|Many months prior…|
|Location: SSV Normandy/Frigate Class Vessel|
|Alliance Command CCEDF Number: 33DEFZE9-87541JSN|
"I can't." Tali protested as she wrung her hands awkwardly together, "I'm busy."
"Really." John said before leaning in slightly toward her as he crossed his arms, "I'm beginning to think it's an excuse."
"No!" She stammered frightfully, "I'm serious. I'm busy."
Her hands met her side and let her eye-brows do the talking for her.
...And remembered he couldn't see it.
"Okay, Tali. You made your case. Fine." He relented as he gave her a stiff tap to the arm, "Whenever you're done, join us whenever you can."
"Thanks." She turned back to face her console and gave it a deathly look.
In all honesty, Tali wasn't busy.
Like... At all.
She gave every meter and knob at her console a long glance before sighing.
Everything was right where it was supposed to be.
The emission stabilizers and internal sinks were running and operating normally.
And the Tacheon-coupling's .546 eezo screen bleed was leveling out at around right where they were supposed to.
She sighed again.
"Tali." Adams kept his eyes glued to his own screen, "Your blank visor gives it away. You were lying."
"But I did— I—"
"—Go up there and take a break." He said before fixing her with a cold glare, "That's an order."
Was it safe to say she was terrified that her lie would get her into some serious trouble?
Yes. Yes it was.
John pulled and heaved and yanked the unyielding wall of muscle before him.
The typical 'half-grin' Wrex had become known for showed brightly.
'Arm-Wrestling' they called it.
Tali watched carefully from a distance and wondered how crazy John had to be for even trying to pit his strength against a krogan.
As Kaidan put it, it was like trying to fist-fight a bear with your arms tied behind your back.
Tali had no idea what a bear was, but she nodded all the same.
"What the hell you made of, Wrex!? Steel?" A vein bulged from John's forehead as he heaved again.
Wrex bellowed one lowly laugh and slowly brought John's hand down till it hit the table.
The dinosaur won again.
"You're making me lose money, Commander." Kaiden called from the sidelines as he handed Ash and a crew member a credit chit.
"You're the idiot for betting a human could beat a krogan." Marcus said as he pocketed his win. Ash nodded at Kaiden and shrugged at him.
"He's right, LT. It's kinda stupid."
"Hey, if you mixed a little biotics in there, a human might have a chance." Kaiden suggested with a grin.
"That's cheating." Ash replied instantly.
"Says the woman who doesn't have them."
"Try me." Ash shot back, "I could nail you down to the ground faster than you blink."
Kaiden snorted and put his hands on his hips in a way to try and calm down the NCO.
"I doubt that." Garrus shook his head and pointed at Kaiden, "He'd kill you before you could even get around to touching him."
"And who the hell asked you scuttle-butt?" Ash glared angrily at the turian.
"No one." Garrus replied, obviously confused by the human rhetoric, "I was offering my opinion, Ash. I'd consider treating your superior officers with more respect."
By now, Ash gave her full attention to the bony assface across the table. "Yeah? That turned out well for you in C-Sec didn't it?"
"And your attitude doesn't seem to leave much to wonder over." Garrus retorted with a scowl on his mandibles, "Seeing as how you're still a gunnery chief whose been in service for seven years now."
John didn't have the breath to reply to anything; so he kept heaving and took careful sips of water.
Tali wrung her hands together and watched both the humans and Garrus start arguing.
John called this team-building...
But right now it looked more like the precursor to a raging fist-fight.
And with Wrex stomping around (Tali called it stomping only because of his impeccably large size) and telling them all to "duel right here, right now" was making everything worse.
Not only that, Marcus, the only crew member who'd taken the liberty in hanging out with the ground team, stuffed himself into the smallest corner he'd found and kept his eye on the Krogan's beastly bulk to keep himself from looking much like the pancakes they all had for breakfast that morning.
Tali could hardly blame him, she was just as inclined to do the same.
"Commander." Joker's voice on the PA called. Everyone froze and looked up at the intercom. "Council's on the line. They've got some news for all of you."
"...We'll be there in a minute." John said finally before giving Wrex, Ash, and Garrus a stare, "Guess we'll have to put the 'team-building exercise' on hold." John growled with a little more force than necessary.
"Uh... okay... well—they're, uh, waiting for you whenever you're ready." Joker answered, clearly confused by John's aggressive tone.
When the PA clicked off, John reared on Ash and Wrex before giving them both an acrid looking glare. "What in hell was that, guys? Are you kidding me?"
Tali's hands sped up their wringing and watched John huff and puff angrily.
"Wrex. Stand the hell down." He put a pointer on the krogan's chest to make his point.
Wrex grumbled, offered his assent, and leaned back on the wall, almost crushing Marcus unintentionally.
"Williams," John scolded before rearing on her, "I brought you on this crew because I thought you'd be a valuable asset to the team. Do not make me second guess that decision. Pull off another stunt like that, and your standard issue will be replaced by a mop and bucket. Am I clear?"
John shook his head and pointed with his chin to the stairs. "Go. Everyone."
Kaiden cleared his throat awkwardly and they all made their way to the conference hub in silence.
"Commander. It's good to see you. I'm afraid this meeting will have to brief, however." The Asari councilor greeted politely. John glanced over to see the salarian councilor waving his greeting while Sparatus, the turian councilor, did nothing.
The aged turian wasn't keen on platitudes. Even simple greetings, it seemed. Not unusual with him.
But he was always the first to get to the point.
"The Geth have attacked Feros and we don't know why. If the geth are there en masse... then it's worthy of investigating. Anything they do may help you find Saren." Sparatus explained.
"Understood," Shepard agreed.
"Remember your objective: Find a compelling reason as to why Saren could find any relevance in attacking this human colony." he added.
John nodded. "Yes sir."
"The full briefing has been forwarded to you. We'll be waiting eagerly for your next report." The salarian councilor concluded before ending the call.
Okay... that really was quick.
He turned around to face his team after sending the brief to their respective emails. "Okay. The brief's in your inboxes. Go over it tonight after dinner, and we'll have a meeting after breakfast tomorrow."
One by one, they all stand up, and keeping the most distance between them possible, file out.
John leaned back on the railing, crossed his arms, and sighed before gazing at the ceiling.
This was hard.
It'd been two months since he'd been appointed Spectre and given control of the Normandy. And it was a miracle he managed to keep them together for this long.
He was lucky the incident earlier hadn't been worse. And it was such a surprise to see the problem wasn't coming from Garrus, Tali, or even Wrex, but Ashley.
He didn't factor Liara, because she hardly ever left her room, save for when they'd have meetings with the council (which she didn't attend to this time).
Shaken out of his thoughts, he looked down to see Tali staring at him silently with her fingers intertwined at her waist.
Then he thought about the woman in front of him. Out of the four misfits in his crew, Tali stood out from the rest.
He liked Tali.
She was smart, polite, well-mannered, and knew her shit. If anyone could interrupt him without it pissing him off, it was Tali. And maybe Garrus.
"Yeah?" He forced himself to smile.
"Does... Ashley hate us?" She asked cautiously. Tali looked behind her to make sure the person in question wasn't standing right behind her.
John sighed and bit the bottom of his lip. "No. She just... has some history with turians. Not anything directly, but enough to affect her career."
Ordinarily, John would have just said 'no' and be done with the question. But they deserved to know. Tali especially.
Tali couldn't help but frown and look at the floor.
"She's a good person, Tali. Believe me. And so are you. She'll come to realize it someday. Hopefully for Garrus too."
"We'll see... I'm just worried something... might happen."
"Me too." He nodded and shrugged at the same time before stepping off to exit the hub, "Care to join us? Dinner's ready."
"Uhm..." Tali nodded hesitantly, "Sure."
Tali wasn't usually one to join the others for dinner.
And it was for a lot of reasons.
For one, Tali would, in ordinary situations, eat a little before dinner time.
Which meant that she'd already eaten and wasn't hungry.
And secondly, she didn't much care for the smacking lips, clacking teeth, and chomping maws.
She sighed and stared distantly at Garrus chewing or when Ash ate with her mouth open.
She should've turned down John's invitation to dinner... but then she'd start looking like a flake since she'd turned down John's invitation to hang out with the group earlier.
She mentally sighed.
Was it just her?
Or did she just always find herself in awkward social situations like this?
John, having noticed that Tali looked fairly distressed between a sipping of soup, decided to speak up and say something.
"Something wrong, Tali?" John asked as he set his spoon down, "You okay? You look worried."
Tali immediately shook her head.
"Ah, nothing. I, uh, just forgot to check something in engineering. You know. The A0-charge ducts. They needed some— calibrating."
Where did that come from? The Normandy didn't even have A0-charge ducts.
John stared blankly at her before finally replying. "I wouldn't give it too much worry, Tali. Adams is more than capable of handling maintenance issues."
She stood up anyways and shook her head before tapping the table lightly. "No, I should go and get that fixed up."
"...Okay. If you say so." John said as he shrugged nonchalantly, "See you tomorrow then. Night, Tali."
"Bye Tali." Garrus said between a swig of his tea. Liara also noticed Tali leaving and gave her a smile while Ashley simply nodded to her.
She gave them all a little wave. "Bye." She mumbled.
When Tali turned around, she had stop herself from yelping in surprise from the large boulder of krogan standing right behind her.
"Ah, good," Wrex grumbled as he set down his trays piled high with food, "more room."
Tali excused herself and the krogan sat before picking up the ladle he'd just stolen from the cooks and gorging himself with at least four servings worth of mashed potatoes and seven biscuits all in one go.
"Christ, Wrex." Shepard warned with a worried stare, "Careful there. You're gonna break the table."
Several crewmen laugh.
And just before Tali turned the corner to go back down to engineering, she gave Shepard and Wrex one last fleeting look and sighed sadly at it all.
She knew she was rationalizing away the feelings she felt by saying she'd already eaten earlier or because she didn't like watching them chew...
But wasn't because of that.
It wasn't the reason at all.
It was because everything she ate was through a straw.
And not with a fork.