James is yanked unceremoniously from a lovely dream about a beach by a solid punch to the face. He tries to sit up and roll away at the same time, only managing to fall off the edge of the bed instead. He lands on his hip with a loud thump, just as the blinding white pain fades. Hand still clasped to his throbbing eye, he turns to get his bearings and is greeted by the sight of Avery Ryder’s bare legs running away from him and into the bathroom.
He hauls himself back up onto the bed just as Avery begins to vomit, and the sound has him springing to his feet to follow her. He finds her bent over the toilet, shivering with her knees on the tile floor, and he steps up to her side to scoop the long strands of her hair out of her face. Her forehead is damp with sweat and warm under his fingers, but it isn’t unusually so given her biotics.
Her whole body shakes as she heaves again, and then she punches the wall by her head without opening her eyes. She groans, but she sounds annoyed rather than in pain, and she pushes herself to her feet.
James gives her room to stand, stepping back into her bedroom as she flushes the toilet and moves to the sink to wash her face and drink water straight from the tap.
“Feeling okay?” He keeps his voice low, not wanting to upset her or overstep his place. He already overstayed his welcome by falling asleep in her bed. She looks at him in the mirror and her gaze falls to his naked chest -- then lower, and he feels his cheeks warming. His clothes are still on the floor behind him. At least Avery managed to put on an oversized shirt before she fell asleep.
She shuts off the water and dries her face before speaking. “I’m fine.” She pauses, then adds, “Well, I’m not sick. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
James shrugs and steps back so she can leave the bathroom. “I’ve seen worse.”
She snorts and glances up at him, but her eyes aren’t quite focused. They dance away from him, flicker at the green light dancing over her skin. She closes her eyes and exhales shakily.
He pulls his pants back on but leaves his shirt off, uncertain about how to help or if he even should. He can see her hands shaking when she lifts them to wipe her eyes, and he steps into her space without thinking to wrap her body in his arms. She stands stiff for a moment before she melts against him.
She rests her hands on his waist and presses her face into the center of his chest. The steady thumping of his heart against her forehead helps her control her breathing even as she continues to shake, and James holds her tighter and runs his fingers through her hair until she finally pulls away. She takes a step back, head still down, and James catches her face in his hands before she can get away. He tilts her head up and presses his lips to the center of her forehead in a lingering kiss.
They’re both blushing when he releases her, though neither mention it. Instead, she takes another step away and wipes at her face before asking, “Are you hungry?”
James cocks his head to the side. “Are you hungry?” His tone sounds incredulous, and Avery huffs out a quick laugh.
“Yeah, I’m not--” She cuts herself off and sighs. “Come on.” She waves her hand at him, and he follows her down the stairs back to the kitchen. She turns on all the lights as she goes.
In the kitchen, she puts on a kettle and starts rummaging through the cupboards. They’re nearly empty, even with the grocery stores still pretty much full again, and James frowns at the sight.
He’s trying to figure out what to say -- or if he should just finish getting dressed and going back to Sam’s -- when Avery slams the last door closed and turns back to him.
“Okay, all I actually have is those meal-replacement bars they give you -- what the hell happened to your face?” She’s staring right at the eye she’d hit just a few minutes ago. It still stings, but in the face of everything else, he’d nearly forgotten.
He touches it with gentle fingers and winces when he brushes over the blooming bruise. “Uhh…” he offers eloquently. “I think you were asleep. Right, uhh, right before--”
“Shit,” she says, interrupting him. “I was dreaming, well…” She sighs and goes to the freezer to grab a little ice pack for him. She wraps it in the towel hanging by the sink and then walks over to press it against his bruise. He closes his eyes and leans into her touch, letting her take care of him even though he has a growing suspicion that he should be the one helping her instead.
She continues after a long silence: “It was husks. In my dream, I mean. My biotics wouldn’t work -- I was trying to use a nova, and I couldn’t, so I just, uhh…”
James opens his good eye. “Punched one in the eye?” He grins, and she smiles back. Her eyes still look a little watery, a little far away, so he puts his hand over hers on his face. “I’m fine,” he says, and he puts his other hand on her waist over her shirt when she doesn’t respond. He rubs his thumb over her hip bone in what he hopes is a soothing circle. “You didn’t hurt me.”
She opens her mouth to respond, but the kettle begins to whistle, cutting her off. She pulls away from his touch, leaving the ice pack in his hand, and pours water into two mugs. Her hands are still shaking, but he stays silent as she drops two teabags into the mugs and puts one on the table in front of him.
He doesn’t even like tea.
He thanks her anyway.
She sits down at the other chair and winces. The cat jumps up on the table and rubs its face against her chin.
James puts the ice pack down on the table and cups his mug in both hands, staring at the steeping liquid so he won’t stare at Avery. The cat starts to purr, and Avery kisses the top of its head before she speaks again.
“Where were you?” she asks. After a breath, she clarifies: “When the Reapers…”
“Vancouver.” The cat’s ears flick toward him, but it doesn’t turn around. “Alliance HQ. I’d been assigned to Commander Shepard before, and I continued to serve on the Normandy.”
“Ohh…” Avery looks like she’s just figured out a problem that’s been bothering her for a while. “I thought you looked familiar. You’re that James Vega.”
He flashes her a grin. “That would be me. Nice to meet you.”
She smiles back, which is what he wanted. It falls as she says, “I was in London. The whole time. It was… a lot.” She pauses, takes a sip of her tea. Her eyes dance around the room. “I’d been out for a couple of years. My mom was sick, so I took care of her until… anyway, I went right back to the London base and reenlisted.”
“You were on the ground the whole time?” It fits with what little Hackett said, but hearing it from her at 0300 after she woke from a nightmare… he, at least, had downtime on the Normandy and the occasional shore leave on the Citadel. When she nods without speaking, staring down into her tea with clenched jaw, James offers a heartfelt: “Well, shit.” Her lips twitch into another brief smile. “No wonder you have nightmares. Are you, uhh, seeing anyone about them?”
Avery takes another sip of her tea before she answers. “Yeah. I usually just go once a week.”
“Is it helping?” James makes sure to keep his voice gentle as he pushes for more information, torn between politely ignoring the problem and the absurd urge to make sure this woman he’s met twice is going to be okay.
She doesn’t seem upset when she answers, “Yeah. I used to sleep in ninety-minute spurts with all the lights on. Now I can usually get through six hours or so before I wake up.” She pauses, then says, “Thank for helping. You didn’t have to.”
James stares at her in silence for a second too long before he finds his words. “Well -- I mean -- I wasn’t going to just leave you like that.” What kind of guy would -- she presses her lips together and her cheeks turn pink, and suddenly James knows she’s been abandoned in the lurch before. “Do you want me to stay until morning?”
Avery hesitates, chewing on her lower lip as she considers. He can see the yes in her eyes before she works up the courage to say it out loud, so he stands up, puts both mugs of tea in the sink, and offers his hand.
She hesitates again, but accepts, letting him pull her to her feet and through the house back to her bedroom, shutting the lights off as they go. She pauses at the front door, holding James’ hand rather than releasing it, and lets the cat out into the night.