CHAPTER 13: TED'S
Though the music served only as ambiance for the bar to further its Earthy appeal, the melody she heard was unmistakable. She would've recognized her father's playing anywhere. This particular one was his rendition of one of his favorite jazz compilations. Several different melodies blending into one another, each one highlighted for about a minute before he moved on to the next one. The music sparked random memories from her childhood, mostly of their lessons together and a few of dancing with her mother in their small cabin.
Self-doubt creeping in, she dropped behind her mother and Anderson, beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea after all. It had been so very long since she touched a piano. She didn't even know if she could remember how to play.
I don't know mom," Sera said hesitantly.
Hannah led them to one of the common areas just off the entrance of the bar and waited until there was a lull in the passers-by before speaking. She thought for a moment, composing her words and studying her daughter's face: hollow, midnight blue eyes with equally dark circles under them from lack of sleep and untold amounts of stress, colorless cheeks and pale lips.
"You and your father were so alike. Playing always helped him to see things clearly. It brought him an inner peace that nothing else did. He often told me that sometimes it was the only thing that saved his sanity. I believed him." Hannah's eyes glistened with the love she had her husband and their daughter. She swallowed hard before continuing, "You need this, Sera. You may not know it, but I do. I saw it in your father when he couldn't talk about what was bothering him. It brought him the clarity he desperately sought during those times. I see you so lost now, Sera
you..." She stopped. The lump in her throat wouldn't allow her to continue.
Sera felt her heart grow heavy as her mother spoke of her father. His passing cut deeply into their hearts and she had buried herself in recruiting her crew and going after the Collectors. She did not allow herself to think about him too often. It wasn't by choice but by necessity that she didn't allow herself that luxury. There were so many who needed her, depended on her, now. Survival was the mantra repeated everywhere by everyone. She was the key to all of their survival and she knew it. It was something she had realized not long after Cerberus had brought her back. It wasn't lost on her how dire the situation had become for Cerberus to go to such lengths. So much expectation from so many, it was hard to not be reminded daily, even hourly, just how much was at stake. This stress, coupled with the still raw memories of Chimera, threatened the already precarious balance of her emotions. Her mother saw how much everything weighed on her, found her underneath all of it and was trying to rescue her, to show her the way back to the balance she wandered so far away from.
Sera looked at her mother and Anderson for a long moment, deciding what to do. Finally, she let out heavy resigned sigh and caved, "Okay, mom I'll do it for you
and for dad."
With a relieved smile, Hannah gave her daughter a warm hug. It felt good to be in her mother's arms again, safe and protected. Only one other person made her feel that way. She closed her eyes, resting her head on her mother's shoulder and a memory flashed behind her eyelids
His hand rested on her shoulder for a brief moment. She felt his talons lightly graze down her arm as if he was afraid she might recoil from his touch. She didn't. Instead, she gingerly stepped into him, wrapping her arms gently around his slender waist and rested her cheek on the crown of his prominent chest plate, listening to his heartbeat. It seemed like it was racing and yet his breathing was even. She felt him place his hands gently on the small of her back and slide one up, talons tracing her spine, to touch her hair. She felt the points of his talons softly tracing the contours of her scalp as he ran his fingers through her hair. Then she felt a pressure on the top her head and the evenness of his breath as he exhaled through his nose.
In that moment, she was safe, protected from the horrors they were about to face.
Sera broke away from her mother as a shiver ran up her spine. The memory was so vivid in the span of a few seconds. She felt her cheeks flush and blinked quickly to re-focus, praying her mother wouldn't notice.
As they walked into the bar, Sera assessed the environment as she was trained to do. She immediately understood why her parents loved this place. The dimly lit, warm, dark, richly wooded interior had a definite Earthiness that any human passing through would be reminded of their home planet. There was a relaxed easiness that permeated the atmosphere of the bar and Sera could feel the tension in her muscles begin to slowly ebb away. The crowd was definitely on the lighter side; the chatter blending well with the light tinkling of Adam Shepard's music. It seemed to be a good place for little piano music that wouldn't necessarily catch anyone's attention.
Hannah left Sera and Anderson at a table near the entrance and went over to the bartender who was lazily drying off a glass. Sera watched as her mother asked a question she couldn't hear and the bartender disappeared through a doorway at the far end. A few seconds later he reappeared with a second man, one that was much older, closer to her mother's age. Sera saw him give her a mother wide smile and she assumed that it was Ted. She watched as he came around the bar and gave her mother a warm hug as they exchanged a few words. It was obvious that they were good friends. Unable to hear what her mother was saying, she watched the visual cues of their conversation intently. After a moment, she saw the man glance over at her and then back at her mother, shaking his head in what appeared to be disbelief. Then he nodded vigorously at whatever her mother said and walked back behind the bar, disappearing through the same doorway. After a few minutes, he reappeared carrying a small case and gave it to her mother. Sera saw her mother's eyes grow wide with appreciation, and she thanked him before walking back towards the table.
Her mother set the case gently on the table as she sat down in the chair across from Sera.
"This is the piano-holo that your dad taught you to play on, Sera," she explained softly, lovingly caressing the top of the case. "I couldn't get rid of it after he was gone and I wanted to keep it somewhere safe." she continued, "So, I gave it to Ted for safe keeping. I'm so glad I did." She let out a small sniff behind her tight smile.
She pushed the case toward her daughter. Sera looked at it, afraid to touch it and accept that it was there on the table while her dad was not.
"It's yours now," Hannah said simply. "You know your father would want you to have it. When we used to come here, he would bring it with him to play. He always said that the interior of this place had the best acoustics on the entire Citadel for piano." Her voice wavered a little and another sniff betrayed her underlying emotions. Sera looked up from the case in time to see a small tear escape down her mother's cheek, making the ones that pricked her own eyelids burn and threaten to fall.
Sera cautiously touched the case, lightly feeling the worn smoothness of it, fingering the clasp that held it shut.
Hannah lightly cleared her throat and spoke again, "You can use the pool table to play. That's where your dad would set it up. It's not the ideal place but it's the right height with a stool."
Sera picked up the case as they got up from the table and walked over to the pool table that occupied the back of the bar.
She set the case down on the pool table and stared at it, reluctant to open it. Hannah undid the single clasp and opened it. Inside was a small black box, set into the plush blue fabric that served to protect it. She lifted it out as put the case aside; setting the unit on the tabletop and pushed a small button on the side. The unit let out a light hum as the familiar orange glow of the piano keyboard flickered to life. The keys that normally would have been white were simply outlined and what would have been black keys, were a solid orange. A small floating keypad hovered above the middle C key. Curious, Sera touched it and a menu opened allowing her to select different music genres. She closed the music menu and found the one that allowed her to dim the glow of the keyboard.
"What should I play, Mom?" she asked playing a few keys, pleased with the clarity and resonance of the notes she hit. It sounded just like she remembered.
"Clair de Lune," her mom immediately answered.
Sera chuckled softly, remembering that she had listened to her father playing it only a few hours ago. She placed her hands above the keys and closed her eyes. The handful of people left in the bar had quieted down some, watching the two women set up the strange looking holo. They started to whisper amongst themselves as they watched the very familiar and now infamous Commander sit on the chair in front of it. An incredulous and young Alliance officer leaned over to Anderson.
"Isn't that Commander Shepard?" the cadet asked, eyes wide with awe.
Anderson chuckled at the young cadet. "It is. I think you better enjoy this because I don't think you'll ever get this opportunity again."
"He's not the only one who should get this opportunity," mumbled Hannah, typing a quick message in the dim light of her omni-tool.