Aralia Shepard sat cross legged on her bed staring at the collection of data pads spread out before her. She rubbed her eyes to clear the tiredness and sighed. She needed to do something, be somewhere else, reading this stuff was driving her nuts.

She stood up and paced to relieve the tension in her legs and back. She needed to get out of this room, maybe have a drink and join her crew on Omega where she'd sent them to have their last break and prepare before….

No don't want to think about that right now, she pushed the thought away.

'I need, what do I need?'

'Commander,' EDI interrupted her train of thought and she realised she'd spoken out loud. 'Is there something you need help with?'

'No thanks EDI, just thinking out loud but how are we doing?

"The heat sinks are fifty per cent drained, the final checks have been done on the Reaper IFF install and appear to be working. Fuelling is finished.'

'How long before we leave?'

'Approximately six hours.'

'Is everyone ashore?'

'Everyone except yourself and Mr Moreau who is in the starboard observation lounge'.

'Thanks EDI.'

She shook her head, she had wanted everyone to have time off the ship to refresh themselves and prepare for what was ahead. She knew Joker wasn't one for socialising but even he needed to get off the ship sometimes. She wondered if he ever felt lonely, isolated because of his disease, not that it seemed to faze him much and he was the best pilot in the galaxy and knew it, she smiled at the thought.

Wild thoughts ran through her mind, Joker after he pulled her out of that volcano, the time he'd pulled them off Virmire, numerous times when a quick getaway was needed, the hundreds of times she'd heard his voice in her ear, the quiet moments when she'd been unable to sleep she'd spent hours curled up in the co- pilots chair watching his hands work the controls of their ship, sometimes talking, sometimes just sharing the quiet time while the crew was asleep, morning coffee in the mess.

She realised that of late she had been watching him more, loving the wise cracking pilot and his ability to always make her laugh, the way his hands caressed the flight console to create the magic that was flying. And he'd watched her back. She stopped pacing and her mouth opened in surprise. He had been watching her back, his green eyes looking at her from under that cap. Was that possible? A shiver passed through her as she thought about those green eyes, there was a depth to Joker that most people didn't see, but she did. He had an inner strength, a power of sorts that made you believe anything was possible. Maybe it was a coping mechanism from his illness, maybe he was just a wonderful, handsome man.

Where did that come from? She slumped into her chair and closed her mouth with a snap. He was the one link to her past that hadn't disappeared, hadn't deserted her. He'd blamed himself for her death but she'd soon put that nonsense out of his head, or at least she hoped she had. He was her rock, her hero. She took a deep breath at that.

She giggled, not a good sign. She had not realised just how handsome he was until just now, how well shaped he was, she'd felt the muscles in his shoulders and arms, the strength in his body when she'd helped him get up occasionally. She groaned and closed her eyes; the thought of being held in those arms was exciting. Were there feelings there, did he want the same thing? She needed to find out.

I need Joker.

Neither of them was ashore and not asleep. She couldn't help the grin as she walked to the elevator, there was no time like now.

Her heart was racing as she approached the door to the observation deck. She felt like a giddy school girl sneaking out to be with a boy behind everyone's back. Wasn't that what she was doing? She couldn't help the giggle and she covered her mouth to silence herself. The great Commander Shepard was behaving like a love-struck teenager.

She stepped into the observation lounge and had to wait for her eyes to adjust – the room was in darkness except for the blue red glow of the nebula visible out of the window. Joker was standing at the window a perfect silhouette. And what a silhouette! His perfectly muscled torso was a sight to behold, she'd watched him train in the gym, knowing how painful it was for him but strong muscles helped keep his bones intact and even after the treatment from Cerberus that allowed him to walk and move more normally he still worked his muscles, and he certainly had the muscles, broad shoulders, perfectly formed biceps, narrow waist and that…

'Commander,' she could hear the grin, 'you're not staring at my butt are you?'

'What, no, I…' Oh shit, how does he do that? What the hell, she walked over and stood beside him, their arms almost touching and looked out the window. 'It is a nice view.' She couldn't wipe the grin off her face.

He chuckled, 'nice to know you approve.' He looked at her as she moved beside him and she was surprised to see him lose his composure, she couldn't really tell in this light and under his cap but she was sure he was blushing. And then she realised.

In her eagerness to find him she had forgotten she was dressed for bed. She had removed her bra and settled for a loose fitting singlet top with light fatigues. From his height and where he stood Joker would have looked straight down her top, and it wasn't exactly warm in here.

'Joker, you're not staring at my chest are you,' she tried to stop the laugh but failed.

'What, no, I,' he groaned, 'nice view though.' He pulled his eyes away and they both stared out the window with cheesy grins that neither bothered to hide.

Joker couldn't believe that she had found him but he was determined not to let his excitement show. He'd hoped and prayed to every god in existence that she would seek him out. He had admired, respected and wanted this woman since the very first time she'd stood behind him and not berated him for his lack of protocol.

He wasn't' sure but lately she'd been watching him more intensely, spending time with him when she couldn't sleep, waking up over morning coffee. He was sure he'd felt something, especially when she met his eyes and smiled. He needed to find out and tonight was the perfect opportunity. He knew she hadn't gone ashore and he knew at some point she would check with Edi to find out who was still on board. He'd kept fingers and everything else crossed that she would want to come and shoo him off the ship and he might be able to convince her otherwise.

Aralia found herself inwardly cheering, is it possible he does feel something.

'Beautiful isn't it,' he said softly and she wasn't sure he was talking about the nebula out the window. He took a deep breath,' Beautiful but deadly, just like you.'

She stopped breathing. Beautiful was something she had never thought about herself. She was a soldier, a warrior. Beauty had never entered the picture.

She looked up at him and found his green eyes staring back at her from under the brim of his cap. The stars were reflected in those eyes and she found herself falling into them. He ran his finger down the side of her face as his other hand slid around her back. And then he was kissing her, not a rushed first date kiss but a deep long lasting kiss that took her breath away. She didn't care if she never breathed again as long as that kiss never ended.

'Commander,' he pulled back slowly, reluctantly, 'I think I just crossed a line.' He was afraid she'd pull away and tell him to forget it, to say she didn't feel that way about him. But to have that one kiss was more than he could have hoped for and he had to try.

'Not far enough,' she whispered as she slid her hand around the back of his neck and pulled his lips back onto hers.

Aralia felt his arms wrap around her and pull her towards him, her hand found his back and she felt the muscles under his shirt. She wanted more and slid her hand inside his shirt, her hand touching his bare skin and she felt him shudder. He was still kissing her and she gently leaned into him.

Joker let everything he'd felt for her transfer into that kiss, he shuddered as she slid her hand inside his shirt. He wrapped his arms around her and couldn't believe that she was kissing him back. She was holding him tight, responding by leaning into him, encouraging him.

'Jeff,' she pulled back enough to look into his eyes, a silent question lingering on her lips.

His doubt was gone as he met her eyes, she wanted this as much as he did. He brushed a lock of hair from her face. 'Ari,' he smiled, 'You've taken long enough to find me.' He found her lips again.

Her heart melted at his smile and her nickname had never sounded so sensual, and she suddenly realised that she had wanted this for a long time and from his response so had he.

Slowly he pulled back, slid his hand down her arm to clasp her hand in his led her to a day bed come sofa with lots of cushions – this was new, probably something that Samara had brought on board.

'What if Samara comes back,' she mumbled as he gently kissed her fingers.

'Edi, lock the door, no monitors and no interruptions.' He met her eyes and smiled, 'Samara won't be back tonight.' His lips were on hers again and she vaguely heard EDI.

'Yes Jeff, good night,'

Slowly he lowered himself onto the sofa and she willingly followed as he leaned into the cushions to support his weight, slid his arm around her shoulder as he stretched his legs out so she could lie alongside him. He brushed her cheek with his fingers and she couldn't help the soft moan that escaped.

'Are you sure you want this?' He looked at her from under his cap, trying to hide the fear that she might get up and walk away.

She met his eyes and smiled, 'Do you want to leave?'

'Are you serious!' he grinned and his eyes sparkled, 'I'm kissing the beautiful Commander Shepard and she thinks I want to leave. She must be insane!'

There was that word again, 'Beautiful huh?' she tried to force a grimace but failed miserably.

He looked at her seriously, 'Do you not know how beautiful you are, how every male on this ship watches when you walk past. Hell, even Garrus and Thane have been known to stare.'

'Oh great, now I'll have images of them watching my butt, how's that going to help when I'm blowing things up!'

He laughed and she shivered as he ran his finger around her chin and down her neck, his eyes following, drinking her in. She lifted her hand to his face and ran her fingers through the soft hair of his beard, she'd expected it to be coarser. And then those green eyes were staring into hers and his lips softly caressing hers. With a single movement she lifted his cap, tossed it away and wrapped her fingers in his hair.

As she drowned in the sensuous feeling of his tongue finding hers, his hand on her cheek, his arm around her shoulder she slid her hand under his shirt and onto his chest. A shudder passed through him and he moaned ever so softly. She could feel the heat from his body, the touch of his thigh against hers and she pressed herself into him.

He was amazed, overwhelmed and afraid that he was dreaming. Even in his wildest dreams he'd never imagined that kissing someone could cause this kind of euphoria, but it wasn't just anyone. This was the woman he wanted for so long, had been afraid for, had lost and found again. This was the woman he loved. Not in his wildest dreams had he ever thought she might want him. The thought was exciting, unbelievable and sobering all at the same time. He couldn't' stop the way his body was responding and he didn't want to.

She could feel his arousal through their clothing and she took great pleasure in knowing she could do that to him. He ran his hand along her shoulder and down her arm, sliding onto to her thigh as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She moaned as his hand lingered on her behind then continued its slow exploration of her leg.

'Jeff,' she whispered as she reluctantly pulled away from his lips, not too far though, she could still feel his breath on her face, the warmth of his hand on her thigh as she gazed into the depths of his eyes. 'I want you know that this is not a frivolous fling, I care very deeply for you and I don't want to make things difficult for you.'

'As long as you still respect me in the morning we'll be fine,' he grinned mischievously then was suddenly serious. 'I don't want to make things difficult for you either and I've wanted to be here since the first day you walked onto the deck of the Normandy. I never thought I'd stand a chance though – why would you want me when there were so many other options and I can't take you dancing.' And there was his self-doubt, it didn't show very often but she knew it was there.

'I don't need to go dancing,' she ran her finger down his cheek and across his lips and he closed his eyes. 'I would like it if you kissed me again though.' He smiled and closed the gap between them.

Aralia couldn't believe that kissing someone could be so overwhelming; her senses reeled as tongues met only to be pulled back and lips met with the lightest of touches before diving back into a deep exploration of each others mouths. At the same time his fingers were working their way back up her leg across her abdomen and lightly brushing across her nipple as he brought his hand up to caress her face.

She wanted to feel him, feel his strength. She ran her hand across his chest under his shirt and around his back, slowly sliding down to that butt she had so recently been admiring. She felt him grin as he slowly brought his leg up to cover hers, wrapping around her and pulling her even closer to him.

She wanted to be naked, to feel his taught body against hers, to feel him inside her. 'Make love to me Jeff,' she whispered between kisses.

'Yes ma'am,' He groaned huskily and she knew those two words would never sound the same again.

Joker almost stopped breathing as he slid his hand under her singlet, gently bringing it around to softly caress her breast, as his kisses moved down her neck, across her shoulders and eventually coming to rest on her nipple that was now exposed.

Her senses reeled as he softly took her in his mouth and did wonderful things with his tongue. She couldn't stop her back from arching which pushed her breast further towards his mouth and she could feel his smile as he took advantage. She felt giddy as he slowly slid her singlet up over her breast, releasing his hold on her nipple only long enough to pass the fabric out of the way. She gasped at the sudden cold then warmth as he let go then found her again. She deftly slipped her loose arm out of the singlet and threaded her fingers through his hair as he lifted his head and found her mouth again, his fingers continuing the work his tongue had started on her erect nipple.

With a sigh she gently pushed him onto his back and sat up facing him, her eyes never leaving his as she completed the removal of her singlet. His eyes widened in admiration, or was it lust at this point, and she grinned. He reached up to grab her but she pushed his hands away and he rolled his eyes mockingly. She pulled his shirt out of his pants and rolled it up his torso.

'Shirt of fly-boy,' she tried to make it sound like an order but failed miserably.

He raised his arms and helped her pull his shirt over his head. She ran her hands slowly over his shoulders and leaned in to kiss his neck. He gasped and then shivered as she continued her line of kisses down his chest, stopping at his belly button and working her way back up. She sat up and ran her hands down his body, he tensed with a gasp as he responded to her touch. Slowly she straddled his hips feeling his hardness beneath her, she held her weight on her knees while still running her hands across his shoulders and down his arms. She linked her fingers through his and lifted his hands to her mouth, his wonderful hands that created the magic of flight, sensuous, gentle hands. She kissed his fingers then placed both hands on her breasts, she wanted to feel his magic more than anything she'd ever wanted in her life.

For so long Joker had wanted to touch her in this way, to softly hold her in every way possible, and now she was giving him permission. He didn't disappoint. He caressed her breasts with the same gentleness he used on his consoles, softly sliding from one spot to another, tweaking with his thumbs, tracing lines with his fingers. With a moan she dropped her head back carefully squeezing his hips between her thighs. When she looked back at him he slowly slid his hands around her back and pulled her down towards him, his eyes never leaving hers. Ever so gently he leaned over and she pulled her leg out from under him as he rolled her onto her side.

His lips were on hers, his arms holding her tight, the bare skin of his chest against her breasts. It was pure bliss, it was the only way she could describe what she was feeling. This was not her first time but it was certainly the most intense, emotionally and physically. It was like a drug and she was addicted.

Slowly Joker pulled away and moved his kisses to her neck as he got to his knees and positioned himself between her legs that she was more than eager to spread for him. He continued his kisses across her breasts and down her abdomen, his fingers gently lifted the waistband on her fatigues and rolled them slowly down over her raised hips, his lips following. She moaned as he reached her thighs, still rolling her fatigues ahead of his mouth.

Joker couldn't get enough of her, the taste the scent of her. He was sure he was going to wake up any moment but until then he wanted to taste, touch and smell every part of her. He was surprised to find she wasn't wearing underwear but that was just perfect. He continued his line of kisses down her legs, following the line of her trousers until he reached her ankles and slid the fatigues completely off. Slowly he started working his way back up towards her thighs, she moaned and lifted herself towards him as he flicked his tongue into places he'd only ever dreamed about.

'Oh my god, Jeff,' she whispered as his fingers, lips and tongue worked slowly and gently in unison. He felt her thighs clench as her hands gripped the cover on the bed. With great delight he took her over the edge, relishing the tremors that passed through her, the moans that made him the happiest man alive.

Aralia was amazed at his gentleness, his wonderful fingers and tongue as they took her to heights she'd never been. He released her slowly, kissing her lightly before sliding off the bed. She looked up at him, his green eyes were almost glowing with emotion and he looked back. She watched him remove his trousers, his eyes never leaving hers and her eyes widened in anticipation as his erection slipped free of its restraints.

Joker couldn't help but smile as she watched him undress. He might have brittle bones but he was more than proud of his manhood, what he lost in one area he more than made up for in another.

'Get back here fly-boy,' Aralia said huskily and grabbed his hands.

Carefully he settled between her legs, taking his weight on his knees and elbows but as eager as he was to go further he hovered above her, the two most intimate parts of each other just touching.

He looked in her eyes and she looked back, 'Last chance to change your mind,' he whispered, his voice trembled and she simply kissed him and pulled him into her.

Joker could have died right then an extremely happy man. But he wasn't dying he was floating, as their slow gentle movements brought them together as one. He couldn't believe that she was responding , that she wanted him. He lifted his lips from hers and looked into her eyes as he moved inside her, it was taking all his will to hold back, to savour this moment as long as possible.

Aralia met his eyes and his movements. It was right then she realised that she loved him, and that she had for quite some time. It must have shown in her eyes because he smiled ever so gently and brought his lips back down on hers.

Joker knew he had to move before his knees and elbows gave out so he slowly lifted his leg to the outside of hers and he felt her lift herself as she followed him so they both lay on their side. She wrapped her leg around him to keep him right where he was and he placed his hand on her behind and pulled her in tighter. The feel of her breasts on his chest, her leg around him, her lips on his, her hand in his hair was more than he could bear and he couldn't hold on any longer.

'Ari,' he moaned as he exploded inside her.

Maybe it was the sound of her name, or the feel of his release inside her she would never know. All she knew was that she was going over the edge with him. She heard him moan as he realised and for the first time there was an eagerness, a hunger to their kisses.

'Holy crap!' Joker whispered in between gasping for breath and she laughed softly.

Neither wanted to let go and they lay wrapped in each others arms, joined as one, slowly letting the euphoria subside. She played with his hair, wrapping her fingers in it, he drew lines up and down her back with his fingers and she shivered. His head had come to rest in the crook of her neck and she could feel his breath as his lips gently rested on her skin. He loved the scent of her, the softness of her skin, he hadn't expected that.

Slowly he lifted his head and looked at her. She met his gaze with a tenderness that he had never seen before, she was a warrior and tenderness just wasn't part of that. In that moment he knew he had completely lost his heart and there was no going back. She saw the wet shine of emotion in his eyes and she couldn't stop the tears of joy that formed behind her own.

'I love you,' they said in unison.

They both laughed at that before finding each others lips. Tomorrow they might be heading into battle but right now, right here, there was only the love they both felt and it swept them both away with its strength and its simplicity. Right now that was enough for both of them.