Choices-28 "The Manticore."


RATING: PG for language

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, and I never will…satisfied snooty James Cameron?

Summary: Jessie finally asks Max about her past.

A/N: No real comments on this one; for once I'll let the story speak for itself. Enjoy.




3:45 PM

The quiet, melodious humming of: "Wade in the Water," falling from Lucia's lips stilled when the sound of the front screen door closing echoed into the kitchen. She set the blue-bordered china plate she had just been watching on the wooden drain board beside the sink. She had never been a cop; but years of working with law enforcement personnel in hostage situations had heightened her level of caution when it came to noises.

However before she could verbally question the situation a very familiar child's voice called out to her.


Lucia's caution level returned to normal and a smile spread across her face at hearing her grandson's voice. "I'm in the kitchen baby." She pulled off the bright yellow latex gloves she had on, hanging them over the edge of the drain board so they could dry. She waved at the honking of a car in her driveway; the parent of one of Jessie's friends who had just dropped him off at the house.

Jessie emerged onto the kitchen's eggshell colored tiled floor a few seconds later. He was wearing a pair of blue jeans, white sneakers and a new red hooded sweatshirt with the Japanese characters for "Integrity" painted in black up the side of the right sleeve. He had outgrown his old favorite red hoodie when he was five so for his last birthday Lucia had given the new one to him. It took three hours of searching in five black market stalls at South Market, but she had managed to find it; made by what used to be a clothing brand called: "Old Navy"

The black pack he had bulged heavily on his back, making Lucia suspect that it must be hurting his small body to be carrying such a load.

"Hey sweetie," Lucia hugged him, sliding the backpack off his shoulders as she did so; the bag was even heavy in her arms, confirming her earlier suspicions. Schools loaded kids down with too many books; as if a herniated disc would help further a student's education.

She could tell that her gesture greatly relieved a physical stress from her grandson; even though he didn't say it out loud. He may very well be his mother's son, but he wasn't as strong as her yet, at least not physically. Mentally though he was Max's child, he had a way of not expressing emotions he didn't want others to see.

"Sit down baby, you want something to drink?" Lucia set the backpack down on the table and pushed one of the wooden oak chairs out for him.

"I'll get it Nana," Jessie skirted around the edge of table and opened the white door of the refrigerator. He peeked his head inside the temperature-controlled air, searching for a moment, before emerging with a half full plastic bottle of grape juice.

"There's a clean glass on the drain board," Lucia told him, watching him walk the short distance from the refrigerator to the countertop by the sink.

Jessie pulled a blue tinted glass from the drain rack, turning back to look at his grandmother. "Do you want some?"

"I'd love some baby." Lucia smiled at his manners, which were as polite as his father. He was getting tall like Logan too. And his soft brown eyes, though still childlike, were becoming beautifully dark like Max's; all this coupled with his growing agile body made him a very handsome boy.

Jessie came back to the table a few seconds later, carrying a glass of juice in each hand. "Here Nana," he set one of the glasses in front of her, and sat down in the vacant chair next to her.

"Thank you kiddo," Lucia would have kissed him but he was already sitting down and wearing the look of a growing boy who didn't want to get kissed for every little thing. So she settled on drinking the juice he had just brought her to express her thanks physically.

Jessie drank half of his juice in one breath, dark purple stains on his bottom lip noticeable after he set the glass down but not once did he spill any of the horribly staining liquid on his clothes.


The tone in Jessie's voice when he called Lucia was so inquiring that she quickly finished the sip of juice she had been working on. He was only seven, so his facial features were still soft and childlike, but the expression he wore on his face was still very serious.

"What is it sweetie?" Lucia asked.

"It's about mom."

Lucia sensed there was more to what he wanted to tell her then just those few words he said. "She'll be back in an hour Jess, don't worry."

The uncalculating aspects of the universe had caused a conference with Lexi's teacher and Lucy's non-reschedulable monthly wellness checkup to occur at the same time. So Logan had agreed to take the baby to the doctor's while Max attended the conference, much to the dismay of Lexi. Lucia's oldest granddaughter would just as soon not have her mother hear why her teacher had called the conference. Lucia wasn't sure why it was needed either; she had a grandmother's prejudice after all; but Max had said Lexi's teacher had caught her "acting out in class" two days before.

But despite what Lucia thought, the conference had to be held, which made Lucia volunteer to take Jessie after class until Max was done at the school.

"I know," Jessie responded to Lucia's reassurance, pulling up his sleeve and wiping the juice off his face with the back of his hand. His gesture was done in such a way that it was obvious that it wasn't out of general neatness, but because he loved his red shirt too much and didn't want to stain it. Thoughts ran loudly through Jessie's head, adult ones that his young had been trying to process for weeks; a question that he wanted the answer too.

"Nana where was mom born?"

"What do you mean baby?" Jessie's question seemed innocent enough, a child wanting to know about his mother's past; putting the question to his mother's mother; someone who obviously knew the answer. But of course it wasn't that easy, nothing concerning Lucia and her daughter was easy. "Your mom was born in a hospital."

She could tell that her answer didn't satisfy him. He had been skipped ahead to second grade this year; and was starting to learn about the world beyond the scope of stories and Playdoh.

"What was the hospital's name?"

"It was a long time ago, I can't remember." Lucia said; and this wasn't a total lie. After she woke up in solitary confinement after her C-section she was so delusional from whatever they drugged her with that she couldn't remember what had happened. It took three months for her to remember fully about what she had endured during her pregnancy.

"But Nana you were there." Jessie insisted. There was no trace of a childish whine in his voice; rather it was a tone that wanted clarification.

"Yes sweetie I was, but having a baby is tough work; you don't remember anything else, not even hospital names." Lucia knew her story wasn't going to fly with Jessie. He had been old enough to remember when Lucy was born, and Max had remembered fully where she was at the time of his youngest sister's delivery. The only thing Lucia could hope for with her tale was that it would allow for a minute of necessary staling.

"Was it Manticore?"

Lucia had stopped drinking her juice two minutes ago so she had nothing to choke on, but surprise still settled on her features. She tried to mask it, but she knew he had already seen enough. "Where did you hear that word from honey?"

"Mom and dad talk about it. Not to me, they don't know I'm listening. I tried to ask dad about it before, but Lexi kept following me and wouldn't let me really talk. I asked mom before; but she just looked at me like you did and wouldn't tell me. What is Manticore?" Jessie's words hung on anticipation, waiting for Lucia to respond. When she didn't his head s slowly dropped in a downtrodden gesture; like the popular kids at school had left him out of a secret because he wasn't deemed cool enough.

"I'm not a baby anymore Nana," Jessie looked down into the bottom of his glass, hidden through the small remaining amount of grape juice.

"I know you're not sweetie," Lucia said, moving a hand up to his hair and gently musing up the soft brown strands.

Jessie abandoned looking at his glass, and the look in his eyes had intensified to a maturity that transcended his age. "Then why won't anyone tell me about it?"

The echoing of a thousand responses hung greedily above them, beckoning Lucia to use one of them to explain everything all away in a simplified created lie. She lowered her hand from Jessie's hair and laid it on his shoulder, snuffing out all the lying thoughts in the process. Children weren't stupid; they weren't as easily sated with lies as adults would like to think.

Manticore was a dark, deep complex issue to discuss with a child who wasn't even eight-years-old yet. But Jessie was Max's son; Manticore was as part of him too, a part he deserved to know about.

Jessie could tell that what he said had hit a mark with his grandmother, so he kept his gaze steady on hers, not accusing, just waiting for the moment that he knew was coming.

Lucia let half a sigh escape from her, only half of one because what Jessie really needed to hear was her words, not her breathing. "I want you to trust me with what I have to say next Jess. Because I'm not just saying it because you're a kid and I'm a grown up. You need to ask your mom about Manticore; not me, not your dad. We both know about it too; but this is her story okay? She needs to tell it you."

Jessie didn't say anything, but Lucia could tell that he agreed to her terms. She leaned over and kissed the side of his face; and he didn't complain about it because he was too lost in processing the new information he had just received.

Lucia had wished for an instant after the final word of her explanation had escaped her mouth that she could take everything she had just said back. But reality didn't work that way, and she loved her grandson too much to lie to him. She just hoped Max would forgive her for the consequences that would result from it.


P.S. 12


The front office of Public School 12 was a giant semicircle. Administrative offices were located in the curve of the circle behind peeling wood veneer doors partially hidden behind fake plastic ferns. Each office door boasted a gold plated nameplate. Some – if it was in the administrator's personality – also had pinned photos and faded posters from the Pre-Pulse era. But most had simply the nameplate because the Sector Police would randomly stop by to inspect the school and would arrest anyone with had anything that was deemed to be "anti-government," even an old movie poster from "Beauty and the Beast" cost one employee her position. So employees became more subdued, dealing with the limitations on personal expression if it allowed them to keep their jobs.

In the exact center of the semi-circle sat the secretary's desk, a long gray tin thing that stretched out five feet in length, making it seem more like a lunch table then a desk. Despite the size of the school only two secretaries ran the front office. One of the two cushioned back swivel chairs where the workers sat was empty, and the woman in the other chair showed all the exhausted signs of someone who had to work solo in a huge establishment because of an co-worker that had called in sick.

"Hi," Max greeted the secretary. She was less then halfway to the desk, but the woman looked so frazzled that Max wanted to give her a heads up on her approach.

The secretary glanced up, her honey colored brown hair frayed out in odd angles, no doubt from an unconscious stress habit she had been redoing all day. She gave Max a once over with her eyes, short enough that an average person wouldn't notice, but Max wasn't average so she noticed.

Max was wearing jeans and a white crew neck long sleeved shirt under her leather jacket, causal, but still appropriate for a school conference. She had taken off early from work and wasn't about to change into a business suit for a kindergarten parent/teacher conference. But a once over of the secretary herself told Max that the woman wasn't snubbing her for her clothes. She was looking at her in a way that said how dare such a beautiful woman stand there, showing no signs of being a parent of one of the hyperactive children at the school and waste the secretary's time.

"I got a call for a conference about my daughter; Alexis Cale." After Max finished talking she watched the secretary undergo a new metamorphises. Now the woman was looking at Max asking herself how dare such a beautiful woman – who showed no signs of redeposited pregnancy weight anywhere – stand here and show her up while she sat there looking wildly unkempt from stress.

But of course the secretary didn't say any of this; she stilled smiled an overly done sweet smile and said in a friendly voice: "You want the door at the end of right side there Mrs. Cale; your daughter and Ms. Vaughn are already in the conference room."

"Thank you." Max returned the smile the woman gave her with just enough of an edge to it to let the secretary know that she didn't like being unfairly judged. The woman's smile fell away from her mouth after she realized that Max had picked up what she was thinking. There was no time to save face because Max had already walked away from her desk; leaving her feeling embarrassed, which was the effect that Max had been going for.

Max followed the secretary's easy directions and pushed open the conference room door; she felt no need to knock since she was already expected. The room was small, with walls made out of the same colored wooden veneer as the door. Framed class composite photos from various grade levels covered the wall behind a long white folding table where four chairs sat on each side of it. A black suit jacket hung on the back of one of the chairs, absent from its owner. But a few moments after Max arrived a narrow door on the left wall opened and an auburn haired woman stepped inside dressed in a pair of black slacks and white button-up blouse.

"Max, hi." The woman – Lexi's kindergarden teacher Ms. Anna Vaughn – smiled broadly and extended her hand. Her tone was nowhere near as formal as the secretary's had been. Anna had been Jessie's kindergarden teacher before Lexi's and through that had developed a relationship with Max.

The two women shook hands in professional courtesy; Though Anna knew Max for several years; this was still a conference and she had to adhere to formality. "Please," Anna gestured to the chair across from her, and sat in the chair where her abandoned suit jacket was resting. Anna waited until after Max was sitting down to start talking again: "Alexis is waiting in the other room. I wanted to talk with you first so we can both address the issue to her on an equal level. But first let me say how much I love having Alexis in my class; she's intuitive and very smart, just like her brother. You have some great kids."

"Relax Anna; I'm not rich and upper crusted enough to sue," Max said giving Anna Vaughn a lighthearted smile that made the woman laugh quietly.

"I'd never expect it of you Max," Anna said. "It's just the introduction the school board requires me to give. And now that that's over, we can focus on Alexis. Like I said before she's a wonderful kid; and I never had any trouble with her, until today."

Max knew how much Anna cared for her daughter by how long it was taking her to continue talking about something that would mar Lexi's reputation; so Max imputed the next line: "What happened?"

"First let me set up the scenario for you. Everyday in the morning I let the kids have fifteen minutes of free play; it gives them a chance to talk and interact with each other without structured supervision. Lexi is one of the most sociable ones at this time, playing and laughing. Which was what she was doing yesterday morning; so at first I didn't think anything of the volume of noise I heard from the back of the room where I was setting up the morning lessons. But then when I went to check on them I realized that all the noise was coming from my students circled around Lexi, and her classmate Tyler Fisher, who were fighting. I don't know how it got started, but Lexi clearly had the upper hand, she had pinned Tyler on the ground and was wrenching his hair out. I immediately broke up the fight and by this time both Lexi and Tyler were crying, but Lexi admitted to starting the fight. But when I asked her why she did it she wouldn't tell me. She didn't talk back to me, she just told me she didn't want to tell me. I put her and Tyler in time out, then talked to each of them separately. I met with Tyler and his parents yesterday. Apparently Tyler instigated the fight by saying something that upset Lexi, something pertaining to you."

Max's brow knit in an inquiry position. "What was it?" Lexi and her peer group were five and Max knew at that age kids were into making fun of everything different they saw. But she couldn't imagine Lexi jumping – and this is what she suspected the action was like – her classmate for talking about her mom.

"Forgive my next question Max, but your tattoo; it's a barcode on the back of your neck right?"

Max slowly nodded, her mind going into analyzing mode, wondering where Anna was going with this.

"Lexi told me as much. I'm not putting it down; your choice of self-expression is your own buisness; but I finally got it out of Lexi before you came here that this is what started the fight yesterday. Lexi either told Tyler about your tattoo or he somehow observed it on his own; and he made the remark to her that it was freaky to have a mom who came from a thrift store. I know both Tyler and Lexi are too young to understand the double entendre of Tyler's words; but Lexi said it was Tyler's use of the work "freaky" that upset her. And – sorry to be so crude here – but Lexi was kicking the crap out of Tyler. She's never acted out this way before so I knew there had to be something bigger going on then just grade school teasing." Anna's next question was so standard she could've prerecorded it before the school year started and played at every parent/teacher conference via a tape recorder. "Have there been any problems at home recently?"

It was a standard question; but for Max one without a typical answer. A normal mom might respond that her daughter was acting out because of school anxiety, or simply being teased too much at home from her other siblings. Not that several months ago she had been placed in seclusion while her mom went to take down a lethal ancient cult; or more recently that she had to watch while mommy and her aunts and uncle almost died because a covert government agency had infected them with a bioengineered virus. When you were the daughter of a transgenic super soldier 'problems at home' were always recent.

But Max wasn't about to tell all this hard-hitting truth to Anna. The two women knew each other well; but there was a line between Max's disclosed friends and her child's teacher. Still she had to tell Anna something; silence wasn't enough of an answer.

"Lexi's uncle –my brother Zack – was violently ill last week, he almost died; Lexi loves him very much."

A look of understanding sympathy passed over Anna's eyes. "I'm sorry Max; children often don't have any mechanism to express their fears other then acting out. It certainly explains Lexi's outburst. But I'm afraid I still have to discipline her, certainly not harshly – what happened to your brother must have been terrible for her and your whole family – but if I let what happened today slide I'm afraid Lexi won't learn to find a way to talk to you or me about what's bothering her." Anna looked at Max completely apologetically. She'd never admit it to her other students, but Lexi was one of her favorites; and punishing her would be hard.

Max's eyes shifted into a look of understanding. She bypassed a formal response that would only make Anna uncomfortable in favor of a more casual remark: "I guess it's time to bring my little defendant in for sentencing." Her words had their desired affect; Anna smiled gently before standing up and walking over to the same narrow door she had entered in and pushed it open.

"Come on in sweetie," Anna's said softly to the person behind the door, and a few seconds later Lexi came through the opened door into the room. Her clear blue eyes met Max's just for an instant before she averted them from her mother to look at the floor as she walked. Lexi knew that her actions wouldn't sit well with her mother; and she didn't want to meet her eyes just yet. This was the first time she had gotten into any kind of trouble at school and she was scared.

"Have a seat Lexi okay? In the chair next to your mom." Anna spoke gently to the girl; she could tell she was already nervous; being harsh would just be cruel.

Lexi sat down very slowly, not looking at Max the entire time she was lowering herself into the chair. Max had fixed Lexi's hair into a neat single braid before she left for school; but now clumps of hair stuck out of the braid at random intervals and one of the two barrettes holding up the hair by her ear hung at loose angle; done up quickly by her small shaking hand immediately after the fight with Tyler.

Max took in the sight of her daughter's appearance. As a parent, of course, she was relieved that that she wasn't hurt and was upset that her daughter had gotten into a schoolyard fight. But also a small part of her – the solider side that mixed into every other aspect of her life – was proud of how well Lexi could handle herself.

But in Max's internal battle of parent vs. soldier, the parent won out. "Baby, are you okay?"

Lexi nodded, still not meeting Max's gaze, being overly interested at the ribbing on her pink sweater. "I'm sorry mommy." Her words were a quick admittance to guilt that she believed would give her less of a punishment; like her mother Lexi was smart enough to know the value of owning up to her actions. But the next remark that came out of her mouth proved that she was still a child: "But Tyler started it, he made fun of you!"

The force at which Lexi said this to Max caused Max's eyebrows to rise. She didn't reprimand Lexi verbally; but her shift in facial expression was not lost on her daughter. Lexi echoed another "I'm sorry," keeping her attention fully on her sweater the entire time.

"What you did was wrong," Anna began, in a firm, but gentle voice. "But I already know you know that. I also know that you're not the kind of girl who gets into fights everyday; today was the first time I ever saw anything like what you did. And me and your mom just want to help you so this won't happen again."

Lexi's eyes were still downcast, looking everywhere but up at the eyes of her teacher or her mom.

Max reached out and laid a comforting hand on her back, feeling the small muscles there rise and fall in jerky hesitance.

"You shouldn't have fought with Tyler honey; it was wrong. But thank you for thinking of me." She wasn't about to reward Lexi for getting into a scrape with her classmate; but protecting the people you love was something that Max prided her self on and was a trait she wanted her daughter to have.

Lexi's eyes finally rose after hearing Max's words. The smallest sheen of tears glistened at the corners of her eyes but none broke free.

Max rubbed Lexi's back with her thumb gently to divert the tears from coming out of her eyes because she knew Lexi was getting to be a big girl, and wouldn't want to cry at school in front of her teacher.

Anna watched the exchange between mother and daughter in admiration, allowing it to go on for a few more moments before she had to interrupt it. "You're going to have to hear your punishment now Lexi okay? But I promise it won't be anything all that bad."

Lexi blinked, letting her eyelids swallow up her tears; she sat up straighter in her chair, and finally graced Anna with the intelligent blue eyes she had inherited from Logan. "Okay."

Max smiled warmly at her daughter. "That's my girl."



4:40 PM

"There's my pretty baby," Lucia held the screen door open waiting for Logan – who was carrying Lucy in her car seat – to climb the three step stairs up to the front door. "And my sweet granddaughter." She gave her remark all the suggestiveness that it deserved. Lucia's opinion had nothing to do with a mother-in-law's prejudice, and everything to do with a woman's observation. Logan was a very handsome man; his blue eyes alone were a serious threat.

Logan smiled warmly at Lucia when he finally got up to the door. "Just don't tell Max I'm cheating on her with you Luce."

Lucia returned Logan's smile. "Max understands the code of the soldier honey, "don't ask, don't tell."

Logan's smile broadened. "That works for me," he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. And as he did so Lucia quickly and expertly lifted Lucy out of the carrier as Logan walked past her into the house.

"Sorry Logan, but the entrance fee is one cutie pie." She kissed the tops of Lucy's flailing fingers on her right hand. The baby's brown eyes widened in excitement as she recognized her. Lucy's eyes held a look that couldn't be passed up, especially not a grandmother. "I think this is going to count as a kidnapping, and I'm sorry but negotiations are out of the question."

Lucia carried the baby inside the house, leaving Logan to mentally shake his head at his mother-in-law. She reminded him so much of Max that he believed that this is what Max would be like when she was Lucia's age; not loosing a bit of her witty sarcasm; rather, making it sharper as the years went on.

Logan walked through the white washed door, hearing the screen door softly slam behind him as he entered the house. Lucia had moved into it with Rick after the Pulse had forced them out of their home in Tacoma. It was weather worn, and badly needed repair on several spots on the roof and back porch, but once you stepped inside the house you'd never suspect it because of all the work Lucia had put into making it look like the home she had left behind.

Logan stopped a few paces inside the house to gaze about the kitchen before spotting Jessie seated at the dining room table with an open math book and a stack of notebook paper in front of him.

"Hey," Logan walked over to him. He suspected that the boy wasn't all that engrossed in his homework because Jessie's head had risen as soon as he heard his father's footsteps on the floor. It was a maneuver that Max had done to him countless of times and his son mirroring his mother caused a smile to come across Logan's face.

"What is it dad?" Jess put down his pencil; his brow creasing in puzzlement at the smile he saw on Logan's face.

"Nothing," Logan cleared his throat as a diversion. He knew Jessie was at an age where anything too sentimental would be deemed as "gross" so he didn't elaborate on his thoughts. "Did you finish all your homework?"

"All but this last one," Jessie responded, looking back down at his math book. The notebook paper in front of him was already filled with eleven problems, the last one of which was partway completed.

"What's the problem?" Lucia asked. She was sitting in the chair across from Jessie, bouncing Lucy on her lap.

"It's a word problem," Jessie responded. "Three plus a number equals twenty-five minus two-"

"Just take your time and think it through sweetie," Lucia told him gently.

Jessie paused to ponder the problem, before a visible light came across his eyes. "It's twenty. Twenty-five minus two is twenty-three, and three plus twenty equals twenty-three. I didn't know it because an unknown number is usually shown as an X or a Y."

"Did you learn that in school?" Logan asked. He shared a slightly baffled look with Lucia at Jessie knowing about algebraic variables when he hadn't even learned long division yet.

Jess shook his head. "It just made sense that way, mom says that's how some things are sometimes."

"She's right," Logan agreed, earmarking the discussion with Max for how far Jessie's knowledge was advancing for that night in his brain. "There are some things that you just know."

"Like the things I know," Jessie stated.

"Which things are those Jess?" Logan asked.

"About Manticore."

The planned discussion Logan had just book marked in his brain flew out after hearing his son's words. But before he could say anything to that remark Jessie spoke again.

"Is that the place where mom grew up?"

Logan felt winded and completely baffled all in the same moment. He always knew in the back of his mind that one day he would be asked this question from his son; but to hear the words in actual reality was something totally different. But the moment he looked into Jess's eyes he knew that he was beyond the age where lying would be regarded as the truth simply because it came from his father.

"Yeah-" Logan lost all words after the first one escaped his mouth. Father's who thought that having the 'sex talks' with their sons was one of the hardest discussions to have were fooling themselves. "It was."

Jessie sensed the hesitation in Logan's voice, the same hesitation he had encountered all his short life whenever he broached this topic, but this time he wasn't backing down so easily. "Nana said that I have to ask mom about it, that it's her story."

Logan stole a glance at Lucia; a part of him wanted to be angry with her for telling that to Jess, but it was snuffed out by the reality that she didn't tell Jessie anything that wasn't the truth.

"She's right Jess. This is Max- I mean mom's story to tell to you," Logan caught himself on the slip up, but when it happened he had be drawn back in time seven years ago, to when he and Max had had the same conversation Jessie was about to have with her.

And he knew it would be even harder for Max to tell now then back then.



4:30 PM

"Hey, where is everybody?" Max came through the doorway of the penthouse. Lexi walked ahead of her, removing her pink jacket and throwing it on top of the couch.

"Hang that up baby, please," Max reminded.

"Sorry mommy, I was just hot," Lexi apologized. She picked the jacket up and carried it through the living room, heading towards her bedroom.

Jessie was coming out from the bedroom he shared with Lexi just as his sister was rounding the hallway that led to it.

"Is mom home?" Jessie asked.

"That's who picked me up goofball." Lexi returned, smirking quietly to herself at her 'goofball remark.'

"Did you get in trouble with your teacher?" Jessie ignored her childish remark; knowing that if he said anything to it, she'd draw him into a match of childish name-calling.

Lexi shook her head vigorously. "Ms. Vaughn said I just have to apologize to Tyler tomorrow, that's it. He's a poop-face, but mommy says I have to do it."

Jessie laughed quietly behind closed lips at Lexi calling Tyler a 'poop-face', a good slam in his mind. "Act like you mean it or Ms. Vaughn and mom will know."

"Mommy's not gonna see me do it," Lexi returned. "But I hafta mean it or she'll get mad." Lexi sighed into her coat in reluctant acceptance of her punishment.

Jessie gave her his best 'hang in there' smile. "You want to play Spades later? I can show you the rules." He watched Lexi's eyes light up at his suggestion. She been pestering him to teach her the card game for weeks, and thought it might be something that would cheer her up, and he was right.

"You won't fool me right?" Lexi asked in apprehension.

"Not if you pay attention really well," Jessie returned.

Lexi's face broke out into a grin. "Okay!" She leaned over and gave her brother a long wet sloopy kiss on his cheek, knowing that it would gross him out. She giggled at the face he made and disappeared into their bedroom before he could say anything.

"Mom!" Jessie called out, walking out into the living room, wiping his cheek as he went.

"In here baby!" came Max's reply.

Jessie followed the sound of her voice and found his mother in the kitchen slicing a pear into wedges. He climbed up on one of the black leather barstools, and wiped his cheek hard with the back of his hand.

Max saw the look on Jess's face and the gestures he was making and came to their combined logical conclusion: "Lexi kissed you again didn't she?" She couldn't help smiling at the way her son practically shuddered at the thought.

"Did you ever kiss Uncle Krit, Uncle Zane, or Uncle Zack like that?"

"Only if I wanted to gross them out," Max returned. She held a pear wedge out to him. "Here, have some nature's candy, it'll help take the edge off."

Jessie bit off half of the pear in one bite. "Mom?" he talked while he chewed.


"Why haven't you ever told me about Manticore?"

Max nearly sliced through her finger when she heard his question. She was fast paced with responses to any form of question posed to her; but this time she found herself in completely new territory, so it was Jessie that beat her to the return:

"Please don't lie to me." Jessie had a quiet seriousness that loomed behind his dark brown eyes.

"I wasn't going to," Max wasn't pretending to tell him the truth. She knew the value of lies; but she also knew that the truth was more valuable still.

Max's past was a story that she had only read to a select few, to Logan, Original Cindy. But it was something entirely different to have to tell it to Jessie. Not because he was only seven-years-old, but because he was her son.

Max abandoned cutting up the rest of the pear she had been working on and walked out of the kitchen. "Let's have a seat over here baby," She sat down on the large couch in the living room, feeling the cushion next to her sink gently at the weight of Jessie sitting beside her.

If Max were someone who outwardly displayed her emotions she would be ringing her hands, or biting her lip. But despite the fact that she really was scared as hellher demeanor was completely void of any nervous gestures. She had known that this day was coming ever since Jessie had been just a flicker of life in her womb. But true to the soldier that she was, she hadn't planned anything to say. She wanted what she would tell him when the moment came to be real, not a rehearsed monologue.

"What do you want to know?" There were a million ways Max could've began this very complex discussion, but she chose to answer her son's question with a question, to allow him to direct where his inquires would go.

Jessie had Logan's way of loosing himself in his brain and her way of masking his emotions, so it was only after he spoke that she knew what he was thinking: "Everything." He knew the how heavy the weight of his answer was because his gaze on his mother was just as strong as her gaze on him. But he didn't lessen it; and he knew she wouldn't want him too.

Max's eyes hazed over in past memories, a past that she said she always wanted to forget, but the past and present are one, so it can never truly be forgotten. "Manticore-" She blinked, and she was back in the steel coldness of the training room, sparring in a room full of soldier children just like her; hearing their battle cries that would one day be cried out in real combat. She blinked again and she was back on the couch with Jessie. "It's where I was born, not just me, your aunts and uncles too-"

"So it was a hospital?" Jessie asked.

"No," Max shook her head, knowing that her son didn't know how wrong he was. "It wasn't a hospital-" She searched a second in her mind for a comparison that would be real enough to describe Manticore. "It was like a boarding school-" She paused for a second, knowing that after she said what she was about to say there wouldn't be any coming back from it. "Except we weren't taught how to be students, we were taught how to be soldiers." Max was back again in the forest outside the facility, crawling through the underbrush; a rifle tucked against her chest, hearing the pelting of real gunfire going over her head.

"Soldiers?" Jessie's voice betrayed confusion. Not because he didn't know what soldiers were, he did. But because he had never associated his mother with that description. A realization suddenly came to his mind over past memories he had often wondered about, all the times Max had come home hurt, or the way he had seen her fight off people that looked much too big for his mother to take by herself. "Did you to learn to fight the way you did there?"

"It's the way we were born Jess," Max corrected. "Like how you have brown hair, and how Lexi has blue eyes. It was already inside us how to fight, we weren't taught it, it was brought out of us."

"So Uncle Zack, Aunt Tinga, Uncle Zane-"

"They have it inside of them too." Max responded. "Manticore made sure that everyone who came from there was very strong."

"If you were learning how to be strong, why did you leave?"

"It wasn't a place you wanted to be baby," Max said, her voice dropping low. "Manticore taught us to be strong by beating us down until we either had to be strong or be broken. Things happened there when I was a kid that I would never wish for you or your sisters to go through. We had no choice but to leave." Max blinked and she was nine-years-old again, breaking through the glass of the windows, landing hard on her feet in the thick snow, the alarm screeching a warning into the still cold night.

"You said Manticore made you really strong; did you ever kill anyone?"

Jessie's question made Max's next blink draw her back to the present. Yes she knew that the day would come when she would have to explain the existence of Manticore to her children. But there were the dark areas about Manticore that she hoped that she would never have to tell; things that she didn't wish she knew how to do.

Max didn't answer Jessie's question, but she didn't have to for Jessie to find the answer in her eyes. She watched his young mind process everything she had just told him.

She knew this moment could've gone several different ways. Jessie was only seven, he could've thrown a tantrum; choosing a youthful fit to cover up his real emotions; or he could've acted like everything his mother had told him was a lie. But she knew her son better then that that he wouldn't do either.

Jessie's expression hovered somewhere between disillusion and shock; but his look chose neither, and instead his gaze turned to hurt. What kind of hurt Max had no idea, because – in manner that almost mirrored her own actions in tense situations – her son stood up from the couch.

"I'm thirsty."

Jessie's pretense for walking into the kitchen was to get a drink, but Max knew that he was looking for a way out of the world that she had revealed to him. You didn't have a son with so many of your personality traits without knowing the actions of his mind.

Max didn't follow him; what was she going to do? Yell at him and send him to his room until he accepted the fact that his mother had been trained to kill; had sometimes killed without any remorse in her childhood? In tense situations like this Max would normally jump on her bike and drive around for hours on the streets of Seattle until the fog of her mind thinned out enough for her to see a little clearer.

But Logan had gone down to the market and she couldn't just abandon her children because of her own headspace. She wanted to scream, to punch holes in the walls. But she couldn't do that either. She was foremost a mom at that moment; and being a mom reflected many aspects of being a soldier; she couldn't allow herself to lose control.

"Mommy she's hungry."

Lexi's voice pierced through Max's mind as she saw her daughter awkwardly carrying her little sister in her arms; moving at a very slow rate, more because their combined weight was too much for Lexi to handle then because she was trying to be extremely careful.

"Baby, she's too big for you to carry," Max chided, taking Lucy from her before either of her daughters crash-landed on the floor.

"She didn't want to play with any of the toys I gave her, she only wants to eat," Lexi kept her voice even, despite the fact that she was worried that she would get back into trouble with Max; considering what had happened earlier.

Lucy's high-pitched coughing cry that came a moment later was testament to what Lexi had said.

"Okay kiddo, mommy hears you," Max adjusted Lucy in her arms so that she was cradled against her body. Lexi coming in with the baby had distracted her from Jessie. She wanted the moment to continue; to give them both some time to sort things out. But it wasn't meant to be because of what happened next.


Max heard Lexi's voice again after she had gotten Lucy to start nursing. She watched the girl take a seat at the dining room table next to Jessie. He was sitting in one of the black chairs that was still just slightly too big for him. True to his word he had gotten a drink – a glass of orange juice sat in front of him – but the glass had not been emptied at all.

"Is that yours?" Lexi's question was rhetorical; she knew that the glass was Jessie's, but she was thirsty, and the glass was right there.

"Here," Jessie picked up the glass and set it in front of her.

Lexi accepted the glass by picking it up in her hand; but she paused just short of drinking it, eyeing the juice like it was alive. "What did you do?"

"Nothing," Jessie insisted, "I'm just not thirsty anymore."

Lexi took a cautionary sip; then after concluding that it tasted like orange juice was supposed to taste; she drank more. "Can we play Spades now?"

"Not now," Jessie answered. He saw her crestfallen look; and he wasn't old enough to answer with a moody pubescent retort. "We can play tomorrow; after school."

Lexi still looked disappointed that she'd have to wait that long, but she dealt with it. "Okay." There was something in Jessie's face that creased her young brow into a quizzical expression. "Are you sick?"

Lexi was only five; being sick was the only thing she could think off that would make her brother have that strange look on his face.

"I'm just thinking about all that homework I have," Jessie was lying. He had finished his homework at Lucia's house. He didn't know if Lexi really believed him; but the look that came across her face told him that she was content with accepting the lie because it contained a problem that was easily amended after a few hours of work.

Max listened to Jessie and Lexi's discussion from the couch. The youngest of her three kids created light rippling pressure on her body as her tiny hands pressed into Max's breasts to find a better position. Max blinked; and melted again into a memory of her childhood.


"Why can't we tell them who we are?" Max's was whispering too low for her voice to be heard by any one other then who she was talking too. . She stared through the barred window of the barracks at the thick carpet of snow that had fallen on everything out in the yard.

Zack stood beside her and watched the snow falling from same window. Over a dozen delicate ice crystals added to thousands of others below in mere seconds. He turned from the window to her face. "They wouldn't understand Max."




6:30 PM

Logan cursed on his way up the elevator; and again as he exited the car and walked to his front door. He had only gone to the market to pick up a loaf of bread. Not even a specialty loaf like sourdough or pumpernickel. Just ordinary common white bread loaded down with bleach and preservatives. But there had been a fifty person line at the Bread Stall – the owners didn't want to call it a Bread Line; anything to keep them from remembering that they were in a bottomless depression. It had taken him almost an hour to get up to the line for a five-minute purchase; and then on his way out Sector Cops had set up a new roadblock and were doing searches on every car going out of the market.

Logan was so pissed off by the pointless search by time his car was being combed over that he would've pitched his Wonder Bread at the Sector Cop's head; if he wasn't aware that such an action would've gotten him arrested and delayed him further still.

Logan wasn't surprised that the door was unlocked when he turned the knob. Most people tended to lock their doors; especially with three young children in the house. But Max never locked the door when she was home; stating that locks could easily be picked; but the burglar would have to deal with her once he got in.

When he stepped into the front foyer Kaja bounded over to him; but because she was so well trained she merely sat in front of Logan; her tail slapping back and forth on the floor in excitement.

Logan scratched her ears; and she whined high and happy in the back of her throat. She followed him into the kitchen when he put the bread in the cabinet. He poured some kibble into her silver dog dish situated on the floor next to the counter and after she started attacking it Logan went off in search of Max.

"Max-" He only got as far as saying her name before he found her leaning back against the black leather couch with Lucy tucked up against her chest. The baby was asleep; and Logan thought the same was true of her mother, but as he neared the couch he saw Max's head raise and her gaze shift up towards the noise he was making as he came closer.

"Hey," Logan expected her to respond with the 'hey yourself' remark that had become their signature; but when his wife started talking she said something entirely different.

"Jess asked me about Manticore."

Jessie had brought up the subject at Lucia's house just hours before; so to say that Logan was shocked was a lie. However he was surprised that his son would ask Max about it so soon. "What did you tell him?"

"The truth, or how much I thought he could handle right now."


"Remember when he was this small?" Max cut Logan off and looked down at Lucy cradled against her. "He'd sleep just like this."

"He still could sleep like that but he'd probably have a problem with it."

Logan's remark made Max's mouth pull back into just a hint of a smile. She knew that he was trying to remove some of the tension; and she allowed him to crack some of her resolve.

"Seems like forever ago doesn't it?" Max gently removed Lexi's hand off her breast from where it had been planted when the baby had fallen asleep; stroking the tiny fist.

"Every kid has to grow up sometime." Logan saw how his remark struck a chord with Max by the way she held his gaze for longer then a casual look.

"Here daddy," Max stood up carefully with Lucy in her arms, gently passing him the baby. "The kid that hasn't even come close to growing up yet is ready for bed."

Logan rocked Lucy gently to make sure that she wouldn't wake up. "What's mommy going to do?"

"Ask a few questions myself."

Max's remark was so cryptic that Logan would've questioned her on it, had the underlying tone behind her words expressed that he not.



"Rick you're not being a very good father," Lucia watched her husband throw another piece of fat off the roast on his plate to the two huskies who jumped on it the minute it hit the floor. "Giving into their every whim will only spoil them."

"It's a broken world out there baby; kids need to be spoiled sometimes." Rick tossed another piece of meat at the dogs, and this time Kira – the older of the two – reached it first. Rick turned his attention back to his meal after he saw the look Lucia was shooting him. It wasn't so much that she cared if he fed the dogs; she was just surprised at how much fat he was finding on the cut of meat she had prepared.

"Here, wipe the grease off your hands Santa Claus," Lucia balled up a paper towel and pitched it at his head. The ring of a phone cut through the air. "And then get the phone."

"Yes dear," Rick said standing up from the table. He threw the paper towel back at her; which she caught before it could hit her. Rick saw his wife laughing to herself at his return fire despite the fact that she just had a greasy paper towel thrown on her.

Rick picked up the black cordless phone that hung from a wall unit beside the kitchen cabinets.


"Hey Rick it's me."

"Oh hey Max," Rick immediately recognized the voice of the woman on the other end. He saw Lucia's ears and eyes perk up at the mention of Max. "Did you need something?"

"Don't I always? I mean isn't that the only reason I call?"

"I don't know how insulted I should feel just now," Rick returned. "Here I thought you liked me."

"I never said I didn't."

"Oh good." Rick was not as close to his wife's daughter as she was – at least not yet. Max was the kind of person that would teach people to like her. "So in all fairness then I'll say I like you too." Rick heard her smile through the line.

"Is mom around?"

"Yeah, hang on she's right here." Rick passed Lucia the phone. "It's your daughter."

"Wow you're powers of deduction are amazing." Lucia returned, taking the phone from him.

She laughed a second later when Rick balled up a clean paper towel and threw it at her.

Lucia put the phone in her ear. "Hey baby."

"Am I interrupting something?"

"Rick only wishes," Lucia responded. "What's up?" She poked at the remnants of her dinner so that she would be able to hear Max talking without be interrupted by the sounds of chewing.

"I told him."

Lucia stopped playing with her food and set down her fork. "Told him what hun?" Max had only said three words but Lucia knew exactly what she was referring to. But she had asked a rhetorical question in order for Max to repeat her thoughts out loud so Lucia wouldn't back out of the confrontation she knew was inevitable.

"You know what I'm taking about."

Lucia sighed; she should've known that her daughter wouldn't fall for that kind of trap. "I'm sorry Max; but he asked me about it today-"

"I'm not blaming you," Max returned definitively. "I couldn't hide the truth from him forever. I never expected him NOT to bring it up one day."

Lucia stood up from the table, leaving her half eaten food where it sat on her plate to deal with later; and headed into the living room. "Did he handle it okay?" Many parents had asked this same question about their grandchildren over such matters as the first day of school, or the first visit to the dentist. But what her daughter had just told her grandchild ran much deeper then those kinds of mundane things.


Max heard the echo of Tinga's voice in the same question she had asked about Logan all those years ago. But Logan had sought her out; had already known about the existence of a super soldier in Seattle; Jessie hadn't.

"I don't know," Max was taught to never answer with an-in-between. Either she knew something or she didn't; but with this situation she didn't know the answer. "There's something to be said about having a child who grows up to have the same mannerisms as you."

"Jessie's not grown up yet sweetie, he's just a boy; and as such he needs reassurance from his mom."

"I don't know how well that kind of advice will work in this situation; after all I'm the one who just dropped a bomb in the middle of his childhood."

"You had to tell him, it's a part of him too."

"So you think I did the right thing?" Max's question was straightforward; yet unsure at the same time. She wanted to be reassured; but she was a grown woman and didn't want to be lied too.

"Yes I do," Lucia's answer didn't hint at anything else other then what she was saying. "You told him the truth; no one can hate someone for that."


There was such a profound silence over the phone that Lucia thought that Max had hung up. "Max-"

"Hate always finds a way into every situation."

"Oh honey no;" Lucia could hear the echo of the lonely child inside Max that still lived inside the part of her that would always be tied to Manticore. "Jessie could never hate you; you know that. He loves you."

"Don't lie to me Lucia," Max's use of her mom's first name, coupled with the low growl behind resulted in her voice sounding angrily hurt. "My son just found out that his mother could snap his neck in his sleep-"

"Max stop it!" Lucia was almost screaming, making Rick turn to look at her on the couch from where he was washing dishes at the kitchen sink. Lucia waved her hand at him to let him know that things were okay; as much as she loved her husband; this was a moment that she didn't want him to be involved in. "It was something he needed to hear; no matter how shocking it was."

"And when he's older he'll appreciate it right?"

"I know that's a complete cliché, but yes. A child will not love someone simply because they're related to them; they really have to feel it. That boy loves you Max."

"I would hardly call what I just did to him love;" There was a pause on the other end and then the moment where Lucia could hear the sad smile coming across Max's face. "X5's shouldn't have children mom; their lives are screwed from day one."

"Max-" There was a click as Max disconnected the call; leaving Lucia to stare at the receiver for seconds afterwards before hanging it up in frustration.



9:30 PM

Laughter echoed behind Alec as a long legged brunette – whose hair must've been slicked down with ten gallons of gel in order to make it look as wet as it did – pressed her breasts up against his back as she passed the bar where he was seated.

Alec turned seconds before the woman walked out of his line-of-sight, catching her smoky blue eyes set above a pair of glossed red lips. Alec smiled at her but didn't make a move to follow the suggestion her body just gave him. He and just ordered a bottle of overly priced beer and wasn't about to give up his seat to chase ass; if the woman wanted him that badly she would have to come to him.

Alec took a sip from the green bottle; wiping the foam his maneuver created off his top lip with a quick downward movement of his tongue. He was one stool away from the very left end of the bar. There were only two other people seated at the bar with him. A spiky haired white teenager who seemed to view himself as a pimp boss because he wore a ton of gold jewelry in his ears and had on an orange anorak lined with white fur. The other person was seated at the very right side of the bar; and was a lot less phony and much easier on Alec's eyes.

Alec gave up his seat to the bar wolves he knew would jump on it as soon as he walked away and headed down to the opposite end of the bar.

"Having a mid week eye opener?" Alec eyed the three empty shot glasses in front of Max as well as the fourth full one in front of her.

"Shut up," Max didn't look at him when she said this and downed the last whisky shot, feeling the hard sting of the liquor burn down her throat.

"Not a fruity-drink girl I see," Alec said; very much impressed how well Max could shoot whisky. He leaned his elbows up against the bar and drew closer to her. "Speaking of fruity-drink girls, your sister-in-law Asha's starting to show she's been ravished."

"She's only two-months pregnant; she can't be showing." Max retorted, still not looking at him.

"I was talking about her breasts," Alec returned. "They're getting very – ample. It must be how yours got to be so perfect."

Max turned to face him after that remark, a scowl streaked across her face. "Was there something I can help you with?"

She didn't curse at him, but the raw anger in her voice made Alec drop his eyebrows in confusion. He did the dance of ribbing Max all the time and it had never annoyed her to this extent before.

"I think I should be helping you with something Max," Alec picked up one of the shot glasses; sniffing it's contents. The odor emitting from the remnants of the whiskey smelled so strong that Alec wondered why it hadn't eaten through the glass. "You and Logan have a marital spat?"

"No" Max spat, glaring at him. "How about you mind your own business?"

Alec didn't give into her threat; it wasn't in his nature to back down. "The little rugrats okay?" He could tell that his question was spot on because of the shift of emotion that erupted from behind Max's eyes. The glare was still evident on her face; but it was lacking something. She was like a Kabuki actor who was, in reality, desperately sad; but whose face was painted in a permanent state of happiness.

"Are they sick?" Alec questioned.

"I said mind your own damn business!"

"Your male heir; Jessie's in trouble isn't he?" Alec remarked in the smart-ass sarcasm he was known for. "It's always the boys that rebel first."

"Jessie didn't do anything," Max hissed back with enough anger; that had it been applied as an energy source, it would've made electricity obsolete. Her eyes were rigidly hard for several seconds before her face lost its Kabuki-like mask of anger; and dissolved into a quiet defeated sadness. She turned her eyes back down to the empty shot glasses in front of her. "Just leave me alone Alec okay?"

Alec laid his hand on her arm, not about to tease her again. He wasn't a child getting out his prepubescent ya-yas. His hand on her arm tightened into a grip. "Come on, you're going home. I'm not letting you trash yourself like some piss drink with an over inflated sob story." He pulled her to her feet; but once Max was standing she yanked her arm away from him.

"I'm not drunk Alec; I can kick your ass for this."

"Okay fine; but, you're still going home." Alec laid cash payment of twenty dollars on the bar to pay for the shots Max had ordered.


"You became a mom for a reason Max; and it wasn't to get drunk in dives." Alec was a constant smart ass; but he was also smart. He knew Max was running away from something; even if she hadn't left the city limits to do so. But he had spent enough time running to know that it was futile; things eventually caught up with you.

He dangled the keys to her Ninja in front of her; knowing that she knew that he had just picked her pocket, but she gave no indication of caring. "Only single loners looking for some action like me hang around here alone." He handed her back her keys. "Go."

A haze of a look settled over Max's eyes, but she didn't say anything to allude to what it was. She sighed inside her throat and turned and left the bar.



10:30 PM

The darkness that filled the room wasn't absolute; no darkness was. It wasn't just an absence; darkness had varying shades; depending on the negative light that colored it.

The particular type of darkness that filled the space where the two children slept was a silky blackness broken up burst of orange that emitted from the small plug in nightlight that was imbedded in-between the two beds. The sound of soft breathing also broke up the blackness; making it dance with the translucent essence of dreams that came from the sleeping pair.

Max watched her children in a state of such quiet that had they awoken; neither one of them would've known she was standing there. A long time ago she had learned the secrets that only statues knew for stillness; and she used this talent to watch them without the threat of anything robbing them from their uninhibited moment.

Lexi was almost completely buried underneath her pile of blankets; they circled her face so that no part of it was visible. Max pulled it down carefully to allow the girl more air to breathe. Mr. Whiskers had long ago fallen on the floor from her movements in the bed. Max picked up the stuffed bunny and tucked it under her daughter's arm, watching Lexi cuddle with it. She smoothed her soft brown hair down before leaving her to an unwatched sleep.

In the next bed over Jessie was asleep on his back; his dark hair unruly across the pillow; looking like a miniature version of Logan with her brown eye color that she couldn't behind his closed lids. His breathing was even, allowing Max to believe that no nightmares were plaguing him. She was thankful for this small favor because of all the recent nightmares that he had undergone in his waking life.

He seven-years-old; that was only two years younger then she had been when she had escaped from Manticore. Watching him sleep; Max came to realization of just how young she was when that happened; and also of just how young she hadn't been Jessie was the same way; brown eyes weren't the only things he had inherited from her.

She wasn't naive; she had too much of an understanding of reality to believe that she could protect him from everything bad in his life. But she didn't want him to grow up afraid; especially not of her own past.

She brushed back his hair; the same way that she had just done with Lexi; and kissed him on his forehead.

She exited the bedroom as quietly as she came; a Ninja's stealth had nothing on hers; and walked down the hallway back out into the living room.

Logan was nowhere to be found in the living room's leather furnishings; but a very faint tinkling of glass made her turn her gaze and find him standing in the kitchen with two crystal stemware glasses each half filled with red wine.

Logan watched her approach him with observant eyes. He had been married to Max for seven years and her habits had long ago worn off on him. "You alright?"

"I will be if you put that away," Max brushed away the wine glass he was offering her. "I have enough of a headache as it is."

"Downing four straight shots will do that to you," Logan said, setting one of the wine glasses on the table.

Max was smart enough to not be offended by his remark. She knew that he knew she wasn't a lightweight; her headache came more from the reason she had gone to Crash in the first place; the whisky only amplified what was already there.

Logan took a quick sip from his wine glass, more because he didn't want to waste it then because he really wanted it. Max's reaction to his statement had made drinking a second priority. "Are we talking about this?"

"What's there left talk about?"

"Max," Logan set down his wineglass next to her unused one. "You had to tell him."

"So everybody keeps telling me," Max said in a voice not like her usual confidant voice at all. "So why do I feel like I've done something wrong?"

"You told your son who you really are, that isn't wrong."

"It's just complicated as hell."

"Pretty much."

"You're a big help," Max returned.

"I seem to recall a while back ago that you said you didn't need anybody's help."

"That was then," Max insisted.

Logan laid a hand on her shoulder. "He'll understand." He knew that she needed physical proof of things; not just words. Words without actions; were as useful as planning the extinguishing of a fire without ever actually doing it. He just hoped his simple gesture was enough until he could offer her something better.

"And if he doesn't?" Max's question wasn't even really a question; rather it was in-between a question and a demand.

Max had grown up in reality all her life. While fantasy was more comforting, reality was the air she would have to breathe in as long as she was alive.

"He will." He moved his hand from her shoulder to her face.

Max allowed his caress of her face to go on for three seconds, creating almost a sighing pause before she moved into his arms.


While I was watching you did a slow dissolve
While I was watching you did a slow dissolve
While I was watching you did a slow dissolve


The hallway was long enough to allow for sufficient undetected creeping. However this kind of maneuver wasn't necessary because the attention of the two people being watched were completely drawn into each other.

Jessie had woken up at the sound of Max leaving his room; and had slipped out in silence once the sounds in front of him gave indication that Max had left the hallway. He hadn't yet mastered the art of standing as quiet and still as his mother; but his skills were adequate enough for him to go unnoticed by his parents.


Did I imagine or do the walls have eyes
Did I imagine they held us hypnotized
Did I imagine or do the walls have eyes


Just as Max had watched him in a moment when his guard couldn't be brought up; he now watched her, listening to how she viewed him when she didn't know he was there.

He watched her slip into Logan's embrace; trying to imagine her as what she had told him she was; even as she was wrapped in his father's arms; even when she appeared just as she always had.


Life in slow motion somehow it don't feel real
Life in slow motion somehow it don't feel real
Life in slow motion somehow it don't feel real



7:30 AM

Jessie stood alone in the room he shared with Lexi – she had already abandoned him in favor of eating the breakfast she smelt being prepare din the kitchen. He was standing in front of the low white oak dresser where his clothes were kept. He was already dressed in a pair of jeans and a dark blue Henley; two items that complimented his small frame and skin coloring very well. Though he hadn't planned this coordination of his clothes. He was too young – but more importantly too smart –for vanity. Most of his other shirts had already been tossed into the laundry hamper and this was the only thing of the long sleeved variety that was still clean.

On the wall in front of him hung a wide mirror framed in the same wood as the dresser that sat just underneath it, He looked at his reflection in it, at his eyes; they were a brown so dark they were almost black. His mother had the same eyes; and everyone had told him so, saying it in a manner of a compliment.

He drew closer to the mirror's image and touched the tip of a finger just underneath his bottom lid; as if whatever gave his eyes their darkness would allow a drop of itself to fall upon his skin so he could feel what it really was.

"Jess, you're going to be late for school!" Max's voice called out to him.

Jessie blinked, letting the mystery of his eyes disappear back into his genes. He hurriedly grabbed his backpack off the top of his bed and dashed out of the room.

"We can't be late Jessie!" Lexi's complained when she spotted her brother coming out of the long hallway that connected the bedrooms to the rest of the house. She loved school so much that she would have slept there if she were allowed too.

"Sorry I overslept," Jessie slid his backpack on and walked into the dining room where Lexi was her jacket already on; and her small legs shifting from side to side in impatience.

"Your son's getting to be more like you everyday Max," Logan said from the kitchen where he was pouring himself a cup of coffee.

"Thank you," Max said with over-coated sweetness, and bumped into him enough to make some of his coffee spill on him in an act of retribution. She walked over to Jessie; noting what he was wearing. "You look good today baby."

"Thanks," Jessie said in embarrassment; he wasn't used to being complimented on his appearance.

Max smiled in return, taking a quick sip from her own coffee cup. "You ready to go?"

"Can't we walk there by ourselves?" Jessie asked. Everything that she had told him still repeated itself in his ears; he didn't think he could walk with her just then.

"I don't think so Jess," Max responded. "This city's too full of Sector stops and people for two kids to be walking out alone."

"Please?" Jessie tried again. "I know the way and I'll make sure Lexi doesn't get lost."

"I won't get lost!" Lexi snapped in return.

Max shook her head. "I'm sorry kiddo; no deal."

"I'll take you," Logan suggested. He didn't know why his son didn't want to walk with his mother; but forcing him too wouldn't help the situation. He set down his coffee cup and walked into his computer room to grab his leather jacket from where he had hung it on the back of the chair.

Logan slid into the leather jacket; looking up at Max. "I can get Mrs. Moreno to watch Lucy if you need to go to work baby."

"You'll be back before I have to leave; it's fine." Max reassured.

"Okay, but don't ever say I never do anything for you," Logan returned.

"I won't, at least not to your face."

"I love you too sweetheart," Logan volleyed back, kissing her. He turned back to his kids. "Let's go guys."

"Bye mommy!" Lexi's wave was as high as her voice when said goodbye to her mother.

Max smiled at her daughter's exuberance. "Bye baby." She was about to repeat the same words to her son; but then she caught sight of something in his eyes, so the words never left her mouth.

Jessie waved at her as he walked out the door; and Max waved back with a small smile; watching them leave.

Once the door closed she was left with a profound silence, a deafening one before the echoing of the question Jessie had asked the day before ended it:

"You said Manticore made you really strong; did you ever kill anyone?"

Visions assaulted Max's senses; faces of men she had never asked names from before she attacked them. Every neck she had snapped cracked again; every dying cry of those she had broken died again in her ears. If they had just been hellish nightmares Max could've dealt with them, because all nightmares were chased away by consciousness. But these were memories, real moments of things that wouldn't go away because she had actually done them.

She snapped back to the present like a lightning bolt had struck her; and the fury from her everything she had just relived was channeled into the coffee cup she flung against the refrigerator; smashing it with a loud clatter into fine white dust.


P.S. 12

8:57 AM

Laughter emitted from the kids seated at the rows of wood veneer desks; despite they're best efforts to be absorbed in the reading lesson their teacher put before them. They only had three more minutes until their designated fifteen-minute 'snack break' and the anticipation of the event kept them from maintaining any sort of well-behaved mannerisms.

Their teacher Mr. Steed – a smart man in his late 40's who genuinely loved teaching – raised his hands to the class in an attempt to quiet them down. "Okay guys; let's not risk getting into trouble this close to break. You have time to read one more sentence from the story before I let you go. All but you Jessie."

Jessie raised his head. "Sir?" He knew that he was being called on because he was the only Jessie in the class; and he tried to keep the worry out of his voice at being called on in class when it didn't pertain to answering a question on the board.

"It's your turn to take the discarded papers up to the office recycling bin. It will take several minutes out of your morning break, so I think you should get started now. You can catch up on the reading after we come back."

Jessie let out an internal sigh of relief. "Yes Sir." He closed his reading book and placed it into the desk's cubby before standing up.

"Yes Sir," the repeated remark was coated in childish sarcasm; following by echoing kissing noises. It had come from one of the students in the middle three desks of the classroom. The two other boys next to him smirked in amusement at what their friend had just done. Jessie had been skipped ahead to the second grade this year – making him the youngest student in the class. A fact that those three boys never failed to taunt him about.

"That's enough!" Mr. Steed ordered, looking over at the dark haired boy with the amused grin still on his face. "Steven; since you've already taken some of Mr. Cale's time away from him to do what I ask, why don't you help him so he can get caught up?"

Jessie hadn't responded to the remark; nor had he stopped in his actions of tying up the bag that contained the papers headed for the recycle bin. But he knew that Mr. Steed had wanted Steven to help him in order to punish him for what he had said.

Steven stood up angrily from his desk, not wanting to go along with the suggestion, but knowing that he had no choice. He snatched the bag of papers away from Jessie and pushed his way out the door.

Jessie followed him out of the classroom and onto the long sidewalk that connected all parts of the school together. But he lagged behind a few paces; Steven wasn't someone he wanted to walk by and hold hands with.

Jessie's action that made Steven turn to him angrily. "Will you keep up, this is your dumb job!" Steven dropped the bag right in the middle of the sidewalk making the knot come undone from the top.

Jessie ran to re-close the bag; there was enough of a cold wind to toss the papers all over the place if he didn't tie the bag right.

Steven simply watched Jessie complete the task; not bothering to help at all. "You're a slow as your mom!"

Jessie had no idea where Steven's remark had come from; but he gave up on trying to double knot the top of the bag; letting the plastic pieces fall away from his hand. "You don't even know my mom!"

"Yeah I do," Steven said with an arrogant insistence that was too old for him. She delivered a box of my grandmother's cookies to our house; I watched how long it took her to find our address." Steven's comment was only based on the fact that the numbers had long ago fallen off the front support posts on the front porch of his house and it had taken Max fifteen minutes to locate the unmarked building.

"Take it back!" Jessie demanded.

"No I won't," Steven said, not letting his joke die when it should have never been started in the first place. "Because she is. And you're just like her; slow as the stupid policemen who sit in their boxes and drink beer all day." He laughed because in all his eight-year-old glory that was a very funny joke.

Jessie's eyes narrowed angrily; and he reached out and hit Steven across the face with the open flat of his palm. It wasn't hard enough of a hit to draw blood, but Steven was so shocked at being hit that he took an unsteady step backwards and lost his footing; landing hard on his butt on the concrete.

Jessie lowered his hand; the same shock evident on his face from hitting Steven as Steven had from being hit. A handful of kids who had been at the playground at the other end of the school had been alerted to the two boys fighting and were starting to descend upon them.

It was already inside us how to fight; we weren't taught it, it was brought out of us.

Jessie felt the weight of Max's words punch him in the stomach. He stared back down at his hand; as if it were unattached from his body and had acted purely on it's own in its attack.

He heard the footsteps of the curious kids coming closer and he turned and ran, leaving Steven still sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk.



9:45 AM

"Here," Alec held up a dented can of an ancient looking energy drink in Max's face. "For the headache. The best way to cure a hangover is to kill it with other drugs."

Max pushed the can away. "I wasn't drunk last night Alec," she shut the door to her locker, and spun the lock's combination.

"I just call it like a see it Max," Alec returned.

"So that means you know what I'm about to do next?" Max threatened.

"Yeah, but we shouldn't do those kinds of things in public," Alec grinned.

"Step off," Max borrowed one of Original Cindy's well-used catch phrases, forcefully pushing Alec away from her and moving out of the locker area.

Alec followed her for every step; walking along side her like someone sharing in a private secret. "I'm just trying to gain a little insight so I can help. Your choosing getting hammered isn't exactly a regular occurrence."

"I don't need a father; Lydecker screwed up any semblance of that already so why don't you just go away?"

"Come one Maxie; we both know that you're having some kind of problem; so why don't you just drop the act?" Alec asked this question just as he and Max approached the dispatch desk.

"I'm not as adept in scamming people as you Alec," Max said.

"She's got you there," Normal remarked from behind the desk where he was pretending to be completely absorbed in his record book. But in reality he was still listening to most of their conversation to make sure nothing was said that would cause his business any harm. "So let's no waste anymore company time with this useless squabble shall we?" He slid a lumpy manila envelope in the slot under the chain links that encased the dispatch area. "Here get to work."

Max took the package from him; looking up at Alec. "I mean it this time; leave me alone." She walked away with it to go collect her bike.

"That woman's as irritating as they come," Alec snapped.

"No means no pal," Normal said. "So maybe you should divert your attention away from hitting on her." He slid three more bulging envelopes out through the slot.

Alec narrowed his eyes at the other man. "Do you honestly think I would try and hit on a married woman who would just as rather make it with her brother then make it with me?" Alec didn't mind jokes; but was getting a little tired at being labeled a sleazy skirt chaser by everyone. "You really need to find a new hobby Normal; this one's wearing a little thin," he picked up all three of the packages in one motion; and walked away from the dispatch desk.

He opened the flap of his black and gray messenger bag; and placed the packages inside, re-closing the flap a second later. He started walking again; but only got two steps further because of someone running right into him.

Alec recognized the person immediately to be a child because of how small the figure was. He "Hey watch it kid;" He untangled himself from the child's body. "This isn't the playground-"

Alec words cut off in the middle of his remark as he recognized the face of the kid who had just collided with him.

"Jessie?" Alec stared into the face of Max's son. "Aren't you a little young to be playing hooky?" A familiar glare settled on Alec's face; one that would've been mildly threatening on its original owner, but worn across Jessie's face it was amplified.

Jessie's glare on Alec wasn't followed by any angry words; he had run into Alec by happenstance. He pushed past Alec as forcefully as his small body would allow.

"Whoa; slow down there buddy," Alec grabbed Jessie's arm to halt his movements.

"Let me go!" Jessie had instantly begun to struggle as soon as he was grabbed. "Let me go!" He screamed the last repetition of the word, pulling harder to get away.

"Take it easy!" Alec said jerking his arm slightly; hoping it would be enough of a shock to calm him down then a slap in the face. Jessie was only a kid; he couldn't backhand him back into reality.

By this time a crowd of Jam Pony workers had stopped in their tasks to try and see what all the noise was about. Roughhousing and fighting went on regularly at the delivery service; but it wasn't normal to see a small child in hysterics. None of them were dumb enough to believe that the boy was being abused in any way, but they still feared getting involved.

All except Normal; who came out from behind his dispatch desk; walking over to Jessie with a purpose driven stride. "This isn't a place for roughhousing young man! You need to leave now!"

Jessie jerked hard again; and this time Max's genes and his own pent up emotions were on his side; so he managed to pull free from Alec's grip and dodge by Normal who made an attempt to grab him by the back of his shirt; his scruff, if he had been a wayward puppy.

"Jessie!" Max grabbed his arm. She had heard him screaming and had dropped her bike and ran back out front where she found him.

"Jessie; what is it?" He looked terrible; pale and haggard; his skin held a freezing cold sensation that permeated through fabric of his jacket. He looked like he had been jumped by someone; and had run ten miles to escape. Max kept turning his body; trying to get him to look up at her; but he kept shifting in return; avoiding her eyes. "What's wrong? Talk to me."

"NO!" His words were an expression of the raw; desperation that had been festering inside him since yesterday; but no type of human emotion could ever express such agony; so rather they instead formed around the framework of desolate anger.

This time he didn't have to struggle free because Max released his arm; feeling the electric current of his emotions jolt through her own body from where they were connected.

Jessie finally drew his eyes up to her; his beautiful brown eyes had been shaped agonizingly by the powerful nameless emotion that was screaming inside of him. "Tell me it's not true!" His small chest was heaving, on the verge of drowning inside his own words. "Please, tell me you didn't do those things; tell me!!"

Max felt her heart and the internal mechanism that contained all of her raw rage shatter at the same moment. No matter how strong it had made her; no matter how many brothers and sisters it gave her; she could never forgive Manticore for what it had done to her son.

"I can't," Max's sadness was so far beyond crying that no tears escaped her eyes. She put her hand on his body again; this time on his shoulder; holding it in place hard because she didn't want him to run from this anymore. "I can't baby."

Jessie seemed to crumble at her words. The part of him that had run from Steven that had run from the school to here, wanted to run again. But that part of him was overwhelmed by the force that turned him around and made him throw his arms around his mother.

Max bent down and kissed the top of his head. "I'm sorry." She picked him up in her arms like she did when he was smaller; and felt him grip her neck in return; holding himself to her body. "I'm really sorry."



10:50 PM

Normal's tiny office had no windows; and built with walls that resembled gray steel. His desk almost sat against one of these walls in the back of the room; and behind it were dozens of faded newspaper clippings about his mentor; former President George H.W. Bush. In the right corner beside that collection of paper sat a mustard yellow and faded green small studio couch; several of it's rusted springs poking out through the fabric. This office was Normal's sanctuary, one that he never allowed another foot but his own to step into.

"Here," Normal held out a white ceramic mug of black coffee. "I'm not sure how great the caffeine will be for him; but it will warm him up."

Max took the mug from him, not questioning his generosity on the gesture or his allowing her to use his precious office. "Thanks."

"Not a problem," Normal's voice held no trace of his usual anal attitude, and held something that wasn't exactly full-fledged concern, but was very close to it. His eyes shifted over to where Jessie was seated on his couch; wrapped up in Max's dark blue hooded jacket. He had no idea what had brought on Jessie's breakdown; but it didn't take his Harvard PhD to know that he shouldn't question Max about; it wasn't his place too. "Just let me know if you need anything else."

Max stood; almost protectively; in front of the couch between Normal and Jessie; but Normal could tell that she was genuinely appreciative of what he did. She nodded her approval to him; and he turned to leave as soon as he absorbed all it's meanings.

Once he opened the door the sunlight coming through the huge entranceway of Jam Pony allowed a horizontal light to filter inside the room.

Alec stood to the side of where Normal was walking; allowing the man to walk by him to the point where they wouldn't trip each other up if Alec moved at the same time, before entering Normal's small office.

Max knelt down next to sofa; and held the mug out to Jessie. "Here baby; It's bitter; but it'll help you get warm." She held onto the mug until she was sure Jessie had grasped it completly.

"How's he doing?" Alec was still near the doorway when he asked this question.

"Better," Max rubbed her hand up and down his arm through her jacket as he took the first few sips of the black coffee.

Jessie's face formed into a barely noticeable scowl at the harsh taste of the coffee; but he continued to drink it in silence.

He may have only been seven-years-old but Alec picked up on the silent maneuver Jessie was initiating to Alec so that he would leave him alone with Max. A youthful version of what Alec was sure would become the same skillful manipulation his mother was so adept at.

"I should get back to my job," Alec said. "I mean assuming I still have one after being caught in Normal's secret room." He glanced over at Jessie. "Take care big guy; put in a good word for me with your Aunt Jondy."


"Oh come off it Max," Alec interrupted her. "You know she's got it just as bad."

"Shut up and let me finish," this time Max interrupted him, turning her head up to meet his eyes. "Thank you," She kept the glare in her eyes down to a bare minimum because it wouldn't be a good tactic to make him mad with the gratitude she was trying to show him.

"No problem," Alec accepted the underlying apology she didn't say – but was evident in her words – without any anger. He was a super elite soldier after all; snappish retorts were better left up to taunting children. He turned and walked out of the room, throwing one last remark over his shoulder as he left: "Forget that part about Jondy okay?" The door closed quietly behind him, or as quiet as a splintering old wooden door could close.

Max stood back up to her full height and then sat down next to Jessie on the couch. "Alec doesn't have to be right Jess; if you're not really better, you can tell me." She brushed the hair out of his eyes with a caress of her hands, pulling her jacket tighter around him to keep him warm.

Jessie had been avoiding her eyes all that time; but there was only so much of an excuse he could come up with for staring into the liquid blackness of the coffee in his cup. He raised his eyes up into the set they had originated from.

Max waited for the question she knew he was about to ask her. She didn't know exactly what he would ask; but she prepared herself to answer whatever it was. She knew that she would have wanted the same thing had she found any adult inside Manticore with enough respect to tell her the truth about herself.

"Did they hurt you?"

Max had prepared herself for any kind of anger Jessie had for her; any question he would ask that would reopen the reality that she could never escape from; but this wasn't what she had expected. Still she knew the answer; she had known it all her life.

"Yeah," She knew she had to focus on her son, but he was a part of the world that had brought them both to this moment. "Yeah they did."

Jessie grabbed her hand with his holding it in his smaller one; and then laid his head in her lap, drawing her hand up under his cheek.

Max stroked the side of his head with her free hand; leaning over to give him a long kiss on his temple before wrapping her other arm around him.


Max absorbed his Zack's word; but she shook her head at them. She had lived her whole life – that was nine years – inside Manticore; but she didn't think that they were so different from the ones outside. Otherwise all of Lydecker's talk of integrating them into that place would be nothing but useless words.

"Someone will understand."

Zack only stared back at her in silence; so she didn't say anything more, watching as he gave the signal with a silent movement of his hand. And then she and her unit broke through the glass and landed into the building carpet of white.




3: 45 PM

"Jessie!" Lexi attacked her brother as soon as he walked through the door, hugging him so hard that he choked for breath. She pulled back when she felt him pull her arms off him. "Where'd you go? You weren't there after school!" Her eyes betrayed how scared she was that instead of walking home as usual Logan had picked her up at the front of the school alone in the Aztec.

"Sorry," Jessie apologized again.

Lexi's face scrunched into all the anger she could muster as she punched him hard in the stomach, making him choke again for the second time. "Don't do that again!" She turned with a dramatic swivel of he body and stormed off angrily, her lace up Sketchers thudding loudly on the floor.

Logan let daughter plop herself down on the couch in her huff before he turned to address his son; gauging the way he looked before asking the question out loud: "Are you okay?"

Max had called Logan from work to tell him what had happened to Jessie. By then the emotions that had kept the boy in turmoil all day had left him exhausted; and he had fallen asleep on Max's lap. Max had convinced Normal to let Jessie sleep in the office; and he had slept there undisturbed until three in the afternoon with her checking in on him every chance she wasn't on a delivery. Once he had awakened Max also talked Normal into leaving work early so she could take him home. Though Max didn't really have to convince Normal to go along with her. He had followed through with what he said earlier about letting him know if she needed anything; and had agreed to requests without any argument.

Jessie nodded slowly to Logan's question, not saying anything, letting his head do the talking.

"Good," Logan words too short to sense any of the emotion behind it, but he put much more emotion in the hug he wrapped Jessie up in.

Jessie had gotten into a fight and had run away from school; but Logan knew he couldn't yell at him for those things. Because of the torment his son had already put himself through in order to erupt to those points.

Logan let the hug last for several moments more before pulling back. "You don't have to hide from us Jess. Whatever you're going through; whatever happens, you can tell us. "Because chances are we might have gone through the same thing." Logan lifted his eyes up to Max at the end of his statement, watching her hold his gaze.

"Yes Sir."

"Thank you," Logan returned. "But you don't have to be so formal buddy, okay?" He was glad that he had taught his son enough manners that he had learned how to be polite on his own. But now was not the time to glorify proper etiquette. Logan didn't have to be a 'sir' in order to be his father.

"Okay dad," Jessie's voice was slightly more relaxed when he said these words.

Logan reached out a hand and roughed up Jessie's brown hair, then leaned down and kissed him on top of the head. "Go get yourself something to eat. Lexi's been waiting to learn how to play Spades from you, and you'll need the energy."

Jessie's face pulled into the first smile he had smiled all day. Logan could see the shades of himself and Max in that smile, and also the part of it that came from Jessie himself.

"Just keep eight free tonight Jess," Max told him. "We have a date."

Jessie's face lowered in confusion. A date was usually planned out in advance and this was the first he had heard of what Max was telling him; a "But it's a school night."

"I think the rules can be bent this one time," Max said. "I have something I want to show you."

Jessie's face lowered in even more confusion; wondering what it was. But before he could question it Lexi grabbed his hand so hard and so forcefully that it made him forget everything.

"Hurry up, I want to play!" She pulled him across the living room, leading him into their bedroom.

Jessie followed her; guessing he would just have to wait and find out what it without any hints from his mom.



"You can't tell him Max," Zack stared at the baby Max was holding; the nephew he just broken into Logan's penthouse and found out he had. "As soon as he's old enough to comprehend what you're saying he'll never accept it, even if he is your son."

Max looked down at the infant sleeping in her arms, his small body wrapped up in a green blanket. His breathing was soft on her skin of her neck. "You don't know that."



8:25 PM

The night was blotchy with a haze that seemed to rise up from the city itself, shrouding the tiny pinpoints of lights from windows of broken buildings in a gray mist. The stars set in the sky competed for attention with the earthbound lights shining their way through the miasma.

The air blew in an invisible swirl around the structures that were embedded into the ground, and as such had no choice but to be caught up in it.

But one structure towered above the rest; like a giant tree of twisting metal. The cylinder that sat on the top of it was also made from this same material; but years of graffiti had covered up the cylinder's surface so that it seemed only those who had seen it before it had been damaged would know that the top was made out of more then just paint.

Two forms were atop the Needle. Sitting over all the graffiti whose very existence was futile because not enough people would be able to see its inscriptions at such a height.

Max felt the swirling wing blow through her hair; and up the unzipped portion of her leather jacket, but she wasn't cold. She had been coming up to this spot for years; and welcomed the feeling.

"I brought you up here once before," Max turned to Jessie who was sitting beside her on the cold metal, only a few inches away from her. "You may have been too little too remember."

Jessie traveled his eyes over glow of a real-life painting the city had created for him to see. He sat with his knees drawn up to his body, having no trace of his father's fear at being so high up. He remembered a little about what Max had been talking about, but he couldn't be sure if those memories were actually his or ones that he had just created from being up there now.

"Did I like it?"

"You enjoyed it as much as I did, and as much as I do," Max answered, gazing back out over the city. "I come up here when I have to think about things."

"Like Manticore?"

Max took her eyes off the view she had grown accustom to seeing stretch out before her as she sat here and placed them on his face. "A lot of times, yeah. It made up a big part of my life, and it still does."

She watched the same wind that had brushed by her play with the edges of Jessie's hair. "You can't help who you're born to be Jess, even if it makes you sit up in broken places like this alone with the thoughts it gave you."

Jessie felt the wind blow on his face again, blowing his mother's words to his ears. "I'm sorry Manticore hurt you."

Max took in his thoughtful remark. He was still a very young boy, but after hearing those words. Max knew that he would grow up to be a good man. "I'm not. If it weren't for everything that I went through there you wouldn't be sitting here with me. Having you was worth all that hurt."

Jessie released his arms from around his knees and used them to brace himself as he leaned over and kissed Max on the cheek.

"I love you mom."

He stood up slowly in order to not loose his balance, and took careful steps over to the edge of the Needle. The wind was much stronger here then where they were sitting because the curve of the metal didn't break up its power. Jessie felt this strong wind blow through his face and jacket, and he enjoyed it just as much as Max did.

JESSIE (VOICE OVER): "Sometimes I wish mom never told me the truth; or that what she said wasn't something real. But it isn't her fault. She can't take back what that place did to her. Even if it still makes her sad."

Jessie turned the upper part of his body around slowly, so he wouldn't fall over the edge, and set his eyes on Max watching her watch him back.

JESSIE (VOICE OVER): "I don't want mom to be sad, because she loves me, and she told me the truth."


This may be tooting my own horn, but I'm very pleased with this chapter. I enjoyed giving Jessie more, well more in the story. He's still just a kid, but he's growing up enough that he should get more complex stuff to deal with…the little boy I created in 2001 is growing up sniff, I'm so proud….This went a little deeper then I had originally planned but I liked the way it turned out. Stories can't always take the path you want them too; they have their own ebbs and flows and you follow them if you want them to come out the way that they should.

Cindy wasn't in this chapter, but I was going for something that centered around Max and Jessie, so I wasn't about to just stick her in there for story's sake, BUT Lucia was there, she was on hiatus, and now she's back.

The song used was: "Life in Slow Motion" by: David Gray

R/R Please.