Title: Something Special

Author: pari

fandom: Dark Angel

pairing: Max/Alec

disclaimer: They belonged to Fox, once upon a happy time. But they were never mine. Least of all now.

code: het. (m/f)

rating: PG-13

archive: sure. But let me know.

status: complete

feedback: please!

Summary: What if Max had never met Logan...instead she's been making a living working at the Blowfish Tavern?

Author's Note: I wrote this a long time ago, and only posted it to my website (when I had one). I hadn't known then how long this fic would turn out to be. Since then I've decided to let it stand as it is. It could, perhaps, be followed up by a sequel or two someday. But you just never know with me. Hope this doesn't disappoint anyone (who still remembers this fic and/or is interested in it now). If it feels incomplete to you, just think of it this way - as an answer to these questions: "If Max had been working at the BT instead of Jam Pony, and hadn't met Logan the way she did on the show, would she ever? Would she ever be reunited with Zack? If so, how? And what would happen when/if she met Alec?"

:p Yeah. Or something like that ;)

Thanks: to anyone who's ever read my work. Especially to anyone's who's waited patiently for me to update a fic, only to be left in the proverbial "lurch." Also: to Owl, who was my beta. When I wrote enough to need one :p And to Kimmy. Who's kept in touch with me though I've been practically a non-entity in the fanfic world for a while now. And who mentioned NCIS to me. I really hadn't known anything about it till she did. Now I'm a fan and my love for DA has been rekindled. Thanks again, Kimmy!

And now... Enjoy! And let me hear from you if you do.

**** ****

It was a busy night that night…but not so busy that he didn't notice her. How could he not? Even amongst a small army of beautiful women, all scantily clad and practically begging for his attention…she stood out. Stood out because, out of all those women, she was the most beautiful by far. Long, ebony hair, curling around an oval face like strands of silk… And skin that looked just as soft, with a tan complexion and wide, almond-shaped eyes the color of chocolate. And her body… She had the build of a dancer.

A *real* dancer… Although he was sure any one of the strippers here would slap him if he ever said aloud that he didn't think they were *real* dancers. Honestly, though…how much talent did it take to shake your ass and take off your clothes?

Which was another way she stood out. Talent. She had none.

It was almost painful, how much talent she *didn't* have.

He almost winced watching her awkward attempts at "dancing" for the customer currently seated before her. It was that sad.

But the customer wasn't complaining. And as her secret admirer watched her, he had to admit that he didn't blame the old guy. Talented or not, she was the most gorgeous creature he would guess any of these men had ever seen before in their lives. Whether she was dancing…doing a pitifully poor excuse of dancing…or darning socks…it didn't make a difference. The point was it was *her* doing it. Which automatically made whatever she was doing the most erotic activity the man in her company had ever seen.

At first…he thought it was that fact that intrigued him so. The fact that she was so beautiful. Then, later, as the nights passed by, and he watched her more and more… he thought perhaps it was the fact that none of this intrigued her. Not the men, not the money. Not him. He'd approached her, time and time again, only to have her scurry, disinterestedly away. And with the reputation he knew he had…that said something.

It said that she was different. Everything about her was different than the other girls in this place. The way she carried herself…the type of customers she spent her time on. The way she treated them all. She was like no one he had ever seen before.

Or so he'd thought.

Until one night an overzealous client reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder, turning her so that her hair moved, momentarily, out of the way, and with her back to him, he was able to see the skin at the nape of her neck. He was able to see the proof that he had, indeed, seen someone like her before. Or should he say…*something* like her. Something like him.

After that it no longer mattered why she'd intrigued him in the first place. Why he'd felt drawn to her; compelled to approach her. After that, he had a reason to approach her that had nothing to do with intrigue, but with identity. He knew her identity. And it wasn't "Max", as the other girls called her…a simple stripper trying to mete out a living at the Blowfish. No…

It was 452. X5 452. And he was X5 494. He'd been looking for her for a very, very long time.

And now that he'd found her, he knew what he had to do.

**** ****

Another day…another few dollars.

Another night of spending them at the good 'ol Blowfish Tavern.

But tonight wasn't like just any night. Tonight when Alec visited the popular Seattle strip club, he did so with a purpose. He was looking for *her*. For Max. And he spotted her almost as soon as he walked through the door, having to fight his way through a throng of admirers to do so. He was well known at the Blowfish…both for his generous wallet and his generous appetite.

But tonight he was only interested in one woman. He'd known somehow, from the second he'd first seen her, that she was special. He just hadn't known why. Once he'd figured it out, he'd begun biding his time…waiting for the right time to make a move.

That time was now.

Alec grinned in anticipation, and made his way through the club to find the manager.

There were arrangements to be made.

**** ****

Another day…another few dollars.

Another night of making them at the good 'ol Blowfish Tavern.

Max finished freshening up in the back and, with a deep breath, forged out into the madness that was Seattle's nightlife. It never ceased to amaze her that she was a part of it. Every night she asked herself why…and at the end of every week the bills came in and she remembered.

It was a job, plain and simple. And not even one she was good at. Or preferred to be good at. But it paid the rent. And luckily her looks and her attitude made up for any lack of skill or desire she had for her work.

Max moved out onto the main floor, trying to do her job, but in the least conspicuous way possible. She was an "exotic dancer", as some of the other girls liked to say. Basically, a stripper…although she tried to strip out of as little as possible. Mostly she just tried to stay out of the way of the club's rowdier clientele. And depended on the tamer regulars, instead, for her tips. The lonely old men simply looking for company…or the lonely young ones, too shy to touch, but more than happy to pay to look.

And, meanwhile, she dreamed of a life more normal. If life could ever be normal for her – a fugitive on the run.

She tried anyhow. She'd been in Seattle almost two years now. She had an apartment…and a roommate she'd met at the club. Cindy…that was her name…was a regular customer, not a working girl…but that was cool. She knew Max didn't play that way. They were just friends…the best of friends. Cindy had even begun trying to talk Max into meeting this guy that worked at the messenger service Cindy worked for.

She'd tried to get Max a job there, too, but the routine hours were a problem. Max was not the most punctual person in the Seattle city limits. Plus, Cindy's boss…a guy they called "Normal", for whatever reason, was a real old-fashioned type of guy. *Real* old-fashioned. When he'd found out Max had worked as a stripper he turned her application down flat. Asshole.

Max frowned at the thought as she eyed the club for an easy mark. It was just as well, though, she supposed. According to Cindy, she was making more as a dancer, anyhow. And she never had to worry about time clocks or annoying assholes like Normal.

She didn't really have to worry about anything, to be honest. The clients rarely gave her a problem. Some of the other girls could be spiteful, but mostly they stayed out of her way. And the club's manager, Harry, seemed okay with her less than zealous approach to exotic dance. Max knew she wasn't the best stripper out there… That was why the other girls were often unpleasant to her. She wasn't really cut out for their line of work, yet Harry let her in, night after night. And night after night she raked in just about as much as all the other dancers, who thought she considered herself above getting down and dirty for her cash like the rest of them. The thing was…they were right. But the Blowfish's regular customers adored Max, and that's all, Harry said, that mattered. That and the fact that she had a fabulous ass, Max thought wryly. So Max figured she could deal.

Working at the Blowfish definitely beat her old job of cat burglary. And if she was gonna work at a strip joint, then the Blowfish was the best. The other places like this in Seattle had a real problem with its customers roughing up the working girls. But Harry employed a dependable team of bouncers. The tavern's popularity allowed this, even taking into consideration its piddly, post-Pulse budget.

Not that Max would ever need the help of a bouncer. She was more than capable of taking care of herself.

Or anyone else in the vicinity. But it was nice not to have the bother.

Then the one thing that did bother Max came strutting through the front door.

"Oh, great…"

**** ****

It was *him*.

The Blowfish's newest, and suddenly most popular, regular.

Max couldn't remember when, exactly, she'd first begun to dislike him. He hadn't been around that long…a few months, maybe. But to Max it felt like much longer. She'd never seen him before and then…suddenly…he was just there. Almost as often as she was.

And then just as often as she was.

Giving Max the disturbing suspicion that he somehow knew when she'd be working and showed up just for her. It was a feeling Max tried to dismiss as paranoia. And unfounded paranoia at that. Why would he be coming to the tavern to see her? He was quite familiar with all the other girls who danced there.

Intimately familiar, Max had to remind herself with a sneer.

And though he'd approached her several times, she'd always found some way to avoid speaking to him, much less having to dance for him. And he'd always let her. Not once had he ever pursued her in a way that might give her a reason to be suspicious.

Still…once Max had developed the nagging fear that he would, she just couldn't shake it. And as far she could tell…it had begun the first time their eyes had ever met.

It had been a night just like any other. He'd visited the Blowfish before. Rumors of "this super hot guy" who was quick and friendly with his cash had already begun to circulate so that by the time Max actually laid eyes on the man, she was already sick of his name. The girls who'd met him called him "Alec".

But she couldn't say she'd actually disliked him since then. She wasn't the type to judge a person without knowing them. But she hadn't particularly liked him, either. She didn't know Alec; hadn't met him…but he sounded like the type of guy she met all too often around the Blowfish. The rich playboy type…with too much money and too much time to spend, and too little concern for the women he spent it with.

All the other girls practically tripped on one another's toes fawning over him…exactly as they were doing now, as he wove his way through them. But Max had vowed, ever since she'd first heard the name "Alec", to stay as far away from him as possible. She wasn't a prude. She was no more immune to a hot guy than any other girl. And at least three times a year…dramatically less so. But she was smart enough not to kick it with the love-'em-and-leave-'em type. Which is exactly what Alec was rumored to be. She didn't want him getting too close. And if she had absolutely anything to do with him, he'd undoubtedly expect closeness of some kind. According to her coworkers…he wasn't the type who came to the Blowfish just to watch the girls dance.

So she'd decided to give him the cold-shoulder treatment if he even tried asking for the time of day.

She'd thought that would be enough.

She'd thought wrong.

Even getting close enough to lock eyes with him had been too close for comfort.

Because the girls had obviously been understating the situation when they called Alec "hot". He was absolute male perfection. Six feet tall and nothing but lean muscle. Wiry…blonde… With sky-blue eyes and features boyish enough to be considered "angelic". Which was a paradox. Because that smile of his was pure sin, through and through.

Max had been around beautiful men before. She hadn't lived in Seattle, spending all her nights at the Blowfish, all her life. And even if she had…just because the tavern was a strip joint, that didn't mean all the men who frequented it were trolls. She'd been around beautiful men. She'd come from Manticore, where beauty was as simple a state to achieve as breathing. And just as common.

But even if he'd taken a little trip down memory lane to Gillette with her, Max doubted Alec would have been considered common. And Max had realized, the first time their eyes had met, that he disquieted her in a way no other man, beautiful or not, ever had.

She'd disliked him ever since.

Not just because of his reputation, or his beauty, or her reaction to it…though that was the biggest problem… But because of all those things, and something else. His reaction to her. He'd had one, that day they'd first seen each other. It was subtle…she almost thought she'd imagined it. But she didn't think she had. She was good at reading people's responses. She'd been trained to do so at an early age. And he'd responded to her with interest. Genuine interest…not just the fleeting sexual kind that she saw in his eyes, now, whenever he looked at any of the other women working the area. The kind of interest that, once she'd become aware of it, had made the hair stand up on the back of her neck.

And what else it had done to her physically, she simply wouldn't think about.

Now, though, the main response Max had to Alec, physical or otherwise, was a feeling of dread settling firmly in the pit of her stomach. He was looking at her again, just as intently as she had that first night they'd noticed one another. And she felt like she could feel his eyes on her, burning into her, even from across the room.

He took a couple of steps in her direction, and Max froze, momentarily. She held her breath…

Until he suddenly turned, and headed for Harry, where he stood nearer the bar.

Then Max sighed, frowning with disgust at her own absurd reaction. Why was she letting herself get so bothered by this guy anyhow? Why did it matter to her, whether or not he came looking for her? She didn't want to be found. And so she wouldn't be. It was as simple as that.

Max turned, and headed back towards the prep room. She'd just lay low until he got bored, as he usually did after chasing her, unsuccessfully, for a few moments. Then, when he'd found someone else to entertain him…probably Veronica, Max thought with disgust originating from an emotion she didn't want to acknowledge…she'd venture back out and get to work.

Alas, she would have no such luck.

"Max! Oh, Max!"

Before she'd managed to escape the main room, she heard Harry come running after her across the main

floor.

Why, oh why, did she get the feeling this was not a good thing?

**** ****

"No, Harry. Absolutely not."

Harry's pudgy face fell, and Max tried not to sigh. He really was a sweet little guy. And Max had never had to put her foot down with him about anything. He'd never made her. To be honest, he was kind of a pushover. And Max tried not to take advantage of that fact, as some of her coworkers did. But this wasn't taking advantage, she assured herself. This was a matter of principle.

She was not listening to anything this Alec guy wanted Harry to tell her. What the hell was he doing, anyway, going through her boss instead of being a man and approaching her personally?

Never mind that he'd been trying to do exactly that for more than a month now.

The point was, Max didn't want anything to do with him. He should have gotten the hint by now and backed off. Not pulled out the big guns by going to her boss.

As much as you could consider asking Harry to talk to her as "pulling out the big guns". If Max were to compare people to weaponry then Harry, at his worst, would be a slap with a wet rag.

But anyhow…

"Come on, Max!" he pleaded, very un-boss like. But that was Harry for you. His methods of controlling the unruly masses under his employ were unorthodox, but not entirely ineffective. Max felt bad telling him no. But one glance across the bar, at Alec, leaning there against the counter, watching her… And her resolve on the issue overrode any guilt she might have felt over inconveniencing her employer.

"Not in this lifetime," Max mumbled to herself then, pointedly resisting the urge to glance in Alec's direction once again.

But she had underestimated Harry.

With the saddest puppy-dog eyes Max had seen in a long time, the man sighed.

"Max, you know I'd never ask you for anything. But do you realize how much shit I take from the other girls because of you?"

Max blinked. Actually, she had. "Harry…"

"Can you imagine how bad things'll be for me if I piss this guy off?" Harry continued. "He's their favorite client."

"So let one of them dance for him," Max said, crossing her arms. But she was wavering, Harry knew it.

"He wants you," he told Max. "One dance. In private. Something special."

He almost thought he had her… Then Max's eyes narrowed, suddenly. Her lips pursed and her arms crossed.

"What do you mean by special? You know I don't turn tricks, Harry," she told him crossly.

She kept her coolest expression firmly in place, but inwardly she fumed. So that cocky little bastard wanted to proposition her, huh? Like she was some whore! She'd give him something special, alright… A two-week stay in Metro Medical's ICU. Why was he picking on her, anyhow? Any one of the other girls would happily go home with him for free. Hell…she knew a couple that claimed they'd be willing to pay him for the chance.

Harry's grin disappeared as he blushed, looking flustered. And as angry as she was at Harry's star customer, Max realized suddenly that she shouldn't have blamed her boss for the other man's sleaziness. For the owner of a strip club, Harry was surprisingly naïve when it came to women. And clumsy. Just the word "tricks" made him nervous. Max knew he hadn't meant to insult her.

"Max!" he squeaked. "You know this isn't that kind of place!"

Max rolled her eyes. Yeah, he thought this wasn't that kind of place.

"You know I would never…I mean…This is a respectable establishment! Just because it…I…"

Max listened to the flustered sputtering a moment before putting Harry out of his misery. She hated seeing the man flustered. It really was undignified.

"All right!" she suddenly yelled.

Harry's protests broke off, mid-sentence.

"Excuse me?"

Max sighed, cringing inwardly. 'I am so going to regret this.'

"I said all right, Harry," she said, sighing again. "I'll give him his dance."

Harry's eyes lit up like Christmas trees.

"Really?"

Max had to laugh at his enthusiasm. "Yeah, really." But her voice was firm as she said, "But just a dance, Harry. That's it. He'd better understand that."

"Of course! Of course! Thank you, Max. You know I…"

Max just nodded. "Yeah, Harry, I know."

"You have the back lounge," he told her. "And I'll have Sam not three feet away." Max smiled politely, accepting Harry's offer of stationing a bodyguard at the door, though she knew it wouldn't be necessary. If Pretty Boy got too friendly she'd teach him a little distance herself. Gladly. "You're a doll!" Harry told her before walking away.

Max watched him with a grimace. A doll. Yeah. Right.

"Alec" had just better play nice. 'Or he'll find out this Barbie comes with a few accessories the other girltoys don't.

Like the ample ability to kick his cute little ass from here to the other side of Washington.

Max smiled at that thought…and went to get ready.

**** ****

The Blowfish Tavern's "special" private room really wasn't all that special.

Just an ordinary room at the very back of the bar. It seemed to double as the working girls' lounge, judging by the tv in the corner and the magazines lying on the couch. And the illusion of privacy the room provided was just that: an illusion. The only thing separating it from the girls' dress area was a heavy curtain of beads strung from the ceiling and the hum of the air conditioning, drowning out some of the noise coming from the dance floor beyond.

The back room was darker than the rest of the bar, though, and had its own sound system. Plus it was free of the smoke and the stench of alcohol that clung to the more heavily frequented areas of the bar. And as Alec walked in, fingering one of the strands of beads as he passed through the door, he was thankful for that. Being X5, he had heightened sensibilities, including the sense of smell. It was a fact he'd never regretted until coming to live in Post-Pulse Seattle. Now he wondered how Max could stand it, night after night.

The chair in the middle of the room drew Alec's attention out of his thoughts, and he took a seat, laughing as he did.

Zack would go *nuts* if he knew Alec was there.

He'd never been in the Blowfish's back room. To be honest, he didn't really frequent the bars all *that* often. And he tried not to visit the same place more than twice every couple of months. Mostly because of that incident with White a while back. And because of "big brother" Zack breathing down his neck about the dangers of being predictable.

It wasn't like he and Zack were *really* brothers – being X5 and having been stationed at different installations. But ever since Manticore had gone down and the two had ended up sharing a zip code, 599 was constantly on his case about risk and exposure and blah blah blah. He said it was because exposure for Alec meant exposure for them all, and he was only watching his own ass. And considering the fact that, when Manticore had first gone down, they'd nearly killed each other, Alec was inclined to believe him.

But sometimes…he wondered if maybe his resemblance to his twin, Zack's brother "Ben", didn't have more to do with 599's overprotectiveness than it did with fear of exposure. Either way…

Zack would go *nuts* if he knew Alec was there.

And Alec smiled. Yet another reason for being there in the first place.

But he hadn't come here just to piss off the good CO. He'd come for Max. And he probably should have just told her straight out that he was here for Zack. Judging by the fire he'd seen in her eyes earlier, Alec guessed 452 wasn't overly appreciative of his current choice of approach: by purchasing her services. But if Max wouldn't even let him get close enough to say "hello" otherwise…what else could he do?

He'd had to get Max's attention somehow. Because for all their bickering, Alec knew he did sort of owe Zack one. For saving his ass after that run-in with White, if for nothing else. And what better way of paying Zack back than by finding the "baby sister" he'd been searching for all this time?

Not that having *Alec* find her…right here in Seattle, practically under his own nose…wouldn't piss Zack off a little, too…

But Alec figured this was a good deed he was doing here. He should at least get *something* out of it.

**** ****

'I should just get myself out of this,' Max thought as she stood in the dressing room, preparing to meet

Alec in the next room. Even as she did, she knew that it was a little late for that. She'd given Harry her

word and now she'd have to follow through. Unfortunately.

Rolling her eyes, Max grimaced at her own behavior. She was nervous, and she hated being nervous

because it was so absurd. She was a trained soldier, for crying out loud. Well…she had been. When she

was nine. So why was she getting herself all worked up for some pretty boy?

Wanting to sneak a look at her special customer, without his looking at her, Max craned her neck around

the corner, peering into the back room through its beaded doorway. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and

the distance and she caught Alec's reflection in the wall-length aquarium behind him, not wanting to get

too close in case he was able to see her, after all.

Max sighed. 'A very pretty boy,' she corrected her own thoughts.

He was slouched down in a chair, one arm over the back, the other at his side. Up close – well, pretty close

– Max could see how well the denim of Alec's jeans hugged his thighs; how the leather of his black jacket

outlined his broad shoulders…

A little thrill ran through Max that had no right existing outside one of her heat cycles. She licked her lips.

"There should be a law…" she mumbled.

Because whether or not Max was a soldier, whether or not Alec was a playboy asshole – 'And he is,' Max

tried assuring herself, 'He is.' – Max still found herself attracted to the man. Wildly. Compelled, even, to

try and overlook the guy's reputation and obvious attitude.

"Yeah, right!" Max scolded herself, suddenly standing up straighter. Like that was gonna happen.

'Let's just get this shit over with,' she thought. Alec's reputation didn't matter. His attitude didn't matter;

Max's attraction to him didn't matter. 'This is just business…' And Max figured that the faster she got her

business done, the faster she could get the night done with and go home. To a nice, cold shower.

So she strutted into the back room before she could change her mind.

**** ****

Alec was still amusing himself with thoughts of pissing Zack off when Max entered the room. And all

amusement abruptly disappeared.

'Well…I'll…be…damned…'

If Alec's ass hadn't been planted on a chair, he would have fallen on it.

"She looks hot."

Which was neither here nor there, really. Max *always* looked hot. But at the moment…

She'd changed into something somehow even *skimpier* than what she'd been wearing before… Which

Alec assumed was the routine for special dances like the one he'd ordered. She wore another pair of tight,

black hip-huggers, only these were slit completely up each side, the two sides held together by lacing that

had been tied loosely, so that a nice stretch of flesh could be seen through each slit. Max's top had a

similar slit…straight down the middle; again, held together with laces.

If Alec had believed in Heaven he'd have sworn he was there. Until he noticed the very unaccommodating

frown accompanying Max's quite accommodating ensemble.

Uh-oh… What had he done?

Max entered the room and immediately came to a stop, frowning. All thoughts before of this being

business fled as she realized that Alec had been sitting there, laughing to himself. He wasn't laughing

anymore, but that was besides the point.

What the hell had he been laughing at?

As if Max didn't already feel self-conscious – being practically naked in the ridiculous outfit she'd stupidly

chosen, her mind too occupied with thoughts of Alec to realize what she'd done till it was too late and there

was no time to change.

She noticed Alec's eyes moving over her body, and went hot, as though his gaze itself were a physical

entity, touching her and burning her as it did.

'Oh…my…God…'

In a panic, Max's racing mind clung to the first thought that fleeted through it and was not related to

fantasies concerning Alec and the way he was looking at her.

That thought just happened to be: was he laughing at her?

Max put her hands on her hips – mostly to avoid the urge to cover herself up – and said, "Something

funny?"

Alec's eyes snapped to hers. "What?"

Alec felt like he was talking through a wad of cotton stuffed in his mouth. His tongue had suddenly gone

numb. And whatever Max had just said was unintelligible to him. How could she expect him to be able to

listen and to speak with her looking like that?

Max's cheeks burned. It was bad enough that she couldn't think straight around him. What?…Couldn't

she talk intelligibly anymore either? Well, what did he expect? With him looking the way he did, and her

looking like a …well, looking the way she did.

"Nevermind," Max mumbled.

If he'd been laughing at her, she'd give him something to laugh about. Well…something for *her* to

laugh about anyhow.

And burn off a little bit of her irritation and embarrassment at the same time. Max smiled the first genuine

smile she'd ever smiled in Alec's presence

It took his breath away.

Which was why he wasn't able to scream, a moment later, when Max did what she did . But first…

Max approached Alec slowly. Really playing on her naturally cat-like reflexes to make her strut smooth

and seductive.

"Why don't we skip the small talk and get right down to business," she said.

Alec slowly smiled. He'd been about to make an attempt at diffusing the situation; explain why he was

really there. Before he could *forget* why he was really there. But Max's words, the feral gleam in her

eyes…the way she moved… Had Alec forgetting much sooner than he'd feared.

"Well, I am paying for a dance, after all," he said, shifting in his seat. As if getting comfortable.

The gleam in Max's eyes became dangerous. But she grinned all the more.

"Oh, you'll pay, alright," she said, in a throaty tone of voice that made Alec's mouth water.

Max had reached his side and lowered until her mouth was right at Alec's ear, where he could feel her

breath against his skin as she spoke. Alec swallowed. And he would have smiled, both at his luck in the

situation and Max's awkward movements as she began her "dance". But he didn't get the chance. Because

then Max came down right on his foot. Hard.

Very hard.

"Ooh! Oopsy!" Max yelped in wide-eyed "innocence". She covered her mouth with one hand. "I'm so

sorry," she lied. "Guess I'm all fee…"

That was what Max said before Alec's reflexives kicked in and his leg jerked, knocking Max off her feet,

off *his* foot, and into *his* lap. Not a bad turn of events, Alec would have thought – between curses

inspired by the pain radiating through the right side of his body, and questions concerning how this meeting

with Max had gone so very, very wrong just when it was about to get very, very right … Except that then

Max "accidentally" elbowed him in the stomach.

"There I go again! I'm so sorry...I'm such a klutz today!" Insincere words spoken in a sugar-sweet, baby-

doll voice…

"What the hell are…Ow!"

Then Max elbowed him in the chin.

Alec was so intent on cradling his sore chin, his sore stomach, and favoring his sore foot, that he fell off the

chair when Max stood, looking down at her work.

"What the hell are you doing!"

Max's mirth could contain itself no longer, and Max felt a surge of adrenaline – for the first time since

she'd first laid eyes on Alec – that didn't have anything to do with her reluctant attraction to the man. It

had to do with victory. And Max laughed.

"I'll just tell Harry this "dance" was on the house," she quipped, and turned to leave.

'Oh, no you don't…'

"I don't think so," Alec managed to say, flexing his jaw. He reached out fast – faster than a human should

be able to – and grabbed Max by the ankle. With an undignified squawk, she came down into his lap yet

again, this time as he sat there on the floor. Max looked at Alec in shock and saw, to her further surprise,

that he was actually smiling.

"Well, it's not the most graceful lap dance I've ever received…but it's definitely been the most exciting,"

he told her.

**** ****

To say that Max was unamused would be an understatement. She looked down at the

position she and Alec were in, up at his laughing eyes, and her cheeks burned for the

second time since she'd entered the room. And Max is not the kind of girl who is okay

with blushing. Her eyes narrowed and her hands balled into fists.

Alec anticipated this and laughed, pulling his arms around Max's own to prevent her

from striking out at him. His strength as he held her surprised Max, but she tried not to

let her reaction show.

"Whoa, whoa…down, Tiger," Alec teased, loving the spark that ignited anew in Max's

eyes when he irritated her. Gee…if he'd known Zack's sibs were this much fun, he'd

have joined in the hunt a long time ago. "You aren't too…uh…thrilled with me right

now. I got it. Don't you think you could have found a less violent way of telling me

that?"

Alec enjoyed the look of confusion on Max's face as she squirmed to break free – to no

avail – at the same time that he felt guilty for the fact. Okay…so he didn't *really* feel

guilty. But he realized that he *should* have felt guilty… Before Max had stepped on

his foot…and elbowed him… Anyhow, she didn't know who he was. Alec had

wondered about that, but apparently Max had never run into big brother Ben after the

escape. Which was the only thing that kept him from getting pissed about his poor,

abused body. He had the upper hand here, whether Max knew it or not.

"I think my way works," Max told him, trying unsuccessfully to hide her thoughts. She

was worried. Why was she still sitting in this guy's lap? "And if you don't let go of me

– now – I'm gonna work real hard on kicking your ass."

Alec just grinned. "Oooh…feisty. I like that. It's kinky. You promise?"

Max blinked, and Alec laughed.

He didn't get a chance to do that enough anymore. And Max, obviously, didn't get

enough challenge out of the personal relationships in her life. Because she looked

astonished that Alec wasn't obeying her commands. Or the deadly looks she was giving

him. Then she glanced down to where Alec's hand had moved. And her eyes narrowed.

"I promise that if you ever touch me there again," she informed him, "You're gonna lose

all your fingers."

"What?"

Alec made an exaggerated show of looking around to see what Max was talking about.

Then he pulled his hand back as if burned. "Oh…" He looked straight into Max's eyes

and grinned. "Oops," he deadpanned. Max felt like growling.

"Wouldn't want to lose those," Alec continued, as if oblivious. "That would kind of spoil

my plans."

"Oh, yeah? And what exactly do you plan to d…"

Alec showed her…by kissing her. A long, deep, framing-her-face-with-the-palms-of-his-

hands, closed-eyes kiss. Max's words faded away with whatever protests she might have

had had she, in fact, known what Alec was going to do before he did it.

In fact, Max's presence of mind must have faded away, too. She wasn't thinking. She

couldn't be, because she was letting the kiss go on much longer than she should have…

And when she parted her lips…letting Alec deepen the kiss even further… Max told

herself, once she was thinking again, that she'd only done so to breathe. Which would

have been a reasonable argument… Had Max not been X5 and capable of holding her

breath at least twice as long as a human.

Regardless, Alec groaned when their tongues, no longer separated, met. He wrapped his

arms around Max and shifted quickly, so that suddenly she was beneath him on the floor.

His hands went to Max's waist as Max's hands came to rest on his shoulders. And on

some level, of course, he realized this *wasn't* what he'd arranged their meeting for…

Alec couldn't really decide why he'd kissed Max. Except that he couldn't think of

anything else that would have flustered her more, and for some reason he seemed to like

flustering her. Never mind the fact that pissing her off would eventually mean pissing

Zack off. Alec must have had even less presence of mind, at the time, than Max.

A problem Max seemed to remedy sooner than Alec could. And when she did… Alec

was seeing stars, doubled over, as Max walked to the door.

She'd kneed him. Hard.

It wasn't the most honorable move she'd ever used. But it worked.

And Max was so spun around, for some reason, by Alec that she *had* to get away from

him *that* badly.

Not that that was the reason she kneed him in the first place. Like so much else, she

couldn't really say why she did – she just did. Reflexively. And was left to watch, wide-

eyed, as first Alec froze, then crumpled at her side, with a sharp intake of breath that was

Max's cue to leave.

She hadn't gotten far before she heard Alec choke out her name. "Max…"

Max didn't turn.

So Alec called out again., a little more clearly. And not using Max's name, but her

*designation*. 452. Max stopped immediately.

She turned, as her heartbeat sped up and her face drained of color.

"What…did you just say?" She asked this slowly.

Alec had managed to pull himself onto his knees, but he had to clutch the edge of the

chair to keep himself there. The urge to clutch himself, as well, was strong but resistible.

Alec grimaced.

"I know who you are," he said, matter-of-factly.

Oh yeah, he knew all right. She was dead. As soon as Alec learned to walk again, she

was going to get it. Well…

Maybe not dead exactly. Once Alec got his hands on Max again he'd probably end up

doing exactly what he'd been doing when she'd kicked him. Only next time he'd make

sure to do something about the mobility of her feet, first.

A thought that inspired visuals Alec might have enjoyed, had the lower half of his body

not been reduced to one, huge ache.

"You're X5," he clarified, as if he'd needed to. But Max was so shocked, she was still

just standing there. And he had to say something while she was staring at him as if he'd

grown horns.

"Manticore made," he continued. "And don't look so surprised. Manticore's not exactly

the secret it used to be." Pity, too. If it hadn't been for Zack's wrecking the Seattle base,

and exposing the project, the government might never have unleashed Ames White upon

them. And Alec might not have had to part company with that Cadillac he'd been so

fond of…

Alec's thoughts tended to ramble in moments of intense pain unaccompanied by battle.

Max's eyes narrowed and she took a step towards Alec with a dangerous, determined

expression on her face.

"How did you…"

That's when Alec realized that his words might have been perceived as a threat. And that

he was nowhere near the condition of being ready for a threatened Max. He held up a

hand.

"I know…because I am, too," he said, glancing around them. As if he didn't already

know they were alone in the room. But he was listening for any sound within the direct

vicinity outside the room that might indicate possible company. Just in case.

Max's eyes widened once more.

X5? Him? One of her own? Max hadn't seen any of the others like her since the escape

when she was nine. Any of her brothers or sisters; her family.

It was hard to put a hold on the instant excitement and relief Max felt at the thought of

having found one...or having been found by one, but she did.

"Prove it," she demanded.

Alec sort of smiled, having seen the longing in Max's eyes before she could mask it. She

was just like all the others in her unit – sentimental. He bent over, brushing back the hair

he'd allowed to grow over his barcode. It was a concession he'd made to Zack, who

usually had his own markings removed; Alec had tried that once, and vowed never to do

it again. That damned laser had stung like a bitch.

Max stared, as Alec simultaneously pulled back his collar, and the neat row of black lines

marring the skin on his neck were revealed. Alec's barcode. A barcode just like hers.

He *was* X5. And Max felt as if a burden she hadn't realized she'd carried was lifted

from her shoulders. She read Alec's code. 331845…

The number caused a variety of flashbacks to assault Max. Flashbacks to a boy from

Max's childhood; a boy with blonde hair and blue eyes. To shadow puppets on the wall

and nights spent on the roof, the only place the children had ever really felt safe. Max

was remembering her brother, Ben. 331845739493.

His name was right there on Max's lips, but she never spoke it. Because then Max's

mind processed what she was seeing, and compared the image to that of the boy in her

memory. Disappointment and confusion came at once. Ben was 493. This was

331845739494.

"Who are you?" Max asked.

Alec pulled himself back into the chair, grimacing.

"494, as you can see," he said with a motion to the back of his neck. "People call me

Alec…as you already know." Alec smirked. "I guess what you're really asking is, who

am I to Ben, right? That's what you were thinking."

Max could only stare.

"I'm his twin," Alec told her.

"Twin?" Ben had a twin? And so Max was basically looking into Ben's face just then?

Max didn't know what to think or feel about that. It was all just so much, so fast… She

frowned.

"How did you find me?" But there was anticipation in Max's tone of voice. Her brother,

or not, Alec was X5 like her. And if he knew about Ben, then presumably Ben knew

about him. And about Max through him. Were there more of her family out there,

somewhere, looking for her? And had Alec found her for them?

But Alec only shrugged. "Chance. I wasn't really looking…" He gave Max a

meaningful look. "But I know someone who is."

Max tensed. That was what she'd been hoping to hear. But what if she were wrong

about one thing… What if it wasn't her family that had Alec looking for her? What if it

was someone else?

Like Lydecker. The man she had feared and evaded for over ten years.

"Who?" she asked, carefully.

Alec smiled. "Does the name 'Zack' ring a bell?"

"Zack?" Max's voice was almost reverent as she said the name. Not only a member of

her family, but her big brother; her CO. The brother that had brought her family together;

had helped them all escape. Had gotten captured, that night in '09, so that she and the

others could get away.

Max looked like the breath had been knocked out of her, and as if she'd been electrified,

both at the same time.

Alec had to grin even more. "I can take you to him." Then he grimaced, one last time.

"Just give me a minute…"

**** ****

He knocked – two quick raps on the doorframe.

He was a little late. Like, by a day. But Logan had learned to take what he could get,

where cooperation was concerned, when dealing with X5s. He turned from his computer

to see Zack standing behind him, arms crossed and leaning on a file cabinet. "He

knocked," Logan quipped, with one eyebrow raised. "Imagine that."

Zack smirked. "You said to work on my manners," he said.

"Only thing is…most people usually knock *before* they come in."

Zack shrugged. And he crossed his arms across his chest. Most people couldn't pick

locks as well as he could. "Don't press your luck." Ah…that Manticore wit. 'I've had

more rewarding friendships,' Logan thought.

"So, how did things go last night?" he asked, moving on. If possible Zack's scowl grew

even more fierce, and he scoffed. It would have been such an unwise idea to laugh just

then, so Logan busied himself with rifling through a drawer.

"Miserable," he heard Zack say, and Logan could practically feel his glare. "But I'm sure

I don't have to tell you that."

"Me?" Logan asked, turning back, the picture of innocence.

"Don't bullshit me," Zack warned. He paused, assessing the man sitting before him.

Then he said, as if accusing Logan of a terrible crime: "You knew there'd be dogs there,

didn't you?"

"Dogs?"

"And you left them out of the perimeter specs you gave me."

"No." Logan looked aghast, and Zack's eyes narrowed until Logan couldn't stand it any

longer, and finally laughed. Zack straightened.

"They were show dogs, Zack," Logan said, in the way of protecting his own life. "Not

guard dogs. I didn't think it was necessary to include them in reports. And how was I

supposed to know the guy kept his safe in his kennel?"

"I didn't say the safe was in the kennel," Zack reminded him after a pause. 'Oops.'

Logan smiled. He reached back into that drawer he'd been rifling through before.

"Remind me again why I haven't killed you yet?" Logan heard then. He pulled out a wad

of cash and threw it to Zack who, of course, caught it with ease. "Because you owe me

one," he replied. "And because I pay better than Normal."

Zack eyed the cash, and did something somewhat like smiling. "Oh, yeah." He tucked

the bills into his jacket. "Lousy benefits, though," he deadpanned.

Logan shrugged. "Take it up with the union."

"Oh, yeah…the United Federation of Transgenic Thieves. I'm sure a local chapter will

open up any day now."

Logan gave Zack a look, then spun in his chair until he was facing the other man. He

rose an eyebrow and held out a hand. "Speaking of which…" he said, as if waiting for

something. Zack pulled a disk out of his pocket and handed it over.

"Thank you," Logan said politely.

It was an odd, uneasy friendship – the one Logan and Zack had somehow struck out.

More of an association, really, than a friendship. Logan wasn't sure the young X5 was

capable of friendship, in the usual sense, with anyone that didn't fit into the grand scene

of protecting himself and his "siblings". The only reason he'd gotten involved with Eyes

Only in the first place was that Logan had saved his life during a run-in with Lydecker's

men. And now that Manticore had gone down, and there were so many transgenics out

on the run, occasionally facing exposure… It only made sense that the man who'd taken

it upon himself to command those transgenics worked together with the man in command

of the only influential human organization that wasn't anti-transgenic. Namely, the Eyes

Only Informant Net.

Whereas Logan, of course, only sought Zack's cooperation because he so admired the

X5's dedication and winning personality. Of course. The fact that the man could

practically walk up the side of buildings, and take on entire armies single handedly,

didn't hurt.

Tongue in cheek, Logan came out of his thoughts as Zack said: "Anyhow, if you're

gonna need anything else for the next couple of weeks, you better call someone else now.

'Cause I won't be here."

Zack was on his way out while he spoke. But he stopped when Logan responded, not just

because of the words, but also the innocent tone behind them. Too innocent. Which

didn't work well coming from Logan Cale, despite whatever Zack's first impressions

might have been of the norm before he'd gotten to know him.

"Oh, yeah," Logan was musing aloud. "Krit, right? I thought it was time you paid him a

little visit."

Zack's eyes narrowed.

"Tell him I said hi, will you?" Logan was saying. Zack hated when the other man knew

more than he was supposed to know. And Logan knew it.

"But…come to think of it, you might want to postpone this one trip for a while," Logan

went on. Zack walked back into the room just in time to catch the meaningful look the

human sent his way.

"You found one," he finally said. It was not a question. Logan produced a file and

handed it to him.

"Maybe. Nothing definite yet, but I've got my guy on it. He hauled in a perp about a

month ago for trying to hassle a stripper outside a bar here in Sector 9."

Zack immediately paused, and looked up from the file he had just opened. "Here?"

Logan smiled.

"And you think the perp is one of mine?"

"No." Logan drew out the word and raised an eyebrow. "I think the stripper is one of

'yours'". And he really loved the way Zack stiffened when he said that. Logan grinned

again before moving on. "She broke the guy's arm in three places before the cops arrived

at the scene. And she meets the possible physical description you gave me of your sister,

452."

"Max?" There was something in Zack's voice when he said the name that only existed

there when the X5 spoke of his fellow '09 escapees.

Logan nodded. "The arresting officer didn't get a really good look at her – you know, for

fingerprints or identifying marks…"

"Like a barcode."

"Exactly. She sweet-talked her way out of going in for questioning. And the perp who

harassed her had four prior arrests for the same charge on his record. So she just

answered a couple of questions, passed the cop a couple of bills, of course, and walked

away."

Zack shook his head. Having scanned all its contents, he closed the file Logan had put

together and tossed it into the other man's lap.

"And you really think it was Max?"

"Wouldn't hurt to check it out." Logan shrugged. "Like I said, the Blowfish is right here

in this sector. I've had Matt scanning reports from all departments, looking for anything

unusual. A woman kicking the crap out of a man three times her size is the closest thing

to a lead he's found so far."

Then Logan smiled, leaning back in his chair with mischief in his eyes. "If nothing else,"

he told Zack. "You could always go for the girls. I hear the Blowfish is the most

profitable strip club in the city. I doubt they make all that money selling cheap beer."

Zack snorted. "Yeah. I'll be sure to tell Asha you recommend it." Logan just raised an

eyebrow. Then he crossed his arms across his chest, tensing just slightly.

"Or you could get Alec to handle this for you," he suggested. "I'm sure this sort of

assignment is right up his alley."

Zack laughed. "No way am I sending Alec to meet my baby sister."

"Seems to me like your sister can take care of herself… Besides, who knows. You

might need him for something."

Zack gave Logan an assessing look. "You have a job you want me to do, don't you?" he

asked, eyes narrowed, slowly.

Logan smiled. "Well, you didn't expect to get information like this for free, did you?" he

asked, poker-faced.

"Yeah. A stripper whose easy on the eyes and tough on assholes. Name one who isn't."

Logan just looked at him. "Fine," Zack agreed after a moment. Then, reluctantly, after a

moment more: "But only because I do owe you one. And I always settle my debts,"

Zack admitted.

"Thanks again," Logan told him. Zack only shrugged.

"I'll go find Alec."

"Well, consider him found," Alec said, walking in, hands tucked into the pockets of his

coat. Both Logan and Zack turned to see the younger X5 enter, not aware of the woman

waiting just outside Logan's door.

"Alec," Logan greeted. Alec walked up behind Zack, slapping him on the shoulder and

enjoying the disapproving look he got in response. "Logan. Bro."

"What are you doing here?" Zack asked.

Alec shrugged, oh-so-innocently…which automatically put the other men in the room on

alert. "Oh…I was just in the sector and thought I'd stop by…introduce a friend of mine."

Before anyone could react he called over his shoulder. "Come on in."

Zack and Logan exchanged a look.

"Alec, who…"

"Don't worry, Logan. I'm sure your girl won't mind another woman being in your crib,

as long as she's my guest." A beautiful brunette walked in behind Alec, and stopped at

his side, looking both Logan and Zack up and down…before her eyes locked on Zack.

Alec smiled while Zack stiffened, then relaxed, as surprise crept in and he took a good look

at Alec's companion and the way she was looking at him. It couldn't be…

Meanwhile Alec was making introductions. "Logan, Max. Max, Logan. And Zack…I

think you two have already met."

The End...

[such as it is.]