"Am I in trouble?"
Benezia sighs as she turns away from her console to focus on the child hovering uncertainly in the doorway.
As an infant, Liara had been a mother's dream: quiet, easy to settle and more prone to giggling than fussing in any case. As a child, she's become gentle, sweet-natured and shy, preferring her own active imagination to the company of others by a very large margin indeed.
Benezia has no idea where this particular mixture of traits has come from, and they worry her, at times. She'd been a bit of a hellion herself back in the day, driving her own dear mother and sisters to distraction even before the heady wildness of her maiden years, roaming the galaxy in search of adventure. More to the point, people, particularly alien and exotic people, have always her lifeblood. She thrives among others, delights in the foreign as much as she takes comfort in the familiar. And as for Aethyta, well... Even as her head had said that it was time for them to part ways, her heart had demanded a piece of her to keep, but there so remarkably little of her former bondmate in the girl that it truly pains her, sometimes. Indeed, Liara has none of that which Benezia most hoped to take from Aethyta: her fire, her fearlessness and her supreme ease within her own skin.
Which is what makes today's news so unexpected.
"That remains to be seen," she allows. "Come here."
The girl does as bid, allowing herself to be picked up and sat upon her mother's lap. By the Goddess, but she's growing quickly! They do say that the first couple of decades fly by, but it seems as though, every time she turns around, Liara had grown another little bit, discovered a new, passionate interest or developed some unexpected personality quirk. Soon she will be too big to hold like this.
Perhaps she should take a few years, perhaps a decade, away from her works, important though they are. Her responsibilities consistently keep her away from Liara far more than she likes and, indeed, had expected when electing to conceive, for the first time, so late in life. Here her love of the alien has been a definite drawback. Representatives of the other races, to her frustration, had often proven uncomfortable conducting business with a suckling infant in the room, let alone a curious toddler. Others misinterpreted the signal, seeing weakness where she showed strength, that she was unafraid to flaunt that which was –and remains- most precious to her before them.
That had all been difficult enough to navigate with grace, but Liara is now more than old enough to potentially repeat what she hears – or simply become bored and troublesome. Her presence at any official function involving non-asari is therefore out of the question, and there are so very many functions. Board meetings. Lectures. Debates. The Forum. She is away from their home more often than not, and Liara too often left in the hands of other caretakers.
"Raeta T'Mala complained to me that you struck her youngest daughter this afternoon." More than struck – she's seen the bruises and the bloodied nose for herself. "Did you?"
"She started it!" the girl declares hotly, with a child's righteous indignation. Benezia has to stop herself from smiling at it, a task that abruptly becomes easier when Liara looks up, meeting her gaze. There's bruising, almost completely faded, along her brow and around one eye, the memory of a cut on one dappled cheek. It would seem that the violence did not go one way.
As quickly as the anger came, it simmers back down into a sulk.
"She was calling me names."
"Was she now. Tell me, what did she call you that justifies violence against her person?"
Liara looks down, biting her lip, and winds her hands in her lap.
"She... she called me a pureblood."
Her heart gives an odd little lurch. Liara is too young to have to endure such taunts, and, truth be told, should not have to endure them in the first place. Benezia will have some choice words for Raeta T'Mala when next they meet. Aethy, she knows, would probably have had a choice fist.
"I see. You are a 'pureblood', Liara. But there is no shame in it."
"She said it like there was," Liara huffs, and then pauses, glancing up and then back down quickly. "What does it mean?"
"You do not know what it means, and yet you let it wound you?"
"It was the way she said it," the girl reiterates quietly, eyes still downcast. "What does it mean?"
Benezia cups her chin gently and turns her head up so that their gazes meet. Liara's eyes are pale blue, guileless reflections of her own.
"It means, little wing, that your other parent was another asari."
"Another asari. And that's... bad?" Her confusion is obvious.
"Some believe so," she answers honestly. The prejudice had not been as bad when she was a maiden. Or had it been, and she'd simply not noticed? Or forgotten? Some things blur together with time, and it's easy to forget that which you are unaffected by. Her own 'father' was a salarian, without stigma. She has few memories of him. "But they are wrong. There is little point to mating with those outside our own kind in search of new traits if we do not occasionally seek to bring the good ones back in."
"I don't understand."
"You will when you are older, dear one. For now, it is enough to know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Do not let their words wound you. You are my daughter, and I love you."
Liara sighs and leans against her, head nestled in her shoulder, arms clasped loosely around her waist. Benezia allows herself to bask in the rare moment of togetherness, holding her gently and stroking her crest as she'd done when Liara was just an infant at her breast. She still finds it hard to believe, sometimes, that she could have produced something so bright and beautiful and fragile.
"If... my other parent is an asari, shouldn't she be here? Kuran T'Jon's other parent isn't around anymore, but he was a salarian, and they only live for a little while," the girl says slowly, as if piecing the idea together as she speaks. "Asari can live for a long time, like you have."
Benezia sighs and opens her eyes. She's always know that this day would come, that the question would be asked, but she's never quite been able to work out what answer to provide. What can she say? That theirs had been an unconventional relationship from the start? That, towards the end, they'd fought as much as they'd loved? That she is a vain and selfish creature, one who'd discovered so late in life, almost too late, a desire for a daughter of her own, to raise and guide without other influence, a wish Aethyta had fulfilled centuries before? That she still wakes, some mornings, body and mind searching for a presence that is no longer there? Should she speak of politics and necessity, of the regret of cold logic? Should she simply lie?
"I do not wish to speak of her now," she says as gently as she can manage. It's cowardly, she knows and, yes, selfish too, and she can feel Liara's disappointment at the answer.
"She is still alive, as best I know," she concedes, feeling the need to provide the girl with something. "Perhaps when you are older, I will tell you of her."
She sighs again as Liara remains silent, head still resting against her shoulder, and returns to the original reason for their discussion today.
"So, after Zelli called you a name," she prompts, "you struck her."
"No," Liara says, sitting back up to look her mother in the eye. "First I told her that if she called me names again I'd kick her in the quad."
Benezia's not entirely sure what she's more shocked by, the phrase itself or the matter of fact tone in which it's delivered.
"Liara T'Soni! Where did you hear such language?"
"Shiala took me to see the commandos training last turning day. There was a krogan there. He was huge!" The awe in her voice is reflected in her wide eyes. "He had a shotgun and a grenade launcher and he said that I could try-"
It would appear that she needs to have a quiet word with Shiala as well. Benezia pinches the bridge of her nose. Of course, her favourite acolyte knows full well of Liara's parentage. And has an odd sense of humour.
"Liara, we do not threaten to 'kick people in the quad'. At least," she amends, remembering Aethy and the brawl the nine-hundredth birthday reception for Matriarch Renthis, the insufferable old bore, had degenerated into, "not in polite company."
"Zelli wasn't being very polite," the girl points out with impeccable logic.
"Regardless, you are not to use the phrase again until you are old enough to understand what it means."
"You say that about everything." The pout returns. "When will I be old enough?"
"When you are fifty or sixty, Goddess permitting. So," she continues quickly to forestall another protest, "Zelli insulted you, you threatened her. I take it she then repeated the insult..?"
"And then..?" she prompts despite knowing the answer.
"And then I hit her," the girl responds as if getting into a playground brawl is an everyday occurrence for her, and not an entirely new phenomenon. "So she ran into me and I fell over and then she kicked me, but I grabbed her leg after so she fell over too and I jumped on her and hit her again and then she pulled my crest so I grabbed her arms and went," she demonstrates the motion, jerking her head down sharply "crack and hit her in the head and then Matron T'Mala came and shouted at us and pulled me off her."
Benezia can't quite help herself. She starts to laugh. Nothing of Aethy in the girl? Perhaps she was mistaken after all. Aethyta once downed a krogan for a bet with a headbutt, and then his brood-brother when the lout refused to pay what was owed. That had been a good night.
"What's so funny?" Liara demands, suddenly suspicious.
"Oh, Liara. Little wing," she sighs, mirth fading. "There are better solutions to conflict than brawling like a common mercenary." She hesitates, remembering Aethyta again and all that she, Benezia, had hoped to take from her for their daughter. She has no right to mourn the lack of those traits if she only crushes them when they do, however fleetingly, appear. "But, if you must fight, and I suspect you will at times, you must fight to win, and that means using your head."
"I did use my head!"
"No, you used your skull," she says and gently pokes a faded bruise for emphasis, prompting a wince. "You have better tools at your disposal than headbutting people, and the mind to use them. Perhaps it's time I began to teach you how to use your biotics."
Benezia smiles at her daughter's sudden, bouncing enthusiasm.
"Really. I was around your age when my mother began teaching me. I will set aside time once a week for it. It will be just you and I."
There's an undercurrent to the question that she couldn't fail to miss if she were blind and deaf. Moments like these, just the two of them, are rare, too rare, and getting still more infrequent. Liara is as aware of it as she is.
"I promise," she allows solemnly.
"So... I'm not in trouble then?"
"No, but you will apologise to Zelli."
"But 'she' nothing. You are a T'Soni, Liara, and the daughter of a Matriarch," she says firmly. "You do not throw the first punch, and you do not become angered by petty insults. You will apologise, and I will speak with Matron T'Mala about her daughter's choice of language, and that will be the end of it. Is that understood?"
"Very good. Now, run off to the kitchens and tell Jasarim that we will take dinner here tonight. And when you return, I will tell you the story of Athame and the Wounded Huntress."
Liara's smile lights up the room and she hops down from her mother's lap, darting away, off on her errand. Benezia watches the girl go with another smile, and then returns to her console. The diplomatic proposal she had been drafting prior to the interruption, however, fails to hold her attention any longer. She finds herself drumming her fingers on the desk, mind drawn back to the so-recent conversation and Liara's account of the events of the day. Without quite consciously realizing it, she's soon drafting a brief letter.
She knows that it would be easier, in the long term, if they could both just stop talking to each other. She would be spared the pain of remembrance and guilt at her continued selfishness; Aethy, the reminder of the relationship she's been denied. But, for all the bitterness and recrimination, the hostility and the anger, there is still a tendril of affection between them, a weed that refuses to die no matter what poison they use. And so Benezia cannot deny her former bondmate the chance to be as proud of their daughter as she is, when such chances arise.
She was in a fight today. The other girl came off far the worse for it.
It's only seconds later that she receives a reply.
That's my girl.
Benezia smiles sadly as she closes the console, and begins preparing for the night in. Later, there will be laughter.