Author's note: I like the end of this chapter. This is basically the end of the story, but there will be an epilogue chapter. There isn't really anything important to know about the characters who cameo in this chapter. All feedback is appreciated.

. . .

I grab the man in charge and pull him close. "How do I open Leslie's door?" I ask.

"I have no idea," he groans. I start squeezing. "You need a key card! I don't have one! I swear!"

"And where can I get one?"

"The guards at the cells have one."

"Good. That's where I wanted to go anyway." That just leaves the question of what to do about him. I could leave him behind. Knock him out, maybe strap him into the chair. But there's still a chance he'd get away. I want him to pay for what he's done. I could kill him.

It's certainly tempting. And I doubt anyone would object if I did it. I could just snap his neck, call it an accident, or self-defence. But . . . I was trained better than that. I've had to kill in the line of duty, but never someone who was already restrained and no longer an immediate threat. As a cop and as a superhero, I've dedicated myself to justice. If I kill this slime, it would be a betrayal of everything I've ever stood for.

That still leaves the question of what to do with him, but I've already decided. "I should kill you," I tell him. "But it's your lucky day. I'm going to let you live, so I can hand you over to ExTRA, so they can throw you in prison for the rest of your life. In the meantime, I'm taking you with me. But I'm going to warn you now: If Leslie dies here, so do you."

I poke my head out quickly, twice, to look both ways down the hall. There are men on both sides, but none are looking my way. Perfect. With my left arm, I slam the guys on one side with their own boss. With my right arm, I grab one of the men on the other side and slam him into his buddies. I pause before I continue, then I grab a stun prod for my left hand and a gun for my right. That should help a bit.

I go around the corner, and immediately start shooting at the guards I see while weaving around to make myself more difficult to hit. Energy blasts fly past from both directions, but nothing hits me. I, on the other hand, am having little trouble hitting my targets. I throw the boss man at the guys behind me to distract them while I finish the guys ahead of me. It occurs to me that I should probably talk to someone after all this killing. It's a good thing I'm friends with a shrink.

I feel a blast graze my leg, and that snaps me back to focus. Even with all the adrenaline going through my body right now, that hurt. The patch of skin flares with pain. I ignore it. It'll numb to a dull throb soon enough. Instead, I finish off the last guy in front of me, and then I whip around and blast at the guys behind me. I also shock some of them with the stun baton. One of my blasts hits a woman who actually looks a lot like my old friend Melissa right in the face. That's gonna give me some nightmares, I'm sure. Push it aside. There will be time to be messed up later.

Once they're all done, I grab boss man and keep moving. It's not far from the lab to the cells, and I only get in one more quick fight. But that fight's almost enough. One of them get lucky and hits my shoulder. I'm a little surprised I don't drop boss man, but my left arm is still left damned near useless. I can't stretch it any more than it already is, and even retracting it is going to be a real pain later. Something else to worry about once Leslie's safe.

Finally, I reach the cells. There's a dozen people guarding it. My odds here aren't great, but nothing's going to stop me. Two of them are down before they even know I'm there, and a third drops before they can react. But that still leaves nine of them shooting at me. I keep moving and firing, but the past few days are starting to catch up to me. I'm getting tired, and that's making me slower. I've only got six of the guards left, but I'm not sure I'll be able to finish them before they can finish me.

No! I refuse to be stopped before Leslie's safe! I let out a scream of rage. It actually makes a couple of them hesitate, which is great, as it lets me hit them. Four to go. My side is grazed, and I almost go down. I have to close my eyes against the pain, but that doesn't stop me from shooting. I can feel my head covered with sweat, and it's only my mask that keeps it slipping into my eyes. I can barely breathe. But I can't stop yet. There's only two left. I can do this.

My gun stops firing. The damned thing must have run out of energy. Fine. My arm flies forward and swings the gun, and I hit one of them in the head. The last one shoots my arm, but I still swing it back and hit him. I smack both of them with the gun a few more times to make sure they'll stay down. The last guy got my arm dead-on. I pull it in, and I can smell my own skin burning. My hand is stiff, some nerves must have been damaged.

I force my hand to work. I check the guards for a keycard, and I get lucky. The second guard I check has a card. It lets me into the cell block, and I hold my breath as I slip it into the lock for Leslie's cell. It's possible they killed her as soon as the fighting started. I have no idea what I'll do if-

"Susan?" Oh, thank god. "Are you OK?"

"Not really," I croak. Wow. I hadn't realized how bad shape I was in. I can barely even talk at this point. "Forget about me. We need to get you out of here."

"You're kidding, right?" she says. "You can barely walk. You really think the two of us can fight our way out of this place?"

I open my mouth, but I honestly can't think of anything to say. She's right. We don't have a chance on our own. We'd get torn apart, easily. She's good, but she's not that good. And I'm in no condition to fight any more. I'm hurt, I'm exhausted, and I'm actually starting to feel light-headed. So there is absolutely nothing I can say in response.

"I love you," I say. It's the only thing that came to mind.

"I love you, too," she replies. "But I hope that wasn't meant as a 'last words' thing, because I'm not ready to die, and I'm not ready to let you die. Maybe we can make a stand in here. Let me grab some guns."

"I'll get them," I say. If there's anyone out there, I don't want them shooting her.

"Uh, actually, that may not be necessary," she says. I turn around. The guy's gorgeous. His hair's been cut, but I still recognize him. Achilles. He's wearing kevlar and carrying a gun, but he's still got his big round shield. I've never been happier to see a shield.

"They're in here," he says. Martha, the lovely Latin empath, walks in. She's also wearing kevlar, over a blouse and pants that she thinks of as rags.

"We'll need a medic," she tells him as she walks in. "God, Susan, I could feel your pain from down the hall, even above the pain of everyone else in this place."

"Well, I do like to be number one." It's a lame joke, but it's the best I can do at this point.

"Can you do anything to help her pain?" Leslie asks.

"I can try to manipulate her pleasant emotions to get an endorphin rush," Martha says.

"I'm very glad I called you," I tell Martha. "Did you bring in ExTRA?"

"No, they actually came to us. I guess they started planning this as soon as you said you didn't want their help."

"Well, I'm glad for that."

"Come on, we need to get you girls out of here. Let go of this guy and we'll go."

"Oh, no. This guy, I'm delivering to ExTRA personally. I want to make sure he doesn't get a chance to slip away." Besides, I honestly don't know if I actually can let go right now.

"OK. Suit yourself. Let's go."

Martha and Leslie support me as we make our way to the elevator. For the first time in days, I have a real, sincere smile on my face. I did it. I can finally relax. I can let all the tension fade away. Leslie's safe.

Of course, now I have to make a decision about our relationship. Ugh. I'll let that keep for another couple days.

After a week, I'm still terrified of talking to Leslie about our relationship. We've both been avoiding it, acting like everything's fine. We've both needed it. My physical scars are mostly healed. I'm definitely going to need to get some counselling sessions with my friend to get over the mental scars.

Marie's been a big help for the past week. She was supposed to be here on vacation, but there she was, looking after me. She even extended her vacation, just to make sure I'd be OK. Unfortunately, it's time for her to go back home out east, so we drive out to the airport. "Thanks for staying so long," I tell her.

"It's OK," she says. "You needed it."

"Yeah. I did. But I'm still lucky to have such an amazing sister."

"Nah, you're the one who's saved the world. That's way more amazing than anything I'll ever do."

"Not to me. I don't know if I say this enough, Marie, but I love you. I really do. You're the best sister a person could ever ask for."

"Hey, come on. You know I love you, too."

We hug, then we pull away and I wipe some tears from my eyes. "Anyway, I just needed to tell you that," I say.

"Yeah. You know," she says, "you're going to have to talk to Leslie soon."

"I know. I know. I'm going to do it today. As soon as I get back."

"Do you know what you're going to say?" Marie asks softly.

"I don't know," I say sadly. "I just . . . I don't know. My feelings are so screwed up. I'm so torn."

"Just be honest with her. I'm sure Leslie will understand. She wants you to be happy."

"I suppose that's the problem. I have no idea what would make me happy."

"It'll all be OK. I'll call you when I get home, OK?"

"OK. Have a safe flight."

We hug again, and then she goes through the security checkpoint, and I go back to the apartment I share with Leslie. I stretch up and enter through the balcony. Leslie's on Facebook on the computer. She closes the browser when I come in. "Hey," I say.

"Hey," she says back.

"So, um." I hate this. I hate this so much. "We should talk."

"Yeah. I guess we should." She moves over to the couch, and I sit next to her and take her hands. I look into her eyes, and I kiss her. Then I sigh.

"OK," I say. "Um. I have to . . . I love you. You know I love you. I've never felt this strongly about anyone outside my family. It honestly amazes me how much I love you. And it even scares me a little."

"Scares you?" she asks.

"Yeah. It's . . . I don't mean it in a bad way. It's, like . . . I just love you so much. I can stare down supervillains and aliens and all that crap without batting an eye. But the thought of hurting you, or of you being hurt, just terrifies me. And the fact that I love you so much is just . . . it's scary. You know?"

"I don't think I know what you mean. I love you, too, but there's no fear. I mean, I'm scared of you getting hurt, too. Of losing you. But the love itself doesn't scare me."

"OK. So I guess it's just me. The important part is that I love you. And the last thing in the world that I want to do is hurt you."

"And yet you're about to. Aren't you?" I hate myself right now. I hate myself too much to even speak. Tears are making my vision blurry, and I have to shut my eyes. My gut's turning, and my chest is so tight that it hurts. My heart is breaking, and I can't even get the damned words out.

"I can't do it," I finally manage to say. I'm so quiet I can barely hear myself. "I just can't do this any more. I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. I just . . . I don't . . . I'm sorry." I don't know what else I can say. There's nothing I can say that will make this any less painful, for either of us. And for a while, both of us are silent, aside from our attempts not to cry. We sniff a lot, we take sharp breaths.

Finally, she asks the obvious question: "Why?"

"It's . . . I can't . . . I can't give up men," I explain. I sound like an idiot. And a coward. I don't deserve Leslie anyway. "I know I'm a terrible person for it, I know I should be able to just be happy with what I have with you, but I can't. I can't go through life like that. I can't get married to you and raise a family and just give up on men for the rest of my life."

"Have . . . have you had an affair?"

"No! I swear, I haven't! I could never do that to you. I've been faithful. I'm just . . . I'm not sure how long I'd be able to go before the need for a man drives me to cheat."

"What if," Leslie starts to say. "What if we tried an open relationship?"

An open relationship? I'd never thought about that. It seems like the perfect solution. I love Leslie. I really don't want to leave her. But I also don't want to go the rest of my life without being able to have sex with men. An open relationship would let me have both. But . . . "Are you sure you could handle that?"

She hesitates, and I'm pretty sure I know what that means. "I don't know," she says. "I just don't want to lose you."

"I know. I don't want to lose you, either. But I don't know if an open relationship would be fair to you."

"Is it fair to me for you to just leave?" She's sobbing. God, I hate this. I hate hurting her like this. I wish it hadn't come to this.

"No. It's not," I answer. "I'm sorry. I'm selfish and a coward and an idiot. I'm throwing away probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. But I'm not, I can't be the person you make me want to be. I just can't do this any more. No matter how much I want to, I can't!"

We're quiet for a while. "So what happens now?" she asks quietly. God, I can hear how heartbroken she is. I've never heard that tone of defeat from her, and I hate myself for being the one who's done this to her.

"I don't know. I guess I'll move back to LA. I'll spend tonight in a hotel. I'll get a moving van tomorrow, if I can, and get packed up and leave. Maybe I can stay with Martha until I get my own place again."

"You can stay here tonight," Leslie says.

"I just don't want to make things awkward or painful or anything."
"Please." There's a need in her voice I can't ignore. "Stay here tonight. I need one more night with you."

I have no idea if that's really a good idea. But I don't really care. The truth is, I want as much time with Leslie as I can get.

The night is . . . pretty incredible. It usually is, but it seems like she goes all-out tonight. Unfortunately, it's still not enough for me to change my mind, and in the morning, I call to rent a moving van.

"So this is it?" Leslie asks, once I have all my stuff in the van.

"Yeah," I reply. "I guess so."

"It's going to take me a long time to get over you," she says.

"Yeah. Me too. I do love you. I wish . . . I wish I wasn't such a coward."

She looks like she wants to say something. I want to say something, too, but I don't know what I can say. "Be happy, OK?" she says.

"I'll do my best," I say with a smile. "You be happy, too."

And I guess that's all we can really say. We stand awkwardly for a minute before we hug. And then we kiss. We try to pack all our feelings about each other into the kiss. But it has to end, and we whisper our goodbyes as I get into the van.

The drive from San Francisco to LA feels long and lonely. I've driven it by myself before, but it feels different this time. I guess because I know I'm not going to be going back. Martha even told me she was going to pay someone to bring the van back for me. The finality of it all is a little overwhelming. It feels unreal. Two weeks ago, I was happy and content, living with a woman I loved, enjoying living in the moment. What a difference two weeks makes: Now I'm miserable, lonely and filled with self-loathing. I made a mistake. I know I made a mistake. Maybe there's still time to turn around and go back. Maybe she'd take me back. Am I really so terrified of commitment that I'm going to throw away the best relationship I've ever had?

But it's not just the commitment. It's the commitment to a woman. It's giving up men forever. And I'm not ready for that. Dammit. Damn me.

Maybe the radio will help. I can put on some music. Maybe they'll play something I can sing along with. That's usually a good way to pass the time. I wish the radio in this rental could connect to my iPod, but nope, I'm stuck with just the radio.

Wait. Hold on. This song sounds familiar. 'He showed up all wet on the rainy front step.' Where do I know that from? Oh, crap. I know this song.

"I don't want to wait – for our liiives to be oveeerrr!"

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. So I settle on laughing.