Alive 'till Tomorrow
The denizens of Terminal City drifted off the rooftop one by one, leaving an uncomfortable feeling of anticipation and uncertainty in the cold air. Max and Logan remained, off to one side and wrapped in their own rose-tinted fantasy, clasping gloved hands, but Alec pointedly ignored them, assuming that Max no longer needed him to keep up the ugly charade she had caught him in. Instead, he walked stiffly to join Joshua, who was watching his new flag snapping in the wind.
'Nice flag, buddy,' he said softly by way of greeting.
Joshua smiled at him self-consciously. 'Everything gonna be different now,' he rumbled apprehensively.
'Yeah, I guess so.'
'Will be alright,' Joshua added, nodding assertively.
'Yeah? Glad you're so sure, big guy.'
'Freaks gotta stick together… Joshua, Alec and Max will look after each other.'
'Looks like Max has got Logan again…' It seemed too self-indulgent to add she doesn't need me anymore, so Alec left it unsaid, but Joshua heard it anyway.
Joshua had his own suspicions about the complicated nature of the feelings linking Max to Logan and to Alec, but he wasn't prepared to confess all his deductions to his friend, so he was silent for a moment. In the end, he quietly said 'Logan's not a freak.'
Alec smirked. 'Not our kind of freak anyway,' he murmured spitefully. Joshua frowned, too innocent to appreciate the X5's sentiment.
After a short pause, the transhuman turned suddenly to study his friend, wearing a critical expression. 'How's your shoulder?'
'Alright,' Alec replied automatically. In fact, it was uncomfortably numb and hanging limp at his side.
'Alec,' Joshua reproached him. 'Here…' He laid a hand on Alec's uninjured shoulder and steered him towards the stairs. The X5 looked pale and exhausted in the stark morning light: there were grey shadows under his eyes.
'I'll be fine,' he protested. 'Genetically empowered, remember?'
'Not unbreakable,' Joshua told him sternly. 'No use with one arm.'
'I like to think I'm still some use,' Alec complained, allowing himself to be led along a dingy corridor towards Joshua's quarters.
'Familiar bitch nearly beat Alec,' the dog-man pointed out gently.
'I'm never gonna live that down, huh?'
Joshua frowned again. He felt guilty for failing to notice Alec's handicap at the time – avenging Annie wasn't worth losing another friend. In every way that mattered, Max and Alec were his family.
'Take off jacket,' he instructed, pushing Alec down onto the couch. The X5 smiled wearily, touched by Joshua's concern. The dog-man disappeared in search of supplies, and Alec slipped his jacket off his good arm, but stopped abruptly when his movement shattered the reassuring numbness which had paralysed his left shoulder several hours previously.
Joshua returned to find his friend white faced and trembling, his jacket half-on, half-off. 'Alec?'
Alec hissed, his eyes snapping open. 'Sorry, I…' He trailed off.
'Jacket?' Joshua prompted gently.
'I… ah…' Alec squirmed under his friend's worried scrutiny. 'I can't move my arm,' he admitted.
Joshua's eyes went wide. He struggled with indecision for a few seconds and then abruptly spoke. 'I'll get Max.'
'Josh, no-,' Alec protested, but Joshua ignored him and was gone. Max was the last person Alec wanted to see right now; weakened, he didn't feel armed against her sarcasm and her anger. And he wanted to be up to full arguing strength, after…
- - - - - - - -
Max was still on the rooftop, watching Seattle waking up and preparing for the day, with Logan at her side. The early breeze stung her face, and Logan's fingers felt heavy entwined with hers. Outside the perimeter of Terminal City, ominous activity was bustling about. The thought of it, and of having to face it, made her head throb painfully.
Joshua felt shy about interrupting Max while she was with Logan, but he was afraid for Alec.
'Max…' he began hesitantly.
She turned, releasing Logan's warm hand at last, and smiled at her friend. 'Hey, Big fella. Great job with the flag.'
He grunted his thanks, and caught her arm urgently.
'You ok, Big fella?'
He nodded. 'Alec…' he stammered.
He watched her eyebrows draw together, though whether in concern, or irritation, or some other emotion, he couldn't tell.
'He was here two minutes ago,' Max said lightly. 'Surely even Alec can't get into trouble in that time.'
Her frown deepened, and she shot a nervous glance over her shoulder at Logan. 'He said it was fine.'
Joshua shrugged, as if to say well, you know Alec. She sighed. 'Yeah, okay.'
- - - - - - - -
Alec gaped helplessly at the door, slamming shut behind Joshua. Shit. For a second, he considered following, but dizziness overtook him and he dismissed the idea of trying to get up. He didn't want Max to find him sprawled flat on his face. Had to cling to the remnants of his pride.
He clutched absently at his shoulder with his opposite hand – the other lay limp in his lap. The wound was throbbing hotly under his fingers, shooting tremulous pangs up and down his arm, keeping time with his rapid pulse.
It was a pathetic wound, really – this, if truth be told, was what bothered Alec most. After all, he'd brushed off similar wounds before with barely a thought; he didn't want Max thinking of him as weak, didn't want the label defective thrown at him again as it had been years before after the Berrisford assignment.
He wanted to lie alone in the dark until the pain stopped. Though grateful for Joshua's concern, he really didn't want to see the dog-man right now. And he definitely didn't want to see Max, and- he groaned as three sets of footsteps tapped along the corridor outside- he really, really didn't want to see Logan.
He sat upright, swaying slightly and still clinging to his shoulder automatically, without realising that he was doing so. He listened fatalistically to the approaching footsteps. Max, light and confident, long strides. Joshua, heavier, shuffling slightly – he always walked slightly hunched, as though apologising for his height. Logan walked with an awkward, clipped rhythm thanks to his exoskeleton.
- - - - - - - -
Max followed Joshua into the dimly lit room. Alec sat perched awkwardly on the edge of the couch. He snatched his right hand guiltily away from his shoulder when they entered, flicking up sullen eyes to acknowledge her arrival and favouring Joshua with a wan smile. Ignoring Logan completely when he followed her through the door. Alec's jacket, she noticed, hung dejectedly off one shoulder.
'What's up, Alec?' she asked. Joshua frowned at her impatient tone, and she immediately felt guilty. 'Is your shoulder okay?'
He glared at her, and sighed in exasperation.
'Whatever happened to "been there, done that"?'
'I was busy.'
'I'm sure there's a whole lot of other things you could be doing now to keep yourself occupied.'
'I'm prioritising,' she told him, feeling Joshua's eyes on her and making a valiant effort to keep her temper.
'I'm flattered. Now go away.'
Behind her, Logan drew himself up defensively and began, 'Listen, Alec-.'
'Joshua thinks you need help,' Max cut across him, staring Alec down with determined eyes.
'I'll be fine.'
'Stakes are higher now. I need you sharp.'
'Hah. I'm touched.'
'I don't give a damn if you want to play with your own life, Alec, but-.'
'Oh, come on. Can you say "drama queen"?'
'Can you say "self-centred, macho idiot who really needs to learn that he's not invincible"?'
'Not without drawing a breath. You got me there.'
She stopped abruptly, swallowing the rest of her tirade, and met his eyes. After a charged second, her glare dissolved, and they both laughed.
'Manticore lung capacity, for yelling at Alec. You just discover a new super-power every day, huh, Maxie?'
She grinned sheepishly. For a moment neither spoke. 'Let me look at that, okay?' she asked eventually, and he nodded.
Logan, observing, turned his eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. One minute they were ready to tear each other's heads off; the next laughing… he was amazed that Max had ever hoped to convince him that she and Alec were a couple. He glanced at Joshua. The dog-man wore a knowing smile which, for no reason at all, made Logan feel uncomfortable.
'Why're you wearing half a jacket, anyway?' Max asked, to distract Alec as she carefully eased it free of his sore shoulder.
'Fashion statement. You think it'll catch on?'
'The same day it becomes cool to have a barcode.'
'It's totally cool to have a barcode. Sorry, Josh.'
'Gem's baby doesn't have one,' Max remembered, smiling to herself.
Alec nodded. 'Second generation barcodes would be too freaky, even for Manticore.'
'I don't think there's any limit to the freakiness of Manticore.' Max shuddered.
Alec laughed. 'If you and I are ever on a bar quiz team -,' he paused to wince as Max pulled his jacket free – 'we're calling it "the freakiness of Manticore".'
'That's exactly the sort of name you would come up with,' she told him, trying to peel back his t-shirt. 'Joshua, you got any scissors?'
'Hey, you said it first. And I like this t-shirt,' Alec protested, as Joshua grunted and began clattering through draws.
'I'll buy you a new one,' Max grated out.
'No offence, Max, but there's no way I'd trust you to buy my clothes.'
She blinked at him, affronted. 'What is that supposed to mean?'
His face was blank and innocent in a second. 'Nothing.'
'Huh? Nothing, just forget I said anything…'
'He's teasing you, Max,' Logan put in softly. He'd settled in the armchair opposite, observing. Both X5s turned in surprise to look at him. The laughter faded from Max's eyes and she nodded her acknowledgement, smiling tightly. Alec was carefully expressionless.
'Scissors!' said Joshua triumphantly, presenting his find to Max. Alec looked up at him miserably.
'You're supposed to be on my side,' he complained, watching resignedly as Max deftly destroyed his t-shirt.
'Max, Alec and Joshua always on the same side,' Joshua told him, with conviction. Logan felt a pang at his exclusion, but neither of the others seemed to notice.
'Doesn't give her a free reign to sabotage my clothing whenever the mood takes her,' Alec grumbled.
Max hissed in sympathy as she pulled Dalton's makeshift dressing back and revealed the messy wound. 'Ouch. Why didn't you say something?'
'You were busy,' he deadpanned, throwing her own words back at her.
'Ouch,' she repeated. 'Okay, Big fella… uh, warm water, bandages, antiseptic if you've got it…?'
Joshua shook his head.
'Luke might have some. Logan, could you…?'
Logan was irritated at being dispatched on an errand so casually, but couldn't bring himself to refuse under the concentrated gazes of the three transgenics.
'Sure,' he said abruptly, standing up.
'Will they listen to Logan in the command centre…?' Alec began, recalling Mole's distrust of the 'ordinary'. Max blinked her understanding and turned to Logan's retreating back.
'Tell them it's for Alec,' she said simply.
The words were discordant in Logan's ears.
The door slammed a little harder than was strictly necessary, and the decisive crash echoed into a brief silence. With great effort Alec swallowed all the comments which had been on the tip of his tongue – there had been something new in the way Max had spoken about him just then, and he didn't want to shatter the moment by embarrassing her or pissing her off.
Joshua set a bowl of water down beside the couch, along with an armful of bandages which looked like the remnants of a torn up bed sheet. 'Thanks, Big fella,' Max murmured, glancing up from her study of Alec's shoulder.
Alec shot a questioning look at her, and she nodded. 'Good news, or bad news?'
'Does there have to be both?'
'There's not still a bullet in you.'
Alec nodded wearily. 'Yippee for me.'
'Bad news?' she offered tentatively.
'Yeah, alright. Hit me.'
'Well, it went in at an angle like this-,' she pointed, '-towards your neck, you can see from the shape of the wound. But the exit wound is here, so it changed direction – ricocheted off something.'
'Probably your collar bone.'
He nodded miserably. 'Nice.'
'There's a chip of bone in the exit wound,' she continued resolutely.
He grunted resignedly, without changing his expression.
'And the damage to the bone is probably what's making it difficult to move your arm.'
'More friction, or something.'
'Great. I couldn't just get a simple bullet wound. My luck sucks.'
'I hear you. But I guess there's probably no such thing as a simple bullet wound.'
He looked at her pitifully, pushing out his bottom lip and fixing her in wide, mournful eyes. She laughed.
'Aww, poor Alec. Come on, it could be worse. Gem had to give birth to a baby.'
Alec favoured her with a flat look, then met Joshua's eyes. 'Thinks she's so funny,' he said, tipping his head towards the other X5.
Joshua snickered. 'Food?' he suggested, and grinned at the other two's vigorous nods, crossing the room to his makeshift kitchen.
'You know – that chip of bone's gonna have to come out,' Max said casually, extracting a pair of tweezers from the first aid supplies Joshua had gathered.
Alec raised his good arm in defence as she waved the tweezers playfully in his face. 'Whoa – no amateur surgery until we got antiseptic. I could catch something.'
Max grinned, flashing back to their first meeting. 'You've been out here in filth and degradation for a while now, Alec,' she reminded him softly.
He smiled, nodded, then cast a wary sideways glance at her hand, which still wielded tweezers. 'All the same…'
After a moment, Max picked up a rag, soaked it and started mopping at the sticky blood which had dried onto Alec's shoulder and arm. Alec winced at her touch, but said nothing.
Max reflected on her actions over the last year, and how they'd ultimately led her to this. She'd brought hundreds of transgenics out into what Alec had once termed 'filth and degradation'. All of what was happening now was her responsibility.
'How'd we end up so screwed?' she wondered aloud.
Alec turned his head sharply to meet her eyes, and was surprised by the vulnerability he saw there. 'Hey – what happened to all your rhetoric, huh?' He tipped his head toward the centre of Terminal City. 'They all believe you can get them through this.'
She nodded, looking down at her hands. It seemed appropriate that they had blood on them. She bit her lip, and met his eyes again. 'I'm just one person, Alec.'
Joshua looked up from his cooking. 'No, you're not,' he said, softly but fiercely.
Max shook her head. 'Yeah, yeah… highly trained, genetically engineered killing machine, yada, yada, yada… But I'm just one- .'
'No,' Alec interrupted her, nodding deliberately at himself and Joshua. 'You're not.'
Max closed her mouth, startled into silence. Then she nodded, hesitantly seeking out the eyes of her two transgenic companions and finding them determined and unafraid. Together then…
A comfortable silence fell over them, broken only when Logan returned, exo-skeleton whirring loudly, bearing a half-full bottle of rubbing alcohol, which he handed wordlessly to Max.
She smiled at him, and quietly offered her thanks, but Logan was already leaving. 'I'm gonna help Dix out with the computer systems, Max, if you don't need me…'
She nodded gratefully. 'Thank you.' She nudged Alec, and he belatedly remembered his manners, muttering his thanks to Logan.
'Hungry?' Joshua asked earnestly, before the 'ordinary' could leave.
'Not right now, Big fella,' Logan replied, smiling tightly as he left the room.
Alec looked at the anti-septic bottle, and winced in anticipation. It was heavily concentrated, and, hell, it would hurt. He watched the liquid soak ominously into the rag in Max's hand, grimacing as his nose caught its sharp scent.
Max met Alec's eyes, communicating a mixture of warning and premature apology. He made a face and nodded, and she gently pressed the rag against the hole in his shoulder. Alec bit down hard on his lip, screwing his eyes up – Max watched the cords of the muscles in his arm stand out in tension.
'Scream,' she told him, 'it'll help.'
He let out a wordless, deep-throated yell, and she quickly snatched the tweezers from the bowl of diluted antiseptic, locked them tightly on the visible creamy coloured end of the shard of bone and pulled, hard. Alec's exclamation ended in a sharp gasp, and he slumped, several shades paler than before. Max dropped the tweezers and bone to reach forward and support her comrade as the shock hit him. In a second, Joshua was there to ease Alec back into the couch, where he lay with eyes lightly closed, trembling and taking sharp, shallow gasps through gritted teeth. Frowning in sympathy, Max soaked a strip of bandage in the heavily diluted alcohol and pressed the cool cloth against his wound, soaking up the trickle of blood which had been dislodged by her removal of the bone chip.
He nodded, then opened his eyes a crack. 'Yeah… I'm okay,' he croaked.
'Hard part's over.'
'I bet you say that… to all the guys.'
She shook her head affectionately. 'Shut up.'
'Scotch?' Joshua suggested earnestly.
Alec's eyes snapped fully open. 'You've got Scotch?' he asked; Max laughed at his enthusiasm.
Joshua nodded. 'Mole got it. Would it help?'
'Hell, yes,' Alec told him, at the same time that Max said 'Only a tiny bit.' Alec pulled a face at her.
Three glasses and seven stitches later, Joshua was serving macaroni and cheese – sadly bereft of sausages due to TC supply shortages. Alec, bandaged and exhausted, was at least looking less ghostly, and received the food gratefully, but Max picked distractedly at hers as the magnitude of the task she'd taken on again began to weigh her down.
'Not enough cheese?' Joshua asked, breaking her reverie.
'Huh? No, there's plenty of cheese,' she replied, startled.
'It's perfect, Big fella.'
'Max, what is it?' Alec asked quietly, carefully settling his fork on the table and looking up at her.
She smiled wryly. 'Where shall I start? There's the police, and the army, and the Breeding Cult. And then, there's the public, who want us all crucified. And the food shortage, and sorting out space for everyone… water, electricity, weapons, ammo, medical supplies…'
'Nobody expects you to deal with all that on your own.'
'I know… there's just so much…'
'Look – we're alive today. We'll try to stay alive till tomorrow, and then take it one day at a time. Claw our way back to sanity.'
'I can't imagine what sanity would feel like. We've been so far from it for so long.'
'Don't think I've ever been there. Might be boring,' Alec said flippantly.
'Ordinary,' Joshua put in, thoughtfully.
Alec nodded, exhibiting the beginnings of a smirk. 'No nightlife, no cat burglary… no lizard people and cartoon snake-worshipping villains. You wouldn't want life to be boring, would you, Maxie?'
'I would love for life to be boring,' she said feelingly.
He raised an eyebrow. 'Really? Living in a penthouse and eating pasta and "Hi honey, how was your day?"' If she heard the bite in his words, she didn't acknowledge it; just sniffed and nodded.
'Maybe you're right,' she whispered.
'We're not designed for that,' he added, still quieter.
She didn't disagree, and Alec wondered whether, at last, she understood.
- - - - - - - - - - -
I'd like to continue this, but won't have the time for a while. So, watch this space, but don't hold your breath! I hope you enjoyed this; as always, I love hearing your views.