AN: This story is complete and will be posted on Tuesdays.
Also, for anyone that may follow me as an author, I wanted to let it be known that this will likely be my last story posted on FFN unless I plan to continue old series that are already posted here. I have an AO3 account with the same username that I will likely continue to post to in the future for anyone who's interested.
Thanks for reading.
"I'm here to see Admiral Hackett," Shepard said, shoulders poised, looking pristine in her dress blues. She was at Alliance Headquarters in Vancouver, determined to make an impression. Having just finished medical leave, she was hoping for an assignment. She was technically still recovering from some of her worst injuries, so she knew that Hackett would likely want to fight her request to be put back on active duty. Her restlessness from being confined to a hospital room for so long left her itching to find purpose again. She figured the more capable she looked, the more likely he would be to approve of her getting back to work.
The receptionist looked up from his terminal slowly, preoccupied with other tasks. "Ah, Commander Shepard. I believe he's expecting you. Just give me a moment to see if he's ready," he said, going back to his terminal.
Shepard nodded politely and took the time to scope out the lobby as she waited. Almost immediately, she recognized an old friendly face in the crowd. Kaidan. He was dressed in his civvies. It was a look that she wasn't very accustomed to from him, but she had to admit, it suited him well. He was talking with a small group of people.
Their eyes caught briefly from across the room. It looked like Kaidan stopped a sentence in the middle of its tracks, obviously caught off guard that she was here. She gave him a smile, happy to see him looking like he was doing well.
They had slowly lost contact after his return to Earth with the Normandy. A part of her had always expected this outcome. He had asked her if she wanted to get back together at Apollo's during the war, and she rejected him. Their loss of contact was in no small part due to her, but she missed him all the same. It felt good to see him so happy.
Kaidan offered her a soft smile in return, prompting the people he was with to turn and look thanks to the awkward pause in their conversation.
"Commander," the receptionist said, making Shepard turn her head back abruptly. "Admiral Hackett is ready to see you."
That was faster than expected. She did have an appointment, but she was early. Now that she had seen Kaidan, she was a little disappointed that she wouldn't be getting a chance to actually say hi. She could have taken that extra time to catch up with him. She wasn't about to leave Admiral Hackett waiting, though, especially when she had been the one requesting an appointment on short notice.
"Okay," Shepard said, trying to sound personable enough to the receptionist after being thrown off guard.
"He's on the top floor, his office is directly to the right of the elevators when you get off."
"Thank you," she said, as the receptionist gave her a kind nod of acknowledgement.
She quickly glanced back to Kaidan and gave him a small wave, trying to convey both a greeting and a farewell all in one. He reciprocated with mild disappointment, Shepard finding it hard not to mirror that sentiment, their glance lingering a little longer than what was comfortable. Hackett was waiting, though, so she gave him one last nod without giving him so much as a verbal hello before finally heading towards the elevators.
As soon as she reached the elevator, she quickly hit the button for the top floor before leaning against the back wall. The Alliance elevators were notoriously slow. Almost equivalent to the ones on the Citadel. She was hoping the ride up would be enough time to steel herself, having been surprisingly shaken from the encounter.
What was he even doing here? She admitted, she hadn't been very good at trying to stay in contact with him over the past few months, but she was almost certain that he should have been on assignment somewhere. The galaxy was still in such a state of disrepair, and servicemen were in short supply these days. An Alliance Major would have been highly sought after. Yet here he was, in his civvies no less, making her all the more curious.
Seeing him was starting to dredge up old feelings. She couldn't help but start reliving their entire past together as the elevator ascended. She rubbed her forehead from the stress of it. In a way, it pained her to see him here. It was acknowledgement to the fact that he had a life beyond her now, and that they were finally moving on from each other. There was a time not so long ago when that was exactly what she wanted. It's the entire reason she rejected him at Apollo's, though, if she was honest with herself, that wasn't entirely true. Now, all it did was serve as a reminder of how big of a mistake she had made.
As brief as their history together may have been, she had never fallen for anyone more easily or completely than she had for Kaidan. The choice to reject him at Apollo's was never an easy one. In her heart, she wanted nothing more than to be with him, but the war was too much of an unknown and more important than her own wants and desires. She never expected to make it out of that alive, and she had already seen what her first death had done to him. She couldn't, in good conscience, put him through that experience again. As much as it pained her to reject him that day, she thought it would be better for him in the long run if they severed their romantic ties right then and there.
Now that she was standing here in this elevator alive and well, she couldn't stop thinking about how much of a fool she'd been, and how much she regretted her decision. Where could they have been now if she had said yes? It was almost a year ago at this point. The thought of it made her audibly sigh as she looked solemnly out the glass siding to the elevator. Maybe it didn't matter. They'd still be right back where they were after defeating Sovereign, trying to decide between the Alliance and their relationship. Just because she lived, didn't mean the regs were miraculously something they wouldn't have to worry about anymore. Their relationship was one that was doomed from the start.
That realisation didn't help ease the ache in her heart that had developed more and more with Kaidan's absence, but she didn't see any way around it either. As painful as it was now, and would likely always be, she knew she made the right decision. At least this way they could try to start moving on with their lives. That sentiment was precisely what spurred her on to force this appointment with Hackett. She figured giving herself a sense of duty, and committing herself to her work again would provide her with something to distract herself from the pain of it all. All the more reason she hoped Hackett would take mercy on her and give her an assignment. She'd be willing to take anything at this point.
The elevator doors opened in front of her, signalling that it was her stop. As she got out, she steeled herself one last time before entering Hackett's office, trying to rid herself of the memories of Kaidan as much as possible. They certainly wouldn't do anything to help make it seem like she was ready to return to work. She donned her 'Commander Shepard' face, calm and confident, and opened the door to his office.
As she entered, she saw that he had his own private receptionist and a small waiting room of his own. It was empty save for two guards stationed outside his office door.
"Commander Shepard," the receptionist greeted with professionalism. "Admiral Hackett is ready to see you," she said, pointing in the direction of the guarded door.
"Thank you," she said, headed for the door, not wasting any time on pleasantries.
She walked past the armed guards and through the door as it opened. Hackett was so engrossed with his terminal that it took the sound of the doors opening to gain his attention.
"Commander," he said, standing up, and coming around to greet her with a genuine smile on his face.
"Admiral," Shepard responded, giving him a salute.
He returned one of his own, before continuing to speak. "I'll let you have that one, but we can put professionalism aside for the time being. It's good to see you, Shepard," he said with a smile, pleased to see her doing so well.
"It's good to see you, too, sir. How have things been?" she asked, genuinely curious. A lot of his job revolved around the rebuilding effort these days, and it had been a while since she had any kind of official report on the matter. Maybe it could be enlightening or show her what she's up against if she were to get her wish to be reinstated.
He let out an audible sigh laced with the stress he'd clearly been carrying with him for some time and turned towards the window.
"Come see for yourself," he said, standing at a relaxed parade rest, looking out the window.
The view was a decent one, looking out over English Bay. It was something that she had gotten rather acquainted with throughout her incarceration. It wasn't lost on her that the last time she was here was when the Reapers began their attack on Earth. The state of things certainly looked worse now, but the prospects were far better. There was still a lot to do in terms of rebuilding, but at least things were being put back together rather than being destroyed.
"Slowly but surely, the rebuilding process is taking place," he said, cutting through her thoughts. "I think it's even going ahead of schedule, given the circumstances."
Shepard shifted her focus to Hackett then, sure he was about to elaborate.
"I won't lie, Shepard, things aren't perfect simply because the war is over," he said, turning to her, before directing her to have a seat across from his desk.
He shook his head, the frustration of the last few months evident in his demeanour. "The truth of the matter is, planets everywhere have been left in shambles. There's a galactic-wide shortage of resources—even more of a shortage of transportation to get said resources to where they're needed most. We're dealing with an incredible amount of refugees still stranded on Earth. Everyone's getting a little restless and just wants to get home. It's creating quite a few difficulties."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir," Shepard said.
"Mmm," he grunted out by way of acknowledging her sentiments. "Nothing we can't deal with, but it's going to take time. The problem is that everyone's lost their patience and is fighting for priority. It's raised a few hackles here and there." He let out another sigh, frustrated by the thought of it as he shook his head. "I can't even blame them. They're homesick and tired. I would be upset, too, if we were the ones stranded somewhere for so long with no real answers as to when we'd be going home. Luckily, the progress with getting the Relays up and running again has been good, and we're on track for them to be repaired within the next few months. As long as that happens, I think we'll be able to maintain the peace. It's giving everyone hope that they'll be able to go home soon, but no one is making the process any easier on me, I'll tell you that much."
He leaned back into his chair more, finding a comfortable ease at speaking frankly about the situation for once. "I hope it goes without saying that none of this is to be repeated. Not that it's priority information or anything, but you know how reporters can be: looking for a juicy story to spin, not even caring about the repercussions or the potential fallout. I'm only telling you this because you have clearance."
"Understood, sir. I appreciate being brought up to speed, and I won't be making a habit of spreading it around."
"Good. I wouldn't have thought so, but I wanted to be clear that this wasn't simply a friendly update all the same."
Shepard nodded, confirming that she got the point.
"So, that brings me to why you requested this meeting. I have a feeling I already know what this is about."
"Am I that obvious?" Shepard asked with a smirk that she was trying to contain, but failing at. She knew she had a reputation for her commitment to the job. She wouldn't be surprised if her doctor might have slipped a warning that she was looking to be reinstated into her last progress report sent off to the Alliance either. Shepard's smirk died quickly when Hackett didn't return it.
Hackett intertwined his fingers in front of him, with somewhat of a blank face, not wanting to give away his thoughts on the matter. "You've always had a strong dedication to your work, Shepard. I know that it must have been difficult to be out of the game for so long, watching the world be rebuilt without you. If you're not here to ask to be reinstated, then I think I'm the one who's off my game."
"You don't look very pleased by the prospect."
"It's not that. We could use someone like you back in the field. We're short on people on every front, but I have your report from medical. It says that you still require fairly regular physical therapy, and I have a detailed analysis of your current capabilities. I think we both know that you'd be a risk in action right now."
Shepard kept her resolve and figured she'd hear him out. He had a point about her capabilities, and she knew her limits. She didn't think she was field-ready either. However, she was still hoping for something more than aimless meandering in life while waiting to be recovered enough to be able to handle a gunfight.
"I have a feeling this won't be ideal for you, but the best I can offer until you pass field testing is a desk job."
Shepard perked up at that. He was right, that wasn't ideal, but she didn't want to be a risk in the field for anyone else either, and this was better than nothing. A desk job would more than suffice until she could do more.
"I think I could put up with that, sir," she said. A hint of a smile played at her lips, trying to contain how happy the idea actually made her. Even having a desk job felt like she'd be contributing in some way.
Hackett let out a chuckle at that and shook his head. "That's not quite the reaction I was expecting from you, Shepard, but I'm glad to hear it. We need help wherever we can get it."
"Honestly, I'm happy to be doing anything other than being stuck in a hospital bed. If I can be of help there, I think it'll suit me just fine for now."
"Great," he said, his own smile souring slightly. "There is one small problem," he said, getting up to stand by the window again, waving her over to join him.
Shepard got up to stand beside him, looking mildly concerned. "Sir?"
"You see that building over there?" he said, pointing to the water's edge. It was a husk of a high-rise. A team of construction drones and people were in the middle of working on it. It looked like progress was being made on it quickly, though it was still far from being done.
"Yes," Shepard answered hesitantly, wondering where this was going.
"That's going to be your new office building. We're on track for it to be opened in a few weeks. In the meantime, I have nothing for you."
Shepard paused briefly at that. A few weeks wasn't all that bad. She could find somewhere to stay and work on her physical therapy in the meantime. "I think I can hold out for that long," Shepard said, not sounding concerned. "I can take in the sights and get a room with Alliance Housing."
"Mmm," Hackett grumbled from beside her.
That didn't bode well for her. "What?"
He shifted his view slightly over to the left, towards another building that was under construction. "See that building over there?"
"Yes?" Shepard asked, hesitantly again.
"That's Alliance Housing." He said gruffly. "Well, more accurately, that's additional Alliance Housing, and likely what you'll be assigned to when your position opens up. I'm afraid what we have for now is already over capacity."
"Well, I guess I could make a vacation out of it. Treat myself to a hotel room," Shepard said with a smirk, almost fond of the idea of taking a bit of a break and spoiling herself before being thrown back into work. It wasn't the worst idea.
"I'm afraid you're likely not going to have much luck with that either."
Shepard's smile once again was stricken from her face as she turned to look at him. "You can't be serious?"
Hackett kept his steely gaze. "I'm afraid so. The same problem is happening in all of the larger cities around the world. People are congregating to get everything back up and running, and that starts in the metropolitan areas, I'm afraid. There's a shortage of housing everywhere. Since your work assignment isn't current just yet, you're not going to be getting precedence. Unless you have a friend in the city, I think you're shit out of luck."
Shepard looked back out the window. A life of starships being her home, she was used to having somewhat of a nomadic life, but she had never belonged nowhere. Her features exuded a calmness she wasn't feeling. "I'm sure I'll think of something," she said with a weak smile. Her internal thoughts, on the other hand, were screaming, "Well, shit."