Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 18

Oh, for the Love Of...

“And I thought my training was intensive,” Kaidan said later that night as we were eating again. We’d been hard at my practice for two full days. My head throbbed from the unaccustomed effort. We took another nap and continued working on my newfound biotic abilities, including generating and funneling my own energy without running around like a loon. The fact that I had no innate abilities made everything harder, despite the juice supplied by the L5 in my head.

“You’ll never be really powerful,” Kaidan told me, “but with the implant you can at least create a decent barrier or knock down someone’s shields to give yourself an advantage.” I still intended to have it out with Miranda over putting the damned thing in my brain and then apparently just hoping it didn’t get activated. I hoped she’d enjoy the surprise when I knocked her over with a blast.

Another few hours and a hefty snack later, Kaidan decreed that I was ready to start shielding myself from the energy that biotics naturally put out and from absorbing too much when one of them touched me. He explained how he had learned but that everyone had to create a personal method that worked because differences in brain chemistry and structure made no one technique effective for everyone.

“It boils down to concentrating,” he explained, “whether you visualize a barrier or waves bouncing off or simply will your skin to reject the energy. Eventually it becomes second nature.” He placed a hand on my arm. “Concentrate on my hand, on not letting it push power into you.”

It took several tries before I was even moderately successful. Who would have thought your brain, even with cybernetic enhancements, could control your skin? Well, anyone who’d seen biotics at work, obviously, but even after days of throwing that energy at the walls the experience still amazed me. We kept at it, Kaidan moving closer as I grew better at blocking that transfer. He tenderly laid his hand on my cheek and I was so focused on the touch that I completely forgot what I was supposed to do. He didn’t move his hand but whispered, “Block me.”

That gave me the giggles and rather ruined the mood for a bit. I apologized, but you know how it is when you’re trying to be serious after something like that. It built into a full-scale laughing fit. When I finally trailed off and had dried the tears from my cheeks, he tried again. My attention was torn between the concentration I needed and the feel of his skin, his smell surrounding me.

For a time, he didn’t move, letting me find my own balance between the distractions. Slowly he added his other hand and we stared at each other for a time. After every move—stepping closer, sliding his hand around the back of my neck—he stopped and waited for me to adjust. It was sheer torture of the most delightful kind, my will divided between protecting my mind and keeping my hands to myself.

By the time he kissed me I was all but panting. I hardly dared move. My control hung by a thread and both of us were making small noises suited to far more stimulation than the almost-chaste press of lips warranted. I pressed a hand to his chest, all the added contact I could handle. We stood for a time, breathing together, before he deepened the kiss and I threw my arms around him. My concentration broke entirely and I had to step back, feeling like sparks were shooting out the back of my head. He smiled, patient as ever in the face of my exuberance, and said, “I guess we’ll have to try again.”

The rest of that day is none of your business. I’ll just say that we started over many times and that, by the time blocking the influx became habitual, we were both soaked with sweat and half-nude. We kept testing my new abilities for quite some time after that, in several different places around the warehouse. We even used the shower, lack of hot water notwithstanding. The entire situation seemed like a recap of our relationship before I’d died: we spent far more time holding ourselves back and avoiding contact than we finally got to enjoy. And then I had to leave.

While Kaidan went to take care of the things he’d intended to accomplish over the previous three days, I headed back to see Liara. I owed her a debt of gratitude both for lending us her property and for staying away while we used it. I suspected that she avoided the place more out of jealousy than consideration but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, at least to her face.

Kaidan and I had talked at length about her involvement with my then-remains. While he admitted that he was rather pleased with the outcome her keeping it secret still infuriated him. “For two years I thought you were lost,” he said, “Imagine how differently things might have gone if we had started infiltrating Cerberus from the very beginning, how much pain…she took away that opportunity because of some weird obsession with you. Sure, I can understand the attraction…” he punctuated that with a quick smooch at the corner of my mouth that electrified more than my implant “but she put so much else at risk. I don’t think I can get past that.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t too sure I could get past it, either. It was bad enough to know that the folks on my ship were fascinated by some imagined aura of approachable badass. Now a member of my old crew had displayed a disturbingly-similar tendency. I thought back to Tali’s energetic greeting on Freedom’s Progress but decided that I must be reading too much into things. That must have been some kind of big-sister thing that I didn’t understand because I’d never had a sister...or a brother for that matter. I had thought of the civilians I’d gathered more as green recruits, rookies to bring up to speed. I had been proud of their development but, outside of a tentative pass from Liara shortly after we’d met, had never thought of either of them in a physical context.

When I arrived at her office, Nyxeris again gestured at the door, declining to announce me. I walked in to find Liara behind her desk staring out the window. When she saw me she jumped to her feet, hurrying across the room and stopping just short of touching me. I thanked her as graciously as I could with her standing uncomfortably near. Shouldn’t she have learned some social graces in her meteoric rise to power here?

She gushed about my quick grasp of biotic basics and remarked that I looked oddly happy. I wasn’t about to touch that one. I changed the subject and asked her about the two people I’d originally come to Illium to find. She freely told me what she knew about both the assassin and the Justicar, whatever that was. Despite her awkwardness with me I was impressed by not only her knowledge but her recall. What were the odds she’d just happen to know of the Drell and the Asari for whom I was looking, unusual though their presence here may have been? Perhaps she really did have access to the breadth of information she’d promised.

I thanked her again and headed back to the Normandy. I figured it was about time I had that little chat with Miranda. No better time would come than when she was off-balance from my three-day disappearance. EDI thoughtfully notified the entire ship when I stepped back on board. Joker called me over and handed me the comm unit that Garrus had recovered with his own. “Good to see you survived.” He smiled mischievously. “Did you unwrap the package?”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” I wasn’t about to give him any details to feed his feverish imagination. I’d seen the sorts of things that went on in there and I didn’t want to play a starring role. “I’m going down to see Miranda. You might want to keep folks out of the mess area for a little while.” I bared my teeth. “We’re going to have a chat.”

Joker laughed. “I’m having EDI record the whole thing,” he promised. I strode across the CIC to the elevator, greeting people and reassuring them that I was fine without breaking stride. I thought Kelly was going to cry when I dismissed her inquiries, despite my promise to talk to her later. She seemed desperate to get me to check my messages but I had a target in my sights and Miranda wasn’t getting away that easily. I made my way down to her office and opened the door without knocking. She bounced to her feet, skin-tight leather strained to the limit with the sudden movement. Seriously, who was she kidding with those boots? I wondered briefly if TIM had some sort of fetish.

“Shepard!” she began. “Where the hell have you…”

“Hello, Miranda.” I interrupted. “You and I need to talk.” I pulled with my mind, the way Kaidan had taught me, sucking energy out of my physical reserve and flinging it square into the middle of her chest. It knocked her back into her chair and the telltale blue glow dissipated in front of her eyes. Her mouth was still open and her eyes widened in shock as the seat slid a few feet backwards with her in it. “Your faith in my implant waiting patiently for you to bother with it was misplaced.”

She managed a whole word. “How?”

“That’s not important right now,” I sneered. “I’m not here to further your scientific inquiries. You owe me some answers and I want them now. Was this an experiment, shoving an implant into a non-biotic, some lark to see what would happen? Or did you just forget you’d done it, in all of the excitement?”

She blustered for a bit, trying to give me some bullshit about waiting for me to heal. “It’s only been a month, Miranda. I can see how you’ve been rushed off your feet with manicures and usurping my authority, far too busy to discuss an implant in my brain, to tell me that it could be activated by the first really strong biotic who happened to bump into me. It’s good that you took care of the important things first.” The acid in my tone ate at her defensiveness until she was looking at the floor.

“I’m sorry, Shepard. You’re right.” Her voice was low enough that I had to strain to hear it. She looked up at me and I could see the change in her face. Even though I hadn't yet fulfilled her request to save her sister, Miranda was having second thoughts about at least this part of the project that had brought me from death to their door. I immediately resolved to bring more aliens aboard the SR-2, in case she started doubting Cerberus in general, as well.

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