Sorry for the delay, hopefully you'll like this chapter as it wraps up Day 7.

Chapter 9: Day 7- Part 2

-I- CIC Deck

Wincing, Joker carefully climbs off the ladder from the deck below. His right leg has been bothering him since the crash, but he'll be damned if he's going to stay confined to the crew deck. While holding onto the railing, he takes a moment to steady himself and stretch his leg. From the shaft behind him, Kaidan is stepping onto the deck. The Major was never one of his favorite people, and details were sketchy, but everyone knew about his argument with Steve last night. If he caught someone messing around with EDI's personal items, not that she had any, he'd be pissed too. In his trademark affable yet snarky tone, "G'morning Major. You didn't need to come down just for little old me, I can hobble along by myself."

Kaidan eyes him for a few seconds, seemingly trying to decide if he's being honest or just "Being Joker". The look on his face reminding him of the argument they had after the Collector attack on the Normandy SR1. Kaidan never forgave him for losing Shepard and to be honest, neither of them have tried to rebuild that bridge. Pulling his mind back to the present, he continues toward the flight deck. The major's voice curious, "What's going on?"

Joker wanted to get the results alone, he didn't want to get anyone else's hopes up until he was certain his program had worked. However, he knew Kaidan wouldn't be sated with a "Nothing, major". Keeping his voice light he turns to explain, "Garrus and I got the NavComp going yesterday afternoon. As you know, EDI ran most of the systems, so I had to write a crude stellar cartography program. It's not the most efficient, but it should work."

The major sweeps his left arm in the direction of the flight deck, indicating his intent to follow. Letting Joker set the pace, they continue walking toward the flight deck, "So, you needed a nighttime view of the sky to get your readings?"

Nodding his head in agreement, "Correct. If we can positively identify two or more stars, we can triangulate where we are. Of course, only the dorsal star sensors are functioning and even they are partially blocked by the solar panels." With a groan, Joker carefully maneuvers himself into the pilot's seat activating the console. Pausing for a moment to get comfortable, "Pulsars, Red Giants, etc all emit a specific light and radiofrequency so it's like a fingerprint of the star. We can also use size and shape of known nebula to judge our position. Anyway, I want to check the readings before breakfast." Opening his program, "Hopefully the NavComp was able to lock onto a few known stars." His program wasn't as efficient as he hoped as a, "Please Wait" message hovered on the display, "This could take a few." An exasperated sigh betraying his thoughts.

As the NavComp went about its business, Joker observes as Kaidan settles into the EDI's chair. It shouldn't anger him, but he can't help it, "Liara's been bugging me to put EDI's name on the memorial wall." He can see the understanding in the Major's face, which just irritates him more, "I can't believe. . . well, never mind" A bit more acidic than he intended, but Kaidan just gives him a questioning look and saying nothing. The pause growing pregnant, Joker breaks the silence, "I can't do that to her, I know she's alive! She's just. . . just sleeping." His emotions finally getting the better of him, he turns to face Kaidan his voice acidic again, "I can't believe you just gave up on the Commander."

For several seconds, Kaidan's whiskey colored eyes drill into Joker. When he responds, his voice is like frozen helium, each word slow and biting, "I did not give up!" Pausing a few moments to visibly get his temper under control, "You know, I can't remember the memorial, and I can't tell you what I thought then. I can tell you what I feel now." His voice still cold and his eyes still locked onto Joker, "The others can believe what they want, but until I get confirmation otherwise," Pointing to his chest voice cracking, "he's alive." His brown eyes remaining hard, just daring Joker to make one of his snarky remarks. "However, if I'm wrong. If.. if he's gone, then Shepard deserves to be honored like a hero." His voice slightly wavering with barely contained emotions, "That is why his name is on the wall."

Joker knew he pushed too hard, Kaidan's speech made him realize that he felt the same way about EDI. Embarrassed for his actions, "Everyone else says EDI is dead, but you never have." His eyes and voice apologetic, "Now, I guess I know why. Change a few words and. . . well." Pausing, his eyes pleading, "I still want Tali to look at her, but I'm afraid of. . . "

Kaidan's eyes soften, "You know, I keep switching between wanting to know and. . ." Taking a slow deep breath, "The uncertainty is hard enough, but if it's true I. . . I don't know if I'm ready." Scoffing, his voice dejected yet steady, "That is why the QEC repair scares the hell out of me. We need it fixed but, I also fear it."

The Nav-Comp beeps, pulling the two back to the present situation. Joker turns to examine the data. The silence growing unbearable, as his eyes grow large and excitedly exclaims, "We're in the Local Cluster, not far from home! About 60 light years from Earth, give-or-take, a 5-day FTL trip!" Both men look at each other in disbelief, stunned just as Doctor Chakwas breaks in over Kaidan's Omnitool in a medical override

"Major, it's almost time for breakfast. I don't want you skipping another meal." in her disapproving motherly tone.

Kaidan rolls his eyes, but his mood is too good, "I was talking to Joker, Doc. He's got some good news for us today. We'll be down in a minute" Cutting off the connection.

-II- Crew Deck: Breakfast

"I'm glad you're on your feet, Major." Chief Engineer Adams is next to Kaidan in the breakfast line. His voice light and conversational, "You gave us a scare." Both men reach for the same piece of fruit. Adams laughs as he lets the Major have the piece as he selects another, "Any idea how long your memory loss will last?"

Pouring a little extra creamer into his coffee, Kaidan answers, "Some loss may be permanent, but fragments keep coming." Both men turn and walk toward the tables, where they find two spots next to each other. Continuing their impromptu meeting, "I've got an appointment with the Doc after breakfast." A grimace crosses his face after taking a sip of the still too hot coffee, "How did the generator test go?" Stirring the coffee with a spoon to cool it off.

Adams smiles, taking a moment to swallow his bite, "It went well." Happy to have good news to report, "We did a pressure test on the coolant system yesterday and it checked out without a leak. Today we're going to load the coolant into the system and prep for startup tomorrow." Pride obvious in his voice.

"That's great chief," Smiling, Kaidan nodding his head, "With the power, we'll be able to use the heavy equipment to clear a path out of the shuttle bay for the Kodiak."

Steve passes behind Kaidan, patting him on the back, "Good Morning Major" his voice loud enough to carry, in a not-very-subtle way, of letting everyone near know he wasn't holding a grudge. Both men smile at eachother before Cortez continues on to sit across from James. Kaidan notes how the two of them are smiling at eachother. He has seen a similar smile before on Shepard, making him wonder if the two have started a relationship. Before his thoughts get too far, they are disturbed by Liara's conversation across the table.

Liara and Private Campbell are locked into a lively discussion about the stone tablet. They are as giddy as two school girls, which is natural, as she is still a scientist at heart and Campbell had joined the Alliance for the scholarship, her real desire was to be a scientist too. Like Liara, she wanted to explore the galaxy's lost civilizations. The asari turns to Kaidan, her voice still excited with wonder, "Major, look at this scan of the clearing." Handing him a pad as she points to the foundation stones, "You can clearly see one small building within the perimeter and a portion of a second." She highlights two rectangular stone formations, "Finally, as we adjusted the sensors you can see the path. This area used to be a village or town."

Kaidan looks at the display, agreeing it could be foundations, "I'm not a scientist, Liara." Sounding a bit skeptical. She advances the pad's display to show the tablet.

Campbell interjects, her voice excited, "The stone tablet proves there were people here and the language isn't in Liara's databases, so it could be a completely unknown alien race." Her excitement nearly vibrating her out of the chair. "Plus, the dating on the foundation stones suggest they were cut over twelve-thousand years ago, Sir."

Liara cuts back in, "I'd like to form a survey team with myself and Campbell. Javik has already agreed to come along too. There is a ridge nearby that may have caves. If so, it's natural shelter and we may find more samples of these aliens."

From the other end of the table, Joker lets the news slip about their location to Earth. "We're a 5-day FTL trip from home?!" The excitement of Vega's voice silences the entire room, letting the news sink in. Seconds tick past then the room erupts with joy and it remains the only topic of discussion for the remainder of breakfast.

-III- Med-Bay:

Kaidan is laying on the exam bed as sensors sweep over his body, watching as Chakwas gets a needle ready to pull another blood sample. He hates needles, resigned yet joking, "You know Doctor, every time I see you lately you want my blood. I'd almost swear you've turned into a vampire."

Rolling with the joke, "It's half the fun, Major" Returning to his bedside with the supplies, "Shepard didn't like needles either." She swabs his arm and prepares to retrieve her sample.

Kaidan smiles back, simply saying, "Sadist." As the needle penetrates his skin. The scanner completes its sweep and beeps at the doctor. Taping a bandage over his needle mark, she turns to examine the display above his bed, "How's your headache today?"

Kaidan lies, "It's not so bad." The headache was ever present and worse than his usual "normal" but, he felt it wasn't enough to really worry about.

She can tell from the scan that he's lying, but lets it go, "I want the swelling and infection gone before reactivating your implants and I want you to remain on the ship as well." Indicating Kaidan can sit up, she points to the display, "The swelling is staying down but not gone completely." Checking the initial results on the blood sample, she scowls and scolds him, "You're still not eating enough, Major." Betraying him, his stomach rumbles, highlighting her statement. Stepping over to her her mini-fridge, she retrieves a bottle of juice and a nutrition bar. Returning to his side and handing them both to Kaidan, "Doctor's orders or I'll confine you to the med-bay." Her tone making clear she's not in the mood to argue.

With an audible exhale, Kaidan beings to eat the bar, while trying not to think about the awful aftertaste. The med-bay door slides open admitting Samantha & Tali to enter. The two pause as Tali looks between doctor and patient, then asks, "May we speak with him, Doctor?"

Chakwas looks at Tali then notes the serious look on Samantha's face. Deciding there was no harm in letting the Major do his work while he ate, "Just make sure he finishes his snack, Tali." Her voice firm yet motherly.

Kaidan was going to override the doctor, but was unnecessary. Simply asking, "Hey, what's going on?"

Tali jumps directly to the point, "We'd like Liara to help us with the QEC today." Sam simply smiles and nods agreement.

Concerned, "I thought your repairs were going well?" Hoping there won't be bad news to ruin the day's morale.

Sam reassures Kaidan, "Nothing is wrong per se, we have the timing circuits repaired and are ready to install and test them." Smiling at Tali, "We already recruited Garrus for the day, but would like Liara's help with some of the final adjustments. She's got experience with comm-systems that we could use."

"Sounds good to me." Kaidan activates his Omnitool, his voice contrite, "Liara, I know you're excited about your scouting trip, but, Tali and Sam need you to help with the QEC today."

Over the comm comes Liara's voice, "But we're nearly ready to go." Sounding a bit agitated, "Do they really need me today?" Kaidan raises his gaze, letting the question hang in the air for a moment. He knows they wouldn't have asked for her help if it wasn't necessary. Just as he was going to respond, Liara continues with her emotions under control, "I'll meet them in the QEC room in twenty."

-IV- Comm-Room

To the casual observer, the room would look in complete disarray, panels and other miscellaneous equipment stacked everywhere, even some in the holo tank. There was however, a method to the madness. The heart of the QEC was not the holo-tank and they needed the space to work, so it became a natural temporary storage space. Garrus is leaning over the panel with the newly repaired timing array making some final adjustments, "There, that should it, Tali. Ready to power it up." Turning to look at Sam and Tali over by the diagnostic equipment.

Tali makes a few adjustments to the equipment, "Power is stable but the signal is drifting again, Garrus." Sounding frustrated, "We've been at this for hours, it must be the timing array, the repairs to the circuit just isn't going to cut it."

Looking over at Samatha they both agree. With a sigh, Sam says, "The repair bench isn't precise enough. We'll just have to build a new one from scratch, but we need new timers for the new array."

Tali strokes her chin in thought, "Maybe Garrus and I can fine tune the nano-assembler in the bench to be accurate, but we still need new timer circuits"

Liara has been monitoring the feed from the Quantum State Sensor, "I have some Femtosecond timer circuits in my comm equipment, do you think they would work?" Tali agrees with a nod as she turns to assist Garrus in removing the timing array from the equipment.

Liara turns off the equipment she was using, "Sam, will you come help me?" Both women smile at each other as they walk out the door. Sam asking a question about asari culture as their voices fading as they leave the room.

"I think Liara found a new admirer." In a classic case of Garrus's dry humor. Tali giggles in response.

-V- 2200 Hours

Steve enters the shuttle bay, on the port side of the room, James is doing sets of dumbbell rows. Watching his muscled arm flexing made him thankful Vega removed his shirt to exercise tonight. Remembering the previous few months of watching James working out, while he puttered with the shuttle or in the armory, a grin spreading across his face as he approaches the workout area.

James watches Steve approaching as he completes his last rep, "Esteban, your slobber is making a puddle." teasing and tossing his towel toward the other man, "Here, I wouldn't want you to slip and hurt yourself."

Knowing that James loves the attention, "I know you like it, Mr. Vega" Catching the towel with ease, "I see you've kept yourself busy while I was working with Liara." Setting the towel aside as they embrace. "How did your scouting mission go today?"

Releasing the embrace to sit on the edge of the weight bench, "Good, we got two of the 'chickens' today. Now if we could find some chili-plants I could make some chili-verde." Imploring Steve to help with his eyes as he massages his own sore neck, "I can just imagine Javik trying to eat it." Both share a laugh.

Yielding to the unspoken request, Steve gets on the bench behind James. Massaging his shoulders with his hands, "Weren't you restricted from cooking after your last, let's call it a culinary incident?"

"Hey now, that was my Abuela's special recipe." Mocking hurt feelings. "The backup in the septic system was completely circumstantial." Losing his composure as they both burst out laughing. "Anyhow, while I was off gathering our dinner, what did you do today?"

Steve pokes James in the ribs for that remark, "I rebuilt several thermal clips to keep our supplies stocked." Kneading James's shoulders with his hands, "Then I worked on design ideas for a flying mount for Liara's probe. I've been messing with an idea for using mini-MassEffect engines to make a RC Flying kit. I have some of the engines on my Hammerhead model that may-"

James scoffs incredulous, "You're talking about making models when we're only a 5-day FLT trip from home? Fuel up the Kodiak and let's get out of here!"

Steve can understand the frustration, "First, we need to dig out the bay and the shuttle needs to be repaired." Calmly responding, "Plus, the Kodiak's endurance isn't that far. I have a few ideas to extend its range, but I need to talk to Adams about it. Even at best, only a few people could make the trip." The two fall into silence as he continues to massage Vega's back. While working on his neck he notices a scar on the left side, "Where did you get this scar?" lightly touching the scar with his finger.

James considers for a moment, "Oh that, uh, a piece of shrapnel grazed me during the battle with the Collectors on Fehl Prime."

Steve leans in and gently kisses the scar. James shivers, enjoying the touch, as massage continues. Finding another scar on his left shoulder, "What about this one?" Not waiting for an answer, he leans in to kiss that scar too and slips his hands around James in an embrace. Inhaling the smell of the man he loves, sliding closer while slipping a hand down under James's waistband. "Hmm, you seem to have a some... tension here, Mr Vega." Steve's voice deep and sultry.

James stands up lifting Steve into a fireman's carry, "Enough talk, Esteban." A promiscuous twinkle in his eyes as he carries him toward the other side of the room, "Time to test the endurance of the shuttle."

-VI- Earth: SSV Argentina

The foggy haze is omnipresent, obscuring everything in white clouds while a high-pitched noise rings in his ears. His entire body feeling stiff and sore, as a breeze picks up making him shiver in the cool empty vastness. The breeze begins to lift the haze, in the distance shadowy shapes take form with indistinct voices mumbling.

On stiff legs he approaches the shadowy shapes and begins to make sense of some of the words, ". . . No contact. . . Normandy. . ." It's Hackett. Willing his legs to move faster, he tries to reach the shadows, yet they stay out of reach.

A new voice joins from the mist, ". . . Lost. . . Kaidan. . ." Mother? What about Kaidan? ". . . His eulogy was touching. . ." His what?! The question hanging in the air as an explosion from behind knocks him to his knees.

In an instant, he's in London having just dodged an exploding transport. Hammer squad is in an all out assault to reach the conduit. He's on his knees, in the shadow of a destroyed Mako. Kaidan and Garrus at his side are both wounded, a pained look on his lovers face, while Joker is on the static filled comm as the Normandy lands and the ramp begins to open. Helping Kaidan to his feet they run the dozen meters to the foot of the ramp. "Shepard, don't leave me behind." His face peppered with bloody shrapnel wounds in obvious pain, yet determined to stay.

Evacuating Kaidan is one of the hardest decisions he's had to make. Placing his left hand on his loves cheek, "No matter what happens. Know that I love you, always."

The pained look on Kaidan's face is breaking his heart, "I love you too." A tear escapes to run down his cheek, "Be careful." Normandy's engines throttle-up for take off as the ramp starts to close. Sprinting clear as the ship lifts off just as Harbinger's terrible flat horn blairs.

Time stretches, each second lasting an age, turning to look at the Reaper as the giant alien turns tracking the frigates path as its twin energy beams knife through the sky and strike the fleeing ship. Harbinger taunts him, "This hurts you, Shepard." As the Normandy's barriers fail from the assault and the beams rip through the hull, breaking the ship into two. Harbinger's horn sounds again in triumph as the wreckage falls back to Earth. His heart dying within his chest as the final piece of the Normandy crashes down. Falling to his knees as he beams arc toward him, inching closer but Shepard no longer cares as everything turns white.

Admiral Hackett and Hannah Shepard have been talking for several minutes. Telling her of Kaidan's Missing-In-Action status of the Normandy and its crew as well as the memorial service for Admiral Anderson earlier that morning. They are taken by surprise as the alarms on the medical equipment sound like a ships klaxon. Medical staff storm into the room like a well trained commando team pushing the two out of the way as the doctor enters barking orders, "Charge the defib', get those connections off him!" A SBA gently pushing them out the door leaving the two admirals in the hall. Admiral Hackett places a consoling hand on Hannah's shoulder as they watch the staff trying to save Alan's life.

Shepard awakens is in a dark tunnel, noises and faint voices echo off the hard walls all around him. Some kind of alarm is beeping and the voices fade in with something about heart rhythm. Trying to struggle to his knees as a sudden waves of pain wash over him, knocking him flat.

Slowly the pain fades and his senses return, he tentatively sits up, his back to the wall for support. Taking a moment to rest and catch his breath he checks his environment. The tunnel extends in two directions, far in the distance is a faint white light, in the other direction is a cool blackness. The blackness seems to be calling him almost pulling him into the darkness.

The voices get louder and echoing off the walls he hears Mordin, "Had to be me. Someone else may have gotten it wrong." From the darkness, he also hears Anderson, "I'm proud of you son." Gathering his strength, as every movement hurts, he carefully stands. Turning toward the light, Ashley voice echoing, "It's OK commander." Each step hurts, it feels like walking through molasses as he fights the pull of the blackness struggling toward the light.