AN: I dunno what the hell I would do without MelodicMadness or TJ Brooks.

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Shepard sat down behind the desk that Liara once occupied on Illium before her unexpected takeover of the role of shadow broker. She wasn't sure why the former information broker kept the place considering her new base of operations, but the commander figured it was something minor at best. Familiar surroundings usually brought comfort to the Spectre but today she would not be afforded such a thing. It was as if she traveled back in time. She could vividly remember her first meeting with Liara after her resurrection. It was one of her most crushing moments, even more so than constantly dealing with survivor's guilt after Akuze. She shook her head trying to clear the memories from her mind. Letting them linger would only renew and reinforce the defenses that had snaked their way around the soldier's consciousness beforehand.

Marines, warriors and fighters all had their defenses and Shepard was no exception. They served her well for most of her career and were the only reason she wasn't in a mental institution. More than anything she wished she could shatter the walls and emotional barriers that her mind erected in place to keep herself from dealing with the flood of emotions that battled for her attention. She wished she could strip away the mental armor fully and expose herself to the elements but as far as she was concerned, metal had merged with flesh. There was no getting it off without repercussions and she realized that. Although her passionate night with Liara proved to strip away major parts of it, the weight of armor was crushing. Shepard was happy to have most of it alleviated but she was far too tired to celebrate.

She had felt hopeless and completely useless to the people she loved. In her eyes there was no point in breathing if she couldn't provide or be a rock for them. She looked down at the smooth desk, noticing her expression in the reflective surface and the ragged looked that accompanied it. Her complexion was as smooth as ever, barring her facial scar but it was her eyes that told the story. She was tired. She looked like a lion that had been taken from the wild and tamed. The fire and passion she had she been known for was robbed of its oxygen and nearly smothered completely. She could only hope that in time the embers of that passion would form back to their previous state. It was reasonable to hope for such thing considering Liara had managed to strip most of her armor away.

As content as she felt there was still a piece that resided on her; a piece that refused to come off. Even under Liara's nurture and care it would not budge. Shepard realized just what lay behind that scrap of metal and was not surprised. Although it was beginning to heal, the wound struck by Miranda weeks earlier was still tender and prone to reopening if disturbed.

She turned her head to the left to look at the holographic clock. Her informant would be there in half an hour. She took a deep breath and reached under her desk, running her fingers along the smooth handle of her pistol. It was the only thing that brought her any sense of comfort at the moment. Liara might have banned the commander from wearing armor but she'd said nothing about bringing weapons. She hoped that the meeting would go off without a hitch so she could get back to trying to salvage the shattered remains of her life. Shepard rolled her neck, popping it loudly and then settled down to stare at the door with focused intent.

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"Oriana, I have to follow this though. Please understand," Miranda placed her hand over her sister's shoulder to reassure her that she could handle herself. Since her unexpected departure from the Normandy, Miranda took solace in the arms of her sister, the one person she knew she could trust. Her original plans to find work on Illium fizzled and the former XO found herself on the doorstep of her sister's home. The sentinel was more than capable of handling any position but she found her heart simply was not in it. After the excitement of working with the Spectre to defeat the Collectors, the idea of going back to such a mundane chore was a pill she could not swallow.

After spending the majority of her life alone, Miranda was surprised at how easily she bonded with her sister. While the older sibling did indeed care for her sister she'd spent most of her life merely acting as a silent guardian, content to work from the shadows. She would have never expected to find herself playing the role of big sister, but it came to her as naturally as breathing.

"I know, but…"Oriana trailed off, unable to think of anything to counter Miranda's point. She'd just gained a sister who she had no idea existed and the thought of losing her just as fast scared her. Whether Miranda noticed it or not, Oriana had become just as protective as she was. Seeing her older sister in such a frustrated and obviously hurt state brought out feelings she'd never considered before and they were reinforced when Miranda explained why she was there.

"I can't take any chances of father coming after you again," Miranda held out the data pad showing the information she'd received from a trusted source. She knew her father could be relentless, but even she hadn't expected for him to try again so soon.

"If something happened to you Miranda, I don't know what I would do."

"I will be fine, I promise. I am simply meeting with a contact since I can't take the chance of this being intercepted."

"Miranda…" Oriana slumped her shoulders in defeat knowing there was nothing she could do to change her sister's mind.

"I will be ok, Oriana."

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Liara's fingers danced across the holographic display effortlessly, moving various screens to the side and then expanding one in particular. She smiled when the image zoomed in on the woman the goddess had blessed her with. She knew what she was doing was slightly underhanded but she felt that it needed to be done. Miranda had proven to be as illusive as the man she once worked for. It was as if she fell off the grid entirely. After exhausting every possible route, the new shadow broker knew of a definitive way to lure the sentinel out in the open. She weaved, cajoled and made her way through contact after contact. She had to make sure that the false positive she'd created concerning Miranda's sister seemed one hundred percent true.

The Asari could feel herself becoming more and more tense as the seconds ticked by. In ten minutes she would learn her fate.

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Shepard coiled like a spring as she listened to the door beginning to open. She grabbed where the handle of the pistol was and reacquainted herself with the metallic weapon. Liara might have been the shadow broker but she did not extend the same trust to her contacts. When the doors finally opened, the commander's eyes widened and her mouth hung agape. Adrenaline surged through her veins and her heart raced. She stood motionless, staring at the woman who had walked out of her life three weeks ago. Her first instinct was run to the woman, grab her and swear to never let her go again, but she resisted and instead cautiously and slowly moved around the desk.

"Miranda?" Samantha called quietly.

Miranda mirrored her own reaction and stood rooted just inside the door. Pure shock caused her to barely hear the commander call her name. The datapad that she carried fell to the floor and cracked. The woman before her sounded like Shepard, looked like Shepard but it couldn't have possibly be her.

"S…Samantha?" She called weakly as the commander stood in front of her, an action that proved to verify that the real commander now stood before her. No person place or thing could replicate that smell of cinnamon and smoke the red head gave off. She took a deep breath inhaling the commander's scent, causing a flood of memories to flash through her mind. Oh how she had missed this.

Shepard reached forward and pressed her hand to the sentinel's cheek. Feeling her touch, Miranda tensed even further and shook like a leaf trapped in a violent twister. She was not ready for this, far from ready. Shepard called her name gently again and then threw caution to the wind, wrapping her strong lean arms around her.

Miranda let herself be pulled into the embrace but didn't return it immediately. Shock still overwhelmed her, but as the moments passed it ebbed away and she found her arms around her commander's waist. She let out a shuddering sigh and tears rolled down her cheeks. Weeks of buried frustration now crashed with overwhelming joy.

Shepard took a deep breath and adjusted her footing. While she was slightly taller than the XO she had to stand on her toes to accommodate the woman under her chin. Shepard smiled down at the brunette and Miranda took comfort in the place she affectionately called her "nook."

"If you stay there any longer I'm going to have to charge you rent." The commander playfully teased. Miranda coo'd and smiled again, losing herself in the commander's strong heart beat before answering.

"I do believe that I can afford it," She teased back just as playfully still not leaving her favorite spot.

Shepard smiled and relented.

Miranda reluctantly pulled away but kept her arms around the commander. Her cheeks burned crimson upon realizing the fresh tears that rolled down her face. Shepard wiped them away with the pad of her thumb.

"We have been through way too much for you to suddenly grow embarrassed." The commander chuckled but it came to a stop when Miranda placed both of her hands on the commander's chest. With her nimble fingers she traced the collar bone of the commander through the Cerberus uniform. Shepard paused and looked down at the finely manicured nails that flitted along the spot just below her neck.

"Miran-"

Soft supple lips covered Shepard's, stopping the red head from speaking any further. The kiss was as delicate as a blossoming flower after the harsh unforgiving winter. The commander's eyes fluttered close accepting the gesture fully. Like a touch of heaven the moment was quickly over and both women pulled away breathless. The kiss was not one of fervent passion or lust but a kiss full of need and love all the same.

Miranda looked up at Shepard smiling as blue eyes danced with new found joy. Without warning she reached for the commander's hands pulling her forward and out the door.

"Hey!" Shepard yelped in surprise, but allowing herself to be pulled forward, mesmerized by the beautiful woman before her whose smile she returned. Miranda let the commander's left hand drop back to her side but kept the other in her grasp. She turned it over and gently ran her hands across the palm before bringing it forward and kissing the commander on her wrist. Shepard nearly melted at the action but instead brought her forward to embrace her again.

"What are you even doing….here?" realization dawned on the commander's face before she pulled away leaving the XO with an empty feeling.

"I came here to follow a lead." Miranda raised her eyebrows as the pieces started to shift together to form the bigger picture.

"Liara planned this." Everything now made sense to the commander. This was why Liara didn't want her to wear armor.

"But why would she plan something like this?" Miranda asked

"I don't know." Shepard found herself feeling torn into two all over again. She could not fathom why Liara would scheme for them to meet. She grabbed her face and dragged her hand downfeeling crushed despite her initial happiness. Part of that grief came from not knowing how to feel. She didn't know whether be thankful for Liara granting her a chance at closure or rage because she felt pushed away. She simply could not have it both ways and that frustrated her even more.

"Liara knows I'd do anything for my sister," realized Miranda. "She had to have fabricated information about my father being on her trail again." Things were finally clear and like Shepard she had no idea of how to feel towards the Asari.

Miranda walked forward and took the commander's hands in her own.

"Let's not dwell on such a thing right now." For whatever amount of time, she had her commander back and she wasn't about to taint it with speculation.

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Onboard the Normandy Shepard instructed Joker to set a course for Hagalaz. The absolute assault on her mental wellbeing exhausted the commander to her breaking point and all she could think about was sleep. She exited from the elevator and stumbled into her quarters. The bed looked far too enticing to resist and as soon as her head hit the pillow she fell asleep, forgetting her worries and concerns for just a few hours.

"Shepard?" Miranda called to the commander. The woman was transfixed on the fish that swum without a care in the world inside of her aquarium. The XO smiled not wanting to disturb her, instead gazing at the childlike expression on her face.

"You were saying something, Miranda?" Shepard turned her head slightly and stared at the XO's reflection.

"You are so…" the raven haired woman trailed off not sure how to describe the commander.

"Childish? Yeah, I get that a lot."She let go a small chuckle as she watched the Prejek paddle fish suddenly bolt for cover behind the artificial rocks.

"No, more like innocent."

"Me?" Shepard raised her eyebrow as déjà vu suddenly hit her. It wasn't the first time she'd ever heard herself be referred to as innocent. That claim went to Liara T'Soni and now like then she could not understand such a sentiment. Yet maybe there was some truth to the claim. After all, Shepard could only see herself from within her own mind; something that made her perspective narrow. As far as she was concerned; she was far from innocent.

"No, the other Shepard I rebuilt." Miranda deadpanned.

"Please, if there were two Shepards…"

"I would have gone truly insane." Miranda crossed her arms and backed away from the tank to sit on the couch.

"Yep, one of me is enough. Can't imagine what Liara would do with two of me." Shepard laughed as her thoughts drifted to her lover who she sorely missed. Thankfully she missed the scowl that crept onto Miranda's features at the mention of her lover's name. Miranda had accepted her feelings for the commander weeks ago, but even after such a revelation; she was still in the dark on how to act.

"So, Miranda, what on earth makes me so innocent?" Shepard sat down on the bed and watched the XO.

"Oh, I don't know, maybe your ship collection, the fish or the hamster I've walked in on you chasing after it escaped."

"Here we go again," Shepard laughed and rolled her eyes.

"No, no, what sealed the deal for me was seeing you and Grunt having a staring contest. I admire you for that, Shepard. Your innocence that is, not the fact that you had a thousand yard stare with a Krogan."

"Thanks, Miranda." Shepard sheepishly rubbed the back of her head.

"Commander, encrypted transmission for you, hailing from Hagalaz." EDI transferred the transmission to her personal terminal. The commander almost jumped for joy but managed to compose herself…barely.

"I guess we're going to have to cut this short, Miranda. Sorry about that." While she was more than excited at speaking to her lover, she hated that her XO had to leave.

"Quite alright, Shepard." Miranda made her way towards the door.

"I will call you back up here when we're done.

"I'll hold you to that, Shepard." The XO nodded and let the doors slide shut.

Shepard walked to her console and furiously type away, eager to see the woman that meant so much to her. She growled in frustration at all of the protocols but knew they were necessary to keep her love safe. When the Asari appeared on the screen, the commander grinned from ear to ear.

"Liara!" She called, clearly very happy to see the woman.

"By the goddess, you are excited today." Liara mused as she watched the commander bounce about on her screen.

The commander shook her head trying to fight off the urge to play but she couldn't resist.

Shepard laughed as she imitated one of her most trusted of crewmates. "Most excited to see you, Liara! Uncontained giddiness! Plan to enjoy this tremendously!" She laughed even harder upon remembering the reference Kelly made to Mordin. Something about an excited hamster on coffee.

"Now Shepard," Liara chastised her.

"Sorry, I guess I am in a playful mood today." She smiled.

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"Commander, we've arrived and I've prepared the Kodiak for your departure." EDI announced over the intercom system. Shepard merely grunted in acknowledgement, not able to do much more as the clutches of sleep still had a firm grasp on her. She dozed, not wanting to face the reality the waking world had in store for her. She summarized that her dream of past events was yet another defense. She knew exactly what she was walking into and it was her mind's way of preparing her for it. For the first time however, she felt like her defenses failed in that regard as feelings of hurt bubbled to the surface. Shepard rolled out of bed and straightened her clothing, making herself presentable. She exited the room and made her way down to engineering. With each step she took towards the Kodiak a sense of dread washed over her more and more.

She stepped into the shuttle and banged on the door signaling the pilot she was ready. The time it took for the shuttle to reach the ship down below seemed extremely short and when Shepard saw that Liara wasn't waiting for her, it cemented the deception all the more. She emerged from the shuttle after its landing and walked into the interior of the ship. After weaving through various corridors and corners, she saw the shadow broker typing away at her console as if nothing was wrong. She took a deep breath to calm herself and mustered the most authority she could in her voice.

"Liara." It didn't come out with the tone she wanted.

The Asari tensed for a moment but continued to type away at her console. She almost acted as if she could will Shepard away if she simply ignored her. She should have known better.

A faint orange glow covered Shepard's arm before she ran her fingers across the hologram that was her omnitool. She then lifted her arm and waved in front of herself, shutting down the screens as she went.

"Liara." She called again, this time a bit louder.

"I know you are…angry with me, Samantha," She lowered her head as she turned away from the console. The same timid behavior that gripped her during their chase of Saren now reemerging.

"Angry? No. Hurt? Yes. Why would you do that, Liara?"

"So that you could find closure. I melded with you Samantha, but I knew it was something that I couldn't give you, even before hand. Bonding with you showed me how much you really needed closure with Miranda."

"You should have told me!" Shepard began to pace.

"Why?" The Asari questioned.

"I wouldn't have been shocked out of my mind and I wouldn't have felt…deceived." Her voice lowered.

"It was necessary, Samantha. You would have never agreed to such a thing under normal circumstances."

"Maybe not, but it still should have been my choice!"

"You're right, it should have been your choice but I don't regret doing it." Liara's voice became firm.

"I know that you were only trying to help, Liara. Maybe that's why I can't really be angry with you."

"Seeing her again proved to be beneficial to you as your smile clearly confirmed."

Liara's expression darkened and so did the commander's as the implications of Liara's words sunk in. The Asari hissed and cursed herself for her slip.

Shepard's eyes grew in realization and the anger she had been able to put off blazed a trail to the forefront of her mind.

"YOU WATCHED US?"

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AN: BAD CLOUDEDWATER! BAD! Sorry! I did not mean to leave this on a cliff hanger but I felt that if I kept going I wouldn't have anything left for the last chapter. I am sorry this chapter took so long. School raped me and left me so exhausted, not to mention frustrated. Btw I still haven't decided who will win and the last chapter is coming. *flails*I was also distracted by Mass Effect 3. Speaking of Me3

If you have not finished ME3 DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER! Also there will be lots of cursing!

WTF BIOWARE? That was the most unsatisfying, ridiculous, plot hole ridden piece of shit I've ever seen before in my life! I am going to say something that might piss some people off but *shrugs* if you enjoyed those "endings" then you are NOT a mass effect fan. You obviously have no emotional attachment to the universe or the characters in it. If you merely want a good third person shooter/shooter in general, gears of war and call of duty are that way! I have watched all of the chaos from the ending. The retakemasseffect campaign to the childsplay donations. Etc etc. I'm sorry but seeing my FAVORITE universe go down in flames due to artistic integrity makes me angry. Casey and Mac can take "Artistic integrity" and shove it up their ass sideways! If your LI is Liara, go read "There's time" by Aidensky. That is officially my head-cannon. And btw yes I know about the "Extended cut" which is supposed to clarify the endings. HELLO! YOU CANNOT CLARIFY SOMETHING THAT ATROCIOUS! That's like instead of cleaning up your shit you're going to explain why it stinks.

Good. Gawd.