Just to let you all know, this chapter is a bit long, but trust me, it will be rewarding once you hit the end. To those Deception veterans out there, this is a walk in the park for you.

Tali thought about what Shepard said - what the fortune teller predicted - about dying twice and all. What could that mean? He has already died once, which is weird enough but what could the woman mean by twice? Maybe he will get killed in the war that is brewing on the horizon or maybe it means symbolically, like his spirit will die if they win the war, have that flame extinguished by all the death surrounding his choices. Maybe...

Maybe I will die.

"What did you think of her first reading when she told you that you would die twice?" asked Tali.

"I thought she was full of shit, but look at how wrong I was!"

"Maybe she is wrong and just guessed. I think fortune tellers are full of it anyways." Tali pouted and looked out the window, not wanting to make eye contact with him. Why would he go to a shtupid fortune teller in the first place? "How do you know this place is still operational? I mean, how long ago did you come here?"

"Eleven years ago. Wow, has it been that long?"

Tali fumed under the helmet. The anger took her by surprise and she felt like ripping the steering wheel off the dashboard, whacking Shepard in the face with it for believing in an old woman who foresaw the future and was packed full of bullshit.

"It is nighttime, how do you know she is open at this time?"

"I don't know." He shifted in his seat to get a better look at Tali. "What is up with you?"

"This is shtupid."

"It will be really quick. Anyways, think if this as an adventure."

Tali's foot bit into the acceleration and the car cut through the air with the grace of a ballerina, yet is was powered by something scary - something that drank flammable fluids and lubricated its heart with black oil. Maybe that is why Tali found it so attractive. On the outside, it was sleek and sexy, but on the inside, its heart pounded with passion and its crude ventricles drank a deadly and combustible elixir. The road had been flat for about twenty miles but Tali felt her back being pushed deeper into the leather dressed seat and the vibrations played with the bottoms of her thighs. She smiled. Off to their right, Tali could see the capital city glowing amidst the vast dark and she noticed they were climbing a hill, well more of a mountain. Her heart missed a beat when she saw cranes hanging off the tallest of buildings in the distance, working on construction in the dark of night. They were so eager to create and build, not knowing that soon all of their work was going to be destroyed by a storm surge of genocidal machines far greater than anything anyone can fathom. She blinked away a single tear, promising herself that for the rest of the night, there was going to be no more shed on behalf of the imminent Reaper return. This night was Shepard's and hers and nothing was going to ruin it. To her right, Shepard had his head leaning on his fist as he stared out the window at the city he watched grow up - that grew up with him. He looked like a little kid for a second.

"I am soorry for getting angry at you."

"Don't apologize, Tali. I completely understand. Stress and all..."

"I just don't waaant to know how you are going to die a second time. I don't know if I can leeve with that knowledge... I don't know if I can leeve without you."

Tali's lower lips pouted outwards. Knowing the future is a very dangerous thing to have stored in one's mind. It is like a seed waiting to bloom - waiting to grow its roots into the deepest parts of the brain and psychologically destroy its host. Then there is the fact that if Shepard knows when and where he dies, he might be able to avoid it completely. That is, if he avoids a fight, a fight that would be the end of him, that very moment in which he is supposed to die by... Reapers or whatever, maybe he will die choking on a hotdog or something in the safety of the Normandy. Maybe falling down the stairs and breaking his neck.

Keelah, I think I have been watching too many science-fiction movies.

"Hey, hey now, if you don't want to know when I will die a second time, then we won't ask her. By the way, she could be bull-shitting the whole thing for all we know."

"She was right the first time though, isn't that odd?"

"She is an odd person."

She thought about it for a second. Maybe he is right. Maybe he just wants to resolve this little ordeal before the war and get to the bottom of this mystery that might be an endless pit, or have a bottom.

Shepard said, "Maybe her little building isn't there anymore. Maybe she drove herself insane and saw her future death. Maybe she jumped off a cliff dressed as a horse like she foresaw."

Tali didn't know why she laughed at that. There was this hatred towards this woman of whom she never met before that has come from nothing. Maybe Shepard died the first time because of her, this woman who sees the future. Maybe he knew it was his time to go and he let it happen on the SR-1 Normandy. They passed several neighborhoods off the mountain and a couple of mansions. The sides of the mountain were lightly wooded with those trees Shepard said coconuts grew off of earlier in the day. The city was still off to her right.

"Here it is, I think," Shepard said.

On the very top of the hill sat a small wooden house - a house that looked like it was plucked from a model train diorama. Tali squinted. A single street light washed the house with honeyed yellow light. This little hut was painted fire engine red with a big white door and white window frames. It looked like a blocky face staring at them - a face that was swathed red in embarrassment with a soot hat atop its head. Wisps of smoke gracefully bound from the brick chimney like dancers dressed in flowing white garb disappearing onto a black frozen lake in the dead of night. Tali pulled the Corvette up towards the building. She found no parking lot but a strip of grass in its stead. The car coughed and lurched forward as she slowed, then died.

"Bosh'tet!"

"You stalled it Tali."

"Thanks Commander Obvious!"

She threw her hands in the air out of frustration, suddenly realizing she owed Shepard a kiss. Well hey, at least it was worth getting sick for. Speaking of which, she loaded herself up with medicine before leaving the Normandy hours earlier out of habit. So, it should just knock Tali on her ass for no more than a day. Her immune system was gathering strength - growing stronger and stronger day by day. She just knew that her immune system was one of the strongest out there, in competition with other quarians living off the fleet with loved ones of different races.

"I will get that kiss later, right?"

"Yeah, I have to. I honor my word."

"Did you... take your medicine, Tali?"

"A-yup!"

"Good. Now, let's see what is up with the fortune teller."

Tali climbed out of the car and pressed the door shut. The sound of the metal latched hooking around the bracket made her shiver. The feel of grass under her suited foot felt nice and the sound of the wind running their fingers through the tree's hair was alluring, soothing and comforting. One day, she hopes to open a window on her house and hear that noise every day. It is one of her favorite noises, only tied with the sound of a belly laugh.

"Well damn!"

Shepard's raised voice startled Tali. She clasped his hand.

"What ees it?"

"She is closed." He pointed at a paper sign behind the front window and both stared at the store hours, mouths slightly parted.

"Well, it looks like we missed her an hour ago. Time to go home!"

Tali yanked on Shepard's hand and started to drag him back towards the car.

"But... I had this feeling."

"You are hungry, Shepard," she spat nervously, seeing his eyes go all wide and dreamy.

"I just ate, Tali."

"Just nerves, then."

"Who made you a doctor?"

"I did," she snorted, nervously laughing.

A light flickered on inside the house, spilled across the darkened grass and splattered both their feet and backs. Tali spun around when she heard the door open.

"Hello?" A black silhouette stood at the door. It looked weak and decrepit, mimicking the woman's voice who asked the question - it was frail and about to shatter, like a thinly spun glass ornament.

"Ma'am?" called out Shepard, standing his ground, yanking Tali to a halt, planted like one of those old trees in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard.

"Arhuuf," Tali gasped at Shepard's strength and dead weight.

"Yes, I am a ma'am," the woman called out. The dark mass shifted uncomfortable. "If you are a couple of those damn kids that have been water ballooning my work over the past couple of days, come at me. I can kick all of your asses. I have more important business. I am expecting someone!"

"Expecting... someone?" asked Shepard.

"Yes! So, get off my property before I blast a hole in your fat face because I don't call the police!"

"Ma'am," Shepard extended a hand to her and approached. "I think I am the one you have been waiting for."

The woman's head disappeared into her shoulders. Tali tried to make out details of the woman, but failed. She was just an oily spot in a brightly lit doorway.

"Shepard, is that you?"

Tali's heart slammed into her throat and her vision flashed white in panic. She was waiting for him? On this very night? Suddenly, feeling light headed, she gripped Shepard's shoulder as a crutch.

"Shepa-"

"Tali!"

Blackness constricted the sides of her vision and she felt herself fighting for air. On her back, she peered at the doorway and saw the black mass approaching, then Shepard's face filled up her sight. She playfully tugged on his lip for some reason then everything shot immediately black.

"ali, Tali, ake up!"

"Does she do this a lot?"

"Never has she feinted on me."

"Is she pregnant?"

"What?"

"Is. She. Pregnant? You have shit in your ears kid?"

"No, not a chance, unless she had relations with a quarian I don't know about."

"Ah, well I used to feint when pregnant. I used to eat lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches back then. That is my daughter's favorite food, now. I also had lots of popsicles, you know, the summer heat and a baby inside of me. That was brutal hot. I took a hatred towards lamp switches and dogs that summer. I used to shoot them with a slingshot, right in their face. I was a good shot, you know."

"Do you mind?"

"Ah, here, let me get her up."

Knuckles rapped against her mask and Tali's eyes shot open.

"Hey sweetheart, you awake in 'dat fishbowl of yours?"

Tali could hear a woman's voice. It was so gravely, she thought her eardrums were being sandblasted.

"Where are 'da little fishies. Ah, there they are!" Tali's eyes opened. "Wow, I didn't know their eyes were that bright. Is that normal? I have never seen one of these in person, you know."

"My. Name... is Tali!"

"What a beautiful name! It sounds like a toilet paper brand to me," the woman said. Through her hazy eyes, Tali noticed Shepard shoot her a dirty look. "Don't make me poke out your eyes, you are going to be needing them soon."

"Don't make fun of Tali, then."

Tali got off her back and shook her head. Both the woman and Shepard stared each other down. Without warning, the woman laughed - throwing her head back. Tali got a good look at the woman for the first time. She was an older woman, about Grandma's age, but not as nicely kempt as Shepard's grandma. Her gray hair was loose but tied into dreadlocks that nearly touched the small of her back. Tali flinched, noticing her skin that looked like the leather in the Corvette, but was chocolate brown, conditioned by the sun. As she laughed, Tali could hear every single cigarette she smoked.

"Are you okay, kid?"

"Me?" Tali asked.

"No, the carpet you are sitting on."

This woman reminded Tali of Ashley Williams, kind of a smartass.

"Yeah, I think so. I have never done that before."

Shepard helped Tali to her feet. She scanned her surroundings in order to get a hold on reality, since hers was shattered by the fortuneteller announcing Shepard's arrival. Everything Tali believed in, science, math, and facts just snap froze and detonated into billions of itsy bitsy pieces. The walls inside of the hut were butterscotch and lined with cages. Upon further investigation, the cages, at least two dozen of them, where filled with birds, colorful ones. In the center of the room was a circular table. Tali expected to see some sort of cards, a magic ball with stars sparkling inside of it and some old bones, maybe some old teeth as well and a cup to shake them in so she can throw them onto a map of the universe and predict the future.

"Are you on a period? Menstruating, maybe?"

"What kind of a question is that?" Tali gasped.

"That happened to me when my girl problems acted up all those years ago. Got lighted headed, you know?"

Tali blushed and looked away. The woman grabbed Shepard's cheeks and pinched them. He stood there awkwardly, glancing at Tali.

"You need to eat more, kid. Fatten up some. You look a little gaunt. Somethin' buggin' you?"

"Well-"

The woman pressed a ringed finger to his lips.

"You are wondering why and how I knew you were coming to me tonight, right?"

"Yeah."

Even I knew what Shepard was going to ask. Maybe she is a fake after all.

A bird in one of the cages murmured something.

"Hey T.P, I am not a fake."

Tali recoiled.

"You..."

"I can read your thoughts, yes."

Her bright blue eyes arced with electricity. A wild laugh escaped her mouth and Tali squealed.

"Don't worry, T.P, I won't read anymore unless you piss me off."

"Stop calling me that," shouted Tali.

"Calling you what?"

"T.P. Whatever that means..."

"No, you are going to be called Toilet Paper."

"I am Tali-"

"Zorah vas Normandy, or Neema, whatever you go by, I don't care," said the woman.

The same bird murmured to the woman again. She clicked at the parrot and it went silent.

"My name, however, is-"

"Que," said Shepard.

"Good memory." Her drawn on eye brows furrowed. "You were so drunk that night you and your friends visited me I thought you wouldn't remember my name."

"Well, I was stupid back then, but not incompetent," he said.

"Who wants tea? Anyone?"

Que looked at Tali and pointed at her with a finger that was crooked with arthritis. Tali, mesmerized by the fleshy hook, shook her head no.

"I specialize in herbs, medicine and tea. I will cook you two up somethin' special." With that, Que slapped Shepard's butt, winked at him, and walked through a beaded doorway and into another realm... or her kitchen.

"Okay," Tali whispered, "I am officially scared."

"I don't remember her being this bad," he stated, peering around the room.

"You shouldn't remember much after that night. You had a big penis drawn on your forehead when you walked in here. Those friends of your really had a sense of humor, didn't they?" Que yelled from the kitchen. Shepard cocked his head and his face went aflame.

"She has superhuman hearing," Tali whispered even lower. "Not even my helmet could pick that up."

One of the parrots chirped and screamed out what Tali just said in its creepy robotic voice that is natural of parrots. "Que has superhuman hearing!"

"Shhhhh!"

Tali swatted at the big green beast in the cage.

"Toilet Paper Fishbowl Head. You have a fishbowl head. Why aren't you drowning?" it asked, bobbing its head, taunting Tali. Que laughed from the kitchen and something shattered. She cursed in the back, speaking Portuguese. At least that is what Tali's HUD read out.

"Hey!" Shepard pointed at the bird, trying to think of something to say in order to defend Tali against... this feathered bully. "Stop... talking you."

"Stop talking!" it screamed back. "Keep your erection under control."

"What?"

Tali died laughing and looked at Shepard's pants. There was no hint of one.

"Commander Shepard. Row row your boat!"

"Why do you teach your birds to say these things?" asked Shepard to Que who was rummaging in the back. "It is bad for business, you know, to insult and embarrass your customers." Shepard casually placed his hands over his pant's zipper. The bird laughed even harder.

"I don't teach them anything," she said reappearing from the back with two mugs of tea and a syringe Tali immediately recognized as a quarian water pack. "Here you dolls go. Sorry for the scare, T.P." Tali looked at the pack and rubbed her head. "It should melt away your headache and is safe to drink. I have a license, you know, to sell dextro-herbal medicine, so don't give me that look like I am not trustworthy or I will sneeze on you."

Tali didn't know what to make of this woman named Que. A big friendly smile materialized on her face and forced Tali to smile back at Que, her teeth reminded her of a row of yellow sweet corn Gardner managed to get his hands on one time. She just couldn't win against Que and her flock of birds. Shepard, who was still traumatized, grabbed the cup and sat on a chair that circled the table; Tali followed.

"I sense some serious questions about to be hurdled towards me," said Que.

Shepard smelled his tea and took a sip and subtly raised his cup, "Good. Now, how did you know?"

"That is like asking me to explain what the color red looks like to someone born blind."

"Hey T.P?"

"Yeah, Que?"

She is insulting you yet you act friendly! Stick up for yourself, be snarky back!

"Have you ever held a parrot before?"

Tali turned around to look at all of the cages. Through the low light, half of them were sleeping, their heads stuffed in the tufts of feathers of their backs and one leg enveloped in their skirt of feathers. Birds of other planets didn't even compare to the ones Tali laid eyes on in here. Their colors were not of woodland patterns but bright and candied, glazed in the melted colors of the tropics. Que stood up and took the parrot that embarrassed Shepard out of the cage. The others gave Que a look of jealousy from the darkened corners of their cages.

"This is Mango. Say hello to Toilet Paper, Mango."

"Hello bucket head. What wrong with your shins? Broken legs, bad doctor."

The little bastard then waved its four fingered foot at Tali and kept it raised. Off of pure intuition, Tali held her finger out to the little shit and was utterly shocked by its gripping strength. Its black pupil was ringed in a halo of bright yellow, a beautiful iris color, Tali thought. The parrot's gray head and silver cheeks stopped midway down the neck and the feathers went to the most spectacular green and each of them were rimmed in black. The little bastard wore a tuxedo of yellow and orange feathers and its short two inch tail was jet black with highlights of green. The ten inch parrot craned its neck out towards Tali's mask. She stared at its eyes as his pupils grew small and looked like a sunspot. His broad beak clicked happily, then he scratched his head with vigor by means of his left foot.

"Mango likes you," said Que.

"Hey there, Bosh'tet."

"Hello, it will happen."

"What will happen?"

"The crest in the rollercoaster. Click click click all the way to the top. The last and biggest crest. Release. Clutch. Scream."

"He speaks in riddles, all of them speak in riddles. Very rarely do they tell you directly," said Que. Shepard's lips were slightly parted through a faint smile - enthralled by Tali's interaction with this parrot she has named Bosh'tet, ignoring its birth name. "He really makes you think."

"I don't think I will be riding any... what did he call it, a 'rollercoaster?' Well I don't think I will ride that anytime soon."

"So... do your parrots tell the future? Is that your trick?" asked Shepard from over his mug, avoiding the chips in the rim where lipstick have stained the rough and bare ceramic.

"When I was a kid back on Earth, in this country called Brazil, I had a parrot. Her name was Tika, a Military Macaw." She motioned her cup of tea towards Bosh'tet. "Much bigger than that one - all green with a red band of feathers across his forehead. Best damn bird I have ever owned. That is when it all started - when I was a little girl. I flew a helicopter during the wars on Earth. Tika was on my shoulder through all of those battles I went through. She took some shrapnel but nope! Supersonic splinters of tungsten didn't kill Tika, just took out one of her eyes and a chunk of her chest."

"What war did you fight in," Shepard asked.

"The Brazilian Revolution seventy years ago."

"How old are you?" asked Tali.

"Just to let you know, that is a rude question to ask to a human," said Que.

"Your problem is...?"

"Ha! That is like asking what you guys look like under the mask, if you are pretty or not."

"Hey, do you want to see my face?"

"What?"

Tali reached up to her face, acting like she was about to pull off her mask.

"Hey hey hey hey, no! Don't do that!" she screamed, standing up, "I don't want you dying on my floor and then getting me arrested for murder!"

Tali snorted and pointed at her. Bosh'tet joined in the laughter.

"I should have spit in your tea, you little tease! I am eighty-five. Ain't that a shocker?"

"You were a helicopter pilot at the age of fifteen?" asked Shepard.

Que looked at Shepard over her tea cup and spoke through the mask of steam, "I fought on the ground first. Threw rocks at tanks and government agents, then I killed my first person by the age of fifteen. My family of seven lived in a single house about the size of 'dis room. My brother posted an extranet vid against a person in power - some government dipshit. Later that night, after he uploaded that vid, bang!" Tali jumped. "Two armed men in masks came in our house. I ran a rusty blade across one of their necks and we overpowered the second one - our town strung him up by the ankles, castrated him and stuffed tar down his throat. Later that day, they carpet bombed our town once they found out what happened to their two agents. Everyone I ever knew and loved died."

Tali began drinking her tea. She trusted Que with her life. It was odd. She barely even knew this woman, yet she felt like Que has been her friend for decades after about five minutes of talking with her - listening to her voice and curse words. There was something about her laugh, her voice, and that smile which just put her into a better mood, yet all this woman has done to them was taunt and nag - making them feel uncomfortable in the best possible way.

"So, I became a helicopter pilot after that, after we won the revolution. The whole world went up into flames, fighting against their oppressive governments, against their congress' that couldn't decide on shit. We advanced our race as a whole and I am proud to have taken part in 'dat. Anyways, about my parrot, Tika. The Brazilian military - once it was cleared of shitheads - gave her a medal. She was a brave little bitch. Then, one day, we got hit by a Surface to Air Missile. Tika wasn't too lucky there. My cockpit was full of floating feathers and her guts. A fist sized chunk of my engine ricocheted off my ceramic helmet and punched her. I was a downed pilot in the middle of the jungle, caught by the enemy, and tortured."

Tali thought she saw a tear in her left eye, flinching at the word 'tortured.' She thought of Feron, Liara's friend and then Grandma. Que brushed that spot as soon as Tali spotted it. Que stuffed a hand down her shirt collar and yanked out a necklace. A bird beak dangled at the bottom.

"This is Tika's beak. Go on touch it, Toilet Paper. It won't bite 'ya!"

"No thanks, I am fine with my alive bird."

Tali stroked Bosh'tet who purred like a cat and inflated, his feathers prickling like quills.

"I pulled her beak out of my neck once I got rescued. The doctor found it interesting that there was a bird beak stuck into my neck and made a hole in my trachea. He said that Tika's beak kept me alive through some of the torturing I went through; strangulation and all that. I am lucky the infection didn't kill me, ha!" Que bit her fingernail and spit a crescent shaped piece of hardened human growth out of her mouth. It narrowly missed Shepard's cup of tea. "Now, back to answering your question, Commander."

"These birds tell you the future, am I right?" he asked.

"Tika used to tell me things when I was a kid, then they would come true. She foresaw the carpet bomb. 'Heavy clouds and baptism by fire, freckled with lead.' That is how she warned me. I didn't make sense of it back then. Life is a shit sandwich, eh? I just have a skill of deciphering what they say and have these feelings, you know?"

"No, I don't know," said Tali, allowing Bosh'tet onto her shoulder. The parrot banged its beak against her mask and climbed into her hood, poked its head out on the other side and picked at the marring on Tali's metal cheek pieces.

"Mango likes ya'!"

"In and out in and out," Bosh'tet whispered. His voice was eerie as it siphoned through her mask. He bobbed his head back and forth.

"You're a cute little guy, aren't you!" Tali was thoroughly enjoying the parrot's company and future telling that made no sense. Maybe he was foretelling Que trying to put her socks on day after day or Bosh'tet being taken out of his cage and being put back into his cage day after day. Speaking of socks, Tali peered down at her feet and noticed Grandma's white socks slapped over her feet.

"Keelah I am an eediot!"

"I was going to ask you about your socks, Toilet Paper, but Mango told me you forgot to take them off. Not sure why you have them on in the first place. They are kinky."

Shepard howled and splashed some tea on his shirt. He coughed then cursed under his breath. Que's contagious laugh spread into the belly of Tali and Shepard, clutching her laughing organ - if that exists - and shook it as hard as she could. Her stupid psychic powers cleaved into her soul and even made Bosh'tet crack a creepy satanic chuckle.

"Now, Commander, you came here to ask a specific question if I am not mistaken." Her fingers weaved together. "Was your first death painful?"

"If you consider suffocation, third degree burns not painful, then slamming into an icy planet at around 120 miles an hour not painful, no, it was not."

Que became suddenly serious.

"I felt something special when you walked into my room, with that big dick drawn across your forehead and down your cheek. I saw your aura."

"My aura?"

Que got up from her seat and paced the room, poking a finger through one of the cages to pet one of the parrot's heads.

"Yes. You had a halo of flame and a white glow, like a cape. You can figure out the symbolism for yourself."

"What about my second death?"

Tali's stomach did a somersault and a lance of fire impacted the side of her head.

"No, Shepard, I don't want to hear it!"

His eyes were obsessed and shimmered like the air above hot tarmac. He downed the rest of his tea and held Tali's hand.

"Knowing your future is dangerous," warned Que, shadows from the cage bars streaking across her face. Those bright eyes of hers - those two black disks wreathed in blue - flickered a sign of caution. "Think of pinching a match, a burning match over a bathtub of gasoline - smoking a cigarette in bed and falling asleep - murdering some man's wife and handing her husband a loaded gun. That is what know your future is like."

"Shepard, no..."

His fist curled into a ball and he carefully, yet shakily, set his cup down.

"I want to know the outcome of," he looked at Tali, "the you-know-what."

"The Reaper invasion? Don't talk to me like I am a child, you two." Que crossed her arms. "I know what is coming. I knew before any of you. Five years ago Mango began talking about it."

"And you did nothing?" Shepard said, containing anger.

"What could I do? What can a single person do nowadays against the masses?"

"I hope to prove everyone that one single person can change the masses. Think of a virus. One single cell in a human body can cripple it and even kill it. Sure, it replicates itself, but it starts with one, single, eukaryotic cell. I plan on being that one cell that will take down the Reapers."

"Words of wisdom. You are smarter than you look, Commander."

"Thanks," he said flustered.

"I really don't think we should know how you... die a second time, Commander. I don't think you want to know."

"I still have the piece of paper from that night."

Shepard raised an eyebrow, curious. "A piece of paper?"

"I wrote down what Mango, that bird right there, said about your two deaths. I knew you were coming back on this very day those eleven years ago. I have been waiting for you." She pinched a yellowed roll of paper between her brown fingers like a cigarette, twirling it. "It is yours, if you want it."

"Don't Take it, Shepard, please listen to me," pleaded Tali. "I don't want to know when or how you die."

Shepard reached out to take the roll of paper - this pipe bomb - but his fingers brushed against it, thinking about what to do. Que's face was emotionless. She knew the answer - deciphered the riddle Bosh'tet murmured all those years ago when Shepard walked into this very shop.

"Take the key. Use heed, Mother will know what to do," said Bosh'tet.

Shepard stared at the parrot's head poking out of Tali's hood. He could see Tali's eyes, like white hot splinters, carefully analyzing his every move. With a swipe, Shepard took the scroll and jammed it into his pocket, ashamed. Tali sighed.

"I will just keep it in case. Read it or destroy it, the choice is mine."

"The choice is Mother's," murmured Bosh'tet yet again.

"Well, I think we have outstayed our welcome," said Shepard, standing from his chair. Tali followed suit and grabbed the parrot from her hood. Its legs were outstretched towards Tali's chest, wanting to grab onto something solid instead of being clasped. Its little toes curled and uncurled but its face stared right into Tali's, both yellow eyes trained onto her white ones.

"Thanks for letting me hold your parrot, Que."

"Not a problem, Plexiglas."

"Perfect friction," he said, his beak barely moving.

"See you later you little freak of nature!"

Mango bobbed his head, dilated his egg yolk eyes and waved goodbye with his trembling left foot. The other birds in the room were almost all asleep but some cautiously eyed Tali, curious as to what she was.

"Stay safe, Que. Run if you have to or fight back," said Shepard with a hand in his pocket, fondling the key to his future.

"You know I will be fighting those things. You might see me again, unless you die falling down the stairs tomorrow morning. Won't you regret not reading the riddle on that piece of paper if that is how you die?"

"I plan on not going like that." He looked at his feet carefully, like they were loaded guns. "You know, now that you said that, I will be gripping railings for the rest of my life thanks to you."

Que laughed and said, "Breaking your neck or not, dying is shitty."

"Well hey, life is a shit sandwich. You have to take it as it comes."

"You two have fun tonight."

"We will," both Tali and Shepard said in unison. Que winked and closed the door behind them. Through the walls of the building, they could hear her signing an old song.

"Remember that surprise I promised you?"

Tali made two fists, placed them on her hourglass hips, and yelled, "You mean that wasn't it?"

"Come here." He snaked his arm around her waist and lead her to the edge of the mountain, the side without the jeweled city in the background. Beyond them was miles and miles of woodlands hundreds of feet below which rose into snow tipped mountains that were easily fifty-thousand feet high, miles off in the distance. The sheer mass and size of them made Tali stagger and loose her breath. They were so big, they frightened her.

"Keelah those are massive!"

"They are prime sport for mountain climbers. People from all over come and try to climb that beast." Million year old light from stars of old gently stroked the tip of the mountain with cold pastel colors. Then, something caught Tali's eye. In the woods, there were flashes of sapphire blue light, like flak silently detonating right below the tree's canopies. Tali waited to hear the sound of explosions and braced herself for the concussive blast but nothing came. No sound. No overpressure. No shrapnel. Nothing.

"What are those flashes?" she asked.

"That is one question in the galaxy that remains a mystery. Beautiful, isn't it?"

"Freaky is more like it."

Tali approached the cliff carefully.

"We call them Forest Nymphs." Tali looked at Shepard. "Cheesy, right? But hey, that is what stuck. Sometimes biologist find the forest floor burnt in the mornings and that is when it is cold outside."

"Could it be the trees? Remember, the trees on Illium glowed." Fond memories of Diamond Cove swelled in her mind's eye. It was a creation of good memories that shore leave, one of, if not the best moments of her life. "Remember, Shepard?"

Tali turned around and noticed he was holding the piece of paper in his hands, ready to unroll it.

"For the last time, I would not suggest you do that," said Tali, placing two hands over his, cupping the riddle. "Please, for me." His eyes came into contact with hers. Tali traced a finger over his lips, then blew a kiss to him. He smiled, the right part of his mouth softly cocking up and walked to the ledge of the cliff. A gust of wind -Mother nature's breath - swept over the top of the mountain. With his right hand, Shepard lifted the note into the air and released it, letting the wind carry it into the valley below. The note haphazardly fluttered in the current and the ribbon that was Shepard's future disappeared into the darkness below. There was a sense of angst that melted like a sugar cube dissolved by hot water in Tali's chest. Her knees felt wobbly again, but she held her ground, only to be swept up by Shepard.

"I am free!" He shouted again, "I am free!"

His voice echoed in the valley. Suddenly, the blue flashes in the woods picked up their pace at the sound of Shepard's voice.

"It seems you have some nymph groupies down there, Shepard."

"I do."

"I am proud you let that go. I am so proud."

"I figured it is best I do not know. I have seen too many science-fiction movies to know better. But that parrot said to look but..."

"Shepard, that is a bird!"

Tali found herself in the passenger seat of the Corvette, dreamily staring at Shepard who drove into the dark of night, back home where they belonged. Keelah, she was proud of him, so damn proud. A colossal smile painted her lips beneath the helmet, one she wished Shepard could see at this very moment. Something was off with her, she felt kind of weak and flushed - hot is the word she wanted to use. Her environmental suit always kept her cool - it was odd to find herself like this. The insides of her thighs trembled. She leaned her head into the crook of Shepard's neck, wishing she could feel his skin.

"Are you okay, Tali?"

"More than okay."

"Are you... feeling funny?"

"Are you?" she asked, her voice sharpening.

"I feel odd, in the best way possible, though."

"I think Que used some sort of supersonic microwaves from her eyes and melted part of my brain that cares about... stuff."

He yawned but spoke through it, "Did you drink the tea she gave us?"

"Yup," she said, not caring.

"I think she poisoned us."

"Well I want some more of that poison, it feels good."

Tali closed her eyes and felt her lower stomach give off heat. The tea warmed her on the inside and cuddled with her guts. The hum of the V8 engine purred and Tali imagined she was riding a giant cat that was bounding across a savannah of asphalt. She could feel a pack of its muscles shifting under its fur as they darted into the dark, not turning back - going into oblivion. The car turned and Shepard changed gear, then stopped.

"We're home."

"That felt fast. Was I sleeping?"

"Your mouth piece was lighting up and I heard a soft snore."

"I snored?" she almost yelled.

"That was the first time I have ever heard you before. Don't worry, it was cute."

"Am I sexy when I sleep?"

Tali had no idea where that question came from. At the moment, she just didn't care. The question caught Shepard off guard. Clearly, whatever was going through her veins was different than what was shooting through Shepard's.

"Yes you are. Come on, let's get inside. There is a nice couch in the television room. Really comfortable. We can sleep on that if you want to, maybe pass out to a movie."

"That sounds nice," she whispered. Tali got out of the car and shut the door. It didn't have the same appeal as it had before. Right now, Shepard was her main attraction. Tali strutted towards her commander - her captain - giggling. He raised an eyebrow.

"Let me help you inside," he said, somewhat concerned.

"I am fine," she swatted away his hand. "Don't help a woman when she doesn't need help." Her words almost slurred together into one massive incoherent word. There was a note on the front door written in Grandma's beautiful cursive. Tali's eyes traced the loops and swirls and curves.

The front door is unlocked you two. We both went to bed,

exhausted after your visit and about the stuff you told us,

both Tali's story and about the Reapers. I put Tali's clothes

in your old bedroom Shepard and turned on the air filters. No

one has been in there since you left it eleven years ago, so I

think there might be some of that old pollen in there. Sleep tight

both of you and sweet dreams. Please lock the front door when

you come in and tip-toe. I am a light sleeper.

XOXOXOXO,

Grandma.

P.S.- Breakfast is at seven-o-clock sharp. Don't make me pull

you both out of bed! Bacon, pancakes and eggs are on the menu.

"So... I get to see Commander Shepard's bedroom and all of your personal teenage items?"

"It looks like it. This should bring back some memories. Good and bad."

"Bad?"

"Going through puberty with your all-too-aware Grandparents was a living hell."

Shepard cracked open the front door and Tali took off her dirty socks, throwing them into the shoe pile that bordered the door, next to the coat closet. The house hummed, ventilating cold air and cooling the two story open floor plan after a warm and muggy afternoon. It felt like home to Tali and not like she was trespassing. The smell of the cinnamon candle lingered, yet wasn't as potent as before, so it didn't bring back bad memories. It was the smell of one of Shepard's homes - a sanctuary of sanity, a bastion of hope. He led Tali through the house, gripping her hand gently, acting like a pathfinder through the dark - shadows cast only by the stars outside and the burning of digital lettering on kitchen equipment. Tali wished she could feel the cool kiss of the tile floor on the bottoms of her feet. It must feel good during the summer time after getting done with a game of soccer. The lips of cold pressing against the heat of sweaty skin. They took a left down a hallway coated with windows and there was a door at the end, Shepard's door. The way both of them slipped down the hallway was in a military fashion. Fighting and CQB tactics still persuaded the way they moved even when not in danger, yet the Reapers were out there - cleaving towards the galaxy in order to find the man who clasped her hand and led her down a hallway to his bedroom in which his Grandparents built for him. He seemed not at all a threat - still just a kid on the inside. Shepard placed a hand on the aluminum door knob and twisted. It creaked open and the humming noise was a bit louder. Not disturbing, but sounded like the Normandy during Tali's nightly walks on deck.

It whirred. That was the word she was looking for.

"Here we are," he whispered and flicked on a light. The scintillating beams burned her pupils but her mask polarized until the eyes got used to the caustic light. Tali shut the door behind them and it hissed, then popped. It was airtight. The room was a very good size, large enough for her old home on the Rayya to fit into. A bathroom was to her immediate left and Shepard's bed was directly in front of them, the foot of it about seven feet away. The blankets were still slightly messy from his last visit eleven years ago. Tali smiled when she saw glow-in-the-dark spaceships and stars imprinted on the comforter. It was one of the cutest things she has seen in a good while. The ceiling had a massive skylight window punched through the center with a band of light running around the perimeter which illuminated the room. The window was dome shaped with a ladder leading into a loft above the bed and into the dome. Tali could see a telescope pointing right up into the sky next to a small stool.

"They really spoiled you, didn't they?" asked Tali.

"Yeah. I had the smallest room in my old 'houses' since I lived on space stations my whole life. I was blown away when they built this for me. Anyways, I am going to take a shower really fast. I feel I need to wash away my old self since the new and imporved Commander Shepard has taken over. Feel free to poke around, I might be a while - not sure how fast the water is going to warm up or if the showerhead is going to spout brown rusty water..."

"Take your time, Shepard," Tali said curiously, not really paying attention to him but rather her surroundings.

"Right, I have got to see if any of my old clothes fit me. I kind of gotten bigger since the old days."

"Yup."

"You are not really listening to me, are you?"

"Yup."

"Okay."

Shepard walked towards the bathroom and to Tali's surprise, set a pistol on his desk. It was a stark realization that they had enemies out there wanting to kill them. Tali has been ignorant all day about the fact. Not to dwell on those thoughts, but if a bullet from a sniper passes into this room and pegs her in the head, that is that. Now is not the time to worry about such things. She eyed the desk the pistol was on. A computer was turned off in the corner, probably filled with outdated tech. Next to that were a stack of video games and some old school papers. She fingered through them and noticed good grades on all of them, even some comments his old teachers wrote.

Great job! Your use of metaphors and sentence structure proves eloquence and an eye for detail. Work on those comma splices, though. You are almost doing perfect!

Tali couldn't help but grin and search elsewhere for clues about his past. In the corner next to his desk was an air rifle and a can of metal ammunition. Curious, Tali picked it up. It was a full sized antique looking rifle with a wooden stock and optics, coupled with a beautiful wood grain the color of Que's skin. Fiber optic sights backed up the glass optics. They were not digital optics like on the weapons of today. She looked through it and saw a simple crosshair with mil-dots sporting windage and elevation. Very rudimentary yet effective. She will admit, even though she is a girl, Tali thinks guns are pretty damn cool. They are fun to shoot and are works of mechanical art - the respect she wields for them are vast. Tali could hear the shower cough to life and Shepard yell in disgust.

"The water is reddish-brown, Tali. This might take a bit."

"You are fine, don't worry about me."

"Sweet girl," she heard him whisper.

Tali's heart began to race for some reason as she walked past the bed. The blankets were so adorable. She imagined little Shepard pulling them snug under his chin after a fun day with his friends outside playing together. Her hand rested on his single giant pillow where his head used to lay wishing she had a child to tuck into bed at night and read books to while he or she fell asleep. A couple years ago, the thought of a child would have scared the living Keelah out of her but now having a little face running around would be delightful. Tali suddenly wished she could get pregnant with Shepard, have part of him, his legacy, brewing inside of her. Again, the insides of her thighs trembled, thinking of lovemaking. She sat on the bed and found the clothes Grandma gave her under the blankets, concealed from sight. She plucked at them, wishing she could get undressed and wear them, just for tonight, just for Shepard. Instead, she hugged them and walked to the sliding door that led to a miniature patio outside. She looked outside, towards the city. It saddened her. Tali heard Shepard moan from the bathroom, obviously fed up with the rusty plumbing.

Suddenly, it hit her and Tali dropped her clothes on the slate tile floor. With her omni-tool, she scanned the air and bed sheets for contaminants. A white bar to the left of the holograph climbed to the top then blinked green. The amount of contaminants in this room was next to nothing. She could have open heart surgery and not even risk infection. With nothing living in here for eleven years in combination with the air filters, this was a clean room, a sterile room.

Tali twisted to look at the bathroom door then to the piled clothes on the floor. Tonight very well could be their last night together... alive, even. The Reapers could crash their party this very moment with orbital fire placing a multi-kiloton explosive nuclear device right through the dome. Tali could see steam percolating from the slit under the bathroom door, then stared back at the clothes. With two fingers, she picked up the pretty purple top and held it up to her chest and twirled. The garb flirtatiously flicked in the air, taunting her to put in on. Tali tossed it on the bed and bit her lower lip. She picked up the bottom part of the pajama set. They were normal pants, flared at the bottoms and ringed with golden thread. Tali saw a price tag hanging on the bottom. Grandma never wore these, for some reason. They must have gotten lost in her planet-sized closet, never to be found. Tali tossed the pants on the bed too, right next to the top - both dangled partly over the lip of the bed. She analyzed them, chewing on her tongue - a nervous habit. Again, she scanned the room with her omni-tool and the readout was way below normal.

It was safe to start undressing.

First, she wanted to take off the mask. She loves and hates it with a burning passion but she wanted to just rip it off first. Both hands carefully squeezed the points of disassembly and she pressed.

Keelah my heart is pounding.

It hissed then popped. She felt her vision throbbing in harmony with her heart and she chuckled nervously for a moment as everything was not under a subtle purple haze, but light, real, bare, naked light that kissed her eyes. The room was slightly blurry as she wasn't used to her natural eyesight but she could see more than well. The water tap-dancing off the shower floor sounded muddied, no, not muddied... but real and true. It wasn't as sharp as she was used to. It sounded perfect. Tali wrestled with the rest of her suit until she was stark naked, the way she came out of her mother on day one, the beginning of the Tali legacy. Shepard dropped a shampoo bottle in the shower - the bang scared her to death, but he resumed singing his jolly as all hell tune. Tali sucked her stomach in and crossed both arms around her chest. It felt really really weird like this. Everything was alien, foreign - the soft touch of cool air at the nape of her neck, the circulation around her thighs and the refreshing air swelling into her lungs. It was raw air, Nature's own breath. It was...

Surreal.

Tali saw movement to her left and her frightened eyes swung in that direction, expecting to see Grandma standing in the doorway with a creepy smile on her face. No, it was just a reflection of herself - of her naked in a full sized mirror. It was the first time in about a decade she had seen herself, her true self, not the suited freak of a woman. Her curves were more pronounced and the shadows from soft light above carved into her skin. It made her look, what word was she looking for...

Sexy.

Even though her back was hunched, protecting her chest with both arms and knees bent, Tali continued to stare at herself. She straitened her back and poked her chest out, both eyes tracing the line from her shoulder blades which then swooped inwards towards the small of her back and softly swelled at the perfect curvature of her buttocks. She locked eyes, stared into them and she smiled. Her lips were not like she remembered, they matured a bit. She agreed with herself that she had a friendly smile, nothing too sharp but not too soft, just... friendly. She plucked at the clothes, realizing she had wasted enough time admiring herself and fiddled with them.

Does Shepard like the way I look?

What if I am ugly?

Tali looked down at herself, at her chest, at her stomach, and at her legs. She fondled her breast. It hurt but felt sexy. Absorbed, she watched her stomach - watched her breathing, observed her ribs as she sucked in and the packs of muscles slide under her skin when flexed. Once again, she shot a glance at the mirror and her form, once standing normally, looked like Grandma's cursive on the note. She curved naturally and looped in all the right places. That smile of hers, those lips and subtle dimples all resembled that handwriting. Confidence built up, she wrestled with the pretty top first, trying to cover up as fast as possible. She threw it over her head and it slipped against the tops of her shoulders like playful fingertips. She pulled the bottom down and miraculously, it fit pretty well. She looked in the mirror and spun forty-five degrees on her tiptoes, watching the bottom lip twirl and dance around her thin waist. Her breast were snug and she admired her cleavage, chest, collarbones, and the bit of shadowing in-between the muscles on her neck. Her confidence went through the roof. Thank Keelah that mirror was there, holding her hand through this process and telling her not fibs, rather the truth about how she looked.

The shower stopped clapping to Shepard's song as he began his solo through a whistle. The water seized to pour from the wall. He must be drying off.

She had to hurry.

Tali glared at the pants, at the waist more importantly. It did look a bit more slender than she was, especially with her wide hips. Carefully, trying not to tumble over, she inserted her left foot into the left side of the pants, shortly followed by her right, pulling the form fitting pants up her lanky legs. They fit snug against her thighs and buttocks, but loosened at her ankles.

"Keelah," she said through lips as thin as razors. Fear hit her. The pants didn't fit around her hips. Savagely, she pulled the pants up over her hips, the tight fabric scooping her skin at the belt line like a pin kneading dough. She played with the little strings protruding from two brass eye sockets in the pants, right where her lower torso and upper thighs made a crease in her skin. She untied those strings, pulled the bottom part of her top under her chin and with two thumbs, peeled the beltline away from her naked hips, the two strings disappeared in the sockets and the pants became dramatically looser, but still unable to get them fitting properly. Visibly gnawing on her tongue, she turned to the brutally truthful mirror, petrified she was gaining weight. Tali spun to the side so her curvy body was sideways and she sucked in her stomach so her ribs were protruding from her elastic skin.

Shepard coughed and began brushing his teeth.

Tali's gap in the window was closing and fast.

No fat that she could see.

Good.

Distastefully, she stared back at her brass nemesis, whose icy lips were kissing her supple belly. Emptying her lungs, she sucked in her stomach and heard the most satisfying noise.

"Twock!"

The knotted ends of the strings disappeared through the brass eyes and into the elastic band on the pants. Her head snapped to the mirror, staring at the spoils of war which hugged her legs. If she had to say so herself, she looked mighty fine in Grandma's never before worn pants, which Tali had a sneaking suspicion Grandma bought for her when Shepard shared the news about their relationship, and maybe a visit. They hugged her recurve shins and thighs like vacuum wrap but the sight was aesthetically pleasing. They accented her quarian hips and backside. Not nervous anymore, she could breathe as the walls retreated, pressure released, and she thought she heard the mirror sigh in relief.

The sink in the bathroom stopped hissing and she could hear Shepard's footsteps and him clearing his throat. A cap to deodorant popped off in there and Tali could smell it. Swiftly, she tiptoed to the light switch and dimmed the bulbs, concealing herself in the shadows of the night. Still, her confidence was low. The slate floor was cool against her heels as she stood frozen by the light switch, unable to move as Shepard walked out of the bathroom with just a pair of sport shorts clinging the jagged muscles around his lower waist. Her skin became suddenly hot and Tali swore she could feel each chilled molecule of air brushing against her face, of which was surprised, eyebrows raised and mouth open. Her heart pounded and she could feel the muscle's power arc across her chest and back, undoubtedly making her top half bob.

"Tali?"

Shepard scanned the room through the low light for her, not bothering to check the door they entered, which is what she was standing next to, frozen and touching the light switch with a single outstretched finger. Finally, Shepard's eyes locked onto her mask, which sat poised on the bed. She saw all of his muscles flex and spin toward the doorway, both arms out in front of him like he was about to catch something that was hurdling towards him. Both of them locked eyes. Tali knew she must have look like a deer in front of a speeding car, but wearing sexy pajama pants.

"Hi there." The way she said it was like a kid who got caught with a hand in a cookie jar. It was utterly stupid sounding!

"Tali!"

"Yes, that's me."

Again, Tali felt like an imbecile. Without the mask, her English - which she was practicing - sounded not like her.

"What are you..."

"Yes."

"Huh?"

"I mean, well, I don't know what to say," she said. Shepard's mouth dangled open and his arms did not fall to their sides. His eyes were wide open as Tali spoke yet again, uttering more nonsense. "Life is a shit sandwich, am I right?"

"Gah-I, guess... so."

"So, do I look nice?"

She twirled for him, just like in those black-and-white human romance movies.

I've always wanted to do that!

Shepard didn't move, both arms still stretched out.

Do something with those things, Shepard!

Nothing happened, so Tali fell into his outstretched arms. A strand of her dark hair fell in front of her left eye, so she blew it away from her forehead, looked up into Shepard's shocked face and winked with the cutest smile she could muster.

"I couldn't leave you hanging like that," she said.

"Your suit... and your immune-"

Tali pressed a finger over his lips and felt whatever that tea had in it rush through her veins. She felt like she was the queen and nothing could stop her - she was the sexiest thing alive in this whole damn universe where confidence was abundant and surged through her like a mighty river. She could feel her smooth skin brush against his, her back press against his bare chest and his minty breath bat against her face and eyelashes.

"Commander, I took my medicine." Her voice tapered deeper at the end of the sentence. Her confidence took off like the Corvette in first gear. She wrapped a hand around the still shocked Commander's neck and brushed her lips against his, teasing him for a kiss. "I promised you that kiss, Commander." She could feel his lips smile and she backed her head away from his, making deep eye contact, teasing him. Tali climbed out of his arms and strutted backwards towards the sliding door. The herbs in that tea made Tali not herself, but rather the tease and hard to get lover she dreamed to be like wafter all of those women in those sappy romance movies humans loved to watch which Kasumi got Tali hooked onto. She studied each and every one of those moves, what the women did to woo the men, and listened to Kelly and Kasumi's advice. Maybe the tea had made her into what she really was.

The cold glass stung the top half of her exposed back, then turned warm from her body heat. She scratched at it with her hands and chewed her lower lip. She was cocky as all hell.

"Commander, I am waiting," she said, curling and uncurling her finger at him, teasing him. He walked over to her in great slow strides and he towered over her. She bent her head to look up at him, into his grinning face. With a finger, she wiped off the corner of his mouth and stared at the remnants of some toothpaste. She pressed it against his lips and he sucked it off her finger, gently grabbing her thin wrist.

"What has gotten into you?" he whispered.

"Que's poison wasn't actually poison," she whispered back.

"Your English is good, too. Who is this woman?"

"I am," she brushed her lips with his, then pulled away, smiling. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy." Shepard's hands snaked around Tali's back and pulled her into him. Tali's balled up hands got caught between their chests by the sneak attack kiss. Tali squealed into his mouth, surprised, and kissed back, with passion, unloading all of her guns with the tips she had gotten by Kasumi about being a good kisser. Her arms rested on Shepard's shoulders, crossed behind his head and her hands locked together behind his skull. She was free from everything, free from the stupid Reapers and Shepard's second death. Tonight was their night and nothing was going to ruin it.

Tali jumped on him and wrapped her powerful legs around his waist, pressing her stomach into his chest. She looked down and used tongue this time. She laughed through his mouth and felt him carry her towards the bed. He freefell onto the mattress with Tali on top. Her mouth released from his and both of them laughed. Shepard's happy face looked right back into hers. No longer was she nervous about anything. He loved her for what she was, not her looks, not her performance, not anything except for her personality. She wanted to share the deepest parts of herself with him tonight.

"Hey there," she whispered, able to taste his toothpaste.

Shepard swiped a bang away from her forehead. "You taste sweet."

"Oh yeah?"

"Like candy. Soft, wet candy."

She bent over and brushed her nose against his, her lips against his eyes, and kissed again, this time more seriously. Shepard hands slipped under her top and skidded across her bare skin. His fingers were warm and friendly to the touch - she didn't flinch when he softly grabbed her breasts. It felt good. Tali gasped into his mouth and yanked off her top.

"That thing was just getting in the way," she laughed. Something hard brushed against her right butt cheek.

"Same with these," he said, tearing off his old sports pants. Tali lightly laughed.

"And... these." She motioned towards her pants which she struggled to get on in the first place. Shepard rolled her over and pinned her to the bed, still looking into her eyes as his fingers wrapped around the elastic band.

"Yeah?" he questioned softly, motioning to her purple pants.

She nodded and felt them slip off, the sheets now touching her bare bottom. Tali sighed and snort-laughed, nervous yet confident.

"You looked great in those."

"I think," Shepard kissed her, cutting off what she was about to say. Both of his arms were on either side of her head radiating the smell of his deodorant. "They still had the tags on them."

"Uhu."

She felt Shepard's lips go from her mouth to her neck, not kissing, but lightly brushing them against her skin, moving down to her breasts. She gasped at the feel and closed her eyes, guessing where he was going to go next. Her stomach?

Keelah yes.

She felt him kiss the name Tali into her skin to the left and below her bellybutton. He grabbed her hand for comfort as she jerked.

"Ticklish Miss. Zorah?"

"Oh... oh yes."

She opened her eyes and watched Shepard's two fingers walk towards her face from the inside of her thigh. She got all tingly and her inner thighs jiggled in excitement. His two fingers traced her lip and went back behind her head in search of her other hand that lay on the pillow. He gripped it reassuringly, his eyes hopeful. Tali nodded, giving him permission. She felt him slowly, gingerly penetrate. Tali sucked in and closed her eyes.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Uuuhuuu."

He went deeper and Tali slowly wrapped both legs around his waist, letting him find his stride. He went slowly, tenderly, respecting Tali's body, rocking like he would with a sleeping newborn. So gently with no rush. She moaned when he hit a certain spot.

"Are you okay?" he whispered in her ear.

"Yessss, yesss, I-uh! I am."

"Continue?"

His minty breath mixed with the deodorant was enticing. She nodded her head and he continued, this time, Tali joined with his rocking. She could feel the power of him through his stiff muscles. She opened her eyes and watched him, looked at him, absorbed his appearance. Those muscles budged and perspiration freckled his forehead, as did Tali's.

"Keelah."

Tali lifted herself so she could be closer to Shepard and feel his skin rubbing against hers as he thrust. She too began to rock, trying to make him feel good as well.

"Is that good?" asked Shepard.

"Yes, right there. What about yo-you? Am I doing okay?"

"You are wonderful my dear."

Tali thought about Que and her parrots as she squeezed Shepard's hands harder and harder. She thought about what Mango was saying, about his riddles.

"In and out in and out."

Tali almost laughed when it hit her. The little son-of-a-bitch knew they were going to make love tonight, he foresaw it.

"My turn," Tali said. Shepard still inside of her, she flipped him on his back, straddling him. Tali's hand slithered up and down Shepard's side feeling his skin slip though her fingers like a shawl of silk. His legs rubs against hers, the sensation causing her toes to curl with ecstasy as Tali's two hands worked their way to his shoulders. Both stared at each other, torrents of love rippling through their eyes. Tali leaned over, slipped her lips into his, sensually kissing. His body heat washed over her like a warm blanket, radiating, his blood swirling inside him pushed by his fiercely beating heart. Tali could feel his pulse inside of her - it was exhilarating. Slowly, she dragged her lips out of his mouth, lightly tugging his lower lip. She brushed her lips against his cheek, working her way towards his ear. Her teeth nipped at his lobe sending heat sprawling across her suave skin like an ocean wave crashing into the shore then crawling its way up the beach. Breathing out, Tali's warm breath tickled and kissed his face as she grinned, releasing subtle laughter. She shifted on his lap, throwing sable shadows across the dimly lit room, kissing his neck and nibbling on his other ear gingerly, wetting it ever so slightly with the film of saliva on her teeth. She whispered sweet nothing into his ear. The new angle was nice and she got to use his chest as support. She grabbed him and rocked and twisted her hips. He closed his eyes and grunted, then opened them again, grabbing Tali's hand with his and kissed it. Tali rubbed deeper into him and deeper, wanting to be one with him, be part of him through means love making couldn't even achieve. Tali's face stopped smiling as they hit their stride, two people moving in harmony. She could feel her lower abdomen warming up and her energy began to drain, her hands releasing their hold slightly. Shepard noticed and flipped her back over. Tali hooked her ankles across his back as high as she could get them, then she found the perfect position, as did Shepard. Tali remembered something Mango said earlier.

"The crest in the rollercoaster. Click click click all the way to the top. The last and biggest crest. Release. Clutch. Scream."

Tali gasped and breathed, her body demanded oxygen so she fed her lungs the needed air through short and rapid sips.

"Hold it th-th-there, Sh-Shepard."

"Right here?"

"Yes."

Mango's voice came back into her head.

"The perfect friction."

She understood, put the pieces of the puzzle together. It was time Shepard had figured her out, where to press and where to get that perfect friction. Tali squeezed Shepard with her legs harder and harder but again, her strength was leaving her, being pulled by Shepard with each thrust.

"Squeeze my hand. Squeeze it when it is about to happen."

"Keelah, Keelah okay!"

Shepard was able to hold the perfect position and Tali felt her whole world spinning. A single tear rolled down her face - a tear of happiness created through perfection. Was it really about to happen? She was scared, yet totally ready for her big moment. She felt her breaths getting shorter and shorter - her abdomen warming up, getting hotter and hotter. Pinpricks of light appeared in Shepard's black pupils and her hands felt week, like she wouldn't be able to give the squeeze to Shepard when the time came... which was soon.

"Keelah, oh my... oh, oh!"

She felt every bit of him inside of her and her mouth opened to let out a yelp, but instead of using her energy on that, she jerked her hand and it happened. She went blind and fireworks detonated in the blackness - with each spasm came a new grand finale, but not as powerful or memorable as first. It reminded her of the explosions by the Forest Nymphs. Both Shepard and Tali bucked and gasped, then went limp, breathing heavily. Tali squeezed his hand lovingly, their slick palms made a sucking sound when they separated.

It happened.

Keelah it happened!

Tali could feel her orgasm dripping down her thigh and into the sheets. It was hot and sexy feeling.

"No, don't take it out," she commanded breathless. "Not yet." Shepard laid on top of her, both arms wrapped around her back and listened to her heart slow down with each beat. Tali rubbed his head, feeling his short velvety hair in her hands. It was the perfect moment in her life.

"Your heart sounds healthy," he whispered, his ear pressed between her breasts.

"Thanks."

There was a string of silence. The slow breathing that came out of his mouth tickled her nipple.

"What are you supposed to say after... you, this?" Tali asked.

"Nothing."

Tali's heel rubbed up and down the back of Shepard's calf as she stared up into the dome looking into the night sky. A comet streaked through the black, and disappeared. Tali opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. That was her moment she felt, not to be shared with anyone. Tali saluted the sky.

"I think Que spiked our tea with rocket fuel." His deep voice vibrated through her chest.

"I'd say so."

Shepard leaned his chin on Tali's chest, watching her eyes glow in the low light.

"God you are beautiful."

The compliment struck her so hard she was knocked breathless. He leaned up to kiss her and she moaned since Shepard was still inside of her.

"Are you up for found two?" asked Tali.

Shepard's eyes went wide and though a devious grin - he nodded his head.

"Rocket fuel," Tali muttered.

"Three." Tali clutched Shepard's sides. "Two." Her legs wrapped around his ribs. "One." Tali closed her eyes and let him take off.

We have lift off, she thought.

She was the happiest damn girl in the galaxy.

Tali opened her eyes and through the hazy slits, she could see outside the sliding door and across the lake. The capital was waking up just like she was, to a new day. The sun's bright face has yet to greet the sky with his bright smile, but his pale blue mane began to warn everyone he was coming and expected Terra Nova's population to greet him as he arrived. Tali yanked the blankets over her head and spun 180 degrees to meet Shepard's face. His mouth was dangling open and the gravity of the planet tugged at his face, pulling it earth-side. She lightly kissed his mouth. It tasted sour.

"Good morning, Captain."

He smiled and shifted, pulling Tali closer. Both were still naked under the sheets and Tali could feel several wet spots on the sheets. She didn't care.

"Mornin' sunshine."

A single finger drew a line from her knee, to her thigh, around her buttocks, up her voluptuous sides, and circled her lips. Tali grabbed his hand and kissed it, then played with his veins. She quashed them and let them go, watching them inflate as blood rode though the organic highway and through morning rush hour. Tali didn't want to get back into the suit after this. It just gave her more motivation in having a life after the war.

"I am going to take a shower, want to join?"

"I'd love to but, uh... I think I might get sick. Contaminants in the water and all."

"You are such a killjoy, aren't you?" he softly nudged her chin with his face and grinned. He climbed out of bed and stretched. "The shower has a purifyer on it, just to let you know. The pollen and all..." Tali watched a pack of muscles shift under his skin then stared at his buttocks as he walked heavily towards the bathroom. Tali spun over with the blankets draped across her bare shoulders so she could stare out the window. She coughed and felt no built up mucus or stuffy nasal passageways.

"Que said she was a medicine doctor, right?"

"Yes, Tali. Why."

"I don't feel like death this morning. I mean, we... had an exchange of fluids last night."

"Huh, you do look radiant."

"Oh, why... thank you."

"We should stop by on our way out to get whatever she put in that tea," said Shepard.

"You know what, I think I will join you in that shower. I have always been curious about what one feels like." She leapt out of bed and jumped on Shepard's back. He piggyback rode her into the shower. It was warm, soothing, and relaxing. She liked the smell of Shepard's body wash but decided not to use it. It might irritate her skin, after all. Shepard helped dress Tali into her suit, learning more about quarian anatomy that he wished stayed a secret.

"Well hey, that is what comes with a quarian babe," he said. "High maintenance."

"I do all the work myself," she said back, "You get to do the fun stuff with me, like talk to me and use 'rocket fuel.'"

The sun peeked over the horizon like a egg yolk being cracked into a skillet and served sunny side up. Maybe that is where that term of cooking style came from, Tali thought. The first thing Gardner taught Tali how to cook was a fried egg and an omelet on the Normandy way back before the Suicide Mission.

"Everyone needs to know how to make an omelet. If you have bad sex, an omelet is the perfectly acceptable way to apologize to your partner," she remember him saying.

That bit made her nervous as she eyed Shepard eating breakfast on the Normandy, talking to Joker about upgrades over eggs and space toast. That was right after their first talk down in the engine room. She remembers Shepard catching her gaze and winking at her, which acted like a pinch - it proved to her that it was no dream when he talked to her and they expressed their feelings for each other. She ruined the egg, on the other hand.

"Are you ready for breakfast, Tali?"

"Yes. Does my suit look, you know, good?"

"'Snug in all the right places.'" Tali laughed at how terrible Shepard's Scottish accent was. Both of them left the room and turned off the lights. Shepard stuffed his pistol into his pants. Tali spun around to look at the room one more time before the door shut. The sheets on the bed were a mess.

Tali clutched onto the clothing Grandma gave her, yet it felt like she was holding onto a dirty secret. Grandma and Grandpa greeted them warmly as they walked in. Grandpa was reading the news on a holo-pad drinking orange juice, dressed sharper than ever while wearing khaki slacks with white tube socks, a brown leather belt, and a tucked in baby-blue polo shirt.

"Good morning sleepyheads. How'd you two sleep?" he asked craning his head towards them.

"Good."

"Fantastic!" Grandpa and Grandma were startled by Tali's reaction. "I mean good. Good... yes."

Tali sucked down some nutrient paste while listening to the three of them talk in a civilized manner. There was no yelling or talk about the Reapers or death. Shepard devoured six eggs, three pancakes and a package of bacon. He used the excuse of "big week ahead of him" instead of admitting that Tali drained every last bit of energy from him last night. They did it three times. She blames rocket fuel while Shepard said it was all him. Cocky SOB.

"Well," Shepard looked at his omni-tool. "Damn."

"What?" asked Tali.

"Jack got put in jail, along with Zaeed. We need to bail them out. I am thinking we should get going."

"What did they do?"

"Tali, let's see here." He scrolled through some data. "Well, they fought ten Alliance Marines at a bar. It says Zaeed hit four of them over the head with a whiskey bottles and Jack used a pool stick to take out six of them. Miranda isn't too happy about this."

"Who are they?" asked Shepard's grandparents.

"Part of my crew. I hope you will be able to meet them someday."

"Well, that is the thing," said Grandpa, motioning towards some suitcases packed by the front door. "We thought you could drop us off at this apartment you were talking about. You know, outlast the Reapers until you kill them all."

Tali's fist snapped to her chest.

"I can do that," Shepard said. "We should get moving, Miranda says we need to get them out now." Tali and Shepard grabbed their suitcases and helped them pack their car.

"Since our car flies and yours doesn't, we will meet you at the Normandy. I am excited to see it," said Grandpa.

"Okay, I will give you access. Just tell them you are my grandparents."

"Roger that."

Grandpa and Grandma both stared at their house one last time. They didn't spill a single tear and got in the car. Both Tali and Shepard were so proud and waved goodbye as they soared over the Corvette that thundered down the highway. This was Tali's last time to say goodbye to this planet. It was good to her and to Shepard of whom grew up on it. As Shepard drove, they hit a stop sign in the middle of nowhere. Shepard could have just blasted though it since there were absolutely no police around and the fact that it probably hasn't been used in decades. He stopped anyways. The wind picked up and the grassy fields on either sides of them shimmered as Mother Nature sighed. Suddenly, something impacted the side of Tali's helmet and fell into her lap.

It was the note.

The key to Shepard's future.

Mango, once again, revisited her head. She could hear his creepy little voice.

"Take the key. Use heed, Mother will know what to do. The choice is Mother's."

"Mother Nature," Tali whispered, picking up the note.

"Is that what I think it is?" asked Shepard.

"Yeah, it just... hit me in the head a second ago. I guess the wind carried it to... to us," Tali said dumbfounded. Without thinking, she unrolled and read it aloud.

"Hair full of gray, wife's hand in hand, watching the sun go down. He will parish of old age, nothing more, nothing less. Peacefully with Tali'Zorah. The second death it is."

She looked at Shepard and he stared back. Shepard simply smiled and put the car into first gear. To Tali, he looked at least two inches taller sitting in that seat. Grinning, Tali put her hand out the window and played with the wind, letting it push it back and forth while driving towards Que's place to say goodbye and pick up some herbal supplements.

The wind.

A breeze.

To their left, a storm front was moving in. Tali had a feeling that in the coming week, the storm was going to hit, but for now - for this split second - it was just a gentle breeze before the storm.

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed that little tale, which is the last of my pre-Mass Effect 3 stories. I hope to type some more in the future after the release of the big game we have all been waiting for. To all of you who post reviews/comments, those couple of words do a helluva lot more to me than you can image - they are a pushing force, two hands behind my back. To all of you, I love ya!

Now, just a few shout outs: Bill/VandalX187, you are the man. When you extended a helping hand to me (we are talking about editing, here) I accepted you and trusted you with my drafts, my work, my art.

Savakka1, you are one of the key people that has made me type all of these words and post them for people to see. Again, you are one of - if not the nicest person I have met on the internet.

modsoft, thanks for making and printing a book form of Deception for the fans of that story. To the rest of you have/haven't read that one yet, you can find his art here along with all the chapters: .com/1258913/blog/8606/

Other shout outs: Durxa, Narcotic, Renderer, o THE JUICE o, Suffering Soldier, Antique Nova, Para-Cord, GoG ToXiC, HellBovine, anon, Classic Blaze, and NucaCola, along with the hundreds of other people who have read my tales that have come solely from my heart. Each and every one of you have changed my life, so I thank you for that.

Stay tuned for more stories after I beat ME3!