Tired, but eager to move around now that we had arrived at our destination, Liara and I left the starport behind, while each pulling a large suitcase on two wheels. I held Liara's left hand in my right, and I felt somewhat haughty seeing other humans watch us as we passed by. After all, Liara was with me, and a selfish part of me wanted them to see that. Silently bragging, I thought to myself with a touch of a grin at one corner of my lips. Perhaps not the most selfless feeling ever, but I can't help it. She's mine, and no one else's! As we both adjusted to the climate outside the starport, the heat fell upon us quickly. The bright sunlight was no doubt good for the crops grown on Amaterasu, but it was a bit unwelcoming to the colony's tourists.

The plains stretched out in all directions from the starport, interrupted only by the nearby city, Dotter. Dotter itself barely counted as a city, too small to fit any form of the word "metropolis," and it had no buildings taller than five stories. Amaterasu's population was extremely spread out when compared to the tight arcologies of Eden Prime.

I led Liara over to the open-air X3M shuttle depot. We had to be economical buying our tickets to come here, so there were already many travelers in front of us waiting in line. I glanced over to Liara; she seemed to be looking around the plains, taking them in. I'd seen it all before, so I took the opportunity to watch her reactions instead. She looked—lost, perhaps? I wondered what questions she was asking herself about what she saw.

I didn't have to wonder for long. Liara caught me gazing at her and flashed me a confident smile as she met my gaze. "I had no idea it would be so—empty, I suppose. I've seen images on the extranet of Eden Prime and a few other human colonies. They're much larger than this settlement."

I nodded. "Amaterasu is small in comparison. That city in the distance is Dotter, and it's the biggest we have on this planet thanks to the spaceport."

"Are we surrounded entirely by farmland?" she asked, incredulous.

"Makes for a pleasing enough vista for our admittedly limited tourist industry, don't you think?" I answered.

Liara agreed, "I suppose so. I like it."

"Besides, the best reason to visit Dotter, and Amaterasu in general, is the food. You think you've had human food on the Normandy? Ha, think again. I'm going to introduce you to real human food before we leave."

"You're planning a lot of firsts for our first trip to Amaterasu," Liara noted softly.

"I want you to have a good time." My voice softened as I implored her, "I know we've talked about this already, but my family—I don't know how our relationship will go over. We're both going to have to deal with whatever reception we get, but it's not the only reason we're here. This is where I grew up, and I want to share it with you. Just promise me we'll make some good memories here, no matter what happens. Okay?"

"Okay," Liara pronounced, smiling warmly. "Food sounds like a good start."

"I'm sure we'll find something that will amaze you," I promised. "Some of my favorite foods come from restaurants right here in Dotter. We'll have to wait, though; there's no doubt my family's cooking dinner for us tonight."

The group of four in front of us climbed inside an X3M aircar together and departed, while an empty aircar autopiloted to a landing in front of us. As its engines died down and the doors popped open, Liara expressed to me, "Finally. This heat is suffocating."

I released her hand to grab my suitcase with both of mine. "Let's blast the air conditioning," I voted as I lifted it up and into the far back seat. I pulled back to get out of Liara's way so she could put her own next to mine. Feeling amorous, I held up my right hand and smiled widely when I caught her attention. She laughed, but nonetheless accepted by help, holding my hand for balance as she stepped up into the car and over to the far seat on the right side of the car. As she sat down, I climbed in the near seat myself, strapped in, and got the aircar moving to make room for others waiting for an aircar behind us.

Liara pulled up the haptic adaptive interface on her side, navigating to weather information. After finishing our flight plan and letting the autopilot take full control, I glanced over, curious to see what she was reading. Our aircar's own thermometer was apparently measuring the outdoor temperature at 36.6 degrees C, explaining our recent discomfort in numerical terms. The humidity was high for this area too. Liara brought up the local forecast: rain was expected to fall within the next few hours.

I looked out the front window, dimming the holographic display of the aircar's vital statistics like speed and altitude. Right in front of us were dark, angry-looking clouds that drew a sharp line parallel to the horizon. They were approaching quickly, or more precisely, we approached each other quickly. "Hey Liara, look," I directed her as I pointed out the front window. "There's the big storm that's coming."

"Oh my," she said as she looked out the window. "Is that a big storm for this area?"

"Looks like it to me," I told her with a wry grin. "Hope you're not squeamish."

Liara shook her head. "No, I'm not. I'll be fine. What about you?" she challenged.

"Excited would be a better word for it," I told her. "It reminds me of a roller coaster ride."

"A roller coaster?" Liara asked.

I snapped my face away from the storm to regard Liara in surprise. Recovering, I stated cryptically, "Oh, I'll definitely have something else to add to our list for this vacation trip." I smirked predatorily at her.

Liara took one glance at me and implored, "Whatever it is, Goddess protect me."

I laughed. The aircar passed straight through the weather front then, and we were both distracted by the storm outside our windows as the buffeting started. The rain was heavy and loud as it splattered against our vehicle. Our vehicle's computer automatically slowed its forward progress a bit to more easily adjust to the whipping winds buffeting it.

"When will you tell them?" Liara asked, once again bringing our attention back inside the aircar. "I don't want to rush you or make this any harder than it has to be."

"I'm not sure. It'll have to be while I'm alone with my sisters, because they need the chance to interrogate me privately."

"Interrogate?" Liara asked, her eyebrow raised. "That doesn't sound very good."

"I probably could have said it better," I hedged, somewhat apologetic. "Listen, for our family, news like this won't make sense to them at first. They'll have a lot of questions, and they'll feel very uneasy until they've gotten their answers. They might even be a little mad at me for keeping secrets; I don't know. I've got to let them get it all out before they'll be able to adjust. Believe me, Liara, I know they'll adjust. It'll just take time."

"Telling your family is an important step in our relationship," Liara stated. "I don't want to be in the way, but it feels wrong for me to be absent for it."

"I'll make sure we include you, Liara. I'm sure they'll have questions for you, too, eventually."

Liara sighed, "That almost sounds worse."

I gave her my most pitying look, but my amusement was betrayed by the slight upturn of my lips. I held out my open hand in-between us. "You'll survive, Love."

Liara flashed me a smile and laced her fingers between mine. Before I knew it, we were grinning madly at each other and time seemed to still; the only movement I perceived was the water outside the window behind her.

The aircar bucked beneath us unexpectedly, jarring us both and prematurely ending our moment. I glanced at the display to make sure everything was all right, noting how little the aircar's altitude was shifting while still being annoyingly turbulent for its passengers.

Liara remarked, "It's been a long time since I've been in an X3M going through a storm. I forgot how much it can knock us around."

"It sure can," I agreed. "The radar's completely covered by the storm clouds. Based on our ground speed, though, it'll be a half hour before we reach my family's house. I hope we leave the storm by then; I'd hate to have to unpack our stuff in the middle of a downpour."

"If only this wasn't a public aircar, I'd suggest we leave everything overnight."

I nodded in agreement. "We'll survive, if I have to peel every soaked layer of cloth off of you myself." I waggled my eyebrows at her with a prominent mischievous and unrepentant smirk. I was looking to provoke an involuntary response from her, and I got what I was looking for: Liara's eyelids momentarily slammed shut as she sucked in a quiet gasp. I cherished my effect over her even as she recovered from being undone. It was a rare thing to see, a thing of beauty.

I'd first seen something like it as we made love for the first time together. Now I would periodically seek it out without warning or preamble. Anything to see her come apart for me, gripped by the same passion that constantly drove me crazy.

Liara sought to level her most chastising look at me. As always, I acknowledged it without a hint of remorse, still smirking. She could pretend to hate me for it all she wanted; I knew better. She shook her head, giving up after only a moment of reproach. There it was; her tiny smile quirking her lips as at last she allowed herself to appreciate the passion, thinking her point was safely made.

I swallowed as I looked back out the windshield. My efforts were a double-edged sword, stoking my desires just as much as hers. I shifted in my seat for the sake of a moment's distraction. As far as I was concerned, it could keep raining as hard as it wanted to, just so long as I got to make good on my promise.

() () () () ()

The aircar left us at a secluded ranch-style modular home under dark, but dry, cloud cover. My mother's garden sat next to the house to my left. I could see droplets of rainwater still clinging to the blooming red, yellow, and white rosebushes. My mother had a row reserved for her tulips, too, which also looked incredibly healthy. The front door popped open and out burst all three of my sisters, Sarah in the lead. I smiled warmly and waved to all of them as they approached.

The ground was a bit muddy, so with my sister's help, we managed to lift our bulky suitcases and carry them inside the front door. After confirming we'd unloaded the shuttle, I sent the X3M back up into the air. It banked around 180 degrees and shot off into the sky. Turning back to the house, I entered last and closed the door behind me.

"How was the trip?" Abby was asking Liara as I entered.

Liara made a big show of stretching. "Fine. I just feel a little cramped from sitting for so long in both the aircar and the interstellar transport."

I'm in no better condition, I reflected. "Can we see the guest room, please? I think Liara and I both need a hot shower to loosen up."

"Of course," Abby agreed, turning to lead the way. "Follow me."

Liara and I each tugged our respective suitcases behind us and did just as my sister instructed. My other sisters dispersed as well; Sarah headed for her bedroom, Lynn for the kitchen. It was almost dinner time, and Liara and I would have our work cut out for us as we answered their inevitable questions about the trip and tried to eat the meal that would no doubt be substantial all on its own.

There was only enough room in our house for a single guest room, so Liara and I had to share by default. I knew that before we left, and as I closed the bedroom door, Liara grinned as she pointed out the big king-size bed to me. Her levity carried on her voice as she exclaimed quietly, "Look, Ash, it's a bed."

"A real bed? How does it work? Where's the canopy to close it up?" We laughed together at our in-joke.

"What's the shower like?" Liara wondered aloud as she headed into the connected bathroom.

The bathroom had another door on the opposite side that led into Sarah's room. I smirked. Liara was about to be surprised; not only did the bathroom have a shower, but my father had put in the time and money to get a very nice, large capacity tub with massaging jets installed. The smaller walking space was more than compensated for by the luxury of that tub. It had soothed many a frayed nerve in our family over the years.

Such indulgence, however, would have to wait. "It's a nice bathroom," I told her needlessly. Liara's only response was to close the door between us and engage the privacy lock. Moments later, I heard the shower come on.

I busied myself with digging into my suitcase, gathering toiletries, putting some of my clothes in the empty dresser's top drawer. My mother's home wasn't as expansive as a hotel, but the floor plan was efficient, and big enough that it accommodated all of us children while we were growing up, although we'd shared rooms. My father had poured a lot of his meager salary back into this house, improving upon the basics we started with until it had a lot of very nice creature comforts. He always took such excellent care of us, whether he was home on leave or away and serving on all kinds of Systems Alliance naval ships.

Liara's shower was surprisingly brief. She emerged a few minutes after shutting off the water with her azure skin just a shade darker than usual, again dressed in the clothes she'd worn on the trip out here.

As Liara passed me, I intercepted her with a hug, drawing her in until I could whisper in her ear. The pleasant, rosy aroma of my family's customary soap greeted me. "What is that wonderful smell?" I asked. "I could just eat you up right here."

Liara quipped back, "You are really hungry, aren't you?"

I chuckled and nodded, rubbing the sides of our heads together. "Pretty much. Let's finish getting ready for dinner before I spoil my appetite."

My lover snorted before she could stifle her humor. "Mhmm," she managed, pulling away from me. I released her and calmly took the opportunity to secure my own stake on the bathroom.

Within twenty or so minutes of my whispered promise, Liara and I were gathered around my mother's table with the rest of my family. My mother had arrived home herself from an appointment in Dotter while I'd been showering, so introductions had already been made by the time we all sat down.

My mother addressed me first as we began eating, "It's been a while since I've seen you, Ashley. You've been busy on that ship of yours ever since the awards ceremony on Arcturus Station. How has your new responsibilities as an Operations Chief gone?"

I smiled. My mother understood military minds like my own, like my father and grandfather. She knew how to get us to open up and talk, even if we weren't always very talkative. "It's been a wonderful challenge," I informed her. "We've been hunting geth across the galaxy. There's been plenty of ground missions, too, so I've had to work hard to keep the Normandy's entire marine contingent on their toes and ready to respond at a moment's notice. There's hardly been any downtime at all, but things have gone perfectly. No injuries, no casualties, no problem."

"I'm glad to hear that," my mother stated warmly. She turned toward my guest. "And you, Liara? How has it been, aboard a human ship for such a long time?"

Liara smiled warmly. "Well Mrs. Williams—Lauren," she corrected herself at my mother's almost-protest. "Humanity is an inspiring culture. You act so much more quickly and focus so deeply on what you want. My culture could stand to learn a little bit of that from yours. Ashley has specifically encouraged me to 'seize the day' as she puts it. Now I can understand why your people love coffee so much."

I snickered as the rest of my family laughed affably. Sarah asked next, "But are you lonely? I mean, aboard an alien ship all the time with a bunch of—no offense, sister—busybody soldiers?"

"Hey," I interjected weakly, inspiring more laughter, but trailed off afterward to let Liara answer.

"The crew has made a place for me to work alongside them," Liara replied. "There are times I miss my homeworld, for certain, but my work aboard the Normandy keeps me just as busy as the others. I spend a great deal of my 'off duty' time in Ashley's company. We have become close friends."

"What about love?" Sarah asked, pressing further. "I've been doing some reading on asari culture, and your entire culture almost seems to be built around it. Do you ever get restless, seeing the same forty-or-so people and postponing the search for a bondmate?"

"Not personally," Liara hedged, a little wary of the direction Sarah was taking our conversation. "Searching for a bondmate is primarily a matron's endeavor, first of all. While I am certainly capable of falling in love now, well—for this stage of my life, I have everything I need aboard the Normandy." She looked towards me and our eyes met briefly.

As our gazes broke apart I felt some trepidation that my family might have picked up on a little more than just what Liara had said aloud. I stared at my plate and focused on eating a bite or two while assiduously keeping any blushing from showing. "Liara knows about our family and our grandfather," I told them, hoping to derail the conversation.

"What?" my mother interjected before catching herself.

"You know?" my little sister Sarah asked, almost timidly.

"Yes," Liara answered confidently. "Ashley has told me about the full extent of the prejudice your family faces in the military. You have my sympathy for being treated so unfairly. I am also impressed that Ashley chose to tackle that prejudice head on like she has." Liara addressed me briefly, "I've said this before, but your dedication is inspiring."

"Thank you, Liara," I replied graciously, then looked towards my sisters and my mother. "The reason I bring this up is because I want you to understand that we don't have to keep secrets from Liara. She's my best friend, and I trust her implicitly."

"That's wonderful!" Sarah agreed readily. "I never would have thought you'd be the one to make an alien best friend, Ashley."

"It's been a long time coming," I assured her, and the others as well. "Liara has been a great friend, and infinitely patient with me and my baggage. Clearing the air with her, well, it was one of the best feelings in the world."

"Likewise for my part," Liara interjected with a smile.

"Then you don't have to worry about us," Abby informed Liara. "Once you've passed into the trusted zone with one Williams daughter, you've passed into the trusted zone with all of them."

"Thank you very much," Liara answered.

Our dinner wrapped up not too long after that. All of us retired to the living room, continuing to make small talk about each of our lives of late. Once we started to feel like we were finally getting caught up, Lynn and Abby excused themselves to head to their respective abodes.

Liara retired to our room first; I let her have plenty of lead time, just in case my mother and sister wanted to talk with me privately. I felt a little fear creep up in my gut as I sat on the sofa between my family members. Liara's presence had been a protective shield against the tough questions; now that she was in our room, I wondered what they'd do.

As it turns out, I had no need to worry. Sarah followed Liara's path heading for her own bedroom with a pleasant "Goodnight," to us both. I watched her leave before turning my full attention to my mother, who seemed contemplative.

"You look really good, Ash," she stated warmly. "I haven't seen you glow like this in years."

"Glow?" I asked, surprised. "I'm not glowing, Mom."

She chuckled lowly. "Indeed? I suppose I'm imagining things then."

I conceded her point, to a degree. "Well, okay, I suppose I'm pretty happy right now. But that's just because I'm home with my family!"

"I'm glad you're here, too, my little poet."

That got my cheeks red. "Don't let Liara hear you call me that, please," I objected, glancing behind me towards the hallway.

My mother laughed more boisterously than ever. "I'm sorry, honey. You'll just have to forgive me for that one; I haven't seen you in so long."

"I know," I agreed warmly. "Mom, about Liara..."

"Hmm?" my mother probed politely.

"Well, at dinner... I just wanted to thank you, and my sisters too, for being so accepting of her. I was a little worried about bringing her over, even if she is my best friend that doesn't make her family."

Mother shook her head definitively. "That's where you're wrong, Ashley. That is exactly what makes her a part of our family."

I had no answer to that, so I merely leaned over and into my mother's arms, hugging her. "Thank you," I managed, my voice cracking with barely constrained emotion.

We held each other for a few minutes longer before breaking apart. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mom," I told her with a wide smile.

"Tomorrow," she held me to the promise, standing up to head towards her bedroom on the opposite side of the living room from mine. I left the living room excited and deliriously happy, although that was counterbalanced by how physically tired I was tonight.

As I arrived at my bedroom, Liara walked out, stopping me in the hallway. "Hey," I greeted her, grinning like a fool.

"Ash?" she questioned my odd expression, obviously unaware of what had transpired in the living room without her.

I shook my head and pulled her into as tight a hug as I could manage. "Welcome to the family," I whispered into her ear. "This is all going so much better than I could have imagined."

We remained embraced tightly for a trackless amount of time; I felt my spirit siphoning its strength from our contact together, and I waited until I felt strong enough to reluctantly pull away. As I did, I couldn't help but give her in reciprocity a reassuring kiss on the cheek. Holding hands, she led me into my bedroom, and I closed the door behind us. There might not be any carnal relations tonight, but I knew I'd be falling asleep tonight holding my love tight, and that was more than enough incentive for me.

() () () () ()

I was, predictably, the first one awake in my mother's house. I started making a generous Williams-family-sized serving of pancake batter so we'd have enough for everyone when my sisters arrived from their own homes to spend the day. As a military family, all of us were "trained" as early risers, so Abby and Lynn shouldn't be too long. As I mixed the batter, I heard Sarah enter the kitchen.

That's unusual, she doesn't usually like hanging out in here in case we try to recruit her into helping with the cooking. I glanced over my shoulder. She had a smug, self-satisfied smirk that immediately set my brow furrowed. "Morning," I greeted her.

"Good morning," she shot back immediately, flipping some of her hair back behind her ear.

I turned back to the batter. This could be trouble. Ignore her. I resumed mixing batter, focusing my attention there.

Sarah sighed behind me. "I swear, sometimes it's so hard to get a good night's sleep."

"What?" I asked, nonplussed. "You seem awfully chipper for being tired..."

"Oh, I am. What about you?" Sarah asked. "Sleep well with Liara?"

I swallowed some of my nervousness. "Uh, oh, of course. I mean, she's very—quietand a considerate roommate."

"That's great," Sarah pronounced. "I'd hate to share a bed with a selfish sleeper."

I tried to puzzle out what she could be driving at. Did she think I had kept Liara awake? How would she know that? "Yeah," I agreed at last, unable to decide.

"So, are you dating?" she asked.

I fumbled the bowl of batter; it fell a handful of centimeters and clattered against the counter top noisily. "What!?" I asked, surprised. I spun around to face her directly and noticed that she was sitting on our countertop, one leg draped over the other, and her hands meshed and holding her knee. She looked at me expectantly.

"You and Liara," Sarah asked again. "She's your best friend, didn't you say?"

"Yes," I confirmed, my mind racing. "Wh-what made you think that we're dating?"

"It's why you're both here," Sarah stated. "I'm sure of it now. But geeze, Ash, couldn't you tell us first?"

"First?" I replied, my voice small.

"I saw you kiss her when I went to open my bedroom door for the night."

"Oh, Sarah," I closed my eyes, grimacing. Pain gripped my chest. She must feel so betrayed because I didn't tell her. "I'm—sorry. I never meant—I wanted to tell you, but I thought it might be easier if I took it slowly..." my voice trailed off. My head dropped to my chest, and I contemplated the bowl of pancake mix when I finally managed to open my eyes again.

"Uh huh," she stated, her voice completely level. "Well, this is a shocker, I have to admit. You're gay, aren't you?"

I looked up at Sarah, meeting her eyes briefly. I didn't see any judgment in them, but it was hard to hold her gaze while coming out. I swallowed reflexively. "Uh, well, sorta."

"Ash!" she replied tersely. "There's been times I've wondered, but—you never told us! You never even told me!"

"I know; it's just—things were hard enough for me in the military already. I couldn't stand distancing myself from the rest of you any more than my assignments already did. I wasn't sure how you'd react, and I was afraid about my CO's finding out. Besides, it's a non-issue, really, because I swear I'm still the same sister I always was."

"Yes, you are," Sarah agreed. She bounded off the counter top and drew me into a suffocatingly tight hug. She reprimanded me with a sharp edge to her voice, "But you should have told us. We're Williams sisters; we have no use for secrets between us."

"Yes," I managed, a lump forming in my throat. "I'm sorry, Sarah."

Sarah sighed. "It's okay," she affirmed, breaking out in a giggle. "My big sister likes alien girls."

"I do not!" I demanded, upset. When she looked up from her hug to study my face, I explained,"I like Liara."

"There's a difference?" Sarah asked, somewhat hesitant.

"A big difference," I informed her. "She's... well... She's Liara," I tried to explain and failed to figure out where I was going with my argument.

"Oh, so you've got it bad, then," Sarah observed. "You love her, huh?"

"Yes!" I insisted. A little less certainly, I asked, "Is—is that okay?"

"Of course, you big dummy!" Sarah assured. "But, you might want to tell mom and our sisters before repeating last night's performance. It might go over better that way."

"You think they'll be okay with it?" I asked, desiring a little more reassurance.

"Of course!" Sarah shot back, "Do you know how excited I am that you found somebody, Ash!? SUPER EXCITED! This is the best news I've heard in, like, ever. My sister isn't on her own anymore, she has a girlfriend!"

From behind us, a surprised voice called out, "Girlfriend?"

It was Liara. I sighed with relief that it wasn't my mother; I would have been mortified if I'd lost my only opportunity to break the news to her gently. "Liara... Um... Guess what, Sarah knows!"

"She does?" Liara asked, hesitant. She looked at my sister.

Sarah smiled and rushed over, giving Liara an impromptu hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," Sarah repeated until she broke off her hug. "I'm so happy for you. For both of you." She shot pointed look my way, daring me to call her a liar and give her the chance to prove herself. I leaned against the counter top I'd been working at and smiled warmly. She's right, you know, you can tell that she's genuinely happy for us.

"Yes. One sister down, two sisters and a mom to go," I proclaimed.

"This is wonderful," Liara stated, beaming. "I never imagined Ash would be so quick about it. I thought she wanted to tell all of you together, and give you more time to ask your questions."

"Questions?" Sarah pipped up, perplexed. "The only question we'll have is why it took so long to tell us."

I sighed, a bit irritated. "Sarah..."

"No, don't 'Sarah' me," she sassed. "I mean it, Ash. You've gotten yourself all worked up over nothing. I promise you, everyone will be supportive. Even Lynn. You're the only one who's worrying about how the family will react."

Unable to counter her argument, I replied with slight disbelief, "I'll believe it when I see it."

Just then my mother emerged from her room, and the three Williams began to set up the table for breakfast while Liara watched us. Sarah kept her features schooled and impassive, hiding her earlier excitement impressively. As we finished, the front door opened, heralding the arrival of my other two sisters. They were already chattering about their favorite plans for today, but paused long enough to greet each of us, including Liara. Together we sat down and began eating together. I could tell Liara was pleased that she already recognized the food I'd prepared, and she ate her pancakes with gusto. She explained asari cuisine's camadia and its similarities and differences to pancakes to my family.

After breakfast, the table swiftly broke up as my mother and sisters, minus Sarah, began to clear the table and take care of the dishes. The three of us left sitting at the table shot shot questioning looks to each other.

"Do you two want to work on getting us a ride into Dotter?" I asked Sarah and Liara at last, grasping at straws.

"Sure," Sarah agreed, standing up. Liara stood as well. "This way," Sarah directed kindly, indicating the way to the living room with an outstretched arm.

I took a deep breath and stood. Heading into the kitchen, I pushed inside until Lynn and Abby managed to shift around the counters enough to make room. "Hey, cooks don't get in the cleaners' way," Lynn protested.

"Mom, Abby, Lynn. Hold up a minute. I want to tell you all something."

The women stopped and regarded me with confusion. "What is it, dear?" my mother questioned.

I could feel my nervousness returning from this morning's confrontation in full force. I forced myself to ignore it as best I could. "I have big personal news," I told them.

I saw three sets of eyebrows rise almost imperceptibly in surprise. I almost lost my battle against my fears right then and there because I was so completely derailed by the random observation. "I'm seeing someone," I told them. "Actually, that's why I'm here. I wanted to tell you all that I'm seeing Liara."

"Seeing Liara?" Lynn replied, her brow furrowed in complete confusion, "She's—she's just your friend, though."

"What are you saying, dear?" my mom added, confused.

"Well, that's how things went for us," I stated. "First we became friends... Then we became more."

"What, last night?" Abby's eyebrows began to reach for the ceiling.

I shook my head. "No. Look." I paused, taking a deep breath, steeling my nerves. "Liara and I are seeing each other romantically. We have been for some time. I just—I didn't know how to tell you. I know this is sudden... I've tried to do this so many times to a mirror, and it went just as badly then as it's going now..." I sighed. "I'm sorry for not telling you. I hid the truth because I didn't know how to tell you. But things are getting serious, between Liara and I, and I needed to get rid of this secret. We—uh—we both did."

"Honey, isn't Liara a girl?" my mother inquired gently.

"Yes... No... Not technically..." I tried to answer, becoming flustered. "She's an asari, mom. Please don't ask me hard questions right now; I'm barely able to stand here as it is."

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I just don't understand, honey. You've never said anything about liking girls, or aliens that look like girls, for that matter."

"I know. I—couldn't. But I'm trying to be brave right now and make up for that. Mom, I know this doesn't seem like me, but I'm telling you the truth. Please, don't be upset with me. I never wanted to hurt any of you..." I trailed off, my voice cracking.

"Oh honey," Mom rushed forward, pulling me into a hug. "Oh honey, no, I'm not upset. It's okay."

My tears broke free of their dam and ran down my face into my mother's shirt. I gripped my mother tightly as choked sobs tore free from within my chest. I felt more arms then and realized my sisters had flanked us and joined in the hug. Now my tears fell wholesale and the sobs softened, as my heart recognized love and acceptance from all of them.

When we finally all broke apart, everyone's eyes were slightly watery, but everyone was smiling brightly. "Thank you," I told them.

"Thank you for telling us," Abby countered immediately, smiling a bit wider for a moment. Lynn and my mother copied after her, silently adding their agreement and support. The moment seemed to crystallize for each of us.

Sarah cleared her throat. We each turned to see her standing in the doorway. "Now that that's out of the way, let's have some fun today. The shuttle will be here in five minutes. We should get ready for our day on the town before it gets here."

"Wait, please," I requested. Everyone regarded me. Speaking up as loud as I could with my voice still a bit fragile from the remnants of powerful emotion, I called towards the living room, "Liara, come here!"

I entered the dining room to intercept Liara as she entered, making room for my sisters and mother to wait with me in the same room. As Liara entered, I snaked my right arm around her back, resting it at her hip, holding her in her proper place at my side. I cleared my throat. "Mom, Sisters, this is my girlfriend, Liara T'Soni."

"We're pleased to meet you again," my mother replied with a smile. "Properly, this time."

Liara seemed to freeze in place momentarily, and then attempted to cover for it with a rapid response, "Yes, I'm very pleased to meet all of you—again." Her cheeks flushed slightly darker blue as she grew embarrassed. I squeezed her against me slightly, and she seemed to draw the necessary courage to rebound. "Thank you for having me over to your home."

My mother nodded. Sarah, wanting to break the last remnants of the tension, reminded us, "The shuttle's almost here. Let's get a move on, we've got a lot to show off to Liara and Ash. Dotter's grown since you were last here, Ash."

"Yes, let's," I agreed readily, turning towards Liara. "You want to?"

"Wherever you are, I want to be," she announced, smiling. Turning to my family, she added, "I have so much I want to learn about each of you. I hope you don't mind a lot of questions; the scientist in me loves questions."

There was brief laughter all around, and at last the tension had completely fled. "Let's get going," Abby insisted. "Dad would be the first to point out how much time we're wasting here!"

Everyone agreed. There were brief hugs between each of us as we seemed to meet all over again on brand new terms. Then, without delay, my family boarded the waiting shuttle and began chatting about our plans for today excitedly. I relinquished my hold on Liara's hip to grab her hand instead when we boarded last. Squeezing our hands together, our smiles perfectly matched each others as the conversation began to take over our attention.

As we rode through the clear summer's day, our spirits never left the skies.

Would you look at that, Ash worried over nothing. I think a lot of you might have anticipated that, too. As endings go, I actually prefer the end of 19 for the striking image it leaves as the chapter ended. However, I did want Ashley's family to know the whole truth, and an epilogue was a perfect place to do it. How do you feel, comparing the end of 19 to the end of 20?

I haven't decided anything about a sequel to this story yet, but based on its popularity and my enjoyment in writing it, I think chances are good. We'll see how I'm feeling after I actually sit down and try writing a bit more of it.

Sorry I took so long to post this. I wanted to have an announcement about what my next fanfic would be. However, I've decided I can't wait any longer for the rough drafts I'm working on to reach their ends, because I write stories that simply take too long for me to finish a draft. Consider this instead to be an idea of where I'll be going next:

I've got my redux of Blue Drop quite far along as well as a beta reader for it, so I think that will be next. I'm writing it mostly because I want to see a better story and ending than the canon one; I know most people will overlook it because of the fandom's miniscule size, and that doesn't bother me. I don't think the Blue Drop fic will be as long as this fic was, though. By the time it begins getting uploaded, I want to be working on another fic and posting it concurrently. That fic could be from Skyrim or Mass Effect (which would mean Mira's sequel or My Cause and My Love sequel). Keep an eye out for those, because I think they're both a lot of fun.

It'll be a while, so let me take this final chance to say thanks for reading and enjoying this story along with me! Until next time!