A/N: I'm feeling the need to babble, so you can go ahead and skip this if you want to. But for those of you interested, this is my first completed Dark Angel multi-chapter fic! Short or not, somewhat plot-less or not, that fact makes this story very special to me. Thanks to anyone who took the time to review; if you hadn't I wouldn't have even continued with this. So thank you, so much!
Also, anyone wondering about Phobia, I promise it's getting done. It's just a little harder to get the chapters out, but I'm not quitting with it. I'll see it through to the end, whenever and wherever that may be, so no worries on that front.
Lastly, I received a lot of comments on the fact that Alec and Max aren't getting together in this story. A few reviewers seemed upset about it, and others demanded that I continue. So I'm just going to go into a little more detail about why I made that decision; again, skip this if you don't care. They aren't getting together as a couple because I strongly believe it would take at least a dozen chapters to make it plausible.
I think they're a great pairing, but that does not mean they're packaged and ready to go. Both of them have to grow and change and accept each other. And I just don't have time to turn this into a full-fledged Max/Alec get-together fic. I could force them together, but it wouldn't feel natural or in character, so this is where it ends. Hopefully it's not too much of a disappointment to you!
"Well, well, well. Look who's back from the dead."
Max rolled her eyes as made her way to Normal's dispatch station, moving only a little slower than usual and walking with a slight limp.
"Don't start death rumors again," She said, her lips twisting. "I've only been gone a few days."
"Three days. You've been gone three days with no excuses," Normal said without hesitation, throwing a long, cylindrical package at her as he did so. "You think I'm just going to let you walk back in here after that?"
That question had an obvious answer, especially since he was already handing over her deliveries for the day. She figured he just argued for the sake of it at this point. "Uh, yeah. And I do have an excuse." He looked at her expectantly, eyebrows raised and glasses pressed close to his nose. "I got mugged."
He let out a small, sarcastic chuckle, and the familiar noise grated on Max's nerves. "Yeah, sure, Missy-Miss. I've seen you kick around guys twice your size when they're peeping into the ladies' change-room."
"What can I say?" She asked, one sardonic eyebrow raised. "A girl can't win all the time. Guess someone finally managed to get the drop on me."
"Yeah, whatever," Normal replied, throwing a few more packages her way. "Is that leg gonna slow you down any? I'm not paying you if you're going to give less effort than usual." He paused, thought about that for a second, and then added, "Not that you usually give much effort, anyway."
Ah, so he was more observant than he seemed. Max shrugged carelessly. "I'm tough."
He paused to stare at her, impatience written all over his face. "Well then, get to work, will you?"
She rolled her eyes heavenward again and gathered up her parcels, wondering why she even bothered to work for him at all. She'd originally joined Team Jam Pony just to find places to rob, and it wasn't like she did that anymore. But then again, she'd just missed three days of work without calling in sick, and she still had a job. Case closed.
"You gonna be okay, Boo?" O.C asked as Max made her way over to her locker.
"Yeah, of course," Max replied easily, trying to make her slightly awkward gate a little less noticeable. She opened her locker and pulled out a few things, stuffing them and her deliveries into her messenger bag.
Original Cindy looked doubtful, but she knew better than to argue with Max about things like health and injuries. "A'ight, boo. Catch you later at Crash?"
"Sure," Max replied, sending O.C a small wave as the other woman peddled out of the building.
Max slung her bag over her shoulder and tried to adjust the straps to a more comfortable position. The extra weight didn't bother her leg much, but she did feel a slight twinge of discomfort every time the pack shifted. Her eyes wandered listlessly around the dim walls of Jam Pony—until they landed on a humor-filled green gaze.
Catching his stare, Max walked slowly, almost uncertainly over to him. It was a little like one of those awkward morning-after moments, except without the sex.
And that was really not something she wanted to think about right now, in any sense.
"Hey," She said once she'd reached him. He had been sitting on the bench and toying with the strap on his glove when she'd caught his eye, but now he stood.
"Hey," He replied in the same mock-casual tone. Then he glanced sideways at her, still adjusting the band around his wrist. "You're not going to thank me again, are you? 'Cause I might develop a complex."
The atmosphere shifted slightly, and most of the tension waned as she scowled at him. "Must you always be so egotistical? I wasn't going to thank you, idiot."
"Stop confusing me, Maxie. One minute you're calling me a genius, and the next I'm an idiot," He waved his hands in a confused and resigned sort of way.
She rolled her eyes. "You're the one jumping to conclusions. I was just saying 'hi.'"
He grinned at her then, and she had the resist the temptation to smile back. If she ever gave into the urge, she had to admit his carefree attitude was infectious. "Max, you've never just come over and said 'hi' before."
And just like that, the conversation was serious again. She tried to think of an adequate comeback, but after a few seconds of struggling she resigned herself to the significance of the moment. "I have too. Once."
The grin fell off his face and he glanced down again, now shoving packages of various sizes into his messenger bag. She saw the tenseness in his muscles as they bunched and flexed, but his voice was relatively even as he said, "You're not going to ask me if I'm alright again, are you?"
His usually quirked lips were tilted downwards and his eyes held an emotionless cast. It was clear that this subject was as out-of-bounds now as it had been then, and she wasn't going to push. "Are you kidding me?" She asked, her voice as incredulous as she could muster—a fairly good imitation. "You should be asking me that."
His shoulders relaxed and the smirk slid back onto his face. "Fine, if you insist. You alright?"
She paused for half a second, and then smiled back. "Always."
It seemed metaphorical, in a way, how they always answered that question with a lie. The only person who would ever really know the truth was the same person who did more than just listen.
He shook his head at her a little ruefully, and they simultaneously began walking toward the bike rack. "That'll go away, soon." He said, nodding his head toward the slight hesitation in her gait.
She stayed quiet for a second, nodding her head absently. Then she turned to look at him, full of sudden determination. "Speaking from experience?" She asked.
He gazed at her, and she could have sworn he was measuring her up. Then he quirked an eyebrow. "Yeah," He said finally, but didn't elaborate any further.
She resigned herself to doing most the work and asked, after a slight pause, "What happened?"
He stopped and turned to face her then, and she had a feeling he was doing more of that measuring thing. She figured she must have passed the test, because after a long, searching look he said, "Bullet went straight through." He indicated to his thigh for emphasis.
She hissed through her teeth. "Ouch," She said, really sympathizing for him. He nodded but stayed silent. She huffed slightly and then continued, "What were you doing at the time?"
At least he'd stopped pausing before every answer. If she could drag him away from single-syllable replies, this conversation would actually get somewhere. Of course, she really couldn't complain about having to persuade him into tell her something he'd been ready to say three days ago. "So that happened before you were cleared for solo missions?"
"You mean assassinations?" His gaze was piercing.
Her mouth dropped open and she suddenly realized that they were surrounded by people, any of whom could overhear. She hurriedly glanced around; he noticed her actions and did likewise. Then their eyes met again.
"Yeah," She said, as calmly as she could manage.
"Yes. I only did solo ops for about three years."
"And then Manti—it burned down." She filled in, still conscious of possible stray listeners. She wondered how much experience he'd actually had in the real world before he'd been dropped into it.
The stared at each other for a beat, and then Alec turned away and pulled out a bicycle. Max hesitated.
"You said once that I couldn't understand." She began, her voice low. He didn't look at her, but his entire body stilled and she knew she had his attention. "Explain it to me?"
It was strange, how differently that phrase could sound. A few weeks ago she had used it as a demand; now it was a request.
He stayed quiet for a while longer, and she stared patiently at his back. Then he straightened and turned to look at her, hands still balancing the bike. "Will you tell me about being outside for the last ten years?"
A surge of memories flooded her brain at the question. She remembered her brothers and sisters and spending most of her life frantically searching for any lead that would help find them. She remembered Zach and everything that had happened after they'd reunited; she remembered Ben. She remembered the foster homes; the nights spent out in the cold, afraid of the entire world; the sting of ice water on her face as she fell into a small, frozen pond.
In that moment, she realized how her relationship with Alec had changed. Subtly at first, but now it was undeniable that something had shifted. They were comfortable enough to ask questions they hadn't wanted to voice before.
But as she stared at him, his head tilted questioningly to the side, she realized that they were comfortable with the questions, but not the answers. Not yet.
"Maybe some other time," She said, and he nodded, the tightness leaving his features. Her denial meant he didn't have to share, either.
She pulled a bicycle off the rack now, and only hesitated for a moment before throwing her undamaged leg over the side. When that went smoothly, she tested out peddling and found that it wasn't too bad. Being a genetically engineered super-soldier with fantastic healing abilities and a high pain tolerance had its perks.
"All set?" He asked, and there was only a small amount of sarcasm in his tone.
"Yes," She replied, choosing to respond to his concern rather than his derision. She balanced on her toes for an experimental second. Then she shot him a glance. "See you at Crash tonight?"
He stared at her, completely motionless for a moment, and then he smiled. Not a smirk or a grin or a sarcastic quirking of the lips. A real smile. "Yeah."
A/N: There, hope you enjoyed! Thanks again to all my readers and reviewers!