A/N: This story takes place before getting Tali, Samara, or Kasumi, but after Miranda's loyalty mission.

Miranda stared at her latest report to the Illusive Man on Shepard's activities and chewed on her lower lip. When did these become so hard? When she first boarded the Normandy, she had hundreds of little details to report: how Shepard's physical condition was improving (slowly but steadily), how she reacted to the Cerberus logo on the bulkheads (negatively), and even how often she ate (not often enough in Miranda's estimation). Now, however, she felt this odd… block. It wasn't that there was nothing to report. On the contrary, she'd noticed a few things progressing in unforeseen ways—ways that the Illusive Man would want to know about as it would provide yet another leash on Shepard.

Miranda leaned back in her chair, rolling her neck. What was wrong with her?

"Enough," she muttered, and set her fingers to the keys. Shepard's habit of speaking with the crew after missions continues. Usually, she starts with Joker in the CIC and works her way down deck by deck. Conversation topics range from the banal (Jeff Moreau) to the philosophical (Thane Krios). It is worth mentioning here that Shepard spends, on average, fifteen minutes more in conversation with Krios than any of the other crew, including former teammates Vakarian, Moreau, and Chakwas.

Miranda stared at the sentences, that uncomfortable feeling coming back again. Quickly, she erased what she had written and drummed her fingers against the desk. This was a problem.

Her door chimed and hissed open. The origin of her troubles stumped through the door, her combat boots heavy against the deck. Shepard slouched in the chair opposite Miranda's desk, grinning toothily.


"Well, what?" Miranda returned, pushing down the tingle of irritation.

"Jacob." Shepard leaned back in her chair, her smile a little too knowing for Miranda's tastes.

Miranda felt an unfamiliar heat warm her face and cleared her throat, keeping her face neutral. "What about Jacob, Commander?"

Shepard rolled her eyes. "Miranda, if you tell me one more time that Jacob was just 'fixing' your submachine gun, I'll boot you out the nearest airlock. I've cleaned and repaired firearms since I was a teenager. One person is all it takes." She smirked. "There's absolutely no reason for his hands to be—"

"Okay!" Miranda said a little too loudly. "Jacob was merely showing me how to properly clean the magazine slide. I'm not as familiar with the M-9 Tempest series as I should be—"

Shepard snorted.

"That's all," Miranda said firmly.

Shepard eyed her for a moment, getting that contemplative look on her face that usually meant the onset of the infamous Shepard Charm. "We're docking at Illium in about a half hour," she said conversationally. "You and I are going to have a drink."

Miranda relaxed at the change in topic. "What is our mission objective?"

"To unwind." Shepard grinned at the look on her face. "Miranda, I have to take this boat to hell in a hand basket. I know it and so does everyone else on the ship. But I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the whole mission full of angst. You can't live like that."

"I'm sorry, Commander, but I have a lot to do..."

"Come on, Miranda," Shepard said in a wheedling tone, "You're the only woman on this ship who isn't intimidated by 'Zombie Shepard' or who wants to get into my pants."

Miranda looked down to hide an unexpected grin. Kelly Chambers did have her uses, but she was a little too friendly at times.

"Do I have to make it an order, Operative Lawson?" Shepard raised an eyebrow and Miranda sighed in defeat.

"Very well, Shepard." After what the Commander had done for Oriana, she supposed she owed Shepard that much.

Miranda eyed the open area of the Eternity bar in Nos Astra with a twinge of impatience. Why they would come back to this dinky little bar when there were plenty of other, more upscale places to choose from was beyond her. Shepard, however, had taken a liking to the asari bartender and Miranda knew that the galaxy's first human Spectre was nothing if not a creature of habit. Even now she was laughing at something the matriarch said as she picked up their drinks.

"I need to introduce her to Wrex sometime," Shepard said with a chuckle as she approached the table that Miranda had picked out. "They'd have a good time together."

"She'd lob a singularity on his scaly ass the minute he tried anything."

Shepard laughed. "Of course she would! That's why Wrex would like her. Foreplay and all that." She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Miranda struggled with the idea of the hulking, scarred krogan on Tuchanka wooing the no-nonsense asari matriarch and gave up. Her practical mind rebelled at the idea.

"But they wouldn't have any children," Miranda argued. "Not krogan, anyway, and that's primarily what your friend Wrex seemed most concerned about."

Shepard twisted her drink between her hands, her expression distant. "Just because a couple can't have children together, doesn't mean they would love each other less." Her eyes seemed very intent on the blue liquid swirling around in the glass.

Miranda opened her mouth to mention something logical like the instinctive desire to procreate and then stopped. Thane. Of course.

"Is playing the galaxy matchmaker your secondary mission?" Miranda asked dryly, sipping daintily from her drink.

Shepard grinned. "You know it. I tried to nudge Garrus into Kelly's waiting arms, but he doesn't seem all that interested in her. Guess we need to hike over to Palaven and find a nice turian girl to hook him up with. You already have Jacob of course." Shepard laughed at the look on Miranda's face. "Oh come on. Even you have to admit that any kids you'd have would be the most gorgeous children out there. Your bone structure and his eyes? The galaxy won't know what hit them."

"Shepard, why are you doing this?" Miranda set her drink down a little harder than she intended. "The Collectors aren't waiting around for you to thwart their plans. We have no time to play around."

Shepard stared into her cup, her features tense. "If I say it, it's going to sound like something out of a hokey academy vid." She shrugged. "You know as well I as do that I was an only child: typical navy brat. My mom took me on cruises when she could; I can count on one hand the times I saw Dad in the space of ten years. I learned to appreciate what I had—to make family where I found it. My teammates—my squad—are my family." Shepard tipped her glass to her mouth.

Miranda fiddled with her empty cup, thinking of Shepard's fierce protectiveness during the mission to rescue Oriana, the hurt on her face after facing Ashley Williams on Horizon, the way Thane Krios watched her when he thought no one was looking, and the new affectionate nickname he'd given her the other day.

Abruptly Miranda activated a command on her omni-tool and the sound from the surrounding bar became muffled, as if underwater.

Shepard frowned, tapping her earpiece. "What the—?"

"I activated a privacy curtain," Miranda explained, splaying her hands across the table. "I only have a few moments before it becomes too suspicious—"

"What are you doing?" Shepard looked wary.

"I want you to know… there's a monitoring device in your bedside music player. You caught all the obvious ones, the ones we knew you'd find, even the 'sophisticated' one in the fish tank. This one is different—it doesn't even officially exist yet."

Shepard went very still. "Why are you telling me this?"

Miranda looked down at her glass and then back up. "I know about you and the drell, Commander." Shepard's eyebrows rose, a faint flush spreading across her cheeks. "And the Illusive Man may try to manipulate that. All I'm telling you is that if you need a place to go and be yourself, by yourself… or with someone else, then once you get rid of that device, you'll have it. I… may never be a good 'friend,' Shepard. I don't know what one is, frankly." She paused, looking the other woman in the eye. "But I do know what it's like to have a sister." The privacy curtain blipped out.

Shepard stared at her a moment, then nodded. "Glad you came with me, Lawson. Let's get back to the ship. I bet Mordin's figured out that new trick he wanted to try with mass effect generators in our assault rifles."

Back on the Normandy, Miranda opened up her unfinished report to the Illusive Man.

Stopped at Nos Astra on Illium for information gathering and making contacts. She paused and then typed: mission successful.