“What took you so long?” Joker asked as Kaidan came up to the bridge.
“Nothing,” Kaidan grumbled. He slumped into a chair and ran a hand through his hair. Joker gave the lieutenant a measuring look.
“Alenko, that’s not nothing. That’s a you-and-Shepard-didn’t-get-any-shore-leave-and-now-you’re-horny-as-hell thing.”
Actually , Kaidan thought, * it’s a Shepard-and-I-didn’t-get-any-shore-leave-and-so-after-almost-two-weeks-without-her-I-couldn’t-take-it-anymore-and-we-just-had-a-quickie-in-her-room-and-I’m-feeling-like-shit-about-the-whole-thing thing. But hey, close enough.*
Out loud, he just said, “I’m here, Joker. You can go now.”
“Alenko,” Joker said. “You have got to figure this out.”
“Don’t you think I’m trying to?” Kaidan snapped at him. “And why the hell do you care, anyhow?”
“I don’t like things being awkward around here,” Joker told him. “This is the best crew I’ve ever worked with.”
“Me too,” Kaidan replied truthfully. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “And I really don’t want to screw it up by…”
“Screwing the commanding officer?”
“Damn it, Joker. Keep your voice down. You what the regs say about fraternization.”
“That’s a stupid rule and you know it.”
“It’s not a stupid rule. It’s a rule that keeps people from acting inappropriately, from letting their feelings get in the way of their judgment.” Kaidan ran a hand through his hair again. “Hell, if people knew that Shepard and I had feelings for each other, they might think that was why she saved me instead of Ashley back on Virmire. That kind of thing could cause distrust of her leadership, undermine her authority.”
“Okay, first of all, Virmire was a shitty situation and there was no easy answer. As far as the book is concerned, Shepard did the right thing. Leaving you to die just because she liked you wouldn’t have made anyone trust her more. No one doubted her decision there, anyhow. The whole crew was behind her. Hell, even Williams was behind her on that one. Only you had a problem with it.”
“And secondly,” Joker went on, “I think the commander could do whatever the hell she wanted and it wouldn’t undermine her authority. The woman has enough charisma to take over the galaxy if she wanted to.”
“Yeah, but people here follow her because of her decisions as well as her charisma. And if they began to doubt her decisions…”
“Do you?” Joker asked.
“Do you doubt her decisions?”
“Of course not,” Kaidan said.
“But you do, don’t you? You doubted her decision to save you.”
“Joker,” Kaidan said, turning to the screen before him, “Leave this kind of crap for the ship’s councilor.”
“The counselor got transferred to another ship,” Joker replied. “Someone’s got to head-shrink you. You obviously never took a psych class back in training.”
“Yeah, though I never cracked the book open. Look Alenko, I might be the only one who knows about Shepard and you…”
“God, I hope that’s true.”
”…and so I might be the only person to give you some advice about all this.”
“I’m sure this will be priceless.”
“Don’t screw this up.”
There was a pause.
“You said that before, you know.”
“It bears repeating,” Joker said seriously. “What is it with you, anyhow? Now that Saren is dead, now that there’s nothing trying to kill you both on a daily basis, you seem more on edge than ever. What’s up with that? Do you wonder if she still needs you now that you’re not always shooting stuff together?”
Kaidan looked at Joker in surprise. It was uncanny how close that had hit to the mark.
“Look,” Joker said, rising from his chair. “If a woman as hot as Shepard was interested in me, I’d be suspicious, too. But she actually seems to like you.”
“Can’t possibly imagine why,” Kaidan said wryly.
“Yeah, me either,” Joker said. “Just enjoy it, Alenko. You’re lucky enough to have it.”
Kaidan looked at Joker and saw something like regret flash across the helmsman’s face. It suddenly occurred to Kaidan that with his condition, Joker probably found relationships incredibly difficult – if he found them at all. Whining about how things were going with Shepard now struck Kaidan as pretty selfish.
“Joker,” he said, “I… You’re right. And thanks.”
“You got it,” Joker nodded. “Now keep the Normandy safe for me while I get some dinner and shut-eye. Anything happens to my girl and you’ll see how pissed off I can get.”
With that, Joker left Kaidan at the helm with a lot to think about.