Kaidan hesitated just inside the door to the comm room. Behind him, he could hear Shepard speaking with the Council via a comm link. She sounded tired.
Well, why wouldn’t she?
It had taken them weeks of searching to find the asari archaeologist, Liara T’Soni. The alien woman had found the most remote and miserable spot for a dig in the traverse, in Kaidan’s opinion. Their rescue of her had been a near thing. Kaidan still felt a little jumpy – he had nearly been singed by the hot ash and air spewing from the tunnels after the dig site had turned into a volcanic time bomb.
But Shepard had gotten them out safely. The moment she’d yelled “Move!” they had no choice but to run. Her voice was so compelling, Kaidan imagined that her crew probably found it impossible to disobey her. How could you, when she brooked no refusal and kept saving everyone because of her decisions?
And now there she was, leaning on the railing near the comm link. The Council’s holograms had shimmered away, and she looked very pale. Kaidan glanced back over his shoulder at the CIC, then walked back into the room, allowing the doors to close behind him. He didn’t think that anyone had seen that he was still in here with the commander.
“Commander?” he asked, coming closer to her. “You alright?”
“You ask me that a lot these days, lieutenant,” she said, not looking up.
“Yeah, well, that’s the second time an asari has melded minds with you to get a look at those visions you got from that Prothean beacon. It doesn’t look very pleasant.”
“It’s not,” she said straightening and smoothing her hair back. “Each time I see a little more, can stand to stare a little longer…” She broke off and closed her eyes. The color drained from her face and she began to pitch forward.
Alarmed, Kaidan reached out to catch her. She stumbled, placing a hand on his chest and another on his arm. Kaidan found himself half-holding her in a very awkward way.
“Maybe you should go lie down in the med bay as well,” he suggested.
“I’ll take a nap,” she replied. “And I’ll eat,” she added when Kaidan opened his mouth. “See, I knew what you were going to say before you even said it, lieutenant.”
“So I’m getting predictable, am I?” Kaidan found himself saying.
“Only in the best way,” Shepard told him with a weak smile. “In the sense that I know you have my back.”
Shepard suddenly found herself going from pale to blushing. She ducked her head and pulled away from the lieutenant.
“I think I’m going to go lie down,” she mumbled. And she left, before she was tempted to lean on the lieutenant even more than she already had.
Three days later, Shepard was still not feeling much better. Melding minds with Liara had brought the visions into sharper focus, and she dreaded sleeping at night. She tried to focus on getting through these seemingly endless assignments the Alliance kept throwing at her. You’d think that she wasn’t on a race-against-time sort of mission, the way they were asking her to clean up every mess they had out in the traverse.
Besides that, Shepard had the sense that everyone was on edge. She knew Alenko was out of sorts. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to talk with him much after their awkward meeting in the comm room, but she’d been aware of his biotic energies, much more raw than usual. Liara had a subtler sort of energy, like a still pond, really. But even she seemed rippling and disturbed lately. Shepard was sure she wasn’t doing much better, but there really wasn’t time to worry about that. She had things to check up on in engineering, and then she needed to make sure that the crew’s gear was up to snuff for the next mission. No sense in taking on the geth or Saren or whatever else they encountered out here with substandard armor.
Shepard was on her way to the lockers when she heard a strangely giggly voice say:
“Oh, before I go, Ash, I saw that Kaidan Alenko in one of the vids about the Normandy and Eden Prime? He’s cute . Lucky you! Later sis!”
Shepard stopped short of the lockers, looking around for the speaker. Only the gunnery chief stood before her, looking at a video monitor. It seemed that Shepard had stumbled into some family gossip.
Shepard frowned to herself. Up until now, it hadn’t occurred to her that she might not be the only woman to have an interest in the lieutenant. She didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of it before. She had been so caught up in her own reaction to him – her own, completely out-of-character reaction to him, that it never occurred to her that other women might have had the same reaction. And, if fact, did she really know that his solicitous treatment of her was anything special? Perhaps he was that thoughtful to everyone. Maybe she was just reading into it and his interests lay elsewhere.
The thought made her implants flare.
“Commander!” Williams jumped to see Shepard standing there. “I didn’t…I mean…” She turned and frowned at the video monitor. “Damn it, I’ll kill her.”
Shepard just raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just a vid mail. My sister is a complete flirt. Ignore her – it – please.”
“I didn’t mean to overhear,” Shepard said. “However…” She fought to find a polite way to ask the question. “Is this something I need to know about? Are you interested in my – the lieutenant, chief?”
“No ma’am,” Ashley said hastily. Shepard could feel her muscles relax at once. She really shouldn’t care, she told herself, but there was no way she could ignore the feeling of relief.
“The LT is great, commander,” Ashley went on. “Don’t get me wrong, but he’s a little old for me, you know? Kind of like a big brother – or uncle, or whatever.”
Shepard stifled a laugh at that. The lieutenant couldn’t be more than thirty-five. But she suspected that Ashley was a bit younger than that.
“Besides,” Ashley added conspiratorially, her voice dropping low, “I think the LT is sweet on someone else.” She nodded and looked up at the ceiling meaningfully, as if indicating the floor above them.
“Liara?” Shepard frowned, the name spilling out of her mouth before she could stop herself. Ashley looked at her and choked on a laugh.
“The asari ? Are you kidding? Damn, commander, I thought you knew.”
“Knew what?” Shepard asked, now feeling genuinely confused.
“Huh,” Ashley said, looking at her. “You have a really good read on people when they’re dealing with each other, huh skipper? But not so much when they’re dealing with you.”
Shepard narrowed her eyes at that. “Care to illuminate me, chief?” she asked.
“It’s…not really my place to say…” Ashley mumbled. “It’s just…stuff I overheard the doctor saying about…you…”
“Look,” Ashley said, “Let’s just say that there’s several people who’ve been checking your ass out when you get suited up. Not all of them are human and not all of them are male.”
Shepard blinked at her. “You’re saying Dr. T’Soni is interested in me ?”
“Pretty much,” Ashley snorted.
Shepard frowned. “Okay, that makes things awkward, especially if the lieutenant is interested in her.”
Ashley shook her head, “I didn’t mean the LT… Aw, hell.”
“If you don’t know, then Alenko is a sorrier bastard than I took him for.”
“Williams,” Shepard said, sharply, “That’s your commanding officer you’re talking about.”
“Sorry ma’am,” Ashley winced. “I just hear chatter below decks here. Blame Vakarian. He talks a lot.”
“Does he now?” Shepard looked over at where the turian was fixing the Mako yet again. “He doesn’t strike me as the chatty type.”
“Tends to clam up when you’re around,” Williams said. “Look, commander, not to change the subject…”
“Change away,” Shepard said. “I think I’m tired of this line of talk.”
“Right, skipper. Look, I want to ask you about them.” She nodded at the cargo hold.
“About them, who?” Shepard asked, looking around at the crates.
“The aliens,” Ashley said. “Vakarian and Wrex.”
“What about them?”
“I just… Okay, hear me out here.”
Shepard did just that. She heard Ashley out about the chief’s concern over aliens, about how little she trusted the Council to help them out. Shepard nodded as the chief laid out the reasons she felt that the aliens should not be part of the mission.
“It doesn’t change our objectives,” Shepard said, when Ashley had done. “I don’t trust the Council entirely, but better to have the Council’s guns on our side than to try and do this alone. Besides, if I try to lock up the aliens in sleeper pods, well, we’ll have even more busted pods. Just think of what Wrex would do to them.”
“Look, Williams. I hear you. I do. Truthfully, I didn’t trust them at first either, but our new allies have come to earn my trust. Even Liara.”
“A krogan mercenary has come to earn your trust?” Ashley looked doubtful.
“Hasn’t he earned yours? He had your back there on Luna. Took heavy fire for you, if you remember.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Ashley rubbed her shoulder where she had gotten slightly burned. Wrex, on the other hand, had taken the rocket right in the teeth. Thanks to krogran regeneration, though, he was only looking slightly more scarred than usual.
“Your concerns are noted,” Shepard told Ashley, “but we’re going to do this mission with allies – alien allies. You don’t have to like it, but you’ll keep your reservations to yourself, understood?”
“It won’t be a problem, commander,” Ashley said stiffly. “I promise you that.”
“Thank you, Williams.” Shepard turned to go.
“Commander?” Ashely asked her.
“Go easy on the LT, will you? I don’t think he’s used to dealing with women beyond the job.”
“Care to clarify that, chief?” Shepard asked with narrowed eyes.
“Cryptic does not become you, Williams.”
“I’m sorry, commander,” Ashley said, frowning. “I’ll just shut up and get back to my duties.”
“Fair enough,” Shepard said. “Dismissed, chief.”
With that, Shepard turned on her heel and headed toward the elevator. She wasn’t entirely sure she’d caught all of what Williams was driving at, but at least one thing was certain. She needed to clear up a little misunderstanding with the asari, before things got even more awkward than they already were.