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 3

"Mom!" Samantha gasped.

Liara sprang back from her lover as if stung by a bee for having been caught in a very intimate moment by her lover's mother. Openly sharing affection was not a taboo for the asari as it was in human culture but no one likes to be caught by one's mother or soon to be mother-in-law in the act of passion.

Hannah Shepard was a woman of trim physique and poise. She was of medium height, standing five foot six. Her hair was styled not unlike Dr. Chakwas. And whereas Samantha's hair was coal black with seemingly blue highlights, the elder Shepard's hair was stark white. The shape of her eyes, eyebrows and even the ice blue irises matched those of her daughter. Or rather the reverse would be more true. Hannah clearly was a woman proud of her body for it was not only fit but refined. Their faces were much alike, high cheek bones with an almost gauntness to them. Their lips had the same upwards curl with the same full bottom lip. Hannah's skin tone was darker than her daughter which represented her Native American heritage. No doubt Samantha's lighter caramel-cream skin came from a blending of both parents. Hannah was quite stunning, there was little doubt in thirty years time this was what Samantha would look like.

"You know I caught you doing this the last time I came for a surprise visit." The corners of the older Shepard's lips curled into a very familiar smirk.

"I was sixteen!" the Spectre protested.

"I come home for shore leave off the Einstein and what do I find - my only child locking lips with another teenager. She was an admiral's daughter wasn't she? What was her name…Raven?"

"Revan." Samantha shifted uncomfortably in the bed and it wasn't from tired muscles. "Um…Mom, I'd like you to meet Dr. Liara T'soni our resident Prothean expert and my intended. Liara this is my mother, Staff Commander Hannah Shepard XO of the Kilimanjaro."

Liara turned, she touched her fingertips to her forehead and brought them slowly down palm side up and gave a very slight bow to the elder Shepard. It was the more traditional greeting when meeting an older asari. In this case a show of respect to Samantha's mother. "It is a pleasure to meet you Commander Shepard."

Hannah knew enough about asari culture to know the honor she had just been given and smiled back with a tilt of her own head. "Hannah, please. If you're that close to my daughter to be her bethrothed I think rank is a little beyond that. Don't you?"

T'soni titled her head. "Thank you."

"So…you're going to be married then?"

Samantha gave a chagrined smile. "I proposed just before Ilos. Liara accepted."

"I see." Hannah crossed her arms under her breasts studying the asari archeologist. "How many know?"

"Only one other, my groundside squad's 2IC - Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, she is also my very good friend. Others on my ship know Liara and I have a relationship and they aren't bothered about it. She isn't military; it isn't exactly breaking any regs." Samantha became a little defensive.

"It could compromise your command." Hannah tested. "There are some orders a commander must give that result in the death of a soldier."

"You don't have to tell me about that kind of an order, Mother. I already gave that order. I lost a very good officer and friend because I had to give 'that' order!" Samantha snapped jolting upright then growling as the pain on her ribs lanced through her.

Liara immediately placed a hand on her lover's shoulder. "Calm my love. I do not believe she is intentionally antagonizing you, but testing your resolve. Is this not so, Commander?" Liara used the rank as a matter of course.

"Very astute Liara, but would Sam be able to give that command to you? Order you into danger knowing you will not survive in order to complete the mission?"

"Yes." Samantha said without hesitation. "If it were the only recourse, the only way the mission could be completed. Yes. And she would comply without question."

Hannah grinned approvingly. "That is all I needed to know." She moved with quiet deliberation to her daughter's bedside and gave her a gentle hug. "How are you doing, Sam?"

"It's only pain. But I'll be five by five soon. I've been grounded to the rack for a couple of days."

"I believe Dr. Chakwas was very firm that you are confined to bed rest for a week." Liara corrected her. "And light duty for two weeks following. Your list of injuries is quite extensive."

"Tattletale." The spectre brooded. "If you were a subordinate I'd order you to button your flap. Haven't you ever heard of 'don't tell mom'?'"

Hannah found this immensely amusing. "Oh I like her. I think I'll keep her as my soon to be daughter-in-law."

Liara beamed. The effect soothed the ruffled feathers of her lover, though the Spectre retained her pouting expression.

"How bad is it, Sam?" Hannah asked once more, this time her voice was tender and filled with a mother's need to know.

"Chart is over there." Samantha pointed to the metal flip chart attached to the foot of her bed. "It looks bad but I'm on the mend. So don't go ape shit when you read it."

Hannah frowned in hearing the dismissive tone in her daughter's voice. When Samantha said she was 'fine' she truly wasn't. In fact it was quite the opposite. It wasn't bravado rather perhaps naive thinking that if she dismissed the pain it would go away and leave her alone.

The older Shepard studied the chart and long list of injuries her child had suffered. "Oh my god, Samantha! You arrested twice?"

"Liara and Dr. Chakwas pulled me out both times."

"Broke ribs again? What is that now five times?"

"How do you know I broke my ribs that many times?"

"I'm your mother."

"You keep updates on my medical files?" Shepard was stymied.

"I'm your mother."

"But I'm a N7 special ops decorated officer now not some little rug rat."

"I'm your mother."

"Right. I get that. But come on, chasing after my medical records seem to be a little frivolous, especially for you. Isn't it?"

"Sam, I might be an aging sea dog who has always put duty before family, duty before my personal life but that doesn't mean I don't love and worry for my girl."

"I know that, Mom. Hell it was you more than Dad that installed that drive in me. But it seems silly to look up my medical files when you can just ask me."

"And if I did what would you say? You're five by five? You were always reluctant to inform me of any injuries that happened to you."

"Well you used to get all worried. I don't like being pampered it makes me feel weak. If I get injured in the line of duty I'd rather get the healing over and done with so I can go back to work."

Hannah smiled a mother's smile. "And now that you will have a partner how do you plan on downplaying your injuries to an empath?"

"We're working on that." Samantha said looking to her lover before returning her attention back to the older Shepard. "Wait, you're supposed to be on the Kilimanjaro. I can't believe you took leave just to see me laid up in med-bay."

"The Kilimanjaro is here actually. We were part of Hackett's fleet that engaged in theater against Sovereign. Interesting orders by the way. Rather than using the armada against the Reaper you ordered the salvation of the Council."

Samantha pursed her lips into a thin line. "Is this a professional opinion ma'am or personal?"


The Spectre remained silent.

"The immediate strategic course should have guided you to sacrifice the Council, and wait for reinforcements to attack Sovereign. However the longer reaching strategy of your choice insured a greater foundation for the future of galactic unification and stability. Something we will need if there are as you say more Reapers out there. You have always displayed a remarkable foresight even as a child. You were born old, Samantha. That insight makes you a good leader."

"Yes ma'am." Samantha responded as if addressed by a senior officer rather than her mother. It meant far more to both of them as such.

"Your father will come and see you once he is free. He's got his hands full with repairing the damage the Kilimanjaro took."

"I'm sure that is the common state of all engineers," the Spectre commented dryly. "As well as anyone who can handle an omni-tool, I shouldn't wonder."

"Indeed, I myself have been press-ganged into helping restore parts of the Citadel." Hannah commented. Her own training as an infiltrator gave her the talents to work an omni-tool as well as small arms.

In fact it had been Hannah who had first instructed her daughter in the use of small arms far before basic training had even begun. Of course that was very common amongst spacer-military brats. By the age of twelve most of them could field strip one sort of weapon or another in under a minute.

"Speaking of Dad, you telling him or am I?" Samantha turned her gaze from her mother to Liara.

"I think it best it comes from me." Hannah sighed.

"Is there a problem?" Liara asked well aware that some humans had issues with inter-species relationships. Some went as far as to protest their hate mongering on the Citadel itself. Samantha's request to keeping things quiet suddenly made far more sense than simply keeping the media hounds at bay. The Terra Firma party would no doubt target not only the Spectre but Liara herself. Quite possibly with physical violence.

"No, there shouldn't be." Hannah tried to reassure the young woman who was going to be her daughter-in-law. "He isn't opposed to other races; he isn't a member of the fascist's party if that is what worries you, Liara. Actually you being asari might make it easier for him to adjust. You see John, has some archaic view about the necessity of grandchildren and the way they are 'traditionally' conceived."

At this the Spectre rolled her eyes. "He still isn't on about that is he?"

"OH!" Liara blurted out. "I understand. With my people's ability to conceive as we do his idea of 'natural conception' is placated. But it would be me not Samantha who was pregnant; perhaps this does not fit the parameters of his wishes for his daughter or the possibility of grandchildren."

"Well he can hold off the desire to bounce a gurgling baby granddaughter on his knee. I want to enjoy my life with Liara before going into the whole family mode, thank you very much. My maternal clock isn't ticking and I doubt it will any time soon."

Neither caught the subtle uncomfortable shifting of feet and weary sigh that came from the asari at Samantha's words.

"Don't pout, it's unbecoming." Hannah admonished her daughter.

"Spectres don't pout they brood." Samantha folded her arms under her breasts and scowled at her mother.

"Well you're doing a damn good show of pouting. Come on, Liara give me the nickel tour of the Normandy while my daughter gets some sleep. Apparently she needs some rest."

"Ah-hey!" Shepard protested. "I'm not a little kid, you can't tell me to go to my room or to bed."

Hannah laughed. "Really? Tell me then just where are you?"

Liara had a bemused look on her face. "It does seem you are indeed sent to bed, my Love."

"Don't encourage her." The Spectre addressed her lover.

Hannah chuckled as she left the two alone and headed outside.

Liara was still smiling as she leaned over her beloved and kissed her quite soundly. "I will return later. Do try and rest, my love. The day has been long and quite emotional." The pad of her thumb stroked the soft creamy-caramel skin. "I will not tarry long."

"You know she will drill you with questions, want to know all about you."

"I am betrothed to her daughter, I suspected as much."

"Take her to my…our quarters for any private debriefing. Might get a little uncomfortable. Sorry."

"Samantha, you make it sound as if she is interrogating me."

"Got it one, Li. Don't back down and don't give ground about anything you believe in, in the attempt to butter her up. She won't respect that. She will challenge you. My mother's the XO of a dreadnought she will take command of the conversation if you let her. Don't. She has made marines and even senior officers squirm, I saw it all the time when I was growing up."

"I was a matriarch's daughter, Samantha. I know how to speak with a dominant personality. But thank you for your warning my love." Liara kissed Shepard's brow once more before leaving med-bay.

She found Hannah Shepard leaning against the bulkhead that separated the rear of the turbo-lift from the mess.

"If you desire the tour I believe that Gunnery Chief Williams or XO Pressly are better suited both by profession and military regulations to do so."

"Quoting regs to me?" The white eyebrow rose a little, a small bemused curl of the lips indicated the senior Shepard wasn't offended by the asari's diversion.

"That would be futile would it not?" Liara commented simply. "Samantha has offered the use of her quarters for a debriefing. Perhaps that will be more fitting for any questions you no doubt have."

"Lead the way."

Shepard's quarters were on the opposite side of the mess, a mirror reflection of the space in med bay. Where the lab was in the back in medical there was a twin bed, separated from the larger space by a bulkhead. In the center of the room proper were a circular table and two chairs. Because this was the 'captain's' quarters it had its own ensuite as well as its own synthesizer.

Hannah had forgotten how small frigates were. On board the Kilimanjaro her own quarters were almost twice the size as her daughter's privileged captain's quarters. But then again the senior Shepard also shared the space with her husband.

The room was sparsely furnished giving no indication that it was actually lived in. the critical eyes of the Staff Commander looked at the bed and saw the military corners of the coverlet. Since she was a child, Samantha had been taught and expected to keep her room tidy, her bed's covers so tight you could bounce a coin off of it. A white glove inspection would not find a molecule of dust. Hannah gave an approving nod to the room before she sat down in one of the chairs.

Liara smiled, Hannah had taken the same chair her lover always did during their shared meals. Her back was to the bed, so she was always facing the door. Hannah further turned the rotating chair just a fraction aside so that if she had to she could bound out of the chair without being trapped between it and the table or banging various parts of her anatomy on the edges of furniture. Exactly like Samantha.

"Have you dined? I have found a conversation over a meal or even a cup of tea to be most enlightening. Indeed it is a custom amongst my people that to share a meal over topics of personal import is the best course of action. " Liara offered before going over to the synthesizer. She replicated two mugs of tea and accoutrements and sat them down on the table thus giving Hannah no chance to refuse.

"Sharing a meal will even the battlefield. It's a good diversionary tactic, people are most vulnerable while they are either eating or sleeping. A person can't get all superior or smug while chowing down"

"All manner of topics are discussed over a meal for it is often a place of calm. I must admit I am stymied by the human saying 'not at the dinner table.' Perhaps we are breaking a taboo in your culture while honoring mine. So I will leave the decision to you." Liara turned her back on Hannah smiling to herself knowing the subtle gesture and affirmative action had impressed the 'older' woman. By deferring to Hannah she was making the human confront any preconceived notions she might have had about Liara. It was a tactic the doctor had seen her own mother use on others if she wanted to gain the higher philosophical ground as it were.

"Perhaps something light to go with the tea?"


Hannah had to admit she was impressed with T'soni thus far. The asari had diverted the senior Shepard away from the military distractions the tour would have offered, made her choose to observe asari culture as well as gaining the more tactical high ground with deft delicate subtleness.

T'soni returned to the table carrying a tray of rich aromatic cheeses, crackers, savories and dried smoked meats. "Quite the spread." Hannah said critically. "I didn't know the Normandy had asari gourmet cuisine installed in the synthesizers."

"Many simple foods placed together make for a fine feast." Liara sidestepped. "Indeed the cheeses are commonly served aboard asari military vessels. Humans also have such simple fair in the databanks of food synthesizers do they not?"

"True enough. I never thought to serve olives, gherkins and raw mushrooms with herbal crackers and chunks of cheese."

Liara smiled. "Perhaps you will now. Sometimes it takes another to reveal how something so very simple can be a delight. You are correct however in that the cheeses are asari recipes. After eating MRE's for the better part of fifty years while on remote digs I find the change of diet refreshing."

"Wait, are you telling me you ate meals-ready-eat for fifty years!"

"They were most efficient," Liara commented dryly, "though not always the most palatable. Sometimes I would hunt indigenous flora and fauna while on a planet but for the most part it was the MREs that sustained me."

"Fifty years? Girl, I just turned sixty. You don't look a day over twenty. Just how old are you?"

Liara shifted her gaze to the small wedges of chesses. "I am only a hundred and six."

"That's a little creepy. My mother-in-law is that age. That had to hit Sam up side the head."

"It is something we came to terms with. While a century may seem like a long time for a short lived species. I am barely more than a child to my people."

"I have to tell you, I was a little put out when I saw just how young you were next to my Sam. She'll be thirty in a couple of days." Hannah used the small knife to cut into a diminutive delicate wheel of rose-colored cheese. "To find you're at least three-times her chronological age eases me a bit." The senior Shepard bit into the cheese and her eyes snapped open with surprised delight. "Wow, what is this? This is wonderful."

Liara glanced at the cheese her would be mother-in-law had chosen before taking a morsel herself and popping it into her mouth. "It is called Chessentan lotus cheese. It comes out region of the Sea of Fallen Stars on my homeworld. It is made out a mixture of roses, cherry-blossoms, honeysuckle and lotus petals."

"It's wonderful." Hannah reached for another bit of cheese.

"I will have an OSD uploaded with the Normandy's Synthesizer menus. All the newer additions were a gift from an asari diplomat that we aided sometime ago. She had Samantha's name added to their preferred client list. I believe the menu was one of the perks of that list."

"So what other delights do we have here?" Hannah explored the offered cheeses. She reached for a very small brick of green wax. She could already smell the strong spices as she cut into the rind.

"Take only very little of that and eat it with an herb cracker, I also suggest eating it with a plain black olive and a mushroom. Green calishite is mixed with ground curry. It is the curry that gives the cheese its radiant aquamarine hue as well as a warning to the uninitiated. Many a krogan has been brought low by grabbing a hunk of Green, thinking it an ordinary cheese and biting into it."

Hannah did as advised. As soon as she bit into the small morsel of cheese her eyes watered, and her mouth felt as if it was on fire. She popped an olive and a mushroom into her mouth which seemed to cool it a little. "Gack... that… is strong!" Hannah coughed.

Liara smiled softly. "Samantha had much the same reaction, though I do believe she drained the entire contents of her drink after."

"I think I will stick with the lotus cheese." The Staff Commander still felt the burning in her stomach and that was from a small smidgen.

She was surprised to see Liara take a much larger piece of Green to be placed upon a cracker. There was no outward sign of distress for eating such a potently spiced cheese.

"Asari must have stomachs of titanium." Hannah wiped the corners of her eyes with her napkin as they still watered from the effect of ingesting curry powder.

"It is not a flavor for everyone. Samantha however has grown to like small quantities of it when we eat pasta. She will crumble a bit on top of the basil and tomato sauce. I have found I enjoy it that way as well."

"Her father likes spicy things as well. I'd get off shift, come home to our quarters and the two would be snacking on wasabi and peppered hard bread. I've never known another four year old who liked such hot and spicy foods. She was also very liberal in her use of tabasco sauces, the hotter the better. She used to put it on almost everything. She gets that from her old man. John would definitely like the Green."

"Then take the remains to him when you depart the Normandy." Liara offered. "As a token. And take the remains of the lotus cheese for yourself, Hannah. "

"Getting to your father-in-law through his stomach?" Hannah laughed. "Good tactic."

"It was not meant as a bribe." Liara defended feeling as if she had suddenly lost all the ground she had so recently gained with the 'older' woman.

"Relax, Liara I was only joking."

Liara snickered despite herself, Hannah and Samantha were so much alike. The same smile, the twinkling of blue eyes. Even the same sense of humor and the same indomitable presence of personality were shared between the two Shepard women.

"So tell me more about yourself Liara. How did you come to meet my Sam?"

"I am afraid there is little interest in who I am."

"I doubt that. My daughter has very discerning tastes over whom she gets into a relationship with. She wouldn't be engaged to you if you were a dull stone. So out with it."

"I am an archeologist, specializing in the Protheans. A rather rebellious profession for an asari daughter." The asari let out a lyrical chuckle thinking back to the first few conversations she had shared with her beloved.

Over the next two hours as they ate, T'soni had described the meeting between herself and the Spectre, of Samantha's defiance to the krogan merc sent to hunt and capture Liara. She spoke of the battles on several planets from the Thorian to Cerberus. She described the confrontation with her mother on Novaria and the generosity, kindness and compassion Samantha had offered after. Liara spelled out the events that took place on Virmire. How the Spectre made Wrex see and accept reason. She spoke kindly of Lt. Kaiden Alenko's sacrifice and how hard it had hit Samantha having to choose one life over the other. She described the battle in the waterworks and how Samantha had freed herself from Saren's stranglehold so she might rescue Ashley and get her to Dr. Chakwas.

The asari spoke of the Council's decision that because Samantha was a Spectre she had the right to go into the Traverse and confront Saren but it was Ambassador Udina's political hunger that grounded the Normandy. Liara was clearly angered at this. The man had placed his political agenda over the lives of billions. The human had clearly stepped beyond his station when he had interfered with military protocols. The Normandy was a joint effort between the Council and the Alliance Military not the civilian politicians. Captain Anderson knew and understood and further more sanctioned the need to go to Ilos. If not for his actions to clear the Normandy for flight by hacking the ambassador's computer this conversation between mother and daughter-in-law would not be happening.

Liara mentioned only briefly the night before Ilos and the tenderness Samantha had shown. Of the proposal two minutes before planet fall and Ashley's acceptance to stand with Samantha on that day. The doctor further explained with fervor the finding of Vigil and the Conduit. She went into great detail over the battle within the Citadel Tower with Saren while overhead Sovereign was being confronted by Citadel and Alliance military. Liara's voice dropped to a hoarse whisper was she spoke of how she thought her beloved lost to her. How they struggled to keep Samantha alive and the joy of realizing she was going to live.

When she had finished both Hannah and Liara felt emotionally drained. Hannah closed her eyes thinking how close she had come to losing her child. She didn't know if she could have borne such sorrow. She wanted to kick herself for almost dismissing Sam's call. 'I don't have time for a personal call, I'm on duty.' She was about to tell Sam she was going to clear the channel but something in her daughter's voice made her pause. At least when they had signed off, Hannah had told her child how proud she was of her. 'Take care of yourself Sam. You're making us proud.' To think that might have been the last time she spoke to Sam hit Hannah hard.

She looked over to the young woman who had become so important to Samantha. Her hand touched the shoulder of the asari as a mother would. "I'm sorry about your mother. If you ever need… a mom, you give me a call, kiddo. Not a problem."

Liara's voice was small and quiet when she spoke. "Thank you for your kindness."

"Anytime, Liara."

"I believe Samantha is asleep. But all children know when their mother lingers at the threshold of their bedrooms as she watches over them in their slumber. I shall see you are undisturbed," the asari said rising from the table. She wrapped the cheeses in a napkin for Hannah to take with her when she left for her own ship, before returning the tea service to the recycler.

"You have a very gentle soul." Hannah complemented. "Make sure you don't lose it within the company of marines and Spectres."

Hannah Shepard once more entered the med-bay. Her child was indeed sleeping though not soundly. Her dreams seemed to disturb her rest. Samantha's eyes darted back and forth under the lids. Her breathing was rapid as if she were running. A nightmare took the Spectre's sleep and warped it into torment.

In that moment Samantha Shepard first human Spectre became as a child in the eyes of her mother. Tenderly the senior Shepard placed a hand upon her daughter's brow, before kissing her softly near the same spot. "Dreams are dreams and can not physically harm you." She said softly. It was a mother's hand stroked down the gaunt cheek, her thumb tracing over the scar under Samantha's right eye. A testament of Elysium and of courage: how many more 'testaments' would her child bear, how many 'testaments' would they all bear in the future to come? Samantha calmed under the secret hand of her mother into a deeper dreamless sleep.

As quietly as she had entered Hannah Shepard left the med-bay. She wanted to meet the Williams kid, the marine that offered not only to donate blood, but her vital organs to save her skipper - the woman who Sam, called her closest friend. Staff Commander Shepard knew it hadn't been friendship that made the Spectre chose Williams over a superior officer. There had to be something more, some potential Williams would fulfill in the battles to come that Lt. Alenko was incapable of. As the senior Shepard had said before her daughter had a keen talent for forward thinking.

Hannah found Gunnery Chief Williams to be the same young woman she had passed in the mess hall a few hours ago. The young woman was heading in from the hatch of the Normandy command deck towards the CIC when the Senior Shepard spotted her. Lt. Pressly had been good enough to point her out and offer the comm-room if necessary for a private briefing.

The senior Shepard blocked Williams's way at the stairwell. Her blue eyes watching carefully as the young woman snapped off a perfect salute.

"You're Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams are you not?"

"Yes ma'am." Williams stood at rigid attention looking just past the Staff Commander's right shoulder.

"Staff Commander H. Shepard SSV Kilimanjaro--XO. Escort me to the comm-room; I want a sitrep."

"Ma'am?" Ashley was clearly confused. It was the senior officer on duty that delivered situation reports to a higher ranking officer.

"You were there during the confrontation within the Citadel Tower. I want details."

"Yes, ma'am."

Ashley led the superior officer who she knew to be very well the skipper's mother to the conference room behind the bulkhead that separated the area from CIC. She didn't know which was more intimidating that she was having a confab with a senior officer or the Skipper's mother.

Once the doors swooshed closed, Hannah smiled, "Relax soldier before you strain something."

"Yes ma'am" Williams went into parade rest.

"First let me say thank you for what you did for my daughter. I'm not just talking about the fact you carried her to safety. But you gave her a fighting chance to live with the donation of your blood. I also wanted to know what type of person my daughter press-ganged into standing up for her during her wedding."

Ashley smiled slightly. "I'm honored she asked me, she didn't have to press-gang me ma'am."

"Then you approve of this union between human and asari?"

"Yes ma'am."

"I know of your family's lineage, Williams, doesn't this bother you that an alien is going to marry a decorated human officer?"

Ashley wasn't quick enough to school the frown that found her face. "Dr. T'soni has bled with us, fought with us and sacrificed much for us ma'am. She had to confront her own mother and help kill her all in the line of duty. No other sentient being is worthy of Commander Shepard! With all due respect ma'am if you had spoken with Liara then you would know that."

Inwardly Hannah was smiling. Outwardly she revealed no emotion. "Indeed." Her voice was cold though no conviction was behind the façade. "This is a rather strange viewpoint from the granddaughter of the General Williams who had to surrender Shanxi."

Ashley bit her inner cheek as not to blurt out the heated retort just itching to get out. Instead she quoted her commander. "To ask for help isn't a weakness. Thinking we can go it alone is just stupid, and stubborn ma'am. Allies can only make us stronger. Some non-humans may not always stay our allies; if push comes to shove they may send us like a dog on a bear to get away ma'am. But Dr. T'soni isn't the whole of her people. She will never abandon the Skipper. She can cover my six anytime. She's great in a stand up fight, and even if I don't agree with asari mumbo-jumbo she's always, always been there for the Skipper. I got her six anytime as well. She's the best representative of the asari I've ever come across. I say all the more power to the Skipper for trying to make a life with someone like Liara."

"You said non-humans not aliens." Hannah tested Williams once more.

"Yes ma'am."


"Aren't we aliens to the other races?"

"I suppose we are."

"The Skipper gave me the opportunity to see things differently. I have. It's made me a better marine."

"I see." Hannah commented. "Tell me do you agree with the choices your Skipper has made? What about happened on Virmire? You're a non-commissioned officer; Sam didn't follow regs in that choice. You have permission to speak off the records, Chief."

Williams flinched as if struck. Sighing heavily she spoke her mind. "To tell you the truth ma'am I was angry with her for choosing to save me. I've got no problem giving my life for the Alliance. Lt. Alenko was a superior officer. If she went by the books he would be here not me. And he was a good friend."

"You were angry because she couldn't save him too, is that not so?"

Williams didn't say anything.

"I know my daughter, and now having served with her, you know she makes decisions that have ramifications for the future that can not be seen in the present. Often times those decisions do not make sense in the present view but in the long term they have often proven to be the best course of action and the most viable. It is almost as if her forward thinking is accentuated by temporal hind-sight."

To this Williams nodded. "I will confess that after we talked and she accepted my apology for the insubordinate burst of anger. I needed to know why she chose me."

"She was blunt when she told you to the point you wished you hadn't asked."


"And what did she say?"

Williams's arms went behind her back once more at parade rest. "She said she had listened to our chatter when we were on the Citadel the first time. LT commented on all the stairs being symbolic to the importance of the Council and he liked the fountain as he found it soothing. I said the stairs made for good defensive positions. I also noted that the cherry trees were in blossom. The skipper said I had a keen eye for strategy and details. I noticed a scientist scanning the Keepers as we were leaving the Council chambers that first day on Citadel. Something the LT hadn't seen even after I pointed it out. She listened to his commands when he had ordered to join the Samarian teams on Virmire. The Skipper said, Alenko was a marine but not a true soldier. He had an officer's commission but he wasn't command material, never would be. He wasn't a leader, I was. She said would need someone worthy of command to take charge of a unit or squad if we needed to divide our forces. Alenko was a philosopher and I a human tank. She needs a tank. I asked if Dr. T'soni wasn't in the picture would the choice have been the same. You see, LT was an L2 biotic and a powerful one."

"Sam said her choice would not have altered, didn't she?"

"Yes ma'am." Ashley nodded her head affirmatively. "She needs a tank to cover her six or any other biotic in the squad when casting biotic powers least they get mowed down by more conventional attacks. It's like when we were up against Matriarch Benezia's commando unit. They were formidable, trained combatants. Going head to head with them in biotics was hell for Skipper and Liara. The commandos used their abilities to hamper and weaken us. But while Skipper and Liara distracted them, I flanked them and took them out from behind mowing them down as quickly as possible with sniper shots. It was the only way we won."

"Rounding out a team with biotics, tech-abilities and firearms is a wise move. Relying too heavily one or another will weaken your defensive and offensive fronts. Take a highly skilled infantryman and turn her into an officer you got one hell warrior at your six. I can see why Sam made the choice she did back on Virmire. It's that same wisdom that allowed her to make the split second decision to save the Council at the expense of many human lives. There are many more dimensions she sees that perhaps others do not. When she spells them out you will see her choice was in truth the only viable one."

"Ma'am…was she always like that?"

The senior Shepard nodded. "I think because she had few friends growing up. Even on the generational ships and stations we lived on she was more comfortable in the company of adults. Always listening, learning asking questions. Sometimes very difficult questions, she would keep asking until she gained a satisfactory answer. She challenged viewpoints of others, perhaps testing the resolve of their convictions. Often times she converted them to her view point. I've seen her work her magic on adults. Some of them had long-held stubborn beliefs yet they were challenged by a ten year old and suddenly adopt her viewpoint was if it had been theirs all long. She has always been self-reliant, a talent forged from one of us being always on duty. She learned that duty and honor is exceedingly important and sometimes the spirit of duty is more important to the word of it.

"Take for instance the choice made on the Citadel. Her duty is to the Alliance before the Council even if she is a Spectre. If she had chosen to use all fire power on Sovereign, thus sacrificing the Council, humanity would have suffered in the greater scope of things. Yes, no doubt humanity would be the more dominant in numbers to the other races in the immediate area and future but we have only been a part of the galactic community for the past twenty-six years post Shanxi. We are too separate, too insular to guide the greater numbers of other species with forethought and wisdom. Sam was not going to condemn the whole of humanity for the sake of immediate power and or the lives of legions of Alliance soldiers. It took her only a moment to reveal this to me and I understood and agreed. Her choice was the only choice, in the Citadel Tower and back on Virmire."

"Yes ma'am." Williams nodded again. "I hope she can make the Brass agree to her point of view."

"I doubt they will prosecute on a military level, Chief. Fleet Admiral Hackett happens to be a very big fan of Commander Samantha Shepard. He was there leading the Fifth Fleet that liberated Elysium and knew how she operated and that the only reason that colony still stands is because of her actions. He was also instrumental along with Captain Anderson in recommending your Skipper to be inducted as a Spectre. He could have but didn't countermand Sam's orders to save the Council. No, he will not seek to court martial Sam or her gallant crew, nor will he allow the Alliance brass to do so." Hannah made for the door. "On a personal note, I approve of my daughter's choice in Liara and the woman she tells me will stand up for her. It tends to be a Shen family trait when you ask someone to stand as your second; you trust them with more than your life. You trust them with the life of your beloved, your family. Sam is much as a Shen as she is a Shepard." Hannah smiled softly and winked, "I was a Shen before I was a Shepard. Sam must consider you a very good friend indeed and I can see why. My daughter is very discerning in those she calls friend." With that said Hannah Shepard left a very stunned gunnery chief alone in the conference room.

Time apparently decided to drag its temporal feet over the long week that she was confined to bed. Shepard had always been prompt with her paperwork and mission reports, being the XO of the Normandy before taking command demanded it. The executive officer was in charge of crew, paperwork, roisters and requisition manifests and so on. Pressly would be handling the general restocking needs of the Normandy such as survey gear, munitions, firearms, hardsuits, survival gear and tac all of which she would have to sign off for. She didn't begrudge Pressly his role. Still the commanding officer was required to perform her fair share of file shuffling. Being laid up in bed had given her ample time to properly address such things, such as damage reports, the butcher's bill and the requisitions request for a new mako, not to mention seating accommodations for a krogan. She was also busied with reading and signing off all of Pressly's reports and those of Chief Engineer Adams.

Miraculously there were no casualties on the Normandy, though Chakwas had reported several injuries. She had her own medical requisitions and had ordered three times the amount of medi-gel that was typical of a frigate on the front lines. A Spectre was apparently very expensive in the medi-gel department.

As she worked the Spectre couldn't help but think of the second day of her convalescence, Liara had come to her looking almost smug.

"So you ate a canary and cream alike ehe?"

Liara blinked a few times, "You know I haven't taken my meal yet…"

"Err it's a human saying a cat who ate the canary or got at the cream refers to someone very pleased with themselves."

"I see, so a feline who ate both canary and cream is immensely pleased with itself, thus a sentient with a very pleased smile is said to have consumed both. Yes in that case I had a cream dipped canary." Purple lips formed a soft but almost arrogant smile. "I have updated and reorganized your filing system, Samantha to be more efficient and suit your style of book-keeping."

"But you're an archeologist not an administrative assistant."

"Some of it was quite old."

"Oh haha." Despite her stern facade Shepard could not long hold the expression and burst out laughing. "Good one. You're getting better at jokes there lover. First it was 'Who votes we use the vehicle to go into the creepy underground tunnel?' and now you're punning. Joker's been a bad influence on you."

"Love, I am quite serious."

"Oh come on it isn't that bad, The Council, Captain Anderson and Admiral Hackett always got their mission reports on time."

"I'm not speaking of the military mission reports, but all the other administrative work that needs your attention that you have neglected due to more aggressive distractions. Some include mineralogical and resources survey reports, as well as the finding of many relics. The asari, turrian and salarian antiquities boards will wish a full documentation on our discoveries in the other systems for further recording, study, analyses and perhaps extensions in excavations. We will need to surrender our artifact discoveries to each respective government. I know a bit about the academia centering on non-Prothean archeological finds. Many times in my own excavations I would come across relics from other races. As they were not true to my desired field of study I passed on these sites to the appropriate peoples. There are also our zoological reports on the indigenous life forms we found that will need to be translated from Alliance Military lingo into academia again for further study. As well as the many previously undiscovered asteroids and planetoids we found that will need to be reported so they can be appropriately charted, surveyed and explored."

"Oh." Shepard became very sheepish. "Thanks."

Liara's filing system was indeed efficient and very Spectre-user-friendly. In little time at all the Spectre had seen, read and signed off on weeks (a few dated back a month or two) old documents. Shepard had seen log after log concerning mineralogical surveys, the surveying of gas giants, locations of thresher maw nests, geth traps and the finding of relics. Of course she was then inundated with queries from heads of academia, resource commission boards and zoological preservation committees after each report was documented, filed and sent to those that needed to see them. The xeno-zoological departments of various universities were very interested in the metallic monkeys on Eletania. Though some could be delegated to Liara or Pressly for the most part these enquiries ended up on Shepard's plate.

After a week with dealing with all of the mountains of administrative not to mention dull paper work, Shepard longed for a mako drop on some hazard one planet to fight off a platoon of geth.

Her week however wasn't all paper-shuffling; it included physical therapy from Dr. Chakwas and meditation training from Liara. The Spectre had been 'upgraded' from an Armali Council's Prodigy to one of their Savant X bio-amps which was augmented with an empathic interface. The asari do not require implants to use their natural biotics even still they were the finest artisans to create bio-amps and omni-tools. Indeed the Armali Council is the best in the field.

Shepard was not exactly relearning how to use her biotics but rather to control them to a higher efficiency. She wasn't completely independent of the implant but she was close. So much so in fact that Liara was confident that her beloved would not suffer as other biotics did with implant flare ups, or have any of the horrific side effects that seemed to take human biotics.

All biotics were capable of manipulating dark energy, the imperceptible quantum force that pervaded all the so-called empty space in the universe. Normally too weak to have any noticeable effects on the physical world, dark energy could be concentrated into extremely dense fields by biotics through mental conditioning. With their natural talents augmented by thousands of microscopic amplifiers surgically implanted throughout their nervous system, biotic individuals could use biofeedback to release the accumulated power in a single directed burst. Because of the asari's unique nervous system they didn't need or use these amplifiers. The asari evolved as a process of using biotics in their procreation. It was how they could meld with another soul, delve into their genetic memories and combine it with the second set of DNA codes.

Shepard's biotics were answering her call faster, easier and more naturally under Liara's tutelage. Dr. Chakwas was correct, Liara had told her one day in that Shepard's control did indeed mark that of an asari youngling. The bio-amp was used to gauge control and guide but it didn't actually amplify the Spectre's biotics as they once had. That came from a joint gestalt between her Union with Liara and the Prothean marker. Shepard would not be able to utilize the fullness of her biotics without her implants but she didn't rely on them as heavily as she once had.

During the week of ordered rack-time, Shepard had received dozens of transmissions. Some she had Joker deny, others she accepted. Both Captain Anderson and Hackett called in for a sitrep as well as to enquire on her health. They both wanted to see her ASAP once she was cleared for light duty. The Council had also asked for her presence as quickly as possible. Emily Wong had asked when it was possible to get that exclusive Shepard had promised her. Miss Wong was the only media personality that Shepard had accepted a call from all others had been blocked, and denied with extreme prejudice. Then there were the family members of the fallen, Alenko, Jenkins and Admiral Kahoku that Shepard had made a point to contact and offer her condolence, relate the bravery and commitment to duty as well as their sacrifice and remembrance. They were heroes.

Shepard had also contacted Matriarch Lei'cree the asari Councilor, Consort Sha'ira as well as diplomat Nassana and the matron Shiala. There was something of very great importance that needed to be addressed and they were the only ones capable of ensuring that this concern was seen to. The asari Councilor had further put Shepard in contact with Matriarch Ladawnya who was in fact the captain of the Destiny Ascension.

The request would be deliberated but they all promised the Spectre an answer within a week's time. There was much to consider, however there seemed to be a popular consensus amongst the asari women as to believe in a positive outcome.

The time had come to face the Council and answer the many questions they no doubt had. After them would come the Alliance top brass.

"I don't like the fact you are going in full battle gear, Samantha. Is it truly necessary?" Liara admonished while assisting her betrothed with the weapons rack and settling it upon her back.

"I have to face them not as Commander Shepard, but as a Spectre. That means armor. Everyone else must see the Spectre when I arrive at the embassy section of the Presidium. When I go to face the Alliance Brass it will be in full dress whites and those same people who saw me as Spectre will see I am also Commander Samantha Shepard. I have a dual role, the person is one and the same, and the missions are twinned. Preserve and protect the galaxy, preserve and protect the Alliance. Two uniforms one face: one goal - stop the reapers. The only way I can present this is by wearing the armor of a Spectre and then the dress uniform of an Alliance officer.

Liara shook her head; she understood this need, this logic and wisdom even if she didn't like it. "But the full weapons? Is that necessary? Your body is still healing; it will tax your reserves."

"Since when have you seen a Spectre not go around heavily armed?" Shepard challenged. She turned and placed a soft kiss on her lover's lips. "Don't worry so. I'm not going to engage in battle or run the length of the Wards. Hell I'll even use the rapid transport systems. But it is something I must do."

"Then you will not do it alone." The asari stated with conviction. "If you go before the Council even if their words are for you alone, you will be escorted by those who fought with you. And we will be armored and heavily armed all the same. I believe it will make for quite the impressive show to have the entire groundside squad garbed in the colossus armor you acquired for all of us."

"You've become quite the thespian, Babe. Such theatrics will get a lot of attention. Hopefully it will show we are all in this together. Alright make it so."

"I see you brought large enforcements, Commander Shepard." Ambassador Udina said with a sneer. In fact he was very nearly terrified to see so many battle hardened faces of warriors, wearing the red and black hardsuits.

"Only those who bled with me on our mission to stop Saren. A mission I believe you deep-sixed because I was more trouble then I was worth to you and your politics. You go out of your way to save a man who drinks on duty, abuses suspects, steals evidence because he was one of the first humans in C-Sec. You used every back door political scam you could to protect a dirty cop but trash the first Spectre humanity has because you can't get your political mitts on her. Interesting tactics Udina, one that nearly cost the galaxy's existence." Shepard got face to face with the man, her electric blue eyes simmering as if she had called up her biotics. Her voice a hiss of barely restrained fury. "Remember this Ambassador the next time you overstep your station and become so problematic as to try to ground a military ship or stab me in the back; no one fucks with my galaxy, not Saren, not Sovereign, not Reapers, and certainly not political bastards."

She pushed past the man nearly knocking him over as she did so. Behind her were the five remaining members of the groundside squad as well as Lt. Pressly, Joker, Chief Adams and Dr. Chakwas. To Shepard each and everyone one of her crew had made the mission successful. However it was only the department heads that had accompanied their commander to meet with the Council. Once more the power-monger Ambassador was taken aback by the black and red colossus hardsuits. It made as T'soni had said a very demonic and powerful show of force and unity.

All eyes were upon them. Everyone who saw the human Spectre and her 'army' stood back in awe-struck murmurs. Near the Embassy stairwells stood the three councilors, Captain Anderson and a glowering ambassador. Shepard stood before them at parade rest. Her voice could not be heard but her stance was unyielding and more than confident.

Below the stairs half the Normandy's ground unit and half the senior staff waited proudly though not patiently. All of them were watching and waiting to see what the outcome of the Spectre's conference with the Council would yield. Of those waiting, Williams seemed the most nervous. She bit the nail of her thumb as she paced back and forth along the lakes walkway just past the first Avina interface station.

"I wish I had your serenity about now." Ash said to Liara. "You always seem so calm, so collective. Like nothing ticks you off."

"Years of meditation. I assure you Ashley, I am quite agitated."

"If that is agitated, I'd hate to see you blow a fuse."

Liara tilted her head almost serpent like as she whispered in a dark tone that was both serious yet playful. "You have met my mother."

"Damn…right." Ashley gasped thinking that a very pissed off asari was not something she'd relish facing again. Lady Benezia wasn't just powerful; she was the scary sort of powerful. To think that Liara could become just as 'scary powerful' was an image Williams wasn't sure she wanted stuck in her head. She'd rather see the calm shy and word-awkward archeologist. 'Note to self don't piss off Miss Prothean expert.'

Liara expression changed suddenly from darkly-playful to shock and wonder and pride and a bit of worry.

"What is it?" Williams demanded. "Do you know something? What's going on?"

"That is a repetition of your first question, Chief." T'soni chided. "It is not for me to say. The commander will be with us shortly. This is for her to explain."

"You're doing nothing for my nerves, Dr. T'soni."

"I apologize but I will not answer that which our commander must. When she does you will know it was meant for her to say."

"How… how did you know that something's up anyway?"

Liara gave Ashley a pleading look that asked her not to press the issue. The chief knew how to read unspoken words from the eyes of another female. Given she has three sisters there were at times whole conversations were simply spoken by the slightest of glances, the merest hints of expression between the sisters Williams.

"No problem," Ash whispered.

Moments later Shepard came down the steps heading directly for her team. She was immediately mobbed by her crew all with questions asked on top of one another. The crowding actually made her list to the side yet quick asari arms caught hold of her.

Through their bond Liara felt her lover's exhaustion. Her face flashed concern, an expression that Ashley quickly interpreted as 'get them back.'

"Stand fast crew, button those flaps give the commander room to move and speak." The Chief ordered.

As one the unit took a step back allowing Shepard to move freely. Those who had battled with her groundside now saw the pain the Spectre was denying herself. Sweat beaded on her forehead, they all knew their leader well enough that Shepard would not voice her complaints over the pain she was no doubt feeling. Her ribs were still healing and the wound on her chest was still tender to the touch. All but Liara and Ash had been convinced that their commander was truly on the full mend by her show of bravado now they knew it for the show it was.

"Commander, I think it best if we reconvene on the Normandy where we can discuss at length seated in the comm-room." Liara sagely advised.

"That is if we have the Normandy to go back too." Joker commented without mirth for once.

"For now we do. Liara's right, there are better places to have a confab other than the decks of the Presidium." Shepard gestured with her chin at the growing number of gawkers they had attracted with their deliberate show of unified force. As many of them were the media, Shepard was more than willing to debrief her crew back on the Normandy.

As per SOP the crew stood at the threshold of the docking bay and the airlock door of the Normandy waiting for decontamination to run its tri-sweep course before entering the ship.

Shepard could feel their eyes on her as she craned her neck from one side to the other. Two sets studied her with very careful scrutiny. Williams and Chakwas, for Liara already knew what it was they were trying to discreetly to find out. 'How bad is the commander?'

"Staring at your CO is considered a breach in military etiquette," Shepard said as she entered the Normandy. Apparently they hadn't been discreet enough. She continued walking down the length of Normandy's command deck, past the CIC for the doors that would lead her to the crew quarters below deck.

''They are concerned for you my love, as am I.''

'I know and I appreciate it. But I can't have my crew constantly worried if I'm going to break just because my muscles are a little stiff. They need to see me strong. It's bad for morale if they think I'm not physically fit for duty.'

As if telepathic herself, it was Williams that spoke for herself and the CMO. "Yes ma'am."

"Your concern is noted. We will reconvene in five, dismissed." Shepard said before disappearing into her quarters.

The shore party had dispersed to quarters so that they could shed themselves of armor and weapons and dress in BDUs or other more 'casual' wear they typically wore whilst on the Normandy. Most of them wouldn't need the five minutes for a uniform swap and weapons storage, as most of them were military in one aspect or another. A trained soldier could get dressed in under a minute. A merc had to be just was swift for he was more reliant upon his own skills to get him out of danger than trusting others to do it for him.

Alone in their shared quarters, Liara wrapped her arms around Samantha's nude form. It had taken her a little over a full minute to shed her armor and weapons. She might be cleared from bed-rest but she was in far from perfect form.

Her torso was a mass of dark yellow-green bruises that had long passed the blue-purple splotches. The jagged scar that ran from her right shoulder down to her left hip was a deep angry red. There was no indication of infection but the redness remained. Every time she saw it Liara wanted to weep.

The asari circled around Samantha slowly, deliberately. Blue fingertips delicately cautiously traced the terrible scar that marred the once perfect torso.

"Maybe I should have it removed." Samantha said following Liara's tearful gaze. "It brings you so much distress when you look at me now. I know its ugly and my body isn't the same as it was when we first made love. But I'm the same person you loved then even if my body isn't."

"No my love you do not distress me, I see how close I was to losing you. You told me your reasons for keeping it, and I respect it. But you carry that scar so deep within you beloved. It is soul deep. Samantha your body is as perfect was it was on our first Joining - our first night of passion. You are so beautiful." This time it was pale lilac lips that gingerly touched the scar causing Samantha to hiss not in pain but in desire a week denied. "I look and I see what I almost lost." The asari uttered softly. "I should look upon that mark as reminder of what I have to hold and treasure. Never think for a moment Commander Samantha Shepard, not for one moment that I find your body undesirable."

Liara took Samantha's face between her palms, her fingers lacing into the dark locks. Her kiss was forceful, filled with her own denied passions. Her blue eyes going solid black, the Spectre's own dilated heavily.

Shepard's arms instinctively wrapped around Liara's lithe body and she… yelped. "Son of a bitch!" Samantha's breath came in heavy gulps that had nothing to do with lust.

"Oh, my love." Liara's voice was apologetic and laced with both concern and humor. "I allowed myself to get carried away as well. Dr. Chakwas would be vexed if she found out we had not curbed our enthusiasm. She had not cleared you for more libidinous activities."

"We'll just make sure she doesn't find out." The spectre said her humor returning. "Actually that worked as well as a cold shower, we need to get to the briefing."

"Might I suggest proper attire first my love?" Liara mischievously touched Samantha's bare left breast. "I do not think they will be very attentive if you delivered information while in this state of undress. Many of the males who already have an unhealthy obsession with your body will only be encouraged."

The Spectre snickered. "Too right. Two ticks and I'll be set to go."

By they arrived in the conference room time the senior crew members and groundside squad had assembled themselves, leaving two seats close to each other open. Liara had been given Alenko's old chair so that Pressly would have the one the Prothean expert normally took.

"Okay here's the situation. We aren't going to be charged with treason or any other criminal charges. The Council had informed the Brass that we were acting under my jurisdiction as a Spectre. Ambassador Udina's actions of grounding the Normandy had been viewed as interference with Spectre duties and thus suspect to criminal charges. He won't be facing charges either however as he was working on the assumption that the Council's unwillingness to send a fleet into the Traverse was a silent cue to impound the Normandy. The Council has acknowledged the great sacrifice the Alliance had made to save the Citadel, Council and the Ascension. They decreed that Humanity will now be one of the Council races."

Voices clamoured the room with whoops of joy, disbelief and a dozen questions. Most of them were the same question Shepard held up her hand to forestall the bombardment.

"They said they needed a list of candidates. Udina of course tried to worm his way in, but the triad of Councilors asked me who I was going to endorse as my voice would be the strongest of any other including the Alliance President and all of our diplomats." Shepard smiled. "I told them they needed a man who had the courage to stand up for what he believed in. They needed a military man because there were already too many politicians serving and we didn't need another. And I certainly wasn't going to name Udina. Counselor Lei'cree said my choice was inspired." The grin grew larger. "I named Captain Anderson. And he accepted."

There was no way to forestall the cheers of elations. Even Wrex, Garrus and Tali joined in despite their short affiliation with the man. They all knew what he risked to free the Normandy. And the non-humans knew that it was Anderson who had always supported their Commander. That was enough for them.

Part 4

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