I'm going to put most of the author's note at the end, so for now, just enjoy!
The first thing Tali felt was the dull pounding in the back of her head. It gradually became more and more pronounced until sleep was no longer possible, and she cracked her eyes open into tiny slits. From the little she could see of the room, it looked like she was in the Normandy's medical bay. There seemed to be something wrong with her vision, almost like she had lines across her pupils…she let her eyes open a little farther, and they focused in and noticed the thin cracks in her visor. Normally, this would have caused her a great amount of alarm, but she was simply too tired for the detail to elicit much of a reaction. She tried to roll over and found herself trapped by her left arm, which was rendered immobile by a large cast. The small motion made her woozy, and she groaned.
Immediately, a woman zipped to her side, checking the machines next to her bed. "Tali, how are you feeling? Can you hear me?"
Tali recognized the voice of Dr. Chakwas. "Horrible," she replied, the full weight of her congestion settling in along with the ache in her skull. Her arm, at least, remained blissfully numb.
Chakwas smiled at her. "That's to be expected. I'm just going to perform a few, quick tests." Tali didn't know what was going on for most of Chakwas' bustling except for when she shined a light in her face. Apparently satisfied with her findings, the doctor made some notes on her computer. "You seem to be doing just fine."
"Not that I'm complaining, but why am I back on the ship?" Tali's speech was unimpeded, though talking did aggravate the soreness in her jaw.
"It would seem that the little delving I did into quarian physiology was the most extensive available on the Citadel," Chakwas said, looking annoyed. "It isn't like quarians are non-existent. In any case, it doesn't matter. We had to bring everyone back here, as the hospitals are overflowing at the moment."
Tali jerked at Chakwas' mention of the others, immediately regretting it as her head swam. "Did everyone make it? What happened?"
Chakwas hesitated, her eyes glancing behind Tali. Tali unsuccessfully tried to roll again, and dread settled in the pit of her stomach. "What is it? Don't tell me…" She couldn't say it.
Chakwas flashed a quick grin. "Don't fret, everyone survived the encounter."
Tali sighed with relief. "Thank the Ancestors. You almost gave me a heart attack."
"I should hope not; that would be a little ironic." The doctor laughed at her own joke.
Tali frowned. "If everyone is okay, why did you look so strange when I asked? Where is Shepard?"
"Shepard is out of bed, against my wishes of course. He sustained an extremely serious injury to his arm; I'm not sure he will ever regain total functionality with it. On top of this, he was nearly crushed to death under the rubble after the Reaper hit, and a few bones in his foot broke as well. But that doesn't stop him from hobbling out of here as soon as he woke up, determined to speak to Anderson." Chakwas clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "I have rarely had a patient as determined to escape bed rest as the Commander."
Tali could see the picture perfectly in her mind, Shepard limping away from Chakwas as she berated him for his senselessness. It made her smile.
"Unfortunately, not all of the crew is doing so well." Tali snapped her attention back on Chakwas. "Liara appears to be in a coma of some sort. I cannot find any evidence of a traumatic brain injury, so the cause is undetermined. Other than the gunshot wound, which was easy to treat, she is in perfect health."
"She's…she's what?" Tali could scarcely believe what she was hearing. "How long will she remain unconscious?"
"I really can't say. By all accounts, she should wake up any second now, but she remains unresponsive."
"Saren sent this…tendril of biotics at her, which knocked her out." Tali couldn't think of a better way to describe it. "That has to have been the cause, right?"
"Hmm." Chakwas typed a few more things into her computer. "I will certainly look into it. I am sure she will be fine in no time, Tali. We must simply be patient. Now, back to bed with you."
Tali suddenly remembered her own wounds, including the damage to her suit. "Is my suit intact? How did you wrap my arm?"
Chakwas folded her arms. "Now Tali, do you really think I wouldn't have checked on that immediately? There were no unsealed punctures, your mask is still functional, and I set your arm through your suit without opening it. Go to bed."
Tali wanted to argue and hear more about what was going on, but her eyes betrayed her and closed of their own accord. What little strength she had left her, and she was soon fast asleep.
The next time Tali woke, she was feeling much more rested. She found Shepard sitting near her bed, engrossed in his omnitool. His upper arm looked like hers, covered in bandages and a cast, and he had to perch his wrist carefully on the chair in order to use the device. She watched his brow furrow as his eyes flickered across the screen, murmuring to himself. Though she very much enjoyed watching him without his knowledge, she would much rather be talking to him right now. She shifted a little, instantly grabbing his attention. He immediately abandoned whatever he had been doing and stood up, his face breaking out into a smile.
Tali blushed furiously. She didn't think she would ever get used to him saying those words, no matter how often he did. "Hey yourself." She tried to prop herself up into a sitting position, and Shepard helped by stuffing an extra pillow behind her back. "Thanks." She instinctively tried to check her wrist for the time, but the only thing that greeted her was her white wrappings. "How long have I been out?"
"Three days or so. Chakwas said your reaction to, well, me, wasn't helping your recovery, but its apparently subsided."
"Wow. That explains the soreness." She stretched as much as she could, looking around the room. Her eyes landed on Liara's sleeping form a couple of beds away. "Has there been any change?"
Shepard shook his head sadly. "Chakwas has been looking into it, but she says it will most likely be a while before she learns anything new. The main thing is she's stable and alive. I have no doubt she'll be back on her feet soon enough."
"What makes you so sure?"
"I don't know. I guess I'm just feeling a little optimistic. Despite everything that went wrong, we managed to keep the Reapers from invading. It just feels like everything is going to work out, doesn't it?" His positivity was infectious, but Tali still couldn't quite believe it was all over.
"So Saren was defeated, right? And the Council was saved? The last thing I remember is a big metal foot coming towards my face," she said with a small chuckle.
"Yep." That simple word released the tension in Tali's chest she didn't know she had been holding. "In fact, they're in the process right now of electing Anderson as the first human Councilor."
She gaped at him. "You're joking."
"I know, crazy right? They said it was to show their appreciation for how instrumental humanity had been in stopping the geth invasion." His mouth twitched downwards when he said this. "Oh yeah, and they are blaming this whole attack on the geth. They tell me in private that they believe me now, and that they are going to take whatever measures are necessary to prepare for the Reapers if they come, but I'm pretty sure they're just telling me what I want to hear. They don't want to panic the public, blah blah blah."
"How can they say that? We had a Reaper attacking the tower!"
"I'm sure they'll come up with some story to explain it away."
"Bosh'tets. Still, I can't believe they admitted a human Councilor. It took the turians centuries longer to get that privilege." Tali tried to keep the jealousy out of her voice, the news reminding her that her people didn't even have an embassy.
"Yeah." Shepard gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, Tali."
"Don't be silly," she said, feeling embarrassed. She was not petty, and she would not begrudge Shepard for his people's success. "I'm really happy for you." And she meant it.
"It's not like the quarians were completed forgotten, though." He grinned. "You've appeared several times in the news lately."
"Well, it's not every day that galactic civilization is saved, let alone with the aid of a quarian and a krogan. We all have a little bit of fame right now." Tali imagined being ambushed by reporters and cameras and shuddered; she'd rather be quietly forgotten, thank you very much. Still, if she was in the news, then maybe her father had heard about what she'd done. Maybe he'll be proud of me.
Shepard rummaged in a bag by his feet while she was absorbed in her thoughts. "I got you something." He pulled out a small package and placed it in her lap. Curious, she unwrapped it immediately, pulling apart the string and lifting the cover of the box. Shepard looked a little nervous. "I made sure to do a lot of research, and I triple checked the measurements, but I'm still not sure if it'll work or be right. If you don't like it, I can return it no problem." She grabbed ahold of the object inside and lifted it up, letting the light shine through it. It was a brand-new visor. It looked expertly made, but that might just be because her current visor had seen plenty of wear and tear before it got cracked. The glass sported her traditional purple, though the hue looked slightly lighter than the one she had on. "What do you think?"
Tali's throat caught as she brushed a finger along the edge of it. "It's…wonderful, John. I love it." She blinked away the tears forming in her eyes; she should be used to his thoughtfulness by now, but she was glad she wasn't. She certainly didn't want to take his gestures for granted.
He looked immensely pleased by her response, though he tried to hide it. "Good. I'm glad."
She carefully put the visor back in the box. "I won't be able to put it on until I return to the Fleet. I know they have clean rooms here, but I just feel more comfortable doing it there, and my current mask should be fine until then."
"I understand." He stroked her arm, his happy expression bringing life into his haggard appearance. "We'll head back as soon as we can, of course. The Council has informed me that I have been tasked with cleaning up geth resistance, but I'm sure it shouldn't take very long. We can stop by the Fleet as soon as that's done."
She started playing with his funny little fingers, one of her customary pastimes. "I love you."
"I love you too."
The next two weeks seemed to drag on forever for Tali. Time passed quickly when she got to spend it with Shepard, but more often than not he had business to attend to and she was left absently looking for a way to relieve her boredom. Life became considerably better when her cast was reduced and she was able to utilize her omnitool. Her old one was broken, of course, but she managed to have a new one delivered to the ship. While she had not gone adventuring to turn a profit, she had happened upon a decent amount of credits during their travels and decided to spend a good portion on her new device. This was her most important weapon, after all, and she felt no shame for investing in it.
Liara was moved to a hospital on the Citadel, where she was receiving treatment from an asari doctor who had dealt with this type of injury before. The asari had assured Chakwas that, through a series of biotic treatments, Liara should awaken in a few weeks. Tali researched the treatment plan to make sure it was on the up and up and saw that it was very expensive; she had a sneaking suspicion Shepard had footed the bill.
Ashley stopped by on multiple occasions, checking to see how Tali was doing. She was livid that she had missed the entire fight with Saren and seemed self-conscious about her lack of serious injury; she had simply been stuck under the debris. On one such visit, Ashley cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Listen Tali…I was an idiot, back in the Council chambers. I didn't think Shepard should save the Council, and I said things that I shouldn't have." She sighed. "I guess I haven't changed as much as I thought I had."
"Maybe not. But you're definitely not the same person as when we met. And you're still my friend."
Ashley eyes were shining, and she nodded and looked away. "Good. Now, I have to go do something," she said gruffly, striding out of the room without a second glance.
Wrex was still hanging around the Normandy, coming to see her every so often. She asked him why during one of their card games. "Still more geth to kill, right?" he said, shrugging. "Besides, once this is over, I'm going to have to do something I don't want to do, so I'm letting it last a little longer."
Garrus had been offered his old job back on C-Sec, with a significant pay raise at that. However, he refused in lieu of continuing to work with Shepard, still not a fan of the strict regulations that would undoubtedly get worse after the invasion. Shepard convinced the Council that Garrus, having been an essential member of his team and (as he pointedly reminded them) key in their continued survival, deserved to be paid for his services. Thus, Garrus became an official member of Shepard's squad, and the salary offer from C-Sec transferred over to his new position. Garrus told her that Shepard talking the Council out of some money was more impressive to him than getting Saren to commit suicide.
Tali had been able to walk almost since she woke up, but Chakwas had insisted she remain in the medical bay for the duration of the observation period, just in case. Shepard backed her up one hundred percent, which she found a little unfair. Finally, the glorious day came when Chakwas released her and she was allowed to freely roam the Normandy. They had been investigating leads on geth sightings for a few days by this point, and Tali was ready to take an active role. Her arm wasn't fully mended yet, but she would make do. Anything to keep from being cooped up any longer. She carefully tucked Shepard's present away in one of her many pockets and set off to meet the others.
She found the rest of the group eating in the mess. Shepard jumped up instantly, looking happy and concerned at the same time. "Tali! Chakwas didn't tell us you were out."
"I only just got released," she said, sliding into her usual seat next to Shepard.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I've been completely fine for over a week now, and if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have been stuck in there for so long," she said, giving him a frosty stare.
He looked guilty as he scratched the back of his head. "I'm sorry, I just wanted to follow Chakwas' advice."
"Yeah, I am." He put his arm around her waist, and she had half a mind to smack it away, but his self-deprecating smile and warm eyes almost made her forget what she was annoyed about. She settled for a disapproving sniff and snuggled into his shoulder.
"You're lucky I'm such a forgiving person."
"Of course I'm lucky. I met you." Ashley made gagging noises across the table, but Tali found herself successfully mollified. He really can charm his way out of any situation.
"So, what's in ryncol anyway?" Ashley asked, eyeing Wrex as he drank from his glass. "I might need a drink if these two are gonna be hanging around all the time."
"As much as I would like to see you try ryncol, I don't think Shepard would be very happy with me if I let you kill yourself." Wrex contemplated the contents of his cup. "Although, maybe a small taste…just to see what would happen…"
"Oh haha," she said, but she looked wary as Wrex set the glass down well within her reach.
Garrus leaned forward in his seat, a smug expression on his face. "I heard that Tali experienced some complications when she was first brought here. Something to do with…outside stimuli, I believe Chakwas put it. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you Commander?"
Tali reddened, but Shepard appeared unaffected. "I'm not sure what you're insinuating there, Garrus."
"Mhm. Sure you don't."
The ship shuddered suddenly, spilling most of the food onto the floor. Tali glanced around at the others and saw her confusion and worry mirrored in their faces. "What was-"
The Normandy lurched again, and Tali heard a deafening boom resound from somewhere below them. The shift sent them flying out of their seats, crashing into walls and rolling along the floor. Her injured arm throbbed in protest as it struck the ground, but she ignored it. Wrex had broken the table in half, and he brushed off bits of it as he rose back up. A couple of fires started spurting out, and one of them singed Garrus before he got out of the way.
"What the hell is going on?!" Ashley asked, almost falling over again as another tremor rocked the ship. Joker's voice came over the intercom, sounding more indignant than concerned.
"Commander! Something big is attacking us; it's not the geth!"
"How bad is it?" Shepard was back on his feet and helping Tali up as well. She noticed that he avoided his using his left arm; it must still be bothering him.
"Multiple hull breaches; it doesn't look good, but I can still save her!"
"Everyone, get into your suits!" Shepard barked, leading the way into the armory where he started tugging on his gear. Garrus was muttering "Shit, shit, shit," as their surroundings started to fall apart. Shepard glanced at Tali, who of course had no need to don anything other than her weapons. "Tali, can you pull up a damage report?"
She did so while the others readied themselves. It didn't look good. In fact, it looked very, very bad. "Well?" Shepard asked, pulling down his helmet.
"The ship's lost. There's no way we could try an FTL jump, and several systems are offline, including weapons and defense, and life support is going to fail soon. We can take maybe two more hits like that before the Normandy crumbles completely." Everyone looked stunned at Tali's words; even she could barely believe what she was saying.
Shepard nodded briskly, taking the news in stride. He marched over to a panel on the wall and swiped a few forms of ID with his omnitool before pulling a lever. Alarms started blaring, making Tali flinch as she anticipated another impact. "Everyone needs to evacuate. Get to the escape pods; the crew will know what that means and should meet you there. That includes you, Joker; there should be one near the cockpit, so you'll be fine."
"No! I can do this!" Joker said stubbornly.
"Joker, this is a direct order from your commanding officer. Get your fucking ass on that escape pod. Joker?" Silence greeted him.
"Okay, I'm going up to get him. You guys get to the pods and help anyone else on the way."
Tali wanted to throttle the cocky pilot. Why couldn't he just listen? Now Shepard was going to go risk his life for his idiocy. Not alone, though. "I'm coming with you."
"Absolutely not." The others had already sprinted off at Shepard's orders, but Tali stayed on Shepard's heels determinedly. He turned around, his voice fierce. "Go back to the pods, Tali. Now!"
"I won't!" She hit him on the chest, a little surprised to feel a tear sliding down her cheek. "I won't leave you. If something happens to you, then it's going to happen to me too. You are the love of my life, John. I will never feel this way about someone again, so like hell am I going to let you charge into danger by yourself." She brushed by him, leading the way to the cockpit. "Come on, we have a bosh'tet to save."
She could tell he was extremely nervous having her along, but he didn't say anything more. They climbed the last bit of stairs and opened the door to find a mesmerizing sight in front of them. The command center had been opened up to space, and without their mag boots they would have found themselves floating. Pieces of metal and a couple frozen bodies drifted lazily by them as they picked their way through the destruction. Above them, Tali could see what looked like a planet made entirely of ice taking up most of the view from the hull breach. A barrier had come down between the very front of the ship and this hole, ensuring Joker's safety. He was still frantically messing with the controls, obviously still trying to keep the ship stabilized. If we all get out of here, I'm going to kill him.
They entered his safe zone, and Tali enjoyed the sense of gravity returning to her body. Shepard strode up to Joker and placed his hand forcefully on Joker's arm. Tali heard a small crack and winced in spite of herself.
"We have to go."
"OW! Watch the arm!" Joker looked mutinous as he still fumbled about with his good hand. "If you would leave me alone, I could get us out of this. I am not losing the Normandy!"
Shepard spun Joker around to face him. "Is this ship really worth your life? She's going down, Joker! There's nothing more you can do!"
For a second, Tali thought he was going to keep arguing with Shepard. Then his face wilted, and he let out a heavy sigh. "Yeah. You're right. Help me up." Shepard picked him and supported him as they limped to the escape pod. Tali opened it and climbed inside, grabbing a hold of Joker as Shepard transferred the brittle man to her. She had just set him into a seat when she felt an immensely powerful force slice through the air behind her. She barely kept her footing as she spun around, watching in horror as a beam of light vaporized the space separating them from Shepard. He had leapt back just in time, holding on to part of the wall as the shaking intensified. "JOHN!"
Suddenly, the light winked out, and he pulled himself along the wall and glided back to the opening. Tali waited for him, her arm stretched out to meet his as he closed the distance. Their fingers were almost touching when the laser reappeared, tearing through the pilot seat. The blast slammed Shepard against the top of the wall separating him from the pod, but Tali managed to grab onto his wrist as he flew by her. For a brief moment, she thought she would be able to pull him back in, bracing herself against the opening and tugging him towards her.
Unfortunately, the beam chose that exact time to switch its focus, and the incoming destruction shook them so much that it severed their connection. Shepard narrowly avoided the light as he floated back across the room, but an explosion blasted him into a metal beam and sent him spiraling out of one of the many holes created by the strange weapon. "NOOOOOO!" Tali tried to jump out after him, but the explosion seemed to have set off a chain reaction, and she couldn't get her bearings amidst all of the shaking. Eventually, the shuddering tripped her up, and she sat down hard.
She gazed hopelessly at the mayhem outside, knowing that if they didn't leave, they'd be caught up in the devastation too. There might still be a chance, he should have a good amount of air in his suit. She struggled up and fell into the release button. The vomit-inducing shaking stopped immediately when the pod flung itself away from the collapsing Normandy. Tali quickly turned on the communications channel with Shepard; Joker was sitting in his chair without moving, looking stunned.
"Shepard, are you there? This is Tali. Come in, Shepard." She felt a rush of relief when she heard him answer.
"Yes! Yes, it's me!" She started laughing hysterically. "You're alright, thank goodness."
"I'm not going to make it, Tali." She froze, her eyes unfocused; she must have misheard him, there was so much static. "There's a hole…I can't…" It was getting harder and harder to make out what he was saying, but every word she heard made her stomach sink lower with dread. "…have to move on, Tal...don't want…love you…"
"No, no, no," she started panicking. Her breaths came more rapidly, but it felt like nothing was entering her lungs. "Wait, we can fix this, we can, um…" She strained to think of something, but kept getting interrupted by the horrible sucking sound coming through the radio. She could no longer hear Shepard's words. "I can alter your omnitool maybe, it might be enough to help." She sent something over to his device. "Try that. Hold it over the hole." The terrible rasping had stopped, filled instead with her own ragged gasps. "John?" Silence.
"Maybe…maybe his comms shorted out." She didn't like the look in Joker's eyes; it made her want to break his other arm. She didn't need sympathy right now, they needed to save Shepard. "I can use his omnitool to track him…or wait, no, that won't work now."
She angrily sifted through the data on her wrist. "There has to be some working piece of electronics on that suit! We can get his location, I know we can, and then when the rescue comes-"
"Tali, I don't think he's coming back."
"SHUT UP!" She rounded on him, trembling with fury. "This is all YOUR FAULT, SO DON'T TELL ME HE'S NOT COMING BACK!"
Joker bowed his head, looking like he wanted to crawl into a hole and die. "I'm so sorry, I don't…I'm sorry, Tali."
"HE. IS. NOT. DEAD." Even as she said this, her voice broke as her brain fought against her heart, telling her that Joker was right. She stumbled to the floor as she clutched her chest, a searing pain accompanying every short, panicked breath.
She stayed where she was, kneeling on the floor, as a strange buzzing in her ears drowned out everything else in the small pod. Distantly, she could feel Joker saying something to her, but she shut him out. If she let her brain start functioning again, she would have to face the fact that he…that he was…
Something pinched her side as she leaned forward slightly. Numbly, she pulled out the offending object, and her eyes settled on the little package. Reality came crashing back in a flood, gripping her heart with an icy hand and ripping it straight out of her chest. A horrible, burning sensation spread from the back of her neck and seized her throat, and the corners of her eyes felt like they were on fire. Lead filled the contents of her belly, dragging her down until she was almost huddled around her knees. She hugged the small box and screamed.
Hey everyone! And so, the first chapter of A Quarian's Tale comes to a close. I will be continuing the story, and I should be maintaining the same schedule that I had for this one, so look out for it next Friday! Thank you for sticking with this story for so long, and I hope you will join me as Tali embarks on the second part of her journey. You all are amazing, and I couldn't have asked for better feedback from the reviewers. I treasure every single one, but I have to give a shout-out to Leaf Ranger, Blaze1992, lambo105, and Janizary for being so consistent. Aftermath212, you are in a league of your own my friend. That's all I got; see you in the next one!