“Shepard, you know I can’t stay tonight.”
Shepard looked up at Kaidan, her hair tangled about her face, her lips red and swollen. Kaidan told his arms to let go of her, to push him out of this bed so that he could get back to his station now before anyone noticed that he was missing. His arms didn’t want to listen, and neither did the rest of his body. Instead, all of his muscles and nerves and everything in him was responding to the way that Shepard was looking at him right now, like she never wanted to let him go.
“I came here to talk about the last assignment,” he told her, still not pulling away.
“Really?” she asked, her lips curving into a smile. “Is that why you started kissing me the moment you walked through the door?”
“You kissed me first,” Kaidan said, raising an eyebrow.
“I forget the details,” she said, shrugging one shoulder.
“Shepard, you don’t forget much of anything,” Kaidan told her.
“Alright, I kissed you first,” she agreed. “You didn’t seem to mind.”
“I didn’t,” he said. “But we can’t…” He looked down at where their still-clothed bodies were twined together, their legs tangled in the sheets.
“You know we can’t,” he said, sadly.
“Okay,” she said. Her smile made her chin pull forward slightly, and Kaidan recognized the expression at once. She was upset, but felt she shouldn’t be, so she was trying to hide it. Funny how he had come to read her so well, he thought.
“Did you want to leave or did you want to talk?” Shepard asked. She pulled back from him and Kaidan sat back on the bed to let her up. She gathered herself against the headboard, legs bent, elbows on knees. She ran a hand through her hair and raised her eyebrows expectantly.
“I…” Kaidan sighed. “I’d rather do what we were doing, but…”
“I hear you,” she said letting her hand drop. “I would, too. I prefer time with you to, well, anything, really.”
Kaidan smiled to hear that.
“Alright,” she said, “So what did you want to talk about?”
Kaidan frowned as he remembered his purpose in coming here.
“I wanted to ask you about that empty colony,” he said. He watched as her expression fell to match his own: grim, worried, and frustrated.
“Oh,” she said, simply.
“What happened there, Shepard?” he pressed. “I thought we were going to look for the geth, but to find that . Can you make any sense of it?”
“None,” she said. She motioned to the computer on her desk. “I’ve been researching pirate attacks, slaver attacks, everything I could get my hands on. No one leaves a colony that empty – that clean. No one except…”
“Except who?” Kaidan asked, seeing her eyes turn suddenly thoughtful.
“No,” she murmured, “It couldn’t be. Not without us knowing it.” She shook her head.
“What couldn’t be?”
“Well,” she said, frowning. “It’s just that there is one other race of aliens who wiped people out without a trace. Wiped out an ancient race, to be precise…”
“Ancient race?” Kaidan repeated. “You mean the Protheans? You think - you think the Reapers did that?”
“No,” Shepard shook her head. “The attack on Eden Prime was totally different.”
“But Eden Prime was an attack with an objective,” Kaidan reminded her. “Sovereign wanted Saren to find and use the beacon. The Prothean attacks were…”
“Yeah, what were they?” Shepard asked when he trailed off. “We still have no idea what the Reapers were after then or what they want now.”
“Except that they want to destroy us all,” Kaidan replied.
“There must be something more to it,” Shepard said. “I don’t buy that their ‘ways are unknowable.’ That mystic machine-god crap really pissed me off.”
Kaidan chuckled. Leave it to Shepard to get angry when some being out of a nightmare told her that the annihilation of the galaxy was imminent. As for Kaidan, he found the entire thing more chilling than anything.
“It’s hard to believe,” he said, “what Sovereign told us – what Vigil told us. I almost wish I didn’t know.”
“Yeah,” Shepard agreed. “I would happily dismiss the whole thing, except for the visions I still have banging around in my head.”
Kaidan studied her face. Shepard didn’t say much about those visions and the dreams they brought, but he was sure they were still plaguing her. Before he could ask about them, however, Shepard went on:
“It’s probably not a Reaper, though,” she said. “The Reapers are still in dark space. But maybe… I don’t know. It’s just that the Prothean extinction is the only thing that comes close to people just…vanishing. Slaver attacks are bloody and brutal – not clean and clinical.” She shook her head. “It makes no sense.”
Kaidan watched Shepard’s profile, wondering if perhaps she was thinking of her own family. He had never asked what happened to them. Though he was curious, he didn’t want to pry. Still, Shepard looked troubled, so he couldn’t help but offer…something.
“If you need me for anything, Shepard,” he said, softly, “You know where to find me.”
“I do,” she said, raising her eyes to his. “Only what I need right now, you won’t give.”
Kaidan frowned. “Shepard, that’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” she said, her mouth twisting in a wry grimace. “I’m sorry. That’s unfair. I know that you…” She sighed. “I know.”
“I should go,” he said, standing.
“Right,” she said. She cast him a regretful glance. “I do try to control myself, Kaidan.”
“Commander,” he said with a curt nod.
“Commander?” she winced. “It’s ‘commander’ again? Before you even leave my quarters?”
“It should be ‘commander’ all the time,” he reminded her. “I probably shouldn’t even have come in here.”
“Then why did you?” she asked, her voice growing heated. “You could have asked me about slaver attacks in the morning – or over dinner. Why did you come here tonight if not for…?”
She broke off and waved a hand at the rumpled bed. Kaidan know how to answer that. Shepard saw his hesitation and frowned.
“Look, Kaidan,” she said, “I know sometimes things are awkward between us, but I - I want you to know that I’m trying to get this right.”
“I know,” he told her. “And I am, too. It’s just that when we’ve been apart for a while, I have a hard time… I mean, we were groundside together today, but…” He broke off meaningfully.
“Yeah,” she said, “Whenever we’re together, it seems like it takes us a while to figure out if we’re supposed to be officers or friends or if I should just tackle you to the ground and tear all of your clothes off.”
“Don’t say things like that, Shepard,” Kaidan said, closing his eyes and chuckling. “Not when I have to go out to the crew deck in a minute. Someone’s going to notice…” He glanced down and then looked back up at her.
“I could help you with that,” she told him with a sultry look.
“I…can’t,” he said, frowning. She held his gaze for a moment, then looked away.
“Alright,” she said. “Then I guess I’ll see you later, Kaidan.”
Kaidan paused for a moment, wanting to say something, but he couldn’t think of anything that he had not already said. With a frown, he turned to go. Behind him, Kaidan heard Shepard sigh heavily. He looked over his shoulder to see she had leaned her head back against the wall and was now staring up at the ceiling.
“Commander?” he said, softly.
“Yes?” she asked, not moving.
“I’m trying to get this right, too.”
She lowered her head to look at him, but her weak smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“You don’t have to go, Kaidan,” she said.
“Yes, I do.”
“Kaidan…” she began.
But she didn’t know how to finish that sentence, so she fell silent, just looking at him.
Kaidan gazed at Shepard one last time, then turned and left, before he gave into temptation and stayed.