Lone Leader

Part 3, Chapter 60 of Valkyrie

“So that’s it then?” Shepard said, fighting to keep her fury out of her voice. “You’ll acknowledge that you send Alenko out to Horizon to investigate me and Cerberus, but you won’t tell me anything more about what he’s up to now?”

She caught herself before she said anything more. Kaidan didn’t want her anymore anyhow, she thought, bitterly.

Councilor Anderson just frowned at her. “You know I can’t compromise his assignment,” he said.

“So you’ve spoken to him?” Shepard asked. Anderson did not answer. She scowled. “Was the report in my favor? Have you finally realized that I want to be rid of Cerberus and re-join the Alliance?”

Anderson just pursed his lips and folded his hands.

“Nothing, huh?” Shepard sighed. “Fine then. I don’t know why I bothered to have Bailey help me track you down if you’re just going to…” She broke off as she noticed something at the councilor’s elbow, something she had not seen the last time she visited here.

“Why do you have a picture of Kaidan on your desk?” she asked, too startled to ask about the commander by his proper title.

“It’s not just him,” Councilor Anderson said. “It’s all of you. Only the damn thing gets stuck sometimes.” He pounded the edge of the frame with his fist, then looked on as the picture cycled to a shot of Ashley Williams. Shepard’s breath seemed to catch in her throat.

“Ash,” she murmured. Then the picture changed again to show a shot of Shepard herself, her eyes slightly crossed and her face caught in a strange half-grin. “That’s a bad one,” she muttered.

“Doctor Chakwas gave that to me as a congratulations gift for getting this position,” Anderson explained. “She didn’t have much to go on with you, I’m afraid. You’re not exactly photogenic, you know.”

“I know,” Shepard said, chuckling and rubbing the back of her neck.

“It’s a little sentimental,” Anderson admitted, “but I’ve kept it. It reminds me of you – all of you. Of the people who put me here – of the people I’m fighting for.” He paused, then stood and started pacing across the room.

“Shepard, I know you’re upset. I know you don’t think I’m doing much up here, but there are many ways to fight. I had hoped my way might be your way – the Spectre’s way. But it seems it’s not. Not anymore. My way of fighting is with diplomacy, now. And sometimes with…compromises.” He said the last word softly, as if it was something thorny he didn’t want to touch, and his eyes grew troubled.

“That’s a lonely fight,” Shepard replied.

“So is yours,” Anderson replied. “You were always in a strange place, Shepard. I saw that from the moment I met you. You came from this big family, but they were all gone. You had rallied a whole colony during the Blitz, but took on the worst of that fight alone. You command teams all the time, but just as often, you work solo.” He turned to look at her. “Like me, you were always caught between being a commander and a Spectre – a lone operative and a leader. That’s a difficult place to be.”

Shepard snorted. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, it is.” She let her eyes drift back to Anderson’s holo – now showing a picture of Joker – and she shook her head. “I guess I never really thought of it like that.”

“I knew you could work alone,” Anderson told her firmly. “And I know you can lead. And even though I can’t help you – I know you can get this mission done. And when you do…”

“Then I can come back to the Alliance?” Shepard asked, raising an eyebrow. “After everything they’ve said about me? After all the help they didn’t give?”

“I didn’t say they’d necessarily take you back,” Anderson replied.

“Right,” she said. “Well, no surprise there.”

“They’re pulling for you Shepard,” Anderson told her. “Some of them. Perhaps more than you know.”

“And others are gunning for me,” she said.

Anderson inclined his head in acknowledgment of the fact and Shepard just sighed. She stood, gazing out at the Presidium, down at the lake below, out at the people going about their daily lives, all thinking that the next meeting they had was important – that the lunch dates they had were important. And in a way, she supposed that such things were important. But as for what was really important…

After a moment’s consideration, Shepard reached for her neck. She pulled her dogtags over her head and held them out to Anderson.

“Here,” she told him solemnly. “Give them to…” Then she remembered once again that Kaidan had moved on, and her stomach roiled. “Nevermind,” she said, tucking them back into her armor. “They’ll go through the relay with me.”

She took and breath and gave Anderson as respectful a salute as she could muster.

“It was an honor serving with you, sir,” she told him. “I never had the chance to tell you that.” She swallowed, and then, after a moment’s consideration added:

“And Kaidan – Alenko – is the only member of my former team who’s still with the Alliance. Tell him goodbye for me, please.”

Anderson opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it. He simply nodded.

“Good-bye, Anderson,” Shepard said. With a sad smile, she left the room.

Anderson sat back down, frowning as the picture on his desk cycled through all the familiar faces once again:

Presley. Chawkas. Alenko. Shepard.

Anderson sighed.

He’d meant what he’d said, he thought, feeling suddenly very old. He knew Shepard could do this. And in his heart of hearts, he knew that what Cerberus had done with her was the answer to his problems. She was his best operative and she had died shortly after her greatest victory. Cerberus had brought her back. Colonies had been disappearing and the Council did nothing. Cerberus took her to stop them. She had even managed to save the life of Alenko, his other best operative. And now she was on her way to stop the Collectors once and for all and then go after the Reapers. What the Council and the Alliance should have been doing together, *she * was taking on alone.

No, he reminded himself, not alone. She was doing this with Cerberus. What Cerberus had done here had truly been best for everyone.

But is it best for her? His conscience nagged him.

His frown deepened. He didn’t know. He’d heard rumors about Shepard before she’d even come to see him those long months ago. He’d suspected where the rumors had come from, and from the intermittent reports he’d gotten about Shepard’s activity, it seemed clear to him that Cerberus was directing her every step. It had been hard to say what she thought of all this, however. When she’d been here, she was as hard to read as ever.

Even on the ship, she’d kept silent. The one mole that Anderson had managed to sneak onto the SR2 had given him little to go on. Shepard was well-respected, even feared, the man had said. She had done much for her crew and had built an impressive team. Rumors abounded about her squad – their history, their concerns, their affairs and their comings and goings. But the mole had little to say about what Shepard herself was thinking or feeling. She ran a tight ship and stayed on an unrelenting schedule. Some of the crew joked that Cerberus had brought her back as a robot – no heart and no sense of pain. Of course, no one dared to do that within her hearing. But the result was that she confided in no one - or at least the people she confided in did not speak of what she’d said. So Shepard’s thoughts on her situation remained a mystery.

And as for Anderson, he felt that he knew less about Shepard now than ever. As before, Shepard was marching out into danger and he could do nothing but keep people out of her path and hope she came back. Maybe then, he thought, he could finally help more than simply watch from the sidelines.

Anderson stared into empty space for a moment longer, then hit the comm link on his desk.

“C-Sec customs, Zakera Ward,” a voice answered on the other end.

“This is Councilor Anderson. I need to speak with your supervisor,” Anderson said. There was a long pause, then:

“Bailey here.”

“Officer Bailey,” Anderson said. “Has Commander Shepard left the Citadel?”

“Captain,” the man corrected. “Yeah, her ship just left range of our sensors. Why, you want me to hail her?”

“No,” Anderson replied. “Just notify me if she should return.”

Anderson felt a strange heaviness in his chest as he spoke those words.

“Understood,” Bailey replied. “She’d be hard to miss. Has a tendency to cause an incident wherever she goes.”

Anderson’s eyes narrowed. “Was there some problem with Shepard?”

“Not with her,” Bailey replied. “Sort of more - *around * her. She had the station in a bit of an uproar, what with her stopping a murder and catching a known felon.”

Anderson shook his head. That certainly sounded like Shepard. “What did she do, exactly?” he asked.

“Well,” Bailey said, “It’s sort of a long story…”