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!(Chapter 22: Effects)!

And so, where are we now, two years later? Still fighting to save the world; acting like we didn't spend the last twelve years of our lives living and fighting together. Raising our daughter.

It wasn't as hard as we thought, at first, going back to Eyes Only. Enough time had passed that the minor pains of Logan's betrayal were nothing compared to years of heartbreaks afterwards. Enough details had come to light to suggest that he really was just that damn foolish. We've all been too foolish.

So it's back to what passed for normal, to the easy banter we used to share. Every so often, something triggers a memory that causes one of us to break down in great heaving sobs and the other is there, just being near. People go about their day and ignore us. Especially Logan.

Almost thirteen years after the fact, just the knowledge of what Alec and I shared brings him pain. He's older now too, almost forty-five, and he looks everyday a hundred - Eyes Only wore him down. Where as Alec and I are thirty-two and haven't changed a bit and, with our transgenic genes, probably won't for another thirty years at least. There's not even one wrinkle for the day we found out for sure, the day I took so many pills and he was there, the day Layla was born, or the day we lost her.

Some days, like today, I sit here and remember. And I wonder if it couldn't have all worked out - our little family. I think that maybe, just maybe, if we'd done something different we wouldn't have lost her, if we'd realized the price for being young and cocky, that we wouldn't be back where we were twelve long years ago.

Alec's here with me, holding my hand; he's trying to be there, to comfort me. Forgetting that the thing that brought us together and kept us together is gone, and so are we. I remember loving him, loving my family. But all there is now is pain, a deep empty hole in my chest that can never be filled.

Today is Layla's birthday.

I have the bizarre urge to buy a cake. But I don't know where I'd find one in Seattle, and my baking is more hopeless than my cooking. What would I do with a cake? And, damnit, I don't know why I have to cry over that, of all things.

In a couple hours Alec and I will stand up, put smiles on our faces, and go to Eyes Only headquarters, where there are lots of others working. Saving the World has really become quite the business, complete with secretaries and high-tech specialists and enough displaced transgenics to actually do some good. We used to be the specialists.

We'll find Logan, pretend everything is normal, and go off on our Mission Of The Day. Later we'll go home without her, really without each other. Seattle hasn't been home for too long, and the only home we ever knew consisted of our little family - now there are too many members missing.

She would be twelve.

"Mommy, mommy help!" She's screaming, struggling against them with all the force of a professional hit man. But there are more of them; they're trained. We never wanted to train her, we wanted to keep her away from all this, and now it could- it just couldn't be good.

There's transgenics and familiars everywhere, facing off in battles too fast to follow and too skilled to result in anything but deaths. And we were so close to avoiding this, to being prepared. Of course, they got here first.

I'm fighting off enough myself to give me trouble; trying to get to her, to save her. "Hold on, I'm coming, baby!"

And then, thank god, I hear him barreling down the road, "Max? Layla!?"

He sees us and tosses a questioning look at me. I nod towards Layla; I can take down these guys, but not in time to get to her. He seems worried about me, but Layla is all that matters and he understands, blurring towards her as fast as he can. "Fight them, Laylie!"

For a moment, the world stands still and I believe in him, in the fact that we've never lost. We're invincible. And then I see the ambush of men catch him, as the other men are pulling Layla back. I call out, the words lost somewhere deep in my memory, and I feel a hard blow from behind me. The force knocks into my back and throws me into the pavement.

I look up and see Alec struggling against the men, Layla struggling, and I know neither of us will reach her in time. Layla screams to us, "I love you, mommy, daddy!"

It was all over so quickly, such a brutal end to her life. Alec and I were calling back that we loved her and that it would be okay. And then bam they took her down, twisting her arms behind her as White came up and slit her throat.

White, and the scream that wants to bubble up dies somewhere in my chest as the chaos continues above me. Those must be tears blurring my vision until all I want to do is stay here and die.

Alec's moving, but it doesn't matter. They discard her body and rejoin the fray, White laughing until Alec's punch wipes the smirk off his face. Then several transgenics are on them, helping, punishing White for too many transgressions.

I find my way to her. Her cold hand in mind and accusing eyes staring up at something that wasn't me, and I can't say her name. "I'm so sorry."

Somewhere, distantly, I'm aware that we're winning.

"I'm so sorry."

I still think there should have been something I could have done different, something where Layla would have lived. Where we wouldn't get to watch her die while we failed. We failed. Alec feels the same way that I do.

Logan says that it's just leftover Manticore programming saying that we have to be perfect. After all this time, he's still a sanctimonious ass.

I say, fuck that, everything to do with Layla was leftover Manticore programming, doesn't change anything. Besides, we were perfect, Alec and I, we were perfect in every fight, every chase… except when it counted…

When it counted, we weren't fast enough. Weren't strong enough. Weren't enough of anything.

The others won the war.

Still, there were too many casualties on our side for it to feel like a victory. Alec and I bowed out, curled up to lick our metaphorical wounds, while the rest went up against Manticore. I heard they burned the places down - there were too many of them left to count. Too many sneaky breeding programs and too many genetically engineered babies that had to be rescued.

The world doesn't know what to do with us, the Freaks that escaped some government laboratory. So, we slip back into what we were always good at. To the things we were trained for, only we don't have to really hide anymore.

It doesn't feel the same. It doesn't feel any more free.

"Max," the hand on my shoulder is familiar and the voice as hollow as my own. I turn to Alec, sitting up on top of the space needle with me, and I kiss him.

And there's that old, familiar, easy heat that we've always shared. Heated kisses and heated exclamations and heated fights. Even if it's never the same anymore.

The End