This will be Mass Effect from start to finish and a little beyond, with a mixture of in-game and added dialogue, along with some story changes and extra bits along the way, including more from Rahna, Toombs and Billy... I've also messed with Miranda's character in a 'hates Shepard' kind of way. Expect to see Kaidan in the ME2 part of the story a lot more, and I've altered the 'ending' as well. Warning: There is an additional crew-mate death. (Though I do use in-game dialogue, it diverges away from that as we move into the story.)

Paragon Shepard.

STRUGGLE

Chapter 1 - Beginnings and Attraction

They sat in the human Embassy, the table covered in datapads.

"What can you tell me about Shepard? I see she's a spacer. Lived aboard star-ships most of her life," commented Ambassador Udina as he read from the datapad in his hand.

Anderson knew Shepard's file off by heart. "Military service runs in the family. Her mother is Captain of the 'Kilimanjaro', and her father was also in the navy - died in service." His eyes flicked briefly to Hackett.

Udina frowned. "Aren't relationships between serving personnel a breach of Alliance protocol?"

"It was dealt with," Hackett said sternly.

"But does that rebellious kind of nature run in the family? The last thing we need is a loose cannon," warned Udina.

"She proved herself during the Blitz. Held off enemy forces on the ground until reinforcements arrived," added Hackett, clearly displeased with the comment from the politician.

"She's the only reason Elysium is still standing," Anderson said with certainty.

"We can't question her courage," Udina agreed.

"She also saw her whole unit die on Akuze. She could have some serious emotional scars," frowned Hackett.

"Every soldier has scars. Shepard's a survivor," pressed Anderson, his gaze fixed on Hackett. Shepard was the best the Alliance had, and he knew that Hackett thought it too, but that comment just now was not from an Admiral about a subordinate.

"Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?" questioned Udina, now concerned about Shepard's mental state.

"That's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy. Humanity needs a hero, and Shepard's the best we've got," stated Anderson, assuredly.

"Not to mention that she has two recommendations on her behalf," informed Udina, as he mulled over the information.

"Where did the second come from?" questioned Anderson, curiously.

"A Spectre, no less. Apparently, the Council have been watching her for years."

"Then that should tell you all you need to know, Councillor," finished Anderson, succinctly.

"Then it's decided," declared Udina. "I'll make the call. Maybe the Spectre joining you for the beacon pick-up could start assessing Shepard straight away. This is a very exciting time for humanity, gentlemen. Excuse me."

Anderson waited for Udina to leave, then turned to Hackett. "You know she's right for this, Steven."

Hackett sighed, his gaze on the datapad in his hand that listed his daughter's achievements. It was a long list that made him incredibly proud, but also scared the hell out of him. It was Akuze. He'd had trouble keeping professional ever since that awful day he heard that her unit had been attacked - only one survivor. They said it was a slaughter; that it was a miracle that anyone could have survived it. They hadn't known anything about thresher maws back then. He would never forget that feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, and his thudding heart as he waited for the name of the sole survivor. Then it came. Corporal Terra Shepard, suffering from acid burns, cracked ribs, some deep lacerations and exhaustion. He had walked back to his cabin and sunk into the chair at his desk in relief, his head dropping into his shaking hands. He never wanted to feel that way again.

"She's the best chance the Alliance has of getting a human into the Spectre's. Humanity needs this if we want to get a spot on the Council," continued Anderson.

"I know. I know. And she'll walk through that assessment. Then the Council will send her off into God knows what."

"So that's the issue? You'll lose control?"

"Not control. You know I've made it a point not to treat her any differently from any other soldier. It's just that she'll be off our grid. Who'll look out for her?"

Anderson placed his hand on the man's shoulder. "Believe it or not, Steven, your little girl is all grown up now. She has the skills to survive. She proved that on Elysium, and Akuze, and on every N7 mission she's come back from since. She can look after herself."

Hackett gave a small laugh. "Who'd have thought that out of all the things I've experienced throughout my career - the high-risk missions, the First Contact War - that it would take my beyond brave, exceptionally talented daughter, to bring me to my knees."

Anderson laughed in response. "That's love for you. I'll look out for her in the meantime, you can count on that."

"Thanks, David." Hackett placed the datapad on the pile of chosen crew members for the Normandy. They had all been informed of their new assignment, and were currently heading to the Citadel. "Of course, when she does end up making Spectre, Mikhailovich isn't going to be happy. He was looking forward to adding Commander Shepard to his fleet after the beacon pick-up. He's already pissed that he's been temporarily ousted from the Captain's seat because of the new mission."

"He'll get her for a little while. The Spectre they send will want to stay on while she's re-assigned to the Flotilla so he or she can accompany her on more missions. After that, well, Mikhailovich will get over it, and he'll still get the Normandy and the rest of the crew. I don't envy you having to tell him that he's going to have to accommodate a Spectre, though! Anyway, I'd better get moving. I have a new ship and crew to familiarise myself with before launch." Anderson collected the pile of datapads and made his way to the door, turning when he got there. "How about joining me on board this evening, before you head out? Take a tour, and have a toast to Terra and the Normandy."

"I'll be there," smiled Hackett. He watched Anderson leave, then went to the balcony to look out at the Citadel. By tomorrow afternoon, Terra would be here, ready to serve under his good friend Captain David Anderson on the new prototype warship, Normandy, along with some of the finest crew he'd seen on one ship. From Engineering up to the cockpit, the crew were either top of their class, or exhibited great potential. All things going well, they would then be assigned to the 63rd Scout Flotilla. Udina was right. It was an exciting time. Having a human accepted into the Council's Spectre ranks would be a huge step for humanity. One that would ultimately bring them closer to the coveted position on the Council. And it would be his daughter who would lead the way. A new surge of pride went through him every time he thought of her. It was a shame he was headed back to Arcturus Station tonight, that he wouldn't get to see her, but such was their relationship. It had been decided a long time ago that he and Hannah would keep his link to Terra a secret. All they could do was communicate through frequent messages and the occasional vid-call, and hope that they could catch a break every now and then. He just wished he could get rid of the uneasiness that had decided to settle inside his gut.

-x-

-x-

Terra Shepard was still basking in the glow of satisfaction. She'd gotten onto the Citadel ahead of schedule, following an extremely successful stint at Pinnacle Station, where she'd had a personal challenge with the man she now shared a bed with. She'd won, topping every single combat situation they presented to her, Matt and his team coming a close second. Thankfully, Matt wasn't a man who took it as an affront to his ego. He stirred beside her, and she knew she had to go, sitting up and swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. Matt's hand ran down her back.

"Running off already, Ter?" His voice was deep, with a British, London accent.

She turned to him. He had an ordinary face, a little too serious-looking at a glance, until you got to know him. "Sorry, Matt, but duty calls."

"Guess I shouldn't complain; I wasn't expecting to see you at Pinnacle. Though if you hadn't been I'd probably have had the top spot to myself for a few days at least! Still, the consolation prize was worth losing!" he grinned.

Shepard laughed, smacking his roaming hand. "Demoting me to the label of 'prize', Commander Coats? I'm offended!"

"Then allow me to make it up to you, Commander Shepard!"

Shepard yelped as he yanked her flat on her back and rolled on top of her, pinning her hands above her head.

"Where would you like me to start?" he smirked down at her.

"How about starting with…your bag? The room's only rented for one night, and we're close to chuck-out time."

He let go of her, rolling off her with an exaggerated sigh. "You know how to disappoint a man, Ter." He wasn't serious. He knew they both had to get moving.

Theirs was a casual relationship that started years ago. They were good friends who got together whenever work permitted. She trusted him, plain and simple, having no intention of being just another notch on a bedpost for anyone. Matt had been her lover before her name became one that was held up as an example of excellence to all Alliance soldiers. Terra let very few in when it came to intimacy. Not that she wasn't sought after, but her career didn't bring a lot of time to socialise outside of the Alliance, and inside it… well, she had rules. She knew fraternisation was against the regs, but Christ if she didn't ignore it she'd never meet anyone. However, she did have one personal rule: they had to be the same rank. Luckily, Matt had kept pace with her over the years. She gave him a quick peck, then moved off the bed to the bathroom. Matt cheekily whistled as she walked naked across the floor, and she blew him a kiss over her shoulder.

In less than ten minutes they were both ready to leave.

Coats hugged her. "It was good to see you again, Ter. It had been too long this time."

She held him tightly. "Agreed." They parted. "So what's next for you? Back to Earth?"

"Temporarily. Got a new team to pick up, then it's wherever they send us. I suppose with you off on your new warship it'll be a while before we get to do this again."

"Oh, come on. All that time on land, you can't tell me you won't be able to find yourself a lovely woman. Maybe even find someone special."

"Huh! I don't know... you're a tough act to follow, Ter."

Shepard rolled her eyes. "What we have isn't much of a substitute for love."

"Love!? Damn, Ter, I never had you pegged for the romantic type."

"Yeah, well, you've seen all that vileness out there…. I mean there's got to be something to balance that out, right?" It was wishful thinking to Terra. She didn't really believe there was such a thing as love - not for her, anyway. A soldier's life didn't leave time for it. Her parents regulation-breaking (and therefore unorthodox) relationship proved that. She didn't know how they managed to remain happy with it, but she didn't doubt that they loved each other.

"Then I hope we find it. Until then, I'm at your service!" Matt bowed to her, theatrically.

Shepard laughed. "I'll miss you, Matt."

"Back at you."

She kissed his cheek, stuck her cap over her head, and they parted ways.

-x-

A large number of the crew were now waiting in the docking bay, looking out at the ship they'd be serving on. The excitement in the air was palpable. It was the start of a new journey for them. Being assigned to a ship like that gave them all a sense that their careers were going well, that this would take them further. Most of them had come on the same cruiser from Earth, so they were already acquainted with each other. Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko sat watching the chatting crew.

"Lieutenant Alenko! Is it true you're a biotic!" A young soldier loped over, his face full of awe.

Kaidan was a little surprised by the kid's genuine interest. So far no-one had approached him, and he knew that for many of them it was because of his biotic ability. Combine that with his officer status and he was something of a pariah. "Yes, it is," he answered, remembering that this was Corporal Jenkins, adept with all types of weaponry and exhibiting a lot of potential to go far once he'd tempered his over-enthusiasm. The kid would be a part of the ground team with him, under the command of none other than Commander Shepard.

"I've never had the chance to work with a biotic before! I heard you can throw a man just with the power of your mind!" gushed Jenkins.

"Well, it's not quite like that. I can generate mass effect fields, then manipulate that energy."

"Sir, you have to show me! Please! I'll stand here and you can throw me down the walkway!" Jenkins indicated the space alongside the viewing window which led to the airlock.

"I sincerely hope you're kidding, Corporal!" intervened Dr. Chakwas, in concern, making her presence known. "You're likely to end up as a stain on the airlock hatch!"

"I'll be fine, Doc. Lieutenant Alenko has to be the best if he's assigned to the Normandy. Right, Sir?"

"Well, I've worked hard on my control-" started Kaidan.

"See, Doc? It'll be fine!" Jenkins practically bounded into position opposite the airlock.

Everyone gathered around the bay to watch, a few uncertain glances aimed Kaidan's way as he stood up and moved to the other end. Jenkins waited just a short distance from him, a huge grin on his young face. Kaidan was certain that he wouldn't harm the kid; as he'd said, he'd worked hard on his control - almost obsessively so - and for good reason.

He called up the energy he'd need, only a fraction of what he could muster, the blue aura surrounding him. He saw the look of wonder on the Corporal's face and had to hold back his amusement. It was important to concentrate. Kaidan channelled the energy into his arms and sent a half-hearted blast at Jenkins. The young soldier flew backwards, hit the ground with enough force to send him into a backwards somersault, before coming to a stop just inches from the airlock.

Everyone was silent as they looked at Jenkins who was flat on his face, and Dr. Chakwas was just about to move to him when Jenkins jumped to his feet, his hands flinging up into the air.

"That. Was. Awesome!" Jenkins yelled in exhilaration.

The whole bay erupted into cheers and applause, Dr. Chakwas laughing at the joyous soldier. Kaidan joined the laughter. Jenkins had inadvertently broken the ice with the crew over his biotics. Jenkins was surrounded by the crew as they bombarded him with questions over what it felt like, and Kaidan sat back down.

"Get treated differently, huh?"

Kaidan looked at the man beside him. "People tend to be wary. You sound like you've experienced that too."

"Brittle bones. Had to work twice as hard just to show people I wasn't mentally disabled just because I can't walk without aid." He indicated to the crutches propped up beside him. "I had the last laugh when I bested them all, though."

"Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko." He offered his hand.

"Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau." They shook. "Ow! Holy crap, man! You just broke my hand!-" He suddenly grinned. "Nah, I'm just kidding with you. Call me 'Joker'."

Kaidan stared at the man, while his heart settled down. "Ohh-kaay…." Then he shook his head.

Someone else entered the docking bay, and everyone turned to look. They'd done that every time it opened, and for one reason: they all wanted to meet Commander Shepard. Kaidan had to admit he was right there with them. The woman who entered didn't seem to interest them, so they resumed their chatting. The Commander Shepard they were looking for, from the vids years back, was a woman with short hair. This woman had hair that hung almost to her shoulder, wearing a cap tipped forward that placed the top half of her face in shadow. She moved to the aisle close to the viewing window right in front of Kaidan and Joker, and stood looking out at the ship.

"Damn, that woman's got one hell of a figure," murmured Joker, appreciatively.

Kaidan whole-heartedly agreed but kept silent. The woman was only a few steps away - she had to able to hear.

"It's gonna be hard to concentrate with a fine ass like that wandering around," continued Joker. "Add Shepard to the ship and it'll be the beginning of a mighty nice dream! Mmm, I mean have you seen those vids of the Commander? She is hot!"

Kaidan ran his hand over his face. "You know you're treading a thin line with that sort of comment. If you're not careful you'll get slapped with harassment charges. And rightly so!"

"Or just slapped, which for me would be much worse - my cheekbone would probably cave in. But she knows I don't mean anything by it. Right?" He aimed the last part over towards the woman.

She turned, bracing herself against the railing, with just a hint of a smile that Kaidan found himself glued to.

"Do I, Lieutenant?"

Joker had an uncertain look on his face, feeling the weight of her gaze on him even through the shadow. Kaidan watched in concealed amusement as Joker cleared his throat.

"You know I love that cap!" Joker praised.

Kaidan huffed a laugh at Joker's poorly executed change of subject.

"Why couldn't I get one of those? I mean, that's Alliance issue, right?" Joker enquired, genuinely.

"Well, you have to be special to get one of these," she answered, playfully.

"Oh, well in that case, I definitely should have gotten one. I'm the best pilot the Alliance has!"

"Is that so?" she said, her amusement more evident. "Then here. It's all yours." She stepped forward, removed her cap, and placed it on Joker's head.

Both men now stared at her, open-mouthed. They had seen enough vids to recognise her on sight, but the thin line of the scar that ran through her right eyebrow, across her nose and over her left cheek, ending just short of her ear, left no doubt. Commander Shepard. She was an exceptionally beautiful woman, despite the scar.

They had been staring too long because her whole face struggled to contain the laugh their gaping had evoked. She placed a finger under each of their chins and simultaneously closed their mouths, her dark eyes lingering on Kaidan before she was distracted by Jenkins, who had just recognised her and had shouted her name in excitement. She excused herself, and they both watched her walk over to Jenkins and the awestruck crew.

"You know, if I didn't have a rule never to date a crew member, I'd totally be in there," sighed Joker.

Kaidan laughed quietly, though his eyes never left the Commander as she interacted easily with the crew. He could still feel the warmth left by her finger. It had surprised him, just how he'd reacted. He told himself it was because he held her in such high regard over what she'd accomplished, and it was true, but he also couldn't deny he was extremely attracted to her. He studied her as she conversed. She wore her straight, rich-chocolate-brown hair, down, the long fringe tucked behind her ears. Her eyes matched her hair, and against her fair skin they seemed to pull him in to their warm depths. That's when he realised she was looking back at him, and his heart sped up. Could she be attracted to him too? Her attention was pulled away from him by Dr Chakwas, and Kaidan chided himself. It didn't matter. Fraternisation was against regs, and he was nothing if not professional. He hadn't gotten where he was now in his life to mess it up with something stupid, and he was quite sure Commander Shepard was just as professional. His eyes kept flicking back to her with a mind of their own. He rubbed his hands over his face and hoped that she would be some horridly self-important woman underneath that beautiful exterior, or else he was going to have some serious issues to deal with…

-x-

-x-

Captain Anderson,

We have been advised by the Council that Spectre Nihlus Kryik will be accompanying your team to retrieve the beacon, and begin his assessment of Commander Shepard. He will rendezvous with the Normandy shortly.

Due to the importance of this beacon, you are required to leave a-sap. Information is only to be given to the crew on a need-to-know basis. Until then, it should continue to be a 'shake-down run', to avoid any possible leaks.

Update as necessary.

Admiral Hackett.

Anderson would have liked the crew to have had longer to get used to the unique layout before they put the ship into space. Nevertheless, he was confident that with a team as talented as this, they would adapt quickly. He made his way to the cockpit. Joker's hands were flying over the console in front of him, just as they always were whenever Anderson visited the pilot. He had absolutely no idea what the hell the man could do whilst the ship was docked, beyond basic pre-flight checks, and he had a suspicion that until he made his entrance, the pilot was probably engaging in something very non-work related. He sighed. Flight Lieutenant Jeff 'Joker' Moreau was borderline insubordinate. He was hit and miss with his salutes to those in authority. It seemed you had to earn that on a personal level. Most of his superiors probably ignored it, putting it down to his disability, but Anderson knew better. Joker's saving grace was his talent; it couldn't be matched. "Joker, open the comm."

"Comm's open, Captain."

Anderson addressed the crew, informing them of their imminent departure, and signed off. He turned to Joker. "Get her warmed up, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir!" replied Joker, with glee. He even rubbed his hands together and cracked his knuckles, before going back to the console.

Anderson winced. When a man with brittle bones cracks his knuckles it was downright worrying, particularly when it was his pilot.

The slow-growing vibration and the low hum signalled the power of the engines building up. Joker loved the way he could feel it all the way through his chair into his very bones. He was pulled out of his small thrill by a bleep and flash. The external comm. He answered it, then listened. "Uh, we have a Spectre requesting to board?" queried Joker, one brow raised as he peered over his shoulder at Anderson.

"Let him on," consented Anderson, moving to the airlock to greet the arrival.

"So, what's he here for, Captain?" blurted out a curious Joker.

"He'll be joining us for the shakedown."

There was a pause as Joker waited for more, then realised there was nothing forthcoming. "Seriously!? That's all you're going to tell me!?"

"That's all," confirmed Anderson.

The airlock opened and in walked the turian Spectre. Anderson offered his hand and the Spectre shook it without hesitation. Anderson decided that was a good sign. This was no Saren, thank God. "Captain David Anderson. Welcome aboard."

"Nihlus Kryik, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. I'm looking forward to seeing what this ship can do, Captain."

"Then let's make that happen. Joker, get her in the air. Co-ordinates here." Anderson sent on the details via his omnitool. "Let me know when we're about to hit the relay."

Joker's screen pinged as he received their destination. "Yes, sir." He watched as the two men walked towards the CIC, pausing briefly while Anderson introduced Kaidan who was on his way to the cockpit, before they carried on through.

Kaidan noticed him staring beyond him. "Everything okay, Joker?" he asked as he settled into the co-pilot's seat.

"That was a Spectre." Joker waited for Alenko to offer some conspiracy theory about what a Spectre would be doing aboard their ship on a simple shakedown run, but the man just looked back at him as though there was nothing unusual about it.

"Uh huh…."

Joker stared back at Kaidan, incredulously. "A Spec- You know what, forget it." Joker faced the front, grumbling under his breath as he nonchalantly reversed the ship out of dock and turned her towards Eden Prime.

-x-