Kaidan pushed open the doors of the club and walked inside. As he had expected, it was a place to give an L2 a headache. Flashing lights, low bass thrumming, people everywhere, talking as loudly as they had to to be heard above the music. Kaidan felt said music more than he heard it. It seemed to be pounding its way into his head the way a hammer pounds a nail. For a moment, he considered leaving, but he figured that would be kind of rude since Dean had invited him.
As if thinking about the guy had caused him to appear, Kaidan spotted Dean through the crowd. The tech turned and lifted his chin a little. Kaidan returned the gesture and joined him.
“Awesome place, huh?” Dean shouted over the music.
“A little loud,” Kaidan replied.
“What?” Dean shouted.
“Hey!” Dead turned to a small crowd behind him and pointed at Kaidan. “This is Alenko, guys.” He then turned to Kaidan and pointed to each of the people in turn. “Hinds and Korovnik, and that’s Shaw. The asari is Shaw’s girlfriend, Alora. There’s a couple more girls coming.”
“Hi,” Kaidan said, only half-hearing the names over the pounding bass. Hinds and Korovnik went right back to watching a vid on the screen behind the bar. Shaw nodded, then went back to staring down his girlfriend’s cleavage. The asari just watched the dancers.
“What are you having?” Dean asked Kaidan.
“Ah…” Kaidan tried to think of a drink. Beer reminded him of Ashley Williams’ death and mixed drinks reminded him of the time he’d gone out to Flux with Shepard. Nothing else came to mind.
Pathetic , he thought. He couldn’t even order a drink without dragging up bad memories.
“Here,” Dean said, mercifully handing him a drink so he wouldn’t have to decide. “Try one of these.” Kaidan took a sip. It was awful – like pure sugar in a glass. But he nodded and said, “Interesting.”
“So where you from?” the asari shouted. Kaidan didn’t answer. She had to tap him on the shoulder and shout at him again for him to realize he was talking to her.
“Ah…Earth originally,” he said.
“You’re all from Earth originally ,” she giggled. Kaidan realized she was pretty drunk. Her biotic frequency was faint, but completely erratic with the effect of the alcohol. It was as annoying as her laughter.
“Well, yeah,” he said, not sure what to say to that.
The music changed, going from a fast thudding bass to an even faster thudding bass. Kaidan felt his head beginning to hurt even more. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, he thought.
“Oh, hey,” Dean said loudly. “There they are.”
He set down his drink and waved into the crowd. Kaidan followed his gaze, then saw two women approaching. One of them caught Dean’s eye, grinned, and waved back. She was a short, curvy brunette with curly hair and a pretty face. The other was a little shorter and thinner, with dark hair that looked almost black. She had a rather elfin look to her. The two women crossed quickly to the bar, the brunette dragging her friend behind her.
“Dean!” the curvy brunette said, smiling up at the guy. She tossed her curly hair and ordered a drink. Dean just grinned at her in a completely idiotic way. Kaidan envied him a little. As much as he didn’t want to ever look that goofy in a crowd, Dean had a girl – and she clearly liked him.
“Oh, hey,” Dean said loudly so that the women could hear. “This is Katie,” the curly-girl waved, “and Lisa.” the elvin-looking girl nodded. “Katie and Lisa work down in Dr. Michelle’s clinic on the Wards. Well, clinic is sort of the wrong word – it’s getting almost as big as a hospital these days.”
Kaidan nodded in reply. He remembered Dr. Michel and her clinic. Like so many things, the memory was completely tied up in his past with Shepard.
“Nice,” Kaidan said. He couldn’t think of anything else to say. Thankfully, Dean added, “Alenko here is a medic. Not quite the same thing…”
“With the Alliance?” the elfin girl asked. Lisa, Kaidan reminded himself. She had a very low, husky voice and enormous eyes. When she spoke, she didn’t talk very loudly, but she pitched it in such a way that he heard it all the same.
“Yeah,” he replied. She was looking up at him in a very curious way, almost as if she was…interested? Now there was a strange thought.
“Alenko’s a Marine,” Dean added. “Just got back to the Citadel.”
“You’re with the fleet?” Lisa asked.
“Special assignment,” Kaidan replied.
“My cousin is with the fleet,” Katie said, tossing her curly hair. “Maybe you know him?” She mentioned a name Kaidan had never heard of. He shrugged and shook his head.
“Oh, shit, look man,” one of the other guys – Hinds, Kaidan remembered – said as he elbowed Dean. “Another Shepard sighting.” He pointed at the vid screen above the bar.
Kaidan stiffened instantly. The pounding of the room seemed further away all of a sudden as he listened to the man continue.
“Looks like this one was at the Omega fueling station.”
“Don’t tell me you believe that crap,” Dean added. “It’s like that old-time singer – Elmo, or something.”
“Elvis,” Kaidan corrected absently. No one seemed to hear him.
“Whoa, shit, look,” Hinds pointed at the video screen. “They have footage this time.”
Curious, Kaidan looked. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help it.
She didn’t look at all like Shepard, he thought. She had buzz cut, for a start, which did not at all look like Shepard’s hair. He supposed it was better than the wigs that the fake ‘Shepards’ sometimes wore. Through the security cam, the woman’s face was too grainy to see clearly and her officer’s uniform – some style he didn’t recognize – was a little too loose to show anything other than the fact that she was tall and slim. Hair aside, he might have been in the ballpark for a Shepard look-alike, but really, it could have been anyone in that vid. Still, Kaidan thought, as he watched a little longer, the woman did move like Shepard – that same mix of athleticism and swagger that made her appear more Marine than lady, no matter what she was wearing. That was new. In most vids, they woman they had playing Shepard didn’t walk like a soldier at all.
“So what are they saying this time?” Korovnik asked.
“Cerberus I bet,” Hinds replied. “Yeah, see,” he waved at the vid as a scroll marquee ran the name and the symbol of the terrorist organization across the bottom of the screen. “Joined that Cerberus group and is working with them, now.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Lisa said, her low voice catching Kaidan completely off guard. “The woman saved the Council, which is a bunch of aliens. Cerberus is pro-human. She wouldn’t work with them.”
Kaidan blinked at the woman, feeling suddenly grateful that she would say what he could not. He avoided talking about Shepard at all, lest he say something carelessly inappropriate.
“Well then what do you call that?” Hinds said pointing at the screen. Kaidan turned to see what appeared to be a battle. A woman with a shaved head was crouched behind a crate in what looked like some sort of science lab. He didn’t recognize the place. He was starting to ignore the vid once more when the woman jumped out from behind cover and took down a mech with one shot to the head.
Kaidan’s eyebrows raised. That was… Well, that was by far the most accurate portrayal of Shepard he’d ever seen. That woman moved exactly like Shepard had. Her face looked similar, as well. In fact, he would almost have though the vid was some footage of Shepard herself, except that this woman was bald as a cultist and was wearing a contemporary style of armor that had only come out last year.
“See?” Hinds said, triumphantly, as the vid switched to a shot of an asari talking with a turian. The two seemed to be discussing Shepard’s career – once again. Kaidan did his best to tune it all out, but it was hard.
“That was a vid that a mole in Cerberus leaked to the press,” Hinds pronounced. “She’s working with them, now.”
“Man, you read too many conspiracy theory novels,” Korovnik told him.
“Enough with the Shepard stuff,” Dean said, looking at Kaidan nervously. Kaidan guessed that Dean had suddenly remembered who Kaidan’s commanding officer had been. Kaidan pasted on his best fake smile. He didn’t want anyone worrying about him – especially not tonight, when he was supposed to be acting…normal.
The curly haired girl smiled up at him. “If you’re done with your drink, Dean, you wanna come dance with me?” She asked the question lightly, but her face looked as hopeful as a puppy. Kaidan found himself chuckling at the sight of Dean blinking in delighted, but baffled surprise.
“Ah, I don’t…dance…” Dean began.
The brunette frowned. “Oh, okay.”
“Go dance,” Kaidan said, taking Dean’s drink out of the man’s hand.
“What?” Dean asked.
“Dance,” Kaidan told him. “There’s not enough time in life to worry about if you look stupid. Just go dance with the woman.”
Kaidan gave Dean a little shove. Katie took it from there. She pulled Dean onto the dance floor, where the two of them fell into some very awkward movements that looked…somewhat like dancing. Kaidan smiled at them in spite of himself.
“That was nice of you.”
Kaidan looked down in surprise. The dark-haired woman was looking up at him with a slight smile.
“Oh,” he shrugged. “Didn’t want the guy to make the same mistake…” He stopped himself. He didn’t need to be telling complete strangers his sad history.
She looked at him for a second and said, “You too, huh?”
“What?” he asked her.
“Okay, Dean, check this out…” Hinds turned around, then saw that Dean wasn’t there. “Where’d he go?” he asked Kaidan.
“Dancing,” Kaidan nodded to the floor.
“Oh,” Hinds said. “Okay, see, look man, check this out.” He gestured to the vid screen. Kaidan wanted to ignore him, but the guy seemed intent upon talking about his Shepard theories with someone. Kaidan wondered if he should try and endure it for few minutes or if he could just try and pretend he hadn’t heard.
“There,” Hinds said, pointing, “Okay, now that is what I’m talking about.”
Kaidan looked. He knew he wasn’t going to like it, but he looked. What he saw was a vid of Ashley Williams, of all things. She was walking alongside Shepard somewhere in the Wards. Kaidan vaguely remembered the time they had been on the Citadel all those years ago, running errands for the Council. In the vid, Ashley ducked close to Shepard to whisper something in the commander’s ear. Shepard smiled slightly, but only slightly. Kaidan knew that smile. She would have been laughing on the inside. Ashley, on the other hand, broke into a wide grin that made her face light up. The vid froze on the scene, which suddenly, Kaidan realized, made it look like something else was going on entirely.
“See,” Hind said, triumphantly waving to everyone nearby. “ That is what I always said. Shepard was into the ladies.”
“You wish, man,” Korovnik shook his head.
“Come on, man, Shepard liked…” Hinds finished with a completely vulgar turn of phrase that set Kaidan’s blood boiling.
“That there,” Hinds said, pointing at the screen where a still picture of Ashley now was shown behind the asari reporter’s head, “Was one of the women on Shepard’s crew. One of many, I might add.”
“Doesn’t mean Shepard wasn’t doing her, man,” Korovnik said.
“She was totally her girl-toy,” Hinds told him.
“She was not,” Kaidan said, the words spilling from his mouth in exasperation before he could think better of them.
Both men turned to stare at him.
“How do you know?” Hinds asked just as Korovnik said, “You a Shepard buff, too?”
Kaidan was caught between answering either or both of the questions at once – or just leaving. That still seemed like a good idea, too.
“I was on Shepard’s crew,” he said at last. “She was my CO.”
“Lucky you,” Korovnik said, clearly impressed.
“So then you know that she was into women, right?” Hinds pressed. “I heard there was this hot asari on her ship – your ship…”
Kaidan stared at the two men helplessly. On the one hand, he really wanted to set the record straight. But even suggesting that he knew that Shepard was into men might lead to questions about how he knew that. His quandary was solved, in a manner of speaking, however, by someone else.
“Shepard was into dudes.” The third guy, Shaw, looked up from his girlfriend’s cleavage and spoke in a flat, bored tone. “So was the other chick.”
“How do you know?” Hinds asked him.
“Had a buddy who knew her from Basic.”
Kaidan immediately stiffened. From Basic ?
Shaw looked at the picture of Shepard on the vid and gave a nasty smile before he went on. “Back then she wasn’t at all like the ice princess they make her out to be. My friend said she was completely crazy, I mean, like total headcase, but she was a total tomcat in the…”
Suddenly, Shaw went flying onto the floor. His asari girlfriend screamed and there was the sound of breaking glass as someone dropped their drink. Hinds and Korovnik turned to stare at Kaidan, who was now fully alight with biotic fire.
“Shit!” Shaw hissed, scrambling back.
“Kaidan, buddy!” Dean cried, running from the dance floor to jump in front of the sentinel. He raised his hands up, but didn’t dare touch Kaidan with all the energy flaring off of him.
“Get up,” Kaidan said, his voice just barely louder than the music. Other than the thudding bass, it had become curiously quiet in the room.
“Jesus, man,” Shaw said. “What do you care?”
“Commander Shepard was a hero,” Kaidan said, his voice low but intense. He turned and speared Hinds and Korovnik with his gaze. “Ashley Williams was a hero. They saved the galaxy, they saved all you jackasses, and you will not “ he flared suddenly, “talk about them that way.”
Dean licked his lips and glanced nervously over his shoulder at Shaw. “Apologize, man,” he said.
“No way,” the guy replied. “He’s crazy!”
“He’s a fucking biotic !” Dean snapped at him. “He’s a Marine and you just insulted his team. Just get the hell up and apologize.”
Shaw looked up at Kaidan warily. Kaidan glared back. He was so angry, so completely pissed off that he had almost hurt the guy when he’d tossed him on his ass.
And yet, even as Kaidan looked down Shaw, the fight went out of him. There was nothing to be gained now by defending Shepard’s honor, or Ashley’s for that matter. Both of them were gone, and when they’d died, they had apparently become pubic property for every asshole in the galaxy to speculate about.
Kaidan suddenly felt disgusted: both at the idiot still lying there on the floor before him, and at himself for having lost control in front of this crowd. Here he was, a ranking Alliance Marine, and he’d nearly started a fight in a bar over a woman who was two years dead.
Only she had been his woman. Not that anyone cared or knew.
Kaidan then caught the eye of the dark-haired doctor, Lisa. She was gazing at him with an expression of utter surprise.
Well, so much for a normal evening with friends, he thought, ruefully.
“Sorry Dean,” he muttered.
“Hey, man, I…”
But Kaidan didn’t bother to stick around and hear the rest. With biotic barriers dimmed, he turned and walked out of the bar.