Disclaimers and A/N: Please see Chapter 1 for Challenges info and other details.

Thanks to all of you who have hung in with this one, with special thanks to those who have taken the time to leave comments along the way. Reviews and comments, as always, appreciated and ever solicited.

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Winter's Chill

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EPILOGUE

Three weeks later

After a full day at the hospital, Bling arrived at the penthouse precisely at seven, as scheduled, for his therapy/training session with Logan. He'd always looked forward to their sessions, even through the challenging, rough times early in Logan's recovery. No matter his approach with Logan, his demeanor of cool detachment or amusement or every tactic in between, he'd always held enormous respect for the man who, in secret, did so much for the city, and was honored to be of whatever assistance and support he could be...

'...the city,' Bling corrected himself, the state. The western seaboard, and on past even that...

But in the past weeks Logan had been changed, transformed, and their workout sessions were full of jests and chuckles and Logan's enthusiasm, his interest in staying strong and keeping fit. The stuff of great literature, Bling mused, the love of a good woman cures all... and since Max and Logan had finally stopped denying the obvious, Logan Cale started looking forward, started to look past cures that weren't to be, and started to believe in life again.

Bling was gratified – and elated – to see it. He counted both Max and Logan as friends now, especially Logan, to whom he'd grown closer than nearly anyone since Peter had died. Both Max and Logan were extraordinary individuals, for vastly different reasons; each was the sort of person who could have gone a lifetime without meeting someone who was understanding – or worthy – of the promise each held. From the earliest moments he'd seen the two interact, Bling privately believed that it was a gift of fate that they'd found each other, and that most of their arguments or frustrations or self-doubt came from fighting that truth, rather than just surrendering to the inevitable. If there were such a thing in the universe as soul mates, Bling believed, these two were just that.

Each had changed in the handful of weeks since Logan's rescue from the ditch. Max had seemed to relax into being "herself" even as she herself discovered, through Logan's loving attention, just who she could be. She had a new, quiet confidence that she didn't always need to front the tough-guy act, even around him, and certainly not with Logan; her trust in her physical skills and strength was now mirrored in her trust that she could be a woman in love, a woman with emotions that might be touched. Sure, the couple times Bling had seen her with her Jam Pony friends she was still cocky, street-wise Max, but even there, she seemed more settled, content – happy. It looked good on her.

And Logan – Logan had been less manic about his work; dedicated, but not as driven as he'd been when it was his refuge from reality, his full-time escape. He'd begun to allow himself more time off the computer, away from the punishing, twenty or thirty hour research jags that used to consume him. And these past weeks, he'd barely called on anyone else to do reconnaissance or gather info, as far as Bling could tell, but had been doing most of it on his own from the phone or on line. And happily for the both of them, every evening, usually after a therapy session, Logan had been cuddled up with the woman who adored him as much as he did her...

But upon letting himself in the penthouse this evening, Bling found the place quiet, and darker than it had been for a while. He wondered if something had come up and he'd missed a call from Logan canceling their session. Walking toward the front rooms, he was surprised to find the computer room not only empty, but dark. Even as Logan had scaled back, he didn't shut it all down completely. Turning back toward the hall, Bling looked toward the bedroom. "Logan?" he tried.

"Hey, Bling."

The man's voice was soft, subdued, like the room on down the hall. It was a nearly forgotten sight now, Logan sitting in his darkened living room, staring out at the night cityscape, a pose Bling hadn't seen since Logan and Max had finally gotten past all their hang-ups and fears to become the intimate partners they were meant to be. Bling frowned, but went on to sit on the couch arm, at Logan's right hand. Not trouble in paradise, not as close as these two had become... "Hey." No beating around the bush on this one, he decided, and said softly, "haven't seen you in this spot for a while."

Without turning to face him, Logan laughed softly, a short sound, without humor, but said nothing.

"Anything you want to talk about?"

Logan finally glanced up at the strong figure, and, after looking away for another moment, nodded. "Yeah," he murmured, "yeah..." He sighed, and after another silence, began, "Bling... you know that Eyes Only has always been important to me, even before I was shot. But I think you said it first, and Max has, too, more than once ... that afterward ... well, I got into some of the work too obsessively, to the point that I ... wasn't thinking about anything ... or anyone else. No, worse – I was in denial about what I was doing to so many people – you, Matt, everyone in the Informant Net... and most of all ... to Max..."

The tone surprised Bling. "All of us have done what we've done because it was right," the therapist insisted, quietly.

"Not Max. At least not at first, and not with my dragging her into it. Think about it, Bling – she has gotten the most dangerous assignments, has put herself at risk time after time, just because I asked her to. And while everyone else had to fear those we were investigating, she had two enemies every time she went out – the target, and Manticore. Every time she went out and used her particular talents, she risked exposure, capture..." Logan frowned. "Maybe she had three enemies – even while I thought I was falling in love with her, I was sitting here safe and sound, and risking her safety and her freedom every single time – just because I was so wrapped up in my own childish need to play investigative reporter and pretend I'd never been shot." He drew a deep breath, clearly pained, and murmured, "if anything had happened to her, Bling, because of my pathological denial..."

"Well, nothing has. She was trained for that work, Logan, she's known the risks each time, and how to avoid them."

"She may have been trained, but she never asked for any of it. Not for Manticore – and not for Eyes Only. Hell, she tried to do the opposite; she ran from it. What I asked her to do, she fought doing at first; she flat out refused that first time, out of self-preservation. She was brought back first by guilt, for what happened to me – and then by blackmail, my holding information on her family hostage to her doing my errands. After that, she just did whatever I asked ... all as a favor, to me. And I just kept asking, for more and more. How could I do that to her? Well, to any of you, but you and the ones in the 'Net volunteered. With Max ... I was no different from Manticore. I forced her into it."

Bling was quiet for several moments, hearing the self-directed disgust and bitterness in the man's voice. Some of the old pain was back, and though Bling sensed it needn't harm his new connection with Max – it was hard to see Logan beat himself up, especially when it was because of his work. "Have you talked this over with Max?" he asked, trying reason.

Logan closed his eyes, shaking his head. "No. I know what she'll say; she'll deny it too, just as you did. She'll say she never did anything she didn't want to do." The green eyes opened and finally, Logan looked at his friend. "We all know that's not true. And we all know she'll keep doing it all, as long as I ask." He sighed. "No matter how selfish it might be ... I can't lose her, Bling ... and I can't put her at risk anymore, especially not with Manticore still hunting her."

Bling watched Logan struggle with these revisiting demons, and sensed that a difficult decision had been faced – and, it appeared, made. Heavily, he finally spoke. "Well – I'm not conceding your point, but I suspect you're not going to be easily dissuaded from it, at least for the moment. So ... given all that ... what are you going to do about it? Just stop using Max for Eyes Only?"

"I thought about it," Logan nodded. "But then it struck me that that's not enough. What about you? Or Matt? Or any of the others?"

"Oh, now wait a minute, Logan; it's different for any of us who volunteered..."

"Is it?" The green eyes locked onto his now, the gaze intense. "How did all this turn into a private police force and tribunal, without constitutional limitations, from a group of sources gathered for some freelance articles?"

"You've done more for this city than any of the administrations since the Pulse, Logan, and you've helped clean up the entire West Coast, the countless drug and weapons traders, and even more corrupt politicians; you know that..."

"Pretty easy when you don't have to follow the law..." Eyes Only muttered.

"Like the police or mayors or any city counsels have?" Bling countered.

"Doesn't make it right." He shook his head. "It's gotten out of hand, Bling. It's more likely every day we'll be found out here, anyway. Before anyone else is hurt..." He trailed, unable to continue.

Bling looked closely at his employer – his friend – and, in sudden understanding, continued for him, barely believing his own words as he heard them, "you're going to pull the plug..."

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A/N: So ends S1 of this particular little AU DA ... and, I hope, from here, we soon will begin its S2...

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