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"Shit, not sure it’s supposed to do that, is it?"

"It isn’t, but it’s like that since yersterday. You just need to push the panel a little bit as you show your Omnitool to the captor..."

"Fuck that. The landlord’s gonna deal with it. Not me, not tonight."

Her fist pound shot through the iron all the way up, tearing a lament off the building’s feeble walls.

"Jack!"

"What? Look, it’s open."

Miranda sighed as the emergency exit sign shivered still, slowly flickering back to its usual neon green. Any real corridor light was a memory long washed off, and she had given up hope of having any of them repaired by anyone of proper competence. Jack held the apartment door with her elbow only, nose red from the cold outside, and shot her that damn eyebrow raise Miranda had learned to pair with casual provocation.

"If the neighbor’s kids start crying again, that’s on you, and you deal with it," she warned, twisting herself into the slot below Jack’s arm.

"Nope. Way too drunk."

"You’re not."

"Get me another beer then."

Miranda flung her wool scarf above her head, and couldn’t help the twinge of mischievous satisfaction at the snort-curse that followed. She clicked the light switch open, and despite how dim the glow from inside the wall’s framings, almost wished she didn’t.

Jack had not bothered to tidy her clothes before leaving, as she had picked her poison several minutes past the «late point», and the mess of leather and pins had cluttered the mattress for long enough that Eezo had elected it as sleeping spot. Now the varren purred in his sleep, and if was definitively too late to shoo it away tonight. The takeaway food was still open on the kitchen counter, and Jack’s boots still floated in the sink in their common attempt to dye off the discoloration wearing out the fabric. The window wasn’t entirely closed, and the rain tapped over the glass lightly, drawing bloated rays from the nightlife outside.

 

Strange thing, how Miranda never considered such small, cluttered space remotely liveable before. Most of her past bedrooms were at least as big as the entire place –even in nameless refueling stations orbiting asteroids and the rusted rooms she sometimes rant. Money was different now, of course, in a lot of ways. Space was in shortage. No matter who they were, those who made it from below Reapers’ corpses had no choice but tolerate other survivors. Honor organic life in silence, right next door to grief barely stitched clean, shock barely worn off. Victory was sweet, a little bit cold. Lonely, in a way.

They shared this fourteen square meters near Brussel. Three of them –Eezo was too big to be ignored at this point. Sometimes they went into the city for a drink with people they bled with a few years back. Tonight it has been Jack’s old pupils. Most stared at her wide-eyed, though nobody dared to comment on the matter. Miranda had stopped questioning it. It didn’t help her understand. Every time the pervasive why crept in either of their heads, things went bad for some time. Provocation turned into fights. Pride and grudges into knives. It was no good. It served no purpose. Of course, the why could be rationalized. The Long Wait did that to people, as they could not spend their days staring at the sky, hoping for the blue flash of a Mass Relay relaunched as if there never was a war. The Long Wait forced overcrowding upon everyone, twisting proximity into warmth. Comfort. It wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t bad at all.

She walked across the room, high heels clicking over linoleum, reaching for the window to keep the pouring rain outside. From the nineteenth floor of their building, many dots of light rose from the ground as a proof there were too many people, too many species packed over each other for them to all sleep at 2AM in the middle of the working week.

Across the earthern skyline, so many ships and cars battled for space and attention the horizon was a constant bright red in a deep-black ocean.

"Hey, leave it open. Not too much fog tonight. It’s cool-looking."

 

Jack slid near her, closing the fridge with a boot kick, beer in hand. Her black hair dripped over her shoulders, and she never swept rain off her melting makeup, leaving her eyes blurry black, lips the bold, hazardous color of dried blood.

Miranda didn’t entirely catch the why. Why she became a part of the story of Jack’s body, amongst the scars and the ink, the boiling blood and all the tears swallowed back down. Why her, of all people. How did she come to be the one to witness the daily deconstruction/reconstruction, the slow walk towards herself that would never entirely end. Why did Jack allow her, and why she allowed herself near Jack.

Didn’t she always strive for perfection?

Didn’t she?

...did she still had to, with no money left and nobody expecting her to?

 

Jack’s chaos was corrosive. A lot of what she would have considered her inner core was gnawed at through the prolonged contact. And while her cynical mind pondered if her part of the deal came from a pervasive need of self-indulgence –looking better by contrast–, her body knew she was no better.

Her body knew she needed the grit. Scraping off the surface.

Cleaning off what was beneath.

 

"Jack?"

She looked her way.

Down her eyes was the glimpse of casual fury. The one that pushed her forward, the one Miranda had admired for so long without truly knowing why. Jack’s beer-stained lips were ready to smirk, to fight back the good fight, but all Miranda could see was the bloodlit horizon dancing upon her face, and the fire that it kept cradling inside her soul. Had there ever been much more than well-kept urns for cold ashes before they clashed along and survived together?

"...please never stop making a mess out of my life. Okay?"

 

The almost-smile faded. What was left behind was a trembling nothing.

They shared a shy moment of silence.

At once Jack rushed closer, and their lips met, and tonight Jack tasted like vodka and polluted rain. Miranda ran her fingers over her skull, lightly, desperate to feel a shiver. The shiver came beneath her nails, and she sighed against the painted mouth as drips of water rejoined her own skin.

 

Jack let go first. With a shit-eating grin.

"’kay. Don’t make me clean afterwards though."

Miranda pushed off with a growl.

"Get your boots off the sink."

"Bite me."