In many ways they were fated. Not in a weird romance novel way but in the- both had destinties bigger than themselves way. He knew it when he was born with brittle bones he’d have to work 110% harder than anyone else to prove his worth, his ambition. With his dad and sister back on Tiptree he soon found she was the closest thing he had to a friend. Although it wasn’t like that for a long while. When he first met her she was bright eyed and ready to serve, he’d just graduated flight school and he had a lot to prove. They were similar in that way too, both introduced to the world for the first time. Her as a promising marine and him as a cripple who overcame near impossible odds. It wasn’t until a few years later did he serve alongside her and things changed from their initial encounter. He’d grown confident and snarky, assured in his ability and had just been offered a spot on the prestigious Normandy, under the respected Captain Anderson. The second time he saw her she was haunted and looked through people instead of at them. He pitied her then, everyone had heard the stories- she was known as the sole survivor and it showed on her face. It disappointed him, although they’d only chatted briefly at an Alliance Navy assembly, he had tied himself to her. A weird, unspoken bond of his own creation. To see her, a shell of a person seemed too ill-fated to be anything but a bad omen for the future. However Rhia Shepard seemed to mock him unknowingly, for she showed up 3 years later and a Commander at that. He was shocked, and when Anderson had introduced them on the bridge, his jaw unhinged comically at her sudden arrival, she laughed. There she stood, shoulders straight, eyes forward and lip curled into a smirk- a look he’d become very familiar with. It took them awhile to become close, she admitted she didn’t remember meeting him but he didn’t resent her for it. Instead he decided their shared fate had gotten lucky and received a new beginning, not tarnished by her early career tragedy. They had a lot in common, both colony kids that had dreamed about military service. A fraction of that hollow look would appear on her face when she spoke of her home, the people she’d lost and the horrors she saw. She had had a younger brother, Isaac. She talked about him a lot, which was nice because he felt like he could gush about Hillary as well. Soon, the line of fate Joker had drawn in the metaphorical sand became blurred- she was too human in his eyes now. Fate became friendship. Others saw her Commander first, Rhia second but he wasn’t them. He never neglected her military prowess but he prefered to remember her favorite movie (Evil Dead an old Earth cult classic) or that she always slept with a light on. He did this partially for her own benefit, it was too easy for others to forget her humanity so he held on for her sake. He defined her by it. All her tiny, silly, Rhia specific humanities. All this was running through his head while she sat alongside him in the cockpit as she frequently did. She said she liked the view and humming of the machinery but there was more to it.
“Aren’t you bored sitting there?” He had asked her once, eyeing her suspiciously as she gazed out the window, forgotten datapad in hand.
She turned and offered him a smile, “not at all. I like the sound of your fingers working.”
Her answer had surprised him and he remembered it fondly.
“Still like the sound of my fingers working?” He asked her now, taking into account the cybernetic scars on her cheeks and the bags under her eyes.
A lot had changed between them since he first had asked her that question- back on the Normandy SR1. She had a new life and he had just began to resume living his with her back.
Again she offered him that same, easy smile. “Of course, but it’s also nice to just be around you.”
“Oh? A show of sentimentality? You shouldn’t have Shep.” He teased, but his chest felt warm.
Shepard chuckled, stretching and yawning in the chair. “You’re a dick. Can’t you say something nice once in a while?”
Joker knew that Shepard never faltered. He knew she was unflinching, indomitable and just. He also knew that the 2 years she was “dead” were the worst two years of his life. That every night he found himself drowning in booze and couldn’t stomach his own reflection. He also knew how closely he aligned himself with her, she swerved right so did he- it was an unspoken allegiance but he’d sworn it. When he saw her there, in the Cerberus dock after two long years he knew it. I’m never letting her out of my sight again, he told himself she’ll be sick of me before she retires. This was his vow because Joker owed her his life, and more. But also he swore this to himself because of their shared fate. Decided by himself all those years ago.
“You’re the reason I’m alive, Shepard. And I never once have taken that for granted. You go, I follow.” Joker managed dryly, his throat constricting in a rather uncharacteristically emotional gesture.
Silence in response. Joker looked over and saw her, eyes closed, mouth open and breathing lightly- she’d fallen asleep!
Snorting, he shook his head. “You’re supposed to actually listen when I say nice things, you dumbass.”