"It's not 'the wrong time'. Maybe in the beginning, maybe when we were running from one hideout to the other… but now we're looking at the end of the war, one way or another. And no matter which way it goes, I'd like to know you see us as part of each others lives, no matter how long they are."

"Mike, I…" The thought wasn't finished, either in words or inside. Yes, there was something there between them, yes it was intense and real, but the fact was that she hadn't ever seen them as part of anything except whatever struggling moment they'd found themselves in. There was no before, no after, certainly no distinct future. She'd learned the hard way, as they all had, that "now" was all that could be counted on, and "now" didn't include the future. "Now" didn't support promises.

"I just don't know. I know I care about you, and I know how deeply we've connected. But I can't lie to you. What you're asking me is to read the future, and I can't."

He smiled sadly and coaxed, "C'mon, Julie, all I'm asking for is a decent guess. Like, 'all other things being equal'. And before you say it, I know things aren't equal anywhere."

She leaned hard against his shoulder for a moment, then raised her head to face him honestly. "All I have is now. If that's not enough, I'll understand even if I wish I didn't have to."

They were nothing if not attuned to realism, and he hugged an arm around her that she gripped with both hands.

"Okay," he sighed, not so much sad as accepting, "'Now' is good enough for now, if that's not redundant." He looked away and down the bluff to the beach. "Who'd guess that he'd ever stumble on 'forever' of anyone's free will?"

"This is a god-honest drug for you, isn't it? I just don't get it. Waves, over and over, sloshing and doing nothing. I don't get it."

"They do everything. They've changed the shape of the world, and still do. But I guess it's not as exciting or sudden as things that go 'bang'. Like termites, not ordnance... but they get the job done."

Busted, he tossed a bit of sand in her newly shortened hair as a somewhat weak revenge.

"Damn you and your long memory. That's not what I mean, wiseass. I mean the constant slosh slosh slosh… it's not exactly quiet. It's enough to drive you crazy…" now he pointed at her, "which explains a lot."

She took the accusing hand in her own. "Sounds can be quiet…" she headed off his predictable objection, "complimentary opposites… very Zen. I think your friend the elusive Reno would agree. For instance," she opened his right hand and traced the fingers and palm, "this is the hand that sets the bombs and pulls the triggers," she kissed the insides of the fingers, lingered on the palm, then continued, "and it's also the hand that touches me as if I'm the most important part of the universe." She raised her eyes to his and was swallowed in deep, accepting chocolate, "so I'd say you wake up in the morning and start even."

"But which part balances the other? Touching you or pulling triggers?" It was an honest question.

The answer was equally honest.

"It doesn't fucking matter, Tyler. All that matters is starting even in the morning." She buried her face in his palm to prove her point. He slid his hand around the side of her face and pressed her head against his shoulder, wrapping his other arm around to be circled by her two hands, binding them together almost as if by accident.

"Damn you and your ancient philosophy."

It was so hard not feel jealous. Okay, she was jealous, painfully, but never poisonously. The look from eyes that saw everything, the sound of laughter that knew everything, the feel of hands and arms and skin slipping on skin that knew nothing else… it wasn't as if she begrudged anybody their hard-won due. On the contrary, to believe that anyone else was as alone as she felt would have broken her heart into even smaller pieces.

What did it feel like… she struggled to remember. Love and fear and struggle and misunderstanding. Lousy nasty mistakes and harsh words and forgiving it all at the end of the day because you know that you're only human and can only be capable of imperfection on your best day. And that no matter what, this loving opponent could never be your enemy.

But it was so hard not to feel jealous.

It was so hard not to feel.

It was so hard.

Maggie straightened from where she'd been leaning on the rail of the lighthouse lookout tower, checked her weapon, and resumed her watch.