Author's Notes:

Hey everyone, got another chapter for you here. I apologise for the snail's pace of updating. I don't often find myself with a lot of free time these days, but whenever I do, I like adding to this story. It's still far from finished, but it's not dead yet. It just hibernates from time to time :P

So please, enjoy the latest chapter, and if you have the time, all reviews are greatly appreciated :) Thank you for reading.

Three Little Lovebirds

Chapter 32 – Consolidation

Was grief the opposite of love? It was something Lucy had wondered a few times. She wasn't predisposed to philosophy, more due to her lifestyle than personal choice, but she'd toyed with the question before. It had occupied her mind more than once after the events of Mindoir and her parents' death, for that stretch of time when she'd felt nothing but a dreary ennui. The doctors and councillors had told her that it was grief and that it would pass, and they had been right, although at the time, she hadn't believed a word of it. People had approached her and offered their support, and in some cases, their love, both platonic and not, but she'd turned them aside. She had simply felt too weary to handle anything but her day to day routine. At the time, she'd assumed that grief and love must have been diametrically opposed. After all, when two opposites met, they cancelled each other out, and her grief had certainly sapped away any love she may have felt.

Now though, she had a chance to rethink her answer, and she realized that she'd been wrong. Now, in her personal hour of need, the love she felt for the two women by her side had never been stronger. It made such a difference, having people to turn to; people she could confide her weaknesses in.

"Are you sure you're okay Lucy?" Tali asked for about the twentieth time. No visor could hide her concern; she had been distraught when Liara had explained what happened. Fortunately, the asari had censored some of the more graphic parts that Lucy had shared. "We don't have to do this you know. We're here for a week, there'll be other opportunities to go out. Neither of us would mind if you wanted to stay in and...recover."

The quarian glanced at Liara, who nodded her head in support. Lucy sighed, hoping to appear blasé. It came out rather tremulous.

Okay, perhaps she wasn't as over it as she thought she was, but the healing process had to start somewhere.

"I understand what you're trying to do, and thank you, really, but I think what's best is if we just continue like nothing happened." She looked between her two partners, offering them the most reassuring smile she could muster. They looked thoroughly unconvinced. "Trust me, I've been through similar things before. The most important thing is normalcy; that's how I...we put this behind us. Dinner with two wonderful women will help take my mind off of...of..."

Seeing Lucy beginning to drift, Liara quickly jumped in.

"Of course Shepard, we understand."

"Where did you have in mind?" Tali interjected, clearly picking up on the fact that they should keep the conversation flowing and steered away from earlier events.

Glad to have something to talk about other than the attack, Lucy grabbed a data pad off her bedside table.

"I did a bit of research on the restaurants around here before I booked us the studio. Fortunately, it wasn't hard to find places that serve good dextro and levo food. Quarian suitable was a bit harder to find, but I was able to pull a few strings." She flashed a smile at Tali. "There's this one place; serves traditional dishes from each race in Council space in both dextro and levo forms. They've been going for a while, and with some prying, I was able to gather that they have a fully-functional, though currently unused, clean-room; you know, from the period after the quarians adopted their suits but before they lost their embassy."

That got Tali's attention.

"You mean...?"

"Yup." Lucy smiled, feeling distinctly pleased with herself. "The manager seemed happy enough to power it up for our purposes. This whole Spectre thing seems out be working our rather well. That means no straws or ingestion ports for you tonight."

"I-I don't know what to say..." Tali glanced sideways at Liara momentarily, before leaning forward and brushing her helmet against the Spectre's cheek. "Thank you, Lucy. I can't wait!"

"That was very thoughtful of you." Liara smiled. Lucy was happy to see that Tali's display of affection hadn't fazed her other partner, and by the way she kept furtively peeking at the asari, it looked like Tali was as well.

"Well, shucks, I do what I can." Lucy could feel her cheeks heating up slightly, something which only increased when the others looked at her, nonplussed.

"Earth saying..." She mumbled, before clearing her throat. "Anyway, there's no sense in delaying."

The stroll back out along the strip was as pleasant as the one they'd made earlier. It had only been a few hours previously, and nothing had changed since the last time, but to Lucy it felt fresh and new, like she was seeing it with a new set of eyes. In what had probably been no more than a few seconds of real time, week's worth of awful memories had been unlocked in her mind. There would come a point, soon, when she'd have to confront that. An attack like this could not be shrugged off lightly; she had an enemy out there somewhere, in some form, with some unknown motive. Who knew how real his dream image was? Who knew how much power he really had? And why did he seemingly want her to suffer? Until these questions were answered, she was still in danger, and what's more, distracted from their true purpose; the hunt for Saren.

That being said, she wouldn't just hide away or skulk back to the Normandy, defeated. Whoever this person was, they had wanted to make her life hell. She could think of no better way to win this battle than to go out and do the exact opposite. Lucy was determined to make tonight wonderful, to create new memories that would replace the horrible ones as her most recent. The torture she'd experienced inside her own head could become the past, where, along with all the other demons, it could do nothing more than haunt her dreams.

Lost in her momentary introspection, she almost walked right past the tailor's where she'd ordered Tali's gift earlier. Of course, that still needed collecting.

"You two go on ahead. I'll catch up in just a moment."

"Where are you going?" Lucy wished Tali would stop sounding so worried, but she guessed she couldn't really blame her, given what had happened.

"I just forgot something. Go on. I'll be back before you're at the restaurant."

As Liara watched Lucy go, she felt a small, rebellious twinge of panic in the pit of her stomach. It was absurd really; out of all the people she'd ever met, the Commander was probably the one most capable of looking after herself. Nevertheless, the image of a frail and terrified woman, begging Liara to hold her, was still fresh in her mind. It was sometimes easy to forget that her partner was a human, and suffered from the same sorts of fears an asari might.

"How do you cope?" She said at last, not really realizing she'd said it out loud, but realizing that it was something she had wanted to ask for a while.

"Huh?" Tali looked away from Lucy's retreating form as they continued towards the restaurant.

"When she leaves, for missions...when you know that despite everything she says, she can't guarantee her own safety. How do you cope with that? I've only been with her a few days and it already terrifies me."

Tali seemed slightly taken aback by the question, and for a moment, Liara wondered if she'd asked something too personal. They walked in silence for a bit as the quarian pondered her answer.

"It's difficult." Tali said at last. "You end up wishing you could follow her everywhere. It's silly, I know. I'm no soldier; I'm sure Ashley, Garrus, or Wrex can do a better job protecting her than I ever could. That doesn't make it any easier though. Every time I see a spike in her suit's biometric feed I swear my heart skips a beat."

Tali looked Liara directly in the eyes, or at least, it felt like she was.

"I should probably be the one asking you that question though. I didn't even see what was going on inside her head and my nerves are shot. I can't imagine what it must be like for you."

"It was a nightmare." Liara said solemnly, shivering as the memories slithered through her mind like spirits of the dead. She hadn't wanted their conversation to retrace this morbid path, but it was clearly at the forefront of both their minds. "I was so angry...it clouds most of my recollections. It's probably for the best; I don't think I remember it as clearly as Lucy does."

She straightened her back, fists clenching unconsciously as her thoughts turned to the metal man who was the source of all this pain.

"One thing's for certain though. If that machine I fought exists in reality, his days are numbered. I swear, by the Goddess, that I will not rest until he is scrap."

"You'll have to get in line." Tali chuckled, drawing a small smile from Liara.

"It seems like the galaxy is determined that we will never get a normal, quiet day to ourselves." The asari said, forcing herself away from the images of that dark, dank, disgusting place. Lucy was right; they had to try and move past it and focus on something better.

"We're a quarian and an asari, following the first human Spectre and her rag-tag crew as they chase a rouge Spectre across the galaxy, trying to prevent the return of the ancient machine race which wiped out the Protheans. I don't think any day can be considered 'normal'."

"You raise a valid point."

Liara got the feeling that Tali wanted to say something else, but was hesitating. No sooner had she reached this conclusion, then the quarian spoke again.

"Liara?"

"Yes."

"How do you feel...about all this?"

Liara thought for a moment, unsure of how to reply. How did she feel? The truth was she didn't really know. Excited? Elated? Terrified? All of them were true.

"I'm not sure I understand..."

"You know, about Lucy, about us, about...me?" Tali was wringing her hands, something Liara had noticed the young girl did when she was feeling nervous or vulnerable. It was a good thing that quarians were so emotive with their body language, or she probably wouldn't have picked up on it.

"I-I was hoping to ask you the same question." The asari admitted sheepishly. "I did some research on the extranet after Lucy...well, after we agreed to be together. From what I gather, our situation is somewhat atypical, even for an interspecies relationship. Multi-partner romances are uncommon in most societies. It is odd, considering that many seem to express sexual fantasies involving more than two participants."

She took Tali's continued attention and small giggle as a cue to go on.

"You were with Shepard before I was. Based on the forum posts I read, most of them filled with expletives, it seems that when someone in a monogamous relationship expresses interest in another, that person's partner is often hostile towards this third party. I must admit, I was so overjoyed when Lucy came to me that I did not fully consider the ramifications. I-If I hurt you, it was not my intention. I feel like I have to ask though; do you...dislike me?"

Liara realized that her babbling was leading her into dangerous territory, and decided it was best if she stopped before she could raise any more negative issues.

Goddess, you're such a fool. It almost sounds as if you want her to hate you.

"I would be lying if I said I hadn't considered that." Tali replied, seemingly picking her words carefully. "I was upset when Lucy first told me...but not really at you. Like you said, our situation is so unique, and I'm so inexperienced. All I can go by is what I feel, and I don't feel any hatred towards you, Liara, despite what people might 'expect'."

The asari gave a relieved sigh. She was glad to hear those words, spoken by Tali herself in no uncertain terms.

"When I was unhappy," the quarian continued. "it was because I feared that Lucy's feelings for you would diminish my relationship with her. I guess none of us can know what will happen in the long run, but so far, it's been okay, don't you think?"

"More than okay." Liara agreed. Goddess, it felt so good to be able to openly voice the thoughts she'd been having these past days. "She is the most remarkable woman I've ever met. I am in your debt Tali, for accepting me and her with such grace. I cannot think of many people who have been so kind to me."

"Ah, you're going to make me blush."

"I-I do not wish to presume the level of our friendship, but would you mind if I asked you some more questions?" Liara didn't want to push too hard, but now that she'd begun to clear the air, she wanted to go the whole way.

"It's okay Liara, we're friends." Tali emphasized her sincerity with a pat on the asari's back. "You can ask me anything, although I'm not sure how good I'll be at answering."

"Thank you. I've never been very adept at reading people. It's good to know that I'm not making a fool of myself."

"So, what's on your mind?"

"I was wondering...have you ever been, um...attracted...to anyone else before?"

"Wow, you don't mess around, do you?"

"Oh, no, I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry, please-" Liara stumbled over herself to apologize. This was exactly what she feared; thinking that she'd gauged a person and then finding out she'd been completely wrong.

"It's okay Liara, I'm just teasing."

"Oh...oh." The asari could feel herself blushing. It was better than Tali being offended by what she'd said, but only slightly less embarrassing for her. "You were joking. I-I see."

"Don't worry. I'm not so good when it comes to talking about this kind of stuff either. Makes me all nervous and...erm, sweaty. Still, you were asking if I'd ever been attracted to anyone else?"

"Correct, if it's not too personal a question."

"No, no, it's fine. It's just...I'm not really sure. On the Flotilla, we don't often get the chance to indulge in pastime activities. There's always something that needs fixing or upgrading or salvaging. We tend to meet partners through our work. That, and then there's the fact that the ship you grow up on is like your family, especially if it's small. You know everyone for your entire childhood, and you also know that you're going to leave after your pilgrimage, so you tend not to think about getting attached to anyone in that way."

Tali sighed.

"Then there are these suits. Everyone looks pretty much the same at first glance. The only way to judge if someone is right for you is by spending time with them, getting to know them. Being an admiral's daughter, I never really had the opportunity to do that with anyone. Father always had me running errands for him."

"I see. So you did not have a 'childhood crush'?"

"Not really. I mean, all girls daydream, but there was never any one particular person."

"I understand that like humans and turians, it is less common for quarians to be attracted to members of the same gender. I must admit, I find the whole idea of 'sexes' rather confusing. Perhaps it is because I grew up on an asari-only planet."

"Well, yes, that is technically true." Tali was back to fidgeting with her hands. "I mean, I guess I always assumed that I was into boys, but like I said, I didn't really think about it that much. When I met Lucy though..."

"I can see how Shepard might make people reassess themselves."

"It's more than that." Tali replied. "Keelah, you should have seen the way she came blazing into that alleyway. She didn't know me at all, and yet she fought like I was the most important person in the galaxy. I mean, I had that data on Saren, but she didn't even ask about that until she was sure that I was okay and I'd received medical attention. I think I was already attracted to her at that point, although I didn't realize it. There's something magnetic about her personality, in the way that she's so honest and passionate in everything she does. You can tell that she cares about people, even 'nobody quarians' she's only just met."

As Tali spoke, Liara could hear her own thoughts and feelings reflected in the words. She wondered if she should tell Tali about the special bond that she suspected she and Lucy shared, but thought better of it. In due time, perhaps, but she hadn't even dared confess it to the Spectre yet.

"All I know is, as time went on, I found myself thinking about her constantly. Eventually, I was forced to admit that I was in love. It was quite a shock, I can tell you. Not many quarians maintain relationships outside the Flotilla, mostly because it means leaving our home. There were a million reasons why it was a bad idea, and at first I tried to deny it. When that didn't work, I tried to repress it, but...well, you saw how well that went. I never really questioned the fact that she was a woman though. We're already different species, different chiralities, and I'm stuck in this damn suit...the fact we're the same gender didn't seem important compared to those obstacles. I-I don't think of myself as, you know, gay...I guess you could say I'm just Shepsexual."

"'Shepsexual'?" Liara asked, wondering why she hadn't come across the term in her research. "I do not recall hearing tha-...oh...oh, I see."

"It must be different for you though. Asari can, er, 'mate' with any species, and you've lived so long already."

"It is true that asari prize genetic diversity, and thus have the potential to be attracted to members of any species or gender, but it varies from individual to individual. I grew up on Thessia, in the heart of asari space. From time to time my mother would host visitors from off world, but that was my only contact with the other races until I left home. Once I reached university, I buried myself in my work. It left little time for, what was that phrase that Wrex used? 'Chasing tail.'"

"It sounds like our childhoods weren't so different." Tali mused. "Both shut away in our own little worlds."

"Yes. It may not seem like it, but in asari terms, we are pretty much the same age."

"I've heard that your people can live for more than a millennium. I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. You certainly don't look one hundred though. If you were quarian, you'd be in a mobility exoskeleton by now." Tali chuckled. "But still, in all that time, you've never, you know...?"

Liara shook her head sadly.

"I've never been very adept in social situations." She gave a tiny smile. "You may have noticed. I...appreciated the beauty of other asari, but never enough to spur me into action. It didn't help that some of them were prejudiced against me because I was a pureblood."

"A pureblood?" Tali asked. "I've never heard that phrase before, but I assume it's not polite."

"It is a derogatory term for children born from a Union between two asari. Some consider them inferior to those who are born from Union with other races."

"What a load of varren dung! I mean, before you discovered space travel, surely they were the only type of asari in existence!"

"You are correct, although many choose to overlook that 'uncomfortable' fact. It was...unpleasant, at times. Some of the other maidens would bully me; call me names, soil my work. It didn't help that my mother was an influential matriarch. They believed I must be arrogant and spoiled. In any case, it deterred me from pursuing any kind of relationship, and from following in my mother's footsteps."

"That...that's horrible! Well, if it's any consolation, I know how you felt. Most of the galaxy tends to look down on quarians. 'Suit rat', 'gypsy', 'space tramp'; it seems like it's a different name every time."

"The mistreatment and prejudice towards the quarian people was always something my mother despised." Liara said quietly, her stroll through memory lane conjuring up images of the errant matriarch. "She was outspoken against the loss of their embassy, and petitioned the council multiple times to grant them colony rights for some of the compatible frontier worlds."

Thinking of Benezia invariably led to the mental images of her on Verdus, face twisted into a bitter snarl. It hadn't been an asari they'd faced; it had been a monster.

"It...It's things like that which make her betrayal impossible to comprehend. She was always so compassionate; aloof at times, but caring and generous to those who needed it most. She taught me so much. I may have rebelled against her plans for me by becoming an archaeologist, but I always admired her as a matriarch. I cannot understand what could make her become so...so...evil."

"We don't have all the facts." Tali replied. "Who knows what Saren did to make her work for him? Drugs? Mind control? Blackmail? You don't have to assume that the person she once was is truly gone."

"I would like to think that." Liara replied in a subdued tone. "After seeing her though...I'm not sure I can. When she captured me and Lucy, I could see in her eyes that she was enjoying it! There was nothing there; no mercy, not even a recognition that I was someone she once loved."

"I'm sorry Liara."

"T-Thank you. Still, there is little that can be done about it now. Perhaps we should discuss a more cheerful topic."

"If you're sure." Tali touched her elbow lightly. "Did you say you were..."

"And back!" A slightly flushed Shepard jogged up alongside the pair, carrying a neatly gift-wrapped box under one arm. "Damn high-heels, it's impossible to run in these things."

Liara jumped slightly. She hadn't heard the Spectre's approach at all.

I guess some skills you learn on the battlefield never truly switch off.

"Lucy." Tali glanced from Shepard's rosy cheeks to the package she was holding. "What have you got there?"

"Oh, nothing much." Shepard wasn't completely successful at hiding her smirk. "Come on, I can see the place up ahead. I'll show you once we're inside."