Liara sat at her workstation, her thoughts lost in the puzzle that was Commander Shepard. The woman was hard. She pushed her crew to the breaking
point and would come down on them like a meteor storm if they deserved it. She would also be the first to help them when they needed it or praise them for a job well done. Liara had overheard the Normandy crew describe Shepard as cold, distant and arrogant. They were terrified of her but seemed to
respect her, in part due to some battle that had taken place several years ago. Because Liara chose to spend most of her time working alone at dig sites, she knew little of human involvement in the galaxy and knew nothing of Commander Shepard's past. Liara learned from her brief conversations with the crew that most would blindly follow Shepard anywhere she felt the need to lead them. The commander exuded confidence and pushed herself twice as hard as she pushed her crew. She kept a tight rein on her emotions so, for most, it was impossible to see anything other than a woman completely in control of herself and her domain when looking at Shepard. Liara had glimpsed something else though. Underneath the persona of Commander, Liara saw a woman…an extraordinary woman to be sure but a vulnerable woman who hurts and despite being surrounded by people, carries her burdens alone. In the days she had been aboard the Normandy, she had taken every opportunity to observe the commander as she went about her duties. It was a bit unnerving to feel so drawn to a total stranger but Liara couldn't help herself. She found her eyes, of their own free will, searching for the commander each time she left her assigned quarters behind the med bay. She watched the commander's every move when they were in close proximity to each other and saw flashes of the real Shepard underneath the commander's mask. Liara wanted to sit and talk with the commander…get to know her on a personal level. And, if she was being honest with herself, find out more about Shepard's encounter with the Prothean beacon. It was almost as if Shepard was avoiding her though. She was polite and respectful but tended to leave a room if Liara entered. Liara felt sure that she had done something to anger the woman but had no idea what or how to fix it.

Perhaps I should speak with Dr. Chakwas, she thought. She might have an idea of what I did wrong. Or, maybe I should ask the commander. She is a straightforward person and…

A knock at the door startled Liara from her thoughts. She turned to see Commander Shepard entering the room, the hint of a smile on her face.

"Commander Shepard, what can I do for you?" Liara stammered, surprised by the unexpected visit from the commander.

"Dr. T'Soni, I just wanted to ask you to join the rest of the team in the comm center in a few minutes. I want to bring you up to speed on our mission and take advantageof your knowledge of the Protheans."

"Please, call me Liara, Commander. I would be happy to join the team to discuss the mission and, of course, I will be of any help I can." Liara's heart was pounding in her chest just being in the small room with Shepard whose eyes, Liara noticed, were roaming all over the room, refusing to rest on Liara.

Shepard turned to leave, "Good, I'll see you in there…Liara."

Liara watched Shepard's retreating form and felt herself blushing. She couldn't help the silly smile that covered her face. Goddess, just to hear her say my name makes my heart want to fly right out of my chest.

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Shepard's knees felt weak after speaking with Dr. T'Soni. What is it about her that does this to me?, she thought. Since Liara had been brought to the Normandy, Shepard had been avoiding her. She couldn't trust herself around the Asari. When she was near Liara, she wanted to reach out to her both physically and emotionally. From the moment she met the scientist, Shepard felt an invisible force pulling her towards Dr. T'Soni and it took all of her considerable willpower to keep herself from giving in to the impulse. She couldn't let herself be vulnerable like that again. It was best to keep her distance and keep their contact to a minimum. Not easy to do in such close quarters, Shepard thought as she entered the comm room. Liara and Garrus entered just behind her. Shepard brought Liara up to date on the mission and asked for her input concerning the Protheans. Shepard couldn't resist smiling at how animated the Asari was when discussing her work. Unfortunately, Liara was unable to provide any useful information that would explain Saren's interest in the beacon. She did question Shepard extensively about her contact with the working beacon and before the team dispersed, Liara offered to help Shepard understand the visions she received from the beacon. She explained that, by melding with Shepard and due to her expertise on the Protheans , she may be able to help sort the images into a more complete picture. Shepard was hesitant but willing to do anything that would help her stop Saren.

Liara stood in front of Shepard, staring into her eyes. Her head was tilted back and her beautiful blue eyes were suddenly a black void. Shepard was startled but barely had time to think about it before she felt Liara… inside her. She didn't know how to explain what she was feeling. She panicked trying to close herself off from the Asari, to lock her out of all the memories, loss and pain. Liara must have sensed her struggle because Shepard could feel a wave of calm rush through her. She felt like she was being embraced and, for the first time since she was a very small child, she felt protected. Shepard let herself relax into the warmth that was Liara and was able to focus on the visions from the beacon. She could sense Liara's discomfort and fear at what she was seeing but she could also sense, at Liara's core, a strength and determination that surprised her. After a few minutes, Shepard could feel Liara pull away from her. The Asari's eyes were blue again and she looked very unsteady on her feet.

"Liara, are you okay?"

"I am sorry, Commander. The melding is very draining and I have not fully regained my strength. I just need to rest," said Liara who was swaying on her feet.

Shepard took Liara's arm to steady her, "I think Dr. Chakwas should take a look at you. Let me help you to the med bay."

Her touch only makes my knees feel weaker, thought Liara.

She pulled her arm from Shepard's grasp. "Maybe you are right, Commander. I will talk with Dr. Chakwas. I can get to the med bay on my own. You must have more important things to do than tend to me. Perhaps we can talk more about the images you received from the beacon tomorrow."

Shepard, feeling rejected, acknowledged Liara with a nod as the Asari left the comm center. She dismissed the rest of the team and made her way to her quarters.

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Liara did talk with Dr. Chakwas who prescribed several days of rest. She was now lying on the bed in the small room at the back of the med bay. For hours now, she had been trying to sleep but she couldn't stop thinking about Commander Shepard. The melding with Shepard was very difficult. The woman had so many barriers locking parts of herself away. It took most of Liara's energy to calm Shepard and help her focus on the visions from the beacon. The visions themselves were terrifying to Liara. They showed nothing but widespread destruction. Unfortunately, she didn't have enough understanding to make sense of them. She couldn't imagine how Shepard had managed to survive the experience with the beacon. It would have destroyed most people. Even after only a few days, Liara knew that Commander Shepard was not most people and was quite probably the most amazing being she would ever meet. Liara was curious by nature and she wanted to know what had happened to Shepard to make her panic during the melding. She could still feel Shepard's anxiety and fear bombarding her. Her heart ached for Shepard and she wanted to protect her as she had tried to do during the melding. I want to know more about her and her past, thought Liara as she moved from her bed to the computer sitting in the small room.

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Shepard entered her quarters and locked the door. She had an open door policy with her crew but she needed time alone right now. She sat on the edge of her bed, tears streaming from her eyes. She hated feeling this way…alone, scared, weak. This was the real Shepard- the Shepard no one knew. She had worked so hard to create the other Shepard, Commander Shepard, and being that person was as easy as breathing most of the time. There were times, like now, when she just needed to be herself, to feel the fear and pain and loneliness. The loneliness was the hardest for her. Everyone saw her as a cold, heartless bitch that would do anything to complete a mission because that's the person she wanted them to see. Her crew feared her, respected her, but they didn't like her. On a ship full of people, Shepard always felt alone…until today. When she panicked today during the meld, Liara sensed it and somehow comforted her. She made Shepard feel safe. That's why Shepard had to keep her distance from the Asari. She couldn't let herself feel again. She didn't think she could pick up the pieces to put herself back together if she let herself feel those things only to lose them again. Shepard wanted so badly to go to Liara and talk with her, sit with her… just be near her. Instead, she curled up on her bed, hugging her pillow tightly to her chest, and cried until sleep claimed her.

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Liara sat in front of the computer reading the information again. She couldn't believe that someone as young as Shepard had been through so much. The commander had not had an easy life. It is no wonder she builds a wall around herself, thought Liara. The information Liara managed to find concerned Shepard's life after she joined the Alliance. She was a military hero and the only survivor of her squad after a Thresher Maw attack. There was very little mention about her childhood years other than she grew up an orphan on Earth. Liara knew that those early years were probably not happy ones for Shepard. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know everything about this woman who had managed to capture her interest with no more than a look. She did not think it wise to question Shepard and didn't feel comfortable asking the crew. She could sense that they didn't trust her and were waiting for her to betray them to her mother. She did, however, feel that she could talk with Dr. Chakwas. Liara stood from her chair and had to resist the impulse to wake the doctor immediately. Instead, she walked through the med bay and found herself in the crew dining area where she poured something to drink and sat down at a table. She knew that she should try to sleep but felt very awake and was unable to stop thinking about Commander Shepard… her green eyes, confidence, strength… the loneliness she felt from Shepard during the meld. The thought of Shepard, this amazing, strong woman feeling like she was alone in the universe nearly broke Liara's heart. She couldn't help feeling that there was some sort of connection between them. It's just me feeling like this because she rescued me from those geth, thought Liara. Her mind wouldn't let her believe that there might be something between them but her heart reminded her of the way Shepard looked at her when they first met, the way Shepard hesitated before releasing her hand after helping her to her feet. Liara wanted to let Shepard know that she is not alone. She just didn't know how to do that without embarrassing herself or, worse, upsetting the commander. She finished her tea and rose to go to her bed to try to sleep.

"Well, if it isn't the traitor's daughter."

Liara recognized the man as part of the crew but she had never spoken to him and didn't know his name.

"It seems that I'm at a disadvantage since I have no idea who you are" said Liara.

"You don't need to know who I am. Are you a traitor like your mother? Just waiting for all of us to trust you so you can sell us out to Saren?"

"I'm sorry you feel that way. I have betrayed no one and have no intention of doing anything to harm this ship or this crew. If you'll excuse me…"

The man grabbed Liara by the arm in a vice like grip and spun her back around to face him. "Don't walk away from me when I'm talking to you, Asari bitch!"

Liara winced from the grip around her arm but tried to stay calm. She wanted the crew to trust her, not feel that she would betray them at any moment. "Please, release my arm."

He tightened his grip and pulled Liara toward him. "You'll be sorry you ever came aboard this ship. I see the way you look at the commander, trying to gain her trust. I won't let you hurt her or anyone else on this ship."

Liara was starting to feel frightened. She thought she could use her biotics to free herself from the man's grasp but that was no way to build trust with the crew. Who would they believe if one of their own told them that she attacked him unprovoked?

The man grabbed her other wrist and pushed her against the wall. His face was inches from her and she could smell the alcohol on his breath.

"Stop this now and no one else needs to know. Let me go", pleaded Liara.

His response was to shove her against the wall and push a syringe into her arm. Liara's head slammed against the wall and she felt herself going limp. She slid down the wall only to have her attacker pull her back to her feet and slam her against the wall a second time. He threw her to the floor and she could feel his hands groping and pulling at her clothing. Oh goddess, don't let this happen. Liara could feel warmth spreading through her body and her mind was beginning to feel disconnected. She tried to use her biotics but it was useless. Whatever the man had given her was acting as a barrier. She couldn't do anything to help herself. He will kill me, thought Liara. I know who he is and he will kill me. She made one last desperate effort to push him away but only succeeded in angering him. Liara was thinking that she would never have a chance with Commander Shepard as blackness took her.