Tevura Hotel, outside Armali, Thessia
"Shepard, it's late and you should get some sleep", Garrus sighed, looking up from the datapad on which he was handling multiple matters of turian state security. Since becoming Primarch he'd found that even in the rare moments where he found himself alone with friends, rather than surrounded by the rest of the Hierarchy, there were still some things that simply could not be put off. Right now, he needed his best friend to stop glaring out of the mirrored window at the assembled press below and go to bed so he could get some work done before turning in himself.
"I know, but for some strange reason, I can't", Captain Kira Shepard replied. "Something to do with oh, I don't know, getting married tomorrow?". She turned toward him, arms folded across her chest and smirked at her bulwark, her brother-in-arms, as he wrestled with yet more reports of fleet strengths and reconstruction efforts that were only now hitting their stride, almost a year after the defeat of the Reapers.
Garrus sighed and put the datapad down, realising it was time for Plan B. Pouring them each a glass of wine from the two bottles they'd opened for their respective physiologies, he gestured at Kira to sit next to him.
"Fine. If you won't go to bed, then we can at least talk until you're tired, or until I fall asleep and you drop off through sheer boredom", he challenged her. She smiled at him, picked up the glass of wine she knew was suitable for humans and settled into the empty spot on the sofa. "Tell me some more about what I have to do tomorrow", he asked.
"Not again, Garrus. Are you deliberately forgetting it all or are those reports melting your brain?", Shepard teased. Garrus looked back at her with exasperation all over his face and made the traditional sign for 'get on with it'. She laughed at his expression and decided to humour him. Maybe she could relax if she went over Garrus' part in the ceremony rather than her own somewhat larger role.
"You're my ariem, which translates to something like companion-witness. The asari used to worship Tevura, maybe still do a little considering the name of the hotel. She was a goddess of travel, law, love and sex apparently, watching over asari who went away from their home cities to find a bond-mate that they weren't related to. Your job is stand witness during the ceremony, tell them how far I've come, the dangers we faced, that we respect the law, our own and the local ones. In the old days you'd have to convince the local Matriarchs that the traveller deserved one of their daughters, now it's just a tradition to have the outsider accompanied by a good friend who probably just sat next to them on the flight here".
"So I just have to say you've come from Arcturus Station, you're a good person and you can defend their little girl well?", Garrus simplified. "Seems like everyone will know this already, given you're the most famous person in the galaxy".
Kira looked pained. "Please Garrus, take this seriously. Liara loved Ken and Gabby's wedding and I'm sure that if her mother had been around she'd have talked her into a human wedding, but with Benezia gone I think Liara just wants to take this chance to feel close to her again", she pleaded with him. "They'll have the greatest respect for the Primarch of Palaven, so make this speech count".
Garrus reached out with one clawed hand and placed it on his friend's softer one. "I'm sorry, Shepard. I wasn't trying to make light of anything, just been reading too many summations of reports to speak in full sentences. I take it this is why we've had to stay outside the city tonight, one last journey to prove we're not just from the neighbourhood?", he apologised, smiling as his friend nodded in answer to his question. "I just wanted to make sure I'd understood it properly before I gave this speech. Take a look at this", he offered, handing her a different datapad that wasn't keyed to wipe itself if anyone but him tried to access it.
Shepard took the pad from him and keyed open the only file on it. Garrus watched her face intently as she read, her eyes flashing left and right as she read the phrases he'd laboriously constructed in the days before arriving on Thessia. As she smiled, so did he, relieved that his words met with approval. At length Kira sighed and put the pad down, looking up at him with misty eyes. Suddenly he found himself enveloped in the fiercest hug he'd ever known and a voice whispered in his ear.
"You're the truest friend I've ever had Garrus, thank you".
"You can talk, Shepard", he replied in a thick voice. "Thanks to meeting you three years ago I've gone from rogue C-Sec officer to Primarch, passing through vigilante and Reaper expert along the way. My dad says you're the best thing that ever happened to me, and if you'll remember, he hates Spectres".
Shepard grinned at him, her eyes dancing at the description of Vakarian senior. She'd met him just after Ken and Gabby's wedding, taking the Normandy out to Palaven to speak at a belated ceremony of remembrance for Primarch Victus. Garrus' predecessor had taken two months to die of wounds received during the fight for Earth and she'd felt the need to pay tribute to the brave turian in person. After the speech, watched galaxy-wide by an audience in the trillions, Garrus had introduced her to his father and been struck by just how much strength of character he'd passed to his son. His pride in Garrus had been palpable, but he'd greeted his son's friend without a single shred of arrogance or disrespect. Garrus might now outrank his former commanding officer by virtue of being a head of state, but Shepard was the saviour of the galaxy, and that was how the elder Vakarian had greeted her, no matter how many times she'd asked him to treat her like any other friend of the family.
"Wise man, your dad", Shepard replied, poking Garrus in the shoulder with a smile.
"Wiser than his son, who got stuck with this job", Garrus groaned, indicating the accumulated work with a wave of his hand.
"You know what Ashley said: if it wasn't for his sense of duty, Garrus would've made a damn good politician", Shepard laughed. "She thinks you're the right man in the wrong job, which is a hell of a compliment coming from her".
The turian laughed heartily at the back-handed praise. "I think Ashley's going soft, that's too nice a thing for her to say", he joked.
"She's still getting used to finding the Williams name opens doors now, where it used to shut them. I'm happy for her, Garrus, no matter what she said on Horizon. She hasn't just stepped out of her grandfather's shadow, she's made a name for herself on her own terms. She's a different woman now, not always on the defensive", Shepard said firmly. She frowned, realising her wineglass was empty and reached for the bottle.
Tevura Hotel, 1028hrs (Thessian equivalent) the next day
Shepard awoke with the sun shining in her face through a gap in the curtains. Her tongue felt like it had been carpeted, she had a crick in her neck that told her she'd slept with her head at an angle and her head pounded with a hangover almost as bad as the time she'd tried ryncol. She heard snoring above her and gingerly opened one eye. Not only had she not made it to bed last night, neither had Garrus and she'd apparently slept with her head in his lap. She raised her left arm up to her face and keyed for her omni-tool to tell her the time.
The shriek woke Garrus, who leapt to his feet and threw Shepard to the floor before he'd even realised she was there.
"What? What?", he exclaimed.
"It's ten-thirty and we're due at the temple at midday!", Shepard yelled, wincing at the noise and moderating her voice before she spoke again. "It'll take us an hour to get there from this far out. We need to be ready and out of here asap!"
"Well it's a good thing we're both doing this in uniform", her friend groaned. "You get yourself in the shower, I'll get us both a detox to deal with these hangovers", he added, switching to full business mode. He saw Shepard nod and head to her unused suite and before long heard running water. He opened the medical kit he always kept in a compartment in his armour and pulled out two small packets. He'd learned the hard way after C-Sec nights out that not everyone was as well-prepared as he was, so he always carried some levo-amino acid based detox as well as his own dextro variety. Wincing a little as his own alarm went off at 1030hrs and hastily shutting it down lest Shepard hear, he swallowed his own pill dry and placed the other packet on the counter next to a full glass of water for Shepard, then headed to his own bathroom. At least he didn't have hair to dry, unlike Shepard, but he'd still need a few minutes to touch up his own face-paint after showering. This was not the best start to Shepard's day, he mused as he heard her swearing and grumbling as she dried herself off, but he had a job to do.
En route to Armali City Centre, 1120hrs (Thessian Equivalent)
"You know you're lucky Liara wanted an asari ceremony," Garrus advised his companion.
"How so?", Shepard replied, seemingly anxious for any kind of good news.
"Well, as I understand it in a human ceremony the groom arrives first and waits for the bride?", he asked.
Shepard nodded, seeing where Garrus was going with his line of argument. "And as I'd be the one wearing trousers, then of course I'd be in serious trouble if I arrived second", she agreed.
"So it's a good thing you didn't fall for a human male then, and that you met your lovely asari", Garrus chortled.
Shepard could see the towers of the temple in the distance, but the traffic control computer for the city was taking them by a circuitous route due to some sort of accident in the more convenient lanes that morning. As Garrus' words sank in, she thought back to the first time she met her 'lovely asari'.
Therum, 3 years earlier
The third drone was being awkward, flitting up and down, in and out of line of sight behind the guard-rail at the edge of the catwalk. Commander Kira Shepard could hear Gunnery Chief Williams swear each time she unleashed a volley from her Avenger at the geth construct, only to miss as it darted away and down. The drone couldn't shoot them, Tali's technical wizardry had disabled its guns already, but the risk of the drone repairing itself prevented them taking the lift down to the next section of these damned Prothean ruins. Shepard gritted her teeth and checked the heat level of her shotgun, noting it was almost ready to use again. Cursing her own stupidity that had allowed the gun to overheat in the first place, she stepped out of cover and listened intently for the hum of the drone's mass effect lifters. It was coming up, maybe it had repaired its guns already. She keyed for the ammunition burst nicknamed Carnage by Alliance marines and waited for the drone to appear. The moment it did so she took quick aim and released her breath slowly, squeezing her trigger gently, ready to absorb the recoil as the gun bucked in her hands. The drone shattered into a hundred pieces which fell like a malevolent silver rain to the cavern floor below.
"Ha!", Tali exclaimed jubilantly. The young quarian was already proving extremely competent and useful and Shepard was glad she'd brought her along. There was a trail of broken geth corpses leading back to their landing site and Tali had been invaluable in each encounter.
Shepard could tell that even Chief Williams was impressed and hoped that some of the human woman's more antagonistic views towards aliens were being revised based on her experience with Tali and Wrex. Of course, they were here to collect another non-human, which probably wouldn't sit well with Williams, but at least she could rely on Kaidan Alenko to be warm and friendly to the newcomer once they found her, if they found her alive among all these geth. She thought of Kaidan, his soft voice and kind smile, and felt warm and a little aroused. The Lieutenant was in her thoughts more often these days and she was fairly sure she was in his. Maybe once this mission was over she could talk to him again, maybe tease a few more personal details out of him and see that smile once more. Williams and Tali followed her into the lift and the three waited patiently as it descended, only to have to jump out when it stopped short of their destination, its progress hampered by damage on the level below.
"Hello? Can anyone help me? Please?"
The voice sounded tired and desperate, but Kira thought it sounded more refined than those of the other asari she'd met, apart from the asari councillor. Shepard had found most of the asari she met to lack a certain quality, a reserve she prized highly, found them brash and overly sexual in public. This voice didn't sound like that and she realised she was curious to meet its owner.
Dropping down from the broken walkway, she turned to find the blue shimmer of a barrier blocking the way. Behind it was the asari whose voice had intrigued her. The owner of the voice was one of the palest blue asari Shepard had ever met and the only one she'd ever seen with freckles. Her face was free of the tattoos Shepard had found less than appealing on other asari and the only cosmetic enhancement she wore was a light coating of red on her lips. Her eyes were sapphire-blue and Shepard found herself utterly entranced by them. She was also the first asari Shepard had met in the flesh with what looked like eyebrows, but then she reminded herself that this was Benezia's daughter and the pictures she'd seen of the Matriarch had shown similar markings.
"Hello? Can you hear me out there? I'm trapped and I need help!", the asari pleaded.
Shepard asked her a few questions, listening intently to the answers as much to hear the voice that spoke them as the content. As they spoke, she could see the asari's eyes wandering over her would-be rescuer and Shepard found herself returning the compliment. Despite the contorted position in which the Prothean security field held the young scientist who'd confirmed that she was indeed Dr Liara T'Soni, the asari they sought, Kira could see how lithe and toned her figure was. For the first time, she found herself sexually attracted to an asari and cursed herself for feeling this way toward someone she knew she should hold in suspicion.
By the time the geth in the cavern had been eliminated and the laser drill they'd left behind had been used to access the interior of the ruin, Kira felt she was back in control of her thoughts, back in the moment and focussed on her command, on her team-mates and the danger they were in. However, once she found the lift that took her squad to the rear of the security barrier, she found herself staring once more at the figure of the asari they'd come to rescue. Once the device was deactivated and the young scientist was standing before her, she became aware of her scent and all thoughts of her anticipated meeting with Kaidan were brushed from her mind. Stop it, she told herself, focus on the mission.
As the corpse of the krogan battlemaster, riddled with polonium rounds, melted into the floor of the platform, the ruins continued to shake around them. The team ran at full pelt for the exit, desperate to find a way to the surface and the safety of the Normandy. Kira found herself helping the asari, Liara, more and more. It was obvious she was dehydrated and hungry, having been in the barrier for many hours while the krogan and his geth lackeys tried to find a way in, and Kira wondered if she'd be any use to them. Each time the ruins shook, however, she placed an arm around Liara to ensure she didn't fall and felt the asari lean into her. Before long they were standing in the open air with the comforting shape of the Normandy looming over them with the docking bay open. As they walked slowly up the ramp, breathing deeply after their exertions, Shepard felt a hand on her arm. She turned to see Liara smiling at her.
"Thank you Commander, I owe you my life", she said.
Kira thought her smile was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.
Armali, Temple of Tevura, 1158hrs (Thessian Equivalent)
"Shepard? Calling Captain Shepard?", Garrus joked, poking Kira in the arm,"we're here, and with two minutes to spare".
Shepard jerked out of her reverie, looking through the skycar window at the steps that led up to a small door at the rear of the Temple. She breathed a sigh of relief at the lack of press, assuming that they either didn't know she'd be coming this way or that they were waiting outside the main door to greet the happy couple as they exited. Before she knew it she was walking up the short flight of stairs, stopping before the two asari that stood before the temple entrance. Above the door she could see asari lettering and from her reading knew that it read: "Enter and prove your worth, traveller". Grinning at the challenge, she bowed to each guard in turn and received a smile of welcome that she was sure travelling would-be bond-mates would not have been treated to in ages past. One of the guards opened the door for the pair while the other indicated that they should enter. Letting Garrus lead the way, Shepard stepped after him and into the temple where she knew Liara and all their friends and family waited.
Together, turian and human walked through a dimly-lit corridor that was too narrow to allow them to walk side-by-side. Shepard knew this was to deter hostile travellers from forcing their way into the temple by putting them at a great tactical disadvantage and found herself marvelling at the richness of asari tradition and history. Before long the corridor opened out into the main hall of the temple. To her left, row upon row of dignitaries, her friends, comrades, leaders of entire worlds and peoples gathered to witness this bonding ceremony. She could see disapproval on some asari faces for the fact that the traveller came in military uniform herself, rather than simply being accompanied by her ariem, who was expected to wear full armour and bear peace-bonded arms as befitted the warrior-companion. Liara had insisted on this break from tradition, knowing how uncomfortable Shepard was in skirts and had unwaveringly browbeaten the Matriarchs with the authority of her father and with assistance from Councillor Tevos. The saviour of the galaxy, they'd argued, should be honoured by being allowed to attend her bonding ceremony in the traditional dress of her people. After receiving message after message from luminaries such as Matriarch Lidanya, captain of the Destiny Ascension, the mistress of ceremonies had relented and so Shepard now entered the Hall in the full dress blues of a Captain in the Alliance Navy, accompanied by the Primarch of Palaven in magnificent black and gold armour, his Black Widow and Sabre Assault Rifle polished to a dazzling gleam, bound to his back with platinum chains to show peaceful intent.
In the front row of the hall Kira could see her mother, Vice Admiral Hannah Hera Shepard, all the members of her ground teams that had lived through the Reaper war, rubbing shoulders with councillors and matriarchs. James, Ashley, Joker and Samantha in dress uniform as well, Tali gleaming in her black and purple environment suit, Miranda in a black and white pant suit that for once didn't cling to every curve, just most of them. There were Jacob and Brynn Taylor, Jack and Zaeed both looking uncomfortable in civilian garb, Kasumi with her hair uncovered and shining for once. She could see Bakara in the front row, immense beside the tiny Kasumi, and Shepard saw amusement in her eyes as she indicated the far side of the Hall with a nod of her head.
Shepard looked across the Hall and fought back a laugh. Tradition called for the intended bond-mate from the city to be guarded against a possibly unworthy traveller, but Shepard could see that the mistress of ceremonies had been forced into two further concessions. The two asari guards standing over Liara, crossing antique bladed polearm-equivalents to bar unwanted access to the younger asari, were instantly recognisable to Shepard - the Justicar Samara and, wonder of wonders, her daughter Falere, both in shining black leather. How the matriarchs had been persuaded to allow the ardat-yakshi to attend such a public event would forever remain a mystery to Shepard as those involved always refused to answer any question on the matter for as long as they lived. Even more wonderful was the sight of Grunt and Wrex repeating their self-appointed task as guardians to the "fertile female", both once again in gleaming battle-armour and with their own weapons free of chains because they guarded the mirsem, the "local girl" as Garrus had put it, not the traveller.
Between the two krogan and the two asari honour guards, Shepard could see Liara. She was wearing a bonding ceremony gown that left her arms and shoulders bare, but covered everything else from the sight of the unworthy. She stood with hands clasped before her around the hilt of the traditional sword with which she would defend herself if necessary, head held high and face set in an expression of challenge, a demand that the traveller prove herself worthy of her. Behind her was her father, Aethyta, also clad in black leather and wielding an identical sword to the one carried by her daughter.
Shepard and Garrus stepped forward, stopping before a line of dark red tiles that marked out the furthest they could enter into the hall until the challenge had been met. Two more asari guards stepped to face them, placing themselves in full view of the pair but where they would not obstruct the view of the vast crowd assembled. Another asari in a flowing gown of white and gold approached them, and Shepard smiled as she saw that Liara had arranged for Councillor Tevos herself to perform the bonding. No wonder she'd fought so hard for the breaks from tradition, Kira thought, this will get her a lot of good press coverage. Tevos was playing her role to the hilt, Shepard noted, her face set in a stony mask, giving no hint of warmth or welcome.
"The ariem will step forward", Tevos intoned, gesturing to a short semi-circle of spiked railings to her left. Garrus stepped forward into a fortuitous shaft of sunlight that fell through the windows onto that very spot, and taking a deep breath, turned to face the asari councillor.
"Your name and position", she demanded.
"My name is Garrus Vakarian. I have come from distant Palaven to speak for my friend and companion-at-arms, Kira Shepard. I hold the position of Primarch of Palaven, I lead the turian people."
"You are welcome among us, Primarch. Will you allow me test the truth of your words once you have spoken?", the councillor demanded.
"I will", Garrus replied firmly.
"Then speak for your companion, Garrus Vakarian of Palaven."
Garrus bowed as he'd been taught, halfway down as a gesture of respect, but not so low as to indicate any kind of submission, keeping his face toward the councillor. Straightening, he drew another deep breath and began to speak.
"I stand before you to prove the worth of my comrade, my friend, my sister who has travelled here today from her birthplace on the human space station named Arcturus. Kira Shepard has been a friend to all peoples of the galaxy, a protector of all, the saviour of everything we hold dear. She has been a true and steadfast companion, loyal to her own people but fair and conscientious in her dealings with others. Her deeds will echo down the ages and I will speak but briefly of events of which all are aware.
"She is the woman who defeated Sovereign, the Reaper vanguard, and its agent Saren, who ensnared and betrayed the brave and noble Matriarch Benezia, mother of your mirsem Liara T'Soni."
Kira heard a rustle of approval run through the crowd at this tribute, feeling it was beyond time to clear Benezia's name, not just for her own selfish reasons to do with Liara, but because it was right.
"She is the woman who faced the Collectors and defeated both them and the Reaper they were constructing."
That got a reaction. The full horror of the Reaper life-cycle had only been revealed after Shepard's vindication and the end of the Reaper war, so most of the assembly were only recently aware of just what the Cerberus crewed Normandy had done. It had helped that an edited version of Liara's surveillance footage had been made available, much as that revelation had shocked Kira. The argument between Liara and her had run a full day, Kira's anger venting itself before dissolving in the face of Liara's tears, and that night they'd made things up to each other in spectacular fashion, waking at dawn as much in love as ever and with no more secrets between them.
"Kira Shepard is the woman who warned the galaxy and who bore ridicule and disbelief with the courage of the true warrior and champion".
Okay Garrus, that's taking a bit more of a risk, Kira thought more, given who asked you to prove my worth, maybe I should've said something last night. She stole a quick glance at Tevos, who did look a little uncomfortable at the reference, but to her left Kira could see one or two of the Matriarchs smirking at Tevos' discomfort. Hmm, she mused, Garrus might be scoring some political points here.
"Against Cerberus, the haters of all things not of Earth, the murderers of the innocent, she brought all her cunning and strength. From the love she bears not just for the mirsem but for all peoples, she wielded all the weapons and skill at her disposal and shattered the traitors and their lair beyond recovery."
Laying it on a bit thick there, Garrus, she smiled to herself. I know we're talking to a non-human audience here, but everyone knows about Cerberus by now. Still, she had to admit that Garrus seemed to know how to pitch this to the asari, as another, louder, rustle of approval greeted this point in her favour.
At this point Shepard misgave slightly. She knew that tradition called for an admission, a sign of a weakness overcome, a wrongdoing atoned for that showed character and bravery, but Garrus had insisted on the worst example, precisely because it was public knowledge and could not be ignored.
"When called upon to make the Bahak Sacrifice, she did not waver or falter, but did valiantly strive to warn the doomed of their fate, in the vain hope that some would escape. I swear before you all that my companion did not do this lightly, that she feels keenly the pain of what was done, what had to be done and that those lives weigh heavily upon her", Garrus boomed, glancing across at Kira as she bowed her head and shed a tear for those she'd been forced to condemn to death. Across the hall Liara also wept for her beloveds pain and remorse, and she could see Samara and Falere had bowed their own heads.
"A champion of the downtrodden, Kira Shepard cured the genophage, restoring hope to a proud people, a brave and noble people who came to the aid of my own home world in our darkest hour", the Primarch said, eliciting a roar of approval and gratitude from the two krogan attending Liara. All heads turned to Wrex and Grunt, but the two warriors had resumed their motionless vigil over the young mirsem.
"And when called upon to enter the Citadel, stronghold of the enemy, to unsheath the sword that would save us all, to unleash the power of the Crucible, she did so alone and triumphed against unspeakable odds and bearing wounds that would have felled any other warrior. Truly, people of Armali, I present to you the woman worthy of any mirsem, but most especially of the flower of your city, Liara T'Soni. I give you my companion, Captain Kira Shepard".
Garrus finished speaking, listening to the excited whispers from the vast crowd inside the Hall. Kira beamed at her friend, her brother, and marvelled at the words he'd so painstakingly crafted in her honour. Tevos stepped forward and it was clear from her face that she'd been awed and surprised by the eloquence of the Primarch, who just three years ago had been a humble and unorthodox C-Sec officer in poor standing. She cleared her throat and spoke in a voice filled with the warmth that had been suppressed just a few minutes before.
"Ariem, are you ready to prove your words?", she asked humbly.
"I am", Garrus replied in a voice like steel, standing tall and proud, showing no sign of subordination as he allowed the councillor access to his mind.
Tevos' eyes turned black for mere moments and then returned to their normal grey, shining with tears and gratitude. She turned to face the main body of the Hall and raised her face to speak to the crowd.
"The ariem speaks the truth, I find no evidence of deception or exaggeration. Do the people of Armali find the traveller worthy of the mirsem?"
Every asari in the Hall shouted their approval and Shepard was rocked back on her heels when she heard the vast, earthshaking noise from outside the Hall as it seemed every throat in the city roared itself hoarse in response to the question. She glared at Garrus and his shamefaced look downwards told her everything she needed to know about the skycar's 'detour' on the way to the Temple.
"Guards, you are relieved of duty. Let the mirsem and the traveller approach!", Tevos announced. Across the Hall, Shepard saw Samara and Falere stand to attention and remove their weapons from Liara's path. Grunt and Wrex knelt as Liara walked between them, pausing gracefully to kiss each lovingly on top of their headplates before striding confidently to the centre of the Hall.
As Liara and Shepard met in front of Tevos, Liara turned to the councillor and surrendered the sheathed blade she carried to her. Tevos smiled as she handed the weapon to an attendant and turned back to the couple to perform the short bonding ceremony.
"Do you, Kira of Arcturus, declare before the people of Armali that you come before us to bond yourself to our daughter Liara, that you will protect and honour her wherever your travels may take you?"
"I do", Shepard stated in a firm, clear voice.
"Liara of Armali, do you accept this traveller, declared worthy by the voice of our people, and her offer of bonding?"
"I do", Liara replied, her eyes not moving from Kira's face.
Tevos beamed and reached forward to place the bonding bracelets, first on Kira, then on Liara and joined their hands beneath her own.
"Then I, and all the people of Armali, declare you bonded. We wish you all the happiness two people can enjoy. I believe there is a human tradition for this moment?"
"Yes there is", Kira replied, and took Liara in her arms for the first kiss, oblivious to the noisy celebrations that erupted around them and in the plaza outside.