Chapter 1: Farewell
Commander John Shepard was lying on the couch in what he would call his new apartment, but after the events in the Bahak system, it was nothing more than a lavish prison to him. His home was just an ear shot's away from the Alliance headquarters on Earth, located in hustling and bustling Vancouver, of the United North American States. Lots of tall buildings and lovely patios for those who either had great Alliance connections, or really knew how to get the best in life. Shepard was not one of those people. Although, judging by his current living status, you would not think that. A large condo with snow white walls and floor, lamps giving off a calm blue light, bed and couch made out of special memory foam, working kitchen filled with food of the highest caliber, and furniture that would put the designs of the now extinct Ikea to shame. But all of that meant absolutely nothing to Shepard. After all, all the riches in the world couldn't make up for the lack of friendly company.
His apathetic gray-blue eyes watched the flying cars zoom pass his large six-foot long window, sighing from the comfort of his leather couch, wishing that he could actually walk outside again, like a normal Human being. Although, from time to time, he often wondered if he could even be classified as a "normal" Human after what Cerberus did to bring him back to life. But whether he was a zombie or not, it still wouldn't change the fact that the Ex-Commander Shepard was placed under house arrest over the past six months. Despite the fact that it was one in the afternoon, Shepard was still in his red and black dressing gown, not even bothering to get dressed, or do much of anything, and it was starting to show. His skin was so pale that it almost matched the walls, his thick brown hair was messy and greasy, his chiseled chin, which used to hold a preferred five-o-clock shadow, was now replaced with a thick fuzzy beard engulfing his cheeks. All of this thanks to the little metal bracelet fastened to his ankle. He glanced at it distastefully, knowing that the Alliance had placed him under arrest for something that he had no control over.
The only time in his military career, when the Commander could not find a better option. What that trial did to him was more than just loosing his title, his ship, or even his pride. It made him loose his confidence, overtaken by the ever present guilt, the all too real truth: that he was completely responsible for destroying a mass relay, and destroying a system.
"Commander John Shepard," announced one of the Admirals judging him at the trial. "What you did was a war crime beyond comprehension."
"There was enough bad blood between Batarians as there were before you had to go out and destroy one of their precious systems!" shouted another.
"And to destroy the Alpha Relay in the process, a priceless artifact and tool of the Protheans," glared a third. "We always had doubts concerning your unexpected return and alliance with Cerberus, and this is NOT making them fade by any means."
"I told you," Shepard pleaded, struggling to stay professional. "It had to be done. I admit my mistakes, but believe me, we have just been given precious time to prepare ourselves for the Reaper invasi-"
"Oh not this again."
"Commander," kindly asked the first Admiral, "are you certain that's the alibi you wish to stick to? This obsession you and Cerberus have concerning these mythical Reapers is nothing more than a way to spread unnecessary panic across the traverse."
"Well, with all do respect Admiral, panic would at least get everyone's attention. Listen, the Reapers aren't going to stop until every single species in this galaxy is either dead, or wished they were dead, and set up the trap for the next unlucky race to find the relays next fifty-thousand years. We've already wasted enough time bickering with each other, the Council being no exception. I don't expect you to forgive me, I only want you to understand. We need to prepare ourselves for Reaper attacks, who knows how much time we have left until their arrival." The second Admiral sighed,
"Shepard. I really do hate doing this to someone like you. A living legend, a prime example of Humanity's influence across the stars, but even you, must answer for your actions. And even IF, these sun eating machine god-ships did exist, and WERE coming. It does not change the fact that you murdered thousands of Batarians. No matter how unpleasant they are, nobody deserves being burned out of space by their own relay. As of today, the SR-2 Normandy will be grounded, stripped, and reenter the Alliance Navy, and for its captain, we sentence you, to dea-"
"Wait!" called Admiral Hackett, one of the few people in the room actually defending the dishonored soldier. "Admirals, this is not the solution we must take. Shepard is still as loyal to the Alliance now as he has ever been, killing him won't solve anything."
"Hackett," replied the first. "With all due respect, I know Commander Shepard means a lot to both you and Councilor Anderson, but the evidence-"
"Is there," Hackett interrupted. "In case I have to remind you all, the last time the Council doubted Shepard's warnings about Sovereign, Saren attacked the Citadel with that thing at full force. Costing hundreds if not THOUSANDS of lives, some of which actually belonged to the original Council. We've all seen the fragments of that ship,we all heard the rumors, and we all know that the Geth (with their known resources) could NOT build a ship of that magnitude, nor power."
"That is a compelling statement," replied the second, "but the Geth could have easily took its time in building it. After all, they isolated themselves in the Perseus Veil for, what, 600 years? What else would they do with that time, stamp collecting?"
"Just because they could doesn't mean they DID!" cried a voice near Shepard. It was Joker, the pilot who insisted on accompanying Shepard for the trial.
"Joker," Shepard glared, trying not to have his best pilot get court martialed.
"Now, I may not be an Admiral, but I know a bad situation when I see one. Because even if the Reapers WERE fake. Is death really the right reward for this guy? Hell, he's already died ONCE, does he really need to go through that again?"
"That "death" claim is still under suspicion," reminded the third. "And may I also remind you that if you continue to disrupt these proceedings, YOU could end up with life imprisonment. You're already guilty enough as it is with abandoning the Alliance to go work for Cerberus. You should feel lucky to be even in this room at all."
"Fine, fire me if it makes you feel better. But all of you need to know that Shepard has done more things for you, the Council, and the galaxy, than any Spectre ever had. And if that's a crime, than you should execute me right along with the commander."
"Also," Hackett added warily, "Shepard was only in the Bahak system to begin with because of my orders. Now destroying that system was certainly extreme, and I know there's very little evidence backing up the Reapers, but I plead you, as Admirals of the Alliance Navy, we should at least keep an eye out for them."
"What do you suggest?" asked the second.
"We send in a few ships to monitor Batarian space. Have them rendezvous around their borders once every few days for an entire year. If the Commander is right, and the Reapers are coming: then surely we'll be able to see them pass through that sector, since there's no Alpha Relay for them to use. Once we see one, we'll gather as many assets as we can, and find a way to take those bastards down."
"And what if we DON'T see them after the year's up?"
"Well then, you have my permission to do whatever you want to Shepard. But again," he glanced at his fellow Admirals with a strong confident look in his eyes, "that all depends if the Reapers ARE myths."
"You really do believe in his story?"
"I bet my life, and all the lives lost in Saren's attack on it. And if Anderson were here with us, I'm sure he'd say the EXACT, same, thing."
"Hell yeah!" fist pumped Joker inappropriately. There was a moment of silence, as the majority of the Admirals discussed on what Shepard's punishment should be. Shepard himself though, could do nothing but stand, and regret. He normally would not need the assistance of people like Hackett or Joker to argue for him. Although he was grateful that they helped, he was never the person who needed to be saved. Or wanted to be saved. He didn't care what would happen to him, as long as it protected everyone from the Reaper menace, it was worth it. Even if that DID mean, breaking the promise of a certain Quarian.
After a while, the first Admiral finally announced,
"Commander John Shepard, after much delegation, we have decided to not execute you. But instead, put you under house arrest. You're new location will be provided by us, as well as living arrangements of your choosing. You will be monitored by our staff on a nearly constant basis, to ensure that your loyalty is still as strong as Hackett claims. So until the end of this year, former Commander Shepard of the SR-2 Normandy, you are discharged from the Alliance."
And with that, the trial was over.
Six months had past since then, and Shepard knew that it won't be long until a full year goes by without him noticing. He has heard that the Alliance accepted Hackett's suggestion, and have sent freighters and other ships around the borders of Batarian space, to keep on the look out for "strange activity". But Shepard had no idea how lucky that search was going nowadays. For he rarely watched the news anymore. Mostly due to his personal vendetta against reporters, but overall, the channels he'd always get just talked about things happening on either Earth, or in the Alliance. Nothing else concerning the locations his crew went to.
Although today, Shepard did not wish to just lie around in front of the window like he usually did, and thought it was about time to see what had changed in the world. At the very least, hope to hear any hints on where his old squad-mates have ended up. Or better yet, Tali. Who knows, they're probably reporting something on the Citadel right now. But before he could even turn on the screen, and get a long overdue update, there was a knock at the door. He was a bit startled, he never got visitors. The only time the Alliance ever talked to him was through omni-tool, and even with that it was only through an extremely secure channel.
He slowly walked to the door, opened it, and saw to his surprise, was the most muscular Alliance soldier he had ever seen. The man's body looked like it was made out of pure beef, Shepard met Krogans with less muscle then this guy. He also wore a tight white t-shirt, a dog-tag, and casual slacks, obviously courtesy of the Alliance. His tanned skin was of latino heritage, and had evidence of a few tattoos on his thick neck poking through the hole of his shirt, there also appeared to be a light scar going across his cheek to his nose, and another one at the bottom of his lip. But what really got Shepard's attention aside from his massive physique, was his little black military mohawk sitting on his scalp. Suffice to say, Shepard was a little surprised to see this soldier.
Once Shepard was actually able to take in the massive meat-brick man, the soldier saluted the convicted commander and said,
"Um...hi," Shepard waved back awkwardly. Not sure how to take this.
"Name's James Vega. Just got sent by the brass to come on by and pick you up."
"What?!" exclaimed a confused Shepard. "I was not informed about this. Am I free, is my house arrest now revoked?"
"Uh, that's a little hard to say," Vega admitted while rubbing his grizzled chin. "They just told me to get you, and deliver you to Alliance HQ. They didn't tell me the specifics, all I know is that they need your opinion on something. Something important I guess."
"Like I said," the Mexican meat man shrugged, "they didn't tell me much. I don't know if they want you back, are setting you free, want your help in current events, or just need you to get groceries. All I know is that I'm here to take you out of this room, and onto the road," he gestured. After an uncomfortable pause, with either man not sure of what to say. After an awkward cough, the soldier said, "By the way, love the beard there ese."
"Thanks," said Shepard, just remembering it was still clung to his face. "I doubt the Alliance would appreciate it though. I should probably get dressed if the Alliance wants me back."
"Yeah," Vega shrugged, "last time I checked, bathrobes aren't in this year." John smirked, it has been too long since he actually had the opportunity to speak to anyone so casually. Whoever this James Vega may have been, he was starting to grow on him.
"I'll just go shower. Oh," Shepard noticed, "you don't have to stand outside, come on in, make yourself at home."
"Wha-really? Don't want to intrude."
"Pfft, it doesn't count as intrusion unless you're invited. Don't get many guests these days. Now, come on inside, that's an order soldier," he joked, and Vega casually walked in, and took assessment of the apartment.
"Damn, you got some fine digs here," Vega commented while walking through the living room. As Shepard was in the bathroom, prepping himself for the outside world, he called from the shower,
"Thanks. Admirals thought that if I had to go to prison, it might as well be the cleanest prison around."
"I thought you were placed under house arrest?"
"Eh, same thing, different names. The only honest difference between my assessment and say...Purgatory, is that I'm allowed to order food and furniture whenever I need it."
"Still sounds like a sweet deal to me."
"Well, agree to disagree," Shepard shrugged in the bathroom as he started shaving his thick fuzzy cheeks. So it could return to it's natural stubble.
As Vega continued to aimlessly walk around the condo, seeing all kinds of model ships, fish tanks, and beer bottles along the way, he somehow ended up walking out of the kitchen and into Shepard's bedroom. Like everywhere else in the suite, it was large, white, and almost sterile from how clean it looked, but decorating the edges of the nightstand beside the bed where a small collection of framed pictures. Some of the photos were in frames, as others were just pasted on sides of the wall and window, but all of them seemed to hold the same subject. Vega knew people who would keep special pictures like that for their family, friends, and even their old high school sweet hearts. But what he found weird, was that absolutely all of the photos were roughly three years old. He could tell, as they were all shots of the crew of the two Normandys. Some were of the ensemble crew and squads of the ship when they were hunting down the infamous Saren, and others (he could only guess) were taken during his time at Cerberus. He was honestly surprised how happy everyone looked despite wearing the Cerberus' emblem. He glanced at a Krogan arm wrestling some bald chick, a Turian trying to help out the cook, Shepard and some black guy with a thick mustache have a drinking competition, while some well endowed black haired woman in a skintight white jumpsuit looked on disapprovingly, an old Salarian examining some Asian girl in a hood, and the Commander beating two crew mates and a female Quarian at what appeared to be poker. Although the two pictures that really stood out in Vega's eyes, were the two that held the full squads of the Normandys.
The first one pictured the Commander in the middle, a different dark haired woman, a younger Asari, the Turian, a man who looked like he was trying to pull off the legendary hairstyle of Elvis, a large scarred Krogan in scarlet red armor, and a Quarian. All of them were lined up for the photo, feeling very relaxed, the Krogan in particular looked very stoic, and the Turian across from him trying to imitate his pose. They were all smiling, but aside from the Elvis hair guy, it seemed more like a family photo than anything else. Everyone smiling and looking as proper as they could not out of the feeling of it, but simply because it's a lot nicer to look at. The only person Vega saw not smiling was the Quarian. Not for obvious reasons like her helmet. But her body language looked a lot more nervous than anyone else there. He wasn't sure if he was seeing things, but Vega thought that the Quarian was nervous because she was so close to the commander. As for the other group photo, it was a lot more lively, not only because there was a hell lot more people in it, but simply because everybody seemed to be having, for lack of a better word, a good time. The crowd had the black haired woman with the huge tracks of land, looking smug and posh, next the black guy who was trying to look macho, with the brown scaled Krogan behind the two, trying to playfully wrestle with that bald chick, who in turn looked like she was going to biotically punch him in the face, while wearing a massively evil grin. Then there was the Salarian examining the personal space of what seemed to be a very confused Geth with a hole in its chest, while an old Human with miss-matched eyes and a large scar on his face leaned against it. Next was the Drell, trying to be at peace, despite knowing that the hooded girl was putting up bunny ears behind his head. Then there was an old, yet sexy looking Asari with some weird red crown on her head smirking at the company she's in, and the same (but scarred) Turian from the original Normandy, firing a finger gun at the camera with pride. But at the very center of the group, was a Quarian in a purple hood and Commander Shepard, arms over shoulders, and from the look of the Commander's face, he really looked like he was having the time of his life. Especially with that cheerful Quarian, considering how close their embrace was.
"Find anything you like?" asked Shepard standing behind the intruding Vega.
"Oh, sorry sir," he replied with a startle, suddenly seeing a neatly shaven Shepard, already fitted into his old Alliance uniform.
"Don't be, and please, no sirs. Not allowed to be called Commander nowadays, and sir is just pushing it."
"Well, if you don't mind me sayin'. You may not be the Commander of the Normandy, but I'm sure you still miss it." Shepard smiled pleasantly, picked up a picture with Joker bothering Presley, and said,
"Yeah. Most people have told me to not forge feelings with your crew, makes the hard decisions feel all the harder you know? But to me," he glanced at the two group shots of his squads, "if you don't get to know your crew, then you aren't able to know yourself." Vega nodded, not entirely sure by what philosophy that was, and instead commented,
"So...looks like the SR-2 was a lot of fun."
"You noticed?" he smirked.
"Kind of hard not to. And, I just gotta ask-"
"NO, the Illusive Man was a terrible person to work for, I highly advise against it. Trust me, in the long run, it isn't worth it."
"Actually," said the slightly stunned soldier, "I was going to ask about the Quarian there."
"Yeah, I was just wonderin', if that Quarian chick from the first Normandy is the same on the second."
"Any particular reason why?"
"I don't know," he shrugged. "Just curious."
"Well if you must know, yes, that is the same girl. I can understand the confusion due to the suit change. But, no matter how she looks," he reminisced fondly, "she's still just Tali to me."
"Looked like you two were close," Vega said while glancing at the picture. Shepard picked up the two group shots and answered,
"We were all close, no matter which Normandy I was on, my people were always there for me. Forgive me for sounding sentimental, but, I've always considered both my crews to be almost...like a family."
"If that's the case, where are they now? Or why weren't they there for your trial?" Suddenly, the shine in Shepard's eyes started to dull.
"Complications just arose," he sighed. Vega hesitated, afraid that he accidentally reopened an old wound of the ruined commander.
"Uh, sorry. Didn't bring back any bad memories did I?"
"No," the commander sighed again as he focused on the picture of the SR-2's squad, "not bad memories," glanced at the other picture containing Ashley Williams, "maybe just bad timings." Although regardless of what he said, Shepard did remember something from the SR-2 Normandy.
The final day of him being its captain.
"You're WHAT?!" asked an astonished Miranda while everyone else in the meeting room just looked either concerned, annoyed, shocked, or (if you were Legion) curious.
"I'm sorry Lawson," said Shepard, dressed in his casual science uniform, "but we've been running from the Alliance long enough. It's bad enough that Cerberus stole back the Reaper IFF under our own noses,(no offense Legion)-"
"It is not necessary," spoke the Geth.
"but, to add on the fact that we blew up a major Batarian system doesn't exactly put us in good terms with the Alliance. Hackett and Anderson would understand our reasons, but unfortunately, the rest of the Admirals are rarely so generous. It's best if we make as little enemies as possible. Cerberus is obviously a no-go, but that does not mean we still can't try for everyone else."
"Why the hell would the Alliance be mad with you anyway?" scoffed Jack. "Everyone HATES Batarians. If anything, you just did the galaxy a favor."
"Not everyone thinks like that," muttered Zaheed. "Don't get me wrong,every bloody Batarian I've ever met always tried to kill me, rob me, enslave me, or all of the above. But, despite all that, I know not all of them are heartless bastards.....only MOST of them."
"True, Batarian culture has much history, and potential to evolve into less bigoted society," rambled Mordin. "Can't say when that would happen, centuries, one more millennium? But regardless, Batarians still have a great history, a sense of art, pride, emotion, even soul. Unlike Collectors, especially Reapers. Only exception for races that," the Salarian inhaled sharply, "deserve extinction."
"....Yeah," Zaheed agreed, not really used to having that chatterbox excitedly ramble so close to him, "what he said."
"That's exactly my point," Shepard brought up. "Look, the Reapers are coming, we all know that, we've been preparing for this ever since we all stepped onto this boat. However, the rest of space is still in the dark, or at best, know it, but refuse to believe it. I need to gain back the trust of the Alliance again, and if that means grounding this ship, or...having me imprisoned," he looked at the floor with a pang of regret, "than so be it."
"But this is insane!" Tali shouted from the other side of the room. "Shepard, you blew up a system. My Admirals almost had me exiled because they suspected me for Geth parts, but you took down a Relay. I don't know much about the Human justice system, but I'm sure in your culture, genocide on that nature could lead you straight into execu-"
"I don't expect them to forgive me," Shepard interrupted before Tali could even finish that frightful thought of hers. "I only expect them to give it some consideration," he sighed, "it's going to be tough convincing them. But...we need all the help we can get, hell, if it weren't for the fact that they robbed us a couple weeks ago, I would've gladly had Cerberus work with us."
"I don't know about that Shep," Kasumi pondered. "Cerberus working FOR us sounds a lot more attractive in my mind."
"I'd second that," Jacob smirked.
"But, in all seriousness," Shepard stated so he could get everyone back on track. "If we're going to get allies, we need to follow some of their rules in order for them to believe us on what we have to say. If I can't at least get them to help us, even a little bit, than we might as well have died in the Collector Base for all the good we did. Which is why, by the end of this week," he sighed heavily, "I will no longer be the commanding officer of this vessel."
"This is bullshit Shepard," Garrus protested. "If you're going to trial you should at least take some of us with you to testify your innocence."
"That's right," Grunt nodded, "Shepard isn't as cowardly to kill his enemies with a single huge explosion. He gets close and personal and ensures that every single one of his foes dies a slow and painful death, in the name of all the fallen Krogans that have fallen before him," he stood triumphant over his statement as Garrus, Tali, and everyone else looked at Grunt warily.
"That's...nice Grunt. If we ever need a lawyer we'll call you."
"Don't bother. From what I've heard not many species allow shotguns in courtrooms...yet."
"As much as I would like either of you to represent me," Shepard lamented. "Or ANY of you for that matter. I can't risk it. The judges would most likely not believe you since you, DO technically work for me."
"As much as it pains me to say it," Thane muttered. "Shepard is right."
"When isn't he?" Jack scoffed sarcastically.
"I've been to enough hearings, and have seen the law systems of multiple races during my time as an assassin. And I can tell you that if Shepard needed anyone to fight for him, if it came to convincing his superiors about the Reapers, we'd be the worst possible choice. Look at us, to be perfectly honest we're simply just a random group of killers, thieves, soldiers, science experiments, or anything else in-between. The very fact that we've been able to make it this far without turning on each other is a feat in of itself. But thanks to a certain Human, we have been able to move on past things like that. None of us would even be here if it weren't for the commander's actions. We owe this man everything, which is exactly why the Admirals will most likely not trust our words."
"What?" Garrus asked. "You're saying that simply because we're dedicated to helping Shepard is why they won't believe us?! That's the most backwards logic I ever heard!"
"Calm down Archangel. You and I both know that when it comes to politics, the people who tend to sit on the highest seat, are commonly the most stubborn. And would more likely sacrifice their own hands, than their own personal beliefs. Think about it, from their point of view, we could only be confirming Shepard's theories about the Reapers, Collectors and so forth, NOT because of the truth. But because he simply ordered us to."
"Which would make sense," Miranda reluctantly agreed. "He's done so much for not just us, but for the whole bloody crew. Joker, EDI, Kelly, Chakwas, the Engineers, hell, he even went grocery shopping for our own cook. Not to mention that he was responsible for everyone making out of the Collector Base alive. We owe everything to this man. But, the Admirals, will most likely not see our gratitude in the same light that we see it."
"Yeah," Shepard shrugged. "That's pretty much the gist of it."
"I still think this is bullshit," Jack snarled. "After all the crap the Collectors and Cerberus put us through. You are the one sent to jail, while that Illusive Bastard gets to run along scott free doing god knows what. It's," she struggled to finish her sentence, but Tali caught up with her with,
"It's not fair," she looked across to Shepard. Their eyes met, the weary Commander sunk his head and said,
"Life naturally isn't. Anyway," he steadied himself, "as my probable final order as Commander, I order you all to pack up your stuff, tell Joker and EDI where you need to go, and get off. You're all leaving."
"What?!" most of the squad exclaimed.
"Why the hell should we leave?" asked a flustered Jacob.
"Because if things actually DO go south for me in this trial," Shepard explained. "I would at least feel confident in the fact that all of you are there to pick up from where I left off. Plus, if I did bring you all to Earth with me, the Alliance would certainly arrest most of you. Especially for those who actually worked for Cerberus."
"Oh yeah," Jacob rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. "We never did fill out that resignation form did we."
"As if we need it anyway," Miranda reasoned. "Still, it should be worth keeping an eye on them though. Not sure what action the Illusive Man's going to do next, but, knowing him, it's going to be big. As risky this move your making IS Shepard, I understand your judgment. And respect your decision," she stood up straight and proper, like a good operative. To which the Commander only smirked and said,
"Alright, now that's settled, anyone have any ideas on where they want to go?"
There was a moment of unwanted silence, until Samara finally spoke up,
"For your convenience, Commander. I suggest you should drop me off back where we first met."
"You mean Illium?" asked Garrus. "Why in the Spirits' name would you want to go back there?"
"I must follow my Code Mr. Vakarian. I stated from the very beginning that my reason for joining your Commander's mission, was simply for the act of justice against the horrors committed by the Collectors. But now, with them gone, and Morinth eliminated, I must go back and find a new path. Continue to hunt down criminals, for the sake of the Code."
"If that's what you want, why go to Illium? Why not Omega? Their murders are just as common as going to the bathroom."
"You obviously have not stayed in Illium as long as I have, Archangel. Omega's crime rate is large, yes. But Illium's crimes are like weeds, harmless as seeds, but left unattended, will grow into massive parasites that could threaten all. Plus, I heard one of my fellow Justicars may be visiting there. Wish to warn her about this invasion. If I wish to be of any use to both the Commander and my Code, it would be best if I started there immediately."
"Okay," Shepard nodded, "so you're obviously going first. Any other takers?"
"We suggest to be delivered to the Perseus Veil," said Legion. "The Geth must achieve complete consensus if we ever stand a possibility to defeating the Old Machines."
"I don't think the Normandy actually has a proper map for that region of space."
"In that case, we will comply and adapt to using a shuttle instead. Would it be ill-advised to borrow an escape pod?"
"Wouldn't you rather have a ship? Escape pods are kind of cramped Legion."
"Geth do not need large amounts of space to operate efficiently. Do not threat for this unit, it will return to Rannoch intact," it turned its head towards Tali. "In addtion, Creator-Tali'Zorah. We hope that we can depend on the assistance of the Creators in the near-future."
"Hmm?" a slightly distracted Tali asked. "OH, yes. Of course," she nodded, although still obviously uncomfortable with talking to the synthetic. She looked at Shepard and smirked behind her mask, "The more help the better, right?"
"Yeah," Shepard smiled. "So Tali, do you know where you would like to be dropped off?"
"Uh," she hesitated, and after a long pause Grunt butted-in, and said,
"I don't know about you, but I'm going back to where I belong. Tuchanka. Live as a true member of Clan Urdnot. Crush all that stand in our way, whether they be Reapers, Cerberus, or anything else that makes our blood boil."
"I'm sure Wrex would be more than happy to have you." Grunt chuckled evilly at that compliment.
"Well, if he's going back to his homeworld, I would wish to do the same," said Garrus. "Who knows? Maybe I can give the whole Spectre thing one last shot. Whatever the case though, you can count on me Shepard."
"Thanks Garrus," Shepard smiled.
"I would prefer it if you would drop me off at the Citadel," Thane inserted.
"Check on my son. Perhaps pass on some Reaper rumors. Whatever comes up. I do know it's specifically difficult for my kind to fake solipsism."
"Alright. Anyone else thinking the same way? Miranda?"
"No," she answered. "I have a different destination for Jacob and myself. Would you mind dropping us off at Horizon?"
"Why there of all places?"
"Well," Jacob explained, "ever since we broke off from Cerberus, Miranda and I thought it would be best if we made up for most of Cerberus' actions. She thinks that the best way for us to start would be the last colony the Collectors attacked. I don't know where we'll go from there, but either way, we'll try and get some more people to help you fight the Reapers. Maybe other guys from Cerberus who feel the same way we do," he shrugged.
"It's just a pipe dream right now," Miranda explained, "but it's better than just sitting comfortably and waiting for the Reapers to show up."
"Hey, don't get the wrong idea or anything," Jack butted in, "but...can I come with?"
"Jack?" Miranda smirked smugly. "And here I thought you hated my company."
"Don't flatter yourself Cheerleader. The only reason I'm following you assholes is because Horizon is probably the best way for me to start over. Still a wanted criminal, remember? Can't exactly go into Alliance space with them asking about my "questionable past". Maybe once I form a new identity on Horizon I'll go to Omega, maybe work for that Aria chick. She looks like she knows how to have a good time."
"I don't know about that Jack," Shepard said, stroking his stubbled chin. "I think the Alliance could actually be good for you."
"Tch, and they call ME the crazy bitch."
"We'll give you a lift there anyway," said Jacob. Jack apathetically nodded in response.
"Humans may not want to visit Citadel," Mordin rambled. "But I certainly wish to be dropped off there. Many supplies required, genophage cure information needs to be tested, as well as the trustworthiness of Salarian allies. Have many of them on Citadel, proud of me for my work, but Krogans will be huge part of the upcoming war. A way to lessen the tension between our species," inhaled, "main priority."
"Best of luck to you."
"Your thanks is appreciated Mr. Taylor."
"You can just drop me back on Omega," Zaheed grunted. "Need to get in touch with the Blue Suns again. If this Reaper war is coming our way, I gotta get rid of Vido now more than ever."
"Sorry you didn't get the chance to kill him," Shepard apologized.
"Don't grovel to me. You're the Spectre, you can make your own rules. And besides, in hindsight, this just gave me the opportunity to kill him in a far better way. Maybe Aria can lend me a wrench?" the bounty hunter stroked his chin, pondering about his new sick revenge scheme.
"With all due respect Shep," Kasumi said, leaning against the wall. "I'm staying here."
"Kasumi that isn't an option, you know that," Shepard reminded her.
"Oh I'm aware of that. I'm just saying that I need to get back to Earth. Haven't been there in a while, plus I need to get in contact with someone. An engineer that specializes in Grayboxes. Find out what really was lurking inside Keiji's memories. Think there's one I can talk to in China, but I can only get there with your ship."
"But what if-"
"Shep, you DO know who you're talking to right? I'll be able to slip out of the Alliance's line of sight as soon as this ship hits solid ground. Until then, if any of your Alliance pals call early, just pretend I'm not here," she smiled mischievously. "You know, like always."
"Alright, but if you end up getting thrown into the big house too, don't say I didn't warn you. And what about you Tali?"
The Quarian simply hung her head low, and stayed silent for a long uncomfortable moment. Until she noticed that she was being called on, and hesitantly said,
"Oh, uh...I haven't, decided yet....I'll give it some thought later...today."
"Alright" Shepard glanced at Tali with much regret, but once again, he regained his composure and said, "that's that then. Everyone pack up your stuff, I'll go tell Joker about where each of you need to go. Good luck to you all, and," he saluted, "it's been an honor having you all aboard."
"Jeez Shep," Kasumi rolled her eyes, "save it when total galactic war breaks out, will you?"
A couple days had past. Shepard watched glumly as his once loyal and prosperous crew started to lessen bit by bit. Samara leaving at Illium, Zaheed going back into the exact same hallway that Shepard first met him at, and Garrus leaving for his own homeworld. Which unlike the others Shepard didn't even have the opportunity to say goodbye once they touched ground. Since the sun was absolutely deadly to anyone who DIDN'T have the almost metallic skin of the Turians growing out of them. But despite that, he always did his best to make sure they left his ship with a hardy goodbye, and a good sense of hope. Hell, just to show them some good faith (despite Legion's declares on how unnecessary is was), Shepard had EDI take a picture of the whole squad, just for the sake of the good memories that overpowered the bad ones. However, over the past forty-eight hours, the only person who seemed to have been avoiding Shepard, was Tali.
Every time Shepard, Kenneth, Gabby, EDI, or even Joker asked where she would like to be dropped off, she always found an excuse to change the subject, or leave the room before the conversation got any deeper. Shepard knew she was having a rough time, considering out of the whole squad, they have gotten to know each other far more intimately than he had ever dreamed or anticipated. Aside from hearing about her congestion after their special night, Shepard never actually talked to Tali any further than that. Not to say she was neglected by any means, he still called upon her to snuggle with him in his cabin, on those particular nights that have been a little "too quiet" for Tali to sleep. They had fun for sure, but where they stood in terms of a relationship they were uncertain, nor were they willing to ask the question.
Now that Shepard was being forced to come back to Earth before they could even understand this new liaison of theirs, and possibly have him killed once he gets there, just put the poor girl into a whole new state of turmoil. Shepard was there when Tali lost her father, and even though he could not see her expressions through her mask, he could still feel the pain she felt from loosing one of the most important people in her life. She never got a chance to say good-bye to him, which would be the reason why Tali refused to say when she would leave the ship. The engineer didn't WANT to say good-bye. And unfortunately, Shepard felt the same way. If Tali would say good-bye, than things would become very awkward for them in missions to come, but if Shepard would say it, he could risk breaking the woman's heart. Either way, they were in a loose-loose situation.
Eventually, the crew itself started to break apart too. Kenneth, Gabby, Gardner, and Chakwas all left once they reached the Citadel, most likely to turn themselves in, and hopefully get rehired by the Alliance, or at least C-Sec. Kelly decidedly went with Miranda's group to Horizon, Shepard didn't know why the red head chose the half-emptied colony to live of all places. But he could only guess it was either for charity, or as Mordin once suggested, because there was a doctor that the Collectors left behind, who specialized in treating Scale Itch. Joker and EDI on the other hand were a different story. EDI couldn't leave the Normandy for obvious reasons, but Joker was the only one of the crew who absolutely REFUSED to leave the Normandy, and Shepard's side.
Later that night, Shepard was still arguing about it over the intercom of his room.
"Seriously Joker, you DON'T have to do this," Shepard said looking over some files. "I've been able to handle things MUCH worse than trials, so I won't need your help."
"If you're so confident why don't you say that to my face?" Joker mocked over the com.
"Busy with paperwork up here. Have to get my stuff together if I EVER hope to convince them."
"Yeah, too bad you don't have any lawyer who could help you out or anything."
"You're not a lawyer Joker. You're a pilot, and with all due respect, stick to what you know."
"Well, "with all due respect", EDI had just been teaching me a lot about the justice system, and honestly I think I can tackle it. Besides, unlike the rest of the crew I can't go anywhere. The Normandy isn't just my job, it's my home, the ONE place I belong. And sorry Commander, but if you're going to force me to quit, than you have to take this ship from my cold dead hands."
"Jeff, you know it's impossible to actually "take hold" of the ship knowing the immense difference in size," EDI's voice butted in instantly.
"It's just a figure of speech EDI, geez."
"Well," Shepard considered. "Fine, I'll let you come with me, but ONLY as a guest. I don't want you to fall in the same pit I already dug myself into."
"So, you're going to bring him along, but you don't want me?" asked a fragile and worried voice from behind the Commander. Shepard turned to see that it was Tali, whom was standing near the open door.
"Shepard, Ms. Zorah would like to speak with you," EDI futilely reminded him.
"Thanks EDI," Shepard sarcastically replied. "Really needed that head's up."
"I was referring to how Ms. Zorah is feeling now. Her breathing patterns and heart rate are at an inconsistent pace."
Shepard looked at the trembling Quarian slowly walk towards him, her three fingered hands clenched into fists. But once she started talking, those said fists easily broke as she began wringing her hands like usual,
"I-I," she began, " I was coming up here to tell you that I, finally decided that I will return to the fleet. Ensure that the Admirals of the Flotilla will stay true to their words, but...I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, I just got here at the wrong time and I couldn't help listen between you and Joker arguing and I heard that he's allowed to stay now and-" she stopped talking once she felt her Commander gently take hold of one of her hands. The woman looked up, and their eyes locked. The Commander stroked the "chin" of Tali's helmet, while she lighty placed a gloved palm on his cheek. "It's not fair," her voice cracked. "You have done so much for my people, so much for this galaxy. And the one time you do something wrong, you're going to get killed for it," without warning she embraced the startled Human, as she wept. "Shepard, why can't you let me come with you?! You fought for me when my own people called me a traitor! Why can't I do the same for you? It's just not right, the Alliance doesn't deserve someone like you! Keelah, I don't deserve someone like you. WHY WON'T YOU LET ME HELP YOU?!"
She was about to go on, until Shepard placed his hand on her hooded head, slowly hugged her in return, and answered,
"Tali, your father tried his best to keep you out of the politics of the Admirals as far as possible. He may have failed, but he was trying to protect you. Once I saw that man on the vid, I knew exactly what your father really thought of you, and honestly...I think I feel the same way."
"Wait, Shepard," she parted hesitantly. "Are you saying? That we-"
"Tali," Shepard rubbed his face with a heavy sigh, "I don't know what we are. Whether we are a couple, lovers, or just friends with benefits. I have a lot on my mind right now. But I can't deny the fact that, I do care for you Tali. I intend to make up where Rael had failed to do. I want to make sure you're safe."
"Shepard, once the Reapers are here, NO ONE will be safe."
"All the more reason why I need to convince the Alliance to move forward. Or at least motivate them in a way to get the Council off their lazy asses, and actually DO something for a change."
"But Shepard!" Tali emphasized worriedly. "You could....die." Almost on cue, the two of them glanced at Shepard's desk, and at a picture of the original Normandy's squad. It was originally on the command of the Council to take this picture on record, which was why everyone looked so stiff. But despite that, both the Human and the Quarian could see, that the only person who looked like he was having a good time, was Kaidan Alenko. Standing up straight, hair slicked back, and with that usual goofy grin on his face. Unlike the others in the picture, who felt awkward and uncomfortable with each other, Kaidan was the only one who's smile was visible, and genuine. Glancing at that photo, with everyone together, only brought back one word: Virmire. And all the tragedy that came with it.
"I've already seen you die once," said Tali, with her weak voice. "I don't want to see it again. I don't want you to die like Kaidan did. We already lost a good man two years ago, we do not need to loose another!"
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, as Tali struggled in vain to hide her misery. Shepard looked at her endearingly. Placed his hands on her shoulders and said,
"Look, Tali. I'm not going to promise you anything regarding this trial. Don't know if they will believe me, throw me in jail, or burn me to steak. I cannot predict the future, I honestly have NO idea what's going to happen to me...and honestly, I feel a little nervous about this myself." Tali looked up at him with surprised eyes. "I'm not lying either," he shrugged regretfully, "I mean, look," he showed his flat, steady hand, "this is me normal. But whenever I start thinking about what's going to happen to me on Earth," his hand shivered. Shepard chuckled nervously, "You see? I'm just afraid to go as anyone. But, despite that," he locked eyes with her once again, "I know I have to do it. It's my duty, not only to the Alliance, but as a Human being, as a person. Tali, in all of my years as a soldier for the Alliance, I have never feared the concept of death. But...damn it, with you here, in my life now, it sure makes it a lot more difficult. I don't want anyone to try and die in my place. Most of all you. This is why I had all of you go and prepare for the upcoming war as best as you can. I am expendable, this war information, is not. It's to remind everyone of their priorities, and to ensure your safety. So you may live on. Miss Vas Normandy," he smiled weakly. Yet her eyes still quivered.
"But, I don't want you to go."
"Neither do I. But that's just how it is," he looked up through the glass window of his ceiling sympathetically, watching the stars pass by, until Tali took hold of both his hands, squeezed them hard, and said,
"No, it isn't! Look, Shepard. I have lost WAY too many people in my life. My mother, my squad on Freedom's Progress, my team on Haestrom, my own father, and you. I don't care what the Alliance, Cerberus, or even the damned Council say. You've earned your title as Spectre in more ways than one. They should all be proud to have you. Someone as special as you doesn't deserve death, much less a SECOND death. Despite that though, I-I understand your reasons. I HATE them, b-but I can accept them. Help out in my own way, right?" she laughed weakly. "I'll ensure that the Flotilla fights for you. But you have to promise me one thing in return."
"Don't die," she sniffed. "Or I'll NEVER forgive you." Shepard's gray-blue eyes sparkled, and he made a small smile. He rubbed his thumb on her helmet, and he chuckled,
"Well, I hate to disappoint."
"S-so," Tali's tears started to fade, "you promise?"
"Of course," he sealed it by kissing her visor, which only caused his engineer to giggle embarrassingly,
"Sorry I can't do the same for you."
"Oh, it's okay. I'm sure that if EDI sanitizes the room in the right way we can-"
"OoooOOOOooh," called a highly pleased coo from nowhere. To which Shepard groaned,
"Kasumi, is that you?"
"Uh," the voice stuttered, realizing her mistake, "...pay no attention to the man behind the curtain?"
"Get out of here!"
"Oh fine," she turned off her tactical cloak and revealed herself sitting on Shepard's bed. As she left, Kasumi sighed, "This is what happens when master thieves watch too many soap operas. Speaking of which, Tali, after you're done "sterilizing", you want to go back to my cabin? I got some great vids I'm sure you'd appreciate."
"Thank you, Kasumi," Shepard sarcastically said to the thief, a bit frustrated about her ruining the mood. In return, Kasumi Goto shrugged cheekily before the door closed behind her.
Once she was gone, Shepard looked back at Tali, who lightly stroked the commander's chest and said,
"Remember your promise. No matter what happens. I-I-I want you to come back to me."
"Only if you do the same," Shepard smiled.
"Good," she sighed. "I'll try to contact you as much as I can after I get back to the Fleet. I'll try my best, who knows, maybe I can contact Legion as well, get him to talk with the Admirals. Perhaps he's got some good ideas, but are they worth the risks of bringing a Geth on board- and now I'm rambling again, I'm sorry, even now I'm just so worried that I have to-" her tangents were interrupted by Shepard quickly removing Tali's mask, and passionately locking lips with her. For eight glorious seconds, all the tension, anxieties, and fear that they knew were going to come, seemed nonexistent. From the perspective of the two aliens, it felt like they were the only two people in the whole universe, with nothing stopping them, or holding them back.
But once Shepard broke contact with the flustered, and now blushing-red Quarian, he carefully placed the mask back on Tali's face, and apologized,
"Sorry, had to give you a confidence boost somehow. Hope it won't cause that much congestion." Tali laughed awkwardly and said,
"Well. Congestion or not, I highly appreciate it. My Captain."
Shepard smiled pleasantly at his final conversation with Tali, which was shortly followed by a frown when he remembered that he failed to get any kind of message from not just her, but anybody else since he was discharged. If she were succeeding in her endeavors, captured by Cerberus, or just flat out dead, he had no idea, and the very thought that he still had nothing on the current status of anyone in his crew, haunted him significantly. Even more so since the news he was given access to only concerned Alliance affairs and nothing more.
But despite all that, he clenched his fist, exhaled through his nostrils and remembered what Tali said,
"Don't die." That was the only order he had ever held true to since his trial. He came close to breaking it that day, but now, he was determined to not let it happen again.
"Uh, commander?" asked a slightly bewildered James, waving his meaty hand in front of the ex-Spectre's face.
"Hmm?" asked Shepard, his mind snapping back into the real world.
"What do you mean by "bad timings"? Are they all okay?"
"Uh," Shepard stuttered, a little surprised that the soldier even bothered in caring, and explained with a heavy sigh, "I honestly don't know. I got a couple notes from Kasumi before she left for the stars. But that was only two weeks after I got sentenced, and all she told me about was that whoever she was looking for relocated themselves to the Citadel, nothing else."
"The hooded girl."
"You mean the Quarian?"
"No, the OTHER hooded girl."
"Oh, sorry," Vega rubbed the back of his head embarrassingly.
"It's alright. To be perfectly honest, I really wished I did get calls from that little Quarian there," he smiled sadly, "or the Turian, the convict, or even Jacob. But I get nothing from them. I can't call them myself since the Alliance removed my extranet privileges, and I honestly have no idea whether all the messages are just held back by Alliance engineers and programmers, or if they are simply too busy to contact me. Or worse," Shepard was about to go into more detail, but quickly pushed that thought out of his head, "nah, sorry. Going onto another tangent there. Let's get back to business now, shall we? Now, Mr. Vega, would you please remove this bracelet off my leg now, if you may be so kind?"
"Oh yeah," he activated his omni-tool, and punched in a combination of numbers that caused Shepard's shackle to beep, before snapping off underneath his pants leg. After stretching out his shin and tossing the thing aside, the former commander said,
"Thank you." Vega nodded in cheery acknowledgment, shortly afterwards the two of them left the apartment behind, and made their way downstairs. After passing the receptionist, too absorbed into his vid-screen to even notice that the famous Commander Shepard just passed him. Shepard noticed a news screen just above the desk and the apathetic gentleman. He didn't get a good look at it since Vega was already pointing him in the direction of his car, but what he did see was a bit worrying. Not only that, but it also gave him a good idea of what exactly the Admiralty wanted to talk to him about.
For the headlines on the screen said,
'Strange sightings and movements from the Bahak System. Batarian hoaxes, or something worse?'