"Shepard. . ." the voice trailed, echoeing through her ears. It was a voice that haunted her very being, chilled her soul beyond repair; belonging to a face she was forced to leave behind. "Shepard. . ." it whispered a second a time, the eerie tone of a woman's voice; lost. Hurt. Confused. Shepard held her hands to her ears trying in vain to block it away. She looked around, desperately seeking a means of escape, but the woods she had become trapped in held no solace. Their demeanor held nothing but contempt, and an omninous foreboding that this war had just begun. Her movement became slurred, and running became nearly impossible as her body continued to resist. And then she saw him. He was crouched upon the ground; leaves swirling around him from a seemingly non-existent wind. Shepard continued to push forward, straining against her movement's resistance. She extended a hand, imploring him to take it, but the small child simply held her gaze with a look of denial. Her mouth gaped in horror as she watched his body go up in flames. Each night she dreamed of him, each night she came closer to reaching him, but each night she was forced to watch him burn.

Shepard woke with a start gasping for air. She was drenched in a cold sweat; her grey N7 shirt nearly soaked. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, her feet coming to rest on the floor as she held her head in her hands; rubbing her temples.

"Leave me alone Ash. Please" she muttered.

She turned her attention to the fish tanks; one of her more favored aspects of the cabin. It was filled with various breeds she had purchased on the last shore leave at Citadel, but the Koi held the most preference. She had been born and raised in space so the stars were all she knew, but her mother's childhood home was on Earth, and that, coupled with being a human, gave her a feeling of connection to the planet and a sense of belonging to her people on its surface. The little koi had come from mountain lakes, only found upon a planet so engaging as Earth. She watched as the small school trailed back and forth across the confines of the tank and envied their freedom. They had no worries, no doubts and no fears; their only purpose being to revel in each other's company. Even in life so small, they still band together, she thought admirably. She continued to gaze a few moments more; the tiny fish succeeding in relaxing her anxious thoughts; the swirling water at the top of the tank seeming to hypnotize her pale green eyes.

After a few moments of mere pondering, she finally broke hold and rubbing her hand through her short, black hair, got up from the bed and proceeded into the bathroom. The door slid apart with a short whoosh, as the pressure was released upon her presence. The sound of running water filled the confines of the small room, as she splashed the freeing liquid upon her face, all the while staring into the mirror at the reflection peering back at her. She examined the left side of her jaw; the scars from Cerberus long since faded. I'm fighting for humanity, but even I'm not entirely human, she thought morosely.

"Dammit" she growled, annoyed as the purging thoughts of dread and doubt had once more succeeded in invading her mind; and so she escaped to the one image that lent her protection in a time of danger; peace in a time of chaos, aid in a time of pain. She always thought of Liara when she felt fear. The asari's kind and peaceful demeanor never ceased to chase away every bad thought that welled up in the Commander's heart and what was more, their love for each other was a force that no evil could break; no amount of war could tear apart. A sense of peace enveloped her as the asari's image once more pushed the negativity from her mind. Shepard couldn't help but smile as she dried her face, pulling off her sweaty shirt and tossed it lazily to the floor.

The sound of released pressure once more echoed from her cabin chamber, as Liara strode casually down the steps and seated herself on the edge of Shepard's bed. They were bondmates and as such connected to each other; deeper than a sense of understanding. Shepard's painful memories refused to budge and Liara could sense her discomfort. As her commander, it worried her to see Shepard so troubled, but as a lover, it pained her in having to share her experiences; in having to witness what she was truly going through. Shepard was only human and her emotions had finally gotten the best of her.

"Shepard?" she asked calmly, turning her attention to the direction of the closed bathroom door.

"Give me a minute" Shepard answered hoarsely.

"Is this a bad time?"

" . . .No . . .I don't know" the commander relinquished, picking up the shirt once more and putting it back on. It was bad enough for Liara to see her looking so haggard, but unthinkable to emerge looking haggard and half naked.

In all their years of friendship, Liara had never seen Shepard look so miserable. Her skin was paler than usual, her eyes completely bloodshot, and a mask of exhaustion marked upon her face that denounced a week's worth of lost sleep. Shepard dragged herself to the bed, sitting next to her bondmate, as the asari placed an azure hand upon the woman's back, looking on in concern.

"Shepard, what's really bothering you?" she asked patiently, though she feared she already knew the answer.

"I. . .didn't sleep very well" Shepard answered, twiddling with her thumbs, avoiding Liara's gaze.

Liara placed her hand gently beneath the commander's chin, pulling her face to her attention. "That's not all" she continued carefully, frowning at the woman's resolute expression.

"I'm haunted Liara. I can't sleep, I can't think. I don't know if I can do this anymore; fight the reapers. Who am I kidding?" she scoffed. "If that damn boy would just get out of my head. . ." she trailed, rubbing her temples once more.

"What boy?"

"Back on Earth, Anderson and I were trying to escape to the landing pad. We went through a room with an open ventilation shaft and there was a boy. . . hiding in it, no older than six or seven. I tried to help him, but he wouldn't let me. When I was aboard the Normandy, he managed to escape to a shuttle. And . . . I watched him die as the reapers destroyed it" she murmured.

"Shepard. . ." she started gently, but her bondmate cut her off.

"-I can't do this anymore!" Shepard roared, tears beginning to sting the edges of her eyes. "How many more people are going to have to die because I can't be there to save them? How many more friends am I going to have to lose, and still be reminded that it was my fault?" she sighed, burying her face in her hands.

Liara gathered her in her soft, blue arms, resting her cheek upon the commander's head, as the woman she had grown to love and admire for both renowned strength and inpenetrable determination, finally broke into an emotion no one aboard the Normandy had ever seen. Shepard trusted her life with her crew, but Liara was special; the only member whom she truly loved and allowed to see her in such a state as this. Liara gently rocked her back and forth, her hands slowly rubbing Shepard's back to calm her; as a mother would a child. But such attempts would have been better spent trying to calm a storm. It broke the asari's heart to see her lover in such pain and knowing she couldn't fully take it away only seemed to make it worse. She gingerly kissed the top of Shepard's head as the commander's exhausted body finally lay still.

"Look at me" Liara whispered. Shepard cast her gaze to the farthest wall, ashamed to stare into those beautiful blue eyes. "Shepard look at me" she repeated, albeit more sternly, but her tone still retained that same sense of patience and understanding. Shepard slowly turned until their eyes locked, her pale cheeks stained with tears.

"It's not your fault. What happened to those people was a terrible thing, but their death was not from your hand. Blame the collectors, blame the reapers, but please love. . .please don't blame yourself. I hate seeing you like this" she soothed, resting her head upon Shepard's shoulder.

"If people had just listened to me, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess."

"It's hard to say. I believe the reapers would have come regardless of how prepared we were. They aren't something you can control Shepard; they aren't something anyone can."

"And everyday they get a little closer to their goal" Shepard answered sadly.

"Hey now, I don't want you thinking like that" said Liara gently, placing a soft kiss upon the commander's wet cheek. "You've done everything you could. You united an entire galaxy Shepard; how many people can say that? You've brought every race together; races who once hated each other who are now on the same side and no matter what happens in the coming days, they'll look to you with respect." "I know I do" she added quietly, as Shepard grabbed her hand, entertwining their fingers together.

"Of everything in this entire universe, you're the one thing I'm most afraid of losing" Shepard muttered, stroking the asari's cheek.

"You will never lose me" she whispered, tears of her own beginning to trail down as she kissed the commander's soft, pale lips. "I will love you for all eternity Emjay."

"Liara you've never called me by my first name before. I like it" she mused, cracking a a sly smile.

Liara chuckled softly as Shepard returned to the head of the bed, Liara in tow. "Stay with me tonight?" she asked hopeful. The asari only smiled.

Emjay crawled into the soft covers as Liara snuggled close, wrapping her arms around the commander's waist, her head resting upon her chest. For the first time that night Shepard felt safe; protected. Liara had taken away all the doubt and set her mind at ease, and as she nestled closer into the woman's body, everything just seemed right with the world. Shepard planted one last kiss upon the asari's smooth cheek, closed her eyes and drifted into sleep; the haunting nightmares no longer seeming to plague her.