64: Call It a Confirmation
Shepard leaned against the railing near the Normandy's cradle in the Citadel dock, watching Tali work on the GARDIAN lasers of the port wing. Arms on the walkway rails, he continued to tell her what to do, even as he knew nothing about the intricacies of ship repair.
"Make sure the beams have a stronger intensity, connect that to the main power coupling."
"That's not how power is connected to the wings, Shepard," Tali said with growing annoyance.
He took a second to comprehend what she said. "Well, stagger the sweeping pattern then."
All the human received in return was a slow turn of the quarian's head. His hands lifted up to make it appear to the average person walking by that he had the common sense answer and that she was the one being difficult.
"What the... are you even trying to keep your pretend knowledge consistent?" The quarian finally said in muffled confusion as she let her native tongue utter drawn out curses.
"No, no, trust me, it's what was done by the SSV Midway in the First Contact War. Took out ten turian cruisers. It was that ship that led to them wanting to copy our frigate designs."
"Are your pilots so stupid you get frigates up close to cruisers to pull off such a suicidal feat?"
"You've seen firsthand how great human pilots are," he said in a slightly hurt tone. "And we're good at suicide missions, you know that."
"Oh stop crying," Tali was frustrated as she tried to focus on the repairs, her hand jumping back a bit at a power surge she would have easily caught had she not been distracted. That consequence produced a very vocal curse that made her look right away to Shepard, smiling in faux innocence.
"I told you, you-"
"You know, Shepard, I outrank you, so I'm ordering you to shut up."
Shepard grinned as he could hear Tali was getting to maybe seventy percent serious in her tone, "Spectre authority allows me to ignore everything and continue telling you how you're screwing up."
Tali let an audible groan and slight whimper be complimented by taking up a seat on the wing, giving up on fixing the rotating laser array. Arms on her knees, she was willing to go into a standoff with her friend. "You know the Midway was decommissioned before humanity even found the Sol relay."
"There was a Midway-2. Just like the Normandy."
"You know if you don't humor my suggestions I'll give Garrus a bad report and lay his denial as Spectre all at your feet."
"And I think if you keep trying to annoy the woman who got this ship here to save the day, you're going to have a frigate that will magically lose all power in a relay jump. And Garrus and I, having given up on working with you, will just go sip drinks on a Rannoch beach while cashing in on all on your vid royalties."
Shepard grumbled a bit at that. "He told you about our foolproof retirement plan."
"Of course he did. And now we're going to make all that money while you have to make due with your little cabin up here, pretending to still be important," she said pointing to the higher level of the ship with her thumb.
Before Shepard could try and respond Tali tilted her head up to notify Shepard there was someone behind him, "Would you like to come with Garrus and me, Miranda?"
Shepard lifted off the railing to turn around, seeing his lover standing there with eyes looking him up and down. He smirked to her attire, the catsuit she wore with confidence and poise was there again, only in black and blue with a Tempest SMG on her belt . A small white Council symbol sat above her right breast as a meager form of visual compliance for her temporary role.
So that's where she's been this morning, Shepard thought as he saw her concocting more banter with narrow eyes that immediately teased him.
"I do need a vacation, and exploring Rannoch would be fascinating..."
"You can't come if Shepard is joining you."
"Even better. I've already used the poor boy up," She said as she placed her rather expensive travel bag down beside them. Tali could tell they were already lost in their own little world and gave the two their privacy while she returned to fixing the laser systems. At least she could now work in peace.
"Miranda Lawson reporting for duty, ready to jump as high as the Council tells me to," the former Cerberus operative said with an over-the-top mock salute. Her eyes went to the Spectre symbol now engraved on Shepard's armored chestplate, below his coveted N7 badge. She couldn't hide her tisk, mocking or not. "I'm just working with them, John, but you let yourself be branded by them."
"I'm just working with them," he laced those words with much sarcasm, Miranda's eyes narrowing as she knew what the man was alluding to. He couldn't help it. "Speak for yourself, your little badge there is no different. It seems to be more of a pain to make it that small than to even have it at all," Shepard saw her quick smirk at how he seemed to hit the mark with her little gesture.
She had no real response than to look away in feigned irritation, "completely different. I'm the black sheep."
"Black and blue sheep."
"Funny," she replied deadpan.
The Spectre just shrugged. "Maybe having it engraved will finally mean they can't keep taking it back."
Miranda nodded in agreement, puckering her lips as she let her weight rest on one hip while looking him over with her fashion sense. "Interesting location. Below the N7, not over your heart on the other side."
"I was going to get your face engraved on that side, but no one was able to capture your beauty."
A roll of her eyes, as expected, Shepard still saw her try and suppress the brief flush of her cheeks as she bit her tongue to avoid a smile. Trying her best he knew he won that banter. Claiming his prize he slowly wrapped his arms around her waist while her lips kissed his neck as she welcomed his embrace. "You know you walked right into that one."
"I know, you ass."
"I'm not going to see you for a few days, so bear with my flirting."
"That's exactly what I'm doing."
It had been four days since Miranda had her new L5x implant replacement, her scars removed, and the removal of her benign neoplasm. The recovery from the surgery was beyond expectations thanks to Dr. Michel's expertise, removing the small corrupted tissue with little effort. With Chakwas helping the doctor, and the perfected genetics she had, Miranda's body went from bed rest to light activity in that short time. And Shepard doted on her every step of the way, never once discovering the surgery she kept from him.
Despite Chakwas' reservations, she complied with Miranda's request of secrecy, facilitating an excuse of a modified implant to accommodate the woman's advanced eezo nodules, on top of necessary bed rest following the destruction of the Crucible. At this point both she and Shepard were willing to accept any rationale to rest up.
Outside of a persistent soreness in where the small incision was made, walking and the light duty she was under would be no problem considering everything the former operative went through in her life. Having seen the rather small size of the tissue removed, and the ease modern medicine provided, Miranda was slightly mad at herself for not having the surgery sooner. Even when working for Cerberus the imperfection could have been removed, if only for her own sense of being complete.
But it being for Shepard, and not her own selfish reasons of vanity, made it much more special. She wasn't the kind to believe it, but perhaps her love for him accelerated the healing. The man waiting on her hand and foot in the days following the surgery made her truly sad she wasn't able to repay him with the acts they had mastered so well together. And now they had to separate again, albeit temporarily, to fulfill agreements that got them to this point and hopefully beyond.
"You should be coming with me, you know," Miranda said as she continued to kiss his neck, realizing she was not averse to quickly trying to spend some time alone in The Loft before their duties made them part.
Shepard mumbled an agreement as his breath pushed through thick black hair and made her shiver when it reached her ear, "I do know. But you have Ashley. And Liara. Samara even. The four of you can take care of anything."
"But there's one thing I need you to desperately take care of now," she said softly but directly, completely unaware that she uttered it until seconds after they left her mouth. Embarrassed she spoke the words instead of thinking them, it caused her to pull back and look into his eyes, the man as shocked as she was.
"Wow," Shepard said with an embarrassed, somewhat concerned chuckle of his own while making sure no one was around to hear her slip, pushing back some of her hair to soothe her while looking in her eyes, "are...you ok? Usually we tease out in the open and not openly plead."
"We went months between seeing each other and now a few days is making you feel this way? Ms. Not-Good-At-Attached?"
"I know, I know. Ass," she let her head fall back on his chest as she playfully hit his armored shoulder with the bottom of her fist, "it's just wishful thinking. We deserve shore leave too where it's not all about resting from injuries or defending our honor."
"No problem. I have a little hideaway on Intai'sei. I can make it work."
Looking back at him, Miranda was confused. "You have a...hideaway?"
"A condo. A retirement condo, actually. Won it in a bet."
"An Alliance Admiral. Ahern, the man in charge of Pinnacle Station. It's a decent place to get away for a bit. I shouldn't say that, only went there twice for a few days."
"Your files had nothing about this." Miranda saw he was telling the truth and upset that such an important item fell through her massive research into Shepard's life prior to his death. She knew of his stay at the training facility, the records he set. And the Admiral had multiple residences, she knew that without delving deeper into her memory. Now it only made sense Shepard was able to procure such a home on the back of his expertise. At least it wasn't a discount to a store this time.
Shepard clicked his tongue to downplay the residence, "It's been years. I don't know if Squatters Rights exist on the planet."
"They don't," Miranda informed. "If it contains automated cleaning systems it should be ready to visit anytime."
"And if Ahern took it back during the war, I'll just politely remind him of our bet."
"I'll make sure to bring a sun hat."
Shepard kissed her forehead. "It's settled then."
Miranda was pleased with how simple it was to get her way. Never one to shy away from work, she truly wanted time alone with the man, with no strings attached. Shepard saw her face go from anticipation to a small frown.
"Miri, you just make sure you put everything about your father to rest. We'll take care of everything else later."
"Oh, I'll put it to rest, make no mistake. And you just make sure the two of you stay safe, John. Former Blackwatch soldiers aren't like the normal mercs you've had to clean up when it comes to those Alliance favors you always did for Hackett, and it would seem fitting you die on me after all this has happened."
The man saw concern line her face. She wasn't teasing, she meant it. He knew it too, which is why he made sure not to tease her with having to resurrect him again. "Understood. This is Garrus' little rodeo to lead, I just watch and report. If it really hits the fan I'll take control."
"From an all turian built and staffed SR-1 duplicate."
"It'll be fine. You trust them, right?"
"Of course," she said looking away, "you're the most turian human out there. And you have Garrus by your side if for some reason everyone turns on you."
"Stop thinking that way. Hey, Joker's going to be communicating with their pilot all his secret tricks and put them through the motions too. We'll be fine."
Miranda was surprised by that revelation, letting herself no longer rest in Shepard's arms but now resting on the rail as she looked out to the dock platforms with her partner. "I've yet to visit him. Absolutely my fault. He probably thinks I don't care for him."
"No, he knows what you've been through. Despite all his sarcasm he's very thoughtful. He just hides it all behind attempts at flattery. And fear of your attitude."
Before she could finish to his tease he let a hand intertwine with hers to stop talking. "Speak of the devil..."
As Shepard and Miranda's backs leaned on the railing, now with their arms crossed, they saw Jeff Moreau and EDI's human frame walk up the platform. The man had lost his legs thanks to Petrovsky and the failed hijacking of the Normandy, and now walked with the aid of artificial limbs from his knees down. His normal hobble was no longer present, instead a more solid, yet slower moving gait carried the pilot. EDI let an arm permanently stay behind him in the event he would fall back, but otherwise she showed no signs of support.
"I want my full shore leave, Captain."
"See, Miranda? Get in line," Shepard softly quipped before receiving a light punch on his side before the two crewmates arrived in front of them.
"Having to spend a day up here telling some bird how to fail at copying my skills should not be taken away from my time. I mean, look at me, I've only had a few days to use these things," Jeff joked as he pretended to waver in balance. Miranda was the first in the vicinity to try and support him, pressing a hand against his chest. As she did so Jeff smiled, "EDI got tired of playing that game, good to know I pulled one over on Miss Perfect here."
"Now I realize why I didn't visit you, Mr. Moreau," Miranda replied in mock anger as she turned to Shepard for some kind of support. He never moved from his position on the railing, shrugging his shoulders. "I knew he would do that, and if he was faking you would help him."
"He knows the Ice Queen has a warm heart for her darling pilot," Jeff smiled as Miranda chose to retaliate by lightly pushing him back into EDI's arm, knowing it was there to stop his momentum.
Pulling up a leg of his slacks he showed a metal appendage off. "Not as skinny as EDI's but they've been working on these since the war." Pointing to the back of his head Joker also lifted his ever present cap up with the other hand, "got my own neural implant that works directly with the legs, reduces the lag to a barely present lull. Almost as good as the old things themselves without the fear of breaking them."
EDI spoke up slightly concerned. "You shouldn't talk about your limbs like that, Jeff. Vrolik's or not, you did what you could to help the crew."
The pilot shook his head with a smirk. "I made my peace years ago with my body, and saving the galaxy makes me better than just a handful of humans. And after all we've been through, I'm willing to put some trust in these things. Besides, they were always the weakest part of me. Still got my hands to pilot and my laser fast brain."
Shepard simply nodded. Joker was honest to a fault, and if there was something wrong with him, he would know it, and you would know it too. Like when EDI was assumed dead.
"Yes, the neural implant makes sense. Reduces interference too, one to one communication, no chance of being hacked," Miranda said as she bent over at the waist to inspect the legs, looking at the new limbs while glancing at EDI's own. After the moment lingered into prolonged seconds of scrutiny Joker stepped over to his Captain as he ignored the XO's inspection, even as she continued inspecting the occupied area as the uniform slacks fell back down. Somehow the cold, serious nature she always had seemed to not exist. At least for now it was replaced by curiosity and a need to understand.. Joker recognized "inquisitive" seemed more intimidating an action when Miranda wore it.
"Stay safe, Captain. I'll be on the QEC waiting to guide this new pilot through the motions. And when you get back this ship should be ready to show everyone how it's supposed to be done out there."
"You got it, Joker." Shepard patted his friend on the back in the soft way he was used to for his pilot's brittle frame, At the same time he was also gently pulling on the back of Miranda's suit to have her stop the inspection of Jeff's legs. Pulling into Shepard's body Miranda offered a rare compliment to the pilot. "I am relieved you're ok, Jeff. The Normandy always needs the best."
Joker stood there lost for words. Turning to EDI she simply smiled. "I don't think she's joking, Jeff."
He shook his head. "No, not that. She called me Jeff. I feel welcomed and slightly scared."
"Maybe you should look into physical therapy." Shepard suggested as the hand that pulled Miranda rested on the small of her back, softly massaging in appreciation of her words.
"I think real therapy is what I need," Joker mumbled as he now tried to avoid Miranda's gaze.
EDI looked to the Spectre with her normal emotionless face. Somehow he knew what she was processing, a quick, nearly unnoticeable flicker of her eyes in Miranda's direction made him shake his head slightly. It was a callback to days prior. Seeming to know what that meant, in growing understanding of being human, EDI nodded to herself briefly as Tali stopped their silent conversation with her happy discovery.
"And there's the big hero! Garrus!"
Tali's shout from the Normandy's wing made the group on the walkway look to see Ashley and Garrus on their way, bags in tow. Making eye contact with the quarian and her nod of insistence, Miranda showcased her new implant by pulling the engineer off the wing and onto the walkway to meet her partner. It was the first time Miranda did so outside of requisite calibrations following the implant surgery, Shepard raising his eyebrows at how effortlessly she made it work. Not even a strain in her face, just a smile of satisfaction that she offered the Spectre, hinting there was much more she could do.
"Looks like we're late to this little send off," the turian said as he hugged Tali. "Good to see you up and about, Joker. We're kind of related now, aren't we," he said with a slap of his partially prosthetic hand on Joker's arm. "Here's a new one I just thought of: why do human pilots get robot legs?"
"So they won't get tired when they run away from turians," Joker quickly replied, seeing Garrus' smile disappear. "I thought better of you, I think I heard that one form in your head while I was knocked out in surgery."
"A rather simple joke," Shepard chimed in.
"Agreed. very low threshold for these species jokes," Miranda stepped into the group with her own tease.
"I'm upset that you tried that out on me while we were on our way over here," Ashley topped off the group with a revelation everyone feigned outrage over.
"Your Spectre candidacy is over, you failed." Shepard said as everyone nodded at that decision.
His hands now held up as if to pray, Garrus turned off his visor to show is full face. "Please, Shepard, not in front of Tali, she'll think so much less of me."
Tali's hands were pressing on the sides of her helmet in dramatic exasperation, "I just had to deal with Shepard a few minutes ago with this nonsense, and now you're all doing it! Why?!"
The group went silent.
"Because it's fun."
EDI's simple reply made the point that the time for socializing was at an end.
Ashley looked to Miranda. "Thought I'd find you here. We're ready to head out, Miranda."
Reading her mind Shepard used a hand to gently tug her to a nearby pillar for their goodbyes. She wore a rare look of apprehension, something she hid by pulling the man into a deep hug once they had their privacy. Shepard whispered into her ear as he made sure she felt his warmth, "don't worry about me or anything else, you just do what you always do: excel."
"And then we'll be together again."
"And then we'll be together again," he repeated her softly spoken words.
Miranda let a deep kiss linger on his lips, her flush face spreading its warmth into his own. It still amused the man how she seemed to only let him see her in this vulnerable state. That trust and safety she honored him with, that she felt so secure now with galactic wars and grand plans being squelched.
A gentle cup of his face made her declare the next statement. "I never want to deal in promises ever again."
Shepard nodded softly as his head met hers. They didn't need to play such games anymore, they were much more secure with each other. His reply was sincere itself. "Then we won't."
Miranda smirked at Shepard's words as she picked up her bag. It seemed like something she hated from the holovids, yet she let a hand linger in his until her distance finally made them separate. Reciting their love to one another at the same time, smiles stayed on their faces as they went their separate ways. And like before during the war, the walkway was now empty, only this time without a sense of trepidation or worry they would fail to see each other again.
Miranda sat at a terminal in her father's lab on Horizon. Nearby Alliance soldiers looked to categorize and photograph the broken clone tanks and identify where bodies were initially found weeks prior. Other than the deceased Phantom templates being removed upon Henry Lawson's "rescue", the rest of the facility was left as-is, waiting for the inevitable investigation by the proper authorities. That was the plan, until the elder Lawson began to enact his grand vision of synthesis. Now, as was often the case, Miranda had to clean up her father's mess.
Emergency lights made her sitting at the holoscreens be a bothersome chore, the place carrying an atmosphere of foreboding that seemed to only specialize in fostering indoctrination. Perhaps it acerbated Henry's condition, who knew. Frankly, Miranda didn't care. He was gone.
Alliance engineers muttered a sound as white ceiling lights appeared, making Miranda wince at their appearance despite what she realized was a verbal heads up by the crew. Taking the moment to pull away from the terminal she stood up to stretch, looking around instead of letting her peripheral vision do the work of surveying the area.
The facility was expertly designed, she had to concede. A place to hide from the Reapers for decades, even a lifetime if a few changes were implemented. Miranda let a creeping feeling of dread appear as she realized, perhaps with that time, Henry Lawson could have perfected controlling the Reaper signal. And it would have all been for nothing since he was indoctrinated.
That somehow made Miranda even more angry with the man. You would have the tools to save us, you bastard, but you couldn't use it.
Stepping out from the lab's generous desk and the terminal, Miranda made her way further into the facility, passing soldiers who did their best not to stare. Not so much for her beauty, instead it was apparent some of the soldiers felt uneasy with her nearby. Being unrepentant about more shady Cerberus missions had that effect on a normal recruit. Still, Miranda did her best to offer nods of recognition without her usual cold stare. Lukewarm indifference was the name of the game now. Thoughts of Shepard lightly egging her on to open up and how his hands would rest around her waist allowed her to stop frowning and maintain a slight upturn at the corners of her lips.
The server room was where Liara was, arms propped on knees as she sat in a chair waiting for programs to finish downloading the available data. She didn't see Miranda enter but could tell by the sounds of the heels it was her.
"Halfway was reached ten minutes ago. Probably another five hours. Your father's insistence of random counter virus programs means a manual watch of the decryption. Otherwise we risk the entire data set being destroyed."
Miranda thought about the Crucible's manual mode and how the man nearly cost her her life. Dark humor brought on a singular chuckle. "Fitting."
"Hmmmmm," Liara replied with little emotion without knowing any context. The two communicated during the trip to Horizon but both knew the real reason for the friction. It was what caused the situation to begin with on Virmire.
Resting with spread arms on a nearby table Miranda waited for Liara to look up at her. It didn't arrive, only making this tension stronger. Now she knew, on a smaller scale, how much of a fool she had been to Shepard following the destruction of the Crucible, shutting him out in clearly unsubtle actions. That Liara found herself in a position where her attention could not be divided made the present tension feel like a permanent situation.
"I know we need to talk, Miranda. My weakness spurred your father's actions to near success."
Liara never took her face off the screen as the human operative looked to sit next to her, trying to avoid the imposing presence she would have over a romantic rival.
"You are too smart for me to act otherwise with conciliatory words, Liara, and you've seen the results of your actions."
The asari sighed as she clicked a button combination as Miranda saw firsthand the difficulties of the data extraction process. But the sigh was at the human's words. "The Shadow Broker is hobbled. The batarians are now the lowest populated of all space-faring races. And we've lost allies. But I have time to fix it. At least that's what I tell myself."
At those last words Liara went cold, the way she had been when Shepard first reunited with her on Illium. At that time Miranda had no interest in the resurrected marine, only a passing recognition of physical attraction, and saw how the soldier and asari acted when seeing one another. Following Williams' actions on Horizon the operative wondered if it meant the two would find comfort together. Ultimately, events regarding Oriana surfaced, and then things formed as they did. Miranda couldn't think of that occurring any other way.
Miranda let a hand come close to Liara without touching her shoulder. "You have time, and you'll also have help. The Normandy will gladly help you. I will help you."
"Just to show John you don't hold grudges, likely."
Miranda never much cared for when Liara (or anyone) used Shepard's first name but let this momentary lashing out slide. "You know that's not the case." I've spoken to him about it in our bed, she resisted the urge to follow up with, "you're one of, if not the only, being in this galaxy who can honestly claim they have done as much as John did to save everyone. You're loyal and honest and one of the few people I can trust, as well. And what might ultimately be necessary to keep everything on the right track, you don't have the idealism John has. You can get things done."
Liara looked away briefly to make eye contact before returning to the screen. It didn't stop Miranda from her words.
"What happened, happened. But from what I've gathered about his plan, my father had a clone of myself on Virmire, too. It could have been used to possibly get access to your information, our information, in other ways."
A simple thought of recognition via a soft grunt was all Liara gave. It seemed she recognized Miranda's words both as a possibility but also again trying to be consoling.
"Yes, that could have been his plan."
The silence following the asari's words were enough to make Miranda take the hint. Still, she had to take some victory for trying to slowly thaw the tension the two had around each other.
"We'll talk when you're finished," Miranda said as she left the room, "Let's work together to fix this, Liara."
She left one space to gather her senses only to have her mind be clouded again. Arms crossed outside, Miranda let her body rest on a hip. She knew she looked exactly the way she did working for Cerberus, lost in her thoughts for a moment with a glare that told others to stay away.
Which is exactly what an Alliance soldier did, but Miranda saw him turn away. "Yes, sergeant?"
The soldier turned back quickly to avoid any embarrassment. "We believe we found a personal lockbox of your- of Henry Lawson's, ma'am."
"And?" She didn't mean it to sound so demanding and tried to follow up in a nicer tone, "we are working through the databases now, just mark it and place it in the inventory."
"It seems like it's genetically locked. Commander Williams asked for us to get you."
Why not, Miranda thought as she let her mind focus on this new task as opposed to dwelling on Liara, or doing her best to alienate the Alliance crew she was with. Walking past the sergeant she smiled with a hand on his shoulder, letting tried and true glimmers of her old skills and gifts make up for her actions earlier. It seemed to work.
While Miranda didn't care what the soldiers thought, she did care what soldiers would think of Shepard choosing to be with such a cold, callous woman who didn't respect the life he was such a part of. She missed him more than she expected too, and a quick glance of her omni-tool and the adjusted schedule showed the mission he was taking part of should already be underway.
Miranda didn't want to be in her father's private quarters, the one room that pulled too many memories of her young life under his harsh and demanding parenting. Initially looking over the room when she arrived, it contained paintings she remembered in the hallways of their estate, real paper books she read under the countless tutors provided. So badly she wanted to just ignite the room with a blast of plasma and let more of his memory fade away. The tradeoff of priceless art would be worth it.
Ashley was waiting. As was Samara. The justicar was part of this mission for possible booby traps, failsafes, and in all likelihood an objective set of eyes for Councilor Tevos, but the complete lack of such things meant she was relegated to stand around and observe. Observe soldiers who were clearly more nervous around her than they were Miranda.
Stepping aside for the older human in the room, Ashley held out the cylindrical device that was about the size of an arm, the diameter of an open hand. "Portable safe of some kind, I guess."
"Mmmm," Miranda confirmed, "pertinent information only. Data sticks, important possessions. Useful if you have to leave right away and are compromised. Especially when you can easily replace everything else around here."
"And if you are deceased, incapable of being opened," Samara said coolly. Somehow she might have had experience with a similar device in her lifetime.
Ashley's crossed arms was more a reflection of trying to understand than being defensive. "Just keep the person alive to scan the eyes and thumb then kill them afterwards."
"That's the beauty of it," Miranda said calmly as she placed the item on the desk, "it needs two thumbprints and an eyescan at the same time. It reads the pulse through the thumbprints. If the person is panicked or in distress, it won't open."
"And if they're drugged, there's no baseline," Ashley nodded. "But the fingerprints. Everyone is different, even clones. I saw that firsthand," she recalled Shepard's clone in the Citadel Archives.
"Exactly. This can't be opened. To try might trigger a self destruct on the contents inside."
"Well shit." Ashley pushed some loose hair back on her head. "Just tag it then. Maybe Kasumi can unlock it."
Miranda held up a hand to pause the dejected feeling as she started to unzip the gloves off her hand. Somehow she had a feeling there was something more to this. Her gut feeling had always been what she listened to, and now was that time. "I'm going to try it anyway. Liara's working on a hard decryption, and by their very nature these lockboxes aren't capable of being connected to this facility to trigger some self-destruct command. It's just what's inside that would be destroyed."
"As a Spectre I have to say that could be vital information needed for the mission."
"Tell the Council you'll be handing it over to a legendary thief to decrypt and see how well that works."
"Perhaps you should have kept your father alive, Miranda. That would have been the best course of action."
Samara's dry humor was rarely used, but the other biotic in the room grew a smirk on the side of her face. "That will likely be the argument if brought back." Miranda made eye contact with Ashley. "I'm going to attempt to open it."
Ashley conceded any rebuttal, not that it mattered as Miranda already held the device with each thumb sitting in the divets on the sides. Pulling it to her head she let the scanner activate and run up and down her eyes.
Samara and Ashley watched as Miranda calmly stood there for a second. Then two. Then three. She pulled the device away from her face as the scan completed. Still holding her thumbs in place she placed the device back on the desk. After a second where all watching doubted it, the lock turned green. Circular locks on the top and bottom spun free and the top half slid to the side. for removal.
Miranda let a small laugh go to hide her apprehension.
The bastard authorized my prints.
Henry Lawson's mind games extended even beyond the grave. It was a good thing she had the device unlocked, as her calm exterior was hiding the anger inside her. She knew why he did this. To toy with her, to show whatever the reason, she would need his contributions. That the man would even leave such an option now, knowing how they were on different sides, a slight sense of loyalty tried to spring up after decades of seeing the man for what he was. Was this a way of showing appreciation for all her skills, her constant need to show she's one of humanity's best? Even if it wasn't under his actions she made his name carry importance. This would be... a reward?
Miranda was angry with herself for even entertaining that notion, the automatic reaction to do the opposite and destroy everything inside almost took control over her body on instinct.
The others recognized the truth that Miranda discovered. No one said anything as they focused on the interior of the box and moving it from her reach. It helped snap Miranda out of her quiet rage as well.
Ashley reached for a small drive, one of five. "Research, 2186-, I guess that's the most current data."
"Personal. Financial. Research 2140-2165. 2166-2185. 2186 to the present." Miranda was blindly guessing as she reached into the box herself. It seemed those were the correct examples. Miranda was already sticking the financial disk into the nearby desktop terminal. And just like that, the Lawson fortune was accessible. Every account, subsidiary, now at Miranda's fingertips.
Soldiers were nearby but the sidestepping of Ashley and Samara gave them the hint to move aside, to leave the room. Now the two leaned over Miranda's shoulders as they saw the large tally of resources.
"I understood your father was wealthy, but seeing it onscreen is rather...humbling," Samara softly spoke.
And I thought Cerberus believed me to be worth more than this, Miranda angrily thought as she had discovered weeks prior that Henry Lawson never stopped funding the organization, it was simply the best way to manipulate her loyalties to The Illusive Man and the clandestine group.
Quickly, brazenly, with a subconscious desire to provoke Ashley, Miranda immediately highlighted an account. It was an ample one, yet not one of the largest on the screen, not even close. Better Horizon, a subsidiary through three different parent companies that created simple VI harvesting programs on colony worlds. Eight hundred million credits disappeared from the screen that contained easily three hundred billion of the galactic currency.
The Spectre knew exactly where that money was going. And if she was still the woman who didn't trust the ex-operative she would have made a point about it. But after everything that happened, what Miranda did to save the galaxy, she simply laughed. "Do you think that's enough for you two to live off of?"
"Half of it will be going to the crew," Miranda quickly replied as she pulled the disk out of the terminal. She stood and handed it without reservation to Ashley. "All of my father's assets, for the Council to distribute however they choose."
"Yes, it seems that's the truth," Ashley convinced herself.
"They will choose poorly," Samara offered another deadpan response that seemed to be the agreement of the other women. Still, with all the reconstruction efforts still ongoing, this seemed to be something that would be greatly beneficial.
"Let Liara know she can stop with the hard decryption. The information is here. And inform her of this bounty, the Shadow Broker will need to make sure it actually gets put to good use."
Ashley nodded and left the room as Samara stayed watch behind Miranda. The two biotics shared a quick glance, the younger human knowing nothing could get past the justicar.
Quickly she put in the other disks. Information about biotics and exposure to humans was ignored. This was dated information. Files highlighting other safehouses was something Henry's daughter made sure to identify to finish this mission. It was the file marked "Legacy" that Miranda obviously wanted.
With a click it was gone. It was done so quickly Miranda didn't get the time to bask in the fact that she and Oriana were now the only Lawson's left.
Shoving in the other disks Miranda found the information about Shepard. Files from the Lazarus Project sat onscreen as well as his decoded genetic structure. Files Miranda composed. This disappeared as well. Miranda kept her own research, but this made sure anyone who wanted to attempt to copy bringing a man back to life would need to undergo the same years of planning she did.
As Liara appeared with a relieved look, Miranda and Samara shared a quiet look of agreement about what transpired. Stroking back her hair behind her ears, Miranda zipped up her gloves before handing the remaining disks to the two women. "I believe our work in this facility is finished."
Shepard wasn't used to the small quarters the Nobility provided, nor was he a fan of the amino rations they had in stock. Too much catering to the asari palette, he thought. Still, it was serviceable, and the quick shower he had before sitting in the small comms room used for personal communications. The lack of space, tight as it was aboard a frigate, made Shepard realize how far he had come since his early days as a marine. He'd dealt with far, far worse, and no matter what, he didn't have to participate in hot racking. Turians and their respect for military hierarchy made sure he received private quarters, compact as they were. Essentially a room taken from the space of the XO's quarters, it allowed the man a real bed and a desk. The small bench served as his armor rack as he examined his Paladin pistol in front of the terminal screen.
All of it didn't matter when his screen connected to the encrypted channel Liara provided, and with it Miranda's face appeared. Compared to how all their interactions were via long distance QEC, this time was markedly different. Miranda's smile and push of her hair behind her ears showed an absolute ease and letting down of her guard, which meant she must have also been alone in her own provided cabin.
"Hey there, handsome," she replied with a quick look over his face, experimenting with additional names of affection. She spotted the bruise on his jaw, interrupting her jovial nature. But she didn't show concern other than an audible click of her tongue. "Where did that come from, John," she said without framing it as a question, instead a statement demanding an answer. Shepard bit his tongue at how her experiment in being more flirtatious was immediately upended by her protective operative nature.
"When he knew he had been surrounded an ex-Blackwatch soldier tried to achieve suicide by Spectre. Garrus made him regret that punch while still keeping him alive for questioning."
"Must have been pretty hard to do, sit there and follow instead of showing up your friend during his big Spectre test."
"You know this was the same guy who held off mercenary squads for days on his own, I was just a rubber stamp. I did get to snipe one enemy to start off the mission."
"Yep. Just to show him how it's done." Shepard didn't care that she was entertaining his bravado, the smile he had for his accomplishment was genuine.
"Of course. Always so accurate with that rifle of yours," her purr and smile made him simply stare at her in regret that she wasn't near him as he relaxed back in the chair, placing the pistol on the table in front of him.
"How are things on your side of the galaxy? Your smile clearly means no other hidden traps or plans to upend civilization."
"Of course. My father's lab on Horizon was...he had some thought put into it. This thing was capable of holding so many more people as a potential bunker for the Reapers, yet it was just for him."
"Well, now there's a nice facility for the Alliance."
"Mmmm, and much more," Miranda said as she touched her screen, verifying the connections and encryption. Shepard knew what she was doing, looking to make sure her words were only heard by him even as it was already secured. A force or habit with Miranda that would likely never end. He reassured her on his end. "It's just me here, Miri, you're free to say what you want."
A blank face immediately appeared as she dispensed her knowledge. "The bastard still had samples of you, from when you were taken by the Blue Suns. I destroyed it, along with the genetic copies he had for any other clones of his."
Shepard nodded. "No more clones, for either of us."
"That I know of. John...he was using my template for those Phantoms Cerberus deployed. It didn't matter their defects, they were mass produced beings made just to fight and kill on command. They didn't even have a chance to live a normal life like those people who were abducted or experimented on in Sanctuary."
The now eldest Lawson knew her words sounded callous to those innocent people taken advantage of, but Shepard could see what she meant, what she thought. Perhaps she might have been one of them herself in another world.
"There should be comfort in knowing that can't happen anymore. It's you and Oriana now." He thought he detected Miranda wanting to interject something, but she let her eyes return to her original thoughts.
"I know. I hope so, at least. The world needs a break from the Lawson name." Now it was Miranda's turn to notice Shepard's face attempt to say something, only to suppress it and hold off on doing so. In seeing this occur both had raised eyebrows that neither wanted to acknowledge, all eyes narrowing that the other knew something wasn't being said.
Miranda succeeded in using her mastered art of seduction to change the topic for both their sakes by gently rubbing a set of fingers over her lips as she tilted her head, exposing her neck and memories Shepard had of it being solely his playground.
"I was able to get into my father's accounts and find other safehouses," her smile reappeared as she let the thoughts focus on the present, "nothing as impressive as this place, but there's a few locations that hold the possibility of storing his Reaper research."
Shepard sighed at that. Miranda noticed and sympathized. "I don't think it will be much longer, John. Most are in Alliance space. Two small ones are being looked into by other squads right now. We're en route to Elysium, and will be at Eden Prime in two days time. In fact, if your mission was so successful, I was hoping you would be able to meet me there as I finish up my reports."
His response was immediate, "I think I can make that happen. This ship is going to be Garrus' to command once he's confirmed, and these ships can't help but start their careers off at Eden Prime. You might need to get Ashley to ok your request, just to make sure it's allowed."
Miranda's smile diminished while her cold stare appeared. "Oh, you'd just love that, wouldn't you, John? She'd likely do so, since all we have now is sexual tension between us. I do have a thing for Spectres, you know, and you're all the way in turian space with your own boyfriend."
"Hey, go for it. You also have a thing for hating the person you're working with until they melt your icy facade."
"I never hated you."
Shepard laughed lightly as he let his head rest back on the sole chair in the room, "Really? I never got any other feeling from you."
"Oh shut up. I hate you now, but you were never someone to hate. I don't think I could ever let this happen otherwise."
Miranda looked down at her omni-tool while she furiously typed at something, looking up to tease Shepard before darting right back to the orange screen.
"Am I supposed to be curious about your current actions instead of pouting about how I genuinely miss you?"
Miranda stopped her typing to look up to him. Her face eroded any teasing they were doing as she softly smiled and looked up with a flutter of eyes. "I miss you too, John. I can't even put it into words. It feels the same as those months apart felt, only without survival instinct kicking in."
"Making the distance feel worse."
"Exactly. So please, meet me on Eden Prime."
She was sincere, knowing full well how weak she seemed by uttering the request, but she didn't care. Shepard harbored the same feeling, fondness and eyes yearning for one another filled each other's screens as Shepard simply nodded.
The two simply stared at one another with smiles as neither was able or willing to move on to something else. They just took the time they had to look upon each other before they would have to return to their tasks. Finally Miranda spoke again as she realized professionalism might end the conversation before she wanted to. "Indulge me, John. Let's play a game. Thanks to my brilliance I've already put a large sum of money in a secure account for us. You have three guesses as to the amount. If you can get within five million credits, a massage with this new implant is your reward. But if I win..."
Miranda sat with Jack in the bakery, finishing her raspberry croissant and tea. Across from her Jack remained bouncing her feet on her stool in anticipation. The black leather jacket she wore was zipped up and hair nicely placed in a ponytail, her blue jeans being more respectable than the boot and cargo jean ensemble she wore to establish her persona. Miranda wouldn't tell the woman they were actually her own jeans, even though they worked in keeping the younger biotic presentable but not stuck in Alliance standard attire. The two shared that trait.
"You're one hundred percent sure that's my mom?"
"Yes, I was certain before we arrived, extra certain when we ordered from her at the counter, and extra super certain when she refilled my tea and your coffee minutes ago. Kathryn Templeton, born Kathryn Littleford. Married to Colin Templeton, a dock manager at the landing port. This is their bakery, one year into a three year lease. That is your brother working the ovens as he occasionally tries to look over here without us knowing."
Jack ran her hands over her eyes in mock anguish, "Oh God I can't deal with this and you being so smug about the whole thing."
"I think that's the coffee making you more agitated than normal."
"Probably. But you have a great way of doing that too, Miri."
Miranda tore the croissant with her teeth in a harsher manner, in slight offense Jack would use that name. It probably wasn't his fault but she'd have to punish Shepard for revealing that to others. He said she heard it while he was at Miranda's bedside in Huerta, but she found that excuse worth actually laughing at, unable to believe Jack stopped to visit her at Huerta. Then it turned out to be true.
"Traffic has died down as the afternoon lull hits. Now is the time Jack. Take it."
"Why-why do you care so much, huh?" Jack finally asked as her eyes kept watching her mother pull some cookies from an oven. Her eyes met Miranda's for confirmation, hoping she had an answer good enough for Jack. It had been too long, a deep loss that her mother had long gotten over, especially with the war.
"I was exactly like you were two years ago, with Oriana. She didn't know me but she was saved from returning to my father. Shepard helped without question. But he convinced me to open up a relationship with her. And it's given me things I never thought I needed. Now, I will never give them up. I'm paying it forward by helping you."
"So if I do this, Shepard will fall in love with me?" Jack's hopeful voice got Miranda to choke on her final bite of pastry.
"No, what are-" Miranda coughed and was taken aback by that, hating that she fell for the joke.
"Really, that's such an easy target for you now, it's not even fun anymore." Jack ran a finger over the ring of her coffee mug a few times as she got silent for a second. "Thank you for this. I mean it. I'm chalking this up to your sister's infectious likability making you not a total bitch."
"Go, get it done. Take all the time you need."
Miranda's smile was true, her eyes were honest. In this moment she was the big sister of another person and she enjoyed it. Jack returned the smile before looking at the floor, scooting off the stool and nearly knocking the coffee over before Miranda held it in place.
Miranda could have eavesdropped on their conversation, but she enjoyed seeing it unfold instead. Jack was completely timid for the first time in years, stumbling over her words before she looked to Miranda one more time, getting the nod of support she needed.
Jack's mother was calm and patient as she put up with the biotic's inability to get a full sentence out, trying to help her yet-unrevealed daughter by offering the right words as she placed fresh cookies into the glass display case. It was when Jack seemingly mentioned the events that occurred decades ago that she looked dumbstruck and stopped multitasking. All Miranda saw was the older woman nodding in shock as she was told accurate information.
Jack pulled her hands out of her pockets and showed on the datapad pulled from her jacket the information Miranda and Liara had come across, showing this wasn't some cruel trick being played. Her mother took the device, likely reading the notes left by Cerberus regarding the false story they concocted to whisk the infant away for testing.
When her mother finally looked up, Jack was in tears, trying to wipe them away with the back of her hands and jacket sleeves. She simply nodded and spoke as Miranda read her colleague's lips, "I'm your daughter, and I've finally found you."
Whatever unspoken bond the two had at being mother and daughter seemed to appear as the older woman started to cry as well, unable to fully hug Jack and instead scooting over the smallest part of the counter to truly embrace her kin. The two were emotional messes, laughing and crying and spinning each other around but never letting go of the hug. Miranda started to wipe away some moisture herself. It looked so clichéd, like in the holovids, but it was reality. And she knew had she been less of a trained operative the same thing would have occurred with her and Oriana on Ilium. Even then she let so much of her wall finally drop.
Running a hand over her daughter's cheek, Jack's mom started to notice the tattoos that were everywhere. "I'm not a rockstar," Miranda giggled internally as she lip-read Jack's attempt to explain herself, noticing that her mom didn't seem to really care as she eyed up her daughter and complimented her pretty face. Jack was now blushing instead of crying, and only by Miranda's grace was it not captured for eternity by her omni-tool.
As her brother joined the two at a table the reunited family sat talking for an hour while Miranda busied herself with other tasks on her datapad, occasionally checking in with Oriana via messages as she played with the vast sums of money she had recently acquired.
Colony land was cheap, and she made sure to purchase areas on many of the Alliance planets. She remembered another promise, one to Ashley. Focused now, Miranda ran through her accounts to find the location of the Williams Matriarch. Ten million credits were transferred with no remorse, an additional million for the sisters Abby, Lynn, and Sarah. Even another for Ashley herself. The only note in the transfers were that it was a bonus given to Spectres for their outstanding work during the war and recognition of her father's contribution to the Alliance. That seemed believable enough on the surface. Ashley would know when pressed, but it didn't matter. Miranda kept her word.
Leisure activity being taken care of, at least to Miranda, her mind couldn't help but pull up a file again out of nervous energy, something she had been doing repeatedly since Horizon. The orange screen showed the genetic helix and eezo concentration complete with scans of the human body as she looked at all the information about herself. It was the data her father had saved with regards to his perfected clones, his true legacy. It was not deleted as she led Samara to believe in Henry's laboratory, but rather transferred to her omni-tool and her own storage devices.
No matter her feelings towards the man, she couldn't destroy the data. The same for that compiled about Shepard and Oriana. It was information, knowledge that could potentially be used for her own legacy if everything she had done recently was for naught.
The feeling of hypocrisy always washed over her no matter how she tried to spin the actions to herself. What followed afterwards was also the fear that these were the same thoughts her father had to justify his actions.
Miranda's simple answer stopped her mind from creating a thousand different possibilities. She closed the information one more time as she finished her now cold tea. I have him, and he has me. That's what you focus on, not the past.
And so another bout of insecurity had ended while Miranda opened up her omni-tool one final time. Attention divided, Jack and her mother walked to the black haired figure as she finalized one last item, hotel reservations for tonight. A confirmation from Shepard's omni-tool that he was en route to Eden Prime ended Miranda's personal work as she looked up to see the elder human woman speechless upon seeing her.
"Mom, this is the woman who made it happen. Miranda Lawson."
"That Miranda Lawson?"
"That Miranda Lawson."
All three women had a moment of apprehension at the revelation. Sitting in broad daylight, though in the corner of the shop, with her hair in a ponytail to alter her look to the normal citizen, Miranda was still a woman whose past was now known by all. Her father's actions only made her seem guilty by association despite her attempts at redemption. Still, after the shock disappeared, the rather youthful mother of Subject Zero gave a smile.
"I-I have to be honest here, you've not been painted in a positive light." Miranda could see the look of slight fear in her eyes and stepping any closer to her. She remained welcoming yet cautious, something Miranda respected.
Smiling and hoping to erase this awkwardness, Miranda knew what she was trying to say. "Yes, it's hard to explain your past when people keep manipulating it for their own political purposes."
"But if Jack loves you, that's all that matters, I'm just thankful you found me for her."
"Whoa whoa whoa!" Jack got defensive as did Miranda, "I do not love this woman! She's with Shepard! Really, I think I could do better than her!"
Before Miranda could respond with a witty comeback, Jack's mother objected, "Are you kidding me? Beautiful and intelligent, I've seen the credentials she has. And if she helped save this galaxy, you should be so lucky to have someone like her by your side,"
"You don't, you just - don't feed her ego!" Jack said in loud plea as her mom gently patted Miranda's hands in apology. "I'm sorry, you probably can explain yourself well enough, and I'm ready to listen."
"And here's your room confirmation, Captain Shepard," the asari receptionist said with a nervous smile as she sent the door key lock from her terminal to the man's omni-tool. She was star struck, Shepard had seen it before on some civilians, but it was often when he was in uniform or armor, not his off duty attire of jeans and shirt.
"Thank you, Lassara," he said as he looked at the nametag the light blue alien had on her pressed pristine attire, "I take it Miss Lawson is currently in the suite?"
"Yes, yes sir, she is. In fact, she wanted me to notify her when you arrived, so let me just-"
"Can you do me a favor and not inform her? I'm a little earlier than expected and surprising her is hard to do." The usual charisma the man had now worked as always, though he saw the doubt in the asari's eyes.
"I know she probably told you once or twice to inform her when I arrived, and she probably gave you a stern look on top of it. The kind of look and tone that threatened a rather nasty complaint were you not to comply with her wishes?"
His smile and rather accurate assessment of what happened made the asari realize he was trying to soothe her concern. "Yes, Captain, she was quite insistent on privacy and notification of your arrival. 'A man who saved the galaxy deserves the bloody best you have so be sure you notify me,' were her exact words."
"Don't worry about her. I wouldn't ask you to not follow through if it would really jeopardize your employment or well being. Miranda's just very protective. And you'd really be helping me out, Lassara."
"I...I guess it's not a problem, then. Just head over to the elevator and you'll have access to level 51. It's a private floor."
"Thanks," Shepard said with another grin as he picked up his worn duffel bag, "You're making sure I'll recommend The Connoisseur to anyone who is visiting Eden Prime."
Before he could step away from the whispering guests who recognized him, the asari gently let a hand appear on the top of her desk. "Um, Captain Shepard? Would it be too much to ask for a... ?" she held up her other hand's omni-tool as he knew exactly what she wanted.
A photo was actually something he rarely had been asked for, many just taking them when he would be nearby. And saving the galaxy seemed to ensure people would afford the man this modicum of privacy when he didn't want to be disturbed. But the receptionist was risking the (never to appear) wrath of Miranda for agreeing to Shepard's wishes, the least he could do was to take a photo with the young alien. Though he was amazed how quickly she let her hand grip his right bicep as she posed for the photo by his side.
A gentle and likely futile request that she not spread the photo around the extranet was offered by the marine, gaining some traction when he uttered the potential threat to her or others by any of his lingering enemies should they seek him out, and Shepard made his way to the elevator with no other distractions.
The Connosieur hotel, in the center of Eden Prime, was the tallest building in the capital city of Constant. Fifty-one stories high at the center of the city, it was the designed highpoint from which all other buildings descended around it. And it's beautiful interior was reflective of it's location and height. As he shared the elevator with a young human couple Shepard had to admit he was liking this sense of luxury. Miranda said it before, what credits she kept for themselves were crumbs compared to what she turned over to the Alliance. But after finding out the true amount she kept, it was diamond encrusted crumbs. And he still owed her an afternoon massage.
The young man in the elevator, a baby face that made him seem younger than the reality, started to salute the Spectre. His partner did the same thing. A confused face didn't stop the marine from following through with his acknowledgement of the couple's actions.
"No need for that, son," Shepard said in a mocking tone, seeing how he was likely just ten years older than the other two.
"No sir, it's absolutely necessary. Service Chief Alex Taraj, 3rd Frontier Division, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry. '3-2-1s get the job done.' We helped the colonists here kick Cerberus out thanks to you and your crew."
"He's right, Captain," the young woman spoke up, "without the information you gathered for the resistance we wouldn't have gotten any support. And we wouldn't be together right now," she said as her hand met her boyfriend's. The young man smiled awkwardly and nodded in agreement.
Shepard nodded himself as he saw how happy the two were. Resting against the elevator wall he saw they had yet to reach their floor. "What's your room number, Chief?"
"Room 3420." He said quickly, his voice hoping it meant a follow up visit by the heroic human.
"I want you to give your girlfriend..."
"-your girlfriend Tonya here the best the hotel can offer. Room service, champagne, the works. You did your part, you did it well. Enjoy."
The soldier's eyes showed a worried look with the Captain, while his girlfriend had eyes of surprise and happiness. Why would you say that? seemed to be the younger man's clear question he knew had been delivered telepathically to Shepard.
"And don't worry about the bill. It's taken care of," the Spectre reassured them.
Before Shepard could reaffirm his words the young woman slapped her boyfriend's shoulder blade, "are you really questioning John Shepard?"
"No!" was the immediate response, "No sir, please don't take it that way. If anything, we should be paying for your stay!"
"No no, calm down you two," Shepard pleaded with his hands, "I've already got that taken care of. But I can take care of you two while I'm at it."
The elevator door opened for the two to depart as they still looked confused. Or rather, Taraj still looked concerned. His girlfriend had already made sure to hug Shepard before she stepped into the hallway.
Again Shepard had to reassure the man with a firm uttering of his name. "I got it, Taraj. End this on a high note of Captain Shepard paying for your stay instead of getting chewed out by him for not accepting the generous gift."
When phrased that way, the marine made sure to just shut up and nod, again giving a salute before he picked up the couple's bags. A solid hand came up from Shepard to say thanks as the two seemed beside themselves at what just happened. He could hear the word "unbelievable" coming from the woman's mouth just as the elevator doors closed.
A swipe of his omni-tool on the lock recognized him as the guest and the doors slid open, showing a softly lit penthouse filled with flat, angular designs that made the furnishings of his former apartment seem dated and old. As always Shepard's hint that Miranda was in the area, classical music, filled the floor. Judging by the tone and upbeat nature, she must have been in a good mood. He was anxious himself to be reunited with her as he let his duffel bag hit the black granite floor.
"Miranda?" He said in a loud tone, following the music to hopefully discover her location. Turning a corner he saw a table that had an odd collection of items. Datapads, an opened bottle of wine, and...mounds of pastries and cookies. So much he didn't know whether to laugh or be concerned.
"John?!" Shepard could hear the surprise, the happiness and slight anger in her voice as he heard the heavy thumps of her feet coming to the dining room of the suite. It was something he never connected to her, at all, the woman so graceful even in battle, even in heels.
Miranda, clearly trying to regain composure, strode into the room in a simple gray long sleeve tee and black shorts, though a hand was still in the other room. Despite locking eyes with her, he could hear a thump hit the ground in the room over the lull in the music. He guessed it was the N7 jacket (she now owned) hitting the floor. It appeared he had interrupted her attempts to put on a show like she did days before. His smile couldn't properly convey how much it meant to him that she did such a thing, and she responded in kind, both realizing how weird it was that now the sight of one another made their throats dip to their stomachs like it was teenage love.
Miranda's toothless smile stayed on her face as she wordlessly realized she was caught. Instead she stood there, arms open, inviting the man to embrace her. "Come here, Mr. Spectre," she said with affection as he wrapped arms around her waist, her hands going to rest on his neck and delivering three kisses to his lips.
Shepard let his body envelop her, his hands now reaching under her arm to grab her opposite shoulder as the other slid below her rear to her inner thigh, an intimate gesture that showed how much the two were hoping to speed up their reunion but enjoying this embrace. Kissing her neck he let his body deflate as he pulled her closer into him, hearing her soft sigh of contentment purr as she found her cheek on his neck. Simple sounds from each other's throats let them stand there lost in each other while the music played.
"Are you ok?" Shepard asked after enjoying the kisses provided, looking for another empty bottle (or two) of wine that explained her mood. Miranda's continued nuzzling made him return focus on her with a another firm pull as hand left her shoulder and into the small of her back, gaining much approval from her.
"I did my job flawlessly, ended any attempt at my father's legacy, and put some personal conflicts to rest. And we're back together, even if it was a few days apart. I am simply happy, John."
"I hope so."
"There's a lot of food behind me. Did you master baking too?"
She laughed a bit at the thought. "Oh yes. The secret isn't to make it yourself, just get in good with a baker who believes she owes you for eternity." She let a hand touch his chin, checking the area where it had been swollen two days before in their vid-chat. Of course it had healed with his gene therapy and implants, but she need to inspect her possession. "No, no mastery of confection, I just did my good deed for the day. I think I made it impossible for Jack to ever attack me again."
Shepard knew it was her dry humor, but at the same time she could be dead serious when it came to Jack. He let a hand run through her hair as he continued to beam at her. "I'm glad she found her mom. You always work wonders, you know."
Even coming from her lover, Miranda still didn't take genuine, sincere praise like that well, her face getting red. "It was nothing. I keep my word." She didn't want the hug to end but she also started to have a lapse of confidence in her current state. Separating she let her hands be taken in his as both exchanged the look both knew was coming, what they were quietly trying to push aside since they saw one another.
She let a finger run down his chest as the other hand sat on the back of his jeans, feeling a pistol sitting in the back of his jeans. "You were so good to me the past week, I need to return the favor. And then you return the favor. You did lose our game after all." Bedroom eyes fluttered up to Shepard's face as he immediately fell under her spell. She led him to their destination as he followed her, hand in hand, a momentary stop to pick up his old jacket from the floor.
Hours later, time went by as the couple shared stories from their time apart, moving from the break of delivered room service dinner to the floor of the suite's living room fireplace and ultimately out on the large patio that overlooked the city. The longer days during this season on Eden Prime meant the sun was just setting as the cool evening temperature started to settle on the plains and into the city.
Miranda cuddled next to Shepard as they sat together on an outdoor lounge chair, donning her jacket for additional warmth as the wind slowly came in. "This place has been through so much but my word does that sunset show why it's so prized."
"Nice thing to see when you don't have to disarm bombs or push back Cerberus invaders."
"And even better when we're fifty stories up ruling over them like a queen and king," she emphasized with her fist clenching at the appropriate words against the orange light.
Shepard kissed her forehead as she felt the smile in his lips, "thank you for at least remembering you need a king."
"I control you, so it's a figurehead role, really."
Shepard let her roll the sarcasm as much as she wanted, knowing this was her way of opening up and working through it all. When she didn't and kept it inside is when he worried. But her dry humor was often what he felt too. As she sat in his lap he just continued to rub her thigh as they saw the lights of the various skycars and shuttles begin to stand out while the daylight disappeared.
"I can get used to this," he said softly as she let a free hand rub his chest above his heart.
"Like you said with your breathless profanity two days ago, which I won't repeat, I put aside many, many credits. We can do this forever."
That last word lingered on her tongue as Shepard heard the complete contentment in Miranda's voice. Now was the time.
"Hey, look over there, to the right," Shepard said as her head left his chest with a slight flex of his muscle in the direction. Raising to sit in his lap she saw the golden fields she was enamored with the last time they were here, viewing it from the hospital walkway. The evening wind rippled the field into a hypnotic shimmer that stole Miranda's attention.
She didn't see it but Shepard was able to expertly avoid any detection as he pulled something out of his back pocket. A hand reaching around her stomach he kissed her on the neck to pull her to him as the gift appeared from her other side and into her lap.
"Hopefully this can be a reminder of this evening, and many future ones," Shepard said gently into her ear as she saw the small box in front of her. Miranda literally froze and Shepard could hear the air suck into her lungs at the presentation of the present. Her face had shock all over it.
Shepard did his best to hide his smile as he pushed some hair off her face to help snap her out of this shock. "I'm pretty sure I slipped up somewhere and you knew this was coming, but this seemed like a perfect time to do so."
Slowly Miranda took the box from him, but not before gently kissing the back of his hand in something that Miranda knew was awkward as she did so. It was instinct, a small pittance to try and shake her out of being genuinely surprised by the usual actions between lovers. Shepard simply found it endearing.
She opened the box quickly, not knowing her own strength, and saw the necklace shake at the excess force and leap out. Quickly dropping the box Miranda focused on catching the necklace and the pieces adorned to it.
The shimmering gold necklace had a near solid chain with the exception of the loops on the back, yet it was the front pieces that adorned it that she was captivated by. Two rings that seemed linked together sat on the chain. A third ring, darker in color, joined the two pieces at the bottom in a formation of three circles in an upside down triangle. The top two rings each had small gems spaced out on the bands. One contained sapphire; the other ruby. The vibrant deep colors being so strong even in the fading light Miranda was amazed by them.
She ran her fingers over the gems and felt no points where it was set together, her other hand feeling the cool metal band of the necklace. This was the first piece of jewelry she was given or accepted that had no strings attached, no ulterior motives behind it. Her father's pampering came in exchange for compliance to his demands, and she had various pieces bought during her missions as an operative, either for assignments or collected from misguided marks and even targets.
"This...this is beautiful, John," she said with shock in her eyes and a coming onset of emotion in her voice, seeing Shepard's face carry a sense of satisfaction and relief, "I love it," Miranda realized she was having trouble breathing, her heart pounding massively, and to make it worse tears filled her eyes as she touched his cheek, "I love you."
Pulling her closer he tried to play jeweler as he let his hands shadow hers. "This is something the Volus have worked perfecting on Irune thanks to the pressure. And biotics. They are fused together, or guaranteed to be at least. The gems are from Earth, supposedly centuries old." Shepard took a second to think about what he just said, his lack of doing this kind of giving being new for him too. "I think I'm talking too much about it."
"No, you're not. But this is... too much," she said still trying to form better words as she ran her fingers over the rings to try and find the point where the rings were cut and linked but found nothing to the touch. Feeling the third ring that dangled, she recognized it. "A Victory Ring. I remember seeing those being auctioned off for the wealthy to buy and contribute to the war effort. There were only fifty made."
"Yes. I think. Actually, that was a gift from EDI, which makes me wonder how she obtained it since I didn't detect a loss in Normandy accounts," Shepard caught himself as he realized his honesty about how he obtained the ring might come across poorly. "I don't mean it to sound like I re-gifted but-"
"John, shut up, you don't have to justify it," she said as she clamped a hand over his with warmth to make him realize how she felt. A rare thing, he also felt slight perspiration in her palm. She knew it too and pulled back to try and not fully become a cliché. It had happened too much to her today already, but she was three quarters of the way there. Returning to the necklace she put the gift in her hands. "What are these other two rings?"
"Something that no one else will ever have."
Miranda looked up in bemusement and curiosity with a slight open mouthed smile that Shepard savored. She started to blush slightly, knowing that look he was giving her. He gently took it from her hands to place it in his own. "Sapphire, ruby, it's a little bit like the two of us." A rare bit of insecurity came from the man as he looked down and away from Miranda. "The rings themselves were forged from the medal Hackett bestowed me after the war."
It took a moment for Miranda to process both his slight bashfulness and what the words actually meant. But when it finally connected in her head she dropped the necklace in her lap before immediately picking it back up. He was so blasé about it, making such a nonchalant declaration of his love for her. He even lacked confidence in it being the right choice. Yet this whole thing seemed just like him; unexpected but caring, thought out. His leadership reflected the same thing.
Then Miranda's mind went to something else. Picking it up in her hands again she swallowed before asking in a soft, mousey voice, "Are these rings what I think they are?" Her heart was now racing as she awaited his response with her thoughts going into overdrive. This was all so subtle, he had to have planned this. But he didn't know what was coming. But he knows you, you told him you settle for nothing but the best. And now he's actually shy yet radiating something so intoxicating that I just want to push him to the floor and-
Now the classic Shepard returned to his face, a soft reassuring smile. "Yes. But just like you, it needs to be unique and perfect." He didn't kneel, but leaned up to plant both his legs on the balcony ground as she sat between him in the lounge chair as he brushed more hair from her face. He could feel her breath hitch at his touch, "As long as I have you by my side I don't care what you want to call it, or to even make it official. It's just a symbol of my devotion to you, Miranda Lawson. Now and forever."
Shepard watched her face try and merge happiness and not flat out burst into tears. It was textbook Miranda at how she tried so hard to still remain in control. The tears finally broke through and formed while her smile grew to slowly allow her to inhale and breathe again. He thought he could hear her heart beating over the sound of his own.
"Oh, John," she said in her most raw, open voice as she grabbed his face for a kiss, her lips belying how soft it was compared to how passionately her hands were pressing on his scalp. At this point, it seemed like with her head pushing so hard against his she was trying to join together like the rings adorning her new necklace. "Let's call it a confirmation," she said just to finally get an answer out.
Feeling her soft breath of laughter hit his face after those words, mixed with her tears of joy, Shepard began to notice the heat radiating from her body as it ignited his own. Trying to open his eyes as her forehead rested on the bridge of his nose he saw in his peripheral vision the purple biotic aura cover the two.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," Miranda kept saying softly. Finally wanting to see his face, her smile matched his. "I'm yours, John Shepard. Now and forever."
She offered the necklace to him to put around her neck, though he found it hard to do so with how close she was, unwilling to separate from him as she pushed further into his body. Despite her neck so close for his gift to finally find its home, she was making it a difficult task by finding his neck to sprinkle with kisses. He could tell she was still using her biotics as her lips massaged his neck to the point of just giving up with the jewelry and pulling her beneath him.
Miranda sensed she was succeeding, stopping for a few seconds to finally let the necklace rest upon her. Despite her body being flush she could feel the sun no longer on her back as the wind seemed picked up. For all she knew she was making her body's mass disappear and float into the sky. Gently stroking his hairline again she whispered in Shepard's ear, "since this is just whatever we want it to be, take me inside and I'll confirm how much I love this gift."
With ease she rested in his arms as he lifted her up, never taking his eyes off her. She cleared her throat with a laugh while she let her body soften in his embrace. The necklace rested just below her collar bone as the cool feeling of the metal disappeared and now felt like it was always there. As far as she was concerned, it always would be. "You made this absolutely worth it," she replied with a satiated sigh.
"All because of you," Shepard said with certainty.
With the sun fully set behind them the Spectre had crossed into the interior of the suite only to have Miranda shuffle in his arms until she used a biotic push to make the two land into the nearby sofa, laughter filling the room. It was immediately apparent to both of them they would only reach the bedroom the next day.
And so this story ends.
What a long, strange journey it's been. Lots of highs, lows, and bwuh? What started as a way to try and keep the ME story going became a personal challenge to make a story that would hopefully become the continuation of your own story.
I know there's been some hiccups along the way, and I changed a bit of what I originally planned. Some detail of that below:
Zaeed was always going to die, which was why I tried to give him more time in earlier chapters. Ezno was a bit of a fake out in this regards, always showing up just for a little callback to the mobile game and nothing more.
Originally the hijacking kill more Normandy crew, including Tali (Xen point blanks her this time). It was to highlight just how much Shepard sacrificed for Miranda, and how their relationship was constantly putting him a step behind. It would become a focal point for everyone within Shepard's sphere of influence, not to mention his own guilt for picking one over many.
This would lead to Shepard and Miranda separating for a year or two following the trial, along with everyone else in his group essentially shunning him, particularly Garrus, until the ending had Miranda and Shepard uniting again and starting over away from everyone else. They would have each other but no one else.
Simply put, that became too depressing and nothing but a sense of never ending resentment and really just a downer of an ending. I mean hey, this is the guy who did everything he was supposed to do, trying to punish that seemed unfair. Granted, having a relatively happy ending seems bog standard, but there were at least hardships they faced.
As we sit on the edge of the Mass Effect Andromeda release window, I hope this story has provided you a simple escape each time a chapter has been released. I never expected it to take this long, but life gets in the way. Still, if you enjoyed this story I sincerely thank you for sticking with it. And if you didn't, I still thank you for taking the time to read it.
I would hope anyone thinking of writing a story about these two (or anything) simply tries it. Writing comes to you in spurts, or long stretches followed by immediate self-doubt. It is not fun, but I encourage everyone to give it a shot because when it clicks it feels great. Personally it would be great to see the MShep/Miranda get some extra stories in before Andromeda's release and everyone forgets Shepard and it's all about the Ryder twins (first impressions don't wow me with them but always trying to be optimistic here).
On top of all of you who have stuck by this story via follows and reviews, to which I say thank you once again, I would like to thank fellow writers commandocucumber, Mal Cobb, and nothinginreturn. Their stories they published during my time encouraged me to write, write better, and keep it up. Many other MShep/Miranda writers have also been a great insight and motivating factor, from one-shot stories to their own retellings or side tales, and I appreciate all who have contributed to this little corner of the Mass Effect world.
If you've put up with this longer edition of author notes, you can be rewarded by reading this next bit: be sure to keep an eye out in the next week or so, a new story will appear, a follow up to this tale. Not as long, but something that you will enjoy as it's similar to the Citadel DLC in tone.
But for now, this story is complete. Once again, I thank you for reading, and I look forward to reading any stories you might have about this OTP.