Dogs of War
Summary: Max and Alec are finally starting to get everything up and running in TC when missions start going horribly wrong…
Here's the last chapter for you. A very merry Christmas to all of you and a happy new year. Thank you for all of the lovely reviews and every kind word of encouragement.
Max sat beside Alec's hospital bed. Her earlier terror had dwindled to a bone-weary anxiety, for the most part, because she didn't have the energy to sustain the proper level of fear the situation called for.
They were on the second floor, but she could still hear the hum of the crowd outside. News of the attempt on Secretary Gordon's life had spread quickly as soon as the few ordinary patrons in the restaurant started talking. They had, of course, recognized Max and Alec and after that it had been hopeless to try to keep it quiet.
An assassination attempt on someone as important as Gordon being foiled by the nation's most infamous pair of freak super-soldiers had resulted in about a zillion reporters waiting outside the hospital to ambush them if they so much as stuck a toe outside the building. They were at all of the exits, too. There would be no sneaking out after they'd let Max get away the first time.
Alec was very still in the bed, pale and drawn, as if this last insult to his overtaxed body had simply been one thing too many. He hadn't moved since they'd brought him to the room. She knew it was probably the massive amount of anesthesia it had taken to keep him down for the surgery, but that didn't make it any less disconcerting. Alec wasn't a heavy sleeper. She had to be careful not to rummage around in their apartment during her bouts of insomnia. In addition to his own trouble sleeping, even the slightest noise could wake him.
It had taken hours in the operating room to repair the damage. The familiar, with all of his freaky strength and speed, had dug the knife in deep and clawed across Alec's stomach. In addition to trying to fix that, Alec's DNA had once again worked against him. He'd spent so long in surgery he'd started to heal all wrong before they could properly repair the damage.
Dr. Carr had put them in a room with two beds. Technically, Max was supposed to be in the second one. She'd given in while Alec was in surgery, but at the moment she couldn't bear to be separated from him. Max had seen a lot of ugly things in her lifetime, a lot of things she wished her photographic memory could forget, but the sight of Alec trying to hold his own guts in would haunt her until the day she died. Somehow, it was worse than when he'd been poisoned. She'd stayed with him then. She'd held him and refused to let him give up. This time, however, they'd taken him away from her. At every moment she'd feared, yet expected the doctor to come through the door and tell her Alec had died, alone, and away from her.
Max brushed a hand over his cheek. He hadn't shaved since she'd been shot and his stubble scraped against her fingers, loud in the quiet room. She'd broken down when Dr. Carr had actually come out to tell her that Alec was holding his own. Wisely, he'd remained silent and waited for her to get herself together, then given her a timeframe for when they would bring Alec to the room she was already occupying so she could see for herself that he was alive.
Max looked up when someone stopped in the doorway. If it was another photographer trying to sneak in, someone was going to leave minus a kidney and it wasn't going to be her.
"May I come in?" Secretary Gordon asked quietly.
She stood and gestured for him to enter. The action pulled at her injuries and she grimaced involuntarily, setting a hand flat over her chest. She hadn't felt much in all the hubbub of fighting the familiars, not to mention retrieving Alec and everything in between, but now that she was free of any pending emergencies to deal with, she could feel it all and Dr. Carr had been none too happy at the shape she was in.
"Please, sit back down," Secretary Gordon said hurriedly, and Max slumped back into the chair at Alec's bedside. It felt as if she'd lost all her strength along with him and she wouldn't get it back until he got out of that bed. "How are you?"
"Kinda crappy," she answered. "But we're alive. You?"
A tiny smirk quirked up one side of his mouth. "The same. Thanks to you."
Max shrugged. "Looks bad when the boss gets killed."
"As you frequently point out, I'm a customer, not the boss."
"You helped us," she said more seriously. "We owe you."
His eyes fell on Alec's still form. "Not to disagree again, but I think I'm the one who owes you."
Max looked at Alec and thought she might have to agree. She reached forward and took Alec's hand, wishing that he would wake up and return the favor.
Secretary Gordon stepped farther into the room and Max saw Terry was shadowing him, stationing himself by the door, which was probably a good idea until they made sure the threat was over. Max hoped that was the case. If the purpose had been to undermine the stability of the transgenics and their growing foothold in the legitimate world, then the plan had failed miserably. Transgenics were the heroes of the day who'd saved a highly placed politician from assassination and been valiantly wounded in the process. The rumors in the press were that, in addition to the current situation, Max's shooting was the result of an earlier attempt on the Secretary. The reporters did love to spin a good yarn.
Gordon walked around the bed to stand opposite Max. He tapped the restraints on Alec's wrists. "Is there a reason for these?"
Max knew he was asking if it was related to what had been turning their people suddenly homicidal. She shook her head. "We fixed that. The guys trying to kill you were messing with us," she answered, although she chose not to elaborate. "Shouldn't be any more problems."
Gordon raised his eyebrows, but he'd worked with them enough to know that sometimes it was better not to ask. "I see."
Max set her hand over the restraints, which were heavily reinforced to compensate for an X5's strength. "Transgenics… especially male transgenics, when they come out from under anesthesia, have a tendency to come out swinging. Just instinct."
Secretary Gordon frowned, still staring at the restraints, as if he didn't like them any better than Max did. "Will you thank him for me?" he asked. "I have to get back to Washington, but I wanted to pay my respects."
"I'll tell him you came by."
"I also wanted to tell you that Mr. Kincaid has disappeared."
Max finally looked up at that. "He has?"
"The file I gave you the last time we met… for the mole in the UN?" She nodded that she remembered. "Kincaid didn't know about that file until I briefed him while we were flying out here. We've since discovered that as soon as we left the meeting with you, he made contact with the mole, and they both disappeared." Gordon's eyes narrowed when Max didn't react. "You don't seem surprised."
"We knew Kincaid was working for the wrong team not long after our meeting." She gestured to stop him before he could say anything. "We'd have told you, but we got a little tied up. I got hurt and then Alec…" She sighed. "We were in the middle of our own crap-storm and we didn't get around to Kincaid. I'm sorry for that. He's a member of the group who arranged the attack on you."
Gordon was silent for several seconds, his lips pursed in thought. "He will be your first assignment once you're back up and running."
Max's brow furrowed in confusion. "You're still willing to work with us?"
"You saved my life." He smiled almost kindly. "It would be rather rude of me to fire you now, wouldn't it?"
Max nodded. "We'll find him. We'll find the other mole, too. They were involved in the trouble we were having with our operatives, so we'll be all over it." Zip had called someone who just so happened to send familiars after the Secretary. Yeah, White's cult was definitely part of all this.
"Good." Gordon clapped his hands together quietly. He turned to leave, but paused. "Take care of yourselves. You two do seem to have more than your fair share of problems."
Max had to smile at that. "You don't know the half of it." She looked past him to Terry. "Take care of him, will ya?"
Terry glanced toward Alec. "You do the same. And tell him thanks for me."
Max nodded. Almost as soon as they left, there was another knock on the door and she had to grit her teeth to keep from snarling at another interruption. Max turned and saw Logan standing in the doorway.
"Max, are you ok?"
"I'm fine," she answered curtly.
"You're supposed to be lying down," he observed in obvious disapproval.
To heighten her annoyance, Dr. Carr appeared behind Logan pushing an empty wheelchair. "Max, I want to take a look at you."
"Not now," she snapped. She didn't care if she was being rude. She just wanted to be left alone with Alec. That was all that mattered to her.
Dr. Carr would not be put off. "You told me you would let me take a look and run a few tests after Alec was out of danger."
Max looked back at Alec, every instinct telling her not to leave him alone. She needed to be there when he woke up, for both their sakes. Max could still see him, her blood-covered hands and a dirty tablecloth the only things keeping his insides from spilling out. She could still hear Alec's fading voice telling her it was better this way. What kind of screwed up lives did they lead where anyone would think that was better?
"He'll be fine, Max," Logan said, clearly more concerned about getting her out of the room than with Alec's wellbeing.
"Alec won't wake up for a while yet, Max," Dr. Carr added more gently. "Just come with me and we'll get this done. We'll have you back here before you know it."
Max knew they wouldn't stop until she agreed. She also knew bitching about the wheelchair when she was perfectly capable of walking would just take more time that she would rather spend with Alec. With a last anxious glance toward the bed, she transferred from the chair she was sitting in to the wheelchair and allowed them to take her away.
Alec woke slowly and frowned at the haze still surrounding him. He couldn't move. His first terrifying thought was psy-ops, but he knew he was in the hospital. There was no way he wouldn't be after the man had tried to spill his intestines all over the restaurant floor, but he shouldn't be so groggy. Their systems usually burned through the anesthesia pretty fast.
His muscles felt odd as well, and he quickly realized they must have given him a boatload of muscle relaxants in addition to whatever they'd used to knock him out. Transgenics had a tendency to punch anyone they saw as a danger, and a disoriented transgenic had a tendency to see everyone as a danger. They'd apparently decided a preemptive strike was in order. He was also in restraints. If he'd been capable of making fists, he would have. He hated being in restraints. Dozens of memories suddenly washed over him of time spent in restraints, struggling to free himself as he was systematically taken apart piece by piece. The memories threatened to overwhelm him, all sharply focused and fresh thanks to Tipper and her crew.
Alec concentrated on the room, hoping someone would be there to free him. Max wasn't immediately visible to his blurry eyes and he felt his spirits swiftly deflate. He hurriedly told himself he shouldn't want her around. He was too dangerous for her to be with. But what he knew was the right thing, and what he wanted were two different things. Maybe it was a good thing he was in restraints.
"Are you awake?"
Someone was in the room, although Alec couldn't quite place the voice. He really must have been drugged to the gills if he hadn't noticed someone in there with him. Alec groggily turned his head.
Kincaid was sitting in the chair next to his bed. Alec tried jerking on the cuffs, tried moving at all, but as much as Alec wished it, his muscles just wouldn't respond the way they were supposed to. He couldn't get away, he couldn't fight. He couldn't do anything but sit there and stare like an idiot at the familiar.
"You killed my men in the restaurant," Kincaid said blithely, as if they were talking about the hors d'oeuvres they'd had instead of a fight to the death. "It's a setback, but we'll just go about this a different way."
Alec's eyes widened. If the man wanted to kill him, there wasn't a thing Alec could do about it. He was as floppy as a baby, and bound hand and foot as well. Kincaid could slit his throat and Alec would have to lie there and watch.
"When we found the files with the trigger words for you and your friends, it was like a gift dropped right in our laps," Kincaid explained. "We were having a wonderful time watching you freaks self-destruct. We had so many plans."
"You… Zip… called you," Alec forced out through numb lips.
"Always useful to find an informant, or a traitor from your point of view," Kincaid sneered.
"Why… you… here?"
"Because we won't rest until every last one of you is dead." Kincaid leaned closer. "But 452 is special. All I had to say was one word and you shot her for me," he whispered. "You came closer to killing her than we have in months. I came to thank you."
Alec ordered his body to obey, fought with everything he had, but it was useless. He was too weak and the restraints were reinforced. He couldn't save Max. He couldn't save himself. Worst of all, he couldn't save Max from himself and he sobbed in frustration.
"So I'm not going to kill you now," Kincaid continued casually. "I want you to get out of here. I want you healthy. Because the next time I call you, you'll rip her head right off her body if that's what I tell you to do."
Alec felt tears of shame and utter defeat trail down his cheeks, but it was all true. There was nothing he could do. Even if Tipper said she'd found this trigger word, how could he ever be sure, or know that it was the only one, that there weren't other commands buried in his brain just waiting to be used against the people he loved.
"I knew as soon as Gordon chose me to be your liaison you would find out I had other loyalties. But that's all right. There are enough of us in place that we can still take care of you. You'll all die. We have all of Manticore's files now and so many plans… I'll just have to work somewhere other than Washington now." Kincaid stood, and he gave him one last ugly smile. "You see, Alec. We're not pretty, but we still fight dirty," he finished, turning Alec's own words back on him.
He patted Alec's arm. "We'll talk again," he said and walked out the door.
Max sat in the exam room trying not to fidget. First of all, Sam was taking forever. He'd wandered off after poking and prodding and taking blood samples and sticking her in too many machines for her comfort. He had yet to come back with her walking papers, and to add insult to injury, he'd left her with Logan, who was so not the man she wanted beside her right now.
"Relax," he said. "I'm sure the tests will come back fine."
Max frowned. As if that was even close to what she was worrying about right now? "I need to get back to Alec."
Logan gave her a look she couldn't quite interpret. "Do you really think that's such a good idea?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"Max, he shot you. Until you're sure-"
"You can stop right there, Logan. We've already had him cleared by our people. He's fine."
"I can't just up and leave him because of this. He's my husband," she stabbed a finger in his direction, "and if you even think about saying something about that, I will hurt you here and now." She wasn't in the mood for Logan's interference. He was still holding on to some sort of hope simply because they didn't have a piece of paper signed by a government official. Max didn't have any papers saying she'd been born either, but that didn't change the fact that she was alive and breathing.
For a second, Logan looked genuinely angry. "So when you decided we should be apart because it was too dangerous, that was fine, but now that it's Alec, there's no way you'll leave him."
Max paused, and quickly realized it was true, although it would only hurt Logan for her to say so. There was no way she could leave Alec. She loved him. If anything, it was another sign that whatever she'd had with Logan, it just wasn't meant to be. It hadn't been enough. She could still kill Logan with just a touch, and there was no hope for that. But Alec… she had every hope for their future. She just had to convince her idiot husband of that.
Max got down off the exam table. "I'm not sitting here any longer."
"You should wait on Sam." Logan sounded hurt, and she was sorry for that, but she had bigger worries.
"Tell him I'll be in Alec's room," she said over her shoulder. "I wait here, wait there, makes no difference."
Max didn't linger for Logan's reply. She left the little exam room and hurried through the corridors, passing doctors, nurses and patients, occasionally getting stares and hearing whispers of, "That's her." She ignored it all, walking with a determined step despite how much her chest didn't like being jostled.
She almost jogged the last few feet to his room. She'd been away too long, longer than Sam had told her would be necessary.
Alec was gone. A pit forming in her stomach, she ran back out to the nearest nurse's station. "Where is he?" She pointed back toward Alec's room. "Did you take him for a test or something?"
The nurse looked up and frowned. "No. He was awake and asked me to remove the restraints, but that's all. Dr. Carr was informed and he said he would be in as soon as he was finished with you."
Max ran back into the room and threw open the cupboard near the bed. Alec's hospital gown was balled up at the bottom and the clothing she'd had them bring for when he was discharged was gone. Alec was gone.
Max snatched up the room phone and dialed Command. "Come on, come on." She tapped her foot impatiently for someone to pick up.
"What?" Mole growled.
"Alec's gone," Max said.
"You lost him again?" This time Mole sounded genuinely annoyed.
"Did he come back there?"
"Do you two even understand the meaning of being hospitalized?" he demanded testily. "It's the universe's way of telling you to take a vacation."
Max gritted her teeth in an effort not to scream. "Is. He. There?" she bit out.
Mole grumbled something indistinct that definitely had the word "leash" in it. She heard him shuffling the phone. "Dix, pull up the tracker," he said more clearly.
"I attached a tracker to those clothes we sent for Alec. Had a feeling he was gonna bolt, and I'm tired of trying to figure out where he's going when he pulls one of his disappearing acts."
"You know he's gonna kill you for that?" Max asked, too relieved to say anything else.
Mole snorted. "He's gonna have to come back here to do that and by that time, you'll have him whipped."
"He's gonna kill you for calling him whipped, too."
"He can't argue with the truth, Princess." He paused for several seconds. "Ok, we've got a location on him."
Alec hadn't managed to get very far. There was a little motel about five blocks from the hospital. Normally, she would have been happy that he'd stayed close, but Max knew it was a sign that Alec hadn't physically been able to get away. He'd only made it to the nearest motel and been forced to give in.
Granted, he might have thought it was a good strategy. Max wouldn't have looked for him there. She'd have expected him to hole up in a far more out of the way place.
She walked into the lobby and up to the seedy looking man behind the desk. "You have somebody check in here an hour or so ago?"
The man gave her a disapproving glare. "My customers got a right to their privacy," he answered, and from the way he was looking at her Max could tell he recognized her. He'd probably recognized Alec as well.
She pulled a handful of cash out of her pocket and set a nice tempting bill on the counter, sliding it across. The man tried to snatch it up, but she kept it pinned to the desk with her hand. "Room number?"
"Twelve," the man said quickly and she just as quickly allowed him to take the money.
She pulled out another bill and once again set it on the desk. "We value our privacy," she warned. "If I find out you called the media or even your mother to tell her we're here, I'll personally make sure you need a new set of teeth for Christmas. Are we clear?"
The man swallowed audibly, but he nodded. "Got it."
"Good," she said, and handed over the money. The man snagged the cash, and backed up from the desk so that he was just out of reach, as if that would do him any good. "Your boyfriend… he wasn't looking so good. You might oughta…"
Max didn't hear the rest. She was already out the door and headed toward the room.
Alec sat on the floor on the far side of the bed. Anyone who came through the door wouldn't immediately see him, and that's the way Alec wanted it. He didn't have a gun, and like almost every other place in Seattle, this was a crappy part of town. He'd probably have to foil some sort of robbery attempt before the night was over. Alec knew in his current state he would need the extra few seconds of warning.
His system had finally burned through most of the muscle relaxants and the anesthesia, but he still felt disconnected, as if not quite in control of his body. The only thing that was very, very clear was that his abdomen felt like it was on fire. He had no doubt he was an ugly mass of staples and stitches.
Alec had remembered how to get to the motel, but the trek there had almost been more than he could manage. It would be fine now, though. He would hole up here for a few days, get his strength back, and then he would leave Seattle. Alec would track down Kincaid, pull his lungs out through his nose, find those files, and Max would be safe. He couldn't be around her now. He just couldn't risk it even though it would gut him as neatly as any knife to let her go. Terminal City needed her.
Alec heard someone stop outside the motel room door. He sighed and braced himself to fight.
The lock was so easy a child could have picked it. Max opened the door and hurried inside. They were still close to the hospital, after all, and its army of press members just waiting to catch a glimpse. She figured the money she'd given the clerk would give them half an hour at the most before he decided he could afford a new set of teeth for Christmas with all the money the TV stations would give him for information on Max and Alec's whereabouts.
The bed was empty. The bathroom door was open and it was dark inside. Her eyes swept the grimy room once again, and finally she saw the mop of disheveled hair just visible on the opposite side of the bed. She rounded it quickly and saw Alec, head down, sitting on the floor his legs out in front of him, barely conscious.
Max knelt in front of him. "Alec?"
Almost faster than she could see, he landed a fist aimed right at her nose. Max fell back, stars appearing in her vision. She felt her nose gingerly and decided it wasn't broken, but not for lack of trying.
Max sat back up and knelt in front of him again, this time her hands in front of her in the universally acknowledged I'm-unarmed position, which would also allow her to be ready to catch another fist before it could make contact.
Alec was blinking owlishly past sunken, dark-circled eyes. She looked him over, and worriedly noticed that he was bleeding again. The front of his shirt was spotted with blood and the top of his pants were soaking up blood that had seeped through his bandages.
"Yeah, it's me."
Lines appeared between his brows as he frowned. "I punch you?"
"Yeah," she answered, allowing her displeasure to show. "Thanks."
"Hurt you," he said, seeming to sag against the wall even further as fresh guilt weighed on him. "Sorry," he whispered, closing his eyes and turning his head to the side, as if he didn't even deserve to look at her.
"Alec, how did you get here?" He barely seemed capable of moving, let alone managing to get through the press who were blocking all of the doors to the hospital.
"Roof," Alec answered.
"You jumped?" Max demanded. Max had used an underground walkway that was only for staff use to get out of the building without being seen. She'd decided against the roof because the next building over was close, but it was a couple of stories shorter and would have jarred her too badly.
"No choice. Too many reporters."
Max thought it was no wonder he was bleeding again. She would have to get him back to Dr. Carr and let him decide how much damage Alec had done. "Come on," she said, reaching for his arm. "We need to get you back to the hospital."
Alec clumsily pulled his arm out of her grip. "No."
Max gritted her teeth, but ordered herself to stay calm. "Fine. We'll take you back to TC, and see if we can bring Sam in to check on you."
"No," Alec said again, his voice stronger this time.
"You can't stay here," Max stated the obvious.
Alec finally opened his eyes again, and looked straight at her. They were a feverish green, but resolute, and Max felt her heart skip a beat. He drew in a breath, visibly gathering his failing strength. "You're right, Max," he said. "I can't stay here."
"If you are about to say anything about it being too dangerous to stay with me, I will kick your ass," she warned. "Don't think I won't just because you're hurt."
Alec smiled sadly. "You know it's true. We were just lucky this time. Next time, I'll kill you."
"Tipper and her crew cleared you," Max said. "They're going to give it one more pass, and then they'll be sure."
Alec raised a hand and ran it over his face tiredly. His hand was smeared with blood and, without realizing, he left a streak across his forehead and stubbled cheek. "Kincaid came by the hospital."
"What?" Max demanded, but he was already talking over her.
"They have all of Manticore's files. Psy-ops had me for a long, long time. Tipper thinks she dug out this one, but what if there are more?" He tapped the side of his head.
"What if there aren't?" she countered. "Tipper knows what she's doing. Her crew can check every last one of us, if that will make you feel better. We all spent time in psy-ops at some point."
"Max," he tried, almost desperately, "I don't want to hurt you."
"Guess what?" she shot back. "I don't want you to hurt me either. And you won't."
"Won't have a choice," he said brokenly.
"You know what, Alec? I am tired of the crap you're shoveling."
Alec's brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"
"I married a man who wasn't afraid of anything, who promised he would stay with me, and damn the rest of the world that was against us."
"I'm trying to keep you safe!"
"Then stay with me!" she shouted back. "You're my backup. I trust you to watch out for me, not Mole, or Slick, or whoever."
"I'll come back," Alec said quietly, and Max's anger instantly deflated.
"I'll hunt Kincaid down, I'll kill him, I'll find the files, and I'll come back." He tipped his head back to rest it against the wall and gave her a lopsided smile. "You think I could really leave you forever, Maxie?" He grasped her left hand lightly in his and brought it to his mouth, placing a gentle kiss over the ring she wore, his ring. "I try to be a good guy for you, Maxie, but I can't be that good. I know I'm not strong enough to stay away. I kept telling myself I should, but I know I can't."
"It's a given fact you're irresistible." His lips twitched in amusement. "And don't look so smug."
Max raised one eyebrow. "You know you're a moron, right?"
Alec snorted. "I'm pretty sure I've been told that a time or two."
"Good. Cause you are." She placed both of her hands on either side of his face and leaned forward. She kissed him tenderly and then pulled back just far enough that she could see his eyes. "Alec, I trust you. And I trust our people to know what they're doing when they give you the all-clear. And I trust our people to hunt Kincaid down and make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."
"We'll get them, Alec. They can talk all they want, and make all the threats they want, but at the end of the day we'll still kick their asses."
Alec smirked. "You know I love it when you get all militant."
"We'll get them," she said again. "Trust me on that." She locked eyes with him. "You do trust me?"
"Always," he answered.
"Then come home," she said simply.
Max held her breath, waiting and willing him to agree. He had to know that she couldn't do this without him anymore. He thought that she was what kept Terminal City moving forward, but she knew the truth. It was Alec. Alec kept her grounded and he was all that kept her motivated to continue to push Terminal City forward. If he left, then TC was in deep trouble, because she would follow him wherever he went. The trouble would be temporary, of course, because she would drag him back kicking and screaming if she had to, but still…
Max could see it on his face when he made his decision and she loved him all the more for it. He didn't let just anyone see what he was feeling, not about the important stuff. Just her.
"Come home," she whispered.
He sighed and leaned forward. "Ah, Max," Alec returned the kiss she'd given him and then some, "I am home."
Thanks for reading! Hope you all enjoyed it. We'll see if the muse will strike again to take care of Kincaid and his evil minions…