“Ooooh-Kaaaay,” Shepard said, setting down the drink in a line next to the other eight they’d finished between the two of them. “That feels..tingly.”
“Don’t get too far gone on me, commander,” Kaidan said, amusement in his eyes. He was buzzed and he knew it, but the commander looked like she was ready to go under the table.
“Biotics can’t get drunk,” she said, pointing a finger at him accusingly. “Our migh hetabolism…er… High… You know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” Kaidan nodded slowly. “But that was a lot of drinks.”
“A lot of pink drinks,” Shepard agreed. “Whatever the pink ones were. You know, I don’t drink.” She fingered the rim of her glass. “They say alk…alcohol brings out your true personality. If that’s that case, then I’m a narcoleptic, ‘cause I’m sleepy.” She rubbed her eyes, scrunched up her face, and frowned. “That was a lot of drinks,” she mused. “That’s gonna eat up the credits you’d set aside for a new pistol.”
“You gave me the money you won gambling,” Kaidan reminded her.
“Oh, right. Wait. Why did I help that cheater-guy again?”
Kaidan shook his head. He had scarcely believed it when the commander had taken up some salarian’s bizarre request to rig a gambling machine. At first she’d brushed the alien off, but after the second drink she’d been a little loopy. She had run back outside to tell the salarian that she wanted to help after all. Kaidan wasn’t sure what she’d done was quite legal, but on the up side, it had paid their tab.
“I think I want to dance,” Shepard said, nodding towards the dance floor. “You come with me.”
“Is that an order, ma’am?” Kaidan couldn’t help but tease.
“Damn straight,” she replied, standing.
Kaidan stood at once, ready to catch her if she fell, but she found her feet without trouble. She walked easily enough, but once she reached the dancers, her grace seemed to fail her. She began moving against, rather than with, the music, flailing her arms at an asari’s head as she did so.
“Okay, commander,” Kaidan said, catching her by the shoulders. “Let’s go. You’re going to hurt someone. Probably yourself.”
“You’re not nearly as drunk as me,” she accused.
“Thankfully not,” he replied. “Can you walk?”
“Sure,” she said, then nearly tripped down the stairs leading back to the wards. “Wanna get a tazzi…tax…taxi to Chora’s Den? We could dance there.”
Kaidan fought back the sudden imagine of Shepard doing the kind of dancing that went on in Chora’s Den. He briefly wondered if that kind of dancing was more her style. He hated to admit it, but it was a question that he had pondered a few times in the past.
“If you didn’t like the dancing here at Flux,” Shepard went on, “then maybe Chora’s Den…”
“I don’t want to dance,” Kaidan said quickly, brushing this wayward thoughts aside. “Too many lights; too much noise.”
“Oh,” that seemed to sober her up a little. “Your headaches. Sorry, lieutenant, I forgot.” She straightened herself and pulled away from him.
And we’re back to being officers, again , he thought, grounding his teeth in frustration. For a moment there, she’d actually loosened up a bit, tried dancing of all things. He was a terrible dancer, he knew, but now he was wishing he’d taken her up on her offer. It was better than taking her out here into the wards only to have her put up walls between them again.
“I’m fine,” he said. That wasn’t quite true. His head was throbbing, but now that they were nearing the markets the lower lights were more soothing. Or maybe it was Shepard’s presence, drunk as she was.
“Commander Shepard?” A man came running up to them, causing Shepard to frown and squint. Kaidan reach out a hand protectively, but Shepard had already straightened up in an admirable attempt to act normal.
“Is it true you’re a Spectre now?” The man gushed. “Oh! That’s so awesome !”
“Umm…” Shepard frowned, clearly trying to place the guy.
“Conrad Verner,” the guy supplied the name and Shepard nodded. “The news vids are all full of the beautiful Commander Shepard. The graceful Commander Shepard…”
I’m going to punch this guy if he doesn’t shut up , Kaidan thought as the idiot drooled over his commanding officer.
“Can I take your picture?” the guy begged.
“I dun…I don’t have a problem with it, but why?” Shepard hiccuped.
“Are you kidding? No one will ever believe I met you!” Shepard shrugged, pulled out her gun and posed with it. She was hamming it up, Kaidan thought. She probably wouldn’t have done that if she’d been sober.
“My wife is going to love this!” Conrad cried in glee. “Thanks Shepard!”
He called her “Shepard ,” Kaidan thought in disgust. Well, at least the guy was married. Kaidan immediately felt sorry for the guy’s wife.
Shepard turned to Kaidan and shrugged with a “Well, what are you going to do?” look on her face. She did an about face and started wandering back down the promenade towards the C-Sec elevators. Kaidan followed after her, feeling a little unsteady on his feet but wanting to be ready to catch her if she tripped.
Halfway along the walk, Shepard stopped suddenly and turned to the railing. She propped her arms on it and looked over the edge at the view of the ward arm below. Fearing she was about to puke on an unsuspecting person below, Kaidan hurried to her side at once. Instead of vomiting, though, Shepard just smiled at him. She had smiled more in the last hour than she had in the last month, Kaidan thought. For that alone, he would have to take her out for drinks more often. Shepard turned to face him, nudging him companionably with her elbow.
“You remember hanging out here with Williams just a few months ago?” she asked. “This is the exact spot where we were talking about aliens and the old vids and all that stuff.”
“Uh…” The memory came back to Kaidan with a rush of embarrassment. “I think I said something stupid then.”
“Naw,” she smiled. “It was sweet. Men don’t usually talk to me like that.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Kaidan muttered.
“No, it’s true.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “I’m scary, you know.”
Kaidan fought back a laugh. “Is that so?”
She nodded sagely. “I’m a biotic. One of the strong ones.”
“Funny,” he said. “So am I.”
“I know ,” she said, grinning. “I like that about you.”
“You’d be the first,” he said wryly.
“I’m drunk,” Shepard informed him, as if this statement fit the conversation perfectly.
“No, really. I haven’t been drunk in a looong time. I don’t like to lose control. Kind of like you, I suppose. Are you drunk?”
“Then I’ll make sure you get home, okay. To the Normandy, I mean.”
“I think it might be me seeing you home, but sure thing, commander.”
“Kaidan,” she said, patting his arm, “Thanks for the drinks. I needed that. I needed this . It’s been stressful, you know?”
“Yeah,” he said, thinking of all the action they’d seen lately.
“You know what, Kaidan?”
He’d been wondering if she’d ever talk about her past, but this wasn’t quite how he’d anticipated the conversation starting.
“It was just… horrible ,” she said, turning her face away with a frown. “But then, I got off easy. I realized that a long time ago. When I think of my family – all dead… Or my cousins – and they’re still out there, maybe. I’ll probably never know…” She frowned. “That poor, poor girl – Talitha. That was her name. She had a name, Kaidan.” She took a deep breath.
“But I just can’t keep that sorrow in front of me. I forget about Mindoir sometimes – for weeks, even, and sometimes I feel bad for forgetting. But I can’t hold it in front of me, and I think…that’s right, too.”
“Well, yeah,” Kaidan said. “You can’t dwell on the past forever.”
“Right,” she said, nodding. “I have to get drunk and try dancing. I have to live – not just survive – but live . Survival is never enough. You know what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“I’m going to tell you about Elysium,” she said, pounding her fist on the barrier in front of her. “I’ve been wanting to tell you about it, ever since you went and told me about Vyrrnus. I think…I think you might understand. And now’s as good a time as any.”
“Okay…” Kaidan said, uncertainly.
“Elysium was worse than Mindoir,” Shepard said, her eyes growing serious. “Mindoir was just confusion and smoke and screaming. On Mindoir, I didn’t know what to do. And I didn’t have time to do anything, even if I’d known. Some batarian appeared out of nowhere and shoved a neural inhibitor into my head.” She mimed the action, smacking herself in the ear.
Kaidan stared at her, horrified. “You’re kidding. Without anesthetic?”
“Yup,” she nodded. “Hurt like hell. Worse than a bullet. And then there was this blue explosion…”
“I woke up and the medics were talking about how I was still flaring.”
“You used biotics? Without implants?”
“I guess so,” she shrugged. “I mean, biotics manifest around the teenage years…”
“Yeah, but most people just make a mess of themselves the first time they try anything.”
“Well, I certainly made a mess of myself – and the batarian who’d attacked me, the bastard. They had to grow me a new eye, you know.” She tapped the scar on her cheek. “So yeah. I don’t remember much. It was horrible, but I didn’t have to watch it – Mindoir, I mean. It was over before I knew it had begun. I have scars, but the blade went in quick and it came out quicker, you know?”
Kaidan just looked at her, not sure what to say to that.
“But Elysium – God. That was supposed to be a party weekend, not a battle.”
“I was stationed there,” she explained. “A bunch of buddies from officer training had shore leave and were coming to visit me for a little R&R. One of them was this really hot guy who…well…” She smirked and shrugged. Kaidan had to fight the impulse to ask for details. He didn’t want to know about that guy, he told himself. It wasn’t his business anyhow.
“When they got there, we had a great old night of it.”
Kaidan frowned, trying to ignore the feeling of jealousy that was rising in his gut over this unnamed, faceless officer.
“And then at 3 am, BOOM! Just, bombs !” Shepard threw up her hands to illustrate. “I was dead asleep in the hotel bed – I’d had only two drinks.” She held up three fingers, then stared at them and laughed.
“That was the Blitz, then?” Kaidan asked.
“That was the Blitzzzz,” she said, allowing the word to buzz in her skull. “It. Was. Hell .” She emphasized each word. “I woke my friends, ‘cause I knew – just knew right away what was going on. I felt those bombs.” She shivered. “They felt the same as before: the way the whole earth shook. I wanted to run and hide in my parent’s cellar, but then I remembered that this wasn’t Mindoir and mom and dad were dead and all my family was gone and I heard a kid crying down the hall and he needed help…”
She stopped. “So I fought. I wasn’t heroic like they say. Not at all. I was terrified. I just knew what happened to colonists who got captured. I knew we had no other choice.”
“What did you do?” Kaidan asked softly.
“I rallied my friends and had them escort the tourists into the defensible quarter of town.” She drew on the railing with her fingers. “The town hall and courthouses were here. Police office and jail, here. We got all the civilians bunkered into that complex and positioned teams with snipers and rockets on each corner of the roofs. I held the entrance spot, here.”
“That would have been the least defensible position,” Kaidan observed.
“Damn straight,” she nodded. “Especially because there are hills here, here and here. My position was the best way in. I got stuck out there on my own and we couldn’t risk moving someone in to cover me. The others were holding off the air attack, so it was up to me to hold against the ground assault coming up the hill.”
“I heard that you held the raiders off for twelve hours,” Kaidan said. “They say you used biotics most of the time, since the guns burned out after a while.”
“God, it was exhausting.” Shepard ran a hand over her face. “I just kept praying – which was weird, ‘cause I really hadn’t done much praying since my parents died – just, “Please God, let me take this one out. That’s one less guy that can hurt those kids inside.” Then, “Okay, God. Just let me take this one down, too.” It went on like that forever, it seemed.”
Kaidan listened, waiting for her to go on.
“Then the Alliance ships showed up and I swear, I will never forget that sight. The brass sometimes piss me off, but they came through on that day and I’ll always be grateful. So, when the pirates realized they’d been pinned, they started surrendering. Someone came to relieve my position and I went down to check on the barricade I’d set up. There was a Batarian there - bigass guy - hiding in wait. He jumped out at me and I threw him into a wall with my biotics. Broke his collar bone. He landed on his knees and then…”
She suddenly stopped.
“He had dropped something when I threw him,” she said, speaking slowly now. “It was a neural inhibitor – just like the kind the slavers used on me back when I was a kid. I…I pointed my gun at that surrendering batarian… I told him to get down on the ground…”
She stopped, her eyes growing hard as she looked out at the wards.
“He tried to surrender then, but I told him to put his hands behind his head.”
She swallowed hard.
Kaidan felt a knot forming in his stomach. He could guess where this was going, and he told himself he could understand it. He waited, not wanting to hear more but knowing he had to.
“I shoved that inhibitor into his head, Kaidan.” She frowned and looked at her hands. “He screamed and it was suddenly worse than the fighting because he was screaming right in my face. I shot him once in the leg and he screamed even more. I kicked him and hit him with the pistol. I shredded him with biotics and took the skin off of his face. I…I completely lost it, Kaidan.”
Kaidan felt is throat go dry. He had no idea what to say. Beside him, Shepard folded and unfolded her hands. She then bit her lip and lowered her voice.
“I still can’t believe he took that much abuse. All the while he just screamed and screamed and the sound was awful. Then suddenly, he passed out and there was silence. And that was even worse. With his face like that, he didn’t look much like an alien at all. And the screams echoing all around me were almost human-like. There was blood everywhere, but it didn’t smell like iron. And I just couldn’t…”
Shepard crossed her arms defensively across her chest.
“I pulled the damn thing out of his head,” she said fiercely, as if she’d made up her mind just now, just as she’d made up her mind then. “Slapped a pack of medigel on him – a slaver and I wasted a whole pack of medigel on him.” She shook her head in disgust. “Of course, it was my own fault he needed it. The medics had a hard time putting him back together, but he lived. I hear he ended up in some ark-station jail. Bet he wishes I’d ended him.”
“Wait,” Kaidan blinked at her. “You *saved * him?”
“See!” she cried. Kaidan shushed her as several people turned to stare. She lowered her voice.
“That’s just it!” she hissed. “I took pity on the scum of the galaxy! Scum , Kaidan. But I attacked a surrendering prisoner in the first place! And then I was soft enough to let him go…” She let out a sigh of disgust. “I just couldn’t do it! I just felt this rage , but looking down at that quiet body, surrounded by that godawful silence …” She trailed off, eyes narrowed on some point in the distance.
“So there you go,” she said at last. “That’s the war hero’s triumphant end to her long, brave vigil.”
Kaidan found himself staring at her profile in the low wards light. Her eyes were watery, yet steely at the same time, like thunderclouds full of rain. Kaidan shook his head.
“You are something else, Shepard,” he murmured.
“Yeah, something weak and vicious at the same time,” she muttered, resting her crossed arms on the railing. “Unstable, anyhow.”
Kaidan thought better of it, but then he went ahead and did it anyway. He put an arm around Shepard’s shoulders and pulled her in close to his chest.
“That’s not what I’m thinking,” he whispered.
“What are you thinking, then?” Shepard shivered. His breath feathered the back of her neck and she was suddenly very aware of him. She’d gone from re-living her worst moment of weakness to very aroused in less than a second and the effect – combined with the alcohol – was dizzying.
“I’m thinking you’re even more amazing than the stories of the Blitz let on,” Kaidan said.
“Kaidan,” Shepard let out an annoyed breath, trying to keep herself from turning into a puddle right at his feet. “Didn’t you hear what I said? I assaulted a surrendering prisoner .”
“And he probably deserved it,” Kaidan replied. “Okay, so beating him to hell was wrong. But most soldiers would have done the same thing in your shoes - and they wouldn’t have held back in the end. And he would have done the same to you if he’d had a chance. Hell, it might have been his father who attacked you on Mindoir – the bartarian you shredded, that is.”
“I can only hope,” Shepard replied sarcastically.
“See, there you go. My cold-blooded commander is back.”
“Kaidan, I’m not…”
“You’re not,” Kaidan interrupted firmly. “I was just teasing. You kill because you have to, Shepard – only because you have to. It’s the same with me. It changes you, but you set limits on yourself, because you know how easy it would be to step past them and become the thing you’re fighting against.”
“I came so close to being like them,” she said softly. “That’s what it was. For a moment, I enjoyed it. It was disturbing how good it felt to just destroy. “
“But you stopped,” Kaidan said. “Just like you held back on that terrorist. You took him in alive, Shepard, when no one would have cared if you killed him.”
“Look at me,” Kaidan ordered. She blinked and looked up at him. His face was very close to hers, his brown eyes full of nothing but trust. “You stopped, Shepard.”
She swallowed. “Well there you go,” she shrugged and quickly looked away before she did something stupid like lean in closer to that handsome face. “And now you know why I hate to talk about the Blitz. I was terrified the whole time and then tortured a prisoner in full sight of my friends afterward. And then everyone just forgot about that part. I had to sit up on a stage like a fraud and get a medal for the whole thing. The Alliance brass wanted a hero - the press wanted a hero - so they picked me.”
“It was more than that…”
“But then the media got wind of what really happened and I got smeared in the press. ‘Shepard and Elysium: Heroics or Massacre’?” She bit out the title of Al-Jilani’s bestselling book.
“No one believed that,” Kaidan said.
“Enough people did,” Shepard said. “It made the Alliance uneasy. And the worst part was, most of it was true.”
Kaidan thought about it. “So, that’s why you hate to talk about the Blitz.”
“Yup. It was hell followed by insanity followed by a PR spin. A load of bullshit, all of it.”
“And that’s why you have such an issue with the press.”
She shrugged. “That’s what started my little sparring match with Miss Al-Jilani, yes. It seems that someone told her about my attack on that batarian and she decided to run with the story. I think what hurt worst about the whole thing was that my boyfriend was the one to sell me out to the press.”
“Seriously?” Kaidan asked, not even trying to hid his disgust. “So what happened to him after the Blitz? Did he get a medal for turning on you?”
“Of course,” Shepard shrugged. “Also said something about me being a vicious little Valkyrie and the name stuck. You know how it is.”
“You broke up with him, I hope.”
“He broke up with me,” Shepard replied.
“Did you love him?” he asked, not really wanting to ask the question but feeling compelled to all the same.
“I thought I did,” she snorted. “But I sure as hell don’t anymore.” He knew at once she was telling the truth. It made him glad, though he knew that wasn’t fair.
“So yeah,” Shepard said. “I can sympathize a little about how you felt about Rahna – the little hooker.”
“Hooker?” Kaidan burst out laughing, unable to help himself.
“What? She was.” Shepard frowned and poked him in the chest. “You get beat to hell for her and all she says is, “Oh, gee thanks, but I want someone who doesn’t have blood all over them.” Well, excuse you if the blood happens to be your own as much as the other guy’s.”
“You talking about me now Shepard, or you?” Kaidan asked, looking down at her.
“Ah…” She squinted at where her finger still rested on his chest. “Which one is me and which one is you again?”
Kaidan chuckled. He knew that he really shouldn’t be enjoying this moment as much as he was, but he just couldn’t help himself. “We are getting a little mixed together these days, aren’t we?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she nodded with a smile. Kaidan returned it, knowing his grin was probably more than a little goofy.
“Well,” Shepard said, dropping her hand and pulling away. “So now you know my dirty little secret. The one about the Blitz, anyhow.”
“Do you have any more I should know about, Shepard?” Kaidan asked, slyly.
“I have at least one more,” she replied. “Maybe I’ll tell it to you some day. Maybe the next time we take a break.”
She said the last words with a sultry emphasis that made Kaidan’s blood heat suddenly. Shepard leaned in towards him, and he only had a moment to register that she might be planning to kiss him when her elbow slipped off of the railing and she pitched forward towards the floor.
“Hey!” he cried, catching her.
“Oops,” she said, righting herself. “Okay, that killed the moment.”
“You didn’t see the moment? Damn. I’m worse at this stuff than I thought.” When Kaidan just stared at her, she shrugged. “Oh well. I guess that’s our cue to get back to the ship.”
Kaidan walked Shepard down to C-Sec, then helped her into the elevator. He felt pretty clear headed by now – but Shepard was looking more and more like she was about to fall asleep on her feet.
When they got into the elevator up to the docking bays, Shepard took a step forward, wobbled for a moment, and then crashed into Kaidan. The momentum sent him backwards into the wall. Shepard stumbled forward into his arms.
“Mmmm…” she murmured.
“Ah, commander,” Kaidan said, trying hard not to think about how good her hair smelled or how warm her body was through her armor. “This is really… The whole wall here is made of glass…”
“You’re no fun,” she said sulkily. Kaidan frowned down at her. The commander was never sulky.
She pulled away and pounded the button. They rode to the docking bays in silence, Kaidan inwardly cursing himself for having pushed her away, but then reminding himself it was for the best. When they reached the dock, however, he was glad that he hadn’t indulged in holding her, because Garrus was waiting for them by the ship.
“Ah, there you are,” the turian said, mandibles flaring. “Liara fell asleep a while ago, but she kept saying she was worried about you, commander. Something about you meeting demons from your past?” The turian fingered the pistol at his side.
“I had her, Garrus,” Kaidan said, surprising himself with his own sudden sense of protectiveness. “We were just out for a walk.” He felt an unexpected sense of pride that he had been the one to see Shepard through the night.
“Kaidan tamed the demons.” Shepard surprised both of them by smiling wide and slapping Kaidan on the back. “Or rather, he bought me a drink and the demons were drowned. I danced, Garrus. I’m bad at it.”
The turian’s beady eyes widened. “Is she drunk?” he asked, half laughing.
“Mostly,” Kaidan said. “She’s more tired than anything, now.”
“I’m standing right here, you know,” she said.
“Only barely, commander,” Kaidan reminded her.
“I can get to my quarters from here, gentlemen,” Shepard said, saluting. “Carry on.” She stumbled away, weaving slightly as she did so.
“Is she going to be alright?” Garrus asked Kaidan, his eyes narrowing with worry.
“You know the commander,” Kaidan said, smiling in admiration as he watched her walk away. “She always pulls through.”