A/N: Sorry this was so late! Thanks for the awesome reviews, everyone! More of Liara and Shepard adventures in the (eventual) follow-up to Unknown. More of Traynor and Shepard in the (eventual) follow up to Severed. And more Liara and Traynor in whatever I end up calling the new story. I'm going to call this story done. Unless there's some exceptional DLC on the way. Thanks to T.A.M. for proofing and general suggestions! Such as chapter naming.

Thessia falls.

Shepard returns to the Normandy, hollowed. She reports to Admiral Hackett and Councilor Irissa in the War Room.

Liara passes through, shellshocked. She steps into the elevator and with great deliberation pushes the button to take her to the deck below.

Traynor remains on her station in CIC, paralyzed.

Traynor enters Liara's room.

Shepard faces a computer terminal, glowering. Her fists are clenched tightly. Traynor looks closer. Her eyes are glassy. A hand to her shoulder provokes no reaction except a slight closing of her eyes. Traynor takes her arm, feels the muscle beneath her touch as hard and tense as the woman before her. "Shepard…" She doesn't look at her. Traynor circles her arms around her, pressing to her back. "You did everything you could," she whispers.

Shepard's body tenses more. Traynor doubts it has anything to do with the room they're in, from the way they're standing. Shepard's voice is low but angry. "Tell that to Liara or the countless asari lost by the minute. The people of Thessia sacrificed their lives for nothing…!" she hisses.

"It will be all right," she says shakily.

"We can't afford any mistakes, we haven't been able to afford any mistakes and we just lost the key to the goddamn Catalyst." Shepard rips away from her. She begins to move away but Traynor catches her wrist. Traynor mouths 'don't go'. Shepard looks at her, looks over to the bed.

Traynor notices Shepard's fist, purple, hot and red, bruised. It wasn't like that earlier. She releases her.

Shepard stays. She paces. Now and then she looks towards Liara.

Liara is collapsed on the bed. The pillow is soaked in tears. Traynor doesn't know what conversation Liara and Shepard had prior to her arrival or if one was had. Her shoulders tremble. She still cries softly. Traynor imagines this is as helpless as Shepard must feel—coupled with any guilt. Traynor would hate to be in her position, in any of their positions.

She can't joke her way out of this. She sits beside her on the bed. Unlike Shepard, Liara does not appear to feel shamed by emotion. Data pads are scattered along the bed. Liara likely tried to focus on something else, anything else before succumbing to grief. Traynor picks them up and sets them aside. Traynor touches her back. Liara's face is half-hidden by the pillow.

"I can't say that I know what you're feeling." Traynor says. Despite the hit Earth took, it was not so monumental, so shattering as the loss and defeat that Thessia has suffered. The people on Earth are still fighting, still have a chance to recover the planet. "And it will probably be a long time until any of this feels better. But I'm here for you." She lifts her head and looks at Shepard who has slowed in her pacing. "Shepard's here for you." She leans in closer and lowers her voice. "I love you. We love you." It's the first time she's said the words. She's speaking for Shepard—but she doesn't question its truth for a moment. She's too sundered to feel any bashfulness for the words.

Liara lifts her teary face to look at her. Traynor's smile is watery. She lifts her hand to her shoulder. "I don't expect that to fix anything," she says softly, "but… I wanted to tell you." Only now does she feel nervous.

Shepard joins them, sitting on the other side of the bed by Liara. Shepard looks miserable and angry. Traynor looks at them. "I…have a few ideas of where I might look—a way to track Kai-Leng down. It will take a little time and maybe it will amount to nothing," Traynor tells them both, "but this isn't over yet."

"Damn right it isn't," Shepard says gruffly. Liara sniffles and wipes her face. Shepard exhales tiredly, wrapping an arm around Liara and pulling her close. Traynor smiles faintly. "Kai-Leng and the Illusive Man won't get away with this, T'soni. It wasn't all for nothing."

"I am sorry—I've been," Liara takes an unsteady breath. "I just never thought it could happen to Thessia. Can you believe it? I, of all, people…"

"You've been through a lot," Traynor takes Liara's hand and squeezes it. Liara curls her fingers around hers. Shepard watches them, unreadable. "Both of you," she adds. Traynor's grip loosens. She knows that Liara and Shepard have been together. They've all spent time together but no one has talked about it. Each of their relationships with another has been unquestioned. It is an unspoken rule though Traynor isn't sure how necessary it is.

Shepard and Liara clearly love one another—no matter how they may butt heads. How they feel about her is unknown—but she does know that they care for her. That is enough. "Anyway, I should…probably get going. You two need some time," she begins to pull away, "and I…" Liara doesn't release her hand. She kisses her briefly. Traynor can't help but blush. They all know what they've been doing—but having every party present flusters her.

The tears have dried on Liara's cheeks though Traynor can still taste them on her lips. She cups Liara's face. "Feel better." Her eyes land on Shepard but she drops them quickly. She isn't sure why—she isn't sure if she's overstepping bounds, afraid of letting Shepard see how much Liara means to her, afraid of letting Shepard see how much she means to her. "You too, Commander."

"What's this?" Shepard says. "I don't get a kiss?"

If her face was warm before, it's on fire now. Is Shepard using calculated arrogance to overcome the dismal situation? Traynor can't blame her. Traynor looks nervously at Liara and tries to pull away again. Liara's hand comes to the small of her back, grounding her. "It's all right, Samantha."

Traynor looks at her. Liara looks tired but comfortable against Shepard. Shepard's look is challenging, almost mocking but there's something more hidden beneath the surface, something that makes Traynor's heart race. "I really have a lot of work to do," she says knowing full well that Liara and Shepard have just as much if not more. Shepard's hand hooks into the waist of her fatigue pants to draw her close. Traynor takes a breath without realizing, as if preparing for a dive underwater.

Their lips touch. Then there are two sets of hands moving over her. Lips pressed to hers, lips pressed to her neck.

It's the middle of the night. Liara doesn't know how long she's been typing in little more than a slip when she hears Traynor's soft groan. Liara finishes the few lines she's typing, requisitioning the supplies to be delivered to the more stable regions of Thessia before she straightens.

Traynor has been asleep for several hours now. Liara is emotionally exhausted and her body hurts from the battle in Thessia. It's only now that she realizes it, after the numbness has been pushed away. Shepard left earlier, awakening before any of them. Liara wonders if she slept at all. She'd given her a brief, barely there kiss and wordlessly left. Liara's been working energetically on getting aid to Thessia since then.

Now Traynor's awake. Liara thinks of her earlier, of Shepard and Traynor and herself, together. It is not the sort of comfort she has ever taken nor can she recall a time when her heart had pounded so loudly. It was strange and exciting to see them together, to have Shepard and Traynor watch her with the other, for all of them to touch and kiss and stroke in unison and individually, to focus their attentions on one exclusively. She's surprised Traynor didn't faint. Even Shepard, normally unflappable in the face of anything unrelated to emotion appeared nervous. Perhaps there was more to be felt than any of them presumed.

Funny how these things just happen. Liara joins Traynor in bed; she looks around in a daze and rubs her eyes tenderly. "I just had…the most peculiar dream." There's a pause. "Was it a dream?"

Liara smiles tiredly. "No." Traynor's lips part, she sits up, keeping the blanket draped over her. She wonders if Traynor is feeling more modest than usual. "Are you all right? Do you need to talk about it?"

Traynor gives a mild shake of her head. "All things considered—I suppose stranger things have happened. Perhaps not to me—"

"Or me," Liara takes her hand.

Traynor scrunches her eyebrows. "How are you? You were so shook up earlier. I was so worried. I hate Kai Leng. I hate everything that's happened." She sighs. "I wish you didn't have to suffer like this."

"I'm not the only one."

They kiss softly. Traynor ducks her chin thoughtfully but Liara kisses her again, perhaps to reassure her or to reassure herself. Liara is aware of humans' priggish sensibilities regarding sex and pleasure. But it was more than that. She wonders if Traynor knows or if now is the time to talk about it. "I know that there are…far more important things happening but you're important to me, too."

"Now I'm 'important'. I thought you loved me. Have you changed your mind?"

Traynor laughs bashfully. "Oh, you remember that, do you?"

"You have a high opinion of me. It's rare that I get confessions of love." In fact, Traynor's has been the first she's received. She knows what Traynor said about Shepard—but Shepard has never said the words herself. Is it true…? "So…I'm bound to remember. Especially if they come from certain comm specialists."

Traynor bows her face and smiles. "Are things all right between us? Everything keeps…getting away from me." Traynor says. Her eyes close when Liara brushes her hair. "I didn't plan any of this. I don't want anything to change."

"Love changes a few things." Liara meets Traynor's eyes when she opens them. "But we still have a lot to do. I've been finding some ways to help Thessia. It isn't much but… it's something. I have to do something, anything." She sighs. Traynor grazes her lips over her forehead. "We're so close to the end."


"Remember when you said you couldn't find love in the middle of war?"

"I vaguely recall that," her cheeks darken again.

"You weren't the only one to find it. I couldn't think of a better way to prove you wrong."

"I didn't know you were intent on proving me wrong."

"You have a bit of a smart mouth. Someone should put you in your place," she smiles and returns Traynor's kiss, happy to see some of the nervous tension begin to leave her and see her return more to her usual self. Times like these make Traynor's optimism and curiosity a rare quality. Traynor pulls her down beside her. Liara rests her head on her shoulder. "Thank you for today. And all the other days and nights." Traynor looks at her. "I knew this would be difficult. But I had no idea…" she sighs. "And I'm so tired…" she stifles a yawn.

"You need to rest. No, complaints." She brings a finger to her lips. "Today has been…unimaginable. I have some data that needs to be looked at… No one is just gone. You may be a very good information broker—but I'm an excellent comm specialist. If Kai Leng or the Illusive Man have made any communication, no matter how scrambled—I may be able to pinpoint it and track them down." Once again Liara tries to protest. "You and Shepard have done your part—let me do mine."

"All right…" She hoped Traynor would stay longer, keep her company, hold her until she went to sleep. How foolish. How selfish! There's no time for that kind of romance—no matter where love may flourish. "Do what you can. We're counting on you, Samantha."

"No pressure, or anything."

"I thought you liked pressure." She smiles faintly, Traynor's own sad smile reflecting how they're both trying so desperately to forget the tragedy that is Thessia. Traynor kisses her cheek, dresses and returns to work. Liara lies in bed restlessly for near an hour before she stands and does the same.

Good. You opened this message. This isn't actually asari military command. They're busy tending to what's left of their planet.

So you survived our fight on Thessia. You're not as weak as I thought. But never forget that your best wasn't good enough to stop me. Now an entire planet is dying because you lacked the strength to win. The legend of Shepard needs to be re-written. I hope I'm there for the last chapter. It ends with your death.


Shepard sits in her desk chair and re-reads the message until it's memorized. The cabin is cold but she's sweating. When the cabin door opens she hurriedly closes the message. Kai Leng. The bastard. The next time she sees him she'll rip the bastard apart.

"Shepard?" It's Liara. Shepard turns her face in the direction of Liara's voice. Liara joins their lips near immediately. Shepard is happy for her. But is it her fault that Thessia fell…? Is Kai Leng right? If she'd been stronger… Liara pulls away. "Is something wrong?"

"Everything?" Shepard smiles wryly before turning to the blank monitor. Liara massages her shoulders. Shepard sighs, head falling forward. "That's nice. Didn't know we were scheduled for a visit."

"I didn't know I had to make appointments," her fingers continue to knead her shoulders. "You're tense. Hopefully I can help alleviate that."

"Oh?" She grins.

Liara laughs softly. "That isn't what I meant. I have some good news."

"Anything helps right now." Shepard lifts her head and takes Liara's hand, pausing her movement. She pushes back from the desk in the chair and pulls Liara into her lap. Liara smiles. Shepard returns it. For so long all Liara had for her was cold glares. When she didn't have glares she had nothing. It became harder to ignore. "It's good to see you," she says softly.

"You say it as if we haven't seen each other in ages." Liara touches Shepard's face. "I suppose in some ways, you would be right." Shepard wraps her arms around her waist, pulling her closer and they kiss again. Liara makes her wish that they could stop and have normal things like other people. Liara breaks the kiss but keeps her face close. "Mh. Keep that up and I'll forget why I came here to begin with."

"That wouldn't be so bad," Shepard says, "I promise you a good time."

Liara laughs. "I have no doubt of that." She kisses her again. "I've been looking at our allied forces. For someone who lacks the finesse of the asari and diplomacy," she traces Shepard's smirk, "you've done a good job building a strong military force. There are many who doubted that you could pull the galaxy together but you have. I don't think anyone else could have. Shepard… I think we have a good shot at winning this."

"I haven't gotten everything right."

"Not everything. But a lot. More than enough."

"Now, that is good news." It makes her feel better. It makes some of the tension leave her shoulders. Liara squeals as Shepard stands, scooping her up in her arms in the process. Liara circles her arms around Shepard's neck and kisses her. She pulls Shepard atop of her when her back touches the mattress and doesn't relinquish her mouth.

Shepard begins to believe that they can do this. They can win.

Horizon was a travesty. Every time she thinks the Illusive Man and Cerberus have gone as far as they're willing to go, they move further into the realm of atrocities. Using war refugees to fuel their experiments, turning them into mindless husks. The Illusive Man is going to pay. At least Henry Lawson is no longer breathing.

Kai Leng is still loose. The Reapers are still winning the war. This isn't over yet but they're running out of time. She bounces the rubber wall off the fish tank trying to shake any unease she feels. Sanctuary won't sucker any more refugees into coming to Horizon, to slaughter them for indoctrination. The experiments are over. For now.

Shepard bounces the ball several more times, stopping herself from throwing it again when Traynor walks in. She salutes. Shepard allows a small, unintentional smile. "At ease."

"I'd worry for the fish in the fishtank—if you kept any fish."

"What's the use when my new secretary won't feed them? I don't have time for that crap." She smiles more at Traynor's frown. "Good work. Gotta say, I'm more used to using muscle and guns, biotics to take care of business. If you hadn't been stranded on the Normandy—" she pauses. She'd been thinking aloud with no particular point to make. "We'd have been screwed." If not for Traynor what would have happened at Grissom academy? What about the pockets of survivors throughout the galaxy that have joined them in the resistance against the Reapers? Jacob, Jack, finding Sanctuary, having a chance now to recover whatever the key to the Catalyst is…

"But…I might not have been." Traynor says with a small, bashful grin. She makes the joke but she blushes. Shepard laughs. She yanks her close with biotics before dispensing the rubber ball errantly to the side. It bounces around a few times before rolling away somewhere. "You know I'm not used to you doing that."

"No? I can't be the only biotic you know." Even if she hadn't always been one. She thinks to Cerberus and Miranda, Project Lazarus and her reconstruction.

"The other one I'm close with is ah…" She slows, Shepard's thumb grazing her lower lip, "better behaved." Shepard presses her back to the fish tank. "We could put in an order for fish, you know. You'd still have to feed them, though. How else are you going to learn to take some responsibility?"

Shepard smirks. The specialist is constantly riding her ass. At least she's come a long way from the shy, bumbling thing she used to become around her. She wonders if she coincidentally picks lovers that evolve or if there's something about her very nature that prompts a survivalist mentality in them, fight back or be beaten down. "How are you doing? Earlier I thought you might be ready to steal the helm from Joker and crash it into where ever the Illusive Man might be hiding."

"Oh, I couldn't do that. I don't know how to steer this thing." She smiles, shifting her eyes. Shepard touches her face until she looks back at her. "I meant what I said. I am sick of Cerberus treating lives as if they're expendable. And hitting Horizon. First the Collectors, now Cerberus. For all their talk of being humanity's greatest hope all they do is make people suffer. They're despicable. Whatever they may have been before, whatever they were when they brought you back—that isn't them anymore. I want them to pay for what they've done. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. With so much going on we don't need more enemies. I want them gone."

Shepard takes Traynor's hand, balled at her side and wraps her fingers around it. "We're going to take them out. I promise. Believe me, I've got a score or two to settle with them." Still Traynor breathes arduously. Her eyes glisten, no doubt from angry tears. "Talk to me."

"I'm not used to being this angry. I don't know what to do with it. I feel so helpless."

"You're not. Remember, when we track Kai Leng down he'll lead us straight to the Illusive Man and their base. That first nail in their coffin is going to be all you. We all fight wars. You just do it differently than I do. Understood?"

"Yeah," she says shakily. "I don't know if I could ever return to Horizon now after all that's happened. I don't know if there will be a Horizon left." She sighs. "Where will we go when we stop running? When the fighting's done? Is there any place that will be habitable? Liara says the Reapers waged war against the Protheans for over a hundred years. I hate to think I'll be old and weathered and still living with the threat of Reapers over my head."

"That won't happen. We find Kai Leng and the Illusive Man, we get the key to the Catalyst and we end this once and for all. Samantha, look at me." Shepard says when Traynor begins to nod absently. Traynor looks at her. "We're going to do this. We're almost there. But you're going to have to trust me for a little longer. Can you do that?"

"I don't think I have any other choice," she says with a soft laugh. She straightens her back against the fish tank. "but… of course I trust you, Commander. I haven't left yet, have I? And… you're enough of a bad ass that I'm pretty sure I'd follow you to hell and back… if you had a plan that was just crazy enough to work."

Shepard smiles. She kisses her. Traynor's fist loosens and then their fingers are twined. Shepard pins her wrist carefully to the side, up against the cold glass as their kisses become more precarious, gentler. She isn't sure who changed the tempo or if they both just happened to at the same time. It isn't bad but it isn't how they've ever been. Shepard kisses her harder and Traynor follows suit but not long after their fiery kisses give way to something deep and languid again. Maybe they're tired.

Shepard draws back, running her tongue over her lower lip. "Something wrong?" Traynor asks. Shepard shakes her head. She takes a seat on the end of her bed. Traynor joins her. "I've never known you to not be in the mood. Aaaand, I could have sworn that you just were. Don't tell me you have a headache." Shepard does have a headache. She's had one for a long time now that she thinks of it. Traynor bumps her shoulder gently. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Shepard says softly. Nothing but the terror that is coursing through her. She doesn't know it, doesn't understand it. Things are finally looking up for them. The war on the Reapers, on Earth, the galaxy may soon be over but she's unsettled.

"I don't believe you."

"I don't care whether you believe me."

"That's probably true," she laughs haltingly. Shepard looks at her. "Is it…what happened? Before? With. Erm. You know…"

The blush on her cheeks is enough to fill in the 'you know'. Shepard thinks back to what had happened. How the hell had it happened? It worked. It was fun. They all needed a break. They all needed to relieve some stress. They needed a distraction. What better than a fuck? But Shepard knows what fucking is and when it's something else, something more. Liara and Traynor are much more than just sex. Maybe she had felt some jealousy but not enough to let it take away any satisfaction. She'd liked watching them together, joining them, having them on her, touching and kissing and sucking and whispering. So what gives? It hits her. She's left cold.

Traynor looks at her expectantly but not saying anything. "Silent treatment it is." Eventually she finds the rubber ball that rolled away earlier. She picks it up and bounces it lightly off the fish tank. "I see why you do this. It is fun." Shepard listens to the ball bounce several times before pulling it to her. Traynor pouts. "I thought you didn't mind sharing."

Another small smile pulls at her lips. "I don't." She sets the ball aside. "Samantha… I've let things become unprofessional between us." She wipes at her face. "Hell. How did this happen?"

Traynor walks closer, cautiously. She brings a hand up to her lips and whispers in Shepard's ear. "Probably when we started sleeping together." She pulls back and looks at her quizzically. "Didn't you know we were having sex? Now you've made me feel as if I've taken advantage of a poor Spectre. I feel awful." Her grin is nothing short of mischievous.

"Samantha, I'm serious."

"I can be serious, too." She reaches for the ball but Shepard takes it. Once again she pouts. Strange to think that this woman has saved their asses more times than Shepard cares to count. "If I knew what you were talking about." She looks at her. Shepard says nothing. Traynor takes a breath. "I'll bite. And again later, if you tell me where you like—but what do you mean, things have become unprofessional? Since when do you give a damn about professional?"

"I'm not a very good example, am I?"

Traynor smiles. She straddles her. Shepard situates herself so she doesn't fall back. She settles her hands on Traynor's hips. Traynor traces her face with her fingertip. "I don't know that I'd fancy you as much as I do if you weren't the big, bad wolf." Shepard laughs again. She can't think of anyone else who makes her laugh as often. "By the way, I'm really glad you didn't kill Joker after Thessia." Shepard frowns. "EDI told me all about it. If I'd heard what he said I might have tried to take a swing at him myself."

"I did. For the record, slamming your fist into EDI when she's acting as a shield—not advisable." Her fist hurts at the memory. "I was mad." She sulks.

"Yeah. Who knew that you had a temper?" She presses a kiss to her forehead and another to her lips. It isn't long before they're kissing the way that they were before. They don't rip each other's clothes away. They undress, their lips not leaving each other's for more than moments at a time.

Unprofessional. Unprofessional. She'd failed to uphold her part of the bargain. Shepard feels elation and mounting terror, sadness ascending. This will be the last time. She has to separate herself from this. She can't have her on her mind at the end. Traynor's gotten too close and Shepard failed to keep her at a proper distance. She loves Samantha. How can she? Shouldn't she know better? Hadn't she told Traynor to keep her feelings in check only to fail herself?

What does Samantha feel for her? Maybe she's too professional to tell her. Maybe she's upholding her end of the bargain. Shepard could ask. Shepard could tell her. But she doesn't. She kisses her and takes care to remember her kiss and her breath, the pressure of her fingers along her back, her voice.

Kai Leng is dead but Shepard is unsettled. Cronos has raised doubts that Liara hoped would be long buried by now. Shepard won't talk about it—she never wants to talk about it. Liara can see her retreating by the moment, away from her and Traynor and everything else. She's afraid Shepard will withdraw again.

All she can do is worry and work but even the constant monitoring and research isn't enough to calm her fears. Traynor has helped her find and track the little communication happening on Thessia. It is a more technical process than Liara initially imagined. It is one thing to listen in on feeds and another to unscramble and clean up antiquated modes of communication that Thessia, like Earth, has resorted to.

She's been up for a few hours now and still can't wake up. It's early morning. Liara preps a cup of coffee, fighting with the machine. What if she needs a new one…? It would be difficult to replace it when the galaxy is on the verge of extinction. "Goddess," she says. What would she be without coffee…?

Shepard walks in. "You called?"

Liara peeks her head around the corner, spotting her by the entrance. "Shepard, I'm glad you're here." She continues to fidget with the coffee maker. The contraption has been working perfectly well during the duration of their mission. Perhaps some power failure has caused it to malfunction—or the many hits that the ship has taken. "I have tried everything and can't fix it." She looks at the coffeemaker, dismayed.

"The Shadow Broker, defeated by a coffee machine." Shepard smiles. "How have you survived this long?"

"As long as you're going to stand there and gloat, why not fix it?" She sits on the bed and watches Shepard duck to better look at the machine. She turns it off and on and then waits. "You're up early."

"It's easy when you don't sleep." Shepard curls her fist and gives the coffee maker two solid hits to the top. It makes a cracking noise. Liara grimaces and Shepard takes a seat next to her. She had been attached to that coffee maker. "You don't need coffee when you've got adrenaline."

"Do you have any adrenaline handy? I'm not awake enough to face whatever might demand it." She stifles a small yawn. "I wasn't expecting you." But she is happy to see her. Shepard has been no more or less present than usual. Shepard has given herself over to her a handful of times since they reconnected. She isn't as surly as is in her nature to be but Liara has not missed the way she has kept their conversations free of any significance. "Should you be up this early?"

"If it were up to me I wouldn't sleep at all. Could get a hell of a lot more done that way." Shepard says. She rubs her eyes and sighs, resting an elbow on her leg. Liara wonders if she's slept at all. She looks tired, run down.

Liara slips an arm around her waist, resting her head on her shoulder. She isn't sure which one of them sighs tiredly. "Have you been having nightmares?" The tensing of Shepard's body is answer enough. Waiting for several more silent minutes doesn't bring any answers. She moves on. "What's the plan for today?"

"Clean up any loose ends. Play the diplomat for all the right people. Make sure that everyone knows where they have to be. Get everything into its proper place. When we hit Earth—we're going to have to be ready. There won't be any second chances. We can't make any mistakes. We've made too many as it is. It ends now."

"We're so close. How do you think it will go?"

"What do you expect me to say to that?"

"I expect you to say the truth."

"I can't tell you what will happen. We're as prepared as we're going to be. We can't do more than we already have. But we're going to lose a lot of people. No different than any other day." She rubs at her face again. "I hope to hell we win. But I can't make any guarantees."

Liara rubs Shepard's leg gently. It hurts her to see Shepard so stressed. She has never seen her this way. She's always been confident and sure but maybe some situations are too dire. So much is riding on her and maybe at last she's feeling it. Shepard has never been one to kiss ass, to show undeserved mercy—and some of those decisions have cost them. Shepard no doubt knows it. Liara wishes she could help her the way that Shepard has helped her in the past. "I believe in you. We all do." Shepard has lowered her head. Liara brings her fingers to the back of her neck, massaging softly. Shepard exhales slowly. "You're going to do this. And we're all going to help you."

The tension comes back to her in full force, Shepard's limbs harden and go rigid. She sits up and looks at her. The red in her eyes looks to be fading some. It helps Liara see the distance that's entering them. "I'm going to get going."

"So soon?" Liara's disappointed. "It's only been… Shepard," she goes for it, "don't you want to talk about Cronos?" She had seen how shaken she was by the Cerberus footage, the questions she has about her identity, about who or what she is.

"No. What's done is done. No use dwelling on it."

"Okay…" Liara shuffles in place. "In any case… I want to tell you that you are the same Shepard I have always known. I know I've said it before but… it can't hurt to tell you again." She smiles nervously. Shepard still hasn't allowed her to meld with her, leaving them purely in the realm of the physical. It leaves Liara feeling incomplete and unsatisfied

"Yeah." Shepard says. Liara isn't sure that she's convinced and given her doubts, Liara is unsure her speech is enough to change any feelings. "I know you're only trying to help. Thanks." There's a beat. "What do you think all that business about indoctrination was? Seems like every Cerberus facility we hit…" So it has been bothering her. She knew it. She's formulating a response when Shepard shakes her head. "All of us know that it won't be long until we bring the war back to Earth. We know how little time we have left. I only came by because… I wanted to see you." Liara takes a step towards her. They kiss too briefly, Shepard with a desperate ardor that cools and then dies, as if she'd simply turned a switch off. Shepard separates from her, cocks her head to the coffee maker that has started suddenly, splashing coffee over the table. "Looks like we both have messes to clean up."

Liara hurries to the coffee maker, trying to clean up the mess or turn off the machine. She isn't able to until she unplugs it. When she glances back, Shepard is gone.

Hours before the call comes Shepard turns them both away. She sleeps restlessly. She dreams of a boy and all the ones she couldn't save: Ashley. Mordin. Thane. Eve. Legion. How many more will she lose?

She thinks of Liara. She thinks of Traynor. Then she wipes them both from her mind. She is ambivalent: should she make her heart cold or fire? Should she focus on the destruction of the Reapers or saving lives?

Destroying the Reapers is the only way to save lives. She closes her eyes and takes several breaths, feeling unbearably alone. She hardens herself and tells herself she's indestructible.

Traynor looks as if she's going to cry. Liara is glad that she'll be safe, safer aboard the Normandy than on Earth in the midst of violent war. Liara wonders if she'll see her again.

So much could go wrong. She could fall in battle. Shepard could. Her heart clenches at the thought. A reaper beam could annihilate them. Or perhaps the Catalyst might not work. Or it could be destroyed before they can use it. It's easy to get lost in the distressing thoughts.

Liara focuses on Traynor. They kiss and make frantic, passionate love, unlike their previous gentler unions. They meld, their sadness of Shepard's distance felt, their desire, both of theirs, to meld with Shepard, revealed. Their feelings for one another are more intoxicating, thrilling still.

"Tell me you'll come back," Traynor says.

Liara presses to her back. She kisses the base of her neck. "I'll do my best," she murmurs.

Shepard diligently holds her arms out to the side as Traynor straps her into her armor. Shepard remembers when Traynor had trouble with it, when she didn't know how to latch and better yet, unlatch it.

Shepard tries to keep her breath steady even as Traynor's fingers tremble, fumble. Shepard doesn't let Traynor know that she sees it, happy only with the knowledge that Traynor has come so far in the time that they've spent together. Traynor runs her fingertips over the armor when she's finished. The armor gleams dully despite the beatings it has taken.

Shepard looks it over and then at Traynor. She smiles. "Good work." This could be, for all she knows, the last time she ever sees Communications Specialist Samantha Traynor. It makes her sad before the anger comes. She won't let the goddamn Reapers take everything. "Now get back to CIC."

Traynor straightens and salutes. "It was an honor, Commander."

"Likewise, Specialist." Shepard takes Traynor's wrist and lowers it. They stare at each other. "We're going to take Earth back. No more running. After all of this is over—you'll have a home. No more Reapers. That's a promise."

Traynor's lower lip trembles. She throws her arms around Shepard, holds her tightly. "Why couldn't I have kept things as professional as I said I would? Like you could." Shepard exhales shakily, a hand coming to Traynor's hair. "I love you." She pulls away from her. "Now go kick some Reaper ass."

Traynor exits the cabin. Shepard bows her face, a faint smile tugging on her lips. She gives herself a moment before moving. The fleets are gathering. It's time to join Joker on the bridge.

Shepard wanted an exceptional biotic. She wanted an exceptional soldier. She takes Kaidan and Garrus on the first assault. London is devastated. The size of the Reapers is…staggering. The damage the Destroyers have unleashed on their forces is…

Liara wonders if the war can be won. Is it all up to the Catalyst now? Have they been fools? How different it is to face Cerberus soldiers or the races that have been indoctrinated. They have always left other planets when the Reapers have arrived. To rush towards them as they cannibalize a planet and its people…

Liara's in the Forward Operating Base, attending to the wounded. There are many but not as many as she has expected. She supposes she would have heard if something had happened to…

Shepard's voice startles her out of all thoughts. She had not known such happiness was possible. Liara goes to her wordlessly and embraces her before pulling away. Shepard's face is half-covered in blood, the majority of the blood seems to come from a wound on her temple. Liara takes her face, studies it and determines that it looks worse than it is. "Shepard…thank the Goddess. I was so worried." Not only that, she was angry, is angry still. Shepard chose not to take her with her on the first assault. Liara isn't sure whether she should think of it as special treatment, a criticism of her skills in battle or if Shepard was only protecting her in the best way she knew. "You could have taken me."

"No. You're needed here."

Liara sighs. "Do you ever consider not being stubborn?" Shepard shakes her head, a small mocking smile on her lips. Liara takes her hands. "I know that you're going to tell me that we don't even have a minute to spare. And maybe that's true. I was so worried thinking about you that… I didn't prepare… something right for you."

"Something right?"

"Special. To say." She bites her lip and lowers her head. "We never have enough time together. Something bigger always comes to stand in the way."

"Can't imagine anything much bigger than a Reaper. And once we clear these bastards out… who knows?" She shrugs. Liara takes her hands. Shepard looks down at them. "End of the line. Took long enough, didn't it?"

"It came too soon." Liara says. Shepard takes a moment before nodding. "For asari… bonding with humans is always… difficult. Other asari will joke that they can wait out relationships and simply wait for their human lover to die."

"Was that a vote of confidence?"

"No! I mean—" she balks. "I have faith in you, Shepard. I only meant… I'm still young enough to be…distressed by all of this." She laughs and feels her eyes sting. "If this is goodbye…I hate for it to be here. London is in ruins. The Reapers are decimating us."

"We're doing all right."

"Yes, you're right." She sighs. "Shepard…" she steps closer to her. "I know you turned me away…but I'm not angry. And I have enough time… to wait for you. To wait until you're ready. To wait until you win this war." Liara touches her face. "Let me give you a gift."

"A gift?"

"Yes. My memories… of us. Of my affection," her fingertips brush Shepard's face. "A moment's peace in this chaos and darkness. A moment's rest." Shepard inhales softly. "I'll have to join our minds to do it."

Shepard deliberates. Then she meets Liara's eyes. "Show me."

Liara is surprised. But time is fleeting. Liara joins their minds. She wades through the uncertainty, through all that is fragmented, through every broken piece of Shepard's regret, to everything that marks her so clearly as human.

Liara shows her the threads of their time together, weaving a tapestry of memories, of love. She shows her the stars.

They kiss in the cosmos.

And then it's over and they've returned to London. Liara talks through the lump in her throat. "Thank you. For everything."

Harbinger looms in the night. Shepard's ears ring from the battle. All that's left is to make a run for it. Life can continue then. She won't have to hold back anymore. All she has to do is reach the conduit.

She takes the first step.