"Hot soup and a bath my arse," Lara grumbled irately as she leaned against the stone staircase of the fort with her arms crossed over her chest. Beside her, Ares let out a tired whine as if agreeing with her statement. Her clothes were covered with mud, her hair felt grimy, and she was famished. Carrots could help you lose weight, sure, but they sure as hell couldn't satisfy your hunger.

As soon as they had walked into Mourningwood Fort, Walter had been greeted by two soldiers who she had surmised were the ones in charge. Lara had opted to stay back, giving them some space to talk and not wanting to draw too much attention to herself. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be working, as the soldiers around the fort kept throwing furtive glances her way. Lara kept telling herself that the only reason they were looking over at her every few seconds was because they probably hadn't seen a woman in months. Surely, they couldn't possibly know that she was Princess -

"Lara!" Walter called out, bellowing her name clear across the other side of the fort. "Get over here, girl! There's someone I'd like you to meet!"

Lara pushed herself off the wall and cursed under her breath. Gee, thanks, Walter. Way to be inconspicuous. She held up her hand to Ares, motioning him to stay where he was. The poor dog looked relieved at not having to get up and follow her.

"Lara?" the man with the long mustache said when she finally reached them. "Walter, is this – "

"The princess, yes," Walter replied. "Lara, this is Major Swift."

Lara shook the man's hand with a firm grip. "Pleasure to meet you, Major."

"The pleasure is all mine, Princess," the Major replied, taking a puff of the pipe he held in his hand.

"Just Lara, please. No need for formalities here." She could hear Walter trying to stifle a laugh behind her, and she barely resisted the urge to punch him in the gut. Barely.

"Just treat her like any other pair of hands for now," Walter said, slapping Lara hard on the shoulders causing her to stumble a bit.

"Not a problem," Swift said, grinning and motioning for the other man to come closer. "Captain Finn will show you to the mortar. We could use a body up there."

"Princess, Ben Finn," the blonde man said, holding out his hand as Major Swift and Walter walked off to take care of business around the fort.

Lara kept herself from rolling her eyes. She knew Walter introduced her as the princess so that they could gain support from the people of Albion that were against Logan, but she hated having to endure the constant "my lady's" or the different treatment she received when people found out who she really was.

"It's Lara, please," she replied, gripping the man's hand in greeting. The warmth of his hand surprised her as did the sudden shock that coursed through her fingers. She quickly pulled her hand away, blaming her reaction to his touch on the shock gauntlet that she wore.

Finn just smiled, seemingly unaware of her slight discomfort when they shook hands. Maybe it had just been her imagination. She was tired and hungry, and the overall feel of Mourningwood had her a bit on edge.

"Very well. But if you insist on me calling you Lara, then you must call me Ben." His blue eyes sparkled with mischief, and Lara realized that he was the type of man who could charm his way out of any situation. Well, good luck trying that on her.

"Would you mind showing me to the mortar now?" she asked, glancing over at Walter who seemed to be deep in conversation with Major Swift. Couldn't Swift just have pointed her in the direction of the mortar instead of having this Ben guy accompany her?

"Right this way," he began walking in the direction of the stone staircase. "I'll introduce you to Private Jammy. So called because he's the luckiest sod in the fort."

Lara just nodded, following Finn up the staircase as she looked around the fort. She suddenly realized that these men had been here for quite some time. Far from being homely considering the location of the fort, to these men, this fort was home.

It was hard for Lara to imagine the trials of the people of Albion. She had been raised in the castle her whole life, far away from the reality of the world. Her few treks into town with her father, she was protected from seeing the harsher way of life of some of the people in Bowerstone. However, she was beginning to understand the hardships that these people had to endure. The villagers at the Dweller Camp, the mercenaries at the Mercenary Camp, the soldiers at Mourningwood Fort – they survived because they fought for it, every day of their lives.

Lara had been so lost in her thoughts that she failed to notice that Ben had stopped walking. She ran straight into his shoulder just as he was turning, knocking her off balance. Her foot slipped off the edge of the walkway, and with no banister to catch her, she felt herself fall. Her heart raced, already anticipating hitting the cold, hard ground meters below her.

"Gotcha!"

A pair of hands grabbed her arm. The sudden yank in her shoulder caused her to inadvertently yelp out in pain. She dangled helplessly for a few seconds before she felt Ben pull her up with apparent ease.

Her heart still pounded in her chest. Her shoulder throbbed painfully from nearly being pulled out of its socket, but she was grateful that it was only a sore shoulder rather than a broken neck.

"Are you okay?" Ben asked looking down at her, his eyes darkened in concern as he looked her over.

"Yes," she managed to whisper, realizing how close they were standing to each other. She could feel his warm breath on her skin as he leaned in to hear her answer. His hands still covered her own. Another shock sent shivers down her arm, and, as she made a move to remove her hand from his, he only held on tighter.

"You really need to be more careful, Princess," he said, ignoring both her attempts to pull away from him and the glare she gave him at the mention of the word "princess". "How can you lead a revolution if you don't even watch where you're going? Though if you fight as well as you walk, I'm afraid the battle has already been lost."

His mocking tone infuriated her. He was the one that nearly sent her flying off the second story of the fort. Granted, she hadn't been paying attention to where she was going, but that was a moot point. He was blaming her for running into him! But the low blow wasn't the fact that he was accusing her of being clumsy. No, the man actually had the gall to mock her fighting abilities when he had never even seen her fight!

She held out her other arm and produced a ball of flame in the palm of her hand.

"Unless you're confident enough to check that ideal, Captain, then I suggest you release me," she hissed through clenched teeth.

The corner of Finn's mouth turned up into a cocky grin. He let go of her hand and walked around the bend to where Private Jammy stood waiting for them by the mortar.

"A thank you would have been nice, you know, rather than a threat," he called out to her over his shoulder, still smiling away to himself.

Lara scowled back at him, but could only hold his gaze for a few seconds before she couldn't help herself looking around the fort to avoid it. It had never happened with anyone else before, but she somehow felt…shy, almost, looking at him. Damn, Mourningwood was getting to her more than she liked. First the shivers of shock every time she touched him, then her inexplicable shyness when he looked at her…she shook her head and looked down, trying to clear her head.

As she did, she caught sight of Walter, who had a look of amusement on his face. It was obvious that he had witnessed the whole thing but had decided to let her handle it instead of butting in like he always did. She had half a mind to throw the ball of fire at him, but instead extinguished it with a flick of her wrist.

She said a quick prayer for patience and then walked over to the mortar. It was going to be a long night. She could already feel it.


AN: Special thanks to iNf3ctioNZ! Seriously, go read "Masses to Masses" and "Masses to Masses 2" over in Mass Effect if you haven't already. You'll laugh, you'll cry...you'll laugh and cry...it's awesome!

To Anon: Thank you! I was hoping it wasn't too much, but I'm glad you thought it was good. :)

Next chapter: What does Ben think of the princess? His POV of their initial meeting.