Shepard woke up with her cheek smashed against the couch cushion, the right half of her limbs dangling off the edge, and her left cramped into awkward positions under her. She grunted and tried to sit up—unsurprisingly, her appendages didn't cooperate. She landed with a grunt and a thud on the floor. After sitting up, arranging the haphazard state of her sweatshirt, and wiping at her mouth with the back of a hand, she looked around through sleep-fuzzy vision.

Miranda had evidently passed out on the bed, and was halfway cocooned in the top blanket, data pad still dutifully pinned under one hand. She'd accepted a t-shirt and sweatpants from Shepard as something more comfortable to wear—and apparently fall asleep in.

Shepard stood and rubbed her eyes with a yawn, starting for the bathroom. Brushing teeth before coffee didn't seem like the best decision, but coffee breath wasn't the worst thing she could think of. She double-checked the time after she finished and made her way to the elevator, still in her pajamas. Only a few minutes past six? Sure, a few crewmen would be up, and there was a good chance Gardner would probably be spotted between his scurrying around to get breakfast...but she really didn't care by this point.

They knew she could kick some ass.

So what if she showed up every now and again in slippers?

Slippers were comfortable.

If she could wear slippers onto the battlefield, she would.

Alas, they were not all that functional.

She rubbed absently at her right shoulder as she pulled from the elevator.

"Good morning!" Kelly chimed. She was sitting with Chakwas and Joker.

Shepard smacked her lips a little, staring dumbly at their coffee cups. "Did the...we fix the...you know."

Chakwas chuckled. "Yes, dear. Patel and Rolston took a special trip out yesterday."

She grunted and nodded. "Riiiiight. Miranda told me. I forgot."

Joker adjusted his hat. "Nice outfit, Shepard."

"You know what?" she croaked, narrowing her eyes as she made her way to the coffee maker. "I helped take down a thresher maw on foot, so you can shove it."

"Touchy, touchy!" Joker raised his hands. "I said it was nice!"

"Oh, ignore her." Chakwas patted his hand lightly. "You do recall how much of a morning person she is not."

Shepard grabbed two mugs and started filling one.

"Ooooohhhhh! Two, huh?"

"Joker," Chakwas said, nearing her lecture tone. Shepard felt her cheeks begin to heat.

"I was totally wondering why we hadn't seen her up to refill her cup yet! Late ni—"

"Jeff. Moreau." And there was the good doctor's lecture voice. "You will shut that mouth of yours before you cause Shepard to blush to death. It's also none of your damn business."

"Yes, ma'am," He amended quickly. He pursed his lips and looked up at Kelly. "And yet...it kind of is, right?"

Kelly leaned back in her chair. "Don't bring me into this!"

"It's totally your business, right? You're the shrink and—"

Chakwas silenced him by grabbing his hat and whacking him on the head.

"Uuuugh. Sorry," he mumbled, before resting his chin on his hand. "It's just that I really don't see Kelly trying anything for Thane and—"

Kelly's cheeks instantly went nearly as red as her hair. "What?!"

Shepard barely manage to disguise her laugh as a cough. And not very well. So Miss Chambers was a blusher, too, huh? And she did say she had a thing for bad boys. They don't get much badder than the guy who can kill someone eighteen ways with a pen, and dance.

"I— I have no idea what he's talking about, Shepard!"

Shepard held up the two now-full cups of coffee. "I didn't hear a word, Chambers."

"Wait. Before you go..." Chakwas pulled herself from her chair, making Shepard pause in her retreat to the elevator. She breezed over to the kitchen area and started digging in the cupboards; produced several carb bars she proceeded to stuff in Shepard's sweatshirt pockets.

"Breakfast is in a couple of hours," Shepard said, tilting her head.

"Perhaps you're a bit oblivious, dear, but you need them." Chakwas whacked at her belly good-naturedly.

Shepard looked down. Okay, so maybe she had noticed how her pants seemed to have grown a little. Nothing a belt couldn't fix. And maybe she'd had to make an adjustment or two on her armor within the past couple of weeks...and...alright, fine. She had a point. She opened her mouth to say something, but caught Chakwas' kind eyes.

She was smiling. "You've come a long way."

Shepard averted her gaze in embarrassment.

"And I'm incredibly proud."

Okay. She needed to get out of there before she started crying. "Thanks," she murmured, before casting a glance toward Joker and Kelly. They wouldn't know about the first time the two of them had met.

It wasn't on any official report. Miranda probably didn't even know.

Shepard had been seventeen, a ward of the system; a bitter, angry, young woman.

Chakwas waved her away. "Well, go on. You don't have all day, I assume."

She nodded and continued toward the elevator, adding to her mental checklist that she needed to give Chakwas a hug, later. When her hands weren't full.

"Ah, Shepard."

She turned from the closed elevator door, suppressing the groan that wanted to make its way from her throat. Dammit, how much was it to ask that she could just get some coffee for her and her girlfriend in the hellishly early hours of the time cycle? "Samara," she said. "Hey. Did you need something?"

"How is everything going?"

Shepard pursed her lips and quirked an eyebrow up. "Uh...good?"

"I mean learning what you need to, for tonight."

"Oh! Oh, right!" Shepard spread her arms out a little. "No— good! Great! I mean...apparently, I now lie convincingly enough to get into Afterlife's VIP...sooooo...I've got that going for me."

A flicker of...something, crossed Samara's face. Shepard couldn't pin it. Not exactly amusement, but something close. "I will lend a hand in helping you learn how to entice her."

Shepard wrinkled her nose. "It may be just me, but that seems like a terrible choice of words. Lure, maybe?"

"I do not think you are the luring type."

"I'm the enticing type?" Just saying it made her feel like she was going to be barbecued.

"Managed correctly, yes, I believe you will be."

Shepard's mouth opened a little and her eyebrows pulled down as she tried to process the statement. "Ah...okay." She nodded. "Cool. I...think." The elevator door hissed open and she strode inside.

Had that been a compliment? Maybe...kind of?

Managed correctly.

So she probably wouldn't be allowed to make fart jokes.

Heh. Fart jokes.

Probably wouldn't be allowed to verbally peruse her library of puns.

What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? Supplies! Ha! Supplies…

This not-date was going to suck.

I should take Miranda on a real date...somehow...

She re-entered her cabin to a neatly-made bed and the sink running in the bathroom. "Morning," she said, setting one cup on the desk and poking her head through the open door.

Miranda nodded at her, toothbrush sticking from her mouth.

"I got you one, too," she added, holding up her own coffee cup.

"'Fank 'oo," she managed around the toothbrush. "'Eh 'ata 'ad is onna' 'able."

Shepard groaned. "Back to studying already?"

Another nod, and Shepard made her way to the bedroom area, grabbing up the data pad while taking a gulp of coffee. "Vaenia. Right. Big vid title. Everyone loves it. I love it! It's great!" She sighed and scratched at her hairline with the edge of the instrument. "Now...if only I knew...what it was about," she mused aloud, before downing another mouthful of coffee. "And that band that...what was it? Eezo 10? Phase 10? Something...ten...dammit." She flopped onto the couch, careful not to spill the hot liquid.

"Expel."

Shepard turned her head and raised an eyebrow. "Expel who?"

Miranda chuckled, making her way down the couple of steps, her mug held in both of her hands. "The band. It's Expel 10."

"Oh! Right." Shepard tossed the data pad back to the coffee table before shoveling a hand through her hair. I'm so dead.

"You're doing well." Miranda paced to the bed and folded one leg under her as she sat on the edge. "Not great, but...well enough."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

Another light, easy laugh.

"Hey, we can't all be phenomenal at everything we do. For you, it's, y'know, throwing a boomerang or playing the didgeridoo—"

"Again with the didgeridoo?"

Shepard shrugged one shoulder and held up her hand. "And for me, well, among other things, I can't convince a rabid asari it was her idea all along to seduce me."

Miranda's smile was soft. "I wouldn't exactly fault your character for that one."

Shepard bit her lip. That could be a potentially touchy subject for Miranda. She knew about some of her Cerberus operations, and before. "Sorry."

She chuckled and waved it off. "Don't worry about it. You should have taken a charm class or two yourself."

"Excuse you!" Shepard exclaimed, hauling herself up and walking around the coffee table. "My Macarena definitely has you swooning," she said, stopping in front of her.

"I'll let you believe that."

"Thanks." She bent down and gave her a quick kiss; pulled back and ran the backs of her fingers down Miranda's cheek. "You know I don't care about that, right? I mean, I do, but...I don't care in the good way? I...hm, that sounded much better in my head. Maybe I should re-think that."

Miranda smiled and tugged on her arm, bringing her to sit down next to her.

Shepard resisted the urge to squirm and look up.

"I know." Miranda said. "But thank you for saying it, anyway." She paused, her eyes scrutinizing her face, and probably her body language. "Why don't you sleep on your bed?"

Shepard fought to keep her face impassive, her breathing even. "I just like the couch," she answered.

"You're lying."

"What? How could you—"

"Because I know you, but if that's not enough, among a few other non-verbal cues, you just gripped your cup with both hands. It's a bit like a subconscious shielding of yourself. Not to mention how tightly you're holding it."

Shepard frowned and looked down. Huh. I'll be damned. "Shit."

"I hardly think the couch helps with your quality of sleep."

She sighed heavily and lifted one hand, pointing up, and slightly behind them. The big sky-light right above. "I tried, the first few nights aboard. I couldn't do it."

That odd limbo between sleep and waking, how reality blended, and she seemed weightless. And all she'd see was the black vastness above her.

Around her.

Debris, floating, as she realized there was a malfunction with her suit.

She was going to die.

She grappled at the back of her helmet— it was useless, she couldn't fix it. Just some primal instinct, a last-ditch effort. Survive.

But she wouldn't.

Not in the nothingness.

"Shepard. Hey."

She jolted at the soft touch on her forearm. She was breathing too fast, and her heart felt like it was trying to hammer out of her chest.

"It's alright. Just focus on me. Try and stay calm."

Miranda. Yes. Of course. She was fine. She was okay. She looked over, locked her gaze with the steel blue eyes. A hand on her cheek.

"There you go. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth."

Shepard followed her instructions, slowly coming back to reality. She finally sighed and closed her eyes. "I'd be half-awake, and it would remind me of...the first Normandy. Getting...blown out of there."

"Why didn't you say something?"

She shrugged, opening her eyes again. "We weren't exactly best friends when this started. You expected a lot from me...I couldn't run around crying about my nightmares. By the time I realized you cared...I was used to the couch."

The quiet stretched between them for several long moments before Miranda's hand found hers. "I'm sorry," she said, squeezing it.

"It's alright." Shepard let out a humorless laugh. Hollow. "My life's been a bit of a cluster, hasn't it?"

Miranda offered back a wry smile. "It has. It's never been your fault, though."

"Bad luck magnet."

"Something like that. If you'd like, I could try and help you. With this...bed situation."

A dozen dirty jokes flitted through Shepard's mind, but the prospect of waking up without a cramp or two, without stretching and hearing her back pop like a string of firecrackers, was far too alluring. She nodded and swallowed. "I'd like that," she whispered. "I'd like that a lot."

"Good." Miranda sighed, rubbing her thumb along the back of her hand. "Because, well, eventually, beds are good for more than just sleeping."

Heat exploded through Shepard's face. Yeah. I guess they are.

/ / /

"I hate my life."

Miranda rolled her eyes. "Now you're just being dramatic."

Kasumi smirked at Shepard from the hall outside the airlock. "Yeah, the dress still looks good on you, Shep."

Shepard snickered as Miranda turned and partially blocked her from Kasumi's line of sight. "I thought you were currently enthralled by Jacob and his abs, Miss Nostalgic-Not-Dead."

Kasumi shrugged. "I like hot guys, I like hot girls...what do you want me to say? I can be a shallow person. Y'know, Lawson, you should—"

"I suggest you stop that thought before the consequences turn dire. Don't you have something to do? Anything else?"

Shepard chuckled before she caught sight of Samara's grim features. "Alright," she said, putting her hands on her hips. "We should probably go get this over with."

Samara nodded.

Miranda turned, her eyes sweeping up and down Shepard's form briefly. "Be careful."

Shepard grinned. "Jaruut, Forta, Expel 10, Vaenia. I've got it down. What could possib—"

Miranda's hand shot up to cover her mouth, cutting off her statement. "Don't," she said, before dropping her hand, giving a curt nod to both her and Samara, and stepping out of the airlock. "Alright, EDI. Send them out."

Shepard turned to face the outer door, her shoulders slouching forward with a long sigh.

"I want to thank you, Shepard. You are the only one who knows that Morinth is my daughter. It is not a burden I share lightly." She finally let her mouth bow into a distant smile. "I am glad I can share it with you."

Shepard grinned in return. "What are friends for, if not luring out Ardat-Yakshi?"

"I know you are nervous."

"What, me? Nervous? I mean...she could only...melt my brain," she replied as they stepped into the foul air of Omega.

"You are strong. Remember that."

Am I stronger than a centuries old serial killer? "Right. So. She'll have to approach me. I have to be independant, mysterious, and...artsy, but also speak to a violent, darker side. Modesty and chivalry are no-go's. Um...how am I doing?"

"Excellent. You must also subtly encourage her to take you back to her apartment."

Shepard let out another long breath. "And then you come barging in, right?"

Samara waited just a second too long to answer. "Yes."

"You hesitated."

"Well, I could be...delayed. You will need to stall her."

"This just gets better and better," she muttered.

"I will not lie to you. You will be in grave danger until I arrive. She will want to inflict unth—"

"No, I got it," Shepard said, holding up her hand. "Bad things will happen if I let her in my head. It's not on the to-do list."

/ / /

Afterlife's VIP section was just as loud, but not nearly as icky-feeling. Vents must have been stationed nearby, because the air wasn't overpowered with the scent of bodies and sweat. Shepard wiped her palms at the sides of her dress, trying not to look like she was looking for someone.

Dancing!

Yes, she could do dancing. It would certainly give her an excuse to subtly look around. And maybe calm her down a little. What if she forgot something? What if Morinth smelled a trap? What if…

"Hey, back off, asshole. I'm a dancer, not a hooker!"

Shepard's attention snapped to a turian and an asari. The turian took another step closer to her.

"You got a mouth on you! I'll enjoy watching you use it."

Anger flashed through the commander, caused her ears to heat, her hands to start shaking. She squared her shoulders. "Hey," she called, causing him to look over. She dropped her voice to a dangerous growl. "The lady asked you to step away."

"You want in on this transaction? I don't care if it's you or this bitch, I just like good times." His mandibles fluttered a little and he strode toward her. With a small course correction.

So he was tipsy.

Perfect.

Shepard waited until he was two steps away and took one of her own, using it for momentum to drive her opposite knee up between his legs. Wait. That has about the same effect, right? Dammit, should have paid attention more in xenobiology. Apparently, it was good enough to, at the very least, throw him off balance. He let out a grunt and doubled over, swaying to the side. She brought her knee up again, slammed it right into his face, before plowing an elbow down in the middle of his back. Before she let him fall over, she grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt, and with a little biotic heft, sent him sailing back across the dance floor; one of his mandibles and a few teeth much worse for wear.

She slapped her hands together and brushed at the front of her dress before carefully inspecting to make sure she hadn't ripped it. She chuckled. "I have to hand it to you, that was a good time."

The asari nodded to her. "Thanks for that. Security is asleep."

Shepard wrinkled her nose. "Spectacular."

"But...hey, you know, if you're still around after my shift…" The asari ran a finger lightly down her bare arm. "Maybe I can get you a drink as a proper thanks."

She hoped that the furious blush she knew to be crawling up her neck and through her cheeks wasn't too noticeable in the dim, multi-colored lighting. Keep it cool, Shepard. Keep it cool. "Yeah. Maybe." After the dancer was off to...wherever she needed to go, she found a fairly good dancing spot. She started bobbing and weaving as best she could with the music, without breaking out into the Macarena.

Another asari near her snorted out a laugh.

Shepard spread her arms. "Try not to get too jealous of these moves," she called.

"You call those moves?" Her words were slurring a little. Definitely, at the very least, quite drunk.

"Hell yes." I'm so not cool.

"Confidence. I like that!"

Shepard had to push down everything in her that wanted to make an awkward excuse to run away. She had a girlfriend. One she cared about...quite a lot, actually. "I'll just dance here, then. Up to you if you want to think we're dancing together."

The asari staggered a little closer, her arms almost flailing...somehow gracefully. "I do want to think that!"

"Wonderful," she muttered, her words lost in the deep thrums of the music.

Her dancing was far less than sub-par, but it wasn't her main concern. There were several asari around. She had no idea which one could be Morinth. Or if she'd even notice her. Which would render this entire, ridiculous plan pointless.

She excused herself when her dancing partner started getting just a tad too handsy. Even this fake night out had limits. She figured scoping the place out from a different vantage point wouldn't do much harm. She found a bar and leaned her back against it.

"Drink?" the bartender asked.

Shepard bit her lip for a moment. "I'm good for now."

He shrugged and continued drying the glass in his hand before roving to another patron.

A krogan at her side snorted. "Guess they'll let anyone in here, now. No standards anymore."

She rolled her eyes. He wanted to play tough? Fine. "Funny. I was about to say the same."

His yellow eyes narrowed. "What was that, human?"

"Did I stutter?" She straightened and squared her shoulders. "Or do you want me to say it again?"

Thin lips pulled off his pointed teeth in a sneer as he turned to face her. "I dare you to say it ag—"

Shepard didn't let him finish before she rocked forward and smashed her forehead against his nose. God, why do I ever think this is a good idea? She ignored the stars that were winking in the corners of her vision and crossed her arms. The krogan was certainly surprised. "Challenge accepted. Understand, now?"

He held up his hefty hands. "Geez. Just trying to get a drink. No need to get excited...damn humans." His muttering continued as he left.

Shepard smiled to herself as she leaned against the bar again. Now that was fun. Maybe this whole night out idea wasn't the absolute worst. She could be having to make nice with everyone again, like at that party, where Kasumi got to slink around and she had to smile and pretend to talk politics. Blegh. She'd wanted to biotic-smack some guy in the mouth when he pointed out the odd, glowing scars webbed across her face. As if she hadn't been aware of them.

"Hey." The voice suddenly beside her was velvety. She turned to find an asari...that looked a lot like Samara. "I'm Morinth." Step one, check. "I've been watching you. You're the most interesting person here, tonight."

"I do try."

Morinth nodded to the side. "I have a booth over there. Why don't you come sit with me?"

/ / /

So is this step two or three? Shepard wondered as she meandered around Morinth's nice apartment. It'd be two if one involved getting here...but I think two involved getting invited...so I guess we're on three, now. Gah, it doesn't matter. Just keep stalling. Where the hell is Samara?

Everything she looked at, Morinth had some unnervingly dark explanation. Swords? Yes, she liked getting up close and personal with a kill. Innocent chess set? She liked killing the opponent. Which...wasn't the end of chess 'check mate'? And you tipped the king over? And...it'd be kind of hard, as an experienced player, not to know when the end was coming. Not exactly a...surprising thing.

After exhausting the amount of time she figured acceptable for browsing, she sat on the couch, tugging at the hem of her dress. Hurry it up, Justicar.

"I love clubs. The people, the movement, the heat. I can still hear the bass, like the drums of a great hunt, out for your blood. But here, it's muted...and you're safe."

Safe is a bit of a relative term, here, I'm thinking.

"Is that what you want, Shepard?"

Safe. Ha. When was the last time Shepard felt truly safe? Seventeen years ago. Clinging to her dad's back as he shot a basketball and actually made it. The smell of clean fabric and dish soap on his shirt. Not even an hour before he'd been shot through the neck. She shifted a little and looked away. "People feel safest right before they die."

But was that really true? She remembered nothing but blind panic as she hurdled through space, knowing she was going to die. She hadn't even had a moment of peace and acceptance of it. No, she fought until she blacked out. And...oh, damn, Morinth was sliding onto her lap, and she'd gotten lost in her head, again, and missed part of what she was saying...

"Independance over submission. I think we share that, you and I."

Shepard swallowed, tried not to squirm uncomfortably. Mayday. Mayday. SOS. Houston, we have a problem...Samara, where the hell are you? "Maybe."

Morinth smiled and shifted so she was on the couch cushions, her arm propped up on the back. "And maybe you'll enjoy this as much as I will."

Shepard opened her mouth to say something, when Morinth's eyes went black. Eeehhhh...that never gets any less creepy...sorry, Liara, it's creepy.

"Look into my eyes. Tell me you want me."

An old, familiar feeling crept through Shepard. Like someone was looking over her shoulder, and her skin prickled. Morinth was trying to get into her head.

"Tell me you'd kill for me. Anything I want."

Shepard cocked an eyebrow and sucked in a breath through her teeth. There were a few awkward, quiet seconds. "Yeah...no, I'm not feelin' it."

Morinth shook her head, her eyes returning to their normal, bright blue. "What? What is...oh. Oh. I see. That bitch found herself a little helper!"

"I also feel the need to just, y'know, put this out there, but I'm definitely seeing someone and it's pretty exclusive." Shepard put up a hand, palm out. "Not to mention that...I think I'm kind of totally in l—"

"Shut up!"

A wall of blue smacked against Shepard's side and she went tumbling off the couch, rolled and slid across the floor. "Ouch. Okay," she said, getting up. "No heart-to-hearts, I see." She tried to plant her feet in a good fighting stance, but the dress prevented it. It was only a split second that she looked down to curse it when Morinth unleashed another attack, sending her to the ground again with aching ribs. And...oh, there it was. The dress ripped a little at her thigh. It had only been a matter of time, she knew. "I didn't even say anything that ti—" A knee connected with Shepard's face, and a familiar crack resounded from her nose, along with a fountain of bright red. Involuntary tears blurred her vision.

If she'd managed to knee her, she had to be...right...about...there.

Shepard sprang up, not entirely sure of her surroundings, her fist angled up, managing to catch her jaw. Not quite the knock-out she was hoping for, but it did cause her to stumble away. "Samara!" she shouted, wiping tears from her eyes, ignoring the pain from an undoubtedly broken nose as she put up her fists, the tear in her dress getting longer as she set her feet apart. "Samara?!"

"Bet you felt pretty safe, didn't you? Big strong Justicar to come back you up?" Morinth laughed, blue beginning to glow in her hands. Shepard returned the motion in kind. But there was no way— even as Commander Shepard— she could beat a few centuries old asari in a biotic spar. "And when do you feel safest? Right before you di—"

It was then that the front door blew open. "Morinth!" Samara shouted, immediately sending her sailing into the window.

"About damn time," Shepard muttered, gingerly wiping blood from her face. It was definitely going to stain the dress.

"Mother."

"Do not call me that!" Samara answered, blue flaring around her as she knocked her against the cracked glass again.

"I can't choose to stop being your daughter...mother!"

"You made your choice long ago!" The Justicar readied for another attack, but Morinth was ready. Harsh, blue light exploded between them, their biotics clashing, warring, spinning furniture unfortunate enough to have been nearby.

"What choice?! My only crime was being born with the gifts you gave me!"

There was a winless argument between the two of them.

"And they call me a monster."

A terrible, violent end for Morinth.

She winced as Samara stood and took a step away from the body. Shepard's ears rang in the sudden quiet. "I am ready to leave this place and get on with my life," Samara said, her voice hollow.

Shepard nodded and put a hand on her shoulder. "Okay," she said softly, her other hand resting gingerly against her ribs.

"Are you alright?"

"Pretty sure I'm doing a little better than you. C'mon." She cast a glance back at Morinth's lifeless form, lying amidst broken furniture. "Let's get you out of here."

Samara's words were a whisper. "Thank you."

/ / /

"You look absolutely dreadful," Chakwas commented, even after she'd set her nose and given her some sort of shot that repaired both bone and cartilage, and tended to her ribs. Two cracked, but nothing the good doctor couldn't handle.

"Aw, Doc, you're makin' me feel all warm and fuzzy inside," Shepard said, grinning through her black eyes. She'd changed into her cargo pants and Nostromo shirt, and slippers, because, hell, she deserved to walk around in slippers tonight if she damn well pleased.

The med bay door swished open to a hobbling Joker. He caught Shepard's gaze and stifled a laugh. "Hey, Commander. You look like crap."

"Try not to charm me too much." Shepard eased off the cot as Chakwas set about readying Joker's medication.

"You need to rest," Chakwas said from the counter, not turning. "Get a full night's sleep, and that's an order, dear."

Her omni-tool decided to ping her at that exact moment.

Chakwas turned, one eyebrow arched.

Shepard put up her hands. "I...but...it could—"

"No buts. You can check it in the morning. You need to sleep."

She let out a long breath. "Fine."

The doctor waved her out. "Go on."

Standing at the elevator door, she definitely did not wait until morning to check her new message. Her eyes flicked over the words and she frowned. The door hissed open, waiting for a passenger, but she ignored it, instead peeking around the wall, toward the med bay. If she could just be sneaky...ha. Sneaky. As if sneaky was in her vocabulary.

"Hey, Commander," Hawthorne said on his way by. He paused at the elevator door, stuck his arm in the way of it closing. "Need to go anywhere? I'm headed back toward engineer—"

"Hawthorne!" she exclaimed quietly, grabbing his shoulders and tugging him along to the edge of the elevator wall. She positioned him in front of her. "I need a favor."

"Um...okay?"

"Just...block me from the med bay windows to Miranda's office."

He glanced over his shoulder, confused.

She rolled her eyes. "Please?"

"Alright." He shrugged and started awkwardly walking sideways, Shepard behind him. "I'm just going to put this out there, though, I don't think I'd be fooling anyone if she looked out here, right now."

"Then walk faster."

"Have you ever tried to walk sideways shielding someone just as tall as yourself?"

"Yes."

He paused for a moment. "Do I want to know?"

"Maybe another time." With a quick peek over his shoulder, and then toward the distance left between them and Miranda's door, she bolted for it. "Thanks, Hawthorne! I owe you one!" she called as she stepped into the office. She turned to face Miranda and smiled. "Hey."

Miranda shook her head slightly. "You said it before you went."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Terrible idea. You've already told me." Shepard breezed around the desk and pushed a few data pads out of her way before sitting on it.

"Though you do look better than you did before."

"What, bloody face and ripped dress isn't quite my style?"

She let her mouth twitch into a brief grin. "Not quite."

"So...I have a question."

"You often do." Miranda leaned back in her chair, turning slightly to face her.

"It's about this...Shadow Broker intel." An unwelcome yawn made its way from her mouth and she shook her head quickly, mentally willing herself to stay alert. "Do you know why Cerberus would want to help Liara with this?"

The operative pressed her fingertips together and looked down, concentrating. "They probably still think they can use you."

'They' again. Interesting.

"They know Liara is still your friend, and I'm sure the Illusive Man still thinks he can just order me to...that he can have me get any information I want from you, because you could get it from her." She tucked her hair carefully behind her ear. "A sign of good faith with ulterior motives."

Shepard scratched absently behind her ear. "Hm. Joke's on him, then. There's a pretty good chance that the stuff in that Shadow Broker stuff could help Anderson, right?"

"I'm absolutely sure."

"Okay. So, with our current sched—" Another yawn cut her off.

Miranda grinned. "Sleepy, Commander?"

"No!" she protested, hopping from the desk. "With our current schedule, when do we...hit that derelict reaper?" She'd updated it that morning, but with everything that had been going on...well, the details escaped her.

Miranda scooted forward to her terminal again, clicked through several windows. "About a week. And that's crammed with supply runs and ship maintenance, as well."

Shepard groaned a little, leaned forward, against Miranda's back, and planted one hand on the desk. "Can we afford to push it back a few days? Any chance another colony could be hit if we delay on that?"

More windows with graphs and charts that Shepard didn't understand.

"According to how they've been operating—and we'll consider Horizon a deviation in routine, for obvious reasons—factoring in escalation...the chances are that they'll hit again within a month, a month and a half."

"Hm." Shepard smiled and rested her chin on Miranda's shoulder. "Except their base will be blown to hell, by then." She didn't miss the small shudder that ran through Miranda with her voice so close to her ear. "Is there a way that the smartest, most beautiful person aboard could fit a visit to Mr. Shadow Broker into our schedule?"

"Of course. I'll get Grunt on it, right away."

She laughed and pulled back. The exhaustion was weighing on her limbs, now. "Hey, I'm just going to...be right over here," she said, making her way back toward Miranda's bed. "I'm not saying I'm going to fall asleep or anything, but uh...if I do...you should wake me up when you're done with that."

She flopped onto the mattress with yet another yawn, staring up at the wonderful, solid ceiling. It felt so good to be on a bed without panicking.

She blinked.

She swore she blinked.

Except she was fairly sure it wasn't just a blink, because Miranda was sitting next to her, gently shaking her shoulder.

"Alright. It's been updated and sent to the crew," Miranda said, pushing hair from Shepard's forehead as she propped herself up on her elbows. "Given what we know of the Shadow Broker already, I gave us a few days."

Shepard rubbed a hand across her eyes. "How long did that take you?"

"Around an hour or so."

She grunted and lay back down. "Thank you," she said, before propping her arm up behind her head on the pillow.

"Isn't this nicer than the couch?" Miranda smiled and slid until she was lying next to her.

"Much nicer," Shepard agreed, turning on her side to face her. "There is so much more room for activities."

"Agreed. We could...tell ghost stories," she said, squinting slightly.

"Or play Parcheesi."

"Build a bridge out of toothpicks."

"Paint a picture."

"Make friendship bracelets."

"Ride a bike." Shepard couldn't contain her giggle anymore. They dissolved into laughter, and she Miranda closer. "Have I ever told you that smiling looks good on you?"

"Yes," she answered, eyes still crinkled and sparkling from the facial expression, as she slid one of her hands down to Shepard's waist.

"Good." She leaned forward, pressing their lips together. Her exhaustion vanished as soon as Miranda's hand pressed harder against the small of her back, closing any space left between them. Their kisses grew deeper, hotter, burning. One of Miranda's legs slid over Shepard's, and with an easy twist, she was on top of her, her hands sliding just under the hem of her shirt, fingers brushing against her firm stomach. Shepard moaned a little and broke away, both of them panting. She brought one hand up to the side of Miranda's face. Her eyes were hooded, pupils dilated, cheeks flushed. "I—"

The door hissed open.

The goddamn door...opened.

Miranda scrambled off of Shepard, who sat bolt upright, both of them trying to right their hair and clear their throats.

"Oh—Keelah!" Tali nearly stumbled and fell on her face-plate, a data pad pulling up to block the view of the bed.

"Miss Vas Neema," Miranda said, with only the slightest hint of a waver in her voice.

Shepard tried to keep from grinding her teeth. Seriously, how hard was it to have a moment?

"What can I do for you?" Miranda tilted her head slightly.

And the fact that she was so completely poised and composed under that kind of pressure did absolutely nothing to dampen the desire still coursing white-hot through Shepard's veins.

"I, um, I didn't mean to...interrupt..." Tali stammered, bringing the data pad down and clutching it with both hands.

"A bit too late for that, I'm afraid," Miranda said, ever businesslike.

"But...the schedule you just sent out. It doesn't have a trip to the Migrant Fleet in it. Shepard said—"

"Oh shit," Shepard muttered, bringing her hand up to her forehead. "Shit, shit, shit. Goddammit— I'm so sorry, Tali! We're going— I swear, we are, I'm sorry, I just, I forgot. She based that schedule off the one I gave to her." All excitement vanished from her body and the fatigue came back ten times stronger. Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head.

"They're still in Raheel-Leyya. Apparently, something happened and they've been parked there for longer than usual," Miranda explained. "I'm sure it won't be a problem to factor it in."

Tali's head tilted to the side and she straightened. "How would you know that?"

Miranda obviously bit back a fuming reply, from the way her brows twitched together. "Our sources are vast. You're aware of that, Miss Vas Neema."

"Right. Um...sorry, again, for interrupting," she said, bowing slightly and backing up. She bumped into the door just before it opened. "I just— it would be good to ah...yes. Thank you, Shepard!" And she scurried off.

Shepard groaned and flopped back onto the bed, her forearm covering her eyes. "I can't believe I forgot."

An arm circled around her waist. "Give yourself some credit," Miranda said softly, curling against her side. "You've had a lot on your mind."

She made a move to get up, but Miranda wouldn't allow it.

"You should get some sleep. In a real bed."

Shepard wanted to protest. She knew she should, she had a schedule to look over, to fix, for her friend. A friend she'd promised something to. Instead, she wrapped her arm around Miranda's shoulders and closed her eyes. "I wish the galaxy could wait for a little while, sometimes."

"Right now, it's going to have to wait until you wake up."

"No friendship bracelets?"

A kiss on her cheek. "I'm afraid not right now."

It didn't take long for Shepard to feel the tug of sleep on her consciousness, with Miranda's warm breath against her neck and shoulder, and a soft bed underneath. "G'night," she mumbled, when she was fairly sure she was dropping off.

"Good night."


A/N: Haha...Parcheesi. Friendship bracelets. I crack myself up.

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