In the distance I spied the long lines of the ship I loved, the replacement for the one the Collectors had taken from me. I wondered briefly if my armor still lay tucked away in my old quarters then I turned my attention back to the sons of bitches who were keeping me from finding out.
I cursed my frustration at them, my anger at what the Reapers had done to my life, my fury at their appearing just when the Alliance had finally started to take the threat seriously. The almost-Turian creatures kept coming, snarling and shooting, and they kept falling before us. Their recognizable weapons proved that they’d once been a more-familiar species but at least they kept us in ammo as we advanced.
The last in our way fell and Joker swooped in, the cargo bay door open wide. As the Normandy dropped low enough to let us jump aboard my heart leapt. Standing there, grim and bulky in their armor, were Kaidan and Vega. I grinned and started running. Hope flickered even more strongly.
I reached the end of the dock and flung myself toward my ship as I’d done as the Collectors’ base had exploded behind me, trusting that one of my family would catch me. After the cool reception earlier that afternoon I’d expected Vega to snatch my outstretched hand. Kaidan backed him down with a look and grabbed it instead, hauling me home.
With a quick, appraising glance and a nod of thanks I turned to do the same for Anderson. No time, no time, no time, my body told me. I beckoned impatiently but my oldest friend backed away from the relative safety of the SR-2. “What the hell are you doing, Anderson?” I called. “We’ve got to move!”
“Go,” he said. “I’m staying here. Someone has to organize whoever’s left and I don’t see anyone else around to do it.”
“Damnit.” I shook my head. “Then I’m staying, too. I can’t leave you here.”
“You have to,” he answered me sternly. “You’re still a Spectre and someone has to go to the Council. You said it yourself: we can’t win this unless we all work together.”
I started toward the edge of the ramp, dimly hearing Kaidan telling Joker to hold it still. “I’m not in the Alliance these days,” I said as I readied myself to leave behind again what I wanted more than anything so that I could fight for what I believed, “you can’t give me orders any more.”
Instead of arguing he reached into his pocket and flung something at me. “You’re reinstated,” he said when I’d caught the tangle of my old dog tags. “Hackett and I are practically the whole of Alliance command at this point. Now get your ass to the Citadel. That’s an order.”
I gave him a wry smile as I slipped the cool metal into my collar. “Yes, sir.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to salute him, standing down there alone. Tears threatened and the abrupt movement might spill them. We looked at each other as I backed away from the edge, leaving the closest thing I’d ever had to a father to face the end of the world by himself.
My pulse pounded as I heard Kaidan order Joker to move out. I must have made some move as the doors began to close because James grabbed the back of my shirt and hauled me out of the way. I shook him off and took a deep breath. I won’t abandon you, I promised Anderson in my mind.
When I’d stuffed the guilt under the anger that beat in my temples, I turned. Vega greeted me tensely. “Commander.”
“I guess you can call me that again,” I said, as though he’d ever stopped. We shared another handshake, one filled with aggression and possessiveness over our turf. Slap slap slap pound up down snap! I may have hated growing up on Earth but it was still my goddamned planet and no giant, cut-rate, sea monster AIs were going to destroy it on my freaking watch.
We nodded at one another in perfect understanding. This was not running away, it was going for reinforcements. We would be back and we would kick ass. The adrenaline soured in my system and left me trembling and restless.
I realized that Kaidan still stood to my left, now rocked back on one hip with his arms crossed. His frosty expression chilled my frustration and guilt over leaving. “I’m glad you made it,” I said, trying for levity. “Thanks for bringing me my ship.” He rewarded me with a slight curl of his lip.
It had been a pisser of a year and I had no patience left. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
He arched a brow and tilted his head toward James. “I didn’t want to interrupt you two.”
Vega and I looked at one another, utterly nonplussed. Kaidan thought we were together, that I’d moved on to James. My brain locked up, torn between laughing and screaming. In the middle of Earth’s destruction and our desertion, this was his problem?
I turned back to him, cocking a thumb over my shoulder. “What, with James?! Please.”
“Hey!” Vega protested. “What’s wrong with me?” He was laughing, though. He knew as well as I did that we just didn’t click that way.
I rolled my eyes without looking back at him. “I don’t need this, Kaidan. Vega has been guarding me in prison for six months and he’s the only one besides Anderson who even bothered to talk to me while I was there.”
I narrowed my eyes at Kaidan. “The only person.”
He had both brows up, now. “Cozy,” he said.
“Oh, come on,” I snapped at him. My emotions had been running high all day and anything further along this line of argument was going to end badly. “This jealous act is not like you at all and I am not having this discussion right now. We can fling recriminations at each other later. For now I’m going to wash off this blood and…” I flapped my hand at my splattered midsection incoherently, “…whatever the hell it is and find out if my clothes are still upstairs.”
As I stalked past him I could see the grin sneaking onto his face. “Don’t you dare stand there and picture me in the shower,” I said firmly, narrowing my eyes. I knew full well that he’d recognize my comment as a first overture, if one slightly less oblique than his own had been.
Vega’s faux-scandalized gasp brought me my own little smile that faded as I realized how much they’d changed in the shuttle bay. Once I’d cleaned up and calmed down I’d have to discover what the Alliance had done to my ship. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on one thing at a time: bathing first, reunions second. My reintroduction to the world had been a bit overwhelming.
I left the men to get to know one another better. The elevator deposited me outside the familiar door which opened to show me the mess the Alliance had made of my quarters. The silly fish tank still burbled and glowed blue along the starboard wall, as empty as I’d left it but the ceiling had been ripped out to leave cables dangling in front of it. As long as the shower worked I would worry about the ductwork on the floor later.
It would take a while to get to the Citadel and gather a galactic army. With any luck Kaidan and I could at least clear up some misunderstandings along the way. Even if we weren’t in each other’s arms once more he was back at my side to finish what we’d started, right where he should be. As with everything else that had started on this day from hell, I’d just have to wait and see what happened next.