Summary: Alec is hunting a man he's sure is from Manticore, but Max has her doubts…
Here you have it, all finished up. Hope you enjoyed it. To those of you who asked about another DA story… Just depends on the muse… Thanks for all the kind reviews.
Max sat sideways in the rear seat of the car, her back against the door. Alec was half-sitting, half lying across the seat with his back against her chest. She wasn't sure if he was conscious or not, but his heavy frame leaning against her was warm and real and solid.
Max brushed her fingers through his hair in a circular motion, comforted by the tactile sensation. She decided it was a normal reaction to being denied the ability to touch the person she cared about for so long. Partially, anyway. But it was also Alec. She was responsible for his being in the state he was. She'd disarmed him herself so that Phillips could shoot him and beat the crap out of him. And yet, after all that… he'd still said… what he said. She just wanted him close right now. Max needed to be able to touch him, to know he was alive.
Answering her question of whether or not he was conscious, Alec sighed and leaned into her hand, clearly enjoying the soothing feel of her fingers in his hair. Given the state of his face, Max imagined his head was hurting him. Max caught Logan watching them in the rearview mirror and it somehow seemed… wrong. Like he was peeking in on a moment that should have been private. Just her and Alec.
"How did you find us?" she asked, wanting to draw Logan's attention away from them.
"What?" Logan looked confused and she realized he'd been too focused on her and Alec to listen.
"How did you find us? I mean, we're nowhere near the house where we started out," Max clarified.
"This guy." He pointed to Digger, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
Logan turned a sharp corner. Alec groaned, shifting against her, and Max instinctively tightened her arms around him. "Alec?"
"S'ok, Max," he almost wheezed, not bothering to raise his head.
"Hey, you're awake!" Digger turned around in his seat. "Told you I could find you," he said proudly.
"Good thing I didn't kill you then," Alec murmured so quietly that Max was certain she was the only one who'd heard it.
"What?" Digger asked, as if confirming her thought.
"Why were you looking for us?" Max asked.
"You guys shorted me ten bucks and I was trying to find you. I know a guy who knows a guy."
"News travels fast," Max scowled and Digger laughed.
"Military types holed up in a warehouse tend to attract a bit of attention. Specially when they're asking around about a guy like Alec and not being too subtle either."
"You knew they were looking for Alec when you sold us the part?" Max asked.
"Well, yeah." Digger shrugged. "Don't worry about the ten bucks, by the way. Logan, here, gave it to me."
"You couldn't have given us a heads up?" she snapped, furious that their lives had almost depended on shorting this moron a ten.
"And miss all this fun?" Digger asked. "Besides, a guy's got to make a living."
"He told them, Max," Alec said quietly, no real anger in his tone. "Probably led Phillips to us."
"Why would you do that?" Max asked, appalled. "You knew what kind of people they were!"
"Hey," Digger looked incensed, "I went and got your buddy here to save you. I even let him have some of my dynamite to get you out. You think I give up my dynamite for just anybody?"
"You're a real humanitarian." Alec gave a half-laugh, then gasped. He involuntarily tried to straighten, pressing Max back into the door. She rubbed her hands up and down his arms, trying to soothe him as best she could.
"Yeah, well I'm still gonna kick your ass when I get hold of you, you got that?" Max said, giving Digger the full weight of her furious glare. "Just because you helped us after you got us caught, doesn't make you a friend."
"The thanks I get for saving you two." He shook his head, then elbowed Logan. "You can let me out here." Logan pulled the car over and Digger quickly exited, though he leaned back in and looked at the pair in the back seat. "Max, it's been a blast." He grinned at his own pun, then turned his eyes to Alec. "Buddy, you've got one crazy chick on your hands, but she suits you."
"Digger, close the door and go away before I use it to bash your head in," Max ordered.
The man just laughed and shut the door. A second later, he'd disappeared down an alley.
"We need a hospital?" Logan asked, looking at her in the rearview mirror.
"My place," Max said. "I've got supplies." She also wanted to be on home ground. She felt like her entire world was skittering off the tracks thanks to one of the weirdest days of her life, and considering her life, that was saying a lot. Max needed to be on her own turf when she and Alec got around to talking.
"Max, my place might be-"
"No," she cut him off and studiously refused to acknowledge the hurt expression on his face as Logan pulled back out and headed for her apartment. It had been a long, exhausting day and she just didn't have the energy to spare. Alec shifted in her arms again and she tightened her hold on him, as if he might try to escape. Instead she felt him relax into unconsciousness. His head lolled to the side, his face turned toward her. She rested her chin against his forehead and closed her eyes.
Max blinked and realized she'd dozed off. They were stopped in front of her building and Logan was holding open the car door opposite her.
"Slide him this way," he suggested. Max hesitated, again reluctant to release Alec. "Come on, Max," he said gently, as if reading her thoughts. "We need to get him inside."
Max nodded, realizing she was being childish. That and Alec was hurting while she wasted time on her issues with Logan. "Alec, you awake?"
"Alec, we've got to move you, ok?"
Max waited for Alec to nod, then very carefully kept her distance as she helped Alec slide toward Logan. Max jumped out on her side of the car and came around the back to find Logan helping a still groggy Alec lean against the car. She waited for Logan to step back then threw one of Alec's arms across her shoulders. "Ready?" she asked. Once again she waited for a nod, then began walking him toward the building with Logan striding alongside at a safe, virus-approved distance. In only a few minutes with Logan unlocking, opening, and holding doors, they were all upstairs and inside her apartment.
Max headed straight for her bedroom, Alec still in tow. She walked to the side, turned her back to the bed and slowly sat down on it. Alec, his arm still across her shoulders, mirrored her movements and sat beside her.
Max stood and without asking grabbed a pair of scissors, cut Alec's t-shirt back and front and pulled it off over his arms. She couldn't help a grimace. Yup, definitely more bruises than Alec had let on about. "Lay back," she said and he immediately obeyed, with a groan. She helped him raise his legs off the floor, then pulled his shoes off and threw them across the room. The sodden bandage over the bullet wound was a useless mess, so she removed it too and threw it in the nearest trashcan.
Max looked up to see Logan standing in the doorway to her bedroom with a look on his face that nearly took her breath away. Loss, pain, jealousy, resentment, longing, anguish, grief. It was all there on his face, plain for the world to see. Defeat.
"Domesticity, Manticore style," he said, just a hint of bitterness in his tone, though he was trying to hide it.
"It's fine, Max." But unlike Alec, Logan just had no ability to hide how un-fine he was. It was one of the reasons she loved him. He was an open book. Any girl would be lucky to have this man at her side.
There was just one problem. And he was currently bleeding all over her sheets while she stood there like an idiot.
"Thanks," she finally said to Logan. "You know… for coming after us."
"It's what I do," he smiled sadly. "Save the damsel in distress. When he wakes up, you can tell Alec he's the damsel."
"I will," she grinned. Generosity, Logan's middle name.
He turned to leave, then stopped not quite looking at her. "You know you can't trust him."
Max stepped closer to Alec. She'd heard his heart rate increase, heard his bare intake of breath, although he looked as peacefully relaxed as he had before.
"Some people you trust because they've earned it," she said straightly. "And some because you can trust them to do the wrong thing. But some people, you trust them because you want to. You want them to be better. And maybe that makes them want it too."
"Logan, you been giving her philosophy lessons again?" Alec croaked. He turned his head and looked up at Max, blinking slowly, but his eyes were clear, so many thoughts dancing behind them she couldn't follow.
When there wasn't an answer, Max looked up and saw that Logan was gone and she heard the front door to the apartment closing quietly.
Max self-consciously gathered up the first aid supplies and under Alec's watchful eyes, set to work. She started with the bullet wound, redoing the work that had already been done. She cleaned the wound, pulled out the ripped stitches and replaced them with well-practiced ease. Next, she got a fresh cloth and wet it with warm water. Alec turned his head toward her and allowed her to gently wash his bruised face. He winced slightly as she ran the washcloth over his split lip.
"S'fine," he said gruffly, his eyes never leaving her.
He watched hungrily as she leaned closer and gently placed a whisper soft kiss over the injury, lips just touching lips. She sat back, blushing, but unable to look away.
"All better now," he said, a tiny smile beginning.
"I heard what you told Phillips," Max said, one eyebrow arched.
"You wanna remind me?" Alec asked. "I doubt you'll believe it, but sometimes my mouth is on auto-pilot."
She gave him an expression of mock-disbelief. "You don't say."
"I do," he replied innocently.
"You always declare your feelings to a stranger before you tell the girl?" Max didn't bother to hide the fact that she was clearly nonplussed.
"Oh, that," he said as if just remembering it. "It was the stress." Alec grinned despite his split lip. "I wasn't thinking straight."
Max glared. "You thinking straight now?"
"Depends on whether you're gonna hit me or not."
"I'm thinking about it," she answered.
"I'm trusting you to make the right call," he said with a nod.
Max threw the washcloth aside. She then stood and toed off her shoes. Alec watched her warily as she moved around to the other side of the bed. Careful not to jostle him, she stretched out beside him, pressing herself along his uninjured side. "I'm trusting you with more than that."
More surprised than he had ever been in his life, Alec felt his muscles tense. Unsure of what to do or say, Alec simply waited while Max stretched out, settling herself on her side, her head on his shoulder. Her arm came to rest naturally on his chest and finally she sighed, her warm breath brushing over his bare skin. Despite himself, he began to relax, his muscles sinking back into the bed, molding to her shape next to him.
Max looked up at the same moment he looked down and Alec found himself nose to nose with her. She brushed the tip of her nose over his, a feather-light caress to let him know that she was where she wanted to be, that she knew what she was doing. It was all the encouragement he needed.
Alec kissed her greedily, happy to be alive, happy Max was alive, happy they'd made it to this moment, not even sure how they'd made it to this moment.
Her lips were like water to a thirsty man. He drank and drank. Alec had been lost in the desert for so long. He'd been a nomad, concerned only with daily survival. He wasn't sure he knew how to live any other way, but her lips, her mouth, her body pressed against his… She was an oasis in the desert.
Max's hand tightened around his ribcage to draw him closer and Alec realized he must have made a sound, because Max instantly released him.
"Alec," she said, "I'm sorry. I…"
She started to pull away, but Alec held her firmly in place, partly because movement would cause further pain, and partly because now that she was beside him, he couldn't bear for her to leave.
"S'ok," he assured her. Alec closed his eyes, keeping his breaths shallow. As his ribs began to settle down, he felt Max relax too and settle back into the crook of him arm, resting her head back on his shoulder.
The pain had cleared his head and it finally dawned on Alec what she'd said.
I'm trusting you with more than that.
I'm trusting you…
His team had trusted him too. He'd led them on that mission. They had been his responsibility. He'd promised them, even if only to himself, that he would get them back in one piece. They'd trusted him and he'd lost four in the original ambush.
Despite that obvious failure, the rest had still trusted him. They had looked to him for answers and courage and leadership after they'd been locked in that tiny room and been treated like animals. Well, even more so than Manticore normally did its animals.
Their captors had kept at them and Alec had fought and fought to keep them all together and sane. But it had been too much. He just hadn't had whatever it took to keep them from losing touch with reality. The two youngest of the group, the weakest, the ones with the least training, they'd been the ones to lose it. They were just children and they were being tortured and their minds had snapped.
That had left four. 421 had been killed trying to escape. Alec had seen the madness creeping up in him too and it had almost been a merciful death. At that point, he'd lost two thirds of his team and still the remainder had trusted him to get them out somehow.
That had left three. Despite the fact that their little cell had become larger as the population in it decreased, the room had seemed smaller and smaller, closing in until Alec just couldn't breathe anymore. His last two team members were looking to him to come up with some crazy way to free them. As if Alec hadn't been studying the few defenses he could see for the weeks they had been there and had yet to see a single way out that didn't involve a body bag. But still they'd trusted him.
Just days before the experiment ended, though he'd had no way of knowing that, Phillips had shot 675 right in front of him, demanding that Alec give them information that he just didn't know. And worse, Phillips had known he didn't know. He'd just wanted to see what Alec would do. He could still see 675, her eyes begging him to give the guards whatever information they wanted, to do anything, but to please save her.
And now there was Max. Max who was in his arms. She could take care of herself. He knew it was true and she'd kill him if he said otherwise.
That didn't make her trust any less of a burden.
What if one day she trusted him and he made a mistake? What if he trusted her and she let him down. Wouldn't be the first time it had happened. For either one of them.
Doubt said he should go. Fear of failure, failing Max. Fear of counting on people who always failed you in the end. Maybe used you.
Too many disasters, too many failures, too many disappointments…
History, experience, even training said he should go.
Self-preservation said he should go.
Instinct said he should go.
Max curled closer into his side. "Stay," she said simply.
Alec wrapped his arm around her slender shoulders. And he stayed.
Been a pleasure… Thanks for reading.