(default Shepard, romanced Ashley in previous game, Earthborn/Akuze).

Chapter 1: The Dawn

Ethan Shepard stared at the reports he had written just after the suicide mission, making sure he remembered everything so he could be ready for when the Reapers arrived. Above all, he wanted to see Ashley again, tell her how he truly felt. For the last year, he had been away from her when all he wanted was to stand by her side again. She had helped him face Saren alongside Garrus and Tali. Being stuck in his room left him restless, and all he did was think of the past year. It was full of horrible memories, such as those of the suicide mission, which he didn't want to recall. Shepard stood, pacing back and forth to keep himself active; he was sick of not doing any exercise and felt lazy. He even pictured himself becoming fat. He scratched the back of his neck; his hair was longer than the appropriate length and his 5'o clock shadow had somewhat turned into a beard two weeks ago.

The door chimed open, and James and Anderson entered, both chatting about Shepard.

"Shepard, good to see you're keeping active," Anderson joked, knowing Shepard had been lazy.

"My daily exercise, have to do something to keep my body in shape, especially with what's going on. Are the news true? We lost contact with one of our colonies?" Shepard questioned, worried about the colony.

"Yes, we were trying to keep it under alliance authority, but obviously it didn't work." Anderson looked at Shepard, knowing exactly what the cause was.

"Anderson, you need to mobilize the fleets. It's the Reapers and you know it," Shepard demanded, but he knew that Anderson would keep him in the dark.

"Shepard, you're not alliance anymore. I know you hate sitting on the sidelines, but Hackett is working on the plan. He's been advised, and you need to let us handle it." Anderson lied about what was really going on, he didn't want to explain what really happened. Four colonies had gone dark and the Alliance was still investigating, "Shepard, you need to trust us." Anderson glared at Shepard, who placed the report down on his bed.

"I do trust you, just not everybody else." Shepard walked past them to the available fridge, grabbing a water bottle. "I could use an exercise bike. At least then I would be somewhat active."

James and Anderson laughed at Shepard's last comment. "You are getting round and tubby," James joked before approaching the report, picking it up to read through it.

"James, Shepard," Anderson addressed each of them in turn. "Your trial is tomorrow; make sure you're respectable," he demanded of the latter before leaving them alone. James nodded, sitting on a couch to continue reading the report.

Shepard stared at James. "Suicide mission, got through it, but still. Wasn't as good as Ilos, that mission is the one I'll be remembered for... if this all goes to hell." Shepard smiled before sitting on the couch beside James; he was still drinking his water when James chuckled in response to something he read.

"That's one way to kill a collector. Those bug-eyed aliens are horrible to kill. Took me an entire round to knock one of them down, they were kind of freaky looking. Horrible," James mentioned before going back to his the report. "Who's Harbinger?"

"A Reaper who controlled the collectors. He was forcing them to build a human Reaper, but I stopped them. Garrus and Tali helped me but Cerberus gave me my resources. That was the only reason I worked with them," Shepard answered, hoping James would avoid asking more questions.

"I read your Horizon report. Pretty amazing stuff you did, saving half the colony. Ashley told me about her version."

"You spoke to her?" Shepard asked. James rolled his eyes at the question, knowing that Shepard was asking the wrong person.

"I ran into her on the way to Anderson, had a quick chat. I mentioned reading the report about horizon, and she asked what you wrote about her. I didn't tell her much, said I wanted to keep it quiet for the sake of your trial. She understood and dropped the question. You two are alike, I can admit that."

"Ashley was serving aboard the first Normandy before it went down; she was a Gunnery Chief back then," Shepard looked at James, who remained still and silent. It was one of James' habits when listening to Shepard, who often told him about his missions.

"Sounds like she's been through hell and more," James remarked, and Shepard realized that he was right. Ashley had experienced so much pain and little happiness in her life. That night before Ilos meant everything to him. Honestly, he didn't know if it meant as much to her, but she was one of the few lights in his world of darkness. It Thoughts of her had helped him keep going when all had seemed hopeless.

"Yeah, she's been to hell and back. But Ashley is different, she isn't just any soldier. She's amazing to watch in combat, and I was proud to serve beside her," Shepard truthfully explained, trying to avoid some more personal details.

"You'll have to tell me about one of your missions with her. She mentioned Kaidan once, but I didn't push, thinking he was an old ex-boyfriend until she said that he died on Virmire near the AA tower while you sprinted back towards the bomb to rescue her. You know, you're the only person who is insane and stupid enough to run back to a bomb that is detonating to rescue someone." Shepard started laughing at that. James was right. It was insane, but he was had been rescuing the woman he loved.

"I'll tell you about that mission later on. For now, why don't you see if you can't get me an exercise machine. I could also use a razor and a set of hair clippers. It's like a shopping list, isn't it?" Shepard joked.

"Yeah, except I'm only getting the hair clippers and razor. You can exercise anywhere in this room, like doing sit-ups on the floor, or even doing chin-ups on the balcony outside when it isn't raining here," James replied.

It was difficult being here. The Normandy, once in view of his window, was now gone. James had mentioning that the alliance moved it in order to prevent distractions, but it didn't feel right. His ship was gone, his woman...he didn't even he know how she felt. The news mentioned him occasionally concerning his actions and upcoming trial. They had already disgraced Shepard's name, and he now knew how Ashley had felt for most of her life.

Ashley stood in Admiral Anderson's office, waiting for his return so she could hand him the final version of her report about the Reapers and her experiences with them. She knew it would be important to for Shepard's upcoming trial. She hadn't thought about him much, trying to focus on the task at hand, but she suddenly thought about her younger sister's wedding last week. Lynn had mentioned him a few times, and then Sarah had brought up her one liner that Shepard had actually heard her say. Lynn and Abby knew about her relationship with Shepard, how it was difficult for her. They knew about the confrontation on Horizon and the apology email to which she hadn't received a reply.

"Ashley, James mentioned you were here," Anderson said by way of greeting as he entered his office. "Shepard asked about you again, he always seems star-struck when he hears your name."

"Admiral, the report you requested." Ashley handed Anderson her report.

"Thanks, it will be crucial to Shepard's trial. He hasn't got much on his side. I was hoping you could speak for him. He could use the testimony, plus the chance to see you. Maybe then he can finally shut up about you then." Anderson placed the report aside and looked at Ashley, who appeared a bit out of sorts. "You okay? You seem distracted."

"Fine, just thinking about my sister's wedding last week. She mentioned in her last phone call that Thomas was called back in, so she's alone now. I'm certain Lynn is joining her," Ashley replied, trying to explain little in order to be professional.

"Ashley, you deserve this chance. Being Lieutenant Commander isn't easy, but you've learned from the best and Shepard did give you a recommendation for promotion before he died," Anderson assured her. Ashley moved to the window, looking at the view of Vancouver.

"Vancouver is a beautiful city, but nothing like London," Anderson mentioned. Ashley gave him a brief smile before turning back to the window.

"How many colonies have we lost now?" Ashley asked.

"Four. Eden Prime, Terra Nova, Mindoir and Amaterasu. I know you enlisted from Amaterasu, and trying to reestablish connection is our top priority. I told Shepard we lost contact with one, he already knew about it from the news, but I didn't tell him the specifics. If he knew the truth, you know exactly what he would say. Hackett is mobilizing the fleets. We have to be prepared. I've assigned you to the SSV Normandy as the Executive Officer," Anderson replied, passing Ashley a crew list. She started reading through it.

"Who's the Commanding Officer sir?"

"You're looking at him, if the Reapers hit. Shepard will be joining us, but he will be an adviser. James is also assigned as our armory officer."

"Joker is the pilot? I thought he was arrested as well." Ashley looked at Anderson questioningly before continuing to skim through the names.

"Yeah, but the VI only responds to his commands, goes by the name of EDI." Anderson passed her a key card. "I suggest you drop your gear off," he added.

"Yes sir, I'll see you tomorrow at the trial." Ashley grabbed the key card, heading out quickly to pack her gear and drop it off at the Normandy.