Guardians of the Gate

by The Odd Little Turtle Named Froggie

Quick notes: This was inspired by the video of Anderson from LotSB (so there's a mild spoiler for LotSB, well, okay maybe a whole lot more than that), but other than that I'm just making up shit-hopefully. Shepard's female in this (I think I officially lack the capacity to write a male—sorry), but unnamed, not described and not Calleigh from Redundant. Insert your own Shepard.

Mass Effect is not mine. Not that anyone didn't know that already. Just covering my ass. Broke writer is broke.

This really isn't intended to be a romance, but I'll probably end up going there anyway. Joker and Ashley are just way too much fun to write as a pairing.

Update: SORRY! I'm a writer, not a counter. The dates have changed so that Shepard will not wake up in 2186. :B


Commandant's Chambers, Hades Station, [Data Corrupted]
September 19, 2183

"Shepard is currently listed MIA," the holo of Miranda Lawson said, and the Illusive Man ground his cigarette out in frustration.

Humanity's best lost. Still, he could use this to his advantage. He sipped his gin and tonic.

"Find her body," he ordered as he interfaced with his computer bringing up the records he needed. "Lazarus is a go."

"Understood, sir," she disappeared at the touch of a button and the Illusive Man connected to another operative.

"Operative Boaz," he greeted, when one of the Alliance's best surgeons appeared before him. "I have a mission for you."

Boötis Medical Center, Arcturus Station, Arcturus System

November 23, 2183

Okay. Ow.

Joker blinked rapidly, trying to get his bearings. He ached all over, but it was a dull pain, and it felt like he wasn't actually in his body to feel anything. His head hurt more than the rest of him. The bright white lights overhead and the chirping of, of something, weren't making things any easier. His head was swimming in a haze of pain and grief and –


He swallowed as events caught up to him. He'd failed. For the first time in his life, he had failed.

The Normandy.

His baby. Joker's misery switched quickly to cold irritation. He had had everything under control. All Shepard had to do was get off the damn ship, save herself, and let him do his job and save his ship or die trying. It was his fucking job. He shook his head to clear the last images of his valiant commander being vaporized by some kind of ray of light. Joker could still feel the heat on his skin from such close proximity to the particle beam.

And his ship. Losing the Normandy after everything they had gone through with Saren and Sovereign... What about the Reapers? What are we gonna do without Shepard? He let out of huff of air and closed his eyes again. Because he stayed on the bridge, refusing to go, Shepard hadn't been able to make it to the pod in time. Joker felt sick, overwhelmed with raw despair of his failure.


Instinctively, Joker jolted his head towards the feminine voice, heart in his throat, his vision blurring momentarily. At first he thought maybe the Commander was there and everything was fine, but he was wrong. Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams stood there—both of her—a worried look on her—their—face. Slowly the blurry, double vision ebbed, and Joker could see straight again. She was a welcome sight—not as welcome as Shepard would have been, but still. It replaced the image of the bridge crew's burning corpses. At least someone else made it out alive.

The Chief stood in the doorway of what Joker now realized was his hospital room. The annoying bright light played havoc with his retinas, and he squeezed his eyes shut a third time. The incessant chirping in his ear was the AutoArt—the Automated Articulated Surgical System—the medical unit attached to his bed as he lay there prone, and it's monitoring equipment. The chirping increased as Joker's heart rate did as his mind reeled. His ship was gone. His commanding officer was gone. The Brass had probably already decided his fate.

Ash was there though. That counted for something, right? He raised his eyes to find her watching him intently as though he might slip back into another long period of sleep. How long had he been out?

Worry painted Ashley's heart-shaped face, a small frown creasing her forehead, her generous lips tight and grim. He'd never seen her out of uniform—it was against Regs while on Tour of Duty, even during Liberty—and her blue-black hair wasn't in a bun on the back of her head. Half of it was up, the other half was down around her shoulders, loose tendrils framed her face. Joker found he liked the look—he'd never admit it to the Chief though. None of her damn business.

The civvies threw him though. He didn't know what bothered him more—the dark-blue, off-the-shoulders blouse that flowed around her curves and defined her throat and soft shoulders or darker cargo pants that hugged her hips and thighs. Why was she not dressed for duty? Did she have to look so, so damn feminine? Irritation increased his heart rate more. Ashley Williams looked like a civilian woman instead of the marine he had grown to like aboard the Normandy. Where was his Chief? She didn't look like she could fight her way out anything. It set his nerves on edge.

"Hey, Doll," he said, clamping down on his irritation and nervousness enough to talk. It came out a cracked whisper, his throat paper-dry from disuse. "How long have I been out?"

Ashley stepped closer to Joker's side. "A while." It didn't hurt so much to look at him now. The first time they had let her visit a few weeks ago, his body had still been a mess. Since then, the Alliance hospital had regrown the skin on his face, arms and neck that had been burned by exposure to radiation and the intense particle beam that had destroyed the Normandy. The grafting had been a success, though it was certainly strange to see Joker without much of a beard and hair. The surgery to his jaw and head had required shaving the helmsman bald.

"You look weird," he blurted, and she frowned, tilting her head to look down at her attire, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I look weird? Ashley thought with irritation. Look who's talking, buddy.

"It's comfortable," she managed, careful not to let on that his appraisal made her uneasy. "I'm on leave for the next six weeks until my next assignment." She eyed him with a critical squint. "Besides, I'm not the one who's had every bone in his body broken and skin grafts from vacuum exposure."

"Oh, is that why everything hurts?" His tone was sarcastic, but came out weakly, and Ashley felt a pang of guilt for needling him.

She crossed the room and grabbed a chair, bringing it closer to his bedside. "Probably. I have no idea what kind of pain meds they've got you on. The nurse said something about you needing another dose soon. I wanted to see if you were awake yet. You... weren't in the best of shape the last time I was here."

He studied her a moment before cracking a grin, a devilish look coming into his eyes. "So, you come here often?"

She regarded him with a speculative gaze as she sat in the chair, a smile forming on her lips. "In your dreams, Lieutenant."

If he could have shrugged he would have. "I don't know. I can't remember my dreams at the moment, Doll. Pretty sure you and a few other cute chicks are in them though." He frowned. "How did I get here anyway? And for that matter, where is here?"

"Boötis Medical Center on Arcturus Station,"she told him, choosing to ignore the few other cute chicks comment. Ashley knew Joker well enough to know when he was trying to get a rise out of her. "They transferred you here from the Sirona Garrison Medical Center after you had an allergic reaction to some med while they were mending your bones back together. Said the trauma center here was better equipped for your," she hesitated briefly, "'special needs.'"

Joker let out a long, audible breath, looking haggard as he lay there connected as he was to the AutoArt. "Someone didn't read my medical record."

"I have no idea," Ashley told him with a shrug. "I only found out through your brother."

An almost hopeful glint came to Joker's green eyes. "Is Jay here?" And she felt guilty for having to tell him no as she shook her head.

"Called to duty a few days ago," she explained. "He tried to stay as long as he could."

"Where's he been assigned?"

"Not sure," she told him. "He wouldn't say. Jay said he would call to check in when he could."

Joker nodded, but said nothing a moment. The question he'd been dreading to ask worked its way out of his mouth. "Did Shepard make it out? There was an explosion before she could get into the pod with me."

Ashley hesitated, a lump forming in her throat. "She... The Alliance hasn't found her yet." Joker looked away, his Adam's apple working as he swallowed. "We—Look, Joker, I'm under orders not to say anything. The press hasn't released anything about the attack. It's being kept under wraps. Jay doesn't know that the Normandy was destroyed or anyone was killed. Just that there was an accident."

"How many-"

"Twenty crew members died."

Joker swore under his breath, remembering the strange ship on his screens. The thing had been as big as Sovereign. As soon as he realized the size and saw that the vessel appeared to be powering up, he had begun evasive maneuvers. Fat lot of good that did the twenty people who lost their lives because he'd been too slow.

"Before I could bring up the bridge's kinetic barrier, Pressly and Hendricks got sucked into space," Joker admitted, his throat aching in defeat.

Ashley could only nod. Before she could say anything else, the nurse entered. He was a middle-aged man with tightly cropped black hair and dark eyes. Lines ringed his eyes as he smiled warmly.

"Well, well," the man said jovially and Joker immediately took a disliking to him. This guy was way too cheery. "Glad you're finally awake. I'm Adrien. You've been out for some time. I'm just going to ask you a few routine questions, give you a dose of cipoxidin and dihydromorphinone, and be on my way."

"Have I been here long?" Joker asked.

"Long enough for the muscles in your legs to have atrophied a bit," Adrien said, and he held up a hand to Joker's worried look. "Nothing that can't be undone by physical therapy and mods that have already been added to combat the atrophy. It's November. You've been here since September in coma. You were at the Sirona Garrison Medical for about a week before they decided that your Vrolik's Syndrome was more than they could handle." He added two injections into Joker's IV and mashed the bag to mix it. The clear fluid turned yellow, and Joker made a face.

"Oh, good," he quipped. "I just love getting pissed on."

Adrien smiled. "Well, you're going to be fun," he said. Joker didn't know what to say to that so he waited for the nurse to continue. "According to the records, your pod was recovered on a moon in the Terminus systems. It crashed there. Other pods were found in-system, but yours was the only one that had crashed. Apparently the explosion of your ship propelled it."

"Newton is one deadly son of a bitch," Ashley said from her chair recalling what every Alliance soldier at boot is taught about space.

Joker stirred uncomfortably at the thought of being unconscious for so long. "So ask your questions already."

Systems Alliance Headquarters—Office of the Fifth Fleet Commandant, Arcturus Station, Arcturus System

November 23, 2183

Admiral Steven Hackett looked up from the datapad, glancing with cold eyes at the clock on his desk, a frown forming on his thin lips. Moreau was up and Williams' granddaughter was with him. Well, at least they were in the same room together. It would make things easier.

The information he had received from Captain—Councilman Anderson was unsettling, but couldn't be helped. If Cerberus was involved—he let the thought ride. He would deal with that later. The Admiral had given Anderson a nugget for the terrorists to play with. Now it was time to deal with Joker and the Gunnery Chief.

He let out a breath and stood, straightening his tunic.

"Hold my calls, Joe," he told his VI and walked out of his office taking the datapad with him.

"Yes, Admiral," the disembodied voice of the VI responded.

Comments and feedback are welcomed and desired.

dihydromorphinone: generic name for Dilaudid - Let's play pretend dihydromorphione is still used in the future.