Gosh, it's been a while hasn't it? I've been busy, life's been screwed up, and things have generally sucked. You might notice that this chapter is quite a bit darker than all the previous? That me rubbing off on it. But don't worry, I think I'm sort of better now. Hopefully updates will roll a bit faster now.


Tali couldn't hear Garrus' warning; Shepard knew she couldn't. She wasn't tuned to the Normandy's communication network. Why would she have needed to? The battle was supposed to be over, all the geth dead as a program in a communal artificial intelligence network could be. He knew there was no time; no time for her to avoid the bullet that he knew would be streaking towards her visor. Realistically, it could be aimed at either one of them, but deep down, Shepard knew they would target her. The geth were nothing but pawns of the reapers, and the reapers had an unhealthy desire to capture him alive. They would kill her to hurt him, and all parties involved knew that it would be a crippling strike.

Rationally, Shepard knew he couldn't outrun a sniper rifle. However, at that moment, with his bondmate in danger, Shepard's mind was far from rational. With seemingly impossible speed, the vanguard flung himself at Tali's frame, her safety far higher on his list of priorities than his own personal well-being. He heard the piercing crack of a sniper rifle, two of them. He ignored it, focusing all his attention on the startled quarian before him. He felt the impact of his armoured body crashing into his quarian companion, felt the two of them fall to the ground; limbs intertwined once more. It didn't change a thing.

A sickening thud, mixed with a piercing cry, cut through the haze enshrouding his mind. Globules of dark red blood sprayed onto his visor, clouding his vision. Quarian blood. Desperately, he jerked his head downwards, frantically searching for the source of the spray. What he saw chilled him to the core. A large splotch of red sat on the left side of her waist, blood still flowing from the wound. The projectile had torn all the way through, exiting as quickly as it had entered. The irregular rising and falling of her chest relieved him slightly, telling him that she was still alive... for now. He could hear Garrus calling for a medical transport through his comm unit, but ignored it. He had bigger problems.

"Tali," he cried out, desperately hoping she'd be able to respond. The area was supposed to be clear!

"Shepard," the quarian replied weakly. "They shot me, didn't they?"

"I... Yeah, they did. But you're going to be okay, all right? I've got medical supplies. I just need to clean the wound up and... and..." he hesitated. That was all he could do. Clean it and apply medi-gel. What the hell will that do against a wound like this? Wha-

"Shepard." The sound of Tali's weakening voice interrupted his reverie. "Just do what you can. I'll be fine."

"I... All right."

He hastily popped open the hardcase attached to his right leg, thanking whatever god might have existed that Chakwas had convinced him to use it, and grabbed the few medical supplies he carried. Falling back on his training, he did what he could to clean the wounded area, hastily applying a layer of medi-gel soon after. It was all he could do. The only thing left was to wait.

"Why is it," he asked quietly, looking into the eyes of his wounded quarian partner, "that you need to comfort me when you're the one who's been shot?"

"Because in secret, my indomitable captain is really just a softy... or at least, that's what Garrus says," Tali replied, her voice managing to sound playful even as her body struggled for life.

Shepard couldn't laugh at the comment. Tali was dying in front of him. Any sense of humour he might've had died in the retort of the geth sniper rifle.

"Listen," he began, his voice hoarse. "Chakwas is going to fix you up, I know it, but no matter what happens... I love you."

"I love you too, my hesh'lan," Tali whispered back, grabbing his hand, lightly gripping it with her own.

"Just stay with me," Shepard pleaded quietly.

"I will. I promise."

And so they sat there, unmoving, five fingers intertwined with three as the two lovers waited desperately for the shuttle that would be their salvation.

/\\/\

\/\\/

Shepard stared at her limp form as the shuttle took off, unable to direct his eyes anywhere else. Even now, he could feel her grip on his hands weakening, her luminous eyes dimming. Mordin had injected her with his specialized immunobooster and the salarian claimed that it would keep her stable until he and Chakwas could operate on her in the med bay. Shepard wanted to believe him, wanted to remain optimistic, but with the woman he loved bleeding out in front of him, optimism took a backseat to the many other emotions running through the spectres head.

Tali'Zorah vas Neema was dying in front of him, and despite all his skills, Shepard could do nothing to stop it. Suddenly, he felt a three-fingered talon come to rest on his shoulder. Slowly, he turned his body around to meet the turian gaze of the shuttles only other occupant.

"How did this happen Garrus?" he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. "We won. We blew up their ship and took control of the entire area. How did they get her?"

"I don't know Shepard," his turian friend replied. "But it was beyond your control. It wasn't your fault."

"Not my fault?" Shepard hissed, his voice raising. "We were in a hostile environment. I let my guard down and couldn't respond to the attack in time. My carelessness got Tali shot by a goddamn sniper rifle. For a quarian, that could very well be a death sentence!"

"I know what you're going through Shepard," the turian responded. "I know what it's like to lose someone."

"You think you know what it's like to lose someone?" He was shouting now, but he didn't care. Shepard needed a target to vent his fury on. At the moment, he didn't care who that target might be. "You got your fucking team killed. Big fucking deal. We've all lost comrades in war. I've lost them, Tali's lost them, everybody on this fucking ship as lost them. But do you know what it's like to watch the woman you love die right in front of you? To watch the one person who kept your days bright bleed out while you're powerless to stop it? Don't try to comfort me Garrus, because right now, you don't know a fucking thing."

"Shepard, I-"

"Just shut up Garrus," the spectre spat, breathing deeply. "Just shut up." Shepard turned away, maneuvering his body to face Tali's limp form once more. He spent the rest of the shuttle ride sitting next to Tali in silence, unmoving as he prayed for whatever god might exist to preserve her life until Mordin and Chakwas could work their magic. The trip didn't take long.

The Normandy, aware of the situation, was waiting for the shuttles in low orbit. Both shuttles docked simultaneously, and it wasn't long before Shepard felt the dull thump of the kodiak drop shuttle coming to a rest on the cold steel of the hangar bay floor. The door to his shuttle slid open, and Shepard was immediately greeted by a gurney and the Normandy medical team, Chakwas at the group's head.

Without hesitation, the grey haired doctor leapt into action, directing various crewmembers in the necessary procedures. Shepard watched blankly as Tali was carefully placed on the gurney. He knew he'd do more harm than good if he tried to assist. It wasn't until Chakwas and her team rushed the cart to the elevator that Shepard made any move to rise. Slowly, he stood up from his seat, making his way out of the shuttle and into the hangar bay where the rest of his team waited for him. Undeterred, he walked right past them, ignoring the questions and concerns directed his way. He waited the thirty seconds it took for the elevator to make its way back down to the hangar before stepping inside and pressing down on the button indicating deck one.

Eventually the elevator reached its destination, and Shepard stepped out, sluggishly making his way to the bed in the center of his cabin. It's like Elysium all over again, he thought, as he fell into the mattresses warm embrace.

It was hours before he succumbed to sleep, fear for Tali's condition refusing to allow the spectre rest. When his body finally gave in... Sleep would not be peaceful. Memories from long ago returned to plague him, eager to remind him of just how he had failed on that human colony so long ago.

/\\/\

\/\\/

A stream of fire leapt from the barrel of his assault rifle, reducing the head of an approaching batarian pirate to mush. Shouts in the distance indicated that the pirates were retreating yet again, regrouping for another assault. With the immediate threat now dealt with, Shepard slumped to the ground, his body exhausted. Twelve hours ago an overwhelming force of batarian pirates had touched down on Elysium, their ships having already bombed the colonies defenses from orbit. Now he was leading a ragtag group of soldiers, militia, and civilians of all races in an attempt to hold out against the unceasing onslaught until Alliance reinforcements could arrive. But he wasn't sure how much longer he could keep it up.

Blood leaked from a dozen holes in his armour, the wounds only hastily sealed with medigel. His troops were similarly exhausted, both physically mentally. Many had never fired a weapon prior to a few hours ago and already they had enough combat experience to be mistaken for veterans. Casualties were increasing exponentially and morale was on the verge of collapsing. The streets ran red, blue, and a dozen other colours with the blood of the fallen, and as far as Shepard knew, his group was the last bastion of freedom on the planet.

Sluggishly, he pulled himself back up, preparing to check on the other lines and see how they were faring. If the ever-present staccato of gunfire was anything to go by, they hadn't fallen yet. Purposefully, he strode over to the nearest fireteam, maintaining the facade of strength and confidence that he'd been wearing since the start of this conflict. It was the only thing that kept some of his people going.

"Commander," the gravelly voice of Gamma Team's leader acknowledged.

"Kull," Shepard replied. "How's your team holding up?"

"Good, for a bunch of softies," the krogan proclaimed. "They're even hitting a few things." Kull was a krogan mercenary. He'd surprised Shepard when he showed up at their scarred and beaten gates, volunteering his centuries of experience to help fend off the pirate assault. The battle promised to be a good fight apparently. It wasn't the most noble reason for taking up arms, but given their precarious situation, Shepard was hardly about to complain. Having a krogan warlord fronting the fireteam had increased Gamma's combat efficiency dramatically.

"Glad to hear it," Shepard chuckled, forgetting the gravity of the situation for the briefest of moments. His mirth faded quickly though, replaced by an expression of seriousness. They were in a warzone, with civilians of all races placed in direct harms way. "The Alliance will be here soon," Shepard assured him. "Just keep your guys safe until they get here."

"Don't let them get here too fast. There are still plenty of pirates to ki-" Suddenly, a loud explosion tore through the air, quickly followed by several violent tremors and the angry chatter of nearby gunfire.

That was from the east! "Kull, expect an attack at any moment!" Shepard shouted. "I'll go figure out what that explosion was!" Immediately, the N7 marine sprinted towards the source of the disturbance. It wasn't long before he reached the battle zone. He was quickly bombarded by a cacophony of screaming, gunfire, and desperately shouted orders. The area was a mess, with much of the wall blown in and torn up corpses strewn all about. The upper floors had collapsed, taking away the defenders ability to fire from above. A burnt out track rested where the wall used to be, a female Alliance marine hunkered down behind it.

He slammed into cover beside the familiar soldier, blind firing his rifle over cover as he did so. "Sarah!" he shouted, directing his words at the woman beside him. "What the hell happened?"

"Bastards lit off a fuel truck and drove it right into the wall," Sarah explained. "Next thing I knew the half the building was coming down on top of us. We lost a lot of people on the upper levels... I'm not sure how much longer the rest of us will be able to hold them off." She paused for a moment, tossing a fragmentation grenade towards an approaching group of pirates. The explosive device sailed through the air, before landing several meters short of its target. The explosion detonated harmlessly in front of them.

"Damn," she swore. "If the Alliance doesn't get here soon..."

"They'll be here," Shepard affirmed.

"You sure about that John?" Sarah asked. "I don't wanna doubt out pals in the navy, but it's been quite a while since these guys landed and I haven't seen any let up in the assault,"

Suddenly, an ear splitting screech tore through the air and the whole world went dark.

/\\/\

\/\\/

Miranda Lawson sat in her office, carefully observing the video screen before her. What she saw was shocking, to say the least. Currently, she was viewing the feed from one of her shuttle based surveillance devices. Specifically, the single video/audio capture device planted on Shuttle B, the same shuttle Shepard used on his return from Haestrom.

Never before had she seen the former spectre explode on one of his crewmembers, no matter how stressful the situation. She knew there was something between them, Shepard and the quarian. Indeed, she'd known since they entered that prefab on Freedom's Progress. But even that shouldn't have been enough to break humanity's finest. And to target his closest friend... Something else had to be involved, likely buried within his files.

She quickly typed a message to the Illusive Man, politely requesting that he forward any relevant documents to her immediately. Until they were made available however, she'd have to go reassure Vakarian. It wouldn't do to let a flaring of tempers dampen crew performance. She shut down the monitor and stepped out of her office, striding purposefully to the elevator.

/\\/\

\/\\/

"John!"

He was vaguely aware of someone calling his name. It didn't sound too urgent though. He'd have to get back to them later. Right now he just...

"John!"

Needed to lie down...

"Get up John!"

A little...

"I'll handle this"

Longer...

Suddenly pain flared through his body, the agony radiating from his back, which he just realized, had been smashed into a wall. The smoke he had not realized was in his lungs was blasted out by the impact, and he took several deep gulps of air before glancing around at his surroundings. It wasn't an inspiring sight. If the area had been wrecked earlier, than the scene before him was nothing short of apocalyptic. The building was gone, only a few section of wall and some sparse furnishings remaining. Corpses were strewn about, many in pieces. Their makeshift fortress had been completely obliterated. The only living subjects he could make out were Sarah and Kull, the krogan who, he quickly realized, stall had his body pressed against the wall.

Upon seeing his return to consciousness the krogan dropped him to the floor, directing a quick "Told you I could wake him," at Sarah, who was already on top of him and checking for injuries.

"Wake him?" she cried. "You probably gave him a concussion!"

"He'll be fine," the krogan retorted. "He's already back on his feet."

"On might be a bit of an overstatement," Shepard cut in, drawing the bickering soldiers attention back to him as he staggered upwards. "But that's not important. What happened? The building is gone, and I don't see any of our troops!"

"Pirates got tired of throwing mean at us," Kull explained. "Cowards blew the building from orbit."

"Fortunately for us," Sarah added, "the pirates are about as accurate with a starship as they are with a rifle. We managed to get most of the civvies out through an underground passage in the basement. Unfortunately, the bombardment caved the end in. If the pirates get inside, they'll either be enslaved or slaughtered, makeshift militia or not."

"Damn it," Shepard sighed. "We'll have to hold out up here, buy the Alliance a little more time and keep these bastards from getting into the tunnels."

"You put a lot of faith into your Alliance," Kull stated. "You sure they'll pull through?"

"They have to," Shepard replied. "No matter how many pirates we kill on the ground, it's not going to be enough. Three people can't stop an orbital assault. We need the navy, and if I don't believe they can make it in time... Well there isn't much left to fight for is there?"

The krogan laughed, a low rumble that seemed to shake the very ground he stood upon. "Well if you're that damn sure, then it seems I have no choice but to stand by you," assured him, hefting his shotgun. And if we do all die? Going out with a thousand dead batarians would make a damn good battle song."

The krogans alliance affirmed, Shepard glanced over towards the other member of his party.

"You don't need to ask me John," Sarah reassured him. "Family always sticks together, right?"

/\\/\

\/\\/

A ping from her omni-tool stopped Miranda Lawson in her tracks. Opening the device, she immediately noticed the new message in her inbox. Marked only as "Elysium - Casualty List," the message had been flagged as urgent priority, from the Illusive Man himself. She didn't understand the importance, it was hardly a secret that many had died in the pirate raid on the colony Elysium, but she was never one to doubt the Cerberus head. Stepping back into her office, the Cerberus officer began to read.


So... yeah. We'll continue our history lesson and catch up with Miranda's journey of discovery in the next chapter! Hopefully it's be out at least relatively soon. If it's not out by July 14th though, don't expect it to be about for another two weeks after that. Vacations and all. Still, it should be out before that. But... I'm just letting you all know in advance. I'm still sorting out the mess that was my life, and the futures starting to finally look bright again, so writing isn't as high on my priority list as it might've been before. Thank you all very very much for your patience. Your continued support means the world to me.