DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters at all.
Genre: action/adventure, suspense, romance
Pairings: there's multiple pairings throughout. It will eventually be a Max/Alec fic, but it starts very canon
Rating: T
Setting: this follows the show with my own changes throughout; it opens in the middle of the 1st season, but with pieces of the finale thrown in. Alec is not present at the very beginning, but I assure you, he will appear shortly!


Chapter 1: The Mission

Max couldn't stop herself from pacing back and forth, like a father waiting around in a maternity ward. She couldn't help being anxious and she didn't have any other options to release her pent up tensions and frustrations. The moment ahead was going to be awkward at the very least.

She had gone over the plan in her head so many times that by now she could probably execute it in her sleep. Max was normally very confident when going into action like this, but there was a different factor here that she hadn't received any training in at Manticore. Soldiers weren't taught how to deal with emotions or what to do when you think you're in love with someone. Love was definitely not part of their lessons.

It would have been great if it had been. He'd always been the perfect soldier, learning well from his upbringing. If he'd been instructed on what it meant to love, this all would be natural, and nothing to worry about.

Max wasn't the one harboring confusing desires; at least, that's what she kept telling herself. But the last time she had seen the man, he'd been completely enwrapped with her. He said that he loved me. Max thought to herself.

She hated herself for it. Even though she'd done nothing to encourage it, Max felt the guilt shake her core, racking her mind with the responsibility that she'd never asked for. He had been like a brother to her, and she knew that he loved her more than anyone he'd ever met or ever would.

They'd been forced to plan the meeting well in advance, with the number of people hunting both of them, and besides, everyone thought he was dead. It was important for both their safety to keep people believing that.

The area was secure, Logan had seen to that. Even if it wasn't, Max herself had just finished checking the area for the 3rd time to ensure that no one was watching. If anyone could detect a spy from far away, it was Max with her special abilities, or rather, 'enhanced' abilities. Her hearing and sight was beyond that of normal people, an enhancement that she used to her advantage to be certain that no one else was around. She trusted her instincts more than anything, and they were telling her that she was safe.

But her anxiety didn't lay in something primal, like the will to survive. She had no doubt that the meeting wouldn't jeopardize her chances of making it to tomorrow. It was that other, unexplored emotion that was causing the blood within her to tighten at the uncertainty and responsibility that came with it- the mysterious emotion of love.

If Manticore had meant for them to love, they would have planted it in their genetic encoding, along with every other emotion, and then trained them until they could practice it with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their back like all of their other skills.

But the fact was, a soldier wasn't meant to love. And so her soldier's heart told her to beware of the unknown and unexplained that she had the strong possibility of facing soon.

To be nervous was unfamiliar to her on its own, without being complicated with other confusing emotions. Max was normally steadfast, and though living in constant worry of being captured, she never allowed her fears to overtake her like this.

Max stopped pacing and took a moment to try and calm down by focusing on the wind. With her enhanced senses, her focus was far more intense than anyone else's could be.

Her long, brown hair flowed freely in the gentle breeze as she concentrated on the rush it gave her to move with the wind.

The simple attempt to regain her focus worked; Max felt a feeling of peace settle over her. She'd never been one for nature, probably because the world wasn't as bright as it had once been. She lived in a pretty desolate area, as far as natural beauty is concerned. Not many plants lit the ground with their rainbow of colors; trees to offer shade with their extended branches were scarce. To put it simply, there wasn't much life growing around, and there weren't any remaining sight-seeing spots of old where you could sit on a beautiful, wooden park bench, enjoy the sounds of chirping as you fed the birds, and let your eyes dance with a pleasant view of all the life around you. No, ever since the Pulse the more accurate description would be sitting on a bench defiled with graffiti and listening to the fights of people in the street. Forget about having seeds to give to the birds, people barely had enough food to fill their own growling bellies. And the only sight dancing in front of her eyes was usually a poorly dressed hooker, claiming a corner as she tried to earn enough money to make ends meet.

Not to say the world had gone to hell, although some people liked to think that. They called it a depression, sure, their technical and robotic way of describing the economic crisis. But that was the funny thing- no one seemed too depressed.

Sure, it wasn't picture-worthy, but it was enough to bring a smile to Max's face, at least. She enjoyed the wind and the view of the clean water, fresh and dancing with ripples as the wind tickled the surface.

The meeting required a very secluded area, and here at the waterfront was the perfect spot; not many people ever came by.

Max decided to put on her game face- her Manticore mask, to be specific; a blank face empty of emotion that was unreadable. Even though he deserved to know what he meant to her, she wouldn't show him. She couldn't. It wouldn't be what he wanted, anyway. He would surely be looking for the answer to his own feelings and choices- love. There were times when Max wished with every part of her that she could offer him her love and hear heart. But she knew, deep down, that all she could offer him was her guilt and sadness.

"Max."

The familiar voice came at her like the whispering of a ghost, making her blood run cold as the vibration raced from her ears to her heart. She spun around immediately and all her planning went out the window. She couldn't remember what she was supposed to say, what she was supposed to reveal, what the purpose was in meeting at all. All that she could think about was how much she'd missed the simple sight of him just standing in front of her.

She stared at him, her brown eyes swimming with sadness but also lit with hope. "Zack," she greeted softly, breathing the name that had so many memories attached to it.

Her eyes poured into him as she studied his face and body. He still looked incredibly strong, like the soldier he'd always been, in charge and proper, right down to his straight posture. She noticed that his blond hair hung around his chiseled face just like always, and then her stare was back into his eyes again.

The green pools were lit with recognition as they locked with hers. What was he thinking right then? Was he taking himself back to the last time they'd laid eyes on each other?

Max found she could no longer contain herself. Though she had told herself not to, for fear he would get the wrong impression, she threw her arms around him. "Zack, I'm so glad you're here. It's been so lonely here! I ran into a couple other X5s, but they were still completely with Manticore, I couldn't convince them to leave. I've been trying to reach everyone, find the others." She then paused as she took a second to smile at him. "I'm so glad you're here," she repeated.

Max tried to hug him, but it was difficult, not like the brother she remembered. He would not return her embrace. He felt so tense underneath her arms… It was like they were wrapped around a stony statue instead of someone so close to her. She'd seen the recognition, but it seemed that even though he knew who she was, she may as well be a stranger to him.

Max pulled away, hurt and confused by his lack of a reaction. Why wasn't he saying anything? He'd said her name… that meant he remembered everything, right? Max certainly remembered.

The moment flashed before her eyes right then. She saw a slightly younger Zack in front of her, much more talkative, though still pretty quiet, his face full of emotion that he felt safe to reveal since it was just the two of them. He just wanted to protect her… No, he wanted more… He wanted to love her.

At the time, Max hadn't known what to do. She still didn't, really. Especially now, looking at him, when he seemed like a cold, distant version of the man he once was.

"Zack, what's going on? What have you been up to?" she dared to ask. Max was dying for some answers, anything other than more questions. Though a few minutes ago she kept telling herself she would be fine not knowing what happened, she couldn't deny it now, her heart was constricted with a desire, a need, to know everything, no matter how difficult it would be to hear.

He looked around like a lost, young soldier, assessing his surroundings and attempting to make sense of the place. Finally, his stare came back to her. "You did your job well, 452. This area is acceptable."

Max stared at him in disbelief, a lump forming in her throat as the delayed sentence hit her ears. Had she really just heard him say that? "452?" she repeated in shock, "It's Max, Zack, it's me, Max. You just said so a moment ago."

Max's eyes searched him over and over, desperate for a sign of emotion or another memory, something of the old Zack. And then her horrible guilt returned. What had happened to him?

It was all her fault, whatever had changed him.

Max could only watch as Zack knelt down on the ground, and stared at her with a child's eyes. "Max." he repeated, just as he'd said earlier. He stared all about her, his eyes following every inch of her skin, moving from her face to the appreciative curves of her body, looking like he was remembering. Then his stare returned to her eyes as his locked into the brown pools. "Max. The mission is over, I've found you. You were the mission. I had to find Max."

Max's eyes burned with tears that his words gave her, but she held them tightly within. She needed to be strong right now and figure out what Zack needed. "That's great, Zack," Max replied encouragingly, a hand reaching up to graze his cheek, "You did great! You completed your mission!"

Zack finally responded to her touch. His face turned toward her hand and closed his eyes. He took a moment to let the intimate contact sink in.

After a moment, he looked up, an emotion finally lighting his face- relief. "My mission is complete."

Max didn't want Zack to hurt anymore right now, but she had to be sure that he was really himself again and held all of his old memories, even the painful ones. "Zack," she questioned, "Do you remember what happened to you? Do you remember what happened between us before you left? Do you know whatever happened after that?"

Zack turned around slowly, ignoring her questions for a moment as he noticed the cottage. They had planned this. In getting there, it had been necessary for Zack to constantly be on the move. He hadn't slept for eight days in planning this meeting, not willing his own limitations to ruin the mission. He'd stayed awake and alert, holding onto the weak feeling of hope that he would make it.

But now, he was exhausted and needed to rest. He could finally rest. He could finally stop fighting, stop running.

He turned again to Max. He couldn't even remember why he needed to see her. All he knew was the mission. She was the mission.

Max stroked his cheek again, trying to comfort him, and trying to get him to open up, if he could.

And with her touch, he knew his answer. He knew why Max was the mission. He cracked a light smile. It felt strange on his face. He couldn't place the last time one had been there.

Max, too smiled. Her smile was beautiful. The more he stared into her gorgeous brown eyes, the more he knew why she was the mission. She was Max. She was everything.


a/n: Updated 4-9-07 so that it (hopefully!) reads better. This was my first fic ever, and… well you can tell with the original version! So now that I've had more practice, I edited it to bring it up to my current writing style. I was going to just delete it altogether, but I couldn't part with it, so I decided to try and save it instead! Let me know what you think! I would love you if you drop me a review!