It was quiet on on the ship. There was the usual buzz and hum of the systems, but there was a hush in the artificially generated atmosphere. People spoke little, only soft whispers exchanged when necessary.
Initially there had been cheers and relieved laughter. How could they not celebrate their survival? No one had known what the explosion of light would do to their systems and when the ship had suddenly... rebooted... after being engulfed by the wave of energy, many had remembered the destruction of the first Normandy. It had been terrifying, and that emotion needed to be released through celebration. But now they were silent, as if they didn't want to disturb a grave.
They hadn't known yet. Joker hadn't known, although he felt he should have. He was the one who knew her best. It hadn't seemed all that strange that her body would have been shut down along with the ship systems. But when they rebooted the AI core and there was no greeting, that should have set off more warning bells than it had. Yeah he'd been worried, but the ship was damaged. Maybe there wasn't enough power or too many damaged circuits.
It wasn't until they had gotten the quantum entanglement communications back online that they learned the truth. The Reapers had been destroyed. Along with the Geth, and all other AI technology. Everyone had looked straight at him. He wanted to crack a joke, something clever about forming an attachment to an inanimate object. But the words didn't come. And then even worse news was announced and Joker felt ashamed that he was relieved to not be the center of attention anymore.
Shepard was MIA. Assumed dead.
Kaidan stood directly across from him. For a moment, their eyes met, held. Understanding passed between them. Many lives had been lost in this war, including his own family, although he still held on to a little hope that his sister Gunny was still alive. But this was different. And for that infinite second that Kaidan stared at him, before anyone had reacted with more than a shocked inhale, that silent instant, Joker felt a little less alone.
The second passed. The crew exhaled, some quietly, some vocally. Joker felt guilty for mourning the loss of an AI when his best friend and Commander had been left behind. Just one more emotion adding to the weight on his chest, making him constantly wonder when the crushed feeling would become real because his brittle ribs couldn't hold up under the strain.
Now, several days later, he stood in the AI core ignoring the ache in his legs. The machines humming around him were completely repaired. According to the data pad Tali had showed him before leaving the room several minutes ago, everything was online. Tests were successful. The enhanced defense intelligence was online, but not EDI.
The door slid open behind him and Kaidan walked into the room. "Hey Joker," he said in greeting. His voice was hushed. Everyone spoke like that in this room. It reminded Joker of hospital room etiquette for comatose patients. No one knew if the patient was aware of their presence, so they spoke softly to avoid disturbing them.
"Hey Major," Joker replied woodenly. He looked at the data pad in his hand one more time but the results hadn't changed. With a sigh he dropped it on the bench next to EDI's inactive android body. It didn't appear to be damaged. There was just no controlling software anymore.
He turned to face the Normandy's newest commanding officer. He didn't salute because it made Kaidan uncomfortable. No one called him Commander. Kaidan had put a stop to that right away, and no one argued.
Kaidan clapped Joker on the shoulder, gently, in deference to his condition. "Still nothing?"
Joker shook his head. "Nothing."
"I'm guessing you have tried a good old fashioned reboot?"
Joker snorted. "What do you think all the brownouts have been from? Tali threatened me with bodily harm if I kept rebooting because it messes up other functions since EDI was fully integrated with the ship. It wouldn't take her very much effort to break my jaw, so I listened."
One corner of Kaidan's mouth lifted. It wasn't really a smile, but it was the closest he had come since they had learned about Shepard. "Don't you outrank her?" He asked.
Joker shrugged. "Technically, yeah since she's not part of the Alliance, but I don't want to risk my jaw just to see if she'll follow my orders." A little bit of the almost smile reached Kaidan's eyes, and Joker was glad to see he wasn't losing his touch. "So what can I do for you?" He asked. Takeoff wasn't planned for a few more days, and due to Vrolic's syndrome he wasn't a very useful part of the team unless it came to lightweight work like rewiring or replacing circuit boards. Once that work had been finished, he was most helpful by staying out of everyone else's way.
Kaidan huffed out a sigh and rubbed the back of his neck. His eyes wandered around the room as he answered. "The uh, memorial ceremony is this tomorrow morning," he said. He hesitated for just a moment before he met Joker's eyes. "We made a plaque for EDI. Do you want to be the one to put it up?"
Joker froze. "No," he said. "There is no need."
Joker turned away and brushed his fingers across the silvery metal of the nearest server. He swallowed thickly before he spoke. "EDI isn't dead, because she was never really alive."
He could feel Kaidan's stare on his shoulders like a weight as the silence stretched between them. "You don't really believe that do you?" He asked finally.
"I have to," Joker answered softly. "It means she's still in here somewhere. Just MIA." He tapped his finger against the metal of the server. He looked at Kaidan over his shoulder and pinned him with a fierce look. "There is still hope."
His double meaning wasn't lost on the Major. Kaidan sucked in a breath and took a step back. "It’s been a month," he said, his voice breaking on the last word.
Joker reached for the console that controlled the servers in the room and typed in the command to reboot. The lights dimmed as the servers all began to shut down. His data pad lit up with a bolded message in a font big enough that he could see it from where he stood a few feet away.
Stop it Joker, I mean it!!!
Joker ignored it and stared at Kaidan. "Last time it was two years," he said. He grabbed his data pad and faced the stunned Major. "I will see you at the ceremony. Don't bother with EDI's plaque." He waved his fingers towards the brim of his hat in a lazy salute and limped past him out of the AI core.
Kaidan stood frozen, staring at EDI's body. Around him the servers came on again one by one and the lights came back on. He couldn't help but remember his first encounter with the android. He lifted a hand and rubbed his temple where the constant headaches were a reminder of how "rattled" his implant had gotten at Eva's hands. They had been almost constant while he'd been in the hospital, and there had been discussion of removal, at least until the swelling around his brain had subsided, taking most of the pain with it. Now he was just back to stress induced migraines.
It had been quite a shock to run into her in the Normandy's halls. If he'd been armed he might have pulled a gun on her. He'd stumbled back against the wall in his shock, but she had only tilted her head at him. "Relax Major. I'm unarmed." The last was said as she lifted her arms and wiggled her fingers. "That was a joke," she said when he didn't respond right away.
Luckily Liara happened upon them and was able to explain the situation. He'd been leery of the AI at first, but it was difficult not to be charmed by her odd mix of knowledge, naivete, and dry humor. Being a ship only gave her bonus points in the Perfect Woman For Joker column.
"Joker if you don't stop, Tali is going to have kittens- oh, Major Alenko it's you. I'm so sorry... I thought it was Joker."
Kaidan turned to see Traynor halted just inside the door, her cheeks flushed dark with embarrassment. "It was," he said lightly. "He just left."
Traynor huffed in exasperation. "Of course he did." Her eyes softened as she looked around the room. "I understand how he feels. I wish rebooting EDI's systems was the answer but it hasn't helped yet and it's slowing down the rest of the repairs."
"Are we in a hurry?" Kaidan asked.
She shook her head. "No, not really. Everything critical is fixed. Tali and I are just running some final tests while we wait for the mass relay near the Sol system to get repaired."
Kaidan put a hand on her shoulder. "If it isn't interfering, let him keep trying."
"Even though it isn't doing anything?" She asked sadly.
"It's giving him hope," Kaidan replied.
Traynor sighed. "I suppose we can never have enough of that. It got us through the war, didn't it?"
Kaidan gave her shoulder a soft squeaze and a pat. "Exactly."
Traynor gave him a tremulous smile, and a stiff salute before she turned and left him alone in the AI core. Kaidan smiled tiredly and after a look back at EDI's body, he walked out into the Med bay. Doctor Chakwas looked up from her desk. In a glance, her keen eyes probably picked up more than he wanted her to.
"Hello Major," she said. She was smiling, but he could see the worry in her expression. "How are you? Any headaches lately?"
Nearly always since leaving earth. He forced his lips into a more genuine smile and hoped it didn't look like the grimace he suspected it really was. "I'm OK," he answered. "Just tired. Hard to sleep with all this work waiting to get done, you know."
"Hm, yes," she said noncommittally. She leaned back in her chair, crossed her ankles in front of her and folded her hands in her lap. "You look tired. You need more rest. You're still healing, and I’m still a bit miffed that you ignored my advice about bedrest."
"I know," Kaidan said quickly. "And I will rest. I just have to check on a few things-"
Kaidan stopped and gave her a rueful look. He knew that no nonsense tone, and it always worked. "Just who is in charge here?" He joked.
Chakwas’ smile was still gentle, but the hard glint didn't leave her eyes. "You are. But if you collapse from exhaustion, or a stress induced migraine you'll be no good to us. And we can function for eight solid hours without you."
Kaidan sighed and rubbed his palm over his face. Sleep did sound good. But dreams did not. "Doctor's orders?" He asked.
"A friend's request."
He smiled, and it felt somewhat genuine. "Yes ma'am."
He left the Med bay and waved at the crew members gathered around the table as he headed for the crew quarters. Halfway past the lift, he stopped. He stood in indecision for almost a minute before he turned back to it. Once inside, he quickly gave the order to take him to the captain's cabin before he could change his mind. The quick ride up felt too short and once he was standing before the cabin door, he almost turned on a heel to go back. He took a deep breath and took a step forward. The sensors recognized his rank and the doors slid open with a hiss.
Kaidan halted just inside. He wasn't sure exactly what he expected to see, but the room was just like the last time he'd seen it, only cleaner. Someone had cleared the stack of data pads off the desk and table and stored them properly, and the bed had been made. The fish swam around placidly in the wall tank, and as far as he could tell they had all survived the crash. He turned to see that Boo had also survived and had a bowl full of food and a full water bottle. He would have to find out who was taking care of the hamster and thank them later. He felt a twinge of guilt for forgetting the little guy.
He moved over to the bed and stared down at it. Absently, he flicked on the bedside radio and let the music fill the room. He could almost hear John humming along as he paced the room, reading his reports. Kaidan was sure John wasn't aware that he was doing it, but he wouldn't be the one to point it out. He didn't want to be the one to make him stop.
Kaidan heaved a sigh and began to remove his clothing, stripping down to his regulation boxer briefs, and with only a slight hesitation he climbed into the bed. The sheet he pulled around him must be clean, but his imagination supplied him with John's scent. He squeezed his eyes closed, but as the seconds passed he became more tense, sleep ever more elusive. The dull ache that had lurked behind his eyes for weeks began to bloom into a full blown migraine.
After at least an hour of tossing and turning, Kaidan threw the sheet back and sat on the edge of the bed with his face in his hands. Tears leaked from his eyes and he dashed them away with an irritated swipe of his hand. He pushed himself to his feet and paced, unconsciously following John's path around the room. Coming up here was a mistake , he thought to himself.
But he stayed. Now that he was here, he didn't want to leave. Instead he reached into the drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a medigel patch. John had started keeping them in here when they began sharing his bed. For those nights when Kaidan's migraines kept him awake. He applied the adhesive patch to the back of his neck and sighed at the cooling sensation seeping into his skin. He lay back down and stared up at the ceiling, his mind full of images of John.
As his eyes finally began to grow heavy, his final thought was I didn't want him to leave me behind... because I can't leave him behind.
The lights dimmed, as the AI core rebooted again.
Tali threw her data pad down in frustration as her tests were interrupted. "I'm going to skin that bosh'tet," she growled as she spun around to leave the engineering deck. Adams, Donnely and Daniels exchanged silent looks as she stormed past them.
"Damn Cerberus for building a whole ship around a single system," she grumbled as the door slid open before her. She was so busy imagining breaking Joker's fingers that she didn't notice there was a body standing in her way until she slammed into it. Strong hands came up to grab her shoulders, steadying her before she stumbled backward.
"Whoa, what's the rush?" Garrus asked.
Tali looked up at the scarred face and smiled brightly. He couldn't see her expression, and for that she was grateful. She already felt like a silly little girl around him. It would be even worse if he could see how he made her chew her bottom lip nervously every time he stood close. As it was, she worried that she might fog her mask if he didn't take a step back.
"Garrus! I was just going to um talk to Joker about rebooting the servers."
Garrus tilted his head, and the skin around his eyes wrinkled as he chuckled at her. "And by talk, I assume you mean break some bones."
"What? I wouldn't." Tali protested weakly.
Garrus wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and his mandibles twitched into a Turian grin. "Of course you would," he said. "You're surprisingly mean." His voice dropped suggestively. "How many times do I need to tell you I like it before you believe me?"
Tali let him pull her closer. It felt nice to be held. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and she wished that she could remove her mask so she could feel him against her cheek. She had already adjusted her suit to the Geth specifications that would help increase her immune system, but it would take some time to become effective, and it would be a few generations before Quarians would be completely free of their suits.
She felt naked without her mask. Of course, she’d only taken it off twice, and it was in order to get completely out of her suit. Once with Garrus before they’d reached earth, and the time before was with Shepard...
She must have tensed, because Garrus pulled back and cupped her mask, rubbing his taloned thumb over the protective barrier. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asked. Her heart melted a little at the human endearment.
“I was just thinking of Shepard,” Tali said softly. “It doesn’t feel right that we left him behind.”
Garrus’ face went blank, and he took a step back. “I had to leave him behind. It was an order-”
To Tali’s dismay Garrus retreated even further and turned to walk away. It only took her a few long steps to catch up with him, and she grabbed him by the shoulder and tugged until he faced her again. “No one is blaming you Garrus,” she said quickly.
He wouldn’t look at her when he replied. “They don’t need to. I’ve got that covered.”
Tali reached up with both hands and pulled his face around, forcing him to look at her. “You don’t know what would have happened if you’d been with him.”
Garrus reached up with one hand and twined his fingers with hers. He turned and nuzzled her palm for a moment before he looked at her again. “He might still be with us,” he replied quietly.
“Or you might be gone with him, and we’ve already lost so many,” Tali said softly. With her free hand she reached for her mask. With a flick of her thumb she released the catch and pulled it free.
His eyes widened in alarm. “Tali, don’t. You’ll get sick again-”
Tali sighed with a roll of her eyes, an expression she’d picked up from her human friends. “A little fever will be worth it.” She leaned up and rubbed her nose against his.
Garrus only resisted for half a second before he growled and in a quick movement scooped her up into his arms making her gasp in surprise and wrap her arms around his shoulders. “Let’s take this somewhere more private then, shall we?”
Tali giggled. “The lower engineering deck is empty at the moment.”
As he carried her downstairs, she couldn’t help thinking about Shepard. She’d cared for him deeply. He had believed in her. And in Garrus. The whole crew. Everyone. Her love for him had really been hero worship, and it was only stronger now. But what she had with Garrus was real. And it was only possible because of Shepard. She wasn’t going to let his sacrifice be in vain.
The urgency with which Garrus helped her remove her suit made her realize that he felt the same way.
Steve crawled out from under the Kodiak and sat with his legs dangling down into the repair bay below it. He sighed and rubbed his forehead with the back of his wrist. He wasn’t anywhere near finished repairing it from the damage it had taken back on Earth. The power loss during the reboots didn’t help, but he wasn’t going to complain. He understood what it felt like to lose the one you loved, and anyone with an IQ of more than ten knew how Joker felt about EDI.
“Hey Estaban. Anyone ever mention you work too much?”
He jumped at the sound of James’ unexpectedly close voice. The Marine was standing directly behind him. He swallowed to moisten his suddenly dry mouth when he noticed the other man’s lack of a shirt, and the sheen of sweat on the massive wall of muscle over his chest. “Yeah,” he answered, glad his voice was steady. “The Commander was always pestering me to slow down.”
James gave a snort of amusement and dropped down on his haunches to sit down next to him. Steve took a deep breath through his nose and closed his eyes for a moment to savor the scent of a man who was not so fresh from a workout. He opened his eyes again quickly when James bumped his shoulder against him.
“Loco had it right,” James said with a grin, the scar on his face crinkling up under his eye. The smile faded slightly. “He’d be pretty upset if he knew you were back to working your fingers to the bone, Estaban.”
“What else would I do, Mr. Vega?” Steve countered with a rueful shrug. It was hard to take time to himself when there was so much work to be done, but he no longer had Shepard popping in constantly to tell him to relax. He missed the daily chats they’d have over the procurement desk, the poker games he was constantly dragged to, and the morning coffees they would share in the mess hall.
James leaned back on his palms, and stared up at the Kodiak for a moment. “This thing has speakers, no?”
Steve had to shake his head a little to clear it. The sight of all that flexing muscle played havoc with his ability to reason. “Yes,” he answered simply, curious where James was going with this.
The muscles flexed again as James sat up to activate his omni-tool. He tapped in some instructions, and suddenly the speakers were blaring house music. He jumped up, and held a helping hand towards Steve. “I heard you like to dance.”
Steve stared up at James in shock. He probably looked like an idiot with his mouth hanging open, but he felt it was the appropriate reaction. “Are you serious?” James’ only answer was to shrug and flex his fingers. Steve couldn’t resist the devilish grin that spread over his own face. “All right,” he said, taking James’ hand and letting the big marine pull him to his feet. “I just hope you’re a better dancer than Shepard.”
“ Everyone is a better dancer,” James said as he rolled his eyes.
Once Steve was on his feet, James started dancing, still holding on to him. Pulling him close. Steve let it happen. Let the music wash through him. The sound quality was crap, and at first he felt a little silly dancing in the echoing empty space, but the beats soothed the tension in his shoulders, and soon the room around him disappeared and it was just him, James, and the music. His eyes drifted shut, and he just let himself move.
When he felt arms slip around his waist, Steve’s eyes popped open. James was staring down at him intently. He really was a fine specimen of a man, scars and all. “Mr. Vega, I have a confession to make.”
“Oh yeah?” Their movements slowed, although the music had not.
“I do like the view.”
James grinned widely. “I knew it. Why didn’t you ever do anything more than look, Estaban?”
“Why didn’t you ever do anything more than tease, Mr. Vega?”
“I’m not teasing now.”
Steve, slid his hands up and around James’ shoulders and leaned up. “It’s about time,” he said just before their lips met.
The kiss was tentative. Steve was not surprised at the shyness behind James' movements. What he had not expected the softness of the mouth against his. Somehow he'd imagined they would be hard like the rest of the man. The slide of their tongues distracted him from the thought. When James pulled away there was a soft moan, and Steve was mostly sure it came from him. "Delicioso," he sighed.
"Sí," James replied softly over the music still pouring from the Kodiak's speakers. "We should have done this sooner, Estaban."
"Why haven't we?" Steve asked.
James looked away. "I saw the way you looked at the commander."
Steve laughed. "Half the crew gave him those looks. Even you. It's called hero worship, Mr. Vega. But we were just friends."
"Are friends," James corrected.
They had been rocking slowly back and forth, but Steve froze at that. "James..." The lights dimmed, causing them both to look around. Joker must be restarting the AI core again.
James looked down at Steve and gave him a crooked smile, pulled even more off center by his scar. "There's always hope, no?"
Steve couldn't resist grinning back at the younger man. "Always, Mr. Vega." And right then, he believed it.
Liara grunted in irritation when her screens lost power again. At least the reboots were happening less often, and it was getting easier to get work done in between brown outs. Rebuilding her connections as the Shadow Broker was proving to be somewhat difficult. The QEC had taken some time to repair, and rumors of her death were rampant by the time communications had been restored.
She looked at the clock on her omni tool and sighed. It was probably a good thing that she had been interrupted. If anyone asked her how long it had been since she'd slept they would probably be horrified. Without Glyph around to remind her to take a break occasionally, she was working herself ragged.
She ran her fingers over her head and let out a weary sigh. Now was as as good a time as any for a rest, even if things were already starting to power back on. It took her only a few minutes to change into something more comfortable, before she climbed into bed. She rolled onto her side and pressed the button on the small box on the bedside table. A holographic image of Shepard appeared and she watched it spin slowly. Her eyes filled with tears.
It was hard to believe he was gone.
A chime at her door startled her. Wiping her face quickly, she sat up and gave the command for the door to open. To her amazement, Javik stood in the opening.
"May I have a moment of your time, Asari?" He asked.
Liara suppressed her irritation over his continued habit of calling her "Asari" and nodded. "Of course." She looked down at the simple nightgown that she wore. "If you will give me a moment, I can get dressed."
Javik clasped his hands behind his back, spread his legs in a relaxed stance, and shook his head. "There is no need," he said. "I only wish a moment of your time."
"Alright," she said warily.
Javik didn't speak right away. Instead he looked around, taking in the bank of screens that were just starting to broadcast their constant spill of encrypted information, and the console where Glyph usually fluttered. "You are the one they call the Shadow broker, yes?" He finally said.
Liara’s eyes widened in surprise. Only a select few on the ship knew that information. She wrestled with whether to be honest, but decided it would be useless. He'd probably read it from Shepard already, so lying would be useless. "I am," she answered.
Javik shook his head. His lips curled in what she imagined might have been a smile, but it was hard to know for sure. It was an expression she had never seen before, and she wasn't exactly the expert on Protheans that she used to think she was. Even after half a century of study, there would have been no way for her to know if they had laughter, or smiles, or if they were like the Elcor and expressed emotion in ways that were invisible to her own species.
"So curious," he said softly as he examined the information coming through the terminal. He turned his head to look directly at her. "Are all of your people as hungry for knowledge?"
"Well, maybe not quite to the same extent," Liara replied. "We all have different interests during our maiden years." She smiled ruefully. "Not every Asari child digs up parks looking for relics like I did though."
Javik grunted. Was that a laugh? He walked closer to her bed and looked down at the cube still projecting Shepard's image. He reached down and tapped buttons, scrolling through the information loaded inside of it. "This is impressive," he said. "Similar to our memory shards." He looked at her after a moment. "It is... good... to see that our investment in your people was successful."
Liara bristled at the reminder of their fight after leaving Thessia. "If you came just to act pompous about engineering my people, you can just leave. I'm really not in the mood for your superiority complex right now."
Javik sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "That is not why I am here Liara T'soni." He reached out to place his hand over hers, but hesitated just short of touching her skin. He pulled back and placed his hand on his thigh instead. "I came to ask if you still wished to learn of my culture."
Liara's mouth dropped open. "Are you serious?" Her heart started pounding, and she had to remind herself to breath.
Javik's lips twisted again, and this time she was sure it was a smile. "I am." His eyes flicked away, and he appeared to be looking inward. "I had intended to join my people after the battle with the Reapers. But I feel the need to leave a legacy for them. Something more than ruins."
"Join your...? Oh." Liara didn't know how to react. Javik was not her favorite person, but she hadn't even considered that he may not wish to live the rest of his natural life. Thinking about it now she couldn't even imagine how it would feel to live as the last of her kind, to be seen as a relic, an historical object. She suddenly felt slightly guilty for pestering him about his people.
"I would be honored to hear anything you want to tell me," She finally said. “Although it might take more than a ‘moment’ of my time. I have so many questions.” When he looked at her again, she was surprised to find that she did understand his expressions. He had just been so stoic since she had met him that she had missed what seemed obvious now. He was lonely. I'm probably the most familiar thing in his world right now. Fifty thousand years was hardly a long time for a species with a thousand year life span. The Asari can't have evolved that much since his time. Only more advanced techologically, but still basically the same.
Javik nodded almost as if he were proud of her answer. "It would be easier if I could show you." The hand resting on his thigh lifted and he held it out to her, palm up.
Liara looked down at the three fingered hand blankly. Show her...? Her head shot up and she stared at him in shock. "You mean-" she couldn't finish the thought.
This time when Javik laughed it transformed him. All of his eyes crinkled and his body shook with it. "Little Asari. You were there when I explained how Protheans communicate.. how multiple species 'became' Prothean. Where do you think your people obtained the ability to meld your minds? Like children, you were being groomed to become us. To take our place in the galaxy if we did not survive. You think we would not give you this gift?"
Liara blinked at him. It made sense. The way he said children was warm with affection. Different from the way he’d referred to her people in their previous discussions. What had changed? She looked back down at his hand. "The Joining is an... intimate act for us," she said slowly.
“So I understand from the information I have found on the extranet.”
Was that a smirk? Liara ignored the thought, the same as she ignored the sudden wave of shyness filling her. Gingerly she lifted her own hand and held it above Javik’s. This would be a turning point. If she did this, not only would she know of his culture, but she would know him . In the most intimate way possible. And he knew it. He understood what he was asking of her.
I want this, Liara thought. For both reasons.
“What is it your people say?” Javik murmured when she hesitated. “Embrace Eternity?”
“Don’t mock me,” Liara said with a glare.
“I would not. Not anymore,” Javik in that same soft voice that she suddenly found very compelling. He lifted his hand and took hers between his own.
As their nervous systems began to merge, she heard his first thought.
Give me a reason to stay.
Kaidan sat on the edge of Shepard’s bed, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. The migraine he’d gone to sleep with was still with him, despite the fact that he’d gotten a solid six hours. Not what the doctor ordered, but more hours in a row than he’d gotten in... well he couldn’t remember. Being a soldier and a leader wasn’t conducive to a proper sleep schedule. No matter how much Doctor Chakwas nagged him to get sleep, he knew it wasn’t that easy.
When he would ask John to sleep more, when he would insist he needed more rest, he would get an “Ok Kaidan, I’ll try,” and a small smile. It had irked him that John was brushing off his advice, even as the smile had warmed him inside. Now he understood. But he knew also that he would have tried to get him to rest anyway, because he cared, and it was his way of showing it when he really wanted to drag the man into his arms and hold him tight. He’d refrained though. Not because of regulations. When they became the spearhead of the battle against the reapers, the rules ceased to matter quite so much. He’d refrained because he knew that Shepard was still a little shy about their relationship being public knowledge.
Kaidan knew he wasn’t John’s first lover on the ship, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be jealous after the way he’d pushed the man away. So he played along with the act, and kept his displays of affection not so public, and nagged John to sleep more.
With a heavy sigh, Kaidan pushed himself to his feet. According to the clock, the memorial ceremony was going to start soon. He stumbled into the shower, tried not to think about sharing it with a hard, scar covered body, leaner than his own but just as strong. He finished quickly, unwilling to linger with the memories. When he was finished he dressed, and left the cabin.
Everyone was already gathered when he reached the Crew Deck. They turned to look at him as the lift doors opened and he stepped out. Their faces were solemn, and he could see his own grief reflected.
Traynor stepped forward from the group, and handed him a cloth wrapped object. She said something to him, but he was so focused on what he held that he didn’t register the words. No one seemed to expect a response from him anyway, for which he was grateful.
They parted for him as he stepped closer to the memorial wall. He looked up at all the names. All the friends. Gone, but never forgotten.
His eyes dropped to the plaque in his hand, and he pulled it free of the protective covering. Block letters spelled out the commander’s name, but he couldn’t see it through the sheen of tears. He ran his fingers over the lettering, feeling the sharp edges catch on his calluses. Tilting his head up, he looked again at the memorial board. It was so final. A name on a wall. Something displayed to remind you every day of what, who, you had lost.
Kaidan blinked to clear his vision, he turned and looked at the group behind him. “I, um,” he swallowed. Cleared his throat. “I had planned on saying something, but....” he trailed off.
“No need,” Garrus answered. “We hear you.”
Looking around at them, he could see that they did. Words weren’t necessary. Everyone here had loved Shepard in their own way. And he saw something else. Hands held. Arms around waists. Closeness. He saw their hope. A family brought together by war, yes, but held together by one man.
Shepard was gone, but they were still alive. Still together. John would be proud .
He turned back to the wall, determined to stop stalling. This time he noticed a new name, one he hadn’t been able to see through his tears the first time he’d looked. Three letters, meant to describe a program, but became a true name.
He looked at Joker over his shoulder, and their eyes held. Last night the pilot’s eyes had been fierce, but now he only saw grief. The reboots had continued during the night. He’d heard them through the haze of his dreams. He understood that feeling of loss, and he understood why Joker didn’t want to put up EDI’s plaque. He wasn’t ready to put John’s up there on that wall. But it had been so long....
Joker shrugged a little, then looked down as he scuffed the toe of his boot against the floor. It had been so long...
A shrill beep cut through the heavy silence, making Kaidan jump, and everyone else to shift in surprise. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Forgot to silence it.” He lifted his arm and activated his omni-tool. A message flashed across the display.
Urgent message from Admiral Hackett. He tapped the message to open it.
Kaidan’s knees went weak and he collapsed backwards against the memorial wall, sliding down until his ass was planted on the floor. Numb fingers lost their grip on the plaque and it clattered to the floor, face down. The message was short, allowing him to read it over and over again, which he needed to do in order to absorb it. Vaguely he heard the crew calling his name, Chakwas rushed forward and placed her hand on his cheek. Her arm blocked his view of his omni tool, but by now he’d memorized the message.
We’ve found Shepard. He wants to speak with you.
Kaidan suddenly snapped back into focus. He grabbed the Doctor’s wrist and pulled it away from his neck where she was checking his pulse. “I’m fine,” he said sharply. He gently pushed her away and pushed himself to his feet. He was breathing hard, as if he’d been running. He was running. Slapping his palm against the door to the to the lift when it didn’t open fast enough, both to let him in, then to let him out into the CIC. Running through the security checkpoint before the conference room, setting off alarms. Nearly slipping as he ran around the map in the War Room, leaping up the three stairs on the other side with a single bound boosted by his biotics.
His momentum was stopped by the control panel in the comm room. His hands were shaking so badly, it took him two tries to punch in the code that would connect him to London.
“Major Alenko,” Hacket’s voice. Proud, slightly tinged with mischief. He knew the Normandy’s crew wanted to hear what he had to say. “It’s good that you got back to me so quickly. I’ve got good news.”
The crew was filing in behind him. His urgency must have tipped them off. Kaidan opened his mouth to answer. To ask. His voice caught in his throat. Allowed him to hear the voice he’d missed so badly.
“John.” It came out in a rush, half sigh, half sob.
“Thank God you’re alive,” John said, his voice hoarse.
Supplies were low, but private stock was pulled out for the celebration. Even Chakwas got out her bottle of Serisse Ice Brandy to share. She’d been saving it for Shepard, she said, so now was the perfect time to drink it.
For the first time since the Reapers had been defeated, the crew truly felt their triumph now that it was no longer clouded by grief. Even Joker had felt the excitement for a short time. But it wasn’t quite enough to make him stop listening for EDI’s voice. He left the party early and snuck into the AI Core with a flask of something strong that James had handed him. He knew they’d seen him because the laughter had died down for a moment, and he felt bad for being the killjoy, but he wasn’t really in the mood to continue with the celebration.
Kaidan eventually came looking for him and found him sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the servers. The Major joined him and they sat in companionable silence for several minutes, listening to the joy coming through the bulkhead from the mess hall.
“I can’t believe he’s alive,” Joker said.
“I know,” Kaidan answered. “I keep expecting to wake up, and this is all just a dream because my L2 finally fried my brain.”
Joker snorted. “Seriously, temporary amnesia caused by traumatic head injuries? That shit only happens in movies.”
Kaidan chuckled. “Well he was always larger than life. Maybe they will actually make a movie about this someday.”
“Quick, we had better jump on the story rights right now. We’ll be rich,” Joker said with a roll of his eyes.
They were both silent for a few minutes after that, just sharing each other’s company as they took turns swigging from James’ flask.
“One more,” Kaidan said after a moment.
“What?” Joker squinted at the Major. The stuff in the flask was strong, and everything was starting to go fuzzy.
Kaidan turned to him. “One more reboot,” he said again. He stood up and held his hand out to help Joker to his feet.
Joker shook his head. He’d been rebooting the servers constantly for weeks. He was tired of the disappointment. “What would be the point?”
“After today, I believe in miracles,” Kaidan said softly. “Don’t you?”
They stared at each other for a full minute. Joker’s mind raced as he stared up at the other man. One more, he thought. One more chance. If people could come back from the dead... “All right. One more.” He let Kaidan pull him up into a standing possition, and he leaned on the Major for balance, Yeah, definitely drunk , as he typed in the reboot command.
The lights dimmed as the servers shut down, and the sound of merrymaking coming from the Mess Hall went quiet. Everyone was holding their breath. Hoping. Because that’s what you do when you see the impossible happen. You hope for more.
The lights came back on, and the servers began to hum loudly one at a time, until the room was once again full of it’s normal buzz of white noise. Kaidan and Joker stood still, waiting. It took about fifteen minutes for everything on the console display to show normal operation.
“EDI?” Joker whispered.
Joker sagged against Kaidan. “Yeah, not a surprise,” he muttered. Kaidan, caught him before he could slip into a drunken heap on the floor which was probably a good thing. He wasn’t really in the mood to risk broken bones tonight. “I need to get out of here,” he said.
Kaidan bent down and wrapped Joker’s arm around his shoulders and helped him out of the AI Core and through med bay. When they came back out into the mess hall, there were inquiries that Joker only vaguely heard Kaidan answer for him. The Doctor wanted to examine him, but luckily she was convinced he just needed to sleep it off.
When they reached the hall that led to the crew quarters, Joker stopped, pulling Kaidan to a halt with him. “I want to go up to the bridge,” he said.
Joker nodded. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d fallen asleep in the pilot’s chair. It was still pretty damn comfortable since the Alliance had decided to leave the leather upholstery intact. Kaidan agreed with a nod, and several minutes later he left Joker alone in his seat on the bridge.
Joker stared straight ahead at his flight console. If he looked to the right, all he’d see was the empty chair where EDI had sat in her artificial body. To his left was the projector where she’d still pop up occasionally to speak to him when the body was in another part of the ship. Well, technically she was the ship. I dated a ship, he thought to himself with a snort of laughter. Talk about a weird fetish.
He reached forward and touched the panel to turn on the console. A few swipes brought up his personal files, and he found the pictures he’d had strangers take of him and EDI together on the Citadel. The people had given them odd looks, but it hadn’t mattered. They were having fun. But they always had fun together. Whether they were arguing about flight reports, or just enjoying the music in Purgatory. He missed her questions, although he’d never been able to give her a straight answer because seeing her frustration with his sarcasm had been way too entertaining. He missed her jokes, even the scary ones she had to point out.
Joker buried his face in his hands, hiding from the images on the console. “I miss you EDI,” he mumbled into his palms. “I never got a chance to tell you...” he broke off and laughed at himself. If anyone had heard it, they may not have believed he was laughing, but he was. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this.” He continued once he caught his breath. “I never got a chance to tell you that I love you.”
Silence greeted his declaration. “Of course,” he said softly. “It’s not like ships can talk, or feel, or any of that sci fi crap.” He punched a button on the console and the shield walls slid back from the windows. He leaned back and looked up through the windows at the starry night sky. He hadn’t realized the party had lasted so long, although to be fair the days were short on this strange planet they’d found.
The blast from the Citadel had played havoc with the guidance system, and he suspected it was EDI’s last conscious action to keep them from popping out of FTL in the center of a star. She would have been fascinated with this place. He could just hear her extrapolating on how people had been so dependent on the Mass Relays for so long that they hadn’t explored as well as they could have. There was no telling how many habitable planets there were outside the reach of the Relays.
As he stared at the strange constellations, his eyes grew heavy. His eyelids drooped once, twice, then on the third time he gave up trying to keep them open. Around him, the control panels shut off. Because he wasn’t paying attention, he didn’t hear the hum of a running ship die down, and then roar back to life as servers came back on, one at a time. He didn’t hear the exclamations of shock in the Mess Hall as the AI Core rebooted again, this time without a command.
He didn’t hear the gasps.
He didn’t hear the cheers.
He didn’t hear the bridge door slide open behind him, and the deliberate footsteps leading up to his chair.
But he felt the hand on his shoulder. His eyes opened slightly then flew open at the sight of the silvery face leaned close over his.
“EDI... you’re... you’re...”
EDI smiled. It was an expression that she had only started to use recently, as she began to learn human mannerisms. “I would have been here sooner,” she said in her beautiful voice. “But someone kept rebooting me and interrupting my restore process.”
"But... but...." Joker was too stunned to get the question out. How?
"Back ups, Jeff. You didn't think I wouldn't plan for emergencies after Cerberus tried to shut me down?"
That hadn't helped the Reapers. But he didn't ask for more of an explanation because it would probably be way over his head. Instead he leaned out of his chair and wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed his cheek against her stomach. The metallic material was cool against his cheek. When he felt her fingers slide along the back of his neck, he smiled. "Did you manage to save my porn collection?" He asked. His voice was hoarse, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to manage anything more than that until he managed to swallow the really annoying lump forming in his throat.
"All seven zettabytes."
"See, I knew you loved me."