ASAP - As Soon As Possible

CGC - Center for Galactic Cooperation

FLASH - Message precedence designator reserved for operational combat messages of extreme urgency. Brevity is mandatory.

Grá mo chroí - love of my heart(Gaelic)

Ionúin Álainn - beautiful beloved (Gaelic)

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

Justice Served

Alliance Headquarters, Vancouver, Sol – 29 Oct 2188

"I understand that, Admiral… but I'm afraid the man will rabbit, and I really don't want to spend the next six months of my life chasing his ass around the galaxy, fearing what he may do next."

"Alright, Shepard." Even as she agreed to the plan, Fleet Admiral Ines Lindholm shook her head. "I'll do it because I understand your reasons, even if I don't like bringing him here under false pretenses. But, if what you say is true, Captain Mitchell has much to answer for."

"Unfortunately, everything he's accused of is true." Shepard sighed. "The collection of files I sent you contains every bit of evidence I possess for all the charges I have levied against him."

In order to keep the Spectre's presence unknown to Captain Mitchell, Lindholm returned to her desk, where Shepard would be out of sight as the admiral made the connection. Giving Shepard a cautionary nod to remain silent, Lindholm quickly opened a priority communications channel to the SSV Madrid.

"Admiral Lindholm." Mitchell appeared nervous and annoyed by turns as he answered. "We returned from our patrol just this morning. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Lindholm frowned at the derisive tone in his voice as she replied in an even tone. "Something has come up, Captain. Your return is fortuitous… I've just received some rather time-sensitive data concerning the assassinations, and I have an important mission for your Scout Flotilla. As I cannot reveal any specifics over an unsecure link, you need to immediately come to my office for a personal briefing."

Mitchell had wanted time to make initial inquiries regarding his missing information sources, but Lindholm was making it difficult. "Understood, Admiral… though you must realize I have not had sufficient time to prepare my patrol report. This afternoon would be better for me, and we could take care of both items of business at the same time…"

Lindholm raised a brow and there was cold steel in her voice as she responded, "I did say time-sensitive, did I not? Since I didn't receive any interim FLASH notifications from you, I assume your patrol report will simply be routine and its contents will have nothing worthy of note. As such, this new mission takes precedence. Is that understood?"

Mitchell realized he had crossed some undefined boundary and quickly came to attention. "Yes, Ma'am. I'll get there as quickly as possible."

He stared at the comm terminal for several moments after her image faded, his imagination running wild. Based on Lindholm's insistence that he meet with her immediately, Mitchell weighed the possibilities and determined all his machinations were quite possibly about to come down around his ears. Only thing I can do is warn Saracino. He immediately placed a call to the Terra Firma Headquarters, only to be disappointed by the response. "I'm sorry, Sir, but Mr Saracino is currently out of the office… and there is no way for me to reach him. He's in London, sequestered in a high-level meeting, which is expected to last the entire day. If you have a message for him, we could attempt to give it to him when, and if, they take a break."

"You may want to interrupt the meeting for this one…" Mitchell closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath. "Just tell him I've been called in by Admiral Lindholm… and the goddamned Knight Shade is here, in port. I have a funny feeling Charles may want to disappear for a while."

"Disappear?" The aide, who had absolutely no idea what Mitchell was talking about, scowled. "Why on Earth should he care about you being called in by the Admiral?"

"Not important, and I don't have time to explain; Lindholm is expecting me." Mitchell growled as he finished, "Just make sure he gets that damned message… ASAP!" Angrily terminating the call, he laid his hand against the sidearm on his hip, praying he wouldn't be forced to use it, and made his way to the airlock.

Captain Mitchell was not the least bit surprised to find the plan-wrecking Spectre in Lindholm's office when he was escorted in. He greeted them both with a scowl. "Admiral. Spectre." Focusing his attention on Shepard, he continued, "I think I now know the source of this supposed new information in relation to the Headquarters assassination plot. Seeing as you're now an Asari Spectre, I would think you'd have more important things to worry about than an Earth-only investigation."

"That would normally be a true assumption, and except for the fact that I was specifically called in by Ambassador Hoffman for the dedication event and placed in charge of security, I would agree with you." Shepard clenched her teeth and ground out, "Besides that, I take it as a personal affront to think I should have been looking within the Alliance for the perpetrators of these crimes instead of wasting time investigating an external rogue organization. Very personal, as a matter of fact, given that Fleet Admiral Hackett was a friend and mentor… a relationship that was infinitely more important to me than him simply being our commanding officer."

"Looking within the Alliance?" Mitchell's eyes narrowed, and he looked at Lindholm for some clue… any indication… that this inquiry was headed down the path he feared. "I certainly hope you aren't intent on asking me to use Scout Flotilla assets to spy on our own people, Admiral. You know as well as I that such actions are prohibited by law! I won't do it!"

At that, Shepard scoffed, "Now you're suddenly concerned about the rule of law? How about your failure to object when your captain refused to search for all the survivors in the quiet space above Alchera… hours after the attack had ended and the enemy departed? Or, more recently, having Marines spy on those within the Headquarters as all of you put together your plans for your attempted coup?"

"What?" Mitchell did his best to look incredulous and sound indignant. "Are you out of your ever-loving mind? You really are…"

"Stow it, Mitchell!" Shepard roared. "You're a damned traitor to the uniform! I've already researched and handed over everything I could dig up, including message texts and vid calls, regarding the multiple conversations you had with both Captain and Admiral Mikhailovich. I've also included your frequent communications with a certain Mr Charles Saracino, in which you made numerous favorable references to Jack Harper and the Cerberus Manifesto when he became the Illusive Man. You've been aiding them and working against the Alliance for years – over a decade, actually –but it took a damned assassination, right in our own Gods-be-damned headquarters, for it all to come to light. The Mikhailoviches have already been take care of… and now, you and Saracino are done!"

The now-livid Mitchell dropped all pretense and furiously snarled, "You still don't see it, do you? With all your goddamned self-righteousness and grand schemes… you're turning Humanity into slaves of the Asari! We won't have it, Shepard!" The man was literally foaming at the mouth in his apoplectic rage. "We won't allow you or your other disgusting alien lovers to continue to impede our destined rise to supremacy! All those despicable, insignificant races? They should be groveling at our feet, kissing our boots in supplication! And you! You could have helped us lead all of them! The Illusive Man saw the potential in you; he wanted you sitting as his right hand… an honor that any one of us would have forfeited everything to gain… but you threw it all away because of your lack of vision!"

He paused, a disgusted scowl on his face as he spat contemptuously on the deck. It served as the distraction he needed, with both Lindholm's and the Spectre's eyes following the gob as it flew to the floor. He reached out and grabbed Lindholm by the collar, yanking her roughly to his side as he drew his sidearm.

Given Mitchell's anger… and desperation… it was likely Lindholm's life was spared only because Shepard never hesitated. Without bothering to draw her own weapon, the Spectre twisted her wrist, activating her omni-blade as she flash-stepped to bury the burning weapon into the center of the man's chest before his heavy pistol even cleared its holster.

The look of shock and surprise on Mitchell's face was tragically humorous as the hand with which he had grabbed the admiral fell away to clutch at his own gaping wound. Shepard twisted her forearm and pulled her hand free as the disposable silicon-carbide weapon broke away at the omni-tool's generation point. The heat produced by the flash-forged blade had immediately seared the massive laceration closed; not a single drop of blood fell to the floor, but the blade, slammed into Mitchell's chest with the massive force behind Shepard's genetically enhanced musculature, had split his ribcage and nearly severed his heart in two as it passed through to pierce his left lung.

To Lindholm's credit, she never hesitated; her military training kicked in and she lashed out with a well-placed kick the moment she had separation. Mitchell's knee buckled, and he was unable to recover his balance… his muscles no longer able to function in his shock at the speed of the dual attack. He crumpled to the floor, mouth gaped open like a fish out of water; there was no air moving past his lips… no sound created by his vocal cords at his futile attempt to voice his only regret – that he had failed to take either one of his aggressors with him, particularly that damned infuriating and utterly irredeemable Spectre.

The two Marines who had escorted Mitchell to the admiral's office came blasting in through the doorway as soon as the sound of clash within her office reached them; they both slid to a halt and watched in awe as the scene before them unfolded, quickly realizing that neither the Spectre nor their Fleet Admiral required any form of assistance from them, other than to remove the resulting corpse from the office. As a resounding silence grew at the conclusion of the struggle, the lead guard quietly cleared his throat. "Where would you like us to take the body, Admiral?"

Having not seen or heard them come in, Lindholm's head snapped around at the unexpected voice. Hot blood still rushing through her veins, she took a deep, calming breath to stem the rushing flow of its accompanying adrenaline before she finally responded, "To the facility morgue, Master Chief… Where else?"

"Just checkin', Ma'am." The man actually grinned and added with a chuckle, "I'd be happy to dispose of that piece of trash however you told me to do it… to include shipping him to Tuchanka for the Krogan to feed to their pet varren."

The admiral was unsuccessful in her attempts to contain a faint smile as she answered quietly, "I don't think that will be necessary, Quinn… but thank you for the suggestion."

"I'm with you, Master Chief Tyberg." Shepard still carried the burden of knowing Saracino was still out there… free… so wasn't prepared to be so lenient, even to the deceased. "His carcass shouldn't even be permitted to pollute our morgue… but, I suppose, we shouldn't allow ourselves to stoop to their level, either." She looked back to Lindholm and continued, "Thank you for the reminder, Ma'am."

"My pleasure, Spectre. It's necessary to remember who we are and what we stand for, else we end up fighting for all the wrong reasons." She paused for only the briefest of moments before adding, "Please, keep that in the forefront of your mind as you journey to London to confront Charles Saracino. Please, do not allow him to provoke you into actions you will later regret. Saracino simply cannot lead you down a path that will taint your reputation; the galaxy still needs you, Spectre Shepard."

The admiral offered a hand, which the Spectre grasped and pumped twice; she met Lindholm's eyes and gave her a silent nod of agreement to indicate her acceptance of the warning, keeping her own council as she released the woman's hand, turned, and left the office without a word. I may have already crossed that line, Admiral… but I will do my damnedest to ensure I never cross it again.

Alliance Headquarters, London, Earth – 29 Oct 2188

The Asari manufactured heavy corvette Knight Shade descended rapidly from its sub-orbital trans-polar flight as co-pilot Daxa Rusim requested priority docking clearance at the Alliance controlled transient berths near the main headquarters buildings in London. Approach vector entered and docking cradle selected, pilot Lusmeni Thoni flew the approach down to within a half-kilometer of their assigned berth, at which point she slaved the navi-computer to fly the final distance and settle the ship into its berth. Within a few minutes, the Knight Shade had gently settled into the cradle specially designed for her hull configuration. As a dedicated Alliance ground crew, hand-picked by Shepard and Tali'Zorah, worked to connect the ship to ground-based power, the whining complaint of several APUs gradually faded as they were shut down, bringing relative silence to the docks once more.

Spectre Samantha Shepard, monitoring the ship's approach as the destroyed city scrolled past on the monitor, sighed heavily when she caught sight of the massive crater left behind by the Reapers in their final, all-out attempt to eliminate the Human race… to obliterate the planet's civilization from existence. Significant progress had been made in removing and recycling the scattered metal and rubble left behind, from destroyed machines, both Reaper and Alliance… and from buildings blasted apart by Reaper weapons, especially since the SILC had joined the efforts. Still, it was quite evident to the Spectre that a massive amount of cleanup and reconstruction was left to be done.

Shepard rose from her seat and began completing her preparations for what she hoped would be a peaceful arrest of Charles Saracino, the primary architect of the plot to simultaneously assassinate four high-ranking officials… Humans, all… that had been working to insure the continued integration of the Earth Alliance with the other galactic races. Was I that damned naïve to believe the ideals espoused by Jack Harper would quickly wither and die after Maya Brooks put a bullet through his indoctrinated skull? Gods be damned! How can these people be so blindly self-centered?

{You cannot control the thinking… or even change the opinions… of such people, Siame.} Sam felt the bit of sadness that accompanied her bondmate's thoughts through the link. {From what little I have learned of Human history, such people have always existed… their sole focus in life being the subjugation of others they perceive as weaker, less intelligent… different. The achievement of interstellar spaceflight has simply spread that xenophobia to the entire galaxy.}

A grim smile appeared on Shepard's face as she answered, {I had not intended to share those thoughts with you, Ionúin álainn… and you are correct, of course. I only wish their twisted visions for Humanity had not resulted in so much unnecessary pain and death.}

She momentarily stiffened in response as a pair of arms wrapped lovingly around her from behind. "Their plans didn't succeed… at least, not completely," came the comforting words whispered in her ear. "We've succeeded in discovering the source of this particular strain of xenophobia. Once Saracino is in custody, Terra Firma's organization can be systematically dismantled."

Shepard carefully turned within the embrace to face her bondmate; wrapping her own arms around Liara, she replied, "I pray you're correct, Blue. I am more than ready for all of this to be done so we can go home."

Cerulean Aurora Hotel, London, Earth – 29 Oct 2188

Charles Saracino had stopped in the lobby and ordered a light meal, requesting it be sent to his luxury suite. The meeting… meetings, actually… had dragged on into the early evening hours; he was quite tired, but still needed to wade through the myriad messages that had been downloaded to his secure terminal during the day. He began eating the salad that had been delivered to his door while reading and replying to the first of the six 'urgent' messages sitting in his mailbox.

He was nearly done eating his late dinner when he finally opened the fifth of the six messages bearing an 'urgent' tag; he set his fork down on the plate as he scrolled through the message. Leaning back in his chair, he felt as if he was going to be sick; his aide in Vancouver had not understood the warning Captain Mitchell had been attempting to convey. Saracino, however, understood completely. Appetite completely gone, he shoved the tray away as he rose from his chair. No time to get cleaned up… if Mitchell is warning me to disappear, I have to get the Hell out this place… right now!

Charles Saracino had left the elevator on the second floor, there to take the nearby stairs down to the ground floor and lobby; the door opened into an alcove that was mostly hidden from direct view of anyone in the hallway. He carefully looked about through a doorway opening of mere centimeters before exiting into the alcove. After carefully inspecting the portion of the lobby he could see, he began walking briskly for the main doors.

The sudden realization his good fortune had deserted him came as a pair of hands with the seeming strength of a machinist's vice clamped painfully onto his upper arm and the back of his neck, quickly followed by a second pair of hands grasping his other arm, one on his triceps, the other on his forearm. A soft, feminine voice, completely at odds with the strength being exhibited by the hands painfully crushing his triceps and neck, spoke menacingly into his right ear from only centimeters away. "Come along quietly if you wish to survive this encounter."

Saracino made the nearly fatal mistake of attempting to jerk free of the hand grasping his right arm; the unseen person holding his left arm released his forearm long enough to deliver a targeted jab to his side above the hipbone. This payment for his unsuccessful effort at freedom brought tears to his eyes as his legs momentarily buckled – he remained on his feet only because his captors had not released their crushing grip on either of his arms or his neck.

Grimacing from the pain in his left side, he spat out, "I can guarantee your miserable life just got significantly shorter. If you… " The rest of his words were lost in a muffled grunt of pain as a gauntlet-clad hand fell in place across his mouth and nose in order to silence him. He continued to squirm in an ineffective effort to free himself as he was guided outside and towards an odd-looking shuttlecraft sitting close by. As his captors brought him closer to the unusual craft, Saracino immediately realized by whom he had been abducted. With one hand clamped painfully on the back of his neck and another on his mouth, he was unable to turn his head, but seeing the emblem affixed to the dull, grey-blue hull beside the deployed entrance ramp brought crystal-clear understanding to his mind. An Asari Spectre craft! Son of a flying blue whore! This has to be the work of that fucking red-headed bitch, Shepard!

They shoved him roughly up against the side of the shuttle, where one of them held him in place as the other patted him down for hidden weapons before yanking his arms behind his back and clamping a pair of painfully tight restraints on his wrists. "Just who in Hell do you think you are? I'm…"

He was cut off mid-sentence as Spectre Shepard revealed herself by spinning him around to look at him and angrily reply, "Spectre Samantha Shepard at your service." With a grim smile, she continued, "And I know exactly who you are. We've met once before… 2183, on the Citadel; you asked me to support your attempt to win a seat on the Alliance Parliament. I didn't like you then, and my opinion of you hasn't changed during the intervening years. I'm taking you into custody for conspiracy… namely, solicitation of and payment for assassinations of four high-ranking Systems Alliance officials, sedition, being an accessory to attempted murder, and accessory to murder in the first. I have all the proof required to execute you here on the spot but, against my better judgement, I'm going to transport you to the CGC so one of your intended victims can take part in passing judgement on you… after I give the Council all the proof I have of your complicity in all this."

"There's not a jury in the galaxy that'd have the balls to convict me of anything, you fucking bitch. You picked the wrong man to screw with." The chuckle he received in response chilled him to the bone.

Arms crossed under her chest, Shepard calmly stated, "I'm a Council Spectre, Mr Saracino. You won't be getting a jury trial by your Earth peers, and I seriously doubt you have any ability whatsoever to sway the opinions of the Galactic Council… with credits or any other influence you mistakenly believe you wield. I can only hope they give you a sentence truly befitting the severity of your crime."

Taking a step back, Shepard motioned to Livos Tanni. "Escort our guest onboard, Captain. Make sure he's strapped in securely… I wouldn't want him to suffer any injuries during our maneuvering and short flight back to the Knight Shade."

The leader of Team 1 grinned as she replied, "As you wish, Nara."

Council Chambers, CGC, Widow System – 30 Oct 2188

With the preponderance of evidence provided by Spectre Shepard, the guilt of Charles Saracino was never in question and he was convicted without hesitation. The primary discussion now revolved around what exactly should be done to the man in the way of punishment… and just who should carry out whatever sentence was decided upon.

"We made a huge mistake with Sparatus!" Councilor Quentius spat. "We should have just turned him over to the Spectre Corps and been done with him; it would have saved us all a tremendous amount of grief and saved a lot of innocent lives in the long run. I say death."

"Agreed!" Urdnot Jara's cold, reptilian eyes shifted to Shepard. "And I can think of none better than Shepard to carry out the sentence. After all, she is the one who brought this Pyjak before us for judgement. It is her right!"

"I appreciate the sentiment, Councilors." Shepard shook her head slightly as she continued, "But I've been personally responsible for enough killing. If Saracino is to be executed, I would prefer it not be done by my hand."

"Hmmm." Valern stared at the Spectre with unblinking eyes. "If not by your hand, then by whose, Shepard? It would seem, however unusual this may be, that I am actually in agreement with the Krogan…" His gaze shifted to Jara. "I suppose just about anything can happen… once in a while." Shifting his attention back to the Spectre, he finished, "You are, after all, the one who brought him to us… so would it not be your duty to finish this?"

He left the question hanging, and Tevos spoke up to fill the void. "We have already established the sentence, so, that is not in question." Her gaze held pity as she looked upon her friend. "But I can easily understand the Spectre's reluctance over this issue; as she implies, there are many deaths already on her conscience; even when those blows were dealt with more than sufficient cause, it does not always expunge the feeling of guilt for the loss of life." She paused and forced a pained smile onto her face. "If we do leave it in your hands, Shepard… Do you have any proposed methods by which to handle this?"

Samantha's eyes came up to meet the sorrowful green orbs of the councilor and she sighed, remaining silent for a long moment as she thought about her response. Finally, she dropped her head, only briefly, before looking back up and sweeping the table with her eyes, meeting those of every councilor present. "I suppose I do. I've been thinking about this for a long time… and perhaps this is the way to solve two issues with a single solution."

When Shepard paused, Valern, with his normal Salarian impatience, spoke first. "Well. What is it, then? What do you propose?"

Shepard stared at him for a brief moment, then smiled and chuckled, shaking her head as she began, "The Spectre Corps, by design, is an intelligence organization that… of necessity… must frequently work outside the law… but the war reduced our numbers significantly. Another organization suffered the same fate and reformed with new purpose." Her eyes shifted back to Tevos. "I'm speaking of the Justicars."

"What are you talking about?" Tevos, caught very much by surprise, blurted out, "Explain yourself, please!"

Shepard willingly obliged. "I've stayed in frequent contact with Samara. Their organization is dying, so the Justicars are being forced to rethink their five thousand-plus sutras. They have actually agreed they are antiquated… no longer in accord with contemporary Asari society, which makes it nearly impossible to recruit new members. They are in the process of revising their sutras to be much more basic… simply requiring they use a discipline of logic to interpret existing Asari law, and then act accordingly."

"A process which could be easily expanded to Galactic Law." Given his normal silence unless spoken to directly, Prime Huulik's comments were unexpected. "The SILC…" He paused and directed his trio of glowing red optical sensors at Valern as he continued, "… and the Salarians… have excellent logical reasoning capabilities and could be included in the task of interpretation and enforcement."

"Wait. That's something entirely different." Osoba looked at the Prime in surprise and then directed his question to Shepard. "Are you talking about simply asking the Justicars to join the Spectres, or actually forming an inter-species task force of some kind?"

"The latter, Councilor." Shepard shrugged her shoulders. "On Earth, we have multiple agencies of law enforcement; including those that operate in the open, in full view and scrutiny of the public… and those that do not, operating out of sight, in the shadows. The Spectres most definitely fall into the second category of those that do not, and I strongly believe the Council needs a counterpart to the Spectre Corps – a police force which enforces Galactic Law and operates in full view of the public."

Din Korlack, who was normally extremely disrespectful toward anyone Human, was surprisingly in agreement. "That is actually an excellent idea, Shepard; assuming, of course, you're honestly proposing an inter-species force and not an organization run by the Earth clan, with token 'alien' clan members…"

Tevos glared at the Volus. "That is quite unnecessary, Councilor! After everything Shepard has done for us? Really?"

"Apologies, Shepard," the chastised Korlack responded before falling silent.

The comments came as no surprise to the Spectre and, because of his rebreather, she couldn't tell if Korlack was honestly being sincere or not, so simply ignored the entire exchange. "I don't see it as a difficult organization to establish… if each member race is given a set number of positions to fill? Very similar to the system used for the Council Fleet?"

Valern quickly added, "With the lead position rotated between the primary Council members?"

"Rotated between the races of all the Council members, you mean," growled Jara. "Right?"

"Well, yes. Of course," answered Valern, glancing at the large Krogan female seated beside him as he quickly amended his statement. "Leadership of the organization should be rotated among all of the Council members. Agreed."

Shepard coughed and covered her mouth to hide the smirk on her face. Once she had caged her expression, she continued, "The Asari have their Republican Guard, Earth has the International Peacekeepers, the Turians, their Unification Force. I'm sure each of us has an equivalent of some kind… except the SILC, who include the entire Collective in their decision making…"

"So, exactly as we do with the military, we pull personnel from the individual law enforcement agencies to fill our galactic police ranks." Tevos paused and ran a hand over her crests as she considered the implications. "This will take a significant amount of time to structure properly, to be fair to all the member races of the Council."

Shepard chuckled and asked, "So is that a yes?"

"Well, it is from me." Tevos blushed when she realized the assumption she had just made and glanced around the table as she queried, "Any opposed?" She nodded quickly when none of the group spoke out. "So be it." Her focus shifted back to the Spectre. "I leave the invitation to the Justicars in your hands, Shepard… but that is the start of the long-term solution and does not solve the immediate dilemma of who shall be Charles Saracino's executioner."

Drawing the attention of everyone seated at the table, Osoba sighed and stood up, looking first to Shepard; once she met his eyes, he gave her only the slightest of nods before directing a solemn gaze at the Asari councilor. "Place him into my custody, Raesia. He is a Human problem and should be dealt with by our justice system. As the Systems Alliance representative, I will carry the Galactic Council death penalty notice with me, home to Earth, and I swear to you, and the Council at large, that it will be administered without hesitation… this very day."

"Thank you, Councilor Osoba. Your acceptance of this disagreeable task is duly noted."

T'Soni Country Estate, Thessia, Athena Nebula – 30 Oct 2188

It was early evening when the Knight Shade returned to Thessia. It was a reserved group that disembarked from the ship to be greeted by a welcoming staff. Lyessa met them at the door to give Shepard a warm hug and whisper softly in the woman's ear. "You only did what was necessary, Captain; war and its aftereffects are seldom pleasant. We will simply pray to the Goddess that the Reaper War is finally and truly in the past."

The House Steward pushed back and smiled. "Now. Dinner will be ready momentarily, so get your gear stowed and get cleaned up. I expect you all at the table within twenty minutes, while the food is still hot."

Smiling softly, Shepard took Liara's hand. "Only twenty minutes? We best get to it, then."

The silence that fell over the group as they walked toward the weapons storage room was stifling, until Jatok couldn't stand it anymore. Being his typical, irreverent self, he suddenly blurted out, "Fuck Chuck! That pile of Pyjak shit deserved every bit of trouble we heaped upon his head, along with all his cronies. I don't regret a damned instant of it, and none of you should either!" He growled, "He's responsible for the deaths of good people… heroes, all of 'em. Only thing I regret is the method of his death; I still think you should have let me take him back to Tuchanka as a little snack for Kalros! That would have been closer to real justice."

For the first time in many hours, Shepard honestly smiled; a rather reserved smile, but a smile, nonetheless. Liara grinned in return and squeezed her siame's hand as memories of their frantic run across Tuchanka moved to the forefront of their minds. Liara responded quietly, "That would have been a sight to see, for sure… but we escaped Kalros the one and only time we met her. Perhaps he would have found the motivation to do the same, and then where would we be?"

"Right back to where we were before Dominic stepped up." Shepard sighed heavily. "It would have fallen back into my lap…"

"Not a chance, Shepard," Jatok growled. "If Kalros didn't get him, I'd kill him myself. You wouldn't need to worry about that lowlife… not on my home soil… and I'd have no regrets." His beady reptilian eyes offered no compromise as he insisted, "And you shouldn't either!"

Given everything that had transpired, dinner was a surprisingly enjoyable, casual affair. It lasted much longer than was routine, the entire house feeling the need for community; to everyone, it seemed to have been an extraordinarily long time since they had all been truly able to simply relax. The sensation felt odd, but in a good way; no one wanted to let it go, so they all stayed and socialized for a couple of hours following the meal.

When Shepard yawned, Lyessa nodded at Liara and stood from her chair. "Alright everyone, off you go… else I'll be here all night cleaning up this mess!" Several of the commandos laughed and immediately chipped in to help Lyessa while Liara smiled at her siame. "It seems it is time for us to retreat to our room and take advantage of some quiet time."

"Happy to take you up on that, Blue."

They quietly made their way upstairs, slipped into sweats, started a fire and plopped themselves down on their small settee in front of the fireplace. Shepard leaned her head back and closed her eyes. "Don't know why I'm so tired tonight."

"Oh, let me guess." The sarcasm in Liara's voice was poignant as she continued, "It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that we've been on the go, constantly, for the past month, ever since the Headquarters dedication, could it?" Shepard's eyes slipped open and Liara leaned over to gently caress the woman's lips with her own before asking, "How many good nights of sleep have we had since then? Maybe two?"

As Shepard started to answer, Liara placed a finger across her lips. "Shush, love. I had no intention for you to actually respond to that question. It's unnecessary, as we are both quite knowledgeable regarding the answer."

"I was simply going to say it's hard to believe it's only been a month." Shepard hummed in contentment as Liara's hand dropped down to massage the woman's chest. "It seems much longer than that."

"True enough…" Liara snuck in another little peck before continuing, "But now, at least, it is done and over with. Earth's civil authorities will be investigating Terra Firma and removing all the malcontents, LEAP is being kept in check by our new allies, Atlas, and the Brokerage hasn't turned up any new grand schemes involving anything. On that front, it all seems to be business as usual, for a change."

Shepard smiled softly, her eyes glistening brightly in the light of the fire. "Have I told you lately that I love you, Liara T'Soni?"

Chuckling softly, Liara replied, "Not nearly enough, Samantha Shepard."

Shepard sat up and wrapped a hand gingerly around Liara's neck, letting her fingers stroke tenderly across the folds they found there. Liara drew a quick breath as the Spectre whispered, "Then I most definitely need to fix that, Grá mo chroí."

"I love you, too, Samantha… always and forever." Liara's blue eyes, which, as of late, had held only ice and steely resolve, were soft with affection as her mind reached out. {And tomorrow is a new day, finally free from the doubts and uncertainties of the past thirty days.}

{Yes, it is. It is also Samhain… a fitting festival to say goodbye to those we lost.}

"That is very true…" Liara pulled back to meet Shepard's eyes. "I had nearly forgotten the date; it is the perfect time for us to let go of the past and begin anew." Liara smiled softly and raised a hand to tuck a few errant auburn strands up behind Shepard's ear. "Come, Sam." Liara rose elegantly from the sofa and reached out, offering her hand. "Let me take you to bed… and we will simply let tomorrow be the beginning of the next chapter in our lives."

A/N: And thus ends this installment of Promises Delivered – New Beginnings. Next up is 'The Spectre Years,' following a very short break to get the next story line plotted out. Thanks to all of our loyal readers for sticking with us through all of Shepard and Liara's trials and tribulations, all based on the promise of an eventually happy future filled with little blue babies.