Disclaimer: Bioware owns all. Except the song lyrics. They belong to Joss Whedon.


"I know you'd like to think you can strong-arm me into being a better man, Shepard, but it's not going to happen. Just as the galaxy needs heroes like you, so does it need the ones who can do the things no one else is willing to do to get the job done. The dirty things that no one talks about. It's a niche, and I find I am quite comfortable in it."

She smiled. "You had better hope I don't find any of your dirty little secrets."

"Wishing we had our own version of Justicars, Shepard? So you could traipse around righting wrongs like some intragalactic Robin Hood?"

"If I find them, I'm not going to turn my head."

"A shining example of truth and justice such as yourself? I would never expect you to let it go on," he replied with a wry smile.

She knew that one day she would find him, and she would have to decide how to make him pay for the blood on his hands. She just hoped it was after the Reapers had been dealt with, because she simply could not fight on two fronts. In the meantime, she had a strange feeling that despite the vast differences in their opinions, she had somehow come to respect The Illusive Man. Or maybe she was just learning him. He would be a formidable enemy the day she crossed him for the last time.

"You can't use EDI to track me anymore."

"Don't even pretend to be so naïve as that. You know that was merely the easiest way, and far from my only option."

"Then you'll have plenty of time to hide the toys you don't want me riddling with bullets."

He nodded in assent. "So you've decided to accept my offer?"

"You knew I would."

"I tried to make it seem like you had a choice. I'm learning that you don't like it when you don't have a choice."

"I don't. And this was my choice, even though you thought you had it in the bag. I could have always said 'fuck it' and run off to play homesteader on a remote colony somewhere – somewhere no one knew me and I wasn't the Savior of the Citadel or whatever inane thing they've named me this time."

"Yes, but your man Alenko can't just up and leave the Alliance."

She didn't even feint at ignorance. "You know that line we were talking about? Things which are and are not your business?"

"I do seem to recall you being quite sensitive on the subject of the biotic Staff Commander, yes."

"Continue to recall that."

A smile quirked at his mouth. "You will find that the money for completing the repairs on the Normandy has already been put in the right hands, and you will be able to leave your berth on the Citadel and take your merry men back out into the stars within the next week and a half."

"Greased a few palms, did you?"

"Credits talk, Shepard. Or hadn't you realized that?"

"I had."

"Yeoman Chambers and several of the crew of the Normandy have returned to my flock, so you are a bit short-handed. Plus with your little quarian gone back to the Fleet and your drell staying on the Citadel…"

"I will find replacements."

"And tell Miranda that I would like to speak with her. She is ignoring me, and I think she would take it better from you."

"I doubt it."

"She's angry with me, but I know she'll get over it."

"With or without blackmail?"

"I doubt I will have to use that," he chided. "You will hear from me when I need something from you."

"Of that I am certain," she said, and gave him a lazy mock-salute which seemed to amuse him.

She stood in the briefing room and stepped back to the let the table rise out of the floor. She had no idea what to do next. Well, she did, in the grand scheme of things, but the little details could use some work. Time to ascertain if her XO was going to continue to serve in that capacity with the much decreased paycheck.

# # # # # #

Two nights later, she sat on her couch, bare feet on the coffee table, reading a datapad when her door chimed.

"EDI, who is it?"

"Staff Commander Alenko."

She jumped, banging her heel against the table and trying not to swear. She was dressed in loose pants she did her meditation exercises in (one could only be in the company of Thane and Samara for so long before one began asking questions about what the big deal was – turns out, it was more useful than she expected) and a tank top advertising Rodam Expeditions (sometimes it was good to be the Savior). With no time to do anything about her attire (and what the hell was she going to do? Look more professional at this time of night on her own ship? Dress sexy for a man whom she honestly hadn't expected to see ever again?), she walked to the door and waved her hand over the sensor.

The door slid open to reveal him in his dress blues again. He looked awfully sharp, and she denied that tightness in her chest.

"Commander. I wasn't aware you were permitted to board."

He gave her a small smile. "When you recruit people out from under me, they still can't help saluting. Eases the way a bit."

"I didn't take anyone you were really attached to – otherwise I suspect they would never have been allowed to leave."

"True. May I…come in?"

"Oh. Right," she stood aside and waved her hand, beckoning him over the threshold. The door hissed shut behind him, and she watched him take in her much more lavish quarters.

"Bit bigger than the last digs."

"Yeah."

"And a fish tank. Wow."

"If I could keep fish alive in it, it would be much more impressive. EDI says I'm welcome to enlist her help in setting up a routine to regularly open the feeding trays, but if I don't put food in them in the first place, kind of defeats the purpose."

"Ah."

"She said I wasn't allowed to have a puppy until I could keep fish alive for seven consecutive months. Seems kind of arbitrary, but…"

"A puppy?"

"Guy I know on Tuchanka has a prize fighting varren that he's going to breed. He's going to give me one of the pups."

Kaidan snorted. "Guy you know on Tuchanka. Wow."

She shrugged. "Guy I know. On Tuchanka."

"How is Wrex, anyways?"

"Trying to be king of the krogan. Mixed results," she said, catching herself in the partial sentences she'd clearly picked up from her salarian scientist – it made her smile.

"So before this conversation can become anymore strange, I'd like to say that I came here to apologize. Again."

"I don't know if I can take another apology from you, Kaidan. It's like perpetuating a bad habit. Sometimes you've just got to own up to your shit and stop acting like you're hurting everyone's feelings all the time."

He raised his eyebrows, and took in her defensive body language: arms crossed over her chest, back straight, the distance between them. "Ouch."

"Sorry," she mumbled, and her eyes were now on the empty fish tank, her cheek pressed against her own shoulder.

He opened his mouth to reply, but she interjected. "I just need another heartbreaking conversation with you like I need a hole in the head, you know?" She paused, looking at him, emotions like hurt and confusion spread across her face in ways he'd never seen before. She was usually so contained, but maybe she was just too tired to keep it in anymore. "Just say what you think you need to get off your chest, and let me go."

"That's the problem," he said, and took a step closer to her, holding her gaze like he hadn't been able to do for more than a moment back on that bench in the Presidium. "I can't let you go."

"Could you please be a little more overdramatic?" she asked dryly, eyeing him with a certain amount of suspicion.

"I'm sorry," he said, backing off a little, his voice sharper. "Do my feelings offend you?"

She let out an exasperated sigh, unfolding her arms and turning to step down the shallow stairs towards the bed. She paced a moment and then turned to face him from in the little recessed area. "I just can't do this again. I can't do another round of 'I don't know, maybe' or let you come in here, and tell me all these heart-fuzzy things and then decide you can't follow through. You said you wanted a life, and I couldn't be a part of it, so why are you here?"

"I was getting to that, if you'd let me finish my thought." She waved a hand dismissively at him, and he ignored everything about the gesture except that it was her telling him to continue. "I tried for two years to let you go, and when you showed up again, I told you, it…threw me. This time, I thought I had a choice in letting you go. I thought that if I said to you that I couldn't do this, if I was instrumental in cutting those ties that it would be easier, and I could move on. But it wasn't. I haven't been able to sleep for the last two nights because all I can think about is you. All I can think about is how I'm probably throwing away my chance at anything resembling that life I wanted, but if I let you go again, to disappear out into the far reaches, I will regret it for the rest of my life."

He watched her from the landing above the stairs – watched her bite her lip.

"I'm still leaving and you're still heading off in the opposite direction. I've still got work to do, and you're still working for the Alliance. Nothing has changed, Kaidan. You made the best points one could make when pointing out why we can't be together, why we can't work."

"I laid out why we can't be together all the time, but I never said why we couldn't work. I never said, because there is no reason. You are not my direct superior, I'm not taking orders from you, nor is it likely I ever will again…" he stepped down the stairs, and still stood more than an arm's length from her, but at least they were both on the same level. Physically.

"Unless the Reapers show and I'm in charge again."

"Unless the Reapers show and you're in charge again," he let the corner of his mouth quirk briefly. "So I'm letting regs go hang because you're only vaguely in my chain of command anyway. My other hang-up was Cerberus, and their logo has been scraped off your hull, even though they're still lining your bank accounts, and I can't take the high road and say I completely blame you because I can see you're getting stonewalled again, just like last time and the time before. I'm not saying I would have made the same choices, but…" he trailed off, unwilling or unable to keep beating her up for her association with the same group they had spent so much of their time destroying. "So what's left?"

"You're going one way, I'm going another."

"The galaxy isn't that big. I'm sure we can arrange to bump into each other," he said, his voice slightly amused and dropping in volume so she had to step closer to him to hear him clearly. (Okay, that was a lie. Her hearing was fantastic.)

"So that's what you want from this? A casual bump-into-each-other-when-we-can?"

"Nothing casual about it." He'd moved closer to her, and reached out to put his hand on her waist and draw her closer.

"And then what?"

"Fight the Reapers. Save the galaxy. Live happily ever after?" he smiled, and she couldn't help but return it. She loved his smile, and fuck that was cheesy, but it was true.

"It doesn't end there. If I survive the Reapers a third time, The Illusive Man and I have a date with destiny. And probably a pistol."

"I didn't really expect a 'ride off into the sunset' conclusion. I'm frankly surprised you let me get away with 'happily ever after'", he said, his voice even softer. He slid one hand under her ear, around the back of her head and began to lean towards her. "I want whatever you can give me."

Her eyes darted from his lips to his eyes, trying to read him, caught in his embrace. This was seriously screwed up. But she wanted it anyway. Her gaze lingered long enough on his lips to prompt him to lean in that last couple of inches and kiss her.

It was just as she remembered, but somehow better.

She let his tongue into her mouth, and wound her arms around his neck, and decided that no matter what came next, she was going to let herself be happy with how it was starting out.

When does the end appear?

When do the trumpets cheer?

The curtains close on a kiss, god knows

We can tell the end is near.

Where do we go…from here?

FIN