Character(s): Commander Nolan Shepard & Jeff "Joker" Moreau.

Disclaimer: As always, I own nothing. The Mass Effect series belongs solely to BioWare and EA.

I know, I know. This is a rather pointless fic, but I always wanted to explore Joker's thoughts as Shepard died. So, this one ultimately focuses on Joker and his guilt.

This fic occurs in the same universe as my other fics (1) Wishful Thinking, (2) Prometheus, (3) Elevator Revelations, (4) No Exit, (5) Heart, and (6) To Build A Home.

Constructive criticism is welcome. Please, no flames.

Enjoy.


Into The Void :

Loss

oOoOo

Guilt is the source of sorrows, the avenging fiend that follows behind us with whips and stings. — Nicholas Rowe.


He was never what you might call a 'people-person,' but when it comes right down to it, he tries his damnedest to save his crew-mates and his ship.

"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is SSV Normandy! We've suffered heavy damage from an unknown enemy!" Joker broadcasted aloud, hoping that someone, anyone, would hear their distress signal and come running. Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing on their radar and no answering signal. Pushing aside his hope, Joker briefly patted the console beside him, fervently saying, "Come on, baby. Hold it together. Hold it together."

Before long, his broadcasting is interrupted by a familiar voice, oddly distorted through its sound-filtering device. "Come on, Joker!" Shepard cried desperately as he grabbed his helmsman's arm, steadying himself as the starship bucked wildly beneath his feet. "We have to get out of here!"

The thought was unthinkable. He'd been flying the SSV Normandy since she was first commissioned, and knew from experience that there was no finer starship in the entire galaxy. He instinctively recoiled from the very idea of abandoning her now, when there was still a chance, albeit a small one, to save her from total destruction.

Besides, if he was wrong, there was something noble in 'going down with the ship.' It was something no one could blame him for doing, and especially since this ship was one worth dying for.

"No!" retorted Joker vehemently. "I won't abandon the Normandy! I can still save her!" And he could. If he just—

Shepard shook his head. "The Normandy's lost," he told him resignedly. "Going down with the ship won't change that."

Joker pursed his lips and realized that Shepard was right, as much as he hated to admit it. The Normandy was going down, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it from happening. There was no point in throwing his life away when it could still be saved. Joker only vaguely hoped that there would be more Normandys in the near future.

"Yeah, okay," Joker conceded wearily. "Now, help me up."

For a human with Vrolik's Syndrome, a disorder in which the afflicted's bones were practically made of glass, Joker's trek to the evac-shuttle on the bridge would have been nearly impossible without Shepard's help when the Normandy was in such a disastrous state. Just as Shepard reached to pull him upright, Joker noticed something light up on his console and felt a flare of panic.

Instead of grabbing Shepard, he reached for his chair-rests instead. "They're coming around for another attack!" he cried just as Shepard's hand tightened around his bicep.

The Normandy shuddered as another beam of suppressed energy sliced cleanly through its heart. Shepard released Joker's arm and returned to the bridge in order to witness the damage done to his starship.

In effect, the CIC exploded in a maelstrom of flames and debris, gases escaping into the surrounding void, and a mass of gravity-less destruction, spurring Shepard on to race back to Joker, tighten his grip around his helmsman's arm, and forcibly pull him to his unsteady feet. Joker only weakly resisted the painful movement. "Ow! Watch the arm!"

Shepard ignored him, instead helping him towards the nearest evacuation shuttle on the bridge, typically reserved for the privileged occupants of the cabin. Just as he was helping Joker inside, however, another explosion rocked the ship, and a sudden onset of flames forced Shepard away from the shuttle. Joker barely managed to escape unscathed. Floating in gravity-less, oxygen-less "air," Shepard latched onto a nearby wall panel, watching and waiting for his chance to move. To leap for the shuttle, thereby saving himself and Joker, the last to exit the dying starship.

"Commander!" cried Joker as they were torn apart. And he, for his own part, rigidly stood in the escape pod with his hand outstretched, as if by sheer will alone, he could reach Shepard and pull him aboard, too.

Without warning, the beam of pulsating energy returned, tearing through the bridge and gravitating towards the evac-shuttle's entrance. It almost completely blocked Shepard's escape.

Knowing it was hopeless, Joker saw through Shepard's N7 helmet and saw his eyes flicker towards the emergency launch button and knew, before it even happened, what Shepard planned to do. After all, his extensive training discouraged hesitation. Hesitation lost chances, killed people, ruined missions. In this case, hesitation determined whether there would be one casualty here or two.

And just as a third explosion tore into the last remnants of the ship, Shepard slammed his fist into the launch button, sealing the shuttle's doors against Joker's yells of protest.

"Shepard!"

The last thing Joker saw before the doors sealed shut completely and the pod jettisoned away from the dying ship, was another explosion of flames and debris. Shepard was thrown by the force of the blast, spiraling into the endless void of space amongst the Normandy's isolated debris. Then, he disappeared behind doors of titanium steel, and Joker knew that he would never be seen again.

Regardless of the consequences, Joker's fist fell against the sealed door. Again and again and again. Unbidden tears cascaded down his face as the realization quickly hit him full force. Shepard had saved his life, but in the process, sacrificed his own. It was the most selfless thing the poor bastard had ever done and to Joker no less, who considered himself expendable compared to the heroic Commander Shepard.

Sadness quickly turned to anger as Joker brought his fist down one last time. Hard. He winced when it made contact, but hardly cared. He was sure he'd be bruised in the morning and had a few broken bones in his hand. But what did that matter when Shepard and the Normandy, two iconic figures in Joker's life, were dead?

Damn it, Shepard! Why couldn't you have just evacuated with the others? Why couldn't you have just left me behind?

Even in anger, Joker realized that Shepard was worth more to the galaxy than he was. He was just a pilot. An almost incompetent human with Vrolik's Syndrome; who couldn't get into a single fight without breaking just about a dozen bones. Shepard was—had been—a Spectre. A highly-trained Alliance soldier and N7 marine. Saren and Sovereign couldn't kill him, but suffocation still could. In all likelihood, Shepard would either run out of oxygen, burn up in Alchera's atmosphere, or die from impact with the freezing planet. Either way, he would die, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.

Suddenly, the voice of Kaiden crackled to life over the communications system. "Joker? Damn it, Joker! Come in!" In such an extreme, helpless situation, Kaiden was less than his usually cool and reserved self. He was desperate for news, anything to tell him that his commanding officer and helmsman were still alive.

Hesitating only slightly, Joker slowly picked up the transmitter and held it to his mouth. "This is Joker speaking," he replied, his voice breaking. "Can you read me?"

Kaiden's voice was relieved. "We read you loud and clear, Joker. Are you all right? Is Commander Shepard with you?" The hopefulness in Kaiden's voice, however insubstantial it might be, was sickening to Joker. He felt ready to throw up his stomach's contents at any moment simply because he was forced to utter those words that were so despicable to him.

Joker swallowed the bitter bile that rose in his throat as he tried to move his mouth around the words. "The Commander is . . ." He couldn't say it. He just couldn't. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." The apology was so ineffectual that it was shameful.

Kaiden spoke slowly, as if to a confused child. "It's all right, Joker. What happened?"

"He's gone. Dead."

He never specified, but they all knew that he meant Shepard. Every soul in every escape pod now knew, because they were being broadcast overhead. So, they all heard. They all knew.

Garrus's voice sounded shell-shocked. Full of disbelief. "Are you sure, Joker?" he asked, just a hint of his tone asking for an acceptable lie. Anything to appease their consciousnesses, to keep the grief at bay.

"I don't . . . know!" Joker cried. "There was an explosion, and he was spaced. Like I said, I don't know! His equipment could be damaged. . . ."

"And like I said, it'll be all right, Joker. We'll find him. I know we will."

The only sound that emanated from the communications system from then on was the meaningless sound of static and interference. Joker felt wretched, sitting in that shuttle for God-knows-how-long, hoping and waiting for a rescue that might never come. He wished that they would say something, anything, over the system just to assuage his nerves, but no comforting voice came. He was utterly alone, and fighting every minute of it.

His loneliness chilled his heart as he replayed the last few minutes of Shepard's life, trying to determine whether there was something he could have done to save him. He spent hours on his task; after all, they weren't anywhere near Citadel space and it might take days for a ship to pass by and pick them up.

I'm sorry, Shepard. I'm so sorry. I wish I could have saved you like you saved me.

He wasn't surprised when no reassuring answer came. After all, there was nothing but an empty shuttle to perceive his wretched thoughts.


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