Liara's heart sank as she looked around the crowded dance floor. The throbbing baseline, the thick smell of smoke and sweat, and the raised platform over the bar made her just as uncomfortable as they had the first time. Even though she had agreed to give Feron another chance, she hadn't expected to follow him back to the same bar where they had first met. She wrinkled her nose, trying not to breathe in too deeply or let any of the milling bodies brush against her. At least no one would mistake her for a dancer while she was wearing her armor.
She glanced over her shoulder at Feron, who was surveying the club with obvious distaste. It gave Liara a strange sense of satisfaction. At least he was uncomfortable, too. He deserved to be, especially after what he had put her through. She drew closer to him so that he could pick up her voice over the pounding music. "I sincerely doubt Shepard is here, so why are we?"
Feron snorted. "Not unless corpses can dance." Liara narrowed her eyes, resisting the temptation to let her biotics flare. Now was not the time, and this was definitely not the place. Perhaps that was one reason Feron had brought her here. It would be much more difficult for her to fight him in a crowd if he double-crossed her again, or catch him if he ran away. "No, we're here for Aria."
Liara forgot her annoyance. Even though she had spent most of her life on remote digs, away from people and their gossip, she knew exactly who Aria T'Loak was. Every asari did. Her tightfisted reign over Omega Station was legendary. Her name was a synonym for ruthlessness and cunning, and she never did anything without a plan in place. "And she's actually agreed to see us? I'm impressed. You might not be trustworthy, Feron, but you certainly are resourceful."
Feron began moving again, and Liara fell into step behind him, following him past several tables and toward a set of stairs. "The Queen of Omega will see anyone if it benefits her," Feron said. "This is her kingdom. If anything's going down on this station, she knows about it. It's how she's stayed in power for so long, and it's also why we need to talk with her."
Liara frowned as she glanced from side to side. This section of the club looked even seedier than the rest of the place. The vibrant neon lights that flickered above the dance floor had dimmed, and the thrumming energy was replaced with a desolate stillness. Large, hulking figures hunched over the sagging tables, staring into their drinks. "Queen of Omega? Some palace."
"I think you'll be more impressed when you see upstairs." Feron came to a stop a few yards away from a narrow staircase. A large, hulking batarian in full armor stood at the bottom, and his giant arms were folded over his chest. "If we get upstairs…"
"I thought you said that Aria would see anyone if it benefited her?"
"She will, but we've got to convince Anto first. He's one of her bodyguards. Fortunately, I know how to handle him. Follow me."
Feron pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders and stepped forward. Liara watched him for a few moments, then reluctantly approached the staircase. She wasn't always successful at reading other people's emotions, but the expression on Anto's face was easy to interpret. He definitely did not want company.
"Stop right there, Feron," he grunted, unfolding his arms and reaching for the pistol at his hip. "I don't know what you're trying to pull this time, but Aria's too busy to deal with a snitch-for-hire like you. Get out of here before I make you get out."
Liara blinked in surprise when Feron did not step back. He smiled up at Anto, even though the batarian was several heads taller. "Uh-huh. I guess I'll have to find another way to let her know about the business you and I usually do… but then, she probably wouldn't mind knowing someone on her payroll's been selling info on who she sees and when."
The expression on Anto's face faltered. His four eyes flickered nervously to one side. He lowered his hand away from his gun. "If your business is important, she's got a few minutes." He looked like he wanted to say more, but instead, he moved aside, leaving the way clear.
Feron turned back to look at her. "Come on," he said, motioning with his arm. "Aria doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Liara hurried past Anto and up the stairs. Once they were out of earshot, she couldn't resist murmuring, "That was a pretty impressive bluff. He could have just shot you before you had a chance to tell Aria that he was selling her out."
"Maybe, but Anto isn't the brightest star in the sky. Aria didn't hire him for his brains."
The staircase curved in the middle, turning back in on itself and leading up to a broad platform. Several more guards were positioned at the top, but unlike Anto, they made no move to reach for their weapons. Instead, they stepped aside to reveal a broad, luxurious leather couch. A figure was sitting on it, and even though the twin torches by the railing cast her into silhouette, Liara could tell she was an asari. Her slender form and the shape of her crest were obvious giveaways.
The figure moved, rising from the couch and striding confidently toward them. As the light shifted, Liara could make out more of her features. Her age was difficult to tell, but she was very beautiful, at least by conventional standards. Leather and buckles clung to her legs and rode up along her hips, but her breasts and arms were covered by a high-cut white jacket with a popped red collar. Purple tattoos stretched over the arch of her forehead, and a thick stripe split her lower lip and chin. Liara had to suppress a shudder as the asari's dark eyes moved up and down deliberately, lingering on her face, then the pistol at her hip. Aria's gaze was calculating and sexual all at once, and it made her squirm in her armor. It was an effort to hold still.
"Your friend is better-looking than your usual company, Feron," Aria said, making her way down the short ramp in front of the couch. "Which means she can't be your friend. But you really must leave poor Anto alone. So many years, and he still hasn't learned that nothing is secret from me." Her full lips twitched into a predatory smile, one that could not be mistaken as friendly. "Certainly not in my own establishment. He's lucky I'm fond of him. It's a good survival trait." She drew even closer, stopping directly in front of them. "It isn't often that the Shadow Broker sends his minions to me for help. Something big and juicy, I'm betting."
Liara opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say anything, Feron leaned close and whispered, "I'll handle this. Just keep quiet." Reluctantly, she swallowed down her words and folded her arms over her chest. "We're just checking on some merchandise, Aria," Feron said in his full voice. "The body of Commander Shepard. I know the Blue Suns are set to deliver it to the Shadow Broker. I need to know where."
Aria narrowed her eyes at Feron, and her smile disappeared. "I knew the Broker liked secrecy, but for his own man not to know what he's up to…" Then, the weight of Aria's gaze settled on her again. "And you. I know you. You're Shepard's pet." Liara curled her hands into fists, flinching slightly as Aria's finger came up to tuck beneath her chin. The pads were soft, and the touch made her heart fly into her throat. She couldn't breathe, torn between anger, fear, and a strange, tingling sensation beneath her skin. The fingertips trailed down her neck, resting over her pulse point. "Were you able to speak when Shepard was alive?"
Liara did not speak. She did not move, even when Aria's fingers ghosted over the sensitive folds of neck. Her hands shook in her gloves, and fire burned along her cheeks. She wanted to disobey Feron's orders and shout, but she held perfectly still, refusing to give any sort of reaction.
At last, Aria's hand pulled back. Something that seemed almost like approval shone from her dark eyes. "The Shadow Broker is powerful, but Omega is mine. I know everything that happens here. I do know about the transfer, but I need something in return. Feron, why is the Broker so interested in Shepard?"
"I - I don't know," Feron stammered, shrugging his shoulders. "That's what we're trying to find out…"
"Bullshit. Of course you know. And if you want to find Shepard, you'll tell me."
Liara's voice exploded out of her before she could stop it. Aria's condescending and strangely seductive behavior had worn through the last of her patience. Shepard would not have remained quiet for so long. Shepard would have demanded answers when negotiations got her nowhere. And right now, Shepard needed her more than ever. "Because the Shadow Broker is working with the Collectors! They're the ones that want Shepard's body, and the longer you keep us here so we can play your stupid games, the closer they get to taking her!"
This time, Aria was the one who remained silent. She closed her eyes for a long moment, and when they opened again, she did not bother hiding her surprise. "The Collectors… No one said anything about The Collectors. That changes things."
Feron made waving motions with his hands, urging her to stop talking, but Liara could not resist taking one more jab. "I thought you knew everything that happened on Omega?"
Aria threw one arm outward, pointing imperiously at the staircase as a scowl twisted her face. "Leave, both of you! Grizz, get in here and get them out, now!"
One of the guards by the staircase, a large turian, moved toward them with an assault rifle clutched in his talons. Feron began to back away, his eyes wide with fear, but Liara pressed forward. She had seen something in Aria's face, and it urged her to try one last time. "Wait! I told you want you wanted to know. Where are they taking Shepard?"
Aria gritted her teeth and turned away. Then, the lines of her face softened for the briefest of moments. "The lower levels of Omega, in an old mining processing plant. The Blue Suns were taking your bondmate there. This meeting is over."
. . .
"That…" Shepard panted beside her cheek, still slumped against the wall, "...was not what I expected…"
Even though Liara had severed the meld as quickly and gently as possible after their release, she knew what Shepard meant. She had not expected things to be so primal, so overwhelming. Without hearing the words, she sensed that Shepard would have preferred to take her time and linger over their reestablished connection, but she was far from ready to return to that level of trust. It was too fast, too soon.
"It was good though, wasn't it?" she murmured, running her free hand up and down Shepard's heaving back. 'Good' seemed like an inadequate word to describe it, but her mind was too fuzzy to think of anything else.
"Better than good," Shepard said, although there was a note of disappointment in her voice. "I just wish you hadn't left so fast."
Liara's heart lurched. She knew Shepard too well, even after all these years, and she could not give her the chance to ask for what she really wanted. "I am not going anywhere." To prove her point, she withdrew her hand from between Shepard's legs and dropped to her knees. Before Shepard could clarify what she meant, she replaced her fingers with her tongue, spreading apart her full outer lips and reveal the swollen point of her clit. She pulled it into the warmth of her mouth, lashing the hard bud until Shepard's hands flew down to clutch the back of her head.
"Fuck, Liara, I didn't mean…" But when she sealed her lips tighter around the hooded shaft, Shepard's words trailed off. She threw her head back so hard that it smacked against the wall behind her, and Liara knew she had won. Later. Later, if Shepard survived her mission to destroy the Collectors, she would lose herself in a deeper meld, but things were still too uncertain. It had taken her two years to claw her way back to a numb, unsatisfying existence after Shepard's death. Melding again now would ruin her permanently.
And so she focused all of her attention on Shepard's body. She was not ready to share her pain or the full extent of her love, but there was one gift she could give: raw, physical pleasure. She raked her nails up along Shepard's thigh, over the flushed, tender skin covered in streaks of wetness, and found her entrance. Pushing inside of her was easy. Instinctive. She had done it countless times before.
Shepard's body stiffened above hers. Her hips bucked forward, but Liara managed to follow the movement. She kept her mouth moving over Shepard's clit, circling and flicking with her tongue.
She could not tell whether Shepard was begging for release, the meld, or both, but she could not bear to pull away long enough to ask. She needed this connection as much as Shepard did. It wasn't enough, would never be enough, but she still craved it desperately. She moved down, seeking more of Shepard's taste, and groaned when she finally found it. Still the same. At least some things hadn't changed. When everything else in her life was so wrong, the familiarity was a comfort. She changed her approach, withdrawing her fingers to tease Shepard's clit as her tongue began thrusting. Shepard probably would have preferred it the other way around, but she couldn't help being a little selfish.
"Fuck," Shepard blurted out, but Liara barely heard the words. Shepard's hips were quivering, rocking unpredictably above her, and it took all her concentration just to follow the movements. Her jaw was already starting to ache, but she did not care. Taking Shepard's pleasure was too sweet. She focused all her attention on the clasping muscles against her mouth, on the throbbing bundle beneath her fingers, on Shepard's scent and taste. In the back of her mind, she knew this might be their last time together, and she wanted to sear every second of it into her memory.
At last, Shepard surrendered. Her thighs tensed, and she let out a loud shout as she tipped over the edge. A flood of warmth spilled over Liara's lips, and she caught as much as she could, dragging her tongue through slick, clinging heat until she had captured every drop. The bud of Shepard's clit twitched, and she pressed even harder, rolling it beneath her fingers until the spasms finally trailed off.
She took her time easing Shepard through the tail-end of her release, pressing warm kisses to the throbbing bundle and gathering up the final traces of wetness with her hand. When she finally pulled back and slipped her slick fingers between her lips, tasting the last of her prize, Shepard slid down the wall and slumped onto the floor, collapsing in a boneless heap in front of her. "Liara," she groaned, her mouth quivering as she formed the words, "you didn't have to…"
Liara could not resist taking Shepard in her arms. She used her dry hand to coax Shepard's head onto her chest, threading her fingers through her choppy red hair. "That was not just for you, Shepard. It was for me as well. I… needed you. I needed this. It was not everything I wanted, but…" She let out a long, slow breath. "But I believe there will be time for that later. I am going to let myself believe you're coming back."
"Let yourself believe?" Shepard repeated. The words were muffled against her shoulder, slightly slurred, but still understandable. "What do you mean?"
"You were dead for two years. It is difficult enough for me to believe that I am holding you in my arms right now. Asking me to believe that you will come back to me after you defeat the Collectors… that is almost impossible." A small smile pulled at her lips, and she dropped a kiss on top of Shepard's head. "But you always seem to achieve impossible things. I know you will come back. You always have before."
Liara shivered as the warmth of Shepard's breath skated over the curve of her neck, but she was not prepared for the strength of her gaze as she looked up. "I will. I promise. I have someone important to come back for."
The love in Shepard's eyes was nearly too much for Liara to bear. She turned away, looping one of her arms beneath Shepard's shoulders and helping her onto her feet. "Come on. I have a shower upstairs…"
Shepard's mouth split in a grin. "Only if you join me."
"Of course I will." Liara sucked her lower lip between her teeth, suddenly aware of how messy her face was. Shepard's taste still lingered on her tongue. "I probably need it even more than you."
"I, um… might need your help. My legs are still a little wobbly. Guess that's what happens when you get to have amazing sex for the first time in two years." Liara allowed herself to feel a little smug. Shepard had always been appreciative of her efforts, but this was a special occasion. She made sure to hold onto Shepard's elbow as they rose to their feet, and together, they made their way up the stairs and into the washroom.
They lingered in the shower, re-learning each other at a less frenzied pace. They touched just for the sake of touching, without any other goals in mind. By the time Liara left the shower and collapsed onto the bed, skin still dotted with water droplets, she realized that the small red scars on Shepard's face were starting to look natural.
"I'll say goodbye before I leave tomorrow," Shepard mumbled as she closed her eyes. Wet strands of her hair clung to the pillowcase and the sides of her face. "I still haven't gotten to taste you. Maybe I'll wake you up that way…"
"You're welcome to," Liara murmured, stroking some of Shepard's hair away from her forehead. But she knew there would be no time. If her guess was right, Miranda Lawson would be here before the sun rose, demanding that Shepard return to the Normandy. And even though her heart ached at the thought of losing Shepard again after they had finally found each other, she knew it was a loss she would have to endure. The galaxy needed Shepard more than she did.
But not for the next few hours, she thought to herself as Shepard pulled closer against her side, draping an arm around her waist. She's mine for a little while longer. I don't have to give her up yet.