This is my first Dark Angel fic and I think it's safe to say, none of the charcters belong to me.
It started with Macaroni cheese.
Phone in hand, eyes scanning the bare apartment, Alec found he was pleased the big guy had called. The sparse room, with its equally sparse bathroom and bedroom, was getting old, fast. Speaking with someone who didn't turn their nose up at him, sharing time with someone who didn't look at him like they had wiped nastier things off their boots held a lot of appeal right then, even if the food wasn't all that.
Joshua's favourite food was fast becoming an obsession.
Alec knew obsessions. The piano was one, perhaps the only healthy one he'd ever had. It had begun the first time he touched the keys, a surprised smile touching his otherwise emotionless eyes and he clamped down on it, hard. Couldn't let them know. They'd take it from him and this feeling - this freedom - was too glorious and frightening, too all consuming to let go.
Alec hadn't known how to feel, not back then, but the piano did. It expressed things Alec didn't know the meaning of or the reason for, but revelled in.
Quietly. Couldn't let them know.
In a way, the piano was his first secret and he hugged that secret close to him late at night, cradling it with fierce tenderness, the way he somehow instinctively knew a secret should be handled.
Alec had a lot of those, instincts, purposely given to him along with his independent thinking and together the two factors served to become his downfall. Independent thought had led him to explore developing instincts and not tell them. He knew he couldn't, or they'd be wiped away; a burning laser and a vague feeling of something missing. So he had developed his instincts for compassion, for love and for conscience in silence, acting the robot for his superiors and craving the time spent playing piano.
Going out solo had been a rush, but the real thrill lay in being able to play whatever he wanted, whether he had learned it or made it up himself, he could let himself go. The freedom in the music had swiftly led to Rachel and it had all gone wrong from there.
Rachel had been wiped from him. The piano had too. Compassion had been punished, conscience had been stripped from him and love … Love had been twisted until Alec – no, not Alec, Alec hadn't had those things done to him – until 494 had known, inexplicably, that love meant death. His or someone else's, he wasn't sure and he wasn't going to ask, either.
Love was a bad thing. It made you so ill you had to go to psy-ops, where you were so ill you had to lose who you were.
494 had lost Alec.
Of course, he wasn't 'Alec' then, but he was the fledgling soul that would one day be named 'Alec'. The part of him that woke when his fingers caressed ivory keys, when the deep tone of the instrument sang, that was 'Alec'. When the music spoke, 'Alec' answered.
The X5 blinked, snapping back to reality. Those long dark days were over, replaced by long dark days that held the beginning shimmer of sunlight.
"Yeah," he grunted, his voice troublingly husky. "I'm here big guy," he added, having heard the touching concern in the transhuman's voice. It warmed him, that note he detected, and he closed his eyes, swallowing, remembering.
Someone had cared before and he had gotten her killed. He felt himself emotionally closing off, distancing himself from his friend.
Instincts again, telling himself he was getting too wrapped up. He had to protect Joshua from a friendship that would only cost him.
Protect Joshua …
That wasn't something he thought he had in him, that selflessness. Naturally, he wanted to protect himself too. Pain was all too real for this particular super-soldier. While the others had perfected the art of following orders without thinking, 494 had never done so. He had been designed naturally empathic, a tool to use to get close to people. He had found near strangers would confide in him because he could understand what they felt. But it meant he felt it himself and it was an oversight Manticore hadn't been able to correct.
They hadn't been able to strip it from him, even after the six agonising months in re-programming and psy-ops. Oh, he pretended they had. Because he had been imbued with self-preservation after all, and 494 wanted to think, to feel, no matter how painful it was. He'd tasted the poisoned apple and he wanted more, craved it.
Alec opened his mouth to say he wouldn't be able to make it that night, perhaps not any night when Josh spoke first.
"Good. Joshua miss Alec."
Alec's battled hardened heart, forged in fire and heated in ice, almost broke. Whatever he did, he was going to hurt the one person who had claimed him as a friend.
"Josh," he began, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat.
There was a tiny whimper at the other end of the line, lifting up at the end hopefully. "Alec miss Joshua?"
"Yeah," he whispered. "I miss ya pal."
Some hours later, the food was eaten, sloppily by some and more forced by others, but eaten none the less.
Sitting in the living room, the only room Joshua really used, Alec found his eyes straying to the basement door. Joshua followed his movement and smiled. It was strange, so simple and knowing, that smile, fragile and able to withstand any onslaught.
"Alec play," Joshua said, lazily settling himself into the sofa. "Joshua will listen."
Alec shook his head, clenched his fists. He ached for it. Longed for it like the next breath. His head began to pound and he gritted his teeth. It would do no good, playing, but he found his hand on the door handle.
"I can't," he groaned out. The door shook with the force of his shivers, a physical barrier denying him what he wanted.
Josh looked from the door to Alec. "It is just wood. Break it. Alec must play."
The door splintered and the piano was before him, just a few steps away. He began to descend the stairs when the seizure hit.
Joshua's genetic engineering was hot-wired to protect and he dove for his friend, catching him as he fell, the force of Alec's seizure fighting against his headlong rush, sending them both tumbling over the banister-less edge of the old wooden stairs. Joshua rolled midair, his arms wrapping around Alec and they landed with the X5 cradled tenderly within the transhuman's mighty arms.
Alec jittered and twitched, his jaw snapped shut with bone cracking force and he felt pain – agonising and beautiful in its cruelty, before his eyes closed and his mind shut him off completely, but not before he felt Josh's comforting presence.
As Alec's body tightened, as his muscles burned and snapped and his frame twisted violently, Joshua held him as gently as he could, whimpering and howling occasionally. It frightened him when he saw a seizure, frightened him so bad he wanted to curl up under a blanket and lock himself away from the knowledge, but Alec had refused to abandon him before, and he could do no less now.
As Alec calmed, his body relaxing to lie limp within the strong embrace, Joshua petted him, stroking his hair and face and nuzzling slightly with his nose a time or two.
When he thought the boy was out of danger of having a second seizure – it had happened before – Josh lifted Alec. Cradled against the transhuman's broad chest, the lean X5 looked little more than a child and the part of Joshua that was predominately dog growled low and threateningly. Nothing and no-one was touching his friend, not while he was there.
Treading carefully, conscious of his precious burden, Joshua brought Alec back upstairs. He laid his friend on the threadbare couch, pulled a blanket over him and took off his boots.
"No," Alec slurred, moving one leg sluggishly away. "I'm alright. I don't need psy-ops."
Josh was by his side in an instant. "Not Manticore," he promised, stroking Alec's hair in long, smooth brushes. "Joshua."
Alec's long lashes fluttered, dark against pale skin. It was a struggle, but he opened his eyes, green and dark and holding all the pain Joshua had suspected to be locked within the boy.
"Joshua look after Alec," the canine transgenic cooed. "Alec sleep now. Joshua standing guard."
Alec's voice was heavy with exhaustion. "Josh?"
"Joshua here," he confirmed. "Alec can sleep."
Alec shut his eyes. "I'm alright," he murmured, opening his eyes through sheer willpower alone. "You won't send me back, Josh?"
Joshua continued to pet him. "Joshua will guard Alec. No Manticore."
Alec, lulled by the never-before-felt comfort of his friend's slow, soothing hand, allowed himself to give in and place himself under Josh's protection. He was as weak as a kitten. If he insisted on going home, he'd never be able to fight them off.
"Who Alec fight?" Josh asked, genuinely confused and Alec realised he was babbling aloud.
"No-one," he drawled sleepily. It was just one night. Manticore wouldn't know he was down.
"Joshua won't let Manticore find Alec. Won't let Manticore take Alec," Josh vowed possessively and Alec could hear it, the fierce protectiveness of his self-appointed angel. "Alec is Joshua's to guard."
Alec slipped into sleep and Josh studied his face. He was one of the most streetwise people he knew, but Alec was a child in many ways, lost and alone and desperately trying to adapt to the world around him. Although Josh had spent his life in a basement, he could understand Alec better than Alec could. Alec didn't know who he was, or how he fitted into the world.
Joshua did. And one day, perhaps Alec would too.
For now, having found the source of Alec's ever present 'I'm alright' lie, Joshua settled down to watch over him, eyes fixed on his friends face and his mind wandering the halls of Alec's psyche. He was looking for an answer, a way to help his friend stop hurting and if he had to stay up all night, so be it.
It ended with the piano, the way it always should have done.
When he awoke, Joshua kept his eyes closed, listening to the agony Alec screamed with his hands. Eventually, when the music had gradually drifted into something spent and exhausted but unmistakably hopeful, Joshua went down into the basement to watch his friend. He said nothing.
And neither did Alec when Joshua took out an easel and brush and painted another portrait of Alec. The black was still there, would always be there, but it was made of greens and blues and purples, shiny, like the wings of a raven, drawn to the dark but holding a light of its own.
His fingers dancing, teasing the old keys, Alec smiled softly. He could live with that.
AN. I know Alec is a bit sappy in this, but he's got a seizure coming on and as they're chemical imbalances, I thought it'd screw with his emotions. Also, I may not have Josh down right, as I've never watched the show, just seen clips here and there.