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Forward Through the Years

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It caught Tali by surprise to realize that three years had gone by since the Reaper War had ended.

Oh, it probably shouldn't have. There had been announcements for months about celebrations and memorial services that were planned. She'd even turned down a few invitations to speak at some of them. Rebuilding Rannoch was such a huge project, even with the help of the small number of geth who hadn't gone offline at the end of the war – the ones who had been in underground caverns or deep within bunkers, that somehow had been missed by the wave of energy that had sprung out from the Crucible there at the end. She didn't feel like she could justify taking the time away, even for celebrations, no matter how small her role in the actual rebuilding was.

Or maybe she just didn't feel like celebrating. That might have been it. They might have won the war, but the cost... the cost had been astronomical. So many lives had been loss. And while the quarians might have regained their homeworld, Tali couldn't help but think that they had lost a part of themselves when they did.

"I thought I'd find you here."

Tali startled at the sound of a voice coming from behind her, and she spun around. Her home was fairly modest, not nearly as large as some of the other Admirals' dwellings, but it did have a state of the art security system. No one should have been able to get past it. Not unless...

She froze in place. "Garrus?"

Garrus's mandibles twitched in what she was fairly certain was amusement. Then he held up a small device in her hand. She recognized it instantly; she'd been the one to send it to him, after all, a key to get past her home's defenses. She'd just never assumed he'd actually show up on Rannoch to use it, not with the state Palaven was still in.

Both of their worlds needed them. They'd accepted that well over a year ago, when the mass relays had finally become useable again. Palaven needed Garrus Vakarian, and Rannoch needed Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. It didn't matter how much they might have needed each other; their people came first.

"You're looking well," Garrus said awkwardly. His gaze moved down her body for a moment, focusing on her hips a little longer than it probably should have before he quickly brought his eyes back up to her face. He looked a little sheepish.

Tali opened her mouth. Then she closed it. "Thank you," she said slowly. "So do you."

And he did. That much was true. She didn't have any idea why he was there, in her home on Rannoch, but she couldn't deny that he looked healthier than he had the last time she'd seen him in person. That had been back on Earth when they'd said their goodbyes and headed to their respective homeworlds. Both of them had still been recovering from injuries at that point, neither of them at their best.

They'd been sending messages to each other and had the occasional vidcall over the past year or so, but communications were still slower and less convenient than they had been before the war. This was the first time in a long time that she'd seen him clearly, and he definitely looked good.

But that still didn't explain why he was there.

Tali frowned in confusion, but she was careful to keep her tone of voice as even as possible. She didn't like people knowing when she'd been caught off guard, even if it was Garrus. "What are you doing here?"

Garrus looked almost... amused.

It took Tali a long moment to remember that he could see her face, that it wasn't hidden behind a mask like it had been her entire life. That it didn't matter what she did with her voice, because he could see her actual expression. She hadn't worn her faceplate for over six months now, but she still wasn't used to that. To not being able to hide behind a mask.

Garrus coughed, bringing his hand up in a blatant attempt to hide some of his amusement. "You really should check your messages more often."

Tali eyed him for a moment. It was true that she hadn't been quite as meticulous about reading her messages the past few weeks. She'd set up automated messages and made it clear that she wasn't interested in attending anything meant as a celebration of the war's ending, and then she'd left her computers to it. It had seemed simpler that way.

Without saying a word, she turned and walked over to her computer. It didn't take long to find the message he was referring to, buried among dozens of well wishes and invitations and the occasional spam. It was short, just a single sentence. Even if she had been checking her messages, she might have glanced over it.

I'll be on Rannoch for the anniversary.

Tali's brow furrowed in confusion. "Shouldn't you be on Palaven?" she asked, glancing back over at Garrus. "I would think your people would want you there for—"

She trailed off, not quite certain what word to use. She'd spent so long trying not to think about just what date was coming up that she wasn't even certain what to call it.

"Oh, they did," Garrus said, nodding at her. "They wanted me to make grand speeches and probably talk about sacrifices and the cost of war and such."

"Then why are you here?" Tali asked.

His eyes twinkled. "I figured if you can hide away and tell everyone 'no' when they ask, I could do the same."

Tali's mouth twitched, just a little, but her almost-smile faded almost as quickly as it came on. "But that doesn't explain why you're here," she said, a little more sharply than she'd intended.

Garrus stared at her for a long moment, an inscrutable look on his face. Then he closed his eyes and sighed... and it was as if he'd taken off a mask of his own, as he finally let down his guard so that she could truly see him.

She'd never seen him look quite that exhausted, not even during the worst days of the war.

"I've missed you," Garrus said quietly.

Tali wasn't an expert on turian vocals. She didn't know exactly what every little vibration in his tone meant, not like another turian would have. But she knew enough to know that he was saying much, much more than his actual words implied.

She stood there for a moment, a million and one thoughts running through her mind. She'd been so busy the past year or so. She'd thrown herself into rebuilding Rannoch so that she was so exhausted at night that she didn't have time to think about just how lonely she was.

What did it say about her, that sometimes she wished the war hadn't ended? That she wished that she could have stayed on the Normandy, trapped in a never-ending cycle of pain and death and loss, rather than helping her people reclaim their homeworld? How selfish of her was it, that a part of her would have sacrificed countless more lives for just a little more time with the man that she... that she...

She'd never said the words. She'd never even let herself think the words. But maybe it was about time that she did.

Tali tilted her head as she stepped closer to him, her eyes pointedly meeting his. He could see her face, after all. It wasn't the words that mattered, not now. It was the meaning behind them. "I've missed you too."

I love you.

And then she smiled.