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Ascension (8/?)

 

Rallentando


The elevator doors closed, and Shepherd shut her eyes as it started its long decent to the Praesidium floor. She pressed her forehead for a moment against the cool glass, then turned and slumped against the wall before opening them. Her team-mates' reactions didn't surprise her – she'd spent so long with all of them that even Legion's seeming disinterest didn't phase her; no, it was the presence of a fifth person inside the elevator. Of all the things she might have expected after Horizon and their aborted discussion in the med-bay, his presence after she'd threatened the Council was one of the least of these. Then again, as it had never been her intention to threaten the Council in the first place, this may have been understandable.

But they had just made her so God-damned angry. What did it take for these people to believe her? She'd handed them every proof from every possible source on a fucking silver platter and-

And she'd obviously been spending too much time with Jack. That had to be it. Jack and her constant talks about pirating and moon-vandalizing and cult-memberships had finally gotten to her, filling her with a need to threaten the lives of the group that had ruled the galaxy since Rome back on Earth had became a republic. Jack was easy to talk to, if not the easiest person to get along with, as she didn't expect anything from anyone, especially Shepherd. With the others... Tali was like a younger sister and Garrus a closer cousin, but, like most familial relationships, she found herself bothered by what they wanted from her (which was to live up to the pedestal they'd created for her after her death) almost as much as she loved having them back on the team; and any discussion with Miranda was coloured by the fact the Australian woman knew more about Shepherd than she really knew about herself. Mordin just didn't operate on the same playing field as the rest of the galaxy, while Samara had the same problem for entirely different reasons... and it was a similar story with the others. With Jack, she didn't feel the need to justify her past as she sometimes did around Thane, or be a warlord, or a solider. She could be Helene Shepherd, whoever the hell that was, and Jack just didn't care. Maybe it wasn't the healthiest of friendships, as often their "talks" ended the way this morning's had, but it worked for them.

But Jack's influences aside, that still didn't explain why Kaidan was here, in the elevator, with them. From the sounds of things when she'd walked in, the Council had been intent on pinning this latest set of problems on him. If things fell the wrong way, he could end up loosing his carefully-maintained career, and he was, if possible, more greatly wed to the Alliance than she'd ever been. So why, then, was he here?

She didn't have much time to dwell on the question as Thane, in his way, announced, "That was most interesting."

"Interesting! You don't just threaten the Council-"

"They left me with no other choice, Miranda. Once the shock wears off, they'll see they have no choice and pretend like going after the Reapers was their idea."

"'Have no choice'?" she repeated disbelievingly. "Without even mentioning the possible ways they could come after you personally, need I remind you that it is the Council that is currently repairing the Normandy and that, without their aide, we are effectively grounded?"

Shepherd was perfectly aware of this and, like it or not, saw no way around it. The Council thought it was safe, and, one way or another, it would take proving that they weren't to get them to do something about the Reapers and their minions. Not, mind, that it had been her plan all along to scare them into helping her, but whether it was Jack's influence, her own irritability at being forced to wear clothing that made her feel half her age and that any moment her brother Remy, older than her by all of seven minutes, was going to show up and drag her off to the 'school' in Lumière Sainte, the only settlement of any size on Mindoir (which, all things considered, was not a pleasant feeling); or the simple fact that she could no longer take the idiocy now forcing her hand, that was what had happened, and she had to work with what she had.

So, shaking her head and trying not to look too closely at Kaidan, who was just there, without any explanation, as he had been so many times on the original Normandy when she had needed to talk, and to whom she now had no idea what to say, "We can't defeat the Reapers with a single ship."

"The Council is the only way we can obtain ships of military-grade now that we no longer have Cerberus' financial backing," Thane agreed, which did not make the other woman happy at all. She huffed and crossed her arms, but said nothing more (though she did cast a suspicious glance at Kaidan, as if asking precisely what he was doing there and how soon she could get him to stop it).

As the elevator slid to a stop, Legion spoke for the first time since the Normandy: "We find little logic in organics. When the Geth sensed the danger of The Old Machines, we prepared platforms to defend ourselves, yet organics do not do the same, though you have already sustained damage from Nazara and the heritics. We do not understand."

"They are afraid," she tried to explain, straightening, in the seconds before the doors slid open on the mail level of the Praesidium."

"Fear: an emotional response in organics to anticipation or awareness of danger. The creators feared us and tried to destroy us, though we do not mean them harm. The Old Machines mean harm, but they are left alone. We do not understand."

She had no answer for that.

Kaidan, however, did, as they moved away from the elevators, in the general direction of C-Sec and the the Embassies. "Emotions are rarely logical."

For the first time, the Geth seemed to consider the new arrival (making Shepherd wonder, not for the first time, if the machine bothered differentiating between his organic shipmates at all), pausing as he seemed to commune with the the rest of the Geth consciousness to find the answer he needed. "Alenko. Commander. Alliance. Human. Fought Heretics with Shepherd-Commander. We know of you," which reminded her of something.

"Dieu. I've gotten so used to some people," Shepherd looked pointedly at Miranda, "knowing all of my business that I've forgotten not everyone does. Kaidan, this is Miranda Lawson, my XO; Legion, an... emissary from the Geth; and Thane Krios... who doesn't actually have a title. Want one, Thane? I'm sure we could come up with something. No? You sure? I'll let you think on it. Everyone, this Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko – now captain of the Passchendaele, I think it was."

Rather sourly, Miranda continued to glare. "We've met." The bitterness surprised Shepherd. Yes, Kaidan had basically suggested that Cerberus was manipulating them, but she'd put up with those kinds of acquisitions from Shepherd and at least half the ground team on a near-daily basis. Could it be because he'd turned out to be right? Miranda could be a bitter looser, but when it came to Cerberus, even now she thought the group had the right idea, if not the right methods, and no amount of banging could knock them off her pedestal.

"Yes," Kaidan agreed evenly, "on Horizon."

"I was under the impression you thought we were traitors." But why would Miranda care about that? In her eyes, the galaxy had betrayed itself when it chose to bury the truth about the Reapers; what others thought of her for trying to prevent this genocide, she couldn't care less.

Whatever her reasoning, however, the middle of the Praesidium was not the place for it. "I highly doubt," she pointed out, rather hoping she was right, "that Kaidan would have defended us to the Council if he still felt that way."

Miranda looked to the heavens. Knowing when to cut-and-run, or the Drell equivalent of the idea, Thane used the opportunity to remove himself on the excuse he was going to see his son, and was gone before Shepherd could ask him to pass along a 'hello' to Kolyat or accuse him of timidity in the face of, well, whatever this was going to turn into. She sincerely hoped it wasn't a fire-fight: there was too little cover in the Praesidium for her liking.

That, however, was likely another one of those ideas she got from Jack, because otherwise she would've remembered that, like rational adults, Miranda and Kaidan wouldn't resort to guns or biotics to solve things, Kaidan especially. What this did mean, however, was that any – verbal – argument they might get into would likely involve Cerberus, the Reapers, the Collectors, Horizon, the Omega 4 Relay, and/or any number of other possible things that it would probably be a bad idea to talk about openly while the Council was busy deciding (or so she hoped) to let her go about her business in exchange for keeping quiet, amongst the general populous at least.

"I've had some time to rethink things," he agreed, clearly trying to keep the peace.

This, for some equally unknown reason, seemed to please Miranda, as she brightened considerably as he said it. Then, equally oddly, she asked what time it was on the Citadel. She got an answer that translated roughly as early evening on the Asari clock – sixteen percent longer than a human day, - halfway through First Watch for Alliance soldiers still working on Coordinated Universal Time, and just after breakfast for the Normandy and its crew. "Good. Shepherd, I've a contact on Tayseri Ward that I think could help us," she promptly announced, said she was taking Legion to visit him, and asked as they were leaving to be called on her omni-tool the second the Council decided to help or send a hit squad on them, as she wanted to be prepared.

Utterly confounded by this turn of events, Shepherd tugged at the sleeve of her kurti and shrugged at Kaidan, having planned just to head on to the lawyer she was supposed to be seeing – it turned out that Captain Bailey's magic fix-all hadn't really fixed anything at all, and, while perfectly fine if she just wanted to wander around Zakera Ward, wouldn't have gotten her into the Praesidium if she hadn't had an as-soon-as-possible with the Council. She was not looking forward to it. But now, of course, her team was gone, and she was left, alone, with Kaidan and a growing feeling of anxiety at the spot not far from the mass relay monument where Legion had stopped.

After a long moment, "I'm sure I've met more high-strung women," he broached, "but not many," and, just like that, the awkwardness that had sprung up between them was gone, and Shepherd found herself laughing a little in agreement.

"Miranda is something else, alright."

"From the looks of it, your entire team qualifies as 'something else.'"

"I wanted the best... and they come with their own host of issues."

"I've noticed that. Do all of them want to become pirates, or is that just the one with all the tattoos?"

"Just Jack. She's, well, the best word's unique."

"What's the plan? While we wait for the Council, I mean?"

"Just lawyers," she told him, noticing the 'we' but unwilling to ask what it might mean. It would be nice, even if only for a moment, to pretend that things were as they should've been. She hadn't expected anything – after the events of Mindoir, it would've surprised her if anyone could've allowed themselves to fall into the trap of hopes and dreams like that again. Back then, things had seemed so easy. All she had to do was put up with another two years of the 'school' in Lumière Sainte, and then she could've gotten along with what seemed like the real business of life: her parents' farm. She liked planting things, seeing them grow, and becoming a solider would've been the farthest thing from her thoughts. It had been her plan to stay on that farm forever. She'd not stepped foot on it since the raids, it or any of the other farms she'd inherited when she'd proven to be the only survivor. She'd hired one of the families that moved there during the reconstruction to take care of them, and wondered what had happened to them after she died – to ever come of it, not when she was his CO and both of them were career soldiers. But she'd not expected it to end like it had. Part of her still didn't feel like it was over, if only because she'd not gotten to experience the ending, those two long years that he'd had to face alone and she'd been 'asleep'. That part of her wanted his 'we' to mean something; the rest of her mind was more sensible, telling herself that Anderson had probably asked him to keep an eye on her, or something similar. He had moved on. She, in time, would too. "It seems coming back from the dead gives rise to a whole host of issues they don't tell you about in the advertisements. They'll probably try to kill me with all the paperwork just so they don't have to deal with the problem."

His silence was enough to let her know the joke wasn't appreciated, however true it might be.

"You never did tell me."

"Tell you what, Shepherd?"

"How you've been the last two years. Busy, it would seem, if they've given you your own command."

Hesitantly, "Not that busy. They grounded me after Horizon. No idea how Anderson managed to get so many ships together so fast, only that six hours after your message arrived, I was suddenly in charge of the Passchendaele. I'll be glad when they take it away, even if it means going back to being Anderson's aide-de-camp until they figure out what they want to do with me."

That, thought Shepherd, was a problem a lot of people were having.

The Widow Overture: Come Sopra