Toren, Oregon -- August 19th 2023
At eleven months Samantha Bridget Cale was the apple of her father's eye, who did as he expected and pushed him to the brink every single day, especially since she'd inherited her mother's coordination and refused to always fall after a few steps like most children her age.
She was Sam because her mother refused to give her daughter a girly name, her father liked it though because it meant 'listener to god,' which part of him hoped meant he had a shot in hell of her behaving, but also because god must have been listening or watching him to send someone like her mother into his life.
She was Bridget, which meant strong after more than a few kicks not only woke up her mother from a deep sleep but her father as well.
She was the person Max had come home to find sitting in her high chair last week as Logan had been bent over pointing at his head. Pointing at an alleged gray hair as her grubby little hands were outstretched attempting to remove not only that hair but several others nearby.
Logan stayed home with her as Max worked, though with shorter hours. She'd tried staying home, but they'd both been home together 24/7 from the time she'd been five months pregnant to when their daughter had been 9 weeks. Rather than kill each other, especially since Max had boundless amounts of energy which generally resulted in more than the occasional flare up between them, Max had returned to work on a part time schedule, adding days as she grew increasingly sure her husband and daughter were fine on their own, though there were days like the gray hair day that she questioned that.
Right now though Samantha Bridget Cale had absolutely no problem playing the role of an angelic princess as Dorothy ooh and awed over the short ash blonde hair that curled at the end and hazel eyes. Having no problem being admired for her beauty and intelligence, she'd awed Dorothy with more than the normal, Ma, Da, and bah. Leaving Max to wonder (not for the first time), if maybe she shouldn't have fallen for someone a little more average like Charlie because at least Case hadn't been noticeably more intelligent until he'd reached school. Sam had not only started walking early, but talking early; one might be common, but not both. Logan's baby book had informed her he'd always been an overachiever and her brother's had him walking early, pair those two with whatever they did to her and she was well aware her daughter was always going to be extraordinary. At least her words were still simple and until you were around her enough to realize how many she actually knew they didn't seem that uncommon.
Max had been sitting there underneath the pictures of a family she had never known with the family she'd somehow managed to luck into having. She still had a grandmother out there somewhere, an odd thought for someone who had thought for her entire life that she was no more than bits and pieces meshed together. Sometimes Max wondered if she should find her, find the woman who along with her husband had disowned the woman who was biologically her mother when they'd learned of her brother.
Lydecker's own mother had joined his father up in that small graveyard in town when Lydecker had been around the age she'd been when she found out about him, he'd lost his final parent at a time when she'd found out she actually had one. She hadn't gained a family with the knowledge of being more than just an experiment, she'd gained a history though, a past. A pretty good one too, at least on paper.
Lydecker's family was solid and true, unwavering in their loyalty to their country and apparently each other; they'd lived a comfortable existence, the remains of which had been passed along to her in that safety deposit box. Julia's family had been the kind she could have told the Cales about if she ever actually wanted to please them. Upper class, though well below the Cale's class, highly educated, her father had been a successful surgeon, she had two brothers, one went on to be a lawyer, studying at Princeton, the other had followed in his father's footprints. Max had actually smiled realizing how much their daughter not only falling in love with someone like Lydecker must have upset them, but getting pregnant before she ever even started college. Odd though to realize she'd not only had things like grandparents, but she had present tense cousins. That was just biology she reminded herself, her family was still the only family she'd ever known, her siblings scattered around the country and she'd happily joined Logan and their daughter to the top of that family.
That's how she'd been sitting there halfway thinking about the past she'd been given three years ago as she and Logan had eaten lunch and she having far surpassed his consumption by finishing the entire potpie she'd been presented with, but topping it off with a slice of cherry pie a'la mode, losing less than a spoonful to her husband's taste. Thinking, but also admiring her daughter's beauty across the table as she sat in the booth happily in Dorothy's arms having absolutely no fear or hesitation when it came to strangers, not to mention the occasional sideway glance to admire her husband's beauty as well.
A reflection of the street in the mirrored sign on the wall shifted her interest, a black SUV had driven past, her confusion had been only momentary as she'd quickly shot up and out of her seat moving outside in time to see the SUV making a left after pausing at the stop sign.
"Hey," Logan said walking outside after her, "everything okay?"
"Uh, yea I think so," she nodded, doubting Manticore would be after her especially since they had been doing their best not to attract any attention after the scandal that had come with Kleinfolds, which had hinted at an even deeper scandal beneath the surface. "Take awhile going back to the cabin?" she nodded.
"Sure," he promised.
"Tell Dorothy I'm sorry, see ya in a few," she nodded again as she'd moved to kiss him goodbye just in case she was wrong.
She made her way up the hill at speeds which would cause anyone's mouth to drop in shock seeing her, though didn't even leave her the tiniest bit breathless. She slowed down to a quick walk as the church came into view, knowing the possibility of being seen increased.
She realized she was right, that six sense that had kicked in and made the hair on her arms stand up as she saw the SUV on the road, Manticore and Lydecker had been synonymous to her, but it was the latter of the two that was before her now.
She approached slowly never even thinking of turning away, backing down; she had run from him too many times. She flinched though as she stepped on a twig approaching the man who was doing nothing more than squatting down before his son's grave. His head turned instantly, his eyesight might have been subjected to the perils of age, but his ears and instincts hadn't yet followed that path.
"Surprising to see you here," he said as his head returned back to its original focus before he stood and turned to her.
"A house is still a house despite its previous owners," she stated her reasoning for returning to the property he'd left her.
"I heard about that garbage strike," he chuckled stating her main reason.
She didn't flinch, he'd trained her not to, there had been a reason they'd feared him like an all-knowing god.
"Nice work," he nodded in regards to the fact that Eyes Only had gotten involved, showed the corruption of not only the city officials, but the union leaders.
The problem was being Eyes Only's wife was while the rest of the Cales had retreated to the family cabin and surrounding areas, they'd stayed in the city. Of course it was going to take more than a few weeks to get rid of the smell of three weeks worth of garbage baking in the summer sun so instead of piling into the already crowded cabin Logan had talked her into traveling south to Toren once more since everything rentable close by had already been taken by well-to-dos from the city.
"He's good at what he does," she said simply.
"I know," he nodded.
Max smirked remembering just how many times Logan had gotten the one up on Lydecker.
Then the uncomfortable silence between them returned.
"Thought you were dead," Max blurted out and followed it up by inwardly cursing herself out.
"I should have been," he answered, before following it up with, "guess they weren't as good as I thought they were."
"Probably didn't hurt that they were trying to keep a low profile," she offered with attitude.
"Hmm," was all he offered as a reply.
Another uncomfortable silence.
"Did it help?" she asked with a nod to Julia's grave.
His eyes gave a slight look of confusion.
"Killing Harry Lever, made quite a few papers."
"Hmm," he murmured as he nodded thinking about it, "it didn't hurt."
Max's face almost betrayed her as she wondered if that was really all he was going to say regarding any of this, he owed her more, didn't he get that?
He turned, he could no longer look at Max and remain seemingly calm and unaffected, he turned and looked at Jules' grave. "Business," he began and then paused, "I asked him why and he said business," his voice betrayed how shocked he'd actually been by that word. Just as he'd been shocked that the man who had stood just feet away from where he was now as he'd buried both his son and wife had actually taken his wife from him, it took a lot to shock Donald Lydecker, but that had done it. Not that he really remembered his wife's funeral, but he knew the other man had been there. "Eight years," he found himself saying the length of time the two had known each other before 'business' had gotten in the way.
"Business, good of the country," she found herself making the comparison.
That knocked him out of his shocked state and into the all business man she was used to, he could have and had condoned his actions before. Millions had sacrificed themselves in various wars across time, sacrificed or had been sacrificed, Harry hadn't even used the lofty platitude he knew most at Manticore used, for Harry it had been business that had chilled even a hardened soldier like himself. Mostly because he knew nothing would have ever made him sacrifice his wife and daughter, yet the other man had. "I was wrong Max; you'll find that happens a lot in life. I made a decision and convinced myself it was for the best." That decision he'd wavered in making had grown in the passing years, each year growing stronger as that thought of they were just children had been pushed so far back he barely remembered thinking it. That had changed though, seeing her again, he remembered that feeling and went back to fighting it. He remembered finding it really hard though, not as he was using Case because he'd known the boy would be unharmed, but as Renfro's team had tried to take him too. The feeling of wondering 'what the hell he was doing' had returned just as intense as it had been in the beginning and he started to doubt all of his decisions.
"Wrong is blowing your rent money at the bar, not-" her voice abruptly cut off as she'd been about to say 'stealing childhoods,' but you couldn't steal something that would have never existed, "not what you did."
He nodded, "I know that and there's nothing I can do to change it, I'm sorry." He found himself repeating the words he'd left to her on that folder.
"You're sorry?" She repeated his words, he was sorry?
"What else do you want me to say Max?" he asked turning, though they both regretted not only having to see the other's face, but also that their own was now being seen. When she didn't say anything he continued on, "I should have taken you, but I didn't…I didn't know." He hadn't known why he'd always heard his mind urging him to sneak out with her in the middle of the night, so he'd ignored it and doing so left his daughter in there, kept her away from everything she'd deserved. He'd ignored the large brown eyes that would follow his path out of the room as she hold herself up on the side of her crib, the eyes that would remain locked on the door wondering why she was being left.
"And what if you had?" she found herself asking even though she hadn't meant to.
"What do you mean Max, do you want to know if I would have taken you to Brownies, soccer practice, the movies?"
His words were harsh, both of their words were harsh, but Max had already known the answer to that question, she'd known it the first moment she'd seen Lydecker with Matthew. The answer was yes, he would have done all those things and more that's what made the entire thing so cruel. He would have loved her and protected her as she loved her own daughter. "You would have," she heard her low voice as she saw his stunned expression and they stared at each other until she heard a car approach, the Aztek, she was used to its sound. She turned as she saw Logan pull into the spot just past the fence alongside Lydecker's ride.
She took a few steps forward as the door opened, he gave her a questioning look and she smiled to put him at ease.
"Figured I should come up make sure everything was alright," he said looking at her then nodded, "Lydecker."
" Logan," the older man returned the nod.
"Still with Dorothy," he said looking into his wife's eyes trying to make sure everything really was okay and she didn't need him. "I should probably get back down there," he paused, "I'll see you back at the cabin?"
She nodded and gave him another reassuring smile.
Logan gave a final nod to Deck and it was returned as he was getting back into the car.
They stood in silence once more as the Aztek pulled away and it disappeared down the road.
"Things are still going well," Lydecker commented.
"You have a son?"
"A daughter," Max smiled gently at that as she always did.
"How old?" Lydecker questioned as her defenses were weak.
"She'll be a year next month," Max replied without emotion in her voice as the wall kicked back up.
His mind briefly struggled between finding out he was a grandfather and the ever present interest in science that had been instilled in him at Manticore, he wondered about her development, walking and talking. Case had been advanced intellectually, but that was no guarantee what would happen to other children, especially since they hadn't been able to duplicate the results. So he nodded, "Good age." He looked back down at the gray slab of stone with the baseball and bat engraved in the corner, "They're all good ages," he corrected.
The uncomfortable level rose even higher than before and Max realized she wanted out more than she wanted answers. After all what answers were there for him to give? He'd been the cruelest bastard ever, but would have adored her if he'd known. There were no answers for him to give, the past was over and they had no future. "I should get back," it was a valid statement anyway; it wasn't the chicken's way out. Sam's schedule was off; she was bound to be cranky as Logan tried to put her down, especially since they were in a new place.
He nodded and they both wondered what kind of goodbye was required by this situation. "Do you want a ride back?" he found himself asking.
She just looked at him.
"Dirt road," he supplied, "it rained the other day."
"Dirt road?" she asked.
"Connects Cutter…" his voice trailed off and he shook his head, "I'll show you, it saves you from having to go back into town from here."
"Thanks," she said hesitantly not at all meaning it.
He nodded and started walking to the black SUV that had started this all.
Most would assume that the ten minute drive in complete silence aside would have been uncomfortable, but both were aware talking would have made it even more uncomfortable. They arrived at the small secluded house before Logan, not surprising since he'd had to return to town for Sam.
Max inwardly groaned, Logan always found the right words to say in any situation, he was bred and reared for uncomfortable situations. She however was used to a witty remark, which didn't really seem appropriate as he switched the gear to park.
"You're going to have to get that tree cut," he said pointing to a limb growing close to the roof, "winters here can get pretty bad, might end up in your bedroom if you don't."
She nodded, "I'll take care of it before we leave."
"It's in the basement not the shed," he supplied in case she hadn't thoroughly explored the house.
"Might as well fix that gutter while you're at it," he said leaning in slightly closer at her as he dropped his head to the side looking up at the house.
Max's brows furrowed, why did she suddenly feel like a little kid? Then she realized it was even worse than that, she felt like a normal kid. She just nodded.
"Should probably check out the stones in the back before you let Sam run around, they have a tendency of lifting," he nodded knowing from personal experience.
" Logan already noticed one loose this morning, cement's in the car."
"When'd you get here?"
"Around eleven this morning, we made good time."
He nodded, "The roads are getting a lot easier to travel."
Max smiled, " Logan says the depression starting to lift." Small talk, they could handle small talk.
"Thanks to people like Logan," his words were true as it always was it was the actions of a few that helped the many. Corruption was down, unsolved crimes were not only down, but as were crimes themselves, unemployment the lowest they'd seen since the Pulse had hit, the country was slowly, but finally starting to crawl out of the black hole it had been plunged into.
That personalized it too much again, "Projections say in another ten years it should be over." That always struck her as odd, how they could say things like that, she got the science of it all how they read the data, what it told them, but for them to say something like that…
"And another twenty for the country to be weak again."
'In a way, the pulse had some positive aspects. Toughen the world…strengthen the species,' he'd said those words to her when he didn't know who she was. "Personally, I'm looking forward to carpools to soccer practice…Hey maybe even art school, Sam's certainly one up on Pollack." She was aware Sam wouldn't have the picture perfect childhood that Logan had, that kids in just a few more years would have. The depression was receding, but it wasn't over and the US wasn't going to magically return to being a superpower overnight and that's if they ever could. The country had a long road ahead of it to even be just a fraction of what they once were.
The attitude and animosity between the two of them both put them more at ease, "I never understood modern art."
Join the club, "I don't think you're supposed to." She thought for another second before speaking again, "Sam's probably more Creative Writing or Journalism, she has Logan's flair for words."
"At eleven months?"
Crap, Lydecker questioning that really did mean her daughter was more than just slightly amazing. "She's rather gifted."
"Good thing Manticore's too busy trying to hold on to their funding to look for you kids."
"Are they going to be successful?" She asked part for her own knowledge since Logan and Sebastian could only find out so much, part for her siblings so she could pass the information back through Zack, part out of guilt for all those they'd left behind including their sister.
He shook his head, "Too much has happened Manticore is no longer a viable option, fiscally unsound."
"What's going to happen to them?"
"They'll be integrated into special divisions of the military. Aside from that I don't know. The technology should start appearing in the mainstream in a few years, to recap some of the loses."
"One day, quite possibly," he answered, "should do a lot for the entire medical field."
They both turned as they heard the car approaching amazed they'd actually managed to sit and talk to each other. She stepped out of the truck as the car started to pull into the driveway, Lydecker did the same.
Logan looked puzzled as he looked up at them, then flinched as Sam let out another scream.
Max's gaze transferred from her husband to her daughter, instantly panicked that something was wrong she opened the door and was asking that very question as she started to undo the buckles, "What's wrong?"
"Please tell me you carried George inside of the house," he said referring to the small Curious George Original Cindy had given the little girl. "Hi again," he nodded to Lydecker who had come around the SUV to see Max lifting the little girl into her arms.
Lydecker nodded as he took in the little girl who looked as he'd often imagined a daughter of his own would look, the female version of his son, his granddaughter.
"It's in the diaper bag," Max said in between coos to the little girl as she rubbed her back.
"No it's not, Dorothy and I both checked."
"We had it when we stopped," Max said pointing out the obvious knowing her daughter had been loaded into the car with the brown monkey in her arms and it had been stuffed into the diaper bag as Max had gone to change her daughter's diaper in the small restroom. She groaned realizing her daughter had probably pulled the animal out of the bag as she and Logan had been drinking their coffee in the outside area, but had probably dropped it as she often did at their apartment before her mother had caught up to her and returned her to the table.
"Yea," Logan said realizing she'd come to the same conclusion that he had.
"It's not there anymore is it?" Max asked with a pout, knowing lunch hour had come and gone and most likely so had the monkey.
"Geor," her daughter cried burying herself into her mother's shoulder.
"Maybe I should go look anyway," she said as she rubbed her daughter's back.
"It's two hours away," Logan reminded.
She was about to point out the fact that four hours out of her life were nothing in comparison to the misery her daughter could easily create for days missing the creature. She didn't get a chance to speak though.
"Maybe there's something in the basement that can replace him," Lydecker said and Max was reminded for the first time since hearing her daughter's cried that he was still there.
Sam's cries quieted as she was confronted with a new person who she looked up at with interest.
With all heads turned to him he spoke again, "I know Matthew had those books when he was younger, I don't know what's out here though."
"Worth a try," Logan said speaking since he wasn't too sure Max was going to. He'd seen the storage containers full of kids toys and books, another of bedding, tucked away by the larger toys in the corner of the basement the last time they were here, he never expected to go through them again though.
"And I think we have a keeper," Logan said as he was now holding his daughter since Max had switched off to recheck the car and the house just in case they were wrong about the monkey's location.
He and Lydecker watched her for another moment to see if the small white rabbit was just taking longer in joining the other toys she'd looked at with interest for a only a moment because they were new before discarding them to the floor.
"I think you may be right," Lydecker said with a nod before he turned his attention to returning the unwanted toys to the box amazed at how well everything had held up in the plastic boxes. When he'd packed them up he'd always expected to do something with them, he'd just quickly stored them away here as he'd done at their house to get them out of Julia's sight after finding her curled on their son's bed one too many times clutching something of his.
"Sam come on, let me wash it first"
Lydecker turned in time to see the long floppy white ear being pulled out of Sam's mouth. He chuckled, "Good thing her immune system is better than most kids her age."
Logan gave him an exhausted look at that statement, he really wouldn't mind the Manticore presence being slightly less obvious in their daughter, a little fear didn't seem so bad when constantly being surrounded by fearless females, he'd definitely take it in exchange for an ear infection.
"Hmm," he murmured aloud realizing something, "Julia kept trying to get Matthew to like that thing."
Lydecker shook his head, "I think she had one like it when she was little. Matt was never a fan of stuffed animals," the cocky proud papa kicked, "slept with a GI Joe by the time he was Sam's age," he smiled at the little girl as he said her name, she smiled back. "Jules was petrified he'd poke his eye out."
"I don't hear any crying, does that mean you found something?" Max called out walking down the stairs.
"At least for the moment," Logan said turning in time to see her way though the doorway as Lydecker shifted to re-cover the box.
"Cute bunny," Max said flicking the ear. "Thanks," she nodded towards Lydecker.
"Not a problem." He cleared his throat a second later, "I should probably get going, I wanted to make it to California by nightfall."
Max just nodded and that was it.
AN: Um okay that actually is it, didn't turn out the way I envisioned it, but that is the end. Thanks for reading.