Title: Of Diamond Rings and Being a Man
Author: Bearit
Summary: Kaidan decides to propose. It does not go as planned. Fem!Shep/Kaidan fluff.

Disclaimer: Mass Effect belongs to Bioware, not me.

Kaidan Alenko had no idea how he was going to propose.

He supposed it would be much easier if Lila Shepard was a normal woman who could be so easily swooned with pretty jewelry and chocolates and roses, who enjoyed putting on a little black dress on dates, who had been dreaming of her wedding day since she first peered at her parents' wedding vids and photographs. But the way to her heart was not through golden necklaces and peanut clusters and exquisite bouquets, she would much sooner wear her uniform on dates (and had, on a couple of occasions), and as far as Kaidan was concerned, she never gave much more than a fleeting thought to the idea of getting married. Someday. Eventually. … maybe.

And to be completely fair, most days, Kaidan preferred her this way. The past week was the only seven days he could recall that he wished otherwise, and if he had to be honest with himself, the challenge had been part of the fun for the first six.

Today was not a fun seventh day for trying to pick out a ring for a finger size he didn't know and for a woman who owned no jewelry. He managed to figure out a reasonable restaurant for the date—it wasn't so fancy a restaurant that either of them really needed to dress up, and it wasn't so notable a restaurant that anybody in the press or influential would notice them, and it wasn't so drastically different that Lila suspected anything more than marking the end of his shore leave and her taking a brief break from the Normandy. But the ring, oh the ring…

Kaidan tried to tell himself that Lila didn't need a ring, nor did she want one. He knew that she would be quite satisfied with the notion that they would be getting married eventually, and she did not need a symbolic piece of jewelry formalizing the idea. She would scold him for spending so much money on something she would never wear, in fact. But for some reason, he could not let the idea go that if he was going to propose, he needed a ring, and there was no way around it.

So, for the tenth time that week, he found himself in a jewelry store, scowling at the selection of diamond rings and finding nothing that would be suitable for a woman like Commander Lila Shepard, the hero of the Blitz and the first human Spectre. Everything was too fancy, or the rocks were too big. The selections had not changed since his first visit—the manager had said as much as soon as he walked in.

"She must be one hell of a woman," the manager said. "I've never seen anybody come in here and agonize like you have. Most buy something after the second or third time. Not the tenth. Or eleventh?"

Kaidan laughed in spite of himself. "I promise you, this is the last time you'll see me. I'm doing it tonight. I need the ring today."

"Well, tell me a little bit about this girl. Maybe I can help."

Kaidan took a moment to think. What could he say without betraying Lila's identity? They had kept their relationship of a year and a half a "don't ask, don't tell" secret—everyone in the know knew, but they never acknowledged it. Kaidan and Lila preferred to keep it that way, which was another reason why Kaidan wondered if an engagement ring was such a good idea. He wondered again—why was he even bothering?

"Well," he started slowly, "she's… a bit of a career woman, I guess. Military. Takes it very seriously. But she's very dedicated not only to her job, but to her crew, too."

"An officer?"

"Yeah. She's no ordinary woman, let me tell you. Very strong. She's seen a lot of bad stuff, and she never lost faith despite it all." Well, maybe except once, but the manager didn't need to know about that. "I often wonder what keeps her going. I've asked, but… it's still amazing to me, even after knowing her for so long now."

The manager quickly scanned through the collection of rings between the two of them. "It sounds like she would want to wear something inconspicuous. Easy, and won't get in her way."

"If she would wear it at all. As far as I know, this might be the first and only piece of jewelry she'll ever own. Other than the wedding bands, I guess."

"Not much of a romantic, is she?"

"Only in her eyes," said Kaidan quietly. Lila never needed to tell him that she loved him. Her eyes would soften whenever they were alone together, and her touch would be gentler, and her kisses sweeter. It was more than enough for Kaidan to lose himself to her every time. She murmured the words a few times, because it was always nice to hear and it always felt good to say, but it was never needed.

The manager scanned through the case of rings, and then he reached over to the keypad and punched in a few numbers and took out a ring. "This might suit her."

The ring was the simplest thing he had ever seen. The gold band was thin, and the diamond was a tiny silver dot that only spanned the width of the band, and Kaidan realized that he missed it before because it was so modest compared to all the others. He met the manager's eyes, who smiled a toothy grin.

"This one never gets sold. My customers usually try to get the most extravagant ring they can afford, but it sounds like your girl will want to wear the complete opposite."

"If she'll wear it."

"She will. Especially if it's something like this. It'll be easy to hide if she needs to hide it."

Kaidan took one more look at it, asked for the price, and of course it was very well within what he could afford, and he dished out the credits. At the very least, he would not have wasted his money.

They met in the restaurant later in the evening, and Kaidan smiled as Lila scanned the room for him. She was, having just come off-duty for only a few hours, still wearing her uniform, and of course a pistol was at her side because she rarely left the Normandy without it, and she stood as though she was still on duty. This was supposed to be a casual outing, a rare chance for them to be together off the ship and not under the scrutiny of the general public. A couple of people might recognize her, but nobody who could do anything except admire from afar and maybe ask for an autograph. Old habits die hard, though, Kaidan supposed.

She quickly spotted him, and she let her posture slump slightly as she smiled and made her way to the table. "This is a change of pace," she said as she sat down. "I've never had Greek food before."

"Well, I'd be lying if I said that it's my favorite," said Kaidan. "This is my first time, too. I thought that we could be a little adventurous tonight."

"Not that our lives are void of adventure."

"Yeah, but it's nice to take a risk that's not a matter of life or death, for once."

Lila smiled, and they ordered their food, and they fell into routine. They talked about what had been going on the Normandy the past week and where Admiral Hackett had sent them for an assignment to clean up the Alliance's mess of twenty-seven years ago that they were trying to keep under wraps (even though Captain Anderson served on the Council now, humanity still found itself in a precarious situation of needing to watch its step). Kaidan thumbed the ring in his pocket as the conversation began to run dry, and Lila began asking him what he had been up to since taking his leave.

"It's a bit unusual for you to request shore leave without asking me to come along with you," she said. "Joker had his opinions on the matter, but…"

"Personal business. Like I said."

"I thought I was part of your personal business, Alenko."

Kaidan shook his head with a wry smile. She almost never called him by his last name anymore; on duty, she strictly called him by his rank, and in private or off duty, his first name. "You are… ma'am," he said slowly, trying to keep the formalities between them aligned, as he always did. "But this was something I needed to take care of myself. It wasn't anything… important. Don't worry about it."

Lila raised an eyebrow. "If it wasn't important, why did you need to take leave?"

"It's just… well… it's nothing. Don't worry. It's all taken care of." Well, this was a bigger hole than he thought he would wind up digging trying to muster up the courage to say the words, and from the look on Lila's face, she was not buying a single word of it.

"Kaidan, if you've got something to say, you better just say it. No secrets, remember?"

Kaidan sighed. She always had been straight to the point. Beating around the bush had always been her biggest pet peeve, right next to people obviously hiding things from her. She had even less tolerance for him keeping secrets from her. It was now or never.

"Okay, well—"

Of course that would be when the waiter would return with their food. He set down the plates—both Kaidan and Lila had ordered the same thing, a plate of gyros with spanakopita, whatever that was, highly recommended by their waiter—and asked if there was anything more he could get them. Both waved their hands and told them that they were fine, and the waiter left bidding them the usual dialogue, and Kaidan turned back to Lila, who obviously would not let this distraction keep him from what he was about to say.

Good. He hoped.

"You were saying, Kaidan?"

"Um, okay…" He took a moment to collect his thoughts. And he thought the ring had been the hardest part of this whole ordeal! A fancy speech, or to get right down to it? Of course Lila wanted him to get right down to it, though. Before they formalized their relationship, she always had seemed annoyed when he dodged anything relating to them, but she did seem to enjoy his words when he managed to wax romantic their first night together. Would she expect that now? But she wasn't expecting anything. She probably thought that he was struggling with something of his past, something probably even more horrible than Vyrnnus and Rahna, or… what had Joker suggested to her, anyway? Why was she talking to Joker of all people, if anyone, about his shore leave? He probably talked to her about it first, thought to throw in his unsolicited two cents.

"This is a lot harder to say than I thought it was going to be."

He hadn't meant to say that. From the change in Lila's expression, he shouldn't have said that. She frowned, and she leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.

"Just man up and say it." Her voice was harsh, angry, and… annoyed?

Kaidan sighed and closed his eyes. It was really now or never. Just spit it out, he told himself. No need to keep delaying this further. He gripped the ring again. Eh, maybe it would be better if he returned it. The ring really was a stupid idea anyway. Maybe this whole proposal thing was just stupid. They would probably wind up getting married on their own time anyway. Was it necessary to formalize it?

He delayed too long. Lila stood from her chair. "Just when I thought that you were getting comfortable with this relationship," she said, her voice unreadable. "Lieutenant, I would have expected that you of all people would know me well enough by now."

"Yes, but—"

"So if you won't do it, I will." And most precariously, she knelt by his side and took his hand and had the most mischievous of smiles he ever saw on her. "Kaidan Alenko, will you marry me?"

Kaidan froze in his seat. "What?" But she kept smirking, and in spite of himself, he smiled. "Yes. Of course."

She smiled one of delight and elation, and he knew his face must have matched, and then they kissed as though there were nobody else with them in the restaurant. When they pulled away, Lila's mischievous smirk was back. "Now, as I understand it, you have a ring for me?"

Kaidan frowned. "How did you—"

"Besides the fact that you're too transparent for your own good and it's part of our culture? Kaidan, don't underestimate the location of the store you were in and how quickly my crew can accomplish the assignments the admiral sends us on, or how insightful Joker can be sometimes."

"So all that before was just you trying to get me to just say it?"

"You should know me by now, Alenko. I'm not exactly the most patient of women, especially when it comes to personal affairs.."

Kaidan smiled. "And I wouldn't want you any other way, ma'am."