“Hey,” Lisa said.
Kaidan looked up, surprised that she had sneaked up on him. He had been so distracted that he hadn’t even noticed the rather noisy approach of a woman in heels.
“Hey,” he replied.
She stood there, expectantly. For a moment, he wasn’t sure what she was waiting for, but then his manners kicked in. Of course…
Kaidan stood and went to pull the chair back for her. She sat down demurely, her little heels side by side as she sat with her knees pressed together. She made a small movement as Kaidan helped push her chair into place, then smiled up at him. He smiled back and returned to his own chair.
That was strange , he thought. His mother had taught him such niceties as a pre-teen, and certainly he’d practiced those manners since, just never…
Great , he thought, hiding a frown. Here he was, less than a minute into his first date in years, and already he was thinking about her again.
Of course, Kaidan had never actually been on a real date with Shepard. She probably wouldn’t have waited for him to pull back her chair anyway. Hell, she probably never had a guy hold open a door for her in her life, the way she always went striding out in front of any people she happened to walk with. Part of him wondered if he’d had the chance, if he would have done such silly, old-fashioned things like opening doors for her. She probably would have fought that kind of treatment tooth and nail. And he would have enjoyed fighting her right back. The idea of the battle of wills that might have followed such gestures was intriguing. It was also bittersweet. He wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to know how such a struggle might have ended.
Lisa cleared her throat and Kaidan looked up at her. She smiled at him expectantly, clearly waiting for him to say something. He attempted another smile and tried to put his thoughts of Shepard aside.
“You look nice,” he said, going for a vague and expected compliment. She smiled a little wider.
“Thanks,” she replied. “So do you.”
Kaidan doubted that. He was wearing his simple BDUs and he hadn’t been sleeping very well lately. But he nodded his head in acknowledgment of the intention all the same. Lisa fell silent. Kaidan fought the urge to grit his teeth. This was more awkward than he had expected. This woman seemed nice enough, but if this was going to be an effort to talk to her all night long…
Mercifully, an elcor waiter appeared just then, handing them datapads with the drinks menu. Kaidan tried not to blink at the high prices. He could afford it, he told himself. He hadn’t bought anything for himself in…well, years, really. Still, expensive dates were not a custom for him.
Lisa looked down the menu, then ordered something that Kaidan noticed was not the priciest thing on there, but was pretty close. He ordered a beer for himself. The waiter shuffled off. Kaidan hoped the guy – or maybe girl, it was hard to tell with the elcor – would not take long. Without a drink in hand, he felt strangely naked. He had no idea what to say. And Lisa was just sitting there, looking at him expectantly again.
“So, you’re a doctor,” he said. Nice , he thought. Always with the insightful comment, Alenko.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“How long have you been practicing?” he asked.
“Only eighteen months,” she replied. “Just finished up my degree last year.”
“Oh,” he said. “So before that you were at University?”
“No, high school,” she said. “I did an accelerated program.”
“High school?” Kaidan blinked. “Just how old are you, exactly?” He kicked himself for the insensitive question the moment it left his lips.
“I’m twenty-three,” she replied.
Twenty-three? Kaidan fought the urge to gape at her. She was twelve years younger than he was. He suddenly felt like an old man. Perhaps a dirty old man. She looked much older than that, but still…
“You must have done well in school to have finished so young,” he said, fighting for something that would not come across as offensive – or shocked.
She shrugged. “I guess so.”
There was an awkward pause.
“So, you’re doing your residency here?” Kaidan asked.
“Yeah,” she made a slight face.
“You don’t like the Citadel?” he asked.
“It’s a lot of aliens,” she replied. “Hard to keep up on all the different races and their reactions to medicine. I’d rather just go back and work on Earth. More stable, better pay.”
“Oh,” he said. As someone who traveled all over the galaxy for a living and rubbed elbows with aliens all the time, Kaidan found the idea of working at a wealthy Earth clinic incredibly – dull.
“So what about you?” she asked him.
“I’m between assignments,” he said. “I actually…ah…” he hesitated for a moment. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Oh,” she said, her voice neutral. “Really?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Change of plans, apparently. But I did want to take you up on the offer for a drink.”
“Oh,” she said, frowning. “Okay.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Not that…” Kaidan began again, realizing how she might have misread his words, “I intended…anything, exactly.” He tried to collect his thoughts and not sound like a complete idiot or a complete lecher. “I appreciated the invitation. I mean, I can’t stay out late,”
Okay, he thought, that sounded pretty silly, but it ought to make it clear he wasn’t expecting anything from her…
”…because I have to get ready to go in the morning, but I thought drinks sounded good.”
He attempted a smile meant to convey what he was clearly not saying very well. It seemed to work, because she smiled weakly back.
“Okay,” she said. “I…really wasn’t expecting… I just,” she shrugged. “Katie wants me to get out more. And you seemed…nice.”
Nice. Kaidan winced internally. Not that nice was bad , but considering that he could kill a person with a brain impulse and a flick of the wrist, he’d never quite seen the word as applying to him, exactly.
“So, um,” she went on, looking up at him with her huge green eyes, “Where are you going? In the morning, I mean.”
“It’s classified,” he said. He gave her a weak smile. “Just about everything I do is classified.”
“That’s…interesting,” she said. Her tone of voice implied that she didn’t really find it interesting but felt she ought to.
Kaidan nodded. He didn’t know what else to do. This was clearly going to be the longest night of his life.
He looked over her shoulder to see a band of asari and one turian setting up their instruments on the bar’s small stage. He nodded to them. Lisa saw his gesture and turned to look over her shoulder.
“Have you heard this band?” he asked her, grateful to find something to talk about. “I heard them once out in the traverse over extranet radio. It’s a kind of…I guess it’s sort of a take on Earth-blues and asari justicaar chants. With a little turian electronica mixed in. It’s different, but I like it.”
She nodded at the band, then turned back to face him. “I see.”
“That’s why I suggested this place,” he added, feeling like he should explain for some reason. “I heard they were playing here and I thought you might like the live music.”
As he spoke, the band began to tune their various instruments. Kaidan watched in interest. He had recognized some of the instruments over the radio: electric guitar, electric bass, drum set, but several sounds he had not been able to place. Now that he saw the instruments in person, he realized why. He wasn’t even quite sure how someone played some of those things.
“You into this kind of music?” Lisa asked.
Kaidan shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, I like a lot of different styles. I can’t play at all,” he added sheepishly, “and I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I admire people who can.”
He suddenly remembered Shepard’s voice – a clear, pure tone that had wrapped itself right around some inner part of him. He had only heard her sing a few times, but when she had…
Kaidan shoved the memory aside and forced himself back to the present.
“Can’t carry a tune in a bucket?” Lisa was saying. “I’ve never heard that one before.”
“That’s…funny,” she said. And she smiled. Kaidan smiled back. Alright, he thought, watching her eyes light up, maybe this evening wouldn’t be so difficult after all.
“So, what kind of music do you like?” he asked.
She considered that. “I don’t really like music,” she replied.
Okaaay, and maybe it would be a difficult evening. Kaidan forced himself not to let his jaw drop open.
“You don’t… How do you… not like music?” he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral.
She shrugged. “I like silence,” she replied. “There’s too much noise in the Wards as it is.”
“Yeah,” he said as the band began to introduce themselves, “but noise isn’t the same thing as music.”
“Isn’t it?” she asked. The band began their first song and she looked back over her shoulder and shrugged. “I mean, I know people like it and all, but it just doesn’t do much for me.”
Kaidan opened his mouth, then closed it. Well, he thought, that was…different. He supposed it was unfair to judge someone for not liking music. Personal tastes and all that. But still, not to like jazz – that showed someone lacked style; not to like classic rock – that showed someone lacked sexuality; not to like blues – that showed someone lacked soul; but not to like music at all ? It was like saying you weren’t…human.
Kaidan didn’t speak as the elcor waiter returned and carefully set their drinks on the table. Lisa took a sip of her vibrantly orange drink, then set it down and said, “So, you were here for the Battle of the Citadel?”
Kaidan looked up at her. He hadn’t even taken a sip of his beer and already they were to a conversation he dreaded.
“Yeah,” he replied. He supposed there was no getting out of this one.
“Did you see the…worst of it?” she asked.
Kaidan remembered back: the skeletal form that had been Saren, now infused somehow with the presence of Sovereign. They had been trapped in a tiny space, his and Shepard’s biotics snapping out as quickly as they could manage it, Garrus shooting round after round from his assault rifle into the creature’s body. Even so, it had taken fifteen minutes of brutal fighting to kill the thing. He was amazed they had survived at all.
“I was with the team that took down Saren,” he said at last.
“And you saw the Reaper?” she asked.
Kaidan blinked at her. “You know about the Reaper?” he asked, surprised. So few people knew what had really happened, much less believed it. It seemed that every time he returned to the Citadel, it had become even more of a legend than before.
“One of it’s…tentacles, I guess, smashed into my apartment complex,” she explained. “I was up late studying for my finals and I had gone out to get some groceries. I came back to find half of my block gone.”
“My God,” he muttered.
“Yeah,” she said. She sighed, then looked up at him with her wide, elvin eyes. “My fiancée was on the SSV Shanxi.”
“You…” Kaidan broke off, sudden sympathy and understanding flooding him. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “So I know… I know what it was, even if everyone else wants to pretend differently.” She made a face, then met his eye. “And I know what you went through when you lost…her.”
Kaidan suddenly found his heart pounding in his chest. Lost her? Had he been so obvious the other night? Had all his years of caution about his relationship with Shepard been undone by his stupid reaction to a couple of news vids and the dumbass comments of a couple of drunks?
“You…do?” he asked, weakly.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I mean, it must have been really hard to have lost her, and then to have to continue to fight, knowing that killing the Reaper wouldn’t bring her back.”
“And to follow the woman who allowed her to die,” Lisa shook her head. “I heard about Virmire. I mean, I know Shepard saved the day, but I don’t think I could follow someone that cold. I don’t know how you Marines do it.”
“You…” Kaidan sputtered. “You think…?”
“Ashley was her name, right? I remember seeing her on the vids. She was pretty.”
“She was,” Kaidan said absently. So that was what she thought? She thought that he had been in love with Ashley ? He thought back to the day before, trying to see how that misunderstanding might have happened. He found himself torn between wanting to deny it and the realization that it served as a perfect cover for the truth. After all, the truth was far more damning.
“You know,” he said at last, “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“I can see that,” Lisa said, her eyes wide with sympathy. “I didn’t want to talk about Brian at all for the longest time. Some days, I still don’t. Katie worries about me…”
She watched Kaidan for a moment longer, then added, “But I know what you’re going through.”
I doubt that, Kaidan thought. But it was kind of her to be sympathetic all the same. This was certainly a pleasant change from trying to pretend that everything was fine.
“Should we order dinner?” she asked, hopefully.
Kaidan thought about it. This woman didn’t like music, she wanted to move back to Earth, and she was over ten years younger than he. She thought he was getting over Ashley, she was clearly trying to get over her fiancee, and he was leaving first thing in the morning. Obviously, Kaidan thought, this wasn’t going anywhere.
But then again, he thought, maybe it didn’t need to go anywhere. Maybe he could just talk to this girl and the two of them could have, well, if not a pleasant evening, at least an evening that wasn’t the same old lonely whatever. He certainly didn’t have anything better to do and he was hungry. And it seemed like they had gotten past the most awkward part of the date. If nothing else, this would be good practice at acting normal. God knew he needed as much practice at that as possible.
“Sure,” Kaidan said with a shrug, turning to look for their waiter. “Let’s have dinner.”