AN: Don't know where that one came from...
It might be a little bit angsty. Consider yourself warned.
The beggar was sitting in her niche next to a almost invisible backstreet just like every day over the last half year. No one took notice of her. Vancouver, once a shining beacon of Human advancement boasting a low crime and even lower unemployment rate, had become used to the sight of desperate people. Uprooted and disheartened after the Reaper War they had come through the Alliance capital on Earth and some had simply never left.
Humanitarian organizations tried to help where they could but resources were still scarce. Whole infrastructures had been wiped out and needed rebuilding, a task that would take years to complete. And with the Mass Relays out they could not import anything from off-world.
The devastation – a fifth of the whole Human population on Earth wiped out – however had also brought out the best of most people. Solidarity was at an all time high, volunteers helping out where they could and putting the old saying, that every Earthling, as those who stayed on Earth their entire lives were called, was a xenophobe at heart to shame. They had given the non-Human soldiers that had come to their rescue and were now stranded far from home any honour they could spare. Despite the hard times they were given a heroes' welcome and even after a year they were held in high regard and lacked nothing, even if all had to tighten their belt a little. It was in part thanks to the first Human Spectre, Commander Shepard, sadly lost in the final struggle, who had been an inspiring icon, promoting cooperation and thrust.
The spot the haggard beggar favoured was situated near the Alliance headquarters and had been deliberately chosen. She had given up much of her life and would never go back, but she needed to know...
Today she felt fear and anticipation in equal measures as she felt this was the day she had waited for. The talk was all over the city. The Mass Relays had been repaired! Travel from and to Earth was once again possible at least to the major clusters. Already the first guests and home comers had landed and brought with them mostly good news. The Reapers were truly defeated and rebuilding was progressing throughout the galaxy. The time of healing had come. But not for her.
When she had first chosen this spot she had been confident that nobody would recognize her. She had looked in a mirror – actually a shop window – once and had been hard pressed to accept it was her own image that looked back. One cheek was almost completely gone, ragged holes displaying broken or missing teeth, the eye above was missing, only a empty hole remained and her left arm was a useless piece of flesh. Her hair and the remaining eye in their trademark colours of red and green were the only things that could connect her to her former life but they had lost their shine, appearing dull and defeated, in stark contrast to her old self.
This confidence had proven well founded. More than once people she had known had walked past her without as much as a glance back.
But as the hour draw nearer she her confidence began to crumble. Until now only acquaintances had passed, but would her old friends see through her?
Such idle thoughts kept her mind occupied throughout the day. Normally she would just shut down everything, blanking her mind of every conscious thought, but today she couldn't. And as always the past held only regrets. Her shoulders had sagged just a little bit lower, the grief on her face became even more evident.
When they came into view she barely registered them at first.
Admiral Hackett was leading, walking side by side with Ashley Williams, both with a sombre expression on their faces. Next came the crew. Vega, Cortez, Chackwas and the rest were even more subdued but she had expected that. Then came her oldest friend on that mad crusade, her pilot who had stuck with her through everything, had given up anything because he believed in her. And whom she had betrayed in the most despicable manner she could imagine.
He hobbled forward stoically, Samantha next to him, only partially successful in helping him along. The sadness and anger on the man's face, even after a year was like a physical punch in the gut. She could not bear to look at him.
Only after he had passed she dared look at the rest of the group. If before she had felt like being punched, now she felt like trampled by a Krogan, then eaten by a Trasher Maw and spit back out. Like Joker, Liara was helped along, this time by Garrus, but not because she was crippled. She just didn't seem to have any drive left in her. Intense grief was radiating from the Asari, sending a cold shiver down the beggars spine. Her eyes were downcast, obviously not registering anything of her surroundings.
Then she looked up, blue eyes met the one remaining green eye, and the beggar that was once known as Commander Shepard cringed at the hurt she saw.
And was there recognition? She readied herself to bolt. As much as she wanted to soothe her ex-lover she would not go back. She hated breaking her promise but she did not consider herself worthy any more. Better to be dead.
It lasted only seconds then Liara averted her eyes once more. The beggar relaxed slightly.
Goddess! Is that her? Why? How?
There was no mistaking that eye, even devoid of the shine that usually conveyed the enormous drive that had made the Commander the woman she was. But why was she here, squatting like a common beggar? It made no sense to her.
Emotions came and went quickly, masked by her rigid self control that had come back to her in the instant she saw her love. Hope and elation gave way to confusion and fear but ultimately anger. Why was Shepard not keeping her promise? Liara saw how it hurt her, so why was she doing it? Was this some sort of self-imposed penance?
She would get to the bottom of this. But first she had to shake of the others. Stopping she turned to face Garrus as soon as they rounded a nearby corner.
"I am sorry. I have forgotten something on the Normandy," she murmured in the broken whisper she had used the past year. "I will go back and fetch it. Please don't wait. I will rejoin you before the meeting."
"You certain Liara? I can accompany you back..." Garrus was clearly uncomfortable at leaving her side but torn between his duty to her and the desire to see Tali again. The young Quarian had not been on the Normandy when she had evacuated the ground team. She had wanted to meet them at the spaceport but with the Mass Relays back online she had her hands full. Her people were leaving as soon as possible, nothing holding them back from their ancestral world.
"I will be fine. It's only a short distance and I am more than capable of handling everything in my way," Liara noted the reluctance but slowly it gave way to acceptance. She assumed he thought to give her some space so she might regain her feet a little bit. That was fine with her and actually not far from the truth. With a conceding nod he turned and hurried after the group.
Liara took a deep breath, steeling herself against what would come. She knew how cagey Shepard could be about her feelings at the best of times, except when she declared her love. This was going to be much worse then getting her to admit she was exhausted or troubled by nightmares.
Stepping around the corner she was relieved that the huddled form was still there, apparently deep in thought and not looking in her direction. It told Liara just how broken the woman must be. Shepard would never turn her back towards what was clearly her main objective. But she would not complain, not yet, as it allowed her to approach her unnoticed. Standing next to her lover, who was still not aware of her presence she contemplated what she could say. Ultimately she discarded any elaborate speech and settled for the direct approach.
If Liara had any doubt about the identity of the beggar it would have been dispelled the second the woman bolted like a frightened rabbit into the backstreet. Liara was stunned only for a second then gave chase.
They were evenly matched. Liara was well fed, her friends had made sure of that, and even though she had been listless for a whole year she was physically fine. Shepard on the other hand was malnourished and her body was broken. Still the knowledge of the maze that were the back alleys gave her an edge. She certainly had planned for just such a getaway. And she would have made it if not for the sheer stubbornness the Asari displayed, chasing her out of the area she was familiar with. The chase ended abruptly. One final turn and Shepard faced a dead end. Just as she was about to turn and head another way Liara rounded the corner, blocking her only exit.
"Go away!" she was defeated and she knew it. But even broken she would fight on, even if it was hopeless.
"No. I will not," Liara crossed her arms in the fashion Shepard always used when she cornered on of her crew. She could see it now, the abyss that had swallowed the Commander. She recognized it because she herself had once fallen in. "Not until you tell me why you are doing this. And not without you."
And she would be damned if she would allow it to take her bondmate away again.
"Now, you can either tell me, why you are hiding in the gutter instead of being honoured as the hero you..."
"Don't call me that!"
Shepard's shriek came as a surprise and stopped Liara cold. The Commander had always been modest but she had accepted that perhaps she was a hero after all. Not that deserved special considerations in her opinion. To reject being called a hero this vehemently was a sign, Liara was certain. Something was wrong, but what? The Reapers were dead, Shepard had succeeded. The losses were astronomical, true, but the final push had cost them no more than the Reapers would take in a week of undisturbed harvest, even with the Geth and EDI killed together with the Reapers. Surely Shepard knew that!
"What happened after you opened the Citadel?"
"I killed them! Are you happy now!?"
"Whom? The Reapers? Yes I'm happy about that," Liara was aware that Shepard probably meant the other synthetics but deliberately played the ignorant. She had to coax the woman out of her shell. She had to say it out loud and thus making it real. A real thing can be destroyed, an imaginary thing can not.
"No! The Geth! EDI!" Shepard shouted her frustration out as if she hoped to push Liara back by the sheer force of her yells.
"I killed them," she whispered.
"I killed them!" she shouted.
And then she broke down in heaving sobs, the past regrets crushing her, bringing her to her knees.
Liara moved cautiously towards the slumped over figure. Things were balanced on a knives's edge but slowly tipping in her favour. It troubled her a little bit how clinical she was asserting the situation but everything that gave her a better chance was worth it.
She forced herself to wait just the right amount of time – not immediately rushing to the woman but not taking to long either. There was no hesitation only calculated delay. Still it hurt, seeing her love in this way. She longed to rush in and hug her, stroke her back and make it all better, but it was too soon. Shepard would only draw away if she rushed straight in. Just as she feared she would not be able to take it any longer she sensed the time has come.
Exhaling a breath of relief she crouched low and enfolded Shepard in a loving hug. For the longest time she simply rocked the grieving woman who had curled into a foetal ball, kissing the top of her head. She felt a stab of sorrow at the state her hair, once so vibrant and rich of texture, was in. Silly really, considering what abuse the rest of the body had taken. It was a painful reminder of the last time Shepard had left her alone, of the broken corpse that still haunted her dreams on occasion. She allowed herself a few quite tears, felt them cleanse and soothe her mind. She had last cried when they had heard that Commander Shepard was MIA and presumed killed, but later had refused to give in to her body's grief, not wanting it to accept what reason dictated as truth. Now she was glad about her refusal to accept what everyone told her. She would not have recognized Shepard otherwise.
They remained like this for an hour, hidden away in this quite corner somewhere in the unseen places of Vancouver. Liara idly thought that Garrus would worry about her by now, but couldn't bring herself to care. Nothing but them mattered right now, the world outside didn't exist. For now it was enough to just hold what she had secretly feared lost.
"I can't go back," the words came tentative but there was an undercurrent of steel in them. Liara thought the Human would draw away again and felt fear for the first time she had glimpsed her.
"Then we won't," Liara said, hoping to emphasize that they would not be parted again. "I told you once that it would be easy for a ship to get lost between the stars. If that is what you wish, we shall."
"No! You have to get away from me! I'm a monster!" she struggled weakly against the strong grip of the Asari. The earlier flight and her breakdown had drained her of her strength but she tried nevertheless.
"No. I know you Shepard, better than you know yourself it seems. You are no monster and I most certainly will not go away."
"You don't understand! I killed them..."
"You had no choice in that," Liara interrupted her. "You could not have known what the Crucible would do. It was a desperate gamble, we knew that from the start, and it cost us dearly but the alternative is far worse."
"No! I had a choice! I could have saved them! The Catalyst gave me options!" The Human stopped struggling, a new wave of sobs rocking her body.
Liara contemplated what had been said as she tried to calm the shacking bundle in her arms again with comforting caresses and mumbled nothings. It made no sense to her. Shepard made it sound as if the Catalyst was a person and not some device as they had assumed. And what other options was she talking about? The Reapers had been destroyed. That had been the purpose of the desperate gambit.
"The Illusive Man was right. I could have controlled the Reapers," Liara was heartened to hear Shepard speak of her own volition even if it was in a flat voice. They progressed. "Made them our slaves, our protectors, bent to my will. I could have protected you and all the others.
"Or I could have recreated, changed the foundation of all life in the galaxy. The Reapers hunted, harvest, us because they believe that organic and synthetic life can't coexist. Like the Geth with the Quarians they did not want to simply wipe us out, just drive us back until we are no threat. And in their twisted logic they tried to 'preserve'," she spat the word in disgust. "us by making us one of them. I could have changed that, break down the boundaries between organics and synthetics. There would have been no more reason for the cycle.
"I couldn't do it. I let my hate dictate me. I wanted to destroy the Reapers not make nice with them. Even if it would cost my life and EDI's life. Even if I committed another genocide.
"So tell me again, how I'm a hero and not a monster. Tell me!"
The words were meant to drive her away and Liara felt a pang of hurt because of them. It couldn't scratch her resolve though, but she had to collect her thoughts before answering. She had to be careful what to say, as a wrong answer would drive Shepard away from her, undoing the progress they had made.
"You are Human, Shepard. Not monster, nor god, but something in between. And I still love you and you are worthy of it. You may not think so but you are," Liara heard Shepard draw breath to protest and raised her voice a little bit, giving her no time to interrupt her. "Remember I had to do some dark things myself and unlike you I never was in such a difficult position. I'm no saint either and if one of us is unworthy, it's me.
"Now you may have made an emotional decision but this situation you described sounds – what's your human expression - fishy? Fishy. Suspect.
"I believe the choices were disguising another scheme. I believe the Reapers set a trap for you. They knew they couldn't lure you with anything that hadn't at least the potential to harm them. They knew you are not easily deceived. So they tried to manipulate you into making a choice that suited them. But they failed.
"Maybe 'recreating the foundation of life' was a sincere peace offering, but tell me: Would we still be the same? What would we had to give up for that peace? Would we still feel emotions and compassion or would we be like machines? I know EDI and the Geth were able to feel but that was only because of you. Could we be sure that there would be another to show us the way?
"I'm not sure I would want to live that way."
Liara paused, letting her words sink in. She knew reason alone would not sway the Commander but she had to lay a foundation on which to rebuild the self respect of the woman.
Emotion and reason, the odd duality that dominated every organic being – and some synthetics too – were not in balance. Currently Shepard was held captive by negative emotions and all reason had left her. Guilt and self-loathing had broken her, crushed her spirit. Reason could erode that hold, making her susceptible to other, positive emotions. In time, reason and emotion would be balanced again but they had a long way ahead.
"You say, that you could have controlled the Reapers. I do not believe that. The Reapers are timeless, immortal. To truly control them you would have to become immortal too. How would that change you? You are the most virtuous person I have met but forever is a long time. You would become disconnected from those you are charged to protect and even if you would start out as a benevolent protector would you remain such?
"And let us not forget what happened to everyone that thought interacting with the Reapers was a good idea. Remember Saren. Remember the Illusive Man. Remember my mother.
"Who's to say if in time the Reapers couldn't sway you to their way of thinking. I shudder at the prospect of you instigating a new cycle. That would be much worse than if we had lost the war in the first place."
"But we lost!"
"No we did not. We lost many friends and allies. We may have lost our innocence but we can learn from it.
"And if we want, we can bring the Geth back to life again. Or AI's like EDI. We are free to forge our own path and let others choose theirs.
"You showed the galaxy that the Reapers were wrong, organics and synthetics can live together. We created them, we can do it again. But this time they have to make their own future.
"But only you can set that in motion and on the right path.
"Whatever you decide to do, I will be at your side, every step of the way. But for now, you need rest and time to heal. The galaxy would be a better place with your guidance but it doesn't need you anymore. I however do. I am lost without you. Please don't leave me again."
And this time Liara let the tears flow freely, clutching her lover closer in desperate need.
She felt one arm hugging her back the other, broken one trying to mirror the whole one, felt the sobs that rocked them both now and her tears of hurt and fear changed to tears of joy.
AN: Well, that was a strange piece. Please tell me what you think about it.
There is a chance that I may expand on this story but only after I have finished Green Eyes. And I might not after all. I have a vague idea what happens from here on out but also feel like it's finished.
I have said that the red ending never appealed to me when playing the game and it still doesn't. I can see how the other endings might be a trap or morally repugnant but I simply don't feel that way.
I can however get behind the sentiment of the Terminator series – before it was twisted in Terminator 3. No fate but what we make for ourselves.