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Carving Out A New Heart

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It's two weeks after the crew escapes the Omega-4 Relay when Tali realizes---really, really gets—that she's probably going to die known as Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, and it makes her irrationally angry. It's not like she would go back to the Flotilla right now, even if she could. There's a better than good chance that there won't be a Flotilla to go back to, even if she does manage to survive the coming battle. Still, she can't help but feel the curl of longing in her belly to be among her people, once again.

Months of re-familiarizing herself to the Shepard's ship vanish in a flash, and she finds herself haunting the Engineering decks long after even Grunt goes to sleep. With the crew asleep, and the FTL drive working as smoothly as ever, there's nothing but silence to greet her. She tiredly watches the readouts, wishing for something to fix, to improve, but there's nothing but her and her failures.

 

Tali's shocked to see Shepard standing near her sleeping quarters, hesitant expression on her face. It's not because Shepard is obviously seeking her out as a friend, but that Shepard has time for it.

"I hear you're not sleeping," Shepard says, equal parts concern and curiosity.

The question must show in her posture because Shepard adds, "Gabby told me."

"Gabby tends to exaggerate," she deflects, hating the idea of Shepard thinking her weak. She's fought so hard to be strong, capable, not seen as a liability, the fact Shepard is down here checking in on her grates worse than sharing ship space with Legion.

Still, the comment makes Shepard smile, eyes crinkling in exasperated fondness for her crew. "She does, doesn't she?"

It makes her relax involuntarily, reminding her that Shepard checks on everyone on her ship. They're all hers, Tali included, and Shepard does whatever she thinks is best even as she primes them for war, for the ultimate suicide mission (a thousand times more suicidal than the normal suicide missions Shepard usually leads them on).

"It's my father," she finally admits, but it's not really the truth. It's the Flotilla, the Admiralty Board, the Geth, and everything else that's happened. "It is just now hitting me that even though you kept my father's actions quiet, I still will not be welcome amongst my people if we should survive our mission."

"Tali," Shepard says, "you'll always have a home on any ship I command."

"I know," she replies, and she does know this, but she doesn't need to tell Shepard that it's not the same. She will never get a chance to link suits with a fellow Quarian. She'll never get a chance to find a way back to their lost homeworld. She'll never get a chance at so many things she once took for granted. The only chance she has now is to complete this mission on this ship with honour.

"I have to get back to the command deck, but I thought you might like this," Shepard says as she hands her a small sound disc, then she walks to the doorway. "EDI helped," Shepard adds, and leaves.

She stares at the disc for a long time before she places into the sound system nearby. When the heartbreakingly familiar sounds of the Neema pour into her room, she almost cries. Instead, she lies down, closes her eyes and sleeps better than she has in months.

~*~

At night, she dreams of walking the length of the Normandy, wearing something suspiciously close to Kelly's casual clothes. She runs her naked hands over the sleek metal frame, Garrus' scar, Thane's face, and Shepard's smile. Her fingers tremble with excitement and there's not an ounce of fear, of concern for her health. She's heady with it and she laughs and laughs as everyone she's fought and bled with sees her face for the first time.

When she wakes, she gropes at her environmental suit, wondering why she feels so devastated when she discovers it pristine.

She knows what it says about the way she feels about this crew and makes her gut clench that she's never had these dreams when on the Flotilla.

~*~

Very rarely, Garrus joins Engineering for a game of cards. She likes it better when he's there, because he's worse than her at poker.

"I heard Shepard yelling the other day," Kenneth comments as he shuffles the deck. "What's got her so fired up this time? There's not many willing to tell her 'no', anymore."

Gabby rolls her eyes at the question. "We shouldn't be gossiping about the Commander's business."

Ignoring Gabby, Kenneth continues. "Heard she had a furious temper for the rest of the day."

"The Illusive Man," she answers shortly and shares a look with Garrus. No matter how long they're together, there's a definite line between the old crew and new. She trusts the Cerberus hires hesitantly, and only at all because Shepard does. She doesn't trust the Illusive Man at all. "Earth politics."

Shepard's the only human she knows that doesn't treat non-humans like non-entities. The Illusive Man is pushing to use the non-humans as cannon fodder to protect Earth. Shepard disagrees, sometimes violently.

"I wouldn't want her mad at me," Kenneth says with a grin. "She's not one for a light touch."

Garrus blushes at that, and if she hadn't been looking right at him, she'd have missed it.

She smiles,and nudges his foot with hers, and he looks up her with an abashed smile. "I...well. She is a...well."

"Oh, oh," Kenneth crows. "Someone likes our Commander!"

Gabby smacks his arm. "Knock it off," she says, cross. "Or I'll start spilling who you like."

She laughs at the wounded expression on Kenneth's face. She's suffered through many moon-eyed soliloquies about Kasumi, Miranda, Jack, Kelly, Shepard, Samara, and once a drunken ramble on Dr. Chakwas all while unaware of the way he stares at Gabby.

"Your secret is safe with me," Gabby says to Kenneth, then winks at her and sips her drink.

"Secrets?" Shepard says from behind them, causing Gabby and Kenneth to jump comically and Garrus to blush yet again. "Sounds dangerous."

"Oh, uh, no Commander," Gabby says, glaring at Kenneth furiously. "It's...we..."

"I could forget I heard anything if you deal me in." Shepard lets Gabby off the hook with a smile and sits between Tali and Garrus.

"Of course, Commander," Kenneth agrees, still nodding even after he deals out a new hand.

She feels lighter than she has in so long and the anger seems like a distant enemy as she watches Shepard win handily, laughing at one of Gabby's stories about Kenneth in the Academy. When she shares the stories of the trouble she caused on her mother's command as a child, it's hard for her to remember why she wants back on the Flotilla so badly.

~*~

"I wonder what it would be like to visit a planet without requiring the use of guns," she ponders as they make their way through the underbrush towards a once abandoned, but now re-purposed facility. She eyes the horizon warily, knowing at any moment a Collector ship or those horrible Reapers could make an appearance.

Jacob laughs as he move ahead. "Wouldn't that be something..."

"I'm sure it happens," Shepard says equitably. "Maybe not to us, but someone out there, surely."

The facility is filled with twice as many enemies as reported—she hates the Illusive Man so much—and doesn't have the intel they were looking for.

Shepard looks frustrated, Jacob resigned, and she wants to throw her hands up at the whole mess, but then she notices a slight protrusion on the wall.

"Shepard," she says as she pries open the hidden panel, revealing another computer system. Jacob and Shepard hover over her shoulder as she quickly analyzes the little bit of information that isn't decrypted. "I guess the Illusive Man was not so off-target, after all." Though he was aware of the true danger of the mission, she is sure of it. She doesn't understand why he does not just admit to it. It's not as if it would stop Shepard.

"It'd be a nice olive branch to the Migrant Fleet, don't you think?" Shepard asks as they make their way back to the Normandy in the transport. Jacob huffs a bit, but doesn't comment.

She looks over at Shepard and her nonchalant expression and smiles. The Flotilla is no longer a constant ache in her heart and finding a home—it is a state of mind, after all—with this ragtag crew doesn't mean forgetting who she is, either.

"We can do that once we get home," she says, taking in the Normandy, her home, as they near its orbit and means it.