Shepard did not come and talk to Kaidan on the evening of her birthday, nor did he see her at breakfast the next morning. It wasn’t until the afternoon of the next day that she sought him out at his station.
“Where have you been?” he asked her without preamble.
“Reviewing Alliance reports,” she replied. “Seems this geth thing is going to be set aside in favor of sending us after attacks on human colonies.”
He nodded, considering that. “So that means…”
“Still no clear mandate against the Reapers and no end in sight.” She paused, then added, “I’m sorry, Kaidan.”
“Why are you apologizing?” he asked.
“Because clearly this is wearing on you. I realized after our last talk that I tend to think of you as this immovable rock. But you have needs too, and I wasn’t attending to them as well as I should.”
Kaidan closed his eyes as he thought of those needs. “Shepard,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Yeah, but I do,” she told him. “I’m here for you, just like you’re always there for me.”
“Look,” he said. “I’m not… I wasn’t…” He sighed and shook his head. “Damn it, Shepard, it was your birthday, and I got so angry at you that. I never behave like that. I’m always…”
“A gentleman?” she suggested.
“Yeah,” he looked at her with troubled eyes. “What is it about you that makes me act so raw?”
“Kaidan,” she said. “I think that the ‘raw’ is just as much a part of you as the gentleman. And frankly, I like them both. Unleash either of them on me. I can take it.”
Kaidan swallowed. “You really know how to tempt a guy, don’t you?”
“I try,” she smiled. Then her eyes narrowed. “However, don’t you dare pull that kind of insubordinate crap on me if there are other crew members around. I will not tolerate disrespect.”
“I know that,” he said, frowning. “And I didn’t mean…”
“However,” she went on, “When it’s just the two of us and we’re not being officers…” She gave him a grin that heated his blood instantly. “Hell, Kaidan, I thought that I was about to get my birthday present right there against the lockers”
Kaidan’s face grew shuttered and he turned away.
“What?” she asked.
“Your birthday,” he shook his head. “Not only did I not remember it, I made a total mess of it.”
“Kaidan,” Shepard said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “It’s been a hell of a month – a hell of a year. I do not blame you for one second for not buying me gifts and for forgetting my birthday. Or for grinding against me as a birthday present.” Her lips quirked again into a grin. “If anything, I think it’s sweet that you were so upset about it.”
Kaidan looked back at her, his face uncertain.
“Besides,” she said, gently turning him to face her. “If it makes you feel any better, you are the only guy who has ever offered to buy me a present.”
“Seriously?” he asked doubtfully.
“Cross my heart,” she replied. “When I was a kid, my mother had to buy presents for my brothers to give to me – they were bad at holidays.”
Kaidan ran a hand through his hair with a sigh, then let his arms fall at his sides. “Hell, Shepard, I don’t even know what you like .”
“Sure you do,” she blinked.
“Aside from sex,” he muttered.
“Ah,” she made a sound somewhere between a cough and a laugh, “I didn’t know you could wrap that up and give it as a gift. But if you figure out a way to do that, Kaidan, then yeah, sign me up for that.”
“I’m serious,” he said.
“And I’m not?” She shook her head at his expression. “Kaidan, you know a lot of things that I like.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to buy you a Spectre-issue pistol for your birthday.”
“Why not?” she frowned.
“Well, first off, it’s a little more than my lieutenant’s salary can afford, and I refuse to take from our mission budget to buy you a birthday present.”
“Alright,” she said. “If you don’t want to get me weapons and armor for my birthday – and mind you, that would be completely alright by me – you could always get me something else.”
“Like what?” he asked, hoping she’d give him specifics that he could file away in his mind for future reference.
“Well,” she stopped and seemed to consider it. “I like books. I mean real ones, with paper.”
“Oh,” he frowned. Real books were a hard to come by, and tended to be expensive.
“Digital copies are good, too,” she said, seeing his face fall and realizing the reason. “Okay, what else? I like travel. Take me somewhere that I’ve never been before and I’m happy.”
“Yeah, well shore leave won’t be happening for a while,” he pointed out bitterly. “The only new places we’re going are all infested with geth.”
“Okay, well… I like architecture – not sure what kind of gift possibilities are there, but… Hmmm… Oh, I like food. Coffee, too. Hell, buy me something other than military rations and I’ll be eating them right out of your hand.”
“Really…?” Kaidan murmured, suddenly seeing how that last idea could be put to very creative use.
“Now where did your mind just go, Alenko?” she said, her expression turning sultry as his turned thoughtful.
To the gutter, he thought. “Nowhere, ma’am,” he said aloud, but he didn’t manage to hide his grin.
“I think I just gave you an excellent start,” Shepard said approvingly. “I’m sure you can take it from there. But truthfully, Kaidan, what I’d like more than anything right now is time with you.”
She looked at him so appreciatively, so openly, that Kaidan suddenly felt a little embarrassed. He rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat.
“You know that we can’t…ah… Regulations…” He remembered his conversation with Wrex and felt all the more frustrated.
“I know,” she said. Her tone turned bitter. “Believe me, I know. But we can still spend the evening together, right? A kind of belated birthday party for just the two of us? I have a bag of Sumatra roast that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. I’ll make some coffee, and we’ll see what we can do with colony data the Alliance just sent to me. We can plan for which system we ought to explore first.”
“So, a work date, then?” Kaidan asked, feeling a little disappointed. That was ridiculous, he told himself. After all, he was the one who had said they shouldn’t be fraternizing on this mission in the first place.
“It’s still a date, right?” she asked.
“Okay,” he nodded. “Only, I promise you that someday, I’ll give you a better birthday than this last one.”
“Fair enough,” she said. “I look forward to it. So, are we on for tonight?”
“Yeah,” Kaidan said. “It’s a date.”