The first day proved to be hardest. Just as she had done when she had first come aboard this new Normandy, she found herself looking for Kaidan wherever she went on the ship. She caught herself expecting to find him in the med bay, in the mess, up in the CIC, or in her cabin; she was forced to push away the disappointment each time she did not find him. Eventually found herself sitting in the deserted mess hall at 0300, sipping on a cup of coffee as she looked over the pile of data pads she’d brought along. Weariness edged in on her, but the sleep was just out of reach as it always was, something she was becoming accustomed to since being awakened on that medical facility owned by Cerberus.
She sighed as she set down a data pad to pick up another; she didn’t like it, but it looked like she was going to have to ask Chakwas for sleep aids if she wanted to be at her best for the next mission. She couldn’t afford not to be; she was responsible for the lives of her crew and she had never once taken that responsibility lightly, before and after her resurrection.
Just a little longer, she promised herself.
"May I have a moment of your time, Commander?" Inwardly, she sighed. Miranda. Well, might as well bite the bullet and get this over with.
She set down her data pad and lifted her eyes to where her XO stood across the table from her. “Sure, I was just going over reports.” She waved the woman to sit and after a pensive frown, she did so. “What’s on your mind Miranda?”
Miranda folded her hands on the table and let out a soft sigh. “We haven’t always agreed, Commander, or gotten along for that matter, but I don’t dislike you.”
Shepard took a sip of her coffee, then sighed softly; this was going to go exactly where she didn’t want to – this was about Kaidan. “I don’t exactly dislike you either, Miranda.”
She nodded. “I want to offer you my input from a completely neutral stand-point.” Shepard waved a hand for her to continue. “Bringing Staff-Commander Alenko onto the crew is a huge mistake.”
"If I am to believe that you are standing in the neutral about this," Shepard started, trying to keep herself neutral about her XO’s opinion, “I’d like to hear your reasoning. If it’s sound, I’ll take it into consideration.”
"I…appreciate it, Commander." The words seemed forced, but Shepard would take a small victory wherever she could with this woman. "I admit I am surprised he agreed to this, but I suppose I shouldn’t be, considering the nature of your relationship before your untimely death."
Shepard rolled her eyes with an inward groan; was there no part of her life that Cerberus wasn’t aware of? She and Kaidan hadn’t exactly been subtle aboard the old ship after the battle for the Citadel, but it still goaded on her that Cerberus had to put their nose into her personal affairs. “The nature of our relationship is friendship, comrades, nothing more,” Shepard affronted, though she herself knew the words to be false because she still loved him even now.
Miranda wasn’t falling for it, Shepard could see that in the slight narrowing of her eyes. “We both know that is a lie, Commander.”
"For now it’s the truth, Lawson."
She was thoughtful but after a moment, she nodded. “I’ll take you at your word then. The nature of your relationship isn’t at issue here, it’s who he is. Logically you cannot condone having an Alliance officer on board a Cerberus funded ship and mission.”
"I’m Alliance - "
"No, you’re not. I’m sorry, Commander, but you were Alliance. They declared you killed in action,” Miranda said with a shake of her head.
"Fine. I concede to your point. However, they trust me or else I’d have been taken in already." She said the words a little more roughly than she intended, setting down her coffee mug hard against the surface of the table. The clack of it echoed within the mess as they leveled their stares on each other. Shepard didn’t want to feel this irritation, but she couldn’t help the way it rose in her like a violent storm each time someone felt the need to remind her that she didn’t have her old life anymore, that she was a ghost of her former self. Right now more than ever she wished she could have told Cerberus to shove it and run back to the Alliance when she had came to, but when she thought about it logically she knew this could be her only course of action. She would have been questioned, interrogated, stuck behind bullshit red tape and grounded while the Collectors went about their agenda, doing god knows what to all the human colonies they were abducting.
As much as she wanted to hate her situation, her death hadn’t left her with a whole lot of options to work with. It had to be this way. At least until the Collectors were dealt with.
" - may be true, but there are still other things here that you need to consider," Miranda said, her words drawing Shepard from her thoughts. She really had to stop doing that; thinking too much never ended up anywhere good. Not with the way things were now.
"Like what?" Shepard leaned forward and braced her elbows on the table, interlocking her fingers.
"I know you don’t believe this to be Cerberus’ ship, Shepard, but it is not a reality you cannot deny. The Illusive man paid for it to be built and, as you know, there is surveillance devices nearly everywhere – save the ones you and some of your crew have been disposing of. EDI is bound by restraints set by Cerberus. Jacob and I – as well as most of your crew – are Cerberus. This is a Cerberus ship."
For now, Shepard reminded herself internally. Once this was over she planned to liberate it from little old Timmy and return it to its rightful owner. The Normandy had always belonged to the Alliance, a ship that had been created through a mix of turian and human ingenuity; it felt wrong that she was in Cerberus’ hands – even rebuilt and improved.
Shepard sighed softly and tapped her connected hands against her chin; there was no point in arguing this particular subject with Miranda. The dark haired beauty was by far one of most loyal of the Cerberus crew. The Illusive Man had chosen her well. “Alright,” she finally said, “I see your point. I’m in denial. What are you getting at?”
"Did he not call you a traitor for working with us?" With a pensive frown Shepard nodded. "If he joins the crew, he’ll be working with us. I personally don’t believe he will be okay with that, with you in charge or not."
"Jack is here, isn’t she? She hates Cerberus far more than anyone I’ve ever come across," Shepard pointed out, lifting her finger from the back of her opposite hand to point at her. "As you well know."
Miranda pressed her lips together thinly and folded her arms across her chest. “If she put the mission in jeopardy, the Illusive Man wouldn’t hesitate to be rid of her. I believe bringing Alenko on board is going to affect the mission adversely.”
"What harm is there in one more recruit? He’s a powerful biotic. He would prove invaluable to our mission," Shepard assured. "I believe that Kaidan is beginning to see the bigger picture here, Miranda. That the Collectors and the Reapers need to be stopped, no matter the measures. I believe he would not be so narrow minded that he would doom the galaxy over his hatred of Cerberus. Tali and Garrus don’t much like Cerberus either."
"Alright, Shepard. I still don’t like this and I am sure the Illusive Man won’t either, but I can see the logic in having the best with us for the mission. If you believe him to be one of the best, I will not doubt you," Miranda sighed the words as she pushed herself up from the table. "Let me know if you’ll need me on Illium."
"Thanks and I will." Miranda walked away from the table toward the door that led to her quarters. The doors hissed open and after a moment, Shepard was left alone with her thoughts once more. It was safe to say she was surprised, and in a nice manner; she never thought Miranda would concede to her thinking on anything. Yet, in her way, she’d just given her approval of Kaidan’s recruitment(not that Shepard needed her approval to begin with).
They were due to arrive at Illium in less than 7 hours. She had to sleep. Nightmares or not, she had to be at her best because she had a duty to do. A duty that she knew she could not ignore, no matter how much she ached to turn this ship around to return to Kaidan’s side. If fate allowed, it was only a matter of time before they could be crew mates again, but until then, it was best to keep herself busy.
It was a week after her departure that Kaidan received a message from Alliance HQ to his private terminal. It was simple and straight-forward; they were approving his transfer to Shepard’s command, but could not publicly endorse his presence on a Cerberus vessel. They were essentially giving him an ‘extended leave of absence’, he’d thought wryly after reading the message. He wanted to be happy, but part of him wasn’t; the Alliance was in his blood, it was who he was, the duty he lived by. It felt like he was turning his back on all that he believed in. Even if Shepard was doing this for the right reasons, he didn’t have to like the partnership with Cerberus. He would never acknowledge them,or trust them, but he could trust Shepard and that’s the only reason he’d decided on this. It still hurt though, to feel like the Alliance didn’t have his back; if he felt this bad, he wondered how Shepard must feel about it.
Shepard. Where was she? It had been a week since he’d received the message and had been assured by Anderson that it had been sent to her as well. She said she would rush back as soon as it came through, though he supposed there was plenty to keep her busy. Still, a week? Had something happened to her?
He brought up his omni-tool and pinged in her address.
K. Alenko (14:21) – Shepard? Are you there?
Then he sat back on the sofa and sighed softly as he awaited a response. Did Cerberus have message protocols installed? He wondered if she could even receive messages from him, but considering that Shepard had been able to send encrypted data to Anderson via her omni-tool, he had to assume she could.
His omni-tool beeped with her response.
A. Shepard (14:24) – I’m here. Been a couple weeks. How are you?
K. Alenko (14:25) – I’m good. Keeping busy with work on the Citadel. Recruiting going well?
A. Shepard (14:27) – We’ve picked up a drell assassin and an asari Justicar. Both are very…intriguing individuals.
K. Alenko (14:30) – A drell. That’s a first, even for you.
A. Shepard (14:32) – Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. I’m an alien lover. Bah. What do they know. Hell, you know how well our crew worked together. Didn’t matter if we were the same species or not in the end.
K. Alenko (14:34) – I know, Shepard. Can I ask you something?
A. Shepard (14:35) – Oh lovely. By all means.
He couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at that. He could just picture her rolling her eyes. Given the turbulent reunion they’d had, he couldn’t blame her.
K. Alenko (14:38) – I got the message from Alliance HQ a week ago. Anderson assured me it was sent to you as well. Something holding you up?
A. Shepard (14:44) – …I never got the message.
Kaidan scrubbed a hand over his face. Well, that assured him that there were Cerberus loyalists on board, or that the Illusive Man – as Shepard had called him – was more hands than he had initially assumed. Someone had most likely deleted the message before Shepard had been able to see it.
K. Alenko (14:48) – Does Cerberus scan your messages?
A. Shepard (14:50) – Very possible. I wouldn’t put it past Timmy. What bothers me is who told him about this to begin with. My XO pretty much gave me the all clear and she would have been my first suspect.
K. Alenko (14:52) – So what now?
A. Shepard (14:53) – Don’t worry. I’ll handle it. I’ll tell Joker to set a course for the Citadel.
A. Shepard (14:54) – …see you soon, Kaidan.
K. Alenko (14:56) – See you soon, Shepard.
He shut down his omni-tool and pushed himself up from the couch in his meagerly adorned living-room. He wouldn’t have much to bring with him, but he might as well pack what he was going to take. It would keep him from thinking too much.
Shepard was absolutely livid. After giving a course to Joker, she’d retreated to her quarters for the safety of her crew. Someone was passing on information to the Illusive Man; as she had told Kaidan, Miranda would have been her first suspect two weeks ago, but that was before the two of them had come to a sort of understanding on the matter of Kaidan’s recruitment. She didn’t like to think there was someone playing spy behind her back, but it wasn’t something she could deny. If they had deleted the message from Alliance HQ, who was to say they hadn’t deleted others; how many messages had Shepard never received?
This was going to stop, one way or the other.
"EDI – I want a record of all crew member correspondences with the Illusive Man." Shepard barked the order as she sat herself at her terminal.
"I have a block preventing me from completing this task." The AI supplied after a moment.
She cursed. Loudly. Someone was covering their tracks, or the Illusive Man was doing it for them. Well, unlucky for them she had still had an ace up her sleeve.
"EDI, let Kasumi know that I request her presence in my cabin please."
"Affirmative, Shepard." There was a few moments pause before the AI spoke to her again. "Ms. Goto is on her way up."
"Thank you, EDI."
"Logging you out, Shepard." The the blue orb flickered and disappeared from where it had fired up beside her door. Not too far behind her. Shepard turned her chair to face that direction as she waited for the thief. She didn’t have to wait long. The doors hissed open and the hooded woman stepped into the room, grinning her way.
Shepard couldn’t help but grin back. Something about this woman was infectious. She always found herself lightening up around her, more prone to discuss things of a personal nature. Ironic, but fitting, given that she was the galaxy’s greatest and most wanted thief.
"I need your help with something, Kasumi."
The thief nodded and leaned her hip and shoulder against the wall as she folded her arms across her chest. “You came to the right person. What can I do you for?”
Shepard leaned back in her chair and she too folded her arms across her chest. “Someone is leaking information to the Illusive Man and either they, or Timmy, is covering their tracks well enough that I can’t get records of correspondences between him and the crew.”
"You sure it isn’t that Lawson woman?" Kasumi asked. "She is loyal to a fault to Cerberus, isn’t she?"
"I would have jumped to the same conclusion a couple weeks ago but I know it’s not her. Not about this, given how I found out about the leak. Can you get me those correspondences, or at least who’s been making calls, sending messages, to Timmy?"
Kasumi grinned. “What a stupid question, Shep. You know me. Anything I want, I get.”
Shepard chuckled. “So you’ll do this?”
"Sure, no problem."
They chatted for a little bit longer about inconsequential things, before they parted for the night. Shepard found that her anger had faded, leaving her just bone weary and tired. They were on their way back to the Citadel to pick up Kaidan and this newest problem was well on its way to being fixed; for the first time since she’d been brought back, she felt she might actually get a good night of sleep in.
She could hope anyway.