A/N: My first Mass Effect fanfic. Shenko. Fic rundown: Andromeda Shepard, Vanguard/Colonist/Sole Survivor, Paragon.
"Doctor at Risk"/"Dead Scientists" assignment; Toombs shoots the scientist and then himself. R & R, please! I hope you enjoy this, my first attempt at Shenko-ing. I also have a Shoker in the works, so yay! XD
He'd never seen her cry before.
That sudden realization left Kaidan staring at the far wall in a strange hybrid of sympathetic compassion and shock. This was the first time he'd actually seen his CO cry. It was like stumbling across some innovative physics law and feeling as if dawn had just broken—enlightenment, he figured. Having never before seen this basic human emotion from her, it had been as if he'd forgotten that she did have those emotions. The shock came from realizing that she wasn't just crying: she was sobbing.
But the Shepard kneeling on the cold floor panels and weeping over that unfortunate corporal's body wasn't the Shepard he knew.
The Shepard he knew had the courage to look right into the jaws of death and laugh—and she'd had to do a lot of laughing lately. The Shepard he knew tended to toe the line between the basic extremes of "good" and "evil"; the Shepard he knew preferred whiskey to beer and never left a supply depot without a new and better shotgun. The Shepard he knew didn't quail under pressure; rather, that was when she shone. That was the Shepard he knew best.
He'd seen a lot of emotions from her, too: anger upon seeing Eden Prime burning; regret at having to send Jenkins' body home with little more than her personal condolences to his family. There'd been hatred boiling in her bold blue eyes at the hearing, when Saren had stood there and so calmly refuted the claims that that turian bastard knew were true. He'd seen childlike awe and wonder at witnessing the grandeur of the view from the Wards and mild bemusement at that Conrad's glowing praise; he'd witnessed barely contained pride at her induction. He'd seen her take on a hundred geth without breaking a sweat and then smile as if that'd been the simplest task in the galaxy. He'd seen a lot of things from her; tears were not on that list.
He wanted to kneel beside her and embrace her, to calm her and tell her "Shh" and muster up his best reassurance. Instead, he just pretended that an old locked crate sitting in a dusty, cobwebbed corner had attracted his attention. He could tell she was trying to be quiet about this, to reduce her tears to an absolute minimum of mournful sniffles. He just wanted to tell her that he didn't care if she bawled like an exhausted, hungry infant. She'd lost a friend not five minutes ago; that had to be a crushing blow.
At least Toombs had gotten his vengeance, Kaidan mused. But those words "Who am I to argue?" haunted the lieutenant, as did Shepard's reaction. She'd lunged forward, trying to knock the pistol away, but the corporal had already squeezed the trigger and slumped to the floor. That'd been when the tears came; they started flowing about the same time that blood started pooling around the soldier's head, and they hadn't stopped yet. That'd been when Kaidan had come to the abrupt awareness that he'd never seen her cry.
He almost thought he could remember seeing a tear glistening in her eye when she'd been declared a Spectre. But that hadn't exactly been crying, had it? A tear of joy, of pride, wasn't the same thing as the ones that he'd watched roll down her face and splatter on the floor to mingle with the blood.
Her muffled sobs were almost eerie in the stark silence of the room, but the silence was suddenly and frighteningly noticeable when the weeping unexpectedly stopped. Then there was a gunshot, and Kaidan wheeled about, expecting to see her fall to the floor, blood spattered across her cropped hair. But she was still standing, her pistol aimed at that scientist's body.
Kaidan saw what she was doing. He figured he'd be doing the exact same thing were he in her boots. As far as he was concerned, that son of a bitch had deserved to die for what he'd done.
She was standing there, eyes ringed with red and narrowed coldly, firing bullet after bullet into that scientist's head. Each shot was ten seconds apart, and each one was as rhythmic as the one before it. She was almost methodic in the way she kept shooting the doctor; Kaidan could tell that she knew the scientist was already dead, but that didn't stop her. Then the shots stopped, and her gun hand fell limply to her side, pistol still clutched in her long, pale fingers; her unmoving gaze was seemingly latched onto the two feet of empty space separating the two bodies. It was then that Kaidan slipped over to her side, carefully, quietly, and stood just slightly behind her. He started to reach out for her shoulder because he didn't have to ask to know what she was thinking about.
He'd heard the stories, seen the vids. He'd heard they'd even tried to give her a medal, saying she defended her unit to the very end, but he'd heard she'd blatantly refused to be commemorated while the rest of her unit had gained nothing and lost everything. She didn't talk about it much. He didn't blame her. He'd told her more about his weeks at brain camp than she'd told him about that one day on Akuze. Every once in a while, it was as if she slipped off into thought; it was on those occasions that she stroked absently at the thin, raised scar trailing down her cheek from beneath her left eye. Kaidan had often wondered if that scar were a souvenir from barely escaping the thresher maws with her own life.
He neither could nor wanted to stop himself as he reached over and laid his hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. She didn't respond to his touch, but he wasn't trying to get her to say anything; he was just trying to offer a little support.
"Commander?" he asked softly. She didn't react. He tried again. "Shepard?"
That time, her head turned only a fraction of an inch toward his hand. He squeezed a little harder and sighed thinly; maybe now would be a good time to call her by her name, as she'd so often demanded from him.
She turned a little more, and Kaidan saw her gaze flicker toward him. He tried her nickname.
Now she turned fully, and Kaidan saw why. She wasn't Commander Shepard now; she was Dro. Her bloodshot eyes latched onto his and held for a few minutes, and Kaidan saw something he hadn't thought he was going to see: he saw a child. He saw a young girl, the salt of her tears streaking her face, gazing at him and silently asking for comfort. In the back of his mind, he remembered what the crew had said when she'd first walked onto Normandy a few days before they departed on shakedown. "The only sane survivor of Mindoir," they'd called her when she was out of earshot. A couple of the new recruits joked that she'd run so fast that she'd become the only one the batarians couldn't catch up with, but those recruits had been quickly and deftly reprimanded by more experienced soldiers. Now he saw in her eyes this childlike fear and need of consolation; that must've been what she'd looked like after that horrible slaughter on Mindoir. Kaidan gave her a smile and another squeeze on the shoulder, and she just exhaled slowly, eyes closing for two seconds before they reopened and he saw that the little girl had vanished, leaving not Dro but Shepard in her stead.
"Let's go," was all she said as she shrugged out from under his hand and headed for the door.
Kaidan watched her go and wanted to run after her so he could tell her that she didn't have to be quite so strong all the time.
Who're you kidding? he asked himself. She's your CO. You should've just saluted her and followed rather than stood around, staring like an idiot.
He sighed to himself and followed anyway, shrugging under the weight of the weaponry on his back. Vakarian dropped into line behind him; Kaidan had noticed that the turian had pretended as if he hadn't seen a single moment of Shepard's meltdown. Kaidan just wished he'd done a little more. He almost said "Next time" before realizing that there might not be a next time. She might never again let herself drop her guard over her emotions like that. The thought almost made Kaidan wonder if he'd ever see her smile again—like she did when they innocently flirted back on the ship. Kaidan just sighed to himself and followed her as they returned to the Mako. Shepard was quiet during the entire ride back to the extraction point.
Later that evening, when the rest of the ship's crew was working on quieting down for the night cycle, Kaidan poked his head onto the command deck. He hadn't seen Shepard ever since they'd returned and knew she was in neither her quarters nor the infirmary, and, to be honest, he'd gotten a little worried about her.
He found her sitting on the steps of the CIC, back to the galaxy map. Her chin was resting in her hands, elbows digging into her knees, eyes latched on the opposite wall. Kaidan came up slowly, lightly clearing his throat. She glanced up at him and he nodded despite the feeling of having intruded upon her private thoughts.
"Commander," he greeted her. She nodded.
"Hey, Kaidan," she sighed, straightening. "Need something?"
"Just wondering if you're okay." Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Ma'am."
Shepard smiled faintly at him, scooting over on the upper step and patting the empty space beside her. Kaidan came over and took a seat, being careful not to watch her too closely. She leaned forward with a sigh and started rubbing her upper arms.
"I wish I could've done something," she murmured. Kaidan sighed.
"You did your best," he said, trying to be consoling. "Your argument would've convinced me to let the guy go stand trial."
Shepard sighed again.
"Yeah, but the point is that it didn't convince him."
She paused and shifted, and her gaze once more latched onto the opposite wall. She exhaled slowly, evidently in deep thought again. She didn't even look at Kaidan when she started speaking again.
"Toombs was a good soldier," she said, starting out sounding like the strong leader Kaidan and the rest of the Normandy crew were familiar with and fading into nothing more than a woman in a state of mourning. "He was a good friend, too. And seeing him there . . . like that . . . it was . . ."
Shepard turned and just looked at Kaidan for a long time before nodding slowly.
There was silence for almost fifteen minutes; Kaidan dared not say a word because he saw that her gaze had latched unwaveringly on that wall again. He didn't want to disturb her, and he was starting to ease up from his seat and leave her in peace when she reached out a hand and grabbed his shirt in a silent order to stay right where he was. He turned and saw that she was gazing fixedly at him.
"I'm sorry about that . . . scene . . . back there," she mumbled. "I should've controlled myself better."
"Nah, it's okay," Kaidan replied, settling back down. "I mean, you just lost a friend. I wasn't expecting you to be all strong and gung ho after seeing that. And . . ."
His voice trailed off as he saw that the little girl had returned. She just looked at him, blue eyes sad, before she looked down at her fatigues and fiddled anxiously with the hem of her half-tucked shirt.
"Kaidan, I—" she began but didn't finish.
The next minute, Kaidan nearly toppled off the steps of the CIC as she flung herself into his arms, shoulders shaking with silent sobs. At first, Kaidan didn't know how to respond. Then his reaction just seemed automatic to him. He wrapped his arms around her and gently rocked her back and forth, not saying a word, not telling her to calm down. He just held her for a long, long time.
He just let her cry.