Kaidan snapped his head up, then frowned. His desk was half-buried in datapads. He switched off his omnitool and and stood.
“Dr. T’Soni,” he said, stiffly.
“I’m sorry, Commander Alenko,” she said, twisting her fingers inside of her gloves. “I keep forgetting…”
She didn’t finish, because she didn’t have to say it: They had never gone by titles before.
But then, they had never had a grave standing between them before, either.
” I know what death can do to people. Having a death in the family - it can tear people apart. All that sorrow and guilt…”
“You mean that because we couldn’t save Ashley, you’re afraid that we might drift apart?”
“Yes, exactly. You were so cold, today. I know you did it because you needed to get through it all, but please…We lost Ash. Please don’t make me lose you, too. Don’t pull away from me, Shepard.”
Kaidan remembered that conversation as though it had happened just minutes ago, not months ago. When Ashley had died, he’d worried that he would lose Shepard in the whirlwind that so often follows grief.
He knew that storm well. When his own mother died, he and his father had been tossed to sea in different directions. Kaidan had already been labeled a biotic, was far away at a training program that his parents never knew the details of. There was nothing to tie the lonely, grieving boy out on Jump Zero to the devastated, grieving man back on Earth. When father and son saw one another again, they found they had nothing in common.
Kaidan felt the same thing was happening with the Normandy’s crew. Shepard had been their hub, their center. The moment she was removed, the wheel had not only stopped turning – it had shattered entirely.
And Kaidan had been shattered along with it.
After the funeral, he had woken the next morning feeling like an exploded bomb. It had taken two days of lying there with a migraine before the pain went away. It was another day before he had managed to crawl back out of the barracks and get to work. He had welcomed the Alliance’s red tape in a strange way, if only because cutting through it to authorize a search for the Normandy’s wreckage had kept him busy all this while.
He had finally made some progress, too. He had finished a compilation of the data salvaged from the surviving crew’s omnitools. And as of this morning, he had even gotten the Alliance to authorize a search for the Normandy’s black box. Once he had that, he would be able to figure out who was to blame for the attack. Then he’d submit a report to the Alliance and they would authorize a team to go after those responsible. Hopefully, they’d send *him * to take the bastards down.
Kaidan supposed it wasn’t as flashy a revenge as Shepard deserved, but given how little he knew, it was the best he could do. Kaidan knew that Wrex and Garrus, in particular, thought he ought to rush off and shoot whatever and whoever might be behind the attack, but Kaidan wanted to get his facts straight first. Last he had heard of Wrex, the krogran had left the Citadel for his home world. And Garrus had apparently left his C-Sec posting after flipping his boss the turian equivalent of the bird and told the officers that he would go out and “actually do some good instead of sitting behind a desk.”
Kaidan supposed sitting behind a desk included him these days, but it was better than moping about in the barracks. He’d been working out, of course, because he wanted to be ready when the Alliance finally gave him the go-ahead to seek out the Normandy’s attackers. But he had been inside most of the time, reading in low light, squinting at corrupt data on his omnitool. The result was that his headaches had been bothering him again. He wanted to blame that on work, on the lack of use his biotics were getting these days. But he suspected it was mostly due to the lack of a certain biotic whose presence had been like cool water to him. Then again, Shepard had been both a calming presence and a biotic workout. When she was around, he ended up fighting a lot – and doing other things that tested his powers to the limit.
Kaidan shoved the thought of Shepard from his mind. He couldn’t bear to think of her. Not now. Not for a long time yet.
Kaidan cleared his throat and looked at the asari before him. Liara looked as though she was about to cry. She had always looked a little teary-eyed to him, but now there was an added restlessness to her, a sort of wild desperation only barely held in check. Kaidan could sense it in her biotic frequencies as well – a kind of crackling under the surface of her usually calm control.
Kaidan took a breath. This conversation was likely going to be unpleasant and long. But he would do his best to weather it. He couldn’t very well ignore her now.
“Have a seat,” he said.
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I am not going to stay long.”
Kaidan raised an eyebrow. That was odd. Liara had sent him so many long-winded emails that he’d expected a speech about how he just *had * to go and find Shepard’s body. So if she wasn’t here for that…
“What’s going on?” he asked, frowning.
“Kaidan,” he said, pinching his nose. “Just pick a name and go with it. What’s going on?”
She paused and bit her lip.
“I think the Reapers were behind that attack,” she said.
Kaidan frowned. “You mentioned that before, but from what data I pieced together of the ship that attacked us, it wasn’t a Reaper.”
“No,” Liara said. “I think it was their agents.”
“Maybe,” Kaidan seemed to process that. “But that’s unlikely. Who would their agents be?”
“I don’t know,” Liara admitted. “Do you have any idea?”
“I don’t think it was agents of the Reapers,” Kaidan said, bitterly. “I think it was Cerberus.”
“Cerberus?” Liara gasped. “Why do you say that?”
“Because Shepard took out so many of their crazy projects, they’d have to be carrying a grudge against her. And just look at this. The ship that attacked us is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Kaidan picked up a datapad and held it up for her to see. A granular picture of what appeared to be a rock flickered on the screen.
“Cerberus used to be Alliance before they went rogue. So they could have had access to records about the stealth systems of the Normandy. But as they’re privately funded now, they have access to advanced technology we know nothing about and they can keep that technology secret. This ship is like nothing in the Alliance files, not even the classified ones. Cerberus has the resources to develop…”
“Cerberus didn’t do that,” Liara said.
Kaidan eyed her over the datapad. “How do you know?” he asked.
Liara started, then licked her lips. “Kaidan,” she said. “I am going to go away for a while.”
“Oh,” he said. “Okay.” He set the datapad down. “So this is goodbye?”
“Yes,” Liara nodded. “And it’s also…” She stopped, then lifted her head to look him in the eye.
“What do you want for her, Kaidan?”
“What?” he frowned. “What do you mean?”
“What do you want for Shepard?”
Kaidan felt his gut churning, the way it did every time he actually had to think about Shepard. Thinking about ships, about the mystery of the attack, that circled near enough to her to feel that he was doing something, but it kept him from actually having to think of her. Liara turned him toward that question though and he found he did not have a clear answer.
“I don’t know,” he said at last. “I’m not really all that religious. But I gathered that she was, in her own way. I would want her to be well, to be with her God and with Ashley and to be – happy.” He stopped, realizing that his answer sounded trite to his own ears, yet unable to think of anything else he could add to it.
He looked up to find Liara’s eyes had filled with tears.
“What if she came back?” Liara asked in a strained voice.
“People don’t come back,” Kaidan said. He shut his mind off to the very idea. It was crazy. Thinking about it would drive him insane. He refused to even allow it to register in his brain.
“But if…” Liara began. “If she could…”
“Liara,” he said, “You have to move on.”
“Have *you * moved on, Kaidan?” she asked.
He found a lump forming in his throat. The man inside of him was coming dangerously close to the surface.
“Liara, did you truly come here to try and drag my heart out of my chest?”
He wasn’t sure how the expression translated for the asari, but she got the meaning clearly enough, judging by her expression. Her face fell, and she shook her head.
“I’m so sorry, Kaidan,” she whispered. “I just wanted to ask you…” She broke off suddenly, then turned and left.
“Liara?” he called after her, but the doors to his office had already slid shut.