The Catalyst was the Citadel... All of this time, it had been right under their noses... And now, the Reapers had managed to snatch it away from them in order to bring it into Earth's orbit, right within Reapers controlled territory.
Kaidan couldn't exactly say that it came out as a complete surprise, though. After all, throughout each cycle, it seemed that the Citadel had always played a key role... Each new civilisation that had discovered it believing that the technology of the colossal deep-space station and mass relays had once belonged to some ancient sentient race that had then mysteriously vanished.
Fascinating how quick they were to trust that it was then perfectly safe to start inhabiting, and completely ignore the potential warning signs, including the enigmatic "keepers".
But then again, finding out that you weren't alone in the Universe was already a pretty big thing to process... Learning that, on top of it all, you were being monitored by a race of giant sentient machines, waiting in the dark space for the right opportunity to come and harvest / destroy your own civilisation might be just a little too much for most people to accept. Considering how long it had taken for the galactic community to finally start heeding Shepard's warnings that the Reapers threat was very real and happening now, he guessed that pretty much proved it.
So getting passed Reapers forces and onto the Citadel, in order to open its arms and allow the Crucible to dock, was just one more challenge to add to an already near desperate and impossible plan.
At least, they'd managed to get to Earth in one piece, and even destroy the Reapers' AA Hades canon after the initial team that should've been responsible for it had been taken down right next to their own shuttle... It had been a close call... Way too close... Then again, "close calls" were starting to be pretty much the norm, lately. Thinking about the ridiculous number of bullets and laser beams they'd successfully dodged over the last few years was likely to make anyone's head explode.
Now, they were waiting at the Forward Operating Base for the rest of Hammer to assemble; although it appeared that all of those that had managed to make it to Earth and survive thus far had arrived. The ground team was much smaller than they'd hoped, but they would have to make do.
Most of Kaidan's special ops units had successfully joined with them, and it had been good to be reunited with his students. Surprisingly, their morale was much higher than he'd expected, especially given the circumstances. Most of these kids were almost itching for a fight, eager to put their talents and training to good use. If any of them were aware of the precariousness of the situation, they weren't showing it, focussing on what needed to be done instead.
As long as they didn't actually start to underestimate the threat, or become reckless, he guessed that they were probably having the best attitude they could have right now. Perhaps the stories he'd shared with them earlier, as well as Shepard's team arrival on the base, had something to do with it.
It probably helped that the very first step of their final attack against Cerberus and the Reapers was being considered a success, too. They hadn't succeeded in capturing the Illusive Man, but it was pretty safe to say that Cerberus was no more.
The Cronos Station had been neutralised, all of Cerberus' resources destroyed or recovered, and they'd even managed to defeat and kill Kai Leng, thus avenging Thane's death.
Thane... Another shade of grey that Kaidan had needed to come to terms with...
When he'd first been introduced to the drell, it was under the name of Tannor Nuara, a fellow patient at Huerta's Memorial that was in the final stages of Kepral's syndrome, and remained in the hospital because he needed daily medical care and supervision.
He was a very calm, soft spoken and deeply spiritual man. Like Kaidan, he tended to keep more to himself, yet was very open and easy to talk to.
At first, the drell had approached Kaidan by telling him that since the days ended up being a bit long in the hospital, he enjoyed getting to know new people; especially if they were likely to be spending a few weeks there. And to Kaidan, the company had soon become a welcomed distraction. He'd even taught him a few deep meditation techniques that had ended up really helping with his migraines.
After a while, however, Kaidan had begun to have the feeling that there was more to this man than he was letting on... Something was a bit off.
First, it seemed that Kaidan was the only one in the hospital that the drell had shown any interest to truly bond with. He did receive visits from his son, but otherwise, he spent most of his days meditating, reading by himself, or doing a few gentle exercise routines, as directed by his doctors.
And then, it seemed that he always found a way to have something to do in close proximity of Kaidan's room whenever it was announced that he was to have a visitor. Especially Udina, for some reason...
When Kaidan had finally decided to confront him about it, "Tannor" had simply smiled, looking both amused and satisfied. He'd congratulated him on his perspicacity and observational skills, and said "Perhaps this means that you've recovered enough to look after yourself now." He'd then proceeded to reveal his true identity to him.
His name was Thane Krios, a very skilled and deadly assassin that had been part of Shepard's team back when he'd been working alongside Cerberus in order to stop the Collectors from abducting human colonies.
He'd remembered having seen the name and even read his file; however, since he'd never met with him or seen a picture, Kaidan hadn't been able to make the connection between the two until then.
When he'd asked why Thane had felt the need to maintain the deception for so long, he had explained to Kaidan that it had been too important for him to make sure that he could remain in close proximity; and that, since he feared that the Major might feel uncomfortable associating with someone that used to work as an assassin, he just couldn't have taken the risk. According to him, ensuring Kaidan's safety took precedence over the desire to maintain an absolutely honest contact.
He'd then learned that Thane had become very close friends with Shepard over the time they had been working together. Upon having learned that Kaidan was someone that mattered greatly to the Commander, he had offered to keep a close watch on him during the time that he needed to recover in the hospital, in order to ensure that Cerberus wouldn't succeed should they attempt to finish what they had started on Mars.
Considering that the best way to harm Shepard or weaken his morale was to go after those he cared about, that made Kaidan a very strong potential target for an assassination attempt.
Thane didn't say, but looking back, Kaidan was under the impression that the drell already knew back then just how much they both really meant to each other, even if they hadn't yet been ready to admit it to themselves.
And he was now proud to say that not only had he been able to accept Thane's past and refrain himself from passing judgment; but he'd offered the other man to keep meeting together between medical treatments as they 'd always had, and resume their friendship. After all, Thane had been his guardian angel until then... It only seemed fair to get to know him for who he truly was.
The news of Thane's death following the coup on the Citadel had saddened him, but he'd found some comfort in knowing that he had been ready for it, and at peace with his life in the very end. He was also very grateful that Shepard had managed to be by his side when he'd finally left his physical shell behind in order to begin his great journey across the sea.
Thane had traded the time he had left in order to save the salarian councillor's life... And in thanks, the salarian government had then fully committed their own fleets and scientists to Shepard.
He had died a hero, and his last sacrifice would most likely end up saving countless of lives. At the very least, it had given them all a greater chance to succeed at what they were attempting to do now.
Even now, it felt as though Thane was still in the fight with them... And the thought gave Kaidan strength... Made him hope that, should he fall before the battle was through, part of himself, of what he'd managed to accomplish thus far, might still help others to keep on fighting.
In a way, it also made him feel that Ashley, Thane, Pressly, Jenkins, Shepard's friend, Mordin, even that geth, Legion... and perhaps his father, since they'd yet to find any trace of him... were still here with them... Somehow...
Still, he couldn't help but wish they were truly there... That he'd be able to see and talk to them...
"Hey, Kaidan." he eventually heard Shepard call out to him. He'd been listening to the audio feeds from different ground teams for a few minutes now, trying to learn anything useful, get a better sense of where everyone was at.
Kaidan quickly turned around to properly greet him. "Hey. There you are." he said, happy and relieved that Shepard had taken the time to come see him before heading towards the makeshift command center in order to coordinate with Anderson.
"Absolutely. For anything. Bring it on." he knew that he'd replied a bit too fast, and his voice lacked the usual conviction it normally carried... But he guessed that with everything that was at stake right now, it was normal for either of them to feel a bit nervous. Hopefully, Shepard wouldn't take it as a bad sign, or start worrying...
If he'd noticed, Shepard didn't feel the need to comment on it. "And Biotics Division? Your students?"
He couldn't resist chuckling a little bit "More than ready. Eager. That's youth for you." Most of his kids had yet to be confronted with loss on a very intimate level, thankfully. And while Kaidan still felt the desire to fight and make a difference, it seemed that the whole concept of waging an epic war against dark space monsters didn't appear to him as romantic or exciting as it would have, back in the days where he'd still been a young recruit. He'd acquired a more realistic and mature perception of war and military conflicts in the years that he'd served in the Alliance.
"Guess we're old soldiers, hey Shepard?"
"Yeah, I guess we are." Shepard replied, his own voice sounding somewhat distant and tired.
"Brothers-in-arms..." Kaidan trailed, a bit pensive. "We know the score..." They'd both fought enough battles to know that sometimes, no matter how hard you fought, how trained you were, or how impressive your skills or willpower... The truth was that no soldier was invincible. They'd beaten the odds thus far, but anything could still happen... As much as it tore him apart to even consider it, this... right now... might very well be the last time that they would ever get to really talk to each other... "We know this is goodbye."
Something inside Shepard seemed to stir as soon as he heard the words, and his gaze became very intense, defiant. "When this is over, I'm going to be waiting for you." he said, taking a few steps forward, his face now only a few inches from Kaidan's, holding his gaze "You'd better show up."
It wasn't something that either of them could promise, and they both knew it. But somehow, Kaidan wondered if Shepard hadn't misinterpreted his words as meaning that he was giving up, and getting resigned to the fact that they most likely were going to die out there.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm going to fight like Hell for the chance to hold you again." he replied, making it very clear that he wasn't ready to give up, either. That he was going to do everything in his power to see them safely through this.
"But listen... there's... things I want to say." he added, still feeling the need to let Shepard know that whatever happened, deep down, he'd be okay... He couldn't bear the thought of ever leaving him, but it was a thought that he believed that he'd never be able to come to terms with, anyway. So he didn't even bother to try. But otherwise, he'd be alright... "Looking back... I have a few regrets, but not many. That's pretty damn amazing, right?" Actually, Kaidan had long understood that regrets made very little sense, since to regret something was to assume that you could have made a different decision in the past, despite the fact that you didn't know any better back then. Regrets, he didn't really have... But unfulfilled dreams and future projects that he'd hoped to be able to accomplish before his life was through, that, he still had a few...
"Messed up kid that I was, never would have dreamed of the life I've had. And I owe a lot of that to you, you know." Despite all the dangers and hardships they'd been confronted to, the last few months they had been together, especially, had been nothing short of amazing!
"It's been quite a ride." Shepard agreed, lost in memories of his own. Hopefully they were mostly good ones.
"It sure has. But how are you doing? Scared?" he asked quietly.
"Damn straight, I'm scared." his lover admitted, fully aware of how much they both had to lose, now that they'd only jusr found each other. "But that fear's gonna keep me alive long enough to strike these bastards right through the heart."
"Yeah. Exactly." Kaidan replied, barely above a whisper. He noticed that Shepard seemed to be looking discretely over his shoulder and shifting a bit... That probably meant that his students were watching the exchange, even if they were keeping a respectful distance. "So... take care. Major." he said, before starting to walk away.
Kaidan instinctively reached out for him and delicately yet firmly grabbed both of his arms, bringing Shepard's body back to his, while receiving absolutely no resistance from his lover. He lifted his left hand to the back of his neck and gently guided his mouth towards his, while the other hand slid all the way down to Shepard's wrist, bringing his hand to rest on his own waist. As they kissed, feeling the man he loved completely give in and yield to his touch, thoroughly embracing him, Kaidan tried to keep himself entirely immersed in that moment. Take comfort and strength in the love and the deep connection they shared... Let himself believe that such a bond went much beyond life and death, and could never ever be lost, no matter what the future had in store for them.
"Stay safe." he whispered in a chocked up voice, as they slowly pulled away...
For a moment, they just stood there, lost in each other's gaze... Apparently not quite ready for the moment to end... until Kaidan finally managed to muster enough courage and willpower to bring them back to reality.
"Well, I should find the rest of my squad." he said half-heartily, looking away.
"Yeah." Shepard whispered, quietly leaving.
"You know, I've never been to London." he added, though he knew that Shepard was already gone... He just needed to think about something else, anything really, or else he felt like he would end up crumbling right there.
He also noticed that a few of his students were now looking at him, some of them with a little smile. Ah, great. However, as he walked back to them, he received none of the teasing he'd expected, just genuine concern.
"Are you going to be okay, Major?" one of them asked, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah. Saying goodbye's always difficult, that's all." he replied quietly, slowly managing to pull himself together and be the leader that these kids expected him to be, and deserved.
"So... If one of us would like to... Uh... Kiss another recruit right now, Sir... Would that be considered a violation of the regulations or..." Chief Matthews began asking... It took a moment for Kaidan to realize that the young man was being entirely serious, and blushing.
"You know what, that's it! From now on, let it be known that this squad is doing this the turian way: no unfinished business, no regrets. Go ahead, Chief. Anyone complains, you say you were acting under Spectre authority."
"Aye aye, Sir!" Matthews replied enthusiastically, while grabbing Ensign O'Reilly and passionately kissing her under a roar of cheers and applause from the rest of their squad. Even Kaidan found himself smiling.
"So, I guess it's safe to say that you won't be joining us after your private debriefing with Admiral Anderson..." one of his other students said once the excitement had died down a little.
"Ultimately, that's Commander Shepard's call to make..." he began explaining, although in truth, Kaidan had absolutely no intention of letting Shepard order him away from the hot zone where he would most likely find himself fighting. "...but if he needs me on his team, then yes, that's where I'll be."
"Then I believe that I speak on behalf of all of your students, Sir, by wishing you good luck. And thank you. I don't believe that any of us would have made it that far without your teaching, and support... Wherever you end up fighting today, know that we will all do everything we can to make you proud in the upcoming battle. And don't worry, Lieutenant Jameson has been training for this, and is already used to being in charge of our Division. We'll be in good hands."
Kaidan took a deep breath. First saying goodbye to Shepard, and now this... Was the galaxy really conspiring to make him lose focus and start crying... Thankfully, he still had some emotional restraint left in him, but he was beginning to think that actually fighting the Reapers was going to be the easiest part of his day.
"I'm already proud of you all." he began, trying to keep his voice as steady as he could. "I look at you, and I see the very best that humanity has to offer... It's been both a pleasure and a privilege to have you under my command." he said, offering them a military salute.
His students all responded with their own salute, and activated their biotics almost simultaneously, his whole squad now surrounded by the vibrant blue glow of their combined powers.
Kaidan smiled and joined them, his own biotics coming to life.
The fact that these kids showed such pride in who they were was, to him, probably one of Biotics Division's greatest successes.
He couldn't help but wonder if things would have been different for him if, instead of a bitter and abusive turian General, he'd been formally trained by someone that had actually cared about what he'd been going through back then.
Perhaps that is why Anderson had been so insisting that he took on the job... Kaidan had not only survived BAaT, but he'd found a way to complete his training without external help, and had come back to the Alliance on his own terms afterwards. He'd eventually embraced his abilities under circumstances that should probably have left him broken.
And he'd learned something in the process... No matter how successful or strong he'd become, no human biotics should ever have to face all of this on their own.
Now, they no longer had to. It was good to know that his faith in the Alliance hadn't been misplaced... And he was sincerely grateful that Admiral Anderson had given him the opportunity to be an active part of that project... To witness and experience the change first hand.
It made him feel that, in the end, it all had been worth it.
"Battalion leaders, report to HQ." came Anderson's voice from his com. system.
"Jameson, you're coming with me. Everyone else, at ease, soldiers. And get ready to go kick some Reapers' asses." he said, under a thunder of shouts and applause. Yeah, his kids would do just fine...
Anderson had explained to them the next phase of the mission: driving as many squads as they could right into the heart of Reapers territory, passing through no-man's land, and reaching the conduit that would hopefully allow them to beam right onto the Citadel.
To do so, they would have to find a way to take out the Reapers destroyer guarding the beam itself. And since that destroyer was emitting some sort of interference, they couldn't bring in air support. It was up to the ground team to find some way to bring it down.
And, of course, retreating was no longer an option... So that meant that they would have to keep pushing forward no matter what, including the number of casualties they were taking.
Shepard was to be sent right where Reapers resistance was the heaviest, with the very clear order to support the tanks as best he could, yet find some way to stay alive, as Anderson needed him for the final push to the beam.
In short: No pressure.
The Admiral had offered Shepard to take a few minutes to pick up his team, and issue last minutes orders to the rest of his squad. As soon as he was sure that Anderson and the rest of the squad leaders were out of hearing range, Kaidan walked straight up to him.
"I'm coming with you." he said in a hushed yet very firm tone, trying his best to make sure that the Commander understood that it wasn't a request.
"You heard Anderson, he needs you alive for the final push, and you know that I'm the one most likely to succeed in getting you there in one piece..." he begun argumenting, trying to quell the building terror that was now gripping him in the stomach...
"The place will likely be crawling with marauders and other heavy armored creatures, and I'm the most efficient at getting passed their shields and armors..."
"Plus, there's absolutely no way that I'll be able to focus on the fight and on keeping myself alive if I have no damn clue where you are... or what's happening..." okay, now that just sounded like pleading but...
"Damnit, Shepard! I don't care how much risk we'll be taking to get there! I'm not ready to part ways with you unless we absolutely have to, and..."
"Kaidan!" Shepard again said, raising his voice just enough to finally get his attention. That's when the Major noticed that his lover was smiling at him with that amused and tender expression that he always had when he thought that the other man was being a bit silly.
"What?" he asked, blinking confusedly.
"You had me convinced at "I'm coming with you." Though I'd be lying if I said that you didn't just offer me some very compelling arguments..."
Kaidan let out the breath that he didn't know he'd been holding, and had to actually grip the edge of the nearby desk to prevent himself from wavering. He'd lied, he wasn't ready to say goodbye, not by a long shot. For a few minutes there, it had been the destruction of the first Normandy all over again. Being left behind, powerless to do anything but watch as Shepard helplessly drifted into space...
"You know, back on the Citadel, when I told you that I couldn't imagine meeting the Reapers without you... I meant it... Every word..." his lover said, walking over to him and gently grabbing the back of his head, guiding Kaidan's forehead to rest against his in a loving, comforting gesture, while soothingly running his gloved hand into his hair. Kaidan closed his eyes and slowly began taking in deep breaths, fighting back the panic he'd felt earlier.
"You're the best damn soldier I have on my team... And I'm not ordering you back to the escape pods this time..." Shepard said, the strangled noise that Kaidan made at the mention of those pods telling him that he'd been right... As much as he wished that he could keep his love safe, this was a fight that none of them could envision carrying on their own anymore; and any attempt to send Kaidan to "safety" would be the worst possible thing he could do to him... "I need you too damn much..." he added hoarsely.
He felt Kaidan nod and saw him open his eyes, looking back into his. "I need you, too." he replied in a choked up voice.
"Good. 'cause we're in this together..." he confirmed, smiling and taking a small step back to better take a look at him. Kaidan still looked a little rattled, but he could see that now that he knew that he wouldn't be forced to relive his worst fear, he was quickly regaining control over his emotions... Ever the strong one... "You better not let go."
"Never." he vowed, returning Shepard's smile.
He then directed his attention towards EDI, more convinced than ever that he'd also made the right decision. "EDI, I've asked Joker to come and pick you up as soon as he can safely break formation. I want you to remain at FOB until you can rejoin the battle with Sword."
EDI seemed to consider this, and then cocked her head to the side in a very "organic" manner, looking genuinely confused. "I should be able to operate both the Normandy's systems, and provide assistance to the ground squads through the use of this platform, Commander."
"Actually, that's the problem. I'm not risking your attention being divided unless absolutely necessary." Shepard explained "The SR-2 is the most advanced, fastest, and most powerful ship we've got. We can't lose it. I need Joker to remain 100% alert and focus solely on supporting the airstrike teams, doing as much damage to the Reapers forces as he possibly can. He's our best pilot, but he'll be a hell of a lot more efficient if you are physically up there with him; devoting nearly all of your processing power to helping him anticipate and respond to Reapers attack."
Appearing to be satisfied with this reasoning, EDI nodded "Very well. I will do all I can to assist... And Shepard, thank you."
The Commander nodded back, and then turned towards Garrus, Tali, and Liara.
"Garrus, Tali... Long range, short range. I'd like you two to try to assist a team responsible for diverting the Reapers attention away from the Hammer convoy. Keep them occupied, and do some damage."
"Aye aye, Commander." the both replied in unison, and then shared an amused look.
"Liara, I'd like you to go with them and provide some biotics support, they'll probably need it."
The asari nodded, apparently satisfied with her own mission. "Got it."
"James, I believe that the guys back at Biotics Division could probably use a bit more firepower... I saw you giving directives to a heavy squad of well armed soldiers earlier... Think you could try to get your guys to coordinate with them? Kaidan's squad has been trained for high risk missions and I think that pairing them with a few heavy hitters might bring some positive results. Also, try to keep these guys safe, without compromising the mission, of course."
"Of course, Commander." James replied, while Kaidan shot Shepard a grateful look.
"Javik, what do you say we go and make these Reapers rue the day that they dared bring the prothean's Vengeance upon them?"
"I would be most pleased and honored, Commander." Javik answered, going to stand by Kaidan's side, acknowledging the Major with a little nod. Kaidan returned it, actually glad that they would have such an experienced and dedicated warrior by their side.
"Alright, now that we've all got our assignments, I need you all to listen up..." Shepard said, getting ready for one of his (in)famous inspirational speeches. Actually, if Kaidan remembered right, they were usually pretty good. Not to mention that this time, everyone was acutely aware that this was likely to be the very last time that they all found themselves reunited together.
Even assuming that they got lucky and all managed to survive this, Tali would probably return to her home world to help rebuild... And there were talks that Garrus might just decide to relocate there with her... maybe even adopt a little geth (though that part was probably just them joking around). Joker and EDI would probably keep serving the Alliance on the Normandy... Especially considering that as long as EDI was "the Normandy", you could pretty much bet that "the ship" would refuse to fly with anyone other than Joker at the helm.
If they managed to get the N7 program back and running, James would probably leave to go complete his training... Liara might want to help the asari colonies and refugees get better organized, and contribute to the efforts of rebuilding their civilisation. He didn't know what Javik's exact plans were, but he had a feeling that he would also be leaving them...
As for Shepard and himself... They'd talked about many possibilities... Beginning with taking a few weeks of well deserved vacations in about the most remote and quiet place they could possibly find.
But for now, they were still all in this fight together, and this was what mattered most.
"This war's brought us pain and suffering and loss. But it's also brought us together... As soldiers, allies, friends. This bond that ties us together is something the Reapers will never understand. It's more powerful than any weapon, stronger than any ship. It can't be taken or destroyed." Shepard began, echoing his own thoughts. "The next few hours will decide the fate of everyone in the galaxy. Every mother. Every son. Every unborn child. They're trusting you... depending on you to win them their future. A future free from the threat of the Reapers. But take heart. Look around you. You're not in this fight alone. We face our enemy together. And together, we will defeat them."
Well, that was it then. Everything had been said and done... That left only one thing to do. Fight.
"Now let's move."
What did they say about Murphy's law again? "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
With the number of problems and setbacks they'd encountered since reaching Earth, Kaidan was starting to believe it. Thankfully, they were still in the fight, but it seemed that it was always one complication after another.
They'd managed to make it to the destroyer and the two Thanix missile trucks that were left, only to discover that the missiles were basically useless because even EDI couldn't manage to counter the conduit's interference. They'd then needed to find a way to bait the giant Reaper closer to them and away from the interference field, while fending off hordes of husks, marauders, banshees, and brutes... And, of course, avoiding getting hit by the Reapers' giant laser beam.
Thankfully, their second try had been a success! Especially considering that they no longer would've had any missiles left.
Then, when Anderson's convoy had arrived to pick them up, the Admiral had a whole new set of bad news for them. Hackett had just reported that several Sovereign-class Reapers, including Harbinger, had broken off from the battle with Sword and were headed their way.
Apparently Harbinger and Shepard had some kind history together, dating back to the Collectors days. His understanding was that Harbinger had been in charge of the colonists' abductions, and the whole "Human Reaper" project. Shepard foiling his plans had apparently pissed him off. Nothing like a giant pissed off Reaper coming to stop you with a vengeance.
Admiral Hackett had sent the word that the Crucible was on the move and to be protected by the remainder of their fleets at all costs. He'd also ordered all available squadrons to try to delay the Reapers leaving the battle in order to buy Hammer more time. They could only pray that it would be enough.
"From here on in, it's a straight shot to the beam." Anderson instructed them from inside their transport.
"A straight shot with Reapers trying to crush us along the way." Major Coats felt the need to point out. It sounded like the precariousness of their situation and the impossible odds were starting to get to him.
"We just need to get a handful of troops through." Anderson replied... And for a moment there, Kaidan really didn't know if that was supposed to make them feel better, or worse.
"Only a handful, huh?" he said quietly, knowing full well what that meant.
"We knew this was going to be a gamble at best."
That it was. A "gamble"... Or, more precisely, a giant morbid lottery where every time one's number came up, it bought time for another to make it to the beam... They'd need to spread out, do their best to ignore all the deaths and destruction happening around them, and push forward, no matter what. In short, they were going to be throwing themselves right into the heart of a huge carnage. And that was their very last chance to put a stop to all of this, and hopefully retake the galaxy.
Shepard stood up, the other passengers following his lead, as he looked upon them all with restrained emotion.
"Can't think of anyone else I'd rather do this with." he said, letting his gaze linger on Kaidan at the end of his sentence.
"Nobody's doing this alone." Kaidan answered, holding Shepard's gaze as steadily as he could.
Shepard nodded. If they were going to have to fight through Hell to get there, at least they'd be doing this together.
"We're in sight of the target." Coats said, having received confirmation of their location on his ear piece.
"Alright, everyone. This is it." Anderson confirmed, before they felt a shock to the front of the vehicle, propelling Shepard forward and right into Kaidan's arms, who barely managed to maintain his own footing.
They both tightened their grip on each other for a second, gathering strength from the brief contact, before letting go of the embrace and rushing to the door.
"Shit..." they heard Anderson whisper, as they stepped out to assess the situation.
The transport's engine was destroyed, flames coming out of the hood.
The conduit was in sight, but you still had to go down a steep slope, and then cover several meters before reaching it. Also, the path to it was blocked... Perhaps they could manage to get one or two vehicles through, especially if they made a lateral approach, but most of the soldiers, including themselves, would simply have to make a run for it.
And now, Harbinger had just arrived, the vibration of its landing making the whole ground shake.
Kaidan quickly made his way to Shepard and grabbed his hand, watching the whole scene before them unfold. "When we get out there, you run." he said, his voice trembling slightly "You don't look back, you don't stop to see if I'm following, you just run."
"Kaidan..." Shepard began to interrupt, looking back at him.
"No. This is bigger than anything we've ever faced, bigger than you and me, and all these people..." he said, referring to the group of soldiers that would be trying to reach the conduit with them "...we can't risk their sacrifice going to waste. It has to count for something. So if there's any chance that you can reach this beam, you have to promise me that you are going to take it, no matter what."
Shepard nodded, giving Kaidan's hand a reassuring squeeze and whispering "I promise... But you better just keep fighting like Hell..."
He offered him the best smile he could under the circumstances and nodded, before letting go of his lover's hand and stepping back, readying his weapon, waiting for Anderson or Shepard to give the order.
"We gotta move!" Anderson said, looking at the Commander.
"Come on!" Shepard shouted back, grabbing his assault rifle and beginning his descent, Kaidan, Anderson, Javik, and all the other squads that were standing behind them following his lead.
"Hammer squads. Go go go!" Anderson shouted on the com. systems, rallying the rest of the troops.
And they ran.