Garrus, Grunt, Jack, Jacob, Kasumi, Miranda, Mordin, Samara, Thane, Tali and Zaeed. He had the best team the galaxy could hope to offer and here they were cruising the universe trying to save it.
Jason Shepard took his first and last shot of whiskey, relishing the burn in his throat. He had recruited them all and gained their loyalty. Some things harder than others, but; he managed to make sure they were happy.
They were just leaving the Citadel after having helped Thane with his son. In the back of his mind, he had the itching idea that he shouldn't have shot Talid. The Turian was a racist and a criminal, but was it really his place? Perhaps just one more drink, swallowing it quickly Jason put the bottle away, clearing his throat.
"EDI, where is Tali?" Shepard sat at his desk, his fingers rubbing gently over a shiny purple foil box.
"Tali'Zorah is in Engineering Commander Shepard. Would you like for me to send her up to your quarters?" EDI's monotone voice answered Shepard and for a minute, he thought it silly to ask, he knew where she was.
Taking a deep breath, he ran his hand over the dark stubble on his face. "Yea. Tell her I'd like to see her in my quarters please."
"Dah! I know my calculations are correct! Come on you little bosh'tet!" Tali was about to slam her hand down on the Normandy's console when the lights blinked and indicated she was indeed correct.
"Ha! Tell me I'm wrong." It was quiet in the engine room and normally Gabby or Ken would have looked over at her, wondering what was going on. The shifts and creaks of the stairs around Tali made her feel like something was there.
Of course, it was all in her mind, she was still uneasy about the fact that EDI was aboard the ship and; could kill them all any minute now. However, Shepard trusted EDI and everyone else on the ship… why shouldn't she?
EDI's voice popped up making her jump as she looked up at the ceiling like she usually did when the AI spoke. "Tali'Zorah, Commander Shepard wants to speak with you in his quarters. At your earliest convenience."
"Oh, um tell him I'll be right up." She bit her lip before the next words came out of her mouth. "Thank you, EDI."
It was a machine, not a person. Why "she" even had a name and people were polite to the thing Tali had no idea, but; she didn't want to look like…well, who cares what anyone thought!
She knew how Quarians were looked on in the galaxy. Did she really want to look like a, what was that word Shepard used? Asshole?
Pushing those thoughts from her mind Tali made her way to the elevator, pushing the button to the top floor. She breathed in and out slowly, trying to will the butterflies in her stomach away.
Shepard wanted her to come to his room? What could he possibly want? Ever since she first him, and that seemed like forever ago, she thought he was handsome. Tali had certainly seen many human males before, but none of them looked like Jason Shepard.
He was tall and brave. Smart, charming and just…wringing her three fingered hands together Tali felt her face heat up at the mere thought of his smile. She had a crush, a big one and she knew it but did he? Perhaps this was what he wanted to talk about! They had known each other for a long time and, maybe, just maybe he reciprocated her feelings.
Why wasn't this elevator going faster? Finally, it stopped and Tali walked the short distance to stand nearby Shepard's door. She breathed easy, brushing her suit down, wiping a forearm across the front of her mask.
"He probably just wants to talk Tali, calm down, nothing serious." She stepped in front of the door as it popped open.
"Tali'Zorah is outside the door, Shepard. She seems nervous." EDI spoke as Shepard looked up from his Fornax magazine, tucking it under a seat cushion.
"Nervous?" He was just about to get up when the door opened and there stood Tali wringing her hands together.
"Shepard, you called for me?" She stepped inside remaining by the door as she craned her neck to see him sitting on the couch.
"Yea, come sit down, don't be so shy." He patted the cushion next to him.
Easy for you to say. Tali spoke to herself as she made her way pass the fish tank. He had killed the few fish he brought on Illium, and these were swimming happily now. She was surprised he had bought more on The Citadel.
She hadn't even looked directly at Shepard since she walked in the room, but now she allowed her eyes to roam over his form. He wore a simple cotton t-shirt and some shorts used for playing a sport called "basketball". Why he would wear clothing to play games into bed, Tali didn't understand, but she sat on the end of the couch her hands in her lap.
"Something wrong?" Jason propped his elbow up on the back of the couch smiling at Tali.
Keelah does he know what it's like to be me when he's near? Tali smiled back at him only to realize quickly that he couldn't see her, she giggled.
"No, I guess I'm just wondering what you called me here for. I've never been up here before." She looked around briefly. It was neat and tidy, his bed undisturbed. She had a brief vision of her naked on the sheets with an equally naked Shepard trailing kisses from her lips to her breasts.
Shaking her head quickly she continued to look at him waiting for him to say something. "I brought you a gift."
Tali was about to protest when he reached behind him and brought forth a shiny purple foil box setting it in front of her. "I saw it, well no I looked for this and I thought it was perfectly you."
"Commander-" He cut her off putting his hand in the air.
"You know it's a little weird when you call me that, as long as we've known each other. Just Shepard and when we're alone…" He reached across the expanse and gripped her fingers.
Oh, Keelah don't faint! DO NOT faint!
Her mouth was, so dry! Heart beating so fast, here came the stomach flutters again, and chills. It was worsening. That beautiful smile why couldn't she just tell him how she felt?
"Alright, Jason." The name felt good rolling across her tongue, it was personal. Jason. Mmmm.
He had already let go of her hand, but Tali still felt his grip. He pushed the present closer to her, clearing his throat before he spoke. "Now don't pretend you can't take it. Females of all races enjoy presents, especially when they aren't expecting them."
She rolled her eyes at that remark and clicked her tongue at him. "Some sort of tech gadget for me to make good use of?" Her hands deftly picked at the foil paper peeling it away to reveal a lavender box.
How did he know this was her favorite color? As she gripped the top of the box he nibbled his lip and sat back, one hand under his chin as he watched her face.
"Shepard. Jason. I…thank you." The robe and towel set was beautiful. A rich pink and oh she wished she knew what it felt like. It wasn't fluffy looking like the towels in the bathrooms and that the other crewmates carried around.
It was smooth and sleek looking. A gentle pink with black edges that beckoned to her, how she longed to rub such a fabric across her skin. Once it was properly decontaminated that was.
"I noticed that you've been asking EDI to decontaminate the bathroom. Personal shower time and all. The other towels are too rough for your skin since you're in your suit all the time. I looked up something that was anti-microbial and bacterial. Absorbent yet that would glide across your skin. I hope you like the pink, well I hope you like it."
There were no words that could express how she felt. He had thought of her and bought her something nice, and personal. Not a new gadget, not some new head wrap, not a new mod for her Omni-tool. A towel and robe set, now she could relax in the bathroom for awhile while she brushed her hair in something that kissed her skin. Tears began to form in the Quarians eyes as she sniffled.
"No one has ever done something like this for me before, it's beautiful Jason. Thank you so much, I'm going to use it tonight!" Moving quickly across the gap Tali wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging Jason tightly.
She longed to be able to press her lips to his face but; this is good enough. He smelled of a strong human cologne and just him. Whatever scent that was uniquely his filled the olfactory port of her mask and she breathed it in deeply.
"You're welcome I had hoped you'd like it." She pulled away and sat back rubbing her fingers over the material. She couldn't wait to see what it felt like.
"Once again thank you, Shepard I mean you didn't have to." The thought of what was to come next floated through Tali's mind. Was this his way of saying she meant something more to him than just a crew mate?
The next words out of Shepards mouth made her heart sink. "You're my friend Tali. How could I not think of you? You're like a…well I consider you my little sister if anything. Not that you can't protect yourself, but, we're that close."
Sister? Friends? Tali felt like someone had just popped a hole in her suit and pushed her into a pile of garbage.
"Little sister…that's cute Jason." She was thankful he couldn't see her face, see the forlorn expression she now wore.
Shepard merely grinned at her and shook his head, as she gathered the box and placed the set back inside. "I'm going to go take a shower now." Tali tried to make her voice sound cheerful as Shepard began to follow her to the door.
"Oh, well sure I'm going to just watch some vids or something. Feel free to join me if you aren't too tired." Leaning against the frame of his Bookstand he gave her that same smile that just minutes before made her body feel like it was on fire.
Now Tali stood there, hands trembling as she swallowed hard fighting tears. "Thanks again Shepard." Reaching out she hugged him once more, this time, her arms wrapping around his chest. She breathed in one last time, letting him go disappearing out the door.
After gathering her things from her room, Tali made the trip back up to the bathrooms musing over thoughts in her head. How could she be so stupid? Shepard would never want someone like her. She was still thinking like a child to even think a Human would want a relationship with a Quarian.
"Tali'Zorah the restroom is in optimal condition for you to use." EDI's voice chimed as she entered the elevator.
She knew her voice would betray her, but Tali didn't care. "Thank you EDI, I appreciate that."
There was silence in the elevator during the short ride up, but before the door opened EDI spoke again, her voice quieter and more serene this time. "Your voice patterns indicate stress and sadness. Would you like me to alert Yeoman Kelly Chambers?"
Damn. Even the damned AI knew when she was heartbroken. One part of Tali wanted to call EDI a bosh'tet and to stop analyzing her voice patterns. Her emotions and her problems were something only organics felt and to stay out of it. She knew that wasn't right, and it took all her strength to sound a little chipper as she answered.
"No thanks EDI I'm fine, just tired is all." It was a lie and the AI probably knew it but didn't press her.
"Alright, have a nice shower." With that, the doors opened and Tali made her way to the restroom beginning the long process of stripping down.
Belts, buckles, and fasteners came loose as she came out of her suit piece by piece. The air, though warm made goose bumps appear on her flesh as she sighed gently from the feeling of air. The last thing to go was her mask and head wrap and, as she finally pulled it off, the decompressing sound of air, loud in the deathly quiet bathroom she looked at herself.
She dragged a hand down her oval shaped face colored a purplish-blue. Lips a darker color she puckered them making a kissing sound as she rubbed fingertips over them gently. Almond shaped eyes were silver and stared back at her as she took a deep breath, the same hand trailing down a long neck. Her skin was mottled in a few places on her face, across the bridge of her nose and her forehead.
A slender nose and plump lips, ears coming to a point. She was beautiful, at least by Quarian standards, but what would Shepard have said? Why did it matter to her anymore, she was a "sister" to him. The feelings welled up again and she slammed her hand down on the icy cold sink.
"Ow! Ow! Keelah! Why did I do that!" She shook her hand around in the air and growled looking at it. No damage, but damn did it sting.
Her shoulder length silver hair looked matted and she tried to finger comb it with no success, would she truly be beautiful to anyone? The thoughts came once again, and though she tried in vain to push them from her mind Tali found herself moving zombie-like toward the shower turning it on and letting the thoughts and ideas take over her mind.
Shepard would never love her. He was a Human and she was a Quarian. She had a "weak immune system" and was "fragile". Too much effort to try to make her well and keep her healthy would go into their relationship. He wouldn't be able to touch her or hold hands all the time like he could with Miranda, or Jack…even Samara!
He probably wasn't even into other races. Hell, he dated Ashley and not Liara when Liara was interested in him as well. Standing underneath the warm spray of water, Tali let herself cry.
The sobs heaving her chest in and out as she gasped for breath, the warm water and tears gliding down her face as she let out all the frustration, anger, sorrow and pain she held inside for so long.
Her people were a plague on the universe, they roamed around salvaging what they needed and, moving on. They had been run out from their home world and, now had no clear way of getting back. Some part of her truly believed that they might never get back. All races told the scary story of how the stupid Quarians tried to play god with an AI and how it turned on them, to their children. Booted from the council races and doomed to be on their own forever, because of the mistake of creating the Geth.
Why would she ever think to find love and happiness in the arms of someone who was not one of her own people? Maybe, they were right? For all their mechanical and technical prowess they had developed the Geth and for 350 years they had been paying for it. Whenever a Geth attack happened on a planet, the increase of attacks on Quarians had been right behind it.
Rubbing her nose Tali opened her eyes to see that she was on the floor of the shower. The warm water still beating down on her skin now felt harsh and, she reached for her specialized mixtures and began rubbing her skin with them. She washed her hair, enjoying the light smell it now carried and stepped from the water turning it off.
Shepard's towel called to her and for a moment she was tempted to not use it, but that was silly. The rough texture of terry cloth would irritate her skin. Picking up the material it slid effortlessly and fell through her fingers. She was amazed at how it soaked up the water and made her feel so secure. Wrapping herself in the robe she now sat on a small bench in the bathroom and began to brush her hair.
No more crying. No more being sad. The man she thought she loved, simply didn't love her the way she wanted him to. That happened all the time, right? She certainly had watched vids about these sorts of fated romances, not that hers was exactly that. As she began to place her body back in her suit Tali silently prayed.
Keelah, I know I'm not the last person in the galaxy to feel what I do now. I just wish there was someone, anyone I don't care who was out there for me.
I want to be loved and know that I am loved. True, I am on a suicide mission, but; isn't it everyone's right to feel wanted?
I have no one in this galaxy anymore. My mother is dead, my…father is gone. I just want, I just need, someone to hold me.
As she stood looking at her face for the last time tonight, Tali tied her hair back and licked her lips. "Be strong Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, your time will come."
With that, the hiss and whoosh of her mask being replaced filled the bathroom.