The asari didn’t grin, but her eye ridge lifted slightly, enough to tell her she was amused. “Shepard.”
Shepard climbed in the skycar with a wry grin. “How dramatic.”
Aria’s eyes locked on hers. “There are too many eyes and ears in Purgatory.”
They sat in silence as the skycar maneuvered into traffic, until they were speeding along the Citadel’s skyways. “I assume this is about retaking Omega?”
Aria’s eyes narrowed. The last time Shepard had seen her, she’d been ranting about how irritating Purgatory was. The underlying message had been her need to get back to her home, and make it hers again.
“This is about your war, Shepard. Cerberus controlling the Terminus Systems seriously bolsters their mobility.” She paused, and crossed her legs. “Since taking Omega, they’ve spread throughout the galaxy. Surely the Alliance has noticed.”
Aria’s anger caught Shepard off guard. She knew the asari’s ruthless nature, knew how deadly she was. But she kept it tightly cloaked in a mask of sexuality and confidence. This was raw emotion, the Aria T’Loak the galaxy feared.
And Shepard knew where it this was going.
No compassion. You’ll have to do this alone. Like the ops after Torfan. The idea of returning to that cold-blooded mindset terrified her. But from the tone of Aria’s voice, she knew she’d have to.
“Cut to the chase, Aria. What’s your plan?”
“Kick them out.”
As if it were that simple. Both of them knew it wouldn’t be.
“I’ve amassed a fleet of merc ships. We’re going to punch through enemy lines and invade. Once we’re on Omega, it’s a ground war. That’s why I want you—I only accept the best.” Aria passed over a datapad with a dossier, giving a quick rundown of the man behind the Omega takeover. Oleg Petrovsky. Top military strategist. Cerberus’s best kept secret.
Not a great situation.
“Petrovsky’s invasion was precise and ruthless. He’ll stop at nothing to win.”
Shepard glanced up. “Sounds familiar.” Too familiar.
“Shepard.” Aria leaned forward, warning her with her eyes. “I know my reputation. I know I’m hated. I ruled Omega with an iron fist. But the people were free. Their lives were theirs. I preserved that. This man took all that away, and he is going to pay.” She settled back in the seat, looking away. “When Omega is mine again, I’ll give you everything. Ships, mercs, eezo. All yours for the war.”
Shepard tossed the datapad to the side. “What’s the catch?”
A familiar smirk crept into the anger that infused the asari’s face. “I have objections to some of the company you keep, so you’ll have to leave the Normandy and its crew behind.”
But Shepard knew what she was really saying.
I know you. I know your crew. I know you’ll do anything for them. And right now, I need a merciless killer to watch my back, not a hero.
And Aria did know. Knew her better than anyone except Liara. The truth was, Aria didn’t object to her crew. She’d pushed Shepard back to them, back to Liara, when Shepard had been too confused and angry to see how much her death had hurt her.
It only confirmed what Shepard had already figured out.
“Enough!” Biotic energy exploded around Aria. “I will kill you all!”
Shepard raced to catch up. Nyreen’s death had snapped something in Aria. She’d gone from cold-blooded but in control, to completely ruled by her rage.
“Petrovsky dies now.” She charged through the door to Afterlife, not bothering to wait on Shepard.
Dammit. “Aria, wait!”
Charging through the door after her, Shepard was surprised to find Aria waiting. Until she saw what the asari had stopped for.
Or rather, who.
“Nyreen Kandros was a good soldier.” General Petrovsky stepped slowly to the edge of what was once Aria’s balcony. “It’s a shame she had to die for your petty ambitions.”
Biotic energy blazed over Aria’s skin as she ran at him. “You’re a dead man!”
Shepard saw the trap too late. “No, wait!”
Her words came just as Aria launched herself up, only to be pulled up short, suspended by an energy matrix. The asari screamed, both in anger and pain.
Shit. “What now, Petrovsky?”
The Cerberus general smirked. “Divide and conquer, Commander. Kandros killed the adjutants we hadn’t finished experimenting on.” A door opened below him. “But these are fully under our control—the prototypes for our future army.”
The now-familiar golden force shield drew up around Petrovsky’s command post, as the adjutants below him advanced on Shepard. She glanced around, quickly taking in her options.
Fight. Those are your options. Fight like hell, and hope it’s enough. You can’t afford to lose here.
Shepard took a deep breath.
Four conduits. Take out their power source. Get Aria out, and maybe you’ll have a chance.
She picked a target, and charged. Biotic energy churned blue around her, knocking down a nemesis and two soldiers in her path. Her gun finished them, then turned on the nearest power line. It blew, showering white sparks over her blue trail as Shepard charged again. Charge. Shoot. Charge again. Shoot again. Her biotics burned through her as she fought, lifting Cerberus troops, tearing adjutants to pieces with ammo and warp fields.
She’d never pushed her abilities this hard before, never felt the energy rage through her like this, beyond every limit she’d had before they resurrected her, and gave her a new implant. It came almost as a surprise when the last conduit blew, freeing Aria. By the time the last adjutant fell, it took her a long moment to come back down, and really see her surroundings.
To see the dead.
Aria didn’t wait. As soon as Petrovsky called his troops off, she was through the door to his sanctuary.
Shepard followed, still dazed, body shaking from the end of the biotic rush.
“Commander Shepard, I surrender myself into your custody.”
Aria got in his face, fury dripping from her features. “That is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard.” She backhanded him, biotics lending an extra push.
Petrovsky crashed backwards. “Shepard, I’m unarmed…and I can give the Alliance intel on the Illusive Man!”
He struggled to stand up again, but Aria’s hand wrapped around his throat, lifting him up and pushing him back into the worktable he’d fallen against. She slammed him down, bringing up her other hand to squeeze, until he gasped for breath. “You’ll say anything to save your skin.”
He grasped at Aria’s wrists, desperately trying to pull her off, and failing. “But…I let you…escape Omega. I deserve…mercy.”
Shepard’s eyebrows went up, and surprise helped her find her voice. “Is this true, Aria?”
“Yes.” The word only seemed to make her choke Petrovsky harder. “Inexplicably. I think he’d agree now that it was the biggest mistake of his life.” Aria leaned in harder.
“That’s right.” Blue crackled at the Aria’s fingers as she squeezed the air from him. “Cold-blooded murder. No less than you deserve.” Petrovsky pushed at her, useless, as Aria grinned coldly and let up, just a little. “Oh, no—not yet. You don’t get a quick easy death.”
Shepard watched, reactionless. She had no intention of stopping Aria. She needed this death, needed the control. Needed him to pay for the deaths of her people, and especially for Nyreen. She remembered feeling like this after Akuze, after Torfan.
She wouldn’t interfere. This was Aria’s demon to exorcise.
At the last, when Aria tired of playing with Petrovsky, and Shepard heard his neck crack, she saw Aria’s eyes go black, adding pain upon pain to the general’s death.
The body slumped to the ground. Aria walked away. “Clean up this mess.”
Bray moved to do just that.
Aria took a deep breath as she came to stand next to Shepard. “Well. That was deeply satisfying. I’m a little surprised—I thought you might try to interfere.”
Shepard slowly shook her head. She was starting to crash from biotic burnout. Her head ached, her body ached. And her soul hurt. “No.”
It was all the response she had in her.
Aria stared at her. “Shepard, I…never thought I’d enjoy having a partner.”
Shepard rubbed her face. “It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve—”
She was abruptly cut off by Aria’s lips on hers, and the (surprisingly) gentle push of her mind. Shepard dropped her mental walls, too tired to keep them up, even as she deepened the kiss. A kiss that tasted like…goodbye.
I owe you, Shepard. Aria’s touch calmed the turmoil in her mind. I know helping me probably stirred up some demons in that absurdly honorable head of yours. Consider this a thank you. Now get back to your bondmate.
Abruptly she was gone, and pushing her away. “Goodbye, Shepard. You have a war to win. I’ll keep my promise. Ships, troops, and eezo.”
Shepard nodded sharply, even as Aria turned away and began to address the station. She felt more clear-headed than she had in a while, but exhausted. The relief felt all too temporary, and she knew she had a war to get back to.
By the time she returned to the Normandy, the clarity Aria had gifted her with had returned to exhaustion. Exhaustion and guilt. Now, looking at her cabin, Shepard wanted nothing more than to sleep forever. Shepard sighed, collapsing backwards onto her bed even as her door slid open with a hiss. She glanced up, smiling tightly at Liara as the asari moved into the room. “Hey. I didn’t expect to see you.”
Liara gave her a tired smile of her own, and sat next to her on the bed. “I missed you.” It was a simple statement that pulled at Shepard’s heart. “Are you all right?”
Shepard sighed, letting her head fall back to the bed. “Yes. No. I don’t…” She trailed off, trying to find words. “I never wanted to see that side of me again. The merciless killer.”
Liara had seen the shadows in her mind, seen the memories. “That isn’t you, love.”
“But it was, once.” Shepard stared up, watching the stars stream by through the viewport in her ceiling. “And it's always been there, waiting for me to let it back in, to let it be me again. And I did.”
Liara lay down beside her. “You did what you had to. Cerberus couldn’t be allowed such a stronghold.”
Shepard shook her head. “I should’ve been able to do it without…” She broke off, feeling emotion choke at her, as it all came rushing back. So many dead. Lives that may or may not have been worth saving, but who was she to make that call? Especially now, when every life, every death, was vital. Shepard turned away, pulling herself off the bed as tears ran hot trails down her face. “What if this is who I really am, deep down? A ruthless killer? I’ve let so many people down, let so many die. I’m not a hero. I’m not, I can’t—”
The blue glow of biotics stopped both her words, and her pacing, allowing Liara to catch her. “You are, and you can. No one else could do what you’ve done, Shepard. Uniting the Krogan, curing the genophage. Saving the Citadel and the Council—not once, but twice now. You’ve faced down Reapers and lived, faced the Collectors and lived. Kylie, you came back from the dead. But you’re not perfect, love. And not even you can save everyone.”
Shepard shook her head, uncertainty still swirling in her mind. It wasn’t that simple. It couldn’t be.
“Kylie, love…let me in. Please?”
Shepard shook her head again, but felt her mental barriers relax as Liara’s mind nudged her own. And then she was there, with her, part of her, overwhelming her guilt and sadness with love, comfort.
This is a bitter, desperate war, Kylie. No one could save everyone, and you can’t blame yourself.
She knew Liara was right. But it didn’t stop the guilt, as she relived every moment, every death, as she and Aria tore through Omega in her mind, too-fresh memories that were already scarred, painful, too sharp. But where Aria’s touch had been temporary relief, Liara’s was deeper, more real. Cerberus, Omega, adjutants…Nyreen. Aria. Petrovsky.
Hush, love. Liara held her close, soothing her mind, calming her fears. Those deaths are not your fault. We have all asked so much of you. Every life you save is a gift, one the Reapers would already have taken if not for you. You are not to blame.
Shepard felt, more than heard, herself sigh. I know. I still… I wish…
I know, Kylie. But even you can only do what you can do.
Shepard felt herself smiling at the hint of laughter she felt coming through the meld. I love you, Liara.
The response was an overwhelming tide of love, accompanied by the warm touch of lips on her own. Shepard groaned, responding in kind, as a rush of need overwhelmed her. The need for Liara’s touch, for release, for the deeper, more intimate meld that only came during sex. Her body burned with need, heat and desire pooling between her legs. Her fingers quickly stripped open the buckles and seals of Liara’s shipboard armor, even as the asari pushed her back onto the bed. She broke their kiss, only to focus lower, wrapping her lips and tongue around one perfect blue nipple as their clothes fell away.
Liara’s back arched with a gasp, and the meld sucked her in deeper, drowning her, saving her. Until she could feel her hands and mouth on Liara’s skin. Until she could feel Liara’s pleasure and triumph, as she bound Shepard’s wrists with her biotics, and recaptured her mouth with a whispered Let me.
Until me or I became meaningless, and we was the only truth, we and love and desire and need.
And mine. Echoed through the meld, echoed in every touch. Mine and ours and always. As they both felt lips suckling, and fingers thrusting, curling, and neither caring who was giving or receiving, because the we was eternal and everything, even as the universe ignited around them, in swirling colors of pleasure and release, and love, always love.
After, they lay silent, still holding meld at its simplest, as the sweat cooled, arms wrapped tightly around each other. Shepard sighed, a quiet sound made louder through their link.
Shepard shook her head, and kissed her. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Liara.
The asari pulled her closer. I know, love. I know.