"Pretty Good Year"
by HugoCogs (August 2013)
"At the end of the Reaper War, Liara T'Soni sits, brokenhearted and absolutely devastated; her unrequited love for Commander Shepard ultimately rejected after three long years. She can't help but think that her life is over, but a certain understanding Communications Specialist is about to show her that the next year will be the best of her life"
Disclaimer: Characters and world belong to Bioware; I just break their hearts while laughing with delight! Nyahahahah...ack! (Biotic Slam to the head.)
A/N:A while back, I was speaking with Keian, someone who had read Old Soul when I first put it out. She said something that struck me powerfully...that if you play ME1 cold, no romance, Liara is the only one who tries to start up a relationship with you. Which means that she is the only one who loves Shepard, all on her own. Who has always loved her...and I've seen other scenes in ME3 which leads me to believe that Liara always loves Shepard unrequited,the whole way through, if you let her.
" but in my headcanon, the fact that Shepard went with Samara was unbelievably soul-crushing for her."
That's what she said to me. And it's always stayed with me; I promised myself I would turn that into a story someday, if I could. And then yesterday, it finally came to me. And the ideas came along well enough that I think this is going to go for a good 4 or 5 chapters, at least.
So Keian, this one is for you.
And this story takes place in the same universe as Old Soul, natch.
Also, as always, for Caracal22, my writing-sistah-from-another-mistah, whose fine suggestions and edits take my writing to just that extra bit of awesome, that they could not achieve on their own. She is my go-to-expert for all things British, which makes her feedback in getting Samantha JUST right invaluable.
She is about to publish a sequel to her amazing 22 Sinchi, so I suggest you check it out!
Damn you, Aurora Shepard! Damn you to the Abyss!
Liara's lower lip trembled, and she bit down to try and steady it, as the viciously gnawing ache in her chest nearly overwhelmed her with its crushing intensity; the bitter sentiment spread angrily in her thoughts, like pitch black wildfire. Ensconced as was in one of the farthest corner tables at Apollo's Cafe, she was grateful at that moment for the anonymity that the low light of the night cycle afforded her.
The Normandy had only just made it back to the Citadel the day before, weeks after "The Pulse" had gone off, bringing a swift and brutal end to the war with the Reapers. Fortunately, the damage they had suffered in their futile attempt to outrun the energy wave, an attempt that ended with their crash landing on a nearby world orbiting Barnard's Star, had been surprisingly light. A week or two of repairs, and they were back in space once more. Furthermore, they had been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the damage to the Citadel was being repaired; the last any of them had seen of it, they had more or less figured on it having completely self-destructed.
The worst of it had been the loss of EDI; the Geth as a whole were also apparently included in the overwhelming losses. Indeed, it seemed that the only things that the mysterious red pulse had damaged or destroyed had some sort of Reaper technology as a part of it. The Asari were already leading the effort to repair the Relays, and hopes were high that success was all but inevitable...
For a moment, her wounded heart suddenly grieved for Jeff Moreau. He had lost a being...a woman...one that it seemed that he had truly come to care for; perhaps even love. The haunted look in his eyes during the entirely of their return as they made their way back to Sol...like a piece of his soul had been permanently excised from his mortal form, in the most painful fashion imaginable.
And then the terrible, ugly black anger inside bubbled up anew, and reminded her...
At least EDI had returned his affections...
...damn you, Rory Shepard!
Goddess, how she had carried such a torch in her heart for that woman! How brightly it had burned for her, and her alone. From the moment the Commander had come into her life, gallantly rescuing her on Therum, to the heartfelt comfort offered after having to put down Benezia, she felt that something was binding them together, something far deeper and more profound than the simple fact that Shepard had been touched by the Protheans. After all they had been through together, all their talks...she was so certain that Rory was The One.
And how foolish she had been, throwing caution to the wind, putting her heart out in the open, on the night before they landed on Ilos, only to have everything she was offering rejected.
"I'm sorry, Liara...but I have to stay focused."
She was...gentle about it, of course. She could tell that Shepard was flattered - or at least she certainly HOPED flattery was what she saw in her eyes - and Liara was well aware of Rory's preferences. When all was said and done, Liara contented herself at the time with the notion that...
Well...perhaps Asari are simply not what she is into. We are...a bit too exotic...for some.
Still, the flame never died out in her heart, not truly. It burned fresh once more, renewed the aching longing inside, when she worked with Cerberus to keep Shepard's body out of the hands of the Shadow Broker. Above all else, she knew that she simply couldn't stand the thought of her being well and truly dead; she loved her still, even if that love hadn't been returned in kind...at least not yet. And if there was anything, anything at all that this "Project Lazarus" could do, to help Rory cheat death, then Liara would have moved the stars themselves to help make it happen.
And when Shepard had come walking into her office on Ilium, after two years...oh Goddess, how her heart fluttered. Not just her heart, it was as if every cell in her body thrummed in unison, for one brief, perfect, and far-too-short moment in time. She was so...so very happy, to see her returned to the Universe once more, as good as she ever was.
More or less.
When the two of them had raided the lair of the Shadow Broker, exposing his true identity, deposing him and allowing her to take his place...she was so...so so so very certain that sparks flew between them now. That perhaps Aurora would look at her, what she had gone through, how she had changed, and perhaps see her now with new eyes, see past her as an Asari and instead see a soul, a bold soul, that she could love, as she herself was in love with her.
It never came to pass, of course, and once again, Liara did her best to quench the passionate fire inside. Convincing herself that it was for the best, that she was merely embarrassing herself with this...this school girl crush that she was allowing to rule her heart and her head.
Even when Rory said yes, to accepting some of her memories, on the day she went off to storm the Citadel, after it had been brought to Earth...Liara had allowed herself to feel some measure of pride, that she had finally put that past unrequited love behind her, and was able to share an intimate moment with a friend that she had respected...and who respected her.
But it was a...what did the Humans call it? A 'paper tiger'. When she had first heard that Shepard was at first missing and presumed dead...and then a few days later, had been found on the Citadel, underneath a pile of wreckage in a coma...the fire burst forth inside her, as if it had never dimmed at all. There was still a chance...there was always still a chance! As long as Shepard was alive, there was a chance for them to be together. As she had always wanted.
And damn myself for being such a fool!
She had just stepped out onto the hospital floor at Huerta Memorial, trying to still the juddery hammering of her heart, trying to play it cool. Calm. Trying not to let relief, and longing, and lust and love all bleed out all at once. She'd just quietly walk over to her room, and...
...see her and that Justicar, Samara, sharing a gentle yet oh-so-obviously romantic embrace, oblivious to the rest of the world.
The look on Rory's face still burned itself into her mind's eye: the expression of deep, unconditional love and affection she had for Samara in that moment. Stroking her cheek...bringing her face in close for that tender first kiss. It was absolutely everything that she herself had dreamt of, had burned longingly for, over the past three years. All of it, and it was now going to someone else. Someone who had rejected Shepard outright, time and time again, hiding behind that ridiculously hidebound code of hers, before finally giving in.
Someone who would never...ever...EVER...love her the way Liara had.
In that moment...oh how love had turned into anger! Had in one blinding moment transmuted to such...hatred! How she trembled with a feeling of deepest betrayal. To discover, at long last, it was never her being an Asari that Shepard had trouble with.
It was the fact that she was simply never...interested. At all. In her.
It felt as if her heart would shatter into fragments too numerous to count, and her soul would be crushed irreparably. She turned on one foot and stormed out, desperate to take herself away from this scene, to get as far away as possible before she did something terrible, before she lashed out with her biotics, foolishly challenged Samara...or any number of things that would make her seem irredeemably childish and pitiable.
And so here she was now, stretched thin between the poles of deepest shame and the pyre of selfish, self-righteous indignation.
The last three years meant nothing, truly nothing! All the time she thought she had grown, she had matured...had really made something of herself. Everything she had fought and struggled so hard to achieve. All of it...it had been simply in the vainglorious hope that she would somehow catch Shepard's eye, Shepard's heart, despite past rejections, and make them all her own.
Well..hell with you, Aurora Shepard! I'll come back from this stronger than ever. I WILL live for myself at last...you'll see!
You'll see what you missed out on and...oh Goddess!
She groaned deeply, covering her eyes with her right palm, feeling so overwhelmingly pathetic at the moment.
There was a soft noise on the table, of glass gently rasping metal. She cracked her fingers, opened her eyes to peer through them, revealing Samantha Traynor, placing some sort of human confection in front of her, laying down a spoon to go with it.
Traynor canted her head, favored her with a wry, nervous smile, and said "I...um...I hate to see an attractive woman look so miserable. So I thought I'd do for you what usually does the trick for me. Mind if I sit? I mean, it's okay to say no, but...but you look like maybe you could use a sympathetic ear. At the moment?"
"Yes! No! I mean..." Liara took a deep breath, swallowing hard. Part of her, a large part, wanted to simply chase Traynor off, to let her grieve in peace and solitude. But there was another part, too loud to be simply ignored, that realized that it might help to talk to someone...someone who might not judge her, or at least not so harshly. And of the few people she had that she could call friends, or in Traynor's case, friendly acquaintances, she suspected the Specialist was perhaps the one person she could talk to at the moment.
She stared down at the glass again; inside were various flavors of ice cream, fruit, cereal, covered with some sort of whipped dairy cream. A miniature pastry garnished the top. She picked up the spoon and inelegantly shoveled some into her mouth, chewing quickly. She blinked slightly...human foods weren't quite as...sweet...as she was used to. But she also found that this made it rather intriguing to her, as well.
"What...what is this? What is it called?"
Samantha smiled brightly, working on her own treat with slow and practiced grace, almost as if she were greeting an old friend...or more like a lover. The way that her full lips played over the spoon as they relieved it of the initial bite of whipped cream, before the tip of her tongue skittered out to give them a lick...
"This is called a parfait. And they are bloody brilliant. Fix anything. Believe me...they've been a common theme in my life over the years. Perfect for times such as...well...such as when I couldn't find a date for my Fifth Form Gala Ball. Or...when I found out I had oh-so-narrowly missed out on achieving a Double First at Oxford, losing out to Sandra Blake in the Finals. DAMN Sandra, oh! I hated her and her stupid...being better at me, in practically everything!" She suddenly dug in taking an angry bite of her own.
Liara blinked again, torn between laughter and tears, and instead simply going with a somewhat...emotionless expression. She took another bite, and mumbled "It's...it's quite good. I especially like the...are these corn flakes? It reminds me of something I was quite fond of as a little girl on Thessia...yik-ti-kakora. My Mother actually made...very elaborate ones, as a way of cheering me up when I was sad, for whatever particular reason. This...suddenly reminds me of her...and...
Samantha blanched "Oh...Oh...I...sorry! I..."
Now it was her turn to cover her own face up, in embarrassment.
Liara shook her head, trying to cover the quaver rapidly forming in her voice. "No, no. Please. It...it's a good memory. Of happier times, in the past. Something I could desperately use at the moment so...thank you. For that."
Despite herself, Liara cracked a shy, sad, smile, prompting a look of tremendous relief from the other woman.
"Oh Thank God, I...well." She took a hard breath through her nose, in and out, before starting again.
"I ah...I saw it. You storming out, I mean. Of the hospital, about an hour ago? Just as I was coming out of one elevator, and you were walking into the other. And then I saw the Commander and Samara together, thick as thieves and happy as you please and...well. It wasn't very difficult to put two and two together. You know? You...you were crazy about her, weren't you?"
Liara wasn't quite sure how to answer. While she wasn't exactly ready to bare her soul to a woman that she had merely engaged in a handful of enjoyable games of Kepesh-Yakshi and some light banter during their time together on the Normandy...at the same time, she realized that the distance between her and Samantha might make it easier. Easier to finally get everything she had been carrying inside out into the open.
Still, she could only nod, a couple of times.
Traynor nodded sagely in return, and after taking another large mouthful of ice cream, mumbled around it, "Well...like recognizes like, I guess? We should form some sort of...Rory Shepard Broken Hearts Club."
Liara was stunned silent for a moment at the revelation. She had steeled herself to try and push down any pangs of jealousy that she was reflexively expecting to arise; instead, she found herself intrigued, curious to hear all the details.
"I...I had no idea. Could...would you tell me what happened?"
Swallowing hard and wiping her mouth off, Samantha nodded. "Of course. Umm...yeah. I guess there isn't much to tell other than...the first time the Commander walked onto the ship, taking charge, and working to get us off planet as the Reapers were invading. She was like this...oh, it sounds silly to actually say the words now, but like some sort of Valkyrie...someone who wasn't a mere mortal like the rest of us. And my first thought was just, 'My gosh. Would you look at her? I've been looking for a woman like that all my life. Marry me, please? On the way to Mars? Then we can get back to the war for a while."
"I...I had a similar experience, the first time I met Shepard. She had...saved my life, either from being killed on the spot or from being forced to serve Saren."
"Wow...well, I...I suppose it's somewhat similar, but my experience was...not quite so intense. I guess the Commander must just have that effect on all of us poor scientists and researchers. The woman probably can't walk through a lab or a graduate classroom without more than one set of puppy-dog eyes following that...that wonderfully toned bum of hers. Oh, and those abs! God, the amount of work she must have to put into those, like they've been perfectly chiseled from marble..."
Samantha suddenly realized she was holding her parfait glass in a dangerously tight grip. She blushed, the color going all the way down to her chest, and murmured "Sorry!"
Liara closed her eyes, and a tiny, slight smile broke onto her lips, as she said in a small voice.
"Her hair. Her hair was so...volush. There's not an appropriate word in your language that does it justice, except to say that I was enchanted with it. I would always fantasize that when we were together...at long last...she'd let me brush it. Every night before bed. No matter how tired she was, she'd always make the time, because...she knew how happy it would make me...
She trembled, throat closing up, a fresh surge of heat welling up in her chest and in her eyes.
Suddenly shifting topics, she asked, in a tight voice, "So...so what happened? Clearly there was more than just your first day meeting her?"
Samantha was staring at Liara for a moment; she felt the urge to reach out and take her hand, try and provide some sort of comfort. She had known for a while that Liara had fancied the Commander, but was only now beginning to realize that the extent of it was probably far greater than the simple short-term obsession she herself had gone through.
"Ah...um. I had a plan. Because of course, I always have some sort of plan. Some of them even surprise me by working. Not this one, of course. That it worked, I mean." Samantha frowned, and focused for a moment to compose her thoughts.
"I realized she could be a bit on the shy side. With other people, you know? So I was just going to go for the jugular. One way or another, I was going to find a way to make myself irresistible to that woman, I was going to just...conquer her." She paused, blushed again, then continued, "Um, anyhow. I managed to get myself invited up to her quarters, and I noticed she had her own private shower, and it suddenly dawned on me. What to do, and then I was all 'Oh Commander, can I please use your shower? The crew ones are so very terrible!' Which had the advantage of being true. And much to my surprise, she said yes. What CO would seriously say yes to a question like that if she didn't intend to send out the sign that she was bloody well interested too? Honestly!"
Samantha rolled her eyes, snorted with disgust for a moment. "And there I am, having this lovely shower, and I'm trying to hint strongly that I'm very interested in a certain _someone_ and going to play for keeps. Everything short of simply yelling out 'I'm wet and naked and oh so willing to do whatever you want, so get in here and ravish me, you scrumptious creature!'. And she...she just..."
Liara interjected at last, "She acted as if she were completely oblivious to you. To the signals you were sending out, to the longing ache you had for her. To the notion that there was a void inside, and it was one that was perfectly Aurora Shepard shaped..."
"...yeah. Yeah, that...just about describes it, brilliantly. And so, after being privately mortified for a minute or two, I towelled off, got dressed, beat her incredibly gorgeous ass down in a game of chess. And that, as they say, was that."
There was a silence, for almost a good two minutes, as the two of them worked on their parfaits. Silence that was suddenly cut through as Liara said, "I need to stay focused."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"That's what the Commander said to me. I...I actually went to her quarters. The night before we were to go to Ilos. And I made my intentions very clear. My hopes...and my expectations. That was what she said to me."
Now it was Traynor's turn to look like a knife had been jammed into her sternum, the blade them twisted, if just out of pure empathy.
She regretted saying it. Couldn't help but think "Ouch? That's the best you can come up with? The poor woman is clearly devastated by this!"
Liara just nodded once, looking strangely appreciative. "I kept trying to move on. I kept trying to make myself better, to try and mature. But in the end, I realized I was simply trying to be this...this person that I thought would finally catch her attention. That finally, *I* would be what she would focus on. So much of what I did, from bringing her body to Cerberus so they could resurrect her, to my work on Illium..."
Liara hung her head down, pinching the bridge of her nose, as if it would somehow staunch the flow of tears threatening to burst out now.
"I always...I always thought..the whole time, that it wasn't me, not as a person I mean. It was just that she wasn't sure she wanted a relationship with...an Asari. I was so certain, SO convinced that if I could just get her to see me as an individual, that I'd finally win her heart. That Rory would, at long last, understand how it felt...how *I* had felt. That she would see what was there...right in front of her! And then..." her voice became more ragged, more heated, an edge of vengeful anger sharpening it.
"And then to see her WITH Samara...to know she had NO PROBLEMS AT ALL...with Asari!"
Samantha, for her part, wore a mortified expression on her face, as the full weight and enormity of the situation came crashing painfully into her awareness.
"You...you were the one responsible for the Commander being brought back from the dead? And...oh. Oh God...all these years..."
She started to rise up, "The way you must feel about her. And here I am, prattling on like a bloody simpleton about my one month obsession, like it's somehow even anywhere close to what you're going through. And acting like...like a little girl talk and a damn parfait is anywhere close to being what you really need, what's going to help you. I am so, so sorry Liara. I...I should go."
'I should go'. That's what Rory would always say, when she decided the conversation had come to an end.
Liara suddenly reached out, with desperate speed, her slender fingers wrapping themselves tightly around Samantha's wrist, the actions of a drowning woman clutching onto the one person who had offered to pull her out of the dark waters. Their eyes met, and for a moment, an infinity seemed to instantly pass before them. A simultaneous flutter through their hearts, like wind blowing through wooden chimes, and carrying soft, ethereal notes away in the breeze.
"Please...Samantha. Dont...don't go."
The dam was beginning the burst, at long last.
"I...I can't stand trying to hold this all in any longer...and you've been so kind..."
Liara finally lost it, sobbing, full throated, letting it shake her body like a willow in a violent thunderstorm.
Samantha was sitting right next to her in an instant, pulling a chair over, and wrapping an arm around her, pulling her tight to her, trying to be as supportive as she could.
"Oh...Oh God." she thought to herself. "What do I say? What do I do for her?"
She looked down, and saw that Liara had buried her face in her chest, finally letting three years of heartache, longing, self-loathing and failed expectations pour out. And it was in that moment that she realized the thing she needed to be doing? She was already doing it.
Traynor leaned in, stroking Liara's back and spoke as soothingly as she could, reassuring her that it was going to be alright. That she'd finally be able to move on from this, at long last.
She also did her best to try and ignore the fact that an exceedingly attractive woman was clutched tightly to her, face buried in her chest. Forget the warmth and the feel of the body next to hers. The wonderfully alien texture of her skin, and scent; she had never had a chance to be this close to another Asari in the past.
She groaned internally and chided herself, "Down girl, down. You're...don't be so terrible right now!"
In the end, she found that when she simply focused on looking at Liara as a friend - even if she hadn't had the chance to become close to her over the past few months - someone who was hurting so grievously, and who simply had a basic, universal need for empathy and understanding, it became easy to banish any inappropriate thoughts, and simply focus on Liara as...another individual.
"That was all she wanted in the end from Rory, wasn't it?"
The next half hour passed by, Traynor doing her best to shield Liara from the cruel reality of the rest of the universe, if just for a little while. One of the waitstaff came by, to let them know that the Cafe was about to close, and Samantha simply shook her head once, with a warning look etched on her face.
Liara did finally compose herself, and Traynor was able to gently extract her from the Presidium, offering to walk her back to wherever it was she was staying.
"I've rented an apartment, not too far from here."
The pair walked in silence, until they came to the door. Samantha gave a warm smile, squeezed Liara on the shoulder and asked, "Are you going to be alright?"
The young Asari straightened up, almost proudly, and nodded. "I will be, I think. No...I KNOW now. I will be. For the first time, in three years. Thank you, Samantha. I owe you a tremendous debt."
Samantha rolled her eyes and tried to play it off nonchalant.
"Oh. Liara, please. I just...it was the parfait. Right? I told you. Fixes everything."
Liara gave a soft, lilting laugh, and nodded, "So it would seem. It might bear further investigation sometime. Purely for scientific interest."
"Right! That's what *I* always say."
The two regarded each other with a pleasant smiles, and then Samantha added,
"Look, Liara? If it helps...at all? Think of it like this. It wasn't the fact that you were an Asari...what Rory was looking for was...ah...some sort of May-December relationship. You know...like if I suddenly was into chatting up Grandmums at the Elder Care Center...and...um...so of COURSE she didn't look your way, because you were too young and...well...too much Asari for her to handle! And I'm going to shut up now. Sorry if that came out so horrible. Oh God, why haven't I shut up yet...?"
Liara was suddenly laughing. Long, hard, leaning against the door to support herself. Samantha cracked a nervous smile, relieved that her lack witted attempts to be clever hadn't completely fallen falt on their face."
"I had...I had seriously never considered that possibility. And suddenly...it helps. A lot. Thank you."
She leaned in, giving Samantha's cheek a very soft peck.
Blushing down to her toes this time, Traynor, smiled nervously, her cheek tingling where Liara's lips had met the warm skin. "I am...anyhow. I'm very glad...to serve. I mean help! No one should feel lonesome like that. You know. And ah...have a good night?"
Liara nodded once, opening the door to her apartment, and pausing, turning to the other woman before stepping inside.
"Specialist...are you on the Citadel for a while?"
"Oh...a bit, yes. The Alliance passed me out for a good two weeks. And um...with the Relays still down, and Earth being...ah. Well, there isn't much of anywhere to go but the Citadel then, I suppose."
"Perhaps in a few days, I could contact you, and you can let me repay you with dinner."
"I...yeah! Yeah, that would be...be really nice."
"Well, until then..."
Liara smiled warmly at her, glided slowly into her apartment, the door closing smoothly behind her.
Samantha rubbed the back of her head, swallowing a bit as she walked away. That had been rather...intense. And she did her best not to read too much into things. She wasn't so blithe as to think that there wasn't any sort of spark...that chemistry was lacking. At the same time...
"God Sam, she's only now just getting over the worst heartbreak in her entire life. Don't let yourself become the rebound, or some nonsense like that. Or...or...now you're just making assumptions! I'm sure she's just grateful that you've been a good friend. That...that was NOT you...being asked out on a date. So hush."
Still. Liara was...was quite attractive, wasn't she? How had she not quite seen that, before? Those wide eyes, still so young and full of vigor, that trim form that had been pressed so close against her only a short while back. And freckles.
Oh God, was she ever weak against freckles. It was the first thing she had noticed about Rory, too.
As Samantha walked on into the night, she promised herself that she would just let the cards fall where they may. If this was just a friendship, she was going to let it be a friendship.
And if it was going to be more...well...that was looking too far ahead into the future, now wasn't it?