"We're going to go into that building," Zack commanded. His voice was so hard, so cold it chilled Max.
He spoke slowly and clearly, as if trying very hard to maintain control. "We're going to go up to your
apartment so we can talk," he told her.
His tone didn't broach disagreement.
Max merely nodded. Zack pushed her roughly from him, and Max did as he said: she just headed into the
building, and up the stairs to her apartment. What else could she do? She was still trying to wrap her mind
around the fact that he was really here.
Zack's cold dispassion towards her frightened and worried Max. She had no idea what had happened, or
how he could be here. What had gone wrong? Was something wrong? What was she going to do?
When they reached her apartment, Max strode in, leaving the door open for Zack, and stopped in the
middle of the main room. If anyone had been watching she probably would have seemed as calm and
composed as you could hope. But inside, Max's stomach was churning and her heart was pumping. Zack's
heart was pumping.
Max turned around. And watched as Zack entered the apartment.
The sight of him did strange things to Max. Despite the situation, and despite the fact that he was
obviously angry at her…oh, God, had she been so wrong? Had she made the wrong choice six years
ago?…it was good to see Zack again. He was wearing his hair shorter than he had before. There was a
different swagger to his walk. But he dressed the same as he always had before; that face was the same
she'd seen, for the last time, six years ago. Those were the same blue eyes…
Only they weren't. There were laugh lines at the corners. But Zack's eyes weren't laughing. They were
cold, hard, and intense; as before, they revealed absolutely nothing of what Zack was thinking.
And it was Zack – there was no questioning that. The defensive stance; that guarded gaze – Zack was as he
had been before that fateful decision six years ago: a soldier.
Still, the tiniest bit of doubt put a tone of speculation in Max's softly spoken question. "Zack?" she asked.
A part of her secretly hoped that he would look at her like he had no idea what she was talking about. A
part of her hoped that she was wrong; that…
Zack snorted. She hadn't been wrong. Her stomach dropped…
"Not Zack, remember?" the man who was once her brother said bitterly. "Adam."
Max just stared at him. Adam. The new name she had given him to accompany his new identity.
"Don't call me that!"
The words came like an explosion. In an instant, the restrained façade had faded. In its place was barely
contained anger, and the hint of other dark emotions, lurking just below.
Zack's fists clenched at his side as he took slow, deep breaths, trying to reel it all back in. His eyes
fluttered closed then open again. The cool mask was back in place.
"Don't ever call me that," he told Max quietly.
Max stared at him, resisting the uncomfortable suspicion that she felt like crying.
Whatever she'd been about to say was lost in the awkwardness of referring to her brother by a stranger's
name. She'd named him Adam, almost six years ago when the decision had made to remove Zack's
memory. But she'd never thought of him as Adam. In her mind, he was Zack, just as he had always been.
Not X5 599. Not Michael or Sam…or Adam. Just Zack. It was the way she always spoke of him.
Fuck…all this time she'd been trying to convince herself she'd made the right choice. And she couldn't
even say Zack's new name without feeling empty inside.
Apparently, Zack didn't like it any better than she did.
The sound of the only name he'd known over the last six years, coming from Max, hit Zack like a physical
blow and he actually flinched. He'd thought it would make it easier – to be called by his now familiar
name. He'd thought it would make this seem more real. Would make him feel more real. Nothing felt real
anymore. Nothing felt right or certain. Nothing felt like himself. Not even his name. Not any name,
because he was Adam now. And he was also Zack.
But neither name seemed truly familiar to him anymore. He felt torn; halved. Seeing Max hadn't helped.
Having her confirm – with that soft-spoken question "Zack?" – that he really wasn't insane; that the
memories he'd recovered over the last year were real, that he hadn't imagined them… Seeking
confirmation from her hadn't helped. Zack/Adam now realized that perhaps nothing would ever help.
Suddenly, he felt as though all the energy had left his body. He sank into the nearest chair…
…and his head sank into his hands.
Max watched her brother, shaken. She'd thought this was Zack who had come back to her – just as he had
been before. But there were changes. There was something different about the way he was sitting there.
Something unfamiliar about the way he just crumpled there before her. The Zack she'd known would
never have allowed such a display of weakness before her; under any circumstance. But he didn't look
weak. He was just as fit as he'd been before; maybe more so. He was just as tall; just as lean and
muscular. His skin was slightly darker; tanned deep from long days working in the western sun.
Max tentatively crossed the room to sit in the chair next to her brother's. He didn't react to her movements.
From up close, Max could tell that the sun had also lightened the gold of his hair. There was stubble on his
chin, and he'd almost always been clean-shaven before. His hands looked harder, and…
Surprise coursed through Max once more.
There was a thin gold band around the ring finger of Zack's left hand. And he wore a small, gold cross on
a chain around his neck.
Then he looked up. And they just stared at each other for a long moment.
When Zack spoke, Max realized she should have expected his question. She hadn't. But then, she'd never
expected to see him again.
"Why?" was Zack's simple question.
"Why?" Zack repeated, louder, standing now. "Fuck!"
Zack turned, pacing before her, and running fingers through his hair. That gesture Max knew well. Then
he turned back to her, his eyes glaring.
"Why the hell would you do this, Max?" he asked.
Max swallowed. She didn't know how Zack had found out about himself. Or how he'd come to know that
it was her decision to erase his memories. Or to repress them, as it turned out. But she could see the
accusation; the blame and the…betrayal in his eyes?
"Zack, I just wanted to…"
"To what, Maxie? To do what? Get back at me for letting you get recaptured? What?"
Max stood, too, now. Zack's words horrified her.
"Fuck, Zack, no! I would never…I just wanted to help you!"
Silence greeted Max's words.
"Help me?" Zack repeated the words as if he couldn't understand them. Then his anger flared once again.
"How Max? How could what you've done possibly help me?"
"Adam! It's Adam, remember!" Zack insisted bitterly. He took a step closer to Max, and she resisted the
urge to step away. This was her brother, after all. Then Zack smiled. It was a mean, humorless smile.
"Guess I should commend you on an appropriate choice. "Adam". The first fool to lose his soul because
of a woman."
Zack turned away, eyes suddenly sad. "But not the last, huh, Maxie?" he said quietly.
The look on his face nearly undid Max. She wanted so badly to reach out to him…
But she knew he wouldn't accept her touch, and her hand fell back to her side, half way to its destination.
"I wanted to protect you, Zack," she offered quietly.
Zack whirled back to her.
"Protect me? From what?"
"From yourself!" Max started to pace now. "You think it was easy for me? Letting you go? Not knowing
what would happen next, knowing I wouldn't see you again…"
Zack laughed harshly. "Spare me the tears, baby sister. You want sympathy? You're talking to the wrong
Zack's words bit at Max, but she stood her ground.
"I wanted you to be happy, Zack," she said, trying to sound stronger, and more certain, than she actually
"Happy?" Zack repeated.
Max frowned, the stress of this conversation finally getting to her.
"So you remember, huh, Zack?" she asked. "Do you remember everything? I mean *everything*?"
"Yeah, I remember."
Zack's voice was quiet and Max's eyes softened. If he remembered it all, then how could he think she'd
done what she had out of anything but love?
"Then you remember what you were like back then," Max told him. "You remember what happened the
last time you were in Seattle. I had to do something, Zack. I couldn't just let you go on like you had been.
You know what…"
The narrowing of Zack's eyes broke Max's works off in mid-sentence.
"Don't fucking tell me what I know, Maxie," he told her. "You don't know shit about me anymore."
Max stiffened. That was probably true. But she knew one thing. She knew Zack had been a mess the last
time he'd come to Seattle. He couldn't possibly be as bad now as he would have been if she'd let him go
on the way he'd been. Hell, he probably wouldn't be alive right now. He'd been a mental and physical
wreck the last time she'd seen him. The prosthetics that had been used to restore his body, and the implants
that had brought him back to life – after having shot himself the night Max was captured – had been
exposed. Zack's memory had been gone. When it had returned he'd only gotten worse. That was why this
time around it had been Max's intention that Zack never remember. The last time he had, he'd become
consumed with the belief that he'd failed the X5s, and her. He'd become disgusted by what he'd become –
half man and half machine. He'd hated his newfound strenght and speed just as much as the metal and
circuitry that supplied it. He'd hated the implant he'd needed to keep himself functioning. He'd hated
So when Max was given the opportunity to releive Zack of his memories, and with them his hatred, she'd
taken it. The implant Zack had needed could be implanted with much less risk of neural damage if it was
implanted while the portion of Zack's brain dealing with long-term memory was inactive. In other words,
the implant worked better with…a "blank slate", as it were. And Max had thought that perhaps Zack
would work better with a blank slate, as well. What would his memories provide him except more anguish;
more hatred? He'd spent his whole life hating; fighting, running, sacrificing.
But Max could change that. One little operation, one procedure, and Zack's whole life could change. The
hatred would be gone. The pain and the past would disappear. Zack's guilt; his feelings of overwhelming
duty towards his family…those things could no longer get in the way of his having a life. A real life; one
worth living. A life with friends and a place to belong…just like they'd said once before. No more
fighting or running.
One procedure and Max could give Zack a chance at life. A real chance. Not the one that had been
weighted against him, eleven years before, when they'd escaped Manticore for the first time.
One procedure could save Zack's life and save his sanity, and all it had to cost him was his memory. Max
had known the gain far outweighed the price.
But had she been wrong?
When Zack stepped closer to Max, his intense gaze broke through her reverie.
"You think you know what it was like for me, Max?" he asked. "You think you know what I went
"Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!"
The outbrust was released, and reeled back in in a moment. Zack's fists again clenched and unclenched.
His eyes remained closed just a moment longer this time. When he opened them, he walked away from
Max, to the window. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the frame.
Then he started to speak.
"For years I didn't know where I came from. Who I was. I had a name I couldn't remember and "friends"
I didn't recognize, working on a ranch I'd never been to before and living a life I didn't know…"
Zack thought about those first few years "readjusting" to "his" life. He'd been told he was a rancher who'd
been in a car accident in Seattle, one that had left him permanently amnesiac. It had terrified him. He
couldn't remember why, but he knew that the thought of not remembering…something…terrified him. He
had to remember. He had to! He had to remember so he could…so he could what? He couldn't remember
that either. But he'd felt that something terrible would happen if he couldn't remember. He'd driven
himself crazy the first six months after the "accident" trying to remember, but he never had. Not until a
"Then, just when I'd given up. Just when I'd started to "settle" into things, I start to remember things.
Little things at first…" Like foreign languages. "Adam" didn't know any. But suddenly he did. He could
speak just about fifty different languages; thirteen of which he spoke fluently. He had no idea where the
knowledge came from, but there was no way to find out. He'd been told that he was an only child and that
his parents had died when he was young. All the original paper documentation of his birth had been
destroyed in a fire when he was ten. And the only ones on the ranch who "knew" him, were his boss,
Buddy, and an old ranch-hand named Pete. Pete had died of influenza only a year after Adam had
"returned" to the ranch; and Buddy had died in an automobile wreck about thirteen months before Zack had
started to recover his memories. He'd been totally alone with the odd things happening to his mind; totally
in the dark as to why they were happening. The friends he'd made over the years knew about as much
about his past as he did. And Lilly…
Zack closed his eyes as he thought of Lilly. How could Lilly have known what was going on with him?
He'd told her about it, of course. He told her everything, absolutely everything. He trusted her. Why not?
She'd trusted him. She'd trusted him and supported him and loved him. Even though she knew nothing of
his past or who he really was. She'd trusted him, and it turns out she'd been trusting herself to a killer. A
soldier. A murderer; a machine…
Zack turned back to Max, emotion making his voice thick and rough.
"Then I'm in Dallas one day, and I run into this guy named Zane…"
Max looked up at him, sharply, at that. Zack smiled unpleasantly.
"Yeah, Max. *Our* Zane." Zack thought back to that day. He and Lilly had gone to Dallas to visit her
family; to tell them they were expecting. Lilly had family in Dallas. What a surprise it had been to Adam
to learn that he had family there, too. "He insisted he knew me. I told him he was crazy. Seems he
thought I was dead."
Zack was looking at her with accusation again, but Max didn't say anything. She knew he'd figured this
one out already. She'd told the other X5s that he'd been killed. She'd thought it was the only way to keep
them from interfering. They hadn't seen Zack like she had. They wouldn't understand how dangerous it
might be to him to bring him back into their world.
Zack shrugged. There was so much to be angry about right now…so much pain…what was the
significance of one more sin committed against him?
"But he wasn't crazy. I remembered him, Max. A few weeks later I remembered him. I started to
remember all of you."
It had been hell – the remembering. He'd thought he was going insane. Lilly had thought he was going
insane. She was getting on into her second trimester; she really hadn't needed the stress of being involved
in his problems. But she'd insisted on being there for him. That was Lilly. She just loved him so much…
Zack looked up at Max, eyes blazing. His voice raised in volume.
"Do you have any idea what that's like, Max? What it was like for me? Remembering all of you.
Remembering me? Like Manticore wasn't bad enough the first time around…I had to go back and relive it
all over again in my mind!"
There'd been nightmares…seizures…there'd been times when he'd daydream or hallucinate. He'd see a
man's face he later identified as belonging to a Donald Lydecker. He'd see a woman's face, framed by
short, platinum blonde hair; a face that would have been pretty if it weren't for the cold, hard eyes staring
out from it… He'd relived training exercises, punishments, experiments… He'd gotten to know his
siblings all over again, and then he'd had to lose them. He'd remembered learning of Ben's death, and then
of Tinga's…he'd remembered losing Brin…he'd rememberd staring at Max as she lay there, dead on a
gurney, the night the lab in Gillette blew…
"You did that to me, Max!" Zack accused. "Why the fuck did you do that!"
Max was crying now, thinking as Zack did, of all that must have come to her brother as his memory
returned. All the horrible things he'd had to experience, all over again…
"I would never do that to you, Maxie," Zack was saying now. His own eyes had filled with tears. "I
wouldn't wish that on you. Would you want that for yourself?"
"If it was the only way…"
Zack's humorless laugh cut Max's words defense in half, but then the sound became suspiciously similar to
"Bullshit! You would rather have died than to have gone through that. Believe me, I know. I know what's
it like to have watched them take Jack away, all over again. I watched Eva die…twice."
"Zack…" Max's voice broke.
Zack's pain receded, as a sort of numbness took over.
"You're no better than Manticore," he told her, tonelessly. He might as well have hit her.
When Max could, she spoke. "What do you…"
"You wanted to decide what was best for me, right? And you thought wiping my brain clean would be
best? Taking my life away and filling my head with a bunch of lies. *You* thought it would be better if I
lived the way *you* thought I should. *You* decided. Who the fuck gave *you* that power, huh?"
"That's why we left Manticore! So that we could decide. So that we could live, our way."
"Zack, I did what I did to save you. So you could live your life…"
"But it wasn't my life!" Emotion returned to Zack's voice and expression, and he strode over to Max,
gripping her arms in his hands. "It wasn't my life, Max!" he insisted.
"This isn't me. The X5s, that's me. Our past…that's a part of me, Max. It's who I am, and you took that
from me. You tried to change me. Erase me. You weren't just suppressing my memory, you were
suppressing me. How the hell was that supposed to help me? How the hell was that supposed to save me?
What did you think was going to happen when I remembered?"
For the first time, a horrible thought occurred to Zack as he saw something flicker in Max's eyes. His face
went blank, and his hands fell to his side.
There was silence.
"You didn't, did you?" came the soft question. Max wasn't sure what to say. How not to provoke him.
"You didn't think I would remember. This was supposed to be permanent."
A tear ran down Max's cheek.
"I didn't want you to have to go through this," she excused, weakly.
There was silence for a moment. Then a tear slipped down Zack's cheek, as well.
"Jesus, Max, this was supposed to be permanent? You wanted me out of your life that bad?"
"Zack, no! I…"
Max reached out to her brother, but he brushed her off.
"You had no right, Max! No right to take my life from me! My duty, my family…everything that ever
meant anything to me, and you took it away from me."
Max shook her head, trying to get herself back under control.
"I wanted to give you a chance, Zack. You've had that. Up till now, your life hasn't been bad, right?
But another sound from Zack again interrupted her.
"Hasn't been bad?" he asked. He looked like he was going to cry again. "Max…I'm married! I have a
baby! A little girl."
Max blinked. A wife? And a baby? She'd seen the ring, but she wasn't sure… That was more than she
could have ever hoped for.
"Zack, that's wonderful. You…"
But Zack exploded.
"No, it's not wonderful! I loved them, Max! I love them, do you understand me? I fucking love them!"
Zack's voice broke. Max didn't understand what he was saying, but then Zack explained. "And I can't be
with them now," he was saying. "How can I? You know what I am. How can I risk exposing them to me?
To my life? I wouldn't have known what I was missing if you hadn't done what you did. But now I love
them, and I can't see them anymore. Lilly's alone and my little girl will never know her father, and it's all
because of you, Max!"
Max paled. Her worst fears had just been confirmed. Her best intentions had been for nothing. Zack had
remembered. And it had been just as horrible as the first time. He hadn't self-destructed, but he looked
dangerously close to doing so. And he blamed her for all of it. Maybe he was right.
"You can still go back, Zack…"
Zack cut her off.
"Go back to what, huh, Max?" he demanded. "To my family? I told Lilly what I remembered, Max.
Before I left I told her about Manticore. Do you know how she looked at me when…" Zack's eyes closed
for a moment, as his throat threatened to close. Jesus, nothing had hurt worse than to see Lilly crying and
to know he was the cause for her pain. Zack looked back up at Max. "I can't go back to that, Max," he
told her. "I can't hurt my family any more."
Max's heart broke for her brother. "But, Zack…"
Max sighed. She didn't know what Zack…Adam…wanted from her. She didn't know what to do. What
the hell had she done?
"And I can't go back to the X5s," Za…Adam continued. "You made sure of that," he said coldly.
Max just stared at him, tears falling.
"They love you, Adam. I love you."
"But none of you need me, right?"
Max sighed. "Damn it, Zack, it doesn't always have to be about needing a protector! We love you!
Zack…or Adam…whatever the hell you want to call yourself…I did what I did because I love you."
Max made her eternal plea once again, but it was clear Zack would never accept it.
He just shook his head, looking more tired and more lost than Max had ever seen him.
"I don't care why you did it, Max. And this *is* about need. I didn't need you to make decisions for me
six years ago. I just needed you to be there for me. I needed you to accept me, damn it! Even if I couldn't
accept myself. Manticore never could have accepted me because I was too individual. Normal
people…they can't accept us, Max, because we're too Manticore. But I thought we could accept each
Zack looked at her sadly.
"I guess I thought wrong," he concluded softly.
Max didn't know what else to say to him. For long moments they just watched one another.
Then Max said what she'd been saying to herself for six years.
"I thought I was doing the right thing." She didn't know whether she was talking to Zack, or again, to her
own conscience. But it was Zack who answered.
"Well, I guess you thought wrong, too, huh, Maxie?"
And then he left.
A/N: Okay…how did I do with this? Please let me know.