Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.
Author's Note: This piece was originally for a writing challenge that I, unfortunately, was not able to continue in. But I wanted to post it anyway because I'm particularly proud of it.
Whiskey and November
Chapter One: Welcome to the Shit
"Every bruise and quake in her bones makes her fierce, makes her ruthless, makes her deadly. Every ache and sore muscle makes her certain. Certain she still lives." - On the frontlines of London, Jack and Miranda contemplate the end of things. A not-quite-love story in three parts.
It is far quieter than it should be.
There is only the faint tremble of her breath, heavy and labored, scraping her lungs as it leaves her. The ever-present tingling of biotics that lights along her skin, that low-pitch hum that is familiar and comforting. Always promising of power. Always thrumming her freedom. Soft and barely-there and anchoring.
Jack curls her fingers into fists and feels the rough material of her gloves against her palms. Her whole body is lined with sweat beneath the light weight of her body armor, the deep green of her chestplate glinting black in the night. Behind her, the heavy, ragged bodies of her biotic students slump against the debris as they try to rein in their breathing, their eyes hazy with exhaustion, their mouths dry and calves aching. Her 'Biotic Barrage' as she affectionately calls them. London is burning and broken all around them. She can hear the hoarse shout of orders from the Alliance commander several feet away, rallying his troops stationed around the temporary forward camp. She knows they have only minutes before they are on the move again.
"Alright, you bed-wetters," she barks, tearing her gaze from the dark London skyline and facing her former students. She plants her hands on her hips. "Gather your gear. We move in five."
There is the collective groan of her squad, but it tells of weariness and fatigue rather than disregard. Slowly, they get to their feet, swapping heat sinks and medi-gel packs. Jack reloads her own shotgun, strapping it securely behind her.
The Alliance officer she had eyed along the camp makes his way toward her. "Jack?" he questions, his assault rifle held leisurely in his hands, his voice muffled only slightly by his breather helmet.
She crosses her arms and leans her weight to one leg. "One and only," she smirks.
The officer rolls his neck at the strain in his muscles. "Lieutenant Darrow. Just got orders from Admiral Anderson. Your squad's with us for the last push. Welcome to November Company."
She lifts her chin in quick acknowledgement. "Got it. What's the plan?"
"We're effectively part of Hammer Squad, leading the heavy artillery on a path to that Destroyer guarding the beam." He motions toward the distant shaft of light blazing up from the crumbling London horizon. "We're to rendezvous with Whiskey Company at the next FOB. I'll send you the coordinates." He pauses, glancing over her squad of barely legal biotic teenagers. She can feel his frown more than see it behind his breather mask. "Your kids going to be up for it?" There is the hint of disbelief lingering behind the concern.
A dark smirk makes its way across Jack's face. "Don't let the pimples fool you. My guys can tear a biotic hole the size of Harbinger's nutsack in a Reaper line."
Darrow turns his gaze back to Jack and his chuckle is warm and unexpected. The air vibrates around them as three Alliance fighters speed through the air above the camp, their thunderous flight drowning out all other sounds for several seconds. Darrow looks up into the sky to watch the faint trail of smoke along the ozone.
Jack finds something familiar and welcome about him, something reassuring she cannot place. In the way he stands. The way he cradles his weapon in his hand. The way his armor tells of heavy use and close calls.
Darrow brings his attention back to Jack before him and hefts his rifle up to rest on his shoulder. "I think we can work with that," he chuckles. He sobers quickly. "We'll be taking the west support of Hammer Squad, clearing the buildings there to get the auxiliary unit room to maneuver. Set your frequency to 6-2-kilo-8."
Uncrossing her arms, Jack nods and taps the necessary keys along her omni-tool, hearing the quick buzz and static in the comm. link in her ear before the line goes steady.
Darrow cocks his head as he watches her a moment. "Commander Shepard's leading the charge of the central column."
Jack scoffs and shakes her head, her arm lowering as the light of her omni-tool rescinds. "What a glory whore."
Darrow eyes her momentarily. "I hear you were Normandy crew once."
Jack rolls her eyes, swiping her hand across her nose. "Yeah, I got out of that shit quick. Too much 'kumbaya' for my taste."
Darrow nods. "Well, you're in the right place then. Welcome to the shit."
Jack glances back over her tired students, some leaning over with hands on their knees. Others holding shaking hands to their rifles, their fingers tight and stiff against the barrels. A few bravely taking point, directing the lower-ranking members of the squad.
Some have faces as blank as her past.
Something sinks inside her then, sharp and fast and branding like regret.
"Yeah," she croaks, her eyes drifting to the dark, unreachable horizon. It will be the last for some of them. "Welcome to the shit," she whispers.
Everywhere people are dying.
Jack punches another hole in the line of Cannibals advancing on November Company. The Shockwave blast sends bits of concrete and mutilated flesh flying all around them. The detonation of a Ravager's gun blows cleanly through the crumbling cover of concrete shielding two Marines on her right. They are blasted back, their screams drenched in blood, one's leg blown clean off. Jack can see the gaping hole in the other's stomach as they slam into the wall behind them. She grits her teeth and shouts down the line. "Latner! O'dair! Barriers, now! Shaw and Johnson, cover fire."
Two students, eyes dark and frightful, mouths set tight in rigid frowns, nod and peek out of their cover, one raining a hail of bullets down on the incoming Cannibals and Marauders, the other shooting off biotic projectiles. Meanwhile, two other students brace themselves, and then sprint under the cover of their comrades' fire to the left side of the crumbling building. Jack's shotgun lets a round off at the Ravager to distract it, her Shockwaves plummeting through the Reaper line. The two sprinting students slide behind a concrete barrier once they make it across the room. They don't hesitate. Their biotic barriers are thrown up instantly, the blue wall of power slowly emanating wider to encompass the doorway just behind them, the entrance to the large, semi-blown out building they were fighting in.
"Darrow," Jack calls, a finger tapping the comm. link in her ear, "Send them in! Barriers are up!"
A sharp crack echoes after her shout and Jack looks up to find the Ravager ahead exploding in dark, putrid slush, and then collapsing to the dirt. She twists her gaze up and behind her to find Darrow laid out on the third floor landing, his sniper rifle trained on the Reaper line. He charges the release and cocks the barrel back. "Roger that. Second line, go, go, go!"
A wave of Marines floods in under the students' barriers and Marauders are dropping left and right. Jack's smile is splashed with blood and wickedness. Her body thrums with excitement. She feels her muscles aching, feels the heavy pull in her chest with every labored breath. Her calves are tight and trembling, the subtle twinge in her stomach threatening to overflow to a painful cramp if she does not rest soon. She can feel the steady vibration of her implant at the base of her skull, rippling with biotic power. It shouldn't be straining so much. Jack swallows thickly and ignores it. "Barragers, advance!" Her voice rips from her throat with a heat and a fervor she has missed.
Something howls in the distance and she grinds her teeth harshly, her lip curling in disgust.
Her hands ache for blood that will not wash.
She jumps the concrete barrier and roars her fury at the nearest Marauder, her fist soaring through the air, body flushed in brilliant blue, power emanating from every pore. Her fist connects harshly with the creature's jaw, and there is a second's delay before the biotic force explodes from her fist and the Marauder's head is blasted away in a rippling wave of destructive energy. Jack's cheeks are splashed with warm blood, her fist slick and covered in the stuff. She licks her lips and tastes the sharp, corrupted tang of the beast.
Her teeth flash in the light of her flaring biotics and she is moving once more, her whole body enflamed in blue. She is a devastating, burning supernova. Coursing through the dark night in a brilliant flash. Beautiful destruction. Light and force and movement. Radiant and momentary.
And then gone.
The heavy, rumbling boom of an explosion farther up the trench echoes in her bones. The ground shakes around her and she ducks lower in her crouched position behind the debris of a blown out wall. Her breath is loud in her ears, her whole body aching. A curse leaves her lips as she checks her remaining packs of medi-gel along her belt.
Prangley shuffles up beside her, his arms over his head. Gunfire sounds all around them. He drops beside her unceremoniously, his chest heaving wildly with fearful breathes. "Ma'am," he barely gets out in a ragged groan, one hand moving to the ache of a bruised rib.
Jack whips her head to him, her teeth bared. "What, Prangley?" It is harsher than she means. But she thinks maybe it should be.
He pants in pain and exhaustion. "I don't know if we'll make the next hill. The others are wearing."
Jack glances behind him and sees the remainder of her biotic class slumped behind cover. It is a far smaller number then it should be. She huffs, frustration blooming tight in her bones, her skin trembling in rage and desperate need.
A Banshee howls in the distance and she watches the wide eyes and trembling mouths of her students. She sends a fist into the dirt beside her, her eyes flashing back to Prangley. "Do you understand what we're doing out here, you little shit?"
He is taken aback by her brusque tone momentarily. It has been long months since she has lashed out in such a way to him. He blinks at her silently.
She stretches an arm out and points east, past the crumbling buildings and into the dark, bloody night. "Shepard's out there. He's about to send those Reaper fuckers back to the hell they came from and we're going to help him do it. Over that next hill is Whiskey Company. That's our rendezvous. We make it. No matter what."
Prangley swallows. "But…"
"But nothing, Prangley," she breathes harshly, a hand coming up to grab him by the collar. Her fist is trembling and forceful in his uniform, his quiet yelp of surprise drowned out by a fairly close explosion. "We've got a job to do. We clear the path for Shepard and we keep our soldiers alive. There's no room for failure. You want to see home again, Prangley? Then you fucking well better keep advancing." She releases her hold of him and he falls back against the concrete wall of cover. Jack grinds her teeth and peeks around the debris, trying to find Lieutenant Darrow's position. "We will make that hill. Are we clear?"
Prangley looks back to the other members of their biotic support squad. These are faces he's laughed with, ached with, bled with. The way things are looking, these are faces he'll be dying with.
Jack puts a hand to the comm. link in her ear. "Darrow! Do you hear me? Lieutenant! Fuck," she curses when she gets nothing on the line. She hears the steady thrum of gunfire across the fallen building beside them, on the other side of where her squad lays in cover. Darrow's unit was headed that way before the roof collapsed on them and their two squads were separated. Jack and her Biotic Barrage had cleared out the Cannibals and Marauders flooding in through the nearest hole in the building, once they shook the confusion and surprise from their minds after the roof collapse.
Now, Jack glances around the cover once more to make sure the space of the empty and ruined room is clear of Reaper forces. She clenches her jaw at the sight of a new wave of Marauders coming in over the wreckage. She grips her shotgun comfortingly in her palms, and feels the subtle flare of her biotics that floods her mind just before she lashes out.
It feels right. It feels needed and intimate and right. Everything about war and blood feels right to her. Feels inevitable. Feels reassuring in the way that bones crack and skin tears and cries rip from throats. These are welcome signs. These are things that tell her she still lives. Still breathes. Still feels the blood threading through her veins.
Every bruise and quake in her bones makes her fierce, makes her ruthless, makes her deadly.
Every ache and sore muscle makes her certain.
Certain she still lives.
Jack pulls a deep breath in and feels the biotic power flood her system like a narcotic. Her smile spreads across her lips without her even realizing.
She is eager.
Eager to prove she's still here. Still fighting.
She opens her palm to channel her power into a focused singular blast, her whole body shimmering in brilliant blue. The light is blinding.
She's not ready for that endless night. Not ready for stillness and quiet and cold.
Not dead yet.
"Rodriguez! Shore up that Barrier!" Jack's hoarse yell is drowned out by a hail of gunfire. They are running over debris and through hollowed out buildings, some students projecting biotic Barriers over the first line of marines, others rounding off projectiles from behind the line. Still others are firing into the Reaper forces, their implants throbbing and flaring, their biotics waning quickly. Jack heads the front of Darrow's unit as they push against the two Ravagers blocking their path through the last building until the rendezvous location. The two corrupted creatures explode in unison, the bright red flare of a marine's grenade and the simultaneous blue of Jack's explosive biotics blinding to them. They move quickly, jumping over the concrete barriers and steel planes of damaged, fallen walls.
Just a little more.
Jack raises her arm to fire a Shockwave into the last group of Cannibals in the room, her power charging up, pulling at her waning strength, flooding down her arm. She sees the Marauder come around the nearby corner too late. No time for a Barrier. Her eyes wide, arm swinging toward it to release her Shockwave, the other raising her shotgun simultaneously, Jack hauls left as she lets off her biotic projectile and unloads her shotgun, hoping to tumble behind a burned out shelving unit.
She cries out in pain as a bullet rips into her shoulder, just between the pads of her shoulder guard, another biting through her shields and lodging in the armor covering her ribs, the force of it blowing her back as she tumbles behind the shelves. "Fuck!" she yells, her voice ripping from her as she pushes herself to all fours and then falls back against the shelf. She grits her teeth at the searing pain in her shoulder, one hand reaching up to hold tightly to her wound as she tries to breathe again, the heavy bruise of the shot she almost took to her stomach aching all the way through to her lungs. "Fucking – fuck, FUCK!" She slams a fist back into the shelf and pants, blinking away the slow inking blackness. She peeks around the edge of the shelf and finds the Marauder laid out, unmoving, several feet away in the dirt, a shotgun blast through its stomach, its limbs twisted in sharp, unnatural angles from the Shockwave.
There are three Marines on her left, firing out from behind a similar shelving unit. One gets a bullet to the calf and falls to his knee out of cover, before his face gets blown off by a Cannibal's rifle. Jack grits her teeth at the sight, straining her gaze around the men to try and find her students. She can see seven of them huddled farther back from her position, behind some desks and fallen cabinets, unable to advance with the flood of Cannibals firing on them. The empty center of the room holds no cover and they can't make a run for it until more Reaper forces are taken out.
The fighting continues around her. She can't even see all of her students. She calls to Darrow through the comm. link and still gets nothing. Suddenly, there is a thunderous blast to her left and she looks to find a Brute having thrown out the wall of the dilapidated room leading into the alley. She hears a scream and blinks as she recognizes one of her students, Laura Shaw, in the grip of the Brute, its claws wrapped around her head, just before it slams her down into the cement before Jack can even move, the girl's body flailing and weightless and then splattered across the ground. The Brute continues on into the room, not even noticing as it walks over the young girl's blood-strewn, broken body.
Jack holds back a choking roar of rage. She blinks through the fury, tries to pull in deep breathes but her chest is aching and tight, her lungs dragging air through her pipes in a fierce, needful pull. Her head is swimming, vision splotchy with intermittent blackness. Her whole stomach is sore, muscle spasms rippling through her. Her shoulder is a mix of sharpness and burning, the blood spilling over her fingers as she tries to stem the flow. She had used her last pack of medi-gel on Prangley.
The Brute crawls into the room from the side alley, training its dark, unknowable eyes on the two Marines near her. They swing their rifles toward the beast, but its heavy armored limb covers its face as it advances, and the soldiers are scurrying back even as they fire. The Brute bears down on them quickly.
Jack growls, low and dark and threatening in her throat. She reaches for the weakening power of her biotics one last time, pulls from deep within her, feels the tingling, overwhelming thrum of it rattle her bones in a dangerous promise. She pulls her bloody hand from her shoulder, wincing at the motion, and reloads her shotgun, her fingers shaky and slick with blood. She moves as quickly as she is able, flinging a Warp toward the Brute, the heavy bulk of its mass stopping only momentarily at the weakening of its armor. The Marines fire into its face, and it roars in anger, flinging a heavy arm out toward them and slamming them into the shelf, flattening them with a sickening crunch of bones. They fall to the floor, limp. The Brute's eyes round on Jack, and she swears she sees something furious and hungry in them. She pushes to her feet, her legs quaking beneath her, her arm raised with her shotgun trained on the beast. She can hear the on-going gunfight outside the building, can only hope Darrow's men make it through the alley in time before this Brute takes her out.
She clenches her jaw, spits blood into the dirt at her feet and bellows a ferocious war cry as she lets off two rounds at the beast. The Brute is unfazed, advancing quickly, and Jack is fumbling with a new heat sink, her biotics charging too slowly, her legs giving way beneath her so that she falls to one knee, catching herself with one hand in the bloody dirt.
The rage is numbing and welcome, flooding her system in sweet release. The sharp tang of blood in her mouth. The heaviness in her bones. The slick sweat lining her skin. The undulating power slowly building in her core. The rumbling quake of the Brute's advancing steps. The way the air feels dark and violent and uncompromising. Everything speaks of war to her. Battle. Fight. Need.
It tastes like freedom to her.
She can see the sharp, jagged lines of the Brute's teeth when she finally realizes she will die.
The Brute roars in painful fury, the bright bloom of blue pulsing from behind it, and then a woman clad in deep red, light armor is swiftly climbing up the beast's back, perching along its shoulders before releasing an unending barrage of her submachine gun in its head. The whole room echoes with the animal's dark bellowing and flashes of gunfire. One of the Brute's lumbering arms swings up uselessly to grasp at the limber woman, but she ducks easily, emptying a heat sink in the beast's skull before blowing one last Warp into its weakened form and jumping forward off the falling creature. It crashes to the ground at her feet and she swipes a hand through the air, enveloping her and Jack in a Barrier just as two Marauders come through the hole in the wall from the alley. Their bullets bounce off harmlessly, and then the woman's omni-tool is flaring, bright and illuminating in the moonlit room, her Overload crackling through the air to the two figures before her. The Marauders' shields blink out as they stumble back, shaking their heads to clear the sharp pain. She lands two bullets in their skulls before they can register her movement.
Four marines, wearing similar colors as the woman, come through the hole in the wall then, whipping their weapons around to check for Reaper forces, and then signaling others behind them. Jack watches from her kneel on the floor as Marines rush by, running along the alley outside their war-torn room. She recognizes some from November Company.
"Ma'am," one soldier in red calls to the woman with her back to Jack, "the south alley is clear. Only stragglers left in the surrounding buildings."
"Good." The woman holsters her submachine gun. "Dispatch them quickly and start setting up forward camp. We've got wounded here."
Jack blinks. There is something familiar about the swift efficiency of the woman's voice. She grunts in pain as she moves to stand, one hand braced against the shelf beside her to bear her weight. "Who the fuck are you?" she rasps.
The woman chuckles, turning to face Jack, her short, dark ponytail whipping around her. Her broad face is pale and lined with a smirk, blue eyes glinting at Jack, one eyebrow raised. "Grateful as always, I see."
Jack blows an exasperated breath through her lips, her body suddenly heavy and trembling and barely standing. "Fuck me. Miranda."
Miranda smiles, and it lights something fierce in Jack she's too stubborn to admit is relief. She plants her hands on her hips and leans her weight to one leg. "Whiskey Company. At your service."