Three hours of fighting through a merc base followed by a bullet in the shoulder and another hour in the medbay does not make for the easiest day ever which is probably why Shepard fails to notice the little change in her quarters at first.
After a quick shower and change of uniform she's finally feeling human again and ready to check her private terminal for the latest mission briefings and new messages. As she sits, Kaidan's picture flickers to life next to her and she can't help turning to study it for a moment or two. She'd coerced Joker into retrieving the image from an old holovid, threatening him with decaf for a month if he told anyone about his little favor.
As she turns back to her terminal something catches her eye. She glances up at the glass display case that holds her model ships and then stops, staring, her mouth open in surprise.
“What the hell?” There, in her case, sitting astride her model of the first Normandy is... well... it's a small stuffed doll that bears more than a passing resemblance to her former L-T.
She just sits there for a minute gaping at it before it hits her. “Joker,” she mutters to herself. It couldn't be anyone else. He's the only one that knew about the picture, otherwise Garrus would be on her short list of suspects. But how did he get it up here?
“EDI,” she says after a moment.
“Yes, Commander Shepard,” EDI responds, her terminal flickering to life over Shepard's shoulder.
“Has anyone been up to the Captain's Quarters today?”
“No, Commander. Logs show no one entering or exiting your quarters other than you.”
“Did anyone access the elevator to the Captain's Quarters?” Shepard asks.
“Records show that the elevator was accessed at 1300, but the internal feeds show no one on board.”
“Bring up the feed from the corridor outside the Loft. I want the footage when the elevator was used.”
“Yes, Commander Shepard.”
Shepard peers at the monitor as the elevator doors open onto the corridor outside her quarters. Just as EDI said, no one was inside. However, moments after the elevator opened, the door to her quarters also opened then closed.
“EDI. I thought you said no one entered my quarters other than me.”
“That is correct, Commander. There are no records in the log of anyone entering your quarters during your mission.”
“EDI, where was Kasumi Goto at 1300?”
“There are no sensor records of Ms. Goto at that time.”
“I'm going to KILL him,” Shepard hisses. Out loud she says, “Where are Joker and Kasumi now?”
“They have been in the mess hall for the last hour, Commander.”
Joker and Kasumi catch each other's eye across the mess when Shepard rounds the corner. She stops off in the medbay for a few minutes and Joker picks his fork up again trying not to smile too wide. She had to have noticed their little prank by now. When she leaves the medbay she heads over to the mess, speaking briefly with Gardner. Joker's watching her openly now, and he sees Gardner glance in his direction and grin before nodding at whatever Shepard's saying. She smiles briefly, grabs a tray, and heads back to the elevator nodding hello to a few crew members as she passes. Joker watches her all the way out of the room, waiting for her to show any acknowledgment of their little surprise, but she rounds the corner without looking in his direction.
Kasumi smirks at his disconcerted look. “Pay up,” she says. “I told you she'd never give you the satisfaction.”
He grimaces, but before he can pull out his credit chit Gardner strolls over chuckling to himself.
“Don't know what you did to piss off Shepard, but you're gonna have a hell of a month, flyboy,” Gardner says.
“She's got the doc's orders and everything. You're off caffeine for the month, pal.”
Up in her quarters, Shepard snickers as she watches Joker sputter on the video feed. “EDI, record that and put in on my omnitool,” she orders, grinning to herself as she turns off her terminal and heads to bed.
She pulls back the covers and sits for a minute turning the plush figure over in her hands. He really is cute. Whoever Joker had gotten it from had even managed to get the eye color just right. The eyebrows on the plushie are cocked just so and the hairstyle is perfect right down to that ridiculous bump in the front that had always fascinated her. She holds it for a minute more, lost in thought, and then looking around as though she thought someone was going to jump out and snap a holo at any moment, she tucks it under her pillow before curling up under the sheets and closing her eyes.
“External camera's got a thumbprint on it. That is gonna bug me forever,” Joker mutters to himself as he rotates through the external feeds.
“When did that happen?” Shepard asks from right behind him.
“Jeez, Shepard! Wear a bell or something!” Joker snaps. “You know jumping is bad for my health.”
“Yeah, I hear caffeine can be a problem, too,” she says in a complete deadpan.
He turns to glare at her and she shoots him “the look.” He looks back at the external feed rolling his eyes. “It probably happened during the refit on Omega, Commander.”
Shepard suppresses a grin at the obvious annoyance in his voice. She can always tell he's ticked when he overemphasizes her rank that way. When he glances back again she turns toward the star map, calling over her shoulder. “I'm laying in a course for Illium. Tali has some ideas for a new kind of shielding.”
“More refits... great,” Joker mutters. “How long's it going to take this time, Commander?”
“Hopefully less than a week. I have some recruiting to do while we're there.”
A week and a half later Joker is getting antsy. EDI and Tali are running final checks on the new install and he's more than ready to fly.
“Mr. Moreau. Final checks are completed. Commander Shepard has laid in a course for Tuchanka.”
He flips on the external feeds and rotates through them as he clears Illium's docking ring. “Looking good. Power flow stable. What the-” He stops and then starts rotating through the external feeds again. “Is that-” He squints at the screen as he flips through the feeds more slowly. In the lower right hand corner of every single vid screen is a perfect thumbprint. Then, as if to make it very clear that it's deliberate, on the final screen there are five distinct prints that form a pattern. “The hell?”
“Is there a problem, Joker?” he hears Shepard ask from behind his chair.
“Is that a SMILEY FACE?!”
“I should go.”
Joker was biding his time. He knew it was unlikely he'd actually be able to lull Shepard into a false sense of security, but he wanted her at least a little off-balance before he made his next move. Plus, it gave him plenty of time to set his latest plan in motion. Fortunately his tech skills were slightly better than he let on and since Shepard's retaliation for the prank had been aimed solely at him, Kasumi was back on board to help out with the difficult bits - particularly since they were going to be able to get this little gem on the vid feed. He'd decided not to try any more pranks in her quarters, especially after her reaction to the last one. Well, unless it was just too good to pass up.
He noticed Shepard had started popping in on him during his shift like she expected to catch him monologuing or something. Then she'd just loiter in the cockpit. Like he wasn't going to recognize her usual strategy for gathering intel on anyone she couldn't just point a gun at. She just hangs around and chats until all of a sudden you found yourself admitting things you haven't even told your shrink. Might be more effective if I hadn't seen her pull it on every crew member from both Normandys. He distinctly remembered how well it had worked on him when they'd first met. Shit, he'd told her more than he ever meant to about his Vrolik's and how difficult flight school had been. He never told his commanding officers that crap. It made him look incompetent, and more than enough of his pathetic back story was in his file already. The fact that it hadn't even phased Shepard was a first. She'd just absorbed the information, asked him a couple of questions, and then treated him exactly the same. No sidelong glances of pity, no asking him if he needed shorter shifts. It was the first time in his life he felt like someone saw him as an Alliance officer who was good at his job instead of a cripple who'd gotten lucky. That was the moment she earned his loyalty – and not just as his commanding officer.
Unfortunately for him that meant he'd let his walls down around her just a little more than he usually did – especially after her Cerberus-funded resurrection – and now she had way too much ammunition in their current conflict. He'd spent more time over the last few days than he'd like to admit thinking about every single time he'd complained to her about something that bugged him. He had a feeling too many of those complaints were going to come back to bite him in the ass.
“EDI. Time,” he snapped at the AI.
“Your shift ends in seventeen minutes, Mr. Moreau.” EDI responded.
He flipped through the external feeds quickly, grimacing at Shepard's handiwork again. When the fuck did she find the time to go crawling all over the Normandy, anyway? He'd had EDI check and she hadn't paid the workers to do it. No, every single print belonged to her. She really believes in going above and beyond. He paused for a moment, doubt creeping in as to the wisdom of poking that sleeping bear again, but he and Kasumi were almost done and it was going to be more than worth whatever she came back with.
It had been two weeks since the incident at Illium and Shepard was starting to wonder if Joker was still planning to make good on his threat. As far as she could tell without breaking the rules of engagement and flat out getting EDI to spy on him, everything was business as usual.
She sighed and stepped up onto the platform that accessed the galaxy map. As she started to input new coordinates, Joker broke in over the intercom.
“Commander, incoming transmission from the Illusive Man.”
“Patch it through, Joker,” she said turning to head for the briefing room.
As soon as she rounded the corner, Kasumi decloaked in the cockpit and leaned over to watch the vid feed Joker had already pulled up.
Shepard stepped onto the holographic transmitter expecting the Illusive Man's headquarters to materialize around her. She nearly jumped backward off the pad at what she saw, but she schooled her features immediately knowing that Joker was probably watching over the vid feed. She ground her teeth to keep from laughing out loud as the Illusive Man turned toward her. Joker, probably with Kasumi's help again, had somehow managed to reprogram the incoming feed. What she was looking at was so ridiculous even she was impressed with her ability to hold a straight face so far. The entire projected room looked more like the inside of Chora's Den than the immaculate observation deck where these conversations usually took place. To top it all off, the Illusive Man's face stared at her sternly from atop the shoulders of an impressively well-endowed asari dancer.
She tried to focus on his face, on the movement of his lips, trying to make sense of whatever he was droning on about, but all she could do was hope that EDI was recording the conversation for later review since she hadn't understood a word he'd said. As she watched, the asari's hips gyrated and a blue hand raised a cigarette to the Illusive Man's mouth before dropping down to her bra and beginning to flick the clasp open. Suddenly she realized the Illusive Man had paused, obviously waiting for her to respond to something he'd just said. The corners of her mouth twitched and she just managed to choke out, “I'll have to get back to you about that,” and step off the pad before she embarrassed herself any further.
“Helmsman, you are in big trouble,” she said through tears of laughter.