DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter


Chapter 8
Marriage of True Minds

Nelyna answered the door to her mistress's suite and was a little shocked to find the young Dr. T'soni standing at the threshold holding a plain white cardboard box. The acolyte recovered quickly and schooled her expression to one of welcome and warmth as if she was standing as hostess in the chambers aboard the Citadel Station. She had only seen the young asari in passing when Shepard returned to the chambers holding onto Mayas. Nelyna's attention was drawn at the time to the granddaughter of her mistress and not to the Prothean expert. Now that she stood face to face with Dr. T'Soni she saw very familiar azure eyes looking back at her. Even the coloring of her crest was exactly the same as the Consort's.

Sha'ira had not kept the fact she had another daughter secret. She had been so distraught over the past few days that Nelyna had become exceptionally concerned and pleaded with her mistress to share her grief. And once more the Consort relayed the story. Each retelling of the story however didn't make it any easier it only seemed to set in stone how much she had lost.

For a moment Nelyna hesitated she didn't know how to address her mistress to Dr. T'soni. With Commander Racen it was easy. Mother. Sire or Dame was an acceptable if not old-fashioned form of address but the acolyte didn't know if the two estranged family members had settled on such. In the end, Nelyna opted for a more generic form of address that would not alienate the younger woman standing before her. "I will inform my mistress that you are here, Dr. T'soni."

"Thank you," Liara responded cordially.

"May I retrieve anything for you? Refreshments perhaps?"

"That will not be necessary." Liara paused as if to consider her next words very carefully. "Simply inform my dame I am here."

"Of course." Nelyna tilted her head slightly to acknowledge the familiarity the archeologist had used to address Sha'ira. With her back turned to the Matriarch's daughter, Nelyna smiled. The term dame would surely lift Sha'ira's melancholia.

Instead of being ushered back into the consort's study Sha'ira gracefully made her way to her daughter. "Liara?" she said the name softly.

"I will make you no promises. That being said, I will give you…us… the possible relationship between us a period of probation of an indeterminate time. As a start to this probation, I believe that you should be required to wear this during my Hand-Fasting ceremony." Liara handed the box to the consort.

"What is it?"

Liara grinned mischievously. "A trinket. However unlike the one you gave my Samantha, this one's use will become readily apparent."

Sha'ira reverently opened the lid of the box and gasped. "Liara… I… Thank you."

The young woman nodded. "If you will excuse me, I need to prepare for the ceremony. I asked Samantha to wear her mess dress; I cannot simply appear in my casual clothing and lab coat." She smiled slightly. "You may assist me." The request was shyly given. "Besides you have been through the ceremony, I can only benefit from your experience."

"I am delighted to help you, Liara, however I am able. One note of advice: when you see your beloved taking the seven steps with you, remember to breathe. Slow and steady. Advice no doubt Hannah has given her own daughter as well. Also do not forget to take your steps forward because you are too star-struck by your lover's presence. Benezia and I both forgot to move our feet towards each other after the speaking of the first vow. Our Trusted had to push each of us forward." She laughed slightly at the memory.

"Who was my Mother's Trusted?" Liara asked.


That didn't surprise the archeologist. After all Shiala had always been very close to Benezia. First ranked amongst the Disciples and Liara's first tutor, after Benezia herself of course, in commando style biotics. When she was a youngling Liara had even asked if it was Shiala who was her sire. Benezia said no. Shiala was her Trusted not her partner. At the time the word 'Trusted' meant very little to a five year old. Now however, the pieces fit together.

"Yours would be Nelyna?" Liara pulled herself away from the past to the here and now.

The Consort shook her head, "Actually it was Lidanya. We have always had a very strong friendship. As you know a Trusted is just that - someone other than your beloved whom you trust not only with yourself but with the life of your partner. That has always been Lidanya. I was pleased when Racen and she became partners. The fact she presides over your own ceremony heartens me greatly. For she will protect this union and defend it just as the Matriarch who presided over my Hand Fasting with your mother had always done."

"Who presided over the ceremony?"

"Councilor Lei'cree."

To this answer the younger asari gave no reply but her eyes clearly reflected her surprise. 'Layers upon layers upon layers. If these women were present at the Hand Fasting did they not know of my parentage? Is it obvious? Why did none of them speak of it, comment upon it? It makes no sense.'

In the far distance she heard the soft touch of her lover's mind. Liara meant only for her inner ramblings to be just that inner thoughts. But she transmitted them so strongly that Samantha picked it up. 'Maybe because Benezia commanded a great deal of respect and they thought to honor her wishes by keeping their silence. Considering the idea of a child born of two asari and all... Their silence might also be tied to that missing year.'

'It is a mystery I wish to solve, but now is not the time. I have more important and pleasant matters that take my attention.'

Liara gasped as she felt her Samantha send waves of affection into her soul. 'I love you too babe. I just hope I don't make a total ass out of myself out there.'

'I will be there for you, my sweet Spectre. Have no fear.' In the background of her mind, Liara felt rather than heard Samantha's laughter. She smiled in return.

Sha'ira waited patiently. She knew her daughter and the Shepard shared a bond formed out of Joined minds. Theirs seemed to be particularly strong. It was only a few seconds but it was long enough for Sha'ira's empathic gift to kick in and see her daughter for who she truly was. There was untapped power beneath the calm introverted shell. Power that only Benezia held, power that when unleashed could be devastating if corrupted. Power that could bring hope if uplifted and directed. Coupled with Sha'ira's empathic prowess, Liara could become a very influential and momentous leader amongst the asari. If only she allowed herself to be so. But the shadow of Benezia's own greatness hung low and oppressive over the maiden. Time would give Liara freedom from her mother's reputation and hone her into a remarkable Matriarch and leader of the asari people.

"May I ask, Liara who have you chosen as your Trusted? I would think that Lieutenant Williams will be the Spectre's Trusted." Sha'ira brought her attention back to the upcoming ceremony.

"She is. As for myself, I have chosen Tali. During our travels she has become a good friend and ally. We have fought the geth, Saren and Sovereign side by side. As Samantha would say I trust her to cover my six, but more importantly I trust her to cover Samantha's. Ashley is to Samantha as a sister I think. They have a very strong and formidable friendship. Their relationship is almost as an asari commander and her junior officer rather than that of two humans. The human military is closer to turrian than asari. Their ranks create great unseen lines between officers and subordinates. However Samantha and Ashley have disregarded this precept for the more binding ties of asari military. Indeed Ashley too will no doubt be offering her own candid advice as well as tease with her 'Skipper.' She is quite outspoken."

"Yes, I have noticed this." Sha'ira said. "No doubt she will be very vocal with her opinions concerning the traditional robes of the Hand Fasting. I assume you will be wearing such?"

Liara nodded. "Neither I nor Samantha find the human 'white dress' appropriate. Samantha is forgoing most if not all human based traditions with our Hand Fasting."

"This troubles you."

"I do not think it is wise she turn aside her own culture for mine. I now understand why she went on the Hunt yesterday. She did so for her sense of self and not for me."

"Had it been only for you it would have been a sacrilege to both of you and the Goddess, Samantha knew this. I do not think she is forsaking her own culture, Liara. She is trying to find her niche which was one of the reasons she had to perform the Great Hunt. She was born to wear her uniform. That is her culture - that is her tradition. You go into the Hand Fasting with a commando, a huntress and she will always be so. She was born to lead, Liara. She was born to be a Spectre.

"The trouble is she is torn between her vow to the human military and her oath as a Spectre. This will tear her apart, you must see to it that it does not. I do not believe that the Alliance military understands just what it means to be a Spectre and that now she is one, she no longer answers to Alliance Brass. This troubles her so. It is screaming within her mind...in her heart. That is my greatest and often times most painful gift. I can see into the hearts of others and see them for who they are and will become. Samantha has only known military. You have met with her parents and know why this is so. This is why she turns to the ways of asari. Harmony and the military are one, something that is lacking in humanity's warriors.

"Samantha holds our culture to her because she feels akin to it, more so now than before. I do not profess to understand the changes or the gestalt that took her and you but it has changed you both significantly. Our culture has given her a firm ground to stand upon which her own could not do. Humans are a very young race, and so inexperienced in understanding biotics, the galaxy around them and other species. Our culture has given her clarity and you give her great storm peace and the ability to rise out of the ashes."

Liara allowed the words of her dame to infiltrate her mind. "That is not the first time Samantha has been compared to a storm and I her calm center. Nor is it the first time the reference of the human phoenix been used."

"I doubt it will be the last, my daughter."

Liara looked up to meet identical blue eyes staring at her. It had been the first time Shi'ara had used a parental term. It wasn't unsettling as much as it was alien. She said nothing but smiled softly. "I have taken that into account when I had this made. It was a rush job but the jewelers created a remarkable piece of art. Humans do not wear promise amulets but rather rings to mark their Union with their partners. I had this one created for Samantha. She is not fond of gold outside the practical uses for engineering. This was made with silver."

Liara showed the older woman a blue velvet box she had kept in her breast pocket of the outer robe she covered herself with to fend off the dawn-chill coming off the ocean. Inside the box was wedding ring made of silver. The band had been carefully crafted to resemble a phoenix with its wings full spread. Each feather of the mythic bird was micro-detailed to resemble the true fathers of the mythic avian. The head was turned aside over one 'shoulder' in a scream. The flames around the body were etched with sapphire dust which had an overall ethereal effect. The eye had inset diamond as not to catch on anything that could become a danger to the Spectre while in combat. Liara had made specific parameters during the forging of the ring that it must be able to be worn while covered by the under-weave of a hardsuit. When it was completed, Liara was giddy with pleasure. It was perfect.

"Samantha will adore it as much as you treasure your amulet." Sha'ira thought it so very fitting that the 'trinket' she had given the Spectre was now used in the promise necklace of her first-sired daughter.

"Come, we should prepare otherwise you will be late to your own Hand Fasting."

"You know Skipper it is a little… creepy to be wearing your mess dress after having worn it to Benezia's funeral."

"Lady Benezia." Shepard corrected. She didn't find it appreciate to dismiss the matriarch's title simply because the woman was dead. "And no, the last thing I want this tied to is a period of mourning. But Liara wanted me to wear it. I won't wear a dress if I can help it, and a tux seemed to be a little out-of-place here. Besides, I know how to be a soldier, being dressed in civvies is…weird."

"I hear ya, Skipper. So that's why you ordered I dress in the stiff formal?"

"You look good in mess dress, Lieutenant." Shepard said. "Only there is one thing wrong with the uniform."

Ashley froze. She looked to the new ribbons and rank insignias hoping the tailor she had asked to do the alterations hadn't screwed things up. The blood stripe reflected her new rank as did the lieutenant's bars and stripes. The cummerbund and bow tie were the right color so what was wrong?"

"That sword is no longer appropriate Williams. You're not a NCO anymore. Where's your Mameluke sword?"

"Oh." Williams looked relieved that it was something not too horrible. "Sorry, ma'am but I didn't have time or the credits to get the right sword." Officers always had to buy their own swords or have them handed down by another member of the family if they had earned the right to one. Without saying a word, Ashley un-cinched the offending relic and placed it on the Skipper's bed. It was better not to have a sword than wear the wrong one. Besides she wasn't going to be an embarrassment to the uniform or to her Skipper.

"No that won't do either." Shepard picked up her sword from the desk in the room and quickly cinched the scabbard around Ashley's waist. "Better."

Ash was struck dumb. Her hand touched the traditional long sword as if it were Excalibur. "Ma'am…?" her voice cracked.

"It's tradition, Ash. As a lieutenant you are now entitled to wear the Mameluke sword."

"Yes ma'am but…but it's your sword!"

"Not anymore Ash. That one is now yours."

Ash's jaw dropped.

"There is another ancient Earth custom, something borrowed, something new, something old and something blue. Dad lent me his cufflinks, you gave me the new cologne and Mom gave me her sword this morning when she delivered the cufflinks. The cufflinks go back but I get to keep her sword. It's been in my mother's family for generations, long before the founding of the Alliance, when the first Shan entered into the Marines. It's at least two if not three centuries old." She strapped on the antique sword to her waist.

Ashley did something she wouldn't have dreamed of doing months ago. She grabbed Shepard into a tight bear hug. Shocked by her own actions she took three giant steps back and shakily saluted.

Shepard burst out laughing as she snapped a solid salute back.

Ash cocked a crooked embarrassed grin. "Sorry ma'am won't happen again."

"It's okay Ash I think today we can forget ranks for a few hours."

The younger woman looked relieved. "So…ah…something blue?"

"Liara of course." The Spectre flashed a coy if not mischievous grin.

Ashley couldn't contain her burst of hilarity if she tried.

The air was filled with a rich variety of smells: wood smoke, roasted shark, smoked fish, and most pronounced of all, the perfume of flowers. The flowers were everywhere, brilliantly colored blooms of all sizes, all colors. Hannah and John Shepard and Consort Shi'ara were wreathed in crimson, yellow, green and blue orchids, the traditional leis of parents. Shi'ara wore hers with undeniable pride. It was this lei that had been in the box handed to her this morning. Hannah smirked and nodded her head to her counterpart. It was a start.

Ashley and Tali wore a wreath of flowers around their heads (though Tali looked a little surreal wearing it) and leis of matching blossoms around their necks. They waited opposite each other for their charges to present themselves from twin archways constructed out of grape vines that had been covered in blue and red roses.

Samantha appeared first, looking proud and regal in her mess dress. A true champion.

But it was Liara's garb that caused all to suck in a breath of air. If she looked ravishing in her gown during the awards ceremony she was beyond alluring now. Traditional asari Hand-fasting gowns left very little to the imagination. The front of the gown was made of translucent sea green silk and cut in such a way it resembled a Y. The arms of the Y were narrow strips that formed straps along the shoulders and fell across her breasts. The material so sheer, so translucent you could clearly see the fullness of her breast and it did nothing to conceal her nipples. The stem of the Y was a narrow band of material that covered her belly button and groin but left her waist and hips uncovered. The band formed a thong in the back and trailed up her spine to branch out in the arms of the Y. About her hips she wore what might be better called a sarong for the garment wasn't in the strictest sense a skirt. It was clearly knotted slightly askew of her virginal area to give the overall effect an air of demure seduction. The bunched material covered Liara's most intimate area but also gave the hint she was sans undergarments. Her arms were covered in long fingerless gloves similar to those she had worn to the awards ceremony. She was barefooted which furthered the alluring look. Around her throat was the promise necklace.

"You're not breathing." Ash whispered pushing her skipper. The Spectre didn't even react she simply stared at her beloved.

'You approve.' Liara smiled coyly.

Shepard was only able to flash a rather stupid looking grin. It was as if she was a teenager and received her very first kiss. A very primitive impulse struck the Spectre, forming only one word. 'MINE!'

Liara smiled. 'I am, as you are mine.'

"Skipper you have to get married before you go all primal and carry her off over your shoulder and have your way with her." Ash put a very tight and restraining hand on the skipper's arm feeling her flex in protest at being held back. As for herself, Ashley thought Liara was beyond ravishing. The woman oozed sex. Once more the young officer found herself fantasizing about touching and being touched by another woman. In this case it wasn't her powerful skipper but an asari.

"You are so beautiful." Samantha said and sent at the same time.

"She is." Ashley commented softly. Right now it wasn't the time or place to crack a joke at her skipper's reaction. She couldn't blame Shepard's response to the gown. Asari traditional Hand-Fasting garments aside, Liara appeared in a 'come fuck me' outfit and had done so for her Samantha.

Aside from the sheer sea green gown, Liara wore upon her head a feathered headdress that draped down her back down to her knees in a V formation. It had a crest of macaw and toucan feathers, borders of finch and bluebird tail feathers and even the wing feathers of the small cyan bird that was known as the 'tear of the forest,' the jarakit.. A double line of blue-green lotus blossoms and orchids ran parallel to the feathers. Blue the color the Mother Ocean.

Samantha also wore a similar head-dress though instead of greens and blues, hers consisted of fiery red and orange macaw feathers, deep crimson lotus blossoms and orchids. Red the color life bringing fire.

Phoenix and Wave - Fire and Water - both could become a storm. Both represented in Samantha and Liara.

Matriarch Lidanya stood before the sacred fire garbed as she had been for the funeral in the customary sacred black robes of Athame. Slowly she raised her hands over her head before she brought them down in an arch, like the opening of a blossom. With open palms facing up and pointing to her left and right where the two lovers stood opposite each other. Her voice clear and strong as she spoke the ancient words of Hand-Fasting:

"There was a seeking of the lost, now it is found. A mate is found, one to share the chills of winter, the winds of the tempest, the waves of the tsunami, the laugher of daughters, the fields of battle. A mate is found to share great wisdoms, knowledge, memories and dreams. A mate is found to share in the unknown future with enlightenment. Love has made a plea that you two now become one, here in Mother Ocean. You are to be Hand-Fasted and the prayer has gone its way." She looked from one lover to the other, before brining her hand together in a booming clap. It was the cue to begin the Seven Vows, Seven Steps towards the Hand-Fasting.

Both Samantha and Liara were to take seven steps sunwise around the sacred fire. For each step taken, a vow was said by each. They would do this until they joined each other in a circle of blue and red blossoms. Family and friends would create a half circle around them hand in hand around the fire.

Liara moved first, and with her first step towards her marriage to the Spectre she said these words. "O' my beloved, our love has become firm by your walking one with me. Together we will share the responsibilities of the lodge, battle and daughters. May the Goddess bless noble children to share. May they live long."

Samantha had stayed up long trying to memorize the traditional words of the ancient asari vows of matrimony. Liara would argue it wasn't matrimony as humans understood the term but it was profound union. She took her first words and in a confident voice recited the expected words. "This is my commitment to you, my beloved. Together we will share the responsibility of the home, battle and daughters. I promise that I shall discharge all my share of the responsibilities for the welfare of the family and children"

Liara's second step was taken. "O' my beloved, now you have walked with me the second step. May the Goddess bless you. I will love you and you alone. I will fill your heart with strength and courage: this is my commitment and my pledge to you. May the Goddess protect our Union."

Samantha grew bolder with each step and strangely more giddy. "My beloved, at all times I shall fill your heart with courage and strength. In your happiness I shall rejoice. May Goddess bless you and our honorable Union."

By her third step Liara was practically trembling. "O my beloved, now since you have walked three steps with me, our wealth and prosperity will grow. May Goddess bless us. May we educate our children and may they live long in ascending wisdom and knowledge.

The Spectre sent waves of her love to Liara as she took a third step. "My soul-mate I love you with single-minded devotion as my beloved. My devotion to you is pure and you are my joy. This is my commitment and pledge to you."

"O' my beloved, it is a great blessing that you have now walked four steps with me. May the Goddess bless you. You have brought favor and sacredness in my life." Liara sent back her own joy.

"O my beloved, in all acts of righteousness, in prosperity, in every form of enjoyment, and in those divine acts such as the Great Hunt, worship and charity, I promise you that I shall participate and I will always be with you." So far so good, Shepard thought to herself she had remembered the vow of the fourth step.

"O' my beloved, now you have walked five steps with me. I will share both in your joys and sorrows, your sweet dreams and your nightmares. May the Goddess bless us." Liara's fifth vow resonated strongly for both of them. Many a night now the Spectre woke shuddering from her nightmares of the Prothean's end. Only Liara's presence seemed to bring her any ease.

"O my beloved, I will share both in your joys and sorrows, your sweet dreams and your nightmares. Your love will make me very happy.

Liara took her sixth step, her heart pounding loudly, quickly; with each step the reality of their hand fasting grew into greater reality. "O' my beloved, by walking six steps with me, you have filled my heart with happiness. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace, time and time again. May the Goddess bless you."

"My beloved, the Goddess blesses you. May I fill your heart with great joy and peace. I promise that I will always be with you. I will protect you and accept your protection. Together there is no tempest we can not storm."

The final step brought Liara into the ring of red and blue lotus flowers. The symbol of fire and water both needed to create life. Blue and red: the blood of asari and the blood of human intertwining, mingling becoming one glorious whole.

"O my beloved, as you have walked the seven steps with me, our love and friendship have become inseparable and firm. We have experienced spiritual Union in the Goddess. Now you have become completely mine. I offer my total self to you."

Samantha stepped into the ring taking her lover's shaking blue hands into her own trembling ones. "O my beloved, as you have walked the seven steps with me, our love and friendship have become inseparable and firm. We have experienced spiritual Union in the Goddess. Now you have become completely mine. I offer my total self to you."

Liara held her beloved's left hand into her own. In the palm of her hand she had kept hidden the intricate silver phoenix ring and gently pushed it home on Samantha's ring finger. "To have and to hold from this day forward." She added the human words to the ceremony of seven vows and steps. "Let this ring be your symbol of our Union even as I wear my own symbol about my neck." She touched the amulet lying close to her cleavage.

The Spectre had not expected such an extravagant and yet still tastefully simple gift. She stared dumbly at the ring the weight of it on her finger making the ceremony seem all that more real, that much more solid. "To have and to hold, from this day forward," she echoed Liara's words, just before she kissed her wife.

Arms entwined. Holding their bodies close, eyes dangerously close to becoming black as the kiss deepened. It was a subtle cough from Tali and a bump in the back from Ash that separated the two. Their blushing faces creating soft chuckles from those around them.

The ceremony ended with a ritual sharing of sweet elasa from three flat cups stacked on top of one another. Liara led the ritual taking three sips from the first cup, followed by Samantha, who also took three sips from the first cup. Then they move on to the second and third cups. The sweet elasa was then offered to the couple's families. In Liara's case it had been Shi'ara and Racen.

The families had their own words that it was customary to recite. Together four of them spoke as one. "May you have walls for the wind and wave and roof for the rain, drinks beside the fire. Laughter to cheer you, your love near you, and all that your heart may desire."

The whole of the wedding party and guests were ushered into the banquet hall for the wedding feast that followed the ceremony. By Liara's insistence the hall had been laid out according to the more human traditions of the bride's table and smaller round tables for the guests. Before each guest's place at their individual tables were small wrapped boxes. It is a human custom to offer Groom's cake but instead of a confection every quest had been given the gift of one of the sacred friaxon shark's tooth. It was a symbol of blessings, strength and courage and righteousness.

Behind the bride's table a waterfall cascaded from the fountains creating a rippling aquatic curtain. Small vid-projectors were fitted in the fountain's bed so that images of playing orcas could be viewed. How the asari got hold of old documentary film footage of wild killer whales was unknown but not surprising given their resourcefulness. Both the Shepard women thought it a remarkable display of unification of ancient religions.

Indeed the whole feast had an underlined aquatic theme to it. Each dish in the asari Hand-Fasting banquet was a symbolic wish--for happiness, prosperity, long life or many children. The shark Samantha had hunted was the primary course in the meal. It had been smoked until the flesh had turned a peppery black, representing the color of asari eyes in the thrall of deep passion. It was followed by other varieties of seafood. Carp was served with the tail and head forced up from the plate forming a circle, the symbol of eternity. Clams were served with both shells together, the two halves symbolizing the couple. Lobster was often served for its deep red color, the color of luck.

"You are magnificent, Li. That dress…"

"It is traditional for the Hand-fasting as much as the white gown is for humans." Liara was feeling a little self-conscious.

It hadn't occurred to the young woman that human males would find her garments less than respectful. She had seen Ashley cuff Joker quite hard over something she had not heard but it had obviously been about her the gown. Her father-in-law never met her eyes always looking at Samantha with disapproval. She had even heard him say: 'You allowed that woman to parade around like some common street hooker? You can see all of her bits through that scrap of cloth she dares to call a wedding gown!'

Samantha frowned and told him 'This is the asari way, Father. Their ways are not our ways. I can adapt and I accept. If you can't, you can leave. Thank you for the show of your face but with all due respect Major Shepard, you're dismissed if you going to make this an issue. You will not become problematic on my wedding day.'

Even Captain Anderson had a small problem with the attire but less out of being scandalized but because he had profound respect for the young woman who was marrying his junior officer. Seeing the nearly nude form put thoughts into his mind that a man of his age shouldn't be entertaining, especially about someone else's newly wedded wife.

"I know, Li and it's wonderful. Forget them." Samantha dismissed the murmurs from the humans. "It's our day. It's beautiful: stimulating, tantalizing and perfect." Samantha ran her hands along the soft silk material on her wife's arms. She placed two gentle fingers under Liara's chin lifted her head back and kissed her soundly. Nipping at her lips, neck even as she nuzzled the soft velvet folds of her crest, she whispered, "Perfection."

"Perhaps I should keep this for a private showing." Liara's voice became husky.

"Please do." Samantha continued to shower Liara with kisses until the young maiden's eyes became solid black.

Sha'ira, Lidanya, Shiala and Racen discreetly lifted the couple behind the water curtain allowing them a few moments of privacy. The young lovers hadn't been aware they were projecting their desires outward. In fact every asari present had been feeling the effects of Samantha and Liara's libidinous responses for one another and it had been building. Making them all feel sand in the crest.

Following the feast was dancing. The dances helped create a distraction for the newlyweds had yet to emerge from the hidden alcove behind the false waterfall. It was unlikely they would for sometime. They had stopped projecting their strong desires but anyone remotely telepathically inclined had felt the wave of wanton lusts. It was up to the more experienced asari matriarchs and matrons to put out the fires as it were until the newlyweds reemerged two hours latter.

Unlike the custom in human receptions where the first dance is with the newly married couple followed by the father of the bride and his daughter dance, the asari opened with only the married couple. Even if the traditional father-daughter dance was to be performed Liara wasn't in a comfortable frame of mind with Sha'ira as of yet and John Shepard had left just after the feast. And that he had stayed that long only on pain of a wife's wrath.

Accommodating the fact his only child was a lesbian was something the man could accept. Having his only child married to an alien even one as intelligent and capable as Dr. Liara T'soni was more than he wanted to bear. The cufflinks he had lent Samantha was due only to a frigid glare from his wife and the threat he 'had better play nice or else.' She never said what that 'or else' was and knowing Hannah as he did John had no desire to find out. He rather face a whole platoon of geth armed only with a baseball bat than discover what that 'or else' was.

Indeed the Hand-Fasting between the first human Spectre and the daughter of a renowned recently acquitted Matriarch was something everyone was talking about all across Citadel Space. The news-vids continually flooded the extranet with the story. There were several opinions about the topic, some ranging that it was found to be a true star-crossed lovers' romance. Some believed the marriage was another strut in the bridge between humanity and the other races, specially the founding council races. Still others thought it was a race-betrayal for Captain Shepard to even contemplate shacking up with an alien let alone marry one in some heathen ritual. Still others thought it disgusting that an asari daughter would engage in an illicit affair with a human, even if she was the first Spectre and Savior of the Council. She was still human…

Sacrificing human lives even if it got humanity on the seat of the Council was to many a betrayal. To marry one of the aliens especially the promiscuous asari was to several completely unforgivable and sacrilegious.

Far from Asari space, far from the hands of the Citadel Council a conclave was held in a private conference room in the upper floors of the Mezzanine hotel upon the frozen world of Noveria. Those in attendance at this unconventional business meeting were positively atypical even for hired mercenaries: asari, krogan, batarian, turian, human and salarian. All of whom waited impatiently for the holo-imager to project the image of their patron.

"This better be worth it," Inamorda rumbled. His deep krogan bass created a jarring sensation in the bones of those sitting close to him.

Aleena was a unique specimen for asari being that she was not only a highly trained commando huntress but a mercenary. Her dark blue eyes looked over her counterparts and she began to wonder why Wrex wasn't amongst their numbers. Rumors had it he had gone legit and was now running with the Alliance Military as some kind of scout. Still it was strange he wasn't in attendance. The amount of incentive credits just for showing up would have wetted the brute's thirst for ready cash over any commitment he would have given to the human's military. Each face here the asari knew by reputation if not by competition of a contract.

The two salarian females were twins as much as those born to a brood could be; as they had hatched from the same egg. They called themselves 'Mournful Blades.' They were deadly by themselves, together they were beyond lethal.

The seven batarians were apart of the Blue Suns, a mercenary band of slavers, drug pushers, contraband and specialized in inhuming notable targets.

Five turians, Aleena knew dealt with illegal mods as much as they did contract work. Apparently they were the only ones left after a large bust made by C-Sec. These bunch were far less subtle than the typical assassin-mercs but you couldn't argue with results.

The nine humans gathered together like a pack of snarling kath hounds keeping as far apart from the others as the room made allowances for. The shoulders of their black varren leather jackets bore the insignia of Cerberus. Some kind of hell-hound from the humans' underworld they called Hades.

There was another group of humans mercenaries headed by an elderly woman, Helena Blake. Aleena knew this old woman have been a part of the underworld crime family simply known as the Syndicate. Somehow Blake had been the only survivor of the crime faction that had been otherwise cut down by a Spectre.

"You are gathered here because of your talents, skills and numerous victories," came a distorted voice over the comm-system just before the flickering orange glow of a hologram was projected. The figure looked to be a human male but the face was deliberately distorted and flickered so a positive ID could not be established. "By coming here you have agreed to the contract. Your involvement only requires you to find and eliminate your target. We have an inside agent working with us, so locating them will not be difficult. This agent's loyalty has never been question by the target's associate and therefore can move about without impunity, their transmissions will be unremarkable as they are known to send several transmissions as a necessary part of their occupation aboard the target's ship."

A high profile kill, a very high profile kill. Aleena surmised and by the expressions of the others within the room they had all come to the same conclusion. And each one of them had just upped their fee.

"Just one target?" Inamorda snorted. "You called in heavy guns for just one target."

"She does not travel alone, it may be necessary to eliminate her companions. For each head you will be awarded accordingly. If you manage to inhume her closest companion you will be very well awarded, you will have enough credits to buy your own moon."

"Just who is this target?" Aleena grew more and more suspicious.

"A Prothean archeologist, Dr. Liara T'soni."

Aleena frowned. She knew that name as any asari did. Matriarch Benezia T'soni had been without peer. From the news-vids she knew the matriarch to be dead and given full honors on Thessia. Killing a daughter of such a notable matriarch wasn't going to be easy. Her fee just went up again.

"You called in a lot of guns, human just to take out a single asari bitch." One of the Blue Suns commented glaring at Aleena. "An archeologist?" he laughed. "What's the catch?"

The boys from Cerberus shifted uneasily. They had all read the reports from the head office. This T'soni was an extremely powerful and deadly biotic. She also traveled in the company of a Spectre. A human Spectre that had been responsible for wiping out several labs and the death of dozens of Cerberus mercs.

"The Spectre whore she has allied herself with is the catch." The hologram said angrily. "That human-traitor has become more trouble than she is worth. Destroy T'soni, you destroy the Spectre."

"The Spectre is the true target, not the archeologist." Aleena said. Her price just doubled over its previous raise.

"If you believe you can take her down, I will offer no protest, however it is easier to strike at the Spectre's most vulnerable spot and that is the archeologist. Destroy her and you destroy the Spectre."

"Why would you want your Spectre destroyed?" One of the Turians barked. "Isn't she a paragon of humanity? Savior of Elysium, of the Citadel? Wasn't she who made sure there were enough humans sacrificed in the war with the geth and Saren to give your race a seat on the Council. Why do you want her dead? "

"She is the furthest thing from being a paragon of humanity! She is a danger. I happen to know if anything where to happen to her asari pet, she would go rogue. Just like Saren. Can this galaxy truly afford another rogue Spectre? I represent a political party of Earth that will fund this expedition and believe me she has no allies amongst them. She has made some powerful enemies. Even the Shadow Broker is displeased with her. Hunt down and kill Dr. Liara T'soni and you will be well rewarded I promise you. Each you have already been paid a healthy stipend and the promise of much much more. Each of you will be issued OSD's with relevant data on this contract to start your planning." The hologram went dark leaving many questions about the contract in the dark along with it.

Everyone tripled their price.

Part 9

A/N 1: If anyone has the Art of Mass Effect Jlook to page 22-23 this is the inspiration for Liara's gowns both at the award ceremony and the wedding.
A/N 2 the vows, ceremony and words are taken from Native American, Hawaiian, Japanese and Viking marriages.

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