A/N: So I have writer's block on my other big story everyone else wants me to finish (sorry Criminal Minds x Psych fans), but I've been playing Mass Effect for quite a while to blow off steam during my senior year of college. And now I've started to write fanfiction for it, which obviously means I'm hooked.

This story evolved based on an idea I had while procrastinating on my senior thesis – what would have happened if Horizon had been different? If Kaidan (since I am a shameless Shenko-er) hadn't been totally blindsided or been ordered to keep an eye on Shepard? What sort of stress, panic, and issues would envelope the Normandy?

This is an experiment in my own writing as well as in the storyline. I'm not that good at writing sexual tension or really at writing intense tension whatsoever.

There will also be lyrics every few chapters: I found a song I thought, for some reason, really works to listen to when I'm writing this. It's "This Is Not The End" by The Bravery. You should listen. This isn't a song fic, I'm just scattering lyrics where I want them at plot-opportune moments.

Warning on ships: I'm (obviously) a Shenko fan. But you'll also see a smattering of Tali/Kal'Reegar and a ship I really wish was more popular that will be a surprise. It will work, and it will be adorable when it does.

For now, let the story begin. I hope you enjoy it. Prepare for fluff, BST, and some shameless shipping.


Prologue: Risky Assignments

"Commander Alenko."

Staff Commander Kaidan Alenko hadn't been expecting to see Admiral Hackett in the office of Councilor Anderson, and quickly managed a salute. "Sir."

"Have a seat." Anderson was staring out over the Presidium, hands linked behind his back. Kaidan sat down across from Hackett, who was calmly studying a datapad. The Councilor wasted no time. "I assume you've heard the rumors?"

Kaidan glanced at Hackett, then back at Anderson. "Rumors, sir?"

"About Shepard," Hackett supplied, tapping something on his datapad.

He had heard some rumors. Mentions of her on Omega, of all places – and mentions of her traveling with known Cerberus operatives. Kaidan swallowed. "I had heard some rumors. That she was alive."

"And working for Cerberus," Hackett finished bluntly. He nodded.

"They aren't rumors," Anderson answered. "Shepard, or someone who looks and behaves very much like Shepard, is indeed alive."

Kaidan wasn't sure his jaw remembered how to work. "Councilor, it's been two years. How sure –"

"I am nearly entirely positive that it is, indeed, Shepard. I don't know how, or why, but she explained it as much as possible." He paced back to his desk. "The Council reinstated her Spectre status."

"Without guaranteeing it was her?" Kaidan couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"As I said, I'm fairly certain it's her – and I'm fairly certain that Cerberus is controlling her in some way." He raised his hand. "Not a control chip, or force – you know Shepard wouldn't go for that. They may be manipulating her."

"That is where you come in, Alenko." Hackett's voice was gruff, but honest. "We think Cerberus might be behind the recent string of colony abductions."

"You don't think Cerberus would – or that Shepard would –"

"We don't know." Anderson handed him a datapad. "We're sending you to Horizon. There are rumors that it's the next colony to be hit, and we want you on the ground if that happens. If it's Cerberus, or if it's not, you're to report to us."

"That's going to be difficult, sir, if I'm part of the colony going missing."

"We know. This is a dangerous assignment, but necessary." Kaidan hadn't been arguing, and Anderson and Hackett knew that he was just stating the facts. "There is another part of your assignment."

"Which is?"

Anderson and Hackett traded a brief glance, then Anderson leaned forward on his forearms. "If you see Shepard . . . confirm her identity."

"And if you have the opportunity . . . get onto her ship."

Kaidan blinked, a knot forming in his stomach. Shepard – his Shepard – if she was Shepard . . . "I'm supposed to get onto a Cerberus ship and spy on them for the Alliance?"

"If it's Shepard, we need to know why she's working with Cerberus. We both know how one-minded she is about the Reapers, and we can therefore assume they're involved – or, she thinks they're involved." Anderson sighed. "We need to know whatever she knows. Understood?"

The bad feeling he had forming in his gut continued to knot, and Kaidan slowly nodded. "When will I leave?"