Shepard stepped into the lounge feeling much better than when she first returned from Despoina, except for the lingering sensation of being chilled. It was a psychosomatic chill; it reminded her of 'spacers' syndrome,' the sensation of having perpetually cold feet that career spacers often developed.
She had just spent the last several hours warming up (she was amazed to discover Palmer had a stash of real hot chocolate, which Palmer chose to serve to the crew that evening), and collecting her scattered thoughts. She knew the Leviathan—which she was sure didn't live on Despoina—had done something to her mind. Tried to erase their existence. But while she was sure they didn't live on Despoina…her perception of the galaxy had this giant, gaping, obvious hole in it. Like someone had tried to edit her memory and hadn't done a very good job.
She wondered vaguely whether this had to do with all those Prothean beacons and the Cipher. Did it make her brain matter unsuitable for manipulation? Or just too unstable for a good job of it?
It didn't really matter where the Leviathans were. The fact remained that they weren't on Despoina anymore—she hoped because A) Reapers had come there and would have 'disappeared under suspicious circumstances' as far as the rest of the fleet was concerned or B) because her team had blown the lid off their sanctuary, forcing them to move on and find a new one.
But she remembered that there had been an Intelligence, that Harbinger had been the first Reaper—but without remembering who told her or why. Therefore, she must have found the Leviathans…
She stopped the circular logic, as she always did, because of the faint throb of pain in her right temple. She suspected puzzling too much over all this would just give her an even bigger headache, and she didn't need one of those. In fact, it was with some trepidation that she entered the lounge. Alenko had requested a word, once she had a moment to squeeze him in. He hadn't actually said 'we need to talk' but that was the impression she got…and she hated it when a conversation started 'we need to talk.'
"You wanted a word?" she asked as evenly as she could, as if she wasn't expecting something unpleasant.
"Yeah, I did," Alenko responded, turning away from his contemplation of the large windows.
Shepard shifted nervously. The windows were large, but between the rest of the room and Alenko's bulk punctuating the one, she felt only a squirm of unease. It was easy to ignore the great void once she caught the look on his face.
He looked as if he wanted to tell her off for doing crazy, risky, insane things. He also shut the shutters so she didn't have to worry about the big black expanse behind him.
However, what most people would miss was that any 'telling off' would be a miscommunicated vein of deep genuine concern. That was there, too, but observable only to someone who knew about Shepard's and Alenko's personal history.
Shepard had received several of this brand of 'telling offs' before and, while never pleasant, she could appreciate the thought, the sentiment, behind them. At least, with a grain of salt and a spoonful of honey, she could appreciate the thought. It was nice to know someone cared.
He strode over to her, heaved a sigh, then his expression softened.
Shepard had to stomp on the impulse to force some distance between the two of them. It startled her when Alenko's impending demand for care and caution vanished. Instead, he threw his arms around her, dragging her tightly against his chest. She barely had time to raise a hand, to pat him on the back in an 'it's all right' fashion, when he went a step further and placed a very firm kiss against her temple—the most easily accessible part of her head.
The 'don't ever do something crazy like that again' evaporated like water dropped on a hot stone, replaced by relief that she had done something crazy, but had come back safely from it. She'd come back safely; that was what mattered.
Absently, Shepard began to rub her hand up and down Alenko's spine: she wasn't particularly enthusiastic about repeating the experience of deep sea exploration. The very thought made her feel colder. She thought she could even promise she wouldn't be making anymore deep sea dives. It wasn't as bad as her space-phobia, but it was close enough.
"Are you still cold?" Alenko asked concernedly, finally breaking the silence.
"Only a little. I'm fine," she assured him, "Really. You looked a little upset when I came in." Better to get it out in the open. Get it over with.
"It wasn't because you were doing something dangerous," Alenko said softly, still not letting her go. "I can handle you doing dangerous things." He would have to: she was an N. They didn't do 'safe'. Furthermore, she was a Spectre. 'Safe' usually went out a window when a Spectre was involved. Moreover, he was usually there during the doing of said dangerous things. "I just didn't like the idea of you down there. Alone. In the dark. And the cold."
Shepard raised her head from where it rested against his shoulder and, after a quick glance to make sure no one had suddenly opened the door to witness the scene, kissed him, just a gentle press of lips on lips before she cupped one hand against his cheek. There was nothing to say, so she didn't try, merely brushed her thumb back and forth over his cheekbone.
It was another of those 'just sort of happened' moments. What was meant to be a kiss on the cheek prior to letting Shepard go ended up being a prolonged exchange of nonverbal mutual reassurances.
She knew very well why her being alone in 'the dark' and 'the cold' troubled him.
It troubled her, too.