Vulnerability/Free Fall 2
[Summary: In which Shepard and Chakwas discuss her medical condition, and Shepard finds herself not understanding how she feels about Garrus.As an aside, I’m really, really pleased with this chapter, so I’d love to hear how you felt!
Shepard’s eyes followed the light up and down, side to side until she could feel the strain.
“Pupil response is good, Shepard.” Making rapid notes on a piece of paper in a show of quaint, old-fashioned medicine, Doctor Chakwas put the light down, giving Shepard a once-over. “And how is the left-side weakness?” There was something in the way Chakwas looked at her that told Shepard lying was an impossibility.
“Same as always, doc. Comes and goes.” It came more often than it went, if she was completely honest. Mornings were the worst, joints racked by pain as they remembered how to work, reminding her that she was alive with pinpricks of pain so sharp it was almost exquisite. It was fortunate she was right-handed; on the mornings she woke with pain, it was difficult to even make a fist with her left hand. In the privacy of a cabin, she would use a cane to get around, leaning on it heavily, stretching her muscles or taking a hot shower until she could walk with only a hint of a limp, carefully making sure that she did everything with the right side of her body leading. At night, she shoved the cane under her bed, hating it for how much she relied on it, some other part of her embracing it for even allowing her to walk.
Chakwas still staring at her, Shepard realized, waiting for an answer to a question that she hadn’t heard. “Sorry. Stuck in my own head.” It was a dangerous place to be. “Don’t start psychoanalyzing me today. I don’t have the time.”
Cut off before she could start, Chakwas pursed her lips before repeating her earlier question. “I asked if you were still doing your exercises.” A polite way to say ‘physical therapy,’ the euphemism not lost on Shepard.
It was time to cut the conversation off before it got too probing and too uncomfortable. Only Chakwas and Miranda knew the full extent of the damage done to Shepard’s body, and Miranda was laden with guilt over it, saying it was her fault Shepard had woken too soon. “I should have found an alternative.” It was impossible to talk to her about this, and Shepard got the distinct impression that Miranda didn’t even particularly like her as a person. She was an asset to Cerberus and nothing more. It was Chakwas who offered solutions, as difficult as they were.
Standing and stifling a groan at a lance of pain through her left hip, Shepard answered, “Mostly.” It wasn’t like she had time every day. She had to be in the field, assemble a team, deal with the Illusive Man, face her own doubts… All in a short span of time, all with the threat of Collectors looming over her head. “When I have time, which I don’t right now. Let’s have a drink some time.” Whenever that time would be. And then, because she felt guilty, because she genuinely liked Chakwas and trusted the woman with her life- “I mean it. Stick some opioids in it so I’m in a better mood and we’ll be good to go.”
Before Chakwas could raise a further objection, Shepard had left the room, doing her best not to limp, moving forward with determination and a slight bite to her lip as the only proof she was in pain. By the time she reached the door, she showed no signs at all.
The Normandy was rushing through space towards Tuchanka, but there was still an hour or so to kill. The list of things Shepard could and should be doing grew by the minute, yet she found herself heading up a level, towards the crew deck. Stasis pods were on either side of her and then the main battery was in front of her. What the hell was she even doing here? Following her instincts had rarely led Shepard wrong in the past, but there was a gnawing in the pit of her stomach that said she had no good reason to be here.
The door hissed open automatically and there was no way she could turn around and leave now. “Shepard, you need me for something?” he shot over his shoulder, not even needing to look to see who it was, keyed into the new, uneven sound of her feet moving.
“Have you got a minute?” The question sounded stupid the minute Shepard said it, but she covered it by folding her arms and cocking a hip, moving weight off the left side of her body and trying to seem deceptively casual. If she knew where her mind was, she would have retrieved it and left before her dignity also fled, but as it was, she felt faintly stupid. This was Garrus, damn it. Before the events of two years ago, he had been one of her closest friends. That was it, and anything else had just been fooling herself, the result of too much tension and too much danger sending emotions haywire.
“Sure. Just checking the weapons system. You can never be too careful.” Turning away from the console and machinery he had been examining, Garrus engaged in easy conversation with Shepard. All this years and it felt almost like yesterday. Two years though. That’s how long she had been out, and while Cerberus had been gluing parts of her together, Garrus had his own troubles, a new group of friends slaughtered and splintered apart by a single act of betrayal. The pain was still raw in his voice, though he hid it well. She knew him well enough though, even now. Even after all that time.
“I don’t need you to agree with me, but I’d like your help.” How could she say no to that? With all the shit hitting the fan, there shouldn’t have been time, but Garrus’ fight against Sidonis was something Shepard was confident she could do, and there was little enough of that floating around. They would find Sidonis, and they would make him pay.
The lull that came over them was awkward, something in the air that hadn’t been there before. It was like before, when bloodlust and desire to make an actual change brought something dangerously close to emotional resonance to the surface. “But what about you, Shepard? We’ve talked about me long enough.” Wanting to deflect, Shepard hemmed and hawed, but Garrus was adept at pinning her underneath his stair, one visored eye and one unshielded keeping her in place as effectively as his hands might. No, don’t think about that.
“I’m fine.” The lie sounded hollow in her voice.
“I’m really doubting that, Shepard. From what I’ve heard, your Cerberus branded body isn’t entirely up to scratch.” That was putting it mildly.
“It is what it is, Garrus.” That was closer to the truth. “It’ll get better or it won’t, and not much I can do will change that.” To underscore her point, another twinge of pain shot through her left calf, making her wince, taking weight off it even further to stand awkwardly on one foot, swaying dangerously. At once, Garrus stuck his hands out, one catching her elbow and the other on her hip, steadying her and providing her something to lean on. Grateful, she was all too conscious at the same time, feeling every point of contact and keeping her best Commander face on. “I’m okay, Vakarian. You can let go.”
It was a small consolation that when Garrus stepped away, he seemed as flustered as she felt, unable to hide his emotions as well as she could. “I… should go.” Before she reached the door, she had to sort out her limp, but she let him see a few dragging steps before swallowing the pain. No one else would be allowed to glimpse that vulnerability, but didn’t Garrus deserve it, after all this time?