“You told me in no uncertain terms where I could stick Cerberus and I was left drifting on my own. What happened with Thane, what grew between us, was so much different than what I had with you.” I stood and paced around the long table.
“You’re this whole person, this wonderful other that stood up to me and stood with me. We’d lived by the same rules, been given the same training, and served with the same people. You knew how to remind me what was right and make me remember why.
“Thane was like some part of me that had lived a completely different life and come to the same place in the end. I never thought I could have so much in common with someone who wasn’t military.” I had to stop babbling soon. I could no longer tell if I was only making Kaidan feel worse.
“I don’t know what would have happened if Thane had been healthy but I knew from the day I met him that he didn’t have long.” I paused to catch my breath. I was talking as fast as I could to get this all out before Kaidan could interrupt me. As I went on I could see anger and understanding war on that expressive face I’d so missed.
I tried to be clearer, to remove Thane from the conversation before it all went utterly to hell again. “Do you remember what it was like after we stole the Normandy, that surreal feeling that the entire mad rush of the following days couldn’t be happening?” I stopped as I completed another circuit of the room, sitting again near where he crouched. Our eyes connected.
“Oh, yes,” he said softly. “I remember thinking that I never wanted to reach the conduit because it would bring us back to real life.” The heat, the desire that smoldered in the look he gave me could have melted me right out of that chair. My heart sped up just remembering the build-up to the night before we jumped to Ilos, the electricity that had sparked as we’d accepted that we had thrown off the rules that had kept us apart until then.
“Everything has been like that since I woke in the stupid lab.” I thought back on the strangeness of the past year and hoped it showed in my eyes. “I never knew what was happening, never felt in control. I was being lied to and manipulated but I couldn’t find a way out of the trap. That’s why I clung to the few things that made me feel like I really was alive again.”
I took a deep breath. “I talked to you every day, even knowing you couldn’t hear me. For weeks, remembering you was the only thing that kept me from self-destructing, kept me strong enough to move forward. The galaxy I’d woken into was inside-out and I missed you so badly.”
“I talked to you, too,” Kaidan admitted sadly, looking at the rug between his knees. “I told you stories about guys in my unit, how Anderson kept getting in trouble with the Council. I told you how lonely I was and how hard it was to get out of bed every day. But I always thought you were dead. I couldn’t allow myself to believe the rumors when they started; I couldn’t let myself hope.”
He sighed out a breath so deep it sounded like it had reached his toes. “And then suddenly you were there in front of me, killing the bad guys with a Cerberus logo on your shoulder. You were a bad guy, too. It looked like you’d just left me and never bothered to say goodbye.”
“You idiot,” I said gently, fighting the urge to put a hand to his cheek. “I really was dead. When we got to Horizon I thought you were on that Collector ship as it left and I’d come too late. Then you miraculously appeared in front of me only to shove me away and leave.” I let go a sigh of my own. “After that I thought you must have known where I was and had been hiding behind the Alliance the whole time. I believed Anderson had been covering for you, that you hadn’t wanted to see me. I thought you’d moved on without me. Your message sat in my inbox for weeks before I mustered the courage to open it. If it was more of the same I didn’t want to read it, didn’t want to know.”
He looked up again. “I’d mourned you for two years and was just starting to pull myself together. Then the rumors came that you weren’t dead after all but working with Cerberus. I never thought it could be true, not after the awful things we uncovered about them. The idea that they were working with the Collectors made complete sense to me, though I couldn’t imagine what they hoped to accomplish. When you showed up on Horizon with that logo on your armor I felt like my brain was exploding. It took hours for me to make sense of what you’d said. When I finally talked to Anderson he told me about your meeting. I sent you that message trying to see if it was really still you.”
A wry grin twisted his face, his regret and pain so clear that another ache bloomed in my heart. We’d lost so much, taken a chance on each other so completely out of character for both of us and then had it thrown back into our faces. Yet I didn’t want to let it go, not if there was still a chance.
“But you never answered me,” he said mournfully. “I figured I’d blown it completely. You finally showed up on the Citadel after the buzz about the Collectors and the Omega 4 relay and all I got was an earful from Joker about how close you and Thane were, about how you made all of these arrangements so that the two of you could be alone together before you came here. I heard he’d died and I didn’t know what to think anymore. Then yesterday I found this summons from you, like I had never been anything but a crew member.”
“Kaidan, I’m sorry,” I said. “What happened between us was the first thing in my life that scared me so badly that I couldn’t face it. I finally worked up the courage to read your message only to find that you were so tentative. I didn’t know if you meant ‘I hope we can still be friends’ or ‘can we try again’ or ‘don’t call me, I’ll call you’. I wanted to answer you, to say goodbye as we headed for that last jump, but what could I have written by then that wouldn’t have been even worse?”
Kaidan stood, looking thoughtful. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I wanted you to write all of the things you’ve been saying to everyone else, that you missed me or you still cared. When that data you found implicating Cerberus came through on the Alliance computers I was finally able to believe you hadn’t been brainwashed, that what you’d said on Horizon really was true. But you still didn’t answer. I wanted so badly to write to you again but everything I put down sounded too self-righteous or pathetic. You never responded to the first one and I didn’t want to make it worse.” His throat worked.
“Then you came back and I was in limbo, waiting to see what you did. You’d disappeared for weeks and no one seemed to know to where or why. When Joker told me you’d gone to Earth to be with Thane as he died that seemed like a pretty clear signal to me. It felt even clearer when you showed up here and ignored me completely.” I could see tears in his eyes as he spoke.
I rose and put my hand on his arm because I couldn’t bring myself to do more. It felt like I was being torn in two. Half of me wanted to throw my arms around him and reassure him. The other half continued doing exactly what it had been for months, whispering “Thane” over and over in time with my heartbeat. I loved both men but only one could still be a part of my life. Kaidan and I had laid some of the misunderstandings to rest but that wasn’t enough to bridge the gap of all that remained between us. One conversation couldn’t move either of us past the part Thane had played in my life.
“I’ve been trying so hard to get the truth out,” I said, “and trusting that you would hear it. Maybe that way you would understand some of what we went through and I wouldn’t have to face you. I couldn’t. After Thane died I could barely function.” I fought back the tears that threatened to steal my voice. Kaidan deserved an explanation of why I’d avoided him for so long, no matter how painful it was.
“Once I started moving again, it felt wrong to come to you. I missed you like fire but I wanted to be sure that I was finding you for the right reasons, to talk to you rather than using you for a shoulder to cry on. You deserve better, what we were to each other meant I owed you more, no matter how angry I was at you after Horizon. I would still be waffling but that Admiral Hackett forced me to contact you.”
“I don’t know if we can salvage anything out of this wreckage.” I said. “We’ve been apart for so long and so much has happened. I don’t want to pick up where we left off when I died. We both carry too much pain to pretend we’re the same as we were during that stolen time we had together. But we can start over, get to know each other again, can’t we?” Maybe if we took our time and learned to be friends again I’d be ready for more by the time we were done explaining our time apart to one another.
Kaidan slid his arms around me. My heart twisted as his tears wet my cheek. We stood, crying in each other’s arms, until some Alliance officer who’d booked the room after us walked in the door. He cleared his throat and I glanced his way. “Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was in here,” he said as he backed out and closed the door behind him. Kaidan had kept his face buried in my neck, either to hide that he was crying from a fellow soldier or just to conceal his identity.
I chuckled and pulled away a little. Kaidan put his hand to my face, wiping away a tear with his thumb. He gave me that crooked smile I knew so well and said, “Yes.”