Kaidan was jogging up the stairs in the wards when he heard it:
In other news, there has been another Shepard sighting…
Kaidan nearly stumbled. He caught himself and scowled. This was why he hated places like the Citadel. It was just too damn full of the media.
…The first human Spectre and the so-called Savior of the Citadel was spotted near Omega, buying fuel for a mysterious, high-tech ship.
Typical , Kaidan thought. That one wasn’t even original. They’d used a similar one about six months ago. In that sighting, she’d been stocking up on hot dogs and burritos as well as fuel.
Kaidan tried his best to block out the ad as he continued on towards the club. He had, over the years following Shepard’s death, come to hate the press as much as she had once. He had avoided news beyond what he needed to know to get his job done over the last few years, because he always dreaded hearing these stupid ‘Shepard sightings.’ Though even out in the far-flung colonies of the Traverse, you could hear about them.
The very first story had hit the news a few months after her death. Kaidan was en route to his first assignment at the time, when all of a sudden, he had overheard a kiosk proclaiming that Shepard was, in fact, alive. Kaidan’s heart had started pounding as hope, bright and uncertain, came flooding back into him. What if Liara had been right? What if, beyond every possibility, Shepard had survived the fall? What if she was alive and he, coward that he was, had left her alone and broken on that icy planet because he had been too afraid to go look for her battered body?
He had instantly paid for the full magazine article for his datapad. Then his heart had broken again when he realized the story was nothing more than lie, some awful stunt that some crazy person made up and the media perpetuated because it sold vids.
Unfortunately for him, that report was only the first of many. People popped up all over the place, claiming to have seen the dead Spectre alive and in the flesh, running around the traverse doing all manner of things: from tossing back shots in a bar in Nos Astros to booking transports to Terra Nova to starting her own slaving ring. And just today, even Anderson had brought up the rumors.
Kaidan had ignored it all as best he could. But they bothered him deeply. It was one thing to lose Shepard to death. It was another entirely to lose her to a crowd of strangers.
And that’s what it felt like had happened. With every month that passed, Shepard’s legend grew, even as her reputation took a beating. The story of Elysium had come up again, distorted as ever. Kaidan knew the truth, and what had happened was, in his opinion, far more human and more admirable than anything bandied about by the talking heads on the vids. The pundits claimed Shepard was cold and made of ice. They claimed she was someone who would do anything to get the job done. It was true, he conceded, but there was so much more to her than that.
Then came the discussions about the Reapers. Shepard was labeled unstable, her every past mistake held up for the world to see. Her childhood was passed around as if it was common property; her pysch file, which should have been classified, somehow ended up on the evening news.
And always, there was the discussion of her skills - the biotics, in particular. The reporters loved to show footage of her fighting, and then say things like “She was the deadliest human the galaxy has ever known.” As if that was a bad thing, Kaidan thought. That deadliness was what had kept those idiots alive to even be making those stupid vids.
He was often in those vids, too. It was strange to see himself. He was always slightly surprised at his own skill, but even more so at Shepard. Seeing her in action was like watching a work of art. Whatever else she was, the woman could fight like no one he’d ever known. Not a single shot went wasted; not a single biotic pulse went amiss. If he hadn’t known how completely off the cuff those battles had been, he would have assumed they were staged.
Of course, a lot of people claimed they had been staged. They claimed she had been in with Saren from the beginning, they claimed she’d been part of a secret Alliance program bent on taking over the galaxy for the humans. Those conspiracy theorists often placed her with the terrorist group, Cerberus, which in Kaidan’s opinion was completely ridiculous, considering how many of Cerberus’s agents she’d killed in just a few short months. But reason was clearly not these people’s strong suit.
It baffled Kaidan that Shepard could both become a hero and yet be so reviled all at the same time. But somehow, that’s what had happened. Shepard’s beauty won her admirers, even posthumously, but her stern face meant that no one saw the warmth in her eyes. To the masses of people who wanted a good story and would pay well to hear it, Shepard the paradoxical, ever-noble hero just wasn’t very interesting. Shepard the cold, icy bitch who was spotted just last month in an asari strip bar – now that Shepard was more to the public’s liking.
And everyone loved closet sex addict Shepard. Kaidan found those vids most painful to overhear. Men – and women – and asari – popped up on the news vids all the time, claiming to be Shepard’s secret lover. They got the spotlight even as Kaidan, who knew full well he was the true holder of that title, was hiding his feelings in the shadows. Even Mr. Dumped-Shepard-After-the-Blitz got his moment in the sun. Kaidan was disgusted by the whole thing.
But the trouble was, in the end, the stories made Kaidan begin to doubt that he had known Shepard at all.
It wasn’t that he believed the idiocy, it was just that after so long, he began to wonder if perhaps he, like so many of these other people who had a passing acquaintance with Shepard, might not have been mistaken about her true nature as well. After all, how could he claim to have truly known her when he had known her for such a short amount of time?
He couldn’t, for example, remember the exact color of her eyes, except as they looked in the vids. He thought she had had a way of smiling that only her friends could tell was actually a smile, but he couldn’t quite recall how it looked.
And while he remembered their days together, the few times he allowed himself to look back on them, it was as if through a telescope the wrong way, or listening to voices distorted down a hall. He thought she had wanted to be with him - perhaps…for always. But then again, that might just have been his own wishful thinking. She had never told him that she loved him - had she? He didn’t remember her having ever spoken the words. And while she had seemed, at the time, to give herself heart and soul to their time together, Kaidan knew that many Marines did that without any consideration for the future. They simply took pleasure and happiness where they could find it, then left it as soon as it had passed by. And while he liked to think that Shepard was not the sort of person to do that, that, like him, she was looking for something far deeper and stronger, he came to wonder if she had lived, would she have stayed with him? Would she have continued to choose him, day after long day, month after month and mission after mission? Would it really have worked, or would she, bright burning star that she was, have gone on to some other sky, leaving him alone in the dark? Kaidan began to wonder if what he had seen in Shepard was really who she was, or his own projections. He began to wonder if what he had with her was real, or just one lonely man’s delusions.
And that was why, Kaidan thought as he pushed open the doors to the club, it was often better to try and not remember Shepard at all.
Shepard leaned against the wall with a sigh, then slid down the cool metal wall to sit with her arms propped up on her knees. She leaned her head back against the wall. It was cool behind her nearly-bare scalp. She closed her eyes…
And thought of Kaidan.
What a surprise . She smiled to herself even as she kept her eyes shut. She pictured his face, jaw lined with stubble, that scar on his lower lip that she had never thought to ask him about, regardless of how many times she had kissed it. She would be sure to ask him about it next time she saw him. She would also run her hands through his hair, hold him close so that she could feel his warmth right through whatever clothes or armor he happened to be wearing and she would kiss him like she hadn’t been able to the last time she saw him.
Or maybe, she thought, she’d stand there awkwardly and let him speak first. After all, she wasn’t quite sure how shocked he would be when he saw her, or what he’d say about her new ‘survivor’ appearance. But she fully intended to throw herself at him the moment he gave her any indication that was what he wanted.
She chuckled to herself. She really was predictable. At least she hadn’t changed.
But so much had.
It had been two years, she thought. So where was he? Did he know she was alive?
The thoughts rolled around and around in her mind, mixing in with the low hum of the room.
Shepard sighed. At least she could think in here. She had breathed a sigh of relief the moment she stepped into the engine room. The mass effect core gave off a low, pulsing energy that soothed her head at once. There was something a little strange about these new implants, she thought, though she couldn’t put her finger on it exactly. They seemed to hitch at strange times – when she was standing by the galaxy map, for example, and occasionally in her quarters, too.
That was why she hadn’t been able to sleep. There was an electric tickling behind her right ear when she lay in bed. It didn’t help that the Illusive Man could – and probably would – be recording her as she slept up there. Feeling antsy, she had put on some clothes and come to wander the ship.
Hell of a thing, she thought, that she should come back from the dead just to get insomnia upon waking.
When she’d found the engine room, she realized that this was the place to stop and think. The mass effect energy felt artificial – not at all like the hum from a human biotic, but the effect was calming all the same. It was like listening to an ancient-style electric fan rather than the lapping of water. The latter was more comforting, but the former blocked noise. And what was it Miranda had said? This room of the ship did not have any monitoring devices. Bugs could not survive the high-energy of the drive core. Of course, there were windows right up there looking in from the crew quarters, and presumably there were cameras up there. But right here, just inside of the doorway where the windows could not see and the engine pulse was strong, she realized she had found a blind spot.
Shepard’s lips curved into a smile. It was a small thing, but it suddenly meant a great deal to her. The Illusive Man was manipulating her, but she couldn’t do much about it right now, on a ship surrounded by his hand-picked crew. So if she could sit here without feeling like she was being watched, so much the better.
She breathed out a sigh of relief and allowed herself to think of Kaidan some more. She hoped he was alright. She had thought that over and over again since she had woken up and she wanted nothing more than to see it for herself. If she was grateful to Cerberus for anything – and she hadn’t completely made up her mind that she was – it was for the chance to see him again.
Now all she had to do was find him.
When she got to the Citadel, she thought, the first thing she was going to do was find Anderson and ask him what had happened to Kaidan. Well, no, check that, first she would respond to him in person about that email he’d sent. She’d assure him she was not working for Cerberus – only with them and only temporarily.
And then, somehow, she’d work in a question about Kaidan. She couldn’t afford to let Anderson know about their relationship. Anderson had not been there as she and Kaidan had come together as friends and then as…more. Even if the crew of the old Normandy had known – and she sometimes suspected they had – Anderson, she was pretty sure, did not. She didn’t want to get Kaidan in trouble.
Maybe, she thought, the idea making her smile more, Kaidan was at the Citadel. That would be fortuitous. It might take a little bit of persuasion, but surely she would be able to convince the Alliance to re-instate her and send her after the missing colonies. Perhaps she could even convince them to allow Kaidan to work with her again – and act of good faith, as it were. She’d saved their butts, after all. Clearly they owed her. And it would be wonderful to have Kaidan at her back again.
And as for convincing Kaidan to join her, well, as long as he hadn’t found someone new, that shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, the biggest problem they would have would be those pesky regulations. Though after what she’d been through, she was planning to toss the regs out the window altogether. Being dead for two years certainly put things like fraternization into perspective.
After all, Shepard figured she had earned the right to a little fraternization.