Tidbit Tuesday: Shepard's Punishment, Part 1

My team and I had gone on a jaunt through the dreaded Omega 4 relay, taken out thousands of the ancient race of mutant bugs, rescued a few dozen people, given Cerberus the finger, and returned as heroes. That was a month ago and I'd been stuck on the Citadel giving reports ever since. I was bored.

It had been a very lonely, frustrating journey for me. I had clung to my belief that Kaidan and I could rekindle our love, fending off advances from Jacob the lackey, the sweat-inducing smoothness of the assassin Thane, the fun and fit Donnelly, my crew psychologist, and even my best friend Garrus.

But as soon as I returned I'd called his number only to get a recording saying it had been disconnected. I tried to reply to his tentative apology message but it bounced back to me. Apparently, he'd changed his mind.

I debated finding some company at one of the clubs. I had that dress Kasumi had given me for Hock's party and I thought the dance floor at Flux might yield someone vaguely acceptable. That Asari in the VIP room of Afterlife on Omega seemed quite taken with my moves, after all. As long as I didn't use my real name I might be able to get away with a fling, at least. It had been a very, very long time and what frisky drunk would recognize Commander Shepard in a little black dress?

I made my way through the late night crowd, drink in hand, moving a little to the music. I had been at the club for ten minutes and already I wanted to go home, and alone. This had been a terrible idea. It was a little late in life for me to change my character enough to accept a one night stand. I decided to finish my drink, at least. I set it down on a table next to the dance floor, unconsciously swaying a bit with the beat. Suddenly, a hand grabbed my arm and spun me to the right.

"Why didn't you call me?!"

There was Kaidan, halfway between drunk and furious. I threw my shoulders back in an attempt to look more professional, despite the tight leather number I wore.

"I did," I protested, "but your number was disconnected." What an ass, I thought, putting my hands on my hips to keep from smacking him. Suddenly I realized that he was looking not at my face but at the cleavage that had never been exposed in my normal Alliance casual gear. His eyes traveled my entire body as I flushed hotly. Why was I wearing this torture device? At least I'd had Dr. Chakwas clear up the nasty scars that would have been exposed by the damned thing. I'd have been a real horror show in it otherwise.

Kaidan shook his head as if to clear it. "Are you trying the same number I had three years ago? I got a new number after that reporter you decked kept calling me. You should have asked Anderson!" He took a step closer. "I've been worried about you."

I leaned in to hear his lowered voice. I could smell the booze on his breath as well as that smell that always made me want to bury my nose in his neck and have a good nibble. I swallowed hard, trying to hold on to my libido.

"I thought you'd changed it to avoid me," I admitted, stepping back to slam the rest of my drink. That had been a humiliating admission but I wanted him to know that Cerberus hadn't lobotomized me. If I'd thought he had wanted to hear from me I would have asked Councilor Anderson if it had changed. He signaled to the waiter to bring me another as he passed and then placed the same hand on my arm. "I would never do that to you," he breathed.

I tried to concentrate on his words as goosebumps spread up my arm and down my torso. I hoped he hadn't noticed but his eyes widened slightly as the evidence showed. I hated this dress more with every passing moment, particularly the part that limited the number of undergarments I could wear beneath it.

"Uh, it's cold in here," I said feebly. My drink arrived, something green this time, and I pounded that one down, too. I had to get out of here. The idea of male companionship was very definitely once more appealing but I felt half-nude and completely exposed far too early in the evening.

Kaidan gave me a considering look. "Why don't we go somewhere quieter?" he asked. "We've got too much to talk about to stand here shouting in each other's ears. Maybe we can go get coffee somewhere."

That seemed reasonable, but I wasn't going anywhere else in this stupid dress. "That sounds great," I said, "but I need to stop by my apartment to change first." I must have imagined the leer that passed over his face like lightning because he responded with a perfectly neutral, "Sure."

We made our way out to a taxi and headed for my place. I tried to relax but I noticed Kaidan looking at my legs, hanging out there with no protection. Could I pull down the skirt without being obvious? Did I want to? Perhaps I shouldn't have swallowed that second drink so fast without asking what it was. The fact that I was contemplating sliding down in the seat a little to give him a better view clearly demonstrated that I'd had too much. Thank heavens we arrived before I could do anything stupid. We had to talk about everything that had happened, not jump into bed.

I left Kaidan on my couch, thankful that I'd picked up before going out earlier. I headed into my room and struggled out of the dress from hell, standing in my underwear wondering if I had any clean clothes to wear. I hadn't bothered with laundry lately. His voice came from the other room, sounding much closer than the couch. "Why didn't you answer my message?" he asked. I grabbed the towel from my shower earlier and covered myself, stepping closer to the door to listen for him. What was he doing?

"You certainly made it sound like you didn't want to hear from me until I got back," I answered, "and then when I did my reply didn't go through, just like my calls." Was that movement just outside the door? "What would you have thought?"

"That there had been a mistake," he said. Sure enough, Kaidan's voice was only a few feet away. "That I should ask my friends for help."

"Yeah, because explaining how your lover has changed his phone number and isn't taking your messages sounds like a great first step." Whoops! How had that word gotten in to the sentence? I had to get him away from the door. "Do you...want something to drink?" I asked, naming the first thing that came to mind. "There's a bottle of wine in there somewhere."

A pause spun out and I wondered what he was thinking. "No," he replied finally. "Wine is definitely not what I want."

I took a deep breath. He must have drank more than I thought, to be acting so forward. While I mostly wanted to throw myself into his arms and damn the consequences I knew that we needed to clear the air if it was to be any less awkward afterward. I stuck my head out the door. "Kaidan, we really have to talk about Horizon."

He looked at me guiltily. He knew it as well as I did but he looked like he'd been willing to ignore it for just a little longer. Those puppy-dog eyes made me wish I had as well. "It's important," I insisted.

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