Title: X Amount of Words, Chapter 5: The Survivor
Game: Mass Effect
Characters/pairing: Female Shepard/ Joker Moreau
Disclaimer: Mild language, might contain a small bit of ideological sensitivity.
She said I was her best friend. The only woman she felt she could ever trust. I was like a sister to her, she trusted me, not only with her secrets but with her life. She trusted me to keep a level head and not take any chances. She trusted me not to pull any heroics...and I almost blew it.
It had been several hours since I had foolishly confronted my Commander about her decision back on Virmire. At the time, I didn't know what I was thinking, I guess I was just so, so...so very angry with myself and instead of trying to reason I took it out on the one person who trusted me as I trusted my own sisters. Damn, was I a fool.
'Why Skipper!? Why me!? Why not Kaidan, he deserved better!'
I cringed at my own voice inside my head. I really overstepped my boundaries, what made me feel like I had the right to question her? I was just a lowly Gunnery Chief, there were regs and I questioned my superior officer.
'Ash...I-I had to make a tough decision...'
'Damn straight Skipper and you picked the wrong one!'
Her face when I said that, I swore I could see something inside her break. I don't remember how many times I yelled at myself to shut up, but I had just kept on going.
'Kaidan was a superior officer! You're not supposed to risk your life for a Gunnery Chief!'
'There was no right choice Ash! I did what I had to, are you saying your life wasn't worth saving!?'
'Lt was crazy for you and you know it! You...you don't throw away someone like that! I would have happily stayed behind!'
My fingertips were starting to burn from the hot surface of the coffee mug in my hand. Realizing this, I let it go, watching the steam drift about lazily. When I confronted Shepard, I don't know what the hell I was trying to accomplish. Apart of me wanted to make her feel bad, I don't think she really knew how Kaidan felt about her and that bothered me. But that wasn't her fault. It was probably just survivor's guilt...I was so pissed when she told me to bunker down, I was so...livid when I heard Kaidan's voice over the radio, he sounded so calm, so accepting of what was happening. He was a better soldier than me, a better person. Poor Kaidan, he deserved better. I thought back to my logic back then, why I had wanted to stay behind. Personal glory, all I had ever wanted to do was to do something worthy, to restore the William's name and give my old man the respect he deserved. At that time, I thought letting myself die then would have been the best route.
'Ash...you have a family, sister's that love you and want to see you come home. You have so much to work and live for! Kaidan knew the ri-'
'Bullshit! Alenko had a family too! He had a career!'
'No Skipper! I wanted to stay behind! I would have fought valiantly to the end! I would ha-'
'What!? What did I just hear you say? God Ash, please don't tell me you had a death wish...please, just...just lie to me right now.'
I had fallen silent then, unable to actually lie to Shepard like that. She couldn't understand why I had wanted to stay behind, she wouldn't believe I had a death wish.
'Oh God! No, this isn't happening...This...I left Kaidan behind for you!? I left a good man to die for a suicidal imbecile!? Fuck Ashley!'
When she had said those words, yelling at me as loud as she could, pacing back and forth in a panicked frenzy, I realized that what I had done was wrong. I was an idiot. It only hurt more realizing that when she had pushed me. Instinct would have me push her back, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I had hurt her enough.
'I gave you an order, now get the hell out of my face soldier!'
I should have just gone when she had told me to leave. My fingers instinctively went to my right cheek, flinching as I pressed them onto my skin. She had hit me, and hit me pretty damn good. It still burned and when I was able to check last, it was pretty damn red, I'll probably have a bruise in the morning. I had...never expected to be hit by my superior officer. But, I should have, I attacked her first and I got what I deserved. Wondering if she'd ever forgive me, I pulled the cup of coffee towards me, lifting it to my lips. The liquid was still hot and burned as it went down my throat, and despite what people had said, it didn't make me feel any better. But better this than a cigarette, like some of the other crew. Setting the cup back down, I began to twist it in it's spot, staring at the black liquid. I hardly noticed the silence of the mess hall, either everyone was asleep or gathered in the cargo hold, trying to stay as far away from Shepard as possible.
My intention was to hurt her, make her feel how I was feeling...but I didn't realize until too late that she was feeling worse than I was. She was the one that made the call, she was the one that had to forever live with the guilt of Kaidan's death looming over her like a black cloud. She was the one that was going to have to tell Kaidan's folks that he was dead. Shepard would have to stand in front of a crowd and make fancy speeches and present the Star of Terra to him. And...I couldn't imagine that pain. A thought suddenly hit me that made my heart hurt, if it had been me back there, Lynn would be the one telling my sisters...Shaking my head, I closed my eyes trying to block out that thought. I didn't wish that on anyone, but I had just realized, that I brought it upon Shepard, regardless of choice.
Eyes flickered towards her quarters. She had been locked in there ever since the moment of silence had commenced.
I looked up as the silence was broken by the familiar voice. My brow furrowed when I saw Joker standing opposite me at the table, a smug look on his face. This situation was reversed, it was weird seeing him standing there, towering over me when I was so used to seeing him confined to his chair. You think he'd be shorter, what with those brittle bones of his. He eased himself into a chair shortly after, his attention now fully on a datapad in his hand. I realized that his comments was more than a simple observation but as an insult as well.
I was none too pleased.
"Your grasp for the obvious i-"
"Astounding, I know."
I shot a narrow glance his way, which had no effect as he continued to read over whatever was on the datapad. He initiated no further conversation, but his general presence had begun to make me uncomfortable and slightly agitated. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Joker, but...he tended to bring out the worst in some people, I was no exception. Fidgeting in my seat, my mind started racing over ways to excuse myself without him making a comment. I didn't want to be confronted on what had happened earlier by him, because his comments would make me realized just how much I screwed even more so than I already knew. He noticed my awkwardness, his hazel eyes flickering up from the datapad.
"What's wrong Chief? 'Fraid the cripple kid is going to do something?"
He shook his head, returning his gaze to the datapad, "Right." He tossed the datapad onto the table, adjusting himself to face me, his hands behind his head, "Hey, thanks for making the Commander go all crazy earlier. Because y'know, the ship was really lacking on crazy right now, especially the kind willing to snap your neck."
Once again I glared at him, but he remained untouched by it. We sat there for several minutes in silence, glaring at each other before Joker removed his hands from the back of his head and leaned forward, his palms falling heavily upon the surface of the table. "What the hell were you thinking!?"
"Wh-what do you mean!?"
He raised a brow, "Agh, don't act like you don't know! Why did you just run at her like that, you do realize you have successfully broken her down more so than she already is?"
My gaze fell to my lap, "I know..."
There was nothing I was more sure of than that. When I chanced looking up, Joker had backed off, now leaning back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. His eyes were staring over at Shepard's room, the muscles in his face tense as if he was clamping his teeth together. There was a look upon his face, it was so far off, I wondered what he was thinking. I shook my head, it had to just be simple concern, nothing more.
The pilot turned his gaze away from Shepard's cabin slowly, eyes settling on me, "Huh?"
"Think she'll ever forgive me?"
He leaned forward once more, clasping his hands together as he rested his arms upon the table, shoulders slouching forward, "I'm going to be honest with you Ash," That made me flinch, whenever said that, they usually had bad news, "She's probably going to forgive you, just because she's that kind of person..." That gave me a bit of hope, even if the last bit wasn't so...endearing, "She's going to forgive you and she's going to keep on blaming herself, she'll somehow find a way to put your bullshit excuse to die on her shoulders." Hook, line and sinker...Joker had a funny way of putting things so bluntly.
"Don't you believe in God?"
His question caught me off guard, I tried to search his face for some obvious reason as to how my beliefs came into play, "I do."
"You wanted to die right? Sacrifice yourself in hopes of a very small chance your family name would be cleared, in a way, isn't that like suicide?"
"I...er, no, because I didn't kill myself." Though, my answer was hardly convincing as Joker gave me a look, the whole 'yeah right' look.
"Sure, you didn't kill yourself, but you were going to. Throwing yourself into a horde of geth and letting yourself get nuked, kinda sounds like it to me." He said with a flat tone.
I crossed my arms over my chest, face red from frustration. I don't know what Moreau was trying to get at, but whatever he was trying to accomplish was probably working. He was doing a damn good job of getting under my skin, "What's the point of this Joker?"
He shook his head, leaning back in his chair and looking back over towards Shepard's room, "Nothing actually, just trying to get a sense of your skewed logic."
"Shut up! You're so loud!" He waved his hand quickly dismissing my outburst, "This isn't a whole, 'I'm questioning your beliefs whether God is real' issue. I just...I don't get you sometimes. You preach about fighting to protect others, chastise the dead for offing themselves because they can't live with their grief of successfully ruining a whole bunch of people's lives...yet you were willing to throw yourself into the fire for a name." His eyes didn't move from the cabin, "You wanted to die a martyr, instead someone else gives up their own life for yours. I find your logic skewed and...well, I think you're an idiot."
"Kaidan was a good guy Ash, if he didn't believe you were worth saving he wouldn't have volunteered to throw his life away."
Again I looked down at my lap, feeling so foolish. Joker cracked me like an egg, I could already feel my insides oozing out, my previous anger at the Commander and myself pooling around my feet. He was pretty dead on and the more I thought about it, the more true it was. "You're right...you're absolutely right." I felt a few tears well up in my eyes, but for the sake of my own pride which had been pretty much shattered by the crippled pilot, I blinked them back. There would be no tears.
"Look Williams, don't beat yourself up about it. Do something about it."
I looked up rubbing the side of my cheek where the Commander had planted her fist, "What should I do?"
He shrugged, "Don't mope about Kaidan, he'd be pretty pissed at that. I think if you really want to thank him for giving you a second chance, you should help out Shepard as much as you can. This whole reaper business...she needs all the help she can get and she's not getting it from a mopey, pissed off, suicidal gunnery chief."
It took a moment to register what he said, thinking it over. When I let the words sink in I began to...understand what he was trying to do. Joker was helping me in only a way that Joker could. "Yeah, you're right. I have to stop...this, whatever it is." He pushed himself up out of the chair as did I, "Joker?"
He shook his head, picking the datapad up off the table, "Save your gratitude until after the giant cuddlefish is dead, y'know, false hope an' all."
I rolled my eyes as he began to walk off towards Shepard's cabin, "You going to talk to her?"
I hurried over to him, walking beside him as he limped away from the room. For a moment I had been so sure he was, "Why not?"
He looked down at the datapad, smirking to himself, "Do you not feel your face? No thanks." I stopped in front of the elevator to the cargo hold, watching him limp up the stairs. Why had he come in the down here in the first place? Long way for him to be walking around like that for no good reason, I was half expecting to see him tumble down the stairs from a misstep, but he soon disappeared from sight and I found myself standing in front of the elevator, alone. I shook my head, turning into the lift all while unpinning my hair, just so I could put it back up again.
I'd find a way to repay Shepard, if I had to go through hell and back to do it, I would.
I owe it to her, and to Kaidan.
"Watch over me from up there Lt."