Author's Note: While this one can stand on its own, it is meant to follow up "Better Left Unsaid". The "issue" in that one will be addressed in the fic following this one, "Ship My Body Home".
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all. Except the song lyrics. They belong to Joss Whedon.
Where do we go…from here?
The battle's done, and we kind of won
So we sound our victory cheer.
Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know hope is near?
Understand we'll go hand-in-hand
But we'll walk alone in fear.
Tell me – where do we go from here?
Starting an email with "heard you made it back alive" sounded just as trite as the fumbles he had released out into the extranet months ago. That hadn't garnered any reply, but he'd satisfied himself with "well, saving the galaxy" - an excuse with a fair number of holes, since she'd been in contact with Admiral Hackett. He felt a little sick to his stomach that he'd challenged her loyalties, but Hackett, who was a company man so thoroughly that he bled Alliance blue, had carried on conversations with her and given her information and tasks inappropriate for a Cerberus operative. Hackett trusted her. For whatever reason, Hackett believed in her, when he'd been, at best, an absent clockmaker who only called on her when he needed something. Meanwhile, Kaidan, who had been her right hand for nearly a year, couldn't even get a one-line email back.
It made him wonder exactly how much he'd damaged whatever chances they might have had at reconciliation when he called her a traitor and insinuated she was nothing more than a Cerberus marionette.
To add insult to injury, a little cooperative information exchange (Cerberus puffing its chest, no doubt) had led him to believe that she hadn't been lying about being dead. Anderson had looked a little sick at that prospect - Kaidan believed that he too had been in the boat of "don't want to believe it but what else is there?". The Councilor had been downright stoic at the news of Shepard's demise, and Kaidan thought it unlikely the man had ever even considered her death "faked" when she appeared again; one more person who had been disappointed in her choices, but hadn't thought her a liar.
So it was just him. The one closest to her was the one that denied everything he knew of her and called her a liar to her face.
He tried to be as indifferent as possible, even though he was actually far from it.
Shepard, I'm back on the Citadel. Look me up next time you're here. At the very least, I owe you an apology, and I'd like to deliver it in person. -Kaidan
# # # # # # #
Her finger hovered over the delete button. Even though it made her stomach twist and her breath come short, she wanted to cut him out of her life. She was under no impression that her former team didn't have issues with her death and rebirth - with Tali it had been tears (there was something about her that always tugged at the barely visible emotional cords of her) and with Garrus it had been yelling. Then again, with Garrus it had also involved "what the hell do you think you were doing?" and no one had left without a few barbs that still stung. Still, they'd believed her, saved the galaxy for the next few minutes, and then had it out with her. Kaidan…had just walked away, not allowing her to explain herself. She had been so thrilled to see him alive that her tongue had not been as silver as it could have been, and she couldn't seem to say the right things. He'd cut her deeply, disbelieving her death, and instead implying that she'd been an undercover agent for Cerberus since the destruction of the Normandy - as though she would fake her own death and fall completely out of contact.
The information Miranda had bestowed upon her only made her more reticent to see him again.
She'd been having dreams. Dreams of the sort she had promised herself, half-way through that bottle of liquor, that she would not permit herself to have. They were, at best, completely inappropriate. At worst, they ensured she woke up with her eyes sealed shut by dried tears for a life she could never have, and never even considered until it was there and the choice was taken away.
If she had lived, she never would have kept it - frankly, she probably never would have even known, because she would've kept up on her medication and been none the wiser. But now she knew and that...that was something she was having trouble dealing with. She kept telling herself she was focusing on the wrong thing - what she was really upset about was that she had never expected to live to be able to have those things.
She had fully expected to be killed in action and never have that option available to her.
But she was killed. And brought back. And while there were still fights left, she had taken a time-out and had thoughts about what could be, and it was eating away at her.
# # # # # # #
Shepard, there is a conversation we need to have. You know how to contact me.
Nothing had changed - she had given up Cerberus and the stigma that came with it, she had come back to the Council with enough documentation that she could not be denied; but they did not want to face the truth, and so they did not. Again.
It was only a matter of time before The Illusive Man came calling.
"How's my ship?" Despite the way they'd parted last, his cavalier attitude was firmly in place once again. The House never loses.
"My ship is working well - fantastically, actually, with the AI unshackled," she took tiny satisfaction that his eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
"And the Alliance? They are supporting you completely in your efforts to address the Reaper threat and bring the galaxy together under one banner to fight the good fight?" That amused sarcasm drove her nuts. He was just playing, because clearly he knew the score.
"You know how it goes, sometimes you have to work outside the rules."
"I do know. It's a good thing rules are made to be broken."
"I know you didn't keep your quantum whatchamajiggy just to make chit-chat. What do you want?"
"Actually, I think I've already put forth my good faith token, and it's time for you to return the favor."
"And what would that be?" she snarked at him.
"You're standing in it," he replied flatly.
"Oh right. My ship. Thanks for that, by the way."
"You know, it was perhaps a little naive, on my part, to not anticipate that you would take the high road and then sass me about all I've given you. I know your records back to front, this was...not unexpected." She noted that he did not have a cigarette in his hand as was his custom - a part of her gloated that maybe he'd been too wired up to even smoke, considering the billions of credits that had floated away from him in the last couple of weeks.
"Cerberus's shady past and all the people I know you've hurt, and all the experiments I've destroyed? You had to know it was coming, Timmy."
"Funny," he replied with a slight tilt of his head. "And here I thought that bringing you back to life would have some bearing on your treatment of me."
"I appreciate all that you've done for me, but I just can't be a part of Cerberus."
"Are we going to discuss this like rational human beings?" He sounded surprised that she wasn't going to have a hissy fit and stomp her feet. Clearly he didn't know ieverything/i there was to know about her.
Shepard crossed her arms over her chest and jutted out one hip. "Now that you're not asking me to make split-second decisions while the clock is counting down to my imminent demise? Sure. I can talk. I have no reason to think that you don't know exactly where I am or have the capability to take this ship back. I'm laying my hand out. What do you want from me?"
"The same thing I have always wanted: your cooperation." His fingers twitched, like they were disused to not having a cigarette between them.
"I will not work for Cerberus again."
He let out a bark of laughter. "I though you weren't ever working for me, Shepard. I thought you were working 'with' me?"
"I'm tired of the intrigues. It's not my style. I was dependent on you while I got my feet back under me. I'm not going to deny that."
"Well then let me propose this: subcontract with Cerberus. Share with me the information I request, perform a task or two for me, and I will continue to fund you. Less than if you were working 'for' me, but I will make it worth your while."
"I still think we can do great things together, Shepard. I still think you are our greatest hope."
"Humanity's greatest hope, you mean."
"I make no mystery of my preference of humanity over other species. That is simply something you will have to get used to. I would like to ensure the survival of my people, just as any one of your team members would like to ensure their species survives as well. Few are as far-reaching as you, Shepard. Some of us are much more selfish."
She snorted lightly. "I'm going to share your experimental technology with the Alliance."
"You will not get a rise out of me again," he replied with a smile. "Feel free," he continued with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Consider it another token of my goodwill. Just keep in mind that I will collect on these favors someday, and you will be in no position to deny me the more you antagonize me now even as you take what I am offering."
"How do you know I will? Take what you're offering, I mean?"
"I am keenly aware of how limited your options are, and confident that my offer is the strongest. If you find someone else willing to give you free reign and financial support equal to, or greater than what I am offering, I would ask that you give me a chance to counteroffer." He paused. "But I know you won't. Think about it, won't you? Contact me when you've made your decision."
He terminated the link between them, completely self-assured that she would be calling him again.