The air is thick today, hot and oppressive. It clings to his skin and he has to repress the urge to rub the feeling of moisture into the back of his neck and along the lengths of his arms; a long-buried remnant of genetic instinct no doubt. The scent of flowers is strong, too, hanging like a haze as he wends his way through the crowded terrace in search of Shepard. He nods politely at the people as he passes, but his eyes are scanning the benches that ring the central fountain; his mind already planning where he will look next—her favourite spot under the huge tree on the far side of the gardens.
As it turns out, he doesn't need to go that far. She's waiting for him near the fountain and the light from the sun makes her hair glint with hints of flame. He sits down on an unoccupied bench right next to her, giving her a contrite flick of his mandibles. "Sorry I'm late."
She merely turns her face towards him and smiles. "I've been enjoying the sunshine. Couldn't ask for a more perfect day."
"You said it." From the loose slope of her shoulders, he can tell she's relaxed, content. It's a rare thing, and she certainly deserves a day like today after everything she's done for the universe. Hell, if he had the power to make every day like this one, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
Shepard turns her gaze back towards the fountain and, together, they watch the water tumbling from the central pedestal to splash into the wide pool below. She laughs every time the wind catches the spray, dousing them in a mist of cool droplets. He leans back against the bench, basking in the contrast between the slow bake of the sun's heat and the occasional icy barrage of water.
They talk about nothing in particular—not about Reapers, not about Cerberus; not Aratoht; not Alchera—just mundane things like the weather and what they should have for lunch. He tries to memorize every detail of her expression, those wry smiles and quirked eyebrows, wanting to hold on to this moment as long as he can.
Of course, it doesn't last. It never does.
He's never quite sure what sets it off—an image, a sound, a smell? Maybe it's not something that he can see; perhaps, it's when the nightmares that twist and turn down the corridors of her mind discover her hiding spot once more. It's hard to not cover his ear canals with his hands when she begins to scream.
Her wails set off a few of the others around them—some start to scream, too, while others rock or whimper or cry—but his attention is focussed solely on her. He activates the emergency console on the arm of the bench and whispers, "I'm here," to her over and over, even though he knows she isn't here anymore. He wishes he could touch her, but he's learned the hard way that it only makes things worse.
She's fighting against an enemy she can't defeat: the biotic restraints holding her arms and her remaining leg to her wheel chair; the panicked writhing of a broken animal. Her vital signs are terrifyingly wild—he doesn't need his visor to tell him that—although he hasn't worn it in a long time. She thrashes her head, snarling words his translator can't parse into anything he can understand, and he tries not to see how thin she's been getting as the bones beneath her wasted muscles twist and flex in her futile attempts to free herself. The skin beneath the restraints is still barely healed from yesterday, and it doesn't take much before she's bleeding again. He's come to fear red far more than he ever feared blue.
Mercifully, the nurses arrive. It takes three tries—at least one of them gets bitten—but they manage to press an injector against her neck to administer a fast-acting sedative. In a handful of seconds, Shepard goes limp and slumps forward in her chair. They spray medi-gel on the areas that she's rubbed raw, although smears of blood still stand out like an artist brushed them on; abstract daubs of crimson across a blotted landscape of bruises.
He thanks them, as he always does, ignoring the pity in their eyes before they wheel her away; taking her back to her room to spend the next twelve to sixteen hours in the semblance of sleep.
He sits on the bench for a while longer, waiting for his own frantic heart rate to resume its familiar rhythm. The scent of flowers drifts in to mask the odors of fear and sweat and blood. Above him, the sky is still the same breathtakingly perfect shade of blue as it had been when he'd first sat down.
His apartment is quiet and empty, with only the faint buzzing from the loose vent he hasn't found the time to fix yet disturbing the silence. There's nothing in the fridge but a grease-stained cardboard take away container from the night before, and he doesn't bother to re-heat it. He turns on the vidscreen and sits down in front of it; eating mechanically, half-listening to the artificially cheerful voice of the program announcer, but his thoughts are elsewhere.
He leaves the vidscreen on as he stands up and brushes the crumbs from his shirt. Picking up the empty container—after a moment's pause, he collects the three others left from previous nights' meals—and deposits them in the kitchen's waste receptacle unit. Out of habit, he checks to see if there are any messages on his omni-tool, but the people he'd once considered his friends have moved on after too many years of him not being able to muster the energy to respond.
In the bathroom, he strips off his clothes, dumping them into the laundry unit, and turns the water on in the shower cubicle as hot as it will go. He stands in the rush of searing water with his eyes closed, and doesn't move until the shower's console beeps at him, indicating that he's close to the end of his allotted water consumption for the day. At the sound, he lathers himself quickly with a bar of rough soap and rinses off, just barely finishing before the flow of water slows to a trickle and then stops. A different program is blaring asari pop music when he emerges from the bathroom, rubbing his plates dry with a once plush towel that is now too thin and worn to be even called threadbare.
He lies down on the couch, letting the flickering light from the vidscreen wash over him, and his grief curls up at his feet like a sated varren; they're old friends now. It once ravaged his flesh, tearing meat off in strips as it consumed him. He remembers broken nights spent smashing his fists to ruins against the unforgiving walls, but his rage has burned down into ashes that have grown cold as the months and years have slipped by. Only his bones remain, gnawed bare and pitted, and there's an odd comfort in the cavernous emptiness inside of him.
At some point, he falls asleep; if he dreams, he doesn't remember them when he wakes.
A/N: Thank you to the lovely Josie Lange for her mad beta skills and for her always helpful advice and suggestions. :)
This story was written as a response to this prompt on the ME kinkmeme:
After passing out from firing the crucible thinking she was going to die, Shepard wakes up in another medical facility. Everyone hopes she'll be the same old resilient commander, but this time she's changed. Shepard is declared insane, considered a danger to herself and locked in a secure facility despite the protests of the crew. I'd like to see crew/LI POV interacts when they go visit her.
-This isn't something cuddles fix, Shep doesn't get better
-LI eventually has to move on
-Shep doesn't remember some of the crew