A/N: A/N: I assumed romances in ME3 would be like the romances of ME2. Ah, who can resist Traynor? Anyway, I went and talked to Liara right afterward and she said nothing. So I saved. Then later when I went to see her, I was bombarded. Whoops. Either way, Traynor was surprisingly neat and I ended up riding it out. Spoilers for ME3 obviously follow. Also, whatever, Liara 'heard' about it? Liara has a camera in Shep's cabin. I must say I really enjoyed watching Shepard fall apart. And why isn't there a Samantha Traynor character option yet? Sigh.

edit: Now with edits!

Shepard stares at the model cruisers above her desk. The Normandy is traveling late into the night. There's too much time to think but hardly time to act. Her body is tight and aching. Nightmares have refused her sleep.

She sits in front of the desk and wonders if she should still be numb. She has to shake this off. She massages her forehead and thinks of Liara. They've spent more time separated than together and they've taken up again. Shepard feels more distant from her than ever. Liara has changed or maybe she has. Maybe it's the stress of all of this. Relationships can't be a priority right now.

Her fingers brush the comm before she can stop herself. Liara keeps much the same hours as she does. Shepard is relieved when Liara's voice comes on the mic. She sounds distracted. "Shepard. It's late."

Shepard doesn't know if it's the feedback that makes Liara's voice lack warmth and sound further away than it should. It's nothing—just all of this. "Yeah." She considers telling her why she's awake but doesn't want to put another stressor on her. "I was hoping we could talk."

There's a moment of hesitation. "Sure. I have a few minutes." Shepard hears her tapping furiously on the keys. "No, Glyph, I want the Crucible data to be priority. This is important." She types away for another few moments. "What did you want to talk about?"

Does she need an excuse? Yes, probably. The work Liara is doing is important. Shepard isn't as useful off the field—they're lucky that Liara has access to the network that she does. Even if it means constant monitoring and affords them little time together. "I thought we could talk in person."

"Is something wrong? Well… besides the obvious."

Shepard frowns gently. "No. We don't really get to catch up anymore. You're so busy."

Liara chuckles. "And Commander Shepard has been sitting on her laurels, waiting for the Reapers to take us?"

"I guess we've all been busy. Can I come down? Is it a bad time?"

"I'd like that, Shepard. But now…." A pause. "Can't you decrypt that faster, Glyph? We don't have much time. How did the previous Shadow Broker deal with you?" Shepard can't make out Glyph's response. A few moments later she hears Liara again. "Sorry, Shepard. Now isn't a good time. Maybe later? Try to rest."

"Yeah… you too. Goodnight, Liara." Shepard disconnects. She pushes back in the desk chair and kicks off to perform a slow, lazy spin. If she thinks about it too much… it becomes too much.

No. She can't think that way. It's fine. It's fine. She's the lucky one. She isn't on Earth while it burns. Should she have listened to Anderson? She should be fighting beside him. It isn't fair. There are too many innocent dead. There will be many more. She closes her eyes.

If she were in Purgatory she could get a drink. Maybe next time they hit the Citadel she'll pick up a few bottles. Guilt at any opportunity of indulging ebbs at her. She stands and paces.

Ashley is a bloody mess in the hospital. Earth and Palavan are being overwhelmed. People are losing their homes and lives by the billions. She stares at her models and thinks of the little boy on Earth, vaporized by the Reaper. Should she have tried harder to get him out of the duct space? Should she have pursued him? She should have saved him. She didn't. Now he haunts her.

"Shake it off, Shepard," she mutters. She's a soldier. She knows loss. She's been the sole survivor twice now. She'll be damned if it happens again.

Shepard has too much energy, too many thoughts—but she still feels like a husk. Would James be up for another bout? What about Garrus? Uneasiness won't leave her. Crying won't help anything so she doesn't. She goes to bed. She doesn't sleep.

The pulsing heavy tones of Purgatory are jarring. It's too loud to think. Shepard looks around the club. Men and women flirt and dance, drink, talk too loudly. She'd come to speak with Aria but has finished earlier than she anticipated. Aria doesn't mince words. Shepard quickly finds herself at a loss of what to do on her down time. Does she have down time? Is she allowed? They're docked for hours. The others are at the Presidium Commons or the embassies.

She should enjoy natural sunlight while she can but this artificial darkness is more honest. Shepard climbs the steps to the second floor. Everyone's faces blur into each others'. Colorful lights flicker and bounce, shine into her face, blinding. An asari tries to get her attention but Shepard ducks her head and moves to the bar. She should have brought Liara but Liara spends enough time in a dark room with too many monitors. Shepard won't take any chance at peace and quiet from her.

Shepard thinks to the reports read only hours earlier. The loss of life throughout the galaxy is staggering. Why is everyone counting on her? She's only one person. She doesn't want any more lives riding on her decisions. She doesn't want to think about it. She orders a drink and downs it in one go.

She nods her head to the music and half-listens to the conversations around her. Why is she here? She should be working. The Reapers won't wait to wipe them out of existence. Purgatory is warm, the heat of bodies pressed together and dancing making it hotter still. She rubs her forehead and hears the screams and shouts of the people in Vancouver: the ones left behind.

She orders another drink. "Already?" The bartender asks. "You're going to give that other human a run for her money," he says with a cock of his head to a woman dancing against the wall.

Shepard smiles weakly. "I'm on shore leave," she explains. I'm Commander Shepard and that was my least convincing lie to date. She tosses the drink back and slams the glass into the bar. Her cheeks flush.

"Sounds like a challenge. Hey, aren't you Commander Shepard? Shouldn't you be saving the galaxy or something?" He does a turian version of a grin. Shepard grimaces. "Drinks are on the house!" he pours her another and another and another.

Shepard drinks every one.

She dances. With people. With several people. With no one. So what if she can't dance? It doesn't matter anymore. She can have this. She can have a few hours. The noise and alcohol can drown all the thoughts of what she has to do away, of everything that she's seen. Will she always have to watch everyone die around her? The Reapers are still out there and you're dancing and drinking? What's wrong with you?

She orders another drink.

The room spins. She stumbles. It's too hot. Someone tells her to drink water.

She has another drink.

She doesn't know how she gets on Aria's couch. She had been upstairs. "I'm surprised you didn't crack your head open," Aria tells her. "You should probably thank that associate of yours; the mountain of muscle? If you don't mind, I'd like the couch back."

Shepard staggers to her feet. Her head pounds. What time is it? How long has she been here? She's wasting time. She somehow makes it back to the Normandy. She hears the whispers of the Normandy crew and sees the worry in their faces. What the fuck is she thinking coming onboard like this? How is she to lead by example when they can see their captain hammered? She can't let them see what this is doing to her.

She quickly makes her way to the elevators but is intercepted by Specialist Traynor. Shepard jabs at the button to her cabin and avoids eye contact but Traynor persists. "Commander—I've been going through the comm channels and found a few things that—"

"Can this wait?" Shepard stares at the elevator buttons. She sways, a hand to the wall and tries to look natural. Her legs want to buckle from under her.

"Not too much longer…" Traynor cocks her head to look at her. Shepard avoids her gaze. She's acting like a weakling and disappointed in herself. Traynor hesitates. "Commander… are you all right?"

Shepard takes a deep breath. It's a feat that she doesn't vomit. "Yeah." She looks at Traynor. Shepard doesn't know the woman very well. She barely remembers her first name. Amanda? No. Samantha. Samantha Traynor. Her face is etched in concern. Shepard forces a smile that she hopes isn't strained. "Give me a few minutes to shower and we can look over this."

"Shower…?" her eyes glaze over happily before she's all business again. Shepard doesn't see how anyone can get starry eyed over a shower. "Yes, Commander. If you'd like I can forward them to your message terminal instead? But… it could save you time if we could go over them together. I could answer any questions you might have."

"That's fine. Just. Just give me a few." The elevator doors open and Shepard steps inside. Traynor holds on to her data pad watching Shepard with concern before seeming to realize and straightening to attention with a salute. "At ease."

Shepard wonders if Liara is back from visiting in the Citadel. Not that she has time to see her right now. Looking over comm logs with Traynor. Great. She just has to hold it together for a bit longer. A lot longer. She needs a shower and some sleep. She needs a pill to make her headache go away. She needs to throw up. She needs to stop the Reapers.

Head bowed, she stands clothed in the shower. Water runs down her face and arms, soaking through her uniform. She shouldn't have stepped in here. She can't make herself move. She can't leave. When did she become so weak?

Everything is fracturing.

The water is warm but Shepard is frozen. Traynor is naked and glistening before her but it's her face, open and earnest that steals Shepard's breath away. Traynor takes Shepard's face in her hands. This isn't right. They're supposed to play chess. Traynor asks if she's all right. Shepard wants to push her away but she doesn't. "I'm fine."

Traynor's lips light over hers, a grazing. Shepard can't remember when she last felt warm. When she last felt close to anybody. She trembles. She wraps her arms around her. She kisses her back.

Shepard wants the crushing weight of it all to go away. She guides Traynor to the wall. It isn't right. Water runs down their faces, their lips. Traynor's mouth tastes like salvation.

There's no excuse except that it's the end of the world.

Traynor's asleep beside her. Shepard touches Traynor's arm. Everything she does she does without meaning to. Traynor shifts, opens her eyes and smiles up at her. Shepard says nothing, undecided if this is a dream or a nightmare.

Traynor lifts a hand to Shepard's face, to her brow, to the frown there. "You okay?" Does Traynor know about Liara? Is she an innocent victim in Shepard's indiscretions? Her voice goes soft and uncertain. She smiles bashfully but doesn't meet Shepard's eyes. "Is it time for me to go?" She sits up and pushes the blankets away without waiting for a response.

Shepard grabs her arm. "No. Stay. Sleep."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I need to take care of some things. But someone should rest." There's no use in telling her about nightmares or the guilt. Traynor may be an accessory to her infidelity but she's an innocent party. Shepard should never have brought her into this. How does she make this right? Can she make this right? She has to tell Liara. Maybe they can work it out. This was only fun for Traynor. Wasn't it?

The heavy weight of the world returns now that it's over. Shepard's chest is tight again. She goes to stand. Traynor touches her arm. Shepard hesitates, her back to her. "Hey, Commander? Don't work too hard. You don't want to burn out."

"You're just worried about not getting to use my shower." Shepard doesn't know whether she's joking.

"I wouldn't be if the sinks weren't so terrible. I think you've been spoiled by the burden of so much responsibility. Us lesser mortals have sillier things to worry about." She touches Shepard's back. "Some of us… have been worried about you."

Shepard stands quickly, desperate to escape any contact before she rushes back to it. She glances back at Traynor and makes herself smile. "It's fine. I'm fine." How often has she said that in the past few days? "Sorry if I get a little grumpy. There's no need to worry. You should rest," she dresses, throwing her hoody on and exiting the cabin. She takes the elevator down to the crew quarters and goes to Liara's office door. She remembers when the space used to be her cabin, when it was Miranda's. Now it's Liara's. Everything changes; everything stays the same.

She searches for courage. She's facing the Reapers and the end of the world but can't force herself into action. She has to tell her. She looks at the time on the wall. It's 3:43am. Should she do this now? Should she wake Liara? And if she is awake, should she deny her a few hours of rest?

Shepard bites her lip. No. She'll tell her later. She'll talk to them both and fix it. She shouldn't disturb Liara. They've barely had any opportunity to speak since meeting again anyway. She frowns. She will not put this on Liara. She's a grown woman and responsible for her decisions. Even if she doesn't like the results.

She won't tell Liara yet. She'll be considerate. Bullshit, you coward. She leaves her door but doesn't return to her cabin. She goes to engineering where Jack used to stay. Where is Jack…? Is she still alive? Shepard hopes so. She sits on the floor, reclined against the wall.

Is there any hope left? Yes. She has to believe it. For herself, for Liara, for the galaxy. She can't fail.

Liara's tone and words cut deeper than any knife ever has. Each word is a bullet that lodges deep. Shepard momentarily forgets how to breathe, how to speak.

She knows. She heard. How could she have heard about it…? She's told no one. Has Traynor…? It doesn't matter. It's true. She did it. Liara stares heatedly into the monitor before her. Glyph zooms around the room slowly, spinning and hovering. "Liara. Please." She can only whisper.


"I was going to tell you."

"But you didn't."

She had been. She came to tell her. She should have told her the first night. Will Liara believe her? Will Liara ever trust her again? "I've felt so far removed from you…"

"So it's my fault that you did what you did?"

"No. There's no excuse." Shepard goes to her. Liara dodges the contact Shepard attempts. Shepard can't get a handle on her emotions, her thoughts. She wants to say the right thing. She has to say the right thing. "I was wrong. I'm sorry. You're important to me. We're important to me. Please just talk to me." I can't do this on my own. I can't do this with you against me. "We can make it through this. It will just be another obstacle, no bigger than all the years between us." They were without each other for two years. Was Liara faithful during that absence? Had there been others? They haven't so much as held hands since reuniting. So little contact… so little talk… so little connection, no joining of minds like years ago. How is that…? "I can't lose this, too."

Liara's jaw is clenched hard. There are tears in her eyes that she blinks away. When she looks at her again, eyes ruthless and clinical Shepard only sees the Shadow Broker. "Then you shouldn't have thrown it away." She coolly returns to the computer monitor and begins to work. "I'm busy, Shepard. You know the way out."

Shepard's still in a fog. She isn't sure if it's because of all the destruction being waged across the galaxy, Liara dumping her, or the hangover. She browses her terminal. There is still so much work to be done. Will the krogan and the turians ever work together? What about the Council? Will they support her…? Will she do enough? Can she do what she has to? They have to win this.

Shepard makes the mistake of glancing in Traynor's direction. She's looking at her. Shepard hasn't had time to say more than a few words to her in the past few days. "Hi," she says. It would be rude to say nothing at all. Shepard doesn't know how to act around her, how to treat her.

"Commander," Traynor nods.

Shepard smiles weakly and looks away. There is text on the monitor in front of her but Shepard can't make sense of any of the words. Her thoughts are jumbled. A new window pops open on her screen. Shepard blinks.

I'm SO embarrassed. I know you're standing five feet away from me but I can't talk about what I want to talk about here. I know you're busy and I know you have important things going on but… would it be okay if we spent more time together? Whenever you may have a moment. Does it sound terrible if I said I really enjoy spending time with you? Maybe you should take that as a compliment! …And I'm blushing now.

Shepard looks at Traynor who is fixated on her screen with an intensity that borders on amusing. What is she supposed to say to her? She doesn't know. Shepard looks back at her screen, undecided. Another message pops up.

Fun fact: If you were any closer, I think the heat of my face would do more destructive damage than any Reaper beam. Is that in bad taste? Sorry… I'm rambling in type. This is awful.

Shepard types slowly. Everything she writes she erases. None of it makes any sense. She doesn't know what to say. Traynor confuses her. Shepard slept with her. It was... guilt burns Shepard. More than any physical pleasure, Specialist Samantha Traynor is sharp as a whip and has provided good intelligence. Where would they be without her? She's funny. Shepard would be lying to herself if she said the woman wasn't attractive, wasn't nice to spend time with. But it's wrong. Isn't it?

Another window opens. Last one: I promise. Mayyyyyyyyybe it was only… you know… to you. It's fine if that's what you want… but I was hoping for more. At least five more showers before you kick me to the curb. That was a joke. These things are so hard to make out in type, aren't they? Anyway… did I tell you? Liara gave me a look so deadly the other day, I nearly pissed myself. She usually looks so sweet—isn't she pretty? Anyway, I'll admire her from afar. I'll happily remain at my station and not smeared on the walls, thank you. Think I could afford the fee of hiring you as a bodyguard? Maybe you should up my pay grade.

Shepard smiles wryly. She types: If you end up smeared on the walls, you can blame me. Let's talk. But not over this. Bring a weapon. You might need it by the time I'm done.

Traynor responds immediately: Is this something kinky, Commander? Don't worry, I'll erase this backlog immediately. I'm not closing the door on that weapon thing, by the way. I think I may have a club hidden somewhere, if you know what I mean.

Shepard is still staring at the monitor when another message pops up.

Not there! If that's what you were thinking. Oh, God. Why would you think that? Why would I think that? I'm not perverse, I swear. The shower thing—not my usual style, though I'm thinking I could add them to my repertoire, though only if a certain Commander was involved.

Shepard is readying to compose a message when Traynor walks to her, perhaps becoming as aggravated as Shepard by their non-conversation conversation. "A new message has just come through. Admiral Hackett would like to speak to you in the comm room," she tells her, all playfulness gone from her face. Shepard has noticed how her voice changes when news reports come in, when Hackett wants to speak to her. When Shepard goes out on a mission.

"Patch it through."

Shepard would normally be happy for a distraction. If Hackett wants to talk… It's likely more bad news. What normal is there anymore? The days of normality are swiftly coming to an end. Uncertainty and despair are the new normal.

"I can't…exactly blame her for dumping you. You're not as true blue as she is," Traynor says. "No pun intended," more quietly under her breath. Shepard watches Traynor walk the length of the cabin before taking a seat on the couch opposite of her. "Be honest with me—is this something that you do? Cheat on people?"

"No." Shepard shakes her head. She traces the rim of the lowball glass of whisky in front of her. "Never."

"I don't play games. Well… not on non-game nights."

"I messed up." Shepard picks up the glass, lifts it to her lips. The fragrance of hard alcohol floods Shepard's senses. She craves the liquid but doesn't drink. She can control herself. She used to know how.

"This was all a mistake to you? I was a mistake to you?" she laughs softly. "Maybe I was. All things considered." Her fingers graze her face, as if rubbing a tender spot that Shepard has slapped.

"It was wrong. You didn't know. Neither did Liara. I'm the one who screwed up. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry if…if I made it seem…" Shepard is grateful that Traynor is allowing her to explain even if what she has to offer is small and insignificant, nothing worth redeeming her. Liara still won't talk to her. Things have been awkward.

"You've been under a lot of stress. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Commander Shepard." Traynor says. Shepard feels no better for the words. "It wasn't right. No question. All things considered, I'm glad I haven't been flayed alive with biotics. But…why did you do it?" she stands again.

Because you sought me out. Because you needed me. Because I needed someone. All true. Shepard doesn't dare to say any of it. Having this conversation with Traynor feels like another betrayal to Liara. "I don't know," Shepard mutters.

"I'm not exactly sure why I'm here." She looks at her. "I'm not interested in being a bed warmer. Not without all the other perks, anyway. I like you a lot, Commander… but not enough to be satisfied with that."

"I've got a lot on my mind, Samantha."

"I know. I don't know how you do it. Are you sure you're not part machine?"

"That's not funny."

"Sorry. I guess it isn't."

Shepard gets to her feet. She brings the drink to her lips but doesn't drink. Traynor's eyes are on her though Shepard doesn't know her well enough to read into the gaze. Shepard rubs her eyes, feeling the stabs of a new headache needle into her head. "I'm sorry I pulled you into this. I was selfish."

"Not all of the pulling was bad. Look… you've obviously beaten yourself up over this. Not that I wouldn't want to do some beating of my own if I were in her place but… If Liara doesn't want to try again with you… that's her loss and my gain. Maybe you're not the greatest gain right now… but all those little things add up to something bigger. It might take time. But luckily for you, I can be patient… if…if you're willing."

Shepard watches the fish in the aquarium swim lazily. "I like you, Samantha. I do. More than I… all of this is… surprising. But I don't know. I'm lost." She isn't sure if she vocalizes the last.

"As luck would have it, I'm pretty good at navigating." She steps closer, talking low and soft. "Get your head on straight. You have something so much more important than any of this to deal with." Traynor pulls the glass away from Shepard and sets it down on the coffee table by the bed. She looks at her. "Do you sleep, Commander?"

"I'm fine."

"How many times do you have to say that before it becomes any more true? Seriously, we've all started a pool and I'd really like that brush."

"Another joke?"

"Yeah…" Traynor avoids her eyes.

Is it true…? Shame courses through Shepard. She stands taller, eyes narrowed. "We will defeat the Reapers. I know we're all tired. I know you're probably scared," she continues. Traynor remains looking away from her, eyebrows gently furrowed, "but don't be. We can do this. We will do this."

"I know."

"You've helped more than you know. It's not just being on the battlefield that's important."

"Specialist Traynor: master decryptor and chess champion. Reapers: Fear Me." She smiles and goes to the cabin door, looking back at her. "Commander… you're lucky I don't always follow orders." Shepard cocks an eyebrow. "If I'd brought that club, I would have used it."

"Beneath all that quirkiness you're kind of terrifying, aren't you?"

"Maybe one day you'll see me cook. You'll know real terror, then." She lingers at the doorway. "You didn't have to tell me about Liara. You did. That means something to me—even if it means nothing to you. If you ever need to talk… if you need a friend or… to get your ass handed to you at chess… I'm here."

Shepard nods. Traynor leaves. Shepard misses her the instant she goes. Traynor was a mistake. Why doesn't she feel like one? Is she losing her mind?