Commander Shepard let out a long sigh as Admiral Hackett's image faded from the vidcomm. It was tempting - incredibly tempting - to just stay in here. She didn't want to face anyone; didn't want to face the questions and condolences that would follow her around the ship. Like always, though, she only took a moment to herself before striding purposefully into the war room.

As she descended the steps into the war room, Victus broke off his conversation with Garrus. He closed the distance between Shepard and himself quickly, eyes flicking over her to assure himself she was alright before his gaze caught hers. Her blue eyes were rimmed with red, her jaw set a little too firmly.

He had no idea how to comfort her without publicly crossing the line they'd crashed through in her quarters last night. He wasn't entirely sure what he would have done to comfort her even without that concern, so he settled on praising her accomplishments. When they shook hands, he let the contact linger as he held her gaze, trying to let offer comfort and support.

She seemed to appreciate it, at least she didn't break the contact between them or move away from him for a long moment. Her eyes held his and she gripped his hand tightly before moving away. He fell into step beside her, speaking of the resources he could now offer to the war effort. He informed her that Garrus would be coordinating them, then he moved off, continuing around the information display to his console to relay the orders.

He could hear Shepard and Garrus speaking quietly together; her voice cracked and her breath caught, and when he looked up, she was enveloped in Vakarian's arms, head resting on his armored chest. Victus' breath caught in his throat, eyes narrowing.

He forced himself to look at his console, to create and send the orders he had come over here to deal with. He had no business feeling territorial; he hadn't even spoken to Shepard about his conflicting feelings. He knew he had no justification for wanting to warn Vakarian away from her, and yet that was precisely what he wanted to do. He forced his attention back to the console and completed sending his orders.

When he looked up again, Vakarian's arms were still around her, his unscarred mandible resting on the top of her head, and one hand smoothing comfortingly over her hair. Victus forced his eyes away from the two, trying to contain the sheer jealousy he felt that Vakarian got to touch her in such an intimate fashion.

Without meaning to, his eyes found their way back to Commander Shepard. She hadn't moved, aside from the shaking of her shoulders, but Vakarian was another story. He still held her, but his head was raised, mandibles drooping and eyes wide with shock as he looked back at the Primarch. It was only then that Victus realized his mistake. He'd reacted instinctively, his sub vocal tones growling a clear warning to Vakarian to stay away. He cut the sound off with a sharp cough and turned away, going up the steps to a console on the far side of the upper level and resolutely turning his back.

A few minutes later, Victus heard the door to the war room open and close, and he breathed a sigh of relief. They must have left. At least now he could work without distractions. Later, perhaps, he could sort out the tangle of emotions and possibly go talk to Shepard about it.

His thoughts were cut off by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. He didn't turn, and a second later Vakarian was there, standing closer than a subordinate had any right to, a challenging scowl on his face.

"Alright, Victus, what the hell was that?"

The Primarch scowled, straightening to his full height and leveling a glare at his advisor. "Back off, Vakarian, and watch your tone. I've granted you a lot of leeway, but that doesn't give you the right to threaten me. Back off, or get out."

He watched as Vakarian considered it, then agreed with a small nod before stepping back. "Alright, Primarch. But you will tell me what that was all about."

Victus knew he couldn't lie, but neither could he explain a situation he himself didn't understand, and he absolutely wasn't going to talk about his confused thoughts and feelings; turning back to the console, he settled for taking the high road, and ignored the problem.

"What it's about is none of your business, Vakarian. Besides, you have work to do, so get to it."

Garrus opened his mouth to object, then closed it with a sly look. "Of course, Primarch, I'll get right on that. If you'll excuse me." He turned to leave, fully intending to go get the information out of Shepard.

Victus offered him a lazy grin. "Not at all, Vakarian, I have an open channel for you right here. Secure and everything." He stepped out of the way, waving one hand at the console he'd been using. When Vakarian stepped over to it with a sigh, Victus just grinned, and made his way confidently out of the war room.

His confidence left him as soon as the door closed, but he continued, stopping to ask Specialist Traynor where Shepard was. When she told him the Commander had already gone to her cabin, he thanked her, and boarded the elevator, ignoring the woman's curious gaze and half hearted protest that she didn't think the Commander wanted any company.

When the elevator doors opened on the top floor, the bright red light on Shepard's door bore out Traynor's words; she clearly didn't want to company. He crossed the hallway anyway, and pushed the button for the chime. When there was no answer, he pushed it again. After several minutes with still no answer, he tilted his head to the side, considering.

He could ask the ship's AI to let Shepard know it was him, but if she still denied him access - which seemed likely, given the lock and that she was ignoring the door chime - then he would be out of options. On the other hand, if he simply hacked the door, then he would at least have a chance to talk to her before she kicked him out.

With a grim smile, he activated his omni tool. She wasn't the only one who liked to live dangerously. Less than a minute later, the lock changed to green and he entered her quarters, letting the door slide shut and lock behind him.

The room was dark, aside from the glow of lights in the fish tank. It was also silent, making her ragged breathing obvious. He walked slowly down the steps to give his eyes a chance to adjust when she spoke from the corner of the sofa.

"Garrus? Did you hack the lock on my door?"

Victus froze, his thoughts crashing to a stop. She expected Vakarian? His heart felt frozen within him, and only the quiver in her voice stopped him from snarling at her and leaving. Instead, he forced his voice to remain steady as he answered her.

"Well, I did hack the door, but I'm not Garrus." As his pride shouted at him to shut up, he added, "I'll just go. Vakarian's working, but I'll send him up when he's finished."

He turned and made his way to the door in half the time it had taken him to get this far. The door foiled his getaway attempt though, remaining stubbornly locked. He growled at it, calling up his omni tool to hack the lock again, when he heard movement behind him.

"Adrien? You came. I didn't think you would." And then she was there, reaching around him to turn off his omni tool before stepping in front of him. Her hands came to rest on his face, pulling his head down until their foreheads brushed. She leaned into the contact, and he returned the pressure, settling his hands at her waist.

"Of course I came. You're hurt." He spoke the words as if they were a simple matter of cause and effect, and not an indication of his feelings for her. Somehow she seemed to understand, though; she let her hands slip down from his face, wrapped her arms around his neck, and leaned into him.

"He's dead, Adrien. Mordin's dead." Her voice shook, and he wrapped his arms around her tightly, lifting her and carrying her back to the sofa. When he sat, he didn't relinquish his hold on her; she curled up on the sofa next to him, leaning hard against him. "He knew what would happen when he went up in that tower. And he went anyway."

Victus hummed softly, knowing that even though she wouldn't hear the sub vocal tones, sitting this close she would be able to feel them; he hoped it would be soothing. He tried to remember what she had done to comfort him; recalling the gentle brush of her cheek against his brow plates, he turned his head to nuzzle her hair. He kept his arms tightly around her, and just let her talk, let her grieve.

Shepard told him about working with Mordin on the mission to stop the Collectors. She told him about the one sided, mile-a-minute conversations she'd had with Mordin; about making a game of where he would put the long inhales to emphasize his point. She told him about Mordin's retirement plans. And she told him about the salarian's last words to her.

Finally, she sighed and fell silent. He could feel that she was more relaxed now, her breathing more even. Victus was wondering if he should stay or make his excuses and go; when she pushed away from him his heart fell. She just leaned forward and touched the control panel on her table, bringing the lights up enough that she could see his face. Then she settled back next to him, this time sitting where she could watch his face.

"So, Adrien. You hacked my door, huh?"

He cleared his throat nervously. "Well. Yes. You didn't answer the chime."

"Usually, a locked door and an ignored chime mean 'do not disturb.'" She sounded more amused than annoyed, at least. "Why didn't you ask EDI to help?"

"Well... if I had asked EDI, you still might have sent me away."

She definitely looked amused; even reddened, her eyes were dancing with mischief. "And even knowing that was likely, you still decided to hack the door?"

His mandibles flared wide in a grin. "What was it you told me? It's easier to ask forgiveness?"

She laughed, and moved so she was sitting on his lap, facing him.

"I did say that, didn't I?" Her grin faded, and she caught and held his gaze. "I'm glad you came, Adrien. I didn't think you would. Thank you."

When she leaned forward and kissed him, he struggled with himself. They really needed to talk. He leaned away, intending to say something, when her hands came up to brush over his face again. He watched her, this time, utterly enraptured her focus.

This was the feeling from last night; then, he'd brushed it away, had let himself get caught up in the excitement of her. Now, he sat still, eyes on her face, and tried to chase the feeling down.

She was taking her time about it, her fingers running lightly along each line of his colony markings. Her eyes traced the patterns with her fingers; her focus was absolute. When she had trailed her fingers over each line and curve, she moved on to tracing the edges of his facial plates and the shape of his mandibles. The time and effort she put into learning the smallest details of him was something no one had ever done before; somehow, he knew this was more than just the same attention she gave a battlefield translated to something more personal. This wasn't just part of her character, this was something unique to them; something she did because somehow he mattered to her. When her eyes focused on his again, she smiled.

This time, it was his turn; he took her hands and set them on his shoulders, giving her a warning look that told her to leave them there. Then he reached up, one talon probing at the tight knot of her hair until he found the pins. Gently removing them, he was pleased when her hair tumbled down around her shoulders. He ran both hands through her hair, letting it slide between his fingers as he learned the texture of it. His attentions brought the curls back to life, and as he reached the ends, they sprang back to frame her face. He wound a single curl around his talon, rubbing it between his fingers before releasing it. When he had played with her hair enough to satisfy his curiosity, he switched to running his fingers over her face; thumbs brushing across her cheekbones, fingers tracing her eyebrows, one talon set on the faint worry line between her eyebrows, running his fingers over her lips, then trailing them down her throat as she let her head fall back encouragingly.

When he stopped, she brought her eyes back to his, a small smile playing around her lips, eyes shining. Victus sighed, he'd put this off long enough; if he delayed any longer they'd end up back in her bed, and while he definitely hoped they would repeat that experience, he couldn't stand it if they weren't on the same page when they did.

"Kel, I... we need to talk. I need to know what we're doing." When she raised an amused eyebrow, he started backpedaling. "Well, not right now- I mean, I need to know right now, but I don't need to know what we're doing right now..." his voice trailed off with a groan. This was going poorly.

Shepard watched as the light faded from Adrien's eyes, replaced by worry. As he floundered to a stop, she fought down the nerves he was calling up in her and put on a bright smile.

"Well, while you figure out what you want to know and when, maybe you could answer a question for me?"

Her tone was even and lightly teasing, her hands rubbing softly over his shoulders, but his look was still wary as he answered. "Of course..." He wasn't sure if her question would be a welcome relief, or worse than what he was trying to discuss; but at least he was off the hook for a moment.

"Is 'tiebreaker' some sort of turian code word for sex?" She said it in the same tone she'd use for asking the time.

It was the last question he expected. "What?" He spluttered, then stared at her for a heartbeat, before he burst into laughter. "Is it a code word?! Where did you get an idea like that?"

Shepard grinned. He was relaxed again, so that was a win; he hadn't noticed when her hands slid off his shoulders and she twined her fingers together behind his neck - another win.

"Well, a while ago, Garrus was telling me a story about him and some recon scout, and it ended with," she lowered her voice, adopting a serious expression as she imitated her friend, "'We held a tiebreaker in her quarters. She had reach, but I had flexibility. More than one way to blow off steam I guess.'" She finished and grinned at him hopefully.

Victus just blinked at her. "Vakarian said that? And since I mentioned a tiebreaker last night, you thought..." He was chuckling again, and tried to contain himself enough to answer her before the laughter overwhelmed him. "No, it isn't a code word for anything. A match like the one we had definitely shows off one's desirable qualities, though; any turian who saw you fight - let alone participated - would have a hard time not desiring you. I imagine Vakarian felt the same way about his recon scout."

He laughed again, but this time it was more than halfway fueled by nerves; discussing Vakarian reminded him why he needed an answer to the question he was trying to ask.

As his laughter faded, Adrien found himself studying the Kel's face. Reaching up, he tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear, then let his talons linger lightly against her cheek. Suddenly, he had all the motivation he needed to get past his nervousness.

"May I ask you a personal question, Commander?"

She nodded, her eyes steady on his.

"What is between you and Vakarian?" Adrien's voice dropped and roughened with his words, leaving no doubts of the intent behind his question. A slight smile teased Kel's lips.

"Respect. Trust. Friendship," she answered.

There was more of a growl to his words now. "And between us?"

Now her smile grew and deepened, seeming to light her eyes from within.


A/N: And that's the end, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed reading! Any comments are appreciated. Thank you for sticking with me until the end.