A/N: This was almost named "Awkward Conversations in Elevators" but that's too close to that one movie or whatever. The tone of this story is very different from it's predecessor the very M rated The Convict and the Loyalist. I decided to just do a follow up instead of making Convict a really long story. But this picks up pretty much immediately afterward. Hopefully this will stick with being a Teen rating, as opposed to Convict. And hopefully it makes sense on its own.
It's a ghost ship. The Cerberus crew on the Normandy is made up of the best of the best. Despite that, on the rare occasion that Miranda exited her office she found their never ending chatter tiresome. She'd often wanted for it to die down altogether. It's unsettling to have her wish granted. The persistent vibrating hum of the ship is eerie.
She stands in the middle of the third level and listens. Where ever the rest of the squad members are, they aren't making a sound. Are they worried? There's next to no time left now. Shepard wants to make a few preparations. Miranda doesn't know how long they'll take. Shepard's playing it close to the chest. Miranda trusts the commander—but she's not sure that the commander ever got around to trusting her.
The lights on the ship blink, dimming before flickering back on. Joker announces over the intercom that EDI is running a few tests. The Illusive Man isn't happy about having her unshackled, neither was Miranda, initially. If she's learned anything through the course of the mission to stop the Collectors, it's to trust the commander's judgment… that it often clashes with that of the Illusive Man and her own is something Miranda will have to resolve on her own. There is no sense discussing her feelings on the matter.
On the subject of sorting out feelings… Miranda takes a seat on a barstool. It's strange to not have Gardner behind it, grousing about something or another. What had she been thinking kissing Jack? The point had been to apologize. She had. The extent of the apology, the polish she'd put on it was unnecessary.
Everything about Jack is wrong. She's uncultured and foul mouthed. She has incontrollable outbursts of violence and a long criminal record. Miranda is still drawn to her. Who would have thought that she'd have the most in common with the black sheep of the Normandy? Her father would be ecstatic.
Miranda pursues her and Jack keeps yielding. Maybe they're only suffering from space dementia. The thought marinates in her mind, trying to draw a smile from her but she's too ill-tempered to find any humor in it. How has Jack not painted the walls with her yet? Jack's volatile. Miranda thinks of their brief kiss in the cold subdeck of engineering. Lightness had been replaced by crushing feeling. Jack had kissed her clumsily in an earnest attempt of reciprocating the kiss Miranda had initiated.
Damn it. Doesn't she have work to do? The joke is on her. What had begun as an experiment born out of pity or boredom has manifested into something she hadn't anticipated. How? She sees everything coming. She sees the end before a beginning has been conceived. She rubs her forehead. Again the daunting, grating thought afflicts her: maybe she's lonely. Maybe she doesn't like the idea of dying alone. If she dies, it's likely the others have fallen. Some consider that romantic and honorable. She dismisses it.
Her inability to understand Jack's motivations is vexing. She knows everyone's angles. Everyone wants something. Niket hadn't. So she'd thought. Jack has never asked for anything. Her body, which Miranda had given her. But that had been an exchange, mutual, unhealthy… tantalizing. Their last conversations had been more promising and the most open Miranda had been about her past and her relationship with her father. Of all the people to share those things with…
Miranda's good at her work. She's good at figuring things out. She isn't as talented with emotion. Sometimes people use 'feeling', 'emotion' and 'sensation' interchangeably. Miranda knows sensation—part of what had gotten her into this mess to begin with. She's also adept at 'feeling' tangibly and surmising from others, from their expressions where their interests or thoughts lie. Emotion, on the other hand…
It's possible that being raised by her father has turned her into an emotional cripple. Better to lock it all away then spend all of her time crying about everything. And she did spend a lot of time crying in the beginning. She cried about the pain, the absence of friends, the inability to measure up and the innate knowledge that she was not a wanted child.
She never devoted her energies to people or thought of commitments. She didn't have the time. That was part of it. She could never trust when someone truly wanted her or only wanted an ornament on their arm. Her father can buy anyone. To this day people try to get close to her for her father's sake. It's always been that way so she keeps everyone at more than an arm's distance. It's always been convenient for her and inconvenient for others who regard her as an ice queen.
Her father would despise Jack.
Jack is inconsequential. There are more critical matters at hand. She wonders if the missing crew is alive. There is no way of gauging. They don't have the necessary data to even hazard guesses. Helplessness coils around her like a noose. Why had they all taken the shuttle? Why didn't some of them stay onboard? Maybe some of the crew could have been saved. Guilt hammers her. They're not dead yet. There's still time.
There's a blue bottle on the counter and she draws it to her. It scrapes heavily along the top finish. She studies the label. She hasn't heard of it before. It's likely an inferior brand but something the others might enjoy, something that gets the job done. Many of the crew claim to prefer substance over style. Miranda is a firm believer that there can be a good balance of the two. She uncaps the bottle. The heavy scent of liquor wafts to her. She recaps the bottle and returns it to where it was.
There is warm breath on her neck. She turns sharply. Jack, all shadows save for the outline of light from the strips on the ground. Miranda's heart races. She tells herself it is only because of the unexpected presence and not because of the presence. "You scared me."
"Get that a lot. Least I'm not a Collector."
"They're easier to take out," Miranda's smile is more of a grimace. She's never had difficulty saying the right thing nor has she ever thought of what the 'right thing' is. She's just done it. Clearly that's no longer the case. "I didn't think you left engineering."
"Try not to." Jack looks around the dim level. The lighting makes half of her face look particularly sharp and the other half of it soft and young. "Weird having everything so quiet."
"I never thought you'd miss the crew."
"Didn't say I miss them. Said it's weird. Anyway, it's not like I want those Collector assholes wiping anymore of us out." Miranda nods thoughtfully. "You scared, Cheerleader?"
Miranda considers the question. Scared. She'd never thought that was an option. Now that it's been brought to light… She bites the inside of her lip. "I'm worried. Mistakes have been made. There are things that could have been done differently."
"Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Never helps a damn thing."
"Maybe not. I'm afraid I can't help it."
"You are scared."
"I didn't use the word literally." Miranda says with some vexation. Jack's impossible to talk to. Whenever she thinks she can—
Jack slaps her hands down on the counter to either side of Miranda. Miranda's throat constricts. The back of the counter digs into her back. Sitting on the barstool doesn't give her much maneuverability. The situation is absurd. What should be making her heart go unsteady is the threat of the Collectors, the idea of her crew being brutalized. Not Subject Zero getting close. "What is it?" she asks softly. Jack looks at her. Her eyes are dark. Miranda's fingertips light on Jack's hips. Jack presses carefully to her in the next instant. Her body remembers Jack's jagged edges and the heat of their skin when there was nothing between them.
Miranda releases a shaky breath. Jack hesitates. She bows her head. "Just do it." Miranda murmurs anxiously, looking impatient. "We don't have to talk right now. Not if you aren't ready. We—"
Jack's lips feather over hers. Miranda isn't immediately aware that she's been kissed. Miranda's hands travel up her back, to Jack's head. Her fingers curl reflexively but there's nothing for her to grab onto. Miranda draws her closer, parts her lips further. Jack fills her in a way that scares Miranda into thinking she's only been a husk.
The hate is gradually slipping from her, making her weak. Jack feels like someone else. Hatred is her home, her map. Without it—she's lost, like some crying kid without its blanky. The Cheerleader is an infestation. No one she ever wanted in her head. But there she is.
Jack still kind of wants to kill her. Might suck for a bit, some part of her might regret it but in the long run it'd be better. It'd be easier. Shit would make sense again. The Cerberus Bitch was supposed to be a good hateful fuck and nothing more.
Jack winces. Something's changed. She doesn't like it. She arches her back on the cot to stretch. She's got to get her head in the game. Collectors are dead. Still got the bruises to prove it. What next, the Reapers? Who cares about that shit now? She can take a breath. The galaxy can save its own ass for the next while. Wasn't the plan to hijack the Normandy and go kill people? Why isn't that the plan anymore?
It pisses her off.
Jack sighs. It doesn't matter. So what if they've kissed a few times without a hate fuck or any kind of stripping? So what if they haven't called each other names or been condescending for a while? Doesn't mean a damn thing. Except that they're both losing their edge. Jack sits up. She can't get comfortable. "Fuck this," she mutters. Runs a hand over her head.
She'll just go talk to her. Tell her they need to stop messing around or—or figure out what the hell they are. It's fucking with her head. She takes the steps up to main engineering two at a time, ignoring Tali and the other engineers. Sometimes she wishes the Collectors had turned them to goop. She exits engineering into the hallway, viciously punching the elevator button. She waits. Taps her foot. Scratches her arm.
The ship is cold. The elevator is taking too long. What's she doing, anyway? Maybe they should just kill each other and get it over with. The elevator finally arrives and Jack walks in. Garrus is inside. He nods. Then he starts talking to her. "Anything you want to get off your chest?" Jack shoots him a look. What the fuck is he talking about? Why would she want to talk to him? "Back in the day the gang and I used to … talk in elevators. Great way to get to know each other."
"Not interested in getting to know you." He's a Turian. He kills things with a sniper rifle. What else does she need to know? No point in comradery or any of that shit after the mission's been completed. He looks at her. "No offense," she adds more quietly. Fuck! Why is she apologizing to him?
"I never thought you left engineering. Where are you headed to?"
"Not your business." She looks at the button blinking for level three and crosses her arms. What the hell is wrong with the elevator on this ship? She wonders if she should push another button to throw him off the trail. Fuck, what's the point? She can do whatever she wants. She doesn't have to make excuses. She's not an excuses making type. She wants to see the Cheerleader, she'll see the Cheerleader. Not like most people wouldn't assume she's not there to kill her anyway. She glances at Garrus who's opening his mouth again. "Look, just stop talking."
"Right. Well I can see why everyone likes you so much. Real charmer."
Like she gives a fuck if people like her or think she's charming. She bites on her fingernails, her teeth sink too deep. She tastes blood. The button for level three is still blinking. Motherfucker.
Garrus hums something off key. Jack keeps staring at the lit button.
Finally the elevator arrives on the third floor. Garrus nods for her to go ahead but she stays where she stands. Garrus exits. Jack dully hits the button to take her back to engineering.
Miranda hasn't seen Jack since the defeat of the Collectors, a little over three weeks. The ship is impressive but to suggest that their non-meetings is purely accidental would be a mistake.
Jack is on the other side of the elevator doors when Miranda arrives at the fourth level. Their eyes lock briefly. Jack steps in. They turn their attention to the numerical pad on the elevator. Their hands reach out to it at the same time and withdraw just the same.
This is ridiculous. Miranda steps back and lets the door slide shut noiselessly. "Jack."
Not 'Cheerleader'? Unexpected. Another brief appraisal and then they look away. A small part of Miranda is amused by their dance, not unlike that mating dance of animals desperate to get the attention of their intended mate. But animals are direct, their actions purposeful. She and Jack, on the other hand… After everything they've done to act like blushing virgins is pathetic and uncalled for. They ought to be adults and talk about it, get it out of the way. She doesn't like wasting time. "Is everything all right?" she asks.
Jack shuffles. She takes a breath and speaks to the elevator floor. "Yeah. I've just… I've been thinking…" her voice is small. She faces the wall.
This is a prime opportunity to tease Jack. Mock, Miranda corrects inwardly before giving up. The Convict and self-proclaimed biotic badass reduced to a stammering girl. Miranda's small smile doubles as a smirk. Still, she can't help but be… charmed by Jack's display of humanity, of vulnerability. Miranda reaches out to touch her—
"Wow." Kasumi's voice. Miranda drops her hand to her side and sees Kasumi materialize against the elevator wall. Miranda makes a mental note to find a way to disrupt her from cloaking on the Normandy. Kasumi's games are only fun for her. "I really need to stop taking the elevator. This is awkward. Here, just…" Kasumi slips her hand between them and pushes the button for the doors to open. Miranda chances a look at Jack who has gone stock-still. "It's my own fault for running around cloaked like that." Kasumi continues. "Old habits die hard. It's good for finding out what's going on though. I think I'll go have a chat with Tali. Good luck with—"
"Just get out," Miranda says sharply. Kasumi does when the doors open, a bounce in her step. How much has she heard? How much does she already know? Damn it. Miranda's usually more careful than this. The defeat of the Collectors does allow for…distractions and technically she has resigned from Cerberus. It isn't easy, however, to just let things fall where they may. She's had a lifetime of experience keeping everything under tight control.
"Can we kill her?" Jack asks. Her cheeks are flushed.
"The mission's done. Go ahead. I'll look the other way." They exchange smiles. Jack's eyes seem to glow with excitement, the thrill of the hunt for the kill. Then she remembers their previous conversation. The shine dies away from her eyes. "What have you been thinking about?" Miranda prompts gently.
"What is this?" Jack asks. Her nervousness is gone. Kasumi's intrusion has filled Jack with the usual self-defense mechanisms and anger. Miranda's look is question enough. "What are we doing?" she clarifies. "I don't date people, Cheerleader. Who knows how to do that? I fuck and run. And you—I'm the butt of your jokes. You're the butt of mine. You can't take me out on your arm. And I'd probably want to kill all those assholes you like spending time with. You wouldn't have me on anything but a leash." Miranda tries not to dwell on the imagery. "We don't even like each other.
"I can think of few people either one of us likes." Miranda smiles wryly. "Normally I'd say that has no relevance in these talks." She bites her tongue. Allows a beat. "This… conversation isn't appropriate for a public venue." Nor was it anything she had in mind to talk about when she'd stepped into the elevator to go down a level. "But… I would like to talk about it." Now she's embarrassed. She glances at Jack who is glaring at the floor again. "If you would," she adds at the last minute. She doesn't know why she says it. She's not sure whose ego she's trying to spare—Jack's or her own. What is she thinking? It's Jack. She looks at her arms, lined with tattoos, the lively veins rising prominently from her olive skin. Miranda involuntarily recalls the force and persistence of those arms.
"Shit. I don't know. I need to think about this."
Miranda nods gravely. "Of course. This isn't anything I've ever had time for." It's easier to make it sound like business. Otherwise she doesn't know how to explain her lackluster dating record. Explaining a series of one night stands throughout the years would sound no more impressive. Well. They had been enjoyable at the time. Certainly more so than these vexing thoughts and awkward elevator conversations. Damn it. She's not one to have awkward conversations. Those are for people ill versed in communication.
Jack curls her fingers and then unrolls them. She looks at Miranda. "It's always been about my survival. Me first. I don't know how to give a damn about anybody but myself. Even you said that."
"We've both said a lot of things. Some that we may even regret."
"Can't think of any on my end."
Miranda frowns. Jack can be a bitch. Naturally, you're considering dating her. Not your brightest solution. Miranda sighs inwardly. Why even think that word? Dating. It's juvenile. Then again, so is Jack. Miranda thinks that if the Collectors had killed her, her reputation would remain sterling, her record would be unblemished. She knows that EDI is recording this conversation somewhere. The thought of Joker and her giggling about it pushes her to speak. "Regardless of regrets, we can either discuss this at another time or not at all," Miranda says curtly. "Either way, I won't discuss it here."
"Shit. All right. Calm down." Jack is frazzled and pale. Nervous and twitchy. Miranda wonders if she's anxious or in need of a drug fix. "I just… all of this… just freaks me out, okay? Wasn't the deal that we'd have it out, kick each other's ass after all the Collectors were gone? And they are. And now we're here talking about… Doesn't it—isn't—it freaks me out," she says again. She breathes. She exhales. "Are you really cool with all of this?"
"Yes." No. "Whenever there's a problem, small or impossible, I find a way to fix it, to make it work. This could just be… another little experiment." She sees the look on Jack's face, the way she withdraws inwardly at the speed of light, her eyes hardening. Miranda quickly reaches out to take her arm, to pull her back in. "That was poor word choice," she says thinking of how she'd used the word with Jack before. How others have used them both as experiments. "The truth is… I'm probably no better than you at this. Do remember those words, I'm not likely to say them again. Aside from Oriana and Niket," she says more quietly, "I've never formed any attachments." What is she saying? Attachments?
"I've gotta think about this," Jack says in a hushed, frantic way.
Miranda releases her. "Very well." Funny. Minutes ago she'd been eager to mock Jack for the blushing virgin routine and now she'd give anything to have her back. Jack's an emotional mess and Miranda is sterile. The combination is either complimentary or mad. Miranda keeps herself in check, despite the storm within. She looks at her. Jack's eyelashes are surprisingly long. Maybe it's only mascara. In the right light, she's even pretty. Miranda wonders what she might have looked like if it weren't for her history. Then again, if not for her history they wouldn't have met. Jack would likely be common and unremarkable. As would Miranda if not for her father's work. "What were you going to say? Before Kasumi interrupted?" It troubles her that she wants to know, it troubles her that her voice is soft around Jack. She misses the sharpness of precision. The fuzziness of ambiguity doesn't sit well with her.
Jack is quiet. Miranda wonders if she heard the question. Jack looks at Miranda and then shakes her head. "Doesn't matter. I'll—I'll talk to you later. Maybe. I don't know." She exits the elevator suddenly. Miranda stays put. A minute later she gives one solid push to the elevator button for level three. There's no reason to stay in engineering.