"Don't fall away, and leave me to myself

Don't fall away, and leave love bleeding

In my hands, in my hands again"

Hemorrhage (In My Hands) - Fuel

There was a drunken woman trying to tear Joker's clothes off. Under most circumstances, this would have been a perfectly welcome turn of events. The only problem was, the woman was Shepard, and that complicated things just a smidgen. He wasn't exactly sure how or when it had happened, but Joker was pretty sure that he'd fallen in love with the commander. It was an idea that filled him with hope, as well as dread. He wasn't sure that taking advantage of her (or, rather, letting her take advantage of him) while she was in this condition was going to move their relationship in the desired direction. But if she kept doing that thing she was doing with her tongue, he wasn't going to be able to resist for much longer.

As for the answer to the how and the when of the falling in love, he supposed it was nothing so dramatic as a single moment. Rather, it had been years of living in close quarters and surviving (or, in some cases, not surviving) life-threatening moments that had brought them to this place in time.

Joker always lusted after her…but then again, so had quite a few of the other soldiers on the ship. She was beautiful and dangerous, a lethal combination. Of course, those were the same qualities that had kept most of the crew from doing anything more than merely fantasizing about her...that, and the strict regulations against fraternization. He'd made a bit of a fool out of himself in the beginning, going on the defensive about his Vrolik's. But she hadn't made a big deal of it, and he'd appreciated that.

The first time he'd really pulled her ass out of the fire had been on Therum. They'd gone to recruit an asari scientist who was there studying some Prothean ruins. The dig site had started to collapse on top of Shepard and her team while they were below ground.

Her voice had been urgent, but controlled, over the comm. "Joker! Get the Normandy airborne and lock in on my signal. On the double, mister!"

"Aye, aye, Commander. ETA eight minutes."

"He needs to do better than that!" demanded a female voice he hadn't recognized.

"He'll be here," Shepard had replied with complete confidence before the line had gone dead.

Later, he'd been irate. He'd told himself it was because she'd endangered his ship; his baby.

"Too close, Commander," he'd admonished once the ground team had returned to the ship, his impudence blatant over the internal intercom. "Ten more seconds and we would have been swimming in molten sulphur. The Normandy isn't equipped to land in exploding volcanoes - just for future reference."

He'd been out of line. Shepard should've reprimanded him. Anyone else, she would've.

"We almost died out there and your pilot is making jokes?" The same female voice from before…the asari, Liara.

"He saved our asses. He's earned the right to make a few bad jokes," he'd heard Shepard explain.

He'd broken the connection, irritated at her for understanding his anger better than he had.

So, yes, he'd earned her trust as a pilot. And he'd enjoyed ogling her whenever he'd been sure she wasn't looking. That would've been the basis for a perfectly fine working relationship, but as it had turned out, Shepard liked to joke around with the crew. And she could take abuse as well as dish it out. Joker had a very hard time resisting a woman with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

She'd been standing in the cockpit one day when Garrus had approached Joker.

"You're the one who takes requisition orders, correct, Lieutenant?"

"Sure," he'd replied. "What do you need?"

"I need some parts for the Mako."

"In that case, I better make a list."

"Oh, crap," Shepard had said in resignation, obviously anticipating what was coming.

"I need tires…three or four should do. Actually, why don't you order an entire set? I'm sure we'll use them."

"I'm sure you will," Joker had replied, gleefully. "Anything else?"

"The grille is pretty dinged up. One of the struts is bent. And the machine gun turret overheated the last time the commander used it. I could use some scrap metal for repairs."

"You sure you don't just want me to order a new vehicle?"

"Shut up," Shepard had ordered him.

"Oh, no," Garrus had responded, oblivious to the subtext of their conversation. "I can easily repair this one."

"If you say so."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Garrus had left, and Joker had observed the commander's scowling visage with delight.

"It's not my fault! That stupid vehicle is impossible to drive."

"Mm hmm."

"I hate you," she'd said.

"Sticks and stones, Commander. Sticks and stones..."

Alenko had been the first to work up the courage to put the moves on Shepard. The rest of the crew had watched in morbid fascination, much like they would've observed an impending shipwreck. Shepard had been kind, but aloof, and it had given Joker no small amount of satisfaction to see the pretty boy get shot down. That was, until he'd realized that Kaidan wasn't going to just give up and go away. The lieutenant had persisted, respectfully but doggedly, and Joker had taken to spying on them whenever he could (although he'd denied it vehemently when the commander had questioned him about it.) Shepard's resolve had seemed to be holding fast, but he'd figured a few well-timed interruptions couldn't do any harm.

They'd been taking a quick two-day shore leave at the Citadel when Shepard, Kaidan and Ashley had appeared in the cockpit. They'd been dressed in civvies, all dolled up for an evening out. The three of them had looked like they'd just come from a damn photo shoot.

"Come with us," Shepard had urged. "It'll be fun."

"I don't dance. Snapping shinbones, remember?"

"You don't have to dance. Have a beer. Relax. Get away from the ship for a while." He'd known that she'd wanted him to run interference. She'd been trying to push Kaidan toward Ashley, with little to no success that Joker had been able to see.

"One of the C-Sec guards said this new place is pretty crazy. You should come check it out," Ashley had added.

"I don't think so. Thanks anyways," he'd told them.

"Well," Kaidan had said with a grin. "I guess I get to escort two beautiful women tonight."

But he'd only had eyes for Shepard. As they'd left, Joker had seen the lieutenant's hand appear at the small of the commander's back, and the gesture had been so…intimate, somehow, that he'd been struck by a sense of foreboding so strong it'd been like a physical blow. But before he'd been able to figure out why, or what to do about it, they were gone.

When he'd checked the logs the next morning (not being nosy, just doing his job) he'd seen that although Ashley had logged in at 0230, Shepard and Kaidan had not yet returned to the ship.

He'd quit spying after that. He'd been afraid of what he might overhear. To be fair, neither of them had acted any differently after that night. There'd been no secret glances or touches that Joker had observed. In fact, things had been so status quo that he'd begun to wonder if perhaps his assumptions had been wrong. Then there'd been the run-in with Saren on Virmire, and Kaidan's life had been sacrificed for the good of the mission.

He'd spent quite a lot of time trying to puzzle that one out. Had she left Kaidan behind because she didn't love him? Or had she left him because she had? And if she'd loved him, had she done it because she didn't want to be seen as playing favorites, or was she one of those Black Widow women who mated and then disposed of their partners?

Or, had she just been a woman faced with an impossible decision who'd done the best that she could?

In the end, they'd all mourned the loss of their teammate, and although Shepard had seemed truly grief-stricken, she hadn't behaved like a woman who'd just lost her soulmate. Besides, Joker never went on missions, so if she was the Black Widow-type, she couldn't just leave him on some forsaken planet somewhere. Assuming they ever got to the mating part, of course.

The first indication he'd had that maybe – just maybe – she felt something for him, as well, had been after the battle with Saren at the Citadel.

He'd lost contact with the team when they'd gone through the Conduit to the Citadel. He'd taken the Normandy to the Andura sector and had been waiting by the mass relay for the call, but it had been taking an impossibly long time. Adrenaline had slowed things down; made the waiting seem interminable. And yet, he'd been startled when the comm channel had finally opened.

"Please tell me that's you, Commander."

"I'm here, Joker," she'd replied, and he'd thought he'd never been so happy to hear her voice.

"I'm sitting here with the entire Arcturus fleet. Unlock the relays around the Citadel and we'll send in the cavalry!"

"Wait until the Citadel arms open up, Joker. We need all of our ships focusing on Sovereign."

"Aye, aye, Commander."

When they'd finally gone through the relay, he'd led the charge. The fleet had taken heavy damage, but he'd been the best pilot, in the best ship. Watching Sovereign dissolve under their attack had been one of the most satisfying moments of his career.

Afterwards, he hadn't been able to raise Shepard on the comm, despite repeated attempts. The Citadel had been badly damaged, but he'd managed to dock the ship at one of the remaining bays. Shepard's team had been in the Presidium fighting Saren, but there'd been no way Joker could've made it all that way with the rapid transit system offline. If they'd survived (and his brain had recoiled from that word, "if") he'd figured they'd eventually end up at the med clinic in the Wards. He'd rounded up Dr. Chakwas and they'd hurried off.

The clinic had been chaotic, to say the least. There'd been injured creatures of all races on the tables; the chairs; the floor. Chakwas had hurried to offer her assistance to the medical staff as he'd searched desperately for the MIA Normandy crewmembers. He hadn't seen them anywhere and he'd been starting to get a bit frantic when the clinic door had opened to reveal Garrus, supporting Shepard. She'd had one arm flung over the turian's neck while the other one hung at an odd angle. Blood had trickled from a gash on her forehead. But when she'd spotted Joker, a huge grin had split her face.

"Joker, you beautiful, beautiful man. You did it!" She'd disengaged from Garrus, walked right up to him, and kissed him. On the lips. He'd been so startled, he'd barely been able to respond before it was over.

"Nice flying," she'd said as she'd pulled away. She'd tipped the brim of his cap playfully, and he'd grinned back, proudly.

"Okay, Commander. I think you might be delirious," Garrus had said, teasingly. "You should have the doc look at that arm."

That had brought Joker back to reality. "Yeah, what happened to you?" he'd asked as he'd helped Garrus settle her carefully into one of the chairs.

"An errant piece of scaffolding. Nothing to worry about," she'd replied, still smiling as she'd clutched Joker's arm. "You did it," she'd said again, softly.

"We did it," he'd told her, and they'd sat there, beaming at each other, bruised but triumphant.

After that day, he hadn't mentioned the kiss again, and neither had she. Things had gone back to normal - until a short time later, when the ship had blown apart.

"Dammit, Joker…let go!" Shepard had demanded as she'd jammed his helmet onto his head.

"My ship," he'd moaned as she'd yanked him out of his seat. He'd flung one arm around her neck for support as they'd hurried to escape the disintegrating cockpit.

The vessel had been rocked by another blast and she'd lurched on her feet, trying to shield them both from the burst of flames. As they'd made their way across the bridge toward the escape pods, she'd huffed, "You really need…to think…about a diet."

"Very funny, Commander."

They'd reached the pod and she'd tossed him in. "Ow!" He'd protested the rough handling as another explosion shook the spacecraft, knocking her back and away from the pod.


"Buckle up, Joker!"

"Shepard! Hurry!"

But it had already been too late. Another concussion had taken her feet out from under her, and she'd had to grab onto the torn hull to keep from being thrown clear. She'd stretched out her other arm, reaching for the eject button, and Joker had recognized her intention.

"Shepard, no! You can make it! Hold on!" he'd pleaded. He'd heard the desperation in his voice, but hadn't cared. Regret had washed over him for all the time he'd wasted; the opportunity that was now almost gone for good.

She'd hit the button and the pod had slammed closed as the boosters had thrust it away from the Normandy. He'd watched helplessly as the ship had given a final convulsion, jarring her loose, and she'd fallen into open space.