Nothing about the rest of the night could have prepared Alice for the sensation of Liara returning her kiss. She felt an overwhelming animalistic urge inside of her, a hunger, beckoning her to devour those lips. Alice growled softly as she pressed her mouth against Liara's. She slid the tip of her tongue out, teasingly running it along Liara's teeth, who gently opened her mouth, cooing in response. Alice felt the gentle caress of Liara's breath against her face. She bared her teeth, feeling very primal in that moment, wanting nothing more in the universe than to lose herself in those perfect blue lips.

Her hands slid down Liara's body, relishing in each tender, glorious curve. She grasped Liara around the waist, pulling them closer together, eliciting a gasp from Liara. Alice leaned in and gently bit down on Liara's bottom lip. Liara moaned softly as Alice pulled back, letting the lip slide from her teeth.

"Mmm…" Liara murmured.

"Mmm…?" Alice returned the sound with an amused grin. She was panting heavily, face hovering inches away from Liara's.

"Mm… more…" the word was barely louder than a breath against her face, but it rang loudly in Alice's ears, shattering her trance. She faltered, eyes going blank as she struggled to process it. The idea should have made sense, it was so simple. More. More of this, more of everything. More kissing, more touching, more lips and tongues, more caressing and moaning. Clothes stripped away, naked bodies pressed together – would she find tiny blue freckles elsewhere on Liara's bare skin? Legs intertwines, hips moving in sync – where else would Liara be sensitive?

More… It should have been simple, obvious. But then she remembered.


She wanted more.

More… than this. More than one night…

Liara's eyelids fluttered open at Alice's hesitation. Alice gazed into Liara's blue eyes, seeing the hunger there, her hunger reflected back at her. She so desperately wanted it to be that easy.

Just… for tonight… No. More… I want… more than just tonight.

Liara blinked away the haze from her own eyes, looking confusedly at Alice.

I want tomorrow… and I can't do tomorrow…

Alice sighed and slowly stepped away from Liara, moving out of the alcove, feeling her strength quickly leaving her. Liara, still panting from Alice's ministrations, stared mutely into the darkness at the sudden change in Alice's behavior.

Alice reached the railing overlooking the cliff and sat down heavily. She slid her legs underneath the guard rail to dangle them over the edge and hugged the crossbeam to her chest.

Liara turned her head towards Alice. "Is… did I—"

"No," Alice shook her head. "You… were… you are… amazing…"

"Does what I said… mean something different to hum—"

"No!" Alice laughed somberly. "No… I… I want more… I really want more…"

"Then…" Liara moved out of the alcove. "I do not unders—"

"I mean I want…" Alice turned around, angrily gesturing at the dark corner of the alcove. "I want more than that, than what I wanted to do to you, what I was doing to you just then."

Liara slowly made her way beside Alice, looking down at her.

Alice sighed before continuing, unable to meet Liara's gaze. "I want more than one night, and that's… I've done this too many times to think that what we were doing was going anywhere other than that."

Liara remained mercifully silent, allowing Alice to sort out her own words in her own time.

Alice shook her head, leaning heavily against the railing. "As much as I want that, I want tomorrow more. And I can't have tomorrow…"

Liara furrowed her brow. "Why not?"

"Because tomorrow…" she looked up into Liara's eyes. "Tomorrow I'm Commander Shepard again. Tomorrow I'm chasing down Saren, I'm the first human Spectre, and I'm in command of a crew of fifty – I'm in command of you! And it doesn't work that way."

"What doesn't work that way?"

"That! This! Us! Fuck!" Alice let out a frustrated sigh, burying her face in her hands. "I was… I was so conflicted about tonight, about being not me for a night, or at least not that part of me for a night… And then I got here and everyone was so happy to see me, and the alcohol and the music and the dancing… and you… and being so close to you, dancing with you, and your beautiful dress and your… God, that perfume…" Alice raised her head and looked at Liara. "If nothing else, I have got to know what that perfume is."

Liara shook her head. "I… do not have any perfume."

"Oh God!" Alice groaned. She flopped backward onto the ground, hiding her face in her hands once more. "That makes it worse! That means it was you that…" Alice drifted off, the torrent thoughts coming too fast for her to bother trying to put them to words. She hated them, those errant thoughts. She wished she could ignore them all, that she could just bury her face into Liara's neck once more, bury her head in the field of flowers that she inhaled, bury everything, bury tonight. No, not bury tonight, just bury her feelings like she'd been trying to do for weeks. She thought she'd been successful at it, that she'd managed to fool herself and everyone else into thinking that there was nothing between her and Liara. And she had been successful. Save for one slip up in front of Ashley, she'd been able to pretend like everything was normal. Just one slip up, after which Ashley had been so aggravatingly helpful in trying to get her and Liara together that sometimes she just wanted to punch the soldier in the face.

The soldier. Ash was a soldier, for crying out loud, what the hell was she doing encouraging this? Encouraging her to break regulations and 'fraternize' – God she hated that word – with Liara, with someone under her command. It's not as though tonight was the first time Ash had tried to play matchmaker, either. Alice let out a sigh, wondering if things could ever just be easy for once.

"Regulations…" she muttered.

Liara took a seat close to her. Close, but mercifully far enough away so that Alice didn't immediately feel a compulsion to pounce on Liara and drag her back into darkness and resume where they'd left off in the alcove moments ago. Was it just moments ago?

Alice shook her head. At that point it, given the 180 she had just pulled, it felt so far away, so long ago, like a lifetime had passed since she kissed Liara. She was sure, though, regardless of how much time had passed that if she licked her lips right then she'd still be able to taste the echoes of Liara's mouth on her own, and then – distance or not – she'd find herself on top of Liara once again, bodies pressed together, and she couldn't have that…

She lifted her head an inch or so off the ground and let it drop so that it thudded dully against the ground, hoping the impact would somehow drive those thoughts from her mind.

"Regulations…" she whispered again, lifting her head and dropping it repeatedly.

"What about regulations?" Liara asked.

Alice uncovered her face and rolled her head to the side, causing Liara to appear sideways in her eyes. The blackness of the night sky did little to mask Liara's easy, straight-forward beauty. In the darkness, the color of her blue skin was muted, and the rest of her facial features made her look so human, tiny blue freckles, thin black 'eyebrows' – how the hell did the asari wind up with such human faces? Alice's eyes drifted to Liara's crest – the defining feature of the asari – that strange, wonderful set of tendrils that swept gracefully from the top of her forehead to the back of her skull, flipping up playfully at the end. Her fingers tingled as she recalled running them up the back of Liara's neck to the base of that crest, how satisfying it had been to feel Liara tremble at her touch. So alien, so familiar, so beautiful.

"Shepard?" Liara asked, dragging Alice back to reality.

Alice's eyes went wide, wondering how long she had been staring at Liara like some awestruck little girl. Obviously banging her head against the ground hadn't been able to drive those thoughts from her mind. She broke eye contact and heaved her body off the ground, flopping heavily against the railing to let her head hang over the edge once more.

"Regulations…" Alice sighed, exhaling the word once more.

"Yes, you said—"

"There are regulations, Liara. The Alliance has regulations against you and me… against this… against tomorrow. I can't… A commanding officer can't become involved romantically with their crew."

Liara nodded solemnly. "What would happen?"

"Well," Alice shrugged. "Officially speaking, I'm fairly certain that the officer and the crewmate could be discharged, at the very least they'd each get reassigned…"

"I am not part of the Alliance military, though," Liara pointed out.

Despite herself, Alice gave a snort of amusement. "Don't try to weasel out of this, Liara. Even if you're not Alliance, you're still under my command," she smirked.

"Could the Alliance even take action against you at this point? You are a Spectre, answerable first to the Council. Do they have similar regulations?"

"I… don't know," Alice shook her head. "But that doesn't matter, Liara, they're there for a reason. I mean, for starters, it could be construed as favoritism, it—"

"Do you have a 'favorite' crewmate?"

The question caught Alice off guard. In retrospect, she couldn't think of a reason why. Liara had always been inquisitive and often spoke without a filter, a fact which had quickly endeared her to Alice, particularly when Liara's lack of social graces caused her embarrassment. The question, like so many others, hadn't been asked out of jealousy or frustration. There was no expected answer. There was only sheer curiosity.

"I uh… I don't know. I try not to think like that. I mean, I like all of my crew for different reasons. Kaidan is such a great officer, and he's so considerate and understanding that I know he's got a great career ahead of him. Ash is an amazing soldier, this wonderful blend of balls and discipline, and given all the crap that the Alliance has heaped onto her family it's a wonder that she even wants to serve her people, but try getting her to give it up and you'll be running into a brick wall. Garrus is so hell-bent on doing good, so determined to set the universe right that he sometimes frustrates himself when he finds out that he can't change the stars, not that he'd let that stop him. Wrex has been so many places and done so many things in his life that it's nearly impossible to fathom, and despite all his bitching I can tell that he's still got hope for his people. Tali is so unbelievably brilliant and brave to be out in the galaxy on her own at such a young age, and watching her handle it so well is just incredible. And you…" she hesitated, knowing and fearing what she wanted to say. She turned to Liara, mouth fighting to form the words she desperately wanted to hold back. She was what? So unlike anyone she had ever met before? A breath of fresh, calming, free air in a life that was otherwise so chronically regimented that she sometimes felt like screaming? That she was her favorite? Alice sighed, shaking her head.

Liara averted her gaze, nodding slowly. "Shepard, I—"

"Liara, I had my tongue in your mouth a few minutes ago, I think we can dispense with the formalities for a little while…" Alice said, distractedly rubbing her temples.

Liara recoiled slightly as she turned to Alice. "Shortly after we met, you specifically asked me to not refer to you by your first name…"

"Do you remember why?"

"You said…" Liara lowered her eyes. "…that a Commander has to be respected, that their orders have to be seen as coming from someone in a position of authority, and that the informality of being of a first-name basis with their crew might jeopardize that."

Alice nodded solemnly.

"Do you still believe that?"

Alice glanced at Liara out of the corner of her eyes. "What do you mean? Of course—"

"I mean that you referred to Chief Williams and Lieutenant Alenko by their first names just now. You also listed off personal traits of the rest of your crew, as well as how they made you personally feel, save for me, I suppose. Do you feel your authority with any of them, with any of us has been compromised?"

Back to this, again… Alice thought to herself, recalling the conversation she'd had earlier in the night with Dr. Chakwas, about proving herself wrong about needing to maintain the air of authority at all times. She had been right then, just as Liara was right now. Somehow the thought didn't make her feel any better.

"I don't know…"

Liara continued. "I have made my feelings for you clear…"

"And I think I've made mine pretty clear," Alice replied, a small smile making its way onto her face as she recalled the taste on her lips.

"Have you, though?"

That shocked Alice. It was the closest she'd ever heard Liara come to anger or indignation. Maybe it was the alcohol or the comedown from the intensity earlier, or Alice's own continued evasive tactics around dealing with the truth. Or perhaps, Alice though, it was just her perception of the words based on her guilt from being so damned evasive.

Liara furrowed her brow, staring down into the darkness. "I have been clear about my feelings for you, and for your part you intimated that you felt that there was something between us as well. For a time simply knowing that was enough. We continued to speak in between missions, continued to learn more about each other, and… take things slowly, as you suggested. And then tonight happened, and I thought that… well, I am unsure what it was that I thought. It may have been my imagination, but you seemed suddenly so certain about what you wanted and I found myself feeling… relieved.

"I realized that not knowing for certain how you felt about me was consuming my every thought. When you kissed me I felt such contentment that I had not felt in a long time. That was of course beyond the sheer pleasure of the kiss… And then you stopped and told me why it cannot continue – for what sound like such perfectly legitimate reasons – and I am unable to think of anything to say in response which does not sound so horribly self-serving… But I cannot help but think that perhaps your feelings for me are not as strong as I had imagined…"

"Liara…" Alice said, scooting herself closer, face drawing up in a worried expression. "This isn't… If I thought less of you, if I cared less for you I would have done one of two things. One, the moment you told me that you felt something between us I would have told you to get over it, that nothing would or could ever happen. Barring that, I'd be back there in that alcove with my hand up your dress right now because I wouldn't have given a damn about tomorrow. But I'm not doing either of those things because I do care about you, you are important to me, you are my favorite, and all that scares the hell out of me." A tremor found its way into her voice. The rush of words was so relieving – speaking without thought, without measure – but it was also terribly draining being so exposed like that. She felt her heart racing again, her face grew warm, but she continued, the words tumbling out of her even faster than before.

"Being a soldier is the most important thing I've done in my life, and I know that I've said that I hate how constrained it makes me feel, how regimented and restricted and controlled everything is, and I do feel that way, but it's also gotten me to this point, it's gotten me here. And now I'm a Spectre, and that means I've got even more riding on me than when I was just a soldier, and I'll take the burden, gladly so, because I know I'm making a difference on an even larger scale, but it means that sometimes I don't get to…" She had to stop, the trembling in her throat becoming too much for her to speak. She felt tears well up in the corner of her eyes.

Liara slid closer to Alice and brought a hand to her cheek. She spoke softly, her voice barely above a whisper. "Alice…"

It was almost too much for Alice, the touch, the closeness, the sound of her own name. Not her rank, not her title, not the mantle that her last name had been adorned with through her years of service, just her name. It was Liara's gift, the ability to cut right through everything, right to her core that had endeared her to Alice in the first place. Sometimes it felt as though she was the only one who could see her – not her rank, not her title, just her. And the idea that she would have to give that up, that she would have to miss out on that in order to do what she needed to do, in order to be who she needed to be caused an immense pressure in her chest, like an incredible weight was pressing down upon her, suffocating her. She closed her eyes, blinking away the tears that were threatening to engulf her vision, cutting her off from Liara's blue eyes. It was almost too much to bear.

"Alice," Liara continued. "I am sorry… I did not mean to cause you to…"

"No…" Alice whispered, shaking her head, covering Liara's hand with her own. She wasn't about to let Liara shoulder the blame for this. She couldn't. This was her decision, her burden, her fault.

"Alice, if you wish to not pursue anything, I will understand. Know I am with you until the end regardless."

Alice felt as though the simple statement should have broken her, that the admission would have caused the weight of her own feelings to collapse on top of her. Instead she felt a strange calm – a sense of serenity. Maybe it was the relief of no longer having to wonder. Or no longer struggling against it and simply embracing the understanding that nothing would ever happen between them. Or maybe it was that Liara had seemed so at peace with the thought – not that she believed for a moment that Liara would suddenly break down into tears. Perhaps, though, it was the knowledge that even without taking things 'further', Liara would be there with her all the same. A welcome thought indeed.

The pressure from her chest gone, relief washed over her. She felt her shoulders relax, and for the first time in quite a while, Alice noticed the sound of the waves crashing below. It was such a comforting, familiar sound, reminding her of home. She hadn't grown up on the beach, nor did she live terribly close to it, but there were many nights when she would sneak off by herself to escape everything else in her life and just sit alone for hours listening to the sound of the waves breaking against the sand. She took a deep breath, listening to the sound the air made as it entered her own lungs. She let it out just as another wave crashed against the beach below. She continued to inhale as the water regressed, exhaling when the wave returned, further calming her.

She remembered this ritual from her youth. Finding the rhythm of the natural world in the ocean and aligning it with her own breathing brought her a sense of tranquility that was so often missing from her life in her chaotic teenage years. The sound of her own breathing echoing that of the waves somehow aligned her, brought her peace. Funny how after so many years spent on a spaceship, hardly ever setting foot on an actual planet – let alone a beach – she managed to fall right back into the rhythm. Just as with the rituals of the club and the dancing, she had simply instinctually known what to do.

"Alice…" Liara's voice seemed to echo in her mind. She gasped and she opened her eyes. She hadn't realized how long she had simply sat there with her eyes closed, but there was Liara, hand gently pressed against Alice's cheek, gazing at her patiently, without expectation.

"Sorry, what?" Alice asked, smiling weakly, more than a little embarrassed that she had allowed herself to get so lost in the sound of her own breathing.

Liara's brow furrowed slightly. With a slight shake of her head, she lowered her hand from Alice's face. "I did not say anything."

As Liara pulled away, Alice quickly reached out and grabbed for Liara's wrist. She suddenly remembered why she loved going to the beach and breathing with the waves. She would sit there, allowing the vastness of the ocean and the sky above to turn all of the errant thoughts in her mind into tiny grains of sand, easily exhaled with the crashing waves, simply washed away with the tide. Free of all outside influences, with a clear mind she could finally understand what it was that she wanted, what it was that she wanted.

And when she had done it this time, when her mind was freed from all thoughts of regulations and fear and tomorrow, she had heard Liara, speaking her name. Not her title, not her rank, just her name. And her body reacted accordingly. She looked up to see Liara still gazing at her with those blue eyes that she felt she could lose herself in. Or maybe… maybe it wasn't that she could lose herself in them. Maybe she could just lose everything else and just be in them.

Alice leaned forward, inching her face towards Liara's. Her movement was slow, not out of fear or hesitation, simply absent any haste or overpowering sense of hunger that had driven her before.

Liara's eyes followed Alice's lips as they moved towards her. They gently closed their eyes as Alice pressed their lips together. The softness and chastity of the kiss caused every hair on Alice's body to tingle and stand on end. She could feel her bare toes curl. Her heart beat just a little bit faster. Breaking the kiss, she felt a sharp exhalation of air from Liara against her face. It was pleasing to know the kiss had the same effect on her.

Alice looked once more at Liara, who asked a question with her eyes.

What does this mean?

"I don't know…" Alice gently shook her head. "I mean, I'm not sure how it's going to work or even if it will work, but… I want this… I want you. I want us." She turned to face Liara, suddenly intent on getting the words out right. "You have been everything that I never realized that I wanted in my life, and it's because you're you. Not because you're trying to be something you're not, you just are. You're…

"I know what I said before about the regulations being there for a reason, and I don't disagree with it, but… I'm not going to back away from you just because someone told me that things would get difficult. You're too important to me." She sighed at the relief of finally having put the feeling into words. Smiling, she tenderly reached up and brushed her fingertips against Liara's cheek.

A hint of a smile turned up the corners of Liara's lips. "I will not let it interfere with—"

Alice shook her head. "I trust you, Liara," she said, tracing her fingertips down Liara's neck and shoulder, down her arm to interlace her fingers with Liara's gloved hand.

Liara smiled, both at the touch and the admission. "That means a great deal to me," she nodded slightly. "I understand it will not be easy…"

That brought a smirk to Alice's face, causing Liara to furrow her brow in confusion. Alice looked her straight in the eye. "Easy's for chumps," she joked, echoing a certain bartender's words of wisdom. She leaned in and softly kissing Liara once more. Breaking the kiss, she pressed her forehead to Liara's, letting out a contented sigh.

"Well, since I'm no longer planning on mauling you in a dark corner tonight, I guess we should probably head in, huh?"

Liara nodded, smiling slightly. The pair pulled themselves up and began to make their way down the clifftop path, walking side-by-side in comfortable silence, content to enjoy the remaining moments they had of the night, knowing what tomorrow offered. Alice let her hand hang by her side, sneaking out a finger to snag Liara's hand as it passed hers. She intertwined their fingers and gave a gentle squeeze, smiling as she did so.

As the Normandy came into view, Alice muttered a curse.

Liara let Alice's hand drop in shock. "What is it?" she asked, looking around nervously.

"I left my shoes back by the beach…" she pouted.

"Oh… would you like to—"

Alice shook her head. "Nah, we're already here, and I don't feel like walking all the way back there again."

"I could go and—"

"No," Alice chuckled, smiling broadly. "Thanks for the chivalry, but I'll be fine without them." She took a step closer to Liara, discreetly clasping her hand. She lowered her voice despite the absence of any eavesdroppers. "Listen, though… I know we're planning on taking things slowly, which I'm happy to do, but for the time being…"

Liara nodded, as though expecting what was to come next. "You wish to keep our relationship 'under wraps' as you humans put it…"

Alice's face scrunched up, as though even hearing the words left a bad taste in her mouth. "I'm not afraid of it, I don't want to hide it, I just… I don't know how the crew will… I mean… I'm sure some of them will be fine with it. I just don't want to cause any bad blood, you know?"

Liara nodded in agreement. "Based on her actions tonight, I imagine Chief Williams at least might be 'fine with it.'"

Alice's eyes went wide. "Ash? Ah… You mean—"

"I do not think she was as subtle as she thought she was," Liara grinned sheepishly. "I may not know much about human interactions, but it seemed to be clear that she had an interest in seeing you and I together."

Alice slapped a hand to her face, shaking her head and sighing. "Oh… I don't think Ash thought she was being subtle at ALL."

Liara reached up and gently pulled Alice's hand away from her face, smiling softly. "I am happy to take things slowly and see how they develop, Shepard."

Alice smiled and leaned in, gently brushing her lips against Liara's. "You know," she whispered, grinning. "We're not back at the ship quite yet… You can still call me 'Alice,' if you want."

Liara smiled, pressing her lips briefly but firmly against Alice's. She nodded. "I suppose I should enjoy it while it lasts… Alice."

Alice's smile widened, and she gently pushed Liara around the corner, just out of the line of sight of the ship, in the unlikely event that Joker or someone else was looking out a viewport at that very moment. Pressing Liara up against the wall, she kissed her more deeply, teasingly snaking her tongue past Liara's lips, relishing in the sensation, the taste of Liara's mouth against hers.

When the kiss ended, Liara quietly gasped for air.

"We could just stay out here for the rest of the night," Alice joked, grinning a lopsided grin as she nuzzled Liara's neck, whispering the words in a husky bedroom voice. "Say we got arrested."

Liara shivered softly, fingers idly tracing up and down Alice's hip. "You make a… compelling argument. But…"

Alice nodded. "I know." She leaned in and kissed Liara once more, finally pulling away despite a lingering desire to be a bad girl for a little while longer. "Fair warning, though… I may be sneaking kisses from you now and then while we're on the ship," she said, giving a wink.

"Well, thank you for the warning. I will be sure to keep on the lookout for that," Liara teased.

"Is that sass?" Alice smirked, gently pinching Liara's waist. "Are you sassing me, T'Soni?"

Liara pursed her lips, masking her grin with narrowed eyes. "I would not dream of such a thing…"

Alice narrowed her eyes slightly and gave Liara's hand a gentle tug, pulling her off the wall and into a tight hug. Liara's arms wrapped around her and for several moments they just stood there, gently swaying back and forth in their embrace. It felt right; she felt comfortable and stable being held like that. She briefly wondered if she was using this, using Liara, as an escape, a way to pretend that bad things were not going on in the galaxy and that she didn't have a job to do. She smiled, took a deep breath and exhaled, allowing the needling thought to be washed away like a grain of sand. She knew that Liara wasn't a means of hiding herself from the universe, but rather a means of reminding herself that she didn't have to hide, that she was a complete person and not just a Commander or a Spectre. It was something that before tonight – before she had met Liara – she often forgot.

She held Liara against her for several long moments before giving a firm squeeze to signal that it was time to go. They walked side-by-side, though at a chaste distance from each other, to the Normandy's airlock. No sooner had the inner doors of the airlock opened than Ashley's voice burst forth.

"And there they are!" the Gunnery Chief practically bellowed, grinning broadly. She was leaning against the bulkhead opposite the entrance, still in her evening attire. It appeared that she had been chatting with Joker when they arrived.

Alice felt a chill run down her spine. She stiffened slightly before remembering that Ashley had no idea what had gone on after the group had split up. She relaxed and forced a disarming smirk onto her face.

"Last ones back, huh?" Joker asked from the pilot's seat.

"Well they should be," Ashley joked, "they're the ones who started the brawl to begin with! They're the ones the cops were really after!"

"Heard you launched some guy out a window, Liara," Joker chuckled.

"I didn't see it, but I think everybody heard that window shatter," Ashley continued. "And I know everyone saw that big ol' biotic flare-up!"

"Yeah," Alice interjected with a grin. "She certainly lit up that room."

"Man I wish I could have been there," Joker lamented.

"Oh," Alice scoffed, peering at her pilot out of the corner of her eye. "And what would you have done in a bar-fight, Joker?"

"Well, I certainly could have provided some excellent color-commentary. And, you know… helped celebrate your triumphant vic—"

"Wait," Ashley interrupted with a laugh, looking incredulously at Alice's still-bare feet, "what happened to your shoes, Commander?"

"Ah, you know…" Alice shrugged, gazing down at her naked toes. "How are you supposed to give the cops the slip if you can't move quietly?"

"Plus, you know, I hear a lot of cops have foot-fetishes," Joker reasoned. "Gotta be a great distraction technique."

Liara gave a slight intake of breath at the mention of 'distraction technique', stiffening almost imperceptibly. Ashley looked over just as she averted her gaze with the faintest wisp of a smile on her face. Ashley fixed Alice with a bemused smirk and raised her eyebrow questioningly.

Swallowing hard under that look, Alice continued with the banter. "Yeah, well, unfortunately for you all my distraction techniques have been classified. You know, N7 and all that. You'll have to come up with your own next time we're getting chased by the cops."

"Yeah, if you ever let me off the ship…" Joker grumbled.

"Well, we'll see what the straws say next time," Alice grinned.

"So, you two off to bed, then?" Ashley asked.

Alice nearly choked on her breath before realizing that Ashley's question didn't have to mean what she thought it meant. Ashley, however, caught the startled look on Alice's face and did a poor job of hiding her grin.

"I ah… I think I might stay up for a bit and try and get some work done," Alice quickly recovered.

"Sure…" Joker mumbled. "Work…"

"What about you, Ash?" Alice asked.

"Eh… I'm gonna stay up here for a bit and keep flyboy company. Plus, I don't think he's heard nearly enough about how hot the women at the club were!" Ashley grinned wickedly.

"Five times so far, Ash," Joker groaned, holding up five fingers. "Six, if you want to count your comments about how 'ample' the Commander's cle—"

"And on that note…" Alice quickly interrupted before he could finish and get himself into trouble. "We're off to bed. I'm off to bed!" she hastily corrected herself before she realized that only made it worse. "I mean… I'm sure Liara is tired, too, so—"

"Good night, skipper," Ashley said, rescuing Alice from further embarrassment.

"G'night, Commander," Joker nodded.

Alice and Liara said their goodnights and made their way down the short hallway to the CIC as Ashley and Joker argued over who owed who money based on the bet made earlier in the night.

As Alice and Liara walked down the stairs leading to the mess hall, Liara turned to Alice. "You did not actually learn your… 'distraction technique' during your N7 traini—"

Alice laughed aloud, clasping a hand over her mouth when she realized that the noise was probably not appreciated, given how late it was. Looking around, she saw nobody else in the mess hall, the active crew still at their posts and the remaining crew having bunked down for the night.

"No," Alice said, smiling. "That was, uh… that one was all me."

"Hmm… I see," Liara said, smiling softly, right eye narrowing slightly in amusement. She turned to Alice, "Thank you for… everything tonight, Shepard," she said, smiling softly. "Goodnight." She turned and began making her way towards the med-bay where her quarters were located.

"Hang on," Alice said, grasping Liara's hand. Without so much as a cautionary glance around the room to check for eavesdroppers, she pulled Liara towards her, leaned in, and planted a tender kiss on her lips.

Smiling sweetly, she whispered, "Thank you for everything, Liara. And… not just for tonight."

Liara returned her smile, appreciating the added meaning behind those words.

"Goodnight, Liara," Alice whispered, letting Liara's hand go. She watched Liara as she turned to make her way back to the med bay, giving a smile before she disappeared through its doors and into the back room which she had made her home. She gave a contented sigh, feeling very ready at that moment to hit the sack.

First things first, though… she thought, peering out of the corner of her eye.

"You're not as slick as you think you are, Williams," Alice called out.

"I was just…" Ashley began, slowly peeking around the corner and making a grand show of examining the room. "…making sure I wasn't interrupting anything." Stepping into full view, she moved towards Alice, stopping a few feet away, trying to mask a smile. "I didn't interrupt anything, did I, ma'am?"

"No…" Alice crossed her arms defiantly in front of her. "I was just saying goodnight to Liara."

"I see…" Ashley said, nodding slightly. "So you're saying that if I'd come down a few seconds, I would have seen you two…"

"Saying good night…" Alice reiterated.

"Mm hmm…" Ashley pursed her lips and started at Alice for a moment. She jerked her head over her shoulder. "So how'd you know I was back there, anyway, skipper? I thought I'd gotten pretty good about sneaking around for all the times I'd stand guard whenever my sisters would 'say goodnight' to their dates on the front porch."

"I've been a sneak my whole life, Ash. You learn what to look for. What works, what doesn't…"

"Ah, you mean like ditching the sexy high heels so you can move more quietly?" Ashley raised an eyebrow. "I noticed T'Soni managed to keep her shoes on…"

Alice stood silently, the corner of her mouth turned to show how perfectly un-amused she was at Ashley's prying. That didn't stop the grin which slowly grew across the Gunnery Chief's face.

"So, skipper… what did happen after you guys split off?" Ashley continued, slyly narrowing her eyes. "Anything juicy?"

"What, are you trying to be the ship's gossip along with matchmaker? Looks like I might have to give you some more—and by the way," her face grew stern. "What the hell are you doing trying to play matchmaker with me and my crew anyhow?"

"Oh come on, skipper! Inquiring minds want to know!"

"Chief…" Alice issued a warning, finding her 'Commander' voice leaking out in the process.

Ashley caught the change in tone and immediately snapped to attention. "Sorry, ma'am. Didn't mean to be disrespectful."

Alice sighed, shaking her head more at her own reaction than anything else. "Honestly, Ash, what's your game here?"

Ashley stiffened slightly and opened her mouth to speak.

Alice cut her off before she had the chance. "You're not Liara's biggest fan, and I know you're too good a soldier to think getting into a relationship with a crewmate is a good idea, so what are you playing at with all this?"

Ashley's mouth hung open for several seconds as if she were having trouble finding the words. "Permission to speak freely, ma'am?"

"Ash…" Alice chuckled softly. "I'm in my bare feet with my boobs half-hanging out asking you why you're trying to hook me up with one of my crew, so… now's a good a time as any, I guess."

Ashley stifled a laugh and dropped her gaze to the floor. "Um… After you kind of let it slip how you felt about T'Soni I got to thinking… I mean I'm not exactly her biggest fan, and she's sure as hell not my type but…" She looked up, fixing Alice with a look of concern. "Skipper you've got a big load on your plate, and I trust that you can handle the heavy stuff alright, but I think even the best of us need something or someone who reminds us that we're only human. And that that's okay. And if for you that comes in the form of a blue alien Prothean expert, well…"

She took a deep breath. "If she makes you feel like you can handle whatever the galaxy throws at you, then I say go for it and damn the consequences. I think you of all people deserve that, at least."

Alice sighed and hung her head, staring hard at the floor between her and the Gunnery Chief.

"Un…less I'm wrong, ma'am?" Ashley tentatively proposed.

Alice chuckled, shaking her head. "Ash… You're…" She blew out another sigh, looking Ashley in the eyes once more. A hint of a smile crossed her lips. "Thank you," she nodded.

Ashley warmly returned the smile. "Just looking out for you, ma'am."

"I appreciate it," Alice smirked. "Just make sure 'looking out for me' doesn't involve pulling a gun on my crew anymore, got it?"

"No promises, ma'am. But I'll make sure to check myself, at least when it comes to T'Soni."

Alice laughed, shaking her head at the Chief. "Fair enough, I guess."

Ashley finally relaxed, grinning while maintaining her 'at-ease' pose out of habit more than anything else. "Did you have a good night tonight, skipper?"

Alice smiled softly, recollecting the unexpected events of the strange night. She slowly nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I did. Thanks for dragging me out."

"Good, I'm glad." Ashley deviously narrowed her eyes. "You get any action?"

Alice rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, Chief…"

Ashley's grin widened. "Goodnight, ma'am."

As Alice passed Ashley, she warmly patted the marine on the shoulder in thanks.

Ashley continued smiling as her Alice made her way towards her quarters. After a few moments, she turned and called out. "Commander?"

"Yeah?" Alice asked, looking over her shoulder.

"Did you at least get a goodnight kiss?"

Alice sighed and shot Ashley a pointed look. Despite herself, Alice felt the corners of her mouth slowly turn up into a grin which gave away far more than she had intended.

Ashley noticed the subtle change and beamed happily. "Good for you."

Tongue firmly planted in her cheek, Alice rolled her eyes once more before disappearing into her quarters.

Alice flopped herself down onto her bed, arms flying out wide, letting out a loud, satisfied sigh. It had been a very good night, she mused as she stared up at the ceiling of her quarters. Dancing and drinking with her crew – most of them anyway – socializing and just being a regular person for a night. She realized Ash had been right, sometimes you do need to be reminded that you're human. Sometimes you actually need to be human, to give yourself a breather from being the person you need to be in the rest of your life. And the night had certainly proven how human she was.

She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so… real, so flawed and unsure and… human. The fear that she felt in combat and the insecurity she experienced before a mission were so vastly different from the emotional unease that she had felt with Liara tonight. When fear crept up her spine during combat, she had her skills and her training to rely upon to show her the next move. But with Liara there had been no clear path, no obvious next step to take.

Although… she thought as she furrowed her brow, mind drifting back over the key points of the night. The most profound steps that she had taken in her relationship with Liara tonight – that first dance, the decision to pursue the relationship, even the fight and the events in the alcove – had all been initiated unconsciously on her part. She had simply acted without thought. In battle there often wasn't enough time to think. When a moment to think might be the difference between life and death, she had to rely on her instincts above anything else to get her through.

A smile crossed her face. The idea that her instincts had not only kept her alive all these years as a soldier, but also gotten her to step up and admit her feelings for Liara seemed silly – and yet somehow comforting at the same time. It was nice to know that she could at least rely on her own gut feelings about things. It had gotten her this far, it just might be enough to get her farther in the future.

She smiled widely. Maybe Ash was right. Maybe Liara was good for her

A soft knock came from her door. Alice heaved herself off her bed to a sitting position.

"Come in," she beckoned.

The knock repeated itself. Alice furrowed her brows and called out again, louder than before.

"Come in!"

When the knock persisted, Alice rose off her bed in a huff, wondering who would be trying to get into her room at this hour. As she approached the door, she rolled her eyes as she got an inkling of who it might be.

She pressed the switch to open the door. "Ash, I'm not giving you any more…" Her eyes went wide. "Liar—"

Liara quickly leaned in, placing her hands on either side of Alice's face and pulling them together. She pressed her lips against Alice's, flicking her tongue between their lips. Alice whimpered slightly, feeling her toes curl against the floor, a trembling in her knees. Alice brought a hand up to Liara's. She had removed her gloves. Those hands felt so incredibly warm against her skin. Liara broke the kiss, eliciting a gasp from Alice as she struggled to maintain her balance.

Liara peered into Alice's eyes with the faintest whisper of a smile on her face. "You had mentioned earlier that you may be sneaking kisses from me every so often. I merely wanted to let you know that I… may plan to do the same."

Alice gave a rather undignified giggle and watched as Liara made her way back to the med bay, sighing softly as she heard the hiss of the doors close. She brought a hand up to her cheek, still warm from Liara's touch, and stumbled backward into her quarters, allowing the doors to close. Her fingers caressed her lips, bringing a smile to her face as the echo of that last kiss replayed in her senses. She was struck with the sudden urge to spin in circles or run around really fast, to squeal and relish in the giddiness she was feeling at the moment.

She flopped herself back down on the bed, still grinning ear to ear, feeling like she was ready to take on the galaxy.

Yeah, tonight was a very good night, she thought to herself as she closed her eyes.

A/N: And with that, the story is complete! I hope you all enjoyed this story. Hopefully me calling my Shepard by her first name didn't put off too many of you ;) I definitely plan on writing more about her and Liara in the future!

I want to give MAJOR thanks to my beta reader, Gogoplata, who helped me develop my storytelling skills. This probably would have remained an unfinished, unpolished Word document sitting on my laptop if it weren't for his assistance.