(Warning: Slightly dark. Nothing mind-wrenching or horribly traumatizing, but it's there. This IS Alex Mercer we're talking about, here.)

Alex braced his forearm against the doorframe, staring at the red symbol in the center of the door. It was mocking him. He wondered if she had locked it because she knew he was coming, or because she wasn't there. He flicked into Thermal Vision and watched as the walls faded into a transparent blue, seeing an orange blob seated near the center of the room. So she was in there. He clenched his fingers into a fist and drummed his other hand on the doorframe.

Rage still sparked like a slow burn deep inside him, but he tamped it down with an irritated flick of will. If there was one thing Alex loathed with a passion, it was being made a fool of. And that was exactly what Miranda and Joker had done.

How was I supposed to know what Fornax is? Alex coughed into his fist, sending a glare at the scattered crewmembers giving him anxious looks. He growled and glared back at the door. He supposed he could just tear it open, or break it down, but then Shepard would get upset, and he'd have to sit through another lecture on how to take proper care of the ship. He watched through orange-tinted eyes as the blob in the room stood and headed deeper into the room, her back to him.

Alex furrowed his brow, wondering how much trouble he'd get in if he just ate a crewmember and used their body to get inside.

A lot, Alex decided, and discarded that idea. With a roll of his shoulders, he glanced towards the mess hall and saw Tali standing on tip-toe in an effort to reach the tubes of dextro-food kept up in the cabinets above everything else. A slow smile crawled across his face, and he peeled himself off the door to slide over next to Tali.

He tapped Tali on the shoulder, amused when she squeaked and skittered to the side, eyes wide behind her mask. He gestured toward the cabinet with a May I? expression on his face, and Tali seemed to slump in relief, nodding. With a smirk, Alex reached up—damn but I love being tall—and plucked one of the tubes out of the cabinet and handed it to her. Tali took it gratefully, eyes squinting at him curiously.

"Hey Tali," Alex began casually, leaning on the counter with one hand, studying the fingernails on the other. "You're an engineer, right?"

"…yes?" Tali replied uncertainly, clutching her tube of dextro-paste to her chest. "Did you need something?"

Alex flashed her his most winning grin. He could be suave when the situation merited it. "Well, you see… I wanted to ask Miranda her opinion on something she sent me, but her door is locked. I think she might have locked it by accident, and was hoping you might help me get it open."

Tali eyed him doubtfully. "I thought you hated the Cerberus cheerleader," she said in a low voice, eyes darting around.

Alex let his grin turn wicked. "I do."

Tali paused for a moment before a laugh echoed from her helmet and she shrugged her shoulders, sauntering over towards Miranda's door and pulling up her omni-tool. Alex followed after her, peering over her shoulder, excited. Tali pressed her three-fingered hand against the door, and her omni-tool flickered and flashed briefly before the red light on the door whirred to orange, and then to green. She stepped back with a triumphant noise, putting her hands on her hips, tube still clutched in one hand.

"There. Give the little bosh'tet a kick in the rear for me, Alex."

Alex grinned. "I will. Thank you, Tali."

She waved over her shoulder as she skipped away, and Alex turned feral eyes back on the now-unlocked door. He cracked his knuckles and tapped the door, watching it whir open, eyes falling on the woman standing with her back to him behind the desk.

Alex leaned casually in the doorway; grin too wide for his face. "Hello, Miranda."

Miranda sighed, rubbing her temples with two fingers as she poured over the reports the Illusive Man had sent her. Their operatives were being spread thin enough as it was; she was going to have to relocate some of the ones collecting Reaper tech to fix that solar leak on the main base. She flicked cautious eyes back up to her door, checking for the sixth time so far that it was still firmly shut, before looking back at the reports.

The call from Joker had come a few minutes ago, and she'd had to stare at her terminal for several heartbeats before its meaning had registered.

"Yeaaaah so Miranda. You might want to lock your door. I might have, say, accidentally blamed you for a prank I pulled on Alex, and he might possibly be a bit ticked off about it. Just a heads up."

She had immediately closed all the shutters on the windows—you never know with Alex, he might try and climb in from the vacuum of space—and locked her door with the strongest encryption she knew. She flicked nervous eyes toward the corner of her screen connected to the security cams on this deck, staring dejectedly at the figure that had been leaning against her door for the past ten minutes like a specter of death.

She felt confident in her encryption skills, but the sight of him leaning there with that murderous expression on his face was enough to get her up and pacing. It didn't help that he kept glaring at her door as if he was looking through it, and she couldn't shake the feeling that he was looking right at her, even through several feet of thick metal.

Quickly she began to run through scenarios in her head. She and Alex had never really gotten along, but surely he would listen to reason? She'd had nothing to do with whatever prank it was Joker had pulled; she might not trust the walking virus, or particularly enjoy his company, but she wasn't stupid enough to provoke him. And they had been making so much progress, too. He hadn't threatened to eat her in at least a week, and now she had the galaxy's most dangerous bioweapon lounging outside her door.

She would have to speak quickly once he got in—because let's face it, he was a walking chainsaw and a door was not going to keep him out indefinitely—and convince him of her innocence.

She straightened with conviction. Yes. She would simply lay out the facts in a nice, logical order that he could not refute. She could plead ignorance… maybe she could even play down her intelligence, put herself down, make him feel superior. If she came off as adequately pathetic, he might not think it was worth the effort to punish her for something she hadn't even done. Miranda nodded. It was her best chance; the hit to her pride would be worth it if it got her out of this mess with minimal fuss.

She faltered at the sound of something sparking behind the door. An omni-tool? Miranda gnawed her bottom lip. Alex didn't have an omni-tool, which was why she'd felt safe behind a locked door that he couldn't bypass. Someone else had to be helping him. She almost turned back to her terminals to look, but decided she'd rather pretend that no one on the ship hated her that much. Except maybe that animal below deck, Jack, but Jack couldn't bypass her way out of open room.

She began to tap her foot on the ground, fidgeting, eyes flicking around for somewhere she might be able to hide. But there was nothing but her bed and the small attached bathroom, neither of which would fool him for very long. She quietly cursed herself for picking such a utilitarian room, rather than one that actually had a closet she could hide in, or a back door she could escape out of. Briefly, the idea of hiding under the desk occurred to her, but she shoved it aside. That would just be ridiculous.

She heard the door whir open obediently behind her, and felt herself go rigid. This is it. He got the door open, and now nothing separated her from Alex Mercer but a small desk and empty space. Immediately scenes began to flash behind her eyes as her mind helpfully offered several possible ways this confrontation was going to go. Most of them involved claws and blades and herself ending up in small, genetically-perfected pieces.

Very few of them ended up with Alex listening to reason.

She remained still for a handful of heartbeats, not hearing anything other than her own breathing and the idle sounds of the ship going about its business. Was he gone? Was he right behind her? She tensed, forcing herself to keep her biotics under control; the last thing she needed was to attack him and give him an excuse to rip her apart.

The door hadn't closed yet. That meant he was either in the doorway, or he had somehow rigged it to stay open. That was fine with her. So long as the door was open, someone might happen by and save her somehow.

Then she heard it. A low chuckle, barely audible, but one that she recognized all too well.

"Hello, Miranda," Alex's voice rang across the room—yes, he's still in the doorway—in a tone so casual that if she hadn't gotten Joker's warning, she would have believed he was simply dropping by for a chat.

Except Alex never called her by name, and never stopped by for a chat.

Her pulse jumped, but she refused to turn around and look at him. If he saw the fear written across her face, it would only encourage him. Maybe he was like a bad dream; if you ignored him long enough, he might go away. She heard the door snick shut, and now she was in an enclosed space with him.

She still didn't know what she was being blamed for.

Miranda didn't hear him move, but suddenly every nerve was on full alert and she knew in the deepest part of her heart that he was right behind her. She kept her eyes fixed on the wall across the room, still not hearing anything other than her own heartbeat and her breathing. Did Alex not breathe?

She was so screwed.

Miranda couldn't stop the flinch when she felt Alex's hand on her shoulder, fingers idly tapping some kind of rhythm she couldn't place. She didn't even bother to hide her squeak when she saw a glint of silver and his other arm went around her shoulder, claws resting idly around her neck.

"I really should thank you," Alex's voice murmured way too close to her ear. "I've been looking for an excuse to do this for weeks."

She had to know. Miranda was not about to be murdered without even knowing what she'd 'done' to him. "What did I do?" she asked, proud of how steady her voice was. The tapping fingers stilled.

"Are we really going to play this game, Miranda?" his black voice asked her sarcastically, but Miranda took heart that he hadn't simply dismissed her question out of hand.

"I'd like to know what I'm being accused of," she insisted, turning her head slightly, glimpsing only a flash of teeth and blue before he was gone, grip tightening on her shoulder as his voice echoed again in her other ear.

"Fornax," Alex hissed, all the pretenses at civility dropped from his voice, and Miranda felt herself pale.

No. No, Joker cannot possibly be that much of an idiot.

"I'll admit, it was rather funny," Alex growled, not sounding like he'd found it funny at all. "Give the virus some tentacle porn," he snapped. "That's not insensitive at all."

Yes. Yes Joker really is that much of an idiot.

"I can assure you I had nothing to do with that," Miranda managed to choke out, feeling the claws draped over her shoulders twitch briefly. "I may not especially like you, but I'm not so much of a fool as to provoke you needlessly."

She heard Alex hum thoughtfully, and the tapping resumed. He sighed, but didn't remove his claws or his hand from her shoulder.

"I believe you," he admitted. "You're a lot of things, but stupid isn't really one of them." He hummed again. "This really puts a damper on my plan to come in here and make you scream."

Miranda didn't dare relax. If he had come in here with a plan, she was more than willing to let him think it out without any sort of influence from herself.

Suddenly Alex was in front of her, inches from her face, and Miranda jerked back on instinct only to find herself held solidly in place by his hand on her shoulder. He grinned, and Miranda felt the blood drain from her face.

So far, things were veering down one of those paths her mind had offered that ended with her bloody death. Now that she knew her crime—giving a monster like Alex Mercer a copy of Fornax—she had an entirely new venue of punishments to fret over, and all of them were far worse than what she'd come up with previously.

If she survived this, she was going to crush Joker into a tiny pilot-ball and shove him out the nearest window. She could deal with Shepard's anger afterwards.

"You infuriate me," Alex told her in a casual manner, eyes locked on hers, grip tightening on her shoulder. "I was so excited about trying out some of those things I read in that damn book…" he sighed dramatically, rolling his head to the side to peer at her out of the corner of one eye, as if he expected her to commiserate with him. She remained silent, fingers clenching and unclenching in an effort of holding back her biotics from throwing him back or catching him in a force field. Things were beginning to look up; if she could refrain from aggravating him, she might make it out of this alive. He looked her up and down, as if considering something. "Hold still."

She didn't have long to contemplate why he would tell her to hold still when she'd barely moved a muscle since he arrived. He lifted his hand from her shoulder and pressed it against her forehead, fingers breaking apart into a myriad of tendrils that made her shiver nervously. "W-what…?" she managed to ask, only to be silenced by the look he gave her.

"It's so quiet in here," Alex continued as Miranda felt those tendrils prick at the skin on her temples. "You don't even know what a blessing that is, do you?"

"I don't—"

Alex shushed her, and Miranda clipped her jaw shut. "Watch. Listen."

The world blurred at the edges, and Miranda didn't even have time to panic before she heard a voice. It was soft, quiet, and she blinked and looked around, suddenly alarmed to find herself no longer in her office on the Normandy. She was in some kind of park, but the grass was withered and dead, and the trees were just skeletons clinging desperately to the ground. All around her were countless bodies, all lying in heaps, as the roaring of some massive beast shattered the unnerving silence.

No insects chirped, no birds sang, no dogs barked, no children laughed, no wind blew… Miranda looked up, and the sky was nothing but a red haze, blotting out the sun and sinking into the air like smog. She shivered and tried to take a step, but she was locked in place. She looked down and saw hands grasping her ankles from beneath the dirt, and she screamed, trying to kick them free, when she heard the voice again.

She stopped and glanced up, and then down into the wide green eyes of a little girl, barely seven years old. She clutched half of a teddy bear in her hand, the stuffing barely holding together, as she stared at Miranda as if she had never seen another human being in her life.

"You don't belong here," she said in a voice that was a thousand voices in one. Her eyes narrowed. "You don't belong here," she repeated, pointing, and Miranda snapped her eyes to the side as the nearest corpses began to crawl to their feet, empty eyes staring at her with hands like claws as they began to lurch toward her.

Every corpse pulled itself free of the piles surrounding her, ambling in her direction, as the ones holding her ankles tightened their grip and the little girl repeated her single line like a mantra, finger still aimed accusingly at Miranda. The chorus picked up, until one by one the entire park was full of countless, faceless people all shouting and whispering and screaming and crying that she didn't belong here, that she needed to leave, that she needed to help them, to please, please end it. Please set us free. Please. Have mercy.

She couldn't even make out individual words anymore—it was just a cacophony of sound and screams that made her eyes water as she sank to her knees, heedless of the bodiless hands still holding her in place. She felt a hand drag along her shoulders, and jerked back to stare into the sickly orange eyes of a woman wearing a strange leather outfit with a collar. She smiled, and the skin on her face stretched oddly and cracked, tufts of orange hair falling free as she tilted her head and tendrils like vines slithered across her face before sinking back into her skin.

"Welcome," the woman whispered, but it was the only thing audible above the screaming. "Welcome home."

Miranda screamed.

Alex stepped back, letting Miranda crumple to the ground, still shrieking, hands pressing against her head as she clawed at empty space. He watched her for a while, seeing the same thing playing out in his own mind, only with him kneeling in her place. It served her right to suffer some of what he had to live with every day.

He grunted, folding his arms as he watched her scream, folding in on herself. If he was honest with himself, he'd known she was innocent from the moment Joker had blurted out her name. But Miranda had always aggravated him; always putting him down, calling him a creature instead of a person, brushing him off whenever he swallowed his pride enough to ask her for something… he shook his head.

Maybe now that she knows what he has to live with, now that she has heard the screaming for herself, been in that park filled with the nameless faces of his victims… Maybe now she would understand why he growls when people touch him, or when hands enter his field of vision without warning. Maybe now she would understand what he means when he says it's too quiet for him to concentrate, why he wants to be alone, why he shrinks back from human contact when the only thing he can see in his mind is grasping hands and screaming faces.

He steps over her form on the ground, flicking ice-blue eyes back at her as he steps out of her room, letting the door snick shut behind him. He stands outside for a while more, listening as she finally stops screaming once his connection with her fades away. He smiles slightly, hands in the pockets of his jacket as he heads for the elevator, head down to hide his eyes, ignoring the stares following him down the hall.

Maybe now she'd understand.

A/N: Long one-shot is long. I'm sure you were all expecting something else, right? Well nope! *trollface* I never meant for that scene in CDC to imply that he'd raped her or something, but my incredible lack of ability in putting my thoughts on paper failed in that regard.

I'll probably get some backlash for this one, but I don't mind. It doesn't fit *exactly* in CDC 'canon,' but it's pretty close, and I'm happy with it. I don't like Miranda as a character, and obviously neither does Alex, but he makes it very clear during Jacob's loyalty mission how he abhors people who take advantage of others in that particular way. Alex might be a cruel, sadistic, sociopathic monster, but he knows where his line is.

Call this... an AU of an AU, where I know how to properly convey what I meant to convey without it coming out sounding wrong.

Also: Just an FYI; my book isn't finished yet-I'm being a bad girl and writing fanfiction in between breaks of real work. I just love writing this stuff too much to stay away; updates will be slow and sporadic at best, but I'm pretty sure they won't stop completely like I had originally intended. Have a piece of this delicious cheese pizza for your patience.