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"Shepard," Aria greeted her as she sat down on the couches. "If you keep coming back here, people might start spreading rumors."

"Funny that you say that, since you're the one who asked me to come here," Shepard said, her voice distorted by the speaker on her black-and-red armor.

"I didn't say I minded, did I?" She laughed, lounging back on her cushions. "At least these rumors would be mildly entertaining. Most of them are so boring."

Shepard shifted her weight, feeling slightly awkward. She had met a lot of asari over the years, from dancers to statesmen and everything in between. She'd met the ones that men and women all over the galaxy raved about, including the Consort on the Citadel, and honestly, she'd never seen what the fuss was about. It wasn't that they weren't beautiful physically. Shepard just didn't feel any great attraction to them, to the way that they seemed to hold themselves separate from others, somehow. She'd loved women before - she still felt Ashley's death like a scar on her heart, one that stubbornly refused to heal the way that the others had - but had never really felt anything for any of the asari she'd met. They were just too proper. Even Liara, who had been her friend, had been too polite and quiet. Shepard thought that Liara was improved by the two years that she'd spent searching for her, although she wouldn't ever say it to anyone; she was stronger now, and there was a darkness in her manner that Shepard could relate to in a way that she'd never been able to before.

But Aria... she was something different. Shepard couldn't help but stare at her as she lounged on the couches, at her dark blue skin and the vat-grown leathers that strategically covered parts of it. She was grateful for the armor, now, the black alloy that encased her from head to toe; it made reading her reactions that much more difficult, and she was sure that if Aria could see the look on her face, she'd have something to say about it.

Still, she could look, but she wasn't going to make a move. There was a big difference between Aria and Ashley. Ash had been a warrior; she'd known how to fight when she'd had to. She'd survived the attack on Eden Prime when so few others had, and she'd held off Saren's forces long enough for the bomb to go off on Virmire. She had been a marine, not proper or perfect, but rough around the edges.

Aria was something else entirely. Aria was a predator, a monster. She had too much of what Shepard thought most asari didn't have enough of.

"So aren't you going to start demanding to know what I wanted, Shepard?" Aria asked, interrupting her thoughts. "Or is something else distracting you?"

"I didn't think you were in that much of a hurry," Shepard answered quickly.

Aria shrugged. "Well, my time is valuable. But I'm willing to spare a bit more for you."

Now she was definitely glad for the armor. Her face was burning under her helmet. "So why did you send me that message?"

She shrugged fluidly. "Some of my sources offworld mentioned that you'd made use of the intel I'd given you. I was curious. Thought I'd ask for a first-hand account."

That couldn't have possibly been it, Shepard thought. But she'd play along. "There isn't much to say. We had to fight our way through a few YMIRs who tried to destroy the cargo when they saw us coming. Didn't see anyone else there."

"Hm." Aria frowned slightly. "I was afraid of that. I didn't know anything specific, of course, but the mercenary companies are fond of such measures."

"You almost sound concerned," Shepard said dryly.

"Oh, I wasn't sending you into a deliberate trap," Aria said, chuckling. "I knew it was nothing you couldn't handle. But I was surprised you investigated it at all. I thought you weren't asking for anything from me."

"I think I'm entitled to change my mind."

"I'm sure you are." Aria smiled fiercely. "I don't suppose you wanted to ask for anything else, did you?"

Yes. Definitely a predator. Tempted as Shepard was, it was best that she steer clear. "I don't think so. I've got work to do, if you don't mind."

"Yes, right. Saving the galaxy. I keep forgetting about your Messiah complex." She sat up. "Although with your skills, I suppose you might just do it."

"No need to flatter me, Aria."

"I don't have to flatter anyone anymore, Shepard. I always call things as I see them." She powered up her omni-tool, started pressing a few buttons. "But if you ever decide that I'm right about needing to blow off some steam, this might interest you. I'm transmitting a few files. You can take a look at them later, if you'd like."

Shepard wanted to say no, but something in her just wouldn't let her do it. "We'll see," she said instead, as she turned to leave.