“Hmm?” Kaidan blinked and turned his head. A stab of pain shot down his neck and into his shoulders. He let out a groan and sat forward. His muscle ached in protest at sudden movement.
Kaidan looked around, then realized the comm link on his omnitool was speaking to him.
“Alenko here,” he managed, his voice coming out as a sleepy rasp. He winced as he rolled his shoulders forward and tried to work out the kink in his neck. How long had he been asleep? he wondered. Leaning against the wall, it seemed, was a hell of a lot less comfortable than lying down in bed.
“This is Councilor Anderson,” came the voice. “You were supposed to meet me fifteen minutes ago. Where are you?”
Kaidan winced again, this time at frustration for oversleeping his alarm. Or wait. Had he even set an alarm? Considering how distracted he’d been the previous night, he realized he had not. And now he was late for a meeting with the council of all things.
“Sorry, sir,” he said, clambering out of bed. Looking down, he realized that he hadn’t changed his clothes from the previous night. He was still in uniform, rumpled though it might be.
“I’ll be right to your office,” he said, deciding it was better to be punctual than appropriately groomed.
“Do hurry, commander,” Anderson replied, his tone irritated.
“Yes, sir,” Kaidan said, standing and taking a brief look in the mirror. “I’ll be right there.”
Kaidan stopped for a moment to frown at his reflection. His hair was sticking up slightly on one side and his jacket sleeve was a mess of deep wrinkles. Still, there wasn’t much he could do about it now. He quickly made sure his emails from Shepard were encrypted, and hurried out to meet with the councilor.
Your rules of chivalry are from a dead age. We’re in the age of the Reapers now, Shepard. It’s kill or be killed…
Shepard frowned as she stepped out of her quarters. The Illusive Man’s words were still buzzing in the back of her mind. They’d been bothering her ever since she had heard them, even after Joker shut down communications with Cerberus. Damn the Illusive man for getting into her head like this.
If you try to play nice, you’re going to die.
With a scowl, Shepard stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the command deck. She faced the doors, hands behind her back in a military pose. In her head, she tried not to listen to the voice, but the words just kept repeating themselves.
You’re too emotional to see the facts even if I gave them to you . You’re too much a soldier, too caught up in the field to see what we generals do.
The words had played over and over in her mind as she’d stripped out of her armor and set it into the decontamination bin. She’d heard them hissing in her ear along with the spray from the shower. As she’d brushed her teeth three times, the words and had whispered like the rasp of the toothbrush. Even as she’d stared at herself in the mirror, taking note of her new bruises, a shallow cut to the cheek, the red flash from her ocular implants, she could hear the words in her mind.
*You’re too weak without me, Shepard. Time and again, you’ve fallen. You need my guidance. You need * me .
The hell I do , she thought. How long was this elevator anyway? She needed to get back to work, and drive the stupid man’s venom from her mind.
On Horizon, you let your emotions get the better of you. And not just there. You almost lost our contract with Zaeed Massani, hell, you almost got yourself killed by Morinth just because you’re not strong-willed enough, Shepard.
Oh, shut up , she scowled at the voice in her head. Bad enough the words had annoyed her the first time she’d heard them. But they’d just kept running through her head, as if her brain was trying to unpack the meaning of each damning phrase and hang them out to dry.
You’re not strong-willed enough, Shepard.
The elevator doors slid open. Shepard stepped out to the command deck as another crew member stepped onto the elevator. The man saluted her with a worshipful expression.
You’re not strong-willed enough.
Shepard nodded absently to the man and turned to the CIC.
You almost got yourself killed by Morinth.
Shepard took a step toward her computer, then froze.
You almost got yourself killed by Morinth.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
Shepard could swear she felt the blood draining from her body. The hum of activity around her continued – monitors faintly beeping, low murmur of conversation. Slowly, Shepard swallowed, then willed her feet to carry her to her post by her computer. She braced both hands against the railing and took a deep breath.
Her mind raced. No wonder the words had stung when she first heard them. No wonder they’d been flying around in her head ever since. It wasn’t because they’d wounded her pride. It was true that she feared her own weakness. She’d be a fool to imagine herself invincible. But it wasn’t insecurity that had bothered her. It was the sense of wrongness in the Illusive Man’s words that had gnawed at her mind ever since.
You almost got yourself killed by Morinth.
She had, it was true.
But no one else knew that.
Shepard remembered looking into Morinth’s eyes, and then the world had gone blank. She remembered regaining consciousness a few moments later: Morinth and Samara were blasting one another with biotic energy, and Shepard stepped in. Later, Samara complimented Shepard on having had the will to resist Morinth.
And Shepard had been too shaken and too embarrassed to correct her.
Because the only person who had seen Shepard give in to temptation was Morinth , and she was dead. It was possible that Morinth’s apartment had been bugged, but that was unlikely. Shepard and Samara concocted their plan precisely because they didn’t know where Morinth was hiding. Surely there had been no cameras in Morinth’s lair – a place where so many had secretly died. That left Shepard herself as the only person who knew what had really happened there. And she had told no one. She had also left it out of the mission reports. Morinth was dead, her moment of weakness had passed. There was no reason to air her failings, so Shepard had kept them to herself.
So how had the Illusive Man known?
Damn it , she thought, head whipping up. She should have known that Cerberus had been more thorough in their monitoring than she anticipated. She had been wearing her civvies that day, so nothing of her conversation had been recorded on her suit computers. That meant her clothes were still bugged. And here Mordin had told her he’d gotten everything out of her room, too. She’d have to ask him to try again.
Because clearly, there were some bugs they’d missed.
“Major?” Kaidan blinked. “What?” He trailed off and stared at Councilor Anderson.
“You’re serious,” he murmured.
“Quite,” Anderson replied. “There’s to be a new Special Forces branch created in the Alliance. They’re finally seeing the benefit of having biotics work together.” He gave a slight smile. “You have your own experience to thank for that.”
“Me and Shepard both, you mean,” Kaidan said, frowning. “I haven’t worked with anyone in a long while.”
“True,” Anderson agreed. “And that’s why I want you back in the field. Your tech has served me well here, but I think it’s time to return you to your biotic roots, so to speak. I’ve made the recommendation and if you take the post, the transport to Rio leaves tomorrow.”
Kaidan didn’t know what to say to that. He just stared.
“It will be good to have you back in the field,” Anderson went on.
“Yes, but…” Kaidan frowned. “What about the Reapers, sir?” he asked. “Hell, what about Cerberus?” he added, forgetting protocol in the face of it all. How Anderson could be forgetting what they were fighting against was beyond him.
“You’re not the only one going back into the field,” Anderson told him, his face going grim.
“I have a score to settle…” Anderson stopped, then frowned. “This is classified,” he said quietly, “but I’m going to be leaving the Council.”
“What?!” Kaidan blinked. He watched Anderson’s face closely.
“You’re serious,” he said at last.
“Quite,” Anderson replied. “Udina will be taking my place.”
“In that case, I’m glad I won’t be working for the human councilor anymore,” Kaidan said, then caught himself. “Ah, sorry,” he coughed. “Didn’t mean to…”
“It’s alright,” Anderson said with a wave of his hand. “I’d feel the same. But Udina has his uses.”
“Like licking boots,” Kaidan muttered.
Anderson folded his hands behind his back. “I have some business with Cerberus,” he told Kaidan. “And the intel you’ve given me will be quite helpful in tracking them down. But I think this is where our paths go in separate ways.” He held out his hand. “If you’re willing to take the position, to train others to fight as well as you can…”
Kaidan thought about it for a moment.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, shaking Anderson’s hand. “I’ll let the brass know within the week.
“You had other plans?” Anderson asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I always leave myself a way out,” Kaidan said, half to himself.
“A way out?”
“I mean,” he coughed. “The future’s a little uncertain, is all. But,” he added, more seriously, “I’m honored you considered me, sir. It sounds like a good place to be. I just need to see, well…” He gave a wry smile. “It sounds like a plan. I’ll consider it.
And in the back of his mind, Kaidan wondered if biotics training wasn’t a good place for Shepard to be, too, should she leave Cerberus any time soon. Should she live through her mission, that is. Should she still be willing to speak with him after
“I really didn’t expect this,” Kaidan said aloud.
“I don’t imagine you did,” Anderson replied. “But you’ve earned it.”
“Good luck to you, sir,” Kaidan said, realizing that, polite as he was, Anderson considered their conversation to be at an end.
“You, too,” Anderson said solemnly. “Good luck back on Earth, Major Alenko.”