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Prologue: The Funeral

"We are assembled here today, to pay our final respects to our honored dead. Meghan Shepard gave her life to protect us all from annihilation at the hands of the geth," Ambassador Udina droned on and on. Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko shifted in his hard folding chair and scratched under the itchy collar of his Class "A" dress uniform, unable to focus on the words emanating from the obnoxious diplomat's mouth. The odious representative of Humanity's Alliance stood next to Shepard's empty, silver-bullet-shaped, Alliance-flag-draped coffin, a larger than life flatpic of her service portrait stood on an easel next to it. White and yellow roses, mockingly cheerful, lined the stage, placed strategically at the folds of the pale blue bunting in Alliance colors. Anderson was yet to speak, but the lieutenant was wondering if he could even sit through the newly minted First Human Councilor's speech either. The turian next to him shifted uncomfortably as well, his mandibles drooping in what passed as a frown. He tugged at the cowl neck of his cobalt-blue C-Sec uniform.

"Hearing that man speak of her just adds insult to injury," Kaidan muttered, his voice pitched for the turian's hearing. He and the C-Sec officer had come to an uneasy friendship, being the two people Shepard had brought the most on missions. It had helped when the rigid younger man started to relax and not be so arrogant around the mostly human crew. Especially after Shepard had helped him track down that mad scientist, Doctor Saleon.

The Infiltrator snorted. "I can just imagine her reaction to this."

The funeral was taking place in a quiet corner of the Presidium, its perpetually gentle summer tasteless in the extreme for the solemn proceedings; there should be rain for funerals. Or maybe punishing heat. The services were smaller than she deserved, too, in Kaidan's opinion. The few rows of seats, holding only Normandy's surviving crew, sat in front of a podium draped with the Alliance's pale blue flag. Joker, sitting on Kaidan's other side, muttered for both of the other men to hear, "Are you kidding? The only reason she never shot Udina was because he wasn't worth the bullet. That, and you'd disapprove, LT," the pilot's tone was bitter. They were shushed from behind by Doctor Chakwas.

Kaidan didn't know how he got through the rest of the funeral. Shepard's loss ate at him, a Singularity somewhere in his core, casting him adrift. The only other person in the crew who looked as miserable as he felt was the innocent-seeming Doctor T'Soni. But then, he remembered, the young asari had fallen for Shepard, hard, even forcing a confrontation in the communications room. Kaidan hadn't been a noble enough person to not feel triumph when Shepard had chosen him, but he had tried to be kind to the archaeologist when he'd "won."

And now, the best person he'd ever met had been sucked out into space and killed by a random encounter with an enemy about which they had little data. All because the man to his left was too stubborn. Kaidan clenched his fists again at that line of thought. It wasn't Joker's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. However, Kaidan couldn't shake the feeling that if he'd, just once, dammit, just once, disobeyed an order they wouldn't be sitting here, preparing to send a near empty casket into The Widow.

Before they'd brought the casket out, the six person ground team acting as pallbearers, they'd all stood around the metal tube and placed something in it that reminded them of her. Joker and Doctor Chakwas had joined them. Silently, Wrex had thrown in his favorite shotgun, then glared at them all and stalked away to wait for them to finish. Tali put in a small OSD and spun on her heel to wait alone. He thought he heard the girl weeping behind her face mask. In Shepard's absence, he supposed he was the ground team's most senior officer, but it didn't feel like it. He couldn't hold these people together like she had. Wrex, follow him? Unlikely, and only if he had enough credits. Garrus? Even less likely, the arrogant turian had softened somewhat, but not enough to listen to anyone but Shepard. The Alliance wouldn't let them stay anyway. Joker yanked his ball cap off and threw it into the casket. He glared at everyone left standing around the casket, daring them to say anything, before he turned on his crutches and shuffled away.

Doctor Chakwas wiped her eyes, "The old saying is far too true, Kaidan." Her cultured voice was pitched low for him, "Only the good die young." Kaidan couldn't reply, the mass in his throat wouldn't let him. The doctor stepped forward and placed something in the coffin. When Kaidan looked later, he realized it was an N7 patch. Was it from Shepard's own armor?

Kaidan met Garrus' eyes over the casket, the turian's mandibles were held tight against his jaw. His eyes closed as he set something gently onto the satin pillow. It was a flatpic of Shepard and Ashley on Virmire, the tropical sand spread out around them, the wind had pulled Shepard's bun loose and her pale golden hair flew out behind her like a flag, but Ashley wouldn't tolerate her brown hair being that unruly, it was still in its tidy bun. She and Ashley were laughing at something. He hoped that if there was a God, they were together with the Being in which they both believed.

He turned to look at Liara as the turian walked away, his head low. Liara met Kaidan's eyes. "She was the best person I ever met," she told the human biotic.

"Yes, she was," he managed to choke out, his voice cracking. If the asari showed any sympathy, he would lose it. His control was hair thin as it was. Weeks after her death, he still hadn't been able to cry. Which made him feel even worse. Didn't she deserve his tears at the very least?

"She loved you," the archaeologist told him.

His fingers clenched the edge of the empty coffin, "Don't. Liara. Please don't." He looked at her; he could feel his control slipping. Dark energy began to dance around his hands. The asari walked around the casket, her expression alarmed. The others turned in concern from where they'd retreated in their own grief. Liara pulled his hands off the side of the coffin and turned him to look at her. Her blue eyes met his, his sorrow mirrored there. She stepped closer and he found himself hugging the asari, his face buried against her slender shoulder. He couldn't stop shaking, but the flare of dark energy around his hands had subsided. Her blue skin was soft against his cheek and ear, and she smelled different, odd. But all of the sensory data was secondary to the need to wrench himself back under control. When he lost control, people died. Hell of a way to honor the woman he loved if he accidentally killed her people. Or, more likely, they had to kill him in self defense. Though death, right now, was preferable to the giant, gaping hole in his soul. Liara's thin fingers stroked his hair, her other hand rubbed his back, trying to comfort him. Her soft voice whispered, "And for you, she was Goddess." He stilled at that, his trembling ceasing. He clenched his eyes shut, hard, and took a deep breath. Straightening up, he looked at the young alien.

"Thank you, Liara," he said, his voice steadier. She stepped away and nodded. Turning, she placed a small silver bar in the casket, engraved with Prothean runes. He didn't ask what it was. He didn't think he'd have understood the answer. She walked over to where Tali stood facing the wall in the small room and put her arm around the quarian. Kaidan looked back at the coffin. He took a small black velvet box out of his pocket and opened it, looking inside one last time. He heard Doctor Chakwas gasp and put her hand to her mouth. It wasn't a ring though. He was willing to admit he'd fallen for Shepard, but he wasn't such a hopeless romantic that he'd propose after only a month as a couple, even if he couldn't imagine his life from this point forward without her in it. When she was alive, he felt like he could take on the Reapers by himself. Now, it stretched before him, colorless, sour, a black hole. In the small black velvet box laid the most perfect heart-shaped diamond solitaire he could afford on a lieutenant's salary hanging from a fine white gold chain. It was like her, hard and beautiful, multi-faceted and bright. It was only fitting it follow her into space. He closed the box and sat it next to the picture of her and Ashley on the empty satin pillow.

A smattering of applause brought him back to the present. Udina stepped down from the podium and Anderson took his place. As much as Kaidan respected his former captain, the eulogies were dragging on and struck him as hollow. As hollow as a casket with no body in it. "Shepard was a hero," Anderson began. "From her humble beginnings on Earth, to hunting down Saren and the geth and saving the Citadel, Meghan Shepard was an example of humanities' finest. She inspired all who knew her; she encouraged all who followed her…."

"You're an idiot, Alenko." The contralto voice caught him off guard where he worked on the environmental systems panel.

He raised an eyebrow at her before wiping his forehead, "What did I do now?"

A dark blonde eyebrow quirked in response, "Rumor has it, you've got a hot girlfriend."

He laughed, stowing his tools and crossing his arms over his chest as he turned to face his commanding officer, "And how'd you hear that?"

A half-grin, her arms crossing under her breasts, drawing his attention to them until he'd wondered if she was wearing one of those lace bras she was so fond of, "Scuttlebutt."

He stepped closer to her, inhaling her musky perfume, the scent making his heart speed up, "Nah, I'd never do that to my commanding officer. I hear she's crazy jealous."

She tilted her face to his, and he glanced around behind her making sure they were alone, "With an ass like that, your commanding officer should be jealous."

He smiled against her lips, "You can tattoo, 'Property of Shepard,' across it anytime, Commander." Her lips were soft against his and parted eagerly, their tongues meeting. She'd tasted like spearmint and that indefinable taste that was simply Shepard.

After the ceremony, Kaidan found himself in Flux with the rest of the Normandy survivors, leaning on the railing blocking off the patrons from the observation window overlooking the Wards. An untouched whiskey neat sat on the flat rail at his elbow. He'd gotten it for her. It was what she drank, when she allowed herself to relax that much.

Garrus stood next to him, leaning on the railing, drinking something non-alcoholic since he was still in uniform and on break from C-Sec. "I've been meaning to tell you, Vakarian, congratulations on getting back in to the service."

The turian nodded, looking into his glass, "I wish I'd been there, Alenko."

Kaidan's mouth twisted wryly as he looked into his own glass, "I was there. She would have ordered you on to that pod, too."

The C-sec officer turned his drink around in his hands, "I wouldn't have listened."

Kaidan smirked, "Tell yourself that all you want, Vakarian. You and I both know, you don't disobey Shepard. Even if it's to save her life." He winced inwardly when he noticed he was still speaking of her in the present tense.

The turian's mandibles flared then settled back against his cheeks as he drank, "You're probably right. Listening to her was second nature by the time we beat Saren."

"To the only order I will ever regret following," Kaidan toasted himself mockingly. He slugged back the whiskey, and resisted the urge to turn and throw it as hard as he could against the glass wall behind him.

Vakarian looked at him from under the lens of his scouter, "Like you said, after a while, you stopped questioning. Her orders always saved our asses." Kaidan knew they were both thinking of the Battle of the Citadel. Saren's indoctrinated corpse lay twitching on the floor of the Council Chambers, and the Reaper Sovereign had just been shot to hell by the Normandy's guns. Debris raining down, crashing all around them. One of the eight appendages of the thing managed to get sucked into the gravity well of the Citadel and headed straight for the Council Chambers. Kaidan stared at the falling piece of mechanical god and Shepard's voice snapped him back to reality, "RUN!" Her green eyes wide, her blonde hair falling around her shoulders, her face flushed from the heat of the battle. He didn't think, he just reacted and ran. Debris fell on them, him and Garrus, knocking him out for a few moments. When he came to, a young human C-Sec officer was helping him and Garrus to their feet. The two soldiers looked at each other and knew then that she was gone.

"You know, it was probably one of the happiest moments in my life when she came crawling out of that debris with nothing more than a broken arm and a sprained ankle," Garrus said, saying what Kaidan was thinking as he set his empty glass down.

"I've been waiting for her to do the same thing, now," Kaidan admitted, quietly.

Garrus laughed, mirthlessly, in agreement. "Me, too. I've got to get back to work. Take care of yourself, Alenko." The two men shook hands and Garrus left Flux and the lieutenant nursing his second whiskey.

The turian headed back to his office, not looking forward to the mountain of paperwork that accompanied his job. He got into his closet of an office and closed the door behind him none too soon. The shaking started as he tried to reign in the need to pound the nearest wall, or scream out his anger. He clenched his jaw, bringing his mandibles flat against his cheeks and balling his hands up into fists. How could Alenko be so damned calm? But, he remembered the human biotic had had to learn that lesson the hard way. He, Shepard and Alenko had all been young when they took their first life. It does change a person. His control slipped, thinking of her, and he hit the wall next to the door anyway, his armored fist bouncing off it ineffectually.

He took a few deep breaths, chest heaving. He flexed his fingers a few times, trying to get his temper under control; if Alenko could do it, so could he. He crossed to stand behind his desk, swallowing the rage again and sat down. Now was not the time to vent his anger. Work. Work would save him.

Burnt ozone stench, like a lightning storm on Palaven, as the golden haired woman in front of him triumphantly Lifted the last merc they'd been fighting, throwing him into the ceiling. Small, strong hands jerking him sideways into cover. He'd fallen on top of her, ducking his head in shame and because he was strangely a little too aware of her under him, her sweet scent filling his senses. She'd laughed and pushed him off, told him to watch the battle through more than his sniper scope. Her laughter ringing out again in the Citadel when he'd made some stupid and sarcastic comment he couldn't now remember about the turian councilor. She didn't chastise him for being irreverent and disrespectful. And down in the hold as he fixed the Mako after the last time she drove it and broke the transaxle and she just listened to him while he ranted about the petty injustices he'd had to let slide in C-Sec. The red tape he hated. How she'd showed him the right way to deal with Saleon, not judging him, just pointing out the better way.

Desperate rage still coursed through his veins, but under control. The pile of paperwork slowly lessened as he methodically and robotically filled out the forms and filed the reports that were the life of a cop. The red tape he'd hated. The red tape she cut through with a plasma torch.

He'd come back to the Citadel to work in C-Sec until he could apply for the Spectres as she'd encouraged him to. He'd had a brief juvenile fantasy of them fighting the good fight against the scum of the galaxy as equals, squashed when Alenko had shown up two days ago with the news of her death and told him about the funeral. His reaction then had been absolute disbelief.

"This isn't funny, Alenko. Where is she, really?" He'd demanded, crossing his arms, trying to call the human's bluff. Alenko had shown up unannounced that night at his quarters. Garrus had given Shepard his forwarding address, but never thought she would have shared it. Unless it was an emergency. Since Alenko was still in full armor and had his helmet under his arm, his hair sticking to his forehead sweatily.

"Don't you think I wanted it to be joke since Joker opened his goddamned pod and she wasn't in there?" Kaidan shouted back.

"Wait. Pod? What the hell happened, Kaidan?" He'd invited the biotic inside then, and Kaidan had collapsed into one of the two chairs Garrus owned. The officer took the other, leaning forward, waiting for his friend to continue.

"We were attacked. By . . . something. They… destroyed the Normandy," Kaidan began to recite the events robotically, his usually expressive voice uninflected and dry. Garrus felt his fingers close into a fist involuntarily when Kaidan continued, "The locator beacon in her suit must've been damaged, they . . . WE haven't been able to recover her body. Joker says he saw her venting air as she spun away from him. She hit atmo unshielded, Garrus." The human's brown eyes met his, horrified at their commander's fate. Garrus flexed his hands helplessly, this wasn't possible. How could she be dead? This is not the way it was supposed to happen! He couldn't move, he almost couldn't breathe. He stared at Kaidan, the human's eyes were dry, but clearly in agony that mirrored what Garrus was feeling somewhere in his chest. Of course, Shepard was Alenko's. And he was Shepard's.

Alenko had left, shortly thereafter. For a very long time, Garrus couldn't remember doing anything but staring at his plain white walls, unable to move, or think. She was gone. How could she be gone?

Several hours later, he stumbled out of his office, numb. Anger no longer powered his muscles; instead, he just wanted to find oblivion in the bottom of a turian ale. Liara T'Soni, however, stood in front of him, her white laboratory uniform replaced by some sort of pink dress. The subdued orange glow of the garishly lit Zakera Ward dulled the blue of her skin and the vivid color of her dress.

"Garrus, I need to speak with you," the small asari maiden put her hand on his armored chest and brought him to a halt.

"Not now, Liara. I'm not in the mood," he tried to step around her. He knew she was hurting, too. Half the ship had heard the confrontation in the communications room when she and Alenko had challenged the commander about her supposedly leading them on. The asari had been near-inconsolable for a few days after, though she'd put on one hell of a mask around Shepard. He had no room in his grief for another's. Not even Liara's.

"Please, Garrus, it will only take a moment. I need to ask you a question." Her earnest blue eyes stared up at him. Rage flared again and he forced his hands to stay at his side. This was Liara, Shepard had protected her from the day they met. It wouldn't honor Shepard's memory to pick the alien up and put her to one side so he could continue to his goal of alcohol soaked oblivion.

He sighed, "All right, Liara. What do you need?"

"I know she thought well of you, Garrus. Kaidan and I just confused her, for the most part. You and Ashley, she thought of as friends, the family she never had." A small blue hand reached up to touch his face, but he tossed his head away from the comforting, intimate gesture. "She lost Ashley, but she always had you."

He glared down at her, "How do you know this?"

"I got far more from her mind than the Prothean Cipher, Garrus; unintentionally, of course. I wouldn't dream of invading her like that," she dropped her hand back to her side. She cleared her throat, "I want to know, Garrus. If she could be brought back, what would you do?"

He blinked in astonishment at the asari, "That's sick, Liara. What the hell kind of question is that?"

"A valid one, I'm afraid, Garrus. What would you do?" Her blue eyes stared at him, steadily.

His own silver blue ones closed in pain, his fingers clenching and unclenching into fists, "Whatever she needed."

He walked away from the asari, shaking his head over Liara's strangeness. He entered the public transport system, aware of how odd it now felt. Following Shepard around, most people gave them as much distance as they could. The C-Sec officers weren't given quite the berth of respect the Spectre had been. But, then, C-Sec officers don't walk as if they knew a hundred ways to dissemble every sapient being they encountered. He was jostled and crowded against like every other being on the public transport. He finally got home, the tiny apartment in a poor Ward, all his salary would let him have. In the six months he'd been back on the Citadel, he'd not bought anything for the utilitarian space. He didn't want it to feel like home. This was only a temporary stop, after all.

Or it had been. He envisioned the rest of his life as a C-Sec officer, stuck here on the Citadel, investigating petty crimes and misdemeanors and never making a dent in the evil, buried in paperwork and reports. Being a Spectre now seemed hollow, without her. Garrus did the only thing he could think of at the moment, he took the ale out of the tiny refrigeration unit and began to systematically drown himself in the cheap alcohol.