Shepard woke up to the sunlight slowly creeping in through the room. Soft hues of orange painted the walls with their warmth. It was unfamiliar and enough to make her sit up in a panic, having forgotten where she was. As soon as she sat up, she saw Kaidan still sleeping soundly on the couch across from the foot of her bed. It was enough to make her sudden adrenaline rush subside. It would seem that she had gotten more accustomed to her hospital room than she thought. She was finally free of it, yet subconsciously missing the comforts and stability it provided.
She looked out the window as she allowed her breathing to regulate itself, hoping it would help her calm down more. They were in one of the only highrises that was actually finished at this point, and Kaidan's apartment was situated near the top. One of the perks of being a Major if Shepard had to guess. Because of that, the view was almost entirely unimpeded. She could see the mountains up to the north, their peaks still tipped with snow. Everything was beginning to be painted in that same orange glow of the sun that was currently hitting the wall.
She couldn't help but notice grey clouds off in the distance, too. She knew Kaidan would have known better anyway, but it appeared as though he accurately predicted the weather. Even if she could have gotten camping gear without taking it from someone in need, this really wasn't the best time to be living in the wilderness.
Her breathing had now calmed, so she turned her view to give the apartment a once-over, still not wanting to get up just yet. It was a tiny bachelor setup. The walls were cold and empty, just as she would have expected from the Alliance. Apparently, there was no surplus in the budget to be littering their walls with knick-knacks or cheap art. She had a clear view of the kitchen. The whole living space shared one larger room—the perfect depiction of a bachelor apartment. She wasn't particularly surprised by that, again, remembering that this was temporary Alliance housing. They relied on efficient use of space, and for someone with Kaidan's rank, these rooms were typically meant for single person use. It wasn't exactly homey by any means, but it served its purpose well enough. Though, something about it felt homey to her, despite its cold aesthetic. She figured it probably had to do with the warmth of the sun coming through the window or the fantastic view of nature off in the distance. Part of her couldn't help but wonder if it might have had more to do with the other body sleeping on the couch across from the foot of her bed.
Her gaze lingered down to Kaidan then. She let out a sigh and plopped her head back down on the pillow, remembering what was in store for her today. That's right. They would be heading to the orchard later in the morning. The clarity of the situation that came with a good night's rest suddenly left her feeling unsettled over the prospect.
After spending the evening with him, they both quickly fell back into that place of comradery and comfort with each other. It was as though nothing had changed between them. It was the exact closeness that she had been craving from him for so long now. She had fallen asleep, perfectly content and happy with the day's events. She was glad that they could have spent so much time together with no responsibilities weighing them down, but the sobering reality of morning left a bitter taste in her mouth.
He showed her around Vancouver and took her to all of the places that were important and meaningful to him growing up here. Sure, half the city was in shambles, but he still managed to bring her to all of the areas that held memories for him. The entire time, she couldn't help but picture Kaidan as a young boy running around the crowded streets with his family. This whole place was a part of who he was and what turned him into the person that he is now. He even took her to one of his favourite pubs that was still standing, and she finally got to try the lager he was always talking about. As they both suspected, Shepard wasn't a fan. It had quickly turned into a fun night, all the same, getting a sample of what Kaidan's life was like here.
It was the first time she could remember genuinely smiling in years. The only other time she could think of was at the party she threw in Anderson's apartment on the Citadel, but even then, it was weighed down by thoughts of the war. This was different. They didn't have a care in the world. It was almost a new feeling for her.
By the time they made it back to Kaidan's room, she was so tired and stiff that she hadn't even put up a fight at his insistence on giving her the bed. She had quickly gotten dressed in her pyjamas and promptly passed out without so much as saying a goodnight to the man who was gracious enough to give up his sleeping arrangements for her.
Waking up now with a fresh perspective of the previous day's events made her feel like it was all a little more intimate than she had been expecting. She saw the city through the lens of a man she once loved. All of the places that he took her and the experiences they shared felt reminiscent of something he should be doing with someone special. Guilt consumed her then, making her regret agreeing to go to the orchard with him. She hoped that she hadn't left him with confused feelings over their relationship like the ones she was currently experiencing. It made her realise just how difficult this week with his family was about to be. It would be unfair to put him through that.
She glanced over to the front door from the comfort and safety of the bed. It wasn't that far away. She contemplated leaving as she glanced back to Kaidan, who was still as sound asleep as he was before. There was a small recreation centre on the first floor of the building where she could shower and change. She was almost certain she could escape quietly enough without him noticing.
She sat for another moment to mull it over. It would hurt his feelings if she left now, but in the long run, they'd probably both be better off without her complicating their feelings for each other again. If she was honest, it was making it easier for her . She didn't know if she could make it through a week of being with the Alenkos without breaking down at some point.
That was enough to make up her mind on the matter. She slowly and quietly began to sit up, and as she extended her leg out to hit the floor as quietly as she could, searing pain rushed through her calf and up into her thigh. The same leg that had been shattered after the blast from the Citadel. It needed so much reconstructive surgery that she wasn't able to walk on it for months, and was still regaining full mobility and muscle mass. It was the majority of the reason she wasn't fit for active duty yet. She fell back on the bed, hissing out in pain, figuring that they must have overdone it yesterday when they were walking around everywhere.
She heard rustling from the other side of the room almost immediately.
"What?! What is it?" Kaidan asked as he rushed over to her side.
She couldn't respond, the pain was so bad. She hissed out again as another jolt rushed through her leg.
"Your leg? Muscle cramp?" he asked quickly, having been able to discern that from the way she was grasping at it.
She nodded in confirmation, her eyes screwed together tightly. The bed dipped beside her, and she felt gentle hands over her leg as he helped stretch it out.
"Does that feel any better?"
She nodded quickly and huffed out a "Yeah."
"Where does it hurt?"
"Back of my thigh," she forced out, as the pain eased slightly.
He waited for her to relax a bit more before moving to sit between her legs. That finally made her open her eyes to watch what he was doing. He lifted the stiff one gently and rested her calf on his shoulder, running his hands down the smooth expanse of her leg in search of the offending muscle.
As his thumbs started digging into the back of her thigh, she hissed out in pain again.
"I take it, that's the spot?" he asked, looking concerned.
She nodded in confirmation, not particularly wanting to speak again, but watched him as he worked the muscle. His gaze went directly back to her thigh and his task at hand, ever the gentleman as always, not letting his eyes stray anywhere unseemly.
Meanwhile, the more he massaged her leg, the more relaxed she felt, and the more her own eyes drifted to his bare chest, still as toned as ever, perhaps with a few more scars adorning it now. Probably from the Mako blast right before the beam in London if she had to guess. They weren't there when she saw him at Huerta after what happened to him on Mars, so they had to be more recent. Already healed over, but recent nonetheless.
She still remembered that day. Sending him back to the Normandy with Liara. Back when she didn't regret her decision at Apollo's because she was so sure she was about to be facing certain death. Of course, that hadn't stopped her from desperately wanting to tell him that she was still in love with him right then and there, but at the time, she was glad for her better judgement. Or maybe it was against her better judgement now that she was alive and well, staring at him square in the chest.
"Is that better?" he asked, and she was mortified to see that he was looking back at her now. She just hoped he didn't notice how long she'd been ogling him.
She cleared her throat. "Uh, yeah. Thanks."
He set her leg back down gently to let it rest but didn't move from his spot. "Does that still happen a lot?"
"No," she said as she rested her head back against the pillow. "I think we might have just pushed it a bit yesterday."
"You should have said something, I would have been fine coming back here earlier."
"I felt fine yesterday. I think I'm still just getting used to having limitations, and I haven't exactly figured out what they are yet. I haven't had much of a chance to test it out before now."
Kaidan nodded at that. It was only her first day out of the hospital yesterday. They probably didn't allow her to push herself too much outside of physical therapy. She would have expected to go back to her room hurting after a session there, but this was her first time testing out the waters on her own.
"All right," he said, sounding pleased enough with her answer. "As long as you're okay now, I guess. I'll make sure you take things easier at the orchard," he said as he finally got up.
Oh right… The orchard. So much for her escape plan. She started to sit up before Kaidan stopped her again.
"Hang on. Just stay here. I'm going to get you some water and breakfast so you can let your leg rest for a minute."
His nurturing attitude was doing nothing to help her already very confusing feelings for him. "That really isn't necessary," she called out.
"No, maybe not, but I'm not the one who's still recovering. I can grab you something to eat, Shepard," he said with a sly grin.
She let out a barely audible grunt of frustration as she sat up a bit, before relaxing against the headboard to prevent a lecture from him.
She heard dishes clattering lightly and cupboards open and close. She glanced over at him. He put on one of his Alliance issue T-shirts that had been strewn across the back of a kitchen chair after starting a pot of coffee with a grin on his face. He seemed content to just be for the moment. It was a nice look on him. Like the weight of the galaxy wasn't on his shoulders anymore. Time after war was doing him good. She realised she was staring again, so she tried to distract herself by fidgeting with the hem of her pyjama shorts.
He finished up quickly and brought her a plate of food. It wasn't anything fancy, just a muffin and banana. He also brought her a cup of coffee and two water bottles and set those down next to her on the nightstand.
"I already know that you're going to be too stubborn if I told you you're not allowed to have coffee, but the caffeine will make your leg worse. I want you to finish all of that water to help compensate for it."
"Yes, sir, Dr. Alenko," she said with a grin and a mock salute before peeling the banana and taking a bite.
He quickly made his way back into the kitchen and grabbed himself a plate and some coffee of his own before plopping back down on the couch across from her. He stretched out his legs and put his feet up on the bed, that's how close the furniture was to each other.
Jane couldn't help but notice the muscles in his legs as he peeled his own banana. She still remembered what it felt like to have those thighs between hers, and was starting to remember how much she missed it. She gulped her food down a little louder than she thought was necessary, and cleared her throat awkwardly. She turned to the window again, hoping that she came off as being more suave than she felt in the moment.
It really was a beautiful view. She just hoped it was nice enough to distract any attention away from her embarrassing behaviour. The sun had a chance to rise a little higher, and the warm orange and pink hues were replaced with the more direct, harsh light of the day already.
They ate in companionable enough silence. She tried to finish her breakfast quickly, as another way to keep her distracted while she kept admiring the view.
"You okay?" she heard from the other side of the room.
Clearly, she was doing a worse job at keeping her cool than she had hoped.
"Hmm?" was all she offered as she glanced back to him, feigning confusion, hoping he wasn't going to ask her about her odd behaviour.
"Your leg. Is it feeling better yet?"
"Oh," she said. She had all but forgotten about that at this point. She started stretching it and trying to loosen it up a bit. "It's still a bit sore, but much better now," she said, almost surprised at how much better it actually was. It usually would have been hard to walk on for hours after an attack like that. It was kind of him to have done that for her.
"Good, I'm glad to hear it. You'll get a good chance to rest it today, at least. The skycar ride isn't too long, but we'll still be sitting for a while. You should make sure to stretch it at some point after we land, though."
She nodded at that as she finished off the last bite of her breakfast.
Kaidan got up and walked over to her to take the empty dishes back to the kitchen. As he bent down to take them, his old, familiar scent flooded her senses. He must still use the same soap because it quickly brought back memories of their time together. She remembered seeking those arms out for comfort before hitting Ilos. She remembered huddling herself closer to him, nuzzling her face against his chest and learning that smell for the first time as he held her under the sheets of their first night together, desperately trying to get any sleep they could before going after Saren.
"I took a shower last night after you passed out," he said, bringing her back to reality. "So it's all yours now. I can pack everything up, and then as soon as you're done, we're free to get out of here."
"Great," she managed to get out more clearly than she would have thought possible in the moment and offered him a smile.
She watched him head back into the kitchen with their dishes before she finally managed to get up and grab her stuff. She made her way to the bathroom and started the shower. She huffed out in frustration as she looked at herself in the mirror. Her chance at escape was long gone now, and she was finding it hard to get thoughts of Kaidan out of her head. She went back over to the shower and made sure it was set to cold.