Current psych profile suggests that holding students hostage likely to be most successful tactic.
It was going fucking perfectly until they put a gun to Rademaker's head.
Team Grissom was kicking ass, even Rodriguez, and this was what Jack lived for. She was thrumming with the rush of raw power, they were winning, they were gonna be fine, and next to her Prangley even gave an exhilarated laugh as he sent a Cerberus goon flying so hard the floor cracked. And yet the whole time she couldn't shake that feeling—something was wrong, something was going to go wrong, something she couldn't stop, but she looked around and behind her and there was nothing there.
There was a low thum and the whir of gears as an Atlas lumbered its way awkwardly into the room—that was it, that had to be it, that was the problem she'd been sensing. She snarled and threw up as powerful a barrier as she could manage. They wanted to bring in the big guns? Let 'em. She could handle anything Cerberus could dish out.
Prangley was busy holding the doors, and she had her hands full. “Hey! Hanson!” she jerked her head toward an abandoned toolbox—probably left here by one of the engineer kids. Damn. Whoever it was, she hoped they'd been able to run for it. “You gonna spend all day painting your nails or do some damage? We've got a damn Atlas mech to take out!”
Okay, so maybe Hanson wasn't so great at taking initiative, but the kid sure was quick on the uptake. He clenched his fist and whipped the steel box over his head like a fastball. A blur of biotics and some shattered glass later, one dead Atlas pilot.
“Nice one!” grinned Rodriguez, turning to look at him. Jack kicked the stupid kid's feet out from under her just in time to duck behind a pile of crates as the next wave of Cerberus mooks opened fire.
“Don't be sorry, be smarter! And take these—guys out!” Something was still wrong, something was going to go wrong, but god, there was nothing, and they were carving their way through this mob like fucking Krogan.
That was when she heard the click, and when she turned around to warp whoever it was into the next cycle Rademaker had her hands in the air and a white-plated arm around her throat and a Carnifex to her head, and just for a second Jack faltered.
“Wouldn't make any sudden moves, Zero,” the bastard smirked. “I might get twitchy.”
Rademaker tried to stomp on his toes and missed. “Kill him!” she choked. “Just kill him!”
“Let her go,” Jack growled, “Or I'll splatter that thing you call a brain from here to Omega!”
He pressed the barrel harder against Rademaker's temple. “Hers splatter first. She's low-priority. File says we don't need her. You, though... boss told us to take Subject Zero alive.”
“Don't fucking call me that,” she snapped. “Don't you ever fucking call me that in front of my kids!”
The surrounding Cerberus forces had their weapons up now, trained on the others; Rodriguez snapped up a shield but it was wavering, she was scared. A few rounds would take it down, and the others wouldn't last much longer, not even Prangley.
“Don't do it,” Rademaker whispered, like there was a snowball's chance in hell Jack was gonna let her die like this. “Don't do it, ma'am, I don't care what they do to me, kill him, it's fine—”
“Shut up,” the mook growled. “You could make this a lot easier on your students,” he added evenly, like he hadn't just made a teenage girl sob in terror. “A couple of them are marked for priority, but not like you. The boss won't be happy if they have to die, but if that's what it takes to get Subject Zero back, well. That's what it takes.”
Prangley's biotics flared. “Back off, asshole.”
And she tried, she tried to tell him not to do anything stupid like try to protect her, but then the Cerberus bastard squeezed the trigger and then somehow one of the snipers had a bead on Prangley's forehead and he was down before she had time to shout—except, no, he wasn't, because they were being mobbed and she couldn't get in a good shot without catching them in the crossfire. Somehow there was a knee in her back and some kind of dampener, or maybe her biotics were just exhausted or maybe it was the confusion, she was fighting back without any effect and Rodriguez screamed and she couldn't get to her, all around her the students were being physically wrestled to the ground and dragged off and she couldn't get to them—
And then she was seeing things she couldn't possibly be seeing because she was strapped down, she knew she was strapped down, there was pain everywhere in her body and someone was screaming but it wasn't her, she felt like a little girl again—and she couldn't possibly be seeing this but there was Prangley in a little rectangular cell, white all over except where his knuckles were leaving bloody marks while he punched frantically at a bulletproof two-way mirror, shouting abuse as on the other side Hanson arched and screamed at whatever they were injecting into him.
And Rodriguez was huddled in the corner of a dark room somewhere, sobbing hysterically and clutching her ears as the speakers fed her lie after lie, shaking her head and crying, no, no, no, you're a liar, no, I won't, I don't believe you, and somewhere a voice was sneering Subject Zero in her ear and that wasn't her—
There hadn't been a Cerberus operative there, she'd checked, how had he even been there, I have a name, you son of a bitch, get your fucking hands off them, they're children—
Her eyes flew open and her wrists weren't tied anymore, and her fist flared as she swung a vicious punch at the first person she saw. They threw up their own shield in a blinding flash of blue and she swore as she was thrown off the bed, cracking her head on the nightstand on her way down and ending up tangled in way too many fucking blankets.
“Jack,” Miranda said urgently. “Jack, you're fine, it's me!”
Jack was not fine, she thought, but—yeah, Miranda, she knew Miranda, Miranda could be kind of a bitch but her heart was in the right place and she had nerves of fucking steel, she could trust her. She wasn't even Cerberus anymore, especially not now that... the war was over.
She stopped thrashing against the covers and flopped down to the floor. “Shit.”
Miranda shifted. “Are you all right?”
“Head hurts, what'd you think?” Now that she wasn't panicking, she could pull herself out of the blankets with only a little bit of trouble. “And now apparently I'm getting nightmares, which is fucking perfect. I break anything?”
Miranda glanced off the edge of her side of the bed. “A glass of water,” she said. “But that may have been me.”
Jack shoved the awkward bundle of blankets at her. “Well you're just a fucking mess tonight, aren't you?”
That got a little chuckle, at least. “Clearly.” A pause; then, awkwardly, “Do you... want to talk about it?”
“Shit happened,” Jack said in summary. “I'm fine.”
Miranda sighed and rolled off the bed to set about disentangling the sheets. Jack caught one corner for her and held the edge steady. She was all domestic now, apparently. If she wasn't careful this crazy bitch would have her wearing pajamas or something. Miranda should just consider it a testament to her charms that Jack had let herself be talked into sleeping in boxers. She did not put clothes on for just anyone.
“There's no shame in it, you know,” Miranda said quietly while she tried to extract a topsheet from the mangled mess Jack had made of the comforter.
“In what?” Like she didn't know. Hey, she liked Miranda. Didn't mean she was always comfortable talking to her about Cerberus. It wasn't so much that she didn't trust her; she did, which was weird and still kind of freaked her out. Just... Miranda wasn't with them anymore, right? So she didn't need Jack reminding her that she used to be. Sucked having people constantly remind you of your mistakes.
Miranda looked up hesitantly. “Talking,” she offered. “Asking people for help. I had to learn that, too. I almost got my sister kidnapped before I figured it out. But you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.” She gave one of those weird mirthless laughs. “God knows I have secrets.”
“Yeah, well, your tits are pretty great, so I can forgive you.”
“And they say chivalry is dead.” Miranda smirked, then shook out the last of the twists in the blankets. “Got it.”
Jack rolled her shoulders, trying to work out some of the tension while Miranda went to get a broom or something for her broken glass. Eezo whined outside the door, and Miranda clucked her tongue and cooed something reassuring at him as she slipped back inside. Jack let her biotics flare; it helped her get a sense of control back. Reminded her who she was. Where she was. That the Reapers were gone, and Cerberus was finished, and her students were all right. Had been for almost a year now.
“Sorry about that,” she muttered as Miranda brushed up pieces of broken glass.
Miranda shook her head. “My fault,” she said calmly. “You caught me by surprise.”
Jack sighed and sat down on the end of the bed, running her hand through her hair. “Yeah. Didn't mean to punch you, though.”
Miranda's lips twitched. “You still haven't.”
“Shut up.” She cracked her neck. “I got my ass kicked by a table. Not running so hot right now.”
She felt Miranda waver, and then the mattress dipped as she came around the foot of the bed to sit next to her. “Jack,” she said softly. “Are you sure you're all right?”
She leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees. “Whole damn galaxy's having nightmares. I'm fine.”
Miranda's fingers played gently along the edge of Jack's odd strip of hair, tracing a line of tattoos. “I can't imagine,” she murmured. “I didn't see much of the war. Not firsthand. Fighting the Reapers on the ground the way you did...” She leaned forward, insistent. “No one else could have gotten a group of students through that.”
Jack didn't move for a long time. But... Whatever this thing was, if Miranda was her girlfriend or something, well, Shepard was always talking about trust and communication and letting people help you and shit.
“Wasn't the Reapers,” she muttered finally.
“I said it wasn't the fucking Reapers, okay?” Her biotics flared again, and she forced them back down. It wasn't Miranda's fault. She wasn't taking her anger out on innocent people just 'cause she was scared anymore. She was past that. She was better than that now.
“All right,” Miranda said meekly. Her voice was tiny, which made Jack feel like shit. She forced herself to glance back over her shoulder for a second. That helped. Miranda in those stupidly fancy black silk pajamas was someone she... you know, cared about. No Cerberus logo on her chest anymore. Right. Jack wasn't the only one who was better than she used to be.
She took a deep breath. “The academy,” she said finally. “I was dreaming I was back at the Academy, except Shepard didn't show up.”
She heard Miranda's breath catch behind her. “Shepard never would have abandoned them,” she whispered. “Never.”
Jack swallowed. “Yeah, 'course she wouldn't have. You weren't there, cheerleader, we were holding on by our fingernails. I'm not talking days, what if she'd been on a mission or in a meeting or something? A few more hours and she'd have shown up and found an empty fucking school and—” Her voice faltered. “Shit, I—they wanted my kids! Cerberus! Everything they did to me and they wanted my fucking kids. They wanted to—to run tests on 'em or some shit, indoctrinate them, use them for... I don't know. I don't know. Turn a bunch of sweet stupid teenagers into killing machines. If Shepard hadn't shown up when she did...”
Miranda's fingers brushed the inside of her elbow, and she let herself trail off, swallowing hard and telling herself she was not crying. Wasn't happening. No way in hell.
“They scare you worse than the Reapers,” Miranda said softly. Jack nodded.
“Rather face the whole fucking Reaper army myself than watch those bastards touch my kids,” she breathed. “Reapers, at least they're machines. They don't... laugh. They just want you dead, you kill them, you kill more of them, Shepard saves the galaxy, we all go home.” She paused. “It makes sense. People who are supposed to be human and hurt little kids, and then hurt 'em more, and keep doing it over and over for no reason, that's different. You can't fight that. You can kill the sick fuckers who do it but you can't make it make sense.”
Miranda's fingers trembled as she ran them through Jack's hair again. She made a little noise like she was going to speak, then shook her head and just leaned into her. Jack reached over automatically and squeezed the fingers of her free hand.
“Hey,” she said quietly. “I'll be fine. It's all over now, remember?”
Miranda gave a shaky sigh and nodded, turning her head to kiss the old scar on Jack's throat before she stood up.
Jack rolled onto the bed, staring at the ceiling while Miranda climbed back under the covers.
“Look,” she said finally. “It gets any worse, I'll... I dunno, talk to a shrink or something, okay? Shit. You've got me wearing pants to bed, might as well go all the way, right?” Miranda snorted. “Until then, I can handle it.”
“You shouldn't have to,” said Miranda.
She folded her arms under her head, glanced down as Miranda shifted closer to her side before contemplating the ceiling again.
“You're telling me, Princess. You're telling me.”