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Runaway Love

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     Love was the way he would kiss her forehead each morning.

     Love was the way he would count each day with her as a blessing.

     Love was the way he knew she wasn’t perfect, and embraced her imperfections.

     Love was the way he had no idea where she was leading him, but for all he cared she could lead him into hell and he would probably still follow her endlessly.

     Love was the way he wanted nothing more than another day with her.

     Love was- what she believed- the greatest thing she ever accomplished.

     But this is not a story about love. This is a story about a girl that came from nothing, and a boy who came from everything. This is the story of a girl who tried to steal from a boy one Christmas Eve and got caught. This is the story of a woman who moved to the Citadel on 2183 CE at the mercy of a friend pulling a favor. This is the story of a soldier who visited the Citadel that same year on a mission to track down a rogue Spectre. This is the story of how nothing fools the galaxy. This is the story of how things fall apart, and somehow piece their way together once again. This is the story of a civilian and a soldier.

     It began- she would later realize as man knocked on the door of her apartment- with a single act of kindness. A simple act fueled by integrity that would influence every future decision she made to be closer to the life he lived in.

     It began- he would later realize as the blare of an incoming reaper pounded through his ears- with a punch. A quick hit straight to a man’s jaw, which ended up knocking him out cold.

     Whichever way “it” really began- they would both agree one morning on a bed- was on a snowy evening in Vancouver.


 

     She could see her white breath escape from her lips every time she exhaled. She shivered sporadically and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. She was freezing. She was starving. She knew she would not be able to last long without a proper meal or source of heat. She sat on the sidewalk of a bustling street in Vancouver. The city was alight and energetic with the impending festivities of Christmas. She thought perhaps the spirit of the holidays would impel at least two people to have mercy on her and give her money, but all she earned throughout the day were two Canadian dollars.

     She was growing desperate.

     With snowflakes on her eyelashes, she scanned the crowd for someone, anyone, who was unaware of their surroundings. An easy target. She zeroed in on a boy who looked like he was walking without his parents for the first time. He would often stop to gaze at a certain Christmas display, his eyes widening with awe at each light. He stopped in front of a large Christmas tree, where an “undiscovered” band began to play some sort of jolly tune. A crowd began to form around the band, and the girl saw her opportunity.

     She stood up far too quickly, and her far too skinny legs weren’t ready for the sudden exertion. She was beginning to lose her balance, but she swiftly steadied herself on the nearby bike post. People were already starting to glance at her, most with a sympathetic downturn of eyebrows as if they pitied the young little girl with scrawny limbs. If they pitied her so much, they would have given her money.

     She made her way towards the crowd and managed to ease next to the unsuspecting boy. Up close, she could see the untamed black curls of his hair and the slouch he carried himself with. With a shivering hand, she attempted to subtly reach into his pocket. She closed her fingers around some sort of change, but before she could withdraw her hand, an iron grip encased itself around her wrist.

     She was sloppy.

     She closed her eyes, silently bracing herself for whatever punishment the boy deemed fit for the thief. She waited, yet nothing came. Only when she opened her eyes did she notice the tears that trickled down her sunken cheeks. She saw that the boy, although he could not be too much older than her, was kneeling at her height. The same look of sympathy as the adults and couples that passed by her earlier that day was mirrored on his face. He wasn’t mad.

     “Are you hungry?” He asked her. His brown eyes reminded her of warmth, something she longed for. The three simple words were slurred in her ears, and he had to repeat it again until she nodded minutely. His frown deepened and still holding her wrist, led her out of the crowd. She suspected he was about to turn her in to the police, and tried her best to wriggle free of his grip. As if he just remembered her wrist was still in his grasp, he muttered severe apologies and let go, as if he thought her squirming was due to discomfort.

     This was her chance to run. She could have run away, left the boy behind her, run to safety, back to the streets, back to what she was familiar with. Instead, for a reason foreign to her knowledge, her feet remained still, refusing to run.

     Every day after that moment, she wondered what her life would be like if she ran.

     “Kaidan, who is this?” A man asked.

     Kaidan. She tested the word in her mind. It sounded odd and foreign, not like many names she had heard before, but it remained locked in her head.

     The man was tall and healthy, with salt and peppered curly hair and warm brown eyes, the image of the boy in twenty or thirty years. When he regarded the girl, he did not have a face of pity. He simply studied her like he would study any object, picking apart and examining every notable attribute and locking away the details in memory.

     “Oh, Kalani!” A woman with short black hair turned from a Christmas display to her husband, suddenly realizing the child her son was presenting to them. “Can’t you see she’s starving?”

     The girl decided to stay quiet.

     “What is your name, sweetheart?” To her surprise, the woman actually addressed her.

     The young girl looked away this time, the woman’s gaze too kind for her. She tried to steal money from her son moments ago. She did not deserve such kindness.

     “There’s no need to be afraid of me, honey.” The woman’s frown deepened, her worrisome amber eyes intensifying. The girl still remained unresponsive. The woman sighed and knelt down to the girl’s height. The girl found the action odd. Like her son, the woman was quite short, and yet they both did the same act. The woman smiled and chucked the girl under the chin. “Do you like hot chocolate and doughnuts?”

     “Food?” The girl whispered, as if that was the only thing she could comprehend. The man glanced back at his wife worriedly, and the woman’s frown almost returned.

     “Yes, warm and sweet food, honey.” The woman confirmed in a soothing voice. She stood up and dug through her purse. “Here, Kaidan will take you to the bakery right over there.”

     And just like that, without further preamble, without a single question, the woman gave the money to her son and he lead her towards the bakery. She had never seen such kindness before. The woman did not even know her name. The woman did not even know why her son brought her, or who she was, and yet she trusted her with her son.

     When they stepped into the bakery next door, a warm rush of air encased her. She sighed in the comfort and closed her eyes, catching a whiff of freshly brewed coffee and sugary treats. There was no line at all, and the boy ordered two freshly glazed doughnuts and two cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream on the top. Within a moment, the cashier returned with a smile and an extra doughnut than he ordered.

     “You share this one with your friend, Kaidan.” The woman smiled as she handed him the food. He tried to refuse the complimentary food, but she insisted. “Oh please, don’t act like you don’t want this. I know it’s your favorite. And tell your mom I said hi.”

     Without even making him pay, she shooed them out of her bakery before he could insist further. When they were outside once again, Kaidan handed her two doughnuts and the cup of hot chocolate.

     “Here, you can have the extra. I never really liked doughnuts anyways.” Kaidan said shyly as he bit into his own doughnut. The girl knew it was a lie; the woman stated so moments before anyways, but was too hungry to object. She nibbled hungrily on her doughnut, gracing herself with a large bite. She barely had time to rejoice in the softness of the dough and the sweetness of the glaze before she gulped down the hot chocolate far too fast. The warmth did not scald her tongue. In fact, it brought comfort to her, the heat travelling down her throat.

     When Kaidan looked up from his doughnut, he started to break into childish giggles.

     “What is it?” The girl finally spoke, her throat quenched enough to form words. If Kaidan was surprised to hear her speak for the first time, he didn’t show it.

     “You have a mustache.” He laughed, pointing to the whipped cream on the top of her hot chocolate. She looked at her reflection in the bakery display window and giggled too. When she looked back, he made a point to take a large sip of his own drink, the whipped cream bunching up as high as his nose.

     “Am I Santa Claus yet?” He asked. She was probably only six years old, and he took it upon himself to entertain the girl, to make her feel cared for. She giggled again, and a sense of accomplishment filled the ten year old boy, making him feel like a big brother of sorts.

     “Santa’s beard is on his chin, stupid.” The girl pointed out.

     “Oh, you’re right, huh.” Kaidan shrugged and dipped his chin on the top of the whipped cream, the foam trailing along his jaw. The girl closed her eyes in laughter, and he found the happiness infectious, joining in. He wiped his mouth with the napkin provided in the doughnut wrapper and offered her one as well. “What’s your name?”

     “Shepard,” She answered. Kaidan frowned.

     “That’s an odd name.”

     Indeed, it was, but the girl was far too tired to explain to the boy why she preferred that to her real name. Instead, she took another bite from her doughnut and spoke with her mouth still full, “So is yours.”

     The boy laughed again. He gave her the money they were supposed to spend on the food. She nodded and accepted it, not bothering to object.

     When they returned to his parents, they seemed to hush in their conversation to welcome back the children. His mother smiled and turned to them.

     “Oh, thank you for taking her, Kaidan. You look better already, sweetheart.” The woman smiled genuinely.

     “Her name is Shepard, ma.” Kaidan said.

     “Shepard?” The woman repeated. Without asking or commenting on the name, she nodded. “Your eyes are beautiful, Shepard.”

     Shepard remained quiet bashfully. Her mother used to tell her the same thing as well. Yet to the little girl, they reminded her of soot on the bottom of her shoe, or snow when it started to get tainted by dirt, but she didn’t say anything.

“Barbra, we’ll be late.” Kaidan’s dad muttered to his wife. She looked as she was about to berate her husband for saying such a thing, but she glanced at her watch and sighed in despair.

“I am so very, very sorry Shepard, but we have to go. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.” Barbra tucked a strand of Shepard’s hair behind her hair before she turned to her own son, “Kaidan, check if any of the orphanages are still open at this time.”

Her son quickly obliged and started up his omni-tool, searching the extra-net as his mom told him to. Sure enough, he found one within a second, and somehow Barbra was already inviting Shepard into the family’s car.

“Barbra, can’t you see she’s been through so much, and now strangers are inviting her into a car.” Kaidan’s father reminded his wife once again.

“Shepard, sweetheart, I promise we will not harm you. We will take you to a better place I swear it.” Kaidan’s mother cooed. And just like that, Shepard walked into the car like a moth drawn to light. All along the way, Kaidan’s mother continued to apologize for having to drop Shepard off like a package without a second thought. Kaidan would make funny faces at her once in a while, and Shepard would giggle. Soon, they arrived at the nearest orphanage and Kaidan’s mother kneeled down to her height.

“Shepard, I wish it did not have to be this way. This is completely selfish, we should have canceled our flight right away, but we have to go and see our relatives. I promise we will come back for you as soon as we return.”

     The woman frowned, searching through her purse once again, pulling out one Canadian hundred dollar bill. Shepard’s eyes widened in disbelief, her breath caught in her throat.It was impossible for such kindness to exist in this world. “I’m sorry I have no more money left with me right now to give.”

     “You shouldn’t…” Shepard began to speak. Before she could continue, the woman took Shepard’s hand and placed the bill inside her small fist.

     “Take it, please.” The woman almost begged with her eyes always sincere. Shepard slowly nodded, her eyes beginning to water. The woman smoothed Shepard’s hair down and stood up to her full height. She grabbed a large suitcase next to her husband and she pressed a button to raise the handle.

     “Goodbye, Shepard.” Kaidan stepped in front of her, his smile mirroring his mother’s.

     “Goodbye, Kaidan.” She said. The name felt odd on her lips and she decided not to repeat it again after that day.

And yet, she waited, and she waited, but they never returned.


 

     Nothing fools the galaxy.

     Even after twenty-two years of living in it, she was still amazed by the reality of the saying, the truth that hid behind the words that so plainly stated her life. When she closed her eyes she could so plainly hear the words rack through her brain, like a never-ending mantra. She would grow to hate those words one day as she waited for an answer from a man at her doorstep, but for now at this point of the story, she held onto those words like a prayer.

     Nothing fools the galaxy.


 

     “A million light years away from where humanity began, and we walk into a bar filled with men drooling after half-naked women, shaking their asses on a stage… I can’t decide if that’s funny or sad.”

     “What? You don’t think they’re here because of the food?”

     “Hey, Commander, put your tongue back in your mouth before you trip on it.”

     “Easy there, Chief. If you don’t remember, we’re here to find Harkin. Now we should probably try to find him.” Kaidan rolled his eyes and huffed in reply to the Chief, Ashley Williams. She simply smiled and continued in his lead around the club. The heavy beat of the music pounded in his ears and it was a struggle to even take a single step around the place. He stopped in front of the bar and flagged down the turian bartender.

     “Drinking on the job, Commander?” Ashley raised an appraising eyebrow. Kaidan decided to ignore her. When the turian finally found time out of the rest of the customers to get to the group of soldiers, instead of ordering a drink, he asked if a man named Harkin was there that night. Instead of granting the information Kaidan needed, the turian shrugged. Kaidan groaned in frustration. The search for evidence against Saren was making Kaidan’s patience grow thin, and he did not want to see what it would be like when the already thin ice shattered. Having a small moment of weakness, he ordered one shot.

     “Why is this place so packed tonight?” Kaidan winced as the alcohol burnt through his throat. It tasted like Krogan piss mixed with acid. Not that he had any knowledge of what either ingredient tasted like.

     “Oh, I heard a rumor that she is performing tonight.” The turian replied. The bartender’s mandibles twitched in something Kaidan wanted to believe was either anticipation or resentment. Either way, his turian emotion-reading skills weren’t the best.

     “She?”

     “Yeah, they recently pulled a dancer from Earth. She’s pretty good, although she usually works the bars, whenever she performs, the club is always packed.” Before the turian could continue, the club’s lights fizzled out, only a black light on. White clothes glowed into Kaidan’s vision, the only thing he could see. The excited roar and cheering of men resonated to a crescendo as a beat started to intensify. It sounded somewhat vintage, like something his great grandmother would listen to and reminiscence about the “glory days”, mixed with a modern bass. 

     The club’s lighting suddenly morphed, and a light show began simultaneously working with the beat of the song. Three asaris stood on either side of one human on the front stage. They seemed to be her backup dancers. Well that was new. Usually it was the human who would be behind the asaris... not that he would know. When the intro of the song finally stopped and the beat dropped, every light in the club focused solely on the center dancer, the human woman.

     The shot glass slipped straight through his fingers.

     The beat continued, and a seductive voice filled the club, singing something about a limo partition, he didn’t really care. The only thing running through his mind at that moment was the memory of a scrawny little girl back on Earth.

     Shepard.

     Well she sure as hell wasn’t scrawny anymore.

     He mentally kicked himself for thinking of such an inhumane comment at such an inappropriate time and shook his head.

     The asari dancers moved in a trance each on their own pole, but every man in the club’s eyes were focused on the human.

     “Put your tongue back in your mouth, Commander.” Kaidan was barely able to hear Ashley’s repeated joke above the music, and decided to ignore her humor once again.

     What the hell are you doing, Shepard?

     The human took center stage and flipped her hair, gazing out to the men watching her, worshiping her as their goddess. The flash of the lights and omni-tools as they struggled to take a picture caught the glitter of her makeup, and even from his distance he could see the storm in her grey eyes, the hint of blue and hazel surrounding her iris. There was no mistaking it.

     Shepard twirled her hips in a circle and turned around once again, turning her face and lifting her long hair seductively. She was what most human women aspired to look like, and she flaunted it with every drop of confidence she seemed to own. She wore a glittering corset that looked like a chandelier, glittering with what seemed to him like diamonds. With every move she made, the corset sparkled and made her skin glow even more under the lights.

     She slowly and effortlessly lifted herself up on a raised platform and kept herself above it, flicking her hair off her shoulder without even trying. She arched her back and glanced at the crowd again as if she just remembered she had an audience intruding on her intimate moment, and at that instant a dim white spotlight returned to her, illuminating her face as she fluently shifted positions and within a second her long legs wrapped around the couch, straddling it.

    She ran a hand through her smooth black hair and continued to trace her figure. With ease she pushed herself off the couch and crawled onto it ever so slowly, arching her back as she did so. When she finally reached the top, the beat started to speed with every second, the bass almost giving him a migraine. The song’s volume increased with every beat, and Shepard flipped her hair around in a frenzy with every single moment. The light started to flash on and off as she smoothly lowered herself down so every inch of her could cover the couch and raised her ass into the air. The men worshipped her and began to get as wild as the song. With each moment that went by, the beat got faster and faster, and Shepard continued the same movement over and over again, almost like a lover on the peak of euphoria. When the song finally ended, the lights blurred out again, but the crowd’s chants for her to come back were so loud he thought he might hurl.

           “Well that was new.” Ash spoke up after the lights turned back on, all the dancers having evacuated the stage.

           “Yeah, it had quite the uh… view.” Jenkins added, his mouth probably as dry as Mars.

           “You’re almost as bad as the Commander, LT.” Ashley and Jenkins’ banter all were in another world to him. All that mattered at that moment was he had to find her. He had to talk to her.


 

Shepard nearly screamed.

“Is it really that bad?” An asari frowned, examining the welts left on her skin from the skin tight corset she just liberated the human from.

“Elara is much smaller than me… this corset wasn’t meant to fit a girl my size.” Shepard shrugged as she shimmied into her jeans and pulled on her tank top, cursing how much smaller the original dancer was than her. There was no time for costume changes, with how abrupt the change was.

“Well, the men seemed to love it. So it was worth it.” The asari muttered as she changed back into her normal clothes as well and checked her reflection in the mirror. “See you tomorrow, Mary. It was a good show tonight.”

The asari held the backstage door open for her, and Shepard smiled politely as she followed her co-worker out into the main part of the club. It was still packed, just minutes after her performance. The men seemed to be calming back down and settling back into their seats and to the bar, turning their attention back to the asari dancers who were sprinkled around the corners of the club.

Shepard rolled her neck, working out the kinks as she tried to side-step a few men, launching herself towards the exit. It was a struggle to even take a single step, and her body was aching. She wasn’t expecting to perform that night, her shift was only supposed to concern bartending for a few hours, but when the manager told her the boss wanted her to perform that night for a bonus of 100 creds, how could she refuse? She could use every single one of those, but damn straight her legs ached after rehearsing for a solid hour with the asari backup dancers before the start of the performance. She decided she would indulge herself with a warm bath that night and maybe tomorrow spend some of those hard earned creds on a fancy meal. She deserved it anyways.

Still imagining a warm box of glazed sugary doughnuts, Shepard’s dreams were interrupted when she felt a solid arm bump hard into her already sore shoulder.

“Hey, watch where you’re going, asshole.” She turned to berate the man who dared to slam her shoulder, but the thud of the ongoing trance music blurred out most of her insults. The man was thin with already balding hair and looked quite drunk as he looked Shepard over, his eyes barely able to steadily examine her.

“Look here, princess-” before he could finish his own insult, his eyes widened as he finally realized this was the same woman who was dancing on the stage only minutes ago. “Oh, I see you came to find old Harkin here for a private show?”

Shepard was growing restless.

“I’d rather drink a cup of acid after chewing on a razor blade.” Shepard spat and crossed her arms, shifting her weight on her good shoulder.

“You trying to hurt my feelings, princess? You’ll have to try better than that. After working for twenty years with C-Sec, I’ve been called every name in the book.”

“You disgust me.”

“Aw, come on princess, you know I didn’t mean it.” Harkin placed a clammy hand on her shoulder, and she instantly settled her own iron grip on his wrist, pulling him closer so only he could hear.

“Call me princess one more time, and you’ll be picking your teeth off the floor.” She growled. People were starting to look, but quite frankly she did not care. This man deserved every bit of shame and humiliation she was about to serve him. Before Harkin could decide whether or not to back away, a marine made his way towards them.

“Step away from the lady, sir.” the marine ordered from behind Harkin. The lecherous drunk obscured her view of the Alliance soldier, but she already didn’t like his tone, as if she was some sort of damsel in distress who needed saving.

“I’m handling this just fine myself, soldier.” Shepard insisted, only seeing a peek of the man’s Alliance uniform behind Harkin.

“I can see that by the way you’re straining that already injured arm of yours. If you do decide to punch him tonight, miss, I’m afraid you might injure it further.” The soldier sounded as if she was amusing him. Before she could spit out a reply, two more of his soldier friends hurried from behind him and gently pried Shepard and Harkin away from each other. As Harkin stumbled out of his view, she spied the soldier who spoke so lowly to her only moments before. Her stomach turned at the sight.

Nothing fools the galaxy.

“Hello ma’am, I’m Chief Williams, this is Lieutenant Jenkins and Commander Alenko.” The woman marine who pulled Shepard off of Harkin nodded towards her two fellow soldiers. Commander Alenko, Shepard tested the name in her head. For some reason, the name didn’t fit. “Was this man bothering you, ma’am?”

“No,” Shepard frowned and fixed the collar of her blouse. “In fact, I was just leaving.”

Nothing about this night was right. The boy was supposed to the a boy of her past, she wasn’t supposed to meet him again. And what a meeting it was; he was a commander, and what was she? A bar dancer? For the first time since she accepted the job, she felt ashamed of the way she got by with her pay.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but we’d like for you to answer a few questions for us.” The man with the same whiskey brown eyes from so many years ago dared to grab her arm to stop her from leaving. She glared back at him as if she was looking at a ghost. Shepard grimaced and shook her arm out of his grasp and crossed both in front of her chest.

He probably didn’t even remember her. How foolish would her think her to be if he knew she still remembered the day his mother saved her life?

“Go ahead, sir.” Shepard sarcastically waved her arms about as if she had all the time in the world. Commander Alenko frowned and shifted his weight between his legs.

“We… we’re looking for a man named Harkin. If you would be so kind as to-”

“You’re looking right at him, soldier boy.” Shepard pointed to the man the other soldier, Lieutenant Jenkins, still held. Commander Alenko blinked and looked between Shepard and Harkin.

“Oh… well… thank you for that, ma’am. I… we-” The commander seemed to stumble for words.

“You’re welcome, soldier boy.” Shepard mocked a salute and went off in her merry way, leaving behind the boy she met years back. He was out of her life as quickly as he returned, and this time around, she didn’t mind.


 

Kaidan was growing restless.

He has gone precisely twenty-four Earth hours without sleep, and he was unsure yet how much longer a few scattered cups of caffeine could carry him. It’s been two days since he’s landed at the Citadel, and he expected he would already have exposed the rogue Spectre by then, but instead he was still caught up by his encounter with Shepard back in Chora’s Den. It baffled him as to how the little girl ended up in such a dire predicament, and it made him hurt just how much he wished they could have helped her back in Vancouver, all those years ago.

He was back at Chora’s Den a day later, but something felt off. There was no music pounding in the hallways all the way from the club, and there was no draft of alcohol stench that you could smell from the elevator. He immediately ordered his teammates to draw their weapons, prepared if anything was to show up.

“Looks like it’s shut down.” Ash stated the obvious as they trekked down the halls to find the entrance closed.

Before Kaidan could say anything, the door opened with gunfire pouring straight at them. He barked at the team to take cover, and he rammed his back by the nearby wall, mentally assessing the situation. Fist knew they were coming. They were being attacked. There wasn’t much to analyze.

Shepard.

Well, shit. The mission just got a whole lot more complicated. He couldn’t save her once, but damn straight he would try to save her this time, that is, if she was still in there. He ordered his team fluently as if they worked together for years, and they obliged his every order. It wasn’t that difficult to cut through the band of thugs and bandits, and he stepped out of cover with the false pretense of safety. He actually did forget the club had a krogan bouncer however, and he remembered too late. The krogan was already charging at him, and before he could react, Ash’s shotgun boomed in his ears and the krogan was down with three shots.

“Thanks, Chief.” He muttered as he looked around the Den.

“Anytime, Commander.”

The team continued towards the hall that he assumed led to Fist’s office. The thought that perhaps Shepard worked for Fist crossed his mind, but he just as quickly refused to believe so. She was an innocent little girl, the same girl that laughed when he dunked his chin into the whipped cream to look like Santa Claus. There was no way the same little girl could work for a former Shadow Broker agent.

When he opened the door to the hall, his team was greeted warmly by two warehouse workers. As soon as he was in their line of sight, they pulled out their rifles and aimed it poorly with one hand. They were new.

“Stop right there.” One of the men ordered. Out of the corner of his eye Kaidan could see a group of civilians forced to hide in the corner, and another warehouse worker who promptly held a gun to the group as if he really was going to shoot. But Kaidan couldn’t take the chance anyways. Sure enough, there Shepard was, tied in the front of the group as if she was their leader. “Stay back, or we’ll shoot.”

Before Kaidan could reply, the sharp laugh of Shepard filled his ears and there she was, sure enough, laughing at the men who were pulling a gun at her.

“See them, tough guy? They’re Alliance.” Shepard rolled her eyes and looked at the man who held a gun at her head with only pure amusement. It was as if she was challenging him to pull the trigger, as if she did not care if her life ended that day. “They just killed fifty bodyguards to get in here. What do you think they’ll do to you?”

The worker instantly put down his gun and wiped sweat off his brows, stammering for a reply. He turned his gaze to Kaidan with big eyes as if he was a deer caught in headlights. The other worker groaned and put down his gun as well.

“Screw Fist. He doesn’t pay us enough for this.” Without further preamble, the two workers sulked out of the Club, head hung down low.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that.” Ash shrugged as she hurried to untie the civilians.

“You know, Chief, shooting people isn’t always the answer.” Jenkins replied as he decrypted the weapon lockers. Kaidan quickly went to follow Ash to the group of civilians. As the medic of the group, he checked to see if they were each alright. The only person in the group who was touched was Shepard, who looked like the only injury was a small bruise on her cheek, which would heal.

“Shepard?” He asked. Confirming if it was her was futile. He already knew she was the same girl from his childhood anyways.

“Nice to see you too, Commander.” She didn’t smile. He shook his head and carefully applied medi-gel to her cheek.

“You were reckless.” ‘You were reckless’? Kaidan could practically hear Joker’s laughter all the way up from the Docking Bay. Of all the things to say to her, he sounded like he was her father. Instead of laughing, she shrugged and looked away as he slathered her cheek with the gel.

“Don’t call me ‘reckless’, soldier boy. I did much a better job than you could have.There’s no way I could leave without knowing everyone inside was safe. I found this group of drunks,” she motioned towards the group of men she risked her life for, “in the bathroom getting high off their mind. Still, I couldn’t live with myself if I knew there was some way I could have saved them.”

Kaidan made a mental note of that.

The rest of the process went by quite awkwardly, he was too unsure of what exactly to say to her. A thousand thoughts ran through his head, but none seemed to be the right one.She seemed to hate him already, but for whatever reason, he was not sure. He didn’t remember being rude to her as a child, in fact when he was a kid he wished for the day he could find her in the streets of Vancouver again, wanting to share a glazed doughnut or two, not knowing the full reason as to why she was in the streets in the first place.

And how the hell was she in the Citadel anyways? She, the innocent girl he thought he met, was a stripper for Chora’s Den, a gentleman’s club run by Fist.

Did she work for Fist? He shook the idea out of his head as quickly as it came. No matter how rough the woman was, he doubted she could work for an agent of the Shadow Broker.

Shepard sighed as the surplus of medi-gel was slathered onto her cheeks. He already spent too much time healing her bruise, which would have healed with time anyways, maybe leaving a scar. He applied too much, and his hands were beginning to become numb from the overdose on his fingers.

“Look,” Shepard yawned. For once, ever since their meeting on the Citadel, he saw a hint of uneasiness in her, as if moments before she didn’t just tell off a man who held her at gunpoint. She was trying too hard at this moment to hold up the easygoing image, and he was close enough to notice the hand on her bad shoulder shivering. “You probably have a lot of questions, am I right?”

Before Kaidan could reply, she spoke again, cutting off whatever he meant to say.

“Right. To save both of us time, just meet me in the Presidium tomorrow.” Shepard said. She would never admit she had questions of her own to ask him as well.

“I’d like that.” The Commander replied far too quickly. Shepard raised an eyebrow in suspicion, but he helped her up on her feet before she could make a lame remark on how eager he was to meet.

Jenkins escorted the civilians to Huerta Memorial Hospital, much to Shepard’s arguments on how none of the civilians were harmed. After he and Ashley saved the quarian, he knew there were questions Ash had herself on how exactly he knew the woman. Now those were questions he wished she would never ask.


 

By the time he met her in the Presidium, she was already pacing back and forth, staring and kicking at the dust on her feet. He arrived in his casual military uniform, out of the armor that looked far too close to a wetsuit. His hair was perfectly coiffed as usual, and he walked with a certain sense of pride with his back stick straight and his chin parallel to the ground. Shepard frowned and realized what a mess she must look standing next to him wearing clothes far too worn out and with breath that still reeked of hospital food and the bruise still fresh on her cheek.

“Hey,” he greeted as he sat next to her on a bench looking over the rest of the Presidium.

“Hi…” Shepard grimaced, the awkwardness in the air palpable. She looked anywhere but at him, and his gaze was locked straight ahead. What felt like hours went by before Shepard cleared her throat. “So, I heard you’re a Spectre now.”

Kaidan shifted awkwardly in his seat as if it was something to be embarrassed of. Shepard scowled and glanced away from him again, a sudden sense of anger roiling in the pit of her stomach. He was embarrassed about being a Spectre, while he practically watched her perform in a gentleman’s club. If anyone had the right to be embarrassed, it was her.

“Yeah,” was all he said for a reply.

“I saw the interview on the tv before I left. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

Shepard waited another minute for him to say anything else, but he still seemed somewhat frazzled. She groaned and stood up to retrieve her bag in one smooth motion. Kaidan seemed to be woken from his trance and looked at her like some sort of kicked puppy.

“You shouldn’t have come if you didn’t want to say anything.” Shepard spat, unsure of where the sudden anger came from. She felt as if she was betrayed.

“No, please….” Kaidan sputtered, trying to think of the right words to make her stay, and he caught her wrist without thinking. She paused and stared down at her wrist with glassy eyes, remembering the same scene play from so many years ago. He blanched as well, and as soon as he realized what he had done he immediately let her wrist free. She rubbed where he held her as if his touch burnt her skin.

“Alright…” Shepard said uneasily, setting her bag back down as she retook her seat next to Kaidan. Both adults were sure that if he did not incite the memory of their meeting, she would have been gone long ago.


 

They walked across the Citadel, and soon enough started to talk as if they had known each other for years. It was as if they were children again, laughing over the sugary hot chocolate. It was as if he forgot anything that happened during their separation, and as if she forgot he was the first human Spectre. It was almost as if they had cheated the galaxy itself.

“Okay then, so why did you enlist? Did you sign on for the dream, soldier boy? To secure mankind’s future in space?” Shepard asked while leaning over the rail that looked over the menacing Krogan statue, her voice laced with something that sounded like a twinge of envy. Before Kaidan could inquire about it, Shepard only smiled and shook her head, encouraging him to answer. They were playing a sort of game, taking turns asking questions about each other, about their lives as adults.

“I...I read a lot of those books when I was a kid. A hero goes to space to prove himself worthy of a woman he loves or… you know. For justice.” He rambled but caught himself before he could continue, afraid he would bore her. He sighed and leaned his weight over the railings as well, studying the statue of the krogan with fountains praising its grandness. “I guess it was like that in the beginning, but I thought about if after Brain Camp- sorry, uh I guess I’m rambling. It’s my turn to ask you a question now.”

“No, you’re fine. Go on.” Shepard tried to encourage him, but he shook his head and laughed it off instead.

“Don’t try and cheat, Shepard. Come on. It’s my turn.” He chuckled, and Shepard crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, uh why is your name Shepard anyways? It’s sort of an odd name to call yourself.”

Shepard’s lip twitched and he would have missed it if he was not studying her every move, making sure he didn’t scare her away again. In a moment, she sighed and as if she put on a different persona, inched her hand closer to his, caressing his arm.

“So is yours, Kaidan.” Her voice was meant to sound seductive, but he only frowned. He didn’t know what he did to make her act like this, but he didn’t like it.

“Okay, don’t try to get out of this one, Shepard. Play by the rules.” He moved his arm away and chided her as if she was a child again. She glanced at him through her eyelashes one last time, but she realized she either couldn’t win this one, or didn’t want to put in the effort to convince him otherwise. She rolled her eyes and the original Shepard returned, the one he could easily talk to.

“Yeah, sure, it’s a weird name.” She shrugged but quickly added, “The other workers call me Mary. It started off as a joke at first, but eventually I guess it became my pseudonym.”

Kaidan was silent, a million more questions returning to his mind.

“And no, I’m not a dancer anyways. I’m usually only the bartender, but I’m required to watch the dancers’ rehearsals in case I have to fill in on an emergency one day. Last night just happened to be an emergency.”

“Even if you were, I don’t think it matters. Different people have different jobs and do different things to earn money and survive. And I respect that.” Kaidan was sure to add.

Shepard studied him for a moment, as if waiting for him to take it back.

“I suppose so.” Shepard shrugged.

“So how did you move to the Citadel?” He asked. Before she could accuse him of cheating for asking her two questions in a row, they were interrupted by the sound of a terribly immature catcall. Why people were so drunk away from the lower Wards was beyond Kaidan.

“Holy shit,” A man gasped. Both Shepard and Kaidan turned to see two full grown men practically stumbling over each other, trying to take a closer look at Shepard. “You’re that dancer from Chora’s Den.”

“You were hotter when you had less clothes on.” The other man added, and to that, he earned a high five from his friend.

Kaidan’s blood began to boil. How could they so blatantly disrespect a woman they knew nothing about, when she was simply doing her job? Before he could march up to them, Shepard shook her head and lead him away.

“Come on, Kaidan. Let’s go somewhere else.” She whispered, as if she already knew what he intended to do. It wasn’t right to just let them insult her like that, but she was already practically dragging him across the hallway.

“Fuck, Trent, he’s the Spectre we saw on the TV.” Kaidan could hear their voices following them. Shepard shook her head again and kept walking.

“Hey, she must be giving him some private dances.” The guy named Trent snickered. “I bet he pays her extra with that Spectre paycheck of his or whatever.”

“Bitch, why are you with this military guy? We can show you how to really-”

Before the man could continue with what he intended to “show” Shepard, she suddenly turned on her heel and socked him clean in the jaw. He instantly fell on the floor cold, stars above his eyes. Shepard looked at Trent, as if asking him if he wanted to share the same fate as his friend.

“Shit, this bitch is crazy.” Trent muttered as he ran away, most likely to get the C-Sec officers.

Kaidan looked at Shepard in complete awe, amazed that a woman so small could pack such a punch.

What a woman.

“Well don’t just stand there, you idiot.” Shepard whispered, her laugh soft and yet somehow girly. This time she really dragged him away. He was not sure how long they were running, or really where she was leading him to, but he didn’t care at that point. He could lead her anywhere in the galaxy at that moment and he would gladly follow.

When they stop, he realized they were somehow in the corner of a hallway. Judging by the dim lights and the muffled bass through the wall, he guessed she must have somehow leaded him near the entrance of Flux. Before he knew it, his lips were on hers. She was pinned against the wall, and she melted into the kiss, wanting it as much as he did. Her hands ran along his arm, pulling him closer against her. He peppered softer kisses along his jaw, and she leaned her head back in complete bliss, his name fresh on her lips. She instantly pulled him back to her own lips and kissed him just as eagerly.

One day, lying peacefully on a bed as he traced endless patterns on her bare skin, they would look back on this moment. She would like to say she was the one who incited the kiss. He would be swift to remind her how it really happened.

And what a terrible shame it was that in three day's worth, they would be torn away from each other once more.

 

 

Chapter Text

Three days. Three days were all they had together before Alliance shipped him off again, off to save the galaxy from the rogue spectre.  He rented out a room on the Upper Wards, and invited her to stay with him. She gladly accepted, and was amazed at how much he could afford; this room was ten times better than anywhere she had ever lived in. She could barely afford her own dingy apartment that she shared with her fellow co-worker, and she knew that this apartment was in the richer neighborhood of the Citadel. Once again, Shepard felt out of place while next to Kaidan. She figured maybe that feeling would never go away.

Their first night together in the apartment, she tried to kiss him again, along his jaw and his collarbone, slowly trailing down until he stopped her. When he said he wanted to know her better, she felt even more guilty for who she was. I don’t deserve to be in the same room with this man , she thought to herself as he wrapped his arm around her. That night, they simply lied together, whispering their secrets to each other. He told her more about Brain Camp, even brushing on the subject of Rahna. Shepard did not dare to judge him. She didn’t speak much of her past voluntarily, and he accepted her for it, saying she would have plenty of time to tell him all she wanted when she was comfortable enough. During his entire stay on the Citadel, he remained as chivalrous as possible. He apologized for letting himself go when he first kissed her, and she laughed claiming it was nothing he should apologize for.

On their last day together, he took her out to a cafe on the Presidium. When a polite asari waitress brought out their food, Shepard couldn’t help but look down at her plate in shame. She spent three days with a man she never deserved, mooching off his money with a place to stay, and food to eat that wasn’t specially processed. He accomplished leagues more than what she was ever destined for; he was barely older than her and he was already the first human spectre. Within two hours, he was going to be shipped off somewhere in space, saving the galaxy like the hero he was. He came from a family that saved her once before, and ever since he waltzed back into her life, the same question hovered over her head.

“Why are you doing this, Kaidan?” Shepard asked, breaking her silence. Kaidan chewed thoughtfully on his piece of toast, curious as to what Shepard was referring to. She had been acting quiet and detached all morning, for whatever reason.

“Well, Shepard, I’m taking you out for breakfast because you’re hungry, and sorry to break it to you but you’re not that great of company when you’re hungry.” He shrugged, trying to ease her mood. Sure enough, he awoke yesterday to the sound of Shepard raging through the hotel room’s pantry trying to find something, anything to eat for breakfast. As much as he’d like to joke about it though, he knew she must have grown up that way, always hungry. He never wanted her to be hungry again.

“No, Kaidan.” Shepard shook her head and pushed away her plate of eggs, all of a sudden losing interest in her food. “I mean this .” She raised her voice and motioned to the air around her. A few patrons turned their heads to look at the scene she was making, but she didn’t notice. “Why have you been so kind to me for the past three days? You gave me a place to stay, gave me company, and you barely know me. At first I thought you just wanted sex, but apparently I’m not even good enough for that.”

“Shepard,” Kaidan interrupted her. She was unsure if it was of embarrassment or not, but she felt as if his attempt was similar to silencing a child’s tantrum. He knew she had mood swings. Hell, the first day they were together, she almost stormed off before he could think of something to say. He didn’t know if it was because of her insecurities of because of her past, but he was determined to help her through whatever she needed.

“Is it because your parents helped me all those years ago? If so, don’t bother. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” She fished through her pocket and slammed some money on the table, sufficient enough to pay for their meal. With that, she pushed herself off her seat and walked away, leaving him staring at her, still on his seat. What the hell was that? Some people in the cafe gave him dirty looks as if he did something wrong, even their waitress eyed him down as if he was scum.

“Chase after her, pyjak.” An asari who sat nearby hissed at him. Oh, she didn’t have to tell him twice. Still in a daze, he raced off his seat and did exactly that.


 

He found her sitting on the same bench where they had their first conversation together. Her hands were folded in her lap, her jaw in a straight line and her stormy grey eyes focused on something in front of her, deep in thought. Her face betrayed showing any emotion, and when he sat beside her she inhaled, readying herself to face the consequences. Instead, he placed a warm hand atop hers.

Once again Shepard was reminded of the first time Kaidan held her wrist all those years ago back on Earth, but that time was  only to keep her hands away from his pocket. Now, he caressed her hand with concern and admiration so she would somehow open up to him.

“Shepard,” Kaidan’s usual calm voice was laced with unwavering concern. “Please, tell me what’s wrong.”

“You should stay clear of me.” She whispered. When she opened her eyes again, they were devoid of tears no matter whatever she was thinking. She was a strong woman. “If you knew half the things I did, you wouldn’t even want to be near me.”

“We’ve all done things, Shepard. I won’t think any differently of you.” He lowered his voice, silently remembering those lost on Akuze.

“Why do you even stay?” She looked at him now, her eyebrows furrowed together, her lovely grey eyes displaying such pain. “You deserve better than daily mood swings. Is it because you think you can fix me?”

The question struck him. He didn’t think he could fix her. She could only fix herself, but he wanted to be there for the ride, and help her in any way he could. They barely knew each other, but an odd sense of protectiveness flitted around him whenever he was with her. He knew she was fully capable of protecting herself; she proved it well enough that day when she socked that lowlife in the jaw and when she talked Fist’s men out of shooting Kaidan’s squad. Something inside him wanted to get to know her, wanted to stay near her, wanted to protect her, wanted to be with her. He opened his mouth to tell her all this, but instead what came out were the four words she needed the most.

“You’re not alone, Shepard.” Her eyes widened in even more confusion and disbelief. If possible, she looked guiltier than before. Before she could say anything he continued, “When we returned for you, they told us you ran away. We did everything we could but we never found you. And now… you’re an amazing woman, Shepard. I won’t let you disappear again.”

She openly stared at him with her mouth shut and her eyes shining with hope as if she was studying him for a lie. Within a moment, she was back to her usual self, the Shepard he remembered meeting on a snowy evening in Vancouver.

“Thank you, Kaidan… for everything you’ve done.” Shepard kissed his cheek, the first kiss they shared since the night he became a Spectre. “Shit, this is all screwed up, isn’t it?” Shepard laughed, trying to ward off any awkwardness and make light of the situation. “Come on, we have a starship to get you to.”


 

It was the first time she saw an actual ship of the Alliance up close, and she lost her breath. Kaidan was able to get her up to the docking bay with his spectre title, but she still tried her best to remain low and out of sight.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Kaidan smiled, appreciating Shepard’s reaction.

She sure was. The ship’s design was something similar to those models she and her brother used to collect when they were children. But she did her best to suppress that memory. The starship was smaller than what she expected the esteemed pride of humanity’s (and turian’s, from what she heard on the extranet) labor, but Kaidan told her the specialty of the engine core and how the ship was cutting edge technology. The ship shined and gleamed with all her glory against the stars of the galaxy above them. White letters were printed onto the wings: Normandy SR1 . For some reason the vision of the ship sent chills down her spine.

“The Normandy is breathtaking.” Shepard whispered, unsure of what else to say. Kaidan placed his arm around her and took her closer, telling her facts and trivia of the ship, equally as taken away by the Normandy as she was, and not quite used to its brilliance.

Crew members began to file out of the elevator, ready to embark on their next mission. Duffle bags were slung over their shoulders as they walked with fine posture, their backs straight as a spear and their heads held high. Shepard could only watch with amazement at the honorable men and women. One soldier with olive skin and her dark hair in a bun seemed to spot Kaidan and Shepard together and stepped away from the flock towards Kaidan. Shepard recognized her as the same soldier who was in Kaidan’s squad when they rescued the civilians from Fist.

“Commander,” The woman saluted Kaidan. Before she continued, she paused to look over Shepard with curiosity before returning to Kaidan with a hint of a smirk pulling at the corner of her lips. “Congratulations on your spectre status, sir. But I heard what happened to Captain Anderson. Survives a hundred battles, then gets taken down by backroom politics…. Just be careful, Commander. If things go wrong you’re up next on the chopping block.”

Shepard tensed awkwardly. She felt as if she should not be in the middle of the conversation, as if the subject was top secret and only for ears with the knowledge and merit to comprehend.

“Saren’s out there somewhere, and we’re going to find him, Chief.” Kaidan assured the woman.

“I’m behind you, Commander. One hundred percent. You tell me to kiss a turian, I ask which cheek.” The woman smiled good heartedly. Shepard sure was shocked. She thought soldiers were always supposed to address their commanding officer with respect and formalities. She supposed Kaidan’s command was different.

“That won’t be necessary, but thanks Ash.” Kaidan chuckled. Not losing a beat, Kaidan motioned towards Shepard, “This is Shepard, the woman who helped us find Harkin.”

“I remember you, ma’am.You were one of the hostages held in Chora’s Den.” Ash turned towards Shepard, her brown eyes subtly trying to analyze the woman. The soldier saluted Shepard, which felt too odd.

“Alliance personnel beyond this point, ma’am.” An Alliance officer addressed Shepard before Shepard could reply. And that was the moment Shepard was waiting for. For the honorable people to clean out the trash and kick her out along with it, ending the dream altogether. Before Shepard could say anything, the female soldier, Ash as Kaidan called her, rolled her eyes.

“Do you know who this is, sir?” Ash pointed towards Kaidan.

“Chief-” The soldier stuttered, but she continued.

“You are speaking to the first human spectre, and your CO, Commander Alenko. And this is the woman who singlehandedly assisted us on our top secret mission, which you were not even aware of until it reached Citadel news. Show some respect… sir.” Ash roiled on, fluffing the truth a bit, trying to buy her Commanding Officer and his friend some extra time together.

“Uh, sorry ma’am…. sir.” The soldier stuttered nervously, looking back between Kaidan and Ashley. The soldier decided to stand at attention to not embarrass himself further.

“At ease.” Kaidan frowned from the soldier and to Ashley, who only shrugged and walked towards the starship. “It’s alright, you wouldn’t have known. Make your way to the Normandy , we are scheduled to take off soon.”

“Yes, sir.” The soldier saluted Kaidan and followed orders in suit. Once again, Shepard felt out of place. Yet sure enough, more crew and personnel filed through the entrance of the starship. Shepard could have bet Kaidan was putting off the takeoff just to say goodbye to her.

“I guess this is it.” Shepard frowned. Part of her wished she did not work at Chora’s Den that night, wished she did not see a ghost of her past, wish her curiosity didn’t get the best of her, wish she didn’t get so attached. No matter how many times she did it, she never could say goodbye.

Yet the other half of her wished she’d stop thinking such bullshit and just kiss him already.

“Shepard, don’t say that. You know-” Before Kaidan could finish, Shepard succumbed to the better half of her mind and rushed towards him, pressing her lips onto his. Much like their first kiss, he welcomed this one with equal fervor. He tried too hard not to treat this like a goodbye, trying to make their morning as casual as possible, and even tried to take her out to see the view of the Normandy , and yet something in the back of his mind nagged him, telling him this very well could be the last he’d see of the woman he loved.

Loved?

That felt odd. It was far too soon to love somebody, he told himself, his mind had to be in the right place, and this was not the right time. Maybe… when things settled down…

“Go out there and save the galaxy, soldier boy.” Shepard smiled, with a meek attempt to make the farewell less menacing. They both knew there was a large chance he’d never return.

“I’ll write you, Shepard.”

“Commander Alenko,” A man wearing an Alliance uniform cleared his throat and interrupted the couple. Shepard looked at the man, ready to berate him for interrupting, but even before Shepard or Kaidan could say anything, the man continued, “I have sensitive information and intel for the mission that must be addressed before you take off.”

“Shepard, I-” Kaidan tried to explain himself, maybe to attempt to formulate a kind way of saying ‘you need to go’, but Shepard did it for him.

“It’s alright, I should go.” Shepard nodded, and decided not to kiss him in front of the man. The man stood spear straight with the common posture of a soldier, his eyes looked as if he’d seen far too much for his age, his lips in a thin line. While she walked away, she could hear Kaidan address the man as Anderson. She refused to look back, it would just make it all harder than it need be.

Goodbye, Kaidan.


 

2/4/2183

Shepard took her usual route from her apartment to the Rapid Transit to Chora’s Den. It was her first day back at work since Kaidan left, and really her first day since she was held as a hostage. She heard nothing on the news or from her boss since then, so she only assumed she should at least return to see what exactly was going on. On normal circumstances, she would never return to the dingy club in her life, but Shepard needed this job. More importantly, she needed the money.

The club was due to open in one hour, and only a few workers were silently readying themselves for their shift, but it was clear that the attack on the club was on everybody’s minds,too scared to speak up. The asari dancers were in the back room changing into their costumes, and there was one sole turian bartender taking stock of the alcohol in the bar.

“Oh, you’re here. Good.” the turian  looked her over as she walked into the bar. The place still smelled of smoke and reeked of death with a splash of alcohol, but he didn’t seem to care. “Your name is…”

“Mary.” Shepard dryly told him the name the workers came up with. Man, how much she hated this guy.

“Right. Mary. We need you to be one of the private dancers tonight.” The turian told her as if it was as simple as that; as if she did not specifically clarify on her contract that she would not do private shows.

“I don’t do that.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back, hoping the turian was proficient enough in reading human body language. Sure enough, the turian looked over from the liquor and back to her in disbelief, his glass eyes flashing and his mandibles flaring.

“You do what I tell you to do.”

“You are not my boss.”

“Your boss is gone, and I own the place now. So you listen to me.” The turian picked up a bottle of krogan beer in one of his claws, as if he was ready to smash it on Shepard’s head.

“Actually, I don’t have to listen to whatever the hell you say. If you’re the new boss, you’d need a new contract. And I never signed one with you. So here I am, officially quitting.” Shepard raised her chin in defiance, challenging the turian to say anything against her. The few workers in the club looked up at the spectacle in terror.

“You can’t just quit.” The turian raised his claw higher, still with the bottle in his hand.

“I just did.”

The turian was fast. He brought his hand down on her face in one quick motion, with the intent to smash the bottle on his head. However, Shepard was faster. She was raised on the streets, and the turian was no match. He left his chest clearly open, and she blocked his impending attack and used it along with his weight against him as leverage which sent him toppling onto the ground.

Shepard had to admit, she didn’t learn that move on the streets. That move was all Kaidan’s. One day while he stayed, he tried to teach her some basic self defence, and she was a faster learner than he expected.

The krogan beer bottle crashed onto the floor, and glass shards pierced through the air. The turian lay on the floor in defeat, and Shepard bowed for theatrical effect and walked her ass straight out of that hellhole, with the applause of her fellow co-workers following her.

By the time Shepard returned to her apartment with Jenna, her roommate and (ex)co-worker, her omni-tool pinged with an impending message. Her omni-tool was terribly out of date and drastically needed an upgrade, but it still worked, and that was really all that mattered. After all, a new omni-tool should be the least of her worries, considering she was currently unemployed and her chunk of the rent was almost due.

The message was from some unknown sender, and she tapped the sender details. Sure enough, the address was from the Normandy ’s captain’s terminal.

Shepard,

I’m sorry this took a while to send, but there has been so much going on. I’m not even sure how much I’m allowed to tell you. We just came back from a rescue mission, and we were this close to not surviving. At that moment, I realized I’m not ready to die. I signed onto the Alliance fully expecting to die in service one day, but something must have changed. I don’t know anymore.

Sometimes I think that I wasn’t meant to be the first human spectre. Maybe it should have been the captain before me, or maybe even somebody else. Everybody expects me to command the crew and save the galaxy, and maybe I’m just not cut out to be a commanding officer. The decisions I’ll have to make one day may decide whether one person lives, or one person dies. It’s those type of choices I’ll have to make, and maybe one day I’ll be able to make them… hopefully.

But I want to know how you’ve been doing. I miss you, and all I’ve wanted to do is just talk to you in person, and just tell you everything.


 

2/8/2183

Kaidan was where he usually stayed while they weren’t on missions, and sat down in the mess hall tapping his fingers on the table. They were to land on Noveria soon enough, and Kaidan wanted to be mentally prepared for whatever the planet was to throw at him. What he wasn’t prepared for however, was for Ashley to take the seat next to him and interrupt his thoughts.

     For the small amount of time that the chief and Kaidan knew each other, they seemed to get along pretty well. He saved her life on Eden Prime, and she saved his in Chora’s Den against the charging krogan bodyguard behind his back. However, there was still so much Kaidan didn't know about his crew members.

“You look like you have a raincloud over your head, Commander.” Ash raised an eyebrow and looked as if she was ready to say something witty. Sure enough, she smirked and continued, “This doesn’t have to do with a certain civilian on the Citadel, does it? What was her name again? It was Shepard, right?”

Kaidan looked at her with embarrassment clear on his face, and she took the opportunity to tease him further.

“She’s a pretty one. And she has quite the personality too. You found yourself a keeper, Commander.”

“Are you keeping tabs on my personal life, chief?” Kaidan managed to blurt out one sentence, still too flustered to truly decide what to say next. He was her Commanding Officer, wasn’t he? Was it really appropriate to be this casual around his subordinate?

“I heard she hasn’t messaged him back yet.” Joker’s voice trailed in on the intercom, which didn’t do much to Kaidan’s embarrassment, however it seemed to immensely improve Ashley’s amusement.

“Oh, is this about that dancer on the Citadel?” Jenkins was quick to add to the conversation, before Kadian could even react to Joker’s admission. Jenkins himself flushed just from remembering Shepard’s performance. “She’s quite the…”

“Oh calm down, LT.” Ashley rolled her eyes and excitedly faced Kaidan again. “I’m pretty sure the Commander called dibs on this one.”

“I didn’t call dibs on anything as if she’s some object I have to own. LT, she’s more than just a dancer, don’t call her that. Chief,” Kaidan wasn’t really sure what to say to Ash. “Chief, calm down. And Joker? You’re supposed to be flying us to Noveria, not spying on your CO.”

“Of course, Commander.” Joker’s amusement was clear through the intercom. Kaidan could only imagine what thoughts could be running through his head. “I just wanted to inform you that ETA is five minutes. Also, you have a message waiting for you on your terminal. I believe it’s from a certain Shepard…”

As Joker’s voice cut off from the speaker, Kaidan commanded Ash and Jenkins to suit up as his shore party. They both saluted him and went off to their lockers to prepare for the landing. Sure enough, he ran to his message terminal as soon as they were out of sight.

Kaidan,

You shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you were “meant to be” the first human spectre. Even if you were not meant to be the human spectre, you are now, and I’m sure you’re doing a damned good job at it. Of course it won’t be easy, but I don't think you ever expected it to be. All you can do now is listen to what you think is the best call, and know yourself. I know you’ll make the right decision.

And as for me, that move you taught me on the Citadel came in handy. Our new boss was an ass and I quit, but it’s fine now. I just got a new job at Flux as the bartender, which is worlds better than working at Chora’s Den. Honestly I’m not sure even how I landed this job. I work with my roommate’s sister now. And I also just discovered that Jenna is actually an undercover informant for C-Sec. Funny, huh?

I’ve been thinking more and more of what happened in between meeting your parents in Vancouver and meeting you in the Citadel, and I want to tell you when I see you again.

-Shepard.


 

2/14/2183

Flux was especially crowded with human couples, and Shepard had no doubt it was due to the human holiday back on Earth, which they much have brought to the Citadel. Couples were flirting with each other and buying each other drinks and merrily dancing in the corner or even sneaking away to the lounge together, or hitting on each other in the casino, and Shepard was overwhelmed. She wasn’t really overwhelmed with the skyrocketing amounts of testosterone and estrogen, but rather the influx of customers.

“I’ll have the Volus Fire on the rocks.” A human managed to find a seat on the bar and flag her down. He wore Alliance Marine fatigues and looked somewhat tired. Shepard supposed he spent the entire night hitting on, and getting rejected by countless women. She quickly mixed his drink and passed it down to his seat.

“That’s fifteen creds, Mr…”

“Vega.” The marine pulled out his omni-tool to stream his creds towards his bill. “James   Vega.”

“Right.” Shepard nodded and was ready to continue on with the other customers, but

before she could turn around, James continued on as if he was already drunk.

“What’s a beautiful woman like you doing alone on a beautiful night like this?” He slurred, already having gulped down what Shepard already served him. He tapped his fingers down the bar for another one.

“Working.” Shepard replied dryly. However, she remembered she was required to be charismatic on the job, and decided to continue on the conversation. Maybe he’d give her a good tip. “What are you doing in a bar on the Citadel on a night like this, soldier?”

“Shore leave.” James was already on his way with finishing his second drink.

“Out of all places to choose for shore leave, you chose the Citadel?”

“I was stationed in Fehl Prime, miss. Anything is better than that isolated planet. Everyone knows that.” James spoke as if it was common knowledge. Sure enough, Shepard didn’t know anything about Fehl Prime, and she was beginning to resent this man. A handful of other impatient customers were fighting to flag her down, and Rita, Jenna’s sister, was getting quite overwhelmed as well. “It’s been a long night, that’s for sure.”

“I’ll be right back with you in a moment, Mr. Vega. I just have to attend to these other customers.” Shepard tried her best to excuse herself from James’ conversation so she could attend to the customers on the other side of the bar, but James was persistent.

“When do you get off your shift?” He asked her, with two empty cups already in front of him.

“Not anytime soon.”

“Well when you are off, just send me a call. Here’s my number…”

“That’s not necessary, Mr. Vega.”

“Come on, nobody turns down the James Vega.” James laughed wholeheartedly and ruffled Shepard’s hair as if she was quite the jokester.

“Well, I just did. It was nice meeting you, sir.” Shepard smiled and raced across the bar to the other customers. Before she could get there however, her omni-tool alerted her with an incoming message. She groaned, expecting that somehow James Vega got the address of her omni-tool, but she was pleasantly surprised to see the message was from Kaidan. A smile spread on Shepard’s lips, and Jenna was quick to notice. Jenna was in between juggling customers, and was the best bartender that worked at Flux, and was able to sneak away a moment to talk to Shepard.

“I saw that Alliance Marine over there. He’s cute. When I saw him flagging you down I would’ve called dibs, but then I remembered you have an Alliance Marine of your own.” Jenna wiggled her eyebrows and poked fun at her friend. “Is that a message from him?”

“Yes, and you can have that other guy all to yourself if you want.” Shepard laughed, pointing towards James Vega, who was too drunk to notice. “Can you cover for me while I  go to the backroom and read the message? I’ll be fast, I promise.”

“Go ahead. Just make sure Rita doesn’t see you.” Jenna smiled and strut her way towards James Vega, ready to take on Shepard’s offer. Shepard herself rushed to the backroom and hastily opened Kaidan’s message.

Shepard,

So much has happened in so little time, and I did my best to reply to you as soon as I could. Again, I’m not sure how much I can tell you and what is considered “classified” or not. I’ll tell you as much as I can when I see you, but for now, I miss you. A lot.

Again, tough decisions were made on this mission. A daughter had to watch her mother die, and had to make tough choices on her own. I’m sure it will only get more difficult from now on.

When all this is over, I’ll return to you. I want to talk to you again, I want to hear everything that’s been going on with you, everything that’s been on your mind.

I must sound crazy. I mean, technically, I barely know you. But for some reason I feel so close to you and so protective. When all this is over, I’ll take you on shore leave wherever you want. Maybe we could go back to Vancouver together, you can see my parents again… that is, if you want to. Of course, we’re not doing anything you’re not comfortable with.

I probably sound silly to you right now. But when all this is over… I’ll be there.

-Yours, Kaidan


 

2/25/2183

Kaidan needed someone to talk to. Sure enough, Ash was where she always was, organizing and cleaning the rifles in the storage section.

“Do you have a few minutes to talk, one on one?” Kaidan approached Ash, who was apparently watching a vid from her omni-tool while cleaning her rifle as well.

“Sure,” Ashley seemed pleasantly surprised to have Kaidan visit her. “I was just watching some mail from home.”

“Oh, and before I go, I saw your Commander Kaidan on the news vid about the Normandy and the first human spectre… he’s cute!” A girlish giggle echoed from Ashley’s omni-tool. “Later, sis.”

Ash looked from her omni-tool, and back to Kaidan, mortified. “How about we pretend this never happened.”

“Agreed.”

“Anyways, what’s up? I’m sure you didn’t come here to eavesdrop on my family mail.” Ashley crossed her arms over her chest and smirked, “Or is there something wrong with you and Shepard and you’re coming for advice on how to deal with woman? Oh Kaidan, you’re such a romantic.”

“Don’t hold your breath, Ash.” Kaidan decided that maybe the best commanding officer he could be is the one who is close to his crew. Formalities be damned, he wanted to get to know who we was supposed to save the galaxy with. “I wanted to ask you how you’re doing.”

“Oh. Well, I was actually going to ask you and LT if you would want to share a drink to celebrate Armistice Day for when the First Contact War ended. It’s sort of a family tradition… since I’m the only Williams aboard I thought I’d ask you two.”

“Although I’m flattered, it seems like an odd thing to celebrate. It happened twenty-six years ago.”

“In my family, it’s not much of a celebration… more of an obligation.” When Ashley paused to see Kaidan’s reaction, she sighed and decided to stop beating around the bush. “I’m Commander Williams’ granddaughter, the commander of the Shanxi garrison in the war. He was the only human ever to surrender to an alien race.”

And now Kaidan realized why Ashley had such an animosity towards alien races. She mostly kept to herself or spent her time with Jenkins or even Kaidan sometimes, but she never conversed with the aliens aboard. He even remembered her attitude when they brought Garrus and Wrex and Tali onboard, and even Liara soon after. Her feelings towards alien races were plastered clear on her face.

“I should have figured this out sooner.” Kaidan mentally kicked himself for being such an incompetent commanding officer. “That’s why you’ve been given such crap missions on your records file. I don’t really know how I could help you though.”

Ashley laughed at that remark, as if they were talking about Shepard. “Look at me, Kaidan. Do you ever hear me ask for help? It’s not that bad things happen to me. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about them, but I deal with them myself. This is who I am… but hey, maybe when we’re done saving the galaxy maybe the Alliance will get its act together and start acting like an actual government.”

“We better hurry on our next mission for Virmire then. When you’re back, you can have a lot of things to work for when we’re done with this.”

“Exactly, Commander.” Ashley smiled and pulled out a small bottle of contraband. “Now, how about that toast?”

They called Lieutenant Jenkins down to the storage deck and together they toasted for Armistice Day. Apparently Jenkins was a terrible lightweight, and got drunk pretty easily. Lucky for them, however, they were at least a day away from Virmire so they would have time to sober up. For the first time since his promotion as Commander, Kaidan was truly happy with his position in life and his squadmates, and with how things were going with Shepard. He was excited to return to the Citadel and meet her again, and tell her all about what it was like “saving the galaxy” on the Normandy . One day later, an hour before they were to land on Virmire, a message from Shepard appeared on his terminal.

Kaidan,

Things are pretty calm down on the Citadel. I’m adjusting to my job at Flux, and as you can expect, it is so much better than my job at Chora’s Den. My roommate Jenna is dating this weird Alliance Marine named James Vega. Maybe you know him? He’s here all the time in our apartment, but he’s getting shipped out again next week. Even though they're pretty casual and just having fun with it, Jenna seems pretty scared for him.

Shore leave sounds perfect. I would like to go down to Vancouver with you and even see your parents again. I still have to thank them properly for helping me out that day. I hope everything is okay with them.

I finally feel like my life is fixing itself, and I have something to work for, rather than just working to get by every day. I’m enjoying life again, and I want you to be part of it as well, when you come back.

Have fun saving the world, soldier boy. When you return, I’ll be here.

-Shepard


 

2/27/2183

Kaidan knew he needed to talk, but he wasn’t sure on what to say. Virmire hit him hard, and the guilt threatened to swallow him whole. It was all too similar to the events on Akuze, to being the sole survivor. Kaidan never liked losing people, and especially under his command. It was his fault one of his soldiers had to die, and it was his call who survived and who died.

Kaidan found Lieutenant Jenkins sniffling in the mess hall, his face buried in his hands. Sure Jenkins was a lieutenant, but he was nowhere near ready for Virmire. Kaidan was sure Jenkins never went on a mission with someone where a squadmate fell.

The decision whether to leave behind Jenkins or Williams was one of the hardest decisions of his life. Jenkins had the higher rank, sure, but Williams had the most experience and potential. He really got to know Williams with their brief time together, almost as if she was a sister. However, Kaidan had to make sure the nuke went off no matter what. So he saved Jenkins.

“Commander,” Jenkins addressed Kaidan as he sat down next to him. Jenkins was merely a boy, and wasn’t cut out for this. “Ashley is dead because of me.”

“Don’t say that, Jenkins.” Kaidan used his commander voice so his message would get across Jenkins’ head. “Ashley died under my command.”

“I’ve served for years, but never lost a soldier due to hostile action. I’ve always been put in dull missions, and I know I’ve always wanted to get into the ‘real action’, but now...” Jenkins wiped his tears away with the sleeve of his fatigues and looked towards Kaidan. “How did you deal with the losses of Akuze?”

The question did not surprise Kaidan. In fact, he was prepared to offer Jenkins his advice. “It was my job to get everyone out safe, and I failed. I vowed to never let that happen again. I’ll remember Ashley, and I vow to do better for her.”

“I guess that’s all we can do.” Jenkins nodded, but looked as if he was to burst into tears again. “I’m sorry, Commander. I think I just need some time to comprehend this. I will not let Ashley’s life go to waste.”


 

3/30/2183

It had been more than a month since Shepard received a reply from Kaidan. Part of her wondered if it was something she said, or if she looked too much into it, but the rational part of her knew he was too busy off saving the world somewhere. Shepard lazily rolled off her bed and realized her arm was hurting more than usual today. Jenna already left for her shift at Flux, but today was Shepard’s day off.

That was when the heavy blare of an unknown creature hit her ears. The sound was almost like a low growl with deep trumpets in the distance, as if an orchestra played a dissonant chord. Shepard ran outside to the window of her apartment to see a gigantic thorn-like creature, with a fleet of similar ships flying towards the Citadel.

That's when Shepard remembered the words repeated all through her life.

Nothing fools the Galaxy.

Chapter Text

          There were few times in Shepard’s life where she let all conscious thought flee her mind, and only let her instincts take control of the cells in her brain and let the energy drive through the blood in her veins. This was only the second of many times in her life where all she felt was pure adrenaline.

          Shepard raced towards the hall outside her apartment to find that there was already a C-Sec officer assisting with the evacuation, hysterically trying to calm each denizen. Before Shepard could pass the officer’s checkpoint, a blazing projectile soared through the empty space between the hall, crashing through the glass window which viewed the central hall of the Wards. The wall crumbled down and Shepard was knocked to the ground from the impact. The officer screamed for all the dwellers to get down and brace anything they could find, yet some were too late. A woman was stricken in the head by a projectile and fell near Shepard’s body. The warm blood flowed from her face and tainted the fabric on Shepard’s thin clothing and the skin on her fingers. Before she could scream, the blighted siren-like sound of an infant child’s horrified cries filled the space of the petrified hallway. A chorus of the child’s shriek and the same monotone growl from before assailed her ears.

          Another projectile flew into the window.

          The officer fell to the floor.

          Nothing fools the galaxy.

          When the dissonance from outside hushed to the Citadel’s occupants’ chaotic screams, Shepard lifted her head from her hands. Bodies littered the carpet. If anyone survived, they were already out of the area. A toddler sat on a woman’s body, crying in the indignancy of it all.

          There was no time to assess the situation. Blood poured through Shepard’s veins, and a deafening buzzing sound harassed her ears. In one fluid move, Shepard scooped up the child and ran. She ran faster than she ever had before, faster than when men tried to chase her off the streets as a child, faster than the night she left her mother and her brother in Vancouver.

          As they exited the hallway, a stampede of species fled through the Lower Wards, trying to get to safety, trying to find their loved ones, trying to escape, even trying to ransack the illegal black market shops. Shepard sidestepped the thieves and the stragglers, trying her best to get out of the pandemonium. She was not yet sure where she was going, but she knew she had to get out of there. As she made her way to the Upper Wards, another boom emanated from outside. But this one was different. Instead of the usual dissonance from the unknown creature outside, it was the sound of starships in the sky attacking the creatures. Shepard shielded the toddler’s sullied head closer to her chest and raced to the nearest officer.

          The officer with somewhat of a blonde stubble and short army hair introduced himself as Conrad Verner and helped to evacuate the crowd to safety. He did his best to assure the delirious citizens that he would die before any of them would, but his voice was too shaky and just as scared as they were to offer any comfort. As soon as he saw the toddler in Shepard’s arms, he offered to take the weight off her so she could run faster. Before the child was fully in the Verner’s arms, another projectile blasted through the Upper Wards, splitting the crowd. Shepard’s head hit the floor as a blur of bullets soared through the air above her. The child’s futile scream was the last thing she heard before the world blacked out before her.

          Nothing fools the galaxy.


 

          2/12/2158

          “Jane,” A woman smiled at a young toddler, gently caressing her own protruding pregnant belly. The woman was the living picture of a glowing pregnancy, as her cheeks were illuminated from within while her grey eyes glittered with bliss. Her ebony colored ringlets bounced around her face and glistened in the sunlight. “Go run along to your father. He is shipping out soon, and we won’t be able to see him for a while.”

          “I don’t want papa to leave.” The toddler frowned and clutched her toy starship to her chest. The tyke wore a floral pink sundress with laced white socks and black sandals. Her large eyes matched her mother’s, but held far more curiosity to the world.

          “I know, honey.” The mother picked up the girl in one smooth swoop and carried her to her father. “But he has to go. He has to fight the bad guys.”

          “Bad guys?” The toddler looked intrigued, pure interest glimmering through her eyes.

          “That’s right, honey! Daddy has to go fight the big bad aliens to protect the world.”

          “But why can’t he just stay home with us?” The toddler’s frown returned and she flung her starship across the room, already in the midst of a fit. Despite the child’s fury, the toy did not burst into pieces.

          “Because, my dear Jane, your father is protecting not just everyone else in the world, but most especially you and me, and even your baby brother who is arriving soon enough. While he is up there, he’s doing all of it for us down here.” The mother put the girl down at her father’s feet, still scowling and crossing her arms in defiance. The tall man wore grey military fatigues and an Alliance cap, ready to board the shuttle of the Alliance’s Vancouver station.

          The man shook his head and kneeled down to the girl’s height and tapped her nose, causing the girl to involuntarily giggle.

          “Jane, why did you throw your starship across the room?” The man chided the girl, which caused her frown to quickly return.

          “I don’t want you to leave.” Jane pouted and crossed her arms. The man smiled at his wife and returned the toy to the girl. She stubbornly refused to hold the model and instead turned her head away. The mother shook her head at her daughter. Mary Ride was a caring mother and a stubborn woman, but if any god existed, they knew that Mary loved her husband and her daughter.

          “You see this, Jane?” The man whispered to the girl as he held up the toy. Jane returned her gaze to the man and the starship in his hand. “I’ll be in one of these, far up in the sky. And from outer space, you can see Earth. You’ll look even smaller than you are now. But every day, I will look down at Earth and you will look up at the stars. I’ll always be with you. And when I return, you’ll be right here waiting for me.”

          “But if you’re in the stars, I want to be in the stars too!” Jane looked in her father’s eyes.

          “Maybe one day, my dear.” The man picked up his daughter and held her next to his heart. “But I love you. And I’ll be back soon. I promise.”

          Jane’s ear touched the cold nametag of her father’s Alliance fatigues and looked up at her father. The nametag was golden plated and etched into it were black letters that spelled Shepard.

          “No matter what happens,” John Shepard kissed his daughter’s cheek and looked into her grey eyes, “know that I love you.


 

          3/32/2183

          “Shepard,” A hushed voice whispered her name, carefully pronouncing each syllable with affection. “This woman’s name is Shepard and she is to receive the finest care you can offer.”

          “Sir, her funds do not efficiently cover the cost of-” A monotone Salarian voice tried to speak before being cut off.

          “Excuse me, do you know who this man is?” A man pushed between him and the Salarian doctor. “This man is the first human spectre, the Savior of the Citadel. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be here, none of us would be here-”

          “Jenkins,” The first man tried to calm the other, but he was persistent.

          “-So you better damned well listen to him, doctor.” The man finished his sentence right at the same moment that Shepard slowly blinked her eyes open. The bright lights of the hospital room momentarily blinded Shepard’s vision before three figures blurred into sight. The first figure was seeming to rush the other two out of the room and looked at her with hope.

          The man had unkempt black hair that did not look like it was cut in weeks. The thinnest layer of black scruff grew atop his chin and around the ghost of his smile. Cuts that looked like they were in the process of healing were scattered across his jaw and forehead. He looked at her with his whiskey brown eyes and she began to remember. She remembered their brief time together as children when he and his parents saved her but never rescued her, she remembered when he showed up unannounced once again in her life and helped her save herself, she remembered the desperate messages sent, the longing and the desperation and the hope.

          “Kaidan,” she managed to say. He looked as if he was about to hold her hand, but decided it was better not to and instead laid his hand on the edge of her medical bed. Shepard rubbed her head as if it would help to ease her migraine. She felt a raised bump on the top of her forehead with a bandage soaked in medi-gel stuck atop. Her stomach dropped and she instantly remembered the carnage of the attack on the Citadel. She breathlessly asked, “Kaidan, what happened?”

          Kaidan took a deep breath and spoke slowly as if he himself did not truly come to terms with the events, “The Normandy returned to the Citadel just in time, but the reapers already attacked before we could do anything.”

          “What are the reapers?” Shepard racked her memory, but could only remember ghost stories she and her brother would trade when they were young.

          “Reapers are ancient creatures… they’re the ones that wiped out the Protheans.” Kaidan seemed flustered, as if unsure of where to begin. “They’re the ones that attacked Eden Prime, that attacked the Citadel.”

          Shepard nodded and closed her eyes. In other circumstances she would have argued that those were just ghost stories, but she saw them with her own eyes. She heard their warning call and felt their destruction.

          “My team arrived and managed to defeat Saren, who was the one who commanded the geth to attack the Citadel and to release the reapers.” Kaidan continued, but noticed Shepard’s blank stare as if he grew an extra head. “Sorry, this must be a lot.”

          “No, it’s fine. Once I get out of here, you can tell me all about this.” Shepard apologized and shook her head once again, cursing her migraine. She gathered her ebony hair in her hands, which were slicked to her neck with sweat. She pulled it back behind her shoulders and looked at Kaidan once again. An awkward silence bloomed betwixt them, and she once again remembered where they stood with each other. When they were kids, she saw him as a big brother in that brief moment and even idolized him. But then she grew up, and saw the world for what it really was. There were no heroes in her world. When he returned, she wanted to speak with him if not for the time they lost, and they grew far too close in far too little time. He left, and they exchanged messages. She remembered their messages grew into more of love letters as they went on. He must have truly believed he was going on a suicide mission, because he wrote as if he was willing to die the next day. She must have been his messiah, and he her redemption. She truly cared for him, and meant what she said in her messages, but now he was actually standing in front of her. Maybe in another life she would have blurted that she loved him like a silly romantic, but that was not the life they live in. She instead slowly whispered, “What do you plan to do now?”

          He smiled at her that same smile he gave when he offered her his extra doughnut when she knew he loved those but he did anyways, the same smile when she laughed at his attempts to cheer her up, the same smile he gave when they met once again.

          “Would you like to go back to Earth with me?”

          “Where to?”

          “Home.”

Chapter Text

          Shepard tugged on the hem of her slightly worn out sleeve in an effort that it would cover more of her flesh. She and Kaidan’s transport had just landed in Vancouver station, and they sat down next to each other in the transit on the way to his parents’ place. Her foot fidgeted and she could not help but comb her hair with her hands in distraught. When Kaidan looked over his shoulder and noticed his partner’s fraught, he placed his hand on her thigh in an effort to quell her panic. She gave him a meek smile, but moments later continued to tap her foot on the floor of the transit. This was the most nervous Shepard has felt ever since her first journey to the Citadel. Nerves weren’t a common occurrence for her, but when it was, she felt it hard. Both of them knew she grew into an independent woman who survived on her own and did not need saving or anyone’s pity, but she was allowed to be vulnerable, at least just this once she allowed herself that luxury.

          Leaving the Citadel was easy enough, easier than Shepard ever thought it would be. Kaidan was offered shore leave, and Shepard surprisingly enough gained enough of a vacation without angering her boss. However, it did help that the first human spectre and the savior of the Citadel was the one who personally asked her boss to grant Shepard the retreat. They left on a whim, and the whirlwind of it all did not offer a moment for Shepard to truly sit and ponder on the reality of it.

          For the first time since they embarked on their journey, it hit her. Shepard truly was travelling with Kaidan Alenko, the first human spectre, the savior of the Citadel, to meet his parents. And yet, both of them knew that this was not a simple and trivial matter of having dinner with the parents. This was the reunion she was stolen from, the meeting she deserved. In another life, these people could have been her foster parents. Yet even in this life, they saved her well enough in their own way. They granted her hope, the hope she yearned for. If the Alenkos did not greet her with the kindness she did not deserve, she was well aware that she would not be alive sitting next to Kaidan.

          For years, she waited for this day. Of course, she did not expect it to arrive under these circumstances, but nonetheless it was her dream. Every year when she would reach her birthday, she would wish for the Alenkos to find her once again. That is, she wished the same wish until she turned twenty and arrived at the Citadel. After so many years of waiting, she lost her hope, the spark that they once ignited. She worked everyday just barely living, barely surviving. With the help of her benefactor she managed to get the job at Chora’s Den, but that turned out to be less of a job and more of a slander. The boss often made her dance for the patrons instead of barring, but somehow she was good at it. She was good at making men believe what they wanted to believe, to let them look at her like some sort of prize as long as they gave her the money to survive. She hated it, but it was the cost of life.

          “Stop worrying, Shepard.” Kaidan whispered into her ear as he gently laced his fingers with hers. His words brought her back to present thought and she laid her head on his shoulder.

          Who could have known that one day Kaidan would return to her? Who could have known that the one child who would show Shepard one simple act of kindness fueled by integrity would one day show up at Chora’s Den, in the middle of the Citadel, in the middle of their galaxy, and be reunited with her? Here he was: her one solid rock after so many years of loneliness, the one person she could rely on and trust. He reciprocated the affection with ease, never forgetting to show her he cherished her. They were each other’s saviors, and each other’s solitude.

          In the short time they spent in the Citadel after the attack, he only kissed her twice: the day she was able to get out of her hospital bed, and the day she visited the child she saved. He dared not to go any further, if not for the fear of sparking woeful memories, then perhaps it was the chivalrous side of him. Shepard did not know if she was thankful or unthankful for that.

          Before Shepard could contemplate further, the transit smoothly glided to a stop and opened for herself and Kaidan. As soon as she exited the transit, a single drop of snow fluttered onto her nose and moments later, more sprinkled onto her hair and feet. Kaidan smiled at her, also peppered with the frost. It was winter in Vancouver, just as they had met.

          “How far is your parents’ house?” Shepard stuffed her hands into her pocket and walked alongside Kaidan, appreciating the air on Earth and the community in front of her.

          “We’re here.” Kaidan looked to his feet bashfully. Shepard could have sworn his cheeks grew rosy, if not of cold then of embarrassment.

          “Here?” Shepard looked in front of her. They were not in a community after all, but instead in front of a large gated house, if it could even be called that. The mansion was white with angled roofs and windows spreading across the exterior. Smaller buildings were spread alongside it, with shorter roofs and more windows. She was at a loss for words. “This is… wow.”

          “My mom’s side of the family used to invest in stocks and businesses back before the first Mass Effect relay was discovered on Mars. Since then, they’ve been investing in businesses for biotic amps.” Kaidan spoke humbly and tried his best not to intimidate the poor girl, but it did not help for at that moment Shepard felt even more out of place than before. “Sorry about all that.”

          Shepard snorted in the most unattractive manner. The savior of the Citadel was apologizing for his rich family. The galaxy works in weird ways.

          When the large iron gates opened for the couple, they trailed into the courtyard and Shepard looked in awe at all the ostentatious fountains which were turned off to conserve water. These people lived in another world than she ever could have. Kaidan opened the door to reveal an expanse of pristine marble floors and the light of outside flooding through the windows. Green plants were scattered across the solar in a fashionable manner with paintings of stars and planets hung on the walls.

          “Kaidan, you’re home?” A woman’s voice called from the upper floor. Shepard’s stomach dropped in dread. Before she could panic, Kaidan intertwined his hand in hers while the woman descended the staircase. Her ashen hair was tied into a neat bun behind her head and her clothes primly ironed without a wrinkle in sight. It was as if time moved ever so slowly as the woman finally stood before her. Her warm brown eyes, the same eyes Kaidan bore, widened in disbelief. The woman’s hands flew to her mouth as she no doubt recognized the woman Shepard grew to be. Without a word, the elderly woman flung herself onto Shepard into the tightest hug she’s ever received. Although Shepard could not see, the woman’s eyes were glassy and a lone tear rolled onto her cheek. “My dear boy, you brought her home.”

          Tears managed to escape Shepard’s eyes as well. Her unkempt black eyeliner trailed onto her cheeks and smudged into her skin, but she wiped it away without a care. Home. Is that really where she was? In so short a time, she was granted more love than she has ever received, and yet.

          “Barbra, who is this?” A man’s voice called through the foyer; no doubt it was Kalani Alenko, the father of Kaidan. Shepard remembered that the man was the most rational of the family, and the one most reluctant to offer Shepard a shelter. It took a special kind of person to offer everything to a child on the streets, dirty and alone. Many people’s first thoughts are what are most important to them when faced with a difficult decision, and Kalani’s thoughts were of his family first. Shepard did not hold that against the man’s memory, only used that to humanize him.

          Barbra let go of Shepard and stood next to her as if presenting the young woman to Kalani. The old man’s hair was peppered with white and black strands and a hint of a beard growing at his chin. He was the mirrored image of Kaidan in decades, if the galaxy granted him that much.

          “This is Shepard.” Kaidan spoke for his mother. He stood closer to her and held her hand once again as if announcing something to them that did not need to be announced; he was her partner, and they were not here for his parents’ acceptance. Their blessing and acknowledgement would have been well appreciated and it is not that he doubted they would approve of Shepard, but they were there for the sole purpose to grant Shepard the reunion she deserved, and they were doing this together.

          Kalani smiled a sad smile and stood tall to greet the young woman. He took Shepard’s hand in his and shook it with sincerity and the most affection and guilt Kalani could have shown. Guilt, Shepard was not sure of, but accepted the greeting with as much fervor.


 

          Dinner was an odder affair than Shepard would have expected. Given their station and their home and Shepard’s insane imagination, she expected servants to exit every door and present a silver platter and a candlestick announcing that dinner was served. To her surprise, Barbra and Kalani were the ones who brought out the meal themselves. Steaming hot plates of typical pierogi was placed in the center of the table with sides of poutine waiting as well.

          The Alenkos traded stories of Kaidan’s childhood and upbringing. Kaidan and Kalani spoke of his new spectre status. Barbra spoke of the tragedy of the attack on the Citadel and Eden Prime. Kaidan spoke of how he found Shepard (thankfully leaving out her job on Chora’s Den) on the Citadel. They did not expect Shepard to share a story of her own, and she was thankful for that. She did not have anything to say, or at least anything she thought appropriate to tell them. The entire time, nobody mentioned the lingering unspoken subject.

          After dinner was over and everyone was satiated with an overstuffed belly, one that Shepard was quite thankful for, she helped to clean the mess. Barbra sat Shepard down in the living room and tearfully approached what was not mentioned.

          “We are so sorry, Shepard.” Tears welled up into the woman’s eyes once again. The crackling heat of the fireplace was the only audible sound between the two women. Kalani and Kaidan were gone on the patio, and Shepard was left alone with Barbra. The woman spoke again, “We tried. We tried as hard as we could have, but you were gone. The orphanage was not at the liberty to give us any information of your new parents.”

          Shepard looked at the woman with forgiveness. The closure offered to heal a wound that the girl grew up with, after the countless nights of tears and regret. It was true. Shepard waited and waited for the Alenkos could return, but before they could, the benefactor adopted her and was raised under his instructions. Yet unbeknownst to the elder woman, Shepard did not hold spite in her memory, only fondness.

          Shepard hugged Barbra with the same affection that the mother offered her when she stepped through the door. The Alenkos forever treated her with more affection than she ever deserved, than her soul could have ever wished for. Forever changed, the two women stayed by the fire, the mother who thought of herself as the mother she was never able to be for the young woman, and the young woman who thought of herself undeserving for any of it.


 

          The two men cracked open a can of beer and the sound of the fizz echoed between the father and son. They sat on the balcony watching the transits fly by and the moon glow bright. Growing up, Kaidan thought of this as his rite of passage whenever his father was home on shore leave. As a career marine, he more often than not was never home, and Kaidan grew up seeing him sporadically. It was not until the night that Kaidan returned from Brain Camp that Kalani allowed his son to sit next to him and drink a beer overlooking the Vancouver skyline over the English Bay and the orchard in the back of their land. It was a tradition that Kaidan thought of fondly, and one that father and son managed to uphold every visit.

          “So how close are you and that girl?” Kalani rasped after a long drink of his beer. The man lounged on the bench with his beer in hand, next to his son.

          “I… think I love her, pa.” Kaidan spoke surely. It took a while to reply, but he decided to talk to his father honestly. As cliché as it sounded, he knew his words rang true as soon as he spoke. Kalani shifted in his seat and sat upright.

          “Kaidan… you could have brought home any other woman, but… really, Shepard?” Kalani shook his head. He always knew his son was a romantic at heart. That was obvious enough with his obsession over Rahna as a teen and young adult, but this was too far. “You’re a soldier, son. Not even that, you are the first human spectre. Are you aware of the responsibilities that come with that title? She’s a civilian, Kaidan.”

          Kaidan acted as if this was a slap to the face. His father was always rational and analytical to a fault, but this was a step too far.

          “What would you have me do? Sleep with a commanding officer, or better yet an admiral? Is that high enough for me?” Kaidan spoke with pure distaste and, for the first of a few future moments in his life, no rationality.

          “You could have brought home a tech, or even a nurse. But Kaidan, life with a civilian is too risky, especially with your station” Kalani spoke with guilt and experience.

          “Not all families are like that.” Kaidan spoke with experience as well. “You just decided to never be home. I practically grew up without you, and that was your choice.”

          “The poor girl has already been through enough, can you imagine what would happen to her if you were to die in action? Now that you’re a spectre, you’re open to dangers at a higher threat than ever before.” Kalani tried his best to steer his son in his direction. Whether that was the right direction or not, the thought sobered his son to a certain point.

          “Both of us know the risks.” Kaidan looked at the moon once again. As much as he hated it, his father was at the least somewhat right. If he were to die, it would break Shepard once again to a point that he did not want to think of. He could only imagine how it would be like if she were the spectre, the one in the danger, and the one to die in action without anything he could do about it. Yet both of them knew what they were getting into, and both of them stayed.

          “I hope you do know what you are doing son,” Kalani sighed and leaned back into his seat, “for the sake of the both of you.”

          A part of Kaidan itched to argue that Kalani had no right to the defense of Shepard’s sake after his futile search for her with little effort back when they returned to Vancouver. With as much money as they had, they could have done more, fought more, but Barbra was the one that wanted to while Kalani thought it was best to let it go. If Kalani were to try harder, they may have found her, they may not have been having this very talk. But Kaidan knew it was inefficacious to incite more distaste between him and his father. Kaidan held his tongue and leaned into his chair as well.

          If Kaidan were to know that this would be the last time he would ever sit on the balcony with his father overlooking the moon and the skyline with a beer in hand, he would have made more of an effort to reconcile, to stay. Instead, the two men sat and looked over the balcony in a shared spell of silence.


 

          The next day, Kaidan and Shepard parted from the Alenkos to embark on their own vacation. They did not want to stay too long to dwell too far into the past. The visit brought Shepard closure, and opened more doors than closed. But of course, Shepard was not aware of that yet. Instead, they stepped onto a flight onwards to London. Paparazzi and newscasts greeted them as soon as they stepped off their flight, eager to catch a word for the savior of the Citadel’s first visit to Earth since his spectre status was granted. He was popular enough, and as if the title of the first human spectre and the savior of the Citadel did not grant him followers, his debonair appearance and humble demeanor offered complete saturation to the world’s fascination over him. They managed to steer clear of this when they visited Vancouver unannounced; the Alenkos lived in a fairly gated community and private part of the city by the beachfront, but now it was unavoidable. Kaidan was a natural in each impromptu interview, sure to enforce the appeal that no matter what way we looked at it, the battle of the Citadel resulted in deaths that they should all remember, including alien lives. Shepard awkwardly stood to the side, out of the camera’s view for each film. She couldn’t imagine herself in his place as the savior of the Citadel obligated to do spontaneous interrogations. She was sure that if she ever was, she wouldn’t be able to take it and end up punching the interviewer in the face, which would not have been good for the poster image the Alliance liked to place around Kaidan.

          When it was all over, they travelled to their hotel, a lavish building that overlooked Westminster Bridge. By the time they were all settled, Kaidan left to do a food run by himself. Shepard walked outside and pulled open the glass sliding door which led to the balcony of their suite. She leaned on the balcony’s wrought iron railing and looked over the beauty of the city. Transits and skycars whizzed through the skyline in an orderly manner, yet still jammed in unavoidable traffic. With the hotel’s view, she could see Big Ben looming over the river which ran under Westminster Bridge. The yellow iridescent city lights reflected on the water and added to the splendor of the sight. London was truly beautiful, and a city that Shepard would forever hold dear to her heart every day thereafter.

          Shepard returned inside the suite by the time she heard the room’s artificial intelligence announce the return of Kaidan. It was an odd sight to see the savior of the Citadel attempt to balance tons of grocery bags on one hand and a box of beer on the other. Domestic life did not suit him, and this must have been one of the first grocery runs he’s been forced to do in many years. She sat down on the kitchen’s island and watched him unpack each bag and open two beers. To her surprise, he pulled a pan out of the wooden cabinet and fired up the antique stove.

          “You’re… cooking?” Shepard raised an eyebrow and took a gulp of the cheap beer.

          “Trust me.” Kaidan drizzled a copious amount of olive oil onto the pan which sent a sizzle through the kitchen. “Just let me impress you.”

          “You want me to sit here and watch you cook?” Shepard placed the beer on the island and crossed her arms over her chest. Kaidan noticed this was the most laid back she has been since they left the Citadel, and he made sure not to ruin this.

          “You’re not watching me cook; you’re helping me drink beer.” Kaidan peeled a few cloves of garlic and dropped them into the pan. “Now stay seated.”

          “If you’re trying to use your ‘Commander Alenko’ voice, I’m afraid it won’t work on me.” Shepard sat up from the stool and leaned on the counter next to him.

          “I don’t think you’d be able to listen to anyone’s orders, Shepard.” Kaidan laughed and looked at her with pure admiration.

          “Where did you learn to cook?” Shepard looked back towards the steaks and the now blackened garlic on his pan. “You should fire whoever taught you. You’re burning the garlic there.”

          “Sorry,” Kaidan quickly went to turn the fire down on the burner. “I guess I’m a bit distracted here.”

          “Well what could ever distract you, Commander?” Shepard wrapped her arm across his shoulders.

          “I wonder.” Kaidan looked at her again, something different in his eyes, the same look he gave her the first time they kissed by Flux. He had been holding himself back from intimacy since he returned from saving the Citadel. Maybe he was still scarred from the things he saw, the things he had to do while on the mission, or maybe even scared to frighten her, but now things were different. They were finally alone, and she was offered the closure she never had before.

          Shepard took this chance to kiss him for once, the way she wanted to ever since he returned to her. She draped her arms over him and kissed him with as much desire as she felt, and he returned the kiss with just as much fervor, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. If it was not for the oil that suddenly began to pop on the pan, he would have carried her on top of the counter right then and there. Shepard laughed as he quickly turned the fire off the stove.

          “I think I might have burned it…” Kaidan frowned in defeat. Sure enough, the steak was blackened and far too overdone.

          “We have some hot sauce, right?” Shepard giggled and they toasted their beer.


 

          They spent the next morning walking along Westminster Bridge and eating at a tourist café. Sure enough, the patrons in the café asked for pictures with him, but he was barely bothered. After breakfast, they drove a traditional car along the roads of London’s countryside. The lush and rolling hills were just as breathtaking as the view of the bridge, and the couple decided to stop on a sunflower field. Endless rows of bright yellow flowers grew tall on the hills, shielding the view of the nearby mansions. With a sudden burst of mischief and childish dreams, Shepard began to run freely across the fields, touching each flower she passed with the tips of her fingers. The sunlight poured onto her skin and the breeze pulled each flower to bow to her, and at that moment she was in utter bliss.

          Kaidan called for her to slow down, trailing behind her. She laughed at the innocence of it all and told him to chase her. Not willing to turn down this challenge, Kaidan sprinted after her, as free as the day he was born. They brought out the best of each other, and both of them deserved this pure moment of euphoria. Shepard’s dark hair flew behind her as she raced through the sunflower field, but soon enough she was pushed to the ground as he tackled her. At that moment she could no longer deny herself the fact that she loved this man.

          “Thought you could run from me?” Kaidan held her down and trapped her beneath him.

          With a gleam of mischief in her eyes, she kissed him just as she did the night before. Last night, neither of them went any further after their dinner, too stuffed and jetlagged from their flight, and instead ended up sleeping in each other’s arms on the couch. Today, she fully intended to do with him as she wanted. She wrapped her arms around his neck and used his weight as leverage to pull herself on top with him beneath her. He kissed her with kisses trailing along her jaw, travelling lower. Heat began to pool inside her and she knew she wanted, needed more.

          “Let’s get out of here.” Kaidan huskily ordered as he picked her up off him and began to carry her back to the car. She wriggled out of his grasp and raced towards the vehicle, again starting the chase. Kaidan wiped the soil off his pants and chased after her, not intending to let her out of his sight.

          When they returned, Kaidan carried Shepard through the suite and dropped her on the overly plush hotel bed. He lied down next to her and kissed her carefully, not wanting to rush things. It was sweet and gentle, yet as full of want as the kiss on the sunflower field. Their second kiss was more passionate, testing their limits with each other, wanting to feel each other. He kissed her neck and trailed down her stomach, stopping between her thighs. He hastily pulled down her shorts and waited for some sort of signal to tell him that she was okay with him continuing. Her hands wrapped around his hair, telling him without words that it was alright for him to go on. No, that she wanted, ached for him not to stop.

          She closed her eyes as she felt his tongue over her most sensitive parts. She tried to move her hips forward, wanting more, but he held her in place with his hands. He kissed and licked and flicked his tongue, and each movement sent a new sensation over her entire body. Each wave of euphoria was even stronger than the last, and finally his name was on her lips as a moan, and she cried out his name again as she reached her peak. When he rose his head from her, she brought his face to hers, craving more. She kissed his lips and tasted herself on his tongue.

          Kaidan groaned and Shepard could feel his cock against her stomach through his jeans, hard and pressed against her. She hurriedly undressed herself as Kaidan undid his own clothes. She straddled him under her body for the second time that day and he placed his hands on her hips. With a small push, she gasped as he entered her. It has been a while the last time she slept with anyone, and it stung. She bit her lip, not wanting to alarm him, but the pleasure was quickly overriding the pain. She slowly lowered herself along his length, pulling her deeper inside her. She wanted all of him, and never wanted to let him go. She moaned again as he pulled out and they settled into a rhythm until all emptiness between them was gone.

          The way she touched him made him want her even more. The way she always returned to him and the way she said his name like a prayer on her lips was all he’s ever wanted. She started out slow and gentle until both of their needs grew stronger. He tried thrust into her faster, but she held him down and slowly rode him to set the pace, reminding him who was in charge. With each thrust, a sense of euphoric passion washed over them, cleansing whatever doubt they had of each other.

          He felt her body tighten against him as she repeated his name one last time, her voice reaching a crescendo as her bliss reached a second peak. He came after her, her name on his lips as his seed spilled inside her. They both stayed that way, trying to catch their breath with her lying her head on his chest until she finally rose her body over his and lied down next to him. Part of her felt empty and lost after she removed herself, and she wanted him to return to her. Instead, he kissed her again and hovered himself over her body, his hands next to her face, elevating him as he kissed her again and again.

          “I love you, Shepard.” He said to her. Months ago she might have thought that it was the rush, or perhaps purely the sex talking for him, but she knew better. She pulled him closer to her with her face merely inches away from his.

          “And I love you, Kaidan.”

          The next morning, Shepard awoke with a kiss on her forehead and in the arms of her beloved. They would forever cherish the memory of London in their hearts, and both regarded this day as the best day of their lives, or rather the day the rest of their lives began.

          What a shame it was that next to their bed, where they stayed for the rest of their day and never wanted to leave each other’s arms, was his glowing omni-tool which alerted him that the Alliance wanted to ship him out once again on a routine Geth hunt. Yet if either of them did know that they only had so few days left together, they would not have spent it any differently.

Chapter Text

          Shepard awoke that morning to a soft kiss feathered onto her forehead. She opened her eyes and realized her and Kaidan’s bodies were still intertwined. Her head laid peacefully on his chest with her hair laid out like a halo onto the mattress. Through the open balcony, London’s soft and welcoming breeze brushed over their naked bodies. They had stayed in London for a month and it was precisely three weeks after their fateful visit to the sunflower field. They treasured each day together since, not willing to speak of his departure the next morning. His shore leave was almost over, and he was to traverse back into open space, stars away from her.

          Their vacation together would forever be remembered as the best days of Shepard’s life. Two years later, Kaidan would replay these days in his head when waking up. At the beginning of their vacation they tried to visit all the tourist destinations, but later found that neither of them were the patient types willing to wait in line all day. Instead, they would simply walk around the city streets at night and return to their suite. He taught her some self defense maneuvers and one day he even took her to a shooting range. With a simple M-3 Shuriken pistol in hand, Shepard managed to shoot clean through the center of her target within her first try.  He believed that with enough practice she could easily be a better shot than he ever was, much to his surprise and her satisfaction.

          “Look who’s awake.” Kaidan smirked as Shepard stretched and rolled off of his chest.

          “I wouldn’t be so surprised since you’re the one who woke me up, after all.” Shepard yawned and lazily tied her hair up and away from her drowsy face.

          “Seeing that it’s about noon, I thought it was about time for you to wake up.” Kaidan shrugged and stretched his body out as well. He draped his legs over the corner of their bed ready to get dressed for the day.

          “Oh, it’s noon already?” Shepard leaned over the bed and pulled Kaidan back next to her before he could leave. She kissed his lips and lied on top of him again. “It would be so nice to just lay here all day with you.”

          “Come on, Shepard.” Kaidan tried his best to stand up, only to be confined back to the bed by the woman at his side. “We have a full day ahead of us, or actually half a day, considering your horrifying sleep schedule.”

          “Why don’t we just stay here?” Shepard held onto his back and purred into his ear, “Just for a little bit?”

          Shepard and Kaidan ended up staying on their bed with the door to the balcony open for the rest of the day. Kaidan finally managed to work up the motivation to spend their last day in London actually outside in London by the time the moon rose up above them with the stars gleaming in the dark sky.

He told her he was taking her out for a surprise, so she dressed into the best clothes she owned, which happened to be a tight black dress and shiny new heels. In fact, these were only a small portion of the clothes Kaidan bought for her. On the first week of their stay he asked her if she wanted anything and she simply rolled her eyes and said he shouldn’t spend any more money on her. The next morning she woke up to find bags stuffed with tissue paper and bundles of clothes including formal attire, winter coats, summer shorts, and lingerie. If he were to give those to her a month ago it would have simply been a reminder of how undeserving of him she is; of how far below his station she was. Instead, she took it as a kind gesture and tried on each and every single garment for him to see, even the lingerie… especially the lingerie.

Shepard was taken out of her memories when they arrived at a fancy restaurant along the more quiet side of the city. Despite the flamboyant menu, they simply ordered steaks and Kaidan’s beloved Canadian lager. They laughed and neither of them dared to speak of the next day when Kaidan was bound to leave. Instead, they acted as if nothing was different about that night. Shepard wondered if Kaidan was able to think that way, but that was the only thing on her mind.

After dinner, they sat in their antique rental car and Kaidan drove them along the traditional highways with the radio playing in the back. With the windows open and Shepard’s hair flying freely behind her and her hand out the window, Shepard was finally almost able to forget what was bound to transpire the next morning, until Kaidan stopped the car and she realized where he brought them to. An infinite number of tall golden sunflowers were placed in front of them, and the bright full moon illuminated the dim rolling fields of the countryside.

“I thought you might enjoy coming back here.” Kaidan took her hand and helped her out of the car seat like the kind of proper gentlemen she used to read in the storybooks back when she was a little girl. He kissed her cheek and led her through the endless rows of flowers beckoning before them. Shepard was struck speechless, unable to form words. The field was beautiful in the morning, but now at night the sight was simply flawless. Shepard was sure that no view in the galaxy was better. No moment through the endless stars could ever be better.

“It’s perfect,” Shepard managed to say. Kaidan stopped when they reached the middle of the field, surrounded by the tall flora. She embraced him as best as she could, and pulled him as close as she was able to and kissed him with as much passion as she could rend. They lied down next to each other and looked at the skies above them, at the endless number of stars twinkling and watching them, at the bright moon bowing before them, at the dark abyss that stretched across the horizon.

“This is perfect.” Kaidan held Shepard’s hand and never dared to let go.

“I’m sure you’ve seen better while travelling in your fancy starship.” Shepard managed to joke.

“Nothing could ever beat this.” Kaidan assured her as he kissed her hand.

“When all this is over and when you’ve saved the world again or done whatever the Alliance wants you to do now,” Shepard looked to Kaidan, “I’ll be waiting for you. And you better not be damn late.”

At that innocent and pure moment lying underneath the stars and studying the galaxy beckoning before them, Shepard closed her eyes and wished with all her might that Kaidan would never leave her the next morning, and that they could stay like this forever. Of course, Shepard awoke the next morning, and watched him leave on the shuttle which would take him back to Alliance headquarters, and Shepard embarked on her own shuttle to the Citadel. Just like that, her dream was over, and she was back to her life, back to her reality.


 

A month passed since Kaidan left her once more, now for the third time in her life. She fell back into her own rhythm, bartending at Flux and returning to her new apartment that she shared with Jenna. Her old complex was destroyed in the Battle of the Citadel, and now they lived in a modest place in the Bachjret Ward. Shepard only half-lived as a ghost of herself, not fully managing to return to her real life. As more and more days passed since their momentous stay in London, she began to doubt that it ever happened, that it was simply just a dream. The only confirmations she was given that it indeed was a reality were the sparse messages that Kaidan managed to send from the Normandy, and the sporadic newscasts displaying Kaidan’s face and wondering what the first human spectre and the Savior or the Citadel was going to do next for humanity. The entirety of it all always had Shepard bed ridden by nightfall with a headache.

“So where will you be tonight after your shift, beautiful?” A customer drawled on and flashed a sloppy smirk that must have been his attempt to sway her. The bass boomed through the bar and Shepard rolled her eyes.

“Nowhere near you, that’s for sure.” Shepard sighed and started to mix the next drink that he ordered.

“Oh come on, don’t be so mean. I can give you a private tour of the Citadel, baby.”  He pouted and actually had to nerve to wink at her.

“I’d rather drink a cup of acid after chewing on a razor blade.” Shepard frowned and glared daggers at the man. Yet at that moment a rush of nausea rang through her body and all she could do was run out from the bar and into the bathroom. Shepard desperately yanked open the closest vacant stall and doubled over, barfing whatever she ate that morning into the toilet. Her guts wrenched and she felt as if her head was going to explode from the heat. By the time it was all over, Shepard gagged and flushed down the waste with a shudder. At the sink Shepard wiped her forehead with a cold and dampened paper towel hoping it would cool down her system. She rubbed it over her neck and let the stray water droplets trickle down her décolletage, sending some sort of relief from her internal fever.

Shepard looked into the dirtied bar mirror. Her grey eyes stared back at her, just as confused as she felt. She has been feeling sick like this for weeks now. She has barely been able to do anything with a lack of energy and headaches plagued her daily but she just passed it off as wishing she could be back in London.  

London.

Shepard’s eyes widened in panic and she raced outside to beg Jenna to cover her closing shift. When her friend finally begrudgingly agreed, Shepard wasted no time to take a transit to the nearest store she could find to buy herself a test. Shepard’s foot nervously tapped the floor as she waited in line. Her mind raced, trying to remember if she and Kaidan ever used protection. Like stupid children, protection was the last thing on their minds. Shepard simply assumed he was somewhat sterile due to his biotics and Kaidan assumed she was on some sort of contraceptive like most women her age. Of course the truth was that she could not afford contraceptive medications and pills, but it was never discussed between the two of them.

The asari cashier looked at her with a raised eyebrow and unjustified appraisal. Shepard must have looked like a wreck with her hair stuck to her neck by beads of sweat and her eyes staring at her feet in an internal panic.

“Don’t act as if you’ve never bought one of these before.” Shepard bit back as the cashier placed the test into the bag. The asari rolled her eyes and handed her the bag, sing-songing to have a nice evening. Shepard shook her head and raced to the nearest transit to take her back to the apartment, not wasting a second to think more about her situation. An hour later, seconds after Shepard peed on the dreaded test, one simple word was slapped onto the digitalized mechanization.

Pregnant.

Shepard sat on the floor and hugged her knees to her chest. She has never felt this unsure of herself since the day she met Kaidan’s parents, and even then it couldn’t have been as bad as this moment. A child, another living soul was growing inside of her. The child was created out of the love between her and Kaidan, but all the same, it was a child. It was years of responsibility and care, a life of ownership and liability. She couldn’t care for a child; she was barely able to care for herself.

Tears began to roll onto Shepard’s cheek and she placed her forehead on her knees, heaving for air. She was going to be a mother, an unmarried woman living on minimum wage, a lowlife bartender for Flux, a woman who used to dance in Chora’s Den, a parentless bastard, an orphan.

Shepard regained her breath and leaned back on the wall. At least that was one thing she promised for her child. Maybe this could be her chance at redemption, a gift given by any god that existed within the galaxy. Perhaps this was her shot at having a life she would not screw up, a life with Kaidan. Shepard placed her hand under her shirt to rub her abdomen, barely able to fathom that a tiny being was growing inside her. Maybe she could raise this child to have a better life than she ever was able to have. Maybe, just maybe, this child would grow up to have a life like Kaidan’s and will have an actual family, an actual life.

Shepard picked herself off the floor and walked over to her decrepit antique computer sitting on her desk. With deep breaths and a will of steel, Shepard began to write a message.


 

Kaidan,

I miss you. And at a time like this, I need you more than ever. I can’t stand being alone like this while you’re out there probably saving the world. Please, come back as soon as you can. This message won’t make any sense and it won’t make a difference on the Alliance’s plan for you, but if I’m right, then I need to tell you something when you’re back.

I love you. Please stay safe. Don’t do anything stupid.

-Shepard

Kaidan closed his private terminal and folded his arms over his chest. Shepard rarely ever was in distress and even more rarely admitted that she needed help from somebody else. Before he could think on it for much longer, Jenkins slapped his arm across Kaidan’s shoulders.

“Is that a special letter from home I see, Commander?” Jenkins smiled like a little boy in a candy shop.

“Ass out of my personal business, Chief.” Kaidan grunted. Instantly, Jenkins’ eyes grew wide and he instinctively jumped into a salute with his shoulders stiff and squared. The poor boy was promoted from corporal to chief because of his honorary actions in the search for Saren, but it was still fun to mess with him a little.

“Sir, yes sir!” Jenkins almost shouted, making the whole deck jump out of their skin.

“At ease, Jenkins.” Kaidan chuckled and shook his head. Boys like Jenkins sure as hell made Kaidan feel old. “I’m just screwing with you.”

“Oh… of course, sir.” Jenkins muttered, apparently too intimidated to continue light-heartedly. Jenkins was still trying his best to view Kaidan as his commanding officer, maybe even as a friend, rather than a hero. Kaidan knew it was going to take some work; this boy looked up to him as some sort of messiah and the golden poster-boy, and Kaidan thought maybe messing with him would make it easier to change that image. Apparently, it didn’t work.

          “So do you have someone who’s waiting for you onshore, Chief?” Kaidan tried to ease the mood a bit. He genuinely was curious, though. The boy was smart enough, but seemed completely oblivious to Rosamund Draven, one of the ship’s navigators, who always seemed to have hearts over her eyes when Jenkins would walk on deck.

          “No, sir. Never really was good at that anyways, talking to women. I seem to get a bit nervous.” Jenkins grimaced and awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. “Are you still talking to that girl we visited in the Citadel hospital?”

          “Yeah, she’s waiting back on the Citadel. Hope we’ll go home soon.” Kaidan nodded and remembered that it was Jenkins who was with him and intimidated the doctors to give him alone time with Shepard when she woke up.

          “Yeah, that woman. Wow. What a woman. She was…” Jenkins trailed off, obviously remembering her dance at Chora’s Den. Kaidan narrowed his brown eyes at the green boy, daring him to speak another word. The boy noticed and coughed, “She’s beautiful, sir.”

          Before Kaidan could respond, the ship jolted to the right and the lights flickered on and off. The two men crashed into the nearby sleeping pods as the red emergency lights glared into sight. The ship jolted once more and they fell into the opposite wall. A fire burst near the engines, and deafening screams echoed into Kaidan’s ears with the crescendo of emergency sirens. Without thought, adrenaline ran through Kaidan’s body as he picked himself off the floor of the Normandy and raced to put out the fire.

          “Commander, let me help.” Jenkins was at Kaidan’s side, grabbing two emergency fire extinguishers from the broken glass.

          “Chief, go get the crew into the evacuation shuttles.

          “Joker is still on the intercom trying to maneuver the ship; I don’t think he’ll leave.” Jenkins’ voice wavered in panic as he attempted to put out the fire.

          “Go now, Chief.”  Kaidan looked at the boy and ordered. Jenkins nodded and ran off to help evacuate the crew.

          Kaidan looked back at the inferno engulfing the engines. There was no helping it; the ship was lost. The engines were fried and no doubt the ship was torn through. Kaidan ran through the smoke and followed the red emergency lights up the stairs to the cockpit. When the airtight doors managed to open to the cockpit, time and space moved slowly as gravity slowed Kaidan from getting to Joker. The ship was torn cleanly through with the dark abyss above him. The light of an unknown planet emanated onto the wreck, providing guidance through the alley. Kaidan could hear his own breath through his helmet, in and out like a calming mantra.

          By the time Kaidan reached Joker and was able to convince him to abandon the ship, there was only one escape pod left. Explosions ruptured all around like a show of fireworks. The ship tore apart as attacks from a nameless hostile ship cut through the core like butter. Kaidan pushed Joker into the last pod and pressed eject just before a blast separated the two. Kaidan floated away from the jerk of the last blast and flew into open space as the escape pod banished to safety. Joker shouted for the commander, but it was too late.

          Kaidan tore at his helmet as the air grew thinner. He couldn’t breathe. His suit was ruptured, and the only thing he could see was the Normandy torn in half before him. He looked to the stars, the same stars he and Shepard looked at two months before. Kaidan wished he could be back there in London lying down on the soil of the sunflower fields and gazing up at the menacing stars. Kaidan stopped struggling and drifted through the void. His last thoughts were of the woman he loved, the woman who was waiting for him to return home, the woman who he saved once and who later saved him in more ways than one, the woman he would gladly die for, the woman who he wanted nothing more than another day with, the woman who he counted each day with as a blessing, the woman who was unbeknownst to him carrying his child.

          I’m sorry, Shepard.

Chapter Text

          Shepard’s foot nervously tapped on the floor of the sterilized office. She tried to take a deep breath in a valiant effort to calm her nerves, but it was no help. Another expectant mother glared at the young woman, and Shepard glared back just as fiercely. She sat in a waiting room, impatiently waiting for her doctor to call her in. A month has passed since she sent the desperate message to Kaidan, and yet there was no reply. Of course she was worried. She had trouble sleeping at night and hardly got any sleep at all. The fact that there was a child growing inside of her offered no help to the situation, but she managed to pass off her anxiety as pregnancy hormones. She figured that he was simply busy saving the world and that she was acting paranoid. It was high time she scheduled an appointment, and she had do this with or without him.

          Shepard placed her hand over her belly in another attempt to calm herself down. Her pregnancy managed to act as both a calming sense, and also the second trigger to her anxiety. At Shepard’s best moments she would view the child as a symbol of hope and the future. In her worst, she would view it as a symbol of despair and apprehension. However, at this moment, the child managed to calm her down. Shepard wanted the child. She would not admit it to herself yet, or to anyone else, but she knew that she wanted the child. She did not know how to be a parent, or if she could even afford being a parent, but she knew, she hoped, that it would work somehow.

          “Shepard?” A salarian nurse opened the door and called for her patient.

          Shepard looked up and suddenly felt the nerves kick in once again. She helped herself off her seat and waddled towards the hallway. Her stomach was already plump and rounded to the point where it started to hurt her back when she would walk. She could no longer hide the pregnancy even if she wanted. Her boss has yet to say anything to her, but Shepard was sure she would have to stop working soon enough. It was getting harder to walk with her spine cracking whenever she would take a tiny step, and hunger clawed at her every other minute.

          The salarian nurse led Shepard through the winding hallway and sat her down on the makeshift bed to wait for her doctor. Without further preamble, the salarian coldly exited the room and left Shepard to her own thoughts. Shepard was not sure if she was even able afford all the doctor’s visits. She hated having to rely on Kaidan for money, but she admitted to herself that she would have to survive on Kaidan’s financial help. Otherwise, she was not sure what she would do.

          “So you’re Shepard?” A silvery voice spoke. Shepard looked up to see a skinny woman with shiny black hear wearing a tight nurse uniform. She looked more like one of those fetish nurses in the vids than a doctor, but Shepard held her tongue.

          “Yes ma’am,” Shepard awkwardly nodded and sat straighter on the bed.

          “Pleasure. I’m Doctor Lawson.” The doctor spoke in a foreign accent that Shepard was not able to depict. It had to be somewhere from Earth, and sounded close to how humans spoke back in London. The doctor offered no hand to shake, and instead sat down in front of Shepard.

          “I scheduled an appointment with Doctor Kirk.” Shepard eyed down the lady and crossed her arms over her chest.

          “Doctor Kirk is out on a family emergency, so I’m what you got.” Doctor Lawson raised an eyebrow as if urging Shepard to argue further, but she managed to not take the bait. Doctor Lawson cleared her throat and looked over the clipboard in her daintily gloved hand. “So I see you’re about four months pregnant?”

          Shepard shrugged. She was not completely sure how long she has been pregnant for; she self-diagnosed the pregnancy a month ago and guessed it must have been conceived back in London. Doctor Lawson nodded and proceeded with the checkup. Shepard had to pee in a cup, was told of her height and weight, was asked of her family history (which Shepard declined to answer), had a needle stuck into her arm for a blood sample, and had an ultrasound. Doctor Lawson told her that she was able to depict the gender now if Shepard wanted, but she decided she would wait until Kaidan was home so they could learn together... if he even wanted the child. At the end of the appointment, Doctor Lawson sat on her bench with her back straight as a spear and looked over her medical report.

          “Your blood readings say here that you have high stress levels and low dopamine, Shepard.” Doctor Lawson looked over the charts and graphs which resulted from half of the blood sample. The other half contained information that Doctor Lawson would later analyze after she left the Citadel. But for now, she simply eyed down the young pregnant woman.

          “It’s nothing to worry about, Doctor.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest again. She knew she was being difficult, but she did not like her doctor at all. The doctor was tempted to roll her eyes, but held back.

          “I’ll leave you with these two pill bottles.” The doctor rummaged through the room’s cabinets and plucked out two label-less bottles. “The blue pills are your prenatals and the red pills are antidepressants.”

          Shepard left the doctor’s office that day without a clue what the pills were truly meant to do, but took them anyways.


 

          An antique candle’s flame was the only light offered in her apartment as there was a current blackout through the entire cheap complex. Three solid knocks echoed on the door of the room. Shepard did her best to waddle out of her ragged couch to answer the door. Weeks have passed since Shepard’s last visit to Doctor Lawson. She has begrudgingly been taking both her prenatal pills and antidepressants diligently. She was to work for the rest of the month before she takes her maternity leave from work, and the thought scared her. No work meant no money, and yet a baby meant more money was needed. She hated having to rely on Kaidan, but she needed him now more than ever for both herself and their child. She has not yet received a reply from him ever since her first message, and the emptiness scared her the most.

          Shepard opened the door to find a tall muscled man with dark skin wearing an Alliance uniform open to greet her. He looked to his feet but saluted Shepard with respect as soon as he saw her. The lines on his sleeve and the medals on his chest indicated that he was some sort of high ranking officer. The man behind him found it hard to look Shepard clearly in the eyes. He had lighter skin and lighter hair, and his medals showed a far lesser rank than the other. She recognized him as the man with Kaidan when they visited her in the hospital after the attack on the Citadel.

          Shepard’s heart dropped to her feet.

          “Shepard?” The man asked her. Shepard’s hand subconsciously went to her womb for some sort of comfort. A million thoughts swarmed her mind. All of them pointed towards one idea, and yet she fought to believe it. It could not be true. She would not let it be true.

          “Who are you?” Shepard’s voice managed to sound a lot stronger than she felt at that moment.

          “I am Captain David Anderson of the Alliance, and this is Chief Jenkins,” Anderson fought to speak clearly. Sorrow was clear through his eyes and Shepard pretended not to notice.

          “Would you like to come in?” Shepard asked, opening the door behind her. Both the captain and the chief nodded and respectfully removed their Alliance caps while entering the diminutive apartment behind her. The two men sat on the seat across from her and an awkward silence filled the room. The lone candle’s flame flickered in the presence of the two Alliance soldiers, and cast dismal shadows across the walls.

          “I have been asked to inform you that Kaidan Alenko has been reported dead in the Serpent Nebula. On the behalf of the Alliance, I extend to you and your family my deepest sympathy in your great loss.” The captain cleared his throat and spoke the words Shepard dreaded.

          Shepard remembered Kaidan’s one simple act fueled by integrity that night they met on a snowy evening in Vancouver. His honorable spirit grew within him and drove him throughout his life and towards the Alliance, towards their reunion. She always admired that spirit within him, the one thing she never felt she could fully attain. They managed to find each other once again, against all odds, in the heart of the galaxy. Shepard remembered their return to Vancouver together, to visit his parents one more time in her life. That visit mended Shepard anew, like a baptism which washed over her sins in life. Shepard remembered their stay in London, his own insecurities and her own ghosts. Shepard remembered the endless rolling hills of the sunflower field, of their last night together gazing at the endless abyss of the unexplored galaxies.

          “I am very sorry for your loss,” Captain Anderson continued to speak but Shepard’s mind was still racing. “Commander Alenko died an honorable death, and he managed to save all the living souls on the Normandy by ensuring their escape.”

          No.

          It could not be true.

          Please don’t let it be true.

“Commander Alenko was like a brother to me, and I cannot help but blame myself for his death.” The chief began to speak, but the captain narrowed his eyes at the young man as if he was speaking out of line. “If I did not leave the commander-”

          “Get out.” Shepard mumbled. Rage began to bloom where sorrow once filled. Kaidan was dead. She did not want their condolences or their excuses. The man she loved was dead. The child that grew inside her would be born without a father. Her child would not know the love of a father, like its own mother.

          The two men looked as if they were ready to say something, but she did not dare to let them.

          “Please,” Shepard looked at the captain and the chief with tears threatening to spill from her eyes. Shepard tried to be strong, to be fierce and stable like Kaidan, but just this once she broke. “Please, get out.”

          The captain nodded and left a medallion of service on the table before he and the chief exited her apartment. The candle’s flames unsteadily wavered and reflected on the shiny medallion which sat unceremoniously on the table. Shepard leaned over and blew out the flame, leaving herself alone in her own sorrow.

Chapter Text

         11/7/2159

      Two children played on the polished wooden floor of the living room together. The older child, a young girl with lanky limbs and shiny black plaited hair draped over her shoulder, held the model ship high above her head and raced across the room without a care in the world. She made noises that she guessed a starship would make as she imagined it racing across the stars and exploring uncharted galaxies. The younger child, a year-old infant with a mop of dark hair and defiant grey eyes, stayed inside his crib and did his best to get his sister’s attention. The girl either did not notice her brother, or did not care, and continued to play with the model ship on her own. When the infant noticed his efforts to play went unnoticed, tears began to stream out of his eyes as he grabbed at the air and screamed.

      “Jane!” A woman called from the other side of the apartment, “Did you make your brother cry?”

      Jane crossed her arms over her chest and pouted as her mother pounded into the living room and picked up the young boy. She bounced him up into the air and tried her best to comfort the child, but the boy continued to cry endlessly.

“You know he can’t play with you with his condition.” Mary sighed as she berated her eldest child. The infant boy was born with a new type of illness which garnered his bones weak. John Shepard was not able to see the birth of his youngest child, and may not even be aware of the boy’s condition. Mary needed her husband home now more than ever, and yet no reply waited for her on the message terminal.

      “Here, Alan.” Jane sighed and placed the starship in the boy’s stubby hand. The child hiccupped and instantly stopped crying, taking a sudden interest in the toy ship. The girl was still a young kid, but often found herself caring for the child more often than being a child herself. Their mother was beginning to act aloof around the family and would often lock herself in her room at night without a word. Jane would sometimes press her ear to her mother’s door and hear the woman’s soft cries as she tried to lull herself to sleep. The young girl did not know what to make of it at the time, but years later she would finally understand.

      Three solid knocks echoed on the door of their apartment. Jane raced to open the door as her mother continued to hush Alan. Instantly, cold frosty air reeled into the apartment, reminding the young girl that winter was coming soon in Vancouver. A tall man looked down at Jane. He wore the same pressed blue uniform that her dad wore during special occasions. The man had medals adorned across his chest and lined on his sleeves. Before Jane could greet the stranger, her mother appeared behind her and blocked the doorway from the child.

      “Who are you?” Jane’s mother asked with a meek voice. The man nodded and removed his cap in a sign of respect.

      “I am Captain Steven Hackett of the Alliance.” Captain Hackett announced. With only an introduction, tears already managed to form in Jane’s mother’s eyes.

      “No, please don’t tell me it’s true.” Mary Ride shook her head and shut her eyes tight as if willing the man to disappear before her. Jane peeked behind her mother’s legs curiously to try and see why her mother was crying, but the young girl still was not able to understand. The child in Mary’s arms began to squirm and dropped the starship in his hand and bawled as well, not happy that his mother was in distress.

      Captain Hackett crossed his arms behind his back and bowed his head. “I have been asked to inform you that your husband John Shepard has been reported dead in the war. Commander Shepard has died a hero, sacrificing himself to save the crewmembers and guaranteeing the mission’s success. Without him, I would be dead, along with the rest of the crew. On behalf of the Alliance, I extend to you and your family my deepest sympathy in your great loss.”

      That day, something inside Mary Ride broke. Jane was never able to understand what exactly changed inside her mother, until she herself broke in the same way.


 

      Shepard pushed herself against the bathroom’s walls and pulled her knees in front of her chest. Her knees hurt from kneeling on the bathroom floor. Her back hurt from retching into the toilet all day. Her eyes hurt from the sleepless nights. She stood up to flush the bile down the toilet and pushed herself up from the sink’s counter. With a red pill between her fingers and a glass of murky water in her left hand, she mindlessly downed another antidepressant and tossed the bottle of pills into the sink. Nothing helped anymore. No matter how many pills she took, she still hurt. She felt her stomach heave once more and quickly doubled over the toilet to vomit the remainder of whatever she managed to keep down.

      Tears streamed down the woman’s cheeks as she flushed the toilet once again. She did her best to brush her teeth and remove the revolting taste of bile from her mouth, but she could still feel the nausea down her throat. She splashed cold water on her face and tried to wash the tiredness from her now darkened skin under her eyes, but she still felt the same. Shepard stared across the counter into her reflection, and soulless grey eyes stared back. She was all skin and bones, with dark circles under her eyes and red rimmed across the grey. Deep jaunts formed under her cheekbones and her lifeless hair was starting to fall out from the stress. She was barely able to keep any meals down anymore, and her health was depleting because of it. She did not dare to book another appointment with the doctor, as she was barely able to afford her first one with her unpaid maternity leave. Her tight pregnant belly protruded from her bones and was the only indicator that she was still alive.

      “Breathe,” Shepard ordered to her reflection. The woman’s shoulders raised and lowered in response, but Shepard could barely feel herself calming down. “You can make it through today.”

      Shepard dressed herself into a loose black dress which smoothly draped over her pregnant belly. It was a dress Kaidan once bought for her, one that did not fit before, but now managed to fit her pregnant body due to the weight she was steadily losing in return. She tried to tie her hair up, but her brittle and lifeless strands of hair only fell out into the palm of her hand due to the force. Shepard screamed and threw her hairbrush at her mirror, not knowing what else to do. She was not able to be happy for more than a year, and now she could not even handle growing hair. Shepard felt useless and broken inside, telling herself that nothing in her life was stable anymore. Her dad died before she could grow, her mom became a red sand addict, she ran away from home as a kid, and her adoptive dad was nowhere to be found. She had no family. She had no one but the child inside her. The woman stared back at her reflection and hated what she saw, more tears managing to form in her eyes.

      Her hands forcefully pulled open the counter’s drawer and found the scissors. Shepard gritted her teeth and snipped at her hair, watching the locks fall to the bathroom floor. She continued to cut and cut until her hair was unevenly sheared to her shoulders. She looked at her reflection once more, and felt even more helpless than last.

      “Shepard,” Jenna opened the bathroom door and looked about the wreck from the black hair on the tiles to the smashed pill bottle in the sink. Shepard’s roommate decided not to say anything and instead whispered, “You should get going or else you'll be late.”


 

      Commander Kaidan Alenko died a hero.” Joker’s speech from minutes earlier echoed through her head as the moment of silence was called. Everyone in attendance bowed their heads in respect to the empty coffin. They weren’t even able to bring home a body. “Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here today, and neither would the rest of our crew.”

      Shepard tried her best to block out the judging eyes on the back of her head. Ever since she arrived at the funeral past the reporters, everyone looked at her with a mix of pity and disgust. Kaidan never proposed or even explicitly stated their relationship to the press, and most only thought that Shepard was simply a fling that managed to get pregnant with the Savior of the Citadel’s baby, and is now using it for fame and attention. Others looked at her as the baby mother who is now forced to raise a kid she never wanted.

      “Thank you.” Captain Anderson nodded and concluded the moment of silence, letting the funeral attendees mingle and honor Kaidan’s memory. Shepard remained planted in her spot, not willing herself to move away from the empty casket.

      “If I didn’t know better, ma’am, I’d think you’re about to give birth to an entire crew.” Shepard looked beside her to see Joker with his hands awkwardly behind his back. Shepard tried her best to hate the man, to despise him for allowing Kaidan to die, but could not muster the revulsion. She saw a bit of herself in him at that moment; the regret, the brokenness, the self-blame.

      “Are you calling me fat, sir?” Shepard managed to joke and pull a smile that did not seem too fake for the first time in a while.

      “Not at all, ma’am.” Joker was quick to shake his head and laugh as well, looking at the empty casket and the picture of Kaidan on the side. “If I was, I’m sure Kaidan would haunt me forever.”

      Shepard’s demeanor fell, and once again returned to her shell under the reminder that Kaidan was truly gone.

      “He really liked you. You know that, right?” Joker laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I remember one time we found him sulking in front of his message terminal because he was nervous of how to reply to you. We would always tease him about it, which would make him get mad at us and tell us to get back to work.”

      Shepard managed to smile, remembering all those messages they sent each other while he was off on his mission to defeat the rogue spectre Saren. She never could imagine him as a lovestruck idiot contemplating on how to reply to her while he himself was on a high stakes mission across the galaxy.

      “Yeah, he really was a dork sometimes, wasn’t he?” Shepard meekly laughed and remembered how he brought her freshly baked doughnuts on their first morning together after their reunion in the Citadel. He remembered the day they met the first time he bought her doughnuts. He even brought her hot chocolate with extra whipped cream to relive the memory, and scalded his tongue trying to slurp up the whipped cream to make her laugh. He was the first human spectre and the Savior of the Citadel, and yet none of that managed to get to his head somehow.

      “Yeah,” Joker laughed and saluted to the casket, “to the best commander there ever was.”

      Shepard and Joker spent the remainder of the funeral in each other’s company. They both came alive telling each other different memories of Kaidan. Joker would drink whenever Shepard would tell him a story that involved Kaidan being too honorable for his own good, and Shepard would eat a doughnut whenever he would tell her story that involved Kaidan pining over Shepard while commanding the Normandy. Both blamed themselves for their loss; Joker for not able to leave the ship sooner and Shepard for letting him leave her so easily even after remembering how her father left her mom. It was not until the end of the funeral that two others approached Shepard and Joker.

      “Hello, Shepard.” A woman with a willowy voice addressed the young woman. She looked up to see Kaidan’s parents, Barbra and Kalani Alenko with tear stained cheeks and a broken resolve standing before her. Shepard quickly tried to stand up, only to wince as her back shot with pain from the sudden strain. She only managed to stand up straight from the help of her chair and her hand atop her swollen pregnant belly. Joker greeted the two and muttered an excuse of having to use the bathroom to let them speak in privacy.

      “I am very sorry for your loss.” Shepard looked to her feet, once again thinking she was not worthy to be in their presence. Shepard was a broken woman; a woman heavily drugged on antidepressants, a woman heavily pregnant with a fatherless child, and a woman who cut her hair on a whim hours ago with dull bathroom scissors. These two people lost an honorable son, a war hero, and now were forced to talk to the mother of their son’s child because they weren’t smart enough to use protection.

      “And we are sorry for yours.” Kalani responded, acknowledging Shepard for the first time.

      “How far along are you, my dear?” Barbra looked at Shepard with loving eyes, trying her best to comfort the young woman. Her son was dead, and she genuinely cared for Shepard. She would do her best to help the mother of her future grandchild in her time of need.

      “I’m not quite sure.” Shepard shamefully admitted. “I should be around five months soon.”

      “Why didn’t you tell us?” Barbra asked.

      “I didn’t want you to worry.” Shepard muttered. Part of it was true. Of course she did not want Barbra and Kalani to worry about her when they have their own tragedy. Their son just died, and they shouldn’t have to worry about his pregnant girlfriend as well.

      “Why don’t you come back to Vancouver with us?” Kalani offered, surprising both Barbra and Shepard. “You can stay with us, at least until you figure things out. We’d love to keep you company. We couldn’t help you back then, so let us help you now.”

      Part of Shepard wanted to refuse. She wanted to be the better person she always wanted to be and promise she could handle herself just fine, and that she truly was okay. She wanted to say that she didn’t need any help, that she had everything planned out. But just this once, she managed to accept the help and comfort from another. She let the Alenkos help her once again in her life.


 

      Two months passed. Every day rolled on like the last, and Shepard barely moved for any of it. Barbra did her best to get Shepard out in the orchard to help garden, but Shepard only conceded once in a while for Barbra’s own benefit. The Alenkos sent Shepard to regular doctor appointments, but Shepard continued to finish Doctor Lawson’s medications before beginning the new ones. Sometimes Shepard would find herself walking along the city or helping Kalani repair old equipment such as her omnitool and his skycar. Vancouver offered more opportunities to live and move on in a safer environment, if only Shepard let herself. Barbra and Kalani were beginning to start new lives after the death of their son, and yet Shepard could still hear Barbra weeping at the dead of night and Kalani breaking into tears as he would drink a beer while looking over the English Bay. One night Kalani invited Shepard out to the balcony with him. He drank a beer while she was happy enough to simply look over the skyline. They sat in silence, but found solitude in each other.  Shepard was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, she could start anew once again. Maybe she could do something with her life, get a real job, be the person she always wanted to be, but she knew better than that. Instead, days turned into weeks until one night Shepard awoke with a sharp pain in her stomach and blood stained on her sheets.

Shepard screamed and threw the sheets off her legs. More blood pooled into the mattress and stained the length of her body while another shot of pain bloomed into her back. It was too early, far too early. Barbra ran into the room as fast as she could, and cried as soon as she caught sight of the broken woman.

The child was lost.

Chapter Text

          1/3/2183

Nothing.

          Hours turned into days. Days turned into weeks. Week after week passed until time turned into a meaningless measurement leading to an abyss. No words escaped from her lips. No sound emitted from her heart. Blood pumped and danced within her veins, yet her soul went quiet. Thoughtless, timeless, meaningless emptiness swarmed her body and encased her. It drowned her soul, her corpse, until she was left as a shell of the woman she once was.

          Empty.

          Shepard remained in Vancouver under the careful watch of the two remaining Alenkos. With their son dead and their unborn grandchild dead, nothing connected Shepard to them anymore, but they have yet to kick her out. They barely saw each other anymore. Perhaps once a week they would pass by through the hallways, but no word was spoken, no signal was traded. Each person in the soulless mansion was forced to heal in their own ways. Barbra decided to visit the beach more often and walk across the shores looking off into the skyline and night to wonder where her son would be if he was still alive. Kalani drowned his sorrows in liquor and got back in contact with his old companions back in the Alliance. Shepard encased herself in her room and coped with herself and her own tremors.

          Blame and self hatred infested her mind like cancerous cells ready to end her life. She felt useless, incompetent. She could not handle getting a real life for herself, she could not handle her life when for once something good falls upon her, she could not save her one friend, she could not carry life within her womb. Sometimes Shepard would run across the shores of the English Bay, sometimes even visiting the nearest gym to let off anger. But most days, she would pen herself into a room where her own mind jailed her body lifeless. Shepard did not only mourn for Kaidan Alenko, her one love and her one true friend. She did not only mourn for her child, the unborn life that was conceived of love and died of neglect. She mourned her brother, the sick child she ran away from and again blamed herself for. She mourned her father, the man she never knew and never will know. She even mourned her mother at times.

          Countless days passed until one afternoon three knocks echoed on the door to the mansion. Shepard looked up from her food and stared at the white door. Barbra was out on her walk, and Kalani was away for the week to visit his old friend. Slowly, Shepard hoisted herself off the chair and walked towards the door. She wore pants with patches sloppily sown atop the hem and an old sweater from when she first moved to the Citadel. They were old clothes, but they were her own; garments she bought and paid for with her own money. It was not much, but still it was a small conscious move forward. Shepard opened the menacing door to reveal a face she never would have expected, if not for the most inopportune time and inopportune moment.

          “Janie, thought I’d find you here, sweetheart.” He smiled wide and opened his arms as if he expected her to run into her arms. Shepard’s eyes widened and for once in a while, she felt awake and heightened. She could smell the stench of red sand off his clothes and could see the faint red glow within the pupils in his eyes.

          “What do you think you’re doing here?” Shepard whispered between her teeth as she quickly sidestepped out the door and closed it behind her.

          “Is that how you’re supposed to greet your father after so long?” He pouted and crossed his arms over his chest.

          “Don’t you dare call yourself my father.” Shepard stepped forward and jutted her chin out as if she was ready to fight him. The man quickly dropped his persona and stared her down as well, attempting to put her into submission. But this woman now was not fooled. She has gone through too much, has learned too much, to back down from anything now.

          “Adoptive father then, since you like getting so technical now.” Paul Grayson put his hands at his sides and beckoned for her to follow him off for a walk. “Come on now, we have so much to catch up on, Jane.”

          “Why would I go anywhere with you?” Shepard crossed her arms over her own chest this time and leaned back towards the Alenko’s doorstep.

          “You will come with me because you know if I came all the way here from who knows where to come visit you in your little Vancouver getaway home, you know it’s for a reason.” Paul narrowed his eyes at her. She was still unimpressed. He took a deep breath and rolled her eyes. Ever since the last time they saw each other before she was shipped off to the Citadel, she was never this stubborn. He decided to instead make her a deal. “If you walk with me now and do not wish to talk to me again after we’re done, I will leave you alone. I will leave you here at this place for you to hibernate for another winter, or for as long as you desire.”

          Shepard glanced back at the door. She could just walk back in the house and leave this behind, leave whatever Paul wanted from her behind. She could continue to mourn and live as a half shell. But she knew that was not what she was truly meant to do. In her blood, she knew she was meant to walk forward and follow her adoptive father. Even now, this was the most alive she has felt ever since the day her child died inside her. Past, future, and present merged together for this moment, for this one chance to escape.

          Shepard stepped off the front porch and followed Paul along the sidewalk. They walked together through the path until they reached the nearby coast of the English Bay. The Alenkos lived in the rich side of the neighborhood, only steps away from the shore. Shepard nervously glanced around like a child breaking the rules to see if Barbra was anywhere to be found. Paul did not seem to notice, and kept on walking. Children playing passed them by. They were dressed in the finest of clothes with their hair perfectly combed and their teeth perfectly brushed. This was not the crowd she grew up in, not the crowd she belonged in. Paul knew this of course, and again continued walking.

          “So why are you here?” Shepard asked.

          “I believe I could ask you the same thing.” Paul raised an eyebrow and looked at Shepard as if he was a caring father chiding his daughter. Shepard took none of it. Paul turned the corner, and Shepard was forced to follow. He then asked, “What exactly are you doing in Vancouver, of all places? You live in the Citadel.”

          “You’re supposed to know everything, right?” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest and continued to follow Paul. They were now walking more to the direction of the poorer neighborhoods, but she still willingly trailed behind. Shepard then took a deep breath and decided to ask the question that she needed an answer to. “Where have you been?”

          “Well, while you were off with your boyfriend on Earth, I’ve been doing things that matter.” Paul stuffed his hands in his pockets and continued forward in a jog and Shepard sprinted after him. To people passing by, it would look like a father and daughter taking an afternoon run, but to her it was a deliberate chase.

          “You have no idea what I have gone through.” Shepard shouted through gritted teeth. In that moment, she loathed the man before her. She lost her friend, her love, and her child. How dare he lecture her on what matters? Paul turned another corner and Shepard followed, only to see him stop before two children playing with each other on the streets. They made it to the secluded parts of the slums, the neighborhood often rampant with drug scandals and police searches. It was far enough from the rich district so there would be no contact, yet close enough to the shore.

          “Look at them, Shepard.” For once, Paul called her by her true title. Shepard looked at Paul, and back to the kids. For once in her life since the day he adopted her, genuine concern was painted in his expression. The two kids were skinny, too skinny for proper health, about as skinny as Shepard was when Paul found her. The street itself smelled of piss and drugs, but the kids played together with no concern in the world. The sight triggered memories that Shepard did her best to repress as a child. She remembered the lonely nights, the cold mornings, the starving afternoons, the feeling of loss and deprivation.

          “I see them.” Shepard whispered, still struck by the flood of recollections playing in her head like a movie.  Paul turned around to look at her. His body was squared, and his own red-rimmed eyes shot to her clear grey eyes.

          “You know what it’s like to suffer, Shepard. You know what Earth is really like, what humans are going through every day.” Paul ranted, determination and pain wrought in his eyes.

          “Of course I remember, but is that really what you came all the way to Vancouver to tell me?” Shepard asked.

          “Ever since the First Contact War, Earth has been collecting too many of humans’ funds and spitting it towards the Alliance.” Obvious disdain laced with his words as he continued, “Even look at what they did to Kaidan Alenko. The first human spectre and the Alliance poster boy, and all the Alliance offers is a funeral without a body. While humans suffer on Earth, nobody benefits but the politicians and the rich humans lucky enough to migrate to other planets. And while Earth taxes its humans for the Alliance, they don’t tax those aliens.”

          “What are you trying to do, Paul?” Shepard widened her eyes. She knew he wanted something from her; he would not have come all this way if he did not. But even if he did, his words rang hard and true. There was much to be done, but nothing she could do.

          “Help me, Jane.” Paul stepped closer to Shepard, “Help me help the humans. You don’t have to be locked away here forever wallowing in your self-pity. You can make a life for yourself, a name for yourself. I tried to get you in the Citadel because I wanted a better life for you than Earth.”

          “No,” Shepard raised her hands in the air as if to physically stop him. “If you cared you would have tried to talk to me. I was alone for most of my life while you were off on your ‘trips’. You sent me to the Citadel and made me use a fake name. You made me use her name.”

Shepard coiled in the memory of how disgusted she felt whenever a coworker would address her by her false name. Mary. Of all names, they made her use that name, the name of the woman that abandoned her daughter and her frail son after the death of her husband.

          “We both know you would live a better life without me than with me. Any connection like your real name would have been dangerous, you don't have the slightest idea of who would use that information” Paul frowned. It was true. His addiction to red sand was becoming more and more difficult to ignore by the time she moved away to the Citadel. It was best to distance himself from Jane, and yet a part of her now thirsted for the truth.

          “What do you want me to do, betray the Alliance?” Shepard threw her hands to the air again as if the idea was simply ludicrous.

          “There’s a group. It’s called Cerberus. We’re not against the Alliance; we only want the best for the human race. We want to do what’s right for us, without the backwash politics. You know what it’s like. You lived this life, and you saw the worst of how humans are treated. You don't have to stay this way, living as a shell of the woman you were always meant to be. You don't have to keep on mourning. Make your legacy. Join us, Shepard. Help us.”


 

          2/2/2183   

          Empty.

          Suddenly grasped from a dark abyss, his eyes attempted to flutter open. It felt as if a million weights were pressed onto his forehead, all over his face. His once warm brown eyes were now crusted and parched. His throat felt as if it was collapsing onto itself from the lack of hydration. He could feel blood slowly limp through his veins, as a machine nearby him beeped and tried to pump life into his cadaver. He could hear voices talk amongst themselves, oblivious to the machine’s ferociously impending beeps.

“Project Persephone is underway, Miss Lawson. She has agreed to join us, and will be kept under close watch of Mr. Grayson.” He could hear a voice from a video communication beam through the room. It was a male speaking, with obvious authority laced through each breath. “I expect that Project Lazarus is coming along just as smoothly.”

Physically and mentally exhausted, he tuned himself out and did his best to focus on breathing. Vivid lights blinded his eyes, and he shut them at once. When he saw dark once again, a thunder of half-forgotten memories began to play in his mind like a beaten vid on replay. He saw Harbringer. He saw the stars and the deepest depths of the galaxy. He saw a yellow sunflower field. He saw fire.

          “Shepard,” he tried to shout for her name, but his voice was too hoarse. It escaped his lips like a frail cry for help. In response, he peeked open his eyes with the slightest movement to see two blurred figures making their way towards him. He could hear two voices shout for him as the video communication ended.

          “Miranda, I think he’s waking up.” He could hear a man say. Kaidan blinked and saw a woman rush towards him. Although panicked, she showed a valiant effort to keep her composure as she looked down at him. He looked straight back into her empty eyes, and her black hair began to fall off her shoulders and act like a curtain.

          “Give him the sedative.” The woman called Miranda ordered with nearly as much authority as the man on the video communication. He began to breathe faster in a panic. His heart was unable to handle the early awakening, and failed to keep him awake for long. He tried to lift his hand only to be stopped by Miranda’s. She looked back towards him with the same lifeless gaze and ordered with a silvery voice, “Kaidan, try to stay calm. Don’t move.”

          The machine’s beeping grew louder and louder by each second. Miranda strutted towards the device and pushed the man out of the way, gaining control over the failure. She barked orders at the man and pressed numerous buttons and his vision began to slowly fade back into black, into the same empty abyss that he came from.

Chapter Text

1/7/2185

What once was lost was forever gone, never to return to the surface of the world. Shepard let the girl who once loved, who once lost, who once lived, die on Vancouver the day she decided to follow Grayson to Cerberus. She let the girl die, and a woman was born from the ashes of the funeral pyre. From the day she ran away from her mother’s tarnished house in Vancouver to the day she left the Alenkos’ haven, self-pity wracked her bones as she helplessly lived each day. Since the two years that she has joined Cerberus, determination bloomed from where her heart once stopped. Fury poured from where her child once died. Ruthlessness emerged from where she once held love. For once, Shepard was doing something in her life for herself. She was no longer running from her mother or the cops on Earth or the men on the Citadel or the past which haunted her every move. For once, Shepard felt strong and in control of her own life, her own destiny. For once, Shepard no longer gazed at the stars and saw impossibilities and weakness in her own stature. For once, Shepard could gaze upon the stars above and challenge destiny, challenge the galaxy itself to stop her now. For she has learned to live anew and emerge from the depths of the hellfire, and she dared the galaxy to try again.

Cerberus took in the weak girl and put a gun in her hands which were barely able to form fists. The strength they taught her stoked the flames of her fury as she transformed anew. They started sending her on missions soon after her arrival with Grayson. They were simple ones of course; first they would make her stay on the shuttle for backup and medical support while the squad would retrieve supplies from bases. Then they began to shift from retrieval missions to rescue missions, and after a year, she was put on one of the squads herself. She rose through the ranks like wildfire, leaving a blazing trail from her feet. It helped that Paul Grayson himself was there to vouch for her to the Illusive Man for her training to pick up, and it helped that the Illusive Man took a special liking to her, whether or not she cared to think on it. He thought of her as his little pet, his own special project. They have never met, she has never been trusted in the inner circle quite yet, but she did not care to meet him. She wanted to help humanity, not get involved in the politics of it.

Commander Shepard,” A smooth voice interrupted Shepard’s thoughts. She turned around to see a short woman in her fatigues leaning on the wall with her arms across her chest. Her short dark hair was combed to her shoulders as she looked at Shepard expectantly.

“Brynn, you don’t have to address me like that all the time.” Shepard sighed and looked back to her food. Dr. Brynn Cole became one of the only friends Shepard was able to make in the past two years with Cerberus. Everyone else either had a stick up their ass or didn’t seem to trust her due to her past. Her relationship with Kaidan blew up across all human media outlets. For a short time, they were more popular than the royal couple back in England. The first human spectre and his girlfriend made headlines across the media, and left a trail of fans heartbroken after his death and her own disappearance. Apparently, being with the first human spectre and the Alliance’s posterboy would leave a bad reputation on your name when joining Cerberus.

“I thought you should get used to hearing it since it’s still brand new.” Brynn laughed and sat next to Shepard, letting her meager food plate drop on the table. Shepard’s promotion to Commander was still fresh in the ranks’ gossip, and a shock to everyone. After not being with Cerberus for too long she was already granted a high rank, which made even more people bitter. However, even Shepard had to admit that the title had a certain catch to it. Brynn took a bite of her stale bread and coughed, “how was training the new recruits?”

“Complete waste of my time.” Shepard grunted and stood to throw the rest of her uneaten food away. Training recruits was the last thing on her list that she ever wanted to do. All the humans were freshly picked off Earth with their own pre-conceived opinions of her and Cerberus. None of them took her seriously with her past and her appearance. Shepard assumed maybe they weren’t used to taking orders from a woman either, which became a pain in her ass. Waste of time, and waste of energy. None of them had any idea what it was like to make the conscious decision, the conscious choice to kill or be killed. Shepard shoved her hands in her pocket and sat back on her seat next to Brynn. “Just walked out on them after one of them told me he didn’t know how to hold a gun.”

“That was you two years ago, commander.” Brynn rolled her eyes and pat Shepard’s shoulder like an older sibling would tease a younger sister. Shepard rolled her eyes as well but couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of it. In the matter of two whole years, so much has changed. Shepard could barely believe it if she tried to think on it.

The mess hall suddenly began to hush as a news reporter spoke clearly on the screen looming on the wall. She had medium toned skin and dark hair to frame her long face as she drawled on. Someone sitting down on the table next to them used their omni-tool to raise the volume as all eyes shifted towards Shepard.

“First Human Spectre and Savior of the Citadel, Commander Kaidan Alenko, was spotted walking through the Citadel only a day before.” The woman spoke as if the news could hardly be contained as a pixelated clip showed in slow motion of a conspicuous man in an N7 suit walking towards the shuttles. “Insiders report that they have seen Commander Alenko’s shuttle travelling to the Council, presumably to speak to Admiral Anderson, who we all know has been close to Commander Alenko in the past when his spectre status was first-”

The news vid immediately powered off as all eyes in the room fell to her. Blood through her body ran cold. Rancid thoughts flew through her mind like a movie, with ideas and excuses forming left and right. One thing she knew for sure, was that none of it was true. Without conscious thought, Shepard’s feet raced towards the elevator to bring her to the communications room. She could hear Brynn yelling after her, but she could not stop.

As soon as the doors to the elevator shut in front of her, closing off her view to anyone else, Shepard grasped the metallic wall behind her and slid to the floor. Her heart pounded in her chest and rang through her ears. She tried to breathe, but no air was able to escape her lungs. Shepard looked down to her hands to see them trembling, racked with fear and anxiety.

After all these years of stability and healing, her past was here to catch her again. Shepard gripped her wrists and did her best to regulate her breathing. She wiped away the tears which managed to fall onto her cheeks and stood up from the floor right as the elevator reached its destination.

Commander? ” A man holding filed inquired her state, but she simply pushed past him and raced towards Grayson’s office. As she neared his office, she could hear their conversation elevate until the words became audible.

“Project Persephone is going to plan, sir.” A man announced, “however, we must be diligent on alienating the subject or else Project Lazarus may be corrupted.”

Shepard forced the doors open as everyone in the room stared at her. Their mouths dropped as they scrambled to shut off their omnitools and close their communication channels.

“What in the hell were you thinking, barging into a meeting like this, Commander?” Paul Grayson barked at her, trying his best to escort her from the room.

“We need to talk. Now .” Shepard demanded as she stood straight like a spear, unwilling to bow.

“Wait until this meeting is over, Commander.” Grayson bit back.

“I am staying right here until you talk to me, Grayson.” Shepard sauntered towards the table and pounded her fist down, causing everyone in the room to jump. After a glare, Grayson nodded to the rest of his associates and they all filed away.

Grayson sighed as he rubbed his temple, “you know they call you a renegade , right? I wonder why.”

“Did you have any idea of this?” Shepard growled through her teeth as she remained standing above Grayson.

“Any idea of what, darling? You have to be specific with these subjects.”

“Don’t pull that shit with me, Grayson.” Shepard clicked her omni-tool and played the news vid again for him to see. The enlarged picture of the ambiguous man in the N7 suit illuminated the conference room. Shepard glanced to Paul and could feel all smiles fade. He took a deep breath to calm himself as the effervescent faint glow of red sand tainted his widened eyes.

“I thought we’d have some time before you saw that.” Grayson spoke slowly as he watched Shepard as if trying to predict and calculate her next move.

“Tell me what you know.” Shepard spoke as if she was addressing a hostage. When Grayson did not react, she repeated,“ Now.

“Follow me, Shepard.” Paul Grayson stood off his chair, his height looming above Shepard. She shut off her omni-tool and followed him down the hall, leading into a compact dark room with a circle on the middle of the floor. Orange grids rose from the circumference of the circle and encased them both. Perplexed, Shepard shifted her weight and fidgeted as the grids scanned her body. Grayson held her shoulder firmly, which she immediately moved from his grasp. He whispered, “Stay still, or you’ll make a fool out of the both of us.”

“What a pleasure it is to finally meet you, Commander Shepard .” An unknown silvery voice greeted her as her surroundings shifted into a view of a burning planet. A man reclined comfortably onto his chair with his arm leaning on his leg without a care. Shepard’s eyes widened as she could only guess who this man was. Only the elite insiders of Cerberus were granted his presence, even a small communication link.

“She just found out about Commander Alenko’s clone, sir.” Paul Grayson sighed as he pushed Shepard closer to the screen.

“I’m afraid the truth can’t be avoided any longer.” The Illusive Man sighed as he tapped ashes off the end of his cigarette. Each burning ash seemed to defy gravity as they floated ever so slowly onto the ground. “The Alliance has brought back a clone of Commander Alenko, Shepard.”

The Illusive Man’s false glowing eyes shifted to hers as if the devil himself was challenging her to question him.

“Why would the Alliance ever want to bring back a fake clone of Kaidan?” Shepard’s question flowed off her tongue as if she did not notice.

“Kaidan Alenko was a symbol for humanity.” The Illusive Man took a drag from his cigarette and continued, “He was a symbol of hope and progress as the first human spectre. He singlehandedly saved the Citadel and the Council. He’s a hero. An icon. The Alliance knows this, and tried to bring him back.”

“Bullshit.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest. Behind her, she could sense Grayson stiffen.

“Why do you think there wasn’t a body at his official funeral?” The Illusive Man chuckled and tapped more ashes off his cigarette. Shepard’s arms immediately uncrossed, the repressed memory of Kaidan’s funeral playing through her mind in a flash. Noticing that the Illusive Man succeeded in playing her, he continued, “After they failed to bring him back, they decided to clone his DNA instead. That’s not the real Kaidan, Shepard. They’re using him to fool the rest of us and distract us from the real threat.”

“So what’s the real threat?” Shepard jut her chin out and leaned back into her posture. Grayson rolled his eyes at her and The Illusive Man smirked.

“This is why we wanted to hide this from you until you were at least more suited into your role as Commander.” The Illusive Man sighed, “we need to send you to Mars.”


 

1/8/2185

The hum of the ship under his feet and soft melodic energy encased his ears like an enthralling mantra. The endless abyss ahead of them and countless stars passing them by each second made a futile attempt to remind him that he was alive. He was human, with a beating heart, and blood dancing through his veins, if only he would come to terms with it. Once dead and revived from the ashes, he felt more like a corpse than a living human. He was nothing like Kaidan Alenko. He was never going to be Kaidan Alenko once again. Kaidan Alenko was a breathing man with integrity laced behind each action, with love behind each touch, with a meaning behind tomorrow and an explanation behind today. The cadaver that Cerberus revived from Kaidan Alenko’s dead body felt inhumane and alienated from his own soul. After awaking from death, there was no way a human could possibly return to life with no psychological deterrence. Lost in the indignity of it all, Kaidan distracted himself with the mission at hand. If he even began to think of it all, of all the lives lost aboard the Normandy , the real Normandy , of Jenkins who believes that his supposed mentor died on his duty, of Ashley who he failed to protect on the shores of Virmire,  of his mother and father in Vancouver who still believe their son is lost forever… of Shepard.

“It’s been a hell of a ride, hasn’t it, Commander?” Joker cleared his throat in an attempt to clear any awkwardness in the air. Kaidan sat in the copilot seat, a habit he kept to in his free time to help him stay distracted with a task on hand. When Joker realized Kaidan would not reply, he spared a glance at him and leaned back into his seat, “I actually met her, you know.”

If Joker could sense Kaidan’s muscles tensing as the air suddenly turned cold, Joker made no indication.

“You met Shepard?” Kaidan asked the obvious. There was only one person Joker would talk to Kaidan in that sort of way about, and Joker was the only person either too blind or too bold to talk to him about it ever since his return.

“Yeah at your… uh funeral.” Joker chuckled at the idea of going to his friend’s funeral when he was sitting right next to him, but Kaidan did not seem to see the humor in it. “She was actually really nice after you get past her initial intimidation tactics. Surprised your parents actually seemed to like her they went to go talk to her when they saw-”

Joker immediately caught his own breath as he just uncovered a memory he tried so hard to forget after the two years.

“Look Joker, I’m not really in the mood to talk about-” Kaidan interrupted Joker’s tangents. Today was not the day he was willing to discuss those left on Earth, still so soon after being thrown into the mess of Cerberus and the Collectors.

“Kaidan, I think you should just-” In a rare moment of his life, Joker threw his facade of humor to the wind. He always considered Kaidan as a friend, even as something like an older brother. But at this moment, there was nothing keeping Kaidan to this conversation. Nothing could fool the galaxy, and this was not the day Kaidan was meant to learn the truth of his legacy, of his unborn and unliving child.

Commander ,” Miranda almost sounded out of breath as her heels clicked across the cockpit. For once her perfectly coiffed hair was out of place and the slightest hint of worry was etched into her skin. When she caught wind of where their conversation was heading, she did her best to race to Kaidan and end it as soon as it started. She worked too hard to get the game pieces perfectly set for her entire plot to fail now. Project Lazarus would not be corrupted tonight. Both Kaidan and Joker closed their mouths in subtle shock of her state. She smoothed down her pants and breathed the excuse, “Mordin is waiting for you in the medbay for important information on the mission.”

Kaidan abruptly stood from the co-pilot chair as EDI’s familiar monotone voice logged back in. On course to Horizon, Kaidan followed Miranda, the woman who unbeknownst to anyone besides her and the Illusive Man, prescribed Shepard the pills to murder his child. In their own intertwined destinies, neither Kaidan nor Shepard were aware that theirs would coincide once again, forever to be altered. It would continue, Shepard would later realize as she would land on a field of perished sunflowers, with the click of a gun; a swift movement almost ingrained into her reflexes. It would continue, Kaidan would later realize as the familiar cacophonous incoming blare of the reapers encased his ears, with the natural and unceremonious hum of his biotics flaring as a reflex. Whichever way it would truly continue, both would continue on their own lives until the galaxy deemed ready to tempt fate once more.

Chapter Text

Today was the day of Shepard’s escape.

Staying on Mars reminded Shepard far too much of her time staying on Vancouver. Days dragged on to the next, acting as a never ending cycle. Except now, she was supposedly a commander of the base, which seemed like a completely false contradiction considering there was an able bodied captain residing on the base, not willing to participate in anything. Being called commander felt like a title more than anything else now, as the base seemed to operate on its own agenda, the workers not caring to bother her or ask for direction. They were on a Prothean dig-site, for reasons The Illusive Man failed to elaborate on. To him, it was on a need-to-know basis, and he needed her there to prepare for the fight with the reapers. But time dragged on endlessly. Months have passed. Many months may have passed, perhaps even close to a year without her realizing.

Paul Grayson barely ever bothered to contact her, and the workers on the base communicate with each other on a set schedule, like ants working on a field. She went on well enough, but just recently began to itch getting off the dreaded planet more and more. She tried to contact Paul a week ago, but he never picked up. His comm line was busy anytime she tried. She tried to contact Brynn, but her comm line failed as well. It very well was Shepard’s direct orders to oversee the Cerberus base on Mars, but observing that it is already being occupied by an able captain, she figured she would be able to weave around the brass easy enough in the way she always managed to.

A part of her is very well aware that there’s an underlying reason why she was sent to Mars. On the eve of the appearance of Kaidan’s clone, they sent her away immediately. But she had no reason not to trust Cerberus. They were there for her when she most needed it. And as much as she hated to admit it, her own adoptive father was there for her to bring her to Cerberus when she most needed it. But no matter the reasons, she had to break out now or she felt like she’d never make it out of the quarantine.

As soon as she walked into the cafeteria, she knew something was wrong. Not a soul was in sight, all of the workers nowhere to be found. She was planning to infiltrate the captain’s office at this time, hoping that everyone would be busy at lunch, but now that part of her strategy was ruined. Shepard pulled up her omni-tool, hoping to catch anyone else’s signals, but it only fizzed with the familiar tone whenever she tried to call anyone.

“Damned planet,” Shepard cursed through gritted teeth. She swore the first thing she’d do once she set foot off Mars was call Paul Grayson, no, the Illusive Man himself and curse out his brains for basing her on a planet like this.

Shepard was not keen on wasting time. It was now or never, and she fully intended to follow through with her plan. This was a small blip, a distraction. She’d have to wing it from here on out, sneaking into the office with caution.

Shepard managed to sneak past the only patrols that remained in the top level of the base, making her way into the captain’s office. His private terminal was easy enough to hack into; he didn’t even try to download anti-hacking software into his terminal like protocol. Cerberus taught her well how to hack into terminals and decode software, and now she was putting her skills to proper use for once.

She wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for, only that she had to find something, anything linking to why she was based on Mars. There was a separate program downloaded to his terminal, with the highest security level. She saw this program once on Paul’s terminal, and she could only guess that all the Cerberus higher-ups had this. She attempted to open it, only to be blocked by codes she has never even attempted to hack before. She could hear loud footsteps out of the door. She was running out of time.

Shepard pulled out her omni-tool, copying the program onto her own files. It was easy enough considering the captain’s terminal was unprotected, but it meant that all the separate files in the program was now on her own omni-tool, unbeknownst to her, revealing every answer to any question she has ever asked. One day, Shepard would manage to decrypt the files, and discover Project: Lazarus, and even Project:  Persephone. However, that day was not today. Fate had different plans for her.

“Commander,” Dr. Eva Core paused as soon as she entered the door, surprise on her face for the first time since Shepard has meet her. Dr. Eva never talked to anyone on the base, preferring to either keep to herself or hold a meeting with the captain once in awhile to discuss his logs and send them to the Cerberus base. While Eva was still looking the commander over, Shepard discreetly reached for her pistol from its holster, keeping it at the ready. The woman sighed and clicked on her ear-piece, “orders?”

Whatever reply came into her comm link, the women nodded and placed her pistol back in its holster. Her skin flashed in the lighting, turning over to reveal steel plating. Shepard only managed to burst one shot to Eva’s chest plating, which only managed to ricochet off her shields. Before Shepard could dodge, Eva was already grabbing at her throat, throwing her down to the floor. When she was down, Eva sent one swift blow with the back of her plated elbow to her head, knocking her out cold.


 

Shepard’s eyes slowly cracked open, the fluorescent light momentarily blinding her vision. There was a minor pounding in the back of her head, and nausea bubbling in the pit of her stomach. It took her a moment to analyze her surroundings, and remember where she was. She looked to the captain’s desk, the terminal fried. Papers were frantically thrown across the office, commemorating where Shepard lied. Eva must have been attempting to find information on the terminal. Or maybe she instead fried the terminal to keep anyone else from discovering the files.

Shepard’s hand was still outstretched, her pistol at an arm’s reach. Eva did not bother to tie up or capture her, or even take away her weapons. She must have left in such a hurry, due to the pandemonium outside. Still unsure of what was truly occurring, and why a Cerberus operative has decided to attack, then spare her, or why the base was even empty when her plan began.

Gunshots rang from outside the office, echoing through the hallways. She could hear screams of men and women outside, and barks of commands. Shepard reacted quickly, despite her current disposition. She crawled off the floor, picking up her pistol. Whenever she had tried to take a step behind the desk for cover, it would seem as if the room was spinning. She had no doubt that she had a concussion from Eva’s blow to her head, but that would have to wait until later. She had no medi-gel on hand, and was not even sure if medi-gel could heal an internal wound. Shepard managed to kneel behind the desk for cover, but did not ready herself to aim at the door. Instead, she remained hidden, her head still throbbing.

“Damn it, the terminal is fried.” A boyish voice cursed as he continued to walk forward, closer to Shepard’s hiding spot. Shepard tried her best to crawl to the other side of the desk in an attempt to get a better vantage point, but only managed to grunt as she moved to cover.

“Wait. Did you hear that?” Another man asked. Shepard cocked her head. She knew that voice.

More footsteps moved closer and closer.

Shepard managed to conclude that there were three hostiles in the room, which she decided she would have to dispatch on her own. She could throw a singularity, but it would be too physically draining. With her concussion and lack of biotic training, she could pass out from the sheer intensity of the blow. Instead, she opted to pop out of her cover, her pistol pointed at the man who lead the pack, the very man she thought she would never see again, the man who she thought she left behind forever.

His own reflexes acted before his recognition, aiming his crosshairs at the enemy’s head, peering through the lens of his rifle. His body bathed in biotic energy, ready to attack his target. In another life, perhaps they would be in Vancouver, happily settling in their own place, raising the child who never was. Or perhaps they would be in London, resting on the same bed of sunflowers, looking up at the very same stars that defied their destinies. Or maybe, just maybe, they would have been on the same side, both pointing their guns at a common enemy, rather than at each other.

But alas, the two victims of the galaxy, of two destinies tempered with and bargained for, pointed their guns at each other, neither daring to take the first shot.

By now, both of them knew all too well the bitter truth that blared in their existence every time they believed they could avoid it.

Nothing fools the galaxy.

Chapter Text

After all these years, Shepard stared back into the same warm brown eyes she had learned to grow accustomed to. It felt like their first meeting on Vancouver, it felt like their reunion on the Citadel, it felt like their meeting with his family, it felt like London calling, it felt like the hope of a new life. It felt like home.

Shepard ?” Kaidan’s incredulous voice awoke Shepard from her daydream. Now was not a time for silly fantasies of what could have been. She knew better. That was three years ago. She created a new life for herself, away from whatever past she held onto.

And yet, Shepard’s heart still fluttered with the foolish idea that maybe, perhaps, after all this time, they could go back to their lives together. Screw the Alliance, screw Cerberus. But she grew up knowing not to hold onto childish fantasies. After all, that’s how she survived this long. She ran away from home when she was six, was found by Kaidan, was orphaned, was adopted by an addict who sent her to the Citadel, fell in love with a specter, and after he died, joined Cerberus. Her life was built on survival. And yet, her question still remained. After all these years, why did he still hold this effect on her? He was only a boy of her past, a ghost she had decided to leave behind.

Yet something inside her knew the answer was as clear as day. It did not begin while lying down on the sunflower field, nor when she revisited Vancouver, nor when they met again on the Citadel. It began with a simple act of charity, a characteristic he grew with as a man. He made her feel safe after so many years of running. He made her feel human.

And yet here she was, pointing her gun at him, and both of his teammates ready to fire with a moment’s notice. The glow of Kaidan’s own biotics seemed to fade, yet his firearm was still cautiously pointed between Shepard’s eyes.

“We should take her hostage.” A burly man with a thick accent decided, with his assault rifle positioned and ready to fire. Under more scrutiny, she realized it was the same man from all those years ago in Flux. As if one big joke, they were all together again. But as he spoke, he had none of the playful flirtatiousness that his voice once carried. Now, he was stiff and firm, with all the attributes of a soldier, and she was their enemy. “She could know valuable information about Cerberus. Look at the ranking on her uniform.”

“You know, Vega , the aggressive way isn’t always the answer.” The boyish voice answered. Shepard recognized him as Jenkins, the man who defended her in the Citadel hospital after the reaper attack all those years ago. His eyes were hardened now, as if he has completed his transition from boy to man, or rather, from human to military dog.

“That wasn’t how I meant it.” Vega replied shortly.

“Then exactly how was it supposed to mean?” Jenkins bit back, but his voice was wavering. Both men were working up a temper, as if they were releasing some pent up anger.

“It’s your call, Commander.”

Both Shepard and Kaidan were still too stunned to react. Kaidan began to slowly lower his gun, but Shepard remained unwavering. She would not be fooled by this. Perhaps the Illusive Man was right. He had no reason to lie to her, after all. This really could be a clone trying to impersonate him. The very thought had Shepard furious, her headache quickly returning.

“Who the hell are you?” Shepard demanded through a strained voice. A part of her heart deep inside broke to see the utter loss in Kaidan’s eyes.

“Shepard… what are you talking about?” Kaidan completely lowered his gun, and both of his teammates did the same.

“How dare you impersonate him. I can’t stand to even look at you.” Shepard grit her teeth together, the very thought of such an insult to the man she knew infuriating. “The Kaidan Alenko I lo- knew died in space three years ago.”

“Shepard, it’s me.” Kaidan attempted to walk forward, but Shepard’s pistol remained trained on his forehead. His biotics began to glow again, his raw emotions spiking the defensive reflex.

“Commander Alenko has been revived by your own team, but he’s back with the Alliance now. You won’t be able to fool him.” Jenkins frowned at Shepard, unable to recognize her, too busy defending his idol.

“What do you mean, ‘my own team’?” Shepard asked incredulously, her own determination wavering, along with her aim.

“Cerberus revived him.” Vega announced, plain and simple.

Cerberus? Shepard completely lowered her gun. Too many things were going on at once for her to comprehend. The day began with her trying to discover the real reason why she was sent to Mars, only to be attacked by Dr. Eva. And now, Kaidan’s team was telling her that Cerberus has revived him. It was Eva, who should have been a fellow Cerberus operative, herself who had the orders to dispatch Shepard. Some of it made sense, yet it still left so many questions to be asked.

“Look, the Commander seems to know you, and won’t shoot, so he apparently seems to trust you. Just come with us, we can settle this later.” Jenkins placed his gun back in his holster, ready to leave.

“Why would I go with you?” Shepard asked dubiously. It was a stupid assumption of an Alliance soldier to make that she would simply just follow..

“I don’t know what Cerberus has been telling you, but our home planet has been attacked. With Earth under attack of the reapers, we are now a species that could become endangered any day. Every second we waste here, more humans are slaughtered at home. The Commander trusts you, so we should, too.” Jenkins answered for Kaidan, who still seemed too stunned to speak.

Shepard looked down to the Cerberus insignia sewn onto her breast, then back at Kaidan. His eyes were still studying her every move, dreading what would have to come if she refused. She remained vaguely aware of the gun that still was in her hand, ready to be fired. She could end it all, this easily. She could move on with her life, completely leaving behind all that happened in her past.

Yet she couldn’t do it.

No matter how much she willed herself to press her finger onto the trigger, some part of her could not murder the little girl that lived inside her, the little girl laughing with a boy in Vancouver over hot chocolate and doughnuts.

“Are you with us?” Kaidan asked.

She told herself she was doing this for humanity. If Vega was right, then the reapers were already attacking Earth. She had to do anything she could to help her species survive this, even if it meant siding with the Alliance for now. After all, isn’t that what Cerberus was about; helping humanity?

Shepard glanced at her pistol, and tucked it away. Years later, in a starship high above, flying with the stars she and Kaidan had once dared to defy while reclining on a bed of sunflowers, some part of her would wish she had just ended it all there.

Yet for now, Shepard nodded and stood completely, her composition still uneasy from her concussion.

“Let’s go.”


 

Shepard stepped out with Kaidan’s squad, already unsure of herself. They were near the exit of the station, by the trams. By now, Shepard was acutely aware of the distant mumbling in the room ahead. She wanted to say something, but working alongside members of the Alliance proved to be more difficult than Shepard imagined. Obviously she had not fully gained the trust of either Vega or Jenkins. But she didn’t blame them; she didn’t trust them either. She and Kaidan had not spoken a word to each other, besides the rare command he’d give the entire squadron.

However, fighting with the marines was one thing. Being under the command of Kaidan was an entirely other situation.

“Kaidan-” Shepard had tried to communicate with him, but received a quick glare from both members of his team. She knew they didn’t mean it; they only perceived her not calling him by his title as a slight and acted on their reflexes. Yet she still would not call him Commander. He was not her commander, and they both shared the same rankings now after all. Kaidan turned around to listen to her, all the same. “Your team should take cover behind those crates. Let me do the talking.”

“Shepard, you can’t just reason with every pocket of Cerberus troops we encounter. Every one of them are terrorists. Were you not aware of the hostages murdered outside the base?” Kaidan berated her for the first time since their untimely reunion. Part of her knew it was inevitable, and part of her deserved it as well, but none of her self awareness helped lessen the sting.

Shepard immediately bristled. Here she was trying to helping him, and there he was, patronizing her actions. Before she could reply, a bustling through the air vents distracted the both of them, and the entire team glanced at the ceiling. The sound was not mumbling soldiers after all, but a chase in the vents. They could hear stray gunshots ricochet above them. Kaidan aimed his rifle at the opening of the vent, ready to shoot the hostile. Instead, an asari leapt out and landed gracefully on the floor, throwing a singularity at the group of Cerberus operatives who had attempted to attack her.

When they were all dead and gone, all it took was a glance in Kaidan’s direction to send a sigh of relief through her body. Shepard immediately lowered her own gun, realizing it must be one of Kaidan’s allies. Kaidan’s team moved forward, she and Kaidan exchanging a hug, and then she and Jenkins.They exchanged formal apologies about Earth’s demise, and questions of where have you been and what are you doing here . When all was said and done, Kaidan stepped aside, revealing Shepard in all her glory of her Cerberus uniform.

“What is she doing with you guys?” Liara immediately pulled out her rifle, which Shepard quickly raised in return.

“Easy, Liara.” Kaidan lowered Liara’s firearm with ease. “She’s with us.”

“But how-”

“We’ll explain later.” Kaidan nodded towards Shepard, who complied and put away her gun as well. Liara seemed unable to trust Shepard’s presence at first, but decided to trust Kaidan’s words instead. She explained why they were even there, claiming there was some sort of Prothean device that could stop the reapers, explaining why Cerberus was even based there in the first place.

“That can’t be true.” Shepard quickly cut in between Liara and Kaidan’s chat. “We- they were here because it was a convenient place to set up a base and mine for whatever else the Protheans left behind.”

“Which seems to be the Crucible.” Kaidan nodded, agreeing with Liara’s report. “You were their commander, shouldn’t they have atleast told you why you were here?”

Shepard frowned. She was able to doubt herself and her own allegiances, but immediately felt defensive when it was brought up by Kaidan of all people.

Kaidan sent James and Jenkins back to the shuttle, preparing to act as as their getaway drivers covering the exits of the tram. Working with Liara under Kaidan’s command was a completely different situation. Liara was capable of defending herself and more, but both she and Kaidan depended too much on their biotics. The team was completely disproportionate, relying on Shepard to do most of the heavy lifting. Luckily enough, all the guards were gone and only the defense mechs were left for the team to pick off.

The chaos of the entire situation did not allow Shepard enough time to think of exactly what she was starting by fighting alongside Alliance soldiers against Cerberus. She knew repercussions awaited her, but if she thought about it too much, she would get caught in the crossfire and die anyways. So she simply did not let herself ponder on it- for now, at least.

They dysfunctionally fought their way through the trams together, relying on Shepard’s knowledge of the base and the strategies that Cerberus employs, Kaidan’s guidance, and Liara’s biotics. They finally made their way to the exits of the trams, leading to what was called the Crucible. Shepard could barely believe Cerberus was working on this, under her very nose. Liara nodded and moved towards the nearest terminal, planning to download the information.

Commander Alenko ,” A man’s raspy voice flooded through the terminal, a voice she knew all too well. Shepard turned around next to Kaidan, the both of them looking in awe at the transmission of the Illusive Man. At the revelation that his two finest projects were now working together, the Illusive Man sighed and took a drag of his cigarette. “I see the lovebirds have been reunited. Beautiful. I do adore happy endings.”

“What the hell is Cerberus doing here?” Shepard stormed towards the terminal, demanding answers, her grey eyes in a fury. “Tell me the truth. About everything.”

“Slow down there, princess.” The Illusive Man chuckled, a sound that did not suit him.

“And just where is Paul?” Shepard continued on, not bothered by The Illusive Man’s interruption.

“Who’s Paul?” Kaidan asked dubiously. Shepard paused, looking behind her, remembering just who it was. It dawned on her at that moment how much Kaidan didn’t know.

“You seem too high tempered to talk right now, princess. I’ll talk to Alenko instead.” The Illusive Man sighed, unperturbed. This only seemed to further ignite Shepard’s fury.

“Stop calling me princess, or I swear-”

“What the hell is going on?” Kaidan stepped forward, also needing answers. The Illusive Man instead tsked his tongue and shook his head.

“I only talk to reasonable people, remember? Calm down.”

“Don’t you tell me to calm down.” For the first time in all the years of knowing Kaidan, he lost his temper. “You told me that Shepard was dead. You told me that the only way to honor her memory was to join your fight against the reapers. You told me-”

“Kaidan,” Liara looked up from her terminal, her eyes in equal amazement and horror. Kaidan paused, realizing just what he could have done, and remembering the real reason he was even there.

“Just tell me what you want.” Kaidan sighed in defeat. The Illusive Man seemed to relish in it.

“What I’ve always wanted.” The Illusive Man didn’t even bother to hide his smug grin. “These artifacts hold the key to solving the threat.”

“I’ve seen your solution.” Kaidan seemed revolted by even the thought. Shepard could only wonder what he’s seen in his year under Cerberus control. “You’re turning your people into monsters.”

“Not monsters, Alenko. Tools. Because why kill your enemies when you can control them?” The Illusive Man smiled. Shepard realized at this moment that all eyes were on her. “I see you’ve been putting my philosophy to good use.”

“Don’t you dare bring Shepard into this.”

“She’s already in this, Alenko. Unless you haven’t noticed that Cerberus uniform she’s wearing.” The Illusive Man seemed bored, ready to disconnect their comm link. “You’ve been a good tool, Alenko. But like the rest of the tools I’ve used, your usefulness is over. Don’t interfere with my plans.”

Commander !” Liara looked up from her terminal in a panic. “The plans, they’re not here. They’re being erased locally.”

Shepard and Kaidan stared daggers back behind them to the Illusive Man, but his likeness already vanished. Only his voice echoed through the room.

“And goodbye, Shepard. It’s been fun having you play at being commander, but like Alenko, your usefulness has run out. Have fun in paradise with loverboy.”

Shepard raced behind the terminal, already aware of the setup of the base. In every room with a main power system, there were always two terminals surrounding it. One on each opposite end. Shepard didn’t even care at this point what the Illusive Man cared to taunt her with. Instead, she discovered Eva meddling with the sister terminal, stealing the local data. Shepard did not hesitate to fire her pistol without a warning shot.

Instead, the bullets flew off the robot’s shields, and only alerted her of Shepard’s presence. Eva tried to send another punch flying to her head, but she wasn’t falling for that again. Shepard quickly ducked in response, and sent a kick to Eva’s legs. She fell flat on her bum, surprisingly enough. Shepard was ready to tackle and restrain the hostile, climbing atop of Eva and pushing away her rifle. However, she underestimated Eva’s strength. Shepard was quickly overtaken, and pushed away. Shepard’s head hit the wall of the base, yet again. The blow was not close enough to her first concussion to be an instant death, but it was close enough to be damned painful. Shepard landed on the back of her leg, her ankle twisting underneath itself. No doubt she had a few fractured (maybe even broken) bones, but she had to fight the pain for now. The room was spinning, and Eva did not hesitate to pick up her gun and race away.

“Kaidan, go after her!” Shepard shouted to where Liara and Kaidan still stood. He quickly understood and followed suit, giving into the chase. Liara raced towards Shepard, offering to help her up from the floor.

“Are you alright?” Liara asked demurely. The asari wrapped her arm around Shepard’s shoulder, helping her stand.

“I’ll be fine. They’re getting away.” Shepard attempted to shake off the extra help. She didn’t need to be carried; she could fight off the headaches and her injured leg for now until they got onto the shuttle with Vega and Jenkins. They couldn’t let Eva get away. Liara nodded, understanding Shepard’s will to fight. Liara jogged ahead, hot on Eva’s trail, with Shepard doing her best to follow on her own.

By the time they climbed up all the ladders and exited the tram, they found Eva in her metal exterior, lying down in a pool of flames next to a crashed Cerberus shuttle. Jenkins leaped out of his own Alliance shuttle and attempted to help Shepard into the shuttle, realizing that she was limping and barely getting by. But by the time he realized Eva was not truly incapacitated, it was too late.

Jenkins pushed Shepard out of the way, taking the blow. Eva lifted Jenkins into the air with ease, his feet dangling below him. Shepard crawled up from the floor, watching in horror as Eva fried through Jenkins’ shields. As Shepard fumbled to ready her pistol, Eva bashed Jenkins’ helmet into the cement and flung him across the floor. At this point, Shepard realized Eva was now racing towards her.

Still off her balance, Shepard fired multiple shots to Eva’s exterior, everything else in Shepard’s mind running blank. Shepard fired two more shots, hearing the fizz of Eva’s shields failing.

Her shields were already down, and Eva fell after eight bursts to the head.

Eva was closer now, and Shepard could hear Kaidan shouting for her to run for cover.

With a burst to the head, Eva fell into the flames.

At that moment, Shepard’s adrenaline rush escaped her body, and her leg gave out from under her, only to have Liara catch her with ease. Shepard could barely hear Kaidan’s brash orders to retreat to the starship as he carried the weight of Jenkins’ limp body. As they stepped onto the Normandy , none of them could ever know this was how it was truly meant to be.

Chapter Text

Shepard elected to sit where no one else could bother her, leaning against a wall, vaguely aware that she was technically taken prisoner. The Normandy ’s core buzzed to life, and the ship soared through the air, warping to the Citadel at a break-neck speed. Yet through the chaos of it all, Shepard was never more sure of herself that she was truly where she was meant to be. After all these years of running, of working on the Citadel, of working for Cerberus, it felt right to be on an Alliance starship.

Shepard’s concussions still needed to be tended to, along with her fractured leg, but she elected not to go anywhere near the medbay. Jenkins was there, lifeless body and all. Kaidan Alenko, the ever attentive commander, was staying in the medbay with Jenkins, as if he felt guilty for his state. If she were to go there, they would have to talk about what was happening, about where they are going, and where they have been. Shepard wanted to delay that talk as long as she could.

Liara found Shepard sitting next to the elevator, on the floor of the captain’s chambers. Shepard thought no one would think to find her there- the only person that ever went to the captain’s chambers was Kaidan anyways-, and yet there was the asari, lending her a hand to stand up. Liara offered condolences on Earth, and offered to patch up Shepard’s leg and concussive bruises with medi-gel. They worked in general silence, Liara aware that Shepard did not want to speak of how she knew the commander, and Shepard aware that Liara did not trust any Cerberus operative.


 

They landed on the Citadel soon enough, and the Normandy’s crew rushed Jenkins to the med-bay as Kaidan ran to the Council, prepared to practically beg for their help on Earth. There was too much hope in his eyes for Shepard to stop him. Considering she herself had spent a year with Cerberus, she had been debriefed on the Council and their reluctance to ever help the human species as a whole. Even when Kaidan died, they refused to acknowledge him or tell the truth of his death, deciding instead to pull a cover-up story. Shepard knew better than anyone else that the Council would never help Kaidan, or any of the humans.

The thought of Kaidan dead immediately struck her. The last time she set foot on the Citadel, was for Kaidan’s funeral. There was no body available at the funeral, and she was forced to sit and watch as the Alliance tried to push his death under the rug. Then she fled to Vancouver like the weak girl that she was.

Shepard found herself mindlessly walking towards the transport to the hospital. She asked herself why she even cared if Kaidan received assistance or not from the Council, or if it was even her problem now, or even if it was the same man she loved all those years ago.

If it truly was him, she had no inkling of where she could go now, where they could go after the galaxy split them apart.

But Shepard tried her best not to dwell on all the possibilities of her situation. Right now, she remained as a captive of the Alliance, and that’s what she needed to focus on.

But if she truly was a captive, then why did she find it in her own free will to visit the Huerta Memorial Hospital?

For a moment, Shepard was almost able to forget the real reason why she was brought here as a captive, as the last resort. Earth was truly at war, and the time was now. Reapers had arrived, and they were not ready. Shepard stood in the middle of the pandemonium, salarian and asari doctors pushing gurneys with unconscious patients from Earth. People were shouting, and arguing over the receptionist desk and asking for their loved ones. In the chaos of it all, Shepard was briefly brought back to a much simpler time, the first time she had visited Huerta Memorial. It was after the attack on Chora’s Den, when the Alliance helped to save her and the captives. It was always him, wasn’t it?

Shepard walked into Jenkins’ room, silently sitting next to his lifeless body. He was granted the most spacious room available, considering he was a respected Alliance soldier, and yet the disarray of the hospital offered his room no security. Figures .

Shepard studied his closed eyes, unsure if he would ever be able to open them again. If it wasn’t for him, perhaps it would be her on the bed, as lifeless as she truly deserved to be. Jenkins was the same boy who awoke her after the attack on the Citadel, and now the man who helped her escape the Cerberus station.

Shepard’s memory of the Cerberus station flashed back in her mind, and she did her best to pull up her omni-tool again, trying to study the files she had downloaded from the captain’s files. Maybe something in there could help to answer something, whether it helped on the war with the reapers, or helped to answer why Kaidan was once again living flesh. Three locked files were displayed on her omni-tool. Project: Sanctuary, Project: Lazarus, and Project: Persephone. Each file had a master code locked on it, which she would have to figure out how to decrypt soon enough.

Shepard turned her head to see Kaidan in a rush walking through the doors, stopping in his tracks when he first sees Shepard next to Jenkins. Shepard immediately decided to close her omni-tool.

“Hey,” Shepard attempted to speak.

“Hey,” Kaidan replied. Silence flooded the space between them, the awkwardness of the questions in the air almost palpable. In another situation, Shepard would have laughed, reminiscent  of the first time they had spoken on the Citadel together. However, this was not that time.

“How’ve you been?” Shepard finally decided to ask, unsure of what else she could have possibly said after three years of silence. Kaidan immediately retaliated.

‘How have I been?’ How could you ask me that, after thinking you were dead-”

“Thinking I was dead? You’re the one that was spaced.” Shepard immediately bit back, not caring that they both were acting like children.

“I was clinically dead for two years, Shep.” Kaidan replied slowly, the familiar sadness of his warm brown eyes, looking back at her.

“And what about the third year?”

“I tried to find you, but both the Alliance and Cerberus didn’t find anything on you. Your trail was cold. The last thing I could find on you was that you returned to Vancouver after my funeral. After that, everyone just assumed you committed suicide on Earth.” Kaidan’s voice slowly dipped lower, as if he was unable to talk about even the thought of her suicide. For some reason, Shepard was more offended than confused.

Cerberus told you I was dead?” Shepard widened her eyes, not sure if she was able to believe the man standing before her. She committed a year of her life to an organization her step-father lead her to in her time of weakness. Yet when she remembered the circumstances, the situation seemed more viable than she cared to imagine.

“I’ve been working with Cerberus for this past year. They were the only organization willing to help me fight the real threat: the reapers.”

“You’re lying to me.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest, immediately defending her own integrity in the most childlike manner.

“Why in any cause of the galaxy would I ever lie to you about this, Shepard?” Kaidan frowned again, obviously hurt by her accusation.

“How do I know you’re not just a clone the Alliance created? Your body wasn’t at the funeral, Kadian. They tried to push your death under the rug, it’s what happened to my dad, it’s what happened to you.” Shepard continued to speak, but stopped when she realized exactly what she was saying. How could she compare this situation to her dad’s death? Her dad died a hero, but her mom never let her or her brother see it. And now what was Shepard doing to herself?

“Shepard, you know me. I fought for you. You never left my mind. Find it in yourself to trust me. Hell, you know me Shep. Try to remember Vancouver, try to remember London. I spent a year thinking you were dead and it tore me apart.” Kaidan then tried his best to reach out to her, as if she was a mirage defying reality. How many times had he dreamed of this moment, only for it to turn out like this, both of them on different sides of the war?

Something in Shepard turned then, bringing the memories of Vancouver and London back to her mind. But she wasn’t going to back down now. She spent years wanting to die, and he was not able to act like the victim. She knew it was childish to try and compare who had the harder life while they were apart, but she remained stubborn. After three years of living alone and feeling abandoned by everything in the galaxy, it was finally her chance to let it all out. She would immediately regret it moments after the deed was done, but that fact did not matter now.

“Oh, it tore you apart? Try three years thinking you were dead. You’re not the one who had to attend your funeral, you’re not the one who had to suffer for three whole years. I was clinically depressed. If it wasn’t for Cerberus, I’d still be in Vancouver living as a shell. You distrust me because you think I’m not the same girl you loved all those years ago, not the same girl you think you saved in Vancouver. I’m not. I had to change. Because once again, I was left on my own in this cruel Galaxy without anyone else. I had to fend for myself, and pick myself back up again. Because believe it or not, I loved you and your death tore me apart. When my adoptive father came to find me, he was all I had left. So I went for a new life. There. Are you satisfied now?”

Before Kaidan could even inhale, an asari pounded into the room, berating the both of them with looks of disgust and disappointment, not seeming to care about the rank on Kaidan’s uniform, or exactly who she was staring down at.

“I don’t care who you two think you are, but there is an unconscious patient between your little argument here. Whatever this is, please take it outside.” The asari was in a rage, obviously already frantically doing her best to handle the sudden intake of patients, on top of having to deal with the drama she and Kaidan were selfishly stirring. Both Shepard and Kaidan nodded guiltily, and the nurse exited the room.

Shepard looked back at Jenkins’ spiritless face, still in a coma. After all he did for her, this is how she treated him, by arguing over his unconscious body. Maybe she really was meant to die on the streets of Vancouver when she was a kid. She was making a wreck of everything else in the galaxy that she managed to touch.

Shepard looked down at her feet, silence once again filling the air between her and Kaidan, both too guilty to continue their argument. Shepard immediately regretted everything she said, and the way she said it, but there was no going back now. She took a deep inhale of breath and spoke quietly.

“It would be the best for the both of us if you just stayed away from me. I made a new life for myself, and learned to live without you. I’m staying onboard your ship because our planet is being attacked, and I want to help our species, and our home. For the sake of humanity, let us just focus on the task at hand.”

Somewhere inside her heart, Shepard found the courage to glance up from her feet and at the man in front of her, unbeknownst to her, equally as broken as she. She was a street rat orphan of Vancouver, sent to bartend on the Citadel as soon as she was of age. He was the Savior of the Citadel, the first human spectre, and managed to cheat death. There she was, broken before him once again, as broken as the day he died, and as broken as the day she joined Cerberus. And there he was, as broken as she. They only seemed to bring bad luck to each other; he died only after he met her, and now his teammate was in a coma because he was trying to protect her. She joined a terrorist group after his death, unsure of where else to go. Oh, how much they have both fallen.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

When the Normandy touched down on Palaven, all Shepard could do was gaze out the Starboard Observation window and stare at the dying planet from inside safe walls. A thought gnawed at the back of her heart for a moment, asking herself if that was happening at the same time on Earth while she sat there lounging on a first class starship. She wondered if Vancouver even was still recognizable, or if the reapers tore the city to shreds on Day Zero. For the first time since she left Vancouver, she wondered if her brother was still out there somehow alive and kicking, and even if her mother managed to somehow worm her way into safety. Shepard stood from the couch at that moment, and stormed towards the crew armoury.

“Where are you going, Shepard?” The ship’s AI questioned her as she continued to wriggle into her armor.

“I specifically asked you to address me as Commander Shepard.” She replied without pause.

“Forgive me, but you were only a commander under Cerberus. Here, we are under the Alliance, and Commander Alenko-”

“Alright, if you won’t address me correctly, I won’t tell you where I’m going.” Shepard huffed under her heavy armor and continued to clasp on her boots.

“Very well. Where are you going, Commander Shepard?” The AI’s voice became more rigid as she addressed Shepard.

“I can’t just sit here and watch Palaven get destroyed.” Shepard strapped a pistol and an assault rifle to her harness. “I’m going out there to help.”

“Commander Alenko gave you strict orders to stay on the ship while he took his team shoreside.” EDI replied quickly. Shepard did not miss the malice in the AI’s voice.

“And yet here I am, going out there.” Shepard breezed through the armoury, stopping before the exit shutters.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you there, Commander Shepard.” The AI responded.

The familiar feeling of fury and impatience began to stir within Shepard. There was a planet dying outside, and there was nothing she could do about it. She was more than skilled enough to help the refugees escape, or maybe even help Kaidan’s team. But instead, she was put under surveillance like some child. Shepard unsheathed her pistol and pointed it at the nearest AI station. Before EDI could place the ship on lockdown, Shepard looked towards the bridge to hear the pilot shouting for her.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, there’s no need for that, Shepard.” The pilot yelled from across the bridge, unauthorized amusement clear in his voice. He was still sitting in the pilot’s seat, but his hands were up as if in surrender. The man looked familiar, and after a moment of studying him, she realized he was the same man she met at Kaidan’s funeral. He was the pilot that Kaidan gave his life to save. In a moment of weakness and distraction, an Alliance marine quickly came from behind to disarm her pistol and detain her wrists behind her back. When Joker realized this, he did his best to rise from his chair and limp towards her.

“Shepard is under Commander Alenko’s protection, Vega.” Joker spoke to the man who held her wrists behind her back.

“She pointed an armed gun at our ship, and she was with Cerberus on Mars. How can we trust her?” James roughly replied. Shepard could hear the same fury in his voice that she felt. He wanted to be out there on Palaven too.

“I agree with Mr. Vega, Jeff.” EDI’s voice resonated through the bridge. “Shepard is too mentally unstable, and we don’t know if she is still in contact with Cerberus. She should be regarded as a danger to us.”

“We need to trust her because our Commander does. I’m with Kaidan to the end, and I don’t want to be there when he finds out that James practically attacked his wifey.”

Wifey? ” James almost choked. Shepard could feel his grip on her loosen, but she didn’t make an effort to escape. Instead, she stared daggers at Joker. If looks could kill, he would have been reaper fodder by then.

“It’s called history, Vega.” Joker rolled his eyes as James let go of Shepard.

“Mr. Moreau, if there is something you know about Shepard that we don’t, that’s a violation-” EDI attempted to berate Joker before he spoke again

“I probably said too much anyways. Point is, if I were you James, I wouldn’t touch her.” Joker walked back to his pilot’s seat, ignoring any questions Vega could attempt to ask. Shepard didn’t look him in the eye as she walked away defeated.


 

She was forced to wait out Palaven. And when Kaidan returned onboard with Liara battered and a bruised turian, she didn’t ask questions as the Normandy took the air. Finding solitude in the Starboard Observation, she watched as they abandoned the dying planet below them.

Shepard kept to herself in the Starboard Observation and waited out her days on the ship. Kaidan continued on with his life, and he never visited her. It was just as she asked him to do, and yet part of her felt disappointment.

No one spoke to her onboard after the event with Joker and Vega. The crew knew she was under Kaidan’s protection and so no one dared to bother her, but she still heard the scuttlebutt on the ship. They knew that Shepard never left her deck and Kaidan never visited her, and she couldn’t keep up with the different stories the crew managed to concoct on their spare time.

Her own doubts began to drown her mind. She didn’t belong on an Alliance starship, and she did not belong with Kaidan. She only came on board because it was an opportunity to help Earth and humankind in its time of need, and yet she has done nothing beneficial since she stepped onto the Normandy . The day that she began to weigh the option of asking Kaidan to drop her off at the Citadel the next time they stop for a supply run, was the day he finally visited her.

Shepard was leaning against the observation glass as she heard the doors open. She looked behind her to see Kaidan walk slowly into the room, his gaze remaining steadily in front of him. If possible, he had aged even more ever since their talk on the Citadel, which was the last time she had actually spoken to him. Bags were beginning to form under his eyes, and she could see more grey peppered into his hair. She wondered if Kaidan could handle being the sole hope for humanity. She wondered if anyone could handle being the sole hope for humanity. For once, Shepard forgot everything they fought about on the Citadel, and forgot their time apart and both of their deceit. Her first instinct was to embrace him, tell him he wasn’t alone, kiss his scars and the worries away from his face. But Shepard’s boots remained planted where she stood, and her gaze remained firm. It would not help either of them to go back on their agreed decision. They still distrusted each other so much. It wasn’t healthy, and it would only be a distraction to humanity.

“We are on our way to Sur’Kesh, ETA one hour.” Kaidan placed himself a safe distance in front of her, addressing her as a perfect soldier, almost looking at her as if she was invisible to him. “It’s a Priority mission, and you should start suiting up now to go on the ground team with me.”

Shepard did her best to hide her shock. She was sure that someone told him of her outburst on Palaven, and that he would never trust her on the ground team after that. After this much time waiting, it was too good to be true to believe that he actually thought she was stable enough to be on the same team as him.

“Okay.” She nodded and he saluted her, and was gone before she could say anything else.


 

Shepard stood back and watched as Kaidan and Liara greeted a krogan named Wrex with open arms. Shepard said nothing when Major Kirrahe introduced himself and debriefed them on the female krogan. And Shepard remained silent as they entered the elevator frantically as warning alarms radiated off, alerting them of an intruder. Shepard knew that complacency was necessary. She could not afford another outburst, not when Kaidan and Liara both distrusted her so much. She knew this was considered as her test run, and if she wanted to help humanity at all while on the Normandy , she had to put up with this.

“This is because she’s here with us,” Liara accused Shepard as soon as the elevator doors closed in front of them. Shepard could feel Liara staring at her with distaste, and she did her best to keep her mouth shut in return. “Kaidan, as the Shadow Broker, there is so much information on Shepard that incriminates her liability. This was a bad idea from the start. Do you even know who her father is-”

“The mission right now is to retrieve the female krogan.” Kaidan clenched his jaw and checked his omni-tool, checking if his map was updated. “We need to focus on the mission at hand. We don’t know for sure who is out there, but until then I will not have my team mutiny underneath me.”

“Understood, Commander.” Liara sighed and stepped back in line. Shepard remembered Kaidan the first time they had met on the Citadel, so long ago. He was just appointed as the first human Spectre, and he was only growing into his role. Now, she could truly see his growth into a man capable of moving mountains. Part of her felt pride, and another part of her felt the selfish grief that she was not able to be part of his growth. Shepard glanced at Kaidan, but he was still refusing to look at her.

Focus on the mission at hand . We both made our decisions.

The mission continued, yet as soon as the alarms went off again and they were alerted that the ships were Cerberus, Shepard knew that this was it. This was the end of her silly dream to fight on an Alliance ship for the “good of humanity”.

But Liara said nothing, putting the mission in front of anything, and Kaidan’s words in front of her own judgment. Kaidan continued on with the mission, not saying a word about Cerberus. She fought alongside them in an attempt to salvage the integrity of the female krogan’s pod, and Shepard felt no remorse as she knew she was killing Cerberus operatives. The goal of Cerberus, as Shepard knew it, was to protect humanity. Kidnapping a female krogan was not protecting humanity. It was only ensuing chaos in an attempt to end the negotiations between the krogans and the humans.

And when an Atlas landed in front of them, Shepard fought her hardest under Kaidan’s command. Having first-hand knowledge of how to operate a Cerberus Atlas, Shepard immediately dove for cover and cocked her heavy pistol, aiming for the glass where the pilot sat. She and Kaidan worked together to whittle down the Atlas’s shields as Liara protected their backs and picked away the Cerberus agents on-ground. Shepard continued to dive between covers, dancing around the Atlas’s weakness. Its shields were dwindling, and Shepard knew it was about to explode. However, Liara was too slow and was directly in danger of the explosion.  Without thinking, Shepard shoved Liara out of the way and took the brunt of the hit, her shields absorbing most of the damage.

Shepard !” Kaidan shouted as he rushed towards her and Liara. “Are you alright? Are your shields still up? Can you move?”

“I’m fine, Commander.” Shepard grunted and slowly stood up. She was sore, but she was lucky enough to have her shields up. Liara thanked her for protecting her, and Shepard nodded in reply. Kaidan paused, unsure of what to say. Worry was still clear in his eyes, but there was nothing he could do. They were on a mission, and this is what they agreed to do.

“Oh… okay.” Kaidan bit his cheek and checked her vitals one last time on his omni-tool. Liara watched with curiosity as Kaidan did his best not to overreact. They walked together as a team towards the female krogan, and sat in the shuttle with an agreed silence.


 

When they arrived back on the Normandy , the entire crew was awaiting their return and curiously eyed Shepard, wondering if she was the culprit of Cerberus’s appearance. Yet this time, both Kaidan and Liara sent the wandering eyes away. Liara ushered Shepard towards the medbay as Kaidan followed Wrex to the Conference Room.

Liara watched silently as Dr. Chakwas gave her a pain medicine and left the room for supplies after she ordered Shepard to sleep.

“I’m sorry for doubting you, Shepard.” Liara spoke slowly as Chakwas left the medbay. Shepard glanced up to see the asari equally as unsure with how to continue. “It was juvenile of me to put my suspicions ahead of the mission.”

“I don’t blame you. I would have thought the same of myself” Shepard shrugged. Liara nodded, and excused herself from the room. Dr. Chakwas returned with a proper sedative by the time Liara left, and Shepard closed her eyes, welcoming the deep sleep.

She woke up in the middle of the night cycle to find the medbay empty, and most of the Crew Deck deserted. Shepard stretched and helped herself off the hospital cot, finding Alliance issued slacks next to her that the rest of the crew wore. She never thought she would ever find herself wearing an Alliance uniform, and yet there she was, fully dressed and wandering the deck of the best Alliance starship in the galaxy.

“I see that the renegade is actually wearing the Alliance uniform.” Joker laughed as Shepard situated herself in the co-pilot seat beside him. Of all the people on the ship, somehow Shepard found herself aligning with the sarcastic ass of a pilot the most. She knew it was because he was the most familiar to her, and probably the most accepting to her. They knew each other back in Kaidan’s funeral, and mourned together in their own way. For some reason, he trusted her against the odds. He continued, “We didn’t think you’d actually wear it, but we thought it was better that the crew didn’t see you walking around the ship wearing your Cerberus getup.”

Shepard smirked, almost forgetting that she was still wearing her Cerberus uniform up until then, being the only clothes she had when she was picked up on Mars by the Normandy . She sarcastically rolled her eyes and popped the collar around her neck. “I’ll have to thank you for that. The Alliance does seem to have a better style than Cerberus ever did.”

“Yeah well you can get yourself your own clothes soon enough. We’re stopping by the Citadel next for a supply run.”

Shepard nodded and gazed out the pilot’s view. For once, she found the beauty in the  stars beside her, and did not dare to defy them. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Joker, we need to talk about what you said back on Palaven.” They both knew she was referring to his slip about her and Kaidan’s past. Joker knew too much. He saw her back then, broken and pregnant. She had tried so hard to bury those memories that it almost hurt to try to remember.

“Hey, I know I went too far there. I just had to get Vega off you.” Joker sighed and pulled up a folder of images saved onto his omni-tool and sent it to her own link. He then promptly deleted his own copy of the folder. “I know what’s your business is your business. I kept these pictures from back then… I didn’t think you’d come back, but they’re yours. When you’re ready you’re the one that should tell him.”


When Shepard returned to what everyone knew as her territory of the ship, she leaned against the observation wall and opened what Joker had sent. Three images showed up then, each illuminated before her eyes. Each picture was from Kaidan’s funeral, one more revealing than the last. She stood in the photos with Kaidan’s family and with Joker, each person wearing a mask of complacency as they were forced to accept that his death was being pushed under the rug. Shepard stood there in the photos wearing her black dress, and short hair. She remembered the morning of the funeral finding the scissors in her cabinet and not knowing what else to do, sheared her hair with tears in her eyes. In the photos her hand was under her swollen belly, halfway through the failed pregnancy.

Shepard nodded and closed the images, knowing that one day she would have to tell Kaidan, and one day, he would have to see. She organized the folder next to Project Persephone and Project Lazarus, and shut off her omni-tool. The neverending galaxy stared back at her, but now she had a purpose. She remembered images of the endless sunflower field in London, of the burning surface of Palaven, and of the krogan female in her pod. If these were humanity’s last and final days, then she would not waste them mourning the past any longer. She was on an Alliance ship, as she was always meant to be, and she was fighting alongside Kaidan, as she was always meant to be. The past and the present merged to meet them here, and she was done fighting it. They had to talk.

Chapter Text

Shepard was shocked to discover that she herself was chosen for Tuchanka’s ground team. The turian picked up from Palaven was chosen alongside her. This was her first time fighting with Garrus, but he did not seem to hold such contempt for her as the rest of the crew had when they first met her. The ship was slowly easing towards her, inching their way to kindness ever since Liara and Joker began to vouch for her.

Shepard was already wearing her armor, waiting for Kaidan and Garrus to meet her by Joker. She was fiddling with her omni-tool shedding away time, only to remember the two fateful files that she had discovered in Mars. She studied them further, but the codes blocking the files were far too advanced than what Cerberus had ever taught her. Project: Lazarus. Project: Persephone . Something in her heart told her that no matter what, she needed the files to be decoded.

“Where are you going?” Joker frantically asked as Shepard rushed away towards the elevator.

“I’ll be back soon,” Shepard promised as the elevator doors closed. Her body reacted before her mind did, and she found herself in Liara’s office before she could process anything else.

“Shouldn’t you be preparing to land on Tuchanka?” Liara raised a thin eyebrow as she turned away from her desk to find Shepard out of breath.

“I need you to decode these for me.” Shepard pulled the files up on her omni-tool, ushering it towards Liara. As soon as Liara read over the words Project Lazarus , her usual controlled facial expression was quickly contorted into shock. Yet as quickly as it came, the expression was gone.

“Project Lazarus… that’s what Cerberus did for…” Liara nodded then, deciding it would be better for Shepard to read the file itself than for her to explain. Before Liara could think of an excuse, Joker’s voice pinged through the ship signaling the ground team to meet at the shuttle. “I’ll do it for you.”

“Thank you, Liara.” Shepard was curious why she suddenly accepted, but all the answers were in the very files which were now copied in Liara’s computer system.

“I owe you, Shepard. Consider this a favor.” Liara smiled, but her heart sympathized for the human who would soon have all the answers she searched for. Oblivious to the truth she was about to find, Shepard ran out of the room and promised herself to keep the files out of her mind for the duration of the mission.


Shepard’s heart soared as adrenaline raced through her veins. She had never felt anything like this, and a part of her knew she was always meant to live this life. Between dodging thresher maws, rallying the krogans, and dodging beams from an overhead reaper, the only thing she worried about was getting the team out alive and giving the krogans their cure. This was nothing like Cerberus. Although she never officially joined the Alliance, as a part of the Normandy’ s crew, she felt as if she was finally doing her part for humanity and the Galaxy, although she knew she owed the Galaxy nothing.

When they finally returned on the ship battered and bruised, there were three cheers for the krogan, and for the fallen member of the Normandy . Shepard had not gotten to know the salarian well during their brief time together on the ship; Mordin had always been suspicious of her due to her ties to Cerberus, and rightly so, stayed away from her even as the humans of the crew began to give her a chance. Yet Shepard saluted the salarian and cheered along with the crew. To give your life for the good of the Galaxy was something anyone ought to look at with respect.

“Come on, Lola. Drink with us.” James Vega clapped Shepard on the back and handed her a glass of some cheap alcohol he managed to smuggle onto the ship. Shepard raised an eyebrow but downed the drink. Only a week ago he was disarming her on the deck of the ship. She supposed a good word of mouth and the joy of the successful mission went a long way.

“Don’t go calling me Lola now.” Shepard passed the glass back to James. He smirked, and once again Shepard was reminded of his visit to the Citadel years ago, which now seemed like a lifetime ago. Distracted, Shepard looked across the crowd, only to notice two people missing. “Where’s Liara and Kaidan?”

“Liara’s been up in her office all day. No one has seen her walk out.” James quickly took another shot and slammed his cup on the table. “And the Commander? He went straight to the Captain's Cabin after his discussion with the Council.”

Shepard nodded and excused herself, remembering the task she gave Liara before she left.

“You’re leaving now, Lola? We only just started celebrating.” James laughed and

chucked the now half-empty bottle of cheap alcohol in the air for good measure. He was already starting to slur his words, but the rest of the crew cheered along with him. She realized now that for the first time since Mars, the Normandy actually had an excuse to celebrate.

“I’ll be back later, Vega.” Shepard half-lied, one foot already in the elevator.

“The Commander is one lucky man,” James huffed under his breath as the elevator doors closed. Shepard thought nothing of it.

Before Shepard even stepped out of the elevator, Liara practically ran into her. It was startling to see Liara panicked for the first time; even in the face of battle the asari always seemed to be calm and calculating. But now, there was a panic in Liara’s eyes as she helped herself up before Shepard could say anything.

“Shepard,” Liara huffed for breath and placed a datapad in her hands. “You must open these files.”


 

Kaidan did his best to distract himself reading datapads about the progress on the Crucible. If he dwelled too much on what transpired that day, he knew he would get too emotional. He lost another team member, another hero. The war against the reapers was only beginning, and already people were paying the ultimate sacrifice. He looked up at the aquarium and watched the fish peacefully swimming in the clear water. Kaidan wondered how his parents were doing in Vancouver, if they were even alive. He knew his father would try to be the hero, he knew he would do his best to help the civilians escape. But his mother? Kaidan shook his head and picked up another datapad, not willing to think about the circumstances his parents were forced to endure.

Silent hours passed with only the soft hum of the aquarium for company until EDI’s voice echoed within the cabin’s speakers.

“Commander, Shepard is requesting access to the Captain’s Cabin.”

Kaidan almost dropped the datapad in his hand. Shepard ? After all their time together on the ship, she had never explicitly sought him out on her own.

“EDI, you know I have an open door policy for my crew.”

“Yes, Commander, but considering Shepard’s suspicious relations with Cerberus, I thought it was best to ask for access.”

“Let her through.” Kaidan ran a hand through his hair, although it still managed to stick up. For some reason part of him felt like a nervous schoolboy having her in his room for the first time in so long. Yet when the door opened revealing Shepard, all doubts faded away, only leaving a heavy feeling in his heart.

Whatever makeup she wore was smudged with tears. Her dark hair which was usually kept in a pristine ponytail was disheveled and marred. Her knuckles went white as she held on tight to the datapad in her hands. Like nothing in the past three years had changed, she fell into his arms and like clockwork, he held her tight never letting her go. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle after so long of forcing restraint. He knew this was wrong, but something had shaken her to her core. Shepard continued to cry in his arms, and he felt her tears stain his chest as she spasmed between each heave.

“Shepard…” Kaidan smoothed down her hair out of habit. He felt like they were in London. “What happened?”

She said nothing, only handed him the datapad in her hand. Kaidan unlocked the datapad

and looked through the files. There were two files labeled as Project: Lazarus and Project: Persephone . He looked at her curiously. He already knew of Project: Lazarus, Cerberus’s plan to revive him and use him as their tool. As a past member of Cerberus, he had already assumed she knew details on the project. He opened the file anyways, finding audio files and thorough journals of his progress through the recovery stage. He already knew most of the information, but he could hear Shepard’s soft crying continue as the scientists summarized his comatose stage.

“Shepard, I thought you already knew about Project Lazarus.” Kaidan addressed her softly, not wanting to disturb her further as the audio files finished.

“Cerberus lied to me. They told me you were a clone the Alliance brought back for their own agenda.” Shepard doubled over and cradled her head in her arms. “I can’t believe I was so stupid. I believed all of them…. I never knew. I should have trusted you.”

It all made sense now, all of those arguments they had on the Citadel and on the ship about her allegiance and her unwillingness to trust him. Cerberus had indoctrinated her into believing he was their enemy. She was never in on the truth. She was The Illusive Man’s own pet.

“It’s not your fault, Shepard.” Kaidan moved to comfort her, but she held up a hand to stop him.

“Open Project Persephone.” She was so broken she could only manage a whisper. She could not even muster anger towards Cerberus anymore, all she held was loss.

The Council will never trust Cerberus. They’ll never accept our help. ” Miranda’s silvery voice played from the datapad’s speakers as Kaidan unwillfully opened the file. “ But Alenko… they’ll follow him. He’s a hero, a bloody icon. But if we lose him, humanity might follow .”

Then see to it that we don’t lose him .” Kaidan recognized the other voice as The Illusive Man. It sounded like they were talking even before he was spaced during the geth hunts. It chilled him to his bones.

I’ve already began my research on him in hopes to find anything valuable to help push him towards us… his father is a retired Alliance marine, we’ve got no leverage with that. His mother is just as useless… his girlfriend, though is interesting.

Interesting enough?

It’s Jane Shepard, the daughter of John, a hero of the First Contact War. ” Miranda drawled on as if none of this interested her, but Kaidan glanced at Shepard again. She had never told him any of this. He never even knew her name was Jane. When they met, she only called herself Shepard. When they were older, she said to call her Mary. And her family? She never dared to mention their names. Shepard shook her head as if she was too ashamed to look back at Kaidan. Miranda continued, “ What’s even more interesting is that our little Alliance hero has managed to find himself the adopted daughter of our very own Paul Grayson.

When I heard the daughter of John Shepard ran away from her home I knew she’d come in handy. This is good news. Look into her and contact Grayson.

The audio file was finished, and Kaidan only had more questions than answers. Before he could say anything, Shepard only looked at him and told him to open the rest.

Have you made any progress on Project Persephone?

I found Jane. She’s working on the Citadel and she’s managed to get herself knocked up. She made an appointment with the cheapest gynecologist she could find. I’ve already made arrangements to put myself through.

Kaidan felt himself go weak. He felt his heart dropped. His fingers went numb. A child? They had managed to conceive a child? His mind was racing as Shepard began to sob again. Kaidan could barely hear the rest of the recording.

That’s good news. You know what you have to do. We can’t have any distractions to either herself or Alenko. The pregnancy will be terminated.

Sir, wouldn’t it be more useful to keep the child as a pawn so we have even more leverage to keep Alenko on our side?

We already can guarantee Alenko’s loyalty. We know he won’t be able to resist helping humanity. I’m not worried about that. Shepard is more useful to me as a soldier, not a mother.

Sir,

Terminate it.

Project Persephone Log 1. This is Operative Lawson. I have given the subject medical abortion pills that are expected to terminate the pregnancy before the second trimester so the mother will not be further harmed, in order to keep her in condition to healthily support Cerberus. However, the subject does not seem mentally stable so I have also administered antidepressants in order to speed her recovery process and be more liable to Grayson’s cause.

Project Persephone Log 2. Operative Lawson. Subject seems to be in declining health due to mental stress, and is leaving the Citadel with Alenko’s family. Should not be a problem, as the pregnancy should be terminated within a few weeks. There is nothing to worry about. Project Persephone is continuing smoothly.

Project Persephone Log 3. This is Operative Grayson. Subject has lost the child, and I have made contact. She seems to be willing to follow me, and I expect her to leave Earth within a week. Project Persephone is moving as planned.

Project Persephone Log 4. Operative Grayson. Now that Alenko has reached the Citadel, he is bound to show up on news vids. I trust that Operative Lawson has come up with a plan to keep Project Persephone uncorrupted. I repeat. Project Persephone will fail if subject learns the truth of Project Lazarus.

Kaidan closed the datapad and placed it beside him. His mind was racing. He felt anger. He felt frustration. He was furious. Furious at Cerberus, furious at the Alliance, furious at the Galaxy. But he did not even manage to process it all.

A child.

Kaidan sighed. Without preamble, an image of a little girl came to mind. She had his brown eyes and Shepard’s hair, and she was so tiny and so innocent. And she was theirs.

He shook his head. He couldn’t think like that. He was an Alliance soldier, he was trained for situations that require deep thinking. He needed to compartmentalize.

It must have been London. He remembered the nights they carelessly spent together, so wrapped up in each other that they didn’t even think about protection. It was the last thing on their minds at the time. Kaidan then thought of when Shepard could have found out she was pregnant. She couldn’t have known before he left for the Alliance’s routine geth hunts, she would have told him. She must have found out after he was spaced… she must have been so panicked and afraid.

Kaidan held Shepard close again, and together they both wept for what could have been, and what is. They fell on the bed together. There was so much to be said, but at that moment they only needed each other.

“Kaidan… I’m so sorry. I should have trusted you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Shepard’s voice trailed off as she continued to cry.

The same image of a little girl came in his mind again; Shepard and Kaidan laughed in the yard and watched their daughter play in his parent’s orchard.

“I’m sorry too, Shepard.”

They fell asleep that night in each other’s arms, not willing to say anything else.

Chapter Text

Kaidan found himself placed in the middle of a desolate field. This was familiar. He had been here before. Some flowers had been planted here once, long ago, but there was no remnant of them now. Only destruction lied ahead. And above him, there were no stars in the sky to defy once more. Oily figures were splotched along the horizon, taking form of those who had fallen. Last time he thought he had seen Ash’s shadow amongst the crowd, and when he had woken up he could not handle the onslaught of guilt as his migraine took over. But this time, the shadows resembled no one. He saw the same boy from Earth hiding behind a tree, but this time he wasn’t alone. Kaidan could see a figure ahead of him, but no matter how hard he tried to chase it, he was still too slow.

You have a mustache ,” a young girlish voice giggled in the distance.

Am I Santa Claus yet?” A boy’s voice echoed above him.

Santa’s beard is on his chin, stupid.” The girl laughed some more, and so did the boy.

“Oh, you’re right, huh… What’s your name?” The boy’s voice began to grow more and more quiet as Kaidan continued to run. He had managed to finally reach the shadowed figure who was doing its best job at hiding from him. He could tell it was another small child, but still younger than the other boy in his dreams. The girl could have been no older than three.

The girl turned around and any blood pumping in his veins paused. Before Kaidan was the reflection of his own eyes, his unruly curly hair, and Shepard’s tall nose. She was just as he had imagined her.

She was perfect. She was theirs. Yet just as he could reach out, the girl started to run away once more.

He did his best to shout, but no sound emitted from his mouth. He could only continue to chase the girl again, but he was never able to keep up.

“This is perfect .” He could hear another voice echo in the field, but this time it was a grown man’s, strong and pure.

I’m sure you’ve seen better while travelling in your fancy starship.” A woman’s voice replied, somewhat less strong than his.

“Nothing could ever beat this.”

“When all this is over and when you’ve saved the world again or done whatever the Alliance wants you to do now…” The woman’s voice paused. “I’ll be waiting for you. And you better not be damn late.”

The voices were gone now, and they never returned. Silence met silence as Kaidan continued to race after the young girl, race after what never could have been. Hours grew to days as senseless time passed by. Just when Kaidan’s fingertips managed to brush the girl’s skin, the young child’s silhouette was swallowed by flames.


 

Kaidan’s eyes swiftly opened, entranced by the effects of sleep. He whirled his head to the side only to see Shepard’s clothed body sleeping next to him. His arm had subconsciously slid atop her body in sleep, and for once everything felt right.

He was reminded of their early nights together on the Citadel when they were first reunited, before he was forced to leave to continue his search for Saren. He remembered their nights and days spent on the bed in London, laughing together, knowing each other, loving each other, before he was forced to leave to hunt the geth. And after that…

The reapers had always been in their way, and the galaxy had done its work to keep them apart. But now he could afford another hour longer here, with her. Kaidan closed his eyes once more and did his best to forget the nightmares as sleep took over once more.


 

An hour passed before Shepard awoke beside Kaidan. She looked him over just to realize how peaceful he looked. She remembered when he visited her on the Starboard Observation Deck, stress had taken its toll on him. Grey hairs began to grow where there wasn’t before, small lines began to form under his eyes, his eyebrows were kept in a permanent look of determination, but now… he looked like the Kaidan she knew back on Vancouver. He was still the same little boy who caught her stealing and offered her charity because of it. It was as if nothing had changed.

And yet Shepard knew that wasn’t true at all. She remembered the circumstances on why she was in his room in the first place. She shimmied out of the bed, determined not to wake Kaidan. He needed whatever rest he could come by. She did her best to ease her mind by taking a quick military shower in his private stall, but the sound recordings from Cerberus still echoed in her mind. Her hair was still damp as she left the captain’s cabin, only to practically run over Diana Allers. Kaidan had probably scheduled an interview with her, only to uncharacteristically sleep in.

Shepard ?” Diana Allers widened her eyes, obviously surprised to see Shepard exit the captain’s cabin in this hour. And Shepard knew what this would imply. She knew Diana wouldn’t keep her mouth shut about this either, her entire job was telling others the news. But Shepard was damned if she would let anything like this besmirch Kaidan’s reputation after he had done so much for the galaxy. She could already see Diana doing her best to discreetly power up her omni-tool to record anything useful. “I see you just took a shower, and you disappeared from the crew’s celebrations last night. Does this mean you have a relationship with the Commander?”

“Who’s asking?” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest.

“To be frank, the entire galaxy. Kaidan Alenko is the golden posterboy of the Alliance, of

humanity itself. If there’s a distraction on ship and he’s just playing around-” Before Diana Allers could finish her accusations, Shepard stepped forward into Diana’s territory, forcing the reporter to take a step back.

“The entire galaxy is at war and your biggest worry is who the Commander is sleeping with? Kaidan has given more than anyone else ever has for humanity. He defeated the rogue spectre Saren, he saved the Council, he saved the Citadel, he stopped the Collectors, and now he just secured an alliance between the turians and humans. He is risking his life everyday to give humanity a chance at taking back Earth. Don’t you dare suggest he is being distracted by anything.” Shepard stared the woman down and dared her to defy anything she just said.

“I didn’t mean to accuse-”

“You’re damn right you didn’t” Shepard stepped forward again and Diana took another step back.

“I’ll just wait for Commander Alenko to wake up then so I can interview him myself.” Diana grit her teeth and called for the elevator down from the captain’s cabin. Shepard watched as she stepped in and felt a tiny victory. Shepard found little to like in Diana Allers, and she really did hate reporters.


 

Shepard did her best to situate herself back into the Starboard Observation deck while the rest of the day’s crew woke up and began their daily rounds as the night crew dazed off in their sleeping pods. She attempted to distract herself with anything she could find, but the silence offered her nothing. The words between the Illusive Man and Miranda was imprinted in her mind, and nothing could shake it off now. Shepard opened her omni-tool and looked over the decrypted files.

Fury boiled within her core as she read over the titles once again. Project: Lazarus. Project Persephone. This was unlike anything she had felt before. When Kaidan had died along with the original Normandy , all Shepard felt was loss. When their child perished within her, all she felt was emptiness. When Cerberus found her, she felt hope. And yet now, knowing whatever hope she felt was only fabricated by The Illusive Man…

Shepard screamed and punched the nearest object she could find, which happened to be the military grade reinforced window of the Starboard Observation deck.

Shit!” Pain sprung upon her knuckles, and Shepard attempted to shake off the numbness. Cerberus really did build their starships to last. She grit her teeth and stormed out of the deck and onto the elevator. She needed to release some steam or else she might end up either losing a hand, or damaging humanity’s finest ship. She found herself before James Vega who was in the middle of finishing up his morning routine of pullups.

“Hey Lola, no one was able to find you last night.” James grunted and dropped himself from the bar. “Did you come down for something or were you just looking?”

“Came for a little sparring match if you’re up for it.” Shepard stepped away and rolled out her neck.

“Alright, Lola. If you think you can handle it.” James shrugged and cracked his knuckles. Shepard raised an eyebrow, but she supposed he never really did see her in action yet. All his experience was detaining her on deck while she attempted to help the ground team on Menae. She didn’t fight back then, but now all she wanted was to let out her rage.

“Oh, I can dance.” Shepard squared up her fists and sized up her opponent. His muscle was disproportionally large and he could probably beat her with his strength, so her best option was dodging his shots and hitting his weaknesses.

“I seem to remember a different kind of dance when you were back on the Citadel.” James jabbed at her left, but she quickly dodged it.

“You remember that?” Shepard was momentarily caught off guard and was minutely able to dodge James’s next punch. She remembered him at Flux years ago, but she was only bartending back then. That was far after Chora’s Den got repurposed.

“Chora’s Den used to be the spot for me and my squad when we were on shore leave.” James grunted as Shepard managed to land a punch on his jaw. “You didn’t perform often, but when you did…”

He shut up as Shepard landed another hit. Blood began to trickle down his nose.

“It was a job and I was broke.” Shepard frowned as she dodged another one of his attacks. She didn’t feel shame anymore for her old job. It felt like another lifetime, and there were plenty more things she had done to be ashamed about, joining Cerberus the top one of them.

“Hey, I’m not judging, I’m just saying, you were hot.” James blocked another of Shepard’s punches. “Still are.”

“I’m flattered, but not really interested.”

“You’re making me blush, but it wasn’t a proposal, Lola.” James danced around Shepard and she moved as well. “Besides, I know you’re already interested in the Commander. Saw you get into that elevator last night.”

She was distracted, but after being reminded of the night before, her anger quickly returned. She landed one punch after another and more blood continued to smear on his face. He tried to land one punch on her, but she used his weight against him and pushed him onto the ground. As much as she hated Cerberus, they were the ones who truly taught her to fight.

“Thanks for the dance, Vega.” Shepard panted as James helped himself off the floor.

“Anytime, Lola.” James wiped his face and walked back towards his area of the floor. “Guess you’re good at both kinds of dancing now.”

Before Shepard could get a drink of water, EDI’s voice resonated through the deck calling for her to suit up for the ground team. By the time she finished suiting up and some of the team reached the shuttle for inspections, she could already feel the eyes on the back of her head. Whether it was by Diana Allers’ mouth or another witness of her coming to the crew deck early in the morning, they all knew by now that Shepard spent the night in the captain’s cabin, and all of them formed their own assumptions. She turned around and the majority of the crew looked away quickly, but she didn’t miss their faces. There was mirth in some of their eyes, clearly amused that the stoic Kaidan Alenko had finally gotten around to sleeping with a woman in the cabin. Others whispered, and some frowned, judging her as a distraction for humanity’s finest.

“Best to leave them to themselves.” Garrus walked up to her, all suited in his reinforced armor. “Scuttlebutt tends to spread fast on the Normandy .”

“Most of it isn’t true though.” Shepard frowned and checked her pistol for incendiary ammo.

“They don’t care.” Garrus shrugged and hopped into the shuttle as she followed. “If it distracts them from what’s happening out there, who are we to stop them?”

She hadn’t thought about it that way. If it helped for them to see her as a distraction or a whore or even as a good thing for Kaidan, at least they were thinking of something else rather than worrying about the war. She normally wouldn’t stand for it, but if her life provided some sort of entertainment, oh well. She didn’t have much pride left anyways. Cerberus took that from her.

She watched as Kaidan pulled himself up into the shuttle with the pilot Steve Cortez. She and Kaidan’s gazes met for a moment, both silently asking questions they couldn’t speak aloud. Whatever youth he had when asleep quickly left, and once again he was the great Commander Alenko tasked with saving the galaxy.

“Take us in nice and quiet, Steve.” Kaidan broke their gaze as he sat next to the pilot.

Shepard settled into her seat behind Kaidan as the shuttle blazed to life.


 

Their mission was simple: help any survivors, but save the Council at any cost. But Cerberus hit the Citadel hard, and there were no survivors to be seen. It was a massacre, worse than any scene she had encountered before. They managed to find the Salarian councillor, only to be stopped by a Cerberus assassin. She scrutinized him further and realized she had seen him before. He was the Illusive Man’s right hand agent, but she had only seen images of him on files she had managed to sneak away back on her Mars deployment. Cerberus barely gave her any intel on anything, she was always more of a tool for the Illusive Man than an agent.

Kai Leng was close to murdering the councillor before a drell appeared. A fight broke out between them, but she did her best to keep her crosshairs fixed on Leng. The drell managed to save the councillor, but didn’t survive the last of the fight. Kaidan seemed to know the alien, but there was no time left to mourn. The fight turned into a chase as they poured into a shuttle. Kaidan had the controls, but Leng was deployed from his own shuttle and landed on the roof of theirs.

“Who the hell is he?” Kaidan shouted as Kai Leng stabbed his kinetic blade into the dashboard of the shuttle.

“He’s a Cerberus assassin. Personal favorite of the Illusive Man.” Shepard reloaded her pistol, ready to fight him herself. She had enough of Cerberus’s bullshit for one day. She shot at the window above Kaidan’s head. Leng frowned and moved on as the glass was too reinforced to even hit him.

“Shepard, get the shuttle controls, I’ll go out there.” Kaidan let go of the driver’s controls, but Shepard was already hanging onto the door of the shuttle.

“Screw that, I’m already out here.” Shepard grunted and did her best to shoot at Leng. Garrus was forced to shuffle to the driver’s seat as Kaidan wasn’t prepared to have his orders defied. No matter how much she shot at Leng, his barrier was too strong and he managed to get away with a nearby Cerberus shuttle.

“What was that, Shepard? You nearly jeopardized the mission!” Kaidan shouted above the shuttle’s alarm systems. They were free falling down to the surface of the Presidium, and the vehicle was far too damaged for Garrus to control it any longer.

“I saw the opportunity, so I acted.” Shepard grunted as the alarms blared louder and louder. The landing was harsh, but everyone managed to make it out uninjured. Before Kaidan could reply, they were bombarded by Cerberus reinforcements. They brought out their best soldiers and even had an Atlas. Despite the crash, they managed to work together against their forces. Shepard’s firepower was used against the Atlas and covered Kaidan and Liara while their biotics focused on crowd control. After the fight, Cerberus fought their way up alongside their own elevator, but they managed to arrive before Leng’s team. The doors opened to reveal the Council distraught and exhausted, led by a familiar soldier.

“Commander, what’s going on?” Jenkins looked torn as he held his pistol up against Kaidan. Shepard and Garrus immediately retaliated and kept Jenkins in their own crosshairs. Shepard remembered Jenkins when he got injured on Mars. He looked like he fully recovered, but still he stood between the Council and Kaidan.

“Jenkins, stand down. I can explain this.” Kaidan spoke calmly as he put down his own rifle, but Shepard and Garrus still stared him down.

“Alenko, I trust in you, but… drawing a gun on the Council? How could you explain that?” Jenkins almost looked as if he couldn’t believe himself. Shepard remembered the man years ago, merely a boy. He had looked up to Kaidan as if he was his personal role model. Kaidan was his hero. Now, war changed the boy into a military dog. She could see the pain in his eyes. He had seen things she couldn’t imagine. This man would not stand down easily.

“Jenkins, please. Udina’s behind the coup, not me. The Salarian councillor confirmed it.” Kaidan put his hands up, fully signaling that he wasn’t willing to shoot Jenkins.

“Where’s your proof?” The human councillor strided towards Jenkins as if he was a devil on his shoulder.

“Cerberus assassins are coming up the elevator. If you open the door, we’re all dead.” Kaidan did his best to make Jenkins see reason, but the soldier refused to put down his gun. The human councillor moved to override the door’s controls and Jenkins remained planted.

“Damn it, Jenkins.” Kaidan pleaded, but once again Shepard acted. She couldn’t afford to lose Kaidan. Not again.

Shepard fired and shot the soldier’s foot. Jenkins doubled over, and everything fell in pandemonium. The human councillor continued to override the door, only to be pushed away by the Asari councillor. Udina became wildly violent as soon as he heard the gunshot, and shoved the Asari aside, pulling out a hidden firearm ready to fire at point blank. Another shot rang out, in the room, yet this time it wasn’t her. Shepard looked to her right to see it was Kaidan’s own gun that had taken the shot.

Commander Bailey’s team immediately arrived through the elevator, and Jenkins was rushed through for medical attention.


 

It had been hours since the mission, and the Normandy was already en route to their next destination. Gossip had quickly shifted from Kaidan’s supposed brazen promiscuity to the arrival of Jenkins back onboard, albeit the aboard Medbay. Shepard allowed herself to go to the captain’s cabin one more time through the chaos. She found Kaidan as she had found him the night before, buried in datapads worrying over the fate of everyone.

“Oh, Shepard.” Kaidan put down the datapad in his hand and managed a half-smile.“I needed to talk to you about… today.”

“How’s Jenkins holding up?” Shepard took a seat on the couch next to Kaidan, not letting herself get too close.

“It’s just a minor wound, nothing medigel can’t fix. He’ll just be in the Medbay for tonight, though.” Kaidan sighed and put his head in his hands. “It’s just… the war is pulling everything apart. I had to have an armed standoff with an old friend.”

“Kaidan, I’m sorry I took the shot. I guess Cerberus made me a good fighter, but not a soldier. I’m not used to following other people’s orders, either.” Shepard put her arm on his shoulder and he relaxed back into his seat. “I just couldn’t imagine losing you again. I had already lost you once. I don’t think I can go through it again.”

Kaidan paused then, looked at her, really looked at her this time. Shepard had wanted him back so badly when she was on Vancouver alone by herself. They should have been rejoicing now, finally reunited. But after everything that happened, she wondered if he would still feel the same way, after spending the years torn apart, after almost shooting each other down on Mars, after distrusting each other on the Normandy , after discovering the truth about their misfortunes done by Cerberus. When you’re put on trial after trial, how do you heal after that?

“Kaidan… do you think we’ll ever be able to get past everything that happened?” Shepard placed her hand over his, the first deliberate attempt at physical touch for the first time since their reunion. They had embraced each other the night before, but they were both drunk with misery. Now, they were free making their own choices.

“I hope… I know we can.” Kaidan took her hand in his and cupped it against his cheek as if making sure she was really there, after all his time of imagining her back with him, as if making sure she was real this time. He closed his eyes and held her to him. “I’ve missed you so much, Shepard.”

“How can we fix it?” Shepard closed her eyes as well, relishing in his touch, as demure as it was.

“I haven’t seen anyone since we’ve been apart, and I still want you in my life.” Kaidan put her hand down and for the first time since she had seen him on Mars, she saw hope in his eyes. “It’s always been you, Shepard.”

They fell asleep together again that night, not as lovers would, but instead held each other in the night as if making sure when they would wake, they would still be there in reality. Shepard knew nothing would be the same, she knew they had both changed far beyond what they could comprehend- he wasn’t the boy who saved her in Vancouver, and she wasn’t the girl that came from nothing. Things fell apart, but somehow managed to slowly piece their way back together again.

Chapter Text

The night before the crew was to land on Rannoch, Shepard received an ominous email from the Normandy’s commander; “ Report to captain’s cabin asap ”. A week ago she would have probably steeled herself for a lecture or an awkward discussion about the next mission. If she were to receive that message two years ago, she would have jumped at the opportunity. But now, she did not know what to expect. They said what needed to be said, but what comes next?

Shepard took a deep breath as the doors to the ship’s elevator opened to Kaidan’s cabin door. As the doors opened for her, she walked in to reveal Kaidan sitting on his fancy sofa scrutinizing a datapad in his hands in front of the aquarium. She had been in his cabin plenty of times, but every time she was astonished at the life they led. There he was, sitting on a fancy couch in front of a fancy aquarium that probably cost more than she could ever afford, and yet there she was right there with him.

“I guess you don’t know the meaning of ASAP.” Kaidan looked up from his datapad with a hint of a grin. Her stomach performed somersaults. She almost forgot how handsome he was when she smiles like that. It hurt when she realized just how long it was since she saw him smile like that.

“Turns out Joker doesn’t know the meaning of ‘ I need to go’ either. It’s almost as if he wants me all to himself, EDI aside.” Shepard decided to play along and took the seat across from him.

“We both know Joker is too far gone to give up EDI. I saw them dancing in Purgatory. That was something you should have been there for.” Kaidan laughed as he placed the datapad down. They had stopped on the Citadel for a supply run a few nights before. They needed the ship to be in prime condition for the mission on Rannoch. James went off for a poker match in the refugee camp, Garrus and Tali immediately vanished, Joker and EDI left for the commons, Liara went for the market, and Kaidan went off hunting down opportunities for war assets. On a whim, Shepard decided to visit the hospital. Perhaps a morbid choice, but somehow it helped her. She remembered years ago visiting the same hospital after Kaidan saved her in Chora’s Den. But now, with the influx of patients and the lack of nurses, the hospital was in all but chaos. She did what she could to help, offered whatever she could, and did whatever the nurses allowed her. Seeing the patients from Earth hit her hard as a reminder that this was all real. This is what they were fighting for, and she needed to do her part as well. On better days she liked to believe she was doing this by staying on the Normandy, but on worse days the guilt was almost suffocating.

“Well I’m here now, Commander .” Shepard leaned forward and laughed along. “What did you need?”

“Close your eyes.”

“You can’t be serious.” Shepard raised an eyebrow and crossed her hands over her chest.

“Hey, that was an order from the CO of the ship.”

“Can’t go pulling rank on a civilian, soldier boy.” Shepard laughed and decided to give in. “But this better be worth it.”

She heard Kaidan shuffle get off the couch and shuffle around the room. A drawer was opened, lights were dimmed, and music began to play. A tiny corner of her mind could have sworn she had a fantasy like this once, but quickly shoved that away. That was the last thing she needed on her mind.

“Alright, open your eyes.” Kaidan smiled and held a bottle of liquor in his hand triumphantly, as if it was something to celebrate about.

“The commander is celebrating about contraband? I’m reporting this.” Shepard playfully gasped and stood up with the intent to help him pour the glasses.

“It’s for you, now sit your ass down.” Kaidan rolled his eyes and got himself stashed glasses in the cabin.

“Remind me what we’re celebrating?” Shepard raised an eyebrow as he handed her a glass.

“Happy birthday, Shepard.” Kaidan smiled again. A real smile, not just one of his wolfish grins. It was the same smile she saw in Vancouver, and in London. Her stomach dropped. Out of all the random things they knew about each other, he managed to remember her birthday? How old was she now? She tried recalling the past few years and the last time she even celebrated her birthday, but an age couldn’t come to mind.

“Thank you, Kaidan.” For the first time in years Shepard smiled completely as well, the same smile she wore in London. For a moment, her heart was content. They sat down next to each other, and they did their best to pretend like they were drinking something better than Batarian Shard Wine.

“So you must be twenty-nine, now right?” Kaidan asked her after a while as the alcohol began to get to the both of them. She underestimated how potent Batarians made their alcohol. She felt the tips of her ears begin to warm up, and suddenly conversation was much easier.

“How in the world did you come up with that number?” Shepard laughed and took another sip.

“Well, you were six when we met… add the years, and you get twenty-nine.” Kaidan said in a matter-of-fact sort of way. Shepard paused at that. If she was twenty-nine, that means Alan would have been twenty-four now. She took another sip.

“Still not as old as you, old man. I see those grey hairs.” Shepard poked fun at him, earning herself an uncharacteristic snort of laughter from the stoic commander.

“I’m only three years older than you, don’t go pulling that on me. Not to mention my three year tax dodge.” Kaidan argued back with a slight slur of his words. In all the time she had known him, this must have been the first time she saw him even somewhat tipsy. He held his alcohol well at dinners together, but he was accustomed to his delicate Canadian lager, not harsh alien alcohol.

They both laughed together at that, and after a while a spell of silence managed to overtake them, both deep in thought. She thought of her age again. If she really was twenty-nine, that must mean she has known Kaidan for twenty-three years. Of course it was more nuanced than that, but in a sense it was all the same. When she stopped to think about it, she was in awe at how far the two of them had gone. The boy managed to become the first human Specter, the golden poster boy for humanity. He defied death, and now he was expected to represent the effort for Earth. He was doing everything right. He managed to get the support of the turians, the army of the krogans, and now he was to save Rannoch. He saved the quarian general, and managed to transfer into the geth homeworld. That had to be enough. But she knew it was impossible to carry the weight of the entire galaxy on your shoulders. She wondered if anyone possibly could.

She looked to her side to see Kaidan almost dozing off, eyes beginning to close. She felt her heart begin to warm again. She was unsure of what that meant at that moment. Yet in time, she would realize after so long, and after so much, this was where she knows she was meant to be. At his side. She wanted to be his soft place to land, the one to help him carry the weight on his shoulders. But for now, she tapped Kaidan on the shoulder.

“Going to sleep?” Shepard took his glass away and placed both of their drinks on the table next to them.

“Yeah… If you want, you can take the bed. I don’t think I have enough energy to move right now.” Kaidan yawned for extra proof.

“No, I think I’ll stay here with you… is that fine?”

“It’s perfect.” He smiled again. She felt a slight blush, as if this was all entirely new to her, as if they were two green boys, young and falling for each other once again. They managed to take each other back to the start. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you for everything, Kaidan.”