Memory wasn't always perfect. Sometimes the things she remembered weren't what was important any more. The reporters asked about the thorian, and she saw green asari skin. They asked about the Citadel, and she thought about Conrad Verner's earnest, too-old-to-pull-off-earnest face. They asked about her homeworld, and she thought about the solid walls of the Normandy instead of the spindly joists of Arcturus.
She still felt like a second lieutenant under Captain Anderson sometimes, even when the paparazzi called her new name over and over - Commander! Commander Shepard!
Sure, there were perks too. Long tables were piled high with food and white lights were strung up over white curtains, triumphantly, wordlessly declaring we won! We sent the Reapers home!
Shepard felt strong and successful and tired. The paparazzi were asking her things, a whole crowd of them with cameras and datapads. She gave the reports she was allowed to give, by rote.
And she wondered what she would remember about this night. The Citadel had arranged a party for her- for all of them, Shepard and Joker particularly. It didn't help that there were protests held outside, humans hating the fact that Shepard saved aliens over them. All of it it left her feeling uncertain, fragile, even as the high of victory hadn't worn off and a bubble of light still buoyed up her heart.
She snagged a strawberry off of a fruit arrangement that might have been supposed to be decorative.
A human leaned out of the crowd of paparazzi even as a few turian C-Sec agents, bulky in their blue armor compared to the variety of suits and dresses in the large room, started to push them back. "Commander Shepard! Any comment on what you were thinking as you fought Saren?"
"Gotta reload," she replied. "And I was thinking about the Normandy. Last thing I remember I watched her do her job."
"Thank you for your time, commander," the human said as the security team became more emphatic.
Shepard said a quiet, "And thank you for yours," to the turians as she turned away.
She melded into the crowd in the main room of the party, a lesser-populated swirl of conviviality. Alliance uniforms were just as prevalent as suits and dresses in this company, and she felt like she could blend in as well as she could with the soldiers she'd been raised with. The press weren't allowed back here. They might quiet down out front too as the night wore on. Here in the bright white ballroom, the crowd was composed mostly of people Shepard knew. Blue-black Citadel night had settled outside, beyond the wall-sized windows. Purple blush in one corner of the vista allowed stars to peek through.
Shepard spied friendly faces on every side; Hannah Shepard, officer's bars decorating her formal uniform, was talking to Kaidan by the desserts. Liara was talking in a group, and Tali's fog-filled mask was clearly visible among the nodding heads. Shepard smiled fondly as she looked at each of them. She wanted to keep these memories. What would she really keep, though? What would stay with her when the next mission started? It was strange how people lost things as time went on.
Shepard ingratiated herself into Tali's circle of conversation for a short time, but then was organically shuffled out of it. No one else came looking for her history or advice or her voice to fill the gaps.
And that was nice.
She flattened her hand against one exquisitely cleaned glass door, opening it and leaving a hand-mark with the prints visible. The air outside was cool and blue. A few people talked on the balcony to her right; some asari she didn't recognize. Outside the glass walls, the Citadel was loud. She could hear the hum of the party and the traffic outside. Vans lurked with their rear lights visible around the corner of the tower, some shining with the logos of news stations and some scuffed older models. The paparazzi had tried to interview Joker, but he'd mostly fought them off. Deferring to Shepard became a tool in the hands of a man for whom avoiding conversation was a fine art.
Where was he, anyway? He couldn't really have gone far.
Tali and Garrus had been with her when she fought the spark-spitting Sovereign-zombie of Saren, but Joker had really been the other victor in this battle. He had worked with the Normandy just like she had worked with her squad. He would understand the most what she saw when she looked out at the elevators and the avenues.
So she started walking, parallel to the party, toward the docks.
She found him sitting on the dock, leaning against the curved Normandy wall beside the door. They hadn't docked at C-Sec this time; a private berth half an arm away was closer to the place that Captain Anderson had reserved for the official celebration. Joker's cap made a curved shadow over the pilot's nose and cheeks, so that Shepard could not see his eyes. One of his legs was tucked up near his chest; the other lay stretched out on the deck.
He tipped the brim of the cap and looked up when he saw her, but didn't respond.
She let him stay there. She leaned her elbows on the railing and looked out along the length of the ship, back toward the wings. The Citadel was a navy blue expanse decorated with golden lights. It was the opposite from how it looked in the daylight; silver with the insides of buildings hidden in blue. She thought maybe she could hear the kilometer-long arms creaking.
Joker said, "Ships remember things."
She said, "What?"
"Ships remember stuff. You walk through a hallway and it's like you're back in a memory."
She looked at him.
"Hey, I'm allowed to be soppy. I just blew up a giant, sentient, spaceship-thing."
She moved to sit next to him. The curve of the ship wasn't exactly comfortable against the back of her head, but it supported her spine right. "What ever are you going to do next."
"Aw, I dunno. Leave doesn't do me much good. Nobody complements my heroic sitting."
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "Joker?"
"How did you get out here?"
"You very carefully...what."
"Emerged. Like a butterfly from a cocoon."
"Kaiden brought you, didn't he?"
She gave him the sort of stare that had brought down the thorian.
He rushed the words out. "I told Kaiden to get me out here. Normandy's the best company. So, I'll deal with the way back when I want to. I have managed without you before, commander."
She must have rocked back a little. 'Fine,' started on her lips but never happened.
She said, "Likewise."
"You've managed without you too?"
"Yes." She wasn't sure how serious she was.
They sat in that for a bit. He looked up at the stars and the wispy purple clouds. Shepard thought about how Sovereign had flown in, how the trajectory had been set up to propel the bug-legged ship right to the spire at the center of the Citadel. Sovereign had barely moved under its own power. It had just floated in, so certain that the fleets of the Council and Alliance would be preoccupied by the geth.
What if there were more Reapers? They could manage the same technique even more effectively. She needed to find an easier way to destroy them- maybe from the inside.
Were they even sentient? Would it be right to go crawling around inside a live thing and ripping pipes out?
She sighed. She'd discuss this later. A crew meeting was needed after all of this, the war and the formality. But right now, the formality was pretty comfortable.
She asked, "So what are you remembering?"
"Nothing in particular. Memories. You go into a ship and you remember-who you worked with, who you fought, who you ticked off."
The air was cool and cars were hissing by beyond protective railings.
She said, "I have trouble remembering sometimes."
He patted the ship skin beside him, turning his shoulder to her and looking up maybe at the Normandy's name. The hat hid his face and took on the light that had been hitting it. "But she doesn't. You've got your spot in there just like I do. Normandy never forgets."
"I suppose you're right." She looked back at him. "What's she gonna remember most about tonight?"
"I dunno. I'm not a ship-to-Shepard translator. Don't get all cutesy on me."
She put a hand on his forearm, felt him flinch a little. He didn't like to be touched - it involved too many uncontrollable forces. It was only at times like this, when he wasn't in his battle station the pilot's chair, that she really noticed the precise way he was prickly with people.
She wasn't sure how to get through to him.
Take it slow.
"She'll remember this," she said, and stood up, separating her hand from the warmth of his skin. "I'm going back to the party. Do you want a drink?"
"Yeah, you know, I could use that."
"With an umbrella."
Shepard sipped back into the party and came back with something blue - maybe vodka, maybe an asari drink with a name she didn't know. It smelled fresh and sharp. Joker had slumped while she was away, and when he looked up he seemed tired. His eyes were very bright. She knelt down by him, her bare knees cold on the metal deck. When he looked up at her he seemed to waken, and smiled. inside the party, someone, maybe Tali from the accent and the buzzing voice, shouted and laughed.
He reached up to take the cup and caught her hand. She didn't move it, her fingers seeming frozen around it between the cooling liquid and the heat of his palm.
He lifted himself with one hand on the floor and they lurched closer. Whens he was sure he was going to kiss her she felt the almost-forgotten vice grip on the cup slacken, and suddenly the drink tipped over just as Joker's hand was pulling at hers. She moved in a clumsy attempt to both save the cup from falling and bring his hand to her shoulder, and the blue liquid splashed across her dress and onto the ship. Joker cursed and moved back, flapping his hands and spattering droplets of blue alcohol around both of them as Shepard struggled to right the cup in now-soaked hands. She laughed and felt her cheeks heat up. A small river of blue-black drink dripped into the grate between the ship and the walkway and presumably fell miles, to rain on another arm of the Citadel. Shepard laughed again at the idea, and caught her breath when she felt it becoming a giggle.
"Sorry babe." Only after she saw him looking at the dripping metal did she find it at all strange that he was addressing his ship - so was she.
"Late christening." She wiped at the spill with the edges of her dress. "I guess I've got to get this cleaned up."
"Yeah, ah," In his hesitancy and the change in his look she knew that he was addressing her, really looking at her and realizing what had just happened - she had too, and realized it made her more sick than joyful, more frightened than seduced. He seemed to think the same thing too: that their relationship would be quick or nothing at all but that quick had not quite worked.
But they had both addressed the Normandy. He had specks of blue-black on his flightsuit too.
She said, "I'll get another one."
"No, commander. You go have a good night."
The rejection washed away in a soft overload of protectiveness.
"Kaiden knows you're here?"
He sighed. "Yeah. Don't worry, mom. I've got a chaperone."
"Okay. You too, lieutenant," and headed back to the orange light of the ballroom.
A long time later, even after the Normandy and Shepard were broken and rebuilt and the galaxy became more empty, that memory stayed.