Shepard stared at the message title for a full minute before looking up.
“I’ll be in my quarters if anyone needs me Kelly,” she said in as officious a voice as she could manage. “Set a course for Daratar.”
“Of course, commander,” Kelly replied. “Whatever you…”
Shepard didn’t hear the rest as the elevator slid shut. She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the doors to open again. As soon as they did, she strode into her quarters and headed straight for her desk. Cerberus had access to her accounts, she knew. But she had also seen the encryption on that message. That encryption and the heading told her everything she needed to know about who had sent it.
The question that remained was why .
Was it too much to hope that Kaidan wasn’t angry at her any more? Or was this going to be a written version of the set-down he’d given her on Horizon? Either way, she knew she couldn’t read this message down by the CIC. She had to be up here, where whatever reaction she had to this missive would be hidden away from the wondering eyes of her too-interested crew.
She just prayed that Mordin had gotten all the monitoring devices pulled from her room like he said he had. He’d been offended when she asked him if he was sure he’d gotten all of them, saying: “Not hack job like Gardiner. Also, wash hands after using the necessary.”
Not that she didn’t trust Mordin, but out of habit, Shepard positioned herself between the camera in the corner and the computer screen. She would do whatever she could to keep this message private. At her elbow, the face-down picture frame made a squelching noise, as if in weak protest to her continued neglect. She reached for it, almost lifted it, then let her hand drop. She’d see what Kaidan had to say, first. Even as she thought that, it struck her as rather childish notion.
Frowning to herself, Shepard logged into the extranet and brought up her Alliance account. The message wasn’t there. Damn , she thought. That meant it had already been forwarded. She wasn’t surprised at that development, but it still annoyed her. She just hoped Kaidan’s encryption had kept his message from the prying eyes that might be monitoring the Cerberus email systems.
Shepard logged out of the Alliance account, logged into her Cerberus account, then opened the email, doing her best to ignore the knot tightening in her stomach. She clicked on the email and a passkey box popped up.
Clever man , Shepard thought, smiling in spite of her growing apprehension. The passkey was likely something only she knew about, something like…
It didn’t work. Shepard frowned. Okay, she thought. She could understand why Kaidan wouldn’t use the same password twice. So that must mean it was…
Ilos night. Nope. Ilos…evening ? Shepard frowned. What the hell could it be? Coffee break? Normandy?
A message popped up on the screen:
5 Failed Password Attempts. Hint: You once said you believed in jumping.
Jumping? What the…? Shepard wracked her brain even as she silently applauded Kaidan’s tech skill. Only, that same ingenuity that was meant to keep Cerberus out would also keep her out, unless she could figure out what that ‘believing in jumping’ meant.
Suddenly, she understood. Shepard felt a lump in her throat as she typed in a single word to the waiting box:
The email opened. Shepard swallowed, then read…
Kaidan logged his omnitool into the barracks wireless extranet connection. Now that he was here, he could finally check his mail. He logged into his outbox, his stomach churning, his head still pounding in spite of the medication he’d just taken.
Never send a message in anger , his mother had once said. Well, yesterday, he had sent a message in…something. He remembered sitting at the grimy extranet station. He remembered crafting a letter, line by careful line, agonizing over what to say, what he should include, and what he should leave out. He hadn’t wanted to come off as desperate: laying his heart bare was something he had done on Horizon and he wasn’t sure Shepard would appreciate him doing it again. And yet, he hadn’t wanted to be cold, either. Shepard had sent encrypted files, and he saw that as an olive branch of sorts. He wanted to acknowledge that, but he still felt…
Hell, he didn’t know what he felt, exactly: raw and angry, but saddened and confused, too. He had written the letter as if he was a negotiator, letting all the warring parts of him have a say rather than writing as a whole man who knew exactly what he wanted. And adding to that inner mess was the maddening sensation that he could still feel Shepard’s kiss on his neck.
Then, as he had finished his message, his ship had suddenly arrived. And in a panic not to lose his work, Kaidan had sent the email.
He realized the mistake at once, but it was too late to take it back. And in that moment, he couldn’t quite remember what he had said. He didn’t have time to re-read his work, so he’d boarded the freighter back to the Citadel. He spent the whole flight with a raging headache, wracking his brain to remember what, exactly, he had written. He slept fitfully, woke to a migraine, docked at the Citadel, stumbled through customs, got some meds, checked into the barracks, and now he lay back on his bed, looking at his omnitool with bleary eyes.
With a frown, Kaidan opened the message. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see this, and yet, he felt compelled to read all the same…
I’m sorry for what I said back on Horizon.
Shepard let out a breath. She closed her eyes, breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth.
Okay. She thought. This was…good. She had been so angry – so confused and hurt and ashamed and furious and indignant, that Kaidan’s simple apology took most of the fight out of her.
“I’m sorry, too,” she murmured quietly.
She smiled just a little and looked to the face-down picture frame. Then she frowned.
Kaidan still had a lot of explaining to do.
Kaidan’s lips set in a thin line.
*Yeah, I * am * sorry,* he thought.
Then he thought again of the things he had said and “sorry” didn’t really seem to cover it. But, the truth was, although he was sorry, he was still angry, too. He wanted Shepard to apologize in return, damn it. He wanted to know why she’d left him for two years without a word.
Shepard still had a lot of explaining to do.
I spent two years pulling myself back together after you went down with the Normandy.
It took me a long time to get over my guilt for surviving and move on.
Shepard blinked at the screen, feeling as if she had been hit by a thunderbolt.
She blinked again.
Really, two years?
Shepard swallowed against the lump rising in her throat.
All this time, she had never stopped and considered – never truly *imagined * – what the attack on the Normandy had looked like from the pods. She had seen her death from one angle, and that vision was forever seared into her resurrected brain. Yet Kaidan had seen her death from another place entirely. After all, she thought, if their positions had been reversed – if Kaidan were to die…
Shepard sucked in a breath. She couldn’t even think of that. And just trying to do so made her realize something that was hard to admit:
She had acted like a selfish bitch on Horizon.
When she had pictured her eventual reunion with Kaidan, she now realized she had thought of herself more than she had thought of Kaidan. She had thought of how she’d say hello to him, how she’d kiss him, where she would have him bunk on the ship – with her, of course, in the bed big enough for two. She had even planned a way to explain her new body to him, to ask him if he minded that she’d involuntarily had some work done.
But she realized now that she had never really thought of where *he * would be coming from - what he had endured. Certainly, her heart had broken at first to think he might have suffered for her sake, but she had sort of…lost sight of that in the bustle and mess that had followed after the initial revelation that she’d been dead. She hadn’t considered that in all that time, her death might have changed Kaidan. Even as she held him on Horizon she had assumed he was exactly the same. But of course, how *could * he be the same after two years had passed – especially two years after the loss of his ship and his friends and…well, her? She had wondered if Kaidan knew she was alive, had hoped he hadn’t forgotten her, but she hadn’t really imagined him mourning her. She certainly had never imagined that he’d be hearing rumors about her and Cerberus and wondering if they were true.
And then to find her alive - and with Cerberus after all… And then, God, the way she’d tried to get him to stay! She’d spoken to him as if she was recruiting any other random stranger for her mission. She cringed anew to think of what she had said:
I could use someone like you on my crew, Kaidan . It’ll be just like old times.
Hell, no wonder he hadn’t wanted to come with her. Who would want to join a former lover who talked like that ? She hadn’t asked him to join her – she’d just told him to join her. She’d been thinking like a CO again, she thought bitterly. She liked to think that she had set aside her bossy nature, but it kept rearing its ugly head all the time – even with Kaidan. No, she corrected herself, especially with Kaidan. When push came to shove, she’d often retreated behind her rank. Kaidan had accused her of it on more than one occasion, and he’d been right. She had assumed that once she found him, he’d come with her at once, that like Garrus and Tali, he’d respond to her with unquestioning loyalty.
Only, given the view from where Kaidan now stood, she hadn’t earned his loyalty at all. For all Kaidan knew, she’d left him, betrayed him, then tried to order him to his place at her side – or rather, his place at her back.
Shepard shook her head. She had appeared before him – alive, with Cerberus, without a word of warning – and then she had expected him to be pleased, grateful, *elated * even, to see her. And all the while, he had been reeling with questions and rumors and guilt and…grief. She’d couldn’t even imagine.
To her shame, she hadn’t tried to imagine. All this while, she’d been thinking of her mission and herself, while Kaidan…
*God, * she thought, frowning at the screen, the guy must have been through hell.
God, Kaidan thought, frowning at the screen. That sounded pathetic.
It was all true, but it sounded a lot worse reading it a day later. Two years to get over Shepard and, if her was honest with himself, what happened on Horizon proved that he never had gotten over her.
Kaidan shook his head. Given that things with Shepard were now more complicated than ever, he wasn’t sure when he *would * get over her.
I’d finally let my friends talk me into going out for drinks with a doctor on the Citadel.
Nothing serious, but trying to let myself have a life again, you know?
Wait. What ?
Shepard’s eyes narrowed as she read the sentence again. And again – and then again.
What the hell ?
Shepard felt herself flaring, saw a flicker of blue flash along her fisted hand as she stared at the screen.
Kaidan had been out with some other woman?
Alright, Valkyrie, she told herself, it’s okay. The guy thought you were dead. Hell, if he’d gotten married, it would have been understandable after two years.
Yeah , the other part of her replied, *but he’s * mine .
And what did that mean that it was nothing serious? she thought, reading the lines again. If it wasn’t serious, then why the hell had he mentioned it? Was that some kind of guy-code? Was he trying to tell her that she didn’t matter to him anymore? Or was he trying to say that she’d screwed with his head so badly that he’d only just gotten over her? Or that he never had gotten over her?
Shepard scowled as her biotics flared again. This was ridiculous. She was not one for drama or second-guessing. All the drama of the past few days was enough to last her for a lifetime. So if Kaidan had up and found a new girlfriend, why hadn’t he *said * so?
Was he sleeping with her?
Instead of seeing blue flares, Shepard now saw red cover her vision. If she ever met this doctor…
She took a breath and tried to think. If Kaidan said it wasn’t serious, then it wasn’t… right? Hell, she thought, reading the sentences again, his friends had talked him into the date. Finally talked him into a date, so that meant… What? They’d been trying for a while to get Kaidan to see somebody new? Who were these “friends” anyway? she wondered. And had they known about her ?
That was doubtful, she realized. Kaidan probably hadn’t said anything about her, given how cautious he was about their fraternization. So maybe these friends had just tried to set him up with some other friend and he’d finally given in and gone on this…date. And it was just one date – right?
Shepard read the lines again. It certainly sounded like just one date. And besides, she told herself, trying to remain rational and objective, Kaidan said it wasn’t serious. She felt herself clinging to those words. So, do the logic, Shepard: one date is not serious and not serious is not sexual… Not for Kaidan, anyway, she assured herself. The man was nothing if not self-disciplined. He had gone without sex for years when she had first met him. Besides, he once said he wasn’t in the habit of casual sex. But then, again, she thought, there had been that shore-leave “mistake” he’d once mentioned…
Shepard now was seriously considering throwing that picture of Kaidan into the ship’s trash compactor.
He told you that he never wanted to repeat that mistake again, some calmer part of her mind said. *Just think how long it took for him to sleep with * you.
Shepard took a breath. Right. That was right.
Yeah , another, more worried part of her mind added, but you two were officers – Fraternization was what had Kaidan slowing things down. There’s nothing to stop him from doing whatever he likes with some doctor.
Shepard ground her teeth together. She felt her biotics flaring and her core temperature rising to a near feverish degree. What did that mean ? she wanted to scream. And why the *hell * had Kaidan mentioned it?
Damn , Kaidan thought. Why had he mentioned that ?
Maybe, he thought, he had written about Lisa to show Shepard that he could move on. Only the way he’d put it, it didn’t sound like moving on. It made him sound like some pathetic sap who had spent the last two years mourning his dead girlfriend without being able to get over her at all, and then was only able to go out with another woman at the urging of his friends, and then only in a futile effort to get his life back. It sounded…sad, really.
So why had he written it?
With a sinking feeling, Kaidan realized that he felt strangely guilty about having gone on a date with Lisa at all. If he’d known Shepard was alive… But that was ridiculous, of course. He hadn’t known Shepard was alive and that was *Shepard’s fault, * he thought, scowling. Given that Shepard had not contacted him these past two years , he had every right to see other people.
But the truth was, Kaidan thought, as he pinched the bridge of his nose and waited for the meds to kick in, he hadn’t wanted to see other people. Even after five horrible minutes with Shepard and one small, close-mouthed kiss to his neck, he knew this. Seeing her again just drove home the difference between her and everyone else he’d ever met: she had been… right for him. She had looked at him and saw him and not just his rank or file or biotics. She had been his best friend in a world of people who passed him by. And seeing her certainly drove home the difference between her and Lisa. Hell, the doctor didn’t even like music. He wanted Shepard , damn it, wanted her as she had been all those years ago, before the Normandy attack and her disappearance and Cerberus and…everything.
The trouble was, of course, he wasn’t sure if she was the same woman she had been all those years ago.
Then I saw you, and everything pulled hard to port. You were standing in front of me, but you were with Cerberus.
I guess I really don’t know who either of us is anymore.
Exactly , Kaidan thought. That was it exactly.
How the hell, how the bloody hell could Shepard be with Cerberus? They were terrorists . They had killed an admiral; they had murdered innocents. They’d sent Marines to their deaths and were an embarrassment to humanity and a thorn in the side of the Alliance. Hell, she herself had sent the Alliance proof that they had been involved with the rachni cloning debacle.
The Shepard that Kaidan had loved was too principled to work with terrorists. If she’d bent the rules in the past, it had always been with good reason. So how could she possibly work for Cerberus unless she had changed somehow?
With a sudden sense of sorrow, Kaidan realized that he had changed, too. By trying to ignore his heart he hadn’t killed it and by trying to forget Shepard he hadn’t moved on. He’d just crystallized into a more brittle, machine-like version of the cautious man he’d once been.
So yes, he thought, reading his lines again. He had changed – and she had changed, too, if she was with Cerberus. And he really didn’t recognize either of them anymore.
Shepard read Kaidan’s words, then slammed her fist against the desk. Blue flickered all up her arm and she wanted to scream at the computer screen:
I am NOT with Cerberus!
Not really, she amended. And what did Kaidan mean, he didn’t know her? Out of everyone she’d ever met, he was the only person who did know her, the only person she had ever let close enough to slip past her Valkyrie armor to see the woman hiding behind it. So for him to say…
Shepard paused, taking a deep breath. She re-read the words, trying to make sense of it all. She saw now that Kaidan had said he didn’t know who she was anymore .
Shepard frowned. She wasn’t sure if that was that much of an improvement. Clearly, Kaidan was convinced that Cerberus had changed her somehow, which was just…infuriating. She was trying so damn hard to stay true to her principles, to make sure that Cerberus was not changing her, and * would not* change her. So for him to say…
But then, she thought, feeling suddenly very weary and alone, maybe she had changed without knowing it. At the very least, she had given Kaidan no reason to think she was the same woman as before. He didn’t know the details of her alliance with the three-headed demon-dog organization… not that he’d taken the time to let her explain, she thought angrily.
No, he clearly thought she’d been alive and conscious this whole time, despite her assertions to the contrary. If she had been ignoring him for two years, well then, he certainly would have every reason to think she had changed. After all, she couldn’t think of any possible reason that she would have left him for two years other than, well, changing entirely…or being completely unconscious.
But it was the latter that was the case, not the former. Yet Kaidan had ignored the whole “I was dead” revelation to cling to this notion that she’d abandoned him.
Then again, Shepard thought, cocking her head, she had shied away using from the word “dead.” The thought of being dead was…troubling. And besides, she wasn’t sure she bought the whole “resurrection” story. She had seen the Project Lazarus data, but it was a lot to wrap one’s head around. She still wondered if she might not have been preserved somehow: not truly dead, but not really alive either. She remembered now that she had hedged the facts: she had told Kaidan she’d been in “some kind of coma.”
Shepard felt like kicking herself. Clearly “coma” had not conveyed to Kaidan the extent of her absence. He probably figured she’d come back after a few months or so and just…what? Puttered around the galaxy without him, joyriding on Cerberus’ shiny new ship?
Damn it, she thought, pounding her fist on the desk again, why hadn’t Kaidan given her time to explain? And why hadn’t she realized she would need to?
Once again, Shepard thought with a sigh, she had neglected to think of how all this must have looked to Kaidan. She’d simply said, “It’s been a long time,” when “Before you say anything, know that I was dead ,” should have been the first words out of her mouth.
*You could have told him earlier, * some part of her mind whispered. You could have sent him a message right from the start if you had really tried.
Shepard frowned. Yes, she could have. But she hadn’t wanted the Illusive Man to know about Kaidan and she hadn’t wanted Anderson to know either, so she hadn’t left a message or written to him…
She’d been too proud, she realized with a start. She had thought that by keeping Kaidan at arm’s length, she could keep him from harm. She should have realized that Kaidan would rather be put in danger and know the truth than be kept in the dark and kept safe.
We’re alike in that respect , she thought, laughing bitterly. She should have remembered that.
Do you even remember that night before Ilos?
That night meant everything to me… maybe it meant as much to you.
Kaidan winced at those lines.
Hell, Alenko , he thought. Why don’t you just send your dead, beaten heart through the extranet while you’re at it?
But it was true. Ilos had been in his mind all the time. He had thought of it when he’d allowed himself to think, had dreamed of it so many nights. Ilos had been the start of it all. It had been the night he went from trying to pretend that he wasn’t falling for Shepard to realizing that he’d long since toppled off the edge. It was the night he’d gone from wondering if he should act on his feelings to thinking about the future – a future with her – and wondering how long it would take to get there. It was the night he’d let go of his control over his biotics, his emotions, his heart, and for once in his life, dived headfirst into unknown waters. He had, contrary to his usual caution, almost delighted in the uncertainty, if only it meant that he could be with the woman he had come to love. And that night before Ilos was the night that he realized he truly did love her.
Ilos had also been the night when, to his surprise, Shepard given him something that he had never expected of her.
Ilos was the night when Shepard had become…his.
Shepard blinked at the screen.
Did she remember Ilos?
Did she still have a brain ? Of course she remembered Ilos! God, she thought, had she really seemed so changed that he had to ask her that? For heaven’s sake! He’d been her first , technicalities notwithstanding. She knew her conservative upbringing sometimes gave her a rather skewed view of things, but she figured that even in more sophisticated circles, giving a guy your virginity still counted for something. For her, it had all been completely new: not just physically, but all the feelings that went with it. That night was like…stepping into some world that existed for her and Kaidan alone. She had found that she couldn’t keep him at arm’s length any more and she didn’t want to. She had to let him in. And far from resenting that new-found vulnerability, she found it made her feel…strong.
Plus, that night had been *good * - like, really damn good. So how could it not mean something to her? Shepard scowled at the screen, wishing she could somehow slap Kaidan’s email on the side of the head.
And what about everything after? she wondered. The times she and Kaidan had spent alone together were like fragile treasures she kept close to her chest, hidden carefully under her armor. Their lovemaking had been passionate some times, and some times they had been completely silly – laughing more than kissing. Some times they had just laid there and talked and some times had almost been desperate. And yet, each time, she had felt like she was discovering his touch all over again. She thought it had been like that for him, too, but to read this…
She knew he’d always been jumpy about regs after that night, but had Ilos truly been the only time Kaidan had been able to enjoy himself? Shepard sighed and tried to make sense of his words. Alright, so the night before Ilos meant everything to him, which was…sweet. She wanted to read hope into those words, but she wasn’t sure if she should. If that night had meant so much to him – so much so that he would mention it specifically – then surely he was still thinking about that, and therefore thinking about her , right? But if he had to ask if Ilos had meant anything…
Her heart sank. How was it that Kaidan had to ask this? All this time, she thought she’d made it abundantly obvious how much Ilos meant to her, how much all their intimacy meant to her - hell, how much *he * meant to her. She knew she had often joked around to keep things light, had sometimes reverted to professionalism when she was uncertain of how to handle things. She knew she’d sometimes been flippant or pushy, difficult or sulky. But had she somehow failed to show him that she truly cared for him?
But now that she thought if it, she had never told Kaidan in so many words that she loved him.
She couldn’t remember why she hadn’t, but…she hadn’t.
But a lot has changed in the last two years and I can’t just put that aside.
Exactly , Kaidan thought, nodding at his own words.
In spite of Ilos, in spite of what he had once felt for Shepard, he couldn’t put the last two years aside. Whatever she had been doing - and he certainly hoped she’d have the decency to tell him what she had been doing - he could not ignore all that grief and pain so easily.
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, Kaidan thought. He just knew himself well enough to know that he couldn’t.
Well, that’s fair , Shepard thought, folding her arms across her chest.
She didn’t like how those lines followed Kaidan’s tender admission about Ilos, but she could appreciate the sentiment all the same. A lot *had * changed. Kaidan had changed and she had changed - though not as much as he seemed to think. But still, yes, she could admit she’d changed a little.
Hell, she was now a blue-eyed L5 with a buzz cut working for a power-hungry anonymous billionaire who was backing her mission to take on a pack of 6-foot cockroach kidnappers. It would sound like the plot to a cheesy movie if it wasn’t for the fact that it had become her life.
But please be careful. I’ve watched too many people close to me die - on Eden Prime, on Virmire, on Horizon, on the Normandy. I couldn’t bear it if I lost you again.
If you’re still the woman I remember, I know you’ll find a way to stop these Collector attacks.
But Cerberus is too dangerous to be trusted. Watch yourself.
Kaidan shook his head. Well, if he hadn’t already made it abundantly clear how deep his survivor’s guilt ran, he had just now.
And really, he thought, if he was honest with himself, that was the root of a lot of his anger about Horizon right there: he just couldn’t get over the fact that he kept…surviving. Sometimes it had been because of his own skill and cunning, his own planning and fighting. But many times, it was dumb luck, pure and simple – or it had been Shepard watching out for him. She’d saved him on Virmire, saved him on the Normandy. She’d placed her own life on the line so many times for him that it made him sick to his stomach to think of it. And even though he was grateful, even though he was proud of her, some extremely old-fashioned part of him still demanded the honor of protecting her .
As if she’d ever allow that , Kaidan thought wryly. The woman behaved as if she knew no fear. He supposed it had to do with the strength of her biotics, but she approached every fight as if it was simply a puzzle to be solved, not something that might actually end her life. He supposed that was her defense mechanism, the key to her survival, and yet, watching her come so close to death, time and again, had continually shaken him. Even now, he could remember with a chill of fear the video footage of how she’d taken down those Collectors. Seeing her rush from crate to crate, using whatever cover she could in that open space, firing that insane laser gun that she had picked up God only knew where… He had thought he was going to lose her all over again, even though he knew how the fight would end.
*Hell, Alenko, * he thought. You just might lose her all over again. You don’t know how her current fight is going to end.
He might, he realized. He might lose her. And the thought tore him to pieces. On the one hand, he wanted to go to her, to keep her safe. But on the other hand, she had chosen Cerberus. Whatever the reason and however uneasy the alliance, she had chosen them. She had a new ship now, and a new crew that included Garrus and some other biotic. She said she was doing this to end the Collector attacks and on some level, Kaidan admired that. Hell, after Horizon, he knew just how badly the Collectors needed to be stopped.
But he still didn’t understand why she’d picked *Cerberus * to do it.
Her current mission was going to be dangerous – he guessed that even though he knew very little about the Collectors. He’d have to ask Anderson for access to Alliance files on the species. He just hoped Shepard realized that by working with Cerberus, she was more likely to get stabbed in the back by those terrorists than she would be shot down in front by the Collectors. He just hoped she would heed his warning and watch herself.
So that’s why you came back to the Citadel and left her with Cerberus? Kaidan winced at the whispering of his conscience. He felt guilty even now for walking away. He wanted to keep Shepard safe, but the woman continually insisted on placing herself in dangerous situations. And this might be the most dangerous situation of all. She had left the Alliance for this fight, and in doing so had allied with the enemy and gone to a place he simply couldn’t follow.
Kaidan sighed. He supposed that this was one battle that he’d have to let Shepard fight alone – as much as he wished she wouldn’t.
Shepard felt tears spring to her eyes. She wiped them away ruthlessly.
She was going after the Collectors and that’s all he had to say? She was flying into the Omega 4 relay, the gateway from which no ship ever returned and that was all he had to fucking say ? Did he not realize she might *die * out there – wherever there turned out to be? Or was he just that confident in her abilities?
Did he even care ?
Shepard pinched the bridge of her nose. That horrible buzzing had come back. This was just too much. And that warning about Cerberus…
Thanks, Kaidan , she thought. I already knew I didn’t trust them. I’ll watch myself, but doing so would be a hell of a lot easier if you were here with me.
A thought suddenly occurred to her. Shepard let go of her nose to let her hand drop to her lap.
If Kaidan had come with her, then that would mean putting him in danger. As much as she wanted to think that he would pull through, she simply didn’t know. She didn’t know who would live or die in the end. Hell, she might die – the Illusive Man’s five billion credit toy, gone up in smoke. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about her other friends, of course: Garrus, Tali, and Joker – she didn’t want to put any of them at risk. But if Kaidan were to die during one of their battles…
Again, she could not think of it. She remembered the horrible fear that she’d lost him to the attack on Horizon, then the overwhelming, stupefying relief when she learned she had not. If he was safe, then she had something to return to. With that thought, she suddenly wondered if perhaps this wasn’t for the best. As much as she wanted Kaidan at her back, even more than that, she wanted to return to him.
When things settle down a little… maybe… I don’t know. Just take care.
Kaidan let out a breath, then shut down his omnitool and let his head fall back against the pillow. The meds were finally kicking in, dulling the pain, but the growing sense of warm fog all through his skull did nothing to lessen the ache in his chest.
Well, hell, he thought. That was embarrassing .
He’d just laid himself bare in an email to Shepard, detailed how much he’d been torn up about her – how much he was still torn up about her, and now he had no idea what would come of it.
Those last lines were non-committal and he knew it. It completely reflected how he felt. He’d been to heaven, then to hell, then to purgatory as far as Shepard was concerned. Now, he was just in limbo, wondering what she would say back and how long she would be working with Cerberus. Her mission – if you could call it that with terrorists backing it – would hopefully be short-lived. With any luck, Kaidan thought, she’d be back in council space within a month or so, and he’d be able to meet up with her and see…
What would he see?
Well, he thought, he’d see if it had really been her that he had loved, or just some illusion. Shepard had always been so charming, so damn charismatic. How could anyone help but turn and stare at a star shooting across the sky? He had been dazzled by her like everyone else had in their own way, only he had known her more intimately because…
He wasn’t really sure why she had chosen him anymore. He thought it was love, true and real like in the novels he’d read as a kid. Thinking Shepard was dead left his belief in her love intact. But seeing her alive had trampled all those beliefs underfoot. Then getting that email from her had revived hope – but not certainty.
He still couldn’t explain why she’d left him, nor why she’d acted so strangely on Horizon. He didn’t know what to think anymore, except to think that whatever they once had was not at all what he thought it was. So maybe it had all been in his head.
Shepard frowned at the screen. She closed the computer and let her eyes drift shut.
That email had taken her from relief to joy to complete and utter heartache. And even after reading it line by line, it still made no sense to her. The only part she fully understood was the “maybe” at the end.
But “maybe.” Maybe. Always maybe with Kaidan. A flare of anger rose in her chest. A blue flare of biotics echoed it across her fingertips. The man was so damn cautious. He had always held back, always hesitated. At first, she had admired it, later, it amused her. When they were…well, whatever they were after Ilos, it had irritated her – even driven her to act completely recklessly on a few occasions. Now, that caution of his made her want to scream.
Ever careful Kaidan. She didn’t think of herself as impulsive, exactly, but she’d always been one to make a decision and go with it, right until the bitter end. Even this gig with Cerberus was like that: she’d agreed to get it done and she would. But Kaidan had always hung back. And now she found herself wondering if he had ever really wanted her, or if she had just dived into their relationship headfirst, dragging Kaidan down with her.
She knew she had an…overwhelming personality. She tended to shock and awe people. That was part of why she’d liked Kaidan so much. From the start, he had taken a stand around her. It wasn’t that he was standing against her – just…standing. He gave her his opinion, asked for or not. He didn’t worship her like Liara did or look up to her like Tali or Ashley or even Garrus had. He was just…there, calm and secure and…Kaidan.
But maybe she’d read it all wrong, and somehow she had pushed him into something he didn’t really want. Maybe he’d felt pressured by her rank and well, just her and he had always been pulling back and she hadn’t listened. He had walked away from her on Horizons. Whatever he felt, whatever his reasons, he had walked away. So clearly, whatever they had was not at all what she thought it was. And maybe it had all been in her head.
And yet, he still wanted her.
Kaidan laid his head back against the pillow. He thought back on everything he had written, everything he had said, everything Shepard had said, everything that had happened in the past week, in the past year… He thought back to everything that had happened since he first met Shepard and realized he was sure of just one thing:
He still wanted her.
He still…loved her.
At least, he loved the Shepard he thought he had known. If she was somehow still out there, and if she came back to him…
Kaidan stared up at the ceiling, letting the meds ease the pulsing in the skull and quiet the questions in his mind. There were so many questions: Why had Shepard been lost when he had lived? What was it about her that had him unable to turn away from her, even now? Was she with Cerberus or not? And why the hell had she left him without a word for two years?
He didn’t know. He had no idea what the future would hold – for her or for him. Anderson held the key to his next assignment and he didn’t know where the next few weeks would take him. So as for what would happen next, he didn’t know. Just like before, back on the Normandy when he’d been trying to figure things out with Shepard, he didn’t know. But he knew what he felt, and embarrassed as he might be about those feelings, he couldn’t deny them.
He’d wait to see what Shepard wanted. He couldn’t really resolve anything or get any kind of closure until he knew why she’d left him and why she’d come back. So he’d wait and see, and maybe…
Kaidan sighed, closed his eyes, and let the meds push him down into the soft pillow of dreams.
He didn’t know much of anything anymore, he thought sleepily. But one thing he had heard once before was “Where there is life, there is hope.” And Shepard was, by whatever strange twist of fate, alive. So that meant…didn’t it?…that there was still hope…
Shepard stared out at her empty room, at the too-big bed and the window above it. The slight blue of the Normandy’s FTL emissions flickered over the glass. She watched the dancing pattern that they made, like cold fire, and let her mind wander.
She hardly knew what to think. The only word she currently saw before her mind was a big, fat “maybe.”
Shepard scowled and fell back against her chair. She didn’t want Kaidan’s “maybe.” She wanted his certainty. She wanted Kaidan to be as determined as he’d been that night before Ilos, as determined as he’d been…
When he left Horizon?
Shepard frowned even as she thought that. She was being unfair, she realized. She had no reason to expect Kaidan to be certain about her when she’d given him so little reason to be. Besides her long absence, she had never once put her mouth where her heart was and told him that she loved him all those years ago.
And she *had * loved him.
She felt her heart twisting in her chest.
She still loved him.
Shepard felt the buzzing in her head finally cease, no doubt soothed to stillness by the hum of the ship and the flicker of the blue emissions above. She read the email once again in its entirety, noticing the last lines especially:
When things settle down a little… maybe… I don’t know. Just take care.
Well, she thought, frowning, that seemed clear enough: Kaidan didn’t want to talk right now. He wanted to wait until “things settled down” – whatever the hell *that * meant. She really wanted to write to him immediately, but decided to defer to his wishes on this one. Clearly, the guy needed some space.
Shepard stood, then heard the sad little squelching sound that the picture frame made as it flickered off. She paused, then sat down again, slowly. Carefully, she lifted the picture frame, almost afraid to see what she had done to it in her anger.
The deep, brown eyes of Kaidan Alenko stared back at her from the unbroken screen, his expression as inscrutable as ever. Shepard set the frame upright on her desk. She folded her arms before her, then laid her chin on her arms. She stared into Kaidan’s eyes, as if trying to read the real Kaidan’s mind across the distance of space and years and misunderstanding.
And as she did so, Shepard realized that she was certain of just one thing as far as Kaidan was concerned: She had no idea what the future would hold, no idea if she could stop Collectors or the Reapers, no idea if she would ever get free of the tangle that was Cerberus. But someday, on that longed-for someday when “things settled down,” she would find Kaidan again, and even if his answer was still “maybe,” she would…
She would tell him that she loved him.
And she would tell him that she was sorry.
She had no idea what he would say in return, and frankly, she realized that didn’t matter. She loved him and she was sorry and he deserved to hear her say so. She would tell him that, and then she’d let the pieces fall where they may - even if his answer broke her heart.
Shepard sighed, let her eyes slide shut, and as she drifted off into dreamless sleep, she smiled.
He’d written her at least, hadn’t he? So…she supposed…that must mean there was still hope…
And both of them hoped that hope would be enough.