These women would be the death of him, Kaidan idly thought as he watched Shepard and Williams walking a few steps ahead of him by the Presidium lake, both clad in their typical Alliance fatigues and shirts. They were talking low, head slightly leaning toward each other, exchanging glances and smiles, and – Kaidan could not help but notice – arms and fingers slightly brushing from time to time. Each time it would happen, both would jerk away, but would come closer again far too quickly to call it accident. As he wondered if this meant he had misread the signals he’d received, they both turned their heads toward him and sent the same grin his way, making his stomach churn and his cheeks burn a little.
‘Get a grip Alenko’ he chastised himself. ‘You misread before, you’re misreading here.’
He had a hard time to believe it though. He was pretty sure that Shepard had been dropping hints that they were closer than CO/subordinate a few times, and after secluding herself in the cargo bay talking to Shepard only for weeks, Ashley had recently taken a habit to come by his station to keep him company, making small talks and joking around. Something was definitely happening.
At least, something was happening to him, even though he did his best to pretend otherwise and to ignore these forbidden thoughts.
‘This is against regs’ he kept telling himself when he and Shepard spent hours in comfortable silence in the mess hall at night while everyone else was sleeping, and he could not help himself and stole glances and noticed she was doing exactly the same.
‘This is against regs’ popped to his mind when Ashley leaned against the corner of his station while he was working, asking how he was doing since his last migraine or telling some story about one of her younger sisters, with a frank and discreet smile on her face he had to admit he enjoyed so much seeing.
‘This is TOTALLY against regs’ felt like flashing in front of his eyes when they were all the three of them together and Ashley teased Shepard and himself about anything that seemed relevant at the time and Shepard just rolled her eyes and smiled and threw her arms around both of them after making sure no one else was around.
Something was going on and he was pretty sure they also knew it, felt it, but it was left unsaid, ignored for the time being. Until one of them would act on it? Until it would fade as time passed?
They were soldiers, in the middle of what was probably the most important and dangerous mission they had ever taken part to. Distractions were not allowed and they all knew it. Romantic drama was the last thing they needed. And a love triangle the last thing they could afford to handle during their hunt for Saren.
Kaidan knew this very well. He kept rehearsing all this mantra when he was alone at his station.
Because it did not take much for him to feel all his resolve flying out the airlock. All his good intentions could disappear the second Shepard stumbled out of her cabin to come and see him, her dark hair a little tousled as always, eyes sparkling when she looked at him, a faint smile tugging at the corner of her lips; or when he couldn’t help stopping whatever he was doing when he heard the elevator’s doors hissing open and hoped to see Williams turning at the corner the second after, a gleam of mischief shining in her eyes.
He had always been a very collected man. At least, he had made thorough efforts at being one since he enrolled with the Alliance. After what had happened with Vyrnnus at Jump Zero, he knew how important it was to be in control of his emotions.
But whenever one of these two women, or worse, both of them, were around him, he could feel all this control he was so carefully keeping over himself, slowly slipping and starting to evade him. Be it Ashley taking him off guard by reciting some poetry, or Shepard shamelessly cheating when they played cards late at night in the mess hall, or those times when he walked behind them enjoying the view and musing about the comforting sense of intimacy they shared, and he had to fight the urge to act on his more and more obsessive ‘regulations be damn’ thoughts.
Maybe later, he’d told himself then to keep them at bay. When they’d finalled caught Saren.
They had this lead on Virmire. Kaidan was confident that this mission would get them to Saren and closer than ever to put a stop to his deeds.
It was their next stop. It seemed reasonable to wait until after Virmire. They would sort this after the mission. After Virmire.
“Alenko, can you hold them off long enough for us to come back from the tower?” Shepard’s anguished voice screamed over the com.
Kaidan’s eyes widened in horror when he saw the flow of geth descending from the sky toward his position, and his heart started to beat wildly in his chest.
“Negative Commander! They’re too many! I don’t think we can survive until you get here!”
He looked up toward the tower, in the direction where Shepard had left only minutes before. She might still be halfway between them, or hardly closer to Ashley.
Kaidan understood then with painful clarity what was going to happen. He could picture Shepard weighing her options somewhere up the tower as clearly as if he was standing right beside her. He could feel her ache as she perfectly knew that her next step could really mean that one of the people she cared most about – because that was what he and Ashley were, Kaidan knew, even if she had never told them – was probably going to die. He also knew what she would be considering before deciding where to go. He was a biotic, an officer, he was with the bomb. She was going to come back and leave Ashley to her fate, counting on odds to keep her alive, but knowing full well she did not stand a chance. The mere idea to be back on board the Normandy without one of them, to hold Shepard’s gaze after Williams was lost, broke his heart and made him sick.
Kaidan glanced at the geth who were still held at a distance by the fighting marines around him and his decision was made.
“I’m activating the bomb.” he informed Shepard and as soon as the words left his mouth, he started to work on the detonator feverishly.
“What the hell are you doing Alenko?” Shepard exclaimed, a hint of hardly contained panic coloring her voice.
“I’m just making sure this bomb goes off. No matter what.” He switched on the last connector and the moment after, it was all set. There would be no arguing, no time lost on a decision that was probably as impossible to make for Shepard than it would be for him should he be in her shoes.
“It’s done Commander. Go get Williams and get the hell out of here.”
“Screw that! We can handle ourselves! Go back and get Alenko!” Ashley screamed on her end, and Kaidan struggled to hear her in the midst of assault rifles bursts and pistols shots. At first, he nearly smiled upon hearing those words – so typically Ashley’s – but the next he worried that it might convince the Commander to come back for him. There was a moment of silence on Shepard’s end. It probably only lasted a few seconds, but as Kaidan could only make out sounds of a raging battle around him and through Williams’ com, it felt like it lasted way longer. Finally, Shepard’s hollow and terribly calm voice rang to his ears:
“Williams, radio Joker and tell him to meet us at the AA tower.”
A part of Kaidan felt relieved that Shepard had followed through his plan, but the second after, the reality of what it really meant descended upon him. The reality that he would never see her or Ashley again, that he would never take any of them in his arms. They would never sort whatever had been going on. There would be no after Virmire. And for the briefest, craziest moment, he was about to take back his words, to plead her to change her mind and to come back for him. Ashley’s weak acknowledgment of Shepard’s order snapped him out of it and back to reality, and instead of a ridiculous and desperate plea, he told Ashley and Shepard it was the right choice and he meant it.
“I’m sorry Kaidan.” came Shepard’s soft apology, only for him to hear. “I had to make a choice.”
“It’s okay Commander,” he replied, and it really was, because he could never bear to live without one of them, knowing that Ashley’s life had been the price for his. “I don’t regret a thing.” It wasn’t true, but they weren’t in one of these old romantic, cheesy, movies where dying heroes had time to exchange last minute words of love and farewell before dying in the arms of their beloved. They were in reality where Shepard needed to be focused on saving herself and Ashley.
When he saw the Normandy flying away above the tower a moment later, clutching his bleeding side with one hand, firing blindly in front of him at the remaining geth with the other, Kaidan allowed himself to take one last look at the detonator before closing his eyes and trying to picture the perfect faces and figures of Commander Shepard and Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams.
These women were the death of him, he thought. And he was okay with that.