He heard the rustle and he didn't stir, but every muscle in his body tensed. Through his closed eyes he visualized the gun between the mattress and the floor, the one that was always ready in the few hours he found his bed.
He heard the lock close after the intruder and he knew he could relax. The comforting thing about assassins was that they so rarely took the time to lock the doors after themselves. He didn't hear the footfalls but he knew that in eight seconds his door would soundlessly open. He wouldn't hear anything until the sheets on the far side of the bed were lifted enough for a slim body to slip in.
It had become habit.
There were just too many things happening. Four months barricaded away, waiting everyday for their little world to fall apart. Logan was there for her on the video screen, but he was in Joshua's house, he was outside of TC. He wasn't there for the moments where she would rest her head against the doorframe and close her eyes, trying to hold it together. Logan wasn't there when she opened her eyes and needed reassurance. Instead she had found his.
They had learned to be in sync. They had learned to understand a wordless language. The eye contact had led to closer and closer physical space. It wasn't erotic, but it had become needed for both of them, voices in the night to ignore the voices in their heads so that they could sleep.
She needed sleep because on her shoulders rested the weight of ensuring the safety and well being of the swelling population of TC. At last count there were four hundred and twelve in TC. One hundred ninety-seven were X-6 or above, the oldest of them being barely fifteen. Eighty-six were transhuman and the X-4 or below who had survived Manticore and their own DNA, they had been cultivated for harsh weather conditions or menial tasks, most of them bared scant resemblance to human. That left somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred twenty-nine X-5, with approximately one third of the X-5 females pregnant. That was a high numbers to care for, and to protect. Most of the X-5 had been on away missions, but none of the rest had seen anything of the outside world, never mind contact with people.
Every day was a battle. These numbers translated into people - men, women, and children each one needing food, clothing, medical attention, and something to occupy their days. This is what kept their already short hours of sleep at bay, there was such a need for them to fill everybody else's needs.
He never asked anything of her, which was what she found comforting. He had been a royal pain in her ass from the moment he entered her life, but when things were bad she had found that he could be trusted. She had kept him at arms length or kicked him away at every turn, but now she listened. His voice meant something and that is what he found comforting.
Night after night she slipped under the covers and he reached a hand to pull her near.
It was only in the dark.
"Tell me a story."
It was never physical, except for by proximity. Some nights the discussion was worry, some times it was strategy, some ramblings were of her own childhood, on rare nights it was hope, and a very few nights it was hysterical crying at the hopelessness of the situation. Most nights were his stories. She found herself leading people that she didn't understand completely and she needed to know how they were raised, how they grew up. She had begun to see that to lead them she needed to know what she had missed all those years. She knew she wasn't Manticore enough, and she had to understand them to lead them. She desperately needed to know what they had lived and he was her source.
Some times his reminiscing was whimsical, about how different they were, most of the time it was heart wrenching for him to remember the time behind the gates of Manticore. She never asked him for more than he could give, which is the reason he gave it all to her.
He didn't remember how it had started, exhaustion or booze had made the first weeks a blur, but one night she had come. In the morning she was gone. He had thought that maybe it was a dream, but it had become a reoccurring one.
During the day she would organize and strategize and keep them together. She treated him the same way that she treated Mole. She was Mighty Leader during the day.
But at night she was just her again, not the girl who had kicked his ass on their first meeting, but the one who had held Joshua when Annie died, the one who had cried over Ben, the girl who had been a witness to his encounters at the Berrisford mansion and had never held that against him.
And suddenly he begrudgingly had found respect for her. She had escaped so young, but she was adept at making sure that everyone understood their new lives, while dealing with the solider that would never leave any of them. She had changed, she had become more receptive.
She was the lightning rod for every complaint and none of the compliments. It fell to her ears when people were hungry or needed clothes or bedding and that is where he had found a place. She would sigh and point out their lack of food or amenities or defense. Within hours or at most a few days a team would be "mysteriously" organized and Alec would be "mysteriously" absent and suddenly whatever she needed would appear, hand to hand boxes would be relayed down the sewers from an unknown source.
She never asked questions and of course being her she never said thank you, but he'd always find a nip of scotch or a chocolate bar in his pocket when he left HQ. Their system worked for them. He never had to lie and she never had to admonish him. He couldn't say which was better, the adrenaline rush of the job and getting out of TC or living up to any challenge she could give. Anyone asking would get the "Out of TC" answer, but he had to admit the look on her face when everything suddenly appeared was definitely inspirational.
It made him think that she could ever forgive herself for burning down Manticore. It made him think that perhaps one day she could shrug off the responsibility for what any of them did outside.
Her nightly visits made him think that she finally understood what she was, and maybe she could accept that too.
Tonight as she pulled herself closer she didn't speak.
"So this is a first," He whispered in her ear.
"What?" she muttered, "You mean spending ten seconds in silence. You managed to end that like always."
She felt him both roll his eyes and smile at the same time.
He rolled on to his back away from her and put his hands behind his head. He looked over at her, "You do remember though you're the one crawling into my bed."
She rolled around to face him, "And you would never turn away a warm body."
He looked at her with the moonlight lighting her face softly. He could almost imagine that those lines and dark circles weren't there. He could almost see her again. He did a lot of imagining these days. There were a lot of hours, and only a few things to do.
She watched as he looked at her, studied her and then like a child being caught in the cookie jar he smiled his most charming smile, to try to make her think he wasn't doing anything wrong.
"Of course not I'm a gentleman."
That elicited a very unladylike snort from her, she buried her face in the pillow but he caught a bit of a smile.
It was a good night if they were bantering. It was a great night when she smiled.
But he noticed her body hadn't loosened up. She was still tense, so tonight was going to be serious.
He inhaled and she looked at him with her dark eyes hiding any emotion.
"Out with it. What is wrong tonight? More disciplinary cases?"
There would be some problems, general rumblings and some outright behavior that set transgenics against transgenics. That is also where he found another job that nobody asked him to do, but no one questioning his motives. To him it was a kick, it was like being in the movies. To her it was a relief that someone else was handling punishments. She always got chills and flashbacks of her time at Manticore whenever she had to reprimand anyone. She trusted him, both as a guy who had been on the wrong side of Psy-Ops too many times and as just a guy she could rely on to keep things within bounds, to take care of rumblings in TC. It was a relief to her that though groups were forming there were no factions and moreover that there were no internal killings. They had enough problems without turning on each other.
When it got bad or primal, such as an X-5 who forgot the chain of command or two men fighting over a girl he would bring them to the sewers at the far end of TC, out of the way of the main crowd and the two X-5, never mind gender or rank they would duke it out. Then it would be over with. It was something she didn't really understand, but she had been around them enough to know that sometimes, especially in confined spaces they just had to follow their primal instincts.
She let the silence linger.
He looked at her has she thought and bit her lip.
She shook her head her long hair framing her face and falling over her shoulders.
"I need a favor."
He rolled over to his side to better look at her and he blinked repeatedly. She had used to blackmail or bribe him in the outside world. Here in the commune she had never even bothered to ask. A favor was something that she had never approached him with, it was just done.
But the surprises were still to come.
She was coming to him and asking. He smiled, he wasn't just going to let this one go.
He nodded, "Okay you get the first one free, but the second one is going to cost you. I'm thinking something naked and sweaty."
She smacked him and sat up.
"Geese woman," Alec said rubbing his arm, "And here I though you gave up working out since we were here."
She sat cross-legged and glared at him, "Sure our lives and the lives of everybody are in danger and all you think of is sex."
He bit his lip and raised an eyebrow, "Like I said you're the one who crawls into my bed night after night."
She shook her head in disgust, "Never mind, I'm leaving. I knew it was useless."
She moved to go and felt a hand on her arm. It wasn't restraining and she could have broken it with no problem, but it was enough to make her stay.
"Okay if I can't give my virtue to the cause give it to me straight. What do I have to give? What do you need stolen this time? It must be big if you aren't going to just point out we're missing something."
She played with the edge of the blanket and refused to look up at him. When she spoke it was well rehearsed and calm.
"There are one hundred twenty-nine X-5 they are dominate. The X-6 and X-7 will follow anything that they say, but we've given them freedom and there are factions forming and things are starting to turn chaotic. We need a way for them to be organized. They understand military command and we need to set up an infrastructure. I don't like it much, but that it what they understand. I don't even pretend to understand, but it has to happen in order for us to survive until we get out of this place. I want to start a chain of command with a head committee and a head Commanding Officer and a Second in Command. Something that will pull together in a ranking system they understand."
Alec nodded approvingly. He had been telling Mole this the other day, which is probably where she got her idea. A good leader knows when to use the information, he wisely chose not to gloat over this development. Instead he took the high road.
"So you need me to back you up to give you some X-5 muscle. Are you giving me some sort of official power. Are we formally making me Second In Command?"
She looked up at him with nothing but honesty in those eyes that couldn't lie.
"No Mole is SIC," she said softly.
He felt a stab of hurt, he was just going to be the lackey, again, or still. He shrugged it off, "So you want me to infiltrate these groups and…"
"I want you to be CO."
He had been trained by the best to stay on his toes, he could switch allegiances like no one's business, he could blend in anywhere, and he could always find the right words. He had been trained to the littlest detail how to expect everything.
Except for in front of her, except for now.
"Umm, isn't that your job."
She shook her head, "I'm an '09-er. As much information and guidance I can give about the real world doesn't change the fact that I went AWOL. That carries a lot of weight with these people. To them I'm as good as a civilian. They can accept me as one of their blood, but not leader. I can be Director but never Commanding Officer."
He was taken aback. She had been listening to the subtle undertones of their conversations. He had never come right out and said anything, but maybe the comments in passing as she walked through TC had sunk in.
He was stunned by her actually caring enough to understand this extended "family" and he was ever more stunned by the fact that she valued him.
But he wasn't really sure about stepping from his place in the shadows.
"And you chose – me. You do remember I'm an assassin. Solo missions, man alone. All that unit togetherness stuff they burned away in lovely vacation weeks in solitary without food or water and who can forget my many wonderful stays in Psy-Ops. I don't really do group activities. "
"No one is asking you to gather everyone up and discuss your feelings or do the chicken dance. What I am asking you is that you get teams started. Get a hierarchy going, and have them all report to you, you are still a man alone, you just get to delegate. They report to you and in turn the committee."
"Let me guess you're the committee," he said flopping back onto his back. He stared up at the ceiling. It had a great watermark that looked an awful lot like the Space Needle. He found it comforting.
She tilted her head to the side, "Mole is SIC, the X series won't follow a transhuman, well not all of them, but the transhumans need a voice. I'm Director and you're CO. The three of us we're command."
She focused all the more on the sheet, tracing patterns with her hands.
He pulled the sheet away from her, "And the second favor?"
"As the CO I need you to be the spokesperson for everyone in TC. There are news crews outside and they need to hear our point of view."
This time his jaw dropped.
"You hate how I speak, you're always saying that I talk too much and I'm not good in front of crowds and I will not be your puppet."
She looked at him and gave him a hint of a smile, "That is why I need you, that is why we all need you. We need someone who everyone likes, who goes and has drinks with the crowd. We need someone to represent us, and not someone who just spits out rhetoric. We need a free thinker."
And then she looked down at the sheet again and gave the little smile she reserved for times when she thought she was being cute.
"Plus you aren't ugly and you'll make a nice figure on the screen."
He was lost with that smile.
"Are you saying I'm cute."
She looked up at him and bit back a smile, "You're not really really ugly."
He looked at her out of the corners of his eyes. He owed her a lot and he couldn't refuse her. Not after all that she was trying to do for all of them. It was just that suddenly he had responsibility. He had managed to shirk that even at Manticore.
He had the feeling that this might just suck.
"Why couldn't you just ask for sex," he muttered pulling an arm over his eyes.
She slid in next to him and curled up to him. Contact kept them grounded.
"No, you're way too easy," she whispered sleepily.
She instantly fell into her three hours of sleep, while he laid awake trying to figure out how to say no. All he could think of though was the confidence that she had her eyes. She believed in him.
"I'm am not even remotely considering this," he muttered to the sleeping figure.
Her mouth turned upwards.
"I hate you," he muttered.
Max woke up as always, suddenly and completely.
She rarely woke up in his bed. She never woke up alone.
She woke up and looked around startled. It was still dark outside, but the clock announced that she had been asleep for five hours. She jolted up and heard a crinkle on her chest. She looked down and pinned to her shirt was a note.
After listening for signs of Alec in his apartment and hearing none she gingerly reached for the note on her chest.
Hey lazy bones,
I can't sleep and apparently you need to I'm going to let you sleep in my bed. Don't make a habit of it. You'll ruin my reputation. The only reason I didn't wake you up was because I couldn't.
I'll be in HQ, but please try to sleep until dawn. I've set the alarm. Close your eyes and go back to sleep. I promise not to burn TC down in the few hours that you aren't here.
Max smiled and yawned, as always Alec was a contradiction. First he admonished her for sleeping then he insisted that she kept sleeping.
She was still tired. She looked at the clock. Half of her screamed to get up, duty calls. The rest of her looked at the soft bed and the decision was made before she hit the pillow.
She fell asleep.
"Okay we're going to put snipers on the towers. See if you can find well-trained people. I want this to be totally invisible to the eyes out there."
Mole looked at Alec and chomped on his cigar, "And who put you in charge?"
Alec grinned at him, "I believe that was you and Max, something about a committee and needing me to speak at a function this afternoon."
Mole nodded and turned to Dix, "You owe me a pack of Cubans."
Dix turned from his screen, "He actually accepted?"
"Looks like he accepted both offers," Mole said, "So you owe me a flame thrower too."
Alec raised an eyebrow, "So everyone knew and everyone placed bets?"
Dix nodded, "There isn't much else to do these days."
"What else is there bets on," Alec asked curiously, feeling out of the loop.
Mole tilted his head, "Don't worry about our little bets, you've got a speech to write and people to organize."
Alec looked at him suspiciously but moved on to matters at hand, "Okay I need who ever is any good at list taking to do a census of sorts. I need to know all specialties and all proclivity to anything. If a kid is good at spelling or has shown any special talent at walking I want to know."
"Yes, sir," Mole said with plenty of sarcasm.
"Now what am I forgetting?" Alec asked running all scenarios though his head. There was so much to do and he was probably going to be dead or arrested by one.
Alec turned and looked at a very tired looking Max.
"You managed to sleep past dawn," Alec commented and went back to the plans on the table.
Max dismissed his comment and moved to look at whatever he was going over, "Yes and I'm sure that will make me a nicer person since I got five hours of sleep."
"I wouldn't count on it," Alec muttered under his breath.
Max shot him a look, "So what are we planning a heist?"
"No somehow I've become the voice of the Freak Nation and I have press conference at one."
It was a second, but Mole caught it, as did the very observant transgenics in HQ. They had been noticing for a while now. It was a glance here and glances there and how Max and Alec stood closer these days. It was how they always would enter the office on the same page, they never seemed to have much to say to each other, but if one of them knew something the other did also. No one could figure out how Max knew Alec's life story or how Alec knew exactly what Max needed without words.
The betting was running rampant.
Since there wasn't much else to do, speculation was a nice diversion.
Alec and Max were already deep into conversation about the day's press conference and the list of events.
"You are not using children to manipulate them," Max said angrily.
"Come on Maxie, it is perfect. We show that we're not killers by showing that there are children here."
"Yes they see children who can sneak in places and assassinate them or kick their collective asses. Lets not make them fear the minors."
Mole watched them. He knew he had as much say as either one of them, but for some reason he really got a kick out of watching them bicker. He knew after fifteen minutes they would turn to him for the deciding vote so really it was up to him anyway.
"Oh so it is okay for them to think that I'm a handsome articulate devil who is going to steal their daughters, but it isn't okay to show them that their big bad army is attempting to fight children."
"Please they're just going to think we're holding innocent children hostage, or some crap like that. Why don't you parade out the pregnant women to prove how virile our male population is so they are terrified of our breeding, and you aren't that attractive."
Mole cleared his throat in an attempt not to laugh.
They both looked up at him startled to find that he was still there.
He chomped on his cigar. He had much training for his desert missions back in the war days. He was excellent at strategy.
"How about subtle manipulation," Mole said naming a method that First Wives and Vice Presidents had been using in the white house for years. At their blank faces he prompted Alec, "I know she skipped that course when she went AWOL, but you must have taken it."
Alec looked puzzled, "I think that I was in Psy-Ops that week."
Mole rolled his eyes, "It is simple we get that kid to play the national anthem on his horn, like he used to do every night. Makes us look patriotic, the kid is supposedly cute, it makes us look really good. It will give time to lessen the heckling before Alec starts the speech."
Alec and Max thought a moment looked at each other.
"Okay that works," Max said, "Now what are you going to say?"
Alec shrugged, "I was going to wing it."
Max groaned and they began round two.
Mole looked around for the X-7 who brought around the coffee, he was going to need it. This morning was going be one long game of peacemaker, and he really was not good at that role. On his second thought he decided that he didn't need any coffee. He didn't want to risk anything that would make him more jittery and perhaps shoot one or both of his superior officers.
"You look a little green, be careful Mole might start to think you're looking attractive," Max commented. When he didn't respond she began to look concerned, "Are you okay. I thought you were the super solider type, should I be worried that Manticore didn't give you nerves of steel?"
Alec looked at the walk ahead of him and shuddered, "Give me a back door or an alias and I'll do you proud. I am a one on one person. I don't do crowds that are presently looking to tear apart anything remotely transgenic."
Max turned Alec so he was looking at her. She held on to his upper arms and held him still, looking into her eyes, just like he had done every time she felt like cracking up. He felt air enter his lungs and suddenly the calm was just there.
His hand reached up and touched her cheek.
"Why am I doing this?" he asked softly.
"I have no idea," she said biting her lip.
"Why do you want me to do this," he said almost inaudibly.
Max looked down and he thought that she wasn't going to answer, but she looked up at him.
"Because every night you tell me what I am, you tell me what we need to do. You need to tell them that."
He looked at the daylight at the far end of their darkened corridor. She never admitted anything while the light was out. He looked at her. Her long hair blew in the breeze and she stood before him petite soldier.
"Remember the good days Maxie," he said lightly.
Max looked at him skeptically, "When was that, when it was only White and he was only after me? When we spent those lovely evenings lasering off our barcodes? When we were fighting over baseballs? When you were close personal friends with Steelheads? When I helped you escape from the police station? When we were helping out mermaids?"
"Yes Maxie, I fondly remember the world's worst lap dance. I remember pool at Crash, daring heists, saving innocent children, beer at Crash, Normal accepting all your medical emergencies, working and making no money, Logan's prepulse scotch, pop music, cage fighting…"
Max bit back a smile.
Alec caught it and smiled wirily, "I know those days we thought we were in a certain rung of hell, but for nine months I got to do whatever I wanted. For the last four months I got to run around the city and do whatever I wanted."
He looked towards the light.
"I think that I'm going to look back at those god awful miserable days and miss them."
Alec sighed and straightened up he closed his eyes. He opened them and he looked at her tall and serious.
Max nodded and moved before she thought. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was unremarkable, but they were transgenic born and Manticore raised. He didn't like to be touched, because touch was so often cruel, but her touch was different.
He didn't dwell.
"For luck," she whispered.
He touched her cheek again and walked away.
Halfway to the exit she felt inclined to yell, "Don't fuck up."
He turned and gave her that devil may care Alec special smile.
"Maxie, I'm hurt. Have I ever let you down?"
Original Cindy had attempted to teach Max the art of nail maintenance, but as Max waited for the press conference to start she forgot all the rules. By the time that Bugler had finished the national anthem she had lost all of the white around her nails and quite a bit of the nail bed too.
Alec stood at attention during the anthem, never moving an inch. The camera was focused on Bugler, but all she could see was Alec. He made an impression. He was tall and straight, stoic and damned good looking. Manticore knew how to do their job.
Dix had set up cameras to watch the crowd and she watched their reaction. The protesters were behaving and the military was standing at ready, but both groups seemed to be touched by the patriotic act, they seemed to see some human in the creatures they considered monsters.
Max was nervous, but Alec looked perfectly calm despite his past efforts otherwise.
When the song died out and there was the appropriate moment of silence Alec walked to the front of the "stage", which consisted of a slightly raised platform before the barricade. He stood confident even though he knew that a bullet through the crowd could reach him before the sharp shooters could fire.
Max kicked herself for not putting a mic in his ear. He had refused saying that this was his job. He wasn't going to sit there and just let her speak the words that he was supposed to say.
Behind Alec were Mara and Hal, two X-5 who Alec vouched for as the best bodyguards in the place. Max had been skeptical of the skinny blonde woman, but her worry had vanished when she saw the little woman throw two hundred pounds five hundred yards with no problem. Conversely Hal, who was a hulking mass of a man was actually one of the most observant and quick to act people in TC. Manticore was zany like that they like to keep you guessing.
Alec stood before the crowd, the reporters were yelling questions and the protesters were jeering at him. Alex stood tall and serious and raised his hands for the voices to stop. About a quarter of them did.
"Hello," His voice rang out they had miced him to be heard over everything, "I'm Alec McDowell and I'm the Commanding Officer of…"
Max watched and gripped the edge of the chair as suddenly the crowd rang out with questions and dissent.
Logan watched from Joshua's house and blinked. He could understand that Max had put Alec in front of the crow, he was charismatic, but he didn't understand Alec ranking himself as CO. Logan thought that was Max's job.
The crowd in front of TC was ready with questions before Alec could even speak.
"Have you ever killed anyone?"
"You're a child and they put you in charge."
"See they take our names and next our daughters."
"I thought you were numbered, what is with the names."
"Are you planning on killing anyone?"
"Can you do any tricks?"
"What do you want?"
Alec closed his eyes briefly.
"My name is Alec McDowell and I am the Commanding Officer of the Transgenic population," his voice rang out over the crowd drowning their questions, "I'm here to speak on behalf of everyone barricaded in Terminal City. Some of what you have heard is true. We were created through a military operation called Manticore. We were raised in a government facility and trained from birth in military procedures and protocol. However some of what you heard is wrong. We are not monsters, even though some of us look different. We are not here because we want to take over anything. We are hiding in Terminal City because you have given us no choice. When were outside of the walls my people, my family were being hunted and lynched by you. "
Alec's jaw tightened as the crowd yelled louder at him.
Max could feel him thinking about Biggs.
"Hold it together Alec," she willed at the screen.
The vein in Alec's jaw was jumping, but he kept to the script.
"We have walked beside you, worked besides you, lived besides you for nine months without you knowing it, but the crime rate has not risen. We're not looking to fight or to kill. We're just looking to be allowed to live without fear of being murdered and strung up in the streets."
"They just want to be able to breed with our daughters."
Alec stopped and looked at the protester who had spoken.
Back in HQ Max shook her head, "Alec don't."
Alec however looked at the man and flashed him a forced smile, "I'm sure that your daughter is a wonderful person and perfectly chaste, but we're really not looking to steal your daughters. First in our mind is that perhaps we don't want an angry mob to draw and quarter us."
"You're a murder," another crowd member.
"Yes," Alec said and the crowd quieted, "That I am, but not today. I was sent on missions that I was told for your greater good. I was trained in learning discipline and loyalty to this country. I am a soldier and I was trained from the time that I could crawl to be a solider. We all were. That is what we were told that we were good for. That is all we knew. I have kids in there who have never even seen a movie because we were never allowed to be children. We were supposed to just be soldiers. We aren't though, we're just like you. We have other passions that they tried to beat out of us, but those things are part of us, they make us what we are."
Logan stared at the glowing screen from his dark room. Honesty wasn't a usual tactic, but Logan watched as the crowd quieted and seemed to be focusing on Alec. They actually began to listen.
Alec looked at the protesters and pointed to the man who was so scared for his daughter's virtue.
"You Jethro," Alec said, "Did your dad ever beat you?"
The man looked around and everyone waited. Everyone was now listening to Alec, the crowd was eerily quiet.
"Well I will take that as a yes. Well we were beaten if we were too slow, or if we weren't tidy or if for some reason we didn't live up to the impossible standards they set. If we acted in any way outside of our training, like drawing or daydreaming we were locked in a cell three feet by three feet for four or five days without food or water. And if we were especially bad we were shot in the head. Do you know what it is like at four years old to see someone your own age who you considered family to be shot in the head in front of you?"
TC was hushed as the crowd outside. All of the transgenics had endured some kind of punishment. They all remembered all too well painful moments in their lives. They may feel something of the loss of structure of Manticore, but they stood a little taller because they no longer were ruled by terrorism.
"That was just training." Alec continued, "If you failed missions or they thought that perhaps your genetic make up would mean that you would run you got sent to a special place where they ran tests on you and torture you. I was nine the first time and they had to restart my heart twice because they pushed so many drugs into my system. The doctors, the directors, our handlers, these weren't transgenics, these were human people just like you. Have you ever found a four year old who actually deserved to be shot in the head? Well they did."
Max was white knuckling it. She was shaking as she remembered her childhood. She felt like Alec was laying her bare, he was telling his story, but it was common to many of them. He wasn't just telling his story, he was opening her young life to be scrutinized by every one in the world. Her secrets were being relayed from satellite to satellite. Words she had never been able to say to anyone were being said out loud. Joshua came up behind her and held her.
"Don't be fooled the government funneled millions into this project. They knew. They knew that children were being tortured. Do you know what they tried to do to us when the world found out that we existed? They locked down the barracks and burned us from the inside. All of us were under twenty and they attempted to burn us alive."
Logan watched Alec, the happy go lucky guy was gone. This Alec was not the 494 on a mission who had come into his apartment the night of Max had come back with the virus. This was someone with his own voice who held a hostile crowd in the palm of his hand.
This was a leader.
"We've been treated like crap from the day we were born and we'd really like people to stop telling us they would like to kill us, beat us or just plain torture us because we exist. I didn't ask to exist. It isn't as if one day I decided to create myself and while I was at it decided to be super human. We are here because you made us, humans tried to brake us, but what they didn't realize that that we are stronger than they thought. We aren't lackeys we can take care of ourselves and we can take care of each other. We're just asking to be given a chance in hell of living. We've paid in blood for the right to belong here and we aren't going anywhere."
With that Alec whirled away.
Alec strode away and as soon as he was out of the view of the cameras and the outside world he collapsed against a wall. His head buried in his knees he heard Mara and Hal come to stand quietly next to him, followed by Bugler.
After a few more minutes he heard guards coming from TC. He looked up and saw three HQ guards.
He smiled weakly, "So guys on a scale of one to fifty how pissed is Max right now."
The guards looked straight ahead, "Director Guevara would like to see you in HQ now, sir."
"That happy is she?" Alec muttered.
Alec leaned his head against the wall. Two of the transgenics turned and waited for him to move. The third came up to him and knelt down.
"Here," he whispered, "Mole sent you this."
Unceremoniously a flask was tossed into his lap.
Alec looked at the X-6 and unscrewed the cap. He toasted the boy.
"You're Toby right?"
The boy nodded, a smile escaping that he had been recognized.
"Well here's to you Toby. You're now my favorite person in the world."
Alec took a long swig and he was pleasantly surprised that fifteen-year-old scotch was invading his senses, which probably was a really bad sign.
Alec stood up, "This definitely is my death march."
Max was standing on the upper level when he entered. She looked down at him. Mole stood next to her in his always-stoic manner. Dix and Joshua and many of the other transgenics stood behind them, waiting.
Alec stood at attention waiting for her to speak. When she didn't for a bit he began to think of all the gossip that this would generate. There wasn't much else to do but form your own methods of entertainment and the talk that this was going to generate was probably going to keep everyone amused for days. As would his court marshal or new duties as dishwasher.
"Soldier," Max said evenly, "Do you have anything to say?"
Alec looked up at her, "You told me I was to speak for TC. The prohibitions were that I was not to divulge our numbers, our training, our personal strength, and the weapons capacity. I have fulfilled all mission parameters."
Max nodded, "You have no regrets about your speech?"
Alec looked her straight in the eye, "I have one . Calling the over protective father Jethro probably wasn't the best idea."
Max looked down and was silent for a moment. Then she looked at Mole.
"What do you think?"
Mole shook his head, "What is with saying some of us are funny looking?"
Alec stood stalk still. They both were ganging up on him, but as he caught Max's eyes he saw something.
"I don't know that the whole daughter comment was pretty good," Max said, She turned to Alec, "I cannot believe that you said that."
He would have taken that as an admonishment, but Max looked at Mole and suddenly she started laughing as did a few others in HQ. Even Mole cracked a smile.
"I know can you imagine one of us sullying ourselves with that piece of trash's daughter?" Mole said letting out a gruff noise that could have been laughter. Then he got serious, "I thought you would be funnier."
Joshua walked up to Alec and gave him a hug, spinning him.
"Jethro, that is funny," the large dog man said excitedly.
When Joshua put him down Max was in front of him, smiling.
"You were brilliant," she said pulling him into a hug.
She pulled away enough to look at him, but her hands remained around his neck.
He searched her face, "So you're not mad that I lost my temper and went off about all of that?"
Max shook her head, "We've been listening to the private transmissions of the military. When you first started they were mocking us as just another public speaker, when you started to get into it, there was silence. They're going to contact us tomorrow morning and get us a liaison. It is already in the works."
She grinned ear to ear at him, "You did it. I told you so!!"
Alec swallowed hard and pulled her close for another hug. HQ had turned into a party scene and people were milling about not paying attention to him anymore after the joke, but he was surprised that she was holding on to him.
"I knew you could do it," she told him quietly as he held her.
He pulled back and put an arm around her, she put both of hers around him. He took the flask out of his pocket and gave her a quick kiss on the head before taking another sip.
"Maxie don't ever do that again. You had me thinking that I was a dead man."
Max gave him a disbelieving look, "You think I would let Mole give you our best scotch if we were going to kill you? If you had messed up we would have let the crowd have you. I'm sure Jethro would love to have you stay with him."
Alec nodded, "Did you feel that too, I thought the two of us had a connection."
Max laughed, "Alec do you realize that this is the first good news we've had since they started targeting us?"
"What can I say, I'm amazing."
Max punched him lightly in the gut, "You're cocky and you got lucky. Now in a few days you have to meet with whoever our new liaison is, try not to piss him off too much. I wouldn't imply how we could beat any soldier at anything by the age of seven and please don't imply that his fellow people were the ones who tortured us."
"Maxie, don't ruin my fun," he said to her and then turned to the rest of HQ, "People listen up, tonight is to be fun and festivities. Work is canceled and crack out those kegs, I want to see dancing and general socializing. We're celebrating our first step toward something better than this rundown toxic place."
HQ started cheering.
Alec caught Max looking at him suspiciously, "What do we have to run this by the committee?"
Max shook her head, "No, I was thinking that maybe that is a good idea, we could use some fun. I'm sure many people here haven't ever had any fun. I was thinking that maybe the nights of doing whatever you want aren't over. Maybe tonight will be one of those good memories you didn't think you'd ever have."
"You going to be with me Maxie, paint the town red, sing some songs, show the kids a good time."
Max nodded, "Where else would I be?"
Alec smiled at her. He had never felt like this. He had done a job well, and everyone was congratulating him. He was warm from the liquor, and having her right by his side was pleasantly perfect. There was something there, something in her smile, in her eyes. She had opened up and he liked this girl, and he was pretty sure that she was…
"Max, incoming from Logan."
Max jumped away from Alec's embrace instantaneously. Her smile faded and suddenly she looked guilty.
Alec looked at the yard between them and suddenly he felt cold. She didn't look at him, she walked to the private console in the back and began to speak to Logan.
Alec watched her go.
The party was in full swing. Max had looked around for Alec all night.
However she had to play life coach to those who had never had away missions. First there was the dance floor, where those who knew classical dancing and those who were trained for clubbing missions were combining their skills. The trangenics were naturally graceful and a completely original style began to form. Max had to admit that dancing was fun and the new steps were really cool.
Then she had the huge task of integrating the transhumans, py-ops transgentics, with the X-series. Everyone seemed to be staying with their own at first. Eventually everyone began to integrate, thanks in part to beer.
When everything started to go well the beer caused a few fights, a few incidents of improper behavior, and too much drama. Max was able to calm down everything and most people were milling to their beds or someone's bed.
Through out the night Alec was on her peripheral radar, but he never came near. She wasn't stupid she knew that she had reacted badly and suddenly it was as if four months of a solid relationship was blown. She knew that he was avoiding her.
It was a few hours before dawn when Max escaped and climbed to the rooftops. She surveyed the remnants of the crowd and could see Alec talking to a group of girls. She watched him smile and laugh. He was relaxed and happy. It made her remember all the times she had tolerated him when she first met him.
He was right, they didn't have many memories that seemed good at the time, but there were moments that made her smile now. She watched him and she liked what she saw, she liked what she remembered. He had become part of her world and he had become her sanity, but he knew Logan was…well Logan. He seemed like something from a lifetime ago.
But Alec wouldn't know that because Logan never came up when she was in his arms. There was nothing further from her mind.
And where she slept at night had never come up in conversation with Logan.
Other girls at TC had never come up in her nightly talks with Alec and she had never thought if he missed that. she realized that she had been selfish, he had quite a reputation to uphold. She watched him a little while longer and then sadly pulled herself away to the strange room that she had her belongings in and crawled into bed. She tossed and turned, but she couldn't sleep. She wasn't used to this room. It was supposed to be hers, but she had rarely slept here.
Plus there was a gnawing feeling in her stomach whenever she thought of the look on Alec's face when she pulled away from him. She had been warm and happy one moment and then without thinking she was suddenly cold and isolated, he had looked at her with such pain.
Max knew that her face was full of shame. It wasn't what he thought though. The shame was not over the fact that she was publicly with him or planning on enjoying an evening with him.
She felt guilty that she had forgotten Logan completely. For days her thoughts had only been of Alec.
Max awoke feeling sluggish. She couldn't shake off the sleep that had been full of running in the dark after something, just not being able to find it. She hadn't drank the night before, but this morning was harder to wake up to than nights of getting blasted at Crash.
When she opened her eyes the sun was peaking through the window. She blinked and saw that Alec was sitting there watching her.
She smiled sleepily.
"How long have you been here."
His expression didn't change from the serious blank look on his face.
Max lifted the covers, "Come in, tell me a story."
"I don't think so."
She stretched lazily, "Come on they won't need us for a few more hours."
Alex sighed and played with something between his hands.
She looked at it, but was unable to tell what it was.
Alec took a beat and then held up a vial, "This is the cure."
Max wrinkled her nose, "For what?"
Alec smiled sadly, "For Logan."
"What," Max said stupidly as suddenly her heart lurched, "How did you get this?"
Alec let out a snort, "We're really smart remember. One of the med guys helped make the virus. It wasn't too hard. They finished it two weeks ago."
"Two weeks?" Max asked, trying to wrap her head around it, "Why are you giving it to me now?"
He looked at her blankly, "This is your chance, take this. You can have the normal life, the normal guy now. Just take it Max."
He called her Max, he never called her Max anymore. She took the vial he was offering her and she resisted a shudder.
He reached besides him and pulled out a bag, "Here is the standard away package. Two -week supply of Tactil-81, which will give you a close to normal temperature, take one every eight hours. There is Trytiphane, just in case. Also there are Ids…
"What are you doing," she interrupted.
He shook his head, "Giving you what you want."
"You're kicking me out."
"No, I'm giving you a choice. Every time he calls you jump and you're on the phone forever. You miss him. Go be with him."
"But I'm kind of known. My picture is everywhere. How can I just go enter that world again?"
Alec smiled the dazzling devil may care smile, but he couldn't make it reach his eyes.
"That's your deal. You were with him for a year with the virus, you can probably figure out a new way to be together despite a mere army and a horde of angry citizens."
"What about everything here. There is so much to do."
"We have plenty of people," he gave her a weak version of his charming smile, "I'm sure that we can find four or five people combined to fill your shoes. You want to be with him, he can't live here. The equation is pretty simple, you've got to go be with him."
He threw her the vial. It felt cool against her hands. She was shaking a bit. It had been so easy when she had an excuse. It would have been the most welcome thing months ago before the siege, before…
She looked up at the man before her. His eyes gave nothing away.
"Why two weeks, you said you had the virus for two weeks. Why now? Why not even tell me that you were working on it."
There was a flash. For an instant his downcast eyes were open and venerable. She knew at that moment why. She also knew that he would never lie to her, not now. She knew him too well to hear a lie anyway.
"Not important," he told her and got up to leave.
In a flash she stood before him and the door.
"It is to me."
She stood her ground and he bored holes into her.
"Let it go," he said through clenched teeth.
She didn't back down.
Her met her eyes and his stance changed. He leaned over towards her. Suddenly he seemed a predator, something dangerous.
Instinct told her to run, but he reacted first.
His hand tangled in her hair and closed the space between them. His other hand brought her body flush against him. His lips came down on hers. She reacted to his touch, moving to conform. Matching his onslaught.
When he pushed her away he still stood with all of the animalistic alpha, but he wouldn't look at her.
"Because," he said hoarsely, "I liked it. I like you coming to me. I liked believing that you weren't pretending it wasn't me in the dark. I liked believing that you were falling asleep with me and not some dream of Logan."
Logan's name was cold water on her flushed body.
But her heart still beat rapidly.
She stood indignant, "There were only two people in that bed at night and I know exactly who I was with."
"Good for you!" Alec spat, "I won't be your creature comfort substitution in the dark, while you pine away for your epic Shakespearian tragedy romance."
Her pushed her aside and stormed out.
Max collapsed on the bed. She looked at the vial and shuddered. She brought her legs up to her chest.
She was so cold.
Not since leaving Manticore back in '09 had she been so confused as to what she was supposed to do and where she was supposed to go.