Not very many people came up to visit Joker in the cockpit, and in the flat over-processed air that filled the cabin, even with his back turned, he could usually figure out who it was. Dr. Chakwas checked on him regularly, bringing a scent of antiseptic and mint, as did Chambers and her florals. Shepard, of course, because he was like that, smelling of cheap aftershave. And then there was the spicy, musky scent that curled into his nose and bypassed his higher functions, going straight to places it really shouldn’t given that it accompanied Miranda.
“Hi, Princess,” he said without turning around.
“What’s the status?”
He heard the tension in her voice and grinned. She hated the nickname he’d come up with for her. So of course he used it as frequently as possible without having her do something drastic, like smack him upside the head. That would hurt worse than anything else she might do. “Nothing much,” he drawled diffidently. “Just the usual, navigating through several hundred light years aiming for a spot about the size of the dime. You know, kid stuff.”
“Let me know if anything changes.”
He could almost hear her teeth grind. “Don’t worry, I’ll let the Commander know.”
With a noise of disgust, she spun on her heeled boots and walked off. Joker swiveled in his chair to watch, sighing involuntarily as he admired the view.
“You really shouldn’t be insubordinate to her, Mr. Moreau.”
“Don’t ruin my fun, EDI.”
“You know if you shaved that beard and got rid of the ballcap, you wouldn’t look half bad.”
“Hey,” Joker protested, throwing Miranda a hard side-eye. “Do I make comments on your appearance?”
“Every time I walk out of here, in fact,” she replied. She was standing next to his chair, an elbow propped up on the back, and the way her waist dipped into her hip, about at his eye level, was distracting. “You are now.”
He tore his gaze away and scanned the readouts. “And none of it’s critical, is it.” Oh, real smooth, Jeff, he thought, keeping himself from facepalming only by dint that he’d probably break his nose or something. “For someone who’s always lamenting how awful your genetic perfection it is, you certainly seem to take a lot of pride in flaunting it.”
“I do n—”
“We are approaching the Collector ship,” EDI interrupted.
“Go be a good girl, Princess, and tell the Commander.”
“I’m head of this Cerberus cell,” she snapped. “You owe me some respect.”
“And yet you’re not leading this crew,” Joker pointed out airily. “And you’re stuck on the Normandy just like the rest of us peons. What else do you do?”
This time, he got a growl out of her before she stalked off. When he peeked around the edge of his chair, she added, “Stop staring, dammit!”
“A twin sister, huh.”
“Shut up, Moreau. Wait—how do you know that?”
“I know things, Princess. It’s my ship after all.”
“It’s a Cerberus ship. EDI, is he tapping into private conversations?”
“You think I’m spying?”
“Mr. Moreau is not accessing any of the monitoring systems that I’m aware of.”
“See?” Joker said defensively.
“How do you know, then?”
“Magic, Princess. Magic. So, this twin. Is she identical? Hot like you? Single? Or, oooo, is she all ice queen exterior, waiting for the touch of true love to reveal her warm marshmallowy center?”
“Moreau,” Miranda said in a dangerous tone, “if you weren’t the best damn pilot we had access to, I swear I would break every one of your fingers. As it is, unless you shut up, I am going to break both your legs without making an effort.”
“Shutting up,” he said, gulping. Generally he was pretty good at not pushing it too far, but he could tell he had this time.
As Miranda’s footsteps died away, he threw a glance over to EDI’s holographic projection. “Guess I hit a nerve.”
He would’ve sworn he heard something like a sigh coming from EDI.
She’d started wearing a new outfit around the ship. The white uniform had been nice, but this one? The black one looked painted on and left almost nothing to the imagination. Hell, he could even see a shallow depression where her navel was. At least, he thought it was her navel. His hands itched every time she came up to his chair wanting to verify it, but she’d probably break his hand off if he did, so he just had to sit there and wonder.
“So things went okay with your sister?”
“How do you—you know what? Nevermind. I give up figuring out how you know.”
He smirked, then let it fade to a grin. “So?”
“It went fine. Better than fine. She’s safe. And, no—you can’t have her number.”
“You’re no fun.”
There was a long silence, with Miranda’s cologne or perfume or whatever it was slowly dissolving away his brain, before she asked, “Hot like me, hmm?”
“Forget I said that.”
“Mmmmhmmm,” she intoned with a self-satisfied sound.
The ship was quiet. Too quiet. Joker hadn’t realized how accustomed he was to the subtle background noise of people working behind him, down the narrow neck of the Normandy back to the CIC, until they were all gone.
“Don’t blame yourself, Jeff. You did the best you could.”
“I know, EDI. But it should have been more.”
“Joker?” Miranda’s voice ventured hesitantly into the conversation.
He hadn’t heard her approach or even smelled her amidst the lingering stench of burnt ship. Clamping his jaw shut briefly, he replied curtly, “Kinda busy flying the ship right now, Miranda.”
“I wanted to apologize.”
That got his attention. But he wasn’t going to let her know. “It’s okay, I found the empty milk carton and had EDI go and pick some more up while you were out.”
“Nevermind,” he said with a sigh, recognizing his attempt at a joke had fallen flat. Shepard at least would’ve laughed. She also wasn’t taking the hint. He brought the chair around to glare up at her. “Get it out, so we can get back to work.”
Her eyebrows went up with delicate surprise, but then fell back into place. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you earlier. You did everything you could—under the circumstances.”
“Under the circumstances?” he exploded. “You mean, ‘as a cripple’? Fuck yeah, I did. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have even been able to leave the chair and do what I did.”
“I know,” she said, oddly placating. “Here I am, genetically engineered to be, well, perfect in every way, and then there you are, very much not, but you did more to save us and this ship than I did.”
“Damn straight. What’s your point?”
“You’re like Shepard. A mutt. Flawed. But more important to this mission than I am.”
“Is this where you have your pity party? Oh woe is me, spoiled little perfect Princess? Get over yourself, Miranda. We don’t have all your money bought gifts, but we aren’t whining about what we were born with. I am an awesome pilot. It doesn’t matter how I got that way, I’m going to be an awesome pilot. You want to be important to this mission? Find a way to use what you have to the maximum of your potential. That’s all Shepard wants out of any of us. We’re all here for a reason.”
“You make it sound so easy,” she murmured.
He snorted. “It’s not. It’s fucking hard as hell. Everything comes so easy to you, maybe that’s the problem. Learn to do a little work. Make it hurt. It makes your accomplishments that much sweeter.”
Her blue eyes studied him, and he suddenly grew uncomfortable under her scrutiny, realizing how blunt he’d been. “Look, I need to get back to it, EDI and I have a lot of computations we need to—”
He didn’t get a chance to finish, as she leaned forward, a hand to the back of his chair catching her descent into kissing him. He may have glurked, before the sensation of her lips on his slammed into his brain and took over his awareness like a star gone supernova. She was pulling back before his vision fully cleared. “Uhm,” he said eloquently, waiting in vain for his brain to re-engage. “The hell?”
“No one’s ever had the nerve to talk to me like that before,” she commented with amusement in her voice.
“Maybe if everyone knew you’d do that if they did, more people would.”
Her eyebrows went up again, this time bemused. “You want me to kiss everyone?”
“No! I mean—shit!”
A smile tugged up a corner of her mouth, her expression wry. She straightened from her lean, taking her wonderful smell and the excellent view of her cleavage with her. “Get back to your computations. We need to save the rest of the crew and try to survive this mission.”
“Yes, sir, Princess, sir,” he said flippantly, falling back into old, comfortable ways of thinking about her that didn’t involve full lips and her tongue sliding over his.
She was on her way out before something even more disturbing registered in his consciousness.
He’d called her Miranda.