“There’s one last thing,” Shepard said, shifting from one foot to the other as he stood in Anderson’s office. The office looked the same as it had back when it was Udina’s office. In fact, the whole Presidium looked as if Sovereign had never happened to it, which was frankly giving Shepard the creeps, even with Garrus at his back. He was, after all, standing here back from the dead in brand-new Cerberus-made armor.
He saw the passage of time on Anderson’s face, at least. More lines, his hair a little grayer, his posture slightly softened. It brought home how long Shepard had really been out of action. Anderson seemed willing to welcome him back — almost too willing, for Shepard’s taste. He’d expected his former superior to have more questions. Anderson seemed way too willing to let Shepard and Cerberus lead the charge on the colony abductions, too. Shepard could understand the Alliance’s political position, at least on an intellectual level, but it still left a sour taste in his mouth.
He’d think about that later, though, when he had some time and privacy to chew over what he was and wasn’t being told. For now, there was one more burning question he needed answered.
“Yeah?” Anderson’s face crinkled into a slight smile. “I’m guessing you’d like to know about your mothers.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, relieved that Anderson had guessed. “Are they okay? Or...”
He stopped himself. He was still getting his head around this whole two years dead thing. As scattered as his crew was, anything could have happened to his family.
“Relax.” Anderson smiled. “They’re fine. Doing well. Captain Shepard is on assignment with Orizaba. Ms. Dang is... well, she’s here.”
Shepard blinked, trying to take that in. “Wait... you mean, on the Citadel? What’s she doing here?” That didn’t make any sense. Rae Dang had spent her whole career building and maintaining Arcturus Station, since before Shepard was born. There wasn’t a scrap of that station she didn’t know. She was Arcturus. Hell, the Citadel didn’t even need a construction engineer of her experience, not with the Keepers around.
Anderson sighed, his eyes going distant. “She... didn’t take the news of your death well. I guess she wanted some space between her and the Alliance. She took a job here on the Citadel over a year ago.”
“Oh.” Shepard tried to hide his wince, and wasn’t sure he’d succeeded. He could hardly imagine Rae out of the little apartment they’d occupied his whole life. Her working anywhere but Arcturus — it must have been bad. “Do you know where I can find her? I should...” Get in touch. Send a message. Something. How did you go about saying Hey, Mom, I’m not dead?
Anderson chuckled. “When I said she was here, I didn’t just mean on the Citadel. I asked her here when the scanners confirmed your identity.”
Shepard took a deep breath, his head swimming. He shot a glance at Garrus, standing guard by the door, who returned an impassive expression. “You mean she’s... here here.”
“Yeah. I hope that’s all right.” Anderson flashed a smile that might be apologetic. “Thought I’d save you both some trouble. It was a bit of a trick to get her to take my call. I’m not exactly her favorite person. Do you want me to get her?”
In his ideal world, Shepard would have wanted more time to prepare for this conversation. Not that he had any real idea how to prepare for this conversation. But, hell. You didn’t always get to pick your battlefield. Might as well get it done. He nodded. “Yeah, go ahead.”
Garrus drew closer as Anderson headed for the door. “Everything okay, Shepard?” he asked in an undertone. The way his eyes flicked to the side suggested he was ready for literal battle, if called for. He was pretty much on a hair trigger these days, and Shepard didn’t blame him, after Omega. He probably should have given Garrus leave for this trip to the Citadel, but he felt better having a friend at his back.
“Yeah,” he said, with a smile he didn’t entirely feel. “It’s just, my mom’s here.”
Garrus tilted his head, quizzical. “The captain?”
“No, my other mom,” Shepard said, just as the door opened again.
And there was Rae, all right, all five-foot-nothing of her, arms crossed, saying, “What the fuck is this about, Anderson? This isn’t about Hannah, I asked her, so if this is some kind of fucking —”
That was also vintage Rae; she’d never been good at censoring herself, even when Shepard was a kid. Mom had had to have a talk with him when he was five about not repeating things Rae-mom said to the other kids at school.
She stopped so sharply that Anderson bumped into her. She didn’t seem to notice. Shepard tried to make the smile more real, feeling horrifically out of place. “Hey,” he said. “Sorry about—”
“Julian,” she said, and shot across the room fast enough that Garrus almost reached for a weapon. Shepard had to bend down to meet the full force of her hug. She wasn’t usually much of a hugger, but the pressure of this one made his armor creak. She still smelled vaguely like metal and machine oil, even though she was wearing standard office-wear. “I knew it was all bullshit,” she said. “But where the fuck have you been, kid?”
“I’ll just let you catch up,” Anderson said, ducking out the door again.
Shepard hugged her back, his knees shaking a little in relief. For the first time since he’d woken up, something felt plainly and simply right. “It wasn’t exactly all bullshit,” he said. “I was...” He exchanged a quick glance with Garrus, who was shifting from foot to foot as if he wanted to flee. “... I was pretty beat up. In a coma, I guess.” Not the whole truth, assuming he could believe Miranda and Jacob, but as close as he could bring himself to admit. More plausible-sounding, for sure.
“But where?” Rae demanded, pulling back so she could look him over. “Because the Alliance sure wasn’t giving us anything. Didn’t even look. Assholes.”
“Rae,” Shepard protested, but weakly.
Rae shook her head, scowling. “Your mom went all noble and understanding. You and she are the ones that bleed blue. I’m a civilian, I don’t have to be nice to the brass.”
Garrus coughed. Probably trying not to laugh. Shepard sighed. “I don’t know all the details.” It was coming home to him how many details he didn’t know. Miranda and the Illusive Man had been pretty damned vague about a whole lot of things. “I woke up just recently, in a Cerberus facility.”
“Cerberus.” Rae frowned, her eyes narrowing as she tried to place the name.
“Rogue black-ops group, now a terrorist organization,” he said.
Rae snapped her fingers. “I remember them! Human supremacist assholes.”
Garrus coughed again. When she glanced in his direction, he said, “That’s them. Ma’am.”
“What, they’re letting turians join up now, too?”
Shepard said, “No, Garrus is a friend. From the old crew.”
“Good,” she said. “So, what, you got free of them, and you’re coming in now?”
Shepard hesitated. Damn, he wished he could tell her yes. “Not exactly.”
Rae’s expectant expression hardened. “I’m gonna need more of an explanation than that, kiddo. And you, don’t you think you’re fucking going anywhere,” she added, pointing to Garrus, who’d started edging his way toward the door. He stopped in place, looking like a guilty recruit.
Shepard sighed. “This is going to be a long story, then.”
It took a while to tell it all. They sat on stiff chairs meant for visitors while Shepard tried to get it all out: Cerberus, the new Normandy, the colony abductions, the Collectors, the whole bit. Rae listened without interrupting, but with her mouth drawn tight and her eyes narrowed. A thinking face, the kind of look she gave particularly recalcitrant mechanical systems.
“This is some real bullshit you’ve got here,” she said finally.
“I know, but I don’t see a way out of it.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing.”
He didn’t. He really didn’t. But he said: “People are being taken, and I’m the best shot at getting to the bottom of it.” He’d only half-believed it when Anderson said the same thing, but now Shepard found the words coming out of his mouth as if he believed them.
“You are so your mother’s child,” Rae said. Half exasperated, half fond.
Shepard shrugged. He could do a lot worse than emulate Hannah Shepard. “I guess so.”
Rae’s mouth twisted. “You know I’m not going to tell you what to do.”
“I know.” Her way had always been to let him figure things out on his own. When he was seven, that had meant he’d taken three months to put an old omni-tool back together, but he’d done it himself. And when he was eighteen, he’d joined up, even though he knew Rae wished he wouldn’t.
She wouldn’t let anyone stop her when she thought she had a problem to fix, either. Hannah wasn’t his only example in life.
She leaned forward, dark eyes sharp. “But fuck it, be careful out there. We don’t want to lose you again, kiddo.”
Another hug, as fierce and hard as the first, and she made him promise to visit the next time they docked at the Citadel, and then they parted, Rae back to work, Shepard and Garrus headed back to the docks.
“Kiddo,” Garrus said as they departed.
“Shut up,” Shepard said.
“You’re what, thirty years old, and a decorated combat veteran and a Spectre —”
Shepard shot Garrus a glare. “And I suppose your parents don’t have any pet names for you.”
Garrus laughed, mandibles flaring. “I’m not answering that one.”
Shepard grinned. “Hope your message logs are well encrypted.”
“Give it your best shot, Shepard,” Garrus said. “I like her, though.”
“You’d better like her,” Shepard said. “She’s my mom.”