Part Five: Possibilities
Five weeks later Kaidan sat on a crate of medical supplies in the storage room of Normandy's med-bay. He was no longer bed-ridden and been granted full access to the ship, but he preferred to do his practicing in a place hidden away from the curious stares of the crew. He didn't want them watching him, pitying him, wondering what had really happened to him at the hands of the crazy Dr. Rahna Bachar.
The lieutenant's concentration wavered and the package of medi-gel thumped back to the floor. Kaidan looked at it morosely for a moment, then exhaled a long breath and put his head in his hands, massaging his temples. The now all-too-familiar panic crept up his throat again, but he swallowed it back resolutely.
You can do this. Dr. Chakwas said it was possible…
But it was like starting from the beginning. He had an amp again, albeit a much weaker one than the Savant X he'd gotten used to. Still, it should have been enough to allow him to perform the basic biotic abilities of lift and throw. And he should have been able to lift an entire crate of supplies. Instead, Kaidan was having difficulty manipulating the mass of a single dose of medi-gel. The mnemonic forms came easily, as did the memory of how to perform a biotic act, but his body responded differently than it had before.
Kaidan practiced as often as he could manage without prompting Dr. Chakwas to take away his amp again, but had made little improvement. It was times like this he felt as if he'd never regain his previous biotic strength. Never regain the focus and control he'd worked a lifetime to accomplish. Then the squeezing panic would come, and he'd have to stop and remind himself over and over again that Dr. Chakwas had insisted he would eventually recover at least eighty percent of his ability.
It was frustrating. Depressing. Frightening. It was like being on Jump Zero again, only without the screaming drill instructor or violent turian to encourage his progress. Regardless, he didn't like the feeling. Didn't like it at all. It made him think of Rahna; more than he already thought of her every time he attempted to use his severely weakened biotics. And thinking of her led him right back to his recent stagnation in recovering his ability, which then brought him back to the teetering edge of panic.
A maddening, inescapable circle he seemed doomed to repeat on a daily basis.
The lieutenant growled unhappily, clamping down on his wildly running thoughts. He looked at the medi-gel package, resting so innocently on the floor in front of him, and forced himself to think of nothing except moving it.
He saw the blue-black corona flare up around his body from the corner of his eye, executed the well-known gesture to lift, and felt the medi-gel's mass neutralize. The package floated slowly from the floor, drifting lazily toward the ceiling. He knew suspending such a small object shouldn't take so much effort, but at least it had come off the floor a little faster that time…
The room's door hissed open and Kaidan yelped, dropping the medi-gel as he jumped to his feet.
Shepard drew up short in the doorway and grimaced. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said quickly, "I should have knocked."
Kaidan shook his head, drawing in a deep, quiet breath to stabilize his racing heart. Already he felt the burn crawling up his neck; embarrassment at showing how jumpy – how insecure – he felt these days. "It's all right," he said, bending to retrieve the gel pack and tossing it back into the open crate it'd originally come from. "I just… wasn't expecting company."
Shepard smiled a little, stepping over the threshold and making sure the door shut behind her. "Yeah. You know… Joker's starting to complain about how much he has to walk around to find you now that you're out of the med-bay."
Kaidan shrugged, crossing his arms. "He could always use the PA system."
"Sometimes people like to talk face to face."
The lieutenant grunted, unable to make himself care at the moment.
Shepard frowned at him. "You okay?" Her voice dropped to the soft, concerned tone she adopted when she ceased to be his superior officer and became only his significant other. She looked at him with her vivid green eyes, her dark brows a worried line across her forehead.
He wanted nothing more than to say yes. To draw her close and breathe in her smell and tell her everything was fine because they were both together on the Normandy again, however temporarily. She had plenty on her plate as it was, and his problems were infinitesimal in the grand galactic scheme of things.
So he forced a weak smile. "Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, I'm okay."
She looked at him silently for a long moment, until he tore his eyes away from her hypnotizing stare and cleared his throat. He paced to the other side of the room, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Kaidan," she said gently, patiently. "Talk to me."
"It's fine, Shepard," he insisted. "Nothing to worry about."
She crossed the room to him quickly, grabbing his elbow with some force and turning him around to face her. "It's Elizabeth," she reminded him firmly. "You're still officially on medical leave, remember? Your CO is still officially Captain Jackson. And I am still officially guarding you from AHAB retaliation until Dr. Bachar's trial is over with."
She paused, pursing her lips. "You've been hiding back here for weeks – and don't think I haven't noticed you've hardly been sleeping. Please, Kaidan. If something's wrong… I need to know."
Guilt lanced through Kaidan's gut as a raw, fleeting fear passed across her face. He had never once considered the impact of his recent behavior on Shepard. But as a fellow biotic and his lover, she had just as much at stake here as he did. She deserved an explanation.
"I'm sorry," he offered quietly, "it's just…" he shook his head, exhaling slowly. "Everything's different now."
Shepard watched him; swallowed visibly. "What exactly do you mean?"
"My biotics," he said flatly. "Watch…" He stepped toward the nearest box of supplies and attempted to lift it. The distortion flew from his hand and wrapped around the crate, but flickered and died before the object so much as shifted.
"See?" he demanded, throwing up his arms. "It feels different, acts different… I can't control it anymore, at least not like I used to…"
"Well, it's a different amp –"
"I know what a new amp feels like," he snapped, his frustration flaring as he whirled on her. Shepard knew him better than anyone – did she really think he'd be this upset over something as insignificant as adjusting to a new amp? He glared at her. "This is nothing like that! This is like… this is like I'm ten fucking years old again! Like the last twenty-two years of my life have been wiped out and here I am stuck with this freakish talent that serves no other purpose than to perform cheap parlor tricks and scare people!"
Shepard stared at him with her mouth open. But he couldn't hold it back any longer; they'd been together for over six months now, maybe it was time he finally confessed to the deep-seated, constant fear he'd been carrying around ever since he could remember. The thing he was most afraid of; the thing that had shaped his entire life.
He turned away from her, pacing a furious line across the narrow storage room. "I never… I never wanted to hurt anyone, Shepard," he admitted hoarsely. "Even Vyrnnus was an accident. And do you know what that felt like? To think I killed a grown turian – a war veteran – in an instant – with my mind? It happened so fast, I didn't even think about it. He just flew off me and… broke." Kaidan stopped pacing and faced her abruptly. "That terrified me, Shepard. What if I did that to one of my family? To an innocent bystander? To someone just passing me on the street?"
He shook his head, running his hands through his hair as he resumed his restless movements. "I worked so hard to make sure that would never happen. I thought I was stuck with this… thing… this ability, so I made the best of it. I perfected it. I got comfortable with it, used to it. I… I started to feel that I was safe, that I was safe to be around…"
He sank down onto the nearest storage crate, head in his hands. "And now… it's all gone. It's all different. Everything I thought I'd once put behind me is back again."
His words fell away into heavy silence, and for a second Kaidan feared Shepard didn't understand at all. He heard the approaching tread of her boots, and then she sat down on the crate next to him, reaching over to peel one hand away from his face and grip it in hers. He glanced over to her, saw her regarding him with an open, serious expression.
"Kaidan," she said softly, "if there is one thing I have always been certain of, even since the first day I met you, it's that I could trust you. I knew I could trust you to do your job, to do what was right, to keep me in check. And sometimes, when I needed it, to keep me sane." She squeezed his hand, and he noticed with a shock the gleam of tears in her eyes. "I have never once worried that you might lose control, or lash out irrationally with your biotics," she whispered, "despite what anyone else has always told me about L2s. Of all the human biotics I've ever known, you impressed me the most – on both a professional and personal level."
Kaidan dropped his eyes to the floor, clenching his jaw against the wave of bitter self-deprecation that shoved up his throat. He could hardly stand to hear her talk about it – hated to think he might never get that back, hated to think Rahna could have taken that away from him so easily, when it had taken so much effort and practice to achieve.
"But Kaidan," Shepard continued, her voice still a husky whisper, "…your skill with biotics isn't determined by your mutant nodes, how they operate, or how many you have. There are plenty of human biotics who spike higher than you, who have a greater number of mutant nodes, and yet they aren't anywhere near your level of skill." She leaned toward him conspiratorially. "The person makes the biotic, Kaidan. Not the other way around. You could do what you did because of who you are. You said it yourself: you didn't want to hurt anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. Your accuracy resulted from that desire. And that desire hasn't changed because of this incident… using your biotics may feel different, but once you learn how to use them again, the outward result of them will be the same.
"I still trust you, Kaidan." Her voice rang with clear conviction. "Everyone does. No one here ever believed you were dangerous before, and they certainly don't think any differently now."
The lieutenant stared at their intertwined hands, part of him reluctantly beginning to unknot at Shepard's logic. He remembered how she used her own biotics in combat; not nearly so refined and careful as he. In fact, her biotics reminded him a lot of the krogan style: charge and bully, up close and personal; widespread, sweeping attacks meant to clear the room of any and all hostiles as quickly as possible. She was hard-hitting and efficient, but sometimes her lack of discrimination when civilians were near made him nervous.
The person makes the biotic…
She had told him once, not too long ago, all the gory details of the raid on Mindoir. Had confessed that it'd been the burning wish for revenge that had first prompted her to join the Alliance Navy, pursue her biotic talent, and eventually join special ops. Her entry into the service was almost a polar opposite from his. The young Elizabeth Shepard had wanted to hurt people. Wanted to hurt the bad guys. She had no reason to spend years painstakingly learning to pinpoint small targets from great distances…
"You were in a coma for three weeks," Shepard spoke into the quiet, and her voice cracked. He looked up sharply to see a lone tear slip over her lashes; the first and only one he'd seen since their conversation about his reassignment just after the defeat of Sovereign. Something inside him seemed to release, and Kaidan reached over to pull her into his chest.
He rarely saw Elizabeth fully shed her soldier-shell, even when they were alone together on shore leave. It was sometimes easy to forget she needed someone to lean on just as badly as he did, especially in times like these.
In a very un-commander-like fashion, she climbed into his lap and wrapped her arms around him. "Between what you did in that laboratory without your amp, the virus, and the sedatives, you almost died," she murmured into his shoulder. "I thought I had lost you, Kaidan, and I just couldn't stand it. And I was afraid that if you did wake up… I was afraid you'd be different, or wouldn't remember - wouldn't remember who I was… who any of us were…"
She straightened, taking his face in both her hands and looking him directly in the eye. "But you're not different. Do you understand? You're not any different than you were before, Kaidan, biotics or no biotics. It doesn't matter to me, or to anyone who knows you, and it's killing me to see you hide back here like you're ashamed."
Kaidan studied her pleading gaze, then looked away and swallowed hard. "I know…" He reached up and took her hands in his, pulling them away from his face. "But it's been a long time since I've had to practice my biotics," he admitted sullenly. "I forgot what it was like. It's been over a month and I'm still not getting any better. It's just… very frustrating."
"I know," Shepard offered. "And I understand. But what happened to you… you can't expect your body to recover from something so traumatic so quickly."
Kaidan said nothing. As little as the statement did to lessen the impatience and helplessness roiling inside his chest, it was the truth. Even Dr. Chakwas had openly expressed her surprise at his progress thus far. She had been reluctant at first to allow him any kind of amp, but eventually relented when she could no longer stand to watch him wander aimlessly around the ship. The good doctor did not, however, know how often he'd been practicing, and he preferred to keep it that way.
"Do you still have numbness in your arms?"
Shepard's question pulled him from his thoughts. He shook his head. "Just a sort of tingle. I hardly notice it anymore."
She offered a small, encouraging smile. "See? You are improving. Neurological injuries require extensive recovery times… but you're already doing better faster than anyone expected. It's a good sign, Kaidan. You just have to be patient."
"I don't have time," he muttered, moving to stand again so that Shepard slid off his lap. "The Reapers and the geth are still out there; who knows what they've been planning since the destruction of Saren and Sovereign. The Citadel races are a mess right now with the repair of the Citadel and the formation of a new Council; half the time I worry we're on the brink of a full out civil war on top of everything else. And let's not forget what we've learned of Cerberus so far, and now there's AHAB to contend with…"
He threw up his hands in exasperation. "I can't just sit back and watch during all this, Shepard! I need to do something. I can't stand this feeling of… of uselessness." He looked down to his hands as a biotic corona shimmered around his body and then flickered away again.
He grunted in disgust and spun away from her, inclined to leave the room but knowing there was really nowhere else for him to go. A ship had never felt so trapping and claustrophobic.
Shepard cleared her throat, standing from the medical crate and straightening the shirt of her uniform. "You're right," she said quietly. "Dr. Chakwas released you for ship-board duties last week. But I may have… gotten a little carried away in my worry for your health." Kaidan turned back to face her, honestly surprised by her confession given how careful she'd always been about not showing favoritism. She straightened her shoulders, looking him in the face. "I'm sorry, Kaidan. It's my fault. I should have let you take your old post two weeks ago. I just… wanted to be sure you were really okay first, I guess."
She gave him another smile, a full one that lit up her face. "I'll have Dr. Chakwas issue you a profile. Viegas could use some help decrypting the rest of the files we lifted from Dr. Bachar's computer, too."
Kaidan exhaled a long breath through his teeth, nodding. "Thank you."
Elizabeth walked to stand in front of him, giving him a look that blazed with dead-set certainty. "You'll be fine, Kaidan. Keep practicing. Give it time. And remember you can always talk to me, about anything. I'm always here for you."
He held her gaze for a moment, the turmoil inside him finally beginning to quiet. He gave her another nod, and she leaned up to kiss his cheek before turning away and moving for the door.
"Elizabeth," he called suddenly, stopping her in her tracks. "Do you think Rahna's right about the brain lesions?"
Even the mention of them made the skin around his jack burn, as if the device itself somehow channeled the madness straight into his brain. He instinctively raised a hand to check it, but everything felt normal. Just as it had since the day he'd first gotten it twenty years ago.
Shepard sighed, her shoulders dropping. She walked slowly back to a medical crate and resumed her seat. She looked at once exhausted, and Kaidan regretted asking. He opened his mouth to apologize, to tell her it didn't really matter anyway because it was probably too late for either of them regardless, but she spoke before he could.
"I don't know," she said heavily. She stared at the toes of her boots, her brow furrowed. "It's a disturbing possibility… but none of AHAB's research we've read so far deals with that claim, or shows any proof of it." Her eyes lifted, her fingers reaching back to slide under her hair in an echo of Kaidan's previous motion. "It's something you and Viegas will have to keep an eye out for as you finish decoding Rahna's files. In the meantime, the Alliance has begun building their own team of scientists to re-test the effects of all known biotic amps on humans." She lifted her dark eyebrows. "The public's view of biotics in general is shaky enough as it is. The brass doesn't want anything else negative to get out there. They're going to be sure all of Dr. Bachar's claims are proven true or false… I heard they were even going to green-light further development of the virus to be used as a treatment for biotics who do become unstable."
The news sent a flutter of unease through Kaidan's gut and he chewed his lip, remembering clearly what Rahna had said about biotics being too useful to the Alliance for them to want any regrettable side effects of amp-usage to be become public. And here it sounded as if the brass would do exactly that in this situation – find out the truth in secret, leak only what they desired to be known to the outside world, and silence anyone who then might disrupt that established image.
"And if it turns out she was right?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper, his skin prickling at the thought. "Would they even tell us?"
He searched her upturned face as she looked back at him, feeling his heartbeat throb in his throat. Shepard was an N7, a Spectre. She knew far more about the shadowy innards of Alliance politics and secret operations than he did, and he didn't like the set of her jaw.
"I don't know," she finally answered again, and Kaidan swallowed hard.
Shepard licked her lips, dropping her gaze back to the floor as her fingers laced together. The lieutenant unconsciously braced himself, having seen her adopt such a posture before in briefings; always when she was about to deliver unpleasant news.
"Kaidan, I did some digging on Rahna as soon as I learned the details of your kidnapping. Digging that Admiral Hackett should have done himself before he sent you in there." Her eyes flashed, then softened again. "But I think you should know… when Rahna returned home from BAaT, her parents disowned her."
"What!" He took a step back. "Why?"
"Because of what the amp made her capable of doing." Shepard shook her head wearily. "I'm sure you already knew her parents were people of influence in their community. The local paper made a huge deal over her return and newfound talent; her parents became uncomfortable and afraid and publicly denounced her, calling her ability an 'unfortunate accident that could not be prevented', but promised they would keep her from causing any harm."
"That's… that's ridiculous," Kaidan stammered, shock and disbelief coursing over him in waves. "The Rahna who left Brain Camp wouldn't have hurt anyone… she never even wanted to try…"
Shepard nodded in understanding. "I believe you. But her parents didn't think that way. They tried to have her committed to a mental health facility."
The lieutenant's mouth dropped open. His mind raced back to his own homecoming from Jump Zero, and he knew without doubt that had his parents reacted in such a way, he wouldn't be around to have this conversation.
"They failed to have her admitted," Shepard continued, shrugging, "– obviously she didn't meet the requirements, she wasn't insane. But after that she ran away from home." The commander exhaled a slow, even breath. "About a year later we found a record of her on Terra Nova. She'd been admitted to a local hospital in critical condition because she'd tried to cut out her own amp-jack."
Kaidan grimaced, his fingers automatically going to the back of his head again.
"She managed to recover and later resumed her schooling, eventually obtaining her PhD in Molecular Biology. We assume it must have been around that time she joined the Alliance of Humans Against Biotics. The actual expert surgery that removed her jack successfully was off the record. If you had known all of this going into that meeting… I think things would have turned out a lot differently."
The lieutenant ran his hands through his hair, his brain still trying to comprehend. Rahna used to be such a nice, smart, gentle girl… she didn't deserve to suffer such hardships. Didn't deserve to be wrapped up in the dark and twisted deeds of AHAB. "I wouldn't have left the restaurant with her, that's for sure," he muttered absently.
"Rahna's experiences have made her deeply biased against human biotics," Shepard said quietly. "She obviously has some serious emotional and psychological issues. Everything she claims to be true has to be taken in context."
"And yet the Systems Alliance military is equally as biased for human biotics," Kaidan put in sourly.
"Yes," Shepard admitted. "They are. The truth is always hard to find in these kinds of situations. It will be up to those of us stuck in the middle to weed it out. And I plan to take full advantage of my Spectre status if needed to get that accomplished. But in the meantime, we can't allow either side to get to us. We have to focus on our jobs. And you have to focus on getting better. Understand?"
Kaidan stood for a moment in silence, torn. He didn't like not having answers. Didn't like the thought that with each passing day his chances of going mad possibly increased. "Your perfect little world is doomed. One day even you will slip off the edge, and everyone around you will be the ones to pay the price."
He swallowed hard; nodded solemnly despite the fact a little voice in his head told him his sleepless nights were far from over. But Shepard was, as usual, right. They didn't know enough at the moment to make an informed decision, and without the facts it was useless to demand action. There were enough other, more immediate things that needed their attention, anyway.
Like the geth. The Reapers. The formation of a new Council. The batarian pirates. Cerberus. And the rest of Rahna's encrypted files… which just might, if they were lucky enough, give them the answers they sought before the whole 'human biotic' debate started up again.
There was nothing else to do except what Shepard suggested. His job. Recovering his biotic skills. Decrypting files. Getting back to the Tokyo where he belonged.
"We took on a giant sentient machine, a brain-washed Spectre, and an army of AIs," Shepard spoke out suddenly into the silence. "We can get through this, Kaidan… no matter what they find out."
He nodded again, more resolutely. "Yeah…"
"Bridge to Commander Shepard." Joker's voice sliced through the room as effectively as it had the last time the pilot had interrupted their conversation – that embarrassing moment by the lockers Kaidan would likely never forget. The lieutenant rolled his eyes, reflexively moving away from the commander to further examine the contents of a nearby box.
"Go ahead, Joker."
"We're doing our scheduled patrol of Terra Novan space and uh… well, our readings show X57 is accelerating toward the planet."
A jolt of adrenaline brought Kaidan's head around in time to see the flicker of concern on Shepard's face. "You mean the asteroid meant as the new orbital port facility?" she asked.
"Yeah, that one. It's definitely not where it's supposed to be. Its current trajectory will take it straight into the planet -"
"Have you tried hailing the resident engineering team?"
"There's no answer, Commander."
"Shit," Shepard spat. She boosted herself standing and headed toward the storage room's exit, Kaidan close on her heels. "Joker, take us in as close as you can – we're gonna take a look."
"How 'bout I get you close enough for a Mako drop?"
"Perfect, as usual."
"I know." The PA system clicked as Joker hung up and Kaidan felt the brief surge of vertigo that often marked the pilot's abrupt way of changing course. Strangely, he kind of missed the sensation – the Tokyo couldn't have turned that fast if her life depended on it.
Shepard stopped dead just before the door and Kaidan nearly ran straight into her. She spun to face him suddenly and he took a step back, his heart wedging into his throat. But her expression wasn't contorted with some horrible realization like he had feared. Instead, her green gaze swiftly sized him up, then locked on his face.
"Suit up and meet me in the garage in five," she ordered.
Kaidan's mouth fell open as a frigid, gripping panic bloomed in his chest.
Shepard turned to leave again, but before she could take another step Kaidan's hand shot out and caught her sleeve. "Wait," he blurted, pulling her back around toward him. "Shepard, I – I can't," he stammered, barely able to force the words past the horror in his throat. "I – my biotics… I can't even lift a damn crate!"
She blinked, regarding him calmly. "Who said anything about your biotics? I need you for tactical and medical support." Her hand reached out, touched his arm. "I have complete faith in you, Kaidan," she said softly, seriously. "If I didn't know you could handle it, I wouldn't put you on my ground team."
He looked into her unwavering stare and felt an inkling of confidence return. Shepard's eyes didn't lie. The terrified part of him still insisted it was unfair of her to put him on the team, given he'd had no experience in a combat situation without the use of his biotics. But the other part of him remembered what she'd said about knowing she could trust him. A surge of determination welled up suddenly. He wasn't going to let Rahna and AHAB take away his life. Shepard believed in him, trusted him, with or without biotics. He knew his job, and could still do it well enough.
He wasn't about to disappoint Elizabeth.
Kaidan nodded, trying to swallow in a dry mouth. "Okay," he whispered. "Okay, I'll go."
Shepard gave him a brilliant smile. "See you in five, Lieutenant." She turned on her heel and left the room.
He stood there, feeling wooden, as the closing door shut out his view of her. He looked down to his hands, then spontaneously enacted the mnemonic form to create a biotic barrier. The bluish aura sprang up around his body, shimmering and boiling over his skin. It stabilized and held well enough while he concentrated on it, though was too weak to repel much of anything heavier than a paper wad. He'd definitely have to make sure to install another shield upgrade in his hardsuit…
Kaidan sighed, letting the barrier fade away into nothingness. No use standing there and worrying; Shepard wasn't going to change her mind. And he wasn't going to let her down. This mission would be the test - for him, for Shepard, for the path his future would take. Today was the first day of living the rest of his life with his changed biotics. And here was his chance to actively do something again. Something big. Something that would help convince the brass he was still worth investing in… that would help convince himself.
Might as well make the best of it, then….
Kaidan squared his shoulders, set his jaw, and left the storage room to gather his gear.
A/N: This chapter shouldn't have taken so long, but did thanks to RL craziness and stress, argh. That being said, a million trillion thanks must go to sinvraal, who saved the rest of my lovely readers from a truly terrible last chapter. I am soooo much happier with this new, improved version, no matter the number of hours I had to force myself to sit down and beat the good stuff out of my determined-to-nap muse. This was really the hardest fanfiction chapter I have ever had to write... I'm not sure exactly why, but I really hope it ended up being worth the wait! Thank you very much to all you awesome patient readers and reviewers out there! And yes, Kaidan did lose some of his biotic ability, but he'll regain most of it eventually, enough of it that he won't even notice the part he's missing (and it shouldn't effect any future Kaidan-canon). Hey, if I made him turn out to be completely fine, it wouldn't have been as exciting, or worth all the agony he went through. Or at least that's how I see it. And lastly, I do plan on doing a teeny tiny Bring Down the Sky piece to follow this one, but no telling when it will actually get written or posted, since I REALLY want to seriously start work on original novels. THANKS again to all my readers, I really appreciate you!!!