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
There Is More To Healing Than Stitches
Shepard opened her ice-blue eyes trying to force the world to come into focus, it was not being co-operative. She managed only to make out Liara's form nearly hovering over body with an anxious expression on her face.
Shepard opened her mouth to speak but found her throat dry and constricted. She swallowed hard to loosen up her vocal cords, which caused her voice to come out as a rasp. "Liara."
"Oh by the Goddess!" the Asari gasped her hand reaching out to touch the too pale face of her lover. "Samantha, I thought you lost to me."
"You're safe." The Spectre said as if trying to reassure herself this fact was true.
"Yes Love, I am safe."
"Yes, you threw us both from danger. You didn't have enough energy to cast a shield. You used all of your energy - what remained of it to throw Chief Williams and myself from the crash." Liara's voice quaked. Every time she closed her eyes she saw the sheering metal of Sovereign's hull crash through the windows of the Citadel Tower and smash into the garden. Great chunks of metal crashed exactly where Shepard had crouched after tackling the husk of Saren and unloading her pistol until it had overheated.
"Good." Shepard's voice was still agonizingly hoarse. "Citadel Council out of danger?"
"Yes my Love we saved them."
The Commander managed a weak nod, her eyes closing of their own volition. She felt a brief touch of warm lips on her mouth.
"Sleep Love. Rest now." Liara felt her hand being touched and smiled as even in her sleep Shepard reached for her.
"Protect you keep you safe." The words were a rasped whisper almost too faint to hear, but the asari have keen hearing and Liara heard the desperate words.
"You did, Beloved." Liara kissed the chapped lips once more. "You did." Blue fingers feathered back the locks of loose black hair. "Now I will keep you safe. I will protect you."
If Shepard heard the words it was difficult to tell, for the Spectre had fallen back into sleep's warm embrace. Liara remained seated on a chair near the bed, her hand still held by the commander as her free hand continuously fingered the black locks.
Dr. Chakwas came over to the bed with a data-Padd to record the bio-readouts from the monitors around Shepard's bed. "I thought I heard the commander's voice?"
"She spoke a little yes. She needed to know that Chief Williams and I as well as the Citadel and Council were free of danger. Once she learned this was so she fell back to sleep." Liara looked from her lover to the doctor. "She is exhausted."
"As she would be. I don't have to tell you her body took quite the beating, not to mention she exhausted herself using her biometric abilities past the implant's capacities. She's not as powerful as an asari. Vanguards have a talent yes but they are not specialists like adepts. If she had continued to use her abilities as she had been she would have given herself an aneurism. She has done this to herself once before during the Blitz, it's amazing she didn't come out of that incident with brain damage.
"She would have now if it had not been for the Prothean beacons awakening dormant areas in her brain and rewriting them. Any other human biotic would have suffered brain-damage. Her beta waves are now those of a natural born biotic almost matching those of an Asari child. Still her abuse of her mental capabilities should have had graver results other than a migraine.
"Which brings me to another point, Dr. T'soni. Both times she arrested your melding restored her to stable levels. During the surgery, you managed to keep her at those safe levels. I know you shared two melds with her before, both of which left you exhausted. From my understanding of asari physiology the melds you used to save her life should have left you drained from the intensity, yet you suffered no effects as you had before. Can I assume there has been a change in your connection to the commander?"
"We joined in Union." Liara said softly. "Our spirits melded, our souls and minds merged into one, for a moment we were one entity." Her voice was almost wistful. "It was the most intense thing I have ever felt. I have I I have never Joined with another, never shared the Union. Before I have only brief shared melds with Samantha and before that the familiar mind-melds a daughter shares with her mother."
One entity. Had Dr. T'soni been a human, the physician might have deemed the phrase as poetic for making love. But for asari it was truth - minds, spirits, souls become one. It was a profound experience, more so if both partners were biotics. With Shepard's Prothean scrambled mind and the markers left behind, the Joining had to be one hell of an experience. The beta waves would have been off the charts.
"From your tone, you disapprove of our Union." The shy archeologist uttered.
"Yes and no. Yes because with all due respect, Dr. T'soni you are new to this and Commander Shepard should know better."
The asari's heart sank at the thought of a woman she considered a friend would so heatedly disapprove of an inter-species relationship.
"There are regulations for engaging in sexual intercourse, more so with other species. For as long as the military has been created there had to be regulations to monitor sexual activities. In the old days STD's were a graver danger as well as accidental pregnancies. Those concerns are still viable. There are certain precautions that have to be taken." Chakwas continued to explain. "Given you're both female getting pregnant isn't an issue and given your pre-relationship status as er a virgin, STDs aren't an issue. I know Shepard is clean. Still you have to try and understand why the military has to have concerns over such things. You're not military. Dr. T'soni. We have rules for pretty much everything. If you're in a relationship with the commander you'll have to abide by them as well."
"Oh!" Liara gasp and felt ashamed that she had assumed Dr. Chakwas would think such harsh bigoted xenophobic things as humans and asari should not share a Joining. "Yes of course. I beg your indulgence, Dr. Chakwas but there was little time our Union took place just before Ilos"
Dr. Chakwas smiled. "Night before the big battle. I'd be an idiot if I thought there weren't a few others engaging in 'intimate encounters.' Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. It's an old Earth saying and tradition. I don't begrudge the sharing of such intimacies. I might have been a bit displeased if this had been going on before and Shepard didn't follow regs. Yes, I know Spectres can disregard rules, regulations and laws but Shepard is military through and through and she is expected to follow regulations."
"Forgive me Dr. Chakwas, but do we have to inform you every time Samantha and I engage "
"Good heaven's no! I simply have to be aware there is a relationship. Please, I do not want personal information, that's private." The 'older' woman smiled shaking her head. "There is such a thing as too much information, I certainly don't want details! I have to say I'm happy for the both of you. Forgive my candidness but she needs someone like you, Dr. T'soni. She seemed less stressed in your company. She still has her edge, her sharpness as a leader, but you're forgive the clichéd metaphor but you are a sheath to her blade. She needs stillness to the chaos and storms around her or she will burn out."
"I will never allow that to happen." Liara affirmed strongly. "I will watch over her always."
Dr. Chakwas placed a motherly hand on the young asari's shoulder. "Good to hear. By the way marines are notorious for being horrible patients. They want to hop out of bed the first moment they can and get grumpy when they aren't allowed to. Now you get to hear that bitching. 'I'm fine, I don't have to say in bed Doc.' As if they went to med-school and could diagnose when they are fit enough to return to duty. As a warning: Shepard's one of the worst."
Both women shared knowing a smile.
"I have seen her deny pain and disorientation during our missions, especially so when she encountered the Prothean beacon and artifacts and when she gained the cipher." Liara said. "Even Chief Williams noted she looked 'queasy' after Samantha accepted the cipher and second beacon. She told us it was nothing and we needed to continue at the task at hand. I remained very concerned despite her denials. For a long time after she was so pale and had such a distant expression after each encounter I was worried for her health they seemed to drain her. Her mind wasn't shattered but she was in pain."
"Indeed. The beacons and cipher as I said changed her mental physiology. I don't know what the Protheans were like but the artifacts seemed to have tried to rewrite her synapses and created unique beta waves to match theirs. It makes for interesting study."
Liara blushed slight for she had made a fool of herself saying nearly the exact same thing to Shepard. But could it be denied what happened to Commander Samantha Shepard was anything but fascinating?
"I'll keep her here for observation until tomorrow evening. Then I will release her to bed-rest in her quarters. And Dr. T'soni, I don't care how persuasive she is - no, I repeat no strenuous activities." Dr. Chakwas voice held superior command that would brook no arguments.
"Of course, Dr Chakwas."
"I mean it. We both know she can be very charismatic, very swaying. Do not give into her. Remind her that her body has to heal properly. I have already removed her from active duty for the present, and placed her on medical leave at least for the next week. As the CMO I have that right. Medicine has always been able to override the orders of a commanding officer in all things medical. You might need to remind her of that, Spectre or not."
Liara nodded. "I will keep that in mind Dr. Chakwas."
"Yes. Good luck with that."
Liara looked down at the sleeping form of her lover. The melds they had shared had bonded them one to another empathically. After the sharing the Union that bond had grown exponentially. Samantha had not made a mention of this unique tie between them; surely the Spectre had to have noticed. Yet she did not bring this fact to issue. Liara's scientific mind analyzed the possible reasons for this. One: Samantha had not noticed possible but unlikely. Two: Samantha didn't want it and ignored it, again not a plausible given the Spectre's blunt habit of speaking her mind when an issue concerned her. Three: she merely accepted the bond, had not time to think beyond the mission and the haunting images in her mind to ask Liara about the tie that united them. This last theory fit. A fourth possibility, Samantha noticed the bond, didn't know how to approach the sensitive subject yet accepted their empathic tie as apart of the Union. This could also be the case, or a combination of some or all of the above.
At first Liara was uncertain why there was such a strong all encompassing bond between them before they had shared the Union. Melds were not known to create such link, not with two minds that hadn't shared the Union that is. After sharing a Union the Joined pair would indeed have an empathic bond, but this connection between Samantha and herself felt different to Liara. She doubted it was her inexperience, or that the Spectre had been her first Joining that gave this impression to the young woman. She had heard other asari speak of being Joined not one of them said their empathic connections to their partner were so powerful.
The first time the doctor realized a bond formed was just after she first merged her mind to that of the Spectre's. It was more than the dominant role of the meld that left Liara staggering and lightheaded. It was the overwhelming presence of Samantha's mind in her own, her personality, and her spirit was like staring at the heart of a super nova. It was a flood of sensations, emotions and images. She hadn't been exaggerating when she said she had immersed herself in the Spectre's thoughts. It was a near perfect blending that Liara had thought only possible with the Union.
At this moment more than any other Liara wished her mother were alive, not the shade of what Saren turned her into but the true Benezia. She could share enlightenment on this bonding, this union of spirits. The only other elder asari with such insight at hand was Consort Shi'ara. Perhaps when Samantha was better rested there would time to seek out the Consort for advice and information on empathic bonding.
Unwilling to leave Samantha's side for long, Liara settled tailor style on the camping cot that she had been sleeping in the back science lab. The lab itself had become more or less hers; at least the crew had seen it that way. It contained crates filled with survival gear, medical supplies; secure storage lockers that contained the various artifacts discovered in the numerous systems and dozens of worlds the Normandy came across in their unending hunt for Saren. Prothean artifacts, writings of an ancient asari Matriarch, relics of battles long since past and forgotten, service medals of Honor given to salarian and turrian warriorsthe list went on. It was the Prothean artifacts that Liara concentrated on, though this was of no surprise. But perhaps the long dead matriarch's writings might prove to have answers to powerful empathic bonds. It wasn't unheard of for such bindings to occur between two asari, but when another species came into play it set a whole new precedence of bonding.
Liara left the more delicate of the writings and watercolors in their sealed document cases on her desk and took the treatises on the Goddess Athame, philosophy, traditional sacred hunts of the giant fraxon sharks. Liara read of codes of honor, warfare and of asari reaching the stars. The archeologist knew as all asari did that approximately 2,700 years ago her people began to explore the mass relay network after developing FTL space faring capabilities based upon Prothean technology. With reverent awe she read of how those first asari discovered the titanic Citadel space station and explored it.
How many hours she sat and read, Liara could not begin to say, she had lost herself as she was want to do in the annals of history. Only once had she come across something that might have shed light on what she was now experiencing with Samantha. Two minds so interconnected, two hearts so intertwined prior to Joining in the Union that during such an intimate time that bonding intensified tenfold. Even after for the complete merging that occurs during the Joining such a melding will bind one to another that the shared emotions, thoughts and rare instances physical experiences are transferred one to another.
The matriarch wrote that bindings of this nature occur when two souls recognize one another, souls that transcend time and space to be together as they always have been and always will be.
'I feel I know you, yet we are strangers,' Liara once told Samantha when the doctor was first integrated into the crew of the Normandy. Twice before Liara had immersed herself into Samantha's mind, into all that was the Spectre. It left her feeling drained, and exhilarated. The merging mind meld had sparked her heart her mind into recognition of another, and when she withdrew her body, her soul cried out as if in withdrawal. Her mind sought out that connection and grasped what little scraps there were. Faint whispers of emotion but they were enough to sustain the need within the asari. Liara had not set out deliberately to do this but a body sometimes moves on instinct. It was if her body needed nourishment and created cravings that would sate these needs.
While on Therum, there was a constant need to stay hydrated or perish on the volcanic world. If she went more than a few hours without access to water Liara would begin to grow faint, her lungs would feel tight and her throat constricting. It was almost the same sort of feeling pulling away from Samantha had caused. The distant whisper of emotions seeping into the asari became like sips water on that dry planet. During the Union, Liara wept for the joy of the All. There was no other word Liara could adequately use to describe what she felt that night. All: it seemed to be the only fitting word. The bonding grew and more and more emotions leaked through until the whimpers became a soft lullaby that contented the soul.
After the terrifying moments just before and during the surgery, Liara pulled Samantha's mind into her own. The asari attuned the electrical patterns of her nervous system to Samantha's. Liara consciously initiated and received impulses directly through the skin and in that moment they were one unified nervous system. The bond between Samantha and T'soni flared brilliantly, strongly, no longer a sweet lullaby but a lover's familiar constant caress. Now the bond was a soft butterfly's kiss dancing upon sweet harmonics within the soul.
"He-ey what's a girl to do to get some attention around here?" croaked a very hoarse Spectre.
Liara snapped her head up at the sound of her lover. "Samantha!" she jumped up off the cot made ready to pounce on her lover, but pulled back at the last possible second realizing that the Spectre was still in need of tender care. It was such an odd spectacle to see the graceful and delicate form of an asari stumble and nearly slip on her backside.
Samantha smirked, snickering. "That was cute." She flashed a large smile hoping to show her asari she was teasing.
Liara first reaction was to stammer out an apology until she saw the smile on the spectre's face, which caused her to grin herself. "I admit that was less dignified than I would have preferred."
Samantha burst out laughing which went into a grunt of pain. "Don't make me laugh." Strange how a human face can simultaneously grimace and grin at the same time.
"I apologize, my Love." Liara's hand reached out and touched her Samantha's temple. "I will call Dr. Chakwas. Is there anything you need?"
"You," the Spectre said "and a glass of water."
Liara smiled softly as she was reminded of her recent metaphor for her Spectre. "I can relate."
"It is nothing - a stray thought. I will fetch your water. As for me you will always have me." She leaned over to kiss Samantha.
The Spectre didn't fully return the kiss. "Sorry, but I feel like there is wool in my mouth and there is no doubt I need to brush my teeth. I'd love to kiss you after I've taken care of that little problem." She grinned hoping to take any sting out of what might have been taken for rejection.
"Then we shall have to do this to sustain us." The asari kissed her lover's forehead as she tenderly sent a pulse of her love through her fingertips into the soft flesh of Samantha's cheek. A rush of love laced adrenaline shot through her body making the Spectre gasp, echoed by Liara's own.
"Wow! For a non-kiss-kiss that was wonderful. Do it again!"
"You are incorrigible or should I say insatiable?"
"You make it sound like a bad thing." The Spectre snickered then groaned as her stomach muscles reminded her that such activities were not medically advisable.
Liara leaned over and once more sent waves of her love coursing though the empathic bond, this time through the softness of her purple lips. The pad of Liara's thumb traced the sickle scar just under Shepard's right eye, again sending pulses of her desire though her fingertips. The sound coming from Samantha this time was a moan of pleasure.
"I will get you your water now." Liara whispered before disappearing to the small synthesizer station in the medical bay.
Samantha lay in a very contented daze. It was almost that happy-giddiness she would get if she were just on this side of tipsy, not drunk but that blissful state of euphoria. No, this was more pleasurable because it was a gift from her lover.
"I would say you have a bit too much pain killer in your system if I hadn't seen Dr. T'soni leaning over you a moment ago." Dr. Chakwas commented coming up to the prone Spectre. She hit a button that would slowly raise the bed to a forty-five degree angle, allowing for Shepard to sit up without having to move much. "Speaking of pain, you know the drill Commander. On the scale where is it?"
"About a seven." The Spectre answered honestly. "Feels like a steel girder ran me through."
"That is not far from the truth, Commander." Chakwas said sternly. "Saren very nearly eviscerated you and a ship's hull landed almost on top of you. How you weren't crushed I don't know. I saw ground zero." This time the stern voice was a little shaken.
"I used a biotic singularity to keep it off of me after I fell into a well I guess I'd call it a fox hole." Shepard admitted. "I seriously didn't think it would work, I was tapped "
"Yes, and we will talk about that later." Once more the stern frown was on the older woman's face.
"So what's the damage? What I'm I looking at in recoup-time, Doc?"
Chakwas gave Shepard the menu of injuries she had incurred. Ruptured spleen, collapsed lung, dislocated shoulder, concussion, trauma to the hippocampus area of her brain due to overexertion of biotics as well as broken ribs.
"Broken ribs, again." She rolled her eyes. "Son of a bitch. I hate it when that happens."
Liara approached carrying not only a glass of ice water, but a small tray with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a cup to spit in.
"My hero." She made a grasp for the water after flashing cocky grin. Liara smiled back then blushed, realizing Chakwas was watching them with a bemused expression.
Despite her thirst, the first thing Shepard did was to make a thorough cleaning of her teeth. A moment later she greedily snatched the glass of water and began to quickly drain its contents.
"Don't drink that too fast and not too much at one time. We'll also have to get your electrolytes back up to acceptable levels. I need to talk to you about what happened with you and Dr. T'soni."
Shepard sighed. "Look I know the regs, Doc. But frankly there wasn't time to it wasn't something we had premeditated. Well we had but that was talk about sometime in the future. When it happened it was the night before planet-fall on Ilos."
"I am not speaking of the Joining. Not in that regard." Chakwas commented. "As I told you before your connection to the first Prothean beacon had changed your beta readings and every encounter you have had with Prothean technology since has augmented that change further. When you gained the cipher you simply weren't given the Prothean Rosetta Stone, Commander. You were made to think as a Prothean because whatever the Thorian did to Shiala she passed to both you and Saren. It rewrote a part of your cortical synapses that controls biotic powers as well as the more dormant sections of the mind. It is as if you have a Prothean protein marker in your brain-chemistry. This was augmented by that blasted Prothean artifact on Eletania and the second Prothean beacon on Virmire." The doctor waited a while to allow all she had said to sink in.
"As I told, Dr. T'soni your abilities match that of an innate biotic, a young one but one able to function without the need of an implant."
Shepard frowned. "Wait a minute are you saying I don't need to use my implant to use biotics? How is that possible? The only species that don't need implants are asari."
"Yes, the only living species to date." Chakwas answered keeping her tone clinical to ease the agitation growing in the Spectre. "I suspect that your Joining, augmented what the Protheans did to you. You said it yourself, Commander when you used the biotic singularity you were drained, the implant needed to 'cool-down' or it would have gone into flare-up. Had you been using the implant to stabilize your abilities this would be so. Instinctively you tapped into that newly awakened part of yourself and summoned a singularity.
"So so does this mean? I'm what part Prothean now? What the hell..?"
"No." Chakwas shook her head. "But you have changed."
Liara could feel anxiety, fear, anger and unease coming off of Samantha in tidal waves. 'Be still my Love, I will see you through this.'
"I know you will." Samantha said softly not realizing that she had heard Liara in her mind rather than preserving the vibrations of sounds though her ears.
"Why did you say that?" Chakwas was puzzled.
"Say what? I was talking to Liara."
"She didn't say anything."
"Well she might have whispered "
"No Love, I did not speak aloud. I thought those words."
The Spectre snapped her head towards Liara. "But I heard them."
"She's right Commander, she didn't speak. This is what I am talking about. Humans like the other races have developed the abilities of telekinesis, spatial distortions and kinetic fields because of the exposure to Element Zero. Some have shown more empathic tendencies or at least hyper awareness of other peoples' emotions. But not true empathy nor telepathy, not yet anyway at least there are no documented cases. This is natural for asari, especially asari who share a Joined mind with another biotic user. This is new territory for humans, it's not that we lack the mind-power of such, but it is dormant. So far no biotic has shown any talents for it, though no doubt Conatrix, Cerberus and ExoGeni have been trying very hard to make this happen. The Thorian is a prime example."
"Yeah that didn't turn out so well. Everyone undergoing 'treatment' went mad or worse." Shepard snorted. "So what now what does this mean for me, for Liara?"
"Let me lay to rest the real question you wanted to ask. I don't foresee this hampering your fitness for duty, Commander. The Prothean marker was implanted when you were caught by the first beacon. That was the strange beta readings I picked up in the scans after that encounter."
"Okay fine, great. I was joking with Liara before, but I sure as hell don't want to be some lab specimen for the military's science corps they can dissect to see why I can use biotics without being stabilized by my implant. And they aren't getting their hands on Liara in some half-ass theory she augments my biotic abilities, or that I'm the next step in human biotic development. I'm a fluke. I will go rogue if only to protect her from them." Shepard's voice was as sharp and firm as if giving orders on the field of battle.
"Samantha!" Liara started. "You can't mean that. You would never betray your oaths."
The Spectre's gaze told the young asari everything. Shepard had broken the law, risked capital punishment not only for herself but for the crew of the Normandy to save the galaxy, when she stole the ship. To save the woman she loved she would willingly - deliberately forsake her oaths, her bonds of loyalty the Alliance and flee with Liara to some remote region of space.
Chakwas didn't have to be telepathic to know what was conveyed in the expression. The determination in those eyes said it all. It was the same expression the Spectre held just before touching down on Ilos. Shepard would never gamble the lives of her crew to save Liara T'soni but she would give her own without question.
"I think you are being a little overly melodramatic, Commander. Must be the painkillers talking. Alliance Medical has previously been advised about the Prothean marker encoded in your brain. That hasn't changed. Besides I sincerely doubt a Spectre would be forced into such a position to become a lab rat. To make something perfectly clear Commander, I came from Alliance Medical; we are not Cerberus or ExoGeni."
"I didn't mean the inference, Doc."
The older woman smiled softly. "I know. I understand your drive to protect the person you obviously deeply love. I will continue to monitor your biotic abilities, and its effects on you. Besides, on your becoming a Spectre all your medical files were classified under Citadel Council's authority and have been sealed. Not even Alliance Medical or the Military can access them. Or did you forget that little bit? For now you are stable. That is my primary concern. Get some rest, Commander. Your body still needs to heal."
"To tell the truth I had forgotten my records are now sealed." The Spectre seemed to relax a bit more given this new information. Her general records could still be accessed such as what happened during the Blitz. "So how long am I grounded, Doc?" Shepard decided to change the subject just a bit.
"A week bed-rest enforced if necessary, after that two weeks light duty." Chakwas held up a hand, "One word of protest, marine and I am doubling the times, you get me?"
Shepard saluted. "Loud and clear, Doc. We're five by five."
"Humph! I've instructed Dr. T'soni to make sure you follow all medical orders regarding your convalescence. And I will say this. No libidinous activities, Commander. I mean it. Don't think I've forgotten what the honeymoon stage is in new love. I already warned Dr. T'soni about such things. No means no."
Shepard actually pouted. Though she would argue that Spectres' don't pout they brood. "I heard the release of endorphins could help restore a body."
"Yeah? Fine. Sit up straight." Chakwas folded her arms over her chest, her expression was stern. Marines were sometimes like little children you had to let them get a little singed by fire to make them understand it's hot and shouldn't be played with.
Shepard did, grunted and fell back down against the upraised half of the bed, her face pale.
Chakwas smirked. "You marines are all the same."
"Right, no libidinous activities," the Spectre responded sheepishly. "Got it."
Liara shook her head chidingly. Her hand caressed her beloved's cheek, sending pulses of her love through her fingertips, causing her to gasp. 'There are other ways to show our affections, Samantha.'
The monitors reading the Spectre's vitals flared with an increased heart rate. Chakwas glanced over and shook her head. "Yes well keep that down to a dull roar."
"Of course Doctor. I will do nothing that will endanger Samantha."
"I will trust you to keep your word, Dr. T'soni." Chakwas gave a knowing smile. "Commander, are you up to seeing some visitors? You have a very concerned crew. Below deck scuttlebutt is that you came back from the dead like some rising phoenix. "
"Yeah well not without you, defibrillators and Liara." Shepard waved off any myth that she was impervious to death or could miraculously rise out of the ashes of war unmarred but for a few bumps and scratches.
"Do not forget Chief Williams. She donated much needed blood." Liara said softly. She remembered seeing the pools of dark red blood. "Without her aid our efforts would have been in vain. Dr. Chakwas used all the type O blood in the medical stores. Chief Williams said she shares the same blood type as you and could readily donate; indeed she was ready to donate her organs if it would save your life." Her voice grew quieter, the more she reflected on seeing blood almost freely flowing from Samantha's broken body.
The deep red color had startled the archeologist at first. Human blood was such a vivid color compared to the normal asari pale blue she was accustomed to, more so because it had all been Samantha's. The blood wasn't even bright like the orange of the many krogan mercs and battlemasters they had fought over their length of their journeys. The turians' purple was even more familiar but the shock red that turned darker the longer it was exposed to air would stay with her for a long time.
"Hey " Samantha touched Liara's cheek. "I'm here now. Thanks to all of you, I'm fine now. Don't worry, Babe." The pad of her thumb softly touched the angled jaw of her asari lover. "I'll talk to Ash in a bit, I owe her a lot, and I know she had to have been flying high and to the right with self imposed guilt." The Spectre's mind flashed back to the night after Kaiden fell at Virmire. Despite the fact that it was by Shepard's orders, her choice, Ashley Williams blamed herself for the sentinel's death. There was no doubt in the commander's mind that even now Ashley apportioned all blame that her commander had been gravely wounded onto herself.
"I'm afraid you will get similar reactions, commander from the others. You mean a great deal to all of us." Chakwas said. "It is why I am only allowing one visitor at a time and for only two minutes each. It will be physically and emotionally draining for you. After a couple of days you can speak to them at length but right now, I'm sorry I need to limit the visits."
"I understand, Dr. Chakwas. And thank you for everything." Her blue eyes reflected her emotions, her gratitude more than words could have ever conveyed.
'Brave soldiers with piercing eyes and sensitive souls.' Chakwas whispered to herself. Shepard had one of the deepest souls she had ever come across. Perhaps this was what the saying meant: 'Spectres aren't made, they are born.' "You're welcome, Commander. Just don't pull a stunt like that again,"
"Didn't plan to the first time, Doc." the corners of Shepard's lips curled up.
"I'll inform your 'squad', they should be the first to see you. Remember two minutes, I won't have you pushing yourself and undoing all that work I put into you, Commander."
Liara leaned over the bed, kissing the Spectre softly, "I think perhaps the others should have their brief moments with you alone. I'll be in the lab if you need me." Her thumb tenderly brushed the warm flesh of Samantha's cheek.
"You'll return when visiting hours are over?" Shepard asked hopefully.
The asari nodded, "Of course."
Garrus was the first of them to make an appearance. He lingered near the door a moment unsure what he wanted to say. He had never felt this close to a human before or known the fear of having nearly lost her.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you it's impolite to loiter in doorways? Someone might think you're up to something."
Garrus found himself chuckling. It was good to hear the Spectre's strange sense of humor. He knew then she was going to be fine, everything was going to be fine. "I'm sorry Commander," he said quickly. He had never apologized to a human as he had so many times with Shepard. Her opinions mattered to him. If not for her he would have turned his back on C-Sec or even the possibility of becoming a Spectre himself. She had given back his purpose and sense of justice. For that he would until the day he died be forever in her debt. "You were so still I didn't know if you were awake despite Dr. Chakwas's announcement you were able to have visitors."
"Don't sweat it." Shepard smiled easily.
"I I'm glad you're not dead." Garrus groaned. 'That was the dumbest thing to say.'
The Spectre snickered, "Let me guess you had rehearsed everything you wanted to say just before you came in here, and woosh all those poetic words evaporated?"
The turian nodded. "Yes." He took a few steps closer. "Commander, when we saw you on that gurney, bleeding we thought we lost you. It had not been something I was prepared to face. I knew I might easily die on this mission, that I might have to give up my life. I was prepared for that. It is the turian way. But to see you fall I felt a great void. Turians who die in service their can be no greater gift, no greater honor. You are not turian, yet you follow the path of honor just the same " He sighed. "I do not mean to ramble like some youngling you've changed the way I see the galaxy, justice and service. Even when the Council would not heed your warnings, ignored your wisdom you saved them. I would never have done that. I would have allowed them to be sacrificed and used all fire power to take Sovereign. But you you saved them."
"I had to. No doubt I'll be defending my orders until my last breath. Even if the Council were ignorant enough to ignore the warnings about Sovereign, we need them. The Reapers are still out there and now they see the danger. I loathe politicians but they are a necessary pain in the ass. Citadel Space needs to heal. We need strength and familiarity of trust. The Council will give that. We can not rebuild, heal and face the Reapers without being unified. The Council is the only way this will happen."
"The whispers I have heard are true. You do possess the wisdom and forward thinking of an asari matriarch even if you are so very young."
The Spectre chuckled which caused her to groan.
"You are in pain!" Garrus made a move to for the door to fetch Dr. Chakwas but was halted by the Spectre's voice.
"No, its just laughing kinda hurts the gut."
Garrus flinched as his mind flashed on the lacerated cuirass that once protected the commander's chest. "I shall endeavor not to make you laugh then."
"Dr. Chakwas gave strict instructions you were not to be taxed, Commander. I should take my leave so the others may have their turn to see you." Garrus took a deep breath, "I just wanted to say thank you. For all you've done, despite the Council dragging their heels at every turn. Commander it's been an honor and a privilege to serve along side you."
Shepard smiled. "So tell me what will you do now?"
"I will go back to C-Sec as I said before. What you've shown me, taught me can never be repaid. You've given me a sense of justice and duty I never knew I could hold. But Commander if you will have me I'd like to serve aboard the Normandy until we push the Reapers back into Dark Space. I served with you long enough to know once you are medically cleared that is exactly what you will be doing. Charging ahead to stop the Reapers, I want to be at your side when you do so."
"Thanks, Garrus. It means a hell of a lot to me. I've come to rely on you. Damn straight I'd like you to stay on."
The turian smiled. Or at least Shepard interpreted the slight purring sound as a smile. Turian muzzles simply weren't made to smile, snarl yes, smile no.
"I will serve as I am needed." It was a traditional turian vow. One that Shepard took solemnly.
"That is all I have ever wanted."
"I should leave, the others are anxious to see for themselves that you are better than the last time we saw you. Tali is quite distraught as well as Chief Williams."
Shepard nodded, thinking of the quarian girl. The young woman had grown fond of Shepard as the weeks turned into months in their search to find and stop Saren and the Reapers. Tali's father had never smiled, never shown the girl an ounce of pride and any parental affection died with her mother. Shepard had become some bizarre form of maternal figure, favorite auntie and big sister all rolled into one to the young woman.
"Do me a favor Garrus, despite what order you all gave yourselves to see me and I know you guys did, send in Tali next."
"I will do so, Commander." The reformed C-Sec officer bowed his head in respect.
It had to be nanoseconds between Garrus's announcement that the Commander asked for Tali and the girl's presence in med-bay.
"Shepard!" Tali exclaimed rushing the bed but stopped just short of flinging herself into the Spectre's arms.
Shepard smiled and patted the bed, on which the quarian very gingerly sat down and surprisingly took the older woman's hand into her three fingered one. "I I was so worried. I saw Dr. Chakwas trying to keep you alive as they rushed you here yesterday. There was a trail of blood and your hardshell. It was nearly cracked in two!" the girl was sobbing.
"He-ey it's okay." Shepard coed softly. "I'm going to be fine. Okay?"
"But you weren't! Shepard you you're the best friend I've ever known. Losing my mother was difficult. To lose you after it would be worse."
Shepard had no idea she had meant so much to the young engineer. She was lost for words. So she did the only thing she could think of and hugged the younger woman. Tali instinctively hugged back tightly until she heard Shepard gasp.
"Oh I've hurt you!"
"Still tender. It's okay, just " she grunted a little pushing down the pain factor so it would not show on her face. "Just um not so tight."
"I will get Dr. Chakwas."
"No. I'll be okay, just give me a moment." The Spectre said unconvincingly as she again pushed the pain from her.
Several Prothean data disks fell from Liara's hand and tumbled haphazardly to the floor. Pain shot from her chest down her spine making her go weak in the knees. Her whole body felt as if it had been struck with a seismic event and dipped in molten carbon. Every nerve raw, awake and screaming could only mean one thing: her beloved was in agony.
Liara dashed from the back room quickly making her way to her lover's side. The Spectre might have been able to pull on a tight mask of indifference to the pain soaring through her but she could not hide it from her soulmate.
"Samantha?" Liara called gently reaching the side of the bed in five quick strides. "What has happened? Your body screams in pain." Liara was dreadfully worried. Each word was a note of concern. She touched Samantha's sweating brow as if to take the pain onto herself. The cooling caress did indeed ease the jolt of throbbing pain Tali's hug had given her. Liara took hold of Samantha's hand into her own. She felt the Spectre's hand squeeze back as she struggled with inner pain management.
Tali looked down ashamed her over exuberance of accepting Shepard's tender touch had caused such great suffering. "I will leave." The quarian moved off the bed, her head hung low and dejected.
"No." Shepard said in a voice of full command that stopped the girl dead in her tracks. In a softer voice she said. "It was a genuine mistake, okay? I'll be fine, Tali look at me."
The girl did.
Liara knew Samantha was lying. She was still quivering in silent pain, but she would not let it show for Tali's sake. The doctor continued to stroke her lover's hand to share the pain between them, trying to abate or at least defuse it. She could feel Samantha's gratitude for keeping silent about the truth and for the sharing of pain, and more so for charging in to the rescue. No doubt this incident would be brought up in a later conversation.
"Stay. I'll be okay, don't you feel guilty about it. It was an accident. So let it go. Do I need to make it an order?"
Shepard smiled warmly. "Good"
For the first time, Tali realized that the asari had not left the commander's side nor let go of the hand she had been holding. "May I ask Commander, Dr. T'soni are you paired now?"
Shepard looked up to T'soni and flashed a brilliant grin as their eyes looked at one another. "We are." She was grateful for the change of topic.
"This is good news!" cheer found Tali's voice once more. "I knew you two were perfect for each other. I've seen you two give each other secret glances." The voice sounded as if the quarian was grinning ear to ear, though it was difficult to make out any expression from behind the tinted visor of her helmet.
Both older women blushed slightly. "I guess we weren't as discreet as I thought." Shepard said. "I'll have to cap the scuttlebutt quickly."
Liara frowned a little but said nothing. There were some conversations best spoken about in private.
'Okay let's see if this telepathy goes two ways.'
'Huh! I knew it would. Listen, Angel-Eyes. Word gets out about us, it won't just be us, it will be us and the whole bleeding media circus of Citadel Space. I'm a Spectre and you are the daughter of a once very powerful and much respected Matriarch. That's news the media hounds will scarf up. I'd rather not share my - our bliss with the likes of Kalisah Al-Jilani or even the good ones like Emily Wong. I'm selfish; I want you all to myself at least for a little while longer. I want something that is just us. Our companions can share in our happiness but I just want us for us, besides most of the squad already know. Liara, I love you and there is no way I would ever deny what we share or us, but let us be selfish for a little while. Please'
Tali saw the asari smile such a soft smile - one that conveyed understanding, love and agreement. Yet nothing had been said between them. She had never seen her father smile, not once. She doubted if he had ever looked to her mother the way Dr. T'soni looked at Shepard or vise versa. Before she wanted to leave for the pain she had unintentionally given the commander, now Tali wanted to slip away to give the two some privacy. She had felt guilty for the former, for the latter she didn't begrudge the fledgling lovers their moment.
Shepard must have sensed the girl's unease of the moment for she turned and addressed the young quarrian. "We've stopped Saren, the geth and Sovereign. I suspect you will be returning to the Flotilla soon." There was a hint of regret in the Spectre's voice. "I'm going to miss you Tali. I suspect Chief Adams will miss you nearly as much. He said you were the best damned engineer he'd seen in a long time."
"It has been an honor to serve with him, and more with you Commander." Tali tipped her head. "If if Commander? I need to get the information you gave me back to the Flotilla but I if you still need my help if you're going to face the Reapers, I would offer my help."
"I'd happily take it Tali, in a heartbeat. But to be honest I could be facing a very long prison sentence, if not capital punishment."
"Surely the humans will not prosecute you! Not now!" Tali nearly shouted. "You stopped Sovereign."
"WE stopped Sovereign, Tali. We did it, all of us. I could never have done it without everyone on the Normandy."
Shepard proclaimed she would take Liara and go rogue if Alliance Medical attempted to bring her lover harm because of their bond. Liara now made that same vow. She may not be the powerful biotic her mother was, in truth none in Citadel Space were when she was alive and it be a very long time before another was again. But Liara is was Matriarch Benezia's daughter and that power was within the young asari. Liara would never allow such a travesty of justice to be committed against Samantha. The idea of capital punishment was ludicrous to the extreme.
"Samantha, your tenacious quest to stop Sovereign is the only reason Citadel Space is not now overrun by the Reapers. You are a Spectre. That has given you certain rights and privileges. One of which is you are not bound by laws that would impede your duty to protect the galaxy. You confiscated the Normandy and its 'volunteer' crew to carry out your primary objective." Liara pointed out.
"In theory yes. But you think Udina or Mikhailovich will let this go? Mikhailovich is a bigoted rear admiral who hates the very idea Normandy was constructed in the first place. Besides which we that is to say the Normandy and me were supposed to be in his flotilla after the shakedown cruise to Eden Prime. As for Udina, he is a slime ball who thinks of nothing but his political agendas and would gladly release the hounds on me after he's thrown me under the wheels of a mako to save his own skin. I doubt either of them understands the concept of what the scope of being a Spectre is. They seem to think Spectres are just another shadow police force. Spectres are so much more than that. Hell I don't fully grasp what it is to be a Spectre, save we are responsible for the wellbeing of all innocent life in Citadel Space, regardless of the rules, laws and politics. We are set to protect all species not just the one we come from. I just wish Udina, Mikhailovich and people like them understood that."
"Commander, you have great favor with some powerful asari. The Consort for one and then there is Diplomat Nassana, not to mention the asari Councilor. I bet they will have something to say if Ambassador Udina and that admiral try to make you what do humans say trip on the dagger?" Tali said.
"Fall on the sword." Shepard corrected.
"The council will not allow them to make you into a scapegoat." Liara commented. "They will be vilified if they even try to do so."
"I'm not worried about myself, but they could make the lives of my crew hell if I don't do some preemptive political maneuvering of my own. I think I will have to push the whole Spectre rank a great deal to save them from the figurative and literal firing squads. Speaking of which Tali what about you and the Quarian Admiralty? Are you in any danger? I'm sure the Council will allow you to seek asylum on the Citadel. I will definitely give it. I think as a Spectre I'm allowed to do so."
"Hijacking ships is a capital offense but for our success in stopping Sovereign I believe I will be pardoned. But thank you, Commander for your offer. As I said before I wish to stay on the Normandy until we stop the Reapers. I will give the Flotilla the information on the geth. But I have a greater duty. The quarian people are insular and may not understand what drives me to serve with you, Commander. I'm not sure myself but I want to. I need to."
"Glad to have you Tali." Shepard grinned. "Why don't you get some rest while you can, there is a lot of work ahead of us. I know Adams and the engineering crew will be ecstatic to hear you're staying on. The Normandy will be in top shape in no time."
Though it was difficult to see through the face mask, there was no doubt in either of the older women that Tali was grinning ear to ear. She was positively beaming in her jubilation. "Of course, Commander, I'll get right on it." She made a dash for the door -her excitement was uncontainable.
"She holds you in great esteem, Samantha."
"She's a good kid. Smart too. I'm not kidding she'll have the Normandy five by five in no time at all. Adams made her the unofficial 2IC of Engineering. I agree with him."
Liara's expression changed to match the concerns in her mind. "You should rest, Samantha. I felt your pain as if it were my own."
"I'm sorry Liara. I didn't know that would happen. I don't ever want my actions to hurt you. Knowing that my pain is yours ."
"Enough." Liara placed a delicate blue finger on Samantha's lips. "We will turn this new connection to our advantage. I think it is also advisable we meditate together. Now that you are relying less and less on your implant you will need to meditate to center yourself and control your biotics. I think it will also help us to gain control over our bond rather than it controlling us."
"I'd like that." Shepard took Liara's hand and kissed it. "I'd be so lost without you Liara. I could never have done what I did in our mission if you hadn't been there every step of the way. I can't face the Reapers without you. You are my center."
Liara rested her forehead against the other woman's, "What about being swept up in the storm?"
"All storms need a calm center."
"Eye of the hurricane?" Liara teased.
"Yes. You know the eye of the hurricane is more dangerous than the storm itself?"
"Then I shall be your calm, my beloved Spectre. I will do so gladly." Liara gave a thought back to what Dr. Chakwas had said about her being the commander's stillness in an otherwise chaotic existence. "I will always be your calm center."
Love flowed easily from where flesh touched flesh, coursing through them both causing each to gasp in heated desire.
"We we had better stop." Liara said with no hint of conviction in her voice. "Or we shall be caught in the middle of something that we will not desire to be interrupted."
"Not convincing me, Babe." Samantha purred.
"Wrex and Chief Williams still need to see their commander, Samantha. Ashley especially needs to see you."
The Spectre nodded. "I'd like to see her as well. I owe her a lot. I have to make sure she doesn't do some dumb-ass thing and blame herself for what happened back there."
"I will take my leave for now. Are you hungry, Samantha? Perhaps a bit of soup?"
"Yeah actually I am. That'd be great, thanks. Babe."
Liara leaned over and kissed Shepard soundly before heading for the door of the med-bay.
"That isn't some holy relic of a saint you know." Joker pointed to the ruined hardshell cuirass gunnery chief Williams had been fidgeting with for the past ten minutes. The pilot watched as Williams ran her fingers lightly over the serrated peaks and crevasses of the deep gash in the armor that once covered their commander's chest. "Touching it ain't gonna give you good luck or something."
The jagged line went from shoulder to waist, a grim remember of what the husk of Saren had done to their CO. Despite the red and black of the colossus shell you could plainly make out the blood that stained it.
"I know that." Williams grumbled. "I'm not the superstitious sort."
"I don't know. You get ripped nearly in two and live, sounds pretty damn lucky to me." Wrex commented touching the jagged edge himself as if to the good fortune of Shepard's survival would somehow soak into him. "If I were you, Chief, I'd send that hardshell to the Council. Make them see just what happened to Shepard. Make 'em see what they almost lost due to their stupidity and politics. Hell make 'em worry she ain't gonna make it same as we did yesterday."
Williams grinned devilishly. "I think that's a perfect idea Wrex. Make them sweat a bit. Maybe next time she warns them about something they will listen."
"Finally," Wrex rumbled deep from his belly as they watched a very excited quarian bounce out of med-bay and head for the lift that would take her below deck. She was followed a second later by a smiling asari maiden. "This won't take long."
"Wrex." The Spectre nodded acknowledging the effort the krogan was making by making a show in med-bay. Typically the battlemaster would not have given a second look to a fallen comrade before joining up with the Normandy. It simply was the krogan way of looking at battle, you fought, you killed or were killed. If you were wounded, keep the scar, move on but don't hamper others with your recovery.
"You keeping the new scar?" Wrex never understood the fleshy mammals and their finicky ways. If you got a scar in battle wear it with pride. At least Shepard had one visible scar just under her right eye.
"To tell you the truth I haven't given it much thought. I think even if I got cosmetic surgery I'd still feel it. It will always be there. Like the other one." She touched the sickle shaped scar under her eye. It had been caused by flying shrapnel from a grenade going off near her head during the Blitz. Though she lost no vision in the eye, Shepard at times still felt the pain of the blast causing her muscles to twitch. It was a reminder of what happened - of her vow to do better, she would not allow herself to fail again. Not like that. She hadn't been able to get everyone to safety, to protect everyone on Elysium. Many had died because she wasn't able to defend them all. Yes Elysium still stood, because of her, because she stood one against many. When the colonists fled into the storm bunkers she was left to defend the colony by herself until reinforcements came nearly a full day later. The scar was also a reminder that she had lived despite the odds she had nearly lost her sight but she was fortunate. The scar proved she could survive.
The wound left by the husk of Saren would most definitely leave a jagged scar that would stretch diagonally from shoulder to waist. She had nearly died the scar would remain as a testament she had companions, allies, loved ones and friends who stood by her and ensured that she lived. It would remain as a reminder of all the brave women and men who laid down their lives to save the Council and fought against Sovereign.
"Yeah, it stays."
Wrex grunted his approval. "You still going to play hero?"
"The mission to stop Saren is over. That battle won. The war isn't over."
"Yeah I figured you'd say something like that." The reptile shook his massive head. "Looks like I ain't out of my battle oath to you then. Still get claim on the spoils of the fallen, still gotta make credits one way or another. Being a hero don't pay well. And I don't do the hero thing."
"You've done pretty well so far."
"You trying to insult me Shepard?"
"Wouldn't dream of it Wrex."
"Don't mind bunking in the Mako on a sleep mat but damn the seating arrangements on this ship. During the refit, get some of your engineers to install some decent chairs. Those dinky things you lot sit on are for skinny twig people like you, T'soni and the quarian kid. Even the turian can sit his scrawny ass in a human chair, but they ain't fittin' for a warrior of my stature."
Shepard laughed, grunted as her ribs reminded her that such actions were inadvisable. She flashed an amused smile. "I'll make the order myself, Wrex. I'll even see if we can't install a decent sized sleeper pod "
"I ain't sleeping in no coffin Shepard. I told you I don't mind having to sleep on the floor of the Mako when we're flying around. Hasn't been a real issue before, can't see it will be now. Like I told you when I first signed on to your crew I slept in far worse places."
"Giving your history as a merc I wager you have. Alright then, just a couple of decent sized chairs, provided of course I still command the Normandy after I meet with the Council and Alliance Brass. There is no telling what will happen in the next few days. There are going to be a lot of questions, a lot of demands being made and a whole lot of healing that needs to be addressed. But I won't give up."
"Yeah I guess there will be." Wrex commented dryly. "Now they know the Reapers aren't some made up varren shit by Saren or you. Even if you don't get the Normandy back, the Council won't ground you. They need you and you need your crew, and I ain't never broken a contract yet, nor battle oath. Ain't 'bout to now."
Shepard smiled. "I'm proud to call you friend Wrex. Glad you have my six."
"Now you're trying to make me cry Shepard. I'm going to get something to eat." The large male rumbled. He was nearly out the door before he craned his thick neck around to look upon the woman laid up in bed. He'd never admit it aloud or under torture, but the human had become something of a hero to the krogan. He was more than flattered she had called him a friend. "Yeah for soft-skinned mammal you ain't so bad neither to mark you friend. Too bad you ain't a krogan female, you might have been decent to look at too." He barked out laughing.
Shepard snickered. "I don't even want to go there Wrex."
Wrex like the others came out of the med-bay smiling. Williams couldn't recall ever hearing a krogan laugh before. It sounded like something between a thudding of a bass drum, the howling bark of a kath hound along side a cat throwing up a hairball and a hydro spanner caught in the intake valve of an engine.
She watched the krogan head for the synthesizer and order a massive amount of food. He plunked down in a chair opposite her, mumbling under his breath about the size of the chair before stabbing his fork into the indescribable mound of food.
Ashley found herself wondering what might have happened on that beach at Virmire had the skipper not made Wrex see reason. There was no doubt in Williams's mind that she would not have hesitated to cap the krogan in the back. She had quickly maneuvered herself behind him to do just that. There was no way she would ever allow the bruiser to harm her commander. Her finger had been gently squeezing the trigger all it would take was a small touch of pressure and her assault rifle would have torn through Wrex's armor and shields.
Shepard had worked her magic on Wrex and made him see reason. She was charismatic and willful, and much more. She made him follow her orders without question. The Spectre's will become his unwavering obedience. Her voice, her strength dominated and others followed with no hesitation. Even now Wrex had pledge to stay at the skipper's side to face whatever may come without the guarantee of success.
Silently Ashley contemplated her future and found only the face of the Spectre - her skipper waiting for her. Rising from the table in the mess hall Williams strode without sound to the pneumatic door of the med-bay.
She waited a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting as Chakwas had rendered the illumination of the room to thirty present of normal. It was warmer in here for the patient's comfort without having to resort to heavier blankets that might chafe against healing wounds.
"Skipper?" Ashley asked softly but got no reply. Stepping closer she found that the skipper was sound asleep. Shepard seemed so different in sleep, awake she was a wave of activity. Shepard wouldn't know light in a black out, and was always on duty. But asleep she was a calm shadow. There was a strange softness to her features that made her look almost vulnerable. It was strange.
The first thing that popped into Williams head was a poem by Walt Whitman. Softy she began to recite the first few lines:
"O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring: "
"If I remember right the captain died in that poem." Shepard jibed. "I'm not dead yet."
"Damn, Skipper you gave me a heart attack! I thought you were asleep. I didn't want to awake you. Sorry if I did." Ashley stammered. She flashed an embarrassed grin and looked away feeling rather foolish for reciting poetry at her slumbering skipper.
"I was dozing. Combination of the warm room and pain killers, I guess."
"Skipper, are we off the books?"
"Yeah. Besides I don't know if I can even call myself Commander anymore. Lay it on me Ash what's on your mind?"
Williams took in a deep breath, "Okay...I I just had to make sure you're okay. What happened back there on the Citadel you got hurt because I didn't move fast enough "
"Hold it right there Chief! I got hurt because a big chuck of Sovereign's hull landed on me. Ash, you have such a great and terrible reverence for guilt. It is almost as great as your reverence for your faith. For once in your life will you try not to take on the sins of others on your shoulders? If I have to I'll make it a fucking order as your commander but I'd rather ask it of a friend. Let it go Ash. There is no fault here so why are you making it yours?" The Spectre placed a comforting hand on the marine's shoulder. "By the way if you didn't pay attention before: not dead yet. And that has a great deal to do with you: pulling my arse off the battlefield, getting me to a medic and not to mention your blood in me to keep me alive. If you ask me the Williams name is one of honor, duty and respect. You definitely have mine." Shepard smiled as she did the only thing that would have an impact on the guilt-ridden gunnery chief. She saluted her. That salute remained until Ashley shakily returned it.
"Ma'am." Tears collected in the corners of the dark brown eyes. As far as she was concerned there could have been no greater acknowledgement, no greater honor than to be given a salute by a superior officer. Not just any CO but one Ashley had always since Basic considered her hero. That perception of Shepard had only grown in the months of service next to this woman.
"So Whitman eh?"
The shy grin returned on the younger woman's face. "Next time I'll stick to Tennyson." The smile grew larger. "I'm not a 'word person,' Skipper. Other people say what I mean better than I do. We're mutineers. We stole the most advanced warship in the Alliance Fleet and sailed into the most hostile territory in the galaxy. I couldn't blame the Council for calling us reckless and aggressive.
"Death closes all; but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods." Williams stared hard at the prone woman before her. "Skipper there is a reason for everything that happened. You took leave on Elysium which put you at the right place at the right time, which lead you to the Normandy. It brought you to Eden Prime and to me. Skipper, I spent my whole life trying to get what I wanted. To get it done I had to bury a lot of things. During that whole time not even once did I feel I was worth what I was fighting for. You make me feel good enough." Ashley looked down at her hands not daring to look at the woman she had come to admire, who she 'wanted to be when she grew up'. Not the Spectre, or the Commander or the Hero of the Scalene Blitz but who Samantha Shepard truly was.
"Ash " the Spectre could not fathom the words spoken to her or the emotions that went with them. "You are one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. I meant what I said before. If I need an opinion from the heart I go to you. You keep me grounded, human. I love Liara - she is my soul mate and we will have a life together. But you, Ashley Williams are my closest friend.
"And you're one of the finest and honorable soldiers I have or will ever serve with. I give you an order and I know without question it is carried out. I never have to ask, double check to confirm my orders will have been carried out to the letter and to the spirit of them. I know it will be so. I put any sort of firearm from a pistol to a nuke in your hands and I know you will become more deadly than a krogan battlemaster. I know you will have me covered from facing off an arrogant son of a bitch ambassador to a thresher maw. I put innocents and civilians even 'Miss Prothean Expert' in your charge I know they are protected and will be until you breathe your last breath if needs be. I put a team, a squad, a platoon, hell my ship under your command and I trust that you will give your all for them. This is who you are Ash. This is who you are to me and to those who know you, truly know you. You are worth so much, one day you will believe that." Shepard grinned warmly but her eyes reflected strength and conviction that could not be denied.
Ashley's face began to redden from the praise and adulation this heroic figure had given her. It was overwhelming so much so it caused a short circuit of emotional over stimulation in the younger woman. She did what she had always done whenever Shepard paid her a true a deep complement. "I also play a mean game of pool. Once you're up to it Skipper, I'll challenge you."
"You're on. I play poker far better than pool. I'll catch on soon enough. It's like riding a bike right? Once you learn you never forget."
"Um yeah not so much, Skipper." Ash grinned. "What you don't play pool?"
"Haven't since Basic." Shepard shrugged wincing as she did so. The pain from a healed dislocated shoulder is easy enough to forget compared to the other healing bits of her anatomy. The gesture made her recall she had other injures on top of other injuries "Like I said, I'm good at poker and even chucking darts. How hard can whacking colored balls on a velvet table into pockets with a pointy stick be?"
The grin on Ashley's face broadened.
"That looks good on you." Shepard tilted her head.
"Skipper?" Ash's face contorted into an expression of confusion.
"Happiness. A smile even if it is mischievous thinking you're going to kick my ass at pool." Shepard winked. "Seriously Ash you don't always have to fight or to prove yourself. Certainly not to me. And you don't have to prove yourself to anyone else aboard the Normandy or to Captain Anderson. It's time to stop fighting yourself. Trust those that know you, have bled with you, fought and grieved and celebrated with you. We know how worthy you truly are."
Ash swallowed hard, the mutinous tears once more threatened to spill from dark chocolate eyes. "Yes ma'am."
Shepard nodded. "I hate to admit it, but I think I'm about taxed out of my reserves for now. I think I'll get some rest the pain killers are kicking in their second round."
"I'll get Liara."
The Spectre's lips curled into a smile. "You know everyone else offered to get Dr. Chakwas. You're the only one who offered to get Liara for me."
"Skipper, they're not marines, they don't get it. Calling for the doc right now isn't want you need. You need your girl." Ashley smirked knowingly.
"The whole kiss and make it better?"
The younger woman shrugged. "Couldn't hurt." She looked back over her shoulder to the door leading to the labs. "At first I didn't know what to make of you and her being hooked up. It ain't the lesbian thing at all, hell that's perfectly natural. Lynn is one." The chief chuckled nervously. "I am sure as hell glad you didn't walk by when I was reading her email. Bad enough you heard Abby talk about Kaiden. I think I would have asked the floor to open up and swallow me whole if you heard what Lynn said about you."
"Now that would have been worth seeing. It was funny seeing you stammer about Alenko when I asked if you we're interested. When you said he was sweet on someone else I thought you were trying to dodge the inquiry or I'd go ape-shit over it if you were. He said he was into adventurous women so I naturally thought of you."
"Me? Phft. Skipper you had to have known he was talking about you!"
"Not at first no. He said something about cutting corners and I was trying to figure out what the hell he meant. I assumed it was because of the new members of our crew. Or I didn't put a security detail on Liara when she first joined us. I thought maybe he believed I'd take advantage of being a Spectre and trash military regs. That kinda pissed me off to tell the truth. Everyone with the exception of you, Captain Anderson and later Liara assumed because I could break the rules I would, or that I had forgotten my loyalty to the Alliance because now I serve the Council. Later I realized he was referring to a personal relationship, though he had an odd way to bring it up."
"He really had a thing for you."
"I know and I didn't mean for him to get hurt. I didn't even know he was reading something more into our friendship. I didn't treat him any different than I treated you when we were having a bull session. He thought we had something and I couldn't be the person he wanted me to be." Shepard's voice became distant. "I just thought he already knew I prefer other women. I more or less outed myself when we all on the Upper Wards proper.
"What's not to like we have oceans, beautiful women and this emotion called love " Ashley quoted with a grin. "I think it went over his head, Skipper. Of course you ignored his comment about what's not to like about you " there was smile on the younger woman's face.
"It was a slip of the tongue and there wasn't a reason to crack the whip about something like that. Though I should have in hindsight, might have detoured his thinking we were more than friends." Samantha smiled. "And no I never intentionally flirted with you Ash. You're too close to my personality even if you were sly we'd rub each other the wrong way soon enough. Though I'll admit you did peak my interests a little even if you are hetero. You're one hell of a soldier, tough, strong and a sharp snarky sense of humor and you enjoy mushy stuff in secret as well. Same as me, how else do you think I knew all those poems and who wrote them? And you're gorgeous but I tend to go for the bookish sorts." Shepard shrugged slightly. "I find science geeks endearing."
Ashley laughed at that. "Don't forget the innocent looking doe eyes." She blinked her eyes several times to mimic T'soni's expression when some human expression went over her asari head.
"You can lose yourself in those eyes." Shepard admitted more to herself than to Ashley.
"Skipper, I'm really happy for you and Liara. Somehow you two are perfectly matched. She got on my nerves at first because she was always so serene and graceful. She's so alien but her face is so human and beautiful. She made me feel like a stocky mongrel thick-headed leatherneck compared to her poise and grace. I know she didn't mean to, I guess it's a natural asari thing. Shit she even made the Thorian slime look good when she was coated in it."
The marines shared a laugh at the memory of the three of them stumbling out of the hidden chambers coated in foul smelling pus, goo and grime from their battle with the Thorian and its thralls. "Guess I'm really trying to say, I'm glad you have her Skipper. Besides she needs someone like you to pull her out of Prothean bubbles."
Shepard's face beamed in a large grin. "One hell of a way to meet the love of your life." She snickered. "I couldn't help but laugh and feel sorry for her all at the same time. If the circumstances hadn't been so dire I think it would have been hilarious."
"That's scientists for you, exploring things and pushing buttons better left alone. Hell if we didn't come along when she we did she might have a lot worse off, then a bit of dehydration and sleep deprivation."
Shepard thought of her beloved Prothean expert trapped in a force-bubble behind an energy barrier. For all her experience Liara had stumbled and touched something she ought not have done and trapped herself even as she protected herself. It would only be humorous if the place wasn't crawling with geth, a krogan merc and the distinct possibility that behind suspended in a bubble would disintegrate her health. No water, no food and inability to sleep would have taxed the asari placing her in very grave danger. The soft vulnerable voice calling out for help so desperate so trusting so tired pulled Shepard to her.
"Okay maybe not so hilarious after all. Well if I was right there to get her out of it immediately it would have been."
"You've got it bad for her don't you, Skipper?"
"Oh yes." Shepard didn't try to hide the affection she held for her asari.
"The lower deck had a pool going as to which one you'd choose and when. We all knew um LT was as I said sweet on you, and Liara definitely was interested in you more than as a source of Prothean data. A few even betted on a three-way."
"How much did you win?" Shepard gave a knowing smile.
"After your comment about men needing a cold shower that lasted from age twelve to twenty-five I won about three hundred credits."
"That's insider trading you know." She waggled her finger in the chief's direction.
"Not going to be 'problematic' is it Skipper?"
Again a knowing smile. "I have no idea what you're talking about, especially if you smuggle in a pint or two of 'grease monkey grog'."
Ashley grinned conspiratorially. "Consider it done, Skipper." Ash made a move to leave so her commander could rest. "Skipper? About you and Liara, I'll make sure the grunts of the lower decks keep mum about it. I know Lt. Pressly will have the upper deck officers. We're the crew of the Normandy, ain't nobody gonna tear us apart Skipper. We've all seen way too much, been through a lot. We were tested by fire and galvanized, we'll stand together over the big things and the little ones."
Shepard was flummoxed, agog and completely astounded she had such unwavering sway over her crew. She sat a little straighter, a little prouder in the bed. Saluting the gunnery chief she smiled and said two words. "Dismissed Chief."
Williams returned the salute, "Ma'am."
Shepard seemed to mull something over in her mind before called out to stop Williams from leaving med-bay. "Chief? Wait there is something else, something I should do. I owe something to someone one and you and Liara are the only two I know who can show me how. How to do it right."
Williams never had seen Shepard this hesitant before. It was unnerving. "Skipper?" She stood close to the bed. "How can I help you?"
"Teach me to pray."
Ashley grinned softly. "It would be my honor, Skipper."
"The Skipper's fine, a bit tired but she needs you." Ashley said softy walking up to Liara. The asari had waited patiently for the chief to have her time with her skipper. Ashley had no knowledge of the deep bond linking the two and Liara already knew the skipper was simply tired.
"Thank you Chief Will "
"Don't you think you can call me Ashley now? Or even Ash? You're not military you don't have to use my rank. You call the Skipper by name when not on duty and in front of others well save for me."
The azure asari smiled warmly as she received the gift of the usage of the human's name graciously. "Ashley, thank you." Liara rose eloquently to her feet. "Not simply for the allowance of your given name but for your genuine friendship and acceptance of me. I know you distrust nonhumans "
Ash held up her hand. "Wait okay? I'm not some Terra Firma bigot. It's a little personal you have the right to know. My grandfather was in charge of the Shanxi garrison. He was the only human to ever surrender to aliens."
"That is only logical since he was the first military officer to have been confronted with first contact with non-humans."
"Um yeah but " Ash frowned. "Alliance military didn't see it that way, they saw failure and since then The Williams name is one of suspicion in the military. Despite that I joined up. I've blamed aliens, mostly turians what happened. When the Council continuously ignored and turned their backs on the Skipper the more pissed off I got at the Council races."
"Yeah." Ashley looked down at the floor. "But you've always been there for us, more importantly for the Skipper. I should have said this way before but I'd like to call you my friend."
Liara's face light with beaming smile. "I would honor such an offering, Ashley. I wholeheartedly accept."
"Well that wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be!"
Both women laughed softly in the shared moment.
"You better go in, you know the skipper. She doesn't do waiting well."
"Oh I don't know. She has always been very patient with me."
"You really want to test that patience when she's laid up in med-bay?"
"Ah, I see your wisdom. No I do not. I do not relish the idea her 'grumpiness' directed towards me. Besides that I promised to fetch a meal for her, as she is no doubt famished."
Ashley watched as the asari gracefully took a tray of hot soup from the synthesizer and headed back into med-bay. She turned away heading around the bulkhead for the lift when she stopped dead in her tracks. Coming down the stairs leading to the upper deck was an officer in full dress uniform. Ashley was astounded into dumbfounded amazement yet was quick enough to give a salute and remain at full attention until the unknown officer passed by. A shiver ran through her as she saw the shade of the future stride by in a too familiar gait.
'Oh my god!'
Samantha displayed a full mega wattage smile when she saw her lover walk through the door. "I think I need a kiss more than that soup." She purred.
Liara gave her own coy smile as she set the tray down on a counter behind her. "Kiss and make it better?" she jibed.
"Absolutely, exactly what the doctor ordered.
"Indeed." Liara teased. "I wasn't aware you held a doctorate, my beloved Spectre."
"No but you do. So go ahead and order it."
"I shall do more than order, my love." Liara was at her lover sides in two quick steps her mouth descending upon Samantha's ravenously.
The door swooshed open admitting a shadowed figure that neither Spectre nor Prothean expert took any notice of. The kiss consumed all thought, all consciousness and desires.
"So this is how medicine is practiced on the Normandy. We do things a bit differently on my ship."
The kiss ended abruptly as the figure stepped from the light. Two sets of blue eyes both darkened by desire registered the presence of the interloper.
Samantha Shepard: first human Spectre could only stare in paralyzing open mouthed awe.
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