Author's note – This started out by listening to 'Soldier' by Destiny's Child, but then I found a challenge from Agora: Cradle of our imagination in my unread email and the story blossomed right before my eyes as I read the challenge. I hope you enjoy!
Music suggestions – 'Soldier' by Destiny's Child, 'Out tonight' by Rosario Dawson (Rent Soundtrack), 'Till the dawn' by Drew Sidora, 'Bring it to me' by Samantha Cole.
Disclaimer – I don't own Dark Angel. There, satisfied?
What it Takes
"You have got to be kidding me." Alec said monotonously, shock evident in his voice. "You've been on the outside for, what, over eleven years now and you've never climbed a tree just for the hell of it?"
Max sent him a scowl and continued to climb up the tree alongside him. "Unless it was required, I didn't really see the point. Besides, the trees in LA weren't exactly climbable." Max retorted defensively, grabbing a hold of another limb to pull herself up.
"Kinda like we're doing now, you mean?" Alec asked, looking down at her. He was already half a body length ahead of her, from her head to his feet.
'How did he get that far so fast?' Max thought to herself. She blamed the tree and its providing all the good limbs to Alec.
"Exactly." she replied as she looked down to make sure she had a proper foothold before lifting herself up onto the next limb.
"I still can't believe it. It's very...relaxing just sitting there and watching the world pass by you. It's like a sanctuary from all the chaos. We'll have to do this another time, when we're not working for your on-again, off-again boyfriend." he said conversationally as he reached their destination and sat down to wait for her.
She chose to ignore the taunt directed at her relationship with Logan.
The pair was currently on an 'Eyes Only' mission, trying to covertly gain access to a facility on the outskirts of Seattle. The facility was believed to contain information on Manticore - info that pertained to the surrogate mothers to each and all of the transgenics, among other things. Information as such may not mean much to most of the transgenics, who hadn't been on the outside long enough to care for such things, but it meant something to Max. She'd always wondered who her mother was and if she was anything like her. It was the only reason she had accepted this mission and, hence, being stuck alone with Alec most of the night.
Because even though he may be a complete pain in the ass at times, she could depend on him to get her back.
"Hurry up, Max. You have to see the view from up here." Alec called down to her.
Looking up, she noticed that he'd already reached the portion of the tree where it crossed over the top of the security fence. He was sitting with his back against the tree, one leg dangling over the side while the other was bent at the knee on the limb, and an arm resting on it.
She was so going to smack him once they made their way out of this.
The security fence was about 8 feet tall and electrified. While scouting the perimeter earlier that week, they noticed that several of the trees at the rear of the complex grew less than 5 feet away from the fence. And while the branches below the 9 foot mark were trimmed back from the fence, the ones that grew above that measurement were allowed to grow as long and as far as they pleased. This provided ample camouflage for the fence should anyone not care enough to search it out. But for Max and Alec, it provided a decent entrance to the facility. Sometimes, their enemies made it almost too easy. All they had to do was dangle from the protruding limb and drop the few remaining feet without attracting any attention at all. Now if only they didn't try calling attention to themselves on purpose.
"Why don't you yell a little louder? I don't think they heard you on the other side of the complex." Max hissed out, pushing herself faster to get up the tree as quickly as possible.
"Nah, it's cool." Alec said dismissively, waving a hand in the direction of the building. "I already checked. There's no one within yelling distance. This corner's pretty deserted security-wise. Guess they think the trees are enough to ward off intruders."
"Either that or they just don't think anyone cares enough to break in." Max replied, putting both arms on the limb next to Alec and looking at him. She then hauled herself up enough to swing a leg up and onto the same level with Alec.
Alec shrugged in response. "Well, what do you think, Max? Wait or go all out right now?" Alec asked, looking at the collection of buildings before them. They had to gain access to the largest building closest to them. It appeared unguarded, but it was Manticore-based, so it was bound to be guarded somehow.
"Let's rest a minute. Perhaps something will happen." Max replied, leaning back against the trunk of the tree, legs curled up in the Indian position.
"Shoulda brought popcorn." Alec commented in a deadpan tone. Max merely glared at him.
As their gazes swept up the gargantuan guard standing before them slowly, Max and Alec stared with looks of mixed amazement and apprehension.
They had waited for about twenty minutes or so before making their move. Sneaking across the open terrain of the complex had been simple enough. The facility apparently wasn't important enough to have frequent grounds security. The door they used to gain access required a 5-digit code that they already acquired, thanks to Logan, and they made their way deeper into the building. However, when the hall had opened up into an expansive dome-like shape in the center of the building, they ran into their first security hindrance - a guard with a likeness to the troll in the first Harry Potter movie. Max recalled watching that movie once when she was a kid and the resemblance was almost uncanny.
'There's no way that…thing is human.' Max thought to herself. The troll-like guard looked to be close to 8 feet tall with shoulders as broad as the doorway, arms at least as wide around as her head, and as thick as her and Alec pressed together tightly.
'Now there's an image that's entirely inappropriate to the situation.' Max thought, her mind having momentarily drifted in a southward direction. Shaking her head, she glanced over at Alec. He wasn't fairing any better than she at accepting the situation they were now facing.
The guard made no move in their direction. Thankfully, he was waiting for them to make the first move. He was either that stupid or was ordered to be that way. Either option, she had to admit, was fairly idiotic on their part.
"You think the taser would work?" Max said out of the corner of her mouth.
"Max, I don't think a cattle prod to the back of his neck would do the trick." Alec replied, sending a furtive glance in her direction.
Their eyes met. Knowing he somehow understood what she intended, her head ticked in the direction of the guard and winked. The corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk and nodded once in reply.
Turning his gaze towards the guard, he advanced forward, as if preparing to attack. The guard's eyes shifted from Max to Alec and crouched down, ready to crush any who got within grabbing distance. It left him perfectly positioned for Max to leap onto.
Instead of attacking, Alec swiveled slightly and latched onto the arm Max had extended as she ran toward him. Firmly grabbing onto her arm with his other hand, he swung Max up and over his head with all the strength he had.
Flying through the air, she landed squarely on the troll-like guard's shoulders, straddling his neck. Wrapping her legs tightly around to prevent being thrown off, she pulled the taser from the strap on her arm and set it as high as it would go. As the guard grappled at her legs in an attempt to fling her off, Alec watched apprehensively as Max prepared to stun the guy.
As the guard backed her into a wall, hard, she grunted at the force and scowled at the back of the guy's head. She then jammed the head of the taser into the guard's head and pressed the 'shock' button. Not only did it shock him, but the taser was designed to shoot out at its target and as a result, sank that much deeper into the back of his head.
A gurgling sound escaped from the guard's throat and his knees gave out as he shook violently. He collapsed forward, down onto his knees, before his face hit the floor. Max let go of the taser and landed gracefully on her feet as soon as she was able on the guard's way down.
Shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly, she walked towards Alec, who had a look of beguilement on his face. He couldn't help but wince, however, when the guard's body trembled in an aftershock. He looked at Max with raised eyebrows.
"He pissed me off." she said flatly in response to his look. "Now let's get what we came for and get outta here. I don't really feel like running into another one of those." she continued, pointing a thumb over her shoulder at the guard as she started walking in the opposite direction towards the offices behind the guard.
"You have some serious anger control issues you need to work out." Alec stated as he stepped over the prone form and followed Max down the hall.
The rest of the mission had gone along smoothly and the pair was in and out with no more interference. For once, a plan that had actually went off without a hitch. Well, not entirely in Max's case. While they were searching for the files they needed, Alec had suggested a bet of sorts. And being unable to refuse, she had accepted the bet - and lost.
That led to her current dilemma. The whole gang was hanging out at Crash the next night after work, and it was where Max was to 'pay up', sort to speak.
"C'mon, Max. I won that bet fair and square. You can't back out now." Alec said, that ever-present smirk gracing his features.
"I didn't know we were taking that bet seriously." Max argued weakly. "There's no way I'm going through with it."
"Go on now, Boo. It can't be that bad, can it?" OC added, eager to see what her girl had to live up to. It had to be good if Max was trying to back out of it. Max never chickened out and could always be held to her word.
"You're not helping." Max gritted out in OC's direction. OC shrugged in response.
"Boo, you can't break your word. You gots to hold up yo' end of the bargain. Now go on and do what you gotta do, and get it over with." OC reprimanded.
Max frowned at the floor for a few moments, looking utterly defeated. Looking up, she schooled her features into something resembling pleasant and stood up.
Breathing a deep sigh for strength, she looked over at Alec and asked, "You wanna dance?"
OC's eyes widened to saucers as Alec smirked, shrugged off his brown leather jacket, and stood.
"Love to, Maxie." he replied, walking around the table towards her.
Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly and one eye twitched a few times in anger at the nickname. She took his hand and squeezed harder than necessary for a few seconds. Alec winced but said nothing as she raised his arm above her head and her body began to sway with the rhythm of the song as they made their way to the dance floor.
"Better watch where you put those hands." Max stated lowly as they found a spot on the floor.
"I believe that's just wishful thinking on your part. You know you want me to touch you." Alec retorted playfully.
Max snorted in response. So maybe that was kinda true. She wasn't about to openly admit to it.
Knowing it would irritate her, he took her hand holding his arm, twirled her out fully before twirling her back flush against his body.
"What the hell was that?" Max asked, her heart racing but concealing her surprise with contempt.
"Just making sure you have enough room to move." Alec responded, releasing her hand.
She took a step back and spun around so that her back was to him. As she began to move, the song changed to 'Soldier' by Destiny's Child. She was familiar with the song due to OC's obsession with the pre-Pulse music group and smiled. This just might be fun.
Touching the side of his face over her shoulder and swayed slightly for the opening notes of the song, she then pulled away and took a few steps away from him in time with the song. Once she was far enough away, she then turned while raising her arms above her head. Step-jumping into second position, her upper body undulated with the beat of the song for awhile before bending her knees slightly, dipping down and back up jutting one hip, rocking down and repeating the move in the opposite direction. For this, her hands went to her hair and pushed it up and around before trailing down the sides of her body, looking as if she'd rather have his hands there instead.
Alec rocked slightly with the beat, but was completely captivated by Max and the moves she was putting on for him.
Strutting back towards him, Max placed a hand on his left shoulder and continued her strut all the way around him while leaving a trail of fire with the fingers. She pointed over at OC with her free hand when she made eye contact with her. OC whooped in response.
His head followed her from one side to the other.
The crowd had formed a wide circle around them, but few were actually paying them any heed. Which Alec thought of as a good thing because he didn't think he'd be amused if any other guys were watching her.
As Max completed her walk, she stood with her back almost flush against him and dropped down into a crouch with her hand touching the floor. Hip cocked to one side, she rose up, flipping her hair back and looking over her opposite shoulder as she ended the move with her head on Alec's shoulder, rocking her hips gently against his.
His hands rested on her hips as their bodies moved in sync. Max brought one arm up and draped it over his shoulder, tracing a pattern along his currently lasered off barcode while the other rested on top of one of his. Their gazes locked and held for what felt like an eternity to Max. Finally breaking the contact, Max rubbed her nose into his neck and purred in appreciation.
Dragging her hand along to the front of his body from his neck, she turned so that she was facing him. Backing away, Max sent Alec a seductive look as she dropped down, spun around, and rose back up, sticking her butt out the slightest bit just to tease him.
His eyes followed her every move. And when he looked into her eyes once again, he was almost positive that she was enjoying this. Her eyes glowed with pure excitement and the wicked grin on her face appeared to be genuine. He knew she was just about driving him crazy with all the hip gyrating. Of course, the brown leather pants that laced up the sides, black boots, and low-cut burgundy tank top didn't help matters much, either.
As Max danced for Alec, she listened to the words of the song. Some of the words could actually apply to Alec. As of late, she realized that she didn't hate him as much as she used to. She depended on him for a lot. He still drove her crazy, for sure, but she didn't blame him for everything that went wrong in her life anymore. In fact, she'd even entertained the not-so-platonic musings that entered her mind on occasion.
Logan would always hold a place in her heart as her first real love. But her heart had chosen to move on. And while she wasn't 100 percent sure yet, she was beginning to believe that it was Alec that had allowed her to do so.
Raising an arm until it was pointed at him, she turned her palm up and beckoned him to come closer with her finger.
He looked down and then back up at her with hooded eyes, his head bent down and to the side slightly. Neither broke eye contact as he walked towards her.
A shiver traveled down her spine as Alec stepped up in front of her and brought his arms up to trail his hands along hers, which were raised above her head, down her body to her hips. Once they reached her hips, he pulled her flush against his body and began to lean forward to the beat of the song with his arms extended on each side of her. Her arms went around his shoulders, but didn't fold around them, rather popping along with the beat.
Reflexively, Max began to lean back as well while continuing to move with the beat. Once she began to feel the strain of leaning back too far for too long, Alec reversed the process. As a result, she followed. Once they were upright, she closed her arms around his neck and they merely swayed with the rhythm of the song, almost as if they were no longer paying attention to the song that was in its winding down stages.
OC watched on from her seat the entire time. She knew her Boo could dance, but damn. She had never seen Max dance like that for another person. And it was for Alec of all people. Max had pulled out all the stops to give that boy a dance he was likely to never forget. Hell, it wasn't even for her and she was left feeling a little hot and bothered. It made her wonder if Max wasn't telling her everything. Did her Boo really have something going on with Alec? Was he really her boy?
The song ended and a slow song began to play. The pair instantly jumped apart and walked in opposite directions, as if afraid to be caught together for a sappy, romantic love song. It was then that OC really began to suspect that something was up. Just not in the way that she originally suspected. It was more of the denied attraction variety. That was something she could work with.
"Life as we know it has come to an end, Boo. That was intense." OC said, still in a state of bewilderment when Max came and sat down beside her. Alec had gone to the bar to order another pitcher. You could still see the look of pure amazement in his features. Max's dance had left quite a mark on him. As it would have for just about any red-blooded, straight male.
"What? It was just a bet. I had to do it." Max replied, trying hard to suppress the triumphant look from her face and her voice.
"Girl, no one dance like that for a man unless she want to." OC said matter-of-factly while raising an eyebrow.
"Alright, maybe I enjoyed it just a little." Max admitted, a wry grin appearing on her lips.
"Well, Max? What do you think?" Alec asked from his perch high above her.
"It's not so bad." Max answered, hanging from a limb upside down and swinging. Her hair was sticking straight away from her head and was being pushed around by the gentle spring breeze. She felt something tickle her neck and she swatted the annoyance away.
"C'mon, Max. You've hardly even left the ground. Come on up here with me, I can guarantee you won't be disappointed." Alec said.
She could almost hear the smugness in his voice. Rolling her eyes, she pulled one leg off and stuck it out straight underneath the branch. Rocking back and forth a few times, the momentum took her up until she was sitting on the limb properly. It was a good thing she'd decided to wear jeans that day. Pulling herself up, she reached for the next branch and began to climb towards Alec.
"Are you talking about the view or something that has nothing to do with tree climbing?" Max finally answered matter-of-factly.
"Max, how could you suggest such a thing?" Alec answered in a mock-offended tone. He paused a few moments as if pondering something, then continued suggestively "But if that's what it takes, I wouldn't be opposed to trying that up here."
Max suppressed a grin from forming and refrained from speaking for the rest of the climb.
Once she reached him, he held out a hand to pull her up onto his level. Taking the proffered hand, she let him haul her up. Settling back against his chest between his legs, Max stared out of the foliage at the urban landscape before them. People bustled about, on their way to somewhere, completely ignoring the small patch of green space that was right beside them. She and Alec were pretty high up in the old oak tree, yet practically all of the buildings before them continued upward in humanity's attempt to touch the sky. She much preferred the quiet, humble ways that nature provided height. Alec was right; climbing trees just for fun was a great idea.
"See? I told you." he whispered into her ear as his arms wrapped around her comfortably, leaning his chin on the top of her head.
A/N – What'd you think about the ending? I skipped over the scene where Alec and Max finally admit their feelings for each other. Something I figured would read better left unsaid. That's probably the first time I've done that. On another note, the dance scene gave me the most problems. I could see it all in my head, but putting it into words was another ordeal entirely. I hope it read well with the song.
Also, I know I never actually mentioned what the bet was. Reason? Because I couldn't think of one creative and witty enough to satisfy my requirements. I also figured that by leaving it open, you could insert just about anything your imagination could come up with. I hope you enjoyed reading. And this is just a one-shot - my first ever. It feels kind of weird, to be honest. WBL.