Spoilers: Mentions of events from the "Pilot," "Designate This," and the "Berrisford Agenda."
Disclaimer: Alec's mine. *a long silence ensues* What? I'll admit that I don't own the rest of Dark Angel. Isn't that enough? ;)
A/N: This is an idea I've had in mind for a while, but I finally had the chance to write it. :) It takes place some time after "The Berrisford Agenda," and "Borrowed Time," but before "Hello, Goodbye." For those of you waiting for the sequel to Movie Magic, I promise I'm working on that too. This bunny just cut in line and demanded that I finish it first, lol.
A/N2: God is incredible, and His mercy beyond words.
It started as a dull ache behind his eyes. It always did. Alec knew the signs well enough to recognize them by now.
But he'd still tried to shrug it off at first. After all, he'd spent most of last night stuck in a closet with Max - again - and she'd smacked him upside the head so many times that he probably had a concussion just from that.
Unfortunately, when Sketchy slammed his locker door, Alec's sensitive ears picked up every decibel of the noise, magnifying it, and the dull ache immediately turned into a white-hot, stabbing pain that throbbed in time with his heart.
That's when Alec knew he couldn't ignore it anymore.
He closed his eyes tightly until the agony finally eased to a more manageable level, then he got up unsteadily from the bench he was sitting on and headed for the main desk.
"Hot run, 8th and Walnut!" Normal called out just as he reached the front.
Alec grimaced, and of course, Normal - with his disturbing mother-hen tendencies - caught it.
"You alright?" he asked.
Alec opened his mouth to answer but a loud crash came from outside.
"Sorry! My bad!" someone yelled.
Alec flinched, resisting the urge to cover his ears with his hands.
"I'll take that as a 'no,'" Normal interjected. "What's wrong?"
The guy sounded genuinely worried, and Alec shifted uncomfortably.
"I uh…I get these migraines sometimes."
Alec nodded. "Yeah. Guess I took one too many hits in the cage."
He gave Normal the most convincing smile he could manage while a jack hammer was pounding away in his skull, hoping his boss wouldn't question the explanation. He really didn't want to get into this now. All he wanted was to lock himself up in his apartment, and sleep…or pass out, whichever came first.
Normal studied him for a long moment.
"Take the rest of the day off," he said finally.
"Thanks, Normal," Alec said, genuinely grateful.
Normal nodded, waving off the thanks, and Alec headed back to his locker to grab his jacket.
He could feel the pressure building behind his eyes now, the jack hammer slowly working its way up to a sonic boom. He just hoped he'd be back in his apartment before that happened, and not on his bike. Winding up as a hood ornament or road pizza wouldn't exactly do wonders for his head.
He was almost tempted to ask Sketchy or OC to come with him, just to make sure that he didn't plant his face in the pavement. But if he did that, they'd tell Max about it - and he didn't want her to know.
Not about this.
Alec sighed, slipping his sunglasses on, trying to ignore the weird flashes of light starting in the corners of his eyes.
Red. They were always red.
Maybe that shouldn't have surprised him.
Max was having a bad day. A very bad day. Then again, after the night she'd had, stuck in a closet with Alec, she really should have expected it.
First, some idiot had tried to jump the sector checkpoint - on foot. He'd made it about two feet past the gate before the sector cops had cuffed him, but they'd still locked down the checkpoint for half an hour. After that, she'd had to endure a long lecture from Normal for being late, even though, for once, she had a legitimate reason. And then, to top it all off, the first customer she'd delivered a package to had been a sleazy guy who'd kept calling her "baby doll."
So, it wasn't her fault that her mood was subterranean.
"Hot run, 5th and Harrison!" Normal called, tossing a package her way. Max caught it a few inches from her face, and grit her teeth.
"Normal," she managed, not quite suppressing the growl, "I just came back from a run. I've been out four times already."
Normal arched an eyebrow at her behind his glasses, obviously unimpressed. "You've been out four times already? Really? My heart bleeds for you. Here." He thrust another package at her. "This one's in the same sector."
Normal looked down to scribble something on his clipboard, and Max just barely swallowed back the words she wanted to say.
"Can't you get someone else to do it?" she bit out instead.
"What about Alec?"
"I sent Golden Boy home. He had a headache."
"A headache," Max repeated incredulously.
"Yes." He waved a hand at her impatiently. "Now, bip!"
Max glared, shoved the packages roughly into her bag, and stalked back over to her bike, fuming.
Alec got the day off for a headache - which had to be the most pathetic excuse he'd ever come up with - and she got stuck with extra runs? He was always getting away with stupid stuff, just because Normal thought his "Golden Boy" could do no wrong.
Max was sick of it. The next time she saw Alec, she was gonna-
Max stopped suddenly, remembering the sector Normal was sending her to.
Same sector as Alec's apartment.
That gave her an idea.
Max went straight to Alec's apartment building when she was finished with her run. Thankfully, nobody stopped her in the hallway to ask questions. The irritated expression on her face might have had something to do with that, though.
She didn't bother knocking when she reached Alec's door. She already knew that Alec was home. She'd caught his scent, stronger than it would have been if he were gone, and more than that, she could just…sense him, in that weird, hard-to-explain way she usually tried to ignore.
The apartment was dark when she picked the lock and let herself in. The curtains were drawn, and all the lights were switched off.
Max frowned, worry prickling in the back of her mind as she looked around, her indignation fading a little. But only a little. She was still gonna berate him for being an irresponsible, lazy-
Max's mental tirade ended abruptly.
Alec was on the floor, slumped against the wall just outside the bathroom, his eyes squeezed shut.
Alec cringed, but didn't move.
"Alec?" Max tried again.
Suddenly, Alec was pushing himself up and stumbling to the bathroom. The sounds of retching followed a moment later. Max stayed frozen for a half a second longer, then went in after him. She moved next to him awkwardly, not touching, but close enough to be there if he needed her.
When Alec was finally finished, he just stood there, eyes still closed, the hand he had braced against the wall the only thing keeping him upright.
"Alec?" she asked hesitantly.
"What are you doing here, Max?" he demanded. His voice was rough, strained.
"I…" Max trailed off, not wanting to admit the real reason she'd come by to see him. "I wanted to see if you were okay," she finished lamely.
Alec snorted. "Sure you did. Let me guess…you came here to yell at me for ditching work?"
"Well, what was I supposed to think?" Max retorted, feeling defensive. "You told Normal you had a headache-"
Alec flinched, and Max realized belatedly how loud her voice had gotten.
"Sorry," she apologized grudgingly, careful to keep voice softer this time.
Confusion battled with her rapidly growing worry. Okay, so…maybe Alec hadn't lied about having a headache. But he was an X5. X5's weren't supposed to get headaches. Not like this. Not this bad.
"Are you sick?" The question came out more demanding than she'd meant for it to.
Max's eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "No? You spend five minutes puking your guts out, and actually expect me to buy that? You can barely stand up straight. What's wrong?"
Max frowned. "If it's got something to do with the seizures-"
"It's not the seizures," he cut her off abruptly.
"Then what is it?"
"It's not important, okay? Just go."
Max crossed her arms stubbornly, shaking her head. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what's going on."
Alec's eyes finally opened, and he studied her for a long moment. It seemed like he wanted to keep arguing with her, but he was too tired to put up much of a fight. He sighed heavily.
"I get migraines sometimes," he admitted.
"Migraines?" Max repeated.
Her old roommate, Kendra, had gotten migraines once in a while, wicked headaches that had made her usually bubbly friend lock herself in her room for days.
But Kendra was an ordinary. Alec wasn't.
"How-" she started.
Max felt her stomach lurch a little at that.
Alec gave a short, bitter, bark of laughter that hurt to hear. "Re-indoctrination. Apparently, getting the full treatment twice can have some nasty, long-term side-effects."
Twice? Why would they…?
Just like that, Max's genetically enhanced brain gave her the answer.
Once in '09. Once after Rachel.
Suddenly, Max felt like she was the one who was gonna be sick.
She swallowed hard.
"What about…what about the doctors? Didn't they do anything to stop them?"
"The doctors didn't know." He sighed again, some of the bitterness fading. "Remember when we first met, and I told you I had a few things workin'?"
Max nodded mutely.
"I had a deal with the guards. I gave them meds, got them stuff from outside when I could, they gave me cash and let me drop off the radar for a few hours when the headaches got really bad."
"That's why you ran your own black market?"
"Part of it. The cash was nice too."
Max snorted softly, a tiny burst of amusement pushing its way past the disgust she felt at what he was telling her. But it didn't last long.
Alec swayed on his feet, and Max reached out to steady him. She waited until he stopped looking like he was gonna fall over, then walked to the sink and filled a glass with water for him, so he could rinse out his mouth. When he was done, she tugged on his arm, pulling towards the doorway.
"Just shut up and let me help you," she said without any real heat.
He gave up resisting and let her lead him to his bedroom. It said how awful he felt that he didn't even make any smart remarks about it. Alec was leaning on her heavily by they time they reached his room, his pale features pinched in pain, eyes dark and strangely bright.
Max helped him sit on the bed, grunting in surprise when she wound up taking most of his weight in the process.
"Sorry," he muttered, the word a little slurred.
She shrugged, trying to sound casual. "S'okay."
She hesitated for a minute, then reached for his jacket, pushing it from his shoulders, knowing he'd be more comfortable without it on. She watched him as she worked, still expecting him to say something, to tease her, but his eyes were closed tightly again, his head lulling forward onto his chest.
Max couldn't keep the worry from her voice this time. "Alec?"
"'M fine," he murmured.
Max frowned, and started on his boots next, slipping them from his feet. When she was finished, she helped him lay back on the bed.
"Better?" she asked.
Max watched him for a minute, biting her lip, then sat down on the end of his bed.
"How often does this happen? The headaches, I mean."
"Depends. It was worse in the beginning. I used to get them every couple of months, but they've been tapering off. I haven't had one in a while. I thought maybe they were gone." He snorted. "Guess not, huh?"
Max wasn't really sure how to answer that, so she just stayed silent.
"I was okay the first time, after '09," Alec continued, like he figured that if he'd told her this much, he might as well tell her the rest. "Took a while to stop seeing double, but then everything went back to normal. But after Ra-" His voice caught. "After the second time, I started getting headaches. Bad ones."
"Do you know why?"
Alec shrugged. "No. But I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that it had something to do with having a laser drill into my eye for hours."
Max had to look away.
She remembered what it was like, the way it burned, the way it made you want to tell them anything, do anything, as long as the pain stopped…
"I'm sorry," she said softly, not really sure what she was apologizing for.
For being the reason her unit had escaped? For unwittingly playing a part in what Manticore had done to him? For the way she always thought the worst of him?
For all of it?
"Not your fault."
Max's gaze darted back to Alec. His eyes were closed again, and in the darkness of the room, he almost looked gray.
"Have you seen a doctor about them?" she wondered. "A real doctor? Out here?"
Logan had connections. Dr. Shankar had helped them before. She might-
But Alec was already shaking his head.
"What's the point? Manticore did full physicals on us every six months, Max. If there was something there, they'd have found it."
"Maybe you should have told them. Maybe they could have-"
"What? Helped?" Alec asked incredulously. "They already thought I was defective. If they'd known I was damaged too, the only kind of 'help' I'd have gotten would have been a bullet to the head."
Max flinched at the blunt statement.
The worst part was, she knew he was right.
It hit her suddenly how close he'd come to being put down, how close she'd come to never meeting him, to having some other X5 walk into her cell instead. It surprised her how much that idea bothered her…him not being there.
Max shifted uneasily on the bed, but when one of the springs creaked and Alec winced, she froze instantly.
Kendra had told her what migraines were like, how light and sound made them so much worse. Light…sound…two things they were very sensitive to thanks to Manticore's gene splicing. For a transgenic, it was never really dark, never really quiet.
"Is there anything that helps?" she wondered.
"Swallowed about a dozen Advil once. Didn't do any good. Our metabolisms burn through things too fast." He sighed, rubbing at his eyes wearily. "Look, Max. I'm fine. I'll just deal with it like I always do."
Alec hadn't said that, but Max still heard it. She heard the dismissal in it, too. It stung a little, but she didn't take it personally - not really. Manticore had taught them that you couldn't show weakness. Ever.
She pushed herself up from the bed.
"Anything you need?" she asked.
"Mind knocking me out?"
Max rolled her eyes. "I'm serious."
Max snorted, and started for the door, but something made her hesitate. She'd gotten Alec off the floor and into bed. He could ride the rest out by himself, like he wanted to.
But, well…they weren't friends exactly, but they weren't really enemies, either. Max didn't know what they were. They were just…them. They fought and argued and threatened, but they still had each other's backs.
And that's what this was…having Alec's back.
Her eyes drifted to a chair sitting by his dresser. A blanket had been folded up and tossed over the back of it. She snagged the blanket, walked to Alec's bed, and spread it over him.
He looked more than a little surprised, but either his headache had gotten worse or she'd shocked him enough that he didn't know what to say, because he didn't make any smart aleck comments about it.
"I'll come back in a couple hours," she said, trying to sound nonchalant, "make sure you're not puking your guts out again or anything."
"You don't have to."
Max shrugged. "I know."
She started for the door again, but this time, Alec's voice stopped her.
She turned around. "Yeah?"
Alec's eyes were opened into slits, but the gratitude in them was sincere. "Thanks."
A/N: A couple people have asked me why I only mention Alec being in Psy-Ops twice, instead of three times. :) I haven't forgotten about the six months Alec spent in Psy-Ops because of Ben, but the laser seemed to be used specifically for questioning and re-indoctrination, and I don't picture them using it on Alec when they were trying to determine if Ben's insanity was genetic. Since it was a psychological evaluation, it seems to me like they might have used one of the telecoercionists instead (like Mia), along with lab tests, which would have been less invasive than the laser, though probably not very pleasant. That's why I mention two instances here, and not three. :)
I hope you enjoyed it! Please let me know what you think!
Take care and God bless!