They’re toasting when Zaeed comes in, so they toast to him next. Thane Krios, Mordin Solus, David Anderson and Commander Shepard. ‘Where’s that hunk of scrap, anyway? Old Blinky?’ Zaeed asks, and Shepard replies, ‘Legion? Not here, actually. It’s some metaphysical thing. I, uh… I try not to understand it.’
‘Good on ya,’ Zaeed replies. Half his face is missing, only when you blink. Takes a lot to take a big goddamn hero down.
They’re toasting again when Steve Cortez slides in. He’s gray at first, peaceful. Must’ve happened while he was sleeping. But soon enough, he’s more like Shepard remembers him. And a stranger joins him pretty fast, covering one of his hands, rubbing the wedding ring he’s still wearing on the right finger. ‘It’s an honor to finally meet you, Robert,’ Shepard says.
Kasumi’s next. Somewhere around the third drink, she pulls her hood down. ‘Getting to be a real party,’ she says. ‘Well, now that you’re here,’ Zaeed replies.
They’ll drink to that.
It feels like a few lifetimes before Garrus finally shows up. ‘Took you long enough, Garrus,’ Shepard says, and tries not to be jealous of the adventures Garrus wears like new scars on his old face. When they’re shoulder to shoulder, leaning against each other, it doesn’t matter as much as it did. ‘They have any good target practice here?’ Garrus asks.
They line the empty bottles up on the bar with a few seashells. Collections and bulls-eyes have always been the same thing. They’ll drink to that.
Joker turns up next. ‘No freakin’ class,’ he says. ‘Don’t even have the common decency to wait for the most important member of the group to show up? I see how it is.’ But he’s fidgety, Shepard notices. Waiting for someone.
They all are.
When Miranda walks in, she hugs Shepard from behind. ‘Been a while, Shepard,’ she says. ‘Seems like only yesterday,’ Shepard replies. Maybe it was. Her first drink’s on Shepard’s tab. And Jacob shows up, with pictures of the kids, the grandkids. ‘Might’ve named that one Shepard,’ he admits, and they tease him about it as much as he deserves.
Tali’s the one who reminds them how to get drunk. They laugh with her like they haven’t, not since they can’t remember. Garrus draws a new bull’s-eye on her mask and says she’s never looked more radiant.
His flirting still needs work. They’ll drink to that.
James is late, as always. ‘But,’ he says, holding up a six pack in each hand, ‘I brought the cerveza!’ Shepard notes the collection of medals pinned on his enormous chest, not an inch of free space left. Pride still exists. In a cosmic sense. Eternal. ‘Wish I could’ve been there, James,’ Shepard says, and James says, ‘Yeah? And here I always thought you were.’
Jack says hello with a smack to the back of the head. Soon enough, she’s dancing on the bartop and comparing her new tattoos with James’s. She has her eyes on Nyreen Kandros. ‘Uh,’ Jacob says, ‘should we be afraid?’ Should they be afraid?
And Joker keeps playing with a model ship. Excellent make, Shepard thinks. Looks just like the Normandy. Every last detail.
It’s not until Kaidan clears his throat that Shepard remembers an old promise. They dance. Badly. Some things never change. ‘You think they have steak sandwiches?’ Kaidan asks, lips pressed against Shepard’s cheek. Shepard feels it. The quickening.
That’s how the party is for a while. But soon enough, maybe even in the blink of a couple of Prothean eyes, Javik’s grumbling in another corner, and Samara’s meditating, and Zaeed’s heading over to settle in next to her, bringing her a drink. ‘It’s been so long,’ Samara says, without looking up. ‘Has it?’ Zaeed asks.
No answer; just the sound of music. Faint, the pulsing beat from a common time shared in Afterlife.
‘Ah,’ Liara says when she walks in. ‘So that’s how you beat a krogan.’
‘Mordin Solus,’ Wrex shouts across the bar. ‘Get over here!’
Now they know what krogan noogies look like.
They wait for Grunt. Grunt is coming. He doesn’t have to watch the door anymore. The music lingers. They’ll toast to that. Out of the corner of Joker’s eye, there’s a little shaft of light. It settles over his shoulders like an arm, tickling his ear like a breath. ‘Hey, baby,’ he says. ‘Glad you could make it.’
They’re toasting when Grunt comes in. ‘Shepard!’ Grunt says. He almost knocks Shepard down with a hug like a ballista.
They’ll toast to that.