Hello everyone! Welcome to Love between Engineers: The Journey Continues
For those who read the first part (which has now been renamed to Love between Engineers: The Start of a Journey), welcome back! I hope you'll enjoy this as much as the first one.
If you're someone new who stumbled upon my story, welcome to LbE and take a seat. Thank you for giving my story a chance. You don't necessarily have to read the first part (LbE: The Start of a Journey) but I would REALLY appreciate it if you do, as by doing that some characters/stuff will make more sense. So, would you kindly go and read it?
Chapter 1: Loss and Regret
A month has passed since the destructive geth attack on the Citadel. Its consequences shook the whole galactic community and its symbols of power.
The Council was weakened, and their home, the Citadel, was in ruins, no longer had the prestige of being invincible. Now they are forced to embrace the terrifying truth of the Reapers, enormous machines that eradicate all organic civilization every fifty-thousand years, have returned, and rumors of their existence to the public were starting to rise. Afraid of the panic and chaos it could cause, the Council sent Commander Shepard on a mission to wipe out the last clusters of geth resistance, who are officially blamed for the invasion and their leader, Saren, a former Spectre that went rogue, or so the media says.
For anyone outside the world of Shepard, it was just another routine mission, but for those who work with him, it was more than a routine mission, the Reapers were still out there, and Shepard, along with any help he got, would find a way to stop them.
The Normandy was roaming the Amada system from the Omega Nebula, searching for any geth activity. However, any hasn't been found, reports of missing ships have been coming through. Some would argue it was slavers or common raiding criminals from the sector, others a galactic phenomenon, like a star explosion, excessive radiation, or even territory disputes between gangs. The problem was, the sector wasn't known for any of those theories, leaving only one plausible explanation.
"So you're back with C-Sec?" asked Shepard, sitting in front of his private terminal.
"When someone offers you Spectre training, it sounds nice and all, but they never tell you that you're the one paying the expenses of it," explained Garrus.
"I could say the same about Spectre weapons; there ain't cheap. They may be the latest technology, but you can get something similar at a lower price. Learned that the hard way."
"Should have asked a fellow Spectre about that," said Garrus before taking a sip from his beer.
"Yeah, well, not making the same mistake again. How's the job going? Anything interesting you want to share? Any rules holding you back?" asked Shepard while grabbing his drink.
"Eh, not really. Same old crimes with new faces, though I got to admit this arm of the Citadel is a bit more active. As for rules, I've been given some liberties, so to say."
"Perks of saving the Citadel. Speaking of the Citadel, how's the reconstruction going?"
"I say it is going quite smooth. Give them some months, and perhaps it would look like nothing happened."
"Have they already got the final numbers?" Garrus shook his head.
"Still counting, and when they come, especially the kids, it's going to be very depressing living here." Shepard shook his head with his eyes close. The thought of all the lives lost wasn't an easy thing to forget.
"Can't say it been as active when chasing Saren around but, if you start feeling that way, a vacation on the Normandy might help." Garrus laughed.
"What, has the Normandy become so boring without my presence?"
"I think it has gotten better since no one has to hear your jokes."
"Oh, you're going to hurt my feelings. Is that how humans treat their friends?"
"Only with the ones who think they're funny." Both men laughed at their playful insults.
"How's everyone doing over there?" asked Garrus.
"Same as usual. No one hasn't changed."
"I see. I thought at least two people would be somewhat different." Shepard raised an eyebrow.
"Who are you talking about?"
"It's alright if you don't want to talk about it. I bet you have to ask her first." Shepard's eyes widened as he realized who was Garrus talking about.
"Oh... about that," said Shepard as he looked away, scratching his nape.
"Shepard, don't tell me you haven't..." Shepard only shrugged. "Oh, for the love of..."
"Hey, hey, look, we did talk, only it wasn't about that. She said she would stay no matter what, and at the time, it was the only thing that mattered to me."
"And she didn't bring it up either?" Shepard shook his head. "Spirits... please give me the strength to deal with this."
"Hey, in all fairness, I've been trying to come up with a way to tell her. I just can't find the right words."
"So you can talk your way around reporters, politics, mercenaries, soldiers, but you're not able to find the words to confess to a girl."
"In my defense, the formers been part of my whole military life. Haven't done much of the latter."
"Well, then it's a good time to start. I dare you to go right now," demanded Garrus.
"You dare me? What, we're playing kid's games now?"
"I'm serious, Shepard," said Garrus, who indeed had a serious face.
"But right now? I mean, she's still in work hours."
"That hasn't stopped you before. Now go, or I'll be the one telling her."
"All right, all right," said Shepard raising his hands. "At least... help me with a few words. I'll pay you later with another favor." Garrus narrowed his eyes for a moment before sighing.
"Fine, but I expect something good out of this. What have you come up with?"
And so, both friends started a long, funny, and sometimes awkward conversation on the subject of love.
Since the persecution against Saren ended, Liara and Tali began to get together and talk more often. Chatted every day, meeting at lunch, sharing what they have done during the day, or some anecdote they have had before meeting Shepard. Liara, unsurprisingly, always told her stories of the various Prothean places she has visited, always hoping to find new information related to them. Occasionally she would tell other things, like what she used to do or act when she was little. On the other hand, Tali talked about what it was like to live in the Fleet; its people, its culture, its pilgrimage, everything. Like Liara, she also occasionally spoke of her childhood.
Today, both women were in the room where Liara spent the day, which was behind Med Bay. Neither of them proposed to eat there, but the situation demanded it since the Mess Hall was packed that day. It was not a tiny room. On the contrary, it was quite a large one, which could be used as a mini cellar, given the various boxes of medicine and food, among other things, piled up in one corner. Even with all that, there was plenty of space for a desk and two chairs, which Liara and Tali took advantage of.
"How has your work been today?" asked Liara. Tali took a sip from her paste.
"It was kind of boring today. There wasn't much maintenance to do or improvements," she replied.
"I could say the same then. The last prothean discs we found have been the same as the others," said Liara, somewhat disappointed.
"Nothing. The Reapers made sure no traces of them could be found."
"I'm sure we'll find something eventually. We still have a lot of places to visit," said Tali, encouraging Liara.
"Speaking of finding something, have you already found a pilgrimage gift?" Tali remembered the day Shepard gave her the geth data. It was one of her best days as the gift was beyond anything other quarian had managed to acquire, but it was also a day that brought her sadness by the end of it since it meant she would leave the Normandy, but now, that was all behind.
"Y-yes, I did. Shepard helped with it," she shyly admitted.
"I see. Shepard always helps in any way he can, doesn't he." Tali nodded. "Are you planning on returning to the Fleet?"
"I was, but, after... thinking about it for a time, I... decided not to. At least, not yet." Liara smiled.
"I think you made the right choice, Tali."
"We're the only non-humans aboard the ship, and though the crew makes sure we don't feel that way, it still feels kind of foreign being here. If I were alone, perhaps I wouldn't have lasted long on board, but with two of us here, it eases our stay, don't you think?" Tali remained quiet, thinking about Liara's words. "I hope I explained myself correctly there." Tali nodded.
"You did and, you're right. It does ease our stay with both of us being here," replied Tali, drifting her gaze away.
"And I think it also makes someone else happy," added Liara, causing Tali to look back at her. She quickly remembered when Liara told her she felt something for Shepard. She remembered Liara was going to tell Shepard some time during the mission. Many questions started roaming Tali's mind. She never ended up asking Liara if she had confessed to Shepard or not. Maybe she did, and Shepard agreed, but it wouldn't make sense. Shepard has always been somewhat neutral in his attitude with Liara.
"Liara I... I never asked you about-"
"How was it when I told Shepard about how I felt?" Liara completed. Tali didn't answer. She was just surprised that Liara finished her question. "It was all just a misunderstanding on my part. My poor social knowledge made me react prematurely in the wrong way." Tali sighed internally; a relief left her body. "When I said that someone else would be happy, I meant that someone is happy that you decided to stay."
"S-some...one happy, because of... m-me?" stuttered Tali. Liara had that unique asari smile that was somehow soothing to the other species. Liara stretched her arm, grabbing one of Tali's hands.
"I don't think I'm wrong when I say this, but just to make sure. You feel something for him, right?" Liara's tone was almost motherly-like. Tali was taken by surprise. She didn't expect Liara to be so direct. Before she could speak, Liara continued. "After understanding my mistake towards him, I began noticing how you two interact with each other. It was different than with the rest of us. That's when I understood the difference between friendship and wanting something more. And maybe I'm jumping a step here but, I'm sure you want something more than just a friendship with him," she explained. Tali had no words. Liara had just explained everything in just a few words. Tali looked down for a moment, followed by a few small nods.
"I do," she finally admitted. Like Shepard, Liara couldn't see her face, but the way her eyes changed meant Tali had an embarrassed smile while blushing behind her visor.
"Are you going to tell him?"
"I want to. It's just... I don't know how to explain it." Liara remained quiet, giving Tali time to think. "As a quarian, we've always been looked down, shammed by the rest of the galaxy. I... what would people say about Shepard? I wouldn't want to ruin his reputation because of me."
"I doubt that would bother Shepard. I'm sure you know that."
"But what if it does?"
"Then you'll have to be the one to help him get back up. But you'll never know if you don't tell him. And if people do start talking, I'm sure anyone aboard the Normandy would speak well about you two," said Liara. Her words were sincere and caring. Tali felt like crying, she didn't know why, but she fought hard against it.
"Thank you, Liara. I... I think I needed to talk about this with someone."
"That's what friends are for." Tali smiled, hugging Liara, who replied with another hug.
Tali said her goodbyes to Liara and returned to her post. A few more hours of work, and she would finally tell Shepard, after all this time, how she felt for him. Her time with Liara helped her gain the courage and the confidence she needed. Who cared for what the others would say? Shepard would speak out to them, defending her, and she would do the same. Of course, this would happen if Shepard felt something for her, but Tali knew he did. After numerous times thinking about their time spent together, it was clear to her. One of her major concerns in the past was how her people would react, her aunt, her father, but she shrugged them off as time passed on the Normandy. She, along with Shepard, would find a way to make their relationship work.
Today is the day, she said to herself while entering Engineering.
"Oh, Tali, you're back. It took you a little longer than usual this time," said Adams.
"Sorry, I was talking with Liara. I forgot to check my time," apologized Tali.
"Don't worry. You don't have to be punctual all the time. But if you want to compensate for it, could you help Roger finish up some numbers? The results were far bigger than we expected."
"Of course. How did the results end differently from the originals?" asked Tali, walking to Rogers's post.
"Remember when we were looking for ways to optimize the-" Hrrrrnnng! Hrrrrnnng! Normandy's emergency siren went off. "What's going on?" asked Roger. Before anyone could answer, BOOM! a loud and deep, resonant sound traveled across the Normandy accompanied by a huge violently shake, causing everyone to lose balance. "The hell was that?" asked Roger in a high tone. A terminal from the Engineering Bay exploded right after, causing a small fire around it.
"Are we under attack?" asked another person. Normandy's comms came online.
"To all crew members, we're under attack suffering heavy damages! Abandon the Normandy, I repeat, abandon the Normandy!" ordered Shepard.
"Everyone, get to the escape pod, go, go, go!" ordered Adams without hesitation. With no time to lose, the team obeyed. Like any crew member who has never experienced an abandoned ship scenario, Tali was utterly lost for words and track of her surroundings. She was following the team like a sheep in its herd. Small internal explosions, leaks, and fires could be seen everywhere as they ran towards the pod.
The Normandy had several pods distributed across all Normandy to ensure all if not the majority of crew members had a chance of escaping. One was located behind the cockpit for Pilot and Bridge personnel, another one in the CIC, three on the Mess Hall for the Captain, Med Bay, and any members that were currently there. Lastly, two down in the Cargo Hold for the former and the crew from Engineering Bay.
The team managed to get to the pods without casualties, boarding them quickly and orderly. Once the last person was in, Adam hit the launch button, and they were soon thrown into space. There was silence inside the pod; no one dared to speak or say a word. Each person was gathering their thoughts. How could the most advanced ship be ambushed like that? The main question is in everyone's mind. Adam got up from his seat, turning on a small screen.
The pod had a small camera view of the outside, and once Adam turned it on, everyone locked their eyes on it. Gasps and amazement were the reactions as they saw the current state of the Normandy. Pieces of all sizes were scattered around it, and the ship was barely holding itself together, with each second getting worse and worse as the enemy tore it apart. Escape pods from the other areas came into view, except for one.
"I'll contact the other pods. See who else made it out alive," said Adams as he switched to the pod's small terminal.
Ancestors... please, prayed Tali as she maintained her gaze on the viewing screen.
"Come on, Joker! We have to get out of here!" shouted Shepard as he entered the cockpit.
"No! I won't abandon the Normandy! I can still save her!" retorted Joker, still working on the pilot's terminal.
"Don't be stupid, Joker! The Normandy's dead, just like us if we don't get the hell out of here!" countered Shepard.
"No! We just have to-" Joker's terminal started emitting a high pitch tone. "- oh no. They're coming for another attack!" Shepard turned around, seeing through the giant hull breach from the CIC, an incoming energy beam came from far away, rapidly hitting the Normandy and cutting part of it.
Can't stay longer. Sorry Joker, but this is gonna hurt, said Shepard to himself.
"Ah! Watch the arm!" exclaimed Joker as Shepard pulled him out from his chair.
They walked as fast as they could towards the escape pod near the cockpit, slightly floating, as the Normandy lost power, making the artificial gravity lose its strength. Once they reached it, Shepard quickly helped Joker get inside. Still, when it was his turn, the unknown attackers launched another beam at them, shaking what was left of the Normandy, causing Shepard to lose his footing, floating helplessly away from the pod.
"Commander!" shouted Joker.
Another beam hit the Normandy, closing in on their spot. Shepard looked around, something, anything he could grab on to pull himself, but nothing was close. The beam got closer; even the heat emanating from it could be felt by Shepard. He had to get Joker out of there, or both of them would end up dead. As his body spun uncontrollably in circles, he timed the moment when facing the pod's launch system and stretched his arm, failing as his fingers brushed the holographic button. He waited for another spin, and this time, he successfully closed the pod's doors.
"Shepard!" screamed Joker one last time as his image disappeared behind the doors, and just before the beam got to them, the pod was launched, followed by a large explosion as the beam hit the docking mechanism launching Shepard away from his spot.
"Ungh!" complained Shepard. When the explosion sent him flying away, he hit his sides violently against a column before reaching space.
As if something was controlling the events like a puppeteer, his body stopped spinning, leaving him in a vertical position at a certain distance from the Normandy. He noticed the enemy shot one last energy beam at the Normandy, destroying her for good. Parts of her flung towards Shepard, which made him raise his arms to protect himself. A sting of pain ran through his body as he acted. Luckily, no large pieces got to him. Bringing his arms down, he was now floating in the harsh and coldness of space. His breathing and heartbeat started to increase. Anxiety, stress, all uncomfortable feelings made their presence. The pitch-black void of space was overwhelming, and it did not help that strikes of pain ran through his body with each breath and movement he made.
Calm yourself, Shepard. You're not dead. Pull your shit together. Ribs are probably broken. Stay still, don't move—slow but deep breaths.
Shepard closed his eyes, waiting for his body to relax. Once he felt comfortable, he opened his eyes and began only to move his head around slowly not to cause any pain. He searched for the escape pods; he needed to know who made it out alive from the attack. If she made it out alive. Hardly he found the trail of the pods and began to count.
One... two-three... four... five-six... seven... good, that's all of them, one of three weights was untied from him. If I can order for a personnel count from the pods, that should let me know-, a hissing sound came from his back. What the...? His helmet beeped, his internal visor showed a warning followed by a graphical image.
Suit leak detected.
Rapid depletion of oxygen in progress.
Shepard's eyes widened as he read the message. His breathing and heartbeat returned to their higher rate, the anxiety and stress appeared once again. He quickly positioned his hands on his nape, ignoring as hard as he could the pain from his ribs, trying to cover the tubes from where the oxygen would get to his helmet. The percentage of oxygen kept decreasing rapidly. His consecutive breaths felt dry as if they were cutting him by the neck, instinctively causing him to put a hand on it. As the oxygen reached its lowest volume, Shepard began twisting his whole body. His lungs were contracting due to shortness of oxygen, the pain from his ribs was now at its peak, but he didn't care. His only focus was to somehow stop the air leak, but nothing could be done in the end. The oxygen level marked cero. A breath was no longer one, only chest motions.
Shepard's vision began to blur, his body went numb, his eyes closing by themself, his mind, his conscious, his pain, all were fading away, as he slowly embraced death until silence would be all he heard and black would be all he sees. In his final living moment, he tried to portray in his mind one image, something that would make his departure happy, soothing, less saddening. The image of the friends he made along the way was that warmth he was looking for, especially a certain quarian, but he couldn't picture it, as regret was the only thing that filled him until his existence from the galaxy came to an end.
"There! I see the pod!" said Ashley throughout the comms. A faint blue trail coming from the tip of the Normandy could be seen, a relief for every crew survivor.
"Commander, come in, this is Chief Engineer Adams, over," called Adams in the formal protocol of the Alliance. There was no response. "Escape Pod One, Commander, can you hear us over."
"Thi- This... This is... Joker," he answered, no protocol in his response.
"Joker, is that you? Thank god you answered. Are you two okay? Is anyone else with you?" asked Ashley to both men, unaware of the truth.
"I'm... fine, but, the Comma- Shepard, he..." Joker struggled to talk. His voice sounded somber.
"Is the Commander injured, Joker?" asked Adams.
"N-no, it's, it's not that..."
"Then what is it, Joker?" asked Ashley in her usual straightforward manner.
"Shepard, he... he didn't make it," lowly said Joker as guilt was eating him.
"C-can, can you repeat that, Joker? I thought I heard you say-"
"He didn't make it!" he shouted, his voice filled with sadness. "I'm the only one aboard."
Every surviving crew member went completely silent. Their Commander, their friend, was gone. Each member was suffering on their own, some more than others, but no one compared to Tali's feeling. The day where she would finally confess her love for Shepard, a day that would mark her life forever, was shattered, broken, and lost. A whole set of emotions hit her mind: anger, denial, sorrow, grief, regret, all covering her up. Tears began to escape her eyes. Not wanting people to hear her, she quickly cut her helmet's interior sounds, leaving her sobs to herself.
All the emotions she felt before except for one began to disappear as the realization of Shepard surviving the Normandy's explosion became nil. Even with his combat suit, there was no way for someone to survive a blast of that size. During her stay in Normandy, Tali had enjoyed feelings and experiences that she never imagined she would experience in the Fleet. Every person aboard the Normandy made her galactic adventure the best of all, but it didn't compare when Shepard was around, and it was about to get better. Regrettably, the tides weren't in her favor, stealing all her dreams and hopes, sinking them deep in the ocean, leaving her with regret, as she would never meet or have a chance with Shepard ever again.
And with that, LbE Part 2 begins. What's your thought on this first chapter?
Didn't mention it at the begging but in future chapters, I plan to use/borrow/follow...? (I honestly don't know what word to use) the quarians words created by Calinstel from his To Survive series. He's one of the authors that inspired me to write this series. His words are a great expansion to the quarian language and a great addition to any TaliShep story.
As always, opinions are welcome. Talk to you later.