Genre: General, Angst
Characters: Alec, Joshua, Max
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters nor am I making any money from them
Notes: Thanks to Angela, as always, for a brilliant beta
Summary: Joshua and Max sit vigil over a seriously injured Alec
Joshua looked down at the figure that lay so still and quiet in the makeshift hospital bed. He anxiously scanned pale, drawn features for any sign that the patient was on the verge of waking. He had been sitting there for well over two hours, crammed into a small plastic chair, ever since they had moved Alec to this room after surgery.
The flood of new arrivals at Terminal City over the past six months had included several transgenics with medical training, and for this, Joshua was grateful. Medical supplies and equipment were still barely adequate, obtained piece by piece on numerous raids organized by Alec and his teams of foragers, but they had been enough. Enough to save Alec's life.
The doctor had worked on Alec for over three hours, removing the two bullets lodged in his body, repairing damage and pumping him full of blood donated by three eager X5s. During this time, Joshua had alternately sat and paced outside the converted supply room serving as an operating room. Eventually, the doctor had emerged. He had tiredly assured Joshua that the operation was a success and that with an X5's remarkable speed of regeneration, Alec should be back on his feet in no time.
Joshua had been relieved to hear the words, but he wouldn't be happy until Alec was awake and talking and Alec again. He squeezed the limp hand that felt so small and fragile as it lay inside by his own larger one and blinked back tears, remembering once again how close he had come to losing his friend.
Alec was such an important part of his life. Sure, there were now other "freaks" like him in Terminal City, and he had made some new friends, but Max and Alec were still the center of his world, and he had no idea how he'd survive without either of them.
Max was his self-declared protector, his sister, and although her protectiveness annoyed him at times, it gave him a warm feeling deep inside to think that she cared about him enough to worry about him as much as she did.
Alec was different. Joshua knew that at first Alec hadn't known what to make of him and had clearly thought he was a "freak". But over the months he knew Alec had come to accept him. Now, Alec joked with him, openly calling him "dog boy" and ribbing him about his canine genes, but he treated him as an equal. Not as something sub-human to be afraid of or to be looked on with pity, but as a person with dignity and value. Joshua had been nervous and uncertain at first of his place in TC, but Alec had stood by him and helped him gain the confidence to be himself. For this, Joshua was very, very grateful.
He glanced up as the door opened and Max walked in, shutting the door quietly behind her. She crossed the room with feline grace and sank down into the chair at the other side of the bed.
Max studied the patient for a moment, and then looked across at Joshua. "How is he?" she asked softly.
Joshua shrugged. "Still sleeping."
"He's gonna be fine, Big Fella," Max said, but from the anxious expression on her face, she was trying to reassure herself as much as him. Joshua understood. When he'd first entered the room he, too, had been shocked to see the usually lively Alec looking so weak and ill.
Joshua had seen little of Max since they had turned Alec over to the medical team. She had wanted to stay with him, but Mole had appeared, telling her firmly that she needed to immediately debrief the leadership committee. The simple reconnaissance mission had gone badly wrong, and they had to know what had happened. At first, Max's dark eyes had sparked, but she'd quickly backed down. Max took her responsibilities as leader of TC very seriously.
Joshua thought back to the moment, barely six hours before, when Max had appeared at the mouth of the underground tunnel, staggering under an unconscious Alec's weight. There was blood everywhere, soaking both of them, and Joshua had been sure that Max must be hurt, too. His relief at discovering she was unharmed had quickly turned to fear as he realized that the blood drenching the pair was all Alec's. How could one person lose so much blood and still live?
Joshua noted that Max had changed out of her bloodstained clothing and cleaned Alec's blood off her face and hands. She looked exhausted, but calmer than she had been earlier. Max was always tightly in control of her emotions, but for the first time, Joshua had seen her close to total panic. He had found himself in the strange and uncomfortable position of taking control as he gently but firmly coaxed her to give up her death grip on her burden and allow him to lift Alec in his arms and carry him to the makeshift medical facility.
"Doctor says Alec will be fine," he told her, unable to keep the anxiety out of his voice. "But Alec won't wake up."
"Hey, enjoy the peace and quiet while you can!" Max quipped. "The only time Alec ever shuts up is when he's asleep."
Joshua frowned. He knew she was trying to lighten his mood, but this was no time for jokes.
"I like listening to Alec talk," he said, and he meant it. Alec was quick and funny and always had a good story to tell.
Max's expression turned serious and she reached across the bed, patting Joshua's hand. "Sorry, Big Fella. I'm sure Alec will wake up soon, but it's good that he's asleep. The doctor said he needs the rest. He lost so much blood…" Her voice caught and she looked away.
Perhaps she was not as much in control as he had thought.
"I thought I wouldn't get him back in time," she went on softly after a moment. "He was losin' so much blood, and he was hurtin' bad. I was afraid he was gonna die in that tunnel, before I could get him home."
She looked past him, a faraway, haunted look in her eyes. Joshua had not yet heard any details about the disastrous mission, but this was not the time for questions - Max wasn't ready to talk about it. Whatever had happened, it had shaken her badly. He remained silent, allowing her space until she was ready to go on.
"It sounds stupid," she said finally, "but I've never thought about it before. That Alec could actually die. He's just too…"
"Yeah, that's it." She smiled suddenly. "Sometimes, he's a bit too alive, you know what I mean?"
Joshua nodded. He understood exactly what she meant. On a mission, when his Manticore training kicked in, Alec was no more than a shadow, blending ghostlike into the background. Most of the time, though, he was larger than life, his presence easily taking over a room. There was one sure thing about Alec – whatever your feelings about him, you couldn't ignore him.
Joshua ran his free hand through his hair and stifled a yawn.
Max's expression changed to concern. "You look tired, Big Fella. You should go and get a few hours sleep."
Joshua vehemently shook his head. "Alec needs Joshua. Alec mustn't wake up alone."
"I'll stay with him. He's my friend, too."
Joshua was silent.
"What?" Max asked.
"Is Alec Max's friend?" he asked hesitantly.
Max looked startled. "Of course he is."
Joshua cocked his head. "Alec doesn't think so."
Max frowned at him for a moment, then she sighed. "Okay, I know I haven't always seen him as a friend. When I first met him, I hated him, you know that. And so did he." She hesitated for a moment, and then went on, "But that was a long time ago. Things have changed. He's changed. I guess I'm still a bit hard on him sometimes, but only when he does somethin' stupid." She gave a little smile. "Which he does. A lot."
Joshua couldn't deny that. Alec had a greater ability to attract trouble than anyone else he knew.
"But I do think of him as a friend, Joshua. He must know that."
"Max doesn't treat Alec like a friend," he said, searching for the words to explain what was in his mind. "Max only knows the Alec strangers know. Maybe Max doesn't want to know the real Alec?"
It confused Joshua that Max still had so little understanding of someone with whom she spent so much time. He'd always known that Alec was a complex person, and over the weeks and months, he had come to understand his friend very well. Yet even after all this time, Max found it difficult to see past the surface. Joshua thought it was because she chose not to try, deliberately keeping her fellow transgenic at arm's length, choosing to see him only at face value. Joshua knew that she must have her reasons for this, but he also strongly believed that it was important for Max and Alec to be friends. As leaders in this new community, where the fight was against the unfair way the world saw them, they needed each other more than ever. Seeing how upset Max was about Alec's injury, he thought maybe she was finally beginning to understand that, too.
Max frowned again and Joshua was afraid he'd said too much.
"He doesn't want to be known, Joshua," she said, a defensive note in her voice. "He keeps his feelings to himself, won't let anyone in. I know there's more to him than that damned 'Smart Aleck' attitude; you showed me that. But I don't know how to find it."
Joshua gestured towards the man in the bed. "This is Alec," he said simply.
Lying so still and lifeless in that bed, his usual cocky grin stripped from his face, Alec looked fragile and so very, very young. To Joshua, who had been keeping a close eye on him for several hours, it seemed that a mask had been stripped away, revealing the real Alec for anyone who chose to look. He hoped that this time Max would really see what he, Joshua, could see: a complicated man with a good heart who fought daily against his Manticore training and the demons from his past.
Joshua watched as she hesitantly turned from him to look at Alec. She sat there for a long time, very still, just looking. Then she reached out and, in an unusually tender gesture, brushed back a wayward lock of hair from Alec's forehead. Her hand lingered for a moment, stroking softly through his hair, and when she pulled back, Joshua noticed that her hand was shaking.
Joshua looked into dark eyes that were a little brighter than before and was satisfied. Finally, she had glimpsed Alec. The real Alec.
"Little Fella should talk to Alec," he said gently. "Tell him."
"Tell him what?"
"Tell Alec he's Max's friend. It's important to Alec."
Max reached out and took Alec's free hand between both of hers. "When he wakes up, I'll tell him," she promised. Her determined expression reassured Joshua that this was important for her as well as Alec. Then she smiled. "And I'll stay here with you until then, so when he opens his eyes, he'll see two friends at his side."
Joshua reached out and put his hand over hers. "Alec will like that," he agreed happily.