I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
- Invictus by W.E. Henley
Silence is never actually silent.
I stand alone in the roaring quiet listening to the tumult of my thoughts. You cannot see or hear thinking, but it's presence is a tangible thing. I wait, quietly, for something… anything.
Shepard walks out of the room.
I sit down on the end of my bed, feeling like I'm on the edge of oblivion.
Liara's words float back to haunt me, 'Give him what he wants and die knowing you made him happy'. I need to let it go or at least I need to stop pushing him now. I've said everything I need to say; he knows everything he needs to know as far as I am concerned. Of course, that doesn't get rid of the leaden feeling I have.
I go and lie down on my bed and surprisingly fall asleep. A side effect of not enough coffee, not enough sleep and too many drugs.
When I wake, I feel rested. Then I remember. My stomach does a little lurch, but I ignore it. I hear from EDI that a meeting is underway and could I make my way to the war room. I dress and make my way there as quickly as I can.
The briefing concerns hitting Cerberus where it hurts. I cannot wait. I can see the others in the room feel the same way too. We need to take them out of the game they have been playing.
I'm surprised to hear that Shepard wants me to go; I honestly thought he'd want me to sit this one out. After briefing has finished I linger for a moment, watching him go through files on his workstation. I can't work him out. I pick up the data pad with my mission information, I am already deciding what weapons to take, and the type of armour I'll don. I load up extra info on the Illusive Man and Cerberus, as well as some stolen info that Shepard took, from his time with them. When I have finished collecting everything, I look up to say something and I see that Shepard is watching me. I forget instantly what I was going to say.
"Do you have everything you need, Kaidan?"
"Yeah, I think so. I'm gonna go down to the armoury and get everything ready now. Then some light reading," I indicate the data pad, "I'll probably go eat and drink an obscene amount of coffee; against doctors' orders." So clearly, I ramble when nervous.
"Good, I probably should eat myself. Let me know if you need anything else."
I nod. He's being Commander Shepard now, I'm the Major, and we play our roles and dance the dance.
I spend the time I need to get everything prepared. Cortez is a huge help, as is Vega. Though I sense he is a bit miffed he's not going. I head back up to grab food; don't want to leave it too long before the mission before I eat. Instead of immediately going back to my quarters, I stay and eat with everyone else. The mood is tense but the banter between crewmates is light. They laugh and smile, because soon they are going to face some hard times, so now is the time to live.
When Shepard turns up, there is a lot of back patting and the banter is respectful. These people are in awe of him and he takes such pains to appear human to them, even though it must be very hard for him to do. He has the right balance of approachable, but don't push it. They love him. I smile and sip my coffee, read my homework. I look over a few times and it doesn't seem to matter whom he's talking to, or where he is standing, he is glancing at me. There is a look on his face that tells me he's not afraid to show himself; he doesn't look away or pretend to look at something or someone else. I find it comforting in a way. Eventually, I slope off. I need my own space for a little while.
The lead up to a mission is one of the worse things about serving. I hate waiting. Inaction is something with which I struggle.
"Kaidan?" Shepard calls to me just as I enter the elevator. "Are you all right?"
"Everything is as ready as it will ever be, Commander."
"Kaidan, I..." He is struggling; I can alleviate that for him.
"We're good, Shepard."
"We are?" The disbelief on his face is almost comical.
"Yeah, we are."
"You're not angry?"
"No, I'm not angry. I'll do whatever you need me to do, that's why I am here."
"You are my Commander, it's my duty."
"I know." The elevator halts and the doors open.
He turns to leave and I say, "But I also do it, because I love you."
He stops, "I know," he carries on.
The sound of the door shutting crushes me inside, but that's how it has to be. That's what he wants, so I'll give it to him. He already has enough to be getting on with. I go back to my quarters.
The idea of invading the Illusive Man's base of operations appeals to me on a vengeful level. I would like to hurt him in many ways, but I have mixed feelings overall. He had the foresight to see that Shepard was something else, capable where most were not. He also had to foresight to understand the threat we were all under where most did not. He did the most important thing of all; he resurrected Shepard. I can think of plenty of myths and religions where the protagonist of the story comes back from the dead. I've started to think now there is a reason for that, perhaps in the past fluke, unknown medicine or just pure genetics has allowed these men and women to complete their destinies against insurmountable odds. I can't help but notice that quite a few of these men and women die too. Their image, a beacon of hope where there was none. I look at Shepard and I see him in the same light, I wonder whether we'll remember him in a hundred years, if we survive. It's weird, I really don't doubt that Shepard will succeed; I just doubt I'll be there to see it.
I sigh. I look at the time; twenty minutes have passed. It's going to be a long wait. I tear my eyes away from the accursed window and wander out to find more coffee. On my way there, I hesitate, and change direction to Medbay. I ask the Doc for some advice about having the implant replaced. She seems surprised; as well she might be, as I have no idea why I am asking. She outlines the choices, complete removal, or replacement. She even gives me the details of the different kinds of implant available to me. When I leave, she smiles at me and says, 'Thank you.'
I make time to write a few letters, I daresay if I die they'll never reach to whom their addressed to, but the writing is cathartic. My letter to Shepard is brief and succinct. I pick up the play Garrus gave me and read though the highlighted parts. I mull over the words - 'In the end, the victor has everything, but it does not mean he has won. He who wins does not have to be victorious, just willing to pay the price.' I write this into a letter for Garrus, nothing else, just that quote. I spent the rest of my time packing my things, I like to know everything is in order before battle, loose ends tied etc.
I'm so absorbed in my tasks that I don't notice Shepard enter my room, the first I know of it is the touch of his hand on my shoulder. I start when I see him, drop the book in my hand.
"Sorry, Kaiden, I thought you heard me I didn't mean to make you jump."
"S'ok, Shepard, you have light feet. What's up?"
"I wanted to make sure you were really all right."
Shepard's brow furrows and he struggles.
"Are you ok?" I ask.
"I don't think I can go into battle and not tell you..."
"I know," I say, a tiny smile playing on my lips. And I do know.
"Yes." I say, still smiling.
He smiles. "Okay, then."
He looks into my eyes, as if to see if I really know what he means, but then he looks at me in a way I have only seen in my dreams.
My mind wanders to when we kissed and I feel a warm wave distil over me. The pleasure/pain in memory is what keeps us alive, the pleasure of remembering, the pain of the loss, and the hope of repetition of the good stuff someday. Well, I know I am fighting for species survival, nobly, but I am fighting for Shepard, selfishly. I want to survive… if only for him to look at me like that.
The touch of his fingers on my face sends a current though my body that I wasn't quite prepared for. He gently strokes my cheek, cups it, and kisses me. I stand there like a paralysed moron, arms dangling, unmoving by my sides. He looks at me after the kiss, still caressing my face. When he kisses me again, I feel a familiar lust-unfurling, one I had tried to repress or at least silence. My arms seem to regain movement and they reach up and embrace him tightly. And yet I am still unwilling to completely let myself go, after everything, I know this scares Shepard. I have questions whirl winding in my mind; I am scared too. I sense my old nemesis doubt tickle at the recesses of thought.
I kiss him back, slowly at first. I can't breathe. His hands are in my hair pulling me into him. I feel a sudden intoxication of hope; I'm drunk on possibility. It's like there were only embers before where now a flame starts to burn. He kisses my neck and excitement thrums through my body. The passion in the kiss has the hunger of the starved and I realise, annoyingly, that this is moving too fast; I'm being swept away by Shepard.
I break off the kiss, look into his eyes and realise no words need to be said.
I cradle his face in my hands and kiss him, just once. He slips his hands underneath my shirt and helps me remove it. I kiss him, and then with trembling hands, help him out of his. I am shaking all over. This is everything I wanted and it scares me to death. Shepard looks at me for a moment, and then runs his hand from my shoulder down my arm, taking my hand. He pulls me closer, so we are touching. I feel the heat of his chest against mine, the roughness of where he is scarred and his residual heartbeat. He kisses me again, but this time it is slow, deliberate, and controlled. Everything is heightened in the moment, the scratchy stubble of our faces, the ambient warmth and the pure scent of him. We move over to the bed and quickly discard the rest of our clothes. Seeing him like this makes it real, I cannot repress this again but I do not care. I throw caution out of the airlock and dive into what I want. The now is all that matters to me. The world starts to soften, the moment becomes insular, and nothing else matters to me other than sharing this second and the next, with Shepard.
I wake with him in my arms, warm, safe in our own microcosm. I look at the time and know I will have to wake him shortly. But I wait. I wait because I don't want it to end just yet.
I feel him move and he sits up. He looks over at me and smiles. The smile fills me up with warmth. He leans over and kisses me, then gets out of bed. The moment is ending.
We dress; we are coy with each other and kiss before we leave. But once out of my quarters, we are Major and Commander once again. I get that. It's fine.
There are moments where I catch Shepard looking at me, he smiles and looks away. He surprises me; he is capable of just switching. I wish it was that easy for me, but it's more of a suppression, the water under the surface tension, maybe.
The Cerberus base looms before us and we are ready. I know it is going to be hard and I can't help wondering if using EDI is a mistake. If she turns on us, we are fucked. But I trust Shepard, and he has faith in her like he does all of his crew members, so I do not voice any concern. As it turns out, Shepard was right.
The mission is hard and we have to be unconventional, but we get through. It's fine, right up until EDI points out data on the Lazarus project. It's a shock to hear how far gone Shepard was and I can see that's a shock to Shepard also.
Clinically brain dead? I can't help wondering what that was like, the morbid and somewhat stupid part of me asks, "What was it like? I mean, if you remember…" Really, Kaidan, you're asking Shepard what death was like? "Or… how do you feel?" I manage to recover. I am an idiot, this we already know.
"I'm still me, I doubt I'd be able to turn against Cerberus otherwise. I don't remember anything. Maybe they really just fixed me, or maybe I'm just a high tech VI who thinks it's Commander Shepard." I hear the doubt, the fear that he's never voiced, but that must have always been there.
"You're real enough for me," I say, meaning every word. I hope that he walks away from the console, but he doesn't and selects another log entry. It's apparent that the Illusive Man knew exactly how to manipulate Shepard into helping him.
"Every instinct I had told me not to trust Cerberus, but I needed their help so I played along." I can hear him blaming himself, as I once did. I no longer feel that way.
"You were trying to protect humanity, you didn't have a choice. He used the crew as a shield; you never saw what Cerberus really was."
"Yeah, but I clearly didn't ask enough questions at the time. Here we are now."
"I think we would have been here whether you'd helped him or not. Those sorts of people are quite determined. They find a way." Shepard nods and we move on.
It is the ultimate insult that the Illusive Man isn't actually here. It's as frustrating as hell to find out he's gone. So has Kai Leng, but nobody is losing any sleep over that. The Catalyst is the Citadel and the Reapers near Earth, surrounding the Citadel. Nothing is ever easy is it?
So, we gather the fleet. There is no time left and all we can do is check and prepare.
My head is pounding, but it's not the implant, it's the adrenalin-saturated blood rushing through my system. The time for romance is gone; every part on my mind is focused on the upcoming mission. Nobody can sleep; they wander restlessly, prowling like a caged Lions. I stay by Shepard's side, helping, getting info, checking, and double-checking everything. While we are busy, there is no time for thoughts mired in mortality.
The fleet coming together is a thing of beauty on so many levels. The engineering and skill of alien, synthetic and human ingenuity is something to behold. The ships ripple together like a shoal of fish, all separate but of one mind: defeat the Reapers. To see Geth working with Quarian, Krogan with Salarian and Turian, is a historic moment. But no one has a chance to question the validity of this reality because Shepard has made it so. The cost is high and we haven't finished borrowing yet, but it's a debt we'll pay as a galaxy united. This is Shepard's legacy.
When Hackett boards the Normandy, the atmosphere of the ship becomes electric. The tipping point is reached, and I can see from the faces of the crew, determination, fear, but most of all, a belief that Shepard will get us there. I am surprised to see the same expression on Hackett's face. He watches Shepard with quiet admiration and fear. Thing is, he knows as I do, Shepard will not stop, not for anyone or anything. There is darkness to Shepard, but there is also light.
Then, as I knew it would, time runs out and we stand on the precipice of change.
The fleet moves on Earth and into the chaotic fray. As the fleet engages, they fire on the Reapers. It is beautiful and terrible, streaks of light flowing and hitting the Reapers, creating blooms of spectacular brightness in the dark.
I sit in the shuttle feeling every bump, hearing every breath, and feeling every adrenalin soaked beat of my heart. I'm no novice soldier, but my fear is real. I wish I could say there was some trick to keeping it all in check, but there isn't. Having no fear isn't the answer because then there's nothing to motivate you to survive. You just have to keep it under control as best you can. And if you are lucky you'll come out alive. If you're luckier still, so will your comrades.
The shuttle hits the ground and we are thrown into pandemonium. I run and gun, strafing to cover next to Shepard, just in front of Garrus. The air is cold and crisp; there is barely any light. Shepard decides that we need to take out the Hades cannon, so that's what we aim to do. As I cut down the hoard in my path, sweating and struggling to breathe in the cold air, I wonder what wit decided the name for those cannons. I chuckle; it amuses me. Garrus looks at me as though I am mad and I explain, over bursts of gunfire as we move forward, the meaning. Why not just call it the death cannon? He says. Of course, it is a form of hysteria, us talking as if we were having a chat over lunch, rather than shouting over the sounds of war. But I envy the man… the being, that can get through this without a scar.
As the fighting increases and we get overrun, I feel a burning inside. I'm so totally focused, everything is sharp, and my biotic's respond in kind. I don't think too hard about my actions, I aim, I shoot. Just as I'm starting to think there are too many, a shuttle appears and we manage to get out.
It's not until I see Anderson, do I realise what I've walked into. I sit quietly listening to the man greet Shepard. The first thing I notice about him is how he has aged. He looks weary and has lost a lot of weight. I can't imagine what he has been through here, fighting to survive every day. I don't want to think about how much he has seen since I left, but a few horrific things pop in there anyway. There's no polite way to say, you look like hell, but he does. His eyes, however, tell a different story, they shine with pleasure at the sight of Shepard. Renewed hope is a beautiful thing to see on a man's face.
We land and disembark. I briefly explore the surroundings as Shepard speaks to Anderson. I stand and watch the men here and see the same expressions on their faces. They watch Shepard; he is the focus of attention. It is also plain to see how much these people respect Anderson.
I see the human reactions to the aliens in their midst. They are fearful, but they've been living on the edge of survival for so long, you can't blame them for being apprehensive. I watch Garrus work a small group, the combination of his humour and charm, soon have people smiling. He puts them as ease. The ease Garrus creates is exactly why he is such a great friend and a deadly fighter; you just don't see him coming. There is dark in him, but Shepard's influence seems to have steered him on a better path.
I watch the ripple of anticipation ride out into the camp. Krogan, Turian, Geth, Quarian, Salarian, Asari and Human, together battling for their species existence. Shepard did this; he herded the galaxy together and gave us a chance. A chance is all we need and that palpable faith is present in almost every face, no matter the race. The Illusive man was right about Shepard being an icon; he was wrong in thinking that he could control him. In a way, he gave us the best weapon Cerberus has ever been responsible for: hope.
As I stand there, I realise I've avoided thinking about this instance. He's not mine, or the Alliance's, he's the Galaxy's. What I have are moments and memories. He gave me hope; I have that at least.
Shepard walks towards me and I don't care for the look on his face. I don't see hope, I don't see fear. I see hardness, a glimpse into the gloom we all know is there, but ignore. He is angry, but it is the slow furnace in which hate resides, a hate for the Reapers. The moment he sees me, the expression changes, softens.
"Hey, there you are."
"Are you ready?"
"Absolutely, ready for anything, bring it on."
"And Biotics division? Your students?"
"More than ready, eager in fact. That's youth for you. We're old soldiers, Shepard."
"Yeah, I guess we are."
"Brothers in arms, we know the score… we know this is goodbye."
"Yeah, we know the score."
"How are you doing… scared?"
"Yes, of course, but I've got these bastards in my sights, Kaiden, it's them that should be afraid of me." There's that darkness again.
I laugh, can't help it, "Well, you're right about that."
"When this is over I'm going to be waiting for you. You better show up." His voice waivers ever so slightly, his eyes show the fear.
"Don't get me wrong," I say, "I'm going to fight like hell for the chance to hold you again." And I will.
"So… take care, Major." He tries to leave being Commander Shepard, but I cannot take that and reach for him before he leaves. We kiss, but it's not sweet. It's filled with fear for him, for me.
I can barely speak; the lump in my throat is just about keeping a lid on things. "Stay safe," I say looking away. I can feel myself coming apart; I can't bear to watch him walk away.
As I run, I realise I'm not running toward the Reaper, or the beam leading to the Citadel, I am following Shepard. I finally understand as I watch the Reaper cut Shepard down in flames. I know his scream will be frequenting my dreams, assuming I get to sleep again. The call goes out to retreat, so we do. I drag myself back up the slope, past the broken bodies of people I'd spoken to minutes ago. I don't think civilians realise the quickness of death and war, those who kill and are killed. Of course, they aren't all dead, some are dying. I see a Krogan put a few rounds in a couple of soldiers as we run past them, writhing in agony. I tell you what… if it were me on the ground I would have seen that Krogan as an Angel of fucking mercy.
I want to turn around.
I get back to the encampment and see the utter hopelessness, despair. We've failed. We reinforce our position, get ready for the next wave. And then laughter, delight, somebody is whooping with excitement. I walk up to the growing crowd of men, lit up like it's Christmas.
"What's going on?" I ask.
"They made it!" The guy is jumping about.
I feel a glimmer of something, "Who made it?"
"They came through on the comms; Shepard and Anderson made it onto the Citadel."
"Are we still tracking their comms?" I feel excited, hopeful.
"Intermittent, but they are alive!" I smile, but then the smile falters as I remember Shepard being cut down.
"Are you sure it's them?"
"Yup, frequency ID'ed, it's definitely them."
The hope rekindles and I return to holding off the hoard with a new vigour.
I can imagine the entire western hemisphere of Earth looking up as they heard the explosion of the Citadel.
As I watch the burning shards of the Citadel plummet down to Earth, I realise I've had the second chance I wished for and I didn't waste it. I've been standing in a similar position before, regretting the things I hadn't done. Now, I regret nothing.
He's dead, really dead this time. I don't need to ask if Shepard or Anderson made it out.
There is cheering all around me, people laughing and crying with relief. We watch as the Reapers teeter and fall.
But he is dead.
We are one people, standing together, Krogan, Turian, Asari… it doesn't matter because we survived.
I throw up. It's the shock. Mentally, I know my mind is catching up with fighting for my existence. I'm trembling. You'd think someone with my experience wouldn't be affected like this, but that's just fantasy, everyone is susceptible to shock. I watch the dancing and the celebrating, the pure fucking relief at not dying. I'm not the only one sitting on the floor.
He knew what this would cost me. He expected to die. He wanted to spare me this, if I survived. God, I was so cavalier. I kept telling him the now was all that mattered, and it was at the time. But he knew better and I ignored him. I heave again, it's dry, nothing left to bring up; I'm empty. Someone passes a bottle of alcohol around and I refuse it. I doubt it would stay down anyway. I'm waiting for the tears, but they don't come.
I get up and move around. There's still wounded to attend to and no way of knowing if the hordes of creatures the Reaper's brought with them are destroyed as well.
I pick up my gun. I see I am not alone with that thought, as Major Coates also starts to calm things down and get the men back on track. He nods at me, grateful.
I don't know at this point we're all stranded on Earth and it's environs. Or that hundreds of angry aliens whose last wish is to see their home world again are also stuck here. I think the worst of it must be behind me and I envy that. Survival is not something that comes and goes, it's every day, every hour.
The motes of dust cascade down onto the dead, lit by rays of daylight, adding a sparkle to the holocaust of human remains. The cost of war, decaying but still, peaceful and at rest. Humanity has seen such scenes before, on many a blood sodden field.
A puff of dust and debris disturbs the solemn calm; a cough shatters the silence. A hand reaches out, burnt and shaking, pulling the rubble away. The seared remnants of armour fused in places to the skin, denote a letter and a number, N7. And in the darkness, there is light…
AN: Sorry it has taken me so long to get this chapter out, but I wanted it to be right. I hope you enjoyed it; I really enjoyed writing it. I intend to continue this story, from both Shepard and Kaiden's perspective, I don't have a title for it yet. I have the first chapter of Dust on the Ground ready, for those that want to read this story from Shepard's perspective.