The smoke had cleared. The rubble was beginning to be swept away. Much of Earth was now more like her last memories of Mindoir than of the months she'd spent here with Thane. But this spot, their spot, remained the haven she remembered. The hill with Thane's favorite view. She could still hear his voice here, saying that "on a clear day, you can see forever". Finally, she could see what he'd seen in those last weeks. With no threat of imminent death, nor invasion, looming, the horizon was clear. And she could see forever.
Kara smiled wistfully as she surveyed the vista, seeing more there than what her eyes could. "We did it," she whispered. "They're gone. For good." She sank down, and not having a chair, rested back to sit on her heels, still staring out at the sun settling over the desert skyline. "Things are messy, but… I think it's going to be okay. Anyway, nothing I have to worry about anymore – that's the politicians problems now."
She absently scooped up a handful of dirt before letting the golden-red soil slip through her fingers. His ashes were surely scattered halfway to the Republic of Mexico by now, but it still felt like touching him in an ethereal sort of way. "I'm sorry I couldn't come by sooner. Harbinger has the worst kind of timing…" She thought back to the most devastating decision she'd had to make in her still young life; blowing a Relay, and an entire system with it, to stave off the Reaper invasion. It only bought her a few months, and a court marshal, but she was still that action ended up saving more lives than it took. A smirk hitched her lip up, recalling the day they'd met, and she imagined what he'd say now. "You know me – all chaos and destruction."
She licked her lips against the dry winds threatening to chap them. "You'd be so proud of Kolyat… he turned your memoirs into so much more than either of us could have conceived. He's made you a bestseller."
Much of the galaxy, to Shepard's amazement, remained relatively untouched. Mass Relays and near instantaneous communications had a way of making it feel small, but the universe is a big place, and even the Reapers couldn't digest it all at once. For many, especially non-Council races, it was a war on the vids, not one they saw out their windows. So life went on for them, aside from relief efforts, which really only amounted to a few donated credits for most citizens. And now humanity, the child race of sentient civilizations to most, was now the savior of all species.
And an endangered one, as a result.
Not unlike the Drell, Shepard realized. They found themselves as a species on the brink, in need of saving, and there was a galaxy full of species willing to help. But just as being rescued by the Hanar had forever changed Drell society, so would this change humanity. And the long term consequences of that remained to be seen.
"I could be wrong, but I think your son is on the brink becoming a leader of his people." Kolyat's novel was published with little fanfare, just after the Reapers were eliminated. Well, that is until a certain reporter noticed the similarity between the end of Thane's life, and rumors surrounding Shepard's activities after her disappearance. Kolyat had used pseudonyms for everyone, of course, and painted a touching portrait of a boy given no choice but to become the most feared assassin in the galaxy by doing the dirty work of the Hanar, who considered themselves above such sinful actions as murder – but were all too happy to reap the benefits. It painted the picture of a good man.
He didn't hide the fact that his father was the mysterious nameless assassin that many knew, but none could, or would, speak of meeting, but he didn't focus on the murders. It painted the picture of a good man of deep compassion, trying to leave the world a little better for his son at the end of it. He pulled no punches, but didn't villainize his father either. The portrait of that man, the real Thane Krios, was what captured people's imaginations. There were rumors as soon as the Shepard/Thane connection was supposed, propelling the book even farther. Shepard wouldn't comment, but only because it would overshadow what was looking to become Thane and his son's true legacy.
"Don't worry – I'll watch after him. He won't have to face the press vultures completely alone. I suppose I'm the closest thing he has to family now." She smiled to herself. "He calls me Siha… which is good, because I don't think I could handle 'aunt', let alone… "
The book never painted her and Thane's relationship as anything but professional, and thanks to help from her good friend, Liara "the Shadow Broker" T'Soni, Kara's money had been thoroughly laundered, leaving no trace that she'd spent months on Earth. The biography served as a rallying cry for Drell rights, and in the post-Reaper climate, aide was flowing more freely than in even the eldest Asari matriarch could recall before.
"I think the world is starting to see you as I do... did. Not that he glamorized what you did. But you should see him talking to the press. That firecracker was born for the spotlight, I'm telling you. A real ham for the cameras; he's using it towards a good cause, though. People are talking about your people's relationship with the Hanar – bringing things like the Compact to light. The Council is even funding research into a cure for Kepral's Syndrome. It's like the whole universe just had a near death experience; re-evaluating how they approach life, and the world." She sighed. "Why does change always take such awfulness to be birthed? But I guess it's like you said about your son; the most beautiful roses are born from the most fertilized dirt." She scrunched her nose up for moment. "I still don't like you comparing yourself to manure filled dirt, though."
Kolyat's book, which also mentioned Mordin's research, and the manic little Salarian found himself in the position to leave a lifesaving legacy when he died, which despite his "advanced " years, didn't seem like it would be too soon. The Council had agreed to fund efforts at curing the Drell lung disease, in addition to finding ways to limit damage in the meantime.
"The Council wants me to make me a diplomat to non-Citadel races. I'm not sure how I feel about that – being stuck behind a desk. I've got time to think about it, in any case, hopping from relay to relay drumming up relief credits for the rebuild from donors."
"I guess we both know I'm stalling at this point…" Shepard shut her eyes, leaving only the golden color of a sunset shining through her eyelids to see. "I kept my promise," she said in a low voice. The smell of soil and cactus blossom danced on the hot breeze that seemed to caress her skin, echoing a strange feeling of intimacy. Her head dropped, eyes still closed, with her chin coming to rest against her collarbone.
"It didn't go so well. Not at first, anyway. I couldn't help but feel like I was betraying you. It's stupid, I know. I realized, eventually, that the anger wasn't all about him. You know how they say that the things you hate most in another person are the ones that reflect your own faults? I realized that that was my problem. And that I wasn't letting you go, the same as Kaidan hadn't let me go when I died." She shook her head in a barely perceptible movement. "And I realized I wasn't keeping my promise to you; not the spirit of it. And that made me feel like I was betraying you even more."
Another hot breeze picked up for a moment and lit up cool streaks down her cheeks and Kara realized that they were tears. She wasn't crying, so much as releasing something. "I think everything is going to be just fine… better than fine."
She sat in silence for a while, listening to desert – so dead looking, yet so full of life, a smile creeping onto her face. "Happy birthday, Thane. I love you." She retrieved a metal placard from the knapsack behind her and retrieved a copper statue of a female Drell with six arms, each left hand holding a sword and arrow respectively, and in the right a massive shield. It stood up to about to her knees. The base had an engraved placard which simply read: "Your Siha, Always." "I'll always be here with you," she said resolutely. She ran her fingers through the soil one last time before standing up, bowing her head, and finally turned away slowly.
As Kaidan watched Shepard, crouched some 20 yards away, he couldn't help but wish he could be there, beside her. But he knew this was one situation in which Kara didn't want anyone to lean on. It had taken him time, but eventually, he'd not only come to terms with her relationship with Thane. He was grateful for it. He's read Kolyat's retelling of his story, and realized that the assassin was far more than the deadly weapon he'd appeared to be on reconnaissance reports of Shepard's activities.
He'd been there for Kara when Kaidan himself couldn't have been, even if things had gone well on Horizon. He wouldn't have been able to simply pick up and sign on with Cerberus. He would never be sure just what things that had changed in Shepard were a result of her time with the Drell, and what was, well… everything else that had happened. But it didn't matter anymore.
What they had now wasn't quite the same as how they'd been she'd died, but then, it was something even deeper, he thought. The passion of battle, the excitement that brings people together, was long past, as it would have been eventually In any scenario. But instead, they'd worked on it, fought for the entity that was the bond between two people. They'd made the choice to build something together, a foundation for a lifetime together.
And they both knew how fleeting that time was, now. No, he wasn't angry or even jealous of Thane Krios anymore. He was thankful.
He saw Shepard rise to her feet, dusting her hands off on her BDUs, before turning around. He gave her a gentle smile, which she returned with a melancholy one, and he could see the tell-tale glint of unshed tears in her eyes. He extended a hand when she was within arm's reach, which she took before sidling up beside him to take in the lingering pink and orange hues that lit of a small patch of clouds on the horizon. When the sun finally disappeared behind a distant mountain he glanced down at Shepard, who returned his gaze. Kaidan let go of her hand to slide his arm up and around her shoulders.
Kara felt him give her shoulders a gentle squeeze before he finally spoke up, in a hushed tone."Can I ask you something?"
Shepard tilted her head just slightly. "Of course."
He glanced at the small bronze monument that she'd left at the hillcrest, then back at her. "Do you think he's offended that I didn't get him anything on his birthday, after he gave me the best a guy could ever receive?"
Shepard roller her eyes and gently hit him with the back of her hand. "Brother…that is literally the cheesiest line I've ever heard. And I've heard quite a few."
"What?" Kaidan shot back with false offense. "It's true. He gave me you back. He gave us both a second chance. I wish I could give him something." He knew what it sounded like, but that didn't make it untrue.
"Well, see, there's where you're wrong."
"You gave him his last wish." She smiled genuinely at Kaidan now. "And I intend to keep my side of that promise to the best of my ability." She snaked a hand to his face, thumb at his temple and fingers running through the soft hair just behind his ear, and pulled his head down, ever so slightly, her lips soon meeting his.
Shepard smiled into the kiss, as she realized, without articulating it, that the ghosts no longer haunted, replaced, instead, with the warm embrace the best of spirits.