"Tali?" Garrus said. He saw Tali just staring at Shepard's nameplate.
Both he, Tali, Liara, Ashley, Vega, Javik and Joker stood in front of the memorial wall. They had just placed EDI's and Anderson's name up on the wall. The only name left to add was Shepard's. Garrus placed a hand on her shoulder.
"No," she said sternly. "I'm not ready to give up on him." Tali walked away from the memorial wall. "We need to get back to earth as soon as possible. Shepard will need our help."
The elevator door opened and she went inside. The doors closed. The others looked at each other and shook their heads.
"She's still not ready to accept it," Liara said.
"I'm not sure, I'm ready to accept it," Vega said. "I mean it's Commander Shepard! He already died once already."
"But he was at the epicenter of the energy wave," Ash said.
"You all should be glad," Javik muttered. "The reaper threat is over. The Commander accomplished his mission."
"Yeah, that's great and all, but at this high of a cost?" Vega replied.
"High cost? You are all still alive. Earth has been rescued. All the homeworlds will be able to recover and your galaxy will no longer fear from the reapers. That is a great victory."
"EDI isn't with us anymore," Joker said. "Anderson is dead. Hackett confirmed that much."
"And Shepard is likely dead," Ash added.
"He died already once," Liara said. "It's not fair if he dies again."
"By its very definition war is not meant to be fair," Javik said matter-of-factly. "War is about using your advantage to its fullest potential to crush your enemies."
"This isn't the best time for your brutal honesty."
"Regardless, Tali is right," Garrus interrupted. "This ship has discharged enough. We need to head back to earth. Maybe then we can get some... closure."
"I'll head to the cockpit," Joker sighed sadly. He walked to the elevator and went inside to head to deck 2.
"I should probably talk to him," Liara said. "He's still mourning."
"Good idea," Ash said. "Garrus and I will head up soon to join you. We just need to check in with the crew."
Bravo team walked through the entranceway to the area below the Citadel tower. The area was in shambles after the multiple explosions that happened on the Citadel. Hackett had sent dozens of teams onto the station to search it for any survivors. First assessments believed they would no one due to the explosions, or at the very least, due to the lack of atmosphere and gravity. Surprisingly this assessment proved to be false. Some parts of the Citadel still had some functionality and it created pockets of habitable zones all over the Citadel. Even the Council miraculously survived.
Bravo team's mission was to investigate the last known location of Anderson's and Shepard's locators were last active. Anderson's life signs flat lined shortly before his locator shut off. Both locators were shut off after the energy blast from the Citadel. Shepard's status is still unknown.
They walked up the ramp into a circular room that viewed a large portion of the Citadel. From there they could clearly see the damage it has endured, but as Hackett said, "we will rebuild together." At the other end of the circular room they saw the terminal used to control the station along with the body of Anderson and the Illusive Man. Anderson was plopped on his side with a bullet wound to his stomach and his eyes shut.
One of the soldiers scanned him. "No life signs."
"We knew that before we got here," another soldier said.
"Doesn't hurt to check. Look at that." The soldier pointed at the Illusive Man. "He doesn't even look human."
"Looks like a husk," the squad commander observed. "He blew his brains out."
"Maybe he looked at himself in a mirror."
The squad commander looked at the Illusive Man's body in disgust and gave it a swift kick. "Your name will be synonymous with the likes of Hitler, you son of a bitch."
"Where's Shepard's body?" one of the subordinates asked.
"Look!" one of them pointed. A section of the floor was missing. They looked up and saw a hole that was shaped exactly like the missing section of floor.
"Get out your grapples," the squad commander ordered.
All the squad members pulled out their grappling launchers and aimed upwards. The grapples fired a plate-shaped projectile that could stick to any surface. They fired and each of the projectiles was successful in sticking to the surface around the hole. The soldiers clipped the rope to their suits and used the launchers to rappelling themselves upwards.
When they reached the hole, the squad commander went in through first. He was followed by his subordinates. They scanned the room. There was rubble everywhere. They saw the Crucible right over head. It was half gone from activation.
"Must have been one hell of a show from here," one of the subordinates said.
"Quiet!" the squad commander silenced him. "Do you hear that?"
The squad members looked at him confusingly. The squad commander search for the source of the noise he heard. His search led him to a pile of rubble near a destroyed tube.
"What did you hear, sir?" one of the squad mates asked.
"Breathing," he answered. The squad commander pulled off one last piece of rubble and jumped back in surprise. "It's Shepard!"
"What? No way!" The soldier ran over next to his commander and saw him. "Holy shit..." He pulled out his omni-tool and did a scan.
"Idiot! You can see and hear him breathing! Call med-evac! Now!"
"Yes, sir!" He switched over the function. "This is Ensign Hawke of Bravo team. We need immediately med-evac at our location. I repeat. We need immediate med-evac at our location."
"Shuttle is on its way to your location," the dispatcher announced. "ETA, five minutes."
Joker stared into the red-blue aura of the mass effect field of the Normandy. He glanced over to his right to see the seat where EDI used to sit vacant. Tears welled up in his eyes.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Liara said as she entered the cockpit.
"Thanks... I just... I just miss her so much. Do you think that energy wave had something to do with her death?"
"Likely, yes," Liara said. "She was built partially with reaper code."
"You know it was the Commander who gave me the extra confidence to go forward with the relationship. He asked me, if the world ended tomorrow, what would I regret? Yes, I feel like crap. My heart is broken. But you know this pain says a lot about my feelings for EDI. EDI meant a lot to me and she always will. The reapers are gone now. I'm glad they are. This galaxy can finally be at peace."
"Hey, Joker," Ash greeted as she and Garrus entered the cockpit.
"Look guys, I know you are all concern, but I'll be okay. I still need time to mourn. The person you all should be checking on is Tali. I don't think she's well at all."
"We will soon, we just wanted to make sure you were okay," Garrus said.
"And I am and, oh, we are near the end of our transit."
The Normandy dropped out of FTL next to the Charon relay. They could see the damage it had endured.
"Spirits," Garrus gasped.
"The damage the relay had endured..." Liara muttered. "We're going to be here a while."
"Look!" Ash said.
At closer inspection, they could see a dozen ships around the relay. They were gathering the pieces and on the relay, were some people working towards repairing it.
"Barely a day has passed since the end of the war, and they already started on rebuilding."
"Incoming transmission from Admiral Hackett," Traynor notified over the comm.
"Patch it through," Joker said.
"Is that you, Normandy?" Hackett called in over the comm.
"This is Normandy," Joker answered.
"Glad that you've returned. I'm assuming you've seen the relay?"
"Yeah. You're already repairing it?"
"We," Hackett corrected. "We are currently coordinating with the rest of the galaxy using QECs to get the relay network back up. It'll take a while, but we were able to build an anti-reaper weapon in three months with partial plans, during a war and in secret. We can rebuild our own relay in less time."
"That's good news," Liara said.
"You think that's good news? I just got in a report. Shepard's alive."
The four were quiet. Stunned.
"Shepard's... alive?" Garrus muttered in disbelief.
"You goddamn right he is. He suffered some major injuries, but he was breathing. He has been rushed to the med-bay on my ship to get fixed up. Every race is planning on pinning every possible medal on him. Not to mention he is long overdue for a promotion. Several."
"We're heading to your ship right now," Joker said. For the first time since the end of the war, he sounded positive.
Garrus turned to Ash. "Williams-"
"I know!" Ash said cheerfully. "I'll tell her right now."
Ashley ran as fast as she could to the elevator while yelling to the rest of the crew that Shepard was alive. The slow pace of the elevator was made very apparent as Ashley waited to reach engineering. After a minute, the doors opened again. Ashley dashed out of the elevator and ran into Javik.
"So the human made it?" he muttered.
"If I had the time, I would talk to you about privacy," Ash said.
"Go tell the quarian. I assume she will want to prepare for a mating ritual when she hears the news."
Ashley shuddered as Javik walked away. She continued through the two doors and saw Tali standing at her station working away at her console.
"Tali!" she called out to her. "Shepard is alive!"
Tali spun around on her heels. "What?"
"They just recovered Shepard at the site of the Crucible and has been moved to Hackett's ship to heal his injuries. You were right."
"Shepard's alive?" she cried out. Tali fell to her knees. "He's really alive! Oh, Keelah!"
"I knew the Commander wouldn't go down that easily!" Ken cheered. "Kicked those reapers right in the daddy-bags and lived to tell the tale."
Gabby smacked him in the back of the head. "Don't ruin the moment!"
Ashley got on her knees and embraced Tali. Tali threw her arms around Ashley and just let out all of the feelings she was holding inside.
"I-I was so worried he had-" Tali couldn't finish the thought. It brought her too much pain to even think of Shepard leaving her again.
"It's going to be okay," Ashley assured her. "You'll be able to see him real soon."
Ashley crouched there letting Tali release all her emotion until they reached the SSV Aconcagua.
As soon as the decontamination cycle finished, the Normandy crew flooded out of the door way and made a beeline towards the med-bay where Shepard was having an operation. When they entered the medical wing, a familiar woman walked out of the med-bay.
"Miranda?" Garrus said.
"It's good to see you again, Garrus," she greeted with a smile. Miranda noticed Tali. "You as well Tali. And I see Joker."
"What's the ex-Cerberus agent doing here?" Vega asked while jabbing his finger towards her.
"The operating word is ex-Cerberus. I had long cut my ties with Cerberus, like Shepard. I'm here because I was the one who brought Shepard back to life and am an expert on his implants."
"I don't care about that, tell me about Shepard!" Tali demanded impatiently.
Miranda sighed. "He suffered severe injuries from before and after entering the conduit beam. A bullet wound, burns-" Miranda could tell, even without seeing Tali's face, that she didn't really want to her about his injuries. "His implants have held up and he has been given some clone tissue for skin grafts. He'll recover, but..."
"He's in a coma."
"H-How long till he-?"
"I'm afraid I don't know. I'm sorry."
"C-Can I see him?"
"Of course you can." Miranda looked to the others. "But the room is small, so it can accommodate only a couple visitors at a time."
The crew understood and went to the waiting room while Miranda led Tali into Shepard's private room. Before Miranda opened the door she turned to Tali and said, "I just want to remind you that his injuries will heal. I-It will be hard to see him like he does now, but he will get better."
Miranda nodded and opened the door allowing Tali to finally see him. Tali just stood there for a moment. Tears welled up in her eyes as she saw his bandaged form before her. An IV was hooked up to him.
"Shepard!" she cried out. Tali ran over to his side and grabbed his hand. "Oh, Keelah..." She stroked his cheek.
Miranda walked up next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Th-Thank you, Miranda. You've saved his life again."
"I owe Shepard more than I could ever repay him," Miranda said. "This is the least I could do."
"But I owe you from bringing him back to me. Not just this time, but bringing him back to life after he... died. I love him so much. You gave me a second chance to be with him."
"You don't owe me anything," Miranda whispered.
Tali rest her head on Shepard's chest to listen to him breathing. She closed her eyes to embrace the sound of his beating heart.
"I'll let the staff know you'll be staying here."
"Thank you..." Tali sighed.
"I leave you alone with him. Let me or the staff know if you need anything."
Several days had passed since Tali arrived in the med-bay. Each of the crew members had come to visit Shepard at some point during those several days. Vega and Ashley could only stay for so long before they were needed for some search and rescue missions. Garrus was needed by the Primarch in organizing the turian fleet. Javik and Liara went to work on her book about the prothean empire. Joker continued as the pilot of the Normandy to aid Ashley and Vega in search and rescue missions.
Tali faithfully remained by Shepard's side. All she needed was food, water and rest on the cot the staff kindly provided for her. On the stand next to Shepard's bed was a photo of him and Tali. The photo was of them shortly after defeating Saren. Tali smiled looking at the photo. Shepard had his arm wrapped around her waist while she had one hand to her face in embarrassment.
The door to the room opened grabbing Tali's attention.
"Hello, Tali. It is good to see you are well."
"Auntie Raan!" Tali stood up from her chair. She walked over and hugged her. "I'm glad you made it through this war."
"As am I," Raan joked. She looked over to Shepard and saw the condition he was in. Her eyes were also drawn to the photo on the stand.
Tali let go of the hug.
"I don't even have to ask," Raan said. "You and Shepard."
Tali walked over to his side, sat down and held Shepard's hand. "We're in love, yes."
"I'm sorry that this has befallen him."
"The doctors said he could wake up. I'm staying by his side until he does."
"But that could be months, maybe even years."
"I don't care." Tali felt herself tear up. "It tore my heart apart when we separated after the event in Arathot. And again after the Alliance operation centre before the beam. I can't leave him again. I will stay by his side until he wakes up."
Raan kneeled down near her and held a hand to the side of her faceplate. "You are so much like your mother. You have your father's stubbornness, but your mother's heart. He is lucky to have you."
"I'm lucky to have him. He saved my life many times. He helped me finish my pilgrimage. Got our people back onto the homeworld. I can never repay him for everything he has done for me and our people."
Raan stood up. "I received word from Admiral Koris from Rannoch using our QEC. They are repairing our mass relay. If we're lucky, we could go home in a couple of months. The relays between here and there still need to be repaired, but everyone across the galaxy is working together to achieve that."
"That's good news. After so long living as nomads, our people can finally have a place they can call home."
Raan smiled. "I'll tell you what. I'll get a head start and get Shepard's papers in order so he can be a resident of Rannoch, so when he wakes up you don't have to bother with all of that bothersome paper work."
Tali let out a laugh. "I- We would really appreciate that Raan."
"Anything for the heroes of the quarian people."
Over the past month, Shepard's room had transformed. There were more decorative pieces in the room. It made it look like a quarian living space. There were flowers and e-cards on one of the stands in Shepard's room that he received from the people he had saved. The curtains in the room had been replaced by ones that matched the wraps Tali had on her body.
Tali was sitting by Shepard's side. In the time since he was brought to the hospital, she had only left the room a dozen times and even then it was cases of the doctors needing room to change Shepard's bandages, remove stitches or to check up on him.
"It's been a month since you came in here. And I have spent every bit of my free time right next to you. Your wounds are almost all healed up. Your face is as handsome as ever, and for the first time in a long time, you look like you're at peace." Tali gave pause. "I have received many letters from the Migrant Fleet. Many congratulating my efforts. And many more from men who are trying to... pursue me romantically. I'm not trying to make you jealous, well... maybe just a little." Tali let out a giggle.
"It's just I don't have any interest in any other man than you. When I went on my pilgrimage, everyone I had run into either tried to kill me or treated me as a pest. But then you came along. You saved my life and let me joined your crew. Even allowed me access to your ship's drive core. You treated me as an equal. Treated me even better than most of my own people. It's not hard to see why I started to develop a crush on you." She held his hand. "When you died, I felt broken. I knew the reapers were coming, but with everyone burying what you did I-I lost hope. But you did the impossible and came back. You saved me on Freedom's Progress, and again on Haestrom. I felt like I was where I belonged when I rejoined your crew. You didn't change. You jumped into the political turmoil of my people's fleet in order to defend me against the charges of treason. You protected my father's legacy and even saved my name. I still remember the day I accidentally told you how I felt about you. To hear you say you felt the same way about me was the best day of my life. We've been through so much together but I know without a shadow of doubt in my mind, I will stay by your side. I-I just-"
Tears started to well up in her eyes. These tears were of sadness and happiness. "I just miss you so much. I want you to hold me. I want to hear your voice. I want to see the life in your eyes. I love you, Shepard."
Suddenly Tali felt Shepard's hand tighten around hers. Shepard slowly opened his eyes and looked to Tali with a smile. "I love you too, Tali," he said in a weak voice. His throat was extremely dry from lack of drinking.
"Shepard!" Tali stood up and embraced him. "You're awake!"
"I'm sorry, I worried you. How long was I out?"
"I was by your side for the whole time."
"Are the geth and EDI..."
"They're not with us anymore."
A pained look came across Shepard's face. "It's my fault."
"The Crucible was a power source meant to change the Catalyst, the Citadel's AI."
"The Citadel had an AI?"
"It was the one that created and controlled the reapers. It created them to eliminate all life to stop conflict between synthetics and organics. It presented with three options to end the war. Synthesis. It would rewrite the DNA of all organic life to make it part synthetic, while endowing all synthetic life with an understanding of organics. I-I couldn't go for that option. This would have forced a change on all life in the galaxy, both our races and the races that have yet to explore space. It doesn't even solve the problem the Catalyst sought out to stop. We would still be able to create new synthetics. How does being half-synthetic help stop prejudice?"
"It doesn't," Tali said. "Understanding does."
"The second option was Control."
"Control? We spent the entire reaper war trying to stop Cerberus from doing that!"
"I know. According to the Catalyst, I would be killed, and my mind and personality would be used to create a new Catalyst. But how would I know this new Catalyst would stop the reapers from attacking the galaxy forever? The Catalyst admitted that it turned on its original objective. So that wasn't an option either."
"What was the last option?"
"Destroy. The reapers and all their abominations would be killed, but..."
"It wouldn't discriminate against synthetic life. The Geth and EDI would be killed along with the reapers. It had to be done. Not only to stop the reapers for good, but to finally put the billions of lives trapped in the reapers and as their minions to rest after eons. I-I killed the geth and EDI."
"You didn't. Each of us fought in this war to destroy the reapers. The geth and EDI included. We all knew we could die, but we fought regardless. The death of the geth and EDI is not your fault. You did exactly what we wanted you to do. What they wanted you to do. You destroyed the reapers. If anything is to be blamed for their deaths, it would the reapers. Believe me when I say that they would have been proud of you. And their deaths were not in vain. You broke the cycle in more ways than one."
"My people are debating whether or not to bring the geth back. They wouldn't be like they were, but they could be alive again. The politicians are also drafting rights for synthetics in remembrance of the geth's sacrifice. We no longer feel like synthetics and organics can never get along. And it is all thanks to you."
Shepard brought a hand and placed it on the side of her mask. "You always know how to make me feel better."
"There's more," Tali said with a smile. "The Charon relay has been repaired. Wrex, Grunt and the rest of the krogan are going to be returning to Tuchanka soon."
"That is great news!"
"Even better, the relays between here and Rannoch are getting close to being repaired. We can return to Rannoch in a month or two."
"That means I can build you that house you always wanted."
"Yes. You have no idea how go it is to hear that from you. Just thank you. Thank you for coming back."
"Always. So tell me, Miss vas Normandy. Where would you like your home?"
"Shepard. You don't know by now? My home is by your side. Always."