It's not the first time that James Vega has questioned his sexuality. He spends his days surrounded by humanity's finest, after all, nice tight asses and taut lined abs and firm smooth deltoids and graceful deadliness; he might like that list ending with "and nice soft breasts just the perfect size for hands" more than "and an expanse of pectorals as broad as the Mojave", but it's not like he doesn't notice the pectorals. Beauty's beauty, man, even on a man.
It's just that -- shit. Well.
Lots of people work out in the cargo hold. As amazing a ship as the Normandy is, for some dumbass reason Cerberus didn't think to design a PT facility into it, and the Alliance didn't fix the lack during the retrofit. So James is used to seeing crew members come down to jog back and forth between the inner and outer launch doors, or slap down some push-ups near the spare shuttle, or whatever. Chakwas does yoga with Traynor behind the heavy weapons. Joker uses the spare shuttle to go through this weird contortion of low-impact stuff that looks like it ought to break his bones even though it's apparently designed not to. Even the non-Alliance crew do it, though James tries not to watch them, because if there's ever a time when aliens seem uh alien it's when they're exercising muscle groups that humans don't possess, and turning limbs in directions that make his own ache in phantom sympathy.
It's cool. James just ignores most of it, as long as people don't get in the way, and most of them don't. Only a few of the exercisers merit his further attention. Shepard comes down to do pull-ups on James' bars; only she and Cortez have earned the right to do this, as far as James is concerned. Cortez gets his eye because Cortez is training to increase his full-G strength after too many years in a pilot's chair, and James has been helping him with that.
And then there's the Major. Kaidan Alenko.
Alenko does a full spacer-PT course: push-ups, squats, sit-ups, all the old-fashioned stuff meant to strengthen muscles and prevent bone loss. He finishes it off with a run back and forth through the cargo bay, thirty times -- that's just one mile, but he's doing it at speed, and he does it every damned day, not just the standard three or four days a week. And --
-- and James notices. Fuck, does he.
It's just. The Major's so. Compact. Not like Cortez, who's a big guy folded into a little guy package, or Shepard, who's a little woman who carries herself like a goddamned monster. Alenko's exactly as big as he needs to be: not a proportion out of place, not a gram too big or too little. It's all of him: not a hair out of place. Not a facial expression out of turn. When he runs, there's none of the torque-wasting motion James has seen in other people (and himself, 'cause he fucking hates running). Alenko runs like a goddamn panther. All coiled push, all measured pace. He makes a flat-out sprint in full armor look easy.
It's beautiful, really. And the first time James' dick gets hard at the sight, he knows he's in trouble.
He plays it off, though. Just been too long, under too much tension. When he hits the showers that evening, deliberately going early so there's a good chance no one else will come in, he makes sure to jerk off, and he resolutely keeps his thoughts on stuff that's approved jerk-off material. Shepard's tits. Liara's ass. That guy back in boot camp, the one who was fucking gorgeous and wildly devoted to his boyfriend back home. And those images work fine, no problem there, the mental image of his tongue on firm dark nipples sends all the right sparks down into his cock, great, so he lets the mental visual pull back a little so that he can imagine peeling apart Shepard's legs and going in for dinner --
Except suddenly the chest flattens, and the hips that unfold before his inner eye are squared, not curved. And when he pushes those long smooth legs apart, what calls to his tongue like a siren is a curving, heavy, shiny-headed cock, nestled amid the blackest of curls.
He comes before he can yank his thoughts back on track, and curses even as he shudders it off.
It would be bad enough if it was just physical, but he notices more than that. In meetings, Kaidan is brief and to the point, even his gestures of punctuation economical. His plans are equally quick and compact, his arguments to the point and elegant. He makes James feel like a lumbering clod. Except now and again he looks at James -- usually when James has offered what little insight or observation he can, at this table full of heroes and geniuses -- and smiles, or gives him an approving nod, and it makes James feel amazing.
He shouldn't feel like that. Shepard doesn't even make him feel like that. What the hell.
It's bad enough that Cortez comes over one day, after Alenko's finished his workout and gone. "Want to put your tongue back in, Mr. Vega? He might trip over it during his run."
James flinches, and hunches, turning back to his modding table. "Didn't want you to see."
Cortez sidles over to the side of the little alcove James calls his "office," leaning against the wall near the weights. "Why not?"
James shrugs, awkwardly. It's hard to articulate. "I just... I don't know, man. I figured... it would be you. Y'know? That's kinda... I don't know, if I was gonna, I wanted someone I... shit."
Cortez is silent for a moment. James doesn't know what this means; he's too embarrassed to look at his friend. "Y'know, Mr. Vega," Cortez says at last, and at least he's not laughing, at least he just sounds warm and kind, "I'm flattered. But I'm pretty sure I'm not your type, and you're not really mine. Alenko, though..." He grins, and James feels his cheeks heat. "You have good taste, at least. If I didn't like you, you'd have some competition there."
James grimaces. "I can't, man. He ranks me by, like, a lot. He's a Spectre! And he's -- older, and -- " He makes an awkward shape with his hands, trying to illustrate the problem; Cortez just looks confused. Then his expression sobers, and James braces himself, though he's not quite sure for what.
"The Alliance, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist anymore," Cortez says. "We're pretending that it does. Earth is gone. We might get it back, but for now, it's not ours. Your N7 invitation? Dust in the wind. The supplies I've been requisitioning? We have to pay for that; Shepard's been financing the whole ship out of funds she's scraping up everywhere. A little of that money's coming from Hackett and Udina, but most of it she's been stealing off open networks in half-wrecked buildings."
James has seen her do it. "Uh, well, yeah."
"So the regs don't matter, as long as nothing interferes with our mission. Age doesn't matter -- hell, Vega, you know Shepard slept with that merc, and he's Hackett's age. It's the end of civilization. Do you follow me?"
"Yeah, man, I do, but -- "
"But you're making excuses."
"But that shit matters!" Finally turning to him, James spreads his hands, as much to stop the onslaught as to explain. "It matters to him! He's the by-the-book type, comprende? Also, I don't even know how to talk to him, man! What the hell do you even say to a guy?"
Cortez is staring at him, an expression of Have You Always Been This Stupid Or Did You Get This Way Recently, And If The Latter How Did I Not Notice plain on his face. "What do people say to you when they want you?"
He shrugs, embarrassed again, and unsure how to tell Cortez that it's been so long since he did more than flirt that he barely remembers how the rest of the courtship dance goes. Who was the last one? Lorna, maybe? Wait, no, it had been Chloe, from that N2 Sentinel team on Luna -- "C'mere, big guy, let's relieve some stress?"
Cortez winces. "Yeah, I don't think that would go over well with the Major."
"I know. I'm not stupid, see? I just -- " He takes a deep breath, runs a hand over his fauxhawk. "Okay, what I don't understand is how to talk to this man. Or even if I should. Now do you get it?"
"Yeah, I get it." Cortez sighs. "But the whether part isn't the problem; it's the how that is."
"The hell you say." The whether part is pretty damned huge as problems go, too.
"End of civilization."
And James doesn't want to meet his maker never having tried for what he wanted. "Yeah. Okay. Fine. So, how, then?"
Cortez shrugs. "Play to your strengths. Treat him the way you do everybody else. See if he likes it."
"But what if -- " He's sounding like a kid. Crap. "Yeah, okay."
"Such resolve," Cortez teases. But they both know James is committed, now.
Play to your strengths, Cortez said. And -- well, there is one thing. He has no reason to strike up a convo with the Major anywhere else on the ship; Alenko doesn't play cards, doesn't often eat in the mess, and spends a lot of time obviously wanting to be alone in the Obs lounge. Guy's an introvert, okay -- and James is an extravert, and he knows full well he's too much for most people. But maybe...
He waits 'til Alenko's next workout. Watches 'til after he's done his push-ups, a full hundred of them over four sets. Lets his eyes play over the ripple of muscle along the man's shoulders and back, the way his ass clenches -- Shit. No. Eyes on the prize, Vega. The other prize, anyway.
He's casual about it as he sidles over, resolutely not looking anywhere but at Alenko's face as the man gets up and mops away sweat. "Hey, Major -- " Shit. He hadn't meant to mention rank. Shit.
But Alenko blinks and turns to him. "Can't get used to that. It's been two years since the promotion and I keep hearing Ash in my head, calling me 'LT.'"
And now James has reminded him of his dead friend and maybe ex-girlfriend. Shit shit shit. "Yeah, I know the feeling. When they promoted me after Fehl Prime -- " Nope. Not going there. "Well. Yeah. Anyway, I was just coming to say, um, I always see you working your traps like they hurt. Push-ups aren't going to help that."
Almost habitually, Alenko reaches up to massage his left trapezius. "Oh. Uh, yeah. Sometimes I lock up in the neck and shoulders. Implant feedback. I'm used to it."
Yeah, it's how James can tell when another of Alenko's headaches is impending. Alenko's been doing it for the past day. "Well -- " He jabs a thumb toward his "office" over on the side of the cargo bay. "You're welcome to use my rig for some pullups. That might even help your head."
Alenko blinks and finally really looks at him, and James is caught for a second in eyes like the redwood forests back home, all deep and brown and come-deeper.
Madre de dios, I've got it bad.
"That's mighty generous of you, Lieutenant," Alenko says, once James' heart restarts. "I was under the impression only Shepard got privileges on that."
"Well, yeah." James grins, feeling on safe ground again. "She's my CO, gotta kiss ass, right? Also, she can kick my ass. But -- " He shrugs, tries to resist, decides play to your strengths probably includes admitting your CO is smokin' hot. And, maybe -- "I just like watching her on the bar, really. Figure you'd be fun to watch, too."
Alenko chuckles, then pauses. There's a minute shift to his features, a fleeting uncertainty in those eyes, and James' belly clenches. Then Alenko's smile relaxes, and he shakes his head. "I'll try not to put on a comedy show for you, then. It's been awhile since I made PT pullup regs."
They go over to the cave, and it's heaven, a dream, that James can settle back against the table and fold his arms and ogle openly while Alenko limbers up and then takes to the bar. He's fucking beautiful, long and straight, and James wishes he wasn't wearing a shirt. And -- wait. James frowns and straightens. "Whoa, there, MM. Mind some advice?"
Kaidan drops to the ground, catching his breath, and looking at James quizzically. "MM?"
"Major Marine." He grins, tries not to look sheepish. "Since you said you liked LT, before. I know it's not as catchy -- "
"No." Alenko's smiling again. He shouldn't smile so much; it's doing things to James. "I like it." That does more things to James. "Advice about what?"
He swallows, tells himself to cool the fuck down, play it off, be cool. "Your form, man, it's all wonky. Hop up again, let me show you something."
Alenko blinks, then shrugs and complies. He's wearing old fatigue-pants, the kind with the built-in athletic support, but his shirt is just an old t-shirt, not nearly as stretchy as proper fatigues. It rides up out of his pants as he does this, and the pants sag low, baring his lower abdominals and navel. He's an innie. It takes everything James has not to lick his lips. He comes over, has to stammer once to speak. "Can I, uh," and he holds up his hands on either side of Alenko's body -- one over the small of his back, the other above that beautiful bare belly.
"Huh? Oh. Sure."
James puts his hand on Alenko's belly and back, and fights not to swallow. Alenko's so fucking smooth. His skin's so fucking soft. Aren't Canadians supposed to be hairy, like bears, or something? "Pull up and hold."
Alenko complies, and the movement is smooth, but -- yeah. That's the problem.
"You're not using your abs enough," James says, momentarily forgetting lust amid professionalism. "Or your back. Everybody talks smack about pullups being nothing but arms, but in reality they're a whole-body exercise, like planks moving in a vertical line. You have to tighten your core, here." He presses in on Alenko's belly, and feels it twitch in reaction. "Yeah, like that. And curve your hips forward a little, y'know, like you're fucking."
The words are out before he's thought about them. Oh, shit, shit, shit.
"Like I'm -- " Alenko lets out a laugh, and drops. He's still hanging, but it's clear James has broken his concentration. "I don't know if that's the thought I want to have in mind while I'm doing PT, Vega."
Vega. Not Lieutenant. Whoa. Okay. Run with it, then, you big dumbass.
"Yeah," James says, grinning. "Like... like you've got some hottie up against the wall, all open and ready for you, and you can't use your hands. Just this." He presses Alenko's middle again, for emphasis. "Get your spine straight, everything in alignment, then focus on your hips, not your abs. Keep your legs straight, braced apart. Only your dick's free, man, so send it where it wants to be."
Alenko snickers again -- but he pulls up again, doing it right this time. James makes himself let go and backs off, grinning in pleasure as Alenko starts doing a full set of twelve. He's struggling at the end, clearly, but he finishes, and when he makes the last one James claps once and whoops. "Yeah. That's the way to do it, man!"
Alenko drops then, panting and running with sweat, but he's grinning, and James is so proud. "Gonna feel that tomorrow."
"You'll be pulling twenty before you know it, man." That was the baseline for N7s.
"Maybe so, with you to egg me on." Alenko's looking at him, eyes wandering. James is pretty sure it doesn't mean anything when he says, "You look like you could eat twenty for breakfast, though."
James can, but he's not gonna brag. "Yeah, but I'm a grunt. I don't have biotics or anything else to offer; just me and my guns. Both kinds."
"Both impressive." He's actually looking James up and down. Whoa. And -- holy hell. Alenko's got his hands on his hips, and are his pants tented at the front? Can't be. Doesn't mean anything, even if it is. James fumbles for a distraction so that he'll stop staring, and so the moment will stop being awkward.
"So, how's the head?"
Alenko's eyebrows rise. "How did you know I was working on a migraine?"
James shrugs, awkwardly. "Your traps, like I said. Doing pull-ups right usually stretches 'em out nice."
Alenko turns his head to one side, then the other, experimentally. Then he flexes his shoulders, and blinks. It's a surprised, pleased blink. "Better. Thanks."
"So, was I any fun to watch?"
James is pinned by the question. He blurts out the truth because he can't think of anything else to say. "Fuck yeah. But you're always fun to watch, MM." Maybe it will pass as just banter between teammates.
Alenko's eyes flick up, catch and examine his, and James grows still. Alenko's smile fades. James thinks, Oh, shit, that didn't sound like banter between teammates at all, did it? Shit, shit, shit. He's not sure he can take it if Alenko pulls away now, after such an amazing morning, before James has had time to head back to his bunk and savor the memory.
Alenko looks thoughtful. Then he says, with perfect nonchalance, "I'm not much for watching, myself."
Oh. "Oh." What the fuck does that mean?!
Alenko nods, still with that contemplative look on his face. "More of a hands-on kind of guy, really." He flexes one hand, where he's probably started blisters, and James wishes he'd offered Alenko his gloves. "Didn't realize you were the same, before today."
Wait. "Always up for a challenge from any direction," he replies. It's banter, it's easy. But wait.
Alenko "hmmphs", but it sounds more considering than scornful. "Sure you don't want a more, uh, conventional challenge?"
Was that...? James licks his lips because he can't help it. "No, sir. Life's too fucking short."
"Yeah. That it is." Alenko's sober now, looking away, thinking of God knows what. They've all been through hell. But then he glances back at James, and that thoughtful look is back. "Later, Lieutenant. Let's, uh, talk exercise again, sometime."
He heads off, and James is too poleaxed to stare after his ridiculously perfect ass.
Did he just?
Was that just?
James sits back against his modding table, trying to process, and failing. Cortez saunters over and leans against the wall with his arms folded and a deceptively innocent look on his face. James stares back at him, openmouthed.
"Gotta hand it to you," Cortez says, "I thought you were going too far, too fast. But flirting is one of your strengths, I'd say. And going too far -- yeah, that's being yourself, all right."
James nods, struck dumb.
"I'd say he likes it," Cortez adds, gently.
"Fuckin'-A he does," James blurts.
"Then, if I can suggest, maybe you should research a detailed exercise plan for the Major? In case he wants more tips."
Exercise. The image that comes into James' mind is of himself in a bed with Alenko, mouth on mouth, breath and legs entangled, and his dick aches because he wants it so bad. Jesus, he's not even sure what to do with his dick should that imagining come to pass; maybe he should be researching more than exercise plans. Or maybe he should imagine something slower, yeah, something more befitting the Major, like steady massages and winding tongue-strokes and the increasing press of teeth and --
"Tips," James says, feeling faint. "Right."
Cortez laughs, then comes over and hauls him up. "Come on, Romeo. Shift's over; let's get you a drink. Then we'll at least have an excuse for why you look like you got run over by a truck."
Yeah. So James goes with him, and they head up to the lounge, and nobody's there but Tali and Liara but they both look at him oddly. He's hoping interspecies body language isn't universal because otherwise they're going to see HOLY SHIT I MIGHT GET TO TOUCH ALENKO'S ASS written all over him, and that would just be messed-up.
But it's the end of civilization, right? And he doesn't want to meet his maker without at least having tried for something he wants. Someone. He wants.
Later, Alenko had said.
Okay, then, James thinks giddily.