This story is dedicated to the_subverter, Huntington's Bride, Melaradark, LogicalPremise, PMC65 and Midnight Lion for being massive fonts of inspiration. Also to rabastan04 and Doccubus21 for following me across fandoms, I heart you guys! My thanks also go to RevolvingAbyss and AlyssC01 for their assistance with the early chapters.
Midnight Lion has written a superb 'fanfic of a fanfic' for Glacial Fire featuring Traynor and Liara. I managed to convince her to post it, so please go check it out. It's called "Backdraft".
Disclaimer: I borrowed the characters from Bioware and EA. I do not claim ownership of anything.
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The atmosphere was cloying.
Not a large space to begin with, the airlock felt even more confining as Doctor Liara T'Soni struggled with tenuous threads of composure. Her head throbbed dully, a side effect of overtaxing her biotic reserves without replenishing energy. She stretched her left arm across her chest over the opposite shoulder, testing the range of motion. She was certain that she had sprained something during a mad scramble for cover. She fought back an uncomfortable groan. Complaining about a slight discomfort seemed disrespectful in light of the fact that lives had been lost.
Unnecessary lives, Liara thought, feeling her face flush with frustration again.
To distract herself, Liara looked over at Ashley Williams who had removed her helmet and gloves and stood next to the door with her head tilted back and her eyes closed, a hank of dark hair partially hiding her face. Humanity's newest Spectre looked as battered as Liara felt. Her chest plate was dented and charred and Ashley appeared to be merely sipping on air, as though afraid to take a deep breath. The human presented no other physical evidence that they had very nearly been handed their asses during the mission, yet Liara could tell by her posture that Ashley was uncomfortable. She seemed to be trying to take up as little space in the airlock as possible.
The reason for their continued unease lingered a few feet away, arms folded across her chest as she glowered at the floor.
Shepard was pissed.
Williams beat feet out of the air lock as soon as the door hissed open, confirming Liara's suspicions: the Spectre felt the billowing essence of their commander's rage, too.
Lowering her head, helmet still firmly locked in place to hide the burning heat that splashed her cheeks, Liara made to quit the space as well. She was forced to draw up short to avoid being clothes-lined by a hard-suited bicep when the commander's fist slammed into the door frame mere inches from her face shield.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?" Shepard demanded in a voice barely above a harsh whisper.
Out of the three of them, Shepard had fared the worst. As a vanguard, the commander was always at the forefront of any battle. The combat style was a companion to Shepard's volatile personality, which meant that she usually came out of missions beaten to a bloody pulp. For reasons unfathomable to Liara, physical pain seemed to bring the human delight. Given the visible injuries Shepard presently sported—nose seeping blood, a shiny patch of red above her left eye, knuckles spread with contusions—the woman should be grinning from ear to bleeding ear. Instead she exuded intense fury, fixing Liara with an accusatory glare.
Liara sucked in a breath and backed up a pace, trying not to allow Shepard the satisfaction of any further reaction. The door slid shut, closing them off from the Normandy again.
The commander, only marginally less irritable on any given day, was prone to fits of temper punctuated by the verbal excrement humans were so fond of. Liara had learned the best way to deal with Shepard under these circumstances was to avoid the woman entirely.
She was not so lucky today. Incidentally that suited the asari's mood perfectly.
"I asked you a question, T'Soni. I expect an answer."
Liara clenched her teeth. If Shepard had barked at her like that back when they had first met she would have been reduced to an intimidated, quivery mess unable to utter a word. She was not the stuttering, shy maiden she had once been; although in the dark, solitary confines of her quarters, Liara occasionally mourned for the innocence she had lost since meeting the commander.
Now the receding flush in her cheeks was ignited once more by outrage that slowly crawled up her neck, fuelled further by apparitions from the past that forever bound her to the human.
"I need a shower, Commander. Would you please excuse me?" Liara muttered, trying to maintain a grip on civility at the very least. She took a step forward, but Shepard continued to block her exit.
"You are not dismissed," Shepard growled. "I want you to take off your helmet and look me in the eye while you explain to me exactly what happened out there."
In spite of herself, Liara felt her lips curve into an anticipatory grin. "You want to do this now?"
"You're damned right I do."
Liara felt a vein in her forehead pulse as what was left of her restraint snapped. By now the human was aware that the sweet little asari she had found on Therum was gone, but Liara doubted that Shepard knew the depths to which she had sunk before they had been reunited. As an information broker, Liara had learned the hard way how to take care of herself. She bluffed her way out of difficult situations as often as possible, but sometimes threats could not be idle. There were things she had been forced to do that would completely shatter the commander's perceptions of her. It shamed Liara and on her darkest days she couldn't help but lay some of the blame on Shepard's shoulders.
"Fine," Liara snapped, tugging her gloves off and tossing them to the floor. As she did so, she took several menacing steps toward the commander.
Shepard held her ground and watched the advancing asari with an almost amused expression. By the time Liara's fingers had reached the clasps holding her helmet in place, the commander's pupils had dilated and her chest heaved with the increased tempo of her breathing.
Liara wondered on more than one occasion if Shepard could function without some sort of conflict running interference through her life. It was as though the commander was optimal when her body remained in a constant state of stress.
Yanking her helmet off, Liara allowed it to dangle from her fingers for several seconds before chucking it aside with a harsh clatter. Nerve endings began to twitch as her biotics flared into existence, wreathing her in a crackling blue aura. Inclining her chin, she regarded the commander with singular focus.
Looking into the depths of Sherpard's eyes, Liara felt the tension shift. Years ago she had made an awkward attempt to romance the commander, sensing Shepard's attraction. As foolish as a juvenile, she had thought she could overcome the human's aggression to find gentleness at her core. Instead, by the time the commander had finished denying any sort of feelings for Liara whatsoever the asari had been left completely, nearly irrevocably diminished.
Liara knew now that the power balance between them had equalized, causing the old desire to resurface. And she saw Shepard's reflected back, exposed and raw.
"Not everyone is expendable, Commander," Liara admonished as she sent out thin tendrils of biotics—enough to envelop the commander and pin her to the wall, but not enough to harm her. She pushed a little harder, forcing Shepard's head to tilt back, lengthening her slender neck. Liara was briefly distracted by the commander's pulse point, which visibly throbbed.
"I had to make the call or we'd all be in for a massive anal raping by a bunch of husks."
Liara momentarily squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. "You are so beautiful," she whispered, moving closer, "until you speak."
Shepard stared at her, eyes alight with fire now. The red glow and savage crisscrossing of shining scars had ceased to affect Liara. "I suppose you wanted me to let them bend you over?"
"I am no longer so easy to bend, Shepard."
Now Shepard's eyes narrowed. "Hmm, no you are not. What the hell happened to you?"
Not many would have noticed the slight flicker of guilt that crossed Shepard's face, but Liara could see that the commander owned the responsibility—had owned it for some time. Then the mask swiftly claimed her features, the vulnerability gone as Shepard was once more sneering at her.
Liara desperately wanted to wipe that look off the commander's face. Continuing to hold the other woman with her biotics, Liara took one last step forward, penetrating what remained of Shepard's personal space. She reached up with her right hand, gripping the back of the commander's head by tangling her fingers in sweat dampened hair.
Shepard's eyes slammed shut even as her lips parted slightly. Liara felt herself teetering on the edge of the abyss. One more step in the course she was on and there would be no semblance of the old Liara left. She would be nothing more than what she had become in pursuit of the Shadow Broker, stopping at nothing and letting no one stand in her way as she took what she wanted.
Liara paused, feeling the whisper of the human's hot breath on her lips. The temptation to kiss Shepard, to force her to act on her desire—to admit that she actually had feelings for Liara—was so strong that Liara was astonished to be trembling in an effort to fight it.
With a hiss of disgust, Liara let Shepard go, her biotics fizzling out. The commander stumbled as the pressure holding her in place was relieved.
Liara had already turned her back, missing the ghost of disappointment that haunted Shepard's face. The asari's shoulders rolled forward as she strode toward the airlock exit.
Fingers inches from the control panel, Liara stiffened. Shepard had not called her by her given name since Liara had first approached her about her feelings so long ago. She allowed her chin to drop to her chest, not entirely sure she wanted to hear what Shepard would say.
"I was trying to protect you," the commander murmured, a rare tenderness permeating her words.
Standing with her back to the commander, Liara couldn't keep the bitterness at bay. "You failed, Shepard."
In the resounding silence Liara lifted her head, squared her shoulders and stabbed at the door's control. As it hissed shut behind her, she heard a muffled clatter followed by an agonized shout.
In the event that she might falter, Liara didn't dare look back.
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