Blood from a Stone

1.

The cacophony of conversation in the conference room came to a distinct halt as soon as Commander Darby Shepard walked in, all blue eyes, easy smile, and confident swagger.

The silence was almost deafening; she always did like making an entrance.

Her team looked at her expectantly, their faces masks of confusion as to why EDI had ushered them into the briefing room. The smooth contralto of Shepard's voice broke the momentary silence. "We've assembled a team of the best of the best and taken care of what unfinished business we can," she said. "This is as prepared as we can get right now, and as you all know, our next immediate mission is to acquire the Reaper IFF."

A series of weary but determined faces greeted the Commander as she paced around the table, the crew bracing themselves for yet another grueling task. "But," Shepard continued, pausing for effect, "we've got some time before that. The Normandy still needs a few upgrades that'll take a few days." She leaned back, looking particularly pleased with herself. "I figured we could use that time for a little break while we remain docked."

Everyone looked pleasantly surprised.

Everyone, that is, except for Miranda Lawson.

"Commander, are you sure this is such a good idea?" The cautionary tone of her voice indicated that she apparently did not.

"Lighten up, princess," Jack sniped, crossing her arms. "A little bit of R and R won't kill us."

"No, but the Collectors catching us off-guard just might," replied Miranda, frowning.

"True but improbable. Tech upgrades necessary nonetheless. Will need to ground the Normandy momentarily anyway," Mordin reasoned. "Over-exhaustion also not conducive to performance."

"I've heard that one before," Kasumi smirked.

Jacob Taylor straightened his posture even further, crossing his arms. "Jack is right, Miranda. I, for one, don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth."

Scowling, Miranda protested, "I didn't mean—"

Shepard held up a silencing hand. "We're going to be docked for a few days at the Citadel no matter what, at least for the upgrades. I'm just giving you a few days off in the meantime, and what you do with that is your prerogative. Just be ready in two days to board a derelict Reaper, okay?" Shepard paused, leaning over the table and dropping into her authoritative Commander voice. "Have fun and be safe. I'm sure I don't have to tell you not to get into any trouble," she said, looking pointedly at Jack who innocently shrugged with a smirk. "Dismissed," Shepard said, already heading out the door. At the last second, however, she poked her head back into the room.

"Oh, and guys? Try not to get too wasted."

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"Fuck, I am too wasted," Jack laughed, struggling to remain upright in her seat at the bar. The music pounding through the Dark Star Lounge was beginning to make Shepard's head hurt.

Shepard rolled her eyes. "So much for official orders," she mumbled dryly.

"Wasn't it you that wanted us to have a little break, Shep?" Kasumi pointed out, sipping delicately at her martini.

"Yeah, Shepard," said Grunt as he slammed down an empty shot glass back down on the bar, burping. His eyes narrowed menacingly at something across the room. "Is that turian over there looking at me funny? He is, isn't he? I'll knock him on his ass if he is."

Finishing off her beer and sighing, Shepard ran a hand through her dark messy hair. "No, Grunt, he isn't."

"C'mon Shepard, you've been hanging around the ice princess too much. You need to lighten up. We all wanted a drink and the rest of the team pussied out. Try not to shit on the parade, huh?" Jack said loudly, slurping at her seventh beer.

Shepard looked contemplative for a moment, before signaling the bartender. "Perhaps you're right," she said, smiling while the sociopath, the thief, and the savage – some of her closest friends - cheered her on. "Down the hatch," Shepard grinned, tossing back a bright green shot that would turn out to be the first of many.

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"Damn," Shepard said, finding the keypad to her door far too complicated at the moment. It'd be much easier if the keypad would just stay still. She leaned drunkenly against the doorjamb, trying to get the world to stop spinning. The elevator certainly hadn't helped. "I am too wasted," she mumbled to herself.

"Commander?"

"Wha-? Oh, hi Kelly," Shepard gave a lopsided smile at the redhead who had just emerged from the elevator.

"Having trouble there?" said the yeoman knowingly as Shepard struggled with the door.

"Uh, no," Shepard said, still fumbling until she eventually huffed and slumped against it, her back to the cold steel. "Maybe," she admitted.

Kelly approached the Commander with a charmed little smile on her face. "I'm assuming you had fun at the Dark Star?"

"If by fun you mean a lot of shots, then yeah," the Commander hiccupped.

Laughing, Kelly leaned close enough to Shepard so that the other woman could practically feel her body heat radiating off of her. Her voice lowered an octave. "It's a pity I had to finish up some reports tonight. I think we could've had a great time together," she said, fluttering her eyelashes. "I never got to thank you for the wonderful dinner the other night, by the way."

Shepard swallowed nervously, the discomfort of the situation plowing through her drunken haze and sobering her up immediately. She had flirted with Kelly, yes, but she thought it was mostly in the spirit of pleasant, harmless fun. And she figured dinner was just a nice way to spend time with someone she genuinely liked as a friend. "About that, Kelly," she began, already trying to extricate herself from the yeoman's intimate position, "I didn't mean—"

To give you the wrong impression, Shepard said, or it's what she would have said, had Kelly Chambers' lips not kept her own otherwise occupied.

"Shepard, I completed those files early, so I— oh," Miranda said, halting immediately as she stepped out of the elevator. A bottle of champagne dangled listlessly from her hand.

Shepard practically shoved Kelly off as delicately and politely as possible. "Miranda, hey," she said brightly, as if her yeoman hadn't just shoved her tongue down her throat.

Kelly burned bright red. "Operative," she hedged.

Miranda didn't even give her a second look. She simply nodded in her direction, keeping her icy blue eyes focused on Shepard's darker ones. "Perhaps I should return another time."

"No," said Shepard emphatically, practically shouting. She winced. "Uh, I mean…no," she said with forced casualness.

"Actually, I-I just remembered some…thing I have to do back at the CIC," stuttered the redhead before fleeing into the elevator, leaving the Commander and her XO looking supremely uncomfortable in the hallway.

Miranda cleared her throat, suddenly finding it very dry. "So, you and Kelly…?"

"What? No," Shepard blurted. "We had dinner a few nights ago. Unfortunately, I think she thought it was more than a friendly one."

"Oh," Miranda said, something that looked like relief flashing in her eyes. Shepard desperately tried to ignore the flicker of hope that welled up within her.

"Champagne?" Shepard asked, opting to change the subject.

Miranda's nose wrinkled as she approached Shepard and the door to her cabin. She fiddled with the keypad briefly before the door whizzed open. "Perhaps we shouldn't. You smell like a brewery," she accused.

Shepard scowled, following Miranda into the cabin and reaching for the champagne flutes nonetheless. "We had a few drinks at the lounge," she defended. "Others have no problem with the way I smell, Miss Lawson."

"Oh, others like Yeoman Chambers, perhaps?" asked Miranda, smirking as she poured the bubbly liquid into the two glasses.

Shepard huffed in exaggerated irritation, but she couldn't stop the relief that she hadn't ruined their tenuous friendship with a simple misunderstanding. "I kind of miss when we weren't friends," she said darkly.

A stifled laugh nearly caused Miranda to inhale champagne. "No, you don't," replied the Cerberus agent with confidence, winking.

The Commander rolled her eyes in response. "Right, Ms. 'I'm-not-cocky-I-just-really-am-perfect.'"

"Ass."

Shepard snorted. "Oh, speaking of which," Shepard said, settling further into the leather couch as Miranda regarded her curiously. "You have got to get a new uniform or something."

"What?" asked Miranda after downing the rest of her glass, and pouring the two of them another. "What does a new uniform have to do with asses?"

"God, this is strong," Shepard deflected innocently, peering at her newly filled glass. She was determined not to stare at the rather…shapely body part in question, or at how her uniform highlighted her assets.

"It's a new champagne. Engineered for better proof. And by better, I mean higher," Miranda said, the barest hint of a reddish tint already gracing her pale features as evidence. "Don't try to change the subject. What's wrong with this one?" She asked innocently, gesturing towards the dark leather that was practically painted onto her body.

"I don't care what you or Jacob say about your potentially non-existent past together, or how coy you act. I know you, and I can tell by the smirk on your face that you know Jacob's eyes aren't glued to your outfit because he's trying to figure out what material it's made out of," Shepard said.

The smirk on Miranda's lips only grew wider. "Commander!" she said, pretending to be outraged but barely stifling a laugh. "Are you…jealous?" She asked a moment later, and Shepard's breath caught for a moment at the sight of hooded blue eyes peering at her.

Perhaps it was the copious amounts of alcohol she'd consumed, the weeks spent not verbalizing the strange amalgam of feelings about the other woman building within, or the growing sense of urgency as the launch of the suicide mission approached. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Either way, Shepard found herself speaking before thinking, a rare occurrence for the usually tactful Commander. "Not of you, no."

Miranda's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why would you be jealous of Jacob looking at—oh," she said, and the redness of her face burned brighter. Whether it was because of the alcohol or embarrassment Shepard couldn't tell, but she shrugged off the contemplation in lieu of pathetic backpedaling.

"Er, yes. Wait, no. I don't know," Shepard sighed, the alcohol making her stumble even more over her words. She felt the damnable headache from the Dark Star returning with a vengeance. "I just know that I care about you more than a friend should, and we are friends, so I didn't want to lose that, and I didn't know if—"

"Shepard," Miranda said suddenly. The same look Shepard saw before but couldn't decipher flashed again in the agent's pale blue eyes, incomprehensible still.

"What?" Commander Shepard asked sullenly, the woozy and wobbly depressing stage of being drunk and rejected already settling in.

But then Miranda was suddenly somehow on top of her, pressing her into the couch, with heated hands everywhere and teeth gently biting down on Shepard's lower lip before sucking gently on it to soothe the sting.

As Shepard heard the whisper of a zipper being unzipped – which Shepard had heard many times before in a variety of contexts, but it had never sounded this erotic – the world began spinning madly once again for reasons entirely different than alcohol.