Disclaimer: If it was mine, do you really think I'd be sitting here writing fics?
Summary: Alec and Max discover they have a little something in common, and inadvertently help each other through.
Notes: This was meant to be a drabble based on the prompt 'break' from SmilinStar. It's still based on that prompt, but it somehow ended up being this full-blown fic, and considering this is my first attempt at a DA story ever, needless to say, I was surprised. Anyhow, I'm scared crapless about sharing this on a wider basis, but I figured I'd put it out there and hopefully get some feedback and concrit. I guess all you need to know is that this takes place a few months after Freak Nation, and that it's established very good friendship between Max and Alec, with the usual UST ;-)
I guess all that remains to be said is, read and enjoy! And please don't be too harsh on me.
Black smoke engulfs the air around her, ashes creeping into her mouth and down her throat, making it difficult to breathe. She coughs, eyes watering from the soot that lingers there, and she briefly questions the usefulness of enhanced vision if she can't even see three feet in front of her through the thickness of the fire. All around her, debris and cinders rain down from the sky, a reminder of the destruction that has just taken place, and a constant barrage of voices threaten to overwhelm her, the fearpanicangerhelplessness too much to take in and the dire circumstances of the situation almost pushing her to breaking point.
The flames rush ever closer, licking at the edge of her clothes, eager to consume and burn, and as she falls back, exhausted and injured, she can't help but rue the end of her existence. If she is being honest with herself, she always thought she'd go out in a rush of glory, fighting and taking as many of these bastards with her as possible. Not ambushed, trapped and cornered, executed like a rat. More than that, she rues the end of her race, regret weighing heavy on her shoulders for having put them in this situation. Regret for not being able to give them that better life they so desperately deserved, the freedom they craved. And regret for failing her people at the moment they most needed her.
The heat and smoke become unbearable, and resigned to her fate, she closes her eyes, willing for it all to be over quickly, when a familiar voice suddenly floats through the shadows surrounding her, calling her name. She cranks one eye open, hardly daring to believe that it could possibly be him, when a pair of shining green eyes pierce through the black, a beacon in the darkness. She stares up at them in wonder, momentarily forgetting her more-than-dangerous position, the reflected flames illuminating an entirely new depth within them, and hypnotised by the intensity and concern she finds there. As she grips his extended hand and he pulls her into a standing position, holding her tightly by the arms to steady her, she can't help the spark that ignites deep within her, and she finds herself thinking that maybe there is still hope yet…
Max jerked awake, head lifting off the table and eyes flying open to unknowingly meet the ones that had just been occupying her dream. Alec was leaning on the desk in front of her, head tilted slightly and an expression of slight confusion creasing his handsome features. As her erratic heartbeat slowed and she took a moment to collect her thoughts before answering the unspoken question, she marvelled at the fact that even though there was no sign of it upon his face, a hint of his concern for her was evident through his golden-green orbs. It hadn't taken Max long to work out that Alec's eyes were among the most expressive she'd ever seen, and though he could employ a tightly-controlled emotionless mask with the best of the transgenics, one look in his eyes would give him away instantly. She took comfort from their sparkle, knowing that the day that light disappeared would be the day there was no coming back from, and so she resolved to make sure that never happened. Not that he knew, of course.
Realising that Alec was still staring, and starting to become a little more worried, Max gave herself a mental shake, clearing her throat and breaking eye contact to look down at the various reports littering her desk.
"I'm fine. I just…zoned out."
He lifted one sceptical eyebrow. "Zoned out? Max, you were zonked out and flat-out snoring as if your life depended on it."
She glared at him, and he relented, lifting his hands in surrender.
"Ok, so you weren't snoring, but you looked like you were in a pretty deep zone…"
Max huffed indignantly, deliberately avoiding looking at him for fear that he would read something she didn't want him to (he seemed to be really good at that these days), and gathering up papers in front of her to make a haphazard pile. "What, is it too much to ask that a person gets some sleep around here without any trouble?"
Alec crossed his arms, giving her a meaningful look. "It's two in the afternoon, Maxie."
Her mouth dropped slightly, as the implication of what he'd just said sunk in. "Huh."
"Wow, that's probably the least articulate response I've ever heard from you." A half-smirk crossed Alec's lips as he gently teased her. "Has our fearless leader finally been rendered speechless?"
"Shut up, Alec," Max muttered half-heartedly, standing up and piling reports high into his arms, ignoring his surprised protest, before reaching behind the desk for her jacket and slipping it on. She started making her way towards her office door, acutely aware of the fact he was following her without question. "It's not like no-one in this place doesn't nap when they're not supposed to. Hell, it's practically become an afternoon group activity. Especially for Atlas and his boys." She name-dropped deliberately, secretly hoping that Alec would be distracted enough by the idea of having to pull rank on someone almost twice his size, so she could avoid having to be put under the spotlight.
Alec frowned, making a mental note to employ the services of Mole and his shotgun before attempting to talk to the behemoth - he was pretty sure Atlas wouldn't flatten him like a pancake, but it was better to be safe than sorry - before focusing his attention back on Max; he wasn't going to be deterred easily. "Yeah, but their cocktails don't include the extra ingredient of shark DNA."
The only reply he got was a slight shrug, and hit with a sudden suspicion, he shifted the mountain of paper he was holding over to one arm, before reaching out with the other and softly gripping Max's elbow just as she reached the door, effectively stopping her from leaving. She stilled, but didn't look at him as he spoke, voice low and serious and any hint of humour long gone.
"How long has it been since you slept?"
Max looked over her shoulder, flashing him what she hoped was a convincing, reassuring smile. "I was sleeping fine up until 10 minutes ago, when some ass decided to interrupt me."
She turned back around, fingers on the handle and intending to make a break for it, as cool and calm as she could manage, when his next word stopped her in her tracks.
And that was all it took. Her name on his lips, his voice laced with emotion - worry that she was running herself ragged, anger at himself for not having noticed, annoyance at her stubbornness, willpower to find out what was wrong, but mostly, a silent, heartfelt plea. "Talk to me."
She blew out a sigh, turning once again to face him and leaning against the door, all the energy expelled from her body, and the weight of the pressure she'd been carrying for the past few months evident on her slumped shoulders. Alec felt something sharp tug inside his chest as he took in her small form, the sight of her looking so overwhelmed and exhausted and…broken not one he was familiar with, nor wanted to become accustomed to. His Max was a fighter, their leader, a symbol of hope in these crappy, sucks-beyond-belief bleak days. She wasn't supposed to look like this. He felt a fierce rush of protectiveness, determined to help her regain that spark, the one that fuelled her on with vengeance and made her a force to be reckoned with. The one that made each of his days that little bit brighter and easier to get through.
But that would come later. First things first…
Max didn't flinch as a look of disbelief filled Alec's face, and his eyes hardened, but as she witnessed just an inch of the soldier inside him, the lurking threat underneath, she could see why it would be a very bad idea to get on the wrong side of this man.
"You haven't slept at all in two weeks? Max, what're you trying to do to yourself?"
She pursed her lips in annoyance, craning her neck to glance up at him. "I've still slept a little, here and there, just not…enough."
"Just not enough," Alec repeated, shaking his head, a sense of urgency overriding the anger in his tone. "Why didn't you say anything to me, or Josh or Mole? Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion isn't going to help any of us. Although I guess if you're lucky, you'll overwork yourself into a coma. At least then, you'd get some sleep."
Max rolled her eyes at his last sarcastic remark, his trademark smart-aleck wit coming into play, but she was genuinely touched by his show of concern. "I didn't tell you because you have enough shit to be dealing with. This doesn't concern you."
Alec looked like he wanted to flail his arms, or grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, but he couldn't for fear of the heap in his arms scattering everywhere. Max felt grateful. But then he pinned his gaze on her, eyes blazing with conviction.
"You always concern me, Maxie."
Her breath catching in her throat, Max didn't know if she wanted to cry or kiss him, and wasn't sure which would be the scarier option. She did neither, instead opting for safer territory by slipping into their easy banter. Clearing her throat, she crossed her arms and stood up straighter to meet his eyes.
"Nice to know you have so little faith in me."
He smiled slightly. "Oh, I have plenty faith in you. I just don't have faith in your decision-making judgment sometimes. You need to take a break, Max."
"Thanks for your astute observation, Captain Obvious." Max fought the impulse to laugh at his indignant expression, but the urge soon died as she took in a proper look at him. Now that they were standing so close together, and she was actually keeping eye contact, she could pick up on the tell-tale signs of fatigue littering his face, the ones that had given her away in the first place. Hooded eyelids, bloodshot eyes, dark circles underneath…her own eyes narrowed and temper mounting, she reached out to thwack him upside the back of his head.
Alec yelped as he was knocked slightly off-balance, and the papers veered dangerously, but thanks to his quick reflexes, he was able to save them before any damage could be done. He threw her a dirty look.
"What was that for?"
"You hypocrite! How long has it been since you had a good night's sleep? You look as tired as I feel, which by the way, not a good thing since I'm the one with shark DNA!"
Alec had to swallow back a gulp as she finished her tirade, hands on hips and her expression just daring him to contradict her. He felt he owed it to his pride to at least try, though.
"That's not exactly the same thing, y'know. You're our leader, ergo more important, so it looks worse if you collapse on your face in front of everyone. Not exactly the upstanding role model they need."
"And you're my second-in-command, Alec. How am I supposed to keep things running even remotely okay around here if you knock yourself out from working too hard? I can't. They need me? Fine, but I need you to help me do this."
He could hardly believe his ears, her admission shooting somewhere deep inside of him and causing a faint flare of hope that he didn't have the heart to crush. They had come a long way since the "breeding partner" incident, but sometimes Alec still had a hard time believing that despite the strong sense of camaraderie that had formed between them, they were comfortable enough to divulge intimate details with each other. It didn't happen too often, but the point was, it happened. Max looked like she thought she'd said too much though, so instead of ribbing her about it like he'd planned, he decided to take pity on her. There would be other times.
He shot her a sheepish look as he reached past her to open the door. "I guess we're both just a couple of lost causes, huh?"
He could have sworn Max almost breathed a sigh of relief at the change of subject, as she rolled her eyes and made to leave the office, motioning him to follow her with a nod of her head. Not that she needed to. "Guess so."
They walked amicably through Command, nodding and smiling in reply to the various greetings thrown in their direction. Alec stole a glance at the "face of the transgenics", noting her slightly pinched expression, the haunted look in her eyes, and inwardly kicked himself.
"How long have you been having nightmares, Maxie?"
She wasn't even surprised that he'd worked it out, didn't even wonder when he'd become better at reading her than even herself sometimes, just knew that somehow over the course of the past year, he had. It should have scared her, or at least bugged her, but nothing. She felt strangely okay with it. "A long time. But it's okay. They've become a little less nightmarey than usual lately."
She caught his sceptical look, but gave him a firm stare in reply, relaxing when he nodded, satisfied for the moment and deciding to drop the issue. She neglected to mention the reason for the less nightmarey bad dreams, figuring that was something he could find out when the time was right. Definitely not now.
Max led them towards the conference room, holding the door open for Alec to pass through with his load, before nodding him in the direction of the large table. Alec dumped the papers ungracefully on the surface, grateful to finally have use of his right arm again, and he stretched it distractedly, staring at Max who was now making herself comfy in one of the chairs, spreading the reports out widely in front of her.
"Need a hand with those?"
Max glanced up at him, catching the tail-end of a yawn and shaking her head as he tried to hide it.
"No, I'm good. I just need to read through them and fine-tune details. You should go have a break, catch up on some sleep." The latter part of her sentence was punctuated with a pointed look.
Alec let out a "pfft" as he took off his own jacket, draping it over a chair, and in one fluid movement, leapt up onto the table, lying comfy on his stomach and facing Max with a sharp look of his own.
"Are you planning on doing the same any time soon?"
She frowned. "I will, eventually, but not yet, Alec. Not while there's still so much to do."
He sighed, then picked up the report nearest to him, scanning over the front page. "Then I'm good here too."
Max briefly debated the merits of forcibly removing him from the table and kicking his ass in the direction of his apartment, before deciding that a few hours in his company wasn't worse than battling through the monotonous reports on her own. She wouldn't admit it to him either, but being around him was one of the few times she could truly feel calm, and so she welcomed the opportunities, whenever they happened to be.
That didn't mean she couldn't mess with him, though. Adopting an indifferent look, she tapped him on the side of his head with her pen. He looked up at her in question.
"Do you want to get off the table?"
"Not really," he answered her with a smirk in place, and a twinkle in his eye. "I'm quite comfy here, thanks." She resisted the urge to grin along with him, keeping her nonchalant expression in place, and instead, raised an eyebrow.
"Let me rephrase that - do you want to get off the table before I make you get off the table?"
He gave her a look that said "yeah, right", but as she stared back relentlessly, pen tapping impatiently, he pouted, sliding over and into a chair next to her, muttering under his breath the whole way. Max smiled sweetly at him, ignoring the various jibes directed at her, and passed him over a pile of his own reports to go through. The two of them insulting each other had become second-nature between them, and they both knew it would take more than a few names for her to get really mad at him.
She jumped slightly as Alec started humming, beating out a drumbeat on the table-top to go with whatever tune happened to be in his head. She stared at him incredulously, but as he began to sing along softly, she rolled her eyes and let her head bang down on the desk in front of her.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
Mole stood up straight from where he'd been leaning over Dix's shoulder at his computer in Command, glancing at the clock as he rolled his neck and shoulders, the stiff joints emitting a welcoming crack. If he was surprised at the late hour of the evening, there was no evidence of it on his face, and he simply turned back to the monocled transhuman with a brisk nod.
"We'll leave it there, Dix. You'll have to get Princess' and Pretty Boy's official seal of approval, but I doubt they'll have any problems. If they do, send them to me."
Dix bit back a smile as he imagined how that altercation might go, and gathered up his things, nodding goodbye to his commanding officer and the few other transgenics who were left in headquarters. Most of them had left already, opting to get some time in at their recently-added TC games hall before calling it a day. Having not seen Max nor Alec for most of the day, Mole wondered if that's where the two of them had been passing time, before dismissing the thought with a shake of his head. Alec wasn't as irresponsible as initial impressions made him out to be, and well, he was sure Max wouldn't know fun even if it pranced in front of her naked, slapped her in the face and ran away. He let out an amused chuckle at the image, figuring either the two had gotten into a fight, and killed each other, or the UST between them had finally boiled over and…Mole grimaced and couldn't help a shudder as he pictured that option. If that's what was actually going on, then he really didn't want to know.
Circling the room and checking for anything that looked out-of-place, the light coming from the conference room caught his eye. He chewed on his cigar with disdain, assuming that a few of the bolder X6s (Dalton) had snuck in earlier for shits-and-giggles. Striding over with purpose, intending to scare the living daylights out of the intruders and show them that Command was not the place for their games, Mole yanked open the door, his shout almost instantly dying in his throat, and eyebrows raising to the top of his head, at the scene in front of him.
Alec lay on his back on the edge of the conference room table, his jacket bunched up under his head as a sort-of makeshift pillow. Max was seated in a chair directly next to him, head pillowed by her arm on the table in front of her, but also tucked soundly into the nook under his arm, which lay across the back of her neck. His fingers were entangled in her hair, while her free arm was wound tightly across his middle. They were both completely and utterly fast asleep.
Mole's mouth dropped open, his precious cigar falling forgotten to the floor, as he tried to properly take in what he was seeing. How was that for hidden option number three? A reluctant smile broke out on his face from the unexpected yet tender sight, and he was instantly glad that neither of the transgenics were awake to see him, otherwise they'd never let him forget it. Judging from the numerous piles of papers scattered around the table, they'd been asleep for most of the day, but Mole couldn't find it in himself to be angry, instead feeling an odd sense of relief. He knew how for months now, each had been pushed to their individual limit, suffering from too much work and too little sleep - not that either of them would ever admit it, but he figured they deserved some down time. Hell, he'd tried to convince them to take breaks himself, first by dropping some obviously big hints, then with downright snapping at them to "get the hell out of here before I ram my shotgun up your ass." That hadn't gone down too well.
He shook his head lightly, making his way out of the room and closing the door softly behind him. Let them sleep - they could face whatever issues needed facing tomorrow. The door to Command opened, and Mole glanced up sharply as the sound of an exo-skeleton reached his sensitive ears. He snorted. The Ordinary, brilliant. Probably looking for Max, as always. He wrestled with the idea of cutting out the niceties and throwing him out (Max was asleep, it wasn't like she could stop him), before being hit with sudden inspiration. Let him find her, if he so desperately wanted to - he'd be in for a nice surprise. Mole grinned evilly, waiting for the Ordinary to make it to the conference room, and watching for his reaction in anticipation, before surreptitiously deciding that if he even so much as made one noise, and woke up the sleeping beauties, he'd throw him out on his ass anyway.
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