A/N: I took my sweet ass time updating this, didn't I? Truthfully I started this about ten times over and scrapped it each time. I was hoping everyone would forget about it but I kept getting story alerts and amazingly kind reviews so I decided what the hell! This is the last installment in this baby and I hope it rings okay. Thanks everyone! Thanks to th1nm1nt for proofing. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Jack is slumping in the restaurant chair.
Disapproval manifests gingerly on Miranda's face. It's possible that she's self-conscious at being at such an exclusive restaurant in Illium with Jack…dressed the way that she is. Sitting the way that she is. Picking up the silverware and examining it suspiciously the way that she is. This is a mistake. It would be easier if Miranda could order her to sit up and look responsible and not like a heathen.
The perils of dating.
Jack picks up the menu, looks through it, throws it down aimlessly on the table they sit at and repeats. The small candle that burns behind a glass holder between them strikes Miranda as ridiculous. What is she doing? What is she doing here with Jack?
Jack takes the menu again, catching it as it begins to slide off the table. She rubs her scalp with her fingers. As if she were chasing away fleas. Miranda stares at her intently. Maybe through sheer willpower she can get Jack to sit up. To look presentable.
"Something on my face, Cheerleader?"
"No." She clamps down on her tongue to keep from saying anything else and has a drink of wine. Jack is anxious and tense. The lines of her muscles show in her thin arms. Her chin is clenched too tightly. The other restaurant attendees look at Jack cautiously. They don't know who she is but they know Miranda. Damn it. She should have done this on the Normandy or some obscure planet—not Illium where they are sure to be monitored and overheard, to be gossiped about.
Jack's attire is questionable and inappropriate in a setting where people are dressed to the nines. Miranda doesn't feel she should address that yet. Perhaps shame will make Jack want to better herself for the next date. Miranda stops herself. The next date? This one's barely begun.
A waiter presents himself at the table. While he doesn't rake in the credits like many of the Illium inhabitants, Miranda is sure that he makes more money than most others in off-world planets. His hair is polished as if with shoe-shine. He's handsome and knows it. He focuses on her and ignores Jack.
Jack notices. "Hey, asshole." She waves the menu at him. "Take your eyes off her tits and take my order."
This is exactly what Miranda had feared would happen. She stands. "Thank you," she says to him, "but we're done here." She strides away from the table at a furious pace. Jack languishes behind her as they leave the restaurant pavilion.
Miranda doesn't slow but Jack catches up with her. "What's your deal? We've been sitting in that glitzy place for over a fuckin' hour now and we bail?" she snorts. "What's the matter, Princess, did I embarrass you?"
"You embarrassed yourself."
Jack shrugs. "Couldn't care less. And he was staring at your tits." She moves over to one of the railings and overlooks the city, the thousands of hover cars that glide and twist through the air, the sea of gleaming buildings rising and falling like tidal waves. "I'm hungry." Her stomach growls in agreement.
Miranda clutches her purse and lets it hang at her side. She's in an elegant black evening dress and with nowhere to wear it. She sets a hand to the railing and takes Illium in. She's always had a fondness for Illium: the architecture, the people, the education, the culture, the endless possibilities available, in some form or another, to those who want it most. Jack prefers Omega. She's told her several times over now. Miranda can't stand Omega. "We should return to the Normandy." It's a pity. She rarely gets to spend time in Illium and the food aboard the Normandy is subpar at best.
"No reason why you can't hang around." Jack folds her arms on the railing, her head bowed. She looks small again, a side effect of when she isn't in a biotic rage. "Shit." She says quietly. "I knew this wasn't going to work out. You think for a minute I could fit into this place?" Jack exhales. Miranda can't see her spine but she can imagine, can remember how the breath would leave her, how the knobs of her spine would lift and release with every breath.
Miranda's touched the back of Jack's neck before she knows it. Her skin is perpetually warm, even on Illium, a colony that has a perpetually air-conditioned feel to it. Jack glances to Miranda and then back at the city.
Miranda takes her hand away. It was easier when it was sex. The mind is trickier to navigate. It's far more complicated than biology, than function. "No. I didn't think you'd fit in for a minute." Now she can't gather whether it was foolish or plain cruel to bring her here. She knew Jack's opinion of Illium. She knew how likely it was that she'd fit in. But she'd still brought her.
"So what? You were expecting I'd change? Get around to liking it? Get real."
She hadn't thought any of those things. The whole trip has been contradictory to all reason and logic. Why had she suggested this? Why had Jack agreed? "This hasn't been my best plan." She admits reluctantly. It's an understatement. "What do you suggest?"
"Someplace that doesn't have building sized wanted posters of me?" She pushes away from the railing and stretches her arms over her head. Miranda hears her bones pop. Jack settles her hands into her back pockets. "Maybe we should forget this and skip to the good shit. Get a room somewhere and fuck all night. Leave it at that. Leave it simple. Keep it simple."
Miranda can think of a dozen hotels off the top of her head. She knows which ones she prefers, which ones have the most spacious rooms and the best commodities, which ones are most exclusive and which ones are priciest. The idea is tempting. It's very tempting. "Is that what you want?" she asks slowly.
Silence. Then a shrug. Jack looks at everything except her.
"Let's get a room, then." Miranda says. She stares at Jack's back that stiffens and seems to shiver. Miranda pulls up her omni-tool. Every press of a key is a disappointment, is a surrendering of her aspirations. Maybe she was only fooling herself. She and Jack are just about the worst idea she can think of. "Everything's ready." Jack keeps her back to her. "A cab will be here shortly."
The cab brings them to a place Jack hasn't seen before, a place that isn't in the brochures, some hidden away 'gem'. It isn't like the other buildings in Illium, it isn't pristine and shining: it's hard stone, gothic and dark with rough, menacing angles. Definitely not Asari design. Not the sort of place she'd picture Miranda in. Shit, she isn't sure it's the sort of place she'd picture herself in. But… it isn't bad. Best she's seen in Illium, anyway.
The lighting is artificial, just like the rest of Illium's is but it looks more natural. Not so sterile. Nothing gleams here.
They don't have bags and everything's been taken care of. They take an elevator with black iron wrought gates for doors that ease shut soundlessly. Jack circles her hand around the small poles, the edges of iron cast ivy stabbing into her fingers. She looks at Miranda. Too dressed up to be spending time with her. …But now that she looks at her, both light and dark, she doesn't look to be so out of place after all.
So. They're going to have sex and skip all the dating bullshit. Fine by her. It's the way she wanted it, right? But then what? She steals another look at Miranda. She can't figure out what's going on in her head. It'd be easy enough to take her, press her against a wall, kiss her. Jack didn't see many people in the lobby. She wonders how many people are staying here. This isn't the kind of place the rich assholes in Illium come to see. They've got another thirty floors before they reach their room.
Might as well get started. Might as well do what she's been wanting to do. She steps away from the elevator doors. Miranda looks good tonight. Smells good. Everything about this building is draped in shadows but Miranda's eyes still shine. Her eyes aren't dull brown like hers, not so easy to slip into the darkness. She sees Miranda lift her arm to fidget nervously with her omni-tool. Jack presses the arm down, keeps her fingers wrapped around it before kissing her. She waits for Miranda to say something, do something. Not sure what. Something about protocol or appearances. Same old bullshit.
Miranda closes her eyes and kisses her back. Everything is so goddamn tentative but neither one of them makes a move to change it up.
"They have room service." Miranda tells Jack. She lounges on a black leather couch, an arm draped along the back, a menu in hand. Her heels rest casually to the side. Jack stands some distance away at the floor to ceiling windows looking out. Rain patters against the glass. Lights glimmer dimly in the distance. "They have steak. You mentioned liking that, didn't you?" Long ago. "I'd question the authenticity of that meal anywhere but here." She looks at the menu. The price is exorbitant, even for Illium. They certainly make you pay for the luxury.
"What do they have to drink?"
"You're not going to get drunk, are you?" She's been around Jack when she's drinking. She has a tendency to become even louder and more violent when under the influence. Or she'll go the other way and withdraw entirely, turning sullen and moody. Moodier. Jack doesn't bother responding. Miranda rises from the couch. The floors are cold, glistening marble. She presents herself beside Jack and extends the menu to her. Jack looks at it but doesn't take it. "The liquor cabinet's over there," Miranda nods her head to the right. "I'm surprised you didn't notice it."
"I don't memorize the floor plan for every place we go to, Cheerleader."
So Jack is calling her that again. They've regressed. "Maybe you should. Be impulsive, if you'd like. I'd rather be efficient." Hadn't they been kissing in an elevator only minutes ago? What's the point in bragging right now? She hasn't been particularly efficient this evening. She can't think of one thing she's done right. It's unlike her to make mistakes and yet she can seem to do nothing else around Jack. "You said you were hungry earlier." Concern sounds too much like anger. She wants to shake Jack and ask her to be reasonable. While she's at it, she can hunt Shepard down and ask her to do things by the book.
"I'd rather have a drink," Jack moves to the liquor cabinet leaving Miranda by the window. Miranda follows her with her eyes, watches her pull out a heavy glass bottle of what might be whisky or rum. Jack takes a handful of ice and dumps it into the glass before changing her mind and dumping it back into the ice bucket. She pours a half glass and takes a long drink. She rubs her forehead. "So, we going to do this?"
"What, in particular?"
"You know why we came here."
"Oh." Right. So that's how it's going to be. It doesn't have to be. She can say no. She doesn't know that she wants to. Is this what's going to become of them? Fuck buddies? She can do better. She never has but she can. She stares out the rain stained windows. Raindrops hit the glass violently but she can't hear a sound. It's regrettable.
She joins Jack at the liquor cabinet but can't decide on a drink. Does she want the burn of whisky or something smoother like rum? Maybe some vodka, pure and distilled, clear and barely there but intoxicating all the same. The question is pressing but she can't decide. Jack is ready to take another drink. Miranda covers Jack's hand with her own. "Don't," she says. Jack's fingers loosen around the glass. "Let's…not do this."
"What are we doing?" A current runs in her words.
Miranda reflects. "I know why you don't like Illium. Everything here is artificial. Maybe it's fitting that we're here. We're both manufactured, engineered. We were paid for in credits, in blood."
"Nothing natural about us. What are we supposed to do about it? You think not having a drink is going to make a difference?"
"Do you really want to continue your life in a haze? After what was done to you?" Maybe it's not an accusation Miranda has a right to make. It was Cerberus, yes, she can admit that now, that turned Jack into what she did. Can she blame Jack's poor choices on her? Can she let her coast on Cerberus' back as an excuse for the rest of her days? Or does she have a right, as does Jack, to demand better? To expect better?
"Easy for you to say."
"It isn't. I've lost the only organization that ever gave a damn about me." Even if you give something up willingly it's still a loss. "I've only excelled and thrived at an organization that…" she swallows her words. "Our pasts aren't the point. Maybe they were at one time." It was what had brought them together. But it isn't enough. "Eventually we have to focus on other things."
"Like what? A future? My future? Your future? Our future?" She says the last bitterly and pulls her hands away from Miranda's. She finishes the whisky and pours another glass. She offers it to Miranda who shakes her head. "Ever get drunk?"
Jack nods, takes a small drink, pushes the glass away. "We forget about the past, what do we have? You and me," she clarifies, bows her head, swears. She leaves the drink and sits on the armrest of the couch. Miranda picks up her glass. She has a drink of whisky but doesn't find her there. "All this shit made a lot more sense when we were stuck on a ship and it was the end of the world. That shit's over now though. You can go back to…being 'perfect' and I can go back to killing everything in sight."
She doesn't explain that everything isn't over, that there are still Reapers. That's beside the point. "You're better than that."
"What if I don't want to be? I mean, give me a break. Look at tonight. You actually think I can function in the real world, pass for a normal person? Can't do that. Wouldn't know how to start. Where to start." Jack looks up at Miranda when she approaches. "I'm not gonna let someone change me into who they think I should be. Been there, done that. Made me into a bad ass but it isn't how I'd have picked for things to go down."
"Neither would I." She sets a hand on Jack's head. Her hair is longer than it's ever been since she's known her though Miranda doubts it's more than a quarter inch. Her thumb smoothes along the soft hair. She doesn't know why it took her so long to notice that Jack isn't wearing her typical dark lipstick, her lips are a lighter, more natural color now.
"What the fuck are we doing here?" Jack looks around. "This your version of squatting?" Her indignant words are offset by a faltering, mocking grin. "This isn't your kind of place. I'm not your kind of girl."
"I've never had the opportunity to learn what my type of anything is. I've had data and specimens, I've tested proficiencies and determined excellence but I don't know that I've ever learned my preferences. Not without having them told to me or by returning what was expected. I suppose you could say that my directive has always been to find the optimum solutions. The best match. It likely isn't anyone like you." Miranda says. Her hands draw down to Jack's shoulders. Jack looks up at her before remembering she doesn't have to. She flings Miranda's arms away.
"You think I want you?" she snarls.
"I have no idea," Miranda says helplessly. She smiles meekly. She has never been good enough. No one has ever wanted her for who she is. Who is she? Does she even know? She knows her value in credits and in data. She knows her importance in a mission to save the universe. A mission, that for the time being, is completed. Now what? Outside of that, what is her worth? Amongst 'ordinary' people, what is her value? Does she have any? "But I wish you would." Can't she do better than this? 'Better' is relative. She wonders if she will ever escape her father's shadow.
Miranda looks down. In the darkness it's hard to see Jack's tattoos but she can see the shape of her fingers and feel the texture of her skin as it brushes against her hand. Rough but strong. "Any of this supposed to make sense?" Jack asks.
"I don't know. You complicate everything." She accuses. "You aren't what I thought you'd be." Their fingers lace. Jack's tightening of their fingers feels like a tug. Miranda knows that it isn't impossible to stay away from her. That would be hyperbole. It is, however, exceedingly difficult. She kisses Jack before she can rationalize or bring reason into it. She left reason and logic long ago. All she wants now is the heat of Jack's mouth, the strength of her arm circled around her, the feel of Jack's hand sliding up her leg to her thigh, the sound of the fabric of her dress being loosed and dropping to her feet in a puddle.
I want you.
She doesn't say the words aloud. It isn't a matter of pride. Speaking would hinder her from showing Jack in every other way. Her kiss is possessive, a plea for acceptance, an offering.
Jack accepts it all.
The bed's huge. Canopied like a cathedral. It's still raining outside. It's still dark. Miranda is asleep next to her. Freaks her the fuck out. She's never done this. Not with Miranda. Not with anyone. Not like this. They hadn't fought firsthand. That's usually what really gets her going. The thrill of the hunt, the climax of the kill.
There's no talking. There's never any talking. Not supposed to be any talking. There's never been any of this. They didn't draw blood. Neither one of them's got marks on them. Jack tries to steady her breath. Facing off against the Collectors wasn't half as terrifying as this shit. She wonders how people do this, how they live like this, without the fight, without the kill, without the power. She's got it still, the juice moving through her but she hasn't used it in weeks. What good is it against this?
It's strange. Not to want to kill things as bad. Not to be so fucking angry all the time. Not to want to hit the cheerleader.
Jack touches Miranda's shoulder. It's cold but Miranda breathes softly. Jack slides closer, her lips close to Miranda's skin. She doesn't know what it is she'd meant to do. Kiss her shoulder? She doesn't do that. She ducks her chin, exhales softly. She can't help but touch Miranda's face cautiously. Funny. She'd never thought Miranda could look that way.
She pulls the blanket over Miranda's shoulders and leaves the bed. She dresses minimally. She's in a daze. None of this makes sense.
She's starving. She orders a steak. Calls back down and orders another one for the cheerleader. She doesn't want to eat it, Jack will have two. Calls back again and thinks of the fruitiest alcohol beverage she can think of, champagne, in case the cheerleader is thirsty. Calls back, to an aggravated attendant and changes the champagne to wine. What Miranda had been drinking at the restaurant before she'd fucked it all up. Or maybe water would be best. Shit. Refrains from calling again.
She sits on the couch nervously. She thinks. Of how things were before, of how things are now, of how things could be. She thinks of her.
Miranda appears minutes later, a blanket wrapped around her. She makes it look like a toga. Bitch. Jack thought only assholes in vids could pull that shit off. She takes a seat next to Jack.
"Hi." Miranda says. She smiles tiredly; her voice has an edge of sleepiness to it.
Jack is flustered, jarred by an unexpected thrill that runs through her. She smiles without knowing it. "Hey."
Maybe they can figure this shit out after all. They both talk long enough, maybe they'll hit something. Maybe it's worth figuring out. Maybe Miranda's worth figuring it out for. Maybe they both are.