Hello all! It's been a while with this one, but with ME3 events to consider, I wanted to continue.

4. Surrender

The very air of the CIC had seemed to drop a few degrees. Over the blip of all the machinery and monitors, Shepard could sense the silence, the absence of the usual bridge chatter. Kelly Chambers cleared her throat testily. The noise was almost rude.

"I… I authorised Kaidan coming board, Commander," Kelly snapped into activity, saving her from her sudden speechlessness. "Lieutenant Alenko, please follow me to the briefing room. The commander will see you there." The red-head bustled away with Kaidan in tow. His expression was resolvedly fixed.

"Was this anything to do with you, by any chance?" Her Drell companion remained still and silent. "Fine, keep your secrets. I suppose I'd better get this over with. I'll come down to life support later."

She passed Kelly, who whispered a consolatory good luck as their paths crossed. He'd be the one needing good luck, the way her mood was looking. Popping her joints as she walked, Shepard walked the longest few metres of her life to the briefing room

"Commander," He saluted, and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Alliance, through and through. Well, if he wanted to play that game.

"Lieutenant. To what do I owe this pleasure?" She tried to make her voice sound sour, avoiding thinking about that message she'd received at her private terminal in the days following Horizon. That day had changed everything for her.

Damn. She was starting to think like her therapist.

"I have a message for you from some old Alliance friends. If you're still inclined to speak with them that is."

Are you trying to be clever, Kaidan? She rested her weight upon her hands, gripping the table top a little tighter than normal. "Well, what is it?" She had never been one to give lengthy speeches. Her dialog had always been to the point, aiming to extract all necessary information at minimum effort. No point in wasting her breath here, either. Alenko was very set in his ways.

"Alliance command wants you to hand yourself in. Captain Anderson and Admiral Hackett have requested you return to Earth, Vancouver." Alliance headquarters? That was never a good sign.

"Is that all, Lieutenant?" She creased her brows, The blip-blip of machinery accentuated the deadly silence between speech. "Is that the message you came all the way here to give me?!"

He sighed, lowering his gaze. "I… I guess they thought you might listen to me, and I had to try. I had to hope you would listen to reason. Out here you're a criminal, Shepard. But to most of us in the Alliance… you're still a damned hero. If you turn yourself in… you get your reputation back. Back from Cerberus."

She set her jaw, trying to ignore his insistent stare. She noted his use of pronouns; how they didn't include her, nor did they separate him from the Alliance.

"My reputation…" She almost snorted- If only that were the only thing at stake. "You think this is about my reputation?"

"Shepard…" He was trying to correct himself, minimise any collateral damafe.

"No Kaidan! It's about so much more than that, dammit! I know why they ask me to go to Vancouver, and what good will I be there Kaidan?! You know me—I'm a soldier. I was made to be out here, in the middle of space, fighting humanity's damn battles!" She let her hands drop to her side with an audible smack. "I've seen things, Kaidan—we're in the middle of a damn war-A war that they are still denying, and will continue to deny until it is too late."

He had nothing to say to that, instead appearing to examine the grain of the board table before him with astute interest.

"I have seen the Reapers Kaidan… They are coming for us."

Warm brown eyes that had once gazed into hers with affection, even desire, lay a heavy stare upon her at her words. She could see it—he didn't, or at least didn't want to, believe her. It was fear; she had seen it in the faces of many before his.

When would they ever learn?

She was right.

She didn't want to be, but she was.

-0-

A ruby sun sets her skin ablaze. She feels warm, she is calm, contemplative.

"Thane?"

"Hm. Sorry, I was just… thinking."

"Of course, but would you grab this?" The small Cerberus transport ship had taken them to an old research facility which had been converted to luxury apartments. She had messaged the owner, and on confirming her identity, she had offered her the best suite free of charge, mentioning something about working with Liara T'Soni.

Shepard hadn't been surprised at that; Liara was very well connected after all. And they'd all been so doubtful it would be of use to have aliens on board; Ashley Williams, XO Pressley, Udina, and even Joker to an extent had been mistrusting of aliens, though her philosophy was considerably more accommodating.

Humanity was her race, yes, but she didn't like everyone. She judged a person by their worth, by how they treated her, and she'd transferred this rule to alien races, too. Not every Asari was spiritual, not every Turian was obsessed with war, and tactics. And not every Salarian was smart. She couldn't trust all of them, though there were some that she could. She figured that making alliances with people from all races, she would set herself in good stead for the bigger picture.

And she had been right.

Knowing so many people, helping those who may not seem important had certainly paid off. Across the galaxy there was a spattering of people she would bet were loyal to her- Aria T'Loak may be dangerous, though by no means of no use, Urdnot Wrex on Tuchanka, leader of the Krogan, not to mention many others she'd helped along the way. And to some extent, she'd reaped the rewards for her efforts. Though she had a feeling she was going to have to ask for a few returned favours in the time ahead.

But for now, all she had ahead of her was four days and four nights of nothing. Absolutely nothing. No reports, no meetings, no more scrabbling for resources- not even her fish to feed thanks to Kelly. Only Thane. And it suited her just fine.

She'd requested for the humidity of the room to be dry, and warm, for Thane's comfort more than anything; Humans had the advantage of osmoregulation over Drell, at least, and she could deal with it being a little drier than she was used to. Thane had sighed with relief, dropping his pack inside the door, before crossing to the window.

"Is this alright for you?" She inquired, sauntering over to his side and slipping her arm through his. He smiled gently, brow ridges smooth, eyes closed.

"It is the most comfortable I have been in a long while, Siha. This is ideal for a Drell such as myself."

"I could have Mordin install a similar humidity control in my quarters- he mentioned something about it last time I saw him." She chuckled, recalling how she'd had to almost physically run past his lab these past few days, to escape his scientific verbal vomiting.

"Then there would be no reason for me to leave," He remarked, his gentle laugh a purr in his throat.

"That was the idea."

It was supposed to be her shore leave- a much deserved one, mind- yet damned duty in all its pervasive forms was niggling at her doubts. "You think I should go, don't you?"

"It is not my decision to make, Siha." His shoulders were kept firm, wrists locked in place at the base of his spine. "The Alliance is important to you. If you want to return then… you should do it for you, and not for anyone else." She wondered if he had meant to say 'for him'. For Kaidan.

She kicked distractedly at the Ilium dirt, worrying her bottom lip. She almost found herself funny at times; she would hurl herself into uncharted space without a second's thought, risking life, death and everything in-between. Yet when it came to deciding if she would turn herself into the Alliance or not… a relatively harmless decision, and yet it seemed she stood to lose everything. Her sense of pride rested solidly on the foundations of the decisions she had made; not one would she take back, not one bullet did she regret firing.

But if she went back, everything would be picked apart, analysed to death until she doubted herself down to every footstep, every breath, and those foundations would be gone.

Diplomats. She'd always hated them. A decision made on the battle field was a lot more cut and dry when lives were at stake. The choices she had made so far had seemed right, based on her firm sense of morality and good judgement. Politics complicated things, raised questions again and again, as if she hadn't considered them already…

God damn it, she was doing it again! Just the thought of Udina and all he represented made her blood pressure spike, made her want to suddenly punch something…

"Siha." A cool palm slid into place at the nape of her neck, soothing her racing heart. "You can face them soon enough. For four days though, I must insist on your full attention Commander."

"Commander, hm?" A ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. "Get inside Krios, before I change my damn mind."

-0-

She had made him promise to find a good doctor, to take life easy until she saw him again. And as the pressurised door slid shut with a hiss, cutting him off from her sight for the last time, she wondered if she would ever see him again.

Mordin hadn't had enough time to develop any sort of conclusive treatment, or at least nothing that would beat the conventional treatments already available. Thane was entering the final and fatal stage of Kepral's syndrome. His months were numbered, she knew as much, yet what she didn't know was how long she would be chained to Earth for.

She'd finally decided to go, stood alone and staring at the Thessian skyline. In the centre of the desert, on a moonless planet, she had expected total darkness. Parnitha, the system's sun, beat down upon the blood-coloured dusts beyond the horizon, the orange and ruby light bleeding up into the indigo-black expanse of the skies. The stars looked magnificent.

What else could she do? Run? Become the criminal that they feared she already was? She owed the Illusive Man nothing. She owed them everything; Alliance was who she was, who she would always be. They were family- they might piss her off from time to time—hell, all the time—but she was honour-bound to do her duty, to do what was best for them.

She bid her crew good bye, one by one, wondering if she would see them again, too. They all had their own people to worry about. They all knew the threats they could face, and the best she could do for them was to send them off with her cautions and warnings. To be afraid was to be prepared. To be unaware was to be dead.

Her legs felt heavy as she disembarked the Normandy for the last time in Vancouver, chin held high as she faced a sea of uniforms; dignitaries with their shiny bandages and gold stripes of service, armed soldiers, fresh faced and eager to lay eyes on the famous (or sometimes infamous) Commander Shepard.

She'd read on an Earth Extranet news site that she had been sighted bearing scars which seem to glow like the fires of hell upon her face. She'd laughed at that, choking on her morning coffee—those scars had healed long ago now. However people wanted to see her, then that's how they would see her. She couldn't care less what people thought. It's the facts that mattered.

She told herself this over and over as she was frog-marched before the generals and admirals of the alliance navy.

Days of tribunals and hearings lay ahead, yet she couldn't quite muster the emotion to be worried about the consequences she might face. As each day went by, all she could think about was that the Reapers had got one more day to prepare. Galactic civilization was losing valuable time.

She made her argument, and stuck to her guns in front of officials and diplomats. Her constant arguments and enforcement of facts that they continued to dispute in spite of all the evidence was draining her of her energy. In her quarters at night she would do press ups until her navy alliance fatigues were soaked with sweat. The uniform was for politeness really; they were devoid of any insignia or badges that displayed her rightfully earned rank within the Alliance military. For as long as her incarceration lasted, she was effectively stripped of everything she had earned, fought and bled for.

She was effectively nobody, rarely glanced upon anymore, ignored and no longer of use.

Or at least, right until it was too late.

What do we do? They had asked, desperation etched into their faces, still not wanting to believe that what she had been telling them all along was right on their doorstep, too late to stop…

We fight. Because if we don't we die. Her voice reverbed in the marble hall, and she realised just how angry she sounded. It was too late, damn it! She should have done more… She should have stayed on the Normandy…

London, Washington, Paris, Berlin, all seats of Humanity's greatest democracies, pinnacles of their civilisation, were now cast in the shadow of the Reapers. Already, as she stood there, dread settling in her stomach, thousands were dying, not given enough warning. Not given any warning…

Then the building around her shook, there was a blinding red light, and everything exploded around her.

-0-

To be continued.