Thanks for sticking around, guys.

Mass Effect belongs to Bioware.

"You're improving, Shepard." Clovis held out a gloved hand to the woman sitting up on the mat. She grunted as she took his offered hand, "Sure doesn't feel like it from down here."

"Well now, I actually had to try to put you down this time," he replied, with some measure of self-complacency. "It's good to see that fight in you."

Shepard considered taking that as a compliment. After Clovis called it a day for the trainees, she pressed on.

"So when do you think I'll be out on the field?"

He watched the group marching upstairs, arms folded across his chest. He turned briefly towards Shepard, who, by the looks of it, wasn't planning on making it to the mess hall anytime soon.

"That isn't for me to decide."

Shepard frowned. "Why not? Don't you report my progress to Garrus?"

"I do. But it's not up to me to decide when or if you get to join in on missions. You will have to take that up with the Captain."

Shepard scoffed. "If I have to sit out one more mission in my room I think I'll mutiny."

Clovis chuckled. "Be patient, I'm sure he'll come around."

"Maybe," Shepard muttered, frustrated with such an ambiguous reply.

Even after a month of being on the Sapphrax she still felt that void, the feeling of not belonging. She tried to convince herself that being out on the field would straighten her out, bring in a sense of commitment, a firmer grasp on her place under Garrus' command. Garrus, however, seemed to have other ideas. None seemed to involve putting her in combat anytime soon.

"Can we go again?" Shepard asked, putting her mind from the subject.

Clovis nodded, "Eager to lose again, I see."

"You're not the first to underestimate me, you know," Shepard pointed out. "Most people learn to avoid that mistake."

They took position.

"Is that so?" Clovis queried, taking his stance. Shepard nodded silently, doing the same.

He lunged at her, with all the damaging intent of real battle. Shepard had learned over the past weeks that, while he was controlled enough that a landing blow wouldn't harm her beyond a few days of soreness, practice was taken as seriously as if one's life depended on the outcome.

She dodged a light blow and tried to move in, quickly blocked by a few quick hits that very nearly landed. Finally, she made a brief hit that he reciprocated just as quickly but with more force. She saw it then, the way his body pushed forward, the energy behind his movement. She was quicker, grabbing a hold of his arm and redirecting the hit, taking advantage of a brief opening in defense and delivering a hard kick to his ribcage. He stumbled backwards, his stance caving as he instinctively bent over.

She only made it a few steps forward before she heard the intercom above.

"Aelia to Clovis, we need you on the bridge immediately."

She glanced at Clovis, already recovered by this time and her chances of setting him on the ground long evaporated. "Not bad," he remarked. "We'll finish this next time."

She crossed her arms, far more upset at the interruption than she let on. "I'll hold you to that."

Aelia's voice came through again, "You better get to your quarters, Shepard. We've got hostile activity along a fuel depot in Enoch."

"Can I just stick this one out here?" She asked, now visibly annoyed.

"That's an order, Jane."

She rode the elevator with Clovis, who mused at the unfortunate turn of events. "They've been converging like this for a while. A tactical approach-choke the fuel supply and military ships are bound to suffer."

"Be careful out there." Shepard offered as she stepped out of the elevator. He gave a stern nod as the doors closed behind her.

She felt like a child being sent to her room. On her way in she was greeted by the guard stationed outside of her door. He was there in case someone breached the ship- a logical step, she supposed- but really, who did they think she was, some defenseless piece of cargo?

She was tired of complaining to Ferox, who said it was all under standard regulations and to Garrus who always told her-in that stern, resolved way of his-that it was all for the best and there was no use questioning something she couldn't change. It was infuriating, but she was under command and there was no second-guessing his orders further than that.

Days had evolved into weeks on the Sapphrax, carrying with them the novelty of having Commander Shepard on board. She had gotten used to the crew, learned names and traded war stories every now and then. She found a routine, one that left her with little time to contemplate what she missed.

It was only during times like this, when she was forced into the solidarity of her quarters, that her mind wandered and she began to mull over the past she was trying to move away from. She needed to be out there, to feel the familiar rush of battle.

In the meantime she preoccupied herself with reading. Mission reports, news, a novel or two, these were the things she distracted herself with during downtime. It seemed the quarians were commemorating a minor holiday on Rannoch and their embassy on the Citadel was promoting a small celebration in the Presidium.

Meanwhile, Journeys with a Prothean was still on the galaxy-wide best-seller list. Shepard imagined Javik was living well from the royalties. The end of the book had mentioned him living on a remote island, away from the public eye. It was no wonder, really, Javik had always preferred solitude. But it went without saying that Shepard missed the Prothean.

There was a knock on the door, prying her away from the latest reports of a new Dalatrass being elected.

"What is it?"

The doors opened, "Ma'am, your presence has been requested in the war room."

Shepard quickly set down the datapad, letting him lead her one floor up. Ferox was presiding over a large projection of the view coming in from the visor on someone's helmet. He seemed too preoccupied to notice her immediately as he spoke a few orders over the comm.

"Shepard," he said over his shoulder, "figured you'd rather be here."

"You'd be right," she replied, walking up to the counter that ran around the projection, trying to make sense of the video feed, which seemed somewhat distorted.

"There's some interference around the perimeter," Ferox noted, he swiped at the map directly in front of him and it popped up beside Shepard. There were two groups of three points.

"The one further up is Clovis's squad," he told her, "Garrus is heading the rear."

She nodded, glanced up at the video. "Whose cam is on?"

"Fulvia," he replied, "but they're all equipped."

Another nod. "So what's going on?"

Ferox showed her a blinking point up ahead. "We've got extensive activity up there," he said, "it's possible they're setting up some sort of failsafe, they must know they can't hold the fuel station for long."

She frowned. "What kind of failsafe are we talking about here?"

"Most likely, we're talking explosives." He stated, smiling to himself as he saw her taken aback. "They can handle it," he added quietly, as if to reassure her.

She moved her attention back to the holographic screen, "And if turns out they can't?"

"Then we lose another fuel station," he said simply. "We can't afford that."

"Guess we can't afford a new team either," she muttered.

"Not likely-well, not one as good."

Clovis interjected, "We've got activity directly up ahead. We're moving in."

"Copy that," she heard Garrus muttering. "I'm moving my squad down the maintenance shaft as planned," he added, "we'll hit them high at the meeting point."

"Affirmative," Ferox said.

The enemy was still converging on the blinking point, Shepard noted, but some were moving down to provide assistance against Clovis's squad. In truth, it was all futile. The three turians dispatched them with relative ease, keeping a tightly controlled formation that had them taking ground at a steady rate.

"We're at the point," Garrus whispered, the low tones of his voice resonating.

"Well don't let us keep you," Clovis drawled, "we're just handling most of the mercs here."

Garrus chuckled, a low hushed sound. "No, no, take your time. We insist."

"You just make yourself comfortable then, we've got a mech coming in."

"They're well equipped," Shepard remarked, assessing the colossal machine. It was built with dual mounted turrets and a more resistant outer shell that seemed in all sides impenetrable. It had slowed down their progress to almost a full stop. It was giving them enough close calls that her hands were fists trembling with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. She wanted to be there, needed to be there.

"You'd be surprised at what these people can get their hands on," Ferox placed a hand on her shoulder. Their eyes met as he leaned in with that comfortable closeness again. "Don't worry."

She nodded wordlessly.

Then, as quickly as she turned her gaze back to the battle, a spark lit up under the mech, and it came to a hard stop as if the system had been compromised before a concentrated explosion shattered the lower half.

Shepard blinked. "Some sort of grenade?"

"Yes. We have our way of dealing with whatever they throw at us," he explained, watching the team moving forward, taking care of the stray mercs that had been scattered by the blast.

"Glad of you to join us," Garrus said over the comm.

"You can start shooting any day now," Clovis bit back, "or have you forgotten how to use that rifle?"

"I wouldn't bet on it." Then, with more gravity: "The device at the center of the room, that's what they were arming."

"Roger that. We'll keep them away from it."

The mercs fell in line, taking hits from both sides at once. It was over quickly, and immediately Fulvia and a man named Aktis went to work on figuring out what the device was at the center of the room.

"Spirits be praised," Fulvia breathed a sigh of relief, " it hasn't been armed yet."

Garrus confirmed this, "We'll contact Palaven and have them send a specialist to evacuate the device. Our job is done here."

A cry was heard, barely audible. Clovis moved in, "Looks like we have a hostage. Your call, Captain."

"Take him in," Garrus ordered. "He's too injured to put up a fight and we could use the intel. Ferox, see that we have arrangements for the prisoner."

"Yes, sir."

"On our way to the shuttle."

Shepard looked at the turian beside her, "I didn't know we took prisoners."

"Sometimes," he replied. "We usually ship them off to a higher command to be taken care of. As a general rule we only transport them. These people typically operate out of self interest, if we can put enough pressure on them to talk, they usually give us valuable information."

"Is that always the case, though?"

"Sadly, it isn't."

"I see."

There was a moment of silence, as she watched the feed dissipate, now redundant as the Captain and the squads were loaded onto the shuttle.

Ferox smoothly draped his arm over her shoulder, as if this was a familiar thing to them. "You know, now that I think about it, I haven't been completely outright about my intentions."

She chuckled at the absurdity of that statement, since when was Ferox not completely outright? He was cocky, bold and shameless. But over the last month they had grown close, that much was undeniable.

"Intentions, huh?" Shepard asked playfully, "And what might those be?"

Her fingers curling around his waist and yanking him against her hip. He tilted up her chin with his index and pressed his mouth against hers gently, probing for a reaction. She reciprocated his advance, pressing herself against his dark suit, feeling the solid plating of his torso underneath as she kissed him deeper.

"I don't know if I can give you what you deserve," she murmured, as they settled into a comfortable embrace. It hurt to say, but it would feel worse lying to Ferox. "I still love him."

He sighed against her scalp, breathing in her scent, "I know."