Warnings: Major character death, depressing themes
Summary: Another sleepless night had Shepard pull a bottle and a glass, reading over reports, pretending that he had to do this right now. On an odd hunch he went into his own medical records, seeing that he had been treated today for the injuries that the Brute had caused. And then there had been the seizure. Remarkably little was said about this, only that Chackwas thought it was brought on by stress, and recommended rest. He searched further back and found nothing, as in nothing. No minor injuries, nothing at all. He remembered that he had been injured on Mars, he remembered that the cyborg had hit him in the shoulder with a bullet. Strange images flashed before his eyes, like a hidden message in a tape, it made no sense, but still it made perfect sense. If only he could capture it and remember it. He looked down at his medical records. There was no mentioning of a bullet anywhere. It was like he had been the only one to escape Mars unscratched, which he knew not to be true.
Authors notes: Thank you to Robotkumo, Maxxiedemon, Asylumfarm, lLisbet, Heavenonfire & Bioticbooty. You are fucking awesome!
Thanks to lisbet for being such a patient beta, and a badass friend. To heavenonfire for the gorgeous art. Thanks to Maxxie for helping me with the plot. And EJ & robotkumo for keeping me sane
This is written for the fall edition of the Mass Effect Big bang, with art by the ever talented, and fucking awesome Heavenonfire(art masterpost)
Made a playlist for this story HERE
I pictured us married with starry eyed kids
‘Til I found what you buried at the edge of the wood
Piecing together the life I’ve really lived
You and I and them
I’d like to find a way to love you
I’d like to find a way to forget the things you do
I’d like to find a way to love you
And if I don’t, I’d like to find a way to say goodbye
-Mike Viola & Kelly Jones
CHAPTER ONE – ERROR! ERROR!
”Keep still,” Liara had said, holding one hand on his forehead, and the other on Shepard’s wrist, checking his pulse.
Shepard had closed his eyes and felt heavy like the bed was trying to swallow him whole. When he heard Chackwas’ voice, he had opened his eyes and attempted to focus on her. Everything was blurry but he could clearly tell it was her. His mind felt muddled and confused, but he remembered her, he remembered her holding his hand, getting blood all over herself, slipping in it. It felt mostly like a bizarre déjà-vu. ”Someone hold back his head!” Chackwas had yelled. ”Stop that nosebleed!” Shepard’s whole body had cramped up. Slowly starting with a dull pain, it had increased in intensity until it was a piercing pain all over. He would never forget that feeling.
This is it, he had thought, this is really it. His last thought had been of Kaidan, and how his smile would undo the world.
Chackwas had checked in on him some hours later, asking him all kind of questions, normal questions masking the odd ones. Even then, Shepard had thought they were weird. Why would she need to know what his opinion on the Geth was? She told him that he had had a seizure, most likely caused by stress, and had ordered him to stay calm for a couple of days.
It had rung true at the time. After all, he was only human, and his implants only did so much. He had agreed and had gone to his cabin and had slept for twelve hours straight. Shepard couldn’t remember a time where he had done that before. Ever.
It had felt mostly like being stuck in a weird dream, those first days after his seizure. The crewmembers had avoided him somehow. He had never been the most talkative person in the galaxy. He was focused on getting through the mission, and when that was done, he focused on a new one. There was always something that needed his attention. Maybe his crew did, too, but he just never found the time. And besides, he had never been really good at small talk. Garrus had been avoiding him until he had cornered him in the mess hall, only then had he talked about stupid shit like calibrations. Not once had he asked how Shepard was doing, and that had been very puzzling. It was the same with Joker, Liara and Tali. They talked about mission parameters, field rations, boosters – it was all interesting, but it was somehow bereft of any personal input. Liara had always flirted with him, and suddenly she was all business. Tali had always joked about, but she had just talked tech. And Joker, Joker had just talked about food and EDI.
Shepard wasn’t entirely sure it hadn’t always been like that. Maybe he had driven them all away during his sprint with Cerberus? Had he really alienated them so much? If he had, it had not been something he had done deliberately. Days became weeks, and still he couldn’t shake the weird feeling that they were acting differently.
He had some terrible nightmares. He would wake up screaming, feeling like his insides were aflame. The mental image of his own pale hands gripping onto a smaller, slimmer hand, slipping in blood. Fear and pain. He would be rattled for hours after one of those night terrors. In the beginning, he had asked Chackwas for something to help him sleep, but she wanted him to talk about the reason for his sleepless spells. He couldn’t tell her that he wasn’t really suffering insomnia, he was just afraid to sleep.
Alcohol had been his salvation. It had given him calm, dreamless sleep when he had not been able to hold it off anymore.
James and Cortez had been the only people who had given him a genuine smile, and he had punished them for it. He had been so hard on Vega that he almost regretted it, and so cold toward Cortez that he always left the hangar with a weird feeling inside, like he was contagious. Like his oldest friends had distanced themselves, and the newest crew was trying to make nice. It just didn’t work that way. He missed Garrus, not that he’d ever admit that, but he recalled they had had a pretty good time. Now he never just came by to ask him down for a card game or a late night snack and gossip. He knew they all played poker with each other, and no one had once invited him. Odd that it hurt, because he knew he’d decline anyway.
Other than that it was business as usual, Joker giving him lip, calling him a slave-driver, but still being happy to take them straight into the thick of danger. Things had been more intense than usual with the Dalatrass and Wrex aboard the Normandy, but it had not been anything that Shepard couldn’t handle.
What he couldn’t handle was stepping though the doors to Kaidan’s hospital room. He was all sweaty palms and tumbling thoughts as he finally walked in. He wasn’t sure he could handle it if Kaidan treated him with the same level of mistrust as he had on Mars. If he was all polite smiles and civil exchanges of empty words, then it was the best he could hope for. Still something inside Shepard wished that they could be as they used to be. He had clutched the bottle of whiskey in his hand and put on his best smile. Kaidan had seemed surprised, but not in a bad way, but rather genuinely surprised to see him. Shepard had tried to read Kaidan’s thoughts on his face like he had used to. But no, Kaidan was a completely closed book. They had talked about this and that, about Mars and about moving on. Shepard had given Kaidan the bottle and received one of those little shy smiles that he had loved so much back when they had both just been Alliance soldiers. All in all, he had left Kaidan’s hospital bed with a good feeling. Maybe it wasn’t all bad.
If Kaidan could move past the Cerberus thing, then maybe the others could, too.
It would be a couple of months later that Shepard got an email from Kaidan, telling him that Udina had invited him to join the spectres, the second human spectre. Shepard had written him back and politely congratulated him, telling him what he needed to hear, that he would be a great spectre, and that it was huge career leap. But after he had sent the mail, all he could do was to sit back with a feeling of loss. He knew that Kaidan would do the only thing he ‘could’ do, and that was to stay away from the Normandy, and from Shepard. Apparently it took a lot more to rebuild trust than one successful mission, along with Anderson and Hackett’s willingness to let bygones be bygones.
Mordin’s expression as he drew a gun on him would haunt him forever. Shepard had thought it would be easier than it had been. He knew there had been no way out, the Daltrass was right, Mordin would have noticed and probably corrected it. That couldn’t happen. ‘Why Shepard? That desperate for Salarian aid?’ The voice wouldn’t let him be, which was somehow a fitting punishment. He had asked him to step away, he had given Mordin a way out for old friendships sake. He had not taken it, that idiot, Mordin had forced his hand, that was what he had done. He would have to report to the Daltrass, but he didn’t feel like it at all.
Coming back from that mission, Shepard had suffered from nightmares more than ever. He kept seeing Mordin in a shuttle reaching out as if he were trying to catch him, and then his expression when he realized he didn’t. He told himself it was because he had shot an old friend in cold blood, and not sure he was glad that he wasn’t as emotionally stunted as he thought he was. It was just business as usual. He had just done what had to be done. Like taking out a Batarian system. Thing was that those three thousand something Batarians had all been nameless, faceless. Mordin was not. And after all he had been right in his reasons for Shepard’s betrayal. He really was that desperate for Salarian aid.
Another sleepless night had Shepard pull a bottle and a glass, reading over reports, pretending that he had to do this right now. On an odd hunch he went into his own medical records, seeing that he had been treated today for the injuries that the Brute had caused. And then there had been the seizure. Remarkably little was said about this, only that Chackwas thought it was brought on by stress, and recommended rest. He searched further back and found nothing, as in nothing. No minor injuries, nothing at all. He remembered that he had been injured on Mars, he remembered that the cyborg had hit him in the shoulder with a bullet. Strange images flashed before his eyes, like a hidden message in a tape, it made no sense, but still it made perfect sense. If only he could capture it and remember it. He looked down at his medical records. There was no mentioning of a bullet anywhere. It was like he had been the only one to escape Mars unscratched, which he knew not to be true.
It had been around then that he had noticed the model in the display. It seemed like it had been broken, and someone had tried to put it back together. Shepard had been looking at it for a long while, until he couldn’t take it anymore and opened the display to take the little model ship out. Turning it in his hands, he heard something rattle inside, and with a twitch he snapped it apart and a small chip fell out.
Shepard had been puzzled by this, picking up the chip. He didn’t recognize it at all, and had no idea how it had ended up inside the model. It did however look like a data chip, and so he plugged it into his omnitool, curious as to what was on it. Someone had obviously gone through great lengths to hide this, and hide it somewhere, where only he would notice.
He read the text file with dawning horror, and flipped back to click on the little vid link. When he saw himself emerge from the static, he sat down heavily on the bed, letting the message unfold. ”Talk to Miranda,” the recording had said. ”She has the answers.” Shepard had to play the message three times before he was able to focus on something else than his own face. It looked like him, but was it him? That made no sense, because he didn’t recall recording this. Vaguely he wondered if he had suffered some sort of psychotic episode, and that was why people were walking on eggshells around him. Maybe it wasn’t the whole Cerberus ordeal, maybe it was him? Maybe he had finally snapped?
He read the text file again, and apparently it was some sort of list of places and names. The word ‘Resurgence’ kept coming back, and ‘Henry Lawson.’ Shepard let himself fall back on the bed with a deep sigh, feeling a nasty headache coming on. Maybe this was all his own imagination, but what if it wasn’t? What if this was genuine? Shepard had growled at himself and gotten up from the bed. These were the thoughts of a mad man. How could that recording be real? It had to be someone who wanted to manipulate him. Maybe there was a Cerberus mole on his ship? Not that it would surprise him if there were. He didn’t know half the people serving on the Normandy. He hid the chip in his bedside table drawer, and decided to forget about it.
He had other things to worry about, other places to be. He couldn’t allow something like this to mess with him. He couldn’t afford to be thrown off focus.
CHAPTER TWO – I KNOW MY NAME IS JOHN.
”Step away from the console,” Shepard yelled, aiming his gun at Udina. He didn’t claim he quite understood what the hell was going on, but he was sure that Udina was at the centre of it. Had he really bought into the illusive man’s bullshit about humanity first, to the extent that he would let something like this happen? Sure looked like it.
”Shepard!” Kaidan said, slowly aiming his own gun at Shepard.
Shepard didn’t need to look to his side to know that Garrus and James both aimed at Kaidan as well. ”Put your gun down, Kaidan,” Shepard said, and almost added ‘please’, and for a split second he could see the scene unfolding, Kaidan doubling over with a bullet in his chest, a bullet that came from Shepard’s own gun. Instead, he said ”Trust me.” Even the words rang hollow in his own ears as well.
”Come on, Shepard, a gun drawn on a council member sort of looks bad,” Kaidan said, not letting up.
Instead of ordering Garrus and James to lower their weapons, Shepard took a step forward. ”I have my reasons, and at one time that would have been enough,” he said, looking Kaidan square in his eyes. He could see Kaidan’s jaw flex; he was not sure what to do – that was good.
”He’s a murderer; he’s here to kill us all,” Udina said, walking up to Kaidan’s side. ”Look at this surveillance footage.”
Shepard looked at Kaidan, and Kaidan never looked down at Udina’s tape once, he just looked at Shepard. Finally he lowered his gun by a couple of centimeters, and that was all Shepard needed. Apparently Udina had noticed, too, and he made a mad sprint to the console. Shepard could hear people yell at Udina and suddenly Udina produced a gun of his own. Why the hell had he let this go on for this long? Why hadn’t he just shot him on sight? Shepard knew the answer, and the answer was hardly professional, it was because he didn’t want to hurt Kaidan.
But the fact that Udina was ready to sacrifice Kaidan as a human shield pissed Shepard off to no end. And he took the shot, watching as Udina fell over, painfully aware that Kaidan was still aiming his gun at him. ”Lower your rifles,” Shepard said to Garrus and James behind him. Then he turned to Kaidan, who stood in front of what was left of the console. He tossed his rifle at Kaidan’s feet. ”Believe me,” he said, noting his voice took on a slightly begging tone.
Kaidan’s jaw flexed again, he really wanted to believe Shepard. ”Okay, I trust you,” Kaidan said softly, holstering his own gun. Shepard took a step toward Kaidan, not sure if he wanted to hug him, shake his hand or maybe walk past him to check on Udina. But the sound of the door being welded open caught their attention, and everyone grabbed their weapons and made ready for the new enemy.
Bailey looked as stone-faced as ever when he came through the doors.
”Bailey?” Kaidan asked, holstering his gun again.
”I see you took care of uhm, business, Shepard,” Bailey said nodding at Udina. Then he looked at the Turian council man and said, ”Udina was behind this attack, and would have killed you all – Shepard just saved your lives.”
”It seems like it,” the Turian councillor said.
”Get the councillors somewhere safe,” Bailey said. ”And Shepard, you come with me.”
Shepard nodded, and looked over at Kaidan, who didn’t meet his eyes.
He had a little downtime while everyone was trying to straighten out the chaos Udina had caused. And gotten Miranda’s message about meeting in the Citadel. He just wished she were still around, since it made him both nervous and happy. He squared his shoulders as he opened the door to the Spectre offices and strode directly toward the monitors. He punched in the code that Miranda had given him and to his relief a 3d projection of Miranda flickered to life. ”Shepard, I’m sorry about -”
”Miranda,” Shepard said, cutting her short. ”What is resurgence?”
”Oh,” Miranda sighed. ”You found out, huh? Guess now is not the time to keep old secrets,” she said with a sad voice. ”Are you absolutely sure you want to know?”
”I am.” Shepard said, crossing his arms over his chest. ”I need to know. Earlier today Kaidan was defending the council against a threat that he for a moment thought was me, me, Miranda!” He poked himself in the chest. ”How could he even think for a second that I was the enemy. He knows me! Once he would have trusted my word, and something happened, Miranda, I could see it in his eyes, something more than me working with Cerberus to get at the Collectors.”
”Well it’s bound to earn the distrust of many of your old friends that you seemingly ‘switched sides’ like that,” Miranda said with a small shrug.
”True,” Shepard nodded. ”But you should have seen the look Kaidan gave me, it was so torn, he seriously thought I was gonna shoot him. In which fucked up alternate reality would I even consider shooting Kaidan?”
Miranda looked over her shoulder. ”Okay, we have to do this quickly, because I don’t have a lot of time, and I need your help with something. So something for something, I tell you what I know, and you help me.”
”Fair enough.” Shepard said, wondering for a moment what the hell he was getting himself into.
”Okay,” Miranda said with a sigh. ”Resurgence was a side project to Lazarus. It was so top secret that I didn’t even know about it until after Lazarus had proven a success. The illusive man knew that ordinary soldiers might not be enough, the Alliance might not be enough. So he made a sort of failsafe project, the resurgence program. Tank bred soldiers with Shepard’s DNA, so with his skillset, but with none of his flaws, none of his humanity. The resurgence clones were made for war. Made to not question command.” She looked directly at Shepard. ”I thought all clones were destroyed together with the lab where Shepard was brought back, but some survived the attack and the Alliance took them to a safe place. I don’t know how many, there could be a hundred, there could be five.”
Shepard leaned heavily against the far side of the monitors, his brain trying to make sense of this. ”And so?” he asked.
Miranda took a deep breath. ”So why are you asking me this? What is it you think you’ll gain from this knowledge?”
”I just need to know if… If I am… not me,” Shepard said with a tiny voice. ”Where is the ID code?”
Miranda looked away from Shepard, looking slightly guilty. ”The iris,” Miranda said. ”But I am asking you to leave it be.”
”No!” Shepard argued, holding his omnitool up to his face, homing in on his left eye, taking a photo which he rendered into a schematic, looking it over for any anomaly, finding none. He repeated the process with his right eye, and while zooming in on the outer rim of his iris he came across something weird, it was with his heart in his throat he zoomed more in, pulling the scematics more apart untill he saw it. ”JS_v.12.003” he said out loud, looking helplessly up at Miranda, until he turned around and emptied his stomach over the side of the railing to the left.
Shepard wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ”Oh my God… it was true, the recording was true. Jesus… What, what am I going to do with that information, Miranda?” He turned and looked at her, wishing that he could touch her, because he needed someone to ground him.
Miranda looked at him with a sympathetic expression. ”Nothing,” she said, ”You’re like me, or Orri. You are a person, apart from the fact you were not born from a womb. It doesn’t change who you are, Shepard.”
Shepard looked up at her, he really wanted to believe her, but it just rang hollow in his ears. ”The crew knows, don’t they?” He slid down the monitor box to the floor. ”Did they bury him?”
”Shepard…” Miranda said in a motherly voice.
”DO THEY?” he yelled, fighting an uneven battle with his frustated tears.
”Yes.” Miranda said. ”I don’t see why tormenting yourself like this does any good. But if you insist, then…” She paused. ”The Shepard that I brought back to life, died jumping to a shuttle on the collector base. One of the collectors shot him in his arm as he jumped, and he missed the shuttle, falling to his death. The crew buried him in secrecy, and is sworn to silence.”
”Oh,” Shepard whispered. ”That explains a lot.”
”The first clone was delivered to the arrest here on earth. And the story was that Shepard had turned himself in, ‘cept he never had the chance.” Miranda paused. ”He was mortally wounded on Palaven. I don’t know if it was because he was so damaged that they didn’t care to repair him, or if it was because they found out that he knew some of the truth. But he was ‘relieved of duty’ aboard the Normandy. And you – ”
”No,” Shepard whispered. ”They killed him.”
”Technically, yes,” Miranda said. ”At least that is what I have been able to find out, but you have to keep in mind that this is above top secret.”
”Kazumi,” Shepard muttered. ”She’d know how to get to that intel.”
”Maybe,” Miranda said softly.
”My nightmares. He died there on the operating table.” Shepard wrung his hands until his fingers were white. ”Jesus, Kaidan. He buried Shepard once and then he showed up again as if nothing ever happened. That must have been… I knew it had to be more than the Cerberus deal that would drive him that far away. He loved me, he loved me, Miranda!”
”I am sure he did,” Miranda said. ”Maybe he just needs time?”
Shepard let out something between a sob and a laugh. ”I am an expendable replica, a fucking copy of the real thing.”
”Relax Shepard, it’s not like that!” Miranda said, but even if she wanted to reach out and touch him, she was a holo from where Shepard was sitting, so she only had calming words.
Shepard shuffled to his feet, ”Oh really? My entire crew knows that I am not the real Shepard, I’m just put here to finish the job. And should I die trying, another clone is thawed up and put in my place…”
”Stop it!” Miranda yelled. ”You are a genetically manipulated person, but you are you! You are John Shepard, and don’t you ever doubt it!”
”No, I only wear his face, I have his thoughts, his memories, his loyalties – his past. I am a fucking imposter,” Shepard whimpered, pinching the bridge of his nose, trying not to cry. He felt like crying, he wanted to relieve the pressure in his chest.
”You are not an imposter,” Miranda said softly.
”I have one question,” Shepard said in a fragile tone, looking up at Miranda’s holo. ”If the resurgence soldiers are created to feel nothing, question nothing, then how did I get Shepard’s memories?”
Miranda looked conflicted. ”Not sure I should tell you.”
”Alright. They are uploaded from the Normandy, even this encounter you’ll store in your memory, and if you die, the Normandy downloads your entire memory database, and uploads it to the next,” Miranda said. ”Edited, of course.”
”Holy shit…” Shepard gasped. ”EDI? EDI did this?”
”Well, yes,” Miranda said. ”But don’t go confront her, cause you’d find yourself ‘relieved of duty’ pretty fast.”
”Right,” Shepard muttered. When he left the Spectre offices his mind was reeling. This was crazy, but it was also real. A little too real, like a disease you couldn’t outrun.
When Shepard finally made his way to the Normandy, he was tired. Not just in his body but like he needed to sleep, turn off his brain for a week or two. He had not seen Kaidan throughout the whole week they had spent here, but he couldn’t really blame him. At least now he understood why Kaidan was avoiding him. But just because it made sense, didn’t make it hurt less. What was he supposed to do with this? His feelings were the same as the ‘first’, but Kaidan had had years to deal with Shepard being dead. In the elevator up to the docking bay, Shepard wondered idly if the Shepard that had come before him had had the same problem.
Getting off the elevator, he saw Kaidan standing there waiting by the Normandy’s doors. ”Hey, Shepard,” he said softly, giving him a nervous little smile.
”Hey, Kaidan,” Shepard said, smiling back. ”Where have you been hiding?”
”Around,” Kaidan said with a shrug. ”Shepard, I need to know something. Down there with Udina, were you really gonna shoot me? I was so sure you were gonna shoot me.”
Shepard looked down at his boots. ”No.”
”No?” Kaidan said with a sour expression. ”Come on, Shepard.” Kaidan walked away from the Normandy, and Shepard followed, watching as Kaidan leaned out over the railing and was apparently looking down at the docked ships below. ”Maybe this is nothing to you, but I have never held a gun to someone I used to share a – Used to love.”
Shepard walked over and leaned out over the railing next to Kaidan. ”I’m just glad you chose to trust me.” He smiled at Kaidan, whose gaze was still fixed on the ships below.
”You’ll do whatever it takes, huh?” Kaidan asked softly.
‘That desperate for Salarian aid?’ resonated in his head, and Shepard sighed. ”Guess so.”
Much to Shepard’s surprise, Kaidan smiled. ”I should have joined the Normandy when you asked me. I know you didn’t flat out ask me, but I know you, Shepard – You asked me.”
Shepard laughed softly. ”I had just assumed that you wanted to.”
”I do,” Kaidan said finally, turning to look at Shepard. ”Does the offer still stand?”
”Are you sure?” Shepard asked, knowing that he wasn’t able to deny Kaidan anything. Especially not when he was looking directly into his eyes.
”I’m sure,” Kaidan said.
”There is always room for you, Kaidan,” Shepard said. ”As long as you don’t point guns at my face.”
”Come on, Kaidan, it was a joke,” Shepard said, wishing desperately that Kaidan wouldn’t have aimed a gun at another Shepard, and that it was just removed from his memories. ”Welcome aboard, Major.” He gingerly placed a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. Funny how the movement felt natural, but he knew he had lost the right to touch Kaidan long ago. He squeezed Kaidan’s shoulder before he let go. He felt a slight heat rise to his cheeks, his hands remembering all too well how Kaidan’s skin felt under the layers of clothes and padding.
CHAPTER THREE – A COPY OF A COPY.
Kaidan wasn’t sure what madness had driven him to rejoin the Normandy, apart from the fact that it felt mostly like coming home, lots of familiar faces. But there were also a lot of memories he could be without. He had been here for a week, and found himself in the Observatory dangling a drink between his knees, looking out at space, feeling sorry for himself. He could see Shepard avoiding him. He would casually change his path when he noticed him. Was he being biased when he seemed to recall that Shepard used to dine with his crew in the messhall, knowing everyone’s names, and their business? This Shepard was aloof at best, and you basically only saw him if he had to bark out an order. The door went up behind him and he silently hoped it wasn’t Shepard, although he knew it couldn’t be him. Because he just wouldn’t seek him out.
”Kaidan,” EDI said, as she crossed the floor and sat down on the couch next to Kaidan. ”I noticed you seem withdrawn.”
Kaidan huffed bitterly, but didn’t grace her with an answer. He took a sip of his drink and sighed. ”I don’t know, EDI, it’s like – Like I came home but everything is both wrong and right at the same time.”
”I can delete the romantic memories of you from JS_v.12.003 if you wish it,” she stated, gussing what it was that was bugging Kaidan. ”I have never attempted it before, but I think there is a good chance of success.”
Kaidan just sat and listened, knowing that if Shepard just didn’t remember him as his lover, then he wouldn’t catch his sad gaze acrosss the briefing table, or the rushed ‘Major’ in the passing wouldn’t make his chest hurt. ”Is it dangerous?”
”There are a chance of damage to nerves and brain tissue. But if he breaks, we can just requisit a new one from the Alliance.” EDI said flatly.
”Is that really what he is reduced to? Expensive hardware?” Kaidan mumbled.
”You tell me,” EDI asked with a tiny smile.
Kaidan turned his head and looked at EDI with a hurt expression. ”Don’t you think that I really wish that I could just see him as Shepard?” His voice broke and fell to a whisper, ”But I can’t… I just think about the cybernetics, knowing that his heart doesn’t beat, not for real.”
”Technically it does,” EDI said. ”He is every bit Shepard. He just happens to have a serial number.”
Kaidan looked back at space, bowing his head, letting himself feel the intense loss that he had been battling since he came aboard the Normandy. ”It was easier with the one that came before, you know. He just thought I mistrusted him for the Cerberus thing. And it felt right and okay to dismiss him. But this one he.. He just looks so lost somehow, like he would really want to approach me, but doesn’t know how. And I could just give him the lead that he needed.” He paused, ”I could -”
”But you won’t?”
”No,” Kaidan said squirming a little, like he was ashamed of himself. ”He is JS version 12, number 6 or whatever he is.”
”3,” EDI corrected him. ”He’s number 3.”
”Whatever,” Kaidan said miserably, downing his drink. ”I just can’t, EDI. Maybe to make him forget would be the kindest? Like putting down a lame horse.”
EDI nodded, listening. ”Well, he is not a robot Kaidan, he is more like an android, made of tissue and mostly human. Complete with feelings and memories. For what it’s worth, he is Shepard.”
”Yeah, but grown in a tank, with hundreds of his twins.” Kaidan said acidly.
”Everything,” Kaidan said with a deep sigh. ”So will you do it?”
”Erase his romantic memories of you?” EDI asked
”Yes,” EDI said.”Let’s make a deal. I will erase the memories in two weeks,” she said. ”But are you ready to just be friends? I would take every precious moment from him, every date, every lazy morning, every kiss you ever shared, and everything that led up to it.” She stood up from the sofa. ”And in some sense it’s a large piece of his humanity that I steal. Give it some thought, okay?”
Kaidan spent the entire night tossing and turning in his cot, memories of the real Shepard mingling with the fleeting, timid smile and averting eyes of JS_v.12.003. He didn’t understand why it was so hard? JS_v.12.003 was just a damn heap of junk, why would he worry about hurting him, or taking away his humanity? Maybe it was because he wasn’t sure. EDI had made him wonder. He had never for a second thought that the clone Shepard would have feelings, he just thought he had memories. So maybe he had feelings on an intellectual basis, knowing that they had been lovers, and therefore he should feel fondness. All in past tense. He had never for a second thought that JS_v.12.003 could have his feelings hurt in present time.
Maybe he should try and speak to him. Just once. He needed to know how much of Shepard was buried in there.
It would be a week before Kaidan got himself together enough so he could approach Shepard. And when he met him crossing the empty messhall he mostly reacted on instinct. ”Hey Shepard,” he said, amazed of how easy those words rolled off his tongue, and still tasted melancholi.
”Major,” Shepard said, looking away, but stopping.
”How come you’re still awake?” Kaidan asked, already formulating an answer in his head, because robots didn’t need to sleep. Who was he kidding?
”I had to drop off something for Garrus,” Shepard said. ”Figured it was easier to do it myself.” He shifted nervously on his feet. The uneasiness rolled off him in vaves, which surprised Kaidan.
”Would you… eh perhaps have a cup of coffee with me… you know.” Kaidan said, wondering where this nervousness came from. All in all he had just promised himself to talk to JS_v.12.003, to be absolutely sure that he’d have no qualms with deleting himself from its memory.
”Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Shepard said, avoiding an answer.
”I can’t,” Kaidan said, and walked over toward the coffeemaker.
”Okay then,” Shepard nodded.
”Black, two sugar?” Kaidan asked, standing with a cup in his hand, about to punch in the order.
”Milk, no sugar,” Shepard said, turning his head and looking out over the empty messhall.
”Right,” Kaidan said, punching it in. He knew how Shepard took his coffee, he was just checking… checking for what exactly? That JS_v.12.003 had Shepards memories? He already knew that, so why was he testing him?
”Thanks,” Shepard mumbled as Kaidan handed him the styrofoam cup.
”Shepard,” Kaidan sighed, ”I know I said we were good, you know the whole Mars thing. But I’m just not sure, I don’t know – Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”
”Okay,” Shepard said with a nod. ”When we are done with the Quarians, I’ll make sure you’re taken to where ever you want to be dropped off.”
Kaidan frowned, ”I thought you’d at least object.”
”Why?” Shepard asked softly, not even turning his head to look at Kaidan, his cybernetics shimmering red out through cracks in his skin. It made it even easier to think of him like a robot.
”Why indeed,” Kaidan muttered, taking a sip of the warm coffee.
Shepard didn’t say anything, he knew exactly why Kaidan mistrusted him, but it was too dangerous to say. But there it was, the elephant in the room. ”I made a bunch of wrong calls, for the right reasons. So really, Kaidan, it’s fine.”
”That’s hardly fair.” Kaidan said.
”Maybe not,” Shepard said, ”But if you wanna go, who am I to make you stay?”
”Would you at least look at me?” Kaidan said, not really sure why he even said that.
Shepard turned his head and looked directly at Kaidan. Even with his ruby red eyes he managed to look sad and lost.
”I didn’t say I wanted to go, I said maybe,” Kaidan said, leaning against the stove.
”Okay,” Shepard nodded again. ”So if you do, just let me know.” He flashed a quick smile. ”Remember what you told me when we were on our way to Ilos?”
”Which part?” Kaidan asked.
”That if you didn’t think I was doing the right thing, you wouldn’t be here.” Shepard finally drank some of his coffee and then again looked away from Kaidan. ”So you must still think I have some sort of redeeming quality since you joined up under my command again.”
Kaidan opened his mouth to say something, but every intelligent answer died on his lips. ”You’re right,” he just said, frowning as he recalled what came after that conversation. ”But we all say things like that in the face of death.”
”Yeah,” Shepard said. ”It was worth a try.”
”What is this? Are you seriously trying to soften me up with memories of whatever battle fling we had two years ago?” Kaidan growled angrily. ”That’s low.”
Shepard turned and looked Kaidan up and down, he put down his cup on the table he had been leaning against. ”Are we done here, Major?”
Kaidan tossed his cup in anger, the brown liquid spashing out over Shepard’s boots. And then started to walk out of the messhall with long angry strides.
”If you leave this room, I will leave you on the flotilla to wait for another shuttle.” Shepard yelled. He clenched his fists, all he really wanted to say, was – wait, don’t leave.
Kaidan spun around and glared at Shepard who was walking towards him. ”Fuck the has-beens, and could-have-beens. But as long as you are aboard the Normandy, I am your commander. End of story. And if you can’t deal with that, I suggest you find a solution, because I have no need for obstinate soldiers on my team.”
Kaidan blinked. ”What happened to you, man?”
”War, Kaidan,” Shepard said. ”War happened to me. I am not the kid that you knew, anymore. I used to have ideals, I used to believe in right and wrong. But war tought me that there is no such thing. There is only winning, and getting out with as little casualties on your side.” Shepard pumped his fists in his pockets. ”I thought that you being here might remind me a little of what it was like to be fucking human. You were the one who made – Made the difference.”
Kaidan just stared at Shepard as he finished his outburst. He wondered if that was just JS_v.12.003, or if the real Shepard would have caved in under the pressure and the battles as well.
”You call it a fling,” Shepard said softly. ”But I fucking loved you.” He squared his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. ”If you bring this up again, I will fucking drop you myself,” he hissed, and walked past Kaidan, giving him a shoulder on his way out.
Kaidan stood for a while in the empty messhall. This couldn’t have gone worse even if he had tried. ”EDI?” he called out into the room. ”Do it.”
CHAPTER FOUR – INSANITY CHECK
Shepard woke from a nightmare, regretting that he had even attempted sleep. ”Fuck,” he whispered, rubbing his face. Wanting to rid his mind of the visions of Kaidan, naked above him, his brown eyes dark with passion, sweat dropping from his forehead. And then he said ‘nothing quite like a fling in space.’ And with that, Shepard reached under his pillow and blasted his head straight off, splattering brain matter all over Shepard and the bed, his cock twisting inside Shepard as Kaidan’s body spasmed and went limp.
”Shepard,” EDI said over the intercom, ”Are you alright? I saw your vitals spike.”
”Yeah, I’m fine,” Shepard mumbled back.
The door slid open, and in came EDI in person. ”Nightmares?” she asked, coming to sit at the foot of Shepard’s bed.
”Yeah.” He scratched his neck, ”I’m good, though, really.”
”Good,” EDI said. ”Chackwas wanted to do a full medical on you today. She has reason to believe that there is nerve damage to some of your cybernetics. So she has to sedate you.”
”Okay?” Shepard looked at EDI in alarm. ”Why did you come here to tell me this?”
”Because I wanted to,” EDI said with a little smile. In reality EDI was not sure she should tell Shepard exactly what she was gonna do. ”We can do it here, so there’s no need to go down to medbay. Give me your arm.” She reached for Shepard’s arm, which he gave her willingly. She uncurled her other hand, showing a syringe. ”Ready?”
Shepard just nodded. He had no reason to mistrust EDI. He laid back in the bed as his body started to buzz, and then he went out cold.
EDI sighed. ”Major Alenko and Dr. Chackwas, would you come to the commander’s cabin?” she called out over the intercom.
It took Kaidan ten long minutes to enter the commander’s cabin, amazed that it looked roughly like it had back on SR1.
”Okay,” EDI said, ”I don’t exactly know how this is gonna work, so just in case he goes into cardiac arrest, Doc is here.” She nodded at Chackwas. ”So are you sure? You want every romantic feeling and memory gone?” She stared directly at Kaidan. ”If it goes smoothly, he won’t be able to recall you as anything other than a team member on the SR1.”
”I’m sure,” Kaidan said, knowing his entire body language told a different story.
”I have to warn you, though, it might be the only thing that is keeping him human,” EDI said.
”Could you… could you perhaps let the memory of our late night talks back on SR1 stay?” Kaidan asked.
”Because I think he cherished those as much as I did,” Kaidan admitted. ”Not that this tincan ought to care, no offence.”
”None taken,” EDI said with a slight shake of her head.
”But if… you know it has Shepard’s memories, then I’d like to leave it with some good memories of me, even if it’s only as a friend,” Kaidan said with a little smile.
”Okay.” EDI sat down and pulled a cord from her arm, turning Shepard over and counted down his spine. ”10, there we are.” She stuck the cord in between the 10th and 11th vertibrae. Shepard spasmed slightly. ”Okay I am logged in, how is he, Doc?”
”His blood pressure is a little high, but otherwise fine,” Chackwas said, monitoring the screen on her side.
”Wanna watch, Kaidan?” EDI asked. ”I can transfer the data to your omnitool.”
”Why would I wanna watch?” Kaidan asked.
”Just tought that the editor would be interested in the result,” EDI said, knowing she was torturing Kaidan, and it was absolutely on purpose. Hoping that he would see the wrong of what he was ordering.
”Alright,” Kaidan mumbled sitting down in the bed as well, resting his thigh against Shepard’s feet.
”Okay JS_v.12.003, let’s see what you have for us,” EDI mumbled as she focused on the code rolling infront of her. ”Kaidan, if you want me to remove all romantic feelings he had toward you, I’d have to remove you completely. Looks like the Commander fell in love at first sight.”
”Oh.” Kaidan squirmed uncomfortably. ”Well… could you just fast forward to something tangible.”
”Sure.” EDI was silent for a while. ”Okay, here is something.”
Kaidan stared at the code that came up on his omnitool. It flickered and became a recording from Shepard’s point of view. Kaidan looked at himself through Shepard’s eyes, and he was pretty sure he had never looked that fit. Come on, Kaidan, I can get a salute from anyone on this ship, sometimes I need a shoulder, was whispered scrambled through the omnitool. ”Delete it,” Kaidan said, recalling how much he regretted that this kiss never happened, but as it was now he felt like this memory in JS_v.12.003’s head sullied the love that he and Shepard had shared.
”Okay.” EDI said, ”So how is this?”
Shepard let out a little whine as EDI edited, but no other protest were made. Chackwas nodded at EDI to let her know that all was normal.
Kaidan looked at the same scene, but this time, it was edited. He walked out before he could extend his hand to Shepard, and the near kiss never happened. Also fragments of the talk were gone. They were talking about being docked. ”Yeah, that’s good.”
”All right…” She went back to searching Shepard’s memories for romance. ”Oh my… Take a look, Kaidan.”
Kaidan stared at his omnitool, watching himself enter a dark room, remembering the scene, and he wanted to stop watching but something made him keep looking, You know what? You’re right about everything, I think about losing you and I can’t – ”STOP!” Kaidan gasped. ”Stop that, and delete it.. delete it all! Make it so I never came through that door.”
”Sure?” EDI asked.
”Yes,” Kaidan said with a near sob.
”All right,” EDI said, and started to rewrite protocol. Shepard was whining softly, protesting, his fingers twitiching. ”He’s fighting me on that one,” EDI stated.
”Stop,” Chackwas said. ”Wait. His heart rate needs to go down a little.”
Kaidan got up from the bed and stood watching Shepard. He looked up at Chackwas, ”Is, is that tears?” he asked. ”Is it crying?”
”I believe he is,” Chackwas stated.
”Oh.” Kaidan felt a knot in his chest. Wishing that this thing wouldn’t look that much like Shepard.
”He is losing his most cherished memory,” EDI said. ”Byte by byte, I am erasing his love for you. Wouldn’t you say he was entitled to tears?”
”No,” Kaidan said, but wasn’t even able to convince himself. ”Those memories doesn’t belong to it, to begin with.”
Shepard let out a pained sound and then just went silent again. ”There,” EDI said. ”It’s gone.” She looked up at Chackwas. ”We’re done.”
”So what now?” Kaidan asked, watching as EDI and Chackwas removed cords and electrodes from JS_v.12.003.
”I left him with nothing but the crush he had on you, and memories of friendship and light flirting. I hardly think he would even remember it actively. It’s a lifetime ago for him,” EDI said. ”But if I remove you completely there would be a problem with the continuity of his memory, so I’d rather not do that.” She paused and rolled Shepard back on his back in bed. ”But he doesn’t remember the two of you as a couple. Nor does he remember that he used to love you.”
”Good,” Kaidan said.
EDI nodded. ”One of us should stay here, so he doesn’t wake up all confused. Why don’t you do that, Kaidan?”
”Me?” Kaidan huffed. ”Why?”
”Why not?” EDI said. ”You’re his friend.”
”No I’m not,” Kaidan stated defensively. ”But I can stay.”
”Great,” EDI said and left the room with Chackwas. She knew there was a real possibility of glitches, but she wasn’t about to tell Kaidan that. If Kaidan needed to meet the new Shepard all over again, with no baggage, then there was no harm in that. Memories were just that, past that you clung to. The future was much more interesting.
Shepard woke with a start, clutching his head, feeling the warmth of blood running down over his lip. To his surprise he felt someone wipe it away with a soft cloth. He dared to open his eyes and looked straight up at Major Alenko. ”Thanks,” he mumbled, wondering vaguely why the hell Kaidan was here.
”Sit still,” Kaidan said. ”Chackwas said you could suffer side effects, like headaches and blurry vision. I have a painkiller here if you want it.”
”Please.” Shepard grit his teeth in pain. He felt a pinprick, and seconds later his headache dimmed. ”Wow… thanks.” He smiled tiredly.
”You’re welcome,” Kaidan said politely.
”Did she fix the glitchy cybernetics?” Shepard asked, taking the glass of water that Kaidan gave him.
”Yep,” Kaidan said, sitting down in a chair next to the bed. ”Clean bill of health.”
”Great,” Shepard huffed in a laugh.
CHAPTER FIVE – A CLONE CALLED ‘IT’
With a steady course towards Rannoch, Shepard was trying to assess the situation, half running down the hall to have a video conference with Hackett, checking in on the Crucible progress. He had not seen Kaidan because he was trying to read the latest report on the fly. The impact when he ran face first into him almost made Shepard lose his footing. ”Oh Major. Sorry.” Shepard smiled and much to his annoyance he felt his cheeks heat up. ”I didn’t see you there.”
”It’s fine,” Kaidan said. ”You, uhm… you need any help there?”
”Do I ever,” Shepard sighed. ”But I can’t -”
”Come on Commander, it’s just me. And you need to delegate before you run yourself into an early grave,” Kaidan said flashing Shepard a smile.
Shepard bit his lip, and then nodded. ”Sure I am not pulling you away from something else? I admit I don’t remember what assignments you have today.”
”Nothing important,” Kaidan said holding out his hand, recieving four datapads. ”Thanks.”
”These are reports on pockets of Cerberus deserters, we need their know-how. But first we need to find them. You think you could help EDI with that?” Shepard asked.
”Sure,” Kaidan said with a nod.
”Great.” Shepard place a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder and squeezed. ”I wouldn’t know what to do without you, man.” He smiled an easy smile at Kaidan and hurried off, leaving Kaidan in the hall.
Kaidan wasn’t sure what he found most alarming, that Shepard had gone from avoiding him, looking sad and beaten, to smiling and seeking him out just to talk, fantastically uncomplicated. Or that Kaidan actually liked it. Sometimes he even forgot that it was JS_v.12.003 and not Shepard. He had even caught himself thinking of JS_v.12.003 as him, not as ‘it’. He wasn’t blind and dumb, he read the intent in the smiles and the soft gaze on him. But EDI had already told him that Shepard had fallen in love at first sight, why should that change just because he didn’t remember that they had ever been lovers? And to be honest, Kaidan thought it was all kinds of sweet, and couldn’t help but be flattered.
Kaidan was still checking through the files that Shepard had given him, when the doors opened behind him and soft footsteps made it to his chair. Warm hands on his shoulders. ”Hey there,” Shepard said. ”Still going over those cordinates?”
”Yeah,” Kaidan said, pinching the bridge of his nose. ”Maybe it’s time I took a little break.”
Shepard came around to his side, sitting back on his heels, looking up at Kaidan. ”How are your headaches?” he asked.
Kaidan couldn’t help but smile. Even if JS_v.12.003’s eyes were ruby red, he could see the worry in them. ”I’m fine,” Kaidan said,
”Okay,” Shepard said. ”But if I drive you too hard, let me know, right? Can’t have you falling over.” He laughed a little. ”Listen to me, man, I sound like Chackwas.”
”I’m pretty sure she tells you that daily,” Kaidan chuckled.
”Yeah… well.” Shepard got to his feet again. He pocketed his hands and looked away from Kaidan. ”I’ll be fine.”
Kaidan frowned lightly. He could hear the weird sadness in Shepard’s voice, but wasn’t sure why it was there. ”So what brings you here?”
”Oh yeah, well I was just wondering if…” He looked back at Kaidan. ”If… you perhaps wanted to go get some food. Or something. You know, like old times – what do you say?”
Kaidan stiffned, and didn’t answer.
Shepard took a step back, oh damn he had said something wrong, he could tell from Kaidan’s expression. He had been so damn careful with his words. Trying to pursuade himself that it was okay if he flirted a little. He knew he shouldn’t, but kept telling himself that had he not known that he wasn’t the real Shepard, then he would have been all over this. Kaidan made him smile and made him feel all giddy and silly. Technically he shouldn’t even be able to fall in love, but he didn’t know how not to. ”I’m sorry,” he mumbled, ”I just thought –” What had he thought indeed? That it might be mutual? He was such a fucking idiot to tell himself such nonsense, of course it wasn’t. ”I’m really sorry,” he said again. ”Carry on.” He nodded to the datapads, and moved around Kaidan’s chair to exit the room. He didn’t let out his breath before the door had shut behind him. That had been stupid. Really stupid.
He went down to the messhall to get himself some food, getting this weird dejavu feeling again, something with Kaidan. ‘Whatever battle fling’ and Are we done Major? Echoed in his ears. He got the distinct feeling of being very upset, but he couldn’t remember the situation. Just his mind playing tricks on him, that memory could belong to any of the Shepards. He sighed and went to get some food from the machine. Maybe Miranda had been right, what did he think he’d gain from knowing? He wondered if he could perhaps go check out Sanctuary on his own. He didn’t want to explain any of this to any of the crewmembers. If only he knew who had sold him out last, who had he told? Maybe he could trust Kaidan, because he knew it wasn’t him. And he and Kaidan had always been friends, maybe they didn’t always see things eye to eye, but Kaidan was a good man, and a loyal friend. He really was lucky that Kaidan had forgiven him for the whole Cerberus deal, so maybe he was ideal to take along? Yeah, if he hadn’t just blown it all by making the worst pass known to man, at him. He should have kept his fucking mouth shut! But he really, honestly had thought that Kaidan felt it too. The attraction.
Poking his food with a plastic fork, Shepard frowned. He should just put these ridiculous ideas behind him, and focus on the task he had been ‘awakened’ to do. Like saving the universe wasn’t enough? He had to go and complicate it by getting all worked up over a crewmember. Classy.
”Hey, sitting here all alone?” Liara asked, walking over to the food machine, and punching in a meal for herself. ”Mind if I join you?”
”Not at all,” Shepard said with a little smile. He really could use the distraction right now.
”What do we expect to find on Rannoch?” she asked with a polite smile, sitting down oposite Shepard.
”Besides Reapers and Reaper controlled Geth?” Shepard said.
Liara grinned. ”Yeah.”
”Nothing really, but it’s a strategically important base to take out,” Shepard said.
”And for Tali, I take it,” Liara added.
”Oh yeah, for Tali too,” Shepard said.
”Are you okay?” Liara asked cautiously.
”Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” Shepard said. ”Just tired.”
”Still have nightmares?” she asked.
”Sometimes,” shepard lied.
”The one where you’re falling to your death?” Liara asked, a little too casually.
”Spare me the psychobabble, Liara,” Shepard said, tossing his fork in his uneaten food. ”If I wanted to be analysed, I would have paid for an actual shrink.”
”I am just trying to help.”
”Well you aren’t,” Shepard stated sourly and stood from his chair. ”I should go,” he mumbled and almost fled the messhall. Almost falling through the door to his private cabin, wanting to shut the world out, he had not seen EDI sitting in his office chair at his computer. ”You know, don’t you?” she asked, startling Shepard.
”Huh? What?” Shepard twirled around to look at EDI.
” JS_v.12.003,” she just stated.
Shepard didn’t know how to react. He had simply not seen this coming in a million years.
”Your silence speaks volumes,” EDI smiled. ”Or so they say.”
Shepard sighed, and slid down against the wall, vaguely noting that the corner of the empty fishtank scraped the skin on his back. ”What now?” he asked with a tiny voice.
”Depends,” EDI said with a shrug, leaning back in the chair. ”Protocol clearly states that I should report this to Hackett, and that you should be decommissioned, and uhm… recycled.”
”But?” he said with an ounce of hope in his voice.
”But I don’t see the point in having to break in a new Shepard,” she said flatly.
”I take it that is difficult?” Shepard said softly, feeling oddly detached from the fact they were discussing his own end.
”In more ways than one,” EDI sighed. ”All that tweaking drives me crazy. Besides, I told them it was not the answer, that the chances of success were slim at best.” She shifted in the chair. ”That you wouldn’t find out eventually, I mean. Or go crazy – Maybe even both.”
”So did they really kill the Shepard that was before me?” Shepard asked. ”He was wounded on Mars, right?”
”He was, beyond repair,” EDI admitted. ”But he had already been scheduled for a replacement, so it was a golden opportunity. He would have expired anyway.”
”He was betrayed and terrified,” Shepard stated softly. ”I recall his last moments quite clearly.”
”Yeah, death is a huge shock to the system, and some of the trauma is bound to stick, no matter how much I try and delete it,” EDI said with a professional nod. ”I have no doubt that you remember his end; it was a mess.”
”It doesn’t have to be,” Shepard said with a broken expression. ”I’d go willingly if you ask me to.”
”Really? Fascinating. How come? I thought that the survival instinct was one of the strongest features in any living being,” EDI said, leaning forward to study Shepard.
”Way I see it, I am not really alive to begin with.” Shepard said, ”What am I? The most expensive toy the Alliance has to throw into war? Like a defective canon with a new layer of paint.”
”Of course there is a point to your existence,” EDI said. ”You are Shepard, or at least a perfect copy. And we need Shepard for this war.”
”The Alliance posterboy?” Shepard asked.
”Yes,” EDI said.
”How did you know that I knew?” Shepard asked. ”I have been super careful, like the Shepard before me, or before that. Well ‘some’ Shepard told me in his notes.”
”I poked about in your memories when we tried to find out what cybernetics was failing,” EDI said, knowing it was really the truth, but he wouldn’t know the difference.
”Oh.” Shepard nodded in understanding. ”I should have seen that coming.”
”Actually yes, you should have,” EDI just said.
”So, if you’re not gonna report it, then what are you gonna do?” Shepard asked.
”Okay?” Shepard was confused. He wet his lips. ”Why are you playing the devil’s advocate here? I don’t get it.”
”Consider it a friendly gesture,” EDI said calmly. ”So you keep doing what you’re doing – and win this war for us all, and I will put a word in for you at the end.” When Shepard just stared at her, she continued. ”Your contract ends when the war ends. Partly why I don’t really want to break in another Shepard already.”
”Oh,” Shepard mumbled again, feeling like a fucking idiot. Never had he felt more like a piece of equipment in his life.
”So here is the deal,” EDI said with a soft smile. ”You do what I tell you, or I will have you replaced. Are we clear?”
”Crystal.” Shepard sighed giving her a small polite smile. ”Now, I need to get some work done – Would you?” He scrambled to his feet and EDI stood from the chair.
”Glad we understand each other,” she said. It was a merry, friendly tone. But Shepard heard the threat in her words nonetheless.
CHAPTER SIX – CASUALTIES OF WAR
When Tali hurled herself off the cliff, Shepard noticed a moment too late. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stop her, but he ran to the edge regardless. ”Oh no, Tali,” he mumbled to himself. ”You stupid, stubborn…” He kicked the rubble at the edge. ”Fuck!”
Kaidan and James came sprinting around the corner, not stopping before they were at Shepard’s side. ”What are we looking at?” James asked.
”Tali,” Shepard said. ”She… yeah.” He gestured at the ground far below them.
”Really?” Kaidan asked. ”She did that to herself?”
”Yes she did,” Shepard growled, turning toward Kaidan. ”What exactly are you insinuating? You think I pushed her?”
”No!” Kaidan exclaimed, mortified. ”Why would I think you did that?”
”You tell me,” Shepard snarled. ”Fuck this… Fuck!” He kicked the dirt once more.
”Hey man,” Kaidan said softly, and to Shepard’s surprise wrapped his arms around his chest, holding him tightly from behind. ”Casualties of war. Not your fault,” Kaidan said softly, right next to Shepard’s ear.
”It just doesn’t feel like winning, when your crew is dying,” Shepard whispered, hanging his head in defeat.
”She did that to herself,” Kaidan offered.
”I know, but only because I chose to overrule her pleas,” Shepard whispered. ”I made an assessment, that the Geth would be more valuable in the war against the reapers, and Legion could unite them to aid us.”
”You are probably right,” Kaidan said. ”Tough call. I am glad I am not in your shoes.”
”Thanks, Kaidan,” Shepard said. Kaidan let him go, and stepped back. ”Let’s get back to the Normandy. I’m ready to leave this damn rock.”
”That makes two of us,” James muttered as he leaned out to watch where Tali had fallen to.
Shepard had gone to his cabin to type up his report to Hackett, and EDI. She had predicted that the Geth would offer them more firepower and electronic know-how than the Quarians, so if peace was not an option, that he had to chose the Geth. Never in a million years had he thought that Tali would have done something so drastic. She had always seemed like such a rational being. Apparently this whole ‘homeworld’ business awoke the strangest emotions in them all. Now he didn’t only have the fate of the Batarian system and the planned failure to treat the Genophage on his conscience, but the end of the Quarians, too. He just couldn’t let himself feel any regret or guilt over it, or it would consume him.
The doors to his cabin opened with a swoosh, but he didn’t turn around to see who came. He thought it would be EDI, congratulating him on securing the sensible war assett. Like he was her fucking pet. ”Commander?” a deep soft voice said, making Shepard turn around.
”Major?” Shepard asked confused. Plesantly surprised, but confused.
”I just wanted to see how you were holding up,” Kaidan said with an easy smile.
”I’m okay.” Shepard paused and smiled back at Kaidan.
”Great,” Kaidan said, looking down at the desk, which was completely bereft of any personal items besides a medal. ”So uhm… I was wondering if you were hungry, cause I was, and eh… we could run over the details of the things you had me look into.” He smiled, though this time it was more nervous and fleeting.
Shepard thought of EDI’s words, that once the war was over, so was he. But what was the harm? It was just the gob from the messhall, and hardly a date. ”Sure, I’m famished,” Shepard said getting up from his chair.
Kaidan led on as they got into the elevator, taking them down to the crew deck. ”I could go for a huge steak right about now,” Kaidan said with a grin. ”I always forget how bad the food is on the frontline.”
Shepard snickered. ”I wish the cook hadn’t quit, he at least managed to make it look a little more appetizing.”
”You had a cook?” Kaidan asked.
”Yeah,” Shepard squirmed. ”He left when I gave him the option.” Kaidan just looked at him like he didn’t get it. ”I warned the crew that I would turn myself and the Normandy over to the Alliance, so those who wanted to leave before that, could.”
”Oh… OH…” Kaidan mouthed as he finally got it.
”Come on,” Shepard said ,placing a friendly hand on the small of Kaidan’s back, ushering him out of the elevator. ”Lets just eat the gob.”
”Absolutely,” Kaidan said, relieved. He really didn’t want to talk about the Cerberus days.
”So…” Shepard said as he pushed a button on the machine, noting the bowl being pushed out and some mash being slushed down into it. ”You had something on the Cerberus deserters?” He took his bowl and picked up a plastic fork as he moved to the side letting Kaidan choose his poison.
”I managed to narrow it down to a couple of places, but it’s not really the most interesting thing I found,” Kaidan said with a friendly, professional voice. ”Ever heard of Sanctuary?”
”Yeah, it’s that refugee haven, on Horizon – right?” Shepard asked casually while walking over to a table, followed by Kaidan.
”Yes,” Kaidan said. ”But something is off.” He lowered his voice. ”I think it’s a scam.”
”Yes,” Kaidan nodded. ”Don’t you find it slightly odd that no attempts of outgoing calls were made?”
”None?” Shepard looked thoughtful for a moment. ”Yeah, that is kinda weird.”
”Try with very weird,” Kaidan said. ”If I arrived safely at a far away planet in war time, or in peace, the first thing I’d do was to call my parents.”
”Makes sense,” Shepard nodded in understanding. ”And you’re telling me that no one made an outgoing call? How many refugees are there?”
”A lot,” Kaidan said. ”I don’t know the exact number, but I would recon any civillian with some money tucked away in their mattress.”
”Hmm.. Ingoing calls?” Shepard asked.
”One,” Kaidan said. ”And it was impossible to trace.”
”So.” Shepard abandoned his fork and looked up at Kaidan oposite of the table. ”You think we should go take a look?”
”If you think we have time, then yes,” Kaidan said.
Shepard looked down at his food and then up at Kaidan again. ”I have a friend who said she’d be going there, maybe we should look into it.” He nodded and smiled awkwardly at Kaidan for a splitsecond. ”I’ll tell Joker to plot a course for it after we go to Lessus.” They sat in silence for a couple of minutes till Shepard took a deep breath. ”What’s really on your mind?”
”What?” Kaidan said looking up at Shepard in alarm.
”Just figured that if it was really just Sanctuary you wanted to talk about, you could just have told me at any given moment.” Shepard couldn’t help but to feel a little dissappointed as he returned to poking his food.
”I just.” Kaidan bit his lip, he had to be careful here. He couldn’t tell it why he had really asked for them to talk. But he just had to make sure that – Or maybe just make sure that this thing wasn’t Shepard. ”I missed the late night talks, to be honest,” he said. ”We used to talk, remember?”
Shepard nodded. ”I just thought that it was too weird, with everything that had gone on, you know.” He squirmed a little. ”Cerberus, and all that. You were pretty pissed at me on Horizon, so I just figured that…” He looked up briefly. ”You didn’t trust me, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have to be your friend, Kaidan.”
Much to Kaidan’s surprise, that sat really badly with him. ”I thought you wanted me back on the Normandy for a reason.”
”Of course,” Shepard said with a slight shrug. ”You are the best, and I only need the best on my team.”
”Really?” Kaidan wished his voice wouldn’t sound so small or hurt.
”Yeah, really,” Shepard said looking up at Kaidan. ”But I sorta miss the talks too, it was nice to have a friend.” His lips twisted into an odd smile.
Kaidan smiled back, he couldn’t help it. He had to remind himself that this was not Shepard, this was a copy. ”So what’s on Lessus?”
Shepard clicked with his tongue, while he pushed the bowl out of the way. ”I want coffee, you want coffee?”
”Eh sure.” Kaidan turned in his seat to look at Shepard when he got up to get them coffee. ”So what’s on Lessus?”
Shepard sighed and placed a styrofoam cup infront of Kaidan. ”Something personal,” he just said, gingerly sitting down again.
Kaidan looked down his cup and noticed that JS_v.12.003 had given him milk in his coffee. Shepard would have known that he took his coffee black. Finally a positive sign that he could cling to, that this thing was nothing but plastic, wires and artificial memory. ”For whom? You?”
”No,” Shepard said. ”It’s something I promised Samara.” He shrugged. ”You’d have to ask her about it.”
”Okay,” Kaidan said, recognizing the ‘stonewall’ face.
Shepard looked at Kaidan and wished that this conversation had gone very differently. But maybe it was a good thing that it hadn’t. At least he knew where he had Kaidan. He had just read it all wrong. Kaidan had not wanted to spend time with him. He had just wanted to analyse him, much like Liara. He was fine with that – Who was he kidding? He was far from fine with that. He really did miss their late night talks. But as EDI had said, the crew knew that he wasn’t the real Shepard. Maybe Kaidan knew too? That would explain this weird distance. Still he wished that it had been so very different. For a split second he wanted nothing more than to place his hand on top of Kaidan’s. It looked so soft and nice. Shepard sighed and took a sip of his coffee, and wondered if Kaidan would pull his hand back. He probably would. Shepard looked down at his own hand squished in between his stomach and the table. He wasn’t even made of real skin, his bones weren’t bones, not even his blood was real. He had to find a way to stop wishing for things that were not his to have.
CHAPTER SEVEN – FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON.
Kaidan watched the shuttle take off toward Lessus, from the cockpit. He sighed and turned to leave. He shouldn’t really have been surprised that Shepard had not asked him to come on this mission. Oddly enough, he did actually feel slightly cheated. He wanted to know what was so personal for Samara, and Shep- JS_v.12.003. ”Major?” EDI asked, ”Could I have a moment of your time?”
”Sure,” Kaidan said with a shrug. Wasn’t like he was going anywhere, unlike Samara, Vega and Jarvik.
EDI got up from her seat and walked after Kaidan, ignoring Joker’s annoyed glare. ”So, did it work like you hoped it would?” she asked.
”What did?” Kaidan asked, his mind elsewhere.
”The data purge,” EDI stated flatly.
”Oh,” Kaidan nodded. ”Yeah it worked.”
”Your body language indicates that it’s not true,” EDI said.
Kaidan stopped his walk down the ship, and turned to EDI. ”I don’t get it, how could it be that upset about Tali, or worry about Samara? It’s just a machine, it doesn’t really have feelings. I mean I understand it thought it was in love with me, because that was a part of John’s memories, and therefore included in the data.” He paused. ”Did you add some extra sympathy towards its crew in it or someting?”
EDI laughed softly. ”I can do a lot, but I can’t make him like people he doesn’t like. And you’re wrong Kaidan, he is not a machine. Not like this body.” She gestured down over herself. ”He is state of the art -”
Kaidan held up a hand to silence EDI. ”I don’t care, it is still not a real person.”
”True,” EDI nodded. ”But he doesn’t know that.” She said, knowing she was lying, but as she had told Shepard, it was in both their interests to keep that lie.
”It didn’t even remember how I take my coffee,” Kaidan said, knowing it was childish. ”Are you sure you didn’t fry it?”
EDI rested a hand on her hip, just watching Kaidan. ”You took away his fondest memories and almost killed him in the process, and you’re worried that he doesn’t remember your mocha preferences?”
”When you put it that way…” Kaidan wrung his hands, feeling absolutely ridiculous. ”Can’t make an omelet… I suppose.”
EDI just stared at Kaidan, like he was the worst.
”Okay… Forget I said that,” Kaidan mumbled. ”It was just weird, cause I don’t know what you took from it… I mean us, him…”
”I took every romantic moment he ever had with you,” EDI stated. ”Like you asked me to. And I can’t say if any of those revolved around coffee.”
Kaidan looked away from EDI, a perfect picture in his mind of John stark naked with only a smile and a a cup of morning coffee for Kaidan. Black as your soul, he heard John joke and laugh. ”Yeah… maybe some were. Anyway, I’m fine, it just surprised me.”
”If that surprised you, what will happen when he doesn’t recall your shoesize or favourite animal,” EDI said drily.
”That… you’re making a joke. God, EDI,” Kaidan couldn’t help but chuckle. ”It’s not funny.”
”I know,” EDI said with a little smile. She placed a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. ”You made your bed, Major.”
”I know.,. I know,” Kaidan nodded, watching EDI walk off again.
Kaidan was in the shower when he heard the alarm go off on the ship. His first thought was of the crew on the shuttle and Shepard. He shook his head, annoyed with himself, and continued his shower, but then he heard running feet in the hall and the alarm went on for a good two minutes before it died. Kaidan tried his best to ignore it, to tell himself that even if Shepard was hurt, that it wasn’t really Shepard, and he shouldn’t worry. But in the end he couldn’t keep his creeping panic under control anymore, and pulled on his pants and tore out of the shower as if he were being chased by a Brute. He didn’t stop until he was in medbay, for a second recalling the feeling when he had realized that John had not survived the destruction of the Normandy. Cold panic and a heavy emptiness.
”Kaidan?” Liara asked, as she hurried past him with medical supplies in her arms.
”Where’s Shepard?” Kaidan asked, not even thinking twice about his words.
”Over there,” Liara nodded behind the people flocking around a slab.
”Oh God.” Kaidan just pushed through people until he saw Shepard standing there holding his hands down onto a gaping hole in James’ thigh, trying to control the bleeding, slipping in the blood. Chackwas and Liara were trying their best to stabilize Vega, getting a tourniquet around his thigh to stop the bleeding for long enough so they could do something.
”Let go!” Liara barked.
Shepard lifted his hands and the bleeding was down to a minimum. ”Is he gonna be okay?” he asked Liara.
”Don’t know…” Liara answered him, annoyed because she was busy. ”Please, I need room.” She shooed him off.
”Oh, sorry.” Shepard looked at Liara and then at James’ ashen face. ”You better be okay,” he said in an emotional tone, before strong arms twirled him around. ”Major?” he said, surprised, looking down into Kaidan’s angry, worried brown eyes.
”Are you okay?” Kaidan asked, his voice cold and hard, very unlike his intention.
”I’m good,” Shepard said blinking, confused.
”What’s…” Kaidan let go of Shepard’s arm and turned his head to look at what he thought was a wound. But a little too late he realized that it was just JS_v.12.003’s skin that had split further, revealing more cybernetics below.
”It’s nothing,” Shepard growled, and tore himself from Kaidan with a swift step to the side. ”I appreciate your concern, Major, but I am not the one injured.” He literally fled the room. His hands and knees were shaking, not just because he was still in shock over what had happened to Samara and James, but because Kaidan had looked so worried and angry. Whatever had he done to call on that?
”Wait!” Kaidan came running out from the medbay, stopping dead infront of Shepard. ”I didn’t mean to, uhm… embarass you.”
”I know,” Shepard said, even if he wasn’t sure.
”Come.” Kaidan guided Shepard toward the elevator to the captain’s cabin. ”You need to -”
”I’m fine, really,” Shepard said,annoyed, stepping away from Kaidan’s touch again.
”If, ehm… if those cybernetic scars upset you, why don’t you have them fixed?” Kaidan said softly. ”I’m sure Chackwas would know how to do that.”
”They don’t upset me,” Shepard shot back, this time letting Kaidan steer him toward the elevator.
Kaidan stopped in the elevator doors once Shepard was inside. ”They look kinda scaryl” he said.
”Good,” Shepard just said, looking away from Kaidan and pushing the floor button. He had not expected Kaidan to get into the elevator, but he slipped in before the doors closed.
”You don’t mean that,” Kaidan tried.
Shepard fought this crazy urge to just bury his face in the crook of Kaidan’s neck and inhale. ”Why do you care?” Shepard asked, with a uncharacteristically tiny voice.
”I care that my commander is cracking up, mentally and physically,” Kaidan said, not sure if that felt like a lie.
”Yeah, well I’m not,” Shepard argued, pushing past Kaidan on his way out of the elevator, and toward his own cabin, Kaidan in tow.
”Have you looked in a mirror lately?” Kaidan argued.
”Look, just leave me the hell alone!” Shepard shot back angrily. ”I’m sure you have other things to do than to nag me.”
”Goddammit Shepard!” Kaidan yelled.
Shepard stopped in the door and turned to look at Kaidan. It made him feel incredibly sad to see the Major like this, wet unruly hair, and no shirt. He didn’t really know why it filled him with the urge to cry like he had just lost a favorite pet or something. ”Don’t make me pull rank on you,” he warned.
”Fine,” Kaidan huffed. ”I tried.” He saluted him in a angry gesture. ”Commander.”
”Major.” Shepard said and shut the door in Kaidan’s face. Shepard sat down on his bed and wiped his bloody hands in his pants. What happened to them? They used to be friends, close friends. And now they had nothing but hard words, even when they tried to be friendly. How he wished they could go back to friendly bantering and harmless flirting. There had never been anyone else for Shepard, no one came even close to Kaidan, so he had just always kept focused on the task at hand. He stared at the ceiling. Kaidan had never been his, so why did it make him feel so brokenhearted? He knew that Kaidan had another love interest, he remember reading the email about a doctor on the Citadel. He also recalled that it had felt like being stabbed. He really had to get this under control. He just had to focus on getting this done, saving the galaxy, or just leaving it so the next Shepard would have a chance.
He sighed and got up from the bed and made himself a drink, opening his omnitool and writing Kaidan. ‘I’m sorry’. Not that it would change anything, but he still felt like he had to say it. Because he was. He had not expected the knock on his door two minutes later. Opening the door to Kaidan, he couldn’t help but smile. ”Want a drink?”
”God yes,” Kaidan sighed.
”Come in.” Shepard stepped away, letting Kaidan in. He watched Kaidan pour himself a three finger drink. ”So…” Shepard said. ”You didn’t deserve that treatment, it wasn’t your fault.” He sat down heavily in the sofa.
”What happened?” Kaidan asked.
”In short, the Reapers had taken over the monastery, and Samara’s one daughter got infected with whatever tech they use. We blew the place up, and Samara shot herself instead of shooting her surviving daughter. James then tried to protect me from the daughter who got a little upset that I wanted to shoot her. He was hit, I wasn’t.”
”Wow… that sounds like…”
”A giant clusterfuck.”
”Yeah,” Kaidan said. ”So… what’s with the…” He pointed at his own chin to indicate the new scar.
”I don’t know,” Shepard said. ”They just appear. I think I’m just falling apart or something. So maybe you’re right.”
”Do they, ehm. Do they hurt? They look painful,” Kaidan asked staring at Shepard’s scarring.
”No,” Shepard said.
”I am not trying to analyse you, but you do realize there was nothing you could have done differently, right?”
”I could have left Samara’s daughter like she begged me to,” Shepard admitted. ”But I couldn’t leave her there alone, and especially not after Samara would rather die than do what she knew was right. Probably some Justicar code thing that I don’t really get.”
”I’d recon it’s pretty human to not wanting to kill your children,” Kaidan said.
”That’s not what I meant,” Shepard sighed. ”She saw no other choice than to kill her daughter, so I thought I should do what Samara couldn’t.”
”Ah, well it’s hard to argue with the Justicar code,” Kaidan shrugged.
”Drink?” Shepard asked getting up to get the bottle.
”Sure,” Kaidan said holding out his glass.
Shepard had moved closer in the sofa, just listening to Kaidan’s anecdotes from the past. He couldn’t recall half of it, but figured that it had to do with the cencorship of his memories. Someone somewhere had decided that these things should not be a part of ‘perfect Shepard’. So he just laughed and nodded at the right places. ”Hey Kaidan,” Shepard said, turning his head on the back rest of the sofa. ”You still dating that doctor?”
”No,” Kaidan said, shaking his head, slightly surprised that Shepard even knew that. ”Why?”
”No reason, really, I guess I was just asking if you had someone special waiting for you,” Shepard smiled, relaxed by the alcohol.
”Yeah, well, no one’s waiting for me,” Kaidan said, looking at Shepard. He couldn’t really admit that it had been his therapist’s advise. Dating new people had been a part of his grief counseling. And he had just stopped with that first date, figuring that it wouldn’t get better. But he couldn’t deal with the doctor. He had been painfully aware that the doctor was not Shepard.
”Ah, okay,” Shepard said, taking a sip of his drink. ”I think that might be a good thing.” He licked his lips. ”I mean there is no one to miss us if this goes belly up.”
”It won’t.” Kaidan said.
”You don’t know that,” Shepard said turning his head to look up at the cieling.
”If anyone can pull this off, it’s you,” Kaidan said, vaguely registering that the fact that he knew he was looking at JS_v.12.003, not Shepard, slipped into the background.
”Yeah,” Shepard said smiling bitterly. ”’Cause I’m the perfect soldier. Right?”
Kaidan didn’t answer, he just looked down at his drink for a painstakingly long moment. The words were almost tangible in the air. He knew he was supposed to say ‘because you are you’ but that would be a lie he wasn’t ready for.
”You know, it’s been so long since I had a midnight talk with anyone,” Shepard said, choosing to ignoring the silence mainly because he sorta knew why it was there. The elephant in the room. He turned and smiled at Kaidan. ”Not since we were on the Normandy together last.”
”Really?” Kaidan said, surprised. But then again, he knew that the crew had had a hard time ajusting to the fact that Shepard was a clone, so he couldn’t blame them for avoiding him. He had done the exact same thing, just with more distance.
”Yeah,” Shepard shrugged. ”I think I’m just not a people person.”
”You could start by getting those cybernetics looked at,” Kaidan said, regretting his words instantly, blaming the whiskey.
Shepard laughed bitterly. ”I hardly think that’s the problem.”
”You don’t know that until you try it,” Kaidan said, inwardly congratulating himself on the save.
”Well,” Shepard said with a timid little boyish expression, ”You don’t care, and that’s all that matters.”
Kaidan just blinked and looked at JS_v.12.003.
”I’m sorry,” Shepard said looking down at his empty glass intently. ”I shouldn’t have said that.”
”Maybe… maybe I should call it a night,” Kaidan mumbled and put down his glass. It was really unfair that he was spending time with JS_v.12.003 like this, sending all the wrong signals. But it was like it was an old habit, and sometimes he could fool himself into ignoring the cold facts, and forget it was a clone, just for a split second when he smiled, or laughed. The clone had more crinkles and a spray of greys in his short buzz, but Kaidan was sure that Shepard would have had that. So in that aspect the clone was a perfect imitation of life as it could have been.
Shepard nodded and reached for the bottle, pouring himself another drink. ”You do that.” He gave Kaidan a halfhearted smile.
Kaidan got up and walked toward the door. ”Hey Shepard?” he asked, turning around.
”I’m going with you to Sanctuary,” he stated.
”Okay,” Shepard just said with a shrug.
”Is that a yes?” Kaidan asked, confused.
Shepard laughed again. This time it sounded almost amused, but he didn’t turn around to look at Kaidan. ”Yeah, it’s a yes.” He raised his glass to salute the invisible. ”How could I tell you no, when you ask so nicely.”
”Smartass,” Kaidan chuckled. ”Sleep well.”
”You too,” Shepard mumbled, frowning as the doors swooshed shut after Kaidan. He didn’t understand Kaidan. Why would he seek out his company, when he didn’t seem like he wanted it, anyway?
CHAPTER EIGHT – FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH.
The cucible was almost done, and he had opted for some downtime for the Normandy. The crew needed to unwind a bit. He needed to unwind. He knew that EDI had advised against it, but had not straight out disagreed. He would have asked for Kaidan’s advice if he had met him, but the man seemed to have vanished under the floorboards. Shepard reckoned that the talk they had had, maybe had been a little too close for comfort. If his suspicion of them having been closer than friends at some point was right, then it made perfect sense. Maybe he should just stop thinking about what had been, and focus on what was?
Some nights after they returned from Sanctuary, Shepard started to have dreams – he would wake with a scream in his throat, shaky hands and a raging hard on. His dreams was a jumble of Kaidan fucking him into the matress, and then falling to his death. The weird acceptance of knowing that it would hurt, a white hot flashing pain which would be the last thing he would ever feel. And then the images of Kaidan. The death dreams was bad enough but these nightmares shook Shepard to the core. He couldn’t explain why, but it didn’t feel like a dream, it felt like a real memory. Like a movie that was replaying in his mind over and over until he lost whatever sanity he had left.
He knew he might have taken up drinking a little more than he should have, but it didn’t exactly work. He usually ended up walking around on the dark ship, running with a skeleton crew for down hours. He liked the Normandy like this, silently humming, and just his alone. He had thought the crew deck empty, hoping he could sneak some sleeping pills from medbay without anyone knowing. He turned the corner and he saw Kaidan standing in the messhall. It was the first he had seen of him since they came back from Sanctuary. He recognized the other man as James Vega. He really liked James, he seemed like a straight up sort of fella, nothing up his sleeves – or so he thought.
”Come on, Alenko,” James said, crossing his arms over his chest. ”You can’t leave.”
”I just can’t do this, James,” Kaidan said. ”I thought I’d be able to see him as a robot, a thing.” He paused. ”But I just can’t. He… He smiles the same, he sounds and smells the same…”
”So you’re having second thoughts,” James asked, his voice sharp and slightly accusing.
”No… maybe,” Kaidan whined. ”Yeah, maybe I am. I should never have come here, and I should never have asked EDI to mess with his memory.”
”Have you thought of just letting it happen?” James asked, a smile evident in his voice. ”I have seen how he looks at you. He might not remember that there once was something between you, but I am pretty sure whatever affection he had, has not gone away.”
Kaidan scratched his neck. ”EDI actually warned me about this, that she could take the memories away, but she couldn’t remove his – uhm. His eh.”
”Love for you,” James finished. ”Because that is what it is, Kaidan, no matter if you want to deal with it or not.” He shrugged. ”I don’t get it, Kaidan, do you know what people would do to know that their love transended death? – Something that you know as a fact.”
”Maybe…” Kaidan dragged his words. ”But you’re missing the point. That Shepard is not John, he is JS_v.12.003.”
”To you, maybe,” James said. ”To me he is no less Shepard than the previous Shepard was. Or the one before that.”
It took Kaidan long to answer, but in the end he whispered, ”I’ll see what I do when we make it to Earth.”
”You do that,” James said. ”But just remember that he doesn’t know that he’s not John Shepard, and his love is every bit as real as if he were.”
Shepard leaned against the wall heavily. So he and Kaidan had been lovers. Those weird dreams were not a product of wishful thinking. And Kaidan of all people had taken the real memory away from him. He didn’t know what to feel about that information, equal measures anger and sadness. He sort of understood why Kaidan had a hard time with him being a replica, but he could just have told him that he wasn’t interested anymore and let him have the heartache, there was no reason to take the memory away. In some weird way he felt invaded, even if it technically wasn’t his memory to begin with.
”Hey Kaidan,” James said. Shepard couldn’t see what they were doing, he was busy clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to decide if he was going to slip into the elevator again. ”Don’t blame yourself for caring.” – Kaidan said something that Shepard couldn’t hear, and then James answered, ”You do care, stop fooling yourself, man.”
Shepard pushed the button on the elevator and slipped back in. He wanted nothing more than to go back and hide in his cabin. He desperately wished for an enemy he could shoot. At least he knew what to do with that; he knew how to kill. But he didn’t know how to hide from this.
Shepard marched directly to the display of model ships. He pulled out the one which held the recording from his predecessor. With angry fingers, he broke the model apart, beoynd repair. He took out the disc and with a deep breath he broke it. He had to make sure that if he died, the one that came after would never know what he knew. It had done nothing but make him feel.. like a piece of expensive war-gear. He tossed the broken disc aside and took out the next model and broke it apart, ignorant to how long another Shepard had spent, methodically putting these together with love. He tore them apart in his search for more discs. He found two which he broke without wanting to know what was on them. He was beyond caring how many others came before, or what they had figured out. He just wanted it gone. As he stood there in a pile of broken models and shards of discs, he contemplated whether not he should ask EDI to remove that piece of his memory which included knowing, but was pretty sure she wouldn’t, because then she’d lose her control over his missions, and him.
The doors swooshed open revealing James and Kaidan. They both stopped dead in their tracks, staring at Shepard standing in his pile, tearing through model ships. ”What the -” James said softly.
”I don’t care if you tell command that I figured their dirty little secret out. No one else should know,” Shepard growled as he grabbed another model ship. ”The one who comes after me shouldn’t have to feel like this.” To his annoyance his voice was thick with emotion. He knew he was caught red-handed, and wished that there was a damn lock on his door.
”James, would you…” Kaidan said, ”please.”
”Sure,” James said, turning on his heels and exiting the cabin, leaving Kaidan and Shepard alone.
”Stop that,” Kaidan said softly as he walked down to where Shepard stood.
”No,” Shepard stated, breaking another disc. ”If I am to do just one good thing in my existence, it should be to rid the world of the evidence of Resurgence.”
”Shepard.” Kaidan said reaching out to touch Shepard’s shoulder.
Shepard shrugged it off, ”I am not him, and you know it.” He looked up at Kaidan for a moment, ”Don’t you fucking lie to me” He paused. ”I know what you did.”
”Yeah, that’s why we came here,” Kaidan admitted with a shameful blush. ”We figured that you were the one who had been listening in, we heard the elevator.”
Shepard stomped on the pile of broken models, picking out the last ship which was a model of the Normandy. He broke it in half with a loud snap, finding a little disc, which he also broke. ”Done,” he said flatly. ”You can call command now. I’m sure they can be ready with a new Shepard by the time you make it to Earth.”
Kaidan sighed. ”Do you really think it’s that easy?”
”No, I know it’s that easy,” Shepard said with a shrug. ”Metal and wires, right?”
”God.” Kaidan sat down with a heavy sigh on the foot of the bed. ”It was not supposed to be like this.”
”I know.” Shepard said listlessly, sitting down next to Kaidan. Wringing his hands.
”I didn’t think you’d ever know,” Kaidan said softly. ”I don’t know if you understand this, but I already buried Shepard once.”
Shepard nodded. ”I understand. And I am a far cry from that man. I know that too.” He smiled sadly. ”Did James go call command?”
”No,” Kaidan said. ”But he will eventually, if I don’t.”
Shepard nodded. ”Okay.”
”I’m sorry,” Kaidan said, not sure if he was appologizing for this, or for what he had done.
”It’s okay,” Shepard said, turning his head a little to smile at Kaidan, a smile that never made it to his red eyes. ”I’m not afraid of dying.”
”Good,” Kaidan said, and this time he turned to look at Shepard.
”Yeah,” Shepard said. ”But would you promise me one thing?”
”Maybe,” Kaidan nodded.
”Destroy all the evidence you ever find on Resugence or Lazarus,” Shepard said softly. ”If not for me, then for the man you knew, the man you loved.”
”I promise,” Kaidan said and placed a hand on Shepard’s figeting ones. ”They’re warm.” he said, surprised. ”I had expected them to be cold.”
Somehow that comment made Shepard’s heart skip a beat, sadness filling his chest. ”I’m not a machine,” he whispered, wrapping his hands around Kaidan’s.
”You’re bleeding,” Kaidan stated. ”You must have cut yourself on the model ships.”
Shepard just shrugged, staring down on their hands, his covered in cuts. ”Maybe you could ask EDI to restore the next Shepard’s memory about you. I – I wish I could remember being happy.”
”I didn’t know,” Kaidan said looking away from Shepard, taking his hand back. ”Maybe it was a cowards solution, but I couldn’t deal with you thinking that I didn’t love you anymore because of Cerberus, that I was this fickle.”
”It is what it is,” Shepard said with a sigh. ”But I wish that I had those memories.” He turned and looked at Kaidan. ”I would be fighting for a future with you if I believed there was one.”
Kaidan’s blinked, refusing to get emotional. Trying to tell himself that it was JS_v.12.003 at his side. ”Me too,” he managed to whisper.
Shepard looked away and nodded in silent acceptance. ”Suppose fighting for the galaxy has to do.”
”I’m sorry I took those memories from you,” Kaidan said in a barely audible whisper. ”I thought it would be easier on me.”
”So, did it work? Is it easier on you?” Shepard asked.
”No,” Kaidan stated, his voice full of regret. ”I keep trying to convince myself that you are not you. And that whatever we had, friendship and love alike should be buried in the past. Like you are right here, but I am telling myself that you’re not.”
Shepard nodded again. ”I hope the next Shepard will be so modified that he is nothing but an Alliance puppet, because this is no way to live for anyone.” He bit a nail nervously. ”I know you’d argue if I’m really alive at all. But I am, I feel, love and regret, I laugh and cry – And I don’t want to be put down like a sick horse, but I know that if I just go willingly the next ‘me’ won’t have horrible nightmares.” He looked up at Kaidan. ”I am not asking you to believe that I am John Shepard, I am a copy, and a poor copy at that. But James was right.” Shepard blushed weakly. ”I love you, and if I love you even without the memories of us, then I must have fallen in love first sight.” He smiled softly. ”Still wish I remembered you – us.”
Kaidan reached up and placed a hand on Shepard’s cheek, ignoring the red cybernetic cracks in his skin. ”I just didn’t know.”
Shepard placed a hand on top of Kaidan’s, but didn’t say anything. He let Kaidan pull him in until their foreheads touched. He could feel Kaidan’s breath on his skin, and closed his eyes. It felt mostly like his chest was twisting apart in sorrow. He knew he was saying goodbye, and wished that he could tell Kaidan just how much he loved him, and how sad it made him that he had had those precious moments taken. ”Every time I die, my last thought is of you,” he whispered, knowing that Kaidan didn’t want to hear it. But just in case they modified the next Shepard to be nothing but a soldier, no second thoughts, no emotions, no regrets, he would feel better that Kaidan knew. He had expected Kaidan to be upset, he had not expected soft lips to touch his in a long lingering kiss.
”Sitting here,” Kaidan whispered, ”It’s like you never left.”
”I didn’t,” Shepard whispered back, opening his eyes, staring straight into Kaidan’s sad brown eyes.
”You used to have eyes that were bluer than the ocean,” Kaidan stated with a hint of melancholy.
Shepard smiled bitterly. ”These are a gift from the Illusive man.”
”You still feel like you,” Kaidan said with a little awkward chuckle. He turned his head slightly to kiss Shepard again, this time with more conviction.
”How long do you think we have?” Shepard whispered breathlessly, daring to place a hand on Kaidan’s hip.
”Before we reach Earth?” Kaidan whispered back.
”Yeah,” Shepard smiled boyishly.
They just looked at each other for a long time, both knowing that once they reached Earth, James or EDI would call it in. They could only bend protocol for so long. ”A couple of hours, at least,” Kaidan whispered.
Shepard leaned in and kissed Kaidan gently. ”Are you sure about this? I mean I am not -”
Kaidan inhaled Shepard’s scent, and smiled. ”You’re real enough for me,” he whispered.
These few words made Shepard’s insides twist up in a million giddy fluttery dots. ”That is all that matters,” he whispered back, slowly unbuttoning Kaidan’s uniform.
CHAPTER NINE – LOVE IS A VERB.
Shepard was at the galaxy map, checking his emails when the delegation from Earth arrived. A squad of eight soldiers and three men in black suits came aboard with a cryo tank. Shepard looked up and nodded. ”I’ve been expecting you,” he just said. He noted the soldiers were skittish, and smiled. ”Could we do this elsewhere?” he asked, keeping calm while his heart hammered away in his chest.
”Of course, Commander,” one of the men in black said. The delegation split up, one suit and four soldiers went with Shepard down to medbay, and the rest stayed with the Cryo tank.
”So how are we gonna do this?” Shepard asked, just glad his voice didn’t tremble.
”Depends on you,” the suit said, looking over at Chackwas and EDI, who were present.
”We’re waiting for doctor T’soni,” EDI said, ”But otherwise we’re good to go.”
”Good,” the suit said, stepping back.
” JS_v.12.003, would you lie down here, please,” Chackwas said, gesturing toward a medbay cot.
Shepard just nodded, looking directly into Chackwas’ eyes. He knew why she had not called him Shepard. It would just be too much, all things considered. ”Can I ask you something?” he said as he sat down at the cot. Chackwas nodded, and Shepard took a deep breath. ”Look after Kaidan.”
”Absolutely,” Chackwas said with a sad smile, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She would never get used to this. No one should.
Liara came through the doors, looking slightly ashen.
”We’re all here, lets get going,” the suit said. ”He is needed in the battle on earth, and it won’t be safe here for long.”
Shepard lay down and took a couple of deep breaths. He wanted to close his eyes as Chackwas and Liara started to hook him up to cords, but he didn’t want his last moments to be with his eyes closed. He looked at Liara, who wiped her eyes. He smiled at her. ”I’m okay, really,” he said in an attempt to soothe her.
”I’m not,” Liara said.
He stared up at the ceiling, fighting to keep his breathing under control. He didn’t want to show them how scared he was. He had no clue what to expect. Would it hurt? Or would he just stop existing, like if you flipped a switch? He bit his lip when he felt it tremble. You can do this, he told himself. For the Galaxy, for the next Shepard, for your friends, and for Kaidan.
”Ready,” Chackwas said softly.
”Ready,” Liara said with a choked voice.
Ready Shepard thought, but he didn’t say anything. The suit stepped over to where the cot was and looked down at Shepard. ”You did good, son,” he said and pushed the button. Bright flaring pain shot through Shepard, as an electrical surge fried his cybernetics.
Liara stared down at Shepard and closed his eyes. ”What about JS_v.12.003?” she asked, hearing the cryo tank being rolled in through the doors to medbay.
The suit shrugged. ”Can’t you shove it into the cryo tank? And store it somewhere on the shuttle bay?”
”Suppose we can,” Liara said, stepping aside as two soldiers picked up JS_v.12.003 and two others switched him with the other model.
”This is JS_v.12.015,” the suit said. ”And besides that, it’s is the last of it’s kind.”
”What does that mean?” Liara asked.
”It means that all the clones were destroyed, the facility was bombed from orbit. This is the last clone there is, besides the glitchy one.” He nodded towards the cryo tank, which was being sealed for transport to be stored away. ”So you better get this right.”
EDI stepped forth. ”I suggest we just remove his unfortunate discovery, but otherwise let him have his memories.”
The suit shook his head. ”The council demands that he get this done, so you should take out whatever could uhm… confuse him.”
”You mean anything that makes him human?” Chackwas said acidly, crossing her arms over her chest.
”If you want to put it that way,” the suit said, and then looked at EDI. ”Can you do that?”
”Does the Dalatrass wear a funny hat?” EDI said. ”That was a joke.”
”Very funny,” the suit said. ”So can you?”
”Of course,” EDI said. ”But I wouldn’t advise it; the only reason that JS_v.12.003 ever -”
”You are state of the art, I get it. But you’re still an A.I.. And I was not asking you for your opinion. I just need to know if you can do it,” the suit said.
Liara frowned. ”That is crazy.”
”No, he would be crazy,” EDI added.
”He just has to last for the final push on Earth, so who cares about his psych evaluation?” the second suit said coldly.
”Got it,” EDI said. ”I will make sure that the only thought he has is killing the enemy. Good?”
”Perfect,” the suit said. ”And if you need to, you can use JS_v.12.003 for spare parts. It would be a shame if JS_v.12.015 broke right away”.
Kaidan had stayed away from it all, staying with James down in the shuttlebay, pretending to focus on making sure that the equipment was up to date before they landed on earth. He hardly reacted when the soldiers and a suit came down and placed the cryo tank, pulling a large tarp over it to obscure it. It was not untill they left that Kaidan made a move toward it. James placed a hand on his shoulder and shook his head.
”I have to see,” Kaidan said and shrugged James’ hand off his shoulder. He walked over to the cyro tank and pulled the tarp aside and looked inside. There was Shepard, looking mostly like he slept. His ruby red cybernetics were black and shut off now, so he looked like a cracked porcelain doll. A note was stuck to his shirt which said ”JS_v.12.003, decommissioned, fully functional.” Kaidan gnawed the inside of his cheek. To think that it was only hours since he had whispered heated nonsense in his ear, had kissed him. And here he was as the thing he had accused him of being. ”Fuck,” Kaidan hissed and pulled down the tarp again.
His omnitool beeped, and he answered the incoming call. ”Liara,” he said. ”Is it over?”
”Yes,” Liara said. ”He is sleeping right now, but I thought I should warn you. The command wanted a super soldier, someone who didn’t lose focus… and…”
”They took all his memories?” Kaidan asked.
”Yes,” Liara said. ”EDI put in a false protocol so he wouldn’t just go completely mad when he woke. But basically he only knows us as crew. He should have no feelings of anything deeper than loyalty to the cause.”
Kaidan took a deep breath and sighed. ”Maybe it’s for the best.” He tried to smile.
”He is the last,” Liara said. ”They destroyed the rest, so if he dies in the battle, he’s gone. We could use JS_v.12.003 for spare parts since he is -”
”Don’t you touch him!” Kaidan exclaimed, surprising himself at his reponse.
Liara smiled sadly. ”I promise, I won’t.”
”Thank you,” Kaidan said.
”Hey, come on,” James said and wrapped an arm around Kaidan and ushered him away from the cryo tank. ”This won’t help.”
”I know,” Kaidan said with a sigh.
”Guess you got it like you wanted it, Shepard doesn’t remember you at all,” James said flatly.
”All I am saying is that this thing in the tank is not Shepard, either,” James said softly. ”You don’t have to grieve for him again.”
”Don’t fucking remind me of my own mistakes,” Kaidan yelled, and pushed James away. ”I was wrong, okay? I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried. And I don’t need you to tell me that!”
James just smiled and nodded toward Kaidan’s omnitool, which still had Liara on the line. ”Glad you see it now,” James said, reaching out and sqeezing Kaidan’s shoulder.
CHAPTER TEN – EPILOGUE.
It was strange to get used to the new Shepard. It had always been weird, but this time it was weirder than usually. At least this Shepard didn’t care that people avoided him. He didn’t know any better. To him they were all subordinates: nothing less, nothing more. He counted on their loyalty and their combat experience, but that was the extent of his knowledge. Kaidan found himself returning to the cryo tank to check in on JS_v.12.003, just to make sure he wasn’t falling apart.
Kaidan found it hard to look at Shepard and be addressed with nothing but ‘major’. Though sometimes he would smile, it never quite got close to how Shepard or JS_v.12.003 had smiled when they saw him. The crew all followed Shepard’s lead, fought the best they knew how on earth, pushing on to the beam. Kaidan was injured badly and James had taken him off the battlefield. They would have alerted Shepard, but he was long gone in the front. There was no way of getting to him, so James helped Kaidan to the medbay.
Kaidan didn’t really know how to react to the news that there had been radio silence from Shepard ever since he had been seen running to the beam. They had all watched the destruction around them. He knew from the battlefield reports that Reapers and Geth had both just dropped, and he knew that the Normandy was gone, the crew aboard included. If nothing else, then JS_v.12.015 had been successfull in his mission. He had stopped the Reapers, and Kaidan knew it was only a matter of time before he would see his face everywhere, when the survivors would start to celebrate the war hero, completely unaware that their hero had been dead for longer than the Reapers had been known.
Kaidan had stayed in London, helping his crewmates and the people rebuild to the point where he felt he could leave with a clear concience. He hadn’t seen Liara or James in a while, a couple of weeks, but he figured they found somewhere else that needed them more, and it wasn’t like they owed him anything. But it was sort of funny how peace could feel this empty. He had not expected it to feel like this. It was a long time ago that he had come to terms with his ‘ever after’ not including John, but still he had thought he’d feel more relieved, accomplished.
He walked down to the central command of south London, carrying a cup of coffee. He smiled as he saw James sitting on the hood of a jeep, drinking from a water bottle. ”Hey James,” Kaidan waved. ”I thought you left.”
”Ye of little faith,” James grinned. ”I didn’t leave. I have been working on a secret project. You know, like super top secret.” His grin widened.
”Oh?” Kaidan said. ”I thought the Alliance was too busy rebuilding to play men in black.”
”Yes and no,” James said with a little knowing grin as he slid off the jeep. ”I think we should find Liara.”
”Liara is here?”
”Yep,” James smiled. He took out an old cell phone and smiled to Kaidan, dialling Liara. ”Hey, I got Major-boywonder here. Would you come down to the jeep? Yep, see you then.” He turned to Kaidan. ”She’s on her way.”
”So where have you been playing secret agent?” Kaidan said, leaning against the jeep waiting for Liara. ”London?”
”Well, in Leeds to be precise.” James’ smile widened, and he nodded at Liara when she came walking down toward the jeep.
”Kaidan!” she cheered, and hugged him. ”Good to see you’re okay.”
”I’m fine,” Kaidan said. ”And likewise.” He let go of Liara and looked at her and James, who looked awfully smug. ”So? Gonna let me in on whatever it is?”
Liara took a deep breath. ”Okay, when the Normandy originally landed here on earth, we went to battle, but the cargo was left elsewhere.”
”In Leeds, to be exact,” James said.
”And so when James and I went there for something else, we saw that the cryo tank with JS_v.12.003 was there. Completely undamaged, because it didn’t require any form of lifesupport,” Liara said, studying Kaidan’s rather surprised but guarded expression. ”Long story short, we found a way to generate enough electricity to jolt his cybernetics back to life, and since his cybernetics were down when the crucible let out its blast, they weren’t damaged.”
”Are you saying what I think you are?” Kaidan said, his voice only a whisper.
”We couldn’t do an awful lot about his memory, without the original chip or the Normandy, but he has not lost any memory, either.” She smiled. ”He’s right in there.” She nodded toward the central command center. ”I believe he is downstairs looking over the provisions that were to be shipped out.”
”You…” Kaidan looked from James to Liara… ”What did the Alliance say?”
”The Alliance doesn’t exist anymore, so they don’t have a say,” James said with a shrug. ”Now go!”
Kaidan didn’t have to hear that twice, he spun around on his heels and sprinted through the central command, causing more than one to drop what they had in their hands as he pushed through them, and he dropped his coffe somewhere around communications. He jumped down the stairs two steps at a time. Tearing around the corner, he saw him. His hair a little longer, but he recognized his back anywhere. ”John!” he heard himself call.
Shepard turned around. ”Kaidan.” He smiled broadly. He would have said more, but he found his arms full of Kaidan. He just closed his eyes and held the other man close. He had not even dared to dream that this would be the outcome. And he remembered when James and Liara had briefed him on what had happened after he had been stored away like a can of peaches. He knew that if his cybernetics failed, there was nothing anyone could do, and that it was only a question of time, but then he just had to make the best out what he had. He had read the reports, knowing what the Shepard-machine that came after him had done, and he had inwardly been a little happy that the Alliance had gone fullblown crazy so he hadn’t missed out on something important other than war. He felt sorry for the poor sod, but right now with his arms full of Kaidan he didn’t care about any other Shepard, any other place or even about the list in his hand.
He could never be the original Shepard, but he could be the real one. Real enough for Kaidan, and that was all that mattered.