STAR WARS DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. MASS EFFECT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. FOR THE LAST TIME—SNIFFLE— MY CHARACTERS BELONG TO ME.
Said and Done
Kashyyyk, 5 Years Later
"Thank you for granting us permission to land," Wek said into the comms. He waited for the Wookie officer on the other end of the line to transmit him the coordinates, then cut the link. "He seemed annoyed."
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "I still don't get how you can understand the language. It sounds like loud, random noise to me."
In the pilot's seat of the Desperate Measures, Soleis chuckled. "Don't worry, most people can pick it up after a while. I can understand a bit now."
"And it only took you five years," Wek joked, only for his wife to playfully swat him on the shoulder. "Ow! Hey, Bitters, Sol hit me!"
Further back in the ship, Bitters laughed. "Don't pull me into your marriage issues, kid!"
While Wek grumbled, Shepard retreated from the cockpit. "I'm going to go check on Tali and the kids. We'll be landing a few minutes, right?"
"Yeah, it'll be fine," Soleis said, waving a hand at him. "Go see if hyperspace makes anyone queasy."
Shepard made his way to the quarters his family had been assigned; according to the Blades, that room had once been Tanith's. When he arrived, he found Tali gently waking up their two adopted children.
"Did they sleep the entire time?" he asked quietly.
Tali nodded. "It looks like we didn't have to worry about their first trip through hyperspace. If anything, it made them take naps easier than I can!"
Shepard bit back a chuckle and picked up Victor. The little Human boy had been a few days old when the war ended, and had spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage; when Shepard and Tali had looked into adopting after they married, they instantly fell in love with the small, quiet child. After two years, he was just as happy with his parents as they were with him.
Thankfully, the boy also got along with his adopted sister, the little Quarian girl whose hand Tali now held. Like her brother, Shianni had lost her parents—her father during the battle to retake Rannoch, and her mother during childbirth a few days after her people began resettling the planet—but her earliest memories were of the planet's sunrise; she was one of the first Quarians to spend their first day of life on their homeworld, making her something of a good-luck charm amongst her people. Between her adopted mother being an Admiral and her celebrity adopted father, there was no problem with the paperwork, and a few months after Victor, Shianni became the newest member of the family. Unlike her shy brother, Shianni was always full of energy, and tended to shout more than speak.
"Are we there, Mama?" Shianni asked through a loud yawn.
"We'll be landing in a few minutes," Tali said, her voice full of warmth. "Now, have you checked your suit's seals?"
Shianni nodded. "Uh-huh, and I double-checked before I went to sleep!"
"Good job." Tali knelt down and hugged the little girl. "Remember, you can never be too careful with suit seals."
"I know, I know." Shianni was practically vibrating in place. "Can we go outside now? I wanna see these big trees you told me about!"
Loud footsteps from outside the room caught everyone's attention; a moment later, Azrael stuck his head in. "We will be landing in approximately ninety seconds. Everyone else is gathering at the ramp."
Though Victor didn't say anything, Shepard could tell that he was excited, if the way he stared at Azrael was any indication.
"It seems like everyone is happy to see Ryan and Tanith," Shepard said.
"It has been exactly two years, three months, and eleven days since we have seen them in person," Azrael replied. "One year, eight months, sixteen days since our last holo-transmission. It is natural to want to see them again."
Shepard only shrugged as his family followed Azrael out. "I still don't know why they moved all the way out here."
"The Wookies gave them privacy," Bitters said as the five of them joined the other Blades, save for Soleis, who was still piloting. "Ryan's pretty much a celebrity in two galaxies, and all he wanted was a quiet life."
"And it is extremely difficult to locate someone on Kashyyyk," Sera added. "Even if someone knew that Ryan and Tanith were on the planet, they would have to first get past the Wookie security before searching through the entire surface to find them."
"So… it's a good thing Ryan already gave you his address," Shepard said.
Xin nodded sagely. "Very good thing. Xin not have enough rockets to clear away entire forest to find them."
Shepard couldn't help but take a small step away from the Vorcha; even after all these years, he was still a little crazy.
A brief shudder informed them all that the Desperate had landed. A moment later, the ramp lowered, and after Soleis rushed from the cockpit to join them, they walked out.
Shepard and his family couldn't help but stare at the massive, twisting trees that grew all around them. Many were as large as skyscrapers—in fact, judging by the lights coming from within holes in the trees, Shepard realized that some of them actually were buildings!
"Heck of a place to live," he said, breathing in the fresh forest air.
"You guys just going to stand there, or are you coming in?" Everyone turned to see Ryan, wearing a loose shirt and pants, walking towards them. "Dinner is almost ready, and you guys should know, Tanith's cooking is really good now." He grinned. "Wek, you haven't messed up my ship, have you?"
Wek smiled back as he gave Ryan a brotherly embrace. "Hey, it's my ship now. You gave me the ownership rights, remember?"
Ryan ran a hand through his hair, which had grown out over the years. "Well, technically, the ship was stolen, so nobody can own her." He glanced over at Shepard and Tali. "Great to see you two. Are these the kids?"
Shepard smiled and shook Ryan's hand. "Great to see you again, Ryan. And yeah, this is Victor; say hello, Victor."
"Hello." The little boy waved shyly, then buried his face in Shepard's shoulder.
Ryan briefly hugged Tali, then got down on one knee to look Shianni in the eye. "Hello, there."
"Hi!" To Ryan's surprise, Shianni lunged forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I'm Shianni vas Rannoch nar Shepard. My parents told me all about you! Did you really fight the Reapers? Were they as big as the stories say? How many of them—"
"Easy, easy!" Ryan laughed. "If it's all right with your parents, I'll tell you some stories when you're older." Even with her tinted faceplate, it was clear that Shianni was pouting. "Hey, none of that. Besides, there's someone who wants to meet you both."
"Yeah, I was wondering about that," Wek said, looking around. "Where're Tanith and Rila?"
"Rila was getting so excited about seeing you guys again, so Tanith took her on a walk to calm her down." Ryan gestured for them to follow him. "They should be getting back to the house soon."
The group followed Ryan down a well-worn path; at the end of the path was a small circular house. Parts of it were definitely new, and if someone looked hard, they could see faint scorch-marks dotting the older sections.
"I can't believe Galen gave you his house," Wek commented.
"Hey, he and Juno live in the Jedi Academy now!" Ryan protested. "Besides, Tanith and I had to replace so much of it with new material, it might as well be ours! I think the only thing that's still from the original construction is part of the roof, the big table, and the front door."
"You did fireproof it, right?" Bitters asked.
"First thing we did after we finished building," Ryan said, then whispered so that the children couldn't hear. "Okay, so maybe that was the second thing. The first thing might have been Rila's conception, but we're still not sure."
The adults all laughed; Shianni had been trying to overhear, but something in the corner of her eye caught her attention.
"Hey, who's that?"
Ryan followed her pointing finger. "That's the rest of my family." He waved his arm. "Hey, Tanith! Look who's here!"
Tanith, now coming into view, waved back; she was wearing clothes similar to Ryan's, as was the little girl at her side. The girl had black hair, like Ryan's, and her skin was green, though it was a lighter shade than Tanith's. As soon as she saw the Blades, Rila Nimbus pulled away from her mother and sprinted towards her extended family.
"You're here!" Rila squealed as she jumped into the air, only to be caught by Sera. "Did you miss me?"
"Of course we missed you," Bitters said and ruffled Rila's hair, making her giggle.
Tanith tried to mask her smile with a scowl. "Thanks, Bitters; I spent an hour trying to fix up her hair, and you mess it up in two seconds."
Sera handed Rila over to Bitters so that she could hug Tanith. "It is good to see you again."
"Yeah, I missed you guys." Tanith returned the hug, then did it several more times as the other Blades embraced her. She then hugged Shepard and Tali. "Oh, are these your kids? They're even cuter in person!"
Rila had been hugging Bitters, but at the mention of new faces, she quickly jumped to the ground and ran over to the other children.
"Hi," she said, then held out a hand. "I'm Rila."
Shianni took the hand and shook it. "Hi! I'm Shianni, and this is my brother, Victor."
Victor, who was now standing just behind Shianni, waved. "Um, hi. Nice to meet you."
Rila grinned. "Do you two wanna play? There's a cool tree behind my house that we can climb."
Shianni's eyes lit up. "I've never climbed a tree before!" She turned to her parents with clasped hands. "Can I? Please, please, please?"
"That depends," Tali said, then knelt down next to Victor. "Do you want to go with your sister and Rila?"
Victor looked at his parents, then at the two girls, who were nodding excitedly at him. "O-okay. It sounds fun."
"Awesome!" Rila pumped a fist, then ran between the siblings to pull them by the arms. "Mom, Dad, we're going to go play!"
"Have fun!" Tanith waved at the children until they disappeared behind the house. "I swear, I think that girl spends more time with her feet off the ground."
"That's just the first step," Ryan said, then wrapped an arm around her waist. "Give it a few years, and she'll want to start going into space. I wonder which of us she got that from?"
Tanith raised an eyebrow, even as she kissed his cheek. "Oh, she got that from me; she got the recklessness from you."
"Hey!" Ryan stuck his tongue out at her, then at everyone else when they laughed. "You all suck, you know that?"
"And yet, you love us anyway," Soleis said.
Ryan rolled his eyes, but he led the way into the house, his arm still holding on to his wife. "Hey, Shepard, I thought some of the others were visiting today?"
"Yeah, what gives?" Wek asked. "I mean, we've been clearing out pirates in the Terminus Systems for weeks, but we managed to come here."
Shepard only shrugged helplessly. "Honestly, the only reason I made it was because I took a page out of your book and retired. Garrus and Miranda are busy helping Liara with her Shadow Broker network, James is a senior N7 officer, Ashley is a general, EDI is taking care of Joker, Zaeed is too old to be comfortable with the trip, and Javik decided to check out some Prothean outposts and hasn't been seen since. Everyone else just sort of fell off the map."
Ryan sighed. "I think the next visit has to be in your galaxy. Do you think anyone will care that we don't have visas?"
"Considering who you are?" Wek laughed. "I doubt anyone will even ask to see them."
Tanith laughed as they entered the house and were greeted by the smell of dinner. "See, Ryan? Fame does have some upsides."
"Yeah, yeah, rub it in." Ryan kissed her again, then stepped away to approach a window. "Oh, that's nice."
Everyone joined him at the window and saw Rila sitting in a low branch of the tree. She was helping pull Victor up next to her, while Shianni cheered her brother on from her seat on a higher branch.
"I think it was worth it," Ryan said.
"What was?" Shepard asked.
"Fighting the Empire, the Reapers, Cerberus; all the close calls and near-misses." Ryan smiled, then wiped away a tear in his organic eye. "We've got friends and family, and children who won't have to go through the same things we did."
"They might have their own crises to deal with," Tanith pointed out.
Ryan nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised, but that's life. If that does happen, all I want is for their problems to be a little easier than ours. But at least we were able to give them a future with a chance of happiness."
That night, the house was filled with laughter as conversations picked up. Stories were told to the children, and when they were sent off to bed, the adults reminisced over battles long past and friends that they would never see again.
Over and over, though, they thought about Ryan's words from earlier. They had bought the future of the next generation with blood and nightmares, but as they thought about the past, they realized that Ryan was right.
It was worth it.
And… that's it. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Outcast Effect is done. The war is over, Ryan and Tanith have a home and a little girl, and things are finally finished. I'll admit that I'm tearing up a little as I type this. The Outcast Blades were my first true OCs, with no biological connection to any canon characters. I'd like to think of them as a major step in my career as a professional writer, and it makes me a little sad to see them go.
And they are going. I know a lot of you have been pestering me about continuing this legacy onwards, but it's not going to happen. Don't expect any sequels starring Rila Nimbus or Shepard and Tali's kids. I like them, but I've outgrown this series, and I need to work on other things. I've moved on from this story, but I needed to actually finish. That's not to say I don't enjoy my characters or their tale, but there is more for me to do.
With that, I must say goodbye to my old friends. Goodbye Ryan, Tanith, Wek, Bitters, and Sera. Goodbye Soleis, Xin, and Azrael. Goodbye Rila, both old and young. Goodbye, everyone from Battlegroup Maverick. And I should also say goodbye to those who have been gone for even longer. Goodbye, Ren, Grif, even Moff Laar. Your stories have all ended. Thanks for being who you were.
I'm The Incredible Muffin, and this is my last quote for this series:
The Muffin will be with you. Always.