"Normandy do you copy, I need an evac right now"
"Vega, where are you. You've got to get out of here"
"I'm not going anywhere Loco"
"Don't argue with me, Lieutenant, that's an order".
"I can't walk Commander, I can hardly breathe. But I can still fight. I have medigel and heat-sinks; I'll be fine. It's been an honor sir".
"Damn it Vega".
When she walked in his room for the first time he was asleep, slouched in a faux leather squeaky geriatric chair from another era. His brow was creased, breathing shallow and quick, and his blood pressure was elevated. After quickly checking his chest tube, the dressing on his side, and IV line configuration, she prepared and administered a dose of morphine.
When she checked back on him half an hour later he seemed more relaxed and he was taking deeper and slower breaths. However, his blanket had slipped and, as she delicately brought it back up to his shoulders, he woke up.
"Morning", he said groggily.
"Good day Mr. Vega. I'm Chloé, your nurse for today".
"Thanks for the pain med earlier".
"Pleasure, you looked like you needed it. You do know you can call me, you don't have to wait in pain".
"Yeah, I'm sure you have other patients with more pressing needs. I won't keep you".
"Nonsense, I make time for all my patients. Do you need anything else?"
"I thought I'd wait for the orderly, but...", he took a breath and sighed. "I think this old crippled pushed it a bit too long with the sitting. Could you help me to the bed?"
"Sure", she replied as she observed from head to toes.
He had to be around 110-120kg. The baggy baby-blue gown did little to hide the impressive upper body musculature. With the chest tube pain under control, he would be able to help with the transfer, but he would still require significant assistance since he had yet to regain feeling in his legs.
"Like what you see", he said with a cocky smile.
Chloé blushed lightly, surprise showing on her face. As much as he was undeniably handsome, she would never abuse her position as a nurse to lecherously look at vulnerable patients.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't…I…", she stammered.
"I'm just teasing. No harm done". He smiled weakly while suppressing a self-depreciating chuckle.
"I was trying to determine the best way to get you to the bed", she supplied. "I'm not used to working with grown-ups. I used to work with kids. They are much… lighter than you are", she added, smiling shyly.
"The world has gone to shit, right", he sighed.
"Yeah. But the Reapers are gone, so there's that", she replied cheerfully.
"There is that", he said grimly.
After a short moment of silence, he pointed at the hospital bed table.
"The orderly usually uses the belt and I get a good grip on their shoulders".
Grabbing the transfer belt, she wrapped it tightly around the soldier's waist making sure the gown was properly fastened; no one liked moving around with their butt out for the world to see. She moved the chair as close to the bed as possible, transferred the IV pole, the chest tube casing, and the urinary collection bag.
Kneeling at his feet, she put on his slippers. They were plain, anti-slippery, practical; obviously the standard given to the soldiers who ended up stranded on Earth without access to their personal effects. She could feel his embarrassment at depending so much on exterior help. "It's not forever you know", she said, placing a hand on his knee empathically. "The swelling in your spine will go down. You will walk again". His sad smile was quite telling. "Until then, I'm here for you", she added with a kind smile.
He must have been a fierce soldier she thought as he wrapped his thick arms around her shoulders; even after weeks of bed rest, she could still feel his strength. She was glad of it after she finished the transfer maneuver. She didn't know if she would have been able to drag him up the bed alone had he not pushed himself toward the pillow while she helped place his legs on the bed.
"Thanks for the help, Mr. Vega", she said, helping him grab his blankets.
She could tell he was exhausted, but still, he managed to flirt some more.
"I could get used to being a cripple with a nurse like you". His smirk was endearing, but she would have none of the self-depreciating humour.
"You're not a cripple, sir. You're a war hero".
When she made her rounds an hour later, he was asleep. Quietly, she darkened the window, turned off the lights and the television, and placed the remotes on the bed table. As she was doing so, she noticed a small box, engraved with the Systems Alliance symbol, on the floor, wedged between the wall and the bedside table. Picking it up, she opened it hoping whatever was in it hadn't been damaged by the fall. Smiling, she placed the box, opened, on the table next to the remotes.
He woke up a little bit before breakfast was served. The room was dark except a dim pilot light above the sink, by the door. The day shift was about to start, he thought. Maybe he would get to see Chloé again. After finding his 2186 Star on the table the evening before, he had thought about her. She had called him a war hero. Having lost the use of half his body, having abandoned his commander before the fight was over, being unable to help with the rebuilding, being unable to get into a chair by himself; he didn't feel like much of a hero. It had cheered him up a bit though. It was tough to be so diminished and to rely so much on other people while the world was being rebuilt.
He thought he could feel some tingling in his left leg at some point during the night. He was looking forward to letting her know.
She was also very easy on the eye, and he enjoyed her cheerful smile.
"Good morning Mister Vega",
"You kinda look like a Lola"
"Right", she chuckled.
"Could you call me James? I feel old enough being useless in this bed. Being called 'Mr. Vega' kind of hammers the nail in".
"I would give anything for a shower", he groaned when she came in to change the dressing on his hip and back.
When she raised an eyebrow he felt the need to explain further.
"Don't get me wrong, a sponge bath in bed, especially given by a cute nurse, can be quite enjoyable", he chuckled lightly as she pulled a little less delicately on the adhesive dressing, making him hiss lightly. "At some point, a man wants to wash his own butt!"
"The doctor said it wouldn't be long before they remove the chest tube. It's barely drained anything since yesterday. They will probably have it clamped tomorrow". He was starting to understand hospital jargon and he didn't like it much; he had spent too long in there." In the meantime, you're stuck with a sponge bath. And it will be Gregory giving it to you today. He's very cute, don't worry", she continued as she winked at him.
She had a slightly mocking smile and a twinkle in her eyes when he turned back a bit to look at her, surprised by her witty response. It escalated to a quiet chuckle when he cast her his best glare.
She finished the cleaning in silence. With feeling coming back in his lower half, he could feel the cool water and the sharp pull when she debrided the wound of necrotic tissue. He had been curious about the wound the first time she had changed the dressing and, after checking he was comfortable with it, she had taken a picture to show him. He had seen more than his fair share of wounds, but the way she talked about the deep lesion and the way she looked enthralled by it impressed him. She was one tough nurse.
She had just seen a blushing young technician leave his room with a smile on her lips as she was coming in to administer his antibiotics.
"You're a terrible flirt James", she said, greeting him.
"Maybe", he said chuckling lightly. "But you're the only Lola for me".
"Why Lola?", she asked. While the nickname was endearing, she wondered where it came from. About a week back, he had stopped using her name altogether and started using the moniker.
"It's my way of remembering people. Some people just don't match their names, you know? So I just give 'em a new one", he said as if it was so obvious it almost didn't require an explanation.
"So, I'm a Lola?"
"Yeah, my best friend's sister growing up was Lola", he looked at her quickly from head to toes before adding with a discrete lopsided smile, " Hot, tough".
She blushed, making him smile earnestly.
"I'm not sure about the tough part, but thanks".
"You said, the other day, that you used to work with kids. Where were you stationed, you know… before".
"Huerta Memorial", she added in a muted voice.
"Not that I'm complaining, but why did they take you away from the kids".
"Thanks to you, all of you, there are very few pediatric patients. They were evacuated from war zones and hidden away in old underground army compounds apparently, some were taken to the colonies. I was relocated here after the Reapers took the Citadel. They forcefully evacuated essential personnel back to Earth. We didn't know what would happen. It felt horrible to leave patients behind… When I heard it blew up…". She turned around, he could see her wiping her eyes as she sniffled silently. "Sorry, it's tough to talk about it all".
She turned back toward him after a few minutes. Her eyes were red, but she was no longer crying.
"Where were you, before here", she asked, hoping it would not upset him as it did her.
He had a bittersweet expression on his face, but she was speechless. All the patients in the ward were war heroes. They had all defended the city, the Earth, during the attacks, but the crew of the Normandy was legendary. He had worked with Commander Shepard!
"It's an honor Mr. Vega", she finally uttered. "It's not every day one gets to say that, but thank you,… you know, for saving the world".
There was a quiet knock at his door. He wasn't expecting visitors, but since the person wasn't coming in, he assumed they were waiting for his invitation to do so. Healthcare workers would often knock to announce their entrance, but they never waited for an invitation.
He was surprised to see her come into his room when prompted, it was past time her shift ended after all.
He could tell she had had a long day, her hair was out of place and she looked tired.
"Did you get volunteered for overtime again Lola?", he asked. He had seen her forced to stay after her shift before. There were unfortunately a lot of wounded people and never enough workers.
"No, but you did mention a few days ago you wanted a shower", she replied tentatively. She was still wearing her uniform, but he knew from her tone she was not here as his nurse. She was just Chloé, doing James a favor. Sponge baths were efficient and faster to dispense than full-on showers for bedridden patients. Unless someone had a relative available to help them, they were unlikely to get such a "luxury".
"Couldn't wait to get your hands on me?", he said teasingly with a cocky smirk.
"I thought the point was for you to wash your own butt for a change?", she chuckled.
After a short moment of silence, he added, "Thanks Chloé. Really".
"Can you transfer to the chair? I'll prepare the bathroom", she said, lowering the bed rail.
She came back with a stack of towels, washcloths, linens and a folded bench as he was settling in the wheelchair. Even if he could feel his legs, they were still too weak to bear him all the way to the bathroom and back.
"You've never used the bathing chair have you?"
"No, we've focused on bed/chair/bed transfer and walking exercises", he sighed. "It's a slow-going process".
"Come to the bathroom and I'll show you. I'm no physical therapist, but I'm sure we can figure it out".
After showing him how everything worked and checking with him he felt confident to remain alone, she stepped outside and closed the door, assuring him she would be waiting for him should he require further assistance.
"Uh, Lola. You still there?… I can't get my legs over the ledge".
"It's ok. It's an old ward, I forgot it was a full tub in there and not a standard shower. Sorry. Can I come in?"
"Give me a minute", he added hurriedly.
He had never been one to shy away from a woman, but he didn't want her to see him stark naked and awkwardly strewn on an orthopedic shower bench. She might have seen him at his worst, even checked on his urinary catheter a few times, and removed it now that he thought about it, but he still had a shred of dignity. Plus, she wasn't his nurse this evening. Dragging himself to the side he quickly grabbed a towel to cover himself with.
"You can come in".
He swallowed awkwardly when she kneeled in front of him and placed her hands around his calves. Deftly maneuvering them above the bath ledge, she helped him to get comfortable on the bench. He was acutely aware of her hand lingering on his knee as she looked up at him.
"Do you need anything else?"
"I don't think I reach the tap from here", he answered shyly.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't think this through enough". She nervously combed her fingers through her hair. "I don't usually give showers".
She stood up quickly and unclipped the showerhead from its fixture and the water hissed as she turned the tap.
After handing him the showerhead she proceeded to adjust the temperature to his liking before getting it back to its original place. As she did so, he lifted his head toward the water and let out a satisfied sigh.
She didn't want to intrude, but before slipping out of the bathroom, she glanced at him quickly. Any unofficial overtime was worth his relieved, blissful smile. The soft sound of the door closing brought him out of his daze and he quickly started scrubbing himself; it felt like a glorious victory.
Once he was satisfied with his ablutions, he called her back in. He had tried to lean forward to turn off the water, but it pulled on his wound painfully and his feet were dangerously slipping, threatening to have him land face first. He had managed to grab his now wet towel and placed it back on his lap. Being completely soaked, it left very little to the imagination, but it was better than nothing.
Once he was back in bed, dressed in a fresh gown, he noticed she had changed his bed linens while he was in the shower. His supper tray was set on the hospital table and she wheeled it closer, placing it above his lap. He grabbed her smaller hand in his as she fussed with his blankets while she brought up the upper bed rail again. She stopped moving at once and looked at him. She looked startled, unsure.
"Thank you", he said, voice hoarse with emotion. Quickly clearing his throat he added, "You have no idea how much that shower meant to me".
She replied, giving him a small, shy smile "My pleasure".
"I would offer to take you to dinner, but I'm afraid hospital food is all I have access to".
"Don't turn me down yet, Lola. Let a man hope?"
"I can't favor a patient over the others. It would be… unethical."
They both chose to ignore the fact that she had stayed after work to grant him a favor and that she was not doing it for other patients on the ward.
"I won't be a patient forever", he supplied, hopeful.
Despite her lowered head, he could see a discreet lopsided smile. She removed her hand gently
"Will you go out with me when I get out?", he added, refusing to give in just yet.
She smiled, chuckled, shook her head, and walked to the door. She was halfway out when she turned back to him.
"Ask me again when you're discharged. And take your pills. I will know if you make a fuss about the painkillers".
"James, are you there?", she asked looking discreetly through the ajar door.
"For you Lola, always", he said with a smile. "I'm still a long way away from strolling around".
"I can't stay long and don't ask how or why I know, I'm not allowed to answer, it's very hush-hush, but a certain Loco was asking about you earlier", she said in a hushed, hurried tone. "He just woke up. Asked about his team. He was very happy to know you made it".
She slipped out of the room before quickly ducking back in. "Seriously, not a word. Journalists are camping in front of the hospital and slipping through every unguarded door. If they trace this back to me I'll be out of a job".
For once, he was struck speechless and she was long gone when he finally whispered.
There was one major downside to getting better James thought forlornly. He had been chest tube free for a bit over a week and, as his side was almost completely healed and no longer required dressing changes, he had been transferred to a rehabilitation ward. In itself, it was a good thing, his strength was coming back quicker now that be could exercise more regularly, without pain, but it meant he wasn't under Chloé's care anymore. He missed her comforting presence and all the small attentions she had for him. The workers were all exemplary of course, but they were not his Lola. He had asked about her, but the nurses and orderlies didn't know of her. Everything had been hectic in the hospitals, teams were upside down and he was afraid he would never see her again. He had received correspondence from the N7 Program; once he was back in fighting shape, or close to it, he would be shipping out to a remote facility where he would undergo the theoretical portion of his training.
Shaking his head, he strengthened his grip on the parallel bars and set himself to walk the course once more. The stairs were still troublesome, but he could walk without much assistance from the bars.
"Lola!" he hailed, walking after her as quickly as he could with his cane.
She was very surprised to see him here. After his departure, she had not really expected to see him again. Soldiers tended to flirt with the healthcare professionals, but it was mostly to help them cope with the stress she had come to realize.
"James, it's good to see you up and about". She had to fight very hard not to blush as she took in his figure. He looked even more muscular than she remembered and his tight-fitting T-shirt clung to every hard defined muscle as he moved. She thought he looked terribly handsome in his uniform. He seemed to notice the effect he had on her because she could see his grin grow as he came to stand close to her.
"Do you have scissors"
Lifting an eyebrow, she slipped a hand in one of the numerous pockets on her uniform and pulled out a pair of bandage scissors.
Watching her unblinkingly, he cut his identification bracelet and grinned proudly at her.
Not letting her finish, he lifted a finger and grabbed a datapad from his cargo pants side pocket. He fiddled on it quickly until he found a document and turned the datapad toward her so she could read it. Jumping past his identification information, she slipped right to the title.
"So, Lola, when can I take you out to dinner?"