Disclaimer: I don't own it. I know it, you know it, an' I'm not making money from it anyway!!
She rarely ever slept, but she wasn't usually this restless, she just didn't sleep. That night, she was tossing and turning, everything was so warm! She kicked off her covers in an attempt to cool down, and eventually drifted of into a shallow stupor.
She was walking through the apartment. It was dark. The window was open, cool night air soothing. She turned to it, as a figure dropped in front of it. She bit her lip, it was him! Even as she thought this, she also thought, who? It was so dark that she couldn't see his face. Then the figure spoke, 'You're in heat again Max. You'd better be careful.' Logan always-serious voice actually annoyed her at this minute. The next second, the figure changed, it was stronger, 'Screw that, that's what I say. Do what you want, Max. I mean, I'm right here, do what you want…' he stepped forward, and she leapt into his arms.
Max sat up with a start. What the hell was that!? She didn't bother to wipe the sweat from her brow; she just headed straight for the shower, ran it cold, and stayed there for a time she didn't measure. Eventually she heard a voice from outside,
"Bu? You ok? You've been in there for ages!" It took a moment for these words to register, then she shook her head, trying to clear it, and yelled,
"I'm fine, I'll just be a second!"
When Max came out of the bathroom, her cheeks were still flushed, despite the frosty water, and she felt so tired at the same time as totally hyper. It made no sense. Cindy looked at her oddly,
"You sure you're ok?" She asked. Max forced a smile,
"Yeah. I'm just… kinda beat, maybe I'll stay home today."
"Oh sh*t. Not again? I thought maybe you'd gotten over that!" Realising that Cindy had figured it out, Max smiled again,
"You be ai-aight on your own?"
"I'm not gonna leave the apartment. Not even to 'clear my head'." Cindy laughed a little.
"Don't sweat it Bu. I'll tell Normal you're sick, remind him of the last time you had this…"
"Don't you dare!" Max gasped, "And for god's sake don't tell Alec!"
"Why specifically Alec?"
"Cos… Y'know, he'll think it's hilarious, and he's the only other person who'd even know what it meant. Just don't, please?"
"I won't, don't worry." She looked at her watch. "I gotta go. You were in there for hours girl!" she grinned sympathetically and left.
At Jam pony, Cindy rattled off a sick story for Max, added quietly to Normal a reminder of the type of Doctor Max was seeing, and he was fine with it.
"So where is she really?" Sketchy asked once Normal was out of earshot. Cindy didn't answer immediately, then laughed,
"She's sick, kinda. Ha. She is actually sick."
"Really?" Alec asked, genuinely concerned. Cindy realised that of course he was the only one that would realise it would take something pretty serious to get Max sick.
"It's ok, it's not too bad or anything. She be back in a day or two." Alec nodded, apparently satisfied.
Around lunchtime, Max was sitting on the couch, knee jiggling up and down, reading the same page of a book for about the fifth time. When this finally registered, she shook her head and turned the page, then slammed it shut and threw it to the floor. What am I doing? She thought. There has to be some way to get my mind off… gorgeous body, those deep, deep eyes, NO! Get a grip Max! Logan was right, you just have to hold on! But that wasn't technically Logan, how do you know that's what he really wants… that would kill him, girl! Get, a, grip!
She was interrupted by a knock on the door. Please let that be Cindy, She thought. Cursing the lack of peep hole, she just called, Who is it? Crossing her fingers.
"It's me, Alec!" Max lost her breath. Sh*t! what was he doing here? Before she knew it, she was moving towards to door. She could hear his heart beat even this far away, she could hear his gentle breathing…
"I'm sick. Really contagious." She forced a couple off coughs, "You shouldn't be here." She called back.
"I know, Cindy said you were sick. I came to see if you were ok." Max felt a wrench inside her that had nothing to do with heat. That's so sweet! Her fingers inched towards the door knob, but she pulled them back.
"Seriously." She said. He could sense the regret in her voice. "You shouldn't come in. I… I don't think it would be a good idea. I'm not exactly myself." Outside the door, Alec could here her heartbeat too. It was rapid, irregular, and her breathing was wrong too.
"Max? What's really wrong? If it's to do with Manticore, maybe I can help." Max laughed shortly, almost manically.
"Oh I'm sure you could. But I don't want, not like that. I have to deal with this myself."
"Max." he said calmly. "If it's what I think it is, then maybe I'm the one person who can stop you doing something you don't want to. I'm strong enough to stop you." Max leant against the door, surprised at his calmness, sweetness. She bit her lip at how hard this was. But what if he was right? What if he wasn't? It took her a while to realise that he really did want to help, and he really wasn't going to go away.
"What if you're wrong? What if you can't stop me?" Alec could here the catch in her voice that meant she was almost in tears. He hadn't realised this had caused her so much pain. "Huh? What if this bitch Manticore stuck in me makes me do things, and… and… afterwards you … can't stand to look at me… what if I make you hate me?" she voiced her fears at the same time she even realised them. Because that really was her fear. What would be so bad about doing… that… with Alec, nothing she could think of, except that if it was in this way, then she would feel so cheap, so dirty, and she was sure she wouldn't be able to stand the way he would look at her after. He would think the same about her that she thought of herself.
"Max…" he said quietly, almost despairingly. "That is not gonna happen. Even if things got… complicated, which I wouldn't let them, you could never make me hate you. I don't think that's even possible." Tears trickled down Max's cheeks as she listened to his soothing voice. She nodded slowly, calmly, and opened the door. He caught her in a hug as soon as he was through the door, and she sobbed into his shoulder. The war going on inside her body called a momentary cease fire, because the wave of emotion over- rode it. "It's ok." He whispered, like a parent to a child. "It's gonna be ok."
Several minutes later, they were both sitting on the couch, Max's knee bouncing again. After a slightly awkward silence, Alec asked,
"So, you got any games?" Max considered this, then got her heat ridden side in order and suggested the word game she and Cindy had played this time last year. Then she started thinking of words, and just as Alec found the game, she yelled,
"No!" he looked startled. "Sorry." She said, quieter, "Nothing with words." He raised his eyebrows.
"Ok. How about cards?"
"Yeah. Cards are good… not poker." She grinned sheepishly. He grinned back, and reached for the pack of cards on the counter.
"So what card games do you know?" he asked.
Half an hour later, they were in their fifth game of snap. Max's hyper mood meant she rarely missed a single snap, and had won every game. Alec smiled at her, finding her enjoyment of such a simple game very amusing.
"Hey." She protested, "I'm 'sick'." He laughed as she won another game.
"There has to be a more interesting game to play." He said. She argued that he just couldn't stand losing, but agreed to play the memory game. That didn't last long either…
"This game is pointless between two X5's." Max stated. "We remember where they all are."
"Isn't that the point?"
"Yeah, but it makes it boring. I used to play this with Lucy, the girl I lived with for a few months just after Manticore. That was more fun, cos she could never remember. Then I tried not to remember, but that doesn't really work." Max grinned, but Alec could see the sadness attached to that memory.
"What happened?" he asked simply.
"I left." Max sighed, raising her eyebrows. "Her dad used to beat us- he was a drunk. I didn't complain cos I just wanted to fit in. But then, the night of the pulse, the TV went out and he totally freaked. We hid under the stairs, knowing he wanted someone to take it out on. It was then that I decided I wouldn't take it anymore. The next morning, he found us, and hit Lucy, hard. She fell down, and… I refused to take it. I knocked him down, and ran. I just left her behind, even though I knew what he'd do to her when he came round, even though I knew what he did when he came to get her in the night. When I went back a couple of months later, the house was empty. I never found her." Max wasn't looking at Alec. She wasn't looking at anything in particular, just starring into space. She wasn't even really aware she'd still been talking, the scene was just replaying in her mind, over and over.
"Max?" Alec had a hand on her arm, and shook her slightly. "You ok?" Max looked up, and smiled sadly, nodding.
"Yeah." Then she choked a laugh. "I've forgotten where all the cards are."
A little later still, they were just sitting, talking about anything that came into their heads, now and then, Max would turn, a glint in her eye, and reach out to him. He would grab her hand, and meet her eye, and that was all it took. He was like her anchor, pulling her back down into reality.
"Back in Manticore." He said after one attempt, "Girls used to get shut in solitary when they went into heat, obviously not when the breeding program started, but before that. There was one time, when an X5 was in there, and she asked the guard to get her some water. Stupid fool passed it through the hatch and she grabbed his arm, pulled it through and told him she'd break it unless he let her out. So he did, and it took about ten soldiers, women, cos guys weren't allowed near her, to subdue her." He grinned, and they both laughed,
"It can drive you crazy." Max agreed. "I've tried everything to stop it. Locked myself in my room once. Smashed the door right off the hinges to get out." They laughed again, but then Max seemed sad again, "You guys get it so easy. You don't have to go through this. It's like, there's a whole-other being inside of you that you can't control. It does what it likes, with no care what it does to your life." Again Alec just said,
"A year after I met Logan, he was gonna cook me an anniversary dinner. It was really sweet. But… turned out I was in heat. I didn't wanna go near him, cos I didn't want it to be like that, y'know? I avoided all guys for days, and then on the night of our 'anniversary', I couldn't just lie there anymore, so I went for a ride to clear my head, and I bumped into this guy. I'd seen him around, but I didn't know him, and… why am I telling you this?" she laughed slightly. He shrugged,
"It's ok. Get it off your back, I swear I wont tell."
"I know." She smiled. "Anyway, I did things I didn't want to, and even though Logan and me weren't official, I felt so… I dunno, like I'd betrayed him. I went to see him the next evening, and said that since it was about midnight the first time I broke in…"
"You broke into his apartment? That's how you met Logan!?" Alec laughed in disbelief.
"Yeah. Yeah I did." She chuckled. "Well, anyway, that meant that it was still sorta our anniversary, so… I told him why I didn't come over the night before. I told him everything. And he was so sweet about it, and we kissed, and he said I didn't have to be sorry, or ashamed… and then Zack turned up, and said we had to go save Tinga, which started the chain of events that landed me in Manticore…"
"Which wasn't all bad, was it, I mean, you met me." He joked. Max smiled,
"Yeah I did. Almost makes it worth it." She purred, leaning forwards. Alec grabbed her shoulders, holding her back,
"Earth to Max. Cool it." But Max wouldn't meet his eyes. She kept coming at him, and it took all the strength he had to hold her back. "Max!" he yelled, pushing her down, one arms across her chest, until she had no choice but to look at him. She gasped, and a tear escaped her eye.
"I'm sorry." She said, shaking her head. "I'm so sorry." Alec relaxed, leaning back again.
"It's ok." Was his only reply.
"Told you, you get off easy." Max said, wiping the tears away.
"Not really." He said, causing her to look up sharply. "You see, when you guys go into heat, you give off hormones, or pheromones or something like that, which we can detect. It's like with cats, the males know when the females are y'know, ready. It used to drive guys crazy, when loads of girls went into heat all at once, sometimes guys would crack. They ran towards solitary, where all the girls were, knocking guards down left right and centre. It was an amusing time of year." He smiled. Max was silent, she hadn't realised.
"So isn't this driving you crazy?" she asked. He shook his head.
"You get used to it. I think it's much easier to control than what you get because this is just like a signal, saying hey, they want it, go get it, kinda thing. It doesn't make us crave it… more." He laughed. Max nudged him, shaking her head. Guys! She thought.
During the afternoon, Cindy realised that Alec had never returned from lunch, and hoped that didn't mean anything. Still, she hurried home after work, only to find Max and Alec sitting on the couch, talking, perfectly rationally.
"Hey Bu." She said, raising her eyebrows. "How're ya doing?" Max smiled at her friend.
"Good, actually. Alec came over."
"That I can see." Cindy said suspiciously. Then she noticed the cards and board games that littered the floor by the couch. "He been doing my job?" Cindy asked doubtfully.
"Yeah, I guess." Max laughed. Cindy was amazed. There really was no sign of anything else going on, and she'd seen how Max could get. Alec must have learnt to deal with this in Manticore, She thought.
"So, you well enough to come to Crash?" Cindy ventured. Max shook her head.
"I don't think that's such a good idea. You guys go, though. I'll be fine."
"It's ok." Alec said. "I'll stay if you want. I mean, if it helps." Max smiled. She'd never seen this side to Alec, and she liked it, not that she disliked his other sides, however much she tried to insist that she did.
Max spend the next couple of days just talking to Alec and playing games with him; they watched TV, they sat in silence, but no matter what they were doing, Max found it so much easier to deal with the fight within her than ever before. Her 'off' moments became less frequent and eventually her temperature decreased again, and she felt more normal. She told Alec the same, and he nodded.
"I feel it." He said, "You got through." He smiled, a true smile that rarely showed on Alec's face.
"Yeah, I did." Max smiled back, knowing that she wouldn't have if it weren't for him. "Thank you." She said.
"That's ok. What else are friends for, huh?" Slightly hesitantly, Max nodded. Friends. Just friends.
A couple of days later, Max felt jumpy again, but in a slightly different way. She kept thinking about something, and didn't know how to deal.
"Cindy." She said when they were sitting in the apartment after work.
"If I tell you something, will you promise not to laugh?"
"Sure thing Bu." Cindy said, frowning slightly, intrigued.
"It's just, the last few days, I haven't… I haven't been able to stop thinking about…" she paused, looking into her friends face, as if working out whether she should really be saying this, "I haven't been able to get my mind off … Alec." Cindy didn't show any sign of even hearing her, until a moment later, when one side of her mouth quirked.
"Alec?" she said, trying not to laugh. Max hit her with a cushion,
"You said you wouldn't laugh!"
"I know, I know. But… in what way?"
"I… I'm not even sure." Max sighed. "He was just so sweet, and… we never really talk like we did. I guess it made me see him differently, as if I'd just met him, instead of getting my first impressions courtesy of Manticore. It made that stuff unimportant… and I haven't been able to get him outta my head."
"You sure it's not to do with you being in heat, y'know, the way that made you feel at the time, kinda, lingering?" Max shook her head,
"It doesn't work like that. An' I would know if that was it anyway. It's not. I like him." The last part was quieter, like she'd just worked it out herself.
"Then the question is, do you just like him? Or do you like him-like him?"
"That's the problem, I don't know."
Another few days later-
"You coming to crash, OC?" Max asked, pulling on her boots.
"Nope. Original Cindy has a friend coming into town, we gonna hang."
"Ok. I'll see you later then, or will I?" Max asked slyly.
"She just a friend Bu. Don't you go getting any ideas." Cindy grinned. "I'll see ya." She called as she walked out the door. Max flashed herself a test run smile in the mirror, and followed suit.
When Max reached Crash, she found their usual spot empty, except for Alec.
"Hey Max." he called as she approached, "Cindy not coming?" Max shook her head,
"No, she's got some friend coming into town. Where's Sketch?"
"Believe it or not, he's got himself a woman." Alec raised his eyebrows.
"Wow. Really?" Alec laughed,
"So I guess it's just us then."
"Seems so." Neither of them spoke for a minute, both at a loss for something to say. Then,
"Wanna play pool?" Alec suggested,
"Yeah." Max smiled.
For once they didn't play for money, just playing for the hell of it. Max one a couple of games, then Alec won, and Max frowned, pretending to sulk, Alec laughed, knowing she was joking, so Max gasped in mock insult,
"How dare you laugh at my demise!" she turned her back, crossing her arms stiffly. Alec came up behind her, and wrapped his arms round her, speaking right by her ear,
"I'm sorry. I let you win another game now." He grinned, and she elbowed him.
"Right, I'm gonna floor your ass now. You break." He grinned and they resumed play. Max won, and they stood aside to let another group play. Standing at the side to watch the new game, Max became serious, "Alec." She said, to get his attention, "I just wanted to say thanks, y'know, for last week. I couldn't have done it if you hadn't been there." He shook his head.
"It's really ok." He smiled. Standing right next to each other, they were once again aware of the others heartbeat, and breath, two things seeming so close, yet so far away. Max was still looking up into his face, into his eyes, and neither of them said anything. Max took one step towards him, put her glass down. She placed one hand on his arm. Every movement was almost unconscious, as Alec touched her cheek, and she leaned in to him. The kiss was so warm, it shattered any doubt still left in Max's mind. In a momentary interval, their lips still nearly touching, their eyes still feverishly bright, gazing into each others, Alec whispered,
"Max, this isn't…" she knew what he meant, was this real, or was it residual from heat. She shook her head.
"This is real." She said, and kissed him again, as he held her up close in his arms.
"So this is where we all hang." Cindy said to her friend as they entered Crash, they'd gotten bored just sitting around and decided to come out. Cindy noticed that their usual spot was empty, so she scanned the room, and gasped. "Oh my lord." She exclaimed. Her friend raised her eyebrows,
"Do you know them?" she said, referring to the couple they'd just seen across the room, locked in a tight, and intimate, embrace.
"Uh-huh." Cindy smiled, "That's my girl, Max. An' that, is Alec."
"Yeah, let's go, don't want to embarrass her. Oh my god… I mean I knew she was thinking, but huh, Max and Alec! Max and Alec."