“Why does this stuff always sting?”
"Most likely to discourage you from requiring it again too soon.” Sha’ira closed the tube of cream she’d been applying to the impact bruises on the Spectre’s chest. The frigate’s med-bay was well-stocked, with enough supplies for even a non-turian like Ashley to be well-taken care of.
Those supplies weren’t going to do Gorax any good though. Sha’ira had encountered the krogan’s corpse on her way to meet up with Ashley, shot in the back hours earlier as he attempted to flee from Ilara’s wrath.
Still, it wasn’t the sight of his dead body that Ashley suspected was responsible for her lover’s current demeanor. Though the Consort had insisted that everything was all right, she’d been cool ever since arriving at the med-bay and the Spectre knew she had to address the elephant in the room. “Look, Sha’ira,” she started out as she pulled her shirt back down over her battered chest, “About what Ilara said in the docking bay…”
"You do not need to explain yourself,” the Consort replied, perhaps a bit too quickly for Ashley’s peace of mind. “I know that such creatures can exert a strange fascination over others. Whatever happened between the two of you, it belongs to the past.”
"Nothing happened,” Ashley insisted. “I mean, I’m still alive right? If we’d joined like that, it would have killed me.”
"There are many forms of intimacy,” Sha’ira replied. “While it is true that an Ardat-Yakshi cannot undertake a full mating meld without killing their partners, that does not prove that ‘nothing happened’ as you say.”
"But it didn’t,” the Spectre protested, trying her best not to sound too defensive. “I mean it. She might have thought we were in some kind of relationship, but that was only true in her messed-up imagination. If you want to go into my head and look around, you can, but I swear to God, she was my captor, not my lover.”
Sha’ira’s voice softened. “There is no need. I trust you, Ashley. It is only… Such asari have a dark reputation among my people, both as killers and as seductresses. They are regarded almost as demons and the thought of you in the arms of one of them was deeply troubling.”
"I know.” The marine got up from the med-bay bed and wrapped her arms around Sha’ira, kissing her smooth, scaled forehead. The Consort exhaled and Ashley considered leaving the conversation where it was, but a certain bluntness had gotten her this far and it seemed like a bad idea to abandon that now. This incident needed to be put behind them, and honesty felt like the best way to do that.
“You weren’t entirely wrong,” she confessed, “About Ilara. There was something about her that, I don’t know, got under my skin. She had this way of messing with my thoughts, making me want things even though I knew there were terrible ideas. I fought it though,” she added. “I got away from her, and came to find you. You’re the one I want.”
Sha’ira took the admission with grace. “I think that I understand,” she told Ashley before adding, “These feelings that she afflicted you with; is that why you did not speak to me about her earlier?”
"Yeah, pretty much,” the marine agreed. “It was strange, though. You said that other asari see the Ardat-Yakshi like demons, and a lot of the time, that was definitely what Ilara seemed to be, but right before the end…” She paused, trying to think of how to explain what she’d experienced. “Before she died, she tried to meld with me, and for an instant, I saw these glimpses of her life. Once upon a time, she was just this scared little girl with a doctor telling her she’d have to be locked up for the rest of her life.”
Sha’ira gave her a skeptical look. “She certainly did not stay that way.”
"No,” Ashley laughed, “She didn’t. Resentment and desire turned her into the kind of monster your people think that all Ardat-Yakshi are, but I wonder if it had to be that way? If she’d been treated like more than a prisoner, could she have been something else?”
"I do not know,” Sha’ira admitted. “For so long, the asari haven’t wanted to think about those who suffer from this condition. We preferred to treat them as evil and shut them away. Perhaps now that their secret has been revealed to the galaxy, things will change.”
"Don’t get me wrong,” Ashley clarified, just to be on the safe side. “That particular Ardat-Yakshi had to die. The thing she had become… God, she was crazy.”
"With that I can assuredly agree,” Sha’ira replied, “And it speaks to your generous spirit that you would concern yourself with her fate after what she did to you, and what she attempted.”
Ashley took her beloved’s hand and gave her a long kiss, trying to show how much she appreciated the lovely asari’s words. Afterwards, she held Sha’ira in her arms, stroking the folds of her crest and adding, “She did leave behind a pretty nice ship though. I wonder what happens to it now that Gorax is dead?”
Sha’ira smiled playfully at the question, nipping at the human’s neck before replying, “I am told that it is customary for Spectres to have their own vessel. Perhaps fate has just provided you with yours.”
Two Days Later:
"You really didn’t need to haul your ass all the way down here, Ma’am. It’s not as though we wouldn’t have come to see you.”
Shepard may have been up and about, but she wasn’t entirely well. The commander was still hobbling about on a cane, and she hadn’t regained all of the weight she’d lost in the hospital. These facts, however, had had little effect on either her determination to welcome Ashley back to Earth or her spirits.
"Hey,” the red-headed Spectre laughed, “When I heard that my XO not only found her girl but came up with a free ship in the bargain, I had to see it for myself.”
Ashley looked across the docking bay at the frigate that had brought her and Sha’ira home and nodded. “She’s no Normandy, but she’ll do.”
Shepard chuckled once again, the older woman taking a seat on a nearby bench. “Don’t be so modest. You did great work out there and you’re going to make one hell of a Spectre.”
Ashley sat down next to her old CO, her shoulders slumping slightly at the compliment. “I appreciate that, but it’s not like the mission went smoothly. I was captured, I had to stab myself, and I almost died. Not exactly Spectre-level badass right there.”
"You’re being too hard on yourself,” Shepard reassured her. “We’ve all had our share of close calls. I got captured too, on the Project Base before the Reapers came. But I found a way to get out and finish the mission and so did you. That’s what makes a Spectre, not trying to meet some impossible standard of perfection.”
Shepard placed a friendly hand on the marine’s shoulder before continuing. “Listen, Ash, you’re going to have to learn to give yourself some more credit. You’re not a grunt anymore, you’re a captain, and your crew is going to need to be able to believe in you. That only happens if you believe in yourself.” Ashley nodded, and Shepard added with a proud smile, “Accept it marine, you kick ass.”
Ashley laughed, and Shepard asked, “Speaking of crews, do you have anyone picked out yet for yours? Because if you’re interested, I’ve got a smart-mouth pilot who’s getting a little too full of himself you could start with.”
"I think you’ll want to hold onto Joker, Ma’am,” Ashley demurred. “There is a certain asari I was thinking of asking though, but I’m not sure quite how to convince her to sign up…”
"I’m guessing we’re talking about Sha’ira?”, Shepard asked, raising an eyebrow suggestively. “Because you can’t have Liara.”
Ashley blushed. “I wouldn’t dream of it, commander. It’s just… Now that this war is finally over, I don’t want to leave Sha’ira again. But it would be such a different life for someone like her that I don’t know if she’d want to come along for the ride.”
"It would be quite a change,” Shepard agreed. “I think you need to show her that there would be a real place for her on your ship, and not just as your girlfriend either. You wouldn’t want to be that for someone else, and I doubt Sha’ira would either.”
The younger Spectre nodded. “You’re right. I’ll have to give it some thought.”
"You’ll figure it out,” Shepard promised before looking up. “Speaking of your new bondmate,” she pointed out, “I think I see her and Liara coming now.”
Indeed the two asari were walking towards the docking bay bench, chatting amicably with each other. “Shepard,” Liara said, bending down to give her red-headed lover a kiss. “I was told I could find you here. I hope you haven’t been overexerting yourself.”
"I’m okay, Doctor,” Shepard protested. “I really am getting better, in spite of you and Miranda spending half your time worrying over me.”
"I know,” Liara conceded. “I just want to make sure you continue doing so.” The asari ran her hand over Shepard’s cheek, and in that affectionate gesture, as well as in the tone of her voice, Ashley could hear the fear for her lover that Liara had carried for far too long, a fear Ashley understood well.
Standing up, she gave Sha’ira a kiss hello, and asked her, “Did Liara get everything straightened out?”
"Indeed she has,” the Consort agreed brightly. “My access to my accounts has been restored. Some of the money is irretrievable, I fear, but compared to what so many have lost, it is hardly a concern.” She turned back to Shepard and Liara. “Truly, I cannot thank either of you enough. I do not know what would have become of me without your help to Ashley.”
"Glad to help,” Shepard told her. “Even if I mostly lay in bed. Liara did most of the assisting this time around.”
"It was my pleasure,” the Shadow Broker told Sha’ira. “You’re very precious to Ashley, and that means you are special to us as well.”
"I only hope I will have the chance to return your kindness some day,” Sha’ira replied, and as she gave the couple that fantastic smile of hers, brightening the moods of her friends as she had those of so many others before them, Ashley realized what the answer to Shepard’s challenge was.
"I am not quite certain what to say.” Sha’ira turned away from Ashley, walking towards the window of the frigate’s spacious captain’s cabin. Given the shortage of intact housing on Earth, they’d been staying there since their return, a living situation the Spectre hoped would soon become permanent.
"Say yes,” Ashley replied hopefully, closing the distance to Sha’ira and encircling her bondmate’s slim waist with her arms. “Look at what it’s like out there.” She gestured out the window towards the ruins of what had been Chicago, shattered buildings, endless rubble, and the looming corpse of a Reaper filling their field of vision. “You said before you wanted to be doing something worth doing and right now, there’s nothing more important than trying to fix this mess.”
"I do desire that,” the Consort agreed, “But I am no soldier, whatever impressions you might have gleaned from my brief attempt at heroics. What would I do as part of your crew?”
"You’d be the ship’s councilor,” the Spectre told her. “Someone who the crew can come to with their problems, who tells me if there’s anything I need to worry about with them, and who assesses new people we come across.”
"And would such an assignment be considered appropriate, given our relationship?”
Ashley smiled, kissing the side of Sha’ira’s neck. “Spectres chose their own people and besides, Shepard saved the galaxy with her girlfriend in her crew. I don’t think anybody’s going to give us shit about it and if they do, they can go to hell.”
"A fair observation.” Sha’ira agreed, nuzzling back against the Spectre’s chest. “They did accomplish remarkable things together.”
“No doubt,” Ashley agreed, “But about my offer…”
"You are most persistent,” the asari teased her, and at the playful tone in her voice, Ashley’s hopes rose.
"I thought I was steadfast,” the marine told her with a laugh. “Besides, if you do take the job, you’ve already got one up on Shepard’s last ship’s councilor.”
The Consort tilted her head quizzically. “Who was that? I do not remember you mentioning such a person before.”
"Yeoman Kelly Chambers. I wasn’t there when she was on-board, but apparently, she spent half her time trying and failing to seduce her commanding officer.”
Sha’ira turned in the marine’s arms, threading her fingers through her long, dark hair. “A task at which I take it I have succeeded.”
Ashley nodded, her body starting to flush with wanting at the devastatingly sultry look the Consort was giving her. “Thoroughly. Should I take that as ‘yes’?”
"You certainly may,” Sha’ira purred, her hands running down the Spectre’s neck and along her back. “Though I suspect this job may not pay quite as well as my old one, it does seem to offer certain benefits I could not find elsewhere.”
"If you’d like, I could elaborate on them,” Ashley offered, searching out the clasp of the asari’s diaphanous green dress as she replied.
"Please do,” Sha’ira whispered, and as her nimble tongue started to run up the ridge of the marine’s ear, Ashley could only conclude that was promising to be her best posting ever.