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Working With the Enemy

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Aethyta's head snapped up when the first acolyte walked into the bar. She quickly reached behind her and grabbed a bottle of Elasa and two glasses, and had them poured and ready by the time Sha'ira sat in front of her on a stool.

"Hell's bells, Sha'ira. Another visit to my daughter? What's wrong?" Aethyta's eyes were narrowed with concern and she wondered why she hadn't been told about the visit.

Sha'ira smiled disarmingly. "Not to worry, Aethyta. Things are good with Little Wing. Very good. Do you have any idea how far their relationship has developed?" There was no need to expand on who 'their' referred to.

The Matriarch let out a deep full laugh. "By the Goddess, yes. Last time I talked to Tevos I told her we have to watch Liara for an early push to matronhood. Any time Shepard's in town, she fucks my girl silly." Aethyta's eyes suddenly sprang open in realization. "Oh shit! Is it happening? I was kidding!"

It was Sha'ira's turn at mirth, though in contrast, Sha'ira's laugh was light and musical. It was pleasing to the ear; not the raucous, harsh sound Aethyta produced. "Oh, Thyta. You do have a way with words. No, our Little Wing isn't going through the change yet, but I imagine you are correct. We'll have to watch for it because there is a very good chance it may happen." Sha'ira paused and her expression became more serious. "I am here on another matter. But it is related."

Aethyta growled at her friend, "So spit it out. And don't be all metaphysical and philosophical on me. Just give it to me plain."

"I can do that. I have spoken to Tevos and she is in agreement...it is time for us to tell Liara..."

"Absolutely not!" Aethyta was livid. "I made a promise, and I'm damn sure I'm not going to break it now, just because Benezia is no longer with us!"

Sha'ira knew the explosion was coming, so didn't even blink as the bartender cut her off, loomed large leaning toward her over the bar, and got in her face. She just waited patiently, in silence, until Aethyta realized the consort wasn't going to fight her about it. When Aethyta backed off, Sha'ira continued, her eyes pleading but her voice steady. "Thyta. Nezzie was supposed to tell Liara eight years ago! You were supposed to have been released from that pledge and been introduced properly." Sha'ira held up a blocking hand when Aethyta went to interrupt again. "No. Please. Let me finish. I know circumstances are not ideal, but Little Wing needs you. She is about to go through a significant change and she has no mother, though no fault of yours."

Aethyta's eyes flashed dangerously. "No. It was that bastard Saren that led her down the golden path, but Benezia went with him...because she had no one else! I should have been there, Shi." Aethyta's eyes lost their fight, her shoulders slumped, and she dropped her gaze to the bar. "I should have been there."

The consort's face lit with surprise. "Has no one told you what really happened?"

Aethyta looked up. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, Thyta! It wasn't Nezzie's fault! Saren's ship... Sovereign. It was a Reaper, Thyta. It took over Nezzie's mind." Seeing the shock on Aethyta's face tore Sha'ira's heart open, but she continued. "I know... a Matriarch as strong as Benezia...it's scary, but it's true. Thank the Goddess for Shepard and Liara, fighting so hard to destroy that abomination! Who knows what kind of future we would have had, otherwise."

Aethyta shook her head in wonder. "Fuck. Whoever thought the monster stories of our youth were true?" Aethyta's head came up and she made eye contact, looking deeply into Sha'ira's eyes. "You're not just telling me this to make me feel better, right? It's the truth?"

The consort sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. It's true. A storm's coming, Aethyta. And our children, all of them, are going to be right in the middle of it all. Liara will need you."

"Ok. Fine. I need... I need time to think about all that and process it. But that's all I can promise... is to think about it. Telling Liara... I'm not sure about that." Aethyta felt like she needed to sit down, but there were no chairs behind the bar, so she just rested on her forearms on the countertop instead. "Shit."

Sha'ira placed a hand gently on Thyta's forearm. "I'm sorry, but there's more. Have you heard the term, Inanna?"

"Yeeaahhh?" Aethyta's glance at the consort reflected suspicion, her mind immediately making the right connections. "Now you're telling stories... Shepard's not Asari."

Sha'ira laughed. "Yes. What was your first clue? The hair?" Her hand fluttered in the air, waving away Aethyta's retort. "Apparently with them, that is not a roadblock. They have shared with me. Both. It's true."

Aethyta was dumbfounded and circled around the bar to sit on a stool next to Sha'ira, afraid her legs really would no longer support her. "For fuck's sake. Shit like this is supposed to happen to other people. What more can possibly happen?"

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The Normandy's trip back to Illium was just over two days, and Shepard made the most of it, finishing up her crew rounds. By the time she was done, she had a great feel for the crew's headspace. Garrus had finally opened up and told her the complete story about his team on Omega, how his whole team had gotten wiped out, and how his last desire before jumping the Omega-4 relay was to make the traitor who sold them out, Lantar Sidonis, pay for his deceit. Shepard promised him that if they got a lead on Sidonis before they hit the relay, she would divert to wherever was required to help Garrus close out that chapter in his life.

Zaeed convinced her to hit the Blue Suns stronghold on Zorya as soon as they were done with the Illium jobs, seeing as the Ismar Frontier was only one relay jump away. He had grinned in satisfaction as Shepard left his little hidey hole, knowing he was next in the queue. From what Zaeed told her, it would be a tough fight, and it would give her a chance to identify weaknesses in the team. Shepard appreciated that Zaeed was straight up with her, admitting that while the paid job was to take back the refinery, his personal goal was to take down the Blue Suns current leader, Vido Santiago. Knowing ahead of time, Shepard planned on taking two teams, allowing them to focus on both aspects of the mission. Shepard would take Garrus and Jacob with a focus on recapturing the refinery and getting the workers out safely, and since they had worked together before, she would task Mordin and Grunt to assist Zaeed on his personal quest to kill Vido. She also trusted Mordin to stay focused and to keep Zaeed from getting too overzealous on his hunt, making sure everyone on the team came back alive.

Samara and Thane were their normal introspective selves and Samara hadn't received any new information on the AML Demeter, so still didn't know anything new on the fugitive she was pursuing, nor was she yet open to speaking freely with the commander. Their conversations were friendly, but Samara was extraordinarily deft at avoiding personal topics. Thane, on the other hand, revealed a bit more about himself and told Shepard about his family; the fact that the assassin even had one surprised her. He explained about the death of his wife and how he wasn't there for her, and then mentioned he also had a son. A son he hadn't seen for a very long time...ten years. He had left his son, Kolyat, in the care of his aunts and uncles and hadn't talked to him since. Shepard asked why he didn't raise his own son and Thane was blunt in his response. He was an assassin, always on the road, never staying in one place, and he did not want his son to grow up like that. He wanted Kolyat to find his own path. Thane's one desire before they passed beyond the Omega-4 relay was that he be able to check on his son. He didn't want to interfere...he just wanted to know that Kolyat was safe. Shepard understood completely, and let Thane know they were on the way to Illium, where she just happened to know a very good information broker. Shepard was sure the broker would be able to find his son.

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It was a very productive two days, but before Shepard finished her crew rounds, before any of those conversations had ever happened, as soon as Shepard stepped out of Miranda's office, she had gone directly to her cabin and immediately crafted and sent a message off to her bondmate.

Urgent Illium business. Be there in two days. Need anything on Asari named Lanteia and human previously/currently known as Oriana Lawson. Yes. Sister. Keep the faith. Love you!

Shepard purposely avoided mention of the information on the Shadow Broker. She wanted to see the expression on Liara's face when she handed her the datapad in person.

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Liara was relieved when she got the note from Shepard; it meant that the raid against Donovan Hock on Bekenstein was successful. Her sources had reported a massive firefight, with a large number of mercs being killed, employment of heavy weapons and the downing of at least one gunship. Based on the level of destruction, Liara assumed Shepard had taken her advice and was pleased the operation was such a rousing success. Most significant was that it was successful enough that Shepard was still alive and well, and that was the only thing that was important to Liara. That and the fact that Shepard was returning to Illium, much sooner than planned or expected. Liara wouldn't normally care why, but Shepard had asked for information, and Liara had trouble finding it. Lanteia was easy; she was commando trained under House T'Geya and had departed Thessia free and clear from any other loyalties or obligations, as far as Liara could tell in the limited time she had to search. She was a free-lancer, and had been under the personal employ of one each Miranda Lawson for the last fifteen years. Oriana Lawson, on the other hand, practically didn't exist. She appeared on the scene in 2166 and then pretty much vanished again until some recent traffic indicated her presence on Illium. Someone had gone to a lot of effort to hide her identity and keep her off the radar.

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Liara started pacing her office the minute she was notified the Normandy had docked. Since Shepard had requested information, she assumed the commander would come to her office first thing, and it seemed to be taking forever. She could sense her bondmate's presence on the station, so she knew Shepard was off the Normandy. Glancing again at her chrono, Liara realized it had been less than two minutes. "Goddess! Why does time always seem to drag when you want it to pass quickly?" She voiced her question to empty air and forced herself to stop wearing a track on the floor. Finally, the entry swooshed open and Liara's entire focus was consumed by the entrance of Commander Shepard as she stepped through the doorway. After being so impatient, it seemed Liara's feet were inexplicably rooted to the spot, and Shepard strode quickly across the office to draw the Asari into her arms. Their lips met in a surprisingly soft, passionate kiss as their bodies melted together in an intimate embrace with Liara's desire flaming through the meld. A corresponding yearning clamored through the commander and her body shuddered in protest as Shepard forced it down, unsatisfied. A whimper of disappointment escaped Liara's lips as her bondmate stepped back and held her at arms' length.

Shepard freed one hand and gently caressed Liara's cheek as she whispered, "I'm sorry, love, but we need to wait. We have pressing business. Did you find anything for me?"

Liara shook herself and forced her mind back to the situation at hand, and after a deep calming breath, she told Shepard what she had, and had not, found.

Shepard frowned at the news. "Damn it. I was actually hoping you couldn't find anything at all on Lawson." Liara's initial shock at such a statement faded as Shepard's focus shifted from her to Miranda as she continued. "That means if your father has been actively searching, he's had a whole day to implement whatever contingency plans he has in place. We need to move fast."

Shepard turned back to Liara and dug a datadisc out of a storage compartment, handing it over to the information broker and waiting for the reaction.

Liara's fire was instantly extinguished, as if Shepard had just dumped an entire bucket of ice water on her. "Shepard! This looks like a leaked transmission between Shadow Broker operatives. How in the galaxy did you get this?"

Shepard smiled. "Remember the issue we had with TIM? Well, Miranda came clean with a slightly modified version of events, and told him that if he wanted my full focus, we needed to help you out of a jam, else I would be too concerned about you to pay the mission full attention."

Liara's head actually snapped up from her omnitool momentarily as she exclaimed, "What!? She asked the Illusive Man for information?" She looked like a fish out of water, her eyes blinked several times and her mouth opened and closed a couple of times as she tried to formulate her next sentence without success. She finally choked out words reflecting her surprise, "And he actually helped us!"

Shepard made no mention as to Miranda's theories on why the Illusive Man would bother to assist. Fortunately, the 'why' seemed unimportant and Liara's focus quickly returned to the data. "It hints toward the location, and..." Her eyes suddenly sprung wide and a guarded smile split her face as she continued, "...it's about Feron, and he's still alive! At least as of the date of this transmission." Her face fell again. "I've never found anything that suggested he was alive, and after two years, I hadn't even dreamed. I truly hope this isn't a fabrication."

Shepard grimaced, "Li, if he's been in the Shadow Broker's hands for two years, he may not be in good shape, but if he's alive, we'll get him back and get him whatever treatment he needs."

Liara blinked back tears, "I know. But yesterday, all I wanted was the chance to avenge his death. Today, I have a chance to turn it into a rescue mission. I'll do whatever I have to, to get him back!"

Shepard immediately recognized the fire of grim resolution that lit in Liara's eyes. "Don't do anything rash. Start working on a plan, and we'll go take care of the Oriana business. Then, I'll meet you at the apartment and we'll go from there."

Liara nodded. "Sounds good. Hopefully I'll have at the least the beginnings of a plan by then. Thank you, Shepard." She leaned in and kissed Shepard one last time before everyone headed for the door. "I'll see you later."

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As Liara locked up the office, Shepard, Miranda and Garrus headed down to the Eternity bar to find Lanteia. Shepard waived a hello at Matriarch Aethyta behind the bar as the team entered a private room off to the side. Lanteia was leaning against the back wall, but immediately stood up as they entered the room, wasting no time. "Ms Lawson, I'm glad you made it. We've had a complication."

Concern flooded Miranda's face as she spared a quick glance at Shepard, wishing for once the woman's instincts had been wrong. "What happened? Is Oriana all right?"

Lanteia nodded as she spoke, "She's fine, but you listed a man named Niket as a trusted source. I hope that's still the case, because he contacted me, saying your father has dispatched some Eclipse mercs to make a sweep and locate her."

Shepard cursed under her breath and typed a quick message to Liara. You have any commandos available?

Lanteia continued speaking. "He suggested they may also be watching for you personally. He's offered to escort Oriana's family to the terminal instead, as you act as a diversion."

Shepard shook her head. "I don't like it, Miranda. You didn't say anything about a Niket, and last minute changes are usually a really bad idea."

Miranda scratched her collar bone, which Shepard recognized as one of her nervous tells. "He's a friend. He and I go back a long way..."

Lanteia interrupted, "You want to bring in any of your other Illium contacts, Ms Lawson?"

Miranda answered quickly, "No. You and Niket are the only two I trust on this."

Shepard grimaced as a text rolled out on her omnitool. Before the conversation got any farther, Shepard spoke up. "Uh... Miranda? As soon as I heard the word Eclipse, I texted Liara. I have Judea headed this way... She'll be there in less than two. Sorry if I invited her out of turn, but I trust Judea with my life. Do you trust Niket with Oriana's?"

Miranda didn't even hesitate. "Absolutely. He's one of my oldest friends, he helped me get away from my father. And I've seen Judea in action. She's a welcome addition." Her focus shifted to her contact. "Lanteia, we'll follow Niket's suggestion. We'll take the car and draw their attention. Have Niket escort the family to the shuttle and give him full access to the family's itinerary, just to be safe."

Shepard's eyebrows raised, "So the plan is for us to get shot down by Eclipse while your sister gets to safety?"

Garrus chuckled in the background. "Sounds like old times, Shepard!"

Miranda rolled her eyes, "Please. Give me a little more credit than that, Shepard. I know my father. Eclipse will be under orders to take my sister alive. They won't risk anything that could kill us...At least not until they confirm she's not in the car."

Shepard nodded, "Well, there's that, but I doubt Eclipse will send all their people just to stop you. Do you want to give Niket any backup?"

"Niket can take care of himself. Besides, any armed backup just draws attention to him." Miranda saw Judea walk in and gestured toward her with her chin. "Your Asari's here. Let's get this started."

Shepard's head snapped around, expecting Liara from Miranda's phrasing, but was relieved when she just saw Judea, as expected. Not that Shepard wouldn't love to have Liara fighting by her side, but her bondmate had other things she needed to focus on at the moment. As they turned to head toward the car, Miranda spoke in a low voice, "Thank you, Shepard. I appreciate this. I hadn't planned on Eclipse... but I guarantee, they haven't planned on you."

As they approached the shuttle docks, they started seeing Eclipse gunships deploying troops all over the docks. Shepard growled out, "Put us down in that cover behind them."

Miranda's voice bordered on sarcasm as she replied, "Let's hope they really do want to take us alive." She looked to Shepard and cocked her head in question.

As gunfire erupted at the car, Shepard winced as the car lost altitude control and headed toward the deck. "Yeah, I wouldn't be counting on that anymore."

The team was relieved when a man they assumed to be the squad captain flagged the weapons down and they quit shooting at the skycar. The foursome disembarked and faced the Eclipse team leader. Miranda opened the dialogue. "Since you're not firing yet, I trust you know who I am."

The leader stepped up, confident and rude. "Yeah. They said you'd be in the car. You're the bitch that kidnapped our boss' little girl."

Miranda laughed in his face. "Kidnapped? Is that what that sadist told you? This shouldn't involve you. I suggest you step out of other people's business and take your men and go."

The leader just shook his head with contempt. "You think you've got this wired, but you're wrong. We know about Niket and he won't be helping you. Matter of fact, Captain Enyala's already moving in on the kid while we waste our time here."

The smirk on the man's face told Shepard they were missing something. "What do you mean, Niket won't be helping us?"

The merc stepped forward and put a finger in Shepard's face, "Nothing you need to worry about. You walk away now, the girl goes back to her father, and everybody walks away alive."

Miranda growled, "That's not an option, I'm afraid."

The merc shook his head, "Capt Enyala ordered us to give you one chance to walk away, but this whole time we've been talking, my men have been lining up shots. I say the word, and they unleash hell on your squad. I suggest you walk away unless you want things to get ugly."

Shepard laughed. "And you think we haven't been doing the same?" A flicker of doubt crossed the merc's face, but vanished just as quickly, so Shepard continued. "Garrus. You see what I see?"

Garrus responded with chuckle. "Oh, I'm pretty sure I'm on it, Shepard."

Miranda smiled as she drew her pistol and shot the merc accompanying the leader dead on the spot, same time as she uttered, "Works for me."

With Miranda's draw, the bark of a sniper rifle was heard within a fraction of a second. A fuel tank suspended in the back of the room suddenly exploded over the bulk of the Eclipse forces that had stayed back in cover. As gunfire erupted from both sides, the merc team leader beat a hasty retreat while yelling into his comm to have Capt Enyala send reinforcements. Over half his team had been incapacitated or killed with the first two shots of the encounter. It didn't take long for the team to clean out the first group of mercs and they started to advance through the docks. Miranda pushed the team forward, "Come on! We need to get to Niket!"

As they approached an elevator, they heard the squawk of a radio. Miranda quickly 'acquired' it from the dead merc so they could listen in to Eclipse chatter as they continued to move. As they climbed in the elevator, Miranda hung her head. "I'm a bit concerned by what that merc said. If they've gotten to Niket somehow, this is going to be a lot harder than I'd planned."

Shepard barked out a laugh. "Sorry, Miranda, but you didn't plan on Eclipse, either, so it's already harder. What's one more little twist?"

Miranda's head came up and she actually had a glint in her eye, though didn't join in the laugh. "Oh, Shepard. You do know how to make a person feel better about their screw ups, don't you?"

Shepard smiled lightly. "It's something I picked up from Liara."

As they came out of the elevator, Miranda pointed through a section of the warehouse. "According to the specs I pulled, we'll need to cut through that cargo yard to get to the shuttle station."

Shepard followed her finger. "We'll have to be on our toes. With all the conveyors running, there'll be a lot of noise, motion, and cover. Detecting the mercs might be a challenge. Let's get moving, but stay sharp, people!"

Miranda added in, "And, the cargo transports carry hazardous materials, so watch what you shoot at." She was somewhat concerned when she saw the way Garrus and Shepard grinned at one another following her warning.

As the team moved into the cargo yard, the mercs revealed themselves and started firing; it wasn't so hard to locate them after all. Shepard immediately began laying down cover fire, and Garrus used his scope to start blowing up the hazardous materials canisters. Miranda realized why they exchanged the grin and ducked for cover behind some crates, waiting for all the explosions to stop. By the time the deadly duo quit blowing things up, there were only a couple of mercs left for Miranda and Judea to finish off and the team moved quickly forward. The radio barked, Captain Enyala showing her frustration. This is Enyala! Keep that bitch back! Niket is nearing the transport terminal!

Miranda growled and picked up the pace, dragging the rest of the team behind. As they continued to progress at an amazing speed through the Eclipse troops, Enyala got more nervous and shifted all the Eclipse troops except her personal guard to slow Miranda down. Shepard cursed under her breath. "Get ready guys. More troops headed our way."

Miranda grumbled, "There's not enough Eclipse in the galaxy to keep me from Oriana."

Shepard honestly didn't think there was anything in the universe THAT important to Miranda Lawson. She was cheerfully surprised to be wrong.

Shepard and Judea fell right back into the rhythm they established when recruiting Samara, and Shepard's crash and blast, with Judea covering her six, was positively deadly. Garrus comfortably brought up the rear and kept any mercs from flanking Miranda and the team moved through the cargo handling facility like a wildfire pushed by a stiff breeze. As they worked their way through yet one more section, Miranda chimed in, "This is the last section before the elevator to the cargo docks."

Edi was obviously monitoring their progress and communications, because she suddenly cut in, "Eclipse operatives have attempted to delay you by disabling the elevators. I am overriding their lockdown."

The team cleared out the last of the Eclipse and moved to the elevator just as the radio came to life one more time. Enyala's words froze the blood in Miranda's veins. "Niket has reached the passenger terminal. He'll switch the family over to our transport."

The doubt that had been growing since the merc's comments about Niket not helping blossomed into full grown truth and Miranda's step faltered. "Niket? I can't believe he would do that to me!"

Shepard grabbed Miranda's arm and pulled her around, eye to eye. "Don't think about it now, Miranda. Focus on what we need to do to stop them. Worry about Niket later!" Shepard maintained her hold on Miranda until she blinked and her eyes cleared.

Miranda's gaze hardened as she looked at Shepard, her eyes turned to iron. "Right. I'm on it, Shepard. Let's take the assholes down."

Shepard released her hold and punched Miranda lightly on the arm. "That's my girl. Let's get 'er done!"

As the doors opened on the upper level, the team stepped out to an Eclipse merc, assumed to be Captain Enyala, and Niket speaking with a transportation technician, attempting to change Oriana's flight arrangements.

Niket's head came around and he focused on the group stepping out of the elevator. "Miri!"

Enyala stood up from the crate she was sitting on. She had a contemptuous smirk on her face as she took in the arrivals and Niket's obvious discomfort. "This should be fun." She quickly pulled her weapon and pointed it at the group, who slowly started to spread out.

Three of them had their weapons trained on the Eclipse captain, but Miranda was focused on someone entirely different. "You're a son of a bitch, Niket. I never thought you'd betray me. I trusted you, God damn it!"

Niket shook his head. "I didn't betray you, Miranda. I made sure you had an out. They gave you an opportunity to walk away. It's not my fault you didn't take it."

Miranda frowned, "That was never an option. I'm not going to slide away to save my own skin and let them take Oriana!"

Niket shook his head. "You made your own choice, but you took Oriana's option to do the same. She doesn't even know her father. She's old enough to make her own decisions now. You're done making them for her."

"Oh, no, Niket. You think I'm going to let that man get his claws on her after all this time? Put her through the same hell he subjected me to all those years ago?"

Just then, the transportation technician decided the group was distracted enough to try and make a run for it. A bad move, as Captain Enyala's aim shifted slightly to take the tech down without a second thought. Then, before Enyala could get her rifle back to bear on the group, Miranda drilled a shot straight through Niket's forehead. "That's where you're wrong."

The transportation terminal erupted into chaos. Enyala yanked her assault rifle back toward the group and Miranda lit up with biotics, tossing the captain to the other side of the cargo terminal before she ever got a shot off. Enyala lit up with her own biotics and softened her fall, jumping back to her feet ready to fight. A door on the far side opened and reinforcements poured in as the Normandy team dived for cover. There was maybe a dozen mercs and they spread out quickly in an attempt to flank the team. One of them managed to circle around on the team's right flank and Miranda took a hard shot. Shepard called on her biotics and charged in, taking the merc out and then dragged Miranda into cover. Judea started to follow, then stopped and dived back to her left again, realizing the entire team would have been in the same quadrant and easy to surround. She held position and drew fire to give Shepard time to treat Miranda and get back into the fight.

Garrus had disappeared and Shepard feared the worst until she heard his sniper rifle bark. He had dropped back to a row of crates and worked his way up, setting himself above the floor with an awesome field of view. With his now superior position and armor piercing ammo, every bark of his sniper rifle dropped one of the Eclipse mercs into a heap on the floor. After slapping medigel on Miranda, Shepard also jumped back into the fight and the remainder of the mercenary force was dead within thirty seconds.

Shepard quickly returned to Miranda's side, happy to see she was staying conscious. "Shit, Miranda. We're supposed to be protecting your sister, not showing up to tell her the sister she didn't even know is dead." The shocked look on Miranda's face made Shepard instantly regret her words. "Sorry. That was uncalled for, but when I saw you hit the floor... it scared the hell out of me." Shepard let out an uneasy breath.

Miranda groaned and sat up carefully. "Well, the medigel seems to have done the trick, but I'll still be visiting Dr Chakwas when we get back on board." She grinned at the commander and stuck her hand out for help in getting up. As Shepard hauled her back to her feet, Miranda's eyes twinkled in merriment. "Thank you, Shepard. I didn't know you cared so much."

Shepard growled, but her tone did nothing to mask the blush creeping up her neck. "Give me a break. You're my XO, and a damn good one. I don't have time to train somebody new." She was smiling by the time she finished her statement. "Come on, Lawson. We still have to get to your sister and make sure they get on their transport on time."

As they moved to the next elevator to go to the passenger terminal, Miranda leaned against the wall and took a deep painful breath. "I still can't believe Niket sold me out. He was my closest friend. Hell, my only friend. I never saw that coming."

Shepard laid a hand gently on Miranda's arm. "He's not your only friend, and don't be so hard on yourself, Miranda. Even with all our fancy upgrades, we're still only human. We still make mistakes... and you never want to believe a friend would betray you. Goes against human nature."

Miranda's eyes flashed in anger. "I let it get personal and I screwed up! My father knew what Niket was to me, and he used it against me."

Shepard shook her head. "No. It's just the angle your father picked to use. If not that, he would have found something else. Your humanity... your love for Oriana is what makes all this worth it. Don't lose that because your father is an asshole."

The rage in Miranda's eyes faded. "You're right. With my father, it's always been about the angles. But there was always a hook attached to the lure. Always a trade-off toward his long-term goal. He gave me just about everything I ever wanted, except his love, but he never gave away anything for free." She stood up off the wall as she finished. "I walked away from everything he gave me, tossed it all aside when I ran, I lost everything."

Shepard smiled. "No you didn't. You kept your sister. You kept Oriana safe."

Miranda's face noticeably brightened. "You're right. I still have Oriana, thanks to you."

They stepped out of the elevator into the passenger terminal and Shepard sent Judea and Garrus to scan for any additional Eclipse mercs while she stayed with Miranda. They took a few steps deeper into the terminal and Miranda froze. "Oh God. There she is. She's safe... with her family."

Shepard looked at the girl who was supposedly Miranda's twin, then looked back at Miranda. "She looks the same as you, but she also looks a lot younger. And Niket mentioned her being old enough 'now' to make her own decisions. Care to explain?"

Miranda actually blushed. "Uhm, yes. I owe you that much. I told you how I was 'created,' not birthed. Well, Oriana is a genetic twin. She was created the same way, using the same DNA, but not until I was a teenager. My father was ... displeased... with how I turned out, so started over. He considered me a failed experiment. Probably would have let me run away without a second thought, if I hadn't grabbed Oriana to take with me. I just couldn't leave her there to face the same things he had put me through. I'm sorry, Shepard. I should have told you all this up front."

Shepard shrugged. "It wouldn't have changed anything, Miranda. You needed my help and you still would have gotten it. From what you've told me about your father... I'm sure Oriana is better off where she is." Shepard gave her a gentle nudge on the shoulder. "Go say hi. I'll hang here and give you some privacy."

Miranda shook her head, "No. I would just complicate her life. We should go."

Shepard's face reflected shock. "What do you mean, complicate her life?" The look on Miranda's face told her everything. "She was so young when you took her, she doesn't even know you exist, does she?"

Miranda frowned, "No. The less she knows about me, the better. She's got a real family. A life. I would just... confuse the issue."

Shepard was incredulous. "That's bullshit, Miranda! She doesn't need any details, but knowing she has a sister who loves her? I can't believe that would be a bad thing. Just can't."

Miranda got a wistful expression as she looked back to Oriana and her family. "I... I guess not."

Shepard let out a light laugh and gave Miranda a gentle shove forward. "Go on. Go talk to her, Miranda. We'll wait here."

Shepard watched just long enough to see the look of wonder cross Oriana's face when her twin got close enough for her to realize she was practically looking in a mirror. They talked quite a while, and when Miranda returned, her eyes glistened with tears. "Thank you, Shepard. That was... magnificent is the only word I can think of to describe it. She's brilliant. More importantly, she's happy. I don't think I'll be able to hide much from her now that she knows about me. She's at least as smart as I am, so I figure soon she'll know my entire history." Miranda's happiness faded just a bit. "I'm not so sure that's necessarily a good thing. I've certainly made some mistakes along the way."

Shepard stepped up and hugged her. As she released the operative, she smiled. "We all make mistakes, Miranda. It's how we react to them once we recognize them, that defines us." Shepard glanced around the group. "Now, if you don't mind, Judea and I will split and head to the apartment. See what Liara has us doing next. Garrus. You game?"

Garrus stepped up without a moment's hesitation. "Right behind you, Shepard."

"Thanks again, Shepard. Just do me a favor and keep your omnitool on this time. In case there's an emergency." Miranda's eyes pleaded for agreement.

Shepard nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Don't worry. I won't hide from you anymore. Not now that we've reached an understanding. You'll be able to contact me if you need to."