Author's note: it's not easy for me to write humorous stories in English since it is not my first language. I would really appreciate any comment or suggestion.
"That's so unfair, Commander." Having already lost several hands, Joker threw down his cards on the mass' table, a frustrated expression on his face.
"What is unfair, exactly?" Kyla Shepard raised her mug to her lips, trying to hide a smile behind it.
"You brought in a ringer," the pilot replied, pointing an accusing finger at Liara.
"I did not!"
Ashley cleared her throat. "It actually looks that way, you know." She shot an envious glance at the growing pile of Liara's winnings. "Are you sure this is the first time you play poker?" She asked to the Asari.
"Believe me it is. But I had a good teacher." The Asari lightly touched Kyla's hand, and she blushed.
"You should consider yourselves fortunate since we're not gambling credits." Shepard took a sip of her coffee and grimaced. The brown, lukewarm liquid had an unsettling resemblance with boggy water. "Ash, are you sure this really is coffee?"
The gunnery chief nodded.
"I restored the ship's supplies on our last trip to the Citadel."
Shepard resisted the urge to pour the remaining liquid on the floor. That coffee could probably bore a hole into the vessel's hull.
"I'm starting to believe that you have superpowers," Kyla carefully replaced the mug on the table.
"Superpowers?" Ashley furrowed her brow in confusion.
Her Commander nodded.
"Wherever we go, you always manage to palm me off the worst existing coffee ."
"Well we could use her ability as a weapon," Joker teased cheerfully, "I think that it might have dire effects on the Geth's internal circuits. Or we could ask Tali to design a coffee based bomb and place it on the Sovereign. Since it tastes like acid it should corrode her metal structures."
Ashley grumbled something intelligible under her breath, glaring furiously at them, "It would not be so bad if you put some sugar into it," she said at last, somewhat defensively. The other crew members' laughs only increased, and it took several moments before they could regain control of themselves.
"Are we here to talk about coffee or to play cards?" She asked, annoyance clear on her face, "it's your deal." The gunnery chief gathered the cards and forcefully shoved them into Shepard's hands.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have no sense of humor?" It seemed that Joker had no intentions to quit his teasing.
Ashley's face darkened, then suddenly she smiled a sharp smile that made the pilot squirm uneasily on his seat.
"Those who did are dead now."
"Enough guys," Shepard ordered as she shuffled the cards and dealt them out. The mission's stress was really getting to her crew: in a normal situation Ashley would have laughed along with them. She was not the only one who was nervy, lately. The tension had become more and more palpable until she though it pressed like a stone on their shoulders, weighing them down.
"No offence was meant, chief," she gave Ashley an apologetic smile, and the woman relaxed visibly.
"None taken, Commander. I am a little on edge, that's all."
"We all are. That's what makes us humans."
"And Asari," Liara added, sounding amused.
"Hmmm, ladies," Joker piped in, "I really do appreciate all this philosophical talk, but are you playing? I'd like to win at least one hand tonight. I have a reputation to protect." They tossed in their ante and played some more, immersed in a absorbed silence, then he talked again.
"I still say that if we used credits, it would be more fun."
"You'll not infringe the law on my ship, Lieutenant Moreau." Shepard said sternly, meeting his eyes with a level gaze.
"Look who's talking," he grinned mischievously, "as I recall you actually stole the ship we're on now."
"I did not steal the Normandy, I borrowed it. And you helped."
Her pilot laughed, then threw his hands up in defeat.
"All right, all right, I guess you have a good point."
"Talking about ships," Liara directed a worried frown at Joker, "what if the Sovereign shows up now? Not that I don't trust the Normandy's automatic pilot but..."
Joker reached across the table to pat her arm, reassuringly.
"You should not worry my friend. I've personally programmed the auto-pilot, and since I'm the best pilot of the Alliance fleet..." He shrugged.
"As modest as always, uh?" Ashley retorted, "if I am to develop a sense of humor you should learn humility."
Kyla noticed that her remark sounded weaker than usual, and she thought that maybe her two subordinates' friendship was evolving into something more serious. Well, Joker had met his match.
Suddenly a massive, scaled, hand entered her vision, sizing a fistful of the chips that were scattered on the table.
"What are you doing? Wrex propped the snacks into his mouth.
"We were playing poker." Ashley's eyes were full of reproach.
"Gambling? Interesting." A greedy light entered his crimson eyes. He munched the chips, gulped them down and burped noisily. He was completely oblivious to their irritated stares.
"Why did you use the past tense, anyway? I'd like to gamble too, if you let me."
"We would Wrex, but there is a little problem,"
The krogan scratched his head clearly confused and Joker heaved a deep, exasperated sigh.
"You've just eaten our stakes."