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High Stakes

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A barrage of Spanish obscenities exploded from a stall in the men's restroom.

Cortez looked towards it, slightly startled. "You all right in there, Mr. Vega?"

"Changed my mind. I am NOT doing this." Vega was almost growling.

A female voice came faintly from beyond the restroom doors. "You lost, James, fair and square."

"Dios! Lola's out there too?"

"Everybody's out there," Cortez said. "And you better not let her hear you calling her that."

Vega groaned. "I am not coming out. I look--. This is. Loco."

"You're the one who suggested it."

"It was a joke!"

"Should've said so."

"Screw your mother, Esteban."

Cortez leaned against a sink and shrugged. "Hey, I gave you a chance to get out of it."

"Didn't think I'd actually lose." Vega's tone became resigned. "Mierda. Where the hell did you get these pants?"


There was a long silence. "I don't wanna know. Don't tell me this shirt is his, too?"

"Nah. It was Joker's. But the Doc fixed it up a bit."

"You call this 'fixed'?!"

"C'mon, it can't be any tighter than that shirt you usually wear."

Vega grunted. "You sure this ain't the Doc's?"

Cortez snorted. "Just come out, already. Take your little walk, and we'll call it debt paid."

"Vete a la chingada," Vega muttered, but there wasn't much fire left in him.

"You'll be right down there with me, admit it."

Cortez heard the stall lock unlatch, and Vega emerged. Cortez couldn't help himself. He stared.

Joker's Alliance shirt was stretched almost to ripping across Vega's well-defined pecs and biceps. The logo on Vega's chest was picked out in sequins, glittering under the restroom lights. And the pants… The pants were black and leather and tight as a second skin, leaving nothing to the imagination. Vega's blush started somewhere under his incredibly too-tight T-shirt and ended beyond his hairline. There was something almost shy about the way he stayed halfway behind the stall door.

A hearty wolf-whistle came from the comm.

"Shut up, EDI." Vega hunched down and scowled. "And you. My face is up here, pendejo."

Cortez tore his eyes away from Vega's well-filled out pants. "I know that."

Vega stalked towards the restroom door. His sigh was almost as loud as the sound of the door opening. Cortez trailed slightly behind, feeling almost as wary as Vega looked. He could just picture the look on the Commander's face when she got an eyeful of Vega's… pants.

Then applause exploded in the corridor.

The entire crew was lined up against the memorial wall, from starboard lounge to portside lounge. Vega tried to step back into the restroom, but Cortez was in the way.

"Nice shirt, Vega," Joker called.

Tali trilled. "You should dress like this more often, James."

"You wish, Sparks." But Vega straightened up a little, and gave Tali a little wink as he flexed his arms.

"You do have an impressive physique, Mr. Vega." Doctor Chakwas nodded appreciatively. "You should be proud."

James visibly relaxed, swinging his arms. "So proud these pants of yours are riding up my asscrack, Adams."

Adams held up both hands. "They're for riding jetcycles! And they're not half as tight on me."

"Suuure." Vega glanced over at Liara, who was blushing furiously, and laughed. "You like what you see, Doc?" Clearly beginning to enjoy himself, he posed, putting his pecs, shoulders and delts--not to mention his glutes--on full display. The blue of Liara's cheeks deepened.

"Believe me," Liara said, more than a little stiffly, "I have seen better." She tried to discreetly fan herself, then quickly fled.

"I agree," Javik said. "Such armor will be no good when the Reapers come."

"That's really not armor, Javik," Joker said, laughing.

"Then why have we all come to admire it?"

"I'm not here to admire, just to laugh."

"However, I am admiring plenty, Jeff," EDI offered.


"You know," Garrus said, elbowing Shepard, "There was a stripper on Omega who went by the name Vega. Worked at the Afterlife, of course. They said he was one of Aria's favorites."

"Now you're just making shit up," Vega said. The flush had returned, his tattoos standing out against the angry red of his skin.

"Heard you did some time on Omega, James. You sure that wasn't you?"

"Hell yeah I'm sure, Scars!"

Garrus laughed. "Methinks the soldier doth protest too much."

"Say that again and I'll be happy to rearrange the other side of your face, cabron."

"In that outfit? I'd love to see that."

Commander Shepard stepped between them. "All right. That's enough. Everybody back to work." She was stony in the face of the collective groans. She jabbed a finger in Garrus's shoulder. "And I think we need to have a little talk."

"Your cabin or mine?"

Shepard grinned. But she caught Vega on her way to the elevator, clapping a hand to his shoulder collegially. "I almost told Cortez to kill your little escapade, but I'm glad I didn't. I think everyone needed that morale boost. Even if it was a little unorthodox. Thanks, soldier."

Vega perked up a little. "Yeah, sure. Just doing my duty, boss."

Cortez hung back as the crowd dispersed. At last, it was just him and Vega, who was looking much more at ease.

"You were awfully quiet," Vega said. "Thought you'd have something to say, for sure. 'Cause I know you like what you see." He cocked an eyebrow and tightened his thighs so the big muscles stood out under the butter-soft black leather.

"You wish," Cortez said, but his voice was thick as he said it. He swallowed and averted his eyes. "…I better get to back down to the Cargo Bay. The Kodiak's been a little funny on the starboard side. If you want to get changed and give me a hand--"

"Hey, Esteban."


"I'm the one wearing the wackass outfit."

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Vega. So?"

"So? So... Maybe you get me a drink for indulging you."

"Indulging me?" Cortez laughed. "I could have had one of those asari getups made for you, you know. I let you off easy."

Vega was unfazed. "Or maybe I lost on purpose. So you could get a look at the gun show."

Cortez groaned. "Sure you did."

"Hm." Vega shifted his tactics slightly. "Get me a drink and maybe I'll show you my Omega dance."

"Your--" Cortez choked. "So that was… true?"

Vega shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. Wouldn't you like to know?"

Cortez narrowed his eyes. "What are you up to, Vega?"

Vega shrugged again, and laughed. "Just thirsty, is all. So, deal, or not, amigo?"

Cortez hesitated only a moment before saying, "Deal."


Cortez headed straight for the bar in Port Observation without looking back at Vega in his ridiculous get up. As a cadet his earliest method of making friends was to play bartender at parties; he'd gotten pretty good at mixing a drink by the time he'd finished his training.

"What'll it be?"

Vega leaned his elbows on the bar. "Surprise me." Cortez shot him a look, but Vega shrugged.

"Okay," Cortez said. He scanned the bar stock and came back with a violet asari liquor, a fantastic smoky scotch, a bottle of ryncol and an empty brandy glass.

Vega eyed the ryncol suspiciously.

"Trust me," Cortez said. Without missing a beat, Vega said,

"I do."

Cortez felt something foolish and boyish do a flip in his chest. He smothered it down, still waiting for Vega's punchline, gritted his teeth and measured out the liquor into the glass: half of the asari violet and two of scotch. The ryncol he added with a pipette he found under the bar, exactly three drops, and then stirred it together. The mixture turned a threatening shade of red.

Vega leaned back as Cortez pushed the glass towards him. "What… is it?"

"In the early days we had a lot of time to kill at Ferris Fields. Invented a few drinks. My buddies called this one The Omega Hottie."

Vega's mouth quirked and he raised an eyebrow. "Ha ha. Scars is gonna regret spreading that little rumor." He raised the glass to his face and sniffed. "Huh. Smells drinkable." He tipped the glass back, sipped, and nodded approvingly.

"Don't--" Cortez began to say, but Vega had already slammed the rest of the drink. Vega hissed hard through his teeth and shook his head.

"Dios! That's a drink."

"Tried to warn you."

"Yeah." Vega's grimace became a lopsided grin. "Wouldn't have stopped me anyway. Good stuff." He pushed back off the bar. "So. My turn, huh?"

Cortez hesitated, then shook his head. "Forget it. You should sit down--that ryncol will hit you when you least expected. I'm sure the last thing you want is me dragging you to Dr. Chakwas in that outfit."

Vega looked down at himself, and grinned. "Y'know," he said, "Totally forgot what I was wearing. Although." He reached back and yanked on the pants. "Wedge."

Cortez tried to concentrate on the stars passing by outside. He had definitely not forgotten Vega's outfit.

"EDI," Vega said, "You there, bella?"

"I am always here, Mr. Vega."

"Yeah. Right. So, how's about you play us something, I don't know. With a good beat. And then check out for a bit."

"I am able to disengage active monitoring, Mr. Vega, but I am no more able to fully 'check out' than you are able to disable all auditory functions on command--"

Vega waved, not a little drunkenly. "Yeah, yeah. Just cover your ears. And eyes."

Whatever EDI decided to do, she chose not to articulate it; instead, a throbbing club track began playing over the ship speakers.

Cortez felt immediately awkward. "Look, Vega, I really think we should--"

"Sit. Yes. You sit."

Vega grabbed Cortez by the shoulders and maneuvered him onto a nearby couch.

Cortez found himself staring at Vega's sculpted pecs and rock-hard abs, barely restrained by pale grey fabric stretched so thin it was see-through in places. The sequined logo was pulled and distorted in an almost obscene way. Cortez's pants felt suddenly as tight as Vega's looked. He started to get up.

"Vega, seriously. I can't--"

Large hands pushed him back down. Vega leaned in so they were face to face. His breath smelled like the asari liquor, dry and spicy with a hint of sweet. "Sientate."

Cortez gripped the edge of the couch cushion like a drowning man clinging to a bit of flotsam.

Raising his arms, Vega loosely laced his fingers behind his head, so his whole body was on display, from his magnificent delts to his amazing thighs. Cortez struggled to keep his breathing normal, unsuccessfully. He tried to keep his eyes upwards, on Vega's face, but that was hardly better. Whether it was the drink or the music or the cheers of the Normandy crew, Vega was enjoying himself, and it was clear from his slightly hooded eyes, the curl of his broad mouth, the light flush of his cheeks.

Then Vega rolled his hips. And again. And again, in time with the music. Cortez heard somebody moan. He realized too late that it was himself.

Vega moved with a fluidity that belied his bulk. His hands slid down the back of his neck, separated across his shoulders, roamed over his front. Vega caught the collar of the t-shirt in his right hand, and Cortez stared as Vega yanked downwards, tearing flimsy cotton, bearing a wide swath of skin. Honey and tattoos, with a light dusting of hair. The dogtags he always wore jangled against his bared skin. Cortez clutched the couch even more intently.

"Shit, Vega," he breathed. He was beginning to believe Garrus's little rumor, nevermind Vega's protests.

Vega moved in close and braced both his hands against the back of the couch. "Told you you'd like it, guapo."

Cortez started to tell him off, but his breath was stolen as Vega began to rotate his hips, slowly. He was definitely enjoying this, the bastard; it was unmistakable in those tight, tight pants, pretty much all Cortez could see. And then Vega began to lower himself, moving down, down, until he was in Cortez's lap…

Cortez nearly knocked Vega flat on his ass bolting off of the couch. "Shit. Holy shit. James. Vega. That is not fair."

Vega's expression was genuinely startled. "Not fair how?" When Cortez didn't answer right away Vega smirked. "You were into it. Could feel it, Esteban, so don't try to lie."

Heat flooded Cortez's face. "Yeah, but. I like men. Only men. And you're. I've seen you flirt with the Commander, with the Doc, with Allers. So I know this is just you fucking with me again."

"You know that, huh?" Vega crossed his arms over his chest, over his torn shirt.

"Yeah. I do. So. Just don't."

Vega reached down and cupped the bulge distorting the front of his leather pants. "And this, this is just me fucking with you too?"

Cortez's cheeks burned. "I… I don't know."

"Yeah, you don't know, Esteban. Steve. Whatever." Vega shook his head, tearing the rest of the destroyed shirt off. He flung it onto the couch. "Ahh, screw it. Shoulda fucking guessed you'd react like this. I'm a fucking idiot." He shoved past Cortez, his earlier blush returning, reddening him from scalp to ears to the middle of his bared chest and back. "Shit. Just. See you in the shuttle bay."

Cortez almost let him walk out. All of his reason and good sense screamed at him to just let Vega go: Vega was drunk, he was a flirt, a chronic line- and button-pusher. He didn't mean what Cortez was hearing. He couldn't.

Cortez turned and grabbed Vega by the arm. "Wait."

Vega tried to shake him off.

"Wait, James," he said. Vega looked at him.


"Maybe I'm the idiot," he said. "So spell it out for me. Without the Omega-style dancing."

Vega shook his head, and for a moment, Cortez thought he was going to leave the Observation Lounge. Instead, Vega chewed his bottom lip, and then said,

"I didn't plan on losing, okay? But when I did. Figured maybe it wasn't all a bad thing. I mean. Lately, I've been. You know. When we hang out."

Cortez studied him. "You've been… curious?"

"Yeah. No. Not like that. I mean, I've always liked guys. And girls. Whatever. It's all hot." He shrugged. "I dunno."

A cruel hope stirred to life inside of Cortez. He tried to dismiss it. Since the Commander had helped him say goodbye to Robert he'd been slowly putting his head back together, but if Vega was saying what he thought he was saying….

Weighing his words and his own wants carefully, Cortez said, "You're probably the best friend I have right now, Vega. I don't know if it's worth our friendship for a little experiment."

Vega shook his head. "That's not… C'mon, Esteban. Don't make me say it. I'm shitty with words."

Cortez snorted, thinking of their constant back-and-forth in the shuttle bay. "That's total bullshit."

Vega made a frustrated sound. "I--" He sighed. "It just feels wrong, putting it in words. You know?"

Cortez watched his face. And then carefully, he eased back onto the couch. "Fine. Then get back to dancing, Mr. Vega."

Vega frowned. But eventually, he moved over to Cortez, and, one knee at a time, climbed onto the couch. Straddled Cortez's lap. Closed his eyes for a moment, seeking out the beat, and then began his slow undulation again.

This time Cortez hazarded to touch; a hand on Vega's thigh, and when that wasn't rejected, he moved up the front of Vega's pants.

This time, the moan was Vega's, as Cortez stroked him through the leather. Vega fell forwards, pressing hard against Cortez's fingers. His arms and chest boxed Cortez in; his forehead came down to brush against Cortez's, skin slick and fever hot. And the smell of him… Musky leather and sweat, and cotton, and soap… Cortez resisted the need to bury his face against Vega's throat and inhale all of him. Instead he stroked Vega until the big man was groaning in his lap.

"So," he said softly. "Maybe now you can tell me what you want, Mr. Vega."

"Don't call me that off-duty," Vega muttered.

Cortez pulled the zipper down on Vega's pants, spread the front flaps, and eased Vega out.

"Tell me." He wrapped his fingers around Vega's cock and began to stroke. "James."

Vega's eyes fluttered open. His breathing was ragged. He focused on Cortez's face. "You, okay? I want you."

Resistance breaking, Cortez leaned in and ran his lips over the line of Vega's throat, the swell of his adam's apple, the rough-softness of his stubbled skin. "Want to fool around with me? Have a good time?" he whispered.

"Just… You," Vega repeated, tilting his head downwards, until their mouths met. Cortez lost himself in their kiss; Vega wasn't a brilliant kisser, but he wasn't bad, either, and he was eager, really really eager, lips and teeth and lots of tongue. Cortez put his hands on Vega's shoulders while they kissed, pressed him down while he canted his own hips up, grinding himself against Vega's firm, tight arse.

It was a long time before they broke apart at last, both men panting. Cortez licked his bottom lip; it felt good and swollen. Vega leaned his forehead against Cortez's. "So?"

"So..." Cortez touched his fingers to Vega's cheeks, traced the black slashes of the tattoo on his neck. "Okay, but… I'm gonna need to take this slow. If you're okay with that--"

"Yeah," Vega said. "Sure. Of course." He grinned, broad and goofy. "Although I may be walking around the shuttle bay with a boner all day--"

Cortez let his hands slip down into Vega's lap, tugged Vega's cock in one long hard stroke from base to tip. "I don't mean the physical," he said, softly.

"Oh. Right." Vega's grin turned soft. "I'm fine with that, too. You set the pace, Ace. I'm happy to have you take me for a ride, experienced pilot that you are."

Cortez snorted, resting his hands on Vega's knees. "Hope you don't regret saying that."

"Never." Vega kissed him again.

Cortez leaned back, hooked his fingers in the waistband of Vega's half-undone pants. "So, I get to pilot this thing, huh? Think I could get to like this." He rubbed his palm over the underside of Vega's hard-on, eliciting a sigh from the arms master. "Why don't you lose this get up, Mr. Vega, and we see where we can take things?"

With a smirk, Vega nodded, slipping off the couch. He had to writhe out of the body-hugging black leather, and Cortez gave up on hiding his interest as Vega slowly peeled his way free. Robert had been good-looking, but age had softened his lines and padded his belly. Vega was muscle from top to bottom, an exaggerated pinup, a superhero. He was gorgeous.

Cortez still couldn't believe he was doing this.

"Need this?" Vega bent over and fished a small packet from one pocket of the pants.

It was lube. Cortez laughed. "High hopes for this little venture, huh, Mr. Vega?"

"Can't win big if you don't risk big, Esteban."

Cortez shook his head. "Just get over here," he said, "before I completely lose my nerve."

"Yes sir." Vega climbed back onto the couch and into Cortez's lap looking like a lion stalking prey, all power and focus. Cortez pulled him down into another kiss, caressing the sculpted planes of Vega's back, down his hips and over the swell of his ass. Then he guided Vega's fingers down to the fastening of his own trousers. Leaned back and watched as Vega unzipped him, and eased his pants down around his thighs.

Vega reproduced the lube and glanced at him. "Yeah?"


Tearing the packet open with his teeth, Vega poured some of the slick gel into his palms and fingers. Then he rose up onto his knees, picking up the beat of the music again as he turned around. Cortez didn't know whether to laugh or moan as Vega did a pretty good impression of an Omega dancer shaking her ass in a client's face. Then his laughter became a groan as Vega bent over and slipped slicked fingers between his own parted legs, penetrating himself for Cortez.

"Fuck," Cortez moaned, unable to tear his eyes away. "Where the hell did you pick this up, Vega?"

Vega's reply was breathless as he turned to face Cortez again. "Wouldn’t--you--like--to know…"

And then he was leaning back, gripping Cortez's cock in one slippery hand, pumping Cortez until he was good and hard and lubricated. Cortez let his head fall back against the couch, digging his fingers into Vega's hips; he watched in half-disbelief as Vega shifted his weight, and then slowly sank down onto Cortez, inch by inch, until he was sitting in Cortez's lap again.

Cortez pressed his face against the junction of Vega's neck and shoulder and felt the bare skin against his cheeks, his nose, his mouth, his chin. He suddenly couldn't catch his breath, thought he might lose his mind. He was inside Vega. His squadmate, his old Alliance buddy, his best friend.

And James Vega--what? Cared about him? Maybe even loved him, a little? Was he ready for that?

Cortez felt lightheaded, dizzy. And then Vega caught his chin and kissed him again, and it didn't matter: all that mattered was motion and contact, and his beautiful friend above him, and around him. He rolled his hips, slowly, deliberately, and Vega's moan was a perfect thing, loud against Cortez's ear as Vega leaned down.

"Shit, Esteban," Vega panted, "I'm not gonna last long. What the hell was in that drink?"

Cortez laughed. "Tried to warn you." He clutched Vega's hips and began to thrust in harder, sharper, quicker. "Let go," he murmured. "I want to watch you."

Vega picked up on his pace almost immediately and they moved together, mostly in harmony, sometimes in delicious, frustrating, failure to synchronize. Vega began to gasp and swear, taking himself in hand, pumping his fist over his cock. His eyelids fluttered as he came closer and closer, the muscles in his jaw jumping, his skin gleaming with sweat. A flush spread over the broad planes of his chest, down towards his navel, and then he was shuddering as he moved over Cortez, gripping him and almost bouncing in Cortez's lap. Then, the tension in him snapped and he came, shouting, almost roaring; Cortez clutched him close, ignoring the fact that he was destroying his uniform, watching James come for him.

"Oh, fuck, Steve," Vega moaned. "Fuck, yes."

Cortez smiled, waiting for him catch his breath. "My turn?"

Vega grinned. "Hell yeah."

Practically vibrating with need, Cortez maneuvered Vega onto his back on the couch, grabbed his ankles and let himself go. He fucked Vega hard into the furniture, hard enough that the couch shifted on its metal legs and began to slam, hard, into the bulkhead. The clanging was in awkward counterpoint to the club tracks that continued to play until they abruptly ended, and EDI said,

"May I request that you cease your assault on the portside bulkhead?"

But Cortez couldn't stop, at that point; and Vega laughed and laughed at EDI's protest until Cortez silenced him with lips and tongue. But eventually Cortez was laughing too, laughing as he kissed Vega, laughing as his pleasure twisted and knotted and then exploded, James Vega still tight around him. His laughs turned to moans, and he spent himself deep inside Vega, with Vega's fingers laced against the base of his skull.

Eventually Cortez slid, boneless, to sprawl beside Vega. "That was…"

"Amazing? Incredible? Que chido?"

"Nice, I was going to say. Really nice."

Vega raised an eyebrow. "Gee, thanks, Mr. Understatement." He slid a hand over his damp belly. "Worth the risk?"

Cortez grinned. He slipped an arm around Vega's shoulders and pulled him close.
"Yeah. Totally worth the risk."