A thousand Julys
fandom, pairing: dark angel, het: max/alec
summary: designate this au. The first time, they brought him to her after she'd started recovering. Slowly, they started bringing him to her sooner than that, and eventually, they brought him to her cell before she was back.
disclaimer: someone else's sandbox. all lies.
notes: 10,115 words. for dea and kate. thanks to sara for the beta. title from third eye blind. there is also a bit of dialogue lifted directly from the show—you'll know it when you see it. this requires knowledge only up to the end of s1, as it is au from the beginning of 2x01 on.
A thousand Julys
The first time, they brought him to her after she'd started recovering. She was lucid by then, still shaking with the effects, but her mind was clear enough that they could talk if they wanted to. Slowly, they started bringing him to her sooner than that, and eventually, they brought him to her cell before she was back, making him stand against the far wall as they dragged her back into the cell and let her drop onto the floor, her body still seizing from the drugs and torment.
He knew why they did it to him, at least. He didn't know what they were after, if anything, in her. But he knew why they were doing it to him. He'd spent seven months down there after his last mission. It was hazy, but he'd asked 511, who'd taken over the unit when he'd been displaced, and he had a timeframe. The details of the mission were mostly missing, and he wasn't particularly sure what he'd done wrong, but he knew it had caused him a huge amount of pain.
Despite their best efforts, this just made him want to repeat whatever he'd done. Whatever could piss his handlers off so much that they threw him into Psy-Ops for seven months must have been some kind of blow to Manticore, and he was pretty sure he was the only one still in Manticore who'd been able to deal with something like that.
This, though, this wasn't torture because of that. This was torture because no matter how far down the chain of command they put him, every single transgenic, X or otherwise, snapped to attention when he asked for it. And if he gave a command, even the unit COs reacted without question.
This was why they brought him to her and made him see the effects of the torture they had mostly perfected on him.
What they didn't know was that it wasn't anything he did that made the rest of his fellow transgenics respect him. It had nothing to do with units or rank or how often he'd fucked up. Their reaction to him was pure instinct, something he nor they could change. They also probably weren't aware that their actions with the girl weren't helping their cause. This didn't make him want to follow their orders any more. In fact, it only made him want to resist more.
Their torment of her was getting worse as the days went on. She either didn't know what they wanted, or she was resisting hard. Either way, she was coming back with physical wounds now, not just a torn up brain and the side effects of drugs. The first time she came back with a bloody nose, the sight and smell of it caused something in him to rear its head. He was growling at the guards who were bringing her in before he even had a chance to process it.
The guards dropped her with more force than they needed to in their rush to get away from the growling X5, which only made him lunge towards her. He gently picked her up and brought her to the stiff cot, laying her on it with more care than he was sure he had. He'd used his own t-shirt to wipe the blood from her face, trying to keep her clothes and the blankets clear of it. He knew from experience that coming out of that drug-induced haze with blood on you wasn't something that helped the situation.
It was a long time before he felt the need to actually comfort her. After a while, she came back still screaming, and something in him reacted to it. It wasn't until one guard threatened her that he even stepped away from the door to let them bring her in, and they had to have the third guard hold a taser on her while they were in the cell to get out unharmed.
He gathered her into his arms and brought her to the cot, but this time, he didn't set her down. They usually left him with her for an hour or two before pulling him from the cell and taking him back upstairs to the barracks. This time, when they came to get him, he snarled at them, refusing to leave her side.
Eventually, she calmed to silence, and some time after that, the shaking stopped. He still didn't let her go, holding her until she pushed at him a little. Even then, he only loosened his hold.
"Thank you," she breathed, low and uneven. It was the first thing either had said to one another.
He didn't put up more than a token resistance when they came to get him several hours later, instead saving it for when he knew she wouldn't be able to stand another round in just a few more hours.
The next night was just as bad. This time, he whispered whatever he could think of to her, trying to calm her. Most of it was talk of revenge, whispered so low that even if they had bugged the cell, they'd never be able to pick up what he said.
They didn't even try to get him until dawn the next morning, and as he followed between the guards on his way topside, he realized that it had been four months to the day since he'd first entered her cell.
He comforted her every night after that. Even on the nights when the screaming wasn't as bad, he'd hold her against him, protecting her from whatever might come their way. He stopped talking about revenge and instead started to tell her anything he could think of to get her thoughts off the pain her body and mind were in.
A lot of it was stories about his unit, the trouble they'd gotten into when they could and the things they done. He didn't talk about the missions, although sometimes, he talked about things that had happened on them.
He told her how he couldn't remember everything he'd done, how too much of his life was just a hazy mess of thoughts and visuals and smells and sounds. He promised her he wouldn't let her forget this, how hard she had fought for whatever she was resisting for.
Sometime in the fifth month, she asked him who he was in a voice so cracked from screaming she didn't even sound like any of the creatures in the basement, let alone an X or a human.
"X5-494," he told her, rubbing his thumb across the purpling bruise on her temple.
She frowned a little, her eyes trying to focus even though he wasn't sure she could. They'd worked her over pretty hard that night. "Do you have a name?" Her voice only cracked twice.
He frowned, unsure about the question. "No."
"You should," she told him.
"What about you, 452? Do you have a name?" He didn't look her in the eye when he asked her. She'd never told him her designation, but he'd known from the second he laid eyes on her who she was. Any of them would.
She tried to nod but cried out softly at the motion. He soothed her gently, holding her tighter. "Tell me?" he asked, still unsure about names but sure he wanted to know more about her.
"Max," she told him, her eyes closing in pain and exhaustion. "My name's Max."
The next night, she came back worse off than she'd ever been. She was bloody from more than one cut, and one side of her face was nearly black. Her eye couldn't even open. She wasn't screaming, just making these little whimpering sounds he'd never heard her make, no matter how much pain she was in. Something in him, the same thing that had made him comfort her and hold her through the seizures, made him snarl at the guards, the soldier in him fading more than it ever had.
Before the guards could drop her, he was on them, kicking one out of the cell and sending one of the others, the one with the taser, into the cell wall hard enough to knock him out cold. Just one of them was left, the one stuck holding Max, all his weapons safely out of her reach and so forth out of the guard's Not that she was in any shape to do anything with them.
He grabbed her out of the guard's arms, cradling her gently. "Get out," he snarled. He didn't care what the guards did, as long as they left him and 45—Max—alone. He didn't even know if he could touch her without causing pain, the damage was so extensive.
The part of him that was still functioning on a level higher than instinct knew that he was going to be punished for what had happened, but even that part of him didn't feel like he'd made a mistake.
He heard their footsteps long before they even got close to the cell. His eyes narrowed, but he didn't waste anytime looking the cell over. He knew there was no cover or weapons to be found. He stood silently, sliding her out of his arms onto the cot, and putting the thin blanket over her before dropping into the distinctive pose of an X5 ready to attack.
The cell door slid open, and two guards trained their guns on him. If he'd been thinking clearer, he'd have raised an eyebrow at that, but he was still running mostly on instinct. He growled at them, a warning that he knew even humans couldn't mistake the meaning of.
They didn't back down, though he could see them tense up enough so that he knew they wanted to. One of his handlers stepped in between them. "494, it's time to go back upstairs now."
"No," he told the man. He wasn't sure how clear his voice was, more a snarl than actual speech.
The man was quiet a moment, and he thought the man was probably confused. He wasn't sure how many of them here in Manticore had ever said no to one of the handlers. "Do we really have to go through this again? Telling us no isn't a very good idea, 494."
"You're not going to touch her again," he told the man. He knew he knew this man, but he couldn't think clearly enough to come up with a name. His mind was screaming at him not to trust the man, no matter what he told him.
"I don't want her, 494; I want you. Come with me now, soldier."
He didn't respond, just tensed, ready to do whatever he had to protect her. Max. She was his, and he wasn't going to let them hurt her anymore.
Hendrickson, he thought. The man's name was Hendrickson. He still didn't know exactly why he shouldn't trust the man, but he wasn't sure he would have remembered even if he was thinking clearly.
He watched carefully as Hendrickson frowned. Hendrickson wasn't forcing the issue. This wasn't normal, he could remember that much. Hendrickson liked to force the issue. When Hendrickson left and the door slammed closed, he made his way back to the bed. He slid in behind her, wishing he could hold her and still be between her and the door, but he wasn't risking not having a visual of the only direction their enemy could come from.
His instincts were settling, letting the soldier in him back in, but he was still on edge when Max slid closer to him. Her eyes were glassy and far away when she opened them. "Thank you," she whispered to him.
"Any time, Maxie," he told her, giving into the temptation and nuzzling her. She needed a shower and clean clothing and time to heal, but he couldn't help but think he'd never seen anyone as beautiful as her, and that she was his.
She coughed a little, tensed, and then relaxed. "Ben called me that," she said, a bit sad.
"Who?" he asked. He didn't really care who it was, as long as they didn't try and take her from him.
"My brother, Ben. Your twin, I think. They must know," she said, more to herself than him. "I don't think I gave it up, but they must know. Why else would they have sent you here, to me?"
He was confused. What did they know? She wasn't talking about his mistakes, and it wouldn't make sense for her to be talking about 493 going insane. "What do they know, Maxie?"
"That I killed him." She looked up at him as she said it, her eyes wide and fearful. "I didn't have a choice! I had to! Lydecker was right behind us, and he was hurt, and he asked. He asked me to!"
She was trembling, and tears were streaming down her face. He didn't know what to do besides pull her close and hug her to him. "I know, Maxie, I know. He knows, too. You did what you had to."
Max let out a choked sound, "Alec," she whimpered. "I didn't want to kill him. He asked me, Alec, asked me to kill him, so he wouldn't have to come back."
He froze. "Who's Alec, Maxie?" he asked softly.
Max looked confused. "You are."
Sometimes, he was sure all this torture was making her crazy. She wouldn't have been the first, though he was pretty sure they'd all survived since they'd finally perfected the process they'd been working on. Perfected it on him. This was one of the times he was sure she'd finally gone insane.
"You're Alec," she told him, reaching up to touch his face softly. "Because you're a smart aleck."
He smiled at that. "Alec, huh? I can live with that."
"Good," she told him, letting her arm drop and getting as close to him as she could.
Alec didn't sleep. Max whimpered in his arms, sleeping fitfully as she healed, but he couldn't have slept even if she'd slept silently beside him. He was still on edge from Hendrickson backing down and leaving him there, and he was more than aware that he needed to be ready for something. Manticore wasn't going to let him get away with what he'd done.
Dawn had long since passed when Max finally woke. She sighed, stretching but not moving away from him. "How long was I out?" she asked. Her voice was still rough but sounding so much better than before.
"A couple hours. Probably around six or so," he told her, brushing her hair back from her face. It was matted with blood, and he couldn't help but think of her after a shower. Or in a shower.
He smiled at the thought, and she smiled back, not even knowing why he was smiling. Her smile was marred by her split lip, but it didn't matter. "That's a long time," she told him. She didn't even try to get out of his arms. "I don't think I've slept more than three for years."
He raised an eyebrow, surprised. "What?"
"Shark DNA. Doesn't let me sleep much," she told him.
He relaxed a little at that. The thought of her on the run and so tense and scared she couldn't sleep had bothered him. He wasn't sure anything had ever bothered him before. Annoyed him, yes; made him mad, sure. But bothered him? No.
"You should try and sleep more," he told her. "It'll help the healing."
"You trying to tell me something, buddy?" She was grinning at him, offsetting the tone she'd spoken in. He didn't know exactly what tone it was.
"You're hurt. You need to heal." He knew he sounded stubborn, but it was true.
"I know. I'll sleep in a bit." She didn't say no, so he let it drop. "Damn, what I wouldn't give for a hot bath."
He tilted his head to the side. "Are hot baths nice?"
"Better than ice cream," she told him.
He was silent a moment. "What's ice cream taste like?"
Max looked up at him. "You've never had ice cream? Not even when you were… on the outside?"
He shook his head. "It was never part of the mission parameters."
"We're gonna have to rectify that," she told him as she closed her eyes and turned so she was facing him.
He watched her, unsure about how her actions made him feel. She was turning her back to the door, trusting him to protect her. He tightened his arms around her and settled onto the cot, letting his head lay on top of hers. She was trusting him, and he wouldn't let her down.
Renfro came down to see him herself. Alec was already in place in front of Max by the time she made it to the doorway, and Max, who was nowhere near healed, was sitting up, ready to do what she could if she needed to.
Alec felt a lot better with her mobile, but he didn't want her involved in this at all. He didn't think it would be safe for anyone if they tried to hurt her, and he wasn't really looking to fight at the moment.
Renfro didn't order the door open. Instead, she stood, staring in through the grate in it. After a while, she sighed. "I'm disappointed in you, 494."
Alec didn't say a word back to her. He had risen from his defensive crouch, but he was still ready to attack if she gave him reason to.
Renfro raised an eyebrow. "Nothing to say, 494? You're not going to defend your actions? Or try and get out of what you know is coming?"
Alec snorted. Everyone knew there was no way to get out of whatever punishment she was going to assign him, not with words, at least.
"And look at you, 452. Not so able now, are you?"
Alec snarled at that, his body coiling to attack, even if there was a steel door between them. He heard Max stand up behind him, heard her breath hitch as her ribs pulled and body straightened. "Don't need to be, not when you gave me such a nice bodyguard, you bitch."
Alec was almost shocked. He'd never heard anyone speak to Renfro like that. Ever. If anyone ever had, he was pretty sure they were dead.
Renfro only laughed. "I see your mouth is still intact. Someone really should put it to better use. I'm sure there are plenty of guards who'd volunteer."
Max and Alec both snarled at that. Before he could even think about it, Alec moved so she was directly behind him, shielding Max from Renfro's sight.
Renfro looked vaguely surprised by the reaction she got from that statement. He didn't know if it was his or Max's that caused the surprise. Alec didn't care, though. "She's mine," he told her. He was pretty sure he was literally growling at her.
Behind him, Max had her hands on his back, touching him softly. He wasn't even sure if she was aware she was doing it or whether it was to reassure him that she was still there or her that he was real.
Renfro looked even more surprised at his statement. "I'll be back, 494. And when I come back, you're coming with me."
Alec didn't say anything to her, just watched the door intently, waiting until all of the footsteps had faded and the smell of their guns wasn't as strong. Only then did he turn and pull Max around so she was against his front. He held her there, hugging her, not sure what had really just happened.
Max sighed, resting her forehead against his chest. Alec leaned down enough to kiss her on the top of her head. He felt her lean into him more in response. "Mine," he told her, barely whispering the word loud enough for her to hear.
"Yours," she whispered back.
They didn't see anyone for three days. He figured it was all part of their big plan to starve them until they gave in. Alec was fine—hungry, but fine. Max, on the other hand, was woozy from having gone through such a fast healing process with no calorie intake.
Alec chose not to think about it, though. He couldn't, not if he wanted to be in any shape to do anything about it. The only bright side of it all was that Max had actually had time to do some healing. Her face was clearing up, and her lip was healed. She could walk without pain now, and her ribs were tender but no longer so scarily sore.
They were both still covered in her blood, though it was so dry it was flaking off their skin and hair. Their clothes were a lost cause, though.
They were laying on the cot when Alec tensed. He could hear a faint sound of footsteps, far too quiet for one of the guards, and could smell someone coming. They weren't an X, but they weren't human, either.
"Food," the man at their cell door told him. "Joshua brings food."
Alec was crouched in front of Max again, growling low in the back of his throat. "Why?"
"Hear her screaming, hear you taking care of her. Always fed before now, but guards forget you like they do us. Downstairs people now," the man told him.
Alec slowly rose. "They haven't forgotten us, big fella. They're not feeding us so we'll be weak, so they can take her away."
"Take little… fella away? Take her where?" the man asked, pushing some torn pieces of what smelt like a turkey sandwich in between the grating on the door.
Alec shrugged and came forward to take the sandwich pieces. He backed up swiftly, handing the food to Max. She looked up at him, and he nodded. She needed the food more than him.
The man had more pieces, though, and was already pushing it into the grating. "You, medium fella, you get in trouble again? More screams, like before? Like little fella?"
Alec froze halfway to the door again. "What do you mean, like before?"
The man shrugged. "Smelled you before. Smelled you again."
Alec raised an eyebrow but finished getting the sandwich pieces. "Got a bit of canine in your cocktail, huh?"
"Cat, cat in your cocktail. Both little fella and medium fella."
Alec nodded, taking a few pieces of the sandwich for himself and giving the rest to Max. Max waited for him to tell her to eat them all again, though, and he frowned. She didn't hesitate once he'd nodded for her to do so, so he set his worries aside.
"Don't hold it against us," he told the other man, keeping his tone light even as he looked worriedly at Max. They were going to have to do something. They couldn't survive on the scraps this dog-man could bring them, and at some point, they'd find a way to separate them.
"Thank you," Alec told the man, as he sat down on the cot again, pulling Max to sit back against him.
"No problem. Take care. Be back with more food when the guards leave it again," he told them before leaving just as quietly as he'd come.
They came a few hours later. There were a bunch of them, all armed to the teeth. That was their downfall in the end.
If they'd come in with tasers, they might have had a chance, but their fear of him and how he'd protected Max had made them arm up with real guns and bring knives. There wasn't a lot of room in the doorway, and only a few of them would ever have a clear shot at either of them.
He had been thinking about the best strategies for getting out of the cell with minimal damage, but he'd never factored in a gun or a knife because he'd never known they were going to be within his reach.
The first guard was dead by the time he'd taken two steps in the cell. Alec had tossed the knife from his belt back to Max before the guard had died, and once the man had slumped into Alec's arms, acting as a human shield, Alec was using his gun to take down as many of the others as he could.
The fight was shorter than it should have been. Alec wondered about that, wondered about how strong the guards really were, and how much fear they all had of them. Wondered if it was really deserved.
Alec switched out the gun he'd used for one that had only had one shot fired from it. They were standard issue 9mm, so he'd snagged another couple clips as well. He tucked one knife in his boot and held out another gun to Max.
She looked at it for a long moment before she took it. She was shaking a little, which made him frown, but she didn't drop it, and she seemed to know what she was doing. When she looked up at him, she nodded, and without speaking, they were off.
They were still in the basement tunnels when someone came out of the shadows. Both were pointing a gun at the person before they could blink.
"No shoot! Joshua! No shoot!" the man cried.
When he stepped into the light, Alec raised an eyebrow. "They really did throw a little canine in your cocktail, didn't they?"
"Truth, medium fella." Joshua grinned. "Go time? Outside time?"
Alec nodded. "Me and Max have gotta get out of here."
Joshua nodded, then started back into the shadows. "Come."
Alec motioned for Max to follow Joshua, then followed her. He wanted her to be in front of him, between him and Joshua. Joshua led them to a rusty door, then into a smaller room. He motioned to a stack of crates. "Move these, see outside."
Alec nodded and grabbed one end of crates. Once it was down, Alec realized there was a window behind it. A window that was covered in bars.
"Hate to break it to you, big fella, but Max and I weren't starved that long. We're not gonna fit through there."
Joshua grinned, showing all of his teeth. "Bars go easy. X7 in woods. They not go easy."
Alec nodded. The perimeter was guarded by a hive of X7s, and they were hard to take on when it was just a few of them. A whole hive was going to be really hard. Maybe too hard.
"We'll worry about it when we get there. Right now, we just have to get out." Alec didn't doubt his statement one bit. Right now, his mission was to get Max out of Manticore and as far away from them as possible. She was injured and weak, and he was tired from the lack of sleep and the confusion all of this was bringing.
He'd never felt like this before. He'd never found anything he was willing to fight this hard for before. He knew there was something in his past, something hazy that he couldn't remember that he'd tried to fight for. It was obvious, though, that he'd failed. He wasn't willing for that to happen this time.
"We have to get out of here, big fella. I wouldn't put it past them to terminate at this point."
Alec felt Max tense behind him and reached back to reassure her. He looked at Joshua's face and saw understanding there. He didn't have to explain to the dog-man. He had obviously experienced Manticore's best qualities for himself.
After a moment, Joshua turned and grabbed the bars, pulling the whole unit from the mortar. "Safe, keep little fella safe. You, too, medium fella."
Alec nodded to him and climbed up the crates. "You stay safe, too, big fella," he heard Max say, the first thing she'd said to Joshua. He smiled slightly. Once she climbed up on the crate, though, the smile was gone.
They had work to do.
Alec wasn't really sure how they made it past all the X7s. He knew some were dead. Not all of them had been smart enough to take cover once he and Max had started shooting. They'd obviously not been expecting them to have weapons.
But regardless, they'd made it to the fence and then over the fence. Once they were in the woods, no one was going to find them. It was the good part about being X5s—they were the top model. Everything after them was a little bit slower, a little less smart and a little more compliant. Everything before them was building up to what they were.
Alec didn't doubt there were things in the basement that could track and find them. But somehow they'd made friends of such with one of the basement dwellers, and Alec didn't want to count on it, but he was hoping that meant they'd catch a break with them.
They ran until Max stumbled. She didn't fall, didn't touch anything that would leave her scent; she just stumbled. Alec slowed down after that.
"Do you know where we are?" he asked her, looking around them at the woods.
"In general, yeah. We need to find a river. We can follow it to the sound, and I can get us to safety from there," she told him, leaning against him.
"We can wash this blood off, too," he told her, even though she already knew it. He glanced at her, worried. She looked like she might pass out.
Alec took some of her weight, leading her northwards still. He wasn't going any closer to Manticore than they already were anytime soon.
Max was still on her feet, though barely, by the time they found a river. Alec sat her down on a rock by the river, then stripped his clothing off and waded in. He left his boots, socks, and underwear on the shore and took the rest in, trying to clean the blood and grime from them as well as himself.
The grime came out after a little bit of rubbing, but the blood stains were looking pretty permanent on the clothes. He was about to start back to the bank when Max waded in with her shirt and pants. He took them from her and let her clean herself up some while he tried to clean her clothes up. Once the grime and dried blood was off her, Alec got a good look at just how abused she looked. He knew at the moment he probably didn't look too good, either. He had a bullet graze on his arm, a black eye from an elbow, and a bruised rib from a kick. Max's injuries were more faded but much more extensive. She could have used a few good meals or twenty and that hot bath she'd wanted so bad before.
Alec didn't let them stay there too long. They couldn't afford to stay anywhere near Manticore for more than a bit.
They traveled slow. The cold water hadn't helped Max much, though being clean did. They stuck along the river, but not too close—not only to get them to the sound, but because the water covered any sounds they made at their distance from it, and it was harder to track their smell there.
It took a long time to reach the sound. Max looked like she might drop, and Alec had been supporting her for the last few miles. He knew they couldn't stop but wasn't sure they could go on.
Eventually, they got to some semblance of civilization. Alec left Max in the woods outside the tiny gathering of houses around midnight and crept into the homestead. She told him to get clothing for them both and look for gasoline and a motorcycle.
He found clothing for them easy enough. The people he stole from were asleep in the same room as him, and even as exhausted as he was, they never knew he was there. He grabbed a loaf of bread and some cheese as well, and then after a second thought, a bottle full of milk and a blanket. He took his findings back to Max before he went looking for the bike.
They ate and drank in silence. He didn't change before he went looking for their ride out of there, but he told her to do so. He wanted her ready when he got back.
She was. She was barely awake, but she was changed, and her old clothes were folded neatly, ready to be bundled into the blanket that was currently wrapped around her. There was no reason to leave more evidence than they already had for Manticore to find if they got wind of the thefts that had happened.
The bike was in pretty okay condition, all things considered. They walked a ways down the road before Alec changed himself and then bundled their clothes together. Once he was on the bike, Max got on behind him, putting the blanket wrapped clothes in between them.
She gave him general directions towards Seattle. She told him she had a safe place for them to go, one Manticore had never found, and he trusted her. He didn't know how, exactly, she'd been caught. Rumor had she'd been one of the ones who blew up the DNA lab, but he didn't know details and doubted any of the others did, either.
When they finally got closer to Seattle, he shook her awake. It was still the dead of night, which was good for them. They needed to get into the city and through a couple of sectors to get to where they were going, and they were both exhausted.
But they managed. If he was asked later, which he never was, he wouldn't actually be able to give all the details of their journey, eidetic memory or no. They had to ditch the bike outside the city and hop fences and go down alleys. They took the most roundabout route to their destination, and he couldn't even complain because Max was just doing what they had all been taught to do since they started crawling—get to safety and lay low if they were ever caught out in enemy territory.
Alec hadn't thought about it before he took those guards out, but there was no safe zone anymore. Everywhere they went, they were in danger of Manticore. There was no base, and there were no government officials to get them back if something went south. They only had each other.
Surprisingly, this didn't bother Alec too much. Nor did the rundown appearance of the building Max finally led him into. She climbed into the lift, waiting for him to follow, before she hit the panel just right to make it start to go up.
At the door to an apartment, Max hesitated. Alec didn't know what she was waiting for, but he knew better than to say anything. Finally, though, she knocked.
Alec had never felt a more comfortable bed. The only problem was, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't even get his body to relax, let alone fall asleep. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, he got up, slipped back into his boxers, and moved to the doorway.
Max was sitting on the couch in the main room, holding hands with the black girl who'd opened the door. He hadn't been expecting her, and she obviously hadn't been expecting them, if the tears were anything to go by.
He knew that this was somehow important to Max, but he'd been up for a very long time, and he was running on way fewer calories than he was used to. At the moment, he really just wanted to lay down and sleep for twenty-four hours. The problem was, his body wasn't going to let him until he knew Max was safe beside him.
"Max," he said softly. He wasn't sure the ordinary girl could even hear him, but she must have been used to depending on Max to tell her when she missed things because she turned towards him only a second after Max did.
Cindy, the girl's name was Cindy. She looked back and forth between Max and him for all of five seconds before she was letting go of Max and shooing her towards him. "Go be wit yo' boy, boo. OC'll be here when y'all wake up."
Max didn't even wait for the sentence to end before she was up and moving towards Alec. He sighed when she reached him, pulling her against him and into the bedroom, shooting the other girl a grateful look.
Alec stripped back out of his boxers as Max stripped out of all her clothes. Once Max was lying down, Alec slid in next to her and wrapped his arms around her.
He was asleep five seconds later.
Alec woke up several times before he was up for good. He woke up when he heard Cindy get up, then woke up again when Max got up to talk to her. He dozed while Max was gone, but she came back, and he fell right back asleep.
A truck backfired a few streets down, and both of them sat straight up, reaching for guns that lay under their pillows. They'd barely settled when one of her neighbors slammed a door.
Eventually, they fell back asleep. The next time he woke up, Cindy was shutting the door to the apartment, and Max was on her side, looking at him. He smiled at her, leaning towards her to let his face rest against hers for a second before he nudged her out of the bed.
"Go talk to your friend."
"You sure?" she asked, biting her lip.
Something in him, a part of him he hadn't even realized was afraid of losing Max once they were on the outside and back in her territory, loosened at that. "Yeah. Think you could point me towards the shower?"
Despite the fact that it was cold, it was probably the best shower he'd ever had. When he got out of the bathroom, Max was in the kitchen with OC, stirring something on the stove.
Max looked up before he said anything and gave him a quick smile. "It's only oatmeal, but after the beating our stomachs have had, I thought it might be a good place to start."
Alec smiled back and nodded to OC. "Hey. I'm Alec. Sorry I didn't introduce myself last night," he told her with a bit of a smirk. "I was a little tired."
"A little? Boo, I'm surprised you ain't still trippin' in dreamland. Hell, I'm surprised my boo ain't there with you still, shark DNA or no."
Alec cut a sharp glance at Max, but she only smiled at him. "She knows about me, and it was a logical leap to think that about you, once I told her where I've been the last six months. Apparently, out here, I've been dead."
"Oh yeah? How'd Manticore pull that one off?" he asked. He still wasn't sure about an ordinary knowing where he was from, but he was willing to take the diversion for what it was.
Max looked down, though, almost looking stricken, and Alec wasted no time in moving around the counter and behind her, wrapping her in his arms. "Hey, hey," he whispered to her. "No matter what, it's okay. We survived, Maxie."
He knew she'd know exactly what he meant, and she did. They were survivors of an unimaginable horror, and nothing the outside world could throw at them would compare. It would hurt, but Alec thought that maybe as long as she was with him, he'd never break like he did then.
And Max, she had never broken.
"Um," she started, then cleared her throat. "Apparently, I died in someone's arms. I knew… I knew I died. That my brother gave his life so I could have his heart. Renfro made sure I knew. I just didn't know anyone else knew how I died."
Alec nodded. It might have seemed odd to be speaking about dying and transplants to anyone else, but Alec was Manticore. He knew exactly how far that place would go. He didn't let her go, but he loosened his hold so she could continue to make them food.
Cindy was watching them closely, which Alec figured probably should have made his skin crawl, but for some reason, he didn't mind it. He figured it was probably because Max was so okay with it.
"You know," Cindy said after awhile. "He's pretty broke up about you being dead."
Max cocked her head to show she was listening, but she didn't take her eyes off the food on the stove or move away from Alec. He tightened his arms around her, and he knew Max could feel his chest rumble with a low, silent growl at what Cindy was saying.
"Boo…" Cindy didn't say anything more, but Alec could tell she wanted to.
Max sighed. "Look, Cindy, whatever we might have been going towards, it's gone now. If I couldn't tell him things about my life before, there's no way I can tell him about these last six months. And how can he know me if he doesn't know about them?"
Alec tensed at her mention of the last six months, and when he thought about what she would have to tell, his growl became audible. Max set the spoon she was stirring with down and turned around, wrapping her arms around him and letting him hold her. He tucked her head under his chin and let one of his hands slide under her t-shirt, against the bare skin of her back.
Not only did it let him calm them down, but it clearly told Cindy all she needed to know about who Max would be telling her life stories to. He didn't necessarily glare at the other girl, but he was sure his eyes were wild enough to warn anyone off.
They didn't stay like that for very long. Max pulled back after a minute, turning around to finish the oatmeal. But Alec didn't let her go, and the hand that had been resting under her shirt on her back now lay against her stomach.
Dinner was a quiet affair. Once the dishes were done, they sat back down. "You gonna wanna come back to work, boo?"
Max shrugged. "I'll need to if I want a sector pass. Gonna have to see about getting Alec a job there. Not sure exactly how I'll explain away a six month death, but you know. I can wing it."
Cindy laughed, and Alec got the impression Max had had to wing it a time or two. "You just leave that to me, boo. Original Cindy's got you covered."
Max nodded. "Think I might wait a few more days, though, Cindy. I'm not sure either of us should really be around a lot of people right now."
Alec raised an eyebrow but didn't deny it. She was probably right in the long run. They could go out and function tomorrow, but it wouldn't be easy, and they'd both be a wreck come nightfall if it was for any extended period of time.
Cindy didn't even question Max, which Alec was grateful for. He didn't really want to examine their relationship at the moment, but once he had a bit more of an even keel, he knew he was going to get days out of watching them interact.
"So what are you two gonna do tomorrow, then, huh, boo? Sleep all day again?"
Max shrugged, looking over at Alec. "First up is getting him more clothes. One pair is not enough. After that? I don't know. Show him around a bit."
Alec smiled at her when she said that. He trusted her to know that this was a safe place, but he had no idea about the layout of Seattle, where to go and where not to go, or about any of the safest routes away from her apartment. Some of that he would learn with time, but a little snoop around the neighborhood would solve a lot of it.
Cindy smiled. "All right, then. Have fun wit' that."
They did have some fun with it. Shopping was a new experience for Alec. He thought he might be out of place with Max dragging him around and picking things out for him, but from all of the smiles he caught directed his way, it was apparently fairly normal. Max later explained that it wasn't too uncommon for girls to drag their boyfriends shopping.
Their exploration of her neighborhood was fun, too. It was serious because this wasn't for play, but it was fun because it was him and her, and they were going rooftop to rooftop, down alleys and up fire escapes. This type of thing, they were both used to.
Cindy brought a couple of pizzas home for dinner. Alec had only had pizza once before. He enjoyed it, which Max said was a given since she didn't think there was anyone alive their age who actually disliked pizza.
When Cindy went to bed, Max told her that they'd go with her the day after next. "Got a few more things to do. Then we'll go raise me from the dead."
Alec had watched her closely as she spoke, noting the tension in her as she thought about the next day's activities. He had a feeling he wasn't going to enjoy them.
He was right. She told him there was someone she had to see, someone who needed to know she was alive. She was tense as she explained that he had held her as she died and that this would be hard on both of them.
"You don't have to come," she told him nervously, her eyes fixed somewhere above his shoulder.
He didn't even think about what he was doing, just crowded into her space and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him. "You're mine, Max. I'm not letting you go anywhere alone."
He was a little lost, confused and unsure about what he should do. He knew that what he was telling her was acceptable in Manticore; in fact, it was just how things went there. He wasn't sure if it was how things worked out here or if he was allowed to say things like that. Or even if she knew what he was talking about.
She seemed to relax at his statement, though, and leaned into the touch. "Really?"
Alec nodded, opening his mouth to reassure her. He thought better of it, though, lifting her up and carrying her from the main room, back into her bedroom. He shut the door with a light kick and then set her on the edge of the bed, sliding to his knees in front of her.
"I know… I know you weren't around for a lot of things, Max, but when I said you were mine…" He didn't know how to explain it. Everyone had just known what it meant in Manticore when one of them had claimed the other like that.
"I am yours," she told him softly, letting her hands trail across his face. "I just don't want you to feel like you have to deal with the mess my life was before…. Before."
"It doesn't matter what it's about. I'm going to protect you," he told her. "I'm not ever gonna let you do something alone when I could be with you, not unless you tell me to let you."
Max tilted her head to the side, contemplating what Alec was saying. Alec wasn't sure how much she understood or how much her instincts had told her. He knew she'd suppressed them fairly well when she was on the outside alone, but he also knew Psy-Ops had a funny way of bringing them pretty damn close to the surface. A few people had been lost to their instincts after rounds down there.
"Does it mean that you can't go without me, too?" she asked. He could tell she wasn't really worried about how things reciprocated and was just curious.
"It can," he told her, his hands still on her and hers still on him. "But I'd rather you stayed safe if I have to do something really dangerous."
Max nodded thoughtfully. "I would like it if you came with me," she said to him finally.
Alec nodded. "Always."
The person they were going to see was a few sectors over, so the two of them had to do what they did best and escape notice as they slid around check points. Max led him to a building that screamed money, and the closer they got to it, the more tense she became.
Something inside of him was screaming to grab her and run away from whatever was causing this reaction in Max. He pushed the feeling down and just stepped a bit closer to her, watching their surroundings with more care.
Max led him to the penthouse. She paused outside the door before she pushed it open without knocking or announcing herself at all. Alec didn't hesitate to follow her in, staying just behind her.
She moved through the place like she knew where she was going, stopping short when a man came into view. "Logan," she said softly.
Alec had no trouble hearing her. He wouldn't have from anywhere in the apartment, but the ordinary at the computer didn't even twitch.
"Logan," she said, a bit louder. That did cause the ordinary to twitch—he turned all the way around, gaping at them.
"Max! Max, what, how, when…" The ordinary didn't know where to start, apparently.
When the ordinary turned his wheelchair and came towards Max, Alec stepped in front of her without thinking. Logan looked surprised at this action, but for some reason, it didn't seem to deter him. Alec vaguely wondered if all ordinaries were so bad at recognizing threats as he growled lowly in warning.
This time, Logan did stop. He tried to look around Alec at Max. "Max, what the hell?"
Alec growled again. At the moment, he was even sure if he wanted the ordinary talking to Max, let alone looking at her. He felt Max touch his back then, reassuring and calming. She didn't tell him to move, though, or that he was doing anything wrong.
After a long, tense, moment where Logan actually stayed put, Alec relaxed some. He stepped to the side and pulled Max up beside him, keeping his arm wrapped around her shoulders and her tucked against him.
"Hi, Logan," she said, leaning against Alec.
Logan looked her over, then looked at Alec. "Who's this?"
"This is Alec."
Logan looked like he expected more, but neither transgenic said anything more. Finally, Logan sighed. "And who is Alec?"
Max smiled softly up at Alec before she looked back at the ordinary, but it was Alec who answered. "She's mine. Part of my unit."
Logan glanced back and forth between the two, confused. "Did he take Zack's place? As CO? Is he one of your brothers?"
Max took a big breath before she spoke. "Alec is 494, Logan. He's Ben's twin. And no," she said, her eyes closed. Alec could smell how close to tears she was, and it made him start to growl again. "He isn't the CO of my old Unit."
Logan visibly recoiled when she told him Alec was Ben's twin. Max had told Alec who Ben was, but he hadn't expected this reaction from an ordinary.
"She's mine, so she's in my unit now," Alec told him.
Logan still didn't seem to get it. After a moment, he sighed. "Well, why don't you stick around for dinner, Max? You can tell me what happened."
Alec nearly snarled at that. "She's mine. She's not doing anything with you."
Max took a step back, sliding behind Alec. Logan looked shocked and hurt at the action. "Max, come on. It's not that big of a deal."
Alec growled, probably too low for Logan to hear, but he knew Max could. He could feel her tense, then start to retreat, and he almost breathed a sigh of relief that she understood what it meant. He waited until he knew she was to the door before he started to back up himself.
He didn't say anything more to the ordinary as they left. When they were finally safely on the ground, moving away as fast as they could without drawing attention, he started to relax.
Right before they were going to have to cross into the next sector, Alec steered Max into an alley and stopped, pulling her to him in a hug. She didn't even resist it, just leaned into him.
The next day, Alec and Max got up with Cindy, the three of them eating breakfast together before they got ready for the day. The three of them wandered out of the apartment with plenty of time, much to Cindy's amusement. Max explained to Alec that she had been late to work more often then not as Max and Cindy pushed their bikes along, walking with Alec.
When they got to JamPony, Cindy nodded to Max and then moved ahead of them. "Hey everybody!" she called out. "Look who's back from the dead!"
Noise stopped for a moment before a chorus of happy cries went up and people hurried over to greet Max. Alec hung back, just behind her, and let the ordinaries come up and see her. They all looked happy, and Max wasn't tense, so he wasn't too worried. Max was his best indicator in this new world as to when things were going wrong.
One of them, the only one who'd actually hugged her, was just asking her what had happened when the man who had been behind the counter came over towards them. "Well, well, well. What have we here?"
"What can I say, Normal?" Max asked. "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
The man handed a package off to another person, and Max tried to snag it. "Got my name on it," she told him.
Normal didn't let her take it and shook his head. "Your name is mud, Missy Miss. I've heard some lame excuses, but faking your own death for a six month sabbatical is a new low."
"I did not fake my own death. I had a… medical emergency."
"Would you care to explicate?"
"I had a heart transplant."
The man laughed, though he clearly wasn't all that amused. "That's good. Do you have a note from your doctor? Any prescriptions? Because I'll need some more proof before I buy that."
Max didn't say anything, just lifted her tank top up to bare her chest. Alec growled, low enough that the ordinaries would probably miss it, but Max wouldn't. She glanced over her shoulder at him, her eyes telling him to just let her do this, just for a moment.
She had obviously been enjoying her sparring with the man, so Alec hadn't been to worried, but this was a little much. He could see Cindy covering the eyes of the guy who'd hugged Max and felt a little better.
The ordinary looked away and then down. "That's a nice big, um, scar you got there."
"Yeah, well enjoy it while you can, 'cause it's fading fast."
Alec felt a little better when she put her shirt back down. Normal and Max seemed to have come to an agreement because he handed the package to her. "Oh, Normal," Max said to his retreating back. "This is Alec. He needs a job."
"No, no. Got enough of you worthless punks around here, especially with you back," Normal told her.
Max rolled her eyes. "He's gold, Normal, promise. He even graduated from the school I used to go to. So, I mean, he stuck it out there, why wouldn't he actually follow through here?"
Alec smiled at that, not sure what Max had told anyone about where she was from. He figured that an odd school was probably better than anything else.
They had just come in from their last run of the night a few days later when someone started yelling from over by the TV. "Eyes Only broadcast!"
Max rolled her eyes but started towards the TV, Alec trailing behind her, not sure what was going on. It was explained readily enough by the eyes appearing on the screen and the red and blue stripes above and below.
"Do not attempt to adjust your set. This is an Eyes Only streaming freedom video bulletin. The cable hack will last exactly sixty seconds. It cannot be traced, it cannot be stopped, and it is the only free voice left in this city. Your secret is out. And now Manticore will be held accountable for its crimes. Manticore's facility is located an hour southwest of Seattle."
Max froze, staring at the TV. Alec sucked in a deep breath, not sure what he should actually be thinking about this.
"Alec," Max whispered, so quiet none of the ordinaries would be able to hear. "They'll kill all of them. She'll lock the doors and torch the place."
Alec looked down at her, shocked. "What do you mean, they'll kill all of them?"
"They can't let them be found or the rumors be confirmed. They'll destroy everything before they let that happen. Renfro told me she'd burn the place down if it ever got out." Max turned into him so she could rest her forehead on his shoulder. "What do we do, Alec?"
He was silent a moment, watching the TV screen as it returned to normal and the kids standing around it started to forget when they'd just seen, not knowing what it meant. "We go home."
It took them far less time to get back to Manticore than it took for them to get away from it. The motorcycle and a direct route helped, and the sector passes didn't hurt, either. They ditched the bike in the woods and made the last bit of the trek on foot, coming to a stop outside of the fence. Already, there were signs of fire.
The two of them made their way down into the facility, jumping the fence and racing into the building. The doors they passed were locked, much to Max's dismay, but Alec led her to a control room. It didn't take more than a few seconds to have the doors to all the cells open and the overrides destroyed.
"Give them an evac code, tell them to go to ground, to not follow any preset rendezvous set instructions or ones they see sent by command," Max shouted as she started back towards the door.
"Max!" Alec yelled at her, wanting to follow as she slipped into the hallway. He couldn't, though, not until he did what she said because otherwise they'd fall right back into the wrong hands.
It didn't take too long to do, and once he did it, he destroyed the console completely. Then he was rushing out of the door to find Max in the madhouse that was the destruction of Manticore.
He found her in Renfro's office. Renfro was on the ground, shot through the stomach. Max was rifling through her briefcase. Just as Alec came up to her, she found a disc. "This is all of us," she told him. It's almost hard to believe that such an innocuous thing could be everything to them.
Alec nodded, and the two of them raced towards the exit. They had to knock a few guards out, but for the most part, the guards were either already unconscious or had bolted. It wasn't hard to get out and return to where they left the bike. After stopping at a stream to clean up a bit, it wasn't too hard to get back into the city, either.
As they entered Cindy's apartment later that night, Alec did a quick sweep of the room, making sure it was still secure. He hadn't really processed that Manticore was completely gone just yet.
"Come on," Max whispered, holding her hand out to him. "Let's go to bed."
Alec smiled at her, taking her hand, and the two of them settled down for the night.