"Do you love me?" The question had been on her mind for awhile now, her subconscious having finally informed the rest of her brain that she'd never once heard the four letter word from her 'lover's lips. Not even in the throes of passion or just mirrored back, parrot fashion, after one of her own declarations. Apparently it was a bolt out the blue for her partner though, as she felt the other woman's body tense before rolling away from her.

"Do you love me?" She repeated, sitting up, insides going cold. Her partner lay on her back apparently staring intently at the ceiling but with her eyes scrunched shut. Whole body tense. Breathing audibly being forced back under control. After a brief eternity of silence the answer came back quiet and strained:

"No..."

The coldness melted in a sudden inferno of rage as she got off the bed and started collecting her clothes from around the room.

"So I'm just some casual fling? Even after what I said... when I told you..."

"Sam..." A hand tentatively reached for her shoulder but she swept it off.

"WERE YOU EVEN GOING TO FUCKING TELL ME!? Or just keep using me?"

"Samantha, please... It's not-"

"You knew how I felt! You knew and you just played with my feelings. Kept them hostage so you'd always have someone to sleep with!"

"I don't DO casual long term!" The reply was firmer, more forceful this time and while it did nothing to subdue the anger, it made it clear that if she wanted an explanation she'd have to actually listen.

"What do you do then?" She crossed her arms and stood glaring down at the commander who sat tentatively on the edge of the bed, feet resting on the floor, head bowed in shame.

"If I just wanted sex I could have got with any number of people onboard this ship." There was no bragging to the words, just a statement of fact. "I was drawn to you because you were interested in more, you were willing to listen... Please listen to me Sam." Glancing up the soldier received the smallest of nods to continue.

"Casual sex is always a one-night stand with me, I never go back to the same person. Multiple times a night maybe, but no-one ever gets more than one night. If... if I do then it's because it's... serious..."

"So, what we have is... 'serious'?" The voice that replies is cool, calculating. The eyes haven't diminished their anger.

"I care about you Sam." Pleading voice, pained eyes.

"You 'care' about me, this is 'serious' but you don't love me?"

"I... I can't!" Pleading gone, pain present but firmly in the back seat as pure panic overwhelms all emotional frequencies.

"Why?" There is only silence as Shepard sits, arms wrapped around tucked legs, rocking slightly. The usually imposing figure looks tiny and broken and Traynor briefly wonders if she's just doomed the whole galaxy.

"Shepard... I can't listen if you don't talk."

"Everyone I've ever said I love is dead! I tell them and they die. Usually painfully." The soldier's shaking now and Sam walks over to the bed, crouching down and grasping her partner's hands. Anger evaporating as she finally starts to understand.

"I care about you Sam. I'll do anything in my power to protect you, to make you happy, but I... I can't... I can't say that... You're too important to me for me to lose." Samantha raises one hand to her commander's cheek wiping away the silent tears, the first she's ever seen.

"It's ok." She gently maneuvers them both to the centre of the bed, curling protectively around her 'not love' lover. The raw emotion is heavy in the air and she wonders how she ever doubted it. Why was her brain so focused on that one word? How many times had people said that word to her when it wasn't true.

"As long as you care." A nod. Words were meaningless, it was feelings that mattered and these at least she knew were genuine.