A/N: My first Mass Effect fanfic. I've always felt that Wrex and Tali were among the under-appreciated cast members of Mass Effect (along with being my favorite ones), and decided to write this fic about the two of them. There were obvious liberties taken with the plot for this fic (the Normandy never lands to watch the explosion, for example…that would be a bad idea), but I don't think they detract too much from my work. Characters might be just a little OOC as well, but I tried to keep them true. Special thanks to friends Linda and Natalie for helping beta-read this fic, and please leave your thoughts! Good day.

Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect, Urdnot Wrex, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, or any related affiliates. Although I often wish that I did.

Ascension

Urdnot Wrex felt the explosion before he heard it. The momentary stillness, then the sudden change in air pressure and the violent, searing winds—the krogan felt it all, long before the cataclysmic rumble of the salarians' weapon ever reached his weary ears. The air smelled of smoke, dust, and death as Wrex sat silently beneath the late afternoon sun, watching Saren's research facility crumble from across the beach. The Normandy's crew had made sure to land a safe distance from the base, unquestionably out of harm's way, but Wrex wasn't sure this was where he wanted to be.

"May I join you?" A feminine voice, musical and distinctly muffled, offered gently from behind him. A day ago, an hour ago, the krogan might have chastised himself for failing to notice the approaching footsteps, ever vigilant as he had always striven to be, but it may as well have been a lifetime ago. He was beyond caring now.

"Go away," Wrex grunted.

There was a short silence—a moment's hesitation, perhaps—before the familiar form of Tali'Zorah nar Rayya settled down in the sand next to him. Wrex allowed himself a quick glance in the quarian's direction. The girl was there, lithe and graceful as always, dressed in her usual attire of bodysuit, air filter, and that infuriatingly obstructive facemask that hid all but the brightest bits of her eyes. Wrex was glad that quarians weren't as stoic as krogan tended to be—Wrex rarely had trouble deciphering Tali's emotions, even beneath that veil of hers. Right now, for instance, he sensed concern.

"There's something on your mind," she said.

Wrex looked away, trying his best to ignore her.

"I'm worried about you, Wrex," Tali pressed, trying and failing to meet Wrex's eyes. "We're all worried about you. You're not acting like yourself."

"Tell the commander I won't be returning," he finally grunted.

"Please, Wrex, you don't mean that," the girl implored, but Wrex could hear the doubt in her voice. "If something's troubling you, perhaps I can help."

"Help?" Wrex sneered, gazing toward the smoky remains of Saren's facility beyond the water. "You can't help me. This is only the fate of my entire people we're dealing with here. Nothing for you to get all worked up over."

"I understand your pain," said Tali softly.

"No. No, you don't," Wrex growled, more violently than he had intended. "Not you, not anyone else on that ship. You will never understand. Now leave me alone."

"Wrex, I…" Tali's voice was timid.

Wrex rarely lost his temper, and it made him all the more ashamed that he was doing so now in front of Tali, with whom he had no quarrel. But this time, his anger simply wouldn't be restrained. It was as if all the accumulated frustration that he had tried to keep hidden in the past weeks had exploded with Saren's factory, pushing him over the edge of a cliff of fury that even he couldn't avoid.

"I know what you think of me," the krogan positively roared. "I know what every damn one of you on the Normandy thinks of me! You may think I haven't noticed. But I've seen those looks Garrus gives me, heard what Dr. T'Soni's said about me behind my back. I saw those pistols Alenko and Williams were pointing at my head this morning, but I went along with Shepard's plans anyway. I trusted the commander. But the more I look at the situation, the less I feel we're doing the right thing. I've kept my thoughts to myself up to now, kept silent. But not anymore, quarian. Not anymore!"

"Wrex—"

"We krogan were respected once!" The rage refused to subside, building up to dangerous levels and threatening to overwhelm Wrex. "We cleared the galaxy of rachni, and you honored us for it! But then, when we were no longer useful, you disregarded us. When our population grew too large, and we needed new planets to colonize, you fought us. But you couldn't destroy us! Even with the turians at your side, you couldn't defeat us! You had to develop that genophage. That damned genophage.

"We're a dying race," Wrex continued, his voice softening. "The genophage won you the war, yes, but it destroyed our race. Infected every one of us. Made our chances of reproduction less than one in a thousand. There will be no next generation, quarian. Every krogan knows that. We used to be an honorable people, but now we're simply a bunch of thugs and terrorists, every one of us driven to violence by misery. We've lost our respect, even in our own eyes. The rest of the galaxy knows we're dying, but nobody seems to want to end the genophage. And soon…soon you won't have to.

"Saren had a cure for the genophage," Wrex muttered, the last of his pent-up energy leaving him. "But Shepard blew it up. And now—" a hint of despair crept into his voice, "—now the last chance for our race is gone." He lowered his head.

There was a moment of silence, broken only by the pounding of waves on Virmire's rocky coasts. Then Tali spoke.

"I—I'm sorry, Wrex. I had no idea it was that bad."

Wrex shook his head slowly. "It's not your fault, quarian—Tali. You couldn't have known…nobody knows, except for those few who actually get to know one of us. And we sure aren't making it any easier for them. It's just—" he sighed, "—it's hard to carry on like this, knowing there's no hope left."

Tali did not answer, but Wrex felt her gentle hand on his shoulder, seeming to him a better answer than any words the quarian might have come up with. The two companions sat for a while, staring off into the waning sun, before Tali spoke again.

"Can I tell you something, Wrex?"

The krogan shrugged. "Sure."

"How much do you know about the quarians?"

"Only what I've been told," Wrex replied.

"You probably know that we created the geth, and that they destroyed us," Tali speculated. "But I'm willing to bet there's a lot that you don't know."

Wrex nodded. "You're probably right. Educate me."

The quarian's hand slipped off of his shoulder as she leaned back in the sand and stared at the heavens. "When the geth attacked us three centuries ago," she began, "millions upon millions of us were killed. Those who survived were forced to flee from our home on ships, knowing that we might never return. There are only a few million of us left," she added, "fewer than even some of the smaller colonies. It's a bitter reality.

"Life is not glorious for the quarians, Wrex," Tali continued, turning to face the krogan. "We are always on the move, taken only lightly within the Citadel and always shunned by all other worlds. Our entire lives are confined to our migrant fleet, and even they are growing derelict. Our immune systems have been weakened by centuries of staying aboard the ships…we will never know the feeling of wind on our skin, of grass beneath our feet—the small things that other races take for granted."

Wrex grunted. "Sounds pretty dismal."

"Yes, Wrex. Life is bleak for us, but we never give up hope. One day, we tell ourselves, we shall drive the geth from our home world, and the entire flotilla can return and re-colonize our planet. One day, our bodies will recover, and our children and grandchildren will know how clean, atmospheric air feels to flow through their lungs. One day, the galaxy will forgive us for our mistakes, look past its misconceptions, and accept us for who we really are. We have never given up hope, Wrex, not in three hundred years of solitude and desolation. And neither should you."

"I—"

"Think about it," Tali said, her hidden eyes brighter than Wrex had ever seen them. "Saren has developed a cure for the genophage. But I would stake my life on the fact that he's not the only one out there who can create one. There are others, Wrex. There must be others, and very likely ones who aren't so intent on killing you."

There was a pause. "True," Wrex admitted at last. "I'd like to believe that there's someone else out there who can help us. The salarians created this genophage…it may be that one of them can undo the mess that they helped start. But why should they?" he asked Tali. "Why should they help a bunch of brutal, vicious monsters like us?"

"Because you're not a bunch of brutal, vicious monsters," Tali insisted almost indignantly. "Maybe the rest of the galaxy doesn't see that yet. They haven't gotten to know the krogan, to really know them, to know them like I've known you." She looked Wrex in the eyes, turning his head with a gentle hand. "They haven't seen your valor and determination while defending the human colony on Feros from geth. They haven't seen you brave the bitter wind and snow of Noveria to bring a wounded quarian girl back to safety. But I have, and believe me, Wrex, you're no monster. Eventually, the rest of the galaxy will see that, and accept your race for the heroes they know you can be. It only takes time," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper, "and hope."

For once, the krogan couldn't think of anything to say. He simply nodded.

The sun had already begun to dip below the horizon as their conversation drew to an end, sending a million golden sparkles dancing on the water's surface. Beyond the sea, the remains of Saren's research facility had finally finished smoldering, its black smoke tainting the bloodstained crimson sky. There was no longer a void of anguish where Wrex's heart had been—Tali had seen to it that the hole had been filled. The krogan felt more at peace than he had ever before—the cure for the genophage was gone, without a doubt, but all was no longer lost. The rugged rocks and tropical hillsides of Virmire seemed suddenly radiant with a beauty that he had only now noticed.

"Thank you, Tali," Wrex finally said. "For being here with me. For helping me in my darkest hour. If you hadn't come, there's no telling what might have happened, what I might have done in my despair. I owe you nothing short of my life."

"As I owe you mine," the girl replied, leaping to her feet with a smile—or what Wrex hoped to be a smile, at least. "But we've still got work to do, Wrex. If we don't stop Saren, then there really may not be any hope left. Not for the krogan, not for the quarians, not for anyone in this galaxy. We've got a destiny to fulfill," she continued. "And the Normandy needs you. The commander needs you. I need you." She offered her hand to the krogan. "What do you say?"

Wrex knew that Tali couldn't possibly pull him to his feet—he was at least five times heavier than she—but at that moment, he appreciated the gesture more than anything. "Let's go kick some turian ass," he growled. He took Tali's hand, and taking care not to knock her over, climbed to his feet. She didn't let go.

As the pair walked back toward the Normandy in the waning sunset, hand-in-hand, Wrex thought of all the other krogan he had encountered in his life: ruthless mercenaries, aggressive bandits, feuding warlords, misguided extremists, the so-called "tough warriors" who lived their lives simply to forget. Even his father had lost faith, artificially extending a war if only to take his mind off of the bitter truth. Those krogan had no hope, only trapping themselves in the endless cycle of violence and death.

But they were wrong. Wrex finally understood: hope was not imaginary, far from a crutch for the weak or disillusioned. Where there was friendship, there would always be hope. And as long as Tali was by his side, he knew, his friendship would never run dry.

"You know, Wrex," Tali murmured from beside him, "I'm glad you're here."

For the first time in a long time, Urdnot Wrex allowed himself a smile. "Yes, Tali," he almost said. "I'm glad you're here too."

END