And it all unfolds again.
"What the hell are you doing Alenko?" Her voice, angry.
"I'm just making sure this bomb goes off. No matter what." His, determined.
Then those three seconds. She could hear the geth firing through Kaidan's mouthpiece, hear the sound of his laboured breathing.
But.. Ashley. She couldn't. Not for-
"I'm sorry, Kaidan."
"I understand, Commander. I don't regret a thing."
She wakes, her sheets soaked with sweat, her jaw sore from clenched teeth. She sits up, swings her legs over the side of the bed, and tries to still her heart.
He haunts her dreams, night after night. Sometimes loving, sometimes angry, sometimes understanding, sometimes betrayed.
She can't blame him.
She stands up, moves to the bathroom, washes her face, and takes a long look in the mirror. She fingers the wound that Saren gave her during their confrontation on Virmire. Her body is healing, but her heart still feels like it's ripped apart. She turns the taps off, towels off the water, and wanders out into the ship.
It's the evening shift, or what passes for evening. The lights are dimmed, and there are only a few crewmembers around. Those quickly scamper when they see their Captain approaching. Shepard makes her way through the corridors, finds herself approaching Joker's chair. He's there, cap pulled down low over his eyes. She thinks he's napping until he speaks.
"Commander," he says, not looking up from the illuminated consoles in front of him. She doesn't reply, but slowly pads past him in bare feet, and slips into the chair that Kaidan used to occupy. She fingers the arms of the chair, wondering if she's touching the same spots he touched.
"Commander," Joker says again, and the tone in his voice causes her to look up and see him looking at her. There are dark circles under his eyes. She looks back down, to where her fingers are touching metal.
"He's gone," she says, and it comes out as a whisper. Joker says nothing for a long moment, and then,
"You made the right choice, Commander."
"Did I?" she looks up at him sharply, then regrets it. It's not a question he can answer. She looks back down. "I don't know if I did, Joker."
"You made the choice you had to."
"I made the choice I felt I had to," she says. "I… I was worried that my… feelings for Kaidan were compromising my judgment. I wanted to go back for him, I wanted it so… desperately that I thought it was just- just my selfish desires. I wasn't thinking about what was best for the mission. I- I was weak."
"But you didn't choose him, Shepard." Joker's voice, gentle, and she looks up to see him leaning towards her. "You weren't compromised by your feelings."
"Wasn't I?" her voice is bitter. "I was so worried about being compromised that I did the exact opposite. I chose Ashley, but only because I didn't know why I would be saving Kaidan."
Joker is silent, and Shepard feels instantly guilty for laying open her heart with no warning. Then, all of a sudden, Joker is standing beside her, and his hand is on hers.
"There was no right decision, Captain." He's looking at her intently, as though he can force her to believe this through sheer will. "If you had chosen to save Kaiden, you would be sitting here talking to me about the same thing. You had to make a choice. You chose. That's all there is to it. He understood." She doesn't know why, but those are the magic words.
"I loved him, Joker," she says, and he gathers her in his arms as she cries.