A/N: And here we are at the end. I hope you have enjoyed it. As a reward, I will now play ME3. I discovered that I love writing and love that others enjoy it as well. Thank you for your kind words and encouragment. I may still write an epilogue. I may write a novel. Who knows? We will see.
XOXO ~ STP
Six hours later the Normandy's decontamination chamber opened allowing the most recent Shadow Broker entrance. Dr. Liara T'soni wore a plum colored, floor length dress that covered most of her body, but left little room for imagination as to what that body may look like underneath. Matriarch Benezia's beauty was renowned in the galaxy, but as the young maiden crossed the threshold, no one could doubt for a moment that Liara had far surpassed the stunning radiance of her mother. With hands loosely clasped, the Commander entered behind her, a stark contrast indeed. The few struggling remnants of her uniform hung like ribbons, barely covering her torso, and did little to cover the inflamed stripes scabbing across her chest and back. The burn holes in her pants left more questions than confirmation that they once were state of the art battle gear. Both of her eyes were swollen and encircled by darkening purple bruises. The skin on her knees and hands were peeling away, and at least three contusions on her neck looked suspiciously like bite marks. But it was the Commander's countenance that gave the entire crew pause. She shined with the same splendor as a sun born on a new day.
Jack shoved her way to the front of the awaiting crew only to come to an immediate halt. "Damn Shepard. I was gonna kick your ass for not letting me go with you, but it looks like someone already beat me to it," Jack jeered in between howls of laughter. Liara dropped her gaze and her cheeks darkened. Shepard simply winked at Jack.
A very perturbed XO spoke from across the CIC, "Commander, Dr. Chakwas is awaiting you in the medbay." Slowly she walked toward the new arrivals. Her long, slender fingers trailed along the railing and her boots clicked a deliberate and slow rhythm.
"Nonsense, Lawson. I'm no worse than a night out drinking with Wrex and Cuddlebone over there." Shepard watched her best friend embrace her girl and did her best to grin, but her famous smirk was limited by the swelling, and instead came out severely lopsided. "Besides, I want to give Liara a tour of the ship."
Her clicking boots came to a halt. "Yes, the very one she just tried to destroy, along with your faithful crew that has fought and bled beside you." Miranda never took her eyes off of Liara, laying the silent accusation of betrayal directly at her feet. A warm smile melted off Liara's face and she countered Miranda's disdain with silent threats of her own. "Commander, I insist. The wounds the Shadow Broker caused may have lasting impact otherwise," Miranda hissed the like an angry viper.
Tali cleared her throat, "Uh, how about Garrus and I take Liara on the tour, Shepard. I'm sure you want to clean up anyway."
Miranda got what she wanted. The Commander shrugged her shoulders at Garrus and passed in between Liara and Miranda. Baffled, she looked back and forth between the two, noticing both poised to strike with the slightest provocation.
Kasumi responded to Tali's nod with one of her own. "Come on, Miranda. There is something two decks apart from our guest that I suddenly need to show you." It was only after several shoves from Tali and Kasumi that the two women finally acquiesced and parted company.
Shepard heard the elevator doors whisper from inside her bathroom. "So did you enjoy the tour?"
"Well, yes, but only after the bloody engineers put in the changes I wanted. They are so territorial, but I held the purse strings so…" Miranda walked down to the captain's couch and sat, keenly aware that she was very uncomfortable, and it had little to do with her still recovering injuries.
Shepard tossed the towel on the floor after drying her short red locks. Miranda declined a drink, so Shepard only poured one glass of wine. "Lawson, good work handling the ship while I was gone," Shepard lifted the glass in salute.
Her eyes flashed, "Don't you mean to say, 'thank you for saving my ship from my crazy girlfriend because I am too blind to see she is crazy, and my blindness makes me keep doing ridiculous things that put me in danger?'"
Shepard put down her glass and crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, I can see this visit is not to give me a status report on the ship."
Miranda had never seen Shepard so happy. She was beaming and Miranda hated it. "Look Shepard, I don't know how to discuss things without being perfectly blunt, so here it is. We have argued about many things, some of which I have been right, most of which you have been right. And I think you know I trust you with most everything except…" Jealousy was never an emotion she enjoyed, mostly because she had such little experience with it until the day Samantha Shepard opened her jade eyes on her exam table all those months ago.
"Yes. Except Liara. Shepard, a lot changed while you were gone."
Shepard clinched her jaw, "But some things remained the same."
"Cerberus was keeping tabs on Liara since long before you died. We saw everything that happened. She's not the same person from when you first met her." Miranda swallowed hard, "And I am not the same woman since meeting you."
Shepard chuckled, "I think we can agree that I am not the same either since meeting you. So if that is all…"
"Liara can't be trusted! She's her mother's daughter!"
"And you are your father's daughter!" Shepard's biotics flared, instantly shattering the glass in between her fingers, splashing both of them with wine soaked glass particles. Shepard sighed, "Miranda, I appreciate your concern, but…"
"I love you." Miranda flinched and Shepard took a step backward. "I know this is ridiculous. I know how this complicates the chain of command, the ship's functioning, morale and the other incalculable minutiae. Not to mention the rather large detail that you are in love with someone else." Porcelain hands combed through jet-black hair. "Jesus, I have tried to ignore it, professionalize it to death, hate you. Anything. And everything ... but it is hopeless. I love you."
"Miranda…," the pause was pregnant with countless emotions.
Quickly Miranda wiped burning tears from her face. "Shepard, could you please not look at me like I have 3 heads. I am fully aware how bloody awkward this is." She stood and tried to straighten out the non-existent wrinkles off her pant legs. "I thought you deserved to know why I am giving you my resignation, and that I will never forget what you have done for my sister, and for me. I have ordered Joker to set coordinates for Illium. I'll make sure the paperwork is in order for the repairs before I transport off planet once we land."
Commander Shepard walked over to the elevator. "Yes, you're right."
Her feet began moving toward the exit, but the only thing Miranda noticed was the familiar heartache named Samantha Shepard punching through her chest. What little pride remained demanded that she keep her eyes on the floor, which she did – until she noticed the exit was blocked.
"You're right, we should get back to Illium. We can get the materials we need in secrecy. I am sure the privacy will be costly, but I trust you to iron out those details later."
Once again her vision blurred, but she managed to mutter, "Yes Commander."
Millennia of Irish stubbornness and determination stood Shepard to her full height and squarely in the doorframe. "Your resignation is denied." Miranda felt as if she was being sucked through an airlock and could not formulate a string of consciousness; not because she was angry at the Commander's refusal, but rather because she wanted Shepard's kind green eyes to look at her as they did at Liara. Miranda's heart thought it would burst in anticipation. And burst it did when Commander Shepard smiled at her as she did toward all of her friends. "Everyone, especially me, knows I cannot finish this without you. I wasn't exaggerating when I said you make me a better leader." Her brow furrowed, "Now, your orders are to meet with Tali to prepare the materials list before she leaves on her next mission. Go do your job." Shepard's eyes were as hard as moss-covered boulders. The discussion was over.
For a brief moment Miranda thought to argue, but the fact of the matter was she had no other place to go; moreover, there was no other place she would rather be. "Aye-aye, Commander. I will have the report within the hour." Miranda saluted and the doors shut between them.
"Lawson, I still believe the best mistake The Illusive Man ever made was putting you on my ship. A fact I hope he painfully realizes that fact before I put a bullet between his eyes."
"And that is the entire ship, well except for the captain's quarters, so let's go visit our illustrious leader." Garrus chuckled and gave Liara one last hug in front of the elevator. Jack had joined Tali and Garrus during the tour of the ship, curious to understand what all the excitement was about this particular asari. Sure she was very attractive, but so far she just seemed run of the mill to Jack.
As the group waited for the elevator, Tali squeezed Liara's hand and said, "It is good to see you again, Liara. She has missed you. I haven't seen her so happy since the two of you emerged from the hotel after the battle of the Citadel." Everyone, even Jack, grinned at Tali's intentional avoidance of an open discussion of sex.
The doors opened to reveal a lone occupant. "Dr. T'soni, I am on my way down down to the engineering deck to oversee the damages you caused. Would you mind joining me?"
Tali and Jack instinctively stuck their arms out to prevent the oblivious male turrian from entering the elevator. "What?" He looked at all the female faces, "Oh," he said once realization finally dawned.
"I believe I will, Dr. Lawson." Liara joined the human on the elevator and left her three tour guides gawking as the doors closed. Even though Liara had encountered the Cerberus operative only a few times, she understood her facial expression and body language perfectly.
"EDI, continue to the engineering deck and discontinue audio and visual recording on the elevator until further orders by me." Miranda watched the small red light go black and squarely faced the other woman. "You gave me a convincing warning once about what would happen to me if I brought harm to Shepard." Liara nodded and remained silent. Miranda continued, "Now, let me offer one of my own. Knowing Shepard, being with her, has irrevocably changed me. I owe her my sister's life. I owe her my life." She inhaled and held the deep breath until her chest burned, "And I love her." A long exhale followed. "And I'm not the only one. Nor are you the only asari. We are all indebted to the Justicar. Without her Commander Shepard would have died many times over. They are close. How close I cannot say. But," she sighed, "she has chosen you. It has always been you." In the back of her mind, Miranda wondered how many others sorrowfully conceded their broken heart to Liara. 'Second place is first loser', her father told her once, and the memory sparked dark energy from her body. "But that doesn't change that I love her." Miranda stepped dangerously close, "I swear on my very soul, Dr. T'Soni, if this is a game…if you again betray her… I will stop whatever I am doing, wherever I may be, to hunt you down and scatter your molecules across the universe. T'soni is not the only family dynasty with power in the galaxy, Shadow Broker. The daughter of Richard Lawson is still afforded many resources as well." Their contemptuous gaze held until the doors opened. After one last flare of her biotics, Miranda stepped off the elevator to wait for the head engineer.
"Enter," the Justicar answered from her meditation pose. The white orb floating between her palms evaporated once she sensed her guest crossed the threshold. The visit was not entirely surprising. "Dr. T'soni, please be seated. I am sorry I can not offer you any refreshments. I can only offer conversation. What can I do for you?"
"Thank you, Justicar," the maiden offered the traditional asari greeting and then sat across from the matriarch. "It seems you have done much for me already. Your wisdom and foresight humbles me." Though the greeting was customary, Samara still suspected there was more involved than traditional formalities. She nodded her approval and Liara continued. "I just spoke with Dr. Lawson, and she, along with all my friends, explained to me your pivotal roles as counselor and protector for Commander Shepard." Liara took Samara's silence as permission to continue. Her mother taught her long ago that silence was often a sign of cautious wisdom. "I also know that the two of you have a mutual attraction for one another. For too long I have been a fool, believing Shepard no longer wanted me, and that I did not deserve her. If you had pressed the issue, I am sure I would have been proven right. But for whatever reasons you may have, you have allowed me the opportunity to correct my mistake. Thank you, Justicar." Liara dropped her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself, self-doubt lapping at the edge of her mind.
"It is true that Shepard and I have a fondness for one another. But I am in love with someone else, and she is most certainly still in love with you. An admirable and amazing truth, especially after the unprecedented barriers presented to the both of you." Samara closed the space between them and placed her hand upon Liara's shoulder, "Please allow me to share some wisdom I failed to heed a long time ago. Do not squander the opportunity to foster love and trust with your bondmate, Doctor. Some never are afforded the opportunity to find love such as yours, and yet the Goddess has seen fit to offer it to you twice. Love hard, love true, and love without regret, young one. Whether by the hand of the reapers, or by her species' genetics, Shepard's life is but a flash of light passing quickly through our galaxy. Stand with her and beside her. She needs you to be her armor bearer and safe keeper of her heart." Samara lifted Liara's chin to look directly in her eyes, "I have observed Shepard in many different situations and she lives her life on the precipice of danger and death, without hesitation; but she also lives with another powerful and inescapable truth… she is incomplete without you." As tears welled up in the young maiden's eyes, Samara gently kissed her forehead. "I know I am not your mother, child, but I knew her well. She would want you to be whole again, to be happy, to be with the woman you love."
After the two embraced, Liara headed to the door. "One more bit of caution, Doctor." Liara glanced back over her shoulder to listen. "Do not take my grace as foolishness. Should Samantha Shepard return to my private quarters, it is very possible that my resolve will not remain as strong a second time."
Looking at her swollen face for the thousandth time, Shepard cursed the anti-inflammatories for not working fast enough. She glanced to the right and noticed a large hole peeking from her armpit. "Do I have any clothes that don't have holes in them?" She went back to the pile of clothes near her footlocker. She heard the familiar laughter of her best friend as she pulled an old Cerberus shirt over her head.
"Wow, it looks like it has been a while since you wrestled with an asari. Did you forget that they have both reach and flexibility?" He walked over to the coffee table and picked up a data pad containing the Commander's most recent orders.
"Don't you see my bruises? We already had angry sex and I survived. Get out and so I can have round two." Before he could leave, however, Shepard stopped him, "Oh and Garrus… um… thank you. I couldn't have…"
"I know. I know. You couldn't have done it without me. That's what she said." The two friends shared a long overdue laugh. "Save the mushy stuff for the females, Shepard."
"Oh fuck you, Garrus."
"No thanks. I've seen Liara jealous. I wouldn't stand a chance." He looked over the datapad and his mandibles twitched. "Has she agreed to this? Have they both agreed to this?"
"Tali has. I will talk to Liara. What about you?"
"Your logic makes sense. I am honored you trust me. Count me in," Garrus said with a large turian grin. "I will find Tali and wait for the all clear."
Relieved, Shepard returned her attention to the mirror and to her injuries. "Damn Shepard, you certainly fell for a high-spirited girl," she said as she pressed on her purple bruise. Her smile only widened when she saw the guest of honor enter into her quarters, and continued during their embrace. "I know I am smiling like an idiot, but to have you here with me, it is all I have hoped for since I last saw you on the Normandy before I…"
Liara gently placed her fingers on Shepard's lips. "Here Shepard. I have been waiting a long time to give you this." Light reflected off of metal as she pulled something from around her neck.
"My tags," Shepard was genuinely amazed. "How did you…?"
"Never mind how. I took them because you are my…," a deep blush colored her cheeks.
Shepard lightly kissed her full lilac lips and whispered, "Yes, I am yours. I remember the first time I saw you blush on Therum. It had the same effect then as it does now." Liara looked puzzled. "I fell in love with you."
As Shepard deposited her tags on her desk, Liara walked to the table to pick up a wine glass, "Joker and I spent some time together. He said he was happy to see me, and to see us 'back to normal'. He also said that the last time someone shot at his baby, they were escorted out the airlock. I told him it was only a few scratches and that he did worse when he docked on Illium." Liara grinned as she felt Shepard's arms snake around her waist. "He also wanted to know if we were going to act out scenes from 'Vaenia'".
Shepard laughed heartily, "Joker knows better than to ask that. He is fully aware that we are the inspiration for that vid. They re-enact us."
Without explanation, Liara bristled as her attention was drawn to the damaged helmet also lying on the desk. "I feel like I am coming out of a fog, Sam. I lost so much of my life, but you know what? That fog helped protect me from feeling my pain of losing you. Now that it is lifting, I am reminded how much I am afraid again. I am so confused." Part of Liara was happy to be able to share her feelings, but she spoke the truth when she said she was deeply fearful, and not just of death taking her away again. "I know you have feelings for Samara, and the perfect Ms. Lawson is in love with you. In fact, based on my conversation with the crew, it is quite possible that everyone is." She wiped tears from her eyes still keeping her back to Shepard.
"Liara," Shepard embraced her once again, "it is true I have feelings for Samara. She saved my life multiple times and it is common for shipmates to confuse their emotions. But as she astutely pointed out to me, she is not the asari I want." Shepard kissed the folds on Liara's neck and felt her body tremble. "And as for Miranda, I am aware how she feels about me, but that will change over time, especially since I do not return those feelings. She's got her issues, but she trusts me. I care about her. And I will not dismiss her from my team," Liara stiffened but Shepard continued, "because she also has saved my life. This entire team has bonded, and to disrupt one will disrupt all. I can't afford that, not at this point in the game. And Liara, she is a damn fine XO. I can focus on what I am good at because I don't have to worry about my ship or my crew."
"I know you are a good captain and the needs of your crew are paramount. Be patient with me. I just now am learning how to trust again. I can say there are some changes I see in her. She was so cold when I met her, completely focused on her duty."
Shepard snorted, "I don't know that she's changed that much."
Liara turned to face her love. "She has. Believe me. You have no idea how much you've changed her. You are right to keep her as XO, but it doesn't mean I like it, or her." Once again they embraced and Liara leaned into Shepard's chest. "What happens to us? You are still on a life-threatening mission. If this all ends tomorrow, what do you want?"
"Marriage. Old age. A lot of blue children?"
Liara smiled, "You just say these things." Far away in her memory, she felt her soul ripping from her as her lover breathed her last. The smiled vanished and she tried to pull away. "You were dead"
Shepard grabbed her, demanding Liara's fear to retreat. "I got better."
Small crystals fell from her sorrowful blue eyes. "I spent two years mourning you… Sometimes I still want to run far away, to hide from everyone, to avoid another heartache, more failure. But you are so resolute. You are my touchstone, Sam. You are my home." Worry began to withdraw, allowing small blades of hope to break through the hardened terrain of her heart. "Ok Sam, if if we're going to try this… I need to know you're always coming back."
"I don't know. That's a pretty big promise to make."
"Oh is it?" Liara balled her fists at that damnable arrogant smirk that melted her heart as it had the first time she saw it.
"I have to have something special to come back to," Liara purred when Shepard began kissing her neck, "Or someone special to go with me."
"Shepard, you know I am committed to be the Shadow Broker." Liara found it hard to be angry when her body felt so happy. Still she managed to separate from her fiery hot kisses.
"I've thought about this. Listen to my idea." Liara pursed her lips. "Just listen… please. That base is way too big to man for just one or two people, especially 'round the clock, and more so with all of the damage you and I caused. And it just so happens that I know a genius quarian who has a marine boyfriend that would be a fantastic addition to your ship's crew. I also know a very trustworthy turian who comes highly recommended (by me), who would love to get his talons on the defensive weapons. I can also leave half of my crew with your ship while you and I head off for repairs and get supplies. We can hook EDI to the ship's computer and you can oversee everything from the Normandy. Maybe there remain some loyal acolytes of your mother who would be willing to help take on this task of managing the data, or if nothing else for security. I know you want some security and promises, so do I. All I'm asking is for you to come with me while we get some maintenance and pick up supplies for your ship."
"What about…?" Liara was wavering. Shepard could feel it.
"The rest can wait for now." Shepard's eyes were staring at Liara's full bottom lip and had to fight a desire to rush in and consume her. She wondered if Liara could hear her heart pounding in her chest. Slowly and agonizingly, the zipper released from the top of the dress and Liara's skin reacted to the feel of cool air and Shepard's palpable desire. The maiden blushed and shyly looked away. Samantha knew better. Those innocent looks were false. The young maiden's desire and unquenchable passion were well hidden to most people, but they were playfully mocking her behind the chastity of those blue eyes. In time they would change from childlike innocence to flirtatious, from flirtatious aroused, from aroused to demanding. The shy maiden would soon disappear and would be replaced by a Goddess of Desire and Lust in the flesh, full of carnal desires and salacious requests, expecting as much pleasure as she herself would offer.
Somehow their instincts took over, and they began rediscovery with caresses, almost from muscle memory. The building eagerness was maddening, but the deliberate skill was necessary, the build up to desire and invitation to intimacy. A few hours ago when they made love, it was needful, animalistic and primal. But this time the two lovers took their time, sharing giggles in their awkwardness, absorbing taste, sight, and smell of the other.
The dress puddled at the feet of the asari and the gentle light from the fish tank bathed her finely toned body in adoring light. It was now her turn to disrobe her lover. The buttons and fasteners were created for combat, not easy access, but the she did not mind, nor did she rush. It allowed Shepard time to run her hands up her neck. Liara was fascinated that even now her body still reacted to the sensations. Shepard continued to leisurely explore the curves of her neck and jawline with the lightest of touches. The caresses continued to the back of her head, and when Shepard pulled her closer, the pads of her thumbs softly examined the freckles in the corners of her eyes.
Finally the Commander's uniform joined the luxurious dress on the floor. Humble tears threatened to fall from the corner of Liara's eyes as Shepard offered her bruised and battered body to the very one that caused them. She was vulnerable, beautiful, and perfect. And for the first time since reconnecting, they met each other within the loss and pain frozen in time for almost three years.
Greedy fingers began by exploring the outline of her bruised face, starting with the recessed emeralds that surely had been created within the heart of the Goddess herself. Next came the curl - her curl. Corner to corner she traced the grin that she loved as much as Shepard herself. Liara's eyes trailed up to meet a silent plea. With as much urgency that they were feeling, the kiss was surprisingly gentle, and still hinted of the wine from the moment previous. Once again Liara's hands began to travel. Down her neck. Across her collarbone. Down the crease of her exposed chest. Down to her waistline. Around her to her back and across the small of her back. Over the curve of her rock hard backside. Down her firm thighs, which had now surreptitiously tightened around her leg. A resonating and primal need exploded and flared between both women, and for a moment they stared at each other in complete silence.
"I think it is time you take me to bed," Shepard's voice was riddled with lust. Limbs tangled, tongues fought for dominance, and soon their skin began releasing the inferno of heat created by grinding of hips and stomachs sliding against one another. The Shadow Broker was conquering her. She didn't care. Eventually she won the battle and Commander Shepard was pinned down on the bed. She wanted to bury her face in Liara's chest, but the intense look on her captor's face told her she was not allowed to move. "Embrace Eternity," the Shadow Broker whispered, simultaneously moving inside her, guided by the movements and moans from her captive. She was deep inside now, and the Commander surrendered. They were as one. No differentiation of where one started or the other ended. Liara pressed against her, moving harder, never leaving the gaze of her lover. Her thrusts came more rapidly and Shepard grabbed Liara's hips, begging her to go deeper. Pleasured emotions poured from her body. "Stay with me, Liara. I need you. I want you. I love you." Once their passion reached its zenith, they fell exhausted into each other's exhausted embrace. How long they slept they did not know. One, the other, or both, would awaken and passion began once again.
Only when the ship reached Illium did Shepard leave her quarters, and only long enough to make sure the orders were underway and form a materials list with her crew. She returned to the captain's quarters certain Miranda would take care of the details. Had Liara been with her for hours or days? So often Time had been against them, and soon would be again. But for the moment the two lovers had a great deal of time make up for. They allowed themselves to be at peace, to be in the present. All anxieties and threats vanished here on the Normandy SR2, on the closest thing either of them had to a home.
Four days after returning to the Shadow Broker's base, the lover's lay in each other's arms. Their bodies fit nicely against one another. Shepard was drawing invisible symbols in the small of Liara's back and was foolish enough to imagine she could stay right here forever.
"Commander, sorry to bother you, but you have an urgent message from Admiral Hackett," Joker said.
"Let Miranda take it," Shepard mumbled.
"I'm sorry ma'am. Ordered you specifically to answer." There was no joke or sarcasm in Joker's voice. Both Liara and Shepard sat up at once.
If any sleppiness remained, it vanished instantly when the deep bass of Admiral Hackett's voice came over the communication link. "Shepard, no time for introductions or explanations. Joker filled me in on the status of your ship and of your mission. We can discuss that later when you arrival back on Earth. We need you to come in."
"Who is 'we'?" Shepard squinted.
"Everyone Shepard. Every living being in every system." The normal frivolity Admiral Hackett shared with Shepard was replaced by dread and anxiety. "We received a transmission... for you actually... and code red has been issued to every planet to which we have access. You need to hear this. Joker, put it through."
"You have destroyed the base of our servants, you delayed our earlier attempt to return. You think to rally all species to your cause. These attempts are futile. We are the evolution of all living things. We are the harbingers of your destiny, Shepard. All you have succeeding in doing is hastening our return. You grow too arrogant. The time is nigh. Your destiny is upon you. We return for our children. We are coming for you, Shepard." The message ended.
A deep chill walked across their skin and Shepard's eyes and scars blazed in the dark. "There is where the message ends, Shepard. It seems you stirred their anger and made it personal. However, the Council can not hide this any longer. Reports are coming in from every race asking for emergency assitance and a plan of action. You know them best. Everything else can wait. Joker said you can arrive within 2 days. I expect you here no later. Admiral Hackett out."
"I'll have everyone meet you in the conference room, Sam." Both were dressed and Liara headed for the door, "Goddess this is it, isn't it?"
Shepard lightly kissed Liara and the elevator closed. "I hope so. Bring it sons-of-bitches. You want me? Come and claim me."