The hatch sealed with a thunk behind her, the clang of armor-clad knees against metal floor panels reverberating over the sound of her increasingly ragged breathing. Collapsed and trembling, gloved hands streaking indigo blood on the floor, she attempted to quiet her shaking breaths, tried to blink back the tears welling in her eyes, but between her physical injuries and a gnawing anxiety in her chest, all she could manage was a whimper.
Liara T'Soni was alone.
Whatever happens… you mean everything to me, Liara. You always will.
Echoes of Shepard's last words to her, the way her voice had broken, her gloved fingertips brushing across the same spot on her cheek now damp with tears, replayed with such lucidity she swore her nerves fired in response.
New tears stung as they streaked over her lacerated cheeks, dripping down with each convulsive sob and dotting the floor with wet stains — some clear, others mixed with blood. She had not been gentle in sending Garrus away after he escorted her to her quarters, waving away all attempts at concern, adamant in her refusal of medical attention as he implored her to reconsider. Her physical injuries were the least of her worries.
The room lurched and shuddered around her despite Normandy's inertia dampening, and a wince turned to an outward cry — if not from the pain of sudden movement, then from being startled back into her own reality. The rumble of the drive core, the groan of the bulkheads, the rattling of her monitor array, the flicker of the lights — all served as reminders of where she was, but more so of where she was not.
She should be there with her.
It wasn't right.
Liara slumped, overcome with a fit of sobs. Clenched her fists, then unclenched them.
She had done what she could. There was nothing more she could do that would make a difference. Nothing left to do but survive.
Shepard would activate the Crucible, or she would not.
The ship lurched around her again, sending a stack of datapads crashing off her desk and throwing her off-balance. Liara gasped for air through choked sobs, barely managing to steady herself, pressing her palms into the floor.
She should be there. With her. In success or in failure.
If the worst happened, was knowing any less painful than uncertainty?
Liara braced herself against the nearest server under her desk, attempting to stand, and she winced as her body protested the movement. Slowly she brought herself to her feet then limped the few remaining steps to the seat in front of her terminal.
Her fingers hovered over the keys, tremulous, hesitating. She typed her query. A distraction. Unnecessary. Shipboard visuals, aft and port. Two clusters of monitors nearest her brightened in dizzying flashes of blue, of red, of black with streaks of stars arcing with Normandy's maneuvers — too overwhelming. She killed the process and the monitors went dark again.
Liara pressed her eyes shut and typed again. All updates concerning Shepard, from official and unofficial channels. She executed the command. The nearest monitor flashed on again, bright against her eyelids. She looked down at her hands, couldn't bring herself to look up. Another query. All updates from Alliance Command, set to another monitor. Her body shook with each heartbeat. Could she handle the news if it wasn't good?
Did it matter? Shepard would do what she could. Liara's role in the fight was over.
Nothing left to do but to survive.
The transcripts appeared in real time on her monitors, ribbons of text blurred by the tears in her eyes. She blinked them away.
Braced herself for what she might read.
Blinked again. Then again. She drew in a shaking breath.
Shepard was on the Citadel. Alive.
Liara's heartrate surged along with a new flood of tears, and she sunk down with her face upon her desk, every piece of her overwhelmed with relief and fear and anticipation. Yearning. A kiss on the back of her neck. A cabin in the mountains. Little blue children. A family. A future.
The room around her jerked again, vibration rumbling throughout the ship and sending shocks of pain through her left leg. She whimpered through shuddering breaths and gritted her teeth.
Too soon to look forward. She wiped her eyes and looked at the feeds again. Shepard's status: unchanged. Official commands: also unchanged. Normandy still circled the Crucible in a series of haphazard, unpredictable evasive loops, defending the galaxy's last stand against the Reapers (though she still preferred to do without the visual), among many other vessels tasked with the same, still waiting on Shepard's move.
Liara considered administering a medi-gel dose, her body humming with pain, but thought better of it — there were others in greater need. She fought to relax the tightness in her chest, focused on settling and deepening her breathing, as the minutes stretched painfully on with no new information.
And then it happened.
With movement on the right-hand monitor she instinctively raised herself up, eyes snapping back into focus.
Crucible has fired. All ships retreat. Fall back. The message repeating.
Her chair fell back behind her as she shot to her feet, her left leg collapsing. She screamed. Fell forward onto her desk.
"We can't leave her!"
Liara regained her balance, brought up her omni-tool but fumbled with the controls. It didn't matter. No message she could send to Joker or to Kaidan would matter. They had their orders.
They have to save her.
The familiar rising hum of the drive core signaled the imminent jump into FTL.
Between gasping, crying breaths she heard her voice — strained, croaking, panicking, hardly recognizable as her own. "No, no, no…"
The last of the data flashed on her screen as a sudden, momentary bout of vertigo overtook her. Earth, Shepard… everything that mattered to her plummeting away as her eyes scanned the text.
Crucible fired. Explosion on Citadel. Casualties expected.
No more information. Any data traveling at light speed couldn't possibly reach them until they dropped out of FTL. And even when they did, how far away would they be? It could take years for that information to catch up. Decades. Longer.
What was happening back there? What happened on the Citadel? Did the Crucible backfire? Had their efforts succeeded? Was Shepard alive?
The world fell away from her, her throat tight and burning, her face locked in a scream but no sound escaping. It was over.
Shepard had done what she could to ensure the galaxy a future, to ensure her a future, but how could she go on if she had no one to thank, no one to hold, but a ghost built of their memories?
How could she go on without her strength?
The memories would have to be enough.