AUTHOR'S NOTES: Epilogue to Snowbird's Revenge. I hope it doesn't feel too forced or too rushed. But I won't apologize for the somewhat blatant thievery from The Last of the Mohicans in the scene with Sheila and Kazumi.

Again, I probably won't be posting for a bit—just need to recharge (and come up with new ideas).

REVIEWER'S CORNER:

Kat: Thank you. At least Sheila didn't use her jumpjets. (I always hated that—it ruined a good book.) I'm not really a Bleach fan; I was just looking through anime series and saw Ichigo and Rukia and went with it.

Noveltigger and Panzerfaust: Damn, you guys are cold! Remind me never to tick you off.

Mosin and 4477: I hadn't really considered the symbolic aspect of Athena getting fried, but it works.

SulliMike: Do you have me down in your Author Alerts?

Green Knight: You bet. All of the following story arcs will be 'Mech fights from here on out.

Rouge: I know of Ashyukun from his AMV work (which is excellent), but the only con I go to regularly is Anime Central in Chicago. I've unfortunately never gotten further east than that. But that shows what a small world we live on…

STORY SOUNDTRACK: "It's Over" from Terminator 2, "Wheel in the Sky" by Journey, and "Destination Unknown" by Marietta (off the Top Gun soundtrack).

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Near Blue Ridge

Vantaa, Clan Wolf Occupational Zone

6 September 3051

Sheila stood, helmet off and out of her 'Mech, on the battlefield. What had once been a verdant wheatfield and a treelined windbreak was now a muddy mess. 'Mechs and pieces of 'Mechs lay everywhere, interspersed with spent autocannon shells, unexploded ordnance, solid Gauss shot, and bodies.

The 133rd Falcon Fusiliers had taken the worst of it. Only six out of the original 20 OmniMechs were still operational. Star Captain Evelena had managed to eject from her exploding 'Mech and lay under one of the few unsplintered trees, being attended to by Vantaa Ranger medics. That left Kazumi as the senior surviving officer, also because he still had an untouched Trinary. He had lost two of his light 'Mechs to Max's ersatz demi-company, and had pulled the others back rather than risk them against assault 'Mechs. Once the battle on the hill had ended, Sheila had proposed a truce. Kazumi had agreed immediately. Both commanders met on the field east of the kraal.

Kazumi came to attention and saluted. "Commander Sheila Arla-Vlata," he greeted her. "I am Star Captain Kazumi of the 133rd Falcon Fusiliers. I have known you as a gallant antagonist. It is a pleasure to meet you at last."

Sheila was always surprised at how two enemies who had been doing their level best to kill each other minutes before could be so civil once the shooting ended. Though she was inclined to tell Kazumi to shove it, she instead returned his salute. "I'm not feeling very civil at the moment, Star Captain, but it is nice to see you still alive. Senefa Malthus—" Sheila emphasized the Bloodname "—has spoken very highly of you."

"Is she alive?"

"And well. You can understand my reluctance to let her get out of her 'Mech." Sheila feared very much that one of the Fusiliers would simply gun Senefa down the moment she was in the open.

"Of course—though none of my people would break a truce. Not even for her. Many of us…still think very highly of Senefa Malthus." He emphasized the Bloodname as well. "How is Star Captain Evelena?"

"She's okay. Broken arm. She'll be okay," Sheila repeated. "We'll turn her over to you as soon as we police up the battlefield and pull back. We've also got ten other prisoners and six of your 'Mechs—we'll hold onto three of those as isorla."

Kazumi looked less than thrilled about that, but he was in a bad bargaining position. There was nothing he could do to stop Sheila from taking all six Omnis as prizes. "What of Star Colonel Athena Henderson?"

"She's exceedingly dead." Sheila tried to feel remorse for Athena's death, but couldn't and didn't want to. No MechWarrior should die by fire, the fate that all MechWarriors feared above all others, but Sheila was having trouble feeling any sympathy. That bothered her, but from the look on Kazumi's face, he didn't much care either. "I take it she wasn't popular."

"Let us just say that what is left of the Cluster and the majority of Clan Jade Falcon will not mourn the passing of the Butcher of Front Royal." Kazumi nodded. "Well. Shall we agree to a truce, then? I understand the Wolves have granted you hegira—I see no reason not to do the same. That is, before I am in a position to ask for hegira myself."

Sheila smiled. Kazumi was being more magnanimous in defeat than she would've been. "I agree. If you want to send a few Elementals—say, about five or six—through the battlefield to identify their dead, that would be all right. However, I'd advise you to stay clear of the Rangers. They're not feeling very neighborly right now."

Kazumi sighed. "Aff, I understand. If it had been up to me…" He opened his hands and shrugged. "Nothing for that now, quiaff?" He put out a hand. "Bargained well and done, Commander." Sheila shook it, and he noticed her arm. "From…what happened at Sharpsburg," he stated, and Sheila saw the emotions play on his face. Kazumi was disgusted—not at the arm, but what had caused it.

"I consider the matter closed," Sheila told him, and she did. Bonner was dead, Henderson was dead, and there was nothing now but to fight the war and win it. "Until we meet again, Star Captain." She saluted and left.


When she got back to her battalion, she saw Tessya Blackthorn on a stretcher and rushed over. "Hey, you Lacotah cutthroat," she said. "You okay?"

"I don' feel doo gud," Tessya mumbled. She pointed feebly at her nose, which had a massive bandage over it. "Some basterd of a Falcon knocked de overed. M'Mech's okay, but I smashed my node on da insdrumend pandel. Hurds." She saw Sheila fighting back a laugh, and her puffy eyes narrowed. "Hey, bidch. I didn'd laugh ad dew when you were busded ud."

"I'm sorry, Tessya." Sheila bent down and kissed her forehead. "Be careful with this one," she told the medics. "She likes to count coup."

"Oh, Godd," Tessya moaned. "Enoudh wid da Indian jokes…" Still, she smiled up at Sheila as they carried her to a waiting truck.

Max came up to her and they kissed each other, deeply. "You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. All things considered." She saw Frederick Matria looking for her, and waved him over. "Hi, Fred. Is that the butcher's bill?" He nodded and handed over the datapad.

Sheila had expected worse. Only one of her MechWarriors was dead—Ted van Kull, who had fired until his Longbow had run out of ammunition and died for it. Somehow Troms Fiordur had survived getting his Banshee's head destroyed, though he would be out of action for quite some time. Marcus Drax and Philip Scott had lost their 'Mechs, but had survived; Tessya was hurt but her Wasp was salvageable. Everyone else was torn up to one extent or another, but was still operational, though some 'Mechs would be limping or dragged back to the Minerva. Still, Sheila was glad that Kazumi didn't want to press the issue. It was bad enough that Sheila would be writing a letter to Ted's parents; she remembered that she'd have to notify her father of Elizabeth Dowlings' death as well, which would be hard on him. They had known each other for many years.

Who had suffered the most was the Vantaa Rangers. Though Max's stand and van Kull's sacrifice had pulled off some of the Elementals, enough had gotten through. The fighting had been savage and merciless, and somehow, the Rangers had managed to hold. They were still counting the dead, though, and four of the trucks were burning wrecks. Someone had given the order to abandon the trucks, which had probably saved some lives.

Matria was about to say something when Sheila spotted someone wandering through the battlefield. "Excuse me," she said, and left both men. She walked over, trying not to slip in the mud, and saw who it was: Louisa Keynes, one of the Major's twin six year old daughters. She looked worse for the wear: her face was muddy and she had a nasty bruise on her forehead; her red hair was tangled and now a dull russet, covered in mud and looking singed. She stared up at Sheila with remarkably blue eyes, her fingers absently twirling the ears of an equally bedraggled stuffed rabbit. Sheila bent down. "Hey. You're Louisa, aren't you? Louisa Keynes?"

The little girl nodded. "Where's mommy and daddy?" she whispered.

"Good question." Sheila needed to find John Keynes herself. Someone had to get the Rangers organized and back on the trucks; she trusted Kazumi, but to a point. "Let's find them, okay?" Sheila motioned Louisa to follow her. She obeyed and hesitantly reached out to take Sheila's hand. She found one of Keynes' officers. "Captain Fossum. Have you seen Major Keynes?"

Fossum straightened up from pulling a rifle out of the mud, looked at Louisa, and then to Sheila. She motioned over one of the medics, and once Louisa was distracted, moved out of earshot. "He's dead, Commander. Caught it right at the beginning of the fight."

Sheila turned away for a moment, not wanting Fossum to see her eyes fill with tears. She had barely known Keynes, but he had risked her life to save hers at Sharpsburg, devoted everything to getting his people offplanet, and now he was dead. She regained control of herself with effort and turned back to Fossum, whose own cheeks were wet with tears. "What about his wife…Anna Keynes."

Fossum shook her head. "One of our SRM gunners got hit. She ran out to grab the launcher—Elemental saw her and got her too." She waved at one of the burning trucks. "Maritsa Keynes is dead too. That truck took a direct hit. Nobody's left. Mostly kids…we thought Louisa was there too…must've been thrown clear or jumped or something…" Suddenly it was too much and Fossum began sobbing. Though she had only met the other woman briefly at Greenbrier, Sheila drew her into an embrace, letting the older woman cry on her shoulder. "How—w-what are we going to do?" Fossum struggled out between heaving sobs. "Louisa's got no one. There's no family here on V-Vantaa or anywhere else…"

Sheila patted her back. "I'll figure out something. Don't let her out of your sight." She yelled for Max and motioned him over, then stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear. "What?!" he exclaimed, turning heads for meters. "That's crazy, Sheila, we couldn't even—"

"Max, please."

"No." Max said firmly. "I hate being an asshole, Sheila, but what she's going to do when we're gone? We know the Clans are coming back. It's going to be touch and go, if we're lucky. What's she supposed to do, play around the 'Mech bays…" His voice trailed off at the look on Sheila's face. That was exactly how she had grown up—how he had grown up, how Maysa had, and nearly every one of the MechWarriors of their generation. "Well…I need to think about it, Sheila. I'm not ready to be a daddy. This isn't something you can just make a snap decision about…" He rolled his eyes. "Unless your name is Sheila Arla-Vlata, of course."

"If you say no, I won't do it," Sheila replied quietly. "But she needs a home. John Keynes put his life on the line for me, Max. I can't just leave what's left of him."

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes," Sheila said firmly.

Max sighed. "Oh, hell. I'm going to learn to refuse you someday, Sheila, I swear I will." He smiled down at her and kissed her dirty cheek. "Well…Mom will be happy. She's been bugging me about grandchildren…hadn't the heart to tell her the truth."

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sheila asked.

"Yeah."

"Okay. You're a saint, honey." She kissed him again.

"No, that's Maysa," he called out after her, then sat down in the mud, wondering how he had gotten himself into this one.

Sheila's smile faded. This was no easy undertaking. But didn't she already have children of her own? She looked at the tired faces around her, close and in the distance. She saw O'Reilly elbow one of the Rangers and point, and read her lips: that's the Old Lady. Still, when she had thought of having kids when she was younger, this was not the way she had wanted to go about it.

"Louisa?" Sheila knelt in front of the little girl. Fossum was standing there as well, brushing tears from her face. One look at Louisa's, and Sheila knew she wouldn't have to tell her the horrible truth. Fossum already had. She thanked the other woman with a nod. "Louisa…I can't change what's happened or make it better."

Louisa sniffled, but then said with surprising maturity. "I know."

"Do you want to come with me?" Louisa hesitated, then gave a slow nod. Clasping the rabbit to her left side, she crossed around and put her small fingers into Sheila's metal ones. She showed no fear of them. As they walked she looked up. Blue eyes locked on green. "Who'll be my mommy?" she asked.

"I am...now." Sheila picked up Louisa, heading towards Max and her 'Mech.