Flashback: Visualization

Part 3, Chapter 71 of Valkyrie


Dear Kaidan,

I don’t know what you meant when you asked me if I even remember the night before Ilos. I haven’t been zombiefied, you know. I do happen to remember my first time with you - my first real time ever, come to that. A girl isn’t likely to forget a moment of bliss stolen right before a coming storm.

I picture it all the time, really. I picture you, too, but your expression gets harder to visualize each day. I hardly know how you’d look at me, anymore. Your scowl on Horizon clouds all my imaginings.

(Normandy SR1, one day after rescuing Liara from the Therum dig site)

Kaidan watched Shepard in fascination, completely unaware that he had come to a stop right in the middle of the cargo bay. If he’d bothered to register his surroundings, he would have realized that Chief Williams was not here to answer his question about upgrades, nor could he consult Wrex, as the krogan was nowhere to be seen. Garrus had disappeared from his station by the Mako and only the requisitions officer was nearby, busily unpacking a crate of supplies.

That left Kaidan free to stare at Shepard, transfixed by his curiosity as much as he was by the grace of her movements.

She was walking backwards though the empty space from Ashley’s station to the Mako. As she walked, she slowly, very slowly, pushed one arm before her as if pressing away a great weight, and simultaneously raised her other hand behind her, as if warding off an approaching intruder. Her head slowly, peacefully looked to her back, to her front, then back again as her arms moved in opposite directions. Her feet found their way across the uneven floor though she didn’t look down. All the while, her entire body glowed with biotic energy so bright that she looked like she was slowly doing the backstroke through an electric storm. Or perhaps, Kaidan thought, as she reached the end of the deck and slowly raised both hands to an elaborate bow and came to rest at last, it was as if she was burning at the center of a star.

“Did you need something, lieutenant?”

Kaidan started as Shepard’s low voice cut through the hum that deadened sound in the cargo bay. She turned her head to look at him, shimmers of biotic energy still dancing around her face. Kaidan swallowed hard.

“Ah, no ma’am,” he replied, wondering why his throat seemed so dry whenever he spoke to her. “Just looking for Chief Williams. About the guns.”

His thoughts grew unfocused as Shepard picked up a towel from a nearby crate, wiped her neck with it, and crossed to him. As her biotics faded, Kaidan realized that under that blue glow, she had stripped off her shirt and was only wearing cargo pants and a sports bra. The sight made his heart start to race. He hastily raised his eyes on her face and willed himself not to look down.

“We’re lucky our armor held up so well on Therum,” Shepard said, her tone grim. “But I’ve taken care of it. I just ordered in some new weapons.” She nodded to the requisitions officer and his haul. “There’s a Master HMWA in there somewhere with your name on it, and a new amp.” She finished wiping her neck and threw her towel over her shoulder.

“That’s…” Kaidan just stopped himself from asking if they could afford that. Hadn’t she said just a few weeks ago that the council wasn’t giving them any gear or money for their mission?

“It wasn’t free,” she said, as if guessing his thoughts. “But we managed to stumble our way into some bounties recently, if you remember.”

“Oh,” Kaidan nodded. “Right.”

“You may want to test out the new amps,” Shepard went on, as she brushed her fingers over the back of her neck. “They take a little getting used to.”

“Right,” Kaidan said, stiffly. He again willed himself not to look away from her eyes to any other part of her body.

Shepard fought the urge to shift impatiently on her feet as Kaidan just looked at her. She dropped her hand before she actually started playing with her hair, as she used to do in high school. The lieutenant was so difficult to read, she thought. There were times she would swear she saw interest in his eyes, but other times, she wasn’t so sure. If he had shown interest, she knew what she ought to do: she would stiffen her spine, look at the man coolly, and push him away with an icy set-down. That was what commanding officers were supposed to do. It was the way she’d always dealt with such presumption in the past.

But if the lieutenant had such thoughts, he certainly hid them well. He’d expressed an intention of asking her out back before she’d become a Spectre - sort of. Shepard couldn’t really be sure what to make of that slight flirtation back then. Since that time, he had retreated to a more polite distance. She now wondered if his initial interest was real, imagined, or if it was real and yet the he had thought better of it. If he was just being friendly, then it would be awkward to force the issue. So instead, this past month, Shepard had wavered between certainty that the lieutenant was still interested in her, and an equal certainty that he had no such intentions.

Unfortunately, that meant she was thinking about him far more often than she ought to.

And that, right there, was the problem, Shepard thought. She was clearly the one in heat here, not Alenko. She had tried to deny her attraction to the man, but it wasn’t working. Far from it, the times that she had fought beside him just made her respect him all the more. The times that they had worked through mission reports, either in the comm room of over a cup of coffee in the mess, had made her enjoy his company in a friendly, easy sort of way.

But then there were moments like this, where she stumbled on him unexpectedly and all this sexual tension just rolled up out of nowhere. Unfortunately, a part of her liked these moments – even looked forward to them – just as she knew how dangerous they could be. Alenko was something of a mystery to her, and she often found herself wondering what kind of man he was – and what kind of lover he’d be. Would he be relaxed and friendly as he was when they were talking, or would he be intense and focused, as he was when fighting? Or would he be both, all in one night?

Shepard stiffened and frowned. She did not need to be thinking this way, especially not since her wolfish desires were likely written all over her face. She fought the urge to wrap her towel around her sweaty waist with its nasty shrapnel scars and dash off for the elevator. Instead, she stood her ground and assumed a warrior’s expression.

Kaidan sensed the shift in Shepard’s mood, and swallowed. A moment ago, she’d been looking at him in a speculative way that made his pulse kick up a notch, but now she looked as if she was trying to find an excuse to brush past him and head for the elevator.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” Kaidan said to fill the strained silence. “I know how annoying it is to be bothered when you’re looking for time alone on a cramped ship.”

Shepard’s hardness seemed to melt a little and one brow quirked up. “True enough. Did you need some time alone, Alenko?”

With you? Yes, a small voice inside his head seemed to say.

“No!” Kaidan said hastily. Shepard’s eyebrow shot up in truth this time. “No,” he said again, his voice a little quieter. “I was just came down here to deal with my gun before it became a problem.”

A double meaning to that sentence suddenly popped into Kaidan’s mind and he mentally kicked himself.

“It’s been misfiring,” he went on, then realized that was even worse. He was glad the lights in the cargo bay were so low, or Shepard would surely see a grown man blush just now. Kaidan dropped his eyes to the floor, and wished he hadn’t. Shepard was barefoot, and somehow that was more arousing to him than her slim, bare waist. Clearly, he was losing his mind.

“That’s why I ordered the new gear,” Shepard told him. If she had caught his unease, she didn’t seem to show it. “Still, you may want to do a round of practice with the amps. They really pack a punch. But then, with the L2 system, you might not find it too much of a change.”

Kaidan nodded. Out of habit, he analyzed her comment for any implied insult about his implants, but he found none. Yet again, he thought, Shepard seemed the only person in the Alliance who didn’t think of them as a liability.

“I should probably test them out all the same,” Kaidan told her, his voice feeling thick in his throat.

“That’s what I was doing just now,” Shepard said, nodding back at the empty space behind her. “They do flare more than most, but they channel power well. Asari make, you know.”

“I’ve never seen biotics used like that before,” Kaidan said, grateful for a less innuendo-laden topic than guns. “Is that some exercise they used in your training?”

Shepard nodded. “Yeah. By the time I hit advanced training, they had an asari contractor working for the Biotics Division. That was part of her routine. I guess we have you to thank for that.”

“What?” Kaidan asked, confused.

“Didn’t you say you had a tough turian for a trainer?” Shepard said. “They moved on to the asari by the time my class went through – and humans trainers, also, but she was clearly the one they learned their tricks from.”

Kaidan just nodded. He hadn’t told Shepard about even half of his hellish training, and he didn’t plan to. It was something he didn’t like to think about most days, and he hated to think of how she’d react if she knew the details.

“She taught you that walking thing?” Kaidan asked, as much to carry on the conversation as to turn away from questions about himself.

“Sort of,” Shepard replied. “It’s actually a tai chi exercise. Matron Tessina was very taken with human philosophies – eastern traditions, mostly. She had this theory that humans had an affinity for dark energy all along, and that was what the ancients called “chi.” She was convinced that the Shaolin monks were weak biotics without even knowing it.”

“That’s an interesting thought,” Kaidan mused.

“Well, her theory isn’t too popular,” Shepard made a sound almost like a chuckle. “I suppose that’s why the Alliance was able to get her help – she didn’t have many followers among the asari. She thought that the turians and salarians were poor biotics because they weren’t ‘spiritual’ enough – while the drell and the hanar had a ‘sense of the divine’ necessary for true biotic greatness. Humans have a lot of religious traditions, so she thought we also have great biotic potential.”

Kaidan made a face. “I don’t know about that. I know some very irreligious people that could tear your head off with biotics.”

Shepard laughed, her face lighting up with a rare smile. “So do I,” she agreed. “The other trainers tended to shuffle her away from the new recruits. She was a little…zealous, to say the least. But did have at least one good point: whether you believe in chi or universal oneness or the Divine or whatever, visualization is a useful tool.”

“Well, that’s true, I guess. It takes a lot of discipline to visualize and land your biotics precisely.”

“Exactly,” Shepard nodded. “I didn’t spend much time with her – still had to figure out a lot of my tricks on my own. But that visualization thing sure helped me a lot.”

“I can see that,” Kaidan said, thinking of all the times Shepard’s biotics had saved the team. His gaze dipped a little, and at the same time, Shepard shivered.

“I should go,” she said, wrapping an arm around her waist. “It’s getting chilly here.”

“Right. I’d better…try out my amp,” Kaidan said, fumbling for the first thing he could think of.

“Right,” Shepard nodded. “I’ll see you later, lieutenant.”

“Ma’am,” Kaidan said, nodding.

As she stepped by him, Kaidan suddenly reached out and his fingers brushed her elbow. He didn’t even realize what he’d done until the heat of her skin registered in his brain – about the same time she turned to him with surprise.

“Ah, sorry,” he said, dropping his hand at once. “I just wanted to ask you…” His mind stumbled for something to say. “That is, I’d like to try some of the things you know. Biotics, that is. What you were talking about. I mean, I’m no monk – er, religious, ah…” He coughed, gathered his thoughts, and tried again. “I’m always glad to learn something new. And you know more than anyone I’ve met in a long while.”

There was a long pause in which Kaidan seriously wished he’d kept his mouth shut and his hands to himself. Then Shepard’s neutral expression softened a little and she nodded.

“Alright,” she said. Her voice was low and breathless, a tone Kaidan had never heard from her before. But then she ruined it by clearing her throat and adding:

“I imagine Dr. T’soni and Wrex might have something to teach us as well. We have a long trip to the next system. Let’s schedule a little biotic show-and-tell for tomorrow. Oh-one-hundred hours sound good?”

Kaidan tried not to feel disappointment and failed. So he tried simply not to show it. “Sounds good,” he said. “I’ll, uh, try out the new amp before then.”

Shepard just nodded to him and turned to the elevator. She didn’t trust herself to say anything more. Already she had talked to the lieutenant for far longer than was needed, and that meant she’d talked to him far longer than was appropriate. She could tell herself she was being friendly, but that was a lie and she knew it.

Shepard punched the button, then leaned against the cool wall as the door slid shut. Instead of the usual sense of peace after a workout, she felt hot and aching in places that were definitely not biotically related. She knew damn well what the cause was. The idea of practicing with the lieutenant had her imagining all sorts of physical scenarios. Her mind was veering into decidedly un professional territory and she was fighting to keep herself from following those thoughts.

That was why she’d acted so stupid at the end of their conversation, of course. Her mother would have called it rude to invite other people when someone had asked for a private lesson, but Shepard had panicked. She squeezed her eyes shut in shame. The hero of Elysium had actually panicked at the idea of being in that small space with Alenko, practicing biotics until they were both sweaty and breathing hard…

Shepard shook her head and pulled her mind back from the brink once more. It was rude, but it was for the best, she told herself. Anyone could walk into the cargo bay. Wrex and Garrus and Ashley were at dinner now, but they’d be back. They practically lived down there. And if word got out that the commander and the lieutenant had a fireworks show going on in the hold – not that kind of fireworks, she told herself, dragging her mind back to business once again – then they’d likely have the whole crew for an audience in no time flat. She’d done the right thing in suggesting a group lesson.

But if that was so, Shepard thought as the door finally slid open, then why did she feel so disappointed? And had she been imagining things, or had the lieutenant looked a little insulted? She considered explaining herself the next time she saw him, but then she thought better of that. After all, what could she possibly say?

I’m sorry, Alenko. But I’ve seen you twice with your shirt off and countless times flaring with biotic energy. Put the two together with physical exercise and I think we’d give the crew a show that would end both our careers.

Shepard shoved away from the wall with a scowl. Enough of this, she told herself. Clearly, she had been cooped up too long in this ship. A lead about Saren should redirect her thoughts to where they needed to go. And kicking that rogue Spectre’s lying ass from one end of the galaxy to the other ought to relieve this tension. She just needed to finish the mission. That was all.

Shepard firmly lied to herself all the way back to her cabin and settled in for a very cold shower.

  • Months later *

Kaidan stared at the ceiling, one hand on his stomach, the other idling stoking Shepard’s hair from her face. She had soft hair, he thought lazily. She had soft skin, too, and soft lips and a whole lot of soft going on under than armor. Of course, she had been using her muscles for a different purpose than fighting just now, he thought with a smile. His smile faded as he realized he was grateful she had that harder side to her as well. In a few hours, they were going to need it.

Kaidan swallowed against the lump in his throat. This ceiling was new to him, lined with blue track lights that obscured as much as they showed. This was a strange kind of peace, he thought, to rest here for just another hour or two. Right now, he had exactly what he wanted, but this moment was going to end soon enough.

The future was flying at them faster than the speed of light and he couldn’t imagine what that future was going to be like. He knew that when the battle started he’d be able to focus in, instinct would take over and he and Shepard would fight as they had always done – with raw power tempered by intense focus.

Damn, Kaidan thought, a wry smile curling his lips. Given their mutual biotic abilities, it was no wonder that this night had been so good.

Kaidan drew in a deep breath and let his arm drop to Shepard’s shoulder, drawing her closer to him. She sighed in sleep and her arms tightened around his waist. Kaidan continued to smile in spite of every warring thought within him, in spite of how blank the future looked to him just now.

He couldn’t picture what it would be like to finally take down Saren, to finally finish this – and then, to take on after the real threat of the Reapers. How could he picture that? He couldn’t even picture an hour from now, when he’d have to get up and find his pants somewhere in the tangle of clothes on the floor. Frankly, he didn’t want to think that far ahead.

So instead, Kaidan closed his eyes. He took the picture of this moment in his mind, and turned it over from one angle to the other to memorize it. He pictured the exact color of Shepard’s hair under these lights, the glow of her skin and the curve of her hip where it met with the bedsheets. He pictured her hand on his chest, the pale, slim fingers and her short, slightly ragged nails. He’d never realized until now that Shepard bit her fingernails. Somehow, the idea of the commander having a nervous habit like that made him smile all the more.

He tried to memorize the moment from the inside, too: he felt her breath on his skin and listened to the slight hum of the engines. He held onto the deep sense of peace he felt just now and held it, wondering when, if ever, he’d felt quite this way, and if he’d be lucky enough to ever feel like this again.

This is what he’d visualize in the battles to come, Kaidan decided. He’d hold this moment in his mind, all through the smoke and bullets that were sure to come. He would picture this as his goal, as his target. And if there was anything to those biotic techniques that Shepard had been teaching him, he might be lucky enough to find himself back in her bed again, someday.

Kaidan smiled at the thought and let himself drift off to sleep.