Ashley hesitated for a long moment outside of the quarters that Liara had claimed as her own, not quite certain whether or not to ring the chime. She'd been part of Shepard's crew again for months now, but there was still a part of her that didn't quite feel like she belonged there anymore.
A lot had changed since she had first stepped foot on the original Normandy, and sometimes... well, there were some things that served as a much more stark reminder of that than others.
She had just about convinced herself that disturbing Liara just then was a bad idea when the decision was taken out of her hands. The door slid open, revealing Liara standing on the other side with her facial markings in a surprisingly similar facsimile of someone raising their eyebrows.
Ashley stared at her blankly for a second or two before shaking her head and letting out a wry laugh. "Sometimes I forget just how many cameras you have access to now," she said. "How long have you known I was out here?"
"Since you arrived," Liara said with a hint of a shrug. "I was waiting to see whether you would actually ask to come in."
Not for the first time she since had rejoined the crew of the Normandy, Ashley was struck by how different Liara was from the somewhat naïve girl she'd met on Therum. Oh, it wasn't physical. There wasn't much of a difference between 106 and 109 when it came to an asari. She still looked the same. She still sounded the same. But at the same time she didn't, not really. There was something about her that seemed much older than she should after only three years.
Ashley supposed that losing your innocence tended to do that to a person.
Liara tilted her head, clearly studying Ashley's face for some clue as to where she was standing outside her door in what was essentially the middle of the night onboard ship. "Can I help you with something, Ashley?"
"Mind if I join you?" Ashley asked suddenly, the words slipping out before she could stop them. "I thought you might like some company."
Liara blinked at her. "What?" she asked, sounding surprised. For a moment, she looked more like the girl that Ashley remembered from the mission to stop Saren than the woman she'd clearly grown into over the last few years.
Ashley reached into the small bag at her side, pulling out the curved bottle inside just enough for Liara to see that it was a bottle of asari liquor that she enjoyed.
Liara narrowed her eyes, a look of startled realization flashing across her face for a second before she schooled her expression. "I'm surprised you remembered what today is. It's been three years."
"I was there on Noveria," Ashley said, her tone carefully casual, "and I know what it's like to lose a parent. Enough to know that three years isn't anything."
For a long moment, Liara didn't say anything. Ashley was halfway expecting the door to close in her face when Liara suddenly sighed and took a step to the side, clearing the doorway. "Come in."
Ashley blinked before stepping through, not surprised when the door closed behind her. She surreptitiously took a look around, taking in the somewhat ridiculous number of screens and computers spread around the quarters. No one – Liara included – had actually told her about the new title she'd inherited, but it was an open secret among the more senior crew of the Normandy, and Ashley figured it out within her first three days onboard.
If someone had told her three years ago that Liara T'Soni was the Shadow Broker, she would have laughed in their face. But now? Now it fit her surprisingly well.
Liara gestured at the bed on the far side of the room. "Have a seat," she said. She reached up to rub the back of her neck. "Sorry. I'm not really set up for guests for anything other than—"
She trailed off, looking embarrassed.
"It's fine," Ashley said, giving her smile. She pulled out the bottle and held it out towards Liara.
Liara's cheeks flushed a darker shade of blue. "I also don't have any glasses."
Ashley shrugged and made her way over to the bed, sitting down at the edge of it. "It's not like it's the first time we've shared."
If anything, Liara blushed even harder. There had been several times back on board the original Normandy where the ground team had gotten together for drinks, and several of those times had ended... memorably. To say the least.
Their first kiss had happened one of those nights. And everything that had come afterwards. It had never been anything other than casual, neither of them ready for it to become more than that, but Ashley at least still looked back on it fondly.
Ashley simply sat there, watching her expectantly.
After a moment or two, Liara managed to get her embarrassment under control and she carefully opened the bottle that Ashley had given her. She took a large swig of it before handing it back to Ashley as she sat down beside her on the bed.
Ashley took a long drink of her own.
The two of them sat there quietly for a few minutes, silently passing the bottle between them. Then Ashley sighed and cleared her throat. "How are you doing?" she asked. "Not just about, well—" She gestured at the bottle that Liara was holding. "But with everything."
Liara didn't reply for a long moment, and Ashley was halfway convinced that she wasn't going to answer. Then she let out a sigh of her own. "Do you still believe in your god?"
Ashley blinked. "Yeah," she said slowly. "I do."
"I don't understand how," Liara said quietly, taking another long drink instead of passing the bottle back over the Ashley.
Ashley took in a deep breath before slowly letting it out. "Because of everything that's happened?" she asked. "The Reapers. The war."
"The deaths," Liara said, her voice surprisingly bitter.
Ashley shifted awkwardly, gratefully taking the bottle as Liara finally passed it over. She took a slow drink of the sweet liquor inside as she tried to gather her thoughts. "This is about what we found out at that temple on Thessia, isn't it?"
Liara stiffened, and Ashley handed over the bottle without comment. While Liara took it, she didn't take another drink. She just held it, turning it slowly in her hands.
She was very pointedly not meeting Ashley's gaze.
Ashley couldn't really blame her. She didn't know what she would do if she'd found out that everything she'd believed her entire life was a lie, that God had been nothing but a story created by an alien race as a means of manipulation.
"It's hard sometimes," Ashely said softly. She didn't look towards Liara. "So many people have died, and for what? There are times when I can't help but—" She trailed off and took a moment to gather her thoughts. "The thing about God is that He doesn't directly intervene. That's not how it works. He gives us the tools, and it's up to us to put them to use."
Liara let out a weak laugh, and Ashley glanced in her direction. Their gazes met as she did.
"Tools like Shepard?" Liara asked, her mouth twisting into a small smile that didn't make it to her eyes.
Ashley nodded. "Tools like Shepard," she agreed. "And like me, and you, and everyone else who's working to bring the Reapers down."
Liara stared at her before bringing the bottle up and taking another sip from it. Then she handed it back to Ashley.
"It must be nice," Liara said quietly. "Having something to believe in."
It was Ashley's turn to take the bottle but not drink from it. "Do you know why I still believe in God?" she asked. She didn't wait for answer before continuing: "It's because I believe in us. In what we're doing. What we're trying to do."
Liara went still.
"It's easier to keep believing in a deity when you can see His work every day," Ashley said quietly. She met Liara's gaze straight on and gave her a slight smile.
Her own mouth twisting into a matching smile, Liara leaned in to kiss her.