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rocketfic | reagent, chapter two

Title: Reagent, chapter two by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Jack/Miranda, fem!Shepard/Liara
Notes: Read chapter one here.

Reagent (n): a test substance that is added to a system in order to bring about a reaction or to see whether a reaction occurs.

Blood had never bothered her before.

She shed it, she washed it off, and she kept moving. It never gave her pause until right at that moment, when she found herself wrist-deep in Miranda Lawson's blood.

For the first time, it freaked her the fuck out.

It was a typical day for the crew of the Normandy: Wander the Terminus, land someplace new, piss somebody off, duck the resulting projectiles. But even with all their skill, armor, biotics, and shielding, sometimes they were victim to ordinary enemies like gravity. And sometimes gravity had help from things that were heavy and sharp.

While tucked behind cover to wait out the heat and dust from a mercenary grenade, Jack saw an aged beam of the ruined structure above them fracture under stress and tumble downward, right over Miranda's head. She saw Miranda raise her hands to fire off biotic protection, just a second too late. She heard the strangled cry of alarm as the other woman fell under the large chunk of twisted metal.

Jack skipped out from her shelter and tossed a concentrated biotic charge that launched the beam away, but was unprepared for the damage it left behind. Miranda was crumpled and dirty, with a jagged hole torn into her side that was already seeping a considerable amount of blood. Jack bent beside her to administer medi-gel by rote routine, then Miranda emitted a faint noise of gurgling misery that jolted Jack with panic somewhat out of proportion to the injury itself.

"Shepard!" Jack screamed, high and hoarse. She pressed her hands to the wound in Miranda's abdomen, wondering if she could use her biotics to simply force the blood back where it belonged. Another groan drew her eyes to Miranda's face, to the expression drawn with pain, fear, and a fair bit of trepidation that her welfare at that moment was left in Jack's hands.

Within seconds, Shepard's booted footsteps clattered to a halt beside them, and with a few terse orders, they hauled Miranda away from the firefight, back into the Kodiak, and en route to the Normandy.

Chakwas met the shuttle upon docking, and directed fellow crewmembers to help her as she worked to stabilize Miranda on their way to sickbay. When they arrived, Jack extricated herself from the medical activity and took up a spot on the steps to the sleeper deck, looking into the observation windows. Miranda disappeared behind a privacy field, but not before Jack saw her arch against the stretcher in sharp agony.

Jack felt queasy and disconnected as all of Cerberus' expensive technology bent to the task of undoing the damage of their latest adventure. It all seemed too slow, too little, too late, and she didn't even notice Miranda's blood congealing on her hands and torso.

Time lost meaning as she waited. The gleaming white lights of sickbay seemed to throb before her, fuzzing in her vision while her usually anxious and jittery brain slowed, focused only on the memory of Miranda's desperate, trusting expression while Jack tried to hold her guts together in the dirt.

Eventually Shepard ended up on the step beside Jack, folding her arms as they both looked into the observation windows. "Doctor Chakwas says Miranda's going to be okay," Jane murmured, so only Jack could hear. "Though if you're not careful, somebody might start to think you don't actually hate her."

Jack looked at her with a blank lack of comprehension, not really seeing her CO's faint, understanding smile.

"C'mon. Let's get you cleaned up." She took Jack by the elbow and guided her away from the large windows lining sickbay, past Sergeant Gardner and a few wide-eyed crewmen in the mess. Jack merely followed, dull and pliant as they entered the communal restroom.

"You might not have noticed, but you look a little scarier than usual," Jane said by way of countering the awkwardness while she stripped off Jack's clothing and led her to the shower stall. "And in retrospect, putting the mess right next to sickbay probably wasn't the best plan," the commander continued with a thoughtful look. She loosed a stream of very cold water and leaned out of the way. "Maybe we'll fix that on the next Normandy."

"Gah!" Jack yelled, startled by the frigid blast of liquid. She tossed her head, throwing water out of her face. "What the fuck are you babbling about?"

Jane chuckled and pushed her back under the shower stream with some soap. "Welcome back."

She knocked Shepard's hands away with a snarl, though it lacked her usual vehemence. "Get away from me. I can take care of myself."

Jane shrugged and stepped back, then waited while Jack scrubbed at her skin and rinsed, taking the last traces of their teammate's blood down the drain. When the water stopped she tossed Jack a towel, and leaned against the opposite wall while the other woman dripped and shivered. "You okay?" she asked.

"Fine. I'm not the one who got a hole punched through her."

"Not what I meant," Jane said. "Even biotic badasses go into shock once in a while."

"Screw you," Jack fired back, sounding more plaintive than angry. She scrubbed her bare head with the towel, then left it draped low over her eyes like a hood. After a shaky sigh, she leaned against the shower wall and slid down to sit on the floor, heedless of her nudity. "So the Cheerleader's gonna make it?" she asked, with poorly affected indifference.

"Yeah," Jane said, smiling. "And why do you call her 'Cheerleader,' anyway?"

"Big tits, big hair. It fits," Jack replied.

Jane made a choked noise of amusement, trying to stifle a laugh that came out more like a cough. She managed to school her face back to her customary professionalism, even though Jack wasn't likely to notice either way.

She could tell that Jack had not yet regained her equilibrium, and that something still weighed on the troubled young woman's mind. Jane settled in to wait her out, getting as comfortable as possible against the cold tile of the bathroom wall.

After a bit, Jack blew out a noisy breath. "How old were you when you first killed somebody?" she asked.


Jack blinked, and tilted her towel-covered head to peer up at Shepard. She hadn't expected that. "Well, shit," she blurted.

"My childhood wasn't anything like yours, but there was some rough stuff here and there," Jane said with a shrug. She folded her arms and returned Jack's piercing gaze with an even expression.

"That back when you ran with the Reds?" Jack asked.

Jane nodded, not even surprised Jack had somehow managed to uncover those records. "There was this guy..." She sighed. "A real bad guy. Did real bad things," she said, using the vagueness to distance herself from the cold fury she still felt over the rival gang leader's tendencies toward rape and brutalization. "One day I decided I had to stop him. Nearly got myself killed in the process."

"Instead, you took the bastard out and took over his gang," Jack concluded.

"That's the short version," Jane said in agreement. "Eventually I caught the eye of an Alliance recruiter, who decided my past was worth overlooking." She squinted, considering her words again. "Or maybe worth exploiting."

"And now you're here," Jack said. "A galactic do-gooder locked in a bathroom with a crazy naked chick."

"It's a living," she replied dryly.

Jack smirked and tilted her head back against the shower wall. "You are seriously fucked up, Shepard."

"Another thing we have in common," Jane tossed back. She watched Jack carefully, waiting for the expected retort, but none was forthcoming. Instead they sat in the damp stillness, and Jane silently counted the staccato drips from the shower.

"Do you ever still see that guy?" came Jack's voice sometime later, muffled and small from under the sodden towel. "The bad one?"

"No," Jane answered, knowing exactly what she meant. Even in the jumble of transplanted Prothean memories, two years of stasis and sedation, and a lifetime of protracted violence, some nightmares still stayed fresh. "I only see the people he hurt."

Jack's head dipped in a nod. "Smart choice."

"Exactly. Your past is part of you, and you can't avoid it," Jane said. "But you can choose the terms by which it defines you."

At that, Jack finally pulled the towel off her head, looking up at Shepard with an uneasy expression. "I guess so," she said.

"Okay then," Jane agreed, pushing herself away from the wall as she sensed they'd reached the limit of reasonable progress for the moment. "You saved your teammate's life today," she said, and held out a hand to Jack. "How does that feel?"

Jack took the proffered hand and allowed herself to be tugged to her feet. "Maybe I didn't hate it," she admitted.

Jane snorted. "Good. The anger you have towards Cerberus... it's not about Miranda."

"Yeah, I know."

"How about you tell her that, sometime?" Jane said. It was an order disguised as a polite suggestion.

Now that they were eye to eye, Jack gave the other woman a hard look. "I'm not your 'project,' Shepard. You can't fix me."

"Nope," Jane conceded with an amiable shrug. "But I can give you the chance to fix yourself." She turned toward the door, but paused before leaving. "Besides," she tossed over her shoulder. "You couldn't fix Miranda today, either. Didn't stop you from trying."

Jack glared at the door as it closed behind the commander, then slipped back into her clothes and wandered out of the restroom. She meant to walk straight to the elevator and go back into hiding in the bowels of engineering, but found herself headed toward sickbay instead. Through the windows she could see that the frenetic activity had waned, and Doctor Chakwas was disengaging the privacy fields so Shepard could check on her 2IC.

Miranda lay stretched out on one of the beds, looking fragile and more pale than usual, but alive. She gave Shepard a wan look and a salute before the commander left her to her recovery. Then her eyes wandered and found Jack's, watching her from outside.

Jack froze for a long moment before she dropped her gaze and slunk back to the elevator to head below deck.

Had she looked back, Jack might have noticed those gray eyes following her, and the small smile that lit Miranda's face as she settled against her pillows to rest.

Continue to Chapter Three.
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