In a recent play through of Mass Effect 1, I discovered that a partnerless Shepard, after being essentially betrayed by Ambassador Udina, is pretty much on his (or her, depending) own on the Normandy when Anderson's message comes in. No one to say that everything will be fine, and that Shepard will pull them through as always.

Considering how much carried over from ME1 to ME2, I have no doubt certain conflicting choices will come to a head in ME3. Wanting to avoid this particular bit of unpleasantness, though I'm sure I'll look for the scenes on YouTube, I focused on a particular pairing in ME2. Still, I think Shepard should still have a friend there for him. Since no one on the crew stepped up, I found myself envisioning this scene to fill the gap. Probably because it helps set the stage for what has become my pairing of the series.

UPDATE: I've got to say, this story's had a lot more response than I'd thought it would, considering previous stories I've posted.

So… I guess this won't be the last thing I write for this. I've started planning out a longer story, pretty much something to explain this scene. It'll take a fair amount of time to even start, as I need to gather a lot of source material, but it seems to be an idea no one else has worked on, as far as I can tell. I have no idea on the possible timetable. Job's gotta come first.

Still, I think this might be fun to work through.

Oh, and constructive criticism is always accepted. If you think this is a little bulky in the wording, let me know. I have no problems with making revisions to help the flow.

The wonderful story that is Mass Effect is, of course, owned by Bioware. I'm just playing in their universe for a bit.

And, without further adieu, in we go.

One of the things a quarian learned on Pilgrimage was how to hide in plain sight.

Most other races barely tolerated quarians. Beggars, scavengers, little better than thieves, and those were among the more kind remarks she had heard. Often times it was better to simply not be seen, save by those few who showed themselves to be kind hearted individuals who could look at the helmet and still see a sentient being.

These skills had proven useful time and time again, and while she was no expert she'd still kept up practice, even on the Human Alliance's most advanced warship.

So, it came to no surprise how she'd managed to get up to the CIC in time to watch as Commander Shepard and Lieutenant Alenko returned to the Normandy after their meeting with Ambassador Udina and the Citadel Council with no one the wiser. Tali'Zorah nar Rayya had come to know them both well over the last few months as they searched the galaxy for clues as to the location of the former Spectre Saren. They had uncovered secrets far greater, truths which could not be denied.

But something was wrong… The man she saw walking in was not the same triumphant Shepard she had seen leaving barely an hour before. Kaidan didn't look much better, but he seemed to be covering. Under her helmet, Tali frowned. They couldn't have… They wouldn't have just ignored him, would they?

She saw Joker turn from the helm. He told Shepard that the Normandy had been locked down, saying that it had to be some mistake. Tali did not hear his muttered reply, but from the way Joker nearly slammed a fist against his chair... Luckily Shepard had been there to stop him. In Tali's eyes it was confirmed. "Keelah…" They'd turned their backs on him…

The marine at the door, distracted by the Commander's arrival, suddenly noticed her presence when she'd spoken. Pressley, whom she had snuck up the stairs behind, looked up for a moment as well. Neither seemed particularly alarmed. They knew her. She had proven herself to them.

It was good to have friends. Though there was one particular friend centered in her attention just then.

The marine spoke. "Um, ma'am?"

Tali raised a hand, forestalling any possible complaints. She wasn't sure if any were coming, but she knew she wasn't Alliance. And she certainly hadn't asked anyone's permission to be there. "I'm sorry. I was curious. I'll be going now." The marine nodded to her, sated. She turned and quietly slipped from the CIC.

She had a decent guess about what happened. He'd asked for help in getting to Ilos, and they'd decided that sweeping him aside would be easier than risking war. As she walked down the curved stairwell, she found herself damning the Council. It wasn't simply unfair what they had done, it was wrong! This human… This strong, brave, compassionate human who had done everything they asked and more had been abandoned the moment he asked something of them. They were tying his hands by locking down his ship, so he couldn't even do what Spectres did best and fly off on his own to make things right.

Tali returned to Engineering for a while. Being near Engineer Adams and the Normandy's massive drive core helped calm her frayed nerves. She wanted to help Shepard. He had done so much for her. He's given her a chance to prove herself, and not just to the crew. He seemed set on allowing her to prove herself to the galaxy, as his steely blue eyes had silenced more than one bigot from his comments of her being 'typical quarian filth'.

Without a second thought, he'd given her a copy of information gathered for the Alliance about the Geth, simply because she thought it might help her people reclaim Homeworld. Even though he knew it would spell the end of her Pilgrimage, that with this hopefully useful information she could return to her people with pride, he'd given it to her.

Not that she could have abandoned him and his mission. After all, he had also given her a second chance when he'd swooped in unannounced and saved her life on the Citadel.

She sighed, her eyes turning upward. Shepard hadn't come down on his usual rounds since returning to the Normandy. Tali found herself growing worried. How badly must things have gone for him to be rocked so deeply? Or was she simply getting worried over nothing? This was Shepard, after all. He'd faced the Skyllian Blitz and prevailed.

Tali had to know for certain. She needed to see him hard at work, pulling together some crazy plan to get them off the Citadel and back on the trail after Saren. Checking that none in Engineering needed her, she turned and started away.

The elevator to the crew deck seemed to move even slower than usual, but finally made the journey. She quietly stepped out, peering around the sides and into the deck.

There he was. Shepard himself. Sitting against a row of lockers, his head pressed against them, hands rubbing through his short hair.

She had wanted to be wrong. Keelah, she had wanted to be wrong.

Once more, though, she frowned. He was alone. No one else was in the mess area, or in the sleeper pod walkway. There was no one to see his pain, and no one to help him through it.

Garrus had been at the Mako, as usual. Tali wasn't sure if he knew, but if he did the turian might not feel it his place to intervene. She knew Wrex would do nothing. The krogan was tough, and she knew he'd follow Shepard into Hell if he was promised a good fight, but emotional support was definitely not his thing.

Liara would be back in the biolab behind Medical. Though they had kept it quiet, the crew had figured out what happened between them. She had been interested in Shepard and pursued that interest, but Shepard did not see her as more than a friend. Liara was embarrassed, though Tali did not see why that should have stopped her from offering support.

Ashley… Tali had seen her and Shepard talking on many occasions. They had relaxed around each other, laughed. From where she'd stood Tali had thought them becoming close, and found herself sad. Not that she had any reason to, as she'd tried to tell herself. After all, he was human and she was quarian. As compassionate as he was, there was no way he could feel for her what she'd found herself feeling for him.

But Ashley was gone. Tali had seen in Shepard's face the pain he felt at her death. She had wanted to speak to him then, to let him know that everything would be all right, but there had not been time. They needed Liara to scan his mind, find their course, and immediately after Shepard had gotten them moving back to the Citadel.

The question was, though… Where was Kaidan? Why wasn't he there to help his friend? He knew Shepard better than she, and he had been there when the Council spoke. He would have been the perfect choice to step in either give Shepard the words he needed or a solid kick to get him moving. Tali could see no reason why he would leave Shepard alone.

But he wasn't alone, because someone on his crew did see his need. And who could better understand the needs of one's shipmates than a quarian?

Tali detached from the bulkhead, slowing walking toward Shepard. Her fingers laced together before her, rubbing nervously. She tried to ignore them as she spoke up. "I take it the meeting didn't go well."

Shepard allowed his hands to fall into his lap. He looked up to her, and for once his face did not show the strong confidence she'd come to know well. He looked... tired. "The Council agreed that Saren is a threat. They've mobilized the fleet, but they're going to have it sit here and wait for Saren to move." He sighed. "They're not sending any ships to Ilos. That includes Normandy."

Tali tilted her head, the suited equivalent of raising an eyebrow. "But the Normandy isn't a Council controlled ship. Couldn't you ask the Alliance for help? Maybe get orders from one of your admirals to check on Ilos?"

"No," he replied, shaking his head. "We're locked down, and it's been made quite clear that official channels are closed."

Tali gave a soft sigh. "It's hard to believe that the Council could ignore everything we've seen. How could they name you a Spectre, giving to you their full faith and confidence… and then dismiss you so quickly?"

He shrugged. "That's a good question, Tali. I'll be sure to ask them before Sovereign tears their fleet apart."

Now her hands moved to clasp behind her back. "So… What do we do now?"

Shepard watched her for a moment, and a small smile slowly appeared on his features. He'd seen her true meaning. While the Council might have no faith in him, the quarian before him did. "I'm not sure, but I'll think of something."

Tali gave a short chuckle, the best she could do to show her smile. "You always do, Shepard, and when you do I'll be there to help. After all, I still owe you for everything you've done for me."

That did it. Shepard's smile returned as he chuckled and shook his head. "Tali, you don't owe me a thing, but your help is always welcome."

Feeling her task complete she reached out, offering him her hand. He paused a moment, then took it. They both pulled, though obviously she was stronger than he'd realized. They wound up face to face… or at least face to faceshield.

They stood that way for a moment, Tali finding herself unable to break away from those eyes… But she forced herself back with another soft chuckle.

Suddenly, a familiar voice cut in. "Sorry to interrupt, Commander. Got a message from Captain Anderson."

Shepard stared accusingly at the ceiling. "Are you spying on us, Joker?"

"No, sir. Just knew you were on the ship and figured I'd pass the message on. The captain said to meet him at Flux. That club down in the wards."

With that, the intercom cut off. Tali took another step back. "It sounds like that's important. You'd better go."

Shepard nodded, turning back to the lockers to collect his gear. Tali turned and started for the elevator. Halfway there, Shepard spoke again. "Hey, Tali?" He waited for her to turn her head back to him before he continued. "You spent a little time on the Citadel. Ever make it to Flux?"

Tali shook her head. "No, not really. The volus in charge didn't seem thrilled with having quarians near his quasar machines."

"Huh…" Shepard shook his head. "Well, I think it's time you did. Grab your gear and tell Kaidan to meet us at the airlock."

Tali nodded. "Will do, Shepard."

Again, she turned and started for the elevator. Her hands were once more clasped before her, but this time she shook them in triumph. Her Commander was back. Saren and his Reaper wouldn't know what hit them.

And she could say that she'd been a part. In his time of need, she'd been there for him. Her commander, her friend.

The one who would never know just how important he was to a certain member of his crew.

And that's a wrap. I hope you all enjoyed my little venture into the Mass Effect universe. Take care!