From Normandy, with love.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to EA/Bioware. I own nothing.

Timeline: Just after the raid on the Cerberus space station.

Rating: T. For two adult soldiers flirting when no one can hear them. Just in case.

Author's notes: Basically its a missing scene i would love to see in game. Yeah, i hate TIM – and would torment him some more with pure delight.

The Illusive Man frowned when his Quantum Communicator pinged suddenly, signalling incoming transmission. Individual code belonged to Kai Leng – but why his 'right hand' man was trying to contact Cerberus's new, temporary headquarters this way, instead of the normal, secure channel? And how did he managed to get access to one of QEC's – hogged and protected by the Alliance like Momma Bear cubs? Unless...Kai Leng was good...but was he good enough to invade, or infiltrate the Normandy and take control over the Humanity's most famous warship?

It was the most logical conclusion Cerberus leader could think of, considering that Leng was left behind specifically to deal with Shepard's raid on the old headquarters. But still...Damn that alien-loving Alliance lapdog and his annoying habit of staying alive, even against overwhelming odds. No. Not this time. Not with the advantage of the surprise and superior force of elite soldiers Kai Leng had at his disposal.

Firmly squashing any trepidation he felt, Illusive Man activated the comm.

"I hope you have good news for me." - he said impatiently, not giving the projectors time to establish image properly. "Is Shepard dead?"

"Gee, Timmy! You do care." - cheerful, hated voice rang from the speakers, and Illusive Man swiveled in his seat, barely refraining from cursing aloud.

There he was. First human Spectre. Hero of the Citadel. Saviour of the Galaxy. Bane of his existence. Not even trying to show a modicum of decorum by wearing proper military uniform. Or even combat armor. Oh no – combination of plebian jeans and leather jacket it was. Cerberus leader could feel his lips curl in hate and distaste.

"Shepard." - he ground out, forcibly refraining from gritting his teeth. "I see Kai Leng failed to dispose of you. Again."

Broad grin on his adversary's face morphed into smug, arrogant smirk.

"You could say that, yeah." - Alliance officer agreed easily, bouncing slightly on his heels. "Not that he didn't tried. But seriously, Tim – sending an N7 washout after the real thing? What were you thinking?"

The Illusive Man took a deep, calming breath. He would gladly sever the connection right now – but enduring conversation with Shepard was currently the fastest way to get any intel on what exactly happened on his old space station.

"If I remember correctly Leng was good enough to pound you into the ground on Thessia – literally, Shepard. I find it hard to believe you avoided him so easily this time. Althought I must admit that allowing you to obtain code for this communicator was...shall i say, sloppy of him? Rest assured, I will make sure he won't make such mistake again." He concluded ominously.

Shepard chuckled. Then raised his right hand. Circle of the silvery metal dangling on his index finger gleamed in the unnatural light cast by Quantum Communicator. Kai Leng's visor.

Artificial eyes narrowed in recognition. "I see." The Illusive Man said simply. He prided himself for remaining calm and collected – but under this icy surface his emotions boiled like witch's cauldron full of poison.

"Yeah." Shepard gave him another of his careless, lopsided smirks. "Bit too late for any punishment. Unless you still have couple of billions spare creds for another Lazarus Project. Which, thanks to yours truly and Alliance's pressure on your operations is very doubtful, huh Timmy?"

"Don't call me that!" Illusive Man snapped, immediately cursing himself for giving in to goading.

"Touchy." - Shepard only raised one eyebrow, but Master of the Cerberus had no doubt there was satisfied glint in soldier's eyes now. "Anyways, bastard was good – i give him that. But he made one big mistake. Aside of working for you, he hurt my friend." Stance of the man on the other side of the interface had not changed, but instead of mocking relaxation he was exuding pure menace now. "If you wanted to keep Leng alive you should really teach him better than to touch anyone i care about."

"Ah, yes. The Drell" Illusive Man sneered contemptously. "Tell me, Commander – have you ever thought how many wounded soldiers of the Alliance would benefit if only hospital they were in had paid less attention to one, already dying alien? How many of your brothers in arms could have used medicine, medical staff time, or even bed that was wasted on one useless, weak ex-assassin? What I do, Shepard – is for the good of Human race! Not Asari, Turians, Krogans and whatnot you decided to waste your time and resources currently!" Illusive Man rose from his chair and pointed his finger at the holographic avatar – control be damned. He was not going to sit here quietly and listen to this disgrace to Homo Sapiens species drone about his precious, dead lizard-friend. "Anyone with more than two brain-cells not yet poisoned by weaklings propaganda should see this and support Cerberus!"

During his tirade Shepard just crossed arms over his chest, and stood watching silently, only ghost of the smile on his lips.

"You know..." He said casually when Illusive Man stopped his ravings for a moment. "Right now I'm really glad we are light years apart. With all this nicotine and booze you keep on inhaling, your spittle would chase a Thresher Maw away."

"You...you stinking..ungrateful..." Illusive Man stuttered, vowing to all demons and deities ever known to humans that he will find a way to kill Shepard...then resurrect him again...then kill him one more time...

"SHUT! UP!" Voice used to give commands in the chaos of the battlefield slammed into him like a biotic shockwave. With a flinch of surprise he couldn't hide, Illusive Man found himself under white hot glare of the human Spectre. Shepard was now standing on the very edge of holographic display, knees bent, his body surrounded by biotic corona.

"I've had enough of your holier-than-thou drivel, Timmy. I'm sick and tired of it – and of you. So i'll make it short: time is running out for Earth, Galaxy, and all of us. We have to strike at the Reapers now – if we dont...we can just as well commit mass suicide. And this is unnacceptable!"

Shepard's voice became low and scratchy...like two stones grinding at each other. "So pay attention to what I'm saying now: I'm going to Earth. I will fight the Reapers with everything i have. If you still value your life, you will stop your meddling – and then you will get out of my way, find deepest hole in the Universe, and hide there for good. If you do that – maybe... just maybe... I won't come to dig you up, and put your head on the stake."

"But if you keep on interfering...if I'll have to go out of my way to find you and stop Cerberus from sabotaging our work..." Shepard paused smiling darkly, his stare still firmly focused on the leader of the Cerberus. " That will mean more people will die on Earth with every hour I will have to waste hunting you. And when I finally catch you...believe me, i know firsthand everything about pain and dying. And i swear on every grave on Earth...on every dead and dying child, man and woman in this Galaxy – I will show you everything I've learned falling from the orbit of Alcherra...tenfold."

Echoes of his words still ringing in space between them, Shepard straightened and moved back to the middle of the holographic circle. To the speechless Illusive Man he seemed completely calm and relaxed again. But it was calmness of the tiger who just threw a roar of the challenge into the air – and now confident in his strenght waited for any opponent stupid enough to answer it.

"Think about what I've said carefully, Timmy. And while thinking – dont forget who I am...and what I can do. Shepard out."

Projectors went offline, leaving leader of the Cerberus alone in the dark.

...

"Well? What do you think Ash? Did I made that bastard sweat?" Shepard rolled his shoulders, trying to ease knots of tension and anger from the aching muscles.

Still leaning on the doorframe to the Comm Center Ashley Williams slowly shook her head.

"Sweat? Skipper, if i'd be on the receiving end of this speech i would be on my knees, and begging for mercy by now. But this guy is insane – with the ego the size of Citadel to go along. Do you really believe he will back down?"

"No, i know he won't do it." Shepard planted his behind on the edge of one of the consoles, and with a sigh began rubbing his neck. "Like you've said – his ego is too big. He's also full of himself, and totally convinced his is the only way to save Humanity from the Reapers."

"Then why waste the time and energy?" Ashley frowned confused. "Wouldn't be better for us to keep Illusive Man guessing about what happened on his station? We could gain the advantage of the surprise – or at least slow him down a bit." She stopped, noticing that Shepard was watching her with small smile playing on his lips. "Skipper?"

"Are you trying to say that i wasted precious time to shamelessly brag, gloat, and basically pour the salt on Timmy's wounded pride?" Commander asked with a playful gleam in is eyes.

Ashley narrowed dark eyes at her CO and lover. She did know this man – and knew his casual, easy going appearance hid a sharp, cunning and manipulative to the point of deviousness mind.

"Oooooo'kayyy." She said slowly, still watching Shepard like a hawk. "You did exactly this – and on purpose. But why? Usually you are too..."

"Soft?" Shepard interrupted seamlessly.

"Merciful." Ash concluded, scowling at the grinning Commander. "What gives Shepard?"

Pale blue eyes lost the focus, staring past her, and even Normandy's walls. "He's like me, Ash" Shepard said softly. "He is trying to do the impossible – trying to win the war countless species before us lost. His motives aside...i know how he feels every day, juggling hundreds of responsibilities at once." With these words focus returned into Spectre's gaze, and concentrated on the woman who meant so much to him.

"But i have something that he doesn't." Shepard continued, smiling warmly. "When this war...all the pressure, suffering, deaths...when it becomes too much to bear – i can let go. Maybe not for long, but long enough to rest and remind myself why I am doing this."

" I can go to Garrus and have a chat with him. Or bug him about his 'callibrations'. I can crack jokes with Joker. I can wax philosophically with Liara. I can have a round – or ten, on the training mat with James. I can even get sloshed with Chakwas if i want. Or...i can have a dinner with you."

"Or we can do other...more interesting things together." Ashley interrupted with a sly smile. She began to see where Shepard was going finally, and it gave her quite interesting insight into the mind of the man she loved.

"Or that." Shepard agreed with a broad smile, then become serious again. "And finally – if everything else fails i can lock myself in my cabin, play my favourite music, and simply allow myself to be utterly miserable thinking about Kaidan, Mordin, Thane, Legion...all lives lost, destroyed planets. And the fact that i cant save everyone this time."

"I can do it because i know for a fact that i have smart, capable and dedicated friends willing to take some of the pressure off me, and keep things going. But Illusive Man? I took Miranda from him first, and now Kai Leng. He's alone now – all the pressure and the stress squarely on his shoulders." Shepard's eyes flashed dark red – a reminder of the implants buried deep inside them. "Glass of alcohol and a cigarette won't take him far. Finally, something gotta give – and when this happens..."

"There will be no one to pick the pieces up." Ashley finished, smiling darkly.

"Psychology, Williams." Shepard rose from the console. "And before you ask – yes, raising Tim's blood pressure qualifies as relaxing activity, too."

Ashley laughed at his impish expression, and hooked her arm with his. "You are a bad, bad person John."

"I know." Shepard agreed pulling her closer for a kiss. "But you love me for this even more – i can tell. Am I a bad influence on you, Williams?"

"Yes you are, Shepard. You are." Ashley batted her eyelashes. "So, about those interesting, stress-reducing activities we could do together...may i have some suggestions, Commander?"

"By all means, Lieutenant Commander." She could feel her man's body shake with silent laugh, tension disappearing already. "Lead the way, Marine."

And so she did.