RANNOCH

James Shepard awoke. He looked over to the slats of his bedroom window and saw the sky was just beginning to brighten, but the dawn was still a ways off. He gingerly untangled himself from his wife's sleepy embrace, put on a robe hanging at his bedside, and walked down the hall towards another room at the opposite end. He quietly opened the door to the room. There, on opposite sides of the room, were two small beds, one colored blue, the other, white. Both beds were occupied.

"They're so beautiful when they sleep," he spoke quietly to the figure he sensed approaching behind him.

"Not as beautiful as me when I sleep, I hope," he heard her say as she draped one arm around his shoulder, the other fastening their bedsheet around herself to form an impromptu gown.

He smiled. "I don't know, Tali. You might need to work a little bit harder. Ashli'Shepard vas Rannoch and Rael Shepard are definitely catching up to you."

"Bosh'tet," Tali said, playfully punching him in the arm.

James turned to her, combing one hand through her shoulder-length dark hair, which was more carefully tended to now that she could wash it every day and have it cut, and his other caressed her pale shoulder. He felt her shiver with pleasure at his touch, her head angling slightly upward to meet his eyes with her own large white orbs.

"Do you think it was a good idea to adopt them?" Tali asked.

"Of course. Our DNA differences being as they are, we can never have children of our own. A Quarian girl and Human boy, both orphaned by the war, were great ways to expand on both halves of our little family."

"Not being able to actually have children still doesn't stop us from having the benefits of trying to make more," Tali said suggestively with a mischievous smile, leaning closer to him.

James smiled as he inhaled her unique smell. "Don't I know it, Tali," he said as he remembered blissful night after blissful night. "But we both know how loud you can get. You'll wake up our guests and the kids if we go at it now. Then there'll be quite a bit of awkwardness. That's when Garrus' teasing gets downright nasty."

He saw Tali's cheeks flush, but she laughed anyway. "I guess those two are enough of a handful as it is," she said. "It's amazing. We're having more trouble keeping two children in line than we did while facing down Saren and Sovereign."

James chuckled. "But back then it was easy. We just had to face down an army of Geth while fighting in zero-gravity, blast our way into the Council Chamber, take Saren down, then face his Sovereign-possessed corpse in close quarters, then survive that huge piece of Sovereign that crashed into the room we were in. Simple. Now we have to worry about raising children of two different species. I've probably read more pages about being a parent than there are pages in the Galactic Codex."

Tali laughed. "I hope little Ashli handles the shift to Earth well when we move back there for the next three years," she said.

"She'll do fine. Rael's had no problems on Rannoch these last few years."

She nodded and moved back into the bedroom and put her own robe on, which was deep purple with plush texture.

They walked into the living room of their home. James looked over and saw Garrus, who was passed out on the couch, snoring heavily and surrounded by empty cans of dextro-compatible beer.

"What did you think last night when he told you that he was the leader of the Council's new anti-piracy task force in Citadel space?" Tali asked.

"I can't think of a better person to head it," James replied. "Who's more suited to taking down criminal scum than the famous Archangel? This task force is just the squad that he commanded back on Omega, just on a much bigger scale."

"His force may be bigger, but so are his old enemies," Tali said a little crossly. "Ever since Aria regained control of Omega with her own personal army of Blue Suns, Eclipse and Blood Pack, which you were so helpful in acquiring, she's no longer content to simply sit in her club anymore. She's trying to conquer everything in the Terminus Systems she can with them. Her territory includes five systems already, and she is even starting to make raids into the Attican Traverse."

"How do you know all this?" James asked incredulously. "I thought we still know next to nothing about what's going on in the rest of the Terminus Systems."

"I'm an admiral, you big oaf!" Tali said as she lightly smacked him upside the head. "Rannoch is only a few Mass Relay jumps away from Aria's territory too, so our scout ships have been feeding the Admiralty Board all sorts of data about her doings. After hearing about Garrus' new task force last night, I'm going to set up a meeting with the rest of the Board next week to see if we can't coordinate with Garrus' forces to take Aria's little empire down a peg or two."

"I'll admit that helping Aria gain control of so many mercs was not the best decision I ever made," James said as he felt his cheeks begin heating up with embarrassment. "But we needed everyone we could to face the Reapers."

Tali nodded. "I know. I'm not judging your choice. We could literally spare no-one against fighting a galactic extinction. You'd imagine that the aftermath of something like that is always a bit messy," she said with a chuckle. "Although her conquests have given her forces a recruitment boost, holding down territory the lawless Terminus Systems is never easy for a single warlord, even Aria. She'll never be able to bring her full might to bear against us in a straight up battle."

"Fighting Aria might even give you an excuse to begin expanding Quarian territory in a different direction from the Perseus Veil," James said with a grin.

Tali shook her head. "All of our old colony worlds, and all of our old cities and installations, along with countless derelict Geth stations, are lying out in the Veil, ready to be resettled," she said. "Although... those worlds Aria controls could be easily pacified when we take her down... and with the Fleet mobilized we'll have plenty of potential colonists nearby anyway..."

"I'll be sure to help out any way I can when push comes to shove, whatever you decide," James said resolutely.

His wife smiled knowingly. "I'm sure that getting the 'terrific trio' of you, me and Garrus back together will be more than enough to beat anything Aria can throw at us," she said. "The three of us have faced far crazier things than some puffed-up Asari and her mercenaries. I'll bet that Garrus was hoping for a chance to take Aria down when he was Archangel. Soon, he'll have it."

" And this time Garrus will got friends like us from the outset to make sure that he doesn't go and get himself killed," James said with a chuckle, which turned into a yelp as Tali grabbed his ear.

"So says the idiot that got himself killed twice," she said. "Do you have a hangover? I saw you going drink for drink with Garrus last night."

James looked over at the recycling bin overflowing with empty levo-compatible beer cans. "No, I'm fine. I guess that 'no hangovers' was another consequence that the Catalyst forgot to tell me about my revival. Besides, I'd never live myself down even if I did. Wrex drank more than Garrus and I combined last night." He nodded over to one of the guest rooms, where a low rumble coming from within announced the presence of the sleeping Krogan.

"And it was all Ryncol, too!" Tali said. "Keelah, I thought that he would punch a hole in the wall as he was remembering when he faced down that Reaper Brute by himself in close combat! If Rael and Ashli weren't with their Auntie Raan last night I'd have been worried for their safety!"

"That's Wrex for you," James snickered, exaggeratedly pounding his fist into his palm. "You know how Krogan love their war stories."

"I just hope Tuchanka doesn't go up in flames while he's gone," Tali said.

"I remember him telling me that he shares power with Eve," he replied. "She's got a good head on her shoulders...um, I think 'under her hump' is the Krogan term. She'll keep the clans in line while he's gone."

"I hope you're right," Tali said, her fingers beginning to knit together again in a sign of nervousness that James was all too familiar with. "I read on the extranet recently that the Krogan population on Tuchanka has exploded, even though it's only been a few years since the Genophage was cured. With the way the Krogan are breeding, who knows how long it will be before they're making demands to the Council for more worlds?"

"Kaidan, um, I mean, Councilor Alenko earned Wrex's respect on the original Normandy and during the fight for London. I think that they'll be able to find a diplomatic solution. Kaidan said to me once that reasonableness was one of the most important things we've got. I'd hate to see that Salarian Dalatrass' 'I-told-you-so' smirk when we have another Krogan Rebellion on our hands. But I trust Wrex. I'm sure he'll do the right thing."

"I'm sure that Wrex knows how to best help his people, along with everyone else." Tali said. "Speaking of Kaidan, I got a message from him recently. I had emailed him asking what his opinions on the new members of the Council are."

"And what did he say?"

"Until the Salarians set their governmental structure back in order, it looks like that same Dalatrass is going to stay on as the Salarian Councilor," Tali said. "Kaidan's hoping she's not good at holding grudges..."

"Mordin once told me that Salarians are never good at maintaining long-term emotions. But with something like me curing the Genophage in direct defiance of her... she might make an exception to that normally-quick processing of emotions. What about the other councilors? I hope that they're better news than the Salarians."

"The new Asari Councilor, Aernis, is actually Councilor Tevos' daughter. She's done a good job so far. I guess it's true that politics can run in the family. I guess the one thing that she's not done too well so far is fully protecting the interests of the Asari."

James smirked. "After we discovered that the Asari were hoarding a Prothean beacon for themselves on Thessia, she must be trying to gain back some goodwill from the rest of the Citadel races."

"The Asari have always been the most able diplomats of the Council races," Tali said. "I imagine that soon she'll have said enough apologies to be able to vigorously represent her people again."

"And the Turians? I still have nightmares about Turian Councilors, but they at least set us on the path to begin unifying the galaxy when we didn't even know where to start. That counts for something."

Tali smiled. "Kaidan said that Councilor Victus is a fine representative of the Turians. Kaidan said that Victus' time as the Primarch of the Hierarchy really sharpened his diplomatic skills. He'll be a worthy addition to the Council."

"Glad to hear it," James said. "Good soldiers are often better at politics than they realize."

"I should expect you to know that," Tali said happily. "You only united the entire galaxy to face the Reapers. Udina would be turning green with envy if you hadn't...well... killed him."

"It had to be done."

"He tried to stage a coup to kill the old Council and allow a terrorist group to gain control of the Citadel. That's a capital crime if I've ever heard of one. He even tried to kill one of the councilors himself. You'd have failed in your duty as a SpecTRe if you didn't take him down."

"I know. I acted without hesitation when he pulled the pistol on Councilor Tevos, but that didn't make pulling the trigger any easier." James shook his head, dispelling that memory. "Did Kaidan give you any other updates on Citadel politics?"

"Yes," Tali said. "He said that the Council is currently debating whether to allow the Rachni, of all things, an embassy!"

"That sounds like some interesting meetings are in store," Shepard said.

"Councilor Aernis' great-grandmother may have been alive during the Rachni War," Tali said. "Asari have very long diplomatic memories as it is, and the processed Rachni... what were they called? Ravagers? They were some of the most devastating of the Reapers' forces. I don't think the Rachni will be getting an Embassy any time soon."

"When you put it like that, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that you were an ambassador instead of an admiral," James said with a chuckle.

He saw his wife blush and rub one foot on top of her other. "That's the other thing," she said softly. "Kaidan also told me that the Council has agreed to give the Quarians their embassy back. And he wants ME to be the first ambassador for my people!"

"That's wonderful news!" James said as he embraced her. "But you're an admiral. Your people need you here, Tali. I need you here too."

"Kaidan knew that too. He said it was a joke. He said that he knew that I was better able to help my people rebuild Rannoch than serve them on the Citadel, so he'll ask someone else, but he did tell me to tell you that making me the Quarian ambassador would be the perfect way to get back at you for nominating him as humanity's next councilor."

James laughed. "That's definitely something Kaidan would say, the crafty bastard."

"Speaking of crafty former teammates, did you take that opportunity to get in touch with Liara last week?" Tali asked.

"I did, actually," James replied. " She told me that Javik's memory stone has given her more insights into the Protheans than we've ever gotten up to this point. She's still trying to find everything that's in there, even after a year of looking at it. She said that she's gotten so many locations for new Prothean dig sites that she's having trouble organizing them all. She was even thinking of supervising some really promising digs personally. She told me to tell you 'hello' and she hopes everything is going well."

"And what about her... business?"

"She told me that her list of contacts is almost at pre-invasion levels. Feron has become her top agent, and from the way she talked about him, I think they're a couple now," James said, flashing a grin. Tali giggled. "She also told me that anyone who approaches her agents asking for my personal contact information would be given the contact information to her personal version of that Shepard VI that Mouse created all those years ago."

Tali burst out laughing, quickly covering her mouth as she saw Garrus turn in his sleep. "Did Liara say how many people try to enlist her help to find you?" she asked more quietly.

He sheepishly smiled. "I asked her the same question. She said, 'You don't want to know'."

"Keelah..."

"Joker's also doing well, or so Liara tells me"

Tali nodded. "I actually caught a TV documentary on him the other day while you were helping with that beautiful memorial to Legion and the Geth," she said.

Shepard raised his eyebrows. "Liara didn't go into any details. Joker has a documentary now? "

Tali stuck her tongue out at him. "He's only the pilot of one of the most famous ships in the galaxy that miraculously recovered from a debilitating disease and is now the Most Eligible Bachelor on the Citadel," she teased, mimicking James' voice at the last part to most closely resemble his disastrous advertising campaign at almost every store on the Citadel during the days when they were hunting the Collectors.

"Don't remind me of that, please..." he groaned. "I don't know why I thought giving the same endorsement to every damn shop I came across was a good idea...So the show was all about Joker's exploits after he retired from the military?" Shepard asked.

"Yes. According to the vid he's now one of the highest-paid entertainers in the galaxy. He's started up a stand-up comedy tour, which has sold out at every venue, and he's also gone into movies, planning on doing all his own stunts. He's working in his first production right now. Apparently, it's the next Blasto movie!" she said with a grin.

James put his face in his palm. "What would this one be? Blasto Ten?"

Tali nodded, chuckling. "Blasto Ten: Live Fast, Die Faster."

"Who knows? He might just breathe some life into the series again."

"Oh, I don't know. I thought Blasto Nine was all right," Tali said. "Even if the villain was a based a little too closely off Saren."

"What tipped you off?" Shepard smirked. "The villain was a rogue Turian SpecTRe bent on galactic domination and his name was Neras!"

Tali punched him in the arm again.

"One more thing about that vid," Tali said, smiling deviously. "It was published by Westerlund News."

"Oh, God..." James said as he put his face in his palm again.

"The credits ran by too fast for me to see, so I don't know who it was for sure," Tali said with mock innocence, "But the narrator's voice sounded familiar. She said that during Joker's time on the Normandy, his captain was a 'menace to society'." She accentuated his new title by wiggling her index fingers, the version of airquotes for species with three fingers.

"It took me three years and three hostile interviews to finally give Ms. al-Jilani what she had coming to her," James said disarmingly. "What can I say? Sometimes you can push someone too far."

"Another decision you regret?" Tali asked dryly, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Yes," James said, cracking a cheeky grin. "I regret not punching her sooner."

Even though they risked waking everyone up, they both broke out laughing.

James and Tali then looked out the window of their living room, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her back, looking out on the gorgeous canyon vista, the horizon lightening with the coming dawn.

"Do you remember what day it is, Tali?" James asked softly.

"How could I forget?" his wife answered wistfully. "Three years to the day since we landed on this spot, ready to destroy the Reaper base here... and I claimed this land."

"This window is exactly where you said you wanted it, too," he said.

"What I said on that day, James..." Tali said, turning to him. "When you were about to face that Reaper..."

"Tali..." James replied softly, as his wife stepped closer to him, her hands entwining with his.

"Every word was true, hesh'la," Tali'Zorah vas Rannoch whispered, her bright eyes shining with a love that James knew would never dim.

"And let every word of this be true," James Philip Shepard said, his forehead touching hers. "I love you, too. And I always will."

They kissed as Rannoch's sun broke over horizon, bathing them in the light of a new day.

FIN