Paramours at Odds by Dr. Death DST.
Commander Shepard stepped off the SSV Normandy II flanked by Tali'Zorah vas Normandy and Garrus Vakarian. They had docked in the lower wards of the Citadel. Having recently captured the Collector base, there were no outstanding missions for them to attend to. For the moment Shepard's team could relax as the Normandy refueled and re-supplied.
After passing through C-Sec Garrus spoke up, "Commander, if you don't mind I'd like to head up to Rodan Expeditions. I want to see if Etarn has any new weapons."
"Sounds good Garrus; we'll be in the Dark Star Lounge for awhile." Shepard nodded towards Garrus watching him leave. Originally he wanted to go see his old friend Captain Anderson, but he heard Anderson had resigned from his post on the Presidium. For what reason he hadn't the faintest idea. He did know that Anderson simply wasn't cut out for politics.
"Actually I wanted to stop by Saronis Applications for a second. If you want you can wait at Dark Star, I won't be long." Tali knew Shepard didn't quite share her enthusiasm for technology. She didn't want to drag him around while she gushed over the latest widget. Plus it was a good moment to take some 'me time' after being cooped up together on the Normandy.
"Alright Tali, I'll be waiting at the bar," Shepard said before giving his quarian girlfriend a quick hug before she went off on her own.
Over her shoulder Tali called back jokingly, "Don't drink from any batarian bartenders."
"Ha. Ha," grimaced Shepard remembering the militant batarian who had nearly poisoned him on Omega. The feeling of his stomach turning inside out was not pleasant.
Arriving at the Dark Star Lounge Shepard made his up to the bar where he was served by a turian. The music was loud and the bass vibrated through Shepard's body. At the back of the lounge assorted species danced together each bringing their own flavor to the club. Seeing a human female dancing with a male turian, Shepard thought it was good that some aliens at least didn't hate humanity.
The other species' gratefulness for humanity stopping Saren and the geth had waned under Chancellor Udina's all human council. Thanks mainly to Shepard's decision to hold back the Alliance fleet until the time was right to strike Sovereign, a reaper. Nothing mattered more than stopping the reapers. If they had been allowed to enter the mass relay no intelligent organic life would exist. Unfortunately the existence of the reapers were covered up to keep people from panicking. So as far as anyone knew, Sovereign was a geth dreadnaught. Just how much was at stake would never be publicly known.
Shepard regretted nothing. In his position he couldn't afford regrets. As commander he had to make tough decisions. Wrong or right there was no choice but to keep going. The reapers were coming and he was the only one who could stop them. Along the way he had seen more than a few soldiers die under his command.
While hunting down Saren he lost his first soldier, Jenkins on Eden Prime. Later he had to leave Lt. Kaidan Alenko to die on Virmire while everyone else escaped a nuclear blast. Not long after the first Normandy was attacked by a collector ship and destroyed, killing half the crew including navigator Pressly, engineer Adams, and even Shepard himself. The rest of the crew disbanded and spread out across the galaxy.
Two years later an old enemy, Cerberus, miraculously revived him. The Illusive Man gave him a new ship, crew, and a chance to take revenge against the collectors. That too, came at a price. While taking the base he lost Jacob, a career soldier, Thane an expert assassin, and Jack, a psychotic biotic.
Despite the high loses the base was taken. In the end instead of destroying it Shepard handed it over to Cerberus. Tali and Garrus had expressed some concern for doing so. Shepard understood their concerns since Cerberus was a staunchly pro-human organization that would prefer all aliens to be slaves of humans. Still Shepard believed Cerberus was the only organization with the resources and marbles to stop the reapers. The one thing Shepard and the Illusive Man saw eye to eye on was that the mission always comes first.
"Captain my captain," said a familiar voice snapping Shepard out of his train of thought.
"Ashley?" Shepard turned around to see the one and only Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams.
"Shouldn't you be out trying to save the universe?" said Ashley as she motioned over the bartender.
"Shouldn't you be watching after colonists?" quipped Shepard while taking a sip of his drink. It tasted a little stronger than he thought it should be. That was the trouble of getting served by non-humans as it probably wasn't human friendly.
"On leave for a couple of weeks." Ashley ordered a stiff drink from the turian then turned to Shepard, "About what happened on Horizon..."
"Forget it," Shepard cut her off by waving his hand as if swatting a fly, "It's water under the bridge. I got your letter and I understand."
"Good, I didn't want things to be bad between us," taking a drink Ashley went on, "So what have you been up to since our last meeting?"
"Well we did manage to stop the collectors. No one will be hearing from them again," Shepard sighed knowing it was only a small accomplishment compared to the vast armada of reapers awaiting him in dark space.
The initial shock of seeing Shepard alive and working for Cerberus had worn off. Still it was unreal to see him standing there before her after having seen him die. Looking up into Shepard's eyes Ashley said, "Still saving the galaxy I see, just like old times."
"Yeah, things seemed so much more simple back then. The reapers are still trying to find a way back into Citadel space. It's only a matter of time before they are upon us." Shepard downed the rest of his drink. His thoughts turned back to Tali and wondered what was keeping her.
"What happened to all those colonists?" asked Ashley a little chilled by Shepard's words.
"It's a long story," Shepard sighed thinking of how all those men, women, and children were liquified to create the human reaper abomination.
"Fill me in, I've got time," said Ashley as she stepped a little closer to Shepard.
Down on level twenty-six Tali stood inside of Saronis Applications. A salarian named Morab ran the store. He had given Shepard a discount months before in exchange for an endorsement. Every time someone entered the store Shepard's voice would chime, "I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite store on the Citadel." During that time Shepard had given several endorsements much to Tali's amusement as his voice rang through out the wards.
Scrolling through pages of tech upgrades Tali hadn't bothered to look behind her when Shepard's voice activated again. A new upgrade for her attack drone had caught her eye. It was a bit pricey but Shepard might allow her to buy it. Credits seemed to be a lot harder to come by than the first time they teamed up to fight the reapers.
Garrus had walked into the store when he recognized Tali. Most species regarded quarians as beggars and thieves. Therefore they were rarely seen on the Citadel or any space station for that matter. Quarians tended to look very similar with their uniform fully enclosed environment suits. Only bits of colored clothing set them apart. It also didn't help that genetically quarians were all about the same height and weight. Only after spending a considerable amount of time around Tali could Garrus or Shepard recognize Tali via her subtle differences in clothing, height, and general shape.
Standing back Garrus studied Tali. He couldn't deny that he found her attractive. Physically quarians were more like turians. The both shared the same hand shape with three large fingers. Also their feet bore a similar bird like design with a bone protruding from the calf. Even their metabolisms were alike as they can only ingest food made of dextro -protein. Garrus and Tali had to have their own separate food stores on the Normandy as human and asari food would harm them.
Garrus believed he and Tali would make a more compatible couple. Human and quarian couples were practically non-existent. Not to mention humans were very visual, social creatures. Garrus had heard one human say that dating a quarian would be like dating a robot. The cold exterior of a quarian's mask was a put off to most species anyway. The most damning thing about quarians were their weak immune system from centuries aboard the Migrant Fleet. Despite having similar digestive systems, Garrus couldn't share food with Tali unless it was properly sterilized. Even sex came at a price as the quarian partner risked getting extremely sick.
"Hey Tali," greeted Garrus finally.
"Oh, hi Garrus," Tali turned in surprise, "What are you doing here?"
"Just looking around when I saw you. Shouldn't you be with Shepard?" Garrus leaned one elbow on the counter facing Tali, "It's been a couple of hours."
"Oh Kee'lah!" groaned Tali turning back to the catalog to make a quick purchase, "I lost track of time."
"I'm sure Shepard will understand. We don't get much time on our own," Garrus explained coolly while watching Tali.
"Still, I shouldn't have kept him waiting like that." Tali swiped her chit card through the machine buying an upgrade kit for her omni-tool at an optimal price. Once purchased she selected an option to have the kit delivered to the Normandy directly. Turning towards Garrus she noticed him watching her intently, "Yes?"
"Oh nothing," said Garrus quickly while standing up embarrassed. Tali's face plate made it impossible to tell when it was safe to check her out. Garrus felt a little ashamed for it. Shepard was his best friend and Garrus wouldn't want to ruin that by making a move on Tali. Not that it would work anyway. He knew Tali was totally infatuated with Shepard, "Are you ready to go?"
"Yes. I hope he isn't too upset with me," said Tali nervously. Due to some of her limitations as a quarian, Tali felt a little insecure about her relationship with Shepard. For one she knew Shepard was fairly attractive to females of all species. She had seen Ashley and Liara nearly clash over him. When things were just starting to heat up between her and Shepard, Tali found some competition from Miranda.
"That's pretty amazing skipper," said Ashley wide eyed, "So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm not sure. Hopefully the Illusive Man will contact me soon with some new information," Shepard looked at the time on his omni-tool and wondered where Tali was. The thought to raise her on the radio crossed his mind but it was still too early to really worry. They hadn't really set a time line for her arrival and he knew she could take care of herself.
"Do you still think about what happened on Virmire? About Lt. Alenko I mean." Ashley had a somber look in her eyes. The death of Kaidan still haunted her. Just as they were getting ready to pull out the geth attacked Ashley's position. Having the duty of guarding the bomb, Ashley started the timer prematurely. This caused Shepard to come back for her and left no time for them to swing around to pick up Lt. Alenko.
"Sometimes. It was the first hard decision I had to make. I've analyzed it many times. So much has happened between then and now that it feels like it happened a century ago." Shepard ordered another drink then looked around the lounge for Tali or Garrus. Come to think of it Garrus should be here by now too.
"I've seen quite a bit of action since then too. Trying to keep peace among the colonies in the Terminus Systems. However I still feel guilty about Kaidan." Ashley stared into her drink as she spoke, "I guess because I haven't been as close to any other crew I've been attached to. What we were doing then was a million times more important than watching over a few colonies."
"I do wonder if I could've saved you both," said Shepard, then looked into Ashley's eyes, "I still believe I made the right choice."
"What makes you think so?" Ashley slid a hand on top of Shepard's on the bar.
"You, the bomb, and the ship were all down by the water. By coming to you I could secure the bomb, save you, and take off right away. I thought I could go back for Alenko but I didn't think Saren himself would be down there. If it weren't for him slowing me up Alenko still might be alive. So don't blame yourself, blame Saren." Shepard noticed Ashley's hand on top of his but didn't move. Emotions long buried were beginning to surface. So much had gone unsaid since their last meeting.
"I appreciate that skipper," said Ashley with a smile then asked, "What about me? Do you still think of me?"
Shepard only smiled not knowing how to answer the question. Deep down he still cared for Ashley. She was the first real connection he felt with someone. Ashley was the one he had wanted all along. Unfortunately Shepard's sudden appearance and affiliation with Cerberus got in the way of their reunion. Right now he wasn't sure how to tell her he was involved with Tali. Shepard knew how Ashley felt about inter-species relationships. Especially with a quarian which was much more uncommon than say, an asari. So Shepard said nothing.
"I'll take that as a yes." Ashley smiled tightening her grip affectionately on Shepard's hand.
"Actually Ash, there is someone." Shepard took his hand sheepishly out of Ashley's.
"Hi Ashley. Long time no see," said Tali cheerfully as she approached Shepard, "Hey Shepard, I'm sorry I'm so late."
"It's okay Tali. I figured Saronis was having a sale or something." Shepard knew that there would be no getting around telling Ashley about Tali.
"Looks like you have your crew on a pretty tight leash skipper," cracked Ashley looking at Tali defensively.
Tali tried to say something but Garrus spoke first, "Chief Williams. Good to see you." He stood just behind Shepard and Tali.
"Hi Garrus," Ashley nodded towards him in acknowledgment. Seeing Shepard, Tali, and Garrus forced a smile onto Ashley's face. Truly now it felt like old times, "I can't believe it's been over two years since we all stood in the same room."
"Have you two been catching up?" asked Tali, who now stood nearly hip to hip with Shepard.
"Yes, actually," Ashley turned her attention back to Shepard giving him a warm gaze.
This caused Tali to flush with jealousy that went unnoticed due to her mask. The jealousy turned to insecurity quickly. Shepard had a very intimate past with Ashley that was only ended by his death. The fact that Ashley is human isn't lost on Tali. As far as humans go, Ashley is attractive. Feeling the need to establish herself Tali reached over taking Shepard's hand in her own.
For a moment Ashley only looked in disbelief at the interlinked hands. As the tension began to build she finally said, "What's this about?"
"Tali is the someone else I was talking about," sighed Shepard knowing this wasn't going to end well. For the first time he felt a little embarrassed by being with Tali. Their relationship had never been challenged before except by Miranda. Still, Shepard was determined to stand by Tali's side.
"Is this a joke?" asked Ashley lowering her voice, "She's not even remotely human. Liara I can understand, but Tali? Does she have a face under that helmet?"
"Back off Ashley!" hissed Tali leaning forward in challenge but Shepard pulled her back.
"What are you going to do about it bucket-head?" Ashley aggressively stepped into Tali's faceplate then whispered, "All I'd have to do is sneeze on you."
"You need to relax right now Ashley," said Shepard in an even, calm, commanding tone. The spat between the two women had gain some attention from the other species around them. Garrus was positioning himself to help break up the fight. The bartender watched nervously.
"First you disappear on me for two years, then join Cerberus, and now this," Ashley gritted her teeth as she spoke, "How could you go from me to her?"
"I was dead Ashley why can't you understand that?" Shepard's tone rose a little but he felt he could still keep things from exploding until Tali spoke up.
"You're the one who turned your back on Shepard," shot back Tali sticking a pointed finger in Ashley's face, "At least I was there for him when he needed me."
"I just bet," seethed Ashley, "I just bet you couldn't wait to get your claws, tentacles, whatever it is you have under that suit all over Shepard since Chora's Den."
Instead of getting angry Tali simply crossed her arms and countered sarcastically, "You should ask Shepard what I look like without my suit. He would know."
"You must die!" shouted Ashley in a fit of rage.
"I will destroy you!" spat Tali as the two women lunged at each other.
"Enemies everywhere!" yelled the bartender as he took cover behind the bar.
"Hold on!" Shepard jumped in with Garrus to stop the fight as they went tumbling to the ground.
Ashley managed to pin Tali to the floor initially but was slowly losing control. Tali was just about to flip Ashley off of her when Shepard grabbed Ashley by the arms pulling her off. Before Tali could follow up with a few punches, Garrus wrapped her up just in time. Only then did they notice that a crowd had gathered for the fight and seemed rather disappointed when it had ended.
"Disapprovingly," said the mono-toned voice of a nearby elcor, "Humans are always picking fights with other species."
"Let me go Shepard!" cried Ashley struggling under Shepard's grip.
"Not until you calm down," Shepard said surprised by the female marine's strength. When she finally did, he let her go keeping a watchful eye.
Garrus let Tali go too but they were still squared off. The girls were silent yet they still were staring each other down. Some patrons had gone back to what they were doing but the majority of Dark Star watched intently. Inevitably C-Sec would arrive to investigate. Something Shepard didn't want to deal with.
"Garrus, take Tali back to the Normandy," said Shepard firmly, then to quell any argument from Tali he added, "That's an order."
"Yes sir," replied Tali, her voice full of scorn.
"Run along bucket-head," Ashley teased but received no reaction from Tali.
When Garrus and Tali left Dark Star Ashley turned to Shepard, "I can see it was a mistake not joining you on Horizon. If I had you wouldn't be tied up with that alien."
"For what it's worth, it was good to see you Ash," confided Shepard trying to end the meeting on a good note.
"Yeah, right," Ashley turned her back to Shepard as she rested her elbows on the bar, "I'm sure you'll be thinking of how good it was to see me when you're with your alien whore."
The bartender looked at her nervously. With an all human council and the sudden rise of Cerberus influence, there was a certain mistrust of Alliance soldiers.
Grabbing Ashley by the arm Shepard whipped her around, "Don't talk about Tali like that," his words became heated, "I'm sorry I didn't wait for you but don't act like I didn't try. I loved you too, and what you said on Horizon hurt me pretty bad."
"I saw you die. How did you expect me to react? Run up and give you a big sloppy kiss?" Ashley stared back at Shepard, half of her did want to kiss him, the other wanted to punch him.
"No. I didn't expect you to call me a traitor either. Can't you see what I'm doing is bigger than the Alliance?" Shepard took Ashley's hands into his own, "Cerberus brought me back to life. If it weren't for them mass genocide would've been committed on humanity."
Ashley could hear what Shepard was saying but it didn't register. Tali was at the forefront of her mind. A picture of Tali sharing a bed with her commander is almost too much for Ashley to bare, "Do you love her? Is she better than me?"
"What?" Shepard under estimated Ashley's feelings for him. Some how she must have figured he would always wait for her, "She actually reminds me of you."
"She's traditional, loyal, and proud of her family and heritage. Although I have to say I miss your sassy attitude," Shepard chuckled trying to keep the mood light.
"I hardly find that flattering," said Ashley, "So do you love her?"
"I've never told her," admitted Shepard.
"That doesn't exactly answer my question." there was a desperate look in Ashley's eyes.
Shepard cared a great deal for Tali yet he wasn't sure if it was love. Even if he was sure, Shepard knew Ashley wouldn't be able to take it. Not right now anyway. Seeing no way to save the conversation Shepard decided it was time to go, "I don't know if I do Ashley. I have to get back to the ship."
"So soon?" said Ashley mockingly as if the time spent together had been fun.
"Take care of yourself Ash." Shepard gave a weak smile then left Ashley standing at the bar.
"Good-bye my captain."
Back on board the Normandy Shepard went up to his room. Upon entry he was a little surprised to not see Tali waiting for him. Instead he was greeted by EDI's voice, "Commander, the Normandy is ready for departure. Would you like me to relay coordinates to Joker?"
"Head for Omega." Shepard wasn't sure what he would do now. Until the Illusive Man contacted him there wasn't much he could do. Right about now he could use a visit to Afterlife but Tali obviously wouldn't agree.
"Is everything okay commander?" asked EDI sensing a growing level of stress within Shepard.
"I'm fine EDI. Although I don't want to be disturbed for a few hours unless it's an emergency," ordered Shepard taking a seat at his desk.
"Oh and could you send Tali up?" added Shepard knowing he would have to talk things over with Tali before the day was through.
"Tali'Zorah is in the elevator now commander," EDI left the terminal built into the wall beside the quarter's entrance.
A moment later Tali appeared in the doorway. Shepard stood up from his chair as she approached him. At first Tali stood silent as if trying to think of the right thing to say. Before she could Shepard pulled her in and gave her a hug. He wanted to kiss her, unfortunately Tali's faceplate prevented that. For awhile they embraced on the elevated portion of the captain's cabin.
Tali broke the hug, then said, "Thanks Shepard, I needed that."
"How are you holding up?" Shepard led Tali by the hand to the lower portion of the quarters.
"I'm not sure Shepard. It's obvious Ashley still has feelings for you," stated Tali as they sat on the couch, "How do you feel about her?"
"Ashley was special to me. So it hurts to see her so resentful towards me and especially you. I mean the both of you were with me on the Citadel when we defeated Sovereign," Shepard leaned back on the couch thinking back to that day.
"Do you still love her?" there was a slight uneasiness in Tali's voice.
"I did, but that chapter ended on Horizon," Shepard moved closer to Tali on the couch then wrapped one arm around her slender waist.
"Are you sure you still want to be with me?" asked Tali while snuggling up closer to Shepard. There was a fear that Shepard was regretting his decision to be with her, "I mean, do you still want to deal with my suit and immune system?"
"Of course I still want you. After all we've been through together I can't imagine replacing you." Shepard held Tali tight thinking of how cute she could be when in a insecure state, "Aside from Garrus, you were the only one to stand by me when I came back."
"No problem Shepard, just please don't do it again. I doubt Cerberus can put you back together a second time," Tali let out an uneasy light laugh. Death had become a very real, very close possibility for both of them in the past two years.
"With this new team and you by my side I doubt the reapers can stop us now," said Shepard firmly as he looked into Tali's visor.
Shepard inspired Tali and filled her with confidence. It was contagious the way he attracted many people to follow him. Shepard's leadership and swagger caught the attention of women from all species. On the original Normandy Tali had had a crush on the commander. Behind the scenes she watched Ashley and Liara compete for Shepard's affection. Never did she dream she would actually end up with a human, much less Shepard himself. By the time Sovereign was destroyed Tali had caught the Shepard love bug as well. However Ashley had already won him and it was time for Tali to return to the Migrant Fleet.
When Tali learned of Shepard's death it had hit her a little harder than she expected. For many of Shepard's missions she had accompanied him. Tali had been instrumental in helping to decode artifacts and terminals. Her skills with a shotgun were appreciated as well. Seeing him alive on Freedom's Progress filled Tali with mixed emotions. Old feelings began to stir yet Cerberus stood in the picture. Despite his affiliations with the terrorist organization, Tali believed that Shepard was doing only what he thought was best as he always had done.
Something Tali would never forget is how he gallantly rescued her from Haestrom. Although the rescue wasn't romantically motivated, Tali was already pining for Shepard. Still her inhibitions as a quarian kept her from doing not much more than harmless flirting. Not until Shepard stood up for her in front of the entire conclave did Tali become determined to have him.
"Kiss me," whispered Tali as she removed her visor.
Shepard leaned in and kissed his quarian lover then whispered back, "Will you be okay?"
"You worry too much," chastised Tali, "I took anti-biotics before coming up here."
"What if I had chosen Ashley?" smirked Shepard.
"The way I saw it I was either going to reward you for being loyal or I'd have to seduce you," explained Tali as she began to remove her suit.
"Win-win for me then," smiled Shepard helping Tali with her suit.