General Disclaimer for Kronots: I do not own the Mass Effect world. We have Bioware and Drew Karpyshyn to thank for the brilliance.

Chapter I: Suspended in Time

"A child and a fool in one,

So sure I could need no one

My heart, always on the run to nowhere.

And now, as you're holding me

My heart is reminding me

That now I could never be, without you."

-Suspended in Time, from Xanadu

Shepard

"Careful! Careful!" Commander Shepard stood surrounded by boxes in her new living room, jumping with outstretched arms as Kaidan Alenko grunted under the pressure of carrying her favorite chair through the front door. He momentarily paused his work to poke his head out from behind the huge chair and raise his eyebrows at her.

"Sure, 'you hold off these eighty geth while I drill ten gallons of plasma into these ninety'- no problem. But 'be careful' with the dead cow skin couch."

Shepard put her hands on her hips, even as she tried to hide her smile at his remark. "Ha ha, so not funny." She said as Kaidan set the piece of furniture in the room, waiting for her to direct him to its new home in the apartment.

"Besides," Shepard stroked the leather lovingly, "it's not a couch. It's a chair. One seat." She said it with emphasis and a little attitude, daring the man to contradict her.

"Well," Alenko said, strolling to the opposite side of the piece of furniture. He leaned in to assert his point, raising his eyebrows again. "It's one huge-ass chair."

The commander rested her hands on the seat and leaned over as well so her face was in close proximity to his. "Do you have a problem with the chair, Mr. Alenko?"

"No ma'am." He answered in his soldier voice.

"Good." She rewarded him with a light kiss and smiled before straightening and moving the chair herself into the east corner, arranging it halfway between the front door and the vid-screen.

"Okay, I understand that your marine paranoia warns you to face the door, and your common sense suggests you tilt it towards the vid-screen, but doesn't turning it halfway between the two negate both benefits?"

"No," Shepard said matter-of-factly as she straightened and strode up to him. She laced her hands around his neck, letting him wrap his arms around her waist in return. "This way you can see both. Besides…" she said, just barely letting her lips brush against his, teasing him, "It's a 'huge-ass' chair."

"Hmmmm." Kaidan agreed, squeezing her into him.

She smiled. "I thought I would be restless, waiting here on shore leave while the research team investigates Ilos, but this," she said tilting her head, "I could get used to this." Shepard hugged him before turning and walking towards the kitchen, immediately heading for the first appliance installed in their new home on the wards; the coffee maker. She poured two cups and brought them back to where Alenko stood looking out the window, handing him one with a wink.

"I just wish I knew how much time we had." He commented, taking the cup from her gratefully.

Shepard shrugged, turned, and hopped backwards with dexterity onto the window sill. "No clue... but given the probable future ahead of us, I can't really argue the Alliance's decision to take the money we'd waste just randomly searching the galaxy for a link in to dark space and instead using it to build more fighters. Any ship at this point is an asset. They may as well bulk up what they can while it's quiet. And as much as I wish I could feel like we were making headway in the Reaper mission, unless the council is willing to open up the Citadel Relay- which would be a new level of stupid, even for them- we just have to hope the Ilos team turns up some evidence as to where to start looking. And soon."

"You're in a hurry?" Kaidan asked, taking a sip of his coffee and turning from the window to face the same direction she was. Still, Shepard could not claim to have missed the curiosity in his tone. She reminded herself that their time together wasn't going to last forever, and once it ended, she'd probably wish she'd enjoyed it more.

"I don't know." She said thoughtfully, trying not to look directly at his eyes so she wouldn't change her mind. "Relatively, I suppose, I am. As much as I'd like to pretend it's not at the forefront of my mind… Well, you know." She finally made herself look up and she caught his eyes as he gazed at her over the rim of his mug.

"You think that would upset me." He said. It wasn't a question.

"Not upset you." She shook her head. "I just didn't want you to get the wrong impression. It's not that these last few months haven't been absolutely amazing. It's just-"

"It's just," He interjected. He set his mug on the nearby end table and then reached for hers and placed it alongside his own. He then returned to her and stood between her legs, resting his hands on her thighs. "That we could plan more, and enjoy our time more if we didn't have to worry about it ending on a moment's notice." He finished.

"Exactly." She smiled weakly, tilting her head down to his, only inches apart. Did he always have to understand so well? "Kaidan, I don't know if I ever told you, but I haven't been this happy in a long time." She admitted quietly. "And the truth is, I hate that I can only imagine what it could feel like if I knew that there wasn't an ever looming end to it, you know?"

His eyes lit in a way he could never hide. His lips lifted in a warm smile and she felt his fingertips on the edge of her jaw. "I know." He closed the space between them and softly kissed her. When he pulled back he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, stroking her cheek. "I don't like just waiting for the Reapers to show up and rip it all away either." He sighed and then smiled as if remembering where he was. "But that doesn't answer my question."

She took his hand in both of hers and held it tightly, soothed by the touch. "Well," she tilted her head back on the glass, "they've got legions of scientists, archeologists and researchers out on Ilos. As many people as they can get away with without ticking the Terminus Systems off. And Liara will have them in shape I'm sure. If there's something to find, they will. Who knows what we'll learn from Vigil, let alone whatever else might be on the compound. Still…" She closed her eyes and took in the light filtering through the window. "That could take the better part of eight months before they find the right piece of information. Especially with all the problems the Council is having with the Hanar who want to stop the Ilos project. You know them and their devotion to the Enkindlers...

"I just don't think the Reapers will wait that long before finding us. It's already been six months since the attack on the Citadel, by now they sure as hell must've realized things didn't go their way."

Kaidan's hands squeezed her legs comfortingly. She sat up and held on to his shoulders, pushing him gently away so she could climb back down off the window. He obliged, and she went to take a sip of her cooling coffee.

"Saren had to use the Citadel relay because their usually way of returning failed them." Kaidan said from the window. "And then Sovereign failed too. And it took Saren considerable time to prepare that possible route for them." Shepard turned to him to see his back against the sun-warmed glass, arms crossed against his chest. "Even if they had a backup plan, if it were faster than the three months it took to indoctrinate an organic, track down the Mu Relay, and plan a sneak attack on the Citadel to gain control, that would've been their first choice."

"Kaidan, it's already been twice that amount of time." She set her cup back down and returned to him.

He looked at her intently. "Shepard, they don't think in our time. They've been waiting for over sixty thousand years since they've wiped out the last cycle, what's another hundred? Maybe a half an hour by comparison even if they had a good contingency plan, and let's face it, they had no clue they would be facing any resistance from our end. For all we know, our role in this could be done, and we have to hope that two generations from now humanity will have the same perseverance we do- to protect itself and the rest of civilization."

She shook her head, determined. "I can't trust anyone but myself to get the job done, to protect the galaxy. I can't trust anyone to be willing to give as much as I would to save it, to not give up. No… I'm going to find a way to stop them. I want to know my grandchildren are safe."

His expression changed and he reached for her, unlatching her arms. "I know. You're right. And I'll follow you. I know you can do it."

She saw the barely concealed emotion behind his brown eyes and was overwhelmed by a sense of appreciation for him. For all he dealt with when it came to her, all he was willing to go through. Sneaking around had been hard, and even now there were guidelines and a code of conduct, and yet he treated her as if she had given him the world just by being herself.

She pressed against him and the wall behind him, bracing herself by planting her hands against the window behind his head. He grasped her waist in his hands before she'd even kissed him. She held him still for a moment, carefully kissing the scar just below his bottom lip before letting him return the affection. It was their little something-special.

Yes, letting herself become overwhelmed was bad, and she pulled away sooner than she really wanted to, out of habit. He sighed subtly when she did, but he was used to this reaction and always understood it.

Sweethearted bastard that he is. Shepard smiled. She couldn't help but kiss him again lightly before stepping to a safe distance away from him and looking around the apartment to figure out what she could busy herself with now.

Kaidan had allowed her to decorate it in a similarly sleek and practical style of the Normandy. As impartial as she felt about such a domestic task, it pleased her to order the subdued blue paint and synthetic grey tile. It calmed Shepard to be on the Normandy. Strangely enough, life seemed less complicated on board. Once she was on her ship in her blue camouflage uniform, there was a job to do. It was always clear, always laid in front of her and all she had to do was make decisions, let her senses do the shooting, and slip herself the occasional medi-gel pack. She knew where she stood on the Normandy. Work was simple.

She absently rearranged a couple of the boxes in the nearest stack to search for the one containing books, and upon finding it carried an armload to the corner standing bookshelf. She fought with the volumes already there a moment, one arm struggling to hold the books she's grabbed in place, when out of nowhere Kaidan's hand appeared at her left holding the compilations in the shelf straight while she placed the new ones on the other side.

"Always trying to take on more than you can handle on your own."

"I would've done it." She defended, somehow managing to sound playful about it. She nudged him gently before going for another stack. She was almost too aware that he followed her, pretending to grab something else, just in case she needed him again.

"Shepard," Kaidan asked behind her, retrieving the very few framed pictures they had of themselves together out of yet another box, "how long would you say we've been together?"

She smiled this time as he reached around her, placing the photos on the next shelf down. The first one was the one of when the Captain and Admiral had awarded her, Alenko, Joker and Ashley their Stars of Terra. They all stood proudly together; Lynn had come to accept the Chief's Star. That had been one emotional day all around.

Joker had refused to shave, but Shepard couldn't picture him without his beard. It had been strange enough to see him in crutches and a leg brace, his SSV NORMANDY cap missing from his head.

The next photo was the one Emily Wong had snapped when the two has snuck a kiss during the Presidium Reconstruction and Recovery Project. There they were in off-duty Alliance garb, surrounded by rubble, each carrying an armful of tiles. At the time it had been so spontaneous, so unlike them to do such a thing in public. But she'd made some silly joke and Kaidan simply leaned over as they walked and gave her a quick kiss. Shepard had to admit, Wong had a knack for having a camera handy at just the right moment. And though she'd never confess it (doing so would seem as if she were grateful in the end for the slip-up), it was her favorite. If she made herself look at it without bias, pretending it was someone else completely, she'd even call it artful. The subjects were far enough away from the camera that the image caught both bodies from head to toe, the captured motion almost graceful and natural. The construction lights behind them causing an artistic lining around the couple's faces as they met…

It was the photo that had appeared in the media when Admiral Hackett begrudgingly agreed to turn the other cheek over the issue of their past and current fraternization. They were still reprimanded rather thoroughly for letting it go so far in the first place, but by then Shepard had more than demonstrated she could get the job done regardless of any relationships, and inevitably it seemed the Alliance hadn't pressed for repercussions. They probably recognized that Shepard, now being a spectre, could leave the Alliance comfortably, and Hackett couldn't afford to lose her. There was nothing to gain from punishing either of them if their relationship didn't threaten her capability. She knew in her heart it still shouldn't have been allowed, but she had learned enough of politics in the last year to recognize a gift when it presented itself.

Even after tolerance was granted, she and Alenko continued to restrain themselves from public displays of affection. If not out of habit, out of duty they felt to contain themselves. Shepard was constantly worried that one day she might have to deal with the mortification of finding out one of her crew had been harassed by some arrogant paparazzi bastard looking for scandalous details. She inwardly shuddered at the thought even now.

Despite their precautions however, it took no time at all for their involvement to go public. And ironically enough, military enrollment skyrocketed after the broadcast. That was the part that frustrated the commander the most. That some people would be naïve enough to join the Alliance because it seemed some of the rules had changed. For about two weeks she expected to hear from Hackett that he had changed his mind in order to make an example of her, but the call never came. She only hoped that there were enough DI's with sticks up their asses (like her own) to squash the naiveté out of the recruits and quickly. They were still soldiers, and soldiers didn't get the luxury of getting to care about just anyone.

Still, the 'first human spectre' and 'esteemed Alliance officer' filled news report for awhile. Joker, who admitted later to knowing about the whole thing (how could he not, Shepard was convinced he'd been watching them for weeks for the best opportunities to interrupt them, which he did frequently) pitched them both all types of hype. "HUMAN SPECTRE SCREWS THE ALLIANCE!" He'd said, imitating the numerous... less crude headlines. Given Shepard's past, she'd dealt with press before, discovered how words could be (and often were) twisted. And she'd get ticked when her statements were mutated to serve the means of some corporate enemy. It wasn't until recently that she had succeeded in no longer bothering herself with the media and what they accused her of. Some trashy magazine tried to make it sound like Kaidan had to compete for her attention with more than two others, one of which was a turian she'd met briefly for an assignment in the wards. Kaidan had laughed and seemed completely unconcerned, but it genuinely got to Shepard, and she completely lost her respect for the slimey money grubbers after that. That and when the news tried to pass off Sovereign's attack as simply 'some geth experimental technology', but at least there were reason for that. Public panic was the last thing they needed.

Shepard had come to expect that when the Reaper threat had diminished and the two could return to 'normal' assignments Kaidan would be reassigned off the Normandy. But for now, the galaxy needed the best of the best and that meant having both Alenko and Shepard on the same team.

The last picture Kaidan placed was taken about two months ago. It was a photo of them, Garrus, Tali, Liara and Wrex out in front of the new club called Zeta that had opened upon the completion of the Presidium reconstruction. They had planned to wait until the entire Citadel repairs were finished, but then the news came that Liara would be heading the Ilos research team, the group decided to celebrate. It was later that night that Kaidan suggested they move in together, which at the time seemed reasonable. They needed a place to stay on the Citadel anyway until the reconstruction was completed, and they'd already been hotel hopping together since leave had started.

And since then whenever they weren't volunteering to work on the remaining portions of the station they had searched for a place and moved in. Because they knew they would be spending the majority of their future on Alliance vessels, they had settled for only the basics. They were now the owners of a streamlined, practical, two bedroom apartment in the wards. They brought only the necessities, including physical training equipment of course.

"I mean," Kaidan said when she didn't reply, "when we actually started was kind of fuzzy." He teased.

She mentally shook herself to remember what he'd been saying. "For someone who didn't want to 'muddy things' you definitely weren't very clear on that particular subject." She leaned into him with her shoulder teasingly, and turned away from the photos to look at him, finding that while she'd been thinking he'd finished emptying the 'book' box.

"Well," she began, pretending to think real hard, "Liara suspected we had a relationship after our second mission-"

"Like she knows anything about human relationships." He laughed.

"Well, it was around that time if I had to say that we started getting more serious about each other. It took us about two months after that to kill Sovereign, and there's been six months since then… Wow." Her eyebrows rose slightly. "Eight months. I hadn't realized how much time had passed."

"Eight months." He repeated, a little disbelieving himself. "I mean, I'm counting the time we had a 'relationship' but weren't 'together' yet." He smirked. It was a different expression for him, something he seemed to have picked up from her or possibly Joker.

"It doesn't seem that long." She commented. "We've been so busy."

"Hold on a sec…" Kaidan tilted his head to one side from where he stood over a pile of towels by the window. Behind him the light was darkening into dusk. "I've known you longer than our relationship." He began, speeding up when she gave him her well, obviously look. "Eden Prime was some four months before that."

"Do you have a point Tenderfoot, or should I draw you out a timeline now and save you the trouble?" She teased. She always called him 'Tenderfoot' when he did things like this; things that made it almost impossible to imagine him fighting beside her, tense and glowing with biotic power as he drilled incendiary rounds into synthetics. Tenderfoot was her way for saying he was one giant goofball.

Kaidan tried to look irritated at her sarcasm but the corners of his mouth twitched into a smile. "What I meant was, in the whole time I've known you, you've never celebrated a birthday."

Shepard had been folding a blanket over the back of her leather chair when she thought about this. She couldn't remember the last time she had even acknowledged her birthday. She just kind of added a year to her age when a new year began. And even then she didn't think about it unless someone asked her how old she was- which few were ever brave enough to do. She hadn't celebrated a birthday since Mindoir. Not out of self-pity or depression, but for the simple practical thought that she hadn't had anyone to share it with. Now, she supposed she would have her team, with whom she had grown close, to celebrate with. She even had someone special to mark the day with. Of course, Kaidan's birthday had been earlier on in her friendship with him, when they had barely skimmed the surface of flirting. It had been just after their first mission, during the downtime they had until they reached the Citadel where Commander Shepard had a meeting with the asari Nassana Dantius. Of course on duty you didn't 'celebrate'; it was more of a polite acknowledgement.

Shepard smiled at the memory of him stumbling when she had finally wished him happy birthday and finished fiddling with the blanket. She walked to the front of the chair and plopped down unceremoniously into it. She stretched her legs out in front of her and smiled, knowing she wouldn't take the past eight months back for anything. She realized, by her and Kaidan's newly developed and carefully mapped mental timeline that the lieutenant had a birthday coming up in about a month and a half.

"So?" Kaidan stated, interrupting her thoughts. He leaned over her, an arm on either side, supporting himself on the armrests.

"So, what?" She challenged, crossing her arms.

"So is the huge-ass chair big enough for two small asses?"

Shepard thought about quipping back that she wasn't about to share her favorite seat in the apartment, but it was their apartment. And she reminded herself that if she wasn't willing to share with Kaidan Alenko she was going to die a stingy old maid.

"Okay," she sighed, standing up and pushing him into the chair with such force that sound escaped his lips in surprise, "but only because they are the two best asses on this whole damn space station." She slid on to his lap. Even with her half sitting-half laying across the chair it fit the two very comfortably. Kaidan leaned his head back into the leather and groaned.

"You were right." He closed his eyes. "This is the best seat in the galaxy."

"Great." The commander said, rolling her eyes and crossing her legs over the cushioned arm. "Let's just cover the whole apartment in dead cow skin."

Kaidan smiled and absently ran his hand over her shin. "Okay, so it might have something to do with the woman in my lap."

Shepard rolled her eyes again and leaned in to snuggle into his shoulder. "Don't hurt yourself there, Tenderfoot."

He rested his head on hers and her hand found the one he'd placed on her leg and she laced her fingers through it. She sensed his eyes close again and she listened to his heart beat for a few moments. Even with all they had experienced, she still couldn't deny that they had very few moments like this. She was constantly thinking about the Reapers, or missions, or newest weapons, or whose life she was going to save next. Times like this moment were few and far between, mainly because it made her feel in ways she simply wasn't used to, and it was unnerving for her to feel so... vulnerable. All her life her choices had been based on logic and tactics. She had purposefully isolated herself against any connection with something as fragile as another human being, including friendships for the longest time. From a military career perspective, it was just bad business.

And this, whatever this was… it was more frightening than anything the Reapers could threaten. She had always made it so hard for people to get to her, it had been so hard to let people in, and in many ways it protected her over the years, made her stronger. She was unaccustomed to having something so precious to lose. Now the thought that one day she could lose it, one day they might not both come back from a mission, damn near broke her heart. It was times like this that made her want to put him in cryogenic state, safe and perfect forever.

"When is your birthday?" He asked, quietly but suddenly.

"I don't know." Maybe she had sub-consciously hidden that data after Mindoir, but more than likely she had just lost it to make room for more practical information.

"May third."

"Excuse me?" She tilted her head back to look at him.

"What? You don't think I'm just going to just let you stay twenty-nine forever while I just keep getting older, do you? I've always like that date. It was my grandmother's birthday you know. Plus, it gives me a few days until your next one."

Shepard shook her head. "Alright, fine. But," she commented stroking his sideburn with the index finger of her free hand, "that also means you missed one last year."

He chuckled. "Well, I don't get the luxury of saving your ass as you saved mine on my birthday. Maybe I'll get to return the favor someday, but I don't think anything is going to happen to us in our own home." He stopped and waited for her to laugh with him but she just laid her head back down on his shoulder. After a moment he shifted her a little so he could sit up. She looked at him expectantly as he released her right hand from his grip and brought his fingers to her face, stroking her bottom lip with his thumb. "Happy late birthday, Shepard." He slowly touched his lips to hers.

Shepard closed her eyes out of habit but was no less shocked by how gentle he was being. He was being careful, working hard to keep the kiss slow and sweet. It was tender and non-demanding.

It's perfect. She thought, afraid to move even to touch him, afraid of ruining it. It reminded her of the night before Ilos, when everything had been too caring and tender to be a simple act of lust, despite how badly they had anticipated a more untamed experience. Just like this kiss, it wasn't about the sex or the high you got from it; it was only and utterly about sweet affection.

It took her a moment to open her eyes even after he had released his hold on her. His eyes were soft, his smile gentle; just as she remembered it waking up after Eden Prime. When she finally caught her breath she raised her eyebrows at him.

"Holy hell." She whispered involuntarily. Again she felt a little uneasy about how easily overwhelmed she had become by the pure emotion he had poured into her, so helplessly weak. But he only laughed at her expression and kissed her nose.

"More boxes!" A voice called from the door, and the two groaned. Shepard stood so Kaidan could collect the boxes from the mover. He placed the boxes in yet another stack and she tipped the mover. She was beginning to think that Joker had been channeling the galaxy to interrupt them in his absence.

Kaidan, reading her mind, stood from the freshly stacked boxes and moved to hold her again but she side-stepped him.

"So," she glided away from him and began combing through one of the stacked boxes closer the back of the room, "when is the last of your stuff arriving?"

"Oh, I have a couple boxes that should be arriving tonight, a few more in the morning, and then we'll be all moved in." Kaidan's voice was right behind her and soon his arms wrapped around her waist, hugging her as she sorted. "Come back here."

She sighed lightly, and looked out the window, darkness settling in. She smiled in spite of herself as he began gently rocking her from side to side. "You know, I killed the last man that snuck up behind me." She teased, turning into him. His hands lowered and she felt tiny trails where his fingers ran. "You are making it very hard to get work done." She smirked as he backed her into the stacked boxes.

"That's why I waited until shore leave to do this." He justified with a sly smile. He kissed her more aggressively and she welcomed it, feeling somehow safer in the physical side of their relationship than the emotional. That is, until one of the boxes the commander had been pressed into toppled over, spilling its contents on the floor.

"Shit, the good pillows." Kaidan groaned, shaking his head and breaking away from her to bend over and pick up them up.

"Mmmmm-mmmm." Shepard commented as he knelt down. "Damn, my lover is one hot piece of- Aaah!!"

Kaidan had grabbed her mid-sentence and was trying to wrestle her to the ground. He'd gotten her to her knees but it was obvious he had been aiming to pin her. He whooped playfully as she fought.

"Don't start something you can't finish, Alenko!" She said, laughing and pushing against him to gain the upper hand. She was tough, but he was naturally a great deal stronger. "I bet I take you out!"

"I wouldn't take that bet!" He said between laughs. He finally got a good grip around her stomach and she found herself falling over his shoulder and suddenly her back was against the tiled floor. He quickly straddled her and held her wrists above her head.

"Well now, Commander," he said, breathing heavily, "you are in one compromising position."

"Let go of my hands and I'll show you a compromising position." She threatened.

He released her wrists and leaned in to kiss her, but she grabbed one of the nearby pillows and hit him upside the head with it, sending him careening off of her and onto the floor. In another four seconds she had climbed on top of him.

"Now who's in a compromising position?" She asked, still laughing.

"Me." He said simply, clearly enjoy every second.

"That's right biotic-boy." She teased. She leaned down to kiss his neck.

"Careful Shepard… You're bringing new meaning to the phrase 'abusing your position'!"

She couldn't help but smile, even as her lips pressed against his skin. And soon he was chuckling with her. She let him roll them once more to regain his position on top and he began reciprocate her kisses.

"I have a delivery for a Kaidan Alenko!" A voice sounded from the doorway that they had forgotten to close.

"God damn it!" Kaidan exclaimed, rolling on his back and letting out a breath of frustration.

"I'll get it." Shepard sighed, reluctantly beginning to stand.

"Yeah well, you'd better. You're the one who insisted on old style doors that don't close on their own."

She shook her head and straightened up.

She heard the blast before she realized what had happened. Her eyes immediately widened at the sound and then she felt a pain unlike anything she had ever remembered burst through her upper chest, close to her shoulder.

Her eyes only barely recognized the sight of a petite woman before it clicked in her head that she'd been shot. A mane of glimmering white hair and piercing blue eyes of hatred, both clashing with dark ethnic skin; these things hit her about the same time as the second blast, all within the same second. Shepard's eyes winced at the glinting gun and the force made her stagger back.

It was in her shoulder still, the pain spreading. Everything was in slow motion, the shock immobilizing Shepard dangerously. In the step she'd been forced back she'd crashed into the end table. The coffee cups were thrown violently from their perch and shattered on the tiled floors, liquid splattering across the floor. Hidden against the back of the row of stacked boxes Kaidan was curled, covering his head instinctively. Had he been shot? In half a second she looked down to see blood spreading down the front of her shirt.

A third blast. This time Shepard was knocked against the back wall, the entry within a couple inches of the first two. She still didn't scream. It was as if she'd forgotten how. She looked into the eyes of shooter.

And she saw surprise. The attacker seemed as though caught off guard for a second, like she couldn't believe what she'd done. And then recognition, hatred. Shepard had faced those before.

All of a sudden she felt horribly dizzy and her legs gave out beneath her. Slowly Shepard slid down the wall. Her mind finally registered the agonizing pain in her shoulder and she felt delirious with it. Her vision blurred.

She was out of sight from the door way now. She made herself focus to see, but all she remembered were the shine of Kaidan's eyes as he looked up, a horrified expression on his face. He rolled to the side table and reached beneath it to where Shepard had hidden a spare handheld pistol, just in case.

She saw her soldier stand in poised position, searching for the culprit, and then she couldn't concentrate on that anymore. Something new in her wound… a burning, searing sensation. She'd never been shot with incendiary rounds before, but she became terrified that maybe she might've just had her first experience.

Out of her peripheral her lieutenant disappeared around a corner, but she couldn't call after him. Waves after wave of something sick radiated from her wound and her chest nearly seized in her effort to keep from screaming. But she was losing the battle, the shout was rising up her throat. It hurt so badly, so god damned bad.

She pulled her hand back from the wound (though she didn't recall covering it), to find it thick with blood. She began shaking. But the air to the wound only seemed to quicken the reaction she seemed to be having with the bullet.

"Son of a bitch!" She hissed through gritted teeth, no longer able to restrain herself.

A light of blue entered her vision, and Kaidan was kneeling in front of her, his biotic barrier dissipating. "Shepard, Shepard talk to me."

His hands were on her face trying to help her focus. She tried to see his face through the haze.

"Shepard!"

"I'm okay." She finally said as his eyes became sharper in her vision. "I'm-" She struggled with the cry crawling up her throat. She reached out a hand to him.

"Help me up, Alenko!" She gasped, trying to stand. The pain automatically threw her into commander mode.

Kaidan put her arm around his neck and let her lean on him. Once she was on her feet he knelt for a moment and she felt his hands behind her knees getting ready to lift.

"I can walk." She insisted, trying to think about anything but the pain.

"Are you sure?" He sounded angry, but she couldn't worry about that right now.

Shepard shouted through clenched teeth again as another wave hit her, and that helped sober her up. "Just get me to a god damned med clinic! Radio Chakwas and tell her to meet us there!" She ground out one last yell to suppress the pain as she pressed one of the fallen pillows onto the wound and stormed out of the apartment.