Disclaimer: The characters of the Mass Effect universe are the property of Bioware, a division of Electronic Arts Inc. The following fan fiction is solely for the enjoyment of the author and fans of the Mass Effect franchise.


Chapter 1

The shockwave of the loudest explosion Miranda had ever heard propelled her across the platform, sending the operative crashing against a ruined console and knocking the wind from her lungs. Dazed, she briefly crumpled into a ball as an intense blast of heat radiated around her. Gasping for air, she fought to gather her senses as stars popped in her vision and an acute nausea fell upon her.

But then she pushed herself up with her arms, struggled back to her knees, and looked around to see Garrus dashing toward her. The big turian came to an abrupt halt directly beside her and dropped to one knee, putting his heavily armored body between her and the cataclysmic destruction Shepard had just wrought with the absurdly overpowered M920 Cain heavy weapon.

Shielding her face with an armored forearm, Miranda looked up and saw the massive Human-Reaper construct engulfed in fire and smoke. The thing let out a terrible, otherworldly cry that pierced her ears even through her helmet's audio filters and caused the hair on the back of her neck to stand up. Then the creature was rocked by secondary explosions and began to break apart, fiery debris raining down upon the platform and sending the team scrambling for cover.

Garrus took hold of her upper arm, yanking her back to her feet, and began to drag her away from the maelstrom. But then the floor shifted violently after a huge, burning piece of the Reaper's arm struck the platform. The turian lost his grip on her and was catapulted forward and out of sight over an outcropping of machinery. Miranda was slammed hard against the cold, metallic wall and then immediately hurled in the opposite direction as the floating platform snapped back and pitched nearly thirty degrees.

A heartbeat later, she found herself sliding helplessly across the floor, desperately clawing for purchase, trying to halt her momentum, as she rapidly approached the edge. Panic welled up within her and she tasted bile as her legs swung out beyond the precipice and dangled over the cold, dark void below.

But then Shepard was there.

Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, he dove toward Miranda, a gloved hand outstretched, and took hold of her wrist just before she was lost over the edge. Somehow he had kept them both from falling to their deaths, and in one fluid motion, yanked her onto his stomach as he rolled onto his back and away from the edge.

Miranda stared back at Shepard, laying on top of him, wild-eyed and breathing heavily. He returned her frantic gaze with an absurdly calm expression and a faint grin curling the edge of his mouth. My god, she thought. I think he's actually enjoying this.

Shaking off the near-death encounter, Miranda crawled off of him and jumped to her feet, helping to pull him up as more burning debris streamed down throughout the base's cavernous interior. The Reaper's spectacular demise had caused major damage to the Collector Station's interior, but the overall integrity of the place seemed to be holding. She looked around at the devastation, still feeling a little surprised to be alive, keeping her hand firmly clasped around Shepard's.

Garrus came running toward them a moment later, apparently unscathed after being thrown across the platform. "Damn it, Shepard! I had that thing lined up before you stole my shot!" he bellowed, barely suppressing a laugh.

"The next Reaper's all yours, Vakarian," Shepard said dryly, still holding onto Miranda's hand. She wasn't ready to let go yet. He then keyed his comm, accessing the wider squad channel. "Bravo team, what's your status?"

Zaeed Massani's coarse voice barked back through the comm. "We're holding, but these fucking bugs just keep coming."

"Thermal clips will be a problem soon, Shepard," Thane added.

"Understood. Break position and fall back to the Normandy," Shepard said. "Joker, prep for dust off."

After a chorus of acknowledgements from the squad battling the Collectors at the other end of the base and the Normandy's pilot, Shepard glanced over at Miranda and Garrus, giving them a nod. "Tali, bring your team and the nuke up here now."

"Copy that, Shepard," the quarian engineer's thickly accented voice came back. "We're moving to your location now."

A minute later, Tali, Jack, and Grunt arrived on the scene, the tough krogan effortlessly carrying the compact thermonuclear device upon his back. Shepard, Miranda, and Garrus were still huddled close together when the others appeared, dusting themselves off and checking each other over after the desperate battle they'd just waged.

Miranda had managed to recover her wits and turned to see the krogan lumbering toward her. "Right here, Grunt," she said, pointing to an access point she and Garrus had pried open a moment earlier. "We'll tie into the base's systems at this junction."

Tali looked to where she was gesturing and wordlessly began to assist the Normandy's XO with the terminal while Shepard stepped up to heave the device off of Grunt's back. Garrus glanced over at them before quickly taking up position along the edge of the platform, drawing his sniper rifle and scanning the enormous cavern for hostile movement.

Jack stomped past the group with her usual hostile swagger, heavy combat boots striking the deck with emphasis and her shoulders hunched in an aggressive posture. She surveyed the mangled platform, covered with smoldering, alien cybernetic material and whistled. "Goddamn, you guys really fucked this place up," she said before turning to fix Miranda with a contemptuous stare. "Glad to see you survived, princess. Would've been a shame if they spoiled those good looks."

Miranda, bent over the terminal and working to integrate the bomb's mechanism into the base's power conduits, looked up and returned her own stony glare. "I'm relieved to see you're still in one piece as well, Jack. You're fortunate that Shepard kept you from the worst of the combat."

"Fuck you, Cheerleader."

Shepard approached where Miranda and Tali were working, sweeping the area for threats with the muzzle of his Mattock assault rifle, and glanced down at the crude nuclear device they'd rigged together. "Can it, Jack," he said. "How's it looking?"

"We're fine, Shepard," Miranda said, flicking her eyes up to the man as her fingers worked to complete the arming mechanism. "Thirty seconds."

He nodded and continued circling close by her and Tali. Miranda stole another glance at him and noted the extraordinary, practiced calm the Commander exhibited as he oversaw the final stages of their ambitious mission. Among the team gathered on the scorched platform, only Garrus seemed capable of rivaling his steely composure.

"EDI, how we doing?" Shepard asked.

The feminine voice of the Normandy's AI echoed through the team's shared comm link. "I have extracted approximately seventy-six petabytes of data from the base's systems thus far, Commander," EDI replied. "But, countermeasures have been employed against my intrusion, slowing the download considerably. However, I have succeeded in gaining partial access to internal security systems and am taking measures to clear Bravo Team's exfiltration route back to the ship. I also detect a sizeable force of Collectors advancing on your position. I am attempting to delay them."

"Copy that," Shepard said. "Get what you can, but the exfil of our people is your priority."

"Acknowledged, Commander."

"Tali, Miranda, talk to me."

"Almost there, Shepard," Tali said. "Preparing to activate the device now."

"There's no turning back once we arm the bomb, Commander," Miranda added.

"Understood."

"Commander," Joker said, "I've got an urgent message from the Illusive Man. I'm patching him through now."

Her work finished, Miranda blew out a breath and rose to her full height, activating her Omni-tool and accepting the Normandy's relayed transmission. A moment later, a scaled holographic projection of the Illusive Man appeared before them.

"Shepard," the Illusive Man said, his distinctive voice carrying hollowly throughout the chamber, "you've accomplished the impossible and stopped the Collector threat. I congratulate you. It's a stunning victory."

"It's a little early to celebrate," Shepard said. "We're not done yet."

"I'm aware of that, Shepard. In fact, I'm looking at the schematics EDI uploaded right now and have concluded that a timed radiation pulse will kill the remaining Collectors but leave the station and its technology intact." His cybernetically enhanced eyes gleamed with excitement. "This is exactly the kind of break we've been waiting for, Commander. They were actually building a Reaper. And acquiring that knowledge, that tremendously important framework, can be the difference that saves humanity."

Shepard's eyes were still scanning the interior of the base, waiting for the inevitable Collector counterattack. "That's a negative," he said flatly. "I'm not risking my team another minute longer than I need to. We're damn fortunate to have made it this far without casualties and I'm not about to tempt fate and deviate from the mission objective at the last second. We're blowing the station."

"Shepard, listen to me," the Illusive Man said, his voice tilting toward a pleading tone. "I know that you've been through a significant ordeal, but the value of this base is too great to simply throw away. Don't be short-sighted. Our best chance against the Reaper threat is to understand them, to learn more about how they corrupt organics and why they're intent on our annihilation. This station presents a unique opportunity that is simply too rare to squander. I'm ordering you to preserve it."

"You gave me tactical command over this operation," Shepard said, his own voice cool and unwavering. "That supersedes whatever authority you think you have. This place is an abomination and I intend to send it straight to hell. And frankly, you're goddamn delusional if you think you can safely harness the technology here after what I saw on that derelict Reaper corpse."

"We've already learned from that incident, Shepard. And this is different, you know that."

"EDI's pulling everything she can get. That'll have to do."

Even through the holographic representation, Miranda could see that her employer was becoming enraged, turning beet red. "Listen to me, Shepard," he said. "You died fighting for a cause you believed in. I brought you back because you had a unique opportunity to make a real difference in a war we both know is closing in on the galaxy. I didn't discard you because I knew your value. Don't be so quick to discard this facility. Think of the potential. I'm asking you—I'm pleading with you—trust my judgment and obey my order."

Shepard lowered his rifle a fraction and looked straight into the cold, glowing eyes of the man that had funded and organized the mission. "Tali, arm the device."

Rage washed over the Illusive Man. "I won't accept this Shepard!" his spat back. "Miranda, halt that weapon's deployment and relieve Shepard of command."

Miranda flinched slightly as the man's shrill cry reverberated against the walls of the chamber. "What?" she said. "You can't be serious."

"Secure his weapon, pull the team out, and wait for further instructions."

Miranda was staring back at the Cerberus leader's image in shocked disbelief, slowly shaking her head. She then caught sight of Garrus out of the corner of her eye. The turian had altered his stance slightly, still keeping his rifle pointed downrange, but had inched the muzzle a little more toward her general direction.

A few meters to her left, Grunt's powerful claws gripped the handle of his Claymore shotgun even tighter, but he too kept his thick legs planted and his body pointed away from her. Still crouched near her knees, Tali gave a nervous glance up at Miranda before quickly returning her attention to the device.

Across the platform, Jack stared at Miranda, resentment and suspicion burning behind her eyes. She flicked her vision quickly to Shepard, but remained still and alert, waiting to engage the enemy closing in on their location, but also clearly eager to pounce on the Cerberus operative if she chose to comply with the Illusive Man's order.

Miranda then turned her head and met Shepard's gaze. He was looking at her with interest, but appeared utterly unconcerned. His eyes told her how he felt, that he knew he could trust her. In fact, it didn't appear that he had doubted her for an instant. When she opened her mouth, her voice was even and resolute. "No. I'm with Shepard. It's far too dangerous to leave this place standing. Besides, it would just feel… Wrong."

"I gave you an order, Miranda!" the Illusive Man spat back, his patience completely exhausted.

"I noticed. And I'm ignoring it. Consider this my resignation, sir."

He swallowed, briefly taken aback by her decision. "Miranda! Shepard! You don't understand the significa—"

The Illusive Man's holographic image blinked out before he could finish his thought, the comm link severed as Miranda disconnected the feed and lowered her arm. She looked at Shepard again and gave a faint smile.

He was smiling back at her with pride and respect. But there was also something else. Something more.

"We're done here, Shepard!" Tali said, rising to her feet.

"Alright everyone, fall back! Jack, you're on point. Grunt, Garrus, cover our six. Let's go home."

Jack nodded to Shepard, yanking back on the action on her pistol, and yelled back to the group. "Try to keep up, kids! We. Are. Leaving!"


Author's note:

I'm not going to rehash every mission of ME2 and 3, but the culmination of the suicide mission seemed like a good place to kick off a fic that will focus heavily on the relationship between Shepard and Miranda and what they get up to in the time leading up to and during the Reaper war. I'll feature them in some familiar territory, but I also plan to mix in quite a lot of original content that will hopefully tell a richer, more dramatic story.

I'll finish off this sequence in the next chapter, but then we'll be shifting gears.

I hope you enjoy and stick around for a few chapters to see if you like where I'm going with this. And, of course, I welcome all feedback and reviews. Thanks!