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rocketfic | reagent, chapter five

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

She hadn't meant to spy on Shepard. She just had the poor luck to choose the corner of Eternity directly opposite from where Shepard was snuggling with that asari.

It might have been a bit sickening, except for the look of utter contentment on Shepard's face.

Jack scowled and assumed her usual air of disinterest, but couldn't quite look away. She'd watched Jane Shepard save the galaxy and earn the fealty of a band of professional misfits and murderers, but she'd never seen the commander look happy before. It was kinda fascinating.

The bartender brought her another drink and Jack spread out, flinging her long legs haphazardly across the furniture to take up as much space as possible. If that didn't dissuade people from wandering too close in search of a seat, a growl would suffice.

So she sprawled in the corner, and she waited like Miranda asked her to, and she tried not to be too obvious about watching Jane Shepard smile.

Eternity was totally not her kind of place. It was too quiet, and aside from the occasional dancer, far too antiseptic. At least Afterlife had crappy lighting and loud music that offered plenty of ways to hide. Here she felt exposed, put on display for Nos Astra's snotty tourist trade.

It was all a sham anyway. She'd spent her share of time in places like Chora's Den and the lower decks of Omega, and she'd seen how asari really behaved. They might like to put on the guise of worldly elegance and sophistication, but when it came down to it, they could seriously party.

Knowing that, she was starting to wonder why Shepard and her girlfriend weren't off somewhere making up for lost time in a more vigorous fashion.

When Miranda finally walked in sometime later, Jack pretended not to notice. When the operative crossed the lounge and exchanged pleasantries with Liara T'soni, Jack pretended she wasn't curious.

When Miranda slid into the booth next to Jack and pointedly stole a sip of her drink, Jack pretended to be outraged.

Miranda grinned at her and set an OSD on the table. "Payment for services rendered," she announced.

"From T'soni?"

"Mmhmm. I cleaned her office of surveillance devices." She pulled out a small packet of tiny appropriated electronic bugs and sorted through them with a practiced eye. "Several of them are quite advanced. I'm actually impressed." She sounded just a bit smug as she continued. "But now with the interference fields I set up, that office is probably the most secure place on Illium."

Jack looked back across the bar and saw that Shepard and T'soni had already bolted, no doubt off to enjoy their newfound privacy. She snorted. "So tomorrow would be a good time to ask Shepard for shit. Got it." She enjoyed the other woman's chuckle before tilting her chin toward the OSD. "What's on that thing?"

At that Miranda hesitated, looking just a bit nervous. "You, actually."


"I commissioned Doctor T'soni to locate records of your life prior to your arrival on Pragia," Miranda explained, searching Jack's face as her tone grew more cautious. "Cerberus maintained meticulous accounting at the facility itself, but not so much before or after. I thought you might want to know more."

"So you hired an information broker to dig up my childhood?" Jack asked in a strained voice. "What'd she find?"

Miranda continued watching her with an uncertain look. "I don't know. It's for you," she said, pushing the OSD across the table toward Jack. "If you ever need it."

Jack couldn't quite decide how she felt at that moment, but her default reliance on irrational, destructive anger seemed like a safe bet. She grit her teeth and tried not to shatter the glass in her hand. The odd chats she'd been having with Kelly Chambers for the past few weeks hadn't really prepared her for the surge of anxiety provoked by a physical manifestation of her past, all wrapped in tidy digital encryption. In a heartbeat, everything was too close - the other bar patrons, the ubiquitous threat of violence from her childhood, the worried understanding of Miranda's gaze. She was convinced she would choke on it, and felt the sudden need to run.

"Let's get out of here," Miranda said, spotting the caged panic brewing behind Jack's eyes. She scooped up the OSD, then grabbed Jack's hand and led her out of the lounge.

They headed down the steps, across the port, then down, and down further still, through hallways and alleys, into spaces deeper and darker as they retreated from the polished sterility of Nos Astra's public facade.

They ended up in a far more dingy, far more authentic asari club, populated by the far less reputable kind of people the port attracted. Jack recognized the name of the place as a reference to asari fertility rituals, which was fitting considering the perpetual, wanton group grind transpiring on its dance floor.

It was perfect.

Miranda lead her through the throng of dancers, then tugged her close while she found her way into the pulsing rhythm of bass and sensory enhancements pumped through the air. It was a wicked thrill, pressing their bodies together with a shared gasp, followed by a mutual tremor of awareness. Jack let the thumping music get in her head and push out the clamor of anxiety, willing herself to stop thinking and just feel. At the same time the prickle of biotic charge from Miranda's hands on the exposed skin at her waist anchored her, pulling her in as they moved against each other. Jack pressed her face to Miranda's neck, savoring the scent and heat and the softness of that dark hair against her cheeks.

Slowly, the twitchy anger and fear receded.

The two women had explored each other rather thoroughly in recent weeks, but they had not yet danced together. Their bodies were practically made for it. Before long they were attracting appreciative glances from all around the club, including the leer of a particularly drunk krogan.

"And I thought the asari dancers were hot," the krogan belted out, belching rancid breath right into Jack's face. "You humans should come dance for us," he said, indicating his equally inebriated mates.

"Fuck off," Jack growled, as she closed her eyes to enjoy the feeling of Miranda's fingertips slipping under the waistband of her pants.

Even in the throbbing din of the club, the telltale mechanical noise of the cocked shotgun drew a great deal of attention. The krogan hefted his weapon and shuffled closer as the crowd on the dance floor around them skittered away. "It wasn't a request, human," he rumbled.

Finally, the two women pulled apart, just enough to share a knowing smirk. The implants in Miranda's fingers flared briefly as she extended her hand to toss a biotic lift at the hefty krogan, knocking him off his feet. Half a second later Jack lashed out with a throw that blasted him across the room and into a wall. He seemed to hang there suspended for a moment before sliding down and crumpling to the floor, unconscious.

Even minor violence was inordinately satisfying, and Jack was sporting a wild grin when she noticed the anxious looks from the club patrons as they all stared at her. "What?" she called with a careless shrug. "He fell."

Miranda swung them around in a twirl and laughed, and Jack couldn't help but kiss her. She felt Miranda's smile under her lips, and for a tantalizing moment the knot of feeling in her chest swelled and broke over in joy so raw it actually hurt.

In that instant she understood she was no longer the scared, angry kid who fought because she didn't know what else to do. She was no longer the psychotic reject Shepard dug out of cold storage to exploit for a suicidal bid to save the galaxy. And she certainly wasn't defined by whatever T'soni had unearthed and put on that damned OSD.

She had friends, she had purpose, and she had a breathtakingly beautiful woman who could do amazing things with that perfect, engineered tongue. What else did she need?

When they came up for air the club had returned to its previous controlled frenzy, and the dancers were twisting around them again in euphoric rhythm. Off to the side the krogan's comrades prodded at him with their feet. He was still out cold, but no one could muster much concern.

Jack was shaky from the emotional turbulence of the previous hour, but still felt like celebrating. She wove her way through the dance floor to the bar, ordered a bottle of something outrageously expensive and blue, then found a booth in a dim alcove to sit and share the drink with her companion.

They had to lean close to hear each other, which was a convenient excuse to sustain the contact that was making Jack's blood burn. "How'd you find this place?" she asked, directly into Miranda's ear.

"Shepard recommended it. She seemed to think you weren't comfortable in Eternity."

With a faint grin, Jack raised a glass to their absent commander and knocked it back, savoring the blaze of alien booze as it settled in her gut. She slammed the glass to the table and made a beckoning gesture, which Miranda eventually interpreted to refer to the OSD. She retrieved it and handed it over to Jack, who toyed with it, watching the club's lights refract in the holographic media.

"You don't have to keep trying to make up for what Cerberus did," Jack said. "That's not up to you."

"It wasn't about Cerberus," Miranda countered. "It's about you."

She ducked her head, fighting tears and the immediate impulse to distrust Miranda's claim. As a "couple" or whatever, they were still figuring each other out, and she hadn't really gotten Chambers to decode the complicated tangle of crap Miranda made her feel. The strain of carnal competition at least made some kind of sense; the desire to curl against the operative's shoulder and just listen to her breathe for hours on end did not.

After a moment Jack felt Miranda's fingers covering hers atop the OSD. "I'll wipe it," the operative promised.

"Nah," Jack said. "I might need it, someday." She looked up again with a sigh. "Thank you."

For that she was rewarded with a sweet smile. They settled against each other and enjoyed the rare cozy normality as they "chatted," shouting over the music into each other's ears. They talked about their teammates, their mission, and their commander, trading observation and wit that for once wasn't spiked with the edgy strain they usually flung at each other.

Booze helped, Jack decided, even though neither of them had had much to drink. Or maybe she was just too tired to put up her usual fight. It couldn't possibly be that she felt normal alongside this least-normal of humans.

At some point the bothersome krogan awoke and began harassing the other patrons again. In the outer edges of her attention, Jack noticed he was at the bar griping about some human female who wouldn't properly entertain him. When she turned to tell him to go fuck himself, she saw he was standing next to Jane Shepard, who was downing batarian ale with alacrity that made the bartender wince, looking just the slightest bit unsteady on her feet.

"Shit," she muttered, as she climbed out of her seat. Miranda echoed the imprecation and followed, and they moved to flank Shepard just as they had dozens of times in battle.

"Commander, is there a problem?" Miranda asked, as she leaned in closer. Jack busied herself with flicking rude biotic gestures at the krogan until he recognized her and ambled off in search of more amenable aliens.

"Only an empty glass," Jane announced, oblivious to any thwarted krogan vulgarities as she motioned to the bartender for a refill.

Jack propped an elbow on the bar next to Shepard. "Thought you and T'soni were... reuniting," she drawled, with a twitch of her fingers to indicate the expected nature of that liaison. "So why are you here looking like your hamster just died, instead of screwing her blind?" She shrugged at Miranda's exasperated look. "What? You know I don't do 'tact,'" she said.

Jane snorted and threw back her noxious drink. "I didn't save the galaxy for the damned hamster," she said, her voice low and dangerous. When she stepped away from the bar and reeled, the two women beside her moved in concert to grab her elbows and guide her discreetly back to their shadowy refuge.

Once there, the commander clenched her fists on the table and stared across the bar at the mass undulation of dancing bodies. Eventually she noticed the half-empty bottle of blue liquid on the table before her. "That stuff any good?"

Jack pushed the bottle out of easy reach. "Stop fucking around, Shepard. Is this about that asshole Shadow Broker?"

"How did you know that?"

"I was there," Jack reminded her, uncharacteristically patient with her impaired CO. "When T'soni threatened to grind the guy into dust. And you had Cheerleader here hacking his financial network..."

Jane swung startled eyes over at Miranda. "You did what?!"

"I suspected the effort might eventually prove useful," Miranda said, with a prim shrug that was not at all apologetic.

Jack barked out a laugh. "Nice," she muttered. "Next time tell me when we're doing shit behind Shepard's back."

With a frustrated sigh, Jane rubbed her eyes. "Liara has unfinished business with him."

Jack was rather familiar with that kind of burning, personal vendetta. "So she wants to take him down," she said. "But she won't let you help because you're way too visible and tend to leave a trail of blown up shit wherever you go." Jane stuttered in protest at the accusation, but Jack only rolled her eyes. "I don't do 'tact,' you don't do 'subtle.' Whatever. Let us do it."

"Us?" Miranda perked up, intrigued by the notion.

Jane was shaking her head. "No. I can't ask you to do that."

"You're not asking," Jack countered. "Fuck, Shepard. You wandered all over the damned galaxy to help all of us with our pissant little problems. Why can't we help you for once?"

"I'm not the mission," the commander said, unwilling to give up her brooding.

"You were, once," Miranda said. "To me, and to Liara."

At that they lapsed into silence until Jack relented and pushed the bottle back across the table toward Shepard, who gave her a faint scowl. "You just want to wander off and be a pirate," Jane said.

"I want the chick in charge of saving the galaxy not to be moping in a seedy bar over some dipshit love affair," Jack snapped, losing her patience. "Our job is to make sure you can do your job. It's what we do," she insisted. She twirled T'soni's OSD idly around her fingers and looked over to Miranda for confirmation. "Right?"

Miranda smiled at her in a slow, amazed kind of way. "Right," she murmured, before turning back to Shepard. "It's what we do, Commander."

Jane considered it for a moment longer, then gave her 2IC a stern look. "It's all unofficial. We don't have the Alliance or Cerberus or the Council to back us up."

"So much the better," Miranda said with a smirk.

"And it's Liara's op," Jane insisted. "She calls the shots."

"We're her eyes and ears," the operative promised. "Nothing more."

Jane sighed, then dipped her head once. "All right. You ship off on her order."

Jack and Miranda shared a conspiratorial look. This was gonna be fun. Dangerous, tricky, potentially deadly fun.

"I'll begin the necessary preparations," Miranda announced, before nodding to her CO and slipping out of the booth.

Jack hesitated before following, having spotted Liara striding anxiously into the club. "Looks like you've got company, Shepard," she muttered. She might have been envying the commander earlier, but this time she was definitely not planning to stick around to watch the reunion. "You okay?"

Jane nodded, and gave her a shrug. "Cybernetic enhancements don't let you stay drunk for long," she said, sounding like she regretted it.

"Yeah." Jack frowned, and leaned closer. "Did you really save the galaxy for her?"

"Twice now. And counting," Jane replied with a sad little smile.

"That's really fucking pathetic," Jack concluded, grinning back. She gave the commander a friendly clap on the shoulder and headed after Miranda with a distinct strut in her step.

Considering how stupidly happy she was to see the worried, annoyed look on Liara's face when she approached the table, Jane couldn't help but agree.

Continue to Chapter Six.
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