A/N: I have decided, just for fun, to write a Mass Effect fanfic. (Well duh, I guess you already know that...you are reading it after all).

Anyway, a couple of things before I start:

For the purpose of this story, Shepard has not yet gone to the Citadel.

While accuracy is always my goal, there are some times that I will take liberties and bend the story so that it fits with my own structure. I've kept the gist of the conversations in this chapter the same, but I've changed the context.

Lastly, I do not own Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2, or any of the characters within.

Please tell me what you think! Thanks ~J


Shepard swallowed the golf ball sized lump that had risen to her throat. The Normandy was fast approaching the colony of Horizon, where she was told the Collector's were in the process of abducting the human colonists. It wasn't the thought of facing such terrible beings that made her apprehensive; she had seen her share of horrible and frightening things before. After all, she had once been a Spectre and her team had been responsible for bringing down Saren Arterius, who had been under the influence of an even greater threat: a reaper named Sovereign.

No, it was the knowledge that Commander Kaidan Alenko was stationed on Horizon. Commander! For Shepard, it felt like mere months had passed since Sovereign's defeat and the devastating attack on the Normandy. She could still see the panic in Kaidan's eyes as he tried to convince her to board the escape shuttle. If only she could have known what was about to happen in those next few minutes, she might have told him something more meaningful. Instead she'd barked at him to get moving, saying that she'd deal with Joker. Hurt passed briefly over the smooth features under his helmet, but he reluctantly agreed.

Everything after that was a blur. She had barely convinced Joker to abandon the Normandy when the remainder of the hull exploded, hurling her into the space beyond. She knew of nothing else until she woke up under harsh bright lights with strange people hovering over her.

She put a hand to her forehead. She still hadn't gotten over the shock of it all. Two years had passed in the interim…two years! To the universe, she was dead. In the meantime, those who survived the destruction of the Normandy moved on and went their separate ways. Tali completed her pilgrimage, Ashley had been posthumously honored for her actions on Virmire, and Garrus had gone back to the citadel to apply for the Spectres.

Even more astonishing was the time, effort, and money that was spent in bringing her back from the dead. Cerberus had obtained her body and rehabilitated her to how she was before the attack, with some minor upgrades. And now she was on a newly rebuilt Normandy, with Joker at the helm, working with Cerberus and its shady leader; a man who was only referred to as the Illusive Man. He alone believed that the reapers posed a real threat and gave Shepard the necessary resources to build a new team to stop them.

Some surprises were more pleasant than others.

Charged with tracking down Archangel as a possible recruit for the team, Shepard, along with Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor – the two Cerberus operatives that worked so hard to bring her back to life – wreaked havoc on Omega in an effort to stop the mercenaries that had managed to corner him. A mile wide smile spread across her face when Archangel removed his helmet and revealed his true identity. The opportunity for reminiscing about old times was cut short however, as mercenaries from all three gangs on Omega closed in on them. The fight that ensued was tough, leaving Garrus critically injured. But despite everything, once they got him back to the Normandy he healed quickly and was eager to join Shepard's cause once more.

She even bumped into Tali during a mission to Freedom's Progress and was able to offer her assistance with a young Quarian named Veetor. Understandably, they hadn't had much time to catch up, but it felt good to see her again.

Shepard flexed her fingers. The neoprene and small plates of armor creaked softly as they stretched. The shuttle was getting ready to land. What would she say to him? Would they just pick up where they left off? She glanced briefly up at Garrus and Miranda to see if they noticed anything. Both of them were craning their heads to see out the window, none the wiser to her inner turmoil. And she intended to keep it that way. She would never let her crew see her in a moment of weakness, never again.

The three of them were bounced roughly as the shuttle landed and came to an abrupt stop. Shepard took a deep breath and opened the door. The colony was eerily quiet. It felt almost…abandoned, and she wondered if perhaps the colonists had been able to escape before the Collector's attacked. Still wary, she drew out her pistol and silently motioned to her companions to follow her lead.

Exploring the dwellings revealed more of the same. Remnants of breakfast still sat on the counters and tables, indicating that the colonists were interrupted during their morning routine. Shepard's brows furrowed. What happened?

They stepped back out into the early afternoon sunlight. Despite it being quieter than a grave and completely devoid of any signs of life, Horizon was a pretty place to reside and Shepard understood why someone would want to settle there.

"Shepard, over here."

Garrus's voice brought her out of her thoughts and she turned to see him standing by one of the colonists. He was frozen, his pose suggesting that he'd been running from whatever was pursuing him. All around him he was surrounded by a black could. She quickly looked back to Garrus, questions in her eyes. Of course, he had no answers to give her explaining the bizarre phenomenon. He merely shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head in interest.

"They look…paralyzed," she said slowly.

"Seeker swarms," Miranda said as she came up beside them. "It will be interesting to see Mordin's counter measures in action. We'd better keep moving."

Shepard's frown deepened. "So the Collector's are here." She immediately felt disappointed in not getting there in time to stop them and save the colonists. "But why leave them here like this…in stasis?"

"I believe it makes them easier for the Collector's to cart off," Miranda replied matter-of-factly.

"Are they still alive?"

"For now."

"Ugh." Shepard shook her head. How awful. "Come on; let's find these bastards before they finish the colony."

Something shifted behind them. Shepard whirled around, gun drawn, just in time to see dozens of Collectors and Husks charging at them.

"Spread out!" Shepard ordered.

The team quickly dispersed. Wave after wave, the Collector's were relentless. They fought remarkably well, keeping Shepard and her squad on their toes.

Suddenly one of the Collector's was raised into the air, where it hung suspended for a few seconds before it was encompassed in bright yellow light. It dropped back to the ground and rose to its feet, seemingly more powerful than it was a moment ago.

"What the hell was that?" Garrus yelled over to her.

Before Shepard could offer her speculation the Collector addressed them, in a voice that chilled her to the bone.

"I am Harbinger. You will know pain, Shepard."

"That's just great," she muttered. "Take it down!"

All three of them focused their firepower on it, but to their dismay, once they had managed to take it out, it simply gained control of another nearby Collector. They fought their way into an open area with a massive transmitter in the middle.

"Hold them off! I'm going to see if I can use that thing to radio the Normandy!" Shepard yelled as she ran for the tower.

Garrus lifted his sniper rifle, pegging one Collector in the head. It fell to the ground in front of Shepard. "Go! I'll cover you!"

She nodded a brief 'thank you' and raced up the steps. "This will only take me a minute!" she shouted as she began hacking the terminal.

"Hurry Shepard!" Miranda stepped back, deploying a massive blast of energy that quickly dropped an advancing husk.

"Got it!"

"Shepard," EDI's voice came in. "I can recalibrate the defense systems, but it will take time. You must hold your ground."

She looked up at the giant turrets. If EDI could pull it off, it would be nice to have that weaponry on their side.

"They're falling back," Garrus reported with relief.

He was right. The onslaught that had occurred only moments before had virtually evaporated. Something about the way they retreated didn't sit right in her stomach. As if it could read her thoughts, a mammoth being – what looked like half Collector, half insect, descended from the sky – and Shepard knew then that the Collector's were unleashing their final stand.

The sun glinted of something in the distance. It looked to be a weapon of some sort.

"Almost there Shepard," EDI's disembodied voice announced.

Without thinking, Shepard bounded over the crate in front of her and dashed over to the weapon. She slid behind cover and aimed. A white-hot beam shot into the mysterious being, immediately drawing its attention away from her squad and back on her. With it more or less subdued, Miranda and Garrus emptied their thermal clips into it and the three of them were able to bring it down. Just then the ground began to rumble. Shepard looked up to see the Collector's ship propel itself into the sky.

"No!" came a cry from behind them. "You're letting them get away! They're taking the colonists!"

Shepard felt a pang of guilt. She turned to the man who was trying to catch his breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't want it to end like this." She'd tried so hard to save the colonists. Failure didn't sit well with her. Never had.

"Don't be so hard on yourself Shepard," Garrus said reassuringly. "You did the best you could."

The man reared his head up. "Shepard? I've heard of you. You're that Spectre that-"

"That defeated Saren and saved the citadel from the attack of a Reaper," a smooth voice cut in. A voice Shepard would have known anywhere. Kaidan walked into the clearing. "You're looking at a hero, Delan."

"Just my luck. They take the whole colony and leave you behind!" Delan spat.

Kaidan didn't seem to notice Delan's angry rant. His eyes were locked with Shepard's. Her heart skipped a beat. Delan soon grew tired of the display and stormed off angrily. She was glad to see him leave.

Here was the moment she had been both anticipating and dreading. Unsure of what to do, she took a step closer to Kaidan. Without missing a beat, he took her into his arms. She relished the feeling of being in them again. A small smile of contentment crossed her lips and she closed her eyes as she breathed in his scent. Her joy was short lived though, for he pulled away abruptly and folded his arms.

"How have you been?" Crap! Of all the things she could have said, did she really just say that?

Kaidan tilted his head to one side. "I heard rumors that you were working for Cerberus," he said, skipping any civilized preamble. "I can't believe it's true."

Shepard's pride flared to the surface. "I'm not working for them."

"I can't believe you'd just turn your back on everything we did, especially for a company like Cerberus."

"You know I wouldn't do that."

"It's been two years Shepard. I thought you were dead. Why didn't you try to contact me?"

The sting of his words hit deep. She had to keep reminding herself how much time had really passed.

"I was dead Kaidan. Cerberus spent the better part of two years trying to piece me back together. And I only just found out that you were here on Horizon."

"Yeah well, the Alliance thought the colonists could use some help." He flicked his head in the direction that Delan had stomped off. "You can see how well we've been received."

There was a long pause.

"So…Staff Commander Alenko now, is it?"

"Watching the Normandy blow apart, seeing you out there…thinking you were dead, it nearly killed me as well. I loved you!"

Loved?

Shepard gulped. Behind her, four feet shifted uncomfortably.

"I've tried to move on. I have moved on," Kaidan continued.

"I need someone like you on my crew." What she really meant to say was she needed him.

"I will never work for Cerberus."

"Damn it Kaidan, don't be so blind," Garrus cut in.

"Cerberus is the only one willing to do anything about the Reapers. Hell, the council is trying to pass off Sovereign as the only one of its kind, and even then they didn't collect enough evidence to back up what we discovered on Ilos. I need all the help I can get! You know I would only do something for the good of the galaxy." Reasoning with him was becoming exhausting. She definitely hadn't planned on him being so cold.

"No. I don't know you anymore Shepard. Maybe I never did. Take care of yourself, but I'm done here."

With that he turned and walked away, leaving her staring at his back. Inside her heart was screaming, begging her to run after him. With a mighty effort she pushed the feeling into the pit of her stomach, letting it instead be consumed by raw anger.

She touched the earpiece that would connect her with the Normandy. "Joker, get us the hell out of here."