Even Though It's Painful...Always
Epilogue: Always

For Tim, who counted the number of times the word "bathtub" appeared in this story. For buggs, who still asks me if it's done yet. And for Glenna, who met me in Roswell, followed me to Tortall, and pushes me towards Trinity.

And always, always for Laura, world's best beta, who helped out with this story probably more than she'll ever know. *g*

Even the setting sun that sinks like it was caught on fire is alone
Unable to embrace the earth or the seas
Though sleeping deep down at the bottom of my heart

Whenever I see your tears I can't bear it
It makes me want to embrace you tightly from behind

I love you so much it breaks me no words are enough
I also have love that I can't express

Can't become a man by only having been born
True strength definitely begins from love

If there's a smile beyond your tears
I'll watch over you like the dependable guy I am

I love you so much it breaks me no words are enough
If it's a love that won't be granted then I'll only wish for your happiness
The setting sun sinks again as it embraced its passion
It reaches its hidden sleep even though it's painful...always
--"Setsunakutemo...Zutto" translated by Tasuki No Miko
(http://www.crosswinds.net/~tasukinomiko/Anime/FY/) Translated lyrics used with permission.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

August 7, 2025

Her skin was the same creamy caramel color of her mother's, clusters of honey-brown curls covering her head. He could already see the beginnings of his nose, his blue eyes set in a smaller version of his own face. She slept, but even in her sleep, she smiled her mother's smile on her full baby lips.

Logan cradled his daughter in his arms. She was five hours old, a healthy seven pounds, four ounces, and he still couldn't believe that she was here, in the penthouse apartment that had already seen enough destruction and loss. His daughter.

"She's mine too," Max said as she shifted in their bed. She held out her arms for the baby just as their daughter's mouth opened to cry. "Someone eats more than Zane and Joshua combined."

Logan sat on the bed, slipping an arm around Max's shoulders as she nursed their daughter. "Sounds kinda like a cat I used to know." He kissed the top of her head, his eyes never leaving their daughter's small face. "God, she's beautiful."

"The most singularly beautiful face you've ever seen?" Max grinned up at him. The baby opened her blue eyes, peering up at him and Max with a curious look on her face. The blue eyes focused on Max's neck, and a small hand reached up to grab at the locket Max still wore at her throat.

"Mom said I used to do that when I was little. Did I ever tell you why my father gave that locket to her?"

Max leaned back against his chest, moving until she half-rested in his lap. "You said he gave it to her when you were born, because she gave him the greatest gift."

Logan reached out to touch his daughter's hand as her fingers curled around the locket. "My mother told me to give it to the woman who gave me the same gift--my first child."

"But you gave it to me--" She stopped, dropping her brown eyes to the baby in her lap. "That night I transfused you."

Leaning in, he kissed her cheek, and then their baby's small hand. "I figured you were probably as close as I'd ever get, Max. And I was right."

They sat for a while, watching their daughter drift off to sleep again. Logan felt himself nodding off as Max drooped against his shoulder. He didn't hear the door open quietly, or the sound of two sets of transgenic footsteps, and one child following behind.

"Whose baby?" a small voice asked. Logan found himself staring into a pair of hazel eyes. "Whose baby, Uncle Logan?"

"That's our baby, Max. Your little cousin. She finally decided to come stay with us." Reaching out his arm, he pulled the small boy onto the bed beside him. Little Max peered at his cousin with wide eyes.

"Whatsername?" Even at four years old, his nephew already knew the importance of names in their family. "Didjou name her Eva like Uncle Eri's Eva? Or Jondy after Tia Jondy?" A thumb found its way into his nephew's mouth. "Or after Mama?"

"Joshua voted for Annie, since Gem named hers Cici. He can't wait to paint Littlest Fella," Alec said softly, coming to sit on the edge of the bed. Jondy settled beside him, her eyes never leaving the baby.

Max shifted their daughter slightly so that the little boy could get a better look. "Meet Hope Marie Guevara Cale," she said softly, looking at Jondy. Jondy smiled slightly and nodded, what looked like tears in her eyes.

"Hi, Hopie," the little boy whispered, kissing Hope's small hand. "Is she gonna sleep with me, or is she gonna stay in here?" Little Max looked towards the crib that was already set up in the corner.

"She'll stay with me and Uncle Logan for a while, Max. Then we'll move her bed into the nursery that you and Uncle Alec painted last week." His wife leaned down to touch their daughter's soft curls. "Sound like a good plan, Hope?"

"We always need hope," Logan's sister-in-law said, ducking her head so that her light brown hair hid her face for a moment. "That way she has her own name." Transgenics had bad luck enough without cursing a baby with leftover troubles inherited from a dead namesake.

"You had no trouble?" Alec reached out a tentative hand to touch Hope's cheek. "She's soft. I didn't know babies were that soft." He coughed, backing up as if he didn't want to look too interested. "Small too."

"She popped out about a half hour after you guys left. Sam and Bling gave her a clean bill of health, signed the birth certificate, and headed out about an hour after that." Logan still couldn't believe how easy it had gone. He'd expected complications, seizures, any number of things. But here was their daughter, no tail, no barcode, no virus.

"Cindy and Star're coming over later. They want to meet their niece." Jondy held out her arms, and Max gently settled Hope in them. With her hair and eyes almost the same color as the baby's, Jondy could've almost passed for Hope's mother. "Blue eyes. Just like--"

Max scooted over to sit behind her sister, resting her chin on Jondy's shoulder. "We're not ancient, big sister. There's still time."

Hope yawned in her sleep. Jondy reached out a finger to trace the baby's face. "Maybe. Maybe…" She handed the baby back to Max before standing up. "She's beautiful, Maxie. She'll be hell later, but she's beautiful."

"She might not be as bad as we were. We didn't walk til we were eight months old." Max grinned back at her sister. "Remember when the Watchers found you on the top of the bookshelf?"

"You were the one who figured out that if we rocked our cribs, we could tip them over," Jondy shot back with the same grin. "It was the pallets after that."

And it suddenly dawned on Logan what raising two transgenic children might be like. They already had problems keeping their nephew on the ground. If Hope had her mother's love of high places…

"Just as long as she inherits your creativity and not Max's, you'll be just fine, Logan." Alec clapped him on the shoulder, his grin bordering on a smirk. "Well, until she figures out that whole walking thing…"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word," Max crooned. Jondy could feel her own eyes drifting shut at the sound of her sister's soft voice. Hope lay in Max's lap, one hand holding her bottle, the other hand clinging to the locket her sister wore around her neck. At nearly a year old, Hope was already maneuvering around almost as well her cousin Max. Jondy knew her brother-in-law loved moments like these, when their usually hectic household was quiet, and he could watch his girls as much as he wanted.

She couldn't say that it had been an easy year. Syl was pregnant, figuring that it was as safe as it would ever be for them to reproduce. Alec and Asha were shacked up in Sector 6, and Jondy still spent half her time sleeping on the daybed in Hope's nursery, just because Star and Original Cindy were slowly making the old apartment into their own love nest. Jordan hadn't been around too much lately. This little family vacation was his idea, but he'd spent most of his time out with Logan and little Max, hiking and fishing. She had one night with Jordan and the babies while Max and Logan went out into the woods for whatever, but her sister didn't ever need to hear about that night.

"Do not adjust your sets, this is a Streaming Freedom video." As soon as Logan's familiar Eyes Only broadcast lit up the screen, Max grabbed the remote and turned up the volume on the tv. The voice didn't belong to her brother-in-law's cable hack alter ego though.

"We know you're out there, 452. We know you left Seattle for the week. We know you have the boy. Don't think we're going to let you get away again. You've cost us almost a billion dollars in damages and potential investments, and you know your DNA isn't worth that much. We'll be around to collect, so you might want to prepare." The voiceover faded out, leaving Logan's familiar tag line. "Peace. Out."

As the picture faded, Jondy ran to where Max sat in the rocker and knelt at her side. "Maxie?" Her little sister looked paler than Jondy had ever seen her. "Baby sister…"

Max stood slowly, putting Hope in Jondy's arms. "I gotta go. If they know where we are--"

The door flew open. Before Jordan could even cough, Max had him pinned to the ground, arms twisted behind his back. "Max, let go," he grunted, knowing better than to twist out of her grip. "Max, there's guys searching in town, they know we're here somewhere…" Max let go, falling to her knees beside Jordan as he sat up and coughed. "Your black helicopter boys are back, little sister." Jondy didn't know when Jordan had picked up the nickname, or what it implied, but it still sounded natural coming from him.

Without a word, Max made her way to the closet. Jondy wasn't too surprised to see a black catsuit and leather vest come out of the bag her sister brought from Seattle. Hope still slept in Jondy's arms, bottle clutched tight in one hand. It was only a matter of seconds before Max stood before her again, the same sick look on her face that Jondy remembered from the night they escaped.

"I'm coming with you." But even before she could finish saying the words, Max shook her head.

"You're staying here with Jordan until Logan gets back. And that's an order, soldier!" Max snapped, reaching into the pocket of her leather vest for an envelope. Jondy looked at it in surprise as her sister shoved it into her hands. "Manticore's motto, big sister. Always be prepared." Her sister wore the same blank soldier face that they'd all worn outside the barracks, but Max's eyes… Jondy tried not to look in her sister's brown eyes. "Tell Logan…"

And for the second time in her life, Jondy had to look into her sister's brown eyes and make a decision that could risk her sister's life. "The ice, Maxie. It's the ice…" She took Max's hands in hers. "You made it under the ice that night, Max. You told me to go on without you. We got out of that. We'll get out of this. Together."

Max shook her head. She unfastened the chain from around her neck and slipped it over the baby's head. "Tell Logan," she repeated, curling Jondy's fist around the envelope. "Two days. The High Place. But get him out of here." And brave Maxie, the one who dared to defy Zack and the Colonel, swallowed a sob. "Tell him!"

Jondy nodded, biting her lip to keep from bawling. She shifted Hope to one arm and held out her hand to her sister. Max clasped her arm, wrist to wrist, the same way as when they were small. Before Max could let go, Jondy leaned in, kissing her sister lightly on the lips. "I'll give that to Logan. After I tell him." And before Jondy could say anything else, her sister opened the window and was gone.

She didn't even realize she was sobbing until she felt Jordan's arms around her, cradling her and Hope against his chest. "She'll be safe, Jondy. She'll be safe. We'll make it. We all will."

Jondy pushed back from him, not knowing what else to do. She paced around the bedroom, trying not to look at the window where her sister had disappeared. 48 hours. She had 48 hours to prepare her brother-in-law for another fight for his life.

"It wasn't supposed to be a fairytale. It wasn't supposed to be--" Jondy stopped, swallowed, trying to calm her gasping lungs. "We aren't--" But her voice squeaked again, and as hard as she tried, she couldn't keep the tears from falling. "Fuck it! No matter how hard we try, or how far we run, Manticore always comes back…"

This time, Jordan sat on the bed, out of the way of her frantic pacing. "Then stop them. You've got an entire army of transgenics. Most of them are still hanging out in Seattle. Use them, Jondy. Beat the shit out of the ones who created you." He reached out to touch Hope's small hand as it dangled across Jondy's arm. "For her. And for Syl's baby." For a moment, his blue eyes looked like Logan's, and Jondy could almost believe that Jordan Cale had a little bit of a super hero in his blood too. "For us."

Jordan reached out, drawing her into his lap. She let him, just like she'd let him just a few nights before. The fight wasn't over, but that didn't mean it couldn't be won once and for all…

She didn't know how long they sat there, but a pounding at the front door finally woke them out of whatever trance they'd been in. Jondy set Hope in the center of the large bed as Jordan reached for the hand gun that Logan still kept in the bedside table. She motioned for him to walk ahead of her. He nodded, eyes serious for once. Jordan might've actually made it as an X-5. He looked as good as Alec or any of her other brothers did in leather.

The knocking grew more insistent as they made their way to the door. "Who is it?" Jordan called out, careful to keep the gun hidden in the waistband of his jeans.

"FBI. We just want to ask you a few questions."

At Jondy's nod, Jordan opened the door. She was impressed at how cool he managed to appear, in spite of the four men dressed in black Kevlar that stood on the porch of the cabin. "Can I help you gentlemen?" His voice didn't even crack as he spoke, even if he did keep one hand in his pocket, almost stroking the gun.

The four agents flashed authentic-looking FBI badges before pushing their way inside. "This your cabin?" the first one asked as he looked around. He nodded to Jondy. "Ma'am."

"I'm Jordan Cale. This is my family's cabin. We've owned it since the '90s. Is there something I can help you with?" Jordan repeated.

"There was a felon who escaped from the prison up at Well's Point. We just wanted to make sure everyone was safe," the second agent answered with a more realistic smile than Ames White's crew ever managed to fake. The first agent began to stroll about the front room. "Mind if we take a look around?"

"There's no one here but my wife and I, sir." Jordan gave the agents his charming smile, slipping his free arm around Jondy. Jondy tried her best to give the men the same wide-eyed vacant look that always worked on the Colonel.

But before any of the agents could respond, a wail sounded throughout the cabin. Jondy excused herself and ran down the hall, only to find Hope toddling out of the bedroom. Jondy tried not to laugh at the fact that her niece had once again managed to defy gravity and the developmental expectations for normal babies. The baby wailed as she held her arms out to Jondy, tears spilling down her round cheeks. "Mama!"

"Hon?" Jordan's voice was anxious as she walked back into the front room, Hope still clinging to her neck.

"Baby was just missing her mama's all," Jondy said, trying to keep her voice steady. "I think the loud voices woke her up."

"Mama," Hope murmured again, looking up at the agents with distrust in her teary blue eyes. Jondy was surprised that her niece didn't hiss at them.

"It's okay, baby, it's okay," she whispered to Hope, stroking her back gently. The baby quieted, whimpering softly.

"Mama," Hope murmured, snuggling further in Jondy's arms.

"So it's just you and your wife and the baby then, Mr. Cale?" The first agent actually looked embarrassed. "We're sorry to disturb you, sir."

And without a word, the agents left, as quickly as they'd come.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The cabin looked quiet when Logan drove up that evening. Nephew Max was asleep across the back seat of the Aztek, smelling of sun screen and fish. Logan felt bad for leaving Max at home, but Hope had been fussy last night, and she'd wanted to stay with the baby. Their daughter had never caught any of the usual childhood illnesses, but both of them wanted to play it safe nevertheless.

After he turned off the ignition, Logan opened the back door and scooped up his nephew. "Home now, Uncle Logan?" Max murmured against his neck. "Fishing's fun."

"Yeah, we're home now, kiddo. Maybe Uncle Jor'll help us fry up some for dinner."

"Fish's good. Healthy for me and Hopie to make us smart. That's what Uncle Alec says." The little boy yawned again and rested his sun-burnt cheek against Logan's shoulder. With one arm supporting his nephew, and the other cradling the newspaper-wrapped filets of fresh fish, Logan shouldered the door to the cabin open.

"Honey? I'm home!" But no one answered his call. "Max? Jondy?" Settling his nephew and the fish on the couch, Logan pounded his way into the bedroom. "Max?"

But it was Jordan who sat in the rocking chair, Jondy and Hope cradled in his lap. Logan felt a chill creep up from his waist from his spine as his heart dropped into his stomach. Jondy's eyes looked just like Max's, right before she died in his arms that night…at Manticore…

"She's gone." The flatness of his own voice startled him. It was as if he was living that day all over again, when he lost her the first time. The day his life ended.

Jondy didn't say anything as she handed him a letter. It didn't surprise Logan too much that the letter was dated right after their wedding, over a year and a half ago.

Logan,

Every night before he went to sleep, Tinga used to tell Case a fairy tale. Remember? About the evil king who kept hunting the princess and her brothers and sisters? I just thought it was her way of explaining where we came from to her son, or even trying to make sense out of all that shit we went through in our poor excuse for a childhood. Maybe Tinga knew that she didn't have forever with Case and Charlie. Maybe that was her way of preparing her family for when she'd have to leave. We all know we'll have to leave sometime. It's just a matter of when.

I don't know when Jondy's going to give this to you. Our daughter might be six months old, or six, or sixteen. But I know she'll have to sometime, because Manticore will never let us go. White and his creepy-ass Familiars are gone, but the people who created me will always hunt me, even if they don't use Lydecker's face.

Tell her about her mama, and her aunts and uncles that loved her so much that they died to give her a safe life. Remind her and Max of how much their mamas love them, and how we'll think of them every day.

I'll be back, Logan. I promise. I've put up with too much shit to give up for too long. We won't get happily ever after, but we're owed a few years somewhere down the line.

I love you. But I think you already knew that.

Yours. Always.

Max

The letter got blurry, and then it was wet. Someone took the paper out of his hands, and wrapped strong arms around him. He could feel two people pressed up against him. Someone's soft voice kept whispering something to him, but he couldn't hear it. Something about promising to bring her back, that this was the last time…

Logan pushed away finally, breathing in and out until he could feel his lungs returning to normal. He wiped at his eyes, not surprised to find them wet. It had taken Bling a week to get him off the couch the first time. This time, he had another reason to get up off his ass, a reason that Jondy slipped into his arms.

"Da?" Hope reached out with a small hand to pat his face. "Mama?"

"Mama's gone away for a while, sweetie. She'll be back soon, I promise." His voice cracked, but Logan managed to smile at his daughter. Their daughter. He leaned down to kiss the top of her curly head. "Daddy'll take care of you until Mama comes home again."

"And Uncle Jor and Aunt Jondy," Jordan added, putting a hand on Logan's shoulder. "You're not alone in this, Logan. Not this time."

Not this time. Looking down at his daughter's face, Logan knew he had a lot more to live for, especially two little kids named Max and Hope.

"And when we take this bitch down this time, it'll be for good," Jondy said, giving Logan a bright smile. "I promise."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I'll be home for good one of these days. I promise. This is the last time I'll leave you…the last time Manticore will make me run. I'm getting pretty tired of running…

At least I know Logan will wait for me. In spite of all this shit, he never lost hope. Now, he'll never have to again.

I love you so much it breaks me no words are enough
If it's a love that won't be granted then I'll only wish for your happiness
The setting sun sinks again as it embraced its passion
It reaches its hidden sleep even though it's painful...always

The End