This one was kind of inspired by a piece of Tali's romance dialogue, where she talks about just how long she has cared for him, and talks about watching him on Virmire.
Works as a oneshot, or with the others in the series: Observation & Engineering, John, The Sound Of Silence, Oblivious.
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya stands behinds Shepard, frowning, as he touches a hand to his earpiece. She adjusts her radio's comm channel, until she hears what he is hearing. She doesn't even realise she's said anything until the small gasp sounds inside her helmet. "No..."
This is a terrible choice, one no man should have to make. She watches his face carefully, sees him swallow; sees a pain in his eyes that she has seen traces of before, but never in a form so... raw. She aches to comfort him, but... what can she say?
He announces that they are going to get Ashley. It's the last thing he says to anyone apart from Saren for the rest of the mission.
When they reach the Normandy, he strides off to his sleeping space, muttering something along the lines of "needing a few minutes".
Tali debates with herself over whether to follow him, but concern for him eventually wins out over caution, and she does, making loud coughing noises and pretending to knock something over to alert him to her presence.
He's staring into space, a datapad in one hand. Noticing her come in, he gives her a vague, murmured, "Hi."
His response is quiet, not even addressed to her - half-monologue, she thinks. "Whenever we lose a soldier, we have to give their families a message. Something about how they were a good member of the team, and how they died - vague enough that it won't wreck their sleep at night, enough to let them know."
"You've lost... many soldiers?"
He cocks his head. "A few. I've been in the Alliance too long not to know any deaths. And seeing colleagues, friends die?" He shakes his head. "Nothing new. Akuze. I've just never... ordered their deaths. What am I supposed to say to his family? 'I killed your son'?"
She shakes her head. "No. Saren and Sovereign did this. You were... in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess." It's the longest things she's ever said to him without an "er" or an "um" involved in it for a long time, but, wrapped up in his grief, he doesn't notice it.
"I don't even have his tags to give to them. I... need a while to think."
She lightly takes those around his own neck in her hand, unsure, and there is a small intake of breath at her gentle touch. "These?" She lets them go again, and he nods.
"Oh, Shepard... I'm so sorry. If you need to talk... I - I'm here.'" Her hand moves up to lightly brush his cheek, quickly jerking back as if she is afraid of her own boldness, and then she is gone.
He can do nothing but stare after her in surprise.
... Was a respected member of the crew, with many friends on the Normandy. I would like to think that I was one of them.
He will be missed.
Signing the datapad, he delivers the message, a long sigh flowing from his lips. There is nothing more he can say. Kaidan is gone.
It doesn't exactly help his mood when Ashley is upset at him for saving her life. "Should've been me, commander," she says quietly. "Should've been me."
Shepard wonders if there is something more than mourning a comrade there, but dismisses it. "Ash," he says, quietly, "you wouldn't be standing here saying that if I'd left you down there." It's sharper than he intended it to be, and he adds in a bid to convey his true meaning, "We're all mourning him. Just... don't do it like this. We both know he would have hated it." It's still far too blunt, and he walks away quickly, before he can see the look on her face.
Sitting in Engineering, Tali doesn't cry, though she is saddened by the loss of the lieutenant - he was good to her, seemed to understand. Perhaps it was how he was treated over his biotics.
She'd always been shy with the crew, but he'd often try and talk to her - he managed to tease a few words out of her every time, and by the time Virmire had happened, he'd known almost as much about her as Shepard had. The medic was always quiet, never talking about himself that much, but she'd known enough.
She'd considered him a friend, and she thinks - she hopes - it was mutual.
She also can't help panicking over whether she was too forward with Shepard earlier. What if he interpreted it as - ?
She is snapped out of her reverie by the sound of familiar foorsteps. Shepard comes to a stop and stands behind her. "Thought I'd take you up on your offer."
There is a reflective, companionable silence, only broken by Tali murmuring, "I miss him too."
Shepard thinks for a moment. "He was a good friend... to both of us, from what I saw. He was always trying to persuade the crew to get to know you better." He smiles. "He used to say that he wondered if it was just us, you and Adams who were ever in Engineering. He also..." He shakes his head, a hint of a laugh coming from his lips and a grin spreading itself across his face.
"... He was trying to set us up, I think. We're obviously friends, but he seemed to be trying to get me to date you."
"R - Really?" She refuses to let her heart clench at his words. Like it's impossible, ridiculous even, for a quarian and a human to have a relationship.
"Not that I wouldn't consider you, but... neither of us feel that way." He swallows, looking away and trying not to remember the way his pulse speeded up at her touch. Surprise, obviously. Why is he even asking himself this? His friend's just died, for -
"John?" Her voice is small, nervous. "Are you going to the memorial?"
"The Alliance one, sure," he says - he will obviously keep out of the family's own funeral.
"Do you think... do you think I would be allowed...?"
"I think so. I'm sure the rest of the crew will want to pay their respects, anyway."
"I... good." There's nothing else she can say; she is trying to swallow the lump in her throat and ignore the prickling at the back of her eyes.
The two of them stand together, and, for a time, apart from the sound of the drive core, Engineering is respectfully silent.