I told him stories about his father’s regrets, his beliefs, and his love for his family. We cried, in the same room but not together. He sought my presence grudgingly, torn between resentment and his desire to believe that Thane really had loved him. Our conversations were stilted but I thought he at least accepted that Thane had tried to do his best for his Kolyat, whatever mistakes he may have made.
I'd spent the first six weeks on Earth, numb and staring. My ship had returned, freshly painted and logo-free. Garrus had arranged to have some black market techs on Omega go over every line of EDI's code as well as chase every wire in the ship to ensure that Cerberus could no longer snoop.
They'd found me in Cairo but I couldn't remember having done anything between but sit in a hotel room or courtyard, drinking tea and crying. When Joker had sat gingerly in the chair across from me one afternoon, at first I hadn't remembered who he was and had started to tell him that I wasn't looking for company. The shock on his face had woken me up a bit and I'd let him lead me back to the Normandy. Dr. Chakwas had taken over as soon as we had arrived and she'd sedated me heavily. I'd woken two days later after the most sleep I'd had since I'd been dead. My heart had ached still but my mind had cleared.
We'd headed for the Citadel to start the grueling process of spreading the word about the Reapers. I’d briefed the Alliance, stood before the Council, talked to reporters, and generally dragged myself through every possible venue trying to convince people that the Collectors and Sovereign were connected and that the Reapers still posed a threat.
My voice was splashed all over the news. I couldn’t walk down a corridor without hearing myself, sometimes impassioned and sometimes plain tired, rehashing the same arguments in different words. Even with Anderson on the Council I still had trouble convincing them to take my evidence seriously.
The Alliance, however, stood behind me. Of course that could have been their desire to use me for recruitment posters and PR work. The idiots actually thought I'd cooperate with their agenda. Clearly, they'd gotten amnesia because I hadn't done that since the incidents at Eden Prime that had started this whole cascade of event years ago.
Whatever the reason, I met with Admiral Hackett half a dozen times over the ensuing weeks. He and Anderson discussed options with me but the simple fact was that I didn't know any more about our next step than they did. They had all of the same data and devoted far more manpower than I even had to analyzing it but we simply didn't know when or where the Reapers would move next.
We finally agreed that my team needed to get back out in the galaxy to continue the hunt. I couldn't, however, say yes to adding the Normandy to the Alliance's fleet. I was a Spectre, after all. I needed my autonomy and most of the remaining crew had left the Alliance at some point. I wasn't about to lose them just to salve the egos of a few officers, despite Hackett's claim that I owed him a ship. His Normandy had been killed in action. This one was mine.
We came to a final decision with which I could live: a liaison would be assigned to my ship and join my crew. I teased Hackett about being concerned that I'd ruin a perfectly loyal soldier with my lax Spectre ways but he just smiled brightly. I should have known then what was coming. He handed me the data pad containing the information and left as quickly as he could without actually running. A flutter of concern rose in my gut and I flicked open the file. Oh, shit, I thought, as Kaidan's name glowed from the screen.
They'd picked him on purpose, I knew. He'd been promoted and put in a position of authority, become a trusted member of the circle that had always believed that the Reaper threat was real. He was a friend of Councilor Anderson, as well. On the screen he made a perfect choice for the assignment.
But what wasn't on this data pad was the enormous mountain of history that stood between us, the pain through which we'd have to work in order for me to let him on my ship. While my love and grief for Thane had blunted the hurt, his rejection on Horizon and the tepid tone of his subsequent message had scored my heart. I’d handled both so badly that I hadn’t yet found any way to respond. The longer I’d ignored things the easier it was to pretend that it didn’t matter to me, but in truth he alternated with Thane in haunting the dreams that kept me from sleeping most nights.
I’d missed Kaidan badly but was what we had had worth making myself so vulnerable again? The idea of renewing that relationship terrified me and the thought that he wouldn’t even want to made me feel guilty and angry as well. Losing someone again could destroy me and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted him around offering that frightening chance. I’d become used to the pain and afraid of hope.
Regardless of the outcome, I made arrangements to meet with him. I couldn't run away from him any longer with others pushing us together. If we couldn’t work out a way to be professional then I would refuse to take him and Hackett could just find me another perfect candidate. But I couldn't overrule Kaidan’s presence on the Normandy just because I was too afraid of how badly facing him would hurt, not and hang on to a shred of my pride.
I set up the meeting through his staff for the first available time on his schedule, a full day away. I slept about half an hour that night and threw up my sparse breakfast when I tried to imagine how I could start this conversation. I decided to approach it as neutrally as I could, to maintain my decorum and simply lay out the facts. I had to be honest about Thane. Kaidan's reaction would guide my responses from there. When Tali pinged me to ask if I wanted to grab lunch with her, I ran to vomit again before I declined.
I did what I could with my hair and face, trying to look collected and in control. My rebellious stomach gurgled angrily both at not having been fed and at the tension I was trying to make it swallow. The restless night showed clearly under my eyes but I'd been sleeping badly for so long now that the dark smudges were familiar companions.
I was seated in a conference room in the newly-established Alliance base when Kaidan arrived. One look at his face told me that I was in for an even worse time than I'd anticipated. He made no attempt to be calm or aloof. He stepped to one side as the door closed and leaned against the wall, mouth tight, eyes half closed, and arms folded across his chest. My god did he look good. His BDUs were tight across his abs and slender hips. His arms bulged with the tension that showed in every line of his body, so tantalizingly familiar. I swallowed audibly and tried to recall the little speech I had prepared.
“Commander Alenko, you have been assigned to liaise with my team on behalf of the Alliance as we investigate the threat posed by the Reapers. To that end, the Normandy will fly to Illium to meet with Liara T’soni about her research into Prothean history and the cycle of destruction she has uncovered across the past hundreds of thousands of years.”
“Ma’am.” He nodded a fraction. His ice-cold tone made me flinch a little, despite how tightly I reined in my emotions. I saw his nostrils flare a little when I did. He had intended that to hurt.
“You don’t have to call me ma’am, Kaidan,” I said, clasping my trembling hands on the table. “I’m working as a consultant to the Alliance so I’m no longer an officer.”
“And what am I supposed to call you? Hero? Savior of the galaxy? Super-Shep?” His venom stunned me. The accusations he’d hurled on Horizon had conveyed hurt but this sounded almost like hate. One of us had to stay in control here or things were going to go badly wrong. I tried to be as neutral as I could and ignore the blue glow slowly building around him.
“Why don’t you just call me Shepard like you used to do?”
“Because I don’t know you. I thought I did; you had me fooled so completely. But I can’t be that informal with a stranger, ma’am.”