A/N: Massive spoilers for the end of Mass Effect 3. Consider yourself warned.
For lilchickadee, who wanted something happy. Many thanks to arysani for the beta. Also thank you to rabbitzoro for the Shenko "book cover" art. Go to rabbitzoro on her DeviantArt account to see more of her fun ME fanart.
What is Done and Yet to Come
The stars, the moon,
They have all been blown out…
Florence and the Machine, "Cosmic Love"
Shepard set her face in a mask of grim determination as her new arm flexed, lifting the five-pound weight ever-so-slowly in a bicep curl.
"You're doing great, Commander," the asari nurse said with a smile. "Do nine more and then you can take a break."
Shepard huffed out a breath. "Did I ever tell you I once lifted a steel beam off one of my crew?" She narrowed her eyes, scowling at the offending arm with its new, pink skin, still itchy from the nerve attachment surgery. "Now I can barely lift this thing."
The asari nodded sympathetically. "I know it's frustrating, but—"
"I'm thankful to be alive, I know," Shepard interrupted quietly. The asari said nothing, her purple-tinted eyes gazing off into the distance, perhaps thinking of the homeworld she might never see. Then again, asari lived for centuries. Shepard heard that some asari were planning on trying to reach Thessia via FTL speeds, a trip that would take years, decades… maybe centuries. But it was a chance. More than some folks had. Even Wrex had said that some krogan might hitch a ride to Tuchanka. With the nutrition in their humps, krogan were better suited than any species for a long trip in FTL.
Shepard glanced around at the makeshift physical therapy room. Like most rooms in the ruined building, it also doubled as space for patients not yet able to get out of bed. Through some twist of fate, it was also the building where the Alliance had gathered before the final push to the Conduit. If she walked over to the window and looked out over the rubble-strewn streets, she could see the very spot where she and Kaidan had last kissed…
"Commander!" A young private ran into the room, spotted Shepard and ran over with a salute. "Message for you on the QEC at HQ, ma'am."
Shepard dropped the weight and heaved herself to her feet, belatedly remembering to grab the cane the nurse handed to her. She didn't need it too much anymore – the pain was bearable – but her knee would give out every so often and the cane at least spared her the indignity of falling flat on her face. Her leg would require surgery to fix, but she had refused any procedure that wasn't otherwise going to save her life. Survivors and refugees were still pouring into the hospital; some with horrific injuries and with so few doctors on hand, Shepard was more than willing to walk around in a little pain if that meant a doctor could be saving another life.
The private waited patiently as she limped through and out of the hospital, then assisted her in getting into the shuttle. Alliance HQ wasn't far away, but the rubble clogging the streets meant very little was accessible except by air. Below, a Mako and an old Grizzly were hauling building-sized chunks of rubble from the area in an effort to clear the road. There were eventual plans to use shuttles to haul pieces of dead Reapers into space, but for now, they still lay like crumpled giant's toys, silent and somehow devoid of the presence they had when active.
Alliance HQ—or "Fort Anderson" as most everyone had taken to calling it—was abuzz with activity when they arrived. Shepard usually ached to join in—wanting something other than the tedious work of healing up, but she was a liability in search-and-rescue teams, and she didn't have the technical know-how for some of the other problems assaulting a post-Reaper existence. Still, Hackett invited her more often than she could come, if only so that her input—if she had any—could be heard. But this time she barely noticed the bustling soldiers, the huddled refugees, the lingering smell of sweat and unwashed bodies of various species.
The private she'd been following saluted again outside the communications room and let Shepard enter alone. She paused inside the door, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light, and saw Hackett standing on the receiver. Her eyes immediately fell on who he was communicating with and, as always, she couldn't stop the smile from forming: Kaidan.
Hackett looked over at her approach and nodded. "Major, there's someone here to see you, so I'll sign off. I appreciate the update. Keep up the good work. Tell your people that they are in our thoughts and prayers. Hackett out."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Kaidan said with a crisp salute. His image wavered and dissipated for blink of an eye, forming again, slightly fuzzy around the edges. Hackett brought over a bent but still usable folding chair for her and she nodded her thanks. Her legs were beginning to tremble from the exertion of the trip, and she was tired, not to mention slightly nauseated. She needed to eat something soon. Shepard waited until Hackett, left, drinking in the sight of him. Kaidan's hair was getting a little long and his facial hair more of a beard than stubble, but he was whole and healthy and alive.
"Hey," he said in a soft voice, reaching out a ghostly hand.
"Hey," she said in return, reaching out hers as well. Her fingers met his blue holographic ones with no discernible feeling, but it was better than nothing. Even the QEC was a recent victory over what had been for weeks an audio connection. The Normandy, stranded on a planet with no visible means of communication in sight, had had to make substantial repairs before they were able to fix the QEC to contact Earth. And even then, it had been another few weeks before the holographic part of it worked again. Kaidan had said on their last talk that getting EDI back online had helped with the process… but it was still touch and go. Power was apt to go out as systems with fried wiring died and if there weren't spare parts on the ship, they had to make do without. Even now, they had limited battery life. They charged them up with a primitive solar array that Traynor had found stuffed in a storage crate in the shuttle bay, saving the Normandy's power cells for life support, medical, and food prep.
"How's therapy going?" Kaidan asked.
Shepard showed him her regen-arm, pointing at the vanishing scar from her surgery. "Not too bad. Tell James that by the time you guys get back, I might be ready to lift a datapad again."
He chuckled warmly. "I will. They send their greetings, by the way. Garrus says the bottles are revolting but he's got it taken care of, whatever that means."
Shepard laughed. "How's Javik?"
"Improving." Kaidan looked away a moment toward something out of the QEC's view. "It was better once he regained consciousness. Dr. Chakwas wasn't sure how to treat a Prothean with… those kind of injuries. First time I've ever seen her stumped."
"Glad to hear it," she said, relief filling her like a breath of fresh air. Some days were bad days and others, like today, she stored up hope and good news to ration out on the days when there was nothing good to share.
Kaidan's holo fuzzed again. "Shepard, I was just telling Hackett that we may have found a colony on this planet. We're not sure yet. We picked up a signal the other day; faint, but there. If they've been having the same communication problems that we are, it's probable that it's only now they're getting things back online too. We're going to send a team out tomorrow and try to triangulate the signal."
Shepard sucked in a breath. "Does that mean you know where you are and..." how soon you'll be coming home? She couldn't say it; couldn't bear to hear an answer in the negative.
"We think we might be on one of Zion's moons. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two that are habitable."
Shepard wracked her brain. "Wait, Zion? In the Exodus Cluster?"
Kaidan nodded, smiling. "We're right next door, Shepard. Only a few hundred light-years away."
Shepard had to remind herself to breathe.
Kaidan searched her face. "I don't want to give false hope, but if we find this colony, and if they have the parts we need…"
Shepard found her voice, hoarse with emotion. "You could be home within a year."
They were both silent for a moment.
"I want to hold you so badly my arms actually hurt," he said with a small smile. "We may be stranded, but we've survived here and this world is… untouched by the Reapers. I can't imagine what it's like being there on Earth with so much devastation and death."
There was death in this post-Reaper world… but there was also life. Shepard swallowed, fingers bunching on the fabric that had clumped over her belly. "Kaidan, I wanted to wait until I was sure to tell you, but then you had that malfunction and then we did and—"
"Shepard, what is it?" His voice held a hint of panic, the holograph wavering.
She took a deep breath. "I'm pregnant."
Kaidan's figure fizzled out completely.
"Kaidan?" Shepard leaned forward in her chair in alarm, ready to press any of the buttons on the console, but he flickered back to life.
"You… what?" Kaidan's hair looked like it was standing on end.
"We're going to have a baby," she said softly, reaching out her hand again.
Kaidan reached out to her hand, emotion visible on his face. After some moments, he swallowed, throat bobbing. "Shepard, the battery on this thing is about to go, but I love you. I love you so much. I'll be home as soon as I can. Don't have the baby without me."
Shepard laughed through the tears forming in her eyes. "I'll do what I can. I love you."
I took the stars from my eyes, and then I made a map,
And knew that somehow, I could find my way back.