Settling for More

A Dark Angel Story

Joshua saw Alec's face as Max left to go home after an evening of commiseration about their futures as White began the paranoia against all trangenics. It was a look that had been developing over the last few weeks, after Max had rescued Alec from Berrisford. It was a look of longing and Joshua felt the strength of the emotion. It was more than just friendship. He liked Alec. He was a good man, deeply scarred by this painful past, more than most of them had because he had been re-indoctrinated. Joshua suspected it went deeper and was much worse than Alec had let on. Still, he was beginning to open up, learning to be vulnerable around him and Max and caring for others besides himself. He felt that Max had a lot to do with that change. He was also picking up a vibe growing between them, more from Alec. He picked up a feeling of love from him, love for Max.

"Alec? Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, buddy, anything."

"Why haven't you told her?"

"Told who what?" asked Alec, at first unsure of what Joshua was asking him, then realization hit him. "Oh. You mean…Am I that transparent?"

"Just to me. You are my friend, as Max is, I just can feel my friend's emotions."

Alec turned to face Joshua and saw the sincere concern for him. He bowed his head.

"I can't. I know she loves Logan. Always will." Alec said, shaking his head. "It's ironic, you know. I once told Asha that if I loved someone I would tell them and damn the consequences, not tippy toe around like I thought Logan and Max were doing, but I now know that Asha was right. Real love isn't about words. It's about actions. I haven't given Max any reason to even care if I lived or died yet she saves me. I'm a hypocrite. I can't even form the words to tell her how much I love her because I know it can't happen and I'm too much of a coward to face the rejection."

"She knows that she and Logan can never be. The virus."

"Does she? I know she says it's over, but I'm not so sure the love ever will be. Their kind of love doesn't just stop. The virus is just an obstacle. I know that they'll find the cure someday." Alec said sadly.

"She feels for you, I know that."

"Yeh, as a friend and don't get me wrong, I'm grateful. It's all I know I'll get and I'll take what I can." Alec paused. "Before Max rescued me, I was…well, that was the problem. I didn't know what I was or who I was. All I knew was what they told me. I was so confused, thought I was a monster created from a genetic experiment, meant for nothing more than killing. After what happened to Rachel…what I did to her and her father, I began to believe it."

Alec walked toward one of Joshua's paintings and stared into the colors on the canvas.

"Max showed me that it was possible for us to care about people. When she saved me from Berrisford…when she gave up her future with Logan to save my sorry ass." He paused again. "I'm not a fool, Josh. I know she loves Logan and that will never change no matter how much she denies it, but I couldn't stop my feelings for her anymore than I could stop breathing. With every day I spend with her, I discover more things I love about her. I'll be happy to just be her friend. It'll be enough." He smiled then turned determined. "I'd die for her."

Joshua marveled at Alec's maturity and felt his honesty.

"Shouldn't she know how you feel? How do you know how she feels until you tell her?"

"I can't do that to her. She's already suffering because she and Logan are apart. If I told her, I'd only be adding to her pain. I don't want to do that. I like Logan too. I couldn't hurt either of them. Besides, what if she hates me for it and cuts me out of her life like she has Logan because she'll feel uncomfortable around me. I couldn't bear not being able to talk to her. That just might kill me." Alec joked feebly. "Guess I'm still selfish, after all. I have to be the one for her…not a substitute for Logan."

"You're in pain, I can feel it. You are suffering."

"I'd hurt more without her in my life. Better me than her."

"Your love for her is deep."

"I've never felt this way before. I love her so much. It's a love that comes from sharing the same past, the same horrific origins and the same uncertainties about whether we can fit in. I learned from her what compassion means and what it means to be unselfish, committed and caring. She was always there for me even when I didn't deserve it. I wouldn't give that back for anything." He paused. "Anyway, I better get going. Please don't say anything to her."

Joshua nodded, respecting the confidence.

"Thanks for caring, Joshua." Alec said as he patted Josh's back affectionately.

Unbeknownst to both Alec and Joshua, Max had accidentally overheard everything. Her emotions were mixed and confused. She never thought she could imagine loving anyone but Logan, but after he had nearly died, she'd been avoiding him and resigned herself to life without him, never wanting to put him at risk like that again. She then began to spend more time with Alec and Joshua.

Alec had comforted her when she had told him about Ben, something that she hadn't even shared with Logan. She had probably done it because he was Ben's clone. He helped her realize that she could finally let go of her guilt. It was like his hug and apology was like Ben telling her it was okay, that she hadn't done a terrible thing.

He hadn't belittled her about leaving Logan and was silently supportive. He made her feel better that night. It was after that night that she began to feel differently about him. Whether it was his admission that he had probably deserved the sarcastic comments she threw at him for being an ass at times, or his kind acceptance of her vulnerability, something had started to change her view of him. She did notice that when she was around him, she didn't think about Logan. Then when Logan, in his drunken state, had confronted her about whether she was seeing him, admitting that he had seen them together, she had said yes. Initially it was to convince him to leave her alone, to forget about her, but when she thought about it more later, she wondered if there was a part of her that did think of Alec as someone more. She knew for certain that she wanted Alec in her life, that she needed him and maybe a little part of her allowed her to admit that she'd be lost without him. That feeling pleasantly surprised her.

They had been caught by White's henchmen then brought before him, both of them struggling to get free, but failing.

"Well, well, 452, getting sloppy, aren't we? And with 494 as well, two for the price of one. I thought you were dead."

"Guess you thought wrong." Alec said defiantly.

"I won't be for long." White taunted as an evil smile spread across his face.

"I wouldn't get too confident if I were you." Max retorted.

"There are three of us, just two of you, and we have guns. I'd say I have good reason to be confident." White said as he pulled a gun out of his pocket and aimed it at her. "Besides, all I'll need is this one gun to kill you."

Alec struggled to loosen the hold the henchmen had on him, but they kept his arms pinned behind him, making it difficult to maneuver.

"Don't they want you to keep us alive, ship us back so that they can re-indoctrinate us?" Alec interjected.

"Usually, but I think I'll exercise a little discretion. I've wanted to kill you, 452, for months. You've been a thorn in my side every step of the way. I'm not even going to bother shipping your body back when I'm done. I'll make sure no one finds you."

"You don't have the nerve." Max goaded.

"Watch me." White practically growled with an icy grin.

Alec, his eyes wide with shock and desperation, pooled his strength and finally broke free of his captors and just before the gun went off, he placed himself in front of Max, shielding her from the shots.

Max heard three thumps from the gun and braced herself for the impacts, but they never came. It was only then that she realized that Alec had used his uncanny speed to put himself in the line of fire and had caught all three bullets in his chest. He grunted in pain then fell to the ground. Max, horrified and enraged, fiercely attacked White, kicking the gun out of his hand, catching it in mid-air and shooting it off like it was an instinctual reflex, her anger all encompassing and blinding. White took two shots, one between his eyes and fell dead next to Alec. His henchmen were smarter and ran for their lives, knowing the wrath of Max was not to be taken lightly.

When it was all over, Max came back to her senses and heard Alec's labored breathing and grunts of pain. She bent down, worried. She took her cell and dialed Logan's number, surprised at her indifference at hearing his voice. All she cared about was getting help for Alec. She apprised him of the situation, barely containing the hysteria in her voice that Alec had been hurt badly and needed an ambulance. She knew that he could get help there faster than her calling directly. After she abruptly hung up with him, she turned to Alec, her complete attention drawn only to him. She carefully cradled his head in her lap though no matter how careful she was it caused pain to ripple through him. He trembled in her arms and clenched his jaw.

"I'm sorry." She apologized. "I just wanted to make you more comfortable."

"Don't be sorry…" He said as he stiffened from more pain. The front of his shirt, soaked with blood.

Max then let her emotions break and she began to sob. "Oh, god, you're so badly hurt."

"Hey..hey…I'll be okay, don't worry." Alec tried to comfort.

"Why did you do that, you dumb ass?" She sobbed.

Alec smiled at her defense mechanism.

"Don't know…seemed like a good idea at the time…"He joked feebly then turned serious. "…saw you might die…couldn't let it happen…had to stop it…couldn't lose you…"

"Alec, I'm so sorry…you didn't have to…I'm not worth…"

"You are…" He interrupted, knowing what she was going to say, he, then, grabbed her hand when pain ripped through him. "You're more than worth it. I know it, Logan knows it…"

"No, I'm not. You know it and he knows it. All I do is hurt people I…" She said as she choked on her emotions before she could say the word love.

"That's not true." Alec said as he squeezed her hand in comfort. "Stop protecting yourself and him from you…he wants you in his life…he needs you…any love is a risk…there are no guarantees, not for humans, not for us…but not feeling anything at all is worse. Just let yourself feel it, Max. It's worth it."

Alec clenched her hand in his and started to breathe erratically.

She held him to her. It was all she could do for him and it killed her inside to see him in such pain, almost to the point of empathy, feeling the pain with him. It made her cry.

She then heard the sirens approach and started yelling "Over here" to point them their way.

"They're coming, Alec, hold on…please hold on."

At the hospital, Max paced the surgical waiting room as they first stabilized him in the ER and then rushed him into surgery to remove the bullets. Amazingly, none of them had hit his heart, but one did hit his lung and the other two had caused enough damage to create a lot of internal bleeding.

All of their friends were there waiting with her, including Logan. They were all ready to provide any comfort she needed, but it was Joshua who wrapped his arms around her to console her.

"He's strong, Max. He will be all right." Joshua said.

"I hope so. It's my fault he's here. He saved my life."

"Not your fault, Alec could do no less. He cares about you. He's come a long way from the old Alec you knew."

"He has." Max said softly smiling a little.

The doctor emerged from the operating room, his face lined with worry. Max didn't like what she saw and felt even worse in the pit of her gut. Her only thought was, "Please don't tell me you couldn't save him."

"How is he?" She asked nervously.

"He survived the surgery and we've controlled the bleeding."

"There's a 'but' in there somewhere." She said, scared.

"Yes, when we removed the bullets, we noticed that they were different and the area of the wounds were infected in a way we've never seen before. The infection is in his bloodstream."

"A virus?" She said, panicked that the same curse she carried against Logan had been coated on the bullets to exact maximum damage.

"No, something different, more like a poison. I've sent them to the lab to be analyzed. We'll have to do more research on them, but until we find an antidote, he has a fever and is in a lot of pain. We've given him as much pain medication as we can, but it doesn't seem to be working. We'll keep him lightly sedated for now."

"God…" Max whispered under her breath. "Can I see him?"

"He's been asking for you, but only for a few minutes for now."

Max nodded and followed the doctor into the recovery area. Logan watched her leave and felt pained at the confirmation of what he had seen at her place weeks before. There was something there between her and Alec, a strong bond that went beyond simple camaraderie.

She walked in and saw Alec connected to all of the machines that monitored his vital signs and it scared her. It reminded her of a time best forgotten, but that could never be truly erased. She walked over to the bed and found herself automatically reaching for his hand. He felt it and squeezed back in recognition. His face was dotted with sweat both from fever and pain, yet he smiled.

"Hey…" he said, his throat sounding scratchy and groggy.

"Hey, yourself. I'm not going to ask how you feel." She joked gently.

"I admit I've been better." He joked back. "Did the doctors tell you…"

"Yeh, we're going to find an antidote, Alec. I promise." She insisted.

"I know you'll try." Alec smiled.

"I'm sorr-" She started.

"Stop that. I knew what I was doing, I wanted to do it…I'd do anything for you, Max. You would have done the same for me…you have done it…saved my ass…when I didn't deserve it…gave up so much for me…I'm the one who's sorry…" He said insistently.

"No, no, don't be sorry, Alec. I didn't do it because…it was more than…I meant it to be so much more…" Max stuttered unable to find the right words.

She looked into his eyes and saw the purity of his soul and it made her heart swell.

"But the poison…in the bullets, you know White meant them for me. It's like Logan with the virus…I'm the reason you're going through this."

"No, they can hurt any transgenic…stop blaming yourself."

"How can I not? I feel like there's someone out there who wants to take everyone I care about away from me."

"Nothing and no one could take me away from you." He said, revealing more than he had intended, but he didn't care. It was more important to reassure her.

"I don't know, I just don't know anymore."

"Well, I do and you can bank that all of your friends would say the same thing. We care about you, Max." He stiffened with pain.

"You should get some rest."

"Mmmm…the drugs are starting to kick in nicely." He smiled as he sighed and his eyes closed. She couldn't help, but smile back.

She stroked his hand absent-mindedly and then his face. She wiped some of the sweat off his face too and felt him lean into her hand and moan.

"I can't lose you." She said.

"You won't." He replied weakly, surprising her before falling unconscious.

The next day, the doctor approached Max as she sat next to Alec's bed, watching him closely as he slept fitfully.

"I wanted you to know what we found out about those bullets. Turns out there was old research that Manticore was working on before they were dismantled. It was a poison that was based on the core DNA used in all transgenics. Whoever coated those bullets must have gotten the formula from them."

Max's face changed into anger. White would have had the access. He was dead, but that didn't mean he was the only one who knew about it. They were still in danger. Alec had inadvertently become a guinea pig.

"Was there any information about an antidote?"

"No, unfortunately the research was cut off. The only thing my friend could find out was that up until then, they weren't looking for an antidote and that it had a 50 mortality rate. What they concluded was that some transgenics's bodies created their own antibodies, fought off the poison and lived."

"Did they figure out why some lived and others…didn't?"

"No, or it didn't say. We'll see if we can find something, but until we do, we can't do anything more for Alec other than to make him as comfortable we can and hope that he creates the antibodies."

Max's façade fell away and she looked Alec's way.

"Do what you can, doctor."

"We will. You should go home, get some sleep. There's nothing you can do for him now."

"That's where you're wrong. I can be here when he wakes up."

The doctor understood and walked away.

Max sat back in her chair and took his hand. Alec stirred at her touch and woke up.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

"Don't want to sleep my life away…" He said groggily. "Anything more on what's in me?"

"Yeh, turns out it's a poison Manticore was working on to kill transgenics. White found it and recreated it."

"Why am I not surprised? I take it, there's no antidote…"

"No, they never bothered to look for one." Max said angrily. "All they learned was that some didn't die, that their bodies created antibodies against it, but they don't know why. They're going to try to find out why, but otherwise…"

"We wait to see if I produce the antibodies…" Alec finished.

Max nodded. "I feel so helpless." She looked frightened and he noticed the same look he had seen when she had talked about killing Ben so he wouldn't be captured.

"Max, I'm a survivor…Nothing's been created that can kill me…I'm too cocky to die." He joked.

"Truer words were never spoken." She joked back. "It's not that…"

"Then what?"

"I…" Max started, but couldn't finish. "Nothing."

She hated her cowardice when it came to expressing herself. She had so much to say, but couldn't find the courage or the words. She was selfish about getting hurt.

"Max, I need you to know something, just in case…" Alec struggled as he fought through more pain. "If I don't -"

"Don't talk like that."

"I need…to tell you…I can't be a hypocrite anymore, especially if I…in case I run out of time…" Alec stiffened from the pain. "Max, I…want…you to know that I love you…I've loved you…for awhile…I was just too worried about losing you if I said anything…I couldn't live…if you withdrew from me…or hated me for complicating your life…I don't expect you to feel the same…you love Logan, I know that, I didn't fall into this blind, but…I can't...I won't leave this world without telling you how much you mean to me…if I live through this and you want me to leave, I'll go. I don't want to be a painful and uncomfortable reminder to you...You taught me so much about how to really care for someone other than myself…and what love really means…I'm grateful…just to have you as my friend."

Alec lay back, exhausted from the effort of trying to talk and fighting off the pain. Breathing was becoming like inhaling fire and the rest of him felt like it was burning up.

Max looked at him and couldn't help, but smile. They were the kindest words she had ever been told. He had decided to risk being hurt emotionally when he was so vulnerable physically in order to tell her he loved her.

She had been trying to figure out her feelings for him since she overheard him that night and she had admitted to herself that it was more than just friendship. When he had been shot and she thought that she might lose him, her thoughts were only of him, not of Logan or anyone else and she literally felt her heart ache for him. She thought that only happened in fairy tale books. If he had found the courage to reveal his feelings for her and risk everything, she owed him the same thing.

"Alec, when I thought I was going to lose you. It hurt so much I thought I had been shot with you. You've been with me, even at my worst and for the life of me, I don't know why. You were the only one I told about Ben. I didn't even tell Logan. I knew you'd understand because you had gone through Manticore like me. I never told you this, but Logan saw you come out of my place that morning and confronted me about whether we were together. I didn't deny it. I thought that I had done it to finally end it between us and that was a part of it, but it wasn't the only reason, it wasn't all a lie."

Max took his hand. Alec was listening attentively despite battling the pain and trying to keep conscious. He had been ready for the let down, but even if he meant nothing to her, it would have been worth telling her in case he didn't make it. Now, to hear her tell him that there was some part of her, even if it was a small one, that felt something more, gave him hope, still he had to give her an "out" just in case it was guilt driving her to say it.

"Max, you don't have to."

"I know, and I appreciate you giving me the chance to be let off the hook, but I don't want to be let off the hook, I want to be honest with you too. I hate my insecurities and I don't want to lose you because of them. I'm scared, Alec, but I do love you and I didn't think that it was possible for me to feel this way about anyone. It's like you're in my blood. If you don't believe me, I can't blame you..." She said as she bent down and looked him straight in the eyes, "But if you need proof, look into my eyes and you'll see my heart, completely open to you."

Alec smiled the brightest smile he could give her given the pain he was feeling and squeezed her hand. He didn't think he could ever feel as happy as he was now.

"I don't have to." He said as he lifted his hand and brought her face gently closer to his and kissed her. "I feel it and you're in my blood too. You have no idea what you mean to me..."

"As much as you mean to me." Max smiled.

Alec felt the tiredness overwhelm him and faded into a peaceful sleep. She took his hand and brought it to her face.

"Please live, Alec. Find some way to beat this thing. If anyone can, I know you can. If you don't make it…I don't think I will either."

Another day passed with Alec fighting off the poison and no progress from the doctors on an antidote. Logan found her, where she had stayed from the moment Alec had been admitted, never far from his side. She saw him standing at the door and came over to him.

"How is he?" Logan asked, genuinely concerned.

"Still strong. The doctors are worried about his blood pressure because of all of the pain, but he's holding on."

"You love him, don't you?"

The question surprised her, but she knew she couldn't avoid facing Logan forever. Now was as good a time as any to confront the issue head on.

"Yeh, I do." Max said with an ease that pleased her. "I've loved him for a while, I was just too blind to see it. I'm sorry. I didn't intend to hurt you. I was so determined to make us work, to find the cure for the virus, I thought it was love, but I was just hoping for it with you because I didn't think anyone else could love me or that I could feel it with anyone else, but I was wrong. I know what real love feels like now. I feel connected to Alec, not just being X5s, but so much more."

"You don't have to be sorry. I understand. There were too many obstacles to overcome for us. If I were a romantic, I'd say that the 'gods' were telling us that we weren't meant to be. If I were a realist, I'd say that we were both clinging on to a hope that would never come. I'll always love you, but I see now, I was kidding myself to think it could work."

"Me too."

"I just want you to know that it won't change how much I care for both of you. You don't have to leave on account of me."

"I appreciate that. This is home for both of us, Logan. Everything we know is here, our friends are here. I don't think either of us wants to leave."

"I'm glad."

"Can you stay here for a minute? I don't want to leave him alone, but I need to stretch my legs."

"Sure."

"Thanks." She said as she left.

Alec stirred and looked up to see Logan standing there. He came over and sat next to him.

"Max just stepped out for a second. Keep fighting, Alec." Logan said sincerely. "We'll find the answer soon."

"Thanks, Logan…for everything." Alec said, his voice barely a whisper and his face, pale and coated with sweat.

"Everything?"

"For helping me find my direction."

"I didn't do anything –"

"Yeh, you did, whether you knew it or not. You have no idea how lost I was after…I didn't think I could do anything, but hurt people…that I would be forever a Manticore product… a soldier that just blindly took orders…" Alec clenched his eyes closed to fight off pain then took painful and harsh breaths. "But you taught me I could…be someone who could do good things."

"You already had that in you, Alec. Just took you time to figure it out."

"Look, Logan, you have to know –"

"I already do. Max told me and besides, if she hadn't, I could see it in her eyes, the way she looks at you –"

"I didn't mean to hurt –"

"I know. We talked. We both realized that we were holding on to something that just wasn't real or possible. Sometimes your heart lies to you because it's easier to believe than the truth."

Alec nodded. "I need to ask you to do a couple of favors for me." He said, trying very hard to control the pain long enough to get through his thoughts.

"Sure, if I can." Logan said, curious and concerned.

"After Max gave up the money for the cure to save my life…I felt…" He paused both from pain and from recalling a bad memory. "Well, guilty doesn't begin to describe how awful I felt that I been responsible for hurting her future with you…after all she had done for me."

"Alec, you don't have to -"

"Just hear me out…don't how long I can hold off the pain…" He said, clenching his eyes closed and taking shallow breaths. "I started using the contacts I had to find another Manticore doc…just before this happened, I got a lead on one living outside the city. I was going to meet with him…talked to him on the phone and he seemed willing to help…I jotted down his address. I didn't tell you or Max because I didn't want to get your hopes up…until I had seen him to make sure he was on the level…If I don't make it…promise me you and Max will see him…He told me he'd need another transgenic's blood…was going to offer mine…it might be tainted now, but if you can use it…take it. I'd consider it the only good thing I would have done with my life…get the cure…make her happy…everything's in my desk, the address, the money…"

Logan was speechless at first at Alec's unselfishness. It was overwhelming to hear the news that there might be a cure for the virus, but it was also bittersweet knowledge given Alec's condition and Max's love for him.

"Alec, I don't know what to say, I-"

"Just promise me you'll do it."

"You're forgetting something, Alec. She loves you and me only as a friend, she wouldn't-"

"She'll need you, Logan…If for no other reason than to hold her…I need you to be able to do that for her…" Alec said, tiredly, "There's also another reason I need you to promise me that you'll do this…"

"What? What is it?"

"There's something you don't know about us X5s…there's a kind of self-destruct function that we can activate if we're captured…call it our way to commit suicide…do everything you can to stop her from doing that…"

Logan was surprised at the revelation that such a function even existed.

"Promise me, Logan…please…" Alec begged.

"All right, I promise, but you're going to make it."

"Thanks…I want to live…I'm trying to…, but…mmmm" He said as he grabbed the bed's handrail as another wave hit him. "Oh and one more favor, find an antidote for this thing…will ya?"

Logan couldn't help, but grin because he knew Alec meant it partly as a joke and it was a comfort to hear him resort to his characteristic sarcastic humor even when he was barely able to speak through the agony he was going through. Still, it was quickly erased, seeing him struggle. He then went to get some help. He brushed by Max.

"What? What's happening?" She asked, worried.

"It's the pain, it's bad. I'm getting him some help." He said as he rushed past her.

She went in and saw Alec gripping the rail, trying to keep himself from crying out, moaning in short bursts. She ran over to him and took one of his hands into hers.

"Hang in there, Logan's getting some help. Oh god, Alec, I need to do something, how can I help you? I hate not being able to help you."

"You…do…by…being…here…" He struggled to say as he bent his head down to gain any concentration he could. He lifted it again to look into her eyes then trembled a smile, "Just…looking…into…your eyes…helps."

"How'd you get so romantic all of a sudden? You were busting my chops so much before. I didn't know you had such a soft side." Max joked, but choking on her tears.

"What…can…I…say? I'm so whipped… Guess you…bring it out in me…sick, huh? Ain't…love…grand?" Alec joked back then suddenly his eyes closed and his breathing slowed. His grip on the rail and in her hand loosened. He then fell back and at first, she felt relieved that maybe the pain was passing, but just as suddenly, she was jolted by the loud sound of alarms and they scared her in a way that nothing she had ever lived through could reproduce. Doctors and nurses flooded into Alec's room and pushed her out as gently as they could to work on him. She backed out of the room, stark fear etched on her face. She was unable to take her eyes off of the flat line on the monitor that was his heartbeat. Joshua was the first to arrive and saw her continuing to back away. He held her in his strong arms, which broke her shocked composure and she started to whimper.

"Oh, god, no, please god...Joshua...no, no, no! This can't be happening! ALEC! ALEC! NO!" She finally screamed.

"It's all right, Max, I'm here, we're all here. Alec will be okay."

"No, his heart, it stopped, I saw it! I saw it..." She continued.

"The doctors are helping him. He's going to be all right."

Max could only cry into Joshua's arms and he just held her. He helped her into a chair. All everyone else could do was show their support in numbers. After a several minutes, the doctor came out, grim-looking and exhausted.

"We got him back, but I'm afraid he's fallen into a coma. His vitals are strong for now, but we're going to have to wait and see how deep the coma is."

As the doctor left, a deafening silence fell over everyone, except for the sound of Max's softening sobs.

"I have to go back to him." She said and no one argued or stopped her.

Max then walked to his bed, sat back down and laid her head on it. Everyone watched her and became worried. It was like she was in some kind of shock or worse yet, denial. They all began to think Alec wasn't going to recover and were afraid of what would happen to her if he didn't. All they could do was wait outside and watch over her, be there for her if the unthinkable happened. All Logan could think about was what Alec had last said to him.

"…there's a kind of self-destruct function that we can activate if we're captured…call it our way to commit suicide…do everything you can to stop her from doing that…"

After seeing her face, he wasn't sure he could stop her.

"Don't die, Alec. She can't live without you. She won't live without you. I see it in her eyes and I don't think I could stop her." He said to himself.

Max couldn't take her eyes off of him. She was terrified to. She held onto his hand and reassured herself by its warmth. She then stroked his face, his achingly handsome features marred by stillness. She'd given anything to see a smile, even a grimace as long as he was awake to talk to her. She needed him so much more than he knew, than she knew.

Joshua walked tentatively into the room.

"Max, you need to get food."

"Not hungry." She replied absently. "Can't leave him…he'll die if I leave him."

"I'll stay with him."

"No, Logan did and –" She broke down in sobs. "I shouldn't have left him."

"Max, not your fault. He will come back to us."

"You don't know that. I don't know anymore."

Joshua went over to her and sat next to her.

"Don't say that. He can't hear that."

"He can't hear anything." Her anger rising.

"You're wrong. He can hear us. He can feel us. I feel him. He's here, trying hard to come to us. He needs our voices to lead him out."

Max wiped her tears and looked at Joshua, suddenly hopeful.

"Do you really believe that?"

"Know it. I feel him telling me not to give up on him…He's afraid, alone in a darkening place. Our voices are his lights. He's even more afraid for you."

"For me? Why?"

"Feels you giving up, not on him, but on you. He doesn't want that to happen. It makes him try even harder to come back. He wants to be with you, Max. Your darkness scares him even more."

Max looked back at Alec and she began to believe a little somehow. She found herself clinging to that small thread of hope. Joshua never lied to her. If he felt Alec, then she believed him and if Alec was trying to get to her, she had to help him find her.

"Okay. I'll talk to him."

"Good. I'll get food. Promise me you'll eat."

Max only nodded as he left the room.

"Alec? I hope Joshua's right and you can hear me. Please don't leave me behind. I need you. I do feel like giving up because you're not here to keep me in one piece. We wasted so much time fighting, but we can't be over now that we've found with each other. Oh, Alec, I feel so much, the thought of never holding you again, of never hearing your voice, gives me so much pain. It takes my breath away. I've never felt so much and a part of me wants it to stop, but something inside me tells me, it's you there. Reminding me you're still here, alive in me. I love you, Alec. Hear that if you hear nothing else. I love you. I love you." Max said and then just laid her head down on the bed. She fell asleep instantly.

"Max…Max…are you there?" Alec called, his voice sounding as if he had traveled a thousand miles through gravel and glass to get to her.

Max heard her name under the veil of exhaustion she felt and it took her a little while to realize where she was. When she did, she looked up at Alec's face.

"Max…where are you?" He called out again weakly.

"I'm here, I'm here." She said as she stood up to look into his face, she began to lightly pepper his face with kisses then looked back at him. "I'm here."

Alec then sighed and smiled. "I made it back to you."

"What?"

"I was in this dark place…" He sighed. "I couldn't find you, but I heard your voice and all I could do was follow it and hope it would lead me to you and it did."

"Oh, god, Alec! I'm so glad you're back. I was so scared."

He lifted his arm to stroke her back in comfort, even as weak as he felt. Her body so close to his gave him a strength that he couldn't describe.

"Don't be scared, Max. I'm here. You brought me back."

A few more days later, Alec was sitting up in his bed, but the ordeal was still etched on his chiseled face and he felt too weak to get out of bed. He also felt some residual pain, but nothing compared to what he had already gone through. The doctors were amazed at the recovery he was making and asked if they could use his blood to develop an antidote from his antibodies. Alec consented gladly. He wanted to ensure that if any of White's men ever came back to exact revenge on them or any other transgenics, they would be spared what he had gone through.

Alec had asked Max to get him some more water and then Logan walked in.

"Told you that you would make it." He smiled, genuinely glad that he had survived.

"Yeh, well, it was touch and go there so I wasn't so sure myself." Alec said weakly as he smiled.

"I'm glad that you're all right." Logan said earnestly.

"Thanks." Alec paused. "I want you to know that when I get a clean bill of health, I'm still going to get the cure."

"You don't have to now."

"Yes, I do. I have to more than ever."

"I don't understand."

"You see, almost dying, I realized that Max deserves to have you back in her life. I'm not jealous of your love for her. If anything, I can't blame you for loving her and I know that she still loves you and needs to be able to reach for you without fear. I want to give that to her, to the both of you."

"Give me what?" Max asked as she walked into their conversation.

"I'll explain later. It's not a secret, it's kind of a gift actually." Alec smiled and winked at Logan. He then left them alone together.

Max was curious, but not worried. She trusted Alec completely.

"Okay, you know how much I love gifts." She smiled.

Alec just loved seeing that smile of hers and bringing it out in her, made him even happier.

Max then climbed into the bed and laid next to him, her head nestled in the crook of his shoulder as he kissed the top of her head, his favorite thing to do. She sighed deeply, feeling safe for the first time in days.

"I love you so much." Said Max, feeling that she couldn't say it enough and she had told him that.

"I love you too, Max, but you don't have to tell me every minute." Alec teased.

"Yeh, I kinda do. What happened to you made me realize that we don't have all the time in the world."

"None of us do. We can't live in fear of what might or might not happen."

Alec then had a far away look on his face.

"What is it?"

"This makes three."

"What?"

"The times you've saved my life. Today, the time with Berrisford, and…when you gave up your chance with Logan with that doctor, I don't deserve you after all I've done." Alec said softly.

"Don't do that, you're not the same man, besides I didn't save you today. You were strong to enough to live. You've always been strong. I was counting on it."

"I'm strong because I knew you'd be here. Because you love me and I'm a better man for loving you." He paused. "I never told you this, but that first time when the doctor gave you that awful choice and you chose to save my worthless life, I was so ashamed and I hated myself for doing that to you, to both of you. The pain I saw in your eyes was etched painfully into my mind and wouldn't let me sleep, as it shouldn't have. It was that night that I knew I had to change, but I didn't know how. You have no idea how conflicted I was, but one constant stayed with me, you. You showed me that I didn't have to be a killer. Everything I went through was worth it to become the man I am today. I've finally found my place in this world. I owe you everything, Max." Alec said with genuine gratitude.

Max was overwhelmed with emotion.

"I love you, Alec."

"And I love you, Max."

8/1/06 10:58 A8/P814