Hello, and welcome back, guys. I'm sorry if this chapter took so long to push out to you. But what I lack in quick updates, I make up for in content! Indeed, this chapter comes in at a whopping 6000 words! This is my largest update by far. And I do it for you guys, because I like you. But only as friends.

Anyway, since we're now (well, as of the last chapter) onto the main plot, I thought I'd take a second to talk about my Shepard. He's an all paragon Sentinel that saved the council, made nice between the Geth and the Quarians, saved Ashley, and destroyed the Collector Base. I'm also kind of a fan of mixing in powers from other classes, to an extent. So you may see Shepard break out Incinerate, or grenades, or Pull. I'm also the type that thinks that other characters shouldn't be confined to just two particular weapons. Does Tali prefer shotguns and pistols? Sure. But she'll use other weapons, too. As will all the rest of the characters.

I may not have mentioned this before, but I want to offer my eternal thanks to ysssw for their unending patience and willingness to help me out with with my fanfiction. I am definitely a better writer for it. And my thanks to all those that have favorited, followed, and reviewed. I love the email notifications when someone faves/follows, and reading the reviews you guys post. So keep 'em comin!

Onto the chapter!

John stood up and took aim at the nearest turret. He was only able to fire off a handful shots from his M-96 Mattock, however, before return fire drained his shields to critical levels, and he was forced to take cover again. The turrets shields held against his shots as it continued to fire, easily shrugging off his attack.

A few feet to his right, James popped up and fired before he, too, was forced to duck back down. Even still, his shots did nothing to chip away at turret shields.

They'd been fighting like this for a little over five minutes, taking turns emerging from cover, firing their weapons or tech abilities, before ducking back into cover, and hadn't made a dent in either of the two turrets. At this rate, it was just a matter of time before they ran out of thermal clips.

Just a few feet in front of the group, but well out of cover, EDI's body lay on the ground, the occasional twitch of one of her "limbs" the only source of movement from her mechanical body. Unfortunately, EDI had been the first to fall victim to the ambush, and with it, nearly 20% of Shepard's squad for this mission.

"Overloading shields!" "Deploying Tech Overload!" came Garrus and Miranda's voices, respectively, as the duo stood up to John's left and attempted to distract one of the turrets. As before, though, their attacks did nothing against the overpowered shields of the turrets.

"Shepard, we've got more of those constructs heading our way!" Miranda's voice rang out among the din, causing John to swear to himself.

The hard light constructs, modeled after LOKI mechs, had appeared immediately after the turrets, and while they themselves were not particularly dangerous, the weapons they carried were. This was the third wave that they were going to have to deal with, each wave further taxing his teams resources. Whatever tech was behind them, though, made them immune to many of his teams attacks, with the exception of being shot.

"Tali," he called out to the Quarian, who was in her own cover behind him and offset from his position. "We're about to run out of bullets here. Gonna need you to do something!" He stood up again, firing off another trio of shots, dropping a construct. "Soon!"

"I'm working on it! Just a bit longer, Shepard!" Tali's voice came back, stress evident in her tone.

Whatever "it" was, Shepard didn't know, nor could he spare the attention. All he knew was that it had something to do with splicing a data cable through her suit, which enabled her to interface with the local computer network via her omni-tool. From there, she was trying to hack into the turrets, and shut them down. Beyond that, he'd stopped paying attention, instead choosing to focus on helping his squad.

Checking his supply of thermal clips, John swore under his breath again. They'd be out of options in a few more minutes if something didn't go their way.

Compartmentalizing his thoughts about the situation, John focused on doing the one thing he could: keeping his squad alive. Glancing over the tactical display on his faceplate, he worked to coordinate their efforts.

"Garrus, you've got a construct closing in on your right," he warned his Turian friend. "James, the one you shot a second ago is down, but still inching it's way to you. About a foot and a half closer than before."

"Roger, Loco," James replied, as Garrus let loose a cheer.

"Scoped and dropped!"

"Miranda," he said, purposefully not calling her by his nickname for her. "Your shields are still a little low. Give them a few seconds to fully charge."

"I've got it, Shepard," came her terse reply, her tone setting off alarm bells in the back of his mind.

"Miranda, wait a few more seconds. The rest of us can cover you. Stay in cover," he ordered, keeping his voice firm.

"John, there's two headed your way. I can get one," she replied stubbornly.

"Miranda! Miri, stay down!" John shouted. He watched in horror as she stood again, attempting to destroy one of the constructs coming his way. He knew that her shields hadn't had a chance to recover from her last exposure, and between the turrets and the constructs, she'd need all the shield power she could get.

"I've got it, Shepard. I-aah!" Whatever she was about to say was cut off, though, as her shields suddenly failed under the stress and a trio of shots pierced her body.

John watched in horror as the love of his life fell limply to the ground.

2 days earlier

"Commanding officer, SSV Normandy, arriving," came EDI's voice from the overhead speakers as John stepped out of the shuttle and into the docking bay of the Normandy. As he made a beeline for the elevator, the rest of his squad, minus James, fell into step around him. The marine, having been injured in the attack aboard the dreadnought, had been in the med bay when the explosion in the hangar bay had gone off. As such, he'd not only been bumped down on the list of priority injuries, but he'd also missed the shuttle back to the Normandy, delaying his return by several hours.

"Shepard. How was the promotion ceremony? Pretty uneventful, I'd imagine," Joker called down to the shuttle bay via the the overhead speakers. Though it sounded joking, John could hear the relief in the undercurrent his words.

"It was fine, Joker. A couple of dead assassins. A death threat aimed at myself and everyone close to me. An explosion in the shuttle bay. Oh. And James was shot. He'll be fine, though. Pretty normal fare," John replied.

"An explosion, huh? We can't take you anywhere nice, can we, Shepard?" Joker said. "You at least got your medal, right? I'd hate for Vega to have taken a bullet, just so that you could go and forget to bring your medal back."

John heard Tali giggle behind him. John, for his part, simply covered his face with the palm of his hand and let out a sigh while shaking his head.

"I believe what Joker is trying to say, Captain," EDI's voice chimed in. "Is that he is happy that you and everyone else are OK."

"Thank you, EDI. Thanks, Joker," he added sardonically as he and the group boarded the elevator. "What can I say? I like to keep things interesting."

"You know, with the ever present threat that somebody is going to start shooting at him, I don't think there's ever been a dull moment when Shepard is around," Garrus mused out loud.

"What was that, Garrus? I couldn't hear you over the memory of you taking a missile to the face," John shot back jokingly. He had to work not to laugh when Garrus' mandibles opened in shock. It took the Turian several seconds of sputtering before he was able to respond.

"Hey, that only happened after you showed up. I blame you for that, Shepard," Garrus replied as he ran a taloned hand along the scars.

Tali swatted at Garrus' hand, prompting him to lower it. "Shoosh. I like your scars, Garrus." She turned her attention to John. "Besides, it's not just being shot at around you that keeps things interesting. Let's not forget about your dancing," she teased, causing Garrus to chuckle and Miranda to smile at the Quarian's ribbing.

"You two have no right to complain. You've never had to try his cooking," Miranda chimed in. "It's easily just as bad as his dancing."

There was a subtle pause as everyone in the elevator mulled over Miranda's comment. The silence was broken with another giggle from Tali while John merely sighed again.

"Right there. That's the moment that I've decided that I'm happy to be dextro," Garrus muttered under his breath.

John cleared his throat, signalling the end of their jesting, and bringing them all back to the current situation. "EDI, can I have you contact the crew and alert them that leave is cancelled, and they're to return to the ship immediately? Then track down everyone in the squad that's still in-system, let them know what's going on, and see if they want to join us. Joker, your job is much harder: get our ship ready to go. How long will that take?"

"Between getting stores loaded, recalling the crew, and prepping the ship, I'd say about 4 hours."

Shepard thought for a moment. "OK. Let everyone know that if they're not here in 6 hours, we're leaving without them."

"Yes, Captain." "Sure thing, Captain." Came EDI and Joker's responses, respectively. .

The elevator stopped at deck 3, John looked at Tali and held out a hand, indicating that she pause a moment before stepping off the elevator.

"Tali, you mind stopping down by Engineering, and helping to get the core up and running?"

His request was greeted with a nod by the engineer. "Of course, Shepard," she responded. "Just need to take care of a few things, then I'll head right down."

"Thank you," John said, smiling at her. Behind her helmet, he could barely perceive a crinkling around her eyes, indicating her smile in return, before she left the elevator and made her way to the common area. Garrus, meanwhile, turned to face Shepard and placed a hand on the human's shoulder and nodded solemnly.

"Glad you're OK, Shepard. After all we've been through, I don't think any of us could imagine losing you now. And, if you had died, I wouldn't have the pleasure of out-shooting you all the time," the Turian joked, prompting the Spectre to chuckled and shake his head before Garrus, too, turned and strode out of the elevator.

Not one to let anything go, John placed one hand up to his face and called out. "It was one time, Garrus! I'm still ahead!"

"Keep telling yourself that," came a final taunt just as the doors closed, sealing Miranda and a smiling Shepard in while they ascended to the loft.

Miranda stood, lost in thought, her eyes firmly glued to the forward bulkhead of the elevator. John stepped over and leaned over into her field of vision, causing the former Cerberus operative to blink out of her thoughts and meet his blue eyes, a sympathetic smile on his face.

"Hey you," he said nonchalantly. "You doing OK?"

Returning the smile, Miranda visibly let her guard down slightly. "I'm fine, John. Just thinking about today, that's all."

"Anything you wanna talk about?" He asked, dropping the smile and studying her face. A moment later reached the captain's loft and opened it's door, allowing them to leave.

They walked into his cabin and Miranda made her way down the short steps to the foot of the bed, working to undo the zipper that held her dress in place. John, for his part, stripped out of his dress clothes as he walked to the edge of the steps and stopped, leaning against the dividing wall that held his models, choosing to let her get her thoughts in order. He watched her for a minute as she continued to fight with the zipper.

"Do you need a hand with that?" He asked finally.

She glanced over her shoulder at him before smiling sweetly. "Yes, please. Would you mind?"

Walking down the steps, he met her at the foot of the bed. "Of course," he said, returning her smile, which only grew as he finished unzipping her dress and planted a gentle kiss on her shoulder.

Miranda let her outfit fall to the floor before taking a step to the drawers where her catsuits were stored. John found his eyes roving across her mostly naked form, wordlessly burning the image into his mind. Mid-step, however, she stopped and spun around, instead walking past him to one of his drawers and extracting one of his N7 t-shirts before slipping it on. John silently admired the way it fell on her delicate frame, ending just below her panties.

Having arranged her thoughts and letting herself get more comfortable, Miranda finally looked over at John. In her face, he could see her inner turmoil. She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again for a second, before starting again.

"I guess you could say that I'm disappointed. In Cerberus, and in myself. I saw some of the initial reports after helping Hackett with Cerberus holdouts, and the number of Cerberus operatives turning themselves in was very encouraging." Miranda said as she walked to the couch and delicately sat down, tucking her legs underneath herself.

John stepped over and joined her, wrapping one arm around the back of the couch and around her, inviting her to rest her head against his shoulder before she continued. "It was encouraging enough for me to let my guard down. To get complacent. And then those damned Fangs had to show up and ruin the party, just when it felt like things were going to settle down," she paused again. "Well, at least as much as things settle down around you," She added, smiling lightly up at him.

"What can I say? I like to keep things interesting. Would you still be with me if I were boring?" he joked before adopting a more serious tone. "I don't understand why you're disappointed in yourself, though. You had to know that there would be Cerberus holdouts."

"You're right. I should have known. I just didn't expect them to react so quickly, or to strike so boldly. And because I failed, James was...injured." Her voice retained all of its normal strength, but here in the confines of his cabin, she allowed some of her self-doubt to show. It was evident in the way she looked down at her hands, which were now clasped in her lap, and fidgeted with the seam of the shirt she now wore.

"Hang on a second," he interjected. "You didn't fail. There was no way you could have anticipated this. The Fangs made a pretty brazen attack onboard a Alliance dreadnought. They were the ones who failed." He paused a moment and looked down into her face, locking eyes with her. "If you didn't act when you did, the way you did, I could very well be dead right now. There are times when you need to act and accept the consequences, and times when you want to act, in spite of the consequences. You saved my life, Miri."

"I just couldn't bear the thought of something happening to you," she said softly.

"Don't worry," he said, his voice as full as confidence as he could make it. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise." To punctuate his message, he leaned in and planted a soft kiss on her lips, as he did so, he felt some of her tension melt away as she returned the kiss. After they broke apart, he leaned back against the couch while Miranda ran one hand up and down his chest.

Several seconds passed by, before he spoke up again.

"You know, it's a good thing you acted when you did. After all, with Cerberus gone, I can't think of anyone who'd pay to bring me back to life again," he said, an air of thoughtfulness in his voice. He was rewarded with a laugh from Miranda. She didn't rise to his baiting, but that was hardly the point. "Now, speaking of keeping things interesting," He trailed off as he ran his eyes up and down her partly naked form.

A glint came to her eyes at his allusion, and this time it was she who leaned forward to plant a hungry kiss on his lips. She'd just let loose a soft moan when a voice came from the overhead intercom.

"Captain?" EDI's voice floated from the ceiling.

John leaned his forehead against Miranda's as he groaned. After a second of cursing his luck, he straightened up and replied. "Yes, EDI?" he answered, hoping the AI would keep her questions brief so that John and Miranda could enjoy what little time they had together before departing on their mission.

"My apologies for interrupting. But Joker asked me to notify you that the Council has hailed us." In the background, John could hear Joker sputtering excuses. "They wish to speak with you. Joker has also requested that I ask Miranda what our destination will be."

Taken aback by the realization that he himself didn't know where they were headed, John merely looked at Miranda and raised an eyebrow inquisitively, wordlessly encouraging her to answer the pilot's question. Her answer, though, wasn't something that he expected.

T-Minus 4 hour to system departure

John stood in front of the QEC with his arms crossed and leaned back to place his weight on one leg. Stifling a frustrated sigh, John merely opted to clench his jaw as he wondered, for what felt like the umpteenth time, why he hadn't simply ordered Joker to cut off the call. Before him, Councilor Valern continued his tirade about the assassination attempt.

"At this point, Captain Shepard, I fail to see a reason why we should believe that this is part of a larger plot, and not an isolated incident. Do you have any proof that there are more of these 'Fangs of Cerberus,' Captain? And why would they go after you? In the same room was the leadership of galactic civilization and the Alliance military. Why target you, of all people?"

John leveled a glare at the Salarian Councilor and waited several seconds before responding, deliberating forcing the fast talking Salarian to wait for his answer. Simultaneously, he was buying time to reign in his anger at the Councilor's insult. Holding out one hand, he began ticking reasons off on each of his fingers.

"Besides the fact that they were shooting at me? Their allusion to 'never escaping the Fangs' implies that there are more of them out there. I'm the one that is being credited with the death of the Illusive Man. I spearheaded the assault on Cronos Station. I've eliminated who knows how many of their cells and troopers. I stole the Normandy after our assault on the Collector base. Let's not forget that I foiled their attack on the Citadel, and saved your lives in the process. I'm not sure, Councilor. Is there a particular reason that they'd target you?" He kept his poker face in place, despite his desire to smile as a flash of anger passed over the Salarian Councilors face.

Before Valern could retort, Councilor Tevos stepped in smoothly to relieve some of the tension that was manifesting between the Spectre and the Salarian Councilor.

"I believe that, with our arguing amongst one another, we are losing sight of what is important here," she said diplomatically, though her gaze continued to drift towards Valern. "Regardless of who the Fangs of Cerberus were sent to kill, it was still an assassination attempt. This Council has ignored Captain Shepard's warnings in the past, and we've all been proven wrong. I, for one, am willing to act on good faith."

Tevos looked to her right and met the eyes of Councilor Sparatus who nodded in agreement. Valern merely crossed crossed his arms and frowned further.

"Very well," continued Tevos. "Captain Shepard, on behalf of the Council, you are to investigate whoever is responsible for this assassination attempt. If there are more of them, you may use whatever force you deem necessary to neutralize the threat."

With that, the call was ended, leaving John alone in the comm room. Replaying the last minute of his conversation with the Council, he couldn't help but shake his head in bemusement.

Three years, rogue Spectres, Reapers, Collectors, Reapers again, two assassination attempts, and now they choose to start believing me, he thought to himself, smiling grimly. Shaking off his foul mood, he turned and walked out of the communication room and into the strategy center. What was once the central hub of information and coordination for the war had largely gone unused in the last few weeks. Stepping down to the center console, he logged in and began reviewing reports that had come in the few hours since the attack.

"EDI," he called out, not taking his eyes off of the screen in front of him, even when the AI's avatar materialized in the central holographic interface.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Have we received responses from anyone else on the squad?"

Thus far, he'd heard only heard back in the affirmative from Javik and Ashley, who were currently on the Citadel engaged in cleanup operations. Garrus, Tali, and Liara hadn't left, their unspoken support indicating that they would go with him. Vega was on his way back to the ship after finally being allowed to leave the Tai Shan.

Jacob had declined, citing Brynn's pregnancy as the reason. Grunt had also refused, though his excuse was simply because he was enjoying clearing out Reaper holdouts. While the Reapers themselves may have left, they hadn't extracted their forces prior to their departure, which left a lot of enemy ground troops to eliminate. Practically a field day for him.

"I have yet to receive a reply from Zaeed, Jack, or Kasumi, though the latter is unsurprising. Samara has said that she can't join us for approximately a week," the AI paused for a moment. "Correction. Jack has responded. Would you like me to open a channel?"

John perked up at the news. As abrasive as her personality had been, Jack had come a long way after the suicide mission, so hopefully this time around she wouldn't scare off the rest of the crew. And he had a feeling that the powerful biotic would have an important part to play in the upcoming mission.

"Of course. Put her through, EDI," John answered enthusiastically. EDI's avatar vanished to be replaced by a holo of Jack's face, which faded in and out before the image finally solidified, albeit a bit off color.

"Hey, Shepard. Good to see the cheerleader is letting you out of the bedroom from time to time. She must be enjoying herself, fuckin' the savior of the galaxy and all," she greeted.

He couldn't help but smile at her comments. "What can I say? Tactical Cloak is helpful in more than just combat situations. How are you doing, Jack?"

"Me?" Even with the image cutting out here and there, the joy on her face was evident. "I'm good. I've got my brat kids. We kicked some major Reaper ass. And, as it turns out, when you save ground troops with barriers, they fuckin' love ya. They keep trying to buy my kids shots. Fortunately, I'm there to take those for 'em."

"I'm happy to hear that, Jack," he said sincerely. "I take it that means you won't be joining us?"

"Nope," she replied, shaking her head. "I've got a good thing going here. Not gonna fuck that up, ya know?"

"I completely understand. Let me know if you change your mind, OK?"

"Yeah, sure thing. Where are ya going, anyway, boy scout? Gonna go help a krogan get his pet vorcha that's stuck in a tree?"

"Probably the last place you'd expect," he answered. As he revealed their destination, he watched her expression rapidly fluctuate from surprise, to shock, to suspicion, to finally settling on the cold fury that had marked many of their early encounters.

"When you're done, do me a favor, and set a bomb in the middle of that fucking place, too," she said, her voice steely. She looked away for a few seconds as she recomposed herself. When she looked back, the anger had dissipated. "I gotta go, Shepard. But tell everyone I said hey."

"We will, Jack. You take care of yourself," he replied, nodding.

"Always do." With those final words, the comm channel cut out.

T-minus 3 hours 30 minutes to system departure

John walked into the CIC and over to the elevator doors, tapping the green door unlock while he reviewed incoming reports on his tablet. So engrossed was he that when he absentmindedly stepped into the elevator, he found himself almost walking straight into Miranda. She stood in front of him clad in black and gold catsuit she first began wearing after their mission to rescue Oriana from Niket nearly a year ago.

"Miranda," he said, greeting her with a smile which she returned. Recovering from the surprise, he looked her up and down, before stepping to stand next to her, noting that she was headed to deck 3 as well. He'd always preferred the contrast of the gold and black catsuit over the black and white one. It seemed to bring out her eyes more. But since she'd only managed to pick up one, it very seldomly made its way into the rotation.

"A little engrossed, are we, John?" She asked, teasingly, indicating the reports still in his hand.

"A bit," he admitted, holding up the reports in question. "Mission briefings, before we head out. Anything you want to add to them?"

"Oh, I'm sure there will be. The Alliance's information on Cerberus was hardly complete. It'll be interesting to get an insiders perspective on how much they knew, exactly."

"Probably not nearly as much as we'd like," he conceded. "So, what's on deck 3?"

"I'm just coming to check on James before stopping down in the shuttle bay to talk to Steve about getting a uniform. I can't exactly be in the Alliance, and wear a Cerberus uniform, can I?" she asked, jokingly, as the doors opened up and they both stepped off the elevator. "You?"

"Same, just minus the uniform bit. Got enough of those to last me a lifetime. Even if I sometimes opt to wear other things on the ship," he joked, as they turned the corner.

John stepped into the medbay first and glanced around as Miranda strode in behind him. On the furthest bed, James lay on his side with a medical rode wrapped around him, his back to the door. Doctor Chakwas was busy looking over the gunshot wounds he'd sustained aboard the Tai Shan.

"Come in, Captain," Chakwas called out, not bothering to take her eyes away from her duties. How she always knew it was him without looking, he could never figure out. "I assume you're here to check on Mr. Vega."

John walked up to stand next to the doctor and glanced at what was taking place on the bed in front of him, before immediately averting his eyes and looking anywhere else. Miranda stepped up next to him to find him very carefully staring at a spot on the wall very near the ceiling. Curious as to what had prompted such a reaction from the Spectre, she, too, looked over at what Doctor Chakwas' practiced hands were doing before she blushed and quickly looked away as well.

After several moments of suppressing his smile, John cleared his throat before speaking up.

"A little indecently exposed, aren't we, Mr. Vega?"

Dr. Chakwas shot a glare his way. "Shepard…" she said under her breath, which did nothing to discourage him from the jokes he planned at James' expense.

"Yes, Doctor? I'm simply saying, I don't want James here to be the butt of any jokes if anybody else walks in," John replied evenly, causing Miranda to suppress a laugh.

"Oh come on, Loco. You can't let me have a little bit of self-respect?" James pleaded from his position on the bed.

John merely smiled, and took pity on the marine. "OK. I just wanted to make sure you would be ready for duty by the time we arrived. Heh. 'Duty.'"

"Really, John? Just terrible." Miranda cut in, rolling her eyes at his comments.

"Quite, Captain. Even I thought you had better taste than that," Dr. Chakwas added. "You can sit up now, James." Taking a step back, she walked over to her desk and cleaned herself up as James adjusted his robe and sat up.

"I'll be fine, Loco. It takes more than a bullet to the ass to keep me down." The bravado was hardly necessary. James was a fine soldier, and John knew it would take more than a stray round to change that.

"He was lucky," Chakwas chimed in from her desk. "One round impacted against his shoulder blade, while the other is nothing more than a flesh wound. The shoulder blade could have been more severe, had it not been for his reinforced bones and heavy skin weaving. Give me a few hours to observe him to make sure no complications arise, and then he'll be free to go."

"Thanks Doc. So, anything you want me to do while I'm stuck here, Loco?"

John shook his head before patting James lightly on his uninjured shoulder. "No. Like I said, I just wanted to make sure you were OK. Rest easy. In the meantime, I should go. I want to take a look over the rest of the ship before we leave. Miranda?"

Miranda looked over at him and shook her head. "Go ahead. I want to stay and talk for a minute. But I'll catch up."

He glanced back and forth between his lover and the man that saved her life, a knowing look in his expression before nodding his head and excusing himself from the med bay.

"James, I...blast. I've never been any good at this." She knew what she wanted to say, but the words had never been easy to utter. As she struggled to put the words together, she glanced around the med bay, hoping she could find something to change the subject. When her eyes alighted on Doctor Chakwas, still diligently at work at her terminal. "Karin, would you mind giving us a moment?"

"Of course. I'll just be right outside, getting a cup of coffee," she replied, standing up and stepping towards the door. She paused at the threshold for a moment and turned to point a finger at James. "But you, behave. Don't make me reapply the medigel, because it'll take that much longer to heal." With those final words, she stepped out of the medbay.

Miranda looked back at James, one eyebrow quirked, to which the James merely shrugged before responding.

"I, uh, I tend to scratch wherever medigel has been applied. Makes the doc kind of angry," he confessed.

"You know, the same thing happens to me. It's the numbing sensation. It itches like crazy," she agreed.

"Exactly!" He exclaimed. "I keep tellin' that to the doc, but she keeps asking me how it can itch when it's numb. At least I'm not the only one." He paused for a moment, looking pensive before speaking up again. "Wait. You need to use medigel, too?"

She crossed her arms and furrowed her brow at his question. "Of course. Why wouldn't I? Genetically I may be perfect, but I'm still flesh and blood. I'm just a woman," she answered.

"That you are," he replied, before realizing what he had said. When he did, he held up his hands and waved them back and forth while simultaneously shaking his head. "I mean, that's not what I meant. Not that I've been looking. Not that you're not worth looking at." His eyes grew wider as he realized what he was saying. "Dios mio, sorry. I just meant that you're a person. Who is important to the captain."

Miranda merely chuckled and shook her head. "It's fine, James. Just focus on your own Spectre, OK?"

"Deal," he said with a nod. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you know about Blues and me, huh?"

She shook her head. "Probably not. You're a good fit for one another."

"Thanks," he said after a moment. "So are you and the captain."

An awkward silence descended over the pair, James idly scratching at his injured shoulder, and Miranda leaning against the bed opposite him.

"So," she said in an effort to break the silence. "Is there anything I can get for you while you're stuck here?"

"You just being nice to me because you're the reason I'm in here?" He asked her bluntly, and Miranda had to suppress a grimace as his question hit a bit too close to home. "Cuz if that's the case, what are the odds I can convince you to sneak in a bottle of tequila for me to drink later?"

"Nothing says 'I'm sorry I'm the reason you got shot' like alcohol, hmm Mr. Vega?"

"You got it, Legs," he said as he smiled. Miranda laughed at his logic as she straightened up.

"In that case, let's call it two bottles, shall we? I'll see what I can dig up. Just don't let Karin catch you with them. Wait here," she said, before turning and walking towards the exit. As she reached the doors, she paused a moment and cast one last glance back at the injured marine who was concentrating on scratching his injured shoulder blade. She may not have apologized like she intended, but she was determined to do what she could to make it up to him. With a new sense of determination in her step, she walked out of the medbay and made her way to the crew lounge.

T-minus 15 minutes to system departure

The elevator doors opened with a swish, allowing John to step into the CIC and walk up the short ramp to the galactic map. He took a moment to stretch his muscles, silent appraising how his body reacted to having spent the last couple hours unloading ship supplies, and was mildly pleased when he found he was considerably less sore than he'd expected. Guess being laid up in the medbay for 5 weeks wasn't all that bad after all.

"Joker," he called to the comm unit. "We ready to go?"

"All systems are green. Just waiting on your go, Captain," came the reply from the cockpit.

Behind him, he heard the elevator door open again and a familiar, authoritative stride of high heels walk up behind him before stopping at the ramp.

"Captain Shepard. Specialist Miranda Lawson, reporting for duty." Turning around, John's gaze alighted on the former Cerberus operative as she saluted, now clad in the standard black, blue, and white uniform of the Alliance. Returning her salute, he noted that she looked almost proud to be in a uniform again.

"Are you ready, Specialist Lawson?" He asked as he drank in the image of her. He'd never found the Alliance uniform particularly flattering. But Miranda, as always, looked stunning.

She smiled mysteriously. "Are you, Captain? After all, now you need to work with me, too."

"True. Except this time you need to work under me," he replied, smiling.

"This wouldn't be the first time. Remember, I'm quite flexible, and willing to do whatever's needed, sir," she stated, managing to be both formal and tempting at the same time. Next to her, Samantha Traynor shuffled uncomfortably at the couples flirting.

"I hadn't forgotten our time during the suicide mission. Carry on, Specialist," he replied, nodding as to Miranda as she walked off towards the war room. After the door closed behind her, he turned to face Traynor, and noted a slightly red hue to her face that wasn't normally there. "Sorry if we distracted you, Sam."

"It's quite alright, sir," she replied in her usual cheerful manner. "Truth be told, I don't blame you. If I were with a woman that beautiful, I-," she stopped herself as she realized what she had said, the red hue from before making a reappearance as full fledged blushing. "Uh, what I mean to say, um, is that she's a very attractive woman, captain. And I'm sure she'll be a very capable member of the crew."

"Indeed, she's quite capable," he agreed, locking his eyes with Traynor's and putting on his best poker face. "At anything she sets her mind to." As he left the comm specialist to ponder the meaning to his words, he reverted back to Captain Shepard, Spectre of the Citadel and captain of the SSV Normandy. Turning back around, he activated the galactic map and selected their destination. "Joker, set course," he ordered.

"Aye, aye, Captain. Next stop, Cronos Station."

And that's the end! What did you guys think about the beginning? And what about their destination? Anyone have any predictions for chapter 7? Let me know in the review section below. All the cool kids are doing it! :D