damalur: (your heart dying fast)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2017-02-03 09:37 pm

limit of the flesh (9)

Also on AO3.


But even the sainted Garrus Vakarian had his limits. Shepard figured that out for herself after she woke from a blue dream and went to the galley to self-medicate; Garrus found her there with a glass and a dwindling fifth of Rigellian whiskey. She was not an alcoholic. She was, however, a Marine, an insomniac, and an enhanced human with a superior constitution. She was not an alcoholic; but sometimes she drank.

"Shepard," Garrus said. His brows rose. "Starting the party early?"

"Twelve days of cruising," Shepard said. "Not the same as shore leave, but not exactly heavy duty."

He was wearing loose clothing — turian loungewear — rather than the fitted suits that were more fashionable for public appearances. His sleeves ended just past his elbows, and she found herself scowling in concentration at the long, uncovered expanse of his forearms as he hunted through his MREs for a dish that looked palatable. Garrus was lean, almost sinewy, and when he ripped into a package she could see the corded muscles in his arms bunch and flex. He was so efficient with three fingers that her own five-fingered hands abruptly seemed clumsy and even wasteful in design.

Shepard was not a particularly tactile person. She was a tough child and a tougher adult. After her family's deaths, she'd flinched away from anyone who offered comfort, and then, later, when the raw bleeding weight of the loss had been buried under scar tissue, she'd learned to act like she neither needed nor wanted that solace. At eighteen, right after signing her enlistment paperwork, she'd picked up her first sexual partner; she'd learned the woman's name but not much else about her, and that night had set the precedent for her romantic involvements. Quick, clean, anonymous, avoiding much by way of laughter or connection or even sensuous indulgence. Shepard liked sex, but she liked it less than boxing. The fascination she felt for Garrus was new to her.

Her friends she allowed a certain liberty of contact, but as she advanced through the ranks, even that she started to limit. Command demanded excellence, and excellence separated you from your peers; and it demanded authority, which meant being part of a squad but above them. Hyper-vigilance was another limiting factor — it faded in and out of Shepard's life, but during the worse periods she startled easily and often, so aware of and reactant to everything around her that sometimes she just wanted to climb into a sensory deprivation tank for a week.

She was aware of all of these exigencies. From the age of sixteen right up through the present she met regularly with whichever psychologist had been assigned to her. At first, the appointments were recommended by the trauma center that had briefly taken her in after Mindoir, and then they were a requirement demanded of all Alliance Navy personnel. Shepard, however, was not interested in self-explication. She was satisfied with high scores in the classroom and on the field, with good feedback from her commanding officers, and with her continued survival from one day to the next, and she was smart enough to know what the psychologists wanted to hear. Shepard was functional; the Navy agreed; that was all that mattered.

Shepard was functional, but she was beginning to think she was touch-starved.

She didn't like thinking about it; it was soppy and weak, if scientifically valid, and it was, more importantly, not a problem Shepard could solve on her own. For the past two decades, she had been touched more often with violent than with gentle intent. When the suspicion had dawned on her shortly after her release from the hospital, she'd thought first about addressing the issue with sex and then, more embarrassingly, with a massage, but there was something so desperate, so revoltingly humiliating, about the entire problem, that she'd done her best to forget about it.

Meanwhile, Garrus brought his MRE over the table and slid into the seat across from her. He started picking over his food unenthusiastically; small wonder, when it looked like some kind of shellfish and smelled like some kind of piss. One of them really needed to learn how to cook.

"Have you eaten yet?"

Shepard toasted him.

"Ah," said Garrus, and then he looked at her. There was a meter and a half of space between them.

"I know what I'm doing, Vakarian."

"...Yeah," Garrus said. "Yeah, Shepard, I know you do. But that doesn't make it any easier."

"No," Shepard agreed.

"And that doesn't mean you can stop."

"No," Shepard said, because he was right: she knew what she was doing to herself, she saw it with clear eyes, but knowledge and even self-knowledge were no cure, no panacea that would lift her doubt and banish her dreams, absolve her of guilt and grant her the mercy and forgiveness she didn't deserve. Knowledge was a candle against the dark, and that was all, and the dark was vast and indifferent and unknowable.

"No," Shepard said, "it doesn't."

And that was the first day.

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