Joker leaned against the wall in the starboard observation lounge hoping he'd got things right. He'd been completely at a loss about what to do to fix things with Shepard and she hadn't made it easy by not coming to see him. He hadn't been able to get an idea of just how much trouble he was in. So he'd gone looking for help, which really didn't help at all, it simply confused him even more.

He kicked himself mentally many times, why had he been so stupid, why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut. He realised just how inexperienced he was when it came to relationships, he'd never understood how hard it was and he took his hat off to everyone who managed it. He still had a lot to learn, but so did Shepard. She's admitted that she hadn't had any long term relationships either. It seemed that they would be learning together.

He'd asked Vega for advice, he seemed to know his way around women so he'd hoped to get some clarification on the way they liked to be treated. He came away shaking his head. It appeared that Vega had never had to deal with the seriousness of relationships either. His idea of fixing things was to flirt and seduce without getting to the bottom of the problem. He did, however, reinforce Joker's belief that he was in trouble.

Garrus was no help either, his idea of sorting out their problems in a physical altercation definitely wouldn't work. The thought of broken bones was enough to send him directly to Dr Chakwas who offered sound advice, sort of. She suggested that he talk to her, find out what was wrong while polishing off the contents of a bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy. She seemed to think that alcohol would drive away the issue.

Liara suggested music and flowers to soften the mood and help Shepard relax, a little difficult to arrange on a ship in space, the flowers anyway. She told him to admit that it was all his fault, that Shepard had every right to be angry with him. She was right to a point but Joker thought Shepard knew how much he loved her, why would she doubt that. In the end it was Steve who gave him the best advice.

'You know in your heart what to do,' Steve had chuckled at him when Joker stood forlornly at his workstation. 'She needs to know that you love her, that she's the only one you want.'

'It's that simple?' Joker scoffed.

'Yep,' Steve nodded, 'it's that simple.'

So now here he was, waiting for her to join him. His shift ended an hour ago and he knew hers did too. She'd been in their quarters but he felt they needed more neutral ground. He was freshly showered and changed and all he wanted was to sort things out, so they could share their bed without the problems of what had been a very long day coming between them. He hoped everything didn't backfire because they were both tired.

He'd done what he could with the food they had on board, he'd borrowed the brandy from Chakwas, promising not to drink the entire bottle, he'd closed the shutter and prepared the room and he'd picked some soft music just in case. He'd sent her a message, asking her to join him for dinner and he was thankful when she said yes.

He jumped as the door opened and she walked in. She stopped inside the doorway and gasped. Joker had managed to find a few artificial candles in Kasumi's old room and Traynor had offered him a collection of scented petals which he'd scattered across the blanket he'd laid out on the floor. Liara had presented him with a couple of large cushions for comfort and he'd laid out their dinner between them. He liked to think it was romantic.

'Hey you,' he said softly and she turned to look at him.

'Hey yourself,' she gave him a half smile, there was still hurt there and it broke his heart to think he'd caused it.

He pushed himself off the wall and reached for her hand, thankful that she didn't pull away, 'I'm glad you came.' He stood before her and met her eyes, 'I wasn't sure you would, I know you're upset with me.'

'Are you sure you wouldn't rather be having dinner with your new fembot?' She sighed and looked away but he cupped her chin and made her face him.

'Ari, seriously? She's a collection of nuts and bolts, yeah okay, she's shapely, but do you really think I would be attracted to that?' He grinned as her eyebrows went up, 'she doesn't have your beautiful eyes, she doesn't have your soft lips,' he brushed his thumb across her mouth and she shivered. 'Why would I want something cold and metallic when I can have your warmth, your sexy body against me,' he ran his hands down her side and held her hips.

'You certainly seemed happy to see her,' Shepard tried to sound angry but it came out more like a pout.

'I was surprised, hey, I'm a perv, you know that and she is a space nerd's dream come to life,' he laughed as she frowned at him. 'It doesn't mean anything. Do you really think I'd choose her over you? I hate that you're hurting because I was stupid and didn't think before carrying on like a horny teenager. '

'You've spent a lot of time together in the last six months,' she reminded him.

'Most of that was working out how best to help you, how to get you out of prison and back where you belonged. It was EDI that made it possible for us to be together, who gave us our stolen moments.' He ran his fingers down her cheek and she leaned into his hand. 'She's not a threat to you, she's an AI, a robot, Ari. I gave you my heart, it's yours forever.'

'I'm sorry,' she groaned. 'I've never had to deal with this stuff before, I guess I over reacted.'

'Yes you did,' he chuckled, 'but I haven't had to deal with it before either. I'm sorry I caused you pain.' He leaned down and kissed her tenderly, 'I love you Ari Moreau, I always will.'

Joker was relieved when she buried her head under his chin and her arms slid around his back. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. He'd missed her so much, he'd never believed that he could feel so strongly about someone but now he couldn't imagine feeling anything else.

'Thank you,' she whispered and he glanced down at her as she raised her head to look at him. 'For loving me enough to want to fix this, for not letting it get out of hand.'

'What choice did I have,' he grinned, 'I didn't want to go back to sleeping in my chair.' She slapped him playfully on the shoulder. 'Are you ready to eat?'

'You cooked?' She glanced past him as he nodded. 'I am hungry and it's been a long day.'

Joker couldn't wipe the grin off his face as they settled themselves on the blanket and he was even happier when she moaned in delight at his offering.

'This is nice,' she muttered around a mouthful of food and he chuckled. 'Did you have help?'

'No, other than the gift of a few supplies,' he shook his head, 'just don't ever ask Vega for relationship advice.' Her eyes widened and he grinned, 'for that matter, don't ask anyone on this ship, well, maybe Steve.'

'Now I'm curious,' she chuckled and before long they were both laughing at the sound advice Joker had been presented with.

Joker shook his head with a chuckle. He was listening in on the conversation between Wrex, Garrus and James down on Sur'kesh. Their discussion of how to serve Salarian livers was amusing and he was sure the Salarian guards were uncomfortable. Once again they were on a you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours mission. This time though he truly believed in the necessity of what they were doing.

Having Wrex back on board was great, as much as the Krogan was huge and prone to bluster Joker knew he had a softer, more caring side. Helping Wrex cure his people of the Genophage was a mission worth doing, the Krogan had suffered long enough at the hands of others. He knew this was a mission close to Shepard's heart, she loved Wrex like a brother and the idea of saving female Krogans brought out the romantic in her, not that she'd admit to it. Not only that, Wrex respected Joker and that was something extra special to him. Krogans didn't accept weakness and his disease was definitely that but his abilities made him worthy in the eyes of Wrex, and Grunt for that matter. He had been accepted by both as a warrior.

Things were back to the chaos that was normal for them. Shepard was managing to control her jealousy, even asking EDI about her new body, all the while with a death grip on his shoulder. She'd only released it when he'd covered her hand with his and squeezed. She'd come up to the cockpit before the mission and they'd gone through their customary pre-mission routine and that eased his worries more than he realised.

'Jeff, I'm picking up incoming ships,' Edi brought up the radar screen and Joker watched as several red dots appeared.

'Shit,' Joker knew that signal. 'Commander, we've got Cerberus ships inbound.' There was static on the other end and the feed from the planet disappeared. 'Damn it! EDI see if you can clear that jamming signal. Let's give these bastards something else to think about.'

Joker stirred the ship into life and brought the weapons on line, Garrus was going to be pissed he didn't get to fire them. They were still in stealth mode so Cerberus was unaware of their presence. There were several shuttles, a few fighters and two frigates, not difficult targets but he couldn't hit them all at once. He opted for the frigates, the shuttles were already headed for the surface and he had no doubt Shepard, her team and the Salarians could handle themselves.

'Everybody strap in and prepare for evasive manoeuvres, Cerberus has come to visit,' Joker closed the comm, fastened his harness, cracked his knuckles and took a deep breath. He was smiling as he moved them forward, waiting until they were clearly in view before dropping out of stealth. He could picture the surprised faces on the first frigate as the Normandy appeared on their radar, the panicked rush for evasion as he raced towards them, they were so close now, there was no time for those on board. But Shepard had rubbed off on him.

'EDI, target their engines and communications,' he felt the Normandy respond as he changed tack and slid across the hull of the frigate.

There was a split second where everything could go fubar and as only metres separated the two ships he held his breath. He felt the guns fire and the frigate rocked beneath them as he lifted the Normandy up and away. One ship dead in space.

'Holy crap!' a crewman yelled behind him but Joker ignored it.

He released his breath, Shepard would be proud. He could have destroyed them with one shot from the Thannix cannon but just because it was a Cerberus ship didn't mean everyone on it had to die. They still had life support for a while and escape pods if they wanted to flee.

'How that jamming coming, EDI?'

'It seems to be centred on the planet's surface, I am unable to remove it at the present time. I have however infiltrated the VI on board the second frigate and I am currently attempting to seize control. Their technicians are putting up a fight.'

He glanced up at the radar to see the second frigate closing from behind and the warning that they were being targeted. Joker sent the Normandy into a half roll and dropped away to port as the frigate fired. There was a good chance the Cerberus frigate had upgraded weapons, there seemed to be no expense spared on their ships. He doubted they had the Thannix cannon though so he was prepared for conventional weapons and kinetic barriers. His guess was confirmed as the launch of Javelins registered.

'Nice try,' he grinned as the Normandy danced up, over and around the incoming missiles, destroying them both with the Guardian lasers.

Joker had flown in space all his adult life. He was familiar with the reaction time of his ship, the fact that there was no force working against him like there was when flying in an atmosphere, nothing to slow him down except the power of his ship, or crashing into something. He'd often been amused by shuttle pilots who spent all their time flying around planets then when suddenly faced with the vacuum of space and the lack of environmental conditions struggled to compensate. Yeah, he knew about gravitational pulls, magnetic fields and everything else that went with working in space but he was good at his job. He didn't claim to be the best damn pilot in the fleet on a whim.

It was this knowledge and skill that allowed him to rotate the Normandy on her axis, bringing her nose around to face the frigate that was fast approaching. He knew exactly how long it would take for the engines to come back to full power, how many seconds he needed before he had forward movement and how long it would be before he had enough speed. His grin could have been called maniacal as he urged the Normandy forward.

The pilot of the frigate obviously didn't have anywhere near Joker's skill as the ship was slow to respond. Joker could picture the sheer terror in the cockpit as the Normandy came straight at them and they had little time to manoeuvre.

'Impact in three minutes,' EDI spoke beside him but he ignored her.

Adrenaline cursed through his system and sweat covered his forehead as Joker kept them moving forward. Timing was everything and Joker had played this game so many times at flight school, both on simulators and in the real thing. He'd never misjudged. He knew what panic did to pilots, he'd had his fair share, and he knew what the instinctual reactions would be. He didn't like to think of himself as cocky but he'd never been wrong.

'Impact in two minutes.'

'Engines and communications EDI,' his hands flew across his console as he controlled their path to the millimetre.

The pilot of the frigate was true to form and Joker smiled as the nose of the other ship dropped and they headed down towards the planet below.

'Now EDI,' Joker said calmly and the guns fired beneath him.

The frigate shuddered and died but it was already in motion and continued its nose dive. Joker could see the thrusters firing as the pilot tried to delay their entry into the atmosphere of Sur'kesh. If he was good he could get them into a planetary orbit but Joker didn't think he was that good. He put the Normandy into a high orbit and watched as the ship descended into the upper atmosphere then cursed angrily as the cargo bay opened and an atlas and shuttle dropped out. He didn't have time to stop them, Shepard would just have to take care of it. The frigate disappeared around the curve of the planet and Joker knew there was no pulling up from their descent.

'You can relax people,' he spoke into the comm, 'Cerberus is taken care of.' He released his harness and allowed himself to sink into his chair.

'That was impressive flying, Jeff,' EDI commented from beside him.

'All in a day's work,' he chuckled.

'I doubt Shepard would appreciate you playing chicken with the Normandy.'

'Yeah, well, she doesn't have to know,' he shrugged.

Behind him excited conversation caught his attention and he looked back to see the crew watching a replay of the fight on their screens. Damn, so much for Shepard not finding out. He sent a message to the Salarians and Alliance Command, letting them know about the Cerberus ship in orbit awaiting collection.

'Chicken! You played chicken with the Normandy!' James was almost giddy with excitement. 'That's insane! Man I wish I'd been aboard.' Joker laughed as he turned his chair towards them.

'What does a small, feathered creature that you eat have to do with battle?' Garrus' mandibles fluttered in confusion.

'Not a bird, Scars,' James raised his hands and proceeded to demonstrate the idea of playing chicken.

'That's gutsy play,' Garrus spoke respectfully and Joker understood just how much that meant from a Turian.

'Always knew you had a quad,' Wrex laughed as he walked onto the cockpit and was about to hit Joker on the shoulder but thought better of it. 'That was some flying, I just saw the vid.'

'There's a vid?' James looked at him wide eyed, 'gotta go watch that.' He dashed out, almost crashing into Shepard as she stepped into the cockpit.

'Flight Lieutenant Moreau,' she spoke in her commander voice and stood at parade rest. Behind her the crew all turned to see what was going on. Garrus and Wrex stepped aside so she had a clear line of sight to Joker. 'I understand you played chicken with my ship, that you took down two Cerberus frigates without destroying them.'

'Yes, ma'am,' Joker could see the twinkle of amusement in her eyes and knew he wasn't really in trouble. 'Had to watch your back, ma'am.'

'Damn, that's why I love you,' she grinned and was on him in two strides, her hands on his face, her lips on his.

Garrus cleared his throat and Wrex just laughed. Joker was laughing as she pulled back, she wasn't usually so open with affection when they were on duty but he wasn't going to argue with her. He glanced over her shoulder and saw several of the crew gaping and he'd never felt prouder in his life.

'I had a little help,' he motioned towards EDI and Shepard glanced over at her.

'Jeff is being modest,' EDI corrected, 'I simply fired the guns and gave their technicians something to do.'

'Thanks, EDI,' Shepard nodded at her before stepping back from Joker. 'I'll see you for dinner,' she smiled and headed back towards the CIC then stopped and looked at the open doorway before glancing back questioningly at Joker.

'I had Adams fix it,' he shrugged.

She positively beamed at him then turned and walked away, Joker's eyes following as she deliberately emphasised the swing of her hips. Yep, things were definitely back to normal.