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Working With the Enemy

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With Oriana safely on her way, Miranda turned to head back to the Normandy dock while Shepard, Judea and Garrus headed for the taxi stand to head to the residential district. As they were climbing into the taxi, Shepard jerked her head up. "Liara!"

Judea looked at the commander in surprise. "Shepard? What's the matter?"

Shepard shook her head. "I don't know, Judea. But I just felt a spike of fear...then nothing." Shepard was frantically trying to place a call on her omnitool and getting no response from her bondmate. "Come on, Liara. Answer!" She growled in frustration and didn't want to contemplate why she could no longer sense her bondmate. She didn't realize just how accustomed she had become to the sensation of warmth and calm that had moved in and settled comfortably in a corner of her mind, until it was gone. She closed her eyes as she clenched and unclenched her fists to battle the sense of dread settling over her.

Judea looked worriedly at the commander. "I'm not getting a response from Riana, either."

What followed was the longest taxi ride Shepard ever experienced in her entire life.

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Shepard's heart fell to her stomach when they arrived at the apartment to find it surrounded by squad cars with flashing lights and the entry blocked by a police cordon. She swallowed her fear and spoke to the officer at the doorway. "What's going on?"

The officer faced her, and rather than answer the question, simply stated, "This area's sealed off. Please step back, ma'am."

Shepard scowled, "Sealed off? What the hell happened?"

A powerful and commanding Asari walked down the steps from the master bedroom, speaking as she reached the ground floor. "Someone tried to kill your friend, Commander Shepard."

Shepard breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Tried?" Thank the Gods. That means they weren't successful. "So, where's Liara?"

Shepard assumed the Asari who was speaking was in charge of the police investigation, but she was wrong. The Asari looked around, ignored Shepard's question, and spoke authoritatively, "Thank you, officer. Your people are dismissed."

The officer at the door protested, "You can't do that!"

The Asari just glanced back over her shoulder as she walked toward the large windows in the back of the apartment. "Already done."

The two officers investigating the scene shrugged their shoulders and closed down their omnitools, while the officer at the door threw up her hands in disgust and stalked away from the apartment, with the other two in trail.

The Asari finally turned to Shepard and addressed her directly, "Tela Vasir, Special Tactics and Recon."

That got Shepard's attention, and she stopped walking and faced Vasir. "A Spectre. And you haven't answered my question. Where's Liara?" Shepard thought about Saren; just because Vasir was a Spectre, it didn't mean Shepard was going to trust Vasir with Liara's life.

"I have no idea, Commander." Vasir smiled. "I heard your status was reinstated. Good. You're one of our most famous operatives. Might even get you to sign my chest plate." She hesitated only briefly before continuing. "So, I assume you had business with your friend this evening, Commander."

Shepard nodded. "Yeah, Liara was following up on a lead for me... I was utilizing her Information Brokerage services. Apparently it drew some unwanted attention. What have you got so far?" An expression flashed across Vasir's face that Shepard couldn't quite place, but assumed it was an issue of jurisdiction. Shepard didn't care if Vasir was here first; no way was she walking away from this. She and her crew were helping, whether Vasir wanted it or not.

Vasir surprised her, perhaps reading Shepard's expression in turn, and after a brief but noticeable hesitation started filling her in. "About twenty five minutes ago, someone took a shot at T'Soni. Three actually. She stuck around for almost four minutes before leaving the building. Whatever she was doing must have been important."

Shepard's eyes narrowed, wondering how Vasir would know just how long Liara waited. If she knew that, maybe she knew something else too, something much more important. "If Liara isn't here, where is she? Where'd she go?"

Vasir looked disgusted at the repeated question. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be sifting through her crap. No blood, no body. T'Soni obviously got away. The sniper didn't plan on her kinetic barrier. Clever girl. Paranoid, but clever."

Again Shepard wondered about Vasir's wealth of information. Why would she mention Liara's kinetic barrier and not just assume the sniper missed? There were any number of reasons for that, like distortions in the glass or bad lighting. Shepard trusted her gut, and her gut told her to not trust Vasir. Shepard thought back to Nyxeris and immediately tensed back up. Just because there wasn't a body didn't mean Liara wasn't dead. "If Liara's alive, she would have left me a message somehow. She was expecting me. Did you find anything on her terminal?" Shepard just assumed Vasir had been in the apartment long enough to have checked it for data.

Vasir shook her head. "Nothing. She wiped her drive with a scrubber before she left. Paranoid and thorough. You know T'Soni better than I do. How would she leave a message just for you?"

Shepard's eyes wandered around the apartment as she tried to put herself in Liara's shoes. "I'm not sure. I'll take a look around and see what strikes me." Shepard wandered the apartment and tried to recall exactly where everything was before, to see if anything at all was different or had been moved. She started in Liara's office. She looked at the computer and based on the runtime for the scrubber, confirmed that it really was Liara that ran the program. Assuming Vasir's reported twenty five minute timeline was correct. Eventually she found herself upstairs in the bedroom and saw a picture of the Normandy sitting on Liara's nightstand. Shepard knew that had to be it, somehow. It didn't belong there... it would be in the way because it was sitting where Liara normally placed her omnitool at night when she went to bed. Shepard picked up the picture and it must have been keyed to her DNA; the minute she touched it, the picture changed from the Normandy. Shepard sighed once more in relief and smiled. She IS alive! Vasir suddenly appeared at her side and asked what it was. Shepard reluctantly answered, "It's one of her Prothean dig sites. She did leave me a message. Now, I just need to find it."

Shepard hustled back downstairs and started searching all the display cabinets holding Prothean relics, running her hands over all the surfaces, Vasir watching her like a hawk. If the picture was keyed to her DNA, chances were something else was as well. Eventually she found one that had a data disk tucked in a concealed drawer, which opened as her hand passed over it. She glanced at Garrus, "I've got something here." She walked it to the office and dropped it into Liara's terminal; everyone followed her, including Vasir. It was a recording of a call with a Salarian named Sekat, talking about narrowing something down to a specific system. The call didn't specifically state it, but Shepard knew it was the location of the Shadow Broker base. She saw no need to reveal that particular information to Vasir. More importantly in the short term, they now knew where Liara was headed. Shepard's head popped up as Vasir spoke, not realizing the Asari had been watching over her shoulder. "I'm sure Liara went to Sekat's office in the Dracon Trade Center. I know where that is. My car's outside."

Not wanting Vasir to get a head start, they followed her to the car and piled in, immediately heading across town. As they arrived and climbed out of the car, Vasir volunteered that Sekat's office in Baria Frontiers would be on the third floor. She looked around. "I don't hear police chatter, and there's no cars. We must have missed the party."

Shepard disagreed. "No, we beat them to the punch or the cops would still be here. They were still at Liara's apartment... if anything happened here yet, they'd still be here as well."

Just then, a massive series of explosions ripped through the building, blowing them back off their feet. Shepard quickly jumped up, feeling a pressure wave that was separate and distinct from what she just experienced, and knew Liara was alive...and inside the building that just got blown to hell. "Liara!"

She heard the chorus of Judea and Garrus behind her, urging her to press into the building. Vasir scoffed, "They just took out three floors to make sure she's dead! I'll grab the skycar and seal off the building from the top!"

As Vasir took off running, Shepard mumbled under her breath. "Dead, my ass. You don't know my Liara!" Already in motion, Shepard's voice raised and she hollered at her team, "We'll start down here and work our way up!"

The threesome ran into the building to go find Shepard's bondmate. A quick glance around the ground floor told Shepard for sure this was no random bombing. This was carried out with thoughts toward maximum damage. She got on the comms, "The elevators are out and building security is down."

Vasir was chattering at the same time, still fishing for information. "No alarms, no police. Very professional. What's your friend into, Shepard?"

Shepard opted to not answer the question, instead replying, "A lot of innocent people got caught in the explosion. It may have been professional, but it wasn't a clean hit. Messy. Destructive. No care for collateral damage... and no regard for life."

Vasir made what seemed to be an off-hand comment, "I wouldn't take any bets on T'Soni's informant surviving that blast." Shepard could give a rat's ass about her informant. For some reason, she just wanted to find Liara before Vasir did.

The team quickly located a staircase and started working their way up. On the second floor, they found some unexploded ordinance. Shepard growled, "Military-grade. It hasn't been armed."

Garrus grunted, "Sloppy work. You use that kind of hardware when you don't have time to plan.   You're right...they went for mass, not precision."

As they got to the second floor, they found the company they were looking for. "Vasir. Where are you? I'm at the Baria Frontiers office. We're heading in!"

Vasir acknowledged but gave no indication of her location. "Understood, Commander."

They rolled in the door and around the corner and were immediately assaulted with flash grenades. Shepard cussed as she was temporarily blinded and her ears ran loudly from the explosion. The team dove for cover and Shepard called out, "Shit! Mercs... and they're well armed!" Shepard waited for her vision to clear and prepared to wage war. The minute she could see clearly, she started blasting away with her shotgun while advancing from cover to cover, working her way quickly through the office cubicles. No way would a few mercs keep her from her bondmate. As soon as Judea and Garrus could also see and managed to catch up with her, she slipped into her 'crash and blast' mode. None of the mercs were prepared to withstand a biotic charge, and the team cleared the room quickly and moved forward down a long hallway to the next office area.

The second group of mercs had some engineers with them with attack drones, along with some rocket troops. It was a bit more of a challenge, but still nothing the team couldn't handle with relative easy. They had more trouble when they rolled around the corner to the stairwell, and they faced burning gas pipes. Searching the floor for the fire suppression system controls ate precious time and Shepard was starting to consider charging through and leaving the team behind when Garrus called out. "Got it, Shepard!"

A few moments later and the stairwell was clear; the team quickly climbed to the third floor and went on the hunt for Sekat's office. After a few more mercs that hardly even slowed the team down, they approached their final destination. As Shepard moved toward the doorway, she heard a gunshot on the other side, quickly followed by a second shot. The team rushed the door to see a merc collapsing, just after Vasir had shot him in the back of the head.

Vasir holstered her pistol and commented rather nonchalantly, "Damn it. If either of us had been a few seconds faster, we could've stopped them."

Shepard knelt down next to a Salarian leaning against the wall. "Damn. This looks like the guy in the video. This must be Sekat."

Vasir agreed readily. "Must be."

Shepard searched the body. "No sign of that data Liara talked about. Looks like a dead end."

As Shepard stood up, she sensed Liara nearby, though she couldn't pinpoint exactly where.

Vasir turned and looked around the room. "Speaking of which, did you find your friend's body?"

Shepard was about to retort they wouldn't be finding a body when suddenly she realized Liara was closing fast from behind. She turned with a smile that quickly vanished when she saw the expression on Liara's face... and the fact that she had a weapon drawn, pointed at Vasir.

Liara growled, "You mean this body?"  

Trusting her bondmate completely, Shepard spun and pulled her weapon, along with Garrus and Judea, all pointing at Vasir.

With a quick glance and a flash of a satisfied smile at Shepard's reaction, Liara explained her actions. "This is the woman who tried to kill me."

Vasir sounded smug. "You've had a rough day, so I'll let that slide. Why don't you put that gun down?"

Liara scoffed, "I saw you! I doubled back after I left. I watched you break into our apartment!"

"I knew something was off but couldn't put my finger on it. You didn't know where Liara went, so you used me to find the message you knew she would leave for me." Shepard frowned as the full realization dawned. "Damn it! Sorry, Li. I led her right fucking to you."

Vasir no longer tried to deny it. She shrugged her shoulders and simply said, "Thanks for the help."

Liara started nodding. "Of course. Once she had my location, she signaled the Shadow Broker's forces and they bombed the building to take me out. She knew you'd head straight here, so they had no time for subtlety. She found Sekat, took his data, and killed him. I'm guessing she still has the disk on her."

Vasir sneered, "Good guess. Not that you'll ever see what's on it..." With that, she pulled on her biotics, shattering the window behind her and launching the glass shards toward the team as she finished out her statement with a yell. "You pureblood bitch!" She spun on her heals and prepared to jump out the window.

The reactions between the archeologist and the soldier were completely different. Liara quickly dropped to a knee and threw up a barrier to protect the group from the flying glass. Shepard, on the other hand, threw her arm up to protect her face and the second Vasir turned to run, the commander was off at a sprint to take her down. They raced to the window and Shepard dived to tackle Vasir before she made good on her escape. Unfortunately, their momentum carried them forward and they rolled, both grappling for an advantage, out the third story window.

Liara bolted to her feet and screamed, "Shepard!" as she ran to the window.

Vasir lit up her biotics and slowed their descent, and as they approached the ground managed to give Shepard a hard kick, smashing her onto the concrete at ground level with enough force to knock the air out of her lungs. Vasir landed beside her and her face lit with a malicious smile as she called on her biotics to finish the vulnerable commander off with a warp. She never got the chance as Liara beat her to the punch, launching her own warp at Vasir before taking a couple of shots with her pistol, then leaping out the window to follow them down to the ground, Judea hot on her heals. Being without biotics, Garrus had no option but to stop and pull out his sniper rifle. Added on top of what Liara had already thrown at Vasir, a single shot from Garrus dropped her shield, so Vasir was forced to drop the warp so she could pull up her biotic barrier. Looking at the number of pursuers, Vasir took off running.

When Liara hit the ground, she started toward Shepard. As they made eye contact, she got a flash through the link. Go! Don't lose her...I'll catch up! Suddenly the chase was on. Mere moments behind, Judea stopped and dragged Shepard to her feet, and they took off in trail, hoping to get back into the fight. Garrus cussed aloud and headed for the roof, hoping to find Vasir's skycar on the pad.

Vasir cleared a doorway and ran into a building, just as two Shadow Broker soldiers came out. Liara didn't even break stride, slamming both of them off to the side and continuing her pursuit. Unfortunately, before Shepard and Judea got there, a second door opened and more mercs poured out into the courtyard, pinning them down. Garrus solved the problem rather nicely when he suddenly dropped Vasir's car on their heads. Jumping out to join the fight, he had to yell at the other two to get them moving... they were staring at him in shock. Garrus chuckled, "What? So I picked up a couple of driving tips from you and the Mako! Come on, let's go! Which door?"

Shaking themselves out of their stupor, the team took off again, following Liara's path. There wasn't a lot for them to do other than follow the trail of dead bodies and weapons fire. They ran into a few stragglers, but nothing to significantly slow them. They finally emerged out the other side of the building to see Vasir jump into a car and take off. Liara cursed, "Damn it!"

Shepard wasted no time jumping into a second car and yelling at her team mates, "Come on! We can still catch her!" The car was in the air and moving before the doors closed.

Garrus was already complaining as he climbed into the back. "How come you get to drive?"

Shepard laughed, "Weren't you just saying something about picking up tips from me driving the Mako?"

Garrus chuckled, "Yeah, but those tips involved killing things. I'd actually prefer to survive this car ride if you don't mind."

As Shepard accelerated and jumped out into traffic, Liara cut off their light-hearted jesting. "Garrus. If you don't mind, I'd prefer she focus on driving rather than talking!" Liara couldn't help but call out, "Hang a right! No, wait, left!"

Shepard remained silent, concentrating on getting the most speed she could in order to keep up with Vasir.

Suddenly, Liara's voice sounded a bit frantic. "We're not going into the construction site, are....oh, Goddess!"

Shepard focused completely on her driving, dodging building columns, wall partitions and various pieces of equipment, all while trying to keep tabs on their target. Liara was completely silent, and Shepard wanted to glance over to see if she even had her eyes open, but dared not look away from their cluttered path for even a fraction of a second. As they blasted out the other side, they hooked a hard right and entered into a tunnel and oncoming traffic. Liara was surprisingly focused and calm. "We can't let her escape with that data!"

They got into a particularly busy section of the city and Vasir had them weaving in and out between numerous vehicles. Liara's voice rose to a fever pitch, "Traffic! Oncoming traffic!"

Shepard pushed calming thoughts to her bondmate as she spoke, "We'll be fine, Liara. I'm on it. This handles much better than the Mako ever did."

Liara shouted out, "Goddess! Now she's dropping proximity charges!"

Shepard grinned as she whispered, "I noticed, thanks."

As they wheeled around a corner and entered another tunnel, they were overtaken by troop carriers. Liara's voice had returned to an even keel, but she still insisted on announcing the obvious. "Lovely, now she has reinforcements."

Shepard quipped, "What kinds of guns does this thing have?"

Garrus chuckled in the back. "It's a taxi, Shepard. Though that is a really good idea. I'm sure we could market that. We could advertise... You'll never be late to the spaceport again!"

As they screamed around a corner in the tunnel, Liara called out "Truck!"

Shepard yanked the car over to dodge the large obstacle in front of them, just as one of the troop transports blasted the truck and it turned into a fiery mass that crashed and slid sideways, blocking most of the tunnel. Liara once again yelled "Truck!" and then just plain screamed as they converged quickly on the burning vehicle.

Shepard yanked the wheel back the other way, putting the car up on its side, squeaking though a small gap that remained for clear passage. Shepard had a huge grin on her face. "Ha! There we go!"

Liara looked at her bondmate with astonishment, "You're enjoying this!"

Shepard just shrugged and punched it, accelerating even more as they emerged from the last tunnel.

Liara shuddered, "A head-on collision at this speed..." She couldn't even finish the statement.

Shepard tried to relax her a bit with humor and sarcasm, replying drolly, "Yeah. I've heard those can be bad for you."

As they screamed through the city, once again Liara called out, "Truck!"

Shepard was starting to lose her patience, and grumbled, "Again?"

Liara yelled, "Watch out!"

Shepard deftly avoided a collision with a hard bank to the right and actually gained some ground on Vasir as the momentum from their turn slingshot them forward. The additional speed Shepard had managed to coax out of the taxi finally paid off, and they pulled up even with Vasir. As soon as she realized they had caught up to her, she sideswiped them. After a few hard bumps back and forth, Shepard managed to shove Vasir into a near head-on collision that severely damaged her car and forced her to crash land on the top of a hotel. While Shepard circled around to a clear zone on the same rooftop, Vasir managed to tumble out of her car and call for reinforcements, before limping into the building.

As soon as Shepard set the car down, the team rolled out, Liara pushing them along. "Come on, she can't have gotten far!"

Just then, a troop transport dropped in with four mercs on board. Liara dropped a singularity into the middle of them, which Shepard biotically charged into, causing it to explode and send the mercs flying in every direction. A quick couple of shotgun blasts later and they were all dead. They had to repeat the pattern three more times before they finally made it to Vasir's car. None of the mercs were terribly hard to kill, they just took time. Time that allowed Vasir to get that much farther away. Liara took a glance at the car as they passed by it, "A blood trail. Vasir got hurt in the crash."

Shepard nodded. "Good. That will slow her down some and make her easy to follow."

They started following the blood trail and it led them through a series of rooms, one of which had a large screen that covered almost an entire wall... showing images that made Shepard very curious. "Just what kind of hotel is this place?"

Liara blushed, "Azure. It's a luxury resort with an... exotic edge. 'Azure' is also slang for a part of the Asari body in some areas of Illium."

Shepard's face also picked up a tinge of pink, and she couldn't stop herself from asking, "Where?"

Liara really blushed, as she squeaked out her response, "Mainly the lower reaches, near the bottom."

Shepard grumbled, "I meant, where on the Asari body?"

Liara almost fainted as she turned even darker. "So did I."

Shepard was still transfixed by what was before her on the screen and her blush now matched her bondmate's. "Oh... uhm... sorry for the misinterpretation."

While Judea was trying hard not to laugh at the couple's discomfort, Garrus cleared his throat, "We probably should keep moving, don't you think?"

The group let out a collective sigh of relief for the reminder of the task at hand and pressed on. They followed the trail of blood and dead bodies that Vasir left in her wake and eventually caught up to her at an open-air restaurant, still within the hotel.

Liara was the first to see her and growled out, "Vasir! It's over!"

Vasir spun and grabbed the nearest waitress and put a pistol to her head, using her as both a body shield and a hostage.

Shepard quickly drew her own weapon in response and stared Vasir down over her pistol; Shepard's hand rock-steady, with the sights focused on Vasir's forehead. "Even if you get out of here, you'll lose your Spectre status. You attacked the trade center!"

Even after all that had happened, Vasir was still smug. "You think so? I think maybe Cerberus terrorists did that. Which story do you think the Council will believe?" Vasir paused for a mere fraction of time before growling, "All you had to do was walk away, Shepard. Now it gets ugly."

Shepard's eyes narrowed to mere slits and she literally growled back, the threatening grumble coming from deep in her throat. "Now it gets ugly? It got ugly when you blew up the trade center and killed all those innocent people!"

Liara added on, "I'm going to end you, Vasir."

Shepard gave her bondmate a quick glance and spoke boldly, "It's ok, Liara. We'll handle it. The usual way."

Vasir wasn't giving an inch, and when she responded, her voice was sickeningly patronizing. "You want this woman's son to grow up without a mommy, Shepard? Thermal clips on the ground, now. Power cells, too."

While they were talking, Judea had slipped off to the left flank and Garrus had worked his way to a balcony vantage point. He keyed into the team's private comm channel. "Shepard, I'm ready when you are."

Shepard actually laughed. "Vasir, you seem to be forgetting something. I'm a Spectre too. Whatever it takes for the mission, right? Besides. You're pathetic...hiding behind a hostage. No stomach for a real fight? I'm going to kill your hostage, Vasir." Shepard refused to wince when she saw tears running down the hostage's face. She continued smoothly, "And then I'm going to show you how a real Spectre gets things done."

Vasir's pistol came off the hostage and pointed at Shepard. That's all she was waiting for and spoke quickly to her bondmate. "Now, Liara!"

Suddenly, Vasir and the waitress were blindsided by one of the dining tables. Liara lifted it and smashed it into them, sending them both sprawling. The minute Vasir hit the ground, away from the hostage, Garrus' sniper rifle barked and Vasir's head exploded like a melon.

Liara holstered her pistol and calmly went to Vasir's body, searching all the pockets. She stood back up when she found what she was looking for. She glanced at Shepard as she spoke, "Sekat's personal datadisk. This should have what we need to find the Shadow Broker."

They retreated to a quiet corner to review the data. It turned out it wasn't only Sekat's information, but Vasir's as well. The first thing they heard was the Shadow Broker. "Eliminate T'Soni and retrieve the data. Civilian casualties not a concern."

As the first two words rolled out, Shepard stepped close, wrapped her arms around Liara's waist and appreciatively took in a deep breath of eezo and Thessian rose off her very much alive bondmate. "Son of a bitch. He's a dead man. No one puts a hit on my bondmate and lives to talk about it."

Liara stepped away and gave Shepard an appreciative glance before she started walking. "I'm putting the data through to the Normandy's computers. We can be at the Shadow Broker's base in a few hours. He'll know about Vasir before long. If he decides to kill Feron..."

Shepard cut her off, not wanting her to finish that sentence. "We won't give him time."

Liara glanced again at Shepard as she continued, "We'll need the Normandy's stealth systems to get us in close undetected."

"Of course. The Normandy's at your disposal." The commander's mind jumped forward; Liara had no commandos available, so Shepard had to decide who from the team would go on the ground mission. She suddenly drew up short, thinking about the commandos. She caught Liara's arm and stopped her. "Shit, Liara. I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner... Li..." Shepard hesitated, not sure she wanted the answer to the question she was about to ask. "Where's Riana?"

Liara smiled at Shepard's thoughtfulness and gave her a quick peck on the cheek as she started walking again. "She's fine, Shepard. Or at least, she will be. She was injured in the blast at the trade center. She knew I had to move quickly and that she wouldn't be able to keep up, so she stayed behind to get medical treatment. She's probably back at the apartment by now."

Shepard's tension oozed out with the news. "Thank the Gods for small favors." Shepard directed her next comments to Judea. "I wanted you with us on the Normandy, but now I need you to check on Riana...and have the Aletheia and a full commando squad ready to move if necessary. Let's get this show on the road." Grudgingly agreeing with the reasoning, Judea moved off in the opposite direction to head back to the apartment.

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Having lost all semblance of control, Aethyta yelled, "What the fuck, Tevos? Her apartment is shot to shit, the Trade Center blown to hell, there was a running gunfight from the business center all the way through the entertainment district, with a dead Council Spectre at the end of it all! Where the hell is my daughter?"

Tevos remained amazingly calm. "Thyta, I don't know what to tell you. Spectre Vasir was not operating on any Council orders that I know of. I have no idea why she was on Illium."

Aethyta snarled menacingly, "Well, I'll tell you one thing. The Normandy was here, and now it's not. I don't believe in coincidences, and knowing where that ship is going, I don't want my daughter on it! You'd better find Shepard and find out what the hell is going on!" Her voice dropped to an even lower growl, "And let me tell you something. If Liara isn't on the Normandy... If a Council Spectre had anything to do with her..." Aethyta's voice broke and she couldn't bring herself to say the word 'death.' She had to pause briefly before she continued. "... her disappearance, there will be hell to pay."

Tevos raised her eyes at the threat, and her voice reflected admonishment, like she was speaking to a petulant child as she stretched out the name. "Aethyta. You know I care deeply for Liara and Shepard and would wish them no ill. I will find out what Vasir was supposed to be doing, but you can't go off on a Krogan blood rage. It just won't help the cause any. I'm sure Shepard interfered with whatever was happening and the Normandy left because she is spiriting Liara away to safety. I promise I'll let you know as soon as I find anything."

Aethyta leaned menacingly into the screen. "You damn well better!" She reached over and punched the disconnect button without letting Tevos reply.

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On the Normandy, the team met in the conference room and Shepard yielded the floor to her bondmate, surprising everyone who didn't know who Liara was. Dr T'Soni, Information Broker, quickly gave the executive summary on the Shadow Broker's assistance to the Collectors, the 'kidnapping' of Commander Shepard, and Cerberus' bold 'rescue.' Those in the know were barely able to suppress their surprise at Liara's unblinking delivery of the revised tale, but those not in the loop just took it as the same shock they had with the revelations. Liara then explained the mission...they had finally discovered the location of the Shadow Broker's main base, and they were prepared to take him out of the equation. There was a side note involving another raid similar to what happened on Illium, where one of Liara's agents, a Drell named Feron, was successfully captured and believed to be somewhere on the Shadow Broker ship. The mission also involved his rescue, should they find the Drell alive. In the stunned silence that followed, Shepard stepped back in.

"Given the nature of our adversary, this is a purely volunteer mission, but based on the size of the force we faced on Illium and the fact we'll be facing them on their home turf, I'd like a minimum of six people... If you don't want to volunteer, I ask you leave the room now, and the rest of us will plan." Shepard and Liara were awed and humbled when nobody budged...even Miranda and Jacob stayed, in spite of what Miranda had previously stated about them being unable to get involved. They would be hitting the Shadow Broker with all twelve ground crew members.

Shepard briefed the attack plan. They would divide into three teams of four, with Shepard, Miranda and Garrus being team leads. Garrus' and Miranda's teams would utilize the IFF stripped from Vasir's ship on Illium to gain access via shuttle to the docking bay. They would immediately clear the hangar so the Broker couldn't attempt to space them, and slowly work their way forward. "Be safe! Your main purpose is to pose enough of a threat to draw the majority of forces away from the holding cells and the main Broker facilities. In short, you're our diversion, but feel free to clean house if the force presented against us isn't as strong as we believe it will be. My team of four will gain access via a maintenance hatch and attempt to locate and free Feron, then find and remove the Shadow Broker. Once we do that, we'll move back toward you and pinch the remaining broker forces between us. I'm sending details, team breakdowns, and the schematics for the Broker ship to all your omnitools. Report to the shuttle bay in one hour and we'll try to answer any questions you may have before we launch our attack."

As the team filed out, Shepard caught Miranda's attention and signaled her to wait. Once everyone left, Shepard just had to ask. "Miranda. I distinctly remember you saying you wouldn't be able to help with this. What changed?"

Miranda looked her straight in the eye. "The Illusive Man wants the Broker's assets after we take him down, so he actually wants Jacob and me on the mission."

Shepard's face flashed with anger. "There is no way in hell I'll give that man the kind of power vested in that network... You have to realize that by now, don't you?"

Miranda nodded. "Yes, Shepard, we do. Jacob and I are in agreement with you on that. So, I'll need Liara's and your help to come up with a credible cover story when this is all done, as to why we couldn't take control of the network."

After thanking Miranda for her openness and honesty, Shepard and Liara retreated to the loft. While they were in the elevator, Liara looked at Shepard and spoke hesitantly. "Either Miranda is an extremely good actress, or you've done wonders with her, Shepard." Shepard smirked and raised her eyebrows but said nothing, waiting on Liara to elaborate. "I almost believe she no longer supports the Illusive Man."

Shepard smiled. "I didn't do anything other than show her the shit he's done and the results that he's gotten from his actions. Miranda's smart, and she's seen TIM's not really that much different than her father. Anything either one of them says is a twisted version of the truth, molded to meet their needs, damn the consequences."

Liara shook her head. "Do you trust her, Shepard?" Liara looked at the commander, wanting to see the expressions that went along with the words.

Shepard smiled at the gorgeous blue orbs so astutely observing her. "Yeah, I think I do. She's been nothing but honest with me, particularly since we hit Illium that first time. I think that was when she realized TIM is a lying sack of shit."

Liara laughed as the elevator door opened. She took Shepard's hand and walked to the loft door. "You and your human idioms. There is no end to them nor their entertainment value."

The minute the loft door closed behind them, Liara used her grip on Samantha's hand to spin her and push her back against the fish tank. Her blue eyes flashed with conflicting worry about the upcoming mission and her desire, as she pressed her body into Shepard's, finally finding the unabridged contact she sought way back when Shepard had first stepped into her office on Illium a day ago. Liara's eyes closed and she rested against Samantha as she felt strong arms surround her in a web of protectiveness. Cheek to cheek, Liara whispering in her lover's ear. "Goddess. We've been up for almost twenty-four hours straight, and spent a good portion of it fighting. And we're turning around and jumping right back in, with no rest. All I want to do is strip you naked to sleep skin-on-skin for twelve hours and then wake up in your arms."

Shepard relished in the contact, nuzzled against Liara and gently kissed her neck, before sighing and whispering back. "That sounds like a very enticing idea, Blue. Too bad we have less than an hour to fit that into. When we're done, however, I would love to take you up on that offer. I think it's a date."

Liara reluctantly stood upright and forced herself away from the commander with a groan. "Yes. Well, first things first, then. We haven't eaten anything all day, and I definitely need to replenish my energy. You have anything here, or do we need to go down to the mess?"

"I always have something in here. It will just be energy bars and electrolyte replenishment drinks, though. Good enough?" With a nod from Liara, Shepard grabbed her hand and they walked down to the couches on the lower level. While Liara dropped, exhausted, into a seat, Shepard grabbed her stash and spread the selection out on the coffee table, allowing Liara first dibs. Shepard hesitated only briefly before speaking her mind...something that had been bugging her since she realized what she had done. "Liara, I..." Liara could sense the tumble of thoughts in Shepard's mind, but waited for her bondmate to verbalize them the way she wanted them to be heard. "I am so sorry for last night. You were missing and I obviously didn't think my actions through. I basically told Vasir right where you'd be. Riana getting hurt, all those people killed... That's all on me." Shepard hung her head in self-disgust as tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Shepard..." Liara dropped the energy bar from her hand and cupped her bondmate's face in her hands, wiping away the tears with the pads of her thumbs. "That was not your fault. Don't take that upon yourself. You heard the Broker's message to Vasir. It was going to happen one way or another. At least this way you came with a full squad and they didn't corner just me alone somewhere." Liara shook her head. "It was a tough enough fight as it was, with the four of us. I can't imagine if I'd been by myself. I don't believe I would have survived. If nothing else, you are certainly a master of finding and selecting the lesser evils. I'd trust no one else with the decisions you are so often forced to make."

Shepard looked at the remarkable Asari in front of her. "Li. You're certainly not the shy archeologist I left behind two years ago. You've grown so much. You amaze me more every day. Without you, I'd... well, first off I wouldn't even be here, but... I don't know what I'd do without you. You're my rock. My anchor. My reason for living." Shepard's guilt tumbled away as she continued. "I need your reminders that I can only do so much, that I am only liable for what I can actually control. And somehow, you make it so I don't feel horribly responsible when I fall short. You keep me from being buried in my own guilt. I love who you've become."

Liara combated her embarrassment with humor, placing a quick peck on Shepard's lips then smacking her cheeks gently with both hands as she drew away. "And you've done the exact same thing for me, I don't know how many times. Besides, that's what I'm here for. To prop up the great Commander Shepard when she decides she's nothing but a little tin soldier." Liara returned to her energy bar and her drink. "Now eat, tin soldier. So you'll be ready to go with me to kick some Shadow Broker butt."