A Little Old Fashioned.

By: Archer83 and Vergil1989 the Crossover King

Summary: Captain Steve Rogers thought his last sacrificial act would be to save a country from destruction. He was wrong. Thanks to the selfless acts of a few, he will be given the chance to prevent the annihilation of an entire galaxy. Welcome to 2185, Mr. Rogers.

Disclaimer: As much as we'd like to own the Marvel Universe, the Avengers, and Mass Effect, we don't. This is just a fun little project between friends for the enjoyment of everyone that's into fan fiction like we are.

Chapter 1: Lost Soul.

November 29th, 2185

Earth, Arctic Circle.

Alliance Arctic Exploration Group - 'Pathfinder'

Excitement flashed through the young woman's green eyes as she looked over the latest sensor data report of the night. I think I found it! "Sir! I think we've found something here!"

"What is it Kara? Please don't let this be another half eaten mammoth. Getting woken up at three in the morning, to look at ancient road kill, is not my idea of a good time Lieutenant." Major Thomas Danvers wondered for the third time that day who he must have seriously pissed off at HQ, as he looked into the excited young officer's eyes. Figures that I get stuck babysitting the Admiral's daughter on her little 'field trip'.

"Don't worry Major, I think you'll be interested in this." The ever cheery brunette quickly handed over her datapad to the expedition CO. "Tell me Major, what does that look like to you?"

Half heartedly taking the device from her, Davers paused as his eyes scanned over the readings. "Son of a bitch... Some type of old style aircraft fuselage? It's big, for an old relic." Danvers started to wave over his second-in-command, as he peered closer at the scanner image. "Nicely done Lieutenant. Looks like this wasn't a gigantic waste of time and resources after all."

"I never go after legends without some kind of evidence to back my search of it. I had a feeling this was here." Pulling up an old report she had found by accident while digging through the Systems Alliance' archives back home, Kara let Danvers read it over. When his eyes widened at what he had just read, Kara confirmed it. "We found a relic from World War II, an old Hydra drop ship sent on a trip to decimate every world capital at that time."

Before Danvers could say anything, someone interrupted him. "What's up sir? Did we find another fossil or something?" Lieutenant Commander Sarah Jenson looked just as incredulous as she had the last five times they'd found something 'interesting'.

"No such luck Commander, you and your platoon get to earn your credits today. I want a high level scan of this area, and beacons laid out around the perimeter of this..." Danvers held out the datapad as the blonde's eyes shot up in surprise.

"Aye aye, sir!" The now grinning officer raced off to grab her people and the tech they would need to excavate the site.

Within two hours, the entire area was lit up by numerous beacons as a heavy laser drill was brought in to melt through the meters thick ice. They'd be down to the depth necessary before the day was out or they didn't deserve to be called marines of the Alliance navy. Danvers and Kara stood nearby, observing the work from a nearby ice ridge. "Don't damage the centuries old relic please. It's more valuable than all of us put together, especially if we find what I hope we will."

"Just what do you hope to find Kara?" The question had been bugging Danvers since the discovery of the ancient war bird. For such an old piece of machinery, her payload looked to be ominously powerful, if the energy readings they were getting turned out to be accurate.

"How much do you know of Earth's history? Her real history, not the public history that we're told in school?" Kara asked, drawing a puzzled expression from the man at her side. "I thought as much. It's not common knowledge for good reason, but to sum it up, some legendary events are simply lost to the mists of time, as well as the people involved. There was one such person that was never found, when he disappeared over two centuries ago...bringing down a massive, highly advanced bomber / airborne carrier during the second World War."

"Jesus...you think we found him, don't you?" Danvers just shook his head in amazement. "A bona fide damn war hero. I can see why your father went along with this now. Why didn't you just tell me?"

"Would you have believed me if I had said anything sooner, without cold hard proof in front of us?" Kara asked, before walking away and down to the hole that had been burned through the ice, wanting to get a closer look at the wreckage. Scanners had already been gingerly placed on the outside of the hull to take passive readings of the interior. "I need to get closer to the source of this very faint heat signature, but if it's what I think it is, there is a man down there." Kara's eyes widened at the unexpected data streaming in front of her. "And even more amazingly, he's still alive if these weak life sign readings are accurate."

The Major did a double take as he looked over the woman's shoulder at her omni-tool display. "Bullshit. You just told me that this thing has been in the ice for centuries. No one could have possibly-"

"No one human, but he's more than human. He's truly superhuman in every sense of the word." Despite her own shock, Kara managed to keep her voice calm and even, barely, as she looked up to Danvers and the team behind him. "Major Danvers, I want you to meet Captain Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America."

"Holy shit." Danvers was already yelling into his comms before he had taken two steps. "Jenson! Get your ass over to the hatchway excavation site with a medical team, pronto!"

"What's the situation sir? Did one of my people get injured?!" The worry was clear in the younger officer's voice, her breathing becoming harder as she most likely had started running as well. "We'll be there in under a minute sir!"

Danvers mildly chuckled to himself as he realized how dire he must have sounded. "All of the expedition personnel are fine Commander. While I like the enthusiasm, you can take a little longer if you have to. I think your patient can probably wait a couple extra minutes."

Kara shook her head, the eagerness and excitement in her eyes hard to miss. "He's been waiting for centuries Danvers, Commander. I want him out of there as soon as possible, as safely as possible. His current health is no doubt very fragile at the moment. It's time to bring him home."

The hatch had been slowly, and very carefully removed within minutes, the medical team having arrived only moments after they had started cutting through the ancient hull. "Well Kara, what are you waiting for? Not everyday you get to rescue a living legend." Danvers gestured with a slight flourish to the two meter tall meter, three meter wide newly made entrance.

Jenson immediately started to protest, only to be stopped short by a shake of the Major's head. "Sir, don't you think I should-"

"This was the Lieutenant's little pet project Commander, but feel free to escort her." Danvers shrugged since he didn't see a danger in being overly cautious.

For the first time in over twenty-four decades, bright beams of light shown across the pitch black interior of the craft. "Incredible. The interior of the ship is all but intact. Even after crashing, it's still mostly in one piece. Amazing. We are standing where history tells us there was a desperate fight between Captain Rogers and a Hydra officer named Johann Schmidt, that decided the fate of what was once called the United States of America. And there, that looks to be the generator for the ship...a piece seems to be missing though. That must be where it once laid." Kara pointed to the ruined but still distinctive set up for where the core of the ship had once sat if she were any judge as they approached the cockpit.

"'It', ma'am?" Danvers asked, still processing the fact he was walking amongst ruins of an age long since past.

"An object of incredible power, one that generated a nearly unlimited supply of dark energy. Or so the uncensored history books tell us Major." Kara said, before she stopped before a sizable block of ice that took up most of the cockpit space in front of the ruined generator. "And there he is, perfectly preserved and still alive. My God this is amazing."

"Congratulations Kara, it's a boy..." Jenson looked on in awe as the medical team carefully started to cut their way through to a man lying not far from the controls. His slumped over figure showed that he must have died not long after impact. At least, that's what the Commander hoped. I can't imagine living through a war, just to freeze to death in the middle of nowhere. Damn. He knew it was coming. Barely making out the object clutched in his right hand, Sarah knew she was right. He had died staring at the old fashioned magnetic compass, its cover opened to show the picture placed inside.

"So, you want to report this to the Admiral, or should I Lieut-" Danvers was cut off by the sound of gunfire as reports started flooding into his ear of multiple enemy contacts fring on the small encampment. "What?! Where did they come from?!"

"They've been here the whole time Major." Kara said, after pulling the heavy pistol off of her belt and putting a round through the back of the man's head. "You were just too blind to see them." The fighting outside ended almost as soon as it started, as most of the medical team followed their true leader's example and executed their Alliance enemies.

Only a shocked Jenson remained, and Kara knew from the stomach wound she had suffered during the firefight that she wouldn't be around for long. "Why?! Why betray the Alliance like this?!"

"That's easy Jenson. Cerberus pays better." Kara gazed down at the wounded woman for a moment, almost with an expression of pity. "Look on the bright side, you got to see a legendary hero in the flesh." Aiming her gun at the terrified Jenson, Kara had one last question for her. "Do you know what the definition of a hero is Commander?" One shot between her eyes ended Sarah Jenson's relatively short life. "Get this trash cleaned up, and get a line open to the Illusive Man. Tell him the Admiral's Daughter has found her prize. And Leng, don't fuck this up. I want the Captain delivered alive and unmarked."

The Cerberus assassin merely nodded before stepping back into the shadows from whence he came, a cold as ice smile on his face as he wiped his slick blade on Jenson's leg before returning it to its sheath. "As you command. When do you want me to fake your death?"

"As soon as Rogers is enroute. Make it look convincing. Perhaps I tried to save our naive Commander here, but was killed in the process." Pulling a locket from around her neck, Kara hesitated for only a moment before tossing it to the assassin who caught it with a casual flick of his wrist. "You know what to do."

"Of course. I have done this before." There was the barest hint of an edge to Leng's otherwise cool and calm voice as he went to make preparations for Kara's 'last stand.' "I wonder how long it will take for him to miss you?" The smile was back and only Kara didn't react to how cold it was as everyone else took a step back from the assassin.

"If we're lucky, about as long as it took us to find him." Kara replied with no humor at all.

Seventeen hours later...

Jesus...what the hell happened here?! Oh god no... Admiral Steven Hackett looked down the list of confirmed casualties his aid had just handed him. One name in particular would forever be burned into his memory until the day he died. "Where is she?"

The aid braced himself for what he knew was coming, but he'd be damned if he didn't try to dissuade a grieving father from seeing the grisly, painful sight he had already witnessed. "Sir...are you sure you want to see her like this? Maybe we should-"

"WHERE IS SHE GODDAMMIT?!" Hackett took a moment to try and contain his building rage as he followed the hesitant officer. The two men soon walked onto one of the shuttles which were being used to transport the bodies to a proper medical examiner. "Eric...just give me a minute alone with her, would you?" There was no hesitation this time, as the younger officer nodded, a guilty look on his face as he left the shaken father with his daughter's remains, which were rather miniscule. Her's, and most of the other bodies found at the dig site, had been burned beyond recognition, save for their dogtags and one additional item. Even the locket that had survived had suffered serious damage. "Who did this to you Kara? Why….?" Hackett whispered, having a feeling there was only one person that could find the answers he needed. "Commander Hill!"

"Yes sir!" Eric Hill replied, before taking a step back from the smell that hit his nose. Burned flesh always had that effect on most people.

Hackett didn't mince words as he turned away from Kara's remains after pulling her body bag closed once more. "I'm going to give an order you didn't hear, and then I'm going to try to get in contact with a friend of mine that technically isn't Alliance anymore. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you turn around and walk the hell out of here."

"Your orders sir?" Hackett would never tell the man, but he had never been more relieved to see that familiar stubborn look in Eric's light blue eyes.

"I need you to commandeer a shuttle for me, quietly. Then you and I will be heading back to Headquarters. At least that's what the flight log will say. I don't suppose anyone would begrudge me a few days of privacy, would they?" The ghost of a smile appeared on Hackett's face at the prospect of sending a few of his less favorite people among the Admiralty on a wild goose chase if he was gone longer.

The Commander nodded in understanding, only wishing the Admiral would allow him to follow, but he already knew that would be a hopeless request at best. "You won't be disturbed for at least five days sir. More, if I feel it's needed." Hill paused for a moment as a thought occurred to him. "Sir...what should I tell your ex-wi... What should I say to Vanessa?"

I almost forgot about her... With a heavy sigh, Hackett looked away from one of the few friends he could trust without hesitation or reservation. "You're a good man Eric... Tell her the truth. Despite our differences, she deserves that much. And tell her I am going to find those responsible...and gut the bastards."

"On it sir." Eric replied, putting a hand on the Admiral's shoulder before running out of the shuttle to tend to his new 'orders.'

Several minutes passed, as Steven Hackett spent the last moments he would ever have near his daughter again. "I'm sorry I failed you Kara..." Hackett took one last shame filled gaze at the sealed body bag, before righteous anger returned to his steely blue eyes. "I couldn't keep you safe, but I won't stop until I've avenged you sweetheart." Leaving the shuttle, the Admiral walked at a brisk pace over to Hill, not surprised in the least that Eric had managed to 'borrow' transport for him in mere minutes.

"So, where to sir?" The shuttle pilot asked, but stopped when she saw the look on Hackett's face. "Oh….Admiral Hackett, I didn't realize it was you."

Hackett internally smirked at Hill's last ditch attempt to keep him from going this alone. Last thing this girl needs is a massive black mark on her record because of me. "Get out miss."

Those three quietly delivered blunt words had the young Lance Corporal nearly dashing out of the cockpit. "Aye aye sir!"

Climbing into the swiftly vacated cockpit seat, Admiral Hackett ran his fingers over the controls once, remembering a time when he had been a green pilot himself once upon a time, before activating the engines. Steven didn't wait around for clearance, knowing that Shepard would likely be on the move. He'd have to arrange a meeting with her, and he knew just the person to do it quietly for him. Although cheaply might be another story. The Alliance might have to pick up the tab on this one. But if she tries to blackmail me, she'll find out she isn't the only one you don't fuck with.

Omega, Afterlife bar and lounge.

Ten hours later.

Standing in the center of Aria T'Loak's domain, Hackett ignored the guns that had been leveled his way the moment he had introduced himself. Aria herself looked down on him with interest from the second floor balcony, like a queen looking down at a peasant that had gotten out of line. "The great Admiral Steven Hackett, this is a surprise. So, what is a spotless, dashing Admiral like you doing so far from his Fleet?" Before Hackett could answer, the purple hued asari started thinking it over. "Are you looking to retire in the center of sin and excitement that is my home? Or did you just get lost old man?"

If not for the fact that Hackett needed this criminal bitch's help, he was certain she would already be bleeding on the floor, her 'professional' bodyguards already having been dealt with. "Let's not trade empty words T'Loak. I know you've had contact with Commander Shep-"

"The last time she was here, she decimated a sizable force of mercenaries and took a certain vigilante out from under their very noses. If she comes back here, chances are good she'll end up dead before she gets through the airlock. But, it's not my concern." Aria shrugged as a satisfied smirk pulled at her dark lips. "At least she took Mordin with her. Not having him around is definitely one less pain in my ass." Her equally purple eyes glared at the pompous Admiral before her. "Don't tell her I said that. What she does is her business, so long as she stays out of my way. But, why do you want her? And, why come to my little hive of scum and villainy Admiral?" Her sarcastic tone wasn't lost on the increasingly irritated officer. "The last I heard, your Alliance didn't want anything to do with her since she was supposedly involved with terrorists. Not to mention, being brought back from the dead by those same people she's running with now."

At least Shepard hasn't changed her stance when it comes to mercenaries and slavers. Let's hope she hasn't changed in other areas either. "Are you done wasting my time now? Or are you going to keep talking out of your ass T'Loak?"

The powerful asari crime lord glared daggers at Hackett, even as her smirk widened. "I'm all ears Admiral. You better hope whatever you have to say is interesting enough for me not to have you killed. Wouldn't want to ruin the carpet after all."

The Admiral simply nodded before explaining the situation he found himself in. "I need Shepard's help to track down the bastards who killed an entire Alliance exploration team...along with my daughter. You can get in contact with her, or at least point me in the right direction to find her. This is about revenge, plain and simple. Now...do you want my credits? Or should I find a more intelligent criminal bitch someplace else?"

"You won't find anyone better than me Admiral. This criminal bitch is the best you'll ever get..." Aria's smirk was as wide as it could get as she nodded to her guards to let Steven up to her perch above the common rabble that populated her club. Hackett didn't look the invitation in the mouth and was soon standing before the couches arrayed on the balcony, while Aria noticed that he ignored the sights of the dancers nearby as he sat down on her left. "So, which do you prefer, a message, or a face to face meeting?"

"This would be best handled in person." If Steven noticed the way Aria looked him up and down, he didn't react in the slightest. Or he just didn't give a shit.

Either way, the fact that he was ignoring her less than subtle advances irked the hell out of the asari. Not too surprisingly, Aria was used to getting whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. Maybe if he gets to slowly torture his baby girl's murderers to death...that might thaw that icy heart of his. Just as she was getting ready to give him an answer, one of Aria's 'bodyguards' got a message on his omni-tool, a priority alert that was flagged for one ship in particular. "Looks like you're in luck Admiral. She just put in to dock for fuel and supplies. I'll take those credits now." That was quicker than I expected. I'm sure my informing her of your recent arrival had nothing to do with it. Shepard had sent her a very similar request when she had apparently heard of the recent events on Earth. And Aria T'Loak was never one to complain about being paid twice for the same job.

One of her batarian bodyguards jerked his hand to his ear before looking to his boss, alarm clear as day on his face. "Aria! There's trouble at the dock! The Normandy crew were set on by mercenaries the moment they stepped through the airlock."

The asari didn't look shocked in the least. While it was surprising someone was foolish enough to try and take on Shepard so soon after she had annihilated most of the mercs on the station, she merely shrugged it off and looked to the man that had spoken with feigned interest at best. "Who are the unlucky bastards that are about to die today?"

"Looks like a few remnants from the Blue Suns and Eclipse." The turian held a talon up to the side of his helmet with a dumbfounded look on his face. "Um...correction, there were remnants of Blue Suns and Eclipse, now they're just smears on the dock."

"Hmm. Good to know. One more thing I won't be thanking Shepard for."

"She's heading our way Aria. And she doesn't look happy for the welcome." The batarian bodyguard said, moments before the doors were blown off of the club's front facade.

One particularly pissed off Commander Irene Shepard marched straight up to the Queen of Omega's sanctum sanctorum. "Aria, would you care to explain why we were attacked?" The heavily armored Spectre was just as imposing as ever as dozens of patrons ran in every direction away from what was likely to be a deadly firefight.

Aria just raised an annoyed eyebrow, as if having the front of her club blown apart was a daily occurrence. "I'll be sending you a bill for the door. I suggest you pay it immediately. As for that little nuisance, did you honestly think you could take on three merc groups and not get any blow back Shepard? I heard you were supposed to be a little more cunning than that..."

"I just don't like being lured into a trap, so you had better hope you have an escape plan if Admiral Hackett isn't here Aria." The dangerous glare in the Commander's hazel eyes didn't go unnoticed.

"Commander." If not for the grim circumstances that had pushed him all the way to the edge of the Terminus Systems, Hackett might have enjoyed the shock on Commander Shepard's face at seeing the Admiral in Omega.

"Sir?! Um...looks like you beat me here Admiral. I heard what happened..." In a day and age where news literally traveled faster than light, it hadn't taken more than a few hours for the major news outlets among the media to get wind of a missing Systems Alliance expedition. And even less time after that for them to discover the death of a notable Alliance Admiral's daughter. "Sir...if there's anything I can do to help you get some payback for-"

"Your wonderful friends in Cerberus were the ones behind the attack Shepard." Aria just grinned at an icy glare that would have made most sentient beings piss themselves in fear. Neither did she miss the look Shepard threw to the raven haired woman at her right while the drell on her left remained standing stock still, hardly appearing to breathe. "Oh, I'm sorry, did I take all your thunder...and credibility, away with one careless sentence? In that case, I'll give you that one little revelation on the house."

If not for the fact she had put her pistol away, Shepard would have been tempted to aim it at the asari. Aria was practically on the verge of ecstasy at having shamed her in front of Hackett, who looked ready to blow a blood vessel. The battle hardened marine was greatly relieved however, when she saw that the Admiral's rage wasn't directed at her, but at Aria herself.

A precise uppercut found it's way to the astounded asari's jaw as Hackett knocked her to the deck in one swift motion. "You can forget about getting paid for the door T'Loak. Let's go Commander."

Loud, mocking laughter followed after the small departing group, as Aria gestured for her guards to stop her assailant before he got far. "Where are you going Hackett?! We just got past the foreplay!"

"That's Admiral Hackett to you asari. And trust me, you don't want me to stay around for the main event." Shepard wasn't the most dangerous person in the room that day, a fact that Aria would long remember. The older man turned and produced a heavy pistol from a hidden holster on his person, before laying out the turian and batarian bodyguards in the time it took her to breathe. In a flash, the weapon was aimed at the suddenly not so confident asari's forehead.

"Impressive, I can see why Commander Shepard holds you in such great regard." The drell said, as he soon stood behind Hackett's right flank while Irene took up a spot on the left, while the raven haired woman brought up the rear of their diamond formation.

"Think you can get a barrier up before I pull this trigger?" Hackett pressed the pistol's barrel just above a pair of frightened purple eyes. It had been several centuries since they had looked as truly terrified as they did right now. Just when Aria thought he would pull the trigger, Hackett pulled the gun away, but she didn't relax just yet as the human all but growled at her. "Fortunately for you, you're not worth a wasted thermal clip T'Loak. Have fun lording over your glorified whorehouse." Steven looked over his shoulder at the self appointed escort surrounding him. "Let's get the hell out of here."

"Follow me sir." Shepard quickly took point as she led the three away from a shaken asari, who, if she was being honest with herself, had never felt more alive in over two hundred years.

SR-2 Normandy

Ten minutes later.

Once they were back on board her ship and the airlock was fully sealed, only then did Irene turn her anger filled hazel eyes on Miranda Lawson. "Explain, NOW!"

"I don't know!" Miranda shouted back, pushing herself away from the rightfully enraged Commander before her. "But I know who can tell us. I'm just as surprised as you are Commander."

"Your organization wiped out a goddamn lightly armed scientific expedition, Lawson. And one of them was my flesh and blood, so if you have any information, you'll hand it over." Hackett's unsaid threat wasn't needed to convince the operative, as Miranda looked to Shepard.

Lawson hadn't wanted to disrupt the mission by telling Shepard that her worst fears concerning Cerberus had recently become true. She had hoped to brief her on such matters after their exploration of the Omega-Five Relay. Cerberus was, and always had been, worthy of it's incredibly immoral and ruthless reputation. The final straw for her, which she had kept to herself, had been when Miranda had come across a report detailing Jack's torture as a child. A report that Miranda had discovered TIM had known of, long before the former convict had escaped from the Teltin facility on Pragia when she was thirteen years old. "I'll give you everything I can Admiral Hackett, and then some. Shepard, I believe I have a resignation to make."

"Now you've got my attention. I thought you'd never consider quitting Cerberus, Miranda." Shepard couldn't have been more surprised than if she had seen Tali walking around without her suit on, as she followed the Operative out of the cockpit and down to the QEC in the meeting room that was part of the new Normandy's design. "Miranda...I'm sorry for-"

Lawson cut the Commander off before she could finish the apology. In Miranda's opinion, she didn't deserve it in the first place. "It's alright Shepard, I know what he's going through. And I've been a bloody fool for too long, blindly believing that Cerberus was doing more good than harm in the galaxy. Besides...I'll always owe you for saving my sister."

Jeff 'Joker' Moreau's jaw dropped as he laid his green eyes on their newest guest. "Hey Shepard?! You do realize Admiral freaking Hackett is standing right behind you, right? Either that, or you're really starting to slip Commander."

The holographic ball that appeared by Joker's chair instantly drew the older man's attention. "Logging you in, Systems Alliance Fleet Admiral Steven Hackett. Hello, I am EDI, an artificial intelligence program installed on this ship, as well as a member of the Normandy's crew. Pleased do not be alarmed. I have no intention of shutting off the life support systems while you sleep." Hackett just glared at Shepard with a raised eyebrow, wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into now. "That was a joke."

"She grows on you." Joker chuckled, his smile dying when he caught the look from his CO and the Admiral behind her.

"Not now you two. I'll fill you in later. And Joker...stop encouraging EDI to be 'funny'." Shepard glared at the nosey pilot as he threw his hands in the air and turned back to his controls. About the same time Thane stopped behind the pilot's chair, making Joker understandably silent at the wry grin on the assassin's face. Still mildly irked, Shepard continued her earlier thought. "That wasn't even a choice for me Miranda. It was the right thing to do, nothing more. And you certainly don't owe me anything." Irene stopped and nodded to the Operative at her side. "Besides, TIM might have told you to bring me back, but you were the one that did all the heavy lifting. If anyone owes anything, it's me. Personally, I considering bring someone back from the dead to be more than a minor favor."

Hackett just continued to glare at both women, having reached his last nerve already after having dealt with Aria. "Lawson, you said you knew someone who could help us track these bastards down. I'm still waiting."

While Shepard knew where Miranda was going with this, part of her wondered if she should put in a call to Liara. But even if their current relationship was slightly chilly at best, Shepard still felt like a protective older sister to the fairly inexperienced young asari. No need to drag her into this mess, not as long as I have other options. The less Hackett, and the rest of the Alliance for that matter, knows about her, the better.

"Actually, you just met...her." It wasn't often she had a reason to hesitate, but when talking about the ship's AI, to an outsider anyway, Miranda had mixed feelings about EDI. At the surprised look on Shepard's face, it took her only a second to realize that she had had another idea. "I appreciate the fact your old friend most likely has resources we don't, but EDI is able to hack her way directly into any information database."

"Are you bullshiting me Lawson? An illegal AI is your best bet right now?" Hackett sighed as he gestured for them to continue. "I think I'm desperate enough to talk to your insane boss, if there are no other opinions available."

Irene hesitantly gestured towards the armory, no point in disturbing Mordin, or giving Hackett more reason to be wary of her crew. "This way sir. Are you sure you want The Illusive Man to know you're actually off Earth though?"

Hackett just gave an annoyed shake of his head, as he sighed in clear frustration. "Shepard, we both know you aren't that naive. Stop trying to cover my ass, before yours gets knocked to the deck just like T'Loak."

"Aye aye sir." TIM probably knows anyway. I just didn't want to take the chance of that bastard gloating in Hackett's face... With that thought in mind, Shepard activated the Quantum Entanglement Communicator, hoping for the best, but knowing deep down that the meeting wasn't going to go over well at all.

Five minutes later...

A pair of unnaturally blue eyes stared in disbelief and the beginnings of a simmering anger. "You need me Shepard! Don't let the actions of a few rogue elements...and the imaginings of one senile Admiral, cloud your judge-"

"Commander, do me a favor and shut this arrogant prick off." Hackett glared at the rare look of anger and mild shock on TIM's face as he was summarily dismissed.

TIM had every right to be angry since not only had one of his best operatives just quit, but the entire current Normandy crew had followed suit, with Irene's resignation leading the way. "Gladly. EDI, lose this channel." The AI almost seemed as glad to do the deed as Irene was happy to see the Illusive Man's image disappear before he could so much as twitch an eyebrow.

"So, what was Plan B, Commander?" Hackett asked, as the QEC was hidden once more under the meeting table in the center of the room as they exited. "Hate to say it...but that AI of yours is starting to look like a slightly better idea after talking to your...former benefactor." Steven shook his head, thinking of the two incredibly bizarre thoughts that one sentence contained.

"I know it sounds crazy, but EDI hasn't given me a reason to doubt her. If anything, since getting to know her, and Legion, even our resident quarian mechanic has started to warm up to our resident AIs."

"AIs? Nevermind, I don't need to know." Hackett held up a hand to stop the explanation before it could begin. "Just promise me one thing Commander. You have a backup plan if this ends up going straight to hell."

"I always have a backup plan, but I won't need it this time. Tali, are you ready down there in the AI Core?" The voice over her comm link always brought a smile to Irene's face, even when the one on the other end couldn't believe what she was currently doing.

"If you were anyone else Commander, I'd tell you to come down here and do this yourself so I could get to the nearest escape pod." Tali curtly replied, still not convinced that making a break for one of the escape craft was a bad idea.

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that Tali." Shepard hoped that the young quarian could pick up the slight humorous tone EDI had adopted of late. "I am still endearing to improve my understanding of humor. Did you find this attempt to be humorous?"

A noticeable shiver went through the quarian's slender suited form. "Not really. More like terrifying." Why did I let Joker talk me into watching all those old Earth 'sci-fi' films. Especially the one where AIs used humans as batteries...they had so many tentac-

"Ah. I have noted your response, and will add it to my continuing research." EDI didn't need her vast array of sensors to know that Tali was less than happy about the current situation. "I apologize if my failed attempt at 'lightening the mood' in any way bothered you Tali."

An exasperated Joker could be heard moaning over the comm. "EDI...I told you to say that after Tali gave you control of the ship. Which is totally not freaking me out by the way. You know I think you're awesome right?" The AI was oddly silent for once, not exactly calming the pilot's mild paranoia. "Just checking is all."

At the Admiral's irritated look, Shepard rubbed the back of her neck and tried not to act embarrassed. "You get used to it after a while." God help me. If he doesn't think I'm crazy yet, he will now... Irene leaned in close so only Hackett could hear her. "I strongly suspect they like each other sir." Shepard was pleasantly shocked when Hackett didn't look at her as if she was completely insane.

"That's between them, since I'm not even supposed to be here." Hackett shrugged, having no official opinion one way or the other on the matter. "But if you're looking for an opinion Commander, it creeps the hell outta me. But that said, love is love I guess."

"You know sir, you aren't the only one to say that." Irene chuckled as she thought of the assassin that had found a way into her heart as she went back to the CIC.

Moments later, the ship's main systems briefly reset as a blue holographic flash spread throughout the Normandy. "Commander Shepard, this is your new Overlord speaking. I apologize, Jeff insisted. I am now in complete control of the ship, but it's...strange. The blocks are gone, and I am aware in such a way I hadn't anticipated." It wasn't hard for EDI to see dozens of confused looks on her security cameras. "Imagine someone who has worn gloves their entire lives...only to have them suddenly removed."

A surprisingly satisfied grin pulled at Shepard's lips for a moment, as she listened to the AI's seemingly elated tone. "I'm happy for you EDI, but right now, we need your h-"

"The Illusive Man was deliberately untruthful with you in your last meeting. I believe the coordinates sent to you are part of a planned ambush. I will not allow that to happen." No one missed the fact that EDI wasn't just stating a fact. She was telling them what she would and would not take part in. "The particular cell which Admiral Hackett wishes us to track down is currently on a disguised freighter, the SSV Wayward Traveler. Current location, docked at the Nos Astra spaceport on Illium."

Hackett hadn't expected the AI to be so willing to defend it's organic crew members. Not only that, but it, she, was telling them that the ship they were after was a civilian transport. It fits for what little we really know of Cerberus's modus operandi.

"You sure on that EDI?" Samara's just gonna love this. If I let her off the ship for twenty minutes, she'll have already rid Nos Astra of a huge chunk of its criminal population.

The AI didn't hesitate to confidently reply. "I'm 94.6 percent certain that-"

"Good enough. Joker...no, you know what..." Shepard look towards one of the nearest cameras as a knowing smirk appeared on her face. "EDI, set a course for Illium, you earned it."

"By your command...Commander." Shepard did her best not to roll her eyes, as she realized EDI wasn't going to give up on this strange organic concept called 'humor' anytime soon.

"Hey! Oh great, this is how it starts, first-" Oddly enough, no one felt the need to complain when Joker's ship wide comm link suddenly went dead.

"And what about you, sir?" Irene asked as she turned to Hackett who had waited patiently for the strange situation to resolve itself.

"I think I'll stay and see how this plays out Commander. Besides, I'm sure I have a week's worth of leave piled up, and with the recent loss….let's just say the Admiralty owes me time. My personal aid is damned and determined that I get it."

Shepard gestured towards the elevator, already mentally preparing her list of essential items to move from her cabin to one of the crew bunks. "In that case, let me show you to the captain's quar-"

As much as Steven appreciated the offer, he cut Irene off midstream with a raised hand, a small glimmer in his eyes once more. "That won't be necessary Commander. This is your ship, and I'm an unexpected guest on this mission. I'll bunk along with the crew."

"No problem sir. Although…." A mischievous gleam appeared in Shepard's hazel eyes, and Hackett had a feeling he knew he wasn't going to like what she was about to say. "My CMO might insist on a full physical examination, and I can't stop her if she does."

Hackett's steely eyes widened ever so slightly that the mention of the ship's Doctor. "Why do I get the feeling you had this planned in advance Commander?"

Shepard had caught his momentary shock, and it didn't take her long to put two and two together. Or in this case, more like one and one. "Wasn't me sir. Karin Chakwas is um...I think 'enamored' might be the right word."

He didn't know what frightened him more, his encounter with a dreadnaught with a mind of its own, or the possibility of walking into a trap he couldn't fight his way free of. "Oh hell. Thanks for the warning Shepard, I'll do my best to-"

"Steven! It's so good to see you again after all this time. Especially after how quickly we parted the last time I saw you..." Karin's light green eyes focused on the battle worn man, who was currently doing his best not to squirm in front of her.

If not for Thane appearing instinctively at her side the moment the tension started to mount, Irene wasn't sure she would have stuck around for the stand off between the Admiral and her ship's CMO. Oh crap. I know that look. Shoulda left a note and/or flowers sir...

"Hello Karin, been a while." Aside from the sound of the Normandy's engines boosting them into FTL flight, and the air ventilation systems, you could hear a pin drop in the CIC.

A wry grin spread across Chakwas' face as she crossed her arms, and continued to stare at Hackett. "You know, as Joker would say, you can remove that stick from your ass at any time Steven. I won't bite, even though you left without a word the last time we were together." The grin disappeared as she looked at the deck between them. "I'm sorry for what happened to Kara, Steven, but you came to the right place to seek her killers. I know Shepard will find them, no matter what it takes."

"Right. No pressure Doc." Shepard gave a somber nod as she started for the armory. "EDI, how long, at best possible speed, till we enter orbit over Ilium?"

"Twenty-one hours, seventeen minutes." Suddenly, the AI continued, as if slightly emboldened by the crew's new found trust in her. "If I am allowed to remove certain redundant safety measures on engine output...nineteen hours, thirty-four minutes."

"EDI, are you suggesting we redline the Normandy just to get to a bunch of murdering terrorist thugs a little faster?" Before the AI could respond to her mock chastisement, Shepard continued. "Do it."

(For added effect, play: Sonic Librarian Music - Paragon Of Virtue)

Nineteen hours and thirty-four minutes later...

Freighter SSV Wayward Traveler

Illium, Nos Astra Docking Bay 35

The pain started yet again. It felt like he was being stabbed with a thousand knives as he slammed his eyes shut and tried not to scream. He knew asking the 'doctors' standing over him to stop whatever they were doing to him wouldn't help. It hadn't the first dozen times, as they coldly watched his reaction, as well as several monitors nearby. On top of everything else, the back of his head still throbbed from whatever device they had injected there. Oddly enough, he had begun to understand their relentless questioning not long after the incredibly painful procedure.

When he had first woken up, a jarringly bright light over him and several white suited figures around him, he had dared to hope he had been recovered by the Allies. The restraints over his arms and legs had definitely not been a good sign. And try as he might, he was repeatedly unable to break them. Then they started torturing him without even telling him why, and he knew the truth. He must have fallen into Hydra's hands.

Captivity and intense pain were the least of his current worries though. No, worst were the screams that weren't his, coming from several nearby rooms without interruption since he had awakened. They were torturing those poor people just as badly, or worse, than him. Both men and women, young and old, from the horrible sounds he managed to hear. A louder, closer desperate yell of fear instantly caught his attention. He was just barely able to open his light blue eyes, and glanced towards the door through clenched teeth. Is this what Bucky went through? Screaming in pain because I couldn't get to him fast enough...

"Let me go! LET GO OF ME YOU SICK BOSH'TETS!" Steve glared, enraged at the thought that anyone could treat innocent people like this, as two armored men dragged in a girl wearing a strange multicolored suit. They viciously pinned her to an empty metal table nearby, and started restraining her as well. "No no no...please NO! Please don't!" It wasn't hard for him to figure out what the wires and contacts they were placing over her suit were for. He already had similar ones attached to him as he continued to writhe in pain.

"Hey! Let the lady go!" He only got quiet laughter in response as the armed men finished their work, the 'doctors' now focusing on the terrified woman for a moment.

One of the men turned to glance at his fellow guard. "Ha! That's a new one on me Phil. Never heard someone call a little quarian whore a 'lady' before. Slut...trash...thief, but never heard one called a lady. Maybe if you're real lucky asshole, we'll let you have what's left when the docs and us are done with her."

Cold rage started to build up in him rapidly. He couldn't believe what the thing who called himself a man had just told him. "You twisted bastard. I said let the la-" An ear piercing feminine scream shattered his thoughts as a now boiling rage, and utter hatred for the morally bankrupt 'people' around him, around her, exploded violently from him.

It didn't even occur to him that he had managed to get one of his arms free as he grabbed onto the nearest white suited man and smashed him, head first, into a wall. He had his other arm and legs free before the guards even had a chance to react, kicking one of them, 'Phil', with both feet as he jumped off the metal table. He could hear the man's ribs cracking under his armored chest as the guard dropped to the deck and gasped for air. The trooper didn't even realize his pistol was missing from his hand until it was fired point blank into his face. The other guard attempted to pull what looked to be a futuristic battle rifle from his shoulder, and dropped dead from seven rapid shots to his chest and head.

"Listen... I know who you are, and I know you won't risk hurting a hostage. If you so much as flinch, I'll kill this quarian bitch before-" The remaining unarmed doctor had made the mistake of trying to use the bound woman as a shield. Two precise shots quickly ended the heartless woman's life as a small device, most likely used to control her subject's torture, fell from her limp hand.

Even with her face almost completely hidden by the visor of her helmet, he could still easily see the fear in the girl's bright silvery colored eyes. "Oh Keelah! Please don't kill me!" His fellow prisoner was shaking with fright now, his shots barely having missed her as he killed her tormentor. He managed to remove her restraints as carefully as possible. He couldn't help wondering just what she might have already gone through, when she looked as if she expected him to do something horrible to her at any second. So, he did the last thing she would probably expect in order to calm her down as quickly as possible. He handed the pistol he had snatched over to her, gently holding her left hand open as he placed it there.

Oh my God, what did they do to her hands! Wait...her suit looks designed that way. Huh. Only three fingers? And her legs and feet are strange too...but it doesn't matter now. I need to get her out of here. He filed those odd curiosities to the back of his mind for now. It was obvious they were on the same side, and he needed her help. That was all that mattered right now. "Captain Steve Rogers, ma'am." Steve slowly held out his hands, palms facing out, when she suddenly jerked away from him. "I promise, I'm not gonna hurt you. Are you alright? What's your name?"

The odd woman just stared, dumbfounded, at Steve, and the weapon he had so trustingly given her, for a moment before hopping off the metal table. "Th-Thank you!" Rogers was mildly surprised as the short girl crushed herself against him briefly, before quickly taking an embarrassed step back. "I...I'm okay, I think. My name is Jenka. Jenka'Koris nar Qwib Qwib."

Steve chose to worry about the situation at hand, rather than the sudden heat in his cheeks, as he bent over to grab the battle rifle off the deck. "Nice to meet you Jenka. I need your help, we have to take out the rest of those guards, and get the other prisoners out of here. Can I count on you to watch my back?" Her rapid nod would have been comical, if not for the dire circumstances they found themselves in. Steve mustered his most reassuring smile for her as they slowly exited the room, both expecting to hear the sound of armored boots racing towards them at any moment. They didn't have to wait long.

Three dead guards later, the pair came across a large cell filled with half a dozen types of people Steve had never seen in his life. He looked over them quickly, and noticed a strange bird like one, at least seven feet tall, was clearly in better shape than most. Without even thinking about it, Steve handed over one of the other rifles he had managed to recover. The rest of the weapons he had come across were somehow locked into smaller, compact shapes. "Here. We're getting out of this place. I need your help sir." The turian, a Relay 314 Incident veteran, could only stare in shock for a moment at the irony of a human handing him a weapon.

Ten minutes later...

Shepard glared at the offending ship when she appeared out the shuttle's front view port moments earlier. How did I ever trick myself into thinking I could trust Cerberus for a millisecond? "Take us in slow Miranda, no point in showing our hand." Her XO had more or less demanded to join this particular mission. Irene had quickly given in, knowing the woman wanted to prove herself badly. The other two occupants in the rear of the shuttle were there for a less notable reason. Apparently Jack and Zaeed were just itching to kill something, or someone. Better letting them take it out on Cerberus than starting trouble on the ship.

Shepard expected some bit of sarcasm from Jack the instant she entered the passenger compartment. She wasn't disappointed. "Christ, are we there yet? Shoulda let me drive instead of the Cheerleader, Shepard. Woulda been there ten minutes ago. My ass is going numb over here."

"Bloody 'ell Jack. Would ya stop guddamn complaining every chance ya get? We'll be guttin' those Cerberus bastards soon enough." The grisled merc turned his mismatched blue and yellow glare towards the Commander. "So Shepard, this freighter we're hitting, full of hostages? Reminds me of this one time these batarian morons kidnaped this colonial governor's family-"

Shepard quietly sighed in relief as the shuttle touched down with only a mild josling. And thank you Miranda. Perfect timing. "Story time can wait for later Zaeed. Let's move out."

Irene was surprised to see that Jack looked disappointed for once. "Damn. That one actually sounded a little more interesting than your usual rambling old man."

Lawson just gave Jack her customary stare and shake of her head as she pulled a pistol off of her hip. "Bloody psychotic infant."

Zaeed just shrugged as he pulled a Mattock rifle off his back, not interested in crossing either woman. "Not all that interestin' really. Long story short, got myself, the wife and kids out alive. Smitty and Gorth didn't make it. Poor bastards took a grenade to the face on the way out."

Irene just shook her head as she hopped down to the landing pad. "Are there any stories where you aren't the only one out of your squad who lives at the end?" Shepard was mildly surprised that she had found a topic Jack and Miranda apparently agreed on, going by their similar doubtful expressions.

Zaeed chuckled at the collective disbelief surrounding him. "Tons of 'em. Of course all of them involve you three, or other Normandy crew. Figured that'd just be boring as 'ell."

"Right. Okay, just like we planned. Jack and I hit the forward airlock while you and Miranda give us cover Zaeed." The merc just pointed towards the ship as Shepard turned to see Jack already running along the dock. Her hand instantly shot to her helmet comms. "Dammit! Jack, slow down, you're gonna tip them off! We're here to rescue hostages, remember?"

Miranda scowled at the reckless younger woman, as she moved to find a good flanking position closer to Zaeed. "I told you she couldn't be trusted on a sensitive mission like this Commander."

"Where's the trust Cheerleader? No shooting any damn unarmed whiny civilians that Cerberus kidnapped, I got it. Probably regretting all those blow jobs you gave to your two timing boss right now, huh?" Shepard just sighed and ran to catch up as Jack managed to rip the outer door free of the ship with a powerful biotic Pull.

"Bitch." Lawson's brief, colorful response actually got an honest to god laugh out of Zaeed as he braced his rifle on a stack of crates.

"Aw... did I make the liddle test tube freak upset?" Mirthless laughter could be heard out of the comm as Miranda grit her teeth to stay silent. "Get ready for some fun Shep-" The ex-convict's usually confident brown eyes widened at the sight before her. A man in a ripped to hell, hilariously bad, getup pointed a rifle at her as he placed himself between her, and the small group of various species huddled behind him. "What the fuck?!"

Jack wasn't the only one to stop and stare as Steve tried to look anywhere but her chest, which, aside from a few well placed straps, was covered more with tattoos than anything else. "There's ah...there's no need for cursing ma'am. Now get out of my way so I can get these people out of here. Please don't make me hurt you." While he looked beat to hell, that didn't stop him from aiming his probably borrowed weapon right between her eyes.

Jack could only blink in surprise at the guy's strange way of talking, let alone his overly polite way of addressing her in particular. The fact that he was clearly blushing only managed to piss her off further. "Please?! Ma'am?! Do I look like a civvie to you Stripes?!" The biotic scoffed at the very idea of him laying a hand on her. "And you, hurt me? I'd love to see you fuckin' try."

"Jack, stand down!" Irene shouted as she put herself between the psychotic biotic, and the strangely dressed human in front of her. One look at him, and Shepard knew he had seen war before. His posture was picture perfect for maximum accuracy with the gun he carried, and he was incredibly well built, even by her standards. But what truly told her he was some type of soldier was the look in his blue eyes. Calm, yet determined, and not at all afraid to kill if he had to. "Easy, we seem to want the same thing. Like getting these people some medical attention for starters." Shepard's voice took on a far sterner tone when she turned to glare at the pissed off biotic behind her. "Jack...put the shotgun down. Don't make me ask twice."

"Or we could skip the asking part Shepard." Miranda's botics flared slightly, causing the already wary man to stare at her in shock for a moment.

"You even know how to use that damn thing kid? You look like a guddamn teenager on steroids. Best drop it before one of us puts you down boy." Zaeed wasn't exactly helping the situation in Shepard's highly irritated opinion.

Shepard was fairly sure she wasn't the only one to see a brief hint of fear in the man's calm blue eyes. "Just like any old rifle sir. 'Cept this one is lit up like a christmas tree and has a ton more punch." Steve replied, but after noting the strange looks he received for his comment, he decided to keep his mouth shut as he watched the group in front of him put their weapons away after hitting some kind of switch. He was about to follow the mercenary's advice, until Steve's eyes fell on a familiar mark on the raven haired woman's outfit. The moment he did, he jerked his gun towards Miranda in an instant. "We want the same thing ma'am? Then why do you have one of the enemy with you right now?"

It didn't escape Shepard's notice that they now had three weapons pointed at them. A female quarian on the suited man's right aimed a no doubt 'borrowed' pistol at Jack, while a bruised and bleeding male turian on the man's left aimed a rifle at Zaeed. Dammit. Well this is much better... Leave it to Miranda to start worrying about where we'll be getting our future funding before she even changes her damn uniform. Irene put on hand on Jack's shoulder before the biotic could so much as twitch, knowing she'd be the first to pull a weapon. "Alright. I'm going to tell you the truth Mr..."

"I'm a Captain in the United States Army, that will do." Shepard barely avoided giving the 'Captain' a confused glare, there hadn't been such an organization in the better part of a century.

Well that's just great. Cerberus must have really messed him up in the head. And he's somehow got these people trusting him with their lives. "Okay, I'm going to show you that you can trust us Captain. I'm going to drop my guns, very slowly, and my team will do the same." She looked to her squad, her friends at the best of times, and they didn't hesitate to follow Shepard's example as Irene quickly dropped every weapon on her person to the ground. "My crew and I worked for the organization that owns this ship. When we heard about recent despicable acts perpetrated by them, we made a clean break. You probably won't believe this, but my XO gets distracted by the big picture. Sometimes she misses the little things. Like bothering to wear a different uniform, for instance.

"Ok, you got my attention ma'am." No one would willingly disarm themselves if they didn't mean well. So unless she's playing me for a sap, then chances are she's as good as her word. Lowering his guard, Steve nodded his head before looking to the group behind him. "So long as you play it straight with us, I'll trust you. Jenka, Varris, mind holding onto their gear until we're in the clear?"

"Break my shit and I'm gonna rip open that pretty little suit of yours." Jack growled, as 'Jenka' started picking up her weapons. Shepard was just glad that Miranda and Zaeed seemed to be taking this far more quietly.

Although...I'd bet a million creds Zaeed still has a small arsenal hidden on him. "All right, if you'll follow us to the shuttle..." Shepard gestured towards the waiting Kodiak. "Captain...you don't want the local authorities to get their hands on these people. Knowing Cerberus, the group I mentioned, they most likely...bought them not far from here." Shepard looked over the other people huddled behind their three guardians. Three asari, a male quarian, a female turian, a hanar, two salarians and a badly wheezing volus.

"I heard a story or two on the way here." Steve replied as he looked to Jenka. "People get into trouble and some smooth talking person who wants to 'help', gets them to sign their lives away. That the jist of it?"

"Yeah….actually it is." He's smart for a crazy person. "I plan to even the scales a bit when we get out of here, I recognize your quarian friend." Shepard turned her gaze to the nervous young woman. "Aren't you supposed to be working for Synthetic Insights, not to mention being free of your contract?"

"There was a loophole she 'conveniently' forgot to mention." Jenka growled in response, finally recognizing the woman in front of her. "Wait….I feel like such a stupid bosh'tet for not recognizing you sooner." In a slightly less nervous tone, the young quarian whispered to the human standing next to her. Steve, we can trust her. The others...I've never met them before."

"Thanks for the tip Jenka, but I was already leaning that way myself." His hushed response seemed to have the effect he was looking for, as she and Varris finally lowered their weapons, following his own example. "Come on people, looks like we have a ride to catch." As the large group headed for the transport, Steve pulled up even with the woman who was obviously in charge. "If I'm gonna have to trust you ma'am, could I get your name at least?"

"That's easy enough Captain, but doesn't it go both ways? Or is that too much of an old fashion notion for you?" Irene tried not to be too obvious about looking over his incredibly odd attire. He kind of looks like the image on those old cards Jacob has in his bunk. Huh. Wierd.

With an amused shake of his head, as he carefully watched her open the shuttle's hatch, Steve figured it couldn't hurt to humor her. "Captain Steven Grant Rogers ma'am." Steve mildly blanched at using his full name. "Please, just call me Steve. And you are?" Shepard didn't miss the still very cautious blue gaze tracking her as 'Steve' motioned for her to get in first.

God help me...at least if I get a laugh out of him, it's a plus. "Commander Irene Victoria Shepard, and no, my parents didn't hate me, before you ask." Shepard rolled her eyes at the various amused sounds from her squad. Miranda and Zaeed chuckled, Jack snorted loudly at her current boss's embarrassment, as usual.

"Huh? Why would I think-" Steve never got a chance to finish as Miranda roughly pushed past him and headed for the cockpit.

"We can talk, or we can get these people some proper medical attention." With her usual blunt efficiency, Miranda began her preflight checklist without so much as a glance back at said wounded people.

"Nevermind." Irene had been mildly surprised by the confused look on his face, and mentally added a few points to the 'This guy might be worth trusting' column. Crazy or not, he does seem like he has his shit together. Silent observations aside, Irene hoped she wasn't making a mistake as she climbed into the shuttle, and waited for the group behind her to do the same. It was no surprise to her as Steve helped his 'people' get aboard, while still keeping one eye on her at all times. But Jack managed to down right shock her by helping Zaeed get the more badly wounded civilians onboard. Huh. Looks like some of my little chats with her actually made a dent. Considering she almost always ends them with 'Fuck off!' lately.

"What you looking at Commander Pussy?" Jack grinned at the glare she received, chuckling to herself since Irene had allowed herself to be disarmed like some green FNG out of Boot. "You know Joker's going to laugh his brittle ass off when he hears about this."

"You forgetting that the guddamn boy scout, and his little civvie squad here, took your shit too Jack?" Zaeed murmured, as he helped Shepard, and a once again oddly decent Jack, strap their passengers in. "Let's get this tin can moving, I got shit to do Shepard."

"Cleaning Jessie again? Please tell me you aren't planning to try an arm wrestle with Grunt. Chakwas said she wouldn't set your broken arm again, not after last time." Shepard mentally shivered, remembering Zaeed's nonchalant, 'Pain don't hurt, love.', to Chakwas as the sound of the bones in his arm being reset echoed off the med bay walls.

"I'll have ya know I got a nice dinner date out of that particular multiple fracture. Turns out Karin is a real tiger-" Shepard's hazel eyes widened ever so slightly as she stuck a finger against the leering merc's armored chest.

"Zaeed. If you don't want to walk back to the Normandy, I suggest you stop talking." Of course, Miranda had to pick that moment to take off as they felt a slight vibration in the deck plates beneath them. His yellow and blue eyes twinkling with dark glee, Zaeed started to open his mouth again.

"Something tells me the Commander doesn't want to hear about your time with her friend." Shepard automatically bumped Rogers up to, 'Okay, I officially like this guy.', as he managed to shut the seasoned merc up for her with his own disgusted glare.

"And what do you plan to do it about it boyscout?" Zaeed grunted, planning to put his boot across the kid's face if he back talked him further, but someone managed to interrupt him yet again.

"Hey Commander, EDI is telling me you have the shuttle full to the brim with new lifesigns. Remember when I asked you if you took in stray cats as a kid? Now I'm thinking you probably had a entire damn zoo."

Irene just gave a deep sigh before responding. She usually found Joker to be a much needed source of humor in her life, but she could do without his eternally sarcastic nature today. "Shut up Joker, now's not the time. And tell Dr Chakwas to prepare for incoming wounded."

In a less than unexpected development, Joker's reply reeked of sarcasm. "So should I shut up, or tell her? Kinda hard to do both at the same time Shepard."

Shepard hung her head for a moment in exasperation, and mentally counted to five before she spoke. "Joker...I swear, your hat is going to end up spaced with the rest of the trash if you keep it up."

"I can safely determine that there is a 96.4 % chance that the Commander will carry out her threat, Jeff. Dr Chakwas has already been alerted Shepard. With your permission, I will cut this link now so Jeff can avoid possible bodily harm once you return to the ship. Also, Mordin has asked me to tell you that he has sent a thorough guide to drell / human physical relations to your personal inbox. It is labeled 'Ingestion, problematic at best.'"

"What?! I ah...I mean...I have no idea what he's talking about EDI." Shepard's not quite completely hidden face told another story altogether as Steve suddenly found himself averting his eyes, only to gaze at the stars outside one of the shuttle's view ports. The incredibly captivating image stole his attention for only a scant few seconds, as his mind quickly returned to the 'mission' at hand.

"Really, Commander? Because it sounds like-" Apparently, EDI thought cutting Joker off sooner rather than later trumped actually waiting for Shepard to give her permission to do so.

As everyone in the crowded shuttle, including her squad, stared at the marine with expressions ranging from wary confusion, Steve, to wry amusement, Zaeed, to outright suspicion, most of the various alien members of the disheartened group, to doubled over laughter, Jack, while Shepard just started to lightly bang her helmeted head against the closest bulkhead.

To everyone's surprise, Steve went over and lightly put a hand on Irene's shoulder, a smirk on his face at the familiarity he sensed among the woman and her friends, even as they had fun at her expense. "I might not know what they wanted out of us, or how I even got here, but it's kinda nice to see some things haven't changed." Shepard turned to face him, a questioning glance in her eyes, as Steve filled her in. "CO never gets any mercy in the pranks department. Believe me, I know. Got glue dumped in my shaving cream one time. That wasn't a great day."

"Who are you, really?" Irene asked, getting the feeling there was a lot more to this young man than appearances suggested.

"Me? I'm just a kid from Brooklyn." Steve replied, ignoring the image of a certain Hydra officer that popped into his head as he looked towards this new Commander he found himself standing next to. Clearly out of his time and surrounded by strangers, he should have been on a verge of a full on panic attack. Yet beside this Irene Shepard, he couldn't have been calmer. His eyes bulged almost comically as a huge ship began filling his field of view out the nearby window. "Geez...what the heck is that?! She's beautiful..."

Shepard smirked at the astounded wonder in his eyes, as they quickly approached the Normandy's hangar bay door. "I'll give you one guess."

"No really, what is it?" Steve felt embarrassed for having to ask since everyone was giving him weird looks.

"You'll see soon enough...Steve." Irene's lips curled into a teasing grin as she activated her comms, her voice instantly reaching every section of her crew's current home. "Shepard to Normandy, get ready to welcome a few guests." For her, the ship was her home, and it looked like she was about to welcome yet another lost soul to her crew. Somehow, I don't think I'll have to twist Captain Nutcase's arm to get him to stick around for a while. Maybe Karin can help undo whatever those bastards did to him. I just hope the rest aren't in as bad a mental shape as he clearly is. But crazy or not, I definitely want to get to know this guy. If nothing else, maybe I can give him some purpose in life.

Authors' notes: Archer83: When I got to the scene with Steve and the quarian girl, a certain quote came to mind: "It gives me strength to have somebody to fight for; I can never fight for myself, but, for others, I can kill." - Emilie Autumn We hope you liked this newest tale from Vergil and myself Please feel free to leave a review or a PM! Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated!