Substitute

I knew who he was before we even met. Who didn't? He was one of the biggest Alliance heroes in recent years, second only to his commanding officer. Alenko.

To say that I was nervous when I walked into the bar was an understatement. I was a little surprised that he wanted to meet some place as noisy as the Dark Star Lounge, but if rumors were to be believed, he and his commander had been...close. Perhaps he was more reluctant about this blind date than I was. I frowned at that thought, but my curiosity was such that I'd at least like to meet him, if not anything more.

He was standing at the bar when I walked in and the first thing I noticed was how tense he was, if his hunched shoulders were any indication. I could only see the side of his face, but I was comfortable saying that I was looking at half a frown. I walked up to him slowly, a small smile pasted on my face and he didn't seem to notice. It wasn't until I put a hand on his shoulder did he turn his head.

All the words I'd meant to say flew out of my head when his eyes met mine. So much...pain. He stared warily at me. It was not an auspicious beginning but once I introduced myself, he smiled, said how nice it was to meet me. He ushered me to a table, away from the crowds and the noise. We talked about inconsequential things, getting to know each other. He guarded himself carefully, but as the night wore on, I could tell he was beginning to warm up to me. However, when we finally stood to go, he merely shook my hand again and went on his way. I certainly didn't expect to hear from him again.

When he called the next week, asking me to dinner, I was shocked. I was even more shocked when he took me to one of the more romantic restaurants on the Citadel and it was like talking to a different man. He was charming and funny, and shared stories about his childhood and his adventures. He asked me about my life, his eyes fixed on my face as if I was the most interesting person in the world. He held my hand as we talked, only letting go when our food came. I was having a great time, my first in a long time. I had never met a man as compelling as him or as selfless. It seemed like he really cared about what I thought and who I was. I noticed he stayed away from his time on the Normandy and clammed up when I asked about his biotics, but when he kissed me after walking me home, I didn't mind.

He wasn't always on the Citadel, but when he was away, he sent me messages, asking me about my day. When he was able, he made sure to take me out to dinner, and we...talked. On our fifth date, I began to wonder why he never wanted more than a kiss and a chaste one at that as far as kisses went, but I didn't want to push him. On our eighth date, it was only after he left me at my door did I realize that he talked without telling me anything. I did all the talking. Everything was a little less shiny after that.

The last time I saw him, it was like I was with another man. Gone was the charmer and here again was that man I met the first time with the brooding eyes and set mouth. He had left the Citadel weeks before without even a goodbye and I tried not to be hurt. He sent me a message saying it was Alliance business and he didn't know when he would be back. No apology, no kind words. When I saw him, I was angry and I only got angrier, wondering why he bothered. He barely listened to a word I said, didn't meet my eyes, and couldn't wait to get out of the restaurant...what I'd begun to think of as our restaurant. He walked next to me, but didn't touch me, didn't hold my hand like he used to and when we got to my door, I grabbed his arm.

"What's wrong, Kaidan?" I asked, more concerned than angry. "You've been quiet all night. What happened?"

He started to open his mouth but to my surprise, he reached out and grabbed me. His mouth was on mine and he kissed me like a starving man, a desperate man. I couldn't help it. All this time, I'd wanted him and this...

He picked me up and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He stumbled into my apartment and somehow found the couch where he lowered me. His lips were hot on my neck and his hands were...everywhere. I could hear my gasping breaths and his name falling from my lips in a strangled whisper.

And then he stopped.

He pushed himself off the couch, turned his back to me. Blinking fast, I sat up, and with trembling hands, pushed the hair out of my face.

"Kaidan?" I said quietly, hating how weak I sounded in the darkness.

"I'm sorry, Alissa," he said, his voice a harsh whisper. "I can't do this."

"What...what happened?"

"She's alive," he said, still not turning to look at me.

"Who?"

But I knew who before he answered. We'd been walking around Zakera Ward when her voice suddenly greeted us upon entered a shop.

I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.

He froze, the color draining from his face, and he walked out without saying a word. It wasn't until later than I realized why.

"I saw her," he said. "On Horizon."

My heart pounded and I was numb when I said, "So it's not over between you then?"

"No...no it's not."

Hot angry tears began to flow down my cheeks. And he still didn't turn around.

"I'm so sorry," he said, his shoulders slumped. "I thought...I thought I could forget her."

"You thought you could use me to forget her," I spat bitterly.

He turned his head, looking at me over his shoulder. "Yes, I did."

"Well, I'm sorry that I wasn't good enough, Kaiden," I said between sobs. "And I'm even more sorry that you wasted my time and my...feelings."

"Alissa," he said quietly. "I'm...I'm sorry. Shepard and I...we went through so much..."

"Just get out."

I heard him sigh but he said nothing else. When the doors slid shut behind him, I buried my face in my hands.

Shepard.

Whoever she is, I hope she deserves him. I hope they deserve each other.

-fin-