Jane Shepard was surprised when Wrex broke the silence in the elevator. She could feel very small vibrations through her boots as his voice rumbled behind her, addressing the Lieutenant next to her.

"You've got impressive biotic power. Humans should never have switched to the weaker L3 implants."

Lieutenant Alenko shrugged. He'd heard this argument before and it never failed to amaze him how willing others were to sacrifice lives for power. He did, however, reign in his usual sarcastic response; this was a krogan, after all. "My headaches can be pretty bad, and I'm one of the lucky L2 implants. The L3's are safer."

Wrex snorted, his disapproval evident. "You don't stop using a gun just because the kickback has a little sting."

Kaidan felt like Wrex was trying to bait him, and declined to answer, expecting that the krogan would just have some sneering remark regardless of his response. What he didn't expect was the Commander's sharp reply.

"And a well established military doesn't sacrifice good soldiers simply because someone's having a power trip." She turned to regard the krogan with one of her steely looks. He merely turned his head, sizing her up with one crimson eye. Liara cleared her throat and shifted her weight before she spoke. The way the Commander and the krogan were eying each other was making her nervous.

"Um...Commander? Are you an L2 as well?"

Shepard moved her gaze away from Wrex as she responded. "No, actually. I should be, but they didn't find me until I was seventeen. By then the L3's were out. I guess I was lucky."

Alenko gave her a puzzled look. "You guess? I'd call it lucky. I mean, L3's almost never have problems."

She forced a small grin. "Yeah. Almost never. Yet again, I prove to be the exception to the rule."

Liara thought she had noticed something in the way Shepard used her biotics. "So you have problems too?"

The Commander shook her head. "Nothing physical. Not like the Lieutenant or most other L2s. I am, however, worthless outside of combat. I've got some kind of mental block."

Liara tilted her head. "I don't quite follow you."

Shepard sighed, and brought her hand up in what looked like a biotic gesture. "I have to be angry to get anything done. I have my own theories about why, but thankfully it's pretty easy to stay pissed during a fight. Give me a shotgun and a reason to see red, and I could probably clear a garrison for you." She paused, and laughed a little. "Just don't ask me to do any heavy lifting. It takes too much concentration."

Kaidan opened his mouth to speak but found Liara had already beaten him to the punch.

"But didn't they deal with that in your training?"

Jane's laugh was short and sharp. "Oh, we tried. I mean, I've seen my readouts. I can hit pretty goddamn hard. I would have been an excellent Adept, except I refuse to rely on a skill that's dependent on my emotions. They didn't want me using guns, but after a year of beating my head against a brick wall, they finally gave in." She stepped out into the light of the Presidium as the elevator doors slid open. "Well, we're here. Meet back in about an hour. And Wrex? Try not to get into any fights." The krogan merely grunted as he pushed past her and disappeared into the crowds. Liara stood just outside the elevator's exit looking a little confused.

"Remind me where I'm going again?"

Shepard smiled. Big city, rural girl. "Head towards that sculpture, the mass relay one. Take that bridge down, and then take a left. Delan's shop is on the right, it's open to the rest of the Presidium. You can't miss it, I promise. Tell him I sent you, and make sure you get something suitable for harsh environments. I don't quite know what we will and won't be up against. Best to be prepared."

Liara nodded and started off in the general direction Shepard had indicated, a slightly overwhelmed expression on her face.

Jane pursed her lips as she watched the doctor depart. "That girl has read too many books, I think."

She started slightly when she heard Kaidan's laugh behind her. She turned to face him with a mix of embarrassment and bemusement on her face. "I thought you were going with her, Lieutenant?"

"I am, it's just..." He sobered. "I just wanted to um...thank you...for what you said about the L2 implants. I've heard the "stronger is better" argument for most of my career. It's refreshing to find someone who disagrees, Commander."

Shepard looked away as she reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. "Lieutenant." Her voice was suddenly quiet. "That isn't something you need to thank me for. I have seen enough death to last two lifetimes. And I am convinced that needless death is the highest crime possible." She sighed, and closed her eyes. "I am also convinced that those responsible for such atrocities will have to answer for them someday."

Kaidan stood, the hum of the Presidium around him, observing the woman standing next to him. Her posture was slouched slightly...almost defeated. She can't possibly think that...that she's somehow responsible for... His thoughts were interrupted as Shepard opened her eyes and faced him.

When she spoke again, all traces of her momentary vulnerability were gone; her voice took on a sardonic tone. "Well, I suppose it's time to go get chewed on by the Ambassador."

Alenko allowed himself a smirk at her assessment of their meetings. "That man never ceases to amaze me. How do you put up with it?"

Shepard grinned. "Oh, it's easy. He disapproves of me and it warms my heart. I've had so much practice with condescending jerks it's become a personal sport." She sighed. "And now I'm going to be late. Excellent." She gave Kaidan a nod. "Hopefully I'll see you in an hour, Lieutenant."

"Commander." He stayed for a few moments to watch her retreating form. Everything he had heard about her was true. She was smart, tactically savvy, incredibly well oriented in combat...but the stories had failed to mention that she was also beautiful, dry witted, and occasionally...very human. The brief glimpse beneath her shields had been unexpected, but he felt a small flicker of hope in his chest. She had confided at least something in him. Maybe. Maybe after all this was over...

---

Author's note: Aha! Boston Legal reference! Cookie for you if you find it. This piece is stand alone from Across the Universe and it is a set up piece for what I'm working on currently. I'm slightly dismayed to find that AtU doesn't fit in the time-line of my next round of stories. Damn muses. Oh well. Usual disclaimer applies, and as always, reviews are appreciated but not necessary. Thanks!