Chapter 2

"So I see you still have your southern clothes," she teased him, "what about the drawl?"

"Some things take longer to wear off," he answered simply, staring intently into her eyes. There was no accent in his voice.

She pulled her hand away, doubting. "Did I?" she blurted, rejecting the truth in his stare.

He finally took a moment to turn away from her gaze. She was always doubting him. He had given her all that he possibly could, yet she still doubted him. "You weren't some spell that came over me," he admitted, "Some fluke that I could in time just get over." Manticore had done its worst to him, to make him forget her. He fought it with everything in him, until they, too realized, he would never give up Max, let alone forget her. And that was when they tried to use it against him. His weakness in Max almost cost him her safety, something he'd died for. Every moment had been a breaking point for him, a test to see just how much longer he could endure. Thoughts of Max were the only thing that kept him through it. He knew she wasn't looking for him. He knew that although he might have crossed her mind, he didn't cross her heart. His heart.

He quickly withdrew his last thought. He knew it was hers. He had given it to her, and he would do it again, if it meant she was alive. He had long ago realized there was no point living in this world if Max wasn't in it. And although he had accepted that they would never be more than close friends, he still devoted his life to her, even if his devotion meant being separate to ensure her safety.

He remembered the sting he'd felt when he realized she had chosen to push him away. She could have stayed with him, or at least allowed him to stay with her, offered something to help him regain his memories and true freedom.

Instead, she'd abandoned him, sent him packing as if it was what he wanted, and worse, with the help of Logan Cale. Cale must have reveled in coming to the rescue, sending Zack away without care to give him the only thing he'd really earned in life, a right to know who he was.

The farm life wasn't so horrible, while his memories remained dormant. Zack hadn't really thought of what he would like to do with his life if he would be so lucky as to have a choice. Being a farmhand didn't really seem to be what he would pick. He wondered why Max had. Until he remembered that it was Logan's contact that had conveniently been located on a farm, as far away from civilization, his own memories, and Max as possible.

Zack didn't hold any ill feelings toward her, though. Looking at her, he knew that even after the choices she'd made, his still remained clear. As always, he chose Max above everything else. If Max felt it was best for him to no longer be a part of her life, he could accept that and live with it.

Max leaned closer, wanting to close the space between them. They'd been apart long enough. Zack had always been one for action, he didn't waste time when he wanted something. Yet with Max, all it seemed he showed was patience and endurance.

He could tell she wasn't satisfied. "What do you want, Max?" he asked, again searching her eyes for an answer. It was something he was constantly searching for, trying to find it for her. He thought she wanted to forget he ever existed. Wasn't that the reason she hadn't looked for him or kept in touch these past years? Looking at her now, he realized she'd changed somehow.

As he studied her, he changed his mind. She wasn't different, she was the same Maxie that he'd cared for, looked after, and protected from his past, but she had grown. She was no longer held back by her once naïve nature. This Max before him wasn't as innocent as the one he'd died for in his past. He wondered who had taken away her innocence…or was it a choice she'd grown into on her own?

"I want honesty," she replied aggressively, interrupting his thoughts. She was getting angry. She'd expected more to come out of this. She knew he cared for her, but where was the life within him? His tired eyes held no light, no shine, no passion. Had Manticore killed his spirit? Or was it her own doing?

"Ask me anything," he offered. What did she think he was hiding from her? He'd given her all that he could, he would never deceive her.

"Forget it," she dismissed him.

"Max," he pleaded, but not with his eyes or emotion. He didn't know what she wanted.

She turned to leave, but found that she couldn't. Not before doing something. She had to be sure. She couldn't walk away without knowing if it was still there. For herself, she needed to do it. Otherwise, she knew that she would always wonder. What if was not something she would allow to conquer her.

She pulled his face toward her, smothering him and claiming him. She pressed against him with her own desire, pouring her frustration at him in the form of her lips.

It was an angry kiss. Anger that Manticore had made them like this, that only they themselves could understand one another; that they'd been trained not to love, to keep in control; that their memories had been tampered with, their feelings used against them; their connections ripped from them; having to fight for their freedom.

Anger that they had designed him that he would be just like this, completely unable to express his love for her except in the form of their teachings-in fighting. Anger that she'd been taught that separation was the only true sign of devotion. That safety and following procedure meant more than worldly sentimentality. Anger that he had been lectured and taught to suffocate and suppress these feelings because they made him a weaker soldier.

He responded like she never would have guessed, pressing his own lips against hers, harder, bruising her with a passion that he hadn't been hiding from her so much as hiding from himself.

She gasped at the pain of his lips, of her own circumstance that she had no control over.

As her lips opened, he took advantage, like a true soldier in a fight. He was fighting for Max. He was fighting with her, that she would allow him to love her.

She felt his tongue attacking hers, felt his hand grabbing roughly at her hair. Though she had pulled at him, he was now the one leading their actions. He pulled her up, trying to fight the space between them, to defy physics to be closer to her than anyone else.

She felt tears come, as she let out her pain. He would soon be tasting them.

She wouldn't let him win. She wrapped her legs around him, bit his tongue for a moment to breathe. As she leaned her head back, taking heavy breaths, he bit and sucked at her neck, marking her as his.

She moaned with pleasure, finally succumbing to him. She wouldn't fight anymore.

------------

Zack gently caressed her, happy for the first time since he allowed himself to believe she was leaving Seattle, though that later proved to be a decision she took back, not being able to escape Logan or her own attachment to him.

"Manticore has messed us both up," Max said, realizing that even though she'd lived most of her life now outside their walls, they still had a hold on her at times, in her mind.

"Well, I think you're a beautiful mess," he answered with a smile, not ready to be serious and allow the world to interrupt them just yet.

"And I just think you're a mess," she joked back.

"So where do we go from here?" Zack asked, his analytical side getting the better of him. He didn't want to go back to reality, but he couldn't help it. It was in his nature to look ahead. It was rare that he lived in the moment.

"I think this is the part," Max began, "Where you make me some pancakes!" She smiled at him. He would make being normal into a mission, more than likely.

"This isn't the part where you tell me last night was a mistake, and you run to Logan?" he asked, as serious as ever.

Max tensed a bit at the mention of his name. She didn't want to talk about him. But Zack didn't know. He'd been absent from her life for more than 2 years now, how could he know? "Logan is not a part of my life anymore," she confessed, "At least, not in that sense. He still helps out, you know, with Eyes Only, but we've gone our separate ways."

Zack didn't want to express his happiness at her news, but he couldn't help beaming just a bit.

She punched him lightly and affectionately on the arm that was wrapped around her. "I'm sure you're heartbroken to hear that!"

Zack shrugged slightly, "What, I guess I'm surprised. I mean, you two went so well together. A Manticore designed, enhanced soldier, created to kill, and a mild mannered computer hacker, set to save humanity, one soul at a time. Seems like the perfect fit to me."

Max glared at him, but was still smiling, "Gee, a little sarcastic are we? Anyway, thanks for the description. I sound so great when you put it that way."

Zack stared into her eyes seriously, and spoke with a softer and deeper tone, "Now, Maxie. You know that isn't why I love you."

She stiffened at his confession. She knew it, of course, how could he not with the choices and sacrifices he'd made for her. But to put it out there…there really was no more denying it. It was the truth, hers as much as his. But although she felt ready to finally accept it, she wasn't ready to admit it in words. She didn't return the phrase, feeling guilty and small for still not having the courage.

Zack knew she wasn't ready to return his confession. He really hadn't thought he was, either, but there it was, he'd said it out loud. How could he possibly have held it any further, after analyzing his actions, his decisions. He'd gone to hell and back for her, was there really any denying it any more? He accepted his truth and didn't regret telling her.

Max felt the words clenched in her throat, waiting to come out. The only thing holding them back was her own hesitations, that she realized were gone, and had been ever since she'd first laid eyes on him last night.

As he held her in his arms, he heard a confession that ignited him, making him feel more alive than anything this life had dealt him before. He couldn't believe she was admitting it, accepting its truth.

"I love you, too."


a/n: So I guess this is my version of MZ fluff!

What do you think- Is this horrible? Should I never again attempt an MZ? (at the moment, I don't think I will! If that helps!) Or did I manage to pull this off? Either way, feedback is greatly appreciated, I've never done a piece like this. Thanks! (oh, and thanks for reading, of course!)