Summary: An act of mercy from Alec's days at Manticore returns to haunt him.
Here you have it all wrapped up. I almost didn't post this story out of sheer nervousness so a big Thank You to each and every one of you who've read and reviewed.
Alec woke slowly in a warm, comfortable haze. He was in bed on his stomach, bare from the waist up though he could tell he was still wearing his jeans. It felt like a blanket rather than sheets beneath him and he guessed he must have just fallen on the bed and stayed there. Alec could feel a fresh bandage covering the bullet wound on his shoulder and was grateful he wouldn't have to take care of it himself.
Looking to the window, Alec saw that the sun was just rising which meant he hadn't been asleep long. Trying to find what had awakened him, Alec focused all his attention on his senses. If Nick had sent someone after him despite his gentle warning, this was going to be ugly. Generosity went only so far. When it came down to it, Alec liked himself better than he liked Nick.
The apartment around him was silent, however. Max's apartment, he noted. This was becoming a habit, and not an unpleasant one, minus the requirement to be at death's door. His entire body felt warm, heavy and wonderfully lethargic, like he could lay there forever. Or at least until White tracked him down, or Normal threatened to fire him if he didn't show up.
Alec felt it then. Fingers. A hand against his side, fingers against his bare skin just above the waistband of his jeans. And that was when he realized the reason for the glorious warmth. Alec was on his stomach facing away from her, but he knew it was Max lying next to him, her body pressed to him, shoulder to ankle. Max's head was resting against his back, one arm draped across his waist, those fingers like a brand against his side.
Alec remained perfectly still and ordered himself to remain relaxed so as not to wake her. He knew she'd probably move away as soon as she did. She would have counted on waking before him. Her warm breath gently brushed over his skin and he could feel the steady rise and fall of her chest as it moved in and out against him. Max shifted in her sleep, a soft sigh escaping, and those fingers pressed against his side curled, tightening very slightly.
If the woman had wanted to get back at him, then she'd found a far better way than punching him. Alec felt a lock of her silky hair fall over his shoulder. This was torture. And he wouldn't give up a second of it.
Max shifted again and he knew she must be waking up. Her movement had probably been what had pulled him from his own sleep. Neither of them were heavy sleepers. Too many years of training, too many nights when they'd had to run, too many weird bits of DNA, too many memories… None of it allowed them to really rest. And yet with Max beside him he almost thought he could close his eyes and do just that. Rest. Almost.
He could still remember that long ago day with merciless clarity. He's been sent with his father/guard to kill a congressman, the fifth in a campaign to assassinate the politicians who would pose a problem for Manticore. Alec had been nearly sick when they'd shown him the picture of the target. Nicholas' father and mother had been smiling and waving, the man's free arm around Nick's shoulders. They were sending him for the father, but he'd known what he was doing. He was about to kill a family as surely as if he'd put a bullet into the wife and son as well.
His handler hadn't been happy with him. The man had seen the hesitation and written something in his notebook. Furtive notes led to more training, more drills, more lectures, or worse, to time in psy-ops. Reindoctrination was… unpleasant. One thing was sure. Manticore had their system down to a science. Take one little kid, smack him around for a few years and bingo, one sociopath to do your bidding. If the kid somehow managed not to be a soulless automaton then you made sure he was too afraid or too brainwashed to cross you.
So for the fifth time that summer, Alec had squared his shoulders, shut off his brain and readied himself to kill a man. Almost as soon as they'd arrived at the political rally, however, they'd realized the plan wasn't going to work. Security was beyond tight after the string of assassinations. No one was being allowed near the congressman. That was when Alec had spotted Nicholas. Alec had told his keeper to make himself scarce, then worked his way up to Nick and struck up a conversation. Nick had been a little older, but Alec had always been able to talk. It was a gift.
They'd chatted through most of the rally, laughing and joking. When they'd moved inside the hotel where the family was staying, Nick had waved security away with an easy, "It's ok. He's with me." They'd played a computer game and laughed for an hour until the rally ended and the congressman came back to the hotel room. Then Alec had simply stood up and shot him.
In the split second between when the man had realized what was happening and Alec had taken the shot, he'd seen it. He'd seen the look that begged him not to hurt Nicholas. Alec had turned the gun toward the boy he'd been laughing with only moments before. He'd known he should shoot him. But he hadn't. Couldn't.
"Don't tell them," Alec had ordered. "If you tell them you saw me, someone will be back to finish you. Don't tell them and you will live. Got it?"
Nicholas had nodded dumbly, still in a state of shock. Alec had simply tucked the gun away and walked toward the door. What else could he have said really? Sorry I killed your dad just didn't seem to cut it. After that he'd walked out the door and out of the hotel.
"It's done?" His father/guard had asked. Alec had nodded and he would never forget the look on the man's face. Half-revulsion, half-fear. He'd thought of Nick's father and in that instant he knew envy like he'd never felt before. Alec had been escorted back to Manticore and that had been that. The elections had ended and the man who'd chosen him for the assignment had never returned.
The sleepy voice drew him back from the memories. He shifted on the bed in response and immediately cried out at the pain that shot through his entire body. All the nice, warm, lethargic feelings fled in an instant and were replaced with every bit of aching, torn, ragged sensation his body was capable of recognizing. His brain screamed in protest, making all of his muscles tense, the exact wrong thing to do. The bullet wound was the very least of it. He'd literally been run down by a car and he hurt. His muscles drawing up, he rolled onto his side curling into himself.
"Alec, relax," Max ordered, her voice now sounding completely awake. "Relax," she said again. "Alec, you're making it worse." She pulled herself closer, wrapping herself around him. She slipped one arm beneath his head and slid the hand that had been at his waist upward and around, placing both of her hands flat against his chest. Pressing herself as closely as she could against his back, she spoke into his ear, trying to calm him. "Relax. It's ok. Just breathe, Alec. Just breathe."
Alec focused on her voice, letting his own chest rise and fall in time with hers and slowly his aching muscles calmed.
"That's it," she sighed, relief in her tone. "Just breathe." She pulled her arm from beneath his head and trailed her fingers through his hair in a soothing repetitive motion. "That's it. Just take it easy."
"Max," Alec managed to croak, "You're almost better than morphine."
"Does that mean you don't want any pills?"
Alec shifted slightly and groaned. "Just… just punch me again… I'll sleep through the rest."
"You ever try anything like that again and I'll do more than punch you."
"Don't tell me," he said. "You'll castrate me."
"What could possibly be worse?"
"I'll leave you at Logan's to recuperate."
"He'll love it," Alec smirked. "We'll share How-to-handle-Max stories."
He felt Max shake her head. "No music. No TV. He'd give you books though, so that's ok."
Alec groaned. "He'd make pasta…"
"You both seem to like booze. You can talk about wine." Alec could hear the amusement in her voice and knew she was wearing a grin, most likely an evil one. "Logan loves to talk about wine."
"Castration's sounding better by the minute."
Max laughed and Alec could feel the vibration in his own chest she was pressed so closely to him. He was suddenly very aware of her hand, still held flat against his chest. He set his own over it, tracing the fingers from the tips back to her wrist. He took her hand in his and brought it up, lightly brushing his lips across each knuckle. Max's other hand paused where she was still running it through his hair. He heard her breathing change and smiled knowingly.
"Then again maybe not." He placed one last kiss on her fingertips, then let her hand fall back to rest against his chest, though he kept his hand covering hers. "If I hadn't been hit by a car last night, we'd both be having a lot more fun right now."
Max smacked his head lightly. "Don't you think you've had enough fun for one day?"
"I don't know," Alec said. "Logan's standing in the doorway and the look on his face is pretty funny."
Alec barely had the sentence out before Max was off the bed and across the room. Alec gasped, jarred by the movement, and rolled onto his back. "Good grief, Max. You trying to kill me?" Alec wrapped his arms around his bruised ribs and rolled back onto his side, off his injured shoulder and away from Max, but there just wasn't a good way to lay there that didn't hurt and he was sorry he'd goaded her.
Max quickly realized that Logan was nowhere to be seen. "That was not funny!" She came around the bed and knelt in front of him, angrily poking a finger at him. "Logan would-"
"Mixed feelings, much?" Alec simply looked at her, his face carefully showing only mild interest.
Max immediately sagged, her anger deflating as easily as it had arisen. She didn't deny it though.
"I don't know what this is, Max," he said, "But if Logan walks in here right now, I don't want you to apologize for staying with me."
"It's my apartment." She stood and took a step back from him, a telling action if ever Alec saw one. "Technically, you're staying with me."
Alec's world came to a screeching halt, though his mind continued to process at normal speed. He pushed himself up to sit on the edge of the bed, ignoring his body's protestations. "Guess I better go then. Logan might roll on in here at any minute. Wouldn't want you to have to explain a strange man in your bed."
He and Max had danced around each other ever since they'd met. Before that, he'd spent years in a kind of stasis at Manticore. Years wasted. Call him selfish, but he just couldn't take being jerked around anymore. Wouldn't. He'd thought maybe they were finally getting somewhere, but if Max wanted him back at arm's length, then fine. He could play it that way. He needed to protect himself, and if that meant getting out of this apartment right now, then so be it.
"Don't what, Max?" He got to his feet, grateful that his knees were at least marginally better than they had been yesterday. "Don't leave? Don't tell Logan? Don't touch you again?"
Max shook her head, painful confusion on her face. "Just… don't." But she stayed firmly in front of him blocking his exit.
Alec sighed and moved toward her, placing his hands on her shoulders and gently sliding them down to rest just above her elbows. "It's ok. Even if Logan had been here, he wouldn't have believed anything was going on. The man could catch us playing tonsil hockey and he'd just think you were covering for something. Of course, last time you told him we were together there was a whole lot of mooning and hand holding afterward, lots of sad, mournful sighing… Kinda pathetic really. I wouldn't have believed you either."
Max glared at him, but Alec ignored it. Some women smiled, Max glared. It was just what she did. Besides, it was kind of cute. In a Max sort of way.
"You don't want to tell him... It's because I'm a sociopath, isn't it?" He cocked his head to one side. "Logan says he kinda envies me… I'm a happy-go-lucky sociopath at least."
"Alec," she said in warning.
"Well, who wants to fight evil and be so serious all the time? I mean, where's the fun in that?"
"We're back to you having fun somehow." She was still frowning.
Alec grinned, his fingers gently gliding over her skin. "Oh, I can tell you how."
"Behave," she ordered.
Alec closed the distance between them, his hands sliding to her back, drawing her to him. "Didn't I just say there was no fun in being so serious all the time?"
Max tilted her head up to look at him. "Are you saying this isn't serious?"
"Oh it's serious," he answered, hiding nothing as she studied him. "Doesn't mean it has to be boring."
Alec held his breath, simply watching her as thoughts and emotions flashed across her face. Then, a sudden wicked glint appeared in her eye. "Boring?" She very deliberately laid a hand against his chest. "I hope not," she said, and Alec had to laugh, feeling dizzy and triumphant. Really dizzy. A second later, he was sitting on the floor, Max kneeling beside him. Just how hard had he rammed his head into that brick wall?
"Idiot," she scolded. "Didn't anyone ever tell you to stay in bed when you're dying?"
"Not dying," he smiled, still feeling pleasantly woozy. "Trying to keep you from talking about wine for the rest of your life. Have to save you from yourself."
She snorted lightly. "Big talk for a sociopath."
"A happy-go-lucky sociopath," he corrected.
"So since you're so happy, you wanna tell me about Nicholas?" she asked.
"Snappy dresser, bit on the weepy side," Alec answered. "Grip like a lumberjack."
"You know you can talk to me, right?" she persisted. "Tell me anything. I'll understand."
"Careful, Max," he smiled sadly. "It works both ways. You really feel like a heart to heart?" She grimaced and Alec shook his head. "Thought so."
Max sighed. "Maybe… maybe one day."
"Maybe so," he nodded, doubting that day would ever come. Sharing painful history just wasn't something either of them was really programmed to do.
They both started at the sound of a phone ringing. "Your cell," Max said. She hurried into the next room and came back carrying the phone. She dropped back down next to him on the floor and held it out. Alec took the phone, though it was against his better judgment, and checked the display.
"Don't sound so surprised, Logan. It's my phone. Unless you were hoping to talk to my kidnappers…"
"I never heard from Max and she's not answering her pager. Have you seen her?"
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking." Alec's eyes met Max's. He knew she'd heard both sides of the conversation. He raised an eyebrow wordlessly asking if she wanted to talk to Logan. Did she want him to know they were together? Max hesitated only a second, then held out a hand for the phone. "She's right here, Logan. Hang on."
Max accepted the phone like it might bite her, but bravely held it to her ear. "Hey."
"Yeah, I'm good."
"Where are you?"
"Your place? Alec's… Alec's with you?"
Max looked at Alec and their eyes locked.
"Yeah," she said.
And there it was, Alec thought. The look. The look he'd longed for, waited for. The look that he'd hardly thought possible. The look that said someone cared what happened to him, that someone wanted to protect him, defend him.
"Yeah," she said again and nodded. "Alec's with me."
Alec thought they were the three most beautiful words he'd ever heard.
Thanks for staying with this little bit of fluff… Supernatural stories are what I usually stick to (I'm HappyCabbage75 for those), but this one just sort of… happened. Hope it kept you amused for a little while.