The Tell-Tale Heart
by pari106

Disclaimer: Fox, Cameron, Eglee…etc. Don't sue.

Rating: PG-13

Summary: This is how Max *should* have reacted to finding out Zack is alive…and how she *would*
have reacted, too, if they portrayed her right… (Oh, and the hints of M/Z are all me :) I'm sorry…I
couldn't resist. Should I continue with an M/Z sort of angle with this? Or just keep it brother/sister
between them?)

Chapter 1

She was really cocky the first day.

"State your designation."

"My name is Max!"

…cold, hard metal closing in; crushing down on her, rising up at her at awkward angles. And Renfro's
cold voice, droning monotonously in the background.

"State your designation," she ordered again.

"Kiss my transgenic ass!"

Yeah, real cocky.

She wasn't so cocky after she'd spent three whole days in that little metal box with no light. By then the
hunger pains began.

After six days, she couldn't tell if the voice in the background was a recording, or if she was just
hallucinating now.

State your designation.

"Bite me!"

State your designation.

"Fuck you!"

State your designation.


State your designation. State your designation. Stateyourdesignationstateyourdesignationstateyourdes...


**** ****

Max knew Manticore's reindoctrination methods. She knew their routine. So she supposed nothing they
could think to do to her should be much of a surprise. She knew the drills, the tests, the propaganda; she
knew the long hours, and the repetition, and the achy body at the end of the day. She knew because she'd
done all this before. She woke up early and went to bed late, spending whole days in strength testing, and
spending her nights in a dark, quiet little cell, not much bigger than the one they'd used to try and teach her
to forget her name.

They never used psychoactives on her. Max supposed they didn't a see a reason to. They knew there was
nothing she could tell them; she didn't know anything. Not like Zack, who'd held the X5 rogues together;
who'd known every contact number, every face, every psychological profile. Sometimes, Max wondered if
Renfro made it all that much worse on Max because she didn't know anything. Because Zack *had*
known things, but he had died so that Max could live, taking that knowledge with him.


Max knew Manticore's reindoctrination methods. She knew the things that would happen to her during the
process. But the things you never expect – not even when you *know* they're coming - are the ways
Manticore reindoctrinates psychologically…

Max hadn't expected Zack to die.

Lying there in her cot that night, tears running down her face, Max's thoughts returned again, as they
always did, to her big brother. She couldn't get him out of her mind. Not with exhaustion, not even with
thoughts of Logan, which had grown fuzzier and fuzzier the longer she spent away from the real world.
The world in which she'd loved Logan and he'd loved her. In this world, it was hard to remember that kind
of love.

But she remembered another kind of love. The love that had always been there between her and Zack. The
love that had grown up behind cold, gray walls just like these, back at the institute in Gillette. That kind of
love, apparently, she would never forget. Because now Zack was dead, and she felt it more strongly than
ever, with every beat of their heart.

Their heart…

Tell-Tale heart. Where had she heard that before? Logan had mentioned it...once, but she couldn't remember in what context. The tell-tale heart, constantly beating, but only loud enough for the guilty to hear... It was from an old horror story, or something.

Max had traced the scar on her chest over and over again, imagining that she heard Zack's heart beating there beneath her
fingertips. Sometimes, she was thankful to have at least that little bit of him next to her. Sometimes she
wished she could tear the damned thing right out of her body. She hadn't expected that sacrifice. She
hadn't asked for it; she hadn't wanted it.

She hadn't wanted Zack to love her the way she knew he did. She'd never wanted those feelings from
someone she considered a brother. She hadn't wanted the complication of those kind of feelings with
someone like Zack. Now she would give anything to see him again like he was that night in front of the
fire; the night they'd stayed at Logan's cabin and had planned to escape to Canada.

He'd sacrificed for her then, too. Again, without her having asked; without her even having imagined he
would do what he did. He was always sacrificing for her. And she had never done the same for him.
She'd never listened to him, or done what he'd said. She lived with that regret now.

And she relived losing him every day.

Her drill instructors tormented her with his death every day. They accused her of leading her CO into an
improbable situation. They flashed pictures of him from after the shooting, covered in blood, for
punishment whenever she refused to state her designation or recite a particular line of propaganda. They
also showed her pictures of Ben and Tinga, accusing her again and again of causing their deaths.

They'd done things she didn't like to think about after they were done.

Max thought they'd done everything they could. And if they hadn't, she didn't think she could stand up
under any more. The starvings, the beatings…the pictures of Zack…the isolation. During drills, she was
always sent to spar with the soldiers who were, likewise, being supervised and punished after a
transgression. Which meant that she was sparring with soldiers from all series: X-5, X-6, X-7. And every
one of them had taken Renfro's cue in treating her like the outcast; the enemy. Sometimes, the things they
said were even worse than those pictures the drill instructors used to torment her.

But just when Max thought she was numb and empty from what had been done to her…just when she
thought Renfro would forever delight in her torture…something happened.

Renfro seemed to back off.

Max wondered if she had decided to go easier on her prisoner, or if this was just a way of setting her up for
the next hard blow.

It was a little bit of both…

**** ****

"What's the matter, 452? Still recuperating?"

The bastard sneered down at Max as she lay, pinned there beneath him on the mat. She didn't want to
breath heavy and give the ass the pleasure of knowing he'd winded her, but, fuck, her lungs burned…

"Bite me!" Max sneered back, managing to sound threatening with her last bit of energy. What she really
wanted to do, was break down and cry…

Then the soldier said the wrong thing. And Max was rejuvenated.

"Must have given you a lousy heart," he quipped, before pushing off of her.

Max blinked.

In a movement, Max threw her whole body upwards in a leap, her two feet connecting firmly with her
opponents jaw. With her legs, she grabbed hold of his ankle and brought him down to the mat. With a
satisfying "oomph"…and did she just hear something crack?…Max had the upper hand.

They could ridicule her if they wanted. But Zack would never have stood for that shit.

"Our heart works just fine," she whispered in his ear before releasing him. The soldier looked up at her
with wide-eyes…maybe because of the way she'd just felled him, or maybe because of the crazy way she'd
said "our"…Max didn't know. Maybe she really was losing it. Coming to her feet, she finished her opponent with a swift, stiff kick to the solar plexus.

"452!" came the sudden bark. Max came to attention. Shit! Now what?

"The director wants to see you."

The director. Renfro. Great.

"State your designation."

The familiar command. Max's mind flashed back to the isolation tube and the week she'd spent
remembering how to be a number.

"X5 452!" she responded without hesitation, back straight, eyes forward.

But it didn't work this time.

Renfro just stared at her a moment, before that warped, little smile of hers began to creep onto her face.

"You don't fool me," she finally said, quietly. "I know you're just playing along."

The two women stared at each other, Max not knowing exactly what she was supposed to say to that. She
hated the small, irrepressible spark of fear Renfro ignited within her.

"Come on…I want to show you something."

Renfro led the way across the room, and Max followed as she was told.

If she had known what was coming…she probably would have risked punishment instead. Seeing what lie
through that window was worse than any punishment Manticore could have ever dreamed up… And
Renfro knew it.

She stood by the window with the oddest look on her face. Was that pride? Sick amusement?

Max walked up to her, totally unaware what would come next. And when she reached her
side…everything else disappeared but what she saw behind that window.

Max felt as though the world had just tilted. Horror filled her, choked her. A scream froze in Max's throat.
Her knees would have buckled, so she gripped onto the glass wall before her… And beyond…


And amidst it all…

In the background, Max vaguely heard Renfro's words.

"Your brother Zack," she stated simply.

A/N: Okay, it's already been established I suck at naming things. But I liked the title for this. Has it been used before? Does it fit the story? Please let me know what you think.