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All That Remains

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She heard the chime of her door. A few minutes passed. The door chimed again.
„Commander, Major Alenko would like to speak with you.“
Another minute passed.
„Commander?“
„Let him in, EDI,“ Jordan Shepard said softly into the silence of her cabin.

Kaidan Alenko stood in front of Shepard's locked door and stared at it uselessly. He had seen what happened down on Rannoch. He had seen Tali choosing to end her own life following the extinction of her people, and he had seen Shepard desperately trying to reach her, trying to save her, only to fail. She had done all she could, sprinted to the edge of the cliff, reaching for her friend, but she was too far away. She could not have reached Tali in time. And so Shepard had to watch one of her oldest comrades fall to her death, because of the decision she made. He had seen her staring down the edge, into the water, unable to move for several minutes. When she abruptly straightened and turned around, he could see her pain in the blank look on her face, in the rigid way she held her shoulders. Shepard had finished the mission without further comment, choosing to let Tali rest on the planet she had fought her whole life for. After they had returned to the Normandy, she had completed all her duties, told Joker to set course for Thessia, the Asari homeworld, and retired to her quarters. Through it all he had been unable to confront her, sensing that his concern would have been unwelcome.

It was now several hours into the night cycle, and EDI had told him upon his asking that Commander Shepard was still awake and in her cabin. He didn't know how much comfort his presence would bring her, but wanted to at least try. So he was relived and apprehensive at the same time when the door finally opened. He stepped inside cautiously, slowly, looking around until he caught sight of Shepard, sitting on her couch, her back bowed, elbows on her knees, staring at her hands clasped firmly together.

„Shepard,“ he said softly, and walked over to her couch, sitting down next to her, angling his upper body so that he was facing her. „Jordan,“ he repeated, thinking of reaching out, but finding her body posture tense and repellent. So he just sat there, searching her face, trying to give whatever comfort his presence could. After another long moment, she began to speak.

„I've gotten used to people dying around me. I have gotten used to killing people long before that. But what I have not gotten used to is people ending their own lives, because of decisions I have made. Or maybe that falls under the category of killing people.“

„Jordan,“ Kaidan started to protest, but Shepard spoke again without pause.

„I knew what her people meant to her, even after they exiled her for a crime she did not commit. I knew that her only goal was to reclaim Rannoch, so that the Quarians could finally return home. Still, I chose to the Geth over her people. I knew that the Quarians would never stop their assault on the Geth, too blind in their rage. But I simply could not let the Geth be exterminated.“

She paused for a minute.

„You all did not see what I saw inside the Geth consensus. The Quarians built the Geth, and then cast them aside as soon as the realized they had created something that they did not understand, could not control. They turned against the Geth, mere children at the time, confused by the actions of their creators. They started to fight back, and drove the Quarians of their own planet. They had the opportunity to eradicate them during their escape, but chose not to. They are not the ruthless machines everyone always saw in them. So when I had the chance to enable them to become... more, alive, I felt like they deserved it. I felt like I had to give them that chance.“

„I knew what her people meant to her,“ she repeated, „but I had hoped that after she became Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, that she would know that she had another home, another place she belonged. But obviously I was wrong.“

Silence set in. Kaidan searched her face, but still found nothing but the blank look she had adapted since Rannoch.

„The thing is, I still feel like I made the right choice. The Quarians had made their decision, long before we became involved. It was either them or the Geth. I just... I don't know how to live with the consequences. I mean... it was Tali... she's been with us since this whole mess started, and now she's gone...“ She whispered the last part, and raised her hands to her face, shielding it from view.

Kaidan ached inside for his friend, his lover. „What can I do?“ he asked quietly, reaching out with one hand to place it gently on her knee.

For the first time since he had entered, she turned to face him, searching his eyes. „Stay with me tonight. In another few hours we reach Thessia, and we need to be at the top of our game again, but for now... please, just stay with me.“

„Of course,“ Kaidan replied, reaching out with his other arm to cradle Jordan's shoulder, and to pull her into his own body, trying to shield her from all that lay on her shoulders, all the responsiblity, all the deaths. Even if it was only for a little while.