Max had learned a few things when she escaped from Manticore. The first was to fight dirty. The second was how to tell people what they wanted to hear so they'd leave her the hell alone.

"Sandeman ran off," she grunted out. She spit a stream of blood before she continued. "Something about looking for his daughter."

"She's in Seattle, and neither of you can find her?" Freddy asked blandly. A group of Elders sat behind him, watching as she had answers tortured out of her. So this was Freddy Pratt, gangster extraordinaire and official torturer for the Conclave. She had pictured him older, fatter...more Italian. Instead he was about Logan's age, shorter and thin with oily hair and a pockmarked face. Did the Conclave breed no good-looking lunatics? What had started as a joke was turning out to be eerily true: The Conclave was butt-ugly.

"Didn't know she was here," Max said. "We were kind of distracted with trying to take you all down." She nodded at her audience, the twenty-some people that stood between her and the fate of the world.

"Break her other arm," Freddy sneered.

That wouldn't do! Time to make a move. "Hate to tell you this," Max said as she jerked her dislocated arm from her captor's grasp, "but this arm ain't broken!" The shoulder settled back in socket smoothly, and although it was sore and stiff, it was functional. She jabbed her fingers into the eyes of the goon holding her left arm, freeing her to fight.

"Give up now, and you'll live," she told Freddy, and the Council lurched to their feet behind him. "This is your only warning."

Glass shards began falling from Freddy's shattered skylight as Ames White was thrown through it. Max was fast enough to avoid most of the glass, though one piece nicked her eyebrow. That would bleed heavily, she knew, blinding her if she didn't cover it soon. Ropes, and transgenics, were fast behind White's body, and the melee began. No-one who did not surrender would walk out alive.

Time seemed to slow down for Max as she looked around her. She could hear Mole yell "Stop!" half-heartedly before he pulled the trigger of his shotgun. The noise was deafening in the confined room, and the Elder running for the door would never get back up. Asha and Sandeman appeared in the doorway, having secured the rest of the house. They only shot if someone tried to escape by them. It was hard to kill your own, even if it meant saving innocent lives. This Max knew personally.

Max felt her heart turn cold at the sight around her. Glassy eyes in contorted faces, blood standing red and stark against the walls and carpet. She looked up to see a waterfall of red push itself out of a woman's chest, and she knew in that instant exactly what that woman was feeling when her heart bled out into her chest, when her thoughts ran wild and disappeared all together, when the darkness claimed her.

She touched her chest where her scar should still be. So many lost because Sandeman left his children behind. So many lost for this moment, when those left would save the world in an epic battle no-one would ever know about. Silent heroes, all of them, and they would be cast back into silence after this battle.

One of Freddy's guys grabbed Max from behind. Her response was automatic: stomp his toes (he screamed in her ear), elbow his ribs (she could feel them crack), twist his arm (she could feel it bend where there was no joint), and drive his nose into his skull with the heel of her hand (she could feel him die). Death was quick, and would have been painless even if the guy could have felt pain.

She turned, and saw Freddy pointing a gun at her. She started toward him, zigzagging so that the shots would not get her. In one swift move, she kicked the gun away. With another, she snapped his neck. She dropped the body and looked around. Behind her, Alec shot an Elder in the head, finishing the job he started with an earlier shot. The battle was over.

She felt like shit.

"Max." Asha was cradling Sandeman, fallen in the doorway.

Sandeman had had a heart attack. He would never get the chance to tell his children that everything would be ok; that he loved them all. Instead, Max made that announcement to TC and held Eve as sobs wracked her body. Then she left them to their bittersweet celebration, deciding she'd rather be alone.

White was in a coma from the trauma he suffered at Joshua's hands. His fall through Freddy's window hadn't helped, but it hadn't exactly hurt him, either, vegetable that he was. With Sandeman gone, Max had decreed that White would be left alone to live out his life in peace. Joshua agreed to it, seeing as the odds of him waking up again were slim. Max hoped he never would wake up to see how the world had changed or what he had lost.

Lydecker had always been a survivor. He would limp for the rest of his life, however, and Max hated that he, of all people, should survive when others more deserving did not. Nonetheless, she had presented him with Sandeman's cane. It seemed fitting, somehow, that he should have it, despite what a pain in the ass he'd been.

And Logan...

"Max?" Alec interrupted her thoughts. He had followed her from the assembly. Maybe Mole could celebrate the carnage, but Alec had more respect for the enemy than that. Those corpses they left in Sector 4 were Asha's friends, Eve's family, husbands, wives, children that would never go home again.

Max punched a wall. "It's not fair!" she screamed.

"I know," Alec moved forward as if to embrace her, but she stepped back.

"No, you don't know, Alec. I'm alone again. Logan and I can't ever be anything. Sandeman's dead, and with him all my answers." She stopped pacing and her eyes filled with hot tears. "He was going to find a cure, Alec."

"He doesn't have to," a voice—Logan's voice?—said from behind her.

Max's eyes burned as she turned slowly around, and she finally let out the breath she was holding only when she was certain that Logan was actually standing there.

"Hey you," she smiled at him. "I thought you were busy dying. Again."

"Something like that," he smiled back, coming closer still. There was a weird glint in his eyes she hadn't seen since he kissed her after Gossamer stole their borrowed time together. It both scared her and thrilled her, then, as it did now. He was inches from her, very inside her personal bubble, and she couldn't seem to care about the spatial violation.

"Luke and Dix found a way," he said, voice low and gruff.

Max felt like Zack's heart would beat right out of her chest. "How long?"

Logan snaked an arm around her back, fingers warm and strong along her spine. "Forever."

Max nodded, settling closer to him. "That might be long enough." She threw her arms around him, inhaling his scent as she kissed him. She was tired of waiting, tired of wanting the perfect moment. She wished she could just pull everything he was into her: his comfort, his mind, his soul. Unfortunately, it had been a long day, and she had lost a lot of blood. Assimilating him into her bones would have to wait.

Logan caught her before her knees could do more than buckle, and swept his arm to catch her knees, settling her into his arms. From there he walked to her room and laid her gently on her bed.

He knelt on the floor; she stubbornly would not let go of his hand.

"I think I found a new place for Eyes Only."


"Yeah, it's a little bloody right now, but it's nice."

"Not interested."

"Why not?" Max sat up.

"I can set up shop here," he said, eyes locked on hers. "Closer, you know..."

Max smiled sleepily. "I know. Stay with me tonight."

"I will," he whispered back.

She tugged on his arms. "Up here." Logan gently settled himself behind her, curving his body around hers, and looping an arm over her middle to keep her close. All the pain of the last few days—feelings of weakness, despair, fear, guilt, and regret—all of it disappeared and she could only feel the heavy warmth of Logan's chest against her back, his breath on her neck, his protective arm on her stomach. Not only could she feel him seep into her, but she felt like she was just as much being pulled into him. He wanted this connection, this exchange of being, as much as she did. This was what made her life worth living. Her sacrifices, the sacrifices of all the people she had known to get her here—alive and human—this moment was what it was all for.

"I'm in love with you Cale," she whispered. She fell asleep smiling, having heard him respond in kind.