DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 16
Small Wonders and Trojan Horses

"This is going to be more problematic than hitting all those geth bases in the Armstrong Cluster." Shepard said as she scanned the mako's HUD for geth movements. "Keeping one functioning as opposed to neutralizing them isn't on my list of fun activities. The only way we will be able to pull this off is if we tag-team it.

"We'll have to move quickly, the other strike teams will keep the other geth off of us but we are far from clear. Primes can dampen biotic implants but considering asari don't have them it can't touch either you Morwen or you Nual. As soon as you are able hit it with a stasis field, strike hard and fast, Wrex will cover your six. Tali and Garrus you'll have to counterstrike with your own skills in hacking and dampening tech. Once we have trapped it, Tali move in quickly and work your quarian magic on it."

"And what will you be doing Shepard?" asked Wrex, though it seemed by the inflection of his voice he knew already what the human was going to do. T'soni wouldn't like it one bit.

"I'm the bait. It needs something tempting to chase." She gave a cheeky grin. "I can move very fast when I need to."

They all looked at her - some holding the expressions of skepticism; others were not at all surprised the Spectre had offered herself up for 'sacrifice.'

"And if it happens to get lucky?" Nual asked. "You are not expendable, Captain."

"There is not a soul onboard Victory who is." Shepard retorted. "Each of us has our role to play, and you have your orders. Let's see this thing done. Believe me if an alternative option to me being the bait reveals itself I'll consider it, until then we move out. "

Finding a nest of geth in the ruined warren of the Protheans was not as easy as it was first made out to be. The patrols had been very efficient in their duty to neutralize all threats of the mechanical menace; it had taken the better part of the day to locate a squad of geth with a prime within their ranks.

The 'garrison' was a well fortified location, a spot so isolated from the main area of the ruins it was easily overlooked. Shepard's team couldn't see more than a few meters ahead through the thick overgrowth of vegetation, but they knew they were close. Blips on the mako's HUD counted six of the synthetics. There was a secondary blip showing a high density electro-magnetic field. The high energy readings were identical to the orbed-obelisks the geth worshiped on Feros and a dozen scattered locations throughout the galaxy. Such things could turn organics into husks by a means the asari, salarian and human scientists were still attempting to discover without becoming husks themselves.

They parked the rover some meters back just out of the range of any perimeter sensors that would alert their presence from the only approach. The area the geth fortified themselves could be described as nothing short of a temple, though now in ruin and filled with detritus that was fifty millennia old. The structure rose nearly twenty-five meters into the sky, a monument of carved rock and stone. The only entrance was a broad archway at the peak of an enormous staircase carved into the outside wall of the Temple itself. Even in ruin the surface was intact, sullied only by moss and climbing ivy. The grounds surrounding it were barren but for a carpet of short, soft grass.

Upon the steps in blasphemous mockery of reverence of the Prothean deities the geth had set up and opened their shrine to the reapers. Five of the geth, two juggernauts and three heavy troopers surrounded it. The Prime was not amongst them but stood apart several meters away looking for all intents-and-purposes shutdown. Perhaps however it was in standby mode as it communicated with other primes either on the planet or somewhere still in orbit.

The immediate concern was the remaining five. Heavy troopers were meant to attack and wipe out entrenched troops; the juggernauts had antitank armaments that did short range heavy splash damage. There was no way to strike the geth prime without taking out its subordinates first.

"Those red-buggers have semi-automatic missile launchers with no AoE." Wrex said. "And the heavy troopers are close combat fighters. Heavy hitters and both of those damned units can resist biotics. This won't be an easy fight. And the prime… you know it can resist tech-skills, Shepard. Just how do you plan in weakening its damned barriers without destroying it?"

"Just be grateful we don't have to deal with sappers, stalkers or ghosts." The Spectre said ignoring the krogan's question. "Tell you one thing I'd rather face a full garrison of juggernauts and heavy troopers than those sulking-jumping wall-crawlers. Trust me, I know exactly what will get those flashlight-heads' attention. I've got an idea." It was inevitable. Axiomatic. What the Spectre would do to make the geth give chase. If the geth were blaspheming the Prothean gods then it was fair-play to do the same to the synthetics.

"Morwen, Nual position yourself and be ready hit the prime at its left and right flanks. Tali, Garrus you'll have to move quickly because things are going to get real hairy real quick."

"We stand ready, Captain." Tali said. "Just give us the sign." The young woman had long ago become accustomed to the Spectre's quick improvising and cunning if not unorthodox strategies. It never entered her mind to second guess Shepard. For his part so too was Garrus as was Wrex, they just followed along and enjoyed the ride.

"You're about to get it." Shepard said with an almost mischievous smirk on her lips. "Wrex ready your rifle and snipe that shrine down there. The orb inside gives off a hell of a lot of EM power, so much so that it will create a back-surge if disrupted, and it may just take a few of the geth out with it when it goes. The prime's armaments and barriers will protect it from the blast so it will still be viable for Vigil's use, but if it feels pain it's going to have one hell of a headache."

Wrex barked out a great belly-laugh. "I like your flair Shepard. Gotta like a female who loves explosions, even if you are a mammal. Things are about to go boom, cover your ears!"

"More than that - suit up; make sure the visors are down." Shepard said hitting the twin pressure releases on her hardsuit's collar causing the retractable helmet to fold over her head. The visor became a full-face shield, protecting her eyes from what would no doubt be a blinding glare from the explosion. The others quickly emulated her example.

Wrex waited only for a moment as the others claimed their positions along the upper lip of the cavern's perimeter out of the blast's effective range. He raised the rifle, the crosshairs found their mark.

The shot was true.

In an instant everything froze. Incandescent light filled the ruins. The rumbling echo of the blast rolled down every tunnel, crevice and fissure leading out of the Temple cavern as the destructive wave of energy began to spread. Like a boulder catapulted into a deep lake, energy ripples of the blast struck hard against the worshiping geth sending their bodies this way and that haphazardly. Sheets of rubble fell from the temple, raining down upon the geth that still stood. They numbered only three and one at least were far from operating at full strength.

Wasting no time, Shepard and Wrex vaulted from their positions, slid down the embankment with the full fire power of their assault rifles raining down on those that remained.

Distracted first by the blast then the assault on its troops, the prime didn't acknowledge the asari or the techs creeping up behind it. Not that it could effectively move even if it chose to react to the barrage of tech and biotic assault, it was trapped in shower of wreckage.

All attempts to free itself failed, not for the detritus but for the biotic stasis field it found itself imprisoned in. Garrus and Tail struck just as swiftly with the prime momentarily immobilized. They used their Omni tools to hack into the geth's primary functions and started shutting down system after system: weapons, defenses and firewalls that would prevent it from self-destructing its CPU and memory core.

"Keelah! I can't get to it!" Tali bemoaned trying to climb over the mound of rubble and slipping down the loose scree in the attempt. "I can't do it fast eeeeeennnn……….." The last word was cut off when the young quarian found herself suspended in the air by…by…by nothing!

"Trust me. I won't let you fall." Shepard said. The Spectre was using her biotics to hover Tali above the mounds of broken temple, albeit upside down directly over the prime.

"Don't drop me!" Tali said despite her captain's reassurances to the contrary.

"Don't worry, I promise you I'll return you safely to the earth. Now work your magic."

Tali nodded her hooded head; she wasn't going to let her Spectre down, not after all of this. She concentrated not on the phantom presence of 'hands' around her waist holding her directly over the prime's trapped form, but on what was asked of her. She tapped her Omni tool summoning the same hacking-program she had used when she had first gained custody of a geth's memory core almost a year ago.

With a slurking-skrik sound Tali used a sonic scalpel extension on the Omni tool and cut into the first layer of 'skin' on the geth's head. An equally onomatopoeic sound accompanied her peeling back the synthetic epidermis to reveal the durasteel cranium beneath. The Omni tool commandeered a small hatch on the side of the exoskeleton exposing the CPU. Working swiftly, without any hesitation the quarian extracted the chip and the memory core in one swift movement. Beneath the helmet she might have smiled though none could see the expression.

"We are in luck, Captain! It's intact. It's a small wonder that the EM field only fried some of the inner circuitry but it's fixable. Most of its kinetic barriers took the brunt of the assault and are down to minimal capacity, I don't know if they will ever be one hundred present. There are other minor functions that are no longer operable. The combat processors are damaged, inboard communications, networking all down."

"Girl, just tell us if it's a wash or does Doc Liara get her Prothean plaything?" Wrex demanded.

Shepard scowled slightly at the wording; Liara doesn't do 'playthings' thank-you-very-much. Still she couldn't argue with the question.

"Yes, we can download Vigil into the core. It just won't be combat ready."

"Suits me just fine, that does." Wrex grunted. "Never did take to the idea of an AI running around the ship even if it is Prothean. Could fry a circuit and go nuts just like the geth did to you lot."

"The geth are not true AI!" Tali protested. She tired of this same battle, tired of the blame and accusations. It might be a different face each time but the words were all the same. The quarians were to blame for the geth blight on the universe. Only the synthetics hadn't ventured out of the Veil until the coming of Saren and the Reaper vanguard - their prophet and their god.

"Not when you people built them, but they sure as hell are now." Wrex grumbled. He didn't blame the girl personally but her people mucked the 'verse up good for the past three centuries. Hell he remembered the days long before the quarians even dreamt up the accursed geth, being 1,400 years old he remembered a lot of things before the 'verse got fracked up by rachni, the genophage and not least the bleeding synthetics.

Before Sovereign the quarians' synthetics were a quiet nuisance now they were a bloody rock in the craw. It never ceased to amaze the battlemaster how stupid mammals could be or how arrogant.

"I'm not going to argue with you upside down, krogan!" Tali snapped. She was beginning to feel light-headed as all the blood was rushing to her brain. It was not a very dignified position to be in trying to make a stand while hanging suspended upside down over a pile of rubble and a geth corpse.

"Sorry about that." Shepard quickly righted the young engineer while she was still in the air and gently lowered her back to solid ground. "Let's get the prime to our science team." The Spectre said in a voice that brooked no room for the extension of the earlier argument. "Good work all of you," she added moving towards the still buried body of the synthetic. Using a combined effort of biotics they had the body uncovered and reclaimed in no time at all.

"Behold we bring gifts." Shepard announced as she passed through the threshold where once a Prothean barrier curtain barred the way to Vigil. She winked at Williams and Baynham sr., rather than her wife knowing the other human women would understand the historical reference. "No worries there's no secret army lurking inside at least Tali reassures me there isn't."

"Secret armies?" Shi'ar asked. "I do not suppose you are referring to Cerberus?"

"She means a Trojan horse." Williams said. "Old Earth legend about two warring factions: one the Trojans the other the Greeks… and all over this chick named Helen. See she has a face so beautiful it's said a thousand ships were launched just so the Greek king could reclaim her from this guy named Paris who was a prince of the Trojans.

"See Helen ran away with the cute younger guy rather than be stuck to an old codger who only wanted to bang her for sons. But she was sweet on Paris and he her. So the old man threw a fit and went to war because of his bruised ego and he was super jealous. The war lasted days and days and the Greeks were losing…so they faked their deaths and retreated and built this massive wooden horse out of bits of their ships.

"Anyway…to get into the Trojan's impenetrable fortress the Greeks tricked them into accepting the wooden horse 'peace prize' as a token of 'good will'. But it was all a lie, see the horse was hollow and inside the Greeks hid waiting for the dead of night to roll around. Once it did they dropped out of the horse and assassinated most of the Trojans while they slept or were passed out from too much wine after the supposed victory celebration the Trojans threw for 'conquering the Greeks'."

"History lesson later, Lieutenant," Shepard cut her XO off. "The point of the reference is sometimes a thing is not as it seems and danger lurks in something seemingly benign or believed to be conquered, like our friend the geth prime here." For a moment her eyes fell on Aleena before she turned to her wife. "You accept it as a gift and it hits you hard when you're not looking. Since Earth's twentieth century to the present the term Trojan horse is used primarily in reference to computer viruses that can wipe out the hard-drives and whole computer cores before you have a chance to contain and neutralize it. After it hits you're left with more or less junk motherboards that need to be scrapped.

"Good if you are using it against an enemy, bad if you're the target of one. Of course there are other types of Trojan horses out there: bad guy makes something benign that you bring it into your base or on board ship then bang suddenly you have to deal with a frack load of trouble."

Once more her gaze fell on bounty hunter or was it the Prothean expert standing just behind her the Spectre was looking at? Before either of them could ask Shepard about her innuendo she focused on the geth body. "Tali, Jahleed, Shi'ar make triple sure we don't have a Trojan horse now."

Liara was all smiles when she pushed past the 'medical doctor'. "It is truly happening! Goddess willing we will have such knowledge of the Protheans!" she practically pounced on her wife in her jubilation. Her lips came crashing down on Shepard's so unexpectedly the Spectre gave out a rather undignified yip of surprise.

Blinding libidinous energy surged between them as the Spectre's arms wrapped themselves securely around her wife. She was about to say 'please honey not in front of the troops', but stopped when she realized half of the company were asari. And they wouldn't care if there was a little public display of affection from their captain and her hand-fasted mate. Instead she uttered in a husky whisper, using Liara's comment during the echo game "Later my dearest."

Liara disentangled herself from Samantha's arms reluctantly; already her eyes were verging on going solid black. Apparently the very idea of having all the Prothean historical records at her fingertips made the young woman rather randy.

It was late afternoon when the temple had been discovered, early evening when the Spectre's squad rendezvoused with Liara's scientists, bearing this in mind Shepard made the judgment call to camp in what was now named The Watcher's Chamber. After all it would take the tech-specialists the better part of the evening and long into the night to set up the transfer of Vigil into the prime's neuro-network. There was no point of returning to base camp just to turn right around in the early morning and come right back to chamber; besides the scientists needed protection. Add to that Liara wasn't about to leave Vigil: it would be insanity to even try and persuade her to do so and Shepard wasn't going to go far from her wife's side.

"We'll break out the emergency camping gear; we've got enough MRE rations for the night and morning. Wrex you get one of the makos to bunk in, the rest of us will sleep two to a tent as there are three tents per mako. Divide up into partners how you see fit." She gave a longing look to her wife. Of course there was no question who she'd be bunking with. "Williams, set up a watch-rotation for the picket line."

Deferring to her junior officer was not an indifference to her own obligations but another element in creating a commanding officer out of Ashley. The younger woman was after all Victory's XO. Such duties fell into her role.

"Aye aye Captain. Each watch will be two hours. I'll take first watch, Garrus, Nual, Wrex, Doc S'thasa, Liara, Baynham, Morwen and then you Captain." The last name was said almost as a question until she saw the approving nod of the Spectre's head. Ash allowed herself a frivolously self-satisfied grin. Not that she quested for Shepard's approval but receiving it was always a gift however small. It proved to her, showed her that her hero, her idol not only respected her decisions but approved them.

Williams, Juliana Baynham and Nual entered the mako used by Liara's team to collect and disburse the emergency shelters, bedrolls and packs of MREs. Presumably Shepard and Liara were doing the same on the Spectre's mako but there wasn't a soul in the second encampment that believed that for one moment. And not a soul begrudged them a moment of intimacy.

Samantha moved into the interior of the mako to the storage bay and was in the middle of collecting the camping gear when Liara commanded the stern-hatch to close. Before a question could form upon the Spectre's lips she was being soundly kissed by a very libidinous Prothean expert.

"I hunger for you." Liara uttered in a husky wanton voice. She all but slammed her wife against the bulkhead as she wedged her thigh between her wife's own legs. "I need you." Her kisses became more demanding, dominating and passionate. "Join with me, Samantha. Make love to me." She cooed. Her need, her lust pooled into Samantha's being. Her expressive doe's eyes had already shifted from ocean blue to space-deep black. All the excitement of having the Prothean knowledge, their history, their culture, faith, philosophy, everything for which she had been hunting for the past fifty years was now at her finger tips. It overwhelmed the young archeologist. The very woman who made it possible was the one soul in all of creation she was deeply in love with. Both combined left Liara in an extremely heightened state of arousal.

"Liara…" Samantha swallowed hard. The passionate call of her beloved excited her beyond comprehension. Words became lost and needless. Samantha took hold of Liara claiming her, holding her fast to her own body. She met hungry kiss for hungry kiss. Their form-fitting hardsuits became a frustrating barrier that separated them from the unquenchable desire to feel flesh upon flesh. Seals were released quickly-clumsily, clothing all but torn away.

The one sleeping bag the Spectre had managed to free from the stores before Liara pounced on her became their bed. It had been hastily unrolled but unopened as Liara pushed her beloved down on to the quilted surface, her naked form crawling slowly up the human body as she had that very first night before Ilos. This time however she forbade her love from flipping her onto her back, instead Liara became the dominant one, the aggressor. Purple lips nipped light caramel skin as she kissed, explored, worshiped the woman of her heart, her soul. Blue fingers trailed along tanned hips, waist, and stomach until finally she came to Samantha's breasts, causing the human to moan out her own inflamed needs, her desires. Liara greedily—willingly answered that call. Samantha matched touch for touch, kiss for kiss, and worshipful release for worshipful release.

Their breaths became one, heartbeats pounded in rhythm, spirits Joined, merged becoming one even as their bodies did. Passion rippled through them, claiming them, sating them.

"Look, all I'm saying is that they've been in there awhile and we need the other tents and rations. Someone has to go in and retrieve them." Garrus said to Williams. "You're the XO not to mention you were Shepard's Trusted, it should be you that goes in and collects them."

"Yeah like I want to interrupt the skipper and Miss Prothean Expert during their…er…matrimonial-recreation-time. You go; she can't strip you of your rank." Williams demanded.

"She can strip me of my hide, you've seen what the Captain did to that firaxon shark; never mind what Liara can do! Anyone who can move like she did during the echo game isn't someone I desire to be angry with me. You go," the turian shot back.

"Why don't you send in one of the asari?" Wrex asked. "Shepard doesn't mind their company."

Williams looked to all the other asari around her before she rested her gaze upon one individual she believed to be the best option. Aleena. "Yeah…um you're a doc, Doc. You can get clinical minded and asari don't seem to mind um…private moments…not exactly taboo with you guys. You go in and get the gear, Dr. S'thasa."

Aleena's dark green skin turned pale yellow. She knew that during the heightened awareness of Joining, the Spectre's mind as well as Liara would be open to any biotic-sensitive mind that intruded upon their Union. They would know in an instant Doctor Mal'dicta S'thasa was indeed a 'Trojan horse' for Aleena the bounty hunter. She'd never make it back out of the mako alive if she went in.

"I do not believe that is the best option." The bounty hunter shook her head. "As Garrus said you were the Captain's Trusted during their Hand-Fasting, you are the best option for this task, Lieutenant. You are also second-in-command so it falls into your hands to do so."

"Um…yeah. Okay then. You know…I think we'll give them a couple of more minutes. There's enough MREs to pass around for the moment and hell we can hot bunk it in the tents if need be. Yeah just a few more minutes…then…then I'll go and um…get the gear." Ashley looked towards the mako. She sure as hell didn't want to interrupt what was no doubt a very, very private moment between the skipper and Liara.

A ghost of a memory twisted at the back of her head, and she lifted a hand to rub at it. Involuntarily, Shepard's hands clenched into fists on her knees. There was a sickening lurch inside of her head as she thought about the hidden thoughts Liara was keeping from her.

"What are you keeping from me?" She whispered. Her fingernails were making tiny crescent cuts in her palms. "Why do you hide, Liara?" She was speaking to her sleeping wife and expected no answer, no response. She flicked a sidelong look at her slumbering beloved, a stiletto blade of hurt and a taut wire of connection bound them. She continued to watch her wife sleeping soundly, undisturbed by the thoughts running rampant in the Spectre's mind. The roaring seethed up in her ears like foam on boiling water. As noisy as it was in her head, the silence in the mako was heavy, the kind that dust settles in, disturbed only by the infrasound vibration of the even thud of a broken heart.

"You hide away apart of yourself and I don't know why. My fears take me, Liara. You say I am not Saren and you are not your mother, yet you hide a part of yourself away as your mother did with Saren, as she did with Sovereign. This is what your fear of me isn't it? Despite your words, or surface feelings this is what you hide from me. I will become like Saren. Why else would you hide?" Tears fell from her eyes, her voice hitched but the Spectre did not openly weep.

"Am I? Have I become so like Saren to you that you now hide from me a part of yourself? I must be. That moment of anger between me and Ash… you felt it then and you fear… me… don't you? Why else would you hide? I swear to you Liara… I swear I would rather die either by my own hand or by… Ash's than become as Saren. I will earn your full trust once more, my love… you doubt me now I understand… Li. I do. My heart breaks for it, but I understand why you hide, why you keep apart of yourself secreted away… know this. I love you. Please I beg you Liara never doubt that…"

Shepard stirred from her reverie. She knew others outside needed the supplies she and Liara were supposed to have collected. To steel herself, to strengthen herself from the pain of her heartbreak she attempted to move from her beloved's sleeping form only to be caught by the wrist by a blue hand.

"I don't fear you!" Liara said, fighting to hold onto the shards of her wife's broken heart.

"I thought you were sleeping."

"You needed to speak freely…" Liara said more to herself than the woman she loved. "I swear to you Samantha, it isn't what you think I fear. I know… I KNOW you are nothing like Saren! That evil doesn't lurk within you."

"Then why do you fear me?" the Spectre snapped. "I know you do. I feel it. You can't deny it."

"I…I fear…not you. Only your reaction."

"My reaction? My reaction to what? What do you hide? Why do you hide?"

Liara remained silent, her face turned away ashamed.

"Then you do fear me." Samantha said coolly snapping her wrist free of her wife's hand perhaps with more force than was necessary. "Something in you fears me."

Liara let her hand fall. She rose slowly and touched or rather tried to touch the human's shoulder but the contact was received so coolly and her hand fell again. "Samantha, hear me. Believe me. I don't fear you. Not you."

"You lie, Liara! You keep a part of yourself hidden from me, if you don't fear me then why hide?"

"I said I fear your reaction." The asari's reply became equally as quick, equally sharp and cool. Then she sighed and collapsed heavily to the floor of the mako, her dejection overcoming her natural gracefulness. "I fear…your loss…" she said in a voice almost too soft to hear. "I fear… your rejection."

Words that formed on Samantha's lips died there before they were even spoken.

"I'm pregnant." Liara blurted out.

Of all the things Liara could have said, that was something Samantha Shepard Spectre of the Citadel Council formerly a highly decorated officer of the Systems Alliance Military and N7 never expected to hear.

"What?" The tone wasn't cold, flat or unbelieving. It was shocked.

"I carry our daughter."

"You're… pregnant?"

"I'm pregnant."

A human frowned, an asari looked away unable to meet the accusation festering in blue eyes. "Pregnant?"


"How… how could you do this and not tell me? Why would you do it?" Shepard was still scowling, her eyes showing the betrayal she felt. "If you wanted a child so badly you should have told me."

"I… it wasn't like that." Liara said softly still unable to meet the accusations in her wife's gaze.

"Then what was it like. I want to know when you did this. Don't you think I had the right to know…to experience this creation of life?" Samantha sat back down on floor of the mako. "When? It wasn't our first time was it?"

Liara shook her head.

"Not during our wedding feast behind the waterfall… or that night."

Again a shake of a head.

"When then?"

"It was not on purpose, not really."

The Spectre frowned. "Look I know how asari procreation works. It's through parthenogenesis so you can't play the 'there was a problem with contraception card'. It can't have been an accident. You have to attune your nervous system to mine, so conception has to be a deliberate act. Just when did you do this? How could you do it without me knowing?"

"It was during the gestalt." This time Liara looked up to see Samantha staring at her. Not with accusations or look of betrayal in her blue eyes but with remorse and such deep sadness it was overwhelming to hold her gaze. "I thought I was losing you. We had barely begun to explore what we felt for one another, what we meant to each other. You died Samantha! Twice! I felt each death deep in my soul, in my heart. When Dr. Chakwas brought you back the second time I grew desperate. I felt if you were going to die… if I was to lose you I would take a part of you within me. I love you, Samantha. I felt I was going to lose you, I never set out to…"

Suddenly Liara felt herself being grasped and held fast against her wife's naked body. "Forgive me for being such a fracking idiot." Samantha said. "I understand, Li. I understand."

For that moment no words were offered, none needed to be.

After what seemed to be a thousand heartbeats later, Samantha whispered. "If our positions were reversed I would have done the same. Maybe consciously you didn't set out to create a child, but perhaps subconsciously you did, to hold a part of me within you. Your body reacted naturally to that drive. It makes sense. You were my living life-support system; our nervous systems were already so intertwined your body simply followed the laws of nature."

"I would never take from you Samantha. Never. Not on purpose. I'm sorry I kept this from you." Once more Liara felt pain lance though her mind, though it was not her own.

"Why did you? I know you feared me, Li… why?"

"It was…" the young asari sighed. She pulled away slightly from Samantha's embrace. "You said it yourself; you weren't ready to have a child, your 'maternal clock wasn't ticking'. I… I allowed my fears to fuel my imagination… and overcome my reason. I feared you would… reject me, our daughter for what I had done." The words were spoken so softly Samantha had to strain to hear them.

"Reject you!" As sudden as the burst of anger and shout were out it was just as quickly silenced. 'Don't be such a frelling idiot Shepard. Think for one damn moment. Why in the hell do you think she fears rejection and abandonment?' "Your mother and the Consort Shi'ara…"

Liara nodded.

"Li, I would not do that. I know what I said about not being ready to have kids made you think I would shun our daughter, but I promise you I won't. I won't abandon either of you. All I knew was that you were hiding something from me. All I could think of was for some reason you feared me. My own imagination went into a tailspin. All I could think was that you believed I was becoming more and more like Saren despite the fact you said differently. Why else would you fear my reactions? You should have trusted me, Liara. Trusted in what we have."

In a moment of clarity, Liara began to understand what her own mother must have felt during that missing year when Liara was born. She was 'abandoned' left on a planet that was not Thessia with a child to raise on her own, her hand-fasted partner leaving her to the wilds. Despite the promises of their hand-fasting, despite the deliberate creation of a 'pureblood' daughter, Benezia must have allowed fear to overcome her logic, her reason, her great wisdom. Pain caused her to reject the one person she had truly given her heart to. Fear drove Benezia and Shi'ara apart. Fear would have driven Samantha from Liara.

"Fear can be such an evil, dark and twisted thing," the asari said. "I allowed it to take me hostage. I'm so sorry, Samantha. I never meant to hurt you. I… am not good with communicating… I…"

There was a smile in the voice of the Spectre now. "Prefer data disks and computers to people. But I'm not people… Liara I'm your wife as you are mine. You know you can talk to me."

"I know." Liara said gently. "I can only ask you to forgive me."

Samantha's hand reached under Liara's chin and raised her head up. "Of course I do." light-caramel skinned hands gently cupped blue cheeks as her thumbs gingerly wiped away Liara's tears. "Perhaps we both need a little forgiveness. I never wanted to give you the impression I would reject our child, or you. It hurts to think you believe I might have, but I understand why you felt that way. But I swear history will not repeat itself." Just as tenderly as she as she had soothed away the tears, Samantha now placed her hand on her wife's abdomen. Perhaps it was her imagination, but she could almost see a slight swelling to the otherwise very fit, very trim belly. It hit her then, just under her hand a child was growing! Their child!

Samantha leaned down, feeling a little silly but equally she felt the need to whisper to her daughter. "Listen up Little One. This is your dame… I acknowledge you as my offspring, my daughter. You were conceived in a time of fear and loss but you will be welcomed in joy and love. Copy that? So don't you go thinking you're not wanted, or that I'm ashamed of you because I'm not. I'm very proud to have you my little one. Those are your orders, you just remember that, always."

Liara giggled, touching her wife's neck. "She isn't a marine, Samantha you can't just give her direct orders."

"Pft, I'm her other parent of course I can." She kissed Liara's stomach. "That's for you, Little One." Leaning up, the Spectre soundly kissed her beloved breathless, "and that's for you."

It was at this time, the two heard a slight knocking on the roof hatch before it opened up. "Sorry Skipper, Liara but… er… we need the other gear."

"It's safe to come down, Ash," the Spectre answered back. "We're just finishing up."

"Oh! Um…"

"Not like that." Shepard realized what her lieutenant must have thought. "We were just discussing a few things and clearing the air."

"Not this soldier's business, Skipper." Ash said falling into the comfortable space of command structure for a lack of anything else to say.

By the time she had descended down the mako's ladder, Shepard was already dressed. It took a trained soldier under a minute to get into uniform; add another minute and she would be geared up. Liara however took a more leisurely pace knowing there was no immediate rush. She took note that her wife was moving a little oddly. She lifted the Spectre's BDU undershirt and tunic and noticed several crosshatch markings that could only have come from fingernails.


Ash looked up at the exclamations and noticed the fairly deep lacerations on the Spectre's back and winced in sympathy and blushed. The Skipper must be one hell of a lover for Liara to do that to her back.

"It's nothing. Don't worry about it." Shepard was smirking with pride rather than grimacing in pain. She leaned in and nipped her wife's cheek. "If you recall I wasn't complaining at the time and neither were you."

Williams chuckled. "Marks of honor there, Skipper?"

"Absolutely." Dark eyebrows flirtatiously rose up and down.

Liara blushed slightly at the easy banter between the woman she loved and the woman she called friend. "Still they need to be treated or they might become infected."

"I can send in the Doc." Williams volunteered, "Or I can ask her for some antiseptic cream."

"Actually send her in; there are a few questions I need to ask. That we need to ask." The Spectre rectified.

"Samantha, I assure you, I'm fine."

"Yeah well I want a medical second opinion Doctor T'soni. Even I know you're extremely young for this, I want to know the both of you are going to be okay."

Williams looked up from the pile of emergency camping gear she was collecting when she heard the word 'both.' She highly doubted the plural word had anything to do with her, so if the term both was used… that could only mean one thing! Liara was pregnant.

"I told you I looked up asari physiology just as you did with human. You're not even close to being three hundred-fifty; you're not even half that age, Liara. Maybe if you were a full matron… but you're not."

"The intensity of our melds have had an powerful effect upon me as did the gestalt; obviously my body is ready to conceive."

So it was true. Williams could only stare. Before she could stop her mouth the words mutinied and came tumbling out. "You're going to have a baby?"

"This goes no further than the three of us, lieutenant and docs Chakwas and S'thasa. But yes. Liara is pregnant."

"Congratulations!" Williams hugged Liara and then her Skipper. "Wait - it is good news right?"

Both of the other two women nodded.

"A little unexpected perhaps, but definitely welcomed." The Spectre commented, her face smiling.

"Samantha, one other knows. Shiala. She was insistent I tell you as soon as possible. Please, it wasn't a matter of trusting her more, I was afraid I needed…"

"The words of a mother figure." Samantha said softly. "Shiala was… is your mentor. I don't begrudge her or your need to talk to her."

"Liara, you're not showing much, so when did all this happen?" Ashley asked curiously.

Shepard and Liara explained about the mechanics of how and when the blessed event took place. Like Samantha, Ash said pretty the same thing, if she loved someone as deeply as Liara did the skipper and vice versa and she had the ability to meld as the asari did she too would have done precisely the same thing.

"So does this mean you're… er… Daddy, Skipper? How does this work exactly?"

Shepard shook her head. "I'm the sire parent yes, but Daddy doesn't feel right."

"But Mamma will." Liara smiled softly losing herself in the Spectre's blue eyes. For a moment both recalled the moment when Samantha was speaking with little Maysa the lost asari child about what the Spectre called her own mother when she was still very young.

"Then what will you be? Mother is one hell of a mouthful for a baby to say."

"As you called your mother by a child's honorific, I too will be called such."

"Naneth." The Spectre said catching on to her wife's meaning. Because of the multitude of melds, Joinings, and the gestalt Shepard knew the Asarian native tongue as if born to it and was more than comfortable speaking it, she did so flawlessly, fluidly.


"Asarian for Momma, Mother…mom…mommy." Shepard said.

"Sometimes it is shortened to Nan by an infant's tongue." Liara added.

"Is there a word for er… the other parent?" Ashley was curious. The young woman knew from speaking with Liara about families that more often than not asari mothers raise their daughters into maturity by themselves, especially if the other parent was short lived. But there had to be times when an asari and her partner raised a child together, the little girl they rescued was a prime example.

"Back on the Citadel when we met little Maysa she used galactic basic when speaking to us or she might have used our native language. Dame or sire is the translated galactic basic; my species honorific word for such a parent is Arda. Ada is used by the very young; I suppose much like Daddy is by humans." Liara said. "However it is not gender specific."

"So Skipper will you use that one too?"

"I'm happy to flip between Ada and Momma. Oh and by the way I believe Muinthel is yours if you want it."

"Mu-in-thell?" Ashley stumbled over the word.

Liara smiled warmly. "Indeed it is. I know of none better to fit the role as well as you, Ashley."

The Spectre placed a hand on the younger humans' shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "It translates to Aunty."

Williams was flabbergasted. She had no idea what to say, she was honored. Overwhelmed. So she again retreated to the comfortable, the familiar. "It'd be my honor, ma'am."

Aleena felt the inevitability of her doom descending upon her as she approached the hatch of the Spectre's mako. Surely the human knew her newest doctor was in truth a mercenary bounty hunter. Those veiled words aboard the Victory when the Spectre spoke of a sleeper agent, now dead. The look when she was describing the Trojan horse if those were not an open declaration of suspicion then what were they?

Now she was told by the XO the Spectre needed to see her and to come with a medical kit. Aleena watched as Liara T'soni descended out of the mako and headed directly for the group working on Vigil. She was glowing of course as one does when in love and after sharing the bliss of Joining. She didn't even give second thought to Aleena as they passed one another.

"Spectre?" Aleena called out approaching with all the caution of a hunter on the trail stalking her prey whilst knowing she was also being stalked by a larger more aggressive predator. It felt to Aleena as if she was once more partaking of the Great Hunt. Confronting a Spectre was very much like hunting a firaxon shark armed only with a blade and biotics, or rather hunting the great shark without the blade and only half the power one holds in biotics. "Lieutenant Williams said you needed a med kit. May I ask why?"

"Yes, it's nothing really; I just need a bit of antiseptic cream. Actually I wanted some information on a few things." Her voice gave no hint of the mood the Spectre was feeling. No hint if she was going to attack or not. Perhaps the questions were designed only to confirm the suspicions she held.

"On what topic?" Calmly the bounty hunter opened the kit and removed the cream. She handed it to the Spectre who uncapped the tube and squirted a bit of the cream onto her shoulder where very clearly Aleena could see a bite mark. Her back carried faint lattice-work of scratches; obviously she and T'soni had a very passionate Joining.

"Is it normal for pregnant asari to be so… so assertively libidinous?"

Aleena was dumbfounded. That wasn't a question she expected, it certainly wasn't a topic she expected. She only stared at the dark haired woman in front of her.

"Doc?" The Spectre pressed.

"Ah… it is known to happen yes, it is not uncommon almost those who are hand-fasted. If the one in question has taken a long term partner, she will crave her lover's touch, the release of endorphins created during the Joinings." Aleena shook her head. This was so surreal! Aleena was preparing to fight, to explain, to be executed for being a bounty hunter, interrogated for information and here she was being asked about pregnancy.

Wait, by the Goddess did the Spectre just ask her about pregnancy? Asari pregnancy? But Liara T'soni is so young. Almost too young to be gifted with a daughter.

'Dr. T'soni is with child? I didn't sign on this contract to kill innocents. I will not be the murderer of a child, the death of a new mother.'

"Yes," the Spectre said placing the cap back onto the tube of ointment. She had just enough in the cup of one palm to cover the scratches on her back.

Aleena watched with a critical eye. A huntress's eye. Shepard was dressed only in BDUs, no hardsuit, no barriers. In a word vulnerable. But was she truly as vulnerable as she appeared? After all the Spectre had gone on the Great Hunt, Aleena knew this. A young huntress did so naked… she softly laughed to herself as she returned to the memory and metaphor of the Great Hunt. Shepard was talking about her beloved wife, revealing she was unarmed, unarmored it was all for show. On Victory it was 'I'm holding all the cards.' Here it was: 'You are no threat to me or mine.'

'All right I'll continue the charade you want to play.' "She is very young." Aleena said knowing the Spectre expected something.

"Yes and that does concern me. How much of risk is she in?"

Aleena had to force all the medical knowledge she did know into the forefront of her mind. This must be a relatively new development or her client didn't know, perhaps both. "Given her age and the fact this is her first, Spectre she is in very high risk. Add to that the stress factors." Unsaid was and all the bloody bounty hunters gunning for her. "This could prove to be a difficult pregnancy. The bond you share is astonishingly strong; it has it own compulsions does it not?"

The Spectre nodded. "Yes. Has it some bearing on the pregnancy?"

"It can yes. It can strengthen Dr. T'soni when the stress factors are at their highest. Help by using your bond to lift from her that which would distress her and the daughter growing within her."

Shepard was now putting on her tunic. "I want her to undergo weekly checkups. I'll give the same orders to Dr. Chakwas when we return to the Victory. I also want to keep this as quiet as possible for as long as possible. No doubt those bounty hunters would exploit this little factor. I will not abide that. There is a traitor on my ship, once exposed; I will end their miserable life."

Aleena said absolutely nothing. Thought only dread. The Spectre smirked. She did smirk, didn't she? Yes that was definitely a smirk.

Shepard was now fully dressed in her hardsuit complete with her weapons. The last was the ceremonial dagger she had used to kill the firaxon shark. She had strapped it at the back of her armor where one would carry a military issued Talon, but not before checking the black metal blade. There was a finality to the sound of blade sliding into the sheath and the click of the lock as it rested securely.

Aleena almost blurted out how long have you known? But she said nothing. When she came aboard the Victory it was to protect her contract from other hunters that would steal it from her. Now she would protect Liara from those who would murder her and the child. If she lived that long.

The Spectre had to know Mal'dicta S'thasa was not who she said she was, what she said she was. Why else were all the clues of knowledge laid out for her? All Shepard had to do was act on it.

Aleena didn't understand why she was allowed to walk back out of the mako alive. It was whispered Spectres had a sixth sense about others, who was lying, who was trustworthy. It was said Spectres could see into the very soul of another.

'If that was true what then what did Samantha Shepard see when she looked into my soul?' It was almost offensive in the Spectre's lack of reaction to her knowing the truth of Mal'dicta being Aleena. It was like someone opening a door before you hit it with a battering ram; suddenly, you were running through the building and not certain how to stop.

Slowly the bounty hunter headed for the small campsite proper. Her mind in the one place a huntress never wants it to be—in a fog.

Part 17

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