- Shattered -
Shattering glass pierced the silence. It was enough. Enough to drag Joker out of his reverie. The glass had slipped from his hand, not quite meeting the edge of the table, his depth perception out, head swimming with liquor. Dark liquid spilled across the ground, the shards of glass glinting in the low light. Data pads and magazine clippings littered the small space of floor between the wall and the coffee table where Joker had slumped some hours ago with the bottle of whiskey – the very expensive bottle of whiskey – that was now seeping into the paper, dripping onto a data pad.
"Shit, shit, shit!" He grabbed at them; his dumb hands fumbled as he gathered the pages to his chest, flicked some of the liquid off the data pad. He was breathing hard, his heart hammering in his chest and rivulets of alcohol trailed down his arms and into his crumpled shirt. He looked down, moving the pile of damp pages away from him.
Every article, every clipping, every downloaded piece of information, every story, picture, comment.
Shepard. Shepard. Shepard.
Joker squinted against the sting of pain that bristled in the corner of his eyes, his vision glassing over. This was all he had. Second hand information, stories, downright lies in many cases. People who all claimed to know the Commander, spoke about him with false respect. They didn't know shit. They weren't there.
He had been there. And Garrus, and Tali, and Alenko, and goddamn Ash who had died for the Commander. But they didn't speak. They fled, disappeared into the corners of the galaxy – guys like Garrus didn't even make a blip on the radar. Gone. Just like the Commander.
He placed the articles on the dry floor beside him, dabbing at the precious paper with his sleeve. It was hard to find actual magazines, with actual, honest to God, paper. Most everything was downloaded. But there was something tangible about paper. It couldn't disappear with a click.
"And I spill goddamn booze all over it…" he cursed and smoothed a wrinkled corner, his fingers grazing over the familiar face of the man he had served under. The man who deserved much better than what he had got.
Heroes didn't die in the emptiness of space. They died gloriously in battles with their rival, or protecting the heroine, or slaying a dragon – shit, he didn't know, but they weren't spaced. Jeff felt his mouth go dry. He could see it behind his eyes, like a vid on loop. Shepard hurtling away from him as the Normandy ripped apart. Shepard slamming his fist onto the eject button of the pod, the force shoving Joker back against the seat. Shepard…floating in space, the gravity of Alchera pulling him towards the planet as the air vented from his suit.
Joker covered his mouth as he felt the bile rise from his stomach. Bile and probably a lot of alcohol. He forced down the urge to throw up, doubling over in pain not entirely from binge drinking, but a pain he felt in his chest that clenched his core and threatened to tear him up inside. He pushed the heels of his hands against his tired eyes; ignoring the pain in his legs from the cramped position he sat in, ignoring the wooziness and nausea and tried to push back his thoughts. Not that it would work. If he could just ignore it, just will it all away, he wouldn't be here now. Curled up, pathetic, on the ground of his crappy apartment. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten, showered, shaved, or even slept willingly instead of passing out from exhaustion or just too much booze. How was he supposed to sleep? When all he could see behind his eyes was the Normandy ripping apart and falling towards the planet – a burning wreckage of steel and glass, and forever tainted with the blood of good men. How could he sleep when over and over he saw his Commander struggling against the inevitable? He didn't deserve a peaceful sleep.
Of course, he'd got the 'talk' from concerned friends, doctors, the Alliance…right before they stripped him of his wings, that is. Dumped him on some extended leave bullshit upon Chakwas' insistence and then left him to rot. It was easier, wasn't it? Better to keep him locked away where he couldn't attack the Council for their stupidity, get into fights on the Citadel whenever someone mentioned Shepard – apparently his self-preservation filter died when he was drunk – and away from the prying journalists wanting to speak to the crew of the Normandy. Joker knew he was pay dirt to a news agency – as if he would ever speak to them. The payout to leave Citadel space had been huge.
And he'd taken it.
The payout had come with other bonuses. Not just the extended leave, but specialist care, a very expensive quack, and a cushy job as a flight instructor when he was ready to return to duty. He had hummed noncommittally and left. He wasn't about to take some job as an instructor. He didn't belong planet side. He knew where he belonged.
On the Normandy. At the helm of his baby, ready to save the galaxy. There was nothing like the thrill of flying. Better than sex.
Joker smiled and looked back down at one of the more recent images on the data pad. An article on the Shepard memorial the Alliance were currently arguing over where to place. There had always been one thing that rivalled the rush of sitting at the helm of the best ship in the galaxy – the look of surprise, then respect from its CO, when Joker had anticipated his moves. Joker had taken great pride in the fact. He knew when to place the Normandy into dock for refuelling and repairs so that it wouldn't disrupt the Commander's missions. He knew when Shepard would need pickup, transport, even which squad he was likely to take on a mission. Joker didn't like to say he was spying on the Commander – just learning. He was the best goddamn helmsman in the Alliance, hell, probably in the whole galaxy, and part of that title meant knowing the crew and especially the CO. It didn't mean he had to like them, it didn't mean he wanted to spend any time with them, but he knew his crew.
It just so happened that he did like Tris Shepard.
And he had killed him.