Rating: T for violence and slight language.
Summary: Max and Alec realize that not all transgenics are trustworthy. Of course, this realization only comes after they've been cornered in a trash dump by said untrustworthy transgenic.
Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel.
"Was this part of the plan?"
Max didn't reply, just elbowed Alec hard in the gut. He grunted a little and sent her an angry glance that she reciprocated easily.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," The voice was malicious and echoed eerily around the hollow space, making Max and Alec immediately still. A small, tense silence fell, and then there was a sudden peppering of gunshots, each bang more deafening than the last. Max instinctively flinched inward and Alec tugged her closer, so that they were more firmly protected by the mass of metal and garbage.
"Shit," Max breathed, her breath coming out in plumes of white mist. There was a pause on the other side of the mountainous pile, and then gunfire roared through the night again.
"I can hear you," The transgenic with the gun called, voice eerily casual.
"Then why don't you come get us, you idiot?" Max shouted back, anger boiling through her. She was trapped, caged in by one of her own, and she really hated it.
"Because he's no match for two X5's in hand to hand," Alec whispered in her ear, breath warming her icy skin.
"You caught me," The transgenic responded, and Max could imagine the sly grin spreading across his sinisterly handsome face. "But thanks to good ol' Manticore, I won't have to get that close to you." He cocked the gun for emphasis, and the tiny click was as loud in Max's ears as the gunshots had been.
"Manticore doesn't exist anymore," Max called, trying to reason; maybe he was just confused. Maybe the world had gotten to him before she'd had the chance to. "We don't owe them anything. We're free."
A snort echoed from behind the tottering pile of metal. "You call Terminal City free? You've seen it, haven't you?"
"Max, shut up," Alec ordered, and he sounded harsh. She shot him a look, and he continued in a whisper, "He's not confused. He's pissed because we caught him."
"Right again, 494," The transgenic shouted, sounding angry now. "Do you know how precarious my position is? You spill to anyone, and I've got ten different drug-lords with their own personal armies knocking down my door."
"You're a transgenic," Alec replied, almost scoffing, and Max smacked his arm. He shot her a look but otherwise ignored her. "It's not like you can't outrun them."
"But then I'll have to move somewhere else, reestablish my contacts, build a trustworthy group of costumers and drug mules…. all while trying to keep myself from being exposed. No thanks; doesn't sound like my idea of a good time."
"Why are you even doing this?" Max demanded, partly because she was unable to wrap her mind around his actions and also because she wanted to keep him talking. The more he spoke, the less he pulled the trigger. "TC's not much, but we've established living quarters; we're keeping everyone fed—"
"You're trying to convince me to move into that dump when I've got a constant flow of cash, booze and food on the outside? Are you serious?" He sounded incredulous now, and distracted. "What are you doing with her, 494? You never struck me as the self-sacrificing type."
"I'm not stupid enough to put myself in your position, either, 617," Alec responded scathingly, although Max had a sneaking suspicion he had the same motives as her; keep the gun-wielding maniac preoccupied. "You're going to get caught eventually, with the amount of drugs you smuggle into the city."
"Well, I can at least guarantee that it won't be any time soon," The gunman replied, and Max could tell by the way his voice echoed that he was moving around, looking for a better angle. "And it won't be because of you two."
"You're serious about this?" Max demanded, and now she wasn't asking for any reason other than the fact that he was seriously pissing her off. "You're going to kill two of your own because you're afraid we'll rat you out?"
"'Two of my own'?" He repeated, and there was blunt disdain in his tone. "I don't know what Manticore you grew up in, 09'er, but in the one I stuck around for, we didn't give two shits about our own kind. If I'd have worried about stuff like that, I wouldn't have made it past basic training."
Max glanced at Alec, who nodded once, curtly, in confirmation. So Manticore had stopped encouraging units to bond after Max's had left. Made sense; no more organized escape attempts.
"We won't tell anyone, anyway," Max said, and now she was feeling a little desperate; she couldn't relate to such a mindless robot. "It's not like we don't have better things to do."
"Ah, but see, 452," the transgenic began, and again Max could hear the smug smirk in his voice. "Three can only keep a secret if two of 'em are dead."
He was dangerously serious. She had known it would happen, had already tracked down escaped transgenics who either couldn't deal or wouldn't change their thought processes to live on the outside. But she'd never come across one so bloodthirsty and vicious; she'd never seen the epitome of what Manticore had wanted to create—a killer without a conscience.
A shudder skittered down her spine as the thick silence stretched on.
"It'll be okay, Maxie," Alec whispered, and though she shot him an annoyed glare and pretended not to listen, she felt slightly better. At least she wasn't alone.
"What're we going to do?" She hissed, meanwhile tuning her ears to pick up even the smallest of sounds.
He shot her a look, making it clear that he was planning something, but before she could protest or question him he moved away from her. She bit her tongue to keep from calling him back, and a second later he slipped into the darkness and disappeared.
Max reeled in the urge to run after him, knowing he didn't want her to follow. 617 was a skilled, trained transgenic, and she had no idea what Alec was planning. Heart pounding in her ears, she edged closer to the side of the mountainous pile hiding her and peered around the edge.
She could see their attacker now, though his features were mostly hidden by the shadows. He was tall, much taller than Alec, and had a solid, more muscular build. While that didn't mean too much when it came to a transgenic smack-down—their speed and agility were often more useful than bulk—it did give him an advantage. Alec had been optimized for assassinations and undercover ops; the creators of 617 had clearly built him to be the brunt force.
Then she saw Alec. His face narrowed and blank and his movements were so slow and coordinated that he almost blended into the background. He was approaching 617 from behind, gradually shifting his hands so that he could wrestle the gun away from him.
Just as Alec moved close enough, 617 whirled, weapon raised.
Unthinkingly, acting purely on instinct and the adrenaline that pounded through her veins, Max picked up a heavy piece of metal from the pile and lobbed it at 617's head. Her aim was true and the debris banged hard into 617's temple just as he pulled the trigger; his aim hand swung wide, but not by much, and she could just hear a strangled cry over the sound of the gunshot. Then Alec slumped to the ground.
Hands tingling, throat tight with fear, she lunged for another metal chunk and aimed at 617's hand as he raised the gun to fire once more. Again she nailed her mark, and as the gun flew from 617's hands, Max blurred until she was right in front of him. Then she punched him in the face.
617 staggered back. He didn't stay contained for long, however, and Max could only spare a fleeting glance at Alec, who was crumpled on the floor with his face hidden in the darkness. She usually didn't make a habit of praying, but she whispered a few pleading words before focusing on 617 again.
She took in the sheer size of him and tried to remind herself that she had beaten stronger, better-trained X5's before. It was all a matter of fighting dirty.
He didn't reach for his weapon again, and there was a twisted, satisfied look on his face. He lunged at her, and she didn't dodge in time to avoid his hands, which locked around her shoulders and tossed her roughly to the floor. She met the concrete face-first and struggled back to her feet, spitting the blood from her mouth as she went.
He caught her with a left hook before she'd fully reached her feet and she went down again, this time landing on her back and cracking her head against the floor. Once her vision faded back in, she flipped upright again and stepped a few paces away to put some space between them.
"I'm going to kill you, bitch," 617 grunted, raw venom in his voice. Yet his movements were unhurried, his face calm and relaxed; clearly he believed killing her would be easy since he outclassed her so completely.
She bared her teeth, knowing his weakness now. She used his arrogance against him, darting quickly and suddenly forward to nail him with a right hook. She followed up with another punch to the face and a vicious kick to the gut; turned out he was a fraction slower than her, his penance for being so large.
But he learned quickly, and he reached out and grabbed her the second time she moved in to attack. His meaty hands surrounded her and he forced her to slump forward just as he jerked his knee upward—it met her abdomen with a pain so intense she couldn't resist the gurgled shriek that slipped past her lips.
He flung her back, grinning now, greedy eyes taking in the pained look on her face. She pulled herself back together and stepped lithely away again, just out of his reach. They circled each other slowly.
"You're going to die," He snarled, taunting her.
"So you keep saying," She replied, in her best impersonation of boredom.
She wasn't feeling so witty or blithe a second later, when he lurched toward her again with a wicked uppercut to her jaw. She returned with one of her own as quickly as possible, and his head snapped back. He recovered and, apparently tired of dancing around this way, reached for her neck.
She dodged him again, but he turned and managed to get a grip on her arm—wrenching roughly and nearly dislodging her shoulder from its socket, he pulled her back into his reach and succeeded in wrapping his fingers around her throat.
She sputtered and clawed at his hands, but he held firm, his face a blank, empty mask. She went for a different approach and kneed him in the groin with as much force as she could muster—his expression cracked and he cringed inward, but he didn't release her fully. He sunk to the floor and she was dragged down with him, still locked in his iron hold. She saw the hatred in his eyes.
And then there was a deafening bang and she was abruptly released. Hardly believing it, she gulped in air through her damaged throat. Her vision cleared around the edges and she looked down at 617. There was blood staining the floor under him and a bullet in the back of his head.
Alec stood behind him, the gun in his hands still smoking. The entire left half of his face was covered in drying blood, thick and glutinous. The way he looked just then, gory and ruthless and rigid, she could understand why people were so afraid of them. She stumbled to her feet, and then swayed at the fuzzy lightheadedness that overtook her.
"Alec," she choked out, and he dropped the weapon and reached for her. Usually she would have shaken his hands away, but she let them steady her as she looked up to check his head.
"Just a graze," He said, probably in response to the abject fear scribbled across her face. She reached up and dabbed at the blood coating his temple. A few inches to the left and he would have been gone.
"Oh, my God," Max breathed, looking back at the dead transgenic on the floor. She felt a wave of tension crash through Alec, and she turned back to him.
"I had to—he was going to—I had to," he said roughly, his grip tightening on her shoulders. She winced, feeling the bruises from where 617 had grabbed her. Alec loosened his fingers and exhaled harshly. "Max, he was going to kill you."
"I know," Max said, voice husky and low. "It's okay, Alec."
"No it's not," he answered, but she wasn't sure he was talking to her anymore. There was the faintest tremor in his voice. "I never wanted to do this again."
She understood what he meant. He'd thought he'd left the killing behind him.
"You saved me," she said, railing against her pride as she said it. She hoped that knowledge helped him.
He looked down at her again, eyes bright in the darkness. "I had to."
Alec grunted and fidgeted with the bandage that rested just to the left of his eye. "It's annoying."
Max rolled her eyes. "Stop complaining."
He leveled her with a steely glare. "When you get shot an inch from the most important part of your anatomy, you can tell me to stop complaining."
Max's smile tautened, but she refused to let it fall. "Oh, so your head's the most important part of your anatomy? I was thinking it was your—" She broke off when she saw his wicked grin. Then she flushed and smacked him soundly on the shoulder. "Mouth, you pervert!"
"Yeah, yeah," Alec grunted, the sparkle still glowing brightly in his eyes. "Don't you know not to slap around a wounded man?"
She snorted. "It's been two days. I bet it hardly even itches anymore."
That statement brought the scowl back to his face. "No, this freaking gauze does. But that head medic lady you've got at the infirmary? Yeah, she's a lunatic. If she sees me without this bandage, I'm afraid she might just call it a bad job and chop my head off."
Max giggled, and then stopped abruptly when she realized that she was giggling. She cleared her throat. "Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?"
He smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled. "Only you, Maxie."
She stayed quiet, studiously ignoring the light fluttering in her stomach. He recognized her silence and misinterpreted it.
"Are you okay?" He asked, and his eyes were roving over her now, taking in the faint smattering of bruises on her face and neck.
"Peachy," she said, smiling sarcastically. When his look didn't change, she frowned and said, "Seriously, Alec, I'm fine. I didn't get shot."
"No, but you got the shit kicked out of you."
"That's eloquent," she sniffed.
Alec met her eyes again, and his gaze stayed serious for a moment longer before filling with humor. "You're just mad 'cause your ego was damaged."
"I'm not that proud," Max retorted, even though yeah, she pretty much was. "You're the one that can't stand to ask for help—ever."
He laughed at her, conveying all of his disbelief with the sound. She scowled; it was times like this that made her wonder why she even talked to him.
And it was times like two days ago that gave her the answer. How he could go from being so noble and brave to being such a complete pain in the ass wasn't something she'd figured out yet.
She looked up again and found that he was staring at her with this look in his eyes—one that made her uncomfortable even though she didn't really understand it.
"So, has everything calmed down?" She asked hurriedly, crossing her arms over her chest for lack of anything better to do with them.
He blinked and straightened. "Oh, uh, yeah. Pretty much. Since 617 wasn't a bundle of joy even back in the Manticore days, no one's too upset about it." He was quiet for a minute, head bowed slightly. "'Course there are a few that blame me—think I was wrong to do what I did."
"You weren't," she said immediately, and was surprised by how natural it felt to defend him. Times really had changed.
He didn't say anything, and she frowned. "Alec? You know you weren't, don't you?"
"I know he was a monster," Alec said, and that wasn't really an answer. "I know that he enjoyed hurting people; that he didn't just do it because Manticore told him to."
"Then what's the problem?"
He angled his head up, but his eyes looked passed her, and he was silent for so long that she was almost positive he wouldn't answer.
"I never enjoyed it," he said finally, voice low.
She paused, tongue resting against her teeth as she struggled to think of an adequate reply to that. "That's good," She said, going for the obvious.
"Sure." his eyes flickered toward her, but darted away just as quickly. "Only… I did this time. Killing him."
Max's thoughts shuddered to a halt, and her mouth opened and closed a few times before she could say anything. "Oh. You mean 617?"
The designation still sat heavy on her tongue, despite the fact that the transgenic it addressed was gone. Even murderers and psychos had names on the outside.
"Yeah," He breathed in sharply and then exhaled slowly, eyes narrowing at the corners. Then he looked at her, and his gaze was intense. "He was going to kill you, but it was more than that—he liked it. He liked hurting you; it's why he didn't just reach for the gun and finish it. He saw you alone, without backup, and he wanted it that way."
Max nodded mutely; she had figured as much. It wasn't the first time someone had wanted to hurt her just for the sake of hurting her, either. Still, seeing how that had affected Alec caused her voice to stick in her throat.
"So when I shot him—hell yeah, I enjoyed killing the bastard," he said, false bravado in his voice. "Who wouldn't?"
The confident veneer was so thin, Max would be surprised if he expected her to buy it. "It's okay, Alec," she said quietly.
His eyes searched her face. "You didn't want Joshua to kill White," he said suddenly, voice a pitch lower. "Even though White killed Annie and tons of other people, you didn't want him dead."
It barreled into her then, with the weight and force of a freight rain. "Alec, are you afraid of what I think of you?"
"No," He said immediately, but the look on his face was a whole other story.
"Killing someone would have destroyed Joshua," Max said quietly, trying to explain her mindset at the time. "He's so… innocent, because he's never really been forced to live the kind of life we—you and the rest did." She took herself out of the equation, because she couldn't claim to have experienced Manticore in the same way.
"So you're saying I'm so tainted that it doesn't faze me?" He asked, lopsided smile and teasing voice intact, but there was something terribly off.
"No," she said quickly, "No, that's not what I—"
"But you're right," he interrupted quickly, and she could almost heard the shink of the armor as it slid into place. "I've killed a lot of people. I'll never be innocent."
"Neither will I," She pointed out, jaw clenched. God, he was just so stubborn. "You think I was a wonderful person all the time because I wasn't there, being forced into doing things?"
He looked at her, and the expression on his face said, Yeah, duh.
"I had to do a lot to survive, Alec," she said, and her voice wavered a bit because she'd never really told those stories to anyone. "I was alone in a world I'd never experienced before, and no one taught me the rules. So no, I haven't always been as amazing and giving as I am now."
A look of surprised amusement passed over his face before diminishing again. "It still doesn't change it," Alec said, and she knew what he was referring to. She could see all of his fears as easily as if he'd listed them for her—fear that he was becoming what Manticore wanted by enjoying the kill, that he'd somehow ruined his image for her, that he'd done the wrong thing.
"Would you have been able to shoot him point blank, for no other reason than that you kind of disliked him?" She asked, trying a different tactic to get through to him.
He looked at her, eyes guarded. It took him a little while to answer. "I don't think so."
"No," she said firmly, because she knew him well enough by now to know him, even if he didn't. "He was going to kill me and you stopped it. That's it—the end."
"But what if—"
"No!" She said, voice raised in warning now. "No buts."
He stared at her unblinkingly, and she couldn't quite read what was going on in his head. Then, gradually his lips spread into a roguish grin.
"Don't say it," she warned, realizing that he had yet again figured out some way to twist her words around.
"No! Not a word," She insisted, glaring now.
"You know if you let yourself, I think you'd really enjoy my—"
"What? Jeez, Max, I was going to say sense of humor."
She huffed, but couldn't think of anything to say to that. After a faltering moment, she asked, "Don't you have work to do? Or do I have to run a city all by myself?"
He snorted. "Like you could. Face it, you need me."
She opened her mouth and then drew up short. He stared at her intently. "Whatever, Alec," she dismissed finally. "Just go… make yourself useful."
He gave her a mock salute and then slid past her, heading down into the chaos that was Headquarters. He paused at the edge of the stairs, though, and turned back to her. She saw it in his eyes, the worry he'd just expressed to her—the same worry she'd tried to quell. It looked as if he hadn't let it go completely, but she hoped he felt a little better.
He opened his mouth and then changed his mind and nodded to her instead.
"Alec!" She called, just as he'd put his foot on the first stair. He looked back at her expectantly.
"Thanks," She said hurriedly, uncomfortable with situations like these. "For, you know, saving my life and stuff."
"Anytime," He said, and his face stayed serious for a moment. Then he smiled again—his standby for covering up anything remotely emotional. It was distantly related to her sneer. "Just returning the favor."
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! Reviews are lovely; it'd be great if you left one!