Horizon 7: Changed

Part 3, Chapter 32 of Valkyrie

He hadn’t changed at all.

Shepard stared at Kaidan, relief, desire, and hope all filling her heart so full that she couldn’t think what to do or say. When he had walked up to her, she had scarcely registered his words. She was too relieved to see him standing her before her for any other thought to register in her mind, but one:

He was safe .

Half the colony had been taken. She knew she would mourn the loss of all those lives later, but at the moment, all concern for the strangers of Horizon faded to the background. Kaidan was safe, and Shepard couldn’t think about anything but that.

He had appeared as if out of no where, speaking to her – no, speaking about her, actually – as if he truly thought she was the ghost he’d described. She had been too stunned to run and greet him. She had just stood there, her heart slamming into her ribs as he turned and faced her, then walked close to her.

Had he always been this handsome? She wondered. Somehow, she knew he had been, but time apart had dimmed the memory. She felt off-center just looking at him, like a teenager gawking at her first crush.

She shifted uncomfortably for a moment, wanting to run her hand over her hair self-consciously. She wondered if he noticed it, wondered what he might say about it. She had never cared much about her appearance, but she suddenly wished she could have run into Kaidan under better circumstances – circumstances that involved her being freshly showered and not smelling like Collector puss…

But then he wrapped his arms around her and held her – and she’d forgotten everything else.

His biotic energy was exactly the same: strong and thrumming and steady as the sun-warmed earth. She clasped her arms around his waist as best she could, given their bulky armor. She took a shuddering breath and found that he even smelled exactly the same: the same aftershave, that scent of sweat that was his alone. He smelled like wheat and wind, too, which was unexpected and wonderful. Tempted by that scent, she pressed her lips to his neck, his stubble teasing her sensitive skin just like before…

But then, suddenly, he’d pulled away.

At first, she thought he was pulling away so that he could kiss her, but he didn’t. He just stepped back and stared down at her with a very strange look on his face. His lip was bleeding, and she suddenly wanted to touch his mouth, to wipe that blood away, but her arms hung limp at her sides.

His eyes were still the same deep honey brown, but they didn’t hold the gentle expression she had been expecting. Instead, they were wary and…disappointed? His eyes held some silent warning, and she heeded it, even though she didn’t understand it.

Shepard licked her lips and just stared at him, feeling unaccountably shy and nervous. She realized he wasn’t going to speak, that he was waiting for her to say something. All thoughts seemed to fail her. She could not think of anything to say. She’d just fought through a vision of hell for her: an attacked, helpless colony, and her mind was still half into pure instinct mode from dealing with the battle. Her side still aching where a scion had sent her flying into a crate with a well-placed shock wave and she thought she had cracked a rib or two, but she figured she should probably say hello before asking Kaidan for some first aid.

Though she did like his particular brand of first aid…

Shepard shook herself inwardly against the track her mind had taken. She wasn’t alone here, she reminded herself. Garrus and Miranda were standing right behind her, watching this whole encounter. And whatever Miranda saw, the Illusive Man would hear about. Shepard stiffened at that thought.

Torn between relief at seeing him alive, the complete numbness following physical and biotic exertion, and a strange, but growing sense of…embarrassment, Shepard took a breath and aimed for a lighthearted greeting:

“It’s been too long, Kaidan” she said, thinking of the last two crazy months without him. “How’ve you been?” She gave him what she hoped was a winning smile, one that would detract attention away from her nearly-bald head.

Something in Kaidan’s eyes snapped, his expression sliding quickly from wary to fury.

Clearly, that was the wrong thing to say.

“Is that all you have to say ?” he gaped at her. His eyebrows drew together and his lips curved downward into a deep frown. He shook his head and made a sound like a cough or a laugh.

“You show up after two years and just act like nothing happened,” he said. His voice was raspy, tortured, even. “I thought we had something, Shepard. Something real.” Shepard blinked in surprise at his sudden anger. She stared at him uncertainly, shifting slightly on her feet.

Kaidan took a breath like a gasp, looked down as though he couldn’t meet her eyes.

“I loved you,” he spat out.

She felt as if all the world had fallen away. Only those words remained before her.

I loved you.

He had ?

Tears sprang to her eyes.

He had loved her.

” *Well, why the hell didn’t you ever say so before?” * she wanted to ask. The words were on the tip of her tongue, but before she could say them, the thought suddenly went through her head that he was speaking in the past tense.

He had loved her.

As in, he used to love her.

So did that mean things had changed?

Her heart, which one moment ago had swelled with joy and hope, now felt locked in an icy grip of hurt and fear.

“Thinking you were dead tore me apart,” Kaidan went on, his voice raw, his every word laced with pain. “How could you put me through that? Why didn’t you try to contact me? Why didn’t you let me know you were alive ?”

Shepard stared at him, the answers to all those questions colliding in her brain. There were so many questions there, so many possible answers. She hardly knew where to begin.

Why hadn’t she contacted him? Because she was trying to keep him safe. Because she had been dead, or…clinically dead – or maybe just in a coma. She still hadn’t gotten a clear answer out of Miranda as to how far gone she had been. How could she put him through that? Hell, she hadn’t wanted to. If she could have avoided dying, she would have. And besides, she had been asking about him from the very start – only no one knew where he had been. The answers were far more complicated than the questions, she realized. And so all those answers seemed to get stuck in her mind, each blocking the others from getting out.

“Not my choice,” she managed at last. “I spent the last two years in some kind of…coma while Cerberus rebuilt me.”

A mask of disgust fell over Kaidan’s handsome features and he stepped away from her as though she were a dirty thing.

“You’re with Cerberus now,” he said, his voice going low and cold. “Garrus, too.” His voice was a near growl as he murmured, “I can’t believe the reports were right.”

“Reports?” Garrus said, his clear, turian twang such a different sound to Shepard’s ears than Kaidan’s raspy baritone. “You mean you already knew?”

“Alliance intel thought Cerberus might be behind the missing colonies,” Kaidan explained. “I got a tip that this colony might be the next one to get hit.”

Cerberus? Shepard blinked. Her already jumbled mind tried to process this new piece of information. Alliance command had thought that Cerberus was behind the colony attacks? But…she had spoken with Anderson almost six weeks ago. How could they possibly think Cerberus was behind it unless they thought she was behind the attacks, too? Had they really thought she was capable of…? Shepard shook her head, as if the movement would sort all the confusion into some sort of organized pattern that she could recognize.

“Anderson stonewalled me,” Kaidan went on, “But there were rumors that you weren’t dead. That you were working for the enemy.”

At his words, Shepard’s temper flared, her confusion burnt up in a flame of anger.

Not for Cerberus , she thought. *Never * for * them. Not then, not now…*

“Cerberus and I happen to want the same thing,” she said, her tone growing steely, “To save our colonies. But that doesn’t mean I answer to them.”

“Do you really believe that?” Kaidan scowled at her, stalking closer until they were toe to toe again. “Or is that just what Cerberus wants you to think?”

Shepard was about to open her mouth to insist that she wasn’t under Cerberus command, that she was, still, now as ever, her own woman, an Alliance woman, but something in Kaidan’s words stopped her short.

Is that just what Cerberus wants you to think?

When was the last time she had made her own decision? She wondered suddenly. When, since all this had mess begun, had she actually done something that Cerberus had not anticipated? She hadn’t rejoined the Alliance, hadn’t gotten the Council’s backing, and she hadn’t left Cerberus. She helmed their ship, commanded their crew, wore their clothes and was only alive and full of upgrades because of them . In all this time, she hadn’t take a single step off of the path the Illusive Man had set down for her.

*But I did it for * my * reasons* , some part of her mind dimly protested. I chose these things because they were necessary – because they were important. I chose them because saving lives and stopping the Reapers is more important than me, than my reputation, than my career, than my life, even – than anything.

And so you became the enemy .

The thought shot through her mind like a bullet. She stared at Kaidan, shields down, completely helpless against the onslaught of anger he now fired at her.

“I wanted to believe the rumors that you were alive,” he told her, “but I never expected anything like this. You turned your back on everything we believed in. You betrayed the Alliance. You betrayed me .”

Every shot went straight to her heart. Shepard gazed at him through a haze of tears. She blinked the tears away, suddenly angry and disgusted – at him, at her reaction to him, at his reaction to her .

“Kaidan, you know me,” she scowled, hoping the tears didn’t show, “You know I’d only do this for the right reason.” She waved a hand at the colony about them, determined to justify herself in his eyes. “You saw it yourself. The Collectors are targeting human colonies and they’re working with the Reapers.”

“I want to believe you, Shepard,” Kaidan said, his eyes narrowing as he studied her face. “But I don’t trust Cerberus. They could be using the threat of a Reaper to manipulate you . What if they’re behind it? What if they’re working with the Collectors?”

“Typical Alliance attitude,” Miranda muttered at Shepard’s back. “You’re so focused on Cerberus that you’re blind to the real threat.”

Shepard just stared at him, only just keeping her mouth from dropping open.

This was the man who had once stood beside her as she spoke with a Reaper? As she fought and defeated one? This was the man who had been at her side as she had pieced together the puzzle of beacons and visions, of rogue agents and ancient myths? This was the man who, time and again, had told her that he believed her visions about the Reapers? Who told her that no matter what, he’d stand by her until she found the answers she was looking for? How could this possibly be Kaidan saying these things?

Besides betraying his utter lack of trust in her, his suggestions simply didn’t make any sense to her. Cerberus was pro-human, always had been. They would never work with the Collectors to kill humans.

Cerberus killed humans in the past.

But that had been different, she thought at once. Experiments and abductions were two completely different things. She didn’t trust Cerberus, but there was no way that they were in league with the Collectors. Hell, she’d had to fight her way through the Collectors just to get here. Kaidan wasn’t making any sense.

“I can see you won’t listen to reason,” she said, disgusted.

“You show up after two years and tell me you’re working with Cerberus?” Kaidan asked her, incredulous. “What does reason figure into any of this?” He looked at her, his eyes going distant and cold. It was a look she had never thought to see Kaidan direct at her.

“You’ve changed,” he said, his voice now as sad as it was angry. “But I still know where my loyalties lie. I’m an Alliance soldier, always will be.” His lip curled in a slight sneer and he stepped away from her. “I’ve got to report back to the Citadel. They can decide if they believe your story or not.” He turned on his heel and began to walk away. Shepard stared at his back in stunned silence.

He was walking away? He was just… walking away ?

In the past, Shepard had worked out seemingly impossible situations with clever negotiations. She had given speeches that impressed even the grumpier elements of the top brass, had been able to give clever off-the-cuff sound bites to the press that had only added to her legend and fame. She had always been able to charm people when she needed to, had come to rely on her silver tongue as a weapon almost as powerful as her pistol or biotics.

But at the sight of Kaidan’s back, words failed her.

He was walking away, and she couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.

Don’t go, Shepard wanted to scream at him. Join me. Stay with me .

“I could use someone like you on my crew, Kaidan,” she called after him, the words tumbling from her mouth before she could realize how flat they sounded, how little they conveyed how desperately she wanted him to stay. “It’ll be just like old times,” she added, hopefully.

“No,” he said, somehow sounding utterly defeated. “It won’t. I’ll never work for Cerberus.”

He gave her one last look, a look that started at the top of her bald head, trailed down her body to her puss-splattered boots and then rose back up to meet her eyes. When Shepard had first met Kaidan, he had looked her over from head to toe before finally looking into her eyes. Back then, his interested, appreciative gaze had warmed her to the core, had sparked a similar interest in her. But now, his expression wasn’t even remotely the same. The blank, empty look that he gave her was like he was looking at a stranger, and Shepard felt as though her heart had turned suddenly to stone.

“Goodbye, Shepard,” Kaidan said, his raspy voice a mere whisper above the growing wind. Shepard heard it as clearly as if he had been standing right beside her. “And be careful,” he added.

Then he was gone.