DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter
Oaths, Vows and Promises
"Don't you think you should tell her who you are?" Hannah Shepard said, stepping up to Sha'ira, who had been standing near the balcony's edge where Benezia's body had been cast off. The senior Shepard leaned her back against the balcony and folded her arms over her chest.
"Commander Shepard? To whom are you referring?" Sha'ira hadn't turned her gaze from the ocean, or the massive triangular fin now circling a certain area off the great jutting rocks.
This section of the waters was patrolled by one great female shark named the Progenitor. It was from her all the other firaxon had spawned and only she swam this close to civilization. She was exempt from the Great Hunt since before any of the asari could remember. No doubt she had seen several matriarchs come and go since Matriarch Dilinaga (whose writings had been scattered across the galaxy and only now recently restored to the temple of Athame because of Samantha Shepard and her crew). The Progenitor might have even completed the cycle of life by feasting upon the body of Matriarch Dilinaga as even now she was with Benezia's corpse. It was for this reason she was never hunted, never taken for she was the Death Eater.
"To a remarkable young woman who is in a hell of a lot of pain. You know if Liara were my daughter I'd take great pride in her rather than cast her aside."
"How how did you know she was my daughter?" The consort turned and faced the white haired Shepard. She was nearly taken aback for she had seen those same electric-ice blue eyes before. The Spectre had gazed at her with those same eyes when she had been telling the young commander of her problem with Septimus. It was how Sha'ira was able to see into the human's soul and see the woman who was truly there. Now she understood why Shepard had been 'born wearing a uniform.'
"Takes one to know one, besides you look at Liara the way I look at my Samantha. You look to her with love, pride and a little sorrow. I look at Sam knowing she goes to battle the Reapers, and it may very well cost her her life. But she is a dedicated marine, she will do her duty. You see Liara and you see what you've missed out on. I know you've been an absent parent. I know what that is like as well. I lost half of Samantha's life because my duty to the military always came first. So why are you a dead-beat parent?"
"You would be wise not to speak of things of which you have little knowledge," the Consort's tone grew glacial.
"Oh I don't know. I had a long conversation with Liara before the medal ceremony and the funeral. I asked her where her other parent was. She told me she didn't know where or in fact who she was. Only that she was another asari and that seemed to distress her. Here's the stupid part. I thought that was pretty much natural. After all Sam has two human parents, why shouldn't Liara have two asari parents? Then she told me of 'the conventional wisdom' regarding asari procreation. I told her it was a bunch of horse crap. She told me her other parent might have wanted to meet her, to claim her but something might have happened to her. She so wanted to believe that. I don't think she does; she had doubts as well. She wondered when her mother became pregnant with her, that her partner was embarrassed and too ashamed to claim a 'pureblood' child as her offspring."
"Never say that word! Never say it to Liara!" Sha'ira snarled.
"Oh I know it's an insult, but what the hell, you certainly don't care enough to be the parent you're supposed to be. That's why I told my soon-to-be daughter-in-law that I can be a mother to her as well. I told her if she ever needed a mom she could comm me."
"You you know nothing of what you speak, even if you spoke my daughter."
"Then why don't you explain it, Consort."
"As I once told your daughter, Commander, I may hold a conventional occupation as Consort but I do not always hold to the doctrines of conventional wisdom. A hundred and six years ago, Benezia and I left Thessia for the Citadel Station on a diplomatic mission. She was already great with child, very near her time to deliver; I was ever reluctant to leave her side even if she typically traveled with commandos. This time she didn't, it was only going to be a short mission and that on the Citadel. I often think if she had traveled with them instead of leaving them behind on my insistence how things would be now.
"Our shuttle was attacked by batarian raiders on the way to the linking relay. The attack caused Benezia to go into sudden shock-labor. I had so little time to react. I stunned her, placed her in an escape pod and launched it. I had to make a choice. I chose to ensure my mate and unborn daughter survived. I never expected to survive my efforts to distract the pirates away from them. Benezia must have believed the same thing, which was why she wouldn't leave without me. I had no choice but to make sure she and our daughter lived. When I launched the pod we were over an asari science colony. I knew they would be safe there. A turian general who later became a good friend intercepted the raiders and saved me. I asked him to scan the planet for an escape pod with our ship's signature. He didn't find anything.
"For a year I continued the search. I commed Thessia but they had no news of Benezia. I believed her lost to me, dead and our child too. I moved on. I felt the loss of the daughter I would never know and decided to bear a child myself in the hope of filling the breach inside me of losing the precious one I created with Benezia. I had had a brief Union with another turian, and gave birth to Racen. Later that same year, I found out Benezia was alive and well with a very healthy daughter living here in the temple of Athame.
I was going to make contact with her and then I decided later this was not an option. She knew I was alive and living on the Citadel station where I resumed my work as Consort as I had performed here at the Temple. She did not attempt to make contact with me. She knew I was alive long before I knew she lived. It shattered my heart to know she no longer desired me nor wanted me to take part in Liara's life. I honored that silent request and never revealed myself to my first born daughter. I tell you this because our daughters are planning their Hand-fasting and you as Samantha's mother deserve the truth."
"I'm not the one who deserves the truth. Answer me this. If asari take on the traits of their 'father' parent, why hasn't anyone said anything about Liara's resemblance to either of you before now?"
"Liara lived the first part of her life either here in the temple or at her mother's bastion, and then by herself on remote archeological digs. There was very little opportunity for her to be seen by others when she became a huntress. Let alone anyone who knew me to compare us."
"Both of you are here now." Hannah pinned the other mother with a harsh gaze.
"We have all been a little distracted both with a matriarch's funeral and the up-coming Hand Fasting."
"Wait a minute you said Racen? Isn't she one of Benezia's disciples and the XO of the Citadel flagship?"
"Ironic is it not? My firstborn daughter became a follower of the mother of my first-sired daughter. Though she is exceptionally young to have a daughter of her own she shares one with her mate Matriarch Lidanya, captain of the Destiny Ascension. A mating I gave my blessing to. Their daughter is born of two asari. I have no shame in acknowledging Maysa as my granddaughter."
"When Racen decided to follow Benezia, I was lost and did not know what to think. But Benezia was a powerful biotic even for an asari, in fact the most powerful biotic in Citadel Space. She was greatly revered. I understand why Racen felt motivated to become one of her followers."
"Makes you wonder what went through Benezia's mind when she accepted the 'claimed' daughter of the woman she loved as her disciple. She must have seen your face in Racen's eyes all the time. It could have only added to her pain. She might have looked at Liara and saw you there as well. Lady Benezia truly must have been devastated. No wonder she believed she could turn the tide of Saren and the indoctrination, she must have felt she had little to lose. Her daughter was estranged no doubt because the growing similarity between you and Liara. And all she could see is your perceived rejection of both her and her little girl. If I were Benezia ready to give birth, shoved in an escape pod, apparently abandoned only to later find the love of my life had become pregnant with a child according to conventional wisdom it would have torn me apart. I would never allow a child of mine to face the shame and torment of being publicly rejected by her 'father' parent. I would have never told her a thing about her other parent in the hopes to protect her little heart. I would pray my love for her would have been enough."
"I did not reject Liara!"
"Why tell me? Tell her, Lady Sha'ira. In a few days our kids are getting married. I don't know what Liara will do when you do tell her. But if she forgives you, don't you hope to be a part of the ceremony, to be there for her? If you cower out, fine. I can be mother for the both of them." With that Hannah Shepard left the pondering Consort to her thoughts but not before throwing over her shoulder. "You missed out on hundred and six years of Liara's existence; are you willing to trash several more centuries of knowing a daughter because it's a hell of a lot easier to pretend she isn't yours? And if they have kids of their own are the little ones only going to know one nana? Or will they be blessed with two?"
The Consort was so used to being all things to all people that she had lost sight of what it meant to be herself. This Hannah had brought into the light. Herself just what was she? She had grieved for one hundred and six years for the daughter denied her. Is that what drove Racen so hard to prove herself worthy of a mother's love? Had she harmed Racen because she wasn't Liara, a daughter created out of the purest of love rather than a desire to have a child to fill an empty place in her soul? Racen was purposely conceived to ease the ache Sha'ira had in her heart when she believed her first-sired was ripped from life before she had taken her first breath. Sha'ira had convinced herself that something had gone horribly wrong with the escape pod and it had burned up in the atmosphere when no trace of it or Benezia had been found. When she discovered her lover, her hand-fasted mate was alive but made no attempted to reunite, Sha'ira had given up all hope she would ever come to know Liara or recognize her as her offspring.
When Liara had been there in her chambers with the Spectre and little Maysa, Sha'ira longed to take her lost daughter into her arms, hold her and proclaim 'This is my daughter of whom I am well pleased and love. I claim her as my offspring born to me by Matriarch Benezia.'
Liara's only knowledge of Sha'ira had been by reputation only and that as Consort. Benezia had never named who Liara's sire was. Sha'ira still loved Benezia enough to honor that ignorance and so she kept still her tongue. The only connection to them was within the name. For some reason, Benezia had chosen to honor Sha'ira by naming her child with a fraction of her own name - a common practice amongst asari to use syllables of the sire's name within the child's own name, if that parent was a hand-fasted mate, rather than a genetic-memory donor. But why did Benezia honor her and then deny her? Sha'ira was uncertain. Could it be as Hannah Shepard had said? Benezia must have seen the conception and birth of Racen as a rejection of a pureblood daughter.
Benezia wanted to shield and protect Liara. How could you tell a child: 'I am sorry my daughter but your sire, Consort Sha'ira is ashamed of your conception, embarrassed by your existence and will not claim you her offspring? She has a conventional daughter born to her, sired by a turian. She will never accept you as hers; this is why she abandoned us in the escape pod so she could flee without obligating herself to a hand-fasted mate and a child of pureblood. If she believed us dead she broke no oath, no taboo and was free of the responsibility she had once promised during our hand-fasting.' Benezia had not done this; she had not spoken of Sha'ira to Liara. The only thing Liara knew was that her sire her father parent was another asari but nothing more.
Sha'ira fell back against the balcony's ledge and slid down weeping for the family she had lost. Benezia had deliberately allowed herself to be killed by Shepard and Liara because Saren's hold on the 'Matriarch' had been too strong. Oh how strong Liara had to have been to end her own mother's life. How strong the love between Shepard and Liara was for the young asari not to spiral into despair.
Hannah Shepard was right; it was time to make amends. Time to honor a 106 year old vow.
They had not gone to the hotel with the rest of the party, instead; Liara had wanted to return her childhood home. Yes, all the High Priestesses had chambers within the tower. But each also maintained their own ancestral bastion. The T'soni estate was vast and luxurious with many wonderful gardens, fountains, orchards and great ponds where tropical fish of various species and a myriad colours swam alongside koi and ghost carp through specially constructed coral reefs.
The T'soni bastion as were many of those belonging to the priestesses' order was modeled after the Temple of Athame where marble and crystal melded as one. Walls were crafted from polished stones of wondrous hues. They were chosen not for their preciousness; in fact many would not have been seen as precious at all. They had been selected for their beauty or geotactic splendour. It was almost like someone had found a titanic geode and decided to craft it into a home.
There were libraries, conservatories, training gyms and grounds for the commandos. Alongside the 'commando academy' were dormitories where the acolytes lived. There was a school for training asari in the art of becoming a consort and cloisters of scientific laboratories, where several asari mods, implants and weaponry were created.
From the outside it appeared as if each bastion was a suburb or village of the city-state of Armali. It would not be completely inaccurate to say that they were. Several hundred asari called the bastion home; it was the same for each of the High Priestesses estates. The bastions weren't simply a home for the commandos and their family members but servants, and disciples along with their families as well. It was a proper community with all the facilities one might expect. There were little shops, and schools for the very young. Shrines and an infirmary even a private classical theater became a part of each privately owned estate.
It was late in the evening when Shepard slipped from Liara's sleep-limp yet possessive arms. Her young lover had cried herself to sleep; all the while Samantha had held her, simply held her. The emotional overload had finally come crashing down on the brave archeologist draining her until she had nothing left.
To tell the truth the Spectre was grateful that Liara had finally allowed herself to properly grieve for Benezia. Despite the philosophical acceptance of death, a mother was still a mother. You simply don't lose your mom and not weep, especially when you had to be the one to kill her.
After Elysium, Shepard had to report to psych-evaluation for possible signs of PTSD and submit to counseling to deal with the loss of life on such a great scale. Granted the life loss would have been far, far greater if Shepard hadn't stood against the platoon of enemy soldiers. The colony had been saved, but there were losses of life. Shepard had vowed to do better after that.
There were times when Shepard still sought out the grief support-groups offered by the military. You lost rank at the door; you were just your given name. The group worked exactly like the addicts anonymous support groups, but were designed to help with grief and hopefully avoid PTSD. Troubles were dealt with inside the group and what was said in the group stayed there, it never left. It never appeared on the records, was never spoken about 'outside.' Generals, Admirals, officers and enlisted alike were all on the same level. In fact she had seen Admiral Hackett at a meeting or two as well as Captain Anderson.
The groups had helped Shepard overcome the grief of her failure to save everyone on Elysium. During the weeks of down time between her enforced bed rest and the awards ceremony, Shepard had sought out one of the groups on the Citadel so that she could deal with Kaiden's loss on Virmire. The choice she had to make - to save one she had to sacrifice the other - had struck the Spectre harder than she had admitted to anyone, including Liara. Cold calculated reason lay behind her choice, but it wasn't a cold woman who had made it. Shepard hadn't resolved her grief by hitting the bottle but by seeking out a support group. There was no shame in having a problem; the shame was in denying it. The Spectre had never resorted to recreational drugs like red sand or becoming a drunk. She wouldn't deny she had a problem with the grief, of losing a life she was supposed to have protected. Everyone there had similar stories, similar experiences. All of them frontline Alliance Military, the Spectre wasn't alone and that continued to give her courage to carry on the fight.
Liara had denied herself time to grieve, saying she would never allow it to interfere with their mission to stop Saren. Now the reality of what she had lost was hitting her hard. The asari people didn't seem to have set up for grief counseling; Shepard only hoped she was enough to help Liara through this time. The only training she had was her experiences in the support groups: advice without judgment, support without overbearing suffocation. In Liara's case she had been a pair of arms to hold her beloved as she wept, and cradle her as she slept.
Now that she was slumbering, Shepard decided to wander the upper floor of the manor house, not wanting to go too far from Liara. To tell the truth she didn't want to get lost, but she also didn't want to take the wind out of Liara's sails and explore too much on her own before her beloved had a chance to show her. The young Prothean expert had definitely enjoyed herself giving the Spectre, Ash and Tali the brief tour in the Temple. No doubt she would enjoy herself just as much by giving the tour of the T'soni estate.
Shepard had decided to simply follow the gallery or was it a cloister? The Spectre wasn't one for architectural history and 'hallway' seemed insulting and just didn't do the space justice. She opted for a PC term. Then felt silly for thinking she might have insulted a building. It wasn't as if the walls would tell on her for thinking them in less grand terminology. The walls of the upper corridors were pearly white ceramic, ornamented with three side silver bands that had a faint hint of sea greens and ocean blues woven into their metal. The whole length of the hall shimmered with a faint opalescence in the sunlight falling through the colored glass panels in cathedral-like windows high in the vaulted roof. The floor also had faint white on white patterned in it, long lines that were abstract, and gave the impression of fossilized seaweed, sort of Art Nouveau. It was a subtle and beautiful place, but for asari architecture, that was hardly unusual.
Shepard trailed a long line of bay windows that separated her from a wide great balcony beyond the panes of glass until at long last she found a window that wasn't a window but a door. Opening its more traditional latch she pushed it open and stepped out onto the balcony. The cool breeze and tang of salt air hit her instantly scrubbing away fatigue and easing her jumbled mind. Samantha had always loved the ocean. Perhaps because it was vastly different than anything she had grown up with. As a spacer, she had been born in space, lived most of her life on starships and space stations. As a child she was rarely groundside save for the very, very infrequent shore leave holidays she had taken with her parents. The Shepards tended to make do with what the space stations had to offer rather than going to some recreational planet or Earth to spend their down time. Yet another tradition the Spectre had indoctrinated in her adult life. The one time she had chosen to take a groundside shore leave rather than on a space station she ended up in an intense battle to save a colony from raiders. Still she had always loved it when she was able to visit a world with ocean (save Virmire) where she could soak in the atmosphere. The ocean air always made her feel more alive.
Given her current situation it was amusing in an ironic sort of way. She was taking as a bride a woman whose homeworld seemed to be more ocean than land. Liara's eyes had always reminded the Spectre of the ancient photographs of the Mediterranean Sea before the European mega-metropolises dominated the area almost choking the sea of its life-source. Shepard continued to walk in meditative contemplation to the railing surrounding the balcony and gazed out across the sparkling ocean, blue as the sky above, as blue as Liara's satin skin. From this vantage point there seemed to be no land in either direction, nothing but endless azure sea. Briefly, the Spectre wondered what would happen if a storm hit the bastion. No wonder Liara reacted as she had when Shepard had told her to allow herself to get caught up in the storm.
'You make it sound so dangerous.'
Perhaps storm wasn't exactly the right word to use as a metaphor for an asari, especially one who had so little contact with humans, their humor and use of metaphors. Liara wasn't exactly literal minded as say a VI, however for an asari storms were not romantic, they were deadly.
Samantha closed her eyes soaking herself in the ambiance of the fresh air, the sound of headwaters breaking over the jutting rocks far below. It almost sounded like thunder. She could hear the cries of gulls, even oddly enough the far distant song of whales. She snapped her eyes open hoping to see one breach. But she was too far up to see anything clearly. Oh she could see the azure-teal of the closer shallower waters of the reef and the dark ultramarine of the ocean depths but no spray of water, fluke or slash of a whale playing in the ocean's currents. She had never seen a whale in the wild or for that matter a shark.
Blue eyes shifted from the distant deep waters to the teal-azure of the reef. She could make out the wide dark blotches that were no doubt schools of fish and wondered if a firaxon was lurking amongst the coral and rocks.
Pure of form, action and life, the firaxon knew only one thing: hunger. It gorged, swam and gorged again. It had no enemy, it knew nothing of evil, of good; it simply existed. It didn't fear the Reapers. It knew nothing of the dread of the possibility of losing a lover. It didn't have nightmares.
Screams, blood, death and destruction lurked on the edges of dream waiting to take Samantha hostage as she slept. She closed her eyes and saw the end of the Protheans. She saw the possible prophetic end of all sentient life if a way to stop them couldn't be found. Floods of memory crashed down on her even as the hull slammed to the garden in the tower, like the jaws of a shark waiting to consume her and rip her body from life. Never before had the Spectre's mortality hung so heavily upon her. She had no problem laying down her life for the Alliance, for the sentients of Citadel Space. She had trained all her life to expect that end to be at the wrong end of a bullet or a blast of biotic powers. Shepard believed that if she died it would be by the energy of the mass effect. Something as mundane as gravity and several metric-tons of metal had never entered the equation. That equation changed her - challenged her perceptions of self. It was an equation she couldn't afford to ponder. Not now.
Blue eyes once more drifted to the dark band that separated two different depths of ocean. If the Great Hunt was designed to lift a maiden from one stage of life into the next and become a huntress. Could it not do so for a marine? Samantha had been challenged in the Tower garden. It was Samantha who struggled now with mortality. Not the Spectre, not the Captain but the woman.
Full of resolve, Shepard made her way back to her beloved. She had to tell Liara her plan, and hoped the young asari would understand. And if she didn't, Samantha hoped Liara could forgive because she needed to do this. That had been the plan. Reality was a little different.
Liara placed a tender hand upon her lower abdomen, and hoped that her beloved would understand. If she didn't, the young asari prayed that Samantha would at least forgive her. Samantha Shepard was so many things to so many people, beloved, once a commander now captain, hero, Spectre, icon, leader, warrior - would she be willing to be one more title for another?
Her beloved Samantha gave so much and asked for so very little in return. The funeral she had made sure happened had been for Liara as much as it had been for the asari people and to redeem Lady Benezia. Samantha hadn't even hesitated when Liara suggested they use the opportunity of being on Thessia for their Hand Fasting ceremony.
'I think it's an inspired idea. We have already been given down time for your mother's funeral and for once my parents have shore leave at the same time I do. They already said they would be there for you for the funeral, to be there for our wedding will be perfect.' Samantha kissed Liara warmly upon sweet lips, holding her beloved close to her.
It had been on the second day of their official down time before they were headed to Thessia on a 'diplomatic mission', when Liara brought the idea to hold the wedding soon after the funeral. The farewell of one life on the cusp of embracing a new one was somehow poetically fitting.
'Love are you sure though? It is already going to be a highly emotional time for you. I want this, I do, but are you sure you're ready for this?'
'That is not the first time you have asked me that my heart." Liara smiled bemused. 'I will tell you now what I told you then: I have never been more certain of anything in my life. I do not wish to leave my homeworld in the shadow of the memory of grief; I want to leave the oceans with the bliss of wonder and joy.'
Samantha pulled her beloved to her holding her tightly as her hands began once more to entice and arouse her betrothed. The soft velvet folds of an asari crest could become highly sensitive to the right stimulation. Soft worshipful caresses could bring Liara to climax without touching her inner warmth. It was something the Spectre enjoyed doing. 'Then let's do it, Babe.' Soft nips around the throat caused Liara to gasp suddenly, her body crying out in her need to be fulfilled. Her blue eyes already black she opened her mind, her body, her heart to Samantha.
Again Liara touched her lower belly; almost all of her had been open to Samantha then and every other time they made love or melded. Like Benezia had done while on board Sovereign, the young Prothean expert had tucked a portion of her mind away, saving it and the information it held for when the time was right.
The Spectre was very blunt with her point of view, and how she presented herself. Liara had never been comfortable with such tactics for herself. She needed a careful and deft touch as was the practice of an archeologist. What Liara held secret and apart from her lover needed a very deft and careful hand or it might go horribly wrong. That was something Liara wasn't prepared to face if it came down to it.
"You're miles away, Lover. What's up?" Samantha handed Liara a cup of tea before joining her on her perch upon the railing around the upper balcony of the cloisters that overlooked the orchards in the garden below. A callused creamy-caramel hand touched soft blue flesh. Concern filled Samantha's voice when she spoke. "Are you alright, Babe?"
Liara took a sip of the tea before answering. "Many things are upon my mind my love, but you need not worry I am fine." Another sip. "You are also distracted."
Samantha sighed as she too took a seat upon the railing so she might look at her beloved. "It's been one hell of a month. Guess I'm still trying to assimilate everything. I haven't been groundside this long for a long time. I'm used to two weeks a year, guess it's part of being a spacer. Born in space, living on ships and stations is the norm for navy brats like me anything else makes me antsy."
"Yeah, um you know if you ever had to bunker down on an ant hill and those little buggers crawl on your skin it makes your whole body feel like they're everywhere even if they're not. It's became a metaphor for feeling all twitchy."
"That is a very apt expression. Asari have a similar expression: we say 'sand in the crest.'"
"Yeah, I can see where that would be hell." Samantha smirked. "So that's what you were going to say on Virmire. You didn't know which was worse all the geth or sand in your ." Samantha giggled freely, "then you said 'umm nevermind.' I kinda thought it was cute the way you just trailed off like that. It's bad enough when you get sand in rather intimate places while swimming or playing around on the beach. To get it in your beautiful crest would not be fun."
"It was not." Liara stoked her hand against the windswept curve, feeling the phantom granules of sand chafing the delicate folds. She did indeed feel twitchy. She almost gave a start when she felt her lover's hand move along her curves. More so because the Spectre had not moved, but had her eyes closed, her hands were holding her own cup of tea. Liara gasped when she felt as if Samantha's lips were now trailing little kisses along the sculpted flesh. They had been exploring their bond in one of the more natural ways lovers would.
"I don't feel any sand, Love." Shepard opened her blue eyes, and smiled as she saw the effect she had had on her lover. Liara's eyes had gone completely black. The cup and saucer of tea had tumbled from her hand and crashed upon the flagstones of the balcony floor "Oops."
The sound woke Liara from her bliss; her expression became one of slight embarrassment for being so clumsy. "I do not think that is an activity we should share whilst having tea," There was a smile on her lips.
"Definitely not." Shepard said still smirking. She placed her own mug aside before jumping down to clean up the shards of china. Liara made a move to help, but Samantha patted her leg and shook her head. "Stay there, I got it. It's my fault it slipped in the first place."
Liara watched silently as Samantha picked up each small bit of ceramic, each little shard and gingerly placed it on the service tray to be disposed of later. 'She always seems to be picking up the broken pieces around her. She tries so hard to fix everything around her even when it is not her task to perform. Even when you are broken inside, you tend to others before yourself.' Liara knew her lover was struggling with the past events of the war with Sovereign and the Geth. A war almost single handily fought by the crew of the Normandy. That in itself had struck the Spectre hard. Of the military she had pledged service to, had pledged loyalty had all but turned their backs on her. Only Admiral Hackett, Captain Councilor Anderson and the crew of the Normandy believed in her words, her warnings.
Liara had touched her beloved's mind whilst she was locked in nightmares. The images of the Prothean extinction playing over and over, became super imposed with the possibility of all sentient life once more being wiped out. There were images of the hull cascading down on her in the garden though in the nightmares, the Spectre had been too late to save Liara and Williams.
Last night's dreams were dark but not horrific, as if Samantha had learned to control her dreams and steer them in the direction of her choosing. Lucid dreaming wasn't uncommon in sleepers. One simply had to realize it was a dream and 'direct' the dream or 'script' it to ones liking. In Liara's experience when ever she lucid dreamt her dreams took on a stage-like performance or something seen on the vids. The young asari knew that Samantha had come to a resolve yet did not know what that resolve was.
"You there or are you still O.T.S-ing?"
"Out-There-Somewhere. Daydreaming or as my old gunny in basic said goldbricking."
Liara offered one of her shy chuckles. "I was yes O.T.S-ing. I was watching you pick up the broken pieces of the cup and thought how often you do so. Picking up broken pieces of everything and everyone around you - the galaxy, people me."
Samantha stood up and brushed the wetness of tea and patio dirt from her hands before touching Liara's thighs. "You do the exact same thing for me, Beautiful." A hand on the thigh moved to cup a soft blue cheek. "You're so lost in thought, Babe reminiscing about your mom or just reflecting?"
"A little of both." Liara answered truthfully. "So much has happened to us in so short a time. "And soon we will be taking the vows of Hand-Fasting."
Dread filled the Spectre's eyes. "You're not getting cold feet are you?"
The term was lost on the asari. She struggled with human euphemisms almost all the time and felt stupid for being so lost. She blinked when she received a kiss on her nose. "You are far from stupid, Love." Samantha whispered having picked up the thought in her beloved's mind. "Cold feet means having second thoughts, hesitating about a decision, usually a very big one like getting married. I don't know how the term came to be. You're not are you?"
Liara rested her forehead against the Spectre's 'What do you think?' There could only be truth in the sendings.
'I can feel your nervousness. Like my own but you want this just as much as I do. You hesitate because it doesn't feel real. But it is my love. It has to be. If it isn't I don't want to wake from this dream. I want you in my life Liara. I want us.'
There was something else, Shepard had felt, something hidden but couldn't touch it. Perhaps it was her own guilt for keeping her idea about going on the Great Hunt secret from Liara she was feeling and not something from her beloved.
Liara picked up stray thoughts of her treasured Spectre. Something that Samantha longed to address with the High Priestesses but wasn't sure if she could gain an audience much less an agreement on her request. What that request was Samantha kept secreted away, but it was gnawing at her consciousness.
"Samantha, about our ceremony, you have not spoken of what you want. Are you concerned that human customs will not be honored? I can assure you "
Two pink fingers touched purple lips. "No, it's not that at all. I read the asari Hand Fasting customs and I like it. Its way better than the ceremony my folks had. I'm not as religiously faithful as Ashley but I do believe in a Higher Power. Might as well be the Goddess to God. I know there's something out there." She traced the line of the scar running down her chest. "I've survived way too much not to believe. There's never an atheist in a fox hole, and I've been in a lot of fox holes. I want to make sure I've got everything right. I need to talk to the Priestess about maybe some sort of cleansing ritual something. I want to come to our Union clean, I don't know how to explain it, Li." Shepard seemed lost in her need to express her feelings, her needs.
Liara took pity on her beloved and stroked her cheek. "I do understand your need. There are cleansing rituals that are often held as to individual needs. Go then and speak to them. In fact it is a very good idea if we were both cleansed. I will go and speak with Matriarch Mardon. Perhaps Councilor Lei'cree whom you have a rapport with, or perhaps even Matriarch Lidanya can better assist you as she understands the ways of a warrior." Liara kissed Samantha's forehead tenderly. "This has something to do with your nightmares, does it not?"
"Got it in one, Babe." Shepard moved so she was now behind Liara, who instinctively scooted forward on the banister to allow the Spectre to take position behind her. While Samantha leaned her back against the pillar of the balcony, Liara leaned against her chest. The human's arms came around holding Liara around her belly. "You've joined my mind, and saw what I saw with the Protheans. But there is so much there that you haven't touched." Soft pink lips lovingly caressed her lover's neck. "I know you think it's unfair that it all landed into my lap in six months what took you fifty years to uncover."
"I am angry with myself over such pettiness. I know you did not ask for it, nor did you want this connection with the Protheans. But it has given us a fighting chance, Samantha. I remind myself of that when I struggle to translate Prothean language which you now know."
"Can't you just take it from me?" She felt Liara stiffen in her arms. "I didn't mean 'take' as in forcefully, Love. I know you would never do that, but you translated the images before, and Shiala transferred the cipher into my head surely you can transfer it to yours. Hell with our telepathic bond strengthened it should be easier now. Right? Before when you melded our minds in the comm room we weren't even Joined. Now that we are it has to be easier on you. It won't drain you like before I hate it when it leaves you so vulnerable "
Liara leaned back enjoying the richness of the love flowing between them as well as the overprotective care in her beloved Spectre. It was a sensation she had forced herself to accept. Protection was simply a part of Samantha's demeanor. She would not know how not to protect those she loved. Telling Samantha her protection was not necessary was like asking a firaxon shark not to swim in the coral reefs. It was futile at best.
"I know. I think you are correct, now that we share a bond our mind melds will not be as taxing on me. Shiala placed the cipher into your mind; she possesses more experience in such things. She had the benefit of my mother's tutelage as she was her disciple."
"But as Benezia's kid don't you know that stuff too?"
"No. I am religious yes, but being the daughter of a High Priestess and following the Order are not one in the same." Liara smiled and though she couldn't see it from her position behind the asari, Samantha could feel the grin all the same. "If you recall my mother did not approve of my choice of careers."
"You rebel you." Shepard chuckled. "Actually I need to talk to the resident Thorian expert anyway. Being a disciple as you said gives her more inside knowledge that someone outside the Order may not know all the logistics. I want to ask her some questions before I talk to the Matriarchs, just so I don't sound like an idiot."
"I can relate. I have made myself sound more of the fool because of the way I have phrased my questions."
"Aw come on you were adorable during our first conversation after Dr. Chakwas looked you over. To tell you the truth I started falling in love with you right then." Shepard placed a kiss along the delicate curve of her neck that hid Liara's ear.
"You are a terrible tease." The young woman playfully slapped Shepard's thigh.
"Just noticing that now are you?" another kiss. "Well we better get this day started proper. Weddings don't make themselves happen and we only have three days."
"Yes. There is much left to do. Oh! That reminds me. I was looking over my extranet messages and I received a note from Consort Sha'ira. She has asked us to join her in the gardens this evening after dinner. I do not know what it entails only that she insists on you being there. I told her she should join us along with Ashley, Tali and your parents. Garrus and Wrex and Joker stated they prefer the hotel to anything 'fancier' "
"They are probably spending time in the casinos. So uh Sha'ira is coming here to have dinner with the folks " Samantha said tonelessly. She was more concerned with the consort's presence at the moment. Shepard bit her lower lip. She knew Liara had shared her memories with her during their first Union and thus knew of the joining the Spectre had had with the Consort. "You know she and I well had a moment."
"Samantha, I am not jealous you shared an intimate moment with the Consort. It was before we met. She initiated the contact." Liara grinned as she hopped down off the banister they had been perched on and faced the Spectre. "And apparently she was instrumental instructing you how to entice, arouse and stimulate an asari body. Perhaps I should thank her."
Shepard turned bright red. "How about not?"
"As you wish." Liara pinched an action from her beloved, and kissed Samantha on the nose. "As you said we have much to do and many people to converse with."
Most of the wedding preparations had been overseen by the disciples of Benezia. They were transforming the main garden in to a place of ritual. A cord of wood had been neatly stacked near several cherry trees to be used in the bonfire, a central feature of the Hand fasting ceremony. Other asari acolytes were busily constructing leis for both Liara and Samantha along with those who would take a direct role in the ceremony. If they had private issues or concerns over the daughter of one of the most revered Matriarchs, even if she was deceased, marrying a human they said nothing outwardly. Perhaps it was because of this particular human's status as Spectre or that Shepard had been instrumental in restoring their Lady's honor.
Assisting in these preparations was Matron Shiala. She had returned from Faros to attend the funeral of her mistress. When it was revealed that Liara was going to join in the Hand Fasting with Shepard, the violet skinned asari remained behind. She felt she owed it to Benezia to watch over her only daughter. After all Shiala was Liara's first mentor in honing her biotic skills. She had even been aboard the Maiden yacht when Liara along with eight other maidens had undergone the rituals of the Great Hunt. Now she was here for yet another momentous occasion in the young T'soni's life.
In her heart, the matron believed that her mistress would have approved greatly of Shepard as her hand-fasted daughter. She had done so much to bring Liara out of her introverted shell.
"Speak of the shark and she swims to you." Shiala said to herself when she saw the Spectre heading in her direction. "Commander "
Shepard grinned, "It's Captain now actually."
"Of course. Captain, I get the feeling you wish to speak to me."
"Liara says the same thing when I go into her lab on the Normandy." The smile played on full lips. "Actually I do need your help." The Spectre began to lead the older woman away into the grove of cherry trees. "You're pretty much the only person who can help. You understand a few things others can't. This whole thing the visions from the beacons. It's touched you as much as me. Worse, I'd think."
"Not quite that, but yeah. Mostly the Protheans you have the cipher locked inside your skull. Do do they give you do you have nightmares about them.?"
"Often my sleep is disturbed by what I've seen in the cipher. More of what I have seen when I was in service to Saren aboard Sovereign and more with the Thorian. Those have and will forever haunt me."
"How do you deal?"
"Meditations. Matriarch Benezia's training, her words, her teachings prior indoctrination have given me strength. I can assist you in meditations."
Shepard shook her head. "Liara has shown me many ways to center myself. We do so together, our minds are linked."
"The Joining of course, it would have bonded you one to the other. Your mind intrigued me when we shared a meld I can only imagine what you share with Liara. You are remarkably strong willed, Captain. Strong enough to keep some of the more graphic nightmares from her, is this not so?"
Shepard looked away guiltily. "I don't want them to taint her purity. I need to protect her, even if Liara won't let me."
"She can only make you stronger, Shepard. It will not harm her as much as keeping it from her will. It will cause a hairline fracture in your bond and it will grow to a great chasm and corrode that which you hold most precious, most dear." The asari touched the Spectre's cheek, her thumb softly stroking the warm caramel creaminess. "Do not let this come to pass. Embrace Eternity with the woman you love."
The asari were very tactile people, it was something Shepard was learning and trying to accept. Her bond with Liara was helping her adjust at a much faster rate to the ways of asari. She learned through memories of her lover that asari often touched one another, with a near tenderness and yet it was not love that invoked the touch but for the simple fact of being asari. In her study of culture and histories of the other races, Shepard had learned much of the asari customs. They shared communal spaces on their ships even when space allowed for privacy. A superior officer of a commando unit might rest her forehead against the forehead of her junior officer to quell a dishearten moment, such as the loss of another officer's life. The asari were so open about their sexuality and comfortable with casual touches that non-asari might see as sexually invasive. The Spectre had learned that when she first spoke with the Consort even before they had shared an intimate moment in the pleasure dome.
Shepard didn't flinch away from the tender hand on her cheek but accepted it as a platonic gesture.
"What troubles your mind, Captain?" Shiala asked.
Puffing out a breath, Samantha laid it all out on the line: the nightmares, the flashes of the battle in the garden and the need to cleanse herself. The need to embrace the way of asari. Not just for Liara but for herself. She needed to for herself. To do this she needed to perform the Great Hunt. She spoke of her mother's ancestors and how they hunted the orcas before the Europeans demolished the Salish way of life and replaced the native culture with their own.
Shiala was stunned that a human - never mind her status as being a Spectre - desired to embrace the ways of asari so deeply as to want to perform one of their most sacred rituals.
"This is not something lightly done, Captain."
"I know. I would never ask if I didn't believe in it or understand what it means. I understand the spirituality and sacredness of the Hunt."
"By taking part of the Great Hunt you are willing to convert to the worship the Goddess Athame over your human god?"
"As I told Li, I know something is out there, something greater than any of us. My mother's ancestors called it the Great Spirit. They worshiped Mother Earth, fiercely. They revered the spirit of the killer whales. My father's ancestors had the Triple-faced Goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone. Who's to say I am forsaking my human god or gods? All is One, is it not?"
Shiala smiled. "So it is. I will help you in your quest, Samantha. But first you must convince the Matriarchs of your sincerity."
"They can meld with me if they need to. Then they can see for themselves how sincere I am. It's not going to be problematic." Shepard said with such an air of confidence, Shiala had no doubt this unique human would gain her will and be granted the right to perform the Great Hunt.
Whether it was Shiala's influence or Shepard's own reputation amongst the asari, a meeting with the matriarchs was quickly arranged. It wasn't an easy occasion by any means, the mind meld brought memories and fears to the fore that the Spectre would rather have remained buried. However she got the result she wanted.
"We will grant the request, Samantha." The Councilor deliberately used the Spectre's name. "But you cannot do this alone, and Liara is not yet a matron, she can not lead you."
"I've asked Shiala and she agreed to guide me if the matriarchs gave their consent." Shepard said.
"Very well." This came from Matriarch Mardon, who had made it possible for Benezia to come home. "Priestess Daath, Priestess Kerubiel as well as several other acolytes will join you though they will not directly enter the Hunt. Their task will be - if you and matron Shiala are successful to aid in the recovery of the shark's body."
It was now Lidanya who was speaking. "Considering the momentous occasion that up-coming Hand Fasting is the first between asari and humanity it should have the blessings of the Goddess. A firaxon feast would not be unwarranted. I will inform Liara after you and Huntress Shiala have launched the primary yacht. She and your family will follow in a secondary yacht. I do believe however, Liara will desire to board the primary vessel once they are on the scene."
"You can count on Lieutenant Williams wanting to be a part of the party." Shepard commented. "They may not like being left behind but I have to do it this way. They would otherwise insist on joining me on the Hunt and I need to do this without them."
"I understand," Lidanya said kindly. She stepped forward pressed her forehead to the Spectre's. "May success be yours, Samantha, and may the Goddess guide your path. For my part I will aid you in this as best as I can. If not for you my beloved daughter Mayas would have suffered more than she had. She speaks very highly of 'her' Spectre her Sam. If not for your actions on the Citadel, she would have been killed along with the rest of us on the Destiny Ascension. My debt can never be repaid; I will help you find your course, Samantha. However at the moment, I do believe we are expected to share a meal in the T'soni bastion." She pulled away still smiling.
"Do you have any idea what Sha'ira wants?"
"None whatsoever. My hand-fasted-mother offered no explanation. She said only that I and Racen need to be present. I do not think this has much to do with the upcoming ceremony, however. It could be she sensed in you a need for the Hunt, and may well wish to bring it to light. She has a great talent for seeing people for who they truly are."
"Yeah I know. She gave a gift of words and um advice." Shepard rubbed the back of her neck feeling a little uncomfortable, not wanting to mention the other 'encounter' she had shared with the Consort. "It was because of her I knew how to propose marriage or rather Hand-fasting to Liara. Hell even the Prothean 'trinket' had been a gift from Sha'ira after I helped her out of jam with an elcor diplomat." Samantha smirked. "She seemed really pleased that I was going to propose to Li. But with all due respect Matriarch Lidanya I don't see why she would want you and your wife present if she wants to talk about what you've suggested. Because of your role in Benezia's funeral rites and your part in the Hand-Fast I can see why your presence might be necessary, but why make it a family affair?"
"All good questions, no doubt we will discover the answers after we dine."
Dinner had been a rather modest affair: steamed vegetables native to Thessia, roasted varren, fried sea weed and something that had resembled fried won tons as well as a sweeter blend of elasa. While the typical pale green wine was sometimes called Sorrow's Companion the sweeter verity was called Sorrow's End.
Present during the dinner were Hannah and John Shepard, Ashley, Tali (who by the ingenuity of asari technology was able to dine with the other by way of a portable hyperbaric chamber) Shiala as well as Lidanya, Racen and of course their little girl Mayas who spent almost the whole evening on her Spectre's lap. Much to the amusement of one 'Mamma' Shepard and Ashley and Tali.
Conversation orbited around the upcoming nuptials and the differences between asari and human marriages. Lidanya assured a skeptical John Shepard that asari promiscuity was nothing but rumor and misunderstanding. She, like Liara had done with Samantha so long ago, explained away asari mating rituals and other customs that were commonly misunderstood.
When the topic of Liara's other parent came up, the young asari shifted uncomfortably. Hannah noticed that the young archeologist wasn't the only one. Sha'ira was also made uneasy by the inquiry. The older Shepard woman deftly turned topics to the asari military. The humans found it quite enlightening to discover that the asari military was barely more than a collection of local warrior bands. Soldiers were well-armed and exceptionally skilled, but did not possess sufficient organization or for that matter desire for large-scale military campaigns. They were not a warrior race though any who stood against a commando unit would be hard pressed to survive their guerrilla tactics. Their military was philosophically geared for protection not conquest.
Hannah suspected that Sha'ira was drawing nearer her time to come clean and reveal herself to her estranged daughter. She took command of the dinner party ushering everyone not asari, save for her own daughter back to their quarters in the bastion given to them by Liara.
"Have courage." Hannah whispered to Sha'ira as the Shepards made their way out of the open air dining patio. Her voice so low, so hushed only the consort had been able to hear them. "It's going to be hard on all of you, but it's the right thing to do."
The small band wandered though the garden allowing the serenity of nature to wash over them all.
"It has been sometime since I was last home." Sha'ira tilted her head back slightly inhaling the rich blending of blossoms and fresh sea air. How she missed this place, the gardens the ocean, bird song and waves crashing against the headlands. There was a peace in the gardens that she had not felt in a very long time.
"You call the T'soni bastion home? I did not know you once followed the Matriarch." Racen said staring at her mother in speculation. Not once in her 105 years had her mother ever spoken of her time here in the bastion.
"I did not say I was a follower." The Consort said. She turned her attention to Liara. "No, I called this place home in another capacity. Before you ask yes I was a consort here, in fact I trained many who felt the calling. Again this is not why this domain was once my home."
"You knew my mother well then, this much is obvious. However, I do not recall her ever mentioning the affiliation," Liara said with careful politeness.
"She did not speak of this to me either and she knew I was your daughter. I served her for fifty years, but your name was never spoken. She never asked of you. Just how well did you know her?" Racen was puzzled by this admittance of the past.
"Quite well." Sha'ira said her voice suddenly deeply saddened. Slowly she reached into the inner pocket of the outer robe she was wearing and pulled out a soft midnight blue velvet pouch. She said nothing but handed it to Liara.
It was the same sort of pouch in which Shepard had once stored the promise amulet now around Liara's throat. Trembling hands loosened the ties and withdrew a magnificent piece of delicate jewelry of opulent craftsmanship. A promise necklace! A simple design really, with twin white-capped waves rising up like a three dimensional Japanese watercolor. In the cradle of the waves was a spherical sapphire stone. The pendant itself was suspended like Liara's on thin triple-braided gold chain.
What astounded Liara most was the fact she recognized this amulet or rather its twin. Benezia had an identical one she had kept hidden in keepsake box in her private study. On a few occasions, the young asari had witnessed her mother remove the amulet, run her fingers gently over the waves, and the sapphire before slamming it back into the box and flinging it back into the hidden drawer in her desk. Her face a mask of great pain, sorrow and rage. Liara always suspected the amulet was a promise necklace given to her mother by her lover - Liara's sire. Benezia never offered an explanation or hint of who her former lover had been.
"Mother " Racen recognized the amulet for what it was and now understood its context. When she was a youngling she often viewed her mother touching the sculpted metallic waves with tender fingertips, her face filled with regret, confusion and pain. Then she would put the amulet back into the pouch and place it reverently back into her desk. "You you were Hand Fasted to Matriarch Benezia? What happened? Was it dissolved?" Racen asked her voice a trembling whisper.
"She found out she sired a 'pureblood.'" Liara snarled. "She abandoned my mother, forsook her hand-fasted oath so she could have a life on the Citadel with an acceptable daughter!" Blue eyes glared from her sire to her half-sister. "That is what happened!"
Sha'ira looked horrified. "No! No Liara it was not like that. Please I do not know what Benezia said "
"She never once spoke of you, never said your name, never said why she was left to raise me by herself. I knew only my other parent was asari. Of course the respected Consort could never claim a pureblood as an offspring!"
Sha'ira stepped up to Liara, made a move to touch her but the younger woman shied away. "No. Liara it wasn't like that. Hear me out before you shut me out."
"You've done a pretty good job of shutting her out for 106 years, Lady Sha'ira." The Spectre commented coldly.
"I need to hear this too, Mother." Racen said understanding perhaps a bit of the pain and certainly the betrayal that her older sister was feeling.
"Liara. Racen. I know you both are feeling overwhelmed and lost, but there were events beyond my control that brought us to this point today."
"That story you told us when we found your granddaughter. That was Benezia in the escape pod wasn't it?" Shepard said for Liara. She held her lover around the waist sending her all of her strength and love through their bond. She could feel the turbulent rage Liara was struggling to control, the overwhelming heartache and despair of rejection.
"Yes, it was."
"What story? What escape pod?" Racen was now far more confused. "What are they talking about, Mother?"
"Tell her, DAME" Liara demanded in a hiss.
For the next half hour Sha'ira explained about the escape pod, the search and the pain she held, the decision to have another child to ease the pain left by the loss of a beloved and child she thought taken from her. She explained her motives to stay away when Benezia had not made contact with her after she returned to Thessia. She even spoke of Hannah's ideas of what Benezia might have thought. When she had finished Liara was trembling with barely suppressed anguish and anger.
Again it was the Spectre who spoke on behalf of Liara. She had felt the words her beloved wanted to say but for the pain could not. "It took you 106 years to out yourself as Liara's other parent her sire. And then only when Benezia was dead. If she had not died would you have come forward? Why so long? Why not come back home and explain yourself when they were still babies? I mean it sounds like a lot of assumptions and speculations were going around and accepted as truth without further exploration of what was really going on. Hardly the way one expects the famed wisdom of the asari to play out. Hell, if you didn't want to face your estranged wife you could have come forward fifty years ago when Liara left Thessia for her Prothean research and explained to her then what you thought happened."
"I believed I was following Benezia's wishes. I did not wish to bring Benezia more pain by being interrogated by Liara when she discovered who I was."
"Or perhaps it was easier to tell yourself such things and make yourself believe that was your motive." Matriarch Lidanya spoke for the first time. Like Shepard she stayed close to her own lover and sent her own strength into the much younger asari. "You are gifted with remarkable insight, empathic prowess; perhaps you were too close to this to see it clearly. Wisdom should have guided your course to weather the storm rather then retreating into the seclusions of the shallows. As it should have with Matriarch Benezia. As a result two lives were grievously wounded by the failure to come forward by either yourself or Lady Benezia."
"Well that's the rub isn't it?" Shepard said. "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. That doesn't help the matters now. But I am curious. Saying you were respecting Benezia's wishes is way too easy and I don't buy it, from another asari maybe but not you especially after...ah well after our encounter that first time. To me it looks like you only outed yourself after Liara became a Hero of the Citadel, was given the Star of Terra and her mother dead. Only now do you come forward."
"It was your mother that sparked my actions now, Captain." Sha'ira's voice was calm and collected despite the pain reflecting in her eyes. "She was right, Liara deserves to know. And so does Racen. I stayed away far too long. It was time to honor the vow I took on my Hand Fasting day.
"Liara, understand I have always been proud of you. I kept tabs on what you were doing, what you were studying and the paths you chose as closely as I did with Racen's. I was amused and yes intrigued when you chose to pursue a career in archeology rather than conventional occupations. I found it remarkable as well. When Samantha came to me for advice on how to propose to an asari daughter, I was thrilled and proud to know you would be loved so deeply and so fully."
"I have touched the Spectre's mind and spirit and I know who and what she is and what she will become. And I found it almost ironic that once more you chose an unconventional path by taking a Union into Hand-Fasting with a human. I silently gave my approval of the match just as I had given it vocally to Racen and Lidanya. I have more than a century to make up for my misjudgment, my absence. Please, I beg you give me the chance to make amends."
"If if I do will you publicly pronounce me your offspring?" Liara pinned the other woman with a harsh stare.
"Yes. Without hesitation."
"You could lose a great deal of standing. I am after all a pureblood." Liara crossed her arms over her chest not in the defiant way of Shepard but out of her own insecurity.
"You are my daughter, Liara: of whom I am well proud. I claim you my offspring, and I find no shame in my Union with Matriarch Benezia, or your conception. I never have. Liara, you were wanted by both of us. Benezia longed for a daughter; it was almost too late when she decided to answer the call to have a daughter. It is rare for a matriarch to become pregnant. But she wanted to be the one to carry you so I consented to be the sire even as I felt the strong desire to carry you myself. We agreed that our next daughter would be sired by Benezia and carried by me.
"When she disappeared for that year, I thought her and you dead. As I said there was no trace of the pod on the planet, it was believed it had burned up in the atmosphere. Yes I was devastated and I grieved. And yes I sought to have a child, but never again share a Union, a bond as I shared with your mother. When she didn't contact me " Sha'ira sighed, "Liara please know that I have always loved Benezia, I never stopped. My own pain clouded my judgment 106 years ago. If you will gracious enough to give me the chance to make amends, I promise to do so with all that I am."
"I need time." Liara said softly. "This is a great deal to assimilate. To discover my other parent, coupled with the truth to your abandonment, and the fact I have a sister and niece is a lot to ask of me to take in. I can not give you my decision now. I think it is best you leave the gardens for now. You you may stay in the bastion, all of you." She didn't say another word but disappeared along the path of lilac bushes and cherry trees back into the forecourt of her mother's home. Shepard was one pace behind her.
The three asari watched silently as the two departed. Racen turned to her mother. "Was I ever more than a replacement to you, Mother?"
Sha'ira stared down and the frolicking koi in the pond before she found her voice to answer. "When I first conceived you no, Racen you were not. But the first time I felt you move within my womb, the first time I heard your heartbeat, I loved you as I love you now, I love for yourself. I must ask of you to forgive me as well. I do not seek absolution my child, for that I can never have. I know my actions have harmed you as deeply as they have Liara. Even if she can not accept me into her life, I pray to the Goddess she will accept you. Accept her, Racen for she is your sister."
"She and Shepard rescued my daughter; for that alone I am forever in Liara's debt. Her parents' sins are not hers nor are they mine. But like my sister said. I need time."
Shepard kept her tongue simply following her beloved asari, up several flights of stairs, turning corner after corner into wings of the mansion up further stairs along longer corridors to a door made of obsidian. Here Liara stopped, her blue hand pressed up against the polished wood reverently. The Spectre didn't need to ask where they were, or even tap into their bond to know where they stood. Beyond that door was Benezia's private study. Here perhaps only the housekeeping staff and Liara herself had been the only others admitted. All other affairs would have been seen to in Benezia's more public study. But here, the Matriarch was free to be herself. She wasn't a leader of hundreds of disciples, or High Priestess or a great leader of the masses; here she was simply the woman Benezia and mother to a very young Liara.
Liara stood motionless before the door with her eyes closed for a moment before she pushed it open. The scent of books assaulted their noses. Ink, ancient parchments, scrolls and the musk that comes with antique pages of tomes. Strangely it was all very comforting in a way that could not be fully explained.
Liara smiled as a memory slipped into her mind. She had been very young, perhaps seven years of age:
Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane. The rain and thunder never bothered her; in fact it served to soothe her but this night it wasn't happening. She had crept into her mother's study and retrieved one of her favorite books (this one happened to be about the Protheans) and snuck on little bare feet back into her bedroom. She had thought to read herself to sleep but even as she felt her eyelids grow heavy and however often she tossed and turned, Liara couldn't get to sleep.
The book about the Protheans she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages.
"I am sure it must be very comfortable sleeping with a hard, rectangular thing like that under your head," her mother teased. "The book whispers its story to you at night."
"Sometimes, yes," Liara had said. "But it only works for children." Which made Benezia tweak her nose.
"Is that what you believe?"
"Books whisper to you, Mother?" Liara asked incredulously.
"If I said yes, what would you say Little Wing?"
The child smiled.
"Books whisper to Matriarchs as well as they do to children, my sweet daughter. Why do you think we sit for long meditative hours in rooms filled with old tomes, hum?" Benezia stroked her hand against the cheek still plump with baby-fat.
Liara smirked. Her large doe-eyes twinkled as she felt her mother lay next to her in the bed cradling her little body so the daughter might hear her mother's beating heart. "Be at peace Little Wing, I will see you with the dawn."
It wasn't the whispers of printed pages that lulled the child to sleep but the steady staccato rhythm of her mother's beating heart. It was such a safe sound.
A sound Liara hadn't realized she missed until it was no longer there. It would never be there again. 'Your Little Wing misses you Mother. Oh Mother why didn't you tell me? I saw the pain in your face, in your eyes, in your heart and I could soothe you as you did for me. Mother why didn't you tell me?'
Logic told Liara that Sha'ira's story had been true, but she had to make sure for herself. To make certain - that drive lead her now to the study.
Shepard remained outside the threshold. Somehow she didn't feel right entering this peaceful sanctum, at least not right now. This was time for Liara and the phantom of her mother, and memory. The room brought to mind the image of a scholar. Four of the five walls were covered in floor to ceiling book cases that stretched twelve feet high. The Spectre doubted she had seen so many books, scrolls and parchments in one place. She knew in her gut this was but a trifle of what the true bastion library must be like.
There were no haphazard piles lying around. Every book obviously had it s place. Where other people have wallpaper or pictures, or just empty wall, Benezia had bookshelves. "These books have accumulated over the years."
Samantha hadn't answered not entirely sure the remark was rhetorical or directed to her. With this knowledge at her disposal was it any wonder that Benezia's daughter was precocious enough to seek a career in a life long quest to uncover Prothean secrets? Benezia had unknowingly created an archeologist. Liara had always felt as if she could hear the whispers of the books beckoning her. They were promising her a thousand unknown stories, a thousand doors into worlds she had never seen before.
Liara however had no interest in the books this time. Her route deliberately lead her to a desk that in the Spectre's mental recesses of ancient history said it was Edwardian. Well it would have been so had it been an Earth antique rather than asari craftsmanship. Liara opened up the bottom drawer of the desk, withdrew a small unremarkable cedar box and headed back out the door.
Samantha had not moved from her spot at the door. To her it seemed wrong to intrude. This was Benezia's private chambers of thought and peace. Until Liara invited her in she wasn't going to take another step.
Again the Spectre followed her lover wordlessly back into their suite. The room was cast in heavy shadows and somehow it seemed appropriate to leave it that way. Once inside Liara sat upon the bed tailor style with the box before her. Shepard didn't even have to ask what was inside the box; she already knew it contained a twin amulet to the one inside the blue velvet pouch Liara still held.
Unceremoniously she dumped the contents of the pouch onto the mattress before she opened with great care the plain wooden box and carefully lifted out the pendant lying within. Laying both side by side as if to confirm what the young woman already knew. The pendants were identical. Oh yes there were slight difference that come with hand crafted items. Still they were identical. Twin cascading waves cupping a sapphire gem.
"They loved each other deeply enough to commit to the Hand-fasting." Liara said. Shepard was convinced that her lover would have spoken those words aloud regardless if she had another in the room with her or not.
Softly the Spectre entered the bedroom and sat on the bed along side Liara but kept her voice.
"They loved." Liara said again.
"They created you deliberately, Li."
"Benezia could have joined with the Consort .my sire and assimilated her genetic memory and blended it with the second copy of her own genes and altered it in the melding."
"Without her lover's knowledge? I doubt it. That would defile their love. Benezia would never do something like that"
In the shadows of the room, Shepard didn't see Liara flinch but she did feel it. "I didn't mean " Shepard signed feeling like a heel. Of course Liara would think of Novaria. "What happened between the Rachni Queen and the Matriarch was Sovereign's doing, not Benezia's will. She said it herself she beat upon the glass even as her hands murdered and tortured. She was trapped inside her own mind forced to do things because of the Reaper. On her own your mother would never done anything so vile as to mentally violate another. I know this with all my heart and mind because you carry the best and brightest part of Benezia within you."
Liara sighed deeply. "But but if she did if she wanted to have a child with my Dame and Sha'ira was reluctant to have a child what if she thought she was going to lose her lover and melded to have a part of beloved with her Maybe that is why Benezia thought Sha'ira abandoned her and me."
"Even if and I stress if Benezia's want was so great to have you and yes melded with Sha'ira to create you, she would have told her partner what she had done. They were Hand-fasted Li, they had to have known each other's fears and joys just as we do. Maybe our link is a little more intense but a Joined mind is one that bonded and thoughts are shared." Samantha's hand came to rest on her lover's shoulder. "You were a deliberate creation. You heard Sha'ira say it herself, they even fought who got to be the one to carry you you were a deliberate creation out of love, not a stolen child. Heck that was me." Shepard smiled. "My folks were already married for ten years before the idea to have a little rug rat came up. Mom wanted a kid before it got too late for her; Dad didn't; he got comfortable with it just being them. But my mom is a stubborn and willful woman; saying no to her isn't an easy thing to do. She tampered with the birth control and well nine months later I show up. My father loves me, sure but I was only half deliberate."
"Stolen child, created out of deceit you were not rejected by your father? Was he not angry when he discovered the truth of your conception?"
"I think he forgot to be. From the stories they told me he was all mushy and super protective when my mother was heavy with me. He might have been pissed off at first but I think that was because the decision was taken from him. But my mother countered with the argument that he was taking the decision from her. Plus the timing wasn't so great. After all I was born in 54' around the same time the second element zero accident and there were more in utero exposures. I guess he figured I'd come out a mutant because my mother had been exposed to ez-0 because of an accident. He was right in way, I'm a biotic. That was my folks Li, not yours."
"Stolen child that does not seem to be a kind phrase. It makes it sound as if one parent is forcing the life of a child upon another. Do you say this because asari have conceived after a single melding and the partners go their separate ways?"
"Whoa. On your side here Lover." Shepard held up her hands in surrender. "I wasn't slamming asari methods of procreation or Benezia. You know better than to accuse me of that kind of bullshit."
"I I..." Liara hung her head ashamed of her words. "I am sorry Samantha."
Shepard lifted her chin and stared at her. Blue eyes meeting blue eyes. "It's alright, Sweetheart. You've had one hell of a month; you're going to be on edge. Just try to remember I'm on your side."
"I copy, Captain." Liara attempted to joke to lift the soaring mood that had overcome her. Samantha had been nothing but purely supportive. She didn't deserve to have Liara's frustrations taken out on her.
Running with the joke, Shepard said. "So we're five by five?"
"Aye aye, Captain."
They both grinned. A beat later, Liara nuzzled her way into her beloved's arms. She closed her eyes simply content to soak in the love from the remarkable woman she had given her heart to.
"I am so tired, Samantha. I keep analyzing the facts I have been given. Trying to make sense of it all. Indoctrination explains my mother in those last months but the past I do not understand that. Why didn't she contact Sha'ira and confront her? Demand to know why Sha'ira hadn't sought her out? I could have grown up along side Racen as a sister rather than simply knowing of her as one of my mother's many disciples."
"I don't know the answers to those questions, Li. I think maybe their pain made it too difficult for them to work through. Their love had to be as great as ours for their hearts to be so shattered they dare not confirm their fears even if they hoped it would turn out for the better. I'd say it's the human condition but "
Liara laughed. "Yes. This only proves asari philosophy does it not? We are all connected into a greater whole." Blue hands slid over and under pale caramel. "All connected do you think I should forgive Sha'ira?"
"Only you can answer that Babe. You wanted to know who your other parent was, now you know. You know she isn't ashamed of you, she didn't reject you. She may not have been brave enough to confront her fears to confront Benezia over her assumptions of abandonment and rejection or plead to have her case over conceiving Racen heard. But she is reaching out to you now. It might be 106 years late, but you asari live for a thousand years. I don't think it's too late. She is trying "
"Yes, I suppose she is."
"Put her on probation. Test her out as a parental unit. But there is the issue of your half-sister, what are you going to do about her and her family?"
"Racen. She is innocent in all of this and just as lost and uncertain as I am."
"You know it might be pretty cool to be an aunty."
Liara grinned at her lover's words. "Mayas. She is already quite fond of you."
"The little sprite is very adorable."
Liara bit her lower lip, "Would you you desire a child? She would have your traits yes but outwardly she would look asari."
"Now? No. But yes someday, I'd love to have a daughter with you. But Li we're going to face off the Reapers soon and the Normandy isn't a generational ship, not like the alliance cruisers or dreadnoughts I grew up on." Shepard kissed Liara's neck. "Besides aren't you a little young to have a child "
"Racen is a year younger than I and she gave birth to Mayas."
"Yeah that has me bit confused. I thought you didn't hit matronhood until you were around 350 years old."
"There is no set time, Samantha. That is the average age yes, but if a maiden melds often she can advance her stage in life. Or if her will to have a daughter is so strong she can command her body to prepare itself for bearing a child even if she remains in maidenhood. I suspect Racen is still a maiden despite the fact she has Mayas. Her partner is after all a Matriarch and thus several centuries her senior. They must have desired to share a daughter before the inevitable end of Lidanya's life."
"Makes sense. Liara speaking of inevitable ends, despite the fact I'm human we have plenty of time for a daughter. It might sound a little bigoted but considering it will have to be you to carry any child we have, I don't have to worry about being too old to safely carry a child. My mom was thirty when she had me. But you've got decades yet. There isn't a rush, we've got time."
"Yes of course." Liara sounded a little deflated. "Time, it seems we either are running out of it or weighed down by it."
"Welcome to world outside of archeological digs my dear Dr. T'soni."
"I have come to understand that time and tedious study is a treasured commodity and not a luxury in the military."
"Li you're going to be a military wife "
Liara turned around in the circle of the Spectre's arms so she could look at her lover. "I do not have 'cold feet'." She kissed Samantha soundly. "I do however hesitate with accepting my dame fully into my life, but not you. Never you."
"Your dame " Samantha gently removed Liara from her arms and puffed out a breath as she fell back onto the bed. "I just thought of something rather dreadful and problematic."
Liara frowned. She could feel the Spectre's wall shielding her thoughts and mind from her. "Samantha talk to me." Liara was getting more and more nervous by Samantha's withdrawing from her. Tentatively she touched her lower abdomen and winced as her fears resurfaced. Would history replay itself? During the sharing had Samantha tapped into the hidden furtive area she had tried to keep apart from her beloved? Would she be left as Benezia had been? Sha'ira said she had not rejected her sired daughter but the fear, the pain had been there all the same. Samantha had been acting so oddly since the discovery of Sha'ira's role in Liara's life; it left the young asari apprehensive and frightened.
"You know that special hell I talked about? Well now I'm definitely going there. By the Goddess, I've walked into my own little Greek tragedy. Move over Oedipus Rex here comes Samantha Shepard." The Spectre groaned as she fell on their bed and covered her face with a pillow. "I'm sorry; this isn't supposed to be about me god what you must think "
"Smothering yourself will not make the issue go away." Liara took the pillow from her lover's face now completely understanding Samantha's withdrawal. "As I have told you, that happened before we met, before you knew I existed. I found not fault in it then or now. The circumstances might have changed but the context of your past interaction with the Consort has not"
"That doesn't make it any less squicky."
"By that I assume you mean upsetting?"
"I fucked your dad er sire for crying out loud!"
"Had you known her genetic link to me would you have done so?"
"WHAT! Shit no how can you even ask that? Not only no but hell no! You saw the memories; she spoke philosophy to me about my past and who I will become. I got a little confused and was about to leave her chambers when she kissed me. And all of a sudden we it was just her and me in the pleasure dome oh God I'm doomed! I can't believe I slept with my fiancé's mother."
"Dame. Or if you prefer the term my father or sire. She was not is not my mother." Liara gently corrected. "Samantha, let it go. It was nothing but a moment of desire and long before you knew me or we shared in our love. As you said 'not only no but hell no' to the concept of joining with her now. There can be no sin where none is found."
Shepard gave Liara a very curious look.
"What is it?"
"You swore. I've never heard you do that. It sounds all wrong."
"Perhaps, but it did gain your attention."
"Yeah okay, but please don't do it again. You're too too I don't know too good, too pure to swear. It sounds just wrong when you do it."
"If you drop the matter, I agree not to use profanity."
A deep sigh. "Seems to be lopsided agreement to me, Babe. I'm getting the better end of the bargain."
"No." Liara said lying down beside Shepard. "I am. My part is easy, for yourself it is much more difficult for you to forgive yourself over the incident."
"How can you be so calm about it? Shit when one of my old friends back in high school told me my mother was hot, I decked him."
"And if they found your father to be 'hot'?"
Samantha frowned. "Not a single guy said that about Dad. I had more male buddies then chicks. I probably would have made an eww face and laughed at them if they did. Dad's dad you know? I guess he's attractive he's just dad " she shrugged.
"So would it help if I 'decked' you then for this perceived 'squicky' crime?"
"It might." Shepard said honestly. "Look even if technically it isn't a crime, it broke taboos. I can't be comfortable with that and I know you're not too comfy either despite the philosophical high road you're taking."
"Samantha "Liara sighed in frustration then smiled. "Whatever this cleansing ritual you've committed yourself to; perhaps you should go ahead with it."
"I definitely have to, Liara."
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