Alive till Tomorrow
Alec clattered up the stairs into the command centre. He was already late, but then, they probably weren't expecting him to be on time. He flexed his stiff shoulders as he glanced around for the jacket he'd discarded while working here several hours earlier.
The wound on his back still made some movements painful, but he was assured that it was healing as fast as could be expected. While his stitches were being removed after what seemed an age he'd complained to the medic Greg that he was supposedly designed to heal fast, and had been told tersely that that may be the case, but he wasn't designed to be stabbed in the back. That, Alec supposed, was probably true, although he wouldn't put anything past Manticore.
He picked up the jacket and turned to leave. He stopped in surprise when he noticed Logan sitting hunched over a computer in the corner, his eyes averted as though hoping Alec would leave without seeing him.
Alec stood up a bit straighter. The sight of the hacker made his skin crawl, but he wasn't going to let it affect him.
'Hey,' he greeted him shortly.
Logan turned around, overdoing the false surprise. 'Alec! Hey… didn't expect to see you here this late.'
'Left my jacket.' He lifted it casually with one hand to demonstrate.
'Oh.' A pause. 'How's your back?'
He felt an angry pang between his shoulder blades, but dismissed it as psychological.
'Greg took my stitches out yesterday.'
'That's great.' Another pause. 'How come not Frank?'
'Oh…' Alec smirked wearily. 'Guess you didn't hear. Turns out Frank was thrown off the advanced medical course back at Manticore. Knew what he was doing, poor bastard – but some nervous flaw gives him panic attacks when he has to deal with wounds. After he pulled that knife out my back, he drank himself into a stupor on most of a crate of Scotch.'
Logan raised his eyebrows and laughed half-heartedly.
'You know - Frank was dead to the world for good six hours. If I'd pulled a stitch, chances are he wouldn't have woken up. You might have accidentally saved my life.'
Logan blinked, then nodded gratefully.
Neither moved for a moment.
'You didn't tell her?'
Alec shook his head.
'She doesn't like it when people keep secrets.'
Alec frowned in irritation. 'What good would it do if I told her? She'd be upset, you'd be miserable. Wouldn't make me feel any better. Truth's not an absolute, Logan. Who was it – Keats? – "Beauty is truth, truth beauty…"'
'"That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know."'
'Right. Well, bullshit. If everyone ends up hurt by telling the truth, it's not worth it.'
'And I always thought you were just a compulsive liar.'
'What can I say? Layers, like an onion. Not just a pretty face.'
'And – Keats?'
'To seduce a target's wife.'
'Maybe. Who cares?'
'I couldn't understand why Max told you she kissed me in that hospital. On the face of it, it looks like she was just being cruel to you, but then… her conscience was always less… flexible than mine.'
'She didn't. You did. All she told me was that she wasn't in love with me any more,' Logan confessed. His voice cracked at the end. The wound was still raw; but he was ashamed of his behaviour, and he had to concede that he probably didn't deserve her any more.
Alec raised an eyebrow. 'She doesn't make it easy,' he murmured, more to himself than to Logan.
'But she's worth it,' Logan whispered. He was looking at the floor.
For a long moment both men were silent, unmoving and avoiding one another's gaze. There was a hint of reconciliation in the air, but, Alec felt, it was too soon for that. Both of them were still feeling the aches of the previous week's events.
'I gotta go. Joshua's making his world-famous macaroni and cheese with little hotdogs.'
Logan waved vaguely and turned back to his computer. The he turned back.
'Alec?' He stopped in the doorway. 'Thanks.'
Alec nodded an acknowledgement. He lingered in the doorway. He didn't really want to forgive so easily. Logan had scared the hell out of him when he'd been vulnerable and suffering. He wouldn't tell Max, but he wasn't really prepared to let it slide, either.
'Logan…' he said quietly. There was a pause while he struggled with his impulse for retribution. Eventually, after opening his mouth and closing it again a few times, he murmured, 'Stay away from me.'
He turned and walked away. His back was throbbing, but he was warmed by the knowledge that if she knew, Max would be proud of him.
- - - - - - - - - -
Alec pushed the door open without bothering to knock. Joshua was stirring something on the stove, chatting animatedly to Max, who was sitting on an upturned wooden crate at the makeshift table, grinning the slightly panicked grin of a listener who has entirely lost the thread of the story.
Joshua paused in his enthusiastic anecdote when Alec entered, to exclaim 'Alec!' and march across the room to hug him, leaving a trail of sauce dripping off the spoon he carried.
'You're late,' Max observed, without getting up.
'I know,' he agreed. 'I'm thoroughly despicable.' He took her gently by the shoulders and drew her to her feet, kissing her lightly on the forehead. He produced a rather sad-looking bunch of garish orange roses from behind his back. She grinned and buried her face in them, absurdly pleased.
'Not entirely despicable,' she conceded generously.
Alec left her clattering through Joshua's mismatched and chipped collection of crockery, searching for something to stand the flowers in, and limped over to the stove. 'That smells amazing.' It smelled bland, but he'd eaten nothing all day. He reached out a hand to sample the sauce and Joshua rapped him gently with the spoon.
'Wait! It's a surprise.'
'Macaroni surprise? My favourite.'
'With little hotdogs,' Joshua amended earnestly.
Max had found a mug with a frog on it and was attempting to make the flowers fall in an even yet natural fan. The lurid green design clashed jarringly with the questionable colour of the roses. Eventually she sat back and admired her work.
Alec crept up behind her to whisper in her ear. 'Keep your day job.'
She yelped in surprise, then leaned back easily against his chest.
'Manticore neglected flower arranging in my education.'
'Shame… maybe you could go to finishing school. Learn some dancing and cookery and manners while you're there.'
'I can dance! And Joshua can cook, and there's nothing… wrong… with my… manners… what?' He was laughing. She stepped on his foot, but without much conviction. 'You're in no position to comment on my manners,' she muttered primly.
He tickled her ribs and she writhed, squealing in protest, then laid her head on his shoulder to look at him upside down.
'Where'd you get roses from?'
'Magician never tells his secrets, Maxie.'
'Which means, you snatched them from some poor old lady's garden.'
'Max! I'm offended.'
'Which means I'm right.'
'The colour kinda suggests they grew here in TC… must be the result of some chemical leak.'
Max frowned. 'It's not a…bad colour.'
'Don't think it's natural.'
'Well, neither are we.' She turned around within the circle of his arms and met his eyes. 'I think they're beautiful.' She kissed him lingeringly, her hands in his hair. It should have been strange, adapting to such intimacy with someone who'd been part of her life in a platonic capacity for a year. But it came so naturally – she fit so neatly in his arms.
She pulled away and opened her eyes. 'You should sit down. How's your back?'
He rolled his eyes but obeyed, letting her guide him to Joshua's threadbare couch. 'It's okay.'
She pulled a face at him. After a moment's consideration, she slipped around the back of the couch and gathered his shirt in her hands, pushing it up to his shoulders to reveal the ugly two-inch scar. It was still vivid in colour but had shrunk to a narrow line. The red pin-prick marks each side of it marked where the stitches had come out. But the surrounding skin looked healthy. She twisted her lips, half satisfied, then pulled his shirt off over his head and draped it over the back of the couch.
'Max!' he whined indignantly. 'If you wanted to take my shirt off, all you had to do was…'
'Why should I have to ask?' she demanded playfully, circling round in front of him. She pushed him back against the couch with one hand flat on his chest and knelt in front of him to inspect the other wounds. The spot where she'd performed amateur surgery on his shoulder had no mark but a thin pink line. The bullet wound on his side was still slightly inflamed but had closed neatly. Soon there wouldn't be a mark on him to testify to their recent misadventures.
'Satisfied?' he asked impatiently.
'Not too bad.'
'Not too bad,' he imitated her incredulously.
She nodded, smiling, and handed him back his shirt. She caught his eye as his head emerged through the collar and winked conspiratorially. 'Not bad at all.'
They both looked up in dismay at the sound of Joshua beating the side of his saucepan with the spoon, spattering yet more sauce over the makeshift kitchen and himself.
'Ready,' he announced proudly.
Max stood and pulled Alec to his feet. They perched on wooden boxes and waited meekly to be fed. Joshua served the results of his culinary labours and joined them.
Nobody needed to compliment Joshua on his cooking; the ravenous way they set into it was affirmation enough. They ate for several minutes in companionable silence. After a while, Max paused with her fork hovering in mid-air.
'You know, I saw Logan today.'
Alec didn't blink. 'Yeah, me too. He seems okay, all things considered.'
Max chewed her lip. 'Yeah, I guess. He took it pretty badly to start with… I hope he gets used to the idea of… us. I don't want to lose him.'
'He can be a pretty useful guy to have around,' Alec conceded ambiguously.
Max frowned faintly at the echoes of callousness in the comment. 'He still means something to me,' she admitted. 'He always will. And in any case, I feel responsible.'
Joshua made a soft soothing sound and Alec glanced at her sharply.
'I am responsible,' she amended.
'That's life,' Alec said shortly.
Joshua nodded earnest agreement. 'Some people are lucky, some not,' he rumbled cryptically.
Max twisted her lips bitterly and squeezed Alec's hand. 'Yeah – some people are born free and some get stabbed in the back.'
Alec shook his head. 'We're the lucky ones, Max.'
She turned incredulous eyes on him. Her expression asked him if he'd forgotten everything that happened the previous week.
'Well – we're alive. Gem and her baby got their tryptophan – we got what we went for. And-.'
'We got a family,' Joshua put in. 'Max, Alec, Joshua, Mole, Gem, Dalton… everybody else.'
Max was touched by their sentimentality, but unconvinced by their optimism.
'Right up to the day they decide to blow us to bits.' The anger in her voice was replaced with world-weary sadness. 'We might never be free, really free. And we've suffered so much.' She was looking at Alec, who was wincing surreptitiously as he shifted closer to her.
'I'll be alright, Max. We'll be alright.'
She leaned her head against his shoulder. 'You always say that,' she commented sadly. Her voice cracked with affection and sadness.
'Well, it's true. We will be – maybe not until we reach this utopia you imagine where we're accepted and nobody wants to kill anyone else.'
She smiled wistfully.
'But, you know,' he concluded softly. 'Until tomorrow.'
- - - - - - - - - -
Voila, c'est fini! ;) Thank you so much for reading, and for all your reviews - you guys are amazing; I've had some really interesting, thoughtful comments, a lot of which offer a perspective I hadn't even thought of. And I also love getting the ones which just confirm that you're enjoying the story, because hell -That's why I'm writing it! I hope you liked the ending.