!!!DISCLAIMER!!! I don't own Mass Effect in any way, shape, or form. Like I always say, sometimes it's fun to take someone else's car out for a spin. Please don't sue me, Bioware! They say imitation is the best form of flattery!

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!! This fic will undoubtedly refer to events in the plot that will spoil the game for those who have not finished. I just wanted to make sure I gave ample warning, because I hate being spoiled personally. :(

These events are meant to take place just after the Paragon ending, but before Mass Effect 2 (since I have no idea what's going down in that game). I'm not sure if I'm going to continue this… probably only if there was a lot of prodding. I just wanted some closure. Thanks and enjoy!

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"Commander," Dr. Chakwas began, "how's the wound feeling?"

"It's better, doctor," Commander Catherine Shepard of the Alliance answered. She put her hand on top of the raised part of her military uniform, on the bandaged injury on her side above her hip. It was a wound she suffered during her fight with the transformed Saren.

"I can't believe Captain Anderson and Ambassador Udina actually questioned you with the Council before you were able to address that wound. Quite unsafe."

"I think it's okay. The bleeding's stopped, and it feels a lot better."

"That's the pain killers I gave you…" Dr Chakwas trailed off. She turned away and began observing some computer monitors attached to Shepard. Dr. Chakwas watched them with down turned lips.

Shepard glanced at the doctor, and her stomach felt like lead momentarily. She wanted to get out of infirmary and check on the crew. Shepard cleared her throat, "Honestly, doc – I'm fine. Thanks for your help. I need to go speak to Joker and let him know where we're headed," Shepard swung her legs over the infirmary cot and placed them on the floor.

"We need to change the dressing often to keep it from getting infected."

"Not a problem, doc."

Dr. Chakwas crossed her arms across her chest. She leveled Shepard with a pensive look. Shepard froze looking at the older woman and could not bring herself off the cot. She could tell the doctor had something to say.

"Is something wrong, doc?"

Dr. Chakwas glanced away. She eyed a spot on the floor momentarily to collect her words and brought her steely gaze back onto the commander. "Shepard, permission to speak freely?"

"Doctor – you don't have to ask me that. You always have my permission to speak your mind," a small smirk played across her lips, "cross my heart and hope to die."

"I noticed decreased levels of serotonin in your system."

Shepard had a feeling she knew where the conversation was heading. She said nothing and pursed her lips.

"It's usually an indication of depression. I was wondering about your mental state."

The commander took in a long breath and held it. "I'm not really sure how to answer that question," Shepard answered as honestly as she could without betraying too much information.

She thought about all the things that had happened recently. Every time she closed her eyes the scene of Saren's suicide ran through her mind. Once her heart began to race, the feelings of claustrophobia set in when she was trapped underneath the rubble at the top of the Citadel Chamber.

Shepard remembered her eerie conversation with the Reapers, and she thought about all the lives that would be utterly destroyed if she didn't get to the bottom of their plans in time.

"I know – you must feel like the weight of the galaxy is on you, Shepard."

"That's a part of it, I suppose," the commander shrugged.

"We're all behind you, Commander. I know whatever you decide to do, it'll be for the best."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, doc," Shepard answered truthfully.

"If it were up to me, I would have sent the crew on shore leave."

"I wish that was an option –"

"I know, I was just making small talk."

"Is there something more you want to add, doctor?" Shepard huffed, sensing there was another issue the doctor was dancing around.

"Only that the Lieutenant has been pacing outside the door for the last eleven minutes."

Shepard stifled a laugh. Her thoughts fell on Kaidan and she immediately felt reinvigorated. She daydreamed for a moment, thinking of going on shore leave, spending some alone time with Kaidan to figure out what they were to each other. She thought of the night they stole before Ilos.

Then she remembered the rules forced onto them by the military. He was two ranks below her, and therefore anytime they socialized outside of the crew of the Normandy, they were breaching regulations. But that could be remedied. The rule was no fraternization unless you're one rank apart. And even then, she doubted her and Kaidan's type of fraternization was what the rule pertained to.

The commander's heart ached with this revelation. She respected the rules greatly, but at the same time, she thought selfishly they should not pertain to her after all she did for the Council, for humanity, for the galaxy, and even for the Alliance.

Could it be as if she and Kaidan were the first ones to ever break this most sacred rule? Shepard thought it was naïve to believe that. What was the point of fighting to save the galaxy if the one person she cared about the most wouldn't be there at the end? Her love for Kaidan only strengthened her resolve to win.

"I'm going to take a step outside, Commander," Dr Chakwas said, giving her an all-knowing smile. The doctor took a few steps away from the cot and approached the door. She froze a few paces from the door control and turned to Shepard.

The doctor pulled some of her graying hair behind her ear and explained slowly, "Shepard… you're not the only one who ever did this," she explained simply, offering no more explanation then that. Shepard knew what she was referring to.

Shepard nodded her head in understanding, but did not reply. The doctor then waved her fingertips over the door control, splitting the doorway in half wish a whoosh, allowing her to step through.

Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko burst into the room, and stood frozen for a moment looking at Shepard with his heavy, dark gaze. The commander felt every hair on her body stand up in anticipation. The door closed, and they were utterly alone.

"Commander," Kaidan asked, firing off a quick salute, "I hope you're—"

"Alenko – don't you think we're a little past titles and salutes after your display of masculinity in my quarters the night before Ilos?" she asked, keeping her face as straight as possible.

Kaidan turned a deep shade of red, and stood at the door, stammering.

Shepard smiled broadly to show she was only teasing him, "Oh Kaidan… that's why I like you so much. Come sit next to me, we haven't had much time to talk," she ordered him softly, patting a section of the cot off to her left.

Kaidan approached her slowly. He took a seat next to her, and looked across the room at the wall at nothing in particular. He wrung his hands nervously in his lap.

"Is something bothering you?" she asked, sensing his hesitation.

He bowed his head and spoke into his hands, "Those few moments, after we fought Saren and the place came down – I thought you were dead. I screamed for you, but you never answered me. I thought you had died there, and… I didn't think I would be able to keep going."

Shepard was deeply moved. She opened her mouth to apologize for not answering him, to explain that she was covered in rubble, but he cut her off.

"I'm not trying to guilt trip you, Shepard. I meant every word I said to you the night before Ilos. I can't stand the thought of losing you, and for a short time I was convinced that I did."

"That's not what you came in here to talk to me about," Shepard predicted.

"Not exactly. I just wanted to get it off my chest," he said, turning his face to hers. "I think everyone on the ships knows about what we did…"

Shepard's eyes narrowed. "So what, Kaidan? I don't really care. Men and women do it all the time –"

"Commander, the regs against fraternization are pretty clear –"

"Kaidan, you don't have to call me that when we're alone!"

Kaidan's back stiffened. "I'm sorry… Catherine. I got used to it."

"I don't care about everyone else on the ship – or the regs. I don't care if Captain Anderson knows, or Admiral Hackett. After all we did for humanity, it's the least they can do for us to turn the other cheek."

He didn't answer her while they remained silent for a moment and watched each other.

A stark revelation came to Shepard. "Kaidan… did you do it because you thought we were going to die?"

He shook his head sharply, "How could you even think that? Of course not. Don't forget, Commander – you ordered me to bunk with you," he joked, bumping his shoulder lightly into hers, "and I always follow my commander's orders."

"Ow, careful… I'm still sore."

"Sorry, Shepard. How are you holding up anyway?"

She nodded. "I'm doing better. But we should get down to business here. I'm a little concerned about some of the stuff that took place after we dealt with Saren and Sovereign."

"I heard Udina was pissed that you didn't pick him for the Council."

Shepard narrowed her blue eyes at him, "The Ambassador's an ass as far as I'm concerned."

Kaidan chuckled and nodded his head. "Ash always said she didn't like politicians," he mused. "I'm beginning to think she had a point."

Shepard decided to move the conversation on. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk about Ashley Williams, but the loss on Vermire was just still too fresh, and too painful. The idea that she might have to make that choice again, and that the next time it might involve more then the loss of one of her crew members made her stomach do a back flip.

"Did you hear that Pressly asked Hackett to retire before we left the Citadel?" she asked.

"Yeah, I heard about that… I think the guy deserves some time off. He has family back on Earth that I'm sure he wants to see."

Shepard nodded. "Which brings me to something I want to discuss with you. I told Captain Anderson I want you to be promoted into his spot. You'll be a Lieutenant-Commander. You'll be second-in-command to the ship."

"What? You mean I'm going to be your XO?"

"Is there a problem with that, Alenko?"

"No ma'am," he answered, searching her face with his dark eyes. "What did the Captain say?"

"It's already been taken care of. I'll let the rest of the crew know as soon as you tell me if you want the spot."

He paused for a few moments. He ran one of his hands nervously through his hair. "But that means… I can't be on the shore party."

Shepard shook her head solemnly.

She could tell Kaidan was reeling. But she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. "If I didn't know better, Shepard, I would think that you're trying to get me promoted on purpose."

Grinning slightly, she shrugged playfully. "Maybe... Is there a problem with this, Lieutenant?" she asked, putting particular emphasis on the last word to prod him into a decision.

Kaidan turned his face away from hers. He grabbed the edges of the cot tightly as if to steady himself. His eyes were clouded and distracted with his intense though. He was contemplating the promotion in his head.

Shepard placed her palm on the top of his hand that was in-between their legs. His hand was warm and smooth.

The physical contact brought Kaidan back from his reverie. Shepard laced her fingers inside Kaidan's.

"Are you doing this so we don't have to worry about the fraternization regs?" he asked.

"It wasn't all my idea, you know," she defended.

"You don't want me on the shore party any more," Kaidan accused, finally understanding the entire justification behind the promotion. This went beyond the regulations against fraternization. Not only would Kaidan be attached to the ship – not allowed to leave in Shepard's absence as the next officer in the chain of command – but she was trying to protect him.

"Kaidan… I almost lost you once on Vermire. What if next time I can't save you? I can't put the mission in danger and I don't want to have to make that choice," she begged. She dropped her voice to a whisper, "Please… do this for me, if for no other reason."

He wrapped his hand around her smaller one and squeezed it momentarily, and then nodded at her. "Hell of a lot of help I'll be running the ship while you're gone," he explained. "Are you trying to give me a migraine?"

"You'd be doing a lot, Kaidan. You'd be safe. You'd be here when I got back."

"If this is what you want, Commander," he explained unflinchingly, "then I'll do it."

"Thank you," she breathed at him, obviously relieved. She sagged her shoulders.

He reached over to her and softly kissed the fleshy area of her neck underneath her ear.

"Promise me… when we're done saving the galaxy, that you'll be there… that we can be together," she asked him.

"Shepard… if that's what I have to look forward to when this is all finished, then you just gave me one more reason to want to save the galaxy."