At some point she realized she was breathing.
Sensations came slowly after that. That muffled thudding...her heartbeat, footsteps, or guns in the distance? She tried to open her eyes, but the blackness was absolute. A finger twitched. Her lips - everything was numb - her lips parted and she tried to speak, but everything was muffled, she couldn't move, she couldn't move! She tried to yell and only managed to produce a choked whimper.
A sudden burst of noise and activity, a pinch on her arm, and everything spiraled back into oblivion.
There was a beeping. It was annoying. How long had it been going on?
She slowly pulled herself out of unconsciousness. It was a huge effort to open her eyes, almost an unbearable task to focus them. The stark white and bright light of the room made her headache -- because by god, she had a massive headache --- about ten times worse instantly. An involuntary moan escaped her, which then made her realize just how absolutely foul her mouth tasted. Where was her toothbrush? Oh, on the Normandy.
She shot up in a panic - or at least tried to. The intended motion actually ended up being a weak jerk of her upper body, hindered further by the fact that she was connected to various machines by tubes and lines. Machines. The Collectors. The Reapers! She was being indoctrinated! She began clawing at the attachments - or at least tried to. Her right hand raised weakly. Her left didn't respond at all.
Through it all the beeping and the yelling continued.
It was just as hard to focus her brain on the noise as it had been to focus her eyes. Suddenly, everything became sharp and clear and utterly, utterly painful. Her eyes instantly went back out of focus and the noise became incomprehensible again. A bright blur appeared to her right and a sudden pinch sent waves of coolness from her neck throughout her poor, abused body. Her headache instantly lessened and involuntary tears of relief formed in her eyes.
"Well, it took you long enough! Don't you know who that is! Her alarms started beeping three minutes ago!"
A soft, quick voice answered the loud, angry one.
"I know what they said! I ain't as stupid as I look! You were supposed to be here! They said coming out of the coma could be very traumatic and she would need medical attention and a nice, quiet environment to...oh." The loud, angry voice dropped down to a harsh whisper and continued arguing with the soft, quick one.
Another blur appeared to her left and she turned her head to face it. Darkness descended on her, but before she could panic, she realized it was a cool, damp cloth. It felt amazing. She could almost feel her pores opening and sucking in the moisture, while whatever-it-was gently scrubbed around her eyes to dislodge the crud that had built up around them.
"Shepard! Shepard! Hey!" The loud, angry voice was back, but quieter and less angry. The soft, quick voice tried to shush it.
That was her. She was Shepard.
Suddenly, her brain unfogged and things began to click into place. When the cloth was removed from her eyes, she recognized a doctor behind it, and the bright white room was obviously a medical facility aboard an Alliance vessel. She wasn't dead.
She wasn't dead. Was that right?
Her face must have reflected her confusion, for the human doctor that had just thrown away the washcloth pulled a chair up beside her bed. "Hello, Commander Shepard. I'm Dr. Summers. You were injured aboard the Citadel and have been in a medical coma for five days. Your injuries were very severe, so I do not recommend you try to move. A medical assistant will help you with everything you need."
"I'd help ya, roomie, but they've stuck me in this thing for a couple of days." Shepard looked to the right and a human face that looked more like rough blocks of meat than it usually did leapt into focus.
"Vega." Was that her voice? It sounded horrible.
A grin nearly split James Vega's face in two. "Ah, the great and powerful Commander Shepard returns from the dead after saving the galaxy, and the first word she utters is my name. I know someone who is going to be totally jealous."
The owner of the soft, quick voice stepped in between James and Shepard. "Ma'am, we put this man in here because the brass thought having a crewmate around would facilitate your recovery, but if he is going to disturb you, I can have him moved back down to general wards immediately." The young man in green scrubs glared at James. James smirked back.
Shepard tried to answer but only a croak escaped.
"Here, raise her up, get her some water," said the doctor. The next few minutes were spent settling back into life, by the end of which Shepard realized that every single bit of her body hurt, up to and including her eyelids.
"All right, Commander Shepard, I think you're going to live." The doctor stepped back and began gathering his examination tools, while the medical assistant opened up his omni-tool and began punching in data. "I really would like to spend more time with you, but you understand there's a great deal of injured here, some in even worse condition than you, if you can believe it."
"Very bad, Commander. A near-miss by a Reaper beam, and then point-blank next to an exploding console, and then the energy wave from the Crucible...I wouldn't go cheating death again if I were you, Commander. I don't think you'll escape a third time."
"Of course she can, Doc. Shepard can do anything."
"Well then, Mr. Vega, if she can do anything, then make sure she stays very, very still while she recovers. I also want you to sleep, Commander. We need your body to heal itself as much as possible naturally. Our medical supplies are short and we're trying to save as many as possible. Now I have to go. An honor, Commander." He turned and left the room while the medical assistant bustled into his place.
"Are you comfortable? Anything poking or pinching you?" At Shepard's negative head shake, he continued on. "I'm going to make some quick checks on the others in this hall, but I'll be back with something soothing for your throat as soon as possible. You were on life support for a couple of days, I know it must be sore. Mr. Vega can answer any pressing questions you might have while I'm gone, but please try to remember you need to rest. Back in a flash." He also disappeared out the door.
Shepard closed her eyes.
Shepard opened her eyes to see James's face hovering inches away from hers. "Gah!"
"Sorry, Commander, didn't mean to scare ya. You ok? You passed out for a couple of minutes there." James's face was filled with concern. "I can call the doctor back if you need him."
"Fine, I'm fine," Shepard gasped out.
That huge grin returned. "Great!" He lurched back and only now did Shepard realize he was on crutches. He made his way over to the chair, talking all the while. "You've been out for almost a week, so much has happened, but we're kicking their ass, Commander, the Crucible works great now that it's connected to the Citadel, it's going to take a little bit but we're going to win!"
"Wait," Shepard whispered. "Whose ass?"
"Whose ass are we kicking? What, did you hit your head or something? The Reapers, Commander! We're kicking the Reaper's asses!" He slammed his body down into the chair. "It's a beautiful thing, Commander. They pop the Crucible into a system, open it up, fire the pulse, and the Reapers just stop. Then all we have to do is clean up the husks on the ground. They just wander around until you attack them, then they can get a little nasty, but for the most part it's like target practice, Commander."
James leaned forward. "What? The Mess Effect relays? What about them?"
"They're not blown up?"
James's face was confused. "What? Why would they be? No."
"Well, it's a little messy, but it's still spinning. Had to send the Reaper corpses into the Sun, though. They kept threatening to fall into our gravity well."
"And the Normandy? It's not stranded?"
James gave her a long look. "Are you sure I don't need to call the doctor back?"
"No, no," It was becoming easier to talk, if not less painful. "On the Citadel, on the Crucible, Hackett...Hackett called, said it wasn't working, and..."
"And that's when the console blew up. I know."
"No, that's not what happened. I passed out, then there was this kid, and he gave me a choice, and then there was this light, and the relays blew up, and the Normandy crashed, and then there was this old man and it was snowing and another kid..."
"Shepard, Shepard!" James interrupted the stream of words. "Whoa, whoa, calm down! The Normandy is fine. Everyone's fine. Kind of bunged up, but fine. Even Anderson is going to make a full recovery."
"Anderson! No. He's dead. I saw him die."
"No, he was only mostly dead, and lucky for him, you blocked the worst of that console exploding. Don't look in any mirrors anytime soon, by the way. But you both got picked up not five minutes after that pulse went out. And now you're both on the medical frigate. I didn't even know we had a medical frigate. He's up on the next floor. Some woman named Sanders hasn't left his side since he came in."
"That can't be right..."
"Oh, like your version is? I think you hit your head multiple times, Commander. A kid and some weird light and the relays exploding? Normandy crashing? Does that make any kind of sense, Commander?"
"No..." Shepard smiled, slowly. "No, I guess it doesn't."
"Now, you rest, Commander," James struggled to his feet, trying not to drop his crutches. "I sent Joker a message while they were setting you up, and they're all on their way now. I'm getting this damn thing off my leg tomorrow, and now that you're awake, they're going to release you into Dr. Chakwas's care and use that bed for someone who's really hurt. And I heard a certain someone is planning on bunking down with you in med bay...just to make sure you don't need anything, of course." He threw one last look over his shoulder as he made his way towards his bed. "I'm serious, Commander. There's still plenty of galaxy that needs fixing, and it seems we're the ones to do it."
Shepard smiled as she closed her eyes. "Well, James, someone else might get it wrong..."