Chapter 21

Nearly every part of Miranda's body ached as Jack helped her over the threshold and into the apartment. It had been a long walk from the shattered remains of Cerberus' tower, but as the operative settled into an overstuffed chair, she still managed to quip, "So, here we are again. Right back where we started."

Jack snorted. "Yeah, here we are. Despite your best efforts to ditch me."

Miranda slumped down into the cushions, feeling the weight of her fatigue in spite of the medi-gel that she'd been given. The apartment looked much the same as when she'd left it, but it was no longer a place she had to sneak out of, but a refuge she'd returned to while she and Jack figured out their next move.

But before that could happen, it seemed Miranda had some explaining to do. "About that…" She begun cautiously. Now that it was all over, her decision didn't seem as easy to justify as it had that morning when she was talking herself into going. But she had to try, to get Jack to at least understand, if not to agree with what she'd done. "Look, I know you might have been upset when you realized I'd left…"

"Upset?!" Jack drew herself up to her full height, her muscles tensing with semi-controlled fury. "I might have been upset?! You fucking run off on me, after we…" Her voice trailed off and a look that seemed more confused than angry now crossed her face. "Okay, I don't know exactly what it was that happened with us, but it wasn't cool for you to bail on me afterwards."

"No, it wasn't," Miranda admitted. "And I'm sorry. But I couldn't just watch you die, Jack. Not for my mistakes. I knew that we had to stop Cerberus and anything else I could think of, any kind of a direct assault… well, I couldn't imagine a way that either of us made it out alive."

"You didn't fucking think about it hard enough," Jack insisted. "Cause I found a way to survive, didn't I?"

"You did. I didn't know the extent of Alfina's army, or that she had that gunship. Didn't know that there was a chance that you could..." She paused, stopping herself before she reached for further justifications. She had made a mistake in how she'd treated Jack, and she had to own up to it or risk losing her forever. "No, you're right. I shouldn't have left you that way. You have every right to be angry with me."

To her pleasant surprise, Jack didn't press her advantage and attack again. Instead, she settled down into a chair across from Miranda, sitting close enough that the operative could see the conflicted expression on her face. "I was. For a solid minute there, I was really pissed off at you. But then, I was…" She swallowed hard, seemingly debating whether or not to finish her sentence, but finally she continued, "I was scared, Miranda. You didn't want to see me die? That's nice. How do you think I felt? Do you know how many fucking people that I cared about have died already? Did you really think I'd let you be another one of them? That I'd just leave you here and go do what? What the fuck did you think I'd do after you died?"

The words came out before Miranda could think better of them. "Be happy."

Jack shook her head and leaned back in her seat. "I can count on one hand the amount of times I've been happy, Cheerleader. That night, being with you… It was one of 'em."

Miranda crossed her arms under her chest and met Jack's gaze. "It meant a lot to me as well. If I had known the way you felt… I'm sorry, Jack. It wasn't right to leave you without saying a word, but it wouldn't have been right for me to get you killed either. Not when there was a way that I could do it myself without anyone else dying."

"I guess if that Ford bastard had given me a free ticket to kill his ass without putting you in the crosshairs, I would have gone for it too."

"So, are we good?"

Jack nodded. "We are."

After a long silence Miranda rose to her feet. "Well, then, I suppose we should find you a ride home."

"What?" Jack asked with a huff.

"The target has been eliminated...the mission's over, Jack."

"But what about you? You're not coming back to Earth?"

She shook her head. "There's nothing waiting for me there but a cell."

"The Admiral said he'd-"

Before Jack could finish, Miranda interrupted. "The Admiral made an offer that I suspect he had no intention of upholding. And even if he did deliver, the people of Earth won't soon forget the things I've done. Perhaps they're right not to."

Jack swallowed hard and looked down at her feet. "Yeah… I guess neither of us went into this thinking much about the future. So what happens now?"

Miranda took a deep breath. "I think it's in everyone's best interests if Miranda Lawson died on Typhon. I still have a few aliases from my Cerberus days I can fall back on. I'll have to lay low for a while, probably change my appearance for the foreseeable future." She threaded her fingers through her dark hair. "I've always wondered how I'd look as a blonde."

Jack chuckled. "Pretty fucking hot, I'd bet. But what will you do?"

"Not a problem." Miranda reached into her pocket and produced the OSD. "This was the Illusive Man's parting gift to Ford," she explained. "It contains every remaining asset of Cerberus, every operative, every project. Everything the organization was."

Jack shot to her feet. "You're not gonna restart that shit are you?"

Miranda stared at the device for a moment. A thoughtful expression crossed her face as she turned the small OSD around in her hand. "I used a terminal back in the tower to transfer all of Cerberus' remaining liquid funds to a private account. Several million credits in total, more than enough to start a new life with. But the project logs, all the data Cerberus learned from the Reapers and by torturing innocent people like you, everything that remains of Cerberus… Thought I'd leave that on here." Miranda extended her hand and offered the device to the convict. "I figured you'd want to do the honors."

For a few seconds Jack could only stare at the offering in disbelief. "You're serious? That's it? That's everything that's left of it?"

"Everything that could relaunch the organization," Miranda confirmed.

"And you're just giving it to me?"

"If anyone deserves it, it's you, Jack."

Jack raised a glowing hand and a small biotic field enveloped the OSD and lifted it from Miranda's grasp. A blue glow filled the room as the device hovered between the two women. Miranda couldn't keep herself from smiling as without further hesitation, Jack closed her fist and shattered the last true remnant of Cerberus. Jack let the plastic splinters fall to the coffee table between them before giving Cerberus a final farewell, spitting on the pile of remains.

"A fitting end," Miranda said. For a moment she paused, looking down at the shattered remains of the OSD before asking, "So, about your ride back to earth… When did you want to…"

"Cancel it." Miranda eyes widened as she looked at Jack, the expression on the convict's face deadly serious. "You're not the only one who's got no good reason to go back there. You really think I want to spend the rest of my life wearing a uniform and saluting a bunch of stuck-up Alliance brass like a good girl?"

Miranda laughed. "No, I suppose that doesn't seem much like you at all. But if you're not heading back to Earth, then where will you go?"

Jack rolled her eyes. "Shit, cheerleader, are you gonna make me say it?"

A cautious smile appeared on Miranda's face, a seed of hope beginning to bloom within her. She couldn't quite believe she was going to ask this question, but it seemed the only possible explanation for Jack's question. "Do you mean to say that you want to come with me instead?"

Jack nodded almost imperceptibly. "Look, I've never been any good at this feelings bullshit, and this thing with us, I don't know what the fuck it is. But I know we get shit done together. This mission seemed like total suicide and yet here we are, still breathing. You're a badass, Miranda, and fuck, you're pretty damn good in bed too, so yeah, I was thinking we might stick together a while longer and see where this takes us." She paused, and a sudden uncertainty seemed to overtake her. "At least if you're game, anyway."

Miranda smiled, the expression now covering her whole face. "When all this started, I'd have said you were crazy if you suggested something like that. Now, though… there's no one I'd rather have by my side, Jack." The same grin now covered the convict's face, and Miranda placed her hand on her hips and added, "So I'm pretty damn good in bed am I?"

The tension broken, Jack laughed. "Yeah, well, don't let it go to your head."

Miranda's smile turned to a wry grin, and she said, "I'll do my best. And I'd be glad to give you a further demonstration of my skills, at least if I wasn't in considerable danger of coming apart in pieces if I try to exert myself anymore tonight."

Jack rose from her chair, crossing the distance between them in two swift strides. She took Miranda's head in her hands and without words or hesitation, brought it to meet hers. The kiss that followed was surprisingly soft and slow, and as Miranda drank its warmth, a sense of elation ran through her weary body. She had left for Typhon with nothing and she had left the apartment this morning a quick death the best she could hope for, but now...

"Don't worry about it," Jack told her when she finally drew back. "We've got time."

"I think I've got the idea." Across the comm link, Seris smiled. The asari looked much better than the last time Miranda had seen her, her wounds healed, and her face far less haggard. "When the Alliance gets here, I'll be sure to tell them that your mission was a success but that you and Jack died when we stormed the tower."

"Thank you," Miranda said. "For that. And for everything else."

"You two saved my bondmate," Seris replied with a respectful nod, "And you killed Ford. I'll be happy to consider us even, at least as long as you look after that other human. She went through a lot of trouble to make sure you survived. Don't forget that."

Miranda smiled brightly. "I won't."

The link closed and from the other side of the cockpit of the ship that would be their home for the next couple of days, Jack asked, "So, are we good?"

"We are. Miranda Lawson and Subject Zero are dead and we're free to go wherever we want. Or least wherever this salvaged freighter can take us."

"Shit…"Jack muttered, staring out the viewport as they exited Typhon's atmosphere.

"A bit daunting isn't it?" Miranda said softly as she monitored the navigation terminal. "Freedom," she elaborated. "I've never really had the chance to do whatever I want… At this point, I'm not sure I even know what that is."

"I spent half of my life locked up and the other half fighting to stay alive. I don't have a damn clue what normal people do with their lives," Jack agreed as she eyed the relay on the other side of the field of wreckage that still orbited Typhon.

Miranda carefully navigated their ship through the dead vessels, not taking her eyes from the controls as she spoke. "In all that time you spent on Pragia or wherever else you've been imprisoned, did you ever dream about what you'd do if you were free?"

"You mean after I made whichever bastards who locked me up pay for it?"

Miranda chuckled. "Yes, after that."

Jack fell silent for a moment and a thoughtful look crossed her face as she leaned back in her chair. "Guess I always thought about getting away from everything. No more fighting, no people to screw me over, somewhere I could actually live instead of just surviving."

"Sounds about perfect to me." Miranda agreed.

"Yeah, I guess it does." Jack swallowed nervously and looked down into her lap. "Miranda, I...I want to thank you."

"Thank me? You're the one who saved my life," Miranda reminded her. "More than once."

"I was only returning the favor," Jack said softly. "You pulled me out of the wreckage when we landed. But it's not just that..." Her voice trailed off for a moment, and then she said, "When we first got here, I'd just about given up."

Miranda's heart fluttered in her chest. She understood just what Jack was saying; not long ago, she wouldn't have cared whether or not she left Typhon alive. But not anymore. Now, she had hope for the future, much of it thanks to the woman sitting next to her. She didn't have to say anything though; Jack could see the change in her as clearly as Miranda could understand the one that had taken place in the convict, so she simply asked, "Do you have any idea where we might find this getaway?"

Jack shrugged. "I guess I've kinda always wanted to see a good beach."

"I believe I can make that happen." Miranda's hands glided over the nav console, making the final adjustments that brought them clear of the debris field. "I'd say we've both earned a bit of a vacation."

Jack nodded before she turned her gaze away from the woman. "So, uh...what's our cover supposed to be?"

"Our cover?"

"That's what you call it right? If we're supposed to be dead, we're gonna need a cover for when we get to wherever the hell we're going right?"

"They'll be plenty of time to sort that out during the voyage."

Miranda had tried to brush off her concern but Jack kept pressing. "Yeah, but what are we supposed to be? Partners in fucking up Cerberus doesn't quite cut it anymore."

"True," Miranda agreed with a chuckle, finally sensing what Jack was truly asking about. "Then how about we're a pair of girlfriends taking a trip?"

And here I thought you hated relationships, Jack.

Jack crossed her arms and looked away to hide the blush coming to her cheeks. "I guess I can live with that." The sarcasm dropped from her tone when she asked her next question. "And what about after this little vacation? What happens then?"

"I suppose we'll find that out…" Miranda looked over to her partner and extended one hand. "Together?"

Jack took her hand gently, allowing Miranda to intertwine their fingers, and a smile now covered the biotic's face. "Yeah… together. I like the sound of that."

Me too.

As the Mass Relay grew closer, Miranda held tight to Jack's hand. Tendrils of blue energy sparked, hitting their ship as they drifted into its pull. She didn't know what place the galaxy had left for her, but for the first time in Miranda Lawson's life she didn't care. She would find her own way.

The End

Final Notes- At last we've come to the end of this story. This ended up being way bigger than Revan or I ever anticipated but I am very proud of the final result. I want to thank Revan's Mask for being an incredible co-author and for working so hard with me over these past few months to get this story written. I also want to thank YOU for reading, staying with us each chapter and sharing your thoughts in the reviews. I hope you'll leave one last comment to tell us what you thought of the story. Have a great day!