CHAPTER 32

Ash was gently shaken awake by Cassidy who immediately handed her a cup of coffee.

"Alex is awake. "

Ash slurped her drink and grimaced, "You made this, didn't you?"

"Karin wouldn't let Abby out to make it for you." Cassidy grinned. "I have many talents, coffee making isn't one of them."

"How is she?"

"Okay. Karin's contacted a cybernetics specialist and she's slated for surgery next week. " replied Cassidy as Ash got dressed.

"She's not being sent to an Alliance surgeon?"

"No, perks of working for a spectre."

"How's Tali?"

"She was transferred to Huerta, they have an isolation unit. She's going to be fine."

"Good." Cassidy led the way to the med bay.

Ash wrapped her wife in a bear hug, being careful not to jar her injured shoulder.

Alex nuzzled her neck making her laugh. "Do you know this is the longest we've been apart since you came on board. And Cassidy has been grinning like a Cheshire cat and refused to tell me why until you were here." Ash turned to look at her sister,the first thing she noticed was some one (probably Cassidy) had drawn an eye patch over her bandage, the second was when she held up her hand showing off her engagement ring.

"WHEN!?" yelled Ash going to hug them both.

"After you left us to go get Saren," explained Abby.

"You actually had a ring?" asked Alex with a raised eyebrow at her wife.

Cassidy chuckled, "At least I'm keeping up the tradition of unconventional proposals."

"That you are." said Alex. "So you just happened to take it with you?"

"No, more like carrying it around meant Abby wouldn't find it by accident." admitted Cassidy.

"Got any plans of when?"

The two woman glanced at each other then Abby replied, "We don't want to wait. Running around after Saren and knowing the reapers are coming..."

"We don't want to waste a single second." finished Cassidy. "We already called Ruth and they're coming here, as soon as Abby's eye's fixed we're going to tie the knot. The Normandy took a few hits in the battle and will be docked for the next three weeks for repairs and Anderson said the crew deserved some shore leave."

"We definitely deserve a holiday." smiled Ash.

"We do," agreed Alex, knowing that after the celebrations they would have to set things in motion for the arrival of the reapers. Ash sat on the bio-bed next to her and gently ran her hand through her hair.

"I can hear your brain ticking over from here."

"The conduit wasn't the prothean super weapon from the vision, it's still out there we have to find it." replied Alex wishing she could turn her brain off.

"Right now we are doing everything we can, so for the next three weeks you are under orders to relax, chill out and have fun with me."

"Really?" She got a devilish grin in response. "Can't wait."

Karin left Luke in charge as she relocated to Huerta Memorial to assist the medical staff there. Ash and every other able bodied person was roped into search and rescue teams. Cassidy was put in charge of overseeing the Normandy's repairs, freeing up Adams to help the Fifth fleet.

Wrex came to see Alex. "Shepard."

"Wrex."

"Once the heavy lifting's done here I'm going back to Tuchanka. You're going to need a united krogan people to fight the reapers. Clan Urdnot is big and my father was it's clan leader."

"Thanks Wrex, we will need the krogan." She shook his offered hand.

"You are staying for the wedding I hope."

"Wouldn't miss it," grinned Wrex "Their children will be formidable warriors."

"Most humans hope that their kids never have to fight." said Alex as the big krogan turned to leave.

"We defeat the reapers and maybe that will be true...Uncle Wrex, has a nice ring to it."

Alex laughed, "I'm sure they'd love it if you were an uncle."

Wrex chuckled as he left. That conversation made her realise that Wrex wasn't the only one who could do more good for the cause away from the Normandy. Abby kept her company as they monitored relief efforts. The damage was horrendous, the loss of life would have been much worse if the indoctrinated turian hadn't been heading straight towards his destination.

"Think the rest of the council will believe us now?" asked Abby sitting on the spectre's bed.

"No, if they didn't after seeing all the footage from Virmire I doubt this will. They'll blame Saren."

"You sound sorry for him."

"I am. At the end he had no choice." Alex told her. "How is it with only one eye?"

"It's playing merry hell with my depth perception." replied Abby, honestly.

"You know cybernetic eyeballs can do loads of cool stuff, right?"

"Karin said the specialist will explain closer to the op."

"Make sure it can zoom, see in infra red and don't forget night vision." said Alex, she held out her cybernetic arm. "You know this isn't the same arm I got as a kid. This is an upgraded special forces version, I remember reading about eyeballs when I was looking for this. "

Abby shook her head in amusement though the thought did intrigue her."I might x-ray vision could be useful."

Cassidy popped in to see them every chance she could. Captain Anderson and Councillor Tevos also visited. The asari thanked her more for keeping Liara safe than saving her. She was grateful the Destiny Ascension had a crew of over ten thousand. Even if Alex hadn't had a valid reason for rescuing the council she didn't want that many souls on her conscience.

"Shepard there's going to be a ceremony in two days, honouring you and your crew for putting the galaxy's safety above yours." said Anderson, "Yes before you say anything you will have to make a speech."

Alex paled. "Please say you're joking."

Anderson laughed. "It doesn't have to be fancy or long, but it has to be longer than 'Thank-you.' Get Ash to help you."

"Yes sir." sighed Alex, her stomach already churning at the thought. "Sir what are we doing about the reapers?" Anderson sent Luke to bring them all coffee before answering.

"The geth are still a threat, so we have increased our battle cruiser production. We're also developing a secret joint military base with the asari, to train commando's and special forces to fight the types of enemies that you have come across. I fear we will be seeing many more of them."

"What do you want me to do?"

"The Normandy is now a symbol of what we can accomplish when we work together," replied Tevos, "You will continue your hunt for information on the reapers while despatching any remaining geth you find."

The next day Alex called Liara and Shiala to the med bay. In her spare time Liara had already started looking for any evidence of the super weapon.

Alex got straight to the point after hugging the younger asari, "Blue any thoughts on preparing for the reapers?"

Liara nodded, "My mother had an information net work, most matriarchs do, to keep track of others political movements, gossip anything to give them an edge." she explained, "I am now able to use these to gather data we need,"

"The network is extensive," added Shiala, "To be able to claim plausible deniability it is based out of Illium."

"I was going to ask if you needed somewhere better to work," said Alex quietly. She would miss her little blue sister.

"You will hear from me often," said Liara with a shaky smile, "I will insist on updating you personally, whether by vid comm or in person." Alex nodded and everyone was staying until after the wedding.

The morning of the ceremony downed to early for Alex who had tossed and turned nearly all night, eventually Karin at her wits end had sent her to her cabin, maybe Ash could get her to sleep. It half worked.

Ash helped Alex into her dress blues her arm was still in a sling to immobilize her shoulder. She rested her hand over her wife's heart which was pounding like a jack hammer. "This can not be as bad as some of the things we have lived through the past few weeks." To distract her wife further she kissed her soundly, "Keep that thought in mind for later."

"Karin will kill us." whispered Alex, huskily.

"I promise all you have to do is lie back and enjoy."

Alex's heart was now trying to beat out of her chest for a completely different reason.

"Go get 'em Tiger."

The Ceremony wasn't quite as bad as Alex thought it would be, it was held in the newly cleared Council chamber,which meant not a lot of actual people could attend, she assumed the ones present must have been dignitaries. There were also a lot of cameras sending it out live.

The Council started by thanking the human Alliance fleet for rescuing them. Special credit was given to Joker. Then a list of names was read out, these were all the C-Sec officers who had given their lives to protect others. They also read a list of every ship that was lost in the battle. Alex was touched that instead of separating the different species ships they were read in order as they had been destroyed. The last eight names were the vessels Sovereign had shot down as they were fighting the Saren machine.

"And now to the true heroes of this hour the crew of the Normandy. Commander."

Alex stood up. "Ash loves me. Ash loves me..." She kept that up until she stopped next to Councillor Tevos, she looked down at her crew, her friends, her family. Tali was still in isolation but Alex knew she was watching.

" I didn't do any of this alone. Most of you know I have a mixed crew, each of them joined me for different reasons but we all had the same goal, Stop Saren to protect all of you. We learned to fight not just as a unit, but as a family. I have seen the best of them, intelligence, bravery, determination and compassion. And I hope they have seen the best of me. Sometimes you find friends in the most unlikely places. I would like to honour Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this mission. And to all the brave soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of the Citadel. I ask that we continue to help each other for we never known when we might need to pull together again. Thank-you." Alex made a speedy getaway to thunderous applause.

The end part of the ceremony was a medal presentation, each and every person got the highest civilian or military medal of their respective species. The council had there own version as well.

Ash was stunned to be presented with the Star of Terra, Alex was the only other soldier to have been awarded it, she had got hers after Torfan. "Why aren't you getting one?"

"Mine's going to Cassidy." replied Alex. It couldn't be given officially so the spectre was going to give it to her when they were back at the hotel they were all staying in. Ash didn't care who was watching or how many cameras were floating around, she took her wife's face in her hands and kissed her. It was only all the wolf whistles around them reminded them were they were.

"That's the best shot of this whole thing," guffawed Wrex.. He proved correct most of the news had pictures of that kiss the next morning.

Ruth and the rest of the Williams family with Albert in tow had arrived in time for the ceremony. Lynn seemed to have made it her personal mission to keep an eye on Albert when he wasn't with his sister. For a few days at least Alex was able to fully relax and enjoy her family as they made the final plans for the wedding. Captain Anderson was doing it, it would be the last thing he did as a captain because the council had offered humanity a seat on the council and Anderson's name had been put forward. He had accepted knowing that he would be in a better position to help when the reapers came.

Abby went in for her replacement eye surgery two days before they were due to wed, they were combining her recovery and their honeymoon into one. Cassidy was going to take the Williams surname as her own.

The wedding itself was simple and beautiful. Albert and Garrus had given the brides away and Wrex held the rings. Tali and Liara were the maids of honour.

This would be the last time they would all be together in one place for a while. Wrex, Liara and Shiala were going, so was Tali. Her pilgrimage was finished and she had to return to the flotilla. She promised to tell her father and aunt about the reapers. As they were both on the Admiralty board they could do something to prepare. Everyone had too much to drink so the next morning most of them were sporting hangovers of varying degrees of severity as they walked ton the shuttle port to say goodbye to Wrex, Tali and the two asari.

Abby and Cassidy were leaving the next day after a check up by Karin and the specialist. They would rejoin the Normandy two weeks after that.

Alex hugged Liara and Tali tightly. "You need anything, even if you just want to talk. I'm there."

Liara nodded, "You will hear from us so often you will wish you hadn't said that." The asari was very tearful.

"Never!" vowed Alex, she kissed the asari's crest and Tali's face plate then released them. They all waved as they vanished into the shuttle.

Alex turned and hugged Ash, burying her face against her neck.

"You'll see them again before you know it," said Ash soothingly, rubbing her back.

Mrs and Mrs Williams left the next day with Abby getting a clean bill of health. Ruth and Albert stayed on the Citadel until the Normandy's repairs were complete. Then they were off to mop up the rest of the geth while hunting for any prothean data on the super weapon.

2 Months later.

"There's no sign of any geth activity in this sector," said Lt Pressly sounding bored.

"Well four ships disappeared here, something happened to them." retorted Joker.

"My money's on slavers the Terminus is crawling with them."

"Picking on something on the long range scanner," said the Ensign in the co-pilots seat. "Unidentified vessel …..looks like a cruiser."

"It doesn't match any known signatures," said Joker frowning. There stealth system was engaged.

"Cruiser changing course, now on intercept trajectory."

"Can't be we're running silent," said Pressley. "There's no way a Geth ship could detect us!"

"It's not the geth," yelled Joker. "BRACE FOR EVACIVE MANOUVERS!"

The unknown ship fired as Joker hit the alarm.

Alex was in the comm room when Joker tried to roll the Normandy away from that first shot. She activated her comm unit. "Joker? What the hell!"

"We're under attack by an unknown enemy. It's like our stealth system doesn't exist." Alex heard an explosion over her comm. "Abby report to the bridge. " A moment later the ship shuddered at an impact. The enemy vessel had the Normandy in its sights. Joker wouldn't be able to out run it for long and another couple of hits like that would finish them. "Ash send out a distress beacon and then start evacuating the crew."

Silence.

Alex ran towards the cockpit meeting Abby part way. The ship rocked again violently.

"Beacon away. ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP! "

"Mayday, mayday this is the SSV Normandy. We have sustained heavy damage from an unknown enemy. Come on baby hold together, hold together."

"Joker get your ass in the escape pod! NOW!" yelled Alex, most of the bridge crew were dead and it was on fire they didn't have time to delay anyway. The Normandy was shaking, another explosion ripped part of the hull away. If they hadn't been wearing mag boots they'd have been sucked out. The only thing protecting Joker from space was an energy barrier.

He still hadn't got out of his seat. "Mayday, mayday."

"Come on Joker, we have to move," said Abby pulling him up as fast as she dared.

"OW, watch the arm." grunted Joker, "They're coming around again!"

Alex grabbed Jokers other arm. "Go Go Go!"

They stumbled as sparks erupted from the wall by them.

"She's being torn apart," groaned Joker as Abby slammed her fist on the escape pods control panel. The door slid open, Abby climbed in and turned to take Joker from the spectre.

The next blast threw Abby to the floor with Joker on top of her. She scrambled to her feet to see Alex hanging on with one hand as the ship was crumbling around her.

She was too far away. "ALEX!"

Alex's hand glowed blue and she threw a biotic throw at the release switch. The escape pod door closed.

"NO!"

The last thing Alex saw was her sister in law banging on the small window. The next explosion slammed her into what was left of the cockpit.

MEMEMEMEME

Cassidy Williams fiddled with her omni tool. That gigantic ship had left after the Normandy had exploded. It was somehow jamming all their comms Cassidy had just remembered omni tool net link that they'd used when Alex went up against ex major Kyle.

She was in an escape pod with Lt Adams and most of the engineering staff. She didn't know where Ash was, she did know her new wife and Alex were going to get Joker.

"Is anybody hearing this?" She heard a distinct crackle, then a voice.

"Cass? " exclaimed Ash, "Thank God have you contacted Alex or Abby?"

"I can hear you," Abby's voice was shaking badly. In the background they could hear Joker sobbing.

"Abby?" Her brain refused to accept the only reason for what she was hearing. As Abby explained what had happened Cassidy reset her omni tool to automatically link to Alex's suit systems.

"Got it! Ash are you with Karin?"

"Yes."

"I'm sending you a bio feed from Alex's suit."

Ash stared as she transferred it to the doctor, trying to keep her breathing steady as her heart was was beating a mile a minute. Karin's sudden intake of breath made her look at the display. It showed a dark blue area and massive damage to both her front and back armour. She remembered the state Cassidy's armour had been after landing on all that glass.

"No," she whispered.

"What's the dark blue?" asked Cassidy.

"Her body's been exposed to sub zero temperatures," replied Karin, putting a hand on Ash's shoulder. "She must have erected a biotic barrier."

If she hadn't she would have frozen to death already.

There was absolutely nothing she could do.

"Ash I've got her comm working." said Cassidy, sounding like she was crying.

"Alex? Sweetheart can you hear me?" She had to clear her throat.

"Ash...bear..."

"I'm here." She couldn't lie they both knew what was coming. "How are you feeling?"

"C...cold...You...safe?"

"Yeah, the ship's gone. Abby and Cass are okay too." Ash sobbed quietly into her hands for a moment. "Don't worry about us. "

"Love...you...My heart...and soul." The agony in Alex's voice was almost too much.

"I l...love you, my everything."

"Will...say ...Hi to...your dad...for you..."

Ash's heart shattered, "Alex I want you remember our meld and how much I love you...hold onto that...then I want you to drop the barrier, Be with your parents and Alice."

Silence...

Then a single monotonous beep came from Karin's omni-tool.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

MEMEMEMEME

UNKNOWN LOCATION.

"Did you get it?"

"Yes, we had to wait until the escape pods were picked up."

"What's the condition?"

"It was shielded through re entry by the cockpit, it's was mostly frozen."

"Get Project Lazarus up and running. We are not losing Shepard."

The end.

A/N Thanks to all the readers, reviewers and followers. I hope you'll stay tuned for Shepard's Saga: Second Chances. (coming soon).

You are all marvellous. Keep happy and keep reading. :)