Character(s): Commander Nolan Shepard & Tali'Zorah vas Normandy.

Disclaimer: As always, I own nothing. The Mass Effect series belongs solely to BioWare and EA.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This piece takes place in the same universe as my some of my other ME fics, including (1) Wishful Thinking, (2) Prometheus, (3) Elevator Revelations, (4) No Exit, and (5) To Build A Home. In fact, I suppose this could function as a prelude to 'To Build A Home.'

Because people seemed to like my portrayal of Tali and their reviews said that they wanted more (you know who you are), I decided to publish this as well.

For my good friend/minion Tattoo'd especially as her PMs always seem to make my day. We can talk just about anything and she'll usually send me laughing my butt off at something or another. ;-)

Also, I believe an explanation may be in order. I thought it was kinda strange that Tali would adapt so quickly to Shepard after only sharing two intimate experiences with him, so I kinda... added more? It made sense in my head-canon. And this is mostly drabble about what I think happened afterwards, yadayada.

As always, constructive criticism is welcome. Please, no flames.


Heart

oOoOo

Shepard was staring at her intently, and she had the vaguest idea that he was trying to make out the tiniest details of her expression through her polarized visor. She saw relief in his emerald-green eyes, and gratitude, and even, dare she say it, love there, which, of course, inevitably reminded her of the first night they'd given in to each fully, with absolutely no barriers in between.

At the time, he'd seemed mesmerized by her body, her unfamiliar appearance; completely captivated by her soft, ebony locks, porcelain skin under laid with various cybernetics, and her luminescent eyes. He'd wondrously played with her fingers—his ten to her six—and his skin was rougher than she thought it'd be, but not uncomfortably so.

And for the moment, her greatest fear had been allayed—that he'd find her distasteful, physically unattractive—with one simple gesture: His smile. His lopsided smile conferred absolutely no doubts, no reluctance. Oh no, his was not a meaningless gesture for her benefit alone. And how could it have been? During their love-making, he'd breathily murmured in her ear, over and over and over again, that she was beautiful, that he loved her, and other things she daren't repeat. In all honesty, she wasn't certain if that had been him talking or the sex. He might not love her at all come tomorrow.

Since then, his eyes had held a certain appreciation whenever they fell upon her, a look that both made her blush something fierce and feel beautiful. He had a knowing look, too; she suspected that he felt awfully blessed to be one of the only aliens to know what a quarian truly looked like underneath the suit, which, of course, was a thought that made her blush as well because it was entirely her own doing.

When she'd woke up afterwards, his eyes met hers and she just knew that he'd been admiring her body, her soft curves, and the feel of their legs interwoven beneath the sheets.

He was, as ever, an attentive lover, giving her the time to experiment with just about anything she thought about trying. And when he noticed that she was awake, he leant in for a tender kiss—which was as different from the ones they'd shared earlier, full of fiery passion and suppressed lust, as night was from day. This was a slow and gentle kiss, almost as if he meant for it to be their last, fuelling it with the maelstrom of emotions that was coursing through his veins. Was it a good-bye of sorts? she wondered.

He was, of course, right. It could be their last. They could all be dead tomorrow. So, she deepened it and giggled into his mouth as he was taken aback by her initiative. That was right before he broke into an enormous grin and reciprocated just as fiercely. Only when breathing became an issue did they finally draw away and, breathing heavily, fell back upon the bed side-by-side. Shepard wove his fingers through hers and, for once, everything felt right in the galaxy. To her, it hadn't felt like in ages. Especially after he'd . . . died.

She looked at him then, and his eyes bore concernedly into hers. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently, his husky voice caressing her just as much as his hands had earlier. Oh, Keelah, those devilish hands . . .

"I'm okay," she told him sincerely. More than okay, actually. "I shouldn't get sick for a few hours more. A day at most. And like I said, I took all those antibiotics and herbal supplements so my reaction should be minor."

"Mhmm." He was silent for a moment, and she squirmed into his embrace, resting her chin on his chest as he began to run his fingertips across her back reassuringly.

"Still, I feel guilty," he admitted at last. "You're going to get sick because of me." He frowned thoughtfully as his mind mauled over that which had been bothering him. "Makes me feel like I'm a cat or something because you're technically allergic to me, and I don't like it."

She didn't even wonder what a cat was exactly. Instead, she smiled and briefly pecked him on the lips as an extra bout of reassurance. "Don't be," she told him softly. "I don't regret what we did in the least. After all, you finally got to see my face. And I got to show you how much you mean to me. My reaction will be nothing compared to that."

He smiled, and that simple gesture once again fired her entire world. In that one moment, she couldn't see how they'd fail. It was simply unthinkable that this would be their one and only stolen moment together, that there would not be many more to come. No. In that one moment, they seemed infinite. They just could not die. They would overcome the Protheans-turned-Collectors and live to tell about it. She was sure of it. More sure than she'd ever been about anything.

He squeezed her hand, closed his eyes, and gratefully pressed his lips to her forehead. "Thank you, Tali," he said, still smiling. "I care about you, too. A lot, in fact."

She beamed happily and nuzzled closer, as close as their bodies would physically allow. Somehow, it wasn't enough. She just wanted . . . more. As a quarian, however, she was more than used to settling, even if she wasn't entirely happy with second-best.

They stayed like that for quite awhile as they descended into a comfortable silence; he continuing his ministrations of running his fingertips lightly across her spine with one hand whilst simultaneously managing to hold her hand with the other, she gripping his hand with both of hers as if half-afraid that he was an apparition that would simply disappear if she ever let go. She rested her head on his toned chest, contentedly listening to his heart beat its slow, measured rhythm. It was oddly comforting.

She wouldn't have minded in the least if they could have stayed that way forever, Reapers and Collectors be damned. In that moment, he was hers, and she was his, and they were both in a galaxy all their own. A galaxy the Reapers couldn't possibly touch. And that was certainly worth something, wasn't it?

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end eventually. She wanted to verbalize a protest when she felt him stir beneath her, presumably to catch a better glimpse of the alarm clock that rested on his bedside table, but she simply didn't have the desire to break the comfortable silence.

Then, she felt rather than heard him sigh, his chest swelling beneath her and rudely disturbing her repose.

"Tali," he said quietly. "It's time."

Five more minutes . . .

Childishly and still half-drunk from their love-making, she buried her head in his chest and faintly groaned.

He snickered, but made no further attempt to stir. He was sorely tempted to stay, but wanted her to be the first one to move so he had absolutely no reason to. "You know that there's nothing I'd rather do than stay in bed with you for, oh, the next century or so, but we can't, Tali. We've got a mission to do first, and then we've got all the time in the galaxy for . . . ahem, certain other activities."

He grinned at his own cleverly-implied implication, but still she refused to move. He'd always found her stubbornness endearing, but this was just bordering on the ridiculous.

"No . . ." she mumbled into his chest, half incoherently.

Still, Joker would likely ask questions and slyly imply certain things with certain alien crew-members if he was late for the jump through the Omega-4 Relay. He certainly did not want to face that embarrassing ordeal while others, namely EDI, were watching.

"Uh, Tali?" He squirmed just enough to reinforce the fact that he was serious, but she simply latched onto him more securely. All the more tightly. He was completely unaware of the devilish smile she had pressed against his chest, hidden from view. "It's time to suit up."

A devilish idea occurred to him then, and he grinned toothily. He would just have to fight fire with fire. He sighed as if in resignation and said, in the most innocent voice he could affect, "Well, Tali, if you keep me here for much longer, I'll be hard-pressed to keep my appointment with Joker so I can oversee the jump through the Omega-4 Relay. And if I'm late, I might just have to explain to Joker exactly why. I might even have to tell him and Garrus all about those adorable, little sounds you were making earlier."

There. He'd played his ace and found, to his complete amusement, that without the mask, Tali had a terrible poker-face.

Immediately, she gasped and peered up at him, looking utterly horrified. "You wouldn't . . ." Her voice emerged as a mere squeak and he had to stifle the urge to laugh.

"Try me," he said with a grin, pressing yet another kiss to her forehead.

That did it; reluctantly, she extricated herself from the tangled mess of bed, sheets, and him, and slid out of bed. She stared at the crumpled pile of assorted garments that was her enviro-suit with something akin to distaste. Honestly, who could blame her? After what she'd experienced with Shepard, his every tantalizing touch eliciting a fiery response and a shiver down her spine, the savory taste of his lips and his tongue dancing in her mouth, the exquisite feel of his skin rubbing sensually against hers, how could she ever go back to that? If she'd disliked the suit before, she absolutely loathed it now. Still, she reluctantly began the long process of putting it back on for him, piece by blasted piece. Shepard did likewise, pulling on one of his crewman's uniforms before he attached all of the pieces of his combat armor. Needless to say, he finished suiting up long before she did, but waited patiently for her to finish, too.

They exchanged one long, lasting kiss—one that made their previous positively dull in comparison—before her polarized visor clicked into place and her suit began to re-pressurize itself.

Before that happened, however, Shepard offered her a sympathetic smile and meaningfully said, "We'll be fine, Tali. I promise."

She made no reply, and let herself be ushered out of his cabin and into the elevator, where he pressed the buttons for both Deck Two and Four.

As much as she wanted to be with him and he with her in what could be their final moments as the Normandy entered FTL through the Omega-4 Relay, they both knew that her place was with the drive core. She was the Normandy's chief engineer—the only engineer at the moment—and she had to be there in case there was a malfunction or something. She had as important a duty to perform as he did as acting captain. That didn't mean either of them had to like it, though.

He silently held her hand for the duration of the time it took for the elevator to reach Deck Two, and she was grateful for the extended contact despite the barrier between. When the hydraulic door opened and revealed an empty CIC, he reluctantly let go of her hand and offered one of his most heart-felt smiles. He stepped out and looked back just one last time.

"Like I said, we'll be fine," he reassured, loud enough for his voice to fill the entire CIC. The CIC itself was eerily empty, and she realized that she'd nearly forgotten about the Collector's raid. "Nothing bad is going to happen. I'll see you in a little bit."

Then, just like that, he was gone. The elevator door slid closed, swallowing him and hiding him from her sight.

Meanwhile, following in his example, she pushed her personal concerns to the back of her mind and focused on the task at hand.

Her last thought before prioritizing the drive core: He'd better be right. He promised.

But he had been right, they survived, overcame the Collectors, and after her initial reaction passed, they spent many more nights in his bed, memorizing every curve of each other's body. She even began to suspect that he knew her body better than she did. They continued to make love whenever her condition allowed, until her reaction grew less and less severe with every occasion, until it was all but nonexistent.

They never talked about their relationship, however. They never had to. They knew they were more than friends, knew that the feeling was mutual. They just didn't want to consider a future they might never have. It was still too soon to tell.

The Normandy was repaired on Ilium, and Liara even helped foot the bill after Shepard helped instate her as the new Shadow Broker. Then, out of nowhere, the Bahak system happened and Shepard once again fell into his inescapable pit of depression, the very same which he'd fallen into after Ashley's death on Virmire. He'd said then that her death reminded him of Akuze, but refused to elaborate further. One by one, the non-human crew-members left to do their own thing until she was the very last one to leave and . . . then she left, too. He and the rest of the crew turned themselves and the SR-2 Normandy over to the Alliance. She hadn't heard from him since and, because contact was strictly prohibited while he was grounded, she painfully refrained from sending him messages because she did not want to endanger him in any way.

He'd find her when the time was right. She knew that. Because, in the end, he always came back to her.


Please, read and review to let me know what you think! This was mostly my thoughts on what happened, but I'd still like to hear your opinions! ;-)