That Crazy Doctor

"Pupils, dilated. Breathing, normal. Temperature, unchanged."

Mordin stepped back from his patient, thoughtfully resting his chin on his hand to reassess the situation. Momentarily, he smiled. "Seems stable enough. Possible to inject experimental strain immediately."

"Hold on just a second!" Joker shouted. He leaned as far back into his leather seat as possible, eyes wide and frantic. "I've been through three fevers in a week – don't you think you've tortured enough already?"

Mordin lowered his hand. "Torture unavoidable toward greater goal," he replied gravely. "Necessary, even. Especially now, so close to breakthrough."

"The only thing you've been breaking through so far is my immune system," Joker shot. He grabbed a rod of the helm's steering panel. Somehow, it calmed him down – a sense of a much more reliable support.

He expected a scolding, a pissed-off retort of some kind. Instead, the Professor did the oddest thing. He leaned down and collected his medical tools – the packets, the corked vials, even the white mat that boasted a creepy collection of sharp metal objects. But the kicker was this: all this Mordin did without uttering a single word.

Then Joker realized he just hurt the salarian's feelings. "Oh." He bowed his head and an unpleasant wave of guilt washed over him. Aw, great, he thought glumly. And I figured I already had enough to deal with the Collectors.

But out loud, Joker said, "I... Sorry, Professor. I know you're just trying to help and all, but…" (He went into a list of reasons how Vrolik's Syndrome wasn't all that bad – honestly, you should check out the health benefits, yada yada…) "…so anyway, you really should just focus on your studies." He temporarily racked his mind. "I heard you're trying to trace some varren STD or something?"

The Professor rose, his instrument bag tucked under one arm. Joker tensed up. The last thing he wanted was a mood swing and an angry salarian rampaging his workspace. Stranger things have happened aboard the Normandy.

But instead, Mordin unlatched his bag and handed Joker a sleek metal thermos. "If you desist upon continuing, then alternative. Drink entire thermos daily. Will send refills every morning. Must insist." He inhaled sharply. "Doctor's orders."

Joker gingerly put the container aside. Secretly, no way in hell was he going to mess with the thing. Maybe he could just fake drinking it – spill its damn contents every lunchtime at the downstairs restroom. Not like he'd notice, right? Nevertheless, Joker carefully followed Mordin's progress to the bridge, unable to feel truly safe until that bag of doom was completely out of sight.

"Does this mean you're not giving up anytime soon?" Joker called after him despairingly.

Mordin didn't pause or look around, his answer merely a quip over his shoulder. "With a project this interesting? No. Can't wait to see how it develops."

Then he disappeared amidst the regular bustle of the CIC. Joker groaned, slumped even deeper into his beloved leather seat, and brought his hands to his face.

That was how the Commander found him hours later. The soldier returned worn out as always, having just completed another mission on their latest planet parking space. After a few shakes to wake him up, Joker revved up the engines and had the Normandy afloat in no time.

They went through the usual updates about the state of the ship and the welfare of the accompanying members of Shepard's most recent mission. ("You should have seen his face. Grunt had a field day." "Aw, our little baby krogan had fun? We should give him a sticker. Y'know, to decorate the remains of his tank with.")

But it wasn't long before Shepard got into the usual prying mood. "How are things holding up in the cockpit?"

"Uhh, so-so," Joker replied with a decidedly carefree shrug of his shoulders. He must not have been convincing enough, for Shepard repeated the question, except this time to EDI.

"Mr. Moreou just went through his regular medical appointment with Professor Solus," EDI dutifully informed. Joker winced and slowed down his button mashing to a more careful pace. Perhaps the trick was getting Shepard to believe too many questions would disturb his work. Encourage the Commander to leave him alone.

No such luck. "Joker, what's this all about?" Shepard demanded. Joker couldn't tell if the voice came out worried, or bewildered… maybe both.

"Mordin's been dishing out a number of treatments on me for the past couple of weeks – trying to get my Vrolik's Syndrome done away with," he explained miserably. "It's… not been having happy results."

Shepard showed concern. "Liver failure?"

"What? No!' Joker exclaimed, alarmed. "J-Just… just a fever once in a while. Not anything real bad – through been avoiding Tali, just in case. Probably not contagious… probably. Uh, told him to bug off. Here." He passed on the thermos dubiously. "Looks like he's still not giving up, though."

Shepard unscrewed the thermos and peered at the inner cap that strained the drink when it poured out. "Don't be so hard on him, Joker. Mordin may be eccentric, but he's a good guy when it boils down to it. What is in this thing, anyway?"

"Dunno. Some sort of tonic, I guess?" Joker guiltily glanced at the door of the research lab. "And yeah, I know he means well. But…"

He sighed. "I've had Vrolik's Syndrome as long as I can remember, Commander. You can't miss what you never had, and I've never had a 'normal skeletal structure'. In other words, I've gotten used to it, believe it or not. But… other people don't seem to get it, y'know?"

Shepard snapped the inner lid of the thermos and sniffed its contents. Then to Joker's surprise, his commanding officer snapped it shut, and with a toss of a hand had the thermos land on Joker's lap.

"Drink it in, Joker," the Commander ordered. "It'll do more good than harm. Trust me."

Trust. Trust was a hard thing to come by in this day and age. Besides – "How'd you know? You're not even a doctor, Shepard!" Joker shot. "You do know it's my life at stake here!" The Commander was already retreating to the main room of the CIC.

Shepard waved a hand dismissively. "Don't need to be a doctor, Joker. I'm a farm kid from Mindoir. I know what cow's milk smells like." A pause made way for a chuckle. "And you've got to admit, you need the calcium."

Milk? Joker stared. And continued staring even after the Commander disappeared from sight. "Huh," he remarked. He picked up the thermos and his stare changed course.

"Huh."

Fifteen minutes later, Shepard overhead an interesting conversation in the tech lab while calculating prospects on the research terminal.

"Just to clarify," Joker's voice rang through the intercom. "The milk isn't spiked or anything? If I start growing another arm…"

It was difficult to see him exactly from Shepard's standpoint, but Mordin's reply could be heard even across the research lab. "Milk from the traditional source of dairy-producing species for humans. Believe you call these mammals 'cows'. Purchased at Citadel just yesterday. Drink quickly. Better if still fresh."

"Yeah, I know. I…" Joker laughed nervously. "Already finished it. It was pretty good. Last time I had decent milk was back in the farm at Tiptree. Uh… Thanks, Professor."

Shepard casually leaned back and glanced at the Professor's work desk. There was just no stopping Mordin when it came to work. Even as he spoke, his figure hunched over the desk, hands never leaving his experiment unchecked.

The only difference was that now, he was smiling. "You're welcome, Joker."


FIN

(A/N: Figured I'd post this oneshot here since I've gotten particularly proud of it - didn't think I'd be able to pull off a gender-less Commander Shepard for an entire story.

Anyway, I suppose now's the best opportunity for me to insert a shameless plug! I've started a livejournal for my more recent works, username: mywritingcell. I'm pretty excited over it, except that I have no idea how to draw attention to the site, and I'd really appreciate some critique. I guess this is my way of trying to do attract readers. So if you're curious to see the rest of my Mass Effect fanfics, please feel free to visit and drop in a comment.

Thanks for reading!)