A/N: I'm not a huge fan of author's notes, but I do think you should know what you're getting into. So I'll try to be quick, and with any luck you won't hear from me again until the end.

This will be an ME3 fix-it fic primarily, with added romance for poor old FemShep. I liked some qualities of all the romance options throughout the ME series but never found one that fit quite right, so this is also an attempt to fix that (but not by creating a Garrus + Kaidan + James hybrid, rather by making a brand new OC). Add in a healthy dose of action and a bit of a plot shake-up and you have my fic. Hopefully. It's very much a WIP! I'll try and update regularly but can't guarantee it.

This is my first proper attempt at writing fanfic in years, and my first ever foray into the Mass Effect universe. As such, constructive criticism would be very welcome. If you find spelling/grammar issues, please do point those out to me as well as I currently don't have a beta to do that. I will do my best to fix them up.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Bioware/EA owns all.

Chapter One

Lieutenant Nathan Briggs could not wipe the smile off his face. He supposed that had a lot to do with the fact that he had drunk a copious amount of alcohol.

Mostly it was due to the orders he had received this morning.

He gestured expansively at the bartender. "Another round!" His squad cheered and moved to grab their next drinks from the bar.

Nathan's XO pushed through the pack of off-duty soldiers filling the bar, clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a good, friendly shake. "Hell of a thing, Lieutenant!" he shouted over the top of the throbbing dance music, grinning proudly.

Nathan nodded, smiling, but trying to tamp it down to keep some façade of humility at least, even if he didn't really feel it. "Thanks, Sergeant!" he shouted back, grabbing the offered hand and gripping palm to palm before letting go.

Sergeant Harris took one of the drinks sitting on the bar and passed it to his CO. Nathan accepted the drink and leaned in closer to hear the man over the top of the pounding bass. "When do you ship out?" Harris asked.

Nathan took a long drink, savouring the burn at the back of his throat as the top-shelf whisky went down. He had blown at least a fortnight's pay already tonight buying drinks for his men and women and wasn't planning on stopping any time soon. They were going to have some fun tonight. After all, he was about to head off to Interplanetary Combatives Training – N school – and he would never have been nominated if it weren't for them. They had been his squad for two years now, two years of being thrown into the thick of the Terminus Systems and stomping on the throats of the pirates and slavers they found there. Two years of kicking ass and taking names.

His squad. His fucking squad. Legends, all of them. Shanti, the squad's field medic, was flirting shamelessly with Brock, their sniper, who was happily reciprocating. Shanti could fix a gut wound with nothing but a tube of medi-gel and a band-aid, and Brock made a point of always shooting Batarians in their top-right eye just because he was that good. He made a game of it, and Dangerfield, their second sniper, who was surreptitiously watching a game of poker with interest as she nursed her drink, always tried to outdo him but could never quite manage to hit with the same accuracy. Not unless she threw a stasis at her target first then got them as it wore off, anyway, but they both considered that to be cheating. Shaw and Forrest, gunnery sergeants, were already eying the talent in the room, Forrest checking out every female's rear while Shaw sought out the quarians in their skin-tight suits exclusively. Corporals Ngandu, Jarvis and Sporritt were edging their way closer to the dance floor as they downed their drinks, hips and shoulders already twitching to the beat.

Sergeant Harris hadn't been with the squad for quite as long as the others but was already fitting in easily. The guy seemed to make friends as easily as he breathed, and he was no rookie on the battlefield either.

"I leave next week," he replied. "Hitching a ride on a medical frigate heading back to Earth for shore leave. They'll drop me at the port in Vancouver and I'll head out to Rio from there."

The two of them elbowed their way through the crowd and made their way to an empty standing table. "You ever been to Earth before, LT?" Harris asked.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, grew up in Vancouver. You?"

"Nah, not me. I'm a spacer brat. Grew up on a bunch of different merchant ships. Always wanted to see Earth, though."

Nathan nodded, taking a drink to hide the roll of his eyes. Earth. He could take or leave the place, to be honest, but he knew his opinion would not be popular with Harris. Or anyone else, really. He had been wanting to hightail it off the planet since he was twelve years old.

Of course, that wasn't the planet's fault. It was a nice planet, really. Good weather, in most places. It had some great things going for it. Like beaches, those were good. Sunshine, waves and beautiful half-naked women. All things he could appreciate.

But it was also the home of his father. That was enough to make him want to put it behind him forever. He wasn't looking forward to being back there for N school – his father was sure to try and contact him – but in this case the reward would be worth the risk.

One of the other soldiers abruptly grabbed Harris by the arm and pulled him away, laughing and waving apologetically. Another two – Privates Bailiss and Petra – came over to fill the empty side of the table. A smile spread across his face again as he chatted with his fellow soldiers. N school. He had worked for this his whole life, and he sure as hell wasn't going to mess it up. His squad was counting on him to make them proud. He couldn't let them down. He could practically smell the pressed gunmetal of that distinctive red and white N7 badge in his future.

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a tall, lithe asari on the edge of the dance floor. She seemed to be covertly studying him, looking him up and down. As he watched her she smiled and winked, ever so slightly, and he smiled back. She spun, and her hips moved, and he suddenly knew what he would be doing for the rest of the night. It was a celebration, after all, and he was here to have fun.

He finished off his drink in a long swig, and with Bailiss and Petra's not so subtle encouragement, headed over to join her on the dance floor.

As he woke up the next morning, the first semi-coherent thought to pass through his head was something resembling ouch.

He sat up gingerly and pressed a hand to his temple, grimacing. On the other side of the hotel bed the sheets were crumpled but empty. The asari's bag was also missing from beside the nightstand, where she had thrown it last night. Thrown very hastily. He grinned to himself despite the headache. She had been a very… enthusiastic… partner. They had stumbled into the hotel room and gotten right down to business.

Dragging himself out of bed, he popped a couple of painkillers from his duffel bag then hit the shade modulator on the window, allowing bright simulated morning sun to spread across the bedroom floor. It wasn't quite the same as a planetary sunrise, as the light was spread evenly throughout the open areas of the Citadel rather than rising from one particular point, but it did the job.

Nathan stumbled into the shower and set the hot water running, mind already valiantly trying to sift through all the things he would need to do today to be ready to ship out next week. He would have to hand the squad over to a new commander, of course, and to that end he had already completed his personnel reports and recommended XO Harris to replace him. Even in the short time he had known the Sergeant he had gained a healthy respect for the man's abilities. He would make a good leader and Nathan would be comfortable knowing he had left his squad in good hands. He needed to drop those reports off to his sector chief in person, so he could answer the inevitable questions that would follow them up, and wanted to be fresh for that since it would no doubt be a giant pain in the ass, and he would probably be there for a while. He decided to go there first and get it over with, after stopping by the Alliance barracks to change into his uniform.

Half an hour later, in the small room he shared with another Lieutenant at the barracks, he was shrugging on his navy blue regulation jacket over a standard t-shirt. As he clipped the pins denoting his rank to his collar he took one last look at his reflection in the mirror. Short nut brown hair, slightly tousled, brown eyes only a little bloodshot. Clean shaven… well, close enough. He grabbed a brush and ran it through his hair, probably doing more harm than good, then grabbed his omnitool wrist band off the counter and snapped it on. The synth mesh adhered to his skin, then popped up with a small symbol denoting readiness and another symbol showing that he had unread messages. He set it to audio as he gathered up his personal data pad and cred chip and stuffed them in his pockets, ready to head out.

"New message received from Second Lieutenant Jin, on behalf of Admiral David Anderson's office, 0727 local time. Attention: First Lieutenant Nathan Briggs. Report to SSV Nimbus at 1300 hours Wednesday the 23rd of June for transport to Vancouver, Earth, for your next assignment—"

"Stop." Nathan interrupted, frowning. He held up the omnitool and with a few quick finger movements brought up the mail interface manually. He read over the message again.

Vancouver? Today? They've pushed up my transport date?

No, that couldn't be right. The ICT program didn't start until the following week, and if the Alliance shipped him over there now he would just be sitting around doing nothing until then. Was the Nimbus the only ship going to Earth between then and now?

He grunted to himself. Of course not. Earth was a major hub world for galactic trade, not to mention the homeworld of one of the races represented on the Council. There was never any shortage of vessels going from the Citadel to Earth.

Extra leave before ICT began, then? It was possible… but unlikely. Adding it to the leave he had already received on the Citadel, it would be an unusually large amount of time off.

Was there a special task he needed to perform on this particular ship on the way to Earth? No… as skilled as he was, those skills were hardly unique. He had a good grasp of military tactics and could shoot things pretty well; that was about it. He supposed he also meddled with tech a little, but he wouldn't really consider himself an expert.

He needed more information about this change of plans. There was a file attached to the message, entitled 'Mission Parameters'. He sat down on his bunk and opened it.

'Alliance Military Police – Protection Division.

Located on all major Alliance military command posts, the MP Protection Division is responsible for the safety and security of all military personnel on- and off-base…'

He stopped reading. Well, now he was officially thrown for a loop. Protection Division? Why was—How could he be assigned to the Protection Division only a few days before he was supposed to report to the villa for N training?

With a sinking feeling, he realised he knew the answer to that. N school had to be off. He must have been reassigned.

But why? He racked his brain for something he might have done wrong. He had drunk a significant amount of alcohol last night, but he could still remember the whole night and he was sure he hadn't hit anyone or broken anything. He hadn't broken any regs by going out and drinking – they were all on shore leave, it was practically expected behaviour. Could the asari have filed a false report against him? Claiming he hurt her, or… took advantage of her? No. That couldn't possibly be true; if it was, he would have been carted off to a prison cell by the MPs, not transferred into their ranks.

Whatever he had done, it had to have been before last night. The problem was, his record was exemplary. Perfect. Practically covered in gold stars. Normally he wouldn't consider that a problem – in fact, he considered it a point of resounding pride – but it didn't help him work out what was going on here.

With a flash of determination, he decided that he wasn't going to let this go like a good little soldier. He also wasn't going to get anywhere just sitting on his bunk. He brought up his omnitool again and tapped a few commands into it. There – he was lucky, Admiral Anderson was currently located on the Citadel. His schedule was private, of course, but Nathan knew where his office was.

He would go and ask the Admiral to explain. In person.

Standing in the foyer of the Admiral's office, he was already starting to think this was a bad idea. A bad, bad idea. Who in their right mind came storming into an Admiral's office – an Admiral's office – and demanded to speak with them? Especially when that someone held the comparatively lowly rank of Lieutenant? This was insane.

Perhaps he was still drunk. Somehow, after last night, the alcohol had just never left his system. He had to be totally, blind drunk.

He almost turned around and left. But… he had to know. Drunk or not. He had earned that spot on the N training course and he wasn't about to give it up easily.

Gathering what little of his courage remained, he presented himself at the Admiral's assistant's desk. From his Asian colouring, he guessed this was probably the Second Lieutenant Jin who had forwarded him his new orders. Jin stood at the sight of the Lieutenant's rank pins and saluted. "Sir."

Nathan returned the salute. "Second Lieutenant Jin?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'd like to see the Admiral." Nathan kept his tone pleasant, but couldn't prevent some of the tension he felt from leaking into his voice.

Jin didn't appear to notice as he took his seat and brought up his terminal's interface. "Of course, sir, let me just locate the next available appointment."

Nathan shook his head. "No, I would really like to see him now," he replied personably, tone light and almost deferential. "If it's at all possible. My business is very urgent."

He received a tired glance in return. You and everyone else, Jin's expression clearly said. So much for his best efforts at diplomacy. "I'm sorry, sir, but the Admiral is not available at such short notice. I can try—"

With a swish of electronics, the door to the Admiral's office abruptly slid open and the Admiral himself emerged. Without letting himself stop to think, Nathan took his chance. He side-stepped over into the Admiral's path and snapped a perfect, parade-ground salute, back rigid, eyes forward. "Sir!"

Anderson pulled up short, and Nathan suppressed a cringe at the look on his face – a combination of surprise and… was that recognition?

Yep, this was a bad idea. He must still be drunk. But he was here now, and there was nothing for it but to follow through. He held his stiff posture and waited for the Admiral to respond, hoping he wouldn't just keep walking.

With a resigned sigh, Anderson stopped. He returned the salute. "At ease, soldier. Lieutenant Briggs, I presume?"

Nathan's eyes widened slightly in surprise. He did recognise me… he knows who I am? "Yes sir. May I have a moment of your time sir?"

"I thought you might turn up here. Come on, Briggs." He spun and headed back towards his office.

Nathan wasn't sure he had heard correctly, but the body language was clear. He had caught a break. He wasn't about to look this surprising gift horse in the mouth. He hurried after the Admiral.

Once they were both inside his office, Admiral Anderson slapped the door panel and it slid shut behind them. "I think I can guess why you're here, Lieutenant," he said conversationally as he made his way over to his desk. Instead of taking a seat behind it, he leant against the front and folded his arms.

The Admiral certainly didn't appear to be as angry as he should be at the sudden intrusion of an uninvited subordinate. "Sir?" he asked, not quite sure if he was supposed to respond or not.

"You received your new orders, and want to know why you're being pulled out of N school. Is that about right?"

He bristled a bit at the Admiral's seeming lack of appreciation of the gravity of the situation, but forced it down.

This was very strange. Although the Admiral would no doubt have approved the orders, surely he would only have dealt with such a low level assignment in the most abstract sense. Even if the soldier involved had just been approved for N training. There was no reason for him to get involved personally, and yet… he seemed to be quite familiar with the situation.

Nathan took a moment to respond, realising he was on uncertain ground. He chose his words carefully. "Yes, sir, that's why I'm here. I'm not questioning your orders, sir, but I was hoping I could request… an explanation. I'm… not sure I understand your reasoning, sir," he finished.

Instead of responding directly, Anderson studied him with a calculating stare. Nathan felt distinctly as though he was being evaluated. He regretted how quickly he had run that brush through his hair, now, but let his chin rise just slightly under the heavy gaze. "You've had quite the career so far, Lieutenant Briggs. I've been following your progress after the incident on Medena. Your ratio has been nothing short of remarkable."

Medena. Now there was a good memory. Ignoring the slight swell of pride he felt, he withheld comment. "Ratio, sir?" Nathan hadn't heard the term before.

"Shorthand, son. It refers to the number of successful missions you've completed, compared to the… losses you've suffered. Your ratio is excellent. Thirty seven missions since you were given command of your current team, with zero losses. Impressive."

Nathan stood a little straighter. "Thank you, sir."

"Not many squad leaders can boast the same thing, Lieutenant. You should be proud. Your ratio is one of the reasons I chose you for this assignment. It will be… rather unique, and I need someone with a good record, with some solid experience under his belt. I don't blame you for feeling overqualified, and I am sorry I needed to cancel your IC training. I know how much of a big deal that is. Hell, I've done it myself, I'm well aware. But," Anderson took a breath. "This is more important."

Nathan stayed silent, intrigued, despite himself.

Without further explanation, the Admiral used his omnitool to bring a vidscreen on the wall of his office to life. He queued up a clip and set it to play.

Nathan recognised it instantly. After all, it had played almost nonstop on all news channels for at least a week after it happened.

An image appeared on the screen, distant but suspiciously clear for one supposedly obtained from a member of the public's omnitool. He wouldn't be surprised at all if it turned out the "concerned member of the public" was an Alliance public relations officer. It showed a frigate at dock, a long, sleek, curving hull with the word 'Normandy' painted on its flank. Nathan recognised the familiar shape of the building as the Vancouver Central Spaceport, the military wing. A light snow was falling, dusting the Normandy with a heavy cloak of white.

"…breaking news. Our sources advise that an arrest has been made in relation to the sudden and tragic destruction of the Bahak system's mass relay and the associated devastating loss of life," the voiceover faded in. "Commander Shepard, Saviour of the Citadel, Hero of the Alliance and recipient of the Star of Terra, has claimed responsibility and turned herself in to Alliance authorities."

A hatch slid open in the side of the Normandy and three distant figures, viewed from above, exited. Two clearly flanked the other, gripping the arms of the person in the middle. Although it was impossible to see from the distance at which the recording had been taken, the person in the middle had to be Commander Shepard. A hooded regulation weather jacket covered her and her hands appeared to be clasped – or cuffed – before her. As the recording progressed, the three of them descended from the Normandy and headed down the ramp into the building.

They disappeared, and the image changed to a view of the ANN news anchor. She appeared a little uncertain as she looked up from her own vidscreen toward the camera, cocking her head to one side for a moment as she listened to her earpiece. "Uh… and we now have further confirmation that these reports are correct," she announced, sounding more than a little confused. Nathan couldn't blame her. "Commander Shepard will be stripped of her rank and command and held in custody, awaiting trial for her involvement in what happened in Bahak—"

The recording paused with the anchor staring at the camera, mouth opened slightly, mid-speech, eyes wide in surprise.

Nathan kept his mouth firmly shut, carefully refraining from glaring at the screen. Commander Shepard. Now it was starting to make sense. Of course they needed someone with a bit more field experience than the average MP to act as guard to one of the most capable soldiers in the galaxy. And of course, someone with a bit higher rank than average, to match her status – even though said status had been just a little tarnished after she had freely admitted to being a mass murderer. It made perfect sense, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

Perhaps he was being selfish, or petty, but he was supposed to be heading off to N school. How did guard duty, even if it was for the most famous soldier in the galaxy, compare to that? Something he had worked his whole life for? Something he had, quite literally, spent his whole life training for. Once he had graduated from N school he would start to be assigned the more important, more critical missions; missions that sent him to the furthest reaches of the known universe, the most dangerous theatres of battle. He would be responsible for saving lives, protecting Alliance interests, at the most critical points.

How could… guard duty… possibly compare to that?

Thankfully, Anderson appeared to be oblivious to his barely concealed anger. "The Alliance must… display a front to the rest of the universe. We must appear to be holding the Commander to account for her actions," he began to explain.

Nathan's eyes narrowed, and this time he couldn't suppress his anger. "Appear to be?" he repeated, voice rising. "She murdered three hundred thousand Batarians! Civilians! She destroyed a mass relay! We should be locking her up and throwing away the key!"

The Admiral's eyebrows rose at this display. "And before that, she saved millions of lives, Lieutenant!" he shot back.

Nathan chuckled mirthlessly. "So it all works out in terms of her ratio then, does it? What's three hundred thousand compared to millions?"

Abruptly the Admiral seemed to deflate. He slapped a key on his omnitool and the vidscreen faded to black, then turned and moved over to his chair. He didn't sit, but took ahold of the back as if for support.

As Nathan watched, still seething, the Admiral seemed to be considering something. His head was bowed, and he opened his mouth as if to start speaking, then stopped. Finally he straightened, and his jaw was set. "It was… necessary."

"Necessary—" Nathan began, but stopped abruptly as the Admiral held up his hand.

"That's enough, Lieutenant. The Alliance's actions regarding Commander Shepard are above your pay grade," he snapped.

Nathan snapped to attention, knowing an order when he heard one. "Sir, yes, sir!"

"You will report to the SSV Nimbus at 1300 hours today. You will perform this assignment to the best of your ability, and you will show Commander Shepard the respect she deserves." The Admiral studied him carefully, then appeared to soften, just slightly, as if in understanding. "If you do a good job, son, you'll receive a recommendation from me to take with you to the villa. Understood?"

"Yes sir." He saluted. He knew a dismissal when he heard it too.

The Admiral returned the salute. Nathan spun on his heel and headed for the office door. As he left, he could have sworn the Admiral whispered something he was not intended to hear. It sounded suspiciously like, "Good luck."