Ashes of Fate, Season 2

by Cynus

Episode 5

Nightly Rituals

There was a fireplace in the room, and finally Tristan felt like he was at home. He had grown up around campfires, moving from place to place as he did with his brothers, and hadn't realized how much he had missed the feeling of sleeping near a flame. Micah seemed to enjoy it just as much, though Tristan had realized some time ago that Micah was comfortable in nearly every setting, especially if they were together.

Tristan pulled Micah close, their entwining his naked legs with those of his lover's. Despite the warmth and comfort of the room, Tristan was surprised that Micah had been able to sleep at all, considering how much he was against the idea of being under the watchful eye of Ivan, the Grand Shaman of Skinwalker. But perhaps his words in the council chamber from several days before were really as true as Micah had made them sound. He trusted Tristan, and would be there for him no matter what. That alone was enough for Tristan to know that there would never again be a danger Tristan wouldn't be able to face.

Though there were still other things to worry about. Zach lay sleeping, or not sleeping, in the room next door, and was likely thinking about him. Tristan still wasn't sure exactly how he needed to handle his situation with his brother, but he knew that he couldn't delay making a decision for much longer. He was pushing Zach away, and that was the last thing he wanted, but at the same time, he couldn't have Zach in his life if he wasn't willing to accept the truth. Tristan loved him, but it would never be in the way that he wanted.

The thoughts were keeping him awake, but he didn't feel the need to force the same fate on Micah, and so he slid out from underneath his boyfriend, being extremely careful to not wake him from his nap, and then stepped lightly to the carpeted floor. The fire was dying slowly, and Tristan quietly grabbed one of the extra logs beside the fireplace and reached into the hearth to lay it against the embers inside, making as little noise as possible. He turned his attention to the small bookshelf standing beside the bed, and walked over to review the titles.

He had looked them over the first day in the room, when he and Micah had been told to lay low while Ivan sorted out their presence in the capitol building. Micah's pacing had gotten old after the first hour of being cooped up in the bedroom, and Tristan had stopped worrying about finding something to read and instead had spent his hours distracting Micah.

They had never had more sex than they had packed into the past few days, and as much as Tristan had enjoyed it, he needed a bit of introversion time. This was probably all that Tristan would get for such an excursion, unless by some twist of luck, Ivan decided that they could start roaming the halls freely. Tristan knew that the problem would only be made worse by the fact that Hayden and Luke had decided to part ways with the group and accept the pardon, though they had agreed to remain in the city for the time being. Ethan would have gone with them had Nevala been allowed to leave the building, but Ivan would have none of that, and so Ethan had agreed to stay.

Jacob's decision to stay had been a true shock, and especially the fact that he had chosen to remain specifically with Zach. The two had formed some form of friendship over the short time that they had known each other, and Tristan was happy for it, considering that in a way they had both lost someone that they cared about. Tristan still felt off about what Jacob had done to him, though he didn't understand the level of distrust that Hayden had carried regarding the possession. Tristan had forgiven Jacob in a day, understanding that it was the only way Jacob saw of getting revenge and closure for the death of Kurt. While he felt he had been violated to some degree by Jacob possessing him without permission, Tristan accepted that he would have likely done the same thing if he had been put in Jacob's position.

He shared a lot in common with Jacob, and had always related to the ghost boy, whose tragic past had been an open book to anyone that listened. Jacob had studied alongside Kurt for years, and the two had traveled more than Tristan and Zach had in their youth. They had acquired so much obscure lore about the denizens that had come out of the woodwork and seized control that they could easily fill a library.

As he came to that realization he chuckled lightly, noticing that his hand was perched a top an old and worn copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. It was a book that he had found once long ago in his travels with his brothers, though he had only had half of the pages in the copy he had acquired, and he had always wanted to read the rest of the book. He withdrew the book and looked over the worn cover, marveling at the condition, and his eyes widened further as he looked inside the leather-bound book to find that it was a special edition released in 1819. The book was pristine for having been released over two centuries before, and it felt ancient in his hands.

He lifted the book to his face and took in the scent of the pages, smelling almost like vanilla. It was a scent he had rarely been able to experience but which filled him with delight every time he was able to find a book old enough to give him that sweet tingling in his nostrils. How he loved the feel of an old book, and he couldn't wait to read it.

He heard Micah grunt in his sleep, and for a brief moment his heart fell as he thought that Micah might have awoken, but then Micah rolled over and resumed his normal snoring pattern. Tristan grinned at the gorgeous body of his sleeping boyfriend, and then tip-toed over to the rug that sat on the small path of hardwood floor that was set against the carpet before the hearth. He sat down, crossing his legs as he opened the book and used the flames of the fire for his light.

Engrossed as he was in the stories, his other senses began to turn off as he flipped from page to page, the words a constant pull on his imagination. He didn't notice the silent eyes watching him from the bed, or the smile on Micah's lips as he lifted his head to see his naked lover sitting starry eyed in front of the fire, nor did he hear Micah's soft footfalls as he crossed the floor to stand behind his lover.

Micah continued to stare lovingly at Tristan's back, seeing the contours of his muscles as he leaned forward, watching the intensity with which his fingers stayed perched to turn the pages. He had been enthralled by Tristan's beauty in the past, but this was a part of himself that he rarely showed Micah. Tristan was always in the business of sacrificing himself to meet Micah's needs, treating Micah as the physical being that he was. While Micah appreciated the fact that Tristan was willing to give him that level of devotion, he adored the way Tristan's mind devoured the written word, and the way his imagination could lead him to far off lands that allowed him to escape the harsh reality of the real world.

Tristan turned another page, and Micah used the sound of the paper moving to cover his movement as he took a cross-legged seat behind Tristan, never once allowing himself to take his eyes off of him. Silhouetted as he was against the fire, he was the perfect image of a phoenix, enshrouded by the glow of a flame and radiant in his own way. Micah was content to wait there for hours, basking in the warm glow of his love for the only boy who had ever understood him.

Even at the heart of his ancient enemy's stronghold, there was no place Micah would rather be.

"Tell me about Kurt…"

Jacob looked up at the request, his eyes filled with curiosity at the sudden questioning tone. Zach looked uncertain, but there was eagerness in his eyes as well, and Jacob knew that he wasn't asking just to make conversation. Zach was deeply interested in the answer to the inquiry, and that was enough to settle Jacob's nerves.

"What do you want to know? There's a lot about him," Jacob replied with a sad smile. "He had a lot of years under his belt, you know."

Zach smiled back, his eyes twinkling. There was a certain charm within those eyes that spoke of wisdom beyond his years. In a sense, they reminded Jacob of a young Kurt's eyes, though they were distinctly different in coloration. "I don't know… How about the story of how the two of you met?"

"That boy was one of the most adventurous souls I had ever laid eyes on, and more than that, he was in touch with the world like no one ever was. I think that's what led him into the woods near Oak Shadows, despite the stories that surrounded those woods," Jacob began, smiling fondly. "At first he didn't know I was a ghost, and we had many adventures in those woods together. I showed him all of my favorite haunts, and he showed me a thing or two about what it meant to be in love. I had never been in love before Kurt."

"Being in love kind of sucks, from my experience," Zach muttered, "But I'm glad you were able to experience the good points."

"Oh believe me, we had our fair share of squabbles over the years, and I almost lost him right at the beginning, but he made me see that it was better to have him around," Jacob replied with a sad smile. "Don't worry, Zach, in time true love will come to you as well."

Zach paused and digested the information, and Jacob watched a change come over him. The wheels were obviously turning within his mind, and he had a lot more going on than simply contemplating Kurt and Jacob's relationship. When he finally lifted his head to address Jacob again, his question caught Jacob completely off guard. "Why did you decide to stay with me and not one of your old friends? Why not Luke, Hayden, or Ethan? I would have expected even Tristan over me."

Jacob scrunched up the side of his mouth as he thought about the question. He knew the answer on a subconscious level, but he hadn't thought about putting it into words before. Still, Zach needed to know the truth, rather than have one more mystery for him to solve. He started nodding slowly as the words came to him, and as Zach watched patiently Jacob answered, "I think it's because I feel you could understand me best of anyone that is here. Perhaps this sounds malicious of me, and I'm not trying to be a sadist," Jacob paused and Zach shook his head and grinned, "But I just lost the love of my life, and in a sense you did too. I thought we could be of support to each other, and so far I think that assumption has proven correct, at least from my perspective. You remind me of Kurt in a lot of ways."

"That's good enough for me. I'm glad to have your company. I've been feeling very alone for a long time, and now…" Zach shook his head and smiled appreciatively at Jacob. "Now I have someone to share my time with."

"Time…" Jacob paused, suddenly angry. He hated that word, and he always had. "There is always too much time in this world, and not enough to do with it, or there is too much to do and not enough time! Why can't they just balance out every once in a while? Why can't we just have order in things? Why can't we all…"

He paused and looked away from Zach, not wanting to show the emotion in his eyes. There was far too much that he was feeling, and he had already said too much. There was nothing that could be done about the emotions he felt. Kurt was gone, and that was all there was to it. Unfortunately Zach wasn't going to let the thought go and when Jacob didn't continue he asked, "What were you going to say? Come on, Jacob, you can tell me."

Jacob looked back up and met Zach's eyes and shook his head sadly, but then he found his mouth had a mind of its own as he replied in a whisper, "Why can't we all just live forever? Why can't we all just have peace?"

Zach slid Jacob's knife into his belt and stood, walking over to Jacob and wrapping him into an embrace. It was the first time he had felt an embrace since Kurt had died, and he melted into Zach's arms. He had forgotten how good it felt; how much he needed that touch, even though his own ghostly flesh was nothing but coldness against Zach's skin. Zach held on tight, extending the embrace for longer than Jacob would have anticipated. At first Jacob was uncomfortable with Zach holding on, but as he came to realize that it was the support of a friend and nothing more, he began to melt into Zach's arms. He felt his emotions begin to bubble to the surface, and though he could not shed physical tears he found himself sobbing into Zach's shoulder.

"Maybe someday we'll be able to, Jacob," Zach whispered softly as he patted Jacob's back. "Maybe someday we'll all find that peace."

Considering its occupant, the room was surprisingly cold, but Ethan didn't mind as he slid the heavy wooden door shut behind him. He had been kept away from Nevala for three days, and he wasn't going to be kept away from him any longer. There was too much they needed to talk about, and though he was not generally without patience, these were special circumstances.

He nearly gasped when he saw Nevala, sitting in lotus position in front of a fireplace. There were tall flames within the hearth, but they were not producing heat. Instead they seemed to be sucking the heat out of the room, feeding on it as the flames grew larger and taller. Nevala was naked, unmoving, and his face was locked in a trance-like expression that made Ethan wonder if he even saw the room at all, much less noticed his presence.

The most surprising thing of all, however, was that the boy that sat before him had the appearance of a twelve-year-old. He had aged six years in appearance and physical maturity since Ethan had last laid eyes on him, and though the resemblance was unmistakable, Ethan briefly considered that he had found the wrong room.

He saw a plain wooden chair set before an equally plain desk and moved to take it, not wanting to interrupt Nevala as he meditated. There was little to do except to wait, and Ethan busied himself by considering the questions running through his mind. During the months since Nevala's death and before Nevala had been reborn, Ethan had been having strange dreams; there were things from his past that he had buried long ago that were suddenly rising to the surface. There were people he had lost that he had thought he would never see again, that suddenly visited him nightly. It had become a nightly ritual, until Nevala had been reborn.

For the past few nights the dreams had stopped as suddenly as they had initially come, and he wanted to know why. His only lead on an answer was contained within the youth who sat in front of the fire, entranced by the flames.

"You decided to go around Ivan's rules, I see." Nevala spoke without moving, and the room began to flood with warmth. The fire shrank within the hearth, the flames returning to logical levels.

"Ivan's rules be damned, I had to talk to you," Ethan replied with a chuckle. Nevala still hadn't turned to face him, and Ethan was beginning to wonder if Nevala did see Ethan as intruding on his privacy, and so he added quickly, "Unless you're too busy."

"No, it's not that it's…" Nevala began when there was a resounding knock on the door. Nevala sighed and turned toward the door and said, "Come in!"

The door opened and Ivan stepped into the room, with a bottle and a pair of glasses in his hands. "Good evening, Mer…" He began but when his eyes settled on Ethan he stopped. "Ethan Holmes. I did not expect to see you this evening."

"I apologize, I appear to be intruding," Ethan said as he laid his hands uncomfortably on this thighs. He started to stand when Nevala put his hand up to stall his movements.

"No, you can stay, Ethan," Nevala said, looking at Ivan. "This is hardly a private matter anymore." Ivan and Nevala locked gazes and held it for several uncomfortable moments. Ivan's eyes gave nothing away to Ethan, but Nevala's were pleading. After nearly a minute Ivan nodded slowly before turning toward Ethan.

"I suppose I should have brought an extra glass," Ivan said with a chuckle as he closed the door behind him and came to sit on the floor next to Nevala. "Come, join us, Ethan."

Ethan nodded and left his chair to settle down on the floor, wondering as to what this meeting could possibly be about. Though he wouldn't be able to have the discussion with Nevala he had intended, he hoped that he at least would be able to get some of his answers. Ivan smiled at him politely and removed the seal on the bottle before filling first one glass and extending it to Ethan and then filling a second and passing it to Nevala.

Nevala refused the glass and nodded toward the bottle, and Ivan chuckled before handing him the bottle instead. Before Ethan could drink from his own glass, Nevala took a large swig of the bottle and then nestled it between his legs. Ethan took a sip and found a pleasant apple taste in his mouth. He had been expecting something alcoholic, but it was nothing more than a rich apple cider. The aroma tantalized his nostrils and made him hungry for more.

"You haven't had anything real in years, have you?' Ivan said with a grin as he took a sip from his own glass. "There are apple orchards nearby that produce some of the best apples you'll ever have. They make great cider as well."

"Please excuse me if I'm wrong, Ivan, but I have always been under the impression that Nevala was your enemy, yet here he is drinking apple cider with you and talking like you're old friends. I'm a little confused," Ethan took another sip of his cider as he stared hard at Ivan. If no answers would be forthcoming, he would start to demand them.

"Nevala and I share some old memories," Ivan replied smoothly. "I'm trying to help him remember the rest of them."

"Do you realize that I have a thing for jogging peoples' memories?" Ethan asked as he pulled the cup away from his lips, staring at Ivan while keeping Nevala in his peripheral. Nevala was staring at him with curiosity, but he was surprised to find that Ivan's eyes were equal in that emotion.

"Is this one of your, 'powers'?" Ivan asked, letting the glass come away from his lips completely as he forgot the cider entirely. He glanced at Nevala eagerly and then back at Ethan. "Can you show us?"

"Only if Nevala is willing," Ethan replied, turning to face the boy. He was met with a grin that told him all that he needed to know, and he reached up his hand as if to touch Nevala's face, only to pull it back at the last minute as he said, "Let me know when you're ready. This can be a shock."

"Go ahea…" Nevala began, but then he held up his hand and took a swig from the bottle before setting it back down in his lap again. "Go ahead," He said while the liquid was still sloshing. "Now I'm ready."

Ethan reached out again and placed his hand against Nevala's cheek, focusing inwardly first and then sending his energy into Nevala as he delved for the memories within him. Before this he had only performed the technique on humans or those with human blood, and he found a different experience awaiting him than he had previously encountered. Human minds had begun to make sense to him over the years, and memory was generally easy to find. In Nevala's mind, however, it wasn't just easy to find, it was all around him, and he quickly began to lose himself in the sea of memories. He found some that were blocked and tried to free them as he had for others many times before, but he felt himself being drawn in too deep, and he started to lose his connection to his own body. In a panic he withdrew, panting as he came back to his full conscious state, staring at Nevala with a curious look.

"Well that was… interesting," Nevala said with a shudder. And then he grinned at Ethan and said, "It sort of worked. I felt you teasing at the edge of my memory but…" He shook his head in bewilderment, "I can honestly say I don't remember much more."

"I was able to sense all of that," Ivan said with a touch of awe. "You have raw talent, Ethan. I think you could hone that skill and definitely be of use to Nevala if you wanted to be. I've been trying to lead Nevala's memories out slowly, using my own abilities, but you… you have the potential to affect the mind in ways I'd never thought possible."

"So what does that mean?" Ethan asked, turning to Ivan.

"I think that we should make this a nightly ritual," Ivan replied with a grin. "That is, if you're willing to let me help you hone that skill as Nevala once did for me."

Ethan looked from Ivan to Nevala and then back to Ivan, and though he was initially skeptical he found himself beginning to nod. By the time he found the words to respond he was grinning wider than he had in a long time. "Very well, let's do it."

The guards looked at Peter like he was crazy, then again, he sometimes thought so himself. There was hardly anything that he could do to dissuade them from that thought. After all, this was the third night in a row that he had come to visit Nurim, and he knew that they still did not understand how he was dedicated to making a former enemy's life more comfortable.

Peter didn't really understand it either, except for the fact that he had always felt that it was his duty to try and heal whenever he could, and Nurim was definitely a man in need of healing. Whatever path he had taken to get him to where he was, it had been filled with many battles and many wounds, and Peter was driven to find out if he could sooth Nurim's pain.

There was more to it than that. Over the two previous nights, Nurim had related to him a large portion of his tale of how he had come to leave Avalon and join his father out in the world. He had spoken of his years searching for Tristan, and of how his father had been driven to the point of madness in that quest. More telling than the things he spoke of, however, were the things that he had left out. Nurim never spoke of Avalon or his elven heritage beyond mentioning how he had left it behind. Even when Peter pressed for more details, it only caused Nurim to withdraw further, and Peter knew why.

Nurim had lost his identity, and he didn't know who he was anymore. That was a problem that Peter could relate to easily, and of all the people available to help Nurim, Peter was the best man for the job.

"You're going in to see him again, huh?" The soldier asked as he stopped in front of the desk. He was a large, broad-shouldered man who looked like he could break Peter in half, but there was a softness to his face that took some of his intimidation away. There was something else about the guard that put Peter on edge, however. Without a doubt, the guard's scent marked him as a werewolf, and Peter had never been able to trust other lycanthropes.

"Yes. I figure he could use the company," Peter replied smoothly, keeping his suspicion out of his voice as much as he could. Despite his initial instinct regarding the guard, there was no reason to be impolite until he had reason to believe the guard was his enemy. "Can I go in now?"

"Sure, just let me unlock the door," The guard replied with a chuckle. "If you really want to keep talking to him, that's your choice. I don't mind."

Peter nodded and waited for the guard to slide the key into the lock and pull the door open a crack, checking first to see if Nurim was still properly restrained. Once he was satisfied with his assessment, he opened the door further and waved Peter forward. Peter walked through the door and into the small room, hearing the door shut behind him. The guard always left the door unlocked, and had explained to him the first day that it was so Peter could get out quickly if he needed to. Since Peter trusted the prisoner more than the guard, he would have almost preferred having the door locked.

The room was divided in half by a set of heavy metal bars that turned the half that did not include the door into a cell. There was a toilet in one corner of the cell and a cot in the other, but otherwise the room was very Spartan. Nurim was lying on the cot, his arms behind his head as he faced the ceiling. His eyes were always closed due to the damage that had been done to them, and it gave him the appearance of being asleep, though Peter knew better.

"You're back," Nurim said. His tone was surprised, though his face showed no hint of emotion whatsoever.

"I told you that I would be," Peter said softly as he pulled the wooden chair that was set in the corner of the room over to rest in front of the bars. He sat down and crossed his legs, looking into the cell at Nurim. "I don't know why you think I wouldn't want to come. I've been enjoying our talks, have you not?"

"I didn't say that. I'm just surprised you'd spend your time with an enemy instead of one of your friends," Nurim replied as he swung his legs over the side of the cot and sat up, then proceeded to lean back against the wall with his hands still held behind his head.

"Who said that we are enemies? You have to remember that for the most part I have been a civilian in this war. While I disagree with the Alliance, you are not working for them, are you?" Peter said with a chuckled. He stretched his arms out and yawned. It was getting late, but there was no place he'd rather be than in that room. There was something about Nurim that kept him coming back for more. "Besides, I spent a lot of today with Hayden and Luke, seeing how they're getting set up in their house in the city. As much as they talk about hating it here, I can see the excitement when they look at the space Ivan provided them."

"Excitement?" Nurim raised an eyebrow. "I have to admit that surprises me a great deal. I thought they would have left the city already. They're soldiers, and they won't be caught dead serving in a cause that was so contrary to their own."

Peter smiled, glad that Nurim was less bitter today than he had been. It seemed as if he were finally starting to break through the walls that Nurim had put up around himself. "Well, I know for a fact that Luke had always wanted a house in the city, and that Hayden had always promised to provide one to him. Then they started working for the government and lived on base, and then the war broke out." Peter sighed and added, "After that, they were too focused on surviving to worry about it I guess."

Nurim nodded silently and Peter took the opportunity to switch the conversation to a different topic. "What was that about soldiers serving a cause contrary to their own?" He asked, adding as much sincerity as he could.

Nurim turned his face toward Peter but then quickly snapped his head back the other direction. He sighed and slid his hands back from behind his head to his lap, where he entwined them together and twiddled his thumbs. Peter watched him shift and fidget for almost a minute before he considered switching the conversation again until Nurim broke the silence with a sudden rush of information.

"I don't know if I can help Ivan, to be honest," Nurim sighed. "To do so would be to betray my own people, at least in my mind. What did they do to deserve Ivan's army at their doorstep? How many of my friends are going to die if I give Ivan the information that he requires? He won't even tell me why he needs that information."

Nurim turned a questioning eyebrow on Peter, who began shaking his head before he responded, "No, I'm afraid he still hasn't told us either. I know that Tristan and Micah know, but they as of yet have not revealed it to me. I assume that Ivan has asked them to keep quiet, probably because he's aware of my nightly visits to you."

"Why do you come here, Peter?" Nurim asked as he turned to face him once again. "Why do you care what happens to me?"

Peter leaned back in his chair and sighed, glancing up at the small window set in the wall above him. There were bars covering it as well, though it was so small that no one would be able to fit through it. He was sitting at just the right angle to catch the moonlight streaming through the bars, and he considered it for a moment before he responded.

"Something about you intrigues me," Peter said with a sad smile as he continued to look at the streams of moonlight. "I'm a doctor, as you know, and I have a strong desire to heal people. You seem like the kind of person who has a lot of healing to do, and I suppose I latch on to that. I feel like you need someone in your life; a friend who can share these nights with you. Hopefully, you'll be able to fall asleep for once."

"How did you know I haven't been sleeping?" Nurim asked. Peter looked back to see that Nurim was no longer twiddling his thumbs, and if his eyes could see he would be staring into Peter's soul.

Smiling slyly, Peter answered with laugh, "A doctor can usually tell without too much difficulty. Hopefully I can help you finally find some peace."

Nurim nodded slowly, and a smile teased the corner of his mouth until he was finally grinning broadly. "You already have, Peter. You already have."

There wasn't much to do except to pace. Hayden was going stir-crazy, and he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to the idea of living in a suburban home again. It seemed unreal, almost like he was living in a memory. Luke didn't seem to be as affected by the change to living in society again. In truth, Luke almost seemed happy, though he was still worried about the way their friends were being treated.

Deciding not to stay with them had been a difficult decision, but in the end they had agreed without even having to talk about it. Meeting each other's eyes in Ivan's council room had been enough for them to know. They couldn't switch to helping Ivan that easily, no matter how good of an argument he tried to make.

There were guards kept outside their door at all times, making them feel like prisoners, though Ivan had made it clear that they were for Hayden and Luke's protection. They had been allowed to move about the city, go to the market place and were even allowed to shop with a small amount of funds that had been provided to them, but everywhere they went the soldiers followed them, and it felt oppressive to Hayden, who until three days before had always been free.

Ethan and Peter had both visited them several times, and they related what they knew of the others. Hayden wished that Micah and the other boys would visit so that they could talk about what had happened, but Ethan had explained that they were being kept close at hand. From Hayden's perspective, it seemed that Ivan was afraid that Tristan would run if given the chance, and if that were the case, it was all the more reason for Hayden and Luke to stick around.

After all, if Tristan had been acting under duress, then it was necessary for Hayden to do everything in his power to rescue him.

And so, Hayden spent his nights in front of the large window in the bedroom that had been furnished for he and Luke, watching the distant capitol building where his friends, his family, were staying. Luke would busy himself in preparing for bed and he would still find his husband staring out into the darkness and watching, looking for the answers to his questions.

"Are you ever going to accept the state of things?" Luke asked as he slid up to Hayden's side and wrapped his arm around his waist. Hayden looked to Luke in surprise at feeling him there, and then gave him a quick peck on the lips before returning his gaze to the building in the distance.

"I've never been good at accepting things, Luke. Why start now?" Hayden replied with a chuckle. "You know that better than anyone."

"Are you sure that this isn't all born from the fact that you hate being beaten?" Luke asked, and this time Hayden gave him his full attention. Luke's face was grim, but his eyes were full of nothing but love and concern. "You don't like the fact that our resistance is over, but look… It could be a lot worse."

"What are you saying?" Hayden asked, cocking his head to the side as he scratched it in confusion. "Are you saying that I should just give up?"

"Give up on what?" Luke replied with a shake of his head. "We have nothing. We're nowhere near our home. They took everything from us, and our friends have all agreed to stay and help Ivan. What is left to give up on?"

Hayden looked at Luke hard, seeing the uncertainty in his eyes; the confusion. He wrapped him in a tight embrace and smoothed back his hair soothingly. "I see. You're just as worried about what to do as I am. Truth is, I don't know if I can ever accept this as my reality. I've been fighting for too long."

"What if Ivan is sincere?" Luke asked as he buried his face in Hayden's shoulder. "What if we really still could make a difference, and we're just being stubborn?"

Hayden sighed as they pulled apart so that he could look into Luke's eyes. "Do you really believe that? Because if you do, I'm willing to…" He stopped as a bright flash in his peripheral vision drew his gaze to the window. It was followed by a second flash of fiery light, and then a third. Explosions on the roof of the capitol building.

"Luke, look. We have to go, now!" Hayden said, pointing toward the window as he stepped away to grab his coat. He looked back at Luke to see that his husband was already working on sliding back into his pants and shirt, struggling to get the pants over his artificial leg as he always did. Hayden stepped away from his coat and knelt in front of Luke, helping him slide the pants on the rest of the way.

"We're going to get through this, Luke," Hayden promised as he glanced up into his husband's worried eyes. "Let's go help our family."

Max set the cup of coffee in front of Finn and then sat down next to him on the comfortable couch. Finn was leaning forward and studying a stack of papers in his hands, but he noticed the cup immediately and reached out to grab it before Max had even settled into the cushion. He took a sip and then returned the cup to the table, reaching out with his now free hand to rest it on Max's thigh as he leaned himself up against the back of the couch.

"It's been a long week," Max remarked as he took a sip from his own cup. "Even the last few days have been excruciating. God… I just want to sleep."

"Maybe you should then," Finn suggested without looking up from the papers. "I can watch over you, you know."

"I know but…" Max sighed and this time Finn looked over at him, hearing the uncertainty in his voice. "I don't think I could sleep without you in my bed."

Finn smiled apologetically and squeezed Max's thigh before setting the papers down on the other side of him. He turned toward Max and placed a gentle hand on his cheek before leaning in to kiss him. Max kissed back desperately, pulling Finn in and onto his lap as he feasted on Finn's lips. They kissed for several minutes, with Finn giving Max everything he had, leaving work behind for a moment. He only stopped when Max began to pull back, and then put a hand on his chest and gently pushed him away.

"What is it?" Finn asked sweetly as he looked down into Max's eyes.

"As much as I want you, I know that there are things to be done right now. We can't, can we?" Max said with a dry chuckle. "You need to study the reports from your agents, and I need to figure out how to keep Ivan's enemies from getting in. This war is getting old, Finn."

"I know," Finn muttered. He rolled back off of Max to land heavily on the cushions nest to him. "We thought we were close and then The Alliance pulls this shit, on top of Faust bringing the attention of Avalon to our doorstep! What the fuck are we supposed to do now?"

Max sighed and glanced away. "We fight, like we always have. It's all we can do, isn't it?" He patted Finn on the knee as he stood and looked down at the coffee in his cup. "I'm going to go make a fresh pot. I think we're going to be here awhile."

"All right," Finn whispered as he reached out and took Max's hand, giving it a squeeze before Max stepped away toward the small kitchen that was attached to their apartment. Aside from Ivan, Finn and Max were two of the only people who had a permanent residence within the mansion, and it came complete with full amenities, but Finn knew that Max longed to visit their home in the country. A small house that Ivan had provided for them a decade earlier but which spent most of its time in the hands of a caretaker.

Finn resolved to take Max there as soon as the conflict died down enough to give them a day's reprieve, but that meant work for the time being. He sighed and picked up his papers again. Before he could get more than one line in the text there was a buzz in his ear and one of his troops stationed through the mansion began speaking.

"We've had a perimeter breach on the North west. We're being attacked. To all squad leaders; we have a perimeter breach."

Finn was on his feet a second later and turning to face the door when he heard the click of a pistol from the direction of the kitchen. He turned around slowly to see Max staring at him with panicked eyes, Lieutenant Greenwood standing behind him with a gun pointed at Max's head. Finn calmed and focused on the situation as more calls began coming in from all over the mansion. Soldiers reporting that an attack was in progress.

"What do you want?" Finn asked slowly, glancing up from Max's eyes to meet Lieutenant Greenwood's.

Lieutenant Greenwood smiled in a way that didn't touch his eyes. "All I want is for traitors to die. You'll be the first."

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