Mass Effect: Stability
What would you do if three years passed after thinking someone is dead and they show up on your doorstep? If you are Tali, you freak out. How would Tali react to the very man that she had hoped, prayed, and tried to forget appears in her life again? One-Shot. Valentine Fan Fiction.
"I've lost the most beautiful thing in my possession twice. This time, I have to see if it wants me."
"No. No. No. No…" Tali repeated, backpedaling in her doorway. She felt her breathing become jagged and confused within the seemingly small confines of her chest. As much as she tried to push back her tears, they just kept rolling down the side of her cheeks. She could feel herself wanting to crash onto the wooden floor. That would've happened already if she didn't use the nearest wall to keep herself upright. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't happening. Not after three years. She quivered, wishing for the first time that she had the helmet to hide her emotions. He was here in her doorway, and he was just grinning.
Rowan Shepard wasn't like she had remembered on that day. His normally cropped red hair was now long and tousled, as though he hadn't cut it in years. A long and messy beard and moustache dangled from and over his lips and chin. He had gotten thin, still rather muscled, but not nearly as strong and intimidating as he used to be. The worst thing of all was that he was leaning on a set of omnitool crutches, the orange lights flashing in Rannoch's sun. Tali looked down horrified. He was missing his right leg, from a little above his knee to where his foot should be. Yet, he still wore that goofy half smile, teeth as pristine as she remembered. This was him. She felt it. Even in the messy jeans and t-shirt. Even with the vagrant appearance. This was Commander Shepard.
And she couldn't say anything.
At first, she had thought somehow she had slipped into neurotic side-effect from a suit puncture. But that wasn't possible anymore. She was in quarian robes, lightweight and dazzling, a variant of her normal purple attire. The geth had boosted their immune system, effects like that wouldn't happen anymore. So, she wasn't dreaming this. She pushed back her hood, shaking and blinking profusely to rid herself of this mirage. But, it wasn't going away. He wasn't going away.
Shepard shifted uncomfortably on his crutches. He raised his hand, flashing a bouquet of red roses. "It's Valentine's Day on Earth, a silly holiday, and I thought—" He handed her the roses, but Tali didn't reach for them. "This—I— He looked down, somewhat embarrassedly. "I—"he started again. As much as he tried to force his way through a line of conversation, he couldn't. His brow furrowed in his own frustration. "I-I-I can explain Tali. I know," he cocked his head back. "I just wanted to see you, and I know you probably moved on by now. And—dammit."
He pressed his free knuckle against the bridge of his nose, being careful not to lose balance. "I know you're probably mad or sad or happy or angry or confused, cause dammit I'm all those. But—just hear me out."
Yeah, he had hit it on the head. Tali felt all of those feelings. She was hurt. Hurt that he was alive. Three years she had taken the time to heal. Three years she had hoped to hear that voice, replaying the beam from Harbinger in her head like a broken vid on her omnitool. She had cursed her inability to go with him. She didn't even get a body to bury, just a plaque on a ship that she would never get to visit again. That led to anger, resentment in herself…but, now towards him.
Where had he been? Why did he wait so long to come see her, to tell her that he was alive? But, she would be fooling herself if she believed she was just angry. No. She was happy, relieved. She had wished that this would happen. But, that very thought was one she couldn't handle. She had played the miracle in her head. One year passed, and the idea of the dream was comforting. A second year, it turned bitter. This year, the third, it was horrifying, but most of all unlikely. She had stopped rehearsing, stopped dreaming.
Now, she wished that she hadn't.
Tali mustered up some strength to talk. "You're dead, Shepard."
A shadow of a hurt look skidded across Shepard's face. "Y—yeah. Everyone thinks that, don't they? Can you just take the roses?" He gave another smile. "Don't leave me hanging."
Tali, unsure about all of this, grabbed the roses with her three-fingered hand. She pressed them against her chest, they were real. They smelled nice, fresh. This was real, wasn't it? She hugged them tightly. Yes, they were real. He was real. She looked into his eye, rimmed with dark circles. He looked tired. "Come in, Shepard."
She heard the sigh of relief as she turned on her heels to enter her house. Shepard followed her in, the "wong" of his omnitool crutches and the sound of his one boot resounding behind her. "Uh—do you want me to take my boots…or boot in my case now, off?" He placed the crutches aside, standing on one leg with amazing strength. "I mean, it is kind of rude." He hardly waited for an answer before leaning against the nearest wall, taking off his boot, and carefully pushing it beside the door. Shepard grabbed the crutches again with a sheepish glance, underneath his strong eyebrows.
Afterwards, Shepard glanced around the house, impressed. It wasn't incredibly big; only about five rooms give or take. Tali led him through the foyer into a larger living room area. Two sofas, a love seat, and a recliner had easily been placed against two walls. A table sat near the seating area, clouded with dust as though it was never used. The last wall held a large window, out looking the sea of Rannoch where Shepard and the fleet defeated the Reapers. He bit his lower lip.
"Do you stay in this room often?"
The fact was Tali did and didn't. Occasionally the Admirals would get up early in the morning to discuss problems. During those times, she would get up extra early and wander to this room, beverage in hand. She would never enter the room, just stand placidly in the doorway and looking out into the sea. She would try to step foot in the room, but she would always end up backing away. This was the first time she or anyone else for that matter actually stood inside the room—nevertheless sit in it. It felt sacred because that moment they shared was sacred. She sat down in the nearest chair, furthest away from the window. Shepard just stood, awkwardly in the doorway.
"Three years, Shepard. Three…years." Tali sighed. "Do you just like losing years? You are up to five."
"I know. But I wasn't dead this time…I was just…I was lost," he shrugged. "No one knew anything, I didn't know anything. I just woke up, leg almost hanging from my knee cap. If some of my tech wasn't working and if I didn't have some medigel, I would be dead. I had to amputate, cauterize, and medigel my own leg. I knew I had to survive, but I didn't know who had to survive."
Tali turned towards him, staring at the man's blank face. "Sit down, please."
With a frown edging his lips, Shepard hopped to the sofa. He lowered himself down, a pained expression on his face. "Tali, I…I know you probably have your doubts that this is even me. You've probably healed and got over me by now. But, I had to see you. Your face was the last thing I could remember. Everything else came back slowly. I couldn't get off Earth until comms and the relays were back up. And of course no one would deal with a man who couldn't remembered his name, wasn't in some backup database, and hobbling on one leg. More important people were hurt."
"Not more important than the Commander Shepard," she said lowly. Other than that. all of those were good reasons. She let him continue.
"By the time I got my memories back, Shepard had already been memorialized. All that was left was Rowan. Not Commander. Not Shepard. Not the hero of the Galaxy. Just Rowan, the one-legged veteran that happened to be really good with tech. Yeah, I could have told them that I was Shepard. But then they would want answers, answers I couldn't give them. So…I let Shepard die and wandered off doing jobs until I could get enough creds to go off world and survive."
Tali clasped both hands on the roses, stiffly. The tale was true. She could see it on his face. He wasn't great at telling lies. Yes, he had a bit of a temper, but he was always true to his words. In front of crowds, he was tough and strong, that person that people needed. Privately, he was worried, hurt, and self-conscious. This was him. She sighed, because something pained her. Something bothered her to no end.
Was she still in love with him?
It had been three years. The healing had taken place, the memories were becoming faded. The fantasies were just those now, fantasies. She had moved on, becoming an Admiral for a people trying to learn how to live. Could she really have time for all of this? Could she really love him now? She choked on her thought, and equally on her tears. "Shepard. It's been a long time. I can't—"
Shepard tensed, preparing himself.
"I don't think I can handle—this."
For a moment, she thought that he was going to just fall apart before her. She watched him. No such breakdown was evident in his body. Instead, he just nodded. Most of his face was hidden behind the messy mass of tangled red hair, but he seemed to have had prepared himself for the worse. "No. You shouldn't have to." Shepard pushed himself off the sofa. She saw the look on his face then, a heartbroken shell of a man. "This was incredibly selfish of me to even come here. Sorry for even putting you through this."
Understandably defeated, Shepard allowed himself out of the room. For what felt like long seconds, she listened to his heavy hops on her wooden floors. He was leaving.
Keelah, what are you doing, Tali?
The man that she had loved had survived. Yet, here she was sitting in a chair in a room that held her memories. She had roses from him in HER hands. She had heard his voice again, felt his presence. But she couldn't even speak. She couldn't even say she loved him. The healing had healed, but that love wasn't gone. And he was walking—well not in the literal sense—right out of her door. Tali knew if she let him leave, she would regret it for the rest of her life.
She was NOT going to let that happen.
With a new fevered adrenaline, Tali stumbled out of her chair, dropping the roses. She ran down the hallway to the foyer, where Shepard sat hunched, struggling to put his single boot on. She tackled him, hugging him tightly around the waist. She pressed her forehead against his back, feeling the ups and downs of his breathing. "Shepard, I'm sorry…I didn't mean to. I was confused. You just showed up and—"He pressed his large hand on hers, feeling her actual skin for the first time. "I didn't know. I just didn't know."
They were silent, only the waves of the gentle sea outside soothing them. Tali felt warm tears falling on her wrists.
"You kept me alive…" he said lowly, looking at his feet.
"Same here, Shepard."
Even with her hugging his back, she could feel his smile. "I didn't want you to leave. I just…didn't expect—"
"Looks like both of us are rambling today," he said, jokingly interrupting her. She laughed. "Can we just kiss already?"
Tali let go to allow him to turn around, only to be caught unexpectedly by a kiss on the lips. Time froze for what felt like ages as she kissed him. The bristles of his facial hair were new, but it felt like the first time on the Normandy again. For the first time in three years, she felt alive. She felt like she was home. She hugged him tightly. Maybe not all of him was here, but he kept his promise.
"Was three years worth it?"
"Still totally worth it," she said with a smile.
Authors Notes: Hiya everyone! Happy Valentine's Day! I hope everyone is having a nice time! This is just a little something I put together for the occasion. I hope that you enjoy. If you want more, I can have some small drabbles swimming in my head of cute scenes and some serious scenes of Tali and Shepard if you want to read more. Thanks for dropping by!