Hammer FOB, 45 minutes after Crucible Detonation
"Major Coats? Major? Sir?"
The voice was indistinct, crackling caused by distance and poor connection quality, but it was Corporal Ahmed alright. Coats had despatched a shuttle to the remains of the Citadel as soon as it became apparent that the red energy field had disabled all the Reapers and their forces. With the fleets who knew where after Hackett's emergency withdrawal order, recovery of survivors stranded in orbit had become a priority for the groundside forces. Coats opened a link to respond, cautiously optimistic at what sounded like excitement in the corporal's voice.
"This is Coats. Report, corporal"
"We found her sir! She's alive! Shepard's alive!", the young Glaswegian sounded ecstatic. You and me both, lad, thought Coats, listening to the cheering that had erupted behind him.
"Well done corporal. Is she badly injured, can you put her on a shuttle and get her back down here to a hospital? There's still no word on the fleet, we can't wait for a medical ship to return."
"Badly wounded sir, but Doctor Barnes has stabilised her with medi-gel and we can be back dirtside in 10 minutes or less. Recommendations?"
"London's too badly damaged. Take her to the John Radcliffe in Oxfordshire, it's still intact. Uploading coordinates now, corporal", Coats answered after a moment's reflection.
"Yes sir", came the immediate reply.
Coats opened a communications link to the hospital to advise them of the extremely important patient they were about to receive.
Normandy SR2, 4 weeks later
"Approaching Sol system, preparing to link into a comm buoy", Joker announced in a voice devoid of emotion over ship comms. All heads lifted at the sound and a buzz of mixed anticipation and dread began to suffuse the atmosphere on the ship.
In her cabin, Liara watched as her displays lit up with information, reports from surviving agents, income and expenditure reports filed by Feron during her long incommunicado period. If only the QEC had survived the crash, she mused, but it was unlikely that any of the other communicators it had been paired to survived anyway, so even if they'd had spare parts for it it would most likely have remained useless.
She scanned message headers at breakneck speed, fingers working to filter out messages that didn't contain keywords she designated with heart wrenching urgency. Results began to emerge, the same name over and over as expected, but she wasn't looking for tributes, for lyrical encomia from journalists trying to fill empty columns. All she wanted was a status update and a location for the woman who'd saved them all, for her bond-mate, Kira Shepard.
Finally, she found it. Her heart pounded in her chest as trembling fingers pulled up the relevant report. She knew deep-down that the news would be encouraging, even though the Normandy crew had tried to convince her it was wishful thinking, that she should have placed the board holding Shepard's name on the memorial wall before the freshly-repaired Normandy had departed its temporary home on the uncharted world where it had been thrown by the Crucible shockwave. She'd balked at the last moment, a serene smile on her face as she told the crew that she was convinced Shepard was alive, that she'd not felt her die the way she had at Alchera.
Light from the screen reflected off the tears in Liara's eyes as she read the report. Kira was alive, but was at an undisclosed location somewhere in southern England. Unable to contain her joy, she screamed with elation at the top of her voice and heard footsteps hurry to her door from the crew eating area outside.
"Liara? What's happening?", Ashley Williams yelled. Liara opened the door and saw not just Ashley but almost the entire crew standing outside her cabin cum office.
"Ashley! Come and see this", Liara responded.
Ash walked swiftly to the data terminal and read the message Liara indicated. Her hand flew to her mouth and her eyes flicked rapidly from side to side as she devoured the words she'd never thought she'd read.
"Oh my god Liara, you were right. She's alive!"
She hugged Liara tightly as the crew erupted into loud cheering. Liara knew the crew needed this, that many of them, especially Joker, were still mourning EDI. The AI had gone irretrievably offline at the moment the red shockwave had struck the Normandy and hurled it 3 weeks' travel away from Earth, the loss made doubly shocking by the sudden collapse of her mobile platform in full view of Joker, Ashley and Samantha Traynor on the bridge. The loss had all but maimed Joker, who had conducted his part of the week-long repairs in near silence and since then had barely moved from his seat on the bridge apart from when forced to take a break or sleep by Doctor Chakwas. Liara hoped that the news would cheer him, that he could recover from the double blow of losing girlfriend and mentor by at least getting one of them back.
Over Ashley's shoulder Liara saw multiple crew members leave the crowd around her door, presumably to spread the news to those still at their posts.
"Liara, I'm so sorry I doubted you. We...", Ashley began to apologise.
"I understand, Ashley, I really do", Liara cut her off. "Only Doctor Chakwas believed me, but she was with me in the escape pod at Alchera, she saw what happened when the bond broke that time. I don't blame you, or any other member of the crew, for refusing what you thought was false hope."
Liara felt Ashley's grip around her relax as the human woman broke the hug. The Spectre's face was a mix of elation and concern that she and the others had hurt Liara with their insistence she face 'reality'.
"Liara, listen. It'll only take us another hour to make Earth orbit. I'm going up to the bridge to talk to Joker and get caught up with Alliance command. I'll use Spectre authority, find out where she is for you and get Steve to prep a shuttle. You'll see her as soon as I can arrange it, I promise".
As Ashley smiled, hugged her again and ran off to begin the work of contacting whichever authorities had survived the war, Liara beamed to herself and selected the clothes she would wear for the happiest day of her life.
John Radcliffe hospital grounds, Oxfordshire
Birdsong filled the gardens, the last of the late autumn sunshine throwing the fallen leaves into a gleaming display of gold, yellow and orange. Kira Shepard looked around her at the sights and sounds of the type of place she'd never really known growing up, raised in one sterile environment after another. She'd visited places like this with her parents, spent time in dirty places and simulated planets to encourage her immune system to flourish, but these last 4 weeks had given her an appreciation of the joys of having real grass under her feet. That joy had been heavily muted by the emptiness she felt inside. Despite the visits from so many noteworthy leaders, civil and military, the plaudits in the press, article after article praising the 'Saviour of the Galaxy', she felt hollow. She'd condemned the geth along with the Reapers, knew that every single geth ship that had come to the aid of every organic species now floated lifeless in near-Earth orbit, slowly being recovered and moved to safer locations to avoid crashing into the atmosphere.
Debate still raged about what to do with the ships, whether to leave them intact as a graveyard of sorts, or whether the geth, being software, could even have a grave and that the ships were just empty shells and could be salvaged for material to use in repairs. Many argued the geth would have considered the debate irrelevant, that burial customs were an entirely organic invention. Others countered that a true tribute to the geth would be treat them as their allies would have wished to be treated themselves. Some had sought Shepard's opinion, but she felt that as their killer, it would be wrong for her opinion to have any weight at all, and so she had declined to venture any kind of contribution to the debate.
In the trees nearby she could see squirrels foraging for acorns, preparing their winter food stores. Some were clearly adolescent, barely two-thirds the size of the full adults. Kira smiled at this evidence of life continuing to build for the future, a future that would never have come to pass for the sentient races of this cycle had she not made the choice when faced with the true nature of the Catalyst, the warped AI that had turned on its own creators and used their genetic material to create Harbinger, the first Reaper.
Harbinger. The name alone dragged her mind back to the last time she'd seen.....Liara. It still hurt to think the name. With the perfect clarity of self-torture she saw her love's face, speckled with the purple of Liara's own blood, as the Normandy ramp closed and Javik supported her. Shepard saw Liara's hand reaching out to her, the blue eyes that had bewitched her from their first meeting on Therum near to tears as she was taken away from Kira to have her body's wounds cared for while her heart was torn within. All over again she felt the pain as she turned away from the sight of her one true love flying away, turned back to face the monster that stood high over the London streets, looming above the entrance to the beam that led up to the Citadel. The bodily pain that had come as Harbinger's attack struck nearby, overwhelming her barriers and frying her biotic amp, omni-tool and scattering her equipment and weapons all over the battlefield, leaving her with only a battered Carnifex pistol, had been nothing compared to her anguish at sending Liara away to safety.
She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. There was a bench nearby where she'd spent entire days at times, just watching the birds and squirrels, where her mother had visited her as the fleets straggled back to their home worlds and the process of repairing the relays began. That wise old bird Hackett had found relay schematics in the Citadel databases that had unlocked on the death of the Catalyst and repair crews were scurrying all over the key relays to get them working again. She'd heard the Charon relay would be operational in maybe two more weeks and that the Thessia and Palaven relays were already back up and running, waiting for connections to be re-established. All this good news tasted like so many ashes to Kira without the one person she'd done all this for by her side.
She heard the noise of a shuttle's engines overheard, saw birds scatter for hiding places at the unaccustomed sound. This part of England had been just rural enough, Oxford being a small city, to escape being targeted early in the Reaper invasion, so the hospital was largely intact. Shepard sighed as she wondered who was on board the vehicle, which was in standard Alliance markings so clearly not a medical transport or civilian shuttle such as her mother would've arrived in, conscientiously refusing to abuse her rank and position for a family visit. Probably another bigwig here to tell her she'd been awarded such and such an honour, could she please sign this endorsement for a candidate for a political position vacated by a deceased predecessor? She'd even delayed obtaining a new omni-tool to avoid being harassed this way and her biotic amp could wait until hell froze over as far as she was concerned. Without one of Liara's unique Nova chips it would never feel right again, she'd feel naked and exposed in combat without that hidden weapon her love had designed for her.
Her mother had asked her how she'd been able to do it, to fight alongside the asari she loved more than her own life. Kira had looked her mother in the eye and responded as truthfully as she could.
"We were a perfect team, mom. We were so tuned in to each other I could work with Liara far more effectively than with anyone else. When the two of us worked with Javik, we were unstoppable, especially in London. I loved her so much for that, for knowing me better than I knew myself, for being able to trust her so completely that in combat we were so much more than two separate people. We were one and the same, just living in two bodies."
Hannah had held her daughter until the sobbing slowly died down and wept tears of her own at the sight of her only child in so much agony. No-one had heard from the Normandy, no-one expected the ship to return home after, the brass suspected, the death of its AI in interstellar space. Ships fitted with VIs had struggled to maintain functions but most had managed to limp home with jury-rigged computers managing ship systems. The Normandy, however, had been intimately connected to its on-board AI, and general consensus was that the ship was lost.
Kira shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. She tucked her slippered feet underneath her, ignoring the slight dampness of morning dew that clung to them in the weak October sun. She wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible, didn't want some dignitary to see her and start yelling her name from tens of metres away across the lawns. She heard the shuttle's engines shut down and sighed at the sign that whoever it was planned to stay a while. If it had been a civilian shuttle then she could have hoped it would be Miranda and Oriana, or maybe Jacob and Brynn come to visit as they had over the last 4 weeks. Brynn was getting big now, so maybe she wouldn't travel so much, but it would've been nice to see one of her old crew that had been on Earth rather than the Normandy.
She could hear footsteps on the gravel that surrounded the doors. Someone was coming, but was it the visitor or just one of the other convalescents? She didn't dare reveal herself by looking, so she sat and waited to see if her solitary contemplation was going to be disturbed. It sounded like there were multiple people moving through the fallen leaves, one much closer to where she sat than the other. She closed her eyes at the sound of someone walking around the great rhododendron that concealed her from general view and choked back a sob as her mind's eye was once more filled with Liara's blood-caked face, drawn with yearning and grief at their separation.
Liara walked as quickly as she dared on the treacherous footing, cursing the damp leafy carpet that threatened to tip her off her feet. There were no deciduous trees on Thessia so she'd never acquired the skill of shuffling through the leaves that so many humans took for granted. This would be so much easier if Shepard had an omni-tool with her, but the doctor had informed Liara that her bond-mate had shown no interest in being contacted by the outside world unless forced to do so.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she rounded a bush with waxy, dark green leaves and saw a hunched figure on a wooden bench all but hidden in the greenery. The hair was shorter and less well-groomed than she remembered, some light medical dressings covered skin still regrowing from cloned grafts and the limbs were thinner, muscles less toned than when they'd parted, but it was still her Kira that sat there with her eyes closed.
She stifled a sob of her own and saw the head of the seated figure jerk up. The eyes opened, the same glorious blue she'd stared into in her happiest moments, and Liara saw her own unbridled joy reflected in them.
Shepard opened her eyes as she heard a gulp from whoever had invaded her privacy. The image of Liara's grief-stricken face that had filled her mind dissolved, to be replaced by the real thing. In less time than it took her heart to beat she stood and crossed the intervening space to enfold Liara in her arms. The pain of pressing on her still unhealed wounds faded to mild discomfort as the wounds of her heart and soul were healed instantly by the warmth of the bond between the two of them.
Liara had reacted to the reunion instinctively and the two were melded into a single being for what seemed like hours. They relaxed, floating gently in the bond, luxuriating in each others presence and their mutual love, soothing away the torment of separation and each renewing their dedication to the other. No questions were asked, no memories exchanged, not a muscle moved as the two lovers communed on a deeper level, feeling the attunement between them and the unspoken bond of a single soul that occasionally lived in two halves. Slowly, languorously, Liara withdrew from the meld and they both sighed in utter contentment as she guided Shepard gently back to the bench. They kissed, finally expressing themselves physically before Liara inspected Kira's bandages with concern.
"I...", "How.." they both began together, then broke into giggles as each smiled adoringly at the other.
"You first", Liara said.
"How are you? Are you still hurt? How did you get back? When did you get back?", Kira asked, questions tumbling from her lips.
"I'm fine, my love. Doctor Chakwas had me back on my feet inside a day so I helped with the repairs to the Normandy after we crash-landed out in one of the unsettled systems in the Exodus Cluster", Liara replied. "We arrived at Earth about an hour and a half ago, Lieutenant Cortez was kind enough to bring me straight here after Ashley used her Spectre status to find out where you were. I'd have contacted you earlier but the doctor tells me you've been refusing a new omni-tool and coming out into the gardens all day if the weather was good?"
"Too many politicians and brass wanting my opinion or good word. I just told them I was still recovering, still overwhelmed by everything that had happened. I could tell some of them thought I should just forget you and find a nice, human man or woman to keep me warm, even after all we've been through", Kira said, unable in her joy to sound angry about any of it. Liara hugged her closer, careful not to disturb any of the dressings. She reached up and ran her hand through Kira's hair, her eyes roving all over her bond-mate's face.
"Oh, yes. Well the fire from the explosion burnt it all off. The doctors did something to stimulate growth, said that I'd somehow instinctively protected the skin from the flame and the follicles were intact. Wish I'd managed to do that for the rest of my skin, though", Kira added, holding one bandaged arm up to her face for inspection.
Liara took the proffered hand between her own and kissed each knuckle in turn. She looked up at Shepard's face, saw more unanswered questions there.
"Kira, I need to tell you something. When the Crucible blast hit the Normandy....", she paused, trying to find the right words to say, knew what the confirmation would mean.
"EDI's dead, isn't she?", Shepard asked, and Liara realised her bond-mate must've known all along what the destruction of the Reapers would also entail. "Just like the geth?".
Liara nodded, her eyes staring into Shepard's and trying to convey her understanding of what her love must be going through.
"I killed them, all of them, right after giving them their freedom", Kira sounded tortured.
For the next thirty minutes Liara listened in horror as Shepard described in minute detail just what had happened after they'd parted on the Normandy ramp. At some point, she couldn't remember just when, she'd wrapped her arms around her love and buried Kira's head in her breast while the human woman poured out her confession to the only person she knew would truly comprehend and not judge her. She felt nothing but love as she heard how Kira had rejected the limitless power of controlling the Reapers, knowing it would eventually corrupt her, together with the monstrous option of forcing all life into an obscene melding of machine and flesh, ripping away the choice of trillions of sentient beings. She shuddered at the thought that both options would have cost Shepard her own life, although she knew that Kira would not have hesitated to sacrifice herself had the resolution been worthwhile and that dedication to the cause of the many was just one of myriad reasons to love this woman in her arms.
Eventually the outpouring of anguish subsided and Kira was silent. Liara leaned forward, forcing Kira to sit up and look her in the face.
Shepard looked in her bond-mate's eyes, searching for any hint of judgement, any sign that Liara had found her explanation lacking. Instead she saw love, admiration and awe and she felt her own love for the beautiful asari redouble. Liara took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.
"I can't imagine how you could've made that decision alone, wounded and so soon after losing Admiral Anderson", Liara began. "I do know that I agree with the choice you made, that control of the Reapers is too much power for any one mind to bear without corruption and that forcing the other choice, that change, on an entire galaxy would have been a violation of every principle of self-determination we and especially EDI fought for. I know you, my love, you'd have given your life for a good and noble cause, but this was not it. I couldn't be prouder, or love you more, than right now."
Shepard reached forward and pulled her love's head towards her, kissing the blue lips that had filled her dreams for almost three years now. They were together again, the Reapers were defeated, and although she would be burdened with guilt over the fate of EDI and the geth for the rest of her life, she felt comforted knowing that Liara, her very own Liara, agreed with her that the right choice had been made.
"Do you think Steve would mind getting me a new omni-tool?", she asked Liara as they walked back toward the hospital complex, and as she felt the laughter of her bond-mate through the arm around her waist, knew she would never feel alone again now she had Liara back in her arms where she belonged.