Steve put a box down on the bench next to James’ helmet. James raised his eyebrows; the pale pink cardboard stuck out like a varren on the Citadel next to the solid metal of the shuttle bay.
“One of Shepard’s damsels in distress decided the crew of the Normandy needed thank-you-baked-goods,” Steve flipped open the lid to reveal a delicate latticed pie and Vega's mouth watered at the sweet citrusy fragrance that spilled out into the armory. “All the way from Rivière.”
“Nice! A genuine pie on the Normandy," James said, but didn't pause in fastening the clasps of his left shoulder piece, locking it into place on his chestplate. “This is why we do the work.”
“Ah yes, that’s why. Not to avoid the extinction of all life in the galaxy, but for the pie.” Kaidan snorted and headed for the shuttle, already armored head to toe. “Rivière had amazing reviews for their patisserie. Too bad we’re heading out.”
“I’m guessing you’re not heading to a party?” Steve asked.
“Got word from Joker, Shepard’s found trouble up in the wards. Gonna go drag his ass out of the fire.” James pat Steve on the back and followed after Kaidan, helmet in hand, but not before he gave a long, wistful look at the pink box.
“And in the meantime you get to ogle your boyfriend’s ass.” Steve laughed and flipped the lid back, picking the pie up again with a smile.
Kaidan's muffled groan from inside the shuttle still reached their ears, and James shot a wicked grin over his shoulder. “Another perk of the job, Esteban.” He clambered up onto the shuttle, and Kaidan started the engines. Most of the crew had already left for their mandatory shore leave, but a few stragglers remained, and James could hear Kaidan going through the pre-flight checks with EDI over the comms. “Don’t wait up. And save me a piece of pie!”
“No promises, Mr. Vega.”
The gunshots hadn’t been reassuring, though Shepard’s voice, however strained, had been more than a relief to hear. Still they’d rushed the last distance on foot, unable to get the shuttle any closer and unwilling to wait for the traffic to subside. The last few mercenaries fell to the floor in a heap under a shower of bullets and biotic brawn, and James could finally breathe again. For all that John could take care of himself, the line of Kaidan’s eyebrows and the tension in his jaw had been echoing James’ thoughts the entire ride over: What if they’were too late?
“Seems like you’re having a bad day, Shepard.”
“You could say that.” John stood, moving towards his two lovers. His jeans were ripped and blood soaked above his left knee, but his leather jacket had survived unscathed. James sent a private prayer to lady luck for that bit of fortune. He liked that jacket. “I had it under control though.”
“Of course you did,” Kaidan drawled, and James could feel him rolling his eyes even from underneath the helmet. “You didn’t need our help at all.”
A soft chuckle escaped John’s lips and he dropped his head, scrubbing his hand over his buzzcut. James' heart flipped in his chest, as it did every time he got to see the transformation from Shepard, their Commander, to John, their boyfriend, and he couldn’t help but reach out a gauntleted hand to fit around John’s own.
“I’m glad you’re safe, Shepard,” he murmured, squeezing his hand a little. John’s soft answering smile brightened the entire empty skylot, and Kaidan pulled off his helmet to press a kiss to his temple. “Come on, let’s get you back to the Normandy. Steve has pie.” The traffic noise in the distance hummed away, though James could just pick out the sound of an approaching shuttle. He turned towards it and caught Kaidan wince out of the corner of his eye. He paused. “Pie’s already gone, isn’t it?”
“Sorry James. That pie was a goner as soon as Steve got it into the kitchen.”
The local bakery
“Tío!” The shuttle took off behind him and James all but ran forward at the sight of his uncle, not caring about the goofy grin splitting open his face. The refugees milling around on the dusty planet were more concerned with rations and supplies than an excitable newcomer anyway. James didn’t care one way or the other. His uncle was alive and this was the happiest he’d been since getting the notification of his evacuation four days ago.
“Woah there kiddo!” Emilio patted James’ shoulder. “You’ve got to go easy on those hugs now, all that saving the galaxy seems to have given you super strength.”
“Hardly, old man. You’re just going to have to put up with it,” James snorted, still grinning. He did draw back from the hug, though, and hitched up the strap of his duffle from where it had fallen. His smile wavered. “You had me worried for a moment there. Didn’t know where you were, couldn’t get in touch.”
“Come now, James. Takes more than a few rogue spaceships to get the better of me, you should know that.” Emilio smiled, a soft sadness taking over his eyes, squeezing James’ arm. “Your ride didn’t stick around long.”
James recognised the change of subject for what it was. They still had family missing, after all.
“Huh? Oh, Steve has to get back to the ship. I just got lucky John- I mean, Commander Shepard let me kick it here for a few days.” Knowing Kaidan and John were going off to risk their lives somewhere without him created an unexpected pang in his chest. It subsided when he took another glance at his uncle’s face, warm and alive right in front of him. His grin came back in full force.
“I got you for a few days?”
“I have to stay nearby, likely won’t get much notice about the pick up, but for however long it takes Shepard to kick ass and come back and get me, yeah, I’m all yours.”
It took a day and a half for Uncle Emilio to figure out James had a boyfriend. He brought it up over coffee, and by the time he’d drunk half a cup he’d figured out there were two. He’d even figured out Shepard was one of them, based on the blush on James’ face whenever he stumbled over John’s name.
“Coffee refill, boys?” The waitress pottered over with a steaming jug in her hand and topped them up. “I’ll be right back with the pie, we’re just heating it up.”
“Thank you,” Emilio said, taking a sip as she turned on her heel and left. “I know how much you always respected Shepard, James, and this Kaidan sounds like a good man, but don’t let them take advantage of you.”
“I won’t. I mean- They’re not. They wouldn’t.”
Emilio grinned at James flustering across the table. “I know you can take care of yourself, I’ve still got to say it though. But as long as you’re happy, that’s all I can-”
A message pinged on James’ omni-tool and he jumped. Shuttle arriving in twenty. On the way to an urgent mission, don’t be late. He sighed. It hadn’t been long enough. Though he didn't think it would ever be long enough. Not to reassure himself of his uncle’s health, to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming it all. The waitress returned with their plates, putting them down on the table with a solid thunk. Warm chocolate pies with genuine home-made ice cream scooped on the side, melting slightly. They looked delicious, but James had to go.
“That your crew?” Emilio said, nodding at James’ still lit omni-tool.
He nodded, switching it off and standing. “Yeah. They’re coming in now. I have to leave.”
“No time to finish our food?” Emilio stood with him, brows knitting together. The corner of James’ mouth ticked up in a half-hearted smile. He looked at the steam still rising from their plates and shook his head. “Alright then. I’ll drive you.”
They waved a credit chit to a very confused waitress on the way out and drove the fifteen-minute journey to the docks. Shepard was already waiting, with Kaidan stepping out of the shuttle behind him.
“You said twenty, Loco!”
Shepard grinned a little, but didn’t respond, walking down the ramp instead. “We’ve got a mission over in Citadel space, you ready?”
James pat his bag, hanging off his shoulder. “All set.”
“Commander Shepard.” Emilio cut in, unwilling to let James leave just yet. “I understand your line of work is dangerous. But make sure you two look after my nephew.”
Shepard nodded, clear blue eyes holding Emilio’s gaze, and said with authority: “Yes sir. Absolutely. We will.”
Do it yourself
James swept the last of the flour on the floor into the dustpan and stood up. His boyfriends were out, seeing the 7pm showing of a film led by an actor James couldn’t stand. Instead he’d made a date for himself, Shepard’s oven, and eventually a beer in front of the TV. He was looking forward to it.
He'd spent the last hour in a painstaking battle against the ingredients for cherry pie, and barring one mishap currently being cleaned up, he thought it went pretty well. He emptied the dustpan and eyed the flour on the ceiling speculatively, trying to figure out the best way to get to it, when the door opened.
James’ breath caught in his chest as his two lovers stumbled across the threshold, too engrossed with each other to have noticed him yet. Kaidan’s hand groped down into the back of Shepard’s trousers and Shepard kicked the door closed with his foot, hands in Kaidan’s hair. James’ mouth went dry at the glimpse of Shepard’s tongue sliding into Kaidan’s mouth. He cleared his throat.
“Enjoyed the movie then?” he called, leaning over the counter. He didn’t try to hide the smirk on his face when they froze and glanced over, the sheepish looks on their faces out of place on the two older men.
Kaidan coughed a little and moved his hand up to Shepard’s back. “It wasn’t as good as advertised,” he said. A slight flush coloured his cheeks and his hair stuck out at a few odd angles where Shepard’s fingers had been just moments prior. “We left early.”
“I can see that,” he said, taking absolute glee in giving them a hard time, just because he could. Some of his bravado faded, however, when Shepard took a single step in his direction, glint in his eye.
“How’s the pie?”
“In the oven. Thirty minutes left.”
“So, you’ve got some spare time then?” Shepard covered the rest of the distance and pulled James further over the kitchen counter, slotting their lips together. The atmosphere flipped from light and teasing to heavy and charged, and James felt it tingle across his skin. He caught a slight whisper of air before Kaidan’s tongue joined John’s, fervently licking into James’ mouth as they kissed across the table. An indistinguishable pair of teeth caught his bottom lip and they pulled away simultaneously, some unspoken signal between them.
“Sir, yes sir,” James breathed, and followed them upstairs.
He fell back panting, managing to roll to the side as his arms gave way. Kaidan’s hair sat plastered to his head and John had one arm thrown over his face, chest glistening in the dim bedroom lights.
“I’m really glad you guys came home early,” James said, when he managed to find his voice. Kaidan huffed a laugh which James felt more than he could see, and he could just make out John's mouth twitching up at the corner. He breathed deeply, inhaling the faint sweat-smell of their skin, the post-sex scent of the room, underlaid by a hint of burnt sugar. Still stuck somewhere between the sheets and his lover’s bodies, his brain struggled to get back online. He paused.
“Shit! The pie!”
He threw off the covers and leapt out of bed, running down to the kitchen stark naked. The acrid smell of smoke and sickly sweet charcoal filled the open plan apartment and made his stomach roil. James's mouth fell open. Inside the oven sat a charred cherry mess. He switched off the heat and donned John’s N7 oven mitts to place the ex-pie on the counter.
“I’m guessing that’s not salvageable?” John asked, poking at it a little with a finger, before Kaidan swatted him away from the still-smoking pastry. They at least had stopped to put on sweats and boxers, respectively, before following James' flight down the stairs.
“Sorry, James," Kaidan said, watching James shake his head. "We can order in from the bakery in the Wards instead?”
“It’s not the same,” he said, a little forlorn, pulling the oven mitts off and placing them back in the drawer. He sighed. “I’ll just have to try again another time.”
"Can we try again now?"
"Can't. There was an... incident with the flour. There's none left." He flopped down onto a bar stool and Kaidan reached over to squeeze his arm. It offered small comfort. James sighed again, head collapsing into his arms on the counter as he sat naked and defeated in the kitchen.
"I brought you some food from the cafeteria," Kaidan said, holding up a brown paper bag and shutting the door to John's room behind him. "I know hospital food isn't great, but you didn't have breakfast. Or lunch."
"Don't feel much like eating, Blue." James voice cracked, dry and scratchy from underuse. He hadn't let go of John's hand since he sat down in the chair by his bed three hours ago. The cuts on John’s unconscious body stood out stark red against too-pale skin, and though his chest moved steadily, the amount of tubes and wires hooked to him made James sick every time he thought about how they kept John alive.
“Please just-” Kaidan sighed and pushed his fingers through his hair. “Just eat something. A little bit, that’s all. They had blueberry pie, you love pie."
James forced himself to smile when he reached over to take the offered food one handed. Judging by the strained look in Kaidan's eyes, he must not have been convincing. He faltered, and when Kaidan sat down next to him he leant over to press a quick peck to his cheek, before diving into the bag.
Inside, wrapped up, sat the blueberry pie, a sad looking egg sandwich, a juice carton, and an apple. The apple and juice he passed back to Kaidan even though he had already eaten, knowing his boyfriend needed more calories than he did, and pulled out the sandwich. His first bite was bland, tasteless, and he imagined chewing on a soggy sock would have the same texture, but he forced himself to take three more bites before the doctor came in. The results of Shepard’s latest test were much more diverting. The pie went untouched and eventually forgotten.
Ready for anything
James stood at the side of the hall. The party was in full swing; all the bigwigs and top brass had been invited. Shepard too, naturally, with the entire crew of the Normandy there to accompany him. The surrealness of it all had been washing over James all evening. The dress blues, the black ties, the canapés. And meanwhile outside cities, no- entire planets, lay in ruins.
James could understand why people wanted to celebrate. The reapers were gone, comms were back up, the galaxy was crawling back to its feet. It still felt weird to look down and see rubble when surrounded by finery. He sighed and turned away from the window, shaking his head to himself.
“Not making use of the free bar, Vega?” Samantha giggled, walking up behind him, leaning heavily into Liara’s side. She nodded to the glass of water in his hand, the motion making her sway. “The vodka they have here is almost as good as the real stuff.”
James resisted the urge to reach out and steady her on her feet. “I wish. N-school medical and fitness entrance exam soon. Gotta make sure I’m in top shape.”
“Not even a canapé?” Liara said, snagging a few artful pastries from the tray offered by a passing waiter. There seemed to be a delicate chocolate mousse and the fanciest blueberry pie James had ever seen. As well as the smallest.
“I had a few of the cucumber ones, a bit of the sushi. No pie though. And no fake vodka either.”
“I thought you’d be wanting to celebrate, with Shepard finally back on his feet.”
And that was worth celebrating. His eyes scanned the room and found John sitting with Tali. She animatedly gestured at something in the far corner that had John breaking out into a grin. James felt himself mimic the expression, heart fluttering, an unbearably fond warmth welling in his chest. Even if the galaxy outside remained broken, having Shepard out of the hospital meant the world to James, and seeing Shepard smile made the entire party worth it.
"I am celebrating. I promise."
+1 Canadian Thanksgiving
It had taken James a while to get used to the Alenko household. There was the expected awkwardness of first meeting your boyfriend's parents, but there had been an odd adjustment phase, likely exacerbated by Shepard’s own recovery and awkwardness in family situations. James figured growing up on the streets didn’t give you the skills necessary to negotiate family dinners.
They’d all been firmly invited to Thanksgiving in Canada, and James sat, absolutely stuffed, staring at the leftovers.
“I hope you boys aren’t too full, there’s still dessert. Home-made brown sugar pie.” Mrs Alenko came in from the kitchen, pie in hand, and placed the dish in the centre of the table. The smell of caramelised sugar reached his nose. Heaven. The crust looked golden brown and baked to perfection, a buttery crumble surrounding the cinnamon sugar filling. It had been a long time since James had eaten mom-cooked food; it looked delicious. Kaidan sliced the pie and handed a plate to John, his mother, and then James, who took it with an almost reverent hand. He was full from dinner already, but surely he could find room for pie.
“If you don’t want the pie, James, you don’t have to eat it.” Kaidan smiled at him from across the table and James realised he’d been staring at the slice a little too long. “I’m sure John will take it from you.” Shepard, already half way through his slice, nodded his agreement.
“There is nothing in this universe that can pry me away from this pie, Kaidan, just you try to take it from me,” he said, stabbing his finger in their direction. Kaidan held up his hands in surrender, and went back to his own plate. “Do you know how long its been since I’ve had good pie? Or pie at all?”
“I can guess,” John said around his last mouthful, already reaching for a second portion. Mrs Alenko hid a small smile behind her napkin.
‘Biotic metabolisms’ , James thought, a little ruefully, considering the amount John and Kaidan had managed to put away between them, with no sign of slowing down. He shook his head a little and picked up his fork.
The first bite was a thing of beauty, quite possibly the best thing James had eaten since long before the war. The spongy sugar had the perfect amount of spice and served with cream it was bliss on the tongue. And... he was full. Stuffed. He’d gorged himself on chicken, turkey, and maple roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes, and now he struggled to even lift his fork for a second mouthful. The mouth-watering smell still enticed him, but his stomach rebelled. Out of sheer stubbornness, he forced himself to continue. It really was delicious.
James looked up to find John on his third slice and sighed. Biotic metabolisms. He’d probably spend the next few hours lying down, bloated on the couch like a balloon, but it was worth it. He was going to finish this pie if it killed him. Nothing would stop him now.