The Story of Max Cale: Chapter 23

by pari

[see chapter one for disclaimers, etc.]

A/N: As promised, here is a longer update than last time. Thank you, everyone who's been reviewing and sending me your encouragement :) Let me keep hearing from you, and you'll keep hearing from me.

~+[]+~

Zack had found Krit first.

A little over a year after the escape, he found him living in an abandoned schoolhouse in Colorado. He stayed with him nearly another year after that before moving on to find the others. Zane in Port Arthur, Dem in Pocatello; then Tinga and An and Tate. One by one, Zack had found all but two of his brothers and sisters by the time the youngest of them turned sixteen - he found Ming a year after that; Ben was the only X5 to find Zack before he could be found.

But Zack didn't like to think about Ben much. He thought about the others a lot more than he thought he should, and whenever he did his thoughts always began and ended with Krit. With that feeling of accomplishment - accomplishment and something un-soldier-like that Zack hadn't been able to identify at the time - he'd felt when he'd fulfilled at least one-eighteenth of the mission that was his for having led the escape in '09.

Not that Zack's interactions with Krit since he'd found him had been all that accomplished. Sometimes it was all Zack could do just to convince himself not to turn the little smartass over to Manticore himself. It was the same way with several of the other X5s. But Zack would never do that. He wouldn't trade anything for the knowledge that his family was free and that, although he couldn't see them perhaps as often as they'd like, or as often as Zack would like, he could see them. They could reach him if they were in trouble. He could hear their voices and feel the ghost of what he'd felt that cold day in Colorado.

As he sat in the back of the car belonging to the old couple who'd offered him and his reluctant "fiancée" a lift - with said fiancée's head cradled gently in his lap - Zack's mind raced.

Was that what had kept him so off-centered where this mystery woman was concerned?

Had he sensed in her, somehow, something he'd only just begun to recognize consciously? Similarities. Similarities between the woman and himself.

Admittedly, there was a lot about this woman to throw Zack off-center. The way she'd just appeared in his life, without any warning. That way she had of seeming impossibly innocent and vulnerable, and incorrigible, indomitable, all at the same time. Sometimes she looked at Zack as if she'd never seen anything more frightening. Sometimes she looked at him like she didn't want to look away.

'What's your name?'

She'd responded to his inexplicable kisses with a passion that had stunned them both. She'd made Zack feel with a passion that had stunned him. She'd fought him from the moment they'd met...except for in the moments when Zack would have expected her to fight him the most. Throughout that kiss...on the roadside with, presumably, her own kind standing right there beside her, ready to "rescue" her.

Only she hadn't wanted to be rescued.

Or she had. But it was this kind couple that she'd needed rescuing from even worse than the man who had snatched her off a rooftop and tied her to a bed.

Should Zack be feeling what he'd felt that day he'd found Krit? The triumph of finding something, someone, he had come to doubt he would ever see again. One of his own. Not a brother or a sister this time, obviously. All of them were accounted for. But someone else.

Another transgenic?

She didn't act like a transgenic. She sure as hell didn't move like one.

"Are you sure this is okay?" the man who'd given them a ride - Mark - asked, as they pulled up in front of the motel room Zack had specified, next to the van he'd stolen and driven from Seattle to here.

Zack refrained from glancing nervously out the car windows, but all of his senses were on alert. No doubt the scene he and his play-act bride-to-be had caused, in the diner and on the highway, would bring cop cars to the vicinity at any moment. They had to get out of the area. Fast.

Zack put on his best good-'ol-boy grin and nodded appreciatively. "We're fine. She just needs to take her pills and get some rest."

"Thanks for your help," Max said from where she lay across Zack's lap, startling him as he hadn't realized she was still awake. Her eyes had been closed and her breathing had been as shallow as if she'd been asleep.

Max's eyes were open now. She gave the couple in the front seat as much of a smile as she could manage.

"Not many people these days would let a couple of strangers into their car. Especially when one of them's sick."

Both Mark and his wife waved the comments away, though their eyes were soft and concerned when they looked at Max.

"You just take care of yourself," the woman said, but she was looking at Zack.

"We will, ma'am. Thanks again."

He took Max gently by the shoulders and helped her sit up. Mark came out of the car to help Zack lift Max to her feet while getting out of the car himself. Zack could feel the small tremors that were even now shuddering through Max's body. He worried that she would seize again before he'd even gotten the van started and out of the motel's parking lot. He made their goodbyes with Mark and his wife quickly, then took his time opening the van's side door.

When the human couple's car was driving away from them at last, Zack opened the van and eased Max inside. He laid her on her back, and tucked one of the bags he'd brought with him to Seattle under her head as a pillow. Max, eyes clenched tightly shut, curled into a ball immediately, teeth chattering. Zack hesitated a moment. Then turned Max's head, lifted her hair, and checked the back of her neck.

No barcode. But that meant little. Zack's own barcode was fairly visible at the moment; he hadn't had the chance to get it removed recently. He wore his hair just long enough to cover where his barcode was supposed to be anyhow. If this woman was a transgenic, she could very well have had her barcode temporarily removed as well.

Zack looked back at Max's face to see her looking at him, vaguely curious even through the disorientation of her seizures.

"Are you okay?" he asked her before she could question his own actions.

Max nodded slowly.

"We have to get out of here."

Zack hesitated again. Then he reached past Max to one of the bags he had dumped in the van behind the passenger's seat. He pulled out a large bottle of pills. He quickly unscrewed the lid and shook three or four large, white pills into the palm of his hand.

Max watched his every move. And her eyes widened in shock - and recognition, Zack noted - when she read the label on the pill bottle in Zack's hand, the look of the pills he held out to her.

"You need these, don't you?"

Zack was offering Max triptophan.

A chill ran up Max's spine that had nothing to do with her seizures.

"How..."

Zack noticed the way Max shrank away from him, the confusion in her eyes. He grabbed her by the wrist and pressed the pills into the palm of her hand before she could get any more upset. Then tucked the bottle they'd come out of, lid lightly screwed shut, nearby.

"Just take them. I want to get us on the road before those sirens get any closer."

Max's expression registered surprise yet again. She'd heard the sirens of cop cars approaching. She just hadn't realized that her captor-cum-haphazard-nurse had heard them as well.

Zack closed Max's fingers around the pills he'd given her and stepped back, reaching for the van's doors.

His voice was as gentle as Max had ever heard it. The expression on his face as he looked at her was unfathomable, but Max could tell - somehow - by the sight of it, that something had suddenly changed here. Something important. Her heart beat even faster than it had been beating before.

"It'll be alright," Zack was saying. Then he closed the van's door and walked around to the other side, climbing into the driver's seat and starting the engine.

Max blinked. Just as she began to shake again, slightly, she shoved the pills she'd been given into her mouth, swallowing quickly and closing her eyes.

Nothing was alright. Everything felt mixed up. But somehow Zack's words comforted Max as she lay on the floor of the van, gritting her teeth against the vibrations as the van started up and took off.

She slipped back into unconsciousness before the police sirens she'd heard before could get loud enough to cause her to panic.

~+[]+~

The thing about walking a beat in a world where the law gave jack squat about legality and justice - and other such things the middle-class and poor could actually afford before the Pulse - it was a laid back kind of job, if you got yourself placed right.

And so long as you weren't one of the law officers left in America who actually cared about doing your job and doing the right thing, at the same time, then Laramie, Wyoming was a pretty good place to be. It wasn't the end of the world, but it wasn't exactly a hub of civilized activity. There weren't a lot of big names or big spenders in Laramie. In other words, there weren't a lot of people there who the law would spit on a fire for.

There was just about four thousand residents, the remains of a once bustling business district, a scattering of trailer parks and mobile home lots, a couple of relatively decent residential areas, and the Albany County Sheriff's Department.

In all, the ACSD got about fifty calls per day.

They might have gotten more, but their dispatcher only worked the hours between nine in the morning and six o'clock at night, so the work load for the deputies in Laramie was somewhat lax as compared to that in some other provinces.

There were a lot of Sheriff's Departments across the nation like the one in Laramie. And a lot under the command of men and women much like Laramie's Sheriff Edmund Dodd.

It was "Doddy", however, who got the word - that night, just as he was about to hang up his keys for the day and go home - that there'd been a "disturbance" at the Boethe Trailer Park on the outside of town, a couple of hours before.

This was not news. Much of what constituted everyday life in Post-Pulse America could be considered a disturbance. But it was a slow night. The disturbance in question involved theft. If nothing else, Doddy could get the local CRA off his back by having his men go out and appear to help someone. And any contraband they happened to acquire would be fair game, so long as the "citizens" who'd filed the police report got back most of what they'd reported stolen.

"McDougal, Leto." Doddy leaned around the partition separating his desk from the others in the main office, and called out to a couple of deputies there with him. One was sitting at his desk reading a magazine; the other was standing by the water cooler.

"We got a 10-103 at Boethe's," he told them.

The deputy sitting at his desk snorted, turning a page. "Hmm. So I take it the gyps wish they'd paid their land taxes now, don't they?"

Doddy ignored the comment, crossing his arms over his chest. "I want you boys to go check it out."

The deputy by the water cooler paused with his paper cup halfway to his lips.

"You're kidding."

Doddy smiled. "It's our civic duty, right? So get out there and be civic."

~+[]+~

Logan had never pretended to understand women.

He hadn't understood his first girlfriend, who - at sixteen - had insisted he'd ruined her life by showing up at Coco Aiguille's cotillion wearing a traditional black tux (as opposed to the unpleasant-looking ensemble she'd asked him to don). He hadn't understood his first fiancée, Daphne, who had broken off their long engagement without having given him any reason at all. And he hadn't understood his second fiancée, Valerie...

Actually, Logan just hadn't understood Valerie.

And he misunderstood Max on a regular basis, despite all his efforts to the contrary. So Logan had no illusions where his ability to glean insight into the female mind was concerned. He did, however, think he understood people. Particularly angry people, who were generally rather predictable, provided they didn't have a peculiar method of venting anger, such as the way Valerie had always vented her anger at Logan. By setting fire to various items in his possession on top of the hood of his car.

But most importantly, Logan understood that there were rules to be followed when dealing with angry people.

Rule Number One: No two angry people are necessarily the same.

Logan knew that he himself tended to withdraw when he was really angry. He bottled all his darker emotions, and didn't speak of them unless he absolutely had to. His friend Bling - who Logan had hired as Max's physical therapist after the shootout with Sonrisa's men - bottled nothing. If Bling was angry with someone, he told them so in that Zen-like, this-is-for-your-own-good way of his.

Logan's bodyguard, Peter, never got angry. Not as far as Logan had ever seen. Which was, altogether, a good thing, as Peter's natural disposition was as close to angry as anyone needed to get.

Rule Number Two: Angry people do not make for good company.

Logan had learned this rule during his second semester at Yale. He'd been rooming with a law student he, to this day, kept in touch with as much as possible. Ames had been an observative, "still waters" type of guy who's dry humor and quiet intensity had been a perfect match for Logan's then quirky charm and playboy exuberance. He and Logan had become quick friends, but that hadn't kept Logan from clearing out anytime Ames had gotten himself into a lather over something. Ames's still waters did indeed run deep, and where they ended Ames's fists began. When Ames got angry he went and found the biggest stranger in the immediate area and tried to knock his teeth out. Then spent the rest of the night defending his life. And quite frankly, considering Logan's taste in women (i.e. Valerie), he hadn't needed any more confrontation in his life at that time than he'd already had.

Rule Number Three: Angry women don't follow rules.

At least, none of the women Logan had ever known ever did.

Sure, Daphne had had a normal enough way of dealing with her emotions. When she was angry at Logan she pouted until he asked her what was wrong, then exploded because he didn't know. Logan's friend Asha laughed off her anger with a snarky comment and the occasional offensive gesture.

But Valerie? Decidedly not normal. And Max?

Max was the least predictable person Logan had ever known, particularly when she was angry. As a child, she'd been manageable enough, but as an adult...

Max was moody. As much as Logan loved her, he couldn't deny that. Sometimes when Max got angry with him, she said so and they worked things out. Sometimes she waited for weeks before pouring all of Logan's wine down the kitchen drain and refilling the bottles with vinegar or bubble bath. Sometimes she simply sulked.

Sometimes Max went behind Logan's back, got in on missions he wanted her out of, and got herself shot in the process...

Logan didn't know anything about Syl, really. Catching her breaking into his apartment once, catching glimpses of her on an adjacent rooftop now and then, browsing through Lydecker's files... None of that had told him anything. They didn't tell him if Syl ever sulked, or if she liked to set things on fire (though Logan wouldn't be surprised if she did). They didn't say whether or not she'd ever done anything stupid just out of pure, human emotion alone. If she'd had a brother, would she have put herself in the crossfire just to save him? And, simultaneously, to spite him?

Logan had already seen how comfortable Syl was with brawling. And the one time he'd seen her pout, it had been very pretty. But he doubted Syl would bother with anything but a blank face if she was really angry.

So did that make her predictable or unpredictable? Syl was really angry now. Logan didn't have to know her well to know that. Her face was an emotionless mask as they made their way back to the trailer park they'd left earlier, abandoning their stolen car in the bushes a couple of miles down the road and walking the rest of the way.

But she wasn't fighting with him. She was absolutely silent. And there wasn't a flame in sight (although there was a lot of ice to be found in her gaze).

Her unnaturally cold and collected demeanor was starting to get to Logan. And his emotions were in enough of a mess as they were. Logan was disgusted with himself over having lost those files, confused as to how something like that could possibly have happened to him. He felt guilty for having made a mistake that could put Syl and the other X5s in jeopardy of exposure.

And, again, Logan was confused. He'd only just met this woman. And in the last twenty-four hours or so he'd had a gun pointed at him by her, he'd had her sitting in his lap (albeit reluctantly), he'd claimed that she was his wife in front of a crowd of strangers, he'd kissed her (and he'd liked it), he'd gotten bit by a dog and had stolen root beer for her. And now he'd made (almost) the stupidest blunder of his life, and the foremost thought on his mind was that he was disappointed because he'd betrayed Syl's trust in him.

Only she'd never trusted him, had she? That was why they'd been on this little cross-country trip of theirs with her gun shoved into Logan's back almost the entire way. That was why she'd tried to drug him to sleep back at that bar they'd stopped at so she could make a phone call, of all things.

Except, Syl had let him handle that situation, hadn't she? She'd let Logan do the talking when that crowd had gathered around the losers she'd beaten up. She hadn't shot him after he'd kissed her. She'd kissed him back. And she hadn't shot him since.

Although Logan was almost to the point of wishing she would by the time they'd reached the gas station halfway between the place where they'd ditched that stolen car and the trailer park they were headed for. He'd even tried to rile her up by making some comments about assassins and trigger fingers and colonels during his brief conversation with Peter, to no avail.

Logan's only hope was that they would get back to the trailer park where he'd lost his files, only to find his half-eaten coat and the remains of what Lydecker had given him lying in the mud. He'd spend the rest of his night digging through that mud, avoiding any residents that had risen during the commotion earlier and - of course - that damned dog that had tried to eat him the first time around. He'd go back to explaining his relative innocence to Syl and trying to salvage what he could of the decision she seemed to have made before to not kill him straight away...

As they neared the trailer park, Syl cursed and pulled Logan back behind a tree with her. He looked around the side of the trunk and his hopes sunk. A cop car was pulling into the park, and a number of the residents within were waiting outside their trailers.

Syl looked at Logan with an accusative glare.

Logan blinked, then shrugged sheepishly. What more could he do? He was so screwed.

Syl rolled her eyes and motioned for him to follow her around the tree and towards the back of the park.

[tbc]

A/N: Okay. It could have been a longer, "longer" update :p But I'm working on the next part already. What did y'all think of this one? You don't think the mention of the X5s I made up is lame, do you? I don't like inventing characters, as a rule. But I didn't want to ignore the X5s either. I said that Zack helped 18 of them escape, so I figured I'd better account for some of those eighteen before I get any deeper into this story. Could be the X5s will be making an appearance later on (insert smiley whistling and looking carefully innocent right here ).

A/N2: Oh, and there's a little problem with the way I began this story initially. For some reason, I started this as a L/M/Z fic. Remember? In Chapter One Logan is pining for Max, and in Chapter 11 he mentions that he's in love with her. I can not, for the life of me, remember why I wanted to do that. I'm thinking of editing those chapters and allowing Logan and Max's relationship to be brother/sister on both sides, as I probably should have from the beginning. Is there anyone who has a problem with that? Let me know.