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 37

Faces turned in the corridors of the Normandy. Voices became murmurs, whispers, and unconcealed gasps of astonishment. The crew knew well their captain and her bondmate had been attacked. They knew it was bloody, but to see that much asari blood on Shepard's scrub tunic froze them in their tracks. It was something they were not prepared to see it, not prepared for it to become a true reality.

Shepard spoke to no one, met the eye of none, it was if there were no other life aboard her ship save for her intended target. Her stride deliberate, purposeful unwavering. Crewmembers got out her way before she had to push them aside in order to pass. It was the blood. All the blood. It was the murder in her eyes. Death lived there, reflecting cold black loathing and burning rage.

Each step took her closer, each step was faster than the last by the time she reached the brig, Shepard was in a full scale sprint. As soon as she entered the brig the first snarled words out of her mouth were: "Someone give me a side arm."

When no one complied the snarl became a roar. "Someone give me a fucking gun. NOW!"

A tall blonde marine snapped to the holster on her hip, disengaged the lock and surrendered her Hahne-Kedar Kessler pistol and slapped it into the enraged captain's waiting hand. Shepard unlocked the safety in one fluid motion, even as she raised it pointing at the skull of the inmates.

"Which one of you two fuck-ups helped kill my child!?"

Joker and Merkson looked up, their faces ashen. The words, the gun…all the blood. It was the blood that froze them. The gun caused their hearts to race. The words…the words terrified them.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Joker felt the world fall from underneath his crippled feet when Wrex stormed the bridge. "Traitors need to be crushed. You will be made to suffer. If you did this, I'll make sure of it personally," was all he said before snatching the pilot by the scruff of the neck, not caring that he broke the human's legs when he was yanked out of his pilot's chair, or the cry of pain that followed it. "That's just the start human."

Joker too numb from the pain of his shattered femurs barely felt the jarring landing as he was dropped unceremoniously into the tank along with Requisitions Officer Corporal Joss Merkson flung there by Garrus only moments earlier.

His legs were treated by a medic using only medi-gel, Joker waited, dreading what was to come. No one spoke to him; no one gave a clear answer to the accusations of treason. All he knew was that the corporal was accused of the same thing. There was no action in the brig, not even by the marines guarding them, not until it was stormed by Shepard.

Sweat dripped freely from his forehead, beaded upon his upper lip. Blood, a child's blood coated a mother's shirt. He looked down at his crippled legs. All he could think of was the blood. A baby's innocent blood.

"Captain…Captain." Joker swallowed the bile burning his throat forcing him to clear it. "I had no idea it would be like this. I never meant…"He sighed, shuddering in his fear. "Oh God, Captain, I never thought this would happen! Please believe me, I meant to help you. The files we collected a year ago on Cerberus, I sent them to the Shadow Broker under your name."

He swallowed hard again. Daring to look his captain in the eye, he saw fire burning there, the question 'YOU WHAT?!' was on her lips but never uttered. The blood on her shirt begged him to continue. "I didn't want the Shadow Broker sending bounty hunters after you like he did to Fist and Saren because he felt you betrayed him because you went back on Rear Admiral Kohoku's deal. I told the agent he used your rank instead of salutation, which was why you refused to make the deal. I said that he should have addressed you as Spectre Shepard, not Commander and all agents had to remember that in the future if they wanted anything or had anything for you. Oh God, Captain I never meant…for …for Dr. T'soni to be hurt. That…" his words were lost when the gun fired.

Knowing Liara was safe, eased Williams a little. She had to find her skipper, she was in pain. From personal experience the lieutenant knew this soul deep pain. She knew it never went away, it lessened it hold over time. A lot of time had to pass for that to occur, but it did lessen. Then it hit her.

'Oh Ash you are such an idiot! You know jack-shit. She was connected to her baby when she died. Oh god…she was linked to her, her baby girl--she was linked to her. This isn't a parent dying, it's her baby girl and she was telepathically linked to her. They both were. Williams you are a fucking fool.'

She knew her skipper; she knew where she was headed. After Shiala showed them the video-feed Williams had ordered the arrest of Joker and Merkson and had sent Wrex and Garrus to do it. She chose those two deliberately knowing neither were going to be gentle in their arrest. She told herself it wasn't police brutality that it was an 'incident during transport.' Besides she had a field medic standing by but only with the offering of medi-gel to patch them up.

Williams heard the gun go off as soon as she stepped into the brig. She shoved past two marines and two asari commandos expecting to see a dead body in the cell. Perhaps two. She hadn't expected to see two living souls. One with a bleeding ear.

Williams looked at Merkson clutching the side of his head, rocking back and forth moaning. Mechanically Shepard placed the sidearm into the stunned lieutenant's hand. "I missed." was the only thing she said before turning and leaving.

Stunned, it took Williams a moment or two to gather her wits. "Someone want to put a cap on that before this traitor bleeds out? And get Monroe out of the tank. Oh and until further notice you're confined to quarters, Lieutenant."

Joker gave a weak nod. He had no voice, no other thought but all the blood. The purple blood on Shepard's scrub top, the red splattered on his BDUs. "Ash…I…." Joker started. "I'd never betray her. Never. She's everything. She holds us together. Without her everything falls apart and we lose to the Reapers. I only wanted to help her."

"There's a saying for what you did. It paves the way to Hell. Whether or not you meant no harm, harm happened. Bounty hunters were sent maybe not by your actions," Williams allowed for her attention to be lifted from the crippled pilot to the man now being seen to by the same medic that had dispensed medi-gel to Joker earlier, "but they were sent. And they killed the Captain's and Liara's baby." Her gaze remained fixed upon Merkson. "She was linked to her child's spirit when she died." A sneer appeared on the young woman's face, "She was connected to her! Shepard felt her die. If it was me, if I felt my baby die I wouldn't have missed. I would never have given clemency. Not ever. I don't how she did. I don't know what stayed her hand. I don't know how she managed it. But the gun is in my hand now…"

Merkson looked up panicked. Everyone knew Williams had a hot head. Everyone in the room knew Shepard was a crack shot. She had a medal for marksmanship for crying out loud! She never missed. They knew the missed shot was done deliberately. Everyone knew it. Williams had no heart for forgiveness for those who had wronged her team, her squad, her family…her skipper. She would not miss by mistake or deliberately. Her sense of justice wasn't due process as was the Spectre's but the eye for an eye, life for a life brand of frontier justice.

"LT…" Merkson whimpered, "Please…"

"You going to beg me to spare your pathetic life you feculent maggot? Don't bother. I'm not going to betray the captain by taking a life she spared. You're damaged goods Merkson. I will tell you what is going to happen. You will be court-martialed, charged with treason, conspiracy to committee murder, conspiracy to commit infanticide. Aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of Dr. T'soni, aiding and abetting infanticide.

"I don't have to put a bullet in your head, Merkson, you're already dead." She leaned close to the cell glowering at the traitor. "I will tell you this. I'm going to request to be placed on the firing squad because I really do want to put a fucking bullet in your brain. I highly suspect I'm not the only one. The only reason you're still alive, traitor is because my captain missed the shot." That said she followed her skipper's footsteps out of the brig.

Williams always seemed to be one step behind her skipper. She chided herself for not being there in sickbay for her and Liara, for not being faster in recovering Liara back on the Citadel, for not bringing her straight back to the Normandy and not the Consorts. Back in the brig, the lieutenant gave herself a bit of reprieve, Grateful to the All-Mighty that Liara still lived that Sam hadn't lost her beloved on top of her daughter.

She didn't have to ask any of the crew if they had seen the captain, it was easy enough to read their faces, to see in their eyes the astonished numb-dumbness that follows in the wake of tragedy. By now the entire ship had heard that the captain and Liara lost their daughter. You could read it in their expressions few knew what to say, what to think. It was all too real for the mythic figure such as the Savior of the Citadel, Hero of the Skillian Blitz and Eden Prime to have to face such horrors as the murder of her only child.

Passing by various crewmembers: human, asari, turian, salarian and volus there were murmurs, whispers about the blood on Shepard's tunic. Some speculated that Liara would not live the day while others defied this unwilling to entertain the possibility. Had time been more of an ally Williams would have stopped and debased such rumor mongering and speculations. As it stood, Ash continued her guileless trek to be where she was needed the most - at her skipper's side. Besides she reasoned Shiala was now the XO - let her stem the floodgates of crew scuttlebutt.

Following her first instincts Williams took the elevator up to the loft. There she hesitated before the closed inner door taking a moment to ponder her next move. She should she enter without announcing herself or knock or tag the buzzer? In the end she went with her gut. So far it hadn't let her down. She let herself in. It was taking liberties with a superior officer but Ash justified it to herself that this was her skipper, her friend, Sam was family. And sometimes you had to forget military protocol, sometimes you had to be the person and not the rank. Right now they were just Sam and Ash, not the Spectre, not the captain, not the lieutenant.

Ash entered just in time to see the skipper fling a biotic wave at the wall separating the upper tier office area from the rest of the room. The pulse hit and shattered a dozen model starships into small bits of duroplastic. The cry of rage and anguish that followed it broke Williams's heart in as many pieces.

Sam crumpled to the floor bonelessly, like a slinky dropped from a hundred storey building. Life expelled from her lungs and drew it in but any who saw it can testify that life was absent from this woman's spirit. She was only a shadow of what she was, of who she was, of what she as represented; tonight she was a mother who lost her child.

Williams broke no hesitation when she took Sam into her arms and held her. She said nothing when she felt her skipper's tears dribble down her neck and into the collar of her BDUs. Sam's whole body shuddered in weeping for her stillborn daughter. Ash continued to hold the woman in her arms, her hand gently stroking the long back.

After what seemed like hours the sobbing subsided leaving both women utterly drained.

"I couldn't save her." Sam uttered through a constricted throat.

"I know," Ash whispered softly. "I know. Sometimes you can't. All you can do is let this pain crush you and you have to let it. I know it hurts, Sam. You're going to feel a lot of things: resentment, anger, rage beyond anything you've ever felt before. And the guilt feeling you should have been faster, stronger, wiser. But it is not your fault. It isn't Liara's. It isn't the fault of Chakwas or Aleena's it's those who sent the hunters after you. I know it isn't exactly the same I felt all this when my Dad died. I had only the strength enough to cling to my family, so I wouldn't go mad. You have family here Sam. Me, Tali the rest of the gang, even Chakwas and Shiala. And you have your love. You have Liara. Hang on to her, on to that love between you. Don't ever let go if it. Right now you don't what to hear this but, you two still have a future, and there will be other daughters."

Sam blinked her eyes red and puffy from crying. Ashley was right. Liara was fading from this. If she slipped too far away Sam would lose her too.

"I have to go to her." she tried to get to her felt but felt them nearly buckle under her. The grief had robbed her of physical strength. Ash helped her up onto unsteady feet. "Then go to her, but first, take a shower and put on new BDUs. You don't want your wife to see you like that."


The younger woman only tilted her head indicating the scrub top. Shepard looked down to see her tunic stained a dark purplish brown. She hadn't realized how much blood she had been wearing.

"Oh God!" she darted past Ash into the ensuite, barely making it to the toilet before she vomited. A soldier was used to seeing blood; it came with being a marine. But to see your child's blood coating you was something that you were never prepared for.

Ash moved in beside her holding Shepard by the waist as another constriction emptied her stomach. Carefully she guided the Spectre to the sink took one of the disposable cups filled it with water and handed it over to the shaking hand. Without saying a word she took toilet tissue dabbed it with sanitizer and wiped the seat of debris. She looked over her shoulder to see Sam rinsing out her mouth but doing it so slowly she might have been in slow-motion pantomime. Once more without uttering a syllable Ash took charge. She negotiated her way around the small bathroom to the shower stall, activated it making sure it was quite warm before turning her attention once again back to her skipper.

Sam's hands had gone white from hanging onto the sink for fear of falling over. No words were exchanged as Ash started to strip the woman before her then removed her own clothing as well. Placing Sam's hands onto her shoulders, Ash walked backwards into to stall making sure the spray of water hit the stunned Spectre. It took some careful doing but Ash managed to scrub off all the blood from Shepard's body. Purple became lavender as the child's blood swirled around their feet heading as a tiny whirlpool about the drain. Sam only stared at it.

If asked she could not testify to the fact Ash not only scrubbed her body but also washed her hair; or how she came to be dry. Hell she didn't even know how she came to be dressed or for that matter why Ash was borrowing a set of her casual uniform, until it happened.

Her black hair combed, teeth brushed her clothing fresh and clean, she was at last presentable.

"Skipper, I'm going to take you to see Liara, then I'm going to get you some food. You have to eat it. I'll get something for Liara as well, if it's okay with Chakwas. And you are going to make sure she eats it when she wakes up. Okay?"

"Aye, aye." came a very weak answer.

That simple word broke Ash's heart more than seeing her Skipper on the shattered floor mourning for her lost child. Swallowing down her own tears, Williams guided her skipper back down to the med-bay back to the woman Sam belonged to.

Chakwas watched as young Williams delivered a broken shell of a warrior into sickbay, then disappear only to reappear twenty minutes later with a tray laden with Thessian purple flamingo soup (which Mess Sergeant Rupert clamed was just like chicken noodle soup), sandwiches, coffee, and a protein drink as well as a glass of cranberry juice.

The physician watched as Williams ensured her skipper ate even if she had tear small pieces of the roast beef sandwich into bite size hunks and hand them over watching to see they were eaten before nudging her to take sips from the glass of juice. When Shepard became lost in motion Williams was there to encourage her to lift the spoon to her lips. Chakwas highly doubted Shepard even tasted the soup or sandwich.

When everything was eaten to the lieutenant's satisfaction, she guided her skipper to lay down in a bed closest to Liara. Had the bed been large enough no doubt Williams would have placed her in the same bed as her bondmate.

"You're good with that." the doctor said once Williams left her Spectre-watching-duty. "Want to consider switching vocations from the infantry to the infirmary?"

"Comes with being the big sister. I helped my sisters through a fair bit of things, everything from illness, to broken hearts over some boy or a girlfriend. This is a little different, but I know how to take care of people I….I care about."

"It's okay to say love you know." Chakwas whispered touching the younger woman on the arm and giving it a gentle squeeze. "The three of you make one hell of a team. They're your family."

Williams looked over to the beds, for a moment she was quite silent. The concern in her eyes so very clear to see, she didn't even try to disguise it. "Yes they are." She said at last. "And I have to take care of a few things, because I am their family." A heavy sigh escaped her lips.

"You do what you have to do, Williams. I'll take care of them, don't worry."

"I don't think I know how to do that, Doc."

Ash returned to the captain's quarters or what was euphemistically dubbed as 'The Loft.' Here she took on the monumental task of cleaning up the mess Sam had left in a biotic tantrum. Real paper books were replaced upon shelves, broken starship models recovered and all parts put upon the desk, shattered glass vacuumed up, bed sheets and coverlets turned out. It took a bit of time but in the end all that needed be replaced had been, all that remained was the gifts from the surprise baby shower, somehow to Williams it was a sacrilege to rid the quarters of the child's belongings. It was something the parents had to do together, maybe with Tali and Ash to help but mostly it was for Sam and Liara to handle it was their right as well as their burden.

The model ships, Ash knew could easily be replaced with new kits and no doubt in time they would. Once asked about the collection, the Spectre had said it was a 'Zen thing to put the models together. Yeah I know it's was a geeky- sci-fi thing to do but I enjoy it. I have ever since I was little. Guess it goes with being a spacer kid.' Williams resolved to buy new kits for the skipper to replace those she had destroyed with the biotic pulse she had sent into the collection, if only to help the therapy process of her skipper.

Sam felt a hand upon her shoulder shaking her. Her eyes creaked open after the third attempt to see Chakwas hovering over her bed. She felt she had only been a sleep for a few minutes where in fact it had been nearly eight hours. The longest she had slept in quite some time under her own will. Stress had a way evaporating all strength from a soul.

"I'm sorry Captain to have to wake you, but…."

Shepard practically bolted from the bed with one word on her lips. "Liara?" she moved for the bedside noticing the IV drips one a saline solution for nourishment, the other a blood transfusion. Sam reached out stroking Liara's pale blue cheek. At least she wasn't as cold to the touch as she had been.

"She's fine. Healing. Aleena and I thought it best to place her in a medical coma. Her body needs to recover. It will only be for the next day or so. Her physiology allows her to heal at a greater rate than humans, but she still needs time. The miscarriage…." Chakwas saw the pained look in the Spectre's face at the very mention of the word, she didn't want to continue with the prognosis but the young woman needed to know the details of her wife's condition. "The loss of blood before the miscarriage was an issue of concern, it is now even more so."

Shepard heard the words but gave no acknowledgement of them. her whole concentration was on the asari laying comatose in the bed. She leaned down pressed her forehead to Liara's, her pink lips brushed softly against the pale purple.

"I told Secura….that….that I saw a future for us. We already have the marriage, but we will live long lives together and we will have a lot of little blue children. Don't leave me Liara. I love you." Before she turned she placed another kiss on the woman she held so dear to her heart. Wiping the tears from her eyes with a brisk sweep of her hand she focused on the doctor. "What's going on, why did you wake me?"

"Lieutenant Williams needs to have a word with you. As I said I wouldn't have complied with the request but this…is important and despite your own medical needs this can't wait."

"What does Ash want?"

"She didn't say but I highly suspect it has a great deal to do with the Council's request for your debriefing of what happened on the Presidium. And there is another matter, one I'm leaving for Williams to tell you."

Sam returned her attention to Liara, giving her wife one last kiss upon her lips as if she were some princess in a fairy-tale.

It took the Spectre less than two minutes to get fully dressed, groomed and out the door. Once she reached the CIC she found Williams at her station to the left of the galaxy map, near Shepard's private terminal.

"Skipper," Williams greeted formally though her eyes betrayed her worry. "I wish I didn't have…"

"Leave it, Ash. You're doing your duty. I have to do mine. I assume the Council has exasperated their patience waiting for me at the inquest?"

"Commander Shiala has gone to give them a SitRap as to the delay."

A dry humorless laughed barked from the Spectre's lips causing marines and officers to turn their attention to her though they quickly averted their eyes in embarrassment from them and for their captain. "Do you really think I will be granted a reprieve from duty in their eyes because of this attack? An attack they said if and when it happened is my fault because I didn't send Liara away? They will point at me and say 'We told you so.' And they are right!"

Officers tried to move away from their stations in vain attempts to give the furious Spectre more privacy. Williams took the incentive and guided the irate woman into the briefing room. There in the confines of the room Shepard started pacing like a caged predator.

"Udina is to blame Sam not you, not Liara. God they set you up."

"You don't think I know that?" Shepard shot back angrily though her rage was not truly directed at the lieutenant.

"No, I don't think you do. At least not as much as you should."

Sam's pacing stopped. She pinned the other woman with her cold blue eyes and demanded. "Clarify that Lieutenant."

Williams only nodded and obeyed the command. As they were conveniently in the comm-room it wasn't difficult to load up the video-feed that had been sent to Shiala.

Shepard's face was as blank as stone. Williams had assumed she would have gone ballistic as she had in her quarters. No such reaction imitated from her, there was nothing but chilling malevolent silence. That terrified the lieutenant more than outright rage.

'Again she sends a minion to fulfill her obligations.' Spectre Tela Vasir thought bitterly when she saw Commander Shiala, Normandy's Executive Officer enter the Council Chambers. 'Too much military delegation not enough independent thought.'

"Commander," Trace Ba'lor growled as soon as he saw the asari stride up along the audience gangway, "what is Shepard's excuse this time that she can not fulfill her duties?"

Shiala looked up meeting each Councilor gaze in turn before she spoke. "Spectre Shepard and Dr. T'soni just lost their child due to complication arising during the assassination attempt on Dr. T'soni's life. Spectre Shepard apologizes if this has created an inconvenience for the Council."

Councilor Lei'cree Tevas, first to recover from the shocking and deadpan delivery of the news took a half a step forward. "I feel confident that I can speak for the whole of the Council when I wish to convey our condolences on the death of their child. We of course understand if the Spectre needs time to recover. Unfortunate as the timing maybe we still need to consult with Spectre Shepard on the incident on the Presidium. There are issues that need to be dissected and discussed."

"If you're talking about the blackmailing news broadcast the senior officers are well aware of it. We will take measures. If you think for one moment that Spectre Shepard went on a killing-spree…"

"You would be gravely mistaken." Shepard's voice interrupted. She came up to Shiala's said touched her arm in silent signal of dismissal. "My crew is protective of their Captain, as I am of them." she took a small step further forward until she was at the very lip of the walkway. "Obviously you think that protection equates to murderous rampages."

"We realize how angry you must be with this attack on your bondmate…" the salarian councilor started but stopped with the petulant snort from the human Spectre. "It is reasonable to assume your anger will beget vengeance."

"Angry? I'm not angry, Councilor. I've moved well beyond angry. My rage is biblical! You think I want vengeance? Yes by the Goddess I want vengeance. I crave it, I hunger for it, I drink it in, until it's all that is left." she closed her eyes, drawing in small deep breaths. "If I said asari had blue skin I have no doubt this Council would dismiss my words as false and mentally unstable and as readily as they have dismiss everything else I said. You want answers to what happened on the Presidium, I'm not going to waste my breath defending my actions, telling you the truth. Just proclaim your verdict and get it over with." her tone was deflated and numb.

Tevos opened her mouth to refute the Spectre but it was David Anderson who spoke first. He put a hand up. "We know the video-feed came from hardsuit helmet-cams and planted cameras. We know it's a set up, I'll tell you now we will not leave you Shepard to fight this on your own, nor will we distance ourselves from you."

Shepard gave each Councilor a candid disbelieving look waiting perhaps for one of the others to make contrary remarks. When none came, Shepard spoke. "Are all of you in consensus or is this just placation?"

"You mistrust us." the turian accused.

Shepard gave no outward expression that this was indeed exactly what she believed.

"It is your actions Shepard that we are here to discuss not ours." Ba'lor said in an almost petulant tone. "You will do well to remember your place."

"My place?" Shepard's anger rose. "My place, Counselor is at my bondmate's side, but I'm here performing my duty as I have always done."

Without preamble Shepard began to describe all that had happened on the Presidium two days ago. She outlined the regulatory obligations to clear the immediate area of innocents, of pacifying uniformed C-Sec officers because the terrorists were clad in their uniforms. She further spoke of the battle between the mercs admitting that after she and Pallin separated ways she had no idea what he had done, nor at the time was she aware another Spectre was on the scene until they came face to face with Vasir in the aftermath. She even described the unique ability to use biotic powers in order to see and why it had to be done.

"And you didn't feel it necessary to interrogate the fugitives." Ba'lor said.

"No." was all Shepard said. Privately she reminded herself not to ring the bell. She wasn't going to allow Trace Ba'lor to goad her into attacking with words engorged with her rage. She showed a countenance of uncanny chilled command. Her mouth contained the taste of ash. The haunting of her wife bleeding in the medical bay's bathroom floor lingered in her mind. Shadows of her daughter's death cloaked her heart, its grips still ironclad on her soul. She wished only to return to her beloved Liara. The contempt she held for those before her must die if the Spectre had any hope doing so.

"Do you wish to elaborate on your reasons?" came the salarian.


Anderson acutely aware of Shepard's shrewdness in her game play of military protocol took up the reigns of the inquest. Privately he applauded her machinations of politics. At last she was learning how to play with politicians "Spectre Shepard, you are so ordered to give reason as to your decisions."

"Former C-Sec investigator Vakarian is quite capable of interrogations. I trust my crew." she repeated her earlier opening comment. "I trusted in the abilities of my counterparts both in the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance division as well as C-Sec. Tell me am I mistaken in placing such trust?" she gently needled them.

She had turned tables on the Council yet again and once more Anderson silently applauded her skills and he was not the only one.

Far too skilled in the arts of negotiations, Tevos gave no outward sign of her true thoughts or reactions. She hadn't survived over a thousand years to give herself away by such pedestrian reactions. Her expressions were confusing mélange of false signals and intentional misinformation.

"Your actions betray your dedication to duty to those of personal matters." the words were expected to have come from the turian but they came from Jorg Velarn. "While we can sympathize with the plight of your family, you have forsaken your duty."

Shepard's entire body shuddered in attempting to control her outright fury. Personal matters…personal matters! The assassination attempt on her beloved's life…the miscarriage of her daughter was only a personal matter? Her mind roared at such blatant dismissal of the lives of those she held dearest of all. Her mind quaked wanting to lash out and strike the male before her into a puddle of carbonized goo.

She struggled against the desire crush them all. To make them burn. She tasted the acrid bitterness in her mouth and realized it was blood. Ruby gems appeared on her lower lip from the brutality her teeth visited upon it.

"There are those in the Alliance in and out of the military who believe I have forsaken humanity to save your lives. Some call me a race-traitor. But I did what I felt was right and sacrificed hundreds of my people's lives for you. Personally talking to the men who were sent by Udina to kill my wife would not give me any more information than I already have. And you're forgetting those assassins were sent after my personal matter." Shepard hissed.

This drew silence from the Councilors. Finally Tevos said. "We do not impugn your dedication to your station only that your personal life has motivated others into actions that may not have been issued had you heeded the words of the Council. We bade you take in the wisdom of our experiences and set aside your connection to Dr. T'soni if only for her safety. Had this been done this attack might have been completely averted and she would still be with child. This is why we discourage our Spectres in such bondings. Your enemies will always use your personal life against you. Now through this tragedy you have unfortunately come to understand this."

Wincing at the blow to her spirit Shepard's eyes dropped to the floor. Her mind flashed on Liara lying in the bathroom. On all the blood. There had been so much blood.

"Those who have prestigious stations possess the great danger of having those they care for used against them. It is a common practice amongst terrorists to do so. It can cause erroneous misjudgments. Though one can be hardly blamed for wishing to protect their loved ones it does jeopardize loyalties." Velarn said.

Shepard bore the words in quiet distain; she looked to Anderson for some sort of support some defense, but her former captain averted his gaze just enough to inform the Spectre that he agreed with the salarian's assessment. Hell it was why fraternization in the military was discouraged. Shepard knew this. Until Liara came into her life she had followed those regulations without much of a second thought. But Shepard justified her involvement with the asari that she wasn't military even if Liara was a part of the crew.

Anger boiled in Shepard's heart and mind she was on the brink of snapping. It was becoming increasingly difficult to use restriction to hold back her rage. If Udina's goons were hell bent on disgracing her in the public eye by forcing Shepard to lash out without thought, the Council was well on the way of doing the same. It took all her willpower not sling a singularity into the collective Council's asses.

She had been betrayed by them, more so by Anderson. It hurt Shepard to think he had agreed with the others so fully he didn't even offer the most minute defense in her favor. She clutched her fists at the side of her body so hard the nails bit into her palms. Blood dripped hitting the transparent floor at her feet in ruby rainfall.

'Do not ring the bell.' a small voice said in her mind that sounded remarkably like Liara. Though she knew it could not be, her beloved was in a medical induced coma. Five small words became a sutra of calm; it was the only thing that kept the torrential fury at bay. She would not be tested and found wanting.

"We seem to be in accord." Shepard said at long last. "You do not listen to my words of warning and I'm deaf to yours. You refuse to see the dangers of the Reapers and accuse me of being mentally unstable and being deluded by the Prothean technology and some of you assume I was charmed by the very man who tried to assassinate me, and slaughter all of you.

"And I refuse to be parted from my bondmate because of your words. Whatever Machiavellian schemes Udina and Cerberus want to do to me by targeting Liara would have happened irregardless of where she was or if she was with me or not. Let's not be stupid about that. If the four of you want to blame me for the attack on the Presidium then do it! I admit it, it was my fault, my bondmate was viciously attacked. Udina despises me. He blames me for my recommendation to the Prime Minister and to you who should have the human seat on the Council. He blames me for his political impotency. So let's move on shall we? I have my child's funeral to arrange."

"Do not believe we are insensitive to your loss, Captain. There are simply a lot of questions that need be answered." Velarn said.

"For instance the quote used in the video feed about you proclaiming to go rogue. Council tech-staffers have analyzed the tape and deemed the recording of your words to be genuine and not an amalgamation. Explain this." Ba'lor ordered.

"That was taken completely out of context." Shepard became defensive. "I said that in confidence in the medical bay and only to Dr. Chakwas and Liara. It was only later discovered that we were not entirely alone. One of the nursing staff lingered in the back lab and recorded all that had been said. She was working with Udina. He wanted something to use against me."

"Apparently he has succeeded." Ba'lor said in cool and haughty voice.

"It was taken out of context," she repeated. Drawing in a calming breath the Spectre spoke once more. She made no attempt to disguise the open contempt upon her face. "It was just after my surgery. Dr. Chakwas told me that my beta waves had changed again; they were shifting to match those of Liara's. You were given my medical reports you know precisely what has happened to me due to the gestalt. The cipher and Prothean beacons opened dormant areas in my mind. I have the genetic memory of the Protheans so does Liara. It's changed both of us. My biotics now match those of an asari commando hers are close to a seasoned matron perhaps even a matriarch's.

"And you know equally why I am concerned that people like ExoGeni, Binary Helix, or Cerberus might get a hold of this information. What ExoGeni did with the people of Farris Hope is unforgivable." she turned her cold blue eyes to the turian. "Yes they were a human colony but I would have done the same for any other race. Binary Helix experimented on the rachni causing the Queen's children to go mad. And the things Cerberus did and are doing….are monstrous. They are utterly evil, beyond redemption. Do you think for one moment I will allow Cerberus to get their hands on Liara. Or me?

"Yes I said I would go rogue before I allowed anyone to get their hands on Liara. And do you think Cerberus would have stopped with her? They would have hunted down and harvested young maidens forcing them to generate a gestalt with some human biotic or cut them open in some cruel mockery of science. The news is filled with reports of Erzesherr Vidmer and her gruesome harvesting of asari telomerase in attempts to find a youth elixir.

"What do you think will happen if they want to adapt human biotics to match those of the asari matriarchs? So yes said I will go rogue if I have to protect Liara, the asari and those of the Alliance from doing something monumentally stupid. I won't be the catalyst for such an appalling travesty. Because of Udina you can bet Cerberus already knows what happened between me and Liara."

"If you believe Cerberus wants to harvest asari maidens to make more powerful human biotics then why send bounty hunters after Dr. T'soni?" Anderson asked. "We saw in the video they want to alienate you from the Council, the Spectres and the Alliance. Do you think this is to drive you into joining Cerberus?"

"That's my guess. Make me resign from the Spectres or force you by blackmail into doing so because I am too toxic to continue an affiliation. 'Exile Shepard or we show this and you'll be forced to do so anyway'."

"That will not happen." Ba'lor said. "We will not be moved by such tactics."

Shepard stared in astonishment at the turian. Of all things spoken today she had not expected a defense from him.

"Do you think you are the first Spectre someone attempted to manipulate into egregious action?" Tevos asked. "Or force the Council to remove them from their position. Why do you think we demanded irrefutable proof on Saren's actions? The Alliance wasn't the first to complain of his actions in the line of duty. Nor was he the only Spectre to have collected charges against.

"Spectre Nihlus attracted the wrath of an asari Justicar. If they were to ever have crossed paths again I have no doubt in my mind Justicar Samara would have killed him for his actions. Justicars do not hunt without cause. She gave a report to this Council and her vow she would end him if he came into asari space once more and learned of it. Spectre Vasir is highly hated amongst the bartarians. The Hegemony has made many attempts to force this Council into removing her from her position. And she has had more than a few assassination attempts upon her life. As all of our Spectres have."

"Bearing that in mind, do you think we will allow a lone man's machinations to control us or guide our decisions?" Ba'lor asked.

During the whole inquest Shepard admitted that yes in fact she had believed the Council would revoke her status. In fact she feared it. She feared her tenuous hold on her temper, her sanity was quickly waning. Being a Spectre gave her purpose, guided all she did just was being an N-Seven marine had. Right now it was all that grounding her.

"Spectre Shepard." Anderson addressed his protégée using her rightful rank. Perhaps he knew, somehow read it in her face her fears of revocation. Was she that easy to read now? "We are not advising you to abandon your wife. But you know these attacks on her will continue as long as she is in your company."

"Or as long as Udina is active. Neutralize him you neutralize his bank accounts: the bounty hunters will lose interest. They are not the altruistic sort." 'Normally' she added to herself silently, thinking of Aleena and Wrex.

"And what of Cerberus, the avowed enemy of the Citadel?" asked Tevos. "Their interests will not fade with Udina gone. Indeed it will more likely intensify. They will pursue you relentlessly."

"I'm counting on it." Shepard growled out. "Let them come. As you said they are the avowed enemy of the Citadel. An abomination of all human kind. I will hunt them as they hunt me. They are far too cagey to completely neutralize, but I can wound them so deeply it will take decades for them to recover."

The pro-human terrorist group was the main reason many opposed humanity's addition to the Council. It was ever a heated topic. Many feared that Cerberus agents had already infiltrated human ranks in the Council chambers. It was known that Cerberus had agents within the military already, the names were unknown but their presence was not.

There was not a Spectre that didn't want to put a bullet into the Illusive Man's skull. He was the lifeblood, soul, the mind and heart of Cerberus. Impossible to find he was as elusive as illusive. A master of obfuscation and manipulation he had many servants to do his bidding. His public face were his minions of Terra Firma, his hands were his clandestine agents in positions of authority and influence.

"Shepard, you have leave to hunt Cerberus. We have no jurisdiction in the Terminus Systems; this is the core reason why Cerberus chooses to maintain their most important installations there. There they are free to engage in unethical and illegal research without reprisals from the Council. If you venture there we will disavow any action on your part. You may well be seen as going rogue." Ba'lor said.

"Do not forget your prime objective is to find geth outposts and neutralize them and any attempts they have in the construction of more of their Sovereign class dreadnoughts." Velarn reminded the Spectre of her true mission.

Miranda Lawson hated Omega. It was such a piss hole. The dregs of alien life clotted the byways and alleys; it reeked of hedonistic destitution, piracy and filth. She avoided drawing the attention of the stations pirate queen as much as possible, wearing her usual tight fitting outfits emblazoned with the Cerberus logo was sure not only to gain the ire of Aria T'lok but any number of alien mercenary scum and scavengers.

While she respected the asari as a race and their ingenuity those that chose to live on Omega versus someplace like Illium were no better than the vorcha in Lawson's perspective. Still T'lok had held her position as tyrant of the station for well over four centuries, which was saying something. The woman was dangerous and it was folly to underestimate her simply on her choice of address.

Lawson didn't get where she was by ignoring, dismissing or misreading people. In fact it was one of her many skill sets that made her invaluable to Cerberus…to the Illusive Man.

She had never questioned her loyalty to the Illusive Man and what he had done for her. She never forgot that. Nor would she. But in the smallest shaded corner of her mind she started to question the motivations of her mentor and leader.

She knew the necessity of shock troops. It was why they had used the already dead husks, the mindless creepers and once they came to understand the rachni were actually sentient and frankly could not be enslaved without the Queen who would never succumb to the clumsy indoctrination of humans. It would take the power of the Reapers to do so. And so all subjects were abandoned. That left programmed clones. The Illusive man claimed because they were all clones of a single man they were not in a sense true humans. They were only copies.

Miranda tired to accept that, but in her mind she couldn't help but think of her father. She wasn't his first daughter, only the first one he kept. She was the perfection of genetic engineering. To her father she wasn't a human she was a dynasty. For the first time in her servitude to Cerberus she started to compare the Illusive Man's actions to those of her father.

As suddenly as the thought entered her mind, Miranda expelled it. It was treasonous to even allow those thoughts to have slipped in. Then she thought of the reports she had heard from incoming merchant sailors, merc bands and even more than a few pirates. Their chatter spoke of a band of human pirates who had descended upon a small agrarian bartarian colony.

They did not raid in as much as attack. They didn't hit the strong men or women but hit the very young and the very old. The pirates didn't kill them, but amputated limbs…without anesthetic. Then they left. Their only goal it seemed was to spread horror.

It had worked.

Horror was spread. And so was the hate. But the pirate that hit were so armored, so cloaked they could not be distinguished between the males of human, drell or bartarian. And that was more terrifying than any butchery and brutality.

What the Illusive man meant to glean from this Miranda could not fathom. And it made her sick. It was one thing to insure humanity was not left behind, that it had a strong place amongst the aliens who had been active together for centuries. Humans needed to be strong, but need they become monsters to do so?

Miranda's mind flashed on the image of little screaming children and old aged who had their arms sliced from their bodies by machetes. How can this strengthen humanity? It was a vicious act, a heinous crime and she did not see why the Illusive Man believed it to be a necessity. He must have seen something beyond her perception; Miranda forced herself to accept this. She felt horror.

Shepard had one more thing to do before returning to her ship, to her bondmate. She didn't add duty in that list but it was duty that motivated her now. Of course she was lying to herself, she wasn't here in the line of duty but for vengeance. She wanted to make them pay. Make them all pay, she wanted them to burn.

She needed information.

She took the lift from the tower back to the Presidium. In far contrast to what had happened two days ago it seemed life had simply gone on. For a moment Shepard was resentful. Did they not know the countless pains Liara had suffered that she had suffered?

For a moment an expression of profound anger washed over the Spectre's face. These…these coin-mongers…these dignitaries…these well-to-doers were ready to herald her hero but would they stand behind her? No. Shepard thought bitterly the white collar and blue the plebs would believe the reports of that hideous deceptive news report. All these people who saw her hero would turn on her in an instant. They will whisper behind her back, more so than they did now. Only the context would change. They would call her delusional, blood-fiend, despot. The proliferation of well-wishing and acclamation would turn instantly sour.

Shepard's mind became more embittered. None of these people would have ever lifted a finger to save Liara, to save Secura. But they expect Shepard to save them. They expected her to be the custodian of their safety. They relied on her to stop the great destruction coming from Dark Space. They all refused to listen to reason, to what the Spectre knew to be true. In that instant she hated them all: human, asari, turian, salarian and all the other dozen of races that called the Citadel home. She despised them.

Secura died. Liara nearly had. And not one soul here gave a damn. The very idea raged through Shepard's heart like a wounded bear. She closed her eyes tight until they hurt in their sockets. Her breathing once harshly raged was becoming calm once more. Tears burned anew in her eyes. A hard core of determination coalesced in her belly. Her enemy was not the ignorance of the people under her oath of protection, but the Reapers and their minions. Her enemy was Udina, his lackeys. Her enemy was Cerberus and their agents. That had to be her focus. In an instant, Shepard's anger melted away and was replaced by a cold, hard and brutally practical mindset.

Her footsteps took her directly to the one person she knew on the Presidium who was capable of pointing the way. Barla Von, an agent of the Shadow Broker.

Had not the volus been wearing his environmental suit the Spectre would have seen him blanch.

"Oh no! Every time you show up something monumentally terrible happens. I don't think I have the stomach for it."

Shepard laughed softly. "No drama this time Barla Von"

"You are persistent, crossing the entire galaxy to simply to talk to me. Still waiting for that prophesized moment when the galaxy is torn asunder by those things from Dark Space?"

"I'm biding my time. I'm not the author of this doom, nor its harbinger or prophet. I see only that which the Protheans allow me to see. I don't seek to be an iterant. I know Cerberus is marshaling their forces because they believe me a detriment to their goals."

"Yes I have heard as much. They have been assimilating many bounty hunters with demands to put you to your demise. I don't think they know how to put to end to you Spectre. That little drama which played out here recently with the attack on your bondmate is proof of that."

"I do not fear them, nor do I underestimate them. They are conspirators who don't know what their right hand is doing from their left. The leader of Cerberus seems to be caught out at every turn."

"The Illusive Man is a pawn, Shepard haven't you figured that out yet? The great manipulator is their play thing. The one pulling the strings is yet to reveal themselves."

"And just who are these diabolical 'They' you speak of?"

"Now that is the true question." Von smirked behind his mask. "They certainly don't like you uncoiling their carefully choreographed machinations. Understand every action you make may instead be those they are trying to provoke. You must tread carefully."

"They already tried to provoke me into attacking C-Sec in some blind blood rage whilst surreptitiously filming me doing so." the words were growled.

"Yes …interesting." the volus said. "Fortunately that attempt to use smear campaign against you back-fired. The Shadow Broker was quite keen on how such events played out."

"If I were a suspicious sort I might believe he had a hand in this, one way or the other. Perhaps he is a part of this 'They' we speak of. He is part of the reason I came to see you."

"I imagine your visit had more to do with my other brokerage obligations than the financial ones. Though I will add your stock investments are going well if not simply steady. Now what can I do for you?"

"I want a name and a location. I want Cerberus."

"The Illusive Man…" Von shook his head. "Now…that…"

"No not TIM. I want one of his agents. One of his best lap dogs."

Von checked his computer terminal scanning tariquads of date rather quickly. "There are quite a few I can give. Can you be a little more precise? You want a military target? I've got a soldier by the name of Jacob…"

"No. Not a gun for hire. I want a scientist or someone in that department. Someone with actual intelligence, not some point and shoot boy."

"And why would you want someone like that?" Von pressed. It was impossible to see the curious expression he was giving the Spectre behind his environmental suit's helmet

"Not something you need to know." Shepard crossed her arms. "Name and location, please."

"Very well Spectre. Operative Miranda Lawson, I'd try Omega if not there then try Illium."

"Omega? The cesspool capital of the Terminus Systems? Wonderful. So is Cerberus making inroads on Omega, with the Pirate Queen? It's a little difficult to imagine those Machiavellian xenophobes branching out."

"You wanted a name and a location not a reason why." Von reminded Shepard. "Shepard you may wish to ask yourself a question. What game is this that every player on the board claims the same pawn?"

"I am no mere pawn."

"Are you not? Then why move as though you are?" Von challenged.

"Samantha!" She shouted and opened her eyes. Liara's face was soaking wet; she could feel the hot tears.

"Hush," said Ashley. "Liara, hush. Keep still. You've been badly hurt."

As if she didn't know that. As if she couldn't feel the gaping hole in her chest where her heart had been ripped out, where an ocean of acid turned her world to pain. A single word came forth. "Samantha?"

"The Council summoned her. She put it off as long as possible but she finally had to submit to them. She'll be back."

"My baby is dead."

"I'm so sorry," Ash felt dumb for saying words that must sound flat and petty.

Sickened, trembling on the brink of losing self-control completely Liara fell into Ashley's arms, her sobs wracked her body. There was nothing left but heart aching despair. Just as she did with Sam, Ash held the woman in her arms tightly offering the only thing she could - her strength and her love.

Fire met each step as Shepard neared the dock where the Normandy was birthed. It wasn't until she entered the airlock that a new wave of emotion spun into the Spectre's heart. She was aware in an instant that Liara was now awake.

Liara was still in pain, it was difficult to discern whether the emotional or physical were greater. No matter. Samantha was going to be at her side.

She skidded to a halt as she came into the sickbay and saw an asari she did not know. She was of turquoise skin, with dark brown eyes. Her crest and cheeks were adorned with dark purple symmetrical arcs and curves. A single strip of purple ran the length of the asari's lower lip to her chin.

"Who are you?" the Spectre demanded.

It was Chakwas who answered. "This is Dr. Morzan Volkhavaar a specialist in asari neonatal care."

Scorn flashed in the human's eyes for a moment. "It's a little late for that don't you think?"

Having seen several families through the tragedy of stillbirth, premature birthing and many a complication with asari pregnancies Dr. Volkhavaar was accustomed to the cold anger of mothers.

She watched as the young human went to her bondmate's side. They exchanged no words but clearly they were communicating. Their foreheads were pressed together their hands touching, holding onto each other with quiet desperation.

"Spectre, I was only recently made aware of you r need of me. I received calls not only from the Consort, but from one of the Councilors as well. I came as swiftly as I was able. I fear however even if I was involved long before this attack the prognosis would have still been grim."

Shepard glowered, but it was Liara who put voice to any thought between them. "What do you mean?"

"The gestalt…all Joinings are gestalts, as are all Unions. The asari create a physical, biological, psychological, and even a symbolic configuration of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts. This is the gestalt. Unions to create a daughter are precisely the same. However the gestalt that bonded the two of you lasted longer than any Union or any Joining of an asari and her partner. In this it is wholly unique.

"I have studied this bond as well as those medical records Dr. Chakwas has permitted me to see. Your daughter was the creation of this unique gestalt. As it bound the two of you to the soul it bound her as well. Dr. T'soni you are quite young but you are not the first maiden to become pregnant nor are you the youngest. There are always difficulties with such pregnancies. The first of course is the hurdle of actually becoming pregnant as a maidens' body simply isn't fully ready for the maternal aspects. Though with a great deal of bonding with strong minds this can occur."

"We know all of this." snapped Shepard. The stress of the last two days was eating away at any niceties she might have otherwise shown. "Why don't you actually tell us something we don't already know?"

As for the asari she seemed to take no offense in the glibness of the young human. She saw the strain in the maidens' eyes.

"You said that even if you were here before that the outcome would be the same. Are you saying I would have lost my daughter irregardless of the attack? What was wrong with my baby?" Liara demanded. "Why couldn't you fix it?"

Chakwas looked decidedly uncomfortable, unable to meet the accusatory glares of either parent. Liara's condemning, Samantha's broken.

"She suffered from cardiac dysrhythmia which is an abnormal electrical activity in the heart. There were palpitations in the heartbeat, it was too fast. It's caused arterial ventricular fibrillation. This created complications that included blood clotting within the heart and insufficient blood being transported to the heart because of weak heartbeat. When arrhythmia resulted in a heartbeat that is too slow, too weak or in this case too fast to supply the body's needs, it manifested as a lower blood pressure." Volkhavaar explained.

"A heart condition?" Shepard breathed out, her hand clutching Liara's tightly. "It couldn't have been fixed? In-utero gene therapy?" She frowned trying to remember something she had heard of a while ago. She snapped her fingers as if the action helped her recall lost memories. "Oh! Yes. There was this woman named Rebecca Petrovsky and her brother-in-law Michael arguing over her baby's heart condition, the same condition that killed her husband Jacob. She got the therapy. Couldn't we have done the same? What of other children…will this happen to them, too?"

Volkhavaar, Aleena and Chakwas exchanged a look.

"There is a possibility of that future children may have this condition but it is not likely. Secura was a special case because of the nature of her conception. If you are asking if gene therapy can work, it will but there is no prior genetic preposition for heart conditions in the T'soni bloodline." Chakwas said calmly as possible, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste of not being able to give any hand of hope or definitive positive answer.

"There are precedents we had not accounted for." Aleena spoke clinically and yet softly. "With normal asari pregnancies as you know the mother forms a bond with her daughter during her first trimester and it steadily grows stronger as the fetus grows. That bond grows when the arda joins the connection. Of course typically it tends to be another asari, even if she isn't the siring donor. Captain, you formed a bond with the fetus, we believe it has everything to do with the gestalt and the nature of how Secura was conceived.

"We already know this." Liara's voice was flat carrying just a hint of cold fury burning just below the surface. "What are you telling us? Our bond…had something to do with Secura's condition?

"We treated the fetus assuming that the connection between mother and child was the only one to be concerned about, that your shock and blood loss, Liara, had the only effect. The uniqueness of this gestalt changed everything. We didn't account for your connection, Sam. During the incident on the Presidium you took some bullets and lost blood, you were teetering on a biotic flare up." Chakwas explained.

"What?" both parents said in unison.

"We treated Secura's condition concerned with only Liara's condition and didn't take in account yours, Sam. You were just as bonded to Secura as Liara is. If you hadn't been wounded…"

Shepard paled; she left go of Liara hand and backed away from the bed toppling over the chair her back slamming hard against the bulkhead separating the bay from the lab. "No. No…you're telling me I caused this?! If I hadn't engaged in battle, if I had retreated… my baby…she'd be fine. She'd still be alive?! I did this!?" She fell to her knees. "I did this. I did this. I…I…Oh Goddess…I did this!"

Part 38

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