“It wasn’t just one date.”
It’s the only thing he’s said in the past hour, but Shepard doesn’t turn to face Kaidan. “What was?”
Damn if she was going to make this easy. Blowing air out through his nose, he re-gathers his resolve and tries again. “We met up for drinks, that one time.” His eyes drop to the floor. “And again for dinner not too long ago.”
“Who?” She sounds far, far away from this conversation, and he needs her to come back.
“The Citadel doctor. Casey,” he adds, in order to humanize the woman for reasons he hasn’t quite yet grasped. “The one I mentioned in my letter after…Horizon.”
The ensuing silence is expected and unexpected. Kaidan had imagined this scenario playing out differently. First, it wouldn’t have taken place on the Normandy’s observation lounge where anyone could walk in at any moment. Second, it wouldn’t have taken place right after a standoff at the top of the Presidium that ended in a dead councilor. Third, it would have taken place before the Reapers had decided to show up, but beggars can’t be choosers because at this point, he’s no longer sure how many chances he’ll get to catch Shepard by herself.
One second, then several, and finally she looks at him with circles under her eyes. “What happened?”
Kaidan blames the state of the galaxy for the state of his evening.
Casey’s flushed with her hair down, and he has her by the shoulders, each one leading the other to the taxicab step by stumbling step. When they cram themselves in there and take off, he tilts his head back on the seat with an aimless sort of smile because getting tipsy wasn’t on his list of Things That Would Happen After One Steak Sandwich and Several Bottles of Batarian Shard Wine in addition to having the good doctor join him in insobriety as well.
“Where to?” he abruptly asks, just now remembering that they can’t stay here for the rest of the night-cycle no matter how cushy the seats are.
She gives an exaggerated shrug. “If I recall correctly, my apartment’s closer.”
“That’s where we’re going then,” Kaidan decides with a certainty that he has never shown sober.
“Ever the gentleman,” Casey says, “You even paid for dinner tonight.”
“You covered my drinks last time,” he points out, but finds that his finger is gestured to the ceiling.
She grins. “I’m surprised you remember. How long ago was that? A year?”
“Nine months, so yeah, almost.”
Casey doesn’t comment on the fact that he counted. “Why the sudden invitation anyway?”
“I needed someone to celebrate my newly minted Spectre status with.”
With a snort, she notes, “And I’m the first person you thought of?”
“What can I say? I’ve been feeling nostalgic.” What Kaidan doesn’t tell her is that he was thisclose to asking Shepard the very same day, but knows that she would have pursed her lips in that special way of hers and gently, but firmly, turn him down. That, and he wouldn’t have proposed the offer regardless. The rational part of his mind refuses to call this dinner anything other than a casual, platonic offer to reconnect with someone who isn’t Shepard.
“I see,” the doctor says carefully and leaves it at that.
“Dinner,” he tells her. “I had dinner with her at a nice little place in the Presidium, and we drank more than we should have.”
“Oh,” she offers noncommittally, those grey eyes still distant, and Kaidan has to suppress a frustrated grunt from both the lack of response on Shepard’s part and his own puzzling reaction. What does he expect to get out of this anyway? Does he want yelling? Tears? What? His commander isn’t one for dramatics, but the only thing he’s sure of is that he can’t bear for her to walk away at this crucial juncture, not when this is the first honest exchange he’s had with her in—God, he can’t even remember.
When she says nothing more, he trudges on with the sordid tale. “We took a cab together. I had to help her back to the apartment.” Taking nice, even breaths, he drops, “Hers.”
That did it. Kaidan has Shepard’s full attention now as she completely faces him, her left shoulder pressed against the window. Head-on, her eyebrows furrow into a single, uniform line of intimidation, but no one has ever said confessing is easy. “And?”
He can do this. And begins again, “Then…”
From what he knows about Casey (and it’s far less than some might assume), she takes her job as a doctor seriously, but manages to maintain a home life that results in her apartment looking lived-in—and amusingly messy. There are multi-colored datapads scattered across a desk shoved to one corner, plates stacked on an otherwise clean countertop, and long, bare-backed dresses thrown over the arm of an elegant couch. These are just the details Kaidan spots on first sight, but he has no time to catalogue them because the woman draped on his shoulders is laughing into the curve of his neck, breath hot and damp on his skin.
“Christ, my apartment,” she wheezes, “sorry you have to see this.”
Softly shushing her, Kaidan shakes his head. “S’fine, really. The place looks homey.” He sidesteps a stray shirtsleeve poking out from underneath the table leg. “I like it.”
“Shut up, you hate it, and so do I,” Casey replies so blithely that he winds up laughing too. “I’ll do some cleaning after you leave.”
“Let’s get you to a bed first,” he suggests, to which the doctor hums in agreement and the subsequent vibration Kaidan steadfastly ignores.
Naturally, her personal quarters lie in the same state of affairs as the rest of the apartment. He can’t help but stare in wonder, silently comparing Casey’s situation to Shepard’s own room, and how spare and orderly the other woman keeps her things and by extension, her life. Kept. Still keeps?
She waves her hand in front of his face. “You okay?”
He blinks slowly, pushing Shepard away. “Yeah.”
Casey grabs his shoulders to look at him. A beat. Like flicking a switch, her gaze suddenly becomes shuttered and half-lidded. “No you’re not.”
He tries not to squirm. Since when has he become this easy to read? The part of Kaidan that’s still drunk urges him to drop the pretenses for once because honestly, with the way this war is raging, what are the chances that he will ever see her again after tonight? Can there be at least one other person besides Sh—her he allows inside? Hasn’t he had enough of holding everyone at a distance?
“No I’m not,” he sighs and feels the weight rising from his chest.
Nodding wordlessly, Casey the Citadel doctor leans against him, hands cupping his face. “It’s alright,” she says, her words made slurring and gentle by the wine, “She’s not someone you just ‘get over.’”
“It isn’t over though,” Kaidan insists, a delayed protest that sounds too much like a question.
“Of course,” she says.
“She won’t give me a straight answer—“
“Women never do—“
“And it’s my fault she won’t anyway—“
“But how could I trust her after Horizon and G—?”
“Stop thinking,” Casey hisses and covers his mouth with her own.
Kaidan freezes for a moment, more shocked than dismayed, but murmurs a pained, “I can’t” before kissing her back.
“Then things got…complicated,” he says lamely.
Shepard inclines her head towards him, eyes never leaving his. “Complicated,” she repeats.
“Yeah.” Hair standing on end, Kaidan feels his posture grow defensive. “I helped Casey back to her room and she—I—”
“You slept with her,” she says simply, making him flinch from the blow that doesn’t come. There’s no malice or heat behind the words: just a single statement of immutable fact.
Kaidan makes a noise that even he can’t interpret properly along with a mental image of himself desperately flailing for a lifesaver. “Shepard, I know about you and Garrus, but…” He has to pause and try again. “that in no way justifies what I’ve done.”
It’s almost comical the height to which her eyebrows shoot up, but Kaidan doesn’t laugh. Instead, there is only a sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach as he realizes the implications of what he’s just said. To her eternal credit, Shepard merely purses her lips (like he knew she would) and gently (but firmly, like he knew she would) says, “Why are you telling me this?”
Now, before someone interrupts. He takes the plunge. “Because I think we still have something.”
Kaidan can taste the perfume leftover from Casey’s dress on her skin. It’s tart and slightly bitter, mingling with sweat; intrigued, he maps where the taste-scent has trailed off from its original location on the curve of her neck to across a protruding collarbone, the band of flesh between her breasts, and on down to the dip of her belly, where his hands have gripped her hips hard enough to leave bruises—he’ll kiss those later. She makes a noise somewhere between a gasp and a laugh when he tongues a circle around her bellybutton.
With the lights dimmed, it’s easy to imagine her with thicker, kinkier hair and broader, rougher palms whose nails leave marks down his back. Unlike Shepard though, Casey’s vocal, making her feelings known with every “yes” and “god” he wrings out of her—that, he can’t imagine away. Just as his mind begins to stray, her legs hook around his waist and pull so she’s pressed flush against every available inch of skin. In response, he kisses the hollow of her throat, bucking into her impatient fingers—or is he used to slower hands?
His smile comes out more like a grimace that the shadows hide. Even now, with Casey writhing beneath him, Kaidan can’t stop processing the differences and similarities between who he has and who he misses.
Eventually, he comes quietly, breathing harshly into her ear as she clutches at him, riding out the aftershocks of her own release. The air seems to drop several degrees while they collect themselves in each other’s arms. In a moment of tenderness, Kaidan brushes back the locks of hair matted to her forehead, limp from their exertions. Unexpectedly, there’s no instant feeling of dread or guilt, but only a hollow ache in his chest to keep his conscience company. On cue, Shepard winks in and out of his mind like the spectre she is, and when his eyes open to find Casey staring back, he knows she knows it too.
She thrums her fingers against his cheek, as if deciding what to do with him. Kaidan isn’t sure how to answer if she asks him to stay the night.
“Are you going?” she says instead.
“Well,” he starts. “I mean—“
“Go home, Kaidan.” She sits up, pushing him back until he’s leaning on his knees. “Then tomorrow, send her a message and ask her to come see you.” Her mouth twists. “Go on a date.”
“Casey, you don’t have to—“
“Oh but I do,” she says, shaking her head, “I really do.”
Kaidan blinks stupidly at her. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugs. “Don’t be.”
Curling an arm around her waist, he gives her one more kiss that says more than he’s able to on his own. She responds in kind, sighing and telling him all about it, but nevertheless is the first one to break it off, licking her lips as they pull away.
Kaidan dresses himself, closes the door, and leaves without another word.
He steps closer to Shepard who doesn’t move. Emboldened, Kaidan continues, “What I’ve done, it’s inexcusable, but Casey and I…it’s done.”
She nods and looks away. “We’ve both been through a lot.” Her eyes grow soft, but the tension doesn’t leave her jaw. “Thanks for telling me.”
If he had been expecting forgiveness, this doesn’t feel like it. “Shepard, I need to know where this is going. I need to know about…us.”
“Us,” she says slowly, hands digging into her pockets.
“It’s been a hell of a ride, getting to where we are now, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing here, with you.” Kaidan is itching to take her hand, or touch her shoulder, anything to connect himself to her. He doesn’t. “I want to understand what this is between us, and make it real.”
“Kaidan,” she exhales softly.
The door slides open, and while Kaidan curses inwardly, Shepard is the first to recover and turn around. “Garrus,” she says with a hitch in her voice.
His head snaps around. Although he has little experience reading turian body language, he’s willing to hazard a wild guess as to what Garrus’s rigid shoulders and flattened mandibles could mean. He doesn’t get a word in edgewise, though, because the turian’s already backing out the doorway. “Didn’t mean to interrupt,” he says smoothly, and as the door slides again, “Carry on.”
Shepard’s mouth opens and closes, but ultimately stays wordless. The entire sequence, while seeming to drag, is over in mere seconds. Naturally, an oppressively loud silence settles over the observation lounge.
For a while, Kaidan stares disbelievingly at the door. He had forgotten about that particular detail when Shepard invited him back onto the Normandy. So far, there had been no problems, but only because neither of them had dared upset the ship’s delicate equilibrium. They have more pressing matters to consider, after all. However, the oddly vulnerable expression on his commander’s face hints otherwise.
There’s a growing knot of tension at the back of his head: the beginnings of another migraine. This isn’t how he expected his confession to go at all. Shepard was a closed book four years ago, but then he had managed to learn some of her tells. Now, he has nothing to go on but what she’ll give him. Shouldn’t she be angry? Sad? Emotional? Or is she all of those things, and Kaidan is the one who’s out of touch with the person he’s wanted to touch the most?
Shepard beats him to the punch. “This isn’t the right time.”
“Is it ever?” That’s his knee-jerk response, but inside he’s reeling. Eluded again.
“No,” she says flatly and bites her lip. “There’s so much going on, and…honestly, ‘us’ has taken a backburner lately. I want to give you a proper answer though. Just…not now, okay?”
Kaidan decides that he would rather the silence back, but Shepard has a set to her jaw and very wide eyes that bore into him. He relents. “Okay, Shepard. Let’s shelve this for later.”
Her posture relaxes as she claps him on the shoulder, nearly startling him into a more untoward reaction. “Good.” She taps her omni-tool. “I have to go, but thanks for understanding.”
As soon as the echoes of her footsteps fade through the door, Kaidan bumps his head against the glass, the migraine ratcheting to full gear. Circumstances are forever throwing them apart in addition to his shortcomings.
Subject Line: the other night
I didn’t want to end things the way they did. We had a nice dinner and a nice evening that didn’t deserve what happened afterward. Hell, maybe you think this message is completely unnecessary, but cutting ties isn’t what I want—not with this war. We need all the connection we can get. I suppose the point of this message is that I’m sorry for playing make-believe and pretending you were someone else. Even on the other date from months ago, I was doing the same thing. That’s not your job; it never has been.
I hope that, despite the ass I’ve made out of myself, we’ll still keep in touch. If not, that’s understandable too.