This can work as a standalone, but also works with the others in this series: Observation & Engineering, John, The Sound Of Silence, Oblivious, Solace, Loved & Lost, Belonging, Once More, With Feeling, Mutual Respect and Pleasant Surprises.

{To those following: The 11th Shep/Tali. Sorry about the late update - after a noticeable (even by me) dip in quality and length of story, I wanted to spend a little more time on this one and make sure it turned out right. }

And so we plunge straight into the angst, totally without warning. Sorry 'bout that.

Vas Normandy



He has no idea what to do, what to say, as she cries over her father's body.

He shouldn't be here - this isn't this grief to see. He swallows, stands his ground, until her speech turns into sobs, and then, half-aware of what he's doing, finds he has his arm around her, crouching beside her on the ground. "Tali..."

She's still crying, barely able to speak, shaking her head over and over again as if denying it will mean that it isn't true.

He gives up trying to speak to her, just holding her while she cries on him; all he can do is be here.

He hopes it's enough.

She seems to be trying to calm down, her breathing returning almost to normal except for the occasional hiccuping sob. She looks at him, eyes meeting his through her helmet. "Thank you, John." She seems to want to say something else, but doesn't.

He gives her a half-smile, tells her that it's fine, and then suddenly her arms are around him; he can't help but enjoy the contact, even as his heart aches for her.

She has to admit, he's a little intimidating when in "Commander Shepard" mode, fully armoured with guns on his back and, though normally surprisingly polite, glaring - actually glaring - at those who whisper about her in the corridors. He hands her the evidence, ignoring it, tries to give her a reassuring smile, then strides into the courtroom.

Defending her character? More like building it from the ground up. He makes her sound like someone worth of admiration - his, it seems; she blushes under her mask. Their eyes meet for a moment - he almost looks like he believes what he's saying - and suddenly, she wonders... Then the look is gone, the moment broken; he's addressing the courtroom, and her father's death is like a weight on her heart. She shouldn't even be thinking like this, about Shepard, when she has just lost her father, has preparations to make - shame adds to grief, making her heart sink to the bottom of her shoes. She swallows, feeling like a fool, struggling to hold back the tears in the crowded courtroom, more grateful than ever for her mask. Her mother was a long time ago, and she hasn't felt like this since... since Shepard...

With him here, in front of her, she refuses to even think about it. She's close enough to crying already, and she can't bear to remember... that.

She tries to breathe as she waits for the verdict.

No exile. No exile. How - ?

She tries to ask him how he put together such a defence, but he just shakes his head, smiling. "Tali, I just said what I thought." He carries on walking, and she's not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Her father is dead, and her commander is treating her with pity, she's sure of it now. Pity which she nearly mistook for... something else. Another swallow as she tries to ignore her eyes - which are stinging, again, with unshed tears - and hurries on.

The atmosphere is... different on the Normandy, the CIC falling silent as she enters.

Do the whole crew know what happened?

Joker just gives her a nod of acknowledgement, then pushes down the brim of his cap and keeps working at the controls. No sarcasm today?

Even Kelly isn't her usual, horrifically chirpy self today. She doesn't know why Shepard is so good to her - she's Cerberus, and she's paid to pretend to be sympathetic. Why should either of them trust her?

"I'm sorry for your loss," she says, gently placing a hand on her shoulder. Tali looks down at it for a moment, and the tension in the air is palpable - keelah, she wishes the woman would stop trying to understand her. Then she simply nods brusquely, watches the woman's hand falling to her side once more, and walks on.

Before she steps into the elevator, all is still silent.

It is polite. It is respectful.

She hates it.

Every funeral silence, every sympathetic look, reminds her of what she must do to make arrangements for her father, what she has lost, that she is now Vas Normandy. She no longer has her own ship; she may not have been exiled, but she is on an alien ship, a nearly silent alien ship - she cannot shake the feeling that she has disappointed those of the Fleet. Her father is probably rolling in his grave. She shudders at that thought, walking down to nearest thing to a home she has.

The doors of Engineering slide open, and she walks in. It is one of the few places in the Normandy that isn't silent, the familiar noise of the drive core soothing her a little.

It seems that Ken and Gabby, as she has come to know them, are in the mess. She looks around once, twice, then, for the second time since finding her father's... her father, she allows herself to break down and cry, head against the steel wall and leaning on the console.

She does not notice the door softly open once again.

Part 2's on Monday, as usual.