Samantha walked with such intensity that people instinctively moved out of the way. Twenty minutes ago she was supposed to meet Ashley at the spectre offices. The fact it was their first official date didn't make things any better. Leaving the Normandy, she felt like a nervous wreck. This time she didn't need to hide her feelings yet she needed to be careful. Coming on too strong might scare Ashley away.
"You're late," said Ashley when she saw Samantha enter the embassy hallway.
"Sorry, a last minute message from Hackett held me up," said Samantha.
"That's okay. Was it important?" asked Ashley. She punched in her security clearance and led Sam into the spectre gun range.
"Nothing special. He wanted to remind Shepard that the war can't be won conventionally..."
"For the tenth time," they said simultaneously.
"Oh you dressed down," said Samantha taking note of Ashley's t-shirt and jeans.
"Looks like we reversed roles," said Ashley. This time, it was Samantha who showed up in full uniform.
"To be fair, I had to come straight from work. You look nice though," said Samantha making a cheesy grin.
"Thanks..." Ashley attempted to return the compliment but couldn't think. The whole situation felt awkward. Instead, she focused on today's lesson. "What do you know about sniping?"
"Just what they glossed over in boot. I don't remember much of it. Tends to happen when you're assigned a desk job," said Samantha.
"That's fine. I'll start you off the M92-Mantis." Ashley retrieved the sniper rifle from the armory. After setting the targets down range, she handed the rifle over. "Here, kneel down and rest the barrel on the barrier."
Samantha did as instructed. Feeling Ashley lean in close set her mind racing. Sniping was the last thing on her mind.
"This rifle has a bit of a kick so make sure you hold it tight. Normally the built in computer will adjust for wind but that isn't a issue here obviously. When you aim down the scope, don't lean on the rifle," explained Ashley. She oriented Samantha's hands into the proper positions. "Aim for the head. Slowly squeeze the trigger between each breath and the shot should surprise you."
A tense moment passed before the weapon went off making Samantha jump.
Ashley took the rifle and peered down the scope. "You missed by a few inches. Not bad for a rookie."
"Maybe I can join you on your next mission," said Samantha, her tone suggesting a joke.
"Careful, Shepard just might let you do it," said Ashley. When giving the rifle back, she caught a flirty glance from Samantha. Her mind made a snap decision to force out a compliment. "Your accent, it's very um..."
"Sexy?" said Samantha.
"I was going to say cute, but that works too," said Ashley. Again she felt awkward. "Shall we continue?"
"Sure, I'll try not to put words in your mouth this time," said Samantha. Although, I'd like to put my tongue in your mouth. No, behave yourself!
Ashley continued instructing Samantha in the art of sniping. They practiced proper breathing techniques, timing, and shared tips on hitting a moving target. By the end of the hour, Samantha was hitting the target more often than not. Finally, Ashley showed how to properly clean a sniper rifle.
"What kind of rifle does Shepard use? It looks like a cannon," asked Samantha as Ashley put the rifle away.
"Oh, she uses a Black Widow," answered Ashley.
"Can I try shooting one?" asked Samantha.
This made Ashley laugh. "There's no way you could handle it. I can barely do it."
"So show me," said Samantha. "I bet you can't do it."
"Oh yeah? Two lessons and you're already getting cocky. Step aside specialist," said Ashley. A moment later she had the giant weapon set up on the barrier. "I'm calling it, each shot will be in the kill zone."
Samantha enjoyed teasing Ashley. It helped her to relax and forget that it's a date. "I bet you'll only hit..."
BAM, BAM, BAM... three consecutive shots rang out inside the enclosed room turned them both temporarily deaf. Samantha twitched with each shot and covered her ears. Ashley stood up with a smug smile. "Two to the chest, and one to the head."
"What?" shouted Samantha, her ears still ringing.
Ashley held up two fingers, slapped her chest, then one finger, pointing to her head.
"That was so loud," said Samantha. They both laughed.
"It's not so bad on the battlefield," said Ashley. "You should hear a heavy weapon like the reaper darkstar go off."
"I can only imagine," said Samantha. "It must feel good to wipe out a slew of those reaper ground troops."
"It certainly does, although it's never enough."
"Earlier, about going with you on the next mission, I was being serious," said Samantha while nervously fidgiting with her fingers.
"That's not a good idea. If and I mean IF, we took you into battle; I'd equip you with an assault rifle and pistol. I think those weapons would suit you better," suggested Ashley. "But it's very dangerous Sam. You've never faced a brute or a banshee. Lately we've been getting them at the same time. Be thankful you don't need to go fight."
"I know but I feel kinda useless just passing information along. I want to experience what you and Shepard go through. How can I go through this war without killing one reaper?" asked Samantha.
There was an eagerness in her eyes that Ashley found disarming. Saying no became impossible. "Alright, I'll talk to Shepard about it."
"Really? That's great, thank you," said Samantha then wrapped Ashley up in a hug.
"I hope you realize what you're asking for," said Ashley as the air was squeezed out of her.
"So what rifle should I use?" asked Samantha after letting her go.
"The avenger should fit you fine. First, let me see what you can really do with one. Now that you don't have to pretend to be a bad shot," said Ashley. She retrieved the weapon, loaded it, then handed it to Samantha. "I'm going to keep moving the targets, try to hit the chest on each one until you run out of thermals."
"Got it," said Samantha. She held up the rifle to her shoulder aiming down the sights. "I'm ready when you are."
"Go!" Ashley watched as Samantha struggled to hit the first few targets. The noise and kick back from the rifle no longer seemed to affect Samantha. By the end of the third clip she had improved dramatically. "Remember to fire short controlled bursts. Don't just spray and pray."
"I understand," said Samantha after handing the steaming rifle back to her.
"You should try to practice as often as possible. Even if I'm not around there are other public shooting ranges on the Citadel," said Ashley. She touched Samantha's shoulder for emphasis. "It could mean the difference between living and dying."
"Don't worry, I'll do my best," said Samantha. She took Ashley's hand off her shoulder holding it tight in her own. "Thanks again for the lesson."
"You're welcome," said Ashley while looking down at their entwined fingers. The warmth of her hand and soft touch of her skin gave Ashley a chill. The feeling was welcomed, but still uncertain. The attraction was there however, she didn't know how far she was willing to take this.
"What shall we do now?" asked Samantha giving Ashley's hand a squeeze.
The look Samantha was giving Ashley made her feel flustered. "I actually have some work to do."
"Oh, I see," said Samantha, the disappointment in her voice was palpable.
"That's the downside of being a spectre, always on the run," said Ashley forcing a laugh. "I'll talk to Shepard for you. Maybe we can work something out that isn't too dangerous."
"I'll make sure to practice everyday. I won't disappoint you," said Samantha. Her face turned hopeful again as she released her hand. "If you ever need to talk or want to hang out on the Normandy, just send me a message. I can be discrete."
"I appreciate that Sam," said Ashley. "I know most of the crew wouldn't care if we were seeing each other. That doesn't stop me from feeling self-conscious about it though. I'm from a traditional background and..."
"You don't need to explain," said Samantha holding a finger to Ashley's lips. "Secret dates and messages are more fun anyway."
"Thanks again," said Ashley before kissing Samantha on the forehead. She deserved that at least. Samantha beamed with excitement from the small intimate gesture. "I'll see you on the ship."
"Aye-aye lieutenant," replied Samantha.