and right now (look how hard we try)
by
unperfectwolf
rated pg13
fandom, pairing: dark angel, het: max/alec
summary: the progression of max and alec.
disclaimer: lies and propaganda.
notes: 8,750 words. this is the most self indulgent thing I have ever written, I think. title by mattafix. timeline starts mid season two and continues post-series. beta'd by sara. written during syntax. :P also, for kate, who squees over DA fic with me when everyone else is running screaming.

and right now (look how hard we try)

--- -121
It started simple enough. A job went a little sideways, and they both ended up soaked. She'd driven them both that night, and when they got back to his place, it wasn't just raining, it was pouring. While neither of them flat out hated the rain, they both had something of an aversion to it. He helped her get her bike inside on the bottom floor and chained next to his, then led the way up to his apartment.

Her clothes were pretty disgusting, covered in the slime from the puddle they had both landed in and drenched again from the rain. He took one look at her before telling her to get her ass into the shower, taking her jacket from her as she went.

He wasn't surprised when she took a long shower. By the time she came out in a cloud of steam, wrapped up in his towel, he had both their jackets cleaned up and their boots flushed out, all of their stuff hanging around the heating unit. She glanced up at him through her hair, smiling for once as she asked if he had any clothes she could borrow. She held up her sopping wet but cleanish looking clothes before he could ask what was wrong with hers.

She stayed that night, curled up on his couch. He didn't know if she slept or not, but she made coffee in the morning. He didn't realize until he grabbed his pile of wet clothes to wash them that she had left some of her clothes there. A tank top and a pair of fairly sexy underwear were buried under one of his teeshirts. He washed her stuff with his and tucked it into one of his drawers when it was dry, figuring that it might be useful for her to have clean clothing at his place someday.

They settled into a routine after that. Any time they got gross or wet on a job, she came back to his place after. She didn't have hot water hooked up, after all, so he didn't blame her. She brought clothes over before they went out on jobs most days, even though his teeshirt and sweats from that first night never returned. The amount of his clothes she borrowed dropped, and the amount of her clothes she left went up.

--- -78
A week after she rescued him from jail for Ben's murders, a job for Eyes Only went south. They both made it out okay—among the injuries, a banged up wrist for her, which resulted in her letting him drive her bike back. She said it was only so that she could put pressure on the bullet graze he'd taken to his side, but they both knew the truth.

They were both disgusting when they got to Logan's, covered in blood and mud and whatever else. Logan quickly offered his shower, which they both agreed to. Alec dug through Max's bag, which they'd left with her bike while they were on the job, coming up with a couple of pairs of his sweats and a pair of teeshirts, one of each of theirs.

He stood on the other side of the bathroom door, yelling over the shower. "You steal all my sweats, Maxie? No wonder I can never find them."

She made a derogatory sound he could barely make out over the water, and Alec laughed. When he was done with his shower, she came into the bathroom before he was fully dressed, first aid kit in hand. He glared at her but let her check his side out.

Alec noted Logan watching them with a weird look, almost like someone had kicked him in the stomach, but the wound along his side distracted him. "You get your clothes rinsed out enough for the washer?" he asked, trying to keep his mind off the sting of the antiseptic she was using.

Max looked up from his side, glaring at him. "How often have I done our laundry?" she asked. "Yes, I rinsed my stuff out. When we get back, I'll do a load."

Logan looked like he'd been sucking on lemons all night by the time they left. Alec didn't really get it until they were almost back to his place, but he didn't say anything to Max once it clicked. If she hadn't noticed, he wasn't going to be the one to tell her Logan thought there was something between the two of them. He wasn't sure he needed any more bruises that night.

--- -61
When Alec showed up at Crash, they had a mug waiting for him and a half full pitcher of beer on the table. Sketchy already looked half faded, but OC looked like she'd only had a few, and Max never showed how much she'd had. He nodded to various people around them before settling down into the chair next to Max.

Max was in a good mood, grinning back at him when he greeted her, and Sketchy wasn't being too maudlin that night. Cindy had her eye on someone, and Alec watched her as she seemed to communicate silently with the girl on the other side of the dance floor.

He poured himself a glass of beer, drinking deeply. He sometimes wondered why he and Max even bothered with beer, with how little it affected them. After watching Cindy for a few minutes, he looked over at Max.

"I gotta go pick up a few things tomorrow. What kind of shampoo were you muttering about me needing to pick up?" he asked.

Cindy turned to look at them sharply. "We're not out of shampoo, boo. I picked some up a few days ago."

Max smiled at her. "Yeah, I know. Thanks, Cind." She looked over at Alec. "Lavender. Any you can find. Shampoo and conditioner. You gonna make me pick up my own soap?" she asked, a playful grin on her face.

Normally, Alec might have made her, but he hadn't seen her look that happy in a while. "Nah, I got you covered. Vanilla, right?" he asked, trying to keep that smile on her face.

She nodded, taking another drink of beer.

Alec ignored the way Cindy watched the two of them, looking back and forth between them with a curious but almost knowing look.

--- -56
Alec figured it was a good thing he didn't bring women home to his place anymore. He wasn't sure he could convince them he was single if he did. Just walking in the door, he could see little signs of Max.

She'd left a pair of shoes there, several sizes smaller than his, tucked against the wall with a pair of his boots. One of her sweatshirts was laid over the back of the chair by the window, and half the time, she left her clothing from the night before there, draped near the old radiator. He'd gotten used to putting her bras and underwear away in the dresser when he put his stuff away.

His kitchen was all right—there was food he would never have bought if she didn't like it, but nothing too noticeable. His bedroom was bad, though, with her clothes in the dresser and closet and a pillow that smelt like her on the far side of the bed.

But the bathroom was the worst. Besides her shampoo, conditioner, and soap, there was a toothbrush—he'd found a pink one, just to piss her off—as well as a hairbrush and a bottle of lotion that had migrated from her place to his. She even had a pack of razors and some shaving cream he hadn't bought her on the side of the bathtub. He did remember to pick up another can of it when he saw it at the store alongside the stuff he used, though.

--- -49
Alec was lounging on the couch when he heard their voices. "This will only take a sec, just need to grab something for tonight, Cind," Max was saying.

He could hear Cindy sigh, then the lock turning and the door opening. He waved to them but didn't get up. "You need something?"

Max waved a hand at him, leaving Cindy with him in the living room while she went into the bedroom. He could hear a drawer open and her shuffling things around, then a frustrated sigh. He rolled his eyes for Cindy's benefit before he got up and went to help her.

He stopped to watch her from the doorway. "What're you looking for?" He grinned at the look she sent him.

"My bra from two nights ago," she told him.

He could hear Cindy choke in the living room, and his grin widened. "In the laundry basket."

Max's look turned into a grateful smile when she pulled the missing piece of clothing out of the basket and shoved it into her bag.

Alec only grinned at the disbelieving look Cindy shot him as Max dragged her out of the apartment.

--- -34
Biggs took one look around the apartment and then turned back to face him. "I thought you didn't have a girl?"

Alec raised an eyebrow. "I don't."

Biggs laughed at that. "Yeah, right. Dude, I'm not blind. Who is she?" he asked, nudging Max's shoes with the toe of his boot.

Alec rolled his eyes. "Those are Max's. And no," he told Biggs, when the other transgenic gave him a look of half-disbelief. "We aren't dating. She's just got a lot of stuff here."

Biggs didn't look very convinced. He looked even less convinced when he used the bathroom. When Max showed up with a bag full of damp, clean laundry that she hung up in the bedroom to dry, Alec knew Biggs would never be convinced.

She ignored them for the most part, but she did pull a shiny green apple out of her backpack, tossing it to Alec. He raised an eyebrow, and she just shrugged. When she'd disappeared out the door, Biggs snorted. "Yeah, sure. Just friends."

--- -22
It was Seattle, so it wasn't any real surprise that it was raining. Alec did have to admit, though, that pouring rain for two days straight was a little excessive. Max came in from a hot run on the second day, scowling and soaked. Alec didn't really blame her for snapping at Normal when he tried to get on her case.

Before she could even get to them, Alec had pulled off his sweatshirt and dug into the bottom of his locker to find a t-shirt she had asked him to bring and then forgot to get from him the day before. He held the two out to her with a small grin, and for once, he didn't get smacked upside the head for it. Alec ignored the looks he got for it from everyone around him, looking back down at his food as he waited for her to come back out.

She wasn't gone long. When she came out, she was holding her wet tops in one hand and his sweatshirt in the other. She laid her wet things on the end of the bench, then slid the sweatshirt over her head. It almost swamped her, and Alec grinned at her for it.

She glared at him. "Don't make fun of me. I won't show you what I got you if you do."

Alec reached out and snagged the pocket of the sweatshirt, pulling her towards him. "What'd you get me, Maxie?"

She batted at him, but she was grinning. Sliding out of his grasp, she moved over to her bag, not even bothering to correct him. "You owe me for this, okay?"

Alec nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Tack it on to the long list." Despite his words, the smile he gave her was genuine, and the one she gave him in return was just as understanding.

She dug through her bag, still sitting on the floor by her clothes, and pulled out a plastic wrapped blob. When she pulled the plastic off, it revealed a brown paper bag. She tossed it to him.

Alec opened the bag, his eyes widening in surprise. "No way."

Max grinned. "Yes way. Got them over on Queen Anne."

Alec pulled out a couple of the yogurt-covered pretzels, eating them one at a time. Max ruffled his hair as she moved past him to pull her lunch out of her locker. Cindy leaned against the one next to her, an eyebrow raised. "What's this about?"

Max shrugged. "They had them when I stopped for something else, and everyone knows how much he loves them."

Cindy stared at her for a long moment. "Whatever you say, boo. You two gonna be at Crash tonight?"

"We were planning on it. Don't have anything to do for Logan, if that's what you're asking."

Cindy looked at her for another moment before Max started to fidget, then shut her locker, going back over to sit with Alec.

--- -11
"Max, it's too dangerous."

"Too dangerous? I've done things a lot worse than this before," she reminded him.

Alec sighed. "Before you had someone to back you up, yeah, I can understand doing that. But not now. Not when you have me, Max."

Logan watched the two from where he sat in front of his computer. Alec could only imagine what they looked like. Max's runes were only a week or so old, and the two were bickering about the safety of a run Logan had for her. Alec almost would have felt bad for Logan sitting there and thinking they were a couple, except Logan was the reason Max wanted to go into this mess alone in the first place.

"Max." Alec moved so he was standing in front of her. "Just let me come with you, okay?"

Max looked at him for a long moment, then finally nodded. Alex didn't have to fake feeling grateful she had given in. Dating or not, he didn't want her doing a run like this alone.

--- 0
Mole was pretty sure there wasn't a way to get out of this mess. Max seemed to think they might, and Alec wasn't showing anything on his face. He knew how much it had taken for the male X5 to come out to the rest of JamPony—these were his friends, and as much as Mole hated humans, he knew Alec liked a lot of these.

It only proved his point, though, when the people Alec had thought were his friends flinched away from him. There were a few humans who didn't seem surprised, and Mole figured these were Max's friends from before she'd ended up back at Manticore. It was probably easier to tell them then, before the public knew they were around and had an opinion on them.

Mole wasn't surprised when Max showed up, and he wasn't surprised when she went to Alec first or when she brushed off his wound. He could see the concern in her eyes, as could Alec, but they couldn't look weak in front of the Ordinaries, not these ones, and especially not now.

The X6, Dalton, gave her a glare, but Mole shook his head subtly, cutting the kid off before he could say something to her. Now was not the time or place to argue. Especially not with Max about Alec.

He argued with Max and the Ordinary who thought he was one of them, though. He could see Alec getting tenser with every word, but everything came to a stop when Max said they were coming.

Mole wanted to argue—he tried to. But Alec wouldn't let him, even if he didn't hear anything or sense anything himself. Mole didn't understand the X5s issues with their mates, their blind belief in anything their mate said. He did, however, understand the dedication Alec was showing Max. He might not have believed Max himself, but if Alec was going to, well, Mole would follow 494, even if it was a suicide mission.

--- 13
Mole was glaring at Max. Max wasn't glaring back at him, but Alec knew she wanted to be from the way she held her body. He came up behind her, touching her back for just a second to let her know he was there before glaring at Mole over her shoulder.

"What's going on?" he asked, directing his question to her. His voice was soft, despite the way he was looking at Mole.

"Her Highness here wants to relocate some of the men we have working on weapons allocation," Mole told him before Max could answer.

Alec raised an eyebrow but almost smiled at Max's sigh. "I told you—we need them to clean up somewhere to house the younger kids in and help get a med bay and a nursery set up. I'm not taking people off, just shuffling people around," she said, sounding exasperated.

Alec didn't say anything, and she sighed again. He let his hand touch her back once more, and this time he left it there.

"I figured we can find out where military stores are and hit those," she told Alec, even though she hadn't turned to him. "And we can see if any of your contacts can get us what we need, if it comes to that." Max shifted, and Alec knew she was giving Mole a look.

Alec almost wondered if the lizard man pissed her off because he liked to see her upset. The thought brought a stony look to his face. When Mole saw it, he hmm'd over the idea for a second and then agreed to it.

Max relaxed at that and started gathering up her stuff from the table in front of her. "Good. You'll let everyone know, Mole?"

Mole nodded, standing with Alec as she walked away. Once she was out of hearing range, Alec turned back to Mole and glared at him again. "What are you doing, Mole? You know I wouldn't let her stop arming us. Was there any reason that we had to go through that?"

Mole shrugged, and Alec made a sound in the back of his throat, his disdain apparent. "She's already stressed enough, okay? Don't do this again."

Alec wasn't really aware of what he was doing with his body language, but he did notice the way Mole straightened up and nodded. He wanted to cringe when he realized he had used the voice tricks and body language he'd used in Manticore when he was still 494, making his unit behave. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Sorry, Mole. It's just that she really is doing everything she can for this place."

Mole just looked at him, messing with his cigar instead of saying anything. Alec waited a moment, then nodded before he turned and started to walk away, attempting to dismiss the topic. He knew that Mole was aware that he hadn't actually done so, and that if Mole messed with Max again in the next while, he'd probably find himself on the wrong side of a protective X5.

"I know she's your mate, so you trust her without question, but the rest of us are still coming to terms with the whole '09er bit," Mole told him just before he left the room.

Alec paused but didn't turn around. "She's not my mate. But she is the reason I'm alive, and I'd trust her with your life, even after you've pissed her off good." Alec walked away without another word.

He almost missed Mole's snort of disbelief. "Not mates, my ass."

--- 31
He didn't notice at first. Someone would ask him to tell Max something, generally yelling it over their shoulder as they ran off to somewhere else. It wouldn't have been too odd if they were asking him to tell her bad news—Alec had been doing that by choice since the beginning. But they had started asking him to tell her good news as well and give her updates on random projects.

Most of the time it made sense, as he saw her more than anyone else due to the way TC was run, but sometimes it was ridiculous. He was on his way out for the night when a female X6 he barely recognized stopped him, asking him to tell Max she didn't need to meet her in the morning and that their usual time would work. By the time it clicked that she was the X6 in charge of attempting to keep all of the under-eights out of trouble, she was already gone.

Alec grumbled to himself as he flipped off the lights and made his way out of headquarters. He had sent Max home an hour or so before, even though she'd protested. Alec had shoved her out of the office area, blocking out her complaints and making shooing motions at her. She had yelled a bit, but when Alec had suggested she use the time to take a hot bath, she had gone. She wasn't going to be happy to see him now, not in the middle of that.

On the way to her apartment, Alec stopped at the mess. He waved to a few people as he snagged two meals from the cooks but didn't stop to talk. No one looked like it bothered them—in fact, some people smiled at him for it. Alec had a second-long urge to hit something, but instead, he took the two meals to Max's.

"Sometimes I think we should have let them all burn," he called out by way of greeting as he opened her door. He set the food on the counter, listening as water splashed.

There was the rustle of a towel and then her footsteps. He looked up in time to see her, wrapped in a towel and leaning against the door frame.

He smiled at her, and she smiled back before straightening up and going into the bedroom to dress. "What'd they do this time?" she called through the open door.

Alec snorted. "What haven't they done? They decided I was your messenger again. You don't need to meet with that X6 who takes care of the kids tomorrow morning—the normal time will work. And I brought you food."

Max groaned, but she smiled at him as she came back into the main room. "Thanks." She nudged him as she passed, and Alec wondered if she even knew what everyone else whispered about them, being mates and all. He smiled back, ignoring that somewhere in the back of his mind, he liked the idea of it.

--- 65
He was one of the largest X5s in size and weight, and he was fairly smart. He thought he was alpha material, but everyone else seemed to know better. He probably would have gained a little bit of crowd confidence if he hadn't gone straight for the kill just a week after his arrival.

Everyone at TC knew that you didn't mess with Max or you'd have to deal with 494. They might have called him Alec out loud, but they all knew he was X5-494, which meant something, even if they pretended it didn't. They all knew better than to mess with anything 494 had claimed as his, and everyone was well aware that he'd claimed her all the way back when she was just his assigned breeding partner at Manticore.

It wasn't much a surprise, then, that no one really messed with Max, if not just so as to not piss off Alec. Sometimes they got on her case, but they could all tell when they needed to back off based on the looks they were getting from Alec. So when X5-651 started to annoy Max, none of them were surprised that Alec started to stick around HQ more and delegate things he normally would have done.

It all came to a head when Max was leaning over a backlit table that had several maps overlaid on it. She was putting pins into a couple of places where the sewers connected to the Underground that they could use as access points and was reaching across the table when 651 came up behind her, settling a hand on her back.

Before Max could even shake him off, 651 had been forced away from her by a fairly irate Alec. Max opened her mouth to say something, but another female X5 put her hand on Max's shoulder and shook her head. "You have to let them do this. 651 was trying to challenge 49—Alec. He wouldn't have dared touch you otherwise."

Max spared her a quick glance before she looked back at Alec and the other X5. They had moved to where there was a bit more space, circling one another. Max sighed, but she didn't try to interrupt.

The fight wasn't that long. Despite that 651 was somewhat larger, Alec fought with skill and grace that the other X5 didn't have. He used a couple of punches and kicks to knock 651 off his feet. When the fight was over, Alec had a knee in the middle of 651's back and his arms pulled behind him in a tight grip.

"You don't touch her," Alec told the other X5, his voice low even though the entire room could hear. "Never again. You do, and I'll kill you."

Alec shoved him a little as he stood up. 651 had got a glancing hit on Alec, causing a bruise to start forming across his cheek. Once he had moved away from the other X5, Max went over to him, touching his shoulder lightly. Alec looked over at her, giving her a small grin. "Hey, Maxie."

Max rolled her eyes at him. "Come on, let's go get you some ice."

Alec made a motion to protest, but Max shot him a look, and he shut his mouth. Around the room, others were smiling knowingly as she led him out of the room. Mole looked down at the defeated X5, who was still laying on the floor. "He already told you he'd kill you if you touched her again, but you should probably know that if you touch him again, she'll kill you."

A nearby X5 looked down at him. "What were you thinking, going after 494's mate? I'm surprised he didn't kill you this time."

651 ignored them as he stood up. Everyone around him moved away as he walked towards them. No one wanted to look sympathetic for him, not after he'd pissed off Alec and Max. No one really wanted to get in the way of a threatened pair of mates, especially the pair that were their alphas.

--- 77
"We're supposed to follow her?" the X5 asked, nodding towards the center of HQ where a bunch of people were gathered with Max.

Dalton looked over, then nodded. "Max? Yeah."

The X5 grimaced. "Why would anyone do that? That's 452. One of the traitors."

Dalton raised an eyebrow. "Don't let her mate hear you say that."

"Her mate?" The X5 snorted. "Anyone willing to mate with one of the '09ers isn't someone I need to worry about."

Dalton stared at him for a long moment before shrugging. "Whatever you want to think. Just, I wouldn't let 494 hear you talk about his mate like that."

The X5 started. "What? 494 is the '09er's mate?"

Dalton nodded. "They've been together since before they took down Manticore."

Dalton turned to watch Max question someone, smiling to himself as the X5 behind him stood silently. When Max was done with the other X5s, Dalton led the new X5 forward. Alec came into the room then, freezing when he saw the X5 behind Dalton.

It was times like this that Dalton wished he could disappear at will. Alec wasn't looking at him, though, so he was able to get out of the way as Alec stalked forward, though just barely.

The X5 Dalton had been leading didn't shrink back, but it was fairly obvious he wanted to. By the time Alec was in front of him, the other X5 was nearly standing at attention. Alec just stared at him for a long, quiet moment before he stepped back and glared.

Max came up behind him, causing Alec to glance back at her before he shifted his attention back to the new X5. "You fuck up," Alec said, "and I'll kill you. One chance. That's it."

No one, not even Max, dared say anything against Alec's word.

--- 99
The first time Alec went out on a mission and didn't come back on time, Mole thought he was going to have to tie Max up to keep her from taking off to his last known location. When he showed up twenty minutes later, bleeding from yet another shoulder wound, Mole thought he was going to have to tie her up to keep her from fighting off the medics who were trying to treat him. That had nothing on the time his mission went south and he and two other X5s got cut off and pinned down. By the time another team got there, they were gone.

The next six days were the longest Mole had yet to experience. Max didn't sleep. Max didn't really do anything. Instead, she paced around HQ and snapped at people. Mole might have tried to tie her up so everyone else could do their jobs if he hadn't known that the fear that was keeping Max going would have let her overpower just about anyone or anything that came at her.

When Alec and the other two limped in close to dusk on that sixth day, worn down and bruised and about ready to keel over despite being X5s, Mole watched Max as she stood to the side and stared at Alec. She looked like she was ignoring everything else in the world at the moment, and when he looked over at Alec, he could see that Alec had noticed. Alec detangled himself from all the others after just a few minutes, and they let him go, nearly everyone in the room watching as he approached Max.

Max didn't move as he came closer, but Mole could see her tense up. Before she could do anything like throw a punch or yell at him, Alec had her wrapped up in a hug, his face buried in her hair. Everyone in the room could hear the sob that came from Max, most of them flinching at the sound.

Alec held her, whispering to her in a voice so low even the other Xs in the room couldn't make out the actual words. After a few long moments, Alec pulled away from Max to look up and catch Mole's eye. Mole nodded, and Alec tightened his grip on Max, shifting her to his side so that she wouldn't have to let him go as he led her from the room. The look on Alec's face then made Mole and everyone else glad they'd just put up with Max for the last week because Alec was on the verge of exhaustion, and if he had thought that anything had happened to Max, well, Mole wasn't sure he wanted to know what would have happened.

--- 105
Max didn't let him out of her sight to do more than use the bathroom for over twenty-four hours. They'd made it back to his apartment, Max still glued to his side. Alec wasn't sure what had happened while he was gone, but besides looking like even her shark DNA wasn't really enough to keep her awake, Max seemed fine. Alec was tired, cold, disgusting, and hungry when they got to his place, but he wasn't sure if he could do anything but reassure Max he was alive for a bit yet.

After they sat on the couch for a while, just touching and holding each other, he coaxed her into the kitchen and made two bowls of cereal. "Eat," he told her, with no room for arguments.

She complied, and when they both finished, he pulled her into the bathroom with him. "Sit," he said, pushing her onto the closed toilet. He didn't say anything else as he stripped down and showered, washing away the grime of six days gone to ground in a city as rundown as Seattle.

When he was done, he wrapped a towel around himself and then led her into his bedroom. Once he was dressed in a pair of boxers, he tugged at her jeans, and she stripped them off. As soon as she kicked them away, he tugged her down onto his bed with him, holding her against him and letting himself relax as much as an X5 ever did.

She stunk of fear, more so than he was expecting, but the smell was slowly fading. Alec held her tighter because of it, his face buried in her neck and the rest of him curled around her.

They slept, if slightly fitfully, on and off for over twelve hours. When they finally got up, it was only to make a somewhat more substantial meal. Neither one of them said much to each other, not about the last six days or anything else.

They went back to bed, neither sleeping but both taking comfort in the each other's presence. It was close to twenty hours after he had returned when a knock on the door roused them. Alec was kind of surprised that they'd gotten as long as they had away from everyone else.

Max grumbled but got up with him. She stayed in the bedroom doorway, still half dressed. Alec pulled on a pair of jeans and opened the door.

It was Mole. He looked apologetic. "We really need one of you to be down at headquarters. We don't do too well without direction, it seems."

Alec knew it was a lie. Max knew it was a lie. Mole knew it was a lie. All three let it stand instead of saying the truth, that everyone needed to be reassured that not only was Alec alive, Max was okay after the last week.

Alec nodded. "Yeah, sure, we'll be down in a few. Think you could scrounge up some food for us?"

Mole nodded, leaving them to get ready. Max stared at him from the doorway, reassured that he was okay but not ready to let him out of her sight. If Alec was truthful, he wasn't sure he was ready to let her out of his yet, either.

The got dressed and ready in a comfortable silence. Once they'd both put on their jackets, Alec followed her out the door, one hand in the small of her back with no intentions of letting it drop.

When they got to HQ, everything kind of stopped for a second, then picked up again. Tension sort of leaked out of the room now that they were both there, alive and whole.

Mole brought them two plates of food from the mess. Both Alec and Max picked at the food, but anyone could see the tension in the both of them. Any time someone came into the room, both of them froze, waiting to see if it was a threat and only relaxing once they had identified the newcomer.

--- 116
It took nearly four months for the first of Max's siblings to show up at TC. The leggy blonde had come in at night and was debriefed by the night staff. She was given temporary quarters in an old dorm building, part of a university that had been long abandoned by the people of Seattle.

Her name was added to the list of the day's newcomers, one that was smaller and smaller each day that passed. When Max and Alec came in the next morning, they both stopped to glance over the bulletin board.

Alec froze when Max tensed up, scanning the room for whatever could have caused her to react like that. There wasn't a visual threat, though, so he touched Max on the back and looked back down at her.

She didn't say anything, just pointed to a name on the list of newcomers. Jondy.

Alec knew without question that it must have been one of her siblings. There was no other reason for her to react like she did. Alec nudged her, then walked over to Dix, holding a quiet conversation with him.

Even once she was able to tear her eyes off the name, Max didn't move from where she was. She looked up and watched Alec, waiting for something. Everyone else was watching as subtly as a roomful of gossipers could.

Once Alec had the information he wanted, he glanced at Max. The two of them met at the door, and Alec wrapped an arm around her, leading her out. They wound their way through the streets and finally into a building and up a few flights of stairs.

Max knocked on the door that Alec motioned to, waiting almost impatiently for someone to answer. Alec wasn't particularly shocked at the way she launched herself on the blonde as he watched from the doorway.

--- 207
When the time came, pretty much the entirety of the general population of TC didn't want Alec and Max to be the ones to actually do the face-to-face talks with the US government. Unfortunately, the government had somehow found out that the two of them were the leaders of TC and requested them specifically.

The government had tried to push for everyone in the meeting being unarmed, but Alec had refused to meet flat out if they couldn't go in armed. Max hadn't been particularly thrilled with the statement, but she hadn't said anything to the contrary.

When the government finally agreed that they could go armed, Alec agreed that they would meet. He set it up, had units sweep the area well in advance, and even had people there on rotating shifts for days before it was set to take place.

Max let him. She knew he needed to know that they were safe and that the rest of TC needed to know that they would be safe. She wanted to think that they would be, but in the end, she didn't trust humans any more than they trusted her. Especially when the government was involved.

The day they were meeting dawned wet and cool, just like so many Seattle days. Alec showed up at Max's apartment just as she was making breakfast. She already had a cup of coffee waiting on the counter for him.

Mole and another transgenic from HQ, Kaydee, showed up when the two of them were just giving up on pushing their food around. Alec wasn't sure that he could remember the last time he had been too nervous to eat, if he ever was. Even Mole didn't have much to say as Max and Alec started to get ready.

They both had knives on them. Alec stopped Max before they went out the door, pressing a gun into her hand. "Please. I know you hate them, but they don't know that. You don't have to use it, just have it on you. For show."

Max hesitated but took it in the end, tucking it into the back of her jeans. She knew that Alec had at least two guns on him, and for once, the idea of having guns around was a little bit comforting.

The unit Alec had in place reported that the government people were all over the meeting place. Alec told them to find any snipers and let them see them, but to never let the same X5 be seen twice.

Alec and Max took her bike nearly all the way there but left it hidden a few blocks away. They went the rest of the way on foot, dropping off the roof of a building next to the empty lot they were meeting at. The soldiers, most of whom had been peering around corners, waiting and watching for them, all sprang back, turning around to gape at the height they had just jumped from.

Max smiled as Alec put a hand in the small of her back, just above the gun tucked there, and guided her towards the middle of the empty lot that had been set up for the meet. The group of people waiting for them were watching, some in shock or awe, but most passively, their expressions hidden.

"Max," said the cop in the middle of the soldiers.

Max smiled but didn't relax. Alec's guard went up even more. Using someone they knew to throw them off guard was smart, but it wouldn't work on trained transgenics. "How're you?" Max asked. Alec wanted to smile at her tone. She sounded like she was an average citizen talking to a neighbor they never saw.

It seemed to surprise the soldiers, but the cop just smiled. "Been better. It's never a good thing when the army comes and commandeers you."

Even Alec couldn't stay stoic at that. Both he and Max let out a burst of short, slightly bitter, laughter. "We're aware," she told him.

He seemed to catch his mistake, cutting a glance at the soldier who seemed to be in charge. Max eyed up that soldier while Alec looked the rest over. They were all in unmarked army greens, most likely to try and confuse them.

Sadly, they were going to fail. The two transgenics were more than capable of reading body language. Alec tapped Max on the back and turned to a man sitting on a bumper of a jeep in the back of the lot, watching them all. "Can we do this, sir? Our people are nervous about this, and nervous transgenics are something we all want to avoid. The sooner we get back, the better."

The soldiers all paused for a second, almost confused. Alec was fairly impressed with how fast they responded, though. The man in the back stood up and came towards them. "Alec and Max, I assume?"

Max nodded, but Alec stood still behind her. The group of them stood silent, watching each other for a few moments. Finally, the man nodded. "This way."

He led them to a tent that had a table in it. Max and the man sat, but Alec stayed standing behind her. No one said anything about it. "The general public doesn't trust you," the man started.

Alec snorted, and Max rolled her eyes. "The feeling is mutual," she told him. "They've killed several of us for doing nothing."

The man looked at her for a while before he responded. "They think you'll attack them."

Max raised an eyebrow. "I've been out in the world for over ten years. They didn't think anything was out there, and I wasn't the only one."

The man looked surprised at that. Alec nearly smirked. "You didn't escape with the others."

Max shook her head. "No. I let them out."

The man stared at her for a long, silent moment. "No wonder you lead them, then."

Max sighed. "That's not why I lead them. I lead because I've been out the longest, and because if anything, I care too much about them all. I'm sure most of them could have come up with a better plan than I did."

Alec didn't say anything, but he was a bit surprised at her confession. It seemed the man was as well. "Really?"

Max nodded. "Really. They're all excellent strategists. They wouldn't still be around if they weren't."

Her matter-of-fact way of talking about the fact that not all transgenics survived to adulthood seemed to shock the army men. No one said anything for a minute while the man resized the situation.

Maybe this would get them somewhere after all.

--- 207
Max and Alec returned to TC late. Despite that, what seemed like most of the place was up, waiting to see them return. Alec didn't slow the bike down at all as he drove back through the dark streets to HQ.

When they got there, everyone who worked there at any hour of the day was waiting. Mole and Joshua waited to the side as others asked the two questions. They both answered them for a few minutes, both speaking quietly with the different transgenics who were questioning them.

They kept at it until a question caused Max to stiffen up. Before anyone could say or do anything, Alec was there beside her. Max didn't respond like she normally did. Instead of just relaxing when he put a hand in the middle of her back, she turned into him and let Alec put himself between her and the threat. The younger transgenic that had been speaking with her cowered away from the glare that Alec was giving him.

Alec didn't give anyone a chance to ask other questions, just glared at anyone who tried to come closer to the two of them. "We'll be in tomorrow," he told Mole.

Mole nodded, putting out a hand to stop Joshua when the dogman made to follow the pair. "Not tonight, Josh."

Joshua gave Mole a confused look, hurt shining in his eyes. "Why not? Little Fella and Medium Fella need dinner. Joshua can make mac'n'cheese." He looked so eager to please.

Mole snorted. "Not tonight, Dogface. Tonight they need to be alone. Alec isn't going to want anything to do with anyone else or have anyone near his mate after a day like this."

Joshua stared at Mole for a long minute, but he didn't say anything to the contrary. When Mole was sure Joshua wasn't going to follow their leaders, he nodded to him and went back to getting the crowd under control.

--- 208
Alec let Max lead them back to his apartment, but he kept his hand in the middle of her back the whole way. Plenty of others crossed their paths, but none of them dared come close once they saw Alec's look.

Alec locked the door behind them, watching as Max went into the kitchen and pulled down two glasses, filling them with water. He didn't move from the door until she held a glass out to him.

They drank the water in silence. Neither really needed it, even after not drinking anything all day, but the motions were calming. When they were done, Max sighed, looking around. Alec put his glass in the sink, then took hers from her and put it there as well. He grabbed her hand, leading her towards his bedroom. He stopped in front of the bed and began to strip her clothes off her.

She tried to bat his hands away and do it herself, but he growled at her. Max reacted to the growl without thinking, her hands dropping to her side. She glared at him but didn't try to do it herself again.

When he'd gotten her stripped down to a tank top and underwear, he stripped down to his boxers. He put the gun she had been carrying on one side of the bed and one of his on the other, then pulled her down onto the mattress with him.

Neither slept very much that night, but Max stayed curled against Alec the whole night. She didn't move away, even when she did manage to doze off.

In the morning, they got up together. Instead of one showering and the other eating, Alec followed Max into the bathroom, and they took turns in the shower while the other sat and waited. Even that much distance caused them to hurry.

When they got to HQ, Alec wouldn't leave Max's side. She didn't say anything, though, and even leaned into him a few times. No one else said anything about it either, as the two of them reported to the rest.

The results were promising, but it didn't mean prolonged contact in such a situation would be any less stressful for a while. Once they'd given the details to the others, Max went to her office area with Alec hot on her heels. They worked on little things for the rest of the day, and no one complained about picking up the rest.

At one point, when they were down in the middle of the main HQ room with a few feet separating them, another X5 approached Max. He had barely gotten within a few feet of her before Alec was there, putting himself between Max and the other transgenic. After a tense moment, Alec stepped to the side and let the other X5 through to talk to Max, though he didn't move away.

The room watched tensely, hoping for the X5's sake that what he had to tell Max wouldn't upset her. No one had any question about what Alec would do if that happened today. Thankfully, it didn't, and the X5 had scuttled away to safety.

The rest of the day was just as tense.

Alec stopped dodging Max's heels at some point in the next week, but they were never far apart. If one was in HQ, so was the other. When Alec needed to sleep, Max went to bed, despite the fact that she didn't need near as much rest. People grew used to seeing them together and dealing with both of them.

Few, if any, ever gave Max bad news anymore. Anything that would upset her, they told Alec or at least warned him that they were telling Max. It wasn't really to make sure he was there for her, but to make sure that Alec wouldn't kill them when he saw her upset.

If they hadn't before, the other transgenics started treating them as a mated pair, and not only that, but their alpha mated pair. It had never been necessarily confirmed, and Alec and Max never referred to each other as such, but there was no doubt in any of the other transgenics' minds as to the truth.

--- 238
Even with their heightened senses, transgenics weren't able to tell everything about a person. No one knew for sure if Max and Alec had actually had sex, despite that she had pretty much given up her apartment and was living at his place. However, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that once her body regulated the stress of everything that had happened in the last two years, Max would be back on a heat cycle, and the subject would no longer be a viable topic of interest.

They had to wait a bit longer that most would have thought, though none were truly surprised because of how stressed Max was. Finally, though, it happened. All of the males knew before she did, and not one needed to see the glare Alec threw their way to clear off. It took Max a little while to catch on, but once she did, she didn't fight as Alec led her away from HQ.

They didn't show up for two days, sequestered away from the rest of the population. When they returned, nothing was overtly different between the two, though it didn't take too much to figure out that no one was going to ever be touching Max again or vice versa.

--- 369
"452."

"My name's Max, actually," Max told the man in front of her.

"I was told you don't have names." He sounded a bit confused, though not as if this new information was terribly bothering.

Max shrugged. "We didn't before. We all do now."

The man nodded, and if Max didn't know better, she'd have called the action thoughtful. "Do all the transgenics actually follow you?"

"They listen to me when I talk." She shrugged again. "But do they blindly follow the directions I give? That all depends."

The man stared at her for a long moment. Before he could speak again, the door behind them opened, and Alec slid inside. Alec nodded to the man as he wrapped an arm around Max. "Mr. President."

The president nodded back. "494."

"It's Alec," he said, eyebrow raised.

Max grinned. The president swallowed, seeming a little bit nervous. Alec tightened his arm around Max's waist. This meeting was going to be interesting.