Author's Notes: Welcome to yet another fanfiction based on one gamer's personal dissatisfaction with the end of ME3! Don't get me wrong, I loved the game, and I didn't mind the ending...I just didn't feel like it lent to a proper ending for our glorious Commander Shepard and all of his hard work! Plus, I've always had a soft spot for Shepard/Kaidan, and now that it can be considered canon, I'm jumping for joy! Can't wait to delve into their convoluted, intriguing relationship.

So what is this story, you might ask? This is my interpretation of what happens after Shepard interacts with the Catalyst. In this particular story, as you might expect, there will be SPOILERS for ME3, as well as its ending. I'm going to focus on the rebuilding of the galaxy after the Reaper attacks, as well as the implication and consequences of Shepard's action in choosing the synergy of synthetic and organic life. It really intrigued me.

Just one quick note: in this story, the mass relays were NOT destroyed. It just doesn't make any sense to me...

This is my first ME fanfiction, so please leave me a review and let me know what you all think, and if you enjoy it :) Thanks!


Kaidan's entire body burned.

All he could feel as he slowly regained consciousness was a heat so intense it was as if his muscles were on fire. Even thinking of moving his limbs seemed to bring on a powerful pain. He fought against it with every fiber of his being, managing to open his eyes and turn himself so he was lying on his back. Doing so provided him with relief, minimal though it was.

The first thing he noticed upon looking up into the sky was a bright spot in the distance. What started out as a distant glow soon turned into an all-encompassing wave of brilliant green light. Kaidan clenched his eyes shut—what else could he do?—and braced for the end. This was it. The Catalyst was going to destroy everything, not just the Reapers.

But the end didn't come. He felt no searing pain beyond his aching muscles. He hadn't melted into a puddle of ooze. He was still in one piece, breathing heavily and shaking.

Against his better judgment, Kaidan slowly opened his eyes. He expected to see hell on earth—the very thing they been fighting just moments ago. He almost rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he watched the Reapers begin ascending into the sky, disappearing beyond the black clouds of ash. They moved with such agility, it almost seemed as though they were being pulled up by invisible marionette strings. Along with them went the horrendous shouts, screams and cries of the Reapers' minions, followed soon by the gunfire and order shouting.

For five glorious seconds, the surface of the earth remained blissfully silent.

And then came the cheering—the raucous uproar of sheer, unadulterated joy.

They won.

They had won.

Kaidan tried to join in the celebrations but his voice carried little; his throat was hoarse and dry. Beside him came the sudden familiar howl of James Vega. Kaidan turned his head to the side and saw him sitting up, pumping his fist into the air.

"James," he coughed.

Vega was grinning from ear to ear. "Kaidan! We did it! We fucking did it, man! Whoo!"

The muscular marine continued to shout excitedly as Kaidan lifted himself up and off the ground. He felt dizzy and just a little off balance; for a moment he stumbled as he stood up. For the first time in a long time he was astutely aware of just how heavy his armor was.

Before he had a chance to gather his bearings he found himself wrapped tightly in James' arms. He was hugging him and jumping up and down.

"The Reapers are gone, man! They're gone! GONE!"

As excited as Kaidan was, his thoughts immediately went to one thing: Shepard.

Commander John Shepard was their saving grace. For all the bells and whistles that Kaidan and his other teammates had provided, Shepard was the single most important factor in their win.

"Where's Shepard?" Kaidan groaned, pulling himself out of James' arms.

"I dunno. Did he come back from the Citadel?"

Both men looked up at the sky. All of the destruction from the battle had left a thick miasma hanging low in the air that effectively blocked out any visual beyond it.

Kaidan's heart sank. He scanned his memory for the last thing he could remember, which was the sight of the Reaper's crimson red blast tearing through the ground before him. He feared John hadn't made it, but that couldn't be the case. Who else could have gotten the Reapers to retreat? Where was he now?

He tapped open his communication channel. He spoke roughly.

"Shepard? Shepard, can you hear me?"

No response.

"Shepard? Come in. Do you read me? Where are you?"

"Do you hear that?" James asked suddenly.

Kaidan blinked. "Hear what?"

"That…"

The spectre watched curiously as James turned and wandered off toward a large collection of debris about twenty yards out.

"John, come in," Kaidan repeated, his heavy brow furrowing. Quieter, he added, "I need to know you're okay."

"Hey, Kaidan! Over here!"

James was waving to him from beside the debris. Even with the distance in between them, the look of surprise upon his face caught Kaidan's attention. He jogged over toward the other, stumbling to a stop just in front of him.

In his arms was Shepard, battered, bruised heavily and covered in blood.

"Shepard!"

"I coulda sworn I heard your voice echoing. I don't know how I knew to look over here, but something told me to." James shifted John in his arms, cradling him at the crook of his neck and under his knees. "He looks a mess."

Kaidan gingerly pressed two fingers against the underside of Shepard's jaw. His heart skipped a beat.

"He has a pulse. It's weak, but it's there."

"How the hell'd he get down here from the Citadel?" James asked.

"No idea, but we've got to get him back to the command center somehow. Come on, let's go."

Kaidan expected to see multiple corpses of Cannibals, Banshees and Marauders littering the battlefield on their way back to the command center. It should have surprised him that he didn't. However, his mind was elsewhere; he couldn't think of anything but ensuring Shepard's recovery.

He deserved to see the future that he had helped secure for the entire galaxy.

They came across the bodies of many fallen comrades, from all races alike: humans, Turians, Quarians, Krogans…Kaidan couldn't think of a single species that hadn't taken heavy losses here today. But with the battle won, there would be plenty that they could do to honor their fallen. The bodies would be recovered and returned to their families, and war heroes would be remembered. That thought alone brought on a wave of uncertainty about their future, but Kaidan buried it somewhere in the back of his head. There was no time right now for incoherent concerns.

"Damn, he's heavy," Vega commented just before they arrived at the command center. He grunted with effort as he once again shifted Shepard's weight.

"Here. We've arrived. Open the gate!" he shouted to the infantrymen atop the towers.

Kaidan stepped across the grounds to the entry of the medical center with James at his side. The only lighting came from sporadically placed halogen lamps, most of which were attached to tables in order to monitor injuries. Kaidan wove his way through the numerous wounded soldiers toward the nearest empty surface, atop which James carefully placed Shepard.

"Doctor Chakwas!" the spectre shouted. "Doctor, are you in here? We found Shepard!"

Though his announcement started a wave of murmurs and whispers, Kaidan ignored them all in favor of the sound of Chakwas' strained voice, which rose in pitch as she hurried across the room toward them.

"You found him? Is he all right?" she asked.

"He needs medical attention," Kaidan said. "I don't know the extent of his injuries; he just doesn't look good. But he has a heartbeat. He's hanging on."

"Here, back up, let me move in."

It felt almost surreal watching the doctor perform her field tests to determine as much as she could about John's injuries. Kaidan tried his best to keep still, however he found it difficult. What if something were permanently wrong? What if he were injured worse than anticipated? All he could hear were the worries swimming around in his head.

He'd just gotten Shepard back after all this time apart. He wasn't about to lose him again.

"Well?" he asked.

"Don't be so impatient, Major Alenko. You can't rush good science."

The doctor's chiding voice hushed him up right quick. Her agile fingers tapped against the surface of her data-pad with ease; she soon turned around to address both him and Vega:

"Preliminary scans show deep micro dermal incisions scattered over the body, likely from an energy blast or debris. He was shot in the side but the bullet passed through. Still, it did a number on him. His vital signs are weak…we'll do what we can to get him back up and running. Whatever he did up there, it almost did him in."

James groaned in concern. "But it's fixable, right? He can't die. He saved the damn galaxy!"

Doctor Chakwas pursed her lips in mild amusement. "I've saved Shepard once before, Lieutenant Vega. I think I can do it again. Now go, find the others and make sure they're safe. I'll take care of the commander."

Although hesitant to leave in his time of need, Kaidan knew that Doctor Chakwas was right. They needed to find Tali, Liara, Garrus, Wrex—Shepard had put each of them in charge of a garrison of soldiers in order to flood the battlefield with strong, capable leaders. The question now was who among them remained alive and well?

All of them, he hoped.

Outside, Kaidan opened up a comm channel. "Shepard's team leaders, check in. This is Kaidan. Do you copy?"

A few seconds passed by with nothing. He and James shared a look.

Then, wave after wave came the replies:

"This is Tali. We're safe. I've regrouped what's left of my team under the big clock tower. We'll return shortly."

"Garrus here. On my way back now."

"Did you see the way those pyjaks ran from us? Nobody takes down the Krogans!"

"Liara checking in. My team and I will arrive soon. ETA five minutes or less."

"All leaders meet in the briefing room upon arrival to the base. Alenko out."

James shouted, clapping his hands together twice. "Hell yeah, we all got out unscathed! Wait, what about Esteban?"

No reply came over the communication channel.

More seriously, James asked, "Hey, Steve, do you copy?"

"He likely got back aboard the Normandy," Kaidan offered, seeing James' visible discomfort. "Don't worry."

"Don't worry? That's my secondhand man right there. I can't just not worry about him…"

In truth, Kaidan was worried, too. He was also worried for Joker, for EDI, for every member of the Normandy that had yet to be accounted for. But with that thick black cloud of destruction hanging between them and the outer atmosphere, there was no way to know for sure which fleets were still alive and which had been decimated. However, his expression remained firm despite his uncertainty. Part of being a good leader was standing strong when your followers needed you to do so. Kaidan had learned that from John.

He clasped James' shoulder, guiding him toward the temporary communication room they had set up just beside the medical center.

"Come on, let's go see if we can patch through to the Normandy."

Once inside the small, enclosed area, Kaidan explained to the communications specialist who they needed to contact.

"Patching through now," the specialist said, fingers tapping quickly away at multiple screens simultaneously.

The line cracked and buzzed as it connected. When he got the okay, Kaidan said, "Come in, Normandy. Do you copy?"

EDI's disembodied voice replied: "Copy, Major Alenko. We have crash landed on the planet Rothla in the Krogan system. I am currently running diagnostics on the Normandy as we speak."

"What the hell was that giant green blast?" came Joker's voice. "It scared the hell out of me, so I high-tailed it out of there. It looked like it was gonna blow everything up!"

"It didn't," Kaidan stated. "I…I don't know what it was, but it scared the Reapers away. They're gone." All of the cheering on the other end of the line brought a small smile to his face. He continued, "So you crash landed? Will you be able to make it back to Earth?"

"No major functions seem damaged by impact," EDI explained. "Faster than light travel should not be impossible."

Once Kaidan finished, James moved in and said, "Hey, is Cortez with you? Did he make it back onto the ship okay?"

"Negative," EDI replied. "Lieutenant Cortez did not dock with the Normandy prior to departure from the Sol System."

James furrowed his brow, looking somber. He pulled back and headed outside without saying a word. Kaidan wasn't sure where he was going; he just knew he needed to let him get some time alone. He didn't want to think of what would happen to James if his closest friend on the ship hadn't survived.

"When can you make it back here?" Kaidan said.

"Preliminary scans show the FTL drive and main core are in fully functioning condition. With Jeff's assistance, we could arrive within an estimated three hours."

"Then get back quick. Shepard's alive, but he needs us. He's got some pretty nasty injuries and Doctor Chakwas will need all she can get from her lab."

"Not a prob, Kaidan," Joker said. "We'll be there faster than Vega to the mess hall for dinner. Normandy out."

After the line disconnected Kaidan thanked the comm specialist, ducked outside to the grounds and began his search for James.

Something within him told him that Lieutenant Cortez wasn't dead. He had a feeling they would find him somewhere, likely attached at the hip to his shuttle. They just needed to look for him.

"Vega!" Kaidan called, to no response. He walked along in silence for a few more moments before calling out again. It wasn't until he turned around the corner of the building that he saw the muscular marine throwing punches at a graffiti covered brick wall nearby.

"We'll find Cortez," Kaidan said to him, knowing that if he said it enough, he'd believe it fully, too. "If he'd been in any danger, don't you think we would've heard him over the comm link?"

Even though James seemed to be ignoring him, his hits against the wall slowed, eventually stopping altogether. Vega turned, expression distant.

"I'm going to look for him. You gonna come or no?"

"Tell you what. You go find Cortez and I'll meet with the others, let them know what we're gonna do next. You find him, you bring him back to the briefing room. If not, you come anyway. All right?"

James only nodded. He stalked off then, his hulking frame disappearing beyond the barred gate some moments later. Kaidan stared after him and found himself hoping that James would, in fact, find Lieutenant Cortez. Despite his tendency for showing off his knowledge about aircrafts and machinery, he was a loyal and agile pilot who they couldn't afford to lose. Plus, Shepard was fond of him, although there were times Kaidan wondered if something more could have happened between them, given Cortez's past.

That was petty, he thought with a frown. He brushed the thought aside and headed back to the briefing room. With the exception of Shepard, all commanding leaders were present—and thankfully all in one piece. Kaidan breathed a sigh of relief. They had been through hell and back. It was comforting to see all of their familiar faces.

"Can't believe it's over," Garrus said, shaking his head.

"Me, either," Tali agreed. "Do any of you know what that bright green blast was? I thought it came from the Reapers, but the other admirals are telling me it came from the Citadel."

Liara stepped forward. "To be honest, I don't really know, but it must have been the Catalyst. It seemed to repel the Reapers and send them away."

"But it didn't destroy them like we'd hoped," Garrus muttered.

"I haven't spoken to Admiral Hackett or any other alliance officers in orbit," Kaidan said, "but I saw the Reapers just lift off the ground and disappear. Did they leave the system completely?"

"Admiral Xen said they vanished through the Charon relay," Tali said, folding her arms over her chest. "Nobody was able to trace where they went. They didn't attack anybody after the blast."

Wrex grunted. "I don't bet they'll come back. They were bested. Plus, the green light shot through the relay, too. Maybe it chased after them and pushed them beyond the Far Rim or back into deep space. Who knows. Good riddance."

"Yes, but will we have the same problem again in a few years is both the question and the concern, now," Liara explained, brow knitting in concern. "They decimated so many systems. How are we supposed to rebuild with that threat lingering on our shoulders?"

"We can't know that's the case for sure," Kaidan said. "We have to wait and hear what Shepard has to say. Only he knows what happened up there. Only he knows if or when they'll come back."

"Then let's go ask the man," Wrex said. "Simple as that."

Kaidan began to say, "I don't think he's—"

Before he was able to finish, James stepped into the room, Cortez leaning off of his shoulder. The pilot had a nasty gash on his forehead and a black eye the size of Kansas, but he wore a relieved smile at the sight of familiar faces.

"You found him!" Kaidan said.

"Told you I would," James replied. He readjusted his grip on Steve's waist. "Need to get him to Chakwas. Somebody wanna help me carry his fat ass?"

Steve laughed. "Screw you, Vega."

"Too many tequila shots, Esteban, man. I told you not to drink so much, otherwise it'd make you soft."

Kaidan couldn't help but chuckle. With a wave of his arm he said, "Come on, let's go."