The Poker Game
They were slightly more than an hour out from Illium before Shepard was able to escape to her quarters and the large box that waited for her there. She had followed her normal routine of checking in with everyone, from Joker to Jack; she'd caught up with everyone who wanted a moment of her time and made sure they were en-route to Tuchanka before she escaped back to her quarters.
Grinning gleefully, Shepard closed and locked her door. She practically skipped down the steps to the living area of her room, stopping to stare reverently at the large box that had been delivered before they left Illium. Walking over, she sat on the sofa, and pulled off the lid.
With a hiss of releasing pressure, chilled condensed air rolled out of the top of the box. Shepard caught her bottom lip between her teeth, humming tunelessly with anticipation. She lifted out several small containers, not temperature controlled themselves, but still chilled from contact with the larger container in the box. A few bits of random packing material fell to the floor, but she ignored them.
Reading the labels carefully, she lined up the small containers across the table. She was reaching for the larger one when she paused, looking back at the line and considered. She switched a couple of the containers and nodded, turning her attention back to the box.
She had to stand up to get the large, temperature controlled container out of the larger shipping box. She picked up the now empty shipping box, and took it up the stairs, kicking it negligently under her desk. Returning to the sofa, she gave the container pride of place on the table, rearranging the smaller ones again so they were evenly spaced on either side.
Her fingers hovered over the control pad that would release the sealed lid. She took a deep breath, and keyed in the code.
The top of the container released with a quiet hiss, another wave of cool air rolling over her fingers. She took the lid off, and set it on the floor. Peering over the edge of the container, she nearly swooned. She had no idea how Liara had found everything she asked for - especially this - but then, Liara really was a very good information broker.
Shepard reached into the container, and lifted out her prize.
She carefully removed the box that had kept it cold until now, leaving it on the floor, and set her prize on the table. Then she leaned back on the sofa and admired her treasures.
Four dozen chocolate chip cookies; three bars of dark chocolate; two bags of chocolate peanut butter cups; a box of chocolate covered raisins. And, the biggest prize of them all sitting squarely in the middle: a pint of double chocolate fudge ice cream. There was even chocolate syrup, though she didn't really think the ice cream needed any.
Everything she needed for a totally indulgent and un-Commanding-officer-like pity party. She'd been looking forward to this for a long time.
It wasn't that she didn't appreciate being alive - she did, and she felt very fortunate that anybody had thought she was important enough to bring back. She loved her life, and she loved her job, and she was honored to be given the resources and opportunity to save her fellow humans; and possibly the galaxy as well. She even appreciated the fact that the Illusive Man recognized her abilities and let her accomplish goals her own way. She didn't even mind helping every single member of her team with their personal baggage. Usually, she didn't mind that no one thought to ask her about her personal life.
But sometimes, it all snuck up on her and caught her unaware. She was so tired. Just once, she wanted some time to simply sit back and enjoy herself. She didn't want to be the person to come running in to save the day; the person everyone looked to for answers; the person everyone on her team turned to for help with personal problems. She didn't want to be Commander Shepard. She just wanted to be herself, just Jane.
That's what this evening, and the extravagantly expensive and unhealthy array of treats in front of her, was all about. Grinning, she brandished her spoon at the ice cream carton, and dove in.
Two thirds of a pint of ice cream, more than a dozen cookies, two bars of chocolate, a bag of peanut butter cups, and half a box of chocolate covered raisins later, Jane Shepard was ready to proclaim her pity party a complete success. She'd watched vids on her omni tool (the cheesy romance ones she was afraid to admit she liked), she'd re-read the best parts of her favorite novel, and she was currently experiencing a truly epic sugar rush.
She methodically stacked her remaining goodies together, set the last of the ice cream back in it's chilled box, and locked the lid. She should really go make sure the ship was still flying; she'd hidden in her room long enough. Standing up, she stretched, then headed to the bathroom. Before she went out in public, it would probably be a good idea to make sure she didn't have chocolate on her face. That would be very unprofessional, and besides, she might have to share.
After she'd cleaned up, she keyed in the code to unlock her door, and absently slapped the panel. Nothing happened. Frowning, she keyed the code again, more carefully this time, and touched the panel. Still nothing. She sighed, turning to EDI's terminal.
"EDI, why won't my door open?"
"There appears to be an issue with the interface between the control panel and the lock mechanism, originating in the -"
"Alright, alright, never mind. Can you please just open it?"
"I am sorry, Shepard. I am not able to resolve the issue. It will need to be repaired manually."
Shepard sighed. "Fine, then, would you please ask Gardner to come fix it? Right away?"
"Mess Sergeant Gardner is currently off duty, Shepard. Engineer Donnelly has volunteered to take care of it. He will be up to repair it shortly."
"Thank you, EDI."
"Logging you out, Shepard."
Shepard sighed, and slouched back to the sofa to wait.
Engineer Donnelly had called to her through the door when he arrived, and set straight to work. It took a few minutes before she realized that he was singing while he worked.
His brogue deepened when he sang, hanging on the syllables of the song and turning a potentially annoying habit into something she would be sorry to see end. He had quite a nice voice, actually; warm and rich like his eyes.
Shepard shook her head sharply. What was she thinking? It must be all the sugar she'd consumed - under normal circumstances there was no way she would be thinking about Kenneth Donnelly's eyes. Or the way he delivered the most outrageous comments with a perfectly straight face. If it weren't for the sugar, she certainly wouldn't be thinking about him saying her name in that wonderful brogue, rolling over the 'r' and drawing out the flat 'a' sound. If it weren't for the sugar, she would never for a moment consider how well he filled out the hated Cerberus uniform.
But she had eaten all that chocolate, she had consumed all that sugar, and she was having those thoughts. She was also reminding herself that Cerberus didn't have regs against fraternization - a line that had sounded impossibly cheesy and completely unimportant when Jacob had tried it on her.
She started to pace, hoping to distract her thoughts before Kenneth finished with her door. She was actually mostly successful until her eyes fell on the hitherto untouched bottle of chocolate syrup. All her good intentions went out the window. If Kenneth was interested, they'd be getting to know each other a lot better this evening.
Kenneth finished the door as quickly as possible. It simply wouldn't do to leave Commander Shepard locked in her quarters any longer than necessary. He breathed a sigh of relief when the door swished open, and stood to face her.
"There you go, Commander, all fixed now."
"Thank you, Kenneth, I really appreciate it. What's the chance it'll happen again?"
He scratched his head thoughtfully. "Probably low. I don't know why it hasna happened before, when you get right doon to it. Installed poorly, and in a hurry, I'm impressed it lasted this long. It should be fine from now on, though."
Shepard smiled. "Well, however it lasted, I'm glad you've gotten it fixed now. Thank you for the help, Kenneth."
She'd lost his attention, though; he'd caught sight of the fish tank on her wall, and wandered forward absently to stare at the fish. Shepard grinned as she watched him. Not many people had been up here, she tended to forget that the tank was an anomaly on a warship; his amazement was written clearly on his face, and made her appreciate the sight anew.
She waved at the button mounted between the tank panels. "You can feed them, if you'd like."
Chuckling, he walked over and pushed the button, watching the fish swarm upwards to the food. When the novelty of that wore off, he let his gaze trail around the room. Shepard was watching him, and when his eyes lit up and widened, she winced. He'd seen the chocolate.
"Is that chocolate, Commander? Real chocolate?"
She could only be relieved that her ice cream was hidden away. "Yes, it is. It cost an obscene amount of credits, too. Would you like a cookie?" She picked up the package, and held it out to him.
Kenneth only hesitated for a minute before accepting. When EDI had told him the commander was locked in her cabin, he had never expected that he'd be standing around, sharing a snack. Fortunately, his self confidence was up to the challenge.
"Considering how much you swindled - I mean, won - from me in our poker game, Commander, I figure one cookie is the least you can do."
Shepard was laughing, and he flushed with pride. He'd been in awe of Shepard ever since the Battle of the Citadel; he'd been nearly speechless when Cerberus gave him and Gabby the assignment here; he'd been convinced she was the perfect commanding officer and soldier ever since the Normandy had been under her command. And she was laughing at his joke. Gabby wouldn't believe him when he told her.
"Well, I have some extra cookies, maybe we should have a rematch, and I'll wager these."
"Och, Commander, I don't have any extra credits lying around for ye to steal from me anymore."
"Steal? I won those fair and square. Not my fault you're not as good as you think you are."
Kenneth blamed what happened next entirely on the unusual situation - trading jokes with Commander Shepard, in her personal quarters, eating a cookie - there was no way he could have been prepared for this. So what happened next was entirely not his fault.
"Oh no, you won't trick me again, Commander. I've got plans for my credits. The only poker ye'll be talkin' me into is strip poker."
As soon as the words were spoken, his eyes widened in shock. He almost clapped a hand over his mouth; only the knowledge that the damage was already done stopped him.
But no matter what his excuses were, he had no explanation for what happened next.
Commander Shepard gave him a long, considering look. Her steady blue gaze swept slowly over him from head to toe and back up again. When her eyes met his, she gave him a challenging smile.
Kenneth stood there, stunned, while Shepard cleared off the table, and produced a deck of cards from her desk. She sat down, dealt the hand, and looked up at him with her eyebrows raised.
He walked over and sat down on the sofa, picking up his cards and expecting that at any minute he would wake up because surely he was dreaming.
Half an hour later, they were still playing. He had lost shoes, socks, and his shirt so far. He had been offered more cookies, although he was sure it had been a ploy to lull him into a false sense of security. He had permission to call her Jane.
Shepard sat across from him, still fully clothed and wearing a self-satisfied grin. Kenneth's eyes narrowed as he glanced from his cards to her face and back. This hand, he was going to win. Shepard raised an eyebrow, and he set his cards on the table, face up.
"Straight flush. Let's see you beat that, Jane."
She gave an exaggerated sigh, dropping her own cards on the table. Two pair.
Kenneth looked from the cards, to Shepard, barely believing his luck. He'd finally won a hand. Of course, she would probably start with her shoes, it only made sense, it was what he'd done, there really wasn't any reason to be nervous about shoes…
His thoughts trailed off as Shepard calmly sat up and pulled her shirt off over her head in one easy motion. She dropped it on the floor and leaned back against the sofa. When he still hadn't moved, she leaned forward again, and pushed her cards toward him.
It was surprisingly difficult to shuffle cards when you didn't know where to look, Kenneth discovered. He couldn't look at Shepard's chest - strip poker or not, staring was rude. He couldn't look at her face, because he knew his own was burning. He couldn't look at the cards or his hands because looking down was a definite waste of the view right in front of him. He was left trying to sneak looks at her without seeming to; as a result, it took twice as long as normal for him to shuffle and deal.
That one winning hand proved to be his last. Possibly because he couldn't keep his mind - or his eyes - on the cards. Two hands later, he didn't have anything left to wager.
Determined that the game wouldn't end yet, he waited until it was his deal, and dealt… creatively.
Shepard eyed his second straight flush of the game slightly askance, but obligingly removed her pants. She didn't just kick them off, either; she made a production of it, much to Kenneth's enraptured appreciation.
He enjoyed the show so much, that he barely even noticed when she got four of a kind in the next hand. He was paying enough attention to be slightly worried when she offered to let him 'owe her one' given his lack of clothing, but he agreed readily enough; he was already shuffling the cards carefully.
He barely needed to glance at his hand as he set the cards face up on the table. "Full house."
She was watching him through narrowed eyes as she set her own cards down. "Pair. You win again. I must say, Kenneth, you've gotten a lot better in the last few hands."
He knew what she was insinuating, but there was no way he'd admit to cheating if she didn't catch him at it. So he just grinned at her. "I've been feeling a bit more… inspired… to do well recently."
That earned him a laugh as she slipped her bra off.
She knew he was cheating and he was sure she was more than capable of doing so as well. So it came as something of a surprise when he won the next hand. He accepted the cards, trying valiantly to focus on what his hands were doing and watch her at the same time. He knew he'd never be able to cheat subtly this time, so he simply dealt the cards. And lost.
"Well, now. You don't have anything else to take off, do you, Kenneth? Whatever shall we do?"
He was trying to come up with something - anything - witty to say, when she continued.
"Perhaps we'll have to start putting stuff on." She grinned at his disappointed expression, and stood up. She stretched slowly, aware that his eyes were on her, then walked back over to the remains of her pity party, and pulled out the bottle of chocolate sauce.
Wiggling it at him she raised an eyebrow questioningly. "What do you think?"
Quite some time later, she chased a thrilled but exhausted Kenneth into the shower, swearing that there was no way she'd let him into the bed until after he'd washed the last of the chocolate off. He argued that it was her fault that there was any left, and she ought to clean up after herself. With a smile that promised an encore of their recent activities, she agreed.
Gabby was never going to believe this.