"This is absolutely unacceptable."
How many times had she heard those words? Countless, beginning with her father's assessment of anything less than perfect performance and carrying through her career with the Illusive Man. She'd used them countless more times herself, her voice as cool and precise as a razor blade as it sliced open subordinates. And yet it occurred to Miranda that she'd never really meant them before. The other situations had been bad, yes, but this was different. This was wrong. This could not be allowed to stand.
And therefore it would not. Because Miranda could do anything she wanted to do. And damn anyone who stood in her way.
"You all know what the Council said." She swept her eyes over the Normandy's briefing room, taking in each of them. Chakwas, quiet in her lab coat. Garrus, one arm around Tali and the other clenched on his knee, talons curling into his palm as though to keep himself steady. Jack, slouching with her arms crossed in the back of the room and hanging on every word. Ashley Williams, the second human Spectre who right now looked like a lost little girl. And all the others who had fought alongside Shepard and each other, from the first skirmishes with Saren up to the moment the Reapers turned tail and ran back into the intergalactic void. "They've refused to allocate any additional resources to the project. Apparently with billions dead and billions more displaced, it would be criminal to spend so much effort on just one man."
"One man," Urdnot Grunt rumbled from the back of the room. "Later you will tell me which of them described Shepard as 'just one man' out loud. I could use a good workout." The last bit was only half a joke, as a murmur ran through the sentients gathered around the conference table. The mood in the room was ugly and getting worse. It would be easy for it to turn into violence, or tough talk and posturing followed by resignation. That couldn't be allowed to happen either.
Once Miranda wouldn't have known how to stop it. Now she slapped her palm down on the tabletop, a sharp *crack* that drew everyone's attention to her and gave her a moment. A silence. And that was all she needed, thanks to John.
"It doesn't matter. We're going forward." Carefully concealed surprise and a few mutters of disbelief around the table, as Miranda started to pace. "We've got Shepard's body. The synthetics that went into it last time and the comparatively short period spent in vacuum mean the damage is much less extensive than after Alchera. We can bring him back."
"That took Cerberus years." Tali's voice was soft- not objecting, exactly, but stating the obvious. "And billions of credits. We don't have either."
"No. We don't." Miranda braced her hands on the table and leaned forward. "But let me tell you what we do have. We have a fully sentient AI with capabilities that make the machines Lazarus Cell used look like that stupid knockoff VI of Shepard. We have a damn good doctor, and we have the ability to find the best specialists left in the galaxy to back her up and every byte of data ever written about the subject." Liara T'Soni nodded, from her place at the table. "We have one of the best cybernetic engineers in the galaxy, we have biotics who can do things the Alliance thinks are impossible, and when all else fails we have the ability to find and take whatever we need to do this." In the back of the briefing room Zaeed Masani held a fist up in the air, leaning forward to bump it against Grunts' and Garrus'. "I did this once. We can do it again."
"But- look." Ashley leaned forward and ran her hands over her eyes, the only outward sign of fatigue she allowed herself. "I hate this as much as any of you do. But doesn't the Council have a point? We're all the best in the galaxy at what we do. Who's to say we couldn't have thousands or millions somewhere else? Wouldn't the Skipper want us to think about the rest of the Galaxy?"
"That-" Miranda paused, standing upright and looking down at her hands for a moment. "That is a completely valid point, Commander Williams. I can't refute it. I can only...speak for myself now."
She looked up, tone still reasonable but growing less so with every sentence.
"None of us is indispensable. The resources we're going to use are infinitesimal compared to the scale of the need. People solved their problems without John or any of us for a long time, and they can get it done without us this time too. Shepard doesn't deserve this. He doesn't deserve to die without seeing the victory he's made, without seeing the killing stop or getting the chance to have peace or happiness. Shepard-" Miranda broke off and looked down again. The first blaze of anger was past as quickly as it had come, and she squeezed her eyes shut to prevent them from filling, fingers clamped across the bridge of her nose. When she spoke again it was in a much quieter voice.
"I had a lot of names when I first met Shepard. Ice Queen. Miserable Miranda. Loveless Lawson. Cheerleader. That bitch. I...wasn't human, not really. I was a spider, sitting in my web of data and reports and using them to move people around like chess pieces to get what I wanted. I didn't know anything else, which meant I could never understand Shepard. How he could bring out the best in people, how he could get them to follow him into the jaws of death time and again.
"Until he showed me. He showed me what loyalty was, and friendship, and trust. He taught me to give a damn about people even if it meant getting hurt down the line, because that was the only way to get them to give a damn about you. He was- the first person in my life who didn't expect me to be perfect, or shame me for needing to depend on other people. John taught me-" her voice caught, and suddenly she didn't give a damn "- he taught me how to be part of something. A squad. Then a crew. Then a family."
Miranda looked up, finally, no longer ashamed of her tears or of letting them see her with all the armor stripped away. "John made me...a better and greater person than I could ever have dreamed of being myself. I think he did that for all of us." They were nodding, but no one broke the silence as Miranda kept talking. "The galaxy can't ever repay him for what he did, but even more than that...I can't ever repay him for what he did for me.
"Just this once, can't it be about John and what he needs, and not what everyone needs from him? Instead of him giving everything for us, can't we give everything to him?" They were animated now, murmuring to each other, nodding. In the back of the room, Jack was leaning forward, her dark eyes wide as she looked at Miranda as though she'd never seen the other woman before in her life. After a moment Ashley spoke.
"Objection withdrawn. With pleasure." She grinned. "Which means I get the dubious pleasure of telling the Council about this. You want I should pass a message on to them, Boss?" Miranda smiled and stood up straight.
"Yes. Tell them that my associates and I are proceeding with Project Lazarus II on our own recognizance, regardless of their wishes. Tell them that their objections have been fully noted and I have decided that I am going to make things right, and to hell with the rest of the galaxy. And tell them-" Now she leaned forward again, her teeth baring in a smile as she remembered a phrase of John's "- tell them that they can work at my side or be crushed under my feet, but they will not stand in my way. Because I am Miranda fucking Lawson and I. Do. Not. Fail. Think you can pass that along?"
"In full stereo." Ashley flipped her OmniTool's record function off. "That was pretty impressive. I may have to keep a copy."
"I don't know," Garrus' voice was thick with amusement. "I think I got a better shot from over here. The lower angle means you get a better shot of her-" Tali elbowed him in the ribs "-profile."
"Skipper'll appreciate that." And there it was. Ashley's voice was light, amused, and contained not a molecule of doubt that Shepard would be around to render his opinion.
Because he would. And Gods help anyone who said differently. Miranda smiled as she looked the room over.
"Thanks you, ladies and gentlemen. Now let's get down to brass tacks. We're starting from square one, and we have a great deal of work to do."