This is my first piece of fan fiction and I have no beta, so please let me know if there are any inconsistencies in the plot or if you find any typos.

UPDATE: I originally started this story as a way to fill in the two-dimensional story and the interesting, but not-well-developed characters in Mass Effect 3, vignette-style. I was sticking to canon through the first several chapters, but then I finished the game. After that Scooby-Doo ending, I said, screw it. I'm fixing the whole thing. So when this is finished, it will have an ending that will make the gameplay ending make more sense without straying too far from what actually happened in the game.

One of my main complaints is that if you kill of Kaidan in ME1 (which I did), then there are no permanent love interest options for female Shepard besides other women and aliens, but the male Shepard get lots and lots of choices. This story focuses on James Vega as a love interest, though my Shepard jumped around a bit in ME1.


This Means War, We Are Scientists

I've been counting down the days until you notice
There's a right way and a wrong way to approach this
But I'm not stupid, despite how it seems
And you can't do this, if I'm not listening

**For the complete playlist to both stories set up on Grooveshark, please check my profile.**

Bioware owns these characters.

The Citadel

James had been furious at having to leave Earth - no, at being forced to leave Earth. He always aimed for the biggest fight, and this one was on his home, no less.

The only thing that had made being stuck on Earth bearable at the time was being able to keep company with Commander Shepard. He had a feeling that wherever she went, there wouldn't be a fight long behind. He'd been ready for anything - Batarian spy rings and terrorists, mostly, but there was also dissent amongst some humans against Shepard, none of which came to pass.

He also had a thought, before he started to get to know her, that she might try something. He hadn't known her long before he knew that wasn't going to happen. She was career military all the way, just like him. She wanted her command back more than anything, so she jumped through all the hoops they threw at her.

The tribunal had been grueling for her from the very first day, and he soon sympathized with her more than anything. He noticed that no one but Anderson came to visit her. Scuttlebutt said that many were afraid to be associated with her until her name was cleared. Cowards. He did his best to keep her spirits up by joking around and flirting, bringing her books and playing cards with her.

Then there was the day they took her ship away. She just sat there on the couch for hours, staring at nothing as the sun went down behind her in her fancy prison. She didn't talk. He had been there with her for several months already, so he knew she wouldn't confide in him, or anyone else. She never burdened anyone with her concerns. He respected her for that.

Despite that respect, he had blamed her at first for taking him from the fight on Earth. At the time, he had taken it as a personal insult to his integrity as a soldier that he should be ordered away, and that after a six-month guard duty stint. It had been just a few weeks since then, but now, as he walked into the docking area where refugees were camped out, he realized that he wasn't so sure he wanted to find transport back to Earth. It wasn't that he didn't want to go back; it was that he wasn't positive he wouldn't be able to do more for the people back home by serving on the Normandy. But he wasn't quite certain, and James Vega didn't make choices halfway.

He found the disreputable card table he frequented while on the Citadel and settled down, exchanging grunted greetings with the other miscreants there. He did his decision-making better when doing something his madre would have disapproved of. It was an old habit that had worked well for him in the past. Most of the time, anyway.

"Hey Vega," a grizzled veteran said, dealing him in. "Ante is fifty creds. Hear you're on the Normandy now?"

He picked up his cards and tossed in a few chits. "For the moment. Don't know if I want to stay there though."

The veteran nodded in agreement, "Can't say I blame you. Ship always ends up in the shitter, and that Commander leads them right to it."

James' temper flared. "You watch your mouth. She saved your worthless fuckin' life." The old man put his hand up in apology. He didn't want to get in a fight with Vega.

Sitting there for an uncounted length of time, the crowds around him began to impress on his consciousness. The teenaged human girl checking again and again to see if her parents had come for her; the groaning Turian troops, waiting for medical care; the usual shysters on the fringes, looking for ways to skim off the top of any assistance provided to these unfortunate people. He wondered how much it was like Earth right now, wherever people were running to escape the Reapers.

He still didn't know if he should go back to the Normandy. He was several hundred credits up when the answer came to him. It happened when he lost a big hand.

"Don't lose those clothes too, Vega. They're Alliance property. It'd be such a shame to have to take you back to the ship in your skin." A voice came from behind him.

Most of the heads at the table turned to see who spoke. A few eyebrows raised when they saw a beautiful, slightly built human woman in uniform standing there, her mouth twisted wryly as she looked down at Vega, slouching in his seat.

"I was doing fine until you came by. You're killing my mojo, Lola."

"Am I now." He looked up to see a look on Shepard's face that made his neck get hot - a look which quickly passed. "I'll leave you to it then. We're pulling out in a few hours. If you're staying with the Normandy you might want to get any supplies you need now." She looked at him for a few moments before adding, "Enjoy your game, boys," to the table and walking away. Several heads pivoted to watch her go.

"She doesn't look like the typical military type." The veteran said, looking at Vega as he folded. "She sure seems to like you."

"I guess." The game continued in silence for a few moments. "Doesn't look like she could be such a great soldier, does she? Guess looks are deceiving."

"That was Commander Shepard?" An ancient krogan to his left grumbled in surprise. Vega nodded without looking up.

The veteran whistled. "Why do the ones that look like that always lead to trouble?" he asked rhetorically.

James played a little longer while his head ticked over this new information. The Normandy finds the shitstorms. Trouble follows her. She sure seems to like you.

Two hours later, James was back on board the Normandy, on his way to Eden Prime.

Eden Prime

The shuttle ride was smoother than Shepard had expected. Liara had worry etched on her normally serene features, which colored her remarks as they explained the previous mission to Eden Prime to James. The intel they had received said that Cerberus had taken over part of the colony, and rumors of coercion and sleeper agents - typical for Cerberus.

"I heard Saren had the whole place rigged to blow last time you were here." James prompted them. This was the part of this team he had immediately appreciated: getting first-hand stories from all those battles he had been so frustrated to miss. He had seen plenty of action, but nothing like this crew had experienced.

"Not on my watch." Shepard's determination showed as she watched them approach the landing site over Cortez's shoulder.

"Damn straight, Lola." James nodded, appreciating her tone. This had been the other part of his choice to stay; the opportunity to follow her into battle. He was already getting worked up, knowing that wherever she went, a tough fight wouldn't be far behind. If there was a third reason, he wasn't admitting it yet.

"There are survivors elsewhere on the colony, but they killed everyone near the dig site." Liara said, sadness tinging her voice. She could have easily been one of those archaeologists. Shepard turned and put a hand on her shoulder in comfort as the shuttle's engines began to slow.

The shuttle landed relatively close to the dig site, the seeming calm of the landscape belying the certainty of action yet to come. They crept closer to the quiet site, remarking on how different colony life was to ship life, especially during wartime. "You can always find another ship," Shepard commented.

"But you'd still remember." Liara, always looking right at the emotional heart of things, plucked at Shepard's heartstrings for a moment. But she declined the subtle invitation to dwell and kept her mind on the mission. Her team depended on her.

Ignoring James while he teased Liara about her work, she entered the first prefab dwelling, checking the datapads and consoles for open credits. She didn't even feel a twinge of guilt about this like she used to, knowing that these colonies were supported by insured corporations that would make up for the loss. She needed the funds to fight the people who did this to them, and the Alliance didn't tax colonies until they were self-sufficient. The symbiotic relationship was balanced in the end.

The search turned up more than they bargained for: a cryogenically frozen Prothean had been discovered at the dig site. Activating the elevator to the dig, it rose with the casket-like shape in the middle. What a weird place to keep it, Shepard thought, figuring it was probably booby-trapped or something. It wouldn't stop her from claiming this artifact, though; a Prothean could help them figure out the Crucible.

They didn't know how to open the life pod, but Liara discovered on the nearby terminal that there was some Prothean data somewhere on the base, and Shepard began examining the buildings on the far side, looking for a likely place to start looking for it. They discussed the different possibilities while she scanned the area with her omni-tool.

James was barely listening anymore. The short hairs were pricking on his neck the way they always did right before a firefight. His adrenaline began to pump as his eyes scanned the camp around them, still too quiet. That's why he was the first to notice the incoming shuttle. "Heads up!"

Rushing to cover, they made short work of the two Centurions and the Nemesis that dropped to the prefab roof ahead, Shepard overloading their shields one at a time and signaling the others to finish them off while she lobbed a lift grenade over the crate. The resulting explosion tossed their suddenly limp bodies aside like rag dolls. Without missing a beat, Shepard ran through the remaining smoke toward the next building. James followed right behind her, Liara checking their flank as they ducked into the nearby building.

Through the back door, they made their way around the back of the compound, clearing the maze of buildings efficiently. In the far back corner they were bogged down for a few minutes before they could pick off the turret and most of the squad hiding there. Liara swung around the other side of the last building, obviously sheltering a few more Cerberus agents, to camp out under the window there while Shepard and James headed for the side facing the sun.

James followed her to the open side window, smoothly pulling his enormous frame up the crates next to her and squatting underneath the window sill. One of the Centurions inside had dropped a smoke veil, so Shepard had Liara toss a singularity inside while they waited patiently for it to clear.

She looked over at James, who was barely breathing heavily, watching as his eyes flickered between the far side of the buildings across from them and the sill above. He was hyper-aware, in his element.

"Having fun?" she asked.

"Beats guard duty. Well," he amended, eyeing her up and down. "Most guard duty, anyway."

She grinned and leaped over the sill without warning, hitting the floating Centurions with an overload so she could finish them with a few businesslike headshots with her pistol before he could pull himself in beside her.

"Aw, man! You didn't save me any."

"Quit whining, pendejo. You'll get yours." Hand on hip, her explicit tone and look implied other meanings, lifting his mood even further, but Shepard immediately regretted the words. Their teasing routine had helped her pass the time on Earth, but she was finding it difficult to break the habit now that she was back in business. It was almost as if she couldn't help herself with him. She internally chided herself for the slip, trying to put her game face back on. This is how good soldiers get killed, she told herself. Hadn't she learned anything from her father's mistakes?

Liara came in through the front door and Shepard began to walk toward the back, nonchalantly stepping over the bodies as they floated gently to the floor. "Good work, Liara, James. Let's see what else is here."

In the next room, Shepard found a console with some unusual code. Upon activating it, she abruptly experienced what appeared to be a replay of the last stand of the Protheans. Creatures in unfamiliar armor, fighting husk-like versions of themselves with biotic powers she had never seen before. She watched them fall – all but one. The action seemed to center around this alien, who punched out a pattern on a life pod before opening it.

She turned to the others when the replay ended, and they stepped back at the glow of green shining from her eyes. "I think I can duplicate that."

"You understood that?" Liara was surprised. She began to draw some scientific conclusion about Shepard's Prothean beacon experience, but James tuned it out, using the time instead to pop his heat sink and stock up on ammo from the stash nearby. He was there for the fight, not for the nerd-speak.

"Looks like Cerberus found more data, but it's being kept somewhere else. Let's keep looking," Liara suggested.

James took point into the next building, where they discovered a gruesome scene: A squad had been gunned down in their leisure time. They hadn't even had time to grab their weapons.

"Shit, this was somebody's home." James said.

"Perhaps," Shepard said, checking the windows. "But they were in full armor, so they should have been on their guard. Sloppy." She had plenty of compassion for these poor souls, but she didn't feel pity fools who didn't watch their backs, especially when there was widespread information about an upcoming Cerberus coup.

They found the other console in the next prefab, this time James stepping closer to Shepard when she went into the trance after entering the execute command, curious to see what happened to her. Her eyes glowed green and she went… somewhere else. Wonder what she's seeing? he thought. Strange things happened wherever she went.

She came to abruptly, saying she knew what to do, and ran out before they could react. They followed, running to catch up as she raced back towards the platform.

They didn't get far, another shuttle dropping a handful of Engineers and a Guardian in their path, then again when they neared the bridge, which Cerberus had retracted. They all took some damage as they tried to get behind the Guardian's shields. Liara hit it with a singularity, which it agilely sidestepped, prompting Shepard to slam it with a biotic throw over and over while James chipped away at the soft parts that showed when it fell back. He whooped when he pulled off a headshot right between the slot of the Guardian's shield. Shepard pounded his back in approval while Liara picked off the last soldier with her sidearm.

James was just starting to breathe heavy when he saw the Commander storm across the lower ledge under the bridge and vault up the ladder to the other side, even though there were no enemies in sight. "Hitting your stride, Lola?"

Liara shook her head in disbelief, trying to keep up. "She was always like this, even before Cerberus strengthened her biotics."

"Come on, come on!" Shepard chanted, waving them up to the roof. Jacked from the combat, she slid across the ventilation ducts and down the other ladder, evidently enjoying herself tremendously.

Activating the life pod was the easy part. Taking care of the squads and Mech that dropped right after was a little trickier. Liara went down and Shepard almost did too, when two Cerberus troopers flanked her while she attacked the Mech suit. The habitat she had been using for shelter was rocking with missile fire and Shepard began to think she'd made a rookie mistake, but James heard her grunt of pain. He ran into the building to cover her while she healed up and let her finish the Mech off. She glanced at him as the dust settled, thinking that he fit right in with her fighting style.

His ears ringing, James howled as he stepped into the sun, spirits high, assault rifle at his shoulder. This was like no other team he'd been on. He was glad he had decided to stick with the Normandy. He'd had the feeling that that ship would take him right into the thickest part of the action, and he'd been right. They were stealing the last Prothean from Cerberus, so he knew this was just the beginning of the action.

But he hadn't counted on her. Oh, he'd heard the stories, even seen a hint of this on Mars. But Eden Prime proved it. She was like a female version of him, only smarter, more levelheaded. He liked her more and more all the time. He had always approved of the way she dealt with the politicians, but she was so small (at least compared to him) that it had been difficult to picture her in combat. The reality: she was a beast.

The Prothean, Javik, was a bit of a surprise. He talked down to Shepard and Liara, which immediately got James' back up. He also refused to shake the Commander's hand, even though he doubtless knew what it meant from the mind link they had shared.

All in all, James thought the Prothean was… kind of a dick.

When they left the shuttle back on board the Normandy, he held her back. "We gonna do that again soon, Shepard?" He was still breathing heavily, his shoulders noticeably lifting his armor as he leaned in toward her. She couldn't immediately respond for some reason.

Garrus, his rifle and the cleaning kit under his arm, laughed loudly from the other side of the cargo bay. "No worries there, rookie. We'll chase the action to the edge of the galaxy and back again."

"You did good today, James. I'll have to bring you along next time." Shepard finally said, pulling off her helmet. She flashed a quick smile at him and walked toward the lift. He watched her go, admiring the way armor somehow made her look more feminine, more shapely.

"You okay?" Garrus asked.

"A little amped right now. Always get like that after a fight." His said, still looking.

Garrus followed his gaze and shook his head. "... and another one bites the dust. Good luck with that. I've heard that cold showers can help humans in your – ah – situation."

James blinked and looked at him. The lift door had closed. "Huh?"

"Never mind."

Thank you for reading! Let me know what you think in a review, and read on!