Leaving a trail of destruction and dead geth behind us, I was fairly sure we were closing on Tali's position, as the number of geth we were fighting dropped to zero, but we could hear gunfire ahead. Coming to a giant steel door, I put my ear close to it and heard what sounded like rockets firing. Sliding it open, the first thing I saw was the geth colossus, thankfully not firing at us, unfortunately firing at a nearby quarian squad. Our group immediately sprinted for cover, which did attract its attention. We joined a lone quarian armed with a rocket launcher, who was yelling at us to get into cover.
As I ducked a shot from the colossus, I asked, "Who are you?"
"Squad Leader Kal'Reeger, Migrant Fleet Marines. We talked on the radio before that dropship arrived. Still got no idea why you're here, but this ain't the time to be picky. Who are you?"
"Shepard. This is my team. We're from the Normandy."
"Commander Shepard? Should have known you'd arrive. Heard all about you from Miss Zorah."
"Okay, what's the situation? I assume Tali is in that building over yonder?"
"Correct. And this colossus is a bitch to take down. It's got some sort of repair protocol. Hunches down and fixes itself before I can destroy the bloody thing." The colossus fired at us again, though it harmlessly sailed over our head.
"And the rest of the geth?"
"Platoon strength at least. And they just keep coming."
"What's the plan?"
"Keep firing until I run out of ammo. I've tried to get in closer to the colossus, but one of those bastards got a shot at me. Went clean through my suit. But I'll keep fighting until that thing is dead."
I glanced at my team. "Right, this is what we do. You split up into two groups, keep it distracted, kill the geth. Once it's done its repair thing, I'll hit it with my heavy weapon."
"Full charge, Shepard. Should destroy it," Mordin suggested, "Hold down trigger. Three seconds."
"Will do." I turned back to Reegar. "Keep firing but stay in cover. We've got this."
"As I said, heard about you from Miss Zorah, Shepard. I know when to keep my head down. Long as you kill the fucking thing. Bastard killed all my men."
The rather simple plan worked. Samara and Miranda went left, Thane, Mordin and Garrus right, peppering the colossus with gunfire and tech attacks, while keeping the geth troops distracted. The colossus sunk down for a moment, repairing itself. Once it stood back up, I rose from cover nearby, finger already pressing on the trigger. The colossus looked straight at me as I moved my weapon towards it, releasing the trigger and ducked immediately. All I heard was what sounded like a power station overloading before there was an almighty explosion, feeling heat and flames over my head, glancing over to see the colossus had blown up.
Taking out the few remaining geth troops, we moved towards the door, surprised it opened immediately, to find Tali calmly at a terminal, typing away, though she glanced back when we walked in. "Hello, Shepard. I'll be done here shortly."
"How the hell are you so calm?"
"Because I knew you were here. If there's one thing I know you can do, it's kill a lot of geth and cause random destruction. Am I wrong?"
"There are a lot of geth parts out there right now, Tali," Garrus stated.
"So, the question is, was it worth it?" I wondered.
"Maybe, I'm not sure. There's plenty of data in the archives about what is happening with the sun, so at least it's not a recent phenomenon, so at least we can't blame the geth this time. I still don't fully understand it."
"May I take a copy?" Mordin asked.
"Professor Mordin Solus. Ex-STG. Is the matter dark energy related?"
"Well, yes, I believe it might be a cause."
"I can research back on Normandy. Hand to colleagues in STG for further analysis."
Tali looked at me. All I could do was shrug. "Look, I don't have a clue, but Mordin has brains galore. Either he or someone just like him will figure it all out."
Tali nodded. "Okay, I'll download it and..." She paused, looking over my team. "Where's Reegar?"
"I'm here, Miss Zorah," he stated from the doorway, turning to see him stagger in, nursing a wound to his side. What surprised me next was that Tali rushed towards him, nothing but concern in her voice and body language.
"Are you okay, Kal? Have you flushed your system yet?"
"Of course, Tali. Don't worry about me."
"Who else is going to worry about you, Kal?"
"Well, he was taking on a colossus practically alone for you, Tali," I said.
"You were?" she asked him softly.
"Of course. You were mission priority. Your safety was paramount. I was warned by your father, of course."
"And are those the only reasons?" she asked playfully.
He glanced our way and cleared his throat. "Maybe they don't know, Tali?"
"Oh... right..." She turned around and headed back towards the terminal. "Anyway, as I was saying, Shepard."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. No you don't, Tali'Zorah. What is going on here?"
"Let me just download the data first. I'll send a copy to Mordin, then I'll send one to Kal. I know why you're here, Shepard. And yes, I'm coming along this time. If you've come all this way just to get me, I now realise how important it is."
"I'll make sure the information gets back to the Fleet, Tali."
"Thank you, Kal."
Miranda called in a shuttle, which landed outside within a couple of minutes. Heading back outside, Tali had a laugh at the obvious destruction that had taken place, suggesting that I hadn't really changed. We then watched as Tali and Reegar shared the sort of hug that suggested they were rather close, Reegar once again assuring her he was fine to return to their shuttle and then the safety of their fleet. We boarded our shuttle and immediately took off, returning to the Normandy within a matter of minutes, and I ordered Joker to get us the hell out of the system and out of geth space entirely.
After her usual check up with Chakwas, who was overjoyed at seeing Tali back on our ship again, and an introduction with Kelly, she then had a mini-freak out in regards to the presence of EDI, though the AI assured her that it was shackled, so she was nothing like the geth. I don't think that made her feel particularly safe, but she trusted me, and I had learned to trust EDI, so she let the matter go.
Showing her down to engineering, I introduced her to Gabby and Ken, and told her about Jack downstairs. She actually popped up to say hello, called her a buckethead, then disappeared back downstairs. I thought Tali would take offence, but she admitted it wasn't so bad, that she'd been called far worse things in her life.
Immediately getting to work, I leaned back against the console as she checked the systems. I could see she was still flowing with adrenaline, as no doubt she'd been rather concerned. "Want to talk about it?"
"Later, Shepard. It's still fresh in the memory. I lost a lot of good people. Some of them friends." She paused before adding, rather bitterly, "Fucking geth."
"Can't disagree with that. I was also asking about someone else, though."
"Kal?" I nodded. "Well, I thought it was obvious. We are together, Shepard. Have been for around eighteen months."
"That's good, Tali. Glad you're happy."
She sighed. "Thank you. And I really am. Kal is a good man. Brave. Noble. Some reminders of you, to be honest, though that is not the reason we are together. We're a good match. Brains and brawn."
"I still love her though the feelings have faded gradually. I'm devoted to Kal now." She did look up and added, "We have been intimate, Shepard. And that's a big thing for two quarians. Generally, we just link suits to show trust and devotion. I wasn't having that. When I told Kal about some of the things that happened, he leapt at the chance to be with me intimately."
"You've said devoted twice. Do you love him?"
She slapped my arm playfully. "Of course I do, Shepard. More than anything. I just wanted to put it in a way to show... Well, how much I do. I think I worry about him more than he worries about me at times. He's always in the thick of the action."
"Work with you often?"
"No, otherwise it would cause a conflict of interest. He'd focus too much protecting me instead of ensuring the success of the mission. Haestrom was the first time we'd worked together in months, but it was two teams. I led the scientists, he led the marines. It went belly up in minutes, of course. Any mission into geth space ends up a disaster, but we simply have to do it to learn."
"Have you sent a message to the Fleet?"
"I did while I was downloading the data, letting them know I was going with you. I'm sure my father will send you a reply within a solar day. It will be formal with a subtle underlying tone of threat to it."
"I'd expect nothing less. Now, before I leave you to it, do you want anything?"
"Where are your quarters?"
"At the top of the ship. Get in elevator, press one. That's my cabin."
"I might pop up later so we can catch up. Unless you're busy doing something or someone else." I gave her a look and she simply met my eyes. "I know you, Shepard. Remember?" I nodded. "So, I also know you're going to have company up there. I'm just wondering..."
"Ah, the redhead I met briefly. She seemed cheerful and rather friendly." She nodded. "Yes, she'd be a good match for you."
She looked at me again. "Oh, it sounds as if you do really like her?"
"Well, I want to hear more about it when I come visit then. For now, let me have a look at your systems, see if I can do anything to help." She glanced past, adding, "And I guess I should introduce myself to my new colleagues."
"Gabby and Ken, this is Tali. Tali, Gabby and Ken. And on that note, I'll leave you to it, as I'm sure you're going to discuss things I don't understand. Tali, I'll have Miranda send you details of how the ship works. You won't be put on the rota. Work as you please, but I know you like to keep busy."
"See you later, Shepard."
Heading upstairs, I dumped my armour and weapons with Jacob, who was already stripping and cleaning the weapons we'd taken with us. Surprisingly, he never showed disappointment when not taken on a mission, perfectly happy in the armoury to work on the guns, making modifications to them or our armour, or he'd simply keep himself fit down in the gym. I'd wander in most days to shoot the shit with him a for a little while too.
Checking my terminal, there wasn't a message from the Migrant Fleet yet, though I expected one, walking over to give Kelly a soft kiss on the cheek, which made her giggle, before letting her know we would have company that evening, at least for a little while. She asked if we wanted privacy but I assured her Tali would have no problem talking in front of her. After a chat with Mordin, asking questions about the data and receiving answers that went well over my head, my last stop was Miranda, asking if she had any more dossiers. When she said no, I told her we'd simply head to safe space and go from there.
"Shepard," she called, when I just about to walk out. I turned back and walked towards her. "About the other night. Thank you."
"Um, for what?"
"For standing up for me. I can do that myself, but you at least tried to defuse the situation. I knew I couldn't react as she was clearly trying to provoke."
"Um, you do realise the next morning..."
"I know, but I don't care. That's between you two. But when it came to the personal attacks on myself, you did what was right. So, thank you."
"I've told her to lay off but we both know what she is like."
"Which is why I won't rise to it. Turn the other cheek as they say."
"If it happens again when we're all together, I'll make sure I'm more forceful and stamp it out quickly."
"Shepard, I do have one question I'm slightly afraid to ask..."
"I think I know, but just bite the bullet."
"Do you not wonder if she was telling the truth?"
"It doesn't matter if she was or not. I like to believe we have a good working relationship now, Miranda. We're both professionals, are we not?"
"And do you think we work together well?"
"Better than ever, in all honesty."
"Then that is the most important thing. Ignore what Jack had to say. She was teasing and looking for a reaction. You're feelings are your own. Don't let anyone tell you anything different."
She smiled, a genuine one, the sort that lit up her face. It happened so rarely, I couldn't help grin at her in return. "Thank you, Shepard."
"Not a problem, Miranda. Do you need anything else?"
"No, not at the moment." I turned and was ready to head back out when she asked, "One more question, Shepard?"
I turned back again. "Shoot."
"Do you find me attractive?"
"Absofuckinglutely, Miranda. You're fucking gorgeous."
She didn't just smile. She blushed as well. All she could do was nod and I headed out the door. To be honest, while I would have happily enjoyed sexual relations with her, I enjoyed the fact I could be friends with an attractive woman and for sex not to be involved. Keeping it professional was probably the best thing we could do.
Dinner that night was a good laugh as Tali was introduced to everyone. Garrus seemed pleased that another old crew member of the Normandy was now on board, seeming to be more relaxed than before. She didn't get too personal though did tell us about a few of the missions she'd been up to recently. There was a common denominator, and that was she had been specifically targeting anything to do with the geth. I had the feeling there was a lot of hate stored up behind that suit and mask. I didn't blame her one little bit.
Tali did join Kelly and I in our cabin that night for a drink or two, and she was delighted by the fact I had turian brandy for her. She went into more detail about her life since the day the old Normandy blew up, including her parting of ways with Ashley. Even two years later, her voice quivered when telling me. There was her triumphant return to the fleet, then joining the Neema, the missions she'd been on, and her private war against the geth, as until she met me on Freedom's Progress, she'd blamed them for my death.
She also told me about the romance with Kal'Reegar. He'd always been friendly, but friends turned into something more quite quickly as the attraction was immediate. As she was the daughter of an admiral, the relationship did need his blessing, and although he may have wished privately for someone else, he eventually gave in and allowed it. "The first time we made love was wonderful," she said, "Which is why I certainly won't be considering returning to your bed, Shepard. We had a lot of fun, but I'm faithful to Kal."
"I'd expect nothing less, Tali."
"So, since we last met, you've obviously met up with Garrus. Who else have you seen?"
"Emily on the Citadel. The reporter." She nodded, obviously remembering. "Been to Illium. Liara is there, though I think you're aware."
"We've kept in contact."
"Shiala was with Liara, though Shiala lives on Feros now. I also met Gianna there too."
"Who did you sleep with while there?"
"She knows you well, Shepard," Kelly said with a giggle.
"Well, Gianna. Spent at least two nights and a whole day with her. Then a night with Liara and Shiala."
Tali giggled. "Nothing has changed then."
"I also ran into Ashley on Horizon. That reunion didn't go so well. We've messaged since but... it's not the same as before."
"And it's obvious why, Shepard. No offence, Kelly, but what we discovered before Shepard died lingers in the memory."
"I've been told, Tali. I know."
"Let's just say my life is markedly different since before," I added, "I'm a Council Spectre, but the only reason I am is because they threatened me with treason otherwise, and I don't think they wanted to go down that road. And the Alliance... well, no idea what their intentions are. I daren't go to Arcturus in case I find myself arrested. Earth is simply out of the question."
"So after all this?"
"I really don't know. Won't be joining Cerberus though."
Tali enjoyed around three drinks with us before calling it a night, enjoying a hug with Kelly before giving me a long, tight embrace. "Glad you're back, Shepard. And thanks for coming to get me," she whispered.
"Glad to help out. And good to have another familiar face around. So to speak."
Once we were alone, I really needed a shower after the exertions of the day, Kelly joining me as we enjoyed some cuddle time alone under the hot water. After drying off, we headed to bed where she spooned her body into mine and relaxed, running my fingers up and down her chest. She seemed rather content with life as I softly kissed her cheek, her neck, her collarbone, earning a giggle her and there.
"Shepard," she whispered, "I love you."
"I know, Kelly. I've known for quite a while."
"Do you love me?"
"Absolutely. Enough to promise the following. On this ship, no-one else from this moment. I don't care who it is, or what they offer."
"You don't have to."
"But I want to. Maybe prove to myself I don't need to stick my cock into anything with tits and a vagina. I'm not saying I won't..."
"God no, Shepard. Do not do that to Gianna. Or Liara and Shiala. Or any of the others." She turned over to kiss me on the lips. "I'm not asking for anything at all, Shepard. I just had to give in finally and admit how I feel." She rested a hand on my chest. "You do whatever you want to do, Shepard. I am not one of those women who expects their man to change into something I want them to be. I've fallen in love with who you are, not some idea of what I expect you to be."
"Okay. Then I'll do my best with what I want to do then."
Having told each other our feelings, we then showed each other with intimacy. And the sex we shared over the next hour or so was the best yet, our bodies, hearts and minds almost merging into one as her body wrapped around mine, my cock gently buried inside her, our mouths rarely apart, our eyes only for each other. I drank in her body, fingers finding all the right spots, my tongue finding zones that brought her nothing but pleasure. We rode the crest until our appetite for each other was sated once again, at least for a little while, Kelly curling into me as I continued to caress her back.
I kissed her cheek as I felt her start to drift off, lowering my mouth to her ear. "I love you," I whispered before I closed my eyes and allowed sleep to overcome me as well.