disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel or these characters
setting/time line: almost 3 years after the show ended
pairings: Max/Alec hinted; Logan/Asha

Max has the true freedom that she's been denied for her entire life, at the cost of 3 years of separation from her closest friends and family. There's no one to fight, run from, or defend anymore. How will Max find her place for the future in a world that taught her to hide her true self and past?

Free to Live


Max gave her old friend a genuine, warm hug to greet her. She hadn't seen her in such a long time! Setting up a city and making sure everything went smoothly had taken over Max's life. What had started out as a way to help her family and fellow transgenics had quickly become a seemingly endless task. Max had never intended to literally drop her life in order to permanently be the leader of Terminal City.

She didn't hold any regrets for her choices, though. Although Terminal City had taken a good 3 years from her life, she wasn't upset. In fact, she was proud. Her quaint little city had truly blossomed. She was extremely happy that she was finally ready to leave the place to its own affairs.

"How's my boo?" her old friend greeted, talking out of habit more than just naturally asking a question. Cindy took a breath as Max noticed tears forming in her friend's dark eyes.

Max, too, had to shake the urge to cry. She had expected that it would be emotional but that didn't make her any more prepared for what she was feeling.. Max didn't realize she could miss the embrace of someone who didn't have a bar-code so much. She'd been surrounded by transgenics for so long that she didn't feel she quite fit in anymore in the "real world".

She knew that was not true, though. It was just going to take her some time to adjust to no longer being the leader of an all transgenic city. She was finally escaping a life of seemingly endless paperwork, working to gather the basic necessities of life, trying to look professional for good PR, and of course there was the baby mama drama that sometimes irked its way into her schedule of running the place. Not to mention White and his familiars who had been a pain in her ass for far too long. If White hadn't been there to make things difficult, she might have been able to leave the place sooner. But battling him as well as their own image just for equal rights was one fight that she wasn't trained in. Her instincts helped her in battles with strength and fighting techniques. She'd been ignoring those instincts though, or rather, putting them in the very back of her mind all this time to get to more pressing matters, as they were, like sorting through rations just to get by.

Both emotional women regained their composure enough to smile and simply enjoy the moment. "You know, I've been busy, fighting off the bad guys, holding town meetings, …but one thing I've failed to do…" Max trailed.

"Is what?" OC asked her, curious.

Max grinned. "Kick it with my homegirl!"

OC laughed. "Well, Boo, Original Cindy's been kickin' it, but it just ain't been right without you."

Max nodded, understanding. "So…got some new lickety chick you want to introduce me to?" Max asked, partly just joking and trying to catch up.

Cindy smiled, but gave Max a look that she wasn't expecting. It seemed something had changed in her old friend. OC looked more mature than she had been the last time Max had seen her. "Girl, Original Cindy don't do that no more, clubbin' it. I got myself a real down-ass female."

Max eyed her with her head cocked and a grin. "Really?"

OC nodded proudly, but didn't say much otherwise. She actually seemed a bit reserved about the whole thing. "We're exclusive," Cindy told her.

"Wow!" Max said, nodding her head and still smiling. "Well good for you!"

OC laughed lightly. She then gave Max a look, one of her old devilish stares that she used to give Max whenever she was trying to hook her up. "So, what about your mens lately? Who you been gettin' ya monkey on wit?"

Max laughed. She'd missed Cindy's ghetto fabulous attitude just as much as her company. "Girl, me and my monkey, that's our business!" Max joked.

OC gave her a doubting stare.

"Okay!" Max admitted, "Come on, like I'd keep anything from you?" She paused for a moment to think. "Actually...I've been really busy..." she trailed off slowly, swallowing her words as their meaning struck her.

"Max!" OC said, staring at her dumbfounded.

"What?" Max asked her, not understanding what had suddenly changed OC's happy attitude to one of concern and disbelief.

"You're tellin' me that you ain't done nothin'… in three years?!!"

Max accepted her words with difficulty. She found herself feeling far more empty than she thought could possibly be. The truth was, she'd never really thought about it until having the words get to her like that, right there in the open. She felt them like a stab in her heart. Have I really been alone for 3 years?, she wondered, afraid to acknowledge the truth in the statement. Self-pity was not a feeling she was used to, or one that she would accept. She didn't want to dwell on the fact that her friend had thrust in her face. But it was true. She'd really been busy at Terminal City. She swallowed, realizing she had literally put her life on hold for the past 3 years.

"Well…when you put it that way…" Max began.

"I'm sorry, Boo," Cindy said, giving Max another hug. She of course understood why. She knew Max. Sometimes, in spite of everything, Cindy was still naïve when it came to really understanding the sacrifices Max had made. No one should have to make those sacrifices, Cindy thought, tears forming again in her eyes, especially not my girl Max. But Cindy wouldn't cry in front of Max over this. She might mistake them to be tears of pity, when they wouldn't be at all. They were tears of admiration and disdain for a world so cruel that in order for Max's friends to live a decent life, she had to put her own aside.

Max found that emotion was busting to come out, again in the form of tears. This time, however, she wanted to cry not out of happiness but sadness. Max held it in, though. Even though her friend's words had helped to point out that Max had a lot of emptiness to let go of, Max knew it wasn't the time or the place.

Max released the 2nd hug, and took a moment to stare her friend in the eyes. Wow, Max thought, she really has found responsibility somewhere along the way.

"So!" Max began, breaking the silence that had fallen over them, "Where to- Crash?" she guessed.

OC nodded, "Boo, you know it! It'll be good for me, too. I haven't been there in a while."

Max grinned, trying to put on the face of someone that was genuinely happy. The truth was, at Cindy's statement, Max realized just how alone she'd become being the sole leader of her city. It made her want to run and find solace somewhere, in something. But Max wasn't sure what it was that would offer her what she really needed at the moment. Besides, her life had been on hold for so long. What was a few more days of putting off whatever it was that she wanted for herself? Right now, Cindy really needed for Max to be happy and hang out like old times, so that was what Max would do. Call it habit of pushing away any selfish or self-centered thought for the past three years, but Max just felt more comfortable to go with the flow for the time being and continue to ignore what she really wanted, despite the growth that had happened to her. She was no longer one to just run away from her life and problems. But she just felt that now wasn't the time. She was sure it would come later. She just hoped she wouldn't have to put it off too much longer, otherwise she might never realize whatever it was that her heart was longing for now that she was free to just live.

Chapter 1

Max stared around the room in wonder. "Some things never change…" she mumbled, taking in the site of her favorite hangout in more peaceful times. Max laughed inside at her thoughts. Well, they never were exactly peaceful, she thought with a grin, but it was easier back then. She recalled days when she thought her biggest problem was whether or not she'd get a tip from her package. But then right over my shoulder there was either Lydecker, or some other loser hell bent on tracking me down and either putting me back in a cage to be their obedient little soldier, or picking me apart to serve their own ends.

"Boo! What are you gettin?" OC brought Max back to reality.

Max looked up. "A beer is fine," she said simply. She wished that she could focus more on her friend instead of wasting time dwelling on the past. Funny, she thought to herself, I'm finally free to do anything my heart desires and all I can do is think about Manticore. She couldn't help having a saddened look come over her as she accepted her drink and allowed her thoughts to continue. She'd only just now left her transgenic friends, and all she wanted was to see the ones that were still out there.

OC held one hand on her hip. "Boo, I know you been gone a long time and all, but I'm still ya sista. And I still know when somethin' ain't right witchu. So why don't you just save us both a lot of time and questions, and tell a Sista what's up."

Max shrugged and sipped her beer. A deep grin spread across her face. "I haven't had one of these in a while!" she told her friend.

OC rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Boo. You keep it in there, but I've got ya back when ya down to talk to me."

Max tried to smile at her. Cindy did always know when something was bugging me, she remembered. I gotta open up a little.

"So, I've had the world on my shoulders for a long time now," Max tried to explain.

"Yea," OC encouraged her to continue, and knowing all too well the truth of that statement.

"Only the thing is…now that it's gone, what's in its place?"

"This," Cindy answered, clashing their glasses together ceremoniously.

"I thought that was Sketchy's thing!" Max teased her friend, finally feeling a bit more comfortable, though still just as troubled.

OC looked at her patiently. "Max," she began, "You are one down-ass female. Just cuz you ain't kickin' some revved up asses doesn't mean you don't still…kick ass!"

Max smiled but was clearly still not convinced. "So how come I finally can leave Terminal City and my transgenics, but for some reason, that's what I feel like I need right now?"

"Terminal City?" OC asked, trying to understand.

"No," Max explained, "I mean…my family. I haven't seen any of them. Even the ones that visited occasionally to help me out- I was always in leader mode. I feel like I haven't seen my brothers and sisters in so long."

OC nodded to show her understanding. "Max, you haven't seen anyone in a long time. How 'bout you have a good time today, forget about this family stuff until tomorrow."

Max smiled and decided it was for the best. She felt guilty for not being able to just have a good time with her friend.

"Sounds good," Max offered. "I guess that means I should chill out and just kick it with my homegirl, huh?" she added with an honest grin.

"Speak of the devil!" OC said with a nod in the direction of the door.

Max held her breath inside out of excitement and anxiousness. Was one of her siblings at the door?

As Max turned to look, she was pleasantly surprised, but also disappointed that it wasn't her family. She tried to stiffen her disappointment and just allowed herself to give a nod as a faraway greeting for the person who'd just walked in.

Max couldn't help but smile at the sight of her old friend. He still had that lovable goofy look on his face and his skater clothes. He didn't look too much older or changed. Max was glad to see that she would know exactly what to expect from him.

Max tossed OC an accusing stare with a grin. "Did you plan this?" she asked.

OC shrugged. "Well I'm not the only one wantin' to see how ya doin!"

"Max!" Sketchy said, throwing his arms around her automatically for a hug.

Max returned it kindly, taking in that there actually was a slight change in her old friend. "Have you been workin' out?" she asked him with a grin.

Sketchy nodded appreciatively. "Well, without you to save my butt all the time, I had to improve my defenses,"

Max laughed. "Oh, so you didn't think to just change your behavior and avoid bad situations altogether?" She gave him an accusatory, but still friendly, stare.

Sketchy left one arm around her. "Now, Max. What would be the fun in that? Don't worry though. I learned a few things from the Master. I'm actually pretty good at avoiding trouble."

Max eyed him. "Really?" she questioned him. "And who might this 'Master' be?" She noticed he did carry himself with a bit more charisma than she remembered, or really ever imagined. Not that he was Prince Charming, but he seemed more confident in his skills with females. She wondered if he'd managed to hold a relationship down for more than she remembered.

Max enjoyed seeing the slight changes in Sketchy. She'd always known he had it in him and ought to have more belief in himself. Not that she was into him like that, but he looked like he really could score a few great women in a more long term sense than 'boy toy'.

Sketchy moved his arm finally to order a drink. "Beer please!" he said, tossing the money on the counter. He turned to face Max again, "Damn, Max. I've missed seeing you! I had to get by with a photo. My girlfriend thought I was some creepy stalker since I didn't have one of you and me."

Max laughed. "Oh, so you aren't a creepy stalker?"

"Max!" Sketchy said in protest.

"I'm kidding," she admitted. "But you can't be serious. You carried around a picture of me?"

"It ain't even like that!" OC told her. "This boy had it in his locker, along with his other pinups. Be glad, Max, you were the most clothed one. He just tryin' to act like he missed you more than me. But we both know that ain't right."

Max laughed. "Oh, Okay. Listen, I want to meet this girlfriend of yours sometime, Sketch. Is she coming?"

Sketchy nodded before taking another swig of his beer. "Yea, you two definitely have to meet! I keep telling her about my cool friends, only I haven't seen any of them in a long time!"

Max wondered what other friends of his he hadn't seen in a while. For her, there were too many to count.

OC slapped Sketchy lightly, "And what about me?"

He grinned affectionately, "Of course, you two ladies are my number 1 girls."

"Women!" OC corrected him, showing her attitude.

"Women," Sketchy accepted. He finished his beer and then realized he still needed to give Max the photograph he had mentioned.

"Well, I guess I'll give it back to you," he said reluctantly, pulling it out of his pocket, though still out of her view.

"What is it?" Max asked, curious.

"The picture!" Sketchy reminded her. "I was meaning to give it to you, but I kept forgetting, and then that whole siege thing happened."

Max nodded, remembering the time when their place of employment was under attack. "Hey, did they rebuild that place?" she asked suddenly, noticing Sketchy still had his messenger I.D. around his neck.

"You better believe it!" Cindy said, shaking her head, "Lord knows why! I thought we shoulda taken that as a sign."

"You work there still?" Max asked.

OC held a disgusted face but nodded. "Damn, girl, I can't believe it, but I do! Of course, now we all get nice things like insurance."

"Cool," Max said, amazed that they worked there still.

"And with the whole under attack thing, they finally fixed the ladies room!" Cindy said with a laugh.

Max returned it as she finished her beer. "Haha! Nice! It's about damn time, huh?"

"Here," Sketchy said, handing Max the picture finally.

Max stared at the photo and gasped. She felt a strange emotion come over her as she realized she held an attachment to it herself. Staring at herself standing there with him was surprisingly only reinforcing the lonely feeling that just wouldn't seem to leave her even as she sat in the company of old friends.

"Alec," Sketchy said, seemingly out of nowhere.

"What?" Max asked him, looking up worriedly. Of course, he was the one who'd given her the photo. He obviously knew it was one of Max and Alec. She remembered the day he'd taken it. They were both working at JamPony and discussing Sketchy's other profession as a photographer for a local tabloid.

"This is not good!" Max said to Alec, a worried look in her eyes.

"No, no, I'm as worried about exposure as you are," he admitted, though he didn't look quite as concerned.

Max threw him a doubtful look. "I'd believe that if you covered your barcode better, Monty Cora."

Alec shrugged off her comment. "Look, I seriously doubt White and his, uh, merry band of transgenic hunters get their tips from the New World Weekly. I mean, besides, this is Sketchy we're talking about. What are the chances he stumbles across an actual Manticore alum that's stupid enough to let him snap a shot?"

Before Max could reply, Sketchy's voice interrupted their conversation. "Hey, guys," he greeted. As soon as they turned their attention toward him, he snapped a picture of them with his new camera and then kept going.

Alec gave a shocked look as Max eyed him. "You were saying?"

"That's who taught me a thing or two about watching your own back, Alec. He recommended I work out, too, and what can I say, the man has a point!" Sketchy said, smiling proudly. Max felt a sting in Sketchy's words that hit her more than he could know or intended to. She felt that in spite of trying desperately to help all her fellow transgenics she'd somehow managed to abandon Alec. Sure, he was independent enough to fend for himself, but she now knew all too well that being self-reliant to the point where you shut everyone else out only makes you hurt more inside. At least with her own life, they were her choices. He wasn't really given one in the matter.

OC rolled her eyes, "Shorty, quit trippin' over how strong you are. Those things ain't that big, but ya head sho is!"

Sketchy nodded, in apparent agreement and also slight disappointment. "I know! There's only so much muscle my feeble body can handle. Alec says I'm at maximum capacity. Only way to go up from here is with some medicinal assistance."

"He said what?!" Max asked. "You are kidding me, forget it, Sketch! Tell me you didn't listen to that idiot!" She'd always been a hardass on Alec. She knew it, but it was just easier that way. I guess old habits die hard, she criticized herself, knowing that whether or not Alec coerced Sketchy into taking drugs was the least of her thoughts concerning the guy. She really wondered when Sketchy had seen him last. The way he talked, it was as if it was only yesterday. But she felt she knew the answer. He talks about me that way, too, she knew, even after not seeing each other for so long.

"What? Geez, Max. He didn't recommend it. He was just stating a fact, telling me my limitations. Wow, do they look that big?" He added, grinning proudly at his 'massive' arms, though they really weren't that massive.

OC again rolled her eyes. "Just finish that beer, would ya? I don't think Max wants to talk about ya muscle any more! Am I right, Boo?"

Max tried to stop thinking of Alec and focus enough to answer OC. She knew that Alec hadn't recommended that Sketchy use something like steroids. She had seen him become more responsible and caring than she thought possible. When they'd first met, he'd come across as nothing more than a cocky, self-serving opportunistic showoff.

But by the time she'd seen him last, they both were more open. Alec turned out to be someone she could really count on, even when she didn't want or seem to believe it. She felt her mind calling her to remember the last time she'd seen Alec, but she didn't want to continue thinking of him at the moment. She pocketed the photo and resigned to deal with it later, maybe when Sketchy and OC were at work or something.

"As impressive as they are," Max began, "I think I'd rather take you on in pool! What do you say?"

Sketchy grinned before having a less than thrilled look settle upon his face. "Waaait. Are you gonna do that thing where you calculate and measure angles and all that?"

Max shrugged innocently. "What thing? I don't know what you're talkin' about! I'm just out to play a game of pool. Buuuut if you're too afraid to take me on, that's fine. I'm sure one of these guys here will."

As she turned away from him, he tapped her shoulder. "Now, wait, Max! I didn't say that!" he said.

"Suddenly up for the challenge?" Max asked him.

"You're on!" he accepted, knowing full well he was more than likely going to lose.

"Now this, I gotta see!" OC said, following the two of them to the pool table.

a/n: Thanks so much for reading this! let me know what you think of the start. If you can't tell, this will be a very Max-centric fic.

next chapter will focus more on Alec and give some clues as to when Max last saw him...