Shepard stumbled out of the Mako feeling even more exhausted than usual. When had returning from missions gotten to be so…sad?
Since Horizon , the answer immediately came to her mind. Since you realized that Kaidan wasn’t coming with you - and he isn’t here to unzip your jumpsuit when you get back to the ship.
It was true, too. And she did miss that unzipping. Still, Shepard realized, she had to keep moving. Kaidan was becoming more and more the light at the end of this Cerberus tunnel, this promised “maybe” that kept her going. And since it seemed like there was no other light in sight…
Shepard glanced around, then, seeing no one nearby, she flipped open her omnitool. This was becoming a bad habit and she knew it, but ever since Mordin had wiped the ‘tool clean for her and helped her set up an encrypted folder in it, she couldn’t help herself. After all, she thought, one of these days she was going to find a way to get Kaidan a message, and until then she would prepare what she had to say to him.
The trouble was, she thought with a twinge of embarassment, she had started to write messages for him all the damn time…
You wouldn’t believe the mess I’m leaving behind for the Alliance today. Actually, you would: an officer who took advantage of his rank is now being picked up by the fleet to face charges. It’s going to be ugly.
A few weeks back I took one of the crew to deal with some old issues. Now, suddenly, everyone wants a ‘closure’ field trip with the captain. We’re talking revenge, saving lab assistants - and yes, I am serious about the last one, there. At least the baby krogan just wants to kill stuff. I’m worried about Garrus though, Kaidan. I think he needs closure more than anyone, but he still won’t talk to me since –
Since we argued about you, Shepard thought. But she didn’t write that. Instead she typed:
…since he told me about the friends he lost on Omega.
You know, there’s another person who isn’t getting any closure on this ship, Kaidan, and that’s me. The trouble is, I’m not sure I want it. God, I wish you were here right now so I could –
“Commander,” Miranda stepped out of nowhere. Shepard jumped, then quickly recovered herself. Swiftly, she saved the file and shut down the omnitool. One of these days, she thought, she was going to have to sort through the mess piling up in that folder. As of yet, she had several started messages and had still come up with nothing she would ever want to send.
“I need to talk to you about Illium,” the Cerberus officer went on, not even stopping to ask Shepard what she was doing.
Shepard scowled. “Lawson, we’re on our way there.”
“Commander?” Yeoman Chamber’s voice came over the comm. “The Illusive Man is speaking to Jacob in the comm room. I believe he wants to see you, too.”
“Coming,” Shepard said quickly. She was just as eager to get away from Miranda as she was to catch the Illusive Man for a minute. The guy popped up at the most inopportune times.
“Commander!” Miranda called after her.
“Can’t keep your boss waiting, Lawson,” Shepard said as she strode away.
Miranda just stood there in the cargo bay, staring after Shepard, her expression strangely desperate.
Kaidan jumped, then looked up and stood. He had completely forgotten how long he’d been here, staring into his coffee. Time got strange when he had no work to do and no one to share the leisure hours with. He couldn’t even recall what his mind had been brooding on. Something about Shepard, Cerberus, and unanswered emails, no doubt.
“Dean,” Kaidan said, shaking his friend’s hand. “How are you?”
“Good,” the man said, grinning. “Real good.”
“That’s…great,” Kaidan said. “Things with you and…ah…” He tried to remember the name of the girl, but couldn’t place her face, even.
“Katie,” Dean said, nodding. “Yeah. Things are…” he grinned to himself. “Good.”
Kaidan suddenly felt envious. He wished he could be standing here, grinning like an idiot over how good things were with some girl. The problem was, Kaidan thought, he’d gone and picked himself the most complicated woman in the galaxy – and he wasn’t even counting the situation she was in as part of the equatoin.
Then again, Kaidan thought to himself, if he had it to do over again, would he have chosen anyone else?
That was a hard question to answer, really. He didn’t know anymore. That was, after all, why he was sitting here at this Earth-Pacific-Coast-style coffee shop, feeling completely numb and staring into his cup. Half of the time, Kaidan thought, it seemed clear to him that someone as amazing as Shepard was worth the trouble, worth the wait, worth finding out what was going on and worth working through it all.
The other half of the time, he’d recall all those days of regs and frustration and how damn bossy she’d been. He’d think of the things that made them so different and their occasional fights and then he’d think of Cerberus and her silence for all those years and he would decide that he might as well just move on and wish her well.
But then when he started thinking about who he’d move on with and what he’d move on to , inevitably Kaidan would start thinking about those times with Shepard that had been right . He’d think of the things they had in common – and of the things that made them different but good for each other. He’d think of the night before Ilos and all those other nights… And then he’d be right back to the start of the cycle all over again.
He really was in limbo, he thought. And since she still hadn’t written to him, he had wandered through the last few days, just…doing nothing, really. It wasn’t at all like him, and that drove him crazy.
“You been busy?” Dean asked him, startling him out of his daze.
“Huh? Yeah,” Kaidan said. “Until…recently.”
“I guess,” Dean said, frowning a little. “I mean, Lisa asked about you. Said you hadn’t written her back.”
“Who?” Kaidan asked before he could stop himself. Dean’s eyes widened.
“I mean, right,” Kaidan said, hastily backing up. “Sure…I…It’s been a long assignment.” He finished lamely.
Well that was great, Kaidan thought. He’d been so busy watching his inbox for mail from Shepard, he’d completely forgotten to write back to the doctor he’d gone out on a date with. That was just rude, and he knew it. If he needed any more proof that Shepard had completely thrown him off balance on Horizon, there it was.
“I guess,” Dean said, frowning. “Hey man, you know Lisa…” He stopped himself and shrugged. “You know what? Never mind. It’s not my business. We’re all going out tonight for drinks and dancing if you want to come. Lisa might be there, she might not. It’s up to you.”
“I…” Kaidan could think of a number of reasons why he should go – to get out, to stop looking at his mail every few hours. But he also felt a little guilty even considering it. If Shepard was alive, was trying to stop the Collectors, and he just…went on a date with some other woman…
Once again, Kaidan simply couldn’t think. How could he move on from Shepard when he didn’t even know where he stood with her?
Hell , Kaidan thought, he’d have to say hello to Lisa sometime. He might as well spend the day deciding what he wanted to say to her and then actually say it tonight. Now he just needed to decide what his words ought to be…
“Alright,” Kaidan said at last. “What time?”
“What do you mean it wasn’t you?” Jacob asked, his voice irritable. Shepard strode into the comm room behind him, joining the discussion between the lieutenant and his boss.
“Jacob,” the Illusive Man said, “If I had leaked the information about the Guernsback, I would be smiling at your resolution to the situation.” To Shepard’s mind, the man sounded like he was talking to a child.
“Really?” Shepard asked, stepping into the circle of holographic display to stand by Jacob’s side. “Because given the results, it sounds like something you’d have your hands in.”
“You know very little about me, Shepard,” the Illusive Man said, darkly. “Don’t presume to understand my intentions.”
Shepard lifted her chin. She didn’t miss the veiled challenge in his tone. She just wasn’t sure she completely understood what the challenge was all about.
“Cerberus is ultimately about humanity,” he went on, flicking ash from his cigarette. “My people are valuable to me.”
“Tools are valuable,” Shepard replied, raising an eyebrow. “People are important.” When the Illusive Man said nothing, Jacob frowned and glanced from one of them to the other.
“Fine, you didn’t forward it,” he said angrily. “So who did?”
“I did,” Miranda said, stepping into the room behind them.
Shepard, Jacob, and the Illusive Man’s holograph all turned to stare at her.
“Did you have some reason for that or did you just want to see him squirm?” Shepard asked.
As Miranda explained her reasons, Jacob stared at the woman. Shepard, however, felt a sudden rush of understanding. Jacob and Miranda , she thought. Of course. She should have seen it. She was usually good at reading these kinds of things among her crew, only she’d been so distracted.
Proof again that you need to get a grip, Shepard, she thought. If she was missing undercurrents like these on her crew, that was not a good thing. Once again, she resolved to step up her care of the people that she was working with, regardless of what she felt about this mutual friend of theirs.
And speaking of that Illusive personage, he clearly thought the discussion was over. “Miranda,” he said. “We’ll discuss your liberal interpretation of security protocol in private. Shepard. Jacob.”
With that, he waved them from the conversation.
Shepard opened her mouth, torn between wanting to leave Lawson to a set down from the Illusive Man and her own desire to talk to him. Weariness won out, however. She shrugged off Jacob left the room.
“Miranda.” The Illusive Man said as soon as the door had slid shut on both Shepard and Jacob’s departure.
Miranda stood more stiffly than usual. She was starting to walk more like the military crew members, she realized. Her more casual, loose way of carrying herself was daily becoming more rigid. She wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly. But then, she’d been feeling slight changes all around her for a while now and she didn’t know what any of them meant.
“I don’t think I need to remind you that this mission is not about working out personal business.” The Illusive Man fixed her with a glittering blue glare, then snuffed out his cigarette.
“This crew needs to be…settled,” she protested. “ I need to be settled.”
“We have the situation on Illium under control, Miranda,” the Illusive Man told her. “Pestering Shepard over the matter is beneath you.”
Miranda started at his words. How was it that he knew she’d been talking to Shepard about it? Miranda wondered, wildly. How was it that he always seemed to know?
“I know sir,” she said, “It’s just that…”
“If you make it to Nos Astros in time to meet our contact, you can do as you please. If not, we’ll make the move without you. Our people can handle it,” he continued when she opened her mouth to protest, “And I have other duties that need your attention.”
Miranda placed her hands behind her back. “Very well, sir,” she told him. “What is it you need from me?”
“Shepard plans to send a message to a certain former crew member,” he told her. “What that message is, I am uncertain. Likely it is an olive branch of some sort. You need to keep that from happening.”
“I…” Miranda blinked. “What?”
“Commander Alenko is back on the Citadel,” he went on. “I think it’s best that he stays there – or, at least, that he stays as far away from Shepard. His influence over her these last few weeks – even in absentia – is quite…troubling.”
“He…” Miranda tried to think how to explain it. “Sir, what he said to her on Horizon…”
“Yes, I know,” the Illusive Man told her. “And Shepard has been brooding about it ever since.” He frowned. “I don’t like brooding. We need to keep her moving. I don’t want her stopping to think…”
He broke off, then swiftly said: “I don’t want her stopping.”
“She is moving forward, sir.” Miranda didn’t know why she said that, why she felt the need to defend Shepard, but she did.
Perhaps it was because the woman had taken the time to help Jacob find his father, Miranda thought. Not many captains would do that for their crew – particularly crew they so distrusted. But Shepard had said something about never leaving family behind, and agreed to see it done. It gave Miranda hope that perhaps Shepard would understand…
Miranda frowned. She didn’t want to have to put her cards on the table with Shepard, but it seemed she would have to.
“Did you hear me, Miranda?” The Illusive Man glared at her.
“Sir?” She blinked. She had not been listening, and she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.
“Shepard needs to pick up speed here. She needs to keep her gaze focused on the path before her and she does not need to be distracted by Alliance ties. If you can, intercept her messages by whatever means possible.”
“I would have thought that EDI…”
“You know as well as I that EDI has limitations, not the least of which is the fact that she can only reach as far as the ship’s computers and whatever system she can hack into. Plus, she has her…blocks. She is no match for a person with her eyes and ears open. Keep your eyes open and fixed on Shepard, Miranda,” he said. Then he smiled and added:
“Just as I keep my eyes fixed on all of you.”