“Seriously?” Shepard frowned. “Kaidan, I hear you, but…”
They were sitting side by side at a ramen bar in the Wards. Their bowls sat on the bar before them, and beyond it, Shepard could see the transport hub. Cars were flying in and out of the area, people were milling around. It made for great people-watching, if only Shepard could concentrate on anything other than the person beside her, the person who was currently crushing hopes she hadn’t even realized she held until just now.
“There are regs, Shepard.” Kaidan said. He paused. “You didn’t honestly think that I would be bunking with you. Did you?”
She considered saying, “Of course not, ” but she’d come to be completely honest with Kaidan and so she said: “I guess I did. I hadn’t thought about it, exactly, but when I thought about us going back to the Normandy tomorrow, I just thought that you’d be with me. Maybe not all the time, but I figured we’d be together, if you get my meaning.”
Kaidan sucked in a breath. He hadn’t expected that. It was what he wanted – both to stay with Shepard and that Shepard would want him to stay with her. That made it all the harder to say:
“Shepard, you know we can’t.”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed and stared at the cars. Kaidan frowned. He supposed it was good that she had agreed so easily, but that actually just made him feel worse.
“I want to,” he said. It sounded like a lame excuse.
“Me too,” she shrugged. “So, you’re saying you want to go back to being ‘just officers’? ‘Just friends’?”
“I think that’s best, don’t you?”
“No,” she replied. “I think what we are is more than that and I don’t think there is any going back.”
“Shepard,” he frowned. “Think of the crew.”
“I am,” she said. “And while I think that we need to be respectful, I also think that this could work.”
“Shepard, it would change everything.”
“Kaidan, the change has already happened.”
“So what are you saying?” he asked. “What do you want us to be, exactly?
Shepard’s lips thinned as she thought.
“I think…” she said at last, her voice even, “That you should become my kept man.”
“Your what ?” Kaidan sputtered, spitting noodles all over the counter before him.
“I’ll keep you in my quarters,” she went on, “chained naked to my bed. Don’t worry, I’ll come down and keep you company whenever I get the chance.”
“Lower your voice, Shepard,” he said, coughing and laughing at the same time.
“And since that might be a little boring for you, we can switch off.”
“Switch off?” he asked, grinning suddenly, “You mean you take up the chains and I can come to visit you ?”
“I’ll take weekends,” she nodded, fighting to keep her face straight. “You take weekdays. I think it’s a fair schedule. Between the two of us, one of us can keep the ship running and the other one can keep the sheets warm.”
“God, Shepard,” Kaidan said, mopping up the mess around his bowl with a napkin. “With that image in my head, I’ll never be able to get any work done around the ship.”
“Admit it. I bet you loved that old Star Wars vid: the whole slave-girl Princess Leia thing.” When Kaidan blushed she laughed. “I knew it. All tech-guys do.”
“You’re terrible,” he said.
“Now, ground side missions might be a problem,” she went on, cocking her head to one side. “I suppose if we both go and take care of those, then we can reward ourselves for a job well done with mutual chaining in the evening.”
Kaidan shook his head. “When I met you, Shepard, I had no idea you were such a terrible tease.”
“Who said I’m teasing?” she asked, smiling sweetly. “I fully intend to keep you close by me. I’d prefer you stay voluntarily, but if chains are necessary…” She broke off as Kaidan frowned. “Okay, maybe you’re not into…”
“It’s not that,” he said. “I mean,” he added, blushing slightly, “I don’t know about chains. I’ve never, ah…”
“Me either,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind trying it out, but I think we do fine without accessories. Don’t you?”
“More than fine,” he grinned. “I mean… That’s not what I meant to say.” He shook his head to try and recall what he had been talking about. “Look, the point is, we can’t being doing that – any of that. We need to follow regs.”
Shepard frowned and stared into her bowl.
“Shepard, come on,” he pressed, “I mean, I know you like to joke around, but we have to keep this professional.”
“You’re right, we do,” she nodded. “Of course, we do. Geez, I really never thought I would be the one being told by my subordinate officer that I needed to stop trying to fraternize.” She muttered so quietly that Kaidan almost missed it: “Usually the other way around.”
Kaidan’s eyes narrowed. “Who?” he asked.
“Who was your subordinate that tried to be familiar with you?”
“Other than you?” she asked. “There were a few,” she shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”
Kaidan felt himself growing annoyed.
“Look,” he said, “I’m just trying to figure this out, Shepard. We can’t…”
“Kaidan,” Shepard said sharply, “I hear you. I got the message. You want our relationship to go back to being just officers and just friends so long as we are on duty, which begins tomorrow. Even though we spent several amazing days together, we’re going to ignore all that and pretend it never happened. We are not to have personal contact beyond what is necessary for the mission. We are not to behave as though we are close or intimate in any way. And, we are to keep our feelings completely secret from the rest of the crew. Have I about got that right?”
“Um…” Kaidan said. “Yeah.” Somehow it didn’t sound so good now that it was actually spoken aloud.
“Great,” she snorted.
“You don’t agree?” he asked.
“Honestly, no, I not sure I do agree. I know that sounds incredibly irresponsible, but…” She threw her hands up into the air, “Quite frankly, I think that just like last time, we’ll find that we want each other too badly to stay apart. And I think we’re better together, Kaidan. I think that instead of pulling away from each other, we should try and figure this out each day – day by messy, unplannable day.”
“Shepard,” Kaidan said. “Please?”
Shepard sighed. “Alright. If you really want to go back to ‘just friends,’ Kaidan, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. So, I’m willing to try.”
“Thanks,” he said. He looked back into his bowl with a frown. “I think.”