Shepard was standing in the elevator at the end of yet another very long day, looking forward to nothing more than eating something she didn’t have to think about and going to sleep before waking up and doing it all again tomorrow.
After all, all of the days recently had been long ones.
When the elevator finally opened into the mess hall, she wasn’t surprised to find it mostly empty. She’d finished up responding to messages even later than normal, and it was well into the night shift. She was surprised to see that Tali and Garrus were still up, although neither of them seemed very awake. Still, it was good to see them; they hadn’t been able to spend much time together lately outside of combat. Maybe she’d be able to hang out with them for a few minutes before they all went to bed.
She went over and got her MRE ready to eat before hesitating and making herself a cup of hot chocolate to go with it. She deserved it, after all of the shitty days she’d been having lately, and all of the shitty days coming in the future. Grabbing both the MRE and the hot chocolate, she took them with her to sit down next to her two friends.
“Hey, Shepard.” Garrus’s voice was quiet, and just this side of sleepy. He had his head propped up on one of his hands, and the other was holding his drink. “Finally finished up for the night?”
Shepard shrugged. “More like I finally got to a point where I could justify leaving the rest for tomorrow. At this point it’s never really finished. How about you guys?”
“Ha!” Tali’s voice was full of false cheer, and she’d given up even more than Garrus had--her helmet was resting on the table, her empty protein tube pushed off to the side. “I understand completely. Becoming an admiral was the right choice, but keelah, do the others make me wish it hadn’t been.”
Shepard hid a smile in her mug as she took a sip. “Admiral Han’Gerrel giving you trouble again?”
“When isn’t he?” Tali groaned, finally straightening up a bit as she brought her arms up to rest on the table instead of her face. “But at least I only have the one set of them to worry about. I can’t imagine trying to corral them all like you have to, Shepard.”
Shepard sighed and pushed her meal around with her fork. “Yeah, well. It’s not fun, I can tell you that much.” She looked up to see both of them watching her sympathetically, and waved a hand through the air to brush it off. “You know what? Enough about work for the night. I’m tired and want to talk about anything else.”
Garrus and Tali exchanged a look, and Tali cleared her throat as she started fiddling with her protein tube. “Have I ever told you guys what happened on Haestrom before the geth got there? I promised Kal’Reegar that I would never tell, but since he’s not around to stop me anymore…”
Garrus leaned forward. “Oh, do tell. What could have possibly embarrassed the great Kal’Reegar?”
Shepard grinned and settled in to listen to her friends gossip.
An hour later, they’ve moved to the observation deck and settled onto a couch. Garrus is talking, and Shepard is leaning her head on the back of the couch with her eyes closed. She really should’ve gone to bed, but quiet moments are so rare that she just can’t bring herself to make this one end. Tali is leaning on her other side, and Shepard feels so warm and so peaceful that she’s almost tempted to just fall asleep right where she is.
Garrus finishes his story and all three of them sit in silence for a while, enjoying the quiet and the company. Eventually, Tali stirs just enough to press harder into Shepard’s side, and Shepard tilts her head towards her without opening her eyes.
“Shepard, I just wanted you to know… even if this doesn’t work. Even if we don’t make it. It was worth it, to have met you guys.”
Shepard opens her eyes and looks at Tali, meeting her eyes behind the ever-present mask.
Tali nods fiercely and continues,“I love you both, so much, and I’m so glad that I got to have you in my life.”
Garrus shifts so he's closer to them as well, a solid line of heat pressed against Shepard’s side. “You know that I'm not normally one for sappy comments, but…me too. I love you both.”
Shepard closes her eyes again and sighs. It's a good sigh, long and deep, and she can feel the reverberation through her whole body.
“You guys have stuck by me through so much, and I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for you. Everything that's happened these last few years would have been exponentially worse without either of you.” She reaches over and grabs a hand from each of them, holding them tightly in hers. They squeeze her hands back, and the three of them sit there, united against the dark.
Shepard smiles. “I love you guys.”