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February Stars

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Kaidan sat at his desk, as usual for a Friday morning, hammering out a string of responses to IT help desk requests as he settled in for the day ahead. He rolled his neck slightly,  trying to loosen the knot that had worked its way in after his poor night’s sleep. Adjusting his black, square rimmed glasses slightly, he let out a soft sigh as he finished the last of his responses to the previous evening’s requests. He’d been told to use his eyewear to prevent further eye strain and to hopefully stem the effects of any future migraines, by Doctor Chakwas. Just as he stopped fiddling with them, Jeff - Joker to his friends - appeared in the opening to his grey-walled cubicle.

“You know you don’t need to finish your entire day’s work in one go, right ?” quipped his ever be-capped colleague, a broad grin spreading amongst his scruff as he gave a brief gesture towards where Kaidan sat. “Want a coffee? I was just going to go get,” he offered, his voice trailing off.

Without even looking at him, Kaidan answered with a small smile, “Coffee sounds good right about now,”

“‘ Splash of milk, but not too much ’,” quoted Joker back at him in a poor mimic of his own deeper tones, giving a theatrical roll of his green eyes.

“That’s the one,” replied Kaidan with a nod of acknowledgement, returning his fingers to the keyboard and moving onto the next ticket. His hazel eyes flew across the screen, thick dark brows knitted together in concentration as he continued with his fixes. He didn’t mind this sort of work, he was helping people at least and it did cover his bills, despite the occasional monotony.

Around fifteen minutes later, Joker came wandering back in - takeaway coffees in hand, his cheeks rosy from the chilly Vancouver air. “Here you go, wasn’t sure if you wanted a donut this early in the morning or not, but I got you one anyway,” he grumbled, as he handed them over.

Kaidan swivelled round to receive them, catching sight of his friend doing his best to suppress a smirk, but he caught the mischievous flash in his eyes. They’d worked together long enough for him to recognise when Jeff found something amusing. “ What did you do this time? ,” groaned Kaidan, as he eyed the supplies with newfound suspicion, eyes narrowed as if they might explode.

“Oh, the food’s legit...,” sniggered Joker, unable to contain his laughter anymore as he glanced down at the paper cup, once, twice.

Turning the cup around cautiously, Kaidan dropped his head in resignation as he read the block print name scrawled on the side, before levelling his friend with an unamused look, “‘Kenny?’ Really?

“Hey, at least she tried this time,” laughed his friend in response to his frown, “She was cute too. You would’ve liked her,”

Sliding the coffee over to himself as he took a swig, he politely thanked Joker, before resuming his work, “I’ll take your word for it. Thanks for this,”

Tilting his head and pursing his lips, Joker exhaled as he watched his colleague sink back into his task again. Jeff was one of the few people Kaidan interacted with at work. Not that he wasn’t sociable, he just preferred to come in and get his work done. He wasn’t anti-social, he just wasn’t exactly the life and soul of the party either. Kaidan was… Kaidan . The straight man. The nice guy . It bothered Jeff to see him so focused all of the time, like nothing outside of this building mattered. He knew the reason for his current level of absorption and deciding to broach the subject, Jeff took a step further into Kaidan’s workspace. “It wouldn’t hurt for you to maybe cut yourself some slack, get back out there, you know? You’re already outperforming the rest of the department. Well, except for me , of course,” he offered, hoping his words might get through to his friend.

Of course . Really Joker, I just don’t think I have time for all - that - right now,” he muttered, shaking his head as he did.

“Well, all I’m saying is, don’t shut yourself off completely from dating. You might miss out on something good ,” chuckled his friend lightly, before he turned to leave for his own piling workload.

Kaidan waved him off, before the thought of his friend’s unusually gentle advice began to bother him. He was used to Joker messing with him and for him calling him out on his BS as needed. He wasn’t as prepared for his recent increase in concern. Frowning slightly again, Kaidan leaned back in his chair to run a hand through his thick black curls. I should get a haircut and probably a shav e, he thought. He worked in IT, but he still worked as an employee and not a freelancer now. At least until his contract was up for renewal.

It had been weeks since Lilith had moved out, but she was gone now and she wasn’t coming back. If he was being honest with himself, Kaidan knew that. She hadn’t returned any of his calls and she hadn’t even answered the door when he’d dropped off the last of her boxes. She was a part of his life that was over now and no amount of wishing or hoping would bring her back.

A ping through his workstation speakers alerted him to a fresh helpdesk request and snapped him from his introspection. Relieved a bit at the distraction - Kaidan returned to what he did best: work . He skim-read it as he began to open up another window on his already cluttered right-hand screen. Another problem with programs freezing unexpectedly , he sighed inwardly. Opening the chat window, he began his usual introductory spiel.

The undulating ellipses let him know that whoever was on the other end was typing. Loudly drumming his fingers, he heard Joker shout from the other end of their office, “You want to stop that, like yesterday ? You know it drives me nuts, man…”

Sorry ,” he mumbled in response, as he read the new information. Fingers flying over the keyboard, he waited to see what their answer to his ‘have you tried restarting your PC?’ question would be. When he received a curt reply, Kaidan took a breath before he moved his line of questioning on. He could only help them if he remained objective. Not everyone understands how this stuff works , he reminded himself calmly.

Judging by how long they were taking to respond, he could feel his heart sinking. Great. What fresh hell have they downloaded this time? he mumbled to himself. Crossing his arms as he pushed back slightly on his seat to read the veritable tome that had appeared within the chat window, he couldn’t help but let out a loud, rumbling laugh. “Ohhhhh man…” remarked Joker as his head appeared in Kaidan’s periphery, just over his shoulder.

Yup . This is our life,” replied Kaidan with a sharp ‘pop’ to the p, glancing up at his friend briefly, before fidgeting with the arms of his blue plaid shirt, rolled up around his elbows.

Your life, maybe,” snickered Joker as he spotted where the request had come from, “You’d better get to it unless you want to be here all weekend, bud,” he mocked, before stalking back to his own desk.

Huffing slightly, Kaidan checked the desk location again, sliding on his satchel and headed for the lifts, shooting a “Duty calls” towards Joker before the lift doors closed and whisked him up 7th floor. Watching idly as the numbers slowly bled from one into the next, Kaidan dragged himself away from the wall he had been leaning on as the doors opened. Flicking his eyes up to the department signage on the opposite wall, he swung himself round towards the set of double security doors at the end of the lobby, instinctively reaching for his lanyard and pass. Sliding his card through the secure door entry, the magnetic locks clicked softly, letting him know they had been released.

Drawing in a breath and squaring his shoulders before he pushed the door open, he made his way through the banks upon banks of desks, careful to keep his eyes fixed straight ahead.

This had been Lilith’s team .

He could feel the suspicious eyes and the hostile environment before he had even stepped through the doors. His long legs carried him purposefully over to a quieter bank of desks. Thankfully, whoever had summoned him up here - and most of their row - were away to a meeting, he learned from the post-it haphazardly plastered to the screen. At least he wouldn’t have someone restlessly hovering around him while he tried to work.

Logging in as an administrator, he began to run through the most recent updates and spotted the culprit after a few brief moments. Good Lord… When will people learn to stop opening attachments on strange emails? he wondered, shaking his head. Beginning to run through the steps to clear the issue - a fairly convincing, but still unsavory browser update - he soon found that his normal approach would not work. Gritting his teeth, he reached into his satchel and retrieved his can of soda, settling in for the long haul.

He had been there for over an hour before he began to feel that he was making any headway, only glancing up occasionally to check that he wasn’t going to be ambushed by one of the office gossips. He had to thank his lucky stars that most of them didn’t even know where the IT office was and that he’d managed to steer clear of them so far, since his breakup with Lilith. Eyes shifting down to his watch, he could see it had hit almost noon. If he had to, he’d work through lunch just to make sure he got out on time tonight. He didn’t exactly want to hang about and he didn’t know how many times he could honestly blow off Joker’s invites to come out with him and the rest of their team for a couple of Beers at Cora’s Den, before he’d fall into ‘shitty friend’ territory.

Grabbing his lunch out of his bag, he continued to work away diligently, still unable to understand exactly how this ransomware had managed to dig itself in so deep as he stole a bite of last night’s pizza. It was cold, but the heat from the peppers soon warmed him up, burning its way down his throat. Washing it down with a swig of his soda, his fingers furiously struck at the keys as he tried another workaround to get into the registry - which it seemed to be blocking access to. Ingenious really , he thought, I can’t get rid of it if I can’t get into it . But that only really applied to your standard PC user. He and Joker were among the best consultants out there and it would only be a matter of time before he cracked this puzzle, it was an interesting challenge and the most interesting thing he’d worked on all week.

Eventually working out a way to force his way into the registry, Kaidan realised it was now 4:30 in the afternoon and he only had half an hour left before his contract hours were up, he weighed up whether this was really worth staying behind for. Deciding that he couldn’t just leave someone without their PC, despite them still being in a meeting, he quickly but efficiently finished off sorting the issue and closed out the ticket before signing himself out. Just as he cleared his debris off the desk and into the wastebasket below as he moved to gather his things, he heard the click-click of heels on the floor behind him - on an intercept course. Shit , he thought, just when I thought the coast was clear…

“Fancy seeing you here,” came the pointed remark, Kelly’s familiar voice behind him.

Swallowing nervously, Kaidan turned around slowly to face the smaller red-haired woman, staring up at him with sharp eyes. He hadn’t wanted to run into her after what had happened with her , they had been close. He didn’t dislike Kelly, she was a loyal friend to Lilith at least, but she didn’t know the full story. Not if he knew Lilith. Willing himself to speak, before the awkward silence drew out any more, Kaidan rooted around in his head for something - anything - to say, “Uh, hi, Kelly. I was just getting ready to go…”

“Oh, you don’t say. Why were you even up here? Didn’t think you’d have the nerve to show your face up here,” she hissed.

Taking in a deep breath, Kaidan tried to think of how to finish off this interaction politely, but without coming off as a jerk. “I got a request in from one of your team, didn’t want to leave for the weekend before I got it done,” he began.

“How good of you,” she sneered. She sure as hell wasn’t making this any easier on him.

“Well, I’m all done now, so I’ll - uh - yeah,” he murmured, quietly gathering his things and doing his best to offer her a small, kind smile before he began to retreat towards the lifts, thumbing the button several times as if it would call it faster.

She caught up to him quickly, crossing in front of him as his eyes flickered up to the slowly rising floor numbers, “You’ll what , Kaidan? Run after the next bit of skirt that catches your eye? ” her words struck him as if she had slapped him.

Head bowing, she watched and waited for him to react angrily, for any sign of guilt. Instead, she was surprised when he calmly lifted his eyes back up to hers and she instead saw the heartbreak there. Swallowing thickly, to try and dampen any emotion in his voice, Kaidan looked away, “ She walked out on me, Kelly. She’d cheated, said she didn’t love me any more, after she’d already been hooking up with the guy for months. I wasn’t enough for her any more …”

A flicker of remorse passed across the face of the woman who accosted him, “Kaidan, I’m sorry . I didn’t-”

“Doesn’t matter Kelly, I doubt we’ll see much of each other ever again , so no hard feelings,” he answered, raising a hand to stop her before she gushed any platitudes. The sound of the elevator doors opening, let him breathe a small sigh of relief as he stepped inside, not turning to see the look of regret on her face as they closed.

Checking his watch again, he could see he was five minutes to finishing time. When the doors slid open at his and Joker’s floor, he jogged back to his desk to grab his jacket and scarf, finding his snarky colleague leaning against the wall of his cubicle already in his grey and black parka. “Survive the gauntlet then?” he snorted, prompting a brief laugh from Kaidan.

“Nearly,” he replied as he shrugged on his navy blue army jacket and wrapping his grey camouflage scarf loosely around his neck, “I ran into Kelly before I left,” he continued, holding onto Jeff’s gaze for a moment so that he fully understood that it had not been a pleasant exchange.

Shit man , I’m sorry,” offered his friend, as he kicked off of the wall when Kaidan emerged ready to meet the cool evening air.

“You know, you’re the second person to tell me they’re sorry today,” Kaidan laughed darkly, his eyes suddenly downcast.

Throwing his arm around his comrade’s shoulders, Joker decided to try to lift his spirits as he led them both over to the lifts, “Hey, at least now you’re actually at the bottom, all you can go from here is up ,” Not missing the distant look on Kaidan’s face, he tried to change tack as they stepped into the lift car. “Listen, a bunch of us are heading out for a few - as usual - down at Cora’s, if you want to join?”

Bringing Kaidan out of his thoughts when he waved his hand in front of his face, he could tell by the look on his face that Jeff was waiting for a response. When his co-worker gave him a pointed look and repeated the words ‘Cora’s’ and ‘heading out’, Kaidan realised that he thought he was turning down yet another invite. “I’ll catch up to you guys, I just want to drop this stuff off first, I’d rather not be lugging it about with me,” he responded, patting his bag.

“Suit yourself, but drop me a text before you leave your place, just in case we change location,” answered Joker as they exited into the main lobby on the ground floor, looking like he didn’t actually believe Kaidan would show.

“Aye, aye,” Kaidan mock-saluted as they both left the main doors to the office block, eliciting another eye roll from his colleague.

“See ya,” said Jeff, as he headed off towards the rest of their team, waiting over by the bus stop at the front of the building.

Kaidan turned off in the direction of the SkyTrain stop a half-mile or so up, on Renfrew. The temperature had dropped even further, as the sun began to set and he was thankful he’d remembered to grab his jacket and scarf on the way out the door that morning. When he finally reached the station, he only had a short wait until the train pulled into platform. He waited patiently to let all the disembarking passengers off, before he stepped on, deciding to stand and let the other commuters get a seat. He was young enough. Standing wouldn’t hurt him. Besides, it was only 9 stops till his.

Finally reaching the stop for his neighbourhood, Kaidan hopped off the train, eager to get in and get a seat. Coming out of the station, he headed across the street and took his usual route home and a few blocks later his apartment block was in sight. Deciding to grab a bag of potato chips, he dropped into the local store on the way. Snacks now secured, he continued on his way, pulling his keys out of his pocket.

Just as he reached the front door of his apartment block, he could see a vibrant red out of the corner of his eye. Turning his head slightly to get a better look, he could now see it was a young woman around his age, hefting a stack of boxes into the front door of the adjacent block. Swithering for a moment, his upbringing won out and he approached her to offer some help.

“Uh, hey, do you - uh - want a hand with that?” he asked shyly, gesturing to the boxes, hoping he wouldn’t offend her. His breath hitched in his throat, when she craned her head out to eye him, her eyes were a beautiful green and her face was striking in its appearance. Whilst her somewhat sharp features could have come off as harsh - with a slight scar to her right eyebrow, they were offset and softened by her lips, thick lashes and the russet freckles which peppered her nose and cheeks. Kaidan realised then that he was staring. God, it’s not as if you’ve never seen an attractive woman before, Alenko, he admonished himself inwardly.

With these? ” She asked, glancing down briefly, “I can manage these, but would you mind grabbing some of those? There’s more in the back,” she continued, handing him a set of keys out of her pocket and jerking her head over to the U-Haul van parked up a few feet away.

“Sure,” he smiled, hoping that his olive skin largely the blush spreading across his features.

“Thanks, I’m in 2/20 in case you miss the lift,” she offered, flashing him a bright smile before she disappeared towards the lfit.

Opening up the back of the van, he could see she was about halfway through. She really managed all this on her own? he marvelled, looking at the size of some of the items within. Picking up a few boxes and storage crates into a makeshift pile, he squatted down to lift them, leaning them back into himself as he handled them in one hand while he closed up the van again.

His heart leapt a bit when he saw her impatiently waiting for the lift when he walked into the apartment block lobby. Sensing his return, she threw him a brief look before she spoke again, “I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come,”  she remarked, looking back towards the lift which seemed to be moving at a glacial pace. “You’re about the only good thing that’s happened to me today,” she muttered.

Kaidan wondered what she’d meant by that, but before he could ask her, she cut him off.

“Didn’t catch your name by the way,” she asked, her eyebrow arching in question.

“Kaidan,” he replied and then realising a few beats later that he hadn’t given her a surname, “Alenko,”

“Well, Kaidan… Alenko…” she shot back with a soft smirk on her face, “once we get these up, fancy helping me with the rest? Seeing as you offered…

Was she messing with him when she drew out his name, as he had when he'd been tongue tied the moment before? Seeing a glint in her feline eyes, he realised she was. Deciding to push back a little, he returned her volley, “ Only if you'll tell me yours ,”

She let out a loud laugh just as their lift finally arrived, before responding, “You drive a hard bargain Kaidan, but I suppose by the end of this you'll maybe have earned it,” she teased.

Oh, so she thinks she's a comedian , he observed - unable to hide the grin on his face. Stepping into the lift behind her, he noted now that he was about a half foot taller than her. They stood in a comfortable silence in the short ride up, exiting onto her floor and he followed a short distance behind as she led them through the corridor to her door. He fought the temptation to let his gaze drop down below her lean back more times than he'd like to count, on the way there.

She stopped in front of him and began unlocking the door, pushing it open with her foot as she stepped inside to let him past.

“Anywhere in particular you want these?” He asked, looking around. Damn , he thought, her apartment’s way bigger than mine. This place is huge.

“Just wherever, I can shift them later,” she responded, he caught her eyes darting away when he rose back up again from his brief squat to place the boxes down. “Name’s Shepard by the way,” she supplied, turning away towards the door.

Was she blushing? he pondered.

“That your first name?” Kaidan asked, his gravelly voice suddenly much deeper. Where did that come from? he panicked.

“Help me with the rest of these boxes and I might decide to tell you,” she laughed, pausing before she darting out the door.

Oh, she was definitely messing with him.