DISCLAIMER: Dark Angel isn't mine. I hate that fact, but wish I could do something about it.
A/N: If this sucks…it's your fault. LOL! Talk about pressure. In my mind, Speed Dial ended last chapter. In my heart, it ended last chapter. Can you blame me that this epilogue didn't want to be written? I stayed up until 2 AM forcing words out…and I wanna cry cuz I have to work tomorrow! But oh well. Let me know if there are any discrepancies, because I haven't read it over. I very rarely read anything I've ever written, because it just makes me…uncomfortable. But if y'all catch something, give me a heads-up so I can fix it okay? But be relatively nice…(please) because I really did put some serious time and effort into finishing Speed Dial for everyone.
A/N2: I loved Zane from my other story, When I'm With You. I figured I'd use him as a cute plot device again. He's such a sweet ass. Enjoy Zane's zany-ness!
A/N3: Thanks to Jenwin23 for suggesting that I add some more Alec-angst. It's there now. Just a little bit. Hehehe.
Max frowned at her buzzing pager.
She pushed back the dark hair that had fallen over her eye with an impatient growl. Everyone knew better than to bother her while she was working. She impatiently reached down and pressed a button to stop the thing from distracting her. She didn't bother checking the number that had flashed through the tiny screen. Instead, she went back to work, her brow furrowed in concentration and mild annoyance.
The pager buzzed and vibrated against her hip again.
She sighed and stopped what she was doing. She reached down and shut it off again.
But within seconds, the darned thing was buzzing, beeping and vibrating again. She stifled a sigh, and instead rolled her eyes heavenward. Only, she didn't see blue skies or gray clouds. She saw rusty pipes and slightly damp, moldy corners.
This time, she reached down and grabbed a hold of her pager, looking at the numbers that flashed through the screen. All three pages had come from the same number. "This better be good," she muttered under her breath.
She quickly finished what she had set out to do and pushed herself from under the sink. She stood up and brushed imaginary cobwebs off, before smiling apologetically at the worried-looking woman who had been hovering over her for the last fifteen minutes.
"Just need to replace the U-pipe and you're good to go," she said, wiping her hands on the towel that hung from her tool belt.
The strawberry-haired woman just looked blankly back at her.
Max resisted the urge to roll her eyes and sigh out loud. Instead, she held up the pipe in her hand. It was shaped like a U. "This one."
Max's pager went off again, and this time the woman's gray eyes looked questioningly at it. "Is anything the matter?" she inquired.
Max shrugged, glancing cursorily over the bluish tint of the screen. It was the same number. "It's fine. Just work-related issues," she replied dismissively. She laid the U-pipe on the kitchen counter and smiled politely at her client. "I'll send a co-worker to finish the job."
Her pager beeped again. Max seriously considered running it down the garbage compactor right next to the sink. She smiled apologetically at the woman, whose brow had creased so much her eyebrows were almost meeting down the middle. "Looks like it's an emergency. I'm really sorry, lady, but I gotta blaze," she said in a rush, gathering all her tools and shoving them into a metal box with a series of clangs and thuds.
"But…what about my sink?"
Max shrugged, then looked meaningfully around the mansion. "I'm sure you got other ones." She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the older woman. Instead, she turned around and started to leave the way she came in.
"Wait! How do I pay you?" asked the woman.
Max waved her off with a careless flick of her wrist as she walked past. "Don't worry 'bout it," she replied easily. "I'll send a bill."
Besides, the two Swarovski crystal figurines weighing heavily in her pockets were more than enough to payment.
With a small Cheshire cat grin, Max walked outside into the California sunshine. She looked out towards the Pacific Ocean and took a deep breath. It still amazed her how different this part of San Francisco was from the rest of the city. The houses here were massive, their windows sparkled, their lawns were mowed and green, and people could even afford to smile and wave nicely at each other.
Max walked towards the beat-up black '69 Camaro she'd bought and threw her tool bag in the backseat. Then she slid into the driver's seat of her car and gunned the engine.
"ZANE!" she hollered, slamming the apartment door shut with a loud bang behind her. "This better be good!"
She made a beeline straight for the kitchen and towards the fridge. She grabbed a half-eaten sandwich, not really caring if it had once been hers or Zane's. Not that it mattered, since they pretty much stole everything from each other. She'd been sharing the apartment with Zane for the last four months. It had only taken two months of near-non-stop searching to find him in Los Angeles. Then, she had convinced him to move to San Francisco to stay under the radar.
She wondered if he had heard from Syl, Krit or any of the others. Since finding each other, they'd taken up following leads on the rest of their siblings. It was almost like a hobby. It was something she had to live for.
She took a beer from the fridge, and then shoved the sandwich into her mouth when she decided to pull another bottle out for Zane.
"Zane!" she called again, her voice muffled by the bread that hung from her mouth.
He finally sauntered into the kitchen from the living room area, a lazy grin on his handsome face. He leaned casually against the counter next to her, effectively dwarfing her with his six-foot-five frame. "You hollered?" he drawled.
"You paged?" she countered, an eyebrow arched.
Zane's intensely blue eyes glittered mysteriously. More than once, Max was reminded of the strange beauty of Trask's eyes each time she looked into Zane's. Maybe, they had the same genetic donor spliced into them. Either way, his eyes were a disconcerting blue, so bright that they looked like a light was forever shining from behind them.
And while Zane was indecently handsome as was Manticore's standards, his eyes drowned out everything else in a room. A person simply could not help but be mesmerized. Like she was now. Max blinked in annoyance. "Stop staring," she snapped. "It's rude."
"You stop staring," he retorted. "I can't be expected to walk around with my eyes closed. Besides, it's not my fault that I'm blindingly handsome."
Max rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, puh-lease! Not that again."
He chuckled. "I speak the truth, Baby."
She narrowed her eyes at him and flicked a piece of bread towards him. He swatted it away easily with one hand. "You're such a brat."
"Whatever," Zane shrugged, and stretched languidly, extending his long, lean body up, so that his hands actually touched the ceiling. Max stared suspiciously at him. He was acting too casually, like he always did when he was building up the courage to tell her something.
"Whatever it is, Zane, I'm gonna find out anyway, so might as well spit it out," she said calmly, giving him the sternest look she could muster. There was something about Zane that just made it hard to be angry at him. Every time she looked at him, she just couldn't rouse up enough reason to be really angry with him. It was those eyes, dammit.
"Well…" he stalled, by carefully cracking his fingers one-by-one.
"Did you find out anything about the others?" she asked impatiently.
He looked at her, his brilliant eyes boring into her in a way that made the hairs on the back of her arms stand on end. "You could say that," he said carefully.
"Really?" she asked breathlessly.
She caught the slight flicker of his eyes towards the living room, and she found herself pushing past his tall frame and into the other room in a rush. "Krit? Syl?"
But her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the person standing by the window.
"Alec." Her voice was breathless, like she'd been punched in the gut really hard. She felt knots start to form in her stomach, her hands went cold and sweaty, and her throat was so dry she found herself swallowing several times just to stop it from sticking shut.
He looked as good as he did in her dreams.
His hair was slightly longer now, curling just over the collar of his jean jacket. The top looked ruffled, like he constantly ran his hands through the tangled curls. His hazel-green eyes—not as striking as Zane's, but infinitely more mesmerizing to her—were not as bright as she remembered, but there was still a glimmer of amusement in them. He seemed broader and taller than she remembered, too. It was a reminder that six months of just dreaming about him, replaying memories of him in her mind, came nowhere close to really being in his presence. His blue-gray sweater was stretched taut over his chest, emphasizing broad-shoulders. His dark-blue jeans hung loosely around his hips and legs, hiding the slight bow in his legs that she knew was there. That slight imperfection only made him all the more perfect to her.
He took a step forward, and before she could stop, she found herself taking a step back, maintaining the distance between them. "What are you doing here?" she asked, her tone almost accusing. "How did you find me?" She hadn't been ready to see him. She hadn't expected to see him today.
Yet, there he was standing in front of her, indecently handsome, and very, very real.
Alec licked his lips uncomfortably, unsure with how to deal with Max's hostility. He'd always known where she was. She had promised to keep in touch with Original Cindy and Sketchy. Alec couldn't make Cindy say a word to him, but Sketchy had been an easy source of information. Even Logan had been willing—to his surprise—to give him information about how Max was doing. All he ever had to do was ask.
Then when things had gone FUBAR all over the media, he had suddenly found every reason to show up at her doorstep.
Except that, the last thing he had expected when he arrived in San Francisco was another man to open Max's apartment door. Worse, a taller, darker, good-looking (Alec wasn't gonna give on the better-looking part) man. Worst of all, he was transgenic, too.
Zane—as the other guy had been called—had instantly recognized him. Calling him first by his designation, then by his name, and then inviting him inside. He'd said something about how he knew so much about him by the way Max never talked about him. Zane hadn't bothered to explain that statement, and Alec couldn't bring himself to ask for an explanation. He'd been too busy trying to keep his expression blank…because it had been a knife in the gut to see pieces of Max intertwined with pieces of Zane.
They obviously lived together, and the almost-cozy feeling of the apartment told him that Max was probably pretty happy with the arrangement. He had almost turned around and left at that point. He hadn't even considered that Max might be happy away from him. He certainly had been nothing but empty and miserable without her.
He had turned to Zane, to tell him that he was leaving, except that Zane seemed to be one step ahead of him, and had kept on insisting that Max was on the way.
And Max had come home, just like Zane said. She'd come home, hollered out Zane's name…and Alec's heart had ached just a little bit at the familiarity and warmth in her tone. He'd tried not to, but he'd listened in on their conversation in the kitchen. They were comfortable in each other's company. He'd seen the little piece of bread that flew across the room towards Zane. Max was even playful with him…and Max used to be as playful as a rabid dog.
Then Zane had called her "Baby", and Alec had been torn between jumping out the window and running away as fast as he could from their coupledom bliss, or beating the life out of Zane, tossing Max over his shoulder and taking her with him.
His fists clenched and it was a real effort to keep his breathing even and his face blank.
He had spent the last six months pining for her, and she had gone off and lived with another man. The universe had a really twisted sense of humor, and he seemed to be the butt of every fucking joke. Suddenly, he understood exactly how appealing running away could be. How the possibility of suffocating and choking up inside was suddenly very real, and how the only need inside of him was to be away.
But before he could make an escape, there she was, rushing into the room like a whirlwind. And she took his breath away. "Hey, Max."
She was different, yet the same. She had cut her hair to shoulder length, and dyed it a lighter brown. The leather he had once associated with her was nowhere to be found, and instead, she was wearing a pair of dark blue overalls that did nothing to hide her figure. A tool belt hung low over her hips, looking more like a fashion accessory than a job necessity.
Her brown eyes were the same, though. At first, Alec had read the shock and confusion in her eyes. He had seen the turmoil of emotions churn in those dark eyes. Then just like that, she had blinked and he couldn't read those eyes anymore. "What are you doing here?" she'd demanded.
He had taken a step forward.
She had stepped back.
She might as well have slapped him in the face. He stood completely still, his outward composure belying the pain, anger, confusion, and desire that warred inside of him. "I…" he trailed off, suddenly realizing that the reason he was standing in her apartment in the first place was to take her home to Seattle.
But that had been under the assumption that she would have easily gone home with him after he'd explained everything. He had come expecting to be some kind of knight in shining armor. But then, maybe she didn't need him at all. Maybe she really was better off without him. Maybe…maybe she never belonged with him in the first place.
In any case…he suddenly had no reason to be butting into her life again. He had wiped away that smile on her face the moment she saw it was him. He almost wished she'd simply hit him with a slugger right then and there instead of letting him see the look of panic and distance in her eye.
"I had some news…and I figured…" he shrugged, letting her finish the statement as she wished.
"How did you find me?" she demanded instead again, tapping her booted foot impatiently on the wooden floors.
"Wasn't hard," he said, shoving his hands into his pants pockets. "I mean, you told Cindy and Logan where to find you." Alec couldn't quite keep the bitterness from his tone. He looked at her, his eyes asking why she hadn't thought to tell him how to find her.
Her lips compressed together into a tight line. "What do you want from me?" she asked abruptly, her expression as tight as her lips.
"Baby, I think it's obvious what he wants," drawled Zane, whom both of them had forgotten was still in the room.
"Zane! Vanish!" she snapped, her eyes burning brightly with anger.
Instead, he just laughed and stayed exactly where he was. Max threw a quick, frustrated glance at Alec before pushing the taller man out into the kitchen again. She didn't let up until Zane was backed against the far wall.
"Why didn't you tell me he was here?" she hissed quietly.
"Would you have come if I had?" he countered, not at all concerned that she was mad and could probably break every bone in his body.
"Yes!" she replied angrily. "And I would've been prepared!"
"Liar," he drawled lazily.
"This is just awkward!"
"Congratulations on figuring that out," he smirked, sarcasm coating his words.
She pulled his shirt and shoved him hard against the wall. "This is not funny!" she said through gritted teeth. "And this is all your fault!"
Zane rolled his eyes at Max. "Look, the way I see it, he has something to say and you have something to say. So…why don't the two of you kids just spit it out and get it over with. Like a band-aid, y'know, just do it."
Suddenly, Max's face crumpled into a look of pure vulnerability. It was a look Zane had never seen on his sister's face before. He knew that she cared about Alec, he just hadn't realized how much until now.
Her eyes told him that what she felt for Alec completely left her bare. And he almost understood how terrifying that must be. He took her face in his hands, cupping them gently. "Maxie, what have you got to lose?" he asked so softly that his voice was barely a caress.
"You wouldn't understand…" she said bitterly, her eyes welling up in tears. Zane had once admitted to her that he avoided anything that would even remotely resemble a relationship like the plague.
"Zane…" she begged. "Don't make me say it."
He smiled gently at her. "Consider it practice. Now, tell good ol' Big Brother Zane how you feel about little ol' Alec over there."
"I can't just be expected to say that I love—"
"Looks like I'm interrupting something here," said Alec, breaking her off as he suddenly appeared at the kitchen doorway. "I'm just gonna go." His tone was brittle, his eyes shining feverishly like he was desperately trying to hold on to some semblance of control.
Max's mouth went dry at the thought of Alec leaving…of losing him again. Zane was right, this could be her last chance. Only, she didn't know how to make the most of it. Subconsciously, she clung to Zane harder, and she saw Alec's eyes flicker towards her hands, tightening around Zane's shirt.
Zane must have seen the same thing because he all but threw her away from him so fast that she almost stumbled. Then he grinned at Alec. "No, no, no, buddy," he said, shaking his head and waving his hands in a negative gesture. "I'll go and you stay. Little Max here has something important to say to you."
Max threw a death glare at Zane, but he just chuckled, "Band-aid, remember."
Then he grabbed his jacket on his way out and left the apartment with a small click of the door.
"You have something to say to me?" asked Alec, his face politely inquiring and distant.
"You had some news you needed to tell me?" she countered, stalling, her heart thundering as she considered all the ways to tell him she loved him.
Suddenly, Alec's expression was wiped clean. His eyes turned somber and dark, and the corners of his lips tilted downward. "Yeah," he murmured quietly.
The changes in his expression sent warning bells ringing in Max's head. Her own features settled into a frown as well. "What is it? What's happened?" her tone became brisk and businesslike.
He clenched his jaw and took a deep breath, uncertain with how to proceed. He ran a hand tiredly over his face. "Max, haven't you been watching the news?" he asked softly.
She looked away guiltily. "I don't own a tube, and it's not like I wanna be reminded of how we're on everybody's 1,000 Things to Shoot Dead Before You Die list."
Alec looked down at the floor, ran a hand tiredly through his hair and sighed heavily. Then, he reached inside his leather jacket and pulled out a disk. "Then you need to see this."
Max eyed it warily. "What is it?"
"It's from Logan. News coverage of the so-called 'Transgenic Situation' in Seattle." His expression was sober and dark.
Max tentatively reached over and took the disk from his fingers. She popped it into Zane's computer and waited impatiently for the footage to load. Her throat felt tight and it was like an elephant was sitting on her chest. She didn't really need to see or hear it to know what happened.
It was there—in his eyes, in his face, in the tone of his voice—and she felt the old need to run away from the suffocating feeling of terror rise inside of her again. Her limbs actually ached with the need to get away from the horror of the situation. But she knew that running away didn't really make her problems go away.
In fact, just like Alec, they had a tendency of finding her anyway.
When Max had been a child, just after the Pulse, she had watched as a large wrecking crew had arrived in one of the squatter areas she used to live in. They had come with their bulldozers and wrecking balls and packs of C4. And she had watched from nearby as they methodically brought a fifteen-story building down into a giant heap of ruble within minutes.
Watching the Sector Police brutally beat a transhuman to death was like seeing that building fall slowly to the ground. It was watching something so terrible to its inevitable conclusion…and knowing she could do nothing to stop it.
Max felt a sob try to break out of her chest. "Say it," she whispered, still needing to hear the words out loud.
"There's more to this, isn't there?" Her voice was a hoarse whisper, barely able to form the words. "There are others."
Alec compressed his lips tightly as memories of recovering bodies of their fellow transgenics flashed through his mind. He stared blindly at the wooden floors of Max's apartment, willing the images to go away. He could still remember clearly the way the blood made his fingers slip over their skin as he tried to drag their bodies away. He could still smell the ash from the burning wooden X's. He could—
Max's warm hand closed lightly around his wrist. "Alec?"
"People," he said softly. "Just people. They were attacked by a fearful, mindless mob, Max."
Max's heart throbbed painfully at the hurt and anger in his voice. "This is my fault, Alec," she whispered sadly, wanting to take the burden away from him.
He looked at her, frowning darkly. He grabbed her by the upper arms and almost shook her. "No, it's not."
Max tore away from his grip. "Oh, yeah? Well, who burned down Manticore in the first place? Who made them—all of us—into fugitives, into free-for-all targets? It was me, Alec! Don't you get it? It was me! And it's all my fault that they're all dead!"
Alec stared at Max's stricken face, not knowing what to say in response to her outburst. She leaned heavily against the wall, her tool belt jangling noisily, the only sound in the apartment. Alec walked towards Max, his footsteps barely making any noise on the wooden floors. He reached forward and cupped her face gently in one hand. "Listen to me, Maxie," he murmured softly. "It is not your fault. You did what you thought was right."
She looked up at him with tired brown eyes. "What if I was wrong?" she asked softly. "What if everyone was better off in Manticore? At least all those who died would still be alive."
Alec clenched his jaw tightly. "Max, do you hear yourself talking right now? Manticore? Better? And even if they would have been alive, they wouldn't really have any kind of life now, would they?"
Max looked away from him. "Wasn't it you who said that it wasn't so bad in the first place? Food everyday, shelter over your head." She twisted her lips in self-derision as she remembered the first time they met.
Alec snorted. "I was…"
"An ass?" she filled in with mock sweetness.
The corner of his lips lifted into a small smirk. "I was gonna say that I was trying to convince myself, too."
"Alec…" she sighed tremulously. All this tenderness from him was breaking down her defenses like no wrecking ball ever could. He still had his hand just around her nape, his thumb tracing lazy lines over her jaw bone. She felt every brush down to the tips of her toes, melting her, weakening her. This was exactly one of the reasons why she had left. When it came to Alec, she was just weak. "I…what are you doing here? You could've just called or written me a letter…you didn't have to come."
"Called? With the phone number you didn't give me? And write you a letter? I didn't exactly get one of those maps with the big 'Max is here.' sign." he mocked slightly, removing his hand from her.
"You would've found a way," she retorted. She was already missing his touch. She subconsciously reached up and traced the warmth he had left with his fingertips on her cheek.
"I did. I'm here."
She eyed him in annoyance. "But why?"
Alec threw an exasperated, tired look up at the ceiling before running his hand roughly through his hair. "I just thought that with the way things are going for our kind that you might…that it'd be easier…safer…if you came back to TC."
She looked at him in disbelief, her dark brown eyes both sad and angry at the same time. "Alec, I can't go back! Not especially with what's happening out there! Who do you think they're gonna blame?"
Alec clenched his jaw in an effort to control his mounting frustration. "That's just what I've been saying, Max! Nobody blames you!"
"Oh, really?" she drawled sarcastically, her eyes spitting fire. "You think I was just imagining all those looks people gave me, the whispers behind my back?" She pushed off away from the wall and advanced menacingly down on him.
"Do you think I wanted to hear those things that 735 said?" she demanded, pushing a forefinger on his chest. "Do you think I wanted to be known as the Queen Bitch?" she jabbed her finger on his chest again until he took a step backward.
"Why do you think I'm such a bitch in the first place? Because everywhere I went, people had already figured out exactly who I was! Nobody really wanted to know me!" This time, she placed both her hands flat on his chest and pushed.
"I think you should go." She said softly, as he stumbled a few steps away from her. They stared at each other in silence. Max wasn't sure whether her face showed her anguish, or if she had succeeded in looking like the queen bitch she had been accused of being.
She was trembling inside. She had never told anyone of how hurt she was about her reception at Terminal City. The way people just accepted Alec and all the others, but not her. Never her.
She had barely even acknowledged it for herself. She had just given in to the final urge to run away. She thought she was doing the right thing, especially for Alec. He was in a place where he belonged…and that was somewhere she could never belong.
"Please, Alec," she said, her voice quivering, and she hated it. "Just go. I'll be fine here."
He didn't answer for a long time. Instead, he just looked at her, like he was seeing her for the first time. Then, he slowly walked towards her, his eyes never leaving her face. Max broke eye contact, but refused to back away from him.
Alec had never seen Max look more beautiful than she did now. She was trembling, the fine tremors barely noticeable under her skin, but she was still defiant and desperately searching for strength inside of her. He wanted nothing more than to be her strength. So, he continued to take small, quiet steps towards her, hoping against hope she didn't run away from him anymore.
"The first time we met," he whispered suddenly. "I hated you."
She gasped slightly at his admission and looked down at the strong pulse that beat at the base of his neck. He was pretty sure she could see how fast and how erratic his heartbeat was. He noticed the tiny movement of her shoulders that told him she was about to back away from him. He caught her chin before she could move away.
He lifted her face, forcing her to meet his eyes again. "I was programmed to hate you on sight. I had enough pain inside of me to make sure I never forgot that it was your fault. I had every reason to hurt you as much as I've been hurt because of you. That's why they assigned me to you."
Max took a deep, shaky breath at his words, but did not break eye contact. To hear it from Alec, from the one person who meant the most to her…it almost destroyed her. If he was punishing her, then she knew she deserved it.
"But you know what?" he murmured in wonder. "I couldn't hate you."
She looked at him, eyes widening. She opened her mouth to say something, but he shushed her with a fingertip.
"You were vibrant and alive. You were feisty and strong. You were everything they had taken away from me. And to be honest, I figured along the way that none of the shit they did to me was really your fault. They just wanted to take away the same things they'd already taken away from me."
"Alec," she sighed, her lips brushing against his fingertips, not sure what to name the emotion that was stealing her breath away.
"I couldn't hate you…but I never, ever, in my wildest dreams thought I would fall in love with you."
"What?" she gasped, her heart thundering.
"Every time I was with you, I only saw the opposite of what Manticore had painted you out to be. You cared about everything with a fire and a passion that you shouldn't even have. No one ever taught us to care. And even if it's just whether or not Sketchy got in trouble with some thugs, you still cared. And I wanted so badly to be one of those people you cared about," he explained. "But I knew…well, after everything that I did to you…I knew you probably wouldn't."
"You're wrong," she whispered.
"Yeah, I had to be, right? Because you've saved my life dozens of times even when you had absolutely no reason to. I mean, even for someone who had caused your life to go sideways, you had enough compassion in you to…to still…" he broke off and looked away from her. He didn't know how to continue. He didn't know how to say just exactly what she meant to him. How does one say something there weren't even words to express?
She continued to stare at him expectantly, her face an unreadable mask of confused emotion. He sighed and slowly allowed his fingers to wrap around her neck, and he pulled her to him in a gentle hug. He held her ear just over his heart, so she could hear what no words could express.
"Max, you have to understand that…most of us in TC already figured Manticore had been wrong all about you and your Unit. And they'll figure out just how…" he shook his head tiredly, and just tightened his hold on her. "But I guess you won't be coming home now."
"Alec?" she murmured against his chest. It felt so good to be held close to him, to feel his warm fingers gently massaging the back of her neck, the relaxing warmth that flowed from his body.
"When I first met you, I thought you were someone else." She murmured tentatively, her lips and face still snuggled against his chest. She couldn't really bear to look at him when she admitted that. It was far too personal. Far too vulnerable.
"Ben." he said, releasing a somewhat strangled laugh.
"Yeah, Ben," she nodded. "But you're not Ben. At first I hoped you'd be like him. Then I thought that I was being stupid to hope. Like I always said, hope is for losers. A con job people trip behind till they faced the cold hard truth. But I still wanted you to be Ben. I could save you every time, and it'd be all right. The truth is though, you're nothing like him."
Alec's hold on her had gone slack, and she looked up to see his face. His eyes looked distant and bleak. Max reached up and cupped his face between her hands. "Cold, hard truth is, I've come to think that's an even better thing," she whispered softly.
A spark of hope burned in his hazel eyes. Max smiled tentatively at him. "You're someone who should've been…like 735. But you're not. And that makes all the difference to me. That and you drive me up the wall in a way no one has ever managed to…you drive me nuts…and…" she sighed helplessly with a slight smile.
"Maxie, are you saying you're crazy about me?"
She felt herself blush, and she reached up to hit him playfully upside his head. "I'm not saying that!"
He grinned and caught her wrist easily. "Or maybe you're just crazy?"
She tried to pull her hand away from him, but he tightened his grip playfully. "Watch your mouth, Pretty Boy, or I'mma give you a cranium crack," she retorted, but her eyes were shining, and he was smiling down at her intimately.
"Well, if it makes you feel better," he murmured, raising her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles. "I'm feeling a little cranium cracked already."
"That just makes my world all unbent," she drawled quietly, but her eyes were on his lips, where her finger tips were now touching softly.
"Max, I'm cr—what the—your barcode's not enough, you're getting tattoos now?" he said, his entire demeanor changing dramatically, as he pulled her hand away from him in surprise. He turned her wrist over so they could both look at it.
Sure enough, dark ink-like marks were decorating her skin. They stared in surprise as more marks appeared, as if an invisible hand were using her skin as parchment.
"Oh, my God," Max gasped.
"What the hell are they?" demanded Alec.
"I don't know!"
Their eyes met, Max's startled and confused, Alec's determined and concerned. "Max, you're coming home to Seattle with me."
She pulled away from him with a jerk, shaking her head. "Alec, I—"
Suddenly, Alec's cellphone rang, breaking the silence in the room. They stared at each other tersely for a moment, before he finally reached into his pocket and flipped his phone open.
"Go for Alec," he said, his voice brisk and toneless. His eyes never left Max's stricken face. He could tell that she was frightened. Her eyes kept darting back towards her arm, where he could see more marks appear.
He was scared, too, in a way that made him feel utterly helpless. He hated feeling helpless.
Alec, this is Chase. It's Biggs. He's in trouble.
Max looked up quickly, obviously hearing the distressed voice on the other end of the line. Her eyebrow quirked, asking him without words exactly what was going on.
"I'm on my way there. Tell him to hang on." With that, Alec flipped his phone closed. He gave Max one hard, decisive look. "I have to go. Biggs has been…attacked."
Max didn't say a word. He saw her breathing turn shallow, her eyes darting around the room.
"Max," he said softly. "Are you coming with me?"
She closed her eyes, obviously torn. Her fists were clenched, her whole body was rigid. Alec knew that his friend needed him. He couldn't stay. He had to convince her to come with him. He had to show her. Without another word, he took her into his arms and kissed her.
He crushed his lips against hers with an almost painful intensity. Her eyes flew open in surprise, but she didn't pull away. He softened the kiss, his lips slanting over hers until she opened her mouth for him.
Then he closed his eyes and allowed himself to drown in the act of kissing her. For months he had dreamed of this. Of having her arms wrapped around his neck like this, of having her body pressed against his, clinging to him, of having her moan softly into his lips, of tasting her…of loving her.
If she didn't come with him now…then at least he'd have this. He'd always remember this.
He bit her lower lip lightly before pulling away from the kiss. He rested his forehead gently against hers. "Max…come with me," he whispered, there was no pride in his voice, just a small plea.
"Alec…" There was still hesitation in her eyes and in her voice.
He kissed her again before she could say no. He pushed her back against the wall and kissed her with an almost desperate passion. His hands traveled down her shoulders, caressing the sides of her breasts, and settled easily over her hips. He kept her body imprisoned against the wall by leaning his weight completely over it.
She was responding to him, kissing him back with almost equal pressure. Her fingers gripped his hair tightly into something that bordered on pleasure-pain.
"Max," he murmured against her jaw. "Are you coming with me?" His voice was hoarse with the mixture of desire and fear.
Max pulled away from him and looked into his eyes. There were so many things happening all at once. The tattoos on her arms, the trouble with Biggs, the problems with White and his Breeding Cult, the fear about whether or not she'd be welcome back in Terminal City…
…but they were all eclipsed by the look in his eyes and the fact that she was in his arms like she'd dreamed of for so long.
"Yes," she replied softly. "I'm coming with you."
"Thank God," he muttered, a look of sheer relief and joy crossing his face. "I don't think I could have lived without you."
Max was pretty sure a supernova had exploded somewhere near her heart. "Alec," she murmured, leaning forward in preparation of kissing him again. "Just for the record, I said it first."
"Said what first?"
"I love you." Then she leaned forward to kiss him.
But he pulled away quickly for a second, a smirk on his handsome face. "Does this mean I can have you back on my speed dial?"
A/N3: Just for the record, I'm pretty sure I set this before Love Among the Runes…and I just overlapped a bit. I thought that Max needed a gigantic push to go back to Seattle, so the runes (which they didn't know were runes, yet), Biggs getting attacked, and realizing Alec loved her…I figured that was big enough to overcome anything else she was feeling. What say you, reader?