A/N: I ship Shepard with just about everyone. Someone said I should write a Tali/Shep(fem) fic and I said I would. It was meant to be a one shot. I need to focus on finishing stories before I start others. I do this every single time. Sigh. What attention span? I've never really written any TalixShep action- so I guess we'll see how this shapes out. Thank you for your patience!
Tali is in engineering, playing with her omni-tool, thinking of modifications and upgrades she can make to the Normandy when Shepard crashes next to her. It's late and she can't sleep. Ah, the ship is too quiet. But Shepard—Shepard doesn't usually make her way down to engineering. Not at this time of night.
Everyone else has turned in. The lights are dimmed save for the pulse of the computer equipment and the glow of the drive core. "Up late, aren't you?" Shepard asks. Tali glances at her shyly, grateful, for once, for the helmet she must wear for survival. "Ship still too quiet for you?"
"A little," she says, blushing beneath the helmet. "I like to fix things. As a quarian, it's something of a requirement." She shows Shepard some of the schematics she's been working on. "I found some areas for improvements here," she clicks a few keys on the omni-tool, "and here. At first, I thought that I should show them to Engineer Adams, but I don't want him to think I'm being rude. He has been kind to me—I wouldn't want things to sour between us."
"Honestly, I can't make heads or tails of this," Shepard tells Tali, leaning in to look at the blueprints, cocking her head before shrugging. The lights dance across her face and eyes. "But if there's room for improvement I'd suggest taking it to him. We're all in this together."
"Maybe." She looks at her again, minimizing her work. "Why are you awake?"
Shepard shrugs. "Killing time. Liara's working on some research," she says with a roll of her eyes. "She got all embarrassed and kicked me out. On my own ship, can you believe it?" she smiles with some amusement. "It was sort of cute so I let it go."
"Oh." Tali has seen how Liara looks at Shepard. She doesn't make an effort to hide her feelings or maybe she's completely oblivious. Tali hasn't figured it out, yet. "So… you two are…" Shepard shrugs. Oh. That's how it is. At least she knows now instead of driving herself crazy with imaginings. She wonders if knowing is worse. Whatever. She's had crushes before. She'll get over it like she did then. "Do you normally get involved with your crew?"
Shepard chuckles. "Not at all. She's not exactly part of the crew, though. Not in the Alliance," she clarifies. "I figure that makes it okay." Tali bites her tongue to keep from saying that she's not in the Alliance either. "I'd hate to be unprofessional."
"Somehow, I don't believe that for a moment."
"That's because you're a smart kid." Shepard says. Kid? Tali sighs inwardly. Maybe everyone is a kid compared to an asari. Even Shepard. "Quarians usually have Pilgrimages this exciting?"
"Not really. But given that my father is an admiral, this will do. As I've said before, there is a lot of pressure on me, even if no one on the fleet ever directly says it. He's expecting a lot, too. Now, he has never been shy about telling me how I need to lead my life."
"And you just take it?"
"He's my father. I don't know how it is elsewhere—but quarians take family very seriously. There are so few of us. And we're stuck with each other, no matter what. We're nomads—in some ways we're tough. But like with my mother—sometimes you don't know when the end will come. It can take so little." Tali looks to her knee as Shepard covers it with two hard taps. Tali thinks they're meant to be reassuring. The contact is gone soon enough. "You never talk about your family, Shepard."
"Not much to say. They were both in the Alliance. I spent a lot of time on ships growing up. My dad died a few years back." She shrugs. "But mom is still around."
"I'm sorry about your father. What was he like?"
"Alliance man, through and through. Kind of a hard ass. He whacked me a few times. Trying to teach me some respect, build some character." She points to the gash along her eyebrow. "That was him, too. An accident. You should have seen Mom rip him a new one. Eventually I hit back. That made him happy, when I knocked him on his ass. He cut it out after that and I enlisted."
Tali thinks it sounds horrible. But she probably shouldn't say that. "At least you had your mother looking out for you. What does she think of all of this?"
"Haven't talked to her, so I'm not sure."
"Are you estranged?"
"No. Not really. She probably thinks I should call more."
"You're a bad daughter."
Shepard laughs. "Yeah, you're probably right."
Tali was only half-joking. She can't imagine having a family and not bothering to call them. She thinks of Shepard's reputation on Torfan. Maybe it shouldn't surprise her. She has seen Shepard be caring to her squad—but she has also seen her gun down those she might have talked down. "Do you two get along? What does she think of you?"
"You ask a lot of questions. I guess I should be grateful that you're asking instead of searching through my records." She smiles at her. Tali finds herself staring again. She's embarrassed. It isn't such a crime on the Flotilla to ask questions. They have to be open—they're so closed off otherwise, so removed. "Mom thinks I'm a pain in the ass who doesn't like to follow orders. She thought I blackmailed someone into promoting me to Commander." Shepard laughs again.
Tali doesn't hear it often. She likes the sound of it. She isn't sure how serious Shepard is about what she says. She'd been so intimidated by her when she'd first met her but Shepard doesn't seem to take anything too seriously. "Did you?"
"Maybe I'll tell you someday." She rolls her head back. "I was going to ask you to join me for a beer—you old enough to drink?"
"Of course," Tali says shortly. Are all humans such jerks or is it Commander Shepard messing with her?
"Mh. That's good. Can't ask you to go killing for me when you can't shoot one back. Anyway, I just remembered that you can't drink the same booze I can and I don't have anything you could have onboard. I'd hate to kill my little quarian engineer. Adams would have my head." She slaps Tali's hand twice, patting it as if she were some puppy before getting to her feet. "I'm going to distract Liara some more," she says with a grin. "I'll leave you to it, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Get some rest, kid."
Tali looks after her.
Ashley is xenophobic. Tali wishes she weren't such a human stereotype. The first time she'd stumbled into her muttering with Navigator Pressly about the aliens onboard Tali hadn't known what to say. She'd been momentarily paralyzed. She'd left, feeling embarrassed and close to tears. It isn't anything new—but it's hard enough to be away from her family, from her people. To have her so-called allies distrust her just because of what race she happened to be born is maddening and stressful. She's risking her life like the rest of them.
She's on her way to the shuttle bay when she hears Ashley's voice, on the verge of anger and Shepard's voice, placating and amused. She hesitates—not wanting to interrupt.
"You're telling me you're afraid of a young, quarian girl?" Shepard laughs. "Williams, you need to grow a pair."
"Maybe it's a joke to you, Skipper—"
"No, it's not a joke. I get that you're worried. I get it, Williams. But without Tali's data the council wouldn't have taken us seriously, we wouldn't have known what Saren was up to and that the Reapers were involved. It's my job to work with aliens—it's all of our jobs to. This is greater than humanity or our pride. And as long as you're aboard this ship it's your duty, too. So here's an order Williams, you drop this and let it go or you get the hell off my ship. We have enough fighting to do—and fighting amongst ourselves isn't going to help anybody. Are we clear?"
"But Commander her people are responsible for the Geth—"
"Are we clear, Williams?"
"Good." She slaps her arm. "Now go grab a beer and a card game on crew deck. Enough rifle cleaning," she says with a smile. "We've got enough killing to do tomorrow. Might as well enjoy life while we can."
"If you insist…" she shakes her head and wanders off.
"Hey, Williams. No hard feelings."
"I'll follow orders."
Shepard watches her step into the elevator before running her hands through her hair and pacing. Tali hesitantly creeps into the shuttle bay. Garrus and Wrex are nowhere to be seen. It's the reason she'd visited, wondering if they had any interest in a card game. Shepard stops suddenly, looking in her direction. "Enjoy the show?"
Tali steps out of the shadows. How humiliating. "Sorry, Shepard. I didn't mean to eavesdrop. If it makes you feel any better, I'm embarrassed. You have enough going on. If I can't handle one human talking badly about me, my Pilgrimage and this entire mission are going to be short lived."
"All right, so you've heard what some of the crew are saying. Why haven't you done anything about it?"
"I may be an admiral's daughter but spending so much time with humans is still new to me. More than that, it's my first time on a human ship. I didn't want anyone to think that I couldn't take it. I can, for the record, but it still hurts. I didn't want to step on any toes, not your crew's, anyway."
"You're part of my crew, too. I don't want any of that crap happening on this ship. It happens again, you let me know."
"I appreciate it. But… I'll take care of it myself. Maybe I'll try the direct approach next time. I doubt I'll be as good as you at it, but… maybe with some practice. I know you have a lot to do, Shepard. I'd rather others not resent you because they have a problem with me."
"If they have a problem with you, they have a problem with me."
Tali's face flushes. Once again she's grateful for the helmet. She brings a hand to her face but only touches her helmet. How long has it been since her skin has touched anything other than her suit? "Well…that's not necessary, but thank you. I really appreciate it, Shepard."
"Don't let Ash bug you. She's all right. She doesn't mean any of that shit she says."
"No? I hope you're right. Either way…" Shepard smiles and walks closer, peering at her. Is she trying to see beneath her helmet? Tali twines her fingers without meaning to. Her breathing becomes erratic. Oh, Keelah. Here she is, acting like some awestruck girl. She needs to get it together. "How are—things with Liara?"
"Liara?" Shepard says the name as if trying to recall who the person is. "Well enough. It's not serious. Friends with benefits. Without many of the benefits, to be honest." Another careless shrug. Is it so easy for Shepard to shrug everything away? "Why? Have a crush on her?"
"What? No. No! Not—not on Liara. Or—or anyone else," she mutters. She forces herself to look at Shepard who has an infuriating smug smirk on her lips. Tali flushes more. This is awful. "But, Shepard—does she know that you think of it that way? Liara seems… sensitive. You'll be careful with her, won't you?"
"Can't say that I'm careful with much of anything. Don't worry. I'll be on my best behavior. Want to come up for a game? We'll be doing some drinking. Maybe even some strip poker? Bet you have a hell of a poker face." Tali doesn't know whether to be flattered or whether to smash her. Smash her. Definitely smash her. She crosses her arms, cocking her head. "Then again, maybe not…" Shepard smiles again, pauses to look at her before turning away. "Remember to turn in by bedtime," she says waving her off.
Tali tries not to pout.
To think that the geth exist, that her people created them and they're back now, beyond the veil. To think that she has to fight them. When she left for her Pilgrimage, she never imagined things would go like this. She…shouldn't be having fun, should she? No, she tells herself firmly. She shouldn't be.
The geth are machines, helping Saren. They worship the Reapers! Taking them out is doing the galaxy a favor. She runs through the rusty hallways of the once abandoned facility, Wrex's heavy steps pound behind her. Shepard is far in the lead. She uses a sniper rifle and a heavy hand cannon but you'd never know it from the way she charges forward.
There are jagged edges everywhere. Tali can't smell the place. She can never smell much of anything. But she sees the sharp edges of the facility. One small cut here could kill her. Ah, the life of a quarian. She fears bacteria more than she fears bullets, though those aren't much better.
"Where is she going?" Tali asks Wrex, whose footsteps shake the place as he catches up to her, making her balance more precarious.
"Probably trying to beat us to all the killing," Wrex says. "She's a maniac. I'm not going to let her have all the fun."
Tali hears the pride in his voice. "I wouldn't put it that way," she says picking up her pace. She runs through a doorway, and sees a large open space with a rusty railing, broken in parts. There's a firefight. Tali hears the shattering sound of Shepard's sniper rifle and runs into cover. She can never dive in with the flair of Shepard, Wrex, Ashley or the others. A rip in her suit would spell disaster, even if she survived. She lifts her head to see a geth head hurling towards her. She shifts her head, though part of it smashes into the side of her helmet. Ow. Her fingers touch the suit instinctively, checking for any damage. None. She sighs with relief and frowns at the geth head as it spins at her feet. A geth is bearing on her. She stands, one blast of the shotgun at close range and its down. She sprints out of cover, reloading, running and gunning until she's taken down five more.
The battle is over soon enough. Shepard high-fives Wrex. Tali's surprised they don't do a chest bump or headbutt in celebration. Geth pieces are everywhere. Tali lets Shepard and Wrex talk and moves around, examining the pieces, taking anything small that could help the fleet and tucking it away in her many pockets. When they dock, she will send what she can back to the Flotilla. It won't be what she presents to a captain of a fleet—but it is what her father wants and she will do as asked.
Tali is careful with what she examines, if there is any chance that it could reanimate, it could be self-aware in any way, she does not take it. She's examining a geth arm when a hand lights on her shoulder. She whips back, pistol in hand. Shepard snatches her fingers, four of them, one thumb around her wrist. Tali focuses on the pressure and glances at the geth arm she still holds. She wonders what Shepard thinks of her. Does she think the same as the others? "I'm sorry," she mutters, "you scared me."
"At least you went for the pistol and not the shotgun," she takes the gun from Tali before releasing her wrist and returning the pistol. "You're one hell of a spitfire in battle. I'd swear your eyes were gleaming in the middle of the fight."
Tali once again wonders if Shepard goes out of her way to be a jerk. "Too bad you'll never know for sure."
"Damn shame." She stoops beside her and takes the arm from Tali, flopping it back and forth, the geth fingers moving every which way before Shepard dumps it unceremoniously. "What are you doing with this?"
"Ah, nothing," she hurries. "I'm… curious, I guess." She can't lie to Shepard, shouldn't lie to Shepard—but there are some things that come before her command and those are her people, her father. "Not all of our records of the geth are intact. I wonder if they have evolved like they did before." She sighs. "What would that mean? For them and the galaxy?"
"More dead people, is my guess. I'm not here to philosophize why they exist. I line up the shot and take it."
"I wish I could be so cavalier about it." She takes the arm that Shepard discarded and looks at it again, before picking up a head with a tangle of wires hanging loose from it. "These things are the reason my people are reviled throughout the galaxy."
"Help me stop the geth, Saren and the Reapers and the galaxy will change its mind. No one could hate a quarian if they met you." Tali smiles, not telling Shepard how many times others have met her and not given a damn about getting to know her. Shepard takes the geth head from Tali's hand and chucks it across the room. It clatters, sliding before going still. "Let's get going."
Tali nods absently, taking Shepard's hand when she extends it to pull her to her feet.
It's strange to sleep in the crew's quarters with the men and women of the Alliance. Strange—but reassuring. It's the only time she feels as if she were back in the Flotilla; in the darkness it's hard to tell the difference. That is, if it weren't for all the deafening silence.
She retreats to the crew deck at the appropriate time but often stays up later, searching the ship for scraps, for projects. There's a coffee maker that isn't working as it should, there are datapads that have been discarded, all in close to perfect condition—if they knew what to do.
Tali does. She takes the pieces to the mess hall tables and makes the appropriate modifications. It makes her feel more at home—which she guesses isn't supposed to be the point of the Pilgrimage. Amidst all the talk and excitement about the move into adulthood, no one told her how lonely it would be. She misses her friends. She misses dancing.
She doesn't really have any friends on the Normandy. She gets along with others but she isn't close to anyone. The closest would be Shepard. Shepard with her reckless smiles—her reckless everything, really. She can be a bit of a bosh'tet at times—but maybe that's part of her charm. Oh, Keelah. Her friends would laugh. Leave it to daddy's girl to have a crush on someone like Shepard. Maybe she's the one who's a cliché.
She hears doors opening and laughter, small protests. She looks up; the med-bay door is open with Shepard and Liara spilling out. Liara pushes Shepard back. Shepard smiles, she kisses her once, then twice.
"Shepard, this is inappropriate," she hears Liara mutter before Shepard pushes her against the wall and kisses her deeply. Liara closes her eyes, sighing softly before wrapping her arms around Shepard's neck. Her fingers thread through Shepard's hair. Tali frowns gently and looks down at the datapad she's working on, her gloved hands. These kinds of things shouldn't bother her anymore. "Shepard…" Liara sighs before nearly shouting the name. She shoves her off.
"What's the big—" Shepard spots Tali as she hurriedly gathers her things. "Oh, we have a guest. It's past your bedtime, isn't it?" Liara takes Shepard's arm but Shepard brushes her off. "What are you doing up?"
"I was bored," Tali explains. "I was just working on a few," she shows her the items. "Quarians know to save everything. I was just…" she can't think of an explanation that adequately erases any embarrassment. "I—ah—don't worry I won't tell… not that it's a secret," she mutters hurriedly. "Hello, Liara," she says to her.
"Good evening, Tali'Zorah," Liara returns, looking even more mortified than Tali feels. "I ah—it's time for bed. Goodnight, both of you," she nods and hurries past them.
"She's so bashful," Shepard tells Tali with a small smile. She picks up the datapad Tali had been working on. "You're something else, aren't you?" She sits on the mess hall table and crosses her arms, looking at her. "Did you leave a boyfriend back on the Flotilla? Girlfriend, maybe?"
"Ah, no. I ah—" She doesn't know how to explain it, doesn't want to explain it, doesn't know how to say that the kisses that Shepard blows off as nothing require an intimacy that quarians rarely experience. "I didn't. I was born on the Rayya. We are not particularly meant to stay on the ships we are born. If everyone did we would only have family as suitable partners which creates a host of problems, as you can imagine."
"So your Pilgrimage is a chance to test the waters?"
"Yes. We expose ourselves to the world, we try to prove our worth to whatever ship ultimately takes us. All of us are curious and restless. And it's so cramped that sometimes it does feel miserable. If we didn't go on our Pilgrimage we wouldn't appreciate what we have. Anyway, I'm getting carried away. We begin our Pilgrimage when we enter adulthood. Young adulthood," she clarifies. "So many of us aren't… ah… involved, when we leave," she says.
"So you don't get to leave home until you're all grown up. I'm guessing quarians aren't exactly like humans. Getting trashed, making bad decisions, partying all the time?"
"As much fun as that sounds, no. The point is to act like adults, not children." She senses that Shepard is being a smart-ass. "But it is generally thought that when we have presented a captain of a ship with a gift our journey is complete. We earn our adult names, then. And we can begin attending to that life and those…relationships. I am sure that commanding officers reminding us of our 'bedtime' does not hurry the process of adulthood along."
Shepard laughs. "Come on. Bedtime's not just for the kiddos. Trust me. But you haven't settled yet." She smiles. Tali shakes her head. Shepard looks her over. "You okay? I didn't mean to scandalize you a minute ago. Or Liara." She sighs.
"You have an affinity for it." Tali says. Shepard rewards her with another smirk. Tali finishes gathering her items before she says something even more embarrassing. "Goodnight, Shepard."
"Night, Tali," Shepard says playfully.
Tali returns to the crews' quarters, fumbling in the dark with her omni-tool as light. She passes Liara's bed and climbs into her own bed just one over. She thinks of Liara and Shepard kissing, seemingly unaware of the world around them. They made it look so easy. If only it were so easy, if only she could pull her helmet off and have people see her face, have someone touch her without the risk of it killing her.
It makes her feel so lonely. She thinks of Shepard's lips on Liara's and brings a hand to her lips. Her fingers graze the helmet. She bites her lip and closes her eyes, frustrated and depressed.