Note: The first section of this chapter contains some sexual content. It's not terribly explicit, but it's probably beyond the scope of a "T" rating.


I Got Better, Shepard. I Got You

"What a day," Shepard silently mumbled to himself with a sigh, as he turned on the shower. Hot water sprayed unto his skin, and he began to wash himself, quickly, wanting to rejoin Tali in the cabin as soon as possible.

The warmth of the water was soothing after the stress of the day, but his mind was still very active over everything that had occurred. He couldn't believe how everything had fallen apart earlier. There had been such an intense feeling of relief when Tali was found innocent, but it was utterly shattered in mere minutes. Shepard found himself wishing she had been found guilty for what happened on the Alarei; it would have been less painful than being exiled immediately after the emotional high of the initial exoneration.

Shepard thought back to the original Normandy. He had spent so many hours listening to Tali talk about her people, both before and after they declared their feelings for one another. It was so cute, the flotilla was all she talked about, he thought to himself; the pleasant memory gave birth to a little smile, which quickly faded, as his mind moved back to the tragedy of the day.

After only a few minutes, Shepard finished with his quick shower and turned off the water, proceeding to grab his towel. I may have failed her, but I'm going to do everything I can to make this ship a better home for her, he thought as he dried himself. Maybe encourage her to put some cloth or tapestries on the walls of our cabin, like quarians do with their living spaces. That might make her feel more at home here.

After feeling sufficiently dry, he put on the clothes he intended to wear for the night: a pair of pants, boxers, and an undershirt. He walked toward the bathroom door. Yeah, some decorative cloth on the walls is a good idea. I think I remember seeing a store on the Citadel that sold some nice

The door opened, and Shepard immediately noticed something was off about the cabin: the lighting. As he stepped through the door, he saw that every light in the room was turned off, except the aquarium's internal lamps. The aquarium, that took up a large section of the left wall, filled the entire cabin with a dim, yet beautiful light-blue light. Soft, blurry shadows stretched from all objects away from the glowing fish tank.

The constant stream of bubbles within the aquarium caused many small waves and ripples on the surface of its water. With all other light sources in the room turned off, Shepard could clearly see the caustic reflections of the turbulent water, shining on the floor, perpetually flowing in a wavy yet consistent pattern.

Shepard walked past his desk, but stopped at the top of the two steps that led down to lounging part of the cabin, his attention completely captured.

Tali sat on the edge of the bed, her hands at her sides, lightly gripping the covers of the bed. She looked different than normal. The decorative purple cloth that adorned her suit, the numerous belts and accessories that hung off her body, and the flexible, elongated hexagon-patterned body armor she wore over the suit, were all missing. She sat there in just her actual enviro-suit, with her uncovered helmet and mask still on.

The light of the aquarium, though dim, was still sufficient for Shepard to see her clearly enough. The darker blue light of the mass effect field around the Normandy, visible through the window on the ceiling, also helped illuminate the area around the bed.

As Shepard stepped down and approached, Tali stood up and walked toward him. Shepard looked at her faintly glowing eyes as she approached, but couldn't help noticing her body as well. Without the decorative cloth or various accessories, her snug enviro-suit allowed for a perfect, smooth silhouette of her body. She stopped right in front of him, and their hands met. They stood half way between the steps, and their bed.

"I wanted to have some music playing," she said, "But there wasn't anything that seemed… appropriate, in your sound system."

Shepard's eyes were relaxed as he looked on at hers, and he had a warm smile on his face. He wasn't completely sure what all this was about, but he had a good feeling he knew. He asked, in a coy, yet smooth voice, "Appropriate for what?"

Tali didn't respond. She simply stepped backwards, keeping her eyes fixed on Shepard, and tugged at his hands. She guided him to the end of the bed, where they both sat down, right next to each other; Tali on the left, and Shepard on the right. Their hands separated as they sat, but their eyes never parted from each other.

"While you were in the shower," Tali said, some nervousness just barely noticeable in her voice, "I thought about today… and how you were there with me, through it all."

The subtle smile on Shepard's face widened ever so slightly.

"If there was anything good about today," Tali continued, "It was… I saw just much you care for me. It made me realize how important you are to me. I trust you, Shepard… I have for so long." She paused for a moment, "Back on the original Normandy, I did some research for, um—there's something I've wanted us to do, for a long time now," She paused again, inhaled, and concluded. "I want to forget about everything bad that happened today. I want to feel your skin on mine... I want to share myself with you, and for you to share yourself with me. I want us to be together…"

Shepard felt a light chill in his spine from her words. He took Tali's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. He said, "That sounds wonderful, Tali… but are you sure you're ready for this?"

"I've never been so sure of anything in my life..." she whispered in response, and then took both of Shepard's hands in hers, and brought them up to her mask, guiding them to the release mechanism that would detach it from the helmet. No more words were needed to be said; just from the confidence of her gesture, it was clear she was sure she wanted this.

The mask unlocked, and Shepard carefully removed it from her helmet. It always made him happy to see her face, but there was something particularly special about tonight. Maybe it was the dim blue lighting, maybe it was the emotion of the moment, or maybe it was the look of love and want in Tali's eyes, but at this moment, she looked more beautiful than ever.

"Now, the helmet…" she whispered, and once again guided his hands, placing them on the helmet release mechanism at the top of her neck. Due to the nature of its design, the helmet couldn't be removed unless the mask had been taken off first.

Shepard unlocked the helmet and detached it from the flexible, pale-yellow gorget that protected Tali's neck. The helmet came off, and was placed on the ground, next to the mask. Shepard just now realized, that this was the first time he ever actually removed her mask and helmet; all the other times she had been without them, it was her who had taken them off.

Tali then leaned in closely to Shepard, and pressed her lips with his; the first kiss of the night. After their lips parted, with her eyes fixed on Shepard's, she whispered in a quiet, sultry voice, "Now, the suit…"

Shepard felt butterflies in his stomach. It was a simple line, yet it registered as the single most erotic thing he had ever heard from her.

"You want me to… take off your suit?" Shepard asked, more for confirmation than clarification.

"Yes, Shepard…" Tali answered, "I want you to remove my suit. I want you to free me of it tonight…"

To virtually all sapient races, the act of undressing a partner is considered to be a very intimate and sensual gesture. But the significance of the action, among quarians, is far beyond that of any other race. To a quarian, an enviro-suit is more than just clothing. It is the key to life; an extension of their own physiology. Allowing another to remove one's enviro-suit communicated a profound feeling of trust and love, well beyond what members of any other race could truly comprehend.

With a smile, Shepard said, "I have to confess, I've never undressed a quarian before—I might need a little help."

Tali stood up, and as she reached behind her neck as she whispered, "Let me get you started…" She unlocked a seal on the back of her gorget, and it suddenly became loose. She let it drop on the floor. She then took Shepard's hands and gestured for him to stand by pulling on them. He stood, and they kissed; Tali then placed her arms around Shepard's waist, and whispered, "There's a seal along my back…"

Quarian enviro-suits were made up of several different sections, each one capable of being removed or opened independently. This allowed easy access to any part of the body, without the need for removing the entire thing. However, along the back was a major seal that ran the length of the spine. Opening it would cause the entire torso section to become loose, and allow the whole suit to be removed as one peace, like a diver's wetsuit.

While still standing in front of Tali, Shepard positioned his arms around her, and began blindly searching Tali's back with his hands for some kind of release mechanism. Tali giggled as his hands incorrectly fumbled about on her back, and teased, "What's wrong, Captain Shepard? You found Ilos, but you can't find a simple suit-seal release?"

Shepard chuckled at her teasing, but didn't say anything. Tali then said, "It's in the lower back…"

Immediately, Shepard lowered his hands along her back. Shortly after, he felt a small, solid mechanism imbedded into the pliant material of her suit. Tali whispered, "That's it…"

Shepard fiddled with the small mechanism momentarily, and suddenly the seal unlocked. Her suit split open along the length of her spine, and the entire part that covered her torso suddenly became loose. Her back was now exposed.

With the back seal opened, Shepard took a moment to slip his hands under the loose suit material, and caress the soft, incredibly sensitive skin of her back. Upon feeling Shepard's hands stroking her skin, Tali closed her eyes and exhaled softly from the pleasure his warm hands gave her.

Shepard then took a step back, and placed his hands on her shoulders. He proceeded to pull forward and down on the suit, and pealed it off her torso and arms, leaving the entire upper half of it hanging at her waist. The enviro-suit was still snuggly wrapped around all of her lower body, but she was now fully exposed from the waist and up.

Tali had kept her eyes closed as Shepard pealed down the top of her suit. She felt sudden tingles throughout her skin, as well as chills along her spine, as her upper body became exposed. It was a deeply emotional moment for Tali; this was the point of no return. She knew that soon, she would be completely naked and exposed to Shepard, and then they would be on the bed, their bodies entangled, making love to one another. She also felt a little cold; the suit had always been perfectly climate controlled, and the cooler air of the room against her oversensitive skin was something she wasn't accustomed to… but it also made the anticipation of feeling Shepard's own warm body against her, even more exciting.

Shepard took a moment to look at Tali and admire her now exposed upper body. Her breasts were beautiful. They were fairly average in size, but they had a perfect shape; they were perky, but noticeably soft. Below her breasts he could see the subtle impression of her bottom ribs pressing against her skin, and leading downward were the soft, very subtle vertical lines of her abdomen muscles; the middle line ran through her belly button. Her entire upper body was very thin, petite, and beautiful; which really came as no surprise, thanks to her snug enviro-suit.

Tali's eyes opened, and they locked with Shepard's. Tali smiled at him, her face doing little to hide that she felt shy and bashful, but also very happy. Shepard leaned in, wrapped his arms around her bare upper body, and embraced her for a kiss. Their lips separated only a few seconds in, as Tali grabbed Shepard's undershirt and quickly, eagerly, pulled it off him and tossed it aside. Their kiss then continued, and Tali tightly wrapped her arms around Shepard's body, hungrily kissing him; her passion fueled by the ecstasy of feeling another's warm skin on hers for the first time of her life.

Their breathing intensified as their lips made love, and they were soon on the bed; Tali on her back, with Shepard on top. Tali began to feel Shepard's hands gripping at the waist section of her enviro-suit, eagerly tugging down on it. Their lips then suddenly parted as Shepard pulled away from her, and immediately after, she felt the rest of her enviro-suit be pulled down her hips, down her legs, and finally off her feet. Tali now lay on the bed, completely naked and exposed, still breathing heavily from their passionate kissing, but eagerly wanting it to resume.

Shepard got back on the bed and crawled up over her. Their lips pressed once more for a brief period, and then separated as Shepard began to slowly move down her body. His hands caressed and groped her breasts as his mouth moved downwards, leaving a trail of kisses and touches of his tongue down the center of her torso. Tali moaned during his descent, and her body slowly wriggled from the pleasure of his hands on her chest, and mouth on her body.

Shepard's head finally stopped between her legs, and Tali instantly arched her back and firmly gripped the covers of the bed, as she moaned loudly from the sudden burst of pleasure from Shepard's lips and tongue on her.

"Ohhh… Keelah…" she moaned out.

Tali's eyes were closed, and she breathed heavily as Shepard pleasured her; her head occasionally rolling from side to side. After a short while, the pleasure came to a pause as she felt Shepard's hands move away from her breasts, at the same time as his mouth parted from her. Tali kept her eyes closed, and her breathing was still heavy, but it began to relax from the pause. She could tell from the movements of the bed that he had gotten up. And she could tell from the soft shuffling sound of clothes rubbing against skin, that he was taking off his pants and boxers.

She bit her lip, eagerly anticipating what she knew was coming. The bed then moved from the weight of his body on it once again, and she felt him crawl up, until he was right over her once again. Shepard began to kiss and nuzzle her neck; she tilted her head in the other direction so as to give him better access. She placed her hands on his back, and just then, he whispered sensually in her ear, "…Ready?"

Tali responded with moan of confirmation, and eagerly nodded her head; the intensity of the moment was too much for her speak.

Shepard placed his hands under her thighs and spread her legs slightly, while he properly positioned himself between them. And then, a sudden, loud gasp escaped Tali's mouth; Shepard and her were now physically joined together. She threw her arms around him, and tightly gripped his back with her six fingers, embracing him as intensely as she could; each of her nails sharply poking his skin.

Shepard was well aware that this was Tali's first intimate experience. And he knew he had to be very gentle with her; as gentle as she needed him to be. He was going to pay attention to everything her body communicated. Her movements, her breathing, and especially her moans; he would pay attention to all of them so he could give her exactly as little or as much as she needed. He wanted this experience to be perfect for her.

Shepard waited a short while, and once Tali's body had relaxed from the initial entry, their lovemaking finally commenced. Shepard proceeded in a slow, careful pace. Whenever Tali's moans and body movements indicated that she was both comfortable and in pleasure, Shepard would slightly intensify his movements.

They proceeded to make love in that way, with Shepard on top of Tali, for what felt like a long, blissful time. Tali became comfortable and relaxed with the experienced, and they shifted into another position. Tali was now kneeled on the bed on all fours, with Shepard behind her. Tali didn't hold herself up with her hands for very long; instead, she lowered body downward, with her forearms resting flat against the bed, holding the weight of her upper body.

Tali found the new position to be very pleasurable, but there was something important missing; it lacked intimacy. She could barely feel any of Shepard's skin on hers. She couldn't feel his breathing; she couldn't look at her face; and she couldn't even touch him. Those were all the things she wanted most right now; the pleasure was secondary.

Tali crawled forward, separating from Shepard. She then turned around, standing on her knees on the bed. Now facing Shepard, she moved closer, and pounced unto him, pushing him back so that he lay on his back. He chuckled quietly from her sudden action, and Tali crawled up on top of him, placing one leg on each side of his body. She brought her body low, parallel to his, and eagerly, hungrily kissed his lips.

After shifting their hips momentarily, their union continued, this time with Tali primarily in charge of the pace. It was slow, unsteady, and awkward at first, but it didn't matter. This was exactly what she wanted. She was on top of Shepard, facing him, and feeling as much of his skin as she wanted.

They continued their intercourse in that fashion for an indeterminable amount of time; it was too blissful for either of them to keep track. Sometimes Tali would hold her body up with her hands on Shepard's chest, so that she was perpendicular to him, but most of the time she preferred to stay low to him. Keeping herself low allowed her to feel the skin of their bodies grinding and rubbing together, as well as kiss often.

Caught up in the pleasure and passion of the moment, Shepard briefly had his head leaned back, and his eyes closed. But then, Tali's hip movements began to slow down, and came to a stop. She remained straddled on Shepard, hovering above him by holding herself up with her hands on his chest, but she had stopped all movement.

Curious about the sudden pause, Shepard tilted his head back up and opened his eyes, focusing his attention on Tali's face, which was close to his. The light around the bed was fairly dim, and with her back to the aquarium, it was difficult for him to clearly see her facial expressions. But he could see her eyes were wide, and she was gazing at him, with an intense, seemingly pensive expression on her face.

Although they hadn't finished, all the emotion of the moment had caught up to her, and had overwhelmed her; she had to pause their lovemaking to let her mind process all this. In all her life, she had never experienced such powerful emotions, or such pleasure. She had never felt so deeply and intimately connected to another person; her love of the man just below her was so intense, she simply needed to stop for a moment.

She leaned in close, and placed a lightly trembling hand on Shepard's face. Her eyes watered, and a tear began to flow down her cheek; and then one on the other. She opened her lips, hesitated briefly, and spoke.

"I love you…" she muttered in a whisper, her eyes unblinking and locked with his. Her face briefly twitched from a frown to a weak smile. "I love you so much, Shepard, I… just love you, so much—I don't have the words..."

The concerned look that had been on Shepard's face since they had stopped, completely melted away and turned into a warm, loving smile as she spoke. He brought his own hand up to her face, and gently wiped away the two tear streams that flowed from her eyes to her jaw line.

"I love you, too," he whispered in response. "You are the brightest point of my life; the most wonderful thing I have found among the stars. I love you, Tali. More than… more than anything."

They embraced each other tightly, and held each other for a long time. They then shared a deeply passionate, intimate kiss. As it ended, a series of several small pecks between their lips proceeded. The happiness and joy of the moment almost felt overwhelming.

But, it wasn't long before their passion flared back up again, far greater than before, and they continued with their intimate intercourse; their pace much faster and intense. Tali in particular proceeded with a greatly increased hunger and fervor.

It didn't take much longer before their pleasure escalated to its apex, and finally climaxed to the sounds of intense moaning and heavy breathing.

. . .

The cabin was quiet, still dimly lit only by the soft light of the aquarium, and the mass effect field beyond the window above the bed. Shepard and Tali lay cuddled together, relaxed and at peace, yet wide awake. Shepard was on his back with his head pressed against a pillow, while Tali lay snuggled against him on his left. Her head rested against the top of his chest, while Shepard's left arm wrapped around her shoulders. Tali's hand was on the center of Shepard's chest, ever so slowly caressing it with her fingertips, in downward strokes. Shepard's upper body was mostly uncovered, but Tali had the sheets up to her neck; the cool air of the Normandy's interior still felt cold to her, especially after their intimacy, which had left a very thin layer of sweat on her skin.

They had been lying together in much the same position for a long time, completely silent, as they lay enjoying each other's presence in the blissful afterglow of the beautiful experience they shared together. Neither was sure how much time had passed since they finished; it felt like half an hour, but their perception of time was unreliable. Time simply didn't matter.

Tali could feel Shepard's heartbeat. Every once in a while it felt in sync with her own, but since his heart beat at an imperceptibly slower rate than hers, often times it was beating either right before hers, or after. Tali also found herself feeling slightly thirsty, but she wouldn't dare interrupt this moment to get some water. It was too enjoyable to lay naked in bed, feeling nothing against her skin but the refreshing, high thread-count sheets, and the comforting warmth of Shepard's body.

In the time that passed since their lovemaking concluded, they had said very little to one another. No words over their amazing experience were necessary, nor would any do it justice. Their minds were active in indulging in the afterglow of their intimacy, racing from thought to thought, unfocused and free.

Finally, the silence of the moment ended. It was interrupted with the sound of Shepard quietly chuckling to himself. Tali nuzzled his neck, kissed it, and asked in a relaxed voice, "What's so funny, my love?"

"Something occurred to me," he said, the amusement of his chuckle still present in his voice, "I read this book once—it's a really old book, well before my people even had space travel—called 'War of the Worlds.'"

"Mhmm?

"It's about Earth getting attacked by aliens."

"That doesn't sound very funny, Shepard" Tali said in a playful, sarcastic tone.

"Well, in the book, humanity is unable to stop the aliens—their technology is too advanced. However, after it seemed like the aliens had won, they all start to miraculously die off."

"How come?"

"They lacked immune systems, so they weren't able to survive on the planet." Shepard turned his head and looked right at Tali. Teasingly, he asked, "It wasn't you guys who attacked England in it, was it?"

Tali playfully slapped Shepard's chest and said, "I don't know what 'England' is, but I assure you, my people know better than to be out of our suits in a strange environment."

With the arm he had around her shoulders, Shepard gently rolled her on top of him. Tali held herself up with her hands, hovering right above him. With a smirk, Shepard said, "That sounds kind of funny, coming from a naked quarian…" His hands caressed and rubbed Tali's lower back and hips as he spoke.

Tali lowered herself so that her body rested on top of Shepard and said, "I'm not in a strange environment. I'm in my home…" she paused, and kissed Shepard's lips, "…but I suppose I can put my suit back on, if you're going to make fun of quarian immune systems…"

"Oh come on, you know I wasn't making fun."

"And just how would I know that? It sounded like it to me…" Tali teased.

"Because, I love you too much to make fun of your race…" Shepard answered, and gave her a quick kiss on her lips.

"Mmm… good answer," Tali whispered in response. She then rolled off his body, and snuggled in closely, now at his right side. She nuzzled her face into his neck, and sighed happily.

They both went back to simply enjoying the presence of one another in the peaceful silence of their cabin. A short while passed before the silence was again interrupted, this time by Tali.

"Hey, Shepard?" she asked.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"I was wondering… what you said earlier, on the Rayya, about us getting the homeworld back. Did you… do you really think it will happen?"

Shepard thought for a moment on how to best answer her question. He wished he could just tell her yes, and say that it was a guaranteed thing. But he knew Tali was a smart, pragmatic girl; she'd know it would be too much of a big promise to take seriously. "Tali, if there's any way—any way at all—for it to happen, preferably one that doesn't involve war, we will find it."

Tali cuddled in slightly closer, and gave his neck a soft kiss. She then said in a quiet voice, "Tell me it'll happen. I know how big of a promise it is, and how impossible it must seem to keep, but… I just want to hear it. Please…"

Shepard gave her a squeeze with his arm, and did as she asked. "We'll get your homeworld back, Tali. I promise."

Tali loved hearing those words, deciding to completely ignore the voice in her head that told her it was a promise she shouldn't expect to be kept. "Thank you."

A brief moment passed in silence, and Tali said, "I would love to have a house on the homeworld, right on the coast, where I could see the ocean every day."

Shepard smiled. "You like the ocean, Tali?"

"I love it," she answered. "Virmire was the only time I've ever seen it, but… Keelah, it was so amazing—so beautiful." She paused a moment, and continued, "It reminds me of space, in some ways."

"Really?"

"Yes. You look at the ocean, and it's so vast… it seems to go on forever," she said. "You can't live in it, or even just traverse it, without some kind of vessel; just like space."

"Hm… that's true."

"But at the same time," Tali continued, "It's also so different from space. Space feels so empty, and devoid of life… and yet the ocean is so full of it. There is also no noise in space, but the ocean… the noise the ocean makes is so beautiful, and it never seems to stop. Oh Keelah, how I would love to fall asleep every night to that beautiful, hissing roar the ocean makes… to the sound of waves moving and crashing again and again."

Shepard let out a quiet, relaxed sigh, and said, "That really does sound wonderful, Tali."

After a short hesitation, Tali asked, "If… you know, we succeed in everything—in stopping the Reapers, saving the galaxy, getting my homeworld back—would you… um, want to live like that? On my homeworld, in a house on the coast… with me?"

Shepard rolled unto his side, so that he could directly look at Tali, face to face. With a smile, he said, "You mean retire to a beachfront house, with the love of my life?" His smile widened, "That sounds like paradise. I would love it."

Tali felt overjoyed to hear he liked the suggestion, and she kissed him right after his response; a long, affectionate kiss, supplemented by their hands rubbing and caressing each other's body. Once their lips parted, Tali nestled back into Shepard's arms, and rested her head against the top of his chest.

Another period of silence passed; this time it was interrupted by Shepard. "You know… when I left Earth and joined the Alliance, it was because I wanted to get away from my life on Earth. I wanted something better; a better life, where I could feel happy and at peace.

"I never thought it would be waiting for me on the quarian homeworld."