Cat Got Your Tongue
Summary: Max and Alec are sent on a mission to save another transgenic, only to find they're the ones in need of saving.
And here you have it, all wrapped up. Since this was promised as a puff piece, this little chapter is so fluffy it might as well have rabbit DNA.
"What's wrong with him?" Max demanded, not caring that her tone was close to belligerent. She'd been sitting by Alec's hospital bed for what felt like forever. Her nails were bitten nearly to the nub and she couldn't quit bouncing her leg nervously.
Save for the bruising, Alec was as pale as the sheets covering him. Max'd had no choice but to call after the Coercive left the apartment. Alec had collapsed and she'd been unable to rouse him. Her mind kept repeating Alec's warning that he'd seen people so badly damaged by a Coercive that they'd been brain dead for all intents and purposes.
"Do you want the long answer or the short one?" Dr. Shankar asked.
Max gently squeezed Alec's hand in hers and with the other smoothed her fingers over the mottled discoloration on his face, wishing she could make it disappear. "Short," Max said, forcing her eyes to look at the doctor.
"The short answer is I don't know." The woman shrugged, her expression frustrated. "The injuries to his chest were substantial. They looked almost like what you'd see on someone who'd been crushed. If he were a normal person, I'd have him in surgery right now, but I'm hoping that the damage will heal without that. Surgery would involve too many people and draw all kinds of attention."
"What about this?" Once again Max gently ran her fingers over the bruising on Alec's face before brushing his mussed hair back from his brow.
"He has a severe concussion, but that should heal fairly quickly as well. It's just hard to keep one of you in a hospital." She smiled tiredly.
"Then what's the problem?"
The Doctor sobered quickly. "It's his brain. And like I said, I just don't know. I don't understand well enough how telecoercion works to understand how it affects a person's brain."
"He's… His brain's not…" Max squared her shoulders, forcing herself to say it. "He's not brain dead?"
The woman shook her head. "No. In fact, his brain activity is far higher than it should be. The scan is lit like a Christmas tree. It's as if he's severely over-stimulated and his brain just can't process it all."
Max leaned down by Alec's ear. "Over-stimulated, huh?" she murmured indulgently. "Why am I not surprised?" When there was no response, she couldn't stop herself from ruffling his hair again to remind herself he was still alive and breathing. Max straightened and looked at the doctor. "So what do we do?"
"First of all, you need to get him out of here."
"What?" Max snapped angrily. "I thought you just said his brain is going crazy."
"Exactly. And the neurology people are already asking questions, as are some of the others who've seen some of the test results. One of them is a known anti-Transgenic activist. I'm afraid he's going to call for reinforcements."
Max swore furiously. Manticore docs were one thing, but having to hide from regular doctors who were sworn to help people was just wrong on so many levels. "I'll have him out of here in an hour if you think it's safe to move him."
"I don't like it, but I don't want him hauled out of here by people who will hurt him either," Dr. Shankar said honestly. "I've already done what I can for him here, but if you'll call me and tell me where you take him, I'll stop by after my shift. I won't be able to monitor him properly, but it'll have to do."
Max nodded. "So we just… wait and see if he wakes up?"
The doctor looked embarrassed. "I just don't know what caused this and I don't know how to fix it either. His brain is severely overloaded and I don't know how long even a Transgenic can last like that, especially when he's concussed and his body is working so hard to heal the rest of him."
Max looked down at him worriedly. "He could just shut down?"
"You should talk to him," the doctor said, rather than answer. "Let him know he's safe. Let him know that whatever this person did to him, it's over now. From what you told me, I think a lot of this might be from his own efforts to keep the Coercive from forcing his hand. His brain went into overdrive to keep him from hurting you."
"He did this to himself?"
"Your bodies are just built differently. I don't know what a Transgenic brain under attack might be capable of doing." She raised an eyebrow and smiled. "I know what the rest of your bodies can do when you're threatened."
"Yeah," Max said with a light huff of a laugh.
"Call me when you get where you're going," the doctor reminded her.
Max nodded, waiting for the other woman to leave before she looked back down at Alec. He had dark, dark circles under his eyes, and was frighteningly still, although she knew now that his mind was racing. "Still hiding things from me?" she whispered. "Hiding all your worries beneath that pretty face of yours?" She half-expected him to arch an eyebrow or smirk at her for calling him pretty, but there was nothing.
Alec had somehow managed to fight off the order to kill her and it had left him completely incapacitated. He'd admitted that he loved her, and more importantly that he didn't believe she loved him. Believing that, he'd still nearly killed himself to keep from killing her.
If Max had been harboring any doubts that Alec was more than just flirting with her, this had certainly put them to rest. That left her with only her own muddled feelings to contend with. Max had no illusions about herself. She was an emotional train wreck at the best of times. She was great at keeping people at a distance. Letting people get close was an entirely different matter. Looking at Alec now, however… There was no way she was leaving him alone now. She wasn't sure she could ever leave him alone again.
"Alec," Max barely managed past her constricted throat. "Wake up."
"I didn't believe you."
Max looked up to see that Logan was standing near the door, watching her. She'd been so intent on Alec, she hadn't heard him come in. "Huh?"
"When you said you were together with Alec," he explained. "I didn't believe it. Not really. After that first night, I thought about it and decided it was your way of dealing with the virus."
"No, it's fine. I understood, sort of," he admitted sadly. "I didn't like it, but I understood."
Max grimaced. "I didn't mean-"
"But when you two came back from the party all dressed up… I saw the way he looked at you and then your face… Max, it's been a long time since you've looked at me that way, if you ever did."
Max didn't know what to say to that. "I'm sorry." At the time she'd thought Alec was acting, but knowing what she did now she doubted it. She wished he was awake to talk to her about it.
"It's ok." Logan looked down, unable to make eye contact. "It just let me know that it wasn't a complete lie even when you thought it was. I always knew he cared about you more than you realized."
Max felt her lips quirk up on one side. "Couldn't seem to get rid of him, could we?"
Logan shook his head. "Think the guy must have some leech DNA, he's attached so well."
Max snorted lightly. "I'll be sure to tell him you think so. But I've got to get him out of here. The other doctors are starting to connect the dots."
"Want some help?"
"I got it," Max said, sorry for the stricken look that crossed his face. It didn't matter, though. Logan could help with a lot of things, but this wasn't one of them. Moving Alec was going to require help from someone she couldn't accidentally kill. If she was being honest, however, Max knew it was really that she just didn't want Logan with her right now. She was too worried, too vulnerable, and knew she would be until Alec was awake and she could talk to him. Once again, she felt like Logan was intruding on something that no longer concerned him. This was between her and Alec now.
Max sat down again beside Alec and leaned forward, instinctively wanting to gather him close to her and protect him. She didn't, knowing how badly injured he was. Instead she clasped his hand in hers and raised it to her lips, feeling the nearly feverish warmth radiating from it.
Logan shifted uncomfortably and Max's eyes rose. Some of what she was feeling must have registered, because Logan simply nodded and for the first time she saw his real withdrawal from her. He knew he was intruding.
"You'll let me know if you need anything?" Logan waited for her to nod then started out the door. "Take care, Max."
Max looked up at the sound of Alec shifting under the blankets. A week. She'd been talking to him for a week. She doubted she'd ever talked so much in her life. His body had healed itself for the most part. The bruises were gone from his face and his ribs were knitting together nicely. The damage to the organs underneath didn't seem to have any lasting effects.
He still wouldn't wake up. Max had nearly thrown something at Logan when he'd suggested she might need to look into a long term care facility. That was just what Alec needed to make him feel safe, some institution with a lot of faceless medical types.
Alec shifted again under the covers and Max really took notice this time. That was more movement than she'd seen all week. He'd just been lying there, the lights on but nobody home.
Max stood up from the chair that she was pretty sure had molded to the shape of her butt she'd been in it so long. She walked closer and leaned over him. "Alec?"
Alec's face screwed up as if he were in pain and he made a low, guttural noise in his throat. "Alec?" Max said anxiously. "Can you open your eyes for me?" He shifted again, then turned his face away from her. "Alec!" she said more loudly.
His entire body went rigid and his eyes flew open. He took one look at her and blurred, scrambling off the bed despite the clinging sheets, going until he couldn't go any further, ending up crouched in the corner. He crossed his arms in front of his face, shielding his eyes from her.
"Not Max," he whispered hoarsely. "Not her."
Max crossed the room in a few strides and knelt in front of him. She put her hands on his forearms, trying to get him to drop his arms. "Alec, it's over. He's gone. It's just you and me."
Alec lashed out blindly and Max tumbled back. "Get away from me, Max! I can't stop him!"
"Alec, you did!" Max said, pushing herself back to her knees in front of him. At some point in the last week, she'd realized that was the reason for the moment of respect she'd heard in Tim's voice. Alec had managed to hold him off. It had completely incapacitated him to do so, but Alec had managed it nonetheless.
Max grabbed his forearms again, still crossed in front of his face. She had to use all of her strength to pry them apart. Alec's eyes were tightly closed and Max did the only thing she could think of to get his attention. She leaned forward and kissed him. When she sat back, Alec's eyes were wide open and staring at her. His legs slid out from under him and he sagged to the floor, leaning back into the corner, his breathing harsh and loud in the sudden quiet.
The first thing Alec realized was that he wasn't hurting, not like he should be anyway. The last time he'd been conscious he'd felt like his ribs were scraping him raw from the inside out. They'd been grating and poking lots of organs that weren't meant to be poked and ensuring that every single breath was agony. That had died to a dull ache which meant he'd been out a lot longer than a couple of minutes.
The second thing he realized was that Max was kneeling in front of him, looking beautifully disheveled and more worried than he could remember seeing her in recent memory. That and she'd kissed him. Of her own free will. Which meant he was either dead or… "Don't tell me. We're the last two people alive and this is for the good of the species." His voice sounded gravelly from disuse even to him. His heartbeat was returning to a more normal rate, however, and that was good at least.
Max sat back heavily and her head drooped. She laughed and it sounded exhausted. Laughter shouldn't sound exhausted. When she looked back up, he saw the barest hint of tears before it was gone. She pursed her magnificently full lips, kissable lips. "Not for the species," she finally said. "Just me."
"Just you," Alec murmured. "You could at least buy me a drink then before you jump me." He felt a grin tugging at his mouth. "It's only polite."
"So now I'm not polite?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "I look after your sorry ass for a whole week without so much as a thank you and now I'm not polite?"
"A week?" Alec asked, surprised. Even if he'd been badly injured he shouldn't have been down that long. Unless…
Tim. The Coercive had done something and Alec couldn't remember it.
Alec remembered some of what had happened the times he'd been in Psy-Ops. When Ben had escaped with Max, there had been test after test, but it had mostly been lots of re-indoctrination, hammering home loyalty, duty, all of the usual, basically the same things they had been doing already just harder, nastier.
Being sent to Psy-Ops after his screw-up with Rachel had been a whole different ballgame. He'd spent months there and didn't remember nearly as much of it as he should. That was where he'd learned to fight them, or at least work around them, where he'd learned to look like he was re-trained and keep his real thoughts entirely to himself. The loyal soldier had found out that maybe he wasn't the good guy in the story anymore. If he kept focused on that he would go crazy though, so he stopped thinking about it. He stopped taking things seriously. He stopped taking anything seriously. He couldn't care about something that meant nothing to him either way. If he could laugh at it all, then it didn't matter.
He couldn't really remember Tim from then, just a few memories and a vague thought that he ought to remember him. He remembered fighting the coercion, though. It had taken time, but he'd gotten better at it. It had never completely worked, not in the end. The Coercives were just too strong and he'd been too exhausted, too broken. But he'd learned to hide behind his mask of Loyal Soldier well enough that they didn't work quite as hard on him, didn't put the effort into it that they had and Alec had stayed hidden. He'd fought what he could and hidden the rest until they'd let him go.
He'd been different after that. He'd known it. But like everything else, he hadn't looked into it seriously. Other than staying alive, nothing was important enough to care about after that, not even himself and whatever mess they'd made of him.
When he'd been hauled back in after Ben had gone offa the deep end, Alec'd had his mask firmly in place. He knew what they were looking for and he'd known to watch out for the Coercives. It was easier to fight the coercion if he knew what he was up against. Tim hadn't been in charge of him that time, Alec was sure of that. He hadn't recognized him, but everyone at Manticore had heard stories about The Intimidator. Tim was their Big Gun and was used for the hard cases like when a trusted operative went completely nuts and fell in love with the target's daughter and refused to follow orders. It had been Mia who'd been working on him during the Is-494-Going-To-Go-Psycho-Too? visit to Psy-Ops.
Alec had almost lost it when Max had dropped the bombshell that Mia was a Coercive. She'd ordered him to forget he knew her and he had. By the time Max had offhandedly mentioned that he'd made a good little puppet and his memories had come back, it was too late. He'd already done every last thing Mia told him to do.
Alec had been furious that Max had known earlier and hadn't bothered to tell him. Knowing Mia was a Coercive would have helped him fight off some of the orders. He wouldn't have gone into that ring and risked White catching him all over again. Max hadn't thought it necessary to warn him. She'd left him high and dry. Not that he'd told her how ticked he was. What good would it have done at that point? Max hadn't understood what the Coercives could really do, what they had done. Max had shrugged it off, thinking Mia was a lightweight and using them, sort of, for a good end.
Alec didn't care if Mia had been trying to save a busload of nuns. He didn't like being used and Mia could have asked for their help. He'd been forced to submit after Rachel to stay alive, but Manticore was gone now. He didn't appreciate having to play their games.
Unfortunately, Tim hadn't cared about Alec's wishes any more than Mia had. Tim had wanted his freedom and in order for that to happen Alec had to lose his. He'd fought. He'd put up every mental barrier he knew how to make, pulled on every bit of experience he had dealing with the bastards from Psy-Ops, concentrated on one thing and one thing only and held onto it for all he was worth because the alternative was unacceptable. He'd killed Rachel, but he couldn't hurt Max. He just couldn't. He would not kill Max. He would Not. Kill. Max.
Max punched him.
Alec blinked, stars dancing briefly in front of his eyes. His vision cleared and Max was directly in front of him only inches from his face, her hands on either side of his head. "You with me now?"
"What was that for?" he demanded.
"You were headed back off into… wherever you were. You wouldn't answer me," Max snapped.
"Answer you?" Alec blinked again, disoriented, and for the first time he realized that he did have a headache. It wasn't like anything he was used to, certainly not what he expected from the kick to his head.
Max sighed. "If you ever put yourself in a coma again for me, I'll kill you."
"You were fighting the coercion so hard you nearly blew a gasket," she informed him. "I honestly didn't think you were capable of thinking that much."
"Have to keep you on your toes, Maxie. I'm afraid you'll leave me if I get boring." Alec froze, realizing what he'd just said. It also reminded him of what he'd said under coercion. He'd admitted that he loved her. And that he knew she didn't care. Crap.
"From that panicked look on your face, I'd say you just remembered your little chat with Tim," Max observed.
"I… You… You can't blame me for that," he said, wondering why she hadn't already killed him in his sleep. "It was-"
"The truth?" she asked, one eyebrow raised. "Pretty sure he said getting the truth out of people was the easiest part."
He could feel anger bubbling up, threatening to overtake him. "So glad you had time to discuss me while he was laying my soul bare."
"Well, at the time, I was sort of frozen in place and ordered to be silent, if you'll remember," she shot back.
Alec felt himself deflate. Being angry at Max was useless. He was the stupid one. He was the one confessing in front of an audience because he couldn't keep his mouth shut. He'd just barely managed to get Max to the point where she could stand being around him, if he was really generous, to say that she halfway enjoyed his company… at times anyway. Tim had wanted to take his dream away and by making Alec answer that one little question he had. It would be awkward now, and Max wouldn't want to stay any longer than she had to.
"Was it true what he said?"
Alec frowned in confusion. "What?"
"About your personality changing after the Berrisford mission?"
It wasn't the question he'd expected and Alec hesitated, not sure how to answer. "I guess."
Before that mission, he remembered taking his position very seriously, loyalty to his country and his commanders so firmly instilled he'd truly believed he was doing the right thing. After that mission, he'd thought Rachel was dead and he'd believed that he'd killed her. At first he hadn't been able to bring himself to care what they were doing to him. His body had been there, but it was like his mind had been beyond their reach, stuck in its own personal disastrous loop, worse than anything they could possibly do.
After that, he'd had to lock it all away. He couldn't forget what had happened no matter what they did. So he had to stop caring. It had taken time, but that's what had happened. He just hadn't cared about anything. He'd floated along, doing what he had to do to stay alive, just living in the moment, because if for one second he let himself think about the past, the walls would all come crumbling down. He didn't care because he couldn't care.
Then one day he'd been sent to a new cell where a dark-haired siren had been waiting for him to call him out of his self-taught indifference.
"I don't mind it so much," she said.
"The new personality."
"You didn't know me before," he said doubtfully.
"Yeah, but I've just never really been attracted to the blindly loyal, no sense of humor, soldier types. Good thing you wised up, isn't it?"
Alec just looked at her and wondered if his head injury was worse than he'd thought. "But…"
"I mean it's good for a brother and all. I mean, Zack… I'd trust him with my life… And you can't really pick your family… They're just sort of there." She raised an eyebrow. "But when you're looking for someone special…"
Alec shook his head doubtfully. "Yeah, always look for the Psy-Ops damaged ex-soldier. We're great at parties."
"You're great for balancing out bitchy, hard-assed chicks who have a hard time expressing their feelings outside of punching someone."
"You already punched me," Alec observed.
"Yeah, I did. You get the message?"
"Not quite. Where's a Coercive when you need one?"
"Don't need one." Max tilted her head to the side, studying him. "You love me, Alec?"
He couldn't have answered then if he tried. He was as firmly silenced as Max had been by the Coercive. That one little question packed more opportunity for disaster than any Eyes Only or Manticore mission.
When he didn't answer, she added, "Just tell me."
"Don't need a Coercive, huh? You gonna make me?" he jeered, panic fluttering in his chest.
Max smiled, and it was all woman, setting off an entirely different flutter around his heart. "I'm not gonna make you do anything. This is a barter system as much as anything else since the Pulse hit. I get what I want and you get what you want." She moved closer to him, her lips a whisper away from his. "Do you love me, Alec?"
He saw no point in denying it. She already knew the answer. "Yes."
"So I got what I want." She brushed her mouth very lightly against his, not a kiss, just the faintest of touches as she spoke. "Now what do you want in return?"
Alec thought that for once Tim was right. Deep down, people were dying to tell the truth. "You, Max. I want you."
She kissed him and her perfect lips were everything Alec had ever imagined them to be.
"Well, then," Max said breathlessly, "I think we just might have a deal."
And there you have it… Been a pleasure. Hope you enjoyed it. I've got a Supernatural story in the works at the moment, so until then…