A/N: Decided to rewrite and expand this story. (12.1.13) I prefer this version- hopefully you do too. More plot, equal amount of smut, less jerky Shepard.

"How are you doing, Skipper?"

Ashley leans into the cabin doorway. Her rich olive skin tone has gone pale in the past few days. Shepard detects a few stray wrinkles in her typically impeccable shirt. Ashley enters, the automatic door sliding shut behind her. Ashley has never visited her. Shepard suspects both have imagined the scenario. There's an undercurrent of sexual tension running between them they pretend not to notice. Ashley is ever the soldier. Her grandfather's shame has made her a hard ass for protocol and regulation, even if her mouth doesn't always catch up to her.

"I'm still processing."

"Yeah? If it was me I'd be in some dive, getting plastered." She looks around the room. When she speaks again her voice is uncharacteristically soft. "You shouldn't have saved me, Ma'am."

"Don't question my decisions." It was her decision to let Kaidan go but it burns. She thought she'd numbed herself to those emotions. Every breath since the decision has felt like a stabbing.

"I thought you might want to talk about him. Maybe that's the last thing you need." Ashley moves closer. "What can I do for you?"

Ashley approaches and Shepard straightens on the bed. She cocks her head. "Gotta hand it to you, Williams. I wasn't expecting a Florence Nightingale routine."

"Hey, just because I can drink your ass under the table and piece a Katana VII together blindfolded doesn't mean I can't care. I thought you knew me better than that."

Ashley isn't prone to sharing. They got off to a rough start on Eden Prime. Shepard takes responsibility for that. She was gruff and accused her of abandoning her squad. Ashley was guarded after that, abruptly cutting their conversations short when she was beginning to open up, when they were moving past professional curiosity. Shepard watches her. She could tell Ashley how hard this is for her but the woman has enough survivor's guilt to contend with. "Nothing personal, Williams."

"Getting all formal on me now? What happened to 'move your fat ass, Ash!' or 'is that a pea shooter or a gun? Pull your head out of your ass and shoot!'"

Shepard smiles grimly. "You should have moved your 'fat ass'."

"With all due respect, Ma'am—"

"Kiss your ass?"

Ashley smirks. "I may be rough around the edges but I usually have enough control not to tell my commanding officer to kiss my ass."

"Do you?"

She bumps her shoulder against Shepard's. "Nothing should make me smile this soon. Fuck. I'm alive. I should be miserable for penance."

"What makes you think you aren't? One laugh? We stop smiling for all the soldiers we've lost and we'll never smile again." The smile slips as easily as it appears. Shepard regrets it. She should have kept things light.

"Yeah. I get all that. Still can't shake it, Skipper."

"You've got to."

Ashley glares. Shepard feels the fire of her gaze. The anger is brief. Ashley ducks her head. "If we're ever in Vancouver we could visit his parents."

"Maybe," she says dismissively. She made the decision. Can she face them? Why did she choose Ashley? Why not Kaidan? He was a good man. He was a better soldier. How can she stand tall in front of them? Why did she make that decision? Because it's her job as a commanding officer. She considers. "Fuck it. I owe them that, at least."

"At least," she agrees. "I keep thinking I ought to do something really great. You gave me this opportunity-, but should I have it if I didn't have that great thing in the works already?"

"If you're planning out every step of your life you're not doing much living at all."

"I prefer doing to planning. Maybe that makes me a bad soldier."

"You think outside the box, Williams. That makes you resourceful."

"Why me?"

Shepard doesn't make her clarify. She still has no answer. "Drop it."

Ashley laces her fingers, stretching her arms out in front of her until her knuckles pop. She shrugs her shoulders. "Sorry, Commander. I'm having— some trouble with all of this."

"Shrug it off." It isn't that easy. If she can make it look that easy maybe Ashley will pick up on whatever trick she has. Ashley is shaken. Shepard doesn't want this to be Eden Prime all over again. She was harsh then for no reason. She forces the words out. "You going to be all right?"

"Yeah." She straightens, flashes a strained smile. "Don't worry, Ma'am. I'm going to focus on the mission."

"That's good. But you've got to take care of yourself, too. You're no good to anybody if you're not clear headed."


"There's no time for leave. Hell, there's not even time for a shrink –"

"I've got this, Commander," she says sharply. Shepard sighs inwardly. Great. She dismisses her feelings, Ash gets pissed. She tries to empathize with her, Ash gets pissed. It's impossible to win. "Didn't I come here to check on you?"

Shepard smiles wryly. "Things don't always go according to plan."

"That would make life damn boring. But a hell of a lot more bearable."

"Something tells me that you're not suited for boring, Williams."

"Yeah? You've looked at my service record."

"The crap jobs? Yeah." She deserved better. The brass made sure she got fucked at every turn. Many would have given up. Ashley kept going. The woman is nothing if not stubborn. "Hopefully this mission with Saren and the Reapers is enough to make up for that."

"More than enough." She looks at her. "I…never really thanked you for letting me come onboard the Normandy. I could have been stationed anywhere. You gave me a chance."

Shepard wonders if Ashley remembers things the way she does. She's thanking her for what Shepard was kicking herself for earlier. "We had a rough start. I never apologized for that." She waits. "Keep your thanks. You earned your way onto this ship."

"I got my whole squad killed."

She winces. Maybe Ashley remembers their beginning after all. "That wasn't you. That was Saren. That was the Reapers and the Geth. You're a good soldier."

Ashley clears her throat. "When you say it like that, Skipper, I almost believe it. There's something about you… that makes me believe anything is possible." Her cheeks have a hint of red to them. Shepard gives her a lopsided smile. Ashley averts her eyes. She practically jumps to her feet. "It's late. I should get going."

Shepard circles her fingers around Ashley's wrist. She's surprised by the softness of her voice. "Stay."

Ashley looks at her quizzically. "Is that an order?"

Shepard considers whether it's proper to abuse her power. She never has. They've both been letting policies around fraternization hold them back. Maybe they both need an excuse. Shepard is accustomed to breaking rules. It would be easy. "It's an order."

Ashley doesn't pull away. She sits beside her again, tense and nervous. "You're not giving me a lot of options." Shepard shakes her head in agreement. She kisses her. Ashley's lips are full, surprisingly soft. Ashley glowers. She smolders. Shepard kisses her again.

"Skipper—" Ashley says. Shepard cuts her off. Ashley grabs a fistful of Shepard's shirt, pushing and then yanking her close, returning the kiss heatedly. Shepard slides a hand up her back, to her neck, pulling her hair loose. Ashley grips Shepard's wrists, shoving Shepard down onto her back. Her face is a map of conflict and want. "It kills you to let anyone else have even a little bit of control, doesn't it?" Ashley releases Shepard, fingers trailing down her arms instead.

Shepard runs her fingers through Ashley's hair, pushing it out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. She's beautiful. Does she know it? Have people told her? "Other people would screw it up."

"You're cocky here, too?" She straddles her. "I bet everyone lets you have your way." Shepard watches her unbuckle her belt, unbutton her pants, pull the zipper down. Her voice is a confession. "I've thought of this."

"Me too." Shepard rises to connect their lips. "Touch me." Ashley pushes her down again. She moves Shepard's shirt up, trailing kisses along her stomach. Shepard closes her eyes, relishing the sensation of her lips and tongue, breathing unsteadily. Ashley takes hold of her pants and yanks them down. Shepard rips Ashley's shirt off. Her fingers graze the black bra. "Didn't figure you for the lace type."

"Even tomboys like to be girly now and then," Ashley watches Shepard's hands as they cup her breasts, undo the bra, bring one of her pert nipples to her mouth. Ashley's warm. Her sigh is like a song. "Oh, Skipper…" She closes her eyes, tilting her head back. She threads her fingers through Shepard's hair, bringing her closer. Shepard undoes Ashley's pants, sliding her hand in. "Ah—wait—"

Shepard looks at her. For once, the cocky Gunnery Chief looks uncertain. Shepard cups her face. Ashley flick her eyes away. Shepard waits but Ashley can't meet her eyes. "I've…never done this before. Never really thought about it either—until you came along. I'm not a dyke."

"You sounded like one a minute ago." Shepard says. She's angry. Maybe at the word. Maybe because she's in denial. Maybe because they both need each other. Ashley isn't in the mood for games. She reaches for her shirt. Shepard catches her arm. "Slow down." She fumbles for words. "It was a joke."

"We both know it wasn't."

This time Shepard's the one who can't look at her. Her heart shouldn't be straining like this. Her body should be making it hard to think. She has a hand in between Ashley's legs for fuck's sake. "Look… there's a first time for everything. We have something between us. Don't we...?" Ashley's gaze makes it hard to breathe. "Ever since we laid eyes on each other—we've been curious." She kisses her jaw. "Don't deny it." Her voice is too quiet. She isn't if she's making a demand or a request.

Ashley breathes shakily. "This isn't why you saved me, is it?"

"Is that who you think I am?" Shepard snaps. Ashley flinches as if she's been slapped. Shepard isn't sure if she's grieving or livid. "I didn't kill off a close friend so I could fuck you, Williams."

She runs her fingers over Shepard's face. "I've never been able to figure you out. Everything's so crazy right now. I feel like I'm losing it." She bows her head, her forehead brushing against Shepard's. "I guess I'm still trying to make sense of things."

"Sometimes you can't. Sometimes things just happen. Things just are."

"Am I ever going to make sense of you?"

Shepard pulls Ashley's hands from her face. "I don't know. Everything takes time. Hunting rogue Spectres doesn't allow much time for getting to know one another." She slides her hands along Ashley's sides. She meets her gaze. "I'd like to. We don't have to fuck." Fucking would be easy. It would be nice. "You can go. We can talk. Or kiss." She smirks. "Make love."

She's uncertain and irritated. "Something funny about the last?"

No. There's nothing funny about the last. "I just happen to do a really good job of pissing you off." She settles her hands on Ashley's waist and pulls her closer. "Dykes aren't usually interested in 'making love' with other women. Fucking's all right if you're curious."

"Anyone ever tell you you're a bit of a bitch sometimes?"

Shepard laces their fingers. "Always." She waits. Ashley stares at her as if trying to make her out, figure out the truth in the snare of words she's laid out. "Are you scared...?" It's a genuine question. It's a taunt. Ashley dips her face, kisses her neck, claims her mouth. Shepard isn't sure if it's she or Ashley who groans softly. Shepard guides her onto her back. She continues until Ashley becomes a nervous, but enthusiastic participant. Ashley gasps when Shepard slips her fingers into her. She's ready, taking her deep. Their eyes meet, Ashley's fingertips on Shepard's face, her hard, rasping breaths, making them both flush.

Ashley grinds her center against Shepard's hand, swearing under her breath. Shepard smiles, surprised, happy but Ashley closes her eyes, as if wanting to shut the moment away, hips bucking against her before stilling. Shepard breathes just as hard.

Ashley opens her eyes, satisfied and guilty, warm and trembling. "We're supposed to be mourning." Any lightness in her voice is betrayed by the shift of her gaze.

"Everyone mourns differently." She wants to ask how Ashley is. How it was. How she feels. Physically, mentally, emotionally. She makes a joke about Kaidan enjoying the show instead. Feelings are hard.

"You're awful." Ashley faces her, running her hand along Shepard's abdomen. Shepard welcomes the heat of her hand, her touch. Ashley's next words leave her dizzy and cold. "We shouldn't have done that. This was a mistake."

"You didn't like it?" Shepard asks. Ashley looks away. She's lying. Is she lying...? Shepard's stomach churns. She sits up. "Do you feel guilty? Don't. Everyone needs... comfort. It's all right, Ash. Trust me. You and I have a good thing going on here. We could have a good thing."

"What do you want?"

"You know what I want. Who I want." She's getting frustrated. She shouldn't have asked her to stay. She thought they had a connection. Maybe she only saw what she wanted to see. "Fuck, Ash. If you want to go, go." Shepard wonders which loss makes her eyes water, which one is preferable.

Ashley looks at her a long time. Tentatively, she presses closer.