So lately, I've become a major fan of Tali - as has my main male Shepard - though I've never really thought about how to write for her. Feel free to tell me if this ever sounds out of character.
In all of her years aboard the Migrant Fleet and abroad, Tali had never really considered aliens to be all that confounding. She had long ago accepted cultural differences for what they were, and hadn't really worried about the intricacies of their social cues or the subtleties in their vocal pitches. Hell, she hadn't even given much thought to the fact that there were organisms out there that couldn't even eat the food she ate, and vice versa.
And she hadn't really minded. The Fleet came first, not the study of aliens. It was how she was raised, and it was how she had always lived her life. In fact, the lack of interest only stopped when she found herself aboard a human warship, under the command of a rather compelling human.
Commander Shepard. He was calm yet fierce, collected but menacing, diplomatic and dangerous. And Tali couldn't keep herself from studying him, studying his motives, studying his movements. But the most interesting thing she had found was that while unerringly reliable and completely devoted to his crew, Shepard was completely insane.
Not in the typical sense, of course. Tali had never overheard him having conversations with the voices in his head, or painting the walls with his bodily excretions, or some other such trait of the unstable. No, he was solid as a rock under fire, confident and even in any situation. What Tali observed that brought her to the 'Shepard is insane' conclusion was that he seemed to have a complete disregard for his own life. As in, showing slightly suicidal tendencies. Of course, he had always survived these incidences. He would dive over cover when Garrus' shields fell, or shove Tali behind a crate or some conveniently chest-high wall as a bullet grazed her suit, landing on top of her – which did not raise her pulse at all, mind you, it was just the adrenaline from battle – and nearly get his own head blown off for his squad.
But when everything was said and done, he would always be standing there, calm as you please, his breath slow and even, in through the nose, out through the mouth, a hand outstretched to help her up. And his five digits would wrap firmly around her three, and Tali had the strongest urge to just let her hand linger. Of course, when her mind wandered a little bit far, and she found herself staring goofily at him as he raised his eyebrows, a slight smile coming over his features, she sputtered out an apology as she praised the ancestors for her helmet that blocked the intense blush creeping over her skin.
That smile - oh Keelah, that smile – was one amazing trait about him. Every time she saw that human expression, dripping with confidence and just a hint of mischief, she had the overwhelming feeling that everything was going to work, simply because Shepard wanted it to. No, because he commanded it to. In his presence, Tali felt like the galaxy was hers, because he was by her side.
That smile was plastered over his face as he became the first human Spectre, nodding curtly as he told the Council, "I'm honored." And he smiled that way at her – at her – as he handed her a copy of the geth data, the fruit of her Pilgrimage in his hand. Though she would never admit it, that smile had her tripping over herself as she turned back to her station, Engineer Adams giving her a knowing glance.
Even in her deepest moment of despair, when she saw that chunk of Sovereign hurtle towards them, when she felt that sinking feeling in her chest as Anderson looked solemnly towards the wreckage, that smile was there. Albeit, it was with a twinge of pain as he limped over the Reaper, his injured arm held to his chest, but it was there, lifting the weight in her heart with one glance. Shepard was safe, here again to bend the galaxy to his will.
Although, when that tight feeling in her chest returned as the Normandy burned around her, Tali was beginning to pray that she could just get one glimpse of that smile, so that she could feel it in her heart, know with every fiber of her being that everything was going to be okay because Shepard was here, and he was in control, and he was Shepard. But before she could find him, she was ushered into an escape pod with what was left of the engineers and Garrus, her breathing echoing in her suit.
Shepard couldn't die. He wasn't even capable of it, he was fucking immortal, invincible, 'death' wasn't a part of his vocabulary. Tali believed that with everything she was. Maybe that's why when Shepard was declared killed in action, she felt this overwhelming sense of hopelessness, like the galaxy was finally released from Shepard's firm grasp, free to do as it pleased. This couldn't be good.
The news had weighed on her when she returned to the flotilla, a hero among her people for the crushing blow to the geth. But it was fairly easy to distract herself from the void left within. As always, there was work to be done for her people: repairs, patches, anything to be of use to the quarian race. But her work felt hollow, useless, as if it would all amount to nothing. Shepard was gone. The last, best hope for everyone was gone, and no one could take his place.
Except, of course, Shepard himself. It had been two years, twelve days – not that Tali was counting – and she had seen a group of humans on Freedom's Progress. That there were surviving humans on the colony was enough of a surprise, and that they were pointing guns at her squad was another, but the fact that as she spun around, she was met with the silvery eyes of Commander Fucking Shepard, was a whole new realm of unexpected.
Doubt had seeped into her bones as he stood there, looking quite good for dead, a wary smile on his face. "Shepard… is that really you?" was all she could think to say, and she was just thankful that her voice hadn't failed her. He was here, here, within sight, all her regrets about what could've been, what should've been, what she wished had been, all suddenly invalid. "Remember that geth data I gave you, Tali? Did it help you complete your Pilgrimage?"
And Tali was again happy that she had her helmet as she grinned momentarily. "Yes. It did," she practically whispered, any and all doubt vanishing. He was here. Shepard was back. Things were going to shit, but they'd make it because he was here. In the last two years, Tali had never felt so much hope as when that smile came back, that confident, mischievous smile that caused her chest to tighten and all of her worries to vanish.
He was here, offering for her to go with him, and she couldn't. The Fleet came first, after all. "I want to, but I can't," she said, "I've got a mission of my own. It's too important for me to abandon. Even for you." His fond smile faltered for a moment, and Tali was overcome with melancholy. "Good luck out there."
Could it really ever be like old times again? Did Shepard actually believe that he could just pick up the shattered pieces of his crew, of the Normandy, and start right where they left off? Of course, he probably did. Shepard was Shepard, after all. If the galaxy was putty in his hands, he probably figured that the old team would just automatically fall into place. But as much as it twisted her heart to know it, things had changed. And as she led Veetor onto the ship, the young quarian trembling from shock, Tali wondered if things would ever go back to what they were.