damalur: (sm • luna)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2016-03-19 12:43 am

limit of the flesh (6)



What made it more difficult was how thoroughly her life had blurred with Garrus's. On the Normandy, there had been divisions—Shepard had her quarters and he had his, and while she would have been comfortable digging through his equipment for a spare heat sink in a way she wouldn't have been with Vega or Williams, their friendship had still existed within the boundaries of command and rank. Here, now, in this space where they were nominally equals, Shepard used his toothpaste and brushed against him in the galley and dug through his holonovel collection on nights when she had trouble sleeping.

In return, she struggled to grant an equal number of concessions; communal living was familiar to Shepard, but intimacy wasn't. She let Garrus sample her food and borrow her cleaning kit and abuse her contacts, because they both gave of themselves freely; in this new world, though, when they were not part of but all of the crew, she realized it wasn't the acts themselves but the feeling they inspired that choked her.

She liked it, felt stifled by it, was terrified of it in equal turns.

So what did she do? She put it behind her. She compartmentalized, she shut it down, and she did her job.

After the war but before the Alliance had soured on her, the Council had extended an offer; they'd wanted her to lead a new JSOC hierarchy, something wider in scope than the Spectres. The Spectres were effective, there were statistics to back that up, but large-scale joint operations between Council races had historically been coordinated on the sovereign level—turians conducting exercises with salarians, asari deigning to loan a commando team to humans with no thought to how a drell infiltrator could assist. In the wake of the Reapers, it had become dramatically clear how badly a central oversight command was needed, an operational hub that understood the resources and capabilities of every special ops group at the Council's disposal.

On paper, Shepard was ideal for the role. She had the pedigree; her SOF training was elite to the point of absurdity, and her service record was unmatched. She had the experience in running an interspecies command, too, and the political weight to make her post useful. On paper, Shepard was ideal, but in practice, the thought of devoting the rest of her life to warfare, unconventional or otherwise, left the taste of bile on her lips and tongue.

The Alliance had been invested in having one of their own installed as the head of Joint Special Operations Command; Shepard's refusal had indirectly led to the Alliance's strongly-worded suggestion that she retire. The Council, on the other hand, had turned around and immediately offered the command to Garrus. He had demurred with the excuse that JSOC should be led by a Spectre. The Council had countered by offering him an invitation to join Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. Garrus had accepted the invitation but rejected the posting; he'd turned up the next morning in Shepard's recovery suite with a dossier of starship listings, and now here they were, partners in bounty hunting.

There were worse jobs. At any rate, it spoke to Shepard's hypocrisy that she'd turned down a job running special operations in favor of a job that was, more or less, running special operations. Between the two of them, though, she and Garrus retained enough pull that the Council let them do what they wanted, as long as they did it quietly. Shepard still wasn't sure of Garrus's reasons for joining her on the Valkyrie, but she knew that she herself was poorly suited to anything else. Her life had trained her for situations that required dramatic and violent overreaction, and her recent crucible had left her in dire need of some narrow, intent purpose.

Maybe Garrus understood. Maybe he didn't. Maybe it was only the extremity of her history that made her think of him as balanced. Her nightmares contained multitudes; she dreamed about indoctrination, about the twinned memories of death and resurrection, about seeing the jagged ends of flesh and bone when her leg had been severed below the knee; she dreamed about reducing herself to a machine, the fantasy of being a computer that calculated variables without attachment; she dreamed about Torfan, and those dreams were as bloody and terrible as anything the Reapers had left her with.

There was no scale. One dream was as bad as the next, and measuring the weight of her personal failures against the incomprehensible existential horror of the Reapers was impossible. Even so, there was still a particular dream that haunted her to the point she refused to think about it, and that was the dream of Garrus leaving. Whether he was stabbed or shot, indoctrinated or left to writhe in the black of space, whether she drove him away or his reserve of loyalty finally broke—that didn't matter. What stayed with her was the bleak knowledge of being utterly alone, of being left to rot under the cloying weight of her despair.

She adopted insomnia as a preventative. She didn't think about it. She put it behind her. And she kept moving.