The SSV Normandy SR-1 was the pride of the Alliance fleet, her revolutionary stealth drive the best-kept secret of two governments, her every bolt and rivet carefully engineered to optimize speed and performance. She was a masterpiece of engineering, she handled like a dream, and Joker suspected he'd never pilot her equal if he lived for a thousand years.
And yet, somehow, in a design process that had undoubtedly been overseen by hundreds of very intelligent people, somebody somewhere had come up with the brilliant idea of putting the medbay right next to the mess hall. Because reconstituted vat protein, complete with real-live artificial flavor, color, and texture? Totally what you want to see right after being pumped full of nausea-inducing painkillers.
Joker debated turning back into medbay and puking his guts out, but that probably wouldn't get his point across, and Chakwas definitely wouldn't approve. She'd probably stick him in a bed, just out of spite, and then someone else – probably that asshole Marshall – would be the one to sit in his pilot's seat and mess up his carefully choreographed sequence of key bindings on the haptic control interface. Might as well be steering with his feet.
He did have to stop before stepping out into the mess hall, ignoring the automatic door's annoyed blips at the obstruction, and lean against the doorway, going for look-at-me-I'm-cool-and-casual rather than look-at-me-I'm-about-to-vomit. Just his luck; the ground team – minus Shepard, who was probably busy filing reports or hanging up on the Council – had apparently decided to celebrate their most recent near-death experience over a nice hearty meal. His stomach gurgled, audibly, and he hid a grimace.
"Seven times," Garrus was saying, gesturing with a fork full of goo for emphasis. "It was definitely seven."
Tali snorted. She, at least, didn't have any food in front of her, and Joker wondered, not for the first time, how the hell she ate with that suit on. Her voice did manage to evoke a whole lot of eye-rolling for someone wearing an opaque mask. "Right. You saved everyone's lives seven times."
Garrus bristled. Literally – Joker was pretty sure the pointy bits at the back of his head were standing more on end than usual. "At least."
Wrex, busily devouring what looked like five entire ration packs, paused to give an evocative snort. "Dream on, kid."
"I'm serious! I take tactical shots. I've definitely turned the situation around seven times. Things would have gone a lot differently if I hadn't."
Kaidan, with Ash at the far end of the table, raised his voice, almost apologetically. "He does take good shots. I've seen him do it myself, more than once."
Ash grinned. "Okay, we'll give him that. More than once. Say, twice. That's definitely not seven times."
"Nine," Tali said.
Garrus blinked, then turned toward this unexpected source of support. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying! Thank you."
"Not you, you bosh'tet," Tali said, sweetly. "Me. That's how many times I've saved us."
Wrex grinned, showing off way too many teeth. "Coming from her, I buy that."
The new asari scientist they'd picked up on Therum – what was it, Lisa? Lina? – finally spoke up, sounding absolutely bewildered. "You- you keep track?"
Ash offered her a sympathetic grin. "Certain members of the crew feel like they have a little more to prove than others."
"Oh, come on!" Garrus crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair with the air of someone who absolutely wasn't letting this go, and Joker straightened up a bit – this was going to be good. He'd liked Tali ever since she'd managed to get the drive core operating at above-peak efficiencies her first day aboard, but she was ruthless. No way Garrus was coming out of this on top. "You just run straight into the middle of things with your shotgun and fire away. Name one time you saved us."
She made a point of tapping at her mask, contemplatively. "Wow, I don't know. Anyone else remember how I was the one who uncovered the data we needed to get Saren stripped of his Spectre status? Just that little thing that got the whole mission off the ground?"
Garrus opened his mouth, took a breath, then closed it again. "Okay," he said. "I'll give you that one."
At the end of the table, Ash had a suspiciously timed coughing fit, which prompted a whole new round of bickering. Shaking his head, trying to tamp down the twitch of a smile at the corners of his lips, Joker pushed off from the medbay's doorway, making his way to the stairs – another totally awesome feature courtesy of the Normandy's brilliant design team, by the way.
"Hey, back in commission already?" He half-turned to see Kaidan smiling at him – the others seemed entirely preoccupied by the ongoing argument at the far end of the table. "We heard you had a bit of turbulence in the cockpit."
Joker snorted. "Yeah, flying into live volcanoes will tend to do that. Got the green light from Chakwas." He raised his arm, encased in a light immobilizer, to illustrate.
"Good to hear. I'd hate to see Marshall try to pull our asses out of the fire like that."
"Now there's a thought to keep me up at night."
"Yeah, no kidding." Kaidan raised his glass. "Seriously, man. Thanks."
"Eleven?" Garrus and Tali yelped, in unison.
Wrex grinned. It was a seriously terrifying sight. "Well, not counting that fight right before Tali signed on. Hardly seems fair, otherwise."
The new asari – Liara, that was it – had an extremely quiet voice, but Joker could've sworn he heard her murmur something about having a lot of catching up to do.
And it was weird, because as soon as Shepard had started bringing home strays from the Citadel, Joker had kinda figured things would start getting out of control, what with all the politics and blood-feuds and past genocides and stuff people seemed to have lurking in their respective backstories. Sure, Garrus and Tali were seconds away from starting a food fight, and Wrex was very casually egging them on, and Kaidan and Ash always stayed a few seats away at mealtimes, and now this Liara was a totally unknown variable, but it worked.
When they had to be, they were a well-oiled, well-engineered machine. When they didn't, well, they were the living, breathing equivalent of someone sticking the medbay next door to the mess hall, something that hadn't quite been thought all the way through. On a ship like the Normandy, maybe you kinda needed that.
He smirked at the thought, then limped forward a couple steps, swooping down to grab Kaidan's knife, clinking it against his glass until even Tali and Garrus's voices had died down. He waited until all eyes were on him, then made a point of clearing his throat, straightening to his full height. "Hey, uh, I just have one thing to say."
Pausing again, for dramatic effect, he sketched a quick bow. "Twenty-six times as of this morning. I win."
Before anyone could say anything to that, he'd already turned and started the slow, obnoxious climb up the stairs to the CIC, and even though his theatrics really hadn't meshed well with the state of his still-protesting stomach, he couldn't quite conceal a grin.
Totally worth it.