I have read several fanfic portrayals of the Shepard/Tali thing where Tali is essentially a human woman who happens to have an immune deficiency. Examples of this are the multiple 'defloration of Tali' fantasies, complete with the painful rupture of the hymen... So I had this idea of exploring a more complicated relationship between two alien species.

In ME, quarians are human-like in many ways including male/female dimorphism, family centered social structure, etc... Of their anatomy and physiology, few things are known: they apparently have an endoskeleton, lips, teeth, two eyes with eyelids and tear ducts. They have three digits and are of dextro chirality. They may be mammals or mammal-like (females have breast-like things), but I could find no confirmation from ME. Of note, the actual earth definition of mammal is pretty broad: a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterized by the possession of hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young. Also of note: a few rare species of earth mammals lay eggs. Yes, nature is weird. Also, male quarians probably have external sexual organs (hence the armored 'codpiece' on their suit).

There are degrees in alienness, of course. Human and quarian cultures, behavior and biology could clash on so many levels... But I tried to limit the differences so it would be still fun to explore Shepard & Tali's interactions. Having no idea of what Tali may look like, I tried to avoid going into too much details. Same with Shepard: no specifics.

My first publication. Please review.

Chapter 1. Dating

From: Tali'Zorah
Received: 9:37
Status: replied/archived
Would like to meet with you. To talk. 20:30 in your quarters?

The orange glow of his omnitool faded as he lowered his arm. This meeting had been nagging at the back of his mind all day. Was she still worried? Or was there another problem? He had re-read her message twice already. It was 20:33.

"Commander, Tali asked me to tell you she is sorry for her delay and is actually entering the elevator from engineering."

"Thank-you EDI. Please let her in as soon as she gets to the door."

"Of course, commander."

Sighing, he walked to the large aquarium occupying part of a wall near the entrance to his cabin, trying to compose himself as he watched the colourful fishes lazily swimming around. He had been baffled at first, seeing this thing on what was basically a military ship. After a few weeks however, he had become used to it along with the size of his bed, his window, his couch and all the rest. Eventually, he had decided to play along, buying some fish. In retrospect, it had been worth it; watching them was definitely relaxing, hypnotic even.

After what must have been a few minutes, the door to his cabin swished, yanking him from his contemplation. Turning around, he saw Tali's suited figure slowly making her way in, hands clasped together in front of her waist. He had not seen her at all today and, at this moment, she looked more beautiful than ever to him, the complex patterns on her purple veil seeming almost alive under the shifting light from the aquarium.

Approaching, she locked eyes with him. "Shepard..." then, after an awkward wave of a hand, she added "...Ho- How are you? I hope this meeting is not... inconveniencing you." She had rehearsed her opening line in the elevator, but could not help just blurting it out.

Noticing her nervousness, Shepard was reminded of his own worries. He extended a hand "I'm well, Tali. And I'm really happy to see you."

After a brief hesitation, she took his hand and got closer. The situation felt a bit blurry and unreal to her, but his hand felt good. She had been in his cabin a few times before, but its amazing size and luxury were all but forgotten now as she stood there, heart pounding. Holding his hand had a calming effect though, like an actual physical anchor.

Looking at her, he asked "Your message said 'To talk'. Is there something specific you want to talk about? …Is there a problem?"

Tali quickly replied "Oh?... No!... Nothing special..." Lowering her gaze, she continued "I just thought that… After what we said the other day near the drive core, that is... That it would be a good thing to spend some time together in a… relaxed atmosphere to... um... get to know each other more?" Of course, Sheppard would never have guessed she had rehearsed that line also, largely inspired from her educational vid 'Human Courtship and Mating.'

Shepard immediately relaxed. He had not realized how tense he had been up to that point. "Oh! ...That's a great idea!" Regaining his composure, he continued "It's true most of the time we've been together has not been in a 'relaxed atmosphere' as you said. She basically asked me on a date... well, the closest thing to a date anyone could get on this ship. He felt stupid not having thought of that first… Definitely better way to spend an evening than building a ridiculous ship model.

Tali looked at him and he was quite sure she was smiling also, her head slightly tilted to one side. She raised a hand to his cheek and delicately brushed a finger along his jaw. He could not resist gently pulling her in a hug. Her initial stiffness quickly melted as she put her arms around his chest and rested her helmet on his shoulder.

Lost in each other's embrace, time seemed to slow down to a trickle. After some time, Shepard was the one to break the spell. "You don't know how happy I was when you spilled the beans down in engineering. I- I don't think I could have done it."

In a teasing tone, she replied "Where is my fearless leader?"

He chuckled. "Well... Guess there are places where even a leader is afraid to go"

She snorted. The embrace lasted a few more moments.

At some point, Tali pulled away a little "Shepard, you never answered my question back then... when did you start having... you know, these feelings?"

He took a few seconds to collect his thoughts. "I'm not sure, really... But it was on the first Normandy. As the mission went on, I found myself thinking of you more and more."

"So? ...Why didn't you say anything?"

"I'm not really good at this, Tali. Besides, you were on your pilgrimage. And I was pretty convinced you'd have thought I was some kind of pervert for having ideas like that..."

"If I had known... Maybe I would have done something about it. I could have been there for you instead of... her"

Shepard looked toward the aquarium. He was embarrassed, but knew this had to come out. "I... It was confusing. I still don't really understand what happened but... Maybe it was the meldings... Maybe she felt a need in me." He looked at her again "Anyway, what happened during the last two years... it put an end to whatever there was or could have been between Liara and me. There's nothing now but a few confused memories..."

She hugged him closer, again resting her head on his shoulder. "I'm just glad you're back now..."

With barely more than a whisper, he continued "What happened is probably for the best anyway. The way I ended up, how would you have felt if we had been closer?"

This reminded her of how she had been dead inside also during those two years on the Migrant Fleet and how, despite rather obvious offers from a few very good quarian males, she had been cold and unresponsive, unable to move on. She did not want to burden him with her difficulties while he had been... absent. "That's why I had to tell you of my feelings this time, Shepard, I... I couldn't bear the idea of losing you again without having been with you..."

He cut her off, pulling away a little to better look into her glowing eyes "Tali, I'm not planning on dying again or losing you, or anybody else on this ship for that matter. I plan on winning and for us to come back to tell about it!"

She looked at him in silence for a few seconds. Here was her fearless leader. Forging ahead, envisioning nothing less than complete victory. Part of her was utterly convinced now that he really could do it. And the rest of her wanted to believe it.

The moment passed, and she said in a teasing tone "So, maybe I should have waited then... I 'spilled the beans' too soon?"

He grinned. "No. You did the right thing. Better safe than sorry!" He pulled her in again.

Later, the lights had been dimmed and soft musical tones were playing in the background. They had moved to the couch, sitting one against the other, holding hands. Each was enjoying the feeling of the other's appendage. Three and five fingers. Skin and glove.

There had been a short moment of awkward silence, neither knowing exactly how to proceed.

Shepard knew how to put his quarian girlfriend at ease, though. She always seemed to forget all worries when she could talk about the Fleet and her people. At first, he thought he had been clever, asking her how quarians courted on the migrant fleet. He was not so sure anymore, with the direction the conversation had taken.

"I see, it makes sense really..." He felt a little uncomfortable, squirming on the couch. "You know, humans can be as definitive about this, although there are many variations". Is she hinting at something or is it my imagination? After a short pause, choosing his words, he added "this kind of life long relationship is not rare among humans also, I think."

"That was my impression too..." She looked away for a few seconds, trying to remember other aspects of human behavior from the vid and her own observations. Moving her gaze back to him, she continued "Although... It seems that... humans often will make short trials with different partners before settling for a more um... permanent arrangement."

Rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand, he replied "Yeah... I'm not an expert, but I think this is more the rule than the exception." Now, trying to change the direction of the conversation, he asked her. "So... I gather you never had a... boyfriend before?"

She snickered. "You think because I never showed my face to anybody, I never had any interest?" Before he could even think of replying, she continued "About a year after my mother died, there was this friend... We got along well and spent our free time together..." she chuckled "...But we never got any further than holding hands in public on a couple of occasions... so, I'm not sure he would qualify as a boyfriend in the human sense of it." She looked down, continuing "Relationships before pilgrimage are rare and disapproved of... The probabilities of being together on the same ship when coming back to the Fleet are so low. Also, it defeats the whole idea of encouraging genetic diversity. Anyway, my father... I don't know if he learned about us or if it's purely by chance... but he started to demand more of me, giving me more duties, putting me through all sorts of training and all. I never saw this friend again. For a few years, until my pilgrimage in fact, I had practically no free time and no social life. Someone told me he got back from his pilgrimage too... But we never met or talked again."

She felt sad. Not because of that guy, but because these memories reminded her of the two years that went by after Shepard's disappearance. But now, he was here. With her. She raised her head, looked at him and said, beaming "It's all in the past now."

Shepard had felt her sadness, but did not know what to say. He was happy to see her snap out of it however, and amazed again at how she always seemed to come out on top.

After a short pause, Tali asked with a smile in her voice "Now, it's your turn to tell me about your first girlfriend."

Shepard laughed. "Guess I painted myself in a corner here... Well, if you want to know." Still smiling, he continued after a short pause "We were both sixteen. She was tall and lean, had long brown hair, and brown eyes..." He closed his eyes, trying to conjure in his mind a good picture of her. "Her family had a farm next to ours, on Mindoir. We were in the same class at school. We had been good friends since childhood and our parents were good friends too, so she often came to my house to play and I went to theirs often also. One day, coming back from school, she convinced me to hold hand with her. The week after that, she gave me a small kiss on the cheek. Then, after another week, she gave me my first real kiss... I mean on the mouth."

Tali chuckled "so she was actually leading you into this?"

Shepard laughed "Yes... I was clueless..." Looking at Tali, he added, still smiling "Guess I'm not much better now..."

Tali was enjoying herself. "Well, obviously, if you're not good at this as you said... someone has to be for you!"

"Yeah, right... Anyway, we went to a dance one evening. That was our first and only real formal 'date' together. Our parents thought it was cute. They did not know we used to sneak in a hiding spot near the border between the two farms and... kiss." He looked at her, embarrassed.

Tali chuckled again, seeing his expression. "Uh-huh?... just kissing?" It was fun seeing 'The Shepard' squirm like that. All this time spent learning to read human body language was really paying off now.

Resigned, Shepard relaxed and sighed, looking at her sideways "Well... We did a little bit more... But we didn't really know what we were doing... Fumbling, mostly." He did not want to go into further detail. They had been careless and lucky, as nothing bad had ensued. Nothing that he knew of, that is. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. Not that it would have mattered, with the slaver raid just a couple of months after that. But he managed to block this line of thought, not wanting to go there again.

He raised his head after a few seconds and said, managing to put on a thin smile as he looked at the fish tank "Like you said... It's in the past now."

Sensing his trouble, likely related to the horrors she knew had happened on Mindoir... his family... his girlfriend. She squeezed his hand gently. "I'm sorry Shepard."

"It's- It's OK Tali. We both had a troubled life... lots of painful memories."

She sighed and replied "There's a saying among my people, about the mending powers of time." She then said a few words that, to him, were just a meaningless jumble of sounds. He shook his head "Sorry, my translator..."

"Oh... I gave you the original version... it's in an old language."

Shepard turned toward her "Time heals! That's what we are told... humans, I mean."

She had brought his hand on her lap and was playing with each of his fingers, separately. She was happy at the change in the conversation's direction. The past was the past. Now was now. And right now, she was with an alien... who was not so alien after all. "Isn't it surprising, how two species that evolved on worlds thousands of light years away, with different biochemistry and all... How they can end-up feeling and saying the same things?"

He turned in his seat so as to face her and replied "Oh... that's convergent evolution." He closed his fingers on one of hers and squeezed gently "Billions of years of this thing going on... so that we could be together you and me."

Tali exploded in laughter as she playfully slapped his hand away. "How dare you, Shepard! Using 'convergent evolution' to talk to a woman? Now I understand what you meant when you said you're not good at this."

"Hey, you brought-it up first!" he retorted, laughing also.

After a few seconds of laughing together, he continued "But you're right Tali, it is surprising... two different species. I wonder... how is it even possible for you to feel attracted to an... alien like me?"

"Are you serious?" it was her turn to feel embarrassed. After a short pause, realizing he really was serious and expecting an answer, she continued "Well, I thought a long time about that at first. I found it hard to believe also... But it all makes sense on some level. I think it's a question of body language, and maybe the voice also... In other words, Shepard, I think you have something in you of a very attractive male quarian!" she laughed as she finished, watching the human's feigned look of shock at the revelation.

"But even more important than that..." she added, catching her breath and becoming more serious. "...are your character and all of what you did." She decided not to add anything, as they shared a silent gaze. She could have gone on with a lengthy enumeration of all his qualities and actions, how he was good, strong, courageous, fearless, how he had saved her life time and time again, how he had helped her in so many ways, and how she felt she could trust him with her life. But she knew it would have been too much and would just have made him uncomfortable.

After a moment, he smiled and said "Don't worry. I see where this thing is going."

She too smiled, tilting her head slightly on one side. Her version of the question had been ready as soon as he had voiced his, and she certainly did not want to cut him any slack, especially now. In a mischievous tone, she replied by stating "Of course... After all, you did color… um… paint yourself in a corner again."