And this is it: the really, honest to God finale.
Miranda had sat for Matt exactly once before she understood why models were paid. She was stiff from lying in one position for too long. It was bloody cold in the studio when she was nude. Her nose itched. No sane person would do this without being paid. Miranda was clearly insane. Not only was she doing this for free, she'd married the sadist in front of the easel.
There were compensations. Matt said that he loved her drive to make humanity strong, to push limits until they were shattered into a thousand pieces. Well, he had his passions, too. His blue eyes were intense as he stared at her. Miranda had been stared at all her life. She had been designed to elicit desire in men and women alike. The hungry glances were something to ignore, take advantage of, or enjoy, depending on the situation. Matt did not simply ogle her. There was hunger in his gaze, to be sure, blazing steadily like a fire behind a grate, but that was never all that there was. He looked at her as if she was the key to some new world. As if she had the power to bring forth all the glory and grandeur the galaxy had to offer. He didn't treat her as merely a collection of skills to be used, but he didn't demand that she hide her gifts and become like everyone else. And he would be there to capture her both as she changed the world and as she lived in it.
He was an alchemist, transforming oil paint or charcoal into creations that leapt from the page or canvas with a vitality all their own. His subjects were stripped down to their purest essences and reborn in a world that didn't demand that they be less than they were. Perhaps that was why this wonderful, improbable relationship worked despite everything. They both saw the world as it was and as it ought to be, but also saw no reason it couldn't be transformed from one to the other.
He put down his brush. "Done for now. One more session, and I should have everything I need."
"Oh, thank God." She rose to her feet gingerly and worked the crick from her neck. She didn't ask to see the painting. Matt's work was shown when it was done and not before. Not even to her.
The fire in his eyes grew brighter as he looked her up and down. "Any chance I could get you to skip the whole putting clothes on thing?"
Tempting, very tempting. "After that torture you put me through?"
He put the paints away. "Torture, huh? If I wanted to torture you, you'd know it. You'd be begging me to stop."
A playful mood tonight? Miranda could work with that. She walked toward him slowly, savoring the look on his face as he watched the subtle sway of her hips. Her hand hovered over his chest. "That almost sounds like a challenge, Matt. I never could resist a challenge."
"That so?" He leaned in close. Heat rolled off him in waves. This was going to be fun.
The mechanical voice of the household VI echoed through the room. "Incoming call. Project Prometheus. Priority: Beta."
Miranda swore under her breath. "Hold that thought."
Miranda tossed on a robe and headed to the basement. When she had created Project Prometheus to replace Cerberus, she knew she would have to do things differently. Not merely in the obvious things, but in the small as well. The Illusive Man had committed suicide before they learned what drove him to madness, but Miranda reasoned his near-complete isolation from the species he purported to save had played its part in skewing his perspective. She would have no headquarters at some distant space station. Her work was critical, but it would exist alongside her marriage and her relationship with Oriana.
Having a normal life and running a black ops organization presented certain challenges. Matt had long since retired from the Alliance, but he would always be famous. Allowing anyone but Jacob and Brynn to know exactly who they worked for would have been disastrous. The specially-constructed comm had been her solution. Not only did it allow her to communicate to any of a number of cell leaders, it projected any image she wished to show. Her favorite was a ravishing blonde in a charcoal gray suit. Close enough to the truth that she could use her natural body language, but not so close that anyone would immediately make the connection.
Amanda Linley was one of Prometheus' rising stars. Brilliant and driven with just enough ethics to keep from becoming a problem. It was she Miranda had given the task of increasing the percentage of eezo exposures that resulted in biotics and eliminating eezo-caused cancers. In time, every child exposed to element zero in-utero would develop biotics. Long ago, she had promised Matt a world where biotics were an unmitigated good. No one would ever suffer the agonizing pain she had or lose their daughter to a brain tumor. It was a promise Miranda intended to honor.
Linley's eyes were bright with enthusiasm. "Ma'am, I don't want to get you too excited, but I think we've got something. Neural tissue based on that of subjects with the target genes responded perfectly. Just as powerful as the original, with no sign of cancer, even after we modified it. I think we're almost ready to expose a fetus to eezo."
Miranda smiled. Matt would be thrilled. "Excellent. Keep me posted, doctor." She switched off the comm.
Matt was still in the studio when she got back, frowning over the canvas. "Needs a little something…" He looked up at her. "I gather the biotics project is going well."
"How did you know it was that one?"
"Because," he said with a slow, easy smile, "nothing else puts quite that sparkle in your eyes. That cell is your baby."
"I still owe you for letting Linley use your DNA."
He looked at the canvas. "We could have another session. Just a couple more hours." Miranda glared at him, and he threw up his hands. "Kidding!"
Miranda closed the distance between them and ran a finger down his chest. "Or we could finish what we were doing before we were so rudely interrupted. I believe you were boasting you could make me beg you to stop."
Matt sucked in a breath. "So we were."
He kissed her. A slow, almost chaste kiss, the sort he'd given her as a boy when he'd been terrified his slightest touch could send her into agony. But this was different. There was no terror here. This was…leisurely. He moved outward from her lips, over her cheeks, and down the line of her jaw. He didn't linger, staying only long enough to ignite a spark on her skin and let it die again. "You can do better than that."
"Not here," he whispered.
Miranda understood. She took him by the hand and led him to the bedroom. She never looked back, didn't need to. The heat of his gaze rolled off him now. She flung open the door, and they stumbled inside. This room was pure indulgence, all Thessian silk and Bekenstein oak. Miranda let his hand go, stood next to the bed. She raised an eyebrow. "Better?"
"Much." And then he was on her, mouth and hands exploring her. One hand tangled in her hair while the other traced the curve of her neck. His mouth followed his fingers, nipping down the column of her throat. He wasn't gentle. There was no need to be gentle. He could do as he liked. She could do as she liked. And what Miranda liked was the insistent scrape of his teeth against her.
He reached for her robe, but Miranda shook her head. Far more fun to do it herself and give him a little show. She pulled it back slowly, letting silk rasp against her skin. Decadent, that. Miranda had discovered she liked decadent. Matt was still as he watched her, but his muscles were coiled, as if he were a tiger that might pounce at any moment. The robe fell to the floor, and still he drunk her in.
She sauntered to him. "This would go much faster if you'd take off your clothes." She leaned in to whisper in his ear, "I want to see you."
That seemed to galvanize him. Matt stepped backwards and quickly stripped away his clothes. Miranda would never tire of looking at him. He was, after all, her creation. The well defined biceps, the broad shoulders, even his cock. All were her handiwork. Time to enjoy the fruits of her labor.
She lay down on the bed. Matt didn't immediately follow. He still stared at her, but there was a calculating glint in his eyes now. Thinking how he was going to make good on that bet. Well, good luck to him.
He seemed about to reach for her, but shook his head and his hand fell away. Instead, he began to glow as faint currents of biotic power swirled and eddied around him. Miranda sucked in a breath of her own. This never got old, no matter how many times he did it. His fingers moved in small, precise movements. A phantom hand stroked her breast, circling the nipple, varying the pressure. Pleasure spiraled through her, slow and warm. He grinned at her, boyish, and for a moment Miranda could almost believe the last thirty years were an illusion. She was twenty, the pain was under control, and a maddening, wonderful, brilliant boy was finally taking pleasure in his biotics.
They were in her room. Pain slithered through her, settling across her muscles and joints like an unwanted cloak. Terror and anger contorted Shepard's face. He paced the carpet like a caged animal. "Nothing good has ever come from biotics. Claire Eldfell spent the rest of her life in pain. My neighbor's daughter died because the nodules lined up wrong. You look like you can barely stand. So what's going to happen to me since you're getting your own shot at making a super-biotic? Why am I special?"
His grin turned fiendish. The pressure increased, sending hot sparks racing through her.
Nothing good? No. There was the raw, simple pleasure of sex. There were the thousands of children yet to be born for whom brain tumors and L2 implants would be nothing more than footnotes in the history book. There was the man who had saved the galaxy and lived to resume the life he always should have had. And there was her: the despised cripple who should have died but had clung to life despite her father's and even Cerberus' best efforts. She had found a cause, built a life. And there was so much more yet to do.
Miranda blinked. "Fine." She smiled at him, playful and seductive and rapturous. "Do your worst."
Thank you, all of you for reading. A special thanks to themarshal, clennon8, and Ieldra, without whom this story would not exist.
And because I now know Matt and Miranda make it through okay, I can finish Portrait. It's very AU in light of the leak. Everything past the first chapter would be heavily revised. Still interested?