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: I've gotten some extensive aid from a reader who has an excellent grasp on real-world science and physics and has helped me understand the real-world applications of a gravity leveler, which is a far cry from the cinema-effects of the same device used in Ultraviolet which I have borrowed. I have taken extreme liberties with real-world science but then so do many sci-fi writers, after all explosions as seen in Star Wars / Star Trek / BSG/ Star Gate/ Mass Effect can not truly happen in the vacuum of space. Oh yes and due to the events of ME2 obviously this is very much an AU. However some elements / scenes / characters of ME2 will make it into here so I guess there will be some spoilers.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 36
Grave Matters

As predicted the effects of the flashbang were steadily wearing off. Of course the medi-gel dispensed by the hardsuits' onboard computer as well as the Spectre's bio-synthetic enhancements aided a great deal. Both contributed to her actual ability to continue to function despite being wounded.

Learning how to dampen the soul-bond allowed both Liara and Samantha to shield the majority of their pain from each other. However continuously doing so also taxed the mind not to mention it begat the oncoming of migraines, dizziness and listlessness. Neither woman could keep it up for much longer.

Seeing Liara so pale amongst the gold sheets and comforter whisked the breath from Shepard's lungs. Seeing her so frail was more of a blow to her body than any of the stray bullets that had made it past barriers and shields.

Samantha took up her beloved's hand into own and brought it to her lips kissing it. She felt the coolness of the blue flesh against her mouth. Concern reflected in her eyes that mirrored that which was already burning in her mind.

"Hey Angel Eyes." The Spectre greeted softly when blue eyes fluttered open. "Sleeping on the job are we?" the levity in the comment never reached her voice. The smile touching her mouth was out of sheer relief that Liara was whole and relatively well or at the very least stable.

"Why is it we can not simply go to a place where people are not constantly trying to kill us?" Liara asked dryly. "It would be such a nice change for once."

Sam pressed her forehead against her bondmate's, "Liara…" tears fell from her eyes, overwhelmed by all the pent up emotions of relief, worry, anger for those who had the audacity to attack her beloved overcame the floodgates of the Spectre's heart. To come so close to losing all she held dear in this galaxy to be whisked away…

And for what?! Some man's grievance over losing the Council seat to a better man, a military man? It was time to turn the tables on Ambassador Donnel Udina, on Cerberus. And Shepard needed to do it sooner rather than later. When you ask for trouble, you should not be surprised when it finds you. Nor should you be surprised when it stalks those you love. Sam held Liara's hand to her face once more, she would move against those who sought to take that which she held dearest.

"S'thasa what's her condition?" though speaking to the bounty hunter her gaze never dropped from Liara's. Her touch never ceased.

"Stabilized with medi-gel for now. The wounds were fairly deep and it caused her to lose a lot of blood, which sent her into shock. That's the concern; it has placed your daughter in distress."

"Distress?" Shepard spun around staring at the other asari. The words smacked into the stillness like lead. "You're going to elaborate on that." her voice broadcasting apprehension.

"I will but on the Normandy. Here and now isn't place for it." Aleena said in a hushed tone.

Shepard recognized that particular tone. It meant that bad news was on the huntress's mind and she was wondering how to shape it to fit the available not-going-totally-ape-shit space in Shepard's head.

The Spectre turned her attention back to Liara who was once more drifting in and out of consciousness. She sat upon the bed, her gauntleted hand gingerly stroking the soft velvet crest. "Ready to go home, Babe?"

"You are always coming to my rescue." Liara lamented, ignoring the question. "I cowered on Therum and fled here…"

"It's in my nature. Besides we're pretty even on that score. That nice little trick you did for me that kept me alive on the operating table and then of course what you did for me on Quana. Besides on Therum you were taken by surprise not to mention exhausted. And you retreated from the field here for the sake of our child's life. Liara that's not cowardliness, it's necessity. If you want to talk about this we will later right now I want you back on the ship."

"Shepard." An eloquent voice called her name drawing the Spectre's attention. "I wish to accompany you, if I may." the speaker was of course Shi'ara. What concern the others held in their eyes was evidently clear on the Consort's refined features. She might not have had an active role in Liara's past but Shi'ara was quickly assuming the role of a parent now.

"Of course." Shepard wasn't about to deny this woman the right to be at her daughter's side especially at a time like this.

"Good. Then I say we move out now. Liara isn't the only one in need of medical attention, am I right Spectre?" Aleena's voice firm broke no argument from the human.

"I took a couple of shots. Medi-gel helped but yeah I can use a bit of aid."

"Not to mention taking a flashbang square in the chest. Skipper the docs should really take a look at your eyes to make sure you're five-by-five." Williams added making sure Aleena was well aware of the damage their captain had sustained.

Liara was shifted into the medbay's emergency center by Aleena and Shi'ara as soon as they disembarked from the evac-car to be treated or more accurately so the baby could be treated for medical distress. The mother was still stable thanks in no small part to Aleena and Shi'ara's intervention: one with medicine the other with melding. The concern was not only of for Liara's medical condition but her mental and emotional stability. Her fear and panic was going to be more detrimental to the fetus than having gone into shock because of the loss of blood.

Shepard still in her armour stayed at Liara's side every step of the way. Just before she was to enter the surgical bay she was stopped by Ashley.

"Skipper, no you need medical attention. You won't do her any favours going in there in your state."

"Get out of my way Williams." Shepard all but snarled shoving past the lieutenant. "She needs me!"

"No ma'am you need help. I've counted at least seven make that ten bullet holes in your armour. How many made it past the mesh I don't know but medi-gel and the fancy upgrades Chakwas put in you can only do so much." Ash grabbed the older woman by the arm stopping her.

"I gave you an order, lieutenant."

"And I'm disobeying it. You need…" Ash insisted.

"She needs me. I need to be there. I can feel it." Shepard hissed. "I. Have. To."

"Listen to reason, Samantha." Shi'ara said soothingly stepping in on the young human's attempt at persuasion "I shall accompany Liara, she will not be alone. You can help her by helping yourself. If you are not at peace you will cause harm to your child. Your body must be tended to." She said the words as if speaking to the same Shepard she first encountered a year ago.

"I said no. Now get out of my way or get off my ship." The Spectre growled egregiously. Once more pushing past them.

"Oh for crying out loud you'll have more success trying to nail jello to a bulkhead; than talking her out of abandoning her wife simply to patch up bullet wounds." Chakwas said as she came up behind the Spectre, nonchalantly raised her hand to Shepard's neck then deftly stuck her with an epi filled with high powered sedatives specially designed for biotics.

"Oh damn." Samantha mumbled with a thick tongue even as the world spun topsy-turvy around her. The tranquilizer worked quickly: her eyes rolled backwards into her head just as she toppled forward into Ashley's awaiting arms.

Ash slipped her arms under her captain's, lifting her up into a more manageable position.

"And that ladies is how you handle her." Chakwas said with an air of superior knowledge. She stooped over grabbed Shepard's legs to help Ash manhandle their captain. They had to turn her over before laying her down as gently as possible.

"She's going to be so pissed once she wakes up." Ash said. She shifted Shepard's paralysed body to a more comfortable position then added: "I disobeyed orders and you drugged her."

"When that time comes I will deal with the fallout. Aleena you have more experience with pregnant asari than I, you start with Liara and I'll see to Shepard." The elder woman looked to Ash, "This is becoming quite habit between the three of us, you helping me strip our captain of her armour."

"At least this time she's not dying."

"No, there is at least that." Chakwas was dry and utterly professional.

"You may want to check her eyes Doc. She took a flashbang to the chest and it blinded her for a while." Williams pointed out.

Chakwas peeled back Shepard's eyelids checking the dilation of the pupils. What she did take note of was a slight cyan halo around the blue iris. "That is…interesting."

Ash knowing the truth of how Shepard used biotics to see shifted nervously on her feet, absentmindedly fidgeting with her fingers. "Um what's interesting? It's not CS is it?"

"I have never seen this effect in sufferers of CS, before." The physician answered. "Not that CS affects everyone in exactly the same way but this is quite new. At least in my experience." Chakwas activated the holographic medical interface, turned back to her patient on the bed and took a picture of the iris.

"Maybe it has something to do with the Skipper having to use her biotics to see."

"She what!" Chakwas demanded. "Did I hear you correctly? She used her biotics to see?"

Even the consort seemed taken by surprise. "I wasn't aware humans were capable of such use of biotics," Shi'ara uttered softly completely astonished.

"We can't." Chakwas answered.

"Evidence proves to the contrary." Shi'ara looked at the young woman on the bed then looked to the projection of Shepard's eye on the monitor.

She had felt the power of Liara and Samantha during their wedding when they were projecting their desire for one another. At that time it was incredibly strong, one might have assumed it was a bond between two asari. So consumed with the what she had learned about the young woman, Shi'ara hadn't fixated on what the other two humans were discussing she only watched them undress her. There were many layers of armour just as there were many layers and depths to this enigmatic woman.

The cuirass despite the fact it was severely dented, scathed and pockmarked with bullet holes was still serviceable. It would take a bit of omni-gel to repair and careful craftsmanship but Williams was confident she could restore it to full functionality. The paladins and greaves were followed by gauntlets and boots. Next came the malleable underlay which bore a distinct look as if it had contemplated suicide via a cheese grater.

Regardless of the fact Sha'ira read Shepard's aura—her spirit she had not until now seen the fullness of the woman, now she was more curious than ever. Samantha Shepard was indeed just as Shi'ara had read her. Born to wear the uniform, a soldier through and through, a natural leader. Others followed her without hesitation, without question right into the jaws of oblivion. Yes there was the part of her that contained the essence that made her alone, aloof and apart from others. But there was another part of her that called others to her and they would do anything for her even if went against her wishes if only to protect her. There were times when Shepard needed to be protected not from outside forces but from herself. Sha'ira had to know…why was her daughter and Samantha so comprehensively obsessed with each other?

"When it comes to Liara she does not submit to another's voice easily." the consort said as she watched them work. She touched the dark locks of silky hair. Since coming into contact with humans it was one of the things she enjoyed: the uniqueness of their manes…their hair. Shepard's hair was thick and yet soft to the touch.

Feathering the forelock back once more the consort touched the flesh of Samantha's brow and allowed her mind to slip into her unconscious mind. What she felt caused her to gasp. She turned to see of the other humans noticed her outburst but they apparently were oblivious to her reaction. 'You have changed…my gift of words still applies but you are so much more…'

"You have no idea." Chakwas answered. "Actually they can both be that way. I believe it has something to do with the bond that connects them. Before the gestalt they were not so… passionately interconnected. Now when a threat comes to the one the other becomes empathically frenetic."

Sha'ira turned her back to the humans focusing her attention towards the bay with her daughter. The matriarch drew in a breath as she saw her daughter resting there. She looked so young. She looked barely two decades old never mind being just over a century.

Sha'ira reached down and touched the swell of Liara's belly. She closed her eyes and took slow deep breaths, stilling the chaos around her and embraced eternity.

Under her hand, within her mind she felt life stir and shift to frantic dance of unrest and fear. "Be at peace little one. Be still. You are safe now. Embrace the memory of your naneth…of your arda. Embrace their love. Be at peace."

Aleena busily working over the young Prothean expert glanced at the monitors then back to the elder asari. "Keep up the connection, it is bringing Liara out of shock. Her respiration is still shallow but her pulse is becoming stronger no longer weak and erratic. She's responding to the atropine. Liara will be fine."

"And the child?"

"I'm doing a diagnostic now." Aleena switched on a secondary medical scanner and began an ultrasound examination.

The holographic monitor shifted from showcasing Liara's heart rate, breathing, dark energy readings, and body temperature as well brain activity to those of the fetus. At first the readings seemed impossibly erratic as they registered the new target. Aleena hissed at what she saw.

"Oh Goddess." The bounty hunter's eyes shifted from the monitors to Liara.

Even if she wasn't medically minded Shi'ara knew the readings were dire. "Can anything be done?"

The answer came in a look that transmitted she prayed it was so, but it was not voiced. "I have to consult with Dr. Chakwas more than likely we'll both have to find a specialist. Pediatrics is a little out of my element. I'm more general medicine and battle medic and my colleague only has experience with human pregnancies."

"Then I shall find the very best." Shi'ara's hand stroked her daughter's cheek. "I thought I lost you, my first child over a century ago. I won't stand by and allow you to lose yours."

"Good Evening. I am Robin Lasky standing in for Khalisah Al-Jilani correspondent of Westerland News. We have just learned the highly decorated former Alliance officer and humanity's first Spectre has gone rogue. It appears Spectre Agent Samantha Shepard has made good on a promise that should anything happen to her lover the asari archeologist Dr. Liara T'soni, she would go rogue. For those who need a reminder T'soni is none other than the daughter of the traitor and alleged lover of the rogue turian Spectre Saren Arterius, Matriarch Benezia T'soni.

"An insider gave us a direct quote from the supposed great hero of the Citadel, just after her recovery from the battle."

There was a click and a static garbled but it was very clearly Shepard speaking. "They aren't getting their hands on Liara… I will go rogue if only to protect her from them."

"You heard it here first folks. And it seems Shepard made good on that vow. During a routine stop by a C-Sec officer to reprimand T'soni for wading in the Presidium Lake she viciously attacked the officer killing him with her biotics. She then fled the scene of the crime but not before calling in her Spectre lover to apparently rescue her. It is unknown where T'soni fled no doubt she managed somehow to get back to the Normandy. A name of the vessel once called Victory. Apparently getting a ship from the Council wasn't good enough for Shepard. The famed Citadel hero further demanded the Council allow her to change the name of the ship.

"Once Shepard appeared on the scene she drove the public into a panic by using her Spectre authority to issue a false fire alarm evacuation apparently so her worshiping civilians could not witness the atrocities she was about to commit. We issue a warning that some scenes will be very disturbing for some viewers."

The image of the dirty blonde reporter whitewashed into video-feed of Shepard's battle with the false C-Sec officers. The cameras seemed to focus on the most visceral moments of the battle: bodies ripped apart by dark energy, or crushed by biotic martial arts, heads exploded by gunfire.

The correspondent waited a few moments of silence, blew out a long suffering sigh before she spoke in a near reverent voice. "This news agency wishes to convey our deepest sympathies for the good men and women of C-Sec who gave their lives in the attempt to apprehend this rogue. We have heard word that Spectre Tela Vasir famed for single-handedly arresting two hundred slavers as well as stopping a notorious hacker ring was quickly on the scene. If she has been assigned the case we are confident she will quickly put an end to Shepard's reign of terror."

"I'm Robin Lasky standing in for Khalisah Al-Jilani correspondent of Westerland News.

"That's bullshit! Pure bullshit!" David Anderson roared at the screen before knocking the monitor to the floor of his office in a small eruption of duroplastic, glass and sparks.

The door to his inner office opened revealing Cerise Chambers, a young woman who was as sharp as a varren's bite. Nothing escaped her notice, which was why Anderson wanted her as his assistant.

"Sir?" Cerise looked at the debris on the floor then back to glowering man behind the desk. Her brown eyes harvested all the details before her.

It was plainly obvious her boss was beyond angry, and just as clearly it was most probable the private communiqué he had received and not the dozen of reports on his desk or the Council meeting he had returned from only an hour before.

"Did you hear what that bitch Robin said about Shepard? What they're doing to her? They sent this over as some preemptive strike to blackmail humanity's only Spectre. The god-damn hero of the Citadel"

'Ah.' thought Cerise, 'that explains much.' "By bitch sir can I safely assume that you are referring to Khalisah Al-Jilani? No sir, I didn't see the report it was sent directly to your inbox. I can tell you sir there are rumors that there was no fire but a terrorist attack that was stopped by Spectres Shepard, Vasir and Executor Pallin."

"Yes, we got the report in the Council. Terrorists disguised as C-Sec officers. We had another Spectre sent to aid, she confirmed the attack. How the hell that Al-Jilani's people got footage that quickly…."

"Quite likely they were tipped off by the terrorist's cell. I'd imagine before the battle took place they set up monitoring devices or hacked into the security cameras or had someone do it."

"But some of that footage wasn't from security cameras or hovering monitors. Some of it was from hardsuit helmet-cams. They were tipped off alright, it goes deeper than that." Anderson's voice got dangerously low.

"Shepard was clearly set up then, but for what reason? And why would Khalisah Al-Jilani or her people want to do this?" Cerise said. "What could she possibly gain? And quite frankly I think it is a little out of her depth sir."

Anderson's expression grew darker. "She tried to smear Shepard a few times before, now she's gone and done it. It might be Lasky reporting but that bitch Al-Jilani has her hands all over this. You're right though she and Lasky are just the faces; someone else pulled all the strings. Al-Jilani and Udina… want to destroy Shepard." He hit his fist on the desk, causing data-Padds to skitter and topple to the floor to join the corpse of the monitor. "If this leaks out it's going to be a political shit storm. I want both Al-Jilani and Lasky pulled in and held indefinitely. I want all their computers, documents and OSDs seized. I want you to set a meeting with that news anchorwoman from Citadel Newnet: Emily Wong. If the media is going to play games with my Shepard's life then we will use fire to fight fire." he drew in a breath. "Do we know the status on Dr. T'soni or Shepard?"

"Normandy's Executive Officer Shiala issued a report. Both Spectre Shepard and Dr. T'soni were wounded. T'soni took shrapnel; Shepard apparently took three bullets as well as a flashbang directly to the chest which for a short time rendered her blind. Both are recovering. XO Shiala says their child is in critical condition."

Anderson scrubbed his balding head with his hands. "Oh good God." he sighed. "Send a message of sympath…no scratch that. I'll do it in person. But notify Shepard that she will need to be present to give testimony before the Council. Its terrible timing but it has to be done." he paused for a several heartbeats before speaking again. "Shit…how bad is their baby?"

"I believe it is as bad as bad gets sir."

"If they need anything, I mean anything Cerise, make sure they get it. They need some kind of specialist make sure they get it. Actually look for specialists and send them directly to the Normandy. I'll fit the bill personally."

"Yes sir."

Cerise watched him leave before going to the floor to recover the fallen data-padds it suddenly struck her, something Anderson had said. 'My Shepard?' It carried the tone of voice far more beyond a former commanding officer speaking about a crew member, even a favored one. It had the overtones of a father's voice.

Anderson popped his head back into his office. "Oh…that specialist - make sure it's someone specializing in high risk asari pregnancies."

"Yes sir."

The Illusive Man sat in his chair, staring out of the viewing window that was the entire rear wall of his private domain. A wreath of smoke encircled his head like a sinister halo.

His steely blue cybernetic gaze fixed upon a giant M-class star fluctuating between the spectrums of blue and red. He enjoyed the idea of orbiting the star that was in the last phase of its six-billion-year life span. To him it was the epitome of what was to come, of the true birth of humanity's possibilities and the end of alien domination. His lips curled slightly that it was also a visualization of what was occurring to humanity's first Spectre.

The grand finally of the star's existence was to collapses in upon itself, and leaving a black hole which would devour the entire system. A perfect metaphor for what was becoming Shepard's life. Her whole universe was collapsing in upon itself. The news report was only the beginning. All those who supported her, believed in her, trusted in her would become the black hole and swallow Shepard's spirit. In a sense she would die.

Cerberus would be there to pick up the pieces; they would put her back together like modern day Lazarus. The Illusive Man knew the only hope to defeat the Reapers ultimately lay in this one woman's hands. Of course she'd need a new crew, a new team, one that was if not devoted to the Cerberus message, then to humanity. He'd of course allow her a few of her alien disciples but not all of them. He could be generous when he needed to be, he'd give her a handful of other aliens to take the places of her present collection. The one alien that had to be rid of was the asari lover. Not that he begrudged Shepard's tastes, he himself partook of such indulgences from time to time. But T'soni was a distraction he could never afford Shepard to possess.

Udina already laid the ground work for the Spectre alienation from the Alliance. While he didn't agree with the crudity of the Ambassador's news report and its obvious character assassination which would most definitely lead the Shepard directly into attacking the ambassador. But he couldn't argue with results. The fallout would have to be carefully managed for it to go as he desired, or they would lose Shepard.

He snuffed out a cigarette, swiveled his chair around giving his attention to the many holoscreens before him. Many held scrolling data streams, other images of various individuals, one of which was an image of Ambassador Donnel Udina. He tapped in a few more commands into the arm-rest's keyboard causing the screen to split with the image of the ambassador on one side and the other showing Samantha Shepard in her N7 armour.

'You fulfilled your role dutifully Ambassador now however you have become rather redundant. I believe it is time for you to retire.'

A secondary screen flashed that his email transmissions had been successfully sent.

Ash fell in a seat behind the table in the mess hall, shaking her head. Around the table were Shiala, Tali, Wrex and Garrus. All of them attempting to get something in their empty bellies but none had the stomach to even take so much as a bite.

"How did this attack happen? How could it happen?" She stared into her plate of food, shifting the contents around with a metal spork.

"Because, we trusted too much," came Garrus's reply. "We made assumptions. We did not ask the right questions, at the right time, of the right people."

Ash dragged her bleak stare away from her increasingly unappetizing dinner. "We knew we were being betrayed from within. We even have the suspects. We should have moved faster. And this bitch Al-Jilani and her lackey what they did…" Ash shoved her plate away from her so hard it skittered across the table landing with a wet splat on the floor. The food scattered in all directions. "God damn it that woman needs to fucking die!"

Shiala released a heavy sigh ignoring the projectile mashed potatoes and roast beef that had been flung past her head. "I think we must consider that the betrayal goes deeper, far deeper. This was orchestrated purposely to destroy Shepard from within. That was why Liara was let go so easily. They wanted Shepard there to take out the mercenaries just to film her confronting them."

"Confront?! Confront? Good God woman they made her look like a psychotic lunatic massacring the police." Williams howled. "If this airs, people are going to be calling for her blood. I'm fucking surprised they haven't started banging on the hull carrying pitchforks and burning torches."

"They don't need this." Tali shook her head as she stared at her folded hands. "With all they have been through…now this…their baby in danger… What if they lose her? Oh Keelah. What can we do?"

"Kill that cunt Al-Jilani." Ash snapped. "Pull her spine out through her gut."

"I say we go for that Lasky female." Wrex barked. "We should have never let her out of prison. Tuchanka should have been her grave. We had her for espionage; she was in for life, hell they were going to execute her until the ransom was paid. I say the clan should have just cacked her."

"Whatever occurred at Ghurst is not relevant here. Ruzad Drau Sorze deemed that after a two-hour trial and forty minutes of deliberation Lasky's reporting was no threat to the state." Shiala commented.

"Whose side are you on anyway?" Williams accused. "She's a threat to the Skipper, to Liara! I don't care if she wasn't guilty on some backwater world…."

"Hey that's my world you are talking about." Wrex snarled.

"Yes and it likes to blow itself to bits ever other decade. My point is Lasky's bad news, she was then and she is now. She needs to be deep spaced. Tonight."

Garrus pointed out. "That won't solve anything; in fact it will cause far more problems. We need to be proactive. First here then on the Citadel. Place both Normandy's suspects in the brig and…"

"And what…Garrus and then what? This won't solve anything with all the damage that report did. The Council is going to jump all over this, we all know it. That turian Councilor is just looking for an excuse to discharge the Skipper. He absolutely despises her. He'll go for her throat." By this time Ash was pacing the room mindful not to slide into the tossed mash potatoes where they were slowly congealing into the corners between the bulkhead and floor.

"He will be in the minority if he does. The Council will not abandon Shepard. They will investigate this." Shiala kept her tone even and reserved. Attempting to restore calm to the table but failing spectacularly. "Shepard followed procedures in evacuating the Presidium and neutralizing possible threats. Spectre Vasir and the C-Sec Executor were on the scene they will back up her testimony. They will not abandon her." the asari repeated. "They won't."

"Oh come on, you really believe that? They will declare her too toxic and space her without looking back. Just like they did when she told them about Sovereign and the coming of the Reapers. That turian bastard had Udina ground her. They will cut her loose and we all know it." Ash said, her anger ever increasing.

"She's right. That bird boned fuck will slice Shepard up and feed her as chum for a thresher maw." Wrex rumbled. "And when he's done the others save for Anderson will follow."

"Not with my, Executor Pallin and Spectre Vasir's testimonies they won't." Garrus insisted. "And besides Pallin has four of those Talon bastards in custody."

"But that will do little for the public at large when this gets out." Tali said. "What we need to do is prove our captain and Liara were set up before that happens. Get a hold of the film footage and we can prove it. We saw it and anyone knowing anything about hardsuit helmets know they record battlefield data. That's all we really saw. We prove that and we prove it was all a set up and we win."

"Yeah that's right." For the first time Williams sounded far less angry and more optimistic. "Tali, you can hack into the C-Sec security footage and into Westerland news. If we can get any sort of proof of correspondence between Lasky and the mercenaries that will go a long way to prove the Skipper is innocent. Can you do that Tali, right?"

"Yes, I can. But I also think we need more help. We need someone who can get it out there to everyone when the time comes," the quarian stated.

Garrus turned to the young woman his mandibles flapping into a turian grin. "You're thinking of The Wizard."

"Exactly. But we need more than to simply log on to his or her website. We need to personally speak with them." Tali laid out their strategy.

"That's going to be tricky but not impossible." Garrus said. "But there maybe a way. There is a Duct Rat the name's Mouse, you recall Roach and Varren talking about him, Tali?" At the quarian's nod he continued. "He runs VIs, some of them legit some of them not so much. There is whispering amongst the Rats that one of them can connect to The Wizard. We find that VI we get The Wizard."

"Then let's go." Tali pushed away from the table as she rose from her chair. When Garrus didn't rise Tali frowned behind her faceplate. "What is the problem?"

"I have to give testimony to the Council, I can't go. You'll have to do it Tali. You know where to go and how to place the call. And you know what you need to start the negotiations. You'll be fine."

"You're not going alone." Williams said "You'll need an escort."

"Yeah no kidding. I step one foot into that warehouse and I'll get arrested on the charges of being quarian." Tali delivered deadpan. "So who's going?"

"You're too recognized Williams you can not go. Even if this doesn't break what happened on the Presidium will be news. You'll be mobbed by the public either demanded answers to questions you don't want to hear or they will lynch you." Garrus said cutting off the lieutenant before she uttered a syllable. "Someone else needs to play escort."

"My sister. No one knows her face; she won't be recognized as anyone being on the flagship ground team even if they recognize you Tali." Ash responded, reluctantly agreeing with the former C-Sec officer about her being there. "She may not like them but Abby's good with pistols if it comes to that. And your new drone Chikkitika can kick some ass, not to mention what you can do. You should be fairly safe."

No one said that Liara should have been safe in the Presidium's park but all were thinking it. The stillness settled heavily upon all shoulders - nesting like parasites in their minds and hearts.

Sam lay with her forehead pressed against Liara's temple her hand possessively holding her pregnant belly gently stroking the small swell.

"Come back to us little one. Mommy and I love you so much." the soft words floated into Liara's mind making her slowly aware she was awake. She remained silent simply listening to her bondmate speaking so tenderly to their child. "You see we have this whole life planned out, marriage, old age and a bunch of little blue children. You're our first born. But to do that Secura you have to be born. So here are your orders. Get better so Mommy and I can see you born. Pretty simple."

A blue hand came to rest upon a dark head, fingers lacing through the black locks. "She knows my Love."

Sam shifted upon onto her elbow so she could meet her bondmate's' eyes. She felt Liara's mind link so closely to hers, absorb the happenings of the last few hours. Liara turned her head slowly, her hand reaching to keep contact with Samantha's cheek. Weariness still held her in a warm, comfortable blanket, drawing the strength from her, robbing her of any will.

The Spectre looked down at beloved, seeing the paleness of her skin and the dark shadows that surrounded her eyes. She was so small, so fragile looking. Careful of her healing body, Samantha gathered her close. She was nearly killed only a few hours ago—she was still afraid of losing her.

"I was wondering how long you were going to sleep," she said. "You must be hungry. I'll get you something."

"I couldn't possibility eat anything. " Liara shook her head.

"Angel Eyes, you have to try. You lost so much blood. You have to rebuild it; you need regain your strength." Sam's hand touched the pregnant belly. "Please… give it a try. Some broth perhaps. Maybe some juice."

"Okay." came a soft answer.

"Okay." Sam eased herself away from her bondmate's side. Just as she moved away from the bed, her wrist was snatched by Liara's grasp. "Babe?"

"How badly were you wounded?" Liara's gaze held Samantha in place.

"Nothing major."

"Samantha…do not lie to me."

"I wasn't lying. I was redirecting the truth. I took some bullets, my armour took most. My underlay was shredded. Chakwas patched me up."

"How bad?"



"Same as you, blood loss, a little shock, biotic exhaustion." She explained everything that had happened. All the way from ordering the evacuation to how she was shown by Spectre Vasir to see using biotics.

"I didn't think humans were capable of that." Liara said a little more than astonished.

"We both know my biotics have evolved because of our gestalt. Hell that's why we have to go to Illium."

"I know perfectly well why we have to divert to Illium. And I know you did what you had to do on the Presidium despite the dangers of over-extending your biotics. What did Chakwas and Aleena have to say about it?"

"I didn't ask. I had bigger more important things on my mind." she touched Liara's rounded freckled cheek then touched the pregnant belly. "Plus she knocked me out."

"She knocked you out?" Liara's azure eyes opened wide. "Dr. Chakwas had to knock you out?"

Sam shrugged helplessly. "Apparently I wasn't listening to reason."

"Imagine that." Liara flashed a sardonic look behind a well hidden smile of endearment.

"What?" again the Spectre shrugged. "You and Sparrow were in trouble, you truthfully expect me to stop to get a band-aid?"

"I truthfully expect you to care for yourself if not for my sake than for Secura's."


The asari folded her arms and gave her bondmate a look. Being bedridden the expression was in danger of looking like a petulant child but the perturbed wife expression was the one Shepard read.

"You're right. Of course you're right."

"I am more than right my bondmate. Do you truthfully expect me let something like that pass? Do you truthfully believe you are any less important to me than I am to you - that your life has less value? That I do not value the health and welfare of my beloved as you do yours? Do you believe for one moment that your concern for me is more important than mine is for you? If you do than you are imbecile. I know for certain I did not Bond to someone like that. So apparently somewhere between being shot and waking up in sickbay a doppelganger took your place." the comment carried less venom than hurt.

Samantha ducked her head hiding the blush creeping up on her cheeks. "Liara, I am so sorry. I never meant to give you that impression."

"Then why did you?"

"Because from time to time your bondmate can be an imbecile." She looked up and met a pair of hard staring blue eyes that gradually softened.

"Fortunately for you, I love you. You are my soul's ease Samantha. Don't you ever forget that!"

The Spectre leaned in and kissed her love. "I won't. I promise you that. I promise I won't give ever give you that impression again." Gently touching the blue cheek once more, the Spectre added, "I'm going to get you something to eat."

Shepard walked into the mess hall to find a crewman cleaning mashed potatoes and what looked like pot roast off the floor. "Oh don't tell me another fight broke out." She sighed with exasperation.

Upon seeing her the young man stood up almost spraining his spine as he snapped to attention. "No ma'am, no fight."

"Rupert get rioters over dinner?"

"No ma'am."

"And yet food is all over the place." she quirked an eyebrow

"Yes ma'am."

"What happened?"

The lad looked decisively uncomfortable; he shifted from foot to foot. "I….I couldn't really say ma'am."

"Can't say or won't say?"


"Right. Which one of my hot-headed senior officers went off the handle: Williams, Wrex or Garrus?" She looked at the food again then turned back to the young corporal. "Okay not Garrus, then." Shepard folded her arms over her chest attempting to remain cool and collective in the face of a blatantly obvious attempt by the young man to obfuscate what truly happened.

"Ma'am. I… don't know what happened. XO Shiala received a classified transmission. I believe she shared that transmission with the flagship ground team. They came down here for a meal. Shortly after I was ordered by Chef Rupert to clean the mess."

"Clean the mess from the mess?" Shepard's mouth teased into a small smile.

"Yes ma'am." he tried to smile back though it looked more like he was trying not to be sick on his COs's boots.

"Right. So why the hell wasn't I told about this classified transmission?"

"Ma'am?" the lad's voice actually squeaked.

"Nevermind corporal, it was a rhetorical question. I didn't expect you to answer."

"Yes ma'am. "

Shepard nodded her head. "As you were."

"Ma'am, yes ma'am." the kid snapped a crisp salute then scurried with all due haste back to his scrub brush and the floor.

For a moment all Shepard did was to stand and watch the clean-up her mind a hamster's wheel running: in circles. She knew why her officers were upset, hell she was pissed off. Her wife was targeted just to smoke her out. Her child was on the losing end of an up-hill battle for her life, a life that hadn't even begun. She rubbed the back of her neck trying to still the wheels from turning or rather a more apt metaphor perhaps would be from grinding.

"Anything I can get you captain or you just down here for another midnight raid?" A weathered voice snapped the Spectre out of her head and back into reality with a small start.


"That would be me, Ma'am."

"What did you say?" she frowned looking at her mess officer.

"I asked if you were on a raid run of my kitchen stores." he graced his commanding officer with a chiding expression. "In case you are Captain, I have relocated my reserves of jalapeño peppers. But I'll be happy to crack open a jar if that is what you're after."

Shepard grinned. "Actually yeah open one up. And while you're at it put some orange juice, cookies on the tray. I also need some soup or maybe just broth, something that's good for replenishing lost blood supplies and bolstering lost energy reserves."

"You don't want much do you Captain?" the cook cheerfully began the preparations for the meal. "Is this dinner for two or one ma'am?"

"One." Shepard paused, frowned then sighed. "Better make it two, well two point five if you want to get technical."

Rupert chuckled. "Soup for two point five, coming right up ma'am. Actually I gotta really good asari recipe Commander Shiala gave a few months back for fkio hen soup. It's a little like our chicken noodle soup. Except it's a different bird…and no noodles. Other than that it's practically the same oh and they seem to put more sage, rosemary, basil and onion in it. I can whip up a batch in no time. The commander said it was good for what ails you and if nothing ails you it's good for you anyway."

The odd half smirk grin reappeared on the Spectre's face. "Sounds like just what the doctor ordered. Make it happen."

Rupert offered a lazy salute before turning his attention to the task of preparing the offered dish. He already had a head start with some vegetable stock left over from lunch. "Speaking of doctors, may I ask how Dr. T'soni is doing ma'am?"

A mask of command slid over Shepard's face. With a professional tone she said. "She's recovering. Thank you for asking." It was code of course for: 'Don't ask further, I have no desire to speak about it or answer any more questions.'

"Good to hear, ma'am. My best wishes, I hope she and your little one get better soon." Well you had to say something in situations like this didn't you? What the mess officer said was what every single member of Normandy's crew would say and think.

"Thank you." And that really was going to be the end of it. "The fkio are native to Thessia aren't they?"

"Yes ma'am. They are a little like Earth flamingos, only they are purple, have no feathers have two tails and four wings. Other than that they are pretty much the same."

"Just like fkio hen soup is just like chicken noodle soup with no noodles?" Shepard quirked an eyebrow as she folded her arms over her chest.

"A little like that yes ma'am."

"Just make the soup, Rupert."

"Yes ma'am."

Rupert turned to see the young man watching their captain disappear down the corridor towards the med-bay. "Staring at her like that son can get you into shit load of trouble."

"I…I wasn't …I mean…."the kid stumbled. "I…"

"First time you came face to face with the legend?"

The kid nodded. "Never spoke to her in person before. She's…she's…"

"Yep." Rupert nodded, "but you aint allowed to fawn over your CO."

"Yeah I know that." the kid looked at the empty corridor then back to the head chef. "I never knew she had cybernetic eyes. She get 'em after the Skillian Blitz?"

"Naw they aren't cybernetic. She's a biotic; it's a thing with them. It's all that element zero stuff in their blood. Their whole nervous system is riddled with little nodules of dark energy. It changes them."

"Ee-Zo makes their eyes glow like cats do in the dark?" the kid asked a little astonished.

"Yep. Hell I seen some L-Twos and the whites of their eyes is all glowy blue like the energy they summon. Course them that have blue sclera go crazy. It's why you hear about all those L-Two going loony-bins and taking hostages and shit like that. L-Threes and L-Fours are a bit different. But still the dark energy affects them all. It sorta makes them empathic, all aware of other people's emotions and junk."

"How come you know all this stuff, Chef?"

"My step-brother's boy Nick…I guess he's nephew… is in the Ascension Program back on Grissom Station. He's an L-Four. But from what I've seen of our captain she's a damn bit more powerful than that. I'd say she's not an L-Three but like something like an L-Five."

"So she's an N-Seven and an L-Five?" the boy was clearly in awe.

"Just like them asari commandos I reckon." Rupert added. "Makes you damn proud to know she's one of us. That we have someone just as good as those commandos and she's a Spectre on top of it all."

Armed with a tray of Rupert's well nourishing food the Spectre tiptoed into medical-bay. "Hey Hon, Rupert made this especially for you…" she paused in mid sentence once she discovered the room was vacant. "Babe?" she called out. She set the tray down on the bedside table without a second thought and headed for the bay's lavatory. "Liara, you in there?"

She pushed open the door of the lavatory to see her beloved gripping the edge of the sink basin attempting to hold herself up, her body trembling. Almost instantly Sam rushed to Liara's side. Her arm wrapped around her waist donating her strength to the asari both physically and mentally.

"Liara?" the single word was a whisper. She was appalled how fragile Liara appeared. She was so pale; her body covered in sweat, dark shadows surrounded her eyes. She was so frail, so small. "Come on baby let's get you back to bed."

Liara leaned on Sam having no strength of her own. "Oh…Samantha something is very wrong." her voice quivered as she spoke.

A chill swept across the human's heart. In that instant she knew deep in her gut down to the marrow of her soul their child's life was ending. She held Liara to her, trying to move her to the bay but she only managed two steps before asari's feet crumbled beneath her in a cry of anguish. Liara clutched her belly as a second quake of pain ripped into her.


"I'm here, right here." She stoked the curves of Liara's crest. "Right here, Baby." Her eyes became glassy with tears welling up, falling gently down her cheeks. "I'm right here." She cradled her love close to her chest. An icy wash of fear ran through her that was not her own.

The bond flared to life surging through both of them. Sam realized this time that Liara wasn't controlling it, wasn't blocking. She reached out, using it to stave of the shock to Liara's system in vain hopes save her, to save their child.

Her eyes grew wide at the sight of purple blood pooling between Liara's legs. "Oh God!" Shepard croaked. She hit her radio. "Chakwas, get in here! She's bleeding."

Liara whimpered, curling up in the fetal position unaware of her bondmate picking her up into her arms. Pain made her deaf to the frantic call Samantha made to summon Chakwas to the med bay. Liara was losing too much blood and the Spectre couldn't stop it. Dazed, the Sam lifted her head and looked around, "Help me."

As if in a dream, the figures around her suddenly began to move. Chakwas was the first over, followed closely by Aleena and two nurses Shepard couldn't put a name to. Chakwas was barking out orders she didn't half understand. She watched helplessly as they started cutting away her clothing, medicating procedures, placing a drip setup into Liara's arm to transfuse much needed blood back into her veins, on top of it all the doctor was fighting the source of the hemorrhage. The maiden's pressure was dangerously low.

Chakwas spared a look to the monitors before administering yet another dose of drugs into Liara. "She's going into shock and she's starting to abort."

"Can't you stop it?" Shepard demanded.

The share of grim faces became her answer.

Liara began to move, trying to curl up as her abdominal muscles started to contract.

"Captain, I need you to keep up the link. Block her pain. You two have done it before; I need you to do it now." Chakwas

Shepard needed no other prompting. She sat on Liara's left, keeping out of Chakwas's way, holding her hand. She entered her bondmate's mind taking in the pain keeping Liara free of it. She felt their spirits merge becoming one. Now that she was unconscious any block Liara had in play diminished allowing Sam to monitor her, keeping her from slipping away.

"She's fading." said Sam. Her voice was full of fear as she felt Liara's presence getting weaker and weaker.

"Then hang on to her, pull her back!" Aleena said savagely. "Cause that gestalt to surge if you have to."

"How?" her fear was mounting.

"Follow the link, use it. Keep your fear a way from her, she doesn't need that on top of everything else. Don't let her feel your sense of loss. You hang on to her."

Sam reached deep into the link binding them one to the other, followed the spark of the bond and felt it course and pulse to life. She poured all she had into the link, surrounding Liara in all that she was, begging her to come back from the ethereal fade. Liara once used her own nervous system to keep Sam alive; she now used her own soul to keep her beloved grounded in the metaphysical world.

Ash was in the CIC when Skipper's frantic call came in to Dr. Chakwas who was there giving both she and Shiala a medical update on her two patients.

As soon as the word was out Chakwas rushed for the med bay, pausing long enough only to issue an order for Aleena to meet her there.

Ash paused for only a heartbeat before she was hot on the doctor's heels. She was Sam's Trusted, she almost entered into a Bonded Trinity with these two women, she'd be damned if she wasn't going to be there for them now. She didn't know what she could do, what aid she could offer but she'd be there even if she was just a warm body for her Skipper to fall on, yell at or …cry with. She'd be there. Fighting side by side was easy...this was the hard stuff. The way of life stuff and you don't fail your family with not being there when they need you, even if all you're doing is being a warm body.

She moved for the door but a young corporal barred her way. He looked nervous and deeply wishing to be any where but where he was. She knew why he was there, someone ordered him not to allow anyone in. She gave the blonde haired lad a hard look, as he shifted from foot to foot, swallowed hard waiting for the biting words to issue from his superior officer.

They never came. There was only the look.

Ash turned from him ignoring the kid, pacing back and forth. Two hours passed before the med bay opened. The sight to welcome Williams was that of her skipper covered in purple blood. Her face blank, her eyes unseeing. There was nothing there; it was if her soul had been sucked completely away.

Ash took a step forward reaching to steady the ghost of a woman before her. "Skipper?" there was no answer, no acknowledgement she had even heard her. "Sam?"

"I felt her fade." The voice was distant a merest slip of sound vibrations striking the eardrum. "I felt her slip away… I was linked to her soul and I felt it wink out. It just…winked out."

"Oh God, Sam…" Ash swallowed. She reached for her skipper but there was no response, no acknowledgement she had even been touched.

The world had gone numb.


The Spectre said nothing. Her body moved as if it was an animated corpse and perhaps in a way it was. Her spirit, her energy evaporated.

Ashley had no words to say. What could she say? The loss of someone you loved dearly was a pain she knew well. It was a pain that couldn't be fixed with words, there had to be time to time to process.

She was the Trusted. She failed her Skipper in her duty to protect her family. Now Ash had the bitter duty before her. Closing her eyes she entered the medical bay. The first thing that hit her was the metallic tang of blood.

Bile rose in her throat stinging it with bitter aftertaste. Forcing the gag response away Ash stepped into the darkened bay. The first thing she saw wasn't what she had expected. Monitors bleeped stable life-signs.


Life-signs! There were life-signs. Liara was alive…

Almost reverently she approached the bed. Liara looked so pale against the white bed sheets: her blue skin ashen grey. Ashley felt her eyes brim with tears that fell freely down her cheeks. She reached out to touch the young asari as if to make sure she was truly alive. Ash hissed in a shocked breath as she realized her skin was so cold.

Movement of shadows against the bulkhead caught Williams's attention. Automatically she turned to see what caused the distraction. Her breath gasped as she saw the bed Liara must have been in. It was covered in blood, only now being cleaned up by a nurse. There almost no white left on the sheets, so much of it was stained an increasingly darkening purple.

The movement she saw wasn't the nurse she was too far inside the bay and isolated by privacy screens. The movement came from Dr. Chakwas. In her arms was a very small bundle.

The life Sam felt fade, the soul she had been connected to that had slipped away was her daughter's.

Part 37

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