Spoilers for ME2, in case it wasn't obvious.
"Come with me to Illium," Shepard says, leaning against her desk. Miranda raises an eyebrow.
"Why?" she asks. This is the first time Shepard has requested her presence on a mission; she doesn't think he trusts her.
But Shepard only says: "You look like you could use a break from the paperwork."
And Shepard is the party leader, so Miranda shrugs and suits up and goes with him to Illium to hunt down an assassin. Later, crouching behind a stack of crates in Nassana Dantius's tower, Miranda will briefly muse that Shepard seems to trust everyone but her—unstable biotics, hotheaded vigilantes, adolescent krogan—even Jacob, who is a Cerberus agent—
(But then again, everyone trusts Jacob; there's something about the man that exudes honesty.)
(Later, staring at the dark-eyed drell from across the meeting-room table, Miranda will wonder why Shepard hadn't asked Jacob to do the debriefing for Thane Krios.)
The assassin is green-skinned and somber, and he watches her silently as she paces.
"Your main duty will be to assist Commander Shepard on his missions," Miranda says, heels clicking against the Normandy's deck. "He will, on occasion, request your presence in his shore party, and he may ask you to perform certain tasks for him at his discretion. You will be compensated for your time, of course, and for any expenses you incur."
"Understood," Krios says, bowing his head in acknowledgment; his voice is a low thrumming in too many tones for her to pick apart. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes." Miranda pauses, turns to look at him. "You understand that you'll be working for Cerberus?" Jack had thrown a fit; even Vakarian had voiced his disapproval.
"Cerberus." Krios's expression is unreadable—or too alien for her to read. "The pro-human organization?"
"Precisely. If you have any objections—"
Miranda blinks. She hadn't expected acquiescence so quickly.
"I'll be taking my orders solely from Commander Shepard, correct?" Krios says. And, at her nod: "Then I have no objections."
(And it's strange how many of these spies and assassins and mercenaries would follow Shepard, simply because he asked. Miranda has never been able to inspire that sort of helpless loyalty; she had never even wanted to try.)
"Very well," Miranda says, and sees Krios out.
She goes through his file afterwards, alone in the privacy of her room, and marvels at how little there is in it. A record of his birth on Kahje, a school award for placing second in an art contest, a hospitalization form for a broken arm—
Until, years later, a marriage is recorded. Krios has a son shortly after: one Kolyat, male, born six weeks premature—
And nothing again for another ten years, before suddenly the hanar are honoring Krios with medals and awards and he is being treated for Kepral's syndrome. That, really, is the end of his official records; there are a handful of pictures from the award ceremony and a transcript of his acceptance speech (gracious and brief), and that is all.
Everything else—his clients, his contacts, his targets—is rumor, picked up by Cerberus agents. Doubtless the great majority of these rumors are true, but it's still more uncertainty than Miranda is comfortable with.
Krios is, supposedly, the best assassin in the galaxy.
But the people who would know best are dead. It's the trouble with recruiting assassins.
The Illusive Man thinks that Krios is a mercenary.
He isn't. Miranda has seen him fight and bleed and pray, and if Krios fights for anything it would not be money. She doesn't know what he does fight for. Sometimes she thinks he might be looking for redemption; sometimes, she thinks he might not be looking for anything at all.
Mostly: Miranda thinks that Krios kills because he doesn't know anything else.
She glances up from her report. Krios is at the door, his jacket immaculate, his hands held carefully where she can see them. "Krios," she acknowledges, rising. "Thank you for coming by."
"You said you had questions for me?"
"There are," Miranda says, entirely aware of the massive understatement she is about to make, "a few gaps in your record."
"I was hoping you could fill them in for me."
Krios blinks at her, the odd double-stutter of his eyelids disconcerting in how entirely alien it is. "My apologies," he says. "Much of that is sensitive information. I am sworn to secrecy by nature of the Compact."
And say what you will about the hanar, but they have damned good firewalls. Miranda sighs to herself. "What can you tell me, then?"
"I had a wife." His voice is cool. "Mercenaries killed her. I can give you their names and final words, if you like."
Mercenaries had killed his wife. This hadn't been in the files; she might have to send a request to the Shadow Broker.
(The Illusive Man hates the Shadow Broker. Too flashy, he says, disdainful. Careless operations. Needless advertising. Terrible name.)
"Yes," says Miranda. "Send me the list, please."
The drell inclines his head, adjusts his cuffs, turns to go.
She only hesitates a little. "I'm sorry," Miranda says. "About your wife."
Another blink, a flash of an expression she cannot decipher (perhaps she's simply terrible at reading people). "Thank you."
And he's gone.
Single. Green-skinned and exotic. Won't send her into anaphylactic shock. And he doesn't have his eyes glued to her arse every time she turns around, unlike a good three-quarters of the Normandy crew.
And: her father would have hated him.
Years and light-years away from her adolescent rebellion, Miranda still smiles at the thought.
He asks her to call him Thane.
They've finished a mission; Miranda is bidding him farewell as she heads back to her quarters and he to his. "Please, call me Thane," Krios says, and she nods and he bows and they go their separate ways.
And afterwards Miranda will remember the hanar and their tradition of Soul Names, and she will wonder if Krios—Thane—has one.
She asks him to call her Miranda.
Well. Not quite. There's a kiss first, in her private quarters, after a day with too many memories and too much blood; there is her sister, and her father, and a man who loved her and betrayed her and died—
"Don't," says Thane, sweeping his fingers against her cheek. "It's done. Here—"
And he kisses her.
(Oral contact may cause mild hallucinations.)
She can almost taste his memories on his lips.
Thane doesn't look at her as a human might. He doesn't think she's beautiful; doubtless she's the wrong color, and the wrong shape too.
Alien. Exotic, perhaps. She can accept exotic, but Miranda is tired of being beautiful, and she is tired of being alone, and whatever people might think the two are neither unrelated nor contradictory. This is Miranda: a paragon of human beauty, sleek and model-slim and the best collection of recessive genes that money can buy. She hates it.
(She hates her father.)
Thane kisses her and for once in her life Miranda doesn't worry that he's doing it for her looks.
The trouble with a ship like the Normandy—or any ship, really—is the rate at which the gossip spreads. And the real trouble is: Miranda's quarters are just outside the mess hall, and Thane departs right at breakfast time with half the crew staring.
So she isn't surprised when Shepard comes by later, his eyebrows raised.
"So," says Shepard, and pauses, expectant.
There's no getting out of this.
"It was—" Miranda cannot bring herself to say a mistake. "—unexpected."
"I've heard some interesting stuff from Mordin, actually. There's a cream if you need—"
This is mortifying. Really, truly mortifying. "No, thank you."
"Right," Shepard says.
There is a long, long moment of silence. Miranda reminds herself sternly that it's none of the commander's business what—or who—she does in her spare time. "I assure you, Shepard, this will not affect my performance on the mission in anyway."
"Right," Shepard says. And, infuriatingly enough, he pats her on the shoulder: "Well, I'm glad to see that you're enjoying yourself, at least."
Then the man has the gall to leave before Miranda can come up with an appropriate retort.
"Yes," Thane sighs later. "He said the same thing to me."
Thane is not a mercenary; he's an assassin, and a father.
And Miranda watches him with his son and it hurts hurts hurts to think that out there, there are fathers who love their children.
Kolyat Krios is not—as children go—the luckiest.
But he is luckier than she had ever been, and when Thane reaches out to touch his son Miranda has to turn away before she puts a bullet through a wall. Her father is not the sort to admit that he was ever wrong; her father is not the sort to tell her that he loves her (because he doesn't).
It's a petty thing to be jealous of, but Miranda is jealous anyway.
"You could have him killed," Thane says, after she tells him her whole long self-indulgent tale.
He's an assassin; of course he would think that. Miranda shakes her head. "It would be unwise. He's far too important to a great many people Cerberus doesn't wish to annoy."
He watches her for a moment, dark eyes unfathomable. "I'm sorry," Thane says at last.
He presses his lips to her cheek, her mouth, her throat. Miranda is happy for the distraction.
The assassin is green-skinned and somber, and his blood is spilling out onto the floor of the Collectors' base.
Miranda scrambles for the medi-gel. Thane pushes her away. "Leave it," he says, ragged. "There's no use."
"I'm not leaving you to die—"
"More of them are headed over here!" Tali's voice is sharp over a burst of gunfire. "We have to move!"
They can't hold the position.
"Miranda." Have his eyes grown darker? "I was already dying. Go."
Frantic shooting. Barriers are fizzling out; Miranda is sorrier than she has ever known, and on a battlefield there's no time for mourning.
She stands up abruptly. "Retreat!" she calls out, "Fall back to the Normandy, Shepard has placed the detonator—"
The squad is already moving. Miranda runs.
She looks back one more time before the end—foolish, but she does it anyway—and through the haze of blood and biotics and corpses Thane is still watching her, unfathomable. He catches her eye, lifts his fingers to his lips—
Then: Collectors, gunfire, Normandy, Shepard.
(And he's gone.)
They've saved the galaxy.
"Hooray," Shepard says grimly, looking over the row of coffins as he orders Joker to set a course for the Citadel.
Miranda curls her hand into a fist and breathes against the tightness in her chest.
AUGH FF SCREWED UP ALL THE FORMATTING IN ALL OF MY FICS AUGH