“You just shut me down,” I said, my confusion and frustration of that afternoon on Horizon nearly two years before coming back full strength.
“I shut you down,” he agreed ruefully. “There you were, alive and with Cerberus.” He shook his head slowly, feeling his way through the sentences. “I didn’t know what to believe. Everything I thought I knew had been blown away in a moment.”
Kaidan sounded so sad that my heart melted, a little. But despite my desire to have him back in my life and in my arms I was still so angry at him. “I tried to explain,” I said, “but you would let me. You still haven’t.”
“I’m sorry. I was sorry the moment I walked away. But…Cerberus? After all we’d been through with them it was the last thing I expected from you.”
We looked at one another across the gulf the years had opened between us. I could still feel his hands on me and the sting of that brusque rejection. Maybe we could build a bridge over it, starting today. But Kaidan had another idea.
“I want so badly to get past this,” he said. “Maybe the only way is to…” He gestured vaguely.
“Just bury it?!”
The warning in my tone went right past him, perhaps not a surprise considering he was lying in a hospital bed, his face a mass of bruises and his skull still cracked from the bashing he’d taken.
He looked at me hopefully from his mask of black and blue. “Yeah, just bury it. You’re back with the Alliance again. Cerberus is behind you; maybe that can be, too.”
Before I exploded I took a deep breath. Yelling wouldn’t help and it might just make him abandon the idea of rekindling what we’d once had. When I’d run to him where he’d lain I’d thought that creature had killed him. All I wanted in that moment was the chance to try one more time, to explain finally what had happened to have him believe me. Now he was suggesting we pretend nothing more than the usual military separation had happened, that our years apart were merely an inconvenience. That wasn’t good enough.
“No, Kaidan, it can’t. I need to know you believe me, that you trust me. That day…you refused to try.” How that had hurt, on top of the physical pain of my resurrection and the frustration at failing so many colonists. This was our first chance to talk, just the two of us, and I wasn’t about to waste it.
One corner of his mouth turned down and he winced. “It was unfair, I know, but, hell, Shepard, I thought you were dead. We suspected Cerberus was working with the Collectors and then suddenly there they were and there you were. What was I supposed to think?”
“I don’t know, maybe that the person I loved deserved a chance to offer more than one foolish greeting and a little stammering?” Tears thickened my voice and I looked at the ceiling for a moment, forcing them back, before I could meet his eyes. “Maybe that there had to be an explanation.”
“I believed you were dead,” he protested. “’I was’ wasn’t particularly convincing when you were standing right in front of me. Either you were lying or you’d been brainwashed. You turned your back on them and did the right thing in the end. That’s all that matters now.”
Kaidan sounded almost desperate for me to agree. I realized then that he still didn’t know what to believe but that he certainly didn’t buy the truth. No proof existed, outside of the Cerberus databases to which I no longer had access. The Alliance had cleaned out every scrap from the Normandy long before.
We had much farther to go than I had thought. The fizz and spark of our reunion meant nothing if the most basic parts of our relationship had been so badly broken. I sighed sadly. “That isn’t all that matters, Kaidan. That you know it is just a start.” He held out a hand and I took it, for a moment, before the nurse came in and shooed me out the door. A start seemed better than nothing at all.
Weeks later Kaidan had finally mended enough to be released and things came to a head before he’d even finished signing the paperwork. Cerberus had come to the Citadel to eliminate the Council and make Udina head of the galactic government. Few likely understood that he’d have been The Illusive Man’s puppet but I knew precisely who held the strings.
I’d already intercepted the assassin sent for the Salarian councilor. For an hour I had chased Udina halfway across the Presidium in a race to stop him from slaughtering the deluded Turian and Asari representatives who still thought his “bodyguards” would protect them.
Garrus, Liara, and I caught up at the same time Kaidan found them, fighting through Cerberus troops from the other direction. He arrived just in time to find me pointing a gun at Udina and skidded to a halt on his heels, mouth agape.
“Shepard! What are you doing?”
I cursed under my breath. None of us had suspected Udina before today. I’d known he was a weasel and an ass but not an utter traitor. Kaidan couldn’t bring himself to point his gun right at me, at least, but he was indecisively waving it around in my general direction. The look of resigned betrayal on his face was shattering.
“Kaidan, Udina betrayed the Council to Cerberus. He lured them up here to kill them.” Even to my ears that sounded little more believable than “I was” had on Horizon. “Please, Kaidan. This time, trust me.”
We locked eyes for a moment, a million unsayable words filling the space between us. I vaguely heard the other Councilors expressing their shock and Garrus vouching for me. Kaidan appeared to hear none of it. He simply stared at me, weighing everything in his mind.
With a curt nod he turned and trained his gun on Udina. As he stepped back to my side he said, “I’d better not regret this.” He looked half-nauseous but resolute.
I stiffened my voice to hide the wave of relief swamping me. “You won’t.” Things spun out of control and I ended up nailing that traitorous bastard Udina right in the chest but all I could think while my body responded to events was, “He trusted me. This time he trusted me.”
No sooner had I turned from the now-dead human Councilor’s body, still falling, than Bailey burst through the elevator doors. He’d been guiding my team through the chase, wounded though he was, and had finally managed to catch up to us. He pointed his own weapon straight at Udina’s bodyguards as his men hustled the asari and turian councilors to safety.
Some part of me knew all this was happening but all I saw was Kaidan’s face. When I first turned it shifted from shock to fear, as though I were going to shoot him, next. He still didn’t know whether to believe me and I’d just killed a man he’d trusted until minutes before.
But when the C-Sec officers burst onto the landing pad and backed me up his doubts clearly warred with relief. No wonder he lost at poker every time he played. Every feeling played across his features. Finally he looked me in the eyes again and raised one eyebrow. I returned half a smile and a small shrug. He’d trusted me against all he knew, the one thing I’d asked of him. Now we could start to bury Horizon.
Things quickly warmed between us but we never quite committed. We talked about being together, we even went on a date, and Kaidan kissed the palm of my hand once in a way that lit up parts that had lain dormant for three years. But still he held back that last step.
While I wanted to haul him into my quarters and maul him like a bear I knew he could not be forced until he was ready. Finally, on the way to The Illusive Man’s base, he came to me with that bottle of brandy I’d brought him in the hospital so long before. It had been beautiful, passionate. He’d finally forgiven me for whatever he thought I’d done and let himself love me.
I didn’t know until we found the research data quite how deliberately he’d misunderstood. We watched The Illusive Man discuss my condition with one of his scientists who told him that the Lazarus Project could not work. I’d been brain dead far too long and the damage was too extensive, the nameless man reported. TIM responded by putting Miranda in charge of my remains.
Kaidan had watched over my shoulder. I didn’t dare turn to face him. “Clinically brain dead,” he whispered. He sounded as though someone had punched him hard in the solar plexus. In a way they had. “I thought…a coma, maybe they drugged you so you wouldn’t know.” A tinge of wonder colored his voice. “You really were dead.”
I told you that four years ago! I shouted in my mind. Once the spasm of indignation passed I understood he’d built up a fantasy around my involvement with Cerberus. Part of me raged at the idea that he thought me so easily duped. The rest marveled that he loved me enough nonetheless to invest in a fairy tale that let him excuse what he still thought had been utter betrayal.
So now he knew I’d been telling the truth about this impossible thing. Happy though I’d been to accept his incremental return I’d known things could never be quite what they had between us with those doubts still in his mind. Now we could finally build that bridge, with some painful honesty on both our parts.
I stepped back until our armor clunked together gently, as affectionate as we could get in the moment. My finger hovered over the button that would play the rest of the vids. “I really was,” I said softly, “I really was.”