Shepard missed Liara. It didn't matter that she could hear the Shadow Broker's soft footfalls following behind her as they crept through the Mars archives, or that she could glance over her shoulder any time and stare right into the asari's crystal blue eyes. Shepard missed the soft, shy woman whom she'd met at a different Prothean archive years ago, whose eyes had shone whenever she was presented with a new artifact or vision, who rambled on and on about whatever she was currently studying in that hushed, lilting voice of hers then blushed violet when Shepard smiled at her enthusiasm. The Liara who had first confessed her attraction to Shepard like a teenage schoolgirl, wringing her hands and staring at the floor, who had taken the death of her only known parent with the grace that Shepard could only imagine belonged to a queen, the Liara whose kisses felt like butterflies fluttering over Shepard's skin. The Liara she'd known back when everything was simple, everything was good, when they both believed nothing could ever come between them.
But this Liara... Shepard had no idea who she was. She remembered her heart racing as she climbed the ramp leading to Liara's office on Illium, barely able to restrain herself from bursting through the doorway as soon as it opened and throwing herself at the woman inside. But Liara's voice, her soft, beautiful voice was saying words that Shepard never thought she'd hear from her. The dissonance made Shepard dizzy. All her previous energy gone, she had slipped quietly into the office, still unable to process the sinister tone in Liara's voice and the way she squared her shoulders, glaring directly into the holo screen. Then Liara had turned around, called Shepard's name in that same familiar voice. But when she kissed her her blue lips felt cold and dry, and nothing felt the way it was supposed to.
Even after listening to Liara's story of the last two years Shepard was unable to comprehend how anything could have turned Liara, her Liara, into this... impostor. It was only until Liara began to cry, standing at the Shadow Broker's terminal with Feron standing safe and free behind her and the yahg dead in pieces that she understood how much of a stranger Liara had become. Two years... two years. What had been a few days of lying on an operation table for Shepard had been two long years for Liara, two years of mourning Shepard, mourning Feron, hunting one of the most powerful being in the galaxy all for the sake of vengeance for a friend and a distraction from a dead lover. Shepard knew that once, she had loved Liara. Now she felt like she was in love with a husk, a shell of the asari's past self, carved to bits by hate and grief and cynicism.
The tour of the SR-2 was a test more than anything else. A tentative excuse for Shepard to speak to Liara again, to hold her, to try to look into her eyes again and try to see the woman she loved inside. In the end, it had been pleasant; comforting words were exchanged, promises were made, and nostalgia tickled at the edges of Shepard's conscious. For a moment, just a moment, she thought they had done it-- they'd made it simple again, they'd made it work. But the many nights she spent lying alone on the too-soft bed in Vancouver with no one but her own thoughts for company she wondered if it had all been wishful thinking.
And now this. Three Cerberus corpses piled in a heap on top of a stack of crates, each with cracked helmets and the remnants of biotic power crackling through the chinks in their armor. Liara with her eyes dead and her jaw set as she shot them through the head, one by one, double-tagging each with brutal efficiency. "Either you pay me or I flay you alive... with my mind." On Illium Shepard had felt dazed, confused. Now she only felt exhausted. How many times was this going to happen? How many times would Shepard have to get used to the acrid, biting tone that sometimes crept into Liara's voice, the dull glaze that settled over her eyes when she ripped a krogan apart with her biotics, the way she sometimes spoke as though she had forgotten that Shadow Broker was only her title, not her name.
She couldn't handle this. She was already dealing with the Reapers and intergalactic politics and the Illusive Man-- the thought of trying to sift through Liara's heart to find her again was too much. She couldn't do this.
So that was how Shepard found herself entering Liara's base of operations on the Normandy, fully intending to tell Liara that they couldn't do this, not now, maybe not ever, and that she was sorry but she couldn’t—
Liara turned around. Her cheeks lifted, and a wistful smile spread across her violet lips. "Shepard, it's good to see you."
All of Shepard's breath left her in an instant. Something—something had shifted. The voice, the words, those could have been from any of her old memories, from the wide, empty workspace in the Shadow Broker's base, the pristine information broker's office on Illium, from even the med bay's back room on the first Normandy. But the echoes of past pain and current fatigue showing in the darkened hollows of Liara's eyes, the way she drew herself up to her full height and lifted her chin, the way her smile had become so subtle as to only show at the very corners of her lips—those sights embedded themselves in Shepard’s mind, grounded her perception in the present, kept her from fleeing into safer daydreams of the past as she’d done so many times before.
And for the first time in years, Shepard saw Liara as she truly was: avid student, archaeologist, Shadow Broker, warrior, shy, wise, weary, regretful, loving, sharp... and above all else, still Liara. The old Liara had never left. She had simply become… more. She had walked through the layered, infinite cobwebs of the galaxy, and when their remnants clung to her she had made them a part of herself, adapted them to serve her ambitions, to help her grow into the person she wanted and needed to be to face the future. It had only ever been Shepard’s decision to believe otherwise.
And now it was Shepard’s decision to make things right.
Shepard grinned. “It’s good to see you too, Liara.” Then she walked forward, strides lengthening with each step, until she could wrap her arms tight around Liara's shoulders and hold her close.
“I love you.”