For the readers who began following the Daily 400 last year or the year before, someday I promise I’ll post something not related to Mass Effect again. However, today is not that day. I would have posted it at fanfiction.net, but I needed some HTML for part of it. You’ll see.
Today’s post is a “drabble” for Valentine’s Day that I’m posting in response to the prompt, “I’ve always loved you.” Characters are Shepard and any other character. I decided to post a clip from a story I’m working on periodically about Shepard and Miranda in the second game. It’s one of the big scenes, but I couldn’t resist using it with this prompt. This takes place as they make final preparations before the suicide mission.
Shepard felt the ghosts of the Normandy crew watching him went from team member to team member to check on final preparations. It felt like Alchera all over again, only this time Shepard wasn’t alone walking the hollow decks of the ship. Tali had the drive core humming in harmony, and Garrus had the weapons ready to go blue-hot at a moment’s notice. Shepard entered the armory and found Miranda and Jacob handing out weapons and ammunition to Jack, Grunt and Thane.
Miranda handed Grunt his favorite shotgun. “Remember, keep your back foot down when you fire it one-handed. You’ll stay balanced and can fire again faster.”
“You don’t have to tell me how to kill,” Grunt said with a grin.
“I know I don’t. I just like watching you do it.”
The mountain of scales and muscle actually grinned wider at her, and nodded. Two years ago, Shepard never would have imagined he’d be standing here, on a Cerberus ship, with these people. In a few short months, they’d become family. Shepard didn’t regret a moment of it.
A cloud of soft sadness passed over his heart as he watched Miranda hand thermal clips to Jack. They didn’t exchange words, but they didn’t exchange blows, either. Maybe he had one regret. Shepard wished he hadn’t lost his cool after the Pragia mission, when Miranda and Jack had been arguing. He took Jack’s side; his scars from Akuze ran deep. He’d settled things with Miranda afterwards, but his growing relationship with her had never been the same. They’d gone from hopeful lovers back to arms-length colleagues. The mission hadn’t suffered. Shepard had, in silence.
It was the right thing. Deep down, he was Alliance, and she was Cerberus. They both knew it.
So the hell what, he thought. How you felt about her never changed. She’d always have a piece of his heart.
Miranda approached him. “Commander. We’re ready here. I spoke to Joker a few moments ago. EDI’s handling sensing and intel, and he’s finalizing preparations now. The trip should take us a few hours.”
“Good. Engineering, weapons and defenses are ready.”
Zaeed came in as Shepard and Miranda left the armory to the CIC. “Let’s do this,” Zaeed said, and bumped fists with both Shepard and Miranda as they shuffled around each other through the door. Shepard’s hopes rose a few shots as the Normandy’s war horse began to gird for battle.
After the door closed, Shepard added, “Morale’s high.”
Miranda gave him a small smile. “I’ll admit it, Commander. I’m impressed. You got us here. You turned the most random gang of misfits, killers and knights in shining armor in the galaxy into the most deadly unit I’ve ever seen.” She looked directly at him. “What about their leader? Are you ready?”
Shepard’s heart couldn’t help flip-flopping under her gaze. Shepard wondered if he’d ever get over her. He focused on the job, and knowing she would be there shoulder to shoulder with him. With conviction, he said, “Damned right. I’ve got the best right at my side. We can do this.”
Miranda’s eyes shone. The empty room seemed brighter. “Ever the world-beater. Well, we’ll know soon enough.” They started to split off, Shepard heading for the cockpit, Miranda heading for the laboratory. “I’ll inform you of any changes. Otherwise, we’ll be there in a few hours. Good luck. To us all.” Smartly, Miranda stood tall, brought her heels together, and raised a perfect salute to him. It was a touching, thoughtful gesture.
On reflex, Shepard returned it with his own. A smile broke out on his face. “Civilians don’t salute.”
Miranda held her salute. “I’m not a civilian today. You’ve earned it.”
Shepard’s heart filled up. He didn’t know what to say. He felt pride, friendship and love, three things he hadn’t shared with Miranda at the same time since before Pragia. He wished he could tell her. He wanted her to know.
Shepard lowered his salute. “Thanks, Miranda. For everything.”
Miranda half-smiled at him, a knowing look between friends. “Thank me on the other side.” She started to leave.
As he watched her turn her back, the idea that this was what farewell would look like seized him. He couldn’t help it. The words jumped out of his mouth, “Miranda, wait!”
“Yes?” She looked at him like a friend, not a fellow officer.
Shepard’s heart and brain kicked and fought over what to say. He wanted to tell her what she meant to him, but that ship had sailed. It was absurd. Say something, you dumb ass!
“Look. I know we’re going in separate directions, but I’m glad we were here together for a while. It’s meant a lot. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I…” Right or wrong, Shepard’s brain gut punched his heart, and kept him from saying I love you. He let his breath out. “You’re special to me. Come through alive, okay?”
Miranda swallowed. She nodded tightly. Shepard thought he could see her trembling. “Thank you, Commander,” she said. She turned on her heel and hurried to the elevator. She looked at the buttons until the door closed.
* * *
|Moron. Such a moron. What the hell was he thinking?
Shepard went back to his quarters. He walked past the fish, his ball and mitt, his guitar, his pictures, all the things that he normally looked at or played with to bring him back down when he came back too wired from a mission. He sat down on the bed.
For what? Telling her how I felt?
“No, damn it! Well… yeah,” Shepard said aloud. For being fucking self-indulgent when they were getting ready to save their shipmates and maybe their future.
So you let it out. Big deal. I don’t think you went far enough.
Shepard moaned. He could feel what was coming next. His heart had ached for weeks over this, but there’d been enough going on that he’d been able to ignore it.
You didn’t tell her that you love her.
More than that. He loved her. Needed her. In his life. Like the air he breathed.
To his inner voice, Shepard said, “My life is not a romance novel. See those guns? The armor? We’re getting ready for a mission—”
Stow it. What did Captain Anderson teach you? Say what has to be said when it has to be said. Go back down there.
Shepard took a breath. Think.
Wrooong. There’s a difference between thinking and drumming up an excuse. You don’t have time to play games like this. Tell her.
This was crazy.
Talking to yourself when you need to say something, now that’s crazy. Tell her the truth. In a few hours you’ll need to trust each other with your lives. You want to have this hanging over your head?
“It’s not about me!” Shepard snapped. To an empty room. Shepard paced. Normally when he felt desperate like this, he’d be grabbing a gun, charging a hill, and solving a problem the easy way. When did he become such a thinker?
Flash memories of every late-night planning session with Miranda jumped through Shepard’s head. He’d always been good at seeing the angles, the map, the field. Setting them up and knocking them down, whether they were assignments or foes. Miranda raised it to an art form. He could think of three times off the top of his head where her planning, her insight, had saved lives. She’d made them better as a team. Made him better as a leader. As a man.
And those were the only times he’d had her to himself.
Shepard chuckled, “Pretty sorry excuse for a date.”
There had been one other time they were alone. Just before they left Illium, on their one date. He’d asked her out for drinks, and they hadn’t talked about work once. It had been the first time in a long time someone had seen him not wearing armor, physically or personally.
Shepard sighed. He missed that feeling.
Sometimes the only thing he could imagine holding him together was Miranda’s arms. The only fire he wanted to feel was the two of them together. He’d dreamed of it. On the nights when he wanted to forget his ears ringing from gunfire and his bones aching from shockwaves, he thought of her arms around him and her breath on his face.
All right, heart. You too, head. Let’s work this out together.
He knew how he felt. He needed her to know. She deserved to know. More than fighting for their lives, Shepard was fighting for a tomorrow with her in it.
He left his quarters.
|She couldn’t lose control. Not now. Too much was at stake.
Miranda went straight to her quarters and locked the door. She walked past her desk—her second home, filled with equal parts planning and dreaming—without looking at it. She sat down on her bed.
Damn it. What a damned fool.
Him, or you?
Him, of course! How could he break her concentration like this? They were hours away from the mission! They needed to focus. She gave him one simple gesture of respect and he turned it into—
Something beautiful? A sweet moment?
Miranda paced. She could think through this. Why did this matter now? Stress of losing the crew. Countdown for the mission. Her steps slowed. Feeling the bond of the team coming together. They felt like an awkward family, but a family nonetheless.
It wasn’t how she pictured it, but it was everything she’d ever wanted.
You’ve been missing him for weeks. Missing the way things were.
A warm sensation swept over her as she remembered how it had felt, when they’d finally become friends, and—
Stop it! This is romantic, sentimental waffle! Worthless!
And you love every moment of it. I hate it to break it to you, but you’re a human being. What’s wrong with needing someone?
Miranda made fists in her hair and moaned. “The mission’s too important to let personal feelings get in the way,” she whispered.
That’s what this is about? Really?
“We set boundaries after Pragia.”
We needed them for a while. I’ve hated them ever since. I think he has, too.
She moaned again.
Go to him. You need him. He needs you.
“He already knows how I feel.”
If anyone knew her, it was Shepard. He was the only one who’d taken the time to find out who she was underneath the job, the mission. But it wasn’t enough.
He didn’t know that she wanted to hold him, to make love to him, to show him who she was under the ice. She wanted to dance with him. She wanted him to hear her laugh, really laugh. She wanted to share one moment of peace and kindness in a world of fire and bloodshed. To be with him someplace safe, in each other’s arms.
Miranda reached for the com button on her night table. She looked up at the door. She should just go see him.
She had to see him. Forget doing the sensible thing.
Miranda walked slowly from her quarters. With the crew taken, the mess hall was empty. Her heart pounded with mixed passion and fear. She didn’t know what to do. It was a sensation she couldn’t stand.
Miranda was almost at the elevator. She slowed, and stopped. She gulped. She couldn’t let anyone in the crew see her like this. What if Tali—or worse, Jack—was coming up out of the elevator?
She started to turn back toward her office. Normally, when she was confused, she would bury herself in her work. This time the thought enraged her. No. This meant too much.
Miranda entered the elevator—thank God no one was in it—and keyed the top deck of the Normandy.
* * *
The elevator opened. They stared at each other. Shepard never realized how empty he’d felt without her; Miranda never realized how much her heart could move her.
They met halfway in passionate embrace.
Miranda made a small sound as she felt his lips on hers. It was everything she’d dreamed of: soft, tender and strong, every ounce of it open-hearted love. Miranda sighed, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back with more passion than she ever expected, opening her mouth and caressing his tongue with hers. She wanted this. More than anything she’d ever known, she wanted this.
Shepard moaned as he felt her breath and her touch. Shivers of pleasure ran all over his body, making him want her even more. Her raven hair felt soft under his fingers. Her body fit against his like they were made to be together. He didn’t want to let go. He would never let go. As the heat rose inside him, Shepard gently nibbled the edge of her mouth. Miranda drew in her breath and pulled him tighter. Shepard felt like he was falling.
Their kiss parted for just a moment, and Shepard said, “I love you, Miri. I always loved you.”
Tears fell like small glittering jewels down Miranda’s face. “I love you too, John.” She sniffed. “Oh my God. No one’s ever said that to me before.”
Shepard kissed her tears away. He whispered into her ear, “I love you I love you I love you I love you…”
Miranda whispered back, “Shut up and show me.”