Chapter Thirty-Six : End

A/N: Well, final chapter. I hope you all enjoy it. Final AN at the end.

A glance back at the datapad made Tevos cringe and regret the rich meal she had shared with her close friends that noon. The humans had once again made proof of their ruthlessness by sending a video of the surviving operative's interogation back to the signal they had communicated with.

Of course, the STG had then forwarded it to Valern, who was currently muttering to himself in a corner of the room. The broadcast had been… gruesome to say the least and the screams of the operatives still echoed in her ears. But none of them had broken and they had died without revealing their secrets. A small mercy in an ever increasing series of fiascos. It was almost as if the humans knew where to find the operatives before they even arrived.

But what kind of madman would ever be a leak for Humanity, of all species?

"It can't be the quarians," she said.

"Yes. All quarians ejected from Citadel space and returned to Quarian worlds. None left, traces of tech removed if necessary."

"The humans have been known to experiment, they could very well have changed one of their own," muttered Sparatus, fiddling with the datapad in front of him.

Tevos glared at him jealously. He looked less troubled and more thoughtful after the frightful vid. No doubt he had met more than his share of death and horror in his times as a soldier. How she wished she was as lucky because drowning out those horrific images would take more than krogan alcohol.

"Did they make any official statement about it?" asked Tevos.

Sparatus slammed his fist into the glass table hard enough to crack it, making the asari maiden who had just arrived squeak in fright. A reassuring hand on her shoulder and pat on the rump sent her scurrying out of the room and Tevos pushed a drink towards Sparatus. He grabbed it and drank deeply, sighing and rubbing his eyes. "The usual drivel about a band of 'petty Council species pirates' getting easily stopped and killed. They know they're ours, dammit!"

"Of course they do," replied Tevos.

Valern tapped his chin methodically with a finger. "We need more data and to expand operations. We have to think of better methods."

"We are not at war," said Tevos with a groan. "How many times do I have to say it?"

Valern looked up at her with sharp eyes. "We are not in open war. But we are at war."

Hostile looks and muttered insults followed John through the spaceport and down the trip to New Horizon. Everywhere he looked, aliens glared at him or did their biological equivalent. They leaked hostility and anger but the heavy presence of soldiers and guards on this new colony kept them in check, for now.

Even through the streets of the newly built city with building-block houses and towers, the stares continued. John neither spoke nor looked their way, his eyes focused firmly in front of him, or on the lithe figure next to him.

All the way, Tali kept a firm grip on his arm. A fond smile flittered across his lips and he squeezed her forearm gently. Of course she had insisted on coming with him on his little trip and she hadn't once faltered despite the insults thrown their way. She was a quarian and a human sympathizer in the eyes of the colonists. For them, it could as well have been worse than just being human. Traitor a few people had whispered to her, but Tali held her head high and tightened her grip on his arm. Only a couple months under the tender mercies of Aria T'loak had changed her so much from the unassuming young girl he had been forced to guard in what seemed like another lifetime.

They reached the end of the budding city, the muddy path petering out into open grasslands with alien trees sprouting from the ground in thick groves as far as the eye could see. Fields had started popping up around the bastion of civilization and far away, the other settlement's towers could just be spotted over the horizon.

"It's beautiful," breathed Tali.

"Looks almost like Earth, really," said John. It really did, or at least it looked like those idyllic pictures his dour-looking teachers had branded into their minds as children, a constant reminder of what the aliens had taken from them.

Beside him, Tali looked out onto the vista with wide eyes. "I understand why you would want to see this but," she paused and broke her grasp from his arm, her fingers meshing around her waist. "I know you don't like aliens very much, and certainly not off of Omega so… why?" she finished, glancing up at him nervously.

John sighed and wrapped an arm around her slim shoulders. She had put on a little weight since their fateful meeting and excursion onto the surface of his homeworld. Most of it muscle and most of it in training with some of Aria's favored guards. His hands clenched into tight fists at the thought of the Asari commandos. All they ever did was bring up memories he would much prefer stayed locked away. Regardless of his own opinion though, Aria had taken a liking to one of her new best engineers and insisted she learn a little protection herself. He smiled softly at the memory of his little Tali coming back from her first training session and nearly crawling into bed beside him, beaten and battered.

"It reminds me of the Earth Jane loved."

A small, sharp intake of breath beside him.

He never spoke of Jane, but a time came when you had to pack your old hurts up and put them to rest, he'd waited long enough, wasted enough time in hatred and anger. So he continued. "She had a bunch of albums with pictures, not just propaganda, the real stuff. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Atomium - a giant statue of an atom - and dozens of other old monuments or just nature pictures." John paused and let his hand drop from her shoulder.

A few steps later he crossed over a small knoll next to the city and Tali followed. If he looked around from here he could almost forget that a city lay right beside them and imagine that he stood on Earth, in the middle of nowhere. "Let's walk."

He took Tali's hand and led her down a barely trodden dirt path that meandered off into a thatch of forest. Neither of them spoke and spent the time absorbing the raw, untainted beauty around them.

"This is far enough," said John when they finally entered a small clearing among the trees.

The sun shone above them and hit the happy creek gurgling through a cleft between two rocks and bouncing its way through roots. A large boulder rested against a particularly aged looking tree and John walked over to it. He pulled out a small locket from his pocket. A birthday present he'd given to Jane years ago. It was cheap and hardly durable but she had nonetheless kept it with her wherever she went, except for combat. 'This way, I'll have to come back just to put it back on', she'd joked more times than he could count before disappearing into the shadowy halls of Bunker.

With gentle fingers, John put it to rest on top of the boulder and stood back. A few birds of some sort twittered above him and flew high into the air, their squabble fading into the crisp clear wind.

"Tali?" he asked, stretching a hand out to her. She still stood at the far edge of the clearing, her hands clasped behind her back and her eyes downcast.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"She'd have loved you," replied John with a smile.

Jane probably would have liked Tali, once she got past the whole alien aspect of her. She would have loved her if only because Jane loved her little brother. Hell, if John had married a Krogan, Jane would still have found a way to be happy for him. As hard as she had been, to him and everyone else, she had been his sister, his only anchor for most of his life. And suddenly, John found himself wiping away a singular tear and motioning to Tali again. "I promise."

Finally, Tali relented and came over to his side, taking hold of his hand in her gentle grip. It was one thing her new training and life hadn't taken from her and one thing that John would always cherish. Beneath everything, Tali was a gentle soul, something John ached for more than he had known until he met her.

A light wind blew through the leaves above them, rustling them just like they would have on Earth, hundreds of years ago.




reality deviant: Answered below.

ShadowCub: It's not about making friends, it's about having allies. Allies are important.

knightoblivion: Pretty much.

ayleid: That's the thing. TIM isn't wrong at all, like a lot of bad people his ideas are based off something good, (relatively) but he just takes it too far.

MrRobertsIII: Whether James lives or dies is up to the reader imagination.

So, finished. I never expected my story to become this popular when I started writing it. I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who has read. I also need to thank Jade Tatsu for revising my chapters and being a great influence on this story. Without her ADD would not look the same as it is. A lot of people have asked this and I will not be writing a sequel.

Hopefully you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Looking back I would probably change a lot of things about it, but it is what it is.

Thank you. :)