AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ah, the last chapter of this story arc. Hope this has whetted your appetite for 'Mech action. Now for a little romance.

This chapter is rated R for sexual overtones. Hey, Max and Sheila are crazy about each other, and they've just survived a desperate battle, and won it. What do you think they'd do?

Camora Spaceport Hotel
Twycross, Tamar March, Federated Commonwealth
10 September 3050

Outside, in the still badly-damaged streets of Camora, people were still celebrating, although it was nearing three in the morning and some of the MechWarriors had been up for over twenty-four hours. Drinking and eating had begun at top speed as soon as the victorious Federated Commonwealth forces had entered Camora, and the grateful city had thrown open its shops. Not all the MechWarriors were celebrating, of course—the 9th FC was still mopping up in the Sharktooth Mountains, but nearly all the surviving Jade Falcons had surrendered, most after blowing up their own 'Mechs. Other MechWarriors, especially from the 10th Lyran Guards, were quietly nursing their drinks, remembering dead friends. Casualties had been far lighter than projections, but that was of little comfort to husbands, wives, sons, and daughters of those who had fallen. Of Jungblud's company, no one had survived. There was also the thought among the AFFC high command that, having won back Twycross, they would have to hold it, and there was no guarantee that would happen.
But that was for the next day. For that night, there was celebration. Informal dances were held, the Jade Falcons were damned several dozen times, and MechWarriors and tankmen threw beer on each other merrily. For some couples—together before the battle or suddenly thrust into each others' arms by war and alcohol—there was an ultimate way to celebrate life and victory.
Sheila Arla-Vlata and Max Canis-Vlata were busy celebrating in such a fashion. Outside, two very drunk MechWarriors from the Kell Hounds were launching flares, but on the tenth floor of the Camora Spaceport Hotel, the noise bothered the young lovers very little. They had started with a toast in champagne, ceremoniously tossed the glasses out the window, and, since both were coated in a fine sheen of dust, had decided that it would be best to save water and shower together. They had made their way to the bed once they felt they were clean enough. Now they were covered in a sheen of sweat, and the windows were fogged by heavy breathing.
Max somehow found the strength to reach for the two bottles of water he had thoughtfully placed on the nightstand before they had headed to the shower. He handed one to Sheila. "Ah, thanks," she said, and took a long drink.
"Isn't it amazing the dry mouth you get from making love?" he grinned at her.
"Oh, I don't know…all that panting, it's only natural." Sheila set her bottle aside and snuggled up to Max. "So, tell me…what does it feel like to be one of the winners?"
"Pretty damn good. Almost as good as what we just did." He leaned down and kissed her nose. "Almost."
"That's the right answer, Max." She sighed. "It was luck, though."
"How so?"
"If Kai hadn't did what he did, we might be in a Jade Falcon jail cell right now. Or retreating offworld, again." Neither wanted to mention the third option. "Victor should give him a planet to play with after today. Blowing your own reactor after challenging the Falcon Guards head on. Can you believe that? With balls like that, how can Kai walk?"
"I hear he's thinking about resigning," Max said.
She looked up at him. "You're kidding. Why?"
"From what I overheard at Victor's command tent, he thinks he got Burdock's bunch killed. He sent them back up the Gash to get the magcard for the explosives."
"Oh, bullshit. He had to do that."
He faced her. "Would you have?"
Sheila raised up on one elbow, idly playing with Max's chest hair. "Yes," she replied at length. "I wouldn't have liked it, but it was necessary. It's what Robert E. Lee called the great trap, Max."
"Lee? I remember him from Ancient Military History."
"Yes. He said that to be a soldier you have to love the army."
"Makes sense."
"But to be a commander, you have to be willing to destroy that which you love. Sometimes that means even destroying yourself—which is why I turned back today, Max. One of us had to get that message through to the Kell Hounds. I know now that they picked up my broadcast, but I had no way of knowing that then. You should have kept going." She kissed his shoulder. "Though I'm glad you stayed."
Max hugged her. "You know, we've been sitting here discussing Kai's courage—a damn strange conversation to be having with a naked girl, by the way—but not yours. You pulled off a DFA in the middle of a windstorm. Art Drax thinks I'm lying."
"I had to do it. You're my lancemate. I'd do it for any Sentinel…I'd like to think so, anyway."
"Was that the only reason?"
She pulled out of his embrace for a moment, leaning up against the backboard. "You know it isn't. You know damn good and well that I love you."
Max nodded. "So when did we fall in love, Sheila? Here I was, thinking that we were having fun, playing around…and next thing you know, here we are. I don't know what to do. I love you too, Sheila. That wasn't a 'thank God we're alive, I love you man' answer. I love you, Sheila."
Sheila smiled, her eyes shining. "Gee…I don't know what to do next, either. I think in the romance holos I've seen, this is where the hero—that's you—sweeps the girl off her feet and the camera pans away as they head to the bedroom." Her smile turned into a playful grin. "Well, unless you count the Immortal Warrior. I think he lays the girl in the back seat of his BattleMech."
"Well, my 'Mech is salvage and you can't cuss a cat in yours, it's so small, so I guess we're stuck with this damn bed."
Sheila at once leaped over and straddled Max like a lioness on a kill. She rested her chin on his. "This changes things, you know. It's not just slap and tickle anymore."
"I know."
She leaned backwards. "Well? What are you waiting for, Maximillian Todd Canis-Vlata?"
He knew what she meant, or thought he did, and grabbed her slim waist. "Whatever do you mean, Sheila Allegra Arla-Vlata?" he teased.
"Ask me to marry you, of course."
Max's eyes widened and he nearly spilled both of them over the bed. Luckily Sheila had strong thighs. She laughed. "Wasn't what you thought I'd say, was it!"
Max seized her shoulders, only half in jest. "Sheila, that's not something to joke about."
"So who's joking, you big dumb male! Oh, I know we're not in some posh restaurant, we don't have a ring, and you're not on your knees—though we can arrange that last part." She leaned down and kissed him. Her eyes were still misty, and her lips trembled. "Max, I'm sorry I sprung it on you like that, but it's what I really want. We might as well; you 'know' me every way including in the biblical sense. We're distantly related, but we're not cousins. This isn't the Periphery, you know. And we're at war. We might not live out this year. I can handle dying, Max, but not without having lived. That's why I was so terrified in the DropShip this morning."
"Okay, but what if we do live, Sheila? I don't want to get married just because you think we're going to be killed."
"I agree. Let's get married because we love each other. There's no one else in the Inner Sphere that can put up with me the way that you do, Max."
"Not even Tooriu?" Max had to ask. He was not jealous of Sheila's first lover, but he had to know.
"Definitely not Tooriu. He's a great guy, and a good friend, but he would never be around for very long."
Max looked at the ceiling. He had to admit that he had given the matter some thought before Twycross. He loved Sheila, and had for some time. He tried to think of living his life with someone else. He couldn't. All he ever wanted was right in front of him.
Max abruptly rolled, tossing a surprised Sheila to the bed. He stood up, back to her, waited just long enough to bother her, then spun on one heel and dropped to a knee. "Sheila, will you marry me, and grow old with me?"
Sheila was grinning, which made the tears on her cheeks incongrous. She nodded. "Yes, Max. I'll marry you and chase you around the Old MechWarrior's Home with my walker."
At that moment, the drunk Kell Hounds, having found an SRM launcher, fired it vertically in the air. The missiles detonated somewhere above the hotel, to raucous cheers, unmindful of the shrapnel that clattered to the ground. Sheila dropped to the bed, instinctively seeking cover. Then, overcome with the hiliarity of it all, and their feelings, she and Max burst into laughter. "Thank heaven it wasn't an Inferno round!" she cackled.
"Blaze of glory and all that!" Max laughed.
"Yeah, but not yet!" She rolled over and stretched out on the bed. "Right. Stand at attention, MechWarrior!" Max blushed, but stood. "Your orders, Lance Commander?"
"Make love to me. Now!"
"Yes, ma'am!"
The clouds had cleared over Twycross, and everyone thought the stars were particularly bright.