Miranda isn’t prepared for how cold Canada’s interior gets in the winter. It would be one thing to be in Vancouver. At least there, the dogged resurgence of humanity made it feel a little less bitter. The Alliance would not have balked at finding space for Shepard in one of the remaining skyrises. They would have given Shepard anything she asked for.
And she did ask. Just not for that. If the Alliance wanted Shepard’s help in the aftermath, they were getting it on her terms, and her terms included staying the hell out of the city. Away from the reaper carcasses, away from the rubble, away from the daily reminder of what victory had cost.
Which is why instead of watching the snow whip from a few hundred feet up, they’re listening to it beat the windowpanes of a cabin nestled up in the mountains. Outside, hulking pine trees leer in the dark, boughs heavy with snow that’s already piling up in front of the door.
Miranda is new to all this nature, and she can’t say she’s terribly enamored of it. After the carefully controlled environment of ships and space stations, the unregulated extremes of sun, wind, temperature…wildlife, is more trying than she’d expected. The cabin is comfortable but drafty, relegating them to the couch in front of a roaring fire to keep warm. Strands of Shepard’s hair poke out from the blanket covering them both, but she’s otherwise hidden from view, tucked snug against Miranda and at last check, fast asleep.
Well, this part isn’t so bad.
Shepard stirs, a warm ember against Miranda’s chest, but doesn’t emerge. There’s a datapad on the end table to Miranda’s left, but she doesn’t reach for it. There was a time when she couldn’t have resisted. A spare moment was a moment wasted, and waste was a luxury she could not afford. Her entire life had been spent hanging by a thread. Escaping her father. Rebuilding Shepard. Saving Oriana. Destroying the collectors. Surviving the reapers. Too much depended on success, too much at stake for failure to squander those spare moments to just…nothing at all.
But this isn’t nothing. Not really. Time is still just as precious. Even more precious with every passing moment.
Because they have it now.
Gently, she strokes Shepard’s hair.
It’s a new normal, one she hasn’t adjusted to yet. The itch in her fingers to grab the datapad is still there, but it’s a learned response, not something she really feels. What she wants is this, Shepard, quiet, warm, and still against her.
She nearly chuckles to herself. Imagine. The galaxy’s savior. Still. In Shepard the galaxy had discovered an unstoppable kinetic force, a woman perpetually in motion, a tide eternally thrashing the shoreline. How many nights had Miranda found her alone in the mess, drinking coffee and reading through a stack of reports, too restless for sleep? How many times had they strode into battle together, Shepard flaring like a star gone nova, using her own body as a projectile in lieu of a bullet? She was more comfortable with a gun in her hand than without it, happier in armor than she ever was in her own skin. Still is not a state Shepard could ever hope to aspire to, at least the Shepard that Miranda had woken up on a lab table nearly five years ago.
Nothing, it appears, is impossible. Shepard has seen to that.
Another stiff breeze rattles the windowpane, sending fingers of cold air searching for a way through the blanket.
Of course, Miranda wishes Shepard would prefer seeing to it in the city.
A muffled nrmph comes from under the blanket. Moments later Shepard pushes her head out just enough to look up at Miranda with a sleepy scowl. “Why’s it so damn cold in here?” she mumbles.
“Because,” Miranda replies, tugging at the blanket, which has slipped enough to reveal Shepard’s bare toes. “You insist both on living in the snow-forsaken middle of nowhere and not wearing socks.”
Shepard’s scowl deepens, but unlike a few conversations she vividly remembers with the Illusive Man, it has no bite to it. “I like it out here. And I hate socks.”
“I know,” Miranda replies. Her smile is deep, tender, and before she can help herself she leans down and presses her lips to Shepard’s, kissing her long and slow until the scowl fades away.
This new normal may be different, but Miranda confesses she quite enjoys it.
Shepard sits up abruptly, shucking off the blanket. All traces of sleep vanish from her face in an instant, replaced by the familiar hard lines of an old soldier. “Hear that?” she asks, reaching out of habit for a sidearm that isn’t there. Her voice is low, hard, ready to give an order.
“I don’t hear—” Miranda stops, because now she does hear it. It’s a small sound, but shrill.
Shepard hits her feet, grabbing the pistol she’s stashed by the door. She doesn’t bother with a coat – or shoes, for that matter – before throwing open the door, pistol leveled in the direction of the sound.
Miranda catches a glimpse of something small and vaguely brown dart off into the snow.
“Oh, fuck,” Shepard says, sounding guilty. She tries to holster the pistol before remembering she doesn’t have a holster. Not anymore.
“What was it?” Miranda asks, heart racing.
“A cat,” Shepard laments. “Kitten, I think. I scared it. Damn.” She looks down at her feet in irritation, shifting her weight as the realization she’s standing in a snowdrift with bare feet finally catches up with her. She sets her jaw in a way that Miranda both knows and dreads before striding back into the house and fishing her boots out from under the coffee table.
Miranda closes the door behind her, heart sinking a little. “What are you doing?”
“Going to look for it,” Shepard asks.
“Shepard, it’s freezing out there.”
“Yeah, it’s freezing and that thing was tiny.”
Miranda wrinkles her nose as Shepard pulls out a pair of worn socks that were tucked down in each boot and starts pulling them over her feet. “And what are you planning to do if you…catch it?”
Shepard tilts her head as she ties a shoelace, puzzled. “Bring it inside where it’s warm?”
“Yeah.” Shepard pauses. “You don’t like cats?”
“I…well.” Miranda puts a hand on her hip and frowns a little. “They have a lot of…fur.”
A smile curves the corner of Shepard’s mouth. “Yeah, I’ve heard that about cats.” She gets to her feet and is about to rush back outside when Miranda puts a hand to her chest, stopping her long enough to grab a coat from a hook beside the door. She hands it to Shepard, who shrugs into it without protest.
“Don’t worry,” she says, kissing Miranda’s cheek. “We’ll just let it ride out the storm in here, then I’ll take it somewhere, find it a permanent home.”
“Shepard,” she says with a sigh, “with your penchant for collecting strays I’m truthfully surprised you don’t have a full menagerie already.”
“Aww, give me some credit. I found a home for Grunt, at least.” Shepard grins, then opens the door and lets in another blast of arctic air. “Find me something to feed it? Might be more willing to come if smells something.”
“What do cats…eat?” Miranda asks uncertainly.
“I don’t know…maybe grab some of that leftover lasagna from last night?”
“You want to feed this cat pasta?”
“Sure,” Shepard says, before shutting the door and venturing out into the night.
Miranda sighs and turns her eyes briefly to the ceiling before going into the kitchen. Would an apartment in Vancouver really have been such a concession?
It takes three hours of peering under bushes, clucking at shadows and shining flashlights into the surrounding trees before they finally find their quarry cowering on the branch of pine about twenty yards from the front door. The moment the flashlight finally finds it, it fluffs up to about three times its size and hisses.
“There you are,” Shepard says, voice thrumming with pride. “Knew you were around here somewhere.”
Miranda looks skeptically up at the wad of damp fur. From here she sees splashes of black, brown, and maybe even white, though it could just be snow. The tiny creature glares down at them, emitting a defiant yowl.
Miranda knows how it feels. Her fingers thrum with cold. Her toes ache when she tries to move them, and her hair hangs in her face in half-frozen clumps. She stopped shivering a long time ago, simply accepting that she will never be warm again.
“How exactly do you propose we get it out of the tree?” Miranda asks, clutching her coat a little tighter as the wind picks up again.
“Huh,” Shepard replies. “That’s a good question.”
“I suppose I could…lift it out?” Miranda flexes her fingers, a rill of blue rippling to life around her fist. From up in the tree another frantic hiss cuts through the rusting trees and whip of the wind.
Shepard expression turns to mild horror. “We’re trying to rescue it, Miri, not scare it to death.” Her face hardens again as she looks back up into the tree. Miranda knows that look. Oh, no. “Going after it the old fashioned way,” Shepard announces, and reaches up to a gnarled knot on the tree’s trunk that gives her a good handhold.
“You’re going to climb the tree?” Miranda asks skeptically.
“Have you ever climbed a tree?”
Shepard tosses a withering look over her shoulder. “I’ve climbed ladders. Oh, and I killed a reaper on foot once.”
Miranda folds her arms over her chest. “Yes, so you’ve mentioned.”
“I can handle a tree.”
Shepard’s breath forms a halo of mist as she grabs a branch with her other hand and starts her way up. Snow shakes loose from the pine needles and drifts to the ground, sticking in Miranda’s hair. Should have grabbed a hat, she thinks regretfully.
This is not a good idea. Pre-war Shepard wouldn’t have warranted concern, but post-war Shepard still needs the ligaments in her left knee replaced, has conveniently never gotten around to fixing the damaged rotator cuff in her shoulder, and the emergency patch job on her hip won’t last forever.
Her argument is always that there are other people who need their limited medical resources more than she does. Miranda has let it go – for now – because if that’s what Shepard needs to tell herself to still her guilty conscience about her limited role in the reconstruction, it’s a price worth paying.
But with Shepard halfway up a tree in the middle of nowhere, it’s an unpleasant reminder that the savior of the galaxy is far more fragile than she used to be.
“Shepard—” Miranda ventures, but Shepard is too focused on the cat to hear her. It backs up as far as it dares as she draws level with it, tiny back arched and tail straight up in the air. Shepard hangs in place, her brow furrowing as she contemplates the small puff of defiance clinging determinedly to the slender branch.
In spite of herself, Miranda lowers her head and begins to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Shepard demands.
Miranda scrunches her frozen toes and jabs her fists deeper into the pockets of her coat, trying to swallow her laughter, but that only makes it worse.
Miranda withdraws a hand long enough to wipe a tear from her eye. “I just—” she manages. “The irony of watching the Savior of the Galaxy literally trying to rescue a cat from a tree.” She dissolves into laughter once more.
Shepard grins, and steadies herself on the branch. “No problem too small, I guess.” In one deft movement her left hand shoots out and grabs the cat by the scruff before it can react. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to give up. Like some people I know. It writhes and yowls in anger, enough to dislodge Shepard’s precarious balance.
“Fuck,” Shepard manages before gravity takes over. She hits the ground hip-first, arms wrapped protectively around the cat. Miranda is at her side in an instant, but the twisting, hissing ball of fur is really upset now. Shepard grimaces, her grip on its scruff tightening as it lashes out with its small but determined claws. Without thinking Miranda shrugs out of her coat and tosses it on the cat, scooping it up like a sack of grenades.
“Good idea,” Shepard says around gritted teeth.
“Are you all right?” Miranda holds the jacket tight with one hand, other gripping Shepard’s shoulder as she crouches anxiously beside her. If she thought she’d been cold before, the breeze ripping right through her sweater is positively bitter.
“I think I can get up.”
Miranda does her best to help Shepard to her feet while holding on to the slighted feline’s temporary prison. Shepard is indeed hurt – Miranda can see it in her eyes – but there isn’t much she can do until they get out of the cold and back into the warm cabin with their new guest.
She pulls Shepard’s arm around her shoulder and they limp back towards the warm glow of the cabin lights.
“Are you going to say it?” Shepard asks.
The sack yowls piteously.
“Say what?” Miranda asks, willing her teeth not to chatter.
“I told you so.”
Miranda’s lips curve in a smile. “Shepard, I learned long ago that to be with you is like accepting Newton’s law. You are an object always in motion, and there simply is no equal or greater force to oppose you.”
Shepard’s laugh appears as a fine mist brushing Miranda’s cheek.
Somehow between the two of them, they manage to get the door open. Shepard struggles to the couch and collapses, pinching the bridge of her nose with her fingers, exhaling sharply. Miranda can see the heavy rise and fall of her chest even through all the layers she’s got on. But before she can look at her to assess the damage, she needs to do something with the tiny hellion still trapped in her coat.
She holds the improvised sack in front of her and stares helplessly at it. What was Shepard planning to do when she caught it? It feels like they’re missing a step.
After a moment she realizes Shepard is watching her with a smirk. “If you let it out here, it’ll run straight under something and we’ll be back to square one. How about you take it into the bathroom? Find a bowl with some water. I think the lasagna will have to do until we can get some kibble. Oh, and we’ll need a cat pan.”
“Well, it’s not going to use a toilet.”
She blanches a little. Animals are not exactly her forte. Miranda’s not sure if she’s ever even touched a cat, much less given any thought to how they’re cared for.
Shepard reaches out and touches her arm. “You’ve got this, Miri. It’s tiny. Worst it can do is a few scratches. You can handle it.”
Miranda sighs and takes the bundled jacket into the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind her before gently setting it down on the floor. She lets it go and steps back quickly. There is a brief flash of orange and black that immediately disappears behind the toilet. Uncertain, she crouches on the floor and cranes her head to get a look at it.
The cat is indeed tiny, still very much a kitten. At the sight of her it arches its back, damp hair jutting out at wild angles, mouth open in a panicked hiss.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Miranda says with a sigh. She stands up to head back for the door, mentally running through the supplies in the kitchen to find a suitable bowl to use for water and food. But before she steps back out, she stops, frowns, and grabs a clean towel folded on a shelf to set on the floor. “Here you go,” she says. “Something warm. Better than the jacket, I imagine.”
If the cat appreciates the gesture, it certainly doesn’t let on.
A skycar arrives the next morning bearing two passengers, one of whom Miranda is happier to see than the other.
“Dr. Chakwas,” she says warmly as the silver-haired doctor gracefully steps out of the vehicle. “I’m so glad you were able to come. She might actually listen to you.”
Chakwas’ chuckle is dry, but her smile genuine. “Ms. Lawson, Shepard is no more likely listen to me than she is the Council.” She pats Miranda’s shoulder in a friendly gesture. “But I like to think I have gotten good at convincing her something is her idea.”
The other passenger gingerly makes his way out of the car’s driver’s seat. “What, no hello for me?”
“Mr. Moreau,” Miranda replies, then frowns slightly and gestures towards a bag in his hands. “What is that?”
Joker holds it up and shakes it. It jingles. “Shepard said you have a new house guest who needs some supplies.”
Right. The cat. Shepard had refused to go to Vancouver for treatment on account of the refugee hiding in the bathroom. “Well, I’m hoping you brought more than just bells.”
“Got everything on Shepard’s shopping list,” Joker answers. He grins. “But you get to carry the thirty pound box of litter.”
She opens her mouth to reply, but Dr. Chakwas interrupts them. It’s not the first time she has diffused one of their petty spats. Old habits die hard.
“It’s beautiful out here, Miranda,” she says, looking around. Up. The sky is clear and blue now, sun casting a glow on the fresh snowfall that’s almost blinding. The boughs of the surrounding pines are heavy but sparkling, snow-capped mountings rising up infinitely around them. There’s a stillness in the air, crisp and cold in her lungs, but not so bitter as the night before. Quiet enough to hear your heart beat.
“It is,” she admits. This much nature is taking a long time to acclimate to, but in moments like this she sees why Shepard is so adamant about it.
“Come on, this way. She’ll be delighted to see both of you.”
Joker gestures for her to lead the way. Their history is complicated, and something they’ve never really taken the time to work through. Miranda sees him as insubordinate, undermining and insufferable. He sees her as uptight, controlling and equally insufferable. But given Miranda’s relationship with Shepard, and Shepard’s loyalty to Joker, it’s a hatchet they’ll have to bury eventually.
Shepard tries to get up to greet them when they enter the cabin, but Dr. Chakwas puts a stop to it with a cluck of her tongue and effortless glide to the couch. “I’ll be much happier to see you if you stay still,” the doctor admonishes with a smile that is impossible not to like. Shepard grins and follows the order, offering her arms up in a hug that Chakwas returns.
“Don’t you look like something the cat dragged in,” Joker quips, and tosses her the bag. Shepard catches it one-handed.
“Don’t you need to be a dad to make terrible dad jokes?” Shepard asks, grin widening.
“I have a signed affidavit from Wrex saying I can make whatever dad jokes I want,” the pilot replies.
“That I’d like to see.” She digs around inside the bag. “Oooh. Mice. Jingly balls. Feather wand. All the essentials. Nice work, Lieutenant. What about food?”
“In the car,” he says with a jerk of his thumb. “Along with the other heavy stuff.”
“You’re the best.”
“Yeah, I know. Where’s your furball?”
“In the bathroom,” Miranda says. “It won’t come out from behind the toilet.”
“Did you try not hissing back?”
“Joker,” Shepard warns.
He holds up his hands. “You’re right. That was rude. Can I see it?”
“This way,” Miranda says with a sigh. At the very least, it will give Dr. Chakwas the chance to do an exam in peace.
Very cautiously, she opens the bathroom door. No sign of the kitten. Joker peers in around her. “Did you really try and feed it lasagna?” her asks, eyeing the untouched bowl.
“That was Shepard’s idea,” Miranda says dryly.
“Yeah, sounds about right.”
While the food had gone untouched, Miranda notes the towel she’d placed on the ground is rumpled enough to have been slept in. She is inexplicably pleased.
Joker steps past her and gingerly slides his back down the wall until he’s sitting on the floor. He makes a small clicking sound in the direction of the toilet. When he gets no response, he fishes a small plastic sleeve out of his pocket and tears it open, tossing out a handful of small, soft tablets on the ground.
“Poor kid,” Joker says. “Stuck out in a snowstorm.” He looks up at Miranda. “Please tell me you got pictures of Shepard literally up a tree rescuing a cat.”
“I was bit too preoccupied by her falling out of the tree. Although,” she admits, “the irony did not escape me.”
A tiny mewl causes them both to turn towards the toilet. The kitten has emerged – somewhat – stretching as far as it can to sniff the new treats without fully coming out in the open. Its fur is mottled brown and black, with thick patches of white on its belly and across the left side of its face, like someone had swiped at it with a paintbrush.
“Hey little guy,” Joker says in a voice that raises Miranda’s eyebrow. “What?” he protests. “Who doesn’t get cutesy around kittens?”
She doesn’t, she supposes. She can’t really fathom why people find such comfort in a creature that scratches, bites, sheds, and apparently defecates in a box.
Joker nudges a treat closer to the kitten with a finger. It mewls again, issuing a defiant warning. After waiting a few more moments to see if anyone dares threaten it, it creeps forward to nibble on the treat. Joker places another one a little closer.
“So are you going to keep it?” he asks.
“Just until Shepard can find a home for it,” Miranda says quickly.
Joker snorts. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
Miranda folds her arms across her chest. “What would we do with a cat?”
“What anyone does with a cat,” Joker says. “Pet it, feed it, be sad when it refuses to nap on your lap and post a lot of photos of it to the extranet.”
“She gets attached to things. Or have you forgotten the krogan she raised from a tank. Or the AI robot she taught to dance the robot. And what was the name of the varren who followed her all over Tuchanka again?”
“Those are not the same things and you know it.”
“Did I ever tell you about the robot dog she had on the Normandy during the war? It drooled lubricator oil all over the cargo bay. She called it Servo.”
She makes an irritated sound.
“Where did her fish wind up?” he asks innocently.
“In a tank in the bedroom,” Miranda admits grudgingly.
“Aaaaand the hamster.”
“Next to the fish.”
“I rest my case. Face it, Miranda. Shepard is a champion when it comes to collecting strays. You two are going to grow old surrounded by a menagerie of abandoned animals who need homes. This is the first of many.”
Miranda slowly slides down the wall until she’s seated next to him. Joker pats her knee with amused sympathy. Several long minutes pass before something brushes her leg, making her jump. The kitten is cautiously exploring a treat Joker had placed near her ankle. Tentatively, it raises a paw and rests it on her shin.
“Aww, I think it likes you.”
Hesitantly, she reaches a hand toward its frizzled fur. It hisses and jumps back.
“Easy,” Joker says with a chuckle. “Let it sniff you.”
She lowers her hand and offers her knuckles in a peace offering. It sniffs her warily, torn between resisting the gesture of affection and making another grab for the coveted treat. After a moment, it brushes against her knuckles to grab the morsel, then backs off to scarf it down.
“See?” Joker says. “Progress.”
She contemplates it briefly, then gets to her feet in order to help Joker to his.
Its fur is…quite soft.
“What’re you going to name it?” Joker asks when they rejoin Shepard and Chakwas.
Shepard tilts her head to the side. “Cat,” she says after a moment.
“How very creative,” Joker says dryly.
Given the hamster named Squeak, and the occupants of the fish tank named Scales, Finn, and Jelly, it’s at least consistent.
“Fine. Kat with a K,” Shepard says graciously.
Great, Miranda thinks. Now it has a name.
Within a week, the kitten is boldly exploring every inch of the cabin. It’s also no longer an ‘it,’ as Dr. Chakwas diagnosed it as a girl, right alongside Shepard’s diagnosis of a hip fracture. A bone-knitter procedure and a lot of protests later, Shepard is recovering on the couch while Miranda tries to keep the little terror from destroying the cabin.
She finds yet another shredded pile of toilet paper on the floor and sighs. This to go along with the shattered glass hanar figurine from the mantle and the claw marks on the windowsill, and that’s just from today. Once she’s cleaned it up, she returns to the living room to find the kitten on Shepard’s chest, batting at a feather she’s waving on a string.
“That thing is force of destruction,” Miranda informs her, looking down at them from behind the couch.
Shepard grins. “Kat’s just playful.”
“It tried to murder your hamster.”
“And failed spectacularly,” Shepard points out. “Besides, Squeak can handle himself.”
The cat bats at the feather, loses her balance and falls to the floor in a surprisingly graceful heap. “Little shit,” Shepard says affectionately, ruffling her fur. Kat leaps back up, ready to tackle the feather with renewed gusto.
“By the way,” Shepard says, “We’re expecting visitors.”
“Visitors?” Miranda asks.
“Yeah, the krogan variety.”
“Shepard,” Miranda says in near alarm.
She holds up a hand. “Relax. They promised not to toss me around. Wrex wants to see with his own eyes that I’m not falling apart, and the moment Grunt heard he could climb a mountain he insisted on coming. And, uh, they might be bringing smaller krogan.”
“How many smaller krogan?” Miranda asks warily.
“Hopefully just the one. They were on the Citadel arguing with the Council. I told them that if they wanted to win people over, they needed something small and cute no one could say no to.” She grins. “But I also reminded him that a room full of rambunctious baby krogan were probably pretty easy to say no to.”
Miranda opens her mouth, but before she can formulate a protest Kat pops her paws up on the back cushion and stretches her head to meet Miranda’s idle hand. She’s purring so fiercely Miranda can feel it vibrate though her hand.
Before she can stop herself, she scritches the cat’s ears.
Miranda winces at Grunt’s roared greeting. He stomps deliberately through a snowdrift on his way to them, arms waving. Shepard stands in the doorway, smile a mile wide. She shouldn’t be on her feet, but Shepard’s never looked weak in front of a krogan and isn’t about to start now, even when that krogan is a friend.
“Enjoy the climb, Grunt?” Shepard asks.
“Your planet has good bones,” the krogan declares, smacking his fist against the trunk of the nearest tree. Snow shivers out of it, flecking his head with white.
Wrex ambles behind the younger warrior, a small, struggling hump snared in the crook of his arm. Once he reaches the drift he casually tosses the wayward child into it. The youth disappears with a shriek and a plop, ejecting a cloud of snow. Grunt cackles, then hefts her out with one arm. The moment the child touches the ground she launches herself back into the drift.
“Kids,” Wrex says with a shake of his head. He reaches the porch and comes to a halt. “Shepard.”
“Wrex,” Shepard answers with a smirk.
Miranda is accustomed to Grunt, but the krogan leader she only knows through Shepard’s stories. The difference between the two is striking. The Battlemaster exudes a sense of control, discipline that Grunt lacks. His eyes are every bit as salient as the tank-bred youth, but reflect nearly a millennia of living and all the baggage that comes with it, whereas Grunt still has so much to discover.
Like snow. Grunt grabs a wad in his hefty hand, eyes glinting in fascination as it disintegrates into powder. His lips pull back in a scaly grin and he grabs for more, pounding it into a ball. The child pokes her face back out of the drift. With lightning reflexes, Grunt pelts her with the snowball. She shrieks in delight and pulls back into the snow.
So much alike, Miranda thinks. She’s never exactly devoted much thought to the tank-bred’s missing childhood outside of the inconvenience it had caused the team in preparation of the Omega 4. But looking at him now, Miranda can add one more small miracle to the litany Shepard has worked over the years. She has no doubt that Grunt was not far from her thoughts that day on Tuchanka. What Grunt has now might not be a conventional childhood, but his roar of laughter as he picks up the child and tosses her in the air certainly feels close enough.
“Joker says you had a close call with a formidable hunter,” Wrex says, looking Shepard up and down. Whether he is sizing her up, looking for structural weaknesses, or simply showing concern Miranda isn’t sure. With krogan, you never really know.
“Not as formidable as a kakliosaur,” Shepard says with a lopsided smile that always makes Miranda’s heart skip a beat. “But here, I’ll show you.”
Grunt and the toddler, Taraz, both hunch down to scrutinize Kat, who is standing her ground on the coffee table, hackles up.
“It’s small,” Grunt says in wonder. It takes Miranda a moment to realize that Grunt’s reverence stems from the fact that any creature that can best Shepard must be mighty indeed. In Grunt’s eyes, that makes the kitten perhaps the most formidable predator in the galaxy. She stifles a giggle behind her hand.
“What’s that?” Taraz asks, pointing at it.
“Fur,” Grunt says proudly.
Taraz thrusts out a hand to touch it, but Kat hisses and swipes with a paw. Her claws catch the child unawares, drawing a few droplets of blood. Miranda starts to react, but Shepard motions her off with a subtle wave of her hand. Instead of wail, Taraz’s eyes widen.
“Wow,” she whispers.
“If you want to pet her, you have to be gentle,” Shepard advises.
Taraz eyes Kat, then her own hands, eyes narrowing as if she’s trying to gauge what that means. Before she can try again, Kat hops onto the couch, then leaps for Shepard, attaching herself to her hip and then scaling her until she’s perched on her shoulder like a parrot, hissing for good measure.
“Ow, you little fucker,” Shepard says, scritching the kitten’s ears.
Both Grunt and Taraz stare at Shepard with eyes wide as saucers.
Shepard chuckles, seizes the small feline in one hand and deposits her back on the couch. “Come on, old friend,” she says to Wrex as she heads for the kitchen. “Tell me what you’ve been up to. See if I can help.”
Miranda looks between Shepard and Kat, torn. The kitten will be fine in a room with two krogan. Right?
Wait…why does she care?
She shakes her head and follows Shepard into the kitchen.
“GENTLE,” Grunt hollers behind them.
“I AM GENTLE,” the defiant toddler shouts in return.
Shepard and Wrex are deep in conversation when Miranda decides it’s too quiet in the living room. She gets to her feet and peers around the corner, preparing for the worst. What she finds is Grunt and Taraz staring at a datapad displaying an image of a tiger. Wordlessly, they both raise their gaze back to Kat, who watches them from the back of the couch, tail swishing.
Very carefully, Taraz approaches the kitten, lowers her head, and gently butts it against Kat’s fur. The kitten purrs and nuzzles her crest.
As soon as the krogan leave, Shepard drops her mask and sinks gratefully onto the couch, letting the pain from her hip waft back up to the surface. Miranda joins her, pulling Shepard to lay in her lap, yearning for the days when she had the Illusive Man’s credits and unlimited resources at her disposal.
“You don’t have to do that, you know,” Miranda tells her. “I’m sure Wrex would understand.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Shepard says wistfully. “Last thing I need to do is remind him that humans are more fragile than I’ve led him to believe.”
Kat eyes them from the floor. Half a second later she’s walking circles over both of them, purring and looking for a spot to curl up. Shepard winces when the kitten steps on a tender spot, so Miranda scoops the feline up and deposits her on her shoulder. Kat kneads at her for a moment before deciding the location is satisfactory. She purrs loudly in Miranda’s ear.
“Vega thinks he knows someone who might want to take her,” Shepard says after a quiet moment.
“Oh?” Miranda asks.
Shepard tilts her head to look up at her. “Assuming we still want to find her a home.”
“Of course,” Miranda says, too quickly.
“Then I’ll have him drop by tomorrow to pick her up.”
Miranda nods. Kat continues purring in her ear. Miranda reaches up to pet her, but stops just in time.
They do not need a cat. They do not need a cat.
A few minutes later, she realizes she’s petting Kay anyway.
Her fur really is quite soft.
James arrives in the afternoon, while Kat is chasing a jingle ball with a feather attached to it around the living room. Shepard chats animatedly with him as Miranda gathers up Kat’s things.
When she enters the living room James is wearing a jacket with the familiar N7 stripe. Seems that saving kittens is a hallmark of special ops.
Kat crawls out from under the couch and weaves through Miranda’s ankles.
“Afternoon, Miranda,” James says with his wide smile.
“Commander Vega,” Miranda says with a nod. There was a brief period where Vega fancied calling her Sparkles. When that didn’t fly, he resorted to Boss Wife. After a very pointed discussion, he now defaults to her actual name. Their relationship is far better for it.
She scoops up Kat, intending to hand her off to James. But the kitten has other ideas, and instead clings to her sweater with her small but persistent claws.
“Tenacious,” the burly marine says with a laugh. “No wonder Lola took a liking to her.”
Miranda finally succeeds in prying the kitten loose, then holds her up so they’re eye to eye. Kat mewls.
“Sure you want to part with her?”
Miranda stares at the cat, torn.
James waves goodbye after dinner. Beef stew this time, and they’ll have leftovers for days.
Shepard and Miranda see him off. Behind them, Kat pounces a toy mouse and sends it skittering under the couch.
That night Miranda is half asleep, head resting on Shepard’s chest, legs tangled under the sheets. There are at least three blankets piled on top of them. Were she a little more awake, she would consider getting a fourth. The wind is howling again, and while this time there’s no snow, the room still aches with cold.
Also, Shepard’s feet are essentially ice blocks with toes, and she won’t stop trying to warm them against Miranda’s bare skin.
“Stoppit,” she mumbles.
“But you’re so warm,” Shepard protests. “Share.”
“Wear. Socks,” Miranda demands.
Shepard presses a kiss against her temple. “No.”
Miranda grumbles and tries to roll over, but Shepard refuses to let her go. In spite of herself, Miranda relaxes into her arms with a contented sigh.
Something scratches at the door of the bedroom. And yowls.
“Kat wants in,” Shepard whispers, gently stroking Miranda’s hair.
“No.” Miranda sounds petulant, and she knows it, but she also doesn’t care. “We’re keeping the damned cat, but I refuse to share our bed with it.”
Shepard nudges her. “C’mon. It’s cold out there.”
“It’s cold in here,” Miranda protests.
Shepard strokes Miranda’s cheek. “Just one night. We can set her up with a few more blankets on the couch tomorrow night.”
It’s an argument Miranda is going to lose, had already lost before Shepard even opened her mouth. Shepard, the woman who had negotiated peace despite a thousand years of animosity, who had united armies in the galaxy’s darkest hour, who had somehow convinced Jack to fight as part of a team. Miranda’s no more immune to her stubborn will than any of them.
Doesn’t want to be, really.
Miranda may have rebuilt Shepard piece by piece, may intimately know every inch of her body in ways that no one else could ever hope to, but what she loves so much about her are all of the things Miranda can’t touch and had no hand in. That lopsided grin. Her refusal to wear socks. Her soft spot for strays.
Reluctantly, she extracts herself from Shepard’s limbs and sucks in a deep breath before sliding out from under the covers. She feels the cold through the floorboards – even though she, unlike some people, are wearing socks – and hurries over to the door. She’s only opened it a crack before a black, brown and white blur streaks past her foot and leaps on to the bed.
Miranda folds her arms across her chest and glares at the both of them for a moment. “Don’t get used to this,” she informs them.
It’s a hollow ultimatum, and all three of them know it.
Shepard opens up her arms as Miranda gets back into bed. Before long they’re piled under blankets, Shepard spooning Miranda close to her chest, warm as a furnace except for those damn feet. Kat circles around on top of them, testing, kneading, looking for just the right spot, which she finds in the crook of Miranda’s knees.
Shepard brushes Miranda’s neck with her lips. “I love you,” she says softly.
Miranda kisses Shepard’s knuckles. “Always,” she whispers in return.
The kitten purrs.