‘Deal me in,’ Cortez says, and James looks up from his hand, his winning hand, while Kaidan sighs.
‘Great. Somebody else to rob me blind.’ Kaidan’s poker face is good—way better than Joker’s, and for some reason the guy doesn’t appreciate the reminder that his name rhymes with the game, so why isn’t he better at it?
No room for sore losers in James Vega’s lounge. Technically not his, but who’s keeping track? If they go by how many rounds he’s won versus how many he’s lost—too many to count against zero; now those are odds he likes—then it’s obvious who the alpha dog around here is.
One Mr. James Vega, currently rocking a full house.
It’s a good night when he doesn’t have to up the ante with his own underwear. But hey—whatever it takes in wartime, right?
Cortez leans against the table for a while longer before he grabs himself a seat, closer to Kaidan than James, lifting his hips to pull something out of his pocket. He shimmies them back, forth, up, down again, and comes out with… Credits. They’re just credits. Cortez drops them on the table and James says, ‘All right, amigo, don’t be so impatient. Just let me beat Alenko—I mean, Major Alenko, sir—and then you can play all you like.’
‘I do like playing,’ Cortez says. ‘I’m fun like that.’
‘Yeah.’ James snorts. ‘Real fun. So fun you won’t get a friend a little something extra when he asks you all nice.’
‘Cerveza and barbells,’ Cortez says. ‘If I didn’t know you any better, I could at least tell myself you wouldn’t be drinking and pumping iron at the same time.’
Kaidan rolls his eyes but he doesn’t fold, all part of a stubborn streak that must be what Shepard sees in him—‘cause James doesn’t. Not his type. Vakarian he’d get, maybe, if you’re down for all that Turian stuff, although one time a bunch of the guys were talking about how toxins are even worse when it comes to excretions and…
Cortez is watching him. James chuckles, once, wiping the sweat off his upper lip, rolling the crick in his neck out while Kaidan takes a look at his cards, casual-like, pretending they don’t both already know—
‘Hey, this time it was real close,’ James says, sweeping the credits toward his growing pile of swag. ‘Maybe someday you might even beat me—for a couple of rounds. Thing is, I’m the Mr. Comeback.’
‘I don’t know, Vega,’ Cortez says. ‘Seems to me your luck’s about to change.’
James is flipping the cards, shuffling all fancy the way he learned back in his Omega days, when Cortez nudges his ankle under the table, rubbing the toe of his boot right along the back of James’s calf. One of the cards gets caught under James’s thumb and pops high in the air, landing face up.
‘King of hearts.’ Cortez nods, impressed, slipping it back in with the rest of the deck. ‘Thought I told you to deal me in, Mr. Vega.’
‘Man,’ James says.
He’d win all the time if people would quit cheating so damn good.