This is somewhat of a continuation to my other fic "Gossip;" it uses the same themes but expands on it. It's been a while since I uploaded anything, but with "Bring Down the Sky" coming out, I decided it was past time to finish this one. I'm pretty proud of it, so I hope you all enjoy!

Alternate title taken from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer;" some dialogue copied down (by hand, and many hours work) directly from the game. Many thanks to my beta HeavenlyMuse for helping me refine this! :)

A strange silence had descended on the crew of the Normandy ever since their flight from the Citadel against the Council's orders. They were on their way to Ilos and it seemed to everyone that they were finally nearing their goal – here, they would stop Saren or die trying.

Kaidan Alenko stood by his control panel and tried to focus on making sure all the systems were working perfectly, but his mind wandered and he frequently found his thoughts centered on Irien Shepard and the kiss they'd nearly shared. He was torn between feeling elated and terrified – he felt like a teenager who'd gotten the prettiest girl in school to go to a dance with him, but he couldn't help but think about what could happen on Ilos.

He'd never really gotten close to anyone since Rahna. He wasn't the kind of person to totally commit to something; he always held back and made sure he had a way out. The way he felt about Irien, however, was different – she made him want to give everything he had and more for the chance to be with her.

He couldn't stand the thought of losing her. What if something happened to her? What if they didn't make it? She would never know how he felt, how grateful he was for everything she'd given him. He didn't want to make a scene, so when he thought no one was looking, he'd left his post by the computer terminal and entered her private quarters.

No one having witnessed his leaving didn't matter, unfortunately, as they could all see that he wasn't in his usual place and hadn't been for a while.

Liara was the first to notice. She'd decided to talk to Shepard about Ash's death, to see if there was anything she could do for her. Though she had realized the commander didn't share her feelings, she'd resolved to be a good friend to her.

When she saw that Kaidan wasn't working and that the commander's door was closed, she blinked in surprise. He was always there, and Shepard's door was always kept open when she was in her quarters – she liked to be easily accessible to the crew in case they needed anything. Her door being closed would mean she wanted privacy, and with Kaidan not at his post…

She felt a nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach as she added those two facts together, and she closed her eyes and bowed her head for a moment. I thought I was over this, she thought, and wished fervently for someone to talk to, someone who would understand what she was going through. Instantly, her mind went to Garrus – she'd seen the way he looked at Shepard. She immediately headed down the elevator.

The lower deck of the ship was strangely empty – Wrex was off on his own, probably still bitter about losing the genophage cure and his argument with Shepard about it, and Ash was- well, she doubted anyone would be able to use her old workbench for a long time without guilt and sadness about having to leave her behind. Garrus, however, was in his usual place by the Mako working on a computer panel.

Liara approached him and cleared her throat quietly to get his attention.

He looked up and seemed surprised, but pleased, to see her there. "Liara. How are you?" the turian asked politely, clearly curious as to what she wanted but not wanting to be rude and ask outright.

"I- I am fine, Garrus," she said, sounding unsure even to herself. "I just-" she paused, trying to figure out what to say. How do I tell him I suspect our Commander and Lieutenant are in bed together without being completely crass? she wondered.

He looked concerned. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Oh, no, it's just that- I noticed that the lieutenant was not at his post," she said. He blinked, confused, and tilted his head to the side slightly. "And that Irien's door is closed," she finished lamely.

Liara could see an instant of pain in his eyes, and she regretted telling him immediately. "I see," he replied, his tone carefully neutral. "But why tell me?"

"I thought- I thought you would understand how I feel," she said, almost desperately, and they locked eyes for a few seconds before he nodded once.

He motioned to a few crates on the ground next to the Mako. "Have a seat," he offered. "Give me a moment." He walked over to his pack as she sat and he pulled out a fine crystal bottle filled with a clear liquid, along with two dented, cheap metal cups.

Garrus sat down next to her, offering a cup, which she gladly took, and he filled it with the liquid. "Turian alcohol," he said as an explanation while he poured. "Picked some up on one of those countless trips to the Citadel to save for- I believe the human expression is 'a rainy day,'" he said. She smiled her thanks. He poured himself a cup full as well before setting the bottle down next to him and sighing quietly. "I guess they're just- thinking it'll be their last chance to, uh, get to know each other," he said glumly as she sipped the alcohol.

Liara nodded, looking down into the cup as she swirled the liquid around. "I- I told myself I was happy for her," she confessed. "But it's hard to be when I constantly find myself wishing she'd made a different choice."

"You guys mind if I join you?" Joker asked over the comm system suddenly. They both jumped and laughed nervously once they realized who it was.

"Feel free," Garrus replied.

"Does he always listen in on conversations?" Liara asked in a whisper.

"Usually, but only to control the spread of gossip," he replied just as quietly. "He's pretty good at hiding things."

She nodded, agreeing completely. Though she and the pilot weren't close and he tended to act so... human, she supposed, she'd never have guessed that he, too, had hidden away his feelings for Shepard. I guess everyone has the right to keep secrets, she thought.

The two of them sat quietly, sipping their drinks and lost in thought, as they politely waited for the pilot to join them. Liara couldn't help but think about Shepard and Alenko, though it always made her heart ache and her muscles tense to think of the woman she cared for loving someone else.

The elevator creaked and opened to reveal Joker, who relied heavily on two crutches and whose legs were held staright by braces. Garrus stood to pull up a chair near them for him to sit in.

Liara felt a surge of pity for the usually sarcastic pilot once she saw him, but managed to keep her face neutral and tried to suppress the feeling. People underestimate him because of a disease, something he can't control but does not affect his skill at flying, she thought, feeling a sense of camaraderie with him as he sat down. Other asari think less of me because I am pure asari. I should not be so quick to judge in the future.

Joker soon had his own cup of alcohol – a human kind, since the turian kind wasn't safe for him – and the three of them sat in a slightly awkward silence. They all knew what was on the others' minds, but no one knew quite what to say.

Garrus broke the silence. "There is an elephant in the room," he proclaimed, then looked at Joker for confirmation. "Is that the expression?" he asked curiously.

Liara was baffled, but the human seemed to understand as he nodded and chuckled. "Yeah, that's it," he replied, then shook his head, took off his hat, and ran a hand through his hair. "So. When did you two know?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"When did you know you loved her," he replied, speaking more quietly and putting his hat back on. He looked at Liara first. "You weren't on the ship long before rumors started flying," he said dryly, and she blushed. "It must have been pretty quick, yeah?"

"I- I admit, I was drawn to her right away," she began hesitantly, then took a sip of her drink and steeled herself. "As you both know, she rescued me from the Prothean dig site I'd been working on. Geth had suddenly appeared and attacked me, but I trapped myself in a barrier field to protect myself from them. Shepard freed me, but in doing so, the ruins had become unstable..."

"We have to hurry," Liara said, trying and failing at suppressing the panic she felt. "The whole place is caving in!"

Shepard, however, was the picture of control. "Joker!" she said authoritatively into her suit comm. "Get the Normandy airborne and lock in on my signal! On the double, mister!"

There was a moment's pause. "Aye aye, commander," he said, his voice remarkably clear for having to travel through tons of rock and earth. "Secure and aweigh. ETA eight minutes."

"Not much margin for error," Kaidan muttered, and she was slightly relieved to see that he, too, looked nervous. At least I'm not the only one who fears we may not make it out quickly enough, she thought.

The elevator slowly climbed up through the ruins and the sound of falling rocks and collapsing tunnels were audible even over the creaks of the ancient machine. She wrung her hands and tried to stop shuddering. Shepard, Alenko, and the quarian Tali all stood still, not looking terrified as she was, but the commander gave her a reassuring smile.

The elevator finally creaked to a half and Liara started forward until Irien held out her hand, telling her to stop. Then she saw the geth – and the krogan.

They walked up calmly, the sounds of the whirring machinery of the geth echoing through the elevator room. The krogan stopped at the edge of the elevator to gaze at Shepard, who took a step forward fearlessly.

"Surrender," he rumbled, then grinned toothily. "Or don't. That would be more fun."

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "There a reason you're in my way?"

He looked at Liara. "The same reason you're here: the asari," he said. She shrank back a little in fear. "Thanks for getting rid of those energy fields for us," he added. "Now hand the doctor over."

"Whatever it is you want, you're not getting it from me!" she said. Her voice wavered a little, but she hoped she didn't sound as scared as she felt.

Shepard smiled. "She'll stay with us, thanks," she said with a calm wave.

The krogan shook his head. "Not an option. Saren wants her, and he always gets what he wants." He glanced back at the geth, who readied their weapons. Liara looked at Shepard with worry, but the soldier stared straight ahead at the enemy. "Kill them. Spare the asari if you can. If not," he shrugged and grinned, "doesn't matter."

Instantly, the team mobilized. Shepard pulled her assault rifle out and Kaidan launched a mass effect field at the nearest geth. Shots started flying, and Liara knelt and covered her head with her hands. She shook and prayed not to be shot – she was far too scared to even consider using her biotic powers, much less focus enough to actually attack anyone with them. Her mind was filled with thoughts of the asari goddess, and she prayed and hoped that she was small enough to avoid accidental gunfire. The krogan saying to spare her if possible comforted her only slightly.

Before she knew it, the shooting at stopped, and she peered up cautiously, not wanting to but unable to help fearing that her rescuers had fallen.

Shepard, fortunately, was standing above her, holding out a hand to help Liara up. She looked up and met the commander's eyes for a moment, then took her hand and stood. They all began to run toward the exit, pausing only a moment while an energy field blocking their way fell, allowing them to pass. Her lungs burned from inhaling dust and running as hard as she could, and she found herself falling behind the impressively in-shape group.

Shepard yelled for everyone to hurry, but slowed down to allow Liara to get ahead. The cave collapsed behind them as they barely made it out the exit, and even Shepard looked so out of breath she could barely stand.

"...and as I looked back at her, I felt- drawn to her somehow," she finished, then shook her head with a half-smile. "I know how silly I must sound, but if she was willing to do that for someone she'd just met – I've never met anyone like her before," she said.

"It's not silly," Garrus told her, then reached over to pat her shoulder – such a human gesture, she thought with a smile. "I remember feeling the same way when I first met her."

"I thought you two didn't get along that well at first," Joker said.

"Well, I didn't agree with how she did things at first," the turian admitted. "But over the course of the journey, she's... changed the way I analyze and respond to different situations. The most notable case, for me, was when she helped me track down that salarian, Dr. Saleon. I'd regretting letting him get away from me at C-Sec for years, so when we finally found his ship, I was looking forward to – well," he half-smiled, almost regretfully, "things I know now that no one deserves. Getting to him, of course, wasn't as easy as I'd hoped..."

Another one of the strange creatures fell and exploded in front of them. Garrus caught Shepard making a face as some of the stuff splattered on her armor, but he couldn't be distracted – his target was on board.

"Looks like Saleon is doing more than cloning organs," he said, feeling his rage grow. Shepard nodded wordlessly and they continued through the ship.

His attention was so focused on killing the creatures and finding the doctor that, even as he noticed Irien and Kaidan exchanging worried glances, he dismissed them as unimportant next to his main goal.

They finished the last of the creatures, and opened a door to see the salarian standing inside the room. Saleon looked shocked, but took a step towards them until Garrus raised his gun, making him stop short.

"Thank you!" Saleon said happily. "Thank you for saving me from those things!" If I didn't know better, I'd believe him, he thought. Quite an act.

"Commander, that's him," he said flatly, staring unblinkingly at him. "That's Dr. Saleon."

The salarian's eyes got even wider than they were naturally, and he shook his head. "What?" he asked, panic clear in his voice. "My name is Heart. Dr. Heart. Please, get me out of here!" he begged.

Garrus felt no pity, but the commander, who he knew always saw the best in people, was concerned. "Are you sure it's him?" she asked with doubt, raising one blonde eyebrow elegantly.

"Positive," he said immediately, his attention still focused on Saleon. "There's no escape this time, Doctor," he told him with a feral grin. "I'd harvest your organs first, but we don't have the time."

The idea terrified Saleon – as it should, he thought, since I mean it. "You're crazy," he said, then turned to the commander, spreading his hands to seem more like a helpless victim. "He's crazy! Please don't let him do this to me!"

Garrus could see the conflict Shepard was feeling clear in her eyes, then she nodded once. "We'll take him in," she said in the tone of voice she used when her decision was final. "Drop him off with the military."

He couldn't believe his ears. She'd tracked Saleon down and brought him along only to let the case go on, never closing for him? "But... we have him!" he said in shock, meeting her eyes. "We can't let him get away. Not again!"

She looked back at him without emotion. "If he dies, we'll never know what he's been up to, or how he did it," she told him. Logical, but infuriating, he thought with annoyance. "We'll take him in, interrogate him, and he'll serve his time."

"I've-" he started, but her words had cut through the rage that had clouded his mind. "Okay. You're right," he conceded, bowing his head to her for a moment. He looked back at Saleon. "You're one lucky salarian," he said with a touch of bitterness. "You owe the commander your life."

Saleon sneered at them. "Oh, thank you," he said sarcastically. "Thank you so very much."

Before they could react, he ran to a table against the wall behind him, grabbed a pistol, and shot himself. Shepard jumped, then sighed sadly as the body fell to the floor.

"And so he dies anyway," Garrus said in frustration, his tone accusatory as he looked at her. "What was the point of that?"

She returned his angry gaze with a slightly sad one. "You can't predict how people will act, Garrus," she said softly. "But you can control how you'll respond. In the end, that's what really matters."

Once again, her words made sense, and in a way he hadn't really thought about before. "Yeah," he said, sounding a little melancholy. He tilted his head at her. "I don't think I've ever met anyone like you, Commander," he said, unable to hide his admiration. She gave him a half smile, and they returned to the ship in silence.

"It took a while for me to come to terms with what she told me," Garrus said, looking down at his cup rather than at either of them. "I used to be so willing to sacrifice others to do what I thought was right, but after seeing her this whole trip giving everything she had and trying to protect everyone, no matter the cost..." Liara glanced over at Ash's empty workbench sadly. "Well, it's given me a new perspective. I can't ever repay her for what she's taught me."

They all sat in a thoughtful silence for a few minutes, until Joker spoke. "There was one point where I thought she really had sacrificed everything to finish a mission," he told them, sounding far more reserved than normal. "Neither of you got to see me when those colonists on Feros went crazy and started attacking the ship." He took another sip of his drink and shook his head. "You know I'm not normally the kind of guy to be all protective or worry a lot or crap like that, but this time was different. She'd dropped completely out of contact, and I was trying really hard not to panic..."

Joker was far too cynical to be a religious man, but because of Shepard, he'd found himself praying a surprising number of times lately.

Not that she was religious – that he knew of anyway – but she was always going off and putting herself in these dangerous situations, leaving him to quietly fret about her the entire time she was gone.

She can't help it that she has a galaxy to save, he thought idly as he wrung his hands in worry before he caught himself and stopped. The sounds of the Feros colonists banging against the Normandy's hull echoed loudly, making him tense and worrying everyone on board.

Not that any of the crew members would openly say anything about it, of course, but a fair number of them had wandered up to the bridge to "casually" ask him if he'd heard from Shepard.

Though he could admit he did like being the one they came to for leadership when she was gone, he couldn't help but think every explosion he heard outside the ship was a trap that had been laid for her, every geth transmission he intercepted was the patrol that would get inside her defenses, and too much silence made him wish for a sound to tell him she was still fighting.

Even with his pessimism, so far he'd been wrong about fearing that she'd been killed. This time, however, Joker had a feeling of dread that something really had happened. She wasn't responding on her comm. The computer wasn't even picking up a signal from it. It's like it was destroyed somehow, in an explosion or crushed by geth or the Mako had blown up or-

He cut off his mental panicking to try to get through to her again, hoping that the signal was just too weak to register. He refused to give up hope. "Come on, commander, talk to me, please?" he said, practically begging. "We need you back here. How are we supposed to do this without you?"

He listened intently for any sign of life on the radio. Still nothing. If he was able get up and pace around the cockpit, he would, but instead he was forced to sit there and keep sending messages that she clearly wasn't hearing.

What would they do if she was gone? How would they stop Saren? No one out there was willing or able to be the first human Spectre like she was, and it was clear the Council couldn't handle stopping him themselves – or they didn't care enough to, he thought with irritation. The mission would stop without her and the galaxy would have to deal with whatever he unleashed on the galaxy.

Yeah, Saren will be a pain in the ass if she's gone, he thought. So why am I not worried about it? he wondered, puzzled at his own lack of concern at the matter.

It wasn't the mission he was concerned about, he realized. It was Shepard herself.

He slapped a hand to his forehead and sighed. He should've known and stopped himself from falling for her. It was the way his heart beat faster every time he talked to her, the way he couldn't help but smile when she made those big motivational speeches she loved so much, the way he was proud every time he did something particularly useful for her, the way his heart swelled whenever she defended or complimented him.

He was in love with her.

Not that even acknowledging it would do him any good. Irien was clearly head over heels for Kaidan – it was clear after he'd heard them flirt repeatedly as he listened in on their conversations over the comm. system. It was also obvious he returned her affections. Joker knew he had no chance – but he couldn't help the way he felt.

Of course, he'd never let her know. No sense bothering her with something he knew he could never have, he thought logically, if sadly.

Joker shook his head and hit the button to send out a call to her again. "I repeat, Normandy to shore party!" he said, his heart heavy – and not just from worry about her. "Are you reading? Anyone there?" Nothing. He kept trying, panic beginning to creep into his voice. "Normandy to shore party. Come on, Commander, talk to me!"

There was a moment of static and his heart began to race. "Is that you, Joker?" she asked. He thanked gods he didn't believe in that she was safe and filled her in on everything that had happened that she'd missed – except for his realization, of course. That he would have to keep to himself.

"I want to tell her," he finished quietly, "but I know that's really just being selfish and it would just make her feel bad for me. And I don't want that," he said heatedly. "I get enough of that shit from everybody else. She's the only one who treats me like a human being despite my disease – no offense," he added dryly, then shook his head. "Don't know how she never noticed what I was thinking though. I thought it was pretty damn obvious,"

Garrus chuckled in agreement. "Well you're more subtle about it than the rest of us. It's funny," he said thoughtfully, "the commander is so good at understanding the 'big picture,' as you humans say, but she doesn't notice things right in front of her."

"She never would have known how I felt had I not said anything," Liara said quietly. "She excels at setting situations up as she wants them, and a relationship with me – with any of us – was not in her plan, so it was never acknowledged."

"Perhaps it's better that way," Garrus mused. "We can all accept things as they are and move on. Shepard seems to care for Alenko, as he does for her. We should just be happy that things worked out for them."

"Yeah," Joker said sarcastically, sounding glum. "I'm thrilled."

They all sat in a thoughtful silence and finished what was left of their drinks.

"I never thought my little crush on you would get me here," Kaidan said with a deep chuckle.

Irien snuggled closer, relishing the feel of his arms around her. For once, she felt content to let someone else protect her from the big, bad galaxy. "And where did you think it would get you?" she asked with a smile, leaning back a little so she could see his face.

"Most likely, nowhere," he replied, running his fingers through her hair. "Or possibly court-martialed, depending on how horrified you were by the idea. You didn't seem all that interested at first. And I figured you were too much of a goodie two-shoes to take me up on anything I offered," he teased.

She snorted and grinned. "Are you kidding, Alenko? I had the hots for you from the beginning!"

"What? When?" he asked, baffled.

"Well... we were on the Citadel," she said with a slightly shy half-smile. "You, me and Ash were all looking out at the view of the station-"

"-and you said that aliens should love us, since we have oceans, beautiful women, and love-"

"-and you told me that because of those things, there was no reason they shouldn't like me," she finished, grinning. "Then you got all cute and flustered-"

"I was not flustered! I thought you were going to kick my ass!"

"You were flustered, and then you tried to pretend like you didn't say anything," she continued, laughing at his protests. "And that was when I knew you were going to get me into trouble, Kaidan Alenko."

He looked surprised, but pleased. "Really?" he asked.

She nodded, then stretched up to kiss him. "Really," she whispered.

"Because that was the moment I knew you were going to get me into trouble," he replied. "But what I don't understand," he continued, more seriously, "is why you even looked at me twice. You must have noticed that I wasn't the only one-"

"-staring at my ass?" she asked innocently, batting her eyes.

He laughed. "Well, yes, that too, but I mean, there are quite a few members of the crew who wish they'd gotten your attention like I managed to." Kaidan looked at her seriously. "Why me?"

She half-smiled and closed her eyes. "Because... because when I look at this whole situation, when I try to figure out where we all stand in this big mess that Saren and Sovereign and – hell, even the Council – created, and when I make my plans about where I'm going to go or what I'll do, I always find myself factoring you in." She opened her eyes to meet his. "When I think about how I want to take on the galaxy, I can't see any way of doing it without you." She grinned. "No matter how much trouble you're going to get me in!"

"Well then," he said with a smile, then grinned wickedly. "I'm glad I was seen as a threat to the big scary Spectre, elite human agent, killer of geth, savior of the galaxy," Kaidan teased, then reached down to tickle her sides. "Since I do know her one weakness!"

She squealed and laughed uncontrollably. "No! Stop it right now!" she squirmed and tried to escape as she giggled. "That is an order, Alenko! I swear I'll-"

"You'll what?"

She leaned up to kiss him again, shutting him up and stopping the tickling for a few minutes before she slowly pulled away. He opened his eyes and shook his head at her, and she smiled in response as she climbed out of bed.

"Might be a good idea to put a uniform on," she said sadly as he made a face. "We'll probably be there soon, and the two of us coming out of my quarters looking disheveled would demand some explanations I'm not willing to give at the moment."

He chuckled, but raised an eyebrow. "'At the moment?' You're going to tell everyone about this?" he asked. "I don't want you to get court-martialed or anything."

Shepard turned back to look at him with an impish smile. "If we manage to get to Ilos in time, stop Saren, and deal with Sovereign, I think they can deal with a little fraternization," she said, pulling her shirt on. "Besides," she added, leaning back against the table with a smile. "Even if they do try anything, you're worth it."

He shook his head. What did I ever do to deserve her? he wondered. "It's been a long time since I met a woman who-"

"Bridge to Commander Shepard." Joker interrupted them again, and Kaidan chuckled. "We're five minutes out from the Mu Relay."

Irien smiled at him. "You're a sweetheart, Kaidan."

He returned the smile and wished the two of them could just stay in her quarters forever. Unfortunately, both of them had work to do. "Joker's waiting for you on the bridge," he said. "I swear though, if anything happens to you..."

Kaidan wished at that moment he could tell her everything – how much she meant to him, how she had changed him and made him a better man, how much better his life was with her in it, how he loved her and would do anything to keep her safe. But all he could say was, "Take care, Shepard."

She smiled, tugged on her uniform to straighten it a bit, and left the room. He wondered what would happen on Ilos – if they'd stop Saren, if they'd defeat Sovereign, if they'd even survive. But as much as he worried about the future, there was one thing he knew for certain. He would do everything he could do protect her so that he could have the rest of their lives to tell her just how much she meant to him.