Epilogue: The Normandy
Three days later. Serpent Nebula, Widow system. Aboard the Normandy.
Elizabeth was lightly dozing when the door to Normandy's med-bay hissed open and shut again. She didn't pay much attention to it; people had been coming in and out almost constantly these past three days. They were mostly Alliance brass who couldn't wait until she fully healed to debrief her – or ask a million and one questions about exactly what had happened during her final battle with Saren, and what exactly had she seen in the Prothean 'vision', and so on and so forth.
So this time, when she heard the door, Shepard kept her eyes closed and breathing even, pretending to be deeply asleep and hoping Dr. Chakwas wouldn't allow her to be awakened.
"Lieutenant," she heard the doctor greet quietly. "Good to see you in here again. You missed your last appointment, you know."
"Sorry, doc. I was… being debriefed. They weren't going to let me go anywhere."
Shepard cracked one eye open at the sound of Kaidan's voice. He stood at the end of her bed, and she exhaled quietly at the sight of him still in uniform. They hadn't gotten much chance to talk after being whisked away from Citadel Tower, and she was pretty sure he didn't know the full extent of her conversation with Captain Anderson.
"How are your ribs feeling?" Dr. Chakwas was asking.
Elizabeth closed her eyes again when she saw Kaidan shift, turning his head in her direction.
"Still hurts when I breathe," he answered absently. "How's the commander?"
"She'll be fine," the doctor assured him. "A few broken bones, a minor concussion… worse off than you, but nothing a few days of rest and medication won't heal. How is the injury on your back faring?"
"It's fine," Kaidan answered, and Shepard heard him move up toward her head.
"Right." Chakwas didn't sound convinced. "Come over here, Lieutenant. Let me take a look at it while I've got you in here."
"Really, doc, it's –"
He sighed, knowing better than to argue, and Shepard heard the dull clunk of his boots move away again. She waited a second, then dared to take another peek. Kaidan sat on the edge of the next bunk to her right, pulling his uniform shirt off over his head.
Elizabeth shut her eyes quickly, surprised at how just the brief glimpse of his naked torso made her blood pulse. She clenched her jaw, willing away the onrush of memories from their night before Ilos. That was not the kind of thing she needed to be thinking about right now.
Right now she needed to focus on what would happen next… for her, the crew, the Normandy, and all the Citadel races.
She'd been mulling over such thoughts during her conscious hours for the last three days, however, and they just made her all the more exhausted. On the other hand, the thoughts about Kaidan - the memory of his touch, his kiss, his voice in her ear… those made her feel very much awake.
"Hrm," Chakwas murmured.
Shepard latched her focus on the doctor's voice, deciding that for now it would be best not to think at all.
"Well Lieutenant," the woman continued, "it seems to be healing nicely. You're lucky. A lesser armor without a shield upgrade and you might have been paralyzed."
He grunted. "Yeah, well… the commander always made sure her team had the best of the best."
"Good thing. Her armor saved her, too, you know."
"Will she be asleep much longer?"
"I doubt it," the doctor answered, and Elizabeth restrained a frown. But then she remembered the vitals monitors – Dr. Chakwas probably knew she'd been awake this whole time.
"I was about to go and grab some lunch. I usually call my assistant to keep an eye on things while I'm gone, but if you have some time, Lieutenant, you're welcome to stay until I get back."
"Yeah," Kaidan answered, his voice briefly muffled as he shrugged back into his shirt. "I've got a little down time."
"Good. Then I will see you in about an hour." The door hissed open and shut, leaving the two of them alone with only the hum of the ship and soft beeping of the monitors around them.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, looking over to see Kaidan leaning against the next bed, a brooding expression on his face. He glanced up and saw her looking at him; the lines of worry disappeared, replaced by surprise.
"Shepard," he said eagerly, stepping forward. "You're awake."
She nodded stiffly. "I wanted us to be alone."
He knelt down beside the bed, taking her right hand in his and squeezing it. "I guess we won't have much chance for that anymore, will we?"
Elizabeth sighed deeply, carefully. "Probably not."
Kaidan's thumb ran gently over the top of her hand as a moment of silence stretched between them.
"I would have come sooner," he began quietly, "but it's a mess out there. Everyone wants answers. Options. Plans. Something. I've been in meetings and debriefings almost solid since we left the Tower. I couldn't get away without it looking… obvious." He winced and Shepard knew he was thinking of their passionate kiss so blatantly shared in front of Captain Anderson.
"I talked to the captain," she said. "As far as he's concerned, he didn't see anything. Said we had enough on our plate as it was, but urged us to take the necessary precautions to prevent any more breaches of protocol."
Kaidan nodded, still looking at her hand. "He talked to me too." The lieutenant cleared his throat. "He said I'm up for reassignment."
Elizabeth looked at the ceiling, her heart squeezing. She couldn't bring herself to tell him it had been her idea in the first place, the best way to keep him safe, to ensure her decisions wouldn't be swayed by emotion; to make certain a situation like the one in the Tower didn't happen again. But to hear him say it aloud… it seemed the most horrible idea in the world.
"Kaidan," she whispered, "when I was buried under that rubble… I heard you calling for me. I couldn't answer you, but… your voice pulled me back from wherever I was going. It kept me hanging on. It made me realize…" She trailed off, fighting the sudden sting of tears and swallowing hard. He gave her hand another squeeze, silently encouraging her to go on.
"I can't stop thinking of Mindoir," she finally forced out. "That feeling I got when I saw what the batarians had done, when it finally sunk in that everyone… everyone was gone…" She let a tear slip out and took a deep breath. "A horrible, yawning abyss, right in the center of me. I thought I would never survive that. Thought it would never get better."
She turned her head to look at him, saw him listening intently, still stroking her hand with his thumb. "It did, eventually. Mostly. But ever since that day I've been terrified of experiencing that… emptiness again. Terrified, Kaidan. And I realized, first on Virmire, secondly on the Citadel, that losing you… if I lost you, I would feel that again. Only it'd be even worse, because I'd know I was personally responsible… I'd know it was my fault… because of my decisions, my orders…" She broke off, unable to continue.
He watched her for a long second, then gave the tiniest of nods, his dark eyes glancing back down to their hands, now tightly intertwined. A wry twist of a smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. "You recommended I be reassigned."
Shepard swallowed again, gripping his hand as if she could keep him by her side forever just by never letting go. "Captain Anderson knows your experience with the geth and Sovereign is invaluable," she whispered. "He wants to keep you involved. And I made sure you would never be left out of the loop – even for the classified stuff." She paused, releaing a quiet breath. "I didn't know what else to do," she admitted. "I'm the ranking officer, Kaidan. It's my responsibility… to make sure these things don't happen."
He wouldn't look at her. Elizabeth half expected him to release her hand, get up, and leave. His jaw muscles clenched briefly.
"I'm sorry for what happened in the Tower," he whispered gruffly, shaking his head. "You should have had me busted back down to Ensign for insubordination."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "Kaidan, don't act like you're the only one who's guilty. I expected you to treat me like a superior officer when I was the one who… who invited you to stay in my quarters. That wasn't fair of me."
He glanced up at her and she held his dark gaze seriously. "And that's why I can't… I can't continue to be your CO," she finished, finding the words surprisingly hard to say. She knew without doubt it was the best course of action for both of them, yet a part of her still screamed out against it. She had made a habit of going to him for support, encouragement, reasoning, calm… how would she ever manage without that?
The lieutenant looked away from her again, nodding slowly. Another heavy silence settled over them.
"Well," he said at last, exhaling a long breath, "I guess at least that way I can take you out to dinner, right?" He brought his eyes back to her, lifting one eyebrow.
Shepard stared at him, surprised by the question, but even more taken aback by his optimistic view of the situation. Admittedly, she hadn't thought much past the agony of not being able to see him on a regular basis.
His proposal made her smile for the first time since climbing out from beneath the broken piece of Sovereign. "As soon as we get even a moment of shore leave, I'd like nothing more," she whispered, her voice choked by a swell of gratitude. She'd always appreciated his respect for rules and authority despite the feelings that often tempted both of them into disregarding such things, and his acceptance of being reassigned without argument or anger lifted a huge weight off her mind.
He raised both eyebrows, leaning down to trail feathery kisses along her bare arm. "Nothing more?" he mumbled, his lips still against her skin.
Elizabeth snorted, pulling her hand away. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Lieutenant. I still have to dig us out of this hole. I did steal the Normandy, remember? And let the Council be… blown to bits." She frowned. At the time her decision to have the Alliance fleet hold off helping the Destiny Ascension in order to attack Sovereign at the first opportunity seemed sound. After all, if Sovereign hadn't have been defeated, nothing else would have mattered.
She had not really thought the asari flagship would be destroyed, however, and the fact there was now no longer a ruling body to govern Citadel space was a truly terrifying thought. Even more terrifying, though, was that Captain Anderson had informed her everyone seemed to be looking to her for direction. And she was still holed up on the Normandy, trying to recover from nearly being crushed by the leg of a giant sentient machine.
"You also happened to save every organic being in our galaxy from guaranteed extinction," Kaidan said defensively, pulling her back from her troubled thoughts.
She granted him an appreciative smile. "I'm sure that's why we haven't been arrested." She failed to mask the bitter edge in her voice. While she was grateful the political higher-ups were finally taking the beacon's message and threat of the Reapers seriously, she couldn't help but think how many more lives could have been saved if they had only listened to her when she had first tried to warn them.
The lieutenant sighed heavily and sat on the edge of her bed. "They need you out there, Shepard," he said gravely. "The Citadel species are cooperating in repairing the station and helping the wounded, but the political front is… going nowhere."
"Captain Anderson told me they want me to make a recommendation as to the next Council candidates," she acknowledged flatly.
Kaidan nodded. "Well, look at it from an average citizen's point of view. As far as they know the Council never knew this attack was coming. But then you and the Alliance fleet show up, prepared to fight, and save the Citadel. Humans are the heroes right now, Shepard, and most civilians – human or not - see you as our leader."
A small smile of amusement twitched his mouth. "The brass isn't too happy about that… but you are a Spectre, so technically you outrank everyone else." He turned serious again. "Ambassador Udina wants you to suggest to the masses that a human should be included in the new Council."
Elizabeth groaned; the hand of her uninjured arm coming up to press against her forehead. "Of course he does. And let me guess, he nominated himself?"
Kaidan gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Pretty much."
"Over my dead body," Elizabeth muttered, and Kaidan grimaced. She frowned at his reaction, but then understanding gripped her. I almost was dead. The look on his face just before she'd thrown him across the Tower's atrium was still burned into her brain. She would never forget that expression. Not ever.
Shepard reached out and took his hand again. "I'll help them choose their Council, but then I'm demanding the Normandy crew get a few days leave. We'll go somewhere away from this mess."
"'We' as in the crew, or…?"
Elizabeth grinned, catching the hopeful lilt in his question. "We as in you and I, Kaidan. Just the two of us."
A toothy grin lit up his face and Shepard realized she hadn't seen him smile nearly enough. He shifted on the bed and shook his head, trying to kill the expression but not entirely succeeding. "The vids would have fun with that," he muttered, but something in his tone told her he wasn't as concerned as he tried to sound.
"I don't know," Shepard countered, "I think they'll have enough to report on as it is. The damaged Citadel, the new Council, why the geth are outside the Veil, what the hell was that giant thing that attacked us… you know, all that."
Kaidan's smile snuck back to his face and Elizabeth very carefully scooted to one side of the mattress, patting the space remaining with her good hand. "Lay with me," she invited.
The lieutenant's eyes widened and he glanced quickly toward the med-bay door. "Dr. Chakwas –"
"Won't be back for at least another forty minutes," Shepard finished for him. "And anyway, even if she comes back early you can just tell her you felt a migraine coming on and needed to lie down right away."
Kaidan regarded her skeptically for a moment, likely thinking the doctor would see right through such an excuse in a matter of seconds – and she would. But he finally reached a conclusion and squeezed himself onto the half of bed she'd left for him. It took them a few tries to get situated in a position that didn't cause either of them discomfort; they settled with Kaidan's left arm running under Shepard's head and her right side halfway leaning along his left side.
He grunted when they finally stopped shifting around and ran his right hand gingerly over his ribs. "You've got one hell of a biotic push there, Shepard."
She grimaced at the mention of his injury; she'd had no idea her biotics could be so powerful. Kaidan's experience with Vyrnnus flashed through her head and she suddenly had a whole new understanding of why he feared to lose control. "I'm sorry," she said huskily. "I didn't think it would be that strong. I didn't mean for it to be, but… I think my emotions influenced my control."
The lieutenant nodded silently, and she knew by the knotting of his brow he was thinking back to Vyrnnus, too. She rested her head in the crook of his shoulder and sighed deeply, feeling the painful tug of her own cracked ribs as her chest expanded. Despite her multiple injuries and their lingering aches, Kaidan's presence beside her made her wish she could lie in the med-bay like this for several more weeks. She snuggled into him.
"This is nice," she whispered, hoping to draw him back from thoughts of the past.
She felt his fingers brush the side of her face, pushing back her hair. "Did you mean what you said in the Citadel Tower?" he asked quietly, suddenly. "What you said before you sent Garrus and I flying across the atrium?"
Elizabeth turned her head to look at him. I love you, she had told him. She remembered it clearly. His brown eyes held hers steadily, but his face was a cross between hopeful and terrified. She smiled. "Yes," she said firmly, having also thought much about that over her three days in the infirmary. "Yes I did."
His eyes softened, his right hand running down her side to take her hand in his.
She cleared her throat, not thinking for a second that Kaidan didn't return her feelings, based on his past actions, but still experiencing a strong desire to hear him say it aloud. "I think that's your cue," she prodded playfully.
He smiled again, showing faint dimples. "Shepard, I've been falling for you since the day you told me having a Prothean nightmare downloaded into your brain wasn't my fault – even though you knew it was."
She grinned at him. "That's not true. We still don't know for sure exactly what set it off. And anyway, I guess it ended up being a good thing in the end."
"I guess," he conceded reluctantly.
"Kaidan," she spoke up, cutting his guilt-trip short, "why don't you ever call me by my first name?"
She felt the shrug of his shoulders through the arm that supported her head. "I don't know. Habit, I guess."
"But you did in the Tower."
"That was a… special circumstance. I didn't want to lose you… then I thought I had lost you…" he trailed off, his free arm hooking around her waist and pulling her gently against him.
Shepard was struck yet again by the overwhelming urge to simply lay there with him for days on end, and the rest of the galaxy be damned. She didn't want to think about the chaos that still needed to be sorted out outside the Normandy, instead deciding to focus on the subject that made her happy for as long as she could. "So when you take me out to dinner," she asked into the quiet, "will that be a special circumstance?"
"I think that would count as one, yeah."
"Well, you've got about thirty minutes right now to practice breaking that habit, then."
"Yep, so you'd better get started."
He buried his face in the crook of her neck and she smiled at the gesture. "I love you, Elizabeth," he whispered gruffly into her shoulder.
She closed her eyes, her fingers absently stroking his hair. "Mmm, I could get used to that," she confessed.
"Me too," he murmured.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many thanks to the two lovely ladies who helped me so much in making this fic more sensical and readable, Rian Sage and crackferret! I really appreciate the time and effort you dedicated to beta-ing my chapters! Thank you also to all the readers and especially to those who left reviews, as that helps me to discover if my stories are provoking the reactions I hoped for. ;) Hope you enjoyed!