“Commander,” Kaidan said softly.
Shepard turned and looked at her lieutenant. She was standing at her station at the galaxy map, the holograph of all the known star systems before her. Kaidan stood behind her, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Is something wrong, lieutenant?” she asked.
“Not with the mission,” he said. “May I speak with you when you have a moment?”
“Of course,” she said, wondering what could be wrong. “I have time now. Presley, set us on a course for the Armstrong Nebula.”
“Aye, aye ma’am,” the navigator replied.
Shepard walked down the ramp to join Kaidan. “What is it?” she asked, her forehead furrowing in concern.
“Can we speak privately?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she nodded, now genuinely worried. “This way.” She motioned to the comm room. Kaidan fell into step behind her. She led the lieutenant into the large room, then turned to face him. To her surprise, he was standing directly behind her.
“Geez!” She jumped, but Kaidan caught her by the shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. He didn’t kiss her, didn’t even let his hands roam over her. He just held her against his chest and breathed in the scent of her hair.
Shepard stiffened for a moment, uncertain of what he intended. But he just held her. His biotic energy seemed to hold her as well, steady and warm. At first, Shepard considered pulling away to look up at his face, then she considered pulling him in closer to kiss him. But as he held her, she finally relaxed and just let him hold her: not as close as she would have liked, but still, he was holding her. Shepard let her eyes drift shut and she rested her head against his chest.
“I’m sorry, Shepard,” Kaidan said, not lifting his head to look at her. She felt his voice rumbling just beside her ear.
“Me too,” she sighed.
Kaidan muttered something against her neck. “What was that?” she asked. He pulled back and she looked up at him. This close, his eyes were unbelievably intense, a rich, warm brown.
“I don’t know what I was thinking the other day,” he said. “I didn’t mean to use you like that - in your quarters.” He dragged a hand over his face. “God, that sounds…”
“It’s okay,” she said, smiling sadly. “You got a little used, too. Like I said, I’m sorry, too.”
He frowned and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want things to be like that between us – just, exploding with desire.”
“You have to admit, it was kind of fun,” she said with a lopsided grin, trying to make light of it. Her smile faltered when he continued to look at her with haunted eyes. “But I don’t want you to feel guilty afterward, Kaidan. I really don’t.”
“I did feel guilty,” Kaidan told her with a sigh. “I felt terrible. But afterward I started thinking – really thinking about what you said and what Wre… well, I’ve been thinking. And the thing is, I realized that keeping you at arms length isn’t going to help anything. I don’t want to break regs, but I also I can’t figure out us without you . So…” he took a breath, “Just know that I want you.”
She smiled, knowing full well that she probably looked completely hopeful and completely goofy.
“Truly?” she asked, simply.
“Shepard, you know that,” he said, his dark brows drawing together as he smiled.
“It’s still nice to hear it,” she replied.
“Well,” he shrugged. “There you go. Shepard, I don’t know where this is going, but I want to get this right.”
Her smile just widened.
“Of course, I have no idea how the hell to do this,” he told her.
“Me either,” she admitted.
Kaidan laughed and shook his head. “This is priceless. Here you are, the woman who saved the galaxy…”
“Here we are,” she corrected, “the pair that saved the galaxy. With the help of a very talented team, I might add.”
“Right,” he nodded. “So here we are, saviors of the galaxy, trained Marines. We have how many medals between the two of us?”
Shepard counted on her fingers. “Six for me.”
“I have four,” he said. “So that’s an even ten for the pair of us. We’ve been through a lot, can take on just about any mission, but we have absolutely no clue how to be in a relationship,” he finished. He stopped, struck by the weight of his own words.
“So we’re in a relationship, then?” she asked, her tone light.
“I don’t know how romantic it’s going to be,” he warned her, “considering that we still have a galaxy to save – again.”
“But we’re more…” she stopped. “More than…”
“Yeah,” he said. “I want to be more.”
Her smile went straight to his heart.
“Okay then,” she said, catching herself and feeling suddenly very foolish. “Look, I want - more, Kaidan, I do. But I also don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Well, you said it yourself,” he told her. “We can find off-duty time.”
“And when is that?” she asked.
“I dunno,” he replied.
“Maybe at once of these ports…” she began, then broke off at the doubtful look in Kaidan’s eyes. “Eventually,” she promised him.
“Yeah,” he agreed, his eyes suddenly warming as he smiled. “Eventually…”
Shepard found herself growing warm under his gaze. “So, a follow-up to this conversation at an unspecified time and place?” she asked, her voice coming out a little breathless. “That sounds deliciously unpredictable.”
“It is,” Kaidan agreed. “Sort of like the woman I’m falling for.”
“You’re falling for me?” She blinked. Well hell, if she hadn’t been feeling like a teenage girl before, she sure was now.
“Yeah,” he said with a sheepish smile. “I’m figuring that one out, too.”
“Okay,” she said softly. “Let me know how it goes for you. ‘Cause I think I’ve already fallen for you.”
Kaidan shook his head and lifted his eyes to meet hers. “You make this easier and harder on a guy, you know that?”
“How so?” she wanted to know.
“You tell me things like that, which makes me think that this is just too easy – that I found something this good and I’m having a hard time believing it. And then the whole regs thing makes it tricky because I know what you want, and I know what I want…” He shook his head. “We’ll figure this out, but damn, Shepard, it’s complicated.”
“I don’t usually like complicated,” she told him. “I swear, I usually try to keep things as simple as possible.”
“Yeah, me too,” he replied. He paused for a moment. “But you’re worth it, Shepard.”
“I was about to say the same thing about you,” she chuckled.
“Okay, enough with the mushy stuff,” Kaidan said, straightening his shoulders. “We’re Marines, here.”
“We’re also human,” she told him.
“Yeah,” he said, “I haven’t felt human in a while, but you…” Kaidan pulled her close again and rested his head on her shoulder. “You bring me back to myself, Shepard. You make me feel… Well, hell. You make me feel .”
“And just what do I make you feel?” she murmured into his ear.
“Warm,” Kaidan said, closing his eyes and breathing in the scent of her. “And horny.”
“It’s true,” he said. “Is that not okay?”
“It’s perfectly okay. Well, not according to the book of regs, but according to the Book of Shepard, it’s wonderful.”
“There’s a Book of Shepard?” Kaidan asked, pulling back to look at her. “Seriously? How come you never told me about this book? Would have made things a hell of a lot easier on me.”
“I’m working on it,” she said, fighting a laugh. “It’s being penned as we speak. Part one: how Kaidan Alenko won over his commanding officer in spite of regs, her difficult personality, and a looming threat to the galaxy.”
Kaidan grinned. “I think I’m going to like this story.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said, her grin equally mischievous. “As long as we’re together, I think I’m going to like this story, too.”