With the geth in retreat and the Thorian buried under an eon's worth of old rubble, the colony on Feros was in full on celebration mode. Despite heavy losses before the Normandy even arrived, and poor Fai Dan's sacrifice to save what was left, the collective mood of the little village wasn't sorrow, but immense relief. Perhaps tomorrow would be the time to mourn, but tonight the people rejoiced. Tonight they were free.
Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko leaned heavily against a support strut for one of the many prefab houses and watched the festivities from a bit of a distance. The Commander had issued a brief shore leave so the crew could decompress after weeks of deep space flight and a frightening last few days. A large bonfire had been set up in the center of town and Wrex was giving an in depth tutorial on how to roast varren meat until it was "tender enough to fall right off the bone." The colonists were sharing their meager food supplies with the Normandy crew, including some homemade alcohol Kaidan hadn't caught the name of. Someone had brought out a few guitars and what looked like a makeshift banjo, prompting a bit of dancing in the streets as the barrels of moonshine slowly emptied.
If he were honest, it looked like a whole lot of fun, but after a harrowing battle with an army of geth, a bunch of barely armed civilians he couldn't shoot back at, and a megalomaniac plant of all things, he was fairly content to stay in the shadows. His amp had seen a lot of use of late and a dull ache had settled in at the base of his skull. Kaidan didn't want to risk a migraine by imbibing too much noise and drink.
Still, the impromptu party beckoned and indecision weighed heavily on Kaidan's mind. It wasn't the welcoming warmth of the fire, or the savory scent of dinner that called to him though. It wasn't the possibility of discussing new omnitool upgrades with Tali, or weapons mods with Garrus that tempted him either. No, Kaidan was drawn by something far more alluring.
Commander Shepard took a piece of charred meat from tonight's Krogan chef and held it delicately between two long fingers. She grimaced, wrinkling her freckled nose in apprehension before glancing up at Wrex with a scowl. He said something - and Kaidan could catch the boastful mocking in his tone, if not the exact words he spoke - that caused her shoulders to square and her lips to thin into a determined line. A heartbeat later the entire morsel was in her mouth, her cheeks puffed out as she chewed more of the meat at once than was probably wise. Shepard's whole body jerked forward as Wrex's huge paw slapped her back in congratulations. She seemed to choke for a second, causing every muscle in Kaidan's body to tense, ready to sprint to her side at a moment's notice, but she was fine a second later, swallowing the mouthful down and offering her crewmate a smack of his own.
They shared a laugh then, Krogan and Commander alike. Kaidan couldn't help the dopy smile that stretched his lips as she threw back her head and let out an uninhibited, full bodied guffaw. Her lovely green eyes sparkled with mirth and life; her ginger hair caught the light and put the bonfire to shame. Kaidan suddenly felt hot all over, despite being a good thirty feet away from the flames.
"She's really beautiful, isn't she?" A voice suddenly murmured to his left.
"Yeah…" he breathed, the response immediate and unthinking. "Uh," He backtracked, whirling around to confront the intruder. "I'm not sure what you mean, Chief."
Ashley Williams grinned so widely, Kaidan could have fit his carniflex in there. There was an empty cup in her hand and a flush to her cheeks that suggested she'd been enjoying herself quite a bit. The strong smelling alcohol seemed to have loosened her tongue more than usual. "Gotcha!" She crowed, jumping a little bit in childish excitement. "I don't know who you're trying to fool," she told him, "but it isn't anyone in this crew. You two haven't been able to keep your eyes off one another since Eden Prime."
Kaidan sputtered, embarrassed and horrified at apparently wearing his heart on his sleeve. "I'm just grateful," he claimed, absently rubbing the implant scar on the back of his head. "She saved my life; jumped right in front of that beacon I was stupid enough to trigger and now she's supposed to somehow save the galaxy with all the crazy information it stuffed into her head. She's the first human spectre, the bravest soldier I've ever met, and certainly the best Commander I've ever served under. If she dies on this insane mission, it will be my fault." Kaidan let out a long, low sigh. "I just want to protect her, when I can."
Kaidan watched in confusion as the gunnery chief leaned in and took a deep whiff of his uniform. "What do you think you're doing?"
Ashley grinned. "Relax, LT. I'm just trying to see if all that bullshit you're carrying around is putting off an odor."
"Charming, Chief," He deadpanned, stepping back with an eye roll and crossing his arms.
"Oh, don't be upset." She urged, gently bumping her shoulder to his. "It's probably not as obvious to everyone else as it is to me, since I get to watch the two of you in action so often. But I can tell it's not just hero worship you're feeling. You're protective sure, we all are. No one wants to see the Skipper get hurt, even when she seems to try her damnest to. But nobody else serving under her looks at her like they want to 'serve under her,' if you know what I mean."
Kaidan scowled. "It's not like that."
"Sure it is," she insisted. "And I can tell you one more," Ashley gestured towards the crowd by the bonfire. The Commander was holding a cup of local drink aloft and swaying her hips off beat to the music. "It's not one sided."
"It doesn't matter," Kaidan murmured, not yet tearing his gaze from the Commander's lovely profile. As brave, compelling, and just downright breathtaking as she was, Shepard was equally forbidden. "She's my commanding officer."
"I know," Ashley sighed, stretching her arm across the back of Kaidan's shoulders and squeezing him in a sideways hug. "And that totally sucks, doesn't it?"
Kaidan snorted a laugh and rubbed a spot on his chest that was suddenly rather sore. "Yeah."
Just then, as if somehow knowing she was the topic of conversation, the woman in question paused her awkward dancing for a moment to look in their direction. She met his gaze determinably across the dark street and Kaidan held his breath, blood rushing in his ears as her lips stretched into a playful smile. The Commander's glass rose in a quick salute and she gestured for them to come join her with a slight jerk of her head. A second later she was spinning on her heels and gracelessly mingling back into the crowd.
"Man," Ashley fanned her face with one hand and blew out a puff of air. "I know you guys are dealing with the whole forbidden fruit thing right now, but do us all a favor and keep the unresolved sexual tension down to a simmer, okay? The heat coming off you guys is stronger than that bonfire."
Kaidan shook his head. "I doubt it was quite that dramatic, Chief."
"Uh huh," she deadpanned. "Seriously though, "she continued, her expression suddenly growing sober. "Will you promise me something, LT?"
"I suppose that depends on what it is."
"Don't worry; it's not that hard," she assured him. "I just want you to remember this assignment won't last forever. When that happens, I've got two words for you. You ready?"
"Will you stop, if I say no?"
"No," she retorted, holding up her fingers to count off. "Your two words are 'shore' and 'leave.' The second you guys won't be slapped with a court martial for being together, I fully expect you to give it a good go. Life's too short for regrets."
Kaidan looked down at the lovely woman at his side and thought he might just be seeing her completely for the first time. "When did you get so wise, chief?"
"Probably about the same time someone shoved that stick up your butt, Sir." She retorted, and Kaidan couldn't help the bark of laughter it elicited.
"Just how much of this stuff have you had tonight?" he asked, pulling the empty cup out of her hands and taking a big whiff. "Whew, that's strong!"
"Just the one cup" she vowed, laying a palm on her chest. "I think. Anyway, the real question of the hour," she continued, gesturing back towards where the Commander was still awkwardly swaying out of sync with the beat, "is how on Earth can someone so agile on the battlefield, be such a terrible dancer?"
"She's not really that bad," he protested, stifling a laugh. "It's kind of cute really, how hard she tries. Maybe she just needs a little practice."
"Or some rhythm for Christmas," Ashley quipped, chuckling lightly. "But you just proved my point you know," she claimed. "I'd know for sure now how you feel about her, even if you hadn't just admitted it."
"What are you talking about now?" He complained, thinking this was what having an annoying little sister must be like.
"Only someone completely in love could look at that," she gestured towards Shepard's graceless movements, "and think it's cute." She laughed at his horror struck expression and grabbed his hand, pulling him towards the beckoning roar of the bonfire. "Come on, LT," she urged. "I'll buy you a drink."