Thanks to Reikson for the help and advice and support,
Xander found Emily Wong prowling Zakera Ward. He'd made his meet-and-greet with Nassana as quick as possible, yet another Asari who looked at him in a weird fashion, and not good weird like Liara did.
T'soni was pleasant about her curiosity. At worst, she made him feel like he was David Copperfield and she was politely sitting through the card tricks and sleight-of-hand, so that he'd walk through the Great Wall of China or make the Statue of Liberty disappear or something.
Of course, some of that was because he could actually speak Thessian... like a native, or so he had been told. The challenge wasn't speaking the language. The challenge was not speaking in alien languages while around people who might react badly. He didn't need a universal translator. Plus, he'd often start speaking the Turian or Krogan native languages if he wasn't paying attention. The only languages that he couldn't replicate were ones requiring scent glands, like the Elcor, or the bio-luminescence common to the Hanar.
And after two hundred years of running around, training, and studying, he was a tad bit easier on the eyes than he had been back in the bad old days of Sunnyhell. He wasn't super-cut, like the kids in those ridiculous movies about vampires and werewolves as angst-ridden teens, but he looked pretty respectable for a man just over two hundred years old.
Still... what was with the weird looks he got from some Asari?
No, this was a odd sort of weird. A weird that was more akin to a... a dark hunger. A look that was more unfriendly than what he was used to. He'd often noticed that Asari, in general, occasionally reacted strangely to him. Now that he thought about it; the older an Asari was, the more pronounced their reaction would be towards him.
After his encounter with Benezia, Xander had begun to wonder if Asari in general could sense the extra years that he had and, more importantly, the reason for those extra years.
He noticed Emily Wong talking to a woman in a Marine dress uniform... someone that he actually recognized.
"Second Lieutenant Marie Durand?" he shouted. "How the hell are you?" he greeted the woman, hugging her.
"Sergeant Harris," the infantry unit commander greeted him, sticking out a hand to shake. "It's been a while. I'd hoped we might run into each other."
"You know the Survivor of Akuze?" Wong asked.
"I know him as more than that, Miss Wong. He and that Commander of his dropped into Hell and pulled our asses out." Then she twigged to something, and turned to Xander. "Where IS Commander Shepard, anyway?"
"Meeting with Captain Anderson. Technically, it's a debrief, but I noticed that she and Doctor T'soni seemed a little too jumpy for this to be a standard meet-and-greet, if you get my meaning." He spun quickly to point at Emily, "I'll deny I said anything about it if you ask me officially."
"Humanity's Greatest Hero finds love after a lifetime of tragedy," Emily whined. "Give me a couple of sound-bites, I could really spin this. They eat it up back home."
"This would be the same THEY who want to run us out of the Citadel on a rail, right?"
"You spend too much time watching al-Jilani on Westerlund News," Emily said dismissively. "That crap rots your brain. Besides, do I look like that muckraking tramp?"
"No," Xander replied, "...besides, you fill a dress a lot better than she ever could." He had turned back to Marie so fast that he didn't notice the flush of red that filled Emily Wong's face.
"So, Durand, how's it going? Your guys make it back okay?"
"Just enjoying a little R&R before we head back to Arcturus for a more formal debrief," she grinned. "This Cerberus thing has everyone at Alliance High Commands up in a bunch, and not in a good way, either."
"This would be Cerberus, as in the Illusive Empire, the terrorist organization, THAT Cerberus?" Emily asked, mentally taking notes.
"Yeah," Durand nodded. "My team was manning a listening post in the Styx Theta cluster, checking for pirate activity and the like. Suddenly, these bug things show up. overrunning our position and taking us down one by one. Then Shepard shows up out of the blue and she brings hurt on those things like I ain't never seen it been brought before."
Her voice never wavered from its all-business tone. "At first, I thought these things were some weird-ass local species that the initial scans missed. Turns out they landed on-planet after some automated supply ship dropped them off. Goddamn Cerberus, they're responsible for monsters killing a ton of good guys. Good soldiers who deserved better then to end up as bug chow. Or whatever it is those things do." Durand replied bitterly.
"Allegedly, Marie, allegedly you always want to use words like allegedly when making statements in front of the ess-pry."
"Ethay embermay ofway ethay esspray ancay eakspay uentflay igpay atinlay, you know." Emily butted in, smirking. "Pig Latin, Esperanto... you'd be surprised what knowing a few old Earth languages can do for a journalist's career."
Xander sighed. "Okay, fine. Cerberus may have played a role in what happened to Durand's Platoon."
"...you're still on the job, aren't you?" Emily exclaimed. "The Council clipped Shepard's wings and she's STILL going to fight the good fight?"
Xander paused, looking at the Second Lieutenant. "Permission to speak freely, Tech Sarge?" Durand muttered. "Feel Free, you won't hear me telling tales out of school."
"Ms. Wong, how did al-Jilani get a float-cam into the Council Chambers without anyone knowing?"
"That would be Kolnar Prellnec, al-Jilani's one-Turian fanclub," Emily grinned. "He has a weakness for human girls that she ruthlessly exploits whenever she wants to get close to C-Sec activities."
"Say what?" Xander squawked. "al-Jilani has a human fetishist fanboy and Executor Pain-in-the-Ass doesn't have a problem with that scenario?" he demanded.
"Don't get the wrong idea, Harris. al-Jilani's a bitch, but she isn't stupid. It's all smoke and no fire with that one."
"...and Pallin's cool with his boy getting played like a harp, why?"
"That's 'cause al-Jilani lives to make Shepard look bad, and Pallin's hard-on for the Spectres means that he'd love to make them look bad. Because, lately, C-Sec has been looking bad, thanks in no small part to yours truly..." Emily gestured grandly to herself, smiling. "...who likes to make Shepard look good at the expense of C-Sec. Not deliberately, mind you, but stuff happens."
"So Pallin's out to get boss-lady and he's using al-Jilani. She doesn't mind because she can embarrass the Council, no matter which way things play out."
"You sound like you've got some experience in dealing with things like this." Durand mused aloud.
As nice as Marie and Emily were, Xander didn't think that telling either of them about The New Watcher's Council or the prominent role he'd played in that organization was a particularly good idea. Assuming that either of them even believed such a tale he'd have to then explain how he could be part of a organization officially declared a global terrorist group before they vanished two centuries ago.
"Tech Sarge, if you and the Commander are making a play..." Durand ventured. "...you know that me and the Fourteenth have your back, no matter what."
"Boss-lady would appreciate hearing that, Marie, but..." His comm signaled and he answered. Marie could only hear his half to the conversation, but it was still telling nonetheless.
"Harris, go ahead," Xander said, all business.
Then he perked up. "Oh, hey, boss-lady, what's going on?"
"Conrad? You mean-" A quizzical frown crossed his face.
Then his face shifted to light interest. "Really? How'd that go?"
"Really?" His skepticism all but deadpan. "A Spectre?"
Now he was outright derisive, sneering, "What planet was HE on, that he thought THAT would be a good idea?"
A brief pause for her response, before asking, "So you turned him down gently, right?"
"Really?" Now he got exasperated.
Exasperation quickly became alarm. "In the face?"
"You don't think that was maybe a little extreme?" he tried, a slight amount of know-it-all condescension on his voice.
Then he shrugged. "Yeah, I'll admit that's a valid point."
"Well, as amusing as it may be to think about Conrad crying and wetting himself in fear of you..." he drawled, grinning in spite of himself. "...how's about you tell me how that meeting with Anderson went?"
Her response had him quirking an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Wow, the old man must really like living dangerously," he quipped.
Turning towards Emily, he replied, "I'm actually with her right now."
Some instructions later, he added, "I'll ask and get back to you."
Xander disconnected the comm and turned to look at Emily speculatively.
Emily was just experienced enough to know the sight of a man about to ask a huge favor from her.
"Emily, that piece you were doing on Traffic Controller conditions... how far along are you?"
"The writing's done. I was hoping that I could talk you into retrieving that bug for me."
"Actually, I wanted to know what carrier frequency it uses."
"It can't access the traffic net, I made sure of that."
"...which implies that it COULD access the traffic net if it was hacked. Now, if that's just a software issue, then we got it made in the shade. If it's a hardware feature, then someone's gotta be standing in Citadel Control and hacking away that thing." Tapping away at his omnitool, he missed the looks that Emily and Lieutenant Durand were giving each other.
"When all Hell breaks loose, the last place you want to be is in Citadel Control," he continued. "So I'm hoping that all we'll have to do is loop a signal BACK through the bug that alters the carrier frequency just enough so that the bug WILL interfere with operations in Citadel Control."
"For how long?" Emily asked, suspicious. "What's this about?"
"Em, you're twenty-four hours away from writing the second-biggest story of your career."
Emily had a feeling that she already knew where this was going, but... "What's the biggest story of my career?"
"How Commander Shepard survived stealing the Normandy and managing to defeat Saren and his armies."
Emily folded her arms. "I want an exclusive interview with Normandy's heroic Commanding Officer AND the person who captured her heart."
"Well, I'm not even sure that Doctor T'soni would agree to something like that."
"Liara T'soni, daughter of Matriarch Benezia? The one who lead the Geth assault on Noveria?" Emily sputtered. Then she got a calculating look on her face. "Star-crossed lovers..." she mumbled. "...this just gets better and better."
"They've barely kissed, Emily." Xander sighed in exasperation.
"Who are you trying to kid, Harris?" the young reporter scoffed. "That woman's a warrior if I've ever seen one. And if there's one thing that warriors know how to do, it's finding the perfect moment to strike."
Shepard walked across the Presidium promenade, with Liara's hand clutched in hers. She had been pensive ever since their meeting with Anderson, and she found Liara's warm presence soothing.
"Tell me what you're thinking." T'soni begged softly.
"I'll be honest, Liara. I'm thinking that I should leave you here," Shepard sighed. "This... what I'm going to do tomorrow... it's big. People could get hurt, a lot of people." Leaning up against a nearby wall, she hugged her arms, hating how she suddenly felt vulnerable. "You could get hurt, and that's not something I'd want on my conscience; knowing that I dragged you along into danger."
Liara stopped and stepped in close, shoving her face right in Shepard's field of view. "Joan Lisbon Shepard, don't you dare. Don't. You. Dare. You did not drag me anywhere. I've chosen to come along with you. I've chosen to fight, and I think that I've earned my place on the Normandy's crew. I have the right to be there when you finally make Saren pay for all that he's done."
"Liara, this isn't a MAKO drop on some uncharted rock in the ass-end of space featuring a couple of mercs in bargain-basement armor," Shepard sighed. "Saren will come at us with everything he's got. This time, he won't stop till one of us is dead."
"He won't stop, or YOU won't stop?" Liara asked her, quirking a brow ridge.
"Fine," Shepard huffed. "...it's going to go down between me and him and-"
"Then I will fight and I WILL be with you to the end," Liara interrupted her firmly. "Shepard, you think that you can't live with putting me in danger. But I cannot live, knowing that I let you go off into danger and did nothing to shield you from it."
"Liara, I'm a damn Marine," Shepard sighed. "I think that I can soak up a little enemy fire."
"Besides, this planet will be... as you humans say, lousy with Prothean artifacts, architecture, data disks, and Goddess knows what else," Liara tried another tack. "Most Asari have to wait almost a thousand years to achieve their life's work. But look at what I've accomplished in the few months that we've been together."
"This isn't a pleasure trip, Liara," Shepard sighed.
"I'm coming with you."
"I could formally put you off the ship."
"And I could stow away."
"I could clap you in irons and have you hauled off to the brig."
"I've never done that sort of thing before, but if YOU enjoy it then I'm game." Liara deadpanned.
Shepard grimaced at her words. "Okay, new rule; you do not hang out with Xander anymore." She said, smirking in spite of herself.
"I'll have you know that I got that one from Joker," Liara quipped, smiling back at Shepard. "Some of his extranet bookmarks are... truly enlightening."
Shepard threw up her hands. "God, I remember the meek and mild scientist who'd do whatever I said, whenever I said it."
"Then you have no one to blame but yourself," Liara asserted, crossing her arms. "Everything that I've become, I owe to your example."
Shepard gathered Liara up in her arms, hugging her as their foreheads touched.
"As Xander says, I have issues, Doc," the brunette soldier muttered softly. "Hell, my issues have issues."
"I've spent the last fifty years in the ass-end of the galaxy, sifting through dirt and ruins just so I could show my mother and her cronies that she wasn't the boss of me," Liara replied, sighing happily. "Trust me when I say that you're not the only one with issues, Shepard."
"How would this even work?" Shepard wondered. "I mean, it's not like I'm a biotic. I can't do that freaky black-eye thing that you girls do."
Liara rolled her eyes in spite of herself. "When it is time to do the 'freaky-black-eyed thing', I'll handle it. All you have to do is what comes naturally. Follow your instincts."
"Follow my instincts, huh?" Shepard whispered, her breath sending ripples of sensation across the young Asari's cheek and making her close her eyes.
"Yes, follow... I mean..." she stumbled over her own words.
"What's the matter, Doctor T'soni?" Shepard teased. "You seem a little flustered." The Butcher of Torfan breathed gently into Liara's ear, before teasing it with a gentle kiss and just the smallest caress of her tongue.
"Goddess take you, Shepard," Liara groaned. "You can't tease me like that, it's not fair."
"Haven't you heard the stories, Liara? I'm Commander Shepard, and there's nothing that I can't do if I really want to." She turned them around to pin Liara up against the wall before forcefully kissing the young Asari on the mouth. A few blissful moments existed between the two of them, in which the only thing that either of them knew was little more than a French kiss, complete with tongues. They might have felt the Citadel slowly rotating beneath their feet, but...
When they parted, a slightly dizzy Shepard whispered softly, "Not bad for a hundred-six year-old virgin."
"Imagine how good I'll be when we aren't standing in the middle of the Presidium." Liara replied breathlessly, trying to recover herself.
"I've been doing nothing but imagining how good it'll be, for a long time now," Shepard muttered quietly. "So far, it's exceeded my wildest imagination."
Liara smiled softly, adding, "...and you've seen nothing yet."