This is another 'Mass Effect' fic, I'm afraid. I've now finished ME3, and wasn't nearly as outraged by the endings as I expected to be given the internet rage they've generated. Honestly, I'm a Joss Whedon fan: ME3 didn't have nearly enough deaths of beloved characters or dei ex machina plot twists to bother me. Even so, I felt the need for a fill-in-the-blank fic to handwave away some of the more obvious dodgy bits in the plotting.
The fic is in the same continuity as the one I wrote a couple of weeks ago, for those keeping track. (On which note, can I just say yay for AO3? 'The Lower Reaches' got something like 11 views in total here on LJ, but on AO3 it's the most popular thing I've ever written, with hundreds and hundreds of views in just two weeks. \o/
Fandom: Mass Effect (spoilers for the ending of ME3)
Character: Liara T'soni
Playthrough: Paragon Adept female Shepard who romanced Liara in all three games, and chose the Destruction ending.
Warnings: Death, birth, tragedy, post traumatic stress disorder, and the ME3 canon endings.
Liara survived the last battle on Earth. This is what she can remember.
Liara doesn't remember getting back on the Normandy.
Not clearly, anyway. There are flashes, fragments of memory. She sees them in her nightmares; images so vivid they hurt, but then the memory overwhelms her and she can't go further. Eventually, she tried writing down her dreams; hoping to pin the memories down in cold, sterile words and draw them out of her head that way. Maybe it worked, a little; or maybe that was just the passage of time smoothing the raw, bleeding edges.
But those scraps of journal entries can be sorted into a rough narrative, and now she thinks she knows what happened, in those last desperate minutes.
There's one thing she never needed to write down, will never forget. Her last sight of Shepard: head down, running straight for the Reaper beam. Not looking back at the people following her.
Sometimes Liara hates her for that. For keeping her eyes fixed on the goal, not sparing a thought for those behind her. Not thinking about her. But then Liara gets angry at herself, and guilty. They'd all known what was at stake, and Shepard had to put the mission first. She wouldn’t have been the person Liara fell in love with if she hadn't.
It still hurts, though.
Then the banshee had appeared. The thought of those creatures, hideously twisted members of her own species, still fills Liara with horror and anger. And this one was heading straight for Shepard - who, running straight forward, hadn't seen it coming for her. Liara remembers screaming a warning, but it was lost in the sounds of battle.
Apparently she screamed the same warning in her nightmares nearly every night, the first month after their escape. She doesn't remember that.
Liara can't clearly see in her mind what happened next; but later on, Garrus helped fill in some of the details, as she sat next to his hospital bed. She'd slowed down, hit the banshee's barriers with her strongest biotic pulse. Garrus had targeted it too, and the banshee turned away from Shepard and came directly for them. Somehow, between the two of them, they managed to kill the asari husk - but by the time they did, she'd lost sight of Shepard.
Then the world burst into flames.
Thinking back, she's now worked out it was the Reaper's laser that hit the ground perhaps a metre from where they were standing. It couldn’t have been a direct hit, of course, because they were still alive. But in her nightmares, all Liara remembers is red flame and blinding agony, and being tossed aside like a feather in the wind.
After that, things get darker. She remembers someone picking her up, dragging her along with them. She has a bizarre yet vivid mental picture in her mind of a turian, his armour half-melted onto his body, being cradled in the arms of a krogan as he was lifted into a shuttle. There are voices, too, in her dreams; but she tries to forget them. They were speaking words of panic and loss, of failure and defeat. "We have to get out of here", "They wiped out the whole squad", "All forces retreat!" "Fall back!""It's over". "Shepard's dead."
Apparently she'd clawed her way out of the couch they were trying to strap her into and tried to use her biotics to blast open the shuttle door so she could go back down there - despite the fact that they were already 2000 metres in the air and accelerating rapidly. Luckily, her injuries hindered her from summoning the necessary energies (and probably killing everyone in the shuttle), and then they'd sedated her. Later on, when she heard the story, she sought out the medic she'd attacked and apologised to him in person.
They must have docked with the Normandy, because her next clear memory is the human doctor Chakwas examining her and applying medi-gel and bandages. Her voice had been cold, retreating into professionalism to avoid the horror of the situation. "The physical injuries are relatively minor", she'd said, with a slight emphasis on the word 'physical'. "Take her to her own room. Look after her." Then she'd turned straight away to the next casualty waiting for her attention. There were many of them.
They'd laid her down in her bed. What happened next isn't clear. She remembers dragging herself straight out of bed again and over to her monitors. Her eyes were blurring, but with a word to Glyph he activated the systems on her behalf, and she could see.
But she couldn’t have. She was unconscious when it all happened. She's constructed a false memory, they tell her: later on she must have watched recorded footage of the final battle, over and over, until she convinced herself she was actually there watching as it happened. But Liara doesn't believe them. She knows she saw it.
The space battle was unfolding before her in all its glittering, deadly beauty; there were even some functioning pickups down on Earth that showed her the ground fighting. But nothing from the area she most wanted to see; the place her lover died.
The Reapers were winning. That was obvious from the briefest glance at the screens. The combined fleets and armies of the galaxy had done damage to them, perhaps more damage than in any previous cycle of their aeons-long existence; but it wasn't enough. It had always been a slender hope, a fool's hope; and that hope died with Shepard.
And then as Liara gripped the console in both hands to keep herself from falling to the floor, a miracle unfolded before her eyes.
The Citadel opened up like a flower greeting the sun, its petals unfolding and stretching. The Crucible, freed from its restraints, slid forward to meet it like a hummingbird dipping for nectar. They touched and linked, and there was a breathless pause. The wrath of battle faded away: even the Reapers seemed to cease fire as they waited for the next move.
Then a red glow began at the heart of the Citadel, cocooned between its arms; a burning flame of creation and destruction. The light waxed, spread, leaping from tower to rim and then pouring like rivers of fire down the outstretched arms.
Then it flared up nova-bright, hurling its energy in a deadly beam through deep space; and then it was gone. And the expanding wavefront of crimson fire engulfed the Reapers, one after another; and it ended them.
It was Shepard's last gift to the galaxy; Liara knew that, even as she watched. Cold logic says she must have survived after all, reached the Citadel, and then died in the explosion that destroyed it. But in her heart, Liara sometimes thinks that Shepard was already dead, before she ever reached the Citadel; it's just that not even death could stop her fulfilling her mission.
Liara doesn't believe in spirits or goddesses, not anymore. Not after a certain conversation with a Prothean on Thessia. But she believes in Shepard.
That belief sustained her through the days and weeks that followed. She has no memory of the Normandy's frantic attempt to escape the wavefront, as Jeff broke all safety regulations in engaging the FTL drive too close to other ships, yet somehow managed to avoid hitting them. She does remember his sob of despair as he failed, and the electronic screech as EDI died - or was that another created memory, from the bridge logs?
But she does remember the crash landing. They'd reached the Tau Ceti system, six light years from Earth. There was a habitable planet there, and it had been earmarked for colonisation in the early days of the humans' space exploration. But then the mass relay network had opened up thousands of worlds to settlement, many of them with richer resources or closer to the streams of galactic commerce, and Tau Ceti had become a backwater.
Jeff had fought and grappled with the crippled, bleeding Normandy and brought her in to a relatively soft landing, although the ship would never fly again. He didn't let his grief overcome his professionalism, and Liara decided she must do the same. She even managed a smile as she stepped out of the airlock onto the world's surface. It was beautiful: tall, blue mountains off in the distance, lush green forests rising around them; a flock of birds - or things that looked like birds - bursting out of the trees with a storm of wings and soaring across the clear blue sky.
It was a good place to be; a place for new beginnings.
Liara is asari. She's always known she would outlive her lover by far: she can expect to see another nine centuries, but human lifespan is less than ten percent of that. She always knew she'd have to say goodbye to Shepard one day: she just didn't expect it to be so soon. It hurts. Some nights, she can hardly breathe from the pain.
But as the Thessian saying goes, she enjoyed the time they had together. Someday, she knows, the memories will bring bittersweet pleasure instead of torment.
They're living here now. A scout ship came from Earth four months after the crash landing and found them. It didn't have much aid to offer, given the pressing need back on Earth; but it gave them some vital supplies and told them to expect visitors.
Liara hasn't been back to Earth yet; she'd not sure she's strong enough to withstand seeing it again. But she hears the humans are rebuilding. The Reapers killed hundreds of millions, either directly or through famine and plague, but humanity's homeworld still has a population in the billions, and plenty of work for them to do. The fate of the allied fleets assembled to fight the Reapers posed more of a problem.
None of them can go home again, with the mass relays destroyed. The Systems Alliance offered them all a home on Earth, of course, and many accepted. Others decided to seek out worlds of their own to settle within the range of conventional FTL drive. The turians, ironically enough, now find themselves a nomadic race and guests of the 'space gypsies' they once looked down on. Unable to eat Terran-grown crops, they were given sanctuary by the quarian admirals in their flotilla. Most of the quarian civilians had been left behind on Rannoch when the No-Longer-Migrant Fleet sailed to battle, leaving the liveships empty apart from their combat crews. Now the turians have taken them over - at least, until they can find an inhabitable planet that supports dextro-amino-acid based life.
As for this planet, it's now home to a thriving colony of humans, asari, salarians and even a few krogan. They all live together in the same settlement, a microcosm of the alliance they forged against the Reapers. They'd wanted to name the new town after the Commander, and came to Liara to ask her blessing and permission. She'd hated the very idea: the constant reminder of what she'd lost every time the name was spoken. But she disciplined her thoughts and schooled her expression into blankness, because she couldn't let her personal feelings get in the way of the wishes of so many people. And Shepard did deserve a memorial.
It wasn't until later that she realised, she might have one.
That last peaceful moment they had together, before the end. She'd wanted to give Shepard a gift, her memories of the first time they met; something to take with her and sustain her at the end. And so they'd Joined, briefly, their minds linking and engaging together. Usually that was incredibly difficult and painful for an asari to do if, she wasn't extremely sexually aroused - and Liara certainly hadn't been in that sort of mood minutes before their last doomed battle. But she and Shepard were so close, so intimate, that their minds just slid into synchronisation so smoothly. And then she'd given Shepard her last message; one of love and hope that could transcend even death. Minds and bodies were linked together as one.
Liara smiles, as she sits on the terrace outside the prefabricated shelter she now calls home. It's perhaps the first genuine, unforced smile she's made since she left Earth. Her fingertips drum lightly on her abdomen.
The nature of asari biology means that she's got plenty of time to decide what to do. She's only 110 years old, after all. And she's single, and widowed; and can't really imagine ever finding or wanting another mate - but honestly, that description would fit most asari over a certain age. And the vast majority of the children of her species turn out perfectly fine.
She'll probably never return home to Thessia; but she can build a new home here. And Shepard can't be with her in body; but she'll never be forgotten.
"I'm sorry, my love, that I can't keep my promise to you entirely. You wanted blue babies. Will one be enough?"