A/N: This story is a continuation from "Die Hard The Hunter".
Disclaimer: Mass Effect, Javik, James Vega, and Emilio Vega are all property of Bioware, who would receive a few dozen boxes of Timbits if I could afford it.
Javik washed his hands again. He felt the need to do it every time he touched something, to clear away the residue of whoever had been there before. At first, the handwashing had been constant, but after the last several months he learned to restrain that urge to something that Joker had called "a level slightly less than obsessed". The thing that made it most difficult was the need of the younger races to shake hands when greeting each other. Javik had come to understand it, but that didn't make it any less difficult for him to deal with the rush of emotions and memories that assaulted him every time it happened.
"Javik?" The voice brought the Prothean out of his reverie. He turned his head to look at the female orderly standing at the foot of the hospital bed. She was slightly built, but Javik knew that with humans appearances could be greatly deceiving—especially with Sergeant Ibanez, who he saw holding her own against a recalcitrant Krogan three days. The sight of a petite human headbutting a giant bipedal lizard amused him greatly. The two of them had conversed briefly, during the few occasions when Javik welcomed it. She had arranged for him to be fitted for Alliance fatigues, which he found to be quite comfortable, if ill-suited for combat. In return, he answered her questions about his ability to transmit and receive information through touch.
"I know you wanted to be undisturbed," she said, looking over her round wire-rimmed glasses, "but we're preparing for mealtime, and I was wondering if you would like me to bring you something to eat." She raised an eyebrow slightly, regarding Javik with deep-set green eyes. "If it'll make you feel more comfortable, I can arrange to have part of the kitchen set aside so you may prepare your own meal. Lieutenant Vega isn't going anywhere, so you'll be able to get some food into you without missing anything."
"Your offer is kind, Sergeant," Javik said, "but I do not wish to eat anything." He attempted a smile, and turned back to watching the Marine who lay in the bed in front of him. "I would like more water. Please." He listened to the soft footfalls of the orderly walking away, and mumbled conversation in the hallway outside the hospital room. Heavier footsteps made Javik tense, instinctually preparing for possible combat.
"I don't think my nephew would want to see you fall over dead from hunger, amigo."
Javik stood from his seat and turned to face the white-haired human who had walked into the room. His round tanned face had a recent scar running from his nose to the middle of his right cheek, his hair was cut short, and he wore battle fatigues that looked like they had been patched and re-patched numerous times. He also bore a passing resemblance to the man in the bed, but was not quite as muscularly-built. "Emilio Vega," the man said, extending his hand.
Javik hesitated for a moment, then warmly accepted the handshake. He sensed curiosity, concern, and fatigue. This human had seen many battles. "You are Lieutenant Vega's uncle," he said matter-of-factly. "He told me of you. I am Javik." He looked back to James, then back to the old man. "He called me 'Buggy'."
Mr. Vega laughed. "That sounds like James," he said. "He has nicknames for everyone that he takes a liking to." He pulled up another chair and sat down. "Mind if I sit with you? I just got in from New York, and these old bones are a little tired."
"I will leave you alone if you-" Javik started to leave, but James' uncle raised a hand and waved him back to his chair.
"It's OK Javik," he said. "I heard how you dug the boy out of a bunch of rubble when I was on the shuttle. If anyone deserves to be here with my nephew, it's you." The old man leaned forward and twisted slightly in his seat, wincing a bit at the popping sounds from his spine before sitting back. "Oh, that feels better." He rubbed his hand over his face, trying to rub away the sleepless nights of the weeks leading up to the Battle of the Conduit. "I also heard James was pretty worried about me."
"He did express concern for your welfare," Javik said quietly, scratching an itch at the base of his neck. "I told him that if you were half the warrior he is, you would find a way to survive." Silence fell over the room, except for the soft beeping of the heart monitor at James Vega's bedside. The brain activity monitors idly noted that James had entered into REM sleep.
"Hey Buggy, how's it going?" James sat down across from Javik at the mess table and proceeded to dig in to something called "huevos rancheros". To Javik, it looked like a jaundiced hanar minnow had been bloodily mashed up with bits of a drell's moulted scales and then walked too near a coal chute. He had been offered it before, but politely declined, preferring to eat ration bars rather than try human food. Javik decided that "mess" was an appropriate word to describe what humans liked to eat.
"Lieutenant, I have asked you several times to stop calling me that." Javik shot James a peeved glare, which got a chuckle in response.
"Relax Buggy, I give nicknames to lots of people. That's Scars," James said, indicating Garrus, who walked through the doors to the main battery. "Don't tell anyone, but I think he and Sparks have something going on." As if on cue, Tali walked by with a distinct air of feigned casualness and pretended to check on the sleeping pods outside the main battery. After making sure that nobody was watching, she slipped through the doors to the main battery. "And that," he said, pointing his fork in the general direction of Commander Shepard, "is Lola." Shepard looked over at James, then chuckled and went back to the conversation she was having with Kaidan.
"The Commander allows you to call her that?" Javik asked incredulously. All four of his eyes widened sliightly.
"She hasn't said I can't," the big marine replied, washing down a bite of food with a swig of coffee. "If she does, though, I'll be all-business...but I'll still call her Lola when she's not around." James put his fork down on his plate of half-eaten food and looked across the table at Javik. "It's a human thing. I'm sure Lola has her own nicknames for people, like calling Major Alenko "Major Sexypants" or something."
"I am not human," Javik said, his voice still carrying a touch of annoyance.
"Neither are Scars, Sparks, or Wings—and they don't seem to mind." James took another swig of coffee. "All I'm saying is that it's not that bad. Not what you're used to, sure, but things have changed a lot in fifty thousand years. Even an experienced warrior such as yourself can stand to lighten up a bit."
"The Lieu—James-tried to explain the human custom of giving nicknames," Javik said in the dim half-light of the hospital room, the memory of that breakfast-time conversation fading from the forefront of his mind. "I still do not completely understand it." He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to phrase the question he wanted to ask, but Mr. Vega answered it for him.
"Before she died, I promised his mother—my sister—that I'd look out for her boy. She was sick...and Josh—that was James' father—didn't help much, with his drinking and his red sand habit." Mr. Vega sighed. "I did my best, but..."
"You raised him?" Javik closed his eyes and listened, elbows on his knees and his fingers steepled in front of his face.
"As best I could. I encouraged him to join the Marines, get away from his father." Another sigh. "Bastard tried to screw the whole thing up, told James that he'd tell the cops about the drug buy he'd had James make, and that would be it." Javik heard the sound of water being poured into a cup. "I told James that nothing was going to happen, and he—James-had to be the one to choose the direction his life would take. Not his father." Another, heavier, sigh punctuated the sound of water being drunk and the empty cup being tossed in a nearby wastebin.
"And his father?" Javik asked. He looked over at Mr. Vega, whose eyes were brimming with tears.
"Dead in the first wave. Pendejo was out buying himself another fix and got fried. Was better than he deserved, for all the pain he caused James and his mother." A tear rolled down the old man's face. "But James still loved him, for God only knows what reason. I guess he figured he owed it to his mother, since she loved the bastard." The last word was spit out, as if Mr. Vega was forcing himself to acknowledge the man who had been his brother in law.
Javik steeled himself and took one of Mr. Vega's hands in his. A wave of jumbled emotions smacked into him, and Javik grimaced. He had sparred with James on the Normandy, and through the brief physical contact had come to understand that his emotions were close to the surface—but he was unprepared for the flood of memories, of James and his mother and his life before the Marines, all seen from the eyes of his uncle. "I-"
His thought was interrupted by one word:
Javik and Mr. Vega looked over to the bed. James was lying there with half-closed eyes, a smile on his lips. "Hey Buggy. I see you met my uncle."
"Yes," Javik half-whispered, mouth turned in the closest he could get to approximating a human smile. "I have. It is good to see you awake, Lieutenant—I will leave the two of you alone." He shook Mr. Vega's hand again. "Your nephew is a fine soldier," he said. "It has been my honour to fight alongside him." Javik bowed his head in respect and walked out of the hospital room. He blinked several times, readjusting to the bright lights in the hallway, and turned to walk toward the nurse's station.
"Sergeant Ibanez?" The sound of Javik's voice behind her caught Ibanez off-guard. She jumped slightly and whipped around, relaxing only when she saw Javik take a step backward. "I did not mean to alarm you," Javik said. "But I wish to accept your offer of a place to prepare a meal."
"What?" She blinked a couple of times before remembering what she had said earlier. "Oh! Yes, of course—I'll walk you down to the commissary." She punched in a couple of text messages on her Omni-Tool, and when she received acknowledgement of receipt and saw another nurse coming down the hall, she looked back to Javik. "OK, now that I have somebody coming up to cover the nurse's station," she said with a smile as they started to walk down the tiled hallway and into the lift, "Is there anything in particular that you were wanting to prepare? I'll make sure that if we have it, you'll have it."
"I was hoping to try a human dish," Javik said, "Something called 'huevos rancheros'."
Ibanez chuckled. "I think we can do that," she said, typing another message into her Omni-Tool. The lift dinged, and the doors closed.