Work Header

Engineered Love

Work Text:



Your first meeting isn’t exactly run of the mill: you save a quarian from assassins and the next thing you know, you’ve got the evidence you need to get Saren in “real” trouble with the Council. 


“Shepard, you’ve seen what I can do. Please?” Tali asks, snapping you out of your thoughts. You were quiet for too long for Wrex, who nudged his arm into you and your whole body rocked with the movement. 


“Yes, of course. Welcome aboard, Tali,” You manage to get out as you right yourself, with a narrow eyed glare at your new krogan ally. “Wrex, if you’ll please stop rearranging my bones long enough for me to shake our new friend’s hand?” 


“Sure, Shepard. Whatever you need, princess,” The mercenary chuckles out, his gravelly voice causing Garrus to chortle beside him. 


“Ignore them, Tali. Welcome to the Normandy crew,” you try again, extending your hand to the quarian. The purple-tinted glass of her mask makes her facial expressions near impossible for you to read, this really being your first meeting with a quarian, but her head tilts in seeming amusement. 


That three fingered hand clasps yours and within the few moments of your hands shaking together, you realize that you’re going to like Tali. 




The responsibility of stealing the Normandy to beat the rogue Spectre Saren to Ilos weighs heavy on your shoulders. You find yourself making your way into the armory, wandering the empty halls as the rest of the ship seems to have vacated this level. Your feet lead you to the lockers by Ashley’s workstation and you hesitate, your hand reverently rests upon Kaiden’s locker. Someone has added to the flowers you left there, some crewmates leaving tokens of remembrance for the biotic. 


“-pard? Shepard?” Tali’s voice surprises you and you turn around to face the quarian, who has a small piece of paper held tightly in her hands. You clear your throat and try to stand up straighter, nodding to the alien woman before stepping aside. Your eyes watch as Tali rests a gentle hand on your arm before walking towards Kaiden’s locker, resting her gift alongside some flowers. 


There’s a moment of silence where you are both staring at the locker, your eyes beginning to mist before Tali turns to you. 


“I didn’t mean to startle you, Shepard. I just wanted to pay my respects. You see, I wrote Kaiden a letter, it’s private of course, but I have a feeling he was the type of man who appreciated those things. He was always kind to me, listening to my story and answering my questions. If this fight against Saren doesn’t end well, I wanted to tell him how much he helped me, in case we quarians don’t end up in human...what did Ashley call it? Heaven?” Tali’s rambling is quiet, keeping the reverent tone as she turns to look at you, her hands wringing nervously by the end. 


Your hands reach out and clasps the quarian’s own before you can stop yourself, there’s a beat where you both stare at each other. Well, you know you’re staring at the purple glass again, trying to read Tali’s facial expressions. You’ve spent enough time around her now that you can catch some things, sometimes even a glimpse of her eyes in a brief flash behind the mask. 


“Tali,” you say, a small and sad smile on your lips, “Thank you for telling me. I think Kaiden will like your letter. And, even though I don’t so much believe it in myself, I think if this all goes badly, we’ll all meet again in Heaven or whatever it’s called.” Your hands squeeze the three-fingered ones before you let go, clearing your throat and stepping back. “Sorry, if that was totally inappropriate.” 


“No, no Commander. I get what you mean to say, thank you.” Tali’s voice is softer, almost more nervous, and the mask tilts away from you as you catch, “No, it wasn’t inappropriate at all.” 


You’d give anything to know what face Tali is making then, before she turns and walks away to prepare. 




You were dead. 


You were a whole-ass dead person.


What the fuck. 


Now you’re temporarily working with Jacob, Miranda, and Cerberus’s Illusive Man. What kind of person calls themselves that? An egomaniac that’s who, those glowing eyes are unsettling. 


Jacob and Miranda seem like okay people, for the most part, so you’re wandering around Freedom’s Progress when you stumble upon a group of quarians, who draw arms at your sudden appearance. 


You’re about to move to lower your own weapons and present yourselves as non-hostile, when you recognize one of the quarians. 


“Tali?” You find yourself asking, hopeful that it’s your friend. That purple-tinted glass turns to you and you can tell it’s your friend behind that mask. You motion to Jacob and Miranda to lower their weapons and step forward towards Tali with your arms open. 


“Shepard? You’re alive?!” The quarian is surprised, but is moving towards you as if on auto-pilot. She catches yourself before she hugs you, reaching a hand out to rest against the side of your helmet. “It’s been two it really you?” 


“Yes, it’s me. I gave you that data to help the fleet remember?” You can’t help that your whole demeanor saddens at the stiff greeting. You have been awake a few hours after death, at least as far as you’re aware anyway, and this is the friendliest face you’ve seen in that whole time. 


But you quickly realize, as Tali explains the situation here on the colony, that Tali probably wanted to be the friendly engineer you know and lo- LIKE as a FRIEND, but has the responsibility of command on her shoulders. 


When the situation is resolved with Veetor, Tali planning to take him back to the fleet, you hope Tali will join your mission to stop these Collectors. 


“Shepard?” Jacob asks, resting a calming hand on your shoulder as you turn to face him. “We should go, the Illusive Man will want the mission brief immediately.” Tali walks in as Jacob finishes, you nod to him and he notices the quarian behind him. He smiles a bit and gestures behind him, “I’ll go help Miranda with Veetor.” 


As the former Alliance soldier leaves, you stare at Tali, who stands before you wringing her hands. 


“So you’re really working for Cerberus? After everything we did to stop them? The rachni, the Thorian creepers, what they did to Admiral Kahoku?” The disbelief in her tone makes your heart clench in pain. You step forward to take her nervous hands into your firm ones, but she steps away from you and you let out a breath, barely stopping your vocal chords from making a sound of pain. 


“Yes, Tali. They’re the only ones trying to stop the Collectors. We can’t let them take more humans for whatever they’re doing. I could really use you with me on this,” you try not to let desperation bleed into your voice, but from the way Tali’s mask turns away, you don’t quite think you managed it. 


“I-I’m sorry Shepard. I have obligations to the fleet. I-I can’t,” the quarian turns away, a small sniffle before she continues, “But I am glad you’re back.” As Tali walks away, you stand staring after her long after she’s out of sight, the door closing behind her, and you wonder if that mask was hiding tears. 




Tali does eventually join your rowdy band of misfits in their search for the Collectors. Saving the remains of her team on Hastrom and from being exiled (for her father’s misdeeds that you admit were hard to not share with the quarian fleet). You’re still baffled that Tali could have been removed so completely from the fleet she loves FOREVER, if you hadn’t screamed and hollered at the Admiralty Board. 


You chuckle to yourself as you prepare to go through the Omega 4 Relay, to save the kidnapped crew and defeat the Collectors on their home turf. Your hands methodically clean the pistol you just put back together, turning it over in your palm one last time before you set it on your desk. You get up and head to the bathroom to wash your hands, splash some water on your face, and you hear a quiet knock on your door. 


“EDI, unlock the door.” You let out a sigh before you straighten up and leave the bathroom, turning to address your favorite engineer as she walks through the door. 


“Shepard, may I talk to you for a moment?” Tali’s hands are wringing already, you’re not quite sure what makes her so nervous. You smile and nod, gesturing into the rest of your room, following after the quarian as she starts to pace in the space between your couch and your bed. You go to open your mouth and a three fingered hand flies up, your mouth snapping closed at the motion, realizing Tali is about to speak. You sit on your couch and pat the spot next to you. 


“Shepard, I ne- no. I want to tell you something. Maybe it’ll mean nothing to you. Maybe it’s just me making something out of nothing.” Tali starts to ramble, her stride long and anxious as she continues to pace, you’re unable to read anything but her body language as her mask remains tilted to the floor and away from you. “I know you haven’t had much interaction with quarians, so you might not know what I mean...but the most trust a quarian can place in another is to link suits. I’ve never trusted another quarian enough to want to do that.” 


This information hangs between the two of you, your eyes locking on Tali’s beneath purple glass. You’re uncertain if this is what you think it is, a confirmation of Tali’s feelings that you’ve been waiting for, but you clear your throat. You stand and stop the pacing quarian with a hand on her shoulder. 


“Tali...If I get what you’re telling me, I’m honored by the implications.” You try your best to keep this friendly, even though you long for something more. You smile fondly at Tali, this you don’t have to hide, but the quarian groans and throws up her hands.


“UGH! We’re both too awkward. Keelah. Okay.” She turns back around to face you, your body tingling with hope and confusion, as she raises her arms hesitantly to rest upon your shoulders. Your hands instinctively find purchase at her waist and the flexing of her arms pulls you in closer, your breath fogging up on the glass of her mask before you apologize. 


“Shepard. Linking suits is an indication of something more, uhm, intimate. Oh please get what I’m trying to say already,” Tali’s mask rests against your chin, as she tilts her face down in embarrassment. Your hands grip tighter to her suit in response. 


“Tali, I- I feel the same way.” You pause, tilting your head so your forehead rests against Tali’s, or at least your best approximation through the purple-tinted glass. You continue before you can really think yourself out of saying it, “I love you, Tali. I have for a while. I wasn’t sure if you were receptive to it. You, of course, don’t have to say anything back. But I wanted you to know, in case we don’t come back from this.” Your eyes close and you feel Tali press even closer, her body trying to curl into yours. 


“I love you too, Shepard. How could I not? The dashing commander who saved me from assassins? Who found me information to help the fleet? Who saved me, again, but from exile?” Tali chuckles, her head shaking marginally but not moving away from yours. Your hand comes up to rest against the glass, thumb rubbing over the surface, longing to touch the skin beneath. 


“Sorry for the smudging on your glass.” You barely register what you say, before Tali starts to laugh, and you follow along. Your bodies shake so hard and you playfully fall onto the bed, pulling your new quarian girlfriend along with you. Can you even really call her that when your dates haven’t been dates but suicide missions? Either way, you laugh and talk quietly amongst yourselves for the few remaining minutes you have before you fight your way through the Collector base. 




Your newfound happiness with Tali was cut short, not by death or failure at the Collector base, no that went explosively well some might say. But you had to return to Earth to face judgment for destroying the mass effect relay in the Aratoht system.  


The six months you sat in questioning and various parts of trial were interrupted by the Reapers. Their lasers cut down hundreds, thousands of lives in fire and pain. Leaving Anderson on Earth, barely escaping with Ashley and James, was hard. Admiral Anderson was like a father to you, Earth the home you fought hard to escape from, and yet here you are leaving again when you would much rather stay and fight. 


Liara was a welcome sight, friendly and when you hugged her, you squeezed her so tight you were worried you’d break something. Her hug was just as fierce, but she pulled away first to address Ashley. The two hug, and you find yourself surprised, but then you remember that these days, now that the Reapers are, is time to remind yourself your friends and loved ones are alive. 


You wonder about Tali, if she was able to wrangle the quarian fleet into shape to prepare for the Reapers. You hope she had better luck than you did. You idly wonder about Legion too, if the friendly geth and Tali continued their acquaintance, dare you say, friendship. You hope you’ll be able to send her a message, anything, in a free moment. 




You are run ragged, your nightmares even having your running, your eyes looking more and more tired. You can tell Joker, Garrus, Liara, EDI, even Javik, are worried about how tired you look. You almost miss Wrex, knowing the old krogan would give you a headbutt to put you out if you asked. 


Hackett has asked you to go to the quarian fleet and that reminds you that you never contacted Tali. You feel shame but hope and excitement at maybe seeing your love again. You urgently tell Joker to head to the fleet’s coordinates, you quickly walk to the elevator and head up to your cabin to prepare. 


You spend some time trying to do reports, tinkering with your ship models, trying to distract yourself before Joker gives you a ten minute warning. You rush to shower, put on your dress blues, and attempt to compose yourself. You make your way to the war room, informing Traynor to lead the Admirals aboard and to your location. 


Your palms sweat and you brush imaginary lint off your uniform when the door opens, Traynor standing aside to let the Admirals file past her. You shake hands and greet them, getting the information on their recent war with the geth, your head shaking in disappointment. 


“Our newest Admiral is an expert on geth. So we hope between the two of you, you can take care of the geth dreadnought that is decimating our fleet,” Admiral Raan says, turning to look over her shoulder as Tali steps through the door. 


Your eyes follow your favorite quarian as she enters, focus zeroing in on everything about her, the purple-tinted glass seems to be darker, harder to read, and you feel nervous sweat on your palms again. You wonder if things are over. 


“Don’t worry, Admirals, we’ll take care of that dreadnought.” You nod to Raan, Gerrell, Koris, and Xen. Stiffly, you walk around to Tali, and ask, “We should discuss strategy. If you’ll follow me?” You walk past Tali at her nod, walking through the door and stopping in the small conference room outside it. 


Your arms fold over your chest as you wait for the sounds of the footsteps behind you to quiet. You sigh, open your mouth to speak, before Tali’s arms wrap around your waist and you feel the weight of her mask press between your shoulder blades. 


“You’re okay...Keelah I missed you. I’m so sorry about Earth, Shepard.” Your hands fall to rest on the engineer’s, patting them briefly, before turning in her embrace and hugging her earnestly. As it was before you were separated, your forehead finds where hers would be beneath that thin layer of glass, and you find solace in the insanity as you quietly reassure each other in this moment. 


“It’s hard, Tali, but we’re doing everything we can to get everyone on our side. To get back there and help defeat those Reaper bastards. I’m sorry about the war, Tali. I’m sure this is hard, though I know you probably endorsed it.” You hear Tali choke out a sad laugh at your words, and her mask buries into your chest. 


“I didn’t want it, Shepard. Legion and I were talking about peace. Legion returned to the geth, but the other geth were struggling to reach a consensus last I heard from them. I don’t know if they were feeding me lines or if something’s happened to them...” You squeeze Tali harder at that, your own worry about your geth friend rising to the surface. 


You let go of Tali as you hear footsteps approaching, taking a step back, instinctively unsure if Tali is okay with being seen with you in such an intimate position. 


“Okay, Admiral, we will set coordinates for the dreadnought immediately.” As you finish your statement, one of the patrolling soldiers walks through, salutes you, before heading towards the security checkpoint. Once the door closes again, Tali seems to realize your intent and nods. 


“Alright, Commander. But if you want to continue talking, in private, call me up to your cabin?” Tali tilts her head in a little nod, before walking away slowly, turning to look over her shoulder at you. She motions to her omni-tool, gestures up, and heads back into the war room. You smile and shake your head, before heading to the security checkpoint, to do just that. 




Traynor found something she wanted to show you, then Liara wanted to speak with you. Time was not in your favor to talk more with Tali, but Joker assured you that there was an hour left before you hit the dreadnought, so you beelined to the elevator and to your cabin, calling Tali up. 


When Tali arrived, she made an awed noise at the fish, resting a three fingered hand on the glass. One of the dart fish swimmed over to investigate, following the hand that Tali moved along the surface, before becoming disinterested and swimming off. She chuckles before turning to face you, as you lean against the desk, smiling at her. 


“You know, Shepard, I have to ask, before we go any I mean, are we still, whatever we are?” Tali starts to wring her hands as she steps towards you, stopping close to you. You hum in thought, your hands reaching out to stop her worrying ones. You stand and pull her away from your desk, down the steps and sit on the couch, pulling her next to you. 


“Tali, I love you. I haven’t stopped. I would understand if you no longer feel the same, of course, but I wan-” A finger rests on your lips before Tali’s hand moves along your cheek, her fingers tracing the bones on your face. A little force and intent from her hand pulls you forehead to forehead once more, your own nerves quieting as Tali’s hand falls to your neck, palm resting on your collarbone. 


“Shepard, I love you too. I just, we need to keep this quiet. At least in front of the Admirals.” You nod in understanding and go to speak again before Tali continues, “And before you ask, until this issue with the war is resolved, I don’t think I can join you on the Normandy. As much as I long to.” You nod, your shoulders falling a little in sadness, but you shake that feeling away. 


Tali is here with you now and you’re going to enjoy every damn moment of it. You long to kiss her, really kiss her, but you know that it’s too much of a risk right now. There’s not enough time to prepare a clean room and all of the immuno-boosters and things that she’d need, not to mention you would need to take too. 

Tali seems to be as desperate as you are, to be as close as possible, you two talking and catching up, your bodies moving closer together until Tali eventually ends up in your lap. You talk until Joker warns you to get ready for your mission. You press a quick kiss to the top of Tali’s head, where her beautiful scarf rests against her mask. She squeezes you tightly once more and hops off your lap, helping you to stand, slaps your ass playfully, and then she power walks out of your cabin. 


Baffled, you chuckle to yourself, blow a kiss to Tali through a closed door, and prepare to hit the dreadnought. 




Rannoch. The place of Tali’s ancestors. 


A place where Tali has been, many times now actually, but it means so much more every time. 


You have helped her get here. Yes, she helped save Admiral Koris, took down the AA towers, even helped Legion with the geth servers. She did all those things, but you like to think you helped her at least a little bit. 


After defeating that Reaper, Legion proposed an idea that you fully supported, despite Tali’s protests. You believe you have the sway to get the quarian leaders to stop this war. To truly ensure peace in a fued lasting longer than several of your lifetimes. 


“Legion, start the upload.” Tali looks disappointed that you approved this, turning to Legion to try and get them to stop. 


“Affirmative, Shepard-Commander.” The geth nods, beginning to start the Reaper code upgrade to all geth. “We see no other alternative, Creator Zorah.” 


“Tali, let’s try and call off the fleet.” Tali sighs, activating her omni-tool, pleading to the Admirals in space to call off the attack. When the admirals ignore her, choosing to pursue the fight, Legion gives an update to their upload which is nearing completion. 


“The geth fleet is about to get a lot stronger. I need all of you to stand down,” you say, being interrupted  by Tali briefly. 


“This is Admiral Tali Zorah. Commander Shepard speaks with my authority.” You nod to your girlfriend before Admiral Koris shouts his approval as well. You grin a little at the peace-oriented Admiral’s tone, before you clear your throat and continue.

“You need to protect yourselves from further devastation. You are fighting above Rannoch, you can all live to see it and stand on it for yourselves if you just STOP. THIS. WAR. Keelah se’lai.” You hold in silence for a moment, Legion updating you by percentage on how close they are to completing the upload, when you hear the Admirals call for a cease fire. 


“The upload is near complete. But it requires this platform to upload itself to complete it. I, I must go to them.” Legion says, their tone sounding a little awed, sad. You step forward to place a hand on the geth’s shoulder, their own resting on yours briefly before falling. 


“Legion, the answer to your question: Does this unit have a soul? Yes,” Tali’s voice is wavering with emotion, reaching out to shake hands with Legion. 


“I know, Tali. Keelah se’lai.” Legion shakes her hand, turns, and deactivates, falling to their knees gazing out at the Rannoch sunset. 


Admiral Raan and a large geth prime come to join Tali and yourself, you both carefully explain the situation to Raan, who turns to discuss colonization with the geth prime. A few more geth come to collect Legion’s body, acknowledging you as you watch them carry the body away. Tali’s hand slips into yours and tugs you away, from where Legion died, from her aunt and the other geth. 


You hike a bit away to a small cliff edge that overlooks a beautifully colored canyon, the orange light of Rannoch’s sun brightening the stone all around. Tali sits on the edge, pulling you down beside her and you immediately lean into each other, seeking comfort. Tali is quietly sniffling, your arm wrapping tight around her shoulders as you pull her into your chest. 


After a while, your omni-tools blinking softly with messages, you both sigh, realizing you have to get back. 


“You know what? No, let’s take a minute to ourselves,” You message Joker and Traynor, alerting them that you both are fine, but to divert attention from the both of you for a bit longer. The two Alliance members agree, though reluctantly, and you mute your omni-tool, Tali doing so shortly after. 


“You know, I think this is perfect. The living room window will be right here,” Tali says wistfully, her fingers framing a small window in front of her mask. You chuckle a little, agreeing. 


“Beautiful location. Best lock it down fast, it’s a buyer’s market, Miss vas Normandy,” you joke, grinning when Tali slaps your thigh. Her hand remains there and you twine your fingers together, as you both imagine her future home. “You’re not going to upset Garrus by making your house all windows are you?”


“You know, I just might. It would be hilarious,” She hums, laughing at the thought. “You know, Shepard, it might be a long time before we can live here without our suits as a necessity. We might still wear them, but without masks might take years, decades even.” 


“You’re probably right. Maybe the geth will be able to help though, I don’t know how much they will cooperate though. Lots of bad memories on both sides right now,” You lament, a small sigh as you gaze out and down upon the canyon. 


“True. But right now, I have this,” Tali says, and her voice sounds strangely unfiltered. You look up, about to ask, when you’re truly looking at her for the first time. You stare at her, the orange light on her skin brightening all the features that were shadowed by the glass. Her face is a little nervous as she looks at you, you have such an urge to kiss the nerves away. But you know that she could get sick, really sick, without the proper preparation right now. 


“I always knew you were beautiful, but’s probably weird that I thank you. But thank you for showing me you.” Your brain clearly isn’t helping you make words well, so you take her gloved hand and kiss it, barely resisting the urge to kiss her lips. Tali laughs a little, her hand settling on your helmet, a brow raised in question. 


You hastily pull off your helmet, grumbling as you accidentally knock your chin on it, Tali snorting at you. Her hand settles on your cheek and she pulls your face closer, pressing a nervous kiss to your lips. 


“Tali? Are you su-mph,” is about all you get out before Tali pulls you into another kiss, more of a real one, though her slight inexperience shows. You rest a hand on her neck, thumb brushing against the edge of her suit, slowing down your kiss before you pull away. 


“Keelah, Shepard. How come we waited so long to do that?” Tali asks, a breathless laugh leaving her before she quickly, regretfully, puts her mask back on. You clear your throat, shaking yourself out of your stupor. 


“Suspense maybe? Definitely nothing to do with health,” you jest, before lowering your voice, “Though I must ask we do that again. With proper health procedures and a clean room, because now that I know what it feels like to kiss you, I don’t know how long I can go without it before I go insane.” Tali tilts her head away, her free hand coming up to rest on the mask, and you know you have her blushing. 


You smile to yourself, stand up and hold a hand out to help her up, “Time to get back to the Normandy. We have a lot of messages to answer, I think.” 


Tali groans before taking your hand, standing up and keeping your hand as you head back towards the ship. “You just had to ruin the moment, didn’t you?” You hear her grumble under her breath. You laugh, kiss the back of her hand and head back to the mountain of messages you have waiting for you. 




You hadn’t been wrong. You really hate that you are right about things: Reaper invasions, Jack having a heart, Joker and EDI being in love, and the mountain of messages you did have waiting for you after Rannoch. 


You let out a dreamy sigh as you think about your moment with Tali on the ledge, how FINALLY kissing her felt. 


As if reading your mind, you get a new message from Tali. Excitedly you click on it. 


“Shepard, when we go to the Citadel for shore leave, I’ve made a reservation for a clean room. You won’t have to go insane. 




P.S. I have a minor sinus infection. But it’s totally worth it.”