“You didn’t seem to have any trouble talking to everyone else on the Citadel about the toils and perils your wonderful new team faced while they worked to save the galaxy and…and about how much you loved Thane.” The bitterness that filled those words tore at me, both hearing him say Thane’s name and the pain I could feel in his words. Yet had I ever said that, spoken of Thane so bluntly or publicly?
I didn’t believe that I had, that those words had been broadcast anywhere. Obviously Kaidan was getting his information somewhere closer to me. But we’d come to the root of the problem now and denying I’d told any interviewer about my personal relationship with Thane wasn’t enough.
“I never talked to anyone about Thane except his son and then only about Thane’s dead wife and Kolyat’s childhood. I don’t know what you heard or from where but if your ‘sources’ told you I’ve been shouting my feelings from the rooftops and you believed it then you’ve been played for a sucker.”
I hadn’t expected him to throw this in my face so quickly and I could hear how defensive I sounded. A deep breath failed to steady me. “This is about you and me, not Thane. If the Alliance and the Council insist on throwing us together then we need to find a way to at least be civil with one another.”
“With all due respect,” he began, his voice making clear just how much respect he thought that was, “I don’t believe that’s possible.” I didn’t want to believe him but I could think of no response in the face of such resolute dismissal. Maybe it really would be for the best if we just went our separate ways. I hurt too badly already.
“Why bother making nice with me?” Kaidan fairly spat as I hesitated. “Go find yourself another new man to sleep with.” He glowed eerily, his power outstripping his control, the only time I’d ever seen it happen.
“I never slept with him!” I protested. Was that his problem, the idea that I had shared my body with another man? After the agonizing I’d done in deciding I hadn’t been ready to jump into bed with Thane, after my regrets as he had died in my arms, the accusation seemed doubly unfair. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
“Oh, really,” he snarled as he stalked across the room toward me. “Joker said you did. Why would he lie?”
“Let me guess,” I snapped, matching his tone. Growing anger to paced the pain and standing to get in his face despite the warning blue. “You asked Joker, ‘Did she sleep with him?’ and Joker said, ‘Yes.’” Kaidan nodded, scowling. “You should really learn to be more specific, Alenko.” I drew out the name for emphasis.
“Did we share a bed? Yes. I slept and Thane was in the bed at the time, fully clothed, helping me deal with having a Reaper attempt to indoctrinate me as we fought off hundreds of cyborg corpses.” I ticked off the points on my fingers. “Then there was the time that we both slept in the same bed after he’d rushed into a burning building to save my life, but that was in the med bay and he couldn’t really breathe at the time so I wouldn’t count that. I did nap by his death bed, too, but he was unconscious a lot of that time.”
I covered the agony of each of those reminders with a voice that dripped sarcasm and made a mental note to poke Joker really hard in the ribs the next time I saw him. With luck I might break a couple of them. Kaidan and I had enough difficult history to cover without such “help” from the smartass.
“What, his scales didn’t do it for you?” Kaidan said mockingly.
“How dare you?” I asked through clenched teeth, tears starting in my eyes. “Thane tried his hardest to be a good man with what he’d been given. He tried to right enough wrongs to let him die with a clear conscience. What he had been taught as a child ate at him as much as what killed him and he fought it every day. He was nothing to do with you. Leave him out of this conversation.”
“How can I?” Kaidan countered. “If it was so easy for you to find someone else I can’t help but wonder if you didn't go for me because I was convenient, the way he was. I wonder if you are capable of love at all or if you simply confuse desire for the real thing.”
His accusation stung all the more because I could see his point. He couldn't read my mind, see how things had developed so differently with Thane than they had with Kaidan. How could I defend myself against his charge without explaining so much tender history that would only hurt us both as I spoke? I collapsed into my chair again and Kaidan slid to a crouch against the wall to my left, his biotics pulsing erratically in his anger and confusion.
“I mourned you,” he said coldly. “When you died my life was ashes for so long that I thought I’d never get through it. But I did. Then the rumors started and I ignored them. I knew Commander Shepard and she’d never work for Cerberus. Then there you were with that logo on your shoulder.”
I tried to imagine how I would feel if, two years after I’d helplessly watched him die, Thane were to swoop in, in Cerberus armor, and save my life with Garrus in tow. How would I react, how would I come back from that? My months-long silence after his tentative message must have felt like the final blow. I slumped, realizing how deeply he must have believed I had betrayed everything we’d stood for and done.
“Thane was a wonderful friend,” I said slowly, feeling my way through this emotional minefield. “I couldn't find you and I needed someone to talk to. You were always so strong in your views of right and wrong! I had depended on you so much that I found myself wandering without a compass. I couldn’t get away from Cerberus and still finish what needed to be done. Thane helped me to work through my decisions and remember that I had my own views, too.”
Kaidan's expression softened a bit but his body language was still angry. “So I made you weak and he made you strong?” he asked, sounding hurt below the fury. “It’s a good thing I didn’t keep harassing you with messages.”
“Don't be obtuse,” I said. “That's not what I meant and you know it.” I dashed sudden tears from my eyes before they could fall. “I spent time with him because he was a kindred spirit, someone who understood me and who needed my help in return. Without you there, I had a void in my life, a black hole sucking my strength and determination. I couldn't afford that, not while I was hunting the Collectors and trying to watch my own back.”
The loneliness and disorientation of those first weeks swept over me once more. “I needed a friend and Thane was there for me. The ‘more’ developed over months of support through painful choices. But holding it against him is ridiculous. The man is dead and now I’ve learned how to mourn, too.” I couldn't stop the tears any more. There I was, defending myself for falling in love with one man to another that I loved still. Why was my life so stupid when I wasn't shooting things?
“Jacob told me that I’d spent two years and twelve days dead or as good as”, I continued, turning to look at him. “After the battle that forced Cerberus to wake me up my first thought was of how I could get free. But even once I had the Normandy—and Joker to fly her—I couldn’t find you. The Alliance had you so deeply classified that I could barely tell you were still alive. Even Councilor Anderson wouldn’t tell me where you were. Then Cerberus told me that you were on Horizon.” I stopped for breath and to blow my nose. I could only imagine what a harridan I looked, by then.
Kaidan moved a little, as though he meant to touch me but thought better of it. He looked almost as miserable as I felt. “I acted like a complete ass when I saw you,” he said.
“Yeah,” I responded, “And I spluttered like an idiot. It was not one of our finest hours.” I shook my head. “For people who had tackled the unknown across the galaxy we didn’t handle that surprise well.” I may have imagined the twitch at corner of his mouth, that familiar way he hid a smile. It passed so quickly that I couldn’t be sure it had been there. I flared my nostrils, fighting as the corners of my own mouth tried to turn upward in chagrin. We had acted like a pair of morons that day, running on pure emotion and adrenaline.
“Look,” I went on, “we can’t cover three years’ worth of regret and stupidity in one conversation and I can’t pretend that Thane was nothing more than yet another person who died under my command. That would be enough to tear me up, as you well know. Ash died saving all of us and I still have nightmares about that decision. That Thane was my confidante and my friend, that he cut his life short for just me, makes it a thousand times worse.” I found yet more tears on my cheeks. I’d ridden this emotional roller coaster for weeks and couldn’t foresee a time when I could get off of it. “So, yeah, I know how hard it was for you when I died.”
Kaidan did touch me, then, a single finger on my forearm. “I am sorry,” he said softly. “You look like you haven’t slept in weeks. I hate to see you grieve like this and not be able to comfort you. But I still love you. It kills me that you’re crying over someone else and I don’t think I’m strong enough to be here while you do.”