~ Penance ~
by Robin Shelly Foster

Penance by Robin Shelly Foster

Post-Mass Effect 2 & LotSB - Paragon, Spacer, Soldier, Liara romance. Based on experiences of Commander Jess Shepard, Alliance Soldier and Human Spectre.

This story vignette takes place after the events of Mass Effect 2 and Lair of the Shadow Broker.

All characters belong to Bioware, no infringement intended.

Comments welcome and appreciated, robin.shelly.foster@gmail.com

For the first time in recent memory, Commander Jess Shepard felt alone. Loneliness was not an all together unfamiliar feeling. She had often felt alone in her childhood, most acutely when she was with her mother strangely enough. But once she had joined the Alliance Navy, that loneliness for the most part had disappeared. She had since been part of a team, a large team with an even larger purpose. Perhaps it was the that more than anything… purpose, goals, the fight to win, to succeed. The Alliance had provided that for years and in more recent times when that had fallen away, there were other things to focus on. The Geth, the Reapers, the Collectors, Cerberus. And she had never been alone in those fights. In fact, just a few hours before the Normandy had been so full of loyal team members they had resorted to using cargo areas as makeshift quarters. But most were gone now.

Shepard let out a long slow breath, leaning back against the desk in her quarters, looking up at the view through the window above her. Blackness with the occasional zips of white and yellow streaks. Even though her quarters were several decks away from where the rest of crew usually bunked, she still felt she could sense the emptiness.

She shouldn't be surprised, she told herself not for the first time. She'd known when she announced to the crew a few days prior what her plans were, that most would not join her. A suicide mission through the Omega 4 relay and certain death, sure. Face possible imprisonment, hell no. She couldn't argue.

"I don't envy you and what you're likely to face back there," Miranda Lawson had said as they stood side by side near the docking bay on Illium.

Shepard shrugged, smiling in nonchalance that didn't reach her blue eyes. "I already died, what more can they do to me?"

Miranda gave her a weak smile before turning back to the stunning view of twilight descending over the metropolis. "Making your life a living hell may just be worse than actual hell Shepard." After a moment of silence she added quietly, "Are you sure?"

Shepard had kept her gaze on the city. "Yes," she'd answered confidently, not really sure at all.

She'd left Miranda on Illium as well as twenty more of her crew. The majority of the others had chosen Omega as their port to depart the Normandy. Now only a skeleton crew remained. Volunteers. Some former Cerberus, some former Alliance, some both, some neither. Jack had surprised her most by staying. She expected her to be one of the first amongst the group that elected to depart on Omega.

"What the fuck can the pissant Alliance do to me that Cerberus hasn't already tried," she'd explained in her normal, caustic way. The explanation was weak at best and Shepard knew there was more to it when Jack wouldn't meet her eyes. But pushing Jack was never a productive tact unless you were looking for a fight. "Besides if they lock us up, you'll need someone with experience to bust you out. And I've got that in spades."

So here they were, making one last stop before heading to Earth. "Time to face the music," as Joker had said after announcing he would be staying on. "I bet it's a show tune. I hate fucking show tunes."

Shepard couldn't help but smile to herself at the memory.

"We're coming up on Hagalaz, Commander," Joker's voice announced through the com.

"Time to face the music indeed," Shepard mumbled to herself.


"Greetings Shadow Broker," the glowing blue orb exclaimed loudly.

Shepard grimaced, taking a step back. She was familiar with the drone from her previous visit and was disappointed to see it was just as annoying and unfamiliar with what were appropriate amounts of personal space as before.

"InfoDrone, can you please check the seals along the aft end of deck nine? There seems to be some additional interference from the storms," a male voice said.

"Certainly Shadow Broker," the drone responded before disappearing.

Shepard nodded in greeting to the owner of the voice. "Feron, good to see some things never change I guess."

The Drell smiled an apology. "One of many projects still on the to do list." He shook Shepard's hand. "It's good to see you Commander. I was glad to hear you made it back through the Omega 4 relay in one piece."

Shepard rubbed the back of her neck, "Yeah, it wasn't looking good there for a while but we managed." Shepard's gaze drifted over his shoulder to the large room that served as the nerve center for the Shadow Broker's operations. "Is she around?"

"Yes is, although she fell asleep at her console again," he smiled with a gentle fondness. "When I received the message that you were coming I didn't wake her. I thought it might be a nice surprise." He motioned towards the second level.

Shepard followed his gesture with her eyes, "Yeah well, let's hope so," she said sounding unconvinced. She gave Feron a thankful smile and headed up the metal stairs.

As she approached the open doorway she kept her footsteps silent. The room was dim, with occasional quick flickers of brightness as the scrolling text feed on the monitors that lined one of the four walls updated real time. The room was modest and certainly originally industrial, but it had a few warm touches from it's occupant scattered around to soften the edges. Along the right wall was the bed, the sheets made and in order but covered with a scattering of data pads. On the small side table, a frame containing an image of the Normandy, not it's current incarnation, but the SR1 which no longer existed. To the left and taking up most of the room was a desk, surrounded by mounted monitors and vid screens.

A smile touched Shepard's lips at the figure slumped unceremoniously on the desk surface. She took a moment to indulge her gaze on the face that she'd so sorely missed. Full lips, blue skin, and a wonderfully sculpted crest Shepard found more beautiful than any other Asari. Looking at her here in this unguarded moment, she could almost forget everything that had happened and the obstacles that lingered and haunted and hurt.

Shepard smiled, a hint of sadness tainting it. She had no idea how to make it better. And in fact she knew the news she came to deliver would likely make it worse.

"Liara," she called softly.

Blue lids fluttered open, eyes disoriented a moment but then quickly alert. She sat up, glancing at herself, realizing she'd fallen asleep working once again. Then a jolt of recognition, remembering a voice had called her name. She swung her gaze until it landed on Shepard.

Shepard watched as a storm of emotions passed through Liara's eyes like shadows.

"Hey," Shepard said quietly, letting her lips tip into a lopsided smile.

Liara's gaze flickered to Shepard's lips, then back to her eyes. Then she was on her feet and in her arms. "Hello Shepard," she whispered against her neck.

Shepard's eyes closed involuntarily as her arms went around Liara and she reveled in the perfect feel of her. The softness of her skin against her cheek, the curves of her waist, the sweet smell that was so distinctly and delightfully her. Shepard breathed her in at once feeling like she'd never been away and at the same time feeling like she'd last held her a lifetime ago.

Liara pulled back slightly, meeting Shepard's eyes, cupping her face in her hands. "Are you alright?" she asked softly.

Shepard smiled gently, "I'm fine. You? Getting plenty of quality sleep as usual I see."

Liara pulled away from the embrace, turning back to the running strains of data on her screens. She put a hand to her forehead. "It's been a challenge but I think I've gotten a handle on it." She idly ran a hand over the stack on data pads on the corner of the desk. "There's just always so much more to do."

"I can imagine. The Shadow Broker's work is never done."

Liara turned back to her and leaned against the desk, crossing her arms in front of her. Her face remained passive but the body language didn't go unnoticed by Shepard.

"Your message only said that you were successful. What did you find?" Liara asked.

"The Collector base as we suspected. They were building Reapers, Liara," she said. "It looked… almost human. They were using the humans they'd taken as some kind of fuel or energy to create it." She shook her head. "God knows how many actually died for that thing."

"Goddess," Liara whispered, unable to imagine the horror of it. "What did you do?"

"We destroyed it. The Reaper…thing they were building. The Illusive Man wanted to spare the Collector ship. Use it for information. Harvest the technology." She shook her head, eyes staring unseeing at the floor. "But I couldn't." She looked up at Liara. "Not after all of those lives were lost."

Liara nodded. "I understand," she said although her voice hinted that perhaps she would have decided differently.

Shepard glanced at her, running a hand through her dark red hair. "You disagree?"

Liara shrugged, her brow furrowing in thought. "The Collectors are the closest thing we've had to a link to the Reapers. We may have been able to find out something… about their plans, how to defeat them." She glanced up at Shepard, seeing the pained look on her face. She stood and closed the gap between them Shepard, gripping her shoulders hard but speaking gently. "But you had to make the choice, knowing and seeing everything that you did. Not the Illusive Man and not me."

Shepard met her gaze, looking intently. Wanting to see truth. Wanting to see honesty. Wanting to see Liara looking at her openly like she once did. And while she found honesty in her eyes she also found them guarded. Almost detached. Shepard reached up and touched Liara's cheek. She watched as the Asari's eyes fluttered at the touch. Shepard leaned in and brushed her lips across Liara's. When she pulled back she studied Liara's eyes again, seeing pain flicker through them. She felt a grimace of regret tug at her face. She wondered how long their kisses would be tainted with loss.

"I kept my promise," she said quietly, not wanting Liara to pull away. "I came back."

"You did," she answered. Her eyes drifted away. "This time." She took a step back, arms coming up again and crossing over her chest. Defensive. "And what now?" she asked.

Shepard blew out a sigh, knowing this was the hardest part. The part she'd been dreading the most since she'd made the decision days ago. "Now back to Earth. To The Alliance. To answer for the destruction of the Alpha Relay and the loss of 300,000 Batarian lives."

"And preventing the Reapers from invading," Liara shot back sharply. "That's an important detail not to forget." Anger laced her tone.

"I haven't forgotten," Shepard snapped, immediately pushed to frustration. "But that would require the Alliance and the Counsel to actually acknowledge that the Reaper threat is real, which, as you may recall, they have not."

"Oh I remember very clearly. In fact, more clearly than you since I've lived with it for two years longer than you have."

The temperature in the room escalated with the heat of their argument.

"That's not fair," Shepard ground out.

"Not fair?!" Liara shouted incredulously. "I have severely overlooked your gift for understatement."

"Maybe it's something Cerberus installed when they rebuilt me. That's what you're afraid of isn't it? That I'm not really me? That I'm different?" She advanced on Liara, "Well let me make something very clear. I am the same person you met on Therum. I'm the same person you fought beside against Saren. I am the same person who has loved you since the moment I set eyes on you." She was centimeters away now, her eyes on fire.

Her final declaration made Liara freeze. She blinked, not quite allowing herself to take the words in.

"Shepard," Laira whispered, her anger deflating.

"No. No, not Shepard." Shepard's eyes burned into her. "Say my name."

"I…" Liara looked away.

"You haven't said it since I came back. Not even the night we spent together on the Normandy after killing that Yahg bastard." Shepard wasn't going to let her avoid the issue any longer.

"I can't," Liara shook her head, closing her eyes.

"Because you don't believe I'm me?" Shepard said, voicing her deepest fear.

Liara's eyes snapped open, her gaze laced with pain and heat locking onto Shepard's. "No, because I can't let you in. I can't survive loosing you again."

Shepard looked into her eyes, seeing the still open wounds there, wanting the heal them but not knowing how. "I told you I will always come back."

"That's not a promise you can keep," Liara's gaze flashed in anger again. "Not when you insist on being a martyr."

"Martyr? Let me make this abundantly clear. I'm no martyr. Three hundred thousand innocent people died Liara. Died because I couldn't figure out a better way. Because I failed to find a better way. Failed. They were just colonists. They had no stake in these damn politics. They had no agenda. Children, thousands of them, sacrificed. That can't go unanswered."

"Then why did you do it? Why sacrifice them?" She didn't wait for an answer, her expression fierce. "I'll tell you why. Because you know the consequences of inaction. While everyone else in any place of power in the galaxy cowers from even opening their eyes to the truth of the Reaper threat you stand directly in front of it. You are forced to make the hard decisions. You are forced to carry those choices and their consequences for the rest of your days because they are cowards. And yet you still plan to deliver yourself to them. And what of the rest of us. What do we do when the cowards have you at their mercy?"

"We don't know what they're going to do…" Shepard started to argue.

"I certainly have a strong suspicion and you do too," Liara shot back, knowing Shepard really didn't even believe that herself.

Shepard gritted her teeth. "We need them. You say I'm the only one standing between us and the Reapers? That may be true. If it stays that way, all is lost. I have to get them to work with me, believe me. Before it's too late for all of us."

Liara paused, her hand going to her forehead again, eyes slipping closed as if pained. After a moment, she sighed, opening her eyes and shaking her head. "You're right," she said, her voice calmer. "It's not fair. Least of all to you."

Shepard let out her own sigh, feeling the anger drain from her. "Well at least I had a two year vacation, albeit a forced one." She cast Liara a half-hearted grin. Liara met her with a weak one of her own. Shepard closed the gap that had grown between them and rested her hands on Liara's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Liara. For all of it."

"Shepard," Liara whispered quietly, shaking her head, loosing her words.

"Say my name," Shepard pleaded. She sought desperately to make eye contact, to connect. When Liara finally looked up she said, "…please."

Liara's eyes filled with tears at the whispered plea. "Jess. Jess, goddess help me."

She reached up, twisting her fingers in Shepard's hair and pulling them together in a kiss that spoke of their pain and passion, desperation and undeniable bond.

Shepard pushed Liara onto the bed and was on top of her without breaking the contact between their lips or bodies. Their physical joining quickly escalated, nothing like the gently, tentative reconnection on the Normandy a few weeks prior. No, this was hard and raw. This was about taking, claiming, overcoming. There was no taste of loss in their kisses this time, only heat.

Liara cried out as she came hard, Shepard buried between her legs holding on as Liara's hips bucked wildly off the bed. She felt as if the sound had been wrenched from her very soul and with it, it carried away some of the darkness, the heaviness she'd been feeling for so, so long.

Shepard felt tears sting the back of her eyes as she shared in the freeing of Liara's soul through their bond. A change. Like a ray of light piercing the bleak burden of guilt, fear and anger and irradiating it. Of course not all of it. It would take time. More time. Shepard only hoped they'd have it.


Hours later, they were draped across the chaos of Liara's sheets. Shepard's face was serious, her mind elsewhere while her fingers traced lazy patterns across Liara's bare skin. She didn't realize her brow was furrowed until she felt gentle fingertips smoothing them with tender touches. She turned her head to the side, bringing her focus to a pair of blue orbs laying close by, studying her.

"All I see when I close my eyes is that countdown," Shepard said, her voice a little raspy from fatigue. "I keep replaying everything I did, every choice… right or left, fire or duck… believing Dr. Kenson , trusting her." She shook her head.

"No matter the number of times you replay your choices, they will remain the same. I know that better than anyone," Liara said.

Shepard studied her, reaching up to touch her cheek. "I know you do," she said quietly.


"I'll come back. I promise."

Liara was standing with Shepard by the docking bay door that would lead her back to the Normandy, the Alliance, and an uncertain future. She reached up, straightening Shepard's collar and letting her hands trail affectionately across her shoulders.

"You'd better," she said. A hint of a smile crossed her lips, "And remember that's not all you've promised. As I recall the deal included old age and a lot of little blue children." She swallowed and whispered, "I'm holding you to that."

"You better," Shepard said, their eyes locking.

Not all of their issues were resolved. Perhaps they would never be. But their connection was something neither could deny and the source of much of the anger and angst they suffered was born from the simple fact that the love between them was still there. After all, without that, why even try.

"I'll be doing what I can from here," Liara said.

Shepard leaned in and gave Liara a quick but meaningful kiss. When she pulled away, watching Liara's eye's flutter open again, she gave her the trademark Shepard crooked grin. The one Liara treasured deep in her heart.

"Thanks. I know you will." The smile slipped a little. "Be careful."

Liara punched her in the arm causing them both to grin. "You too Commander."

Shepard nodded and turned to leave.

"Jess," Liara's voice stopped her.

She turned back around, raising an eyebrow in question.

"I love you too," she said simply.

That grin again, lopsided and endearing. And then she was gone.

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