Love was the way he would kiss her forehead each morning.
Love was the way he would count each day with her as a blessing.
Love was the way he knew she wasn’t perfect, and embraced her imperfections.
Love was the way he had no idea where she was leading him, but for all he cared she could lead him into hell and he would probably still follow her endlessly.
Love was the way he wanted nothing more than another day with her.
Love was- what she believed- the greatest thing she ever accomplished.
But this is not a story about love. This is a story about a girl that came from nothing, and a boy who came from everything. This is the story of a girl who tried to steal from a boy one Christmas Eve and got caught. This is the story of a woman who moved to the Citadel on 2183 CE at the mercy of a friend pulling a favor. This is the story of a soldier who visited the Citadel that same year on a mission to track down a rogue Spectre. This is the story of how nothing fools the galaxy. This is the story of how things fall apart, and somehow piece their way together once again. This is the story of a civilian and a soldier.
It began- she would later realize as man knocked on the door of her apartment- with a single act of kindness. A simple act fueled by integrity that would influence every future decision she made to be closer to the life he lived in.
It began- he would later realize as the blare of an incoming reaper pounded through his ears- with a punch. A quick hit straight to a man’s jaw, which ended up knocking him out cold.
Whichever way “it” really began- they would both agree one morning on a bed- was on a snowy evening in Vancouver.
She could see her white breath escape from her lips every time she exhaled. She shivered sporadically and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. She was freezing. She was starving. She knew she would not be able to last long without a proper meal or source of heat. She sat on the sidewalk of a bustling street in Vancouver. The city was alight and energetic with the impending festivities of Christmas. She thought perhaps the spirit of the holidays would impel at least two people to have mercy on her and give her money, but all she earned throughout the day were two Canadian dollars.
She was growing desperate.
With snowflakes on her eyelashes, she scanned the crowd for someone, anyone, who was unaware of their surroundings. An easy target. She zeroed in on a boy who looked like he was walking without his parents for the first time. He would often stop to gaze at a certain Christmas display, his eyes widening with awe at each light. He stopped in front of a large Christmas tree, where an “undiscovered” band began to play some sort of jolly tune. A crowd began to form around the band, and the girl saw her opportunity.
She stood up far too quickly, and her far too skinny legs weren’t ready for the sudden exertion. She was beginning to lose her balance, but she swiftly steadied herself on the nearby bike post. People were already starting to glance at her, most with a sympathetic downturn of eyebrows as if they pitied the young little girl with scrawny limbs. If they pitied her so much, they would have given her money.
She made her way towards the crowd and managed to ease next to the unsuspecting boy. Up close, she could see the untamed black curls of his hair and the slouch he carried himself with. With a shivering hand, she attempted to subtly reach into his pocket. She closed her fingers around some sort of change, but before she could withdraw her hand, an iron grip encased itself around her wrist.
She was sloppy.
She closed her eyes, silently bracing herself for whatever punishment the boy deemed fit for the thief. She waited, yet nothing came. Only when she opened her eyes did she notice the tears that trickled down her sunken cheeks. She saw that the boy, although he could not be too much older than her, was kneeling at her height. The same look of sympathy as the adults and couples that passed by her earlier that day was mirrored on his face. He wasn’t mad.
“Are you hungry?” He asked her. His brown eyes reminded her of warmth, something she longed for. The three simple words were slurred in her ears, and he had to repeat it again until she nodded minutely. His frown deepened and still holding her wrist, led her out of the crowd. She suspected he was about to turn her in to the police, and tried her best to wriggle free of his grip. As if he just remembered her wrist was still in his grasp, he muttered severe apologies and let go, as if he thought her squirming was due to discomfort.
This was her chance to run. She could have run away, left the boy behind her, run to safety, back to the streets, back to what she was familiar with. Instead, for a reason foreign to her knowledge, her feet remained still, refusing to run.
Every day after that moment, she wondered what her life would be like if she ran.
“Kaidan, who is this?” A man asked.
Kaidan. She tested the word in her mind. It sounded odd and foreign, not like many names she had heard before, but it remained locked in her head.
The man was tall and healthy, with salt and peppered curly hair and warm brown eyes, the image of the boy in twenty or thirty years. When he regarded the girl, he did not have a face of pity. He simply studied her like he would study any object, picking apart and examining every notable attribute and locking away the details in memory.
“Oh, Kalani!” A woman with short black hair turned from a Christmas display to her husband, suddenly realizing the child her son was presenting to them. “Can’t you see she’s starving?”
The girl decided to stay quiet.
“What is your name, sweetheart?” To her surprise, the woman actually addressed her.
The young girl looked away this time, the woman’s gaze too kind for her. She tried to steal money from her son moments ago. She did not deserve such kindness.
“There’s no need to be afraid of me, honey.” The woman’s frown deepened, her worrisome amber eyes intensifying. The girl still remained unresponsive. The woman sighed and knelt down to the girl’s height. The girl found the action odd. Like her son, the woman was quite short, and yet they both did the same act. The woman smiled and chucked the girl under the chin. “Do you like hot chocolate and doughnuts?”
“Food?” The girl whispered, as if that was the only thing she could comprehend. The man glanced back at his wife worriedly, and the woman’s frown almost returned.
“Yes, warm and sweet food, honey.” The woman confirmed in a soothing voice. She stood up and dug through her purse. “Here, Kaidan will take you to the bakery right over there.”
And just like that, without further preamble, without a single question, the woman gave the money to her son and he lead her towards the bakery. She had never seen such kindness before. The woman did not even know her name. The woman did not even know why her son brought her, or who she was, and yet she trusted her with her son.
When they stepped into the bakery next door, a warm rush of air encased her. She sighed in the comfort and closed her eyes, catching a whiff of freshly brewed coffee and sugary treats. There was no line at all, and the boy ordered two freshly glazed doughnuts and two cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream on the top. Within a moment, the cashier returned with a smile and an extra doughnut than he ordered.
“You share this one with your friend, Kaidan.” The woman smiled as she handed him the food. He tried to refuse the complimentary food, but she insisted. “Oh please, don’t act like you don’t want this. I know it’s your favorite. And tell your mom I said hi.”
Without even making him pay, she shooed them out of her bakery before he could insist further. When they were outside once again, Kaidan handed her two doughnuts and the cup of hot chocolate.
“Here, you can have the extra. I never really liked doughnuts anyways.” Kaidan said shyly as he bit into his own doughnut. The girl knew it was a lie; the woman stated so moments before anyways, but was too hungry to object. She nibbled hungrily on her doughnut, gracing herself with a large bite. She barely had time to rejoice in the softness of the dough and the sweetness of the glaze before she gulped down the hot chocolate far too fast. The warmth did not scald her tongue. In fact, it brought comfort to her, the heat travelling down her throat.
When Kaidan looked up from his doughnut, he started to break into childish giggles.
“What is it?” The girl finally spoke, her throat quenched enough to form words. If Kaidan was surprised to hear her speak for the first time, he didn’t show it.
“You have a mustache.” He laughed, pointing to the whipped cream on the top of her hot chocolate. She looked at her reflection in the bakery display window and giggled too. When she looked back, he made a point to take a large sip of his own drink, the whipped cream bunching up as high as his nose.
“Am I Santa Claus yet?” He asked. She was probably only six years old, and he took it upon himself to entertain the girl, to make her feel cared for. She giggled again, and a sense of accomplishment filled the ten year old boy, making him feel like a big brother of sorts.
“Santa’s beard is on his chin, stupid.” The girl pointed out.
“Oh, you’re right, huh.” Kaidan shrugged and dipped his chin on the top of the whipped cream, the foam trailing along his jaw. The girl closed her eyes in laughter, and he found the happiness infectious, joining in. He wiped his mouth with the napkin provided in the doughnut wrapper and offered her one as well. “What’s your name?”
“Shepard,” She answered. Kaidan frowned.
“That’s an odd name.”
Indeed, it was, but the girl was far too tired to explain to the boy why she preferred that to her real name. Instead, she took another bite from her doughnut and spoke with her mouth still full, “So is yours.”
The boy laughed again. He gave her the money they were supposed to spend on the food. She nodded and accepted it, not bothering to object.
When they returned to his parents, they seemed to hush in their conversation to welcome back the children. His mother smiled and turned to them.
“Oh, thank you for taking her, Kaidan. You look better already, sweetheart.” The woman smiled genuinely.
“Her name is Shepard, ma.” Kaidan said.
“Shepard?” The woman repeated. Without asking or commenting on the name, she nodded. “Your eyes are beautiful, Shepard.”
Shepard remained quiet bashfully. Her mother used to tell her the same thing as well. Yet to the little girl, they reminded her of soot on the bottom of her shoe, or snow when it started to get tainted by dirt, but she didn’t say anything.
“Barbra, we’ll be late.” Kaidan’s dad muttered to his wife. She looked as she was about to berate her husband for saying such a thing, but she glanced at her watch and sighed in despair.
“I am so very, very sorry Shepard, but we have to go. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.” Barbra tucked a strand of Shepard’s hair behind her hair before she turned to her own son, “Kaidan, check if any of the orphanages are still open at this time.”
Her son quickly obliged and started up his omni-tool, searching the extra-net as his mom told him to. Sure enough, he found one within a second, and somehow Barbra was already inviting Shepard into the family’s car.
“Barbra, can’t you see she’s been through so much, and now strangers are inviting her into a car.” Kaidan’s father reminded his wife once again.
“Shepard, sweetheart, I promise we will not harm you. We will take you to a better place I swear it.” Kaidan’s mother cooed. And just like that, Shepard walked into the car like a moth drawn to light. All along the way, Kaidan’s mother continued to apologize for having to drop Shepard off like a package without a second thought. Kaidan would make funny faces at her once in a while, and Shepard would giggle. Soon, they arrived at the nearest orphanage and Kaidan’s mother kneeled down to her height.
“Shepard, I wish it did not have to be this way. This is completely selfish, we should have canceled our flight right away, but we have to go and see our relatives. I promise we will come back for you as soon as we return.”
The woman frowned, searching through her purse once again, pulling out one Canadian hundred dollar bill. Shepard’s eyes widened in disbelief, her breath caught in her throat.It was impossible for such kindness to exist in this world. “I’m sorry I have no more money left with me right now to give.”
“You shouldn’t…” Shepard began to speak. Before she could continue, the woman took Shepard’s hand and placed the bill inside her small fist.
“Take it, please.” The woman almost begged with her eyes always sincere. Shepard slowly nodded, her eyes beginning to water. The woman smoothed Shepard’s hair down and stood up to her full height. She grabbed a large suitcase next to her husband and she pressed a button to raise the handle.
“Goodbye, Shepard.” Kaidan stepped in front of her, his smile mirroring his mother’s.
“Goodbye, Kaidan.” She said. The name felt odd on her lips and she decided not to repeat it again after that day.
And yet, she waited, and she waited, but they never returned.
Nothing fools the galaxy.
Even after twenty-two years of living in it, she was still amazed by the reality of the saying, the truth that hid behind the words that so plainly stated her life. When she closed her eyes she could so plainly hear the words rack through her brain, like a never-ending mantra. She would grow to hate those words one day as she waited for an answer from a man at her doorstep, but for now at this point of the story, she held onto those words like a prayer.
Nothing fools the galaxy.
“A million light years away from where humanity began, and we walk into a bar filled with men drooling after half-naked women, shaking their asses on a stage… I can’t decide if that’s funny or sad.”
“What? You don’t think they’re here because of the food?”
“Hey, Commander, put your tongue back in your mouth before you trip on it.”
“Easy there, Chief. If you don’t remember, we’re here to find Harkin. Now we should probably try to find him.” Kaidan rolled his eyes and huffed in reply to the Chief, Ashley Williams. She simply smiled and continued in his lead around the club. The heavy beat of the music pounded in his ears and it was a struggle to even take a single step around the place. He stopped in front of the bar and flagged down the turian bartender.
“Drinking on the job, Commander?” Ashley raised an appraising eyebrow. Kaidan decided to ignore her. When the turian finally found time out of the rest of the customers to get to the group of soldiers, instead of ordering a drink, he asked if a man named Harkin was there that night. Instead of granting the information Kaidan needed, the turian shrugged. Kaidan groaned in frustration. The search for evidence against Saren was making Kaidan’s patience grow thin, and he did not want to see what it would be like when the already thin ice shattered. Having a small moment of weakness, he ordered one shot.
“Why is this place so packed tonight?” Kaidan winced as the alcohol burnt through his throat. It tasted like Krogan piss mixed with acid. Not that he had any knowledge of what either ingredient tasted like.
“Oh, I heard a rumor that she is performing tonight.” The turian replied. The bartender’s mandibles twitched in something Kaidan wanted to believe was either anticipation or resentment. Either way, his turian emotion-reading skills weren’t the best.
“Yeah, they recently pulled a dancer from Earth. She’s pretty good, although she usually works the bars, whenever she performs, the club is always packed.” Before the turian could continue, the club’s lights fizzled out, only a black light on. White clothes glowed into Kaidan’s vision, the only thing he could see. The excited roar and cheering of men resonated to a crescendo as a beat started to intensify. It sounded somewhat vintage, like something his great grandmother would listen to and reminiscence about the “glory days”, mixed with a modern bass.
The club’s lighting suddenly morphed, and a light show began simultaneously working with the beat of the song. Three asaris stood on either side of one human on the front stage. They seemed to be her backup dancers. Well that was new. Usually it was the human who would be behind the asaris... not that he would know. When the intro of the song finally stopped and the beat dropped, every light in the club focused solely on the center dancer, the human woman.
The shot glass slipped straight through his fingers.
The beat continued, and a seductive voice filled the club, singing something about a limo partition, he didn’t really care. The only thing running through his mind at that moment was the memory of a scrawny little girl back on Earth.
Well she sure as hell wasn’t scrawny anymore.
He mentally kicked himself for thinking of such an inhumane comment at such an inappropriate time and shook his head.
The asari dancers moved in a trance each on their own pole, but every man in the club’s eyes were focused on the human.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth, Commander.” Kaidan was barely able to hear Ashley’s repeated joke above the music, and decided to ignore her humor once again.
What the hell are you doing, Shepard?
The human took center stage and flipped her hair, gazing out to the men watching her, worshiping her as their goddess. The flash of the lights and omni-tools as they struggled to take a picture caught the glitter of her makeup, and even from his distance he could see the storm in her grey eyes, the hint of blue and hazel surrounding her iris. There was no mistaking it.
Shepard twirled her hips in a circle and turned around once again, turning her face and lifting her long hair seductively. She was what most human women aspired to look like, and she flaunted it with every drop of confidence she seemed to own. She wore a glittering corset that looked like a chandelier, glittering with what seemed to him like diamonds. With every move she made, the corset sparkled and made her skin glow even more under the lights.
She slowly and effortlessly lifted herself up on a raised platform and kept herself above it, flicking her hair off her shoulder without even trying. She arched her back and glanced at the crowd again as if she just remembered she had an audience intruding on her intimate moment, and at that instant a dim white spotlight returned to her, illuminating her face as she fluently shifted positions and within a second her long legs wrapped around the couch, straddling it.
She ran a hand through her smooth black hair and continued to trace her figure. With ease she pushed herself off the couch and crawled onto it ever so slowly, arching her back as she did so. When she finally reached the top, the beat started to speed with every second, the bass almost giving him a migraine. The song’s volume increased with every beat, and Shepard flipped her hair around in a frenzy with every single moment. The light started to flash on and off as she smoothly lowered herself down so every inch of her could cover the couch and raised her ass into the air. The men worshipped her and began to get as wild as the song. With each moment that went by, the beat got faster and faster, and Shepard continued the same movement over and over again, almost like a lover on the peak of euphoria. When the song finally ended, the lights blurred out again, but the crowd’s chants for her to come back were so loud he thought he might hurl.
“Well that was new.” Ash spoke up after the lights turned back on, all the dancers having evacuated the stage.
“Yeah, it had quite the uh… view.” Jenkins added, his mouth probably as dry as Mars.
“You’re almost as bad as the Commander, LT.” Ashley and Jenkins’ banter all were in another world to him. All that mattered at that moment was he had to find her. He had to talk to her.
Shepard nearly screamed.
“Is it really that bad?” An asari frowned, examining the welts left on her skin from the skin tight corset she just liberated the human from.
“Elara is much smaller than me… this corset wasn’t meant to fit a girl my size.” Shepard shrugged as she shimmied into her jeans and pulled on her tank top, cursing how much smaller the original dancer was than her. There was no time for costume changes, with how abrupt the change was.
“Well, the men seemed to love it. So it was worth it.” The asari muttered as she changed back into her normal clothes as well and checked her reflection in the mirror. “See you tomorrow, Mary. It was a good show tonight.”
The asari held the backstage door open for her, and Shepard smiled politely as she followed her co-worker out into the main part of the club. It was still packed, just minutes after her performance. The men seemed to be calming back down and settling back into their seats and to the bar, turning their attention back to the asari dancers who were sprinkled around the corners of the club.
Shepard rolled her neck, working out the kinks as she tried to side-step a few men, launching herself towards the exit. It was a struggle to even take a single step, and her body was aching. She wasn’t expecting to perform that night, her shift was only supposed to concern bartending for a few hours, but when the manager told her the boss wanted her to perform that night for a bonus of 100 creds, how could she refuse? She could use every single one of those, but damn straight her legs ached after rehearsing for a solid hour with the asari backup dancers before the start of the performance. She decided she would indulge herself with a warm bath that night and maybe tomorrow spend some of those hard earned creds on a fancy meal. She deserved it anyways.
Still imagining a warm box of glazed sugary doughnuts, Shepard’s dreams were interrupted when she felt a solid arm bump hard into her already sore shoulder.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, asshole.” She turned to berate the man who dared to slam her shoulder, but the thud of the ongoing trance music blurred out most of her insults. The man was thin with already balding hair and looked quite drunk as he looked Shepard over, his eyes barely able to steadily examine her.
“Look here, princess-” before he could finish his own insult, his eyes widened as he finally realized this was the same woman who was dancing on the stage only minutes ago. “Oh, I see you came to find old Harkin here for a private show?”
Shepard was growing restless.
“I’d rather drink a cup of acid after chewing on a razor blade.” Shepard spat and crossed her arms, shifting her weight on her good shoulder.
“You trying to hurt my feelings, princess? You’ll have to try better than that. After working for twenty years with C-Sec, I’ve been called every name in the book.”
“You disgust me.”
“Aw, come on princess, you know I didn’t mean it.” Harkin placed a clammy hand on her shoulder, and she instantly settled her own iron grip on his wrist, pulling him closer so only he could hear.
“Call me princess one more time, and you’ll be picking your teeth off the floor.” She growled. People were starting to look, but quite frankly she did not care. This man deserved every bit of shame and humiliation she was about to serve him. Before Harkin could decide whether or not to back away, a marine made his way towards them.
“Step away from the lady, sir.” the marine ordered from behind Harkin. The lecherous drunk obscured her view of the Alliance soldier, but she already didn’t like his tone, as if she was some sort of damsel in distress who needed saving.
“I’m handling this just fine myself, soldier.” Shepard insisted, only seeing a peek of the man’s Alliance uniform behind Harkin.
“I can see that by the way you’re straining that already injured arm of yours. If you do decide to punch him tonight, miss, I’m afraid you might injure it further.” The soldier sounded as if she was amusing him. Before she could spit out a reply, two more of his soldier friends hurried from behind him and gently pried Shepard and Harkin away from each other. As Harkin stumbled out of his view, she spied the soldier who spoke so lowly to her only moments before. Her stomach turned at the sight.
Nothing fools the galaxy.
“Hello ma’am, I’m Chief Williams, this is Lieutenant Jenkins and Commander Alenko.” The woman marine who pulled Shepard off of Harkin nodded towards her two fellow soldiers. Commander Alenko, Shepard tested the name in her head. For some reason, the name didn’t fit. “Was this man bothering you, ma’am?”
“No,” Shepard frowned and fixed the collar of her blouse. “In fact, I was just leaving.”
Nothing about this night was right. The boy was supposed to the a boy of her past, she wasn’t supposed to meet him again. And what a meeting it was; he was a commander, and what was she? A bar dancer? For the first time since she accepted the job, she felt ashamed of the way she got by with her pay.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but we’d like for you to answer a few questions for us.” The man with the same whiskey brown eyes from so many years ago dared to grab her arm to stop her from leaving. She glared back at him as if she was looking at a ghost. Shepard grimaced and shook her arm out of his grasp and crossed both in front of her chest.
He probably didn’t even remember her. How foolish would her think her to be if he knew she still remembered the day his mother saved her life?
“Go ahead, sir.” Shepard sarcastically waved her arms about as if she had all the time in the world. Commander Alenko frowned and shifted his weight between his legs.
“We… we’re looking for a man named Harkin. If you would be so kind as to-”
“You’re looking right at him, soldier boy.” Shepard pointed to the man the other soldier, Lieutenant Jenkins, still held. Commander Alenko blinked and looked between Shepard and Harkin.
“Oh… well… thank you for that, ma’am. I… we-” The commander seemed to stumble for words.
“You’re welcome, soldier boy.” Shepard mocked a salute and went off in her merry way, leaving behind the boy she met years back. He was out of her life as quickly as he returned, and this time around, she didn’t mind.
Kaidan was growing restless.
He has gone precisely twenty-four Earth hours without sleep, and he was unsure yet how much longer a few scattered cups of caffeine could carry him. It’s been two days since he’s landed at the Citadel, and he expected he would already have exposed the rogue Spectre by then, but instead he was still caught up by his encounter with Shepard back in Chora’s Den. It baffled him as to how the little girl ended up in such a dire predicament, and it made him hurt just how much he wished they could have helped her back in Vancouver, all those years ago.
He was back at Chora’s Den a day later, but something felt off. There was no music pounding in the hallways all the way from the club, and there was no draft of alcohol stench that you could smell from the elevator. He immediately ordered his teammates to draw their weapons, prepared if anything was to show up.
“Looks like it’s shut down.” Ash stated the obvious as they trekked down the halls to find the entrance closed.
Before Kaidan could say anything, the door opened with gunfire pouring straight at them. He barked at the team to take cover, and he rammed his back by the nearby wall, mentally assessing the situation. Fist knew they were coming. They were being attacked. There wasn’t much to analyze.
Well, shit. The mission just got a whole lot more complicated. He couldn’t save her once, but damn straight he would try to save her this time, that is, if she was still in there. He ordered his team fluently as if they worked together for years, and they obliged his every order. It wasn’t that difficult to cut through the band of thugs and bandits, and he stepped out of cover with the false pretense of safety. He actually did forget the club had a krogan bouncer however, and he remembered too late. The krogan was already charging at him, and before he could react, Ash’s shotgun boomed in his ears and the krogan was down with three shots.
“Thanks, Chief.” He muttered as he looked around the Den.
The team continued towards the hall that he assumed led to Fist’s office. The thought that perhaps Shepard worked for Fist crossed his mind, but he just as quickly refused to believe so. She was an innocent little girl, the same girl that laughed when he dunked his chin into the whipped cream to look like Santa Claus. There was no way the same little girl could work for a former Shadow Broker agent.
When he opened the door to the hall, his team was greeted warmly by two warehouse workers. As soon as he was in their line of sight, they pulled out their rifles and aimed it poorly with one hand. They were new.
“Stop right there.” One of the men ordered. Out of the corner of his eye Kaidan could see a group of civilians forced to hide in the corner, and another warehouse worker who promptly held a gun to the group as if he really was going to shoot. But Kaidan couldn’t take the chance anyways. Sure enough, there Shepard was, tied in the front of the group as if she was their leader. “Stay back, or we’ll shoot.”
Before Kaidan could reply, the sharp laugh of Shepard filled his ears and there she was, sure enough, laughing at the men who were pulling a gun at her.
“See them, tough guy? They’re Alliance.” Shepard rolled her eyes and looked at the man who held a gun at her head with only pure amusement. It was as if she was challenging him to pull the trigger, as if she did not care if her life ended that day. “They just killed fifty bodyguards to get in here. What do you think they’ll do to you?”
The worker instantly put down his gun and wiped sweat off his brows, stammering for a reply. He turned his gaze to Kaidan with big eyes as if he was a deer caught in headlights. The other worker groaned and put down his gun as well.
“Screw Fist. He doesn’t pay us enough for this.” Without further preamble, the two workers sulked out of the Club, head hung down low.
“I wouldn’t have thought of that.” Ash shrugged as she hurried to untie the civilians.
“You know, Chief, shooting people isn’t always the answer.” Jenkins replied as he decrypted the weapon lockers. Kaidan quickly went to follow Ash to the group of civilians. As the medic of the group, he checked to see if they were each alright. The only person in the group who was touched was Shepard, who looked like the only injury was a small bruise on her cheek, which would heal.
“Shepard?” He asked. Confirming if it was her was futile. He already knew she was the same girl from his childhood anyways.
“Nice to see you too, Commander.” She didn’t smile. He shook his head and carefully applied medi-gel to her cheek.
“You were reckless.” ‘You were reckless’? Kaidan could practically hear Joker’s laughter all the way up from the Docking Bay. Of all the things to say to her, he sounded like he was her father. Instead of laughing, she shrugged and looked away as he slathered her cheek with the gel.
“Don’t call me ‘reckless’, soldier boy. I did much a better job than you could have.There’s no way I could leave without knowing everyone inside was safe. I found this group of drunks,” she motioned towards the group of men she risked her life for, “in the bathroom getting high off their mind. Still, I couldn’t live with myself if I knew there was some way I could have saved them.”
Kaidan made a mental note of that.
The rest of the process went by quite awkwardly, he was too unsure of what exactly to say to her. A thousand thoughts ran through his head, but none seemed to be the right one.She seemed to hate him already, but for whatever reason, he was not sure. He didn’t remember being rude to her as a child, in fact when he was a kid he wished for the day he could find her in the streets of Vancouver again, wanting to share a glazed doughnut or two, not knowing the full reason as to why she was in the streets in the first place.
And how the hell was she in the Citadel anyways? She, the innocent girl he thought he met, was a stripper for Chora’s Den, a gentleman’s club run by Fist.
Did she work for Fist? He shook the idea out of his head as quickly as it came. No matter how rough the woman was, he doubted she could work for an agent of the Shadow Broker.
Shepard sighed as the surplus of medi-gel was slathered onto her cheeks. He already spent too much time healing her bruise, which would have healed with time anyways, maybe leaving a scar. He applied too much, and his hands were beginning to become numb from the overdose on his fingers.
“Look,” Shepard yawned. For once, ever since their meeting on the Citadel, he saw a hint of uneasiness in her, as if moments before she didn’t just tell off a man who held her at gunpoint. She was trying too hard at this moment to hold up the easygoing image, and he was close enough to notice the hand on her bad shoulder shivering. “You probably have a lot of questions, am I right?”
Before Kaidan could reply, she spoke again, cutting off whatever he meant to say.
“Right. To save both of us time, just meet me in the Presidium tomorrow.” Shepard said. She would never admit she had questions of her own to ask him as well.
“I’d like that.” The Commander replied far too quickly. Shepard raised an eyebrow in suspicion, but he helped her up on her feet before she could make a lame remark on how eager he was to meet.
Jenkins escorted the civilians to Huerta Memorial Hospital, much to Shepard’s arguments on how none of the civilians were harmed. After he and Ashley saved the quarian, he knew there were questions Ash had herself on how exactly he knew the woman. Now those were questions he wished she would never ask.
By the time he met her in the Presidium, she was already pacing back and forth, staring and kicking at the dust on her feet. He arrived in his casual military uniform, out of the armor that looked far too close to a wetsuit. His hair was perfectly coiffed as usual, and he walked with a certain sense of pride with his back stick straight and his chin parallel to the ground. Shepard frowned and realized what a mess she must look standing next to him wearing clothes far too worn out and with breath that still reeked of hospital food and the bruise still fresh on her cheek.
“Hey,” he greeted as he sat next to her on a bench looking over the rest of the Presidium.
“Hi…” Shepard grimaced, the awkwardness in the air palpable. She looked anywhere but at him, and his gaze was locked straight ahead. What felt like hours went by before Shepard cleared her throat. “So, I heard you’re a Spectre now.”
Kaidan shifted awkwardly in his seat as if it was something to be embarrassed of. Shepard scowled and glanced away from him again, a sudden sense of anger roiling in the pit of her stomach. He was embarrassed about being a Spectre, while he practically watched her perform in a gentleman’s club. If anyone had the right to be embarrassed, it was her.
“Yeah,” was all he said for a reply.
“I saw the interview on the tv before I left. Congratulations.”
Shepard waited another minute for him to say anything else, but he still seemed somewhat frazzled. She groaned and stood up to retrieve her bag in one smooth motion. Kaidan seemed to be woken from his trance and looked at her like some sort of kicked puppy.
“You shouldn’t have come if you didn’t want to say anything.” Shepard spat, unsure of where the sudden anger came from. She felt as if she was betrayed.
“No, please….” Kaidan sputtered, trying to think of the right words to make her stay, and he caught her wrist without thinking. She paused and stared down at her wrist with glassy eyes, remembering the same scene play from so many years ago. He blanched as well, and as soon as he realized what he had done he immediately let her wrist free. She rubbed where he held her as if his touch burnt her skin.
“Alright…” Shepard said uneasily, setting her bag back down as she retook her seat next to Kaidan. Both adults were sure that if he did not incite the memory of their meeting, she would have been gone long ago.
They walked across the Citadel, and soon enough started to talk as if they had known each other for years. It was as if they were children again, laughing over the sugary hot chocolate. It was as if he forgot anything that happened during their separation, and as if she forgot he was the first human Spectre. It was almost as if they had cheated the galaxy itself.
“Okay then, so why did you enlist? Did you sign on for the dream, soldier boy? To secure mankind’s future in space?” Shepard asked while leaning over the rail that looked over the menacing Krogan statue, her voice laced with something that sounded like a twinge of envy. Before Kaidan could inquire about it, Shepard only smiled and shook her head, encouraging him to answer. They were playing a sort of game, taking turns asking questions about each other, about their lives as adults.
“I...I read a lot of those books when I was a kid. A hero goes to space to prove himself worthy of a woman he loves or… you know. For justice.” He rambled but caught himself before he could continue, afraid he would bore her. He sighed and leaned his weight over the railings as well, studying the statue of the krogan with fountains praising its grandness. “I guess it was like that in the beginning, but I thought about if after Brain Camp- sorry, uh I guess I’m rambling. It’s my turn to ask you a question now.”
“No, you’re fine. Go on.” Shepard tried to encourage him, but he shook his head and laughed it off instead.
“Don’t try and cheat, Shepard. Come on. It’s my turn.” He chuckled, and Shepard crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, uh why is your name Shepard anyways? It’s sort of an odd name to call yourself.”
Shepard’s lip twitched and he would have missed it if he was not studying her every move, making sure he didn’t scare her away again. In a moment, she sighed and as if she put on a different persona, inched her hand closer to his, caressing his arm.
“So is yours, Kaidan.” Her voice was meant to sound seductive, but he only frowned. He didn’t know what he did to make her act like this, but he didn’t like it.
“Okay, don’t try to get out of this one, Shepard. Play by the rules.” He moved his arm away and chided her as if she was a child again. She glanced at him through her eyelashes one last time, but she realized she either couldn’t win this one, or didn’t want to put in the effort to convince him otherwise. She rolled her eyes and the original Shepard returned, the one he could easily talk to.
“Yeah, sure, it’s a weird name.” She shrugged but quickly added, “The other workers call me Mary. It started off as a joke at first, but eventually I guess it became my pseudonym.”
Kaidan was silent, a million more questions returning to his mind.
“And no, I’m not a dancer anyways. I’m usually only the bartender, but I’m required to watch the dancers’ rehearsals in case I have to fill in on an emergency one day. Last night just happened to be an emergency.”
“Even if you were, I don’t think it matters. Different people have different jobs and do different things to earn money and survive. And I respect that.” Kaidan was sure to add.
Shepard studied him for a moment, as if waiting for him to take it back.
“I suppose so.” Shepard shrugged.
“So how did you move to the Citadel?” He asked. Before she could accuse him of cheating for asking her two questions in a row, they were interrupted by the sound of a terribly immature catcall. Why people were so drunk away from the lower Wards was beyond Kaidan.
“Holy shit,” A man gasped. Both Shepard and Kaidan turned to see two full grown men practically stumbling over each other, trying to take a closer look at Shepard. “You’re that dancer from Chora’s Den.”
“You were hotter when you had less clothes on.” The other man added, and to that, he earned a high five from his friend.
Kaidan’s blood began to boil. How could they so blatantly disrespect a woman they knew nothing about, when she was simply doing her job? Before he could march up to them, Shepard shook her head and lead him away.
“Come on, Kaidan. Let’s go somewhere else.” She whispered, as if she already knew what he intended to do. It wasn’t right to just let them insult her like that, but she was already practically dragging him across the hallway.
“Fuck, Trent, he’s the Spectre we saw on the TV.” Kaidan could hear their voices following them. Shepard shook her head again and kept walking.
“Hey, she must be giving him some private dances.” The guy named Trent snickered. “I bet he pays her extra with that Spectre paycheck of his or whatever.”
“Bitch, why are you with this military guy? We can show you how to really-”
Before the man could continue with what he intended to “show” Shepard, she suddenly turned on her heel and socked him clean in the jaw. He instantly fell on the floor cold, stars above his eyes. Shepard looked at Trent, as if asking him if he wanted to share the same fate as his friend.
“Shit, this bitch is crazy.” Trent muttered as he ran away, most likely to get the C-Sec officers.
Kaidan looked at Shepard in complete awe, amazed that a woman so small could pack such a punch.
What a woman.
“Well don’t just stand there, you idiot.” Shepard whispered, her laugh soft and yet somehow girly. This time she really dragged him away. He was not sure how long they were running, or really where she was leading him to, but he didn’t care at that point. He could lead her anywhere in the galaxy at that moment and he would gladly follow.
When they stop, he realized they were somehow in the corner of a hallway. Judging by the dim lights and the muffled bass through the wall, he guessed she must have somehow leaded him near the entrance of Flux. Before he knew it, his lips were on hers. She was pinned against the wall, and she melted into the kiss, wanting it as much as he did. Her hands ran along his arm, pulling him closer against her. He peppered softer kisses along his jaw, and she leaned her head back in complete bliss, his name fresh on her lips. She instantly pulled him back to her own lips and kissed him just as eagerly.
One day, lying peacefully on a bed as he traced endless patterns on her bare skin, they would look back on this moment. She would like to say she was the one who incited the kiss. He would be swift to remind her how it really happened.
And what a terrible shame it was that in three day's worth, they would be torn away from each other once more.