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Ascension (9/?)

 

Come Sopra


He did not know why he had followed her. His entire career was probably riding on proving that he did not falsify and/or deliberately disobey orders in taking five Council ships into the Terminus systems. He should have remained in their chambers, playing nice-nice and whatnot, but his actual presence seemed to be serving little purpose besides awakening his long-buried disgust with them for having passed the buck on the Reapers – and reminding him that, should he be dishonourably discharged, there was nothing but his father's house in Vancouver, and Earth was not the most biotic-friendly of places.

She did not ask, seeming to even enjoy his presence – though that could have been only because the rest of her team had pulled a disappearing act on her and she'd never liked to go anywhere without bringing enough guns to cause problems if someone thought of making trouble for her, which was, admittedly, surprisingly often. He'd never have thought he'd see her off her ship in anything but armour, and she seemed distinctly unhappy about it from the way she was tugging on the sleeves, – and let Kaidan show her the way through the warren that had become the C-Sec offices after the Siege. She did not even ask his reasons (only his sanity) when he chose to stay while she spoke with the lawyer that was going about the business of making her, legally, alive again.

It had been a long, long day. He had not slept since before the destruction of the Omega 4 Relay and, even then, not well or for long; nor could he recall having eaten, though he knew he must have. Tired and stressed, he could feel the familiar ache at the top of his skull settling in, warning him of an impending headache, but not a serious one, just something strong enough to be noticed. He'd lived with headaches like it all his life, even before getting the biotic implant shortly before turning sixteen; the only difference the amp made was that there were more good days, without any sort of pain at all, and fewer bad days, which became downright unbearable without liberal administration of triptans and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Headaches like this were just enough to give everything a slightly surreal feeling, as if everything around him was impossibly meaningful and real, and he was somehow subtly displaced, unable to grasp any of the impeccably solid and undeniable things they held before him, wanting him to understand.

For most of the last few years, Kaidan had felt he was standing on the threshold between dreaming and reality, and by the time he had started to wake, he'd discovered the truth had been too well-hidden for anything he could do to uncover it. All he knew was that, once, on the eponymous station orbiting Cambacérès, about halfway through a barrage of paperwork that had come with the position as battalion commander, he had looked up and Desaix, the system's sun, caught his eye. From a nearly jovian distance, the sun seemed only like a particularly bright star and the planet's nine point seventy-two orbit – and the station's own eighty-two hour rotation around it – was little effected by sunrises or seasons of any kind. Still, the light of the star had flashed in the corner of his eye and, when he looked back down at the files open on his terminal, he could not for the life of him say what they were or why they had to be done, and he suddenly found the bars on his uniform had gone from gold to silver, the highest ranking marine in the system where his long dead lover had been raised, and in too deep to be able to do anything at all for the cause she had died for.

That had been about a month before they pulled him from the station and sent him to Horizon on special assignment, right before the rumours started hitting the extranet that Shepherd mightn't be dead after all. Not that there hadn't always been rumours, but none had ever rung so true as the round that had started last July, complete with firefights in Omega and the curiously timely destruction of the prison ship Purgatory. He had paid them no mind. They couldn't be true, after all. Enviro suit or no, no one, not even Shepherd, could have survived the pulse beams that has so easily sliced the Normandy into bite-sized pieces. Joker had been there, had said she'd ejected the only pod she could have reached before the ship blew with him in it, and, even if the other ship's weapons didn't hit her directly and the exploding fuel hadn't caught her up in the blast and none of the debris had fatally wounded her, no enviro suit could have kept her alive the three days it had taken for the SSV Johannesburg to receive the distress signal, reroute from Arinlarkan, and get to Alchera; nor could any suit have kept its occupant alive if its orbit decayed as far as the mesosphere. There had been plenty of debris in orbit, and, perhaps, it could have hidden an intact suit, but, by that point... And, had any ship managed to reach the Amada system before the Johannesburg and managed to pick up Shepherd before her suit gave out, she would have forced them to retrieve the rest of the survivors or, if she'd been injured came to after the Johannesburg had been and gone, she'd have contacted him.

Yes. It was as simple as that. He had made it that simple to be able to get through the day: if she was alive, she would have contacted him; he had not been contacted, so she wasn't alive. For it to be otherwise, everything he'd thought he'd known about her would have had to have been wrong, and he refused to believe that anyone, especially Shepherd, could lie to the person they claimed to love so thoroughly. So the rumours that had started up over the summer (or what counted as summer on Earth; it had been autumn on Horizon and would remain so because of its orbit for the better part of the year) had to be fake, as they always were, even if the 'proof' some nut-job with some fancy video-editing software had created were of better quality than usual, probably running some bootleg algorithm they used for movement-capture in holovids to get how she moved right. They'd even claimed the Normandy had never been destroyed, and, what more, the images they had of it made the ship look more the size of one of the older, nova-class frigates. Anderson had, obviously, been worried over the rumours because of how long he and Shepherd had served together, and, while Kaidan could escape from the media, Anderson was thrust into it, forced to answer the idiotic questions people asked in all seriousness.

Then she'd shown up on Horizon and-

-and now he was sitting in the smallish office of Pontar Sul, the Volus probate lawyer C-Sec had assigned the issue to, with a woman who'd died and been brought back to life by a group she despised while his future was being determined by a quatrad that no human could have guessed existed when he was born. Yet, somehow, this moment seemed far more real to him than any of the last thousands, on Caleston and Cambacérès and Horizion. It was her way. More than once he had wondered how she had done it, how a colonist from Mindoir, one of the most backwater places in Alliance space, had managed to become an N7, let alone a Spectre. Whatever it was, she had even managed to make the Volus laugh with one of her comments, and, if it weren't for the topic under discussion, he could almost believe – almost – that the Normandy had never crashed on Alchera, but had completed its mission and a dozen others like it, and, maybe, if things had progressed as they should've, they might've made something of what they had.

But the Normandy had been destroyed by Collectors and things hadn't gone as they should've. He had to remember that.

Drawing himself out of his thoughts, Kaidan looked up in time to see Shepherd stifle a frown as glanced through the stack of datapads the Volus had just handed her, each of which, presumably, had several forms. "I'm not an expert in these things, but isn't this one – the JN-12 – a tax form? The entirety of my possessions since dying add up to some armour, this," she gestured disdainfully at the clothing she was now wearing, "and a hamster whose cage I'm fairly certain my XO has bugged."

Kaidan, about to ask why she thought this, stopped himself as Pontar Sul, despite his enviro suit, grew noticeably uncomfortable. "Well, technically, the issue of your estate has never quite been settled."

"How can it not be settled? Everything was supposed to go into a trust."

"Well," Kaidan, now sitting straighter in his chair by the door, across the room, thought that Pontar Sul took a long look at him before turning back to the Commander, "I do not wish to cause problems, but there was a matter involving a potential beneficiary."

Shepherd, now flipping through (and frowning at) the other datapads, froze. "My entire family is dead, Mr. Sul. Parents, brothers, cousins – those I didn't bury were taken by slavers long ago."

"Perhaps not all of your family, Earth-clan. There was, how shall I put this delicately?"

"I don't do delicate, Mr. Sul," which, as Kaidan knew, was quite true. He found himself quite surprised, both that the Volus would think to be delicate with Shepherd (though, he supposed, if the first time you saw her wasn't in armour but rather in something like what she now wore, all white and embroidered and somewhat jangly from some some metallic beading about the collar, without any visibly weaponry, one might think her that way. Delicate, he meant. The scars he'd remembered were nearly all gone, and even the largest one, which had once run heavily across her left cheek, was but the thinnest of white lines now. Her fingers, tapping the offending datapad slowly, were curiously devoid of the scars and callouses. It made her seem younger than the almost-thirty she'd been when she'd died over Alchera – that, unlike most everything else, he'd been able to learn from her heavily classified service record, which he'd tried to look at once, after Horizon, as if in attempt to find some reason the woman he'd seen couldn't be the one he loved, despite the way she moved, like everything in her vicinity gravitated to her and this was the natural order of things; despite the way she spoke, which made people want to like her, even if she was espousing the exact opposite of the listeners' natural desires; the way she had taken down the massive, fused-husk creation the files she'd sent had named a Praetorian with only the guns on her back and half the ground team she'd assembled at her side, - though, he supposed, if anyone was going to go to the trouble of bringing anyone back to life, they'd probably make them look younger by default. Holovids were filled with beautiful young heroes, and the Reaper threat, some might say, was more something out of an old holovid than anything that might happen to them...) and that he'd heard nothing about this snafu with what should've been her estate, publicized or otherwise. "Are you saying that one of my family managed to survive-?"

The hopeful look on her face quickly fell as the lawyer back-pedalled. "No, no, Earth-clan. Nothing of that nature, though, for your sake, I wish that were the case. No, there was – very quietly, you must understand – a paternity suit levelled against you-"

"I think," as she went very red, he felt himself growing pale, "I would know if I had a child, Mr. Sul!"

"Perhaps," Pontar Sul said carefully, as if suddenly remembering that, rather than some sort of sheltered industrial baron's daughter from Bekenstein, she was a Spectre and hadn't become one by looking pretty, "The claim was made by one Aniela E'ste-"

"Never heard of her."

"-lately of Ilium-" he tried to continue.

"Asari or not, I still think I would remember."

"Well, yes, Earth-clan; naturally. However, she filed the claim on behalf of her niece, on Renisa E'ste, whose mother was killed during the Siege – and, before you say so, Earth-clan, it was determined," the Volus adopted the tone of voice particular to those who remembered the person they were arguing with was biotic which Kaidan was perpetually disappointed some alien races still used, "at great length, that was fraudulent in her claim. Young Renisa, while showing many genetic markers that would suggest her second parent shared similar racial history-"

Shepherd, on hearing the word 'fraudulent', had visibly relaxed and begun to leaf through the stack of datapads once more. At 'similar racial history' she looked up again, raised an eyebrow, and began typing in an entry on a softly glowing screen.

"Ah, yes. Earth-clan, most certainly," Pontar Sul seemed quite happy to have dodged a bullet and pulled something up on his terminal. "Epigenetics among those of the Thessian-clan is particularly difficult when it comes to determining the donor-parent of a child. The child in question almost certainly had an Earth-clan for a parent. Ah, yes. The scientists said that this Thessian-clan's donor-parent was probably of the 'Celtic' sub-clan, with certain ancestors from clans known as 'Punjabi', and 'Saracen,'" he said these last two words quite carefully, "that are fairly unique to your Earth-clan subset. However, they could do no more than determine that this Renisa's donor-parent was from Mindoir and on Elysium four standard months before the Skyllian Blitz – which you, Earth-clan, were not, as your service record proves, once my office was able to obtain that information. The whole business was finally settled about three months ago, and so most of your assets remain intact."

Shepherd stayed silent, completing another entry.

"Could," Kaidan ventured, speaking for the first time since entering the office, "Cerberus have fabricated the story? To, err, keep your estate together?"

She continued typing. "Could they have done it? Yes. Would they have is another story entirely... These scientists of yours, did they run anyone else's DNA to look for Renisa's second parent?"

"Genetic testing on the scale you're talking about-"

"Scale?" She looked up suddenly, surprised, "I only meant one test: SFC Margot Neela. Not many people leave Mindoir willingly, Mr. Sul, and fewer Asari have reason to come."

"I believe one of my assistants searched the Alliance service records for-"

"She faked her background when she enlisted. Didn't want her father to find her. Oncle Andre was always a bit of a zealot, even by Mindoir's standards."

The Widow Overture: Pavane for the Lost