Fifteen seconds

Kaidan stared for a moment at Shepard’s cabin’s closed door. Images and sounds of the last 24 hours kept turning in his head and left him with a sickening feeling throbbing in his chest. Surely, even Shepard should probably feel the whole uneasiness of the situation. He needed to talk to her about it, to check how she felt, to get all of what was boiling in his head out of his chest. He kept telling himself he trusted Shepard’s judgement and decisions, but still, the doubt would not go away. Shepard never liked Ashley. She never liked the fact that Kaidan liked the younger marine. He could not stop thinking about it. Had Shepard left Ashley behind because of this?

He opened the door resolutely without bothering to knock. Shepard turned to the door as he entered and she hardly showed any surprise before smiling to him. She was apparently in the middle of some model building – of a turian cruiser as far as Kaidan could tell – and she came back to her work when he closed the door behind him. Her blonde hair was tied in her usual tonytail but a lone strand had escaped and was falling before her right eye. It was not enough to make her stop though and she only tried to blow it with an annoyed sigh while carrying on with her current task. Kaidan remained by the door looking at her, trying to ignore the butterflies in his stomach and to focus on the reason he was here.

Finally, she let go of the model and tucked the rebellious strand behind her ear before turning to him.

“What brings you here, my dear Lieutenant?” she asked playfully, a seductive smile appearing on her lips.

Any other day, Kaidan would have been flattered, flustered, happy of Shepard’s playful mood and obvious satisfaction at seeing him. Some part of him was. But he hated that part. The last thing he wanted on his mind right now, was to desire Shepard.

“I came to check on you,” he answered, his tone sounding a little unsure.

Shepard carefully put away some pieces of the model scattered on the table before leaning against it. She crossed her arms over her chest and frowned.

“Check on me?” she asked casually.

Kaidan watched her intently for a few seconds, looking into her clear blue eyes, her raised eyebrows and her quirked lips for the sign of some discomfort or bravado.

“About what happened on Virmire.”

“There was nothing else to do.” she answered at once and shrugged. “It’s done.”

And with that, she turned back to the model and started to gather the pieces she had pushed away a minute before.

Kaidan closed the distance between them and stopped right beside her.

“How could you say that?” he asked. “Like that? Ash died.”

“I remember.” Shepard answered without turning to him.

“Why?” he went on. “Why did you leave her behind? Garrus told me you were nearly at the tower when you turned back. Maybe there was time.”

“There wasn’t enough time for both of you,” Shepard snapped, still focused on her model. “I don’t make time, I make decisions.”

“Why did you make this particular one then?”

“It was the right thing to do.”

“You were closer to her position than mine! Why did you come back?”

“What do you want me to tell you?” she spat back, clearly annoyed now. “You want your Commander to justify her choices, Lieutenant?”

Kaidan grimaced a little at that, but he didn’t step back. This reaction was to be expected. He sighed, closed his eyes briefly and went on.

“I’m not talking to my Commander,” he answered carefully. “I’m talking to a friend.”

An unreadable expression appeared on Shepard’s face.

“A friend now?” she asked. She paused to see the discomfort playing on Kaidan’s face, then resumed. “I kind of thought you wanted more than that.”

“We both know what I mean by that,” he replied, his tone firmer again. “That’s precisely what I’m talking about. I mean…” he paused, wavered. He wasn’t sure it was a good idea to broach the topic he had in mind, but he needed to. “I mean, Ash wasn’t a rival. Never has been.”

Understanding of where he was going with that dawned on Shepard. A smirk appeared slowly on her lips and a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

“You think I thought she was?” she asked in utter disbelief.

She sounded nearly offended, and even a hint of contempt colored her tone. For the first time since he had known her, Kaidan wanted to punch her.

“You surely acted like it,” Kaidan answered icily.

They stared at each other for a few seconds in silence, and the smirk on Shepard’s lips disappeared and her nostrils slowly flared in anger.

“So that’s it? that’s why you came down here? To make sure that I didn’t send a woman to her death because I thought she was a rival on the romantic territory?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Kaidan backpedaled, but he suddenly realized that not only it was just what he had told her, but that the thought had actually crossed his mind.

“That’s exactly what you meant,” Shepard replied, all previous amusement vanished for good. “Let me tell you this Alenko,” she stood straight, leaving the table and the model behind her.

“Shepard…” Kaidan tried, but she cut him short.

“Shut up and listen,” she said, her voice as cold as her icy blue eyes peering into his own. “I did not send a good marine to her death, the sister of three and the daughter of an Alliance’s marine widow, because she might or might not have been a rival to me. Not only, she certainly wasn’t, but do you really think that’s the way Commander Shepard makes death or life decisions?”

“Shepard, that’s not…”

“Shut up,” she interrupted again. “I never liked Williams, that’s true. You’re important to me, that’s also true. Did both these facts count when I made my decision? Yes they did.”

Kaidan looked down and his stomach churned. He had come here to confront her about this precise issue and now, he did not want to hear it.

“But not in the way you think.” Shepard went on after a painfully long pause .”You want to know why I chose to come back for you? Then listen : I came back because you’re an Officer and she wasn’t, I came back because you’re a good biotic and she wasn’t. These are the reasons why I chose to save your ass rather than hers, and there are the only reasons. Had things been the other way around regarding feelings, I would have saved you anyway. Only difference: the decision would have been longer to make.The fact that I like you better than her? I made the decisions in 5 seconds rather than 20.”

She fell silent and Kaidan watched carefully the way her chest heaved a little faster than before, the way her icy blue eyes shone with uncharacteristic vulnerability.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I…”

“Don’t,” she interrupted. “She was important to you. I understand.”

An embarrassed silence followed, and Kaidan thought best to leave it at that.

“I should go,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”

He turned to leave but before he reached the door, she called after him.

“Kaidan…” she said in the softest tone he had ever known her. “I know you might not want to hear this… but for what it’s worth, I’m relieved it went that way. I don’t think I could do this without you.”

He felt a sudden surge of affection for her, and for a moment he pondered whether he should come back to her and pulled her into his arms. Before he could make a decision, she straightened and the mask of the Commander was back into place.

“And I’m sorry for you loss,” she added before turning back to her model.

He nodded slowly, watched her for a couple more minutes and finally left the room.