New World, Old Ghosts

By Heather Hinam

Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Dark Angel, just the thoughts in my head.

Rating: PG-13

Email: Please ask first.

Summary: Max and Logan come to the aid of a beleaguered cousin, while dealing with their own issues.

Spoilers: Post-Female Trouble. I had someone point out to me that my stories seem like chapters in a larger work and in a way I guess they are. They basically go in chronological order. You can read them in the order of Unfinished, Pas de Deux, Walking on Water and this one, filling in the blanks with the show. However all of the stories stand just fine on their own.

Author's Notes: Well folks, this is it. I promised I'd finish this and I tend to keep my promises, just not necessarily the timeline. I'm sorry it took so long. I actually had it done by New Year's; but just never got around to posting it because I kept wanting to tweak things. I still can't figure out where January went, let alone the nearly five years it took me to write this story! Thanks to everyone who has read this and shared their thoughts with me. Your tremendous support of this story has been humbling. I hope this final chapter can live up to your expectations. It's been an incredible journey through nearly two post-graduate degrees, two cities, five years, 101 pages and about 45,000 words! I treasure the friendships I've made as a result of my fanfic writing. This is very likely the last DA fic I'll ever write. My muse has turned to other things. I still post from time to time in other fandoms on this site. I hope you'll check them out sometime.

Thanks and happy trails,

Heather.

Chapter 9

A flock of Pine Siskins chirped brightly as they danced across the sky, disappearing one by one into the dark foliage of the towering spruce at the end of the porch. Maggie smiled at the sound and sunk deeper into her nest of blankets, rocking gently in the porch swing. The afternoon sun was warm on her face, a welcome contrast to the crisp edge that still existed in the early spring air.

After polishing off a quiche between the two of them, Maggie had sent Logan to sleep on the couch, knowing he had had no rest for at least twenty-four hours. He had protested weakly, but then nodded off within minutes of closing his eyes. With her guests both getting the rest they needed, Maggie had tended to an abbreviated version of her daily chores, making the rounds and feeding the animals. The simple labour had worn her battered body out quickly and she'd decided to take up residence on the porch, preferring to be outside if she were going to be left alone with her thoughts.

She had expected to feel… victorious, or something, after it was all over; but all she really felt at the moment was tired. Maggie had a feeling it would be a long time before she got over the last few weeks. She knew that she could probably expect to lose some more sleep to nightmares for at least a little while longer. Taking down Bergstrom was only a small step. Others would take his place and Maggie would have to do battle again. This time though, with Simon gone, she'd be alone…

Suddenly, the creak of the screen door snapped her out of her musings.

Distractedly, she called out over her shoulder. "Hey Otus, c'mere boy."

"Hey. I'll come there; but last I looked, I wasn't a dog."

Maggie couldn't help but laugh as she twisted to glance over her shoulder.

"Sorry Max. I thought you were still asleep."

Max sat down in the space on the swing that Maggie had cleared of blankets.

"No problem," she chuckled. "Just don't let it happed again."

Concern replaced humour in Maggie's eyes as she reached up to check Max's stitches.

"How are you feeling?"

Max met Maggie's fingers with her own as they traced along the fresh line of stitches running jaggedly down the back of her neck. Smiling at the older woman, Max hoped her eyes conveyed the gratitude she felt.

"I'm feeling much better… thanks to some woman who took it upon herself to perform emergency surgery on my neck."

Maggie smiled and dropped her eyes to her lap. "It was nothing…"

Max slipped a hand under Maggie's chin, effectively silencing her deflection, and dragged the older woman's eyes up to meet hers.

"It wasn't nothing," Max answered earnestly. "You saved my life."

Maggie grasped the hand that was holding her face and threaded her fingers through Max's. "Then you can consider us even."

Max smiled brightly, squeezing Maggie's hand before letting go. "Fair enough."

Both women lapsed into silence, gazing out over the lake. A pair of grebes were making their way across the water, cutting a dazzling path into the shimmering surface. Maggie found herself lulled by the subtle, rhythmic swaying of the porch swing coupled with the warmth of another's company. Maybe she wasn't as alone as she thought.

"I guess I owe you an explanation…"

Max's voice cut into the stillness, rousing Maggie from her reverie.

Turning to meet the younger woman's gaze, Maggie answered. "You don't owe me anything Max. I meant what I said the other day. Everyone has secrets and I'm not about to pry. You've been a better friend to Logan and I than anyone could ever wish for and that's all I need to know."

Max shook her head. "No, I want to tell you… I need for you to know where I come from." Max hesitated for a moment, bracing herself to take the next step. "I want you to know the real me."

Maggie was startled by the raw need she saw in Max's eyes. It was a need to connect. She wondered how many people knew all that this young woman kept bottled inside her. Maggie was just starting to grasp the pain and loneliness that were hidden behind Max's tough outer shell. For some reason, Max had let Logan in and despite her earlier assurances; Maggie hoped that she could also offer some comfort to a woman who had given her so much. Reaching out again, she grasped Max's hand in a silent gesture of support as her companion searched for a way to start her story.

"As you've probably figured out, I'm not like most people…"

Maggie listened in rapt attention as Max told her stories of sterile labs and even more sterile people. She fought back tears at the notion of mothers being ripped away from their offspring and children forced to endure such horrible physical and mental abuse. Max painted the terror of their escape in vivid detail that left Maggie almost gasping for breath. Logan's cousin's heart broke as she learned that the assassin sent to kill her had been one of Max's 'sisters' who had succumbed to the weaknesses that Manticore had bred within her. Though the scientist in her was fascinated by Max's genetics and its side effects, she was horrified to learn that her own government had manipulated human beings… children for their own warped cause.

As she finished her story, Max eyed the older woman with trepidation, waiting for the rejection she feared would come. She measured her breathing in an effort to keep calm as she watched Maggie take a moment to process everything she'd been told. After what seemed like an eternity, Maggie smiled. When she felt the subtle pressure around her fingers increase, Max allowed herself to hope that just maybe her fears were unfounded, that by telling Maggie the truth, she wasn't setting herself up to fall… that she might be able to find the sister she'd always wanted in Logan's cousin.

"Thank you for trusting me with this Max," Maggie said, breaking the silence. "It means a lot to me."

It was Max's turn to deflect, casting her eyes to the porch. "I figured you had a right to know, considering what you went through thanks to my 'family.'"

In a reversal of their earlier position, Maggie, tucked her hand under Max's chin, gently nudging until dark eyes met grey.

"Max, I'm honoured that you feel you can trust me with your secret; but I hope that duty isn't the only reason you did it. You tell me that you've spent the last ten years looking for your family. Well, I want you to know that, if you want it, you've got that family in Logan and me."

Overwhelmed, Max tried to look away, to hide the emotion welling in her eyes. Maggie wouldn't let her, tightening her hold under her chin ever so slightly.

Maggie continued into the lengthening silence, suddenly needing to fill the void. "I'm not saying we have to go on camping trips to the Grand Tetons or something, but know that we're… that I'm here if you ever need me."

Max struggled to find her voice as one lone tear traced a hot trail down her cheek. She'd never felt lighter than she did at that moment. This woman whom she had only met a few days ago was offering her everything she'd ever wanted… well not quite everything. She really needed to talk to Logan. Before her thoughts could run off in that direction, Max forced herself back to Maggie's offer.

A smile bloomed across her features as Max reached up to clasp both of Maggie's hands in hers, holding tightly to the lifeline she'd just been offered.

"I… I don't know what to say, Maggie. Thank you," she answered with conviction, as she pulled the older woman into a hug. "This means more to me than you can ever know."

Maggie fought her own tears as she answered. "I think I might have a small inkling." Then when she felt the need to lighten the moment, she pulled back and grinned. "Consider yourself adopted, Max."

Both women laughed and the weight of the moment dissipated like mist over the lake. Settling again into the porch swing, they lapsed into comfortable silence, Max and Maggie watched as the siskins in the spruce tree flitted off to their next destination; their chirps echoing like tiny bells over the trees.

"So how's Logan?"

Startled by the sudden change in subject, Maggie took a moment to sort out her thoughts. Sighing, she leaned back in the swing.

"He's… okay. He's exhausted. I left him sleeping on the couch. You scared the hell out of him last night though."

Max chuckled mirthlessly, "I guess, we're even then."

Maggie turned to catch the younger woman's eye. This was something they needed to discuss face to face. "Max, I talked to Logan yesterday, after you… he told me what happened a week ago."

Max fought to maintain her composure.

"I…I was almost too late…"

Maggie felt her heart twist at the stricken look on Max's face. Max kept going.

"When I read the doctor's notes, I felt so cold… I almost couldn't move… I drove as fast as I could… when I got there and couldn't find him, I thought…"

Maggie laid a gentle hand on the younger woman's arm to pull her from her memory. "It's O.K. Max. You got there in time."

Max wheeled on her. "No I didn't! Something else had distracted him! I saw the gun! What would make him want to do something like that?" Max immediately felt better asking the one question that had been gnawing at her heart for the last week, even if it wasn't to the right person.

Maggie had been asking herself the same thing ever since she'd found out. What could possibly make Logan want to leave behind the people he loved? After watching him fret while she had removed the implant from Max's spine, Maggie thought she had an inkling of what it was.

"Helplessness."

"What?" Max asked.

"That's what was driving him, I think, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness."

"Logan's not helpless. He's perfectly capable and helps other people every day," Max retorted.

"You see it Max, and I see it; but Logan, at the time, couldn't see it. All he could see was his life as he had known it had been taken away and he could never get it back."

Max continued to look confused so Maggie elaborated. "All his life, Logan has seen himself as some sort of helper of the helpless. As a kid, he used to pretend he was Robin Hood, running around the backyard shooting chopsticks that he'd stolen from the kitchen from his makeshift bow as he robbed the rich to help the poor."

Max couldn't help but chuckle a bit at the image Maggie had created, but soon let her continue.

"When he created Eyes Only, Logan was able to live out his childhood fantasy, rescuing the needy and bringing down the corrupt and he prided himself in his ability to throw himself into the fray. When the shooting took that away from him, he had a hard time adjusting to being left on the sidelines while you and others did the legwork."

Max just had to interject. "Logan's never been on the sidelines. He's saved my ass more times than I can count."

Maggie smiled. "Again, I see it and you see it; but Logan couldn't get past his boyhood desires. He saw you doing what he thought should have been his job. I think he might have even been a little jealous at first; but then he fell in love with you."

Max stiffened at her suggestion; but as she opened her mouth to protest, Maggie cut her off. "Don't even think of trying to tell me 'it's not like that' I was there last night and this morning too." The older woman laughed as she watched the X5 blush and remembered that even with all that she now knew about this mysterious young woman, she was still a young woman, first and foremost. She took Max's lack of response as a sign to continue.

"Logan always believed his paralysis was a temporary thing so he never completely adjusted. He was determined to get back on his feet and take over his legwork again. But then you added another reason. Logan truly believed that to be with you, he had to be able to walk."

Max suddenly looked stricken and Maggie stopped. "What is it?"

Max glanced down and her hands, folded in her lap. "I had to run once. Lydecker was closing in on me, and Zack… my brother, came to get me out of town. Logan drove us out of the city to a cabin; but he had to stay behind. I asked him to come with me; but he said that he couldn't leave." Max stopped for a second, gazing at the clouds overhead, remembering that painful moment in the car when she thought she'd never see Logan again. This strange man who had, despite her best efforts, woven his way into her life. "When I think back on it now, I could see it in his eyes. He wanted to come. He just didn't think he could."

"What made you come back?" Maggie asked. It pained her to think of everything her cousin and Max had likely been through in the past year.

Max returned her focus to her fingers that were toying with the ends of the afghan. "It was Logan. I phoned him and Bling answered his phone… Logan was at the hospital. The bullet had migrated, they had to operate."

Maggie stared back at Max stunned. Her cousin had never told her of his brush with death. He was going to have a lot to answer to when he woke up.

Max continued, almost unaware of her surroundings. "I made it back to the hospital. He'd lost a lot of blood and blood bank supplies were low. The doctors didn't think he was going to make it. I'm a universal donor."

The non sequitur caught Maggie off guard. "Excuse me?"

Max acknowledged the older woman's presence for the first time since she'd started the story. "It's part of my engineering. We were designed to be able to give blood under any circumstance."

Understanding dawned for Maggie. "You transfused him."

"Yes."

Suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what Max had done for her cousin since she'd entered his life. Maggie's eyes felt heavy with moisture as she reached out and clutched Max's hand tightly.

"Max," she said thickly. "I don't know how to thank you. You've saved my cousin's life in more ways than you can probably fathom."

Max found her voice had suddenly left her. Turning her hand to take Maggie's into her palm, she closed her fingers and squeezed tightly.

"Yeah, well, I think it's worked both ways."

… …

The river roared through the gorge below her. The relentless pounding water echoed off the slate walls, creating a constant din that threatened to drown out all other sound in the forest. The woods were damp, still fresh from last night's downpour. A single drop slipped from the tip of a fir needle and found its way into the warmth of the back of Max's shirt. The icy trail sent a shiver down her spine.

Perched on her haunches at the edge of the canyon, Max ran her hand through the loose dirt along the ledge. She could still make out hoof prints in the scuffed earth and the memory of what had happened here less than twenty-four hours ago sent a chill of a different kind through her. There had been no sign of a body below, the rushing water having washed away any evidence of Brin. Max doubted that even an X-5 could've survived that fall; but still… Either way, Brin was gone forever. Closing her eyes, Max whispered a solemn goodbye to the sister she had once known.

"Don't jump. It's not worth it."

Despite his ill-conceived attempt at humour, Max couldn't help the small smile that was tugging at her lips. After all they'd been through in the last few weeks, it was just good to hear his voice.

Standing up slowly, very much aware of the sheer drop below, Max turned and was met with a vision. Logan was perched atop his horse from the previous night, every bit the knight on his white steed. For a moment her heart swelled with everything she felt for this man that she'd only recently allowed herself to acknowledge. But it was overwhelming and her mind wasn't quite ready to let go of her fear and the hurt he'd caused her. Resting her hand on her hip, she fired back.

"I would've thought that should be my line."

The hurt that flashed over his face stopped Max cold. She knew the barb was not funny in the least, considering their history; but she didn't expect the desolation that had crossed his eyes in that instant. Then realization dawned. Their last real conversation had been their fight yesterday.

Logan had no idea the path her mind and heart had taken since then.

Realizing they had let the silence between them stretch into the realm of awkwardness, Max took the first step.

"I'm sorry Logan. That wasn't called for. I…"

Logan stopped her with a raised hand. He knew they had to talk about this. He had just hoped that he'd have more time to get his thoughts into some semblance of order. He hadn't managed to make much progress on the ride out. When Maggie had told him that Max had gone back out to the canyon, Logan had been struck with an irrational fear. Maybe she was really going to leave him this time, disappear into the woods like she should have done months ago.

He had apparently been unable to hide his anxiety from his cousin. Laying a hand on his arm in an effort to calm his swirling thoughts, Maggie had whispered calmly.

"Relax Logan. She's not going anywhere…but she could probably use some company, and a ride home."

So, he was back in the saddle one more time, racing to find Max, but for a completely different reason. They needed to get all this out in the open. Their time together earlier and his cousin's apparent insight into Max, which she'd refused to share with him, gave him hope that maybe, just maybe, they'd get their happily ever after… or at the very least, a shot at it.

Releasing a breath that he'd been holding for a while, Logan spoke.

"No. I think I deserved that. I really put you through hell that day and I owe you an apology."

Her eyes bright with moisture, Max moved closer to Logan and his mount. Laying a hand on Logan's leg, she asked the one question that had been gnawing at her since she'd come racing into his apartment last week, terrified of what she'd find.

"Why Logan?"

Though he knew rationally that he shouldn't be able to feel anything below the waist, Max's hand on his leg seemed to send a burning warmth through his body. Taking a deep breath, he schooled his thoughts. Logan had known she would ask this question eventually and a lot was riding on his answer. Closing his eyes, he dropped his gaze, afraid of what he might find in her face.

"I felt… at the time… that I had nothing left. My last hope of ever walking again had failed and… I couldn't see what I had left to hold onto."

Max pulled her hand away like she had been burned. Her eyes turned steely as she fought to trap and hold his gaze; but he still wouldn't look at her. Walking up to the horse's flank, she looked straight up into Logan's face. He cringed at the pain he saw in her dark eyes.

"I'm standing right here, Logan." Her voice failed her before she could finish the words.

"Yeah, but for how long?" The raw desperation in Logan's voice held Max in its thrall. "One of these days you're going to have to run again and then what? I can't run with you! Remember? We've been through this before and I didn't want to go through it again."

"So blowing your brains out seemed like the best option?" Max spat back. Seething, she reined in her hurt and anger, refusing to let the irrationality of the moment take over. She didn't want to fight anymore, but she had to make Logan see just what he would have been leaving behind.

Trapped in her gaze, Logan was overwhelmed by the pain and fury… the raw passion he found there. Suddenly deflated, tired of fighting and seeing no way out, he dropped his gaze back to the ground, slumping in the saddle.

"It had seemed like the only option at the time."

Max's heart clenched painfully from his defeated tone. She wanted nothing more than to get them back to where they were comfortable with each other; but she knew that was going to take some work. As a first step, she replaced her hand on Logan's leg, sliding it up a little higher, almost into the realm of sensation.

"Logan…" Her voice was thick with emotion. "Do you have any idea what losing you would've done to me?"

Max's hand trembled in its place on Logan's thigh. After months of dancing around each other, this newfound honesty was terrifying; but Max wasn't going to let him step back into safety, not this time. Stepping closer, she reached up and trapped his fingers between her own. Startled by the unexpected touch, Logan snapped his eyes back to hers.

"Logan. When I saw that report…" Max stumbled, her mind, despite her best efforts, still rebelling against sharing herself so freely. All her life she had been trained to never show any weakness, never leave herself open to attack. But ever since she'd come crashing through Logan's window, her heart had been battling her mind, crying out to share herself with him… to trust him to keep her safe. After everything they'd been through, Max realized that if she were ever going to save this… save them, she was going to have to let her heart win the battle. She was going to have to let him see her… all of her. No more hiding. Taking a deep breath, she ploughed forward.

"… Logan… when I saw those words… I was scared… terrified. I couldn't lose you." Pausing for a moment to collect herself, Max changed tack.

"What can I say? You've grown on me, Logan." Max couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corner of her lips, even as a tear broke free from her lashes to trace a path along her face. She tightened her grip on his fingers, enveloping his hand within her own. "All my life, I've known I was different, even wrong somehow…"

Logan tried to object to her words, tugging on their joined hands; but Max silenced him with a pleading look. 'Let me finish.'

"At Manticore, growing up, I felt like I had a least something like a family. All of us kids… we were all different; but we belonged together. We kept each other safe… cared for each other as best we knew how."

"After the escape, I was lost. For ten years, I lived off my training and what I thought was my mission: find my family. I just didn't realize until recently that I had completed that mission when I found you."

Not five minutes ago, Logan had wanted nothing more than to escape Max's piercing gaze. Now, he couldn't look away.

Looking closely, Max could swear she caught a glimmer of his old fire flickering in the depths of his eyes. He was coming back to her; but she needed to get closer.

The feel of Max's hand slipping from his own snapped Logan out of the swirl of emotions that threatened to overtake him. Her words had left him well and truly speechless, heart beating wildly as he tried to wrap his mind around all she had and hadn't said. Twenty-four hours ago, he had been certain that he had managed to drive her away after all this time. Now, here she was professing… actually he had no idea what she was professing. Snapping back to his surroundings, Logan felt icy tendrils of fear lick at his heart. Max was nowhere to be seen. Had he dreamt the last half an hour?

A hand on his cheek gently turning his head nearly startled him out of his saddle. Turning, he was met with Max's shimmering eyes. She chuckled at his obvious confusion.

"Sorry about that. I needed to be at the same level for this."

Logan has been so absorbed in his racing thoughts, that he hadn't noticed when Max had ducked around to Artie's other flank to climb up onto a low boulder, bring them to eye level.

The fear that had lapped at his heart melted away with the warmth of Max's hand on his cheek. He leaned his faced further into that warmth before he could stop himself and was heartened further by the answering glow in Max's eyes.

"You see me, Logan." Max slipped her hand from Logan's cheek to join her other one in tightly clasping his hands. "I mean the real me, more than just my body or my fighting skills or the attitude I wear. Ever since the escape, I've been in hiding, not just from Manticore, but everyone, maybe even myself. I've always run when things got too intense or built up walls to keep people from getting through to the real me. Some of it has been for my own survival. I couldn't afford to risk too many people knowing my secret; but that's not all of it."

Max tightened her grip on Logan's hands, as though seeking an anchor in the storm of her thoughts. "A lot of it has been fear… fear that if I let someone get to know me, they would leave. But you know me. You know what makes me happy, what makes me sad. You know my past and my weaknesses and you're still here."

Logan now gripped her hands tightly, whispering fervently, "I'm not going anywhere, Max… not anymore."

Max couldn't help the gasp that slipped from her lips as relief coursed through her. She'd had no idea just how much she'd needed to hear him say that, to know that he wasn't thinking about leaving again, that he really was on his way back from the brink. Still, she wasn't finished.

"I have to admit, Logan, that at first, having you so close scared the hell out of me. You're always probing, wanting to know more, to see more of me. It went against all I've ever known; but I found myself wanting to show you more, to trust myself in your hands."

Max paused for a moment, schooling herself to finally lay her last card on the table.

"I've never felt this way with anyone." Her voice was small. A wave of shyness overtook her and she ducked her head.

Mirroring her earlier gesture, Logan slipped his fingers under her chin, tilting her head up until her chocolate eyes met his once again. The vulnerability he found there left him breathless. Never had he seen her more open and defenceless, even during her seizures and it stirred something from deep within him. His fingertips itched to slide along her jaw and into her hair. He ached to pull her closer and show her just how much her words had affected him; but he knew she wasn't finished. So he allowed his fingers leeway only to slide into a caress of her cheek, hoping to coax her final words out of her.

Slowly, the words found their way out.

"I'm in a whole new world here, Logan. You've worked your way into my life and against my better judgement I've let you in. And now… now I can's imagine my life without you." She couldn't help but lean into the warmth of Logan's hand. "I don't want to imagine my life without you."

Looking back on it, Logan would chalk it up to a momentary lapse in concentration; but in the end, it didn't matter. His fingers found their way up into her hair and before he'd even registered the movement, he felt the softness of her lips against his. The feeling that had been stirring inside him earlier blossomed in earnest now, washing over him in a wave of warmth. Her fingers released his hand with one final squeeze and found their way up his arms and to the back of his neck, igniting their path as they went.

As far as kisses went, this one was rather chaste; but Max's heart reeled at the press of Logan's lips against her own. Her heightened senses revelled in the rush of awareness that flooded over her. She hungered to feel more and slid her hand further into his hair, pulling him deeper into the kiss.

As the need for oxygen asserted itself and Logan pulled away, Max lamented that it was all over too soon. That was before she was crushed into an embrace that nearly lifted her off her feet. Though she loved the feeling of being surrounded by him, Max could feel the change come over Logan and it wasn't good.

The words were so soft, that she wasn't entirely sure that he'd actually spoken.

"What if you have to run again?"

Max froze. Logan's fear was palpable. She now realized that this was what had been driving much of his desperation in the last few months and she wasn't going to let it haunt him anymore. Pulling back, Max sought and captured his eyes.

"Then we run together."

She stopped his impending protests with a gentle hand to his lips.

"You could never slow me down, Logan. There's nothing worth running to without you. If it ever comes down to running, we'll figure something out. We always do."

Max paused for a moment as a sly smile tugged at her lips.

"Besides, I'm starting to like the country life and I have it on good authority that we always have a home in the mountains."

Relief washed over Logan in a visible wave. His body relaxed in increments until a smile blossomed across his lips and the renewed spark in his eyes burned just a little brighter. This time his embrace was comforting instead of desperate.

"We can make this work, Max." His confidence was returning; but there was still a hint of uncertainty behind his words.

Hugging him tighter, but still mindful of his injuries, Max pressed her lips to the pulse point on his neck before turning to whisper into his shoulder, "Yeah Logan, we can make this work… I want to make this work."

Lifting her head, she allowed her fingers to trace the path of a tear that had found its way out from under his lashes as she gifted Logan with a brilliant smile. "Now can we go home? I don't know about you, but I need to sleep for about a week."

Her joy was contagious and Max's heart warmed to see a genuine smile brighten his face, his eyes alight.

"Sure thing Max. I'll give you a lift."

Max slid into the custom saddle, gently settling in against him. She revelled in the feel of his arms slipping around her and the warmth of his body pressed against her own. As Logan coaxed Artie into motion and guided him to the trailhead, Max spared one last, lingering glance to the roaring canyon below them. Silently, she bid farewell to the family of her past. They would always live on in her heart; but it was time to let go…time to release herself from the shackles of her childhood and move forward with her life. The thought buoyed her heart and she leaned back into Logan's loose embrace, smiling as he tightened his hold in response. They still had a long way to go; but they were on the right road. They were both done hiding. The wall that had grown up between them now lay in ruin.

Logan was on his way back and Max was confident that he wouldn't reach the level of despair he had dropped to last week ever again…she would make sure of it. As for herself, the fear that had held her heart captive for so long now loosened its grip, leaving room for Max to let people in… to let Logan in.

The setting sun cloaked the new spring foliage in gold, enveloping the forest in a shimmering canopy. The waning light filtered through the boughs and illuminated the trail ahead. Comfortable on their path together, Max and Logan settled into their journey, following the sunbeams that danced along the trail as together, they found their way home.

The end