Disclaimer: Dark Angel and its characters do not belong to me. This fan-fiction had been written purely for entertainment purposes. No infringement intended and no profit had been made out of this.
A/N: Thank you very much for your reviews! I know I'm late in updating again, but this chapter is very much longer than usual – you'll see why soon enough!
Rules Can Be Broken - Chapter 17
Zack stood stock still, hardly believing what was right in front of his eyes. He could not help himself from watching in horrified fascination.
He blinked several times, wishing that it was just an illusion, that the brunette swaying sexily in front of a blonde guy was not actually Max. But she was faced in his direction, and with his transgenic eyesight, there was no way he could have mistaken her identity.
His stomach roiled, protesting violently against what his eyes were telling him. Just as he thought that he could not feel worse, the sickening feeling intensified as Max moved closer to the guy.
He had been worried about her; where she had gone, why had she left so abruptly; had he done something to push her away?
But all this time she was in Seattle.
With some blonde guy.
Was he someone she knew prior to their flight from that city?
Was he the reason why she had done what she did?
The questions kept pouring in, but Zack had no answer to any of them. All he could see was her hand snaking around the bastard's neck. The now familiar feeling of jealousy rose in him. It had happened before with other guys she had come into contact with, but this was the last straw.
And she had not given the rest of them lap-dances.
Zack knew that his subconscious wished fervently that he was the one sitting there, enjoying her attentions. Never mind all the rules. To hell with protocol. To hell with Manticore and their training. He did not give a toss about some stupid tactical exposure.
In his frantic search for her, he had come to realise that he missed her.
He missed her so much that he could think of nothing but finding her.
Jondy had been, and still was suspicious of his motives, not knowing what had happened between him and Max. He did not blame her. Jondy has always been perceptive; she would have sensed it. He had been distracted ever since Max left, his mind only filled with one thing.
The way he saw it, he could walk away before she caught sight of him. The dilemma that he had been faced with since she discovered his identity would hopefully go away. He would not have to continue resisting her charms. His life would be back to how it was before she followed him out of Seattle. He could go back to watching the rest of his siblings' back without the distraction named Max.
Or he could confront her.
It's too late to kid yourself, Zack.
Zack knew that if he decided to leave, Max would haunt him all the way. He would remember the times they had spent together, probably regretting and beating himself up daily not taking the chance with her. Just a chance to see if it could work out.
His actions, and his alone, were the catalyst to this situation he was now faced with. He had pushed her away once too often, convinced that no good would arise from them being together.
What if he had just given it a chance?
What if he had just succumbed to her advances?
Too many 'what if's and too little answers, Zack thought miserably.
"Zack?" Jondy's voice penetrated his thoughts.
He turned slowly to her, careful to mask the turmoil in his eyes. "That's Max," he said flatly, tilting his head at the couple.
Jondy's mouth fell open as she caught sight of Max. Tentatively, she said, "Um, you don't mean the girl dancing all over the guy?"
Zack nodded. His jaw was beginning to hurt from the effort of keeping his teeth firmly clamped together, lest he accidentally let out how he actually felt.
Jondy laid a hand on his shoulder. "But I thought the two of you…"
His eyes snapped towards her too quickly, giving away his true feelings. Slamming his mask on, he said calmly, "What?"
Jondy took a deep breath and plowed on. "I saw that look in your eyes, Zack. I know you too long for you to fool me like that. Something happened between the two of you, I can sense it. And now she's giving a lap dance to some other guy. You're telling me that you're okay with that?"
"Nothing happened between us," Zack gritted out tightly.
Rolling her eyes in exasperation, she said, "Wake-up, Zack. It's written all over your face and you're still denying it. I know that denial is an inbred X5 thing, but don't you think you're carrying it a bit far?"
Zack glowered at her. Trust Jondy to bring it out in the open like that. Well, he was not about to say anything further to implicate himself.
"Well?" she prompted impatiently.
"Well what?" he tossed back.
"For someone who's supposedly the best in our unit at strategising, you're strangely doing very little of it," Jondy pointed out, jabbing him in the chest with her finger.
Zack grunted at the force of her fingers.
She continued, not bothering to wait for his reply, "Strategise, then. It's like a mission, right. Assess your target and find the easiest way to capture her."
"Max's not a mission," he growled in annoyance. He should have known better than to bring Jondy along. The girl was too perceptive and worse, she never stopped when she was in this mood.
Jondy brushed away his words with a casual wave of her hands. "Whatever it is, you can't just stand here and watch, right? So do something."
"I'm not doing anything. What for?" he stubbornly said.
Jondy let out a frustrated cry. "Fine, if you're not going to do it, I'll do it for you."
Zack froze for a second before he snapped out a vehement, "No!"
But Jondy was already halfway across the room, he realised in alarm. Damn it, will it kill all of them to just take a simple order?
"Jondy, wait," he hissed, but either she was too far to hear him, or she was just ignoring him. Zack rushed towards her, hoping that he would catch her before she made a fool out of him.
His alarm grew as Jondy arrived beside Max and the blonde guy just before he did.
The blonde guy.
Zack's eyes narrowed as he registered the identity of his rival.
It was Sky?
Max was with Sky all this time?
Max with some faceless stranger would be painful for him to swallow, but Max with one of their own? It was worse because Zack knew that no one understood a transgenic better than another transgenic. An Ordinary would never be able to handle Max long term, but another transgenic? Sky? Zack was not too sure. There was a real chance that they could make it work.
Which meant that he would lose Max for good.
Jondy was right. He could not just stand there and say nothing. It felt wrong to even watch them together. His self-imposed rules no longer applied. Hell, those rules had pretty much gone out of the window ever since Max re-entered his life.
But right now, Sky was in the way.
Zack's fists clenched spasmodically as he waited for Sky to register his presence. If Sky was like any other X5, he would sense that he was being watched pretty soon.
Especially now that Max had stopped moving so repulsively close to him, Zack fumed. He knew that Max was watching him and Jondy with an expression he could not quite decipher, but Zack only focused his attention on Sky. He would deal with Max later.
However, Sky was preoccupied with something else at the moment. Zack felt his anger boil further when the other transgenic gave Jondy an appreciative look. So, Sky not only wanted Max, but Jondy as well, Zack fumed.
And then finally Sky sensed that he was being watched, because he slowly turned around, his posture tense, almost as if he knew that he was in danger.
A smile broke out on Sky's face when his eyes landed on Zack. "Hey, Zack!" he greeted cheerfully, and then, registering Zack's taut expression, his exuberance instantly faded to be replaced by caution.
"I need a word with you," Zack said tightly, watching the other blonde nod slowly, and then pulling himself to his feet.
"Zack-" Max started.
Zack interrupted without turning towards her. "I'll talk to you in a second." He could not bring himself to meet her eyes at that moment. He was afraid that he might just lose it right in front of all these people, afraid that he would pour out all he felt for her in an embarrassing tirade. Sky was easier. He would deal with Sky first.
Jondy obviously sensed that Max was about to protest, because Jondy quickly said, grabbing Max's arm, "Max, come with me. We have a lot to catch up on."
Just as Zack began to walk towards the back exit with Sky in tow, he heard a puzzled Max say, "What? What are you talking about?"
And then he went through the exit door.
Max studied the brunette with a hint of resentment she just could not hide. So this was Zack's girl, huh? She had to admit that the girl was definitely eye-catching. It was not hard to figure out why Zack had fallen for her, Max thought bitterly.
And now she wanted to catch up? On what? On Zack's childhood or something? The whole thing was bizarre. Max shook her head in an attempt to clear it.
And what was Zack doing dragging Sky away like that? She could have sworn that he looked jealous, almost ready to kill Sky, in fact. Max's lips twisted mirthlessly. So what? He has this brunette all to himself and she could not even dance with Sky?
Double standards, she thought sourly.
The brunette was watching her just as closely. Strange, the girl's features looked almost familiar, like someone she had met before. Max frowned, where had she seen her before?
"Have we met?" Max asked, unable to keep her curiosity in check.
The girl grinned.
Max sucked in her breath. That grin. It can't possibly be…
"Jondy?" she whispered disbelievingly.
The grin widened. "Took you long enough, Maxie. It has only been like what? Ten years?" Jondy said, throwing her arms around Max.
Max squeezed back, happy to see her long lost sibling. And then she froze.
That meant that Zack was with…
Jondy. Max did not think that it was possible, but her heart sank further.
Jondy must have sense the change in her, because she pulled back slowly. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," Max said, forcing a smile to her lips.
If Zack and Jondy were together, who was she to wreck it? Goodness knew how much they all needed someone to be with. And Jondy was much better than any random Ordinary. Max guessed that all she could do was to wish them well and hope that someday, she would get over Zack.
"Just the shock, I think," Max continued, not meeting her sibling's eyes.
Jondy gave her a knowing look. "I don't know what's going on with the two of you but whatever it is, it can't be so bad that you have to get back at him that way."
Max's brow furrowed in confusion. And then her eyes became guarded. "Get back at who?" she asked, careful to keep her voice neutral.
Jondy sighed in exasperation. "Zack, of course. Though I still don't get the reason behind it. I'm just guessing that Zack has made an ass out of himself. Unless, of course, you're going to tell me that you and that cute blonde are an item?"
Max's jaw dropped. Why would Jondy say something like that? Jondy sounded as if she did not care about what happened with Zack and another girl.
Absently, she mumbled, "There's nothing going on between me and Sky." What could Jondy possibly mean by what she had just said? It did not make sense.
Unless, of course, nothing was going on between Jondy and Zack.
Max's heart immediately lifted. And then, it instantly plummeted back down. Don't kid yourself, Max. It's just wishful thinking, Max thought to herself sadly. Jondy did not say anything to that effect. Jondy could have meant that she was simply trying to piss Zack off anyway she could.
So much for wishing Jondy well.
Max just wished that she was in Jondy's shoes.
The door had barely slammed shut behind them before Zack grabbed Sky and shoved him against the wall.
"Hey, watch it, man," Sky protested indignantly.
"No, YOU watch it. What the hell do you think you're doing with Max?" Zack growled, unable to contain his fury any longer.
Holding his hands up, Sky said quickly, "Look, it was just a stupid bet, alright? Nothing is happening."
"She was giving you a damned LAP DANCE, and you say it's nothing?" Zack snarled, thumping Sky against the wall so hard that some of the plaster rained down on them.
Sky groaned at the impact of his back against the wall. Obviously annoyed at being manhandled, he snapped, "You got to stop doing this Zack. This is the second time now. I'm sick of being beaten up by you for no reason."
"Give me a good reason not to," Zack snapped back, hardly believing that Sky had the nerve to tell him off. Sky was not the one who had to suffer through that.
Sky's expression hardened. "Look, I'm not psy-ops or anything like that, but I can see what's happening here. You're pissed because Max was dancing with me, but has it occurred to you to ask why she did it right in front of you? Unlike me, she can't have missed seeing you. You were in her line of sight."
Zack gritted his teeth. What was Sky going on about? "Why?" he asked icily.
"Now, I don't have many friends out here. Heck, come to think of it, I only have Max," Sky mused.
Zack glowered. Was Sky trying to rub it in? The urge to hit Sky returned full force.
And then Sky continued, "I don't know what you've done, but when Max came back, she was upset. She didn't tell me why, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that it was about you. You guys got a thing going, I know. And when she came back without you, and not saying much about you, things kind of fell into place. Now you ask yourself before you start beating up innocent bystanders, what have you done?"
"I've done nothing," Zack replied stonily.
Sky rolled his eyes. "Yeah, maybe that's the problem. She likes you and you've done nothing." And then he gave Zack a piercing look before saying, "By doing nothing, you might have pushed her away."
What Sky said made sense, Zack admitted reluctantly after he considered the idea. Though it was not that he had done nothing. On the contrary, he had been rejecting her every time she had tried to get close. How could he blame her for walking away when it was him who had encouraged it?
He heard Sky sigh wearily. "Look, just go in and talk to her, alright? She was miserable since she came back, and only you can fix it," Sky advised.
Zack glared at him, the memory of Max giving Sky a lap dance still fresh in his mind. "This doesn't mean that I like what I saw just now."
Sky groaned. "It was a bet, damn it. If I'd known that it would cause so much grief, I wouldn't have suggested it. And frankly, I didn't think that Max would actually do it. She must be really furious with you, whatever you've done. What have you done, anyway?" he asked curiously.
A frown grew on Zack's forehead. Yeah, what has he done which had upset Max that much?
Sky rolled his eyes. "Just go talk to hear. Sort things out before you decide to smash someone else's face in."
Zack threw Sky a sour look before he turned and headed back to the door leading to the bar.
Max dropped the pitcher of beer onto the table and sat facing Jondy, plastering a smile which she hoped was convincing on her face.
"You drink beer, right?" she asked lamely, not knowing what else to say. Never in a million years did Max think that her reunion with her sister would be filled with such bittersweet feeling.
"What kind of question is that?" Jondy replied with a laugh. She poured out two glasses of beer. "So? What's the story?" she asked, her face alighted with curiosity.
"I don't know what you mean," Max hedged.
Jondy rolled her eyes. "Come on, Max. It's me you're talking to here. Did Zack pull his 'I'm not into those phoney-sentimentality' act? Max, you've got to be blind not to see it. The guy's crazy about you. He barely slept and he was practically a zombie while we were searching for you."
Max felt her heart stop, stunned for a moment. Did she just hear what she thought she had heard?
"You and Zack are not together?" Max asked, needing to hear the words.
Jondy's eyes rounded comically. And then realisation dawned. "Max, please tell me this is not because you think that I'm together with Zack. Because that's just…" she paused and took in Max's stricken expression. "You did?" she exclaimed, incredulous at the revelation.
Max looked away sheepishly. "I saw the two of you in the casino and you seemed pretty close," she finally said.
Jondy broke into a grin. "Girl, you got it bad. Just as bad as Zack, actually. He wanted it to be a surprise, you know, bring you to see me. If this is not so messed up, I'll be laughing my head off right now."
Max scowled. "It's not funny, you know," she said irritably. She felt ridiculous now, having thought that Jondy and Zack were together. But what else was she supposed to think?
Quirking an eyebrow, Jondy said levelly, "Not from your end, maybe. But it sure does from here. Just wait until Zack hears about this."
Max blanched. She was going to die of embarrassment and it was all because of some stupid misunderstanding. Zack had only been trying to surprise her with Jondy, and she had to come to the wrong conclusion about the entire thing.
Jondy's eyes lighted up. "Talk about the devil. Here he comes now," she said with a cheeky grin. "And he looks just about as miserable as you do."
Max could not keep her groan from escaping. Great. Now she has to face Zack.
"But your Sky looks much better. I'm surprised that he survived whatever Zack dished out," Jondy went on, sounding impressed.
Max shot a look at her sibling, but before she could say anything, Sky walked up to them with Zack close behind him. With his customary grin in place, he greeted, "Hey, ladies. Missed me?"
If Max was not so worried about the way Zack was watching her, she would have rolled her eyes. As it was, she could not even bring herself to meet Zack's eyes. Instead, she sat there, running her fingers around the rim of her glass of beer.
Apparently oblivious to Max's concerns, Sky directed an inviting smile at Jondy. "Want to join me for a drink?"
Max pointed at the almost full glasses of beer on the table. "She's got one."
Ignoring Max, Jondy stood up and said, "Sure, let's go." Linking her arm through Sky's, she walked off, turning back once to wink at Max.
Knowing that she could not put of the inevitable any longer, Max peered up at Zack.
As her brown eyes clashed with his blue ones, she smiled nervously. How the hell was she going to explain herself to him this time?
"Hey," she said in a soft voice, unsure of his feelings.
Zack sat down, his eyes not leaving hers. He took a deep breath, and then slowly let it out. "Max, we need to talk."
Her lips quirked. That was a new one; the usually quiet Zack wanted to talk. She did not reply; she just nodded and watched him expectantly.
He hesitated, seemingly unsure of what he wanted to say. His eyes began to wander around the room, in a move which Max suspected designed to avoid her gaze.
She decided to prompt him. "Yes?"
His eyes snapped back to hers. And then he said, "I'm not good at this sort of thing. You know, talking."
"None of us are," she pointed out unnecessarily.
Zack nodded. "It's something Manticore discouraged in us, I think. But I'm going to try anyway," he paused a little and took a fortifying breath. "Did you leave because of something I did?" he asked, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain.
Embarrassed, Max looked down. Sighing, she mumbled, "I kind of misunderstood something."
Zack frowned in confusion. "Misunderstood what?" he asked.
"I thought, you know, when you were in the casino, that something was going on between you and Jondy," she admitted sheepishly. There, she said it. Now all she had to do was to wait for Zack to either blow up or laugh.
"What!" Zack exclaimed incredulously. "Where on earth did you get the idea?"
She looked away. "Well, she seemed to be all over you at that time," Max snapped irritably, unable to hide her discomfort.
"For the record, nothing of that sort is going on between us," Zack said defensively.
"You were not in a hurry to push her away either," she muttered under her breath.
Zack bristled as he heard her words. "What about the time you were all over those guys, huh? You think it was nice for me to watch all that?" he gritted out.
"You didn't want to have anything to do with me, remember?"
"So, you decided that I needed to be what? Taught a lesson?" he asked, his voice rising in annoyance.
Max glared at him. "No, it was just to prove a point to you."
"What point? That I have feelings?"
Max's chin jutted stubbornly. "Yes. Especially after I've gone out of my way to show you how I feel."
"I told you why we can't be together, Max," Zack said wearily.
"So, do you or not?" she pressed, not about to let him avoid answering her. Since they were talking, they might as well get everything out in the open once and for all.
"What?" he asked, his eyes flickering, a tell-tale sign that he knew what she was talking about.
Max just stared at him mutely, challenging him to answer the question.
Finally, he sighed. "You already know."
Max continued to stare at him.
Capitulating, he finally snapped, "Okay, okay." And then paused in thought. In a gentler tone, he continued, "I've always had a soft spot for you, even back in Manticore, but you already know that. After we escaped, I missed you, not knowing if you made it or not. Took me sometime, but I finally located you."
"When?" she asked curiously.
"A few years after the escape," Zack explained.
"And you didn't think that I want to see you?" Max asked bewildered. If she had the chance to see any of her siblings, she would have jumped at the opportunity. Instead, Zack waited what? More than ten years to make contact?
Zack took her hands in his, and Max felt her pulse jump. This was the first time he touched her tonight. She looked up to find his eyes fixed on hers, appealing to her to listen.
"I almost didn't recognise you with your long hair. You grew up into this beautiful girl, not the kid I knew back in Manticore anymore."
"Let me finish."
Max nodded, and saw a flash of surprise in Zack's expressed. She grinned; he did not think that she was going to listen. But for the first time, Zack was talking. Really talking. And she was not about to put him off.
Clearing his throat uncomfortably, he continued, "I don't know why, but I just stood there watching. And then I left. I always went back, but each time, year after year, it became easier to watch you from a safe distance." He inhaled, and then said, "I think I was afraid that if I approached you, I won't be able to walk away."
Max sucked in her breath. She had no idea that he felt that way so far back.
Zack gave her a self-deprecating grin. "Yeah, so much for no phoney-sentimentality, right? I remember telling myself that it was just all those teenage hormones, and that it'll be easier to control when I'm older. Somehow, I managed to convince myself. Until a few weeks ago."
Zack rolled his eyes. "Going into Jampony proved to be a bad idea, but I wanted to talk to you. Just to get to know you better. Your barcode appearing in the papers was probably just an excuse I gave myself."
"And now that I've spilled my guts, go ahead and laugh."
Max stopped grinning. "Now why would I do that?"
"Because of all the crap I've been telling you all the time we were together."
"You did what you think was right at that time, I suppose," Max said, not quite convinced herself.
"There are certain rules we have to follow, Max, just to reduce the risk of danger," Zack explained, for what seemed like the hundredth time to Max.
She groaned helplessly. "Yeah, but those are your self-imposed rules. We're not owned by Manticore anymore," she insisted. "So, break the rules. Live a little, Zack."
Zack sighed wearily as he ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up. "Max, we've been through this. Us being together is going to be difficult. I'm used to working solo."
"But you have to admit that we make a good team in the last few weeks, right?" Max pressed, not prepared 'to give up so easily. Whether he realised it or not, Zack just said that it was going to be difficult for them to be together.
But not impossible.
'"Zack, whatever you say, I'm going to stick by your side," she said resolutely. Then she grinned, "Especially now that I know that there's nothing going on between you and Jondy. Not to mention that I finally got you to admit what you feel. That's an improvement."
Zack gave her an exasperated look. "You're infuriating, you know?"
"Yeah, but a girl's got to be herself right? And just think how much fun it'll be if I hang around," Max said with a wink.
Zack glanced quickly at her before he turned away, looking thoughtful. And then he said slowly, in a casual voice, "Well, I suppose some company won't be too bad. It does get a bit lonely on the road sometimes."
Max's eyes widened. Did Zack say what she thought she had heard him say? "I suppose it's not often that you find company."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Zack enquired, offended.
Suppressing a laugh, Max said, "Well, you do have a tendency to push people away."
"I'm not pushing you away," he declared defensively.
Max grinned as she linked her fingers through his. "Yeah, I'm just irresistible, right?"
"Let me think about it," Zack said as he reached out his free hand to pull her closer. "I may need some convincing," he whispered against her lips.
Max sighed as their lips touched. She could not believe that she was sitting here kissing Zack, his fingers tangled in her hair. It seemed like just minutes ago when she felt so depressed about the entire situation.
When they broke apart, their eyes locked. Max saw her desire reflected in his eyes and she smiled. "Want to go somewhere else?" she asked saucily.
"What do you have in mind?" he enquired huskily.
"Let me surprise you," she replied.
The sound of giggles alerted them that they had an audience. Reluctantly, Zack and Max pulled apart to see Sky and Jondy standing a few feet away.
"Wow, is it hot in here or what?" Jondy asked, fanning herself.
Max saw Sky sliding a sideways look at Jondy. "Phew, yeah, now that you mention it," Sky replied. Turning to Zack and Max, he continued with a cheeky grin, "Do you need help getting a bedroom, or you think you can get to one without our help?"
"Haha, very funny, Sky," Max said flatly, but she could not keep her lips from twitching as she watched Sky and Jondy. So, Sky seemed pretty interested in Jondy. Well…
"I have a vested interest in this, you know. Without our help, the two of you would still be dancing in circles around each other," Sky stated proudly.
"Don't remind us," Zack said, obviously uncomfortable with the way he had manhandled Sky earlier. "No hard feeling?" he asked Sky meaningfully.
Sky waved a dismissive hand. "I've handled more. And I have room for more."
It was too tempting an opening for Max. "I hope you can handle Jondy. You two would make a cute couple" she teased, raising her brows at Sky.
Jondy and Sky exchanged a horrified look. "No way!" they cried simultaneously.
"I think they protested too quickly," Zack said as he stood up, offering Max his hand.
Max nodded sagely. "Not to worry. I'm sure Sky can handle it," she said, and then burst into grin.
"Let's go," Zack said softly as he traced a finger down her jaw.
Max felt herself melt.
Linking their fingers together as they walked away from the table, Max glanced back at Jondy and Sky to see them staring at each other nervously. No doubt there would be lots of resistance from both parties before they got anywhere.
But that was the way they were all made. Max knew that now.
She was just happy that finally, things fell into place.
Zack and her together.
Who would have thought of that?
A/N: I hope you all approved of the ending. It was a hard story for me to write, seeing that my normal ship is Max-Alec, so I'm especially happy that I managed to complete it. Please let me know what you think of it. And I thank all of you who have patiently waited for my increasingly slow updates and supported me through this fic. Thank you!Hugs: