The moment right before the flash of light tears into the Normandy, Joker feels incredibly calm. His mind is almost blank, except for one crystal clear, if inane, thought: That’s not a Reaper.
And then everything goes to shit.
Screaming klaxons, flashing displays attempt to draw his attention to everything ranging from a malfunctioning door to a hull breach. He swears under his breath as another part of the Normandy lights up, indicating the section is currently venting atmosphere.
“Of course I’m willing to go down with the ship, but this is ridiculous,” he mutters as he taps out the command for a distress signal.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday!” His voice echoes weirdly back to him and he realizes he accidentally also hit the all-call. Well, if anyone somehow managed to sleep through the ship being ripped in half they’ll be awake now. “This is SSV Normandy. We’ve suffered heavy damage from an unknown enemy.”
He checks the integrity of the cabin on his display, but so far it’s remaining steady at 82%. If he squints through the barrier, he can see the emptiness of space just outside the cockpit, but he’s trying really hard not to. Just in case, he activates his helmet. “Come on, baby, hold together. Hold together!”
Honestly, once he gets out of here, he is really going to…let Shepard to kick these guys’ asses. And then maybe find a bat and some well-padded gloves and take a turn himself.
“Come on, Joker, we have to get out of here.”
He’s less surprised than he should be to hear Shepard’s voice. Of course she’d come find him. “No, I won’t abandon the Normandy. I can still save her,” he says, even as he watches another section flare up and then go out. Gone. Just like that.
“The Normandy’s lost,” she tells him and he can hear how much it costs her to say that. “Going down with the ship won’t change that.”
He watches as the rest of shuttle bay is ripped off by sheer G force. The dim gray of the display tells him half of the medbay is gone and the bright red of the mess hall is one beam away from drifting off into space. She’s right.
“Yeah, okay. Help me up.”
There’s a flash of light out of the corner of his eyes and he shouts, “They’re coming around for another attack!” and then the deck to the CIC is ripped wide open.
She wraps a hand around his forearm and yanks him out of the chair, squeezing so tightly he can practically feel his radius and ulna grind together.
“Ah! Watch the arm!”
“Tic,” she apologizes.
“You’re not going to shatter me in half while trying to save my life, are you?” he asks as they limp slowly, so slowly, to the escape pods. He tries not to look too closely at the bodies they step over, but his eyes catch on the familiar faces and he feels nausea roiling in his gut.
“Not the plan,” she tells him, but a muscle in the arm wrapped around his waist twitches, pulling sharply against his ribs, and he hears one crack.
“You sure?” he gasps.
“It’s either this or vocal tics, and you definitely don’t want to hear those. Dr. Chakwas can patch you up later.”
“She made it out?”
Shepard thankfully doesn’t comment on how shaky his voice sounds as she helps him into the escape pod, her fingers tensing and relaxing over his shoulder and against his waist.
Her helmet is framed in the entryway as whatever’s left of the ship explodes behind her.
Joker has a glimpse of fire and metal before he realizes Shepard is being pulled away from him by the vacuum of space tearing holes in the remains of his ship.
“Commander!” He tries to reach for her, but she’s too far away. She tenses against the bulkhead and for a second he thinks she’s going to push towards him, but then he hears, “Down with the ship!” and he realizes what she’s about to do.
“Shepard!” His voice verges on a scream. No, no, no—
Her arm stretches out and the hatch closes.
He breaks three fingers pounding against the glass as he watches her die.
He’s never had someone die for him before.
He hates it.
It should’ve been him. He knows it. Everyone knows it.
He doesn’t let Dr. Chakwas patch him up.
He doesn’t warn the other doctors about Vrolik’s Syndrome.
He doesn’t make a sound when they try to fix his fingers and accidentally break the other two.
His ribs ache for months, but he’d rather feel that than the emptiness where the Normandy should be.
Where Shepard should be.
To: Jeff Moreau
Subject: A Business Proposal
He deletes it. If it looks like a virus and smells like a virus…
To: Jeff Moreau
What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
To: Jeff Moreau
Subject: The Normandy SR-2
His eyebrows nearly fly up into his hair. They’re rebuilding the Normandy? No way. He would’ve heard from someone official, right? At the very least Captain Anderson would’ve said something. Right?
I am working on a project with an organization known as Cerberus that—
He closes out of the message before he finishes reading it. There is absolutely no way he’s getting involved with Cerberus.
To: Jeff Moreau
Subject: Commander Shepard
He freezes, looking around the room, although he’s not exactly sure what he’s checking for. Bugs? Spies? Anything’s possible.
The room, however, is empty. (Or maybe it’s not. How the hell should he know? He just flies the ship.)
My team is working on a project to rebuild the Normandy and put Commander Shepard in charge of it. We believe this, as well as our ultimate mission, will interest you greatly.
If you would like further information, please send a message to the following account: lcoml. However, I must warn you that any attempts to trace or hack that account will be dealt with most severely.
I believe you are familiar with Karin Chakwas? She has also agreed to help us. She sends her best wishes.
He rereads the message three times, committing the contents and the account name to memory, his mind swirling with questions. Is all of it true? Is any of it? Is the part about Dr. Chakwas a threat or has she actually willingly agreed to work with them? Who the fuck is [[REDACTED]] and why do they want his attention so bad?
From: Jeff Moreau
Why should I believe you
To: Jeff Moreau
Attachments: 1 picture, 1 video (scanned—no viruses found)
When he opens the picture, he feels like all the air has been knocked out of him. She’s nowhere near done, but the silhouette of the Normandy is unmistakable. Some of the outer plates are missing and he can see inside to the CIC, the bridge, the elevator shaft. She’s much bigger than his baby, but she’s beautiful. His fingers itch at the thought of sitting at her helm and getting to fly her.
It takes him a minute to figure out what the video is supposed to be of. The first few seconds are dark, the only sound is someone breathing, and he wonders if someone accidentally sent him their terrible sex tape. However, the camera pulls back and he realizes he’s looking at a medbay, much larger and fancier than the one aboard the old SR-1. There’s a body on one of the beds and—
Not a body. Her body.
The blanket rises and falls in time with the sounds on the camera and he realizes that it’s her breathing. As he watches, her eyes blink too fast, too hard, and then relax again.
From: Jeff Moreau
Subject: I’m in
“I can’t believe it’s you, Joker.” Her head twitches to the side, making the words come out slightly warbled.
He resists the urge to laugh hysterically. “Look who’s talking. I saw you get spaced.”
She shrugs, the movement an intentional one. “Got lucky. With a lot of strings attached. How’d you get here?”
One part denial, one part hope, and three parts survivor’s guilt. “It all fell apart without you, Commander. Everything you stirred up, the Council just wanted it gone. Team was broken up, records sealed, and I was grounded. The Alliance took away the one thing that mattered to me. Hell yeah I joined Cerberus.”
“Do you really trust the Illusive Man?”
“I don’t trust anyone who makes more than I do.” She barks out a sharp quick laugh and he smirks before quickly sobering again. “They aren’t all bad. Saved your life. Let me fly—”
“Walk,” she blurts and her shoulder jumps up to her ear.
“Oh yeah, that too. Check it out,” he grins. He does a slow, careful spin in place. “They gave me some fancy implants. Still have to be careful if I want to dance though. And there’s this.”
They watch as the lights flicker on, illuminating the SR-2 in all her glory.
“They only told me last night.” He takes a moment to admire the new Normandy, even if her colors are wrong. Having the new implants is nice, but he’s only happiest at the helm of the best ship in the galaxy.
“It’s good to be home, huh, Commander?”
Her fingers twitch. “Home,” she repeats.