Instants could drag in strange ways. They always did the moment before disaster, as if the human brain was determined to make sure the loose collection of meat it governed fully appreciated what was about to happen. Or to allow a person to make a thousand assumptions, each worse than the last. Joker's subconscious had hours of practice in elaborating on all the messy ways he could die.

Except something went strange. The sense of wrongness didn't penetrate very far into the bright lance of pain that tried to overwhelm every corner of Joker's mind, even as his body instinctively flailed in desperation against the sudden void. He had only a heartbeat to contemplate it before his shoulder and head slammed into something hard, and sparks and darkness filled his vision. He slid against a rough surface as a cacophony of shattering concrete and twisting metal filled the air.

But the final impact that was supposed to end everything didn't happen. Instead, something clamped around his chest and dragged. He tried to inhale, but no air came in. His throat and chest refused to cooperate, his mouth filled with liquid. A spasm of red-hot panic shot through his nerves.

Instead of ending abruptly, the feeling of falling leaked away until Joker realized he lay on a hard surface. He coughed, a harsh bark that brought a pulse of pain throughout his head, but something let go and in the next instant, a gulp air abruptly flooded back into his lungs. He squirmed and tried to suck in oxygen, spitting out the liquid filling his mouth. His lungs felt raw and shallow, his ribs aching with every heave. Something pinned him to the floor, holding him on his side. Earsplitting gunfire cracked the air close by.

"Joker! Calm down!" a voice said. "You're inhaling blood. Breathe through your mouth!"

The familiar tone cut through the panic and agonizing pain. The pilot kept his eyes tightly shut and concentrated on getting air past the liquid flow.

"Stay still," the voice said.

Joker tried weakly to recoil from the rough touch that pulled his chin around. There was a sharp flare of pain and pressure, then a sudden cooling wash flowed out from between his eyes. He recognized the analgesic touch of medi-gel. The sensation of liquid flowing down the back of his throat stopped.

The weight on his shoulder went away. Joker drew himself up into a ball, shuddering. It felt like everything hurt, but the panic began to subside and he could breathe cleanly.

He cautiously peeled his eyes open, and his hands swam into view. As he focused on them, he felt a rush of relief. Against his worst fears, his most precious things in all the world seemed to have survived unharmed. He flexed his fingers, then peered up to see Alenko crouched next to him, a snub-nosed SMG lying nearby. The ground was littered with dust and concrete fragments, stained here and there with crimson. The lieutenant was looking out into the room as scattered reports of gunfire echoed back to them.

A tense silence finally fell. Joker raised a tentative hand to the hot, dull throb in the middle of his face. With every heartbeat he could feel the blood pulsing through the swollen flesh.

"You got cut across the bridge of your nose," Alenko explained, glancing down. "Through the cartilage, it was bleeding back into your mouth and you choked on it. Is anything else hurt?" He reached out toward Joker's legs.

Joker pulled away out of reflex. "M'fine," he mumbled, pushing himself up to a sitting position. He tested his trembling limbs. His legs felt as battered and scraped as the rest of him, but there wasn't the knife-like pain of a broken bone mixed in.

Alenko looked concerned, but backed off, settling himself against the cracked wall. It appeared to be a two-story entry hall, open to the railings upstairs where Joker had seen the two thugs with the grenade. Shepard strode out of a darkened hallway, shotgun in hand, and crossed the scattered debris.

"Why the hell did you do that to me?" Joker croaked accusingly, cutting her off before she could say anything.

Shepard looked down at him. "What I did to you?"

"You... you left," Joker blurted. "I couldn't help Jin, all I could do was sit there and crack stupid jokes while he died!"

The commander blinked, then sank slowly to one knee beside him. "You did exactly what I hoped you'd do," she said, looking Joker in the eye.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? You knew he was going to die, didn't you?"

Shepard sighed heavily.

"Wide dispersal shotgun," Alenko cut in, his voice subdued, "shredded every major organ in his torso. I'm surprised he hung on as long as he did. Medi-gel is wonderful stuff, but it isn't magic."

"He knew what was coming," Shepard said.

The pilot stared at her, the horror of it closing his throat.

"Look, Joker," the commander went on, "all of us who do this job know that moment is coming for us, somewhere down the line. We have our gallows humor, our ways of denying and ignoring it, but it never goes away. And we all know... that it'll probably come when we're in some dark, godforsaken hole, alone and afraid. But because you stayed behind, Jin didn't have to go that way."

Joker dropped his gaze.

"They were trying to liquidate this place. If we'd waited, we'd have lost them." Shepard squeezed his shoulder. "I'm just glad you're in one piece."

Suddenly a man in a white lab coat came stumbling into the room on the far side. Tennyson strode in on his heels, his face drawn into a thunderous scowl. Shepard stood up and moved away to approach them.

"I hope you have a flaming fantastic explanation for why you're up to your armpits in Fist busybodies," the admiral snapped.

The man looked around wildly at the shattered architecture. "It isn't... I was being threatened! It's those gangsters-"

"Bullshit! Your lab keeps floating to the surface of my investigations, Martin, and now I track an attack on a biotic marine right back to your doorstep! You were in this from the beginning, weren't you?"

The scientist paled and swallowed. "I was under orders," he said in a shaken voice.

Tennyson blinked. "Orders? Whose? You were discharged six years ago, man!"

"I... Not completely."

The admiral's scowl deepened. "Whose orders?"

"I can't say."

"Like hell you can't!"

The man's face became pleading. "They'll bankrupt me, Adam, I-"

"This is the sound of my sympathy disappearing," the admiral growled ominously as the cowling on his assault rifle pulled back with a soft whir.

The man retreated a step. "They said... they said they were losing control of their assets-"

"Assets?!" Tennyson roared. "They're people, Martin! You're killing them! You cost me a goddamn N! How does that fit into your model of gainful use of assets?!"

"It wasn't supposed to be like that," Martin stammered. "I was told to synthesize a compound... it wasn't fatal..."

"Oh my, no! Only the guns they resorted to in order to put down the biotics who were secretly drugged up against their will!"

"But don't you see? I had no choice. There have to be controls and checks in place, or else it could happen anywhere! They're invisible, Tennyson! This is the only way to protect the rest of us from-"

His speech was abruptly cut short by Tennyson's broad fist, which connected with the scientist's jaw with a sharp crack. Martin flew back and landed in a sprawling heap.

Shepard stepped swiftly between them. "Interrogations go better without having to do it through broken jaws, Tenny," she said.

Tennyson rocked on balls of his feet, glaring at her, then stepped back. "You always had a choice," he said over her shoulder to the dazed man. "And you know damn well where you crossed the line!"

He wrung his hand and collapsed his assault rifle as Shepard roughly pulled the scientist's arms behind his back and lashed his hands together with a tie.

Joker crawled carefully over and sat against the wall next to the lieutenant. The pilot looked around the darkened room, at the shadowy forms of bodies, the blast marks and gunfire-riddled walls. "We're still the good guys, right?" he said after a moment.

Alenko grimaced. "Not to hear them rant about it..." he said darkly, thrusting his chin in the direction of the dead Fist thugs.

"I meant-"

"I know what you meant." The lieutenant's face was dark with fatigue, and a layer of black stubble covered his jaw. He looked haggard; gore-streaked and weary.

"They're just a bunch of idiots who need someone to hate to make themselves feel better," Joker said. "Who cares what they think?"

Alenko sighed. His eyes had a haunted cast to them. "I can't help it. I know it's out there... but I don't go swimming in it very often. And no, before you ask, killing them doesn't make me feel better. It just makes me exactly what they're all afraid of." He spread his bloody fingers, and the air around them wavered with the faintest blue shimmer.

Joker stilled the flicker of discomfort at the sight of the dark energy. He hated the feeling, the instinctual voice of wrongness that fought with conscious logic. It was the same germ of discomfort of the unknown that bred the bigotry he'd faced in his own life. It was easy for the pilot to brush off the words of the man tied up in the back room- his opinions were offensively ignorant, but they didn't hit Joker where he lived. Still, he knew what it was like to be targeted directly.

"It just makes me wonder about sides, you know?" the pilot said. "Shepard, and Tennyson... The people whose orders we're following. I think we're on the right side, but..."

The lieutenant heaved a long breath, swiping his hands over his pant legs. "Cerberus and the factions that support them want humanity to be the dominant force in the galaxy. They don't think our own survival will be secure until every other sentient species is safely subdued, and our own people are carefully controlled. They'll go to any lengths to achieve that. We've seen those lengths, some of us have... lived them.

"But I just don't think that's the right course, even if we didn't have the Reapers breathing down our collective necks. Even... even in the face of that," he gestured to the corpses, "or maybe because of that, I don't think bathing in endless fear and suspicion is going to do good for humanity."

Joker considered it for a long moment. Across the room, Shepard and Tennyson were talking in low voices. The commander seemed to be angry about something, her eyes narrow.

"Guess that kind of breaks it down to brass tacks, doesn't it?" the pilot said finally.

"A lot of people would call me naive for it. But for every Saren there's a Garrus... and plenty more who just want to get on with their lives." Alenko's voice dropped. "We tried to claim dominion over the Earth, and it nearly destroyed us. Are we really so sure we'll do a better job with the whole galaxy?"

Joker gave a dark chuckle. "It does seem like a lot of overcompensation, doesn't it? Like we can march out there, plant a flag, and suddenly all the strangeness of the universe will fall into line for us."

Alenko nodded. "If you think about it, it's only going to get stranger as the generations pass. Colonial culture and language will diverge, and at some point, our fellow humans will start to seem alien. And then there's biotics... It's already happening. Earth is... an alien planet to someone like Shepard."

"I don't think being afraid of bugs quite qualifies her as alien just yet," Joker mused.

Alenko looked at him sidelong. "I wouldn't use the word 'afraid' within earshot if I were you."

"But it's still funny."

"How do you imagine you'd react if you'd never seen a single bug in person until your twenties?"

Joker opened his mouth, then closed it. Bugs were so ubiquitous in every corner of planet Earth, he realized he couldn't really imagine it. "That is so... weird."

"I know."

Joker gingerly touched his nose. He could feel the slick surface of the set medi-gel over the bridge of his nose, a cool patch in the throbbing heat of the injury. The blood on his face and soaked into his shirt was starting to dry, making for a distinctly unpleasant sensation.

"I don't know how the hell you do this job," the pilot muttered.

"Normally I have several terahertz of kinetic barriers around me, a team at my back, and only one half-crazy CO to keep up with."

Joker smirked, then regretted it as a pulse of pain went through his swollen face. "For a while there this felt worse than broken bones."

"You have considerably more nerve endings in your face."

"Great. Just don't you dare give me that line about chicks digging scars," the pilot said sourly. "Because maybe they do on you, but I'll just look like I had a disagreement with a door."

"It'll heal up fine," Alenko assured him.

Across the room, Shepard's expression changed, looking taken aback. Joker suddenly wished he could be a fly on the wall- not many people could elicit such a reaction from the commander.

The pilot looked over at the rubble of the fallen wall section spread out over the ground. He couldn't quite reconcile the smashed concrete and the gaping hole high above with his unbroken state, until the obvious occurred to him. "You... caught me, didn't you?" he asked Alenko, wiggling his fingers in a poor imitation of a mnemonic form.

The lieutenant shrugged. "Sort of. You kind of caught me by surprise, flying out of a wall like that. I managed to dampen it, I guess."

Her expression distant, Shepard turned and left the room, shotgun perched on her shoulder. Tennyson walked over to Joker and Alenko.

"Well, Moreau," the admiral declared, "either you completely took leave of your senses, or you have balls the size of church bells. Under the circumstances, I'm willing to go with the latter."

Joker peered up at Tennyson. "At least those work, because everything else is kind of a bust."

The admiral chuckled. "Well, ill-advised or not, your assist is appreciated."

"I'm sorry about Jin," Alenko said.

Tennyson's shoulders slumped. "He was a good kid, sure as hell smarter than me... A solid head and a decent heart. Not enough people like him in the service. It's going to be hell to break this to his son."

"Was he married?" the lieutenant asked quietly.

"Not anymore, but he loved his boy. Kept taking assignments in the Sol system just to stay close by so he could visit." Tennyson trailed off, his eyes distant.

"You're playing a dangerous game," he said suddenly, fixing Alenko with a flinty look.

Alenko's eyes snapped up to meet the admiral's, but he kept his mouth shut in a hard line. The two men stared each other down for a long moment. Then Tennyson's expression softened, a profound world-weariness passing across his lined face.

"But I guess you know that," Tennyson continued. He wagged a finger at the lieutenant. "Whatever happens, you be straight. Don't... fuck around."

"I wouldn't!" the lieutenant snapped, squaring his shoulders defensively.

A distant crash echoed through the dim hallways. Tennyson looked around, then looked back at Alenko. "Good," the admiral pronounced with a certain finality, then picked himself up and walked toward the sound.

Bright flashlight beams cut through the shadows, dancing off the walls, followed by warning shouts. Tennyson walked to the center of it all with perfect confidence. A squad of dark-armored figures stamped with the symbol of the Hong Kong police force poured through the door, sweeping the room with their lights. The admiral held his ground, forestalling the charge with outstretched hands as he announced himself in his booming voice.

"I didn't need the alpha-male routine," Alenko muttered after a minute.

"Who else was going to do it?" Joker said pointedly. He went to scratch his chin, then stopped himself. "Look, uh, thanks for not letting me go splat."

"Just returning one of several favors," the lieutenant replied. "As you're so fond of telling us, I have a few to catch up on."

Joker frowned. Much as he delighted in reminding the marines about all the times he'd scooped them up out of a tight spot, it suddenly didn't feel like it compared at all with the visceral reality of an actual firefight. "Well, the rest can be in beer, because I don't plan on doing this again anytime soon."

The pilot watched the swirl of activity around Tennyson curiously, marvelling at how the big admiral bludgeoned the police into swift acquiescence with sheer force of personality. Given the stories that filtered back to Joker, it seemed like some of that must have rubbed off on Shepard.

Alenko chuckled quietly.

"What?" Joker asked.

"Just... the bug thing. Have you ever seen a banana slug?"

"Uh, no. Do I really want to?"

"They have them out in British Columbia. They look just about exactly how you would guess, given their name. They're about so long-" he held his fingers out, some twenty centimeters apart. "They like to hide in damp corners, under leaves, and-"

Suddenly Shepard re-appeared from the hall at the end of the room. She was carefully balancing a large bundle over her shoulder, and as she stooped to put it down, Joker realized it was Jin's wrapped body. The commander laid him out with almost tender care, spending a moment to arrange the body with a certain dignity.

"And I'll save this story for another time otherwise I might be joining you in the infirmary," Alenko finished, his voice dropping as Shepard walked toward them.

The commander stopped and regarded their twin expressions of studied innocence with a passing flicker of suspicion, then slid down beside the lieutenant. She was breathing with the exertion of carrying the body.

"Wasn't going to leave him downstairs," she said, by way of explanation.

"I could have gone..." Alenko offered.

"If I can carry you in full gear, I can damn well manage Jin. Anyway, I needed you to make sure our intrepid pilot didn't get any more wild ideas." She leaned forward and eyed Joker with a raised eyebrow.

"I think I got it out of my system," Joker demurred, plucking at his sticky shirt. "The local constabulary is welcome to take it from here. So just how much trouble are we in this time?"

"If all goes well, we were never here," Shepard said. "Tenny's an old hat at the political game, and when all else fails, sheer bluster usually gets him through."

"That cop does look a little shell-shocked," Joker observed.

"A rear admiral that's been in the service as long as he has can drop an awful lot of impressive-sounding names in one breath," the commander said with a smirk.

The officer in charge of the squad of police had retreated from the admiral, and was now engaged in a heated comm conversation. Tennyson stood near the bound scientist, who watched the proceedings in sullen silence. The bevy of police eyed the admiral and the assault rifle slung over his shoulder with a mixture of interest and suspicion.

"You okay?" Alenko asked Shepard quietly.

She rubbed her eye with the heel of her hand. "I don't know... I guess."

"This isn't on you."

Shepard let out a long breath. In the silence that followed, it seemed some of the tension drained out of the air. The dull throb in Joker's face continued, and he was starting to feel light-headed.

"I sure as hell hope Tenny's on the ball today," Shepard said after a minute. "I have a hot date- with a shower."

"Amen," Alenko agreed fervently.

Battered and bruised, three odd ducks sitting in a row. In such company, Joker could never have quite imagined he'd ever feel so included.

It had been an office not unlike this one in which a young, frustrated, aspiring pilot had sat across from the training director, a school principle of a different stripe. Joker wondered idly if it was in fact the same office, but really, the architects of Alliance space stations were just more engineer than designer.

Vrolik's disease wasn't on the list of medical conditions generally excepted for Navy admissions. Proving himself had become a daily task so constant that even the next breath had to be better than the last. He probably could have settled for one of the thousands of desk jobs they offered, but computers didn't interest him, and pity had too sour a taste to bear for the rest of his life.

It was neither the first tirade he'd had to listen to, nor the last- the newly-christened 'Joker''s increasingly acerbic tongue did nothing to endear him to anyone. He'd bent some rules – he thought rather creatively - in order to pass zero-g certification. Micro-gravity was deceptively freeing, but also created new challenges. Parts of the certification involved doing things that were at best difficult... but not if someone adjusted the mass generator before the test even began. Favors were always for sale in any school, and Joker was a shrewd, practical negotiator.

The director wasn't interested in creativity, however. He had quotas to fulfill. The woman sitting in the corner behind him spent the entire meeting in silence, scanning a datapad, her legs crossed and her expression studious. Joker had slouched in his chair, feeling smaller and smaller as the specter of expulsion once again chilled the air in the room.

Finally, the director seemed to exhaust his invective, deflating like a balloon as he excused himself. The woman had spent a long moment looking at Joker, her gaze penetrating. She never introduced herself, but her Navy uniform lent her all the official air she needed.

Her voice had been granite. Make no mistake, Moreau, you're an investment. The same as every kid we evaluate. You're good... I see it. But you're also fragile as hell. So, do we spend someone's salary's worth of credits training you, just so you can get smashed to bits the first time you pull some Gs? Then how much do we spend putting you back together?

The sound of the datapad hitting the table sounded like a thunderclap. No one had ever talked to him like that before. Even the mockery he'd endured had a half-hearted, whispered edge to it. Not this; her words resounded through the small room, sharp and brilliant like the blade of a knife.

You have to better than good, Moreau. You have to be a winning investment. For you, that means you're going to have to be the best. If you plan on being anything less, pack your bags.

All truths were cruel in Joker's world.

Many years and a pilot's license later, the man across the desk was narrow-faced, with small eyes and knobby fingers that seemed to be in a constant game of lacing and unlacing. Captain Segura didn't have a ship to helm, so he was the dictator of this one room, which he ruled with fastidious neatness.

Joker adopted a dull, disinterested expression. People usually assumed mental infirmity came hand in hand with physical, a tendency Joker occasionally exploited to keep people off balance. Even someone who knew his reputation was often liable to fall victim to their natural prejudices, if only on a subconscious level. The pilot amused himself by counting the bolts on the far wall as the questions dragged on.

The inquiries were all about the incident in Hong Kong, now three weeks old and fading like the line across the bridge of Joker's nose. The pilot gave neutral, short answers, making the investigator work for his details.

Shepard had looked annoyed when Joker had asked her about this Segura. She'd told him only that it was some kind of investigation and to just tell the truth and get it over with. This went higher than him, and telling the weaselly man he'd been dragged along for it all was more or less true anyway. The pilot could tell Segura didn't appreciate his dullard act, but there was something satisfying about watching as he deliberately wore on each spare nerve the captain had.

Like any skilled interrogator, Segura brought his important questions out of left field.

"I have one final matter to address, Lieutenant."


Segura cocked his head, his eyes narrow in an expression of oily curiosity that make Joker want to excuse himself to go take a shower. "Are you aware of any... impropriety among the senior officers of the Normandy?"

"Huh?" Joker said, carefully keeping surprise off his face.

The investigator drummed his fingers on his desk. "You know what I mean, Moreau."

A chilly suspicion slithered through Joker's gut. "I spend my days welded to a chair playing with blinking lights, sir. So long as they do their jobs, the crew could wear socks on their heads for all I care."

As an officer himself, it wasn't an especially intelligent thing to say to a superior, but Joker was starting to get irritated. He found himself replaying the preceding conversation in his head, searching for anything that seemed out of place.

Segura leaned forward. "Fraternization."

"I've never seen any of the command staff act unprofessionally," Joker said smoothly. It was only half a lie- in the field, Shepard was all business. As far as he was concerned, that's what mattered.

"Nothing that... might have compromised Commander Shepard's decision on Virmire?"

Joker could feel the heat of anger climbing up his throat. He kept his teeth clamped shut so nothing would escape as he stared down the other man across the table. How often had he fantasized about having a body sturdy enough to reach out and throttle somebody? But he had a new fantasy as he sat there- to reach out, and with a flick of the wrist send the offensive man across the room. What must it be like to have that power, that option, every day, all the time? Joker could no more imagine it than he could what it was like to run.

It wasn't that there was no temptation at all to rat out Shepard and Alenko. It was there, nestled in with the jealousy and resentment that lurked in the back of his skull like persistent mold. He could detach the thought, turn it over in his head, and see what wriggled in the dirt underneath. The suspicion coalesced.

Fucker is trying to play me. Is that what this whole song and dance is about?

It wasn't about what happened to Ash on Virmire, or him. Segura was digging for dirt... on Shepard.

Jin's idle comment about his oath to the Alliance came back to him then. Who did he really serve? Shepard was breaking regs, true... but did this clown have even the faintest idea of the stakes the Normandy really played for? Who actually returned the loyalty Joker had pledged?

"I'm done," the pilot announced crisply, and pushed himself to his feet.

"We're not finished, Moreau!" Segura snapped.

"Ooh, yes we are," Joker retorted. "I'm not interested in sitting around fishing for slander about my crewmates. Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams died to save both our sorry asses, and that's the end of that. You want to go after Shepard, make a fucking appointment with her."

"Lieutenant! You-"

"And while you're at it," Joker continued in a moment of reckless bravado, "find something heavy to hide under. Because when the lights come on, you and the rest of the Cerberus cockroaches are going to have to scuttle for your little lives!"

Joker took the opening afforded by Segura's look of open-mouthed shock to snap a jaunty salute, then turned and resolutely shuffled out the door. A rush of light-headedness washed over him as the portal hissed closed behind him. It wasn't the first time he'd told a superior officer where he could stuff it, but he hadn't ever before actually accused one of treason. It had been a wild stab in the dark... but one that might have been validated in a fleeting flinch that passed across Segura's face.

As he made his way down the hall past the other offices, Joker's shoulders itched with the now uncomfortably familiar feeling that someone might be lining up a shot to the back of his head. But as he passed the bored-looking receptionist, no troupes of black-clad agents appeared out of invisible doorways to whisk him away to a secret torture room to be subjected to electrodes and piranhas with a taste for genitalia.

The vast station unscrolled around him as he made his way toward the docking rings at his natively unhurried pace. Arcturus was as it always was- a hive of activity that bustled around him. Enlisted personnel saluted when they passed, many with genuine respect. There were few things sure in life, but Joker was sure he'd earned the uniform and rank stripes he wore as surely as if he'd woven the fibers of it together by hand. How many of these people were aware of the forces at work under the surface? How many had chosen a side? Far fewer, the pilot suspected, than the those who simply followed the orders given to them without any deeper insight. Joker wasn't sure that his new insight made things any easier, though.

The Normandy's sloping, turian nose was, as always, a welcome sight. The flight vanes tucked at her flanks had come to remind him of Garrus' mandibles, flaring when the avian alien was agitated. The lingering itch of paranoia faded as Joker stepped into the airlock. The VI's robotic voice announced the beginning of the decontamination procedure.

"I missed you too, baby," Joker crooned, smiling a lover's smile as the beam washed over him.

"Decontamination complete," the VI said.

The pilot clucked his tongue. "Always so cold... But don't worry, I love you anyway."

His ears popped a bit at the slight pressure change as the inner door hissed open. He shuffled through the portal into the hallway and spotted Engineer Adams seated in the copilot's chair.

"Afternoon, Adams," Joker said amiably as he came around his one and only favorite seat in all the galaxy.

"Where have you been?" Adams asked, looking up. "We have a huge checklist to go over, and I'd like to get out of here before they roll up the sidewalks station-side. I've been cooped up in the service gantries since we docked, and I need to stretch my legs."

"I had to stop in and insult someone," Joker replied, easing himself into the pilot's chair with a grateful sigh. He folded up his crutches and stowed them.

"Sounds like fun." The older man pursed his lips. "I did all the adjustments you requested and they need to be approved."

"Including the port ventral?" Joker reached down and snapped open the locking clips along his leg braces.

Adams huffed irritably. "I checked the fuel feed again, and I'm telling you there's nothing wrong with it."

"The thruster is soft."

"You're imagining things."

"I like to imagine what it'll be like when we get vivisected by a geth strike fighter because I can't roll off the starboard trim as fast as I should be able to."

"You're in a particular humor today," Adams observed.

"I just tasered a lion in the balls," Joker drawled, "it was pretty spectacular."

The engineer regarded him with a raised eyebrow. "Should I be ready for another charge into the black with half the Alliance on our heels, then?"

"Nah." Joker patted the arm of the pilot's chair. "Why worry? We live in an invisible spaceship..."


Author's Note:

I must admit, the response to this caught me off guard. It started out as a lark, a bit of a challenge to myself to try to get Joker out of his chair and into Shepard's world without compromising the things I consider integral to his character. It's very gratifying to know that there are people willing to follow along when I wander down a strange road, away from our usual fanfic comfort zones.

Much love and thanks to my ever-helpful beta, Lossefalme.

Once again, thank you to all my readers and reviewers. I appreciate each and every one of you!