Miranda felt as if the world was moving around her, a self-imposed barrier separating her from the intimacy and warmth of her closest friends. They were all crowded around two small tables in the centre of Joan’s Bar, toasting to the success of their most recent case. Max, Carmen, Joan, Federico, Christian - even Inés had joined them in their celebration of a difficult case put behind them. Yet Miranda hadn’t moved from her seat at the bar, her eyes steadfastly avoiding the empty seat next to Max – even as she watched over the gathering wistfully.
It must have been ten minutes since she’d stood up from the table with the excuse that she needed a new drink, five since said drink had been placed in front of her by the overworked barman – getting through orders as quickly as he could on a hectic Friday night. Miranda was sure the rush of patrons was the only reason she’d gotten away with being gone for so long, but with every passing moment she felt the timer ticking down to the moment her disappearance would be noticed.
Despite that – and despite how desperately she wanted to surround herself with the glow of companionship once again – she couldn’t bring herself to pass through that invisible barrier. To throw herself back into their camaraderie as if nothing was wrong, when it felt like everything was wrong.
Miranda could feel her chest constricting tighter the longer she watched them - him - but she couldn’t look away. Surely, she should be used to this by now. Used to seeing Max and Carmen together, their gentle touches and comfortable intimacy. After all, she’d never known any different – they’d been together long before she ever knew either of them. Yet somehow, every day it seemed to get just that little bit harder to bear.
The universe must have been conspiring against her, Miranda was sure, because Max just had to pick that moment to lightly rest his hand on Carmen’s back – fingers curling around her shoulder delicately. And because the universe just couldn’t get enough of screwing her over, her resulting flinch away from the sight meant that, of course, she accidentally locked eyes with Federico.
His expression softly morphed into fond concern, traces of laughter lingering at its edges. He’d caught her in the middle of her reverie, the ache of it almost certainly evident on her face if his reaction was anything to go by. She quickly threw him as confident a smile as she could muster, whilst at the same time carefully attempting to hide her drink - to make it look as if she were still waiting for it to arrive.
Apparently, her actions were about as transparent as a window.
Federico turned to the chair next to him as nonchalantly as he could, catching Inés’ attention with a loaded glance before gesturing over to Miranda with a subtle nod. She was quickly met with the same look of tentative worry from both of her friends, the sincerity of it forcing Miranda to look away awkwardly – scared that her façade would crack if she looked any longer, as if it had actually made any difference in the first place.
Out the corner of her eye she could see them stand up almost simultaneously, Federico mouthing the same excuse that Miranda had given about getting more drinks. Their departure thankfully drew little attention from the rest of the table; Miranda knew she was likely in for one hell of a conversation, the last thing she needed was Max being a part of it.
Well, more than he already would be.
Miranda steeled herself as Federico and Inés made their way towards her, winding through the ever-moving sea of customers but never once losing sight of her.
“What are you doing all the way over here by yourself?” Federico asked casually as soon as he was close enough, naturally falling into the borderline-flirtatious tone he gained whenever he spoke with her.
“Same as you, I expect. Waiting for a drink.” Miranda attempted in a smooth, half-amused tone of voice. It was a long shot.
“Uh huh, then what’s that?” Inés jumped in, unimpressed but not unkindly so. She had immediately zeroed in on the three-quarter empty glass on the bar, catching Miranda out almost instantly.
“The drink I’m just about to replace.” She downed the rest of her drink straight, as if to prove a point, before gesturing over to the bartender for another.
“Right, so you haven’t been sitting here alone for the past twenty minutes trying to avoid a certain someone – or someones?” Federico was pushing it, and the look on his face proved that he knew it. Naturally, all it served to do was make Miranda clam up ever further.
“One - that isn’t a word, and two - it hasn’t been twenty minutes… More like fifteen.” The petulance of saying it out loud sent a kick to Miranda’s stomach in embarrassment, but there was no way she was going to give in to it – nor to her friends.
“Yes, because that makes it so much better.” Inés teased, but Miranda had had enough.
“I’m not trying to avoid anyone, so you can stop with the insinuations.” She snapped, but Inés – true to form – was ready to give as good as she got.
“Oh well if you insist, I’ll just come straight out with it then. You can hide it from yourself all you like, but it’s obvious you have feelings for him.”
Miranda’s answering scoff was almost certainly over-exaggerated.
“I do not have feelings for Max.”
And well… The slow smirk that rose on Federico’s face was never a good sign.
“Of course not. That’s why you knew exactly who she meant, without his name even being mentioned.”
It was starting to feel like she was in the middle of an interrogation; they were using tactics she was more than familiar with, so why shouldn’t she turn it back on them?
“And why are you so interested in getting me to admit to my non-existent feelings for Max? I thought you wanted me for yourself.” Miranda needled, perhaps unnecessarily, but she was annoyed. Federico’s smile softened, without losing any of its kindness.
“I flirt with you because it’s fun, but we both know it’s nothing more than that. I’ve known since the day I met you that you were only ever going to fall for one man, and that man was always going to be him.”
Her anger seemed to dissipate as if it were never there at all, leaving nothing but a sick feeling in the pit of Miranda’s stomach and the painful ache in her chest. It was all plain as day in the expression on her face - she could feel it - but she didn’t have the energy to try and hide it.
The sound of Max’s bright, brilliant laughter - echoing from across the room - filled that empty feeling in her chest as much as it widened it. She couldn’t stop herself from looking back over to him, to see the grin on his face that she knew would accompany the sound.
The lump in her throat was as unexpected as the crystal-clear eyes she found smiling back at her. It felt nothing short of natural to return the gesture wholeheartedly, even as it felt like her heart was breaking.
After the moment had passed, Miranda found she still couldn’t tear her eyes away – a blanket of melancholic resignation draping over her.
Always wanting what she couldn’t have.
Why did this have to be the one time she felt that was actually true? The one thing she couldn’t have, no matter how much she wanted it. The one thing she would never try to have.
“Why won’t you say anything to him?” Inés spoke closely, just loud enough to hear over the raucousness of the bar.
Miranda sighed to herself, forcing her gaze away from the man in question to instead face Inés’ curious questioning.
“Because he’s with Carmen, just as he should be. Besides, she’s my friend too. I couldn’t do that to her.” The look that passed between her two friends spoke volumes - gotcha.
“So, you admit you do have feelings for him then?” It was like Inés thought this was a game.
Miranda was so tired of games.
“Alright fine, of course I do! But what do you expect me to do about it? Carmen loves him every bit as much as I do, I have no right to interfere with that. I don’t want to be that person.”
Even in a room so loud, the silence that passed between the three of them was… Crushing. The weight of revelation bearing down on them.
“Miranda… You just said that you love him. You can’t ignore that forever, no matter how hard you try.” She’d only ever heard her hard-edged boss speak so softly once before – after Hernández’s betrayal. The impact of it had shaken Miranda then, too.
The truth of Inés’ words hit her harder than she expected; logically she’d known it for a long time, but there was a big difference between knowing something and accepting it.
“But I can’t love him. I just can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone; things are fine as they are.” Miranda subtly gestured towards Max and Carmen - hands now entwined atop the table. “Look at them, they’re happy.” She felt herself deflate at the sight in front of her. Of course she wanted them to be happy, but that didn’t stop it from hurting.
The feeling of Federico’s hand gently squeezing her shoulder brought her back to herself, whipping around to face him at the sudden sensation.
“You deserve to be happy too. You know that, right?” His brow was furrowed in genuine concern, seemingly terrified of the idea that she didn’t know.
She’d been putting everyone else’s feelings first for so long, she wasn’t sure anymore… And that scared her more than anything.
The moment was broken as the bartender placed her fresh drink down in front of her, but the last thing she wanted was more alcohol. In fact, the last thing she wanted right then was to be there at all.
“You know what, I think I’m just gonna go home.” Miranda announced brusquely, attempting to pay up as quickly as she could. Federico and Inés stuttered over their pleas with her to stay, not quite keeping up with the sudden change of pace she had set.
Miranda was almost ready to bolt out the door when she heard him, stopping her dead in her tracks.
“You’re leaving?” Max’s voice rang out behind her, the sad twang of confusion not going unnoticed. After the briefest of hesitations, she turned to face him – putting as neutral an expression as she could.
“Yeah, it’s been a long day. I should get some sleep.” It wasn’t entirely untrue - she was exhausted – but Miranda really just wanted to put as much distance between the two of them as she could. She needed to clear her mind, and she knew she couldn’t do that with Max sitting five feet away.
“Alright, give me a minute and I’ll drive you.”
She could practically feel the intensity of her friends’ eyes on her, wordlessly screaming at her to say yes.
“No, it’s fine, you don’t have to.” Max looked at her as if she’d suddenly grown two heads, surprised by how quickly she had declined his offer – that she had declined at all.
“You live half an hour away and it’s a Friday night, I’m making sure you get home safe.” He said it as if it were obvious - and of course on any other night it would be - but tonight she wasn’t sure she could handle it.
She didn’t really have a choice though, did she. Not without drawing his suspicion.
His smile almost made it worth it.
“Of course! Anything for my favourite lady.”
The drive to Miranda’s apartment was taken in relative silence, nothing but the sound of the radio softly playing in the background. Max seemed content to leave her to her thoughts, hopefully just thinking she was too tired to hold a proper conversation.
It was anything but quiet in Miranda’s mind, however. It felt as if Federico and Inés were still there, still whispering arguments of reason in her ear. She knew they were right - she couldn’t run from her feelings forever - but she just couldn’t bring herself to act on that knowledge.
Did she even need to act on it? After all, she’d managed to get along perfectly fine by herself for years, there’s no reason why she should feel the need to be with someone now. Sure, it might take some time but the feelings wouldn’t last indefinitely, they would pass and then everything would go back to normal.
She and Max would solve crime together - side by side - as they always did, bickering and teasing and taking care of one another. Miranda would work, and laugh, and enjoy the company of the best group of friends she’d ever had. And one day Max would propose to Carmen again, only this time she would say yes…
Maybe she couldn’t do this.
Maybe it would be better if she just told him how she felt, regardless of the outcome. Even if he rejected her - told her he couldn’t be around her anymore - surely it had to be better than watching everyone else’s lives continuing on around her, while she stayed stuck in her own emotions.
She had to say something, she resolved. For her own sake, so that at the very least she could move on.
She couldn’t help but laugh derisively at herself - after all, what did she have to lose? Just her best friend, comfortable work situation, and the day to day life that she loved…
No big deal.
The car began to pull up in its usual spot across the road from her apartment, overlooking the bay. Out the corner of her eye she could see Max turn to her, in preparation to bid her farewell. For the first time since they’d set off on their journey, she finally allowed herself to look back over to him.
Oh, that was a mistake.
Suddenly, all the courage she’d managed to gather completely blinked out of existence. All she could think of were the reasons to stay quiet, to avoid the risk of everything changing for the worse.
So, she said the only thing she could.
“See you tomorrow?” She asked as brightly as she could, causing Max to seem wary of her suddenly peppy attitude.
“You know it.” He smiled back, despite the questions lingering in his eyes.
As if there would ever be any other answer.
Miranda carefully began to extricate herself from the car, trying not to appear as if she were rushing away from him. She only got as far as closing the door behind her, before her mind seemed to quieten.
The view in front of her was beautiful; lights of red, white, orange, and blue cascaded over from the waterfront path, reflecting off the water in a glittering collage of colour. Everything seemed so much simpler out there, the stillness of it settling in her chest.
With a gentle, honest smile, she made her choice.
Miranda Blake does not run.
Looking behind her, she met Max’s curiosity with a newfound fire.
“Take a walk with me?” The softness in her voice did little to temper the determination in her eyes.
“I thought you were tired?” He half-chuckled at her complete change in demeanour, despite taking the key out of the ignition anyway.
“Guess the drive woke me up a bit.” She shrugged playfully, before beginning her slow stride towards the waterfront.
After several paces of not hearing Max getting out of the car, Miranda spun around once again. With a hand on her hip and her head slightly tilted, she offered him a challenge.
“You coming or not?”
“You were gone for quite a while earlier…” Max murmured as they walked side by side, the gentle lapping of water beneath them creating a calming underscore. It did nothing to help Miranda’s racing heartbeat, though.
“I didn’t think you’d noticed.” She admitted, doing her best to try and keep her voice steady - terrified of what he might have been thinking about her strange behaviour.
“I always notice.”
And there he went again, saying something so heartfelt completely out of the blue, reminding her exactly why she lo-
Why she had feelings for him.
“I was worried, is everything okay?” Max asked tentatively, in his quietly concerned way.
“Course, just needed some time by myself, that’s all.”
He didn’t have to know exactly why she needed that time to herself…
“One of the quirks of being an introvert, huh? Needed to recharge your batteries?” His lips quirked as he said it, fondness seeping from every word - even as worry still clouded his eyes.
“Yeah, something like that.” It was a vague answer, but it was all she had.
A strained silence lingered between them for several seconds, until Max eventually caved in to the uncomfortable atmosphere.
“You sure you’re okay? You seem… quieter than usual.”
“Mmmhmm.” Her gaze was stubbornly set ahead of her, trying to avoid Max as much as she could despite their close proximity. Her task was made all the more difficult by the inquisitive side eye she could feel Max giving her, despite his choice to stay silent.
The far-off sounds of the rest of the island surrounded them as they continued their slow amble, the cool night breeze colliding with Miranda’s rapidly warming face. She ran words through her head over and over again, embarrassment and fear swarming her as she tried to find the right way to explain her feelings.
There’s something I’ve been meaning to say…
No, too casual.
I know you don’t feel the same but…
I understand if you can’t be around me anymore…
“It’s such a beautiful night, you must be wishing you were out here with anyone but me.” The statement shocked Miranda out of her own head, the confusion at Max’s words overriding everything else.
“Why on Earth would I be thinking that?” Max seemed uncharacteristically abashed at her quick rebuttal, but continued with the thought nonetheless.
“It’s just really… romantic, is all.”
Miranda was completely lost. Where was this coming from?
“So?” She pressed, frustrated with being oblivious to what he was really getting at.
Max stopped walking, instead turning to face her with a look of humoured disbelief. It took her a pace or two to realise he was no longer at her side, forcing her to retrace her steps back to him – her irritation clear.
This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.
“Come on, you’re really telling me you wouldn’t rather have a special someone to share moments like this with?”
Anger filled Miranda’s chest with every breath, the clenching of her jaw the only thing keeping her from saying things she knew she might regret.
Of course that’s what this was about.
“If this is your way of saying that you’d rather be out here with Carmen, then just say so. I get it, alright. We should head back.”
It was a stupid idea, of course he’d only be thinking about Carmen. Why would he want to be out there with Miranda instead?
She began striding back the way they’d come, her head stubbornly held high as affronted tension locked her body tight. It must have only been a matter of seconds, yet she managed to get far enough that Max’s jogging footfalls could be heard as he attempted to catch up to her.
“Wait, what just happened?” Max exclaimed, now keeping pace with her deceptively fast movement.
“Nothing. Just leave it.” She answered bluntly. She was so angry she couldn’t even look at him, but the fact that she knew she had no right to be so angry only made it that much worse.
‘Once there’s feelings involved, there’s nothing simple about it.’
Miranda had said that to him once… She hated how right she had been.
“No, I’m not going to leave it - you’ve been acting strange all night. Is it the case, did it get to you? Or have I done something to upset you?” Max practically begged, wanting so badly to understand.
Miranda just kept walking.
He was in front of her in the blink of an eye, cutting off her escape so finely that she almost bumped into him. The coldness in her glaring eyes apparently did nothing to sway him into backing off.
“Talk to me, Miranda. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong!” Max pleaded, fearing whatever it was that could possibly have upset her so much.
“I can’t do this anymore, Max! Alright? I just… I can’t do this.”
The utter confusion on Max’s face seemed to sap some of Miranda’s rage, leaving her feeling more desperately dejected than anything.
She took a deep, sighing breath before continuing.
No going back now.
“Pretending that I’m happy for you and Carmen, that seeing you with her doesn’t hurt every single time. Pretending that I don’t have feelings for you, when it’s practically all I can think about whenever I’m with you. Pretending that I’ll be able to get past this, because - no matter how much it hurts - you’re with Carmen and there’s nothing I can or would do to change that.”
She couldn’t believe she’d actually just said that out loud.
Not even the sting of unshed tears could force her to blink, waiting nervously for his reaction. It felt like her heart was ready to beat out of her chest, her breath shallow and shaky. She was terrified at the prospect of what might happen next.
Max started laughing.
“Is this all just one big joke to you?! The flirting? The near misses? Because it isn’t to me, not anymore.” Miranda felt sick at the thought, but her words seemed to quickly sober Max.
“No! No, it’s never been a joke to me, I’m sorry I made you feel like I thought it was.” He answered sincerely, but it wasn’t long before a smile was creeping back onto his face. He was practically giggling to himself, yet something about it sounded more like… relief?
She was too on edge to play a guessing game.
“Then why the hell are you laughing?” She demanded.
“Carmen and I… We aren’t together anymore. We haven’t been for weeks. We’ve just been keeping up appearances until she finds a way to tell her dad, one that won’t end in me being horribly murdered.” Max’s smile was radiant as he spoke, even though his eyes held a plea for her to believe him that this was real.
Miranda felt as if the world was falling away around her, her mind going blank as she tried to comprehend what she was hearing.
How could it be real?
“But today in the bar, you both seemed so… happy still. Like it was easy for you to act like you were still together.” Max shrugged, as if it were no big deal.
“It was an amicable break up… Well, mostly amicable. We’re still friends, but we both knew it wasn’t working out anymore. Carmen made me realise some things, things she’s known for a while now and had some time to… come to terms with, I guess? But that I’d been hiding from…”
Ice ran through her veins at the thought of what he was about to say.
“Miranda I… I feel the same way about you.”
And there it was.
His sweet, hopeful smile did little to thaw the chill that had settled deep in her bones.
“Do you have any idea what I’ve been putting myself through?” She spat, astounded by his sheer audacity.
“You wanna know why I’ve been acting so strangely? This! This is why! I’ve been tearing myself apart for so long, trying to ignore how I feel. Then when I finally realised I couldn’t keep it in anymore, you know what I was preparing myself for?”
Max was only able to respond with the smallest of head shakes, before she continued regardless.
“Losing you. I thought for sure that you wouldn’t want anything to do with me when you found out, and you think this is funny?”
He at least had the decency to look somewhat ashamed, his eyes downcast as she spoke. He attempted to open his mouth, but Miranda wasn’t finished with him yet - she was going to make damn well sure he listened.
“You are a coward, Max Winter. Too afraid to make the first move, to actually admit to something real for once in your life. No, you had to wait for me to do it for you. You’ve had weeks to tell me, and all that time I thought I was being a terrible person for wanting someone who was already in a relationship. You should have told me!”
In the back of her mind, she knew she was being too harsh on him – after all, he’d just told her the one thing she had longed to hear all this time. He actually felt the same for her as she did for him… But she couldn’t just let go of all the hurt she’d gone through, as if it were nothing.
Evidently her words hit a nerve, as Max immediately went on the defensive.
“I’m sorry, okay? Are you done tearing apart my character flaws, or is there anything else you want to get off your chest?”
They were both standing off against one another, hands on their hips in much the same way.
“Yeah, actually, there is.”
Miranda took in a wavering breath as she allowed herself to loosen, her look of righteous fury reforming into something softer – more agonising. With her brow furrowed, a delicate sheen of tears welling up unbiddenly yet again, the words finally came pouring out of her – etched intrinsically, inseparably, with all the emotion that had been building inside her for so long.
“I love you, you bloody idiot.”
Any trace of Max’s annoyance was lost in that single instant, leaving nothing but the effortless drop into something she could only describe as awe. Heartachingly breath-taking awe.
Everything she had been feeling – all the pain, the fear, the confusion – she could finally see it all reflected back in his eyes. He had felt every single moment of it, just as keenly as she had.
She could see it pushing him forward, letting him fall into her arms knowing – without a doubt - that he would be caught. It seemed so easy, in the end, to catch him as unfalteringly as he caught her lips.
Max swept towards her in a single step, bending to meet her with ease. One hand came to tenderly rest on her cheek, the tips of his fingers ever so slightly curling in her hair. The other landed on her hip, gently pulling her closer.
Not that she needed any encouragement.
The moment their lips connected, Miranda pushed forward with all the fervour that stirred inside her. For a first kiss, there was nothing tentative about it. It was unhesitant in its intimacy, their push and pull so mutually assured that she felt herself getting lost in it. It was evident in every touch, every brush of their lips, every renewed shift of their bodies, that they’d both been desperate for this moment.
Eventually Max began to pull away, yet Miranda unquestioningly followed. She raised up on her tiptoes, drawing out their kiss until the last possible moment – their lips pulling apart achingly slowly. They didn’t part very far far, however. Their foreheads rested together gently, neither willing to give up their newfound intimacy quite yet.
“I love you, too.” Max whispered reverentially, his nose affectionately nuzzling hers. Miranda couldn’t help her huff of joyful laughter at finally hearing those words, feeling more than seeing Max’s answering smile.
“I really am sorry, I never meant to hurt you. I shouldn’t have let my fear hold me back so much, you deserve better than that. No more running, yeah?” Max declared, and it was everything Miranda could have ever hoped to hear from him in this situation.
“No more running.” Miranda agreed wholeheartedly, pausing briefly to compose her thoughts before continuing. “I’m sorry too, for having such a go at you.” She admitted with an apologetic smile.
His grin was quickly consumed as he leaned in once more, with the clear intention of a quick, playful peck of a kiss. In reality, it lasted those few extra intense seconds needed to make her stomach flip and adrenaline course through her body.
Max’s grin was wider than ever as he pulled away again.
“It’s okay, I’m used to it.” He teased. Then, within an instant, he’d taken off - running back towards the car – as the sound of laughter that she loved so much trailed behind him.
“Oi!” Miranda shouted after him, barely concealing her own laughter as she watched him jet into the distance. “I thought you said no more running!”.
“You’re just saying that because you’re losing!” He fired back, presenting a challenge he knew that she would never be able to resist.
Damn him for being right.
Miranda started after him without a moment’s thought, her own carefree laughter harmonising with his. She managed to catch up with him quickly and once she began to overtake him, he finally began to slow down. She mirrored him easily, the two coming to a light walking pace in tandem.
After a few moments of contented silence as they caught their breath, Max reached across the space between them to extend her a hand. She took it as easily as breathing, the two sharing a soft – almost shy – smile as the truth of their new relationship took hold.
This was real.
Max and Miranda. Walking down the waterfront on a beautiful, serene night. Hand in hand.