I do not own Mass Effect and all relations thereof.
On another note, transitions are haaaaard.
When did they begin and when would they end?
No one could really place their finger on the first – by the time they realized anything was going on, it had already happened – and no one could put a tangible date to the second – the future was unpredictable, after all. What most everyone could say, however, was that they were indeed surprised when the commander came out of the main battery, grinning widely with knowledge of the development.
Some three years those two had known each other, arguably the oldest and most devoted of Shepard's friends. Over that time, many had called the commander out on the supposed chemistry she had with the turian – others believed that something between her and the quarian mechanic was a little beyond platonic.
Neither were the truth.
In paying so much attention to Shepard – in only relating her subordinates by their relation to her, they had failed to see all those little bonds weaving amongst them, birthing, building, becoming strong.
In the end, perhaps only Commander Shepard could say for certain that it happened and that, yes, it had been inevitable. She had witnessed several parts of its growth, after all.
It started with the elevators.
The ride was tedious and felt too long as always, even as they stared at the bustle below, growing ever further away. The only audible sound was the light and smooth noise the lift made as it rose, three parts dismissible, two parts familiar, and one part vexing. Working in groups of three as always, the commander stood at the squad's fore, visible from head to toe in the wide, wide window should any passersby shoot an idle glance at the elevator. Always the professional in full view, she stood with her back to her team, arms crossed behind her, posture straight.
The last mission had been rough and wrought with geth, and it showed. Garrus, rolling his neck irritably, sported a bandage on the side of his head after a shot from a rocket trooper sent him diving for cover. His armor was scorched, if only slightly, and dented in the shoulder – from what, he couldn't remember, at this point. He was probably littered with countless other injuries he wasn't even aware of. They had only been given basic treatment before being called back to the Citadel for whatever political bullshit the Council felt like throwing at them in person, and his head still pounded like he'd been butting it with a krogan.
"The quarians endangered the whole galaxy when they let the geth break free. I hope your people are properly contrite, Tali," he snapped finally, partially out of a need to break the awkward silence, and partially out of genuine ire at her, and the geth and quarians in general, because, damn all, this headache was killing him.
"As the turians are properly contrite for releasing the genophage on the krogans?" she shot back, voice almost as edged. The young mechanic was no doubt in as bad a mood as he was, if her previous silence and rigid stance was anything to go by. If he'd looked, he would've seen that she had certainly fared no better.
Garrus did not.
Instead, the turian snorted disdainfully and turned his head away from her, mandibles clicking once. Of course she would think that – for all intents and purposes, she was still a child. Naive.
"You're assuming sterilizing them was a mistake," he replied. Tali seemed to turn her head and regard him for a moment, and if not for the mask, he was sure he'd have seen a glare. Instead, she made no reply and averted her gaze – out of acknowledgment, he wanted to think, but he knew it was something along the lines of disgust.
Another silence settled over them, and though his mood had only grown worse, this time, Garrus was content to let the conversation die.
"Do you ever regret leaving the Citadel to pursue Saren, Garrus?"
He seemed a little taken aback by her sudden question – and she was, too. The words had just... flown out of her mouth.
They were back on the Citadel, going to deliver some data to a salarian merchant, or something like that. She wasn't sure. Shepard was just short of being a philanthropist with the way she seemed to be hellbent on lending a hand to everyone, and if Tali ever tried to stop and actually keep track of the numerous errands they accepted, she was sure her helmet would short-circuit from the sheer amount of brain-work it would take.
What she did know was that they were on another one of those wretchedly slow lifts, and as always, the quiet ate at her until she finally caved and made a clumsy attempt to "break the ice," as humans often said. It was just – she began to wish she'd addressed a different person or, at least, asked a different question. Garrus appeared to think on it for only the briefest of moments.
"Fighting a rogue Spectre with countless lives at stake and no regulations to get in the way? I'd say that beats C-Sec," he answered, the obvious smirk in his tone agitating her to no end.
Arrogant – that was what he was, and reckless and selfish. Everything the fleet would hate. She stifled an annoyed huff and settled for clenching her hands. At that moment, if she had been made to describe him with just one word, it would've been insufferable. Could he think of nothing other than himself?
"I'm pleased that the imminent destruction of all organic life has improved your career opportunities," Tali responded sarcastically after a moment's pause, crossing her arms.
Garrus shot her an unamused, almost reproachful glance, and that was the end of it.
"I'd love to see what the Normandy can do in a fight," mused Garrus, almost out of the blue.
It was the week after Dr. Saleon had been taken out. The doctor had a nasty record, and of course, the hot-blooded turian had wanted to execute him, but somehow Shepard managed to convince him to step down. The arrest didn't go according to plan, however, and Saleon ended up dead either way. Tali was there when it happened – if the commander took Garrus, she usually brought her along as well, much to the quarian's consternation.
Though she couldn't say that she liked him – or that he liked her, for that matter – the entire ordeal did give her a new perspective of Garrus, if only slightly. For the first time, she saw his devotion to justice, and just how willing he was to go through with it. If not brash, it was admirable. Tali thought so, at least. If it had been her, would she have hung onto that case for all that time? She wasn't sure. Whatever the case, she was beginning to respect him.
If anything, killing Saleon had served to lighten him up a bit. Skilled in reading body language, the quarian could tell that he had been more relaxed as of late, as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. His posture was telling, as were his words. This was the first time he'd started a conversation that hadn't entailed some degree of hostility or irritation – at least, to her knowledge.
"How so?" she replied curiously, deciding to humor him this once. She'd never thought of it as much of a fighter. "The Normandy is built for stealth, not combat."
"But the stealth drive adds a new tactical level to space combat as we know it," he said, almost an excited air taking his voice. "Surprise attacks, undetected flanking maneuvers..."
"If it comes to a fight, I'd prefer a flotilla ship," she told him, shrugging. "It's easier to trust what you've worked on yourself."
Tali expected an objection or rebuttal or some form of rejection. It was what they usually did, after all. Argue in the elevators.
For once however, Garrus made a noise that sounded uncannily affirmative, and looked to her and nodded – as if he understood. For the first time, it occurred to her that Garrus was also something of a technician himself. Her respect for him was building bit by bit, but she didn't honestly realize it.
She was too busy wrestling with her strange, left-wing feelings of satisfaction at his acknowledgment to do so.
Downtime for the crew of the SSV Normandy was a rare thing, and everyone would usually clamber for the chance. Mostly for the benefit of active squad-members, it was generally they who would get the privilege of piling into the shuttle or crowding the docks as they left the ship in groups. Normally they broke off by destination, those going the same way going together, if they were on good enough terms, and splitting up once they were where they wanted to be.
Garrus was only somewhat eager for it – shore-leave, that was. The Citadel was old news to him, after all, and he usually spent his time wandering aimlessly, if not downing a couple of shots at the Flux. He was even long used to the elevators, damningly slow as they were, and couldn't quite summon the anger to really get anywhere close to aggravated at them anymore.
At first there had been three people, including himself, in the lift, but since Shepard had gotten off, it was only him and Tali. He had never been on the greatest terms with her, but they had been better lately, and though that didn't fully dispel the unwieldiness of their oxymoronically shared solitude, it certainly made it much easier to break.
"Your choice in armor is awfully limited, Tali," he noted offhandedly, thinking back to the number of times he remembered her switching it out – which was very few. "Couldn't you wear something without a helmet?"
"No," she answered crisply, and for a moment he was actually worried he'd offended her. Tali continued to speak however, either ignoring it or completely nonplussed. "Living in the clean environment of the flotilla has weakened our immune systems. The environmental suits protect against diseases."
When he to stopped to consider what she'd said, it certainly explained a lot; the masks, the full suit-coverage. It also made a lot of sense, considering the nature of the Quarian Migrant Fleet. What struck him, though, was that he'd never seen Tali out of the suit. As a matter of fact, he didn't think anyone ever did, and he didn't know of any quarian that went without a suit, or anyone that knew one.
It occurred suddenly to him that it wasn't so much that they wouldn't, but that they couldn't go without one. The full ramifications of such a life rolled around in his head.
"So your people are forever wandering and couldn't settle if they wanted to," he concluded grimly, tilting his head forwards. A certain conversation he'd had with her before, regarding the "simple" solution to the widespread distrust of her people, came to his mind's fore "I'm sorry."
For what, Garrus wasn't quite sure, but she seemed content to accept his apology for whatever it was, nodding once.
That was enough for him.
The floor of the chamber shook so hard that the rubble stirred, and Tali might've lost her balance if Garrus's hand hadn't shot out and caught her shoulder before she fell. Shepard's head snapped to the huge window in the distance, and all of her actions screamed alarm as she took a step back.
"Go!" she yelled, turning back to them. They hardly had the time to react.
A deafening explosion rang out. The far wall behind them collapsed inwards as debris from the battle outside crashed through. Tali could only just draw a staggering breath as it came down on them.
The entire world flipped.
Tali blinked; once, twice. The quarian wasn't sure how long it had been since her vision had gone dark – it seemed for only the most miniscule of seconds, but she knew it could full well have been far longer than that. What she was sure of was that her helmet was cracked, someway, somewhere – probably her visor. Nothing looked right. What came along with that was the most splitting headache she'd ever had. Everything hurt – maybe she'd broken a few ribs? She coughed, and the sharp pain that followed made her think, yes, most likely. Her limbs felt like lead, and there was such a weight on her chest that she could hardly breathe.
Except, the quarian belatedly realized, that weight was Garrus.
Her eyes darted around frantically – the air looked dark and smoky to her, red by the light of some distant fire, or fires. Then they were still on the Citadel. With a labored huff, she pushed the turian off of her, gritting her teeth at the pain as she sat up. He rolled off easily enough, though the action felt highly taxing, and came to a rest on his side.
Surveying their surroundings, she finally understood what had happened, and where they were. The space they had, trapped between all this rubble, was small, at best, and the metal and stone walling them off made her sure that they had no chance of getting out on their own. The debris flying in had taken out the wall and collapsed it on top of them. They were stuck, until someone sent out a search party if they ever did.
Nodding to herself – something that also caused her more pain than it should've – Tali turned her attention to Garrus. He was still unconscious, it seemed – considering the blood on the back of his fringe, he'd probably taken a blow to the head and gotten knocked right out. The entire back of his armor was scratched and dented, actually – the turian looked like he'd taken much of the falling debris to his back. Upon observing her own armor, the quarian saw that there was no damage beyond what Saren and the geth had caused. Why that was, she could think of only one plausible possibility.
Garrus had shielded her.
Whether it was by accident or purpose, gratitude bubbled up within her – after everything they'd said and done, she could still count on him to have her back. She'd thought the commander was the only one she could count on. Now, she saw, perhaps she'd thought wrong.
Tali coughed, wincing at the sharp pain, and grabbed his shoulder with one hand, the other holding her side.
"Garrus," she called softly, giving him a tentative shake. He didn't respond, and worriedly, she shook harder. "Garrus!"
His mandibles clicked and he groaned, the particular flange turian voices had humming in the back of his throat. A small, relieved sigh escaped her because, at the very least, he was alive. His hand went up immediately to the back of his head, and she helped pull him up as he painstakingly shifted into a sitting position.
"Ugh. Spirits, what the hell is wrong with my head?" he hissed, withdrawing his hand. His eyes took in the blue, stained across his glove and he cursed some turian curse underneath his breath. "That explains it. Always the damn head."
"Thought you were dead there, for a second," she told him honestly. Injured as he was, his eyes creased and he smiled in that way turians did.
"Couldn't wait for me to kick the bucket?" he asked teasingly, even as his arm wrapped around his side and he flinched. "Sorry, but you'll have to wait a little longer than that."
"Damn. And here I was, thinking you'd finally gotten out of my veil," she cursed, playing along, and the two of them shared a quick – albeit excruciating – chuckle. Silence reigned. They both simply sat for a while, listening to the crackling of distant flames as thousands of questions finally found the time to run through their heads. Where was Shepard? How long had they been out? Was anyone coming for them, or was everyone dead?
Her headache came back full force, and Tali sighed audibly, the last question striking her particularly. Regardless if people were coming for them, if not for Garrus – would she already be dead? Quarians were not the most durable species in the galaxy, this she knew all too well.
Perhaps, if unknowingly, he had saved her life.
His eyes turned to her and he hummed in reply, watching her pat her suit down. To his surprise, the quarian tossed him a medi-gel packet, one that he fumbled to catch.
"Thanks," she said quietly – sincerely. The turian didn't question what she meant. He only smiled again, thankful that his face was one of the few things that didn't hurt, and held the packet up. It couldn't do much, but it would do enough.
They sat in a comfortable, if physically agonized, silence until the rescue team finally found them.
After everything was said and done, most of them parted ways – Garrus stayed on the Citadel to try his hand at C-Sec again, and maybe become a Spectre. Tali decided to return to her fleet, Wrex to Tuchanka, and Ashley to the Alliance. Only Liara remained with Shepard and the Normandy.
For the first year, they kept in contact – the reinstated officer and the mechanic. Emails were sent back and forth periodically, sometimes as simple pleasantries, sometimes as info exchange, and other times as letters sent between two confidants. When Shepard died, they mourned together and moved on together, and their bond had become stronger for it – but the commander's death was only the beginning.
C-Sec and Spectre training went awry. Garrus cut communications and disappeared on Omega. Tali became increasingly absorbed in the Admiralty Board's tasks and assignments, as well as reintegration into the fleet. While she became concerned after the emails stopped arriving, she soon found no more time to think of it.
In this way, they lost touch.
Of all ways for them to meet again, of course, it was by Shepard's hand.
Omega might've ended in disaster for him if not for the commander – for all intents and purposes, it already had, considering the state of his once-team and the right side of his face. Still, if nothing else, Garrus was glad to be on the Normandy again, though it was technically a different ship. Nothing pleased him more than to be in space and calibrating guns like it had been in the old days – he felt so aged when he used that phrase – even if it had to be a Cerberus ship.
Tali would not be so accepting, he mused to himself, as he went down to Engineering to greet her.
Shepard hadn't taken him along when they flew to Haestrom to retrieve her, but he knew from others' accounts of their previous reunion on Freedom's Progress that she hadn't been welcome to any affiliation with Cerberus at all. If anything, she might feel a little betrayed, only her devotion to the commander staying her hand.
Whatever the case, even if she wasn't, he was happy to have her on board.
He didn't like who they were working under anymore than she did, and it was good to have another familiar face around. Thus far they were the only ones, besides Joker, and Chakwas, around from Shepard's old crew, and that meant they were one of the few she could trust. He knew Tali well enough by now that she would share his sentiments about watching Shepard's back.
He nodded to Engineers Donnelly and Daniels as he descended the stairs, the two acknowledging his passing before returning to their work. Tali was entering something into her terminal, and, probably at the sound of footsteps, turned around.
"Garrus!" she exclaimed, grabbing him by the shoulders, and he wanted to believe there was something of a smile in her voice.
"Shepard said you'd come aboard," he told her, grinning. "Good to see you, Tali."
"You too," she replied, letting go and backing up a step. "It's been so – ah."
The quarian shot a quick glance at her two assistant engineers – most likely to see if they were listening in on them. Her distrust was obvious. She returned her gaze to him and crossed her arms.
"You want to catch up in private?"
"Can you leave your station just like that?" he asked, adding playfully, "What would Shepard say if she saw you slacking off?"
She clicked her tongue and pulled him off to the drive core.
When they finally turned the corner and came to a stop in front of the terminal before the core, Tali released him and took a good look.
"Keelah, Garrus, what happened to your face?"
"Of course you would ask about that first," he sighed with false exasperation. "No 'What have you been doing?' Not even a proper, 'Hello, Garrus, long time no see?' Just the scars?"
"I was about to get to that last one," she defended, only half-meaning it, before returning to her original question "So? What happened?"
"Well if you must know, on Omega I took a rocket to the face while fighting off three different merc groups with only my rifle to keep me company," he answered, faking indignation.
There was a moment of silence. Tali crossed her arms again and shifted on her feet.
"Really?" she asked, tone flat.
"Really." He pretended to contemplate something before adding, "Well, all right. I had some help from Shepard for that last bit."
The quarian laughed.
"And here I was, thinking you couldn't get any uglier."
"Now that hurts. Why is it that you and Shepard both said the same thing?"he asked, playing wounded.
"Maybe because it's true?"
"You know, some women find facial scars attractive."
"I'm sorry, Garrus, but I'm not a krogan," she said, amused.
"How can you not find this attractive?" he sputtered, hand flying up to his disfigured face with exaggerated bewilderment. Tali laughed – again, only louder that time, and he joined her.
How long had it been since he'd spoken freely, without worrying about whether Cerberus could hear him or not?
"I got better, Shepard. I got you!" His voice was mockingly saccharine as he quoted Tali's words. The quarian halted abruptly, and he would've bumped into her had he not stopped just as fast.
"You – you heard that?" He laughed at her embarrassed response and she swatted at him, glad that her mask hid her burning cheeks. "Oh, shut up!"
"It's all right. I'm sure the commander thought it was sweet," said Garrus reassuringly, putting his hands in front of him defensively. She knew he was still teasing her. Really, he was insufferable at times.
"That's not the point. It was a private conversation!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands, never mind that they were standing in the middle of the mess-hall, in audible range of a good portion of the crew.
"Could've gotten a room if you wanted," he told her, patting the top of her helmet. She smacked his arm away.
"You're such a... a bosh'tet sometimes, Garrus," Tali sighed, shaking her head, but he only laughed again.
She wasn't angry with him – there was a time when she would've been – she was just tired. The entire ordeal had been both highly physically and emotionally taxing, and she was just glad to be on the Normandy again. If she ever saw another geth it would be too soon – which put Legion down in the AI core instantly on her to-avoid list if he hadn't been before.
"All right, I'm sorry," he said. "How about we change the subject?" The turian gave her shoulder a little push, and she took the cue to start walking again.
"Well, for one, that trial turnout was phenomenal. Aren't you glad to see you're so loved?" he asked, partially joking.
"Loved?" She scoffed. "I don't know about that..."
"That Kal'Reegar seemed pretty willing to take a bullet for you – or with you, if you prefer. The other quarian, too."
"They're only two people. Everyone else was just angry with all the political farce the admirals were throwing around," she replied dismissively. Garrus shot her a glance.
"Are you sure about that? What would you have done if they hadn't stepped in?"
She waved her hand.
"They didn't have to. Shepard already got the crowd going, remember? I'm sure if she needed to, she could've talked the crowd onto their feet and into a mob. Kal and Veetor just sealed the deal."
"If you say so..." He obviously wasn't convinced, but as he didn't press the issue, Tali didn't either.
Yes, the trial had ended better than she could've hoped, in a manner far more spectacular than she could've dreamed, but she didn't think it had much to do with her alone. Honestly, while Kal's words touched her greatly, it seemed to her to be the type of thing that was in the marine's nature. When Tali thought of him, he had always been the type who put his foot down when he needed to. Kal'Reegar was usually polite, but he could turn the tables in the blink of an eye if need be. Still, no one else besides Shepard had ever taken a stand for her like that – it was enough to draw her gratitude. Who else would've had the guts to do it? For her sake, nonetheless?
"Would you have done it?" she asked, as soon the thought came to her. "Speak out, I mean."
"Shepard's a better talker than me, but... If I thought my words would have any sway," he replied, after a moment's pause, "then of course I would've. Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "But why would you?"
They were in front of the door to the main battery now – the quarian had no idea how they'd even gotten there. Garrus quickened his pace so that he was in front of her before turning.
"Look, Tali, you and Shepard are probably my only friends, and the ones I trust most on this ship," he told her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "How could I let you get exiled if I could help it?"
Her head tilted downwards as she contemplated it, and when she looked up to meet his gaze, sincerity had written itself all over his face. Something within her was moved by his words – not in the same way she'd been by Kal, or even Shepard. She felt a little warm.
Somehow, even though the latter two had actually done it, just knowing he would've was enough.
"Thanks, Garrus," she said after a while. He nodded and let go, taking a step back. "But if you only have me and Shepard for friends, then you must live a sad, lonely life."
"Aw. And here I thought we were having a moment."
They had done it – the Collector base was destroyed.
The entire mission was draining, grueling, and disconcerting all around, but it had also been a miracle. They had flown through the Omega-4 relay with the intention of dying – now they flew back with all intentions of living.
If Shepard had been some big-shot war hero before, she was a full-blown messiah now, at the very least to them. Not only had she taken out the Collector threat, but she'd done it without any losses. When he thought about it, only the commander was capable of going into an expected suicide mission and coming out with all members intact. That was just her own special brand of magic.
Of course, a lack of losses didn't mean a lack of damage.
It had been about a week since the raid on the base. Many had been in and out of the medical bay from various injuries – Grunt had broken his arm, Samara had been out for a day from overuse of biotics, and he, personally, had to get a couple of broken ribs set. Even Legion, normally so durable, was forced to take residence in the main chamber of the engineering deck while Donnelly and Daniels aided his repairs.
The doors before him hissed open, and he was welcomed both by Chakwas and the characteristic smell of antiseptics. Garrus went immediately to the third bed down from the door.
"Hey," she greeted weakly, folding her arms across her stomach.
"How are you holding up?"
"My cough is gone," she replied, tilting her head this way and that. "Dr. Chakwas said my recovery's coming along, and with my suit repaired, the fever should go down soon... I might be out tomorrow, or the day after."
"That's good to hear," he said, smiling.
Tali had suffered the worst of injuries during the mission. He'd been left to hold the line, but she and Legion had been taken along for the final stretch. So he'd been told, debris came down on them while the base was falling apart. Apparently the platform they had been standing on had collapsed. They were lucky to have survived, but both she and Legion had been trapped underneath some support beams, and the commander had to pull them off.
Legion, being geth, had shrugged his wounds off easily enough, but Tali suffered a broken arm, ribs, and scratches all over, rupturing her suit. What would've been bad for the others was fatal to her, and she had to be rushed to Chakwas as infection began to overtake her on top of that.
She'd been out cold for the first few days, in critical condition. Words could not describe his anxiety at that time. He had kept constant watch over her when he'd been kept in the med-bay, and paced listlessly in front of it when he wasn't. It wasn't until Chakwas turned him away with promises of keeping him updated that Garrus finally sat down and forced himself to play the waiting game.
To his immense relief, her status improved, and she woke up not much later – utterly disoriented, but very much alive.
"What's going on on the Normandy? How are Gabby and Ken?"
"It's been business as usual. As for Daniels and Donnelly, they're both fine – and they send their regards. They said they'd go visit you themselves if they weren't busy with repairs, and Legion."
"They're still helping him fix himself up?"
"Yeah. He took some pretty hard hits. If he wasn't a geth, I doubt he would've survived. He still won't patch up that hole in his chest, though."
"Heh." She shook her head, playing with edges of the cloth wrapped around her suit. "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually glad that piece of scrap-metal is all right. He really helped us, out there."
"You're glad that a geth is alive? How much medication is Dr. Chakwas keeping you on, there?" he asked, playfully. Though it was weaker than normal, Tali still smacked at his arm.
"Be quiet, you." Her head flopped back down onto the pillow. "You know, after all this, I'm beginning to think we might actually be able to do it. Make peace with the geth."
"Really," she said with conviction. "The Reapers are coming. Soon. I know this. Legion knows this. When we go back to our people, they'll know it too – we'll have other things to worry about than this dispute."
"Do you think the Reaper threat will really be enough for your people to move on?" he asked her, skeptically.
"No," the quarian answered honestly. "If anything, I think it'll take Shepard herself to bring them to their senses – but it's a start. With a little luck, it could happen."
"Maybe," he conceded. "But knowing some of the Admirals, you'd have about as much luck convincing them to make peace with the geth as you would getting the Council to acknowledge the Reaper threat."
"Which isn't much," noted Tali. He nodded.
"Speaking of the Council, I'm going to have to do something to prepare Palaven for this oncoming war. Considering how Councilor Sparatus has been about it, I'm going to have a hell of a time convincing the Primarch."
"You and I are on the same ship."
"Yeah." The turian turned his gaze to the ground. The threat of imminent destruction loomed over his head like a cloud of constant pressure, tangling with heavy responsibility. He could feel himself suffocating. "I guess we are."
Tali stayed quiet for a bit, before reaching out and taking one of his hands in her own. The action caught him off guard, but as he looked down on their entwined fingers, he couldn't help but admire it. Their hands fit together remarkably well.
"We'll get it done," she assured him, voice firm. "You, me, and Shepard."
"Yeah." He clasped her hand with both of his. "We always do."
With Shepard returning to Earth and the Alliance, everyone was forced to go their separate ways once more. She and Garrus didn't even bother to keep in touch this time – they had so much to do, and so little time, and they knew for sure they were going to run into each other someday, somewhere. It was practically inevitable.
Tali did keep contact with Legion however, if only to press the issue of peace with her people. With her promotion to Admiralty – something that came much to her surprise – her responsibilities increased exponentially, and try as she did to exert her new-found influence, she couldn't prevent what she dreaded most.
Gerrel and Xen declared war against both her and Admiral Koris's wishes, and they were all expected to contribute to the effort. She lost contact with Legion, the fleet turned its eyes to the geth as the enemy and vice versa, and the Reaper threat vanished. All she had worked for in the past few months crumbled.
Perhaps that was why it felt good to be back on the Normandy, even if it was strictly on business. No matter how far or long she was from the ship, she never seemed to stop missing it. Of course, as she fell into step beside Shepard and Garrus, nostalgia and familiarity bubbling up in her chest, she knew it was the crew rather than the vessel that kept her so tied to it. The people there, for the most part, knew the real threat. They didn't throw their lives away on ill-timed wars, based on disputes centuries outdated.
"All right, once we're aboard, we find whatever's broadcasting the Reaper signal and shut it down." Shepard turned the corner, never slackening her brisk pace as she gestured to Tali, who gave a small wave. "Tali's our expert on geth software. She'll be handling hacking and security."
Garrus nodded, and looked her up and down once they finally came to a stop in front of the airlock. Though she couldn't see his face, he didn't look any worse for wear since the suicide mission – in fact, he had finally changed that charred and cracked armor that he'd apparently been wearing since the fiasco on Omega.
"Good to have you back, Tali," he told her, and she was glad to hear those words from him. Even if it had only been months, it felt like such a long time since they parted. "Maybe with another dextro aboard, they'll get better turian food."
"As long as it's sterilized," she replied warily. Past incidences with unsanitary food had been unpleasant, to say the least, and as much as she craved flavor in her sustenance, she preferred the bland paste to illness. With all the stress, food poisoning was the last thing she needed.
"Dr. Michel did get me some dextro-amino chocolate," he recalled after a moment, nodding to her. "You're welcome to it, once we're back."
The quarian wondered vaguely if Garrus knew the romantic implications of giving a member of the opposite sex chocolate out of the blue – at least in human culture. Part of her felt oddly satisfied that he was offering it to her regardless of whether he knew the significance of it, but the feeling was immediately quelled once she fully registered what he'd said.
"She got you turian chocolate?" she asked, voice heavy in disbelief.
"She said she saw it and thought of me." He looked at both of them, obviously bemused by the doctor's gesture of kindness. "Why?"
Tali wanted to be amused, but she was more concerned with his lack of awareness more than anything.
"Oh, nothing," she answered, looking away. If Shepard wasn't going to say it and Dr. Michel didn't outright, then she wouldn't either.
At least, that's what she told herself. But the part of her – the very small part – that was honest knew that she didn't want to tell him about the doctor's potentially romantic feelings for him. Why, Tali couldn't say, but the fact remained that she was equal parts pleased that he didn't understand what the doctor had tried to convey and displeased that she had tried to convey it all.
It concerned her – it was beginning to sound a little too much like jealousy, and the quarian shook her head to dispel such thoughts. The war. The fleet. The geth. The Reapers.
She needed to focus on what was at hand.
"I'm surprised they'd send you on this mission, Tali," the commander commented as they passed through another door and into a side-chamber with a stairwell. The dreadnought was eerily silent, without the usual chatter that came with organic-operated ships. They were all too eager for conversation, if only it would keep the quiet at bay.
"Even Admirals are expected to serve," she said, adding with a mixture of confidence and self-consciousness, "I'm better at hacking than I am at ordering ships around."
They descended the stairs, Shepard taking point with Garrus covering the rear, their weapons pointed at every shadowy corner lest there be enemy troops lying in wait. In the back of his mind, the turian wondered whether the ships were so dark because of the geth's flashlight-heads or the geth had acquired flashlight-heads precisely because the ship were so dark. He stowed that train of though away, as they rounded a corner and came to the next set of stairs.
"Yeah, against an enemy dreadnought, your combat drone would just float there making that... noise," he quipped lightheartedly, both out of habitual wisecracking and a genuine desire to talk to her. They hadn't gotten the time to really speak to each other – the teasing came as familiar, and routine to him, and that was welcome on this cold, cold ship. A sigh could be heard escaping Tali, and out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw her shaking her head.
"I missed you too, Garrus," she replied, warmly, and it scared him how much happiness he derived from that alone. He suppressed the urge to respond in similar, smiling instead – there were geth, in the distance.
Now was the time to work.
The doors slid open with a slight hiss, signaling her arrival. Tali walked slowly into the main battery, hesitance to her step.
"Are you ready?"
Garrus turned to her, leaning on the edge of his terminal.
"I think this is as ready as I'll ever be," he answered truthfully. "We're finally going to do it. Take down Cerberus."
"Everything's coming to a head," she agreed, nodding. They stood for a while, one before the other and vice versa, simply regarding each other.
It was cheap to say that a lot had happened since they'd first met – but it was the truth, and there was so much history between them that it was almost tangible. At this point, they could understand what the other was thinking.
They were used to facing impossible odds – with Shepard, that was all the damn time – but this was different. It wasn't quite their last stand yet, but it was the last milestone before the end. So many had been lost getting there. So many more would be lost. It seemed like after every mission there was always the next to go to, but after this one, and then Earth – what was beyond?
And would they ever get to see it?
"There's something I want to say. We might die on this mission – or maybe the next one, and I don't want to regret anything," she began nervously, wringing her hands, "so..."
Wordlessly, he looked over his shoulder and pressed a few buttons. The doors shut quietly behind her.
They watched each other for a moment, one in anticipation of the other. Tali began to pace back and forth with a restless air.
"I don't know how to say this, so don't – don't laugh," she stuttered, sounding equal parts frustrated and equal parts embarrassed. "You know, it's funny because a long time ago, I hated you – I don't now! But, uh, I never thought..."
She halted abruptly in her pacing, whirling around to face him. If he could see her face, he would've seen the anxiety written all over it.
"Garrus, would you laugh if I told you I had feelings for you that were... unprofessional?" The quarian shook her head, burying her mask in her hands. "No, never mind. Don't answer that! Of course you would, I mean, what am I saying? This is... This was stupid, and I..."
There was a pregnant silence. She stood there for a long time, not even wanting to look at him, and sure that it would be unbearable once she had to. Garrus, on his end, only stared at her blankly. The creeping sensation of his heart clenching tight overtook him, along with its ridiculously loud beating. Under normal circumstances, he would've questioned why he wasn't dead yet – his heart was palpitating so violently – but the only thing he was truly cognizant of was Tali, and her words.
If he had heard them right; if they meant what he thought – hoped – they did, then...
He swallowed thickly, mandibles clicking, as his nerves, too, began to fail him.
There were so many other things the two of them should've been focusing on, but – they were so close to the end, now. Death could come at any moment. Did he really want to leave anything unsaid? This was his – no, their shot at finally coming clean.
And he was determined not to lose it.
Garrus pushed himself off the terminal and took a step towards her, pulling her hands from her face gently. She tilted her head back to look at him, timidly.
"I don't want to regret anything either," he said, closing his eyes. "So I'll say it straight. You mean a lot to me. A lot."
"But not enough?" she asked, rejection already threading itself through her voice. He shook his head, holding her hands together in his.
"More than enough. I don't exactly know what these so-called... unprofessional feelings are to you, but to me, well..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "To me, they're something like love, and... After all this is over, if you want to... Do you want to try starting something? With me?"
She turned her gaze to the ground, pulling her hands from his. A moment passed. Tali nodded once, slowly, and then twice vigorously.
"I – I'd like that," she said in a quiet voice, looking up at him. "Maybe... now?"
Garrus paused, reveling in her answer before smiling.
"Yeah. I'd like that."
A quiet fell over them as neither knew what to say next. Only the humming of the ship could be heard as he continued to look at her, and she in turn at the ground. The air was charged with a peculiar tension – gone was the dread and anticipation of the oncoming mission. Now it was thick with both awkwardness and relief, and a little touch of joy, as well as the nervousness that came with not knowing what to do.
"So it looks like you're a facial-scar type of woman after all," he joked, a little tentatively, breaking the silence at last.
"Oh, I don't know about that," she replied, easily slipping back into their routine. They'd been treading such new territory, she was glad to have something familiar to latch onto. For a moment, it was almost as if nothing had happened at all.
"Are you sure? Come on," he urged, expression teasing as he leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. Her cheeks heated up a little at their proximity. "Take a good look."
Well. Two could play at that game.
"Still as hideous as ever, I see," she answered dryly, eliciting a small chuckle from him.
"Now that hurts."
"Oh, it's okay," Tali told him, playfully mocking. Her hand came up and touched the scarred side of his face. "As ugly as they are, I like them."
The turian blinked, speechless for a moment before remembering himself.
"Good enough," he sighed, snaking his arms around her waist. Garrus grinned smugly. "I told you they were attractive."
Tali said nothing, but laughed and they stood for a while, foreheads pressed together.
There was no burst of complete joy, no abrupt boiling over of amorous sentiments and no sudden bout of intense passion. They knew their feelings – that alone, they were happy with.
They still had countless obstacles, both physical and mental, separating them, but they had taken the first step. That was enough. For now, they would enjoy things as they were.
It was tame and miniscule, but it was happiness.
They would arrive at the Cerberus base soon, and then to Earth afterwards, and if all went according to plan - Cerberus would be no more, the Reapers would be no more, and they would finally finish the story that had been three long, hard years in the making. Everything would finally come to an end, but they?
They would be just beginning.
And there you have it. This was written as a challenge prompt from my friend, but I do rather like this couple.
Some people were upset that they became technical canon in the right conditions - either jelly and insecure about their own romances, or something about it being vapid and completely left-wing. Personally, I thought it could've used a lot more build-up than it got, but I'm pleased that BioWare made that dive (even though they completely fell flat on their faces with that ending) - that took some guts. There was a lot that could've happened behind the scenes, without Shepard's knowledge, anyway, so who's to say it came completely out of nowhere? The crew's love-lives can't revolve around just one person - that would be a sad and lonely existence.
This is my first time writing a (I hope) well-done, romantic fiction - and my first time exceeding 3,000 words. I wanted to try at a more natural, progressing sort of take on Tali and Garrus's relationship, but perhaps I was overly ambitious... Are you still reading this?
Whatever the case, I'm pleased with how it came out, and I hope you guys enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it (not really, it was stressful as heck to try to do this and do it right). Reviews are always appreciated.