"I have pinpointed Shepard's location. Heading to frequency."

"Hold course, EDI," Joker replied, pressing himself up from the chair and ignoring how stiff his body had become as he headed for the entryway. EDI complied without questioning his departure and rounded the asteroid, pulling in as close as possible.

Joker hit the control as soon as he got in range, opening the bay door and holding his breath until he caught the glimpse of the small, armored figure sprinting for the ship. She lept over the gap and he gripped her arm and pulled her inside. Shepard lifted her head to look at him as the door slid shut. They shared a gaze that spoke more than they could ever say before Joker turned and made his way back to the cockpit. Back in his seat, his focus returned sharper than ever.

"Get us out of here, Joker," Shepard said, catching up to him. Though it was nothing she needed to tell him, he was glad to hear her voice, whatever she wanted to say. The Normandy broke into the lightning of the relay and cracked into the calm and stillness of another space.

"God...," Shepard huffed and Joker could feel her lean on the back of his chair. He turned his eyes up to her and she was startled to see how haggard and sleepless he really looked. He looked as if he was ready to say something to her, and she was ready to hear it, any and all of it, except his eyes closed and his chin dropped onto his chest.

"Joker?" she asked, touching his shoulder. Still rushing with the adrenaline of the last few moments, she felt panic surge through her boy.

"Mr. Moreau is suffering a case of exhaustion," EDI told her. "I will notify Dr. Chakwas."

"How long has he been awake?" Shepard asked, though she was afraid she already knew.

"Approximately forty-eight hours. I advised that he retire to bed, but he insisted on staying." Shepard felt a pang of guilt hit her and she pulled her hand away, not wanting to disturb him now. Instead, she turned and headed for the galaxy map just as the Viper Nebula was wiped from the face of existence by the ensuing supernova the destroyed relay released.

"Thank you, Garrus," Shepard said softly as the Turian settled the pilot into her bed. Although Chakwas had assured her he would be okay with plenty of bed rest, she couldn't seem to muffle the worry she felt. She reached over and covered him with the blankets, placing his cap that she had been carrying around for the few hours on the side table. Garrus rested his talons gently on her shoulder after she sat down on the edge of the bed.

"I'm glad you made it back okay," he said, his already deep voice seeming lower in the whisper of his words. She nodded and gave him a smile that quickly faded. The Turian watched her a moment longer, concern in his strikingly blue eyes. Shepard realized they were almost as bright as the lights in her fish tank. He let them wander to Joker, his mandibles flittering against his jaw. "You know... In all the time I've spent with you I've realized our species aren't so different..."

"Yeah?" she said with another weak smile, though she stared at her hands now.

"You are very defiant of your personal weaknesses...almost take them as a challenge... Especially when your mate is involved." Shepard looked at him, feeling her chest tighten. The Turian returned his attention to her and gave her what she had learned to interpret as his version of a subtle smile. "He'll be okay." He turned and padded quietly out of her quarters to the elevator. She listened to him go but kept her eyes on Joker. Leaning over she stroked his forehead, trailing her hand down his neck and resting it at his chest as she lay her head there and listened to his heart beat.

Joker opened his eyes and immediately closed them again, coughing when he found his throat dry. His body ached something fierce so he opted not to move. He could feel the familiar sheets beneath him and smell her scent on the pillow. Shepard's cabin. When had he gotten here?

His stomach growled plaintively.

"Mmmf, shut up," he muttered. The feeling refused to subside and quickly reminded him of the last time he was hungry. The mess hall...the mission...Shepard gone missing. He sat up, his heart in a frenzy, and tried desperately to untangle his limbs from the covers.

"Jeff, you're awake!" He froze and in the next few seconds he found her warmth against him, embracing him. His arms encircled her and his face buried against her neck. She was real.

"Shepard," he breathed and he felt her do something he hadn't ever before. She sobbed. "Shepard..." He stroked her hair and held her as tight as his tired arms would allow. "No... It's okay..."

"No,...it's not..," she practically hiccuped, tears cooling his warmed skin. "I didn't tell you. I should have said..."

"Hey, hey... I'm not your keeper," he replied, rubbing the soft spot at the small of her back. "You don't have to tell me anything...I know you had your reasons."

"I might not have come back...," she said as she pulled back to look at him.

"Of course you would...," he said, the green of his eyes soft with sleep.

"You didn't know that..." He rubbed her upper arms with his palms.

"Yeah, I did," he said and she simply gaped at him, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. He brushed them away with his thumbs. "Because I wasn't ready to let you go... Already let you slip out of my fingers once..." Shepard felt her eyes well up with more tears, though they were no longer from her fear and desperation. She must have looked a terrible mess, she thought, but Joker couldn't have disagreed more. When she kissed him he returned the gesture gratefully.

"I'm sorry...," she apologized as they parted, pressing her forehead to his.

"You should be," he frowned. "You're late for our date. Immensely."

"Oh, god," Shepard said, pressing her hand to the side of her face and laughing lightly. "How the hell can you be so laid back about this?" He had yet to show any sort of frustration or anger. Certainly, he had to be at least a little mad at her – and not just because she was ridiculously late for their date. Joker leaned back into the stack of pillows and put his arms behind his head.

"Because I love you, in case you hadn't noticed." Shepard dropped her hand into her lap and looked at him, reddened eyes wide. "Don't look at me like that. Why else would I put up with your crazy?" He nudged her with his foot and she shook her head, as if to clear her thoughts. Joker watched her sit there stunned and wondered if maybe that wasn't the smoothest delivery, but what could he do? It seemed like a good idea at the time and he was flipping tired. She was probably still waiting for him to bite her head off for doing what she did, but she would be sorely disappointed. All the sleepless hours and heart attacks aside, he thought her blameless.

Shepard was a soldier and he had worked with her too long to think that might change just because their relationship had taken a turn. He didn't want her to. This insane, gun-happy lunatic was the woman he had fallen in love with, and life really couldn't get more exciting than it was with her. Sure, he could sit and scream about how she had almost died and how she had worried him sick, but it seemed so trivial when she was right here in front of him. And by the look of it, yes he had looked, so sue him, she was perfectly fine. He lived for the small blessings.

Just as he was about to nudge her again to see if she was still breathing, she turned and crawled over the bed, settling in beside him. He let his arms lower and wrapped one about her shoulders.

"So... When did you plan to tell me this?" she said, hugging her knees up to her chest. "The next time I almost die?"

Joker rolled his eyes a bit.

"Not gonna hear the end of this, am I?"

"I'm just saying!"

"You never said it," he pointed out, looking over at her. "In fact, you still haven't." Shepard opened her mouth, then closed it again, her eyes darting up in thought and then down in disgruntled realization.

"I was too busy baring my soul to you," she finally said, wiping her moist cheeks with the backs of her sleeves.

"Bah," he said. "I'm dismissing that claim." Shepard gave him a disbelieving look. "Not real till you say it."

"It's not that I haven't wanted to-"

"Take your time, by all means." She gently nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. "Hey, careful."

"I love you," she huffed. "It's been a long time since I've felt so..at home..." She fiddled with her toes as she spoke and Joker grinned at how her cheeks grew rosy. The tables had turned. "I...don't really know how to say it but I really feel you're a big part of my life now... You've always been, but lately I always find I want you in it even more... And when I thought I was going to die again all I could think about was how I'd never see you again. And that just makes it all the more important that I say it now. So..." She hesitated, but managed to finally look at him. "I love you, Jeff Moreau... Your wry humor, the way you handle the Normandy, your scratchy beard, your obsession with that hat... I love you right down to every brittle bone in your body."

She gave a breath and watched him. He seemed thoroughly pleased with himself and looked like he fully agreed with all the compliments she granted him.

"Had to throw the bones in there, eh?"

"Well...," Shepard chuckled. "Wasn't bad, though, was it?"

"Naw, but I can do better." Shepard crooked an eyebrow at him.

"Didn't know this was a competition."

"It wasn't originally, but it's more fun this way."

"You're impossible."

"Shhhh, it's my turn," he said, and took her hand between his, squaring his shoulders. Shepard uttered something between a sigh and a chuckle. His antics were ceaseless, but a rather welcome reprieve from all the seriousness. "I think you're the craziest woman I've ever met. You surprise me every day by doing things I've never thought possible...both in and out of the bedroom." The way he bobbed his eyebrows made Shepard outright laugh. "I'm being serious, here. I'm totally baring my soul." He gave her a 'serious' face that made it hard to muffle her giggles, though she managed. He took a deep breath. "I love that you're a complete badass and you're not afraid to hit other girls...really hard.. That was hilarious..." He paused and looked to the ceiling as if to think on it more.

"Are you just making this up as you go?"

"Perish the thought! Oh, oh! I loved when you repeatedly cut off the Council. Priceless."

"Joker." He squeezed her hand and looked at her, expression growing soft now.

"I love that you're you... And I honestly couldn't think of flying on any other ship with any other Commander... Couldn't think of anything without you... I tried before... didn't work so well on my own." Shepard smiled, thinking that if her heart felt any fuller it might burst. It must have been a crime somewhere to feel this happy. "...especially not the sex part."

"Gawd, Jeff," she rolled her eyes a bit, but found herself smiling even more.

"I realize our whole relationship has been kind of ass-backwards, but... where's my hat?" Shepard blinked at the sudden change of subject, but gestured to the side table. Joker leaned back to retrieve it while keeping hold one one of her hands. "And as you know I've never been terribly appropriate in anything..., so I hope you'll forgive that now."

"Sure..," she said curiously with a small nod.

"I don't have a whole hell of a lot to offer you, Shepard...," he said quietly. "But I want you to know I'm there for you, all the way... even if I end up in a million pieces."

"Heaven forbid."

"I know, right?" he chuckled. "Kinda hoping to avoid that... anyway! The point is that...if we make it through all this Reaper business alive... I want you to know that I will be here for you always...if you'll have me."

Shepard glanced between his face and the hat that he was holding in his hand, more than a little confused as her heart started pounding in her ears for some reason.


"Don't worry, it's just a hat," he smiled. "Didn't have time to pick up the good stuff just yet, but...ya know..."

"Are you sure...?" she asked.

"About what, the hat? I can get another one." She grimaced at his obvious teasing.

"Well, you're asking... Right?"

"I'm asking you to wear my hat...and promise that I can parade around the fact that Commander Shepard is my wife in the near future, yeah." Shepard started to protest but found herself completely lacking in viable reasons why not. To be honest, she really hadn't thought much beyond the war with the Reapers. What would she do after, if there was an after? As she looked at the pilot, ruffled from sleep and looking at her like she was the only thing in the world that mattered, she decided it was something she could get used to waking up to.

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him over and over, tender and sweet. He began to grin against her mouth and plopped the cap on her head where it sat loose and crooked.

"Saaay it or it isn't reaaaal."

"Yes, yes, yes, a million times, okay?"


"You're very strange, you realize," Shepard smiled back.

"Only the best for you," he replied. His stomach growled furiously amidst their smitten snuggling. "Oh, right. That."

"I forgot. You must be starving," Shepard perked. "Let me get you something." He watched her scoot to the edge of the bed and pad across the floor on her bare feet to the door before turning to look back. "What do you want...?

"Food. The edible type. And lots of it." Shepard nodded and then looked as if she had remembered something else and hurried back over to the bed. Before Joker could ask her what was up she kissed him deep and long, leaving a dreamy look on his face when she pulled away and booked for the door. She wasn't about to make that mistake again!

"I'll be right back," she said, slipping on her shoes.

"For reals this time?" he prodded. She tilted her head at the jibe and stuck her tongue at him.

"For reals."

He watched as she headed out and smiled warmly at the fact his hat was still perched lopsidedly on her lovely head. It really did suit her.