So you saved the galaxy again?
Shepard gave her terminal a weary smile. In the months that followed her reunion with Kaidan at Horizon, they'd kept in touch. Nothing dramatic. Nothing even too emotional. She'd warned him against saying anything too distracting, and in his usual way, a trait she was glad to see remained unchanged, he'd refrained from talking about that night before Ilos in explicit detail.
Not that she could ignore those memories. They pressed in upon her every time she saw Kaidan's name, every time she thought of him. Even hearing about Chairman Burn's reparations to he L2 biotics had her reminiscing. But when the fighting started up again, she had to reign herself in. No distractions, nothing to inhibit her concentration. She had to breathe.
But now that was all over for the time being. The Collector base was destroyed. She'd basically given the Illusive Man the middle finger. After leading her directly into trap after trap, she was tired of it. No more would she take orders from someone who could've cared less about her well-being and the safety of her team.
Barely over an hour after she'd left the comm room and taken the elevator up to her cabin, Shepard was already composing a message. Her fingers shook from adrenaline, and she felt light headed. But nothing would keep her from telling him what she'd done.
I'm not working for Cerberus anymore. I called it quits.
When can I see you?
She didn't know what he was doing, but she hoped and prayed that he was close enough to something capable of giving her a reply. Her hands were combed through her hair, her entire body trembling like a leaf, when she saw the terminal blink, indicating she'd gotten a new message.
When her eyes settled onto the words, Shepard felt like her heart was ready to beat right out of her chest. It was already racing, pounding mercilessly against her sternum, but it picked up pace as she read the message to herself.
"How soon can you get to the Citadel?" Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, yet the sound filled her cabin with the warmth she felt spreading over her limbs. She didn't even have enough time to consider what she was saying, what they were doing. Was this too soon? Was he even serious? Would he actually take her back?
"EDI!" The globular representation of the SR-2's AI appeared to her left. "Plot a course for the Citadel."
"Of course, Shepard. ETA three hours."
Shepard took a deep breath. Three hours. Would she be ready in three hours? She was still getting over the shock of what had transpired. And she was sure she'd sprained her ankle, not to mention she was covered in blood that was not hers and bruises that were. But, yes, three hours… Three hours could work.
Meet me in the Zakera Ward, level 27, outside of the C-Sec office. We'll be there in three.
By the time she pressed send, she was already pulling herself up from her chair and moving in the direction of her en suite bathroom. A sharp pain ran through her ankle, but she kept going regardless. A twist wouldn't stop her. Not when she knew what was waiting for her on the other side of a half-dozen mass relays.
She kept her shower short and the water lukewarm. Just hot enough to scrub off any remnants of the battle from her skin. When she was finished, she slipped into something simple, something not emblazoned with the symbol of Cerberus. Even while she tried to keep busy, each moment seemed like an eternity.
Finally, Shepard decided to leave her quarters. She'd drive herself crazy if she stayed there.
She was more than glad to see that Tali was still in the Med Bay, fidgeting under the hawk-eyed gaze of Dr. Chakwas. The quarian perked up a bit when she saw Shepard enter the room, and her sudden change in demeanor had Chakwas turning her attention away from her patient. "We're really going to the Citadel, Shepard?"
"Yeah," Shepard replied with a small smile. "Yeah, we are." She moved over to stand beside Tali's half-reclined, all-uncomfortable frame. "How are you doing?"
"Nothing major," Tali replied, quick to discount the worried look on Shepard's face. "I'll be fine. I'll just need a new suit. I feel like I'm floating, I'm pumped so full of antibiotics." She could hear a quiet laugh of disbelief from behind the filter. "It's nice."
Shepard's smile turned into a full-on grin. "That's the euphoria that settles in after a battle. That paired with the drugs must feel amazing." She was teasing, and Tali knew it. Still, she was just as happy as everyone else that she'd survived. A few cuts in her suit wasn't going to stop her from being happy. Satisfied.
"I heard over the loudspeaker that we're on our way to the Citadel, commander," Chakwas quietly intoned as she began working on resealing the quarian's envirosuit. The silver-haired doctor shot Shepard a look over her shoulder. She could see a ghost of a smile on the woman's lips, but her voice remained calm, void of most emotion. "Any reason in particular?"
Leaning against the examination table beside Tali's, Shepard crossed her arms. "There's a chance."
That was all the answer Chakwas and Tali needed before they both smiled to themselves in understanding. The doctor still considering Staff Commander Alenko something of a son, despite her leaving the Alliance not long after Shepard's death. And she knew Shepard was the woman for him. Even after Horizon, when Shepard went to her, trying so hard to fight the tears as she recounted their conversation, she knew things would right themselves. People didn't just give up on a love like that.
Tali, too, knew exactly what would happen once they arrived at the Citadel. Shepard didn't readily go to her to talk about Kaidan, but she wasn't stupid. She'd been there when they were trying to find Saren. Two people didn't have that kind of spark and remain nothing more than friends.
Three hours became two hours. Two hours, one. By the time Joker pulled in to dock, Shepard was already idling in the cockpit, bothering him until he threatened to put in his resignation. The tapping of fingers and feet, the fidgeting - everything screamed anxiousness and worry. Not that she had any reason to worry. Joker knew Alenko. He'd also leant an ear to Shepard once or twice when she needed an honest, male opinion. No matter how many times he assured her that Kaidan would see sense, she always came back, needing to hear it again.
As he expected, Shepard left the ship without saying a word to anyone.
And as always, the Zakera Ward was packed. Even the docking bay was crowded with people, something she'd see as a hazard on most days. It was nothing more than an annoyance today. Rolling up onto the balls of her feet and ignoring the pain in her ankle, she looked over shoulders, alien and human alike, desperately searching the faces of everyone gathered despite the fact that she'd told Kaidan to meet her outside of the C-Sec office.
Each movement felt like it took another painful hour to make. Everyone else moved with a lethargy that sent a buzz of annoyance through her entire body. "Come on, come on," she murmured to herself as she attempted to navigate the slender corridors between stiff, seemingly nonresponsive idlers. They looked at her, eyes narrowed, but she didn't care. She had to get there. She had to hurry.
Her breath hitched as she pushed herself through the final hurdle, into the hallway connecting the docking bay to her destination. What was she doing? Her hands went to her hair, franticly running them through the unruly strands in an attempt to make herself look decent. Less frazzled. The turian standing by the door gave her an odd look. She shrugged it off, tugging at her sleeves as she made her way towards him.
He recognized her face and let her through without a delay. Bailey, too, saw the look of determination on her face and her civilian clothes and decided not to even say hello.
When she passed the partition into another crowd, she took what she hoped would be a long stabilizing breath as she looked around. There was so many people. Of all days, why was there so many people? And where was Kaidan? Was he still waiting for her, or had he clocked her for a lost cause? What if he changed his mind? What if he figured she wasn't worth the trouble?
For a moment, she swore she heard her name. The sound game from her left, and it was far away. She wrangled her thoughts away from the harsh cynicism that was settling in and fast.
She hadn't been imagining it. She'd actually heard her name.
The first thing she saw was his smile.
Before she even had time to think, Shepard tore off in a run. Her ankle didn't have the audacity to hurt by this point. She was beyond pain. Her heart was torn between racing and stopping altogether. Her feet hardly felt like they hit the floor. The crowd seemed to part around her. Either they instinctually knew what was going on, or they did so out of self-preservation.
She could hardly see for the tears that sprung into her eyes, and yet she could still see him as clear as anything. He was standing there. Smiling. At her. And she'd seen that smile before - full lips parted to reveal only a hint of teeth, dimple etched in his chin. That smile she felt he reserved for her and her alone, one that was absent during their last meeting.
But Horizon was the farthest thing from her mind as she struggled to get past the final barrier of people and launched herself into his arms.
The contact would have knocked the wind from her lungs if she could breathe at all.
She felt her legs swing around in a semi-circle, driven by her own momentum, Kaidan's strong arms holding her tight against him. It seemed so long since she'd felt them, but finally having him so close was like finally being herself again. No detached hug - armor against armor. Cloth was all that separated them. And he was so warm.
Tears ran unbidden down her cheeks - hot, happy tears. Her throat caught as she gave a laugh despite every other emotion running through her, but it took her a moment to realize that she wasn't alone in her reaction. She finally opened her eyes to see Kaidan's brown ones glittering, his cheeks flushed and wet.
Her lips were salty, but that hardly mattered as he set her feet down onto the ground and pulled her even closer against him. His fingers coursed over her cheeks, her throat, her shoulders, eager to seek out what so often filled his memories over the past two years. The warmth of her skin, how she felt in his hands, the sound of her quickened breathing when their lips finally parted. This was really her. This was Shepard.
"Kaidan," she whispered, her hands combing through his thick, dark hair. Her voice was low, her forehead pressed to his. For a moment, he felt like this wasn't really happening. Everyone in the Wards seemed to disappear, leaving only him and the woman he'd once equated with nothing more than a ghost. But she was here. He could feel her breathing. He could taste her. "I'm so sorry."
His protestation caught in his throat, lodged there by his own apologies. Why was she sorry? None of this was her fault. She died saving Joker's life. She hadn't asked to be rebuilt by Cerberus. When he finally gave her the time to explain, she had. Now it was him who was sorry. "No," he said finally, ignoring the tremor that shook the word. "Shepard, no, this - this isn't…" He cut himself off, shaking his head in frustration. After all this time, he still couldn't make sense around this woman. "This isn't about that. This is about us."
He heard her breath hitch at his words. No matter how quick he was to assume he made no sense, Shepard was there to understand. She decoded each string of jumbled sentences, and she figured them out. Figured him out.
In her eyes, he could see nothing but the woman he'd dreamt about, the woman he'd yearned for, the woman he missed. The woman he loved tirelessly for two years. The woman he still loved.
"I missed you," he said in a fierce whisper. His eyes brimmed with even more unshed tears. All it took was for her to lean forward, bringing his face gently closer to hers and her lips against his brow, for him to let them fall.
"I missed you, too, Kaidan."