This conversation didn't really fit into ch7, so here it is as a brief epilogue. Hope you enjoy, and thank you all so much for the wonderful reviews!
"You two ready for visitors?" Joker peered around the door frame, covering his eyes with one hand but unable to hide his grin. "Or do you need some alone time?"
"We'll save that for later," Shepard replied with a wicked smile that made Kaidan chuckle.
"And that's my cue to leave," Hannah laughed. "Steven?"
"Right behind you," Hackett replied, following her out, but he paused at the door, looking over his shoulder at them. "Take as much time as you need to recover, Shepard. We'll be happy to see you when you're ready to come back to active duty."
She smiled. "Thank you, sir."
As the admirals left, the rest of the crew piled through the door, grins and no few tears on everyone's faces. They all squeezed into the room – the whole squad, plus Wrex and Joker, of course, had come to see the two of them, with many of the others on their way now that news of her survival had started to spread.
"Good to see you, Shepard," Garrus said, standing near Shepard's bedside and looking down at her. "We thought-" He cut himself off, looking away.
"We're all just so glad you made it." Tali finished his sentence, reaching over to take Garrus's hand.
Shepard seemed to understand, reaching up to grasp their hands with hers, tubes trailing from her arms. "I'm not going anywhere," she said, smiling up at them.
According to the marines stationed outside her door and around the makeshift hospital, practically everyone in London had come by with thanks and gifts, hoping to hear that the savior of the galaxy was really, truly alive. They relayed on the happy news, but limited visitors to only those she'd been closest to, citing her need for rest.
But looking at her now, ignoring the bandages and needles on her skin and the beeping machines surrounding her, one would think nothing was wrong. Shepard's eyes were alight, her movements limited but animated, a smile on her face as she looked around at her friends.
"I mean," Shepard continued, "who would run the suicide missions if I wasn't around to guilt you into helping me?"
"How 'bout we try to keep it more 'mission' and less 'suicide' next time?" Joker suggested. "My baby can't take much more of this without getting all scratched up."
"I'm right here, Jeff," EDI pointed out.
"Oh yeah. And I definitely meant you, not the Normandy," he said, nodding emphatically.
"Don't worry – I think our next mission will be conquering a stretch of beach with plenty of lounge chairs and a bar."
"Not gonna rush back into the fight, Lola?" James asked, raising his eyebrows. "Though, hey, I'm not gonna argue if you want to lay around in a bikini."
Shepard rolled her eyes, smiling at Kaidan in the cot next to her. "Not going to defend my honor?"
The question seemed to pull him out of a daze, and he blinked rapidly. "Uh," he sputtered, eyes flicking from Shepard to Vega and back again.
"...you don't have a clue what I just said, do you."
"...no ma'am. Last thing I remember was the word 'bikini.'"
"You're asking for trouble there, Major," she grinned.
Liara smacked Vega on the arm, but he just laughed. "Nice knowing I wasn't the only one who thought it!"
"A beach sounds like an excellent idea, Shepard," Liara smiled, ignoring the smug marine next to her. "I think all of us could use a break."
"And some drinks," Garrus agreed.
"Don't suppose this hospital has a bar?" Shepard asked, bracing herself for disappointment.
Wrex laughed. "I'll get my people on it. But until then, we've got your back, Shepard."
EDI produced a bottle of champagne from a bag, plus the dextro equivalent, enough plastic glasses to go around, and a straw for Tali. Javik handed this to her with great ceremony, trying to hide a smile, and she laughed and accepted it, ducking her head in embarrassment, much to everyone's amusement.
"We figured you'd want us to bring this along," Joker said, passing out the glasses. "Though I gotta advise against dancing. For once, you might have more broken bones than me!"
"You know me so well," Shepard laughed, accepting a cup gingerly and sitting up a bit more. She sobered a little, looking around at the group. "After everything... You saved the galaxy. All of you. It's been an honor serving with each and every one of you."
"You're not getting rid of us that easy, Shepard," Kaidan smiled, reaching over to take her hand. "The Reapers are gone, but there's still plenty of work for us to do. Together."
She smiled. "I like the sound of that."
"But I think they can survive without us for a little while. And until then, some celebrating is in order. To Shepard," Kaidan said, raising his glass, and the others followed suit.
"A woman the galaxy will always remember," Liara smiled.
"A hero to the krogan," Wrex rumbled, raising the bottle.
"The galaxy's most skillful negotiator," Tali said.
"When she wants to be," Vega added with a grin.
"A mighty warrior, for her cycle," Javik allowed.
"An ally to anyone who needs her," EDI said.
"The worst driver ever to take the wheel," Joker grinned.
"The best friend anyone could ask for," Garrus said.
"And the galaxy's best and brightest hope for the future," Kaidan finished, taking her hand.
They all drank, and Shepard beamed at them all. For the first time, she was completely and utterly speechless.