Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 14

Ooh, That's Gotta Hurt

“I thought you were dead,” he said, nearly giving me whiplash with the change in tone. “I loved you and you disappeared for two years and now here you are, a goon for Cerberus.” I don’t think I’d ever heard him sound so furious.

“I was dead,” I protested, foolish though I knew it sounded. How convincing could you be, telling the love of your life that you were a reanimated corpse? “And I’m not a goon, I just happen to be working with Cerberus. I…can’t explain right now.” I was mindful of the comm unit in the ear opposite the one that still tingled with Kaidan’s breath. Garrus tried to back me up but Kaidan cut him off with, “I should have known you’d be right there with her, Vakarian.”

What the hell did that mean? Was this for what he had apologized two minutes earlier? Before I could compose a response he turned on his heel and stalked back around the same corner. “I…but…” I said weakly. Grunt was holding Garrus back and staring at me as if to ask why badasses like us would let someone get away with talking to us that way. Obviously there was something more going on here. Yet again I was going to have to suck it up and keep going. I sighed and asked Joker to send the shuttle back down to us. “Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s go home.”

The mood was strained as we returned to the Normandy. Garrus tried to get me to talk but I shook my head at him. “Not in front of the baby,” I offered. “Come talk to me later.” He nodded to show his understanding and we talked to Grunt about how the great battle we’d just won, unworthy though some of the enemies had been. His youthful enthusiasm cheered me a bit and I managed not to mope my way up to my cabin as I left the shuttle bay. Garrus promised to join me after he’d changed out of his filthy armor, unfortunately within Grunt’s hearing. I’ve never seen a Krogan’s head turn so quickly. Instead of quelling the rumor I smiled at him as much like the cat that ate the canary as I could manage in my turmoil. It must have been a pretty good imitation because he looked at me strangely and turned toward the cargo bay where his tank sat. I’d asked Miranda to arrange for somewhere for him to sleep and some casual clothes. I don’t think he’d ever been out of his armor barring his brief nudity in the lab with Mordin. He deserved a little down time.

When I got to my quarters I ordered EDI to turn off the recording and popped into the shower, hoping to rinse the stink of frustration from me along with the sweat of battle. I needed to talk to TIM soon, to throw at him the accusation that he had arranged the Collector attack on the planet where Kaidan was working in the hope of eliminating him as a distraction. All I could think of, however, was that familiar voice in my ear, the apology that explained nothing, and the feel of his arms around me. I wished there were something to punch in my bathroom because I wasn’t about to break knuckles on these metal walls. A tantrum welled up in me and I considered throwing myself on the floor to have a good kicking and screaming fit. No one would know except the AI, and it had promised not to tell, but I wasn’t sure my dignity could take another hit just now.

While I was debating the merits of screaming without the kicking, the door slid open behind me. I’d completely forgotten that Garrus was on his way. It wasn’t until I heard him say my name that I realized he was standing there. I whirled around and realized that was even worse so I kept whirling until I was facing the wall again. “Oh! Um, uh, sorry, Garrus. I meant to be done before you got here. Would you hand me that towel?” I shut off the shower as he turned to grab it off of the chair at my desk. “And close your eyes, would you?”

I took the choked noise he made as assent and looked over my shoulder. He stood, frozen, his head turned and his hand outstretched. I snatched the towel and wrapped it tightly around my body. For all of the comparative luxury Cerberus had added to the Normandy they’d been remarkably skimpy with the towels. The thing barely made it around my chest and I couldn’t imagine how Miranda managed. I would have to make it a point to pick up something a little more generous the next time we were in a position to go shopping. In the meantime, I had more important considerations. I grabbed Garrus by the elbow and pulled him into the room with me, holding the towel in place with my other hand. A quick word to EDI put the recording and broadcast equipment back off-line.

“What the hell was that?” I began.

“I’m sorry, Shepard! I didn’t know you were…” Garrus trailed off, mandibles flexing in confusion.

“What? No, that was my fault for dawdling. I mean the package.” I noticed that he was clicking his talons together in agitation and I knew we’d have to talk about this shower thing soon. I didn’t want it to get in the way of the smooth teamwork we’d built. I’d far rather meet with him here than Joker but I couldn’t afford to lose the best member of my team to some stupid personal tensions. “Twinkles set us up. This should have been simple: blast the bastards, save the day, bring the package on-board, and off we go. But no-o-o. First he apologizes and then he acts like an ass and then he leaves!” I realized that Garrus was staring at me, and not at my face. “Damnit, this is important! Turn around if you’re so distracted.”

Normally Turians didn’t blush; the protective scales on their faces hide the skin beneath. Since Garrus had lost a patch on right cheek, though, I could see the blood rush up turning his skin blue beneath the livid scars. He turned and his shoulders visibly relaxed. My words finally penetrated his spiky skull and he finally grasped the important part. “He apologized?”

“Yeah, before he started calling us traitors. He must have been faking it. But why?”

We considered this question for a bit and could come up with only one sensible solution: the package knew we were working for Big Al but didn’t want the puppy to become suspicious. Neither of us could guess what he’d meant by “it won’t be for long”, though. Would he be joining us on Big Bird or would we finally be able to turn over the Cheerleader, the Torso, and the rest of the bunch? I shook my head. “You’ll have to ask Smartass if he’s heard anything more,” I said. “Oh, and we can’t use our names, either. We’re on the list, too, Spike.”

“Hmm, I like that,” he said. “What about you?” Neither of us could think of anything but Commander or Shepard for me. I didn’t have any distinguishing features among the crew besides simply being me. Mordin easily became Twitchy and Grunt Thumper but me? We could only agree to ask Smartass and Inkblot for suggestions.

Garrus left and I finished my shower feeling much more positive about the encounter on Horizon. I would cling to the promise that, whatever came next, it would happen soon. I threw on some clothes and made my way down to the briefing room. Joker rang The Illusive Man and the holo chamber loaded as I recalled my righteous anger. No sooner could I see his outline than I lashed into TIM, accusing him of setting up the entire encounter. He fed me some cock and bull story about coincidence that he had to know I wouldn’t buy. I swear he just liked to hear me rage at him. Why else would he go out of his way to set me up in these situations?

When I finally wound down he gave himself away on this bit of trickery: he asked me if I could set aside my personal distractions after how shabbily I’d been treated. The light went on in my head. “Yeah, it’s handled,” I snapped. “Now unless you want to change your little moniker to The Intrusive Man I suggest you keep your mind on the mission and not my private life.” I had to reach up and stop my upper lip from curling because I couldn’t quite get it under control. I’d come within an ace of calling him Twinkles. TIM didn’t seem to mind my barbs in the least.

“I’ve got two more dossiers for you,” he replied calmly. “Both of the subjects are currently on Illium.”

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