The Prologue:


Liara stood with Shepard on the darkling plain, eyes full of wonder at how brightly she burned, far brighter than remembered after Feros in the distant past. Shepard held her close, eyes so full of sadness and whispered in her ear, 'You see."

The asari nodded as the metaphorical dawn swept toward them, inexorable and terrible. It would take Shepard, she knew now and leave behind the one who loved her most. The being before was sorrowful at the thoughts that flitted through Liara's mind, the memory of a rainswept hillside on this same planet where their physical bodies, far away, stood now in the rubble of the place the humans call London. An empty grave and the bowed shoulders of one turian standing before it, the stare of whom was so nakedly bereft then, and what would become of that same man now?

She asked it now of the being that was Shepard only in part, but was also something larger and incomprehensible. The song wound around Liara, threatening her resolve with its siren-like sweetness, she'd come with a purpose, knowing the end was near, knowing that Shepard was planning on dying in the next hour or so. She made a fist of her will and pushed the weight of the being that was Shepard's and indeed all of theirs, progenitor away, 'You owe her. You take the life she should have had. Peace, family and a home."

She felt monumental shame course through the atmosphere that beat down upon her, and it spoke, 'That was never meant to be. What was done must be undone.'

'Give her a legacy, then. Save a piece of her to continue, another chance to find peace.' It knew then what she wanted and reeled back from her, eyes wide.

It spoke to her through the carmine lips of her oldest friend, put pain in Shepard's eyes, 'There would be no counter to balance her force. No way to ensure her purpose stay true. The temptation...'

Liara saw a flash of images that should befall if this...child she wanted to make of a tiny sliver of Shepard's spirit should fall to darkness. The galaxy in conflict once again, a river of blood, no one who could stand in the face of it. Liara shook her head, 'No, we will stand if it should come to pass. We will turn her purpose. She will rise.'

'He must never know.' No need to say who 'he' was, Liara bowed her head in acquiescence, she would never bring pain to the one who the part of this being that was called Shepard loved most with the knowledge of a living child of Shepard's spirit, if not her flesh. A child he would never be part of, whose life he could never partake in.

And it was done, a flash of green light and Liara felt the budding of life in her, the tiniest flickering flame and she smiled a sad smile to Shepard, who was once again herself enough to tremble in the wake of the huge decision that was just made. A future dearly bought hung in the balance and yet they gambled on it again. It was a terrifying feeling, like walking on a tightrope over the abyss.

Liara embraced her, with tears rolling down her cheeks as the meld broke.

Shepard placed on long fingered pale palm over the asari's belly and said with a sound full of wishful longing, "Name her Susan. It was my mother's name."

Liara swallowed back the sorrow at the thought of this soldier who would sacrifice all to save them not being there to raise their child, a child that should have by all rights been Shepard's and Garrus'. Liara would have played the surrogate well, happily given them the joy they so deserved if she could. It was not to be and that made the blood rush hotly in Liara's veins, angry at the cruelties of fate and giant ephemeral spirits.

She watched that straight back as it retreated from her, the woman who burned so fiercely striding determinedly to her death. Liara felt a tickle of a thought then that perhaps it wasn't quite the end for Shepard, a hint of there being some thing, some vast happening that was going to happen and a chill rolled up her back. Some things were not meant to be known, not for them, the small of awareness. That she knew the small portion she did was almost too much, often had her wake from nightmares of the worst variety, all grotesque shadows and voices and crushing pressure.

Liara sighed deeply as she saw Garrus walk past the door, clearly looking for Shepard, the final push for the beam must be nigh. Her heart ached for them, and for the secret she now carried.

She watched that fire on the hill, with its lone figure reclined near it and felt weariness settle over her. He was so hurt, that armored turian out there, and he refused to see that they were all suffering, a thing he'd never been blind to before and that frightened her, frightened her badly. Kaidan followed the line of her gaze, as did all in the small camp in the shadow of the downed Normandy. He nudged her with a small tight grimace, saying the words they were all thinking, "He's hurting."

"I know. And I don't know what to do about it." Liara hugged herself in the firelight. She'd been in the woods, had seen the trees with their bark in tatters.

Javik touched her elbow and she smiled at him, this ancient prothean who was so endearingly...hands-y now that his shell of bitterness was broken, "I believe it would be a mistake to go to him now, it would only anger him further."

James took a drink of the bourbon that Chakwas reluctantly parted with, "He needs time. And space."

Tali sighed, poking at their fire with a stick, "Then we'll give it to him. Just make sure we got eyes on him around the clock, so he doesn't..."

Joker snorted, bitterly, "We don't even know if she's dead yet, I don't think Garrus is going to jump the gun until he sees the actual body."

Liara huddled further into her own arms, bringing her knees up to her chest to hide the pain in her face. She closed her eyes to the puzzled look on Javik's face, shaking her head slightly.

Kaidan sighed, "I wish the relays were up already. Ship's ready to go, now we're just waiting on those damn things up there to finish whatever the hell they're doing."

Tali made a noise and said with worry in her voice, "Isn't it a bit odd that the Reapers are fixing the relays? I wonder if we lost."

"If we did, then we might as well stay here." James said, looking up into the sky, peering like he could see the relay and its swarming shadows.

EDI's voice came to them over Kaidan's omnitool, "I have re-established communication with the fleet."

That news had everyone on their feet with cries of incredulity, and expressions of hope, Kaidan said, "What's the news, EDI?"

"They say the Reapers are fleeing through the relays, to where they don't know. The fleets are still massed at Earth, waiting for the relay network to be up and running. It appears that we have won." She was drowned out by cheers and laughter as the crew danced around and embraced one another. Liara saw that grey figure on the hill turn to them and then swing back to regard the fire and sighed at his apparent lack of interest. EDI continued, "There is a large packet of backlogged messages for the crew and for, as they put it, 'whoever the hell they have in charge over there.' "

Kaidan looked at the far fire that the person who should be leading them was sitting at and said, "That'd be me. Send them to my OT."

There were messages for nearly all of them, most just requests for updates and manifests of casualties and the first rudimentary plans to get back home. Liara froze her screen on one small entry, a recording from Shepard's omnitool mere seconds before the blast that had shipwrecked them on this planet and saw that it was encoded for a certain turians' ears only. She leaned over and tapped Kaidan on the shoulder, showing it to him.

Kaidan started as he realized what it was and shot a look up there, where that same turian was even now brooding alone. He flicked his finger at the message and sent it to Garrus through EDI and then said with a wince, standing, "I'm going to bed. Comms are up for any of you who want to talk to somebody, we'll take off tomorrow and see what's what."

Only Javik and Liara remained as the rest scattered to bed or the ship, she couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight of Garrus as he seemed to go mad up there for a moment, standing and throwing things into his fire, probably not aware at all how his growls carried to them on the night air. She felt his anger on her skin like a hot wind and tears rolled down her face, not sure what could be done for him, that great heart that used to move for them all, oh how it was being wounded now.

Javik pulled her to his chest and rumbled a comforting sound of understanding, and with one last look to that hill, she let him lead her to a tent, where she slept fitfully.

It was hard to let Garrus go alone onto that fueling depot, but how were they to stop him? He'd made his decision clear, would brook no more meddling into his affairs and they stood aside, with their love for him in their eyes, it was really all they could do. She thought of the look in his eyes as she'd reached for him and the words had almost escaped her, she'd almost broken her word, her heart hammering away in her chest at the sheer cold fury she'd seen in Garrus' eyes. The words were stilled by Tali, who was so wise with her plea, who was the one who had finally brought a touch of the compassion back to the turian's eyes. A compassion that they all knew should be there instead of this awful anger he seemed possessed by.

Months passed, and Liara read her reports with tentative hope that her friend would be okay. Garrus worked, worked like a madman for the people of the galaxy and seemed to find some satisfaction in it. Sitting in her villa on Thessia, she reached a hand down to the burgeoning bump of her belly, tilting her head to hear the soft melody of the tiny life in her. She worried that the gestation seemed a bit far along for an asari's usual 16 months of pregnancy, but when she'd had her specialists go over the scans, they found nothing abnormal about the baby, it was just larger than most, more developed at 6 months in the womb.

Liara sipped her tea and sighed, putting the datapad down for now and hummed along with her baby, feeling it coil around her mind with joy. A movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention. Javik, wearing loose clothes of linen, slid the glass door on her balcony open and walked out, sureness and confidence in his step. She'd always admired that about him, how very sure he was no matter what. It was an enviable talent that she'd learned only through experience. He, on the other hand, seemed born with it.

The prothean sat at her side and took her hand, a pleased smile on his face as he took in her swelling abdomen. His other hand came out to rest on it and he hummed deep in his throat. Liara smiled at him warmly and he laughed in his deep voice, "What shall we name her? Asalia, Jadrika, Meynoir?"

Liara shook her head at her mate, saying gently because she'd never told him the truth, "Her name will be Susan."

He started back, a frown scoring deep lines in his face as he took in her sad smile. He snatched his hand from her, "A...human name?"

She nodded, watching Javik carefully. Stormclouds were brewing in his eyes as they took her in and she felt a pang of shame in her chest for what she was about to do, "You're not the father, Javik."

He drew away from her with a hiss, a devastated flicker in his eyes. "Who?"

She shook her head again and he seemed tumescent in his rage as he said again, voice low and deadly, "Who?"

Her silence rocked him, she could see and he stood, cold and distant, his face empty except for his eyes, which looked at her in wounded pain and she shut her eyes to them, feeling so very heartless for this...cruelty she was dealing him, no matter that it was necessary.

When she dared open her eyes again, he was gone and she knew that he was gone from the house, gone from her life and she wept in silence as she sat alone on that balcony.

"How long?" She trembled in the wake of learning that her daughter had been born with a genetic disease, a rare one that would make her age faster, much faster than she ought. She held the bundle to her chest, looking down into that pale blue face with love and fear.

The doctor laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, "two maybe three hundred years."

"So soon?" Her voice was soft and tremulous as she thought of all the time that had been stolen from her. Liara would far out live her daughter. She sobbed a small sob at the thought. Susan, who seemed to know that her mother was in pain, opened pale, pale green eyes in the hospital room they were staying in and set up a wail of her own with strong healthy lungs and Liara bent her head down to the infant, "Shh shhh, it's okay."

The nurses and doctor seemed startled that so loud a sound could come from so small a child and Liara couldn't help but laugh at the sight of three asari faces pulled in identical expressions of surprise and the bundle in her arms chortled as well to her delight. It seemed her child was going to be a capricious one. She smiled at the little girl who watched her with laughing eyes so like the ones of her departed friend and touched her face gently with one blue hand, "Susan T'soni, you will be a wonder. And if the shorter lived races can still live full lives, then so can you, my little wing."

Years then passed and Liara watched her daughter grow with joy. She studied reports as she sat on her balcony, the sound of Susan playing adding a sense of calm to her mind. There would soon be a new council in play, now that the old one had fled. The fighting was bitter out there in the Terminus, she doubted the new primarch knew just how close to disaster they'd all been and how she'd had to intervene from time to time to keep it all balanced. She was the one who'd talked them into consolidating their power, the disparate factions of the Terminus systems, they'd almost been overrun by the ousted councilors and their merc armies.

Even now, she thought of Garrus, whose stern countenance had been broadcasted in the wake of his promotion to primarch. She'd searched those blue eyes for some sign that her friend was still in there, and if not for the things, the wonderful things he'd already accomplished, then she would be even more worried.

Her omnitool pinged, telling her she had a visitor. Checking her side arm, she picked up Susan and rested her on her hip, smiling as the child laughed at being hoisted up in the air. She palmed the lock on her front door, ready for anything.

Almost anything, that is. She almost dropped Susan in shock as she took in the form of Javik, standing awkwardly on her doorstep, looking at her from under lowered eyelids, gaze flicking from her to Susan. Liara swallowed as the prothean opened his mouth, only to shut it again. She cleared her throat, heart jumping in her chest, "Would...would you like to come in?"

He nodded gratefully and followed her into the living room. Susan watched him solemnly as she sucked a thumb and he couldn't seem to pull his gaze from her. Liara sat in a chair and shooed her daughter away, "Go play in your room, Susan."

Javik winced as he took a seat on her sofa, watching the small child as she ran upstairs until she was out of sight. Then he turned to Liara, who was watching him sort out his thoughts. He took a deep breath and said, as though he were imparting some horrible secret, "I...have missed you, Liara."

Her heart thumped painfully, "I have...missed you as well. Where did you go?"

"I traveled for a time. There is much happening out there, I thought I would find a place for me in it." Javik shook his head and shrugged, "But it is hard for me to understand these races, and their motivations. Once they found out I was prothean, they expected me to have all the answers."

She smiled and teased gently, "You don't?"

He shot her a look that was three parts consternation and one part amusement and continued, growling, "I found I could not stop thinking About us."

She watched him flounder in his mixed emotions and reached out to touch his hand, pouring the warmth of her feelings toward him into her eyes, "Will you stay?"

Javik shuddered under her hand and she could only guess that he was feeling the truth of what she felt through the contact and he sighed, eyes closing for a moment, "Yes, I will stay."

Liara sighed in relief, then said with trepidation, "About Susan..."

"I know." Javik speared her with a look of understanding.

'"You...know." She echoed softly.

"You think I can not feel it? It is everywhere in this house, fills up all the spaces." He looked at her with a touch of fear in his eyes, "It is dangerous, she will need strong guardians. Why did you do this thing, Liara?"

Liara sat back and thought, "Because Shepard deserved a legacy, because all she ever got in return for her love was pain and death."

"Because you loved her." Javik sighed at her nod, "And what of the turian?"

"He must not know. It would only bring him more pain." She thought of Garrus, alone on his planet with its beach and waves. Javik leaned toward her, his musky earthy scent filling her nostrils and she felt blood rush to her face as she saw the naked want in the prothean's stare.

"It would be a shame for such a child to grow alone. Should we not...rectify that?" He chuckled darkly into her eyes, reaching for her with eagerness that was returned sevenfold and Liara cast aside her worries for the time being and gave in to her desires.

Marcus put his hand over that still chest, wishing there was a beating heart still under there. His kind uncle, who always had time to show him new things, incredible things about shooting, about life, lay on the raised dais, dead and cold. His mother keened softly behind him where she and his father embraced each other in their grief. His siblings were also near, watching him solemnly as he said his last goodbyes to a great man, who all these people, these hundreds of people, had come to pay their last respects to. His hand drifted over the scars on that mandible, he'd always been curious but had never asked, now he would never get the chance to.

He was twelve and this was his second real encounter with death, the second time mortality had hit home for him in his short life and it left him cold and shaken. His only consolation the smile that seemed permanently affixed on that beloved face, his uncle must have been happy at the end, which was...good. He'd never seemed quite happy when he'd come to Palaven those years ago, in fact had seemed so very sad in unguarded moments. So that now at his end, he found joy made an answering joy fill Marcus, mixing with the melancholy of being here to see him off.

He stood back to let his siblings say goodbye and stood by his mother, who dropped a trembling hand onto his shoulder. He squeezed it in reassurance, trying to soothe her pain. He knew that she felt awkward in this huge place, among all these people, it wasn't the turian way of doing things. Pain and loss were meant to be discreet affairs, private. He sighed and looked around, saw the ones the stories had been about in the first few rows of this...cathedral in space. All the old crew of the Normandy were present and they all smiled at him as they met his eyes, saying words he couldn't catch to each other softly.

One, the one he assumed was Jack, if the descriptions his uncle had told him were accurate stood and marched to the podium, her stride swift and sure, her UAF uniform crisp. She stood before the assembled masses and Marcus saw a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes, just a flash then her jaw hardened and her mouth opened, "I remember when I first met Garrus. I thought he was a mess, someone had just blown half his face off with a rocket and he was pretty shaken up, maybe by more than just a rocket, but he pulled through and we kicked those Collector assholes straight to hell."

Her vulgar words prompted a laugh from the surrounding people and Marcus smiled a bit to hear it and so did she as she continued, "I remember thinking that he was a bit soft, no matter how many heads he exploded with his rifle. He was a damn good shot. But he always had good stuff to say, stuff that made me think that I was worth a damn. He and Shepard were always telling us that and after awhile, we started believing it. I think we all started believing it and it made us better. I for one don't know where I'd be without them, probably in some gutter somewhere with my guts on the outside. Or still in cryo in some prison, it all goes to show you that you never know what's going to happen."

She turned to the body of Garrus Vakarian and snorted, "Wherever you are, I hope you're getting a big laugh out of this. This is for you, buddy."

Marcus watched her take a deep breath and her mouth opened, and a sound pure and sweet came from her throat as she started to sing, "Tis the last rose of summer...left blooming alone..."

The song tugged at his heart, its sonorous sound breaking over him as he listened intently. It was sad and beautiful and it reminded him of when his uncle played his corio for them, that last spring they'd visited, only a few short weeks before he'd died and it made Marcus' throat tighten in grief. A humming grabbed his attention and he turned his head to see an asari child just behind him, watching him as he watched her hum along with the song that filled this vast room. He almost gaped in astonishment when the pitch of the song emanating from the child changed so she was smoothly humming harmonies.

His eyes snapped back to the front as the song drew to a close, "..When true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown. Oh who would inhabit this bleak world alone? This bleak world alone."

That woman up there, who despite all her piercings and tattoos and hard exterior, had just showed them all a heart that was soft and human, discreetly wiped a few tears away before leaving the podium, almost throwing herself into the arms of her waiting comrades, who embraced her as one.

The gathering broke up and the adults all went to mingle in the courtyard of this vessel, which wasn't a proper ship at all. Had been designed as a sort of floating cemetery to house the honored dead. Marcus looked up into the starfield above them and its flickering mass effect field keeping the oxygen from escaping and sighed deeply, flexing his mandibles to stretch them from their cramped position.

"You're very tall." A voice said to him from the vicinity of his elbow. He looked down into laughing green eyes framed by a blue face. The asari that was humming.

He frowned and replied dryly, "You're very short."

She laughed and clapped her hands together once and he felt a smile tug at his mandible at her infectious mirth. Then he remembered where they were and schooled himself back into seriousness. His brothers and sisters all came toward him in one big group and stopped to stare at this stranger in their midst. Marcus said, to the asari girl they were eyeballing, "I'm Marcus Vakarian. These are my siblings, Damalia, Paulus, Inigo and Lucia."

"I'm Susan. Susan T'soni. Dr. Liara T'soni is my mother." She nodded to each as they watched her, "I am pleased to meet you all."

Lucia, the youngest, was the only one short enough to look at her eye to eye and smiled, already a beauty at seven years of age, the silvery planes of her face delicate and angular, "We are pleased to meet you too."

Paulus asked, his tone curious, "How old are you, Susan T'soni?"

"I'm twelve." She laughed at their incredulous faces.

Inigo, the tactless one, opened his mouth and Marcus cringed inwardly, "Why are you so puny?"

Susan laughed delightedly, much to his surprise, "Because I'm asari, silly. I grow slower because I live longer."

"But Wrex's kids are as big as us, and fatter." Damalia said, her voice almost petulant with doubt. Marcus shot his insufferable sister a look that quieted her down.

"I know right? It's so not fair. But them's the breaks, as the humans say." The asari sighed and smiled at them, then her gaze was drawn past them and Marcus turned to see an elegant older asari beckoning, presumably to Susan and heard her say, "Well, I got to go. It was nice to meet you."

Marcus swung his gaze back around to those dancing green eyes and said, "The same. We'll see you around."

"I'm sure." Came the slightly sarcastic response as the asari walked away. Marcus watched her until she and her mother and two other small asari were out of sight, bemused, but not quite sure why.

Paulus bumped him with an elbow, smiling when Marcus turned a frown on him. Damalia said, in a tone that bordered on snide, "What kind of name is Susan, anyway? Doesn't sound asari to me."

Marcus shrugged non commitally and sighed when this didn't seem to assuage his volatile sister, who wouldn't drop the subject until their parents called them to join them at the aircars. His thoughts were also on their mysterious new acquaintance, pondering everything he'd seen that day. Picking it apart for possible meanings like he'd been taught to by his uncle. A mystery, he loved mysteries.