Author's Note:

I just want to take a second and explain a few basics here. My Shepard was a Paragon, saved Wrex, destroyed the Collector base and cured the Genophage. The groups present when the push to retake Earth was made included the Geth, Quarians, Krogan, Asari, Turian, some Salarian, and of course, the Alliance.

I chose the Destroy option and was thrilled to be able to reach the 'perfect' ending, meaning that my Shepard was shown drawing a breath in the infamous cut scene at the close of the game. It's from that point the story will begin.

I'm approaching the destruction/damage to the relays and end of synthetic life from the perspective that a majority of technology would still be completely functional. It's from this viewpoint that I will be writing this story.

Thanks!

After

Admiral Hackett sat in his briefing room, exhausted. It'd been seven hours since the Crucible had engaged and the Reapers had been defeated. Or so they hoped. Reports were still pouring in, their volume increasing as his ship approached the Sol system.

The mass relays were currently inoperable, though it was still unknown if this was temporary or not. Hackett's star ship was one of many the Alliance had outfitted with an FTL drive, so, while his return to Earth would take hours longer than normal, he would at least be able to do so soon.

The jump coordinates for each part of the united fleet had differed for safety's sake. Common sense dictated that the immense war party depart the system when the Crucible was active, its powers not fully understood. Should the weapon have failed, their jump increased their odds of surviving, and so they'd separated and dispersed to different locations.

Contact with a majority of the more distant ships had not yet been reestablished, but Hackett didn't find this alarming. Given the condition of the communication relays in the Sol system and the other heavily occupied systems, it was a miracle that communication occurred at all.

He'd left orders with the remaining Hammer units to secure the Citadel as soon as possible, assuming it hadn't been destroyed when the Crucible discharged. Data seemed to indicate, though reports were still very contradictory, that the Citadel was intact and in low orbit over Earth.

A shuttle flight to the moon took less than an hour, and the Citadel was in even closer proximity. If the information was accurate, and the massive station was still there, it would be of critical priority to occupy it. This would be a crucial component to securing Sol, for until it was proven otherwise, Hackett would operate on the belief that the Reapers could return at any moment.

The helmsman announced through a ship-wide announcement that they'd crossed back into Sol, and Hackett smiled quietly at the resounding cheers that echoed throughout his ship. He also felt the same exhilaration as the crew, but instead of celebrating, he silently sorted the data pads he'd finished reading from those that still needed his attention, knowing that there would be a new wave of updates arriving.

Ten minutes later, the soft 'whoosh' of the briefing door was heard, and Hackett looked up to see his XO hurrying in, a pad held out as he approached.

"Sir!" he cried. "Sir! They've found her! They found Shepard!"

Hackett leapt to his feet and snatched the pad. "What's her status?"

"It's looks bad, sir, she may not survive her injuries, but for now, she's alive. Hammer team three located her about an hour after we made the jump," his XO explained. "They uh, they also located Admiral Anderson."

Hackett noted the change in the young man's tone. "Is David still with us?" he asked softly, dreading the answer he was certain was coming.

"No sir, I'm sorry, he isn't."

Hackett sighed, the pain at losing a career long friend stabbing at his heart. He sighed again, knowing the time for mourning was later. "Were they found together? Any ideas of what happened there?"

"It doesn't say, sir. But the data stream is nearly clogged with the incoming reports," the man explained. "So we're sure to learn more as we complete our approach."

"Tell the helm to make orbit over Earth, rather than Luna. I'll take a shuttle down to London. Have you got an ETA?"

"Three hours, sir."

Hackett nodded. "Where are they treating her?"

"One report states London, but a newer one has her in Reykjavik. I'll get you that as soon as I can confirm."

"Good. That'll be our first stop, seeing Shepard. I'll want a report from her medical team," the admiral stated. "Then we can make our way to London. Keep me posted."

"Yes, sir."

"And Thomas? Send word to the Normandy," Hackett ordered. "It'll take a day or so for them to get the news, assuming they're at their coordinates, but make sure they get the word. And forward any reports about her condition directly onto Major Alenko's private email, he'll want to know everything he can, as they come in."

"Absolutely sir, I'll do so immediately."

The door closed behind the departing XO and Hackett sat back down.

"I'll be damned, Shepard," he muttered. "You made it."

He shook his head, astonished at the news. Her survival would be a huge boost to all of humanity's spirit, assuming she stayed alive and recovered. Picking up the newest data pad, he felt more eager than ever to learn all he could of what had happened to his home.

xXx

Three weeks passed before the Normandy was ready for flight.

Short distance communication was working again, and the Alliance ships orbiting their location had begun to forward the massive amounts of data the Normandy hadn't received while its systems were down. Traynor was working closely with Garrus and Tali to sort the information; a 'triage' system was how they described their plan of organization to Kaidan.

Prior to the assault on Sol, Admiral Hackett had ordered that all Alliance vessels return to Earth as soon as the success of the Crucible could be confirmed. The Normandy had suffered tremendous damage with the loss of EDI and even the most basic of systems had been affected.

Communication between the Normandy and other ships within close proximity had been established on the first day she'd been grounded. Hundreds of crew hours had been logged on repairs since, and the work was still far from completed.

Normandy made her last jump through the relay to the pre-arranged coordinates, along with the seventy ships that weren't entirely made up of Alliance military, a mixture of Turian and Geth vessels joining them.

The Turian ships had already begun their long journey back to their own space. None of the Geth ships had survived and it seemed that whatever the Crucible had done to the synthetic Reapers – and EDI - had also destroyed their newest allies.

Reports had been slow in reaching the undamaged vessels orbiting their location. It was only the confirmation that the Reapers were gone that allowed the Normandy's commanding officers to consider leaving the safe haven of the jungle planet they'd made their emergency landing on.

Since then, the new CO, Major Alenko, had verified that the relays were damaged and inoperable, and that the Citadel, while still in orbit above Earth, was in much the same condition as the relays it had overseen.

Nothing received appeared to contain any information on Commander Shepard and the crew struggled to accept the most likely scenario regarding their leader's fate. It was a cloud over them all, knowing that she'd died saving them all from the Reapers.

The FTL drive had been rerouted as well as it could be without entering dry dock. Engineer Adams had created a complex system able to compensate for EDI's loss. It would take approximately eleven days at the engine's fastest obtainable speed to return to the outer rim of Alliance space.

But before the close-knit crew returned to Sol, before their ship was ordered into dry dock and they were reassigned, the crew that had become a family under their lost Shepard had one final task to make ready for their journey home.

Gathered together, and standing at the memorial wall outside the crew's quarters, Admiral David Anderson's name was slid into place with great reverence. His name was added to the other heroes and friends lost to this war and many offered a small story or thought on the popular leader.

Kaidan Alenko took a deep breath and stepped forward again, this time, the placard to be hung for Commander Katherine Shepard. Clutching it in his hand, he lovingly gazed at her name, tears hot in his eyes as he ran his hand over her name.

He could sense the others behind him watching, waiting, and, with a ragged sigh, his breath jerking in his chest, he prayed for the strength to place it. Lifting the placard, he again paused, his eyes locked with the slot it was intended for, but still he couldn't make himself insert her name.

"Kaidan?" prompted Liara quietly from beside him. "We don't have to put it up now. It can wait until you're ready."

Kaidan shook his head. "No, everyone's here," he said softly. "I just…"

"To be honest, Major, I'm not ready to see her name up there just yet," James announced. "I'm not willing to admit defeat."

"The Citadel was practically destroyed," Kaidan replied, his voice hoarse.

"No, the Citadel is busted all to hell, but it wasn't destroyed," Joker reminded him. "Not that that matters, though. Shit, I watched her get sucked into space and die a fiery death, only to have her standing in front of me two years later, like it never happened. You'd have thought she'd skinned her knee, not died."

"We need to do this while we're all together," the major rasped. "She'd want us to."

"I don't know about that, Alenko, Shepard was rather fond of living," Garrus countered. "The very last thing she wanted was to die; she said she'd done it before, and had found it pretty damned boring."

Kaidan snorted, a reluctant smile tugging at his lips. "I can just hear her saying that," he began before he turned and stared at them. "I know she wanted to live, we wanted more time, a life, you know? God knows I wish…I wish…"

Liara placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Let's apply logic. We know Anderson died because their comms were still active at the time, and we heard their conversation with the Illusive Man. Shepard was still talking to Hackett after Anderson died, well after, and her signal cut out mid-sentence, which could be for a number of other reasons."

"Not to mention somebody turned that thing on," James noted. "And the Crucible didn't fire for a good, what, like ten minutes after we heard the last message from her?"

Liara shrugged. "As we don't know the full extent of what happened, perhaps putting her name up is premature. Let us be honest, it is Shepard, after all. If there's even the slightest chance of surviving such a thing, she's the only person I know who would have found a way."

"Don't put it up, sir!" called Gabby. "Give her a chance!"

"Yes, I'm with Gabby, sir! We should wait!" called a weapons officer. A few cheers were shouted.

James spoke up next. "Let's wait to hear for sure, Major! God knows, she's beaten every other damned odd!"

Garrus's mandibles flexed. "The lieutenant makes a good point, Kaidan. I say, it stays down until we have to put it up."

Kaidan looked to each face and smiled slightly. "She'd want to do what's best for morale, for each of you. So, okay, what do you, her crew, want to do?"

"Keep it down!"

"We'll wait, sir, to find out!"

The crew and officers quickly relayed their consensus, and Kaidan stepped away from the wall, the placard tight in his grasp.

Traynor waited until the others had fallen quiet before she stepped forward. "Sir, I think it's pretty clear we'd all like to wait. What's the harm?"

"Okay," he said. "Okay, we'll wait. She'd have been..." he realized he was speaking of her in the past tense and cleared his throat. "She's lucky to have all of you believing in her."

Kaidan squared his shoulders and turned back to the wall, his eyes focusing on David Anderson's name, a sigh of relief released from his chest. "Not today, Kate," he whispered to himself.

Garrus, seeing Shepard's lover struggling, looked to keep the group's focus away from him, and turned to their pilot. "Joker? Did you ever tell Traynor about the time Anderson punched Udina's lights out?"

"What? No!" Traynor exclaimed, turning to the Turian and pilot with a grin. "Joker! You've been holding out! Do tell!"

"Let's go to the mess, we can all swap a few stories," Garrus suggested, and, as they all filed past, the turian placed a reassuring hand on Alenko's shoulder, before following the others around the corner.

Kaidan watched his crew move by, nodding or greeting those who met his eyes or spoke his name, but didn't follow.

His crew, he thought sadly, his practiced smile slipping once he was alone.

Thinking of her again, he took advantage of everyone's distraction and returned to the war room, where the cash-load of reports from Sol and the fleet were still being downloaded. To his surprise, he spotted Javik standing at the center console, his eyes gazing at the holographic image of the Crucible.

"So it is clear," the Prothean began, "that your people have succeeded where mine failed. I am most pleased to have witnessed the end of the Reapers."

"Without your people's warnings and knowledge, none of this would have been possible," Kaidan replied evenly. "That doesn't sound like failure to me."

"Perhaps not," he said. "The commander told me to think of it as a delayed victory, one still firmly belonging to the Protheans. She was concerned that I viewed the sacrifices my people had made had been done so in vain."

"Sounds like her," Kaidan said. "So, was she right? Do you believe your people's deaths were in vain?"

"Not any longer. Now they are all at rest, and I will soon join them," Javik answered. "Is your ceremony over?

"It is."

"For what it is worth, I am sorry, Major, that the commander went before me. I know you were joined with her. She was a bold warrior, and she will be honored in the ages to come."

Kaidan gaped for a moment and recovered his shock at the normally aloof man's kind words. "Thank you," he replied slowly. "I'm still hoping she's alive, to be honest."

The large man nodded once. "She has defeated death in the past," he agreed. "While I do not believe it is likely she has done so again, I will not try to dissuade you from your hope."

Kaidan looked down at his boots. "Thanks, Javik," he murmured and stepped closer to the console, eager to end their awkward conversation.

"Major?" Javik asked. "The commander and I spoke before the Normandy arrived in Sol, and I asked her for what did she fight. You should know her answer was for you, and for your friends. She desired a future with you. She had hope for more time, for life."

Kaidan stared intensely at the display screen, words and questions caught behind the lump in his throat, and he nodded once, unable to speak.

"I have distracted you from your duties, my apologies. You have my sympathy, Major. You all do."

xXx

She could hear voices sometimes, but their words were jumbled and held little meaning for her.

The fog she'd been lost in tried to lure her to sleep, to ignore them, but she never did. She strained and struggled to hear what was being said, and she tried to awaken, but the voices would grow silent before she could understand, before she could pull free.

She worried, uncertain of what had happened to her, to everyone. She'd made her decision, had felt the heat of its fire, and had clearly heard the words of the woman who had made the intense pain she felt everywhere finally stop. It still roared back, the ferocity of it so intense she wailed, but she didn't fight it.

If she hurt, then she knew wasn't dead.

When the fog was thinner, she could remember things. She could wonder if her choice had been the best for the people the memories were of, if they were safe, and more urgently she worried that he was safe.

She could smell things, all manner of things. She could smell soap and detergent, the different odors of people near her. It occurred to her she was being taken care of, and that, too, helped her to know she was alive.

Today the fog was harder to fight, and she couldn't understand what was happening, but she was sure she could hear Admiral Hackett. It made her wish she could open her eyes. But she hadn't been able to, despite all her effort; the fog was pulling her back under.

And finally, exhausted from resisting its draw, she slipped back down and slept.

Thank you to Lisa, for being willing to beta yet another story for me, despite not being familiar with the Mass Effect universe. Thanks to Liso66 for double checking the canon is true and for her help in characterizations. I'm very grateful to each of you for your help.

Thanks for reading!