The Mass Effect universe and its characters belong to Bioware, though Kaylin is my take on Shepard.

Author's Note: First, I'd like to extend a giant thank you to CyanB for being an absolutely amazing beta; without her input this story might never have been finished. Also, thanks to everyone that read my little foray into writing, especially those that kept offering encouragement with their reviews (Quilate and emberlies in particular!). It has been a fun experience and I hope you guys enjoyed this tale.

"Love Come" by Sarah McLachlan

Love come
Light up the shadows
Let the beauty of you enter in
For I have hungered for a tender touch
A long and lonely time
I've seen much more than I want to
So much anger
So much pain
A line is drawn and lives are torn apart
The wound's too hard to heal

Love has taken me in
Lifted my load
And in this empty space a wonder grows
A dream of some kind of peace I could hold up is true
I never knew anything about love before you

You can call, I come running
I can sense the flood before it breaks
And I'd do anything to dry your tears
To let you know you're safe

Love has taken me in
Lifted my load
And in this empty space a wonder grows
And I dream of some kind of peace I can hold up as true
I never knew anything about love before you

Love come light up the shadows
Let the beauty of you enter in
For I have hungered for a tender touch
A long and lonely time.

The world is black and white; no waking, no sleeping; only existing. Faces dissolve into nothingness, memories shredding to infinite pieces and scattering to the cosmos. The vistas of countless worlds float by, no joy felt at the glory of a sunrise, no despair at bodies twisted and broken on the ground.

"Emotions are senseless constructs of organic minds; you are more than those weak creatures can ever be. We are supreme, we are the embodiment of perfection, we take and improve life. You understand that allowing them to continue is pointless; allow us to finish our mandate, allow us to harvest."

NO! Images pulled from the ether: an asari fighting to save her homeworld, a salarian scientist saving a Krogan life, a squad of krogans futilely battling a swarm of monsters to allow a rachni queen to escape, a turian and quarian locked in an embrace, a geth collapsing to his knees as the sun sets on his life but rises on his peoples. Life matters! You will STOP!

All actions cease: ships abort their attacks, troops halt their progress and retreat to the ships, transformations are terminated and prisoners released. Even thought is arrested and the force driving this change in protocol falls into empty darkness. Time slips by unnoticed.

Stillness reigns in the machine consciousness, perfect and peaceful. Solitary pictures intrude upon this tranquility: a human man charging into battle, the same man sitting beside a human woman swathed in bandages, the couple dancing in the night, and again the man kneeling with a chain clenched tight in his fist and tears in his eyes. A voice shatters the silence: "You kinda look like a Lola… Are you flirting with me, Lola… Mi alma, please wake up…When you're ready, I'll be waiting, mi amor… I'll slay any dragon for my princess… I love you, Kaylin."

A small fragment of the collective splits off, awareness stirred by the disturbance of memories, and swells to form a separate identity: "I am Kaylin Siobhan Shepard and I want to go home."

When the Crucible fired off the weapon that forced the Reapers into retreat, a massive amount of data flooded the Mass relays. This surge overloaded the systems and shut down intergalactic travel for several weeks. Eventually the relays came back online and the various fleets returned home.

The bulk of Reaper forces have vanished, though occasional sightings of the large ships are made over various planets in concert with the release of small amounts of traumatized victims. The number of those returned is miniscule in comparison to the amount taken, but anyone saved is considered cause for celebration.

Months pass as governments pick up the broken pieces of society and begin the arduous task of reconstruction. Refugees straggle back home, some to families they thought lost while others grieve those gone forever. The Citadel coupled with the Crucible still hangs over Earth, both grim reminder of horror and joyous monument to victory. No one wants to reclaim the station as the center of galactic commerce and unity; too many ghosts haunt the halls. A joint effort has begun to build a new hub at the location of the old, but the process is slow as it comes second to the rebuilding of home.

With peace settling over the galaxy, the leaders of all the various species gather on Earth to commemorate the one year anniversary of the end of the war and to honor the sacrifice of all who died. The Normandy's crew holds pride of place, opposite the dignitaries, having done so much to bring about this victory. Admiral Anderson has just taken the stage when a Reaper appears in the sky. A shaft of stunning white light strikes down before the dais and a naked human woman appears as the brilliance fades.

James is on his feet and gathering up the figure before anyone else can react, though the Normandy's crew is but a few heartbeats behind, circling the couple and facing outward to protect them and offer a moment of privacy.

Tears streaming down their faces, Vega and Shepard share a passionate kiss and then stand foreheads pressed together to breathe each other in. James starts to speak, but his voice breaks and he has to start again, "Is it really you?"

Shepard's voice is ragged as she whispers, "It's me: Shepard, Kaylin, Lola. I am so very sorry James. I never wanted to leave you." Chaos is erupting in the crowd with people reaching for weapons and shouting questions. She gives him a weary smile, "I know you have a million questions, but I think we'd better deal with the rest of the universe first. I'm not leaving you ever again, so we'll have all the time in the world to catch up."

He looks down at her current state of undress and starts to take off his dress coat with a smirk, "While I appreciate the view, I'm not in the mood to share it with everyone else."

Shepard's eyes dance as she chuckles, "The Reapers managed to make me a new body to the right specifications, but trying to get them to create clothes seemed beyond their capabilities." As he helps her slide into the coat she notices two sets of dog tags around his neck: her old set and the custom set he made for her. She tentatively reaches out to touch them and he quickly takes off the black one to place around her neck.

The crew parts to allow Vega to lift her to the stage and creates a perimeter to prevent anyone from getting close to them as he joins her above. Anderson steps forward to hug her tightly, James standing guard at her back. Tears glisten in her eyes as she returns his embrace, "I wasn't sure you'd make it 'til help arrived; glad to see you did."

The man chuckles and steps back with his hands on her shoulders to study her for a moment, "I've survived worse injuries and I wasn't going to let that bastard have the satisfaction of me dying. Thought we'd lost you for good this time, though."

"I couldn't let the damned Reapers have the satisfaction of killing me off. Besides, third life's the charm, right?"

They share a laugh and he waves her towards the podium, "I think there will be a riot soon if you don't tell everyone where the hell you've been and how you made it back."

A resigned sigh escapes her and she reaches out to twine her hand with James' before stepping forward to the mike. She taps it a few times to try and get everyone's attention. "Greetings. If everyone could please take their seats, perhaps I can answer the questions you all so obviously have for me." Silence slowly spreads as those present sit back down to listen. There are still quite a few weapons drawn, but, for the most part, peace is restored as the heads of state generally recognize Shepard and tell their people to stand down.

"For those of you who don't know me, I'm Commander Shepard." Vega leans over to whisper in her ear and she mutters, "Really?" Raising her voice, she continues, "Apparently I was promoted to General upon my… death. Who knew that the second time you die it earns you two ranks?" A few scattered laughs greet her lame joke and she takes a deep breath to steady her nerves. "Many of you are probably wondering what happened during the last moments of the war, why the Reapers left, and whether they'll be back. I'll do my best to answer those questions and any others you may have."

"First of all, the Reapers are not the penultimate form of synthetic life out there. They were created by a being that essentially inhabits the Citadel–" This statement prompts a general wave of muttering between the members of the crowd and she waits for them to settle back down. "I know this comes as a shock to all those who lived, worked and visited the Citadel… and it is a fact I have no way to prove to you." More grumbling greets her words, but she presses on. "This being revealed itself to me once the Illusive Man had been defeated, saying that it used the Reapers to keep chaos throughout the galaxy in check. If believed that organics and synthetics would destroy themselves if left to their own devices, so it would reset intelligent organic life in cycles to allow for new life to flourish." Angry shouts ring out along with cries for action against this AI.

Her calm attempts to restore order are in vain, so she uses her command voice to shout, "Quiet!" All the military personnel, whatever their species, immediately fall silent and the civilians are startled into a similar show of discipline. Volume returning to normal, she says, "Thank you. By joining the Crucible with the Citadel, we essentially threw it for a loop and it decided it needed a new way of dealing with the situation. Thus it presented me with three choices."

The Salarian Dalatrass Linron stands and calls out, "Why you? Why would it not address the leaders of the organic races rather than one measly human, not even a leader among her people?" The question garners a few murmurs of support but is largely met with hostility from those who hold Shepard in high regard and take exception to the way the wording denigrates her importance.

Shepard holds up a hand to still the crowd and replies, "It gave me the right to choose because I was the first organic to find it. Had it been you or anyone else I cannot say that it would have made a difference." The salarian and her supporters seem somewhat mollified by the answer, so Shepard continues.

"The first option was outright destruction of the Reapers." Rumbles of agreement for this idea are wide spread. "But I rejected this plan –" Now some of her proponents join the opposition with rage-filled shouts of "Why the hell not?" and "You should have killed them all!" She weathers the storm of wrath directed at her, speaking into the eventual lull, "I rejected this plan because it would also have meant the destruction of the Geth people and probably the death of anyone with significant synthetic enhancements. I was unwilling to sacrifice so many when there were other possible courses of action." All eyes turn to the geth contingent in attendance. In the months following the end of the conflict, the geth had been tireless in their efforts to aid the other races in rebuilding, providing workers for construction projects and helping rescue victims from areas deemed too hazardous for organics to safely work. Even some of the more conservative quarians had come to admit that the geth were useful and didn't need to die.

Satisfied that the general consensus has come to agree that maybe this course was not the correct one, she moves on. "The second choice was the one the intelligence felt was the best, calling it synthesis, but one I could not ultimately agree on. It offered the ability to combine all organics and synthetics into one hybrid species, thus negating the chance that the two different life form types would fight." Everyone sits in stunned silence, mulling over the implications of this option. "You asked me why the creature gave me, a single individual, the decision to make in how to end this war and not the governing bodies of the galaxy. Because I am but one person, not a god or supreme ruler, I refused to take this path. I had no right to change all of creation, to force all life to abide by a change they could not counteract." A large number of those present nod in agreement with her assessment.

Squeezing James hand tight, she takes a deep breath. He can feel the tremors running through her and shifts position to press against her side. "So I went with option three. By joining my consciousness with the Reapers I could control them." She stops talking, allowing the import of her words to sink in; all hell breaks loose when it does and several weapons are pointed at her in the pandemonium. James thrusts her behind his back, shielding her as the rest of the Normandy's crew surges to protect her. The geth go into action to disable those deemed an immediate threat to Shepard and the security team for the event eventually helps restore order.

Once a modicum of peace returns, Shepard steps around James to resume her place at the podium. He takes up position behind her left shoulder, hand resting in the small of her back, eyes now scanning the area constantly for danger. Her voice is steady as she speaks, "The only viable solution that did not require a massive loss of life or playing god was to become one with the Reapers, so I took it. The Reapers pulled back because I ordered them to. They released all remaining prisoners on my command. Their forces have moved off beyond the confines of this galaxy and will not return."

A turian stands up to yell, "What happens when you die? Will they come back after that?"

Looking him in the eye she replies, "Those are fair questions. They will no longer be a threat because my values have been imprinted on them and that won't fade even when my current body does. Even though I stand before you now, a part of me is still joined with them."

A shout from the back of the crowd, "What if they're really controlling you? Pretending to be gone when really their just getting stronger? Or what if that AI in the Citadel makes more synthetics to attack us?" A few murmurs of concern spread through the crowd.

A grim smile curls her lips, "If they were in control, you'd be dead. There is no reason for them to have pulled back save at my instructions. They were winning and withdrawing would earn them nothing. They'd also have no reason to release their captives unless they were still infected with the nanites they used to command them." The military among the group all nod in agreement at this assessment.

"As for the intelligence that created them making something different, it gave us a chance to prove ourselves and I believe we have to make the most of that. It believed that choosing to control the Reapers would prove pointless because organics would make some new synthetic and we'd go to war with them, perpetuating the chaos and the cycle of hate." Her gaze roams over those in attendance, a sense of conviction filling her words, "We have the opportunity to show that organics and synthetics can live in harmony, that war is not the only answer. The geth have stepped up and shown themselves willing to work with the rest of us and we must continue in this spirit of cooperation. We here today will set the course for all future generations, so let's prove that this cycle is different from all those before it, that we can build a better tomorrow for all life."

Applause erupts from several factions, quickly spreading as everyone gets to their feet. After fielding a few more questions, she pleads the need to change into something a bit less revealing than someone's coat and promises the counsel she'll be available for further debriefing. Shepard and her entourage relinquish the stage to other speakers in order to return to the Normandy.

Once away from the bulk of outsiders, each of the crew claims a few moments to welcome her back, letting her know how much she's been missed and how happy they are she's alive after all. The inner cadre, those who walked into battle by her side, hangs back until last.

Joker stands to attention and salutes, then surprises her by giving her a hug, "Damn it, Commander… I mean General, ma'am! This better be the last time you disappear on us; I'm getting sick of throwing funerals for someone that just comes back."

She shakes her head and smiles, "I'll try a little harder to stay alive from now on, Joker, but I can't make any promises."

EDI moves to stand beside Joker, "Shepard, when we could not find you on the Citadel, Doctor Chakwas stated that the amount of blood we found would have meant certain death for a human; I am glad to see that she was incorrect."

"She was right, EDI. My body died, but I guess you could say I was uploaded to the Reaper consciousness and they were able to fashion me a new body… once I extracted my thoughts enough from theirs." A micro tremor runs through Shepard's body that only James and EDI note.

"Clearly the topic upsets you. Perhaps in the future you will be more at ease answering my questions."

"Sure, EDI. I'll let you know when I'm up to it."

Tali steps forward to give her a hug with Garrus close behind; the two are obviously still together and look very happy. Tali exclaims, "We all kept hoping that you would come back somehow."

"Thanks, Tali. I'm guessing it took longer than I had wanted to return." Gesturing at his right arm, which is misshapen and its movement limited, Shepard asks, "What happened Garrus?"

He shrugs, "Got thrown by a blast from Harbinger's lasers; some flaming debris landed on me and now I have some more burn scars to go along with my face. I'm guessing the right leg will be the next to get hit if we start fighting again."

"Well, you seem to have found a lady who thinks scars are sexy." Tali ducks her head at this comment and the group chuckles.

Wrex and Eve make their greetings and the female krogan tells Shepard she needs to come to Tutchanka to meet their son Mordin. Her eyes misting, Shepard assures them she'll make it a priority once the brass frees her up.

Liara approaches with a vaguely familiar drell. Racking her brain, Shepard finally says, "You're Feron, right?"

He blinks several times before nodding and looking at Liara. The asari moves to hug the human woman, murmuring, "I don't think he believed you would remember him from your brief contact. It's good to see you, Shepard."

"Likewise, Liara." She lifts an eyebrow, looking between Liara and Feron, before whispering, "Are you two…"

The woman's blush is all the answer Shepard needs. "Good for you! I always knew there was more there than you were willing to admit."

Liara smiles shyly, "It is an ongoing process, finding our way around all the problems in our past to create something new." Her smile fades, "Once you have some free time, there are some things I've learned through my contacts that you should be aware of."

She nods to Liara, distracted as she sees Kaidan on the periphery with a pretty brunette by his side. Walking over to the couple, she holds her hand out to Kaidan, "With the need for biotics on the front lines, I was worried you might not have made it out."

He takes her hand, but pulls her into a hug, lightly kissing her cheek and whispering, "You scared the hell out of us, Shepard. Thinking you had died again…" He shakes his head and steps back, motioning to the woman beside him, "I'd like you to meet Beth. She's the teacher I told you about."

The two women size each other up and Shepard offers her hand, pleased when the other woman takes it in a firm grip, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Beth. Kaidan's quite the catch; I hope you appreciate how lucky you are."

Kaidan blushes, hissing, "Shepard!" Beth threads her arm through his and holds on tight, a possessive smile on her face, "You can bet I know a good thing when I see it, unlike some people. He's not going anywhere if I have anything to say about it."

The verbal jab finds its mark, stinging slightly, but James wraps his arm around her waist and she leans into him, any residual pain over Kaidan forgotten. "I wish you two all the happiness in the world."

Looking over her friends, she smiles brightly, grateful to be home. "We'll all have to go out for drinks later, but for now I'd dearly love a chance to shower and put on some clothes, so I hope you'll excuse me."

James leads her onto the ship and they take the lift up to her cabin as he explains, "Admiral Anderson took over as CO of the ship when you went MIA, but his work kept him tied up here on Earth, so he left me in charge of the crew and he'd pass on any orders via the comm. Since we had a quarian admiral and an advisor to the turian Primarch aboard, as well as the team that basically pulled the entire damned galaxy together, the Normandy got tasked with traveling all over the place and helping get things settled down."

They enter the quarters and she can see nothing has been changed; even her fish and hamster are still alive. A gentle touch turns her around and she's engulfed in James' embrace. He's stroking her hair, murmuring her name and other words she doesn't understand; kissing the top of her head, her eyes, her cheeks, her lips. She clings to him for dear life, breathing him in, whispering, "James, mo anam cara, gráim thú!"

Tenderly scooping her up, he carries her the few steps to the bed and they make love for the next few hours, stopping only due to sheer exhaustion. The last thing she hears as she drifts off to sleep is a heartfelt plea from him, "Nunca me dejes otra vez."

The sensation of being watched wakes her and she finds James staring at her as his fingers reach out to trace delicate lines along her jaw. The pain in his voice breaks her heart, "I thought I'd lost you. I kept trying to believe, but there was so much damned blood on the floor and you said you had to leave, but there was nowhere for you to go from there. And then all those months passed…"

Leaning in, she silences him with a kiss. "I'm here now and I'm not going anywhere."

Tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear, he studies her, "What happened?"

She curls up with him, pressing her ear to his chest to listen to his heartbeat. "Like I said at the ceremony, I was given a choice and the only one I could make was to take control of the Reapers. My body disintegrated as I joined my mind with them." A shudder runs through her and he holds her close. "I can't even begin to describe how… alien… their mentality was. It took every ounce of will to hold them in check, to make them stop. Unfortunately, I trapped myself with them when I froze their purpose. I lost myself. It was so very peaceful and there seemed no reason to leave that state of harmony." She pulls back to look up into his eyes and caress his cheek, "…But then you pushed your way into the emptiness and I remembered there was something worth living for. You're the only reason I came back."

"Nice to know I can get in your head even when you're stuck in a computer." He smirks, "It's a good thing you came back when you did. The crew had decided we were going to leave after the ceremony, hunt down a fucking Reaper, and demand to know what they did to you."

She blinks, slack-jawed before falling into fits of laughter. "What about your orders? You think Anderson would have just let you go running off?"

He chuckles and grins, "Anderson's the one who put us up to the idea; he planned on coming with us."

She laughs even harder, gasping, "Why does that not surprise me?"

As the laughter dies down, he gives her a serious look, lifting the chain around her neck to display the black dog tag attached to it, "I asked you to spend your life with me if we survived. You still want that, right?"

She closes her hand around his, "Of course I do! I want forever with you, you crazy Marine!"

"So when do you want to make it official? You want a big wedding or can we hit Vegas?" he asks with a grin.

Rolling her eyes as she chuckles, "My mom would skin me alive if we didn't have a real ceremony, but I don't want it to be some giant media spectacular. I think just the crew and our families, plus Hackett and Anderson." She pauses, eyes widening, as she urgently asks, "My mom made it, didn't she? And your family?"

"Shhh. It's ok. Your mom's fine and so is my uncle and his family. My dad..." he shrugs. "Not really sure I care if he survived or not. I know I wouldn't want him to spoil our wedding."

"Our wedding." She says the words with mild disbelief, but clear happiness. "I had begun to think life would never settle down enough for something so simple, so normal." A groan escapes her, "Tali, Samantha, Kasumi and mom are going to drive me nuts with planning this thing. Maybe we should elope after all."

James laughs as she pulls him up and drags him towards the shower, "So glad I can leave all that to you chicas."

Shaking her head as she laughs and turns on the water, "Oh, you are not getting off easy on this Mister Vega. If I have to suffer through this, then I am making damned sure you are suffering right along with me. Consider it practice for when our kids get married."

"Kids?" He sounds surprised and then pleased as he repeats, "Our kids..." He pulls her close for a kiss as the water cascades over them, nibbling on her ear as he whispers, "How 'bout we practice making 'em?"

She purrs, "Sounds good to me."

A month later, on a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean, James stands fidgeting before the arch of flowers erected above the chaplain. Steve Cortez stands as his best man with Garrus and Joker serving as grooms-men. He keeps looking over at the tent the women have been using as a dressing room.

Music strikes up and EDI comes walking down the aisle, followed by Tali and then Liara. The women are lovely in species appropriate outfits of pale green and gold. As the bridal march begins, James breath stutters to a halt as Anderson escorts Shepard out of the tent.

The sunlight sparks fire from her hair as it curls in tendrils down her back, gold chains with black and green crystals strung through her tresses. She is resplendent in a gown of deep hunters green silk, corset top flattering her modest bust and slim waist, the skirt flaring out at the hips. Her arms are bare save twin bands of gold Celtic knot-work around her biceps. From a golden chain around her neck is suspended the black tag, diamonds twinkling as it rests against her cleavage. The barest hint of makeup graces her visage, the only exception the lovely cinnamon shade coloring her lips.

Steve leans forward to whisper in his ear, "Breath, Vega. I'm not catching your sorry ass if you pass out."

Taking a deep breath, his vision swims for a moment as his oxygen starved brain finally receives sustenance. When he can see clearly again, the two of them are in front of him and the chaplain is asking who gives her away. Anderson responds that he has that privilege and hands her over to James, clapping the young man on the shoulder and saying, "Take good care of her, son. She's one of a kind." James nods, too tongue-tied to speak, and Shepard laces her fingers with his, smiling as she steps forward to face the minister.

The ceremony flies by until the exchanging of vows. The chaplain looks between the two of them and then rests his gaze on James, "I understand you have written your own vows."

Clearing his throat, James turns to face his bride and his nervousness instantly fades as he sees the love shining in her eyes. "When we met, I was your bodyguard and your keeper. Everyone knew who you were, but they didn't really know you. As I got the chance to spend time with you, I came to realize what an amazing, strong, compassionate, intelligent woman you are. You genuinely care about everyone in your command, taking time out to help anyone that needs it, even if it means you have no time to take care of yourself. You slowly worked your way into my heart and I don't want you to ever leave. I never knew what love was until I met you, but now I know love is the ability to open your heart without fear, to give everything about you to someone, to think of someone else's needs before your own, and the willingness to be vulnerable. You make me a better man and you're the only one I can imagine spending my life with. I will cherish and protect you for as long as you'll put up with me. Tú eres mi corazón, mi alma, mi vida."

Blinking back the tears that spring to her eyes, Shepard gives him a radiant smile. "When my world was falling down around me, you were there to cheer me up, to keep me sane, to help me feel like everything would turn out all right. Yours was the voice that pulled me back from death, that called me home when I was lost. I take you, my heart, at the rising of the moon and the setting of the stars. I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud in the night and the eyes into which I smile in the morning. I pledge to you my living and my dying, though hopefully the latter is a long way off. I will cherish and honor you, our love never-ending, through this life and the next. Tugaim mo chroí duit go deo."

The rings are exchanged and the minister intones, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Wild cheers erupt as James takes her in his arms, dipping her for a prolonged kiss. Hand in hand they join their friends to embark on a new adventure as husband and wife, taking on whatever the universe throws at them.

Mo anam cara – my soulmate (Gaelic)

gráim thú! – I love you! (Gaelic)

nunca me dejes otra vez – never leave me again (Spanish)

Tú eres mi corazón, mi alma, mi vida - you are my heart, my soul, my life (Spanish)

Tugaim mo chroí duit go deo - I give my heart to you forever (Gaelic)

"I Want To Be Loved Like That" by Shenandoah

Natalie Wood gave her heart to James Dean
High school rebel and a beauty queen
Standing together in an angry world
One boy fighting for one girl

I want to be loved like that
I want to be loved like that
A promise, you can't take back
If you're gonna love me
I want to be loved like that

Daddy never gave momma a diamond ring
Momma never worried for anything
What he gave her came from the heart
A bond that was never torn apart

I want to be loved like that
I want to be loved like that
A promise, you can't take back
If you're gonna love me
I want to be loved like that

An old man kneeling all alone
Plants his flowers in a garden of stone
For seven years now she's been gone
And his devotion is still going strong

I want to be loved like that
I want to be loved like that
A promise, you can't take back
If you're gonna love me
I want to be loved like that