TITLE: An Earth Left to Save

CHAPTER: Part 4, Duty? No... I would have you smile again, not grieve for those whose time has come. You shall live to see these days renewed. No more despair – King Théoden, The Return of the King

LOCATION: Earth, 2187 / Quarian Home World, Rannoch

Month 9 of Peace


And thus it was. A fourth age of middle-earth began. And the fellowship of the ring... though eternally bound by friendship and love... was ended. Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey... we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on...When in your heart you begin to understand... there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend... some hurts that go too deep... that have taken hold.


When he could finally ease his grip on her, he lifted his head. "Look at you, the color in your cheeks and that smile on your face."

Tali ducked away.

"Tali, I know everything has changed. Everything. Before we take one more step or say one more word. I want to finish that conversation we began on Earth."

"It wasn't a conversation, it was a goodbye." As she raised her head a tear slid down her cheek.

"No more tears, no more sadness. I love you, Tali. I love you."

She leaned into him and he held her. Time. She'd asked for more time and time he would give her. So long apart, they had to acquaint themselves. Peace and silence wrapped them in a blanket of affection, as they remembered the touches, the scents, the strong shoulders of her Commander Shepard and the unexpected gentleness of his hands. He'd almost forgotten how petite she was. Although, there was something was different about her. A calmness that hand not been there before. Not a loss of sprite, but a calmer center. A peacefulness he'd never seen before.

"Come on. Let's get you off the ground. Can we go inside?"

"Of course."

He pulled her to her feet and walked arm in arm they walked into the small neat house. "I haven't forgotten I promised to build you a house. Sorry I'm late."

"You still can, she said, pressing her cheek against his arm. This is the Admiral's house. They insisted I stay with them."

That news filled him with unexpected delight. He would love to do something positive by building Tali her house. Would it be their house? A home? A family?

"You should sit down. You should sit down, right? I don't know. I don't know anything about this pregnancy… or, fatherhood… Father?"

Tali laughed at the look on his face. "I think you're the one who needs to sit down."

Inside, the house was almost Spartan in its use of space and line, but comfort and warmth offset any starkness. There were touches of color everywhere. No more dull metal walls and makeshift living spaces. She led him to the welcoming couch of brown and gold. Once settled, they curled up against each other. He couldn't let go of her; he examined her hands, her face and ran his fingers through her dark hair. It seemed very strange to him to see her face out in the open like this. When, once he'd been the only one to know this delicate beauty, the taste of her and how to love her... Tali.

"I thought you wanted me to tell you about… she giggled, between kisses. Not that I'm complaining."

"You complain all you want, but I'm not going to stop kissing you for a very, very long time."

Then it occurred to him that he might be hurting her. She was pregnant and he didn't know a damn thing about pregnancy. He shouldn't even be kissing her. What about germs? Was she too fragile for this? What was he thinking? He could be endangering her health. Ancestors, help him. He didn't want to stop. She was breathing his very life back into him. No, this wasn't right. He shouldn't force himself on her. Truthfully, he wasn't sure what he should be doing. Pregnant women had never been in his skill set. Stop being a soldier, he scolded himself. He stopped himself and gathering her fingers in his hands, he sat back.

"Tell me, Tali. Tell me what you've been through and explain this father thing to me. Go slow."

~0~0~0~0~

The shuttle landed practically on top of them. The fact that an asari was now striding down the streets of their little town, gathered momentum with its telling.

For all their longevity, the quarians were still new to the larger workings of the galactic politics. They'd watched out for themselves for so long and without support. So it might be understandable if they were suspicious of this intrusion into their well-ordered lives. Was that really Doctor Liara T'Soni herself? She looked angry. Was that how as Asari looked when they were angry? What did she want with them? Maybe someone should ask her. Someone should do something. It must have something to do with Tali. Of course, it was always about her, wasn't it? Commander Shepard was here too. This could only lead to trouble.

When the news reached Reise, he came running. He knew exactly who she was and who she was looking for. Gathering his courage, he stepped in front of her.

"May I help you, Doctor T'Soni?"

"Where is Captain Shepard?" she snapped, scanning the area and not bothering to look at the young man who spoke to her.

"He's been detained, ma'am."

"Yes, and I know exactly who's detaining him. Where are they?"

She hadn't come this far and gained such success as the Shadow Broker by losing her temper. Tali, always was and always would be, an ingénue and therefore, of little consequence.

Tali and Shepard so focused on each other they didn't notice the asari standing in the doorway. Something in her shattered when she saw Tali place Shepard's hand on her belly. Liara watched the smile that spread across his face. He'd never smiled at her that way. She pressed her hands together and schooled her features. If her heart were breaking, she was too experienced to allow it to show on her face.

"Captain Shepard, she said with all the light and warmth of a sunny day. It's time for us to go. The Ambassador is waiting."

"Liara?" Tali, asked in surprise.

"Hello, Tali. Good to see you. I'm afraid I must insist Shepard come with me."

"I'll leave when I'm ready, Liara. There's something you need to hear and I want to say this in front of Tali.

"Be careful, John. Now's not the time to succumb to emotions. There's too much at stake."

"You are correct. There is too much at stake. So I'll be brief and to the point. Thank you for all that you've done for me, Liara. But, I'm taking my life back."

"What about our child, John?"

"I never touched you."

"Oh, John, there's more ways for an asari to get pregnant than archaic human sex. That's all you humans think about so you assume that's all the rest of us think about too."

"Don't make it be about lies. Don't allow it to end like this."

The last strands of her temper unraveled. "You know what, John? A quarian suit-rat is exactly what you deserve."

"You don't mean that." He deliberately released Tali's hand and pushed her back down to the cushions.

"I had such plans for us. Doesn't matter, she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. I've made my contacts. Some of those idiots don't even know how much they owe the Shadow Broker now."

Tali stepped around Shepard to confront the angry woman. "Liara, we were friends once."

"You're such a child. You think this is all there is to life? Love? You think you can keep him with a child?" Liara's biotics flared, as her eyes turn dark and the familiar aura shimmered to life around her.

Shepard pushed Tali behind him. "Look at yourself, Liara! This isn't the battlefield. This is a home. Have we forgotten the difference?"

"Yes Liara, what about that friendship?" Garrus commented from the doorway.

"Hey Scars, move over. Joker and I want in on a piece of the action." Joker and James Vega slipped around the turian and into the room.

"You brought the Normandy down?" Shepard asked.

"Joker did the math. Less fuel to come down and pickup up the shuttles then to fly them back up to the ship."

"That's perfect. Always hated flying in that ratty old shuttle. So, let's go now, John."

"I brought something for you, Liara." Garrus tossed a small bag at the asari's feet.

Joker removed his cap and scrubs a hand across his head. "Doctor T'Soni, I spoke to the Dock Chief on our way in. There's a shuttle leaving here for the Citadel in an hour."

"What does that mean to me? Let's go John," she said, reaching for his arm, in pretense of him accompanying her.

Shepard is eyeing his obviously busy crew and trying to comprehend just what they were up to, when a quarian in an elaborate suit entered the room. Tali and Commander Shepard recognized him, but he raises a hand to signal their silence.

"Good evening, Doctor T'Soni, I am Admiral Han'Gerrel. You honor us with your presence. I am told you wish to use one of our shuttles to transport back to the Citadel. We are happy to facilitate your travel plans. Please allow me to escort you." The Admiral lifted the bag from the floor and grasped her arm in such a way that she cannot easily escape. As he leads her out, he says, "I'd love to show you some of our accomplishments. We're very proud of our little settlement."

As the tension drained away from the room, all eyes turned toward the pregnant Quarian standing shyly behind Shepard.


(Elven)

Dannen le
A ú-erin le regi
Rang ail le iestannen
Lû ail le tegin na hen.
Gwannach o innen ului
Ú lû erui, ului.

(English)

You have fallen.
And I cannot reach you.
Ever step I willed you on,
Every moment I lead you to this.
You never left my mind,
Not once, not ever.