At least I’d forced her to talk to the girl. She deserved to know the real situation and to make choices for herself. The girl was the age Miranda had been when she’d run away. Perhaps if Miranda got over her obsession with being “perfect” and started to talk to people instead of at them she could be a friend. Unless, that was, I had to kill her to keep her from killing Jack.
The petty issues between crew members always flared after a long stretch in space. Since I’d let everyone ashore at the Citadel most folks were more relaxed, if not completely hung over, having blown off some steam. Dr. Chakwas let me know that she had bought another bottle of brandy but I wasn’t ready for another session of reminiscence and heartfelt talk with her just yet. She was a piece of the old Normandy and one of the few people who would openly talk to me about Kaidan. Unlike some of the crew she wasn’t intimidated by me in the least and had pulled no punches in letting me know how much she thought of him and how thrilled she’d been to see us together. I was so angry with him that I couldn’t face the good doctor for a while.
We flew from system to system and between clusters, shutting down rogue VIs and slaughtering mercenaries. The Illusive Man sent us on an errand to a supposedly-derelict cruiser that turned out to be a lure instead. Though I told him in no uncertain terms that such lies were unacceptable he knew that he had me over a barrel. We’d never have known about Horizon or the Collector ship without Cerberus and we wouldn’t be any closer to finding out what was happening to hundreds of thousands of people.
Most of the other races were content to let the matter lie as long as only human colonies were targeted. I heard a lot of lip service on the Citadel about how tragic it was but no one seemed too interested in pursuing the matter. The Illusive Man knew I needed Cerberus because there wasn’t anyone else willing to invest in this fight.
It would have improved matters a great deal if he could admit that he’d been wrong about this one, though. We’d gone in cautious and taken things slowly. The horrific scenes of death and rot had had us all on edge enough that it had been a relief to have someone at which to shoot. But being lied to infuriated me, especially when it put my team into danger needlessly. We’d have gone in the same and The Illusive Man’s insinuation that the Collectors could somehow have seen into my head and known I wasn’t fooled made little sense. He was lucky that my hologram couldn’t shoot him in a non-lethal but permanently-disfiguring way during that conversation. Then again it seemed likely that he hid behind holographic meeting chambers because people often wished to do so. That’s one of the hazards of being a prejudiced ass.
Regardless of how we got there, that ship filled with dead people, strewn in corners like garbage and lying in pods like forgotten toys, weighed heavily on me. Even Jack had toned down her usual swagger after this mission. It was one thing to know that the Collectors were abducting whole colonies of families but seeing and smelling them, understanding how their lives had been wasted, invigorated the team and renewed our dedication to the pursuit of these inexplicable creatures. Though their aims were unclear their actions left no room for misunderstanding. They were killing people wholesale and they had to be stopped. I may hate Cerberus but I was definitely willing to take whatever they would give if it would help me crush the bugs.
Any wavering of loyalty my former Alliance crew members may have harbored disappeared after we escaped from that ship. Word spread about what the shuttle pilot had seen and the stench of the away team when we’d dashed through the Normandy on the way to the bridge, reeling from Joker’s evasive maneuvers, had done more to make The Illusive Man’s case than anything he could have said.
Thane and I had spent hours discussing the Collectors and what had happened on the ship. Most of the wrenching decisions I’d had to make had paled in comparison to what we’d found there and whatever had been “assuming control” of some of the Collectors with whom we’d battled was clearly to blame. I’d decided that I’d been overreacting to the hand-holding and had grown accustomed to being called an avenging angel. I rather liked the name siha and the idea that I made hard choices so that other people did not have to.
Thane was rubbing his thumbs across the back of my hands while we talked but I barely noticed. As I rehashed my frustration for the fifteenth time and listened to Thane’s calm responses I realized that I was no longer listening to the words we were saying. I was staring at his lips, watching them form words that wrapped me in a comforting cocoon but from which I was no longer drawing any sense.
The recognition snapped me back into the conversation and I reached for the coffee cup and took a long swallow as I cast about for an appropriate response. I hadn’t been sleeping well. Perhaps that explained my wandering attention. It wasn’t like I had been thinking about kissing Thane. I had simply been appreciating the presence of an attractive feature. There was no need for me to feel flustered or begin blushing, although I was doing both. I mentally banged my head on the table, made my excuses before Thane could comment on my discomfort, and took the elevator up to my cabin.
What the hell is wrong with me? I thought. Things were never like this with Kaidan. From the first day we met on the original Normandy there had been sparks between us. The flirting and innuendo had developed over time into much more but I had known at once that I had wanted to be with him. We’d fought to remain professionals, to obey regulations, but circumstances had allowed us the freedom to disregard them completely after we’d absconded with the ship and gone to Ilos.
It hadn’t been until far into our journey that I’d considered him a friend rather than a distractingly-attractive colleague, a dependable and tempting officer. Eventually we’d discussed difficult decisions and I still heard his voice in my head when it came time to make them but that physical attraction was an undertone for our whole relationship. I’d come to depend on his strength of character far more than I had liked and losing him had completely disoriented me, almost as badly as being told that I had been dead for two years and brought back to life by an organization I’d been fighting to destroy.
With Thane I had clicked as a compatriot immediately. We’d been able to talk to each other about religion, politics, and personal history almost from the first day he’d joined the crew. I hadn’t considered him as anything more than a valuable friend, someone who had been there for me in a way that I had desperately needed and who had let me offer him support in a way that Kaidan had never seemed to need. Yet I kept finding myself in the life support room with Thane, holding his hands and luxuriating in the sound of his voice. And now I was fixated on his mouth. Could I chalk this up to simply having gone so long without that spark? I had friends on the Normandy. Hell, my best friend in the galaxy was calibrating the main battery at that moment, but I hadn’t consciously thought about getting involved with anyone, emotionally or physically, after my resurrection.
Maybe I should read that message from Kaidan and finally decide to give up the last shreds of hope for him. I was being foolish in clinging to the idea that Horizon had been a mistake and that he was out there hoping to hear from me. It was time to let him go, as much as the idea hurt. I walked across my quarters and touched my private terminal, determined to see what he’d had to say after our disastrous confrontation. I was finally ready for the pain. I didn’t know what, if anything, was happening with Thane but it was unfair to both of us for me to keep Kaidan as some sort of emotional shield.
EDI, however, interrupted me before I could open it. It seemed that I had more important concerns: another old friend was in trouble. I raced down to the CIC to get a full briefing on Tali’Zorah’s situation.