-I- Transport Shuttle: Nov 20 2186

The transport shuttle rocks and bounces eases off as the craft leaves Earth's atmosphere, Kaidan feels it picking up speed on approach to the Citadel. His mothers voice pulls his attention back to his Omnitool vid-call, "We got another 15cm of snow last night. Luckily your uncle is used to that much snow from the orchard, because we're not here in Vancouver." Keiko Alenko's contralto voice is sweet to Kaidan's ears, "I can't believe how much snow we're getting, something to do with all the dust kicked up in the war. Anyway, are you and John still planning to come down for Christmas?" Keiko, a third-generation Canadian, and family tradition has kept alive the Japanese names of their forebears, who emigrated to Canada after a typhoon damaged an old style nuclear fission plant rendering their home town too radioactive.

"We're planning on it, as long as Vancouver isn't completely snowed in and John can get released. He's pushing himself, too hard as usual, but he's looking stronger every time I see him." Remembering the argument Shepard had with his doctor during his last visit, "He doesn't like being stuck in the hospital."

A knowing smile crosses her face, "I'm glad you found someone, dear. He sounds nearly as stubborn as some young man I raised." Winking at her son, "You get that from your father's side." Kaidan can hear a muffled protest as his father's face comes into view.

Melting snow still visible in his hair and shoulders "Don't believe a thing she says, son. She's the suborn one." Kissing his wife on the cheek before leaving the camera's field. Kaidan still winces at the scar on his fathers face, but is thankful that he is alive. During the war, his father had lead a small band of refugees south of Vancouver, trying to stay ahead of the Reaper forces.

A chime sounds announcing final approach to the Citadel, "Mom, we're docking soon. I love you both and I'll call you later." Exchanging smiles as the call disconnects.

-II- Citadel: Huerta Memorial

Commander John Shepard feels like he's going cross-eyed staring at his datapad, but he didn't have much else to do caged up here in Huerta. Surgery for his new leg prosthesis and implants wasn't for a few more days and he'd finished today's physical therapy session for his new arm. If losing both legs and left arm was the cost of defeating the Reapers once and for all, he'd gladly pay it. Especially, when the Catalyst implied he'd die. John knows in his heart that his love for Kaidan gave him the strength to survive, yet he lacked the words to express those feelings. Which brings his mind back to the present, refocusing his eyes on the display of his proposal drafts with a sigh. 'Ok, the Blasto reference is out.' Deleting the paragraph with a finger swipe. 'Kaidan, you're the specter to my heart...' Groaning as his finger again swiped the screen.

"Don't tell me the Reapers are returning." John was so focused he didn't hear the door open and Garrus nearly made him jump out of his skin. The look on his face sends the Turian into a belly laugh. It is said that a Turian belly laugh sounds like nails on a chalk-board mixed with a Australian "laughing bird" called a Kookaburra. The noise brings in a curious passing nurse followed closely by Tali. However, the damage was done, John has already joined his own laughter in with his friends in a feedback loop that made the other laugh even harder. By the time they stopped, Shepard's sides hurt and Garrus complained about a pain in his mandibles.

Rubbing his right mandible, "So, you going to tell us what made you look so serious," Garrus' voice threatening to break into another laugh, "Or does Tali have to hack into your datapad?"

John's face turns pensive, "I'm going to ask Kaidan to marry me, but I'm having problems finding the words and a ring." Admitting his problems to his friends while handing his pad over displaying a variety of ring designs."I want something special for Kaidan, but it's only been a few months since the war ended. It's not going to be easy to find something."

Tali placed a hand on his shoulder, "Shepard, you'd be amazed at what I can do with my Omnitool. I'll help you with the rings." She examines the ring designs on Shepard's pad.

The weight of worry lifted slightly, bringing forth a genuine smile, "Thanks Tali, I appreciate that. Now if Garrus was as good with words as you are with your Omnitool." Gently hitting the Turian on the shoulder.

All eyes turned to the sound of the door opening, "Hey, what's this?!" Kaidan asks affably as he walks in the room, "John, you threw a party and didn't invite me?" Reaching out to shake Garrus' hand.

Shepard holds up both hands, "Hey, don't blame me. These two broke through security all on their own." Winking at his two friends.

Eyebrow raised and arms crossed "And just what were you three plotting?" Doing his best school teacher stance.

"Nothing for you to worry about, Spectre Alekno." Tali breaks in, "Besides we should be leaving." Turning back to the bed, "Keelah Se'lai Shepard, I'll see you in a few days." Garrus and Tali leave the two alone.

"You're back early. Everything go ok?" John asks Kaidan gently pulling him closer for a kiss.

"It went fine, but I have to go report to the Council soon." Cupping John's cheek, "I wanted to see you first. You know, before I get tied up in meetings. Hackett told me they already have another mission for me."

-III- Citadel Tower: Council Chambers

The meeting is deep into the second hour, hopefully it won't last too much longer. 'Too bad it took a war to get the races to cooperate' Kaidan thinks to himself. At least the new council is no longer dominated by the Asari, Turians, and Solarians. Humanity was never treated completely as an equal member, even though they've had to seat on the council for over three years. That has now ended and the other races also have a voice, via the newly formed "Members Committee" that acts as the lower chamber to the Council and has one vote in most Council decisions. Admiral Hackett, as the highest ranking Alliance officer, has been acting as the Human councilor since the war ended. Like Anderson, he didn't seem to enjoy the job and Kaidan couldn't blame him. At least Kaidan knows he can escape soon.

"Which brings us to your next assignment Spectre Alenko." The Turian councilor breaks Kaidan's wandering thoughts. "Admiral Hackett will summarize your mission." All eyes turned to the Admiral.

Clearing his throat before beginning, "Lucky for us all, the Reapers ignored the smaller settlements around the solar system. After they were abandoned, they seemed to have left the mining and other industrial facilities in the asteroid belt alone." Activating a hologram of the solar system and continuing as the graphic zooms into the subject area around a large cluster near the Vesta asteroid, "Now we need those faculties surveyed and brought back online. We've already assembled teams of specialists and engineers. The facilities on Vesta are vital to our reconstruction efforts, and we want you to lead the security detail for the initial inspection team. Ensure those facilities are clear and safe."

"Are you expecting trouble, sir?" Kaidan asks, absentmindedly rubbing his chin.

Hackett shakes his head, "Nothing heavy." Pausing a moment before he continues, "I know they helped us during the war, but the BlueSuns, Blood Pack, and the other mercenary groups are still in system. I don't completely trust them, and they've already strong armed the refueling station at Jupiter once. We want you there to ensure the safety of the work crews and to look for signs of mercenary activity in the area." Shifting his stance, "It shouldn't take more than few weeks, a month at the outside. You'll be back before for Christmas."

Kaidan hates the thought of being away from John for so long, but keeps it out of his voice, "Yes sir. Is there anything else?"

"Just that you'll leave in 48 hours. Go get some rest before your deployment." As a Spectre he isn't required, but he gives the Admiral a salute and the rest of the Council members a courteous nod before turning to leave the council chamber.

-IV- Huerta Memorial: Dec 23rd 2186

-1-

Beads of sweat cover John's forehead as he struggles to hold himself up with his new legs. His physical therapist, Dr Rafe Cardones, monitors Shepard's slow progress. "Don't use your arms too much, Commander Ease off on the safety bars, your legs need to do the work of keeping you steady." Slowly John takes a few more steps forward on his wobbly feeling legs. Finally he reaches the end of the three meter path. "Very good." Cardones says enthusiastically while securing the wheelchair, "You've done enough for today. Let's get you cleaned up and back to your room. It's nearly your lunch time anyway."

Sitting down heavily into his wheel chair, "Like hell I did." John's anger rising, "I only made two passes in the last half hour. You think six meters is good?! I haven't made any progress in the last two sessions." His face flushed from exhaustion, pain, and frustration. Feeling his L5n implant tingle as it always did when he was, as Kaidan put it, "Letting your inner vanguard show."

Scanning Sheapard with his medical omnitool, continuing in a calm voice,"Yes you have. Before you walked today, you did twenty minutes on the recumbent bike. Plus, you used your arms less today than you did last session." Wheeling John down the hall, "I know it doesn't feel like it Commander and I understand it's frustrating, but you are making progress."

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, "My arm seemed to recover much faster." His tone remaining disgruntled. To be honest with himself, the real root of his frustration is that he's still struggling with the proposal and it's just a few days until Christmas. Kaidan will be back tomorrow for the trip down to Vancouver.

The Doctor pulls him out of his thoughts, "Yes Commander. However, your legs have to work in unison." Helping John into his bed, "You have two new legs to train, not just one. Just be patient." Placing the lunch tray on Shepard's bedside table before leaving.

Fifteen minutes later, John is finishing lunch when Tali walks in, "Hello Shepard. It's good to see you."

Swallowing his last bite of food, "Tali, it's good to see you too." Noting the bag in her hand, "I hope that is what I think it is."

Nodding her head, "I'm sorry, it took longer thank I expected." Tali chagrin voiced, "I went through several redesigns. I hope you like these.." Handing him a small wrapped box.

-2-

The lobby of Huerta is as overcrowded as Kaidan's last visit. Overflow patients continue to line the walls and off-duty staff are sleeping in the sitting areas. Quietly walking past the main reception desk, Kaidan notices Dr. Michel talking with one of the nurses, her French accent noticeable even from her hushed tones. She smiles and waves Kaidan over, "Welcome back to the Citadel Kaidan. John will be very excited to see you, but he wasn't expecting you until tomorrow."

Kaidan shifts the box he is carrying, reaching his newly free hand out to shake the Doctor's, "I wanted to surprise Shepard, I was able to arrange an early transport." Smiling at the doctor, "I can see you're as busy as always around here." Tilting his head in the direction of the patients in view. "It's lucky the Reapers ignored the Hospitals and other emergency shelters on the Citadel."

Nodding her agreement, "Yes, they focused most of their attacks on the military, security, and control centers of the Citadel. I guess they didn't see unarmed civilians locked up in shelters as an immediate threat." Her face takes on a pained look, everyone lost friends and loved ones in the war and the memories are still painfully fresh. Changing the subject she points to the box Kaidan is carrying, "John's Christmas present?"

He looks down and the box, "Yes, it's a statue of the Normandy SR2." Setting the box on the floor, opening the box and carefully unpacking the statue, "John had a model ship collection in his cabin, many of them were damaged when the Normandy crashed. Since the metal fabricators needed to be tested anyway, I thought this would be a good gift." Lifting the model out of the box to reveal a statue about 30cm tall, the SR2 in stainless steel sits atop a bronze base that forms out of the engine exhaust and expands and curves forming a heavy base.

"That's beautiful Kaidan, I'm sure he'll love it." Tapping a command into her omnitool, "He's already completed his physical therapy for today and should be just done with his lunch." Dr Michel notices a nurse approaching, "Well, duty calls." Smiling as she leaves to consult with the nurse leaving Kaidan to repack the statue before heading off into the patient wing.

-3-

John gently unwraps the box, asking himself where Tali could have found the brightly colored wrapping paper, the box was a nondescript off white with a pull off lid. Looking up at Tali again before tentatively lifting off the lid. He sits there a few moments in shock before his face lights up with a smile, "Oh, Tali. These are.. they're amazing." Clearly astonished. Gently taking one out, The ring is made out of a nearly black metal with an inlay of dual metal strands that are woven over each other in a pattern. Pulling one of the rings out he notices the weight, "It's more heavy than it looks."

"That would be the black tungsten carbide, the inlay metals are gold and titanium " Tali explains as John slips the ring onto his hand, "The inlay pattern is a Quarian love knot, it symbolizes two people coming together to as one. It's very similar to the Celtic knot designs from your datapad." Shepard's eyes are still sparkling with happiness when Kaidan's voice startles them.

"Starting a harem Tali?" His voice light and joking. Setting the box containing the statue down on the table. The door closing behind him as he walks over to give John a hug.

"It's not what... No... I was just..." Tali stammers and is clearly embarrassed while Shepard giggles slipping an arm around Kaidan as they kiss.

John attempts to change the subject."Kaidan, you're back early."

"Oh, no. You're not getting off that easy, Mister." Kaidan reaches down to Shepard's hand, pulling it closer to get a better look at the ring. "Well, this totally blows my gift out of the water."

"I'm sure it doesn't." Gently poking Kaidan in the ribs, "Just look at the size of that box!" Winking at his lover. "Tali, can you give us a few minutes?" She seems more than happy to vacate and quickly leaves without a word. After she's gone, John carefully swings his legs off the edge of the bed so he can face Kaidan directly. "I've planned this for weeks and slaved over just the perfect words to say. I was going to do this on Christmas but... you're early and I'm..."

Kaidan could see that Shepard was obviously caught off guard and running on instinct. Gently cupping John's face with his hands, "Shepard, it's just us. Don't worry about being perfect, just be you." Their foreheads nearly touching, "That's all I ever wanted."

Staring into each others eyes, their souls wide open for the other to see. The smile on Kaidan's face is John's favorite, and his heart beats a little faster, "I've always loved you Kaidan. Through all the years the good and the bad we've been though. When you were hurt on Mars I, I nearly lost myself thinking I how close I was to loosing you. I can only imagine how hard those two years were for you while I was gone." Reaching out to grab Kaidan's hand, "I know in my heart, that it was my love for you -our love for each other- that gave me the strength to survive the Crucible detonation." A tear beings to well in his eye, "When I awoke from my coma, you were there, and that meant so much to me." Taking a shaky breath, "I want you to be the last thing I see each night and the first thing I see each morning." Lifting the second ring out of the off white box and slipping it onto Kaidan's hand, "Kaidan Alenko, will you marry me?"

Kaidan's eyes sparkle with happiness, "Oh, John. I was so afraid I had lost you on the Citadel." Wrapping his arms around his love, Of course..." His voice cracked while putting the ring on his finger, "Of course I'll marry you John Shepard" Holding onto Shepard's shoulders as he leaned in for a kiss.