CHAPTER 1: SHORE LEAVE

Silence….well, not perfect silence but a familiar and comforting one nonetheless. The hum of the ship and its crew going about their daily activities was something Shepard had come to find a certain peace in. The Alliance had given her a sense of belonging and the people she met and served with gave her a sense of family. Following in her parents footsteps gave her a sense of purpose. She never expected to come as far as she had. Still, it made her sad to know that her father would never know or see what his daughter had accomplished. Standing in the cockpit with Joker looking out the window, watching the stars streak by in the vast expanse of space, she was lost in thought…

"Commander? ...Joker to Shepard….Hello?"

"…..what?" she absently answered still staring out the window.

"Oh nothing, you know, just trying to fly the ship here. Waiting for your orders while the Reapers hunt our ass and Cerberus gets away…the usual."

Peeved, she turned and raised her hand, about to smack him upside the head. "Really, Joker?"

"Hey, hey don't hit the cripple! Just making sure you were paying attention is all. I lost you for a minute… what's wrong, Commander?"

"Nothing….everything… you know… the usual," she said with a cryptic smirk. "Don't worry about me Joker, I'm fine. Set a course for the Citadel would you? It's time the crew got some shore leave while I take care of things with the Council."

"All work and no play makes Sera a dull girl…"

"Joker….."

"Okay, okay I give. Just saying is all… you could use some shore leave too you know. Anderson said I was supposed to look out for you. I can't disobey a direct order, can I?"

"No", she said, smiling at her old friend. "Really, I'm fine."

He huffed, "Okay, but promise me you'll meet me us in Purgatory for a drink."

"Us?"

"Yeah, a few of us are meeting up – me, Edi, Liara, Garrus, Mordin, Dr. Chakwas... you know taking advantage of the downtime. It's called relaxing... having a good time…"

"Okay, okay, I get it – smartass. I'll think about it. No promises," she said as she walked away toward the CIC.

A small smile played on her lips as she walked past the holo of the Normandy. It was a beautiful ship – perfect. Cerberus had done a magnificent job of building her and Sera was glad and relieved to be able to turn it over to the Alliance. In the 6 months she was gone, they tore it apart ripping out all of the Cerberus intel and technology and converting it to an Alliance vessel. She detested the time she spent under Cerberus' thumb – not her choice but a necessary evil. However, they both served a mutually symbiotic purpose to one another. Each got what they wanted out of the partnership.

Still, she was only too eager to return to the Alliance. The Alliance and the Council however, had not been so eager. Anderson trusted her implicitly. He believed everything she had told him. The Council had not – they were in severe denial and nothing she said would change their minds. That was, of course, until the Reaper attack on Earth….and Palaven…and countless other worlds. Now they couldn't deny anything anymore.

She sighed heavily as she walked up to her private terminal not really wanting to read any of the messages. She was tired – mentally, emotionally and physically. It would be 2 or 3 more hours before they reached the Citadel and a nap sounded like bliss. The terminal nagged at her. She knew she couldn't walk away from it without reading the messages. She let out a small annoyed huff as she pressed the message icon. The subject lines lit up the screen. She skimmed them to see if there was anything important. There were a few things that caught her attention...an invitation for a meeting with Anderson, a message from the Salarian dalatrass, a reminder from Dr. Chakwas about the medical supplies, Joker's invite for drinks….and a message from her mother. Concerned, she clicked it:

Seraphina,

I hope this reaches you. I heard about the attack on Earth and immediately thought of you. I tried getting through to you via holo and omni-tool but nothing would hold a signal long enough to connect. Please reply to this as soon as you get it so I know you're okay. I'll be on the Citadel in the next day or two to take care of some things and visit your father. If you pass through, please let me know - I would love to see what my daughter looks like these days.

Love,

Your mother, Rear Admiral Hannah

The screen became blurry as happy tears pricked behind her eyelids. A wave of relief washed through her as she hung her head, looking down at the keypad. She felt lighter as she typed a quick reply to her mother:

Mom,

I'm fine and commanding the SSV Normandy again. It's been commissioned as an Alliance vessel after they got rid of all the Cerberus tech. I'm very sorry for not sending you a message sooner. Things have been so chaotic – I barely have time to eat never mind sleep. I would love to see you. I'll be at the Citadel by the time you arrive. How about we meet at the café near the Presidium Gardens and visit dad together?

Love,

Seraphina

With a smile on her face, she left the console and headed toward the elevator, calling back to Specialist Traynor.

"Traynor?"

"Commander?"

"I'm going to visit the crew deck and then will be in my cabin until we get to the Citadel. Please don't let anyone disturb me until we arrive."

"Yes, Commander."

The elevator doors shut and she was left alone with her thoughts. While the elevator hummed to the Crew Deck, she thought about her father. She missed him so much. He had been a Captain with the Alliance just like her mother. She closed her eyes and saw his face – kind, gentle, smiling, sky-blue eyes sparkling with laughter. The scar of losing him so suddenly was still fresh on her heart. She had felt so lost without him; her world turned upside down – like the floor had fallen out from beneath her. It had been 2 years and it still felt like yesterday. The words coming out of her mother's mouth but seeming disembodied anyway…

The elevator dinged bringing her back to the present as the doors slid open. She shook her head quickly to put the memories away. She couldn't let her crew see her that way – in despair; the pain and anguish written on her face. She sniffed back a tear as she stepped off the elevator and headed toward Med Bay. The door slid open and Karin looked up from the data pad she was reading.

"Commander! Good to see you…." Her brow furrowed as she noted the look on Shepard's face "…what's wrong Sera?"

"Oh, it's nothing, Karin. I just got a message from my mother and she's fine. We're going to meet on the Citadel when she arrives."

"Oh! That's wonderful! Give her my regards would you?"

"I will. Speaking of the Citadel, do you have a manifest of the items you want me to trade with Tactus that I can take with me?"

"Actually… that's what I'm reviewing at the moment. I'll send it to you once I'm finished finalizing it."

"Sounds good. Thanks Doctor." She turned and started to walk out of Med Bay.

"Commander?"

"Yes?"

Karin looked at Shepard, concerned. There were dark circles under Shepard's eyes, her complexion was pale, and her slumped shoulders were indicative of the burden she carried. She was absently rubbing her temple with her two forefingers – the stress was becoming more than apparent.

"I think you should rest while you are on the Citadel, Commander."

"Why?" Shepard asked, knowing the answer before the doctor could voice it.

"You know why Commander. I don't need to tell you. We're getting together in Purgatory for drinks. I think you should come."

"I don't know…" Shepard trailed off; unable to come up with a good enough excuse to get out of it.

"Don't make me make that an order, Commander."

She knew the doctor was kidding, but the underlying meaning was more than clear.

"Okay, okay – I give. What time?"

"Uhmmm… I think Joker said 2000 hours."

"Great….Joker's gonna love this." Shepard said as she left the Med Bay.