Extraction

"Now I feel I have an unspoken deal with the Paparazzi:
'I won't do anything publicly interesting if you agree not to follow me.'"
-Matt Damon

"Shit."

It was a rather apt word for the summation of the situation. Short, sharp, snappy, to the point, and just crude enough to perfectly express the speaker's opinions on the matter that said word was being used to curse about. No-one could ever accuse John Shepard of being, inefficient, with his words, and it was situations such as this that back that very opinion up, said situation being rather, well… shit.

"Quite." Was Garrus' equally succinct reply to Shepard's summation. "And as such, the Team are arranging extraction for you as we speak." Shepard nodded gravely, but Tali looked at him quizzically.

"An extraction in the middle of the night? Isn't that a little extreme? I mean, sure the reporters will surround the hospital, but he wasn't planning on leaving any time soon was he?"

"Tali, you remember Conrad Verner?" Garrus replied simply.

"Yes…?"

"Now that he's defeated the Reapers" Garrus nodded to Shepard, who simply adopted a grim look, knowing where Garrus was going with this "There will be tens of thousands of Conrad Verners out there, who will pay any price for any bit of news about there about their Hero." Shepard actually shuddered, while Tali's eyes widened in sheer horror at the thought. The horror… The horror.

Garrus observed Tali, who had seemingly frozen up. "… and that's not counting the women." He added, observing her reaction.

That snapped Tali out of her frozen state. "Right!" she exclaimed, suddenly a bundle of energy. "Garrus! Get Chakwas here with a wheelchair so we can move him, tell Grunt and Wrex to clear the corridors leading to the roof, and tell someone to think of a diversion! NOW!"

"And get Miranda in here as well." Shepard added.

Garrus looked at Shepard with a mirthful expression, then snapped to attention and saluted "Ma'am, Yes Ma'am!" Tali simply scowled at him, and shooed him out of the room.

"Tali-" Shepard said quietly, once Garrus had left. Her head snapped round to look at him, and actually flinched at the blazing anger of the irate engineer taskmaster in her eyes. He never wanted her eyes to look at him like that, with scorn and derision and perceived inadequacies, again. Her eyes softened at his flinch, remorse clouding them instead. She was sitting on his bedside in a moment.

"Sorry, just got a bit worked up." She said.

He stroked the side of her helmet "Its fine. Tali, you do know that I-"

She interrupted him "I have concrete faith in your faithfulness, my love." She reassured "But just because I know you will not betray me, does not mean that I like the idea of women fawning and throwing themselves at you." She then smirked "I imagine it is the same for you, no?"

"Sorry?"

"You have a complete guarantee of my faithfulness, because of my Mating to you, but would you like the idea of another man hitting on me?"

She laughed at the visible scowl that crossed his face at the thought, and he ended up smiling amusedly at her. "Point taken."

They simply enjoyed each other's company for a moment or two, and then Tali tentatively asked "Khe'sahya…?"

"Yes, my love?"

"I…I don't ever want to see fear in your eyes, when looking at me. Fear of me, I never want to see that again." He started to apologise "Don't apologise, you did nothing wrong, it's just… the thought of you being repulsed by me… hurts."

He pulled her down on the bed and held her. She immediately cuddled into him, and he could feel her relaxing. "As do I, love. It would kill me to see you look at me with repulsion, disgust, hate, fear…"

She turned and looked him. No words were necessary between the two, they simply drew comfort from each other. The door opened, and in strode Dr Chakwas and Miranda, Chakwas wheeling a wheelchair.

"Right." Dr Chakwas said to both of them. "Let's get him into this chair, Tali, help me lift him up." As Tali and Dr Chakwas lifted the rather heavy man into the chair, Miranda started conversing.

"You called, Shepard?" she asked.

"Yes" he replied, all-buisness in his tone "What's your nearest safe-house, and how do we get to it?" Miranda looked at him quizzically, to which he simply raised an eyebrow "You're not the only trained operative in this room, Miranda. Sticking to the rules is admirable, Miri, but I'd like to think you can trust me and the Crew." She nodded acquiescently, a small smile on her face.

She sighed "A fair point. I have one on the other side of London that I had almost forgotten, I hope it hasn't been hit too badly. I'll find Cortez and send him the Nav point." She smirked "I imagine Joker would want to do the diversion, as it is." They both chuckled.

Tali looked at them both oddly, before shaking her head and leading the group out of the room. All eyes in the waiting room turned to them, as the Crew's beloved Commander was wheeled out.

"Hey guys." He greeted everyone "What's the plan?"

"Funny you should mention that, Commander." Joker sounded off from his left, an enormous shit-eating grin on his face "Your magnificent and dashingly handsome pilot, in his eternal genius" a few pointed coughs from Garrus, Kasumi and a few others came from behind him "with a little help from a few people, has come up with a cunning and daring plan of such brilliance, as to leave all involved awe-stuck in its presence."

"Oh?" he replied, an amused smile on his face at his antics, with EDI in the corner mirroring his expression.

"Yes. I have concocted…wait for it." He paused dramatically "a diversion!" Everyone in the room mock-gasped, further widening his grin "And while my spectacular show-I mean diversion is going on, Cortez here will get you, Tali and Chakwas out of here in a non-descript sky-car, to a location that is yet to be decided."

"I've got that covered" chimed in Miranda, and went off into the corner with Cortez to discuss the location.

"What about the rest of the crew?" Shepard asked.

Joker calmed down a bit to show his seriousness. "I plan on making sure all the reporters are following before I leave, so if it works, the rest should be able to walk out of here relatively unscathed. You however, the first bloke who sees you on the street and tells the whole extranet about it, reporters will swarm in seconds. Don't worry Commander, I've thought about this thoroughly."

"Thanks, Joker." He said quietly, humbled by the effort he was making to help him "Right, Cortez, you got the RV Nav point?" Cortez nodded "Joker, you ready?" Joker nodded with a feral grin. "Tali, good to go?" Tali and Chakwas nodded "Let's do this?"

Every journalism establishment worth its salt currently had at least one member outside the fairly non-descript hospital. The press were being kept out by a line of Alliance guards, who were looking rather haggard at this point, the crowd were determined to get the scoop of the cycle. At first, they did not notice the Alliance Kodiak taking off from the roof of the 10-storey building.

Rather suddenly, at least to the crowd down below, the air was filled with the sound of classical European violins. It was loud enough to drown out the crowd, and the subsequent uproar. It filled the hearing of all, preventing conversation and complex thought, and to the crowd it appeared to come from the sky itself. Fellow reporters looked at each other in confusion, humans and alien earth music enthusiasts wondering why that specific piece of Classical music was playing, and all the non-humans looking at each other wondering the significance of the music. Then, from a source high above the crowd, floodlights blazed into life. And thus, to the confused, slightly disoriented crowd, it appeared to them then, that an angel, a Valkyrie, descended upon them. The previously unnoticed Kodiak was shining its spotlight down on the crowd, dazzling them, and drifting downwards in a lazy spiral around the hospital.

With Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie's blaring out of its attached speakers.

Joker was bouncing up and down in the pilot seat like the kid who got the key to the sweet shop, the cat that got the cream and ate the canary, and the boy for whom Christmas came early all rolled up into one.

"I prefer the European recordings!" he called out over the din to the other occupants of the shuttle, the purest expression of manic glee on his face "The brass sections in American orchestras are too bombastic!"

Garrus simply rolled his eyes, while Grunt just shouted "Hurry up so I can shoot these things!"

When the Kodiak reached about halfway down the hospital in its spiral, the door opened, and flares started firing out of the cabin. None of the reporters, half-blinded and with their ears clogged up with classical opera, noticed the booming guffaws coming from the Kodiak, as Grunt had a whale of a time firing two grenade launchers at once, loaded with tactical flares, and Garrus quietly chuckled alongside him, holding his own flare launcher. Also, the reporters didn't notice the non-descript black skycar take off from the roof and head off, as the flares had been timed to ignite directly below the skycar, dazzling anyone who looked up.

Joker nodded into his earpiece, and banged his hand onto the wall of the Kodiak "Alright, boys, lets wrap this up."

After the incident, the reporters would stand there in a daze for several hours, wondering just what the hell happened.

Shepard and Tali were still chuckling twenty minutes later when they finally arrived at the reasonably well hidden penthouse on the very edge of London. Joker's antics had been hilarious to them, and they got to see it all as Tali brought up a couple of feed on her omni-tool. Shepard made a mental note to buy the man a beer for the sheer genius in that plan. Dr Chakwas and Tali, had wheeled him into the rather large living room, and Miranda promptly directed them to the main bedroom, and had lain him down on the bed there. The safehouse itself was a rather nice abode, Miranda's words on the subject had been 'If you're going to lay low somewhere, might as well do it in comfort and style'. Over the next half hour, the other Crewmembers arrived in twos and threes, with Garrus, Grunt and Joker arriving last, having had a lot of fun shaking the reporters off their tail. Miranda pulled out a couple of bedrolls from a cupboard, but a lot of people had to sleep on the floor, as beds and bedrolls were in short supply in a safehouse meant for one or two. There was a bit of grumbling over who got the spare beds and who got the bedrolls, with Wrex and Grunt breaking out into a good natured brawl over one, which might appear like an uncle-nephew tussle to krogan, to the humans it looked like a proper fist-fight bit of brawling, and only stopped once Miranda came screaming in threatening to neuter both of them if they broke anything. Eventually, once everyone was comfortable and Dr Chakwas stopped fussing over Shepard like a worried Auntie, everyone went to sleep. Everyone, that is, except for the two people in the main bedroom, respectfully given privacy.

"Feels good to share a proper bed with you again, khe'sahya."Tali sighed happily while cuddling up to Shepard. A warm, cozy feeling of rightness coursed through her when the arms that held her squeezed back.

"I'll say, I'm very glad I can hold you again." He smirked at her, as he gave her bum a light squeeze. Tali shuddered in delight, and half-heartedly batted his hand away.

"Behave" her chastisement had no heat in it "You're still injured and I'm still sick, so as much as we'd both like to, no." her words conveyed her longing.

He chuckled quietly "Seriously, I love that I can hold you like this, and just lie here with you, with absolutely no worries at all."

She sighed in contentment, happy for the same reason. After a while of just being content in his presence she asked "Out of sheer curiosity, what did you mean when you told Miranda 'not the only Operative in the room'?" she asked benignly

"Ah, I was wondering if you noticed that. It's a bit of an explanation, but okay" He paused for a moment. "A common misconception about higher-tier N soldiers, that the Academy likes to cultivate for its usefulness, is that we are simply better trained, better equipped grunts. Sure, sixty percent of the time we end up doing battlefield work, or some kind of armed infiltration, but we are a lot more versatile than that. There aren't that many N7's, at least before the War, and we were a valuable strategic resource, why send a team of four who could serve better elsewhere, when you could get the job done with a team of six that's just perfect for it, but I digress. By the time someone reaches the N7 rank, they will have been trained for a variety of mission scenarios, including espionage."

"Espionage? So you've been trained as a spy?" she asked.

He snorted in amusement. "Yes, they often use N7 operatives as plain-clothes infiltrators where there is great risk to the operative. Harder to kill, see?" he grinned lopsidedly at her, making her stomach flip and heart race "It's all very classified, and while I kinda like you, I cannot confirm or deny that I may or may not have done a plain clothes infiltration of a black market arms smuggling ring, and with the gathered intel managed to almost entirely shut it down." She giggled at him.

"So, was that why my soldier boy was always good with his words?" she asked teasingly

He smiled warmly at her "Part of it. Incidentally, I was trained very thoroughly to read a person through their body language and facial expressions, which is why I have always been able to tell your facial expressions due to the slant of your eyes, and always knew what mood you were in."

"Huh, I suppose I already knew that, didn't know it was part of N training though." She remarked.

"Yeah, up to N2 is rigorous Advanced Combat Training, gotta maintain the badass reputation after all. After N2, you get a specialised training regime for each N grade, alongside the combat training and missions. You used to be able to do Advanced Combat up until N6, which incidentally was the quickest way to pass through ICT. They stopped that though."

"Why?"

He smiled mirthlessly "The staff at the Villa call it the 'Kai Leng Incident'"

"Oh."

"Exactly. He got to N7 in just over a year, was dishonourably discharged 3 months later for killing a Krogan with a service knife. The other courses take a lot longer, but it helps to build a more accurate psyche profile."

"And weed out the bad apples." She finished for him.

"Exactly. Anyway, so, I'm a trained Operative, and any deep-cover operative worth his salt keeps safe houses under aliases in key locations. Miranda is one of the best, so it figures that she would have one nearby."

"And the rules comment?" she asked astutely.

He smiled at her for her astuteness "Every Operative lives by a universally known and unspoken set of rules, and one of the most important rules regarding safehouses is: 'Let as few people know as possible about the safe house'. Operative or not, it's a universally accepted fact that the more people know a secret, the less secure it is. I simply reminded her that the Crew would not betray her."

Tali nodded in agreement "We've been through too much, and more importantly, you would disapprove."

He raised an eyebrow questioningly at this "'More importantly, I would disapprove'?"

"Of course" she said seriously "You are the centre-point, the anchor if you will, for our entire group. Everyone in the group looks to you for approval in some way or another, either as a mentor, trusted friend or familial figure. Don't let any of them tell you otherwise!" At his continued incredulity, she carried on "John, I've seen our friends behave when you walk into a room. Whatever was going on, you suddenly become the focal point for all interaction, the centre of attention. These people gravitate towards you, and do so gladly!"

He was stunned by her proclamation. Tali saw him struggle with his internal modesty at the statement. She that, intellectually he knew he was important to the rag tag group of misfits they both called 'family', but he had a hard time accepting that he was that important to them. After a while of mulling it over, he simply smiled at her.

"I love you." He enjoyed saying it as much as he enjoyed hearing it from her, and it was the same with her as well.

"I love you too." She somehow managed to snuggle even closer to him. Both of them sighed in appreciation.

"So, do you gravitate towards me?"

She raised an eyebrow "I'm lying in your bed next to you as your steady girlfriend and Mate, what do you think?"

"You did seem pretty objective about it."

She looked him in the eye, to show him the love and sincerity in her words "I gravitate towards you so much, that we are now one." She visor-kissed him.

"Thank you, Tali. I love you too, with all my heart."

They both soon fell asleep, the presence of the other doing wonders for comfort and feeling of cozyness.

Gentlemen and Gentleladies! That concludes Chapter Nineteen!

*The angry roman garrison, unprepared after such an absence, is surprised by my presence and only screams half-heartedly at me*

Oh, do quiet down! Anyway, my apologies! All I can say is that I just started a new college, so I was acclimatising to a radically new routine and workload. I do have this to say however.

UPDATES WILL NOT BE GUARANTEED TO BE REGULAR ANYMORE, AND WILL BE SPORADIC!

Fear not however! I consider it a point of pride to at least get this story to 100k words, and by then we'll have probably reached the point where the detail of my personal head-cannon is. I'll try to post news on my actual profile, but other than that, all I can say is that I warned you at the start of this fic!

Also, huge digression, but I've been meaning to point this out:

Joker and EDI's couple name is JEDI!

*Gasps are heard all across the hamlet as it is stunned into awed silence. One poor, unprepared fellow's head explodes as his mind is literally blown.*

I now proclaim that from this day forth, any couple moments involving them shall be referenced as JEDI MOMENTS!

As always, I bid you all, Good Day! *Doffs non-existent hat*

-The Gentleman Without a Hat