"Mr. Moreau, set a course for Earth," ordered Anderson as he and James crossed the threshold from the airlock to the bridge. Joker swiveled his chair to face them as Anderson spoke, his eyes going wide as he gazed at James' blood splattered shirt. EDI's blue orb popped into view as they turned to face the cockpit.

"We're waiting for one soldier who will be returning from the wards shortly. Please be prepared to leave as soon as he's onboard." Anderson paused as he noticed Joker's shocked expression. "This is Lieutenant James Vega. He will be Commander Shepard's bodyguard while she is…on Earth. Lt. Vega, this is Flight Lieutenant Moreau."

James gave a stiff nod to the Flight Lieutenant who was unabashedly running his eyes over James' hulking figure.

"Bodyguard?" Joker laughed as he spoke. "Oh man, you are going to have one hell of a time getting her to agree to that one!"

Anderson crossed his arms behind his back giving him a stern look.

"Sir, I mean," Joker coughed. "Welcome aboard Lieutenant," he said in a low tone before turning back to the cockpit controls and busying himself with keying in Earth's coordinates.

With a nod of his head, Anderson indicated for James to follow him. The two men walked across the deserted CIC and disappeared through the Armory doors.

"So that's what it looks like when you cross a human with a krogan." Joker muttered as watched them over his shoulder.

"That is impossible Jeff," EDI chimed. "Krogan and human genetics are not compatible."

"I know EDI, it was a joke." Joker shook his head. "There is something really familiar about him though."

"Lieutenant Vega was present during the crew's party on Omega. He–"

"Wait!" Joker turned his head sharply to stare at EDI's projected sphere. "Is he? Not the… the stripper!" Joker leaned back in his chair and covered his face as he chuckled darkly. "Oh shit," he gasped. "Tell me this gets better!" He uncovered his face and looked at EDI with wide mirthful eyes. "Is he the one Shepard snuck off with that night?"

EDI's blue orb flickerd and replied in a flat glassy tone, "Shepard and the Lieutenant have been previously acquainted. I have no further details. Shepard requested that I not access her omni tool after she departed the club."

"Ha, and I'm sure you did as you were told. Face it EDI you and I both know that you know all the details of the Commander's night." Joker turned from the blue orb and began pulling up the Normandy's live security feeds. "Now where are they? I am notmissing this reunion."

~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~O~

James followed Anderson into the comm. room. Once the doors were closed tight behind them Anderson turned and addressed James. Son, it's no small task you've been assigned to here."

"I know sir," James replied in a strict military tone.

"As far as the galactic community is concerned, Commander Shepard is a terrorist who has committed a violent act of mass murder. But the destruction of the Alpha relay prevented the immediate arrival of the Reapers."

James was unable to hide his shocked expression as Anderson explained the situation.

"Yes, the Reapers are real, and they are coming. There's no doubt of that now. We just don't know when they will be here. Shepard is the only onewho can stop them. We have to keep her alive if any of us are going to stand a chance. " Anderson lowered his tone as he spoke. "There has already been one attempt on her life, which I was luckily able to thwart. But many more want her dead and we can't let that happen."

Anderson began to pace as he briefed James on what to expect. "We're going to Earth where she will formally turn herself over to the Alliance. Our arrival will most likely be a highly publicized event. There are likely to be reporters from all areas of council space waiting for us to arrive. The scene may be chaotic, you will need to be vigilant from the beginning, watch every corner and examine every shadow. Don't let anyone get too close to her." He paused and looked around the room. "The second part of your job I'll explain in further detail later." Anderson took a step towards James and lowered his voice. "But I will tell you this. There may come a time when she will no longer be safe in Alliance custody." James' eyes widened as Anderson spoke. "It will be up to you, Lieutenant, to get her the hell out of there."

James was quiet as the information sank in. He could see where the Captain was going with this. Shepard was in danger of becoming a victim of political bargaining. He squared his shoulders and stood taller as he replied, "I understand sir, you can count on me."

"I had a feeling I could," replied Anderson confidently, giving James a pleased smile. He opened his mouth to speak again but was interrupted as the doors beeped open. The soldier Anderson had sent to retrieve James' rucksack stood in the door frame with the bag slung over his shoulder. Almost simultaneously they heard the hydraulic docking clamps release and felt the Normandyshift as Joker piloted them away from Omega's docking bay.

"Thank you private," Anderson said as he picked up a data pad from the table in front of him. He strode over to the Private and took the bag from him. "I would like for you to join Private Brandon in taking inventory of the armory." Anderson handed the soldier the data pad. "There are lots of interesting Cerberus weapons in there. I'm sure the Alliance would like to study them."

"Yes sir," replied the soldier, saluting briskly. He then turned and walked quickly to the armory entrance. The doors immediately whooshed open and then beeped closed behind him.

Anderson handed James his bag and, giving him a smile of encouragement, he said, "Come on, I'll show you where the crew's quarters and the showers are. You need to clean up before I introduce you to the Commander." The two men walked out of the comm. room and through the tech lab. They felt the slight shift as the Normandy lurched into FTL drive. Anderson glanced sideways at James and muttered, "I'm afraid our Flight Lieutenant is correct in his assumption that the Commander may be…less than enthusiastic towards the idea of needing a body guard."

James chuckled darkly. You have no idea. He thought to himself as they boarded the elevator. The short ride to deck two was spent in silence. Each man lost in his own thoughts. Both were undoubtedly thinking about the same Commander Shepard, but undoubtedly in very different ways.

Anderson directed James towards the men's lavatory after showing him the crew quarters.

"I'm going to speak with her first," Anderson said as rubbed his chin. "Maybe I can ease her into the idea before she meets you," he said more to himself than to James. "Go clean up. I'll speak with her here in the mess," Anderson pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the long table the crew used for meals. "Just come out here when you're presentable."

"Yes sir," James said as he gave Anderson a salute.

"Dismissed," Anderson said with a nod.

James immediately turned and walked into the men's lavatory. Kinda small for a ship this size, he thought as he slung his bag onto the counter next to the room's one sink. He looked at himself in the mirror and laughed sardonically. He had a sizable gash over his left eye and several angry looking cuts running down his arms. You look like you have been in a bar fight pendejo. He quickly shed his clothes and reached into his rucksack. He fished inside and grabbed a small bag containing his razor, shaving cream, soap, and a small tube of medi gel.

Pulling the soap from the bag he walked over to the shower and adjusted the controls. Once the water had warmed to a comfortable temperature, he positioned himself under the spout and relaxed as the warm water washed over him. He leaned forward, bracing one arm against the wall and tilting his head down. He watched the blood tinged water cascade down his legs and disappear as it swirled down the drain. This is loco, he thought to himself as he began to lather the soap and wash himself off. She will never agree to this. She would probably oust him on the spot by informing Anderson of their tryst, and thus proving James was ill-suited for the job. Or what if she didn't? What if she was actually happy to see him?

Images of a secret sexy reunion flooded his mind. He imagined her sparkling eyes and coy smile as she would pull him into some shadowy corner of the ship in order to better show her appreciation. James groaned as he felt his body react in the way it always did when he imagined her. He glanced down as his already erect cock.

"What the hell do youwant pendejo?" he growled.

You're an idiot, James. He scolded himself. You're twenty-eight for fuck's sake, not a horny teenager. Get it together. With an angry jab, he killed the hot water and sucked in a hissing breath as the now icy stream hit his skin. You have a job to do. Anderson handpicked you. You can't fail, this is too important. You are going in there to meet Commander Shepard, not Anna. James stood straight. He could do this. He was an Alliance marine. The mission comes first, nothing else matters. And with a cold determination James shut out his feelings.

Shepard opened her eyes as she felt the strange pull in her stomach that usually accompanied a jump through a mass relay. She remembered Anderson telling her that they were making a stop before heading to Earth. Where are we? She wondered as she stretched her arms over her head and yawned. She was feeling much better. Seems Anderson was right. All she really needed was a good night's sleep. Kasumi's bed was exceptionally comfortable and Shepard had found it easy to slip into a deep sleep surrounded by the warm, fluffy blankets.

"EDI, what's our ETA?" She asked as she sat up and leaned her head back against the wall, closing her still sleep-heavy eyes.

"Estimated time of arrival on Earth is six hours fifty-two minutes Commander," EDI responded in her clear, glassy tone. "Captain Anderson would like to speak to you. He is currently in the Mess Hall."

"Thank you EDI. Tell him I'll be out in just a moment."

"Yes, Commander."

Shepard pulled the covers back and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She yawned again and arched her back before rising to her feet and shuffling over to the long sofa to retrieve her uniform. She dressed quickly and ran a brush through her hair, opting to leave it in a low pony tail rather than go through the trouble of pinning it up in her typical bun. Anderson of all people could deal with her having her hair down.

She walked briskly out of room, the automated doors opening and closing behind her with a whoosh. She halted briefly as she heard the sound of running water coming from the men's lavatory. Who the hell is in there? It can't be Joker. We just cleared a relay he would undoubtedly still be at his station. She was about to inquire who was in there when Anderson's voice came from around the corner in the Mess.

"Over here Shepard," Anderson called from the long dining table. Shepard crossed the short distance to the mess, casting a glance backwards before meeting Anderson's gaze.

"Who's in there?" She asked, nodding over her shoulder towards the lavatory.

The corner of Anderson's lips curled into a wry smile. "Your bodyguard," he responded flatly.

Shepard froze. "Excuse me sir, did I hear you correctly?" Shepard stared at him incredulously. "Did you just say my bodyguard?"

"Yes. Now have a seat and try to not be a smart ass while I explain." Anderson gestured to the empty seat across from him, where a steaming cup of coffee sat waiting for her. She stood there for a moment, shifting her weight. She opened and closed her mouth, unable to come up with anything to say. She let out a frustrated sigh as she narrowed her eyes, stalked over to the table, and sat down. She wrapped her fingers around the cup and leaned back shaking her head before raising the cup to her mouth and taking a sip.

"I don't need a bodyguard," she muttered from behind the cup.

"Yes you do," Anderson replied sharply. "Care to remember how close that bullet came to your skull back on the Citadel?" Anderson leaned forward, his arms resting on the table as he spoke. "You aren't just dodging mercs and geth anymore Shepard. Everywhere you go, you're going to be in danger."

Shepard sat up straight and opened her mouth to protest but Anderson's sharp glare stopped her. He cleared his throat before resuming his speech. "The batarian government has publicly demanded your life. Even on Earth things will be… sketchy. Cerberus isn't just going to sit back and be happy that their prize ship is in the hands of the Alliance. I think we can safely bet that they will send their own agents, and Cerberus assassins are going to be harder to spot than that poor excuse for a batarian assassin."

Shepard cracked a sardonic smile and shook her head. "Do I get any say in this?" she asked before taking another sip of her coffee.

"No. I'm sorry Shepard." Anderson leaned back in his chair and took of a sip from his own cup. "I think you'll be impressed with the Lieutenant. He has top ranking in hand to hand combat as well as advanced weaponry. He's loyal, dedicated, and tough."

"Is this a soldier we are talking about here, or a varren?" Shepard asked as she cocked an eyebrow and rested her arms on the table.

Anderson tried to sound stern, but couldn't hide the amusement in his voice. "I thought I told you to canthe smart ass."

Shepard raised a hand in apology, "I'm sorry. By all means continue," She said as she raised her coffee to her lips. "Please tell me more."

Anderson shook his head at her. "You never make things easy, do you?" Shepard just shrugged and smiled at him in mock innocence. Sighing, he continued. "He's a man I feel we can trust, Shepard. I see in him the same potential I saw in you when we first met. What's more, he understands the breadth of the situation and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep you safe."

"Even if it means taking a bullet for me," Shepard stated dryly. She knew what it was he was instructed to do and it didn't sit well with her.

Anderson gave a soft nod of his head. "I wish there was something I could do to change the circumstances but, as things stand, I suspect you're going to be grounded for a while." He paused when he saw Shepard flinch, and her expression go dark. He leaned forward, and placed a comforting hand on her wrist. "I know this can't be easy for you–"

"Don't try to comfort me Anderson," she spat as she pulled her wrist away. "I've been doing just fine taking care of myself for over 14 years. I survived N7 training, saved the Citadel from Sovereign and, oh, thwarted severalReaper invasions." She slammed her cup on the table sloshing the brown liquid over the side.

"Hell, I apparently even came back from the dead. But apparently everyone I trust seems to think I've lost the ability to take care of myself. And now you're expecting some stranger to put his life on the line for me."

She stood up and began pacing in front of the table. "I have spent the last few years of my life doing everythingI can to save this god forsaken galaxy from imminent destruction. I've tried to warn anyone who would listen that the Reapers are coming. But of course, no one ever fucking believes me."

"I believe you," a deep voice stated calmly from behind her.

Shepard spun around. There stood James, tall and sharp in his Alliance uniform. She had to grab the back of a nearby chair to keep from losing her balance as she drank in the sight of him. He was dressed in a standard issue uniform. Her eyes traced his muscular body starting at his shin high combat boots, gliding up to his blue-grey camo cargo pants, and a wide black gun belt. The quarter length sleeves somehow made his muscular arms seem more defined. Just the tips of the intricately woven design of his tattoo where visible under the cuff of his right sleeve. Shepard swallowed at the lump in her throat. Her eyes traveled up this arm, tracing the path of the hidden tattoo. Only when he took in a breath could she see just the smallest peak of black ink over the high collar of the uniform. She watched the strong muscles in his neck flex as he swallowed. The nervous gesture jolted her. Her eyes shot up.

Everything around her went fuzzy as they locked eyes. In one frozen second a million unsaid words passed between them as they held each other's gaze. Shepard's thoughts raced and she was unable to make any coherent sense of it all. It's you…how…why…this can't…I don't understand.

James said nothing. It was taking all of his self control to keep his expression blank as he stared into the blue pools of her eyes. His thoughts pleaded with her. Please accept me… I want to help you… let me be your shield.

Shepard was pulled back to reality at the sound of Anderson's voice next to her.

"Commander, this is Lieutenant James Vega."

Shepard's heart sank as she watched James' eyes turn to stone. The wisps of familiarity disappeared as he snapped into a sharp salute, his face setting into a steely calm.

"Lieutenant this is Commander Anna Shepard."

Shepard hesitated only momentarily before she squared her shoulders and forced the Commander part of her to take over. She made a snap decision. Be professional now, work out the rest of the shit later. She returned James' salute, voiding her face of all emotion. Professionalism, regulation, business. She cleared her throat as she offered her hand.

"It's nice to meet you Lieutenant," she said in a deeply professional tone.

"Likewise," James dryly responded as he took her extended hand and firmly shook it. Both of them simultaneously fought against the spark that shot through them as their hands met. Shepard dropped the handshake and quickly crossed her arms behind her back. She glanced at Anderson. She was suddenly worried that the Captain would pick up on their silent exchanges. If he had, he wasn't letting on.

"Well it's been a hell of a long day for me," Anderson said as he looked at the two soldiers in front of him. "If you will excuse me, I'm going to get a couple hours of sleep before we arrive on Earth."

"Yes sir, of course," Shepard turned to him and nodded. It occurred to her that he probably hadn't slept since the night before the encounter on the Citadel. "Please let me know if you need anything."

"Thank you Shepard, I will." And with a parting nod to each of them, Anderson walked out of the Mess Hall and boarded the elevator, the doors closing with a beep behind him.

They stood in silence for a moment, not quite meeting each other's gaze. James opened his mouth to speak but Shepard cut him off.

"Welcome aboard Lieutenant. The crew quarters are just over there," she said pointing over his shoulder. "I'm sure you would like to get some sleep as well." She needed to get away from him. She wasn't prepared to deal with whatever it was that lay boiling just beneath the surface. "Now if you will excuse me I need to prepare for our arrival," Shepard took two long hurried steps past him before James caught her arm.

"Hey, wait a minute," he pleaded, his voice soft and tender. He didn't know why he had reached out for her and though he immediately regretted it, he found he was unable to pull his hand away from the familiar warmth of her skin.

She couldn't face him. She bit her lip and closed her eyes before gently tugging her arm free from his grasp.

"No," she whispered, still unable to look at him.

"You're right, I'm sorry."

She turned her head over her shoulder slightly, just enough so that James could see her downward cast gaze.

"So am I," she murmured softly before turning her head away and swiftly striding down the corridor into the port side lounge.

James let out the breath he was holding when he heard the doors to the lounge close. He slumped down in the nearest chair, letting his head fall back.

"This is loco," he grumbled. He tugged at the collar of his uniform, unfastening the top button. He had planned on being the epitome of professionalism. He had planned on keeping all of his emotions and desires buried deep inside. His mind raced with questions. How was it that just being alone with her had broken his resolve so quickly? Why had he reached for her? Her parting words echoed softly in his mind. So am I. She didn't sound angry with him, she had sounded…sad. What was it he was going to say to her? How could possibly make this fucked up situation any better? He hardly knew.

Just do your job, James told himself as he pushed away from the table. Anderson trusted him, and he wasn't going to betray that trust. James walked out of the Mess Hall, towards the crew quarters. May as well get some rest before we hit Earth and this whole shit storm really starts.