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He saw her first.
Well, he saw the back of her anyway. She was shaking the hand of an impressively toned soldier whom he recognised as Lieutenant James Vega.
Kaidan let out an exasperated breath, he wanted to hide, but he wanted to stay. He wanted to see her, speak to her, comfort her... And yet, the unwavering doubts he'd had about the woman, about Cerberus, still freshly hung in his head. It was this reminder that finally gave him the formality to call her name.
"Kaidan?" She glanced round without a moment's hesitance.
"How did it go in there Major?" Anderson asked, interrupting unspoken thoughts between the two.
As Kaidan watched Shepard move closer towards him, memory of the conversations he'd had two minutes ago suddenly found a deep place in his brain to scurry. "Erm, okay I think. Hard to tell." He desperately tried to resurface anything useful, distracted by that subtle half smile on his ex lover's face.
Shepard wondered in more amusement than annoyance, if the man was being careful not to divulge confidential information while she was around.
"I'm just waiting for orders now," he added.
This only fed Shepard's amusement.
The newly appointed Major and herself had shared a brief...relationship? She wasn't sure that term applied exactly, however it certainly did more for the self respect than say...fling. Often Shepard wondered if that's what it merely had been. Kaidan was always just there, right in front of her. They'd spent a year flirting, having fun, fighting along side each other. She'd felt warm when he was around, had liked him a lot. And hey, he was a damn fine specimen of soldier, dark hair, dark eyes, chiseled, so very chiseled... They had spent a couple of nights together, nothing more. Shepard had loved being held in those arms, his bottom lip stroking her neck... But then, he was gone and it was cold again. She did the only thing she knew how, dust herself off and move on, occasionally inserting self reminders of the realistic depth to what had been their 'relationship', although guiltily knowing it had always meant more to him.
"Well, we better go find out. Come on Shepard," Anderson ordered.
"See you, Shepard," Kaidan uttered.
"Major," she nodded.
The room was huge, bare mostly aside from the wall sized window overlooking Vancouver, the vid screens, and of course the erected bench on which the committee sat.
"Ahh, Commander Shepard," a pasty white woman, Shepard remembered only too well began.
"I no longer bear the privilege of that honour, remember?" Shepard recalled her own trial in this very room, being stripped of what was hers.
"Yes, I'm sure we will see to that in time, Comm...Shepard. But at the moment we really need you to focus."
Shepard's nails dug hard into her palm.
"We need you to take a look at something," a well aged man informed the former Commander, handing her information she herself had retrieved from the collector base a year ago.
Her palm started to bleed.
"Well?" pasty demanded after a moments silence. "What are they?"
"I think they may be creations of my imagination, come to kill us all. Why don't you tell me what you think they are?"
"Shepard," Anderson contained his smile enough to warn her a glance.
"Reapers," the male board member sighed. " I knew we should have listened. W...what should we do?"
The compassion in Shepard arose, momentarily pushing aside her anger. These people had ignored her, mocked her, given her pointless assignments while the real threat gained strength. And yet, she felt pity for them. No one wants to hear the words: X bad thing will happen to you if you do not do X inconvenient thing now. So we bury our heads, hope for the best, and pay the price if we're wrong.
A cracked windscreen.
A flood warning.
The end of all life.
"Everything!" Shepard exclaimed, voice raised. "We do everything. Every resource, every weapon, every soldier, every species! Gathering these things is, and believe me when I tell you this, our very last and very singular hope. We have wasted SO much time."
"Agreed. Although I hardly think we shall be involving the other races in this matter," pasty insisted.
Shepard's anger was back.
"Sorry to interrupt Ma'am," a young, uniformed soldier came running in addressing pasty. "We have a visual on UK headquarters."
The screen depicted images of chaos, death and Reapers, a lot of Reapers. Even Shepard stood stunned, hairs pricking the back of her neck, and she'd prophesied this day for years. Nothing prepares you for such barbarism.
"It doesn't make sense, why haven't we heard from Admiral Hackett?" Anderson asked no one in particular. "Come on Shepard, lets get to the Normandy, move!"
No sweeter words had touched her ears.
"And what are we to do?" pasty demanded.
"Shepard's already told you, it's your choice now," Anderson lashed.
The room darkened, bringing all present to a silence. There it was, perching down on Vancouver city, blocking out the sun.
"What the..." pasty started, turning toward the window. "But our defences! How were they breached?"
Shepard saw the familiar glow of red begin to build up from the Reapers middle. She knew what was coming. "It's about to fire, move now!" She heard the sharp non organic noise behind her, felt the heat on her back. The explosion threw her hard against a wall. She slumped to the floor. For a second she thought the bash to the head might knock her out, but she opened her eyes and let them adjust back to colour.
"Shepard! You okay?" Anderson pulled the young woman to her feet. He looked her over, briefly displaying his fatherly affection before shoving a pistol in her hand and instructing her to follow him.
She took in the mess of corpses that lay all around them. There was movement. The female committee member. Shepard knelt down and took the pasty woman's white hand.
"Hold on, someone's bound to be here soon with medi-gel."
"No...its okay...I don't...think there's time."
Shepard realized she didn't even know this woman's name. "Someone will be here," she reaffirmed.
The lessons we need the most are the lessons we learn too late. Being an ostrich, your head warm in the sand, as peaceful a life as that maybe, it is a fake one. To ignore reality is to ignore yourself bleeding out. And so, the mythical monsters believed only to reside in one spectre's brain were a reality. Her imaginary monsters had crawled out from under the bed and killed these people. Death was now their only reality.
Shepard closed the woman's eyelids after hearing her exhale for the last time.
"We'll win," she vowed.
"Major? Major Alenko come in, we're losing signal on this damn thing!" Anderson yelled.
"These things are different," Shepard shouted, shooting another one between the eyes.
"Look the same to me," Anderson replied, taking a look at the newly dead husk laid at his feet.
"No, they've been upgraded, more metal than meat." She scoped another two escaping up the roof. "Damn it, I'm out of ammo."
"Me too, hit them."
The smell of husk is not something that can be ignored. Shepard remembered only to well the times she had spent defacing her skin trying to scrub off the stench. She hoped maybe their new partially sentient bodies would defer the reek.
No such luck.
She punched one hard, knocking it out cold, her muscles glad of the action after so long in confinement. Another grabbed her arm. She pulled her other fist back to take it out quick. Its arm caught her wrist. Her face had never been so close to one of these monsters, the odour was horrific. It screeched a roar, she struggled to loosen its grip. It bit through the flesh of her arm. "Damn it!" She leaned back and kicked full force at its middle. It fell down, she stabbed her boot through its mechanics.
"Well, I think that one's dead," she exhaled.
"Looks like that's the last of them for now," Anderson said. "Come on, lets rest up in that building for a minute."
The two sat, sharing a bottled water left by whomever had lived here. They observed the wreckage in front of them, over turned beds, ripped out appliances, toys...This wasn't fair.
Shepard's hair stroked her face as she leant back swigging the much needed refreshment. She flicked a strand from her eye to observe the teeth marks on her arm. It had stopped bleeding now. Shepard had a high tolerance for pain, (Something that had been a Heaven send over the years) so she was surprised by the level of discomfort the bite was inducing.
"As soon as we rendezvous with Alenko and the Normandy we're heading straight for the Council," Anderson informed. "They're our best means of help now."
"The 'best means of help' haven't exactly been generous with it in the past."
"They have no choice now, none of us do. Besides I'm hoping your Spectre status might count for something."
Shepard nodded. Although both soldiers silently knew this would count for absolutely nothing. "So when did Kaidan become Major Alenko?"
"You're surprised?" Anderson asked.
"Shepard." He threw her a 'stop letting your personal feelings of the man you once bedded undermine his promotional authority over you' look. "He's a good soldier, he's earned his position. Besides he's always been loyal to the Alliance."
Kick in the teeth
"I suppose I haven't seen him in action for a while," Shepard admitted, embarrassingly hoping the Admiral didn't think she was trying to make some sort of innuendo.
"He currently outranks you now you know?" he grinned.
"Lets put that right." Anderson handed Shepard her old dog tags. "Commander."
And all was right with the world, well..except the impending destruction of every man, woman and child of course.
Anderson listened in on his ear piece. "Kaidan that you? Yeah...Uh huh...Gotcha. Come on Shepard they're waiting for us."
Flutters jumped in Shepard's stomach. She was about to return to the Normandy, she was about to return home. She wondered who would be there, idly fantasizing about being greeted by her former friends. The likelihood was miniscule. The Commander had made sure each of her team had been dropped off at there varying places so as to not be implemented in her 'terrorist' deeds before handing herself in.
"Hurry Shepard," Anderson shouted already out the room.
She held back a moment to place the water somewhere safe, should some other poor soul need it. She heard crying. It lead her to a small vent on the wall. "Hey, what are you doing in there?" she spoke softly to the boy.
"H...hiding," he sniffed, unaware of whether this woman was here to help him or to take him to the monsters.
"It's okay. What's your name?"
"Elliott, my name's Shepard, we need to get you out of there, OK?"
"Shepard? That's a funny name." The blue eyed boy gave a single laugh through his sniffles.
"Yes it is," Shepard smiled. "Come on, lets go find your Mom."
"I was out playing, I came back to find her but everybody was gone."
A chill ran down Shepard's spine. The toys... This was his home.
" I think I saw you earlier. Were you playing with a space ship?"
"Y...yeah, I have it here." His tiny hands pulled out the plastic model from his pocket.
"Wow, that looks awesome. You like Ships, Elliott?"
"Um hum." His face started to lighten.
"Well you know, I'm just on my way over to the Normandy."
"The Normandy, the real one?"
"Yeah, the real one," she laughed "But it's going to leave soon. You can come with me but we have to go quickly, okay?"
He hesitated before slowly crawling forward, his instincts told him he could trust the soft spoken woman. "I've always, always, always wanted to go on the Normandy, it's the second thing I wanna do the most in the whole Universe."
"What's the first?"
A smile and ache came to Shepard all at once.
Please be alive Garrus.
Be spraying walls with reaper blood somewhere, waiting for me to join you, so you can say the four words that get me going like no others do.
Just like old times.
"Well who knows, I might be able to grant both your wishes. Come on you."
His hand almost reached hers, when the unmistakable sound of Reaper thundered from behind. She turned a second to see the giant Machine march past the opening. They hadn't been detected.
"Elliott, wait! Where are you going?"
"I'm sorry...I..just..can't...I'm too scared, I just wanna find my Mom," he cried backing up and out of Shepard's sight.
"Elliott, I can help you, please come back."
"Shepard, what are you doing? We gotta move now!" Anderson yelled.
"I..." She looked deep into the vent, he was gone.
"Coming," she sighed.
It didn't take them long to reach the Normandy. Shepard ran to it, much like the way a puppy would after missing its master all day.
She was home.
"Here." Kaidan offered his hand very unnecessarily to help her up the ramp.
"Thanks," she muttered.
"Good luck Commander!" Anderson called out.
"Wait, your not coming?"
"You know the situation, I have to get things on this side sorted, and fast. You've got every other damn side to get sorted, so get moving Shepard. Start with the Council!"
Leaving behind her old captain on a deteriorating planet was not something she'd ever thought she'd have to do. "I'll be back for you," she swore. "And I'll bring every fleet there is."
"I know child," he spoke softly before nodding and heading to his own pick up shuttle.
"Lets go Shep...Commander I mean, sorry Ma'am," Kaidan sputtered.
That's right Kaidan, your Cerberus loving, terrorist, former bed buddy is once again your Commander.
She knew it must be killing him inside. "No problem Major," she winked, she couldn't help it. "Just don't let it happen again."
"Aye aye Ma'am," he replied, not sure how to take her.
The Commander took one last look at her crumbling home world and prayed she was making the right decision. Citizens being rushed towards evacuation shuttles, the elderly, expectant mothers, children and then that little face she recognised, little Elliott Jones scrambling into his shuttle.
Their eyes met.
The door closed.
The Reaper hit.
And just like that little Elliott Jones became a war victim.