A/N: I would have never thought that this silly little idea I had a few months ago would grow into a 240,000+ word fan-fiction. Thanks so much to everyone who reads, and especially to those of you who've left your encouraging comments and reviews. This story would not be here without you.

*Spoiler alert for those who have not completed the 'Arrival' DLC. For those of you who have, there's dialog you'll know at the start and a few places thereafter. I just had to shuffle some stuff around and change a few things so that everything integrates properly.


[Dream]; A series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep. 2) a fantasy, typically about something greatly desired or contemplated.


[ Chapter Thirty: Outcomes and Arrivals, Part II of II ]

[Medical Bay/ 7 PM]

They would arrive. He had seen it, felt it, stopped it with his hands. War was coming.

Commander John Shepard grinded his teeth, iron jaw flexing and glazed eyes wandering to and fro along the white ceramic of the medical bay floor. The weight of his armor surprised him; it hunkered him down, slumping him over his sore knees and forcing him to lean on them in support. It astonished him how this medical bed could hold him up. Had his gear always been this heavy? He popped his neck, lifting an underweave covered hand to his collar and tugging. Everything felt too hot beneath this armor.

"It looks like you've recovered. Cuts and bruises I take it?"

"Admiral Hackett?" John choked for a moment, stirred out of his thoughts and trying to find some semblance of cohesiveness. He took a second to inhale, the scent of antiseptic and floor cleaner vastly different from the air of Aratoht. There the air was heavy, as if coated in lead and sulfur and heat and blood and sweat. Here the air was thin, unsullied. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."

"You went out there as a favor to me. I decided to debrief you in person...but that was before the mass relay exploded and destroyed an entire Batarian system. What the hell happened out there, Commander? I sent you there to break Amanda Kenson out of prison, and now an entire system is destroyed. I was hoping you could fill in the leap of logic between those two events."

Nausea made its presence known immediately and Shepard mentally stammered for a response. It had all happened so fast. He looked down to his hand and bent his fingers. His knuckles hurt. This was the same hand who only hours earlier had entered a series of numbers to launch what was known as Project Rho. More than three hundred thousand had died at those fingertips in mere seconds. A colony. But it was to save so many more...right? The military half of John's brain helped ease the weight of his decision, made his choices mean something greater.

War does not come without sacrifice.

"Shepard?"

"I confirmed Doctor Kenson's proof. The Reapers were going to use that Alpha Relay as a means to not only arrive, but to travel throughout the galaxy. Destroying that relay was the only way to stop them. I didn't have long; Kenson had sedated me. I started the engines with little more than an hour left. I tried to warn the Batarian colony, but in the end...time just...ran out."

War does not side with proper occasion.

"I see. The Batarians report no survivors from Aratoht," Hackett said lightly, noticing the heaviness behind Shepard's blue eyes. "It must have been hell out there, Shepard. At least you tried. That's all you could do. That's all anyone could have done."

War does not come without cost, its currency being the weight of flesh and bone.

"Yes, Sir."

"And you believed the Reaper invasion really was a threat?"

"We literally had minutes to spare. All the details are in the report."

"I won't lie to you, Shepard: the Batarians will want blood, and there's just enough evidence for a witch hunt. We don't want war with the Batarians. Not with the Reaper's at the galaxy's edge."

"What are you saying, sir?"

"You did what you did for the best of reasons, but...there were more than three hundred thousand Batarians in that system. All dead."

"They died to save trillions of lives." Had there been another way...had there been even the slightest impression of an alternate means of execution he would have tried, John would have taken it. He had used his resources and reacted smartly. Every option had been considered. "If I could have saved them...I would have. You bet your ass I would have."

Hackett raised his hands up to settle the man, "You're preaching to the choir, Commander. If it were up to me I would have given you a damn medal. Unfortunately, other's just won't see it that way."

"...is the Alliance concerned about the Batarians' response to this incident?"

"Very. The Batarians have been looking for an excuse to wage war on us since we showed up in the galaxy. If the Reapers invade, we need the galaxy to work together. If we're at war with the Batarians, the other races will be hesitant to give aid to either side."

"What do you suggest?"

"Evidence against you is shoddy, at best. But at some point, you'll have to go to Earth and face the music. I can't stop it...but I can and will make them fight for it."

"I'll gladly stand trial once this mission is done."

"Ah, right. You have another mission that was required to be put on hold on my account. I've heard what Anderson has asked you to investigate. Do whatever you have to do out here. But when Earth calls, you make sure you're there with your dress blues on, ready to take the hit. In the meantime...you keep this report. I don't need to see it to know that you did the right thing."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"You've done a hell of a thing, Commander. You should be proud."

John looked back to the floor, words ringing in his ears like the shrill echo of tracer bullets unwinding through the day as brilliant, red ribbons. Like the heavy thud of indoctrinated bodies hitting the floor filled with the holes of still glowing thermal rounds, burning the flesh and filling the nostrils with its scent. Like the bile-rising gasp of his crewman who watched as an entire colony disappeared from the map.

There are no 'Congratulations' in war.

"Admiral," John called out before the man could leave. "Is the Alliance prepared for a Reaper invasion?"

"That's hard to say," Hackett replied with look of worry. "It took multiple fleets and the Destiny Ascension to bring Sovereign down. And that was just one Reaper. If the Reapers come in force...we're just not ready. You'll be hearing from me again, Shepard."

Both men exchanged a brief look before the Admiral exited the medical bay. Dr. Chakwas walked in soon after and leaned against the frame of the giant door. "John?"

"...yeah," he replied wearily, slowly beginning to remove himself from the constraints of his armor. "What is it?"

Chakwas walked in and over towards the Commander, standing in front of his form and lifting her hand to place along the curve of his hardened jaw. "Oh my boy," she sighed, helping to release the man from his gear. The airlocks along John's back hissed as they popped open. "It'll be so much more tiring in the days to come. For all of us. So let's take it one day at a time, shall we? That's the only advice I can prescribe at this moment."

John hung his head, hands clenching and knuckles turning white around the edge of the bed. His skin broke out into gooseflesh and he swallowed prickles as his skin adjusted to the cool air of the room beneath his sweat covered undershirt. Neither doctor nor Commander moved when heavy black plates, scratched, discolored, and worn from battle landed against the floor with a crack.

"Have you seen Jack," she asked, putting on her own pair of gloves to clean out any scrapes or cuts the Commander had on his arms, face, and hands. She knew he needed a change of 'pace'.

"Not since I left. Why? Is everything alright?"

"I believe so," Chakwas said, sure to keep her tone cool. "There was a bit of a fuss made earlier in your absence. She seemed rather upset about something, the poor girl. Everything is fine of course; no one has come in through those doors needing medical attention except you. So I imagine that whatever it was, was settled."

Shepard watched as she meticulously cleaned the deeper cuts around his fingers, the area around the knuckle-bone was white, a startling contrast in comparison to the deep, pink wounds adorning them. "Fuss? What was she angry about?"

"I don't honestly know," Chakwas shrugged. "Jack had asked for the whereabouts of Operative Lawson...and that was the end of it. I assume they found each other?"

John groaned and rubbed his face roughly with the other hand, "Or killed each other. I'll go look for her. We all set here?"

"Go on," she shooed, taking off her gloves with a clear snap. "You'll live. But I wouldn't enter in the Mr. Galaxy pageant just yet."

Shepard wiggled his finger at the doctor. "You must be one of those funny doctors."

"What can I say," Chakwas smiled, the first gentle thing Shepard had seen in what felt like weeks. "My x-rays have always shown a prominent funny bone."

"So I see," John said with a half-heartened chuckle. He tried, but the smile in his voice just couldn't seem to reach his eyes. "Thank you for the treatment...and the talk."

[ Commander's Cabin / 9PM ]

"Jack, you in here?" Shepard called out into the darkness of his room. The biotic was on his bed, laying down on her back with her forearm extended. Her omni-tool was glowing brightly in the dark, several open windows appearing all around her form creating what looked like a holo shield. He watched from the entrance as she worked away, fingers gliding through each window, her eyes moving from side to side as she quickly read then moved on to something else. "What are you up to," he tried again, moving to sit on the ground next to her side of the bed.

"Research," she replied in monotone.

"On?"

Jack reached out to the empty side of the mattress, never taking her eyes off of her reading. Her hand searched around sloppily until she caught hold of a data pad she had been using to compile her notes in. She tossed it over towards him. "This."

John skimmed through the first bit of data, a worn-out smile coming to his face. "You got some information? Miranda gave you what she found?"

"...something like that."

"Would you like to brief me on your findings?"

Jack looked over towards the Commander with a raised brow. "You can't read or what?"

John blinked, looking down at the data pad then back up to her. "I...well of course I can read. I just thought maybe you'd like to tell me about it yourself?"

"Busy."

"Are you now?"

John grinned, picking himself up off the floor and selecting to invade her space, sitting right next to her with his hip against her shoulder. Jack nudged him harshly, trying to push him off but unable to move his weight. "Move over there or get on the other side, fat ass. I'm busy and ain't got the time."

"I'm not asking for anything am I?"

"No, but you seem to be taking up the entire eastern portion of the galaxy right about now."

Shepard leaned a little further into her and tilted his head to read what she was searching, completely ignoring her request. "Henry J. Castor, 2165, Head of Research at the Helios Medical Facility on Eden Prime?"

Jack growled in aggravation, "I can't read with your big ass head in the way! Move!"

"Why are you data-mining information on a doctor? Patient lists, records, deaths..." John picked up Jacks hand and used her finger to scroll through a bit more information. The biotic pulled away and roughly punched him in the bicep.

"Are you going to let me finish what I started, or just keep pissin' around all night?"

"Well, I'd like to help you if you'd let me."

"Oh," Jack laughed icily, "now you got the time to help?"

Shepard scooted himself down the bed, lowering his gaze to meet hers. "...I'm sorry. I know it doesn't fix anything or the amount of times that I've fucked up. I've been a real dickhead. A real busy dickhead."

Jack smiled crookedly in amusement, a hand reaching up to playfully smack him on the back of the head. "Watch your language, Shepard."

He leaned in with a chuckle, never taking his baby blue orbs off hers as he grazed her lips with his own. Jack closed her eyes and pushed forward, smiling into the kiss as she felt his warm hand slip up her shoulder towards her neck. But before Jack knew it, Shepard had removed his mouth and placed himself in bed beside her instead, laying out on his back and crossing his legs at the ankle. "Show me what you've got so far."

The ex-convict sat up and shut off the research with a sigh. "Here," she said, removing the chip that she had kept protectively in her omni-tool and tossing it on his stomach. "Watch that."

John picked it up in between his thumb and pointer finger, raising it to give it inspection. "What is it?"

"Just fuckin' watch it, Shepard. Seriously?"

Jack pushed her back against the small, metal headboard and shifted anxiously. Hearing it for what seemed like the hundredth time was so much worse now that someone else was watching this particularly personal moment. When it was finished Shepard paused it on the final image and looked at her curiously. "This is the guy you're looking up?"

She nodded slowly, still unable to return his look. "...yeah."

"Jack?"

"What," she replied quietly, whisper-like.

"...what is it that I've just watched?"

It took Jack a moment, but eventually she lifted a finger up to the holo and wiggled it, "Move it back a bit."

Shepard obliged her, rewinding the vid just far enough so that the woman, both guards, and the doctor were in the shot. Jack pressed her finger forward onto the woman's figure, breaking the holo-image with its tip and causing the entirety of it to fizzle and blur. But she continued to press anyways, moving her digit up and around as if trying to actually feel the woman's outline for the first time. "...that's my mom."

John stared at the figure in wonder, eventually switching his gaze onto Jack and her thoughtful expression. "That's your... mother?"

"Yeah," the biotic said softly, expanding the image and zooming in. "That's her. This chip was labeled in my file. It's how I ended up at Pragia."

"They lied to her?"

"All this time I thought I was just born bad and given away...turns out I've been wrong for twenty-four years of my life. That's a kick, ain't it?"

Shepard pushed himself up into a sitting position. He turned his head and pressed a kiss into her temple, feeling how hard her heart was beating through the pulse he found there. "No one is born bad, Jack. We were all innocent at one time. Some are even blessed to stay innocent enough their whole lives."

The convict cleared her throat, activating and lifting her omni-tool once more. "I've been trying to get as much information on that Castor guy as I can. Hacked into the hospital's old data-files and scooped up his old patient lists and records. I figure if I can match her image to any of those profiles..."

John considered her words very seriously, turning to look at her with an expression just as severe. "Are you trying to find her?"

"Look at her, Shepard." Jack stared at the close up of her mother, eyes softening. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she said fiddling with a pocket of her cargo pants nervously, a rare state for the biotic to be in. "I know you probably think I'm stupid after going through all this to find out about her, but let's get real for a second: look at me. What if she has that white picket fence life? Honestly, do I look like I should be part of anyone's white picket fence?"

John moved so he could reach over and take her chin into his fingers, looking at her properly. There wasn't going to be free time aboard the Normandy anymore, not for him. He wouldn't be able to help her. What he was about to do was all he could do to help. Everything was beginning to pile, stress was starting to build. Events were unfolding faster than anyone could think of. "...Jack..."

"I really hate when you say my name like that then do this long, dramatic, pussy-ass pause. Just say it. You think I'm being dumb, right? Overreacting? I should just cut this crap out while I'm ahead."

"It's not dumb."

Jack pulled away from him and lifted her brow into a perfect arch. "Really?"

"I think you should do whatever it is you feel needs to get done. Take the time to figure everything out. You're looking for answers and are trying to figure out what to do, so it's obviously important to you."

"Problem is that I don't know where to start, Shepard. Wait," the biotic said, shaking her head and looking at the man like he'd fallen off his rocker as a baby. "You're tellin' me that I get time to myself for a side-project? Right before we drop off the merc and head to Tortuga?"

Shepard looked down at his bed sheets, "We're running out of time, Jack."

"For what," she asked cautiously, turning her body towards him. "What are you talking about?"

"Your time will come. Your species will fall. Prepare yourselves for the arrival," John repeated softly, each word digging into his mind as if he could actually hear them all over again.

Jack leaned back, her upper lip curling. "Shepard?"

"Harbinger told me that," the Commander continued. "We spoke before the Normandy dropped in for my pickup."

"...holy shit..."

"They're coming, Jack. I don't know when, but we're running out of time and may not get another chance. So I want you to do this. Don't worry about this mission on Tortuga. I can handle it."

"Don't go all almighty on me now, wonder-boy." Jack lifted herself onto her knees and crawled forward to straddle her love. "This is some serious stuff happening."

"I got a whole team that can help me this time around," Shepard comforted with a smile. "It'll give you the chance to really dig up what you're looking for. We'll be fine. I'll be fine."

Jack looked down at him, holding his face firmly in her cupped hands for inspection. "You sure? I mean it ain't like I need your permission or nothin', I just don't want you to...you know..."

John grinned, "Get hurt. I know. And I appreciate you for taking me into consideration. Thank you."

"All I'm saying is that you need someone out there to watch your egg-head. You're not about to get all mushy and poetic because of it are you," Jack groaned.

"Nah," Shepard laughed, wrapping his arms around her and lifting her off his lap. "First I'm going to take a bath. Then I'm going to come back here, I'm going to flip you over, kiss and taste every inch of you, and then- -"

"You're gonna beat your old record of a minute-thirty?"

John growled teasingly and nipped at Jack's neck as he laid the lithe woman down on the mattress, causing the biotic to chuckle mellifluously; a hum so light and beautiful that it had easily become Shepard's favorite sound, his sanctuary from the harshness of reality.

"That's right. Now I'm going for two minutes flat. Are you impressed? Did I just make you fall even harder for me?" He wiggled his brows.

"Fall for you? Pfft, this ain't love. I just think I put up with you because you got a nice ass."

"Eh," Shepard said, unaffected by the sting. "Can't win em' all I guess."

"Dick," the biotic laughed, that big, beautiful, toothy smile coming out at last. God, how he missed it sometimes.

"In a second. I need to shower."

"Oh fuck you, Shepard."

"I said in a second!"

"God damn it," Jack laughed once more, harder this time. It was amazing to the Commander how different she had grown to be when they were alone. It had already been a decent amount of time since their relationship had formed, but the biotic still had ways of sending Shepard into fits of admiration on a daily basis. "I do love you," she sighed at last, the fingers that were tangled in his hair now moving down to rest at the nape of his neck. "You're a dumbass, but I love you. Which is why I just might put my data down for a bit so we can get our freaky on..."

Shepard leaned in to give her a quick kiss, "You love me, huh? You're alright, I guess."

Jack pushed the Commander away and sent him a stare made of hellfire and damnation, "Shepard, where I'm from I was the knee-balling champion of the world. I was the damn MVP. So say it back before I knee you in the balls and don't give you none of this tonight."

"I'm kidding! I love you too," he surrendered quickly. "...do I really have an egg-shaped head?"

Jack smiled smugly, already slipping her hand in and down the front of Shepard's boxers. "Shut up and take your pants off. They're in my way."

"Not yet," John said, taking hold of her wrist gently and moving her hand away. "Let me take that shower. Believe me when I say you'll thank me for it later." A small crinkle appeared on Jack's nose and the Commander couldn't help but laugh. "I'll just be a few minutes."

"Hurry up," the biotic growled, pushing her love off of her body.

"I will. And Jack?"

"Yep?"

"I don't know if this would help you decide in what to do but...Chambers once told me that if you're looking for answers sometimes it helps if you record your thoughts or write them down. Keeping track of what you think makes it a little easier to come to a conclusion. Anyways it's just an idea," Shepard continued, shuffling around near the lavatory entrance. "I'll be out in a bit."

The room was still after that. Jack thought, perhaps more carefully than ever about the advice that Shepard had given her. She weighed out the pros and cons, suspiciously calculating how open this could leave her, how badly it could mark her. There were thoughts in her head that had yet to be voiced. Perhaps they remained unspoken for a reason, or maybe she always just lacked the courage to speak them. Unsigned poetry was therapeutic enough, in a vague, indirect sort of way. This would be expression on a whole new level, straight and agonizingly honest. But still, the curiosity was there for her.

The biotic eyed her omni-tool, twisting her forearm as she examined it. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe it really would help her figure out what to do. "Fuck it. Kelly might be a ho, but she's a smart ho."

After another moment of deliberation Jack hit the button.

"Where do I start this crap? I guess basics? Uh...

My name is Jack. I'm about to hit twenty-five. I like the color red?"

Jack shook her head, clicking her tongue in irritation as she looked away from her omni-tool's focus point. There was an impatient feeling lingering somewhere deep within that slowly trickled its way out through voiced doubt. Yet she still stalled and knew it, unable and unknowing of where to start. "...this is fucking stupid. I take it all back. Kelly's a dumb ho." she exhaled.

She went quiet for a while, every so often chancing a glance into the recorder. It captured her hesitance and awkwardness; an uncomfortable defenselessness that shone plainly through her sad, almost child-like facial expressions. One of the most beautiful things about the ex-convict were her eyes though, large and expressive. Hazel, more green than brown, more deep than empty.

Jack bit her lip, rubbed the back of neck or popped her joints; always moving and looking, processing and considering until...

"...my mother had no idea that I was alive when I was taken from her. They told her that the eezo in my body caused complications and eventually ended in my death. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Shit, the first time I saw it...it felt like everything was just being ripped apart. I lived through Pragia, but I couldn't figure out how the hell I was still standing after watching that. Everything changed for me because some guy told a lie. That was it. A few smooth sentences changed the entire outcome of my life.

That's a bitch to think about, ain't it? You get sick one day, mom takes you to the doctor, the doctor says you died, asks for your body, then ships you out in a cargo box. That's when the fun really starts for you.

I remember when I was little and was first brought to the Teltin facility on Pragia. They would beat me until I learned to fight, drugged me until I couldn't feel, and trained me until I couldn't remember anything; not family, not friends. They forcefully took everything that I was and everything that I could be but..."

Jack shifted herself on the bed self-consciously.

"Okay, this is gonna sound stupid or cheesy but... they couldn't take my dreams. For the longest time I would lay under my desk and just cry until I fell asleep. All I wanted was a break, ya know? And for a small while my dreams would give me that.

I used to have such beautiful dreams. Sometimes they were so real that they almost seemed like memories rather than somethin' my imagination cooked up.

I would see a house, a little efficient complex that hovers over kilometers of green fields and orchards. I would see a kid, all happy and squealing as a man lifted her up in his hands and twirled her around crushing her into the warmest of hugs. He would put her down and ruffle her curly hair before turning his attention to a woman. The kid would look up at him with her big eyes and watch as he caressed that woman's cheek. The woman had eyes and hair just like the little girls. The three of them had a kind of glow around them…a light, I guess. That image was hard to forget. I know someone like the cheerleader would give me shit for wondering this; she'd probably pull out a chart from her ass and explain how it's impossible, but I do still wonder from time to time:

Does a family really do that when they're together? Glow? I mean not like a fuckin' floodlight but...something you can still almost see?

Anyways, when my eyes opened there would only be the darkness of my cell and the feel of bile in my empty stomach. It was always just a dream. I would wake and remember that I'd never be familiar with that warm feeling no matter how hard I wished for it. There was no love in Pragia. And as the years passed and my biotic power increased and my body developed ...that statement only rang all the more true. I knew that no woman as used and fucked up as I was, was ever meant for that kind of life...for that kind of light.

I didn't dream after that.

Then suddenly this amazing, bright eyed guy smiled at me. He saved me, that idiot. Kissed me. Loved me. Made me feel normal. He gave me my first dream in years.

And I changed. I'm still changing, I think. I know I wanna be better, do better. Hey, I even managed to not put a bullet between Lawson's fake boobs after finding out she held out on me. I mean it's not like the bitch has a heart there anyways, but that's still progress right?"

Jack turned her face downwards to look at her forearm and the inked profile of a woman who looked just like herself.

"There's only ever one set back for me. They're the memories that I've forced myself to forget, but the lessons that I've made myself remember. I could always feel the weight of my tattoos. Some nights I swear that they get heavier, squeezing me and reminding me of what I am...

...but that woman on that screen, my mom...she's clean. Ain't a single marking on that skin. We don't look anything alike. Our stories are too dif..."

Jack rubbed her face roughly, no longer able to look at the recording omni-tool. The contrast between the woman in the holo and herself...it was brutal. It was the truth. To Jack she looked like one of those people that were lucky to stay 'innocent-enough' throughout their lives. There were no scars or tattoos on her skin, a powerful contrast to her own tainted body and marred and spoiled mindset.

"Damn it, I can't do this..."

Shepard emerged from the bathroom just then, his towel wrapped tightly around his waist. "Did you say something?"

"I shouldn't be looking this stuff up," the ex-convict said delicately, honestly. "That kid that she knew and raised is dead."

John sat down next her and placed a hand on her thigh. "You sure you want to make a decision this quickly?"

"The only thing I've ever been one-hundred percent sure of is the shotgun I keep on my back. But I got a feeling about this. Maybe knowing that she loved me is all that I ever needed to find out."

Assuming that the woman was alive, what would Jack have done had she found her mother? After an introduction and explanation of her physical self, how would she explain the baggage that came with it? How would she explain that after just finding each other, she would have to pack her bags and leave again on a journey to which she may never return? Can a mother handle losing the same child twice? Death seemed to be a reoccurring theme aboard the Normandy, a theme that all parents are ill equipped to handle when pertaining to their children. Her mother didn't need that.

The biotic looked at her omni-tool. Her hand reached over to cease its recording. There was a genuine certainty behind her touch, like what she was deciding to do was undoubtedly the right thing to do at this time. Suddenly everything that June had ever spoken to her of was starting to make sense. His voice flooded her senses.

It clicked.

Do you have family, Jack? Because if you do then you should know the lengths you're willing to go to make sure they're cared for and happy.

Jack knew that she belonged to somebody out in the galaxy. She did have a family. Knowing this was enough; It sparked a calling of sorts within her, made her long to have the chance at being a good daughter to her mother...even if she could only be good from a distance.

And staying dead was being the best daughter that she could be.

"Maybe one day my choice will be different," Jack said, speaking to herself more than anyone else. "One day when we're not off saving the world I'll come back to these files. For now I guess you'll just have to be enough," she teased, leaning over to nudge John on his shoulder.

Shepard sucked in air, his face scrunching up. "I don't think I'd be a very good mom."

"No," Jack grinned, "but you're a semi-satisfactory lay. That'll do."

John looked at her and offered a cheesy smile, something that only ever came out for Jack. He looked down to her hand and placed it in his own, watching as she turned her palm to face his so that their fingers intertwined.

Jack squeezed.

[ Miranda's Office / 10PM ]

"Bugger me."

Miranda rubbed her eyes. The faint color of purple shaded the half moon beneath her orbs, adding 'bags' to her always perfect skin. She breathed out deeply, not being able to recall the last time she had slept since London was injured. Working at the terminal only made it worse. Time was dragging; it felt like it was four in the morning, but the clock on the screen was showing her different. It was still early in the evening.

She discontinued her typing for a second and paused to lean back in her chair. Miranda looked down towards her first desk drawer and bit her lip as she slowly slid it open. Sitting on the top of several neatly filed data pads and folders was a small desk frame with a black screen. Lawson picked it up and pressed her finger onto it, a dim, white light emitting before the holo appeared.

Miranda and London had been laying down together. Miranda was on her stomach with her arms folded underneath her cheek, the skin of her shoulders and back exposed to the 'lens'. London was wrapped in a towel, apparently having just emerged from the shower before deciding to attack the XO with holo-graphs. The photo was at an angle from above the two, catching the length of London's arm as she pressed a kiss against the closed-lidded Miranda's forehead.

The operative couldn't recall when the holo itself was taken, but she could remember the exact reason on why she chose to keep it. She was smiling in the picture. And it wasn't a 'smile because you have to for the omni-tool' kind of smile. Miranda was smiling because...she meant it. That event in itself was rare, and it was even rarer to capture it on any kind of device. Miranda kept it to remind herself of that feeling.

Happy. It's a simple, silly little word...but so much is packed into it.

"Working hard?" Jacob had caught the operative off guard, causing Miranda to snap to attention and shove the image back into the drawer before slamming it closed. "Sorry," the officer laughed. "Didn't mean to surprise you. Kasumi ran off somewhere and I thought I'd take the time to grab something to eat. Saw that your light was on and came over." He lifted his right hand to reveal one of the two things he had taken from the kitchen. "Everyone knows where Ken hides a few beers. Figured you might join me in one? I promise I won't tell the Commander." Jacob formed a cross over his heart.

"Probably not the best of ideas right now, Jacob. But thank you."

"I figured you'd say that," he said, lifting his left hand to show two teas. "Tea?"

Miranda couldn't help but chuckle at her friends strategy. "Very nice. I think I'll have to accept this time."

"Here ya go," Jacob grinned, tossing one of the closed containers over to her. "So what's going on, Lawson?"

Miranda opened her drink and took a small, polite sip before nodding her head over at her terminal screen. "It's the after-action report from Shepard's solo mission. I was just giving it a read over now that I have the time."

"What's it say," the officer asked, moving an armchair over towards her desk-chair. "I haven't even been to my terminal today. We got the news though."

"Dr. Amanda Kenson was rescued from a Batarian prison on the planet Aratoht, and Shepard confirmed her proof of a Reaper invasion. Shepard was captured by Kenson, who had been indoctrinated by a Reaper artifact. Shepard escaped and activated the Project, destroying the Alpha Relay and ending the Reaper invasion. Dr. Kenson did not survive. The Bahak System and all its inhabitants ...were destroyed."

Jacob shook his head and slumped into his chair while taking a swig from his tea. "Whew, must have been some call to make."

"It was the only logical one," Miranda shrugged. "He tried to warn the colony, but in the end time was just not on his side. Shepard managed to single-handily prevent what could have been the greatest disaster to- -"

"Stalled," Jacob corrected.

The XO considered the word before nodding in agreement, tipping her tea up towards the man. "Stalled. Correct, he has stalled this disaster. What do you make of all this?"

"What do we ever make of anything, Lawson? I think we're just going to have to do the best we can when the time comes. Consider it; what did we think about going through the Omega Four Relay? Impossible odds. Suicide missions. And yet...here we are," Jacob said, finally clinking his bottle against hers. "We live to fight another day. Shepard's a good man, a good Commander. I believe and trust in him and I believe and trust in this team."

"Hmm," Miranda grunted, more sound than word or feeling.

"It's alright to be a little freaked by it, Miri."

"I'm not 'freaked', Jacob. War doesn't scare me. It's straightforward It's everything else that bothers me from time to time."

"You think war is simple?"

"Simple enough if you were to truly put it in layman's terms. You're either the one pulling the trigger who wins, or the one that gets killed and loses. Sure, if you'd like to get complicated then you'd find that the truths of war are contradictory. It's both grotesque and beautiful at once, because for all its horror you can't help but gape at the appalling magnificence of warfare. There's a kind of majesty in it."

"Your ruthlessness worries me. You've managed to break something like war down but you find something else to be difficult to comprehend? Like what?"

"Just a figure of speech," Miranda said with a shrug, indifferently changing the subject. "How are you and Kasumi," she asked, keeping the opening of her bottle near her lips in thought. There would be no way she'd voice her concerns in a straight-forward fashion.

"We're alright," Jacob replied, a bit disbelieving as to why she'd ask such a question. It was uncharacteristic. "Still functioning normally- -well, as normal as we can in this situation. I worry about her out in the field sometimes. She likes the excitement and I freak out a little when she randomly goes stealth and ends up behind the guy we're all targeting, but she's a very skilled woman who knows what she's doing out there. She makes me happy," he carried on with a gentle smile. "And I'm glad she's here. Shepard gave us the heads up; we all know that shit will hit the fan sooner or later. I feel bad for the guys on this ship who have their loved ones waiting for them back at home, you know? That guy Robert from the C.I.C has a wife back on Earth with a kid on the way. I get to make the most out of my time here with Kasumi. He can't say the same thing, the poor bastard. He works here, but we all know where his heart really is."

Miranda had finished off her tea before leaning her head back against her chair's headrest and closing her eyes. The tiny migraine she had developed much earlier this evening was beginning to grow in strength.

"You been sleeping alright, Lawson?"

"I sleep fine, just not very much," she lied. She hadn't been sleeping at all. "Gotta' keep up with all this paper work before I drown in it. I've also been trying to frequently update the data that Shepard and I have been mining and compiling on the Reapers: what's known of their history, facts, weapons, little details, old reports, etcetera. Anything and everything that might aid us in the coming days."

"You're starting to spread yourself thin, Miri. We don't know when they'll arrive. Believe me I understand the importance of this, Shepard has the rest of us doing our parts as well. But you're the only one that seems to be trying to do it all at once. You need rest."

How was Miranda supposed to say that working herself to the ground was the only way she could stay focused, was the only way she could currently keep herself together? "You're not the first to tell me that, and you won't be the first that I prove wrong. You know that I enjoy working."

"Too much if you ask me."

"Good thing I didn't," the XO winked.

"Alright then," the officer said with a laugh as he got up to his feet and returned his chair to its original position. "It's getting late so I'll get out of your hair. We dock at the Citadel in a few hours so I need my beauty sleep before having to deal with tomorrow's inventory check. I'll catch you later."

"Thanks for the visit, Jacob. Really."

Jacob turned to smile at her, nodding his head firmly before making his exit. "Any time. Get some sleep. I'm serious. Take a breather from all this work."

Miranda got off her chair after that and moved over towards her bed. She plopped down on her usual left side and turned to face her nightstand to open the second drawer. "Take a breather, hmm?" The broken jewelry box that London had given her was still inside along with a few crafting materials that were left behind. She caught the corner of her lip lifting almost automatically as her hand glided across the lid's smooth surface.

"Why don't you work, what are you missing," she asked herself, reaching around to crank the small, oval lever. She turned the object over delicately and observed its base when there was no sound, twisting and turning it at all angles before finally opening the hasp to look inside. Empty.

Miranda closed it and set the box back down into the drawer. Structure wise it was simple. It didn't have any of the flare that, say, Drell or Asari boxes did. It was homemade; human and heavily influenced by human culture, so several vids were soon downloading on her omni-tool as well as the history and diagrams of jewelry boxes made from the 1500s until modern times.

Lawson took note of all parts usually needed in the creation of such a thing. A few seconds was all it took to have the parts ordered and ready for pickup tomorrow morning. She directed a team that built the infamous Commander John Shepard. How hard could fixing this be? If anything, it was good to take her mind off things if only for a moment.

God knows she needed it right now.

[ Portside Observation / 10PM ]

"Knock, knock." Kasumi halted at the entrance of London's quarters, her hands neatly held in front of her tummy as she looked upon the frame of the injured sniper. "Lond?" The brunette had been slumped on the bed, stretched out along her side and facing away from the empty space of her quarters, pale lavender sheets covering her all up the up to her chin. Her hair was loose, sprawling across the pillows like a silky river of chestnut. Kasumi sighed worriedly, walking slowly across the space in between them and choosing to sit on the side that London was not occupying. "Hey," the thief tried. "You haven't eaten anything all day. You need to keep your strength up if you're going to get better. Would you like to take a walk out into the mess hall for some food? Helen said it'd be good for you to stretch your legs a bit. You weren't feeling to well when she tried to work with your earlier. Are you sick?"

A weak shake of the head was the only response Kasumi was given, causing her to reach up and remove her hood. "You sure?" She inched closer to London and placed a hand on her shoulder, eyebrows furrowing in sadness when she felt the flesh beneath her palm begin to tremble. Kasumi moved her thumb up and down, kneading the skin of London's shoulder consolingly. "Oh. So it's true? Miranda...she might...?"

The XO had been trying to make up her mind, opting that both women 'take time to really think'. Kasumi closed her eyes and sighed, not knowing anything else to do except let the length of her body slide underneath the covers with the sniper. London quaked harder upon the contact, Kasumi could feel the way her stomach shook as she placed her arm firmly on the young brunette's midsection. "Everything will be alright," she whispered, hugging the woman close as one sister would do another. "She's just trying to work things out the best way she can."

"I'm tired of hearing that," the brunette said quietly. "She's not happy with me and she's not happy without me. I don't know what she wants, but she needs to figure it out soon or I won't be around to hear her answer."

"Of course she's happy with you. Lond, you know the kind of woman that she is. Her life has always been straight and narrow. There was work, work, and Oriana. She never had to worry about anyone other than her sister and herself. You can't expect her to be perfect after moving out of that box. Everything in her life has changed. Don't shrug at me," Kasumi chuckled, moving her hand to squeeze London's shoulder. "She stopped working for Cerberus, has been helping Shepard deal with the Alliance and the Council, has helped your sister get situated, and opened up her world to you. All of those things are new. It'll take more than the few months you've given her to get it all right. On the contrary to her genetics, Miranda isn't perfect. She's actually pretty crappy at a few things: Ping-pong being one."

"Ping-p..." London shook her head, "You know, this hasn't been a walk in the gardens for me either! My mother told me when I was young that when someone breaks your heart, you're allowed to cry for them one time. You get all of that pain and frustration out, and then you pick yourself up off the floor and continue on with life. I've already cried for Miranda like four times. I'm stupid to even still be sticking around. If it's not her trying to hide our relationship from the entirety of this crew, then it's her injecting me with a fucking sedative so I can stop talking. Who does that, Kasumi! Enough is enough. I'm tired. I'm tired of this run-around, and I'm tired of her playing hot and cold." Her throat was tight the entire time she spoke, always on the verge of cracking but always managing to somehow recover. Saying it aloud only made the words sting worse.

"Okay, okay." Kasumi held her hand up in peace. "Hey. Speaking of hot and cold; I think I'll hang around here for a bit. You've given me more action in thirty seconds than Jacob has in days."

London smiled weakly, her poor attempt at laughter sounding more like a whimper. Even through clothing Kasumi's heat felt good against the seemingly never ending chill of London's skin, and the sniper eventually found the need to cry subside. Puffy eyes were all that remained as she inhaled the warm scent of the thief. It was a comforting smell; warm like sunlight and sweet like brown sugar and fig.

"Check this out," Kasumi smiled, lifting an arm up to activate her omni-tool. "I transferred a few of my musty old books onto my drive. Wanna' read a story? I have tons on this thing. I prefer to feel the pages in my hands but this is good too when you're always on the move and don't wanna lug around a book worth more than the mission will probably pay."

"...you really don't have to do any of this, Kas." London sniffled, raising a tissue from underneath the sheets to wipe her nose and chuckling at how ridiculously bad she must look right about now. Thank God she was facing away from her friend. "I'm just having an off night. I'm not usually like this, I swear."

"Stop being all G.I. Jane and shaddup' for a bit. Besides, it's not for you! I happen to love reading these things and showing off my collection," Kasumi mused. "Here, let's try this one," she insisted, nudging into London's back as if to prove a point. "It's actually one of my favorites. I tried reading it with Jacob but he thinks little of it, that boring old fart..."

London nodded halfheartedly, pushing her back into her friend and praying to anyone who'd pay heed that her mind go blank if only for a short moment. She closed her eyes and listened as Kasumi began to speak, pretending that the body she felt behind her was Miranda's but knowing better to believe in her wishes. This would have to do for now. This would have to be enough. So London laid there, wrapped in both the warmth of friendship and the iciness of heartbreak all at once. It hurt. The very first person that London learned to trust in a long, long time ended up injuring her far past the wounds received from The Velvet Vault.

"Chapter One," Goto began. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighborhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters..."

[10 AM]

By the time both women had woken up it was already late morning. The fact that no one had awoken them was no surprise, today was meant to be a day for transferring June into the Citadel's custody. Shepard was to be accompanied by Garrus and drop him off alone, so it was not shocking when Kasumi looked out the observation window and found that the ship had already docked. The crew had probably unloaded and was spending time either restocking or using their personal credits elsewhere.

London groaned and rubbed her eyes as she propped herself up with her elbows. "...what time is it?"

Kasumi chuckled, "It's around ten."

"Ugh," the sniper smiled, plopping back down onto her pillow. "We went to sleep three and a half hours ago."

"Didn't I tell you that it was an addicting story?"

"You did. I was adequately warned."

"So," Kasumi grinned evilly, running back towards the bed and dive bombing in. She offered up her best puppy-dog eyes. "Want to see if we can finish the rest tonight?"

"...you're on."

"Yes!" The thief cooed happily, throwing her arms around the brunette and hugging tightly. "Then we can watch some kind of tacky chick-flick! Jacob hates watching those with me."

"You're totally only using me to fill in all those gaps in your life, aren't you?"

"Little bit."

"That's fine," the sniper laughed. "Only maybe this time we should start a bit earlier than ten or eleven at- -"

"I just came back from the Citadel only to have Dr. Chakwas come up to me and- -" Miranda had barged into London's quarters only to stop a few feet inside to take notice of Kasumi wrapped around the brunette, her left eyebrow ticking up in curiosity, irritation, and...perhaps a little jealousy.

"Oh," London said coolly. "Mr. Darcy, I wasn't expecting you. Good morning."

Kasumi stiffled her laugh, bringing up her hand and trying her best to play it off as a cough. Miranda folded her arms and looked upon the two with an unimpressed demeanor, "London, why didn't you show up for your checkup? You need to get better."

"I am getting better. I feel great today," she lied, a little too well. "I'll be fit for duty in no time. I will head over to the Medical Bay in a short while and then maybe, if my second in command allows me to breathe, go for a walk by myself."

Miranda looked at the sniper, her eyes betraying her before struggling to go back to neutral. "Your second in command wouldn't even be here to give this friendly reminder if her specialist had shown up to her scheduled medical examination as she was intended to."

...wouldn't even be here... "Noted. I be sure to apologize to Dr. Chakwas for losing track of time; my lack of attendance was not intended. Is there anything else you needed?" London kept her unyielding gaze until the XO took a step back, trying her best to ignore the pounding of her heart.

"No, that'll...that'll be all. Now if you'll excuse me I have work that needs my attention."

Kasumi frowned as Miranda left London's quarters, soon turning to face the young brunette with what seemed to be everlastingly shrugged shoulders and a bewildered expression. "What the hell was that? Nu-uh," she wiggled her finger. "I don't like you two like this."

London pressed her palms to her face and inhaled deeply to keep from breaking down into another fit of misery. After taking the moment to gather herself, she looked back at Kasumi with eyes much sadder than before. "I know. I'm giving her what she wants. If Miranda wants to be nothing more than an XO to me, then you know what? Fine. While she works everything out I'll make her life easier and just...pretend."

"That's not right," the thief scowled. "She loves you. It's flippin' obvious! All that fire and doom isn't fooling me one bit-from either of you. And what the hell calling her Mr. Darcy?" Kasumi couldn't keep that smile from returning again.

"She's difficult to love, doesn't like when people smile, she's not very agreeable, overly genteel, and has a terrible temper. I'd say that Darcy and Miranda were one and the same if I didn't know any better."

"Really now," Kasumi considered quietly. "You don't mean those things. You're just angry with her at this time."

"I know," the sniper agreed at a pathetically fast pace.

"You two need to seriously talk about this."

"We have. She says that she's afraid I'll get hurt because of my lack of training. She's worried that she'll make a bad call if I'm out on the field."

"So train," Kasumi laughed. "Get better at what you already do well. It's a simple solution. There's no need for all this gloom and doom. If she's legitimately concerned for your wellbeing then bring it up to the Commander and see what he can do to help. You're working underneath a very good man, Lond. Let him help you."

"Kas, this isn't the kind of thing I should be talking to him about."

"Well don't go crying to the man because you're having relationship problems. That's not what I'm suggesting you go to him for. I'm saying if it's a concern about your ability to function on a battlefield then yes, he'll most definitely want to hear about it."

London turned onto her back and tilted her head to look at her friend. "Miranda does have a justifiable reason to be concerned, but I'm not the only one that's not military trained am I? Ken and Gabby?"

"Trained. You won't usually find them in combat scenarios because of their tech background, but they do know how to use a heavy pistol if need be."

"Kelly?"

"She's trained too. I guess she'd be in a similar boat to the engineers, but take out the tech degree and replace it with a psychology one."

"Grunt!"

"Not trained to fight," Kasumi smiled. "He was born and bred to fight. It's literally in his genetics."

"Tali!" London shot out a finger like she had just scored the jackpot.

"Tali was raised as the daughter of an Admiral. She knows her way around a military text-book better than any soldier. Now add all of that combat experience that's under her belt and...you get it."

The brunette groaned dolefully, knowing all of this was making her previous statement absolutely worthless. She couldn't compete with any of this! London didn't have a degree; didn't have any sort of military background or family relations involved in the system. "Fine, I'll speak with Shepard."

"There is a lot of weight riding on the Normandy's shoulders. But both Shepard and Lawson get the brunt of it. You can't blame her for the concerns she has. So instead of wallowing in here all day let's get up and get ready. You apparently have a one on one with Chakwas and I need to help Jacob with inventory before lunch. Do you need a hand getting to the Med Bay?"

"No, I can walk just fine by myself. My body is just sore, not shattered. I'm just going to take a quick bath before I head over. I'll see you later tonight, okay?"

"Alright. But do one thing for me?"

"...depends on the thing," the dancer said hesitantly, trying her best to not come off as uncaring or rude. It always worried her when people asked that question. In her old line of work it was something she absolutely hated being asked.

"Don't be hasty. I know everything with you and Lawson is all topsy-turvy right now, but please don't make any brash decisions. Give her a shot, okay? I'll see you later."

[ Communication's Room / 1PM ]

"Is everything clear with the Citadel Security Service?"

"Sure is, Shepard." Garrus nodded, finishing off the last of the messages. "Venari Pallin has set up three separate divisions to help in the transfer. We got two people from the Special Response unit coming in to help with the actual relocation itself, a few personnel from the Networks department coming to claim his omni-tool for further inspection, and some guy from a random Elite-Patrolling unit that's coming to claim that data pad Kasumi found in June's bag back at the Vault. Given the sensitivity of the information, Pallin will be putting one of his 'best' on it. They're worried someone within that Alliance corporation is transporting very illegal materials to shady individuals, individuals that just might have to deal in Anderson's little problem. It's a hunch really, but at least they're doing something instead of sitting on their thumbs all day."

"Alright then," Shepard said with a clap of the hands. "Send the okay to the two men and/or women from Special Response."

"Got it. They're inbound."

"June. If there's anything left to say, now's the time. They're going to take your omni-tool and majority of your other tech belongings from us."

"What am I going to hide, Shepard? I already confessed to working for these people. There'd be no point in exterminating or hiding data now."

"No, but if you willingly helped me your jury would take that into consideration."

"I got nothing. I've told you what I know."

"Fine. Let's go." The Commander grasped June firmly by his bicep and pulled the man to his feet. "Move."

"Don't forget our agreement: information in exchange for the protection of my family."

"I didn't forget," John said sternly, walking the man out of his ship and holding him at the docking stations entrance. "You just better be telling me the truth."

"The eezo vessel will dock at Tortuga on the first of next month just like I said. It's a tiny ship by cargo standards and won't be difficult to point out. Be there by then and you'll get what you're looking for."

Garrus watched the area carefully as Shepard continued speaking. "Is there any resistance that I should be aware of?"

"Now that Riley and I have been gone there could have been replacements issued to the hive. I'm not sure. Parker, the head scientist, and his assistant are the only individuals that will be on aboard that I concretely know of."

"Heads up, Shepard. Special Response and the rest of the hoity-toitys are here."

John nodded at Garrus before nudging the mercenary into a walk. "Tell them what you've told me and they might go easy on you."

"I'm not expecting any favors, Commander."

The Response unit was first to walk up towards the Normandy crew, both men saluting Shepard properly. "Sir. We've been assigned to take this man into custody, we'll take it from here. Admiral Anderson would like to have a word with you up in his office."

"That's fine. Here are the items that were confiscated." The Networks team took June's omni-tool as intended, as did the Patrolling unit who claimed the data pad. When the exchange was complete all three units diverged into separate paths.

Garrus put his rifle away with an unenthused expression. "Well that was anti-climatic."

John looked around for anyone in talking distance. "Did you get the link and access code to his omni-tool?"

"Sure did. Already sent the information to Tali. She'll have already hacked in and copied all files before that unit even sits down at their desks."

"Good work. I can take it from here, Garrus. Go ahead and clear your station. Enjoy this time while you got it."

"You sure? I ain't exactly got a list of to-dos."

"Then go make one," John grinned, patting the Turian roughly on the back before walking off towards the transit terminal. "Actually," he paused. "Ask Miranda to meet me up at Anderson's office. It's the same place we dropped off Teagan at. And since we got Tali rolling, get her and Legion to hack into that Patrolling unit's data mainframe."

"I'm all for fun and excitement, but is that a smart thing to do, Shepard? You know that the guy in charge of the Citadel divisions is the one who put out that order to claim the pad, right? You really wanna hack in on that? That's a whole lot of political backfire that could come raining down on your parade if you get caught. And having just blew up the Batarians...you're not exactly on his good side right now."

"Tali and Legion put together are better hackers than any of their hundred. I want to know what that division is able to pull from tracking that data. If the Exo-Geni corporation sent something to this hive, I want to know what it was."

Garrus nodded, "Could be tricky, but I'll tell them. Hell I might even get in on the fun."

[ Top levels of the Citadel/ Human Embassy / Anderson's Office / 2 PM]

"Shepard, Ms. Lawson," Anderson called over, asking the pair to sit on two chairs opposite himself. He was sitting at a small table on his office's balcony, a view that overlooked the entirety of the citadel below. "You're just in time. Sit down and have something to eat. You two like steak?"

Both of them walked over and nodded, sitting in the offered chairs and looking over the multiple data-pads that littered the table.

"Good. Throw your boots up and take a breather then. Shepard, I heard what you managed to do down on Aratoht. Glad to see you're alright."

"Any news from the council? Have preparations against the Reapers begun?"

"There's no evidence to go by, Commander. They're denying the threat as of now until all unknowns are brought to light. All they have to work with is the word of Hackett and your after action report. There's no hard evidence. Had Kenson been brought back alive we might have a different story, but we don't. What we do have is the Batarians on the council's doorstep looking for blood with their gazes cast at the humans."

John leaned back into his seat and picked up one of the many data pads. "With all due respect, Admiral...that's bullshit."

"You know how politics work, John. We're doing the best that we can without drowning right now. But while the human embassy works on that, I need you to focus on this for just a while longer."

"I'm assuming what I'm looking at in this pad is concerning my mission?"

"It is, yes. These are the medical files of the children who've gone missing, each with a genetic abnormality due to prenatal eezo exposure."

"There's a lot more than three kids here, Admiral."

"The counts gone up a bit since your last visit, Shepard. It's peculiar, each child is showing a linking strand in their genetic structure, a coding with similar qualities but still vastly different. This strand deals with the children's ability in biotics."

Shepard nodded his head, "Have you gotten the report from June?"

"I have," Anderson said wearily. "I got a few minutes ago and what he says makes sense given the facts we know now, given the similarities that we're aware of. They are testing some sort of factor in a biotic's makeup. My question is why these people are targeting human children for testing, and more importantly- - what is it that they're looking for."

Miranda reviewed each pad carefully. "They're most likely targeting human children because compared to other races in the galaxy, humans are much more genetically diverse. If testing is what they're doing, then extremists would be the first to choose humans as their subjects. Our deoxyribonucleic acid enables a broader range of modalities and exploration. There'd be more variables which would offer a greater variety of options to follow up on."

"Teagan was the only known child biotic to have the so called 'missing factor' in her coding. June couldn't tell me what that factor was, or even what they were testing for. He didn't know. But maybe," John thought, "since a human child was the only known subject to have their determining factor, these scientists believe that another child somewhere might possess the same kind of genetic strand."

"That's ridiculous, Commander. Trying to find an identical, if not exact genetic match amongst random children would be like finding a needle in space. Unless the child had a twin, finding such material would be near impossible if not completely. There are alternatives such as cloned tissue, but I don't believe that's a factor here, or at least not one we're aware of."

"But if you were a desperate extremists who just might be on the verge of something? Would you try to find someone who's as close to the original as possible?"

"Well," the XO considered. "Extremists are known to be...extreme."

"They've been trying to find a replacement for the data they've lost. Both Sanders and Riley were looking for a chip that contained all of Teagan's information before being killed and captured. Without that information, I assume these scientists have been set back quite the while."

Anderson nodded his head, "And we have no idea where this chip is now?"

"My team and I have searched high and low, Admiral. The kid's father took its location to the grave with him."

"I see. I suppose that means we'll just have to wait until you've managed to get into that hive."

"Yes, sir. The known hive is called the SS Atlantis. According to June's information it docks on the first of every month for supplies on a station named Tortuga out in the Nemean abyss."

"That's a few days from now, isn't it?"

"It is. The Normandy will remain docked here until tomorrow morning. We'll arrive days in advance to scout and hack into the station's older shipping logs. Tali should be able to give us a pattern concerning which dock they prefer to load out under, as well as any similarities on times they might show up at."

"It looks like you've got this all planned out, Shepard."

"It's what I do, Admiral. And I have one hell of a team that helps."

"Glad to hear it, John. Now let's get those steaks out here and eat. We've all got pressing matters to attend to."

"Actually I'd like to take a rain check on that steak, sir. I didn't realize that evening was already approaching. I'm still in need of speaking with one of my specialists aboard the Normandy."

"That's fine then. We'll debrief in person when you return to this system. Good luck out there, Commander."

xxxxxxx

"Lawson," Shepard announced firmly as the pair entered into the C.I.C, breaking away from the elevator and making a sharp right to head into the Tech Lab. "Head down into engineering to see if Tali was able to pick up anything useful. I don't expect information in regards to the data pad just yet, but she should have retrieved something from the omni-tool by now."

"And if she hasn't, Commander?"

"Then she better be getting it to me in five minutes."

"Of course. I'll head over right away."

John nodded his head in dismissal before turning to pass through the Tech Lab's doorway. The Salarian doctor was standing in his usual spot and researching data on a variety of subjects. "Ah, Shepard. Good to see you. Just in time! Got in new shipment of biotic dampeners and oils. Feel free."

"Thanks I think, but that's not why I'm here. Mordin, when the time comes to enter the Atlantis I'll be needing your expertise out there with me. I assume you got those medical reports that I sent to you this afternoon?"

"Happy to help, Shepard. Yes, been reading reports, digging deeper into research. Implications of mission is...disturbing. Children subjected to testing. Sloppy. Appalling. Inexcusable. No place in proper science."

John leaned against one of the many work stations and crossed his arms. "What do you make of all this, Solus?"

"Hard to say. Humans offer to many variables. Testing could be for anything, plague or cure alike. Need to see data and statistical analysis."

"We'll get that for you as soon as we can," John said. "We still have a few days, but I'll let you know when we're ready to begin. Make sure to keep yourself updated in the meantime, alright? Keep looking into those reports and contact me the second you think anything is even remotely worth mentioning."

Mordin nodded happily as he returned to his research. "Will do, Shepard. You know where to find me. And please, do take oils."

[ Mess Hall/ 9PM]

-*- We need to talk. Will you stop by?-*-

~M

It had taken a while for London to become accustomed to checking her omni-tool for messages. She had spent the years of her life managing to function without one, so getting into the habit had proven to be tricky. By the time she had checked her unread messages it was eight-thirty in the evening. Crew members were gathered in the mess hall, split up in several large groups per table. Despite the news of an impending invasion, everyone seemed to be in relatively high spirits. They chatted endlessly, some laughing, and others preferring to simply eat and reflect quietly in the company of good people.

London waved to a few who had signaled to her first, shaking her head with a genuine smile at their offer of companionship and food. She continued on her way quietly towards the operative's office door, stopping only when she noticed the light at its center glowed red. London lifted her hand hesitantly and let it hover over the colored circle. Moments passed before she simply sighed and let her limb fall to her side. It was getting late and she had read the message far passed its delivery to her omni-tool.

The dancer turned around quickly and made her way back to her quarters, pausing only briefly to look at the time. Kasumi had messaged her about arriving late this evening so London was not expecting to find someone sitting quietly on her couch, legs crossed and arms folded upon entering.

"...Miranda?"

The Operative looked awful. The bags underneath her eyes seemed to have deepened in color, and there was a slight, very uncharacteristic slump to her posture as she sat. It was plain as day that the woman was tired both physically, mentally, and just maybe emotionally. London took a second to gather herself before approaching the woman, choosing to sit in the middle of the couch rather than directly next to her.

"I'm sorry, I know that I should have given you a warning to my company. I had sent you a message but received no replay...so I took the matter into my own hands and...here I am. We need to talk," she repeated, echoing the words from her earlier note.

"Miranda when was the last time you slept," the brunette asked, blatantly ignoring the XO's request to speak of their issues. In all honesty the state of the operative had caught London off guard. It worried the dancer that Miranda had been pushing herself so hard these past two weeks, having little to no regard for her own wellbeing.

"London, can we-"

The sniper shook her head and slid closer, extending her hand and pressing it to the woman's forehead with no concern about anything else. "Miranda you're actually really warm. You need to rest."

Lawson clenched her jaw, gently lifting her own hand to remove the others. "I'm fine. Can we please talk?"

"No," London finally said sternly, the look in her eye leaving no room for argument. "You've already told me what concerns you and what you need to function as a second in command. I've already set plans in motion to put your worry at ease about my training, so don't bother yourself about that anymore. As for you not being able to be a girlfriend and XO...I can't help you with that. What I can do," London continued, lifting her hands to cup Miranda's face so that the woman couldn't look away, "is make you realize that you look like crap. You should be sleeping. You need it. Tomorrow is a big day for you and you need to be able to do your tasks. Don't argue."

Lawson swallowed, a small self-conscious feeling starting to spark within. Never in her life had she been told that she looked bad. This was not a pleasantry, especially coming from the lips of this specific individual.

"When was the last time you slept properly?"

Miranda finally yielded, moving her face away from London's grip so that she could look at the woman correctly. "I can't remember. Maybe a week."

The sniper looked at the raven haired beauty in disbelief. "Why not? That's really not very healthy. How are you even upright right now?"

Rolling her eyes came as a natural response for Miranda, knowing well what is and what is not good for the human body. She could feel the toll that the lack of sleep had taken on her a long time ago, but was just never able to do anything about it. "I know. I just can't."

"You can't sleep?"

"At all."

"Why not?"

"There's just a lot on my mind," the XO replied truthfully, lowering her head into the palms of her hands. She rubbed her face tiredly, taking a moment to process before looking back up at London. It surprised Miranda to find the brunette suddenly standing in front of herself. "Uh?"

"Look," the dancer began softly. "I don't know what you want from me or for us. I don't even know if there's an us anymore. You seem to change your mind so frequently now a days that everything is just starting to blur and I can't tell what it is we're doing any more. But," she paused, sighing resignedly as she ran the back of her hand along Miranda's warm forehead, "together or not, I won't stand by and watch you bury yourself in a hole. There are a lot of things that I can't help you with, but I can help you fall asleep."

Miranda's eyes softened, slowly taking the offered hand before being led to London's bed. She knew she should have protested. If anything, Miranda knew that she didn't deserve this kindness right now. Yet the gentle pull of her hand, the warmth of the palm connecting to hers, the familiar crackle of energy that prickled the entirety of her body, and the twisting feeling deep within her tummy did nothing but egg her on. All of these things allowed the XO to be led to bed, to be silently undressed and helped into a large nightshirt, to be tucked under the soft, fluffy duvet.

London was slow to move after that. She was sure to message Kasumi and explain the situation before dressing herself in her own nightclothes, safe and out of view of Miranda. Upon returning to the XO, she noticed that Lawson was turned onto her side and self-consciously chewing on her lower lip apparently lost in thought.

"You're not allowed to think about work for the next eight hours."

"I'm not. I'm just thinking."

London laid out across her side of the bed after that, sure to keep on top of the covers rather than under them. Both women looked at each other, unable to break their gaze. Miranda wanted nothing more than to reach out and run her fingers through the mass of light brown curls but knew better than be hypocritical. It was her doing that caused this situation. If there was any hope of conversation, it would have be on London's terms and without making a move.

"...what are you thinking about?"

Miranda finally cracked a tiny smile at the opportunity she was given to speak, sad but sincere and thankful. "I'm thinking that I do this to myself all the time."

London's eyebrows furrowed at the sentence, not quite understanding what she was saying. "You deprive yourself of sleep?"

"No," the operative said, her smile getting bigger before falling from her lips completely. "I guess I'll have to explain that one..."

"It'd certainly help me understand."

"...when I was small I was taught to not linger on my dreams. There was no point in dwelling on them. I had a purpose and everything had already been laid out for me, but when you're a child you can't help your imagination. I would picture what it would be like to attend an actual school, dating, kissing a boy for the first time, and making friends. Then my eyes would open and I would realize that what I saw wasn't real. I realized the limits of my dreams. I know how painful dreams can be, because dreams soon become expectation. So I learned to not hope for what I cannot have. I do not wish to cling because the more you cling, the more you love them, the more pain you'll suffer when they're taken from you. I learned that lesson young. "

London nodded quietly, watching Miranda as she continued to speak, "I'm stupid to have told you what I did. It's bloody burned into my head that I can't have good things going for me because something terrible always comes out of it. I'm terrified," the XO finally said, her voice lowering to a hush. "I'm terrified of you, of having you. Of everything that could happen because of it..."

The sniper closed her eyes, "Please don't do this. I can't take any more of this run around Miranda. I'm not a toy, and when you say one thing then turn around and say something like this...it hurts. I don't know what to believe anymore."

"I know," the operative said quickly, eyes saddening. "I don't mean to do any of these things, but I always manage to shut myself off. I know I'm not a robot, but sometimes it feels like I'm bloody well programmed like one. I'm here because I don't want to be like this anymore. I want to change and be better."

"What are you so scared of," London asked, no longer able to keep at such a distance. Perhaps it was the way she looked in a nightshirt or the fragrance of her hair that mingled so perfectly with Miranda's natural perfume. She reached out a warm hand and caressed Miranda's cheek, scooting her body in so that they were in a more personal space. "I've told you that I would never hurt you, yet you seem to be the one that keeps pushing us apart."

"I know, and I've been thinking about it non-stop. I'm trying to rationalize my actions and make it so that I don't turn back...but I just can't. I'm making excuses when there is none. Jacob spoke to me briefly in my quarters. He had made a few comments that made me realize I'm lucky to have you here. I've been incredibly daft."

"Miranda," London began slowly, taking her hand back so that nothing was touching. She eyed the XO very seriously. "I don't think I can take any more hot and cold. So be honest with me and be honest with yourself. I'm going to give you the chance for an answer, but I swear that this will be the last. So tell me what is it that you want..."

"Everything." Coming from a family of such means, it surprised Miranda to find how much she had been denied in life, from both father and herself alike. Now that she was being honest, in truth Miranda found that what she finally wanted was...everything.

London sighed, not thrilled by the vague answer and growing ever so tired of the ups and down. Miranda scooted closer, forcing the younger woman to look back. Azure eyes danced with gray, "The very first day we met, we had glanced at each other on our trip back towards the Normandy. It was that look that hooked me. There was sadness in your eyes. Like me. We saw sadness in each other."

London looked away, "We were both unhappy."

"...and then it turned to love," Miranda said quietly, never taking her eyes away. "I've never felt what I feel with you, the happiness I have with you. And now I realize," she smiled, fingers gently taking London's chin, "I want everything, so long as its you I'm sharing it with."

The dancer's chest heaved, not wanting to let herself fall for such sweet words. There had been plenty of times this past week and a half that the operative said one thing then hurt her by doing another. What made this time any different? Nevertheless, London found her willpower slowly slipping away into nothingness. She allowed Miranda to inch forward and use her hand to travel the delicate features of her face and neck. The XO leaned in and placed her forehead against the others, the sweet scent of their breaths mingling in small distance between them. The dancer lifted the duvet to where she could slide herself in, slowly intertwining hers and Miranda's legs. Miranda closed her eyes as London wrapped her arms around the operative's neck and pulled the woman into a fierce embrace.

It was in this position that the second in command was finally able to rest, wrapped tightly chest to chest in the arms of the forgiving. Miranda knew there would be no chances after this. It was all or nothing; and Miranda was definitely in it for the long haul. She knew she needed to make that clear too; her words were becoming valueless. There were to many second guesses and turnarounds. She knew she would have to prove it and put aside all of her insecurities, and God did she want to prove it. She wanted to not only take London, but be Londons.

"London," the XO called out softly, pulling herself back just enough so that she could look at the brunette properly.

"Hm," came the simple reply. The concern was evident in the dancer's eyes, her orbs tracing over Miranda's face for any sign of discomfort or more second guesses.

"...make love with me..."

[ End Chapter 30: Outcomes and Arrivals, Part II of II ]

A/N: I loved writing this chapter because I thought it was a great way to explore and compare Jack and Miranda. Both are so different yet if you really, really think about they're almost exactly alike. It's trippy!

I was going to go deeper into Jack's past, but that in itself is an entire new fan-fiction. I wanted to touch base with it, and will probably work a little more with it down the line. But for now...I think this worked nicely.

Anyways! Thoughts? Comments? Reviews? Assuming direct control?