"The world is a fine place and worth fighting for…"

-Ernest Hemmingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

William and Drogan struggled over the knife, their gazes locked onto each other as each searched for some sign of weakness in the other. Both were driven in their current struggle by their rage, Drogan at the news that his mighty beast would fall and William at seeing his friend covered in blood. That rage gave them strength, made their entire bodies shake as their muscles exerted all their power in the battle for control of that knife until finally a breakthrough.

Drogan, with a frustrated grunt, shoved his knee into William's vulnerable side with the force of a hammer against an anvil, making William double over in pain but his grip on the blade didn't weaken. If anything, William's grip was stronger than Drogan's in the long run as Drogan let go and grabbed hold of the handle of William's sword and pulled it out, swapping the possibility of the knife for the superior reality of William's own sword.

William stumbled forward, and past Drogan. He tried to take a swipe at Drogan but the blade barely missed its target as Drogan hopped backwards, putting enough distance between the two to make the knife useless but the sword all the more useful. William stood back upright and regained his balance in time to see Drogan try to decapitate him with a single, powerful swing. He had no time to think; only time to react, and jumped away, rolling against the metal grating and rising back to his feet clutching the knife and at the ready.

But the odds were against him now. He'd lost the element of surprise and now Drogan had his sword, a superior weapon with a longer reach than the simple dagger he had. If this was any other circumstance he might've laughed as he thought back to the struggle for the knife he now had and how pointless it all was, but his mind was more preoccupied by the fact that Drogan stood between him and Nathan, and Nathan was getting off this rock alive.

He'd made a promise, and he was going to keep it.

Nathan watched where he was, barely conscious but still aware of how bad things were for William. The two were staring each other down now, too focused on each other rather than him. Still, if Nathan wanted to help, he needed to wait until the right moment arrived.

"Here to save your friend, Will?" Drogan asked in a mocking tone, "Well it looks like you're late again… that's what two people dead because you were slow on the draw?"

"I guess the same could be said for you, Drogan," William shot back, "if you only jumped in a little earlier we wouldn't have set your life's work to explode."

Drogan leapt forward, closing the distance William had created between the two, and swung the sword aiming for William's head. William managed to duck in time and would've countered but Drogan was too far away and William didn't want to take the risk of getting any closer to him with only a knife. So William jumped back, trying to stay as far away from Drogan as possible.

Drogan took another swing, this time vertical. William jumped to the side and felt the handrail press into his side. Drogan took another potentially decapitating swing which forced William to duck again. But this time he was close, this time he could make an attack. He lunged forward, blade first; but only succeeded in scratching Drogan's chest plate under his jacket as the commander side stepped the attack. The next thing William felt was Drogan's fist making contact with his cheek and he was sent reeling. He hadn't even regained his footing as instinct told him to roll away and he obeyed, narrowly avoiding the tip of Drogan's blade as it came down over where his body used to be.

William got back up to his feet, that punch had left one of his teeth loose. The two were back to where they had started and neither had an edge over the other. But one thing had changed, William now stood between Drogan and Nathan and that was a step in the right direction.

"Will!" a weak voice cried out from behind him.

William looked behind himself and saw Nathan sitting in the doorway leading to the control room where this whole thing had started. He had crawled away while the two were fighting to find his own sword but had found Drogan's lying on top of one of the terminals, right where the commander had left it when he had gone to retrieve the knife for the short torture session. Nathan put Drogan's sword down on the floor and pushed it across the floor towards his friend.

William jumped at it and scooped it up, moving quickly so as not to give Drogan a chance to attack him while his attention was elsewhere. He grabbed the sword and spun on his heel, facing Drogan once again now with both a knife in one hand and a sword in another.

Drogan scowled at this, but maintained his cool. William, on the other hand, tried not to let the small victory go to his head and maintained his own stoicism. The two stood where they were, waiting for the other to make the first move and possible the first mistake.

Drogan made the first strike again, lunging at William with enough force to have punched right through William's armor. William jumped back and brought up both his blades to block a second, vertical attack by Drogan. William used his long sword to pin Drogan's sword against the railing and then lashed out with the knife. But the knife's blade missed Drogan's neck and only successfully left a long, bloody line going down his cheek.

Drogan yelled out in pain and fury and brought up his foot and kicked William in the chest, knocking him back. The armor absorbed most of the impact, but some wind was still knocked out by the attack and he coughed and wheezed for a second or two as he was forced to go on the defensive. William slowly began to lose ground, Drogan's sword coming closer and closer to landing a critical blow each time he tried to block it. He jumped back, again putting distance between himself and Drogan.

William was breathing hard, but other than that he showed no other signs of weakening. Drogan just wiped away the blood from his cut open cheek like it was an unwanted food stain instead of a painful wound and looked just as determined to tear William apart.

The two charged at each other again. William swung high and was blocked easily by Drogan, but left him exposed. William stabbed forward with the knife, putting his strength into it, hoping to pierce the armor. But Drogan sidestepped it and slashed at William's back diagonally, which produced a horrible screeching sound and left a long scratch mark on the back of William's armor.

William grimaced, his teeth grinding together in horrible display of pain as he struggled to face Drogan again. He sucked down air in deep, rapid lungfuls through his nostrils. Drogan couldn't help but snort a laugh at this.

"What's the matter," Drogan taunted in that superior tone a predator would give to its prey, "that didn't go through your armor did it? I'd be so ashamed of myself if it did."

William forced himself to ignore the pain, to shove it back down and lock it away within himself. He straightened himself out and replied in a painful, breathy sort of way, "I'm going to send you straight to hell, old man."

"I'll keep it warm for you." Drogan replied, "after all, it seems like a suitable place for the two of us, especially after Tybar."

"Your sin, Drogan; not mine."

"Oh, yes," Drogan said as he nodded in false sympathy, "all you did was be a part of the invasion team, you didn't bomb those cities. But I somehow doubt that child your so protective of will see it the same way. I'd love to see how you explain your involvement in an operation that left him a broken, traumatized orphan." Drogan actually started to laugh at the thought, "Oh, that will be a sight to see! If I don't kill you that little boy will do it for me!"

William then made the biggest mistake he could've made, he let his emotions get the better of him. In an explosion of rage, of all the bottled up stress and anger and pain he'd forced himself to swallow throughout this entire mission. He cried out a warrior's battle cry as he rushed forward, his mind becoming hazed and dulled as he attacked.

He swung both blades, swinging with blind strength and speed rather than carefully planned assaults. His movements devolved quickly into erratic dodges and steps forward as he made up for lost ground. Drogan continued to slowly retreat, William's attacks were coming dangerously close to home. But if the commander was worried he didn't show it, he just kept walking backwards and blocking every attack William could throw at him.

Finally, Drogan saw his opportunity and struck.

Drogan brought down his blade, pinning both William's sword and his knife to the railing with a strike he never saw coming. Drogan's free hand then came up and smashed against William's jaw with the what felt like the strength of a freight train that sent William spinning. But the pain from the sucker punch wasn't the only problem for William as he suddenly felt a hot, mind numbing pain erupt from his calves as Drogan attacked the unarmored section of William's legs.

William screamed out in pain that he couldn't keep bottled up and dropped to his right knee. He tried to focus, to see through the mental fog he'd let cloud his senses. He regained enough clear thought to realize he needed to get away and rolled forward, nearly avoiding another attack that would've killed him.

He rolled onto his stomach, barely supported himself with his arms, and let out a pain filled sigh, he wanted to just stay there forever until the pain went away. But no, he had to keep a sharp mind, had to focus again, and tried not to accuse himself of his obvious stupidity for falling for the obvious trick. His right leg was in searing pain, but he felt less pain coming from his left leg; Drogan had only nicked it in his attack.

He snorted out in exertion as he forced himself up slowly, supporting himself with his left leg primarily. He couldn't hide his pain so he didn't even bother putting up a façade; he focused all his attention on getting back up before Drogan could finish him off. He was back up on his feet, slightly slumped against the wall at first, but then back up the way he used to be except with most of his weight kept on his left leg.

"This is going nowhere, Will." Drogan said, he knew that time was running out. it was time to finish this.

"That's the point," William pointed out, "you die here, Drogan. You're not supposed to go anywhere."

"What about, Nathan?" Drogan asked, not even bothering with the faux sympathy this time as he nodded his head back towards the command room. "You want him to die on this satellite too?"

"If he's smart," William half shouted past Drogan, "he'll crawl out of here right now!"

No reply from the command room, not even a grunt.

"Nathan?!" William shouted out, fearing the worst.

But those fears were somewhat averted when both William and Drogan heard the sound of something hitting the ground with a thud and a wounded groan escaping from the room. It was a good sign that he was still alive, but the noise came from far away from the main door to the room and William began to doubt that Nathan would be able to go anywhere without help.

"He's going to die." Drogan pointed out. "He's going to die, and it's all your fault because your too proud to give up, too stupid to know when your beaten. Your about to deprive his new family of a father and it will be all because of you."

William just stared at him for a little bit, tasting blood in his mouth from that punch a minute ago. He swirled around the blood in his mouth before spitting it over the railing and saying with blood red teeth, "Well, then… I guess I'll have to kill you quickly."

Drogan would've laughed if he wasn't already feeling his own doubts. This was taking far too long, William should've been dead already. If he didn't hurry this up then he just might die along with his Leviathan.

They were never supposed to get this close.

Drogan cracked his neck with an awkward jerk and slowly approached William. Drogan brought up his blade and attacked, curving it in the air to turn it into an attack aimed at William's side rather than his head. It was meant to throw him off guard, off balance; and it worked. William awkwardly managed to block the attack but stumbled backward, almost losing his footing and falling down.

Drogan attacked again, and again aimed for William's side. William brought his blade about and blocked the attack again. But this time he did something Drogan didn't expect, he charged forward. William knocked Drogan's sword away, closed the distance, and when he was close enough he dropped his sword and attacked with the knife only, knowing he was too close to attack with the sword and knife and still maneuver properly.

William slashed across Drogan's thigh, across his armor in several impotent attempts to breach the armor again, and when Drogan tried to grab him with his freehand; William shoved the knife right through Drogan's forearm. Drogan roared in pain and jumped back, and in the process felt the knife slip out from his arm.

William stumbled forward; he was losing strength and fast. The last thing he heard before being knocked onto the ground was Drogan's roar which switched from pain to fury as he kicked William in the stomach, punched him in the face, and then through him down on the grating. Drogan was about to bring down the sword, about to finish the job when a plasma bullet whizzed over his head.

He spun on his heel to face his new attacker to see Nathan leaning in the doorway, kept supported by putting his weight against the wall and the last of his strength into his legs. His chest was also heaving from the labored breaths as he struggled to stay conscious and his arms shook as he held the plasma rifle in his hands. They hadn't noticed, they were too busy fighting to see it, but Nathan had crawled over to Drogan's dead guard and retrieved his plasma rifle. He tried to stand up and help before but fell down, but now he was up and had a clear shot, and by the murderous hate in his eyes Drogan could tell he was going to use it to finish this fight once and for all.

Drogan felt fear run through him, it was a shooting gallery for the boy. There was nowhere for Drogan to run, no cover to dive behind. This damn boy had him dead to rights. But that fear began to subside as Drogan realized why Nathan had missed the first time he fired and why he hadn't fired now.

Nathan had almost no strength left, that rifle was like an anvil in hands. Not only did he struggle to hold it, but it was impossible to for him to keep it steady because of his messed up breathing. Not just that but Nathan only had one eye to use for aiming and that last remaining one was almost blinded by the blood that kept flowing into it from his head wounds. But the absolute worst part for Nathan was that he knew it, there was no he would survive if he missed the next shot because if he did than Drogan could easily cover the distance between the two and finish Nathan off.

So, Nathan decided to bluff.

"Drop your weapon." Nathan ordered.

Drogan, who now realized he had very little to fear from Nathan, just smiled and said, "Or what, you'll bleed all over me?"

"Do it." Nathan ordered again, still hoping this might work.

Drogan just took a confidence step forward and asked condescendingly, "What's the matter? Having some trouble holding that gun?"

"Take another step forward and find out how much trouble I'm having."

Drogan stopped and the two stared at each other. Neither dared to move for fear of setting the other off, but really the fear was one sided. Drogan looked Nathan over, searching for anything that might give him an advantage. Then that smile grew even wider as he replied to Nathan, "I think I will."

Drogan ran forward and Nathan fired. The bullet came close, scathing the surface of Drogan's right shoulder with heat as it passed him, nearly missing his head. Nathan felt a brief flash of fear as he knew that his life would soon come to an end. He felt the rifle fly from his hands as Drogan knocked it away with his sword and pinned Nathan to the wall with his free but injured arm.

He reared back his arm to attack and then suddenly stopped as they both heard a noise, the sound of boots thundering against the metal walkway. Drogan was about to move away from Nathan and turn around when William's arm wrapped around Drogan's thick neck and he heard William whisper, "I keep my promises."

That was when William jammed the knife into Drogan's spine, through the coat, and just under the protection of the armor beneath it. Drogan went rigid, his eyes bulged and his teeth almost cracked as he pressed them together. He tried to throw William off, but he held on tight as he finished the job and completely severed Drogan's spine.

William removed the knife and let go. And, as a result, Drogan collapsed to his knees, then fell forward onto his face. He didn't move, he didn't say anything; blood just started to puddle out of the man's many wounds.

William looked down at his fallen enemy, he was covered in blood now; both Drogan's and his own. He looked up at Nathan and smiled as he saw that Nathan was still alive. Nathan wanted to smile back but all he did was keep looking down at Drogan and asked, "Is he dead?"

William stepped over Drogan to join Nathan within the room and said, "Not quite, just paralyzed…"

Drogan groaned and coughed, blood coming from his mouth as confirmation that he was, indeed, still alive.

"But pretty soon," William continued, "he's going to wish that I did kill him."

Drogan spat out some blood and looked up at the two and he still managed to smile. He chuckled to himself in a tired manner as he said, "I am so disappointed in you, Will. What… did you want to prove you're not like me or something by sparing my life or some other crap like that?"

"No, not really;" William answered, "I already know I'm like you and, quite frankly, I don't care."

That smile began to slide off Drogan's face as he heard this.

"You and I may live for battle, either through our genetics or our up bringing, but I don't need to prove I'm different from you." William said, "For the first time in my life, I have something to go back to, a home and a family. While all you have is this," he waved his hand at the missile silo.

"No, I don't need to prove anything." William continued, "The only reason I haven't killed you is because I want to leave you there, broken and beaten, and I want you to know that you lost at a battle of your choosing with odds completely on your side, against two foes you could've taken easily one on one. In a way, I guess I am killing you, Drogan, and I'm killing you the way you deserve. Who's proud now?"

"You think you've accomplished something here?" Drogan spat, "You think this is some victory? Think again you short sighted little bastard, this isn't over at all! Your UND is falling apart at the seams. The colonies, because of that idiot Gyger, are in full revolt and without The Leviathan to put them down the UND will be fractured and divided! This war doesn't end here, it'll go on and on and on now because of YOU! And the best part, the absolutely wonderful part is that no one will care in a few decades.

"People might say this is a horrific time now, but give it a few years and this will be nothing more than a memory, a page in a history book. All the death and destruction will be forgotten and no one will have learned a thing from it! I promise you, in a few decades, they're going to be mass producing The Leviathan as man continues to divide himself, there will be dozens of people, just like me at the helm too! This isn't a victory, this is your war stepping into a whole knew playing field, all because of you!"

This time it was Nathan who answered him as he said, "If there will be dozens of you, then I guess that means this future of yours will have hundreds of us, too."

William smirked, "And we'll be ready and waiting. Have a nice life, scumbag."

William hit the controls and closed the door with a satisfying 'whoosh' sound as it sealed shut, locking Drogan in with his weapon. The two soldiers looked at each other and Nathan asked, "Found something to go back to, huh?"

William nodded, "Let's go back to it."

"Well not to rain on the parade but I think if I move from this spot I'll fall." Nathan pointed out.

"Come on," William said as he supported himself under Nathan, allowing him to use William as human crutch. "I'm getting you back home. Like I said, I keep my promises."

On that note the two left the room and entered into the hallway where they were met with chaos once more.

In the hangar, Alex was glancing at the clock in her ship nervously. She'd been given orders to retreat and dock with The Guardian again after a certain time limit had been reached. That time was approaching, she should've started up the engines and prepared to leave without them. Those were the orders and they were incontrovertible, to leave any later was to risk being destroyed in The Leviathan's blast.

She grunted out a curse and jumped out of her seat, her co-pilot following after her in slight alarm as he shouted, "What are you doing?"

She typed in her code to the weapons locker and retrieved two plasma rifles and handed one to him.

"Just shut up and follow me, we've got to help!"

The co-pilot looked down at his rifle and gulped audibly, he wasn't properly trained for this. But none the less he found himself following her as they exited the transport and took positions next to the door, both their backs pressed to the walls on either side of it.

Alex checked to see if the co-pilot was still with her and he nodded, slowly getting more and more used to the idea that he was walking towards what could be his death. They opened up the door and charged through it, moving carefully and methodically as they made their way down the hallway towards the position where the task force was pinned down.

When they finally did stumble upon it they kept themselves hidden at first, taking in the sight and learning the enemy position. It seemed like a pretty basic firefight with shields in front and sharp shooters in back. But what was interesting was the fact that they were in a perfect position to ambush the First troops because of a hallway that flanked their entire formation!

A grin came across Alex's face as she told the co-pilot to wait for her signal.

William half-supported, half-carried Nathan to the line of shields where the others were hiding, and took cover along side them. Plasma bullets zipped by over head with deadly speed, threatening anyone who would so much as take a peek over the wall of shields in front of them. Petrov was clutching some wound beneath his armor and looked as bad as William and Nathan did, Howe, on the other hand, was alive and unharmed and still in command as he shouted orders and quickly moved next to the two when they arrived.

"By the One," Howe swore, "what the hell happened back there?"

"Countdown's started, Drogan's taken care of." Nathan quickly explained for them, "We need to go. Now!"

"That's a bit easier said than done." Petrov pointed out, "They've got us pinned."

Suddenly the First troops began yell in surprise and shock as a new barrage of plasma bullets flew into them from around the corner, cutting the group into two. The half that was away from the task force fled to get to safety and cover while the other half, the one closer to the task force, was getting gunned down by the two new attackers.

"CHARGE!" Howe shouted, taking advantage of the situation.

The task force leapt forward from their position, tossing aside their shield wall as they raised up their rifles and swords and cut down the surrounded First soldiers. The remaining First soldiers, surrounded and doomed, refused to throw down their weapons and met the task force's charge with their own weapons. The fight should've been quick and easy, but it claimed more lives for the task force than it should have.

Nathan and William, however, had to make do with limping after their allies once the fighting was over.

They heard Alex approach and raised their weapons, but stood down once they realized who it was. She didn't bother surveying the damage or ask any pointless questions. She just shouted, "Come on, let's get the hell out of here!"

A plasma bullet struck one of the soldiers, knocking him back onto the floor with an explosion of blood. Howe looked down the hallway and said, "They're coming back for us! Get to the ship!"

Some soldiers held their ground and brought up their shields, trying to cover their fleeing comrades as best as they could. This was made even more difficult by the fact that Nathan and William weren't the only injured soldiers, there must've been half a dozen others limping and struggling to escape that hallway as well. The soldiers with their shields finally broke and began to flee as well just as Nathan and William entered the hangar.

They could hear the footfalls of countless soldiers moving down the hallway behind them, and when William glanced back, he saw First sharpshooters starting to fill the doorway and start taking aim. He forced himself to look ahead, to keep moving and ignore it. But that went out the window as plasma bullets began to fly and soldiers around them started to fall left and right.

"We're not going to make it." Nathan said bleakly.

"Shut up and keep moving." William ordered.

Nathan tried his best to move, put what strength he had left to making them both move faster. Suddenly William faltered, almost falling down. He hissed in pain and squeezed his eyes shut.

"What's wrong?"

William just forced the pain back down and kept moving again. Then he hissed out, "Just shut up and move!"

They could see the ramp. Just a few more feet and they would be safe. But Nathan kept noticing the small trail of blood William was leaving. That plasma bullet clipped him, and it was bad. Then Nathan looked back at the ramp, so close but seemingly miles away, and he saw a short line of soldiers at the ready with their rifles, giving them covering fire. He could also see Howe and Petrov, they were shouting at them and waving them to get in.

They felt their feet finally touch the ramp's metal and they jumped, throwing themselves at the feet of their comrades and lying down safe within the shuttle's holding bay as Howe smacked a big, obnoxious red button and the ramp began to close up, finally cutting the task force off from the First.

"Hang on!" Alex shouted over the intercom as the shuttle rumbled to life and began to lift off the ground.

She prepped the shuttle while the co-pilot went to work on the console one of the engineers had left behind. The engineers had left the program necessary to open up the hangar blast doors all set up and ready just in case they didn't make it back, and now it was being put to good use. The moment the door was open wide enough to let the shuttle out, Alex threw the accelerator forward as far as it would go and rocketed out into space and back into the battle outside.

The battle raging out in space was mess. Lifeless husks of destroyed ships floated about, clogging up space and making maneuverability difficult for even the most practiced pilot. But, for some reason, that didn't worry Alex as much as the countdown timer on her own console. She should've left minutes ago, if she didn't get back on board The Guardian as fast as possible she and possibly the entire fleet might get caught up in the explosion along with Drogan's forces.

She could see The Guardian, it was still there amidst the carnage and chaos that raged around the shuttle as it flew through the battle. She could see the hangar doors opening for her far away. She grimaced, then picked activated the intercom and said, "The landing's going to get rough people, hold on to something."

She could hear the co-pilot whispering a prayer behind her. Poor new guy, he gets his first real mission and its one that decides the fate of the entire UND. She couldn't help but mutter a prayer of her own as she swung the shuttle towards the open hangar and lined the craft up for landing.

She pulled back on the accelerator, tried to slow the shuttle down so as not to crash it into the hangar. She was still coming in too fast though, something the hangar control room pointed out as they kept shouting into her ear. The hangar's open jaws grew wider and wider until finally she was in and she forced the shuttle's nose down. The landing gear broke out from beneath her and the shuttle skidded across the metal floor, leaning to the right a little and threatening to flip over. But the tactic worked as the shuttle began to loose momentum until it finally, gently, crashed into the wall with its side.

Everyone went flying from where they were. Even Alex, who was secured in her pilot's chair, almost went flying. But they were still alive and safe now and the fleet could now make its jump to safety. She made contact with the control room and said, "Task force's secure, get us out!"

Outside the hangar, the ships of New Earth's fleet slowly began to turn around and prepare themselves to jump.

Drogan's cheek remained pressed against the cold grating of the walkway, one of the few things he could still feel, as his eyes darted back and forth as his mind combed through the past, searching for that one moment where something went wrong. He had planned it all out so perfectly and whenever something went wrong he always fixed it to the point it was better than ever before. So how was it possible that he was coughing up blood and paralyzed on a walkway, about to die with his own creation.

He was the greatest, the strongest. He deserved to win. These thoughts kept reappearing in his head as he searched for that one fatal flaw. And, maybe, could his mind accept that fault if he found it?

Nathan should've surrendered, he was soft. It was what soft people did when the pressure was on them. They were supposed to all fold and crumble like house of cards mockery of humanity that they all were. Or were they?

How did that shuttle breach his satellite and how did those soldiers survive long enough to rig one of the nukes to explode? Drogan's men were the best, the most dedicated. His ships were strong, the largest in the UND. They were all normal human beings, not true soldiers like himself and his men! How did they survive?

Then there was William.

He should've joined with him instead of opposing him, he never should have left the First in the first place. So why would a true soldier stand against him? Why would a like mind not only fight against him but also, and this was the most infuriating part, why was he still alive while Drogan was left beaten and broken? What separated the two, what made William more worthy to survive than Drogan? Why did he win, when Drogan was the stronger?

And then the realization came to him with the same power and destructive force of getting shot. Nathan and William, they covered for each other. They didn't just use each other until one of them ran out of uses. They were connected, united. They all were.

And, maybe, that was what made him the better soldier?

By the time the timer hit zero and the rocket launched, filling the silo with destructive fire as it launched, Drogan still couldn't comprehend the fact that he had lost. But as he caught fire he did take solace in knowing that there was a soldier out there better than him and his almighty battalion.

Before he died, either from the consuming fires or from the explosion that ripped his creation apart, Drogan actually found it refreshing that there was still something to mankind and war he did not yet understand.

Just as the UND's fleet jumped back to New Earth for safety, The Leviathan exploded in a brilliant blast of white light that consumed its small corner of space and enveloped most of Drogan's Armada along with it. Some managed to make a last minute jump to safety before the explosion, taking notice of their enemy's movements. But the rest held their position, not wanting to move without the proper order first.

Finally, the last organized threat to New Earth was destroyed. Consumed by the monster from the deep they had released.

And then, all there was was quiet.

New Earth breathed a collective sigh of relief. When the fleet returned there were no parades, no medals given, no holidays declared. The injured were rushed off to the landing pad's hospital while the others were greeted by something far superior than any official show of thanks. Those men were home, and their families stood waiting for them when they got off their transport.

And that was all the welcoming any hero could ask for.

A day later, Sophie decided to pay her old friend a visit. She entered the doorway and took a seat next to him and asked, "How are you doing, Tom?"

Tom's eyes slowly fluttered open as he woke up from a nice sleep. He groaned out, "Finally, a visitor. I was getting bored."

"What?" She teased, "Don't enjoy lying around all day doing nothing?"

Tom snorted out a laugh, "Sleep, sleep, sleep. That's all they tell me to do and I'm getting sick of it. 'Your body's been through too much, you need rest.' HA! I swear, these doctors are loonier than I am. I'd be happy to just get out of here and see the city again." He sat up and squirmed in his hospital bed, trying to get comfortable. "But then again what do I have to back too, huh?"

Sophie didn't answer him, he wasn't looking for answers anyway. He needed to vent, that's what the psychologists who'd examined him had said. If he ever hoped to recover from everything he'd been through, he'd just have to sort through it on his own.

"At least I have a visitor now." Tom noted, finally looking at the brighter side of things. "So what brings the honorary senator to my bland yet humble part of existence?"

Sophie shrugged her shoulders in the formal business suit she was wearing, "I'm here visiting friends."

"Friends," Tom repeated with slight surprise, "as in plural; as in more than just me?"

She smiled gently, then lean forward and stared into his eyes as she said the news she thought he would love more than anything in the universe, "They came back, Tom. Your father, my brother, and so many others; have been avenged at last."

But instead of leaping in the air and jumping for joy, Tom just stared past her blankly. He continued to stare at a spot on the wall with intent interest as the gears in his mind whirred out of control, almost refusing to accept the news. Than the Tom she had met back with Rick peaked through as he smiled a lopsided little smile and leaned back in his cushy hospital bed. A look of victory washing over him before he muttered, "So, the UND's a better place now, huh?"

"Perhaps," Sophie said. But there was a hesitation in her voice that Tom picked up, causing that grin to slip away.

"Should've guessed," Tom sighed with a hint of frustration. "You can remove the cause, but removing the taint takes longer doesn't it? Gyger pushed them over the edge, validated all their little fears and mistrusts in the UND. Drogan was just the final nail in the coffin, huh?" He started to giggle to himself uncontrollably. "Wow, I do not envy you right now. Your dream comes true, you begin to follow in your brother's footsteps, and it turns out you inherit a kingdom that's already burned to the ground!"

He kept on giggling until he eventually broke out in mad laughter, covering his eyes with his hands. Then the laughter began to turn in to sobs. He shook his head and asked, "Is this what it was all for? Is this what we all sacrificed for? It all goes down in flames anyway?!"

Then he felt a cool hand against his brow as Sophie cradled his head in her hands and then wrapped her arms around him in a loving embrace that sent chills running through Tom's body. She rubbed her cheek against his and felt the tear trails smear against her skin. She pulled back and looked into his worn, blood-shot eyes looking for the part of Tom she had always loved.

She continued to smile at him, a warm radiant thing that brought Tom out from all the turmoil within for a brief but beautiful moment. She said, "The Tom I know doesn't give up."

"He doesn't still," Tom said, "but he's so… unsure of everything now."

He shook his head as if he'd heard a lie he would not accept. She just grabbed hold of him again and said, "They may have burned our world, took away everything we loved… but we're still here, aren't we?"

She put a reassuring hand under his chin as she said, "They can destroy everything we know, but as long as we're here we can still make it right. We can take our own broken little worlds, and we can make it beautiful again. We're still here, Tom, we CAN go back to what we had; but only if we want it with all our heart and soul."

She leaned forward and kissed him on his forehead, then leaned back and looked into his eyes once more and saw what she was looking for.

"That's what makes life beautiful, we can always rebuild in the aftermath. Our worlds, our lives, even our minds."

He put his hands over hers and he said solemnly, "Not yet, for me… but soon, Sophie. Soon…"

She glanced up at the clock and almost grimaced. Then she said, "I have to go, they're waiting for me."

"And I'll be here for a little while longer," he said, letting her know there was no rush. And as she got up to leave he said to her, "Say hello to them all for me."

She stole one more glance back at him before turning back to the door before her and leaving the room. Her eyes were burning as she stepped back into the bright hallway. She struggled to fight back the tears, yet some still broke through her wall of resilience and slowly streamed down her face in uncontrollable twin rivers.

That was when Adriana's long, thing fingers brushed some away for her.

Sophie looked up into the face of her new friend and saw the understanding in her expression. She continued to struggle against the hurricane of emotion within her as Adriana hugged her, leaving enough room between herself and Sophie for the baby she cradled in her other arm to remain comfortable.

They stood there in the hallway for several minutes, until Sophie felt someone tug at her pant leg. She looked down at Trent's round, curious face staring up at her in his own silent method of expressing concern for her. Sophie just brushed away the last of her tears, finally getting it under control. Then squatted down to Trent's eye level and asked, "Let's go see them."

Trent smiled excitedly and ran ahead of the two as they walked down the hallway to the room they'd learned of from one of the nurses. Sophie didn't want them to go ahead of her, she wanted them all to go one, as a family. And it was a happy little reunion as Trent burst through the door to see both Nathan and William, snug in their hospital beds and all bandaged up and even attached to a few machines; but still alive none the less.

Trent jumped onto William's bed and hugged the wounded soldier with Sophie following close behind and Adriana in last, wanting to enjoy the picture of the moment before actually going to Nathan's side. She saw his eyes open up slowly in little slits, and the tiny grin that came to his face as he saw her and Erica in her arms.

She smiled back and walked over to his bed side, nestling down next to him in the deluxe hospital bed, the least they could give to someone who had freed New Earth. She snuggled up close to him, resting her head on his shoulder and laying Erica down in a small little gap between them. He felt Erica with his right hand and then slowly revealed his left. It was heavily bandaged, but the fact it was missing three digits was still obvious to anyone who saw it. But still he used it to cradle Erica's head as his whole hand gently brushed against her cheek.

Nathan heard her giggle and looked up at Adriana with a look of pure joy on his face. She looked at him differently, not with fear or worry over what had befallen him, but her own joy to see him again and the knowledge knowing that he would never leave her again. She kissed him, gently and lovingly, and when she pulled back she too stared down at their beautiful daughter.

William woke up quicker than Nathan did, thanks to Trent constantly shaking him, but William got back at him for that by mercilessly tickling him. He looked up to see Sophie standing over him and said, "Hello again, Miss Abel."

"Hello again, Mr. Smith." She replied to her old bodyguard.

William looked over at Nathan and Adriana, together at last. He looked at the giggling baby they now had forever to love and raise. He looked at everyone in the room, and remembered those who couldn't be there. And he found himself at home, the call for battle a distant memory in his now content mind.

"Let us cross the river, and sit under the shade of the trees."

-Stonewall Jackson