“This way,” Kaidan said.
They had been wandering for a while now. The commander and the lieutenant of the Normandy had eaten at a cafe near the shops, then walked along the sterile, white sidewalks for most of the afternoon. At first, they had talked about Ashley, about her life and her jokes, about what she would have done had she been there to see the Battle of the Citadel. In many ways, her sacrifice had turned the tide of that battle. Had there been hordes of krogan fighting for Saren that day, things might have ended far worse than they did.
After a while, the talk turned to other subjects. They talked about their training as biotics, about the mission ahead, and then, at last, to the shore leave that seemed as far off as ever.
“What would Ashley say about us going to her service in the morning and planning shore leave in the evening?” Kaidan had asked Shepard with a sad smile and a shake of his head.
“She’d probably tell us to have a good time and bring lots of condoms,” Shepard replied.
Kaidan laughed and blushed a little. “Yeah,” he chuckled. “She would have, too.”
Shepard’s words had gotten him thinking though, and so while the conversation turned to other topics again, Kaidan slowly directed their walk away from the embassies and stores and further into the area that housed the hotels and parks of the Presidum.
Now, he led Shepard into a narrow hallway that led away from the main walk and into a wide plaza. Circling the open space were flowering trees with wide blossoms in every color of the rainbow.
“Wow,” Shepard said, looking out on the tree-encircled place. “This is quite the park.”
“Yeah,” Kaidan agreed. “But that’s not the best part. Come here.” He walked to the other side of the plaza and Shepard followed. On the far side was a wall. There was a doorway in it, but the glowing red light in the center of it signaled that it was locked.
“Damn,” Kaidan murmured. “I guess they closed it down for the night.”
“That’s okay,” Shepard said, “we can go to… Kaidan? What are you doing?” She looked at her lieutenant in surprise as he flicked on his omnitool and began tapping at it.
“You’re hacking the lock?” Shepard raised her eyebrows at him.
“It’s worth it,” he told her, “You’ll see.” A moment later, the light in the center of the door turned green and the doors slide open. Kaidan put his hand on the small of Shepard’s back. She felt her heart beat faster at the contact as he ushered her into a darkened room.
“Kaidan,” she asked, uncertainly, “What are you doing?”
“Just trust me, Shepard,” he grinned. Then his smile was gone from view as the door slid shut behind them and the lights went out.
“This way,” he said. He took her hand in his and led her into the darkness. His calloused palm felt warm and strong; simply holding it made her feel a little dizzy. Funny how days apart made even the smallest touch erotic.
And they had spent days apart. The Citadel had been a mess, and as a result the Normandy had been asked to stay. Shepard had been in meetings for hours at a time and the Normandy crew had been lending what aid they could to survivors. Today had been the first day in which there was a break: a break for a funeral, that is, and then off-duty time following. There wasn’t much to do on the Citadel at the moment though, not with the chaos in the wards. Most of the crew had gone back to the ship to spend their time there. In fact, as far as she knew, only she and Kaidan were still out wandering around.
“What is this place?” Shepard asked. Something was crowding in around her and the air was heavy and damp.
“Over here,” Kaidan said. He pushed something aside in front of her and pulled her forward.
“Oh,” she breathed. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” he echoed beside her.
They were standing in what looked like an enchanted forest. Faint light twinkled from the ceiling above, a ceiling which Shepard realized looked out onto a view of the Widow Nebula beyond. It gave a faint light to the room, and the room itself was filled with flowering trees and fragrant pines. The tops of the evergreens nearly reached the glass ceiling far above them.
“What is this?” Shepard murmured.
“It’s a Japanese-style garden,” Kaidan told her. “These plants are all native to the Pacific regions of Earth, so they need a lot of water and shade. That’s why the lights aren’t on all the time in here. I found it yesterday when Tali and I were helping Captain Anderson fix some of the Alliance offices and embassy suites. We had to go back to the Normandy by a different way because the keepers had put up a wall in our path. I thought I smelled cedar and stuck my head in here. It just smelled so much like home.”
“Is this what the forests in Vancouver are like?” Shepard asked him.
“This?” Kaidan laughed. “Not even close. But, like I said, the trees reminded me a little of the coast. That’s why I wanted to…” He laughed a little and paused.
“Wanted to what?”
“Ah,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “I wanted to take you for a walk.”
She blinked at him.
“You know, people sometimes take walks – without carrying guns.”
“I’m carrying a gun,” she told him.
“So am I,” he admitted. “Okay, without stuff shooting at them. How’s that?”
“We’ve been walking all day,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, but there have been people and windows…” He broke off sheepishly. “I wanted to take you for a private walk. As in…” He couldn’t come up with anything to say that didn’t sound hopelessly romantic or old fashioned. “Will you take a walk with me, Shepard?”
“That sounds sweet.” Shepard found she had begun to grin.
“Sweet?” he frowned. “So is that a ‘yes,’ or is that a ‘no way in hell’?”
“Take a walk in this garden?” Shepard looked into the twilight trees and found she could not see the other end of the room. “With you? And nothing attacking us? That’s definitely a ‘yes’.”
“You gonna be able to handle this, commander?” Kaidan asked her teasingly. “A normal walk? With me?”
“Kaidan,” she said, lifting her chin, “I can handle anything you throw at me.”
“Then again, I could arrange an ambush of some sort…” Kaidan murmured.
“An ambush, eh?” Shepard asked, her voice going low and sultry. “That sounds promising.”