"A New Truth"
It was one of those days
when Astin needed skin contact
but couldn't tolerate being touched.
It made xyr twitchy and snappish,
and the people of Sargasso Base
shied out of the way until Shuttlecock
finall said, "Why don't you go see Palmer?"
"Because a massage therapist isn't
much use to me when I'm too wound up
to be touched," Astin grumbled.
Shuttlecock flapped her hands at xyr
in a gentle shooing motion. "Go on,"
she said. "Give Palmer a chance
to figure out how to handle this.
You're not the only one who
has this kind of problem."
"I'm not?" Astin said, bemused.
"Really not," Shuttlecock assured xyr,
opening the door to urge Astin out.
So Astin went to see Palmer,
shuffling and muttering xyr way
through an explanation of the problem.
"Skin hunger and touch aversion feel
terrible when they gang up on you,"
Palmer said with a familiar nod.
"How are your hands? Can you
still touch things with them, or
is that also awful today?"
"I can touch things just fine,"
Astin said. "It's being touched
that I can't abide right now."
"Great," said Palmer, "then
how about you touch me?"
"Hrm?" Astin said, feeling
more confused than ever.
"The body has its own wisdom,
its own needs, but sometimes those
get in each other's way," Palmer said.
"If you touch me, that should give you
enough to satisfy the skin hunger without
exacerbating the touch aversion. Besides,
I never get enough healthy touch, so
you'd be doing me a favor."
"I don't know what to do,"
"That's all right," Palmer said.
"I can talk you through it."
"I can try," Astin said.
When Palmer stripped down,
Astin saw that she wore the same kind
of stretchy tank-and-shorts underwear
that xe had gotten Mole to make.
Apparently it was catching on.
Palmer lay down, underwear
still in place, on a work table that
had been padded with packing foam.
"You can touch me anywhere
not covered by cloth," she said.
"Start by just running your hands
lightly up and down my body."
Astin did that, and xyr palms
came alive as they touched
the smooth expanse of her skin.
Something in xyr stirred
and then went still.
The touch somehow soothed
the restlessness within xyr,
helping it settle down.
Slowly Astin worked xyr way
over Palmer's body from
feet to legs to back.
Xe could feel the soft,
intimate motion of her ribs
as she breathed in and out,
her chest expanding and
contracting under xyr hands.
Then xe did the arms,
long limp noodles of flesh
that flopped around if xe
wasn't careful with them.
Palmer rolled over so that
Astin could do her front,
although by now she was
so relaxed now that she
was nearly nonverbal,
her instructions down
to mumbles and grunts.
Astin followed along as best
xe could, and Palmer seemed
to be enjoying herself.
Xe drew little circles along
her cheekbones with xyr fingertips
and traced the faint lines that lay
between her eyebrows.
Palmer had a soft, round face
that always made Astin smile
to see it, as easy on the eyes
as her hands on xyr body,
at least when xe was in
a mood to be massaged.
This was ... nice, though,
in a whole different way.
It unwound the tension in
Astin, and xe found that it
felt good to help Palmer the way
that she had helped xyr before.
By the time Astin finished,
Palmer was half-asleep
on the padded table.
Astin covered her with a towel
and said, "Stay there as long as
you like," which was what Palmer
always said to xyr afterwards.
Then Astin sat down
in the corner chair and
tried to figure out xyr feelings.
Xe didn't usually have a lot of
feelings about people, at least
not intimate ones, but there was
definitely something growing now,
unfamiliar and sweet.
Astin wasn't sure what to do
about that, but maybe it was okay
not to know, just to wait and
see what it turned into.
Eventually Palmer sat up
and smiled at xyr. "Thank you,"
she said. "That was lovely.
How are you feeling?"
"Better," Astin said.
"Still a bit confused, though."
"Bodies can be confusing,"
Palmer agreed. "People
are definitely confusing."
This was true, although
the people of the Lacuna
were beginning to make
a lot more sense to Astin
than most people did.
"I'm a little embarrassed,"
xe admitted. "I don't usually
come unglued like this."
Palmer shrugged, a long slow roll
of her whole body. "So?" she said.
"Maybe that's what you needed."
"Maybe," Astin said, still feeling awkward.
"I'm trying to hold onto a new truth,"
said Palmer, "that in the instincts of
the body, there should be no shame,
but a frank appreciative pride."
"I like that a lot better than
'cover your shame' or worse,"
Astin said thoughtfully.
Palmer wrinkled her nose,
making the constellations of
freckles change shape.
"Where did you hear that?"
Astin opened xyr mouth to say,
At home, but it didn't feel right anymore.
Xyr ship was xyr home, and the rooms that
xe kept here and at Supply Base Bounty 3D3N.
"From my parents," Astin said instead.
"I don't miss them much, though.
I like the company here better."
Palmer smiled, and made
the little cross-arms-flick-hands
gesture of blowing xyr a hug
without groping xyr.
"I like this company better too,"
she said firmly.
* * *
"I had fast in my heart's keeping the new truth that in the body, and the instincts of the body, there should be no shame but rather a frank, joyous pride."
-- Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)
Skin hunger and touch aversion are two opposed needs that can occur at the same time, which is miserable.
Massage is a fantastic type of healthy touch. This is not the sequence we customarily use in a therapeutic massage, but it is an excellent sequence for when someone is skittish, because it moves from the extremities toward the core of the body. Aside from fully-clothed massage, the usual rule is not to massage body parts that remain covered by cloth; it's a discreet way to communicate boundaries. Many people (whether giving or receiving massage) need to work up the intimacy level of full nudity.