Notes: Welcome back and I hope you enjoy this latest addition to The Chronicles of Samantha Shepard! Many thanks to my co-writer, Old Gamer, for the continued effort of writing yet another installment in the series... and to N7-CMDR for allowing me to integrate Visiting Mum at Work (check it out on DeviantArt) into my book cover art! I hope to post every Friday, but no guarantees on this one; I'll leave a note at the end of the current chapter if the next draft is not to a point where I feel comfortable posting it the next week. Thank you in advance for understanding. Thus, it begins...

A Grá - My Love (Gaelic)

Amantia - lover (Thessian)

CGC - Center for Galactic Cooperation

Grá mo chroí - love of my heart (Gaelic)

Inanna: pinnacle of Asari blending, perfect unity of two spirits into one (from 'real world' Sumerian Goddess of Love, Fertility, and War)

Ionúin Álainn - beautiful beloved (Gaelic)

Siame - "one who is all", a loved one cherished above all others (Thessian/Source: CDN)


Homecoming

T'Soni Country Estate, Armali Republic, Thessia – 16 Jun 2188

The joy of being home was nearly overwhelming as the hatch opened and Liara stepped out of the Aletheia, Shepard in tow; her skin flushed as the estate's entire staff clapped and cheered in celebration of their return to Thessia. Roughly halfway down the ramp, Liara paused; a loving smile graced her lips and her eyes held just a hint of moisture as she addressed them. "It is wonderful to see all of you again. The grounds looked amazing on our approach and appear even better up close, now that we are here. You have no idea how much I have looked forward to this day... to be home, once more. Thank you so much for the wonderful welcome."

Mozia drew a deep breath to calm the flutter in her stomach caused by the most longed for arrival of the young leader of House T'Soni; her heart swelled with tremendous joy and relief – to see the daughter of Lady Benezia return home after the war, safe and in apparent good health, was beyond any outcome she had dared to dream. Her attention was drawn away from the young maiden as a number of commandos laughed and began to rapidly move to the side.

A rough voice sounded from the back. "Goddess be damned! Why didn't someone tell me Liara had arrived?" In commando leathers rather than any type of formal wear, the interim Guard Captain eagerly barreled out from between the lines of the Second and Third Commando Teams and ran straight to the base of the ramp upon which Liara had stopped. A wide grin spread across her face as she shouted cheerily, "Screw the formalities, Little Wing! Come give your father a hug!"

"Goddess!" Liara shook her head, blue fingertips scrubbing quickly across her forehead in embarrassment while a smirk of utter disbelief quickly formed on her face. "It's good to know you haven't changed much, if at all, during your time here, Dad." After casting a quick glance of apology toward Mozia, Liara ran, laughing, down the ramp and into her father's waiting arms.

"Damned straight, Liara." Aethyta picked her up and spun around in a circle as she gave her daughter a huge hug. "Welcome home, Babe!" Dropping her back to the ground while keeping a protective arm around her daughter's waist, the matriarch looked up the ramp to the true Captain of the T'Soni Guard. "Well? Come on, Shepard. Get your ass down here!"

Chuckling and following Liara, the Spectre shook her head as she descended the ramp to clasp forearms with the slightly overzealous matriarch. "Good to see you too, Aethyta." Turning her head toward the Regent, she chuckled, "Sorry for the lack of discipline in this rabble, Mozia, but I have to admit... it sure feels good to be here." She looked over to the commandos, still roughly grouped as teams yet obviously eager to say their own hellos, and belted out, "Dismissed!"

The recent arrivals were immediately engulfed as the entire staff swarmed forward, hugs and laughter dominating the outdoor reception until Lyessa raised her voice above the clamor. "I do believe I received a request for a late 'welcome home' dinner." She looked at Liara and bowed to the new Lady of House T'Soni, smiling with a mixture of delight and relief as she returned to an upright position. "As such, the food is being set out as we speak, so we need to move into the house and eat... before all the hot and chilled foods meet somewhere in the middle."

The pure joy at being home left Liara feeling extraordinarily free to express herself, so she laughed and stepped forward to link arms with the House Steward. "That, my dearest Lyessa, sounds like the best idea I've heard since we left the CGC!"


It was much later when Shepard finally managed to slip into bed to enjoy the sensation of fresh, crisp covers against her skin; she stretched out flat on her back, laced her fingers together behind her head and closed her eyes as she let out a huge yawn. Liara slipped in beside her and took her customary position, nestling into the nook of her siame's shoulder and throwing a leg across Samantha's hip before sliding a foot down the woman's calf muscle to intertwine their legs. Her right hand was gently caressing Shepard's chest as she whispered, "I love you, Sam... with all that I am. Thank you for this moment... for bringing us safely home."

"And I love you, Liara, more than anything... You're very welcome and there is no place I'd rather be." Shepard unlaced her fingers and dropped her right arm to wrap it around her promised and pull her closer, the warmth of Liara's body against hers bringing a calming sensation of comfort and peace to her soul. "I still find it amazing... to realize we really made it here... that we actually survived everything to arrive on Thessia to get bonded." She tipped her head and pressed her lips to the pebbled blue forehead of her grá mo chroí, her next words coming out as nothing more than a breath of warm air. "Gods, this is so wonderful."

A shiver of exhilaration originating from the point of the kiss, Liara pushed herself up and kissed Samantha softly on the cheek before continuing upward until she could peer into the loving eyes of her future life partner. As dark blues – already well on their way to obsidian – met the deep ocean greens before her, Liara whispered softly, "I agree, Siame, that there is no place I would rather be... and no one I would rather be with than you, my Promised One. I desire to join with you this evening, to celebrate our new life together. Is that a possibility or are you too tired?"

Smiling warmly, Shepard answered, "Oh... that is definitely a possibility, Liara." Her hand had followed the Asari as she rose up, so gentle fingers immediately slipped into the supple folds of Liara's lower back, drawing a soft gasp of pleasure from her ready lover. At the same time, Samantha's other hand slipped from beneath her head to wrap softly around the Asari's neck, drawing her Ionúin Álainn downward to claim blue lips in a deep, intimate kiss. Liara's heart swelled as she melted against Shepard's magnificent body, their forms fitting together with practiced ease as their minds merged within the beguiling teal oceans of Inanna.


T'Soni Country Estate, Armali Republic, Thessia – 21 Jun 2188

After a couple days spent transferring all their possessions from the Aletheia to the appropriate locations within the house, both Shepard and Liara had to shift their individual points of focus. Liara began working with Mozia to get caught up on the status of the household while Shepard began space trials aboard her new ship with what crew was available, as well as working with Hailot Jatok to round out the Krogan Commander's ground team.

Shepard was surprised when Admiral Hackett offered her a choice of any of the available N7s. She immediately mentioned Lee Riley... but a very short discussion revealed that the Admiral had the young officer on a fast track to replace Shepard as the premier Alliance N7, and the Spectre refused to deny such an opportunity to her friend and former comrade-in-arms.

"I do have a young Lieutenant who's showing a lot of promise, Captain." Hackett stated with a smile. "I'd love for you to take him on for a two-year assignment and teach him what it truly means to be an N7."

Relaxing easily back in her chair, Shepard laughed in response as she quipped, "You mean going my own way, ignoring any orders I didn't like and basically being a royal pain in the ass?"

"Well... I suppose that comes along with the job description." Hackett smiled and nodded. "I believe that's one of the integral skill sets that completes the requirement to be an independent operator... The ability to make the tough calls without worrying about what the brass will say when they find out what the Hell you did." He paused before adding, "That's what set you apart from the rest, Shepard. It's what made you great."

Remaining silent for a brief moment as she mulled over the admiral's potential motives for his generous offer, she finally acquiesced to his request. Hackett had proven himself to be a strong ally – whatever his reasons for wanting a young Alliance N7 on her squad, she trusted his judgment and agreed to take the man on. "I suppose I can give him a trial run, Sir. But... he'll have to be able to serve under the command of a Krogan by the name of Hailot Jatok, so not too much of an independent operator; at least not to start. Then, we'll see what time and experience brings. Agreed?"

"I'm sure he'll be fine, Shepard." Hackett drew a quick breath before letting out a satisfied hum, both relieved and pleased that the Spectre had accepted his suggestion. "His name is Harley Creath and, as I was anticipating your acceptance, you can expect him as soon as tomorrow evening. God speed, Captain."


When Harley Creath arrived on June twenty-second, as promised by Admiral Hackett, Shepard left him to work with Jatok to select from a list of potential ground team candidates and shifted her own energies yet again so she could work on finding personnel for the remaining open crew billets aboard the Knight Shade, which still included a few Combat and Defensive Systems operators and, perhaps more importantly, a ship's doctor.

No matter how busy their days seemed to get, Shepard and Liara attempted to attend a daily workout with the ground teams and the House commando teams, trying their best to maintain a regular training regimen amidst all the distractions that came along with being home. Having worked with the commandos before, that half of the equation was fairly effortless; working with Jatok and Creath was another matter entirely. The integration between the Krogan and a second N7 worked well, but the Asari fighting style was unique; neither of the new additions possessed Shepard's advantage of having been trained during their youth by a pair of knowledgeable Asari Huntresses.

The first few practice runs had been bruising, but the ship's captain and her XO were relishing having their friends together; enjoying the luxury of being able to hone their skills as a team during peacetime rather than being forced to do so as a necessity for survival meant that mistakes in technique or aim or squad cohesion were not fatal. The presence of Traynor and Riana was a given, but having Tali back with them was something neither had honestly believed would ever happen. Shepard had been caught off-guard during the Normandy's visit to Rannoch, when Tali had assumed the vacant Engineering-Maintenance position aboard the Knight Shade was hers for the taking.

The Quarian had seen the partial crew roster and noted the empty slot... so, before the position had even been offered, Tali had unequivocally stated, "I would be honored to fill that slot, Shepard, and no, I don't need to think about it." It hadn't been much later when they realized that Medica could come along as part of a package deal to fill the Medical Technician billet, as the SILC unit was well-versed in multiple physiologies. As such, Medica provided a much needed stop-gap as, while the Townhouse in Armali had a dedicated physician, Shepard still needed to secure the services of two more doctors – a general physician for the Country Estate and a trauma doctor for the Knight Shade.

Even though the battle simulations were going relatively well and Shepard provided frequent unofficial updates, Tevos occasionally called to ask Shepard about the status of her crew selections. The councilor smiled softly as Shepard answered the call. "You are looking wonderful, Spectre. Living on Thessia is good for you."

Shepard laughed. "Actually, not having so many people trying to kill me is what's been good for me, Tevos... along with actually getting a decent night's sleep every night."

"I still say Thessia agrees with you, Captain." The Asari's smile faltered. "So, I apologize for being so abrupt, but I need an update on your crew selections before the meeting I must attend in…" she paused to glance to the side before finishing with, "… less than twenty minutes."

"So... it seems things on the CGC aren't slowing down, even with the war being over." Shepard shook her head. "I'm sorry, Tevos. I know a lot of people out there are still in need..."

Liara stepped in and bumped her on the hip, forcing her to slip over a bit so she could see the screen as well. "But we also know how hard the Normandy, her captain and her crew worked... and how much they all need a bit of a break before jumping back into it... Don't we?"

Tevos, entertained by the brashness of the formally so reserved young maiden, chuckled softly before answering, "Yes, we do, Liara. I am happy to see you also looking so well. I hope the bonding preparations are coming along as scheduled... I still have the entire week of August eleventh clear on my calendar. I very much look forward to coming home for a bit... but your bonding will undoubtedly be the highlight of my visit."

"Yes, they are... and thank you again for loaning me Sha'ira for nearly two months." She gave her siame a sidelong glance as she continued, "I certainly understand how difficult prolonged separations can be, so I promise she'll be returning with you to the Nebula as scheduled."

"I still wish she had gone with you directly, instead of waiting... but she assures me that with your link and Shepard being a biotic, the adaptation will be much easier for her than most." Tevos sighed. "I know she is likely correct, but only eight weeks?"

"Don't worry, Tevos, we'll be fine. Besides, an extra week or two likely wouldn't have made that much of a difference." Shepard smiled and winked. "As for your crew update, I'll get the formal report out by the end of the day, but I've spent a good share of my waking hours on identifying my team and I believe you'll be pleased. I have already identified eight of the ship's twelve crew and two of the six members of the second ground team... All the details will be in the first week's summary, due by close of business today. I haven't forgotten."

"Of course not." Tevos blushed slightly. "I am sorry if I insinuated such by my request." She laughed nervously. "Honestly, I knew you would get me the information, but I simply wanted to hear your voice and see your face. It reveals so much more than an impersonal electronic report can provide."

Liara smiled knowingly and responded, "Then next time, Councilor, call after hours and we can simply chat... as friends. You don't need an excuse if you simply want to talk and see how the bonding preparations are coming along... or to ensure that Sha'ira has arrived safely. You are welcome to call any time."

"Thank you, Liara." Tevos blinked and her face held a pensive expression as she remained silent for a moment before continuing in a solemn tone. "Your mother and I were friends... and I would like to be able to continue that familial connection, if you are open to such an imposition on my part."

The councilor's words tugged on her heart strings and Liara answered in a manner much less formal than usual. "You will never be an imposition, Raesia. I believe I would enjoy hearing stories of my mother from when she was younger... particularly those of her field work, likely unsuitable to tell a young, growing daughter before she came of age."

"I will look forward to that, Liara." Understanding why Liara had responded in the way she did, Tevos smiled sadly as she continued, "Your mother was a wonderfully gifted Asari, taken from us before her time. I will be overjoyed to tell you much more of her accomplishments than what you could ever learn from listening to or reading the historical archives."

"Thank you." Liara reached over and clasped Shepard's hand. "I will look forward to such days when you can simply visit without us having to discuss the fate of the galaxy."


Shepard smiled in satisfaction as she reviewed the current roster, recalling how Garrus had provided the names of her future Bridge Operations Officer, Daxa Rusim, as well as her Combat Systems Operator, Tonan Jorrill – both of whom had been extremely honored to accept the positions once Shepard had formally offered them. Based solely on Bau's and Kasumi's report of the emergency surgery on Omega that had saved Arai T'Loak's life, Shepard hadn't hesitated to accept Medica, Tali's companion, when she volunteered to serve as a med tech; the SILC would bring incredible trauma capabilities to the team that she couldn't afford to turn down.

The roster was shaping up nicely and Shepard pressed the 'send' button, transmitting her first weekly update to the Council. She stood and stretched as the screen went dark, thankful to have the first week behind her. She had been rather successful over the first half of her two-week assignment; as far as the ship's total complement was concerned, the Spectre only needed to identify eight more of the twenty-four personnel, other than herself, of course – a second Combat Systems Operator, two Defensive Systems Operators, a Doctor who was versed on multiple species and the four remaining second-squad ground team members. Her satisfaction turned quickly to consternation as she glanced at her chrono and exclaimed in surprise, "Shit!"

Wondering why Liara hadn't called to tell her she was late for their daily workout together had her curious. She closed down her system and practically jogged down the hall and up the stairs to their room to get into her armor skins. She was surprised to see Liara's gear still in their private armor locker as well, so stopped short. {Li? We working out today?}

{Oh, Goddess. I'm so sorry, Shepard! I'll be right up to get dressed... I hope you haven't been waiting long!}

The captain laughed out loud as she started to pull on her protective under layer. {Just arrived in our quarters myself, Blue. Got caught up in sending out the final notices for some of the crew selections and chatting with Hackett. Without Joker around to pipe announcements to me, I lost track of time... I guess I need to start setting reminder alarms.}

Liara chuckled, her quiet humor rolling through the link with the thoughts she sent Shepard's way. {We're not on station in Vancouver or aboard ship anymore, Samantha. It's our room, not our quarters, if you please.}

A moment later, the Spectre's heart swelled and she found herself smiling lovingly at Liara as she walked through the doorway. Shepard's green eyes sparkled at the welcome reminder of no longer being in the Alliance military as she answered, "You are correct, of course. I'll try to remember to call it our bedroom instead of our berth... but you'll need to forgive me for sixteen years of habit."

With the normal seductive sway in her hips that the Spectre never tired of watching, the Asari sauntered over to wrap her arms enticingly around her Guard Captain's shoulders. "I suppose if you can tolerate me getting so caught up in our bonding preparations that I forgot our appointment, I can forgive you for calling our bedroom our quarters... especially since we'll be aboard the Knight Shade before we know it, and you'll fall right back into the habit again." Her mouth quivering as she attempted to fight off a grin, she leaned in and placed a tender kiss on Shepard's warm, willing lips.

Shepard enjoyed the caress of her Ionúin Álainn's lips for a long moment before groaning and reluctantly pushing Liara away. "However tempting you are... this is not a date and that is not the kind of workout we are scheduled for at the moment, T'Soni."

Liara laughed and pulled back, dragging fingers teasingly up Shepard's neck and along the edge of her jaw. "Understood, Captain, but remember it as a promise... for when our day is done."

Smirking, Shepard picked up her armor bag and slung it over her shoulder. "Come on, pokey. Bonding prep or not, Livos is probably down there tapping her foot impatiently, wondering if we're coming or if we've become otherwise engaged... again... as you were trying so hard to entice me to do."

Liara's face now held a wide grin as she also bent over and grabbed her armor bag. "If you thought I was working hard at that, you don't know what proper enticement is, Captain."

A sharp bark of laughter preceded Shepard's response. "In that case, perhaps you need to expand upon my education, Doctor T'Soni." The Human grinned as she opened the door for her Promised, motioning with a wave of her arm for the lady of the house to lead the way into the hallway. "Later."

"I could, perhaps." The Asari grinned wickedly. "But then... we'd never get anything else done."


Livos was less than pleased with their late arrival and made sure they knew it... So, after a rather strenuous workout, the tired couple took a long, soothing soak in their private spa, hidden away in the corner of their bedroom suite. Liara finally sighed. "I suppose we have to get dressed and get downstairs... before we have others besides Livos angry with us."

Shepard actually chuckled. "Yes. Livos is one thing... but Shi and the Matriarchs might be more than even we can handle."

Once dressed and heading down the steps for their first meeting with Aethyta and Sha'ira as their bonding coaches, Shepard grumbled, "I still don't understand why I'm paired with your father for this. Shouldn't she be your mentor?"

Absolutely horrified at the question, Liara focused on her Promised. "Goddess, Shepard! You can't seriously think I have even the remotest desire to speak with my father about the intimate details of my... our... sex life, much less to show her through a meld!"

Feeling pretty much the same way, Shepard could do nothing but smile understandingly at Liara's reaction, feeling the need to explain herself to the now indignant Asari. "Which is exactly the same way I feel, Liara. At least I've melded with her before... when she helped me with my nightmares in the hospital... so she's not a total stranger to my mind." Shepard let out a resigned sigh at the memory, prompting Liara to reach over and tightly grasp the woman's hand.

"I am so sorry, Samantha." Liara's brow wrinkled with disquiet at the sensations and emotions being exchanged via their link. "I did not intend to prompt the recall of such memories."

"It's okay, A Grá. I understand." Shepard shrugged. "It's something Aethyta and I will have to work out between the two of us."

"Just what, exactly, do we need to work out, Shepard?" Catching them off-guard, the unexpected sound of Aethyta's gravelly voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard to the surprised couple.

"Shit, Aethyta!" Shepard's head snapped around to see the matriarch leaning casually against the wall. "I thought you'd be chatting with Mozia and Sha'ira! You lying in wait for us or what?"

Laughing, the matriarch pushed off from the wall and joined them as they continued down the hallway toward the private sitting room where the others were already waiting. Smirking with wicked enjoyment, she responded, "Just making sure you two didn't get distracted and not show up at all... like to Livos' practice session yesterday."

"You know damned well we made the practice today..." As Liara turned a darker shade of blue, Shepard scoffed, "But, that comment helps me understand exactly why Liara is so against you being her coach for this process!"

Another gravelly laugh was followed quickly by, "Well, she's right about that. I'm not known for my discretion and there are simply some things I definitely should not know about my daughter. I'll be honest... I'll probably see a lot of it from your perspective anyway, but it will save Liara the embarrassment of sharing any of it with me directly. I'm ok with that, actually." She paused for a moment before adding, "Besides. You need the father perspective, since that's the role you'll be undertaking... and I screwed up a lot of things in the past." She cast a glance at Liara as she continued, "The best thing I can do during this process is help you to not make the same mistakes I did, with you being gone so frequently on Spectre missions and such."

Liara raised a brow marking at her father's comment. "Do you not realize that I am remaining on her Spectre crew, Father?" At the unhappy surprise that immediately showed on the matriarch's face, Liara pushed ahead. "I'm barely 111 years old; a long way from being a matron, much less a matriarch! I intend to keep Matriarch Mozia in our employ for as long as she'll stay... hopefully, at least, until I become a matron." Liara frowned. "We have already spoken of this... I'm surprised she hasn't said something to you."

"Ah..." Aethyta huffed in disgruntled understanding. "That explains a few things. I guess she wanted me to hear it from you, which is reasonable. But you're home now... and it is no longer Mozia's place to handle such matters, whether you're a matron yet or not." The matriarch turned and gripped Liara firmly by the arm, ensuring she had her daughter's full attention. Her next words were unexpectedly insensitive. "After all... Whether you like the title or not, you are Lady T'Soni, so you'd better get used to it."

Yanking her arm away, an expression of anger flashed across the younger Asari's face. Shepard stepped closer, attempting to wrap a supportive arm around her troubled Ionúin Álainn's waist – only to have the gesture rebuffed as Liara retorted heatedly, "I'll accept that title when it is forced upon me by outsiders, as I have little control over what they think or say. But, I would expect those within this House... particularly you, Father... to understand why being called such still wounds me... deeply." She growled, "Another reason why you shouldn't be my coach... seeing as your enjoyment of teasing and tormenting me seems to frequently extend well past that which is acceptable!"

"Enough! Both of you!" Having heard the fiery exchange, Mozia stood in the doorway of the sitting room, frowning at them as concern flittered across her brow. She could only hope Liara's return to the house would not put her in an awkward position between her lover and the young maiden, as both Aethyta's daughter and the leader of House T'Soni. Mozia's position as Regent would quickly become untenable if their actions forced her to pick between one or the other; she knew it would be a most difficult choice, indeed – one she had no intention of having to make.

Once their eyes had all turned toward her, she continued in a harsh and obviously disapproving tone, "She's right, Aethyta. You know better... or should, in any case. First off, you are well aware of Benezia's frequent trips... and that the house stewards ran things perfectly fine during her often extended absences." She gave a brisk nod of acknowledgement and approval to Liara before adding, "It was not unusual for Benezia to leave an agent in her stead while she attended to other business."

Ashamed, Aethyta refused to meet her eyes and the Regent was unrelenting. "Second, to top it all off, you are well aware of your daughter's interim request to be called Lady Liara... so, as her father, you should grant her that kindness... at the very least until she has had a chance to properly mourn the loss of her mother." Mozia's eyes narrowed briefly before she continued, unabated, "Also, as you so adamantly felt the need to point out, she is the leader of House T'Soni... and, even though she is also your daughter, you will respect her position accordingly, as tradition demands. Is that perfectly clear?"

The expression on the face of the normally unyielding and unrepentant Aethyta had turned to chagrin. "Damn it, Moz. You're right." Turning to Liara, she apologized quietly. "I'm sorry, Liara. I do know better... and Nezzie's passing still pains me as well... But, that is no reason to take out my frustration on you... especially after the last hundred years and how willingly you accepted me back into your life. For that alone, you certainly deserve better from me."

A single tear trailed down Liara's left cheek as she reached out hesitantly to take her father's hand. "Mother loved you... and I have yet to truly get to know you. I spoke from my own pain, so I understand yours only too well." She forced a small smile onto her face and continued, "So I guess we deserve one another and simply have to figure out a way to get through this... together." She glanced ruefully to the side and wrapped her other arm around Shepard as she continued, "And that includes with Samantha... so please be kind to her during this process. We all need a bit of tender understanding in the wake of all that has transpired over the past few years."

Mozia cleared her throat. "That we do, Liara... and it begins now. Sha'ira is waiting, very patiently I might add, for you to enter and begin this first session."


It was later that evening when Shepard entered the bedroom, momentarily stopping just inside the doorway to observe Liara. It had been an exhausting day and the corner of her eyes crinkled as a smile gradually crept silently her lips. The Asari was sitting quietly at their small desk in the corner, fingers hovering over the haptic interface. Her Ionúin Álainn's eyes... as well as her mind... were quite obviously focused elsewhere, oblivious to Shepard's entrance or the words of whatever message she had previously started on the screen. Shepard reached out with her mind and gave her amantia a soft, mental bump, warning of her presence so as to not startle the distracted maiden.

Liara turned toward the entry, a troubled smile on her face as she stood from her chair. "Siame."

Samantha walked over and took blue hands in her own, setting their foreheads lovingly together. "Where were you?" At Liara's puzzled look, she explained, "You obviously weren't working on whatever was on your screen. Your mind was somewhere else entirely... and I couldn't sense where. Did your session with Sha'ira go alright?"

"I was revisiting our earlier conversation with my father." Liara's eyes reflected the grief that suddenly surged through the link and her voice hitched as she said, "And Mozia's comment about giving me time to properly mourn my mother's death."

"Oh, Li." Shepard shifted position to wrap her arms around the shaking Liara and draw her close, the Asari's warm tears tickling her neck as they escaped from closed blue eyes. After a long moment, Samantha whispered, "I've been thinking about this for quite a while and I suppose the time has come to tell you." She drew a deep breath as her hands affectionately massaged the back of her Ionúin Álainn. "I've been tossing around an idea for a monument... It can be as big or as small as you feel appropriate and could be easily placed somewhere in the gardens... somewhere your mother loved." She drew back just enough to look Liara in the face and to gently brush away the tears still sitting on the Asari's cheeks. "Let me show you?"

Following a barely perceptible nod, Shepard keyed her omnitool, though Liara received a flash through the link of what Samantha was planning, long before the holographic image appeared in the room. A carved pillar of white marble in the shape of a flaming torch rapidly appeared before them. She could see an inscription on the wide, rectangular base but Liara hesitated before stepping closer, almost fearing to read the words... as if that simple act would bring a very much unwanted finality to her mother's death.

{With her last breath, she fought to bring light to the darkness.} The words passed through her mind as she dropped slowly to her knees, forgetting it was nothing but a hologram as she stretched out her hand to run her fingers softly along the inscription. Tears trickled anew down her face as a painful, devastating sadness stabbed into her heart. "Goddess, Siame. The words are perfect; it will be a fitting tribute... not only for her last moments, but for what she stood for her entire life." She turned a tear-streaked face upward as she whispered, "Thank you."

As the young Asari's eyes returned to the projection, a compassionate Shepard sank slowly to the floor beside her loved one. The burden she carried over the matriarch's death eased... however slightly... with Liara's acceptance of the sculpture as an appropriate honor for one loved as much as Matriarch Benezia T'Soni had been by all her family and followers. Even through her own pain, Liara sensed Sam's feelings of guilt and reached over to lay a hand softly on Shepard's thigh, giving it a gentle caress. "Do not dwell on the past, Samantha. My mother recognized she had become a tool of Sovereign and knew you could not save her... Neither do I believe she wanted you to try. You gave her a chance to help... and to then say goodbye before you released her from a future filled with torment."

Sliding slightly to the side so she was no longer resting on her knees, Samantha leaned into Liara and sighed softly. "I know, Blue... but that knowledge doesn't make it any easier to accept." She had to swallow the lump in her throat before she could continue, "I'm just glad you approve of the monument." She placed a hand atop the blue one absently traveling her thigh, pinning it in place. "Now you need to decide how big... so we can get it commissioned... and where you want to place it."

"That is not difficult. For all her wisdom and accomplishments, my mother never desired to receive accolades or attention. Her idea of the perfect reward was simply that those she helped become better people and not waste the gifts the Goddess had bestowed upon them." Liara stood slowly, her eyes never leaving the small memorial. "I believe the projection is a perfect size, coming only as high as our waists. As for the location... my mother's favorite color was yellow; it is my turn to show you something."

The Asari's lips curled into a tepid smile and she reached out a searching hand; Samantha answered in kind, her hand providing a warm comfort to the Asari as they made their way outside and through the gardens. They rounded a final corner and cleared one last shrub row before entering a garden filled with flowers – all of which bloomed in some shade of yellow.

A small circular bench sat in the center of it all and Liara guided their feet toward it as she once again started to speak. "This bench was one of my mother's favorite places; she would come here to meditate over issues that had her stymied." The young Asari's eyes came alive with the memories that she promptly shared through their link as she sat reverently on the bench, pulling Shepard down alongside her as she continued, "I would find her here and climb upon her lap... to pester her until she told me the basics of what was bothering her." She let out a little laugh that contained both pleasure and pain at her recollections from those days long past. "My mother frequently said I was her inspiration... that simply telling me the story and explaining the problem often helped her to find the solution."

"I can see that." Shepard smiled softly and gently squeezed the hand still within her own. "Sometimes, that's all it takes. Trying to find the words to explain something helps to see the whole picture better. My mother used to do that to me... to encourage me to find my own answers and to not rely on her or Dad to give them to me."

"So... you understand." Liara pulled her hand away and stood back up, pointing at the bench. "The monument should be placed in the center of the garden, replacing the bench... with a new set of benches to circle the outer edge of the courtyard." She quickly measured the size of the clearing with her eyes. "Only four or five, I believe, so as to not be too cluttered. Yes. Four. One centered on each of the cardinal directions." Her loving gaze returned to her Promised. "What do you think?"

"I think it's perfect, Liara, though we can't get rid of your mother's favorite bench... We'll give it a new home that is still on the Estate grounds." Samantha answered quietly, an affectionate smile on her face as she looked up at her Ionúin Álainn. "And, though I honestly have nothing to base it on, I'm pretty sure your mother would approve."