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 24
The Rise of Musings and Needs of Time

The impact on the side of the derelict ship created an ear-splitting roar. The milky-jade beings of light clung to the metal structure and began to feast like famine plagued locusts. A shimmering wave if them soon engulfing the hull and still more covering remotely jettisoned escape pods like a dripping silver coat of paint. There was nothing left of the volas's derelict cruiser, only empty space where it once had orbited Klencory. The beings of light flashed as a dying firefly's last gasp. The swarm moved for the Victory's stern hanger deck, harmlessly passing the barriers.

The recording changed from the exterior of the Spectre's ship to the interior of the hanger deck. Swiftly the swarm entered a hive Device held in the palm of the Spectre herself. From there the screen within the Councilors' private chambers went black.

"It is impressive to say the least. She has exceeded all expectations," Trace the Councilor for the turian Hierarchy said not bothering to disguise his astonishment. The display he had witnessed replaying itself in the theater of his minds eye.

The Council had recently received the newest mission reports from Agent Shepard. Not only had she made contact with a very eccentric- high functioning autistic volus billionaire, she got him to surrender that precious artifact of his. Further more and far more importantly Shepard made first contact with a species long thought dead.

David Anderson was grinning like a proud papa. "You should never underestimate her." His voice was filled as much pride as was visible in his expression. "She made first contact with another race. And might I add without bloodshed."

"Not entirely. Shol lost men. Apparently Shepard's krogan was activating a ROSE and threw a rover three kilometers killing all within." Jorg the salarian representative said almost lambently. "Mr. Shol lodged a formal complaint with the volus ambassador."

"As is often with those who oppose the actions of any other Spectre in the line of duty." Lei'cree commented defending the newest member to the Spectres. "In the Agent Shepard's reports even those of Mr. Shol admitted he had ample warnings and notifications of what was required and necessary. He ignored those warnings. When events did not play out to his satisfaction he attempted to interfere. When he did so he was stopped, by force. I do not fault our Spectre. Look to the achievements. First contact, with a people thought long gone. And they agreed to ally themselves with our cause to stop the Reapers. That is a celebration! Shepard fights many battles - should our preconceptions of humanity be one of them?"

Jorg shifted in his seat uncomfortably, as did Trace. Anderson only smiled. Finally due to Shepard, humanity was gaining some true credibility in the Council. Oh yes because of her, her orders, the sacrifice of many human lives over the Citadel humanity gained a seat upon the Council but it was virtually a silent one. Now more and more due to this one woman's actions humanity was gaining a louder voice. Soon humanity would be more than just a whisper in galactic events.

"Then allow the events to play out as they need to be. If organics are to survive this terrible prospect of the Reapers domination, then we must trust our Spectres. All of them." Lei'cree said. Her nine-hundred and eighty seven year old voice gave a clear position on her view point and her stance. She was the longest living member of the Council as she had served it for five centuries already. Those who had ears to hear listened to her words.

"Regardless of Captain Shepard's remarkable accomplishments, I think it is prudent that we speak with this Weareth'Bol ourselves." Anderson offered knowing he had to make a stand for humanity in the Council.

"Of that we can agree." Jorg commented.

"Indeed. Shepard must bring the hive Devices here, so we can speak directly with the beings of light." Trace said. Something in his voice almost hinted at the fact that he dared Anderson to protest.

"Isn't that up to Weareth'Bol's people?" Anderson asked. "Or are we in the business of telling new contacts what they need or need not do?"

"In a manner of speaking, we are, if only to maintain galactic peace. If it had not been for the Council's intervention the First Contact War would have gone on far longer than it had. " Lei'cree answered. "Weareth'Bol's people agreed to answer to their calling because of Shepard. None can tell if they are amenable to anything else, that is a risky development. We must further our understanding of them, to do that we must meet with them. Tread with care my fellows. The Dawn is breaking. "

You didn't have to be asari to know what that meant.

Liara held one of the hive Devices in her hands and marveled at it. Within were millions of lifeforms. A race of people long thought extinct. Her eyes drifted to her wife and the marvel grew exponentially.

"It is astounding what you have accomplished, my love: first contact, alliances and the recovery of lost knowledge. How did you convince them so swiftly? It could not have been easy to marshal an entire people."

Shepard's own gaze fell upon the pyramid held so tenderly in the blue hand. She freed the hive Device and placed back with the others in the storage crate. The beings of light were well content to stay safe in their hives until the glowing Spectre called for them to act. They needed only the occasional pulse of dark energy. The Devices as Nual surmised had adapted to the beings of light: inside the Devices were identical replicas of the ice caverns, complete with crystal arches and spires. A home away from home.

"I had to show them the visions from the beacons."

Liara took a step closer to her wife and stroked the lightly-caramel skin. "You fell into nightmare the other night. Because of the blocks I could not reach you." Liara felt grief in the thought of her wife lingering in that nightmare realm of memories not her own. "It was difficult for Ashley to wake you." She pressed her forehead to Samantha's. "Now I know why it took you so deeply. I am grateful that our friend was there to pull you out."

"It was the only way." The Spectre said softly. "Showing them the visions was a simple matter of linking to their avatar as I had when my mind first entered the Device.

Simply showing the beings of light the captured footage from both the attack on Eden Prime and the Citadel would not be enough to convince the beings to go to war. From all across Klencory the queens had linked to the avatars in their individual Devices. Secure in the field lab Samantha Shepard and Weareth'Bol entered the Device one by meditation the other physically.

She didn't waste time speaking instead the Spectre brought forward into her mind the images burned there by the beacons. The tearing of bodies, tortured into becoming husks, indoctrination, whole worlds burned the massacres of countless innocents.

"The Machine Devils will come." the Spectre said. "You have heard. You have seen what one can do from the footage, from the beacons what they all can do. From the dawn of time it was your karma, your destiny to destroy them. The organics of this galaxy need you. Will you answer that calling?"

"We will answer that call." It was the hum of millions of insect wings all beating at the same time. "The hive you named Weareth'Bol will guide you to the other hives. Collect them. The dim one has found the crypts; you need only to bring the hives together."

In the silence and semi privacy of the physician's quarters two matrons had shared a meal together.

"Thirty-seven, hive Devices." Shiala breathed. Her words in her peoples tongue. "I am beginning to believe we have a chance against the Reapers."

"The Reapers are the greatest threat, but I do not believe it is the current one." Aleena said setting a cup of green ginseng tea in front of the amethyst skinned asari. "There are two hidden dangers that lurk in the shadows: complacency and hubris. With such a great success it is an easy trap to fall prey to. And we have many such successes." Aleena took a sip of her own tea.

Since Ilos, the bounty hunter-cum-doctor and huntress-former disciple of Matriarch Benezia had grown in a unique friendship. Both had once followed a darker path, one sent to hunt down and slay an innocent, one tormented-tortured and scarred by indoctrination, both diminished because of it. Both changed their course because of one woman. Both uplifted because of this same woman. Both swore an oath before the Goddess to protect this woman and those closest to her heart. Sometimes protection extended beyond the physical.

"Liara will not allow her to slip."

Aleena's pencil thin eyebrow arched. "That is a great burden for one so very young and with deep worries of her pregnancy already upon her shoulders. As mentor, Shepard will heed your council, will she not?"

Shiala nodded. "She is not deaf to wisdom. Our Spectre is stubborn, determined and very willful yes but not ignorant nor is she vain. Goddess willing this fear is only froth in the life's wake." Aleena's mind drifted to her short tour on Sovereign, giving into to and believing Matriarch Benezia's mission to turn the course of Saren. The matron inwardly flinched as Saren's words dripped as honey into her ears, making her bend to his will until she had none of her own. That could not happen here. By the Goddess it could not.

"Will it be so." The bounty hunter said. "I have noticed the young Lieutenant Williams has influence with the Spectre. As her Trusted we can also turn to Shepard to ensure she does not fall prey these shadows." Her emerald skin touched the other asari's cheek tenderly. "It is other shadows that haunt you, however."

"I fear they shall until my last breath, my friend. Even dead Sovereign and Saren lash my heart. My mind is forever haunted by the thorian's touch. There are times when I feel I am never free."

Aleena wrapped her arms around the Shiala. "When fear takes you, know you need not bear it alone." She pressed her forehead softly against she who would become her lover. "I am here; let us share this burden together so the weight may be lighter. Join with me Shiala. Let your mind and heart know peace and affection, if only for a short breath of time."

Shiala leaned into the other's arms her green eyes becoming darker "I want to know your touch." She whispered, her eyes now solid black. "Let the phantoms pass from me, if only for a time."

Green and purple lips met kissed and explored.

"Give me the phantoms of your mind, meleth." Aleena huskily uttered her fingers softly trailing lines along Shiala's crest, down along the gentle folds in her neck.

"Meleth?" Shiala whispered the word experimentally, almost as if she had imagined Aleena uttering it. Meleth the asari word for love - it had been a long time since the disciple of Benezia had heard that word, let alone as an affectionate name.

"If you desire it."

'I do.' Shiala sent the words into Aleena's mind as their thoughts became one.

Ash stowed the last of her gear into her storage unit. She had lost herself in its cleaning and the maintenance of her guns. It was sort of a Zen-thing for her. By the God, it was wonderful to move freely about in BDUs, to feel the warmth and comfort of home. She was glad to see the back of Klencory in their stern.

The skipper was once more safe on the Victory. This alone allowed the young woman to find peace of mind. Watching her speaking with Liara, the small show of affection brought a smile to the lieutenant's lips. Even if she privately desired that touch she knew her skipper would find more than safety in Liara's touch she would find a calm center, and rejuvenation.

Five days on that God forsaken planet and Shepard spent most of it in that blasted linking Device.

It was draining her. Body and soul. It was draining her. Ash would be damned if she would allow such a thing to continue unchecked.

Once more Ash was there canteen in hand. "Sam." She whispered the skipper's name almost as if she were uttering a holy word. "You can't keep doing this. You get locked in that fracking things for hours and you don't realize it. The more energy you put into it the more it feeds on you. You have to stop."

"I'm fine." Shepard said willing away the wash of dizziness from her mind and nausea from her gut.

"With all due respect Ma'am, that's bullshit. You're not fine. You are far from 'I'm fine.' Sam, please listen to me. That thing is zapping everything from you." Ash moved towards their gear, rummaged through one of the first aid kits and recovered a signalling mirror and brought it before her skipper. She didn't surrender it however but forced the Spectre to look into it.

In the reflective surface, Samantha saw dark rings under her eyes set in a gaunt face. The healthy glow to her caramel skin had become sallow. All the food she had eaten to reenergize her biotics was burning up too swiftly for her body to take any proper nutrients from it. There was an odd cyan tint to the sclera of her eyes. It was known to happen to non-asari biotics from time to time when they were expending far too much power too quickly. It was dubbed glow-eyes but known medically as cyan-syndrome. If not properly rested the glow eyes would ever remain. The syndrome was more prominent in the L2s but was it was known to happen to the L3s on occasion.

"Do you see?" Ash said dropping the mirror into her skipper's hand. "If not for your own, then for Liara's sake, for Sparrow's, Skipper back down and stop. You need proper rest, proper meditations. We've found thirteen of those hive Devices. Take the day and rest." The younger woman schooled her face into a mask of command, an expression she learned from her beloved skipper. "I'm sorry but if you don't, I will do a hard pull and send you back to the Victory as medically unfit." Pleading was in dark brown eyes. "I beg you don't make me do that. Don't mistake me Skipper, as your Trusted and the ship's XO I will do exactly that! Besides it's self preservation. You go back to the Victory like that and Liara will have my hide. I have no intention of finding out just how far she can fling me with her biotitics."

Shepard's hand fell on William's shoulder before she rested her forehead against the other woman's in the asari fashion of friendship and trust. "We wouldn't want that." Shepard's strained face warmed a little in a soft smile. "You are an excellent officer, and even a better friend. We will take a day and recoup. Give the order."

Williams grinned. "Aye, aye Ma'am."

The orders were given, patrols set with the ROSEs walking the picket. Following SOP the six advanced assault drones had been activated, and deployed to facilitate the patrol's effectiveness. Two more sentry drones patrolled the inner lobby of the field lab. Gear was rolled out; people started to hunker down and allowed themselves to relax. Nual went into a meditation. Tali fidgeted with the lab's gear, improving the efficiency of the ROSEs. The mako had been hooked up to the generator leaving them independent from Shol's power grid. The volus had rebelliously cut off the power to the field laboratories. But each lab had an autonomous generator that could be powered by the mako. Garrus took first watch leaving Wrex to the crews' weapon maintenance.

It was late, most of the crew asleep. Ash had made a final bed check before she bunkered down. She gave a glance to the skipper and frowned. She was twitching in her sleep, a whimper escaped her lips.

Ash crawled to the older woman's side. "Skipper?"

Shepard said something but it wasn't in Basic or Asarian. Only once had Williams heard those exact words. It was the warning crying out from the security station on Ilos.

"Skipper, wake up you're having a nightmare." Ash tried shaking the Spectre but the nightmare had its talons deep into her and would not let go. 'God, how does Liara get you out of this?'

Shepard continued to mutter out the cries and warnings of the dying Prothean people. Her body folded in on itself into a fetal position. Her breathing was becoming rapid, she was hyper ventilating.

"Skipper, I can't link my mind to yours." Ash whispered, once more trying to jostle the woman awake. It wasn't working. For a moment Williams toyed with waking Nual to get her to link with the Skipper but she tossed that idea as soon as it entered her mind. The Spectre need not be seen so vulnerable.

"Contact. You need contact." Stripping off her BDU blouse and black tee-shirt she moved towards her skipper took the other woman's limp hand and placed it against her breast, so that she could feel Ash's beating heart. Touching the Skipper's hand at the wrist Ash could feel the pulse; it was thready - too rapid.

"Sam, feel my heart. Let it lead you back from that dark place. Come on, Sam make your heart beat with mine. Come on wake up. Come on …come on … pull yourself out of there. You just have to follow the beating of my heart. Okay?" Ash leaned her forehead against her skipper's. "Sam. It's okay. That isn't your people dying, it isn't your time. That is long past. We won't let that happen again. You have to come back now. You have no place in that darkness. Those aren't your memories, so you have to give them back."

Shepard gasped, her body shocked back into the world of the waking. It took her a moment to realize she was being cradled by Ash, another to realize where her hand was. She quickly snatched it back, her face becoming bright red.

"I…I…am sorry."

"Don't be. I …ah …I used my heartbeat to bring you back. I …can't link with you. Not like Liara. And I couldn't leave you there." Ash looked down not meeting Shepard's eyes as she reached for her tee-shirt.

Shepard's hand reached under her chin and lifted the younger woman's head. "I owe you. You are my Trusted Ash, thank you for what you did for me." Blue eyes stared into brown. "You're always watching my six, Ash."

"That's my job, Skipper."

"Tonight was above and beyond."

Ash was silent for moment, "Truth be told, Sam it scared the hell out of me. Your heart was racing, you were hyperventilating. I thought you're going to go into de-fib. Is it always like that?"

"Every damn time."


"Yeah." Shepard rubbed her face with her hands, taking a deep settling breath. "Anything in that canteen?" Shepard pointed with her chin at the canteen lying on its side by their gear.

"Sorry Skipper. It's bone dry. I'll see what we have in the reserves Victory dropped for us yesterday."

"Hell with protean drinks and water, I could really use a swig of grease monkey grog about now."

"Can't help there Skipper." Ash commented from where the gear was as she fished out a fresh canteen, and tossed it to the Spectre. "That'll have to wait until we get back to the Victory. Me and Adams made a good batch last week, should be nice and fermented by now."

Shepard smirked. "As long there ships and sailors there will be contraband grog."

"Maritime tradition." Ash shot back.

Shepard took a swig from the canteen as she offered the BDU blouse in exchange. "You'll catch your death."

Ash blushed - a little, it wasn't from shame.

Shepard moved once more to her XO's side, asari like she pressed her forehead to other as she had before. "For what you've done for me, I know I said it before, but Ash…"

"I couldn't leave you there, Sam." Ash ducked her head her voice so low that could scarcely be considered a whisper as it was more of a barely audible sigh. "You're more to me than just my skipper."

Just as quietly, Sam answered. "I know." Her hand touched Ash's cheek tenderly. "I know."

Alone in their quarters, Liara gazed at her wife and made a sound of disapproval. "How long?"

"How long what?" Samantha asked mystified.

"Between meditations, sleep and going into that linking Device? Your eyes tell me everything. You are on the verge of cyan syndrome."

"A while. I had to get the mission done."

"At the cost of your health?" Liara folded her arms over her chest frowning. "That is something this crew can not afford."

"I saw a bit of reason. I took a day for a proper rest and meditations."

"Because of Ashley."

Samantha nodded. "You and the baby?" the Spectre moved for her wife, touching the tiny swell in the asari's belly. "Frack me, the blocks they didn't hold?"

"They held, but fragments got through. Shiala helped strength them. Doctors Chakwas and S'thasa assure me we are both fine. And we should be both grateful for Ashley's watching over her skipper."

The dark head nodded as she took a seat on the bunk. "Her skipper…"

Liara knelt beside her wife taking the human's hands into her own. "She is deeply in love with you."

The Spectre nodded.

And Liara smiled warmly. "As you are with her."

"Liara …"

Blue fingers touched red lips. "I know. There is no betrayal in your heart or mind. Treachery lingers not in your soul. There is only a deep love."

Samantha said nothing.

Liara kissed Samantha deeply, the kiss was eagerly returned. Ever so gently Liara pushed her beloved back onto the bed, then crawled up so she was straddling her.

"Betrayal will be on her mind however. The guilt of it will motivate Ashley to react rather than respond. When we hit the Citadel she will ask for a transfer because she can not bear the thought of a betrayal to her beloved skipper and her friend. We can not allow this to happen. We need her. You, I and Sparrow… this family needs her. She is family."

Blue eyes went wide as the Spectre stared into the azure orbs of her wife. "Are you suggesting what I think you are?"

Liara pressed her forehead to Samantha's and closed her eyes, a tickle of a smile upon the corners of her lips. "En Aenil anno meren an meleth bal hu h aglareb ant na adaneth. Hin an manadh hael h gwaedh na en emel, nauth, h faer, no tovon mil. Neled melethril ertho hervo. Sui Hen no dabo sui neled sui adaneth. En gweadh sui neled uireb." Liara uttered softly. Her mind linking with that of her wife's so she would know the truth of it.

In that meld, Samantha translated the words, and they echoed in her soul. The Goddess gives joyous love with her divine voice a glorious gift to maidens of three houses. They are fated to make a bond to the heart, mind and soul with deep affection. Three lovers united. Three joined. As She is three so shall it be with the maidens of three houses. The oath of the trinity is eternal.

"Liara …"

"Our love is unbreakable, and eternal. The love you and Ashley share is just as pure. The Goddess has united our three hearts beloved. Ashley and I may not love as deeply as we do or you to her, and she to you but there is a great and deep affection in our spirits for each other. The Goddess has seen this is so and so granted us the rare gift---the bond of three houses.

Samantha shifted up so Liara was now sitting on her lap, her hands upon the asari's hips.

"I feel no jealousy for Ashley, only sadness for she will only able to touch the edge of what we have. She will never share the fullness of our bond." Liara's hands stroked her wife's cheeks as she leaned in kissing her beloved deeply. "I fear she will only agree to this out of loyalty."

"I don't want the trinity out of loyalty." Samantha said. "If we make this happen, then it must be for the right reasons. I can't offer it; you must show her, Babe. Our bond allows us to know instantly our emotions, our true thoughts one for the other, she won't have that. The only way she can is if you link with her. Let her feel it. Let her know the truth of it."

Liara flicked her tongue out, licking Samantha's lower lip before she pulled it between her teeth and gently bit causing the human to moan in pleasure. Liara shifted off her wife's lap, her fingers softly trailing a line along the strong jaw as she crawled off the bed completely.

"I shall do so."

"What? Now!" it was almost a squeal.

Liara smiled impishly. "Yes now, when our emotions and wants are running the deepest and strongest. She must taste it now."

Samantha fell back onto the mattress. "Bugger it."

Liara blushed. "You can always self-medicate."

Shepard gave her a look. "Tease." There was a smile. "Go to Ash, my love. Show her."

Ashley Williams, self-admittedly was not a word person, clung to words other people wrote to convey the meaning of her thoughts and emotions of her heart. The words came to her were the words of a Greek poetess. Believing she was alone in the comm-room as she stared out the porthole uttered softly those words.

"Unto one whom the Muse of Love hath betrayed!

Ah me, I know not what to do

Who am wildered all, in a strait betwixt two!

I cry from a homeless heart storm-tossed

As a child for her mother, a young child lost.

Yet not after all-unattainable things

Do I strain, nor I hope on passion's wings

To soar to the heavens' empyreal blue.

But oh, I yearn, how I yearn to slake

My thirst where Love's feet brush the dew!"

"Sappho, if I'm not mistaken." Liara said. "One of Samantha's favored authors."

"Frack me! You sure as hell know how to give a girl a heart-attack, Miss Prothean Expert."

"I apologize. I didn't mean to give you a start, Ashley."

The young offered a half-hearted smile before sinking down the chair closest to her. Out of coincidence it just so happened she was sitting in the captain's chair. She let out a breath, heavy and laden with guilt.

"Once we dock at the Citadel it will be my call to port."

"That would mark you AWOL. A court martiable offence. I highly doubt the captain will relieve her XO of service."

"I can't stay here." Hands laid in lap, eyes cast to the floor.

"She needs you."

"You have to know what I feel for her; why else would you be here? You don't have to worry, Sam will never ever stray. Even if she were tempted, she won't. Her love for you, I've never seen the like." Ashley buried her face in her hands. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to happen."

Liara took those hands into her own before she spoke. But it wasn't her own words she uttered:

"For she who the strength of the mighty can break,

She whose bitter sweetness no tongue may tell,

The dragon whose onslaught none may quell,

Love — mine whole being doth Love's breath shake.

"Ah, sleep I cannot: soft-cushioned bed

Wooes never my wearied frame to sleep;

No pillow brings rest to my throbbing head.

From my couch, as one in a nightmare, I leap.

Ever Eros is tossing to and fro

My spirit, as when great storm-winds blow

O'er a tempest-tormented mountain-steep,

And down on its groaning oak-woods sweep;

So groaneth my spirit, love-scourged so.

"Is it not how the poem ends? I do not mock you my friend. Do you think I came here to challenge you? Or warn you from Samantha? No. That is not my cause for this visit. 'Love — mine whole being doth Love's breath shake'." Liara caressed Ashley's cheek. "The rest of this conversation is best served in privacy and not in the comm-room." With that Liara stood, turned and walked out.

Lieutenant Ashley Madeline Williams Executive Officer of the CSV Victory had no recourse but to follow.

Liara all but escorted Ash to the lieutenant's quarters. She waited patiently as Williams keyed in the access code that opened the door to her private room and gestured for the asari scientist to enter. "Lights." She said commanding the automated system. "Can I get you anything?"

"Tea, perhaps."

Ash went to the synthesizer and ordered green tea with ginseng knowing Liara favored it. "Food? Isn't it the asari way that having a little meal helps strained moments?"

Liara smiled then shook her head. She stepped up to Ashley placing her hand upon the other woman's. "This need not become complicated. The poem you recited, speaks of unrequited love, a love unattainable. That does not have to be. Such love is yours, you need only claim it."

"What are you telling me?" Ash moved past Liara frowning. "Are you saying it doesn't bother you someone wanting your wife? That you don't care someone has dreams they aught not have."

"No I did not say that. You are not just someone. You are Samantha's Trusted, and more than that. That love is not out of your grasp."

Ash stared hard at the asari before her. "What are you selling me? You know I must have been absent that day in Sunday school when they said adultery was okay."

Liara set her tea cup on the tiny table near the center of the room. "I have never attended Sunday school."

Ashley rolled her eyes. "Don't play semantics with me, you know what I mean."

"Yes I do. You also know what I am offering. You will not become the mistress, the 'bit on the side'. You are not to play the concubine. You will be a full partner in our marriage. Ashley the love you have for her is returned to you. She loves you. Embrace it."

"This is insane. Liara, this is the Alliance Military, not asari. You don't do The Deed with your fellow troops, especially if you're under them in rank. Of for that matter if you're above 'em too. There's all sorts of problems that can happen when two people in the same unit get together. Think of Virmire. The Skipper said she chose me because she told me I was the better soldier. To let everyone else escape, she had to make a choice. Kadian got left behind for the mission. That still sits on me no matter what she says. Do you think if she had to make that kind of choice again she will chose someone she's sleeping with? If she ever has to make that choice again it can't be muddled up by magic-sparkly-hearts-and-stars feelings. Yeah okay she makes me feel very tingly but …but… she …"

"If you don't do The Deed with someone in your unit then why did she not only do so with me but marry me?"

"You're not military. You're like under a civilian contract."

"Technically Samantha is no longer Alliance Military. She is a Spectre"

"Yeah well…"

"Ashley, before you spoke of faith. It is a matter of faith. You know I am as observant in my faith as you are in yours. So you know when I tell you it is a matter of faith, it is. I am proposing you maintain an open mind and listen. I wish to join my mind with yours so that you comprehend, without any misunderstandings, pressure or what you may think is service out of loyalty."

"Mind melding?" Ash frowned. "Yeah…I guess…okay. It won't hurt will it?"

Liara shook her head. "No."

"Sometimes, the skipper looks a little green around the gills when she pulls out of a meld." Williams winced a bit as she realized she was talking to someone whose people did have green flesh as well as purple and blue and whose prehistoric ancestors actually had gills. "I mean…"

"I understand the colloquialism." Liara smiled. "I have learned much of human jokes and phrases through the many melds I have shared with Samantha. I am not as naive about such matters as I was when we first met."

Ash smiled shyly. "When you first came on board I said something to the skipper and she said you wouldn't understand teasing."

"At the time I wouldn't have." Liara blushed slightly. "Even asari humor is often times lost on me. The Sciences, Prothean archeology, I understand. My faith I understand. I have never been very good with people regardless of species. I always seem to make a fool of myself." She smiled slightly. "It is not seeming for a matriarch's daughter to be so very socially awkward. I know this conversation is awkward in of itself. What is fated for the three of us, I understand. Now I wish for you to understand, my dear friend. Only truth can be given in a mind meld."

Ashley nodded, "Okay I'm ready. Just tell me what to do."

Lithely Liara stepped up to the young human, tenderly stroking her cheek. "Try to relax Ashley. Slow deep breaths. Let go of your physical shell. Reach out to grasp the threads that bind us one to another. Every action sends ripples across the galaxy. Every idea must touch another mind to live. Each emotion must mark another's spirit. We are all connected, every living being united in a single glorious existence. Open yourself to the universe. Embrace eternity."

Blue eyes went solid black. Brown eyes became dilated and darker. Ash's mind swam with images, emotions. Running in her was the fullness of the truth behind the trinity. The words Asarian and Basic:

'En Aenil anno meren an meleth bal hu h aglareb ant na adaneth. Hin an manadh hael h gwaedh na en emel, nauth, h faer, no tovon mil. Neled melethril ertho hervo. Sui Hen no dabo sui neled sui adaneth. En gweadh sui neled uireb.

'The Goddess gives joyous love with Her divine voice a glorious gift to maidens of three houses. They are fated to make a bond to the heart, mind and soul with deep affection. Three lovers united. Three joined. As She is three so shall it be with the maidens of three houses. The oath of the trinity is eternal.

'She loves you.'

'I know.'

"You love her.'


'Ashley and I have great affection for each other. The Goddess has given us this gift, Beloved. I am not jealousy of Ashley. There lingers no pain, no self doubt because I am not human and she is. We are powerful together.'

'Liara…you are the truth of my heart's love and yet I have fallen in love with Ash…'

'As I have boundless affection for her, we are hand-fasted my sweet Samantha, and she will be our third. As the Goddesses Athame and Bridget are three so shall we. Women of three houses. You, I and Sparrow---this family needs her. She is family. I feel no jealousy for Ashley, only sadness for she will only able to touch the edge of what we have. She will never share the fullness of our bond.'

'I fear only she will only agree to this out of loyalty. I don't want the trinity out of loyalty. If we make this happen, then it must be for the right reasons.'

'The pureness of love.'

'That can be the only reason.'

Liara pulled softly away from Ashley's mind as one lover would her beloved after making love. As that same lover pulls away she still holds her beloved, close to her chest. Ashley fell to her knees and Liara fell with her. The Marine's head swimming with the intensity of the meld she clung onto Liara drawing in deep settling breaths.

"I…I need time." Ash managed, her voice muffled in Liara's embrace.

"I know. Take the time you need, process everything you need to process. But take this into your heart my dear friend. Not for one moment will you feel guilt for your love of your skipper… for Sam. If you do then you belittle everything. You, me … Samantha and that which we hold in our hearts. Guilt has no place here. No sin has been committed Ashley you will not pressured into this, you felt in the meld, Samantha's own thoughts on the matter. She does not want you to agree out of any sense of loyalty or of duty. It must be with a clear mind and heart and you must follow your heart. Ashley, I ask you to think of this with an open mind. In your faith's ancient past there were patriarchs such as the male called Abraham who had several wives. And there were others. Why should this allowance be limited to the males of your species?"

Ash was silent but Liara could feel the young human's heart and her mind working upon the words spoken between them. The asari said nothing more as she attempted to slip from the lieutenant's quarters.

"Wait." Ash spoke out abruptly.

Liara knew the question that was going to be asked even before it was uttered by the young human.

"Why? Why are you okay with this?"

"Because the Goddess gave it."

"Liara, stop with the religious shit. I need to know why. I need to know how. Because if our positions were reversed I really doubt I would be as gracious and understanding, shit as accommodating! So why the frack are you okay with this and not pissed off or Good Lord devastated that your Samantha is in love with someone else? If it was me and Sam told me 'O hey sorry Babe, but Liara is in love with me and I her, I …I would have been pissed as hell!"

Liara smiled understandingly. "If it were anyone but her Trusted, I would have much to say against this. As you told me through the bond, Samantha is the love of your life. Ashley, I shared with you the truth of all, you felt my mind and heart. Because of the meld you felt Samantha… Sam's mind and heart. No other would have other been accepted by either of us, nor you."

"I…I know… I felt it all through the bond. Even still it's hard to fathom it all. I. …I need time."

"As I said before Ashley time is yours to have."

"Li …I have one more question. A request really"


Williams swallowed hard. "Show me Sam's nightmares."

Liara opened her mouth, closed it and opened it once more. "Ashley, those images you don't want them."

"No I don't, but I need to know. I saw her locked in that nightmare. It scared the hell out of me. I thought her heart would give out the way it was racing. She cried out in Prothean the same words we heard in the warning on Ilos. She said they are always that bad. I need to know. I need to see what she sees. If we do this trinity thing, I need to be a part of the bad as well as the good."

Liara nodded, her face growing grim. "To see them will hurt you. For in them often the Protheans' victims are replaced by those she cares for: you, I, young Tali, Shiala, her parents, sometimes the crew. The other images were burned into her mind by the beacons; you will see them as vivid as she has, as I and Shiala have. But it is more than that. What you will see are the memories of her dreams not direct images from the beacons. Because of that you will feel all her sorrow, her anger and frustration and the terror these nightmares give her. "

"I'm ready."

"No Ashley, one is never ready for this."

Once more Liara uttered the words that would prepare her friend for the link. Unlike the warm comforting bond of revealing the truth of the proposed trinity, this was cold, the visions of oblivion screaming, tearing, burning into Ashley's mind. The roar of blood washing over whole worlds. Spikes rose up from the burning earth, upon their shafts impaled were Liara, Tali, Shiala and Ashley herself as was Shepard. Placed there by indoctrinated versions of the same who had been impaled. The screams of the dead and dying Protheans and those precious to the Spectre. Behind it all the Reapers. They were coming. They were always coming. Ripping, tearing destroying leaving in their wake utter desolation.

As softly as she had withdrawn her touch before Liara withdrew now. She knew what would come next. Overcome by the images, the emotions rolling around in her heart Ash broke down. Liara said nothing as she cradled Ashley in her arms.

Part 25

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