joker to get himself to the med bay. He heard Joker cussing as two soldiers dragged him off when he refused to go. Kaidan heard himself tell everyone else to settle in and then he went to work.
He oversaw the treatment of the injured, went up to the bridge to make a formal report to the Alliance; he sent a message to Captain Anderson as well and then went to talk to the captain of the VanGogh about where to drop off his crew. He kept creating lists in his mind of what needed to be done next and then checked the items off of his lists as efficiently as any machine. When the lists grew short, he made new ones.
And in all that time, Kaidan never took off his mask.
Behind it, he could hide his eyes, eyes he was sure were bloodshot and full of tears. If anyone could see the devastation in his face, they might mirror it back, and he would be forced to face the feelings that were roiling inside of him.
And he could not do that. He owed it to Shepard to get everyone back to safety. It was what Shepard would have wanted. It was what she had died trying to do.
It was all that he could do for her now.