“How are you, commander?” Kaidan asked, plunking his coffee cup down next to hers.
“Ughn,” she replied.
“That good, eh?”
“Yeah, well,” Shepard took a deep drink of her coffee. “That’s what I get for loosening up. Got to tie everything back up tight in the morning. Ugh, my head needs tying,” she cradled her forehead in her hands. “String and glue, please.”
Kaidan surprised himself by reaching over and rubbing a hand across her back. The previous morning, he would not have dared to do it, but he couldn’t seem to help himself now. Instead of freezing or pulling away, Shepard sighed and leaned into his caress. Kaidan smiled.
“Hmmm,” she sighed. “As long as I’m going to be miserable, this is good to wake up to.”
“You gonna be alright?” Kaidan stilled his hand and looked at her.
“You mean about my reaction to the alcohol or what we talked about?”
“You remember what we talked about?”
“I was drunk, Kaidan, not lobotomized.”
“Right. You didn’t mind what we talked about. Last night, I mean?” He remembered the previous night being a little more intimate than he’d meant it to be. Then again, this morning wasn’t shaping up much different, given that his hand still rested on her back.
“Mind? No. On the contrary, thanks are in order. I’d dealt with the demons of Mindoir, but the Blitz – I’m still settling that score.” She paused, then added. “I appreciate what you said.”
“I respect you, commander,” he said solemnly. “You know that.”
A footstep sounded at the door and Kaidan quickly pulled his hand away as Tali walked in to the mess.
“Good morning, Shepard. Kaidan,” she said brightly.
“Morning,” the two of them responded in unison. Tali paused for a moment and cocked her helmeted head to the side. She said nothing, but Shepard got the sudden impression that the Quarian was studying them both from behind her mask.
“You two having breakfast?” Tali asked casually.
“Coffee is all I can handle this morning,” Shepard replied.
“Oh yes, I heard about…” Tali broke off.
“You heard about what, Tali?” Shepard asked. She and Kaidan exchanged a glance.
“Only that Garrus and Liara were worried about you. They told me about the girl. The press got hold of the story. The news vids were full of Mindoir this morning. There was something about you, too, about you killing slavers after the Blitz. Presley shut it off. Said it was all lies.”
Kaidan watched Shepard out of the corner of his eye. She didn’t even flinch.
“War is never pretty,” Shepard said. “But Miss Al-Jilani would hardly sell her vids if she didn’t go poking around at the ugly parts.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Tali nodded. “Well then, I’m going to the engine room. Adams found some debris yesterday in one of the Citadel markets and we’re going to dismantle it together.” Her voice indicated that she was smiling as she waved goodbye.
“Debris?” Kaidan asked, raising an eyebrow.
“She’s a cheap date,” Shepard shrugged.
Kaidan chuckled. “Unlike some women I know.”
“What do you mean?” Shepard punched him in the arm. “I thought you said it wasn’t a date.”
“It wasn’t,” Kaidan said hastily. Shepard frowned.
“Anyhow,” she said. “I believe I paid for the drinks last night.”
“With ill-gotten gains, wasn’t it commander?”
“Oh, my God, you’re right.” She put a hand to her forehead.
“Did you forget that part?”
“Yeah. But I remember the rest of it really well.” She smiled at him and Kaidan fought the sudden urge to pull her into his lap right there in the mess hall.
“Okaaay,” she said, blinking and looking away. “We need to get back to work. We leave for Noveria in an hour. They say it’s cold there, so pack warm socks.”
“Are we back to being officers then, commander?” Kaidan asked. The words were out of his mouth before he could reconsider them. They were laced with disappointment.
Shepard frowned, but her eyes were soft when she replied, “I’m afraid so. For now, anyways, Ka – lieutenant.”
“Ma’am,” Kaidan nodded, and he went back to drinking his coffee.