DISCLAIMER: All "Dark Angel" characters belong to James Cameron and Charles Eglee (Cameron Eglee Productions) and "Dark Angel" itself belongs to FOX.

ARCHIVE: No

Home Alive
By Valjean

This is a stand-alone story, a scene following the events of Max Allan Collins' DARK ANGEL novel SKIN GAME -- author's note

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He knew why she'd called him here, asked him to meet her on the rooftop.

Things had finally settled down. Logan was fine, safely ensconced in his Eyes Only pad once again, the cops and feds gone, the military drawn back, O.C. and Sketchy headed for home, Joshua downstairs regaling his friends with stories about his most recent harrowing adventure ...

That just left him and Max.

Alec took a deep breath, bracing himself for the acid words he knew were waiting on her tongue for him. Well, he had disobeyed her orders by sneaking out of TC after the command had been given that everyone was to stay put. And as a result he had put Joshua's life in danger (his own life, too, for that matter, although he had a gut feeling that was pretty much beside the point to Max).

Almost getting dog boy killed. Yeah, you sure know how to score points with the boss lady ...

Her back was to him in the darkness as she looked out at the flickering lights of Seattle spread below and the Space Needle in the near distance.

"Max, I can explain," Alec began after the silence was finally more than he could take.

"Shut up."

"I thought I was helping--"

"I said shut up."

Alec closed his mouth and swallowed hard. She sounded really, really pissed.

What if she tells me to leave ... to get out of TC ... to get out of her life?

The tingle of fear that raced through his body at the thought almost equaled the one that the sight of Ames White's razor hovering over his helpless, near naked body had elicited a few hours before.

Her silence was punishing him, and she knew it. Say something, Max. Say anything, but just say ... something.

As if hearing his silent plea, Max sighed heavily and leaned harder against the parapet. Alec tensed, emotionally and physically, for what he knew was coming next -- her wrath, her denunciation, maybe even her hatred. God, I've messed up bad again, just like always ... He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders. He wasn't a coward.

"Are you all right?"

The words were soft, a whisper, but she knew he'd hear them. Still, he was sure he'd misunderstood the question.

"What?"

Now it was Max who straightened, although she still didn't turn around. "I asked you if you were all right. Afterall, in the space of less than a week, you've been shot by the police, nearly electrocuted by a mutant, and sliced up by Ames White."

"I hurt all over," Alec replied honestly. "And White did cut me up a little," he glanced down at his right shoulder where the two-inch razor slice had been hastily bandaged, the injury on his left treated the same, below the old dressing of his bullet wound. "But I'll heal." Alec gingerly moved his right leg. "Sprained my knee a little maybe -- jumpin' off a seven-story building will do that to you -- and my ribs ache like hell, but nothin' major."

Max said nothing.

"Hey, I'm a resilient guy."

She swiveled to face him. The look in her eyes, on her face, was unreadable. "I've already heard the Joshua-version of what happened," she said levelly, studying him like a bug under a microscope. "And Clemente's. You and Joshua shouldn't even be alive. It's a miracle Kelpy's brutal working over with a shock prod didn't kill you, let alone White. He could have slit your throat with a single stroke, Alec, or worse, gutted you. Talk about a slow, painful, cruel death ..."

"We got lucky," Alec said, and cringed inwardly at how lame that sounded. "And like I said. I'm resilient. It takes a lot to take me down. I mean, it's not like White kicked me in the balls or anything." He knew that last part was snide, but for some reason he couldn't help himself.

"It wasn't luck," Max said, ignoring his snarkiness. "Or resiliency. You're alive because you're Manticore, a soldier who knew what he was doing. A soldier who got himself out of his own jam for once, and didn't leave his comrade behind."

Alec blinked. That almost sounded like some kind of praise.

"I thought I'd never see you and Joshua again," Max continued, her voice oddly strangled. "At first, when Clemente showed me photos of your bodies lying on the floor at Kelpy's place, I thought you were dead. Then, I was afraid White would get to you in the hospital. It almost killed me that I couldn't help you guys. You know, Alec, you have this incredible way of getting into trouble, then instead of asking for help, just barging ahead and mucking everything up even worse. But this time--"

"White did get to us in the hospital," Alec interrupted, not wanting to hear any more about his ability to "muck up" or rather "fuck up."

"I know," Max said carefully, patiently. "But you handled it ... handled him. You not only saved yourself, you saved Joshua too, in spite of the mucking up part."

Who are you and what have you done with Max, who should be kicking my ass about now?

"Yeah, from a situation we wouldn't even have been in if I'd obeyed orders," Alec said bitterly, figuring that if this new, tolerant "leader" Max wasn't going to start the reaming he might as well get the ball rolling himself.

"True," Max said quietly, leaning back against the parapet, still studying him like he was an enigmatic, albeit somewhat pleasing, puzzle. "But you were trying to help ... in the end you did help. You guys solved the mystery, flushed out the murderer. It's not like you sneaked out for some selfish, personal reason."

"I was playing hero, Max," Alec said, fessing up the worst. "You know that. You know me."

"You always play hero," she said, and for a second Alec thought he saw the faint glimmer of a smile touch her lips. "I've known that about you for a long time, pretty boy. That and your self-centered, sly ways."

"Sly ways can come in handy," Alec said, feeling the need to defend himself at last.

"I know. Which is one of several things about you that makes you both a liability and an asset."

"Max, I'd rather be an asset. Believe me."

Max took a step toward him, coming off the stone. "White almost killed you," she said, her voice low again, her eyes locked with his. "He almost killed you, Alec. And Joshua too."

"I know, Max. Believe me I know. I thought for sure I was gonna die in that hospital room. But--"

"You didn't. You fought him, and you won -- this time."

Alec smiled a little at the memory of White lying in the trash bin looking like a beaten up rag doll.

"It takes a lot to get the best of old Ames," Max continued. "It takes courage, and brains, and strength."

"And luck," Alec felt compelled to add.

This time Max's smile was a little broader. "And luck, too," she conceded.

"You're really not mad at me for gettin' into trouble? For puttin' Joshua's life in danger?"

"From the way he tells the story, Joshua did just as much to put you in danger as you did him."

"But I was in charge, Max. Joshua never would have left TC if I hadn't egged him on."

"I know that. And don't think I'm letting you completely off the hook, Alec. You're going to pay for this. I just haven't quite figured out your punishment."

He smiled again, sensing a subtle change in the mood between the two of them. "I'm sure you'll think of something appropriate. Although, believe me, losin' the fifteen hundred bucks that was in the pants they took off of me at County General brings tears of real pain to my eyes."

"The money's replaceable, Alec," Max said. "You aren't." She looked out at the city's horizon again, away from him. "I'm also inclined to let you off the hook this time because you saved Logan's life," she said to the open air. Her head swiveled back in his direction. "In the apartment, at the top of the stairs? Logan would be dead right now if you hadn't acted so quickly, gotten him away from Kelpy."

"I owed Logan," Alec said, his turn to look away now, reluctant to take credit for an act that had come so natural to him, something any decent person would have done.

"Maybe," Max said. "But you saved Logan because you're a good man, Alec. Someone I can count on." Her voice was getting rough. "Most of the time at least." She raised her eyes to his again. "Thank you. Thank you for saving the life of the man I love."

"Max," Alec said, feeling more confused by the moment. "It wasn't that big a deal, really. I just grabbed the guy so he wouldn't fall down the stairs on top of you. But if it gets me off the hot seat about leavin' TC ..."

"It does," Max said, swallowing hard as she looked at him. To Alec's consternation tears were welling in her eyes. Ah, shit, she's gonna cry! It just kills me when she cries ...

Without thinking he stepped forward and put his arms around her, squeezing her tightly in a big hug. She leaned her head against his chest. He might have been imagining it, but he'd swear she was listening to his heart beat, the way she snuggled against him, maybe taking comfort in the sound.

"I almost lost you today," she whispered. "You and Joshua both. If anything had happened to you ..." She looked up at him again, touched the faint beard stubble of his cheek with her fingers. "That's what I'm angry about, Alec. The fact you almost got your gorgeous ass killed. Not because you sneaked out of TC. I know I've never said it to you, but you mean something to me, Alec. I care about you ... a lot. And if White had killed you today--"

"Shhh," Alec said, holding her against his now trembling body, knowing the only reason Max was saying these things was because she was emotionally and physically exhausted, just like him. "I'm fine. Joshua's fine. Logan's fine. Everyone's fine." She clung to him a moment, and he had to ask, "Does this mean you're not gonna kick my ass? Or tell me to get out of TC?"

She drew back and their gazes locked, deep brown and green-gold. "Can't say about the ass kicking part," Max said quietly, an impish smile curving her lips in spite of the tears. "But you better not ever leave TC ... or me."

The warmth that washed over Alec at her words was incredible, as if the weight of the world had just been lifted from his shoulders. Max needs me. She values me. Hell, she even likes me. And, most important of all, she forgives me ...

"You know," he said, struggling a bit to keep his voice from shaking. "Old Ames wants you really, really bad. He wouldn't say why. I asked. But he wasn't inclined to answer."

Max was still holding his eyes. "I may be number one on his shit list, Alec," she said, "but you know, after today, your name's got to be right below mine. White's going to come after you too."

Alec pulled her to him again, and nuzzled the top of her hair, breathing in her scent. "Yeah, breakin' the guy's sternum like that, not to mention the embarrassment of a shackled, pretty much buck naked transgenic escapin' right out from under his nose means old Ames probably has a real hard-on for X5-494 now."

Max chuckled against his chest at his choice of words. "A hard-on is right," she said. "White must want to fuck the two of us so bad it's choking him."

"Which means," Alec said, looking down at her face, "that the two of us are gonna have to look after one another."

Max nodded, and hugged him tightly once again as her muffled voice reached his ears. "I'm so glad you're alive."

And I'm so glad I'm home -- at last.
THE END

More of Valjean's M/A DARK ANGEL fanfiction:
valjeanfanfiction.com

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