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rocketfic | reagent, chapter four

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

"Ow!" Ken yelled, when Gabby jogged into engineering and punched him in the shoulder. "What was that for?"

"I was on the elevator with Miranda," she hissed. "She just headed below deck. To see Jack."

His eyes widened, and he stepped out onto the gangway to look down the steps to the core access compartment. Gabby sidled up next to him, and for a long moment they waited for the inevitable racket of yelling and biotic destruction.

When nothing happened, Ken shrugged. "Maybe they need a mud pit and a cheering section," he mused, wincing when Gabby punched him again.

They shuffled back to their stations, and let the door close behind them. Ken scratched at his chin with a reflective frown, willing to concede that maybe they were overreacting a little. "How much damage could they really do, anyway?" he thought aloud, before calling to the quarian across the deck. "Hey Tali, what do you think?"

"I think I'm glad to be in an environmental suit," Tali said with a shrug. "Just in case they puncture the hull."

It was enough to make Gabby panic. She hit the comm to summon Shepard, right that goddamn second.

"Just how long are you planning to avoid me?"

Jack dropped from the coolant pipe she was using as a chin-up bar, landing lightly on the deck. She cast anxious eyes at Miranda, but didn't answer.

"I have to admit, I wasn't expecting you to go into hiding. It seems contrary to your nature." Miranda said, as she sauntered nearer.

"Well, you don't know me very well, do you?" Jack asked with a snide curl of her lip.

Miranda smiled, and leaned against one of the ducts that made up the "walls" of Jack's abode. "It was a kiss, Jack. Not a fistfight."

"Yeah. Fistfights hurt less," the other woman fired back. She stood beside her cot for a moment before bending to tear at the covers, snatching her various firearms and favorite improvised weapons from their hiding spots. She smacked them each down on the nearby counter, then dug under the cot for her bag.

"What are you doing?" Miranda asked with a frown, even as she was privately impressed by the arsenal Jack had managed to tuck away.

"Packing. I need to get the fuck off this ship."

"Why?" Miranda challenged. "Because of a kiss?" The question made Jack twitch, so she pressed on. "Or because you like it here? And don't bother pretending otherwise."

"Don't you tell me how I feel," Jack barked.

The operative pushed away from the wall and stepped even closer, daring to inhabit Jack's personal space. "If you didn't want to be here, you'd have left already," she said reasonably. She counted it as a victory when Jack halted her frantic motion and went back to giving her that uneasy look. "But I think you feel like you belong here," Miranda continued. "You feel like you're doing something important and worthy of your skills."

Jack was pretty sure she still wanted to go somewhere else, but found herself bound within an uncomfortable radius from the other woman as they circled the small compartment.

"You like being a hero," Miranda continued. "You like saving the galaxy. You like that Sergeant Gardner leaves you leftovers and that Jacob lets you play with his guns."

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Jack said, struggling to summon her usual defiance.

"You like the crew." Miranda hesitated, then tilted her head a bit in concession. "At least, you don't actively hate them. You certainly like Commander Shepard. You even like me," she concluded, a bit smug.

"I do not!" Jack roared. "You and Shepard can take your little band of girl scouts and go fly into a goddamned sun for all I care!"

In a moment they were practically nose to nose, panting their frustration at each other. A politely cleared throat sounding from the gangway drew their attention, and they each swung their eyes over to the intruder.

"What?!" both women demanded in concert.

Jane Shepard folded her arms and gave them her best scolding expression. "This is the second time my crew has panicked and called me in to break up a fight between you two," she said. "It will not happen again."

Miranda shrunk just a bit under her CO's glare. "Aye, Commander," she said, contrite.

"Mmhmm," Jane grunted. She eyed the stack of weaponry amassed on the counter, but decided there were things she simply didn't need to know. "I'll tell Daniels and Donnelly not to jump to conclusions next time. Just keep it down."

Jack scowled as the commander left. "'Next time?' What the fuck does that me-" She trailed off as Miranda grabbed her face with both hands and planted a scorching kiss on her lips.

Time stuttered while Jack tried to decide how to react. Her hands rose to hover in the air near Miranda's waist, where she hesitated. Usually by then she would have grabbed the other woman, reasserting her dominance and taking aggressive control. Usually she would have pushed Miranda away and gone on the offensive, taking what pleasure she wanted on her own terms.

After all, sex and seduction were usually just other battles to be won.

Eventually Miranda broke away, and let her gloved fingertips glide down the contours of Jack's torso. "You belong here," she said again.

Jack's eyes were screwed shut, as she tried not to shake. "I can't," she said, her voice strangled. "I have to go."

Miranda pressed her cheek to Jack's to whisper in her ear. "I think you have more reason to stay." Then she stepped away.

Jack felt the warmth of Miranda's proximity dissipate as the other woman turned to leave. She forced her eyes open and held her hands out in disbelief. "You're just gonna kiss me like that and walk away?" she complained.

Miranda spun on her heel to face her. "It's rather maddening, isn't it?" she asked with a smile. "But when you decide to stop hiding, you know where to find me." She winked, then turned again and ascended the steps to the deck above.

Jack slumped, and fell backwards onto her wrecked cot. "Fucking hell," she breathed, ignoring the receding chuckle from the gangway.

Two days later, Kelly arrived early for her appointment in the comm room. She set up a couple chairs and some coffee, then spent the remaining minutes studying her notes. She had not expected the request for this meeting, but after spending hours in meticulous preparation the night before she was definitely looking forward to it.

Right on time, Jack burst into the room, then threw herself into the seat across from Kelly. "Hey. So can you make me not crazy?" she demanded without preamble.

Kelly set aside her notes and folded her hands on the table in a slow, deliberate motion. "Good morning, Jack. I'm pleased you've requested this opportunity for us to chat. But no. I can't make you 'not crazy.'"

"Why the fuck not?"

"The short answer is because you're not crazy." She smiled when Jack's eyebrows rose in patent disbelief. "Look. I am aware that you carry a great deal of psychological pain over the events of your past. Terrible things were done to you, and you in turn have done other terrible things. You're troubled and deeply, deeply conflicted, but you're not crazy."

Jack leaned away, tossing one arm over the back of her chair in a bid to look relaxed. "You sound disappointed," she said, dissecting the other woman's tone.

"Quite the contrary - I'm relieved. From your dossier, I was expecting a sociopath or a narcissist," Kelly replied. "I was expecting someone 'crazy.'" She shrugged. "But crazy people don't know they're sick, and they don't want to get better. They don't want to heal."

Rather than acknowledge the accuracy of Kelly's observation, Jack pushed herself off the chair with an explosive sigh, rocking on the balls of her feet as she tried to figure out just how this "healing" thing was supposed to work.

Kelly studied her fingernails and feigned merely casual interest. "So. How are things going with Miranda?"

Jack reared and jabbed her finger toward the yeoman. "Oh, no. Screw you," she snarled.

"I admit I had my doubts about your relationship, at first. But she's brilliant, she's beautiful... and she's strong enough to protect herself, so maybe you're not so afraid of losing her. Or hurting her."

Jack wound up with a biotic charge that would have decimated the furniture in the room and spun to deliver it, only to see the barrel a very large pistol looming right in front of her face.

"Please don't," Kelly said calmly. She released the weapon's safety and held the sight with steady aim on Jack's forehead.

Jack blinked, too stunned to stay mad. She hadn't even seen the yeoman stand, much less draw a weapon from... somewhere. She flicked the biotic charge away, and watched Kelly with unmasked trepidation.

Kelly set the pistol on the table with a pleasant smile and settled back into her seat. "All right, then."

"Fuck," Jack exhaled, somehow drawing the word into multiple syllables. "Suddenly I don't think I'm the crazy one, here."

"The Illusive Man asked Commander Shepard to recruit the most singularly deadly and resourceful people in the Terminus. Do you really think he'd select support staff that couldn't handle themselves in a fight?"

"I guess not," Jack said, still wide-eyed.

Kelly gestured to Jack's empty chair, and waited for the other woman to sit. "I apologize for provoking you," she said, her blandly conversational tone at odds with the bloodbath they'd just narrowly averted. "But I think you'll agree that we'll be much more productive if we simply get to the heart of why you're here."

With a quick look at the pistol on the table, Jack shifted and tucked her hands under her legs. "'Kay."

"As I said before, I can't make you 'not crazy.' But I can help you if you want." She watched Jack bob her head in a slow nod before continuing. "Why does the mention of Miranda bother you? It's quite obvious that you care for her."

Jack clenched her jaw and looked away. "Because it's stupid, and I should know better."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because caring just gets you hurt."

"Why do you say that?"

Jack stared at her in angry disbelief. "Seriously? Doesn't your little shrink script have any other lines?"

Kelly merely gazed back at her with a kind of immutable tranquility which Jack found herself envying. "You have been through a great deal of trauma in your life, Jack. While I can guess at why that would make you distrustful of getting close to others, you are clearly referring to a specific precipitating event." She watched as Jack's nostrils flared, then pitched her voice just a little softer, just a little more coaxing. "What was her name?"

"His name," Jack snapped. "I'm not that picky."

Kelly waited, while Jack slowly realized she'd just played right into the yeoman's strategy, revealing more than she ever meant to.

"Shit," Jack muttered.

"Tell me what happened," Kelly pressed. By then her voice was impossibly gentle, and for once Jack didn't find that demeaning.

She took a deep breath to fight off the tears of old pain and began to talk.

Miranda wasn't at all surprised when her office door chimed in the middle of the night. She smiled a greeting at Jack, who trudged in with her hands buried in her pockets.

"Hey," Jack said, with the customary lift of her chin.

The operative was already on her feet and around the desk, alarmed by Jack's pallor and slumped posture. "Are you all right?" she asked. She drew nearer, until they were close but not quite touching.

"Long day," Jack muttered. "Long, shitty day." She looked at Miranda through thick lashes and tear-streaked makeup. "But I wanted to see you."

Miranda finally surged closer, reaching out and taking gentle hold of the other woman's arms. "I'm glad you came," she murmured, as she tilted her forehead against Jack's and sighed.

Jack shut her eyes. "You fuck me up, you know?" she asked.

"The feeling's mutual," Miranda said with a smile.

They stayed that way for a long time, with the scant contact somehow too much and not enough all at once. When they eventually kissed good night, it was neither an impulse or a tease.

It felt a lot more like a promise.

Continue to Chapter Five.
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