Epilogue: As the Lightning Fades

"I'm sorry," Alec blurted suddenly to Max.

Max rolled her eyes at him. "For what?" she dared to ask. It had been three days since her emotional breakdown. Three days since her secret was exposed.

Three days since the world as she knew it had been torn apart.

She hadn't spoken to Logan since the confrontation. He hadn't called, and she was no longer holding out for a sudden acceptance of who she was. Logan wasn't the man to hold her heart any longer; he didn't even want to be. And there was nothing she could do about it.

As painful as that had been for her to accept, Max had recently been discovering that a weight had been lifted. The truth was known now, and she had nothing to hide anymore.

Time heals all wounds. At least, that's how the saying goes. But Max didn't feel that way. No amount of time could make everything go back to normal, could erase the horrible memories that would forever haunt her of the most difficult decision that she shouldn't have had to make.

The only thing time had offered Max was a clear head, which was little better than nothing. She still had all the pain to go back to, whenever her carefully fortified walls would come crashing down again.

Max hadn't mentioned the incident in the three days she'd spent wandering around Terminal City as though in a fog, absently going about her days as an empty shell of her former self, while ignoring the turmoil going on in her mind.

Alec hadn't mentioned it either, not since it had actually happened, when he'd entered the very room they were standing in, only to find Max crying alone on the floor. The exchange played itself on repeat in his mind like a recurring dream he couldn't wake from, and it had been killing him to keep it bottled up like that. And if it all was bothering him so much, he couldn't even imagine what Max must have been going through.

As Alec thought about her circumstance more, though, he found himself reconsidering. He did know what Max was going through. He knew firsthand what it felt like to live with regret, the ignorant bliss that came with ignoring it all.

But Max seemed to be doing more than just ignoring it all. Alec wondered if she was blocking out the pain entirely, including the incident itself. Seeing Max so blatantly shutting out the pain wrenched at Alec's heart.

He'd been strong for her that night. He'd done what he could to help her let some of it out and deal with all her pain. But the way she was now going about her days, as though it never happened…

And even if Max had somehow managed to completely separate herself from the pain of losing the man she loved in such a terrible way, Alec still had his own demons to face. He couldn't shake the guilt of being the one to give away her deepest secret. Maybe Max had found the strength to move on in such a short amount of time, and if that was true, Alec was happy for her. But that didn't mean that he was ready to forgive himself for what he'd done.

Max had asked him why he was sorry. As Alec considered her question, he found himself overwhelmed with all of the actions he had to apologize for. Just saying those two little words wouldn't make everything better. 'I'm sorry' wouldn't change the fact that his actions had brought pain to her once again. The phrase wouldn't erase what he'd already apologized for.

The virus was still pumping freely through Max's veins. His first real apology hadn't fixed anything.

All of his mistakes that resulted in painful consequences that Max was still bearing the burden of were amounting in his mind with his most recent mistake. Alec found that he wasn't sure where to begin in order to express how truly sorry he was and why.

But that didn't stop him from trying. "I wasn't paying attention and it just slipped out. You know that I would never intentionally betray you like that-" Alec began.

"It's okay," Max told him abruptly, hoping to keep her wounds carefully shut.

"I keep going over it all in my head," he admitted to her, continuing despite Max's efforts to close the door on the subject.

Max characteristically steered away from the deep and personal tone of his conversation by brushing off the seriousness with a casual remark. "Come on, Alec. It's nothing to hold over your head. I mean, I already knew you're a complete idiot," she said dramatically, her voice light with a hint of teasing.

Alec could do nothing but take her hostility. She was right. Once again, he'd screwed up. It seemed like he could never catch a break. He'd been going about the past couple of days thinking that she had mentally blocked the whole thing, but it seemed she was coping better than he thought. Not only was she still fully aware of what had happened, but she had accepted that once again, it was all Alec's fault.

"Alec," Max said softly, noticing his lack of a smart reply. "What's with you today?"

Alec shrugged. "I don't know, Max. I just…" he trailed as his guilt caught up with him. He tried once more to explain, "It never would have slipped, but Logan told me something that I wasn't expecting. He knew about Rachel. He knows… everything. And I was just trying to get him to see-"

"Alec," Max interrupted. "I meant what I said. It's okay, really." As she let the words escape her lips, she realized how true they were. Although her mind was full of many horrors that she would never be able to escape from, Max couldn't deny the feeling that was strong enough for her to say it and mean it.

Her relationship with Logan had been hurting her in more ways than just knowing about the virus and its threat. He had been her safe place, where she could escape from it all and feel 'normal' and secure.

But Max was realizing more and more that she didn't need a false sense of security; she had found a safe haven without lying to herself and pretending to be someone she wasn't.

And as alone and wrong as Logan had made her feel the last time she'd seen him- when she'd taken to the floor, completely broken, her heart shattered- she knew it wasn't true.

It's okay, she repeated in her mind, this time believing the words with all her heart. She wasn't alone. And she wasn't wrong.

And neither was Alec. As annoying as he'd been when Max first met him, she knew that he wasn't the horrible person she'd taken him for at that time.

Max hadn't had the moment before now to consider what the situation had done to Alec. He clearly felt guilty for everything he'd done.

Everything he's done… Max was overwhelmed as she considered all of the ways that Alec had affected her life.

"You can't love a person completely until you understand them completely," his honest words had told her only a few days ago.

As Max reconsidered them, she found some closure, at least in her mind, from her former love. Logan would probably never admit it, but he agreed with Alec, at least on one thing. Logan had told her that he was incapable of loving her.

At the time, she'd taken it to mean it was something wrong with her; something undesirable within her, the darkness that she was surrounded in. But as she thought about Alec's words, she realized that the reason didn't lay within her alone. Logan didn't understand her, and he never would, which meant he would never be able to truly love her.

As Max thought about Alec, she was brought back to the present situation, which included staring into a guilt-ridden Alec. He's blaming himself for all of this.

Max surprised Alec with her next comment. "You understand me," she accepted, her way of expressing that she forgave him and wasn't going to hold it over his head later. "…And well… I understand you, too," she finished.

Alec felt a rush of relief come over him as he took in her words. It seemed something good had managed to come out, in spite of everything.

Amazing, how four little words could send Alec's heart soaring. "You understand me?" he asked her in a teasing voice.

Max rolled her eyes out of habit, but a thin smile came across her face. It was so typically Alec to joke around just when things were getting too revealing.

Max appreciated his casual approach and subtle easing of the tension that the personal topic might otherwise bring.

It was silent appreciation, of course. His ego didn't need any encouraging.

"You know, when you're not being an idiot," Max continued. "Which we both know isn't that often."

Alec nodded as though he accepted. "So you chose an idiot to be your second in command," he said finally. "…I wonder what that makes you?"

Max narrowed her eyes at him, about to defend herself, when Mole burst in the room, interrupting their conversation.

Both X5s stared at him for a moment, shocked by the sudden intrusion. Not that the scaly transgenic had the best of manners, but he usually at least knocked. It made Max think something must have been urgent.

"Heard somethin' on the radio," Mole said gruffly, not bothering to remove the cigar hanging out of his mouth to talk, or to greet them, for that matter. At least he didn't beat around the bush. "There's a transgenic being chased by the police around 3rd and Euclid."

"Well, get a team!" Max ordered immediately.

"What do you think I'm doin' here?" Mole asked with irritation. "You sent most of our best guys on that supply raid in Sector 7."

"They're still not back yet?" Max asked.

"Hey, sweetheart, don't look at me. I told you that was gonna take longer."

Max rolled her eyes and let out a short sigh of frustration. "Fine. Can you watch base for about a half hour?"

Mole blinked in disbelief. "You're asking me if I'm can handle the place for thirty minutes? You're joking, right?"

Alec almost snorted at Mole's usual self-confidence. His lizard pride was far too easily bruised. He certainly knew how to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Even when no insult was intended, he felt the need to defend his capabilities, even of something as simple as watching Terminal City for a few minutes. "Yeah, Max, didn't you know?" Alec mocked his lizard friend. "You don't need to question Mole's babysitting skills. That goes without saying, right buddy?" Alec finished with a hard nudge to the scaly transgenic's shoulder.

Mole eyed the X5 with a glare, his mouth pulled in a slight snarl. "Shut the hell up, Princess."

"He's so good with kids!" Alec continued with a light laugh.

"Why you-"

"Well, I guess that settles it," Max interrupted their would-be insult war before it got too far. Now wasn't the time to let their ridiculous brotherly taunting get in the way of more pressing matters. A transgenic was being hunted, and whoever it was, they needed help.

With most of her usual soldiers out on the raid, Max didn't have much of a choice. "You're in charge until I get back," Max said decisively to Mole.

She then turned to Alec, "Looks like we're gonna have to take care of this ourselves. I'm gonna get whoever I can find. We gotta move fast. You coming?"

"Right behind you," Alec answered simply before rushing to follow Max toward the door.

Max felt a smile come across her face at the words. Alec was right behind her to watch her back. Just like always.

a/n: thanks for reading!