Zack stood in the doorway, hands shoved casually into his jean pockets. His face was aged somewhat, showing the lines of stress almost, like it had been complete torture for him to leave. He walked with only a very slight limp. So slight that to a plain passerby, the limp would've been completely invisible. But, to Logan, who was looking for it, he could see that Zack hadn't recovered from the fire completely. The black leather jacket hung sloppily off of Zack's shoulders, but was still a little bit burned from the fire. Obviously, Zack hadn't the money nor time to replace it.
"You came back," Logan said evenly.
"I told Max I would." Zack stepped forward, wanting to see the child. "Is that it?" he asked, surprisingly nervous.
"Yes," Max replied. "She is yours." Zack was stung by the fact that the baby Max held was part of his doing, but he held out his arms to the baby nonetheless.
"May I see her?" With some reluctance, Max gently laid the gurgling baby in Zack's arms. "Oh my…" was the only thing Zack could say as he stroked the fine hair across the warm head of the baby. He looked up to see Max staring at him. "I'm so sorry…" he began.
"Not now, Zack, not now," she said.
"Why'd you come back?" Logan asked, interrupting the dynamite between Max and Zack before a fuse was lit.
"We have to leave, now."
"Leave?" Max nearly yelped. "But why?"
"Lydecker. He can calculate nine months too, y'know. He's already out searching for the child as we speak. Look, Max it's not just you anymore, it's also the baby's life."
"He's right," Logan admitted. Max looked down at Logan and felt tears spring to her eyes.
"You have to go…with Zack."
"I've got a car waiting outside," Zack stated.
"Lydecker's not going to get the baby," she assured both of the men.
"Yes, he will if he wants to. A baby can't defend itself. It doesn't know how to be quiet when there's trouble or how to fight off its enemies," Logan argued. Max turned to Zack, and he nodded in agreement.
"I'll leave…but it's only for the baby's safety, not mine."
"Agreed," Zack said and left to go start the car up, handing the baby back to Max.
"Logan…" she began, on the verge of tears as she saw her life begin to crumble as it had months before. This was the man who she had spent the last nine months with, as he comforted her through everything. The person who had been there for her when Zack had abandoned her. And now, she was leaving him. As much as she didn't want to admit it, the emotional pain was stinging. Crouching down next to him, she clasped his hand in hers. "I'll always be here. Don't ever think I've left you."
"I know," he replied, his voice barely a whisper with his emotions. He laid one warm hand on the side of her voice and gently brushed away a tear. "It's for the best," he reassured her.
"I want to believe so." Max leaned forward and felt their lips brush each other before she let herself be taken completely away in his ocean that he had to offer her. It was the last time they would ever see each other. As they pulled away, Logan felt tears trickling down his face and believed them to be from Max, but found her wiping away his own tears instead. He turned away from her and looked at the floor, trying not to cry as she left…possibly for the rest of their lives.
"I'll always be here," she whispered and turned before exiting the room. Just as her hand came to rest on the doorknob, Logan called out.
"What's her name?" he asked his voice choked with the sadness he was trying to hide.
Max smiled slowly, tears squeezing out of the corners of her eyes. "I've been doing some research and I chose a name that means, 'ready for battle'."
"Fair enough, what is it?"
Logan watched from high above in his penthouse as the blue Jeep Zack had snatched drove away in the snow. The red taillights seemed to laugh at him, reminding him that Zack had taken Max away. It's for the best, Logan had to remind himself. Finally, the Jeep disappeared completely in the snow, and Logan was by himself.
Had there ever been a time he had been so completely and utterly alone? Don't con yourself Logan, he said to himself. It's not worth the time or the energy. She would've gone to him anyway, with or without the child. It's not like it really matters.
Yet, as he put away the chess pieces, he found tears falling on Max's fingerprints as he wept bitterly for her. She would always matter even if he couldn't see her.
Would she ever come back? Or would the only image he ever had of her be in his mind, doomed to rot and decay?
The Jeep bumped over the rickety roads, and Max clutched the baby closer to her, trying to protect it. Zack would glance occasionally at both of them, not knowing what to say. He started to talk, his voice attempting to fill the empty space between them. "I'm sorry…" he began.
"So am I," Max replied and turned away, looking out the window, as the hot tears fell off her face. She wanted to run to Zack and clasp her arms about him, while letting him know how much she had missed him in the months he was away. But, she couldn't. They were both hurting and were too proud to admit it to the other.
Running her fingers over the baby's wispy hair, Max prayed that she would one day find the strength to truly make amends with both Zack…and Logan.
There was nothing he could say that would remove Zack's guilt. Perhaps she would forgive him. But, first he would be required to forgive himself.
Max to herself:
Logan, don't think I've forgotten about you so quickly. I haven't forgotten, nor will I ever forget. Just stay strong on me and don't go doing anything I wouldn't do. But, of course, there are very few things I wouldn't do. I know what you're probably thinking, that Zack's won me. No, no one has "won" me because I'm not a prize. I'm a human. I can make my own choices. So, Logan, you were always in the running as this human's choice.
And Zack, have you already forgotten what happened between us? Don't think this child isn't yours, because it is. She's going to need a dad, and you're the most likely candidate right now. So, don't back out on me. Remember the conversation in the forest when we were both close to death? Remember "that feeling"? It's still there, but it's hiding because we're both too afraid of what will happen if it becomes released again. Don't tell me you've forgotten, because I just won't deal with it right now. As much as I may not want to admit it, I need you and you need me.
And yet, after everything, I'm still hearing Brin's haunting words, "You escaped the backslide." Did I? Somehow, I don't think so. None of us ever will. For, you see, we are our own backslide. We bring our own victories and our own downfalls. And, we can never escape ourselves.