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Of Birthday Cakes and Baked Potatoes

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It'd been a suspiciously dull day on the Tempest. Scott had been out on a mission with Liam and Cora on planet Ryder; there was absolutely no work that needed to be done on anything; and even Kallo was being surprisingly friendly for once. In short - it was damn boring.

Gil sighed and as he stopped over in the kitchen for a glass of water. Truth was, he was on edge because it was Scott's birthday, and he had stuff planned cos he hadn't seen him for a couple of days now, and he was on tenterhooks waiting for tonight. It was strange to be feeling this - to be longing for the touch and voice and scent of someone you loved. He wasn't used to it and it was making him antsy as well as maudlin.

"Ugh, only six more hours..." he muttered to himself.

He drained his glass and decided to head back to the room he shared with Scott. As he was passing the fridge, he noticed there was an odd, scratching noise emanating from it, and he frowned to himself.

"Looks like the damn fridge's on the blink again," he grumbled out loud. "Guess I should write up a log for it."

Or maybe he could leave it to the next person who came along. That was the worst of a slow day - boredom usually made him lazy. He was the kind of guy who always liked to have something on his mind.

"Who'm I kidding?" he murmured helplessly as he headed back to his room, "I've got too much on my mind today, not too little."

He slipped into the room and switched on some music. He needed to calm down for a minute. Do some yoga, maybe. Everything was going to be fine. What could possibly go wrong with this surprise party he had planned?

With a sigh he flopped onto the bed and lay there a moment, staring at the ceiling, trying to even out his frayed nerves. Despite the music playing softly in the background... it felt too quiet. Like something was missing... ...

"Shit!"

In a flash he was sitting up in bed, his sixth sense driving him to look over at the cage on the nearby side table.

It was empty.

Again.

"Arrrrggggghhhhhh!"


The rest of the Tempest was roused by the sound of Gil screaming as he ran back to the kitchen, his voice echoing down the corridor in a manner that would've been amusing if it hadn't been so hair-raising.  Normally he didn't scream much unless he was 'having words' with Kallo.  This was something far different though.

Peebee was the first to see what all the fuss was about.

"Gil, what the hell's wrong with you?!" she huffed as she followed him into the kitchen. "Did you have another argument with Kallo? 'Cos I swear to God, you guys just need to calm the f-"

But Gil was barely listening, his expression aghast as he held open the door of the refrigeration unit, looking exactly as if he'd seen a ghost.

"What?" Peebee interrupted herself. "Did Liam leave something disgusting in there again? After the last time Lexi laid into him I thought-"

Gil shook his head dumbly and pointed. He looked like he was struggling to speak, but nothing more than strangled noises were coming out. 

"Look it," was the only thing he managed to squeak.

Ever inquisitive, Peebee poked her head round the door of the fridge.

Inside was Scott's birthday cake - or the remains of it anyway. Sitting in the middle of a mound of fresh fruits and cream was his pet space hamster, looking up at his audience with the innocent, dewy-eyed look of a cute little pup that could do no wrong. Unfortunately, it didn't help that he was mid-chowing down on an especially plump strawberry.

"Oh," was all Peebee could find to say.

"Oh?" The word was high-pitched and strained. "Oh?! Do you know how much that cake cost me?! Homegrown fruits from planet Earth that probably don't even exist anymore! Buttercream that happens to be Scott's favourite childhood treat - ever! And all made by the only artisan baker who made it onto the Initiative!"

All the while his voice had been getting higher and higher, and at this point he sounded like he was about to burst into tears, so Peebee was about to put a comforting hand on his back, when she was interrupted by the gruff sound of Drack laughing behind them.

"I knew it!" he guffawed heartily. "I knew it was that sneaky little pyjak making those weird sounds in there!"

"Drack!" Peebee hissed at him. "Inappropriate!"

"What?" Drack snapped back. "This is only the fifth time I've caught him at it!"

"It's Scott's birthday cake!" Peebee glared at him, darting a look over at the distraught Gil. It was only at that point that Drack appeared to get it.

"Oh," he muttered. "Shit."

"This has ruined everything!" Gil moaned. "This was supposed to be the... pièce de résistance of Scott's special day... Just... a taste of home, of something comforting... And this... this little bugger has ruined everything!"

He practically barked out the tail-end of the sentence, making Baked Potato start and burrow into a dollop of cream and sponge for cover.

"No need to be so... hysterical," Peebee attempted to sooth him, giving the exact opposite effect with her unfortunate choice of words. "Just get him another one!"

By now the rest of the crew had piled into the kitchen, apart from Kallo, who was of the opinion that Gil having a meltdown was an event he'd best stay well away from.

"Do you know how long it takes to bake and decorate one of these things?" Suvi broke in. "It's going to take more than the few hours or so we have before Scott gets back. And we don't even know whether the baker has all the ingredients we need. Especially since we're all technically still supposed to be on rations."

"Oh pfft," Peebee waved a hand. "No one's been on rations since we found Meridian. But yeah... I suppose you're right. Although I can't bake anything so I don't have a clue how long it'd take."

Gil was silent, leaning on the fridge door with a morose look on his face, the conversation a mere buzz in the background.  It was only when Sara placed a hand on his shoulder that he was brought back to earth.

"I'm so sorry, Gil," Sara said sympathetically. "I know how much this surprise meant to you. But it's the thought that counts. I'm sure Scott will understand."

Gil was glad for the compassion... and loathe though he was to admit it, he needed it right now.  But this was the first time he'd be celebrating Scott's birthday as a couple, and he'd been so excited to present him with this gift... to present everyone with this gift. A taste of home... of the world they'd left behind... of their childhood... The last taste they might ever have. This... hurt. And he knew Baked Potato didn't mean it, that he couldn't have known... could only think with his damn stomach, but... Why did the bloody thing have to go for the cake?!

"There's a simple solution," Jaal spoke up beside Sara. "Why not bake a cake of our own?"

"Great idea, Jaal," Vetra broke in sarcastically. "But there's no way any of us could make anything to replace that cake. I couldn't, anyway. I don't have a clue how human baking works, and I'm not about to start learning."

"But isn't it, as humans say, 'the thought that counts'?" Jaal replied evenly. "We anagara have a similar philosophy in our culture. For celebrations, the loved ones of the celebrant will all prepare at least one dish for them - usually it is a mess, but there is much joy and laughter in the preparation, and much love put into what we eat. Do you think Scott would disapprove of this?"

"I think," Lexi rejoined doubtfully, "that maybe Gil wanted to make something special for Scott - just from him?"

She glanced over at Gil for confirmation, but he appeared to be busy wincing as Drack fished Baked Potato out of the cake - which was making more of a disaster zone of the fridge than Baked Potato had made himself.

"It could work," Sara said. "None of us can bake... but it can't be that hard. If we pull together our skills, we could make something that maybe won't taste the best... but that will be full of joy. And love."

She smiled up at Jaal, who looked a little embarrassed at first, before smiling warmly back.

"That is exactly the sentiment," he agreed.

"I can bake," Drack declared, turning around and straightening out with a creak of his bones and armour plates, holding a cream-covered Baked Potato by the tail.

Peebee snorted rudely.

"Yeah, right. And my dad's a vorcha."

"Drack, seriously - not funny," Vetra levelled at him.

"What?" Drack retorted defensively - completely oblivious to the increased wriggling of the space rodent in his clutches. "When you've lived as long as I have, you learn a few things. Crash landed in a barren warzone with a human during the battle of Lihrat. Guy couldn't cook a damn thing - but he could bake. Lemme tell ya, we lived on cakes made of flour rations and ground-up local vegetation for months before they found us." He gave a gravelly laugh. "I survived. He didn't."

"Nice tale, old man," Peebee threw back. "But I doubt cakes made from bug-infested flour and backwater weeds require the finesse it takes to bake a birthday cake."

"Bakin's easy," Drack growled back. "Whatever you put in it, the process is the same. Gimme the recipe and I can make it."

Peebee rolled her eyes expressively, and everyone else looked doubtful.

"Well, let's leave it to the boss to decide." She turned to Gil. "Whaddaya think, Gil?"

Gil was silent a moment. The cake was a blow, but he was truly touched that his fellow teammates - his friends - wanted to find a solution to this problem. He didn't for one second think anything amazing would come of it, but... He figured it was a nice idea. A thought that counted. Even if it couldn't replace the gesture he'd intended to make.

"I think..." he began at last, slowly, "I think Scott would... really appreciate it. Even if we don't have the big party centrepiece anymore. But... knowing him the way I do... he'll probably start getting all teary-eyed and emotional when he figures out we've all banded together to save his surprise. So," and he lifted his head with a growing smile, "I say we give it a go. Let's do it."

"In the meantime," Lexi began pointedly, taking Baked Potato from Drack's unforgiving grasp, "I'm going to get this little troublemaker washed and dried and put back where he belongs."

She headed to the door, and as she got there she stopped, turned and added: "Oh, and Gil?"

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Make sure you lock the cage properly after you feed him. Please?"

"Meep!" Baked Potato merely squeaked in protest.


"Here it is!"

Gil looked up from his kneeling position halfway inside the utensil cupboard, nearly banging his head on the frame as Suvi came practically bounding in, proudly holding up a dusty box.

"What's that?" Gil asked.

"It's a cake-making kit," Suvi grinned. "My mum gave it to me before I left. Said I'd need something nice to eat with my tea - even though she knew I couldn't bake. Bless her." She trailed off, looking wistfully into space a moment. Gil knew what she was thinking. They'd all thought it at least once - about the people they'd left behind.

"Anyway, I think it's time we broke it out, don't you?" She paused and looked over at Drack, who was apparently trying to fit himself into the back of a cupboard. "What on earth are you doin', Drack?"

"What?" he grumbled, his voice muffled. "I'm looking for a whisk!"

"We're trying to find the right utensils, Suvi," Gil explained. "Here we are in a technological wonderland, and we can't even find a bloody spatula!"

"Oh, I'm sure you'll improvise!" she waved away his comment cheerfully. "Here - what do you think?"

Gil took the cake-making kit from her and looked it over. As he took in the brightly-coloured packaging, a sudden wave of nostalgia hit him. He remembered himself as a kid, a misspent youth spent running the streets, getting into scrapes and sometimes getting beat on by the bigger kids.  He'd come home to the smell of his mother's baking - cookies, cakes, muffins, tarts, and sometimes just plain old bread - and suddenly everything would be all right with the world again.

"Looks great," he said, trying to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat. "Thanks, Suvi."

"You're welcome, luv," she smiled, guessing a little of what was going through his mind. She gave him a quick hug, adding: "If you need any help - just call."

"Thanks," he replied, looking over at Drack, who'd now managed to work his way out of the cupboard, and had a pile of many strange and varied utensils in his lap. "But I think, in this case, the old saying holds - too many cooks spoil the broth."

"Or the cake," Suvi winked. "Okay, I'll stay out of your hair. But seriously - do call if you get yourselves into trouble."

"Yes, mum," Gil teased her, to which she slapped him playfully on the bicep and left.

Just as he was about to rejoin Drack in his search, there was a blip on the intercom.  It was Kallo.

"Oh man," Gil muttered under his breath. "What does he want now?"

"I can hear you," Kallo's voice filled the kitchen. "No need to be rude. Actually, I wanted to help. I couldn't help but listen in earlier, and... well. I had an idea. I'm loading it onto your datapad and omnitools right now."

Gil looked over at his datapad as it flickered on - a cake recipe had magically downloaded onto the device.

"Oh," he said, astonished.

"No need to thank me," Kallo returned sarcastically. "I wanted to do my bit for Ryder's birthday, and I've been studying human cuisine the past few days. I thought my expertise might help."

"This is... brilliant," Gil breathed, opening up his omnitool and skimming through the instructions. "Thanks, Kallo."

"Yes, yes. Just make sure it's a cake worthy of our Pathfinder!" 

And the intercom cut out.


Ten minutes later and Gil and Drack had finally managed to get together everything they needed. While Gil was still dubious of Drack's baking abilities, he didn't think he was much better himself, so he figured he'd humour the old fella - at least until things started to get out of hand. While he was helping Drack measure out the flour, Sara and Jaal suddenly made an entrance.

"How's it going?" she asked.

"We pretty much just started," Gil replied, taking his eyes off pouring the flour for just a moment.

"Stop," Drack growled, just as the scales hit the right weight. Gil quickly stopped pouring.

"Well, looks like you've got everything under control," Sara noted wryly.

"Yeah, we're, um, fine," Gil agreed, setting the bag down with a puff of flour.

"Well, since everything's going great, I thought I'd offer a little something for the cake." From behind her back, she held out a spiky, golden, ovoid fruit with a flourish.

"Um... Okay." Gil looked nonplussed.

"It's a paripo, silly!" she exclaimed.

"Oh yeah!" He scratched his head, getting flour in his hair. "That angaran fruit!"

"Yes," Jaal agreed with a smile. "And not only that, but it is a fruit we eat particularly for special occasions. Sara and I bought one for Scott's birthday. But we thought it would make an appropriate ingredient for the cake."

"Umm, sure!" Gil nodded distractedly as Drack added sugar to the mix. "But I don't have a clue how to put that in this!"

"Don't worry," Sara replied. "I'll help cut it up. Our mom always used to make apple cake when we were kids. It's probably similar to that. The flesh is... well, it kind of similar. And then, what's left over - we can put it on top as fresh fruit!"

She whipped out a chopping board and a knife.

"Okay, Sara. I really appreciate it." Gil was quickly becoming touched but overwhelmed by everyone's kindness.

"I'd like to do something special," Jaal spoke up while Sara was busy with the paripo. "I was thinking - since I like to make things with my hands - perhaps I could make a little... what do you call it - a decoration? - for the cake. Sara tells me there is a human tradition where little figures, models and scenes are created with an edible foodstuff that can be placed on top of the cake. And I thought I might be able to fashion something suitable for Ryder."

"Ah - you mean with icing, right?" Gil replied.

"I ain't makin' icin'!" Drack groused from the sidelines. Gil rolled his eyes, and said: "If you think you can handle it, Jaal, then, yeah - that would be amazing!"

Jaal's eyes lit up excitedly.

"I am certain I can 'handle it'," he responded eagerly. "I have looked up the instructions, and I believe it will be a simple process! I will go to my workshop now!"

And he was off before Gil could say anything.

"Wait - his workshop?" he repeated incredulously.

"Don't mind him," Sara smiled lovingly, mid-chop. "His workshop is the one place he feels most creative. And he really wants to do something special for Scott. It's quite sweet really. But that's Jaal - sometimes I think he's too darn sweet."

There was a wide grin on her face, and Gil laughed. 

"I'll tell you what's sweet," he said. "You guys. And you know what? If Jaal wants to do something special for Scott, I really can't blame him."


It was only ten minutes or so before Jaal returned.

"Gil... I have a question," he began seriously.

"Shoot," Gil threw back, as he was busy stirring the cake mix. 

"Well, for this particular project... I will need to be able to change the colour of the icing to something other than white......"

"Ah." Gil stopped stirring and frowned. "Yeah. Good point."

Before either of them could say another word, Lexi came in, looking very pleased with herself.

"Well, I must say, that space hamster is very spry for such a ... rotund little thing!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah," Gil muttered sardonically. "I know."

"But," Lexi continued, ignoring him, "he's all cleaned up now and in his cage - properly locked up, I might add! He did try to escape a few times while I was washing all that goop off him, but he managed not to slip my grasp." She paused, looking between Gil and Jaal. "Well, you two look very serious. What's the matter?"

"Colour," Gil replied dolefully. "We need colour."

Lexi was beginning to look confused, so Jaal quickly chipped in:

"I am making a kind of model out of icing. But in order to make it as true to life as possible, I need to colour it - preferably in something that is edible. I do not wish to poison the crew!"

"Ah!" Lexi's face suddenly lit up. "Wait here a moment!"

A couple of minutes passed before she returned, holding several small phials of coloured liquid.

"Food dye!" she greeted them triumphantly.

"Wait!" Gil began incredulously. "Why do you have food dye?"

"Oh, well," she answered, handing the bottles to a curious Jaal. "I was observing the therapeutic effects that different colours have on biological lifeforms stuck for long periods of interstellar space tr-- never mind." She concluded, seeing everyone's eyes starting to glaze over at her explanation. "It was for an experiment. But I barely used them. It's okay, Jaal," she continued, seeing him holding the vials up to the light, "they're completely edible for all living species - as far as I can tell. I haven't tested them on angara yet, but I'm fairly certain they should be harmless."

"These are most excellent," Jaal declared. "Many thanks, Dr. T'Perro."

"Lexi, please," she smiled. "And you're welcome."

Jaal left; and Lexi turned back to Gil.

"Well, Mr. Brodie? Is there anything else I can do to help?"

"Here," Gil replied cheekily, holding out his spoon to her. "Stir this for me a sec. My arm is killing me!"


Gil was stunned to find that while Drack needed some help executing the more fiddly parts of the process (krogan talons were not made for delicate work), the old man certainly knew how to bake a decent cake. The batter at least tasted pretty damn good.

"Okay, Drack," he admitted, as the old war vet slipped the mix into the oven. "I'm impressed. You really did learn a thing or two about baking."

"A soldier's gotta eat," Drack replied flatly. "Ain't no use to nobody starvin' to death. Anyway - looks like the next thing on the recipe is buttercream. And I got an appointment with Dr. T'Perro, so the job's all yours."

"Yay," Gil threw back jokingly, but inwardly he was eager to contribute something to Scott's gift that was all his own. He quickly got to work getting all the ingredients together, thinking that perhaps - just maybe - he could get used to this cooking thing.

"Heee-ey!"

He jumped as Peebee made a surprise entrance into the room.

"Dammit, Peebee, you scared the shit out of me!" he exclaimed, a little spilt sugar on the worktop evidence of his fright.

"Oops! Sorry!" She didn't look sorry. If anything she looked positively gleeful. "Look - I wanted to show you what I found!" She flashed a bottle of what looked to be liquour in front of him. 

"Um... I don't think I should be drinking on the job, Peebee. This requires insane levels of concentration. But thanks!"

She glared at him as if he was stupid.

"No - duh! It's not for you! It's for the cake! Look!" She came on over, opened up the bottle and tilted it over the nascent bowl of buttercream --

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Gil tilted the bottle back up again. "What the hell even is that?! Ryncol?!"

"Ryncol?!" She actually looked offended. "Why would I want to kill Ryder? No. It's Asari honey mead. The sweetest, most delicious alcoholic beverage in Andromeda! It'll sure give Scott's cake an extra sweet kick!"

"Oh." Gil shook his head with relief. "Peebee - I appreciate your enthusiasm, but at least tell me what's going in before you put it in?"

"Okay, okay!" She looked harassed. "I'm sorry!" She swallowed her pride - with an effort. "So - do you approve? Can I put some in?"

Gil sighed, trying to hide a smile.

"Okay, sure. But not too much, okay? I don't want Scott to get drunk when he eats this!"

"Oh, he won't get drunk!" Peebee brushed aside the comment. "He's not going to eat it all himself, is he! I, at least, want a slice!"


Delicious smells were wafting from the kitchen and throughout the Tempest.

Gil wiped the sweat from his brow, smearing an undetected dollop of buttercream on his forehead.

Everything that needed to be done was done, and all he had to do was wait for the cake to bake.

He was amazed to find that his adrenaline was pumping; and yet he felt an immense sense of satisfaction - the kind he felt after a hard day's honest work making sure everything was working well and in tip-top condition, or tinkering on the various projects that were his hobby. It made it even better that this was all for the benefit of the guy he cared about more than he'd cared for anything in a long, hard while.

The alarm on the oven went off, and he set down his datapad. He'd been trying to compose his latest poem, but so far, it hadn't been coming out right at all.

He opened up the oven and took out the cake. Perfectly raised, golden brown, and not a bit burnt - So far, so good! he thought to himself with relief.

As he was setting the cake on the board to cool down, Jaal made a reappearance - except this time, he was holding something gently in the palm of his hands.

"I think it is finished," he explained, approaching Gil with a tentative expression. "There are some parts that I would've liked to spend more time on, but... this will have to do, I suppose."

He held out his palms, showing Gil his handiwork - and Gil was amazed to see a perfectly-realised figure of the Tempest, complete with all its ports and windows, the colours painstakingly applied to match the original exactly.  He was speechless.

"Jaal, that is... amazing," he declared breathlessly.

"Do you think so?" Jaal asked earnestly. 

"Of course! How did you get such fine work done on all the details? And that sheen on the windows!"

"Ah, well," Jaal began, smiling with embarrassed pride. "It is nothing more than patience - and a steady hand."

"Well," Gil said, clapping his crewmate jovially on the shoulder. "I'm sure Scott will be thrilled to see it. Great choice, Jaal! The Tempest - something that represents all of us - our family."

"Indeed!" Jaal beamed, pleased. "That was my intent! Sara assured me it was a good choice, and I think she was right."

"Ha! Well she should know her brother best, right? Okay - let's wait for this cake to cool, then we can start getting it decorated."

It was only while he and Jaal were preparing to decorate the cake that he realised that he hadn't seen Vetra at all the past few hours. Now, so close to having Scott's surprise completed, it stung a little to know that she hadn't shown her face at least once.  He tried not to let it bother him... but Vetra was one of his girls. He thought she at least would've come to lend a hand, and he couldn't help the fact that she hadn't from bothering him.

Meanwhile, the delicious scents wafting from the kitchen had attracted the rest of the crew, and soon most of the Tempest were busy helping to decorate the cake, which Gil had feared would end up a disaster, but had actually ended up being fun.  Just as they'd finished their masterpiece - that was when Vetra decided to show her face. 

"Where the hell have you been?!" Gil found the words bursting from his lips before he could stop himself. He was aware that it had sounded more accusatory than he'd been intending, but it was too late to take it back. He was so piqued that he barely noticed the huge crate she was carrying.

"On a secret mission," Vetra rejoined mysteriously. "I thought I'd get something we could add to the cake... but I guess I'm too late." She grinned as Peebee excitedly held the cake out to show her. It was a mess of different textures, colours and probably tastes too... But it was sight to behold, that was for sure. "It looks amazing!" she congratulated them.

But Gil wasn't listening.  He was staring at the crate disbelievingly. 'Something' to add to the cake? Whatever it was, from the size of the crate, it looked huge.

"What did you get?" he asked.

"Oh... just a little something someone told me was great on cakes - and other places too," she winked. 

Curiouser and curiouser... Just what the hell was in there?

"Vetra... what have you done?" he asked suspiciously. Vetra's grin grew even wider.

"Take a look."

Gil walked on over and threw open the crate. He stared at the contents for a moment... and then another.  And then, he burst out laughing.

"Oh my God, I can't believe--- How the hell did you get your hands on that?!"

"Aw jeez," Suvi muttered, face-palming... While Peebee was bouncing around trying to get a look in.

"What? What is it? I don't get it!"

"Don't ask no questions," Vetra coined the old human adage. "And I won't tell no lies."

The commotion was broken by Liam suddenly skidding into the room.

"Lexi!" he shouted over all the excitement. "We need you - now!"

He didn't need to say any more. As soon as Gil heard the words his vision began to tunnel and his heart began to pound. He just knew something was wrong.

"How come you're back?" Lexi spoke up, confused, from the back of the group. "Why didn't you communicate with me via the-"

"We encountered some weird lightning weather system on the planet surface!" Liam spat out breathlessly, already heading out the kitchen with Lexi following close behind. "It took out our comms! Ryder got hit... He needs some attention asap........"

The words trailed off as the two disappeared down the corridor.  For a long moment there was nothing but silence in the room. Gil could only stand, statue-like, as the world whirled around him. It was only when he felt Vetra place a hand on his shoulder that he suddenly woke up.

"You should go see him," she said softly. "Don't worry about things here. We'll put the cake somewhere safe for you."

Gil opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out - he could only nod. Somehow his legs were moving, and he was walking out in the corridor... then jogging towards the docking bay. His thoughts were a whirl, his nerves frayed.

"Please be okay, you idiot," he muttered helplessly to himself. "Please be all right...."

Scott was resilient - he knew that better than anyone - but it was still impossible for Gil not to worry about the way his lover flung himself into danger - not just as a hobby, but as a way of life.

He'd just about reached the docking bay, when Scott himself appeared round the corner, supported by both Liam and Cora, Lexi busily scanning him.

"Hey, Red," Scott greeted him as they drew nearer - and despite his obvious injuries, there was no suppressing that sparkling smile. "Some birthday, huh?"

Gil stopped and let out an explosive breath, both irked and amused that Scott was actually bantering with him at this critical moment.

"You... arse!" he blasted out despite his better judgement. "I swear - one of these days you're gonna kill me with a heart attack before you kill yourself!" 

Scott laughed weakly. He was a sight for sore eyes - his was armour scratched and scorched, his skin was pale, and there was a burn scored across the line of his cheek.

"I hope not," he joked wearily. "I don't wanna be responsible for taking you out in any way, shape or form."

They were close now - so close that Gil was struck by the sudden urge to hug him, kiss him, anything - but Lexi was already shooing him out the way.

"Sorry, Gil," she apologised in a harassed tone, "but I need to get Ryder assessed in the med-bay - stat."

"Don't worry," Cora assured him as they swept past. "I'll make sure he doesn't do any further injury to himself."

"You better bloody make sure!" Gil groused half-humorously. "Between Pathfinding and Archon-killing, I'm surprised he's still standing and not some gibbering mess right now!"

"Love you too, Gil!" Scott's voice sailed back over his shoulder. It looked like he was going to blow a kiss too, but that was curtailed by a sudden wince of pain.

"All right, all right, guys," Liam cut in laughingly. "Keep it clean and save the loving greetings for later! We need to make sure you're in one piece first, Ryder!"

"Ugh!" Was the last thing Gil heard as his lover turned the corner. "For the last time - I'm fine!"


The last thing on Gil's mind right now was surprise birthday gifts.

All he wanted right now was to be in the med-bay with Scott, but Lexi had barred all access to the room while she tended to Scott's burns. While Gil appreciated the need to minimise infection, it didn't do anything to ease his upset nerves. The others were kind enough to try and keep him distracted - Kallo sent him some pointless calibration jobs, and Jaal asked his unnecessary advice on some out-dated piece of human technology he was trying to back-engineer. Despite the good intentions, he was glad when Vetra, Cora and Liam suggested they set up Pathfinder's quarters for Scott's inevitable return.

"He'll wanna come back to something welcoming," Vetra said. "Especially since it's his birthday."

They spent the evening straightening the room, bringing in the cake, food, and some other party supplies to make the room look more festive - even though a real party was now probably out of the question. Lastly, they placed Baked Potato's cage on the nightstand, so he'd be near Scott's 'sick bed'. 

"He loves the little bugger," Gil noted wryly as Cora placed the cage in prime position, Baked Potato obviously wondering what was going on. "I'm only handsome. That little menace is adorable."

"Well, he has a point," Liam shrugged, to which Gil glared at him. "What?" he continued, putting up his hands in self-defence. "There's no way in hell you can call that hamster 'handsome'. But he's pudgy and kinda cute. Which I guess qualifies as 'adorable'."

"He's a pain in the arse, is what he is," Gil corrected him, but he couldn't quite prevent a grin from lighting his face.

 

It was a couple of hours before Scott was finally out of the med-bay and allowed to return to his room - though Lexi had made it clear to him under pain of death that he was to rest for the next few days.

Helped into Patherfinder's quarters by an atypically excited-looking Lexi, Scott was amazed to find everything had been decked out to the nines - balloons, bunting, banners and silly string - and all his friends, waiting patiently (and silently) for his arrival.

"Wow," he breathed, as he looked around, impressed. "You guys sure have been busy while I've been away."

"We were going to shout 'surprise!'," Liam joked. "But Lexi said she'd kill us if we didn't keep things 'nice and restful' for you."

"The last thing he needs is another shock - literal or otherwise," Lexi replied with seeming sternness, but a small smile was curling the corner of her lip as she spoke.

"Yeah, yeah!" Peebee broke in impatiently. "Let's put on some music - some light music," she added quickly when she saw Lexi frown. "And some lighting effects - no strobing," she once again corrected herself when Lexi's frown threatened to grow even deeper. Everyone busied themselves getting the atmosphere going, leaving Gil to finally have Scott to himself.

"Happy birthday, Archon-killer and lightning strike survivor," he joked, planting a vigorous kiss on Scott's lips - he was that relieved. "I dunno why you're still alive - but I'm glad as hell you are."

Scott laughed softly and pulled Gil into a brief though deeper kiss.

"Thanks for this," he said once they'd pulled away. "I know this was your idea."

"Wellll... I'm fairly sure I can say everyone else had a major hand in this," he grinned. "Speaking of - take a look at this."

He led him over to the cake, standing on a side table with the rest of the party food.

"It's not the best, I know," he blurted out when Scott said nothing. "I had a special artisan cake specially made for you... But that little bugger got to it, and so we had to start again from scratch. Literally everyone had a hand in this one. We all pulled together, and well... it's the thought that counts, right?"

Scott stared. The cake stood there, a little misshapen, and coloured every shade under the sun... topped with a miniature model of the Tempest. His ship. His crew. His friends. His family. And he smiled.

"It's the best birthday cake ever," he breathed. "Thank you, Gil." He turned and raised his voice. "Thank you, guys!"

"Happy birthday, Ryder!" everyone called back in unison, and Gil and Scott capped the moment by sealing it with a passionate kiss, as the coloured lights glided lazily across them.


Later - finally.

The party had wound down, the food had been eaten, the presents opened, and the resulting mess had been cleaned up.

Scott leaned back on his bed and took in a slow, calming breath. He'd had a great time - but now he could admit to himself that he was exhausted, as well as full, and he was thankful of the peace and quiet. Baked Potato was snuggling against his chest, giving him a well-earned 'pet therapy' session.

"How you holding up?" Gil asked, throwing away the last of the silly string and coming to sit next to Scott on the bed. 

"I'm fine," Scott smiled. "Lexi's painkillers are working some magic right now."

"Good," Gil grinned, placing a soothing hand on Scott's thigh. "Don't want you hurting on your birthday, huh?"

"Nah. I'm good. And by the way? That cake - it was delicious."

"Seriously?" Gil asked. In all the tumult of the evening, he hadn't had a chance to taste any. "I didn't get to have a slice."

"Really?" Scott looked shocked. "Well, that's great - because I enjoyed it so much, I saved myself an extra piece. You can have it."

"Dammit!" Gil exclaimed to himself. "Now I wish I'd saved the recipe!"

"I'm sure everyone will be able to help you out with that, since everyone contributed their part. They were telling me all about it. Cora and Liam were getting pretty jealous they didn't get to have a look in."

"Ha!" Gil's laugh was wry. "Well, they helped save your life today," he said. "So I'm pretty glad they weren't here to have a look in."

"True," Scott smiled.

Silence settled, and for a while they both just soaked in the presence of the other.

"Oh - I was going to ask," Scott began curiously.

"What?"

"That crate." He nodded in the direction of Vetra's box, that was still sitting in a corner. "What the hell's in it?"

"Oh!" Gil slapped his forehead with a palm. "How the hell did I forget?!"

He jumped up and retrieved the box, setting it by Scott's side. Slowly, and for maximum effect, he prised open the lid. Scott looked inside and gaped a few beats.

"Where. The hell. Did you get this?!" he cried, taking out one of the items inside, and holding it up.

It was a can of whipped cream spray.

"Well, y'know..." Gil replied smugly. "Vetra and her weird smuggling friends. I dunno why somebody wanted to bring a crate of whipped cream from the Sol system, but someone must've been planning to bake a lot of cakes. Or eat a lot of strawberries and cream."

"Or," Scott added slyly, "use it for other recreational activities?"

Gil chuckled.

"Yeah, I was gonna wait for you to say it first. Anyway - it's a birthday present, and it's up to you what you want to do with it. Although, seeing as you're now practically confined to bed..."

"Haha. Yeah - how'm I supposed to keep myself entertained for the next few days, huh?"

"Well," Gil murmured, leaning in towards him. "I think we can work on that. Don't you?"

"Absolutely," Scott replied in a low voice, as their lips finally met in another long-awaited kiss.

The perfect excuse, as it turned out, for a certain space hamster to wriggle his way free, and head straight back to the kitchen.

-END-