Kaidan hears the voice before he turns the corner, the hard edge she used when things went south inflects in her tone. “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
Blake. The noise in his ears deafens as he spots her armor, crimson and burning into his retinas with the sun as he stares in disbelief. He does a quick assessment as Delan prattles on, holding himself back from sprinting to her.
She stands a beautiful and intimidating warrior, long dark hair whipping around her in the passing winds. It seems out of place for the woman who practiced simplicity on the SR-1, who kept her hair short because it bothered her otherwise. Her eyes are painted black, also new, as she scowls at the mechanic.
Kaidan’s hands work their way into fists as he struggles for control of his emotions.
Even with the changes, that scowl on her lips feels like a ghost of a memory, so well-worn into his mind. How he kissed the corners of it when she refused to budge, the slow way it unfurled into a soft smile he knew she shared with no one else. Tucking her chopped hair behind her ears before drawing her into him, the lights from her cabin reflected in her storm blue eyes.
Kaidan swallows the lump in his throat, not realizing he stopped walking.
He starts again, desperate to not get lost in the memories.
Her eyes connect with his as he nears, and all the light in the galaxy can’t outshine what he sees in them, the hope, the desperation he can almost guarantee are in his own.
“Commander Shepard.” He goes on autopilot, his words responding to the end of Delan’s sentence, something he didn’t realize he heard. “Captain of the Normandy. The first human Spectre. Savior of the Citadel.” The love of I thought I lost . “You’re in the presence of a legend, Delan.” He pauses before adding in, “And a ghost.”
Whatever Delan says next fades out with the background. Blake holds his gaze as she takes a step toward him. His own are uneven, but they end inches from each other. He reads unease in the twitching of her hands, hesitation in her eyes as she struggles on what to do next.
He breaks protocol, letting emotion take over as he pulls her into an embrace. She relaxes, her hands pressing into his back as she exhales a heavy breath, one that matches his own. He fights the urge to yank her back, mouth frantic on her skin as he reclaims what he lost. He remembers how she tastes, even after all these years.
“I thought you were dead. We all did.” A slight edge creeps into his voice.
Blake’s spine clenches as she takes a step back, arms slow to fall back to her side. Already, his chest grows cold with the absence of her. He stills his face, keeping himself emotionless as he broaches the elephant between them.
The anger inside him swells, boiling since he first heard her voice in that Citadel shop and mixing with hurt when Anderson told him he saw her. He ebbs it back, waiting for her response, giving her a chance to explain herself, how she could hurt him like this.
He notices for the first time that the scar under her left eye is gone.
“You don’t sound too happy to see me.” The unease re-enters her stance as she juts her hip out, a movement so like the old her that it pains to see it. “Something bothering you, Bug?”
The rage bursts forth at the mention of his old nickname, no longer able to keep it back. His words string together in a ramble, fast and vicious.
“Yeah, something’s bothering me. I spent the past two years believing you were dead. I thought we had something, Shepard. Something real.” He huffs as the words spill out from his mouth, “I love you.”
Her eyes widen at that, a small pinch of her brows as he continues on. He never told her this before, he realizes too late. He thought it, long nights by her side in the cabin, fingers stroking the scars along her sides as she slept. He thought about it at her funeral, her fucking funeral because we all thought she was dead, when he drank too much and cried in the cab back to his hotel room.
“Thinking you were dead tore me apart.” He balled his hands into fists, heat burning in his face. “How could you put me through that? Why didn’t you try to contact me? Why didn’t you let me know you were alive?”
He watches as she gathers her thoughts into a reply, confliction crossing her face. “Not my choice. I spent the last two years in some kind of coma while Cerberus rebuilt me.”
Kaidan backs away, shaking his head as his eyes linger on her. “You’re with Cerberus now? I can’t believe the reports were right.”
Blake transforms then, the part of him that still loves her crying out to see it. Her shoulders square back, spine rigid as she takes her own step back. The light in her eyes, the emotion, cuts off like the snap of a switch, now void of anything except steel and lightning as her own anger takes hold.
Blake isn’t there anymore. The Butcher of Torfan glares at him, making him feel small and insignificant. He always knew why she was so feared, and even though he saw some of her wrongdoings himself, it’s terrifying to witness this take place.
Terror grips him, unsure if she’s preparing herself to fight him. She’s unreadable now, the vulnerability he fought so hard for her to share with him gone, just like that.
Her voice comes out robotic, cold and unfeeling. “You’re still with the Alliance. You’ve turned a blind eye to this problem. But human colonies are disappearing. I’m trying to save them.”
Kaidan can’t help his reply, summoning up bravery to retort, “Really? Is that what you’re doing?”
Garrus mutters behind her back, but neither acknowledge him as they continue to stare down.
Kaidan continues on. “Alliance intel thought that Cerberus might be behind the missing human colonies.” He gauges her for a reaction, but receives none. Something like this sounds exactly what Cerberus would do, back when they both served the SR-1. Did she forget that so soon? The horrors they witnessed together?
Some of them still plague his dreams, the faces of the Thorians, the cries from the enslaved colonists on Feros. Admiral Kahoku’s squad, laid out and half melted from thresher maw poison. Jeffrey Toombs. He carried the events of the SR-1 with him everywhere.
“They got a tip this colony might be the next one to get hit. Anderson stonewalled me, but there were rumors that you weren’t dead.” Bile rises to the back of his throat. “That you were working for the enemy.”
Still unreadable, she replies, “Cerberus and I want the same thing: to save our colonies. That doesn’t mean I answer to them.”
In this moment, Commander Shepard doesn’t look as though she answers to anyone, a wild creature on her own to protect or condemn, he still isn’t sure.
“Do you really believe that? Or is that just Cerberus wants you to think? I wanted to believe the rumors that you were alive, but I never expected anything like this.”
He shakes his head. “You turned your back on everything we believed in. You betrayed the Alliance.” He knows the hurt shines off his face like pages in a book, but he doesn’t care at this point. “You betrayed me.”
He thinks he spots the smallest twitch in her upper lip, but it passes before he can be sure.
“This isn’t about me working for Cerberus, Kaidan. Something far more important is at stake. You saw it yourself. The Collectors are targeting human colonies and they’re working with the Reapers.”
Reapers. It always came back to Reapers. He saw them, he knew they existed, but this? It’s a stretch even for her.
“I want to believe you, Shepard. But I don’t trust Cerberus. They could be using the threat of a Reaper to manipulate you. What if they’re behind it? What if they’re working with the Collectors?"
Garrus butts in again, louder this time, enough that Kaidan draws his attention aware from the blankness of Blake’s eyes to focus on the turian. “Dammit Kaidan! You’re so focused on Cerberus that you’re ignoring the real threat.”
Blake gives a curt nod. Her eyes assess Kaidan’s face for a reaction, but he keeps it to himself. “I can see you won’t listen to reason.”
He flares his nostrils. Reason. Right. “You show up after two years and tell me you’re working with Cerberus. What does reason figure into any of this?”
He sighs, running a hand through his hair. The hug, only minutes before, feels left behind in their two year past. “You’ve changed. But I still know where my loyalties lie. I’m an Alliance soldier. Always will be.”
He pauses, expecting something from her. Blake is a stone wall, unmoving and solid, expressionless and cold. She reminds him of when they first met, bitter and armored.
“I’ve got to report back to the Citadel. They can decide if they believe your story or not.”
He turns to leave, but a hand catches his wrist. Lightning flashes in Blake’s eyes as she glares. She leans in, close enough that only he can hear the words out of her mouth. “I didn’t ask to be brought back.”
“Maybe it would’ve been better if they didn’t.”
The words leave his lips before he can stop them.
A piece of her armor strips away for a second, her eyes narrowing as water rims her dark eyelashes. The hand on him falls away, lifeless at her side as he hears a sharp inhale enter her slightly opened mouth.
But then she remembers her station, stepping back into her statuesque form. It’s too late. The hurt he saw in her eyes haunts him, something he always swore he would never do. He wants to apologize, take the statement back, but they both know he meant it.
“Understood, Commander.” She fires off a salute before marching back to her team, a team he where he used to be a member.