Summary: They don't suspect Alec, and Max wants to know why. Response to Prompt Challenge: "It doesn't matter what you are. It matters what people think you are."
Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel.
Max frowned as she watched Sketchy and Normal walk away in opposite directions, Normal heading towards his dispatch station and Sketchy ambling off to his locker. Both seemed to have let their suspicions die for the most part; they weren't being openly accusatory of her anymore, at least.
"Crisis averted?" She turned and shot Alec a fiery glare, but it was a reflex more than anything else. Then she reminded herself of the way he'd laser-removed her barcode, had warned her not to show up to work until she could touch up the revealing little tattoo on her neck, and had even gone as far as stealing a van to smuggle her clone out of the country.
"Yeah," She said evenly, letting the hard angles of her face relax a little. "They didn't say anything, anyway."
Alec smiled at her, and it was that small, half-quirking of his lips that was somewhere between a grin and a smirk. "Knew it'd blow over. Good thing you didn't sink."
Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Huh?"
He shook his head, smile widening to show his white, even teeth. "Nothing, never mind."
She stared at him for a beat and then shook it off, both physically and mentally, bending her arms at the elbows and rolling her shoulders to release the stiffness there.
"Tough week?" Alec asked, with a touch of seriousness buried beneath all the usual humor.
"Not everyday your clone tries to kill you," She said in a low voice. His face tensed, freckled skin seeming to stretch more tightly across his features than before, and she realized that using the words "clone" and "kill" in the same sentence might have struck a nerve.
She had a lot of reasons not to think about Ben, but she couldn't forget what Alec had said to her the first time they'd met. "I know that because of him I had to spend six months in Psy Ops…wanted to make sure it wasn't genetic."
"So, thanks for your help the other night," Max said hurriedly, because she didn't want to relive those memories again and she didn't want him to have to, either.
He shrugged and tugged at the corner of his sleeve, not quite meeting her eyes. It took her a moment to realize the overall picture he presented: Alec was embarrassed. She nearly laughed out loud, but she couldn't help realizing that if it threw him off-guard this much, then this type of thing didn't happen nearly often enough.
"Sure, whatever. Got a pretty good laugh out of it; that gang tried to chase me on foot for four blocks." And it was back, the casual ease that he exuded seemingly without effort.
She grinned, a little wryly. "Either way I—,"
"Alec! Golden Boy!" Normal's sharp bark interrupted Max, and both she and Alec swiveled to look at their boss, almost identical looks of mild curiosity covering their faces. Normal blinked at the sight, and Alec immediately turned on the charm.
"What's up, boss?" He called back without leaving Max's side.
"Got an important run; just came in. Wouldn't trust it to anybody but you." Max rolled her eyes in disgust; Normal caught her and sent her a pointed sneer.
"Be right there," Alec replied, and Normal didn't push him to hurry, just sent him an appreciative look. Then slid his gaze over to Max.
Max noticed that his eyes seemed to linger on her a moment too long, gaze appraising, and she understood that he hadn't completely let go of his earlier suspicions. He still wondered, quietly, whether or not she was different. Strange. A mutant in sheep's clothing.
Max also noted that Normal hadn't looked at Alec that way. Alec, who was almost indecently attractive and who Normal had originally hired because of his superb and unmatched fighting skills. Alec, whose barcode had stood out stark and black against his skin for the world to see until very recently.
"How do you do it?" She asked, a small hint of wonder leaking into her voice.
He looked at her, eyebrows furrowed, lips pursed slightly. "What?"
She turned back around so that she wasn't facing Normal anymore, and Alec turned with her. "Make them think you're normal," She asked, quietly enough that only his transgenic ears could hear. He stared at her for a moment, not answering, and she added, "You act a hell of a lot more suspicious than I do; all I did was move too fast once, and they're all over me."
"Maxie, Maxie, Maxie," Alec chimed, and now he sounded patronizing. He threw a casual arm over her shoulders, and this time her glare was heartfelt and real as she shrugged it off. He sobered just a little and sounded more serious when he said, "It's all about attitude. You are—no offense—kinda mean and scary sometimes."
Her mouth dropped open and she punched his arm with enough force to make him wince. He huffed and rubbed the tender spot with his hand. "Look, all I'm saying is, it's a lot harder for them to doubt you if you don't seem to take anything too seriously. When you mope around and act all secretive—again, no offense, I get that this whole tough chick act makes you happy in some strange—,"
"So you're saying," Max interrupted, crossing her arms over her chest at his candid insults. "That sucking up to Normal, cracking inappropriate jokes, and acting indifferent to the world—being a jerk, in other words—makes you less suspicious?"
Alec grinned then, and she knew that look all too well. It was the smile he got when he had a solid and irrefutable comeback to one of her jibes. "Well, sweetheart, you're the one who missed work yesterday because people were catching onto you. I saved your ass on that, by the way."
She opened her mouth and then closed it again, having nothing to say that would make either statement any less true. Okay, so she had been the one that Normal and Sketchy had figured out. And Alec had covered her ass by making sure she didn't walk into work with half of her barcode showing. Didn't mean she had to give him the satisfaction, though. "Whatever, Alec."
He rolled his eyes, but returned their conversation to its original subject. "As I was saying, if you just loosen up a little and act like—,"
"Wait," Max interrupted again, and he narrowed his eyes at her cutting off his explanation again. She ignored his annoyance, a sudden thought occurring to her. "Does that mean that this whole thing you do is an act? The 'I'm Alec, I'm funny and charming and I don't let anything bother me ever' thing?"
He looked almost taken aback; she wondered whether or not he considered the fact that if he told her how he hid himself, he wouldn't be able to hide from her anymore. It was a sobering thought, one that brought back to her the fact that Alec was a lot more complicated than she'd originally thought.
"Of course not," he answered after a pause, so easily that she almost believed him.
When she didn't say anything, just continued to look at him seriously, he let the humor gradually slide off his face. After glancing behind her to check that Normal wasn't paying attention to them again, he said, "You know Manticore, Max. And you've seen what happens when I—," He broke off abruptly, but Max thought she knew what he was going to say. She'd seen what happened when he remembered the things they'd made him do. She waited for him to continue, but he didn't, and she hated that he'd come so close to admitting the burdens he carried just to pull away again.
"You want to know the real secret, Max?" He interrupted, and now his voice was steady and even again. "It doesn't matter what proof you accidentally give them or what evidence they have against you. Make them think you're someone else—someone they like would be preferable—and they'll never doubt you." He smiled, but Max could see the sadness around the corners of his eyes. "In the end, it doesn't matter what you are. It only matters what people think you are."
"Alec!" Normal's voice rang out again, and Alec sent one more glance Max's way before heading over to the dispatch station. As he left, though, he lightly brushed Max's arm with his open palm, and she felt shock sizzle through her at how friendly and open the gesture seemed.
"Friends" wasn't a word she'd thought would ever describe her and Alec. But then again, he'd started calling her a friend the second he'd sauntered into Jam Pony looking for a job and a sector pass.
Maybe Alec was right, Max thought musingly, and a small, barely-visible smile graced her own lips. Maybe the only thing that mattered was what people thought you were.
"Max, get a move on! Bip, bip, bip!"
Max rolled her eyes and headed off to pick up her packages.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! Reviews are always appreciated.