Disclaimer: Does anyone really have to do this anymore? We all know the drill.

Setting: This happens sometime between "Blah Blah Woof Woof" and "The Kidz Are Aiight".


Zack's Penny

by Be Boring

Prologue Part 1: Penny

He never meant to hurt me, I know that. He was just overprotective. Okay, maybe he was a little more than overprotective, but that never bothered me before. In fact, I was comforted by it. There were many things the others didn't know about him: he was kind and sensitive, he actually had feelings no matter how hard he tried to hide them, and he loved them more than anything else in the world.

I was a secret, something that could never be seen by the eyes of the others. They would never have understood, he knew that. They were always curious about his life, particularly what he did when he wasn't watching over one of them. They probably thought he trained on his own or something stupid like that. They would never have guessed that he was with me, being just another ordinary brother.

Is there such a thing as loving too much? If there is, it was meant for him. He was the only one who ever loved me. For some reason the others avoided me like the plague. Perhaps it was because I was weaker than the others, a mistake. It also could have been that Lydecker babied me. I was the only one who never hated him simply because he never hurt me. Although Lydecker cared, it was Zack who loved me. Whenever the barracks were dark and the other X5s were sound asleep, he would come and lay by me. He knew that I cried myself to sleep out of sheer loneliness. He knew that I longed to be accepted by the others. He even knew that I snuck up to the High Place on occasions to train on my own. I wanted to be stronger, not the meek weakling I was, or still am for that matter.

When the others escaped, I thought I would die of pain. Not the physical pain either, but something deeper. I had never felt that before, so I actually thought for a short time that I truly was dying. It wasn't so much the others that I was upset about, it was Zack. I couldn't believe he could leave me. After all the times he had told me I was special and he loved me, how could he just run off with the others and leave me there? I know it's selfish, but at Manticore we weren't exactly taught to care about each other.

When I saw them drag Zack back into the unhappy place of our childhood, I didn't know whether to be overjoyed or sorry for him. I was glad he was back there with me, but I also knew how badly he wanted to be free. Was it wrong of me to want him back even though he didn't want to be there? Now that I know better I think so, but back then I was just relieved that I wouldn't spend the rest of my life alone.

They kept him in isolation for nearly a month until it got to the point where I snuck to his room to see if he was even still alive. After sitting outside the room for nearly an hour, I finally heard movement inside. That satisfied me, he was still alive in there. I didn't find out until later that it hadn't been him in the room, it had been the guard he'd knocked out that was just coming back to consciousness.

Having Zack appear out of the dark at my bedside a week later was almost more than I could handle. He had to grab me and put a hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming out loud in shock. The remaining X5s were sound asleep in their beds, Lydecker had worked us so hard that it was all we could do to keep from collapsing onto our beds. He hadn't even been easy on me. Now I think that our escape loosened something in his mind.

Zack carried me down the hallway, not trusting me to walk on my own. I was too scared and surprised to help him out, so he was pretty much carrying my dead weight around. To this day I don't know how he managed to get us out of there, the entire time is practically a blank for me. All I remember happening next is waking up in a hotel bedroom and finding Zack asleep in the chair next to my bed. The next morning he told me I was free and that we had to hide, because if Lydecker got a hold of us we wouldn't be free anymore.

That's still what I'm doing today, but it's without him. I've been alone for a long time now, but it's time to come out of hiding. Zack wanted to keep me secret, but he's not here to do that anymore. I guess I'll have to take care of myself from here on out.

It's been a couple weeks since I last saw him, which is the longest stretch of time I've ever gone without him. He dragged me around from place to place, keeping me hidden while he went to see one of the other X5s. The strange thing is I know everything there is to know about them, but they probably haven't even thought of me in the last nine years. True, I don't know what they look like, Zack made damned sure of that. The only thing I know is how they've been living their lives. I don't even know where they are, but Zack has told me all about their personalities and how much trouble some of them get into. The worst ones are Krit and Syl. Apparently they're dating, but Zack never approved of that. It made him sick to his stomach to think of any of his siblings being together that way. The only thing worse than their togetherness was their strange ability to get into the worst kinds of trouble.

Zack had nearly killed himself on one of his IRMs, otherwise known as Idiot Rescue Missions. That's what he called it whenever he had to go get Krit and Syl's asses out of trouble. On that particular lovely occasion, Krit had been trying to steal some money from the local drug lords. Simple for an X5, right? Wrong. Krit wound up being caught while trying to escape through an upstairs window. It was damn lucky for him that they didn't know what the barcode on the back of his neck meant, otherwise he would have been in even deeper trouble than before. After freeing his idiot brother, Zack had been shot five times running out the door. Those wounds hadn't been fun to take care of, believe me. Zack nearly took my head off whenever I accidentally hurt him while trying to stop the blood flow. It's not like I could have been gentle, I needed to jam my knee against his back to get the blood to stop.

It was Max that was his downfall. Every now and then I would ask him why he hadn't been checking in on her like he had been with all the others, but all I got was a grunt in reply. That's pretty strange coming from him, he usually told me everything. I guess Max was just a subject he was touchy on. I teased him when he first started checking in on her, I had suspected long ago how he felt about her. I used to think that it was harmless, that he just cared about her as more than a sister. I never thought it would cost him anything more than his heart.

When the first wanted posters came out about Max, Zack went crazy. I thought he was going to take our hotel room apart with the way he was carrying on. The only time things ever looked this bad was when I was in heat, but it was always me that caused the damage. Zack somehow managed to hold himself away from me at those times, so I ended up taking my frustration out on anything I could reach. It's almost funny to think that in my life I've had 21 heat cycles and somehow I'm still a virgin, Zack saw to that.

I tried to stop him, but he was dead set on going after Max and getting her out of trouble. He told me he wouldn't be gone long, just long enough to get her to safety. He left two weeks ago and I haven't seen him since. Until three days ago I thought it was just taking him awhile to convince Max to leave her home, but then I heard on the news about the helicopter crash. They showed a sketch of Zack, saying he was the confessed murderer who was being transported. I couldn't believe he had done something like that, how irresponsible could he be? This wasn't being selfish anymore, this was anger for what he was doing to all the others. I might be able to scratch out a life on my own, Lydecker hasn't heard so much as a peep from me in all his years of searching for us, which makes me the only one he hasn't been able to track down at least once.

I might be able to hide from the all-seeing eye of Manticore, but they certainly can't. What if Zack is still alive and will somehow be tortured to the point where he gives up information on them? He can't really give anything out about me, he had told me to find my own hiding place before he left, so even he didn't know where I was. The others, on the other hand, are subject to exposure. I guess they'll just have to run as best as they can, but the problem is they don't even know the danger they're in. It's normal for Zack not to contact them for weeks on end, so at the moment they probably think they're snug as a bug in a rug. They'll never know how wrong they are. They'll never know who I am either, I'll make sure of that.

I can't imagine how they'd react if they saw me. They probably wouldn't even recognize me, not that it would be a bad thing. What reason would they have to remember poor, little Penny? I don't think Zack knew the irony of the name he gave me when he actually gave it to me. At the time it was just a word that he thought was pretty, but now it fits me better than ever. That's about how important I am, as big a deal as a penny. Annoying too. They probably felt about me then like they feel about having all those extra pennies in their pockets today, completely useless. I can't say I disagree, I can hardly take care of myself.

I've been hiding out in this old warehouse for the entire time I've been without Zack. I guess a part of me is hoping he made it and will come back, just as if nothing ever happened. The more rational side of me knows that isn't true. I can't stay here forever, he's not going to come back and get my life going again. Sometime or another I'm going to have to go out there on my own and start a life of my own, without Zack there to help me. I guess now is as good a time as any. Staring out into the pouring rain outside, I pulled my hood up to cover my head and walked out to meet whatever lay ahead.


Author's Note: So, is this even worth continuing? I'll be pretty busy, so I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to update each time. Of course, if people seem to be interested then I might hurry it up a bit just because I'll be happy.