Mass Effect Relationship Week 2020
Day 4: we are family. Describe or draw a familiar moment. Are they close, or estranged? Are they blood relatives, or family found with friends?
Two Traynors stared each other down, hands hovering over a small box. There were 5 empty shot glasses in a semicircle around them, flanking the pristine chess board between the pair.
Wiping her hands with a dish towel, Priya Suresh-Traynor pleaded with her family. "Dessert is almost ready, do you two have to do this now?"
"The fate of the galaxy depends on it, mum," Samantha Traynor mumbled back, not breaking eye contact with her father.
"You heard the kid," Geoffrey Traynor seconded with a lazy smile. "I need to know my little sprog's mind hasn't gotten soft since she's been away."
"Soft? Did you miss the part where I kicked Polgara T'Suza's arse across the Citadel?"
"Vid or it didn't happen."
What are you, five?
...God, I wish I had a vid. Are there vids? I wonder if I can ask for one...
"I have a trophy proving it happened. And a witness." Sam's eyes flitted over to the witness in question, her gaze narrowing.
Commander Annelise Shepard held her glass of red wine in surrender. Her voice came out wet and shaky from her fresh sip. "She's—" Shepard patted her chest from the cough. "—She's correct. She electrocuted that asari good."
And got a shower as a prize.
That narrow challenge in her eyes switched to panic as Sam glanced back at her father, who was tsking in disapproval. "Neuro-feedback chess? ...Sammy. You didn't."
The Comms Specialist scowled. "I didn't choose it, it was part of the tourney rules. Usually, yes, I have slightly more integrity." Unless I reallywant to win, that is. "It was just a lark, father."
"Well as long as it was on a lark you buried that smug asari, I guess you're forgiven. ...still can't top your Dad at 5-Shot Speed Chess though, I bet." The older man blew on his knuckles theatrically and gave them a wiggle before resuming his position at the worn speed clock.
Oh, you're on.
"Oh, you're on."
Priya gave an apologetic smile at Shepard, who had taken up perch at the kitchen counter partition. The bar seat next to her was empty, waiting for Sam to return from her tense game. The matriarch of the Traynor family was busy at the stove stirring the simmering pot of kheer on one burner while checking a boiling sugary syrup on another. The warm kitchen filled with the scent of Indian spices and jasmine rice bled over into the prefab living room area.
"I wish I could lie and say something like 'they aren't usually like this,' but…" Priya shrugged and smiled fondly at her husband as the game began. The speed clock snapped with each hit as the older and younger Traynor dove into an intense exchange of pieces. "It's actually a tradition when Sammy comes home." She paused before clarifying. "A tradition since Sammy was proper drinking age, mind you."
Annelise smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Is that right?"
Sighing, Priya tapped away her Omni-tool where a reverse countdown timer could be seen by Shepard. "I think it was One-Shot Speed Chess back then," she admitted. "I swear we were a classy family at some point. ...I can't recall when, precisely, but I assumed we had to have bumbled into it somewhere in the last 25 years."
"I'm 26, mum," Sam reminded loudly as she slapped the clock once more.
"We were definitely classy when you were one, sprog," Priya snarked back. "I mean, you weren't because you just ate and shat all day, but Geoffrey and I were newlyweds and still extremely classy."
Oh my Goddo we have to talk about me shitting my diaper in front of Shepard?
Annelise failed to hide a staccato of exhale-laughs behind her wine glass, amused by the exchange.
Oh my Godwhy did we come here?
...Oh shit Dad almost had me there.
Oh shit are they doing this on purpose? Working together against me?
Betrayed by my own flesh and blood!
Sam had to do a few lazy blinks to push back the swimming in her head and vision. Those shots were creeping in fast aided by a full stomach of naan and saag paneer. But she resumed focus on the game at hand, giving the clock another slap as she nudged her white bishop in an offensive position.
"So, Comm—Annelise," Priya fumbled slightly. "What are your parents like?"
Mum.Did you not watch any ANN profiles?
Shepard's sip of wine was casual, unruffled by the question. "Couldn't tell you. Both gone. Mom when I was four from eezo poisoning, Dad when I was thirteen. Fire in our apartment building."
What could have been a very awkward silence was instead filled with Priya's empathetic tongue cluck (honed from years of practice as a registered nurse). "You poor thing. Too much life experience forced onto someone so young." Her vigorous stirring motion never wavered. "Not to mention the life of a marine on top of all that. What a hand this universe deals us, hm?"
"Indeed," Annelise agreed. She smiled sadly, her eyes inward as though weighing something. "This reminds me of the dinners I had with my brother and dad."
Oh? Samantha's head tilted so she could hear better. Her father was closing in on one corner of the board, but her queen sprang into a hole in his defenses.
"Oh?" Priya asked, echoing Sam's own curiosity.
Nodding, Annelise rotating the now empty wine glass in her hand. "Dad wasn't much for cooking, but John loved it. He loved grilling and barbecue. He'd usually save some of his courier paycheck for a good cut of meat at the store and try out different seasonings." She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "I bet he would have loved your cooking."
"I fear I know the answer, but where is ...John?" At Shepard's nod, Priya continued. "Where is John now?"
Should have given your folks some notes, Traynor.
I didn't think it was my tale to tell!
How are you this bad at relationships, Traynor?
"Also gone, right before Dad. Car accident." Annelise chewed her cheek a moment. "You know, before the Skyllian Blitz, I thought I was pretty unlucky based on all that."
"Well, everything's kind of a shit show, so jury's out on that." Annelise looked over at Sam, who was getting louder and more erratic with her clock taps. "But lucky in other ways."
"Oh good answer, love!" Priya crowed, snapping the towel in Annelise's direction. "A for effort, superbly charming response." Her Omni-tool started beeping, signaling the woman to pull the pot of rice milk off the burner and set it aside to cool before turning her attention to the syrup. "What were three favorite things your brother cooked?"
An exhale deep through Shepard's nose as she held her chin in her hand. "Oh God, I haven't thought about that in ages." She nodded at Priya's silent pantomime offer to refill her wine glass. "He loved ribeye steak. Kind of fatty for me, and too damn expensive, but… I dunno, I liked it because he liked it so much."
Aw. Sam felt a pang of longing for Shepard. There was a fondness to the woman's tone that didn't come up often.
How often does Commander Bloody Shepard have a moment to think about her family? Or talk about them?
We should work on that, Traynor.
Geoffrey piped up regarding one of his favorite subjects. "Good man! Good cut of beef. What temperature?" He pointed a finger at Annelise as though calling on a student in one of his classes.
"Good man indeed," Geoffrey agreed as he slapped the timer one more time. White and black sides pieces were dwindling as lines of attack thinned out.
"Let's see, what else… He actually did a spiced mutton I really liked. Sometimes lamb. Both were dirt cheap for awhile in Seattle before the drought, so he made a lot of it." Annelise smiled as she accepted a small round bowl of kheer, a sprinkling of ground nuts on top. "Oh, and his ribs were to die for. John had this dry rub mixture he spent months tinkering with. Took damn near eight hours to cook, but worth it."
Geoffrey exchanged a look with his wife before cutting back to the game. Priya nodded."We love lamb in this house. One of the many reasons we applied for colony life. No more ration stamps from those artificial trade wars with the Volus, and all our farming sustainable and available direct to the colony first." Priya fired up her Omni-tool. "I have a lot of great lamb recipes if you're—goodness! I haven't asked how your cooking chops fare?"
Nudging a pawn over to take Sam's knight, Geoffrey jibed. "A loaded question, dear. We all know our Sammy is completely dependent on Alliance-provided cafeteria food. How she survived four years at Oxford is a complete mystery. She should have either ended up three hundred pounds from eating rubbish or died of scurvy."
"You talk a lot of shit, old man, for someone who just got checked. And it's called a dormitory meal plan, I'll have you know. I had three square meals."
I just probably didn't drink water the entire time. All booze or energy drinks.
"Of cafeteria food, further proving my point. Also, check."
Ugh. Also, what?
That exhale-laugh from Annelise almost pulled Sam away from her last ditch strategy. The Commander extended her own Omni-tool. "I'd love the help. While I can survive on a remote moon with just a knife and a canteen, I don't prefer to. I did undercover work for a year after graduating N7, so we had to learn how to be human again. Cooking included. Some of it even some fancy five course meals meant to impress targets."
"So you know where all the forks go and what they do?" Samantha asked, slapping the timer. "Check."
"I definitely do." Those green eyes glittered with mirth.
"Oooh, be still my heart." Sam shot a finger-gun at her girlfriend.
Priya made some flicking motions with her fingers before an answering ping from Shepard's wrist. "Well, here are some of Sammy's favorites. Someone should have them, since the pride of my life can't make toast."
"I also made note of some of the ones with Sammy's allergies."
Annelise flicked through the holo screen, studying the recipes. "Curry, shellfish, and peanuts, right?"
You forgot public speaking and losing at chess to my father.
Sam's mother clutched her heart theatrically. "You know! Oh Geoffrey, did you hear? Sammy trusted her with shellfish, darling!" Priya poured a ladle full of the syrup over a small pyramid of large cake-like balls that had been chilling in a dish. She brought the dish over to the pair of competitors whose game was nearing completion.
"Check! And I did, love! It seems our Samantha is serious about this one! ...or her commanding officer looked at her file." He grinned at his daughter before reaching for one of the gulab jamun.
Scowling, Sam slapped his hand away from the bowl before slapping the speed clock again. She could feel a heat rising in her neck and jaw (hopefully it was just the alcohol) . "No dessert til we finish the game! And check!"
After a tentative bite, Annelise dug into the bowl of sweet kheer with enthusiasm. "I mean, you're not wrong, sir. But I had the decency to act surprised when she finally told me. How was that again, Samantha?"
"When we went out on a date in public for the first time and I stole a bite of your lobster roll and my throat closed and we had to go to the med center, you mean?"
Both of her parents barked her name at the same time. "Samantha Karuna Traynor!" Her father added, "You always were a sucker for lobster despite never learning your lesson. And check."
"It was worth it!" Sam squawked. "It was delicious! Also: check mate!" The pawn she'd been nudging forward that her father ignored got promoted to a rook and was now perfectly positioned to box in his king.
Geoffrey stared at the change of fortune, dismayed and swaying a little in his chair. The shots were clearly taking hold. He tipped his king over in surrender, bowed his head at his daughter, and grabbed the topmost gulab jamun.
Samantha joined him with a second ball, the syrup coating dripping slightly. They raised their desserts in salute before taking a big bite.
Mouth full, Sam grinned up at Shepard who was standing next to her chair. "I had you there to rescue me, darling. I knew I'd be all right."
"I hope that's always the case," Annelise smiled back as she kissed Sam's forehead.
Before she slowly dropped down to one knee.