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That seems to be the last of the Thorian creepers. And there aren't any slime-covered asari dropping down out of pods, so I figure we're done. If there's anyone still alive in this place, they're probably barricaded in the back rooms of this facility. And there might be some information there that can tell us more about this whole ExoGeni mess. I'm about to head that way when I hear a loud clatter behind me.

Kaidan's dropped his weapon on the floor. His hands are clutching at the wall behind him. His head's tilted back, and his legs don't seem strong enough to support him.

"Kaidan," I say, moving quickly to him. "Talk to me." All I get is a low groan in response.

Garrus says uncertainly, "Is it a migraine? Do they usually come on like this?"

We have helmets on because of the creepers' acid attacks--even the aerosolized cloud lingering immediately after an attack can deliver a world of hurt if you walk into it. I peer in through Kaidan's face shield. His eyes are unfocused, and his breathing is fast and shallow. Shit. I glance up at the overhead lights. They're dim enough that they won't make a migraine any worse. Probably.

"Garrus, help me get him onto the floor over there," I say. "Sometimes lying down helps him." And sometimes it does exactly the opposite, but hell. Hopefully this isn't one of those times. We each take a side, trying to avoid any sudden movements, and carry him into the corridor, well away from the puddles of creeper acid on the floor.

Once Kaidan's horizontal, I reach around his head and pop open the seals holding his helmet on . While Garrus supports Kaidan's neck, I gently ease the helmet off him. I check his pulse. It's elevated, and his skin feels warm, a little too warm. But he's starting to look better. His breathing is slowing down, and after a while his heart rate begins to drop back to normal levels. He blinks, and his eyes focus.

"Shepard?" he says. His voice is hoarse. "Where am I?"

That's not a good sign. "What's the last thing you remember?" I ask him.

I watch his eyes as he searches his memory. "The.. ." He clears his throat. "The creepers... I threw one, and another was almost on me, so I shot it, and then I fired again at the first one, and then I started feeling..." He stops. His gaze drops down, and his skin begins to flush. I check his pulse again. His heart rate's going back up.

"Let's get him to med bay," I say. "I've never seen this before."

"No!" Kaidan's hand grips my arm. "I’m okay." His eyes are closed now, but this is as alert as he's been since the fighting stopped.

"You know," Garrus says from the other room, where he's retrieving Kaidan's weapon from the floor, "I'm pretty sure that even among humans being 'okay' doesn't involve passing out."

Kaidan's eyes open. He looks at me uncomfortably, then looks away again. "I'm fine now, really. It was just... slight oxygen deprivation. I think there may be a problem with the scrubber in my helmet. I'll check it out when we get back." He seems embarrassed, which isn't the most appropriate reaction, in the circumstances.

I look at him. "I don't like unexplained illnesses. You're going to med bay. Now. "

Kaidan sits up quickly, shaking his head. Well, at least that proves something--if he'd tried that stunt with one of his monster migraines he'd be curled into a little ball in the corner. "No. I know what this is. Was. Let's... let's get on with the mission. I promise you, I'm fine now that I can breathe."

I exchange glances with Garrus. He looks dubious, but gestures helplessly, as if to say you're in charge.

I look at Kaidan again. He does seem to be alert and in control now. There's nervousness in his eyes, as if he's afraid he'll be put on report. Or as if he's afraid that I'll lose respect for him if he doesn't soldier on. Why does he still think he has to prove anything to me?

"Alright," I say, getting to my feet. "Let's get this over with. But you're going to the doctor as soon as we get back."

Garrus silently hands Kaidan his dropped weapon, eyeing him skeptically.

We move on. In the back rooms we find a bunch of cowering ExoGeni scientists and the confirmation we need about their 'experiments'. Sick shit, but it's getting harder to be surprised by this sort of thing. When I reject their bribe to look the other way, they and their mercs attack us. It's not much of a fight. Kaidan holds his own, seems just fine.

As soon as we're back on the Normandy, I remind him to go see Dr. Chakwas. He nods. "I'll go as soon as I get cleaned up, Commander."

As I recall, my order was to see the doctor as soon as we get back, not whenever you damn well feel like it. Garrus stares incredulously at Kaidan, who's heading for the elevator, then at me. I frown at Kaidan's fast-retreating back and shake my head, but let it go.

Later, after finishing my mission report, I drop by the med bay to see Chakwas.

"Did Kaidan come by earlier?" I ask.

"He did," she says. "He brought his helmet in, and we spent some time examining it. He was right; the scrubber was definitely malfunctioning. They don't usually--they have to meet stringent quality standards, for obvious reasons, and there are all sorts of fail-safes. But this was a combination of extremely unlikely circumstances. I'm actually writing a letter to the manufacturer about it. As far as we could figure out, there was a weak seal in the second sorbent stage and at some point the particulate matter control device --"

I hold up a hand. "Is he alright?"

"Oh, yes," she says. "He was only mildly hypoxic, and then only for a short time, thanks to you taking off his helmet when you did. Of course, I checked him over thoroughly. He's perfectly healthy. I would have told you, otherwise."

"Thanks, Doc." I head for the door.

"Shepard," she calls. "There is one other thing."

I stop.

"He seemed... agitated," she says. "I think he might be worried about... well, letting you down during the mission, or something. You know this crew. They all worship the ground you walk on."

"If they did, they'd obey my damn orders," I say. "But you may be right about the first part. I'll talk to him."

I leave, intending to go find Kaidan. He wasn't at his usual station outside my quarters when I left them, and he still isn't. But before I can go anywhere, Adams ambushes me. He's got a problem with a requisition for crucial spares and a fucked-up trail of paperwork, and it absolutely can't wait. It takes me the best part of three hours and unpleasant conversations with surly clerks from five different departments of Alliance Logistics Command to get it straightened out. I'm ready to kill someone by the time I finally forward the message with the necessary authorizations to Adams. I get up from my desk, rubbing my neck. It's starting to ache again. Damn bureaucrats.

It's late. Too late to talk to Kaidan, wherever he is. Probably asleep, like I wish I was. But I should probably get something to eat before I turn in. I head over to the mess to grab some rations from one of the storage units there. The place is deserted, but there's a datapad lying on the nearest table. I pick it up. The display flickers on, showing an extranet search result for--what else--porn vids. I roll my eyes. Everybody does it, but most have the sense not to leave the evidence lying around... Wait a minute.

The search bar at the top of the page--it says "breath play". And the vids--I scan through them quickly. These aren't your usual porn vids with unlikely plots wrapped around two-minute servings of sucking and fucking and maybe a cursory silk scarf pulled round the neck for a dash of spice. This is some seriously hardcore shit. The special interest section, for the true connoisseur of oxygen deprivation. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I suddenly feel like I'm in one of those crappy Alliance training vids that ends with some poor bastard swinging from the ceiling and a smarmy jackass with perfectly-pressed creases in his pants telling the camera that "troop welfare is everyone's responsibility."

I grit my teeth and bring up the history of recently-visited sites. There's a growing sense of dread in my gut that easily overrules whatever guilt I feel at this violation of privacy. The list hasn't been cleared for quite some time, maybe a few weeks. There's a definite dom/sub theme--sure, why not. Some light bondage, S&M--yeah, fine. But it's really only today that whoever it is has seriously indulged an interest in erotic asphyxiation.

Whoever it is. Fuck. Who are you kidding? You know who it is. I close the history and turn the datapad off. Why the hell would he leave this lying around here? That makes no fucking sense. It may be the 22nd century but this isn't the kind of thing people discuss around the water cooler.

I hear a door opening elsewhere on the deck. The restroom. Of course. Well, I guess it isn't too late to talk to Kaidan after all. I consider simply putting the datapad back down where I found it and escaping to my quarters. Pretending none of this ever happened.

No. He's one of yours. You have a duty to him. And especially if you're interested in him as more than a member of your team, you can't keep pretending not to know. And I am interested. Very interested. True--up till now, it’s just been looks. Smiles. Compliments. Flirting, basically. He's been guarded, but open to the idea. Maybe it could have gone on to something from there, maybe not. If I'm going to still be here when he enters the mess, if I'm going to acknowledge the fact that I've seen this... Whatever happens, there's no turning back from that.

I hear his footsteps before I see him. I take a deep breath. He rounds the corner and freezes at the sight of me holding the datapad.

"Kaidan," I say.

He swallows. "Commander."

I hold up the datapad. "Personally, I would have taken this with me. Or at least locked it."

"It locks itself after twenty seconds of inactivity," he says, tonelessly.

I nod. "So, just bad luck I happened to show up when I did. And bad luck that your CO's a nosy bastard. Or maybe good luck, depending on your point of view."

He says nothing. Whatever's going through his mind, whatever he's feeling, it's not showing on his face. His expression is completely neutral. He's closed himself off.

"Kaidan, we need to talk," I say. "Let's go to my office." I walk back towards my quarters. He follows me silently.

In my quarters, I gesture at the pair of chairs around the small conference table. He sits down in one of them. I take the other, asking myself what the hell I'm going to say. Fuck. Why not try the direct approach, at least it's got simplicity going for it.

I lean forward, trying to muster the courage to say what needs to be said.

"Kaidan, it may be that you think this is none of my business, as your CO. And maybe, if I was someone different, I might think the same. But I don't. And..." I sigh. "I consider you a friend."

I look at him, but he's not giving me anything. He might as well be a block of granite.

"Shit," I say. "You're more than a friend to me, Kaidan. And I know you feel the same way. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but I don't believe so."

Is that a flicker of something in his eyes? If so, it's gone in an instant.

Feeling like a drowning man, I continue, "The reason I'm saying this is because... I'm going to ask you some questions. And I'm sorry if it feels like I'm invading your space. But I'm doing this because I care about you." I pause to see if he'll say anything, but I don't really expect him to, and he doesn't disappoint me.

"Kaidan," I say quietly. "Will you answer my questions?"

"Yes, sir." A calm, clipped, military answer. It feels like a slap in the face. But I take a deep breath and go on.

"Earlier today, planetside," I say. "You knew what happened, almost immediately. Because you know what that feels like. You've felt it before?"

"Yes, sir." His expression gives nothing away.

"You've had experience with... 'breath play'," I say.

"Yes, sir."

"Kaidan, you have medical training," I say. "You, of all people, know the dangers." To my own ears, my voice seems stressed. Maybe a little angry. I hadn't meant to sound that way.

"Yes, sir," he says. Calm, emotionless.

I sigh. "Do you... do it often?"

"No, sir."

I rub my hands over my face. Fuck. He's going to make me work for every answer. With this yessir-nosir bullshit. The back of my neck is seriously aching now but I don't touch it, because I can feel him looking at me. God, Kaidan, I really don't want to be doing this.

Unexpectedly, he says softly, "Haven't for a long time."

I look at him. I blink. "When...?"

"Years ago. After Jump Zero. I found someone to... teach me about control." His gaze is distant. "It wasn't really a relationship, not as most people would understand it. And it didn't last long, after..." He laughs, once, humorlessly. "After I had learned all that I could."

I’m starting to understand, a little. "What exactly did you learn from him?"

He glances at me. "You're sure it was a him?"

"Yes," I say. His browsing history told me that much.

He runs his hand through his hair. "Yeah," he says. "He taught me to submit." He looks at me, clearly expecting me to say something. Maybe he's expecting some sort of shock or outrage.

I think about what he's said, about what I know of him. I say, slowly, "Most people see submission as giving up control. But you don't."

He looks at me. He seems surprised... maybe a little disturbed?

"What do I see it as, then?" he asks. Challenging me.

I slide the datapad back and forth on the table between my hands as I think. "You see it as maintaining control," I say. "Self-control. Despite pain, or humiliation, or fear. Self-control, in the face of provocation and... temptation." I think about it a little more. "Learning to separate what you know from what your body's instincts and emotions are telling you. Exercising control over what you decide to do about it. Or not do." I nod to myself, and give the datapad one last flick so it slides towards him, and sit back. "Vyrnnus," I say, by way of example.

He's definitely disturbed now. His gaze drops to the floor. "You're asking me questions you already know the answers to," he says quietly.

I say, "If I know the answers, it's because you gave them to me, one way or another."

He seems to accept this. His dark eyes meet mine. "What else do you want to know?"

A thought strikes me and I go with it. "Your, uh, teacher? Did anything happen to him?"

"I left him alive and well, if that’s what you mean," he says angrily. "That was kind of the whole point." He seems about to say more, but catches a glimpse of my face and subsides. He gives me a look of disgust. "You're just baiting me."

I choke back a laugh. "I'm sorry. I know it's not funny, but I have... an inappropriate sense of humor sometimes. And it's late." I clear my throat. "Tell me about the breath play."

He shrugs. "He tested my limits. A lot. And..." He shakes his head. "It heightens sensations. Sometimes, a kind of euphoria. I’m sure you know it can be addictive. I'd... almost forgotten how good it can feel. Earlier today, after all these years, it triggered... associations."

I nod. "When you almost 'collapsed', that wasn't you feeling unwell."

He looks at me. "Not unwell, no." He tilts his head slightly. "I did say I'd clean up before seeing the doctor."

I snort. "Yeah, you did say that. And there I was thinking you were being insubordinate for no good reason."

He smiles. It's a quick smile, soon gone. His smile was the first thing I noticed about him, back when we met. Back when the Normandy still had that new-ship smell.

"I guess I haven't really learned all I need to know about control," he says. He's staring at nothing. His fingers tap briefly on the surface of the datapad, then stop.

"Kaidan." I lean forward again. "Just promise me... if you do it, don't do it alone. Please. Have someone there--someone you trust--to get you out of trouble, if something goes wrong."

He's silent for a long time. Just looking at me. When he finally speaks, he says, "Are you offering, Shepard?"

I control my reaction to the question, to his use of my name, to the thoughts that are suddenly clamoring in my mind. I wait a few moments to be certain my voice will be steady before I answer.

"If that's what you want," I say. I look into his eyes. "There's a lot of other things I'd like to offer you, but... I'll give you whatever you want, Kaidan."

He sits back in his chair, stares at his hands. "I don't know what I want," he says.

I wait. I've said all I want to say.

His tone is harsher now, bitter. "And even if I did, is there any reason that I should get what I want? There are more important things to be concerned with right now. Things that we should all be concerned with." He glances at me. "The galaxy going to hell, for one. I don't think my personal issues should take the spotlight. With all due respect." A pause. "Sir."

It's a punch to the gut. God, Kaidan. I close my eyes and bite down on my knuckle.

Abruptly, he stands up. "Thank you for the talk, sir. I appreciate your time." His face is expressionless. He's closed himself off again. The conversation's over.

"Good night, Kaidan," I say mechanically.

"Good night, sir."

I hear the scrape of the datapad being picked up off the table, his footsteps receding. I don't look up as the door opens and shuts.




Ashley's dead. And Kaidan's convinced that I chose to save him instead of her for personal reasons. He questioned my decision at the debriefing. Said that Ashley was dead because of him. Because of us. Is there an us? That's news to me. Last I heard, he had to save the goddamn galaxy first.

Ashley was a fine Marine, an excellent fighter. Kaidan's a medic, a tech, and one of the best biotics in the Alliance. Do the fucking math.

What the hell, Kaidan. If it was a question of the mission, and god knows you're all about the mission, then you were the logical choice. Do you really think I'm so fucking hot for you that I would make the wrong decision, just so you could go on saying no to me in different ways? Or do you think I was trying to guilt you into jumping into my bed? Shit. Ashley deserves better than to be remembered as the one the Commander didn't want to fuck.

I’m contemplating throwing something at the wall when the door to my quarters opens and Garrus sticks his head in.

"Are you busy, Shepard?"

"No," I say. "What can I do for you, Garrus?"

"Nothing," he says, leaning against the doorway. "Just thought you might want someone to talk to. Someone non-Alliance." He glances over his shoulder. "Maybe you'd like to vent about Alenko's constant insubordination?"

I laugh. "I don't need to vent. I'm not angry."

Which is, I realize, actually true. A second ago I was mad as hell, but now, it's all evaporated. I understand Kaidan was upset. It's the first death he's seen under his command. Ashley was his friend, too. He's got survivor's guilt; it happens to the best of us. And so on. There's no lack of reasons.

Kaidan. He's such a mess of contradictions. In battle he kills without a second thought, without holding back. He'll break every major bone in a man's body with a flick of his arm--the screams don't seem to bother him. But he's also our medic, the one we look to for healing, the one whose hands bring relief from pain. He's stubborn as a krogan, and just as outspoken. Yes, even insubordinate. But he understands protocol better than anyone else I've ever met. He could probably recite every reg from memory, even the unwritten ones, and he lives his life by those strictures. He's proud and independent, refuses to be pitied or bullied, least of all by his commanding officer. But what his body yearns for, well, that's something else. He knows this about himself, the two warring sides of his personality. And he's defiant and ashamed at the same time.

"Shepard?" Garrus says. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah." I smile at the turian. "But thanks for coming by. You're a good friend, Garrus."

"Any time, Shepard." Garrus nods, and leaves.

Later, when I talk to Kaidan again, he apologizes for his outburst. Blames it on the adrenaline. But now that I know what I'm looking for, I can tell he's afraid that I see him as someone who needs to be saved.



The Citadel

"Grounded--are you kidding me? What the fuck! Those morons have their heads so far up their assholes that-- that--" Joker sputters.

I raise an eyebrow at him. "Go on," I say.

"Um... that... they look normal," he finishes lamely.

I roll my eyes. "Sad. But you get an 'A' for effort, Joker."

"Damnit, can't you talk to somebody?" he pleads. "Get Admiral Hackett to spring us, or something?"

"I've talked to Alliance brass. It's no good." I squeeze his shoulder gently. "But don't worry, we'll figure something out."

He nods gloomily.

"Go ashore," I suggest. "Get a drink, see the sights, whatever. We've got some downtime. Might as well make use of it. I'll radio if I need you."

"Nah," he says. "I'd rather be with my baby in her time of need." He runs a hand lovingly over his flight controls.

I shake my head and head for the stairs. But honestly, I understand what Joker means. There's no place I'd rather be than here, on the Normandy. Even if we can't do anything. I've never really been attached to any of the other ships I've served on in the past. Is it because this one's special, unique--the best in the fleet? Is it because of the strange circumstances she and I have been thrown into? Or is it just because she's mine, under my command? Whatever the reason, I feel like this is home now. That's a weird thing to be feeling for someone who's never really had a home.

I walk down the stairs to the crew deck and towards my locker. I've been meaning to do this for a while, and it might as well be now--I need to clear out all the useless crap that's lying around so I can get to what I actually need. But for some reason the door won't open. I stare at the bank of lockers. They've been ever-so-slightly bent out of shape so the perfectly-fitted, pressurized doors are jammed. I don't know if this is someone's idea of a practical joke, but it seems like one more piece of needless stupidity in a galaxy already awash in it.

I hear footsteps coming up behind me. Shit. It's Kaidan.

I suddenly feel tired. I don't know if I can handle this right now. I sit down heavily on the floor and slump against the lockers.

"Commander, are you alright?" he asks. Without waiting for an answer he goes on, "I'm sure there's a way to appeal. We're under Alliance authority, after all. Not the Council."

I tell him the same thing I told Joker. The same thing I told Pressly, before that. The Alliance isn't going to do fuck-all. Repeating it is getting old. And I guess it's getting to me. Kaidan can see I feel like crap and he wants to say something, but as usual he won't put himself out there. He knows damn well how I feel about him. And he knows he doesn’t need to feed me this "I hope I'm not out of line" bullshit.

He's not dealing too well with the fact that the Council and the Alliance both are hanging us out to dry, either. I tell him that we're not going to wait around hoping for the Council to come to their senses. Admittedly, at the moment, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, but I have a firm intention of doing something, probably something the Alliance won't like very much. Yeah, it's not a plan, but the plan will come--they always do.

It doesn't seem to me that I've said anything significant, but for some reason, he drops his guard then, and for the first time in a long while I can see real emotion in his eyes. I see hope there, anticipation. Even admiration.

He holds out a hand to help me up. I take it and he pulls, a little too enthusiastically. I have to catch hold of him to keep my balance. His shoulder is warm, I can feel the heat through his shirt. And then I'm suddenly aware my arm is practically wrapped around him, that our bodies are closer than they've ever been. He's looking at me, not moving away. There's something new in his eyes now, something he's never let me see before. Desire. Raw and unashamed. God, it's making my cock hard. My heart pounding, I lean in to kiss him, and he moves to let me--

"Sorry to interrupt, Commander." Joker doesn't sound particular sorry. I grit my teeth. Fucking cockblocker.

But it's a message from Anderson. He wants to see me, and I have to go. I glance at Kaidan. That look in his eyes is gone now, the look that set my blood on fire. But it's still him there, not the emotionless mask. That's something.



Part of me can't believe what I've done. What Anderson's done. Mutiny sounds like a throwback to the days of ancient sailing ships or maybe the title of a song in a musical about pirates, but they still take it pretty seriously in today's Navy. Hell, I don't even understand why the crew came with me, other than force of habit. They're risking everything on my word that the Reapers exist, that the Conduit exists--whatever the hell that is. That Saren isn't just some pathetic madman running around with a bunch of geth. And that we can stop him and his Reaper master from achieving their goal. It's humbling, that faith, that level of trust. At officer candidate school they talk about the burdens of rank, the loneliness of command. Nice to know what it is I'm feeling.

It’ll be hours before we get to the Mu Relay, and I should try to get some sleep. Sleep would be more productive than what I'm doing now, which is sitting here staring at my terminal screen, not seeing any of the words.

The door opens. For a second I can't tell who it is, but then he says, "Commander." The sound of his voice releases a knot deep inside me. Kaidan. He walks towards me and I stand up to meet him. Sleep can wait.

He starts talking. About the situation we've got ourselves into, about how it could go bad. Says he wants me to know it's been a pleasure serving under me. I can sense the bullshit level about to rise so I throw a pointed innuendo back at him. He fields it well enough, doesn't even blush, but I can tell he's nervous. He's talking too fast and too much. He's trying to explain why he's here, in my quarters. He must be trying to convince himself , because I'm way ahead of him.

When he winds down, I ask him to bunk here tonight, with me.

"Is that an order, Commander?" he asks, half-jokingly.

He's still too afraid to ask for what he wants, and trying to deflect attention from that fact. But I can see that he's breathing a little faster, and his eyes--they're urging yes.

I pull him close and kiss him as possessively as I know how. One hand on the back of his head, the other on the small of his back, trapping him against me. His hair is slightly damp. And he smells like soap, with a rising scent of something I can't name but I know I want. I taste his lips, his tongue. I slide my hand off his back onto his ass and push his body against mine, groin to groin so he can feel how much I want him. He groans.

I pull away just far enough so I can see his eyes, keeping my hands where they are. "Safeword," I say.

I see, briefly, a look of surprise. It turns into deliberation, an internal dialog. And then a self-deprecating smile.

"Vyrnnus," he says.

I nod. "And if you can't speak, use three taps. Like this." I demonstrate on his arm. He looks at me, his mind working, wondering.

I let go of him and step back, fold my arms, put myself in the right frame of mind.

"Strip," I order him.

"Yes, sir," he says. There's no hint of submissiveness in his tone, only a sort of defiant hunger. Whatever nervousness he was feeling before seems completely gone.

Moving deliberately, he sits down--in my chair--and takes off his boots and socks. Stands up again, unbuckles, unzips and steps out of his uniform. He's naked underneath, a nice touch, which I appreciate. I run my eyes over him . He's not intimidated by my scrutiny. In fact, he's-- Damn, there's that look in his eyes. Fuck. Concentrate, Shepard.

"I don't recall giving you permission to sit in my chair," I say.

"No, sir."

I say meaningfully, "And so..?"

He suggests, "You're going to punish me for it, sir?"

"Good guess," I say. "Or would you like to beg for mercy instead?"

"I'll take what I deserve, sir."

I smirk at him and go get my old brown leather belt out of the cabinet. As a fashion accessory it has little to recommend it. Anyone who cares about such things would probably call it uninspired. It does, however, have a number of metal rivets embedded along its length which give it a much more interesting character. The belt makes a dull snapping noise as I pull it taut.

"Assume the position," I say. "You can keep count."

"Yes, sir."

He bends over my desk, which is, conveniently, about the right height. Feet slightly apart, his ass presented to me. God, that ass. I'd like to-- I push those thoughts away. Deep breath. I set my feet. As with throwing a punch, proper hip rotation is the key to this. I don't put all my strength into it, but it's not a teasing blow, not gentle by anyone's standards. The slap of the belt hitting his flesh seems to fill the whole room. He inhales sharply and shudders.

"One," he says. His voice is low, but strong.

I watch the red welts rising on his skin, biding my time. I don't want him anticipating the next one, tensing against it; I want it to arrive unexpectedly. Like with a rifle--if you don't anticipate the recoil, you won't flinch and ruin the shot. When the time is right, I lay down a second stripe just above the first one.

"Two," he groans. I close my eyes and try to decide if that low, breathless undertone in his voice is lust or defiance, or simply a weapon of seduction.

After thirty more lashes his voice is hoarse with pain and pleasure, and if anything, more seductive than before. His eyes are closed, his head thrown back as he breathes raggedly. He's on the edge. One more lash would push him over. In the dim light of my terminal screen I can see the muscles of his thighs held tense, the bead of pre-cum running down from the tip of his cock. I swallow. The sight of his body, in that posture, held poised over the brink in the almost-darkness, is indescribably arousing.

I roll the belt back up and drop it on the desk. He turns his head at the sound. His eyes are burning. I listen to my own heartbeat. He closes his eyes, dropping his head back down. I watch him. When his breathing slows and his muscles begin to relax, I step closer. With one hand on his jaw I turn him towards me and pull him up into a standing position. I kiss him, careful not to let our bodies touch. His hands slide onto my hips, but tentatively. He knows I haven't given him permission. I pull away slightly and give him a warning look. He drops his hands, but his answering look has nothing apologetic about it.

I lean in and kiss his neck, trail my lips down his throat, along his collarbone, down his chest. My hands are moving down his spine onto his ass, tracing the raised, tender lines I've left there. My teeth drag over his nipple and he shivers. I bring my hand to his other nipple and pinch, twist. He groans and he's breathing hard again. He swallows, and I know he wants to move closer, to feel me against him, but my hands keep him still, our bodies just barely apart.

"Is there something you want, Lieutenant?" I ask. I'm aiming for condescension in my voice, but I get mostly just amusement.

His jaw works. "Yes, sir." He doesn't bother hiding the heat in his eyes.

"And what would that be?"

He looks into my eyes. "To get these clothes off you," he says. "Sir."

I let go of him and reach into the cabinet next to my desk. I take out the roll of duct tape. Still one of the most important inventions known to mankind. Maybe a close second to the mass effect drive.

"Turn around. Hands behind you," I say. He complies, and I wrap his wrists together, just tight enough to be uncomfortable. I toss the rest of the roll onto the floor by the bed.

"Turn back." He faces me again.

I spread my hands. "Carry on, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir." There's something like laughter in his eyes.

He kneels in front of me, leans down to the floor by my feet. A faint blue glow, an electric tingle, and my foot is being lifted off the ground, straight up. I suppress a laugh. When my foot is a few inches off the ground, his teeth clamp onto the back strap of my boot and in one swift motion he tugs it off my foot and throws it to the floor. His face on my ankle now, pushing the pant leg up, teeth on my sock. Another quick flick of his head and my foot is bare. The blue glow disappears and my leg is released. With barely a pause, he repeats his performance with the other foot. Under ten seconds. I am seriously impressed.

He sits back on his heels and begins to stand. On the way up, as if it's an afterthought, his teeth grip my belt buckle. A slight movement of his head, a click, and it falls free. He's on his feet now, face against my chest. His teeth find the tab and he drops his body back down, leaning back to unzip my uniform without snagging on anything. Up again, teeth on the sleeve, pulling it off my shoulder, down my arm. Then the other arm. Finally, two sharp tugs at hip level, and I’m naked, a pool of discarded clothing around my ankles.

He's standing up in front of me, smiling at the look of admiration on my face.

"Stunning," I say. And I don't just mean his teeth.

He smile widens, and he steps closer. "Do I get a reward, sir?"

I kiss him, deep and slow. He moves up against me, his skin smooth and warm. His cock hard against mine. When we pull apart his tongue blazes a wet trail down my neck, chest, stomach. He catches my eye for one moment, a single breath, then plunges his mouth down over my cock. I move my hand onto the back of his head, my fingers in his hair. He knows exactly what to do. Each time he slides down he goes a little lower. On each slide up, his tongue swirls against that sensitive spot under the head of my cock. And through it all his mouth applies warm, slick pressure. I let the waves of pleasure wash over me until I feel his lips around the base and the muscles of his neck flexing around the head. He's making a sound in his throat, and the vibration god-- I can't let him go on much longer. So I tighten my grip on his hair and pull him off me, pull him to his feet.

"Get on the bed," I command. He moves to the bed and sits down on it. I use that time to reach down to the floor for my uniform and retrieve the folding knife from the my pocket.

"Hands," I say. He turns his body so I can reach. I unfold the knife and slice through the duct tape. I rip the tape off and roll it into a ball, tossing it aside. He rubs his wrists and looks at me curiously.

"On your back," I tell him.

I position myself so I'm straddling his thighs. I hold the knife up in front of his face. His eyes flick to it, then to me. I drop my hand down towards his chest. When the knife reaches him I let the point dig into his skin. It's as sharp as a razor, and cuts at the slightest touch. I draw it slowly across his chest. A faint line of blood grows as his body belatedly realizes what's being done to it. His eyes close and his head goes back. I watch him carefully. The pain hits him and his breathing quickens. I lean down and run my tongue along the cut, tasting the salt of his blood. He moans, his back arching.

I lean back and wait till he relaxes. Then I draw another slow red line across his ribs. I work my way down his body this way, with my knife and tongue. By the time I've drawn a line down the inside of his left thigh he's shaking, his breathing loud and harsh. As I lower my mouth to his skin, his hips thrust involuntarily. I fold the knife closed and put it down, waiting till his fists unclench.

When his eyes open again, I say, "Roll over."

He obeys and I move back further between his legs. Then I lean down, pull his cheeks apart and slide my tongue down his crack, over his tight pucker and on to where his balls hang. His gasp of shock turns into a groan and he writhes, torn between confusion and pleasure. Another slow lick back up, then I force my tongue into him, as deep as it will go. He cries out, loud enough to be heard on the other end of the deck. I try not to laugh.

Instead I stand up and walk around to crouch next to his head. I grab him by the jaw and growl, "You're very indiscrete, Lieutenant."

I slap him backhand across the face, hard. The fire flares in his eyes, but his lips clamp shut. I pick up the roll of duct tape from the floor, tear off a strip and apply it over his mouth. Then I stop at the cabinet and squeeze some lube out on to my hand before climbing back onto the bed.

Two lubed fingers slide easily into him. I move them in a slow rhythm, savoring the sound of his muffled moans. When he starts to push back against my hand, I rake the fingernails of my other hand down his back and across the welts on his ass. He tries to cry out again. I pull my fingers out and wait, listening to his breathing.

It takes a long time for him to relax. When I've waited long enough, I grab his hips and roll him over. I move up close to him, look into his face as I lift his legs, placing them on either side of my neck. His dark gaze holds mine as I push my cock into him, leaning into him. He can't speak, of course, but his eyes say clearly fuck me. I fuck him hard. He's moaning again, and I have to fight to not moan with him, to not lose myself in the sensation. I force myself to breathe deliberately, to watch him, watch his eyes close, feel him under me, feel his muscles tensing, his back starting to arch. I thrust deep into him and stop, slide my hand onto his cock, grip him, stroke him. He groans desperately, his fingers curled into the sheets. I reach forward with my free hand, covering his nose, cutting off his air. His eyes fly open, and in a moment, register understanding. He closes them again. I feel him clenching around me and I stroke him faster. His body shudders violently as the orgasm hits him, his cock pulsing in my grip, spurting over his chest. Instantly I remove my hand from his face, peel the tape off his mouth, and watch.

For several long moments he lies there, just breathing. Deep, fast breaths. Then he licks his lips and swallows. His eyes open, focus, and look up into mine. He looks at my hand, still holding his cock. He dips a finger in one of the pools of cum on his chest and holds it out to me. I lean forward and suck it off his finger. He smiles.

"Finish," he says softly. He squeezes me. I begin to move again, closing my eyes, concentrating on nothing now but how good he feels, how much I want him, how much I want to empty myself into him. The release, though delayed, is worth the wait. As it rises through my body I groan his name and breathe, breathe as I give myself up to the pleasure, to him.



Later, after we're done cleaning up and I've slathered medi-gel over all the damage I've done to his body, he says softly, "I didn't expect that from you."

"Didn't expect what?" I ask.

"That sort of... expertise. Attention to detail. Improvisational skill." He smiles wryly. "Self-control." He shakes his head. "I thought I had you all figured out."

"There's a lot you don't know about me," I say. I pull the sheets up over us and slide an arm around him.

"If I'd known that a faulty scrubber would lead to the best sex of my life--" he muses.

I kiss him softly. "Your life isn't over yet," I tell him. "And there's a lot more we can learn from each other." I close my eyes. "Good night, Kaidan."

He chuckles. "Good night, sir."