Disclaimer: I do not own Dark Angel or its characters.
Summary: Alec knew about hostage situations. He knew how to stay cool when life and death were on the line. But this time was different. This time, it was Max's life… Max's death.
A/N: Let me just say this up front, this is not the sequel to The Friggin' Cure. It's just another idea I needed to clear out of the way before I can start working on the sequel. It was originally supposed to be a oneshot, but it got a little too lengthy (imagine that), so I decided to make it a two-parter.
The setting is probably completely unrealistic for Seattle, but since soldiers engineered from animal DNA are just a wee bit unrealistic in themselves, I didn't think it would matter much if I took some liberties with the setting.
Warning: Violence and language.
Alec had figured this out while pacing the roof of the old abandoned office building. He wished he'd never let Max push him into developing them, because, right at that moment, they were the only thing that was keeping him from throwing Logan Cale off the top of the building.
One more word, though, and there was about a sixty-forty chance that the sector cops would be scooping up an Eyes Only pancake off the pavement tomorrow morning.
The ten-story building was smack dab in the middle of a large section of abandoned office buildings that were supposedly zoned for "redevelopment," but had been sitting empty for over a year. The only people within a good mile radius of their current location were either vagrants or criminals. It was a nice, quiet place for an exchange of hostages.
Problem was, they didn't have anybody to trade.
Moving further away from Mole, Joshua, and Dix, Alec pressed the button on the side of his radio and snapped crisply, "Talk to me." His jaw clenched at the sound of his own voice; he hated sounding like the soldier Manticore had forced him to be. Since getting out, he'd tried so hard not to be that man.
We're in position. Got a clear view of the roof. We'll be ready to take'm out. Just give the word.
"Copy," Alec replied. "Hold 'til I signal."
'Firmative. Shakes out.
Alec nodded, then clipped his radio back onto his belt. He'd sent Shakes (who had the steadiest hands around... go figure) and Ginny to the roof of the much taller neighboring building because they were their best snipers. Before this night was out, Alec was very afraid that they were going to need them.
"I don't think this is a good idea," Logan said from somewhere behind him. When Alec didn't bother to respond, Logan pressed further. "Max is a hostage. If White even thinks that we might be double-crossing him, he could do something drastic. We need to cooperate… make some kind of deal. At least until Max is safe."
At Logan's words, Mole, Joshua, and Dix all turned their heads toward the man that had once been X5-494. All three of them knew that Alec was on the edge, and it wouldn't take much to push him over it.
Alec closed his eyes and silently counted to ten. Damn Max and her morals. It would have been much more satisfying to chuck Logan off the building.
"Don't tell me how to play this game, Logan," he said, his voice deep and eerily calm. "You're out of your league."
Any reasonable person would have backed down at Alec's tone, especially considering that he was right. Logan didn't. He couldn't imagine backing down to Alec, who he'd always seen as a screw-up and general pain in the ass. His prejudice against the transgenic tended to make him forget that Alec hadn't always been fun-loving, devil-may-care Alec; beneath the surface was 494, a soldier trained since birth to kill or be killed.
So Logan didn't really think how Alec would take it when he angrily shot back, "It's Max's life you're playing with."
Alec stilled, hands clenching into fists.
He was across the roof and had his hand wrapped around Logan's throat before the others could stop him, before he could stop himself. "Don't you dare," he spat in Logan's face as the older man choked under his grip, "tell me what I should or should not do. We've got nothing to bargain with. Nothing! Once White figures that out, and it probably won't take him long, Max is dead. No talking it over, no making any deals--DEAD. And it'll be your fault. She wouldn't even be in danger in the first place if it wasn't for you, you son of a bitch."
Someone must have noticed that Logan was starting to turn purple, because suddenly Joshua was on him, wrapping his big dog-man arms around him while Dix tried to pry Alec's hands from Logan's neck. Dix finally succeeded, but only because Alec's morals had caught up with him and convinced him that he should probably let go before he killed Max's sometimes-boyfriend. Josh and Dix dragged him away from Logan, who fell to his knees with his hand on his throat, wracked by coughs.
"White snatched her during one of your stupid Eyes Only missions!" Alec yelled down at the man that he had to keep reminding himself was not the enemy. "Or did you conveniently happen to forget that?!"
"Max agreed… it was important…," Logan managed around gasping breaths.
Alec's vision went red. He tried to launch himself at Logan again, but Josh and Dix held him back. Barely. "Max is what's important! Not some stupid mission for some stupid data that no one gives a shit about anyway. Max! Why can't you get that through your thick skull?"
"I didn't know …" Logan stammered, but Alec cut him off.
"We need her, Logan. Terminal City needs her."
I need her.
He had always needed her. Since the moment she'd given him a name, he'd needed her. She gone from hating his guts to tolerating his presence to shaky friendship, and through it all, he'd needed her.
He felt… something… for Max. He'd never bothered to take the time or opportunity to explore exactly how deep those feelings went, since he figured he didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell with her anyway. Her on-again-off-again-who-knows relationship with Logan had always left him with no ground to stand on.
So he went through every day, pretending that he didn't feel the things he felt, but unable to stop feeling them. It was pathetic, really.
Alec McDowell: champion of hopeless causes.
"Guys?" Mole called out, watching the horizon as he chewed on the stub of his cigar. He had stayed out of the argument, partly because he didn't particularly like Logan, but mainly because somebody needed to pay attention to the bigger picture. "Hate to interrupt the love fest, but they're comin'."
Logan struggled to his feet. They stood side by side--X series, transhuman, and ordinary. Their differences were momentarily forgotten. They each turned their eyes to the sky, squinting into the sun as a helicopter approached from the west.
Max sat with her hands cuffed behind her back. The metal dug into her skin, making every movement an exercise in extreme discomfort. The helicopter vibrated beneath her as it soared through the sky, the setting sun partially blinding her as it gleamed through the window.
On the seat across from her sat Ames White and one of his goons. Another one sat next to her--a woman with short, black hair--and she figured there was one up front as well, with the pilot. Four, possibly five Familiars (if you counted the pilot) against one transgenic. Even on her best day, she didn't like those odds. The past couple of days were definitely not ranking up there with her best.
They'd roughed her up a bit. Nothing too extreme--for a transgenic, anyway--but it hadn't exactly been a walk in the park. Her body ached, and the bruises that she could see still hadn't faded yet. On top of that, she'd had nothing to eat or drink in two days. As much as she wanted to kick White and his merry band's collective ass, she knew that she didn't have enough left in the tank to get the job done.
She hoped Alec and the guys had something up their sleeves, because otherwise, she was majorly screwed.
White's big plan was to trade her for his kid. The only problem with this plan was that Max knew for a fact that there was no kid to trade. Logan didn't know where Ray was. He'd sent the boy away, making sure that he didn't know the location, just in case something like this would happen. Of course, Logan had probably thought it would happen to him.
It was a good thing no one knew where the boy was, she guessed. She didn't really want to give Ray back to a man like Ames White; after everything that had been done to her when she was younger, she couldn't do something like that to a kid. But she didn't want to die, either, and without Ray's location, odds were she'd never see another sunset.
She'd tried giving him fake information, but, unfortunately, Ames had a pretty good bullshit detector. Maybe she should have paid more attention to how Alec always managed to lie convincingly. He'd had the local media and government officials practically eating out of his hand ever since they'd holed up in Terminal City.
Max was mad.
She was mad at Logan, for sending her off on a mission with shitty intel. She should've asked more questions, done some recon herself. But she'd agreed without question, partly because their relationship was already in troubled waters and she wasn't ready to rock the boat, but mostly because she felt guilty about how she had been drifting away from him over the past couple of months.
She'd held on to the dream of him for so long; it was hard to let go, even when she knew that she should.
Max was mad at herself, for ignoring Alec when he'd told her it was a bad idea to go on some stupid EO mission and an even worse idea to go alone. He'd offered to go along as backup, but she'd turned him down flat. She didn't need him butting into her life anymore than he already had. Since the siege, they'd gotten a little too close for comfort, and it was starting to freak her out. Better to keep him at arm's length. It was safer.
But mostly, she was mad at Alec, for being right.
As if on cue, the cell phone in Logan's pocket rang. He plucked out the phone and answered without even bothering to see who was calling. He knew who it would be.
"Let me speak to Max."
Mr. Cale. Hardly proper manners. And here I thought you were supposed to be a blue blood. Your mother would be scandalized.
Alec was at Logan's side, holding out his hand surreptitiously. "Give me the phone," he said in a low voice.
Logan took a step away from Alec, ignoring his request. He looked up at the helicopter, which was circling high above the roof. "I want to speak to Max. Right now."
Certainly, Mr. Cale. As soon as I talk to my son.
"Logan," Alec hissed insistently. He could hear every word of the conversation, and he didn't want Logan to blow the whole thing before they'd even begun. He could have just taken the phone--it's not like Logan could've stopped him--but he didn't want to let White know there was dissention in the ranks. They needed to present a united front.
"Ray's safe," Logan said, staring down Alec as if daring him to take the phone. "And he'll remain safe--from you--unless I get to speak to Max."
There was a long pause before White spoke again. If that's the way you want to play it, then I'm afraid there's a little business we need to take care of before I let you speak to your beloved 452. There was another pause, then White said, Let me speak to 494.
"I'm the one that took your son," Logan said, gripping the phone tighter. "You deal with me."
Come, now, Mr. Cale. We both know you're not running this show. Let me speak to 494, or I will return 452 to you right now. Do you happen to know if she can fly?
Alec moved to stand directly in front of Logan. He held out his hand for the phone, a murderous look on his face.
For a few silent, terribly tense moments, neither of them moved. Then Logan gritted his teeth and slapped the phone into Alec's hand.
Alec moved away from Logan, seething with anger. He needed to get as far away from the man as possible, because Logan was seriously harshing his calm. He really needed to stay calm right now. He needed to focus. Max's life depended on it. All of their lives depended on it.
Manticore had been right about a few things: emotions could be a liability, and attachments were a weakness that could be exploited. They were dangerous, but he wouldn't give them up. They were what made him feel human.
Still, he would need to keep his emotions under control if they wanted to get out of this alive.
Alec took a deep breath, let it out slow, then said into the phone, "Okay, White. Let's dance."
494. I wish I could say it was nice to hear from you. It's been a long time.
"Cut the shit. What's this business you have to take care of?"
What's the matter, 494? Wake up on the wrong side of the litter box?
Alec felt something inside of him ease as he overheard the insult Max hurled at White. She was still alive.
He looked up, smiling broadly at the underside of the helicopter, hoping that White would see it. "Scared to come down here and face me, Ames?"
Oh, I'm not scared. But you'll find that I'm not stupid, either. You have two snipers positioned on the neighboring building. I want them gone.
Alec cursed silently. It had been worth a shot. He pulled out his radio and signaled the sniper team. "Shakes?"
"You've been made. Pull back to this location."
"Copy that. Buggin' out."
Alec raised the phone again. "You catch all that?"
Yes. Thank you. Now we can attempt to converse like civilized beings... well, you can at least make the attempt, in your case. I guess it wouldn't be fair to expect too much from a bunch of animals.
"I had no idea you were so funny, Ames. I think you missed your calling. You should go into stand up or something."
Enough small talk, 494. I'll be in touch once I verify that your men have actually cleared the building, White shot back, then hung up the phone.
"What happened?" Logan asked as soon as Alec took the phone away from his ear.
"He hung up," Alec said simply, still staring up at the helicopter.
He knew he was probably baiting Logan, but he couldn't help it. He was tired of the man's interference. Logan Cale had no military background and no experience dealing with hostage situations; he was basically a glorified computer geek with an overactive hero complex. He had no business being up on that roof.
"He hung up?" Logan repeated, his voice tinged with anger. "You didn't even bother to ask him about Max. What the hell were you thinking?"
Alec turned on Logan, not really sure what he would do to the man but pretty damn sure that it wouldn't be good. There was a good chance that it might involve an Eyes Only pancake.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side of the moral fence you were on), he didn't have the chance to find out if he would really go that far, because Joshua stepped up behind Logan and placed a hand on the older man's shoulder, pulling him away from Alec.
"Max alive," Joshua told the human, giving Logan's shoulder a less-than-gentle squeeze to let him know just how close he'd come. Hopefully, Logan would get the hint.
"You can't know that," Logan said, stubbornly holding on to his anger.
"Yes, we can," Mole said around a mouthful of cigar. "You ordinaries can be so dense sometimes." When Logan still looked puzzled, Mole rolled his eyes and added, "We heard her, man. We all heard her. Transgenic hearing? Ring any bells?"
"You heard her?"
Mole turned to look at the others. "Didn't I just say that?"
"Then why didn't…" Logan rounded on Alec. "You bastard," he growled, but was cut off when Alec grabbed the front of his jacket and jerked him roughly toward him.
"Look, Four-Eyes," Alec said, the words coming fast, "I've put up with a lot from you in the past couple of months, mostly because Max asked me to behave myself. But I'm tired, Logan. I'm tired of you dissin' me ever chance you get, either behind my back or to my face. I'm tired of having to babysit your ass every time things get rough. And I am seriously tired of you butting in when you're not wanted. So why don't you be a good little ordinary and stay the hell out of my way?"
"Umm… Alec?" Joshua's hesitant voice interrupted the little showdown.
"Goddamitt, what?!" Alec snapped angrily, whipping his head around to look at Joshua. Normally, he would never have yelled at Josh, but his nerves were about shot. The big transhuman didn't take offense; he wasn't even looking at Alec. He was looking up.
"Helicopter land on wrong building," Joshua added in his broken English. Then he pointed above his head, toward the roof of the building that Shakes and Ginny had just evacuated. "Wrong building."
Everyone looked up. The helicopter was indeed landing on the other building.
The cell phone in Alec's hand rang. He thumbed the answer button so hard it cracked. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Alec asked as he angrily stalked across the roof toward the edge.
I'm taking the high ground. I thought that was quite obvious.
Shit. Shit! That wasn't part of the plan. They were supposed to meet face to face. How the hell was he going to rescue Max if he couldn't even reach her? "That wasn't what we agreed upon."
I don't really care.
"Kind of makes it hard to exchange hostages, don't you think?"
Kind of hard to exchange hostages when you have no one to exchange. Isn't that right, 494?
Alec didn't miss a beat. "Who says we don't have the kid?"
Unless my son has gotten a lot taller, hairier, or scalier since I saw him last, I do.
Alec remained cool and collected on the surface, but inside his mind was raging, Stall! Stall! Stall!
"Come on, Ames, do you really think we'd show you the kid without seeing Max? Be serious. You're not dealing with a bunch of dumbass two-bit criminals that will agree to whatever you tell them to. Sure, I may be young and more than a little bit reckless, but I was a soldier once. If you've read my file--and I know that you have--you'll find that I'm not stupid, either."
Silence. Then, What do you propose, 494? I don't have all night.
Alec's grip tightened on the phone. Please, let this work, he thought as he stared up at the roof of the other building, transgenic vision picking up the outlines of several people, none of them Max.
"Okay," he said, "here's the deal…" Then he began to feed White the completely bullshit yet hopefully believable story that they'd been forced to come up with when they'd found out that giving White his son back was not an option.
Max stood in the middle of the roof, hands still cuffed behind her back, giving the Familiar guarding her a bored, disinterested look. It didn't make a difference; the machine gun aimed at her midsection never wavered.
She concentrated on trying to hear what was going on, but White kept moving away from her. Combined with the wind, and the fact that neither man had resorted to yelling yet, she only caught snippets of the conversation. She knew that White was talking to Alec, and that there was some sort of negotiation going on, though she had no idea what Alec was promising the Familiar. She hoped he wouldn't do anything stupid. At one point, she heard something about a neutral site; sounded like her favorite pain-in-the-ass was trying to stall.
And it was so not gonna work. White was right about one thing–he definitely wasn't stupid.
After about ten minutes of negotiating, White walked toward Max. "We have a problem, 452. It seems that 494 is not taking me seriously."
Max shrugged. "Good luck with that. I have trouble getting him to take anything seriously."
White smiled wanly. "Well. Let's see what we can do to convince him." He turned toward Max and gestured toward the ledge of the roof. "Step on up, 452."
Max shook her head. Her heart began to pound a little faster. "I don't think so."
White smiled, though no one would have mistaken it for friendly. He walked around her slowly, until he was directly behind her. He pulled his gun and jammed it into the small of her back. "Do it, or I'll put a bullet in your back."
Max hesitated a little too long. White clicked off the safety on his gun. At the unmistakable sound, Max relented. There was still a chance that she could get out of this, but it would be a lot harder with a slug of hot lead inside of her. "All right! Don't get all rotated. I'm goin.'"
Off to the side and out of everyone's way, Joshua was babysitting Logan, trying to keep the man out of trouble, or keep him from causing it. The transhuman only kept half an eye on Logan, because he was too busy watching for any sign of Max.
"Oh no," Joshua whispered as he stared up at the roof above.
"What?" Logan asked, squinting with ordinary eyes. "What is it?"
Joshua swallowed hard. "Max up on ledge."
"Come on, now, let's talk about this!" Alec yelled into the phone, his voice starting to get hoarse.
As soon as he'd seen Max step up onto the ledge, he'd felt like an elephant had parked its ass on his chest. He knew he was starting to panic, but he couldn't help it. Max was inches away from death. Just one little step forward, and she'd be gone forever. All the feelings he pretended he didn't have rose up and threatened to drown him.
I'm tired of talking, 494. You've done nothing but lie to me since we started this conversation, so I don't really see the point in continuing.
"I'm not lying. Dammit, White, I'm not lying!"
Of course you are. It's second nature to you.
"Can you really take that risk?"
I will find my son, with or without you. And since I don't need you, then I don't need her.
Alec saw White make a move toward Max.
Why should I?
"I can find him, White. You've read my file. You know I can find him. Just give me a little time..."
I'm afraid that's not good enough.
Alec gave up any pretense of keeping his cool. He was in full-on desperation mode now. "What do you want? Just tell me what you want."
What are you willing to give?
Alec, don't!,he heard Max yell in the background.
He closed his eyes. "Anything," he whispered.
"Anything," Alec repeated. And it was the truth. The absolute truth. "Please. Just tell me what you want."
In the silence that followed, Alec could hear nothing except the wild beat of his heart. Just before he thought he would go mad from the silence on the other end of the phone, White finally spoke.
"What I want, 494, is the head of every one of you transgenic vermin on a platter. Sadly, I doubt that you'll be willing to agree to that. But, as a consolation prize, I have to tell you, this will be almost as satisfying."
Alec's eyes widened as he realized what White was about to do. "No, DON'T!!" he yelled desperately into the phone, but it didn't do any good.
With a sharp blow to the back, White shoved Max off the ledge.
"Max!" Logan cried out in horror. Behind him, Joshua let out an agonized howl.
Logan's cell phone slipped through Alec's fingers and landed with a sharp crack on the roof. He wasn't even aware that he had dropped it. His vision narrowed until all he could see was Max.
She was falling. Max was falling. And the world just stopped.
Max was going to die, and all he could do was stand there and watch.
A/N: The question is, do I want to make you cry, or do I want to make you cheer? I've had experience with both, so be warned--it could go either way.
Don't worry. I won't make you wait long to find out what happens. The second part should be posted in a couple of days after a few more tweaks.