In a formal voice, he asked EDI to finish scanning the remaining planets in the system and then head back to the nearest mass relay. That would take at least a few hours and I wondered why he was willing to relinquish control for that long. He turned to me and said, “Commander, I have to show you something.”
He laboriously climbed out of his chair and started for the airlock. I followed, pacing his shuffling gait. He removed his comm unit and put it on a ledge as we passed, gesturing for me to do the same. Just before the corner where the large exit sign glowed he pressed a panel and a door I'd never noticed opened.
Inside a mess of wires and conduits snarled around more prosaic cleaning equipment. I'd not thought about a janitor's closet before but I supposed there must be a few scattered about the ship. We certainly didn't want leather cleaner and rags flying around the deck during evasive maneuvers. Joker gestured into the tiny space. “After you.”
All my protestations were met with attempts at significant eye contact and a curt, “This is important.” I wedged myself in and tried to make room. I'd never had much physical contact with my crew, Kaidan being a notable exception, and having Joker pressed so tightly against me made me distinctly uncomfortable. He laughed nervously, so at least I wasn't the only one. By the time the door was shut we were snug enough that taking a deep breath was difficult.
“Why, pray tell, Mr. Moreau, have you shut yourself in a closet with me?”
That earned me another uneasy chuckle. “These cupboards are the only places on board where EDI has no monitoring equipment.” He shifted awkwardly and only managed to increase the contact of the more personal parts of our anatomy. “Ahem. I didn't realize that quarters would be quite so tight. Sorry, Commander.”
“Cozy. And why do we need to be so intimately acquainted out of EDI's watchful vigilance?”
“I have to talk to you before we head for the Citadel. I thought I was going to have to invent a malfunction and force us to land somewhere so that we could talk off of the Normandy but then I discovered Cerberus skimped on wiring these cubbyholes so I thought this wouldn't look so suspicious.”
“Joker, I'd say that our being in a closet together is going to look mighty suspicious, on the ship or off.” Another “heh” and failed attempt to shift away told me that he was no more comfortable than I was, although the new position revealed that he was enjoying it a bit more. I decided to take that as proof that we needed to find him a woman—a different woman, because Joker was the snotty little brother I never had and we were never going to talk about this aloud. “Just tell me what you need to say before the crew realizes we're shoved in here together.”
“Uh, this is hard to explain.” He stumbled over the words a little and I wondered what could be coming next. “I need you to tell me what you think of the crew, where you stand on the Cerberus operatives and working with them. We needed to be out of EDI's scanners because I need you to speak freely.”
That was a lot of need for a speech that didn’t involve propositioning someone. This was not the guy I knew, the acerbic and superficially indifferent man with whom I had worked so closely.
“Why?” I asked distrustfully. “You're just as much a Cerberus operative as the rest of the crew, just as guilty of leaving the Alliance and joining up with this pipe dream of an operation. You've been with these yahoos a lot longer than I have. Why don't you tell me your impressions, instead?” I narrowed my eyes at him but somewhat ruined the effect by unconsciously moving my hand to put it on my hip and bumping something else entirely. I hurriedly put my arm back where it had been. Damn it but this was a small closet.
Joker chose to ignore that, though the hiss of indrawn breath gave away that he had noticed. “I may have been working with them but that doesn't mean that I trust them. I do trust you, at least who you used to be, and I want to make sure I still can.”
“Look, I'm the exact same person I've always been. I just took a really, really long nap. What the hell is this about? Did Miranda say she'd done something to me...besides the new biotic thing that I can't seem to activate and the cybernetic implants that made everything work again, I mean?” I was struck by a horrifying idea. “The research reports said they wanted me to be exactly the same person. They wouldn't have tampered with my memories, my emotions, would they?”
“I don't know, Commander. I never got a chance to read the research reports. I pumped Miranda...” he shifted again, “...um, I asked Miranda for details but all I got were reassurances that the project was working. Since the reports to Cerberus weren't intended for your eyes I hope they wouldn't have lied about their intent to themselves. I'm glad you got a chance to see them. It makes things easier.” And then he triggered the catch on the door and we all but tumbled out of the closet.
I caught him around the waist to keep him from hitting the floor, a smooth dip with my other hand holding the door jamb. While we were in this position I became aware that Joker's pants were just as snug as those of any other crew member and that several of them were staring from their stations, undoubtedly noting the same. Did Cerberus tailors dare each other to see just how inappropriately they could get crews to dress?!
I hauled him back to vertical and thought wildly of something neutral-sounding to say. The fact that my cheeks were aflame and Joker was walking even less steadily than usual made that impossible. I decided to leave well enough alone and simply shut the panel. I wondered how long we'd been wedged in there together. It felt like about three hours but that estimate seemed a bit unrealistic.
I cleared my throat and tried to sound professional. “Joker, take us to the Citadel. We have business with the Council.”
There, that didn't sound too horrible. The giant station was as close to a home as I had, since the only people I really cared about and the only job I'd ever had were likely on it. If only I could figure out what he'd really been after in that closet. I presumed he'd had more in mind than getting a cheap thrill. He'd seemed just as discomfited as I'd felt but when he glanced around before he sat in the pilot's chair I could see the familiar, mischievous twinkle in his eye. He may not have intended it but apparently that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy it after the fact.
“Thanks, Commander,” he called loudly, making a show of turning to sit in his seat. “We'll have to talk again sometime.” I tried to ignore the quickly-suppressed snicker behind me. What a great impression to give the crew! With any luck I could get rid of the entire bunch by handing them over to the Alliance for questioning in a day or so. “It looks like we're just about done with the Faryar system so we'll head back to Osun and hit the relay in about four hours.”
“I'll be in my quarters,” I said. I snagged my comm unit from the ledge, tossed Joker his, and walked back across the Combat Information Center where the galaxy map twinkled and Kelly stood with wide eyes. A wicked impulse came to me as I neared her.
“Kelly, Joker seems quite taken with you. He couldn't stop talking about you during our briefing.” Ha! I thought, let's see him get out of that one. The little O of her mouth showed me how believable I'd sounded. I held my grin until the elevator doors closed behind me. No matter how weird my life had become I was finally heading to the place where I could put back together again.