TITLE: Für Musik - The Battle of Nevermore
CHARACTERS/PAIRING: Alec (X5-494) and Max (X5-542) - friendshipfic
RATING: PG-13 (language)
WORD COUNT: 5038
SUMMARY/BACKGROUND: Max never escaped with her unit, so she's still at Manticore three years later when Lydecker learns something about an earlier mission she went on with Alec. When Alec disappears from her unit, Max fears the worst.
SPOILERS: This is a pre-series AU, so none officially - at least not for this piece. However, familiarity with characters helps. I'd probably say spoilers for the series just to be safe though.
THANKS: sarah-p was my fabulous beta on this piece. Thanks also to my flist for being so awesome and supportive whenever I'd ask for help. :)
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not at all.
♪ dance in the dark of night
sing to the morning light
the dark lord rides in force tonight
and time will tell us all ♪
-'The Battle of Evermore' by Led Zeppelin
"Hyah! Hyah! Hyah!"
The cries of sparring transgenics filled the training yard as X5-452 worked to exploit the weaknesses in her opponent's form. She'd been paired with X5-563 in the past, a female transgenic of a caliber almost equal to herself. However, from experience, 452 knew that with time, 563 would get lax in her maneuvers, leaving a spot vulnerable to 452's blows.
So 452 watched carefully, her eyes always mindful of the incoming fists and never ceasing their search for that golden window of opportunity as they circled on the sparring mat, blocking each other's hits in an almost organized cacophony of sounds.
Thwack. Oomph. Smack.
Finally spying her chance to bring the match to an end, the sole of her left foot connected with 563's hip, causing her to twist to the ground with a satisfying thump. Noting the trainer's approach, 452 helped her squadmate to her feet and stood at attention.
"That was acceptable, 452. Go see Commander Lydecker for a briefing," Trainer Adams informed her briskly before turning toward her defeated partner. 452 knew better than to keep Lydecker waiting, so she offered 563 a look of sympathy before she jogged back toward the facility.
After a quick stop in the barracks to shower and dress in clean fatigues, 452 headed towards the office of the man who was the commander over all transgenics at Manticore. She didn't fear him like many did as she remembered him from her younger years in her original unit back in Wyoming.
She was in northern Washington now, along with the vast majority of the other X-series. Lydecker had decided nearly two years ago that better teams of transgenics would be formed by consolidating the training sites into one location, allowing for improved training and increased success in the field.
After the Pulse devastated the American economy, few had the resources to travel – let alone experience the great outdoors for the sake of one's own enjoyment - and the government certainly didn't have the funding to continue the upkeep of the parks. When the Manticore Corporation, on behalf of Lydecker, approached some powerful senators about obtaining the acreage as a training ground, there had been little to stand in their way once the appropriate pockets were lined with a substantial amount of greenbacks.
The buildings that had been erected were hardly notable, particularly given the vast amount of land that was available to them. However, 452 did appreciate the greater sense of freedom that came with the seemingly endless square miles of solitude that surrounded her on her off hours. Such time was rare, but it was her ability to lose herself in her surroundings – to forget Manticore and everything it entailed – that made those moments even more worthwhile.
Focusing her attention on the task at hand, 452 rapped smartly on the steel door.
"Enter," was the order from within.
The petite transgenic obeyed and stood at attention. "X5-452 reporting, sir!"
"At ease, soldier," the corporal said, not even looking up from the papers that covered his desk. "Tell me about the assignment in Las Vegas with X5-418, X5-307, X5-494, X5-619, and X5-762."
452 knew that he had the mission report right in front of him, but she also knew better than to question a direct order.
"Sir, we were sent to Las Vegas to ascertain what knowledge, if any, computer guru Marshall Malik had of Manticore technology. Mr. Malik made a fortune in Las Vegas with the gambling machines he had created, but after the Pulse, he became a key player in the turf wars within the city. He had lost his oldest son to a shoot-out two months prior, and intel suggested that he was looking into acquiring the best weaponry available, wanting all possible advantages over his enemies."
"All that information was in your mission briefing, was it not, 452?"
He nodded, silently evaluating her with his steady gaze. "How did your team infiltrate Malk's house?"
Only her twelve years at Manticore kept 452 from flinching at his request as he knows echoed through her head. Working to keep her breathing steady, her throat clenched with an emotion that was foreign to her.
Her Manticore-mask still in place, 452 skipped forward to that part of the account, compartmentalizing her fear and anxiety so as to avoid having her voice waver.
"Early surveillance showed that Malik's young daughter frequented a local karaoke bar almost every night. After three nights of surveillance, 418, the commanding officer, decided that the girl was our best chance to get someone onto Malik's property."
"Every night this spoiled princess takes home a new rich boy to play around with," the mission CO, X5-418 begins. 452 refrains from rolling her eyes as she hears the various colloquialisms pour from his mouth. They'd all had Common Verbal a few months ago, so his meaning was clear. However, in such a setting, talking like ordinaries would almost seemed to downplay the importance of their mission. Of course, 418 could always be counted on to show off whatever skills he'd learned most recently – probably thinking that it further cemented his position as one of the unit COs back at Manticore.
Too bad he didn't realize that it made him look like a complete idiot sometimes.
"While we are capable of bypassing Malik's security, it's an unnecessary risk. 762, you will be the one to get close to Marissa Malik. Your objective is to charm your way into her affections for the night. Once at the estate, you'll slip her a sedative at the first opportunity. We've been instructed to minimize collateral damage on this mission, but if she interferes with the objective, you have the latitude to terminate."
418 waits for 762 to nod his assent before continuing. "619, you'll be on surveillance at the club. If for some reason 762 cannot gain the girl's affection – "
"I will not fail at my objective, sir," 762 interrupts insistently.
"Understood, soldier. The order stands. 619 will be present to serve as needed in that location. 307 will be in charge of comms at base, and I will tail 762 and the girl and serve as a lookout on location. I'll be monitoring comms and will alter the mission plan as needed to suit our objective."
452 stands silently before her mission CO, wondering what part she will play. Since her original unit escaped eighteen months prior, she knows that she isn't always trusted by her fellow transgenics. She wants to cry out at times that she's not like them, that she's not a traitor, that she's never dreamed of escaping.
She doesn't do that or say that, though, because it would be a lie.
"452 and 494," 418 begins, his gaze fixing on the two of them, "during your previous surveillance, the two of you have shown an affinity for music, so you will play the part of a young couple at the club. Over the past three nights, Marissa's nightly departure has typically been triggered by an overly-romantic couple singing a cheesy song. At this time, she selects a man to take home with her. The choice of romance ballad is at your discretion but be sure to play up the apparent budding relationship between the two of you."
A heavy silence passes over the group of transgenics as they digest their assignments.
"We leave for the club at 1900. 452 and 494 on watch. 617 and 307 on watch at 1200."
"Understood," the transgenics respond in unison.
That night's mission went off without a hitch. 452 and 494 performed "Your Song" from the film Moulin Rouge, spurring Marissa to leave the club with 762 as planned.
"Interesting," Lydecker responded to her account, causing 452 to stare at him in shock.
"You are dismissed, soldier."
"Yes, sir." With a salute, 452 turned on her heel and marched out of his office.
"I hear you got called in by Lydecker," 452 heard a familiar voice say as she stood in line in the mess hall.
Scooping that evening's rations onto her tray, 452 nodded her assent. "He was asking about our mission in Las Vegas."
494's brows furrowed at the news. "That was over a year ago. We took out Malik and his base – they're not a threat to Manticore anymore. How is that relevant?"
"I don't know," 452 responded quietly.
They were approaching their squadmates now, and conversation was hardly standard in the mess hall. Transgenics were supersoldiers, a type of being only a step above robots. While they did have the capability of cognitive function, they didn't have feelings or form relationships, let alone discuss their days over dinner.
Or, at least, that's what they were idealized as being.
So that topic of conversation was dropped – temporarily at least. "South field at 0300 tonight?" 494 whispered so softly that she wouldn't have heard him if not for her enhanced hearing. She blinked twice to mark her assent to his plan. They'd talk more about this then, when there weren't as many hypersensitive ears surrounding them.
452 watched from her perch in the trees just west of her and 494's typical meeting place in the south field. She'd been unable to sleep that night – as per usual – so she'd left her cellblock after nightfall.
Escaping after lights out was something 452 had been doing for years now – ever since they'd been moved out of the unit-grouped dormitories. They'd hardly been at the new Manticore facility for a week when she'd formulated a way out to the rolling hills and valleys surrounding the Manticore complex.
She'd considered escaping on a few occasions, following the example of her first unit. They'd had started planning their escape out of fear for her and her safety after Jack had been taken and she got the shakes. It was a tempting thought and what she dreamed of many nights – leaving Manticore behind to play escape and evade with Ben and Zack and Tinga and Jondy.
However, with all the years that had passed, she probably wouldn't recognize them if she saw them - not to mention the fact that as X-series, they had been trained to disappear. While she may not have her first unit, her family, with her in Manticore, she wasn't alone. There were at least a few people who cared about her.
Granted, "a few" might be stretching the meaning of the term, but she did have at least one person who cared about her. And one was certainly better than none – especially since he was willing to indulge her insomniac tendencies on occasion – whether they sparred, practiced escape and evade, or just talked.
That was one of the things she missed most about her unit after they first escaped. The way they were always there for her, whenever she needed them. If she couldn't sleep at night, Ben was there to tell her a story. If she was having problems with her sparring technique, Syl was willing to work with her until she'd corrected her exploited weakness. If she had the shakes, Zack or Brin or Zane or any of them would be there to hold her tightly and help her make it through the night.
Noting the arrival of her comrade and friend, she leapt from the high branch and landed squarely on his back, knocking him to the ground where she then secured her position over him. She had 494 in a strong hold, taking pride in the fact that while he may have a good six inches and seventy-five pounds on her, she could still take him if she wanted to.
Of course, the fact that she'd caught him unaware might have had something to do with how easily this particular take-down was.
"If I'd known you were in the mood to spar tonight, I might have elected to sleep instead," he remarked, rolling his eyes as she helped him to his feet.
"Might I remind you that meeting tonight was your idea?" she responded with a smirk.
"Yeah. Sucks that you haven't got the nerve to sneak into my barracks to share the intel you learned today."
"Right, because finding me in your room in the middle of the night would make the brass so pleased with both of us."
"Whatever. What do you know?" he asked, leaning back against a nearby tree trunk and crossing his arms over his chest.
"Not much. Lydecker had me focus in on our 'romantic duet,' which I've been spending most of the night trying to figure out. I mean, yeah, singing isn't something that we've ever really been taught, but does the fact that we took to it so easily really come as that much of a shock? We're genetically engineered to kick ass at whatever we put our minds to."
"I haven't been in PsyOps for a good eight months. Maybe the doctors miss me, so they're digging up old dirt for a chance to get reacquainted again."
"Like they need an excuse to drag either of us into PsyOps. It may have been three years since the oh-niners' escaped, but our connections to them are never going to fade. Besides, it's not like Renfro enjoys employing logic in her decisions."
"But Renfro wasn't behind this – Lydecker was the one who summoned me to his office."
"Whatever. They're one and the same if you ask me." He paused, shifting his hazel eyes to meet hers. "But you still trust the man, don't you? Dammit, Maxie, when are you going to learn that no matter what you remember about him, he can still snuff out any of our lives with a wave of his hand? If nothing else, you should fear him more than Renfro, because he has more power."
"I know. I know, okay? But it's not that easy, Alec. I don't trust him, but I can't hate him like you do. Yeah, I went through hell after my unit escaped, but I just … He was like a father to us then. And no matter how much I try to forget that, I can't. One of the perks of being transgenic – having memories that I just can't chase away."
"Yeah, I know," he conceded, moving forward to sling an arm over her shoulders. "It's just – you need to be careful, okay? I've seen a few of my squad members get taken away at Lydecker's orders for testing or evaluations, only to never return. You may be a pain in my ass most days, but you're my pain in the ass."
"Awww, is that your way of saying that you'd miss me if I left?" she teased, wiping away an imaginary tear.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough of this emotional crap. Race you to the east brook," he challenged, a glint in his eye. She'd barely nodded in agreement before he was off like a flash, leaving her in his dust.
Days passed without any further information on why Lydecker had wanted to know about their Las Vegas mission. 452 and 494 didn't talk about it again, but through their standard regimen of signs and signals, they confirmed each day that the situation had not changed.
No new intel. Enemy intentions yet unknown.
This continued until day four, when 494 was called away from his unit - their unit - sometime between dawn roll call and 0945 target practice.
452 wanted to ask around to determine where he'd gone, on whose authority, and when he'd return. However, it wasn't her business to know. She wasn't his CO, and she didn't have a mission that hinged on his presence. She was merely another soldier in the barracks, expected not to bat an eye when a squad member's absence was left unexplained for days.
On day three, after the 1325 sparring exercise that left her breathless and victorious, 452 was summoned to a preparatory room in the south wing. The rooms there were used solely for individualized training, and the command for her presence indicated that she was either needed for a mission or needed to provide information to help a fellow soldier prepare for a mission of their own. Given that she had minimal knowledge that was not shared by hundreds of her fellow X5s, she deduced the former to be the case, but a soldier was trained never to mistake theories for fact.
"Sir," she greeted Lydecker with her customary salute.
"At ease, 452." His words allowed her to move to a deceptively relaxed position, both of them knowing that she was ever-dangerous, always prepared to fight if needed.
"We have a new mission for you, 452. You'll need musical training to succeed, so we've arranged for instruction on guitar, piano, and vocal performance. You have one week."
"When can I expect mission specifications, sir?"
"Your CO will be handling them, 452. There is no need to concern yourself."
She saluted once more before marching towards an open door and the dark-haired instructor inside. She was curious about her new mission, needing to know more than she'd been told, as usual. Perhaps it was her feline DNA acting out, but she was rarely satisfied with anything short of full disclosure. It was an asset when gathering intel but brought her grief more often than not when working with the brass. It was a trait she'd worked to harness over the past few years with a limited amount of success. However, despite her best efforts, her curiosity reigned supreme.
What sort of mission might involve musical training?
She preferred espionage, as she excelled at undercover missions and enjoyed indulging her curiosity by asking questions and getting more immediate answers. An assassination was just as likely, though - if not more so. While she didn't relish the kill as much as some of her fellow transgenics, she understood the necessity of terminating those who posed a threat to her people, her mission, and her country.
Who would her CO be?
With the escape of her original unit, save herself, many transgenics had associated their disloyalty with her as well. While she had earned back the trust of many of them over the years, some high-ranking X5's still held her in low regard. Such a CO could make her mission more difficult and more frustrating to complete.
Really, the questions were little more than a distraction, something to keep her from focusing too much on the big question that weighed heavy on her mind.
Where had Alec gone?
At 1800 on day seven of her training, 452 reported to Lydecker as instructed. The previous week had been filled with music - training for at least eighteen hours per day with only thirty minute meal breaks to break up the work. As expected, she'd shown an aptitude for music and eagerly worked long hours to refine the craft. With her shark DNA, sleep was largely unnecessary, so she used the extra time to maintain her peak physical condition and prepared for whatever else her mission might entail.
Rapping sharply on the door to Lydecker's office, she waited for authorization.
Hearing the single word "Enter!" from within, she did so briskly, saluting before standing at attention.
"Be seated, 452. Your CO should be along shortly." A knock at the door proved him correct, and another soldier took the chair beside her.
"You've reviewed the mission parameters, 494?"
"Yes, sir," he responded, his voice confirming what her sensitive nose and ears had already known. Now she realized where 494 had been and was delighted at the revelation. He continued, "Do you have a list of targets?"
Wordlessly, a sheaf of papers was handed to her mission CO, to her friend, to her Alec. Not that he belonged to her exactly, but she'd named him Alec years ago because of his smart-alecky demeanor, so that part of him - the side of him that was more than just the soldier - was almost hers in a roundabout way.
"Any questions?" The words pulled her out of her haze as she chastised herself for not paying closer attention to what had just transpired. Luckily, with 494 as her CO, she could count on him to fill in the details on what had been discussed - after some good-natured teasing, of course.
Hearing no questions, they were dismissed and exited the briefing with coordinated salutes and in-step marching. Once they were out of the ordinary's earshot, 494 turned to 452, a smirk on his lips. "Want to practice before we ship out in the morning?"
A wide grin spread across her features as she nodded her assent, blurring towards the south wing, 494 hot on her heels.
It was 0100. The two musically-inclined X5s were set to depart in five hours. At 494's suggestion, 452 had tried to sleep, but as usual, had little success.
Since the walls of the south wing – along the rest of Manticore – more than likely had ears, she still didn't know the details of their mission. Still, she had a plan. She always had a plan and usually a backup plan or two as well. As a soldier, she had, of course, been trained to plan for any inevitability. Even with 494's habitual resistance to meet up the night before a mission, she was determined to learn what she needed to know before the sun came up. Thanks to a nail file she'd gotten on one of her previous away missions, her goal was in sight.
Working steadily at her task, she watched as screws fell to the stone floor below as she removed each from its position in the grate. Once the final screw fell, she eased herself into the vent. It was a tight fit, but if she took it slowly, she should be able to make her away across the compound to the male barracks.
She missed the unit-based group barracks at times, but with the consolidation of Manticore, gender-segregated and individualized dormitories had been constructed. While 452 did appreciate the privacy that came with having her own space, she sometimes wished for the easy availability of her unitmates during her long and sleepless nights.
Twenty minutes later, she was close enough to 494 to hear his even breathing and smell the distinctive scent that she associated with her friend. He was clearly asleep, so how best to awaken him?
"X5-494!" she whispered in an authoritative tone, knowing that his sensitive hearing would register the sound – particularly that of his own designation – and rouse him quickly.
The creaking of springs and the sound of bare feet hitting the stone floor confirmed that fact before she saw his sleep-tousled form standing at attention at the door to his barracks.
"At ease, Alec," she added, enjoying his look of confusion and surprise at the use of his name. He had to recognize her voice by this point, as no one else ever called him by anything other than his designation. She watched with some amusement as he peered carefully outside the door in search of her. After all, she obviously wasn't in his cell, and he was too sleep-addled to consider tracking where her voice had come from.
"Max?" he finally asked, taking one last cursory look around his room. "Where the hell are you?"
"Look up," she directed, rolling her eyes when his gaze flew to the barred window opposite his door. If his window were anything like her own, it would be a difficult task to bypass it. While the bars could be filed away with a few hours work, the plate glass was approximately 3.2 inches thick and wasn't something that could be easily smashed.
"No, up here," she repeated, finding it hard to believe that he still hadn't used his super-senses to detect her location. Was using those skills in a ten by eight foot room much different from using them in the forest during a tactical drill? Apparently so - for Alec at least.
Finally, his gaze met hers.
"What the hell are you doing in the vent?"
"Can you loosen the screws and let me out before we get into this?" she requested, nudging the file through the grate as she spoke. With an easy jump, he pulled the file from her grasp and perched on the wall below as he made quick work of the grate, allowing it to swing away so she could escape the tinny confines of the ventilation system.
The minute her feet hit the floor, she stretched, gloriously mimicking a wild cat. It was good to have the space to move around again.
"So, Max, you going to share why you felt the need to sneak into my barracks – which you've refused to do before, on multiple occasions, might I add? And on the night before our big mission?"
"Yeah, about that," she began slowly, not meeting his eyes. "I missed the explanation of our mission. I was hoping that my CO might be willing to repeat the directive."
"You're a transgenic, Max. You don't forget things anymore than you can be outrun by an ordinary. What really happened?"
"I was distracted, okay? You'd been gone for days, and I was worried about you, but then you were right there in front of me, as my CO on a mission I'd loved preparing for. It almost seemed too good to be true, and I could hardly believe it. I didn't catch a word coming from Lydecker's mouth until he asked if we had any questions."
By this point, her brown eyes were blazing, and she was staring him down, daring him to question her. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as he urged her to take a seat on his bed. She obliged without thinking twice – probably a result of the emotional upheaval of that day.
"You were worried about me?" he asked, a smirk on his lips, as he sat beside her.
She nodded slowly, drinking in his scent, so as to reassure herself that he really was there in front of her. "You know that my unit and I were closer than most. We functioned like any other, and played off of each other's strengths and weaknesses. But it was more than that. We watched out for each other, cared about each other, and helped turn the weaknesses within our squad into assets.
"When they ran away, I lost more than just my unitmates. I lost my family, Alec. My family abandoned me. I'd never felt that lonely before, and I didn't know how I was going to handle staying here alone. Without them, everything felt, well, wrong. Except for my specialty missions, I'd never been without them before, and even then, I always knew that they'd be here when I got back. But when I got out of med bay, they were really gone."
Alec was puzzled over why she was focusing on her old unit now. They'd talked about this dozens of times over the past few years as the two of them learned to deal with the losses they'd suffered as a result of the oh-niners' escape. Of course, those initial "talks" had been little more than their own self-centered and misguided attempts at understanding why they each had to lose the little that they'd once had. Both were considered to be guilty by association – Max for her inclusion within the escaped Unit Two, and Alec for the actions of his traitorous clone.
Back then, Alec had been certain that what he'd lost – his position as CO of Unit Four, the respect of his fellow transgenics, the free time he no longer took for granted – had been greater than Max's losses. After all, she was just a scared little girl, one of the youngest in her unit, forced to act like a responsible soldier in the absence of her unit leaders.
He'd tried to fill the shoes of X5-599 once, thinking that would make Max snap out of the funk she'd been in after her unit's betrayal. He was sure that having someone to follow would have her acting like a true soldier once again. He'd succeeded in startling her out of her hazy, fugue-like state, true enough, but he'd failed miserably at the rest.
A fond smile gracing his lips, Alec recalled how his attempt at leadership had unearthed so much spunk inside of the feisty brunette.
She had to keep her fiery side under wraps most of the time. After all, Manticore didn't emphasize the development of personalities or individuality amongst its soldiers. Each one of them was to be the same, the best, so that was what they strove for.
Max, though … Max was different from the rest. He liked it. Most of the time, at least.
A tired sigh cut into his thoughts, bringing his attention back to the weary girl seated beside him.
"I guess what I'm trying to say," she continued, "is that when you were gone from the unit, I was worried about you. I didn't know if you'd be coming back."
"Aw, Max, you know I'd never be able to leave you behind," he replied with an easy grin, slinging an arm over her shoulders.
"Who's to say you'd have a choice in the matter?" she asked rhetorically, a brooding expression haunting her features. "I lost my family once, you know. I don't know if I could survive that again."
Stunned, Alec instinctively pulled her closer to him, ensconcing her further into his embrace. She thought of him as family? Her family? He'd thought that he was little more than a replacement for those she'd lost – especially considering his remarkable likeness to good ol' brother Ben. This was … unexpected. To say the least.
Family, he thought again, rolling the word around in his head as he got accustomed to its texture. It made sense. Families cared for each other. Families protected each other. And he and Max had fit that profile to a tee ever since they got out of PsyOps two and a half years ago.
"I'm right here, Max," he whispered in her ear as he rubbed her back soothingly. "And I'm not going anywhere."
Thanks so much for reading. I really hope you enjoyed it. I'm planning to make this into something of a series of one-shots. I've been terrible at finishing WIPs as of late, so I'm trying to avoid leaving any pieces unfinished right now. I'm not sure if you guys would prefer that I post all of the fics under one "Für Musik" title, or if you'd prefer that they be posted individually as they are each one-shots. Comments on that would be much appreciated. :)
If you have any questions, please let me know, and I'll do what I can to clear things up for you. Max and Alec's mission is going to be the primary focus of the next piece in the "Für Musik" series, but if anyone wants to know more about it, just ask, and I'll happily oblige.
The idea is to eventually focus in on Alec and Max as a couple, but as they are still fairly young at this point [they're about 12 in this piece, that's a story for a later chapter.
Anyhow, I really hope that you enjoyed this piece. This is my first foray into Dark Angel fanfic, so I'd really appreciate whatever feedback you have to offer. Thanks again for reading!