This is my first foray into fan fiction, so any reviews or comments are greatly appreciated. I've taken a few (?) liberties with the end of the ME1 storyline, mainly because I felt Tali should have been a LI in that game, and wanted to see how that would play out in writing.
This work will initially be a Crossover piece, focusing not so much on Shepard, but what the others (mainly Tali, Garrus, and Wrex) are doing in the two years between ME1 and ME2. Once that's done, I'll either head into a post-ME2 area, or maybe write the ME1 backstory, haven't decided yet. This series is going to be a big one, but I want to dive right into the deep end with this, and I'm really looking forward to it!
ALSO! Many cultural elements, ESPECIALLY quarian elements, were imported from Calinstel's "To Survive" and "To Survive: Alliances" (both hosted on this site!). These are MUST READs if you love the quarian people like I do! =D
The Darkest Night
Prologue: Whispered Secrets
Shepard walked out of the med bay, stifling a yawn as he left his check-up with doctor Chakwas. It had been four days since his fight with Sovereign, what they were already calling the Battle of the Citadel. People had named him hero, savior of the galaxy, but in truth he was happy to finally board the Normandy and head back out into space. John Shepard was a soldier, stopping bad guys, be they geth or reapers, was just what he did. Did you praise a farmer for growing a gigantic pumpkin? Maybe, but you sure as hell didn't slap a medal on him and call him a savior of anything.
Laughing softly and shaking his head to remove the sudden thought of Sovereign as a gigantic pumpkin, Shepard stepped out into the main living deck of the Normandy. His left arm, broken by Sovereign's body parts flying into the Council chamber, had been reset and put in a sling. Cuts and bruises abound also marked his experience with the killer machine, but surprisingly the broken arm was the worst of it. Medi-gel had taken care of the bulk of it, now all that was left to do was play the waiting game with his arm.
In the med bay John had kept nodding off as Chakwas checked his arm. After seeing both Tali and Garrus, it had been well into third shift before she had sent for him on the ship's comm system. The glares she had given him every time she had to wake him up could normally cut through the bulkheads, though she had quickly moved to cover a yawn or two in her examination, and his laughs had elicited some from her as well.
The living area was dark, lights low as the Normandy's crew tried to sleep. John couldn't help but smile. He had grabbed a rag-tag group of aliens from the Citadel, picked up another on the way, and hunted down the Council's best Spectre, passing through an uncharted mass relay, and discovering secrets of an ancient race before killing a reaper in front of the entire galaxy's eyes. He dusted off his hands approvingly, and the gesture pained him a bit, but the arm was still quite usable.
Walking over to the sleeper pods, Shepard checked to see if anyone might still be up. His chrono said the time was 03:40 standard time, so not likely, but he wasn't particularly tired anymore, just bored. He'd been on the run for months, frantically hunting Saren, and then just like that, it was over. The quiet of the Normandy at "night", once peaceful, now seemed oppressive. At the end of the row, a pod's door hung centimeters ajar, just enough for him to know its occupant was absent. He didn't need to approach it to know whose it was, and he smiled as he spun on his heel to head back towards the elevator.
Entering it and waiting for the door to close, he pressed the lift key and waited for its descent to the lower deck. He was either going to encounter a friend to talk with or a prank waiting to happen.
Either way, he thought cheerfully, Bingo.
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya checked her chrono as she waited for another systems inquiry on the Tantalus Core to compile. 03:25.
Keelah, she thought with a bit of disapproval as she realized she had, yet again, burned away more hours than she'd thought studying the drive core. The engines on the Normandy, as she'd come to realize over the past few months, were easily the most advanced she'd ever encountered. Often she slept right here next to them, not because the sleeper pods weren't an appreciated amenity, but because they were just so quiet. She'd often seen Garrus or Kaidan in theirs on the rare nights she'd tried to sleep in hers, and they seemed to look peaceful, but she couldn't understand how something that quiet could be remotely comfortable.
Sighing softly behind her visor, she looked down at the metal floor on which she stood. Yes, this was going to be her bed again tonight, next to the core. Even the core didn't make too much operational noise, just a soft humming as it constantly ebbed and churned raw energy, but it was noise enough to override her paranoia.
Seeming to notice her looking down, Engineer Adams chuckled as he turned to speak with her.
"You know you don't have to sleep down here, Miss Zorah. The drive core will always be here when you wake up." His undercurrent of concern was welcome, though they both knew he wouldn't be changing her mind.
"I'm sure it would be, Engineer Adams, but I never have been one for the sleeper pods. They're just too quiet for my taste."
"Agreed on that, Miss." Adams said, not missing a beat. "Heck some nights I wish I could sleep standing, just in case something goes wrong." He looked back up at the core with...concern? "She's my baby, I'd hate to have something happen to her and I not be here."
Smiling insider her helmet, she turned back to check the diagnostic report. Her queries of the system were fairly complex, drive outputs and core upkeep reports crossed over with power transfer structures and efficiency readouts. She almost felt bad running Adams' systems through the tests, this one in particular indicating a To Complete time of at least another hour and a half.
When she'd brought her concern up with him, he'd looked her straight in the visor and said "Heck, Miss Zorah you're a quarian, not a krogan. I'd almost be surprised if your diagnostics didn't tax the system." She'd known they were going to get along then, and it had comforted her greatly that the rest of Engineering welcomed her as well.
Realizing there was no way she'd be staying up for the rest of the diagnostic to run, Tali put her back to the bulkhead behind her and slid down until she sat somewhat comfortably on the deck. Leaning her head to the side, she watched the ever-pulsing drive core, a work of art all its own as it churned, the beating heart of the Normandy laid bare to see. A sleepy smile crossed her lips, and a faint yawn wasn't far behind it.
As her consciousness started to slip away, she heard the soft woosh of the access door opening. The sleepy smile on her face became a full-fledged one as Shepard walked quietly into the room, glancing quickly at Adams and then to her.
Without thinking she shut her eyes before he could register her presence. Hearing nothing for a few seconds, she was sure she'd been seen.
Keelah he's wondering what that silly quarian girl is playing at now! She blushed furiously under her helmet.
"Adams, how is everything?" she heard him ask softly, too quiet for her to have heard without her helmet's audio pickups. He had to have crossed the deck to Adams to speak that softly, but she hadn't heard a footfall. The thought of him tip-toeing across made her stifle a laugh, but luckily she wasn't heard.
"Just fine, Commander. Core readouts look good, everything seems spot-on."
"Fantastic, Adams. Now why the hell are you still up? You have any idea what time it is?"
"Sir, yes sir. I just...have some difficulty sleeping in the pods, sir. Sorry if I'm speaking out of line here." She heard Shepard chuckle softly.
"Not at all, Adams. Just at least find yourself somewhere comfortable to lie down. Should be some recon sleeping bags out in the cargo hold if you need something soft."
"Thank you sir, I may just go get one," Adams replied. She could hear the relief in his voice. Had he really been scared that Shepard would be upset with him? That was craziness.
Tali had seen more of Shepard's character in the past few months than of anyone she'd ever known back on the Migrant Fleet. She had seen his brutal efficiency and almost ruthlessness when dealing with the Thorian, his calm and calculating nature when deciding the fate of the Rachni, and most importantly his caring and supportive side when he talked down the girl Talitha, a victim of Batarian slavers like Shepard may have been had "luck" not been on his side as a child. Remembering their interaction still brought a twinge of pain to her heart, he had been so cautious, so caring.
"You do that." He replied, and after a brief pause added, "How long has Tali been out?"
"Hmm? OH! Wow, not long I'd imagine, we were just talking a few minutes ago, I looked back at my terminal and then you came in. Didn't even notice she'd finally lost that fight," he replied, laughing softly at the end.
I should open my eyes now, admit to playing this stupid game, she thought frantically to herself. But in the end curiosity won out, and as she heard Shepard's steps approaching her softly, she kept her eyes closed and regulated her breathing as best she could.
The mischievous smile never left her lips.
John looked down at Tali, scrunched up in a ball beside her engineering console, and almost had to bite back a laugh at the absurdity of it. John Shepard was dedicated to his job, but this? He smiled as he regarded her sleeping form, wondering what to do.
Quickly his thoughts turned from pranks and joking to more serious matters between them. He'd always found himself coming to speak with her after missions, time in port, sleeping, any time really. At first, he admitted to himself, it was an interest of the quarian people that drove him to keep coming around. But eventually it was an interest in one quarian woman that kept him interested.
The logical side of his brain put on its boxing gloves now. There was no way she was interested in him. If anything his constant visits wanting to rehash the entire history of her people were probably boring and interruptive. But bless her soul, she spared the time to discuss it with him at length, the dense human who couldn't be bothered to do an extranet search.
No, no, the angel on his shoulder contested. You know there are feelings for her there beyond a walking encyclopedia. You just don't know if they're reciprocated, mainly because you haven't been man enough to just say something about it.
He wanted to agree with...himself. But what did it matter if she did share his feelings? The sheer amount of limitations between them was staggering. He would probably just scare her off back to the Fleet if he tried to advance, especially now that her Pilgrimage was complete. She was leaving anyway. Any day now.
And yet he'd put all his bets on this having some possibility of working out. In conversation, they'd danced around the issue like teenagers, but when the chips were down, when Liara had come to him before Ilos, he'd sent her away. He had seen Tali outside his door when Liara was refused admittance, and had hoped beyond hope that she wanted the same thing, but she had disappeared as fast as she'd shown up, and Shepard had felt all the more foolish for it.
He looked down at her now, arms wrapped around her pulled up knees, chest rising and falling softly as she breathed in the sterile air inside her helmet, the beautiful color and mesmerizing patterns on her hood. He smiled, seeing this young woman who he had personally watched butcher dozens of geth, her fair handful of krogan, and put the final bullet into Saren Arterius, sleep so peacefully. Still he wondered: had he made a mistake? Laughing again softly to himself, he realized the truth of the matter:
It doesn't matter if I have. Regardless, she'll be leaving soon, and this little hoping game will end.
A somber thought for him, but he didn't care. If she was only going to be with them for a short while longer, he'd enjoy her company as much as possible, and wish her the best of luck when she left. She would know that if she ever needed him, all she'd need to do is call.
Kneeling down beside her, he slowly and quietly hooked his arms under her legs and behind her back. Waiting for the almost inevitable mid-lift wake up, he was surprised when it didn't come, though her body felt extraordinarily tense in his arms.
Adams, seeing what was happening, rushed quietly to get the door and the cargo lift for him. Nodding his thanks, Shepard smiled at the man as the elevator doors closed and the lift commenced.
She had been wondering if Shepard hadn't simply left Engineering, and was about to open her eyes to look for him when she heard him laugh softly right in front of her. The sound itself was music to her ears, and her smile returned, but was immediately replaced by confusion and panic when she felt his arms around her back and under her legs. Disbelieving what was about to happen, she stifled a groan when he lifted her off the ground and walked soundlessly out the door.
Keelah, what have you gotten yourself into this time, Tali'Zorah?
Her muscles tensed as he carried her along, and although the whole situation embarrassed her, she wasn't sure exactly why. While touch was a much more meaningful thing between quarians, did she not trust Shepard with her life?
Of course I do! But…
And had she not just fought beside him to put down Saren, stop the geth, acquire one of the most impactful Pilgrimage gifts to date, and save the Citadel from complete destruction?
Well, yes but still…he's CARRYING me!
And isn't that kind of affection what she'd most wanted for at least a month now?
Trying not to sigh with frustration, lest she give herself away, she heard a soft hiss escape Shepard's lips as they exited the elevator on the main living deck.
Keelah, his arm! He broke his arm and he's still using it to carry me around!
She wanted desperately to stop him, to hop down and apologize for the next few hours for her stupid little game, but couldn't work up the courage to. He'd either laugh at her or be devastated and embarrassed, and neither of those were acceptable outcomes, she determined.
And so Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, heroine of the Battle of the Citadel, continued to feign sleep as she allowed herself to be carried and placed, albeit gently, into a sleeper pod. As Shepard strapped her in, she filed this moment away as an idea never to be revisited, and waited for the door to close.
This sleeping prank had just ruined her day.
John was skeptical.
He had felt Tali's body tense when he picked it up, but he could write that off as maybe some bit of quarian anatomy he just wasn't well versed in. No problem. Then, he'd turned his arm the wrong way when getting ready to leave the elevator. He still wasn't sure if the hiss he'd heard had been his own sharp intake of air, or a small gasp from her. But even that was curious at best.
The real deal breaker for him had been getting her into the sleeper pod. Any doubts he'd been harboring had been put to bed soundly when he leaned her body into the cushioned interior of the pod. Tali would never let anyone toss her around like that, so unless she was ridiculously committed to some kind of ploy, Shepard was convinced she was out cold. Strapping her in for safety, he placed his hand on the door to the pod, and began to close it, but stopped halfway and looked into her visor. He suddenly very much missed the glowing white almond-shaped eyes he usually saw in there.
John had grown up on Mindoir, a small colony in the Attican Traverse, and while a bit out of the way, "basic" amenities still applied. For example, John had seen his fair share of vids where the manly hero would have the girl of his dreams within earshot, but then for some reason not tell her how he felt. It never seemed to work out well for them, and in retrospect, John didn't remember being very happy about it then as a kid, either.
Time to break the cycle. He thought with a small smile. What's the worst that could happen?
Leaning into the pod, he put his face inches away from Tali's visor and whispered words he'd wanted to tell her for some time now:
"I don't know what exactly is happening between us. But I know its something, Tali. I'm embarrassed that I can only say this to you when you're asleep, but even after helping you on your Pilgrimage, I…I don't want you to go." he paused a moment, then added "I know…real selfish of me…" and closed the door.
Watching to make sure the soft hiss went off indicating it sealed, John turned on his heel again, heading for his own cabin. It was past 04:00 now, and he'd need to be up early tomorrow, regardless of how he felt. These days no one could afford to sleep in. Not even the Hero of the Citadel.
Inside the pod, Tali's mind raced. Her heart beat faster than it ever had before, and internal sensors on her heads-up display indicated this to her as if she didn't already know. All the feelings she held for him, everything she'd tried to repress in the face of all the obstacles saying it could never be, came rushing forward to the front of her mind all at once.
She wanted to burst through the door, let her know she'd heard him. That she felt the same way. That in some small part of her…she didn't want to go back either. He'd done that to her, unintentionally of course, but there it was.
No, Tali. He would be embarrassed and perhaps insulted if you did such a thing.
Agreeing with herself once again, she leaned back and replayed his words on her suits on-board recording software, smiling every time she heard the true compassion in his voice.
This sleeping prank had just made her day.