May 2nd, 2183
Commander Shepard studied the crew manifest of the prototype deep scout frigate SSV Normandy. Aside from the fact that she was one hell of a ship, she also sported one hell of a crew.
Two N7's, two biotics (when most postings were lucky if they got one), the best damned pilot in the fleet, and, after launch, they'd be swinging by Palaven to pick up a turian Spectre. Not to mention that the rest of the crew had enough talent that she was pretty sure meant they could reinvent relay technology if they put their minds to it.
She didn't like that Captain Anderson would be deferring to a Council Spectre, but her opinion didn't count on the matter. Council funding, Council mission, Council appointed leader. Hopefully, the Spectre would be polite enough to let Anderson handle his own ship and smart enough to make it look as though Anderson was still in charge.
"Joker was a good choice," she murmured, and Captain Anderson grunted. "I saw the drive core on my tour earlier."
Tantalus drive core, double the size of standard drive cores, and worth a fortune in credits. Playing nice with the turians was expensive. Combine the drive core with the IES stealth system and you had one hell of a ship. She hadn't thought stealth was possible, but the brainiacs in the Alliance had figured out a way to 'store' the heat for later dispensation and a way to override the necessity of heat-emitting thrusters that would render the IES useless. (She didn't want to think of the possibilities if that wasn't dissipated in time. Being cooked alive was not a pleasant thought.) Still, it only worked with sub-light travel. Using the FTL would be like setting of a beacon whilst loudly proclaiming, 'Here I am, come and get me!'
She was sure there was way more science and technobabble behind how it worked, but all she needed to know was that the ship was able to run silent for a maximum of three hours before the heat would have to be vented, thereby giving away their position. Any stealth ops would have to be planned to a T, and she'd still set the window at two hours to account for error.
She frowned. Her head of marine detail better have a solid brain on his shoulders.
"She is a bit much to handle. Joker's been running sim's all day, calibrating and testing. He's reassured me no fewer than ten times that while the Normandy has an oversized drive core, it's nothing he can't handle."
She laughed. "I'll just leave him alone, then."
Anderson grinned at her over the datapad. "Don't want to get between a man and his love?"
"Not when that 'love' could blow me to high heaven."
Anderson snorted and leaned back in his chair, draining the last of his coffee. "As for your ground team, Corporal Jenkins won't report for duty until the day before launch. Currently stationed on the Seaside which was due back tomorrow, but they picked up an asari distress beacon. The nearest asari cruiser was too far to pass it off."
Shepard nodded. Made sense. "What about..." she perused the data pad, looking for the name she wanted... "Lieutenant Alenko?"
Anderson pinched the bridge of his nose. "Should have arrived on the station today. Knowing him, he'll probably check in first thing in the morning. Meticulous, Sentinel training - same as you, though from what I've heard, he doesn't carry a shotgun." He thumbed through the information on the table. "Currently on the fast-track to being promoted to Lieutenant-Commander."
"Has he ever managed marine detail before?"
"No, but I wouldn't worry about it, Shepard. He's capable. It's why I picked him."
She grunted at that and took a closer look at his service record. It was spotless, with no fewer than eight commendations per year since the beginning of his career. He had more than most marines she knew combined, which was saying something since it appeared as if he'd waited to enlist till a few years after the magic age. She arched an eyebrow. With a record like that... "He being groomed for XO?"
Anderson nodded. "Eventually."
"Shepard, if you're that concerned, message him for a meeting. Take him out for a beer to soften the blow that the real reason you're talking to him is so you can pick through his brain to make sure he isn't an idiot."
"This meeting off the record, sir?"
"Tour doesn't start till the May 6th."
"Excellent," she replied and lightly kicked the Captain under the table. He shook his head at her, but smiled all the same.
"Go on, get out of here." He threw her a datapad. "Alenko's address is on there. Though if you let the man breathe, I'm sure he'd appreciate it."
Twenty minutes later, she found herself standing in T barracks. If this Alenko was a tech to boot, then maybe he really did have a head on his shoulders. Techs were downright useful. She could hack a door alright and perform partial restores on combat radar. Basic stuff. Anything else, and she was useless. She squinted at the number on the datapad. Apartment T17... She looked at the nearest door. T11... T13...
She stopped in front of T17 and stowed the datapad away. After performing a quick once over to make sure she looked like she was an XO (a disheveled XO was no impression to make, especially not a first impression), she rapped on his door. And waited.
No response. She shifted on her feet and rapped again, but was beginning to feel like the 'personal' approach was a lost cause.
"Shepard?" a voice said and she turned around to see Tom. He eyed the door. "What the hell are you doing here? N barracks are..."
"I know where the N barracks are, jackass," she rolled her eyes at him and stabbed her finger at the door. "Trying to find Kaidan Alenko."
Why that should cause his eyes to widen, she had no idea, but widen they did. He looked from the door to her then back again. "Why're you looking for Kaidan?"
"He's my new head of marine detail."
It was his turn to roll his eyes. "And you wanted to make sure he's got a solid head on his shoulders."
"That's right. You seen him?"
"He left about an hour ago, no idea where though. Maybe to see his old ship off."
Terrific. She didn't feel like going on a goose chase across the station looking for him. Better to just send a message, pick a place and park her ass, then wait for him to show up. "Thanks, Tom. You see him, tell him I'm looking for him, will ya'?"
"Sure thing." She turned on her heel and activated her 'tool. "Hey, Alexis!" she paused and looked over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow. He licked his lips. "You ever been to Trident?"
...the fuck? She slowly walked back towards him. "Why?"
He raised his hands. "Jesus, don't go all N7 on me. Trying to pick a place for my next shore leave, heard there were a lot of beaches there."
Oh. For a second she'd thought... but that was just stupid. "Lots of beaches, sure. But it's hurricane season right now."
"When did you last go?"
"Right before hurricane season in 2179."
"That was awhile ago," he replied.
She smirked, "They teach you that kind of math in basic?"
"Gotta learn it somewhere. See ya' 'round. And Shepard?" she paused from turning away to look back at him. "Good luck."
Odd. Well, Tom was odd, so it really shouldn't strike her as odd at all that he was being odd. She pulled out the datapad as she slowly walked away, no real direction in mind, and looked up Alenko's email. Hopefully Anderson was right about him being meticulous, because meticulous typically extended to prompt. And she liked prompt.
To: Kaidan Alenko
From: Alexis Shepard
Subject: Marine Detail, SSV Normandy
Lieutenant, if you have a moment, I'd like to go over ground team specs. You free tonight? Drinks are on me.
She checked her message over, nodded to herself, and tapped send. Even if Anderson hadn't suggested her buying the rounds, she would have done it anyway, because technically, she was infringing on his free time. It was the least she could do.
Well, if she had time... might as well return to her apartment and change into something more comfortable. She wasn't on duty now and her N7 hoodie was the most comfortable goddamn thing in the world. Besides, if Alenko was free, it'd make her easier to find.
Not that she typically liked being easy to find, especially since reporters tended to ambush her at the most inopportune moments. But she had to make concessions for her crew.
Really, though, it was all about the comfort.
She was just about to unlock her door when her omni pinged.
From: Kaidan Alenko
To: Alexis Shepard
Subject: Re: Marine Detail, SSV Normandy
Commander, I'm wide open. Instant messaging ID: K_Alenko.
She could have jumped for glee. If he was this prompt and forward thinking, then she probably didn't have a thing to worry about. Still, just in case he had a hang up or some grand notion about what it meant to work with 'Commander Shepard' (if she could change one thing about the Blitz, it'd be the damned notoriety and hero status), it'd be good to turn those on their head. The last thing she needed was a tech gunning for glory.
She stripped out of her standard issue shirt, grabbed an Alliance blue tank top, and zipped on her N7 hoodie. She glanced at herself in the mirror, frowned at the ponytail and pulled her hair down. She hated wearing her hair up, and she hated short hair. Once she'd brushed it a few times , she opened the instant messaging program. After her 'Shepard' account had been bombarded with messages from reporters requesting interviews, she'd delinked it from her 'tool and created a new one just using her first name. Miraculously, the reporters hadn't caught on because she'd managed to convince them she went by Alex instead. She was loathe to give out the details to anyone.
She opened a dialogue with Alenko.
Alexis: It's Shepard. What time works best for you?
Alexis: I'm not interrupting plans?
K_Alenko: No plans to interrupt. Did you have a place in mind?
Alexis: Actually, I was gonna ask you. I rarely stick around Arcturus enough to know the good places.
K_Alenko: You know where the range is on B-Deck?
Alexis: Yeah, been there a couple times.
K_Alenko: There's a bar just around the corner: The Smoking Barrel.
Alexis: Is that seriously what it's called?
K_Alenko: Unfortunately. Better than the one further down the street named The Sticky Relay.
K_Alenko: Then there's the greek bar which sounds nice up by N Barracks.
Alexis: Apollo's Lounge?
K_Alenko: I take it you've been there?
Alexis: Once. And only once.
K_Alenko: No one warned you?
Alexis: It was late, I was starving, figured it couldn't be that bad. Almost ruined BSG for me.
This time, the response was delayed. Maybe she'd thrown him for a loop with BSG. It was an old show, but one she loved dearly. Nevermind the four-year-old sentimental aspect it now carried. Maybe she should just cruise around Arcturus and hope to run into 'Apollo'. She had nothing planned tomorrow, and besides, a walk would do her good.
Not like she'd actually run into him. But on the off chance that she did...
K_Alenko: I'm surprised they're still open. Anyway, The Smoking Barrel, terribly named as it is, has good food for decent prices.
Alexis: I'll grab a table. Shouldn't be hard to miss me.
K_Alenko: Alright, I should be there in fifteen.
It took her eight minutes to get there and another three to get a table for two. The place was busy, which only lent merit to Alenko's assessment that the food was good. Damn, she should have asked him what he liked so she could order an appetizer because she had a feeling that the server wasn't going to make it back to the table for at least another twenty minutes.
She opened her omni and sent him a quick message, informing him her table was near the back. As she waited, she absent-mindedly pulled the seashell out of her pocket and flipped it between her fingers. Maybe she should think of getting it turned into a necklace or something. She wasn't too concerned about jewelry matching her outfit, and she was increasingly afraid that she might break it, but couldn't seem to stop carrying it with her.
Stupid, she knew, but there it was. Her heart still believed that falling in love with 'Apollo' was the best decision it had ever made, and it wasn't going to renegotiate the contract any time soon, if ever.
Her omni pinged and she let the seashell fall to the table in front of her.
K_Alenko: Table in the far corner, beneath the purple lamp?
She supposed she had chosen to sit on the side of the table where the stripe from her sleeve wasn't visible, and didn't blame him for wanting to make sure it was her before crashing some unsuspecting person's table in an embarrassing mistake. She glanced up to make sure the lamp really was purple before writing him back.
Alexis: That's the one.
She shut her omni down and picked up the seashell. The mood lighting in the bar played fantastically with the blue-green shimmer, giving it an almost magical quality. She rolled the seashell in her fingers and wondered what was taking Alenko so long if he'd seen which table she was sitting at.
She was just about to send him a message when he sat down at her table.
After getting over the initial shock from first seeing 'Alexis' in the 'from' line from in his inbox, he'd quickly typed out a response and sent it off while watching the Midway depart. He hadn't been entirely truthful when he told Commander Shepard that he was wide open, because he'd planned on seeing if Tom was free considering he'd ran into him just over an hour ago. But when the XO messaged you (and that XO was Commander fucking Shepard), one did not write back, 'Actually, I was gonna hang out with my buddy. Rain check?'
Now as the Midway faded in the distance, he was standing there with an altogether different dilemma, instant messaging program open and waiting for his response.
She'd said BSG. And her name was Alexis.
The rational part of his brain tried to tell him that the chances were too small that Commander Shepard was his girl, and he was operating purely on wishful thinking. Something, it vehemently pointed out, it did not approve of. Wishful thinking didn't solve his seemingly never-ending quest to find his Alexis, and he shouldn't pretend otherwise. Besides, the chances were pretty good that at least a few of the biotic Alexis' he'd read about were decently geeky enough to have heard of BSG.
He just really wanted to find his, because he felt as if he was missing a part of himself.
So after realizing that he'd left the chat open and unanswered long enough to be awkward, he typed out: I'm surprised they're still open. Anyway, The Smoking Barrel, terribly named as it is, has good food for decent prices.
He hoped she wouldn't notice or mention the delay. Fortunately for him, she didn't. Or if she did, she didn't mention it. Either way, he was grateful.
With one final glance at the Midway, he shoved off the railing and began the long trek towards The Smoking Barrel. It really was a terrible name, and he was glad that Commander Shepard appeared to have a sense of humor. He'd had a few XO's that were considerably lacking in the humor department and working with them had always made the tours feel longer than necessary. He wasn't too surprised by the fact, because he had read some interview translations from talk shows (he hated listening to talk radio and avoided it if he could). Most of the reporters seemed surprised at the humanity she displayed, that she seemed to laugh so readily. Why that surprised them was beyond him. It was as if they thought that in order to go above and beyond the call of duty, one had to become a pillar of justice and abandon everything else.
Hadn't she said something about just being in the wrong place at the wrong time? That she simply did the best she could with what she had available?
He ran his hand through his hair as he rounded the corner to his apartment. Probably best to not focus on the fact that his XO was the hero from Elysium. If he were in her shoes, that'd be the best way to get himself added to her shitlist.
"Hey Kaidan," Tom shouted from across the hallway from his apartment, door open. He leaned against the doorframe. "Shepard was looking for you."
"She was here?"
"Yeah, 'bout twenty minutes ago. Told me to tell you she dropped by."
He waved his 'tool. "Already got an email from her." He paused thoughtfully. "You know Shepard, right?"
Tom gave him a funny look. "Yeah..."
"Is she a geek?"
"Biggest one I know, aside from you. Last time I hung out with her, she tried to get me to watch some old show about space travel." He waved his hand in the air. "Something Trek."
Alenko's heart fluttered in his chest. "Star Trek?"
Tom stabbed his finger at him dramatically. "That's the one."
… It had to be a coincidence. Right? Though really, the odds of his Alexis being Commander Shepard were just as good as any of the other biotics named Alexis.
Right now, he really wanted it to be Commander Shepard, more than he'd wanted anything in his entire life. Even when he was five and thought that if his Dad didn't give him the most recent model of the fully automatic mini-mako, he'd die. It was hard to turn the hope down to a simmer, but he didn't want his heart to be completely crushed when he walked into that bar and Commander Shepard turned out to be just some other marine.
He couldn't turn the hope off, though.
"Hey, is it really hurricane season on Trident right now?"
… the fuck? He narrowed his eyes at Tom. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, you had a great time there, figured I'd go there, too. But someone told me it was hurricane season right now."
"Oh," he couldn't entirely keep the regret out of his voice. "I haven't checked recently."
Tom shrugged. "Some other shore leave, then." He turned back to head into his apartment. "Don't keep the boss waiting!"
Kaidan checked his 'tool. He still had just over five minutes, and The Smoking Barrel wasn't far. He exchanged his shirt for a fresh one, attempted to smooth his somewhat unruly hair before resigning himself to the fact that it was just going to poke up regardless, and left at a quick trot.
The Smoking Barrel was packed. The message he'd gotten from Shepard said she'd managed to snag a table near the back. After quickly informing the hostess that he was meeting someone and therefore didn't need a table, he slipped into the bar proper and scanned the tables.
That's when he saw her.
It couldn't be, could it? His imagination was playing tricks on him. Maybe he'd tripped coming here and was currently lying unconscious on the ground. He looked back at his omni-tool then back at her. Still real. The table lined up with what his message said...
K_Alenko: Table in the far corner, beneath the purple lamp?
He had to know. He sent the message and looked back up. She dropped something out of her hand and activated her 'tool, then glanced up. His pinged again.
Alexis: That's the one.
He froze. Four years of hoping to find her, wanting to find her, needing to find her, and she was right there in front of him, waiting for him to walk over and sit down. Except she didn't know it was him.
He suddenly felt like he was 29 and falling in love all over again.
She picked up whatever she'd dropped onto the table and began rolling it between her fingers, idly waiting.
Before he entirely knew what he was doing, his boots carried him to the table and he sat down at the table. She looked exactly as he remembered. He still couldn't believe that it was her.
The object in her hand tipped sideways onto the table as she looked at him with a mixture of shock and alarm. "I'm supposed to be meeting -"
He stuck out his hand and her eyes fell down to it. After all these years, all the searching, the hope... here she was. He almost couldn't speak. "Staff-Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko."
Her eyes whipped up to his and he smiled at her. She tentatively reached out and accepted his hand with warm, calloused fingers. "Lieutenant-Commander Alexis Shepard."
His eyes tracked down to the seashell that laid abandoned on the table, and she blushed. It was worn smooth, undoubtedly from countless hours spent feeling its surface. Warmth blossomed in him, shooting throughout his nervous system like liquid fire. The delicately pale hand still rested in his, neither having let go.
When he looked back up, her blue eyes, those same blue eyes he'd fallen in love with four years ago, were clear and deep, hopeful, yet guarded. She still had the seashell.
She still had the seashell.
He still vividly remembered giving it to her. He...
...broke off the kiss but didn't rise, unable or unwilling to get up. Each time he kissed her, he wanted to kiss her longer, hold her tighter, and lose himself in her. He realized he was fast on the track to becoming the world's biggest idiot, but was still pretty sure it was just a crush and that within a few days of leaving Trident, what he felt now would fade away into the background and blend in with the warmth of a fond memory of a good time.
Still, as he perched himself above her, he couldn't help but furrow his brow and not quite meet her eyes, because some other more aware part of him was ever so incessantly whispering in the background that he was lying to himself. Whether to save face in front of her or make the inevitable goodbye easier to bear didn't matter.
He definitely didn't want to think of saying goodbye right now.
He was on the verge of getting up when something caught his eye, just to the right of her ear, half-buried in the sand. He retrieved the seashell from its place of former exile and watched it play colorfully across her skin, the light from the sun dancing through the almost translucent material.
It reminded him of her eyes. "This would have gone great with your sand castle."
For a tiny second, her eyes had lit up in something that was part surprise, part wonder, and part something he couldn't quite identify while at the same time making him feel warm and chivalrous and whole cocktail of good feelings because her smile was amazing. Her fingers danced across his as he placed the seashell in her hand.
She peered at him over the edge, blue eyes reflecting the light that danced across her face, and smiled her devious smile...
"Can I start over?" he asked, and she jumped slightly as he got up from the table without waiting for an answer and walked away. He could feel her eyes follow him, undoubtedly wondering what the fuck he was up to. But he'd committed himself. Once outside, he executed a perfect about-face and tracked back the way he'd come. He stopped just short of the entrance, checking his uniform and wiping the palms of his hands. Why he should suddenly feel so nervous... hell, he knew exactly why he was so nervous, and it was because of what he was about to do.
He re-entered the restaurant and felt her eyes instantly light upon him.
This time, he picked up the chair, examined the situation with a critical eye while ignoring the slightly confused arch to her eyebrow for the moment, and placed the chair three o'clock from hers. He sat down, stuck out his hand, took a deep, calming breath and said, "Hi, my name is Kaidan Alenko and I'd very much like to date you."
There was no hesitation as she accepted his hand again with a smile. "My name is Alexis Shepard and I very much find your proposition to be acceptable."
He leaned in close to her and whispered, "I broke the third rule."
She leaned forward and whispered back, "Me too."
He really, really wanted to kiss her. But he was sure a public display to that degree was most definitely not appropriate, and that was putting aside the fact that it would be a massive violation of the regs.
Hell, he'd just asked her to be his girlfriend, and she'd agreed. His whole body ached with longing to hold her close to him because here she was, sitting in front of him, and she was so very beautiful. He no longer felt incomplete.
"I broke it hard," he said and her lips curled up in a smile.
She glanced around. "Service is kind of slow tonight, don't you think?"
He peered over his shoulder at the bustle of activity. "Yeah, they look really busy. Might be awhile before we even get water, let alone food."
"You know," she said and he swung his gaze back to look at her. Her cheeks were slightly flushed. "I'm not really that hungry."
"In that case, it might be considered rude for us to be taking up a table in the first place."
"Especially if they're so busy. Maybe we should go somewhere else."
"I know just the place," he said and pulled her to her feet.
Ten minutes later, he was fumbling at the lock to his door, Alexis standing behind him, her hand still in his. Neither noticed Tom poke his head, smile and shake his head, before disappearing. Once the door was open, he pulled her in and relocked the mechanism.
She strode to the center of his apartment and looked around, taking in his small collection of nerdy knick-knacks and couple of vintage posters. Being single for so long had advantages when it came to buying expensive items. She flashed him a grin before walking up to one he had of Battlestar Galactica. Her fingers lightly grazed Captain Lee 'Apollo' Adama before she turned to him.
"I like what you've done with the place," she smiled at him.
He slowly walked up to her, slipping his hand in his pocket. She rotated to face him fully, eyes peering up at him expectantly. When the distance between them was almost negligible, he slid the scarf out of his pocket and gently swept her hair to the side. She shivered as his fingers grazed her skin. He slipped the scarf around her, letting her hair fall back down around her shoulders. He slid his hand down until his thumb rested in the little hollow at the base of her neck. "You left this at Trident."
Tears shone in her eyes, but didn't spill over. He raised his other hand to gently caress her cheek.
God, he'd missed her.
Ever so gently, he leaned down and kissed her. Her lips trembled as they met his, and he soothed them with his soft embrace. He never wanted to stop kissing her, couldn't stop kissing her. She melted into his arms and he wrapped her in his. The sense of being incomplete, of being lost disappeared as she deepened the kiss, voicing her joy into the back of his throat. His lips pressed fiercely against hers, memorizing the feel of her, the taste of her. When her tongue met his, he groaned softly and hitched her closer. Her hands slid around his waist and up his back, fingers curling into his harness.
When she finally broke off the kiss, she shook against him and he lifted her into his arms, burying his face into her hair as she buried hers into his neck. "I missed you," he whispered, voice thick with emotion.
She squeezed him tighter, fingers digging into his skin. "I missed you, too."
He crushed her against him. He would never let her go again. Nothing in this universe could make him.
She pulled away just enough to press her forehead against his and stared deep into his eyes. "You were always the only one," he confessed.
She closed her eyes and smiled. "You too," her voice was so small, so full of emotion that he pulled her into another kiss. He let the sweet, tender touch of his lips on hers speak for him, unable to find the words he needed.
When she collapsed against him with shaky breath, and as he held her, she whispered, "I think I'm in love with you."
His world exploded around him. It was as if someone had stopped time because she'd just told him the one thing he'd longed to hear for years, thought he would never hear, and couldn't believe he was hearing now. He picked her up. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he carried her to his bedroom, staring deep into her eyes. He carefully undressed her, savoring every moment as if it were his last, memorizing it as if were his first, kissing her in between. When they finally fell onto the bed together, he pulled her beneath him and gently tucked her hair behind her ear, trailing his finger down her skin, over the jagged scar leading down her left shoulder to the side of her breast.
"Elysium," she said.
He met her eyes, letting the sadness shine through. The love that he felt coursing through his veins like liquid gold. Ever so gently, he pressed a kiss to her breast, as if he could kiss the past away.
Her fingers slid to his lips, tracing the series of scars around his mouth. He closed his eyes as her thumb brushed across his lips. "BAaT," he said.
She pulled his head down and pressed a kiss against the corner of his mouth.
He sought out the tender spot between breasts, where the heart lay, with his fingers. She shivered at his chaste touch. He captured her eyes once more with his and said, "Trident," before pressing a kiss where his fingers rested.
When he raised his eyes to hers, they were gleaming a bright blue, shining with what he now recognized as love. "I love you," he said, and slipped inside her.
As he made love to her, staring deep into her eyes, he knew he was home. He was complete. Each measured thrust was paced to the beating of his heart. He kissed her again as she whispered his real name, hips swaying into him, and warmth spread over him like fire. She was everything he needed and more. She was where he belonged.
She'd changed his life in unimaginable ways, and now that he found her, he couldn't imagine living without her.
AN: Wow, thanks for the ride everyone! I hope everyone enjoyed reading 'No Strings Attached' just as much as I did writing it. :) You guys have been awesome supporters. A gal couldn't write without you.
I hadn't considered extending the story of Alexis and Kaidan beyond this... but if there's enough interest, a 'Part 2' can definitely be arranged. I'll just have to come up with an idea ;)
A thousand thank you's for all the reviews, alerts, and wonderful conversations this story has brought me. Brought us. You guys really are amazing.
Update, August 2012: I have a sequel planned for NSA titled Half a Heart Alone that should be out in September! :) Check out my profile for more details!