Author's Note: And so begins our story! Now just to clarify, the actual level isn't taking place here. This is the aftermath of the Collector Base mission.

Prologue

Commander Daniel Shepard sat down in his seat and did his best to relax into it, breathing a deep sigh of relief as he shut his eyes. It was finally over for now. The Collector Base had been destroyed along with all of its insectoid occupants, the Human-Reaper had gone down as well, save for one piece that Mordin was currently busily analyzing in his lab, and best of all, the Reapers were still stuck in Dark Space. For one moment it seemed, Shepard could relax in full and maybe even enjoy himself without the knowledge of just how much was at stake hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles as he did so.

But of course that wasn't possible. Not when Shepard knew that the Reapers were still out there and they would inevitably come back to perform their mass-genocide. And when they did, Shepard and whatever he could muster would be there to face them head-on. It seemed like a fool's dream sometimes; it did, after all, take so many ships just to destroy one reaper, but Shepard tried to hold onto hope. Because as corny and clichéd as it sounded, hope was all there was left to hold onto in times like these.

Who knows? Shepard thought half-jokingly. Maybe Sovereign was just a particularly tough Reaper…

Deciding to throw off his worries of the Reapers and their inevitable arrival for at least a little while, Daniel took to admiring his N7 armor. It wasn't a whole lot different from the standard: red stripe, logo…it was dark black as opposed to the usual charcoal color, but that wasn't exactly a large difference. In the end, the biggest difference and the most defining feature of it was the "Death Mask" he had gotten from a Krogan merchant on Tuchunka. Daniel liked the look of it, so he decided to buy it.

All of a sudden, EDI's blue orb appeared, shaking Shepard out of his thoughts. He turned to her.

"What is it EDI?"

"Apologies for interrupting Commander, but executive Lawson would like to speak with you"

Miranda. Shepard's XO, 2nd-in-command, and former Cerberus loyalist. The one who had led the effort to bring him back…and she had since become even more to him.

He definitely wasn't go to deny the woman he loved. Shepard nodded.

"Thanks EDI. I'll be down. Can speak to the rest of the crew too while I'm down there…"

Shepard got up and took the elevator down to the Crew Quarters. Upon exiting, he made his way to Miranda's office and entered. As usual, she was busy working on something or another. She smiled at him as she saw him come in.

"Hello Com-Shepard. Thank you for stopping by"

Shepard nodded and smiled. Miranda was still getting used to referring to him by his name and not as "commander". They had become closer then that.

"Of course Miranda. I always have time for you"

Miranda chuckled lightly. "Don't get sappy on me Shepard. I…I wanted to speak to you about something important…"

"What is it?"

"I…well…Shepard, I know our relationship has…changed a great deal since our first meetings at the Lazarus station…"

Shepard chuckled. "I'll say. I'm not a pile of meat and tubes being pieced together again anymore"

Miranda struggled to suppress her own laugh and then said, keeping her voice even: "You know what I mean. We've become so much closer recently…and you've since proven to me that you're genuinely interested…so I have to ask: are you still interested? Is this more then just something fleeting I mean…"

Shepard raised an eyebrow in response to that but then replied: "Well I'm not sure Miranda. I mean, given everything that's happening right now, in the galaxy, with the Reapers and everything, I don't even know what's going to happen, but…Miranda I do care about you, you know that. I don't want this to be just a fleeting thing"

Miranda made a faint smile. "That's…that's good to know. But if that's the case then…"

Miranda's face fell for a moment and her demeanor took an expression of uncertainty that Shepard had never seen on her before.

"Miranda…is something wrong?"

"Shepard I…I have something I need to tell you."

Shepard's face took on an expression of great concern. He didn't want to see Miranda upset or distraught.

"Miranda what's wrong?"

"I…" There was silence for a moment as Miranda's face took on a contemplative expression. Then, she sighed deeply and said: "Its…nothing Shepard. Nothing I can't handle at the moment anyway. I…I'll tell you some other time, maybe…but just…not right now. Please"

Now Shepard was genuinely curious, and also confused, as to what exactly was going on with Miranda, but as she was asking him to drop it he decided to consent to her request. Still, he found himself concerned. Whatever it was it was apparently so serious that she was hesitating to tell him, and that didn't point to anything good. It didn't help that she had brought it up after asking about their relationship. It didn't take a rocket scientist to know that the two were connected…

Shepard was troubled, but decided not to spend more time dwelling on the matter. Miranda didn't wish to discuss with him at the present moment and nothing good would come of him doing guesswork by himself. Best to let it go for now.

With his mildly awkward conversation with Miranda out of the way, Shepard decided to pay his best friend a visit. Going to Garrus' usual place of residence on the Normandy, Shepard approached the Turian sharpshooter. Seeing him, Garrus turned around.

"Shepard. Need me for something?"

"Have you got a minute to talk?" Shepard asked. "Or are you in the middle of some calibrations?" He added playfully.

"Ha ha." Garrus deadpanned but nevertheless cracked a smile at his old friend. "As a matter of fact you're in luck today. Got nothing to do with myself at the moment, so yes, I do have a minute to talk."

Garrus walked forward a bit and sighed. "So. We actually did it. Actually can't say I'm surprised. With you leading us the Collectors never stood a chance."

"Never doubted me for a second then?" Shepard asked amused.

Garrus shook his head. "After everything I watched you do in the hunt for Saren, up to and including getting him to shoot himself in the head, I wouldn't doubt you to do anything."

Shepard nodded. Garrus was referring to Shepard's last meeting with his old rival on the Citadel. Garrus and Liara had been the only two people who actually got to see it…

"I must say though, I am surprised that we didn't lose anyone. Not sure how we managed to get away with that on a supposed suicide mission."

Shepard shrugged and grinned. "Guess we just got lucky…or maybe I am just that good"

Garrus chuckled. "Who knows? Maybe you are. I just doubt things will go as smoothly for when the Reapers do show up…"

Garrus had brought it up again. The inevitable war with the Reapers. Shepard's actions may have delayed them and also robbed them of their shock-troopers, but they would still come regardless. There was no stopping that. Shepard sighed in frustration. If only the Council had listened to him. But instead they wasted every ounce of the time he had given them acting as if there was no threat at all. The Alliance did the same but they at least had a solid excuse: the fight against Sovereign had left them weakened, and in need or rebuilding. They couldn't afford to spread themselves thin now. But what excuse did the Council have? Maintaining stability on their precious Citadel? Didn't seem like that would be worth much if they were all dead.

Daniel sighed. He hated politics. Always did, always would. He had always tried to give the Council the benefit of the doubt but now he wasn't so sure just how much longer he could keep doing that.

At least they reinstated me… Shepard thought bitterly.

"Shepard? You alright?"

Shepard snapped back to reality and chastised himself for wandering off on a tangent again. The lack of action really was making him more relaxed if his mind had become so susceptible to wandering.

"Yeah, I'm fine Garrus. Sorry. Got lost in thought for a moment…"

"Let me guess: Reaper-related woes?"

"Something like that"

"Well, I'm not going to lie, they're on my mind too. Probably everyone else's too if I had to guess. I'm sure they all just want to be like the Council and act like its not a problem but…well, I think after everything this ship's seen we all know better."

Shepard nodded. "I just hope you pack enough guns for Armageddon"

Garrus burst out laughing. "HA! Always do. The Reapers aren't going to turn me and my people into drooling husks…so, something else you wanted to talk about commander?"

Shepard considered. For a moment he thought about speaking to him regarding his relationship with Miranda but decided against it. While Garrus was nowhere near as anti-Cerberus as most of the other members on his team, he still had no idea what he would think of his commander and best friend sleeping with the organization's former 2nd-in-command, and it was also doubtful that he could offer any helpful ideas or advice regarding their last awkward conversation.

So Shepard just shook his head and said: "Talk to you later Garrus…assuming you won't just be busy calibrating something next time I come down"

"You know that joke wasn't as funny the second time" Garrus deadpanned. Then he made a sly grin and added: "And one day all these calibrations might just save your life"

"I'm anxiously awaiting the day"

-X-

As Shepard returned to the CIC, he ran into Mordin making his way back to his tech labs, his arms filled with a variety of items and technical implements that Shepard couldn't identify on the spot. As it was, he almost caused the entirety of what Mordin was carrying to spill out on the floor.

"Ah Shepard. Pardon me. Just on way back to lab. Lots of data to go through, Reaper piece fascinating, just needed to get more tools *sharp inhale* be there if you need me"

Shepard couldn't help but find Mordin's style of speech amusing, mixing perfectly with his generally jovial and upbeat nature. As had been the case before, Mordin had piqued Shepard's curiosity with his ramblings about research.

"So…the Reaper piece I brought back keeping you occupied?"

Mordin smiled and nodded. "Oh yes. Reaper Heart fascinating. Unlike anything else ever seen, totally unique make-up, due at least partly to mix of organic and synthetic. Will enjoy studying."

"Wait a minute…Reaper "heart"

Mordin nodded. "Code name given to Reaper piece you brought back from Collector base, thought it physically resembled human heart, also located in similar position, finally matches up with your decision. Seemed like good label"

Matched up with his decision. Now that was an interesting thing to say. At first Shepard wasn't sure what exactly Mordin meant but then realized that he was referring to his decision to destroy the Reaper base rather then keep it around. In effect, Shepard had gone with his "heart" and chosen the right decision, rather then sparing the Collector Base, which may have been the "logical" decision. It made sense when he thought of it that way.

Shepard nodded. "Enjoy yourself Mordin"

Mordin nodded rapidly. "Oh yes. Will definitely enjoy myself. So much to study, so much to learn, *sharp inhale*. Feel young again"

And with that, Mordin was off, and Shepard could swear that he heard him humming the Gilbert and Sullivan theme as he did…

-X-

As Shepard made his way into the main area of the CIC floor, he heard Kelly Chambers call out to him: "Commander you've received a new message at your private terminal"

Nodding, Shepard walked over to the terminal and read the message:

To: Shepard
From: Cerberus Information Processing

We're aware that your old friend Liara T'Soni has been hunting for the Shadow Broker for several years. We wouldn't mind helping her in that hunt, given the Broker's past work for the Collectors. We recently uncovered some information that might give Liara a lead on where to find the Shadow Broker's base of operations, but unfortunately, she doesn't have much faith in Cerberus intel. If you'd visit Illium and pass it on to her as a gesture of goodwill, we'd appreciate it.

Shepard read the message carefully and with interest. He honestly couldn't blame Liara when it came to the last bit. Daniel had taken out one or two Cerberus cells during his hunt for Saren, and from what little he knew of the organization, his opinion of them was not a good one. As Miranda had until recently been a die-hard Cerberus loyalist he had wisely chosen to avoid discussing that particular topic with her if at all possible, knowing that their conflicting views on the organization would do no good for any kind of relationship Shepard wished to pursue. So he judged her as a person instead of as a Cerberus loyalist and had come out ahead. And now that she had finally seen for herself what Cerberus was really like, first at Aite and then at the Collector Base, with the Illusive Man wanting to keep a base that had liquefied millions of humans alive, he no longer had to skirt around the issue of their divided loyalties quite as much.

But Shepard's mind was going off on a tangent and he quickly snapped it back to the task at hand. Cerberus had information on the Shadow Broker, but Liara would only trust it if it came from Shepard's mouth. Quite honestly Shepard was surprised that Cerberus was giving him this information at all, since after destroying the Collector Base Shepard had made it pretty clear to the Illusive Man that he was done dancing to his tune and that he had either work with him or get out of his way. Not exactly the best of terms to part on.

That in turn made Shepard wonder: was this information even genuine? Cerberus and the Illusive Man could just be trying to get some payback by feeding Shepard's old friends and allies false information, information which could send them on a wild goose chase at best and get them killed at worst. Not a chance Shepard was prepared to take. If only he had some way of verifying it…

As it stood, he did. Shepard checked the date the message had first appeared on his private terminal. It was the day the Normandy's crew had been abducted by the Collectors and Shepard and his crew had been away cleaning up Dr. Gavin Archer's mess on Aite. Shepard hadn't had time to check his private terminal after that until now. So that meant that it probably wasn't a trap. Shepard had never trusted Cerberus, but during their partnership they had supplied reasonable intel and hadn't really attempted to screw him over save for the Collector Ship incident. So that probably meant he could trust this lead…

Shepard thought about it. As it was he currently had nothing better to do, so he figured he might as well go investigate it.

Shepard went up to the galaxy map and set a course for Illium.

Author's Note: Well, so far so good.

Mordin Solus is easily my favorite party member, by far. But man is he a challenge to right. Not only did I have to nail his unique way of speaking, I also had to be careful to choose the right words for him. He almost never uses "I" or anything too informal for instance.

And just to clarify, this will not be a mere walkthrough. I'll be trying to add my own stuff where I can to make it feel more unique then that. I hope you all enjoy!