Kaidan stiffened at the voice. He had somehow known that he would hear it before this cruise was over. Mentally, he calculated how much further it was to the Citadel. They were only forty-five minutes out at most. He would have to help with the approach fifteen minutes prior to their arrival. As the superior officer in charge of a rescue operation, Alliance protocols would require him to be present alongside the captain of the VanGogh in checking in for clearance.
That meant that at most, he only had a half an hour left until he had work to do again, work to keep him busy and numb. Just one half hour. Kaidan took a breath and lied:
“Doctor T’Soni, I really don’t have time to talk.”
“Kaidan, please,” the asari begged in her soft voice.
“That’s Lieutenant Alenko,” he said stiffly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice breaking. “She called you Kaidan, didn’t she?”
Kaidan felt as though someone had slapped him across the face. All this kindness, this worry: it was going to make him crack. He simply couldn’t take it.
“Doctor,” he snapped, “I understand that your degree is not in medicine, but we have injured people down in the cargo bay and I deliberately asked you to help Doctor Chakwas look out for them. I need you to get back to your duties.”
Liara lifted her chin. “Lieutenant Alenko,” she said, her voice wavering, “We have to go back. We have to search for Shepard – for her body, at least. She might be…”
“You don’t know that,” Liara pleaded. “We never saw what happened to her.”
“Joker saw,” Kaidan spat both words as if they were bitter to the taste.
“He thought he saw. But he could be mistaken.”
When Kaidan started to walk away, Liara followed him down the hallway, calling after him.
“There’s something wrong here, Kaidan. That ship found us in the middle of nowhere when we were hidden by the stealth systems. That ship kept coming back and back and shot at the ship, but it never once took aim at the escape pods. It was like it knew Shepard was on board. And then it left the moment she was gone. I think it was trying to kill her .”
“Why?” Kaidan whirled on Liara. “To what end? To take out Shep –” He found he could not finish. He shook his head, hard. “That makes no sense.”
“The Reapers must be frightened of her. Perhaps they sent an agent to kill her.”
“That’s impossible! They’re in dark space. They couldn’t possibly know what happened at the Citadel. They couldn’t possibly have found her.”
“But what if they have? If they get hold of her body…”
“Don’t talk about her body!” Kaidan shouted. He could feel his control slipping, his biotics flaring. He took a breath, regathered his will, then went cold again.
“I need to get ready to dock,” he said. “This is going to be a nightmare of paperwork.”
“Paperwork?” Liara cried. She stared at him, appalled. “The woman who loved you is dead and all you can think of is paperwork ?”
“You don’t know a damn thing about it!” Kaidan whirled on her, and actually faced her for the first time. “You don’t know what we had between us. You don’t know anything at all about what she was to me.” He caught his breath and glared at her. For a moment, the strangest look passed over her face.
“At least you were something to her,” Liara said, her eyes going strangely dead. “She was everything to me and I was never more than a friend to her.”
“Liara,” Kaidan sighed, squeezing his eyes shut. He couldn’t do this, not now, not with his control so very close to snapping. “Please go and help Doctor Chakwas.”
“We need to find her,” Liara said, looking at him with something like desperation in her eyes. “We have to bring her back.”
“There is no bringing her back,” Kaidan said though gritted teeth. “She’s gone. When people die, they’re gone, and they don’t come back.” He choked on the last word. It turned to a sob in his mouth, and he had to swallow hard to keep the tears from falling. Then sorrow turned to cold anger and he forced the feelings back down.
“I have to go,” he said. Liara’s eyes filled with tears and those tears started to fall. Kaidan turned away. He walked to the door, then added softly:
“I’m sorry, Liara.”