Disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect. Thank you BioWare for this gift. LOVES!
Chapter 1: Lost
"I am not afraid to show you who I am,
And I am not ashamed of my life.
Though I've walked alone down this cold and soulless road,
I've always felt you here, in my bones."
-Blind as a Bat, Meat Loaf
"It's really quiet."
Commander Shepard had nearly whispered, but her voice still thundered through the stillness of the cockpit, contrasting her point and punctuating it at the same time. Joker was startled briefly by the noise before realizing what it was he'd heard.
"The calm before the storm, Commander," he offered to her. "In which you should be sleeping," he added as an afterthought.
"Too restless… my mind won't settle."
"We've got about another twelve hours before we can hit a fuel port, then we can head for the relay… Now's the best time for sleep." Still, he gestured lightly with one hand to the chair in front of the navigation station behind him. He muttered a quick command to EDI to take control of main drives before turning his chair to face her.
Joker wondered how many times she actually had this problem. Probably less than should be considered normal, being who she was. But no one can always be as composed as she pretended to be. It was with a little bit of warmth (and heaviness), that he understood he had probably become the easiest person for her to come to. He was never out in the field, so she'd never have to worry about her thoughts weighing too distractedly on him. And after everything that had happened…
Shepard smiled weakly at him, weariness showing in her eyes. But she sat in the seat he'd indicated and crossed her legs, sighing heavily. "I'd rather us both be sleeping," she admitted. "I'm going to need you at your best when we go through the Omega 4 relay. Someone else can handle fueling procedures until then. You should be resting."
Joker snorted lightly, though he knew it wasn't strong enough of a reaction to suggest she was wrong. "You come all the way down here to send me to bed?"
Shepard's smile faltered on her face. "No… I just… need someone to talk to, Joker."
It wasn't what he'd expected. But in retrospect, he supposed he should've guessed. Sometimes it was easy to forget that his commander was a woman, or even human. "You're worried about the mission, Shepard? We both know you can do this. You can do anything…"
Shepard laughed weakly in her throat and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "I can get an 'attagirl' from anyone, Joker."
Then why look for me? Joker's mind wanted to ask immediately. But due to the recent conditioning EDI had put him through, saying things in his head before out loud finally paid off. He didn't want to sound rude of course. There was a part of him that wanted to be there for her, he just wasn't sure how he could be. He'd always had a soft spot for her, but he'd been careful to keep it to himself. Unlike some of the others that had taken an… interest in her.
He settled for an apologetic smile and turned in his chair to hit a nearby switch alerting EDI to close the door to the cockpit. He hoped it would help allow Shepard to speak freely. The commander looked upon the swooshing doors with appreciation.
Still, she didn't say anything for a long moment, and he waited patiently while taking in her distinctly human face. He took her silence as permission to really watch her. It had always been easy to see her as his commander. She had always stood above him, metaphorically and literally. But while she sat in the chair across from him, a leg pulled up to her chest with cracks of vulnerability seeping from her eyes, he got to see beyond it all.
She was younger and older at the same time than she should've been. Cerberus had erased her Mindiorian battle scars, her skin had tightened and then smoothed and was as fresh as a twenty-something girl. But her eyes and shoulders bore the weight of an older, tired woman. Without regulations on hair anymore Shepard had allowed hers to grow without bothering to put it up as she once might have. He'd never asked her about that change either… but it was such a personal thing. His heart, though his most hidden and protected organ, knew that perhaps she just didn't have the energy or drive to care enough for such trivial things. Sitting there he concluded that what Shepard really was, was beautiful. A puzzle, a painting, or a song you never really understood but still wanted to listen to over and over.
Finally she lifted her eyes to him and he realized he'd been staring. She remained that way for a moment, as if assessing him in the same way. He felt exposed, but then her gaze softened and she leaned forward on her arms.
"Everything has changed, Joker," she started, "I feel like I'm fighting the same battles over and over, but all the things that made it real to me, the emotion, the pride, the history between people," she breathed deeply, her forehead wrinkling lightly as she tried to find the right words. "It's all muddied. It's all fading. It's like it's just… a job now. Something about it doesn't feel right. Sometimes I look in the mirror and don't even know if I'm still me. The memories are there but… what makes me me is fading away. I'm sometimes afraid I don't know who I am anymore."
Truth be told, Joker didn't know how to answer that. Instead he gave a tiny nod to encourage her to go on.
Her fingers absently went to her lips, to the place where a scar had once been when he'd first met her; A mark of proof from her childhood. Her eyes stared at nothing while she spoke. "And then Alenko… I remember waking up in that Cerberus facility and wondering what had happened to the team. I don't know anymore why I was so sure my best friend would drop everything and follow me as loyally as he once had. Maybe he was right… maybe I have changed."
Joker shook his head slowly. Maybe Shepard wanted him to argue? To tell her Alenko would come around? The former lieutenant had the commander were about as close as two people could get without being romantically involved. They were just friends, but they had been damn good ones. They'd been protective of each other, strong for each other. It was with regret that Joker realized who Shepard really needed on her crew was the man that had called her a traitor and had wished her an almost sarcastic amount of luck upon their parting.
But Joker couldn't lie to her… and there was reason he was content to let the newly promoted commander think he was really piloting private vessels rather than working with Cerberus. And under Shepard's command.
Instead he took a different approach. "Do you remember our first week back on the job? You asked me if I ever thought about the old Normandy and our old adventures."
Shepard came back to the present long enough to glance at her pilot curiously. "Yeah, I remember."
"Do you still miss it?"
She seemed to think about it for a minute, the galaxy slowing down to hear her words when she was finally ready to speak them. "Yes… I do. Even if we did get screwed by Udina, the Council, and everyone in between. We may have been misled, but we believed in what we were doing so thoroughly..."
Her eyes weakened again, and it was almost harder than having to watch her die from suffocation as his escape pod hummed safely away from the exploding debris of their old home. He leaned forward on his arms as well and reached for her hand, encasing it in one of his own. Her eyes shot to their fingers as he intertwined them, looking as if the touch were foreign to her. Then her other hand fell from its place on her mouth, and he took that one in his hands too.
"The point is that you still obviously have some of your old connections and your old feelings. You have to know that you're still you, deep down," he tried, lightly squeezing her hands in his.
She met his eyes, and he saw them glisten in a way that made it impossible to look away. "You're the oldest and closest friend I've got in the galaxy now, Joker," she said. "Someone told me recently that… 'once someone dies to you, they're always dead'. But you, you always knew. You knew Cerberus was rebuilding me, you were the first to be there when I needed loyalty…. You never gave up on me."
He cradled her hands in his, covering them completely with whatever warmth he could provide. "There are others… Garrus and Tali."
Shepard dropped her gaze, her mouth frowning slightly. "I do love them. I'd do anything for them. They're mine to keep and take care of.
"But they've changed. They're harder… more detached. You can see the innocence and hope dwindle in their faces. Like Liara… so scarred and disillusioned. Like they'd never see the sun again. I want to save this galaxy just for the mere chance to see them genuinely smile once more," Shepard huffed a weak laugh, "but I can't do that if I don't keep any hope for myself. I can feel myself becoming like that, Joker." She met his eyes. "It scares me."
"Truly detached people don't care about becoming detached, Shepard," he pointed out.
She looked at him and tilted her head slightly. "You haven't changed. How?"
He smiled nervously, his thumb running over her knuckles. "You."
He didn't want her to feel guilty, but he knew what really separated him from the others was that he always knew she might come back. To Garrus and Tali, the galaxy had emptied after Shepard's death. He was the only one to see the future as having her in it. She hadn't really died to him. At least, not for as long as she had for everyone else. He probably would've ended up with Cerberus anyway, just for the fact that they let him fly. But knowing that he'd be serving with the one woman that could save civilization had kept him from falling into the grim defeatist form that the others had.
"You're my rock, Joker," Shepard finally said when he didn't answer. "The only thing that has stayed constant through this whole thing. The only thing that still feels like it belongs here as part of my life."
She was more amazing to him in that instant than she had ever been before. So real, but so special. Unique, but human. Flawed and vulnerable. It magnified how incredible it was that she had accomplished so much, and Joker swelled with pride as that hit him. "Thank you, Commander."
She smiled weakly at him. "Thank you."
There was a sweet moment that passed between them, and a strange emotion crept up to his stomach. He knew what it was, and it wasn't the first time she'd evoked that particular feeling in him. But it was the first time that he didn't dismiss it completely.
He swallowed and tore his gaze from hers, instead focusing on their intertwined hands. Sometime during their talk she had scooted forward in her seat and her knees were close to him now.
"Doesn't that make you feel more like you?" he asked.
He didn't see the way her face lightened ever so slightly as she realized the truth. "Yes, it does. You do. Maybe that's what I was looking for." Still, he heard her breathe deeply. "I'm afraid if I leave this room I'll forget again."
That wasn't like her. And he reacted too physically for her to ignore.
"Can I show you something?" she asked quietly, searching to meet his eyes again.
Slowly he nodded and she slipped her hands from out of his and stood slowly. She stepped closer to him. There was so much trust between them that he wasn't really nervous of what she might do, but he was still somewhat surprised with the ease in which her fingers began working at the front of her uniform tunic, pulling it apart to show her smooth light brown skin as it stretched from her belt to her face, disjointed now only by the black of her bra.
But it was on her lower stomach, to the left of her belly button that his attention was drawn. Just beneath the skin were small glowing points of light. They burned yellow and gold behind the lustrous flesh. He brought his fingers up to her belt line without thinking, brushing his fingertips lightly over the lights. Honestly… they were beautiful.
"It must've been an impact injury..." Shepard muttered quietly. "I must've landed on this side upon re-entry. I think they reconstructed most of this side, at least this hip." Her fingers trailed behind his as he tried to follow the wiring from the lights that glimmered through her skin. "The facial scars have healed but… I'll always have this. To remind me."
"To remind you of what happened to you. Not to make you forget who you are." Finally, he looked up at her, suddenly really aware of how close his face was to her bare stomach. But still he stayed. Her trust in him was comforting.
Her eyes shifted back and forth as she searched his, and he kept her gaze, not knowing what it was she was hoping to see.
"I told myself that," she explained, "it didn't seem as true then as when you said it just now."
Something moved behind her vivid orbs that finally made him feel a little nervous, and he dropped his eyes back down to her cybernetics. With feathery touches he traced the lights again, but this time goosebumps rose on her flesh across her abs and up her stomach.
"Sorry," she apologized sheepishly, covering his hand with hers so he wouldn't pull away. "That wasn't intentional. It's just… this is the most skin contact I've had with anyone in what I guess is actually years."
Gloves and armor. Shepard's world was one where no one was ever really close enough to touch. Another thing that probably contributed to her problems, Joker surmised. He literally felt everything he touched. It was strange how much that probably contributed to the sense of being alive.
He looked up at her again in understanding, but saw a face he hadn't before. She held his gaze in a stare he couldn't escape from. Even as she began pulling his hand with hers up over her stomach, between her breasts lightly and then pressed it to her sternum. But he didn't see that, just her eyes. He hadn't realized his hand was being held tightly against her naked skin until he felt her heart beat.
"I don't even know if that's real." She told him solidly, not releasing him from her gaze yet. "If I actually have heart or… a fuel pump."
Joker kept his eyes with her, not trusting himself to watch what he was doing as he leaned forward and kissed her stomach, tickling her with his beard. Beneath his palm, her pulse quickened, and the rhythm of her heartbeat increased in pace.
He knew that he had done it to prove a point, but after that he was paralyzed, unbelieving of what he'd just done. Shepard for her part seemed to have a similar problem.
At least until her free hand went to his face, caressing his cheek sweetly before leaning down and kissing him.
He closed his eyes as he felt her lips press against his. It took him a moment to react, even in fear, before kissing lightly back. It only lasted for a moment, but he opened his eyes again just in time to see her do the same.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. But she didn't move. She was still achingly close.
"Shepard, I can't," he said quickly. Something in his stomach tightened but he ignored it, knowing he was right. "This isn't about me. You're just feeling alone right now."
She huffed lightly, but instead of pulling away from him she kneeled between his legs, getting her face even with his. "I know you don't like hearing you're wrong..."
She lifted both hands to his face now, and he just stopped breathing. "In the last month I've begun to second guess the Alliance, and second guess myself. I've lost the friends I thought would always stand by me and instead I'm putting my life in the hands of allies that would most likely shoot me in the back if someone offered them the right amount of credits. It plays with my head and my emotions, and the only thing that has remained constant over the past three years…"
She'd paused and sighed at herself for not finding the right words to finish her sentence, and Joker still hadn't breathed. His stomach fluttered once more as he saw her drag her eyes across the contours of his face.
He purposefully sought her gaze again, and met her blues orbs, hoping his own eyes didn't betray the fear that tingled on the edges of his nerves. Fear for what she might say. Or perhaps what she wouldn't.
"The only thing that has remained the same since I took my posting on the old Normandy," she tried again, "is… my feelings for you."
He wanted to say something, but suddenly his motor and speech skills had been completely disengaged. After years of sneaking glances at the most remarkable woman he'd ever met, she was saying… what?
He was feeling so much he wasn't even sure where to start. His lips parted but her fingers fell over them, dousing him with disabling nectar.
"This doesn't have to be about that," she told him, though she tilted her head and looked down at her arms for a brief second in thought. "I wasn't even sure I was ever going to tell you…"
Joker felt words bubbling up his throat, but he wasn't even sure which ones they were. His lips must've moved against her fingertips because she pressed back with them gently.
"What I meant to say, Joker, was that you make me feel like me. And that's what I need right now. If I lose myself now, I...
"I'll never make it through tomorrow," she admitted.
"So… the fate of the entire galaxy rests on me kissing you right now?" He quirked a half smile, silently berating himself for his dependence on teasing comments for security.
She huffed in laughter and looked down again, slightly shaking her head.
"Sorry," he added, "not the best time to make jokes. That's just... what I do."
"Nah," she smiled, "I wouldn't expect anything less. I don't mean to put any pressure on you, Joker. I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable and I don't want you to say or do anything you can't mean, you understand that right?"
All of a sudden, Joker understood a lot more than that. This was his moment. After years of thinking he'd come to terms with the fact that he would only ever be her talented pilot with which to have some witty banter, here was his opportunity to change their friendship forever, for better or worse. To cross the threshold and make them something else, without the luxury of knowing what it would or could become.
He could tell her everything. All the times he'd watched her move, or smiled to himself as she firmly, yet kindly, dealt with each obstacle as it threw itself in her path. He could tell her that he admired her strength, her determination, her outlook on life, the way she had treated him. Like a person, someone she respected, and not because of his disease.
He leaned in. "I understand," he said quietly. He was going to kiss her. He lifted his hands to take action but she caught them in her own and rubbed her cheeks along his knuckles sweetly.
Joker sucked a breath in sharply and involuntarily. He sought her eyes for further explanation and found himself completely disarmed by the emotion pooling just behind her pupils. There was a long silent moment when he was terrified of how she might react if he did what he wanted, and her fingers wrapped around his palms and massage the muscle slowly, and dare he say, sensually.
"Touch me, Joker…" she whispered breathily, closing her eyes and releasing his hands to do with as he wished.
He inhaled shakily before doing as she asked, watching his fingers instead of her face as they trailed down her stomach to spread across her abdomen lightly, following the subtle curves and valleys of her form.
She sighed and shivered against his fingertips as he danced them delicately back over her ribs, caressing the underside of her breasts before tracing the curve of them and continuing on. He curled his fingers as they slipped beneath the fabric still hanging off her shoulders, and with a smooth motion pushed her tunic down her arms so she could shimmy slowly out of it.
He then traced the muscles running over her shoulders across her collarbone, then around her neck. With careful thumbs he massaged the front of her throat.
She lolled her head back, a light airy sound escaping her lips as she exposed herself to him.
He finally licked his lips nervously before leaning forward and slowly kissing her throat. Then again, and again, a small sigh hissing from her each time.
The muscles in her neck moved beneath his lips and fingers as she tilted her head back up to meet his eyes. He drew in a slightly unstable breath as she ran her hands up his arms to his shoulders, then cupped the back of his head in one hand to pull him towards her. She held him there for a moment, her breath tickling his face. Her eyes deepened before him and he nearly got lost.
With a jerky movement suddenly his hand was on her cheek to stable them both. They both inhaled shortly, swaying a little with dizziness before finally kissing. Joker dragged his mouth over her lips, taking them in softly as he closed his eyes.
He placed one hand back over her heart as he kissed her, this time finding delight in the powerful beat. It pulsed beneath his palm, exciting him as much as the kiss. She slowly began to drive them with more deliberate motions, moving her lips with meaning against his.
Joker was somewhat surprised each time she touched him, and he was excessively aware of her, and who she was. Not just Commander Shepard, but the Shepard he had come to respect as a person, as a friend, as a companion. And in her own way she was making him respect her as a woman.
He felt her palms pushing against his chest, pressing into the muscle. Joker was losing himself to the feeling, and before he knew it their kisses were becoming more open, his tongue dangerously playing at the edge of Shepard's bottom lip.
Their breaths mixed between them hot and thick as Shepard began to push him back into his chair. She broke the kiss but kept their eyes locked as she rose from between his legs and slid her calves in along the outer edges of his thighs.
"Easy…" He warned under his breath, surprised by how low and rough his voice sounded. Still he wrapped his long fingers around her waist to support her she adjusted herself into a comfortable position. She kept her weight off his lap, instead leaning on his chest by snaking her arms around her neck and shoulders. Her eyes were deep as she smiled, pressing her chest against his as she stretched her body over him, forcing him further into the back of his seat with nowhere to go.
Joker felt her fingers twist into the base of his hair, her blunt nails gently scratching into his scalp as she captured his lips again, this time parting her mouth to encourage his tongue's entrance. He complied happily, finding his heart pounding inside his chest. He stroked her naked back with his fingertips, applying more pressure as the air around them began to thicken. Heat began to overpower them, and energy like electricity began to snap and crackle between their intertwining forms.
Shepard's first vocal moan was small, but it vibrated through his body, making him careless about anything other than her. He slid his hands down the length of her torso, over her hips and behind her rear, squeezing experimentally through the fabric of her uniform. He was rewarded with similar moan of approval, and he was pushed over the edge into danger. He pulled her against him be her rear, deepening the kiss hungrily as reality blurred away completely.
Her fingers twisted deeper and higher into his hair, inadvertently slipping his hat off his head. He couldn't even argue, since she used the advantage of the angle to pull him into her. The temperature was dizzying and he was forced to tear his mouth from hers for the sake of breathing, instead stretching to administer kisses to her neck.
"Joker…" Shepard whispered his name against his ear and his breath hitched. He pulled his lips away from her skin, desperately trying to reclaim his thoughts. Her hips had begun to sink against him in the heat and he shifted beneath her nervously.
"Are you okay?" She asked immediately, almost instantly relieving him of any weight she may have burdened on his legs.
He nodded and gave her a breathy 'yeah', but concern still etched its way onto her face. He felt her hands fiddle with his hat as she held it in between her fingers behind his head.
"Can you… erm…"
It was the first time he'd seen her stumble on words, and he knew what she was thinking. Darker more passionate images had flooded his mind every second of the last five minutes. He'd known this question was bound to come up from the sound of her voice when she'd ask him to touch her.
"Can we...?" She tried again, this time letting her charming smirk finish her sentence for her.
It'd been a long time for him. He'd come to terms long ago with the fact that he would never meet a woman who thought he was worth the trouble or patience of attempting a physical relationship.
But Shepard was… inherently good. And as he searched her face he found gentleness, kindness, and affection.
She was right, they were each other's best friend in the whole galaxy now. And he had trusted her with his life for so long. As he watched her free hand soothingly massage up and down his chest, he realized he'd already committed to trusting her with his body. And if he dared believe that she really did care for him…
"Yeah," he said, nodding, "carefully."
Shepard lifted one finger and trailed it down his cheek thoughtfully. "Are you-"
"I'm sure," he cut her off, "I want you, Shepard."
The boldness of his words surprised them both. He hadn't even meant to say it out loud, let alone in the raspy way it had slipped out. Shepard's eyes flared at the admission. Not with disgust or anger, but with fire he had long associated with lust, and in a flash her lips were against his again, hungry and powerful. He felt the small groan escape his throat and Shepard mewed in response.
It was shortly after that that she pulled herself away from him, with a look on her face that suggested her world had become as hazy as his own.
"Well, Mr. Moreau…" she finally said, gently retreating from him and stepping back on to the floor. She wore a deviously playful smile though, and she still held his hat. With an impish smile she pulled it on over her own hair, tilting it to the side. "Then I'll expect you to come and retrieve this from my quarters later."
He watched her body as she moved to fetch her tunic from the floor and shrugged it back on. Joker caught a glimpse of her glowing cybernetics as she began to straighten it and refasten the front across her chest.
"EDI…" she said, suddenly turning her attention to the AI. Joker found himself a little surprised that he had forgotten the third presence. He would've felt nervous for the fear of being spied on if he weren't so relieved by EDI's kindness to remain silent throughout their little episode.
"Do not worry, Commander," EDI said, her voice sounding suspiciously conspiratorial. "I fully intend to insist that Flight Lieutenant Moreau take a relief of his posting in about an hour for some desperately needed comfort and rest. Operative Lawson can sit in the cockpit until Joker has had adequate recess. That is, if you trust me to run programs and drives in his absence."
"Of course, EDI," Shepard said easily, tugging on the edges of her uniform once to smooth it out.
Joker breathed deeply as he watched her move, smirking to himself as she slinked back to the door with his hat. She turned back to him and gave him a smile that made him nearly stumble to his feet and follow her right down the bridge, through the CIC, and into the elevator.
"Don't keep me waiting too long, Joker." She bit her bottom lip for the slightest second before winking at him and turning on her heel.
He watched her leave and then spun in his chair, leaning his head back on the leather and exhaling. Her absence left him more aware of his own body temperature. He was burning up, and he groaned in his throat painfully.
It was the first time Joker had heard an AI literally giggle. "Problems, Jeff?"
He groaned again and shifted against the leather. "I'm so not going to make it a whole hour," he muttered lowly.
"One moment," EDI said.
Joker grunted a response and rubbed his neck. "What was that EDI?"
There was no reply and he shrugged it off, trying instead to clear his mind of Shepard's body. Or eyes… Or lips. Or skin.
"Damn it," he cursed and growled at himself, pressing a couple buttons redundantly in frustration.
"Operative Lawson is on her way, Mr. Moreau."
"You're being… encouraging," Joker grumbled, trying to smooth his hair with his fingers.
"Joker, you just went a full social encounter lasting over ten minutes with only one notable 'quip', as you call them."
"Human studies on the extranet suggest that surrounding oneself with familiar people and objects are among the most effectively comforting and restoring practices for the nerves of the human psyche."
Joker rolled his eyes and turned his head to where EDI virtual interface was. "You actually think this is a good idea?"
"There seems to be a lot of data out available on the subject. Some scientists have suggested-"
"EDI…" he hurried her along.
"I don't pretend to understand human relationships, Joker. And even if I did, you two seem to have a very unique one by comparison. But elevated heart rates and an increase of positive facial expressions indicate many possible beneficial outcomes.
"And hormonal spikes and pheromone levels suggest that you are deeply attracted to the commander. Perhaps even hold complex feelings for her."
"Yeah, so?" he asked irritably. He'd gotten close to EDI, but there was no pilot's manual that could prepare him for a conversation with his own state-of-the-art frigate about whether or not he should pursue a physical relationship with his commanding officer.
"Your feelings are well hidden, Mr. Moreau. I feel slightly inadequate to not have noticed this connection earlier."
"I have every reason in the galaxy to believe that doing my job and ignoring whatever emotions I may have is for the greater benefit of me, the commander, and everyone serving under her."
"That is such a bleak perspective, all things considered."
"What other things are to be considered?" he asked, turning his dubious expression on EDI.
"Just that after weeks of health monitors and hardsuit downloads; in addition to my already sufficient collection of data on Commander Shepard's physiological profile, I can only come to the conclusion that… she likes you too."
Joker took interest in the way EDI had paused before finishing her sentence, as if wanting to make sure he heard every syllable.
It was the same sentence he repeated in his mind over and over like a mantra until Miranda arrived to take over.
And the image of his hands on Shepard's skin, the feeling of her breath on his ear, the sound of her confession on her lips all joined in and pushed him with determination, emotion, and desire, onto the elevator, with one finger poking nervously and repeatedly on the 'Commander's Quarters' selection.
Hope you enjoyed! If so, drop me a review. ;-)