Kodiak Drop Shuttle, Sowilo System
"This is Normandy, you are clear to come aboard."
"Thanks Joker." Garrus activated the shuttle's autopilot. "Good to be back."
"You know," Tali started, "I had a really good time. I don't even care that we didn't get to eat at the restaurant."
"Yeah, sorry about that. If I'd known they were operating on Turian Standard time…"
"Really, it's OK. I had fun just spending time with you."
Garrus moved his mandibles in a close attempt at a smile.
The Normandy's hanger doors opened before them as the shuttle drifted in. Tali had to restrain herself from opening the shuttle's doors before it stopped when she saw who was waiting for them.
Garrus placed a hand on her shoulder. "I don't think she can hear you. The comm's not on right now."
As soon as the shuttle landed, Tali burst out and ran straight for Shepard. Garrus watched her with a dejected look on his face.
"Shepard!" Tali ran up to her and preformed her quarian salute. "Here to make a full report Captain!"
"Report?" Shepard had a blank look on her face.
"You know, the report you wanted me to give you… you said '24 hours. Then I want you back here to tell me everything.'"
"Oh," Shepard replied distractedly. "Yeah, I forgot about that."
"You… forgot? Then why were you here waiting for us."
"I was just down here checking on some things."
"Oh. Well, that's OK. I can still tell you everything that happened."
"Actually," she interrupted, "can it wait till later? I've got some business to attend to."
"A mission?" Garrus had finally gotten over to the two.
"Not exactly. Just something I have to take care of. By myself."
"Oh," Tali's voice was as blank as Shepard's face. "I guess we'll just… get out of your way."
Shepard nodded absently.
Tali and Garrus boarded the Elevator.
"Is Liara still here?" Tali asked, keeping the doors from closing. "I was hoping I could talk to her. Last time we talked some… unpleasant words were said."
"No," Shepard replied. "She had to get back to her Shadow Broker business."
"Oh. I guess I'll… talk to you later Shepard."
The Loft, One Hour Previously:"You cannot just send me away!"
"Liara, you have to."
Liara ran her hands along her fringe in frustration. "This is exactly the kind of situation I was talking about!"
"What are you talking about?"
"You said if there's the possibility you might die on a mission, you would take me along." Liara lowered an accusing finger in Shepard's face. "You promised me!"
"I said if I was going to die. I'd take you if I was going to die."
"You said if there is a chance you may die. Is there?"
"Liara, there's a chance I may die taking a shower in the morning. Do you want me to take me with you every time I take a shower?"
Leanna walked over to Liara and grabbed her hands. "Liara, if I could, I'd take you with me in a heartbeat. Hell, I'd have taken you through the Omega-4 Relay if you would've let me."
"I know. I'm sorry I didn't come with you, but I…"
"It's alright. You don't need to apologize, just to listen. I have to do this alone. I mean I literally have to do this and it literally has to be done alone."
"Can you not at least tell me where you are going?"
Leanna shook her head. "I can't tell you that, and you have to promise not to use your connections to find out."
Liara pulled back, frustration creeping in again. "Why not?"
"I'm just trying to protect you. The less you know about this, the better it is for you."
"I'm not the same naïve asari you rescued two years ago. I don't need you to protect me anymore."
Leanna threw her hands up. "The whole galaxy needs me to protect them! And I know you're not naïve like you used to be, but I still need you to not know about this. At least, not until after it happens."
"But why? What is so goddess dammed important that you cannot tell me?"
"It's just… I might have to do things. Things I won't be proud of. If you find out what they are, you might try to stop me. Or worse, you might not. I don't… I don't want you to have to make that choice."
"I… I see."
"Look, I will make a promise to you, right here and now." She grabbed Liara's hands again. "I don't care what I have to do, but I swear on the lives of our future blue babies that I will make it back to you in one piece. Can you trust me to do that?"
"I… I think I can."
Silently, Liara headed for the door of the Loft.
Thane Krios sat pensively in the life support room. The door behind him opened.
"Is that you Siha?"
"No, it's me Garrus."
Thane turned slightly. "Yes, of course. Come in."
Garrus walked in the door and around to the other side of the table.
"Please," Thane gestured to the chair, "have a seat."
Garrus sat. "Sorry to burst in on you like this."
"Not at all. I find myself happy for company, this close to the end of my life."
"You're uh… looking well. Better than the last time I saw you anyway."
"Thank you. Doctor Chakwas has me on a new treatment. It's not slowing the progression of the Kepral's Syndrome, but it is lessening the symptoms."
"Don't be. I've reached a point in my life where I can truly say I have no regrets."
"I wish I could say the same."
Thane steepled his fingers. "Am I correct in assuming this is what you wanted to talk about?"
"Yeah." Garrus rubbed his head. "This past day has just been… confusing."
"Didn't you and Tali'Zorah have a date together?"
"Yeah. And no too."
"I'm not sure I follow."
"Well, we went out together for 24 hours, I'm not sure it was actually a date though."
"Well, I wanted to take her out to this nice restaurant that serves food specifically for Turians and Quarians. Well, technically just Turians, but Quarians can eat the food just fine. Anyway, we got to the restaurant and it was closed. Apparently they operate on Turian Standard time, which is what all the Turian ships operate on too. Unfortunately, that meant we showed up about an hour after closing time and the restaurant is only open for dinner. If we went back when they opened, we'd miss the scheduled pick-up.
"Now, my first idea was to call the ship and ask for an extension, but Tali said she didn't want to bother Shepard in the middle of her date. Instead, we wound up renting a hotel room on Illium, raiding the mini-bar, ordering room service, and watching some of the vids they had to rent. When it was over, we came back to the ship."
Thane nodded. "It sounds like you had an enjoyable evening."
"I thought it was too, and I even thought she enjoyed herself. The thing is, as soon as we got here, it was like she started completely ignoring me and fixated entirely on Shepard. I know she's had a thing for her in the past, but I thought she was over it. Shepard certainly seems to be."
"Someone like Shepard can be… difficult to move on from. If it's true that Shepard doesn't reciprocate those feeling, she should eventually be able to move on."
Garrus rubbed the uninjured side of his face. "Maybe you're right. Still, that wasn't the worst of what happened."
"What was the worst?"
"You remember what I said about that restaurant? About how they operated on Turian Standard time? Well I was talking to someone, I think it might've been the manager, and he said: 'If you were a real Turian you would have known that.' Like suddenly it's my fault they're closed!"
"It can be difficult to have your pride challenged like that."
"How do you deal with it, Thane?"
Thane gave him a confused look. "Deal with what?"
"Deal with being the only one of your kind on a ship filled with aliens?"
"I try to remember the reason I am out here. I am doing more good now than I would among my own people."
Garrus sighed. "Maybe we were, back when we were busy stopping the Collectors. Now what are we doing? We're just sitting around, waiting for something to happen."
Thane raised one of his brow ridges. "Are you considering leaving the ship?"
Garrus shook his head. "I don't know. I've been thinking about it. My Mother's sick. She's getting treatment but I don't know if it's enough to save her. I shouldn't be letting my brother shoulder that whole burden alone, but I don't know what else to do. If I stay here I feel like I'm abandoning my family, but if I leave, I'll feel like I'm abandoning Shepard."
Thane thought for a minute. "Perhaps the problem is that you haven't talked to Shepard about this. You're worried about abandoning her, but you've never stopped to ask if she would feel abandoned."
"I know, you're right. It's just, I can never seem to find the right time. Every time she asks if I want to talk, I just make up something about 'calibrations'. Anyway, I'm still not even sure if I want to leave. I'm just entertaining the possibility."
"Even so, it is best for you to discuss such a possibility with Shepard. She may be able to provide you with insight you wouldn't have otherwise."
"You're right." Garrus stood and headed for the door. "Thanks for the talk Thane."
"You're welcome. Come back any time."
Tali'Zorah, lost in thought, barely realized where she was until she very nearly bumped into Joker's chair.
"Whoa, watch it there Tali. Don't wanna break something on me."
"Sorry Joker. I've just… got a lot on my mind."
"Looks like it." Joker swiveled his chair around to face her. "So, what brings you up to the cockpit?"
"I'm just… a little concerned about Shepard. Has she seemed… odd at all to you?"
"I'll be honest; I haven't even seen her since she met Liara at the airlock last night."
"You mean she didn't even see Liara off?"
"No, but I don't really think the Commander's ever seen anyone off the ship, least not what I've seen."
"Did Liara mention anything as she was leaving?"
"Not really. She was pretty quiet the whole time. Not that that's new for me. Don't think I really made a good first impression with her."
Tali chuckled slightly. "What did you expect? She gets saved from a collapsing mine and the first thing you do is crack a joke about it. She probably thinks you can't take anything seriously."
"She's probably right."
A hiss sounded from behind Tali. She turned to see Shepard striding quickly to the cockpit. Kelly left her post to follow.
"Shepard," Tali called as soon as she was in range. "I've been looking for you. I need to talk to you about…"
"Can it wait? I need to talk to Joker about something." She turned to face Kelly who had just managed to catch up. "Privately."
Tali and Kelly made their way back into the CIC.
"What do you think…" Kelly began before Tali hushed her.
Tali used her omni-tool to increase the sensitivity of her suit's external microphones until she could clearly hear the conversation.
"…setting in a new course. When we get there, I want you and the Normandy to wait by the gate. I'll be taking the Kodiak out alone."
"Don't suppose there's any chance of you telling me what this is about," Joker replied.
"Not this time. I need you to do what I say, and do everything in your power to keep the people on this ship safe, even if it means leaving me behind."
"Come on Shepard, you know we can't leave you behind."
"Joker!" Shepard replied sternly. "I need you to protect the lives on this ship. That's your job here. Just stay by the relay and don't leave unless I call for you. Got it?"
"Got it?" Shepard repeated, firmer this time.
Shepard walked briskly out of the cockpit and past Tali and Kelly.
"Shepard?" Tali called after her.
"Later Tali." Shepard entered the elevator. The doors closed behind her.
Tali and Kelly walked back into the cockpit where Joker was still turned around, facing them.
"Ok, yeah. I can see what you mean about acting weird."