N7 training had prepared her to deal with the perfectly normal response of panic that every species had to fight against. The fear and anxiety that it promoted could absolutely cripple a person during a crucial moment. Yet at that very same time, it could be used as an advantage. As she had witnessed so many times, in both herself and others, Shepard saw how the fight or flight response aided those in trouble. From dilated pupils which help to see better in the dark, to the brain processing information faster as to think of a possible escape or the pure adrenaline coursing through one's veins. Shepard considered herself a master as she was expected to be, but as she stared around the destroyed CIC the fear she had been trained to fight against reared its ugly head. It gripped over her heart like a vice and refused to let go. It was happening again wasn't it? She was losing everything in a matter of seconds.
The Normandy SR-2 groaned metallically; a sign that it was on its last legs. How ironic that it would meet the same end as its predecessor. Like her ship, her crew mates had accepted their fate. They knew the risks of such a mission and yet Shepard couldn't help but feel responsible for all of them. They were not her original crew and nothing could replace that, but they had taken up a place all their own in her heart. A place that was now becoming so empty. Yet of all her new bonds and feelings of camaraderie; It was Miranda's that she found the thought of losing that terrified her the most. The formerly cold distant and calculating XO had somehow become what she'd consider to be her best friend. A role that no one had ever really filled before. There was Ashley who'd come close but after the outburst on Horizon, Shepard found that she could barely stand the thought of the woman. Whether it was out of spite or guilt she wasn't sure.
The ship shook hard again; so much that It caused for the entire crew to tumble to the floor. As each member struggled to their feet a disembodied voice filled the cic.
"Guess we're gonna get spaced, Captain." Joker said as he too finally accepted the inevitable, but even in the face of death the man would not let his good humor leave him. Shepard said nothing in response while she trembled like a leaf in the wind. No, no she had to stop this! Her training expected nothing short of perfection.
Without warning the ship groaned and rattled once more; causing an already lose metal beam that was above the commander's head to plummet towards her. Everything slowed to a crawl around the commander as she looked up. She could see the beam falling yet for some reason couldn't move fast enough.
"Shepard!" The voice quickly brought her out of her haze and was accompanied by a strong shove. Shepard yelled as her back hit the floor and green eyes blinked rapidly to clear her head. What she found when she rose again scared her more than Akuze and was damn near just as heart wrenching as Mindior. Her XO had saved her at the cost of her own life. Shepard finally found her voice and let out an almost primal cry before scrambling over to her second in command.
"Miranda!" Shepard desperately tried to raise the beam on her own but she couldn't. Why wasn't her crew helping her? She glanced up to see all of them gone, like they had vanished into thin air. She looked back down at her XO who now started to cough up crimson fluid.
"You idiot!" Shepard screamed as she kneeled before the XO as she placed her palm onto her cheek to give her some comfort before she passed from this world. Tears couldn't be fought back anymore and the commander let them go.
"Funny….I've…" Miranda coughed again and fought to breath as the beam crushed her fame.
"Save your strength," Shepard said as she leaned closer to the woman. She knew it was far too late for her XO but her mind would not accept it, couldn't even begin processing it.
Another metallic screech could be heard before the hull was literally torn apart, exposing the interior of the ship to the harsh unforgiving vacuum of space. She looked back to Miranda to find that she was gone and Shepard found that her will to live, her undying need to fight through the pain had vanished.
Her body was then sucked out of the shattered and destroyed Normandy and she could only watch as she drifted further and further away from her XO. She tried to scream but her lungs were crushed and the last thing she saw before death could whisk her away was the rest of her ship exploding over the horizon of some unknown planet.
Screaming echoed through her cabin and she quickly realized it was her own. It had been her third nightmare that week and they weren't letting up. Her heart pounded against her chest and sweat ran down her body completely soaking the sheets. Although her mind had confirmed that it was merely a dream, her gut wouldn't let it rest.
"EDI! Status report!" blinking and dilated eyes scanned the room looking for any kind of threat, of any danger that could present itself and take advantage of her vulnerable form. Her eyes landed on the soft blue glow of the fish tank as it was the only source of light in the room.
"Everything is fine, Shepard" EDI's voice spoke and if the commander didn't know any better she would of sworn that the unshackled AI said that with a hint of concern. They had yet to see what would become of the AI, but Shepard trusted it fully.
Shepard collapsed back into her bed staring upwards as her long red hair fanned across the pillow. Would these nightmares ever leave her alone? She knew that the answer was no despite how many therapist and doctors told her the opposite. Of course their only job had been to declare if she was mentally fit for duty and they weren't about to ground their top marine. She's come long ago to accept that she was merely a tool but there were times where it got to her.
"However Ms. Lawson and Dr. Chakwas will arrive shortly."
Shepard rose again and swung her long legs over the side of the bed. Cool air rushed over her form and chilled her. If she was going to wake up like this every night then she would certainly consider wearing more than just boxers and a sports bra to bed.
"Why Edi?" she glanced up as if to see the AI
"I monitor your vital signs Shepard as it is a part of my programming and the results are directly fed to Ms. Lawson who I alerted."
"But I have nightmares all the time, EDI." She smoothed back her long fiery mane.
"True, but you were pushing into the red zone commander and I fear that if you hadn't of woken up then you would of gone into cardiac arrest."
Shepard grunted and rubbed at her chest which had slowed down but was still pounding. She survived everything from Mindior to Akuze only to be nearly taken out by a dream. She couldn't help but laugh morbidly.
"Thank you EDI" She nodded.
"Logging you out, Shepard"
Ten minutes earlier
While her genetic modifications made it where she didn't required much sleep, she was no machine. The XO slept soundly surrounded by scattered data pads. She took her work seriously but her rational mind sometimes had to wonder why. Perhaps she did it out of habit or a way to keep her mind off things. She wasn't sure of which. She had cut her allegiance and ties to Cerberus after the defeat of the collectors and didn't look back. She was disgusted when she learned that the man she admired so much became so ambitious so blinded that he wanted to use a place where hundreds of thousands lost their lives. Human welfare was at the top of her priorities but she wasn't about to compromise those ideals and neither was her Commander.
The nod of approval that she was given at the decision to cut off the illusive man's transmission was a bonus to the XO. She resented Shepard in the beginning; loathing how she had the illusive man's full attention and not her but over the months they were together she began to see the full personality of the woman she put back together. She was bold, fierce and determined yet somehow managed to bring in compassion without it causing question to her ability to lead. She was drawn to the commander like a month to a flame; even more so after she agreed to rescue her sister without hesitation. She would follow the commander anywhere, even if it meant the depths of hell.
She was known as the ice queen. The frigid woman who regarded everyone as a mere means to an end. However spending more time around Shepard proved to melt the icy exterior like the warming sun to the polar ice caps. What was once harmless admiration turned to love and Miranda knew she was trapped.
"Ms. Lawson?" Edi's voice filled the room
"Yes, Edi?" She might of required sleep but she was no deeper sleeper.
"it would appear that Shepard is having another nightmare and her vital signs are pushing into the red zone. I fear she will go into cardiac arrest."
Before Miranda even realized it; she was on her feet and moving towards the door. She had been through this before when she was putting Shepard back together for those two years but her motivation had been far different from what it was now. She shuttered at the thought that at one point in time all her commander had been to her was a project.
"Dr. Chakwas will meet you at the elevator." Miranda simply nodded.
"Can't this blasted thing go any faster?" Miranda paced the short length of the elevator as anxiety flooded her senses. Of all the upgrades the Normandy received why on earth was the elevator still ungodly slow? She made a mental note to herself to have the thing upgraded. Dr. Chakwas who stood beside her glanced at the second in command. She had noticed the subtle changes Miranda developed towards the commander but couldn't quite put her finger on what she thought it was.
"She has survived worse than this, Miranda" She tried to reassure the raven haired woman by placing her hand on her shoulder. The gesture failed to ease the worries of the woman.
"it would appear that Shepard has awoken and her vital signs have returned to normal. I would however still advise that you check up on her as a precaution." The holographic representing edi came to life in the elevator.
Both women breathed a sigh of relief.
"if here was only a way to rid her of these dreams ." The doctor shook her head. Miranda could only nod in agreement as the elevator opened and they made their way into Shepard's quarters. She could have taken them away at the time of Shepard's resurrection, conveniently blocked out those memories so she wouldn't be so tortured by them. But would she be the woman she cared about today if she had of? Somehow Miranda doubted that.
When the doors opened revealing the exhausted commander, Miranda had to fight every instinct, every urge to run to her commander. Seeing the vanguard of humanity so broken and defenseless made her protective side flare to life. Yet she stood just inside the doors, regarding her commander with the cool and calm exterior she was known for.
Dr. Chakwas had no such qualms about appearing anything but caring and made her way over to the commander.
"Are you alright, Shepard?" She questioned while placing her hand behind the commander rubbing her back gently. Miranda wished that she could give the commander such a gesture without the alarms being raised.
"I'm alright; it was just a bad dream." The commander shook her head and took a deep breath finally calming herself.
"You have a lot of those, Commander" The XO found her footing and walked towards the two of them.
"Jeez, Miranda. I help you with your sister, save your ass from falling and you still insist on calling me Commander? What am I going to with you?" She laughed playfully. Dr. Chakwas thought it was strange that the commander would allow a first name basis between her and the XO but thought little of it.
"I guess we are, Samantha. Sorry force of habit." Miranda smiled. She was the only person in her life that could get under her skin without the urge to crush them in a biotic field.
"I want you to take these," Dr. Chakwas handed her two blue pills. "They are sedatives and will help you get to sleep. Not offense commander but you look like hell."
"HA! None taken." Samantha placed the pills onto her nightstand.
The doctor patted her on the back before standing and making her way towards the door.
"If you need anything else, Commander please do not hesitate to call me." She walked past Miranda and back towards the elevator. Miranda however lingered as she was convinced that the commander was night alright and like she did so often hid it from the world. Unfortunately Miranda could see it as clear as day. Something also told her that the commander wasn't going to take her medicine. The woman was so damn stubborn.
"Miranda." Shepard spoke softly as she stared down at her desk.
"I said I was ok, you can go back to bed now or…whatever it was that you were doing." She prodded the pills around on her nightstand not wanting to take them but knowing she would have to.
"You would say that if your arms were hanging off." Miranda crossed her arms and it was true. Samantha played fast and loose when it came to her own safety and well being. She didn't like her team being worried about her so she played everything off as a simple flesh wound or a minor concern.
"I would wouldn't I?" Shepard chuckled and rubbed her now sore chest. Humor was a good way to ease the situation but overtime she noticed that it wasn't working with Miranda anymore. Maybe she was able to see through the act now. Miranda made her way to the couch, to give Shepard space but still be close enough for her presence to be comforting.
"These dreams…nightmares are getting out of control, Samantha." With the doctor gone she couldn't help but drop her guard a little. Shepard whether she wanted to admit it or not needed her to.
"I've had nightmares every since I was a kid, Miranda. It's just a fact of life for me" She rose from the bed and glanced at the pills given to her. She was no fan of medicine and preferred working though her problems but if Chakwas found out she hadn't taken them during her check up she'd never hear the end of it.
"I am aware of that, Samantha but it's time for them to be.." She couldn't find the proper term as each one that game to mind simply seemed so heartless.
"Eradicated?" The commander finished for her.
"Perhaps." The XO didn't agree with that word either.
"You can't just get rid of this sort of stuff, Miranda. It becomes a part of you. I'm damaged goods and I've accepted that." She nervously rubbed the back of her head. She felt so vulnerable and weak not to mention stupid for such dreams. Oh how she wished she had Liara to next to her during those nights.
"Like hell you are Samantha!" Like prey cornered by a powerful predator she looked up to Miranda wide eyed and surprised at her outburst.
"You saved the citadel, the council, stopped Saren and you took a team into the omega 4 relay and not only survived but made sure everyone else did too. The reapers are indeed coming Samantha but if you don't take the time to confront your demons then they have already won!" She had never seen Miranda so passionate about anything, bar saving her sister.
Samantha looked down while balling her fists and she was shaking with anger. How dare this woman just demand that she simply get over things? Was she worried that her project not being perfect would somehow reflect on her?
As if reading her mind Miranda went into to placate the situation.
"Samantha I'm not saying this because the galaxy needs you, I'm not saying this because you're supposed to be the great Commander Shepard. I'm saying this because don't you think you deserve some peace too?" And just like that her anger was deflated. Miranda wasn't out to harm her, she had to remember that.
Her shoulders slumped.
"I'm sorry Miranda, you don't deserve my anger, this….is just so hard to deal with" She snatched the pills off the night stand and swallowed them whole. She hoped that in her already weaken state they would knock her out within the hour. She always did have a good resistance against drugs.
"Perhaps we could set a course for Halgaz, Liara could help…." Saying the asari's name made her stomach turn in jealousy. She put the commander through hell back on illium and even if she explained why she had later it still wasn't fair that she held the commander's heart. She could however put her jealousy aside if it would help the woman.
"No…that's not necessary, besides she's acting as the shadow broker now. I don't want her attention divided from that over a little girl's nightmare" Shepard sat at her desk, staring at the picture of the woman that eased her mind so much.
I would if you let me….
"I don't think I will be much company once these pills kick in" She spun around in her chair to face the XO
"I plan on staying until you fall asleep" Her protective side was in full swing but luckily she was able to hide it under the façade of concern.
"If I do or say something weird in my sleep then that's your own fault" she laughed and Miranda simply smiled while crossing her legs and picking up a data disk, linking it to her own back in her office.
A while later before Miranda looked up from her pad. Shepard was fighting sleep at her desk. Apparently her ability to resist drugs was grossly overestimated. She was adorable and if it wasn't for the fact that the so obviously needed sleep she would of let her linger there
"Shepard…bed…now…" she said in a no nonsense tone.
"Yes mom…" the commander pushed away from her desk and made her way over to bed where she climbed under the covers.
"I'll be taking care of you later, Miranda." The XO could feel the blush rising to her cheeks and she quickly covered it with her data pad but she knew the commander didn't mean it that way unfortunately.
"How do you figure?" She smirked.
"I'm not the one running into other people's quarters completely barefooted on cold floors" When the sentence left her mouth sleep claimed her and she was out like a blown fuse.
Wide eyed Miranda looked down and indeed did notice her feet bare. She cursed to herself, but she was in a hurry no? This could be excused.
She stayed a bit longer until she was sure that the commander was in a deep sleep. She walked over to the bed and gently moved a piece of stray hair out of her face.
"If only you would let someone take care of you for a change." And with that she left the room before taking one last look at her commander before the doors closed.
Miranda made her way back to the elevator and this time the long ride was more of a comfort as she collected herself. She was slipping badly; it wouldn't be long before the crew was able to guess how she felt about the woman.
"Maybe I should just tell her how I feel already, get this out of the way. We're both adults aren't we?"
She shook her head as she walked out of the elevator and made her way to her own quarters.
"No I can't do that…I won't put Shepard in such position. Besides we know who she would choose "She felt her heart break at the comment. She looked at her bed and climbed into it. She was more tired than she realized.
Miranda wasn't use to sleeping so much. So when she awoke the next morning she was groggy and her first thought was coffee. It was strange how she had never actually drunk the stuff before meeting Shepard but being around the commander who needed the stuff before she could form her first words in the morning somehow engrained itself onto her.
"Shepard has requested your presence in her quarters and she advises you to get coffee to wake up faster."
"Did she say what she wanted EDI?" This was odd coming from the commander. She'd never requested her presence before at least not into her own quarters.
"No but she asked that come as soon as possible."
"Thank you EDI"
"Logging you out, Lawson"
Miranda stretched and yawned before gathering her normal clothes and brushing back her hair. She was the epitome of beauty and drew the attention of all males everywhere. If only the commander would look at her in such away. The door hissed open as she made her way to the cafeteria. Luckily there were only a few there already; the advantage of being such an early riser meant that she got first dibs. She simply nodded to those who were there and brewed her coffee.
What could she want with me?
Miranda waited for the elevator to reach the top floor and once again it proved to be such an annoyance. She was eager to find out just what the commander wanted. The ride finally ended and made her way through the doors to find the commander busy at her desk before looking up.
"Good Morning Miranda" Gone was the playful mood that the commander normally was in and it worried the XO.
"Good morning Samantha….EDI said that you requested me?"
"I did." again pushed back from her desk. She looked a lot more collected and formal now that she was well rested but something still clawed at her.
"For?" Miranda asked and her way to the couch.
"Last night you said that I needed to face my demons and you're right I do. If I am going to be any kind of defense for earth no…the galaxy then I do need to have peace."
She was finally coming to her senses and listening but something was off.
"Then why request me commander? Shouldn't this be the job of the yeomen or better yet Liara?"
Samantha sipped at her own coffee and shook her head.
"Kelly…well there is no way in hell. She still looks at me like she wants to jump my bones and I'd rather not possibly send the wrong signals. Liara…I love her but even though her heart is in the right place she would simply insist that I meld with her and…." She grunted.
"I need to talk about this" She looked up at Miranda, eyes begging for understanding
Miranda felt her heart skip a beat at the thought of her commander bypassing Kelly and even her lover to speak with her and her alone.
"I just don't know where to begin" She looked completely lost.
"The beginning is always a good start Samantha" oh god what she wouldn't give to be able to pull this woman into her arms and tell her that everything would be ok.
The fact that this creature of war was before her, alive and well was nothing short a miracle. She had already known about her past from countless extranet articles as well as hacked files from the alliance but hearing them from her point of view was horrifying. From losing her entire family on Mindoir to being the sole survivor on Akuze.
"I have bottled up shit for so long, Miranda, but people need me to! I am the Great Commander Shepard after all!" she threw her hands up and even though she fully believed in her own comment, she couldn't help but lace it with venom and resentment. She got up and paced about the room while Miranda simply watched her.
"I want to be me for a while! Just ordinarily Samantha Shepard with no galaxy depending on her to make everything ok" She sighed and leaned over her desk letting it take her full weight. Miranda could no longer idly stand by as she rose from the couch. She wanted to physically comfort Samantha and could no longer fight that urge.
"I mean is that too much to…..Miranda?" her voice hitched as she felt hands circle around her waist and pull her backwards. The sensation was oddly comforting and she couldn't resist if she wanted to. The XO made circles on her abdomen to soothe and calm her and without warning Sheppard found she grunting softly in delight. Miranda's mind screamed at her that she was completely out of line but surely she only wanted to comfort her commander….right?
The XO took a deep breath, inhaling Shepard's scent before nuzzling into the crook of her neck. She smelled like cinnamon with a hint of smoke. A strange combination but she could hardly care as this is what made up the woman she cared for so much.
"How about you let someone take care of you for a change?" Samantha leaned back into the embrace, eager to accept her comfort; the heat of the moment lowering any moral walls or inhibitions that she had in place.
"You are more than my commander…." She felt something moist and soft press against the side of her neck. All restraint had left Miranda and she became bolder which surprised even her considering the new territory she was now in. An almost painful throbbing reverberated down Miranda's spine into her loins. She wanted this woman mentally and physically.
"I love you Shepard…." She had said the worlds so many times in her own mind but now to hear them come from her own lips frightened her.
Clarity suddenly hit Shepard as she remembered the same words being spoken to her the first night her and Liara were together. She went completely stiff in the XO's embrace and it didn't go unnoticed.
"I can't do this Miranda…"
"I know…" Jealousy flared once more but it was quickly over powered by hurt and disappointment. Damnit! Why had she let herself go in the heat of the moment? Why did she let her emotions get the best of her? She pulled away from the commander, unshed tears threatening to fall down her face as she made her way towards the door.
"Miranda…" Shepard turned to her
"I'm sorry Commander….I should know my place." She didn't stop and continued out the door allowing it to shut behind her.
"FUCK!" She had no idea that at Miranda's feelings went beyond friendship. She had softened up considerably after she had helped rescue her sister but again she had not considered that her XO was in love with her. However she had to admit she too felt something for the Woman, but she loved Liara. She couldn't hurt her but neither could she hurt Miranda.
"I need a drink….EDI!"
"Tell Joker to set a course for omega. I want to get drunk until I can't remember my own name."
"Yes Commander?" EDI's presence left the room
"How am I going to make this right?" She shook her head and walked over to her bed before she collapsed on it. Omega was a few hours out. She might as well get some rest before a night of drinking