What Was Lost
Chapter 5 - Sacrifice
Shepard stared over at Liara. The asari had practically dragged her back to the small cabin, saying they should talk in private. Now that they were finally here, though, she was simply standing across the room from Shepard, silent.
"Liara-" "Shepard-" They both started speaking at the same time.
"You first," Shepard motioned to her.
"No, you Shepard."
Shepard took a breath. "Liara, I'm not sure where I should start. I've been thinking about you, ever since we kissed the other night."
"I have too. Goddess, it took me hours to get to sleep last night."
Shepard felt her face flush, "I, uh, know what you mean. That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."
"I think about you all the time, Liara. Right now, all I want to do is walk over there, throw you down on the bed and kiss you senseless."
"Shepard..." The asari was blushing. She looks so cute right now...
"That's not all, though." Shepard paused - this was going to be awkward. "I want more than that. I like talking with you. I want to know everything about you. I want..."
"You want a true joining..." Liara's voice was barely above a whisper.
"True joining?" Shepard inquired.
"I know there are many rumors about us, but asari don't lightly enter into a union with others. It's a very deep and spiritual exchange. A true bonding goes far beyond a regular melding. It would connect us, transcending everything."
"It sounds incredible, Liara."
The asari nodded. "Two would become one. Our thoughts and senses merged, our very identities intertwined. Our memories, our very emotions would weave themselves together into a single rapturous whole. It's unlike any other experience. In some cases, it can be a truly life-changing event."
Shepard found herself staring at Liara. What she was describing went far beyond any dreams or fantasies she had experienced, far beyond any date she had ever been on. She recalled the previous night after leaving the asari in the med bay, and felt ashamed. "You said 'our thoughts', 'our emotions' - are you saying you want to...?"
"No... I mean, yes, I do, but I'm not ready, I... I'm not very good at this, am I?" She blushed and shook her head. "I'm only one hundred and six, barely an adult by asari standards, I've spent most of my time absorbed in my research, and I've never... uh, I haven't really thought about it, not until I met you."
"It's okay, Liara, we don't have to rush anything. I want you to be absolutely sure about this. About us."
"You're very special to me, Shepard. I'm just not sure if I'm ready for this." The asari sat on the bed, and looked over at her. "Though, I have to say, there's a part of me that wants it right now too. I find you fascinating."
Shepard walked to the bed and put her hands on either side of where Liara was sitting, leaning in to kiss her deeply. "You're pretty amazing yourself, Liara. " She whispered to the surprised asari after she broke the kiss.
"I thought you weren't going to rush things, Shepard." Liara replied quietly.
"You kissed me first, the other night, T'soni. You can't go changing the rules now..." She stood up and took one of Liara's hands, and kissed it the same way the asari had the other night. "Good night, Liara."
"Good night, Shepard..."
Garrus sat in the mess with Tali. The quarian was quiet, toying with the food on the tray in front of her. She had been very reserved since they got back from the Feros mission. "Tali, is everything alright? You seem a bit down."
"It's nothing, Garrus, I'll be okay."
"Tali, you're being more depressing than Ashley's poetry, and that's something I never thought I'd find myself saying."
The joke worked - the young quarian giggled and sat up a bit. "Sorry, but it's not really anything you can help me with. I just need time."
"Shepard shot you down, huh?"
"What? Did Ash tell you?"
"Tali, not all of us who used to work in C-Sec are blind, despite what the rumors might say. You haven't exactly been subtle about it."
This ship really needs a bar...
After a minute, she started talking again. "It doesn't matter anyway, she picked Liara." She sounded wistful.
"Liara? I thought she and Kaidan were... I mean, he tried to smash my face through the hull of the cargo bay when he thought I was interested..."
"What was that about being blind, Mr super C-Sec detective?"
He laughed. Shepard and Liara? I didn't see that one coming... I thought Alenko was the competition...
Liara walked down the hallway of the Normandy, giddy. She could still barely believe it. Shepard wants me too! She really wants me! Relief filled her. The kiss, as incredible as it had been, was nothing next to this.
Shepard wanted more than just kisses. That amazed her too. She had worried about that, about what Shepard's reaction to her talk about bonds would be. I've only known her a few months, and we've only kissed twice. At first, she had been interested in the commander for her experiences with the prothean beacon. Not to mention, the way she had rescued her...
Her talks with the commander had rapidly become the high points of her days. She would find herself looking forward to the doorchime announcing Shepard coming to visit. The commander was fun to talk to, and was always willing to listen to whatever Liara wanted to chat about. And joining Shepard and Tali for their vid night, while awkward at first, was really fun too. And Shepard had helped her after the incident with her mother on Noveria.
Her heart still hurt when she thought of Benezia. No matter what she had told Shepard at the time, she missed her very much. She did her best to remember the good times. Going to the park with Benezia when she was a girl. Her mother attending the ceremony when she received her doctorate from the University of Serrice. Their first trip to the Citadel.
Shepard had believed in her, trusted her, and taken her on the mission down to Noveria. She had changed the squad's plans just to help her. During the mission, Shepard had stood up to Benezia about her prescence. And after that... Shepard had been there for her then, too.
She had never felt connected to anyone like this before. In fact, she had never imagined that it would feel so incredible. Other asari would talk about it, but Liara had never pictured it happening to her. Now, she couldn't imagine giving up this feeling for anything.
Shepard yawned as she wandered through the command deck. She had already stopped by the mess and grabbed a late meal from the mess, and decided to see who else was awake tonight. The alcoves were empty; with the ship currently travelling between systems on the way to the nearest mass relay, there was no need for the late night shifts to be fully staffed. Only the cockpit, where Joker was working on adjusting the controls in his off time, was lit.
She hadn't been able to go to sleep tonight either. She had considered asking the doctor for something to help, but then she would have had to explain why she was having trouble sleeping... "Well doc, apparently kissing asari causes insomnia..."
At least, kissing one particular asari did...
No! Stop! Not going there tonight!
She walked up to the front area, and took a seat in one of the navigator chairs next to Joker. "Hey commander, what's up?" The pilot greeted her as she sat down.
"Not that much, I just couldn't sleep tonight. What about you? Almost done fixing the ship up to your standards?"
"Well, I doubt the Alliance will let me put a racing stripe on her, but yeah, I think the Normandy is as close to perfect as she's gonna get. I've been tweaking the maneuvering controls, and I should be able to get you another two percent thrust."
"That's great, Joker!" Shepard felt a surge of happiness. First, the doc had a handle on what was causing her biotic troubles, then her talk with Liara, and now the Normandy was better than ever. I finally had a really good day!
"You seem awfully pleased for someone who is having trouble getting to sleep, Shepard. I didn't know navigation code turned you on." He shot her a wink.
"What can I say? I'm a simple girl at heart - some candles, romantic music, and a top of the line warship, and I just melt."
"Well, my shift replacement should be up in a few minutes, feel like some food?" Joker carefully stood up.
"Sure, I could eat again." Shepard got up with him.
"Again? God, Shepard, you're a pig."
"Hey, you know I'm a biotic! Not my fault I have to eat a lot."
"Oink, oink, Shepard..."
Tali wondered why Shepard had summoned her command crew to the conference room in the middle of the night. The others also seemed curious. When she got in the door, the commander was signing off from the commlink with the council.
"Joker, I'm sending you some coordinates, get us turned around and headed there as soon as possible." Shepard had a wide grin as she spoke to the pilot.
She gestured to the chairs. As soon as everyone was seated, she pulled up an image of a planet. "We finally caught a break, people. A salarian STG team sent out a distress call. Apparently, they found a geth research facility... that's being run by a turian!"
Tali sat up straighter in her seat. They were going to catch Saren at last? No wonder Shepard looked so excited.
"Shepard, I hate to be a wet blanket..." Kaidan started to ask.
"I thought that was his job on the ship," Garrus whispered to Wrex, loud enough to be overheard by everyone else in the room.
"...But how are we expected to take out an entire base by ourselves?" Kaidan continued, shooting Garrus a glare.
"We'll be meeting up with the STG team when we land. They have a forward base already set up. We just need to link up with them there." Shepard answered.
"Any idea what they're doing down there?" Tali asked.
"No, Tali, the message the salarians got off to the council was pretty brief. The geth jammed their signal almost immediately."
"Shepard," Wrex rumbled, "this all seems a little too convenient. We just happen to find Saren's secret base and confirm that he's there too? And we're actually going to have Council approval and troops this time also? This feels like a trap. Things never go this right for us."
"I thought the same thing, Wrex, but the fact is, we can't ignore this one. Besides, there have been no signals to the STG team, so no one on the planet knows we're coming. And with the Normandy's stealth drive, they won't know we're there till we've already landed."
She looked around the room, "Any other questions?" When no one else had any, she dismissed them and headed to her locker.
Tali got her own gear ready and met up with Shepard and Liara in the cargo bay by the Mako. The commander had decided to lead a forward squad to take out the geth AA turrets so the Normandy could land safely.
They strapped in, and got ready for the jolt as the Normandy dropped them towards a small lagoon. "I love this part!" Shepard grinned wolfishly as the Mako fell towards the ground.
"Keelah! You're insane, Shepard!"
Liara was pale, her hands gripping the armrests of her station. "Shepard, did you really have to tell Joker to drop us so high up?"
"There are geth defenses that could damage them if they got too close."
"And the fact that you enjoy it has nothing to do with it?"
"Oh, lighten up, T'soni..."
Liara couldn't believe it. Shepard had actually talked down a krogan on the verge of bloodrage. Wrex had been understandably upset at finding out Saren not only had a cure for the genophage, but the salarians were planning on blowing it up. He had been about to shoot Shepard, or so it seemed, when she managed to get through to him.
Liara smiled. Watching Shepard talk Wrex down was impressive. Everyone else had seemed to give up on him. Ashley and Kaidan had even been ready to try taking him out from a distance. But Shepard didn't let that happen.
"Okay, it looks like we're going to need three teams for this one." Shepard zoomed the map out to show the exterior of Saren's research base. "Team one will be a small squad led by me. We'll try to sneak in and disable as much of their defenses as we can. Liara, Tali, you'll be with me."
She pointed to the Normandy's icon on the map. "Garrus, you, Ash and Wrex will guard the Normandy and get the bomb ready to go. It just has to give us enough time to get clear of the blast, nothing fancy."
She looked over at Kaidan. "Kaidan, I'd like you to go with the salarians on team three. Keep in contact with us and try to protect them as much as possible."
She glanced up at them. "This is it, stay safe and play it smart, people. Let's go get that bastard!"
Everyone dispersed to get ready for the assault. Liara paused and motioned to Shepard, beckoning her over to the small tent that had been set up for the science team.
"What's up, Liara? We need to get read-- mmmppppphhhh... mmmmmm..." Liara cut off Shepard with a kiss.
When she finally let the human catch a breath, the commander smiled at her. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for? We really do need to head out soon."
Liara put her finger on Shepard's lips. "That's for not giving up on Wrex when everyone else had. I just wanted you to know how I felt."
"I'll be sure to tell Wrex you feel that way about him."
"Shepard! That's just evil!"
"You know you love it." Shepard's teasing words didn't match the warm smile the commander gave her.
"Shepard..." Liara's cheeked heated. She was about to say more when a cough from outside the tent interrupted her.
"Sorry to interrupt, skipper, but that salarian's ready to head out." Ashley's voice carried through the thin fabric to them.
"To be continued I guess," Shepard gave her a rueful grin.
Ashley sat in the cockpit, chatting with Joker while they waited for the commander. Wrex and Garrus were still down in the cargo bay, going over some final details on the bomb. Garrus wanted to improve the trigger mechanism. Wrex just wanted it to 'have more boom.'
"So chief, what's the deal with the commander? She's been acting kinda weird recently." Joker asked her.
"Oh, probably just Liara keeping her up at nights," Ashley told him, shooting him a suggestive wink for good measure.
"Whoah whoah whoah... Hold on a sec, Liara and Shepard? How did I miss that one?" He looked shocked.
"You're not the only one, Garrus missed it too."
"... Wow... so Shepard and Liara... I can just picture it - them holding each other... kissing... bodies rubbing up against each other... I'll be quiet now." He quickly cut himself off when he noticed Ashley's glare.
Before she could reply, the comm board lit up. She checked the signal - Shadow team had just made entry into Saren's base.
Shepard stared at the beacon in revulsion. The prothean relic sat in a small alcove, pulsing with a faint green light that disturbed her. She could feel the glow pulling at her, trying to imprint itself on her mind again. She hesitated before getting closer.
Liara glanced over at her, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. "You don't have to, Shepard," she said quietly. "You've already done enough."
"No, Liara." She took a deep breath, trying to prepare herself for this. "I do have to. If I don't, we'll never figure out where Saren went off to, or what this Conduit business is all about." She squeezed the asari's hand back. "Just... be ready if... something happens."
She stepped forward, letting the beacon sink the tendrils of vision into her. Unlike her experience on Eden Prime, she could understand it. The beacons were a warning, a record of the prothean's war with the Reapers. She saw the war unfold, the shadow of the Reapers falling on the citadel first, and spreading to other worlds from there. Planets went dark, falling out of communication with the rest of the empire. Fleets were whittled down as they fought one desperate battle after another. Armies shrunk, with fewer and fewer to bolster their ranks each year. The slaughter lasted for centuries.
And at the end of the vision, there was something new. She saw a small planet, a world hidden from the Reapers. In her vision state, she flew between the buildings, watching the scientists frenzied efforts to complete their project. The details were hidden from her, but she could sense their hope.
She shot up from the buildings, leaving the atmosphere and sailing past the outer planets in the system. She looked back, her mind taking in the whole solar system. The stellar landmarks burned themselves into her brain. She could feel the pain building as the new information tried to mesh itself with the visions from the other beacon.
Shepard collapsed on the floor plating, panting, fighting to stay conscious. She felt Liara's hands on her shoulders, steadying her. The asari helped her up, pulling her in close to her body "I have you, Shepard. You're going to be alright."
She nodded gratefully to her, trying to speak, but her voice was still not working. She stared deeply into Liara's beautiful blue eyes. "Thank you," she finally managed to whisper. She walked back to the catwalk, leaning on Liara as they walked.
Tali ducked behind a small metal outcropping. Another pair of indoctrinated krogan had a squad of geth pinning them down from across the room. Shepard, Liara, Garrus and Wrex laid down covering fire, distracting them while Tali moved to a better position to flank and then disable the geth's shields.
Shepard was trying to link back up with Kaidan, who was leading a squad of salarians to disable the last set of AA guns on the research base. Ashley and some of the Normandy's marines were busy arming the bomb and covering their retreat. Once the bomb was armed, they would only have a few minutes to board the Normandy and get clear. After that, the base would be vaporized. And Saren with it, hopefully.
That is, if Sovereign didn't stop them...
Tali shivered, remembering the holo image of the reaper that had appeared before them. The things it had said. The threats...
After the krogan and geth were down, the team hurried to the elevator. Ashley signaled them, alerting all teams that the bomb was now active. Joker had the Normandy on the way, too. They had minutes only to clear out the geth between them and Kaidan.
"Shepard! That ship I picked up just launched a shuttle. We can't catch it in time. You're gonna have visitors." Joker's comm signal was choppy.
Tali looked up - the shuttle Joker had spotted was already pulling into view. A figure leaped from it, a turian... Saren!
Shepard tried to talk Saren down, but he didn't listen. They ended up exchanging some shots, before he fled after Shepard took out his shields. And now, they had a problem...
"Commander, we don't have time to get to both the bomb site and the tower. Tell me where I should pick you up."
Tali stepped closer to Shepard, tears building behind her mask. "Keelah, Shepard, is he saying what I think he is?"
Shepard whispered something to herself - a prayer, Tali guessed. "Joker, meet us at the tower. If we don't help Kaidan get that AA gun down, none of us are making it out of here. And... patch me through to Ashley..."
Ashley dropped the overheated rifle and pulled out her shotgun. The geth still on the planet were making a last push to get to the bomb and disarm it. Damn it, Wrex, you better take good care of my sniper rifle! She snapped off a few shots, then paused to disable the heat safeties on the gun. Another minute, and it wont matter...
She looked down at the bomb at her feet. The power display was pulsing faster and faster, the blinks coming as an almost solid burst of light.
Another marine fell next to her. She cursed and tossed a grenade, scattering some of the geth. She took the brief pause to check on her squad. Only two other marines were still up and firing. Three bodies in Alliance colors were lying unmoving on the ground near the bomb.
Skipper, I hope you got the others out safely...
They had lost contact with Shepard's party after the commander's last transmission. She had heard the tears in her voice as Shepard explained the situation.
The bomb pulsed faster.
Dad, Grandpa, I hope I made you proud. I -
Light enveloped her.
Shepard hadn't even cleared the airlock before the shockwave of the blast hit her. The Normandy shook, knocking her off her feet. The others had fallen, too. She hurried to her feet and dashed through the airlock, overriding the usual decon procedures. Running towards the cockpit, she nearly knocked over Pressley, who had been on his way to meet her.
"Commander, there's a priority transmission waiting for you in the comms room."
"Not now, Pressley!"
"I'm sorry, Commander, but it's a priority Alpha-One from Ambassador Udina."
"Shit!" She turned and stormed off to the comm room, leaving a shocked Pressley behind her. She was so not in the mood for this right now.
Shepard listened as Udina explained the situation. The council had apparently been receiving transmissions from the salarians, and finally decided to organize a fleet to deal with Saren once and for all. And Udina wanted her back to lead it.
She should have been thrilled. They had finally listened to her. The victory tasted like ashes in her mouth, though. She felt so empty after ordering Ash left behind to die. I would do it again, too, but I doubt I'll ever feel any better about it. Soldiers had died under her command before, but this was the first time she had ever ordered it.
"Joker, get us moving! I want us back to the Citadel in time to be at the head of that Fleet!"
"You got it, Commander!"
She shut down the comm panel, and sat down against the wall. The tears she was holding back finally flowed freely. "I'm sorry, Ash. I'm so sorry. I wish I could have found another way." She whispered to the empty room.
Liara found Shepard sitting on the floor against her locker on the upper deck. The commander looked so tired and worn down. "Shepard? I heard what Udina and the council did to you at that briefing. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Liara. But they wouldn't listen. They're just going to let Saren go to Ilos and get the Conduit, and then we'll all be screwed."
"It's not fair, Shepard. You did everything they asked of you and more, and they reward you by stripping you of your command and grounding you." Liara gazed down at her friend, her commander... My lover?... and wished she could find the right words to help her. They hadn't even given Shepard time to grieve for Williams before doing this to her.
"I don't care what they do to me, Liara. But they're dooming everyone with their stupidity. And I can't do anything to stop it."
"So, you're just going to give up, Shepard? You'll let the galaxy burn?"
"Not a chance! We're out of the game for now, but I'll find us a way back in." Shepard looked determined now. Liara reached out a hand to her. She grabbed it and stood quickly, and they found themselves in an unexpected embrace.
Liara stared into Shepard's eyes. She wanted to lose herself those beautiful green orbs. Her hands had slid to Shepard's waist, and were slowly drawing the human in closer. She tilted her head and -
"Commander? I have a transmission for you from Captain Anderson."
"I am going to rip that damn comm unit of the wall one of these days." Shepard muttered. "Were you spying on us, Joker?" She asked in a louder voice.
Shepard couldn't believe what she was hearing. The whole galaxy might be destroyed in a few days, and this Terra Firma Party scum was trying to use her to further his own offensive political agenda. The more she listened to him, the more she wanted to deck him. Finally, she made her excuses, and turned to leave.
"You'll regret walking away from us, Shepard." The politician, Charles Saracino, growled. He glared at Tali and Liara, who had come with her. "You and those... things... you're with too."
That did it. Shepard turned and slammed her fist into his face, driving him to the ground. Two nearby C-Sec officers noticed and started over towards the disturbance. Shepard signaled her Spectre ID to them. "Mr Saracino here slipped, officers. Sorry to disturb you."
"No trouble, Spectre."
She looked down at the fallen man, who was being helped up by one of the protesters. "I don't ever want to see you again."
"This isn't over, Shepard!"
*Next Chapter: Shepard and company head to Ilos, the final confrontation with Saren, and the aftermath of all this.*