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Buttered Rum

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It is nearly 0300, the Nomandy’s lights still dimmed for the night cycle, when Miranda exits her office to make herself a drink. Coffee, maybe? Or possibly hot chocolate. She's feeling pretty run down, and the sweetness would do her some good. Instead of the empty mess hall she expects, however, she finds Shepard dressed in regulation sleepwear, perched on the length of the kitchen counter with a mug of something steaming cradled in her hands. The scars fissuring across her brown skin pulse like blood in the darkness, and her long, black curls only barely hide the tired, faraway look in her red-flecked eyes that snaps away in an instant, so fleeting that Miranda is not sure it was there at all.

“You shouldn’t be awake,” says Shepard, turning her head just enough to catch Miranda’s gaze. Even though her voice crackles with sleep, and her stockinged feet dangle a good ten centimeters off the floor, Shepard is as commanding as ever. Miranda stands just a little straighter.

“Neither should you,” Miranda shoots back. Shepard ticks an eyebrow up at her, but she doesn’t argue, and takes a sip of her drink, instead. Miranda attributes the embarrassing flutter in her chest to nineteen straight hours of wakefulness, and decides that she ought to find some coffee. Their arms brush as she moves past Shepard to dig through the cupboards. She can feel Shepard watching her, like a full cat watches a mouse. She doesn’t let it get to her.

Regardless, Miranda is so tired that she fumbles the grounds when she finally finds them, dropping them into the wet sink. For a second, she stares at the bag blankly, trying to process what just happened, but then she sighs heavily, running her hand through her hair before picking up the damp bag by a corner, and shaking it off as best as she can.

“Told you,” says Shepard, and Miranda’s temper twitches. She scowls over her shoulder.

“Don’t start, Shepard.” She just wants to get her coffee, get out, and get back to work. Hopefully, Shepard can take the hint.

Unfortunately, the universe seems to have a sadistic streak set out for her. “You shouldn’t be drinking coffee,” says Shepard, frowning.

“I have work to do,” says Miranda. She opens the top of the coffee machine, but just as she’s about to grab the bag to pour the grounds in, Shepard plucks it away with a biotic field, and Miranda really, really doesn’t have the patience for this. “For fuck’s sake, Shepard,” she hisses, shoving her shoulder harshly. It feels like she’s hitting a brick wall. “Give it back.”

Dark brown eyes scan her up and down, but Miranda is too exhausted and too irritated to be self-conscious. She puts her hands on her hips and taps her heel restlessly; the sound echoes throughout the powered down ship. “Nah,” says Shepard. Miranda lunges for the bag of grounds, but Shepard flicks it away towards the med bay with her biotics.

“God damn it!” Miranda throws her hands up in the air with a growled shout. She shoves Shepard’s shoulder again, harder. “You utterly—” but she cuts herself off, because Shepard takes her hands, cradling them in her own scarred, calloused palms for a moment longer than is perhaps necessary, and wraps them around her own cup.

“Drink this,” says Shepard. There is a whisper of something warm and quiet in her voice that Miranda has never heard before. She doesn’t know what to make of it. “Finish it, and then go to sleep, Miranda.”

Miranda blinks; by the time she manages to stammer a reply, Shepard is already halfway to the elevator. “I—but it’s yours.”

“It’s cold. I don’t want it anymore,” says Shepard, glancing back at her. The elevator doors slide open, and she steps inside. “Goodnight, Lawson,” she says, and then the doors slip shut, and Miranda is alone.

She looks down at the cup. The cheap, red ceramic has “#1 Commander” printed on it in gaudy, silver sparkles, and the liquid inside is a rich gold, with a slightly sweet scent and a sharp, spiced note that she recognizes as cinnamon—real cinnamon, not the synthetic variety that most coffee stores have. The rim of froth on the top of the mug tells her that at most, there is a sip or two missing. Cautiously, Miranda takes a sip, and flinches.

The drink is still scaldingly hot.