Later, Max could admit she didn't handle the news of Alec's death well.
"Get back in there and do something!" she screamed at the medical staff who were backing away from Alec's prone form. She refused to call it the body.
Max distantly noted that someone had their arms around her, holding her back, but they couldn't stop her from shouting. Dr. Shankar was trying to say something soothing, but Max didn't want to hear it. "He's one of us. You know how much more he can take. You keep trying!"
There were tears on her cheeks and she didn't even care. All she cared was that they stop standing around and do something. They couldn't give up on him so easily. Max fought furiously against the person restraining her. If she couldn't get these people to help him, she would find someone who would.
"Get off of me!" she screamed. "He's dying and they won't help!"
Another person was added to those trying to restrain her and Max doubled her efforts to get free. Alec was all she had left and she couldn't fail him, not like she'd failed everyone else.
Dr. Shankar appeared in front of her with a syringe which she unceremoniously plunged into the first bit of bare skin she could get to on Max's flailing limbs.
It didn't take long. Dr. Shankar knew about their metabolisms and had adjusted the dosage accordingly. She'd gone with enough to tranquilize an elephant and it was more than enough for an exhausted, half-starved Transgenic.
Max went limp, her eyes falling closed. The last thing she saw was a nurse shutting off the machine showing the flat line of Alec's heartbeat.
Max woke slowly. She could still feel the aftereffects of the drugs Dr. Shankar had given her and it took a few extra seconds for the world to come into focus. She was lying on the floor, she realized. There was a thin mattress beneath her, but she was still on the ground and not in a proper bed. More surprisingly, she had an IV in her arm. Her eyes traveled upward to see a couple of nearly empty bags of something hanging from a pole, the lines trailing down to her.
She was wearing a pair of scrubs and wondered how long she'd been down. On instinct, she reached to remove the IV so that she would be free to run.
Her eyes widened as she realized she was so out of it, she hadn't even been conscious of another person in the room. Calling it a room was actually kind of an overstatement. It looked like they were in a large open area of… some sort of basement. It was windowless, dark and musty, and smelled of moldy decay.
He was sitting in a chair all the way at the opposite end of the wide room. "Dr. Shankar said you'd be groggy. You're dehydrated, malnourished and your chemistry was off, but she's been trading out your IVs pretty steadily for a couple of days."
"What?" Max tried to sit up and immediately felt like she was going to throw up.
"Take it easy," he said, but made no move to come any closer which she thought was odd. He might not be able to touch her, but he'd never felt the need to keep that much distance between them.
Max ordered herself to get it together. She couldn't afford to be this scatterbrained. "She kept drugging me?"
Logan gave her a sad sort of smile. "She knew you wouldn't hold still otherwise. You were in bad shape."
But she wasn't dead. Not like Alec.
Max looked at Logan properly and her heart skipped a beat. His skin was still jaundiced and he looked older than when she'd seen him last. "Are you ok?"
"The doctors say I should recover... given some time. O.C. and Sketchy, too. We're not as resilient as you are, but we're managing."
"Good," she said. She could tell there was something else though. She struggled to her feet and glanced at the IV bags. They were mostly empty and she had no desire to wait for them to finish so she shut off the machine and pulled the port from her arm.
Max turned back toward Logan and began to walk toward him, but he immediately held up a hand to stop her.
"Don't," he said.
Max did as he asked, but frowned in confusion. "Don't what?"
"You're contaminated," he said. "You were in Terminal City so long, the toxins have permeated your system. You and Alec actually set off some sort of alarm in the ER. They scrubbed you down and burned your clothes. I…" His expression was sad, but resolute. "I'm just getting back on my feet. I can't get sick again, Max."
"Oh," Max said, completely deflated. Not only was she carrying a killer virus, now she was radioactive or something. Just perfect.
"Did you get arrested?" she asked.
"Don't worry about that." His expression turned chagrinned. "My father's lawyers are working on it. Apparently, the family can't tolerate having such a stain on their reputation. Between my family's influence and the lawyers, they'll quietly convince the prosecutor to drop the charges."
"Sketch and Cindy, too?"
"No, they weren't charged," he assured her. "Turns out they were only hostages used to help the crazed Transgenics get away. Some of the others at Jam Pony backed that story to keep them from getting arrested when they were released from the hospital."
Max grimaced. It was yet another mark against the Transgenics, but at this point, what was one more. At least her friends wouldn't be in trouble. "You couldn't use the same dodge?"
"They had video of me at the scene." He shrugged. "I'll let the lawyers do their work."
"So I guess having a bunch of snooty rich relatives does have some perks," she said, trying for lightness.
"For once," he admitted.
Max glanced around the room again. It was all concrete and cinderblock, nothing that would tell her anything. "Where are we?"
"Basement of the closed wing of the hospital. Dr. Shankar convinced the military head honcho you needed to be examined and then snuck you out. She told them you woke up and ran for it."
"That was…" Max didn't have a good enough word for it. Brave. Foolhardy. Awesome. Dangerous. "That was pretty cool."
Logan smiled. "If you think that was nice, you should probably look over there." He nodded to something behind her.
Max turned and almost dropped to her knees in disbelief. Alec was lying on a cot, an IV attached and running to his arm.
"Dr. Shankar gave him something so he'd look dead long enough to get him out of the ER," Logan explained.
Max hurried closer to the cot. Alec was pale, and she could see bandages on his bare chest beneath the sheet covering him. They must have needed to operate.
"Is… is he going to be ok?" Max felt tears prick at her eyes and ordered them away. She'd never been one to cry. Tears served no purpose other than to show her weakness. Nevertheless, the sight of Alec still breathing was almost more than she could bear.
"Dr. Shankar had a few colleagues who were willing to help," Logan continued. "They smuggled you both here. It wasn't exactly sanitary, but they worked on Alec assuming his immune system would be enough to compensate."
"But he'll be all right?" she pressed.
"He didn't heal correctly after the shooting. Some tissue grew together that shouldn't have. A piece of bullet lodged in a patch of tissue and was blocking an artery. Dr. Shankar thinks that, in effect, he had a massive heart attack."
Max pressed her lips together. She stepped up to the side of the cot and leaned down. She hesitated, but finally placed her hand over his heart and felt the steady thump, thump of its beating.
"They repaired the damage. Dr. Shankar says he'll heal now. If he'd been human, he'd have been dead several times over."
"We knew he was hurting," she whispered.
"He'll be fine, Max. Given your healing abilities, it shouldn't take long. Your systems will eventually get rid of the toxins as well."
It was too much. She fell to her knees beside the cot and leaned forward as a sob forced its way out. Max rested her head against his chest and could hear the reassuring beat of his heart as she fumbled for his hand and took it in hers.
Alec was alive. Dr. Shankar had saved them both, freed them both. Glaze thought Alec was dead and Max was long gone.
Alec was alive. She wasn't alone. Her friend was still alive.
Max struggled to get her tumbling emotions back under control. She wished she could blame the remnants of the drugs she was given, but in truth she was a wreck and there was no getting around that.
"Joshua and Tabitha are already on their way south."
"They snuck out of Terminal City past where the tunnels were collapsed, then got back in them and used the tunnels to get to me. I know I'm being watched so I contacted Asha. The S1W got them out of Seattle. There's a… commune, I guess you'd call it. It's outside the militarized zones. They'll take them in. They're good people. Self-sufficient. They grow their own food, raise their own animals… There's no need for outside contact. They'll be safe there."
"Thank you," Max said sincerely. She hadn't expected Joshua to be able to leave so quickly, but she knew when the fighting started with White and his band of merry men followed by the escape of their prisoners, Glaze had called for reinforcements and left Terminal City unguarded.
"You're welcome." Logan cleared his throat. "When you and Alec are ready to leave, I'll do the same for you."
Max raised her head. She took a steadying breath and stood up straight. This needed to be done properly. Logan stood as well. He was a bit shaky and Max once again felt the weight of the harm she'd done him.
"We'll have to disappear," she said. "We won't ever be able to come back here."
Logan nodded. "I know, Max."
"I'm… I'm sorry." It was pathetically little, but she didn't know what else she could say really.
"I'm glad you're going to be all right."
He smiled and nodded.
"I'll ask Dr. Shankar to take some of Alec's blood. It will help."
Logan shoved his hands in his pockets. "Not a good idea. Toxins, remember?"
"Oh," she said, freshly dismayed that she couldn't even offer that much. "Sorry."
"You don't have to keep apologizing, Max. Sometimes life just doesn't work out the way we thought it would."
"Or hoped it would," she added and his head bobbed in agreement.
"Will you say goodbye to Cindy for me?"
"Of course. Although, she'll hunt you down if you don't eventually call her yourself."
Max snorted. She would at that. O.C. didn't tolerate any of her bad behavior.
Max tried to find something else to say, but couldn't really think of anything. She'd never been good at talking and in a situation like this, she was especially lost.
"I… even with everything… I'm… I'm glad I met you," she finally said. He really had made a difference in her life. She was a better person because of him and she'd never forget that.
Logan smiled fondly. "Take care, Max." He turned and Max watched him walk away until finally even the sound of his footsteps against the concrete floor had faded.
"Well, that was the saddest non-break-up ever," Alec croaked.
Max whirled back toward the cot. Alec's eyes were open and he had an impish grin on his face.
"You're supposed to be dead," she said accusingly.
He only raised an eyebrow. "Sorry to disappoint. You were crying all over me, so I figured you were ok with my being alive."
Max felt herself blushing. He knew she'd been crying. He knew she'd been kneeling there with her head on his chest.
"Don't worry, Max. When I found out I wasn't dead, I cried, too."
Max quickly decided to fall back on her go-to ploy for avoiding uncomfortable topics. She couldn't admit to herself why she'd done it, let alone to him, so instead she asked, "They tell you what happened?"
Thankfully, he let it go. He just nodded and said, "Sorry I wasn't any help with White."
"You were having a massive coronary at the time." She shrugged. "I'll give you a pass."
"Thanks for that." He grunted, trying to sit up. "Help me out here, will you?"
"You sure that's a good idea?" she asked. Max hesitated to touch him again. She'd already made a fool of herself once. She didn't know if she dared do it again. Nevertheless, she forced herself to reach out and help. He was warm to the touch and she was once again reassured that he was alive and recovering if not exactly well.
"Tired of sleeping," he grumbled. His face contorted in pain as he threw back the sheet and began to twist on the bed so he could put his feet on the ground and face her, sitting up.
Once he was upright, Max stepped back so she could get a good look at him. He was wearing a pair of scrub pants, but his feet were bare and he shivered when they hit the damp concrete floor. His bandages were slightly tinged pink, although nothing drastic and it only took a few extra seconds for him to get his breathing under control. If he'd gotten some food and they'd patched him up, he would be healing quickly.
"You look better," she observed. She'd become so used to him looking sick during the siege that she hadn't realized how bad off he'd been.
"Hey," he said, all mock injury. "You saying I wasn't good looking before?"
"I could rearrange your face," she offered sweetly. "That might help."
He huffed out a small laugh, winced, and set a hand over the bandages on his chest. "Think I'll pass." Alec looked up at the IVs and scowled in disapproval. He didn't like being tethered any better than she did. "We should get out of here. It's not safe."
Max eyed where he was pressing on his injuries. "I don't know if it's any safer to go. We might have to move fast. Are you… Can you…"
Alec looked down at himself. "To be honest, I feel better than I have in weeks. Another few days and you won't even know I was ever shot."
As if to prove it, he pulled the IV from his arm and let it fall to the ground. He pushed himself to his feet. He wobbled for only a second before steadying and stepping toward her. He studied her in silence for several moments, his brow furrowed at whatever he saw on her face. "You ok?" he asked.
"Yeah." She looked away. He was standing too close and she couldn't force herself to meet his worried expression head on.
"They said you kind of went ballistic when you thought I was gone."
She shrugged. "Maybe." Because she had. She'd lost it. He was all she'd had left and the thought of him being gone had sent her into an ugly tailspin.
Over the course of the siege, she and Alec had spent nearly every waking minute together and they'd become closer than she would have thought possible. Still, there were boundaries. She didn't like that the boundaries were weakening.
"Aw, Max." She could hear the smile in his voice. "You do have a soft spot for me."
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
"Come on. You can admit it," he cajoled. "You like me."
Max dared to look at him long enough to give him a glare. "You can shut up any time now."
"Not until you admit it," he sing-songed.
"Yeah, you're a gift to mankind," she snapped sarcastically.
Alec let out a slow breath and took a step closer to her, his expression serious. It took everything she had not to retreat, but she ordered herself to stay where she was. He put his hands on her shoulders and she was forced to look at him.
"It's just you and me now, Max," he said quietly. "We're all we've got, so… It's ok to like each other. We're friends. It's a good thing. It'll help us stay alive if we're not fighting all the time."
Max pursed her lips, shifting awkwardly on her feet. "Just because I don't hate you anymore doesn't mean we're not gonna fight all the time."
Alec frowned. "There were a whole lot of negatives in that sentence. Does that mean we're gonna fight or we're not gonna fight?"
Max's eyes narrowed. "Take a guess."
"Well, it's a start anyway." He grinned and let his hands drop back to his sides. "So… Two pals on the lam. It'll be like an old movie."
Max just pursed her lips at the ridiculousness of the idea. Leave it to Alec to think they were in their own buddy flick.
"Any idea where to go?"
"I'd like to check on Joshua," she said and Alec immediately nodded. "I wanna make sure he's good where he is."
"You don't want to stay there, too?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Not really the hippie commune type."
Alec's head bobbed in agreement. "Yeah, me either. Not enough firearms."
"We'll figure something out," Max said, suddenly knowing it was true. She and Alec were good at that sort of thing.
"Sounds like a non-plan. I like it." He looked around. "You think you could find me a shirt or something? Maybe some shoes? They got rid of our stuff because it was contaminated."
"Sure," she answered hurriedly. "I'll sneak out and find us some clothes. Then we'll make a break for it. You just take a load off 'til I get back."
Alec nodded and began to back up again toward the cot he'd been lying on, but suddenly, the thought of leaving him behind had her beginning to breathe a little faster and her heart to pound a little harder.
"You'll be here when I get back?" She didn't know why she asked. Of course, he would be there when she got back. He was hurt, he had no clothes and nowhere to go. But, still…
Alec cocked his head to the side in confusion. "Yeah, Max. I'll be here."
He raised an eyebrow in question, but simply waited for her to continue.
"I should go," she said, backing away. "We need clothes."
Alec held up his hands as if in surrender, although clearly still puzzled. "Yeah, ok." He padded back to the cot and sat. He drew his feet up off the cold floor and sat cross-legged, then pulled the sheet loose and wrapped it around his bare upper half.
"I don't wanna be alone anymore," Max blurted, then immediately blushed from the top of her head to the soles of her feet.
Alec didn't laugh. He didn't mock. He frowned. "Max, we've just spent weeks locked up with a bunch of other people with nowhere to go. We were the most unalone-"
"No," she cut him off. "I mean…"
"Spell it out for me." Alec patted the cot beside him, asking her to come join him. Max hesitated, but finally stepped forward. She sat down on the edge of the bed, once again wary of touching him.
Max took a deep steadying breath, her eyes meeting his and then darting away. "After I broke out of Manticore, I spent years on my own, more or less, a place to stay here or there, a friend or two. Even at Jam Pony… I had O.C., but…"
"But she wasn't a Transgenic."
"She's my best friend and I love her, but still…"
Alec nodded. "I get it, Max."
"And Logan… even him… I couldn't tell him everything. He wouldn't understand."
Alec nodded again.
"Everybody is gone now. Maybe we'll run into them one day, but maybe not. We'll all be hiding."
"What are saying, Max?"
"I'm saying I'm tired of being alone. I don't wanna be alone."
Alec smiled and it went all the way to his eyes. "Well, you're in luck. You can't get rid of me that easy," he whispered. "Remember when I said I had plans to wear you down, marry you and move to Texas?"
Max snorted, but the amusement faded to nervousness when he leaned closer to her, forcing her to look up to meet his eyes.
"I wasn't kidding." He shrugged. "Well, maybe about the Texas part, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Max frowned. It was too soon. Logan had only walked away from her a few minutes earlier. She'd only-
"Stop freaking out, Max," he said. "I said wear you down, not drag you to the altar."
Max's eyes narrowed. "Maybe I don't want to be worn down."
Alec's smile was blinding. She'd punch his cocky, over-confident face if she didn't find it oddly… endearing.
"We'll see," was all he answered.
Max felt an honest smile beginning to form for the first time in a long time. It had been so long, it felt almost foreign for her muscles to produce the expression, even more so to feel the accompanying sentiment. Hope. She could feel hope bubbling up inside her when there had been nothing but death, desperation and loneliness for weeks, months, maybe years.
Yes, the few remaining Transgenics were in the wind, but they were free. She had to think of it that way. Yes, she and Logan had given up on a lost cause, but Alec was at her side, determined to stay. If her reaction to his death told her anything, it was that she was already far more attached to him than she cared to admit.
She didn't know what the future would hold. This certainly wasn't the victory she'd envisioned and she knew the awful, deadly cost to get them to this point.
She and Alec would go check on Josh and then after that?
Max smiled up at Alec. "Yeah. We'll see."
And there you have it. It's been a pleasure. Thank you for each and every review. Y'all are too kind. If you're looking for reading material, my novels are available from Amazon (links are on my page), and they're free if you're a prime member, cause I'm all for free stories.