AN: Now that the prologue has been established, the first chapter pics up right at the start of ME3! I appreciate the couple follows and favorites I've gotten, but I always love getting feedback- so if you're reading this and enjoy it, please leave a review to let me know what you think!


Lily Shepard is in the middle of gazing out the window from her high-rise apartment in Alliance headquarters, needing a distraction from the news reports she's been reading on her datapad. She keeps hoping that maybe one day she'll turn on the news to find that the Alliance has actually decided to do something about the Reaper threat, rather than sit on their asses, but no such luck.

It turns out that gazing out the window isn't the best form of destruction, as that only makes her equally frustrated. It's a beautiful day outside, sun shining, blue skies… and she's stuck inside. Six months of house arrest, and no word when—or even if—it would end, and she feels like she's starting to lose her mind.

The subtle whoosh of the doors breaks her out of her reverie and she turns to see James enter with a salute.

"Commander."

She knows he still calls her that to be respectful, but there's a part of her that chafes at the word— and the salute. It's a reminder of what she's lost, and it stings. Hero of the Blitz and now this, disgraced former commander under semi-permanent house arrest because she had to make a tough decision.

"You know you're not supposed to call me that anymore," she remarks mildly.

James just shrugs. "I'm not supposed to salute, either."

And yet here we are, she thinks.

"The defense committee wants to see you," James continues. "We gotta go, it sounded urgent."

Shepard tosses the datapad onto her bed and tightens the elastic keeping her long, blonde hair securely piled on top of her head, before following James out the door, dodging other soldiers running about.

Alliance Command is always a hubbub of activity, and it takes her a moment to readjust to that. She doesn't leave her apartment much, it's too depressing to be right in the middle of the action but know that she's no longer part of it.

"What's going on?" she asks as she tries to keep up with James' long strides. "What did they say?"

"They didn't say," James said. "Only that they needed you. Now."

Shepard frowns, considering the implications of what it all might mean, when she spies a familiar face in the crowd. The man coming towards them is in Alliance blues, crisp and freshly pressed, his Admiral badge and service medals gleaming. Though his eyebrows are drawn together in thought, she knows how the corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles and she can't help but crack a smile upon seeing him.

"Anderson." Throughout these hellish past six months, Anderson had been her staunchest ally, defending her during her hearing and lightening her sentence as much as he could. He and James were the only two who made her feel like a glimmer of who she used to be, and not… this. Commander Shepard, Hero of the Blitz, first human spectre. Commander Shepard, the woman who saved humanity from the Collectors.

But none of that matters anymore, not after what she'd done to the Alpha Relay. Now she's a mass murderer, a commander without a ship or anyone under her, a soldier without a war to fight.

A ghost in the shape of a woman.

Those words, the ones she'd thought to herself on Alchera, come back to her and she almost smiles at how true it's become— but she can't think of him right now. How was that only just over a year ago? It felt like an eternity.

"It's good to see you, Shepard," Anderson is saying. "How have you been holding up these days?"

"Oh, you know," Shepard says. "It's not so bad once you get used to the hot showers and soft beds and good food."

Her tone is light, but they both know being relieved from duty has wrecked Shepard. She enlisted the day she turned 18, determined to make a better life for herself, to escape her life in the gangs. She's been a soldier for too long to be anything else.

"We'll get this sorted out," Anderson says, and Shepard isn't sure if he means whatever the defense committee has summoned her for or her detention and house arrest. Or maybe both.

"What's going on?" she asks as she dodges to avoid running into another soldier. "I know Alliance Command is often busy, but why is everyone in this much of a rush?"

"Admiral Hackett's mobilizing the fleets," Anderson says, his tone grim. "Everyone is trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Something big is headed our way, and fast."

Despite the rush, Shepard can't help but pause at this, her breath catching in her throat. "The Reapers?" Behind her, she can hear James swear softly under his breath, the information clearly new to him as well.

"We don't know. Not for certain," Anderson admits, and Shepard's eyes narrow.

"What else could it be? We know they're coming."

Anderson sighs. "If I knew for sure…"

"If it is them, you know we're not ready," Shepard says, and it's hard not to pull the I told you so card. "Not by a long shot."

Anderson just shakes his head. "Tell that to the defense committee."

"The council, the defense committee… we both know that's a waste of time," Shepard says. "Unless we're trying out a new strategy of talking the Reapers to death. They've never listened to me in the past."

"They're scared," Anderson says. "It's easier to blame Saren and the Geth, to dismiss Sovereign as a one-off threat, to pat ourselves on the back for defeating the Collectors and be done with it all. The Reapers are far bigger than anyone wants to think about."

"That's no excuse," Shepard says, all of the old frustrations coming back. "Pretending it's not happening isn't going to make it go away."

"None of them have seen what you've seen," Anderson points out. "It's less real for them. You've faced down an actual Reaper. Hell, you spoke to one and then blew the damn thing up. You've seen how the Collectors were harvesting us for their gain, you've see what they plan to do to us. You know more about this enemy than anyone."

"Right," Shepard says, eyes narrowing as the pent-up frustration and anger at the past six months—hell, the past few years—starts to boil over. "Is that why they grounded me? Took away my ship? Is that why they've always been so great about listening to me in the past?"

"You know that's not fair, Shepard," Anderson says, pausing to look her in the eyes, and for a moment, she feels like a child being lectured by a parent. "Hundreds of thousands of batarians died when you blew up that relay."

Shepard bites back a sigh. "I know. You don't think I would have done anything else, if I'd had the choice? But it was that or let the Reapers come right in through our back door. I thought if I bought us some time…"

Well. She'd thought that after seeing the Collector base, after destroying it and learning the truth about how the Reapers and Harbinger were behind it all, and then dealing with Object Rho… she'd hoped that maybe finally, someone would listen to her when she warned of imminent Reaper invasion, but all they'd done was put her on trial for working with Cerberus and for destroying the entire Bahak system.

"I know, Shepard," Anderson says, his voice gentle. "And so does the committee. If they hadn't believed you about that, you would have been court-martialed and left to rot in the brig."

"Your good word probably didn't hurt, either," Shepard mutters.

"I trust you," Anderson says. "And so does the committee."

Then why the hell does no one ever listen to me? she thinks. Instead, she just sighs and shakes her head. "I'm no politician, Anderson. We both know I'm not the most… tactful. I'm just a soldier."

Hell, she wasn't even that anymore.

"I don't need you to be tactful." Anderson picks up the pace again and Shepard follows after him. "I just need you to do whatever the hell it takes to stop these Reapers."

What the fuck do you think I've been trying to do? she thinks, but she doesn't say it aloud. It's not Anderson's fault; he's always believed her, even when her claims admittedly could be seen as outlandish. But the stakes are too high for her to be nice or gentle, and she can't help how goddamn weary she is. And the real battle hasn't even started yet.

They pass through the doors into the anteroom before the courts, and Shepard can't help but stand up a little straighter, tighten the pins in her hair just a little more. Even James, who isn't involved in this, straightens up slightly and salutes the officer at the desk.

"They're expecting the two of you," the officer says. "I'll take you there."

"Good luck in there, Shepard," James says, offering her a handshake. "If anyone can pull this off, it's you."

"Thanks, James," she says, almost wishing he could come in with her. He'd been a steadfast ally and friend these past six months, and if it came down to an argument with the committee—which, knowing how these things had gone in the past, it likely would—she could use another person on her side.

"Anderson."

The voice, husky and low and achingly familiar cuts through Shepard's thoughts and she freezes, afraid of what she might find if she turns around. So instead she stares resolutely ahead at the wall, but whether it's genuine hurt or petty anger keeping her from turning around and facing him, she's not quite sure.

"Shepard."

At the sound of his voice addressing her, Shepard bites back a sigh, equal parts longing and frustration. Carefully maintaining a neutral expression, she turns around and sees him standing there.

She knew it would be, she'd recognize that voice anywhere, but there was still a tiny part of her that hoped maybe she wouldn't have to deal with this right now. But of course, as per usual, the universe is against her.

"Kaidan?" she says, the word coming out as more of a question than she intended, as if he might be someone, anyone else.

"How'd it go in there, Major?" Anderson asks.

Shepard flinches, visibly flinches at that remark, and she wonders if she's imagining it, but she swears she can see Kaidan's jaw clench. Major?

"Okay, I think," Kaidan says, ignoring Shepard's reaction. "Hard to know for sure, they don't give much away. I'm just waiting for orders and assignment now."

"Major?" Shepard asks, trying—but if she were to be perfectly honest, failing—to keep her voice carefully neutral, as if she were just a colleague, just someone casually interested in this news.

"You hadn't heard?" Anderson raises his eyebrows in surprise.

"I'm a bit… out of the loop these days," Shepard forces out through ground teeth.

"Sorry, ma'am, didn't mean to keep you out of the loop," Kaidan says, but he avoids looking her directly in the eyes.

Shepard forces a smile, wishing she could scream instead, and knowing that she can't keep the hurt out of her eyes. Ma'am? When was the last time he'd called her ma'am? Sometime long ago, back when they still thought Saren was a rogue spectre and the biggest threat.

Long before they'd ever admitted their feelings for each other. Even as they became friends, Shepard had discouraged his formality, insisting he at least call her Commander, if he couldn't manage Shepard. She'd been Commander, and then Shepard, and then Lily, and now she was ma'am?

"I'm sure you had your reasons, Major," she says, her voice so icy that Anderson glances between the two of them with a slightly concerned look, but they have bigger concerns right now.

"Yeah, I… I suppose I did," Kaidan admits, still not looking her in the eye, but then he pauses. "Still, it's… it's good to see you."

Much as she wants to hear those words, there's a part of Shepard that chafes at that. If it's so good to see me, why didn't you ever visit me when I was under house arrest? Why did you never make contact with me? Why have you been ignoring me so resolutely, despite everything?

She could have really used a friend these past six months, but there had been nothing but radio silence from him.

The last thing she wants or needs right now is false hope, so she steels her heat against those words, turning instead to face the officer who was approaching them.

"Admiral. Major. They're ready for you," she says.

"Come on." Anderson turns to leave and Shepard pauses just a moment, looking at Kaidan, who had turned to look at the officer as well. But then he turns, facing her, and finally looks her in the eyes as he offers her a hesitant half-smile, and she wishes his expression wasn't so hard to read.

Swallowing down the complicated feelings that arise with that taunting smile, she brushes past him to follow Anderson, but not before she hears James speak up behind her.

"You know the Commander?"

"I used to," Kaidan replies, and Shepard bites the inside of her cheek to keep her emotions in check.

How dare he act as if it's she who's changed? How dare he act as if she's a mystery, as if she hasn't made every effort to prove to him that she's still the woman he loved? How dare he tell her to her face that it's good to see her, and then admit he doesn't even know her anymore?

But she needs a clear head to deal with the defense committee, so she takes a deep breath, smooths down the edges of her shirt, and follows Anderson into the room.

"Admiral Anderson. Shepard." One of the senior committee members greets the two of them as they walk into the room.

"What's the situation?" Shepard asks. "Why did you want to see me?"

"Ah… we were hoping maybe you could tell us." The same committee member offers up a sheepish smile, as if he realized the irony of asking for her help now, after they'd dismissed her so many time in the past.

An officer hands Shepard a datapad and she scrolls through the reports, frowning. Kar'shan was reportedly under bombardment by some mysterious, lethal force. Taetrus had gone dark, and the Turian Hierarchy had officially declared themselves to be at war.

"The reports coming in are unlike anything we've seen," another council member was saying. It's not just what you see there, whole colonies have gone dark and we've lost contact with anything outside of the Sol Relay."

"Whatever this is, it's incomprehensibly powerful," the third council member says, folding his hands in front of him and frowning. "It's taken us by surprise and completely overwhelmed us."

Maybe if you'd listened to me, it wouldn't have overwhelmed us quite so much, she thinks bitterly, but now is not the time to be petty.

Sighing, Shepard looks up from the datapad and squares her shoulders. "You brought me here to confirm what you already know, to confirm what I've been saying for years. The Reapers are here."

There was an uncomfortable silence among the council members before finally, one of them turned to Shepard. "Then… how do we stop them?"

We don't, Shepard couldn't help but think. As relieved as she was that they were finally listening to her, it felt like too little, too late.

Instead, she shakes her head. "It's not that simple. This isn't about strategy or tactics, this is about survival. The Reapers are more advanced than us. More powerful. More intelligent. They outdo us in every way. They'll never fear us, and they'll never take pity on us."

She looks in the eyes of every council member as she speaks, making sure they understand the full weight of her words. If they'd listened to her before, it would have still been a nearly impossible fight. After all, how could you prepare for something like this?

But now, when the Reapers are here, on their doorstep? They have very little to stand on.

"But… there must be a way," one council member says, tears shining in her eyes. "Something. Anything."

Shepard pauses, considering. "If we have any hope of defeating them, we have to stand together. Everyone in this goddamn galaxy has to unite and work together if we're going to survive this."

"That's it? That's your plan?" One council member was already shaking his head.

Well, maybe if you'd listened to me earlier, we could have come up with a better plan, she thinks, but before she can think of a slightly more diplomatic way of saying that, an officer monitoring the screens pipes up.

"Admiral, we've lost contact with Luna Base." Her eyes are wide, voice shaky.

"The moon?" Even Anderson, who's believed Shepard this whole time sounds surprised. "They couldn't be that close already…"

"But… we have everything on high alert," the female council member says. "How'd they get past our defenses?"

"Sir, UK headquarters has visual," the first officer says. Shakily, she taps in a command on the screen in front of her, and static lights up on the monitor.

The image clears up, showing a young soldier shouting something into the camera, but it can't be heard over the static of the connection and noise of his environment. Behind him, there's nothing but chaos—fires burning as plumes of black smoke rise into the sky.

There's a bone-chilling metallic screech, an explosion that knocks the soldier down, and then nothing. Signal lost.

It reminds Shepard entirely too much of Eden Prime, and she shakes her head. Why does she always have to arrive to things too late? Is she forever destined to watch chaos and destruction rain, powerless to stop it?

A second later, the signal is restored, the screen splitting to show four, five, half a dozen different images. Reapers.

Reapers on Earth, buildings toppling, panicked news reports, destruction and chaos and death and if only they had listened to her maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad.

Anderson is the first one to break the silence. "Why haven't we heard from Admiral Hackett?"

No one knows how to answer that, but Shepard prays that he's still alive, because if they had any hope of survival, they could use all the help they could get. Especially someone with the power that Hackett commands.

"What do we do?" The council member who speaks is panicked, raw terror in his voice, and despite Shepard's frustrations at how everyone has ignored her warnings, she feels a bit of sympathy as well.

She knew this was coming, she couldn't avoid the truth. But when faced with a truth like this, could you really blame people for choosing false hope? And now it was irrefutable, and they all had to face the same truth she'd faced when she went face to face with Sovereign.

The Reapers were coming for them, and it was going to be bigger than anything they'd ever faced before.

"We do the only thing we can do," Shepard says, gesturing at the monitor, where an image of a Reaper still lingers. "We fight, or we die."

"We should get to the Normandy," Anderson says. "We'll need her in this fight."

Before Shepard can even process that, even think about what it would mean to be back on her ship again—or question whether or not she was still under house arrest and if Anderson included her when he said 'we,'— a low, rumbling sound breaks the silence.

As it gets louder and louder, everyone exchanges panicked looks, hoping it isn't what they fear, but knowing it most likely is.

"Oh my god," the female council member whispers, voice full of horror, and Shepard looks out the large floor-to-ceiling windows in time to see orange lightning flash across the sky.

Metal claws sink into view, and a laser cuts through the landscape with a high-pitched buzzing noise, a sound that Shepard recognizes far too well from the fight against Sovereign so long ago.

"Move!" she shouts as the Reaper comes fully into view. "Go go go!"

She's already running by the time the blast hits, shattering the windows, toppling the pedestal where the Alliance council members sat. With their backs to the blast, they're not so lucky.

Shepard dodges debris, throwing up a barrier to try and shield herself from the worst of it, but six months of no proper biotic training and she's gotten a bit rusty in her skills. The shockwave hits next, hard enough that her barrier is useless, and she's tossed against the back wall like a rag doll, everything going black.


Everything is blurry and hazy and her head is throbbing as she wavers somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, but distantly, she hears Anderson calling for her.

"Shepard! Come on, Shepard, get up!"

Groaning, she opens her eyes and props herself up on an elbow, accepting Anderson's hand as he helps her up. The room is destroyed, the council members all dead, several small fires burning.

"Here, take this." Anderson hands her his spare gun. It's been six months since she's held one, the longest she's gone without fighting since before she joined the Alliance, but some things are like second nature to her.

"This is Admiral Anderson," he's saying into his comms. "Is anyone there? Report in! Major Alenko, is that you? What's your status?"

Kaidan. In all the chaos of the Reapers, she'd nearly forgotten about him. Please let him be okay, she thinks. From the bits of the one-sided conversation she can hear from Anderson, it seems like he is, which is a relief.

"We can't raise the Normandy from here," Anderson says, still on comms. "You'll have to contact them, and we'll meet you at the landing zone. Anderson out."

Shepard walks out to where the windows used to be, where there's now just a giant hole, and stares out at the landscape. There are multiple Reapers, their laser beams cutting through buildings that that eerie whine.

The wholesale destruction that the Reapers are causing is bigger than even Shepard could have imagined, smoke and ash from distant fires filling the air, and she's paralyzed as she watches it all. It's too late, she thinks. We're too late.

"Come on, Shepard." Anderson is at her side, gently grabbing her elbow and leading her towards the edge. "Kaidan's headed to the Normandy, they'll pick us up if we can get to the spaceport."

He pauses for a moment and shakes his head. "These things are massive up close."

She follows him out of the room, onto a ledge below, picking her way carefully across the thin metal beams, trying not to look down, trying not to look at the Reapers, trying to do something other than panic.

"How do you stop something so massive?" Anderson asks, but Shepard knows it's a rhetorical question. Or at least, she hopes it is, because she's goddamn tired of being the one everyone turns to for answers.

She knows this war has only begun, she knows that she's still Commander Shepard in the eyes of many, she knows that she has by far the most experience fighting Reapers. And so she knows that she will continue to be that person, but right now, she just wants to let loose—use her biotics to pick up the biggest object she can and toss it halfway across the room, hit a punching bag until it falls off its hooks, she doesn't care. Just something.

She follows Anderson over the rooftops, dodging Reaper beams and stray debris. After several minutes in silence—the whine of Reaper lasers and the sound of burning buildings not withstanding—Anderson gets another comm message.

"Major, do you read me? I'm patching Shepard in," he says.

Kaidan's voice comes over the comms, interrupted by steady bursts of gunfire. "We're almost to the Normandy. I've got Lieutennt Vega with me, but we're taking heavy fire."

"We're about five minutes out," Anderson says, but there's no response from Kaidan, just static. "Major? Major, do you read? Damnit!"

Please stay safe, Shepard thinks. Even if you still hate me, just stay alive.

"Husks!" Anderson calls out, and Shepard shudders when she sees the luminescent blue creatures crawling up the side of the building.

She empties her clip into them, taking them down before they can reach the rooftop, but they keep coming and soon she's out of ammo. Despite the chaos, despite the worry over Kaidan, she grins.

"Time to have a bit of fun." She hasn't had a chance to properly flex her biotic muscles in so long. She catches a group of them in a singularity, then knocks them back with a shockwave, the biotic explosion ripping them apart.

With her biotics and Anderson's years of experience, they make short work out of the rest of the husks, but there's no time to celebrate. A Reaper beam hits the small room next to where Shepard and Anderson are, and Shepard barely ducks in time as glass explodes out everywhere.

"You okay?" Anderson call out and Shepard groans in response as she picks herself up. The ladder off the side of the rooftop has been destroyed in the blast, leaving them with the only option of venturing into the room that had just been hit. Inside, thick, acrid smoke fills the air, and Shepard coughs and gasps, trying to get enough fresh air to breathe.

"God, what a mess…" Shepard shakes her head as she takes it all in. It's only been what, fifteen minutes since the Reapers attacked? And already so much death, so much devastation. How were they going to survive?

"We need to keep going and find a way out of here," Anderson says gently, placing a hand on her shoulder, and Shepard nods.

There's a door at the back of the room that leads out of there, but it's jammed, stuck in a half open position. With a grunt, Shepard manages to force it open, though she knows she won't be able to hold it for long.

"Through here!" she calls out and Anderson goes through first, but Shepard pauses before following, the faint sound of crying distracting her.

"Do you hear that?" she mutters, more to herself than Anderson. Slowly, she turns back, glancing around the room, until she spots the source—a small boy curled up in the airshaft, sniffling.

"Hey, it's okay," she says, extending a hand to him. She's never been much of a kid person, but there's something about this boy and the scared, vulnerable look in his eyes that makes her heart ache.

It reminds her of herself as a child.

"Everyone's dying," he whimpers, and Shepard wishes there was something she could say, but what can she say? Everyone is dying.

"Come on, we need to get you out of here," she says, extending a hand. "Take my hand. I know it's scary, but I can get you to safety."

But the boy just shakes his head. "You can't save me."

"Shepard, through here!" Anderson calls out. "We need to get to the Normandy before things get worse."

"Just a second!" Shepard calls out over her shoulder, but when she turns back to the boy again, to try and figure out how to convince him he has to come with her, he's gone.

Shepard blinks and rubs her eyes. Was she hallucinating? Maybe she hit her head harder than she thought in that explosion. But there's no time to worry about that right now, because everything around them is burning and somewhere out there, Kaidan and James are waiting for them, holding off Reaper forces.

Hopefully. Hopefully they are still out there. They have to be.

"This whole place is a goddamned mess," Anderson grunts as he struggles to lift some debris that's fallen across their path.

Shepard doesn't say anything as she uses her biotics to help clear the path, still thinking about the child that may or may not have actually been there.

"Every minute, every second that these machines are here, thousands of innocent people die," Anderson says, continuing onward. "I won't be responsible for that."

Shepard follows with a sigh. "I know. It's always hard in war, knowing that no matter how hard you try, you can't save everyone. But this? This is even worse; this is unlike anything we've ever seen."

"Exactly," Anderson says. "You've saved a lot of people in your time, Shepard. But you said it, this is bigger than anything we've faced before. If only the Reapers were as easy to deal with as batarians."

Shepard laughs at that, more out of the absurdity of the idea than actual humor. She'd earned her place in the Alliance through her actions during the Blitz. Back then, as a young, green soldier, she'd thought that single-handedly holding off batarian invaders was the hardest thing she'd have to do.

Sure, there'd be plenty more fights, but what could be harder than rallying a ragtag group of colonists to fight against batarian pirates, and then single-handedly hold them off with the colonists fell back?

But then Saren happened. And the Geth. And Sovereign. And the Collectors, and Harbinger and Object Rho and learning about the Alpha Relay, and now the actual Reaper invasion that she'd been trying to stop for years.

What she wouldn't give for a simple batarian pirate raid.

"They hit so fast," Anderson says, bringing her back to the present. "I thought we'd have more time before… this."

Maybe if the Council had actually listened to me, she thinks. Maybe if people had heeded my warning more than three years ago.

Instead, she just shrugs. "We knew they were coming." Or at least I did.

"And yet they still just cut through our defenses as if it were nothing," Anderson remarks and again, Shepard has to restrain herself from pointing out that if people had actually fucking listened to her, maybe their defenses would have been better, maybe they wouldn't have been overwhelmed so fast, maybe they would have had more time.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. There's no point in dwelling on maybes. It is what it is, and that's something everyone has to live with. If we live through this. There's no guarantee that humanity will survive.

"We need to get to the Citadel, talk to the Council." As if he knows that she's going to protest, Anderson continues on before Shepard can say anything. "You know the fight will be everywhere soon enough. You said it yourself, our only hope is to stand together."

Shepard sighs. "You sure they'll help us?"

"No," Anderson admits. "But you're a Council Spectre. That has to count for something, right?"

This time, Shepard can't help herself. "What, like all the times it did before?"

"I know," Anderson says, offering her a hand to help her across the chasm. "But it's different now. The Reapers are here, we have indisputable proof."

Shepard sighs and follows Anderson outside and down towards the ground. Somehow, things have only gotten worse in the time they've spent making their way through the ruined building.

There's a Reaper right in front of them, and Shepard isn't sure if she wants to scream, cry, or unload her thermal clip into it and then hit it with her most powerful warp. Maybe all of the above. But it's too big of a target, and fortunately, they're too small of a target, so they continue.

"Major Alenko, are you there?" Anderson says. "We're in sight of the spaceport, ETA three minutes. How are you holding up?"

"We've made it to the Normandy," Kaidan says over the comms, and Shepard breathes a sigh of relief. It's good to hear his voice. "But we're taking heavy fire and—oh god. They're trying to take down the dreadnought."

The line goes dead.

"Damnit," Anderson says. "They're in trouble, we have to hurry."

But before anyone can go anywhere, the Reaper dreadnought blasts a building not too far from them, close enough that when it hits like a nuclear blast, the shockwave knocks loose the platform Shepard and Anderson had been standing on, sending them tumbling down the slope.

Shepard hits the ground hard, grunting as her shoulder and hip take the brunt of the impact. She's too hyped up on adrenaline to be in pain right now, but she's going to feel that tomorrow, especially since all she's wearing is a tank top and cargo pants.

What she wouldn't give for some proper armor right about now.

They're halfway there when Anderson points to something up ahead. "We've got incoming!"

Shepard dives behind a fallen piece of debris, already throwing out a singularity before she even gets a good look at the incoming hostiles.

"What are those things?" Anderson mutters and Shepard shudders. Coming towards them are a group of grotesque creatures, in some ways reminiscent of husks, but something entirely different all the same. Knowing the origin of husks, she's not too sure she wants to know what these new creatures are.

"Don't know, don't have time to care right now." Shepard says, hitting her singularity with a warp to take care of the hostiles. Between the steady rhythm of Anderson's gunfire and the low thrum of her biotics, she loses herself in the fight and it feels good to let go like that. She can almost pretend it's just another fight, just business as usual, and not something new, something incomprehensibly big.

In short order, the hostiles are taken care of, and there's an odd calm that settles over the battlefield. Above them and around them, the Reapers are still destroying the city, people are still dying, but the immediate threat to them has temporarily ceased. It feels wrong, somehow, as if everything should be chaos to reflect what's happening elsewhere.

"Look over there," Anderson says, gesturing to what's little more than a pile of rubble sitting a few feet ahead. "Looks like a downed gunship. See if you can find a radio, we might have better luck contacting the Normandy with a stronger signal."

Shepard picks her way through the rubble, trying not to think too much about their current situation, or what might have happened to the people flying the gunship. One step at a time, she tells herself. We will take this one step at a time and we can win this war.

But what if they can't?

"Shepard, over here!" Anderson calls, and Shepard is back on task again. "I found a radio."

After a moment of fiddling, the radio turns on and both Anderson and Shepard breathe a sigh of relief. At least one thing is going right.

"Normandy, do you read?" Anderson asks. "Normandy, come in!"

A moment later, the bittersweet sound of Kaidan's voice. "Admiral, we read you. What's your location?"

"By a downed gunship in the harbor," Anderson says. "I'm activating its distress signal. Things are getting dicey down here. What's your situation? Major?"

There's nothing but static, and Anderson growls. "Damnit, I lost the signal. We'll have to hope the distress beacon does its job and they can find us."

"And soon," Shepard says, looking to the horizon where a new wave of hostiles is approaching. "We've got company!"

"You take point, I'll cover you," she adds, forgetting for a moment that she's not even a commander anymore, and with Anderson, not one of her former squadmates. "Uh… if that's okay, sir."

Luckily, Anderson doesn't mind the breach of conduct. "I would have suggested the same thing."

While Anderson wreaks havoc with his assault rifle, Shepard only fires the occasional shot, relying mostly on her biotics. A well-placed singularity here to keep the hostiles helplessly floating, a throw there when they start getting too close.

"These bastards keep coming," Anderson mutters. "I hope the Normandy gets here soon."

"You and me both," Shepard agrees. As good as it feels to use her biotics again, after six months of house arrest, she's already aware of the toll it's taking on her body to throw out her whole arsenal of biotic skills with no warmup.

"Look out!" Anderson calls, but a second too late, and Shepard doesn't see the incoming hostile raising its gun until it's already fired, and two bullets strike her left arm.

She clenches her teeth, against the pain, but against the frustration as well—it's the type of wound that would, at worst, have caused a bit of bruising as it struck her armor, but she doesn't have armor.

So instead she's bleeding from her goddamned arm, and it's a fairly superficial wound that medi-gel will easily fix, but she shouldn't have to deal with it in the first place; she shouldn't have to deal with the Reapers, not like this, not without a plan and preparation and support, but here they are.

Shepard lets loose a noise that's half battle cry, and half growl of frustration, and expels all her built up biotic energy in one big blast, flaring out away from her, which instantly destroys a small group of hostiles.

But they're still coming, and there's no end in sight, and just when Shepard is starting to wonder how they're going to even get through this— the very beginning of what will be a long and hard war— there's a beautiful sound over the radio.

"Cavalry has arrived!" Joker's voice comes in loud and clear, and a moment later, the Normandy swoops overhead, a blast from her guns easily taking out the rest of the hostiles. "Boom, baby!"

"About time!" Anderson remarks, but Shepard is already running.

"Let's go!" Seeing her ship again is a balm for her aching heart, and pain coursing through her body is temporarily forgotten as she scrambles up the side of the downed gunship to get to higher ground.

Once the Normandy is a few feet away, she takes a running leap, landing hard, but Kaidan is there, offering her a hand up, and damn if he doesn't look good, gun at the ready and hazel eyes steely with determination.

It takes her a moment to remember that he likely still hates her.

"Welcome aboard, Shepard," he says, and Shepard bites her lip. She knows now is not the time for personal drama, the stakes are far too high to worry about whether or not her ex-boyfriend still hates her or whether or not there's any chance they might reconcile, but… it's hard not to be frustrated.

Why does he constantly have to send such mixed signals?

"Anderson, come on!" Shepard calls out as Anderson approaches.

Anderson doesn't say anything for a moment, he just looks over at a passing Alliance shuttle, marines in full gear inside, ready to fight, and when he turns back to her, she knows what he's going to say. She knows it, but that doesn't mean she wants to hear it.

"Shepard, I'm not going," Anderson says. "You saw those men a moment ago. You've seen the resistance on the ground. There's a million more like them out there, and they need a leader."

"We're in this fight together, Anderson," Shepard says, but she knows once his mind is made up, there's no changing it. They've always been alike in that regard.

Anderson shakes his head. "It's a fight we can't win, not without help. You know that. We need that help. You said it yourself, we need every species to present a united front if we even have a hope of defeating the Reapers. We need you to gather the forces. You and the Normandy are our best shot at that, the people know who you are and respect you."

"But sir—"

"Go the Council. Get their support, convince them to help us," Anderson says, cutting Shepard's protests off.

"And if they don't listen?" Shepard asks. "Like all the times before?"

"Make them listen," Anderson says. "Do whatever it takes. Now go, that's an order!"

Unable to give up without one more last-ditch effort at convincing Anderson to join them, Shepard raises an eyebrow. "I don't take orders from you anymore, remember? I'm not Alliance."

"Consider yourself reinstated… Commander." Anderson pulls her dog tags out of his pocket and tosses them to her as she shakes her head.

How long had he been carrying those around? Had he been trying to get her reinstated, before the Reapers attacked, or did he carry them around just in case? In case of emergency, open pocket and reinstate Lily Shepard as an Alliance Commander?

But none of that matters anymore, and Shepard slips the dog tags around her neck. It feels right, having them there. She's been a true blue marine since the day she enlisted on her 18th birthday, even when she had an uneasy partnership with Cerberus, she was still always Alliance at heart.

"You know what you have to do," Anderson says, his voice quieter now, and Shepard nods, trying to quell the tears rising in her eyes, trying not to think of this as a goodbye.

"I do. I will be back for you, and I'll bring every fleet I can." She starts to turn, not wanting Anderson to see her watery eyes, but she pauses. "Good luck."

Anderson nods. "You too, Shepard."

It hurts to leave him there, but Shepard knows Anderson is more than capable. Over the years, he's become more than her boss, more than even a mentor, he's become the father figure she never knew, but desperately needed.

When Shepard was a new recruit, scared and vulnerable and filled with anger, Anderson was there to shape her into a proper soldier, to challenge her and guide her and give her purpose, a way to channel her anger.

When he'd been given command of the Normandy, he'd hand-picked her as his XO, and she'd been proud to have the chance to serve under him. And when Saren and the Geth happened, when everything went to shit… he'd been a guiding force in her life.

He'd been the only one—aside from her crew, of course—to believe her about the Reapers. He'd been a steady presence in her life when she needed it the most, and she owes so much of who she is today to him. And it hurts to leave him, but she knows they each have their own role to fill in this war.

As Shepard walks up the plank and the Normandy starts to fly off, she and Kaidan make eye contact, and she holds it for a second. There's so much in his eyes, in his expression, that's unreadable and she doesn't know what to make of it, of him, of anything.

Letting out a long sigh, Shepard turns to face the outside, to get one last glimpse at Earth. Because it's not just her mentor and father figure she's leaving behind, but her home. Funny how when she was younger, she wanted nothing more than to escape Earth, to leave and never look back, and now she can barely stand leaving.

Everything around them is on fire. Buildings are falling, explosions are rocking the landscape, people are crying. Alliance marines are trying to herd civilians into shuttles, to get the away from the carnage, but Shepard knows it's not enough.

Soon, there will be nowhere to flee to. Soon, everything will be this.

Out of the corner of her eye, Shepard spies the boy from earlier, staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at a Reaper as it fires up its attack. An Alliance marine helps him into a waiting shuttle while another fires at the Reaper, but Shepard knows it will be ineffective, it is ineffective.

No. Please. She knows that countless children will die, are dying, have died, that one won't make a difference, and that even if the Reaper hits a different target, it will likely result in many deaths. But that boy, that boy with the scared, angry eyes, the boy that reminds her of herself when she was scared and angry growing up in the slums of New York City… just not him.

The shuttle takes off and the Reaper's eye follows it, the laser cutting it in two, and then the other one in front of it. As they explode and the debris falls down on the ground, Shepard can't help but cry out.

She prays that this, too, is an illusion, but this time when she closes her eyes and opens them again, all the destruction and chaos and death is still there. Next to her, Kaidan remains stoic, and she envies him his composure. How can he stay so calm when she's falling apart? It's infuriating, but whether she's mad at him for not showing emotion, or herself for being too emotional, she's not sure.

Shaking it off, she turns to enter the Normandy proper as the airlock closes and Joker starts to take off. She's furious, she's heartbroken, she's a bundle of pain and raw edges being held together by nothing but sheer determination, but none of that matters right now.

Right now, she has a galaxy to save. She has another council to convince and entire nations to sway to her side. She just hopes it's enough to stop the Reapers, enough to survive.

She hopes that she's enough.


AN: Please review to let me know what you think! I should have the next chapter up soon.