It has been one week since the crew of the Normandy destroyed the Collector base. One week since Tali revealed her face to Shepard. One week since she had her first kiss, her first intimate experience. One week since she had felt Shepard's skin on hers.
Tali and Shepard had made love again this night, it was their second time. Tali's illness from their first time together was mostly gone; she had been feeling much better. This time they were able to take some extra precautions as well. In addition to Tali's antibiotics and herbal supplements, Shepard had taken a portable decontamination unit from the medical bay, and used it to sterilize his room. He had also showered and washed himself with antibacterial soap. While not quite as sterile and safe as her suit, the captain's cabin was turned into a relatively safe environment for a Quarian to be out of her suit in. It had an airtight door, meant to keep out the vacuum of space if the ship's hull got breached, after all.
As incredible as her first intimate experience one week ago had been, in many ways she had enjoyed this time more. There was no looming threat of a suicidal mission in a couple hours, and she knew for certain that the experience would not be lethal, or even cause a very serious reaction. There was no rush or worry or fear when she made love to Shepard this night, only peace and joy and pleasure.
Tali lay in bed with Shepard. Him flatly on his back, his head turned in Tali's direction. The bed sheets covered both their bodies, and she was cuddled up against him, arms wrapped tightly around his chest, and her head nestled under his chin. Shepard was sound asleep, and had been for a while now. Tali, however, was very much awake.
It's a rare privilege for Tali to be out of her suit. And to be in bed, cuddled with someone she loved so deeply? No, she could not possibly go to sleep. She needed to stay awake and savor every second that passed. Her mind needed to process the blissful moment. For so many years, her skin had felt almost nothing but the material of her suit. Her skin was incredibly sensitive and soft; a result of being wrapped up in a sterile suit for so long. Feeling the warmth and softness of Shepard's skin was pure ecstasy. The high thread-count sheets that had been provided for the captain's bed by Cerberus felt pretty nice against her skin, too.
She could hear Shepard's heart beating. Being able to hear, and feel, the heart of another person was also something new and alien to her. Though she recalled embracing her parents multiple times as a child, she had never heard their hearts beating; their environmental suits never allowed the subtle sound of a beating heart to get through. But Shepard's was loud and clear; he had a big heart, and not just in a metaphorical sense. She felt her own heart beating, synced up with his. Shepard and Tali were truly one, in this place and time.
Tali realized she was experiencing joy and happiness at a level she never felt before. And she also realized, that it was wrong. She shouldn't get to feel so happy. Back on the Flotilla where she lived her whole life, one Quarian's happiness always came at the cost of another's. If someone received extra rations or supplies, it was because someone else had received fewer. If a family enjoyed a spacious room, it was because another family had a small one. Tali's entire upbringing told her that if she felt so much joy, it was because someone else was being deprived of it. She couldn't help but feel guilt.
She looked up at Shepard. His face was barely visible in the dark. She considered what an amazing person he was. He was handsome and famous; a commander in the Alliance Navy and a war hero. The First Human Spectre. Hero of the Battle of the Citadel. Bane of the Reapers. So many titles were applicable to him; he had accomplished so much, there was no one else like him in the entire galaxy. Billions of women of all races throughout the galaxy would throw themselves at Shepard if given the chance.
Images of Shepard using the decontamination unit to sterilize the room before they had made love, entered Tali's mind. She thought to herself, why should he have to put up with that hassle? There are millions of beautiful women out there Shepard could choose from. Women that Shepard could kiss whenever he wanted, look at their face whenever he wanted, and make love to them whenever he wanted, without the hassle and precautions that Tali requires due to her weak immune system. She realized who her current happiness was at the expense of. It was Shepard's.
Her eyes watered up from this realization; from these thoughts of guilt. After a few seconds, tears formed, and slowly slid down her face before falling unto Shepard's shoulder. She tried to hold her tears back, but it was too much. Feeling so selfish, and knowing the best thing would be to let Shepard go, was simply too much. Tali began to weep. Her crying immediately woke Shepard up.
"Tali? Tali what's wrong? Are you sick? Do you feel alright?" Shepard asked, alarmed, as he sat up on the bed, and reached over and hit the lights button. The lights came on, and Shepard looked at Tali. Her hands covered her face as she wept.
"N-no. I'm okay… It's just, I… I just—" Tali's own crying interrupted her sentence, and she couldn't finish her words. Shepard observed, and he realized that she was physically alright. She just needed to cry, to let it all out. He didn't know why, but he knew that the best thing would be to just comfort her, and wait until she finished.
"It's okay, Tali. It's okay." He said softly, and kissed her forehead, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and just holding her tightly. She buried her face into his neck, and continued her weeping. She needed a good cry. Many of her feelings and emotions were as trapped in her mind, as her body had been trapped in her suit.
Over the next few minutes her weeping slowed down. It eventually ended. There was just silence, as Tali lay against Shepard, her head on his shoulder and his arms wrapped around her. Shepard inhaled, sighed, and broke the silence.
"Do you want to talk, Tali?" he asked, ending the question with a gentle squeeze with his arms, being as comforting as possible to her.
"Shepard, I'm… being selfish… with you. I shouldn't be with you. You deserve someone that—there are so many women out there… that can make you happier than me…" Tali said quietly, somewhat nervously. Shepard was about to interrupt her, but she continued speaking, with more momentum and focus. "All the things you had to do tonight so that we could be together. Using the decontamination unit to sterilize this room--with any other woman you wouldn't have to do that! With any other woman you could look at her face whenever you felt like it. Feel her skin whenever you wanted to. Kiss her, and make love to her with no concern. Any other woman isn't trapped in some damned suit, with a damned helmet on her head. You just… deserve all that, Shepard. That's why I'm… being selfish by being with you."
Tali's eyes began to water, but she continued speaking, her voice wavering "What if you wanted children one day? I can't even do that! Millions of human women can, millions of Asari can! It's just not—it isn't fair! You…deserve better." She could no longer hold her tears back, and began crying again, into Shepard's neck. A gentle whimper was heard, as she cried: "I… just want you to be happy…"
Shepard took in a deep breath and sighed. With just words he had resolved so many issues, solved so many problems, and even saved several lives. The right words always just flowed out of him, he never even had to really think about what to say, the right words were always there. But this moment gave him pause. He had to think, his words needed to be perfect, for Tali's sake. Countless ideas raced through his head on how to approach this, on what to say. None of them felt right. Finally, he decided to just let his mind go blank, and have faith that the right words would just come out, as they had so many times before.
There was silence. Tali's crying had stopped, though she remained embraced with Shepard, her face buried into his neck. After a short while, the silence was broken in a most unexpected way. Shepard began to chuckle very lightly, which then grew into a quiet laugh. Tali didn't ask what he found humorous, though she was curious. Shepard began to speak, amidst his laughter.
"Do you remember when we were helping Mordin find his assistant, and we ran into that depressed Krogan scout?" He asked, with amusement in his voice "And I yelled at him that he was acting like a Quarian with a tummy ache?" Shepard laughed.
Despite Tali's recent sadness, she couldn't help the slight, sudden chuckle that escaped her mouth at hearing Shepard's recollection. "Yes, I remember that. And it was not funny, Shepard" She said, lying, as she herself couldn't help but laugh a little.
Shepard turned to his side, so that he could look at Tali's face. He looked into her eyes, smiled, and spoke. "You know, it's pretty common among humans, for males to tease females that they like." Tali just smiled. "And it's also fairly common among human males, for us to kiss females we're in love with…" Shepard added.
Tali's smile widened, and she responded. "Doesn't sound so different from Quarians…" Shepard placed his hand on her cheek, and gently held her head as he came in and pressed his lips with hers, giving her a long, slow, gentle kiss while his hand gently caressed her face.
As their lips slowly parted and their kiss ended, Shepard knew that he still had to address Tali's concern. She seemed at peace and calm right now, but her concerns were still buried in her mind. They needed to be dealt with. She needed to understand why she was so important to Shepard. "Tali, about all the things you said. I understand why you think those things; you're a very selfless and caring person. You're genuinely the most unselfish person I've ever known. And you know what? It's one of the reasons you're so important to me, and why I don't want anyone else besides you; why you're worth every precaution we have to take to be together."
"You probably know that I grew up on Earth, and that I went through some tough times as a child; I grew up in poverty. What you may not know, is that I had no family. I had to run with street gangs as a kid, just to survive. I grew up in an environment where there was no empathy, where being selfish was a virtue; a virtue that increased your chances of surviving."
Shepard sighed, paused for a few seconds, and kept talking. "It never appealed to me. It was just ugly. There had to be something better, and I wanted it. So I joined the Alliance as soon as I was old enough. It was a far better life, and for the first time in my life, I felt pride. However, fighting for the Alliance exposed me to other, even uglier things. I was exposed to much violence and death. My conscience is clear, but the many things I've seen and done in my military life, they've taken their toll on me. That's not even counting all this mess with the Reapers. Sometimes…I just…I really long for peace."
Shepard took Tali's hand, and squeezed it gently. He looked right into her eyes. His face, which had been stoic and serious as he talked about his life, relaxed and he smiled lovingly at Tali. "When I look at you, and I hear your voice, and am simply in your presence, I feel a peace I can't even describe. You're such a selfless, kind, beautiful person…you are the opposite of all the negativity I have been exposed to in my life. You counter-balance all the selfishness and death and violence I have seen. Tali, you make all the negative things I have experienced worth it. No one else in the galaxy brings me peace and joy like you do. No one else can. Without you…my mind would just collapse. Without you, I would not even know what I'm fighting for."
Tali's eyes once again began to glisten from the moisture of tears, but these tears were very different. It had never occurred to her that Shepard carried so much anguish in him. He made all battles and conflicts seem so easy. He always just seemed so indomitable and invincible. But deep down, he was troubled and tired, he just longed for peace. This was the first time she had seen Shepard open up to anyone, the first time he showed anything but pure strength. She understood why Shepard needed her. She smiled, and hugged him tightly. Shepard smiled back, knowing Tali understood how important she was to him, how much she meant to him. They held each other for a while, until Shepard once again broke the silence.
"Besides, Tali… you have a really nice body." Shepard said, grinning; attempting to lighten the mood with some humor.
"You little bosh'tet…" she giggled, and eagerly crawled on top of him, kissing him passionately. She decided it was time for her third intimate experience. After all, they were both wide awake now, and Tali wanted to make the most out of her time out of her suit.