Disclaimer: The Mass Effect world is owned by BioWare. If I had any power over these two characters, you would have seen it go down in the games.
The Underbelly of the Beast
It all began in the underbelly of the beast.
In the trenches of the reckless and by the hands of the perfected.
Three weeks ago, a simple mission brief led a handful of the Normandy's crew members into a battle. It was a battle which ultimately led a few of them to indulge in celebratory bottles upon their return. And those seemingly innocent bottles of liquor were what led, exactly two members, down to a stiff bed in the ship's boiler room. That was the beginning of the twisted, sheet-tangling, dance between the two shipmates.
It wasn't a story written in the stars, not even close. But it was theirs, crafted by their own free will rather than imposed by someone else's methodical puppeteering in the lives of others.
"I can't say I’m surprised that you did what you did..." Miranda's voice echoed in the metal basement. “But really, Jack? Your brash decision making could be your downfall one day.” Aside from her pacing and her flesh-splitting glares, she shot glances at the space leading into the open room in case someone decided to join them. The last thing she wanted was the involvement of more people in their personal affairs.
"I don't know what you're talking about, princess." Jack's languid smirk made the operative go ridged. The tattooed woman shrugged before reclining back onto her elbows on top of the firm cot.
Normally, in a situation that involved confrontation, Miranda could remain level-headed to assess the issue at hand. Logic was the proper way to respond, the only way she saw fit to present herself. It had worked over the years with the various situations and personalities she encountered. But what the operative had begun to realize was that typical settings had always been controlled, and the people she spoke with were capable of behaving like mature adults. The situation in the red lit room was anything but typical. Any hope of maturity was ejected into the bowels of space before they'd even made it back onto the ship that night.
Miranda had felt her cool dissipate hours ago on Omega; her calm exterior slipping away the moment she saw Jack leave the men's restroom with a man in tow. The stranger was the same person the younger woman had been flirting with at the establishment's bar for the prior hour.
"Don't play coy," Miranda warned, her voice as cold as the look she shot Jack. Her sharp features furrowed and she began her pacing again.
"You're gonna burn a hole through the goddamn metal if you keep it up." Jack huffed a breath as she allowed the back of her head to make contact with the flat pillow beneath.
"Would you honestly care?" the XO shot back. "It’s not like the thought of this ship going down or your fellow teammates injured in the process would even bother you. Contrary to what you might believe, ‘cause God knows what goes on in that head of yours, the act of caring requires a heart."
"You pompous bitch. Just so you know, I care about Shep." She rolled onto her side and propped herself up on one elbow. Her gaze raked over Miranda and down towards the floor. "But I also care because this tin box is all I have in this ship and I rather not have a hole in the fucking floor."
Miranda rolled her eyes and ignored the other woman’s words. "What did you end up doing with that man?"
"You mean, Kobe?" Jack sat up straight and hung her legs over the edge of the bed. She licked her lips before a proud smirk crossed her face.
"You say his name like I care," Miranda said, seething at the wild visuals now spinning in her head. "I asked what you did with him, not for his contact information."
Jack relaxed her eyes and shrugged. She didn't bother to keep her gaze on the XO.
Miranda stared down at the younger woman in disbelief, she could never assess the convict. Jack's emotional stability was about as predictable as a lightning strike’s path; everyone knew when the storm was coming, but they never knew who would feel its bite. She had triggers that ran across the board and in all directions. What pissed her off one moment could be shrugged off the next. It was selective, volatile, behavior. And before Miranda could pinpoint a few of the items that could send Jack into a ticking rage, she'd uncover that there were a hundred more which lie hidden beneath the surface of the convict's skin.
"We've been at this for over an hour," Miranda said, her fingers threaded through her long locks of hair. "Your inability to communicate is..."
"Thank you." Miranda voice boomed in the tin room. "That was the most useful contribution you've made to this conversation thus far."
"I'd imagine it's about as frustrating as being a quick fix in the sack for some Cerberus bitch," Jack offered. "It may even be as frustrating as being toyed with like you're some bottom of the barrel slut." Her face became unreadable as she stared down at Miranda's feet. She took a deep breath before she spoke again. "Look, I don't even care that this deal we got going on is your dirty little secret. But don't act like you fucking own me."
Miranda felt her body freeze. She hadn't expected Jack to honestly say anything. Every fight prior had acted as a form of foreplay that took them straight to the mattress, a cot, against a railing, or pressed to a wall within five minutes flat.
"Cat got your tongue?" Jack laughed, but her brows knitted together as she leaned forward, her forearms resting on top of her thighs. She brought her gaze back up to Miranda's eyes. "Let my words simmer in that pretty little skull of yours."
The XO cleared her throat before she straightened her stance and smoothed out her cat suit. Her frown lines softened as she looked into the depths of the dark irises below her. They'd been sneaking around for weeks. She initially blamed it on the adrenaline and alcohol that coursed their veins after the mission which started it all; staring death in the eyes and evading its grasps was always an exhilarating feeling. But after the second and third time they crawled into bed together, the adrenaline of a battle was no longer a part of the equation, and the alcohol disappeared from their game a little after a week.
Miranda inched her way closer to the bed. "So you decided to have sex with someone else in front of the crew to prove that point to me?"
"Hold up. I'm not giving out a free show like some exhibitionist whore." Jack corrected, "I took him to the bathroom."
"Well, my apologies then." A weak laugh escaped Miranda's lips, even she had to relent from the ridiculousness of their childish behavior. "I didn't mean to offend your tactful approach to bedding a stranger." She chanced her luck and settled into the spot next to Jack, her eyes glanced over at the tattooed arms which hung between Jack's thighs; there was an odd sensation of wanting to take the decorated hands within her own. The younger woman was slouched over and she looked about as tired as Miranda felt from their fighting.
And for a long stretch of time, they both sat and listened to the hum of the beast's belly. Propeller whirled, doors hissed, and military boots thudded across floors. Even the rotation of the red light had a noise if one were to listen hard enough.
"I think you ruined me," Jack admitted, her confession broke their silence. She turned her head and locked her eyes with steel blue orbs. "I was in that fucking little room and I couldn't do it."
"Lemme finish," Jack growled. "He was ready and it probably would have done the job if I'd let him near me, but I couldn't go through with it." She sighed and dropped her gaze. The floor was apparently much more interesting to look at. "My point is, you fucked me over or something with your perfectly engineered pus-."
"Maybe," Miranda interrupted, "you couldn't do it because he was named after a type of beef?" She tried to joke, a small attempt at elevating their tension with words. Being funny wasn’t something Miranda had much practice with. Her humor department generally consisted of biting sarcasm. But Jack smiled and that was at least a start.
"You gotta admit he was attractive though," Jack said, giving a small nudge to the woman next to her. "I mean, if I wasn't broken I could have taken him for a few rounds."
Miranda scoffed. "Who are you kidding? I think you're being a bit presumptuous in his capabilities."
"Nah, he looked very capable," Jack emphasized. She arched her eyebrow and a devious grin crossed her face. "He looked more adequate than, um, what was that cocktail slinger's name again? Bambi or Bendme, or whatever the fuck it was."
"Yea, well, I think Bendme is more fitting with the way she slipped her number to you."
"You saw that?" Miranda was genuinely surprised. She had barely noticed the number on the underside of the napkin next to her glass, she certainly hadn't expected anyone else to have seen the sly act.
"I had a few drinks, didn't mean my eyes fell out of their sockets." Jack deadpanned at the older woman.
"Is this what the Kobe thing was all about?" Miranda's brows knitted together. "This was why you practically spread your legs for him at the bar in front of everyone?"
"Hey, it wasn't easy," Jack admitted. "I was turned down by a few people before I landed on a sucker with the balls to do anything."
Miranda's mouth parted slightly at Jack's casual confession. She was at a loss for words. Jack flashed a disarming smile before turning her attention back to the wall in front of them.
"You need to close that pretty mouth of yours." Jack passed a sideways glance and smirked. The comment and Jack's new found amusement confused Miranda. "With my limited vocabulary, the only word I can think of to label the way you look right now is 'cute' and I don't say that kind of bullshit fluff."
Miranda smiled before she closed the distance between their lips. Having grown tired, she was done with heavy conversations for the day. It had been a long and banal experience at the bar, and if Jack planned on making confessions for the rest of the night, Miranda only wanted to hear it mixed in with strands of unintelligible words or during their post-sex haze.
"Are you sure that vile tongue of yours wasn't down his throat or on any other part of his?" Miranda pieced the inquiry together whenever her mouth was free from the other woman’s.
Jack nodded between their kisses and Miranda hummed in relief. Each time she felt the younger woman's teeth scrape against her lips or the slickness of her tongue slide against the heat of her own, another piece of the earlier night faded away.
"Are we good?" Jack's voice was thick with need, her breathing labored. But she looked dead serious in what she was asking. And as simple as her words were, Miranda understood what Jack was truly asking.
"We're perfect," Miranda assured and she allowed herself to be guided by the other's woman's grasping hands.
Somewhere along the line, the moments they spent together felt less like pulling teeth and more like a silent promise at the possibility of a future; emotional entanglement had never felt more worth it to either woman. Even if the setting was less than ideal, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The next morning Miranda Lawson woke with her arm snaked around a very naked bedmate. She smiled into the other woman's ink-marked skin. There was no need to open her eyes to know that Jack was still asleep. The younger woman had a distinct breathing rhythm when she passed out from exhaustion. It was a faint sound that the operative found both endearing and comforting to listen to.
Other than the kink in her neck, which only ever happened as a result of Jack's ghastly selection in sleeping arrangements, Miranda couldn't complain too much about where she was. For a rather thin woman, Jack was oddly comfortable to snuggle into, not that Miranda willing engaged in such juvenile behavior; when she found herself on the basement cot, she reasoned that cuddling was a necessity due to the lack of appropriate space needed to sleep side by side.
Miranda adjusted her body and pressed closer into Jack. She tightened the arm she had around her sleeping teammate and slid a hand under her shoulder blade. The silence that she found within the underbelly of the ship was the only time she could forget about her duties -- to disconnect for her datapads and to take a break from everyone, including the Illusive Man. It was in those quiet moments she could shut out the world and forget the pressures of having to save humanity for a few selfish hours.
Things were peaceful, at least they were until she heard what sounded like whispers.
"I think I won the bet, Tali." Kasumi hissed from a distance.
The hushed voices caused Miranda's eyes to snap open. She was facing the basement wall and didn't want to pry her gaze away to look at the unwelcome visitors. Unfortunately for her, willing the situation away wasn’t an option.
With a steady breath, the XO steeled her face and pulled the loose sheet to her body before sitting up in bed.
"Is the ship being attacked?" Miranda addressed them each with her head held high.
Tali shook her head and dropped her gaze towards the ground.
"Then may I suggest everyone move along to eat some breakfast. We have work to get around to soon."
"We're... sorry," Tali's struggled with her words. "We didn't mean to walk in on this..."
Miranda narrowed her eyes in suspicion, no one ever dropped by the boiler room on accident.
Samara stepped forward to speak. "After the events of last night, we simply wanted to make sure that the two of you ladies were still alive and well."
"I appreciate the concern but--"
"But nothing," Jack interrupted, her eyes remained closed and she didn't move an inch. "I will paint the wall shades of 'Normandy Crew' if your nosy asses don't get out of here."
"Honestly, Jack," Kasumi appealed, "I think there's a high demand for this type of stuff. EDI probably has it recorded too."
"If you fucking dare look at, let alone steal, that feed..." Jack grunted as she sat up without a care that her naked body was exposed. "I will chase you down and flay your hide. Then I'll chop those lovely fingers off and--"
"Okay! I got the message loud and clear." Kasumi backed her way down the hall. "Was just a suggestion."
"Now, everyone, fuck off before I toss you out," Jack snarled. A frown settled deep in her brow. She wasn't a morning person on the best of her days.
Luckily, for the two naked women, the team members soon scampered and the basement was back to being theirs.
Both of them listened for the sound of the door hissing shut before bursting into laughs. Miranda turned her gaze over to Jack and gave her a chaste morning kiss. The tender show of affection surprised Jack, but she relaxed into it and moaned at what it stirred in her.
"Are we going to stay good?" Jack brought her knees up to her chest. Folding her arms on top, she rested her head as she looked over at Miranda.
"As long as you want it," Miranda leaned in and whispered against the tattooed skin, effectively sending chills throughout Jack’s bare body.
The younger woman lifted her head and nodded in understanding. "It won't be easy, not when involves two people like us..."
Miranda silently agreed. She understood what work lied ahead of them, that communication through the use of words for them was still something not yet mastered. But she could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it looked promising.
One small step at a time, they'd figured it out together.