A/N: This the last chapter of this story. Thank you all for reading.

Look for the final story this fall, connecting all my previous ones from The Protector, ('08-'10), Ironstone ('12-'12) and Where His Heart Is ('14-'17). Ten years and it has been a pleasure writing this.

A privilege.

...

Epilogue.

I love you to the moon and back.

There was probably more truth to that phrase then most would think.

No, he decided, looking down at the Giant. That wasn't good enough.

There was no going back.

"I love you to the moon and stars," Hogarth murmured, kissing him.

I.

Hogarth kept dodging guilty glances at the Giant, trying to think of ways to make it up to him. He had been wrong to end their reunion together so prematurely. Essential to survival? At the cost of their friendship? Hogarth felt pale when the Giant suddenly met his eyes in excitement. The boy smiled tentatively and realized he'd walked right into tall grass. He was gathered up and the two rose to see that a shack was right in the middle of the quiet field. The Giant exhaled.

Suddenly, a giant creature flew in on the attack.

No wonder this place was empty!

Hogarth shrieked and dove for the space he remembered was right in between the Giant's shoulder and arm. The Giant watched as the big bird alit on his finger, cocked it's elongated head at the same time he cocked his, then started pecking fiercely at the robot's flat iron cheek.

"Shoo. Shoo!" Hogarth pulled himself out to whack at it. "You quit peckin' at my buddy." The robot lifted his hand to prevent the fang-lined beak from jabbing at Hogarth. He gently took the creature in his hands and let it go with a shudder of feathers back to it's flock.

Hogarth saw from his gentle amusement he was not mad.

The boy grinned in relief, but he saw the Giant was also concerned.

Why did Hogarth always expect his friend to be angry with him?

"Let's go, buddy," He rolled back his shoulders in determination.

"Hogarth?"

"We're getting off this island," The boy told him.

...

The door to the Motorix opened and sunlight fell upon them. As Taylor started to de-board, something prodded into her back. She didn't have to look at the tall man standing behind her mother and uncle, Dimelo was straightforward as he explained his plans to her:

"We have until summer's end to find Hogarth and the Giant. That is when the last portal will open and close, very near October the fifth."

Taylor moved her head curiously, but didn't look back. "Why?"

His impatient sigh was unusual. "Robert," he commanded roughly.

Her uncle explained slowly, "Erika, the Reapers plan to allow entry into our timeline once more after Sergey retrieves...after he succeeds with his plans," He took a deep breath. "After which he intends to-,"

"After which I will return to my family and to whom will be Archer's great-grandfather." Snugness was in his voice as he pointed forward with his gun. They all moved as one unit into the jungle-like forest.

Dimelo tossed a Petri dish that contained Mansley's skin sample back towards the outerskin of the Motorix, transfiguring it to it's original form. It shadowed them, both figuratively and literally in their wake.

...

"Okay, buddy, we gotta be smooth." Hogarth brushed his hair back with his hands. The Giant tilted his head in confusion and his friend sighed. "Yeah, I don't buy it either." He knocked on the peeling door.

A crazed-looking woman with peppery hair and jade eyes appeared.

"Uh..." The boy was at a loss for words.

She hissed at him and he took a step back. The Giant whimpered.

"Grandma? Grandma!" A dark-skinned woman with long, brown hair suddenly appeared there instead. "I'm sorry," she explained quickly. "I don't like having to babysit Sergey's grandma anymore then... I-tish?"

There was so little time to do this; or get it right.

Hogarth grinned at her. "Hi, my... brother and I were looking to get off this island and, well, we happened across your little shack here."

The woman wasn't amused, or convinced.

"What? You don't... Can't you see the family resemblance? We're brothers! Twins." He motioned between both of them, but she only kept on scowling. "Okay, okay. You can't actually tell we're related."

Her hunched shoulders relaxed and Hogarth sealed the deal.

"We're fraternal twins!" He announced.

The crazed (now frightened) woman from before reached around and managed to slam the door in the surprised face of her caretaker. Only a few seconds went by with the closed, paint-peeled wood staring at them in the face - before Hogarth abruptly and silently stalked off.

"Hogarth?" The Giant called after him. "Hogarth...!"

He came to a stop at the edge of the abandoned field, where a vine-strewn aircraft peered out of the tall grass. Then, he angrily ripped out the rocks that were embedded into the earth. Hogarth threw and tossed them around senselessly until the Giant laid a hand over him.

"Every time!" He shouted at the Giant, his face red and eyes stricken.

The robot reeled back.

"Every. time. we try to show people what a good, sweet, loving guy you really are, a door gets slammed in our face. Or, someone attacks you, or hurts you, or locks you aw-," He covered his mouth abruptly.

The Giant shuddered at the truth in his friend's words, but almost as much at Hogarth's outburst. And his friend knew even as he said this he meant someone else, too. He didn't miss this and Hogarth knew it.

They both knew the full truth.

"Giant, I-,"

A sudden cry for help had them reeling.

"What the...?"

The same voice cried out again in a foreign language.

Hogarth pointed then to the land of underground robots and he was back in the Giant's hands as they raced all the way through the long grass, the stand of trees, back to the field and to then the edge of the greater forest. Someone dangled from the branches by their ankles.

...

It was mid-day and the shadows of trees were darker then biggest of them all, even darker then the huge clouds that were passing above.

They were almost to the forest's edge, where the earth dipped down into a maze of endless greenery and animals rustled hidden when a flash of something flying overhead gave Taylor a jolt of inspiration.

"Oops!" she turned quickly as if something fell from her hand.

The barrel of the gun followed her, as did the double barrel that was the much bigger gun above them. Taylor grinned at the silent group.

"Dropped my contacts."

Her mother was the first to show disbelief.

"Erika Roberta, you don't-,"

She was prodded in the side as Robert shot her an intense look.

"Yes, Trisha, I saw Erika drop her — contacts."

Dimelo seethed quietly behind them.

"Where are your glasses, Erika? I don't recall eye problems running in your family." Taylor gestured innocently up at the Motorix. With the gun still on her, the man looked up. "Are her spectacles on your

person?" It looked down, confused. Dimelo pulled back the hammer.

Suddenly, something clipped the Motorix on the shoulder and a shot rang up in the air. Before the robot could focus and attack, Rob got his arm around Dimelo in a headlock as Trisha pulled back his arm.

In the ensuing struggle, a dark, lithe creature sprung away.

...

"Man," the Giant pointed up into the trees, craning to look up.

They were a good forty-or-so feet taller than him.

"That narrows it down, buddy."

He felt the Giant blink down at his sarcasm.

"Ah-ka-taaaaa!"

"Wait..." The boy peered closer now. "It can't be... Inx?.!"

"Oh, merciful... I, Hogarth?.!"

Hogarth and the Giant examined the dangling man closer - the boy more out of amusement, the Giant much more out of a concern for his welfare. His friend motioned for him to elevate him up further.

The Giant then pulled down on the branch as Hogarth jumped on.

Inx screamed and the robot gasped.

"Careful, Giant, don't pull it down too far."

"Hmm?" He bent it down further absentmindedly.

"Buddddy," Hogarth laughed loudly. "I like flying but not that way."

The Giant rumbled softly in his tubular throat, happy now.

"What... what is going on down there?.!"

"Hey, Inxy! How'd ya get up here, pal?" Hogarth asked as he expertly scurried up the tree like a squirrel, pulling something from his jeans.

"Hogarth, is this your doing?" He yelped, teetering in suspension.

"The very same. Now hold still while I cut you..."

The boy moved his eyes to the curious Giant watching below and at the knife in his hand. He called down to explain what he was doing.

Inx seemed to notice Hogarth's urgency to do this.

Great. This day just gets better and better. The boy thought.

He cut Inx down and as together they slid into patient metal hands.

...

The man was still brushing himself off as Hogarth flipped the knife in his hand, almost cutting his thumb off, and then hastily placed it back in his pocket. Inx was huffing sharply under his breath when a poke to the chest made him look up. The Giant tilted his head now.

"You did it," He said in quiet awe.

Hogarth shrugged with his arms. "Well, it was mostly the Giant."

His friend turned to him with that same look from their first sunset.

Inx chuckled. "I believe 7000 thinks differently."

"Hmm?" The Giant turned to him.

"Yeah!" Hogarth chuckled himself, winking at the Giant, "It's great having friends in high places, huh buddy?" He saw his confusion as he tried to divert his curiosity. Inx noticed this, too. "Uh... so, you-?"

The man gestured for the Giant to lower his hand and the robot was amazed that he casually walked into it without fear or alarm. He met the Giant at full height and measured the look in his big, moon eyes.

"Hello, Giant. Do you know me?"

Hogarth sighed softly.

"How much does he remember?" Inx looked down at him instead.

"Everything up to the army bombing us down," he said, looking off into the distance. Something caught in his throat and the Giant gave his arm a poke, reminding him: Be. patient. Hogarth looked up at him and nodded slowly. "I know, buddy." But he wasn't convincing.

The Giant arched his lids around his eyes.

"I believe I should explain what I am doing here, in your time." Inx intervened helpfully. Hogarth crossed his arms and smiled wryly at him. "Yes," The man said flatly. "I am not here just for lobster rolls."

His younger friend chuckled. "This should be interesting."

"And then, we can hear about your travels."

Hogarth looked up willingly at the Giant. "Yeah, he's right. Stories with memories in them are probably the next best thing, I think." He tried to be casual about this, but he was off. His smile was off, too.

"It. is. fascinating, Hogarth, I could read a movie or watch a book... and then, afterwards, I could picture different scenarios in my head."

The boy chuckled, reminded of Archer.

"Yeah, Inx, it's called having an i-mag-i-na-tion."

"Is that what that was?.! Fascinating! And then, Hogarth, I recently saw one movie before the evacuation called King Kong." The smile on Hogarth's face vanished. "I saw you as the young woman and the Giant as the-," He was interrupted by Hogarth's abrupt striding off.

"All right, let's get a move on. Time for non-fiction now."

The Giant and the Korean man exchanged doubtful looks at that.

" 'Nawn-fic-tion?' " He rumbled unpleasantly at the way it sounded.

Inx quickly launched into his story as they headed for the robot's lair.

...

"Shortly after you returned to your time, the Reapers descended on us all." He explained as they walked slowly to the labyrinth's door.

"What? The Reapers?" Hogarth gaped as the Giant set them down. "We were all on good terms when we left," he included his friend, not wanting to exclude him because he didn't remember or cause him to feel talked down to, but shocked by this awful revelation.

"Their intentions were amicable," Inx allowed, pulling a familiar-stringed bag around... it was Hogarth's. He offered it back but only received a gesture for him to continue. The man sighed. "At first, it was all welcome. The robots and the Council worked together, then, the Giant returned..." he considered and continued, "to your time and everyone was left to their own devices." Hogarth sighed, too, both at the half-intended joke and this outcome. "We came here to try and-,"

" 'We?.!' Who's we?"

"Shanesha and I," Inx eyed him curiously. "She told me of how you and the Giant worked together to bring peace to Japan." Hogarth let this memory settle in and nodded. "And also of how you challenged the Giant to a fight." The boy looked away, bashful, but he looked up when the Giant cupped his back and sent an unhappy look Inx's way.

"Thanks, buddy." Hogarth chuckled, touched. "Inx, it was a long-,"

"And I see you have all your memories back."

He nodded happily. "Yep, clear as a whistle."

The Giant's pain at this struck him deeply, deeper than his own pain:

Hogarth remembered everything and wanted him to as well.

"Buddy, I didn't mean..."

The Giant asked him with his eyes if being patient was okay.

If only remembering a few things was really okay?

Hogarth bit his lower lip.

Inx suddenly held the bag out to him and Hogarth brought his hands back. "I have here something that may be of help to you, something left in the tower," he smiled at the Giant, then at Hogarth. "See now."

The man unbagged it and revealed a large, purple box.

"What is it?.!" Hogarth asked him, though he already knew.

His best friend heard the double meaning in his words and Hogarth looked between his puzzled look and Inx's probing one, then sighed.

"Yeah, I know what it is," he admitted.

"Hogarth?" The Giant asked, but he was troubled for another reason.

This time the boy avoided looking up altogether.

"It is your memories, Giant." Inx said when he wouldn't explain it.

" 'Memories,' " He understood.

"Yes, Giant," Hogarth was bemused himself. "When you-,"

When you were going to erase my memories to save our lives...

"I must forewarn you," Inx gently shook the square in his hands for emphasis, but held it out closer to them. "This container only holds what you remember up to the point of your departures to find Kina."

Hogarth's breath caught.

"Inx," He asked in a slightly shaky voice, then controlled it when he felt the Giant's eyes on him. "Is there any way for the Giant to recall our travels together, his thirty years in Rockwell, the year 2000 when we met up again, anything?" Hogarth finally offered the worried bot a weak grin. "This would be like... our third time reconnecting, pal."

The Giant was fascinated by the memory box but still concerned for his friend. He eyed Hogarth cautiously, then asked Inx with intrigue,

"I... remember?"

"To an extent," Inx explained to him, then to Hogarth. "No."

The boy nodded slowly. "It's all right, Giant," he smiled up at him in appreciation. "I'm just glad you're alive, that's all that really matters."

Inx held the box out to him and suddenly the Giant had it in between his fingers. Hogarth recognized at once the determined set his pupil lights took now, the focused fury in his eyes, and all that it implied.

"Giant, NO!" He launched himself forward and clutched at the box.

And the look the Giant gave him was one of severe disappointment.

Oh...what had he done?

Hogarth realized right then that not only had he been the one tearing their friendship apart by all he hid from the Giant, now and in time's past, but that he had just lied to his best friend to save face. Hogarth saw that memories didn't matter to the Giant; time and circumstance did not change what he had already done. He shoved the bruised cube back into Inx's arms. The man offered the Giant it but he only looked out at the woods. Sighing raggedly, Hogarth grabbed it back so as to set it on the ground and stomp it to pieces. Inx's retrieval was quick.

"I can see why having Taylor around was necessary!" He exclaimed.

The boy gasped softly, covering his mouth as he fought back tears. At his muffled crying, the Giant turned back around and took a step closer to his friend. Hogarth looked away, too ashamed and riddled with guilt to face him. He gave his head a shake and stalked off now.

"You said you brought some good goon bots," He said at once as he neared the vine-and-moss-covered entrance, "Let's go say hey then..."

Inx caught his arm.

"If you wish to preserve what is current," He advised wisely. "I think it would be good to protect it now; before it, as well, becomes past."

Hogarth deliberated for only a moment.

He then ran.

He ran to where the Giant was turned away by the woods, he ran to him because nothing else mattered, only the Giant mattered to him.

"Giant, I LOVE you. I was wrong, buddy. I'm sorry! I —,"

And then he turned red eyes on Hogarth.

...

Robert glanced down at the gun on the ground, so close, and thought of nothing but all the years of torment and suffering Sergey had put him and his family through, of how close he was to avenging them...

He saw Johnny's eyes at this path and the man looked away.

But someone picked up the gun.

The three adults realized in shock that Taylor, who was the very least likely among them to do this, held the barrel down at the ground. She was breathing hard and steady. "Give me one reason I shouldn't put a hole through all of you right. now." Taylor growled out the last part.

Her family didn't say anything but Dimelo's smirk made her gasp.

"What did I tell you?" He spoke in a quiet voice, suddenly proud of his unexpected progeny. "All that guff about love and peace... well, that's out the window, isn't it?" The man found he was able to stand.

Taylor was shaking.

"Go on, my dear." Dimelo grinned at her. "Run. Go find your boys so you can rip their hearts out with your treason, like you've done here today with Mama and Robbie." Rob glared at him spitefully.

Only Trisha looked hopelessly at her daughter as Dimelo chuckled.

The man's smile only broadened. "Love is such the perfect weapon... when nothing else on Earth can destroy you, love will find a way to."

Taylor backed away slowly, then dashed into the canopy below.

Dimelo didn't so much as spit in her direction as he turned to give altered instructions to his hostages, indicating the Motorix that was still very much above them. On the ground was Johnny's old pistol.

...

Hogarth's breathing was halting as familiar red eyes glowered down at him, a huge lump caught in his dry throat and he gave a slow nod.

"It's not like... I deserve any less, buddy." The boy mumbled, trying to feel like a man now. He approached the Giant, realizing the end was-

"Stay where you are, Hogarth!" Inx called to him.

Reality snapped back into place and saw that the man was working in the background to unwire something. His diligence made Hogarth all the more alert as he turned see that robots were assembled outside in a line, the ones that had weapons had them trained up at the Giant. At what they perceived was a threat. He realized they were all protecting him and Inx was trying to protect all of them. His eyes rested on the Giant, seeing his large friend curling in on his great, sparking trident.

"Giant..." He came closer.

"Stay, Hogarth." The robot's struggle was only enough that he could keep his head out of his body... and that he suppressed his weaponry.

"Giant, NO!"

Red eyes traveled up at his tone and Hogarth recognized, too, what was there. Who it sounded like — He took control of his breathing, then looked closer at what was happening. Something was strange, like the Giant couldn't completely flex out his appendage. An idea came to him and he took another deep breath, asking his friend now,

"Giant, are you pain? I think I can help you... if you trust me."

Trust you? Why?.!

He ignored this and steadied himself.

"Can you trust me?" Hogarth asked him, forgetting his memories.

Once the Giant saw that Hogarth accepted his present, he inclined his head at him. The boy nodded back and began move gently forward. When he saw this only agitated the Giant more, he sighed a little and walked at a normal pace up to his best friend who looked more like a decked-out warship then a benevolent superhero from another world.

"Okay, buddy," He ignored the stricken eyes on him, only looking at his friend and speaking calmly. Hogarth placed his hand on his metal trident as if it were only his arm. The Giant watched and his anxiety began to subside as Hogarth smiled up at him. "I'm just gonna take a quick look." He climbed up the trident with ease and moved forward.

The electric crackling gave him strange visions.

Hogarth saw a future in which Dean's great-grandsons were grown, how all the women in their lives but Taylor spoke to them... how she opened a home for drifters only to have it fall to ruins. How Hogarth and the Giant were so much closer then they'd ever been, but to such a controversial degree. How technology changed but they preferred a simpler life; a predicted love triangle, pending marriage, his worries about protecting the Giant's soul... all these things were just a flash.

The boy shook his head and ignored them.

"I think I see the problem, buddy." Hogarth reached into the recess of space between his shoulder and arm. The Giant rumbled his name as his head disappeared, but remained calm at his touch. Hogarth's head ducked back out and he was past hopeful, almost confident again as he found the balance between reckless and resourceful. The Giant's huge body heaved with relief, he almost forgot what he looked like.

Hogarth smiled at his best friend inside the big, red eyes.

"Okay, Giant, I almost got it." He ducked back inside, managed to jerk something out inscripted in blue writing, and brought out half of what was once a metal rod. "Hmm. Is this Ominish writing or...?"

"Yes, Hogarth!" Inx recognized it instantly. "Do NOT —,"

The memory box flew like a magnet to it, the bolt in Hogarth's jean pocket flew out, and a huge surge of energy sent him, the Giant, Inx and all the other robots flying to opposite ends of the ancient island.

To be continued in The End...

Final author's note: The first time I wrote this chapter, it was pretty jumbled up but I felt it was more raw then this one. However, because I lack the internet and have to live in an ancient jungle with mammoths and giant killer birds, I couldn't save it and I didn't even want to risk using a thumb drive... I came home last night to find a totally blank page. I was calm, like Hogarth, but my head was spinning. I debated with myself, in myself, if I could write this whole chapter again; About ten minutes whether I would write this again as it took more then a week to write, but, there was a voice within. It argued with me until I gave in, paced myself, took breaks, a re-wrote a whole chapter that took me 8 or 9 days to write in 8 or 9 hours last night, 2 this morning. 11 hours.

You have read a labor of love that, if I didn't love these stories so much, this would not exist. Writing is not something that everyone can do. It takes years, like all art does, it doesn't happen overnight. This is a replication of a raw art piece that is inexplicably lost, whether due to a glitch, human error or God's will, the love that went into this chapter is a different form of the same love that created the first piece. I accept that I cannot bring the other back, again like Hogarth, and it is a lesson I share with these people (and not characters, as I once said in a previous Iron Giant story). These are, to me, interesting and natural courses the IG universe has taken. These are canon stories — to me. Almost real-life events in a second timeline. I write out of love, not for reviews or ratings. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and thank you for reading! And BE PATIENT, of course.

~ Lavenderpaw ~