A/N: Okay, I've used some game dialogue in this chapter, mainly because it was so good and appropriate. I've just added my own touches. I also adjusted the story a little, could never understand why Shepard would take the whole team on a mission we have no idea about so I made it a bit more sensible, I hope. Also added my own little twist, hope you like it.
And sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you till I die
Till we both break down and cry
I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides
Dan Hill - Sometimes When We Touch
Joker was scared, as much as he hated to admit it. There was no physical reason for him to be scared, nothing exciting happening or the chance of broken bones. No, he wasn't scared of something that could be chased away, shot or stopped. His fear was a more irrational kind of fear, one that was purely emotional. It sent adrenaline cursing through his veins as if it was real but he knew it was only in his mind. Nevertheless, he couldn't seem to fight it, release its iron grip on his heart.
He sighed and dropped his head back against the headrest of his chair, knocking his cap sideways but he made no attempt to right it. He didn't know what to do, how to get past it. He could get angry, blame someone else, hell, Hackett was a good target about now. But that wouldn't solve his problem. He'd listened in on the conversation in the medbay, listened to Hackett telling Shepard she would have to surrender to the Alliance, stand trial. He had heard her agree to it, to willingly hand herself over. It haunted him, the despair and acceptance in her voice.
'Hey you,' Shepard walked up behind him and leaned down to kiss his cheek.
'Hey yourself,' he sighed and made himself look busy as she slipped into the co-pilot's seat. A quick glance told him she was still suffering, both physically and emotionally, from the Bahak mission. He was pretty sure she was also worried about what would happen when the Alliance got their hands on her.
'You okay?' She was frowning at him and he knew he couldn't lie to her.
'Yeah, just great.' Didn't stop him from trying though.
He stopped pretending to work and spun to face her. 'What's going to happen to us, Shepard? If we survive this suicide mission we're on, where do we stand?'
'We stand together, what's going on, Jeff?'
'I'm scared Ari, I'm scared of what will happen if or when the Alliance arrests you.'
'You'll be fine,' she reassured him, 'I've made sure you won't be included in any charges they lay against me.'
'Is that what you think I'm scared of?' He raised his eyebrows at her, his wide eyed stare seemingly confusing her.
'Well what ….?'
'When they arrest you what do you think will happen, you'll be in the brig, on trial. How long is that going to take, will you ever be released? We won't be together. What happens if the Reapers attack while you're in the brig or prison? What happens if I never …?' He lost control of the fragile hold he had on his emotions and his eyes brimmed with tears so he closed them and dropped his head into his hands. His heart was pounding and he found it hard to breathe.
'Jeff,' he heard her move and her hands were suddenly on his, pulling them away from his face.
'What if I lose you again,' he whispered as she lifted his face so she could look into his eyes.
'I don't plan on letting that happen,' she smiled softly but he wasn't appeased, it only made him more aware of what he could lose.
'You know they won't let me see you, I'm only your pilot, your partner in crime. I'll be lucky if they even let me in the same city as you.'
'We can work something out, get Anderson to help,' she wormed her way into his arms and buried her face in the hollow of his shoulder. 'I'm not letting you go, not now.'
Joker pulled her in tight and held her as if it was the last time he would ever get to feel her against him. He inhaled the scent of her, committed the warmth of her to memory, treasured this moment.
'I can't lose you again, Ari,' he heard her suck in a breath but continued before she could speak. 'When this crazy mission is over, before you surrender to the Alliance …...' He hesitated, unsure, before gently lifting her chin so he could see her face, 'I love you Arelia Shepard, marry me.'
She gazed up at him, her fingers gently caressed his cheek and ran through his beard. He found it hard to read the emotion in her eyes and his heart dropped as she opened her mouth to speak, she was going to refuse him.
'Yes, I love you Jeffrey Moreau, yes I will marry you.'
Joker claimed her lips, the taste of salt from their tears mingling with their tongues as they poured all their love into that kiss. Possibilities existed that hadn't before and Joker felt his fear slowly fade into the background. He hadn't planned to propose like this but it was perfect. As he embraced the woman he loved, held her close to his heart, he knew the future was brighter.
'You know this might create more problems than it solves,' Shepard said softly as she lay against his chest.
'Yeah, I know, going back to the Alliance, frat regs, not serving on the same ship, blah, blah blah.' Joker chuckled. 'But you're a Spectre so rules don't apply. And do you really think they'll let just anyone command the Normandy? It has this weird VI that only responds to a snarky pilot and both only respond to Commander Shepard.'
'That's the best you could come up with?' She laughed and it was the sweetest sound. 'A VI can be removed, so can a pilot.'
'Hey, I'd like to see them try,' he shook his head. 'Seriously, we'll work something out. We have to. We have to hope the Alliance brass see sense and let you out to do your job. You have to save the galaxy you know.'
'Ugh! Don't remind me,' she groaned and he grinned as he ran his fingers through her hair. She reached for his hand and lightly kissed his fingers. 'Speaking of which, you'd better get us to the Sea of Storms, Legion tells me there are some Geth there we need to take care of.'
'Yes, Mrs Moreau to be,' Joker laughed as she raised her eyebrows at him. 'What? You don't expect me to become Mr Shepard do you?'
'We'll talk about that later,' she shook her head and stood up, reluctantly releasing her grip on his hand.
'Aye, aye, ma'am,' Joker grinned as he set course, glancing behind him to watch the perfect backside walk away, knowing it was his forever. They still had to complete this mission and deal with the Alliance but together they could get through anything, at least he hoped they could.
The Geth had religion, well sort of. How did that even work? Joker was mulling over the idea as he ran diagnostics on the Reaper IFF installation. The idea of Reapers as gods was frightening to say the least. The fact that one group of Geth were trying to brainwash another group of Geth was crazy, they were machines. And here he thought only organics could be mindless cultists.
He had no feed from the ground team and he was a little concerned. They were sitting with their ass hanging in space while the IFF was installed. Going through a relay halfway through installation was risky at best so Shepard had taken a shuttle, along with the whole team, into the next system to take care of the Geth. He was in command and he was proud that Shepard trusted him enough to put him in that position.
'How we doing, EDI?' The board was green and everything appeared normal.
'IFF installation is almost complete, although I am picking up a strange signal in the static.'
'It's probably nothing, just white noise.' He wasn't brushing off EDI's concerns but there were a lot of unknowns, there were no precedents for installing Reaper tech.
'We are transmitting the Normandy's location.'
'Transmitting, to who?' He looked across at her orb as shadow loomed over them. He looked up to see a Collector ship sliding into place above them, silent and deadly. 'Oh shit!'
His heart was racing and adrenaline cursed through his system as his hands flew across his console. But nothing happened. He had no power, no control, nothing. Fuck! We're in trouble!
'Propulsion systems have been disabled. I am detecting a virus in our systems.' EDI sounded calm although he knew she was fighting to save them.
He heard the grinding of metal on metal, 'Battle stations, we're being boarded.' He warned the crew and he was amazed at how calm he sounded because he was terrified. 'Damn it EDI, why didn't you scrub the IFF!'
'Defence systems are offline. We can save the Normandy Mr Moreau, but you must help me. Give me the ship.'
'What? Are you crazy! You start singing Daisy Bell and I'm done.' Joker shook his head but knew he had no choice. He could already hear gunshots and screams. 'Tell me what to do.'
Joker pushed himself up from his seat, grabbed the pistol Jacob had installed by his seat and moved as fast as his legs would allow. He'd never hated his disease before, but he did now. Someone else should be doing this, someone faster, more capable. All he had to do was get to the AI core. Right! Maintenance tunnels, great.
'Shit, shit, shit!' He cursed as he moved through the CIC to find crew members already under attack.
'Hurry Joker, go,' Hadley yelled, pistol in hand as the elevator opened and spewed out Reaper forces. 'We'll hold them as long as we can.' Joker lifted his pistol and fired into the Scion but Hadley forced him away, through the doors to the lab. 'You're our only shot Joker, go.'
'Shit,' Joker cursed again as Hadley screamed behind him. He reached the lab and saw monsters floating in the core as he neared the window. 'Shit, shit, shit!' He ignored the urge to flee and climbed down the access ladder.
To say it was painful was an understatement. He'd never worked his legs so hard for so long, but he considered himself lucky. The rest of the crew not so much. He wondered if Hadley was still alive, if others were still fighting. Or was he already too late. Hawthorne was waiting for him as he climbed into Life Support.
'Stick with me, Joker, I'll do what I can.'
Joker stepped onto the crew deck behind him but there wasn't much he could do as a Scion tossed the crewman across the deck and he slammed into the wall. Luckily for Joker the Scion was concentrating on pulling Chambers into the elevator. As much as he disliked her he never would have wanted this to happen to her. There was no point trying to save her, he was alone now and no match for anything that came at him. He had to save the ship.
He vaguely heard EDI saying something about the main fusion plant being off line but he was too engrossed in getting into medbay as a Scion appeared around the corner. 'What the shit!' He was cursing purely to release his own fear. He finally reached the AI core.
'All right, I'm at …. Ah, you.' He looked at the array of controls before him, he wasn't a tech, how was he supposed to do this. He followed EDI's commands as he plugged her in. 'Great, this is where it all starts and when we're all just organic batteries, guess who they'll blame.' He shook his head, 'this is all Joker's fault. What a tool he was. I have to spend all day computing pi because he plugged in the overlord.'
He realised he was babbling and he tried to control himself. Fear does different things to different people. Some run and hide, others face it head on. Right now he wasn't sure which was the better option but he knew he couldn't run away, too many people were depending on him. Shepard was depending on him. He was afraid he'd done something wrong when the room around him went dark but the lights quickly came back on and EDI popped into being before him.
'I have access to the defensive systems,' EDI sounded pleased and Joker had a moment of doubt, especially when she ordered him to engineering.
'Ugh! You want me to go crawling through the ducts again!'
'I enjoy the sight of humans on their knees.' Joker stared at her dumbfounded. He was definitely beginning to think he'd made a mistake. 'That was a joke.'
'Right,' he shook his head. 'Not funny EDI.' He forced himself into the shaft, ignoring the stabbing pains in his legs.
EDI warned him as he climbed out underneath engineering and he stood helplessly by as shadowed forms moved out into the corridor. Once it was clear he climbed the steps, his legs were beyond painful now and he was praying to every god in existence, not that he believed in them anyway, that he could get through this. He stood before the console in engineering and listened as EDI explained the steps.
'Activate the drive and I will vent the ship. All hostiles will be eliminated.'
Joker stood in stunned silence before asking, 'What about the crew?' He really didn't want to hear the answer.
'They are gone, Jeff. The Collectors took them.'
'Shit.' He wanted to hang his head and cry, to curl up in a ball and never move again. But he didn't have that luxury. He moved to the main console and watched as the core came to life.
Suddenly he was on the floor as the jump into FTL knocked him senseless. He heard EDI telling him the ship was clear and sealed as his brain resumed its normal functions. The room spun around him, stars formed at the edge of his vision as he struggled to his feet and pain stabbed through him as he took a deep breath. At least one broken rib, possibly concussion. He knew the signs. His legs protested angrily as he walked to the main console and leaned on it, burying his face in his hands. Shepard had counted on him and he'd let her down. He hadn't been fast enough, brave enough. The thought of disappointing her was harder to face than the empty ship.
'Send a message to Shepard's shuttle, let her know what happened.'
'Message away,' EDI informed him. 'Are you feeling well, Jeff?'
'No,' he groaned and shook his head as he turned to leave, 'but thanks for asking.' It was as he reached the doors to engineering that he realised she was calling him by his first name. That was new. He wondered what else would be, what he'd done by releasing her shackles.
He slowly made his way to medbay, trying hard to ignore the blood and gore that covered the walls and floor. As the doors opened he realised that Chakwas was gone. He gasped then flinched as pain shot through him. She'd been like a mother to him, stood by him for so long. Another one he'd let down. He gulped down a couple of painkillers and headed to the bridge. His shuffling steps echoed around him as he passed through the CIC. It was a ghost ship. He could still hear screams, gunshots, he knew they were only in his head but he didn't think they would be going away any time soon.
He slid into his chair and closed the door. It had always been there but he'd never felt the need to close it before. Now it was a security blanket, blocking out the empty ship behind him. Instinctively he checked the readouts to make sure the ship was okay but he needn't have bothered. EDI had already made sure of that. With nothing to do but wait he curled into his chair, alone with his grief and pain. Alone on an empty ship, without a crew he couldn't save. Maybe that was where he belonged. Alone.