Chapter 1: Introductions
The voices outside the door grew louder.
"Ashley, I hungry."
"I know, Krios. Tarquin, go wake Dad up."
"Nuh-uh. It's not my turn. Make David do it."
"The last time I did it, Mom tickled me until I almost peed myself. Isn't it Amara's turn?"
"What, so Dad can hit me in the head with a pillow again the second I get the door open? Send Nezia."
"Can't make me. Why don't we ever send Charr or Eve?"
There was a sudden scuffle as three or four kids intercepted him. Garrus set his book down and looked at Shepard. "So when are we going to let them know we're awake?"
Shepard opened her mouth to reply and was interrupted by "I heard them talking!" as the door flew open. "I guess that answer is 'right now'," she laughed as all eight kids barreled into the room. "Since you're here, come on up." She patted the empty bottom half of the bed.
The younger kids dashed for the bed, while the older ones hung back, clearly considering themselves too old for such childish endeavors. Eve headbutted Charr out of her way to sit between Shepard and Garrus, which led to a brief shoving match before they were pulled apart.
"Hey now," Garrus chided. "Fighting in the backyard is fine. Fighting on our bed isn't," he said sternly. "Now quit pushing and relax."
The two krogan glared at each other, then smashed into the open space between Shepard and Garrus.
Shepard looked over at Tarquin, who was still standing by the door. "I know you're ten and all grown up and everything, but you could still come sit with us," she winked.
"I guess," he said doubtfully, perching on the edge of the bed next to David and Ashley.
Garrus pretended to check the time. "Uh-oh," he said seriously.
"What is it?" Nezia asked.
"It looks like it's … time to dogpile Mom!"
"Oh no!" Shepard exclaimed in mock fear as she rolled over and covered her head.
"Dogpile Mom!" the kids chorused. Nezia landed on Shepard's back first, and was almost instantly squashed by Eve, Charr, and Krios. Amara eyed the pile for a moment before carefully settling on top of the others.
"Raaaaaaaawr!" Shepard growled, acting like she was going to manage to get out from under the five kids.
"Come on, you guys!" Eve said to the three on the edge of the bed. "She's gonna escape!"
David and Ashley grinned and pinned down Shepard's legs, while Tarquin eased onto the others, careful to avoid Amara's leg spurs.
"Can't … breathe. Too many … midgets," Shepard gasped, then groaned and stopped moving.
Krios stuck his face almost up against Shepard's and poked her nose with a chubby green finger. "Mama, wake up!"
"You guys squashed her to death!" Garrus gasped.
"Nuh-uh," Ashley sniffed.
"Watch this, Dad," David said, reaching under the other kids to poke Shepard in the ribs.
Ashley looked triumphant as Shepard squeaked and tried to wriggle away. "See?"
"You two are great at going along with a joke," Garrus drawled.
With great effort, Shepard pushed herself to her hands and knees, then rolled the kids off her back and into a giggling pile next to her, then looked at the two holding her legs. "Looks like it's tickling time!" As both kids leapt up and away, she grinned. "I am triumphant!" she grinned.
Krios climbed out of the pile, dark eyes wide and face serious, and sat on her lap. "Mama. I hungry."
Shepard nodded. "Okay, you guys get downstairs and we'll get dressed, then come make breakfast." At the chorus of "awwww," she raised a finger. "Quit it, or I'll tell Uncle Joker he's not allowed to be funny when he comes over."
"Joker's funny?" Garrus grinned. "When did that start?"
Nezia rolled her eyes as she slid off the bed. "You obviously have no sense of humor, Dad."
Garrus looked thoroughly offended. "Hey, Blue, I laugh at your mom's jokes all the time."
"Yeah, but you have to, or she'd kick your butt," Ashley said, standing next to the bed with her hands on her waist.
"We certainly have a smart bunch," Shepard remarked, grinning.
"A bunch of smartasses, maybe," he snorted.
Tarquin hopped off the bed. "Come on; we can go set the table."
Amara rolled her eyes. "You're so bossy, Tarquin. And such a suck-up."
"Am not. "
"Am not. Now come on, Amara, I need your help."
She stalked out of the room. "Of course you do," she said haughtily.
"You know, there's no need to-" Tarquin's voice faded as they went downstairs.
Shepard looked at the remaining kids. "All right, you heard him; downstairs and help set the table." She got out of bed, crossed the door, and pointed out into the hallway. "Move it."
After they left – grumbling all the way – Shepard pushed the door shut and headed for the closet. "Remind me again - how on earth did this happen?"
"How did what happen? You ending up with an awesome boyfriend who gave you a house on the beach, just like he promised? Us making bank from royalties, just like I said? I mean, I can go on, but I could probably just shorten it to 'you ending up with an awesome boyfriend'." He grinned.
Shepard laughed. "No, not that. That happened because I finally realized you were never going to come talk to me, and obviously I'd have to make the first move."
"It's a little early in the morning to not be pulling any punches, don't you think?"
Shepard pretended to think about it. "Mmm … nope."
"Of course you don't. So what did you mean?"
"Why did we think eight kids was a great idea?"
"We wanted a challenge, and the Reaper War is hard to top?"
"We could have just tried to get assistance from the Council for something," Shepard guffawed.
"I said 'a challenge,' not 'an impossible accomplishment'," Garrus laughed, sliding out of bed and stretching. "Toss me a shirt?"
Shepard pulled one off a hanger and tossed it out the closet door.
"Thanks." He pulled it over his head. "You know just as well as I do that if we could have taken in more, we would have. Apparently we can't have any time go by where we're not saving someone. Besides, this challenge is much more rewarding than dealing with the Council." Garrus looked out the window at the fenced backyard butting up against the beach, and the water lapping at the shore.
Shepard emerged from the closet in cargo shorts and a t-shirt, walked over to him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Yeah." She put her arm around his waist. "Things are good."
He nodded. "Better than I could have imagined."
"And it'll be nice to see everyone, especially since we were in that cramped rental for the memorial weekend last year," she said. "But we need to get the house ready before anyone-"
"Aunt Kasumi!" echoed up from downstairs.
"-gets here," Shepard laughed.
"Hell, knowing Kasumi she's probably been here for a week," Garrus chuckled. "I'll go make breakfast and send her up."
"No need; I'll come down with you. We can give her the tour after breakfast."
Chapter 2: The Guests Arrive
Everyone shows up for the party.
Downstairs, Kasumi was surrounded by kids; she grinned as Shepard and Garrus walked into the kitchen. "Did you have a whole ship's complement the last time I was here?"
"Pretty sure," Shepard laughed.
"I don't know," Garrus said doubtfully. "A couple of these kids look new."
David raised an eyebrow. "Like who, Dad?"
"Well …. " He looked around and finally pointed at Amara and Ashley. "Were you two here last week? You don't look familiar."
"Dad!" Amara sounded scandalized.
Eve poked Garrus in the leg. "That's not nice, Daddy. Be nice."
"Ow!" Garrus rubbed his leg. "I'm just playing, Eve."
"Oh. Okay." She grinned.
"You kids get up to the table while I rustle up breakfast," Garrus said, turning to look through the cupboards.
"So, Shep, take me on a tour!" Kasumi said cheerfully. "I wasn't expecting so swank a place."
Shepard laughed. "Well, if you're gonna settle down, settle someplace nice, right? Come on."
"It really is a gorgeous place, Shepard," Kasumi said as they crossed the backyard. "So … whose idea was it?"
"Garrus's. He said he'd promised that we'd retire on the beach, and no way was he going back on that."
"If it was anyone else, I'd crack a joke about all the sweetness making my teeth hurt. But you two totally deserve some peace and happiness." She grinned. "Not that you get much peace, I imagine, what with eight kids running around."
"It may not be quiet, but we're more at peace now than we've ever been," Shepard replied as they crossed over to the waist-high stone wall on the far side of the backyard.
"You finished the memorial wall!"
"A week ago. We wanted to have it done before everyone got here."
Kasumi bent to read some of the inscribed stones. "You have one for Keiji."
"Of course. He was important to you, and this wall is for all of us."
Kasumi straightened and hugged Shepard. "Thank you, Shep," she whispered.
"You're welcome," Shepard replied. "Hey, no getting all teary-eyed."
Kasumi chuckled. "I'll wait until Wrex, Grunt, and Joker are here, so I can make them all uncomfortable."
"That's my girl," Shepard grinned.
"Now let's go find those adorable kids of yours."
Shepard and Garrus were in the basement, finishing the last downstairs guest room.
"How long have they been looking for her?" Garrus asked, unfolding the bedspread.
"About half an hour," Shepard answered, grabbing one side of the blanket and pulling it over the left side of the bed.
"You know she's just walking around cloaked, right?"
"Probably right behind them," Shepard laughed.
Just then, Kasumi shouted "boo!", and the kids shrieked and scattered.
"Knew it," Garrus said. "Remember when we had to confirm, at least ten times, that yes, we really did want sixteen guest rooms?" he asked as they left the room.
Shepard switched off the light. "Sure do. The interior decorator loved us, though."
"Well yeah – we gave her a ton of mini-projects."
"Which she completed fabulously," Shepard replied. "I'm actually excited to show everyone else their rooms; Kasumi loves hers."
There was a sudden commotion in the living room, followed by booming laughter.
"I think the krogan contingent is here," Garrus laughed.
"What gave it away?" She took his arm. "Let's go."
"Wrex!" Shepard smiled. "Bakara, it's good to see you again."
Bakara nodded. "Hello, Shepard. Garrus."
Garrus nodded. "We're glad you're here." He looked around. "Where's Grunt? I thought he was coming with you."
Wrex waved his hand toward the back of the house. "Already outside with your brood."
Shepard laughed. "He's really still just a big kid, isn't he?"
Bakara smiled. "He is. It's been good for him – for all of the men – to be around little ones again."
"And for you, too," Wrex said.
"Yes, but the women weren't the ones running around shooting anything that moved, now were they?" she shot back.
"Hey Wrex, you don't get to crack any more jokes about Shepard keeping me in line," Garrus laughed. "You're right in that boat with me."
"I'm going to check on the kids," Wrex mock-huffed. "You coming, turian?"
"I guess, krogan."
As they disappeared out the back door, Bakara shook her head. "Men," she said, exasperated affection in her voice.
"Right?" Shepard chuckled. "You look well. Motherhood agrees with you."
"And you," Bakara said. "Although we weren't expecting you'd end up with quite that many."
Shepard shrugged. "Neither were we. But … we couldn't very well turn our backs on kids that needed help."
"Of course you couldn't; it's hard to retire from saving the galaxy."
Shepard rather impulsively linked her arm around Bakara's. "I'm glad things have calmed down enough on Tuchanka that you could make it this year. We missed you guys last year."
Bakara looked out the back window as Grunt, Garrus, and Wrex ran by, followed by a stampede of kids. "I told Wrex we were not missing this year, so he simply had to get things sorted before then."
"And he clearly knows better than to argue with you," Shepard replied.
"Oh, he argues. He just loses."
Shepard laughed, then hefted their luggage. "Let me show you your room."
The adults were relaxing on the deck, watching the kids play a game.
"Okay, does anyone understand the goal of this game?" Garrus finally asked.
"It really just looks like 'tickle the little ones until they can't breathe'," Kasumi said.
"Sounds about right," Shepard chuckled.
"You know, Shepard," said Tali, coming around the corner of the house, "if you're going to invite people over, it's customary to answer the door when they knock."
"Tali!" Shepard grinned as she shot out of her chair. "No mask?"
"No mask. I've been working hard on not having to wear it so I could leave it behind this weekend."
Shepard vaulted over the side of the deck and hugged her. "I'm so glad to see you."
Tali smiled. "And I'm glad to see you. I brought a guest … is that okay? I meant to call, but you know how time gets away from you."
"It's not like I'm going to tell you to take them home," Shepard laughed. "Who'd you bring?"
Shepard's eyebrows shot up. "Kal'Reegar? I thought you were killed in action."
"Reports of my death were bullshit," he said. "We got hit hard, but we got our job done and then you sent the Reapers to hell. I was critical for awhile, and after we won, they brought in a geth to interface with my suit – shocked the shit out of me, I'll tell you that, a geth helping me instead of trying to blow me to bits – and here I am." He shook his head. "Had to retire, because I'll always have health issues, but they're mild enough-"
"You mean you just ignore them," Tali interjected.
"They're mild enough," he repeated, shaking his head, "that I was able to help build a home for Tali."
Tali squeezed his arm. "And it's beautiful. You'll all have to come visit."
"Pull up chairs, you two," Garrus said. "We're watching the kids play."
"Oh, the kids!" Tali exclaimed. "I'm going to go see them."
Kal'Reegar shook his head at Garrus. "Now I'll be hearing about kids all weekend."
"Hell, Shepard mentions adopting more sometimes," Garrus laughed.
Grunt chuckled. "No matter how hard you try, Shepard, you can't keep up with krogan."
"Hey, Wrex called me his sister, so be nice or no snacks for you," Shepard retorted.
"No snacks? That's just mean."
Grunt looked at Garrus. "When did she get so mean?"
"A minute ago, when she said 'no snacks for you', I think."
Wrex laughed as Grunt sighed.
"Hey, if you try to make me pick between Shepard and you, you're gonna lose every time," Garrus shrugged. "I'm not stupid, you know."
Out on the beach, a small shuttle touched down; Steve climbed out and waved.
A cry of "Steve!" went up among the kids as they made a beeline for the beach, abandoning Tali.
"Well, I can see who the favorite is," she chuckled as she came back and sat beside Kal'Reegar.
"He cheats; he brings candy every time," Shepard laughed as Steve was nearly swarmed under.
"Watch Krios!" Garrus called. Tarquin flashed a thumbs up and picked up Krios before he could get squashed attempting to maneuver between legs.
Steve swung a pack off his shoulder and handed out candy. "Okay, now everyone back into the yard," he said, shooing them back up the hill, then heading for the deck. "Hey guys."
"How was your trip?" Shepard asked.
"Mercifully uneventful. No one shot at me, no one tried to eradicate my very existence, and no banshees," he laughed. "I almost didn't know what to do with myself."
Garrus tossed him a beer. "Pull up a chair."
Steve caught the bottle and settled into a lounger. "It's going to be great to just relax for a weekend. I've been running all over helping with rebuilding efforts."
"You have a room down the hall," Shepard said, "if you don't want to sleep in the shuttle."
"Great! I'll grab my bag later." Steve inhaled deeply and looked around. "Gorgeous place you guys have here, that's for sure."
"I don't know … it's a bit quiet," Jack said, emerging from the house. "Door was open. You sure you're okay with not having to kick someone's ass 24/7, Shepard?"
She laughed. "Getting used to it. I still have to keep all the kids, and Garrus, in line."
Garrus paused midway through opening a bottle. "Hey now. I haven't set anything on fire in the kitchen for at least a month."
"Zaeed's on the way in. We carpooled … ship-pooled … what the fuck ever. I caught a ride with him," Jack said.
"Well, well … looks like we made it on time for the Big Goddamn Heroes weekend," Zaeed cracked as he opened the back door. "I just left our bags by the stairs for now."
"That's fine," Shepard said as Garrus grabbed two more chairs. "I'll take you down later. Drink?"
Jack and Zaeed both produced flasks. "We're good," Jack grinned.
"I'll take a drink if you're handing them out," Miranda said, coming around the other side of the house.
"Hey, Jack. How are you?"
"That must be new for you," Miranda winked.
"Yeah … I was actually just thinking about bitching about you, for old time's sake," Jack grinned.
"Oh, don't go to any trouble on my account," Miranda laughed. She turned to Shepard. "I saw Jacob coming down the road as I landed. I think he and Brynn hit the port and rented a car."
Shepard looked at Garrus. "Maybe we should put a sign out front telling everyone to just come around the back?"
"Good idea." He stood and leaned over the deck railing. "Hey kids, we have a project for you!"
"Nezia, stop shoving," David said as everyone scrambled in front of Garrus.
"It wasn't my fault! Ashley pushed me!"
"I tripped, okay? I said sorry!"
Wrex stood up and leaned over the railing. "Hey, pipe down, pipsqueaks, or no project."
Everyone quieted down.
Garrus chuckled. "Nicely done. Now, we need a big sign out front that tells everyone to come around to the back. Can you guys do that?"
David looked thoughtful. "I have posterboard left over from my science project."
"I'll get my markers!" Amara said.
Charr waved his hand in the air. "I wanna use my paints!"
The group disappeared around the corner. Krios watched them go, then climbed up the stairs, toddled over to Jack, and started tracing the tattoos on her arm.
"Mama, these pretty!" he exclaimed to Shepard.
Jack fidgeted. Miranda laughed.
"Krios, come here, sweetie." Shepard smiled, holding her hands out.
"No." He folded his arms and sat down next to Jack's chair.
"Oh … he's fine," Jack muttered.
"Aww, kids like you!" Kasumi grinned. "I'm surprised that hasn't made the news."
"I have a reputation to look out for, okay? Shit. I mean, sheesh. See? I'm not cut out for this."
Tali laughed. "Fooled me; Krios clearly adores you."
Jack folded her arms and scowled, then finally chuckled. "Yeah, yeah." She looked past Shepard. "Jacob's here."
Jacob and Brynn came around the corner. "Hey, everyone," Jacob called. Brynn shifted the baby on her hip and waved, smiling.
"Jesus, does everyone have kids?" Jack drawled.
"You and Grunt don't," Tali answered, grinning.
"And we're not going to," Jack said. "I was merely remarking on the fact that everyone's reproduced."
"You don't like kids, Jack?" Brynn asked.
"I like my kids at the school. Everyone else's, though … I'm not too sure about."
Brynn smiled. "Well, one certainly seems to like you." She pointed at Krios.
"No accounting for taste," Grunt laughed.
Jack rolled her eyes. "You're lucky I promised Shepard I'd behave."
Brynn sank into an empty chair and set the baby down to toddle around. Shepard and Garrus moved their chairs to block the two sets of steps leading down from the deck. Jacob pulled up a stool next to Brynn's chair.
"Thank you," Brynn said as Garrus and Shepard settled back into their seats.
"No problem," Shepard smiled.
"So Lin is what, almost a year and a half now?" Miranda asked.
"Yes," Jacob grinned. "I can hardly believe it."
"She's adorable," Shepard said, holding out her arms and ruffling the baby's hair when she came over. "Look at those curls!" She looked over at Krios. "Do you want to show Lin your playroom?"
He stood and nodded, then ran to the sliding door.
"I think that's a yes," Brynn laughed. "I'll go with them; Lin will need to be changed soon, anyway." She opened the door and followed the two small children.
Jacob pulled a beer out of the cooler. "Gotta say, Shepard, this is much less shot up than what I expected to find you living in." He grinned.
"Well, you know me. I like to mix it up."
"When is everyone else getting here?"
"I'm getting here right now," Liara said as she stepped out the back door. "Hey, everybody!" She perched on the edge of Shepard's chair and hugged her. "I saw the kids on my way in," she said. "I love how the older ones are giving your two adorable krogan turian-looking face paint."
"Oh, hell," Garrus said, standing and setting his drink on the railing. "I'll be right back." He strode off the deck and around the side of the house.
"So … they weren't supposed to be doing that," Liara laughed. "But it was so cute!" She stood. "Garrus, wait, I want a picture of it first!" She dashed down the stairs and around the corner.
"Shepard," Jacob said, "if you can show me our room, I can get our bags put away while Brynn has Lin distracted."
"Absolutely." She looked over. "Jack, Steve, Zaeed, you guys want to come along?"
They all stood. "I'll grab my stuff from the shuttle," Steve said, "and meet you."
Out in the front yard, Garrus and Liara were sitting on the low, wide fence separating the yard from the road, talking while the kids played tag.
"I don't know, Liara."
"Garrus, she'll love it. Seriously."
"But … I don't know. What if-"
"Garrus Vakarian, stop making excuses and just do it!"
"Okay, okay! You know, I remember you being a lot nicer back in the day."
Liara rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Just because I don't let you weasel out of things doesn't make me mean."
"You say." Garrus looked over as a shuttle landed in the next door lot. "Who's that?"
Liara eyed the ship markings. "James."
"That'll make the kids happy," Garrus said.
Just then, Nezia looked down the road. "You guys, it's James!"
The game of tag was abandoned as they all took off down the road. James laughed as he was surrounded by kids. "Whoa, whoa, calm down!"
"Did you bring us a present?" Ashley asked.
Over on the fence, Garrus rolled his eyes while Liara laughed.
"Of course, but you have to wait til after dinner."
Liara leaned over to Garrus. "There's a human saying, that it takes a village to raise a child." She grinned. "In this case, I think the whole village is spoiling the children."
"I've noticed," Garrus drawled. "Luckily, Shepard and I aren't nearly so indulgent."
James stopped by the fence as Eve and Charr staggered by, dragging James's bags.
"Seriously, you made the two littlest ones carry your bags?" Liara asked. "That's just being a jerk."
"David, Tarquin – help those two get James's bags downstairs," Garrus said.
"Yes, Dad," they chorused, catching up with the two krogan.
James laughed and leaned against the fence. "They volunteered, I swear! How are you two?"
Liara smiled. "Good." She hopped off the fence. "I'm going to take my bag in and visit with Shepard. You boys try not to tell each other too many lies," she said over her shoulder as she walked up the steps.
She found Shepard in the basement hallway.
"Yes, Zaeed, the guns have to go in the cabinet. I don't know if you noticed, but there are small kids running around."
"Oh fine, Shepard." He shut the door.
Jack popped out of her room. "Purples, Shepard? Really? You gave me the purple room?"
"Don't even act like you don't like it."
Jack scowled, then nodded. "Yeah, okay. It's pretty nice." She grabbed a datapad and banged on Zaeed's door on her way by. "I'm going upstairs."
"I'll be up in a minute," he answered.
Liara cleared her throat. "My room?"
Shepard turned. "Yours is up here; come on."
They went up the stairs and around the corner to a long hallway. "Second on the left there."
Liara opened the door, tossed her bag on the bed, and looked around. "The cityscape from Thessia on the walls is a nice touch," she smiled.
Steve emerged from his room in shorts and a t-shirt, grinning. "You painted ships on my walls!"
"Well, what else would we put on there?"
He clapped her on the shoulder. "See you outside."
Shepard turned. "Yes, Eve?"
"Where do we take Uncle James's bags?"
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "He made you carry his bags?"
David leaned around the corner. "Dad had us help."
"I see. His room's downstairs. You can just set them by the top of the stairs if you want, though."
"Thanks, Mom." The four kids lugged the bags past the hallway.
Liara took Shepard's arm. "So. How are you?"
Shepard smiled. "I'm … really good. The kids are doing great. Garrus is happy. I'm happy. And he was right – the royalties from the vids have set us all for life." She laughed. "A network even approached him about making an action show for kids."
Liara looked skeptical. "Really? What about?"
"The working title is 'Archangel vs the Reapers'," Shepard laughed.
"Oh, James will love that," Liara giggled.
"Don't even kid, you know he'd watch it."
"If we're being really honest, I'd probably watch it," Liara smirked.
The front door opened. "Shepard?"
"In the hall, Sam!" Shepard shouted.
Samantha ran around the corner. "I've missed you guys!" She hugged Shepard, then Liara. "Where do you want me to toss this?" she asked, pointing to her oversize backpack.
"Right here," Shepard said, opening the first door on the left.
She set her bag inside the door. "Shepard, this room is gorgeous!" Sam exclaimed.
"I thought you'd like the gold, black, and cream."
Brynn came out of the playroom at the other end of the hall, cradling a sleeping Lin. "Hey, ladies," she said as she reached them. "Which one is ours?"
"Second on the right. I think Jacob's already in there taking a nap," Shepard grinned.
"It's a great idea; I'm exhausted! We'll be up in time for dinner," Brynn said. "Oh, Krios is sleeping in the playroom."
"That's his usual routine," Shepard chuckled.
Brynn smiled. "See you guys in a few," she said, disappearing into her room and shutting the door.
Liara pulled her door closed. "Shall we head out back?"
"Let's go." Shepard peered into Sam's room. "You coming?"
"One sec – I'm hanging up the dress I brought."
"Who are we still waiting on?" Liara asked.
"Joker, EDI, and Kaidan." Shepard paused. "And Morinth said she might come."
"Really?" Sam asked. "Last I'd heard, she'd been staying at the monastery with Falere."
"She has been," Liara said. "I think the war really changed her." She paused. "So … why did you side with her against Samara?"
Sam patted Shepard on the arm. "I'm gonna go out back and visit," she said.
"We'll be out in a minute," Shepard said, before turning back to Liara. "A hunch? Gut feeling? I don't know. I was just concerned about that whole justicar code thing."
"You were so concerned about the code that you sided with a rogue Ardat-Yakshi?"
"I can't really explain it, okay, Liara? I went with my gut. And it worked, so let's let bygones be bygones on this one, please?"
Liara sighed. "Okay. How did the others take it when you told them?"
"Pretty much like you did," Shepard sighed. "But they've had a year to get used to it, so they better have dealt with it by now."
"Fair enough," Liara nodded, then smiled. "Come on; it sounds like you just got some more guests."
Out on the deck, they found Joker, EDI, and Kaidan greeting everyone else. Kaidan was the first to see Shepard; he grinned and ambled over.
She laughed. "Come on now, I think we're long past that point." She hugged him. "It's good to see you."
"It's good to see you, too," he said, kissing her cheek. "Peace agrees with you." He turned to Liara. "How are you, Shadow Broker?"
Liara smiled. "You know I technically relinquished the title."
"Yes, but I know you, and there's no way you just gave all that up," he grinned.
She hugged Kaidan. "I've missed you. Did you get my message about that new prototype omni-tool tech?"
Tali looked over from her conversation with Sam, EDI, and Kal'Reegar. "What was that about new tech?"
Kal'Reegar laughed. "Well, she's gone for the night," he said as Tali headed over to Kaidan and Liara.
"Nerds," Joker laughed. "Some things never change."
"Says the guy who probably would have tried to marry the actual Normandy if EDI hadn't come along," Tali retorted over her shoulder.
"That's quite likely," EDI chimed in. "Luckily, I saved him from an awkward conversation with Alliance officers." She looked at Joker. "You're welcome, Jeff."
Everyone burst into laughter as Joker shook his head. "Man, I can't catch a break anywhere. I'm getting a drink."
A few minutes later, Garrus and James came out the back door. "Okay, Vega's got his room, has seen the place … "
"… checked out the weapons room," Shepard finished. "It doesn't take that long to tour the house."
"Well … we may have peeked at them, " Garrus admitted.
"Hang on, why's Vega so special that he gets to see all the guns and I don't?" asked Jack.
"Hey, if we're looking at guns, I'm totally in," Kal'Reegar said.
"Well, come on. We can all go," Garrus chuckled.
Steve shook his head. "I'm gonna lay out here and bask in the warmth."
Sam nodded. "Me, too."
"Liara? Tali? Kaidan?"
Liara, deep in explanation, waved him off.
"Lost cause," Joker said. "And no way am I navigating stairs this early in the trip. I'll stay here."
Garrus shook his head. "Anyone else?"
Zaeed and Miranda stood, as did Wrex, Grunt, EDI, and Kasumi.
"I'm staying," said Bakara. "You go look at the toys."
James sank into a chair and opened a beer. "I guess I can stay down here since I've already seen the collection."
Shepard settled back into her lounger. "I'm staying here," she said. "The sun's perfect right now. While you're in there, can you make sure everyone knows where their room is?"
"Of course. We'll be down in a bit and I'll help with dinner," Garrus said, squeezing her arm before heading inside.
Charr came around the corner, blue markings still clearly noticeable on his face. "Mama, are we gonna eat soon?"
"We're going to start dinner as soon as everyone's back down here."
"Krios is asleep in the playroom."
Shepard nodded. "I figured as much."
"He had his face on a block. I moved him to the rug."
She smiled. "Good job, son."
Charr beamed. "Bye, Mama." He disappeared into the house.
"Clearly, information that was vitally necessary," Steve laughed.
"You'd be amazed how much of that there is on a daily basis," Shepard grinned. "It's bad enough with one; it's endless with eight."
Nezia opened the back door. "Auntie Liara, can you-"
"Nezia, is Aunt Liara talking right now?" Shepard asked.
She sighed. "Yes."
"What do we do if we want to talk to someone who's talking?"
"I'm sure she'll be done in a minute," Shepard said.
"Nice to see you run your house like you're still a CO," Joker laughed. "I'm only surprised they don't have to salute."
Nezia fidgeted, then raised her hand, then started bouncing up and down.
Kaidan pointed past Liara. "I think someone has a question," he laughed.
Liara turned around. "Oh! Nezia, I didn't see you. What's up?"
"Auntie Liara, could you show me some more biotic tricks?"
Liara smiled. "Of course. Let's go out in the yard."
"Hey, if we're doing biotic tricks, I want in," Kaidan said, following them off the deck.
Tali moved over to sit by Shepard. "I'm so glad we're doing this once a year. I love being home, but … I miss all of you."
"Even Harbinger?" Joke grinned.
"Don't be ridiculous," Tali sniffed, then grinned. "Didn't Jack suggest piracy once? Let's go do that!"
"I'm in," Joker said.
Jack came out onto the third floor balcony. "If you're finally taking my advice, let me know so I can resign from Grissom!"
James grinned. "Do I get to come, Lola?"
"Of course," she laughed. "Like I'd leave you behind."
"I bet Chakwas would come," Joker mused.
"Yeah, just to make sure you take your meds," Liara called from the yard. "And sign me up for the life of piracy, even though Kaidan will feel honor-bound to turn us all in."
"Hey!" Kaidan pouted. "I'd at least give you a head start!"
"Lian Shepard, revered Hero of the Galaxy and Feared Pirate Queen," Bakara said, smiling. "It does have a nice ring to it."
"Obviously, you're going to need a comm officer," Sam said. "I volunteer … as long as I get some of the swag."
"Okay, as soon as the kids move out, we're on," Shepard laughed. "Someone write it down, so we don't forget in fifteen years."
"What are we remembering in fifteen years?" Garrus asked as he came back outside.
"To go be pirates," Shepard said.
"Well, we'll have to have something to do when the kids are gone," he nodded. "Practical choice."
As everyone traipsed back out onto the deck, Shepard stood. "Okay, so … dinner. We have a ton of stuff for the grill, and the pantry, fridge, and freezer are all packed."
"I'll grill," Steve and James said at the same time.
"Luckily, the grill is big enough for both of you," Shepard laughed.
"I brought a couple of things I've been working on," Kal'Reegar said. "It's been nice being able to branch out from what we got in the flotilla."
"Oh, and I brought our old – really old! – recipe for barbeque," Tali said.
"Someone else besides Dad is cooking?" Tarquin asked cheerfully as he and Amara came outside.
"Are you not a good cook, Papa Garrus?" Joker laughed.
"Hey, it's edible!" Garrus said. "Shepard's just … better at it, okay?" He rolled his eyes. "That aside, everyone knows that turian barbeque is the only real barbeque."
"Oh please," Tali scoffed. "You don't even know what quarian barbeque tastes like. We haven't been able to make it for three hundred years, remember?"
"Exactly. How do you expect it to hold up?"
"Okay, Vakarian, you're on. We'll see whose is better." Tali strode into the kitchen.
Sam leaned over to Shepard. "They do realize it's going to end up in a tie, right? There's two recipes and two of them."
"Nah, they'll have Tarquin and Amara try them. Those two can be brutally honest," Shepard laughed. "Aren't you?"
"I don't know that I'd say 'brutal,' Mom," Tarquin said. "That's a little harsh."
"But you know Dad can't cook," Amara said.
"Just be fair," Shepard said. "Now go make sure the other kids come down and help wherever they can, okay?"
"Got it," they said in unison, running for the stairs.