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What Doesn't Kill You

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Time Since Crucible Activation: Four days.
Ninety-eight hours after the Reapers were struck dead in their tracks by the Crucible’s docking, a varren deployed as search and rescue at what had been dubbed Ground Zero - the few miles of destroyed city stretching in all directions from the Reaper ground to the Citadel teleportation beam - alerted his handlers to a body among the rubble. In the days since the Reaper War officially ended, almost every body discovered near Ground Zero had been well beyond saving, and many of the rescue team members were beginning to lose hope. Only the varren were as optimistic as ever.

With the help of a couple asari biotics, massive chunks of concrete and rebar were rapidly shifted out of the way and dropped aside. None of the team was prepared for their discovery - not only was the person they had immediately assumed to be dead still breathing, but the visible cybernetic scarring and N7 insignia on the chest of her shredded armor clearly marked her as Commander Shepard. Within less than three hours she had been transported off planet and onto the Citadel, moved into her own room at Huerta Memorial, and attended by every doctor who could spare the time.

Nine days.
It took five days for the Normandy crew to hear the news among the chaos of recovery efforts. Everything was dropped as they rushed to join their Commander on the Citadel, only to be told they weren’t yet allowed to actually enter the room, merely receiving an update from one of her various doctors. Her right arm and left leg had been severely mangled by falling rubble, and the attempts at healing her body by her cybernetics had only made it worse, forcing them to amputate both limbs. In addition, she had multiple gunshot wounds to the abdomen, a collapsed lung, three broken ribs, and large sections of skin had been reduced to bloody flesh. While her cybernetic enhancements were speeding her healing beyond normal human levels, she still wouldn’t be considered stable for a while yet.

In a lower tone, the doctors told the crew of the Normandy that she had been delirious from trauma and blood loss in her brief period awake - desperately insisting that they needed to search the Presidium for the bodies of The Illusive Man and David Anderson. They had put her in a medically induced coma partially to allow her body to repair itself and partially to prevent rumors spreading that the Commander had been so severely affected by the events in London. She didn’t need that kind of thing going around when she wasn’t even lucid yet.

Three weeks.
It took seventeen days for Shepard to stabilize enough to be allowed to wake up again. Her healing rates, the doctors said, were astonishing. Beyond their initial efforts, they barely had to do anything beyond periodically apply medigel and allow the cybernetics woven through much of her body to do their work. By the time they took her out of her coma, most of her stripped away skin had regenerated, her gunshot wounds had begun to scar over, her lung had recovered, and her ribs were almost completely healed.

Her mental state, they confided in the two turians anxiously waiting in the hall to go in, was not doing as well. The first thing she had asked upon waking was if they had found Anderson’s body in the Citadel Tower yet. When they told her that none of the ground forces had ever entered the Citadel, she simply, yet adamantly insisted that they had and repeated her demand to find Anderson. They were too wary of setting her off again and worsening her condition to continue arguing about it. Exchanging wary looks, Shepard’s turian partners entered the hospital room where they would spend the rest of their foreseeable future.

Five weeks.
It wasn’t until Joker was allowed to visit, sitting in a chair beside her bed and excitedly describing how the Crucible’s final attack on the Reapers had looked from orbit, that Shepard began to suspect something wasn’t right. By her memory, she told him, there was at least half an hour between the Crucible docking and finally firing to take out the primary Reaper forces. He looked nervous when he responded that it had been more like thirty seconds than thirty minutes.

She managed to keep from crying until he had left to rejoin the rest of the crew.

Two months.
The day finally came that Shepard was no longer considered an intensive care patient and the rest of the crew was allowed to visit. Everyone made a pass through her room to check on her and say hello - even Wrex showed up for a few minutes before he was rushed off again, dealing with “political bullshit,” as he claimed. She would, the doctors told her, need to stay in the hospital for a couple more months to ensure she was recovering well and get her limb prosthetics worked out. On the upside, the hospital had begun to clear out finally - very few of the survivors moved to Huerta had been as severely injured as she was, and didn’t need to stay as long. It was slowly going back to a more normal amount of patients, and that at least meant it wasn’t nearly as loud outside of her room.

Nihlus and Garrus were present at almost all times - if the hospital staff would let them in, they were probably there, unless they had some sort of business to attend to. She gradually worked up the courage to tell them about what she recalled of the last minutes of the war. Their expressions clearly said that they didn’t believe her. Nihlus hesitantly suggested that maybe it was something like what Saren had experienced, and she cried in front of them for probably only the second or third time since they had met.

Three months.
Shepard talked to a therapist. She talked to three therapists, actually - she was pretty sure she scared the first two off. The third, an Asari named Xa’melea, was the only one willing to stick around. She was very patient as she explained how the end of the war had really gone, and carefully went over how prolonged exposure to the Reapers could affect someone’s mind. Part of Shepard didn’t want to listen - she knew how likely it was that everyone was right, that she had been somehow indoctrinated, but she didn’t want to hear about it. The thought terrified her. The realization that she had no idea what had happened to Anderson terrified her even more.

They found him a week later. He was among the rubble near Ground Zero, not all that far from where Shepard had been. She cried for a long time in the privacy of her hospital room. She had known he was dead - of course she did. Even if what she had experienced didn’t really happen, it had been far too long for them to find him alive. That didn’t make it hurt any less to have proof. Kahlee visited a couple of days later, letting her know that the funeral would be delayed until Shepard would be able to attend. She was grateful, if hurt that she couldn’t make the arrangements herself.

Four months.
The doctors fit Shepard with prosthetics. She adapted quickly, and within days was walking from one end of the hospital to the other. Every time she left her room, at least one person stopped her to thank her for what she did. Every time, she smiled and nodded, but it didn’t make her feel good. They shouldn’t be thanking her - she didn’t do anything that someone else wouldn’t have done under the right circumstances. She didn’t feel like a hero, even if everyone who encountered her in the hospital and all of the reporters on the news said she is. Nihlus mentioned that the Council wanted to give her some kind of award. She didn’t really want it. No amount of thank yous and awards to pin on her uniform would make up for what was lost.

The doctors let her leave the hospital for a day to attend Anderson’s funeral. It was a very big affair - there were more people than she was capable of counting in attendance, including Hackett and the entirety of the Council. She was surprised they were able to take the time off from rebuilding and organization efforts to come. Sometimes she forgot how important Anderson was to other people, not just her. Kahlee asked if she wanted to say anything, but she couldn’t bring herself to get up and speak in past tense about a man who may as well have been her father to hundreds of people - many of them strangers - and declined with a slight shake of the head. Garrus and Nihlus, sitting on either side of her, held her hands a little tighter. She spotted Joker quickly wiping away tears. She managed not to cry in public.

Six months.
Shepard was officially released from the hospital shortly after the funeral, with strict instructions on regular physical therapy exercises and to come in for checkups every few weeks. Shepard returned to the apartment in Silversun Strip, where Nihlus and Garrus had been living since their return to the Citadel. She smiled for the first time in a while when she discovered the two of them had the decorative fountain wall removed and replaced by a large fish tank. Her model ships were set up in the back lounge room, and Squeaky Toy the space hamster’s cage was on the desk. The photo from Thane’s memorial now lived permanently on the living room bookshelf. For the first few days its presence made her sad, but it eventually grew into a comfort. It was nice to feel like he was still with them, in a way.

Freed from the confines of the hospital, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with her time. Garrus and Nihlus were still frequently busy - Nihlus had Spectre duties, as he always had, and she learned Garrus had found himself coordinating teams to flush out some of the Reaper ground forces remaining on Earth. Most of his work was done from afar, but he periodically had to be flown down to the surface of the planet which still seemed uncomfortably close to the Citadel. Shepard often wondered when the resources and time would be found to move the station back to its original location. Nonetheless, she found herself with a lot of free time on her hands and no idea what to do with it. It wasn’t like she could go back to work - she didn’t even have work to go back to if she had been physically capable. The only relief from what quickly became weeks of boredom were the periodic visits of the rest of her friends and crew.

One year.
The Council held a memorial. Most of the Presidium was taped off from regular foot traffic by C-Sec to make room for the thousands of people in attendance, including numerous reporters with mobile cameras streaming live to those who couldn’t go. Many of the people there in person had been major players in the war itself - Shepard spotted Hackett, looking as moody as he always did, and Primarch Victus made an appearance. She exchanged brief words with Samara, Jack, Kaidan, Miranda, and even Javik showed up long enough to say hello. Joker had been dropping hints about a special project the Council had ordered for three months, and when Shepard stepped out of the elevator with her partners and spotted what was clearly a massive statue covered by sheets now present in one of the Presidium’s many pools of water, she felt her stomach drop. Surely they wouldn’t go to such ridiculous lengths when she had spent three months before that warding off the many, many honors they wanted to give her.

A relieved breath escaped her when, after Tevos, Valern, Sparatus and Dominic gave one of their typically dramatic speeches, the sheet was whisked away to reveal a carefully detailed statue of a ship. The “Normandy SR-2” delicately carved into the side brought a rare smile to her face, and she heard Joker laugh where he stood with EDI behind her. A small plaque sat at the railing looking toward the statue, and Dominic stepped forward to read it aloud. “In commemoration of Captain David Anderson, Commander Ryan Shepard, the rest of the crew of the Normandy, and the thousands of citizens of all species who gave their lives in the pursuit of saving the galaxy from the threat of the Reapers.” While the insistence on including her name was less than thrilling to Shepard, she was pleased that they had, at least, put Anderson first. It was where he deserved to be - though she suspected he would hate the whole thing just as much as she did. Garrus gave her a curious look as she laughed softly, and she leaned up on her toes to whisper her thoughts to him. His mandibles twitched into a grin, and he settled one arm over her shoulders as they stood through the rest of the ceremony.

One year and two months.
She was given an award. It was the seventh award she had received since the memorial service in November. On behalf of the Council, of the turians, of the asari, of the quarians and geth, of the volus, of the humans, and now on behalf of the elcor. It was getting exhausting. Closing her eyes and taking a steadying breath, Shepard rose from her chair to hobble forward, still slightly unsteady on her new leg. Her prosthetic had been replaced with a substantially more expensive and smoother-functioning one a few weeks ago, the cost wiped away completely by the Council. Some days she felt like between them and the Alliance, they wouldn’t let her pay for anything anymore - it was often a relief just to spend twenty credits on her own burger from the Fishdog Food Factory down the Strip from their apartment. The elcor in front of her droned on and on as he slowly, very slowly, lifted one massive hand to pin yet another medal to the front of her uniform.

At this point, she was beginning to suspect the only species she wasn’t going to receive an award from were the batarians. Trying not to grimace and to keep the wide, fake smile on her face, she turned out toward the crowd for a few seconds to allow a number of pictures to be taken, the flashes from reporters’ cameras nearly blinding her. She limped back to her chair, sitting down heavily beside Nihlus, and he lifted a hand to gently pat her back as the elcor ambassador turned to face the crowd of media and onlookers once more. On the upside, there were only so many species left. Eventually the awards would stop coming, surely. She hoped, anyway, since she wasn’t sure there was enough room left in the apartment to stash them where she would never have to see them again.

One year and five months.
Time seemed to be speeding up a little. Recovery and rescue efforts on the surface were long since over, nearly all of the remaining husks had been killed, rebuilding was progressing rapidly. The galaxy was, one step at a time, healing. Her friends were, too. Wrex had e-mailed her a few weeks ago to let her know that his third batch of kids were born - two little krogan boys and a girl this time. He and Eve had followed through on their promise, and their first boy born while Shepard was still in the hospital was Urdnot Mordin. She promised she would come meet them someday, and Eve gently reminded her there was no rush. Krogan had plenty of children, after all, especially in the wake of the celebrations over the genophage’s cure.

Liara and Javik, she discovered, were preparing to publish their second book, and Liara had excitedly dropped by a month ago to gush over her budding relationship with Feron. Tali had been hard at work on Rannoch, slowly mending the bond between geth and quarian as they rebuilt their world together and the geth began aiding in adapting the quarians’ immune systems back to the planet environment. A monument to Legion had been built in the center of the capital city, Catyn il quirn. A number of her friends, like her, had spent much of the last year and a half doing very little - Kaidan hadn’t gone beyond the Citadel and Earth yet, to her knowledge, though she heard rumors he had been spending quite a bit of time with Vega. Joker and EDI, as well, had spent most of their time on the Citadel beyond occasional trips in the Normandy. It was both relieving and terrifying to realize they were all beginning to settle down, and Shepard was finally feeling a little more like things could someday return to normal.