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-1- SSV Normandy: Shepard's Cabin

The ship is so empty. Even here in his own quarters, Shepard can sense the absence of the Normandy's crew. Looking up from his terminal as gentle blue glow from the fish tank lights the left side of his face. The morale boost from the Heretic Station mission, just the day before, has been drained by the dual failures of the attack from the Collectors --and to a much lesser extent-- the failed salvage operation on a Heretic supply depot. The shuttle was already headed back toward the Normandy when EDI contacted them about the Collector attack. If it wasn't for EDI and Joker, they'd have no hope against the Collectors.

Staring blankly at the Normandy SR1 model, 'Have I failed another crew?' Of course, no answer came to his unspoken question. With a sigh and a shake of his head, Alan returns to his job at hand; catching up on paperwork. The Illusive Man wasn't too keen on him activating Legion, he could tell by TIM's word choice. Quickly writing a reply, "Legion has already proven itself with the amount of intelligence he's given us about the Geth and Heretics. I know you wanted to pull it apart for your experiments, but it's more valuable to me activated. EDI is monitoring it's every move and it has never tried to circumvent her defenses." He considered adding, “Kiss my ass.” But decided against it. Next, is a thank you note from Diana, Nef's mother on Omega,  A wan smile crosses his face, he's glad that a monster like Morinth is gone, yet he still feels sorrow for Samara's and Nef's loss. Finally, left with deleting the spam messages. 

Taking a deep cleansing breath before standing to stretch. Turning to his right, catching sight of Kaidan's photo as a all-too-familiar pain hits him in his gut. Remembering the night before Illos, his last impossible suicide mission, and about how much has changed. A romantic would say that night was perfect, in reality it wasn't. Both of them were a bit too clumsy and nervous for that, but it was certainly special. For Alan, it was just a few short months ago but he knows two years has passed for the rest of the galaxy. Gently touching the frame before turning to leave his quarters.

The elevator doors open onto the CIC Deck, the usual subtle sounds of the ship are like a din in the empty room. Passing by Kelly's station, thinking of the irony that he wasn't too keen on an assistant at first, but now he really misses her insight and cheerfulness. Continuing forward down the passageway, consciously willing himself not to see ghosts in each of the empty stations as he enters the flight deck. "EDI, we don't want the Collectors to see us coming. Are you sure we're not being tracked?" 

EDI does not speak for a brief moment. "All systems have been checked. I have used every means to ensure we are not emitting any other signals." Shepard stares at the VI's hologram, not entirely content with the answer. 

Joker grumbles from his seat, "EDI's alright, Commander. Everything checks out." His demeanor and tone defensive.

Placing a calming hand on the pilot’s shoulder, "Both of you did a great job." Turning back the AI's hologram, "Your quick thinking saved the ship and has given us a chance to take the fight to the Collectors." Out the view ports, the near hypnotic kaleidoscope of light of the ship at FTL drawing his attention. The nebula of the Sea of Storms making a nice backdrop for the plasma light show and reminding Alan that they are still hours out from the local Relay that'll let them jump to the Omega nebula. 

-2- Citadel: Embassy Offices

The red taxi settles onto the pad, the door yawning open, leaving Kaidan Alenko at the entrance to the Citadel Embassies. For the past month, since his mission on Horizon, he has been coordinating relief efforts for the survivors and gathering intelligence on the Collectors. With nothing new to report, Kaidan wondered why he was summoned here and wasn't looking forward to this meeting with Councilor Anderson. Thinking to himself, ‘It's not my place to ask questions.’ as he approaches the temporary security checkpoint. After Saren's attack, the Council decided to move the embassies into new higher security offices. However, those offices weren't yet ready. For now, a C-Sec checkpoint verifies everyone wanting entrance into the area..

Every visit to the Citadel reminds him of the the attack from Sovereign, particularly this area of the Presidium. A Turian officer checks his ID, "Welcome Staff Commander Alenko, you're clear to proceed." Waving Kaidan through the checkpoint. Kaidan kept those thoughts from showing on his face with a courteous nod to the C-Sec officer as he continues into the embassy offices. 

Admiral Hackett was waiting for him as he turned the corner. Caught off guard but recovering quickly to give the Admiral a salute. "Good to see you Staff Commander. Anderson is already waiting for us, we have a lot of ground to cover today."  Both men entered the office, noticing that Councilor Anderson was on a call, the pair waited in the entryway to give him privacy. Hackett ran his eyes over Kaidan's face, "Horizon was rough Commander, don't beat yourself up over it."

Suppressing a grimace, "So, this meeting is going to be about Horizon." The mission has haunted him, for both personal reasons and professional. He hoped that Shepard got his letter, but had yet to get a reply.  

"It's not what you think, Alenko." The Admiral interrupts his thoughts, "Anderson and I feel you're uniquely qualified for a new assignment." The pair did not notice Councilor Anderson approach during their exchange. 

"We have more to discuss than you know, Admiral, Commander" Inviting them toward the sitting area with a sweep of his arm, "First Kaidan, I asked the Admiral to let me give you this." Handing a small box over with a proud look lighting his face. Kaidan lifted the lid of the box, inside were the rank insignia for a Major. "Congratulations, Major Alenko." Before Kaidan could respond he held up a hand, "Before you thank us, let me tell you about your new job. The Alliance has a new biotic training program and, as arguably the most powerful human biotic serving in the Alliance, we want you to head that program and train these new recruits." 

Kaidan is taken aback by the offer, the Alliance does not have a good track record with their biotic training programs. To his knowledge this would be the first time a human biotic would lead the program, "I'm honored, Sir." Hackett hands him a datapad with the details. 

Anderson's face turns apprehensive, "As you both arrived, I received a message from a contact I have on the Normandy. They are heading to the Omega-4 Relay; they plan to attack the Collectors on their homeworld." Everyone settled into their seats considering the implications. "I'm not clear on the details, but the Collectors attacked the Normandy while Shepard was on his last mission and some of the crew were kidnapped. My source says they should be through the Relay in a few hours."  

The color drained out of Kaidan's face, "No ships have ever returned from the far side of that relay." Stating the obvious, "What is he thinking?!" Blurting out his frustration toward Shepard without any forethought. He closed his eyes, his face tight. To be honest with himself, his frustration stemmed from the feelings he still has for Alan warring with his distrust of Cerberus. The last time Shepard pulled a stunt like this he was there to help him; instead he’s here having  to wait and worry. 

-3- Normandy: Port Observation

It's not easy to shock Kasumi, but Alan could hear it in her voice as he walked into the lounge, "Wait, Shepard stared down Urgnot Wrex?  The mercenary turned Krogan leader Urgnot Wrex?" Tali and Garrus nod their heads, "Wrex has one hell of a reputation from his time as a mercenary. When I say reputation, I mean a trail of dead people who got in his way." Turning her attention to the doorway, "What happened next on Virmire, Shep?" 

"So then he pulled his gun on me." Strolling over to the bar to join his friends, "He was ready to kill to get the cure for the Genophage until I talked him down. Saren's Krogan were mindless, not real Krogan. Once I got that point through his hard head he backed down." Pouring himself a shot of whiskey, "It was close; I was about three seconds away from shooting him." Knocking back the shot, "I'm glad he backed down." 

Virmire brought back a whole series of memories for the trio. Tali tries to lighten the mood, "You may not have known this, Kasumi, but you aren't the only thief on aboard. Shepard stole the old Normandy out of lockdown on the Citadel."

"Actually I do know something about that." Kasumi pats Tali's shoulder, "Shep here had accomplices. Captain Anderson and Lieutenant Alenko wasn't it?" Alan's face turns somber at Kaidan's name while Garrus gives her a strange look. "I'm sorry Shep. I didn't mean step on any toes."

Waving a hand in an attempt to dismiss his feelings as much as reassure her, "It's fine, don't worry about it." He could maybe fool Kasumi, but obviously Garrus and Tali were not convinced by his nonchalance. Pouring himself a new shot of whiskey while Kaidan's unanswered message haunts his thoughts. Checking his Omnitool, "I got some things to finish before we get to the Relay." He sets his empty glass onto the bar before leaving the room. 

Fighting his memories of Kaidan on the elevator ride, he is still unsure what to say or how he feels. He enters his cabin and pulls up Kaidan's message on his terminal one more time. After Illos, the media spotlight on Shepard and the crew of the Normandy, with the on-board reporter, Shepard couldn't risk complicating things further with some sort of scandal. Despite the hardships of a secret relationship, Kaidan wanted to keep their relationship quiet. A few short weeks later the Collectors destroyed the Normandy and everything came crashing down. He rubbed his temple as he painstakingly formulated his response before hitting the reply button.  

-4- Citadel: Councilor Anderson's Office

Kaidan is dueling with his emotions, trying to remain outwardly calm and avoid revealing his feelings in front of the Admiral and Councilor. Realizing he has missed the last several minutes of the conversation when Anderson touched him on the shoulder, "Oh, sorry. I was lost in my own thoughts." Looking between the two others sheepishly, "What did you ask me?" 

Anderson gives him a little smile, his eyes twinkle and Kaidan wonders how much he knows, or suspects, "I asked you for your thoughts on Shepard’s chance of success based on your experience and knowledge of the Collectors."

"Well, by the time the stasis wore off, most of the Collectors were already dead or leaving. Their organic armor is as strong as our equipment and I can only imagine how their ship armor compares to ours.” Tilting his head toward the Councilor, “You obviously have a contact aboard the Normandy. Do you know if they have more intel?" Anderson shakes his head, "Look I -- I don't trust Cerberus, and I still can't believe Shepard is working for them." An idea forms in his mind, "If they are going in undermanned they'll be at an even larger disadvantage. If this is really our best shot at taking out the Collectors, can we support Shepard somehow? Contact the ship to see if he-- they need anything?"  His own words betraying his feelings. 

Anderson presses a command on his omnitool, "There is the frequency and transponder code I've used to keep in contact with the Normandy. See if you can raise them." Kaidan moves over the comm-terminal while the Admiral and Councilor continue to talk. 

-5- Normandy: Captain's Quarters

Alan sets Kaidan's picture back on his desk, "I need to focus on the mission ahead." he thinks to himself. Yet, without knowing what they face on the far side of the Omega-4 Relay, there really isn't anything to focus on. Feeling a familiar frustration setting in, "EDI, what is our time to the Relay?" 

"At present speed, we will arrive at the Omega-4 Relay in six hours and eight minutes." Came EDI's nearly instant reply. "I note you haven't eaten in over twelve hours. There is time for you to eat a meal."

His mind had been so busy he had forgotten to eat even an energy bar and the mention of food did make him hungry, "Thanks EDI." Thinking to himself it would at least kill a little time, "Have you reminded everyone to eat or am I a special case?" 

As he walks out of his room, EDI replies, "Shepard, you are the only one who has not eaten today." 

-6- Citadel: Councilor Anderson's Office

For the third time, the connection to the transponder Anderson gave him fails. Shaking his head in frustration, he’s about to give up and try another approach when a message arrives. He overhears Anderson’s and Hackett’s omnitools; they both got a message as well. It's a text only message from Shepard, titled “RE: About Horizon”

Kaidan, Seeing you again was the one thing in this universe I wanted most. I'm sorry it's taken so long to respond, but I was hurt and angry by what you said on Horizon. It never occurred to me how hard it was for you these past two years; for me it's only been a few months. I want you to know, I forgive you and my feelings for you haven't changed. I hope you can forgive me too.

In a few hours, I'm taking the Normandy through the Omega-4 relay to strike the Collectors where they live; wherever the hell that might be. But Kaidan, so much of what we knew about them was wrong, they are just tools for the Reapers; in fact, they were Protheans once. The Reapers manipulated their DNA, stripping out all that they were to make them slaves. 

I have to be honest, I don't know if we'll make it back. I’m confident in the team I’ve assembled, we’re as ready as we can be, but we are facing an unknown. If we fail, I'm sorry. I won't be there to help fight the Reapers. You know just as well as me that the Reaper threat is real. You, Anderson, Wrex, and Liara will be the only ones left that believe it too. We can’t give up this fight. But if we succeed and I make it back, maybe we can talk again and try to work things out between us. I know how important it is to put my one hundred percent into fighting the Reapers, but I can’t and won’t forget about us. I wanted you to know that.

Looking over at the others, he can tell from their expressions that Shepard told them about the Collectors as well. Anderson looks up at Hackett, “The Collectors are just Prothean husks. . .” Hackett grimaces at the realization, “All these abductions-- are the Reapers trying to do the same thing to us?”

Anderson walks over to his desk and pulls out a bottle of whiskey and three glasses.  Pouring two-fingers into each before handing one to Kaidan, "Here, it's going to be a long night Alenko." The trio sit a vigil hoping, waiting on news from Shepard.