Thessia was a disaster. Kai Leng stole Vendetta from Shepard, Cerberus now had the information on the Catalyst, and the homeworld of the Asari was now completely abandoned, as all life on it was expunged by the Reapers. Although many Asaris succeeded in leaving the planet before the Reaper fleets finished it off, it was still a hefty blow to their race, and even more so for Liara.
Shepard felt awful about that, this was even worse than his mission to the Bahak System, at least there he could've took comfort in the fact that he stalled the Reaper invasion for several more months. But here, there was no upside, no sense of victory, just complete, and utter, failure. For the first time in Jack Shepard's life, he failed in a mission, no matter what sacrifice he took, or promises he made to the Asari on the battleground, he failed.
Tali could see the distraught looks on both the faces of Shepard and Liara. As Cortez took them back to the Normandy in the Kodiak, she honestly could not tell who looked, or felt, worse after today. Liara lost her home, just as soon as Tali got hers back, the terrible irony in that alone was incredible. Everything and everyone she knew down there was now reduced to ashes. Not only that but she lost a piece of valuable information that could possibly save everybody from the Reapers. But then there was Shepard, the man who was responsible for making this mission succeed in the first place. The Paragon of Humanity they were calling him now. But not today, as he not only failed in succeeding in his mission, but also failed in protecting the home of one of his closest friends, and Tali knew how much she and the crew meant to him.
The Quarian could not think of anything to say to make this better. This only made the silent ride back to the Normandy all the more uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that Cortez felt it from the driver's seat.
They finally made it back to the hangar, and got off the Kodiak. The rest of the squad mates were waiting outside, hearing what had happened. Before any of them could even confront them about the mission, Liara and Shepard quickly nudged past them. With Tali following right behind them, still feeling like she should say something.
"If anyone needs me, I'll be in my quarters," Liara said to the crew, barely keeping herself together.
"I think I might join you," Shepard agreed with a slight scowl.
"Shepard," Tali, grabbed onto his arm, "a-are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he gritted his teeth.
"I said I'm FINE!" he yelled and glared at her angrily. Tali jumped and let go of his arm in fear, it was the first time she ever seen Shepard in this state. She watched helplessly as Shepard walked into the elevator with Liara, and ascended to the upper floors. Vega, Garrus, Ashley, Cortez, and Javik didn't know what to say, as Tali just let her head hang low. Garrus came up to her, placed his hand on her shoulder and said sympathetically,
"Tali, I know this is tough, but don't worry. It'll be okay, we'll give that Leng bastard what's-" Tali struggled to take a deep breath as she interrupted,
"No, it won't be okay. Nothing ever will," she sniffed. "If anyone needs me, I'll be at the bar." She walked towards the now empty elevator, and aimed for Deck 3.
Shepard didn't bother to take off his armor once he got into the War Room. He knew the Asari Councilor would want to know what happened on Thessia. But for the life of him, Shepard couldn't bring himself to answer the call. For he already knew what she was going to say. What happened down there? Where is the info? What IS the Catalyst? Why didn't you stop Cerberus? Why didn't you save them? Why did you let Thessia DIE? Shepard hesitated in calling the Councilor, he wasn't sure he could deal with answering those questions, he wasn't sure he could take the disappointment and grief. He was too infuriated about what happened to even bother. So, he left the room, and decided to try and take Liara's example, and cool off in his personal quarters.
Shepard knew he had to deal with this anger somehow, the Reaper War was already stressful enough before this disaster of a mission. But he had to find a way to stay calm, after all, he was the Commander, everyone was depending on him. Or at least, he thought they could depend on him. He knew that the War Room guards weren't gossiping about it once he exited the room, but he could already feel their hopelessness. As much as he wanted to punch both of them in the face, Shepard knew that he had to remain calm. But by the looks of his shaking hand, he wasn't doing a good job at it.
He was walking onto the bridge, ready to go to his cabin until Samantha came up to him and said,
"Commander, Joker wants to speak to you."
"Why?" Shepard demanded, glaring at her intensely.
"He didn't give me a reason. He just w-wanted you're presence."
Fine," he groaned with frustration. What the hell does he want?
What quickly followed was Joker trying to give Shepard a little pep talk, trying to make him calm down after what happened. Shepard understood the pilot's reasons, but didn't have time for it,
"and the last time I had a briefing with Anderson," said Joker, "he told me to take care of you. The guy, leading the resistance, on EARTH, is worried about you. And I'm supposed to help."
"I appreciate the thought Joker, but I'm fine," he replied, struggling to hide his stress.
"The hell you are. You're like half robot at this point, no offense EDI. And it's my fault. When the Collectors blew up the first Normandy you died beca-"
"Once again," Shepard said with a higher tone. "I appreciate it, but I don't need my pilot to be my therapist. You just do your job, and I'll do mine!" he exhaled heavily, and was already removing chunks of the N7 and Kassa armor pieces off his body, tossing them to the ground as he headed towards the elevator. Then he called back, "EDI, I'll be in my cabin for a while, and I don't want anyone to disturb me until I say otherwise. Clear?"
"Yes, Commander," EDI responded, almost sounding a bit concerned after seeing the N7 greaves and one of the Kassa shoulder plates were littered on the bridge. She decided to see what the rest of the squad was doing through linking her interface with the Normandy's cameras as she usually did. What she saw, did not make her feel comfortable to any extent.
On Deck 3, the rest of the squad just stood by the memorial wall, with the exception of Javik who just leaned against the kitchen, trying not to get involved. Vega glanced at the lounge, at Liara's office, and then at the elevator, he put his hand at the back of his head and said,
"Damn, I honestly don't know who has it worse. Liara for losing her home, Shepard for letting it happen, or Sparks taking the guilt for both."
"He didn't let it happen," Ashley pointed out, and said angrily, "Cerberus just got there first."
"Yeah, those damn bastards. You think the Illusive Man would be smarter enough to know when he's being played by the Reapers," he sighed heavily. "But seriously, who needs the most help?"
"Well I could talk to Tali," Garrus suggested. "I mean, she and I have been with Shepard the longest. Then Ashley, could help Liara, and you will get Shepard."
"Good strategy, but it still has flaws," Javik pointed out from afar. "The soldier has the least experience with Shepard, and with the exception of N7 program candidacy, they don't have much in common on an emotional standpoint. The Human female and the Asari hold the most animosity considering their formal rivalry for the Commander's affection three years ago, that would mostly get in the way from their conversation. Lastly, the Turian and the Quarian do have the most experience with each other, and the Commander himself. But the Turian would not be of much help considering he spends more time calibrating than socializing."
"Well I certainly socialize more than you," said an annoyed Garrus.
"Yeah Four-Eyes," Vega glared, "we don't hear you coming up with any bright ideas."
"I haven't made any because this problem is menial at best," the Prothean scoffed. "The Commander made a mistake, and he'll get over it. It's in his nature. All we have to do is wait for the Commander to pull himself together, and then he'll handle the other weak wills of the ship."
"You expect him to get better after witnessing all that?" Ashley proclaimed. "This wasn't a mission where he left his car keys on the battlefield after he left, he lost a whole planet."
"And how is that any different from losing his own? He got over that planet, he'll get over this one as well. Trust me, we've lost a lot more than this during my cycle. The Commander should consider himself fortunate knowing that the Asari commandos died quickly during the invasion, unlike the Ardat-Yakshi."
"So we're just going to leave him like this? That sounds too cold."
"Said the woman who abandoned him after hearing he was with Cerberus. In my time, mourning over the dead and our failures did nothing but waste time, and the three of them are making the exact same mistake. The strength of a commanding officer comes from his own will, crews are expendable, commanders are not. The sooner he gets over this, the sooner he'll put the Quarian and Asari in their place, and the mission will be better for it."
"Shepard isn't a Prothean. He's Human," she looked down on the ground depressingly. "And I admit it, I made mistakes. Terrible mistakes. But, Shepard still needs support. Not just the support of his crew, but the support of a loved one," she glanced at the closed lounge door. "And since that loved one is in the process of drinking herself to death, I suppose it's up to me, to make amends."
"Are you sure, Ash?" asked Garrus. "I mean, you and Shepard may be on good terms now, but it wasn't all that long ago that both of you were ready to shoot each other. What if Shepard brings that up? Uses it against you?" Ashley sighed,
"I'm an Alliance soldier, so is Shepard. I just need to remind him of wear his duty lies. After all," she fired a cold stare at Javik, "someone has to do something." She then marched into the elevator and headed for Deck 1, with Garrus and Vega waiting outside the door.
In the captain's cabin, Shepard was back in his casual attire, with the exception of the leather jacket. He didn't need it now, he had to concentrate on keeping his impulses under control. The usual way he blew off steam was through exercising. Keeping himself in tip-top shape before the next mission, and at that moment, he was up to almost sixty push-ups as he tried to stay cool underneath the pressure. Every time he tried to rationalize the Fall of Thessia, and comfort himself in saying that there was nothing he could've done to change it, he would immediately remember all the other people he had lost under his command, or even on other missions.
Kaidan being the first, which was sad for Shepard because he didn't even know Kaidan all that well, except he was L2 and was brave enough to sacrifice himself for the sake of the team. He also left the old Council to die under his command, because he was afraid of not letting Sovereign get any chances at bringing forth the rest of the Reapers. Look at all the good that did now, the Reapers were slaughtering everyone regardless of their handy shortcut. Then there was Pressley, who died when the Collectors attacked the old Normandy, he couldn't even remember the last conversation they had. After he was resurrected by Cerberus, he lost even more. He couldn't save Tali's father, he could not save the Bahak system, and could not save any of the missing colonies the Collectors took, including half of Horizon. And everyone else he had saved, Kal'Reegar, Aresh, and that delightful Krogan he met on Illium, were now nothing more than names on the casualty lists. Not to mention, Mordin's death, Thane's sacrifice, and Legion's very soul getting ripped apart once he spread the Reaper code to all Geth. Not to mention Anderson and the resistance are probably on their last legs, all of them probably thinking, Where is Shepard? He always thought he could find a way to save them, but with these stacked odds, and the loss of Vendetta, Shepard had wondered,
Can I achieve one good thing and let it stay, good? Everything I've been doing just seems to be, fighting the inevitable, then he realized what he just thought. Wait, Harbinger said that. Could he
really be right? Just then, a loud banging came from the door, along with Ashley's voice,
"Shepard, we need to talk."
Great, Shepard thought annoyingly, just what I need. Then as Ashley opened the door and walked in, Shepard called, "EDI, I thought I didn't want to be disturbed by anyone?"
"EDI's not going to help you with this, skipper," Ashley said as she strolled in. "Don't forget, I'm a Spectre too, so there's no such thing as locked for me." Shepard groaned. "Now, I know you've been under a lot of stress, especially today-"
"Oh great, now you're lecturing me? Well that's just tan-tucking-fastic!" he took a chug of serrice brandy that was on his table. "But, Ash, I don't you to worry. As I told Joker, I'm fine. I just need to get over this, so we can go back to focusing on the mission."
"Fine my ass. Shepard, you're sweating all over the place. Look, I know you feel terrible right now, and I don't blame you. Thessia was a huge loss to the Council. But, we have to get through this. The Asari Councilor is still waiting for you. Remember, you're the first Human Spectre, you can achieve anything. You will achieve it. After all, there are a lot of lives riding on this."
"You think I don't know that?!" he yelled at Ashley, his patience at his breaking point. "Goddammit Williams, how thick headed do you think I am to forget about what's at stake!? Believe me, I've been trying my best to win this thing. But every time I take one step forward, the Reapers and Cerberus take three more ahead of us! I have struggled, every single day for what is now two lifetimes, and no matter what I do, it always ends up being undone! I killed the Thorian, but now the people of Feros are mutated, I saved the Rachni queen, only for her to get captured again once the Reapers returned. I reduced the Collector Base to ashes, and Cerberus STILL found a way to get indoctrinated, and not only that, but are even MORE informed than we are!"
"Shepard," Ashley tried to calm him down, "I didn't mean to say you were careless, I was just-"
"What? "Trying to help?"" he laughed sarcastically. "If you wanted to help, you would've trusted me like you should've on Horizon, and helped me save the colonists from the Collectors! Maybe some of them would still be alive today if it weren't for your SELFISHNESS!"
"And despite ALL THE CRAP I had to deal with the Illusive Man, when I was forced to kill an entire system worth of innocent Batarians, got convicted for it thanks to the oh so powerful wisdom of Hackett, and was paying for my crimes, (that you KNEW I would feel bad about already), you STILL didn't trust me!" after that, Ashley had enough of Shepard's yelling and said,
"Well excuse me for not believing that the corpse of my ex-boyfriend was still alive, and wanted my help saving the galaxy. Shepard, what if Kaidan came up to you, looking exactly like he was three years ago, telling you that he was rebuilt by the Shadow Broker, to help him take down the Rachni, or something? Would you have believed him?"
"Of course I wouldn't believe him. But I'd still TRUST him, because Kaidan always had a good sense of judgment!" he was now even angrier than before, and Ashley was unintentionally making it worse.
"Good Lord. You know, its days like this I wish you weren't so goddamn annoying!" That was the real straw that broke Shepard's back.
"You, annoyed by, me? You, annoyed by, me?! Ash, if there's one thing that I had regretted in trying to pursue. The one thing in the whole universe that I have felt a heaping pile of shame in committing, was meeting, and trying to get along with, YOU, Ashley, Madeline, WILLIAMS! Seriously, you have got to be the most, bigoted, arrogant, smug, stubborn, close-minded, uncompromising, and all round, irritating bitch, of a woman I have ever met! With you, it's Alliance this and Alliance that, why don't you marry the Alliance if you love it so goddamn much?! Every day I was with you on the Normandy, on every single mission, it's always: 'Are you sure that's right Shepard? I don't trust those aliens Shepard. We got to think of the needs of the Alliance first Shepard. Are you sure we can trust these aliens, Shepard, I'm still not sure. What about the Humans, Shepard? I'm ready to kill these damn aliens if you wanted, SHEPARD!' You're like a broken record of racism! And I understand, your father fought against the Turians in the war, whoopdy f&*#en DO! You can't put aside your inner hatred for like, FIVE SECONDS?! Honestly, I think the only reason that Cerberus brought me back to life in the first place, was because they couldn't find your damn PHONE NUMBER!
"And do you know what, the only reason I ever bothered to tried to pursue a relationship with you, was because you had an adequate body, a good knowledge of poetry, and I was hoping I could show you a better understanding of alien life, so you wouldn't judge it so negatively! Also, I never told anyone this, but I thought it be right if you were the first to know! But I was frickin' GLAD that you decided to dump me on Horizon. Because honestly, after being dead for two years and knowing that your disdained views on the other races haven't changed one single bit, I felt very glad that you decided not to come with me. Since now I didn't had to worry about a certain, stuck-up, G.I. JANE, threatening the lives of the alien squad members I was recruiting for the suicide mission. All of whom, had more bravery and respect, than you have in your ENTIRE BODY!"
"Shepard," Ashley was shocked by how much contempt he was holding back. "I never-"
"Don't lie to yourself, Williams. You still hate them. The fact that you made Sprectre at all surprises me to this very day! You never trusted Garrus when he first came aboard, you never trusted Liara once she got on board, and you never trusted Wrex, whom I'm pretty sure, if that incident on Virmire went any differently, you would've SHOT the bastard if given the chance!! And then there's Tali, who you claim is like a sister to you, but honestly I haven't seen YOU do a single thing for her, "big sis". And all that crap I mentioned just now, I'm sure you would've done that TEN-FOLD if I succeeded in bringing you along to stop the Collectors, because then Thane's life would've been in MORE peril. You know what, that's being too mean, I should be grateful that our heartfelt reunion after the past two years was you spitting in my face. If you didn't do the job of breaking my heart and trampling all over it like a space cow, I probably would've had some trouble figuring out a nice way to break things off between us three weeks later, once I realized that you were still the same bigoted Alliance Barbie doll, that I saved from Eden Prime all those years ago. Which is why, I'm F*&KEN GLAD, that you broke up with ME, and not the other way around!!"
Ashley didn't know what to say. She was hurt in more ways than one. Learning that Shepard never really loved her, taunting her beliefs, calling her a liar and a racist, and to succumb to such hateful verbal abuse, that it made her feel ill. Ashley could feel tears start to form at the corners of her eyes, she never felt so hurt. It didn't take long until Ashley's anger quickly boiled over, and yelled,
"You BASTARD!" and was about to punch him, but Shepard's killer instinct kicked in. By dodging the punch, and quickly taking ahold of her head, and smashing it into the face of his fish tank so hard that the glass cracked once the Spectre tumbled to the ground in pain. Only after this did Shepard realize what he did, and with a horrible sense of fright he said,
"Oh my god, Ash. I-I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-" Ashley didn't say another word, all she did was groan in pain, and slowly got up. She looked at Shepard and he saw that he accidentally caused some actual damage, for there was blood bleeding down from her forehead, along with tears rolling down her cheeks in a mix of physical and emotional pain. Ashley then shoved Shepard aside as she exited the room and back into the elevator, no doubt to get some medical attention from Chakwas.
Commander Shepard was dumbstruck with what he just said. He felt even worse than before. Sure he may have not liked Ashley all that much, but did she really deserve all of that ridicule he gave her, and what's worse, he actually hurt her in almost the exact same way that the Eva drone did back on Mars. Shepard looked down at his hands in horror, a couple tears already dropped into his palms. Was this what Cerberus had reduced him to, a killing machine with Shepard's personality? Is causing destruction the only thing he can depend on to actually stay as it is, unlike peace which breaks down every two years, or less?
His breathing became heavier, his anger starting to boil again. If destruction was what Cerberus wanted out of Shepard, then by hell, he'll give them some. He roared in fury over his previous action and started tearing the room apart. Smashed all of his model ships to the ground, even broke a few in half with his bare hands. Casted all documents to the floor, flipped the table that was holding his drink not so long ago, and immediately afterwards, threw the bottle down with a quick crash of glass. He threw any object he could find, computers, pillows, blankets, ammo crates, but then he got to his aquarium. Only then did he actually see his reflection. See the broken, violent, pathetic man, staring back at him through the glass. Shepard's anger boiled even further, and said through his clenched teeth,
"Why did you do that to her?" and then wailed against the surface, punching at the crack with all of his might, asking his reflection questions he already knew. With each question making the crack grow bigger, "Why can't you do anything right? Why did you have to doom every single species in the galaxy? Why couldn't you stop Kai Leng on the Citadel? Why, do you have to be, SO, DAMN, WEAK?!" it was with that punch that shattered the glass, and dousing the Spectre in cold water, knocking him to the ground.
Once he got his composure, he only saw that he caused even more damage. Not only that, this time his damage cost lives. His fish, once majestic, beautiful, and innocent, even the eel, despite its frightening face it wasn't doing anything wrong. But here they lay, gasping for air, probably wondering why their kind master would attack them so recklessly. Did they do anything wrong to deserved this fate?
No, Shepard thought, already starting to cry, they don't deserve this. NO ONE deserves this. He took one of the suffocating koi into his hands, and tried to put it back into what was left of his aquarium, but sadly, he unleashed too much water. There was barely a puddle left for the poor animal. I killed them, he thought miserably as the rest of the alien fish were flopping and wriggling around on the floor, gasping desperately. Is this what's going to happen to all of my assets once we get back to Earth? Is this what I'm making them fight for? To die painfully against an enemy they can't possibly win against? The koi then stopped wriggling in his hands, to which the Commander fell to his knees and started sobbing. Why is this MY decision? Why do so many people have to die because of it? I never deserved this rank! I already GAVE my life for the galaxy when the Collectors attacked. Then he shouted at the ceiling,
"WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!" then, he noticed a large shard of glass to the side of him, probably a fragment from the fish tank he destroyed with his now bloodied knuckles. The shard was perfectly shaped like a knife. Shepard slowly took the piece into his hand, past the squirming eel next to it, studied the fragment, and thought, Maybe there's nothing more I can do
Chakwas was already patching the now weeping Ashley Williams, her head injury wasn't as bad as it seemed, no brain damage, and certainly not the most severe wound it took since Mars. It should be gone with some properly placed medi-gel, but Garrus, and Vega just looked on from outside Chakwas' office. Both of them glancing at the elevator, Vega shrugged with a heavy sigh,
"Well that didn't work. Scars, did you know Loco can be that violent?"
"No," Garrus shook his head astonished. "He was always impulsive, but I never thought he would actually take it out on one of us," he sighed. "Jimmy, I honestly don't know what to do. Ashley tries to help Shepard, she gets beaten for her trouble, Liara isn't answering our transmissions, EDI included, and whenever I try to talk to Tali I almost got a bottle thrown at my face."
"This must be tough for you," Vega sympathized.
"Yeah, well to be perfectly honest, I never been all that good with team building exercises. Used to lead my own team on Omega before Shepard came to pick me up, but
one of them ended up betraying us, and the rest became cannon fodder. I don't want this to happen again on the Normandy."
"Don't worry Garrus. We'll fix this. Shepard is the glue that's always been holding this little superstar tag-team together. I think if we fix him, then everyone else will be right as rain."
"I don't understand why you two are feeling sorry for the soldier?" asked Javik who was leaning against the elevator's side. "She knew exactly what she was getting into once she reached the captain's cabin. Her injury may be minor, but this is exactly the reason WHY we should've left the Commander alone."
"Okay, Javik," Garrus said irritated. "What is your problem?"
"My problem, is you trying to order everyone around as if we were Shepard's personal psychiatrists. I'm just telling the truth when I say that we aren't. Shepard needs to face his own problems himself, we are his soldiers, NOT his therapists."
"I'm only ordering everyone around, because no one else can think of a good plan!"
"You calling me dumb Garrus?" asked an offended Vega.
"What? No it's not that-"
"Oh I see what it is. Big ol' beefy Vega can't handle delicate situations like this."
"Hey it was Javik who insulted you with that, not me," groaned Garrus.
"It's not an insult if it's the truth," Javik huffed.
"Alright, that is IT!" Vega marched right in front of the Prothean. "You know, I am sick and TIRED of you always looking down on us. Ever since you got on board, things have been going from bad, to WORSE!"
"That was the Reapers fault, not my own. It's not MY fault that none of you primitives were prepared for war."
"There it is again, the big mighty Prothean. Yep, you Protheans are definitely too "advanced" and "evolved" for any of us to understand that they were a blood thirsty, slave-driven, war race."
"As if Humans are all complete saints. Last time I checked, you've been fighting as many wars as the Krogans and Turians have! And for the last time, they were not slaves, in my cycle they were servants who were given the name Prothean once they accepted us."
"Oh yeah, because God help them if they kept their old names! Seriously, day one since you got here, it's been my cycle this, and my people that. You, just boasting about how great your empire was, despite the fact that the Reapers kicked your ass so badly that they transformed your remains into the Collectors. Face it Javik, your cycle, SUCKED!"
"Well at least we were able to put up a decent fight. Our war lasted years, while yours is barely surviving months. My people were idiots to think that primitive whelps such as you could have any chance of defeating the Reapers. I might as well have stayed in my pod for all the good you did."
"Excuse us for not having been born with special powers that allow us to read your warnings without our heads exploding! Also, last time I checked, you've been doing jack SQUAT since you've entered this "new cycle". All you ever do, is join Shepard on occasional missions, and wash hands. You're not doing anything important! Meanwhile Garrus is calibrating, Tali is monitoring the core, Liara's been studying the Crucible, I've been keeping the guns in check, Ashley brings us the Council's favor, while you do nothing. Honestly, if your race was still alive, I think they'd be more disappointed in YOU than with us, because we are at least trying to win, without depending on the next generation to do it FOR US!" that point, Javik was enraged, he started emitting green biotic energy,
"Do you want to be thrown out of the airlock in one piece, or several!"
"Bring it on, Prothy," Vega put up his fists. The two were just about to enter combat, with Garrus attempting to stop them, until EDI's voice came onto the intercom, and announced,
"That's enough!" and the elevator opened to reveal EDI's body, looking very cross at the three of them.
"This does not concern you synthetic!" Javik argued. "This conflict is between me and the-" his sentence was interrupted by EDI punching the Prothean clear in the jaw. Javik rubbed his face painfully from the unexpected metal fist.
"Yeah, thanks EDI," gloated Vega, "show that prick who's-" only for her to punch him in the face shortly afterwards. "Ow, damn!" and not shortly after that, kicked Garrus in the shin,
"Dammit, what the hell did I do?"
"What all three of you are doing," said EDI, "is making the squad work inefficiently as possible. Shepard is at the peak of an emotional and mental collapse, and all of you seem to do nothing but argue with each other. Lieutenant Commander Williams has at least shown she was capable enough to try and talk to Shepard. Although it was a failure, she still deserves merit for trying. I understand that all of you are under just as much stress as Shepard is now.
"James, Garrus, you've heard that Thessia is lost, and both of you have worlds under siege by Reaper forces as we speak. It's understandable for why you feel so distressed. You don't know when your world may fall, and you don't know how to cope with it without Shepard, for he was always the one with a clear mind. So you're trying to help him, despite the ever present fear that either of your worlds could be next.
"Javik, your planet is long gone, and your species has been dead for even longer. You expected many things from this new cycle, but all have led to disappointment. I apologize if our societies don't fit your tastes, but like the soldier you are, you are required to adapt to any new situation. Like it or not, this galaxy is ruled by us, the sooner you can process and accept that information, the more likely your species' sacrifice won't in vain."
All three of them were silent as the AI walked past them.
"Hey where are you going?" asked Garrus.
"I am going to talk to the one person who can help Shepard in his state," EDI replied as she turned towards the lounge.
"Don't bother EDI, she's way too intoxicated to help."
"That would be a problem if she actually was drunk." Before Garrus could ask by what she meant, EDI already entered the room, leaving the three of them struck in awe. Until Vega asked,
"Did we just get bitch slapped by our own ship?"
"Unfortunately," Javik lamented.
When EDI entered the room, she saw Tali, lying on the couch, with a bottle of Turian brandy in her hand. Her body language looked tipsy, and once she saw her, Tali groaned,
"Go away," and threw the bottle which smashed harmlessly across the synthetic's face.
"I will do as you ask," she answered casually. "If you would plan on talking to Commander Shepard."
"Shepard doesn't want my help."
"We all know that's not true, and we also know that you're not really drunk." Tali sat up right away, and asked,
"How did you know?"
"I have access to all visual links on the ship, and I have seen that ever since you entered this room, you haven't opened any bottles of alcohol," she explained as she neatly sat next to the Quarian. "Why did you pretend to be intoxicated? Why are you refusing to help Shepard?" after a short pause, Tali made a heavy sigh and said,
"I needed an excuse for everyone to leave me alone. I knew Garrus would try and convince me to help Shepard, but there's no way I can help. Since there was so much alcohol here, and I was acting sad enough as it was, he just assumed that I was drunk at the time. Although to be honest, I probably would be drinking the stuff right now if it weren't for the fact that I need a specific tool to drink it. Which I left in the engineering deck."
"If you feel this equally sad when you're sober, why do you still prefer not to talk to Shepard? You have heard what has been occurring outside, correct?"
"Yes. But, EDI, I don't prefer this," she answered sadly. "I just feel that if I try to talk to Shepard, I can only make things worse. When I tried to comfort him after we got off the ship, he glared at me with such anger, it was like he was an entirely different person. I never saw him in that state before. I don't think anyone ever has. I thought it would be better for Ashley to try and talk to him, you know, considering she was Shepard's first. But that only ended up with her getting hurt. By Shepard of all people. I mean, I was never good when it came to talking. I'm good at explaining, but that's totally different when there's someone's feelings in the process, I still have no idea how to deal with Liara, let alone Shepard. He was the one who always picked me up at my darkest hour, because he already knew the perfect thing to say. But me, I can never think of such inspirational words like he always does. EDI, it's not like I don't want to help, it's just that," breathed loudly, "if I do, I'm afraid I wouldn't make a difference. Am I scared of Shepard? Oh, Keelah," she started sobbing, "I must be the worst girlfriend in the history of space."
"No," EDI hugged Tali, which was something the Quarian was not expecting. "Listen, you are not a terrible person, and you are certainly not afraid of Shepard. As you said, Shepard is now revealing something that he hasn't been showing since his acceptance into the Alliance. I'm certain what's happening now is just the result of him letting out all the stress and emotional discomfort that he has been holding back not since the Reaper War, but since his Spectre career began. Tali, Ashley tried to treat Shepard like a Spectre, but I chose you because you treat Shepard like a person. He needs to be talked to like a person. I cannot do that, no matter how much I learn, or how Human like I become. I'm still a machine, and Shepard needs to talk to someone more familiar than myself to save him from this distress."
"B-but, what can I say?" Tali asked nervously. " 'Sorry about Thessia, maybe Earth can be better?' That wouldn't fix everything."
"Tali, there's no such sentence that can fix all problems instantaneously. It's always better to say something rather than not saying anything at all, whether it's the right word, or the right sentence, it does not matter. All that matters is Shepard's well-being. You said you love him, now make sure he feels like he still has it." Tali was captivated by EDI's words, it was odd enough that she was getting relationship advice from an AI, but odd or not, it was exactly what she needed to hear. She stood up and said,
"Thank you EDI."
"It is not any trouble. You just have to make sure he apologizes to Jeff, and we're even," she joked as Tali exited the lounge.
Tali was riding the elevator up, and she still had no idea what to say. She knew EDI said that it was better to talk regardless, but her nervousness has caused her mind to blank out completely.
Crap, why now of all times? She still remembered the face he gave her in the hangar. Was she ready to face that in the same way Ashley did? Tali may have been an Admiral, but Ashley was a Spectre, and she still got hurt anyway. As Tali by comparison, barely knew any kind of self-defense training. Before she knew it, she got up to the door of the cabin, she took a deep breath and thought, Well, here goes nothing. It can't be that bad, right? I mean, he's Shepard. He can do anything. Can he?
She then started to hear Shepard's voice behind the door, it was mumbling names,
"Kaidan. Mordin. Thane. Legion." Tali knew those names well. She did hear that Mordin and Thane died before she got on the ship again, she always felt sad that she couldn't at least say goodbye to any of them, like Kaidan. But she opened the door regardless, and was shocked to see the room was in total disarray. Broken model ships, files, water, and dead fish were littered all over the floor, the bed was a mess, and the aquarium was shattered. But to her horror, Tali saw a distressed Shepard on his knees, knuckles red with blood, face red of exhaustion, and a shard of glass pressed against his neck. He was breathing heavily, and apparently didn't hear the door open when he was saying, with tears streaming down his face, twitching a smile, as if he were struggling to see this appalling scene as a positive event,
"Don't worry guys, I'm coming back soon. I've done what I could for this galaxy. Cerberus can't use me anymore," he noticeably closed his eyes and prepared for the pain of driving the glass into his neck. Without a second thought, Tali screamed,
"JACK!" and ran straight towards him, tripping over one of the ships and landing right on the Commander, knocking the glass out of his hands. She embraced him as hard as she could and cried, "Dammit Jack! If I knew it was this bad, I should've come sooner. I don't blame you for hating me, I deserve it. But, Shepard, please, just don't do that again." As she cried into his wet white t-shirt, Shepard just realized something that made him lost for words.
She called me, Jack, thought an amazed Shepard. My first name. Not John, not Shepard, or Commander, just Jack. She really cares.
"You can be such a bosh'tet!" she yelled in-between her tears. "I already lost WAY too much in my life. My mother, my father, my team on Haestrom, Legion, and recently Kal, and now you too? I hate to sound selfish, but
PLEASE don't do this to me! I don't want to mourn over you a second time!" Shepard's feelings of anxiety started to melt away, his grief being replaced by remorse. But not the same remorse of failure, but the remorse of making the one he loved, so miserable. How much would he have hurt her if he decided to end it all right there?
.I'm sorry," Shepard said with a noticeable sniff, and placed his arms around Tali. "It's been
so hard. Tali, I'm starting to get the feeling that," took a deep breath, and looked down at his lover's eyes, "what if Harbinger is right? What if I can't stop the Reapers? Hell, I'm putting all of the galaxy's resources into a Prothean super weapon, and I don't even know what it does. Every single species is counting on me, they need me to succeed. But, I'm not sure if I can actually do it this time."
"No, you will," Tali wiped some tears off his face. "Listen, Shepard, if there is one thing I have always regretted in my life, it was never to see you sooner. After all, when we first met, I was the second to last person you took into your squad before you met Liara. When you died two years ago, I always regretted not coming with you once I saw you on Freedom's Progress, I mean," he laughed sadly, "let's face it, I'm a terrible leader. Now, in this war, where my people should've been fighting alongside you since day one, decided to fight the Geth instead, and hold me back even more. And I've always hated that Shepard, because so many terrible things have happened to you, and I could not stop them. I wasn't there when Mordin died for the genophage cure, and I wasn't there when Thane was killed, and I certainly wasn't there when Earth fell to the Reapers. But when Legion died, I was there, but I needed you to comfort me, like you always did. I feel awful, but I always thought that, you were always so strong, you could conquer anything, so maybe, y-you never needed my help. But now," she started crying again, "if I knew you were this hurt I should've gotten here faster! I'm never there when you need me! And I'm sorry, I really, really, am sorry."
"Tali," Shepard was surprised she even felt like this, "this isn't your fault. I would never blame you. You are probably-no, you ARE, the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If there's anyone who should be sorry, it's me. This is my burden, I should've kept a more clear head an-"
"No, don't say that," Tali talked back, struggling to keep her composure, "you shouldn't be burdened with this. You don't know this, but to me, you're the greatest thing that ever happened to this galaxy. I've seen you fight for so long, against so many odds, with so little allies, you actually give me the inspiration to move forward. But, I want to do more for you, than just carry a shotgun or hack mechs. You don't have to carry this burden by yourself, give me some of the weight, or Garrus, or even Ashley. I heard what you did to her."
"I already regret it. But I didn't mean to, it was just," Shepard tried to think of the word, but his mind went blank, "I don't know. I just got out of control. It's like the universe is doing everything in its power to say that it hates me. What if I die again, but I won't come back? How many more sacrifices do I have to give until it's enough?"
"I don't know. But, I can tell you that we won't let that happen. We are all on your side, Jack. Remember, I've failed in many of my missions too before I met you again. I know what it's like to lose friends to enemy fire, I've seen my people die needlessly for the homeworld, I've seen the best and the worst of my kind. Days like that make me want to tear something, or even someone, apart. I never thought you could ever feel that way, until I saw you in the hangar today.
"I thought you were just angry at me. But you were really angry at yourself," she removed her mask, and Shepard saw the concerned and beautiful face of Tali'Zorah, with her silver eyes sparkling worriedly. "I WANT to make you better. You are probably the only person left that I care for more than anything, you are mine, and I don't want you to leave me again," she hugged him tighter. "We will fix this, somehow, someway, we will fix this. You will defeat the Reapers, and that Kai Leng bastard will pay for both Thessia, and Thane. All of us, Ashley, Garrus, Javik, James, EDI, Joker, Cortez, Traynor, and you, you will send the Reapers back into the void they once came, and not just because you killed Sovereign, or the Collectors, but because you have us," she held Shepard's bloodied right hand. "Because you have, me."
Shepard's grief and remorse were gone. Knowing that the once quirky Quarian pilgrim he met on the Citadel all those years ago, would actually be saving his life for the third time since he's known her. Once in the Collector Base, second on the Geth dreadnought, and the third time, here. Only this time, she wasn't saving him from deadly drops of ten-thousand feet, but saving him from the depths of his own depression. He gave a warm smile, wiped the tears from his eyes and said,
"Thank you Tali," and kissed the Admiral softly on her lips, "I needed that," he looked around him. Then sighed, "Damn this place is a mess. And out of all the things that could be fixed in this place, you chose me," he joked lightly. Tali smiled, feeling good to see Shepard back to his old self again,
"Shepard, I'm not trying to be rude, but I didn't exactly come up here just to save the fish," she looked at them empathetically.
"Yeah," Shepard regretted. "Made me wish I actually bothered naming any of them," took another heavy sigh. "But I suppose this hasn't been the first time I've killed them."
"Maybe next time when we're on the Citadel, when we replace them, I can buy you an aquarium VI, I've heard they can do wonders for fish care." Shepard smiled warmly,
"I'll keep that in mind." But then, Shepard heard EDI say over the com,
"Commander, the Asari Councilor is still demanding to talk to you." Shepard looked a bit sad, turned to Tali and asked,
"What should I tell her?"
"The truth," she shrugged, "it may not be the best news, but it's the only thing we've got," she put her hand on his cheek, with a sentimental smile. "But I'm sure we'll get better news for her soon." Shepard nodded thankfully and said,
"EDI, tell the Councilor I'm on my way. And tell the squad to meet me in the War Room, Liara included. We need to figure out how to get Vendetta back, hell bring Traynor too, we need all the brainpower we can get."
"Understood Commander," the coms spoke. "And I suspect that you'll be apologizing to Mr. Moreau once this is over with?" Shepard looking back regretfully,
"Yeah, I guess I got a lot of apologizing to do."
"I'll meet you in the War Room Commander," and the com links went off. Shepard then stood up, dried himself off as good as possible, put on his leather jacket, and was about to go to the elevator until he noticed Tali wasn't joining him. He turned around, and asked,
"Aren't you coming?"
"You go on ahead," Tali insisted. "I don't think a Geth Engineer like myself would be of much use in hunting down Cerberus operatives anyway. Plus, someone has to clean this place up, and it might as well be me. I've definitely been here more than a few times to remember where certain things were placed," she joked alluringly as she refastened her mask.
"That you do," Shepard smirked. "I'll see you downstairs later?"
"Yes, definitely," she tranquilly sighed. Shepard smiled and before exiting he said,
"Thank you Tali. For everything. Keelah se'lai," and the door closed behind him. Tali went to pick up all the dead fish, broken models, and glass off the floor, smiling happily knowing that she actually helped Shepard in more ways than she ever hoped. She spoke under her breath,
"I love you too, Jack Shepard."