W/N - Thanks so much for the feedback. I had to take a break from being musical. "Vir-mi-re...will call you, every night, every day..." I hope you enjoy the sense of tradition that goes along with entrusting a vessel of war to a commander. Some cursing.

Other malarkey - Kendo nidan test tomorrow. I think I'm pretty primed. My kata is solid and I've gotten to be a formidable sparring opponent.

Shoes to Fill

SSV Normandy – Berthed at the Systems Alliance Docks – The Citadel

Commander Claire Shepard – Executive Officer, SSV Normandy

Claire stepped through the hatch of her small cabin and was greeted by a dozen marines from the squad aboard the Normandy. Flanking the corridor, they were decked out in vivid blue uniforms trimmed in crimson and gold with ironed creases sharp enough to cut steel. Kaidan slid off to the side to join the formation. "XO on deck! Marines…ten-hut!"

The sound of heels clicking in unison rang out and Shepard took a sharp breath. This was unexpected. She paused for a moment, letting the energy of so many hard-charging marines fill her spirit. She swallowed down a lump in her throat as she made eye contact with Kaidan. He had this mischievous, shit-eating grin as if he'd pulled some fast one on her. Well, he had.

"As you were, marines," she said and, again as one, they widened their feet and bowed their heads. They were fucking tight and she damn proud to be their leader. She wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve and bit her lip. It wouldn't do for her marines to see her bawling in front of them. That would be an ate the hell up way for her to begin her command.

"At least you didn't call us soldiers, ma'am," a man's voice chimed out. It was Fredericks. "Most Navy types don't know the difference." That jarhead's mouth was going to get him in trouble one day, but today wasn't that day.

She stared him in the eye for a moment, just like she did in the Citadel Embassy lounge and he wilted the same way, wincing as if he were going to be smacked in the face by the righteous hand of God. Then, she softened, letting a smirk curl up her lips and she tousled his blond hair like she would a three year old. "You keep that fire in the belly, private. I need ass kickers like you."

Just like a loyal dog he bounced right back up. "Oorah, ma'am!" he said, exclaiming the marine's war cry. She could see the pride in his eyes and there was no way she was going to take that from him and woe to the fool who called them soldiers in front of the private.

Kaidan gestured down the corridor leading to the stairway up to the main deck. Shepard just caught a glimpse of the lieutenant giving Fredericks the 'eye.' And, of course, Jazz and Beau, Fredericks' partners in crime, were all over him. One kicked Fredericks' ass while the other patted him on the head.

"I got you an appointment with the Consort," one teased.

"She's an asari, who…helps people, remember," the other taunted.

Shepard shook her head with a chuckle. Damn jarheads….

Kaidan took up a position on her left, the proper place for a junior officer to be, and they fell into lockstep through the galley and up the stairs. For Shepard, each step became heavier than the last. Part of her thought that if she didn't show up, Captain Anderson would stay at the head of this party and she could go back to playing second fiddle. It was one thing to lead a squad into battle…or to launch a mad counterattack against the batarians on Elysium. It was quite another thing to command the most advanced Alliance warship on the most crucial operation to the galaxy. If given the choice, she just might have crawled back into bed and hid. The sight of Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams on the landing at the top of the stairs did wonders to bolster her resolve. There was a twinkle in Ash's eyes, but she was all marine, straight faced and squared away. Ash popped to attention at the approach of the procession and snapped out a smart salute, palm down, fingers to the temple.

Shepard returned the salute and Ash brought her hand down into a loose fist, knuckles at the seam of the pocket. The Chief turned a sharp, about face and opened the hatch into the CIC. "XO on deck!" Ash shouted into the room.

The chorus of men and women rising from their seats met Shepard and she could see all eyes upon her. The crew of the Normandy stood, ramrod straight, chests out, dressed in pristine white. Even Joker stood on creaky legs, holding up Captain Anderson's flag, known as a pennant. Shepard had to pause for a moment and tug on her collar. Kaidan stepped in front of her and then off to one side. In a smooth motion, he drew his officer's saber and held the guard up to his lips. He then turned to Captain Anderson, who stood up on the CIC platform.

"All hands are at quarters, sir!"

Shepard met the Captain's eyes. There was so much written in that glance – pain, regret, remorse, but also pride. Anderson could always say so much with just a look. The Captain had been like a father to her. It was almost as if he were giving her away at her wedding now. They let their glances linger for a few more seconds, each savoring the moment. There was still so much to say…so much she needed to learn from him. She wanted him to say how much of a farce this was and how this was all politics, but she knew he was too much of a professional. He would never dream of tainting her first command like that.

"Thank you, lieutenant. At ease."

Kaidan brought the saber down in a wide arc to his right thigh. He then sheathed the weapons slowly and with great reverence and the crew took their seats.

Captain Anderson took a few breaths and furrowed his brows as if thinking deeply. "I…I had a long speech written up," he began slowly in his rich, baritone voice. He took a piece of parchment paper out of his pocket and crumpled it up. "But this ceremony is not for me. This ceremony is for Staff Commander Claire Shepard and the brave crew of the Normandy. It has been my greatest honor to command you and now I gladly step aside. There is no doubt," he said, his voice just beginning to crack, "there is no doubt in my heart that you will make humanity shine."

An unwelcome tear rolled down Shepard's cheek. Fuck. How the hell was she going to fill that man's shoes? In what galaxy could that even be possible?

Lieutenant Commander Colin Pressley stood. "Attention to orders!" he shouted, bringing everyone back to their feet.

Claire drew her ancient saber and held it to her lips as the Old Man came down the steps and approached her. He drew his own saber, the sound of metal grating on metal filling the otherwise silent room. With a click of his heels, he brought the weapon up to his lips and then lowered it ever so slowly to his right thigh. Shepard followed suit and then stood to his left. They began a reverent tour of the crew, stopping to acknowledge each member, finally coming to rest in front of the marines.

Anderson nodded to Kaidan and Ash. "You take good care of the commander."

"We could do nothing less, sir," Kaidan said in return.

The inspection was complete. Captain Anderson now turned to Shepard. "Claire," he said with paternal warmth. "I am entrusting you with the finest ship and crew in the Alliance. You care for them like a mama bear would her cubs. You treat them with the respect and honor that they deserve."

"You have my word, sir."

He then faced the audience and took a deep breath. "I, Captain David Anderson, Systems Alliance Navy, do hereby accept the position as Military Attache to the Human Embassy on the Citadel." He left-faced back to Shepard. "Ma'am, I am ready to be relieved."

Shepard turned to the crew. It felt like her mouth was full of cotton, but she forced out the words. "I, Staff Commander Claire Shepard, do hereby accept the position as Commanding Officer, SRV Normandy." They each brought their sabers up to salute, lowering them with steady hands as Joker lowered the Captain's pennant.

Shepard wanted to leap into the Captain's arms…embrace him, show him her undying loyalty. He had taken huge risks to bring her aboard and give her this chance and it blew up in his face. How could she ever repay that?

"I relieve you, sir."

But instead of giving him any comfort or solace, she put the toe of her left shoe behind the heel of her right and spun about, turning her back on him. It was an odd feeling, but her feet felt ever so tiny within some very big shoes.


Ate the hell up – F'd up.