Loose the Hounds
Summary: A deadly riot is the catalyst for all kinds of change in Terminal City. MA.
And here you have it, a nice fluffy ending. Thank you for each and every review. Hope you enjoyed it.
Max hurried down the hallway to Alec's apartment. The corridor was empty now. She imagined everyone was sitting in front of their TVs waiting for Secretary Gordon's pending press conference. Mole was already spreading the word about the offer and trying to gauge everyone's feelings on the subject. She guessed he would set up a meeting for them to come to some sort of decision.
Max knew that many of them would jump at the offer. As long as they weren't formally tied to the military and could take care of business the way they saw fit, many of them would be more than happy to put their skills to use. It was what they were good at, after all. She knew that others wanted as far away as possible from this place and anything resembling their former line of work. When it was safe, they would very quietly make their way out of Terminal City and disappear into the woodwork.
Max didn't care what everyone chose to do as long as they were free to make the choice. It was all she'd ever really been fighting for. If they wanted out, she would personally see that each and every person had money, ID and the appropriate, forged if necessary, passes to get where they wanted to go.
Max opened the door to Alec's apartment, desperate to get back to him. She'd nearly run as soon as she was back inside the gates, but forced herself to appear calm due to the news cameras tracking her every movement since she stepped out of the meeting.
She walked into the bedroom and stopped in the doorway. Alec was lying in bed, pale and still as death. She took a moment to reassure herself that he was breathing, his chest rising and falling in a slow but even rhythm. The sheets had been changed and it looked like Alec had been bathed as well. His hair was slightly damp and he was wearing a fresh t-shirt.
Joshua was sitting in a chair next to the bed with his arms loose at his sides and his head tilted back. He was fast asleep with his mouth hanging open and snoring so loudly Max was surprised Alec didn't wake up out of sheer irritation. She imagined Joshua had spent most of the night outside in the hallway with the rest, waiting for word on Alec. She was momentarily sorry that she hadn't invited him in to sit with her, but the night before she simply hadn't been willing to share Alec with anyone, not even Joshua. She'd thought she would only have one night and hadn't wanted to edit anything she needed to say because there was someone else in the room listening.
"Joshua?" He snuffled loudly, smacking his lips, and then went back to snoring. "Joshua," she said more forcefully.
Joshua jumped and nearly fell out of the chair before catching himself and looking around the room to get his bearings. His worried eyes landed on Alec first, then when he decided there was no change, swung toward her.
"Hey, big fella."
"Hey, little fella." Joshua stood, his eyes straying back to Alec as he walked toward her.
Max nodded toward the bed. "How is he?"
"Alec still asleep." He frowned. "Still hurting."
"Alec asleep, but not peaceful."
Max hurried toward the bed and sat down beside Alec's hip, taking one of his hands in hers. He wasn't feverish anymore, at least not like he had been. He was still too pale. His long lashes stood out starkly where they rested against his lightly freckled cheeks. As she watched, she saw his face move, a tick, barely enough to notice. She wasn't sure she would have if Joshua hadn't told her.
Joshua came up beside her and set his heavy hand on her shoulder. "Give Alec time. Getting better."
Max nodded, but couldn't speak. Her throat was closed, eyes locked on that tiny give-away that Alec was in pain even in his sleep.
This was all her fault. The riot, the men who died, Alec getting caught, Alec lying here so silent, still hurting, all because she ignored him before her first meeting with the mayor. She really had needed to go to the meeting. She had no doubts about that. But she should have listened to Alec's requests for a better setup.
"Max stay with Alec?"
She let out a choked laugh, almost a sob. As if she could leave.
"Joshua need to go back to Marco."
"What?" Max tore her eyes away from Alec and had to crane her neck to look up at her too-tall friend.
"Joshua take care of Marco. Make him eat."
"How is he?" Max asked, guilt weighing even more heavily at the reminder of how she had hurt Marco as well.
"Not good," Joshua said solemnly. "Not easy to lose brother… More than brother."
"He gonna make it?"
"Told him would paint Polo for him. Marco like idea."
Max just nodded. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Hard to say if Marco would make it. If he did, only time would tell if he could learn to function on his own.
Max distantly heard the front door close behind Joshua and she did the only thing she could. She settled in to wait.
Alec swam back toward consciousness. He'd come up for air a couple of times before, but quickly decided that was a terrible idea and had fallen right back into the darkness. He was pretty sure Joshua had shown up at some point and cleaned him up for which he was grateful. That and Joshua was always easy to have around. The big guy was just sort of restful somehow, even when he was being all doggy and crazy. Maybe it was that Joshua was so genuinely good. Alec knew that, personally, he was too damaged to ever be that good and didn't really even understand it, but he could at least appreciate it.
Alec tried to force his eyes open. He needed to know if he was alone. The pain was getting worse the more awake he was. It wasn't the sharp, stabbing pain that he'd grown to expect. Now it was a constant, draining, bone-deep ache. If he was alone, Alec fully intended to roll over, groan, and beg, loudly, for it to stop. If he had an audience, especially if it was Max, he was going to stay right where he was, smile, and pretend he didn't want her to go away so he could be properly miserable in private.
Alec concentrated on keeping his breathing steady and even, focusing on the rise and fall of his chest. After a second, he noticed that the movement felt heavier than it should have. A moment after that he realized it wasn't his chest. There was something on his chest.
So… not alone. He finally managed to get his eyes open and waited patiently for the world around him to settle into recognizable shapes. He tried to raise his head, but it felt like it weighed a ton. Still, he managed well enough to see that it was Max's hand, resting over his heart, making his chest feel so heavy.
"There a reason you're in my bed?" he asked, barely recognizing his own rasping voice.
"Got cold," she said evenly. "You broke your space heater when you went nutso and I haven't been able to find a new one."
"Heater was already broken," Alec murmured.
"Uh huh," she replied skeptically.
Alec didn't bother to argue. The heater had been broken, two of the settings anyway. If the last setting had gone out after he kicked it, that wasn't his fault. It had clearly been defective to begin with. "Warm enough?" he asked instead.
"Fine. You?" Her fingers moved against his chest, five distinct sources of heat soaking through his t-shirt into his skin.
The next thing he knew there was a hand behind him, raising him slightly, and a cup held to his lips. He knew he must have lost some time, but ignored that in favor of the beautiful sensation of cool water on his tongue and parched throat. After they'd shot him up for the interrogation, it was like his body had been set on fire, flames spreading from the injection site, nearly incapacitating him within minutes. Muscles aching, burning… Bones, joints, organs, skin, anywhere with nerve endings had been kindling for the fire.
Alec didn't remember a lot from his escape. They'd strapped him down to give him the drugs, but one of the guards had made the mistake of stepping too close. After that it had all been a blur of fighting, running, hiding, all through the burning, drug-induced haze, always with the certain knowledge at the back of his mind that he was a dead man. His only goal had been to somehow get back to Max before that happened. He hadn't wanted his last memory of her to be some disembodied voice over the radio. If it was all he was going to get, he wanted her in his arms. He just had to hold on long enough to find her, to get back to her.
"I'm here, Alec. I'm right here."
Alec felt a cool hand against his forehead, realized he had lost time again, realized some of his scattered thoughts must have come out of his mouth. Freaking drugs and freaking military men, lowering his defenses so he spilled his guts at all the wrong times. Max didn't need to know how desperate he'd been, how panicked he'd felt until he'd stumbled across that jerk in the alley and stolen his cell phone.
"Don't worry, Alec. I still think you're a shallow, scheming, self-centered jerk who's only out to protect his own ass."
Alec felt a smile tugging at his dry, cracked lips. "Don't you forget it."
"Go back to sleep," Max urged. "I'll be here when you wake up. Got lots to tell you."
Alec felt the hand on his forehead curve around to settle against his cheek. "Guess this makes me the knight in shining armor," she said.
Alec fought to hold onto consciousness. "What?"
He heard her chuckle lowly. "I may have saved the kingdom while you were down for the count. Protected the dragon instead of slaying him, but same difference. And don't you dare tell Mole I said that."
Maybe Alec wasn't the only one who'd been drugged. Max wasn't making any sense.
Her fingers brushed through his bangs. "Guess that makes you Sleeping Beauty, huh?"
Alec was almost gone when he felt lips, soft and luscious, pressed against his own.
"Just make sure you wake up for me, Alec."
Max woke to the sound of Alec walking back into the bedroom. She had remained awake as long as she could, but finally the days of stress following the riot as well as Alec's very near miss had caught up with her. A look at the window told her she had slept through the night. The sun was already up, albeit hidden behind Seattle's normal cloud cover.
Alec slid back into the bed and pulled the covers up. She was facing away from him, but he smelled of toothpaste, soap and the rusty water that was all they could get in TC. He was breathing more heavily than he normally would and Max guessed it would still be several days before the relatively inconsequential task of taking a shower was anything but exhausting. He was up and moving though, moving on his own, when only a couple of days before she had been certain he would breathe his last while she was unable to do anything but stand by and watch.
The mere thought of how close she'd come to losing him had her turning over and reaching for him. He was lying on his back. Abandoning all pretense of remaining aloof, she wrapped herself around him. She hooked one leg over his, pulled herself closer with one arm across his chest. Max rested her head on his shoulder and settled herself beside him, pressed to him as closely as she could manage.
Alec remained very still, clearly surprised by this turn of events. After several seconds, she felt his arm slide more securely around her until his hand came to rest just above her hip.
"So…" He cleared his throat uncertainly. "I, uhh… guess you've given up on that whole personal space thing?"
"Pretty much," she answered. "Least until you do something else stupid and I have to kick your ass."
"That will still require being in my personal space," Alec observed dryly.
"Guess you'll just have to get used to it then."
His arm tightened around her and Alec looked down at her at the same time Max looked up. "Max, I've been in your personal space since the minute we met."
"Maybe I decided I don't mind anymore."
"Good to know."
Without warning, Alec flipped them so that Max was flat on her back and Alec was on top of her. He rested his upper body weight on his forearms so he wasn't crushing her, but Max was very aware of every single inch of his body pressed so close to hers.
Alec remained perfectly still, allowing her time to run if she wanted, or to kick his ass across the floor if she wanted. His eyes, fevered and glassy the last time she'd seen them, were now bright with a different kind of fire, brilliant green and locked with hers.
"I hear you've been busy," he said conversationally, as if she couldn't feel his heart racing, couldn't see how much effort he was putting into staying absolutely still against her.
"Heard that, did you?" she replied. Max very purposely drew her knees up on either side of his hips, cradling him.
She saw him swallow, but his voice was perfectly calm when he said, "Mole came by earlier and I saw a little of the news. You're the big hero again." He raised one eyebrow. "Not to mention you look too sexy for your own good on camera. I'm jealous."
She brought a hand up and ran her fingers down the bridge of his nose, across his cheek, before setting her palm flat against the side of his face. The last time she'd seen him on camera, he'd been wishing he could see her one last time and, in turn, she'd wished that she could touch him again. "You look pretty good in person, if you ask me."
Alec smirked. "You tell me I'm conceited when I ask things like that."
"That's because you are."
"Good thing you don't like the humble type then." For the first time she saw a trace of uncertainty in his eyes, just a hint that he wasn't quite sure she was done with Logan. Even now, with her in his arms, her body begging for his touch, and he had doubts. Max knew it was her fault, her months and months of indecision. It was no wonder he needed the reassurance. Apparently, Alec was more humble than he knew.
"Good thing," she said. "Now are you gonna kiss me or do I have to do all the work around here?"
"Are you calling me lazy?" he asked, a definite warning in his eyes that sent a shiver down her spine.
She shrugged, feigning indifference, although she knew he could see the effect he was having on her. "Well, you have been layin' around for a couple days now."
"Fine. Next time, you can go on the rescue mission and get yourself caught," he said ruefully.
"That was pretty careless."
"You know, you're right." He eased closer like the downward half of a push-up. "I need to be more careful," he said, his mouth brushing hers as he spoke. "Definite attention to detail." He closed the distance and kissed her slowly, thoroughly.
Max wrapped her arms around him, and the spell Alec was weaving abruptly cleared. The muscles in his arms and shoulders were beginning to shake from the strain of maintaining his place above her. Max could literally feel how determined he was not to rush her. She'd been Logan's one and only for as long as Alec had known her and he was giving her time to adjust.
Alec's lips left hers and trailed to her neck, settling over a spot where she knew he could feel her heart pounding. The breathtaking sensation almost derailed her intentions, but she forced herself to focus. He was hurting himself to give her the time to run if she wanted. She was just as determined, however, not to hurt him any more with her choices.
"Thought…" She had to clear her throat to get the words out. "Thought you wanted… to save some mystery… for the wedding night."
Alec took all of his weight back on his forearms, lifting away from her so he could see her face properly. Max felt suddenly cold at the loss of contact, but she knew he wasn't well enough for this much exertion. She'd waited this long for a man's attention. She could wait a little longer.
"What?" And this time the strain of keeping himself in check was plainly evident in his voice.
"You know… wedding night… justice of the peace, cake, guests… getting rid of the guests…"
Alec just blinked, then rested his forehead against hers. "A justice of the peace…" He closed his eyes, breathing loudly and she could see this was something new, some other kind of tension than the oh-so-delicious kind they'd been enjoying moments before. After several seconds, he raised his head and opened his eyes. His expression was carefully bland, but there was something in his eyes she couldn't quite place.
"Max," he raised one eyebrow, "on what planet do you honestly think I am ever going to let you go near city hall again."
Max sighed as understanding dawned. They really hadn't had a chance to talk since the riot. She'd come back from city hall and by the time she'd been well enough to make any real conversation possible, Alec had been captured.
The problem, however, was that this wasn't really about an imaginary wedding. This was about the arguments leading up to the first meeting with the mayor. Their survival had meant she'd needed to go to that meeting. She frankly admitted she'd screwed up the arrangements for that one, but if push came to shove, and she had to put herself in danger again to help the others, then that was what she would do. Whether Alec liked it or not, this was about calculated risks and doing what was necessary even if it came at a cost.
Max tilted her head to one side, studying him. "What if I think going is a good idea?"
She saw a muscle tick in his jaw. "What if I'm not so sure?"
Max set her hands on either side of his face. "Then I'll listen. If I think it's necessary, I'll go anyway, but I will listen."
Alec's muscles were shaking badly now, but he remained poised over her, looking her in the eye, and refused to move to the side. "Max, all I care about is keeping you safe. That's it. I get that you needed to meet with the mayor, but you nearly died. At the risk of sounding like a very boring and preachy guy I know, next time, just… please… tell me you'll be careful."
"Promise me," he said more forcefully.
"You think I wanna die?"
"Sometimes I'm not so sure." His eyes were snapping, angry, possessive. "You're mine to take care of since you stink at taking care of yourself. If I have to keep myself glued to you for the rest of my life I will. Do you understand that?"
"Yeah, I get it," she said huffily.
"Do. You. Understand?"
Max recognized the question for what it was. It was as close to a declaration of love as he was capable of. Suddenly the idea of her and Alec and a trip to city hall didn't seem quite as far away and ridiculous.
"Max," he said in exasperation.
She took one hand from his face and brushed her fingers through his soft, freshly shampooed hair. "I do."
His quaking muscles gave way and he sagged against her, his breath coming out in what sounded suspiciously close to a sob. He buried his face in her neck, wrapping his arms around her, hugging her closely to him. He rolled to the side, pulling her with him until it was Max who was braced on her elbows so she could look down at him.
"You know this works both ways, right?" she said sternly.
Alec laughed, though she could see the tension still hiding just beneath the surface. "Max, I do my very, very best not to let people poison me."
"You still managed to scare the crap out of me," she said. Just the thought of how close it had been made her chest ache.
He must have seen some of what she was feeling in her expression, because he gently laid his hand against her cheek, stroking it with his thumb. "Sorry, Maxie. I tried to warn them the drugs were a bad idea."
Alec said she was his to take care of, a weirdly comforting thought, but how was he supposed to do that if he was gone? "Tell me you'll stay with me."
"I will," he said, deadly serious. His voice dropped to barely above a whisper. "You asked me to fight for you, Max, so I did. It's why I'm still here."
"Promise you'll always fight for me, Alec," she ordered.
"Always," he vowed and his expression suddenly softened. "It's what you do, Max. You make us want to fight for you. You make me want to fight for you."
"Yeah?" she said doubtfully.
"You know what this means, right?"
"It means you're my personal bodyguard."
A decidedly wicked gleam appeared in his eye. "I think I can handle that."
"You do, huh?"
"I do." He kissed her. It began gently, reverently, then grew into something fierce and urgent. As with the first time he had kissed her, she felt marked by his lips. She felt branded.
From the nearly astounded, yet somehow smug look on his face, he felt exactly the same way.
Max couldn't help thinking that after all of her hopes and dreams, all of the ways she'd imagined her life would turn out, and this man was the answer.
"Max," Alec asked worriedly, "you wanna tell me why you're looking at me like that?"
"Because you're magnificent… and I almost lost you."
Alec gave her a nearly arrogant smirk, although she could see the uncertainty beneath. "Magnificent, huh?"
"I know…" Max leaned in, a smile on her lips as they brushed his in a feather light caress. "Kinda snuck up on me, too."
Been a pleasure. Thanks for reading!