Double Monday: The Double, Chapter 45

If Life Were a Picnic

Just as Morinth was leaning in for whatever freaky thing she intended to do to me, the door slid open. Samara didn’t even speak, just hammered her daughter so hard that the backwash of her biotics sent me tumbling off the couch.

The pair seemed evenly matched and only the colors of their catsuits let me tell them apart as they and assorted debris flew about the room. I stayed on the floor, propping my back against the couch but otherwise keeping out the storm of objects and flailing limbs the two Asari created.

The fight raged on for about three weeks and I barely dared to get the occasional lick in when I could. I managed the occasional, biotic cheap shot at Morinth as she flew over my head before bounding back to charge a toaster for use as a projectile but mostly I just tried to keep my head attached to my body by keeping it down.

The two were having the sort of family fight about which I’d heard. It involved a lot of “because I said so” and “you made me like this” and “I brought you into this world and I can take you out” sorts of things. In the end it was Samara who was right: she did take Morinth out.

The flying household goods completed their trajectories as Morinth’s body thudded off a wall and crumpled to the floor. For all her exertions Samara wasn’t even breathing hard, though she’d have a spectacular black eye from, I think, a vase. It had been hard to follow the sheer number of objects at some points.

In the silence that followed I did the sensible thing and checked for vital signs, pistol in hand. Once I’d verified she was dead I did a freaked-out little dance of non-death around Morinth’s body. “Try to kill me, will you?” I said as I shuffled. Though I wanted more than anything to kick her right in her brain-sucking face, I refrained. It would have been rude. Samara may have killed the bitch but she was still her mother.

Samara just watched me, standing as ever completely comfortable in her own body, taut but not tense. She frowned ever so slightly, the only sign of emotion in a woman who had just fought her own daughter to the death. Damn, I was glad I didn’t have any family. Kaidan had told me these wonderful stories of growing up with his parents but I’d never seen a single example in my life. In my experience relatives existed to hurt you, not like the friends you get to choose.

Finally I had danced the worst of my near-death heebie jeebies out and we left. That fabled Grim Reaper was just going to have to wait his turn, whether he looked like an Asari or a Vorcha or a Collector. You’d think having beaten the big sleep once would have let me scoff at death but Miranda wasn’t going to bring me back again and I wasn’t done, damnit.

On our way back to the docking bay I insisted that we return to the woman whose daughter had given us the clues we’d needed to lure Morinth. Her gratitude at knowing the child’s killer had been brought to justice, even without specifics, made me feel better about the whole mess.

Samara asked me to give her a little time alone and I was happy to comply. It wasn’t often someone could out-badass me but her cold reserve really helped her pull it off that day. Her show of emotion, however slight, in asking for some time to come to terms with killing her daughter relieved my growing concern that she was just as insane as Morinth had been.

All of that meditation must do something, if it let her be so tightly controlled all of the time she wasn’t doing it. I decided to ask her for some tips, after we’d talked about the fact that she let me believe we could capture Morinth rather than kill her. She hadn’t lied, precisely, but I didn’t like being used any more than I had liked using the woman’s trust to snoop in her daughter’s things. Considering how out of control my life insisted on being, however, I thought maybe a little mental distance might come in handy if I could learn to shut off my brain for half an hour.

Joker’s voice interrupted my reverie. “Oh, Commander, I just heard your package is ready for pickup.”

I grinned and did a happy little dance of anticipation. “Well we’d better get moving, then. We wouldn’t want to keep the delivery guy waiting.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered, laughing.

I dove into the elevator and tapped my foot impatiently as it whisked me up to my quarters. My shower was calling to me even though I had, for once, not been splattered much with various bodily fluids while out of the ship. That mind-fuck from Morinth had left me feeling filthier than even conversation with a Vorcha could.

By the time I was clean and napped I was ravenous. I browsed through the cupboards, seeking sustenance and sipping coffee, while Gardner talked Turian cooking with Garrus. Who’d have suspected that Spike was a closet chef? The cabinets containing the dextro goodies were marked with what I had at first thought a blobby V to stand for I don’t know what. It wasn’t until Gardner caught me opening one that he explained they were little Turian footprints.

The pair ignored me as they discussed how the ship’s cook could spice things properly when he couldn’t taste test. Garrus proposed that he make meals for himself and Tali and Gardner reared back like he was going to deck him. I settled in with a mug and a snack to watch the territorial dispute but the boys made up before it came to blows. Mildly disappointed, I licked the last of the crumbs from my thumb and made my way up to the bridge.

“How long?” I asked Joker, pretending not to notice the hastily-closed comm window from which Jack’s face had suddenly disappeared. How could I begrudge the pair a little shipboard romance while on my way to what I sincerely hoped would be a little hot-and-heavy R & R myself?

“We’re just pulling up on approach now, Commander.” Joker had put on his most professional pilot voice, the one I only ever heard when I’d busted him. I smiled behind his back and pretended not to notice. Then the view out the windows distracted me. The planet looked familiar.

“Where are we?” I hadn’t thought to ask and it didn’t really make much difference if Kaidan waited wherever it was.

Joker craned his head around so that I could see the mischievous expression. “If you don’t know I’m not going to tell you.”

I cuffed him lightly, knocking his cap askew. “Fine. EDI?”

“We are currently descending to the orbital station above the planet Horizon,” she said coolly. Could it be that she sounded jealous? She knew anything that passed between crew members, outside of those little cubbies. Nah, that had to be my imagination. She was an AI, not some woman who’d thought she was going to be Joker’s girlfriend.

“Thank you,” I said, sticking my tongue out at my pilot.

He made a face back at me and finished resettling his hat. “They put in the station after we chased off the Collectors,” he told me. “The Alliance doesn’t want any unauthorized landings.”

I shrugged and tossed him my comm unit. As long as I got to take delivery on the package I didn’t much care how I got to the surface. It was a short jaunt from one of the three docks to the shuttle and a quick descent into a half-deserted landing area. Apparently recruitment for settlers had faltered since we’d defeated the bastards and almost no one hung around waiting to see who had arrived.

A total stranger wandered over and gave me a little bow of sorts. “You the commander?”

Kaidan must have thought meeting me himself too obvious. It was pretty rare that I actually felt like a double agent but just then I thought I should be wearing a wig and maybe some dark glasses. I tried to look furtive and pitched my voice lower than usual. “Yeah, that’s me.”

He gave me a strange look and the gestured toward a door. “Yer car’s ready right outside.” With another backward glance he left me standing there feeling a little foolish. Maybe a wig wouldn’t have been such a hot idea.

Through the door I found your standard red car, the same one I seemed to end up in no matter the planet. The door popped up and I slid inside to find Kaidan grinning at me from the other seat. We zoomed off past a few industrial-looking buildings, a side of the planet I hadn’t seen on our last, fraught visit, and out into undeveloped land.

Kaidan landed us in a broad meadow at the foot of a long slope. Away from the half-deserted colony still bearing holes from our slugs, Horizon really was a lovely planet. Its long grasses waved tiny flowers to either side of us and, in the distance, a lake glimmered before rolling hills. Had I never half-lost a battle here, had my long-lost beloved never called me a traitor and walked away from me, no matter the reason, I’d have been thrilled to be here with him.

Catching my train of thought as he so often did, Kaidan turned a bit and said, “I could see how much I hurt you, last time we were here, even if I didn’t mean what I said. It showed all over your face—that wonderful, familiar face I hadn’t seen in so long—and it hurt me almost as much. I thought I’d make it up to both of us.”

How could one man have so many keys to my heart? I grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him soundly. “What, in the car? I’m not the kind of girl, Alenko.”

He laughed. “I know, Shepard. This is just transportation.” The doors popped up and he disappeared around the back of the vehicle. I climbed out to find him holding a big basket, of all things. He sort of flourished it at me. “This is the apology.”

I must have looked confused. “Haven’t you ever been on a picnic, Commander?” At the shake of my head his pleased look fell for a moment before he brightened. “Of course you haven’t. It’s about time you did.” He pulled a blanket from the car and set off into the waist-high grass.

When I’d shut the doors and caught up with him he’d trampled a square big enough to lay out the cloth and plopped the basket on top. He pulled me to him and kissed my thoroughly before pushing me away and telling me to sit. After I snatched a quick lick at the tip of his nose I complied, curious enough about the basket to wait on mauling him.

To my surprise he opened the thing and pulled out a whole meal, steak sandwiches wrapped in foil, tubs of various things, plates, forks, and a bottle of wine with accompanying glasses. The whole basket had been cunningly crafted with slots and straps to keep whole the whole mess in place in transit. Kaidan pulled things out and set up a generous dinner before he opened the wine while I just sat and stared.

“Alliance engineering at its finest?” I asked finally. The unwieldy but cunning package had disgorged more than you’d have thought it could hold.

He laughed again as he handed me a plate. “Old-fashioned Canadian ingenuity,” he said. “My parents used this same picnic basket when I was a kid. I took it with me after my last visit. Somehow I knew it would come in handy.”

I tried to picture little Kiadan, shadowy parents somewhere in the background, watching goodies come out of this magical container. The whole concept seemed so silly, like something out of the kind of vids I used to sneak into to get out of the heat in the summer. I hadn’t known that real people had done these sorts of things, eating outdoors by choice with utensils and everything.

“Steak and the great outdoors,” I said, shaking my head. Kaidan kept amazing me with the best things in life that I’d missed along the way. For a moment I wondered how awful these past months would have been without him and then I was grinning like a fool as I lifted the sandwich to take the first bite. Who cared? We were here, together, and that was enough for the moment—and for an awful lot of moments in between these snatched idylls. I wasn’t sure how much I could eat with my heart swelled up like this but I gave it a valiant effort.

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