|Gone to Ground
Author: graygirl PM
If Max didn't pick up her phone to answer his call, Alec would be screwed. Sitting bleeding in a darn phone booth, he knew his life depended on her more than ever before. He hoped she was ready to save him one more time - to save them all...Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort - Alec & Max - Chapters: 29 - Words: 65,305 - Reviews: 209 - Favs: 45 - Follows: 82 - Updated: 04-10-13 - Published: 05-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8086873
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
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Joshua was furious by the time Max called.
"Li'l fella! Where are you?" he shouted at her once the line connected. When Max failed to answer, though, the big transgenic immediately started a rant that didn't even seem to leave room for a single inhalation. Max briefly closed her eyes, tuning out whichever accusations were thrown her way.
Max's grip on her bike momentarily tightened even more as she forced herself to refocus back on the street in front of her. She had finally reached the city limits a few minutes ago, but that also meant she had to pay a little more attention to the actual act of driving, which wasn't exactly helpful. Not when she was already having severe difficulties trying not to freak out over the fact that Alec might be bleeding to death in some godforsaken phone booth at that very moment.
"Josh, please," she eventually interjected, her voice firmer than she could have hoped for.
But apparently the big guy was not yet ready to let it go. "When you didn't call, M-max, Joshua climbed the walls! Had Logan come over from his place because I was freaking out so much! Li'l fella never just doesn't show up… You didn't call again; Joshua couldn't get through to you; the line was always - always busy. Beep beep. No li'l fella. Where ARE you? Is li'l fella alright? Max, Max could have been dead for all Joshua knew! "
"JOSH, STOP! I'm—let me say something. I—someone called, okay? Alec called me—"
"Alec called Max? But—"
"Please, big guy, this is urgent, it's pretty serious. I wouldn't have called you so late if it weren't. He called me from a phone booth." She went on, her voice, to her annoyance, starting to waver. "He said he was hurt, bleeding. He's… something happened to him, Josh. He doesn't even know where he is, just that it's somewhere in Portland. I'm already on my way there, but…"
She didn't want to worry her friend, but she just couldn't help it. It wasn't exactly like she had a lot of people she could count on, especially after the TC exodus that had had her see many of her fellow transgenics leave, among them Alec.
It all had happened quite suddenly, some eight months ago.
Max vividly remembered the time right after the raising of the flag, when they had come to realize way too soon that things just weren't working out the way they had planned. Even though the siege of TC had eventually ended and they all had tried so hard to establish some form of TC government, it had been tough, not in the least because after having experienced freedom for the first time, most former Manticoreans had refused to follow anyone's orders anymore.
She had understood that and had tried to establish a system that allowed for them all to take part in the governing process. But people had remained sceptical. At first, Alec had been there to help. He had been right by her side through most of the first hard weeks. When the others saw that even he was willing to follow orders to make things work, some of them had acquiesced and had followed his example.
They had tried. At first it had even seemed like it was working. But then the first tough winter had come and gone. Being cooped up in TC, they hadn't even been able to grow their own produce to help out with the food shortage. And the ordinaries in Seattle hadn't been very forthcoming with help of any form. Rather, the opposite...
More and more TC inhabitants had started to feel like they were effectively imprisoning themselves. It had been Mole who was one of the first to voice his concerns with the whole TC concept - and he had questioned Max's decision again, when the first transgenics had been discovered to show signs of starvation.
"Don't be stupid, Max," he had said one day, when they had all met up to discuss the problems of food supplies and the growing number of transgenics that decided to leave TC. "This is not a home for us. The people out there won't ever accept us, not even when we stay among ourselves. And you know what? I'm tired of hiding in plain sight. I say we leave this place behind and go to ground. We should do it now, before it's too late. We don't have a future here."
She had stared at him. She had wanted to argue. But then she had seen the look on the faces of the others. More importantly, she had seen the look on the face of Alec.
Their gazes had locked. It had seemed like a long time before Alec had finally said, "He's right, Max. I'm sorry, but he's right. Look at us. This is not what you wanted. This is not what we wanted." The expression on his face had been so gentle, so affectionate that it had startled her. He hadn't once reverted back to any form of cockiness.
"We can't stay, Maxie. We're an easy target if we keep ourselves cooped up like this. We're Manticore. We can survive under the most dire circumstances, but we don't have to make it harder on ourselves, don't you see that? I know this was your dream, and I'm sorry, but maybe this was just the wrong way. I think we'll be better off not in plain sight of the ordinaries…"
"But we can make it work, Alec!" she had tried, though by that time her own doubts had already started to darken her hopes for TC. "We just need time. Logan has already worked on a pretty good defense system with Dix and about the food problem-"
He had merely looked at her and she had known he wouldn't stay, no matter what she said.
She couldn't make them all stay. She didn't want to make them stay. She wanted them to want this as much as she did. But they didn't. She didn't wanna admit it to herself at first, and it would take a long time till she finally did. But when that day eventually came, Alec had long been gone.
He had left. Not right away, but he had distanced himself more and more from the cause, and eventually from her. Until one day he had been gone without so much as a goodbye. She remembered the last time she had seen him: it had been close to dusk and she had been on an errand out of town. She was just getting back, past the perimeter fence, when she had seen his silhouette. She had known it was him, instantly, and she had called out his name. The figure had stopped, had turned around, and waved at her; such a sad, forlorn gesture.
The next moment, he had been gone. And she had known he wouldn't return. She realized that he had tried to say goodbye to her in his own way the day before, when out of the blue he had pulled her in for a hug, kissed her on the top of her head and said: "Don't ever change, Maxie. No matter what."
And what had she done? She had wiggled her way out of his embrace and playfully slapped him, saying: "Sheesh, Alec, cheesy much?" She rolled her eyes at the memory.
Later, Max hadn't allowed herself to be upset about his leaving, she had swallowed down her anger, she had tried to ignore the stab of betrayal she had felt. She had done it to be strong for the others, for TC.
And what had it helped? Nothing, nothing at all. After Alec was gone, even more of the transgenics felt like it was time to leave, and Max couldn't persuade them to stay. Except for Joshua - but he was like a kid.
And except for Logan - but he wasn't even Manticore. And she couldn't even hug him for comfort, because she was still a mortal danger to him...
If only Alec had stayed...
But who was she kidding? Alec had always been an opportunist, rather than a leader; a smartass, a handsome devil who liked to play; a soldier who had never learned to follow.
He had been her friend, and he had left her.
Just like that...
Max shook her head, jolting herself out of her thoughts. Had it really been eight months since she had last seen Alec? Eight months was a long time. And now he was back in her life…
She heard Joshua talk to her over the phone. "Max talked to Alec? Alec okay? Alec in a phone - a phone booth? Alec lost?"
"How am I to find one specific phone booth in the middle of freakin' Portland, Josh. Can-can you put Logan on the line? You said he was with you, right?"
"Max hold on. Joshua will go and get Logan. Max will find Alec. Don't… don't worry, li'l fella, you will find him."
A small smile that he couldn't see was her only reply. He always managed to make her feel a little better.
"Max! It's Logan. What's going on? Joshua said something about Alec calling you from a - uh - phone booth, and that you don't know where it is located? That right?"
He sounded doubtful, understandably so. But once he confirmed what Joshua had already relayed to him, he instantly switched into his best Eyes Only investigative mode. "Do you by any chance have the number of the phone he used?"
"The number, yeah, sure I… he was running out of quarters so I had him give it to me." She gave it to him. Without further questioning what he was up to, she trusted him to take care of the situation. She trusted Logan. More than she could trust herself under the circumstances.
"Alright, I'm going to call the phone company now," she heard him announce. Intently, she listened to each and every word that followed. "I'm sure they'll be able to locate the exact position of the phone booth once they are given the number. You stay where you are, Max, you hear? Go, park the Ninja somewhere and wait; you won't be helping Alec by riding around aimlessly, okay? So just stay where you are until I call you back. —Are the batteries to your cell phone still charged alright?"
"They were nearly full when Alec first called, so… yeah, I guess."
"Good, because I want you to call Alec now and check whether he's still picking up. If he's not: immediately call my cell—I'm gonna use Josh's landline and hand him the cell. If Alec is picking up, talk to him for a few minutes. Tell him you'll call him back after you heard from me. Tell him help is on the way. Don't talk for too long, though, because I want to be able to get through to you once I got the address."
Max caught herself nodding wordlessly and had to shake herself out of a strange stupor before she finally managed a verbalized response. "Yeah," she made, the word nothing more than a whisper, which was apparently drowned out by the sounds of traffic for Logan suddenly blurted out a somewhat frantic sounding "Max? You still there?"
"Yes, I'm here. I'll call Alec now… And, Logan?"
Max swallowed back a curious lump in her throat once the call was disconnected. Unbidden thoughts of Logan had started jolting through her head only to be interspersed with vivid scenes in which she pictured herself finding Alec, her once-upon-a-time-pain-in-the-ass-constant-companion, lying dead and cold in his own blood.
She had managed to steer her machine into the parking lot of some ramshackle abandoned looking restaurant and was glad not to have to watch the traffic, if only for a while. Thus she could put all her focus on the one thing that counted: getting Alec to answer the phone.
She dialed the number with numb fingers, a number she'd forever know by heart.
The number that could save Alec's life…