Disclaimer: Bioware owns the recognizable characters...and probably even the unrecognizable ones.

After Eden Prime - Ashley

Ashley found Alenko sitting at the mess, his eyes unfocused as he spooned cereal into his mouth. She was feeling much better, thanks to Shepard's confident and steely-eyed leadership, and felt more like herself despite nearly forty hours without sleep. He glanced up at her approach and offered her a tired smile. She punched in a request for a light snack into the food dispenser and brought it over.

"Mind if I have a seat, LT?" she asked casually.

"Have at it, Chief."

Ashley studied him carefully as she sat. She wasn't one to keep to her own council but she hadn't figured out who she could talk to on the ship. Shepard was out. As much as Ashley admired her, Shepard seemed like the live by the rules type who wouldn't necessarily want to chat with her people. Alenko was much the same way, but he was cute and it wouldn't hurt to get to know him better.

"What do you think?" she asked without preamble.

"This cereal is soggier than I'd like," he replied without missing a beat.

Ashley chuckled appreciatively. Alenko threw her a crooked smile and put his spoon down.

"What's on your mind, Chief?" he asked, his voice on the edge of a sigh.

"Figured it wouldn't hurt to have a chat, LT," she replied with a shrug. "Since, I'm staying on and all. Shepard is something else, isn't she?"

Alenko merely nodded.

"She's got that certain something that the best commanders have; that quality that makes you want to follow them into the fires of hell," Ashley said thoughtfully.

"And something more," Alenko muttered. "There's just something...more about her."

When he looked up at her, he looked slightly guilty as if he hadn't meant to say that. That look was enough to pique Ashley's curiosity because she actually agreed with his statement so there was nothing strange about that. She thought she saw something pass between them in the med lab, but thought maybe her exhaustion was making her see things. She should have known better than to question her powers of observation.

"What do you mean?" she asked innocently, hoping he was tired enough to start digging his own grave.

"She's...different," he said helplessly.

"I got that, but how? I mean...I guess she's taller than your average woman."

At that, Alenko chuckled. "You'll see soon enough, Chief."

"Oh, come on!" Ashley exclaimed. "You've known her about a day more than I have."

He shrugged, but refused to say anything more. It didn't matter to Ashley. She'd marked him for observation already.

"Fine," Ashley said gamely. "I'll figure it out on my own."

"How are you holding up?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Tired, but I want to go to the Citadel with Captain Anderson and Commander Shepard. I want to see this through...I owe my squad that much."

Alenko nodded.

"What were those things, LT? Those...husks."

"I don't know, but I have a feeling it won't be the last time we see them."

"Chief. Lieutenant," Shepard said, making them both start. She was either surprisingly light on her feet or they were that exhausted.

Ashley opened her mouth to greet her, but Alenko shot to his feet, tossing her a crisp salute. She followed suit, mouth quivering with suppressed laughter. When she met Shepard's eyes, the Commander looked like she was having the same problem.

"At ease," Shepard said. "No reason for that, Alenko."

"Ma'am," he said, his stance decidedly not at ease.

"How are you feeling, Commander?" Ashley asked, sitting back down when Shepard took a seat.

"Better," Shepard answered with tired smile. "But..." She trailed off, shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts.

"What is it?" Alenko inquired, his gentle tone belying the rigidness of his expression.

Ashley threw him a look, her eyebrow raised, which he pointedly ignored. Shepard shifted in her seat. She clasped her hands on the mess table and fixed her dark eyes on them.

"Have you ever had a bad dream that refused to go away even when you were awake?" she asked thoughtfully. "That's what this vision is like."

She looked up at them, her jaw set.

"If anything, it's only made me that much more determined to take Saren down," she said, her tone booking no argument.

Ashley caught Alenko's eye and saw the approval she felt mirrored there. Maybe she did understand what he was talking about. Shepard definitely had...something more. But she definitely didn't have a crush on the Commander because of it, which was something Alenko couldn't say. He was practically sparkling at her. Ashley couldn't wait to see how this would play out.