Shepard lifted her gaze from the Collector base scans and looked at each face around the room. She was covered head to toe in armor and weapons with a sniper visor over her right eye. She was no longer Saia Shepard, the woman, but Commander Shepard, the warrior. Even still, wrapped up in this battle mode, she could feel Joker's strength inside of her.
"I don't know what we're going to find in there, but I won't lie to you," she began. "It's not going to be easy. We've lost good people. We may lose more." She pushed off of the table and straightened up. "We don't know how many the Collectors have stolen—thousands, hundreds of thousands. It's not important. What matters is this: not one more. That's what we can do, here, today." She paused and picked up her rifle. "It ends with us. They want to know what we're made of? I say we show them, on our terms." Shepard cocked the weapon and holstered it on her back. "Let's bring our people home."
She escorted her crew out to the airlock and one by one they exited the ship. Joker was waiting to speak to her before she followed them out.
"Shepard," he began, but she shook her head.
"I'm okay," she assured him. "I promise. We'll get everyone back. We'll stop the Collectors. And we'll go home. All of us."
He pulled her in and pressed his forehead to hers.
"Yeah," he agreed. "I know."
"Joker…" she whispered, brow pinching together as she struggled to find the right words. "You make me laugh, even when I think I can't. You lift my spirits when everything around me is dragging them to hell." She swallowed, wanting to convey the right message. "When you kissed me, I… felt strong enough to save everyone…"
"So the fate of this mission relies on me kissing you right now?" he asked quietly, hoarsely.
But he cut her off. "Cause I can do that," he whispered as he moved in and firmly pressed his lips to hers. They traded intense kisses for a brief moment and he broke away. "Now go save the world, Commander…"
She smirked. "You got it, flyboy."
No! Shepard! No! Joker screamed in his head, racing to the airlock as the Normandy settled at the escape point, rifle in hand. The hatch opened up to gunfire and Grunt and Jack were on the walkway, sprinting closer and closer. The Collectors were spraying and he returned fire, seeking out Shepard in the fray.
A platform dropped and knocked the path, shaking the already crumbling base. He gaped at the abyss created between the Normandy and the nightmare, finally seeing Shepard racing over the hill.
"Shepard!" he screamed as she leapt out, arms and legs swinging in mid-air. There was a moment he held his breath and his heart stopped beating.
The cool breeze blew in from the sea and the sun felt warm without the burn. Aite's weather was perfect and their beach entirely secluded in the wilds of the jungle-planet. There were tourist spots and home-owner waterfronts, but the Normandy was capable of finding leave-us-the-hell-alone-ville and that's just where it had gone.
Joker stopped a few feet away from the blanket sprawled on the sand, campsite just meters away from the ocean. The woman on the blanket had her feet dug into the white grains. Her red hair was short again, dancing in the breeze, and he couldn't see her blueberry eyes with her back to him. He watched her toes squishing in the sand before he approached.
"Where have you been?" she asked over her shoulder. "I thought you just went to get drinks."
He kept his arm behind his back, the secret package hidden from view. He knelt behind her and kissed her cheek.
"I had to run back to the ship for something," he confessed, catching her glaucous gaze as she turned a perplexed expression on him.
"All the way back to the Normandy?" Shepard asked. "What for?"
That was when she noticed his arm behind his back and he traced the lines of excited apprehension on her face.
"I have something for you…" he mumbled with anticipation. "I don't know if we'll ever get another chance for this so… here goes." He revealed his present and the pale gray fur of a baby pygmy rabbit stood out behind the black bards of the cage. "He's small," Joker explained the obvious, "so he won't take up much room…"
"Joker, you—" she mumbled, playfully smacking his arm.
"What?" he asked coyly. "I told you I'd get you a rabbit… Anyway, I named him Biscuit."
"Yeah, he's small and likes biscuits so…"
"I fail to follow your logic."
"It's infallible. It doesn't need to be followed."
"You sure about that?"
"Positive," he replied. He set the cage between them and Shepard reached into the cage with one finger to gently stroke the bunny's head.
"He's adorable," she said softly. "Thank you."
"I love you," Joker blurted. She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.
"I know," she replied. "I love you, too."
They sat like that for awhile, taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells. It was so peaceful. Finally, Shepard nudged his arm.
"This is it," she said.
"This is what?"
"My personal fantasy." The grin she flashed him was sexy as hell. "No war, no guns, no death… Just you and me… on a beach with our toes in the sand…"
He crawled over and pushed her onto the blanket, pinning her into the sand.
"That's so girly, Commander," he whispered, smiling. "I kind of like it."
He kissed her open-mouthed and hard, enjoying the easy access of her bathing suit as opposed to the standard armor and standard-dress-uniform. His hands glided up her waist and his fingers curled around her breasts beneath the flimsy material. He was already hard in his shorts.
"Do that thing I like," he whispered hotly in her ear.
"I can't do that," she whispered sensually. "Biscuit might see…"
Joker pulled his shirt off and tossed it over the rabbit cage. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her again.
"No way I'm losing out to my own present," he mumbled against her lips and Biscuit merely tilted his head at the strange sounds that came next.