The smell of smoke and burning bodies filled his nose with an arcid stench. The screams of the dying piereced his eyes like a thousand knives drilling into his mind. The roar of the Thresher Maw burned fear into ever fiber of his being, the splash of the burning acid melting his hardsuit's armor like it was nothing. The prickling heat of the aftermath of Virmire. The dull roar of Sovereign in its death throres.

Faster and faster the images blurred together in his mind. Morphing into a grotesque collage of pain until-



Alexei tumbled out of bed and onto the floor breathing hard. His heart hammred against his chest, muscles trembling, bathed in a cold sweat. He rose a shaking hand to his temple, massaging it tenderly to calm himself.

"Shit," he repeated more slowly. "I don't know what happened there..."


Ash slowly climbed out of her side of the bed. Loving arms were immediately draped around his body, gathering him close. He slumped tiredly against her, the early signs of a headache stabbing him behind the eyes.

"Bad dreams..." he muttered embarassed to his girlfriend. "That's all it was."

"Sorry Skipper but those weren't there's a boogey man under my bed bad dreams." Ash countered gently. "You were thrashing so hard it was like the devil himself was dragging you to helll."

"Ha..." Alexei rubbed a hand over his tired, stubble lined face. "It felt like that too."

" Alexei..." Ash's arms tightened gently around his shoulders. Her hand gently rubbing small circles on his back. "What's been bugging you lately?"

"Everything..." Alexei whispered, craving her touch. " Mindoir... Akuze...Virmire...The Citadel..."

Ash unconscienceously shivered. She'd read the reports of the former and had seen the aftermath of the latter firsthand. No wonder he'd had such trouble sleeping lately. Then there was the effects of the Cipher, and the fate of all known galactic life on his shoulders.

Liara was right. A lesser man would have undoubtbly cracked underneath all this pressure. Not her man.

"It was just...flashes.. images... all rolled into one like some bad 20th century movie." Alexei confided quietly. "Don't worry about it."

"Don't worry?" Ash echoed, slightly hurt. "The man I love is having nightmares so badly he's been forced to take sleep meds three times a week, not to mention the previous week your biotics kicked up making you sick."

Alexei winced. "Ash that was only a minor slip up."

Ash scoffed. "Like hell it was."

"Excuse me?"

"Skipper...Shepard..." she sighed. "Alexei... you have this noble hero syndrome where you think you can right the wrongs of an entire galaxy and I love you for that, but you can't do it alone."

Alexei turned to face her. "I'm not alone." His hand reached out to touch her cheek. "I have you."

"You bet you do." Ash smiled. "C'mon Skipper, lets get back to bed."

Alexei allowed himself to be gently pulled to his feet. Ash kissed him softly on the lips, pulling the covers around his waist and tucking him in before climbing back into bed herself, arms snaking around his bare chest, pulling him close. Her lips gently pressed against the back of his neck, and he turned over to face her, captivated by her smiling face.

She kissed him again, softly, tenderly. Alexei moaned gently into the kiss, as Ash pulled back the covers, fingertips teasingly pulling on his boxers.

"A- Ash..." Alexei sputtered, feeling the cool wash over him. A had slipped below the wiastline, and suddenly he was positive he was levitating off the bed.

"Just relax Skipper..."

"Trust me, I am..." Alexei ground out, willing himself to retain his stamnia. Ash pulled his boxers down to his ankles, then quickly shimmed out of her t-shirt shirt and bra. Alexei shifted to allow Ash the necesscessary room to get into a comfortable position. Gentle hands roved freely up and down his chest.

"I don't deserve you sometimes..." Alexei sputtered, completely at her mercy. Ash settled atop him, moving her hips in a slow teasing motion, building up momentum. His hands scrabbled for purchase against the sheets.

"A- Ash...daar ja!" Alexei gasped.

" Only you could make Dutch sound unbelievably sexy the way you do." Ash said with a wicked grin. A sultry kiss sent a bolt of electricity down his spine.

" niet verleiden me!" Alexei grunted. The heat built in his body and he climaxed with a guttural shout, biotics cackling. Ash kissed him passionitely on the lips before collapsing a boneless heap atop him.

"Oh before I forgot...happy 30th Skipper..." draping her arms around his heaving chest, drifting off into a deep slumber.

Alexei wrapped an arm protectively around her.

"Happy birthday indeed..."