Epilogue: Set Free.
"I put together a list of bars that are safe to hang out in, slang terms you have to know and some names of people you can call if you have a problem," the turian was saying as he handed Abby a datapad. "Have a look at it and if you have any questions- you know where to reach me. There are two rules on Omega. One: Don't trust anybody and two…"
Asura watched as Abby took the datapad with trembling fingers and smiled. "Don't fuck with Aria," she said, keeping her eyes downcast as she tucked the datapad in under her arm. "I know. Thank you Garrus." When she looked up, Asura could see that she was putting up a brave face though her eyes were moist. She held her hand out to the turian who took it carefully. They nodded at each other and without another word, Abby moved onto the next person present. Asura didn't miss the brief look Miranda Lawson send her way as she offered Abby her hand and spoke to her in quiet tones. Clearly the woman still remembered how close Asura had come to killing her.
Crossing her arms as she leaned against the side of the shuttle she had chosen for their journey, Asura sighed and looked around the hanger at the small group of people that had assembled. Except for the turian and Miranda, there was only one other person. She had expected two more at least.
Jane Shepard looked calm and almost lazy as she watched the brief interaction between Miranda and Abby. Then, her features sharpened a bit as she looked up and met Asura's gaze. Sparing a glance in the other's direction, the spectre broke away from them and came to her. Asura made sure to keep Jane's gaze though inwardly she could feel her stomach turning. It was fascinating that someone merely a decade older than her sister could hold so much power. She didn't sense a shred of fear from Commander Jane Shepard as she came to stand beside her and she admired that.
"I'll take care of her Commander," she said before the human could say anything. "You have my word on that. By the Goddess, I will keep her safe."
Jane's mouth thinned as she shifted and crossed her arms as well. "You better," she said. "If you don't, no power in the 'verse will stop me from getting at you. None. Do we have an understanding?"
Asura shivered at the clarity in her voice and nodded. "I understand Commander," she said. "And trust me, I'm not pleased with this Omega development. I didn't know that Abby had gone to Aria for help. I wouldn't have approved. It was never my intention…"
Jane looked at her sharply. "There are many bodies that lay at the hands of people's virtuous intentions," she pointed out. "Many. What you have to accept is that Abby's your responsibility now, and I will hold you accountable. You take care of her. You hold onto her for as long as she wants you to. And you fight for her. Don't make my mistakes. And, if your hunger becomes greater than what she can satisfy; you let her go. Do not destroy her when you destroy yourself."
A shadow of fear passed Asura and she shivered, hugging herself. That won't ever happen, she thought. Would it? She was satisfied now. Calm. But then again, how many had she killed the day before?
"I won't let that happen, Commander," she said sombrely. "I'll kill myself first."
Shepard's eyes were narrow as she regarded her. "See that you do," she said coldly. Then, her features changed as she saw Miranda and Abby looking at them.
Abby still wore her brave, calm face. When she saw Jane look at them she smiled at Miranda one last time and walked closer to them. Jane, without another word in Asura's direction, met her half way. The two women didn't say anything as they faced each other. Jane started to hold out her hand but then Abby stepped forward and hugged her. Jane, after a brief pause that told Asura it was the first time they did so, soon returned the gesture. They were almost of the same height, allowing Abby to rest her head on the Commander's shoulder. Now for the first time Asura saw a look of agony cross her features as she started crying, telling the Ardat Yakshi how hard it truly was for her to step away from the Normandy and Shepard. Asura felt a wave of jealousy and quickly squelched it but the imprint remained.
She knew that Abby shared something with Jane, something unnamed, but solid and unbreakable. Whether the commander knew of this was to be debated, but she knew from the memories that Abby had of her previous life that she had walked a very tight path with the woman's avatar. In her own way the vet loved the woman, admired her and even though she came to this world to find her real, Asura doubted that Jane Shepard had disappointed Abby. Letting go of Jane Shepard symbolised the act of letting go of safety.
And Abby was having a hard time with it.
She saw the vet slowly release her arms around Jane and drop her gaze to the floor, tears spilling down her cheeks. Jane in turn, although Asura could not see her features, dropped her head to Abby's and rested her forehead against hers. Still, they didn't say anything until Abby stepped away, brought her hand to Jane's cheek and kissed the other.
"Thank you," the dark haired woman said simply when she drew away. "For everything."
It dawned on Asura that Abby was thanking her, not just for the services that she had done for her in this life, but in the one Abby had lived before, when playing a game became her only sanctuary from her rising thoughts of suicide and her fluctuating disability.
Jane simply nodded, accepting it all and squeezed Abby's hand that she had taken from her cheek. Then she stiffened as she looked up, beyond the vet. Asura too turned her attention in that direction and saw that Liara T'soni had joined them. Asura wasn't too surprised to see her, as she was one of the people missing from her mental list of attendants. The new Shadow Broker didn't come into the hanger but remained at the door, staring at Shepard. Abby too had turned to look at her and, wiping at the tears on her cheeks, squeezed Jane's shoulder and slowly stepped away from her. Asura immediately looked at her again; T'soni's arrival dismissed in her mind, and met her gaze. Her heart clenched suddenly and she wondered what Abby would decide. Would her doubt and hesitance over leaving Shepard's side win? Asura didn't know what she would do if Abby decided, in these last few precious seconds, that she would rather remain behind.
Yet, despite her tears, the vet smiled at her and walked closer with her unsteady, concentrating gait. She took the hand that Asura held out to her and allowed her to pull her to her side and put a steadying arm around her.
"Are you ready to go?" She whispered, watching Abby's eyes for any hesitation.
There was none.
"Yes," the vet whispered and smiled sadly. "Before my heart breaks."
Asura nodded and on impulse, pulled her closer and gave her a careful half hug, her eyes turning back to Liara. The younger asari was looking at them and, when their gazes met, she simply inclined her head. Asura returned the gesture, then swept her gaze around the hanger.
"I thought Jack would be here."
Abby closed her eyes and shook her head, turning so that she could step into the shuttle. Asura instinctively turned so that she could help her up the first step. She made to answer Asura but a fresh set of tears brimmed in her eyes and she quickly turned her face away.
Understanding enough to know that she shouldn't push the matter, Asura felt a wave of fury directed towards the other biotic. Whatever she had done...
"Wait wait wait wait!"
An excited voice echoed through the hanger, drawing everybody's attention. The salarian, whose name Asura didn't know, came into the hanger at a jog, dragging a loader filled with many storage containers behind him. His eyes were bright when he looked at Asura.
"Have heard that you are going to Omega," he said in a voice even quicker than normal for his species. "Would appreciate it if you could drop me off. Need to check up on my clinic." He walked straight past Shepard without looking at her. "Would you mind, Dr. Gable?"
The salarian's entrance broke the spell that had been between Liara T'soni and Jane, but Asura felt herself trapped by his sudden appearance. She opened her mouth to protest but felt Abby's hand tighten in hers. When she turned to the vet, Abby shook her head carefully, her smile weak but amused.
"Of course Professor," she said. "There's a lot of space." She gave his luggage a bemused look. "Though... Perhaps not for all of it." She turned a questioning look on Asura, which the Ardat Yakshi returned with a mild level of panic. The salarian meanwhile, grinned happily.
"Can make anything fit," he said happily. "Might have to sit a container up on one of the chairs. But, the volume of the shuttle will allow space for all of us. I calculated. Shepard?" It bothered Asura that Shepard didn't look surprised at all.
"Yes Mordin?" she said simply and spared him a smile. "I see you're intent to follow through."
The salarian grinned at her. "Yes," he said simply. "I'll return. But, there's important work to be done. This is the quickest way. I appreciate your understanding." He nodded at her so deeply that it appeared to be a bow.
It felt like a well rehearsed play. Looking at Abby to see whether she had noticed it, Asura shifted uncomfortably and gave Shepard a cold look. The commander smiled at her, but she didn't like the look and quickly looked back to Abby. The vet seemed very calm as she shifted and pulled herself into the shuttle's cabin, helping Mordin pull his luggage in. She didn't look at Asura again until she had helped Mordin arrange everything. Then, as the salarian found a space near the front of the cabin to sit, Abby came to the door and held out her hand, inviting Asura into the cabin.
Her cheeks were still wet with tears but her dark eyes were amused. "They're not going to let us leave without him," she whispered. "It'll be fine. You'll be fine. Come on lass, let's go." She spread her hand further and Asura, realising that she wouldn't be able to protest, took it and allowed the woman to guide her into the shuttle. To her surprise though, Abby didn't let go immediately but pulled her into a hug. That simple touch eased her fears and even smoothed over some of her irritation.
She's still coming with me, she thought happily and turned back to the others present in the room. She didn't miss the sadness in Shepard's eyes as Abby held up her hand one last time and waved them good bye. There was nothing else that they could say and the salarian had clearly said his good byes before they reached the hanger. So, Asura guided Abby to the seat in front with her and closed the shuttle doors. The salarian had already pulled out a datapad and was busy typing on it, humming softly under his breath.
Only until Omega, Asura thought as she sat down in the pilot's seat and closed the shuttle doors. She glanced at Abby once to find that she was staring out of the window, looking at the others as they vacated the hanger so that she could leave. Her face was sad again and when she felt Asura look at her she turned her head and grimaced.
Ignoring the salarian professor, Asura gave Abby a reassuring smile and took her hand, squeezing it gently and to her delight, Abby enclosed her own hand around it and brought it to her lips for a kiss.
Dr. Liara T'soni did not join them in the hanger, because she thought that the farewell was a private affair and that her presence would not be welcomed by either party. But, she had to see the shuttle out and she also knew that this might well be the last time that Shepard would be onboard the ship.
She nodded at Asura as they left and mused at the fact that Mordin Solus had joined them. Liara had no doubt in her mind that Shepard lay behind that move. She had seen in the files that the old Broker had had on the salarian that Shepard had recruited him in Omega and he seemed to be the most logical choice to send with the vet.
Liara didn't need to look at Shepard's face to tell that it was very hard for Jane to be saying good bye to both of them. Yet, when Jane turned around and realised that Liara was looking at her, her face turned stoic. There was the briefest moment in which Liara thought that she was going to glare at her but then she simply shook her head slightly and started walking towards the door, Miranda and Garrus falling in behind her like body guards. Whether it was their intention to look so threatening, Liara couldn't say but it did make her feel even further removed from Shepard.
She was reminded of the very first time that she saw Jane, of that moment when she realised that the people on the other side of the prothean shield weren't figments of her imagination. She had been weak and dehydrated, barely able to stand after the fight they had with the krogan battlemaster and his geth. When the tunnels started caving in around them, she had not thought that she would find the strength to run fast enough but Shepard and been behind her, pushing her forward with her sheer force of will. She had felt then that she could draw strength from the Commander's presence and it was something to get used to, knowing that that strength wasn't hers to share in anymore.
Jane moved past her without a word with Miranda close at her heel, though the Normandy's XO spared her a brief sympathetic look. Garrus however remained with her as the doors to the hanger closed completely. Liara sighed and didn't look at him as she called up her omni-tool, that was now linked up to the whole ship, and sealed off the room so that Asura could leave. She was a lot more familiar with the system now and Tali had joined her earlier to help her with some of the technical issues she had trouble with. It had been good to see the quarian again and to realise that she wasn't necessarily angry with her over her choice to remain here. She felt the same kinship with her as she did with Garrus.
"So," Garrus finally purred next to her as he studied the schematics on her omni-tool. "Are you just going to let her walk away?"
Liara raised an eyebrow at him and smiled, feeling happier with the turian standing over her. "She doesn't want to talk to me Garrus," she said. "And... I can understand why."
The turian gave her a curious look and shifted his bird like gaze. "Why?" He asked. "Because you've told her to leave you alone?"
Liara shook her head quickly, horrified. "No," she said. "Of course, I would never say that to Shepard."
"Then what did you say to her?"
It was hard to remember actually. Since she had slept, the details of the discussion that they had had, had blurred somewhat. She knew that they shouldn't have talked to each other then, that they should both have just taken some time to get some rest and gain perspective of what had happened. Yet, in that same breath, she didn't regret what she had said.
"I said to her that we're broken," she said softly. "That she should let me go so that I may find my own way."
Garrus made a rumbling sound beside her, almost like a growl though she knew it was in consideration. "You know Liara," he said. "I could've told her that. You two haven't been right since..." He trailed off and shrugged. "A while."
Liara flinched despite herself and glared at him. "Is there a point to this conversation? I have things to do."
He grinned at her, savagely and without humour.
"Yes," he said. "The first being to make Shepard understand that you're not pushing her away. You might not have said it Liara but that's how she's experiencing it. She thinks that you're leaving her. That you have shunned her friendship and that when she leaves here, you never want to see her again."
She wasn't about to be intimated by him and glared up. "Like Samara did?" She shot back. "Did you say this to the Justicar as she left the Normandy?"
Garrus blinked at her surprised and gave her a sharp look. "No," he said. "I didn't. Because Samara just left. She didn't give Shepard a second chance. And the reason it sounds as if I'm preaching to you Liara is because I don't want you to underestimate how fragile Jane is at the moment. You might think that she'll get over this, but this isn't just about you. It's about what Samara did to her. So, if you don't fix this now, if you don't make her understand that you want her back, you'll lose her for good. And as a friend to you both, I don't want to see that happen."
Liara looked at him, wondering if he knew how big his request was. "Garrus," she said softly. "Why didn't you tell me that they were lovers? Why didn't you tell me that Shepard... That Jane... Why didn't you tell me?"
This time it was the turian's opportunity to look embarrassed. His mandibles shifted and he glanced in the direction Shepard had left. On Liara's omni-tool, it told her that Asura's shuttle had left and that she could ventilate the hanger again. She set in the commands to do so but turned her attention back to Garrus just as he rubbed his neck, embarrassed.
"I had hoped that you two would discuss it yourself," he said. "And, I didn't want to hurt you Liara. I knew how much she meant to you."
Liara grimaced and said nothing, staring at the closed door for a few moments. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned to face her old friend directly.
"Garrus, tell me something," she said. "Honestly."
The turian's mandibles twitched again as he looked at her with attention. Liara had to steel herself then asked quickly, before she lost her nerve.
"Did I make a mistake giving her to Cerberus so that they can bring her back from the dead?" It came out in such a rush she was surprised that he had heard it, much less understood her. He was clearly surprised by her question and stood there in the empty hallway, considering it from all angles like an assassin would a potential target.
"No," he said finally and with conviction. "No Liara, I don't think you did the wrong thing. And, I can tell you now. Neither does Shepard."
About an hour into the journey, Asura noticed that Abby had nodded off, her face pale and peaceful in sleep. She smiled at the vet and would've touched her had it not been for the salarian. Mordin Solus was still humming to himself and Asura was worried that he might break into full out song before the eight hour journey was done.
He grew quiet now and shifted behind her, leaning forward so that he could run his omni-tool over Abby. Asura didn't like it and glared back at him, hissing under her breath.
"What are you doing?"
He paid her tone no mind and looked at the data. "Her disease," he said in a hushed tone. "Makes her very tired. Very quickly. Her coordination at the moment, very bad. Perhaps as bad as it can be with her current state of degeneration." His dark eyes met hers. "She cannot live a normal life without you."
Asura shifted uncomfortably, not liking the directness of his gaze. "That's the understanding," she said softly, turning back to look at Abby. She reflected on a memory that she had from Abby, remembering how the woman had been forced to take a nap halfway through her usual day just so that she could function for the rest of it. "We both have something that the other needs."
Mordin nodded his understanding, but his eyes grew no less sharp. "You can still kill her," he said. "Remember that. Your power causes injury, melding with you damages the brain. Haemorrhages. Scarring. Who's to say what the long term effects will be? We don't know. Haven't studied it yet."
Asura turned to him shocked. "You don't think..." He cut her off with a sharp wave of his hand.
"I always think," he said, sounding as if she insulted him. "Look at the facts. I have the medical data. Saw that she's unconscious for hours after melding. Do you think that's healthy? No. You are going to have to be careful."
Frightened, Asura turned her attention from Abby to the salarian. "So... It's better if I don't meld with her?" Again, Mordin Solus was very quick to respond as he settled back in his chair and looked at his datapad.
"No," he said shortly. "Haven't you been paying attention? Said I haven't studied it yet. Would like to. With permission of course. From you. Dr. Gable can be informed. She'll see the reason."
Asura blinked at him for the longest time, trying to assemble his quick sentences into something that made sense.
"So..." she said softly. "You came here to... To take care of her?" The words didn't feel quite right. "To monitor her?"
The salarian's eyes widened as he shook his head. "Lived in Omega for a while," he said. "Seems good to break away from the Normandy for a bit. Coming with you seemed logical. And yes, I can monitor Dr. Gable as well. And help her. Her medical knowledge is archaic. Will need help if she is to make a success in Omega. You can't give it."
The truth of his words was grounding. Asura turned her attention back to the pilot's console and frowned, running his words over and over in her mind. Finally, she turned back to him and tried to keep her voice as neutral as possible.
"And the monitoring?" she queried. "You'll be able to make sure that I'm not hu... killing her?" She wanted to say hurting but with another cold revelation of clarity she realised that she will hurt Abby. Every time they melded.
Goddess, what have I gotten her into?
Mordin seemed to have lost interest in her or rather found whatever he had on his datapad more interesting.
"Of course," he said and smiled suddenly. "I am, after all, the very model of a scientist salarian..."
Liara waited for Shepard to come back to the ship after Dr. Gable's departure but it soon became clear to her that the commander had no intention of facing her again. When a sharp looking Garrus finally brought her their estimated departure time, she realised that it was time for her to seek out Jane Shepard herself. She didn't expect the new Normandy crew to make it easy for her but to her surprise, it was Miranda Lawson herself that took her up to the Captain's cabin, where Shepard had been residing. The ex-Cerberus officer said nothing on their trip up with the elevator and didn't bother to step out of the elevator with her. Yet, Miranda held it there for a moment, her piercing blue eyes soon finding Liara's.
"Don't make her leave here with regrets," the XO said sharply. Liara waited for more but it was all that Miranda had to say to her and she let the elevator close soon after. Thinking that the woman was very different from the one she had met on Omega, now almost three years ago, Liara turned to the door and paused, her mind turning to that day that they were travelling to Illos in what had felt like a suicide run to save the galaxy from Sovereign.
And that was just one Reaper, she thought as she caressed the door, remembering how she also had stood before the commander's door back then; trying to gather the courage to go inside. She had wanted to give herself to Jane Shepard that night, all of her. But... Her courage had left her and she had retreated to the infirmary and spend what might've been her final evening sitting alone among the extra medical supplies that Chakwas stored in her room.
What would've happened if I had opened the door then? Liara thought as her heart ached. Would things have been different? Surely Shepard would still have died but... Things would've been different now.
Realising that there was no gain in wondering about what would've happened in the past, Liara stepped forward and was surprised to find the door open for her. She didn't say anything but she suspected she had the AI to thank for it. She had never been here on this Normandy and she was once again struck by how much space the Cerberus vessel had. Shepard's room had two sections, three if you counted the private shower she saw in the corner. The first section acted like an office and then down the stairs you had a living area, complete with a couch another desk and a massive double bed.
Jane was sitting in front of her computer, still wearing the formal uniform that she had before. She had turned when the door opened and looked surprised to see Liara standing there. Her hand moved to the short glass on her left which was half way filled with a dark amber liquid. The drink made Liara cautious. She had never known Jane Shepard to drink and spent a moment to look into the startled commander's eyes to judge her level of intoxication. Yet, Jane's eyes were sharp and alert as she stood up, if a little dismayed. The commander cast her gaze up to the ceiling as if to curse the AI that let her in and then turned back to Liara, shaking her head.
"Liara, I don't want to fight."
Liara smiled at her immediately and moved to stand beside the empty fish tank to give Jane the space she sensed she needed.
"Neither do I Jane," she said. "I didn't come here for that. But you've been avoiding me."
Jane grimaced at her, still cautious and, as Liara watched, picked up the short glass and took a sip. For the first time since Liara had known Shepard, the commander looked as if she had no idea what to do. She turned back to her desk and moved a few datapads around.
"We're preparing to leave," she said. "I had to be here to sort a few things out. I don't have time to skulk around some massive tomb of a ship." There was a defensive edge to her voice but the moment Jane realised it herself she shifted a little, embarrassed.
"Can I offer you a drink Liara?" It seemed like the politest thing she managed to say.
Liara shook her head and took a breath to speak yet realised that she had forgotten the speech she had so carefully rehearsed on the way up. They looked at each other across the room, the distance between them more tangible than ever. Yet this time, now that Liara actually looked she could see how much it pained Jane. Or rather, in how much pain Jane really was. And she knew, she knew it wasn't just about her.
"I know about Samara."
The words left her mouth before she could stop them.
Jane took a visible step back, her eyes first shocked then absolutely furious. Before that anger could run its course though, Liara stepped forward, holding up her hand.
"Nobody said anything," she said. "I just... figured it out. She's always been here, between us. Like a wall without a name. I know she hurt you, Jane. And I know she left you."
The commander had taken a step back, her hand once again clutching the glass. The fury turned to uncertainty and she closed her eyes against Liara's gaze. "Leave it alone Liara," she said. "It's got nothing to do with us."
Yet, she sounded as if she was trying to convince herself.
Liara wasn't fooled and shook her head. "It has," she said. "Some." She paused and gathered her courage. It felt very fragile, like that of the young maiden who had not managed to step through that door the first time.
"Jane, I'm not leaving you. I'm not abandoning this friendship because it has a few dents in it." When Jane didn't respond, she took a few steps closer to her, not missing the way the woman pressed herself up against the table in an unconscious attempt to get away from her. "And, don't think because I pointed out those dents that I'm not willing to work on them." She stopped and waited, knowing that there was nothing else that she could say. It was Jane's turn. It had to be.
Yet, the commander said nothing. Jane looked at Liara, her face not quite expressionless but not filled with any sort of emotion that Liara could pinpoint. After what felt like an age of waiting, Liara finally sighed and closed her eyes, realising that the reply she wanted would never come. She grimaced as she opened her eyes and inclined her head deeply in the woman's direction.
Then, she turned around and left.
Yet, before she could reach the door a hand suddenly enclosed in hers and pulled her back. Liara barely had time to register the warmth of Jane's skin before the woman wrapped her in a hug and held her. For a few bewildered seconds Liara didn't know what to do, standing against Shepard like statue. Then, realising that this was all the reply that she wanted, all the reply that she needed, she too wrapped her arms around the woman and held her.
Arriving at Omega, they decided to go to Aria first. There was no point in avoiding it.
Mordin did not accompany them to Afterlife, setting off, humming, to his clinic the moment they landed at the transport hub. He and Asura had exchanged contact details and he told Abby that Dr. Chakwas expected her to be examined once more to monitor her injuries. He happily suggested that they come to the clinic the following day when they were settled and left before Abby could protest. She wanted to complain to Asura but was surprised when the Ardat Yakshi told her that she too thought it was a good idea. There was no protesting it after that and Abby didn't have the heart for it. Despite the nap she had taken on the shuttle, she was bone weary. Jack's rejection weighted heavily on her heart and even her nap did not dispel her urge to cry.
Things truly have changed, she thought as she and Asura walked into Afterlife, hand in hand. She could not remember the conscious moment she had reached out to the asari, but she was glad for it. With Asura at her side, she felt a little less alone, a little less alien in this foreign, supposedly fictional world.
They asked the batarian Anto whether they could see Aria and although he did not show them away, they were still forced to wait almost an hour before the asari deemed them worthy of her company. Abby suspected that there was a little bit of pettiness in the gesture as well. They had made her wait for more than a week for their reply. It was only fitting that she would make them wait for a chance to give it. The vet spend the time at club table soaking in the atmosphere of the club, keeping a comforting yet firm grip on Asura's hand. She could tell by the way Asura's eyes had dilated that she was starting to feel the rhythm of the bodies dancing around her and her need, that desperate need that she had for melding was growing. When a dancer came to the table, the Ardat Yakshi waved her away almost violently in the same way an ex-alcoholic would to avoid a drink.
Abby took all of this in and reminded herself that this was the person that she had chosen to live with. That these were the things that she was going to have to deal with every day. Yet, she knew that Asura had her own set of challenges waiting for her. Still tired, Abby couldn't gather the coordination to get up when Aria finally send for them. It was Asura who pulled her up and gently, in such a way that her imbalance wouldn't be noticed, guided her up the stairs to the Pirate Queen's lair.
Aria was sitting down when they entered but to Abby's surprise, the de facto ruler of Omega was wearing a dark dress. It was obvious of course that like Shepard, Miranda and even Kelly that everybody in this universe didn't just have one set of clothes that they wore repeatedly. But, it was still strange to see Aria dressed so differently. She did not rise to meet them but looked on with cold interest as her guards scanned them for weapons then stepped away. Abby didn't miss the fact that both the turian and Anto remained focused on Asura. Now that she was away from the press of the club goers below, the Ardat Yakshi had relaxed a little but she was no less dangerous.
Abby took a moment to smile at her and squeeze her hand but the younger asari only had eyes for Aria.
"So," the pirate queen said finally. "Do you have anything to say?"
Asura made to answer, but Abby squeezed her hand, reminding her that they had decided that she would do the talking. There was very little that they would say anyway.
"Yes," Abby said. "If your offer still stands, we'll accept it."
She didn't like the way Aria smiled. "Good." The asari said simply. "I'll have my lawyers come round in a day or two. We can sort out the nitty gritty paperwork then. It will all be legal of course." She smiled, but there was no mirth in her eyes.
Abby, who was in no mood for games, sniffed. "The terms will be negotiable," she said. "We're not just signing anything blindly." Asura looked at her surprised and shifted when Aria looked at the vet sharply.
"Little girl," the asari said. "You have no means to negotiate. This is a 'take it or leave it' kind of deal."
Shrugging, Abby tightened her hold on Asura's hand. She had thought about this on the shuttle ride here and she was very sure of what she wanted to say.
"The same can be said for you," she said. "We don't have to stay here. It will be convenient yes, but we have other options. I'm not saying we're doing you a favour, but we're not completely at your mercy." She dropped her voice and made sure to meet Aria's gaze.
"If you want to know of my origins and see whether I have any makers, you have to give me enough reason to want to stay here. If I'm not convinced that you'll be able to keep Asura safe. I'm not taking this deal."
She expected Aria to be angry at her tone but the asari matriarch wasn't deterred. In fact, she seemed amused.
"There was a Justicar here a few days ago," she said simply. "Came in from Illium. She left yesterday in fact. There's nothing stopping me from calling her back."
Abby sniffed and shrugged. "Having a Justicar here would be bad for business," she said simply. "Just as Archangel was. Look Aria, I'm not being difficult. But I'm just saying; don't think you have this in the bag. We have both been used enough. Enough. It'll be fine if we can establish an agreement. Work out how us being here can benefit you and Omega as well as ourselves."
Aria stood up fluidly and crossed the table to where they stood. Even though Abby tried to stop her, Asura moved in between them immediately, her eyes angry and all the tension that she had build in the club radiating from her like a pulse. Her expression made Aria pause as she considered the two of them, a smile threatening to play in the corner of her mouth though it soon disappeared when she looked into Asura's eyes. Abby, standing so close to the Ardat Yakshi could feel the shift in her energy that had nothing to do with biotic power, or at least she didn't think so.
Her mouth went dry and her skin suddenly felt flushed as Asura let go of her hand and carefully reached out to touch Aria. Slowly, her fingers edging towards the other so slowly that her guards didn't seem to notice.
"I can make my... service, worth your while," Asura said, putting the slightest accent on service and it made both Abby and Aria shiver.
Touch me, Abby thought as she reached out to take Asura's other hand. Take my hand again...
Aria stepped away from them, breaking the spell, a breath before Asura could touch her.
"I get your point," the asari said coldly and stepped back to her couch. She sighed in an elaborate way and nodded as she sat down.
"We can palaver on the terms," she said mildly. "But, for that stunt, you're going to start paying rent within the month. Do you understand me?"
Abby blinked and shivered, pulling her hand out of Asura's as if it burned her. I forgot about this, she thought suddenly, frightened. I forgot that she can do this.
Asura nodded curtly. "I'll pay it from the beginning," she said and put her arm around Abby. Her touch made the vet tingle and she shivered again.
Stars, save me from myself.
"We'll meet your lawyer," Asura said boldly, taking over the negotiations and breaking Abby's illusion that she ever had a chance of control. "I'll have mine present as well. With your leave?"
Aria snorted and made a dismissive gesture. "Get out of my sight," she said. "Oh and Asura, you may want to consider what consequences your actions can have." She looked in Abby's direction, letting the gesture speak for itself.
Then she smiled at Abby.
"I hope you enjoy your bondmate, human. I know she considers you quite... valuable."
Asura took them directly to her apartment afterwards and showed Abby briefly around. Abby, still reeling from their encounter with Aria, barely registered her surroundings and merely nodded when Asura told her she was going to make them something to eat.
She only made a half hearted attempt at showering, using it more to clear her mind than her body. She felt numb as she rummaged through her two bags for something to wear then decided to pull on the grey jersey that she had worn earlier on Hagalaz. Abby didn't search for a pair of pants immediately, thinking that she would have to unpack her clothes first. Then, as she picked up her bags with the intention of taking them to the drawers that she saw, she stopped suddenly and sat down on the bed, looking around her. Her new room was spacious yet clearly unused. There were no sheets on the bed, nothing on any of the surfaces. The room was completely bare.
This is it, she thought. This... This is my life.
It was daunting and frightening and when Asura came into the room with a tray of sandwiches an hour later, she was still sitting exactly where she was. The Ardat Yakshi must've noticed that something was wrong immediately because she put her tray down and approached her.
"Abigail," she said softly, with edge of concern in her voice. "Do you need help getting up?"
Abby looked up at her, at the alien standing in front of her and she shuddered, clutching her bags. When she didn't reply, Asura frowned and slowly knelt down in front of her, her indigo eyes searching for Abby's.
"Abby?" she whispered softly. "Are you alright?"
The vet shuddered and tried to pull herself together. Yet, she couldn't. She could not make herself get up and finished what she started. Instead she looked at the asari and allowed herself to remember the person she had pulled out from between the two crates, who's life she had saved seconds before the Ardat Yakshi tried to kill her. That fear and uncertainty that she felt flooded her memory and she could tell immediately that Asura picked up on it. She drew in the shortest of breaths, her eyes threatening to go black. They liked fear, Abby thought. Asura less so than Lenelle, but the triggers are there.
"Asura," Abby whispered, seeing the asari's never ending need. "How are we going to make this work?"
The asari blinked at her question, started to formulate a reply and then sat back suddenly, hard.
"Do you have doubts?"
Her voice was a whisper, barely audible; filled with the same uncertainty that Abby felt. We're two strangers, Abby thought as she looked at the alien. At the tattoo that she wore so proudly. We're just two strangers who have no idea what to do with the other.
"I'm scared," the words left her mouth before she could stop them and she could see that they fuelled Asura's uncertainty even more.
"Of me?" This time there was also a hint of self loathing present and it brought Abby a little back to herself, made her focus. She saw no use in torturing Asura over something she wasn't entirely sure of herself. She shook her head but clutched the bag tightly as she continued to hold Asura's gaze.
"Of myself," she pointed out. "Of this world. Of Omega. Of making the wrong decision. And yes, yes Asura. I'm a little scared of you."
The Ardat Yakshi thought this over for a bit then nodded slowly, looking embarrassed. "You should be," she said. "I know I'm..." She hesitated but Abby was more than willing to continue the sentence.
"Dangerous?" she said. "I don't think that covers half of it Asura. I think... I think you're..." She paused and thought over her words for a second. "I saw how easily you almost manipulated Aria today. And a part of me can't help but wonder whether I'm sitting here on my own accord, or whether I'm here because you want me to be."
She was surprised when Asura smiled. "Abby," she said simply. "If I somehow manipulated you into coming with me, we wouldn't be in Omega. Trust me on that one."
Her tone broke some of Abby's tension as she was forced to smile with her. "Alright," she said. "True. But still. A part of me has absolutely no idea of what I'm going to do here. I've decided on this... this idea but I have no clue on how to make it work. You know where I come from. You know that this was a game to me. And it's not a game anymore Asura. I... I might be a vet but I don't know how to be one here. I don't know the first thing on how to operate these machines, I don't know a fraction of the drugs... I don't know why I'm here. I don't know how I'm going to do this. I don't know how we're going to do this."
Asura considered her for a long time then pushed herself up slowly and pulled the bag from Abby's hands so that she could take them. Abby let her, fearing her touch but also craving it to anchor her.
"We'll figure it out," Asura said simply. "Abby, there's nothing hurrying us along to make an immediately success of this. You humans are so... so hasty. We have time. I don't expect anything more from you than you do from me at this stage. And, even that's not important right now. Not in this moment. And, you're right to be afraid of this place. I am too. But, I'll take care of you and you in turn have ensured that I'll be taken care of by Aria." Her features saddened a little and became dark. "We'll sort out that contract and Mordin Solus said that he'll assist you. He knows a little bit of everything and he said that he had enjoyed working with you on that drell. That's why he's here I think. To help you." She paused and then carefully reached up to push a stray piece of hair out of Abby's face. The vet let her, forcing her breathing to remain calm as Asura's fingers brushed her cheek.
"And, we'll figure out what we want from each other," she whispered. "We have time. You say that you're scared? Well, I'm terrified. I never imagined sharing a life with anybody other than my family. So, sitting here with you is the most daunting thing that I've ever done with a clear mind."
The light brush of her fingertips brought a flush to Abby's cheeks and she looked away from Asura to the bed. The urge to cry came and went but she swallowed it down. Her mind turned, not to Asura, but to her ex and again she had to close her eyes against the tears that threatened there.
"And if I become a burden to you?" she whispered. "An inconvenience? What if we find that I cannot live this kind of life? My previous partner was a man. I... I never wanted to be in a relationship again. What if I'm just using you to live?"
Asura sat up slowly and sat down next to her, carefully put one arm around her. "What if I'm just using you to let others live?" She countered. "Is it such a sin to want life? I never thought that I would be in a relationship. I had one and it ended... so badly." She grimaced at what must've been a memory of her first lover.
A young quarian, Abby knew from her own.
"That's why I'm saying Abigail, we mustn't be in any kind of hurry. We have time to know each other. Perhaps to learn to love each other. We will share things but it will be with consent." The Ardat Yakshi laughed suddenly as something dawned on her. "And remember Abby, I'm not a woman either. I'm an asari. Things are different with us than in conventional, heterosexual relationships. Don't stare yourself blind on my breasts. I have other endearing qualities as well."
Abby blushed immediately then laughed with Asura, feeling the asari's hand tighten around her waist. She allowed herself to lean into her touch and rest her head on her shoulders. She heard the soft, pleased sound in the back of Asura's throat and after a moment, the asari reached out and carefully touched her bare legs. When Abby didn't protest, steeling herself against the desire that she felt, Asura pulled her legs up and over her lap. Then, she wrapped her arms around Abby and held her, tightly.
Abby accepted this comfort as Asura had accepted hers that day on the roof with Lenelle's blood slowly trailing towards them. In the asari's arms, she felt all her emotions amplified yet she felt safe to have them, to think about them. She shivered and shuddered, partly from her own emotions and partly because of her disease. She felt Asura's hand move back to her bare thigh and trail a path to the crook of her knee.
A flush of desire for that promised ecstasy came and went. Abby pushed it back with the memory of the pain would most certainly follow.
"Can I show you?" Asura whispered. "Can I show you what I'm feeling?"
Abby shivered at her voice, loving and hating the way it seemed to caress her very mind. Knowing what Asura meant she wanted to say no purely because she needed to know if she still could. But the fact that she could think about it relaxed her and she realised that this was different. Despite the desire that lingered in her own body, she did not feel that same pulse as she had felt from Asura when the Ardat Yakshi was trying to scare Aria.
When she didn't reply, Asura pushed a little. "Would you share with me, what you are feeling?"
Will you start this life with me?
Abby shuddered again and closed her eyes. Her mouth had gone dry and her heart was beating so loudly she thought that Asura would be able to hear it. She did not feel fear as much as she anticipated. Desire and trepidation mixed together into a toxic blend of confusion that could only be cured by this alien's touch. She wanted to tell Asura that they should wait, but what would be the point?
The asari's hand had started moving again, tracing a pattern on the inside of her thigh. The sign of her tattoo perhaps? The vet felt on fire where Asura's fingers touched her skin and she had to exhale, slowly to clear her mind.
She did find some clarity in the gesture, one single sense that resistance was absolutely futile. And, if she trusted Asura, if she was right about following her instinct and deciding to live with her, then there was no reason for her to reject her now.
"Yes," she whispered and opened her eyes, sitting up a little so that she could lean forward and kiss Asura's cheek. "Yes. I will share this with you. As a friend. And a roommate." She smiled and reached up carefully, touching Asura's face and running her fingers over the ridges on her head. "Perhaps even a lover."
The asari smiled at her and boldly bent forward to kiss her, not on the cheek, but on her lips. The moment lasted an eternity as the fire on Abby's leg began to spread under Asura's touch. Asura's kiss was both tender and fierce, a combination Abby would never have thought possible and when she pulled back, when she broke that precious contact between them, Abby was shocked to see a look of pain and wild terror cross Asura's features.
"I'm going to hurt you," she whispered. "It will come. I can't stop it."
She swallowed, frightened, and leaned forward again, not kissing Asura this time but pulling her forward and resting her forehead against the Ardat Yakshi's.
"I know," she whispered. "I accept it. I accept you Asura. As you are."
That look of pain did not leave Asura's features but she nodded and carefully wrapped her arm around Abby again, holding her securely. It made Abby feel calm and safe and the fear that she had felt previously flowed out of her as the warmth of Asura's touch washed in. She accepted it this time and could feel, not only the growing ecstasy, but the rush of Asura's thoughts and emotions. She felt her fear and her pain. She felt her lingering anger at Aria and she felt... Gratitude.
Asura felt blessed with her company and would probably never see her as a burden.
That was not the kind of person that she was.
Abby relaxed and gave in completely as she felt, more than heard, Asura whisper.
When all was silent and the limp form lay nearly lifeless in her arms, Asura let out a deep breath that came out like a whimper. She did not miss the red blood that stained her shirt where Abby had pressed her head against her chest and she was even more horrified to realise that not only Abby's nose but her ears were bleeding as well. Yet, she had been told to expect it, so she steeled herself and carefully shifted off of the bed, picking the vet up with her as she moved.
Abby whimpered softly, unconscious but alive. She had not screamed when Asura felt the power, that would sear her nerves, leave her nor had Abby let go of her. The vet had tried to stay conscious as long as she could and Asura admired her for it. She could feel Abby's determination to accept this and make it as easy for Asura as possible.
The Ardat Yakshi did not leave her in the guestroom but took her to her own, laying her down on the bed as gently as she could. She had not been able to carry her on Banrio but that was because she was hurt. In truth, she now realised that Abby was thin, too thin in that kind of way that suggested that her disease did not just eat at her nerves but at her body as well. Asura hoped that it would change as Abby's health improved. She would try and make sure that it did.
She carefully cleaned Abby's face and slipped her limp form in underneath the covers of the bed. Then, she went to the kitchen and collected two syringes that were lying on the counter. When Abby had been in the shower, Mordin Solus had stopped by to give her these, anticipating that they were going to try and meld. He said that the medication would help Abby recover and Asura trusted him.
She had to trust him just as she had to trust the fact that the vet would wake up again. Now that Abby appeared so... So dead it was hard to believe that she would.
So, Asura went back to the room and carefully injected her with the substances as Mordin had instructed. Then she lay down beside her and held onto her, slipping her hand in underneath her jersey so that she could feel her heart beat. It was faint but it was there and it showed no signs of disappearing all together.
The End of Shadow Play.
AN: IF there were ending credits to this, they'd be set to the song from Katie Gray called Set Free. You can find the link in my profile page.
In the words of Jennifer Hale: Endings are Hard. This one was even more so than A Degeneration and I'll be the first one to confess that I struggled writing it. Not because there isn't going to be any more story after this, but because this section of Abby's life had to end. And, that Jane's life was moving to that dark section that we know as The Arrival. As a writer, I feel sorry for the characters, knowing that I'm drawing them ever closer to Mass Effect 3.
But, have hope. We're not there yet and there will be another story after this one (though I cannot tell you exactly when as I want to take a small break from writing for a bit). In it I intend to bring you back to Samara and show you what she's been up to as well as how Abby and Asura are coping on Omega. And of course, the Normandy's ever continuing journey. I'm planning for it to be shorter than its predecessors (the stories) but you never know. For interest, if you have read up to here, you've gone through more than 300,000 words. That's longer than George RR Martin's Game of Thrones. Or, Robert Jordan's Eye of the World. So, it's in this moment that I have to humbly thank you for reading this far, for sharing it with me and these characters.
I would also once again like to thank AlyssC01 without whom this would not have been or have stretched this far. And, to her friend Stilldormant who has been pulled into this without warning. Thank you for your additions, for your insights and for keeping me walking straight. I would also like to thank all the other friends that I have made through this, the people who PM me regularly, especially when I don't always reply in time. You know who you are, and I appreciate it dearly.
And of course, I appreciate you – the reader, the reviewer and everybody else not on a comfy cushion... Thank you for reading this and thank you for coming all this way.