Ascension (6/?)

A Nessuna Cosa

While the other vessels were discharging their drive cores in Imorkan's atmosphere, Kaidan ordered the Passchendaele to dock with the Normandy. Holmes, to say the least, was not at all happy about this, and said that if he was going to go around ordering them to blow up mass relays and parley with ships that flew under false flags in systems that did not recognize Council authority, he'd not remain in charge of a starship for long. To this, Kaidan replied something about how only an idiot believes what he's told about a mission is the complete truth; how, if he hadn't figured it out already, there was no Salarian science vessel coming, that they'd been waiting for the Normandy all along; and how, if Holmes was going to continue to site rules and regulations on him, he could look up the parts about insubordination if he continued like this, because he might want to be familiar with them when they docked at the Citadel, because it, frankly, surprised him that he could've gotten as far in the navy as he had without showing a shred of faith in his commanding officers or, at the very least, pretending to do so while on duty. At least, that's what Kaidan thought he'd said, and, had he not been standing inside the Normandy's airlock, waiting for it to cycle, this might've concerned him more.

Had he been expecting anything (he'd given up expecting anything as a teenager for a sundry of commonplace reasons) he might've expected to find himself remembering the original Normandy and the months he'd served aboard it, or, if he was feeling melancholy, Horizon. Instead, he found himself remembering the last time he'd seen his father, three months after the destruction the last Normandy, on the last shore leave he'd taken of any length.

Kaidan's relationship with his father had always been a strange one, as he'd found to be the case with most navy brats who stayed land-side while their military parent was deployed. This was not to say that he didn't love his father - quite the contrary - it was merely that, having spent the better part of thirteen years with him absent for ten, eleven months at a time, punctuated only by a few weeks of leave before he headed out again, Kaidan found being in his father's presence rather trying. His mother, Xia Lian, ended up feeling the same way, and, before Jordan Alenko had been retired a year, his parents had divorced. It had been a rather messy divorce, in large part because, when his mother had moved out of the apartment in Johor Bahru he'd grown up in, she ended up only going as far as their next-door neighbour's. His father, always having complained about how crowded the south pacific had become, retaliated by taking Kaidan to his mother's in Vancouver. His mother, considering it traitorous that Kaiden had sided with his father (which he hadn't, as she'd been the one to leave him in his father's care to begin with when she'd moved in with Te Hao) rather than Lian herself, had thereafter refused to speak with her son while he remained in her ex-husband's care, and, as a consequence, Kaidan had not see or heard from his mother since he'd enlisted, at which point he'd received a rather touching letter that expressed her pleasure that his half-sister had not been born biotic so that at least one of her children would not feel compelled to join an organization "dedicated to the downfall of human culture in general and family values in specific" and "assort with blue-skinned whores and vagabonds," as she claimed his father had done.

Needless to say, this had not helped his relationship with either parent.

Why he'd chosen to visit his father on that shore leave was something about which he still wasn't quite certain of, but he had gone nonetheless, and fully expected to be driven mad before the two weeks were up. The first week had been awful, Jordan wanting to hear the full story of The Siege of The Citadel, most of which had never hit the news networks. Quite naturally, Kaidan had not wanted to talk about it, until, after at series of escalating arguments, his father had accused him of being a coward.

Now, Kaidan had been called a lot worse over the years, but this had struck a never still raw from the destruction of the Normandy, and the traitorous thought that, maybe, if he'd just gone with Shepherd, he could've kept her from dying was already threatening to consume him. When he was working, he could keep himself busy enough to forget, but the brass was ever-fearful of their L2s' mental states and seemed to think that three years without meaningful shore-leave was not conducive to a biotic's health, and demanded he take some before he took up a posting on Caleston. Perhaps they even were right, because otherwise he wouldn't have snapped and told his father everything, from the beacon on Eden Prime onwards, to the damn Medal of Honour that he'd been given hush-hush (because he was, after all, a biotic, and the Alliance had been leery potential political backlash since the L1 they'd awarded the Silver Star to had tried to assassinate the Turian delegation to Earth back in '71).

His father said nothing about the medal, though, or the battles, or the attack on the Normandy over Alchera. He'd only said, "You really loved her, didn't you?" and never said another word on the subject. It had been vaguely worrying that his father had picked up on this, as that sort of thing was something he'd made it a point not to discuss with his father, and for a while he had wondered just how obvious his feelings were. In the end, he'd filled it away in his list of things-he-refused to think about, and had thrown himself into work so far they'd pulled him out of Caleston eight months into a two-year deployment to put him in charge of the marines garrisoned at Cambacérès in the Desaix system for a year, before they put him on special assignment on Horizon.

And those words were repeating in his head as the airlock doors slid open, revealing a young woman barely more than a girl, really standing at attention. If it hadn't been for the Cerberus insignia on her uniform, it might've almost been familiar, comfortable. Almost.

"Commander Alenko? I'm Yeoman Chambers, Commander Shepherd's administrative assistant. Shepherd is in the med-bay at the moment, and if you'll come with me, I'll take you to her."

His eyes had been roving the strange, not-quite-right set-up, but snapped right back to the young Yeoman. "Is she-?"

But she seemed to expect this and gave him a knowing smile. "It's a minor injury; nothing serious. Garrus, however, has expressed concern over her well-being since destroying the Collector base. Though she was not close with either Mr. Taylor or Mr. Massani, she has not taken their deaths well. I believe," she said, pausing only long enough for the elevators to close and the half-dozen or so crew running cables across the CIC to disappear, "that he is trying to trick the Commander into receiving medical treatment while she speaks with you. Or," she added quickly as the elevator came to a stop, "trick her into speaking with you while she receives medical attention." The mess looked so much the same, it was almost disconcerting. Almost as disconcerting as the way the Yeoman was still smiling at him. "I'm not sure which, though I hope it is the former. She could use a friend."

Then the doors of the med-bay opened.

She frowned at the doctor, but unzipped the top of her flight-suit and sat on the farthest bed from the door facing the wall and fought to keep from shivering. That was the worst, she'd decided, about dying and being resurrected: she felt cold all the time. She'd been assured it was entirely psychosomatic and that none of the cooling systems of her various cybernetic implants were malfunctioning, but that didn't stop her from feeling cold. Even with third-degree burns on her left pectoral.

Still, after spending two years being rebuilt by doctors, Shepherd found the idea of spending any further time in a med-bay unpleasant, even if Doctor Chakwas was a stark improvement over any surgeons Miranda might have hired while she was dead. "Just put some medigel on it and-"

"And that is exactly what I'll do after I debride the burn, Commander, though I am curious as to how someone can manage to injure themselves so severely with a simple welding torch."

Garrus, who was leaning against the wall opposite, gave an exasperated flare of his mandibles, a mixture of bemusement and resignation overcoming his avian features - he, at least, was familiar with her techinical inability, and had the gaul to think it amusing.

Shepherd resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at the Turian; she settled for glaring instead, and answered dryly, "I've discovered things like motor control go out the window when Protheans try to use my head as a holovid player. The ship," she explained, "the one that took down the relay, it wasn't Collector. It was a cybermechanoid built by the Reapers to babysit the hybrid we destroyed while it grew. It said-" she closed her eyes for a moment, trying to fight off the memories of a colony now in ruins on a desert planet orbiting an orange dwarf... an old colony, in the same cluster as the home planet. "It was part-Prothean, part-machine. A slave of the Reapers.

"And this... cybermechanoid... told you this."

Her glare deepened. "You don't believe me?"

"Oh, no," Garrus sounded honestly surprised that she thought he doubted her, "I do. That's the part that worries me."

"If-" Shepherd's retort was lost as she flinched away from the ice cold touch of medigel. "Sorry. I don't suppose that stuff would work if you warmed it up first. I thought not. Well, patch me up, Doc. I want to see the rep the Alliance ship is sending over before we find a port for repairs. Are you sure Joker didn't say who Anderson put in charge of this 'rescue mission' of theirs? I remember him saying that Reilly of the St. Albans still owed him one..." It took her a moment to remember that conversation, held in the briefing room of the old Normandy shortly after she'd first arrived, was well over two years ago now, and the incident itself, which had occurred on the São Paulo when Anderson had been commander of the marine company stationed on the cruiser, shortly before they'd given him the Châlons... It was so easy to forget sometimes how long she had actually been gone. Two years. Humanity had fought the First Contact War and founded an embassy on the Citadel in less than that if she remembered her history right; two years after the discovery of the Prothean ruins at Promethei Planum... But she shook off this thought too. Reilly had probably had paid back his debt long ago. "Does Joker at least know what ships we have here? I know it's been two years, but some of the people might be the same..."

Garrus looked towards the door, as if expecting the rep to materialize there, then back to her. "I'm rather sure Joker knows, Commander. It's good to see you again, Alenko."

Shepherd blinked, refusing to turn around as Garrus peeled himself off the wall and went to greet their old comrade. Kaidan? He'd come?

"And you. I was starting to worry that you weren't coming back."

Chakwas put down the medigel applicator and taped a pre-prepared bandage over the wound, so that singed threads from her flight-suit wouldn't catch as she slipped her arms back inside the suit and zipped it up as far as it would go, ignoring the hand-sized burn hole where, in other days, she'd have worn the winged breast insignia that identified her as an N7, among other things. The doctor's hand rested for a moment on this shoulder, but the gesture of support was lost to Shepherd as she rued on the fittingness of her injury. She was, as the Quarians would say, vas Nedas, nar Tasi. Crew of nowhere, child of no one. It had been months, but she'd still not gotten used to the idea.

"You're just upset you missed out on all the fun. Don't worry. Shepherd's already found us another forlorn hope, and we can take all the help we can get. But I'll leave you two to the politicking – I better get back to the battery before the professor decides its a waste of time fixing the cannons and decides to incinerate them instead."

Shepherd personally had more faith in Mordin than that – he only tended to blow things up away from critical systems – and saw his excuse for what it was, and soon it was just her and Kaidan in the med-bay, the doctor having stepped out unnoticed. She slid off the bed and tried to think of something to say. What exactly was she supposed to say here anyway? Glad you got the message, thanks for stopping by; hopefully this means you believed everything in it?

"It's good to see you again, Kaidan," was what slipped out instead. "I've missed you." She was still facing the wall as she said this and almost immediately wished she could take the words back. Feelings wouldn't help anything at the moment. She needed him to get the Council to fix her ship, to convince them that she'd cut all ties with Cerberus; last thing anyone needed at the moment was another fight – for all she knew, he still thought she'd faked her death all this time, that she'd betrayed the Alliance for a group of xenophobic zealots with bigger guns, and that she'd never once thought of him or everyone else she'd turned her back on. For all she knew, bringing it up again would lead to a bigger fight, and she just couldn't deal with that. Not now. Not again. She'd spent the last three days on edge as the Normandy tried to repair itself enough to limp back through the Omega 4 Relay, her head was fuzzy from her encounter with Caretaker, and, damn it all, she was still freezing, and not even her feet, still snug inside her heavy armour, were comfortably warm. This, of all things, she did not need.

"I've missed you too, Shepherd." She turned to face him as he said this. Outside of armour, in simple ACUs, you could see the last two years more easily upon him. It wasn't much – with the advancements in gene therapy, senescence progressed much more slowly, but no one progressed two ranks in two years without it showing, – but enough so that she couldn't fool herself into thinking that things were still the same as they'd been when the Normandy had been destroyed over Alchera. They had both changed, and, perhaps, neither for the better. "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you alive."

Remembering the pair of coffins in the hanger, she was finding it hard to feel the same way, and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to keep warm. "'The days of one's life are pre-ordained... One must depart, today or tomorrow, according to the Lord's Primal Order.'"

"That's a new one."

"It was a favourite on Mindoir."

After a long moment, "Anderson wants us to take you back to the Citadel. I know it's not a long trip, but do you need anything? Supplies, I mean. Parts, medigel-"

"Don't be coy, Kaidan. You could have done that over the comm if that was all you wanted." There was only one reason to dock ships over Imorkan short of resupply, and that was to exchange personnel. The only reason to do that would be for something that couldn't be said over comms, and, since it was unlikely those things would be of a personal nature, they had to be confidential. Everyone aboard his ship would have seen the Normandy coming through the Omega 4 Relay and the ship that had destroyed it, so it couldn't be that. What his ship wouldn't know is who crewed hers, as ships owned by terrorist groups tended not to broadcast being such. Which meant, "Anderson wants to have all the Cerberus disavowals on record before we even hit Citadel space, doesn't he?"

His hesitance was answer enough and, despite her exhaustion, she found herself growing angry. How long had she and Anderson served together, on the São Paulo and the original Normandy? Hadn't they remained close, after he'd been made Captain of the Châlons and she'd taken his place as company commander? Wasn't that friendship why he'd requested her to be the Normandy's XO in the first place? And Kaidan, where did she even begin with him? After everything-?

"God, Kaidan. What proof do you need? If we weren't elbow deep in repairs at the moment, I'd have men scraping the Cerberus symbols off the hull as we speak-"

She was leaning against the bed. He was standing in the aisle, near the medical scanner, but, as he spoke, he took a step towards her and raised his hands as if to put them on her shoulders, "I believe you, Shepherd. But," he dropped his arms and fell back. "But the fact remains you've been gone for two years, and, after they pinned a couple of medals to an empty coffin, they proceeded to forget all about Sovereign and the Reapers. Maybe they had their reasons and maybe they were damn good ones, but that's what the Council did, and if they think they can pass you off as a crazed xenophobe with afflicted with nihilistic delusions or, worse, the leader of some sort of militant cult trying to bring about the end of days, that's what they'll try to do rather than admit their cover-up."

"Politics never changes..." and neither had she, Shepherd had wanted to add though it was probably a lie, but never got the chance as Jack had stormed into the med-bay a moment later, claiming that she'd not gone to hell-and-back just to be thrown into jail – again – and that the Normandy, even with half its systems down, could still take the rusty-hull they were docked to, at least far enough to salvage parts from it or buy new ones when they sold the crew at Omega. When told they weren't attacking the Alliance ships, but going with them, she could've sworn Jack had actually looked disappointed... But, even if Jack wasn't, the moment had passed, and she and Kaidan had had to part ways for the journey back to the place where all roads ended: the Citadel.

The Widow Overture: The Council Theme