My God , Kaidan thought, looking down at the sleeping body of the young woman before him. The girl breathed peacefully now, her face, smudged with dirt, no longer held an expression of anguish.
Shepard knelt down and carefully removed the pistol from the girl’s hand. Then she arranged the young woman’s arms over her chest and brushed a stray hair from her face. When Shepard stood again, Kaidan saw the commander hastily wipe away a tear. He was surprised to find that his own eyes were full as well. Beside him, Liara was openly sobbing.
“That poor girl,” the asari said. “I can’t imagine…”
“I can,” Shepard said flatly. She dismantled the slave girl’s pistol with a few quick, precise movements.
“Oh, Shepard,” Liara’s voice trembled. “I never knew…”
“You gonna be alright, doctor?” Shepard asked curtly, turning to face the asari.
“Of course,” Liara said, taken aback. “I just…” Tears poured anew down her cheeks. They dripped off of her chin and onto her uniform.
“You look like you could use a break from all this, Liara,” Shepard said, her voice like ice. “Head back to the ship and get Doctor Chakwas to make you a cup of tea.”
“Do it,” Shepard snapped. Liara blanched. Shepard caught herself and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. “For my sake, Liara,” she added wearily.
“Alright,” Liara said. “For you, commander. I’m so sorry…”
“Go, Liara.” Shepard said. The asari sniffed once more, then headed back towards the Normandy.
Kaidan frowned. “Commander…” he began.
“Not now, lieutenant,” Shepard told him. Her voice sounded irritable, but Kaidan thought he heard something else in there, too – something dangerously close to snapping. “I need to deal with this situation, not stop and cry about it.”
Kaidan nodded. He could understand that feeling. “It’s just that the doctor will likely spike Liara’s tea with her private reserves.”
Shepard chuckled at that. “That’s what I’m counting on, lieutenant,” she told him.
Shepard walked down to the dock and spoke with the guards who had called her up here to talk to the slave girl. The young woman had been rescued only recently. Upon arriving at the Citadel, Talitha had stolen a gun and planned to end her own life. The girl had been from Mindoir, the same colony Shepard had been born and raised in. Shepard had survived the attack that had killed her parents though – the attack that had turned Talitha from a child into an animal and a slave.
As the guards collected the sleeping body of the slave girl, Kaidan watched Shepard closely. Other than a slight stiffening of her shoulders, she seemed aloof as ever. But Kaidan now knew better than to trust that “seemed.”
Over the past few months, Kaidan had learned to look past that cool exterior Shepard showed to the world. She still threw him sometimes - he’d never met anyone so difficult to read - but the mask she wore for everyone else didn’t entirely block his view. He also suspected that she didn’t always keep the mask in place when he was around.
That was how he could tell that she was playing strong to avoid tears. What she had just done – what she just heard - couldn’t have been easy. The slave girl had been ready to shoot herself in a moment of panic, and yet Shepard had walked right up to her as if she were any other person. Kaidan had stood a safe distance away, ready to take down the slave girl if she actually used that gun of hers. But he needn’t have worried. Shepard had listened to the girl in that open, unjudging way of hers. She had answered the girl’s questions honestly - even bluntly to Kaidan’s thinking. But it had worked. The girl had handed over the gun and took the offered sedative.
In the process, Kaidan overheard a lot about Mindoir he hadn’t known: like how the slavers treated their prey, how Shepard herself had once been like this: broken and half-mad. For Shepard to hear all this, no doubt to re-live some of it – he just couldn’t imagine what that was like.
He was so distracted by his thoughts that he almost missed it when Shepard gave a cut nod to the guards and turned away. She marched into the nearby elevator and smashed the button with her fist. Kaidan only just managed to slip inside before the doors slid shut.
“Where do you think you’re going, lieutenant?” she snapped. Kaidan just raised an eyebrow. If she was calling him by his rank, she was clearly angry. But he could wait out this mood of hers. It was better than seeing her cry.
“I’m going with you, ma’am,” he replied evenly. “If you’ll let me.”
“If I’ll let…” Her eyes narrowed; then she snorted. “It’s a good thing that you’re so charming, Alenko. Anyone else, I’d throw off the docks for being so damn insubordinate.”
That was a new one. Kaidan had never in his life considered himself a charming kind of guy. He was pretty sure no one else had thought of him that way either. But if someone was going to think that, he was glad it was Shepard. At least she didn’t think he was awkward. After all, awkward was how he felt around her half the time. The rest of the time, he felt so comfortable with her he tended to say things that he shouldn’t.
“Yes, charming,” Shepard said. Then she frowned, and pressed her fingers to her nose. “My head hurts.”
“Is it your implants?” he asked.
“Memories, more like.”
“You need a drink,” Kaidan told her.
“A drink?” Shepard looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. “As in alcohol?”
“That is usually what people mean by drinks, yeah.”
“I don’t drink.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” Kaidan muttered.
“I think you should make an exception tonight, commander,” Kaidan said more loudly. “We’ll go to Flux…”
“No,” Shepard replied., shaking her head. “We’ll go talk to Admiral Kahoku first – he needs to know about his lost team. Then we should stop by the C-Sec requisition officer and get Garrus that sniper rifle he’d asked for.”
“Damn it, Shepard,” Kaidan snapped, “When are you going to stop and take care of yourself for a change?”
Shepard’s glanced at him in surprise. But before she could say anything in reply to his outburst, the doors to the elevator slid open and a voice said behind them:
“Commander Shepard . I do hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
Kaidan belatedly realized he had his hand on Shepard’s shoulder and was standing a little too close for protocol. He willed himself not to blush as he stepped away from his commanding officer. Shepard had gone stock still. Her eyes narrowed as she turned around.
“Miss Al-Jilani,” she said, coldly.
What the hell? Kaidan wondered. Clearly there was history here, but he had no idea what was going on.
“Might I have a moment of your time?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know,” Shepard replied evenly. “Will the story about me be worse if I walk away or if I cooperate?”
“Oh, commander ,” the woman chuckled. “I simply want to update the Alliance public on what’s happened since the Normandy’s first flight.”
“Yeah, I just bet you do,” Shepard muttered. More loudly she said, “Alright. Ask your questions.”
“That didn’t go so well,” Shepard said a few minutes later. “I have a feeling I’m going to be hearing some choice words from the brass when they catch wind of that mess of an interview.”
“Considering how she was going after you, I’m surprised you didn’t punch her in the head,” Kaidan replied. “You looked like you were about to.”
“I fantasized about it,” Shepard said. “I had this glorious vision of her teeth flying out. But, you know, that might come back to bite me in the ass even more than bad lighting and fumbling for the right turn of phrase. So yeah. Better to use words, I suppose. Words…”
She shook her head. “Tell me lieutenant – do you think there’s any purpose to all this negotiating? All these – words? Words haven’t convinced the Council that there’s a problem. Word didn’t matter on Eden Prime - or Mindoir, come to that. For all our fine rhetoric about peace and clean, down-home living, Mindoir just needed a lot more guns.”
“I don’t know…” Kaidan said slowly. “It seems there’s a need for both, commander – both words and guns, that is. Depends on the situation.”
“Right,” she nodded grimly. “Only which situation is which?”
“I guess that’s why we still use old-fashioned soldiers on the front lines and not mechs,” Kaidan pointed out. “A good soldier knows when to use which weapon – and they’re both weapons, ma’am.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “True enough. I only wish I was better armed in diplomacy.”
“You do well enough.”
“Not really, Kaidan,” Shepard said, shaking her head.
She fell silent after that, and Kaidan didn’t know what else to say. So they said nothing as they shopped the Wards for gear and upgrades. Shepard took her sweet time looking carefully at every piece before selecting one she wanted. They even found Admiral Kahoku and spoke to him about his team. But before Shepard could start in on any more errands, Kaidan grabbed her arm as forcefully as he dared.
“That’s it,” he said, steering her to a cab station. “We’re getting you a drink.”
“But Nassana Dantius…”
“Can wait. Seriously, Shepard. You need to stop and rest. I don’t remember the last time you took a break.”
“Same goes for you, Kaidan.”
Kaidan had to smile at her use of his given name. He had begun to feel comfortable with her again during their afternoon on the Citadel, and he was glad that she seemed to be feeling the same way. At least she had stopped being so formal with him.
“Drinks,” he said. “On me.”
“On you?” She looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Is this a date, lieutenant?”
“No ma’am,” he said quickly.
Shepard frowned and walked away, but not before he thought he heard her mutter, “ Damn .”