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Four Years Later

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I.

It’s four years later when Alenko finds Shepard at the Citadel, brushing dust off of his sleeves and carefully stacking a box of fish food in the shelves above him. It’s a non-descript store, wedged in between some gift shop and a crappy café, and Kaidan wonders how he’s never seen it before. 

He’d arrived at the Citadel three months ago, wearing his SPECTRE status like a cloak. He hadn’t wanted to return, almost thought he couldn’t for a bit, but the council had pressed and he’d been left with little choice in the matter. 

The relays had taken over two years to rebuild after they’d gone offline, and there were still some parts of the galaxy that they couldn’t yet reach. Thankfully, Alenko and the rest of the surviving Normandy crew had crash-landed on a planet with a space-faring civilization, and they’d managed to limp back to the alliance shortly after the relay in that sector had been rebuilt. 

He’d spent the two years after that on call for the council, working himself to the bone and trying desperately to assist in the galaxy-wide “cleanup” that was left. Truth to tell, he’d been avoiding returning to the Citadel. There are memories there—hard and bright, and they leave the taste of metal and blood on his tongue.

 In the end, though, when the council tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s needed there, he goes back. 

He spends his time trying to smooth ruffled feathers with the human dignitaries and the rest of the council. As the only remaining human SPECTRE, they’d apparently felt that having him there would ease tensions on both sides. Humans have been going up in the eyes of the galaxy—after all, a simple man had succeeded where all the rest of the ‘evolved’ species had failed.

 It’s a nice break from the fighting, Kaidan knows, but deep down all he wants is to be out there again, in the thick of things. Killing isn’t something he’s ever relished, but with the surge of adrenaline pounding in his veins and his heart hammering out of his chest, he can almost bring himself to forget about Shepard.

 Shepard, who he’d managed to reconnect with, to fall in love with, in the span of a handful of weeks. Shepard, who’d been wrenched away just as quickly, to be lost to the darkness, to the Reapers, to his fate.

 Shepard, who is apparently working at a pet store in the Citadel, and looking none the worse for wear. 

Intellectually, Kaidan knows it can’t be him. It’s impossible, Shepard had died four years ago, and this man, this imposter wearing his face—it’s a striking resemblance at best, a tasteless cosmetic surgery at worst. 

Still, Kaidan thinks, heart thudding painfully in his chest, he has to know.

He steps forward, clenching his hands into fists and willing himself not to shake. “John?” he asks, when he’s close enough, and the other man looks up. For a brief moment, Kaidan looks into the eyes of the man he loves for the first time in four years, and everything else melts away. His eyes are a clear slate grey, not haunted by the weight of his responsibilities at all, and there’s a welcoming smile on his face.

 Then he clears his throat, and the mirage is broken. “Sorry, can I help you?” the other man asks, and there’s not a single trace of recognition in his voice.

 Kaidan’s breath hitches. “No,” he says. “You just… look like someone I knew, once.” 

“Oh,” the man replies, shrugging. He studies Kaidan for a bit, then sticks out a hand. “My name’s David. I help Kox with the shop. You want anything?” 

His large hand covers Kaidan’s, warm and firm, and for a minute Kaidan forgets to breathe. David’s hair is cut short—not as short as Shepard’s was, but his eyes are clear and his forehead unlined with worry. It’s a remarkable resemblance. 

“Uh…” Kaidan falters, belated realizing he’s still shaking David’s hand. “Wha-what do you sell here?” 

David grins slightly. “Fish, mostly,” he says. “We’ve got a two-for-one sale on those jelly things.” 

He makes as if to turn back to the boxes he’s stacking, and Kaidan reaches out, grips his forearm—and it may not be Shepard, but he sure as hell feels like him—and opens his mouth. David turns to him quizzically, and Kaidan’s mouth opens before he can stop himself.

 “I’ll take two.”

 

***

 

Later, when Kaidan’s holding two jellyfish in a self-sealing bag (with strict instructions not to forget to feed them at least once a day), and standing in the middle of his apartment, it occurs to him that he’s just made a very odd purchase.

 

He doesn’t have an aquarium, and as sparse and small as his living space is, he doesn’t really have the space for it. He allows himself a small smile as he remembers John’s old rig, a monstrous set that spanned the entire wall of his cabin. He’d had several different sorts of fish in it, and Kaidan had spent quite a few nights watching the brightly colored things swim around their habitat. 

It had been soothing, in a way. 

He frowns a bit as he grabs a couple of water pitchers from his cupboard, carefully tipping the jellyfish (one for each pitcher) into the containers. They’re small ones still, and bounce gently against the confines of the space, almost as if trying to get out.

 Kaidan sighs. “Yeah,” he says. “I know how you feel.”

 He watches them for a little longer, smiling a bit as he feels his mood lift. Maybe John was on to something about having an aquarium, he thinks. It’s not like he spends his money on anything else, anyway. 

Kaidan tells himself that he’s not going back there for Shepard, that he’s actually interested enough in the things to want to keep them alive, and as he measures a spoonful of flakes and drops it into the pitchers, he almost believes the lie.

 

 II.

 

Kaidan makes it two whole days without going back to the store, and isn’t until Jack asks (in her usual gentle speech) what the fuck his problem is, that he realizes his mind isn’t exactly on the job. One of his tasks at the Citadel involves checking up on Jack’s small class of special biotics every now and then, and she’s never really been one to mince words. 

“You look like you just got a fucking lobotomy, Alenko,” Jack says. “What gives?” 

Kaidan clears his throat, forcing himself to focus on the class full of expectant faces looking up at him. “Nothing,” he says. “Just got a lot on my mind. Everything looks great, Jack, keep up the great work.” 

Jack gives him a disbelieving look. “Are you kidding? You didn’t even *look* at the reports I busted my ass to write, here—“

 Kaidan beats a hasty retreat before she can throw the datapad at his head. “I already downloaded them,” he lies. “I’ll go over them tonight.”

 And then he’s gone, out the steel doors and making a beeline for the elevators. He tells himself that he’s not trying to skiv off work, that he’s just really not feeling up for Jack and her attitude, but when he punches in the market level, he knows exactly where he’s going.

 He’s back in front of David before he even notices that he’s a bit out of breath, and his hands shake a bit when he realizes he’s run all the way there. “This is… not healthy,” he mutters, but then David comes out to man the counter and he promptly forgets everything else.

 “I remember you,” David says, and smiles. “How are the jellies doing? Still alive, I hope.”

 “Kaidan,” says Kaidan, somewhat stupidly. “That’s my name. And uh, yes, they’re still alive.” He shifts nervously from one foot to another.

 “That’s great,” David replies. He pauses, looking at Kaidan expectantly. When the other man doesn’t say anything, he squints a bit. “Can I… help you with anything?”

 Kaidan colors a bit, realizing what an idiot he must look like. His mind races as he tries to come up with a plausible excuse. More fish food would be the obvious choice, except David had thrown in an extra bag of feed the first time he was there, so he had to know that he didn’t need any more of the stuff.

 “Uh…” he pauses, drawing out the word. Why had he really come here? Obviously not for the fish, since his mind was drawing a painful blank. He’d wanted to see David again, talk to him—hear him say things with his dead lover’s mouth.

 Kaidan cringes. Yeah. That doesn’t sound creepy at all.

 David smiles a bit. “Maybe you want a little more color in your aquarium?” he asks. “The jellyfish aren’t on sale anymore, but we just got some new koi in if you’re interested.”

 “Sure,” Kaidan replies, practically lunging at the lifeline. “I’ll take a couple of those. For… more color.”

 “Great,” David says, rolling up his sleeves.

 Kaidan swallows hard as he watches the muscles flex in his bare forearms, the tanned skin marred by several thin, white scars. David nets the koi easily and bags them, coming back to the counter to ring up Kaidan’s purchases. He throws in a bag of feed on the house, smiling easily when Kaidan blusters.

 “You really don’t have to,” he starts, but David waves him off.

 “Don’t worry, the stuff’s just made of recycled sewage, anyway.” He laughs at Kaidan’s expression, waving him off. “Relax, Kaidan, I’m only joking.”

 “Oh… right. I knew that,” Kaidan says lamely. He hands over the credits and takes the fish, eying the tiny things warily. “They look… great.” In truth, they were actually quite small compared to the large, brightly-colored ones Shepard had once owned. Scrawny, even.

 “Don’t worry, they’ll grow up eventually,” David says. “Just give it time.”

 His hand brushes against Kaidan’s when he hands over the feed, and Kaidan almost drops the bag in surprise. Blue tendrils course and fade gently along his fingertips, and he looks at David in shock. “You’re a biotic?” he asks, heart in his throat. Shepard had been an L3—there was no way this could be a coincidence... could it?

 “I—I’m not—“ David begins, a frown creasing his brow. He looks so much like John in that moment that Kaidan steps forward, fish be damned, but a crash in the backroom resounds through the open door before he can even say a word.

 A distressed voice calls out to David, startling them both. “The bloodworms, human! The bloodworms are escaping!!”

 “Sorry, that’s Kox,” David says apologetically. “I have to go.”

 He reaches out and takes Kaidan’s free hand, turning it palm up and dropping the bag into it. “See you around.”

 Kaidan stands there for a good five minutes after he disappears into the back, desperately trying to process what’s just happened. When Kox comes out, the Salarian looks more than a little disgruntled.

 “Help you with anything?” he asks, and Kaidan numbly shakes his head.

 “No,” he says, turning to go. “I got what I came for.”

 It’s the precise opposite of the truth, but Kaidan squares his shoulders and heads away. He’s going to get to the bottom of this mystery, and he knows exactly where to start looking for answers.

  

III.

 

 Days pass before Kaidan gets a solid lead on the Turian, and it takes him more than a few well-placed bribes to get his exact whereabouts. He finds him, of all places, on Rannoch—a beautiful world by any standard, not as savaged as Palaven during the Reaper invasion.

 He’s standing at the southern docking bay, a modest strip of metal with a station built around it, when he’s greeted by an enthusiastic shout.

 It’s Tali, of course, but how she knows how he’s come to be here is another question. Kaidan grins in spite of himself, taking in the young Quarian. Years later, she still looks very much the same—the suit is still exactly as it was, though her hood has been replaced with somewhat brighter colors.

 “SPECTRE Alenko,” Tali says. “When your name came through processing, I knew I had to come see you. How have you been?”

 Kaidan rubs the back of his neck. “I’ve been keeping busy,” he says, shrugging slightly. “There’s always something to be done at the Citadel, and god knows keeping an eye on Jack’s never easy…”

 Tali smiles, her lips curving behind her mask. “I have no doubt that you bring honor to the position,” she replies. “Though I wonder—are you here on SPECTRE business, or for personal reasons?”

 They walk past security, Tali nodding as they wave them through.

 “I’m actually here to see Garrus,” Kaidan replies. They come to a stop in front of a large set of double doors, presumably leading into the rest of the station. “I got intel that he was last seen here, but that was months ago. Figured I’d drop by, see what I could dig up.”

 “Garrus disappeared after what happened on Earth, Kaidan,” the Quarian says tonelessly. “You know that as well as I do.”

 Kaidan nods. “It was tough on him and Liara, I know,” he says. “Everyone wanted answers, and only they were in a position to give them. But asking Liara… well. You know that’s not an option.”

 They pass through to the station, Kaidan pausing to take in the cavernous ceiling and the intricate designs wrought into the steel walls. It’s an amazing feat, given that they’ve only been rebuilding for a handful of years.

 “I remember that you two had something going on towards the end,” Kaidan says, turning to face the Quarian. “If you know where he is, I could really use the help, Tali.”

 She sighs, gracefully taking a seat on a nearby bench. “Garrus is… a difficult person to know,” she says. “I cared for him very much. After we managed to get off the planet, he was the first thing I attempted to look for.”

 Tali clenches her fingers on her lap. “But after Earth, he was different,” she continues. “I found him, in the ruins of Palaven after two years, and I could not reach him. We were all grieving for Shepard, but Garrus… I think Garrus blamed himself, mostly. I could not persuade him to come with me, so I left him and returned here.”

 She takes a breath, forcing a smile. Kaidan can barely make it out through the wisps within her mask. “I have not seen him since,” she says. “I’m sorry, Kaidan.”

 Kaidan looks down, fighting down the disappointment rising in his throat. “After what happened to Shepard, I was lost, too,” he says, looking away. “He meant a lot to all of us, but when I found out he’d died… it took me to a place that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get out of. And now, I just… I can’t tell you why, but I need to know exactly what happened four years ago.”

 “For my own peace of mind, if nothing else,” Kaidan finishes, running a hand through his hair.

 They’re silent for a moment, watching the bustle of the station around them. Finally, Kaidan meets her eyes, forcing a smile.

 “I guess SPECTRE intel isn’t as good as it used to be,” he says. “It’s all right, I appreciate you coming down to see me, Tali. For old time’s sake.”

 Tali nods. “For what it’s worth, I have the same questions,” she says. “But there are no answers to be had. Given the state of the galaxy after the Reapers were destroyed, I’m surprised news of Shepard’s death even reached us. I promise you, though, if Garrus is to be found on Rannoch, you will be the first to know.”

 “Thanks, Tali,” Kaidan says. His smile is genuine this time, and he slaps his thighs, rising. “So… how about showing an old friend the sights before seeing him off?”

 “Of course,” Tali replies. “There’s a wonderful view of the vistas a short distance from here…”

 

 

IV.

 

By the time Kaidan returns to the Citadel, all of his fish have died.

 He looks morosely at the small bodies, floating belly up in the four pitchers he has lined up on his kitchen counter.

 “Sorry, guys,” he says, sighing. “Guess Jack really meant it when she told me to ‘fuck off’ after I asked her to feed you.”

 He taps at the plexiglass, surprised to see that one of the jellyfish has apparently survived. It bops weakly against the pitcher, and Kaidan hurriedly spoons a bit of food into the pitcher. He gets rid of the rest of them, flushing them down the toilet and hoping they don’t clog anything important.

 Kaidan watches the lone survivor for a bit, then gets up.

 Finding Garrus may have been a bust for now, but there’s always the direct approach, and now he’s got the perfect excuse.

 

---

 

It’s the Salarian at the counter today, and he looks Kaidan up and down before asking him what he wants.

 “Uh, I was hoping to get your assistant’s opinion on something,” Kaidan says. When Kox appears unimpressed, he hurriedly continues with: “I’m having trouble keeping them alive. My fish, I mean. I’m a regular… Sort of.” He winces, crossing his arms over his chest and trying to appear nonchalant. He fails utterly, of course.

 “A regular?” Kox repeats, frowning. “All you humans look alike to me.”

 He turns on his heel and disappears into the backroom, shouting for David. “Handle him,” Kox says, jabbing a finger at Kaidan. “He says he killed his fish.”

 “I didn’t say that!” Kaidan protests, straightening as David puts down a rather large box and walks up to him.

 “Kaidan, right?” he asks, smiling easily. “Don’t mind Kox—he hates everyone, even his customers.”

 “Uh, right,” Kaidan replies. “I was away for a bit, on business. The person I asked to come by to feed the fish… forgot. And now they’re dead. Well, mostly. One of the jellyfish survived.”

 David chuckles, his eyes crinkling a bit at the corners. Kaidan’s stomach does an odd flip. “Dying. Yeah, they do that when they don’t get fed,” he says. “If you’re interested, we have some pretty sweet aquarium gear that cleans and dispenses food into the tank automatically. It’s on sale at twenty thousand credits.”

 Kaidan’s horror must’ve shown on his face, because David laughs softly at his expression. “It’s a bit much, I know,” he says. “I don’t even know why we stock it—the only people who can afford it are the big politician types, and god knows they never come to this part of the Citadel.”

 He leans forward conspiratorially, winking at Kaidan. “Tell you what—if you ever need to go off again, let me know and I’ll come by to feed your fish. I’d feel bad if I sold you more and they died again.”

 “Uh, yeah,” Kaidan says. “Yeah, that’d be great. Thank you…”

 “Great,” David says, smiling. “You want anything? More fish, maybe?”

 Kaidan nods ruefully. “And a small aquarium,” he says. “I think my jellyfish deserves a new home. It’s probably tired of living in a pitcher.”

 The look on David’s face is almost priceless, and after he lectures Kaidan on the merits of preserving life, he promptly sells him two bags worth of gear and three more jellyfish. It’s so much like Shepard that Kaidan’s heart *aches* like it had four years ago, when all the wounds were fresh and raw.

 “Even jellyfish need friends,” David says somberly, and Kaidan swallows hard.

 “Well, uh, thanks,” he says. “I appreciate it, David. The next time I have to go away, I’ll definitely take you up on your offer.” He smiles, David smiles, and they stand there smiling at each other while Kaidan tries to work up the nerve to say something. *Anything*.

 He opens his mouth to say ‘Maybe you can help me set up my aquarium?’ or even ‘Want to hang out sometime?’, but the words die on his lips. Dear god, he hasn’t been this pathetic since he was a teenager.

 He does an awkward sort of shuffle as he backs away, trying to wave but failing because he’s holding too much stuff. Face flaming, he does an abrupt about-face and rigidly walks off.

 “Kaidan!” The SPECTRE turns around so quickly he almost gets whiplash, and he looks expectantly at the other man.

 “Listen, we’ve got a shipment of Asari animals coming in tomorrow, so the shop’s going to be closed in the morning while we restock,” David says. At Kaidan’s confused look, he smiles a bit. “I usually get the afternoon off when that happens, and I…”

 He takes a breath, then grins. “I was wondering if you’d be around tomorrow? Maybe we could bump into each other over at the café?”

 They’re interrupted by a loud cough, and they watch in silent horror as one of the human waiters coughs into a drink that he’s about to serve to a hulking Krogan. “Maybe not at this café,” David says, and Kaidan laughs.

 “Yeah, I’d… I’d like that,” he says. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow, then? At 1600?”

 David grins and nods, and he looks like he’s about to say something else but Kox comes out again, blinking owlishly. “Are you quite finished?” he asks. “I must admit that human mating rituals are beyond me, but I believe that now you’ve secured your next meeting, you can let my assistant get back to his job?”

 Now it’s David’s turn to color awkwardly, and he waves quickly before walking back to the counter.

 Kaidan shrugs at the Salarian and walks off, suddenly feeling lighter than he has in years. He finds himself grinning stupidly all the way home, and all throughout supper, and only stops when he realizes that he’s got an appointment with Jack at the exact same time tomorrow.

 “Damn it,” he mutters, and his jellyfish bob in commiseration.

  

V.

 

“Kaidan,” Jack says, when Alenko walks into her office the following day. “The fuck you doing here so early?”

 “You killed my fish,” Kaidan says without preamble. “I got back yesterday and they were all dead.”

 Jack smirks. “Yeah? Thought I made it pretty clear that I didn’t give a damn about your fish,” she says. “Or you.”

 Kaidan takes a seat in front of her desk, raising a brow at the piles of datapads strewn haphazardly across it. There’s some sort of green mold growing under one of them, and he shudders a bit and looks away.

 “Something came up,” Kaidan says. “And I can’t make it later. So I thought we’d get your reports out of the way now.”

 Jack puts her feet up on the table, decidedly unimpressed. “Tough shit,” she says. “I haven’t finished them yet. Anyway, what’s so important that you’re canceling on the oh-so-serious business of checking up on me? That doesn’t sound much like you, boyscout.”

 “It’s SPECTRE-related,” Kaidan lies, after a brief pause. “Classified, and also none of your business.”

 “And I’ll be damned if you’re not the worst liar I’ve ever seen,” Jack says, smirking. “But go ahead—keep your secrets. Like I said, the reports aren’t done—I usually write them ten minutes before you come in to collect.”

 She laughs at the look on Kaidan’s face, shaking her head. “Don’t pretend that you even read them,” she says. “They’re all bureaucratic bullshit, anyway.”

 “Actually, I do read them,” Kaidan says. “Well, most of them, anyway. And my superiors do, too. You’re doing important work here, Jack. You know that as well as I do.”

 Jack smiles thinly. “Maybe,” she says. “But either way, they’re not done. They’ll be ready at 1600, so come back for them then or don’t—I don’t really care.”

 “Fine.” Kaidan sighs. He rises, a frown marring his brow as he tries to figure out the ramifications of filing a late report. The amount of help they’d given during the war notwithstanding, Biotics are still pretty closely monitored by the Alliance. They require his reports on Jack’s progress promptly after each scheduled visit, probably because they half-expect her to go insane and murder him or her students (or both).

 There’s no way around it—he’s going to have to cancel on David. He makes his way back to the SPECTRE offices, glancing at the clock. He’d gone to Jack first today, and he still had plenty of time before their scheduled meeting. He could probably drop by the lower wards a little earlier, see if David was amenable to rescheduling.

 The receptionist, a stern Asari, looks pointedly at the chrono as he walks through the double doors. Kaidan’s technically five minutes late for the scheduled briefing, but as it’s been nothing but pointless bureaucratic tasks for the past few weeks, he can’t bring himself to mind too much.

 He slips in towards the back just as Joren, a Turian SPECTRE, calls out his name. “Alenko,” he says. “Good of you to join us.”

 He waves half-heartedly. “I apologize,” he says. “I was checking up on Jack’s biotics earlier and lost track of time.”

 Joren’s eyes glitter darkly. “While your attachment to Nought’s school is understandable, you would do well to prioritize SPECTRE briefings,” he says. “You’ve been assigned to C-Sec this week. Report to Commander Bailey for your assignment.”

 Kaidan raises a brow. “Roger that, sir,” he replies. Bailey’s mellowed some since the war—he’s remarried and has a child on the way—and there’s hardly any action on his beat nowadays. Kaidan can’t imagine why he’d need SPECTRE assistance.

 Joren calls a few more names off the list and throws out a handful of assignments—three baby sitting gigs and a milk run—and they break up. It’s been a handful of years since Shepard’s days as a SPECTRE, and while Kaidan may miss the excitement of more dangerous missions, he’s not stupid enough to complain about peace.

 Kaidan nods at Chenowith, one of the handful of other humans here, and heads over to the presidium. Bailey’s one of the few C-Sec officers who survived the war, and if anyone deserves a cushy beat, it’s him.

 Kaidan gets off the lift, taking a moment to stare at the polished floors and the reflective pillars, the lake shimmering behind the glass walls. The presidium’s always been beautiful, but since the rebuild it’s gotten to the point of ridiculous opulence.

 “Is the commander in?” he asks the receptionist. She’s a pretty human, with freckles across her nose and her hair done up in a tight braid.

 “SPECTRE Alenko,” she says, equal tones bored and professional. “He’s been expecting you.”

 Kaidan walks in, blinking a bit as he takes in the relative sparseness of the commander’s office. Some things never change, he supposes, and Bailey stands stiffly and offers a hand.

 “Alenko,” he says. “You’re looking fit.”

 Kaidan attempts to return his handshake with the same firmness, surreptitiously wiggling his fingers a bit as he takes a seat. “So,” he says. “How can I help you, commander?”

 “I’ve never been one to mince words, Alenko,” Bailey says, steepling his fingers across his chest. “So I’ll just come right out and say it: what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 Kaidan frowns. “I can’t say that I appreciate your tone, commander,” he begins, but Bailey cuts him off, rising from his chair.

 “Nothing happens in the Citadel without my knowing about it, Alenko,” Bailey grinds out. “You check up on Jack, I’m watching. You sneeze, I’m there with a tissue. Do you honestly think that Shepard—or some asshole who looks enough like him—would be able to dock here without my noticing?”

 He stalks towards Kaidan, jabbing his index finger at the other man’s chest. “So let me repeat my question: What. The. Hell. Do. You. Think. You’re. Doing?”

 Kaidan pushes his hand away, rising as well. “I don’t know who you think you are,” he says hotly. “But my personal business is my own. And as for ‘Shepard’ or ‘David’ or whoever the hell he is—I have no idea! My guess is as good as yours—I was just as shocked as you were to see him!”

 “Bullshit,” Bailey snarls. “You expect me to believe that this… /poser/… suddenly turns up at the lower wards, completely out of the blue with no record of his ever landing at the Citadel—and you turn up barely a week later—and I’m supposed to believe this is a coincidence?”

 “I don’t know what sick shit you’ve gotten yourself into,” Bailey continues, mouth twisting. “But Shepard’s a god damned hero. He doesn’t deserve… /that/.”

 By the time he finishes his tirade, Kaidan’s gone positively ashen. He reaches out to grip the back of his chair, knuckles white with the strain of keeping his temper.

 “We’ve known each other a long time, Bailey,” he says, his voice dangerously soft. “Which is why I’m not putting you through a bulkhead right now. But if you /ever/ speak to me that way again—god help me, you’ll know just how high an L2 can spike.”

 He runs a hand through his hair, exhaling slowly. “John Shepard meant everything to me,” he says. “And more than that, he was a great man, and I would /never/ sully his memory by putting his face on some random whore.”

 “And if you bothered to do your research,” Kaidan continues. “You’d know that I was already here for three months before I even met David at the lower wards. So regardless of whether or not we arrived here a week apart, I haven’t had contact with him until recently.”

 Bailey’s quiet for a long moment, and the two men glare at each other before he finally looks away. “Maybe I was out of line,” he says finally. “But I’ve been keeping an eye on this character for a while now. I was chalking it up to either a hell of a resemblance or insane hero worship, but then you showed up, and…”

 He cleared his throat. “I guess I jumped the gun a bit,” he says. “My informer spotted you chatting him up and I traced your arrival down to around the time he started working for the Salarian. I just put two and two together.”

 Kaidan nods tiredly. “I guess I can see that,” he says. “But I hope you realize that I’m not so desperate for a lay that I’d put my dead lover’s face on someone else. Running into him was purely a coincidence—I don’t even know his last name, for god’s sake.”

 Bailey smiles thinly. “Anderson,” he says. “He doesn’t use it much, but I had one of my guys hack into Kox’s books. He lists him as a temporary employee by the name of David Anderson.”

 Kaidan has to make a conscious effort to shut his mouth at that. “Either that’s in incredibly poor taste…”

 “Or there’s more to this guy than meets the eye,” Bailey finishes. He drops down into his chair wearily, waving at Kaidan to take his seat again.

 Kaidan frowns thoughtfully. “What I don’t understand is how no one else has recognized him,” he says. “Shepard has the single most recognizable face in the galaxy, for god’s sake!”

 Bailey snorts. “I have it on good authority that most other species think that all humans look alike,” he says. “And as for the humans… Well, you have to admit, Shepard was larger than life whenever you saw him in the vids. And as for the handful who met him in person… I doubt they saw past the uniform and the buzz cut.”

 He rubs his chin. “This David guy may have John Shepard’s face, but he has none of his presence,” he says. “Reporters called it his ‘air of command’, but I think it was mostly his bull-headed determination in believing he was right all the time.”

 Kaidan smiles crookedly. “He usually was, though,” he points out, and Bailey nods.

 “Smug bastard,” he says. “This guy’s got none of that, though. The way he carries himself… it’s like he doesn’t have a care in the world. That, plus he keeps mostly to the back.”

 “Hn.” Kaidan frowns, feeling a headache beginning behind his eyes and the back of his head. “So, what now, commander? I’m still assigned to you for the week.”

 Bailey shakes his head. “David’s your assignment,” he says. “Find out who the hell he is, and find out what his angle is. No one goes to the trouble of getting a likeness that close without having some agenda, and it’s up to you to find out what that is.”

 Kaidan winces. “My personal relationship with Shepard aside, wouldn’t it be better to assign someone who wasn’t part of his old crew to do this?” he asks. “I’m not exactly anonymous myself, and if someone sees us together and connects the dots…”

 He shakes his head. “Shepard’s got a lot of fans, but he also had a lot of enemies,” he says. “If this guy really has no idea who John is… /was/… wouldn’t I be needlessly putting him in danger?”

 Bailey frowns. “Then I suppose you’ll have to double as a babysitter as well,” he says. “I want this mystery unraveled, Alenko. The only thing I dislike more than unknown variables are the Reapers, and he’s been here long enough. I want answers.”

 “So do I,” Kaidan replies. His temples are throbbing, and he rises abruptly, his chair scraping backwards. “I’ll let you know as soon as I have something.”

 “Good luck, SPECTRE,” Bailey says, and Kaidan gives him a terse nod before he walks out.

 Kaidan’s head isn’t in the best place right now, and his thoughts are warring between acute rage at potentially uncovering some sick plot, and the brief, wild hope that John’s somehow still alive.

 He doesn’t dare to hope, can’t imagine what to think, but he sure as hell knows what he’s going to do about it.