The Flyboy and The Grunt
I don't own Bioware
"Hey," the dark haired girl sat next the skinny kid on crutches. "Did you break your legs?"
He looks back at her with bitter amusement. "No. But stick around. I might sneeze and shatter my ribcage."
"Don't be, it's not your fault," he feels a little ashamed for snapping at her. "I'm Jeff. I live on the station."
"I'm Ash," she sticks out a hand. He shakes it gingerly. "My dad's getting transferred. We're waiting for our ship."
"Cool," he can't tell her how much he wishes he could go on one of the ships. Space station life is boring. He wants to go out there among the stars, to zoom around like Admiral Grissom going through the Charon Relay for the first time. "Phoenix-class?"
She blinks, surprised at his question. "I don't know. You like ships?"
"Yeah." It's a lie. He doesn't like ships. He LOVES ships. "How about you?"
She gives a non-committal shrug. "They're okay. I want to serve on them one day. Be a Marine like Dad and Grandad."
"But then you'd have to get off the ship to fight turians," he disagrees. "I'm going to be a pilot. That way I never have to leave the ship."
She looks likes she's going to argue. But an adult's coming. A tall man with black hair, brown eyes and a fresh uniform. His rank flash says he's only a private. Jeff wonders why. He seems too old to be one.
"Come on Ash," he swoops down, plucks her up and sets her on his shoulders. "Our ship's ready to go. Amatesaru's waiting for us."
"Bye Ash," Jeff waves to her. She waves back. He's left alone again, staring at the stars. It's the same thing all the time really. New kids come, say hi and leave. It's his life. But he wishes that she had stayed. She hadn't gone on about his crutches. She'd barely even looked at them. It was like she knew what it was to be looked at like a freak.
ONE DAY AFTER EDEN PRIME
"Mind if I sit up here?" Ashley approached the cockpit. Joker waved his hand magnanimously.
"Be my guest Chief. Not like anyone else comes up here to check on me."
"You must get some company," she laughed at his exaggeration. He was struck by just how pleasant that sound was. She reminded him of the PT instructor at OCS. Cocky, and confident of her ability to run any fresh faced recruit into the ground. And she didn't seem like the kind of person that laughed all that much. He made a face.
"Oh sure, I got a spooky Turian Spectre, a hardass Captain, an XO with a stick up his ass and a biotic co-pilot who doesn't have any interest in what I did with that asari barmaid last shoreleave."
Her eyes narrowed. For a second, Joker thought she was about to tear into him about showing proper respect to the Chain of Command. Instead, her question left him speechless.
Joker was tempted to relay in great detail that conjugal acts he had engaged in with said barmaid. But those eyes demanded truth.
"Nothing. She said she liked it a bit rougher than I was able to provide it," he scowled as the Gunnery Chief laughed again.
"I think she was just letting you down easy, trying to soften a plain 'no'," Ashley tried to comfort him when she finally quelled her grin.
"I know that," he turned his face back toward the console. He didn't want her to see the red flush spreading across his cheeks. "It's just...the way she said it. I know I'll never be able to have casual relationships. It takes a lot of preparation to make sure I don't break anything. My girlfriend back at the Academy managed to set everything up just right. We did it a few times, then I broke my pelvis and that was the end of that."
"Sounds rough." He bristled at the pitying tone in her voice. "For what it's worth, I think any woman would be lucky..."
"Oh spare me," his shield was back in place in a heartbeat. "I don't need your sympathy."
The Chief looked shocked. "I'm sorry, I was just trying to..."
"To what? Feel so sorry for the poor cripple 'cos he can't get his rocks off?" Joker sneered. "It could be worse. I could be a mud eating boot neck who got her whole unit killed, and then just had to go play with the shiny beacon and make it explode. I mean were you even thinking down there?"
There was a dangerous flash in her eyes. He recoiled, afraid that she'd reach out and punch him in the face. But she didn't. She just stood up and walked away.
"You know, I think I just figured out why no one comes to talk to you. You're an asshole. A miserable, lonely asshole who wants to make everyone else miserable too."
Joker tried to think up a clever retort as she stormed away from the cockpit. But he couldn't. How could he counter the truth?
"Can I buy you a drink?" Joker sat beside her. Over on the dance floor, Shepard and Liara were bopping in time with the music. Ashley's look could have cracked ice.
"What makes you think I want to drink with you?"
"Because I'm a lonely asshole who wants to apologise?" He looked at her with puppy-dog eyes. At least...he hoped they were puppy dog eyes. "Look Chief, when I was a kid, everyone either made fun of me or coddled me. Only a few people ever treated me like I was worth something more than a padded room. My recruiter, my first CO...and you. But I mucked it up. So I want to try again."
He stuck out his hand. "Jeffrey Moreau. I'm the Normandy's pilot, and resident ship's jackass."
Her eyes narrowed for a second. Then her face relaxed. She shook his hand. "Ashley Williams. I'm the Gunnery Chief. Nice to meet you."
She slammed the rifle she was cleaning down on the bench. "Nothing Jeff. I just need to be alone right now."
Joker eased himself onto the bench. "Come on. I made it all the way down here to talk to you. I won't have the energy to get back up to the cockpit for a few minutes."
"Fine, stay there," Ashley bent down and grabbed another cleaning rag from underneath the bench. She commenced rubbing at the Rachni blood staining the barrel of Shepard's rifle.
"You know, if I had something that was bothering me, I'm sure you'd poke and pry until you found a way to help me with it," Joker pointed out.
"You want to know what's bothering me? What bothers me is every misogynistic, empty headed, paper pushing son of a bitch in the whole damn Alliance!" Ashley snapped back.
Joker tried guessing. "The selection board?"
"Yeah, they sent me a message. It said, and I quote, 'While your technical scores are praiseworthy, your lack of practical experience makes you unsuitable compared to other Officer Candidates. We encourage you to try again in a few years.' Same answer they gave my last three applications."
"That's not it," Joker leaned closer. "You said you already knew they weren't going to pass you."
Her shoulders sagged. "It's Shepard. He said...he told Liara that he wanted to be with me. But sometimes, when we're talking...I get the feeling that his heart's not really in it. Maybe I'm seeing things. I just don't know."
"He doesn't deserve you Chief."
You could have heard a penny drop. She couldn't believe her ears had just heard what she thought they had heard. "What did you just say?"
Joker was just as stunned. "I said...I meant that you deserve someone who knows you...who respects you. Someone who doesn't even think about anyone else. Someone like...I should go."
Her mind reeled. "Jeff I..."
He grabbed his crutches and fled, cheeks burning with humiliation. He half expected her to follow him to the elevator. He couldn't explain the feeling of disappointment when he turned and saw her still standing at the weapons locker, her face still locked in puzzled look of shock.
EN ROUTE TO ILOS
Most of the crew had been left behind at the Citadel. Only Adams, Pressley and a few others had volunteered to stay aboard. The rest had all left. Joker's opinion was that they were better off without them. They needed people who had the balls to do what was right. People like Shepard.
"We need to talk." Of course, she was right behind him. Why didn't that surprise him in the slightest?
"Chief," he spun round. "Hey, crazy stuff huh? Stealing the Normandy and going after Saren on our lonesome. One for the history books right?"
"What did you mean?" She didn't even bother with pleasantries. "What you said before Virmire. If you wanted to tell me something...tell me anything...you can say it."
"Oh that?" He spun back to the front. "Just me rambling Chief. Forget about it."
"No!" Ashley grabbed the back of his chair and twisted it around. "I'm not going to let you hide up here Joker. You were going to say something down there. You man up and say it. Or I'll spread it right through the Alliance that you're a chicken."
Joker laughed feebly. "Well, I mean...what did you want me to say? That you make my bad days seem good? That I go down to sickbay sometimes, on the off chance that you'll be on the deck? How you make me feel like getting up and running? How much I wish I was like Shepard...so that I'd have a chance with you."
Ashley leaned over him. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"How could I?" The bitterness was back in his voice. "With guys like Alenko hanging around? Why would you want a cripple?"
"I don't want knights in shining armour. I don't need a supersoldier, or a great leader to make me happy," she blinked back tears of relief. "I need the skinny jerk who always makes me feel better when I'm moping. I need the guy who'll charge in to get me, no matter what's in the way. I need you."
There was silence. Finally Joker spoke.
"You know, if this was a vid, I'd jump out of this chair and make love to you on the deck. So much for tradition," he laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Ash reached for his hat and tossed it out of the way. She ran her hands through his shaggy brown hair. Joker sucked at reading people. He'd mistaken friendly greetings for hostile snubs. But there was no misinterpreting the look in the Gunnery Chief's eyes. Now or never. "I never was one for tradition."
"Ash..." he breathed in sharply as she eased herself onto his lap. "Be gentle."
She smiled again. Not her usual smile when dealing with him. Not playful or mischievous. Just a smile. A real smile. "Trust me Jeff."
She's the only one who ever calls him that. Chakwas calls him Mr. Moreau. His parents call him Jeffrey. He's 'Joker' to everyone else. But not to her. Not to Ashley. He's not a pilot, a son or a patient to her. He's a man. A real man.
Ashley slips his shirt off. He inhales sharply as she touches his chest. For a moment he burned with self-consciousness. He's not like the other poster boys. He doesn't get to pump iron, run or even do sit-ups. Just a skinny cripple who was now officially punching above his weight.
Instead of laughing, she reached for the hem of her own fatigue shirt. He helped her tug it over her head, then she undid the pins holding her hair up. Dark locks flowed around her tanned shoulders.
"White lace Ashley?" He couldn't help one last jab. "Those aren't standard Alliance undergarments."
"Boom. There goes my feminine mystique." She took a step back and bent over to unlace her boots. He copied her, kicking off his foot wear. Ashley pulled off her fatigue trousers, then helped him with his.
Suddenly, she was the bashful one. She turned her head away from him, as if she wanted to suddenly hide herself.
"You're so beautiful." His voice was down to a whisper. There was no one else on deck. Pressley and Shepard were helping Garrus and Adams calibrate the torpedo launchers, the rest of the ground team was prepping weapons. But Joker didn't want anyone to hear them. This was private, between him and the woman he loved.
Ashley kissed him. Their mouths melded, his tongue greeting hers. She tasted like mint, and the kind of chocolate you'd find in a combat ration pack. Their remaining clothing was quickly discarded. Their bodies fused together, the light from the navigation console casting exotic patterns on her skin.
She moved against him, his muscles screaming in protest. She kept her feet on the deck, not letting her full weight fall on him. It was awkward and slightly painful for him...but it was also sweet, slow, gentle and strangely innocent.
"Will you still love me in the morning?" She murmured in his ear.
"I love you more than I love the Normandy," he gently bit the side of her neck and rejoiced as she whimpered. Ash shut her eyes, her body going rigid, then collapsing into him.
"Thank you," she felt her eyes moisten. Tears slipped out of her eyes, and rolled down her cheeks. "Thank you for loving me. For thinking I was good enough. For making me feel good enough."
"I would have loved you anyway," Joker wiped away her tears. "Without this. I would have always loved you."
"What about Shepard?"
Ash didn't answer him immediately. She took his head and set it against her chest. "Can you hear that?"
He could hear it. It was her heartbeat. Thudding, fluttering and racing.
"Shepard doesn't do that to me. Only you do."
A/N: I haven't stopped work on Changing Fate, this is just a side series. I want to explore the lesser known shippings in the game. Leave a note in the reviews or PM me about the pairings you want to see.