Everything was white. Snow fell all around them - soft, but constant. Shepard stepped out of the transport and took an unsteady step forward. She glanced over her shoulder to see Joker unstrap himself and stand, grasping onto the side of the vehicle to steady himself before taking the step himself. He gave a self-depreciative chuckle when he felt her strong hands under his arms, helping him down. Just in case.
Tali waited until Joker was on his feet before following him off the transport, and Garrus shut the door behind them all. When they all turned toward the wreckage, none of them knew what to say, not that they'd be able to speak even if they'd planned a speech.
From behind craggy rocks and half-mountains, the remnants of the SSV Normandy were still clearly visible. Worn over time, scarred from the collector ship, and hollow. A skeleton of their former home. Black against the ice covered rocks and snow, she reached up into the sky. She hadn't been ready to give up yet.
Biting on the inside of her bottom lip, Shepard moved forward. Joker stuck by her side, unsure of where she was headed. The two others broke off from the group. They had their own places to visit, memories to reminisce on. Alone.
She heard Joker gasp quietly before she saw him move past her, struggling with the suit they'd put him in but focused. Crossing her arms over her chest, she watched as he made his way into the old cockpit. The Normandy was his girl. That's why he'd been so insistent on coming along with her on his mission. Tali and Garrus, too. They didn't want her to do this alone. They needed their final goodbyes just as much as the families of the crew and Shepard herself.
By the time she reached Garrus, he already looked ready to leave. "I shouldn't have come," he murmured, arms crossed as he stared up at the Mako. "There are too many memories here. It all reminds me of when things were good."
"That's a good thing, Garrus," Shepard reminded him. She placed a hand on his back and he looked down at her. "Everyone needs good memories. Especially you."
"I suppose you're right…" He glanced back towards the Mako, "Who am I kidding? Of course you're right. Thank you, Shepard. How are you feeling?"
Shepard sighed, "I'm… feeling. I don't know yet. We'll see."
With a soft pat on his shoulder, Shepard left Garrus alone once again. Her strides were slow as she moved around the bits and pieces of her former life. Everything she saw reminded her of how things went then. Her heart still belonged to the Alliance, and everything here reminded her of it. Everything reminded her of their journey across the galaxy, tailing the rogue spectre and his army of geth. But it also reminded her of those few hours of downtime - Tali's stories about the Flotilla, Joker's wise cracking, Garrus telling her to take it easier on the Mako. Things were so different now.
She could see the faint orange glow of a data pad not far off, held in the hands of her other alien friend. Tali's shoulders were bent, her head hanging close to the pad as she read over it. She turned when she heard Shepard approaching. "Shepard, this was for Pressly…" Her voice trembled. While she couldn't see behind the quarian's mask, it was clear that she'd been crying. "I… I had no idea."
The data pad confirmed Shepard's opinion of her former XO. Pressly started off with heavy prejudices against the entire new crew. But as they stuck together, he grew to learn more about them, especially Tali, who couldn't keep her mouth shut when it came to the Flotilla and her people. Eventually, he realized that his prejudices were gone. He never vocalized it, but it was all here.
The lump in Shepard's throat was almost immovable as she handed Tali the data pad.
"Oh, Shepard," Tali murmured. "I miss the Normandy. The real Normandy."
"I know, Tali." Her arms slid around the quarian easily, and they embraced. She could hear Tali sniffing back her tears. The sound only made it harder for Shepard to keep herself from being overwhelmed. Her eyes burned, but she refused to cry. She had to be strong for them. Her hand ran a comforting track across Tali's upper back. "You should keep the data pad."
Tali took a step back before sighing and lifting the pad up to her eyes again. "I think I will."
Joker's voice echoed in her ears, and she turned around. "What is it, Jeff?"
She could hear him take a deep breath before sighing. "Can you come over here? I, uh, need your help moving this thing."
"What the hell are you trying to move?" she asked as she made her way back to the cockpit. When she rounded the corner, she saw him struggling to lift the broken half of his chair off of the main console. Before he could answer, she'd hurried her way up the path to where he was standing. "You could've asked before trying, you know," she said before hoisting the chair off and moving it aside.
"I thought I could do it by myself," he muttered, "It's just a chair."
Shepard's hand went to the middle of his back. While he normally hated people touching him, he didn't even try to knock it off. Instead, he stood there, staring down at his station. "I spent so much time here. I saw a hell of a lot, too. More than I had before I was put on the Normandy."
"We all saw a lot on this ship," she whispered, her own eyes focused on the shattered omni-board. "We'll make new memories on the SR2, Joker. And we can always come right back here when we need an old friend."
"Yeah, I guess," Joker replied with a shrug. "Give me a minute, Shepard?"
Leaving him to himself for the time being, she turned in the opposite direction. Her eyes picked up a glint of something in the distance, half-buried in the snow. "What's this?" she murmured to herself as she closed in on it. She bent at her knees and scooped the gathered snow off of it. Dog tags. Lifting them of off the ground, she smoothed the rest of the gathered snow from the shining silver.
Kaidan. They were for Kaidan.
Her memories were sharp. They pushed themselves on her without so much as a word of protest. His stories about Jump Zero, how he'd always slip up and say something he hadn't meant to say, always standing by his station, working intently. She remembered the warmth in his brown eyes, his rare smile, the sensation of comfort that she felt down to the bone when she was near him. Her evil mind also recalled her grief with shocking clarity. She hadn't had time to miss him properly.
Tears leapt into her eyes. She hadn't expected to find these. There were families all over the galaxy waiting to hear about their children, their parents, their lovers, and she found these. The chain slipped between her fingers, but she held them tight. She wouldn't let these go.
"Shepard?" Tali stood behind her. Her voice sounded shaken. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, Tali," Shepard replied, pushing herself up from the ground. When she turned around, she saw both Garrus and Joker there, too. She smiled. It was sad, but they could see the corners of her eyes bunch up from behind the visor. That's all they needed to be reminded that everything was okay. Everything would be okay.