W/N - Definitely in a fluff mood with the holidays so here's a goofy piece on my favorite stalker...I mean fan. I always had a soft spot for the mope and thought I'd give him a little air time. I needed a short break from the dark, bloody madness that I was writing for Dragon Age.

Merry Christmas!

The warmth and crackle of the fire did nothing to dampen the chill in Conrad's heart and he lowered his cheeks into his hands and sighed. From the comfort of his couch he looked over to the Christmas tree in his living room and moaned softly, a sad gasp of psychic pain that overpowered the musical notes of Carol of the Bells that played on his sound system.

"What's wrong, Conrad," a woman said, sitting down next to him and offering up a plate of cookies that were smeared with red and green frosting and dotted with gold and silver sprinkles in a tinsel pattern.

The cookies looked delicious and he scooped one up and took a bite, but his heart wasn't in it. "Oh, thank you, dear," he said to his wife, Heidi. "I don't know…I should have stayed on the Citadel. I could have helped. Commander Shepard had to fight without me," he declared in a half whine, half vehement protest.

Heidi put her hand on his leg, rubbing the fabric of his jeans with loving care. "Conrad," she said with a hint of rebuke, "a lot of people died there and I'm just glad it wasn't you. That foundation that you've been thinking of starting, you know, the one for victims of the war? Why don't you put your energy into that?"

Conrad was about to protest and took a deep breath, bringing his finger up, but darnit, just like Commander Shepard, Heidi was right. "Awww, that is a good idea. You know, I'll get started soon enough. Come, why don't we open the presents?" Heidi always had a way of brightening his mood and he knew that she was way too good for him. He put his hand on hers. "You indulge me far too much, you know."

They moved to sit on the carpet by the tree and pine scent made him glad to be alive. He picked up a wrapped box with a blue ribbon and held it up to Heidi. He knew she would love it. Conrad Verner was a well traveled man and had picked up this little bauble on an asari world called Illium. Heidi carefully slid the ribbon and bow off and then sliced the tape with her fingernail to remove the wrapping precisely as it had gone on, fold by fold. She was always so exacting that way. When done, she held up a box, covered in blue felt with silver lettering.

Heidi's face lit up, her eyes popping wide open and her mouth forming a 'O.' She scrambled to flip the lid and practically yelped with glee. "Oh, Conrad, it's beautiful," she said as she wriggled the silver ring from its clasp and slid it onto her finger. She rotated her hand from side to side, letting the gem sparkle in the blinking Christmas lights.

"It's a blue Illium diamond, dear. I bought it from the famous Doctor Liara T'Soni," he said proudly. "I have some clout with her, you see." There was that time Liara almost crushed him like an egg when he rushed Shepard to get her picture, but he knew he had grown on the asari since then.

Heidi planted a big, wet kiss on Conrad's lips and then admired the diamond again. "But, you see, Conrad, I have some clout too," she said as she rose and walked to the front door. "Come here, love."

He stood up and followed her over, stroking the golden goatee on his chin. What could it possibly be? Conrad was a reasonably wealthy man and had just about all he could want to include Commander Shepard memorabilia. He had her action figure, the N7 hoodie, and the model of the Normandy and a turtle named Wrex and…. What more could a fan hope to have? Whatever it was, he would humor her and express his joy, saying it was exactly what he wanted for Christmas. He plastered on a smile as she opened the door.

"Co…Co…Commander Shepard?" Was this a holovid or was he dreaming?

"Merry Christmas, Conrad."

"Hail Mary, full of grace," he gasped and blinked his eyes. She looked just a little different from the last time he saw her on the Citadel – her hair was longer and curled into ringlets and she wore a candy apple red dress, trimmed in white. "And Commander Alenko!" Conrad's knees weakened and he staggered back a step, holding his hands on his temples. He wanted to close his eyes, but he was afraid that if he did, they would vanish.

Shepard made a half smile and narrowed her eyes at him. "Uhh, may we come in?"

"B…b…but of course! Please, have a seat," he said, his voice rising several octaves in pitch. He rushed over to offer them the couch, forgetting to close the door against the cold to which Heidi had to push it shut. Kaidan Alenko trudged over to the tree and put a large wrapped box on the carpet. Heidi's face beamed with the knowledge that she had gotten Conrad exactly what he wanted for Christmas, no ifs ands or buts. His mouth formed a huge 'O' and he looked back and forth between his wife and his guests, not entirely sure of what to do.

Claire Shepard gestured to the box as she and Kaidan sat on the carpet, holding hands. "Go ahead, open it," she told Conrad.

Unlike Heidi, Conrad tore into the wrapping, shredding it like a starving man would tear at hunks of meat. Paper flew into the air as ribbons popped apart. Like a rampaging bear, he mauled the box until he could see its contents. "No…Commander Shepard…it's your armor." With reverent hands, he removed a black helmet that was trimmed in crimson like a black widow spider. "It's your Colossus Ten helmet…the one you wore when you saved the Citadel! But commander, won't you need it?"

Shepard grinned broadly at him. "Call me Claire. Nah, the N7's are issuing me a new hardsuit. Top of the line stuff. I figured you could use a little memento."

Conrad's hands scrambled through the rest of the armored pieces and he tried reassembling them like a puzzle. "Ohhh, I still can't believe this!"

Claire picked up her cuirass by the prominent breast cups. "It probably won't fit you though. Keep digging."

He reached down to the bottom of the box and pulled out a red envelope and a golden badge, depicting the winged sword, Excalibur with a scrolled motto, Who Dares Wins. "Oh my God, Claire, this is your N7 badge!"

"Now, just don't go running around the galaxy, wearing that thing or I might have to hurt you or something," she said with a wry chuckle.

"Oh no," he said, "you can count on me! As long as you're here to protect us, you won't need me out there." Then, he tore off the flap of the envelope and slid out two invitations that were printed on bright Christmas cardstock. "W…what's this?" Conrad was already on the verge of passing out, his heart hammered so rapidly in his chest. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and took a deep breath before reading the scripted letters on the cards. "These invitations are for Conrad and Missus Verner to attend a formal banquet on 26 December 2183 aboard SRV Normandy as guests of Commander Claire Shepard, Commanding Officer, SRV Normandy."

Conrad had to read it again just to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. Even then, he wasn't so sure. "I…I don't know what to say?"

Claire and Kaidan rose and made their way to the door. "Just say that you'll be there." Shepard said. She smiled and gave a head nod to both Conrad and Heidi as they headed back out into the snow. "And, Merry Christmas."


Cuirass: breastplate for a suit of armor.

N7 Badge: based on the heraldry of the British Special Air Service (SAS)