big city life (so much for the afterglow)
fandom, pairing
: dark angel, het: max/alec
: Max went into heat, and now she and Alec have to deal with the aftermath, which includes weird instincts they didn't know they had, Original Cindy knowing more than anyone gave her credit for, and Sketchy.
lies and libel.
23,327 words!!! absolutely clichéd fic of doom, mostly to prove I could write it too. might have my own twist to it, might not. there's a lot of it out there. follows "a little understanding" directly, but you don't need to read that to read this. for Sarah and Kate and Dea. 333 title by mattafix and everclear, lyrics by mattafix. as for the show's timeline, this is set sometime after 'she ain't heavy' and before 'love amongst the runes', but it's AU. THANK YOU so much to Sara for beta'ing this monster. 333

big city life (so much for the afterglow)

i find myself in the big city prison
arisen from the vision of man kind.
designed to keep me discreetly
neatly in the corner.

She couldn't blame Alec. As much as she wanted to, she knew she couldn't. She'd promised him last night, and as much as her gut reaction—the one that had developed to keep her alive on the run for the last ten years—was telling her to push him away from her any way she knew how, she couldn't do it.

That scared her almost as much as anything.

She slipped a teeshirt over her head and found a clean pair of underwear before she slid down the wall, bringing her knees up to her chest as she watched Alec sleep. Even after a heat-fueled night of sex, her shark DNA wouldn't let her sleep for more than a few hours.

She rested her head on her knees after awhile, still watching Alec. Over him, through the window, she could see the sky lightening as day arrived. It wasn't a sunrise, not this deep in the city and not with the cloud cover that Seattle so often provided. Instead, the sky just went from grey-black to plain grey as the sun rose over the Cascades to the east.

Alec woke sometime after that. She didn't know exactly what time it was, but she knew it was still early. Cindy hadn't even stumbled back in from whoever's bed she'd spent the night in.

He appeared to stir, slowly waking up, but Max knew he'd been awake since before he showed signs of waking. He was in unfamiliar territory, and he didn't know what kind of situation he was going to roll over into.

Finally, though, Alec rolled over onto his side, looking at her curiously. She didn't say anything but didn't look away. Alec let the silence go on for a few minutes before he sighed. "You okay, Maxie?"

Max shrugged but didn't move. Alec just raised an eyebrow, not forcing the issue. He slid out of her bed, searching for and locating his boxers and jeans. Max tracked his movements around her room from where she sat against the wall.

Once he'd put the clothes on, he walked towards her. Max had to admire the way Alec moved. He was sure of himself in a way ordinaries weren't, light and graceful on his feet.

Max looked up at his face when he stopped in front of her, tilting her head to the side. Alec smiled softly. "Think I can have my shirt back? You might look pretty good in mine, but I'm not sure I'd look too good in yours."

Max jolted a little, looking down to find that she was, indeed, wearing his shirt. She hadn't even realized that she'd put on his shirt, not one of her own, when she'd gotten out of bed. Standing, she padded over to her chair and grabbed the first top she could, which turned out to be a black tank top. She pulled Alec's teeshirt up over her head, then slipped the tanktop on.

She could feel Alec's eyes on her as the black material slid down across her back. Something in her sparked at the feeling. She ignored it and turned around to toss him his shirt.

It was her turn to stare as he slid his shirt on. She tore her eyes away, looking down at the floor once she realized what she was doing. Alec sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "So I guess I'll see you at work?"

Max nodded slowly. "Yeah. See you in a bit."

Alec gave her a small smile as he left, and she watched from her bedroom as he grabbed his coat off the floor. "Hey, Alec!" she called after him, quiet for an ordinary, but more than loud enough for him to hear. "Don't call me Maxie."


Max strolled into JamPony just ten minutes late for once. She scanned the room quickly, noticing OC talking with Sketchy and Mari over by the lockers. Alec was leaning against a wall, talking to Biggs. The rest of the JamPony crew seemed to be just as excited to work.

Max ignored Normal's sarcastic cut at her arrival time and headed towards Cindy. Alec grinned at her as she passed. "How is it I left your place and went back to mine to get ready for today and still beat you here, huh, Maxie?"

Max rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Alec," she muttered, not sure how to respond to him. She caught the look Cindy was throwing her way and the similar one that Biggs was throwing Alec and groaned internally.

When she got to the lockers, Sketchy was glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, and Cindy was staring at her with a time-worn expression that said dish.

Max avoided the looks her two friends were giving her and completely ignored her other co-workers. "You have fun last night with your girl, Cindy?"

Cindy snorted. "I can see through that a mile away, boo," she told Max, leaning up against the locker beside her. "Now, Original Cindy has to wonder, what could Alec have meant by that statement?"

Max shrugged. "What does Alec ever mean?"

Cindy raised an eyebrow but didn't push her. Max snagged the package Normal threw her way and didn't even protest that it was all the way up on Capital Hill.


Max was feeling twitchy when she got back to JamPony. She didn't know why, but it kept her moving fast and quietly through the streets, her head down and her senses on high alert.

It wasn't like she had felt yesterday before her heat had kicked in—it was something else all together. Like she was missing something.

Alec was sitting over by their lockers when she came down the ramp. His head snapped up, and he looked behind her. She could almost feel some of the tension drain out of her at that, and she frowned at the reaction, tossing her clipboard to Normal as she made her way towards Alec.

"You okay?" he asked.

She shrugged, not sure how to explain what she was feeling. It wasn't like she was being watched or like something bad was going down. She just couldn't settle. "Dunno. Something's up, but I can't tell what."

Alec nodded, and she could see how tense his shoulders were, almost like he was experiencing some of the same feelings. She sighed and settled herself down onto the bench in front of him. The feeling was nearly gone now, but it still didn't worry her any less.

Sketchy came over to them, and he and Alec got into a conversation about the finer points of something. She was mostly tuning them out, just letting the presence of known entities calm her nerves.

When Cindy got back from her runs, she settled down next to Max, and the two of them started talking about the exploits of the guy in their building who always smelled like moldy cheese and the girl Cindy had been with the night before. It was all small talk, but it helped Max's nerves, and she was noticing that as she relaxed, Alec did, too.

She hadn't forgotten the tense feeling from earlier, though she'd managed to push it out of her mind, when a guy she'd never seen before walked in. She and Alec tensed, enough so that Cindy turned to see what was causing it and Sketchy realized he should shut up. Max stared at the new guy, her eyes narrowing just slightly, and she could feel Alec scoot closer to her, his hand resting in the small of her back.

The guy asked Normal a few questions and didn't stay long. But her reaction to him—and Alec's—put her on edge. Once the guy was gone, she turned to look at Alec, questioning him silently, but he wasn't looking at her. He was watching the door, still tense, like he was waiting to make sure the threat was gone.

Max knew this reaction should unsettle her, but all she felt was relief. She could see how that knowing that even though she turned her back to the door, there was someone watching to make sure she wasn't in danger, would make her feel secure. She just wasn't so sure it should feel so good for that person to be Alec.

After another long moment, Alec relaxed some, a lazy smile coming across his face. Max returned it with a quick grin, but it didn't last. She could see the worry in his eyes, even as he made a smart remark to Sketchy about strange-looking people using their messenger service.

Out of the corner of her eye, Max saw Cindy raise an eyebrow, but before she could sidetrack her friend, Alec shook his head once, and Cindy let it drop. Max let out a breath at that, almost a sigh that was soundless to ordinaries. Alec heard her, though, and his gaze dropped to her for a moment.

She shrugged. She didn't have any more of an idea of what was going on than he did.


Max came in from an afternoon run just after Alec did. She was twitchy again, but she'd looked hard and used all the training she had—she knew she wasn't being followed. She couldn't put a name on the twitchiness. She just knew that as soon as she saw Alec heading into JamPony, everything else in her relaxed a little.

She tossed her clipboard and one package at Normal. "Not home. Went back after the other two, and they still weren't home," she told him to fend off anything he was going to yell at her.

Of course, it didn't stop him. "It's just like you, missy miss, blaming it all on the customer."

Before Max could even think to sass back at him, Alec was right there behind her, a hand in the small of her back. "Give her a break, Normal."

Max was just as surprised by that as anyone else was. Alec usually loved to tease her about everything Normal got on her case about. Even when Normal started to piss him off, he never reacted like this.

Max leaned back into him and felt him relax a little. She could feel his chest rumbling, and she realized he was growling, just too quiet to be heard. "Yeah, Normal, give a girl a break," she threw out there, hoping to defuse the situation.

It worked to a point. The rest of the world picked up again, no longer frozen in place, but Normal was staring at them like they might have each grown a second head

"We have got to figure out what's going on," she told Alec, quiet enough that only he could hear, as she led him back towards the lockers.

He nodded, his eyes troubled. "My place, after work."

Shit, she thought. What the hell had they gotten into.


Max had no idea what was going on. From the looks of things, Alec was fairly confused as well. She followed him into his apartment quietly, unsure of where this night was headed.

Alec nodded to his couch, and for once, she took his suggestion without a word. Alec brought her a beer from the fridge and sat down beside her. She accepted it, wishing that alcohol would actually affect her.

Alec sighed. "I have no idea what this is, Max."

She shrugged. "As long as we're both on the same page, I guess."

Alec laughed a little, and Max was glad for it, glad that whatever this was hadn't changed things between them completely. They were silent again for a while before she turned to face him. "Do you think it has something to do with my heat? I mean, it's hard to ignore the timing, and that wasn't a normal heat."

Alec nodded slowly, and Max watched him go over all the details in his mind again. "Maybe someone up on Oak Street will have an idea, then?"

She nodded thoughtfully. "Feel up to a ride?"

He grinned at her. "Always, Maxie, always."

She didn't realize until they were getting on his bike that she hadn't felt the usual twinge of regret when he called her Maxie.


People on Oak Street did know what was going on, unfortunately.

"Sounds like you mated," a black-haired X6 told them.

Max and Alec both sputtered out some form of denial, but the blonde X4 on their left just laughed at them. "No matter how much you deny it, it's not going to change the facts."

Max was quiet for a few moments, and Alec watched her closely. "Did this happen because he's the first X I've been around while I was in heat?" she asked.

The X4 shrugged. "Maybe. It's hard to say. But I doubt it."

Alec rolled his eyes. "Then why?"

The blonde was about to respond when a redheaded X5 sauntered over. "It's about trust and safety and who will take care of you. And it's generally subconscious if it happens during heat. You might not have admitted it before, but the two of you trust each other to watch each other's back, especially when the shit hits the fan."

Alec was kind of surprised Max wasn't spitting denials and insults at the redhead, and Max knew it. She smiled at him, just slightly, and shrugged. "She has a point. You're the only one I'm okay pulling heists with anymore. Not that I had a whole lot of partners in crime before."

Alec returned her smile. Max didn't say anything more and wasn't going to in front of every X on Oak Street. Maybe later she would.

They didn't stick around much longer after that. A few Xs made comments about what they were off to do as they left, but one look from Alec silenced most of them.


They went back to his place. As much as Max loved OC, she didn't really want to have this conversation in front of her. Once the two of them were back on Alec's couch, Max sighed and closed her eyes. "So," she said, knowing the way her voice sounded gave away a lot to her fellow X5. "Mates, huh?"

Alec laughed a little. "I guess so."

Max smiled at him. "At least we're not going completely insane."

Alec nodded. "This is true. After this afternoon, I wasn't too sure."

"Please don't remind me. Everyone else will be doing enough of that tomorrow."

Alec laughed at that, long and relieved. "Dude. The look on Normal's face made it so worth it."

Max grinned. "Okay, yeah, that was pretty awesome."

They sat quietly for a while. After a bit, Alec wrapped his arm around her, pulling her against him. She leaned into him, taking comfort in the feeling of him against her. "We'll figure this out, Maxie," he told her, so low she had trouble hearing it, even as close as she was. "I promise."

Max turned into him even more, burying her face in his chest. His arm tightened around her. After a long while, the silence was broken by a yawn from Alec. Max sat up just enough that she could see his face. "Alec?"

Alec brought his other hand up to touch her cheek, a soft, gentle touch she wasn't expecting. She leaned into it. "Will you stay with me tonight, Max?"

Max nodded. She knew he wasn't asking for sex, but for comfort, and even as unsure as she was, she couldn't deny Alec that.

Alec shifted so that when he stood up, he lifted her with him. She nearly giggled, her arms wrapping around his neck, even though she knew without a doubt that he would never drop her.

He set her on his bed and stepped back, looking unsure for the first time in a long time. Max couldn't help but reach out and touch him, sooth him, her hands resting on his chest just for a second. Alec seemed to calm at her touch, giving her a slight smile before he stripped out of his jeans and teeshirt. Max sighed, slipping her pants and her teeshirt off, leaving her in just a tanktop and underwear.

She hadn't slept in a bed with anyone in a very long time. Not since Lucy. All the other times that she had shared a bed had been heat-induced, and there hadn't been much sleeping involved there.

Alec lay down and pulled her down after him, holding her close. She was sure it should have been more awkward than it was, but she couldn't help the feeling of comfort she got from being so close to him.


She hadn't expected to sleep. When she opened her eyes and saw the sky lightening as dawn crept forward, Max felt herself stiffen. She had to have slept at least four hours, and that was two more than normal. Alec ran a hand up her back, and she relaxed some, sighing as she did.

"Sleep good?" he asked, his voice rough with sleep.

Max shivered at the sound and nodded against his chest. "Yeah. A lot, too."

Alec laughed softly and didn't stop running his hand up and down her back. They lay there for a while, quiet, before Alec sighed and shifted. "Should probably get up. OC is gonna want a few questions answered before work."

Max nodded and pushed herself up and off Alec. She dressed quickly, watching out of the corner of her eye as he found clean clothes and went for a shower.

She was slightly unsettled while he was in the bathroom, even though he'd left the door cracked. When he came out, she couldn't help but touch him. He seemed to relax at the contact as well, and she sighed, wondering how this day was going to turn out.

Alec stopped at a bakery stall as they made their way towards her place, pulling her next to him as he got breakfast. He handed her a sandwich, and the two of them continued towards Max and OC's.

They had finished their food by the time they got there. OC wasn't up yet, so Max took the time to grab a quick shower and change. When she got out, Alec was leaning against the wall right by the door. She wasn't surprised at the feeling of his hands running down her back; she figured the two of them were going to have to get used to the touchy-feely bit of this.

When OC came out of her bedroom, she didn't look all too surprised to see the both of them. "So you two gonna explain while OC makes herself some oatmeal?"

Max nodded, hesitating as she stepped away from Alec and over towards the counter. She could feel his eyes tracking her and sighed, wishing it was all just a little less intense.

"Alec and I," Max started. She paused, not quite sure what to say. "Well, I mean, you know how we've got cat DNA?" At OC's nod, she sighed again. "Apparently, to go along with the heat and the jumping and the hearing, we got a few more instincts than we knew. And apparently, one of those is the, uh, ability to mate."

OC stared at her as the water boiled. "You're tellin' me that you and hot boy over there went and mated?"

Max shrugged. "As best as anyone can figure, yeah."

OC shook her head. "So what's this mean?"

Max shrugged again, feeling like that was the only answer she had this morning, and looked over her shoulder at Alec.

Alec sighed. "Hell if we know, OC."

OC looked between the two of them. "This is gonna be one hell of a ride, innit?"


Their day at JamPony went about as OC had predicted. Every time Max and Alec came back in from runs at the same time, they came together in a clash of subtle touches and not so subtle looks. Biggs and Cece had taken to running interference for them, keeping unsuspecting ordinaries away from them when it could have caused an issue.

When their day was finally over, the two of them escaped back to Max and OC's apartment. OC followed, watching as they settled onto the couch, Max practically in Alec's lap and one of her hands intertwined with his. Alec's free hand ran up and down her back, soothing her nerves in a way that nothing had ever been able to do before.

"You two gonna wanna hit Crash tonight? Or are you gonna head to hot boy's again?" OC finally asked once Max and Alec had settled.

Max looked up at Alec through her lashes in display of near-submissiveness. Alec looked a little shocked that she hadn't just made the decision herself. "You wanna go to Crash?" she asked.

Alec shrugged. "We could try it, if you want. It's not like we can't just leave if it gets too much."

Max nodded. "Yeah. Sounds good." She turned and grinned at OC, watching her friend's surprise turn to a return grin.


Crash turned out okay. They were never bothered much normally, so they didn't have to worry too much about the rest of the people there. Alec didn't stop touching her from the minute they walked in to the minute they left, though. He always had a hand on her somewhere, her back or her thigh or even just holding her hand. Unsurprisingly, she leaned into every touch.

Sketchy caught on sometime in the night, making a comment about too much pot and beer before wandering home for the night. OC watched with amusement, both for Sketchy as well as Alec and Max.

The night was quiet, though, and the two of them retreated to Alec's apartment without incident.


The next night wasn't as quiet. Max's pager had started going off mid-afternoon, much to her annoyance, and when she hadn't called him back by the evening, Logan called Alec's cell.

"What?" Alec snapped into the phone after the third call, his eyes staring into Max's. She could hear every word of the conversation from where she sat.

"Uh, is Max around?"

"What do you need, Logan?" Alec asked, instead of answering him. Max watched, her head tilted to the side, curious as to how her mate would react to her not-like-that ex.

"Uh, I need her help. Is she around?"

"Yeah. What do you need her help on?" Alec was nearly growling, Max noted with fascination.

"I'd rather tell her. Look, would you tell her I need to see her?"

Alec did growl at that, which Logan seemed to take as a yes.

When he hung up, Alec stared at her, and she stared back. After a long moment, Max held out her hand. Alec went willingly, settling beside her as she leaned into him.

"I'll only go if you want me to, and only if you go with me," she told him, her head pillowed on his chest.

Alec relaxed at that, and Max smiled to herself, grateful she had read the situation right. He held her for a while, silent. Finally, though, he stirred. "Let's get this over with, yeah?"

The two of them rode to Logan's together, Max behind him on his Bandit. She normally would have wanted her own bike, but she knew this meeting was going to leave them needing contact.

She was right, of course. Logan lit up when she came in, then scowled at the sight of Alec. When he outlined what he needed her to do, Alec grew tense. Even though she'd done stuff like this for him before, she could see how bad this could turn out.

"I can't do this, Logan," she told him before Alec could refuse for her. "There's way too many variables, and even if all your info was one hundred percent, there's no way I'd get in and out undetected."

"You've done stuff on less, Max," Logan protested. Max could see the tension in Alec at that statement.

"Yeah, well, I'm not doing it now," she told him flatly.

Logan didn't seem to know how to respond to that. Alec touched her in the small of her back, offering to defend her decision, but Max shook her head.

"But Max, I need the info tonight. We don't have time to wait for less security," Logan protested, obviously trying to talk her into it.

Max raised an eyebrow. "Look, I get it, time sensitive material and all. But I'm not risking it, Logan."

Logan gave a frustrated sigh. "It's no different from before, Max—"

Alec cut him off, unable to stay quiet. "Yes, it is, Logan. Now, thanks to you, everyone knows we exist. We're not a surprise anymore. In fact, people look for us in anything that goes wrong. That puts us in that much more danger."

Logan gave Alec a strange look before he continued as if Alec hadn't interrupted him. "You're good, Max. You can do this. Even if you have to tangle with a few guards."

Max growled at his blatant disregard of what Alec had just said, but it was drowned out by Alec's own growl. "Didn't you hear what I said? I'm not letting you put my mate in that kind of danger ever again. You hear me?" Alec took a threatening step towards Logan and placed himself in front of Max, almost shielding her.

A week ago, it would have pissed her off. Now, it almost calmed her, which in and of itself should have pissed her off. At the moment, though, all she cared about was that her mate was protecting her, and it felt right.

"Your what?" Logan asked.

"My mate," Alec growled. She stepped closer to him, touching his back, and he relaxed ever so slightly.

"Since when?" Logan was beginning to look slightly appalled. "Did he force you?" he asked Max, trying to crane his head to see her around Alec.

Alec's growl became even more audible. "Never. She chose me as much as I chose her."

Logan stared at Max behind Alec for a long moment. "Is this why you broke up with me?"

"Logan, we were through," she told him, peering around Alec's shoulder. "Maybe before I was back in Manticore, something could have happened, but now, with this and the virus and everything—we were done, Logan. And Alec…"

Alec shifted restlessly. Max leaned into his back, touching him, soothing him.

Logan didn't have much to say to that, just a few stuttered words before he fell quiet. After a long silence, Alec backed up a bit, making her do the same. "Listen, Logan. She might have done some dumbass things for you before, but not anymore. It's too dangerous now that people know what we are."

Logan didn't say anything, and Alec gave one last growl before backing them out of the apartment.


That night, they were even more touchy-feely. Alec didn't seem to want her out of reach, and she wasn't too keen on the idea, either. It was a peculiar feeling, the need to be touching her mate, especially when the need was this strong.

When they went to bed, Max found herself lying more or less on top of Alec instead of just beside him. He held her close, every now and then pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

It took a long while to relax that night. Once they finally did, though, she slept as well as she had the nights before.

The next morning, Max woke up still on top of Alec. She sighed, burrowing her face against his chest, and felt his arms tighten around her.

"How long will this last?" she asked. "Is it going to fade?" Alec shrugged underneath her, and she sighed again. "It's not that I dislike it, but, just… it's kinda inconvenient to need to touch you every time I feel insecure."

Alec laughed at that, slow and lazy. "That's one way to put it."

Max didn't even want to move. She hated the feeling she got when she was away from Alec, even if she knew the cause of it now. She shifted so she could rest her chin on his chest and look up at him.

He looked back down at her, though the angle for him was somewhat awkward. "What?"

"Nothing. Just thinkin' about how much I don't want to go have another fun-filled day at work."

He laughed softly, and she could feel it rumble through him and her. She smiled at it, and he reached up and touched her cheek softly. "I could call us out sick."

She raised an eyebrow. "One of the perks of being the golden boy?"

He rolled his eyes at that but didn't deny that Normal bent over backwards to let him do what he wanted. "Can you reach my cell phone? It's in my jeans."

Max turned her head and saw his jeans on the floor, out of reach. She sighed, sent him a glare, and rolled out of the bed. Once she had the phone, she hurried back under the covers and right back on top of Alec.

He grinned at her but didn't say anything. While he called them out for the day, Max watched him. This whole ordeal could have been a lot worse, she decided. Alec hadn't cracked a single joke about the whole thing and hadn't made it any harder on her than it already was.

She knew it was affecting him, too, but she knew she could have still been a bitch to him if she'd wanted. He could have made her life miserable, and the fact that he hadn't was making her see him in a different light. She smiled when she realized she hadn't hit him upside the head since before her heat.

When he looked down and saw her smiling, he smiled back and ran his hand through her hair. She felt like a cat but couldn't help but turn her head into his touch.

"Yeah, thanks, Normal. Yeah, I'll let her know she needs to get better quickly. I think you and her are in agreement there," Alec told their boss, rolling his eyes.

Max had to stifle a giggle at that. Her and Normal in agreement was not something that happened every day. Max wasn't even sure how Normal would respond to the idea of it.

Once Alec was off the phone, she raised an eyebrow. "So what are we going to do today?"

Alec shrugged. "Sleep?"


They didn't sleep, really, because she couldn't and he didn't really need to, but they stayed in bed for a while longer. Max wasn't really sure it should have felt so good to just lie next to someone, but since it kept all of her feelings and instincts under control, she was willing to go for it.

They got a call from TC later in the day, asking for their help that night. The two of them decided to go over early, for lack of anything else pressing, and dressed quickly.

They could feel a large number of eyes on them as they picked their way through TC after getting off their bikes. It made Alec pull her close, and she could feel him growling silently. She nudged him, making him look down at her, and smiled at him.

They didn't say anything, though her actions seemed to calm him some. When they got to headquarters, he calmed down even more.

"Hey, Mole," he called out to the lizard man.

Mole looked up, cigar in mouth, and nodded to the two of them. "We have a run, but we need more X5s for it. Lacy, X5-349, she said to call you to build a team."

Max frowned. It wasn't that they didn't ask for her—Alec knew the other Xs far better than she did—but the thought of Alec going with them made her frown. Alec looked over at her, his eyes meeting hers for a moment, and she nodded. They needed the supplies, and she wasn't going to let her insecurities get in the way of that. "Sure. Is she around? I'll get the team going now."

Max watched as Mole pointed Alec in the right direction, but she didn't follow him. "Anything I can do while they do that?" she asked.

Mole looked a bit surprised that she wasn't trying to get in on the heist, but he didn't hesitate to point her in the direction of a stack of files. "Borrowed those from an office across town," he told her. "We're looking for anything about supply movement. Or anything else useful."

"Got it." She sat down at the wobbly table, but it was too open, too exposed. She gathered the files and moved to the side of the room, settling on the floor with her back to the wall. She could feel the other transgenics watch her do it, but no one said anything or tried to question her.

She was making okay headway into the stack when she felt Alec come back into the room. She could tell when he saw her, and she looked up, watching as he made his way across the room to her.

"What're you doin', Maxie?" he asked, crouching down by her.

"Sorting through these, looking for info," she told him, setting the file she had been looking at aside. She tilted her head to the side, watching him, and he stared back. Finally, he grinned at her and shook his head, scooting some of the files out of the way so he could sit down next to her.

She leaned into him the second he was settled, which made him sigh and relax. She smiled to herself as he wrapped his arm around her, holding her against his side.

They were silent for a few minutes, just sitting there. Finally, though, she looked up at him. "You get the heist all sorted out?"

Alec nodded. "I'm going with them," he told her, sounding a little hesitant.

Max sighed and nodded, looking back down at the floor. She didn't pull away from him, though. "I figured you would be."

Alec just hugged her tighter. "I'll be careful."

She snorted. "Right. And you won't take any risks or do anything stupid."

"Hey!" He grinned down at her, and she only had a second's warning before he was tickling her.

"Alec!" she cried out, twisting away from him, but it didn't stop him. She'd known, in an abstract way, that he was a lot stronger than her, but she hadn't had a whole lot of proof. Now, though, he kept her pinned to the ground beside him, leaning over her as he tickled her, no matter how hard she struggled to get out of his grasp.

"Please stop, please," she begged, laughing. She was squirming against him, and she could tell the minute their actions went from innocent to something else.

They didn't freeze or come to a sudden halt, but Alec's hand against her side turned into more of a caress than anything. He leaned down, laying a soft, chaste kiss on her lips before he sat up.

Max sat up slowly. She didn't lean back into him, but they were still sitting shoulder to shoulder. She could feel the eyes of the rest of the room on them, although most of them weren't watching outright.

"I should eat. You wanna come?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Sure. I should probably eat, too."

He stood up, then offered her a hand. She took it without hesitation. "Hey, Mole!", she called out. "I'm gonna go get something to eat. I'll be back in a bit." Mole nodded. "You want me to bring you something?" she asked.

Mole looked surprised, but he just nodded again. "Sure."

Max smiled at him, then snagged Alec's hand as they walked out of the room. Might as well give them something more to talk about once they were gone.


They ate in silence, sitting in the cobbled together mess hall. Max knew Alec was a bit unsure, but she didn't know what to do about it. She finally settled on talking about the heist. "So what are you guys going after?"

"Some c-rations. Or a lot of them, as it is. They're really low on food here."

She nodded and didn't say what they were both thinking, that they were low on everything around here. "Who all is going?"

Alec leaned back, eyeing her. She didn't know what he was looking for, but after a second, he sighed. "Lucy is. And Rez, Shane, Jill, Cece, Cam, Fifth, and Kay."

Max only knew a couple of them personally, but she knew Alec wouldn't take anyone who couldn't keep up on the run. Not that anyone who wasn't optimized for Battle would have even tried to go on the run. It was the nice thing about working with all of these ex-Manticores—none of them usually tried to do more than they knew they could actually do.

She nodded again. "They were part of your unit back at Manticore, right?"

Alec looked kind of surprised. "Yeah, they were. How'd you know?"

She shrugged. "Listened to you and Biggs talk. You've mentioned them all at one time or another."

Alec smiled slowly at her, but he didn't say anything.


When they got back to HQ, the team Alec was taking out was kitted up and waiting. He nodded to them, but when he spoke, it was to Biggs, not them. "You're gonna man the comms here. Want you to keep it calm here and make sure I know whatever goes on."

Biggs nodded, having obviously heard this a time or two. "Sure thing."

One of the kitted out X5s held out a suit to Alec. "Took the time to liberate a few of these. Thought we might need them more than Seattle PD."

Alec smiled at the group. His eyes were flat, despite his smile. Max could almost see the group recoil. She knew that Alec not saying anything combined with that look was a reprimand in and of itself, maybe even more effective than a verbal one. He did take the suit, though.

Max waited next to Biggs while Alec made his way around the room, talking to a variety of transgenics. All of them listened intently and nodded to him before he moved on.

When he came back, he'd kitted out. Biggs nodded to him and then stepped away from Max. She watched Alec's interaction with the other transgenics with curiosity, knowing she was a little out of her depth, but feeling her instincts ping in ways they never had before. She didn't know if it was because of the mating or because of the concentration of X5s, but she'd never experienced it before, at least not since '09.

Alec stepped up beside her and wrapped an arm around her, turning her to face him. His other hand came up, and he touched her face lightly. "Stay with Biggs while I'm gone, all right, Maxie?"

She nodded, not as reluctantly as she would have thought. She wanted to go with him, and her instincts were screaming for her to protect him, but something else was telling her that the best way to do that would be to stay behind and let him know she was safe. There was no way that either of them would be able to concentrate on anything but each other if they were out there together.

Alec smiled softly at her. "Good. I expect you to still be waiting here when I get back."

Max smiled back at him, reaching up and bringing his head down so she could kiss him. It was a fairly explosive kiss, even as chaste as it was. "And I expect you to walk back through that door, you got that?" she told him once she'd pulled away.

He laughed softly. "You got it, Maxie." He kissed her again quickly, then pulled away from her completely. He pulled on his gloves, then put on his helmet with his goggles perched on it.

When he walked back to the kitted out group, one handed him his weapons. There was a variety, but the one her eyes caught on was the M16.

Max didn't leave Biggs's side as Alec and his unit made their way out. A backup unit, made up of the rest of his and Biggs's unit, was kitted out and lounging along the far wall. Max knew that despite looking relaxed, they were tense and ready to deploy at a moment's notice.

There was silence for a long while. Max knew it was going to be that way, but it didn't make it any easier to handle. After awhile, she started pacing. Biggs watched her, a bit worried, so she flashed him a small smile. "I'm fine," she told him. "Just haven't really been away from him since everything happened."

Biggs nodded. "If you feel anything, let me know."

Max nodded, not questioning it. She knew the instant something went wrong, though. Before she could even tell Biggs, he had gone tense and was barking into his comm unit. Straining, Max could hear both sides of the conversation. "What's going on? Do we need to deploy, 494?"

"No, 427 is down. We've got the supplies, and we're falling back."

Over the headset, there was another burst of gunfire. "Sir! Sir! Fire from all sides. 427 and 494 are injured."

Max held her breath, listening as the unit fell back. They had the supplies, but both Alec and one other—Kay, she thought—were injured. Something in her was wound tight, ready to snap. She could feel eyes on her, but she ignored them.

Finally, one of the team called to base. "738 to base."

"Go for base."

"Extraction complete, sir. We have two wounded with us, both stable. Have medics ready, though."

"Understood. Go to radio silence unless conditions change."

Max stood frozen, staring at the radio. She only moved when they called out, asking for the gate to be raised. She followed the others out to the parking garage, standing back and out of the way.

It wasn't until she smelled his blood that she acted. It seemed that they expected it, though, and two of the backup unit grabbed her arms, holding her back. Not far away, she could see two more of the team holding back one of their own, a male X5. She didn't really register it, though, too busy trying to get free herself.

"Alec!" she called out. When there was no response, she struggled all the harder. "Let me go!" she snarled at the two holding her back. When she saw Alec on the stretcher, she let out a sound that was as close to a wail as she had ever come. The medics surrounding him, touching him, got to her even more. "No, let me go, don't touch him!"

She almost got loose despite the two males holding her back. Even when Biggs stood in front of her, blocking her sight as they took Alec to the med bay, trying to calm her down, she wouldn't stop struggling.

They eventually took her down after him, but the two X5s kept her out of the room. She didn't need to be told which room he was in, not with the amount of blood he'd lost and the smell of it that permeated into the hallway.

She could see a door open down the hall, and the X5 who'd been held back as well was let in. She didn't really register that, either, though later she would recall it happening.

Finally, finally, the door opened, and a fairly bloody team of medics emerged. Max snarled at them, but they seemed to expect that kind of reaction.

"He's stable and all patched up. We gave him a transfusion. She's all right to go in," one of them, an odd looking male transhuman, told the two X5s keeping her out. Immediately, they let her go.

She brushed past the medics and rushed to Alec's side, practically crawling into the hospital bed and plastering herself against him.

The next few hours went slowly. She wasn't really aware of them, although she knew that time was passing. She noticed each time someone came to check on Alec, growling threateningly every time they came closer than the doorway.

Finally, though, his eyes snapped open. She was touching his face and nuzzling against his neck right away, reassuring him that he was fine and safe with her now. After a long moment, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her as close as she could get, injuries be damned.

They lay there in silence for a while. Both were just finally calming down when the door opened. It was just a medic, but it didn't matter. Max snarled, putting herself between him and her injured mate, and Alec snarled at him for upsetting her.

The medic was obviously glad to see Alec awake, but he heeded the pair's warning.


Max actually slept after awhile, curled up against Alec. When she did wake up, his arm was wrapped around her, his hand under her shirt and against her skin on her back. They'd shifted in the night, though she hadn't noticed, and he was between her and the door.

She smiled without thinking about it, curling into him even more. His hand slid up a bit, holding her tighter for a moment, before he relaxed.

She opened her eyes, looking up at him. He was looking down at her, smiling softly. "Hey, Maxie."

"Hi." She shifted, bringing a hand up to run it across the white bandage on his shoulder. "You okay now?"

Alec nodded. "Yeah. That can probably come off."

Max cocked her head to the side, thoughtful. "Shouldn't you wait until the medic says so?"

He grinned down at her. "I don't think any of them will come back in here unless we tell them it's okay, since the last one nearly got attacked."

Max blushed a little, but she didn't deny it. "Still."

Alec looked at her silently for a moment, then nodded. "If it'll make you feel better."

She nodded, and he sat up, pulling her with him. She went to slide off of him, but he held her against him for a moment before letting her go.

Max watched as he stood up and made his way to the door. He had barely opened it before someone was in front of him. Max frowned at that, but she kept quiet.

"Alec," the X5 at the door greeted. "How's the shoulder?"

Alec backed into the room, letting the other X in with him. "Feels fine. Max wanted to be sure, though. Thought it was best one of you guys saw it."

The medic glanced at her, but Max couldn't tell if he was surprised or not. Most of the other transgenics had a much better grasp on their instincts, so she wouldn't be surprised if everyone had been expecting how she acted.

Max sat silently on the bed as the medic peeled back the bandage and looked at the wound there. He also made Alec let him check his ribs over, and he gave Alec's collarbone a worried look.

Finally, though, he was done. "You can go. You're healing fine, if you take it easy today and maybe tomorrow. The fractures on your clavicle are knitting, and the bruising on your ribs is fading. The bullet wound is healing nicely."

Alec nodded and cast around for a shirt. Max nodded to the chair by the door, where Biggs had left a change of clothing right after they'd let her into the room.


They made a quick detour to HQ before Max made Alec go back to his place with her. He tried to talk her into staying at HQ a bit longer, but she glared at him in silent reproach until he gave in. To herself, she thought that she would have to try that more often, since he never gave in to her nagging as easily as he had then.

He still looked tired when they got back to his place. She wandered into his kitchen, poking around for something to eat. She knew from experience that all the healing his body had done would have left him nearly starving.

Once they'd eaten, he pulled her away from the dishes and into his bedroom. He didn't speak as he stripped down, and after a second's hesitation, she followed his lead.

"You okay?" she asked as she curled up against him.

"Yeah," he told her. "Just tired. You know what happened?"

She shook her head slowly. "I—I wasn't in much of a listening mood last night."

He chuckled softly. "I bet that's an understatement."

She shrugged, watching as she traced a random pattern on his skin with her fingers so she didn't have to look him in the eye.

"Max," he coaxed. "Whatever happened, everyone understands."

"Yeah," she told him. "I know. They expected my reaction. They were ready for it. From me and Kay's mate."

At the mention of his injured unit mate, Alec tensed up. Max looked up, her touch becoming as soothing as she could make it. "She's okay. Or she was last night. They let her mate in to see her before they let me in to see you."

He smiled at her, one of his hands running up her back. She could feel him tangle his fingers in the length of her hair, and she smiled, settling against his unhurt shoulder. They lay quietly for a while, letting the last twenty-four hours fade.


Eventually, hunger drove them from his bed. It was close to sunset then, and Max sighed as Alec poked around in his kitchen. "Can I use your phone? I need to call Cindy, let her know we haven't fallen off the face of the planet."

"Yeah, sure," he told her, tossing it to her. She noticed he was watching her carefully, so she flashed him a smile before she took the phone over towards the window.

"Hey, Cindy," she greeted her friend once she'd picked up.

"Max! Normal was tellin' us that Alec called you in sick. What's goin' on, boo?"

"Just had a minor issue in TC. We're all good now."

"Minor issue?" Max could hear the caution in her voice. She knew her friend wanted to know what was going on and yet at the same time liked not knowing anything more than she already did.

"Alec got hurt when he went out on a run for them. He's good now, making a mess in the kitchen. But Cindy…"

"Oh, boo. You two hold on. Original Cindy is gonna be right there with some good eats. I seen what that boy of yours calls food, and you tell him OC ain't impressed."

Max smiled into the phone, even though Cindy couldn't see her. "Thanks, Cindy."

"Ain't nothin' to thank me for, girl," Cindy told her as they disconnected.

Alec smiled at her from the kitchen. "Cindy coming?" he asked casually. Almost too casually.

Max rolled her eyes. "Yes, and she's bringing food, so you can get your ass out of the kitchen before it explodes."

Alec laughed, and Max relaxed at the sound. He left the kitchen, though. "What's to say I can't cook?"

Max shrugged. "Well, I've been trying for ten years, and I still manage to fuck it up, so I figured you could probably make pancakes, and that's about it. I can stew a chicken now," she told him, brightening.

He shook his head, pulling her to him. She sighed contently as he dropped his head down to rest against hers. They stood like that for a while, neither of them feeling the need to disrupt the silence.

Max closed her eyes, listening. She could hear Alec breathing, his heartbeat. Behind that, she could hear cars passing on the street and a horn go off three blocks down. The neighbors three apartments down had a leaky faucet, and two floors down from there, two children were fighting quietly, as if not to disturb someone. She could hear people passing in the street on foot. Most of them were hurrying, since this wasn't the best neighborhood to linger in, but a few walked with more confidence.

She heard Cindy coming before she smelled the pizzas, but she didn't move from where she stood. Alec hugged her tight for a second before he let her go and went to open the door just before Cindy could knock.

Cindy smiled at them both, and Max couldn't help but smile back at Cindy's infectious grin.


They ate and made small talk before Cindy shifted. Max knew she was about to start questioning them, and she shifted sideways just enough to let her knee touch Alec's. Alec looked up from the pizza he was eating, glancing between the two of them.

"I'm gonna…" He trailed off, vaguely motioning towards the bedroom, then stood and took his pizza with him as he wandered away.

Max shook her head, watching him. There was no way he wouldn't be able to hear them, no matter how hard he didn't listen, though she knew he would concentrate on something else so he could ignore what was being said.

Cindy was watching her, not Alec. "Y'all have settled a bit."

Max shrugged. "Not really. But we're in his apartment, and he'll know if anything comes near here, so he's comfortable letting you and me be alone in the room."

Cindy eyed her for a moment, then leaned back in her chair. "You been holdin' out on me, ain't you, boo?"

Max cocked her head to the side. "What do you mean?"

"With all this transgenic stuff. It ain't just a little bit extra, is it?" Cindy didn't look afraid or unsure to Max. She looked like she'd finally finished working out a mystery she'd been working on for a long time.

Which, Max figured, she probably had. Probably since before she even knew Max was anything special. Unlike everyone else, Cindy hadn't really pushed for her past, just watched and picked up on what Max gave away every now and then.

Max sighed, leaning back into the couch. "What have you figured out?"

Cindy shrugged. "Not much, boo. You told me most of it, but ya just didn't tell me everything about it."

It wasn't hard to see what Cindy was getting at. Max was more than fond of leaving out the details when she talked about her abilities. She shrugged. "That's about right."

Cindy nodded. "Aight. Now, how bad was your boy hurt?"

"Not too bad," Max hedged. Alec was back up and moving around, so there wasn't any reason to explain it all, was there?

Cindy just raised an eyebrow. Apparently, there was. Max shifted, uncomfortable discussing Alec's injuries with anyone, even her best friend. Finally, though, she gave in. "It wasn't good. Some broken bones, a bullet wound. There was a lot of blood."

"And he's up and about now?" Cindy asked, a bit incredulous.

Max shrugged. "He had a couple of transfusions. He slept for a long time, too."

Cindy shook her head. "When you got shot, you were out for a long time. A few days, right?"

Max nodded. "It would have been a lot easier if I'd been able to get a transfusion in the first hour and if I'd had transgenics working on me instead of ordinaries. They didn't do a bad job; they just don't know how to work on us."

Cindy nodded, not offended in the least. "So is he all good now?"

Max shook her head, smiling ruefully. "He'd tell you he was, but he's not completely healed. He wouldn't go in the field—he knows better—but he wanted to stay at HQ."

"And you talked him down?" Cindy asked, a bit incredulous. "How'd you do that, boo?"

Max laughed. "I just gave him a look. He caved soon enough."

Cindy laughed with her then, and Alec's door opened. He stayed in the doorway, though, leaning against it. "We all good out here?"

Max nodded, smiling softly at him. He smiled back.


Cindy left after a while. Max was restless, and Alec watched her closely as she paced a bit.

"Want to go out?" he asked her.

"And do what?" she asked, a little suspicious.

Alec shrugged, grinning at her tone. "Whatever you want, sweetheart."

Max rolled her eyes but nodded. She needed to do something.

They ended up at the Space Needle, which relaxed her more than she'd thought a place could. She'd been cooped up for a while, and that usually led to her needing a good chase on her bike or a good hard run on foot.

Tonight, though, the view settled her. She leaned against Alec, looking out across the city she called home, and wondered about their future.


Alec paused in the doorway when they got back to his place, watching her. She tossed her jacket into the chair against the wall, then turned around to look at him. "Alec?" she asked, slightly unsure.

He smiled at her, stepping into the room and shutting the door behind him. "Yeah, Max?"

She didn't say anything, and he kept coming towards her. When he got to her, his hands slid around her waist, and he pulled her flush against him, holding her tight. He waited then, just for a moment, but she knew if she'd made any move to protest, he would have stopped.

Instead, she slid her arms around his neck. He leaned down, kissing her softly, and she returned it. Max hadn't had much experience with anything like this, but it didn't matter at that moment with him holding her close and his lips against hers.

She half expected it to be like when she was in heat—fast and hard and almost to the point—but it wasn't. Alec kissed her standing there for longer than she'd ever kissed anyone before, until his grip tightened and he lifted her up.

Max gasped then, her hands tightening around his neck. She automatically shifted so her legs could grip him, but the whole time, she didn't break the kiss.

Alec carried her into his bedroom, setting her down on the bed gently. She protested softly when he stepped away from her, disengaging their hold on each other. He didn't go far, though, just far enough that he could strip his teeshirt off over his head.

She caught on and pulled her shirt up over her head. She still had a tank top on and was reaching for the edge of it when Alec was suddenly back in her space, pushing her backwards onto the bed.

He kissed her again, then, not as soft or gentle as before. She groaned as his hands started at her waist and then traveled up under her tank top, pulling it over her head. It made him stop kissing her for a moment, but as soon as he'd thrown it across the room, he was back.

He scooted them farther onto the bed, keeping himself over her. She'd never liked to be like this, with someone else right up in her space in such a way, but this time, instead of protesting, her body was arching and trying to get him closer. Something about Alec being there, in her space and so close to her, made her glad that they we laying down, as she was unsure if she'd even be able to stay sitting up.

She tried to protest again when he stopped kissing her, but she didn't have time. He moved across her face, kissing her cheek slightly, then her temple. He pulled back for a moment before he tipped her head back, just enough so that he could slide down and nuzzle her throat.

Her whole body locked up at that, a sound that was as close to whine as she'd ever heard ripping its way out of her throat. Alec kissed her pulse point softly, then nipped it, and she almost keened.

He didn't stay there, though, instead sliding further down, kissing down her chest. She arched her back when he slid a hand under her, deftly unhooking her bra, then sliding it down her arms. She looked down and gasped as he kissed his way down her body.

Max had never felt anything like this. Alec was so gentle with her, almost like she could break, but he still gave her everything she needed.


Alec insisted that they swing through TC before they went into work the next day. Max wasn't sure he should have been doing either of those things, but she could see how twitchy he was, so she nodded and followed him across town to the biohazard site that their kind was calling home.

Mole was in HQ, like always, pointing something out on a map to one of the other transhumans. He stopped what he was saying when he saw them, though, and motioned them over.

"Alec, this is Drudge. I was telling her about that underground route through the pioneer district, but I know you and Max have used it more than us."

Max was a bit surprised that he didn't introduce them to Drudge and that she seemed to know who they were, but she was distracted by the maps. "This is blocked off—flooded cave-in two years back. And this is open now. I managed to get the back of the vault open here—" she pointed, "—so that we could get through to South Main. And there's a cleared section here above ground that you can get to and is usually empty. It's from when they started that new Viaduct project right before the Pulse."

She looked up then, aware that no one else was talking but that someone was quickly scribbling down what she said. Alec smiled at her when she glanced at him, slightly concerned by the attention. "What about down under the old one where it's collapsed? Is there any way in or out of there?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No. Where it is wasn't there when the underground was above ground—that land is a product of the hills being washed down over the ten years after, which is what caused the underground in the first place."

The other transgenics started asking questions then. Alec touched her back after a bit, then stepped away to do something else. Max watched him carefully, turning slightly so that he was still in her line of sight, then continued to explain the area to those listening.

Alec came back over a while later, nodding to the others but tugging on her arm gently. "We gotta blaze, Maxie. We're gonna be late as is."

Max nodded, then smiled at the others around her. "Sorry, guys. I'll be back tonight, I'm sure. I'll help you with the maps more then, all right?"

Drudge smiled back as the others dispersed. "Thanks for all the help, Max."

"No problem. See ya, Drudge." Max watched her walk away before she turned back to Alec. "Ready?"

He nodded, grabbing her hand as the two of them made their way outside. As they pedaled across town, Max went back over the morning in her mind. She didn't say anything to Alec, just kept mulling over her thoughts as they went about their morning.

Eventually, lunch came. Alec looked relieved to see her, and she felt herself loosen when she settled in front of him on the bench in front of their lockers, her back to him. His hands slid around her waist, pulling her against him, and he set his chin on his shoulder. "Whatchya thinkin', Maxie?" he asked her, soft enough that the rest of the room couldn't eavesdrop.

Max shrugged, but not enough to dislodge him. "Just thinking about this morning and the way everyone reacted. I'm still getting used to dealing with us, not humans, and this morning was different all over again."

Alec nuzzled against her neck. "What do you mean?"

Max tilted her head a little. "I mean they just listened and nodded and took what I said at face value. No one had to make sure I wasn't telling them something from an outsider's point of view or anything. I've always kind of felt like while they've taken what I said into consideration, they would just keep it in mind until someone else verified at least part of any information I had."

Alec started to say something, but she continued on, determined to explain it better. "It's not that they don't trust me to do things—if I say I'll bring something, they don't doubt it. But they don't really trust me to not get them killed if I'm not there."

Alec didn't say anything right away. Finally, he slid back and turned her around so the two of them were facing each other on the benches. "You noticed?" he asked.

She nodded, and he sighed. "I was kinda hoping you hadn't noticed. I tried to tell them that your intel was just as good as mine, if not better than, but they had to see for themselves, Maxie."

She cocked her head to the side, curious despite the hurt she felt. "See what?"

"That you really were like us. That being outside hadn't… broken you." He paused. "You never acted quite like us, you know. Your habits weren't our habits. So they didn't understand or trust that you could do things just as well as we could. They didn't go on missions with you, or heists or whatever, so they didn't know that you hadn't completely lost all the training that made us good at what we do. And…" He stopped there.

She waited, knowing he would continue eventually. "And, they'd never seen you use your instincts," Alec said. "Which we all do, every moment of every day. They'd seen you do things that went completely against every instinct we had without thinking about it, and that made them think you were broken, I guess. Or at least not right. So they didn't trust you like they might have."

Max didn't say anything for a long moment, just looking down at the floor. She wasn't sure how she felt about all of that. "So when you got hurt, and I reacted, that told them I wasn't… broken? That I was still one of you guys, no matter how hard I tried not to be?"

Alec smiled slightly. "It proved you were still one of us, Maxie. You're one of us, too. No matter how many diseases you might have caught out here," he teased her, bringing a hand up to touch her cheek.

She smiled at that. It hadn't even been a year, but Manticore seemed so long ago now.


They went back to TC after they got off work. The transgenics that had questioned Max that morning were no longer there, but there was a new round of questions about Seattle, its police, and the way the city was run. Max was more than happy to answer their questions, keeping in mind what Alec had told her at lunch.

She made sure to explain things that would startle them and explain in detail why they had to do things they would find completely against instinct. "Remember, if you aren't supposed to be somewhere, and you get questioned, acting lost is a really good way to get out of trouble. But you have to actually act lost. If you act like you know where you are, the whole 'I'm lost' thing is moot. And they will notice."

When one of the X6s listening to her looked skeptical, she tried to explain. "If you were a norm, and you were caught there, they'd use the opportunity to shake you down. So they like to find people who aren't supposed to be where they are. And if they do try to get a bribe, for the sake of us all, just give them what they want—within reason!—and move on. The less suspicious we are, the better."

They seemed to agree with her for the most part. The same X6 tilted his head to the side, though, considering. "What's 'shake you down' mean? Are they gonna shake me for something?"

Max grinned at the thought of an ordinary trying to manhandle any of them. "That means try and get a bribe, take money or something from you. I don't know where the norms got the saying from."

Alec came back towards her then, and she tracked his movements across the main floor of TC. He seemed to be fine, even after a day of biking all over Seattle. She was sure that he wouldn't really want to show off his weakness, though, so she wasn't sure if he was in pain or not.

"You about done, Maxie?" he asked as he came up to them. The others in the group responded to his presence. They stood up a little straighter, brushed the hair out of their eyes, tugged their clothes a bit. She smiled at their actions, turning to face Alec fully.

"I can be. We got somewhere to be?" she asked.

"Yep," he told her, but he didn't elaborate.

She nodded, saying her goodbyes to the others and following Alec across command. She grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair it had ended up on and waited while Alec held a conversation with Mole and Biggs. He turned and smiled at her when he was through, and she couldn't help but smile back.

She didn't question him on where they were going until they were on their bikes and heading to the other side of TC. She was a little surprised when he told her they were headed over to Joshua's. "He called and said that he was making dinner, and we had to come," Alec explained.

Max laughed. "Mac and cheese?"

Alec shrugged. "Probably. But I wouldn't say no to that, so."

Max nodded, and the two of them made their way silently across TC to the apartment that Joshua had taken over. It didn't take them too long to get there, even with other transgenics who stopped them to talk and check in. Max smiled when the fifth person to stop Alec finally let them get on their way.

"What?" Alec asked, catching her smile.

"Nothing," she told him. "Just like watching you deal with everything."

Alec rolled his eyes, but she could see the pleased smirk on his face as he started pedaling off again.

"Joshua?" Max called out as they entered the apartment, having left their bikes out front.

"Little fella? That you?" Joshua called from somewhere in the other room.

Max laughed. "Who else were you expecting, big fella?"

"Alec!" Joshua yelled back.

Max shot Alec a grin, and the two of them wandered into the kitchen. There was mac and cheese on the stove and mini hotdogs, but also a salad. "You made salad, Josh?" Alec asked, looked into the bowl.

Josh shook his head. "Cindy send salad. She's not coming, too dangerous, but send with Biggs."

Max nodded and wandered into the kitchen to get the dishes to set the wobbly table while Alec stayed with Josh. When she finished, Joshua declared the food done. Max sat down next to Alec and across from Joshua.

It was nice to be with her family, she thought, as she took a helping of the mac and cheese. Nice to just have a night to them.


Alec and Max went out to Crash after they finished with Joshua. They met up with Sketchy and Cindy there, the four of them claiming their usual table.

Alec went up to get their first round, Max watching from where they sat. On one hand, she couldn't believe how much her life had changed in a week. But on the other hand, she was shocked by how little did change.

With Logan already thinking she and Alec were a couple, it wasn't hard for the rest of her life to adjust to him in it. And really, he had already been such a huge part of her life that the difference between then and now was more to do with where she slept than anything.

Before this new development, Alec had had her back, just like he did now. He'd helped her when she needed it and had always been around to keep tabs on who was getting on her case when she messed up and nearly compromised herself. It wasn't a new thing for him to be there when she needed backup.

Alec returned to the table, flashing her a concerned look, but she shook her head. "So," she started. "Anyone wanna play some pool?"

Sketchy groaned. "You're almost as bad as Alec, Max. You could take my paychecks, but instead you just make me pick up runs. I'm out if you're playing."

Max laughed, and Alec raised an eyebrow. "I'm sensing a story behind that comment."

Max shrugged. "Oh, the stories of Sketchy's misfortune. I have a hundred; which do you wanna hear first? How about the one that ends up with him strung up upside down and naked?"

Sketchy protested loudly, and OC just laughed. Alec looked between the three, highly concerned. "For real, man? How did you let them see you like that?"

Sketchy protested more, about how he hadn't meant for them to see him, how he hadn't meant for any of it to happen. "It's not like that was the plan, dude."

Alec shrugged. "Fair 'nough."

Max smiled and emptied the last of the pitcher into their cups. "My round," she told them as she stood and made her way to the bar. She could feel Alec's eyes on her the whole way across the room.

She nodded to a few people that she knew but didn't stop to talk to any of them. As she carefully picked her way back through the crowd, holding the beer up almost at head level to avoid any elbows and waving hands, Max watched her friends. Cece and Biggs had joined them, an X5 named Faith with them. They'd all pulled up chairs, and there was a mostly full pitcher that they must have brought with them on the table.

Max smiled at them, setting the full pitcher next to the other. "Hey, guys."

They all greeted her. Faith, whom she didn't know all that well, did so with more respect than familiarity. She slowly relaxed as Max joined the conversation the others were having.

"Anything exciting happen today?" Max asked when there was a lull in the conversation. The other Xs flashed a look at Sketchy, but he was passed out against the railing. Max nodded when Faith paused, cutting a look at Cindy. "She knows. You can talk in front of her."

"Well, a few more Xs showed up and a whole squad of transhumans, some sort of jungle-heat squad." She paused, looking at Cindy again, but continued. "They want to meet with you two," she told Max and Alec.

Alec nodded, and even though Max was a bit confused as to why transhumans she had never met wanted to meet with her, she nodded, just a second behind Alec.

Their night was otherwise completely non-eventful, if a little amusing as they helped Sketchy up and out the door. Biggs volunteered to drop the human off on his way home, waving over his shoulder to the rest of them. Faith and Cece took off together, and Max could see the look in their eye—the two were going off to find something a little more in the X5 skill set, probably a robbery.

Cindy looked between her and Alec, then waved over her shoulder as she got on her bike. "See you tomorrow, boo."

Max waved, watching until Cindy was out of sight, then took her bike from Alec, who'd unlocked it and brought it over. "Ready to go in? Or you need a little fun?" Alec asked.

Max smiled. "You okay if we just head back to yours?"

Alec nodded, waiting for her to take off before he followed her.


Max turned Faith's reaction to her, and her comments about the transhumans, over in her head all evening and during the night while she lay curled up in Alec's arms. She didn't bring it up until the two of them were dressing the next morning.

"Hey, Alec?" she asked.

Alec paused just for a second, the continued to pull his teeshirt on. "Yeah?"

"Why do the new transhumans want to meet with us specifically?"

Alec looked at her for a long moment. "You caught that, huh?" Max didn't say anything, just stared at him, sweatshirt in hand. "Well, you've noticed how everyone kinda… listens to me? And don't really question me all that much, especially if I give a command when something's happening?" Max nodded. "I'm alpha. I always have been. We never really mixed enough to know who was the Alpha, but no one here in this city is a stronger alpha than me."

Max didn't say anything for a long while, just bit her lip as she thought. "And me?"

"Well, you're my mate. And, really, you're alpha too. Maybe not as strong as I am, but strong enough. Probably stronger than most of TC. Once you proved you were one of us, no one was gonna question you."

"Huh." Max slid her sweatshirt on, still processing the information.

As they were getting ready to leave the apartment a few minutes later, Alec stopped her. "It's the reason no one else came to the rest of Seattle before we set up TC. We were both alpha, and no one that wasn't as alpha as us was going to challenge us for our territory. Especially because there were two of us. Maybe if it had just been you, some other males would have come in, or if it was just me, some females would have… but together? Us two?" He smiled at her. "No one wanted to try us."

Max smiled back, but she didn't say anything.


When Alec and Max got off work, Alec led her back to his place. While they were chaining up their pedal bikes in favor of her Ninja and his Bandit, he looked over at her. "You okay, Maxie? You've been awfully quiet today."

She nodded. "Just thinking," she told him, starting her engine.

Alec let it go and just started his bike and took off for TC. They were at the last checkpoint when Alec pulled up sharply, tensing in a way that put Max on alert. He glanced left and right, his eyes narrowing in a way that Max knew meant he was focusing in on things in the distance. Max glanced around as well, looking to identify any threat she could and trying to figure out what had set Alec off.

Not twenty seconds later, gunfire erupted from the other side of the checkpoint. Alec dropped his bike to the ground and dove for Max, dragging her down almost before she could process what was happening. "What did you see?" she asked him as they lay on the ground behind her bike.

Alec was mostly on top of her, covering her from any of the gunfire. "Too many guys with guns. There's more on this side," he told her quietly.

Max slid her hand into Alec's pocket, reaching for his phone, but he grabbed it. "If we get involved, they'll only blame us."

She looked up at him, unsure, but in the end just nodded her head. They waited until they could hear the pounding feet of more city guards and the responding gunfire, then Alec nudged her. "We should get out of here, go around."

Max looked at the people scattered around them, ducked behind and in cars, and the abandoned vehicles in line. "How?"

Alec followed her gaze, frowning. "I don't know." She watched him, could almost see the details flashing behind his eyes. She too was calculating their best option, going over scenarios almost faster than she could think of them.

"There," they said together, glancing towards an alleyway about two hundred yards to the left.

Alec smiled at her, and she grinned in response. The gunfire was finally dying down, and people were starting to crawl out of their hidey-holes. "You good?" Alec asked as they sat up.

She nodded, and he got off her, still crouched down. He made his way back to his bike, and the two of them checked their rides over. In the distance, cops were shooting, telling people to stay put and that people would be coming around to check on them and check them out.

"Ready?" Alec asked as he propped his bike up a little bit. She nodded and followed suit. Alec watched the guards for another moment, then nodded back, and then—

Both of them were up and on their bikes, the bikes starting even as they were being brought up. The two of them took off towards the alley and then down it, Alec following Max. The two of them didn't stop at the shouts of the guards, nor at the sound of shooting behind them.

The alley came out on another road with more cops than usual on it. Max knew it wouldn't take long for them to catch on, so she turned back into the sector and took off, weaving in and out of cars. She glanced back at Alec and raised an eyebrow. He nodded, and she veered left, off into the heart of the sector.

Once they had lost anyone following them, Alec took the lead, turning them down an alley. They went into an underground garage that spanned most of the block, bringing them up further south. Then he led them a few more blocks into another building, one that seemed abandoned but was really a drop point for TC.

After they had rolled their bikes into a locked and hidden store room, Max turned and checked Alec over, making sure he hadn't been injured. Alec seemed to be doing the same. "You okay?" Alec asked gruffly.

Max nodded. "Yeah. You?" she asked, clearing her throat. She hadn't realized how tense she'd become during the whole endeavor. After he nodded, she closed her eyes for a second, taking a deep breath, and made herself relax.

He looked at her, an eyebrow raised questioningly.

"Just a little tense. Happens around guns," she told him with a small, self-deprecating smile.

Alec nodded. While he didn't know why she hated guns, he was well aware of her dislike of them. "You okay to go to TC now?" he asked, eyeing her again.

She nodded. "Yeah. Let's get out of here."

They made their way to TC on foot, skipping the checkpoint entirely and going over and under the perimeter wires. Every time they came across something that could maybe be construed as a threat, Alec was in front of her before she could barely register it.

Eventually, they made it to TC. Even then, Alec was jumpy, and when an X4 they didn't know came up to them, she had to wave them off for a moment while she leaned against Alec, calming him down. "He probably just needs something, Alec. We're in TC, remember? We've got people here, people we trust."

Alec's growl receded as she talked, though he continued to eye the X4 suspiciously. Max finally gave up, turning her head so she could see the X4, but keeping herself in Alec's arms. "Will you tell Mole we're gonna go find a place to hole up for a few hours?" she asked him. "And tell everyone else that they really, really don't want to come find us, barring the end of the world?"

The X4 nodded wordlessly, and Max smiled at him just for a second before she looked back up at Alec. "Alec?" she asked softly, so quiet that she knew only he could hear her. "Let's go find somewhere safe for a little bit. Please?"

Alec looked down at her, though she knew he was aware of all the other transgenics near them. "Sure, Maxie." He leaned down to kiss her temple. "Come on."

He led her deep into TC, into a building she'd never been in. Alec knew where he was going, though, so Max didn't even question him when he led her all the way up to the top floor of what seemed to have been apartments at one point. Near the middle of the hall, he stopped and pulled out a set of keys, putting one in the newish-looking lock.

Locks in TC were all for show. They kept innocent, nosy transgenics out of your business, but there was no doubt that any one of them could get through most locks if they wanted. The fact that Alec had made a point to put a new lock on the door meant, to Max and to any nosy transgenics, that he didn't want other people in there, please and thank you.

Max followed him in and moved past him, watching as he relocked the door. "You okay, Alec?" she asked. It was her turn to worry about him, to take care of him.

"Yeah, just…" He trailed off, looking at the ground, then shook himself and looked back at her. "Yeah. I'm fine."

Max nodded, even though she had her doubts about the accuracy of that statement. Instead, she glanced around the apartment, taking it in. It had three rooms: a living space with a small kitchen and a nice bit of room that was empty at the moment, a bathroom, and what appeared to be a bedroom.

She grabbed Alec's hand and led him into the bedroom, glad to see what looked like a pile of blankets in the corner. She stopped them in the middle of the room and started to peel Alec's clothing off.

He got with the program, seeming to shake off whatever was bugging him as he began to work at her clothing. Max knew it was a front, though, and as soon as his shirts were off, she was touching him, running her hands over him until he made an impatient sound and pulled at her shirts.

She smiled up at him and stepped back, peeling them over her head. Seconds later, he pushed her pants to the ground, and she stepped back again and out of them. When Alec went to step forward towards her, she shook her head.

He raised an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed, but she was determined to do what she'd started. "Look at me, Alec. I'm all right. See?" she asked, turning in a circle.

Alec made a low sound in the back of his throat. "Yeah, I see." She knew from his voice that he wasn't truly seeing what she wanted him to, but at this point, she wasn't sure she could deter him any longer.

Or that she wanted to.

Alec came to her then, pushing her back gently so that she was next to the blankets on the floor. When he pushed her again, she tipped backwards, tripping over a mattress hidden under the blankets.

She looked up at Alec from the floor, watching as he stripped the rest of his clothes off. And then he was on her, pushing her back to lie on the mattress and staring into her eyes. "Maxie?" he asked. She knew he was begging her to reassure him of everything: them, their new bond, that they were okay.

She didn't respond verbally, just broke their eye contact and tipped her head back, relaxing completely in his hold. He growled at that, but it wasn't the same as the growl he made when they were threatened. This one made her blood boil, made her shift so that he settled down between her legs more, made her bite her lip to hold in a whimper.

"Mine," he whispered, leaning down and kissing her neck, just below her jaw.

It was the last thing either of them said for a long while. Alec took her there like that, making her cry out wordlessly as he brought her and himself to completion. When she would have curled up in his arms and let them settle, he maneuvered her onto her front, kissing up her spine until he completely covered her.

When he entered her like that, Max was sure she'd never felt anything like it. She had had heat-fueled sex several times a year for a long time now, and all the sex she'd had with Alec in the last week had been fantastic, but this? Nothing had been like this.

As he came, Alec bit down on her neck, at the top of her spine just below her barcode. Everything Alec had done to her that night had been something new, something she'd never felt before, but that was a step above even that. It made her entire body lock up, instinct and emotion making any sort of actual thoughts impossible.

"Alec!" she cried out as she fell over the edge again, shaking with everything.

They lay there after. Alec held her back to his chest, refusing to let her move away from him. Max didn't fight him on it. She must have dozed eventually because she snapped awake when Alec brushed her hair off her neck.

"Did you break the skin?" she asked, not accusing him, but curious.

"Mmhm." He leaned in and kissed the bite mark. "Sorry," he told her, not sounding sorry at all.

"Don't be," she said, even though she didn't need to. Her full body shiver when he kissed that spot gave her away.

Eventually, as the sun was setting, Alec pulled back from her. "We should probably go to command. We have to meet with those transhumans and check on how all the plans are coming."

Max could hear the reluctance in his voice, but she knew they had to do those things at some point. "Yeah." She sighed, rolling over to face Alec. The action brought her closer to him—close enough to kiss him, which she did. "You okay now?" she asked as she pulled away, her concern from before creeping into her voice.

Alec leaned in and rested his forehead against hers. He closed his eyes, and Max couldn't help but shift her face until it was resting in the crook of his neck. "Yeah, Maxie, I'm okay," he said after a few moments. "This is all as new to me as it is to you, and I've never felt…" He trailed off, one hand coming up to rest against the bite mark he'd left.

"Never felt what?" Max asked, not lifting her head up.

"I've never felt any of this. I'm not prepared for any of these reactions, Maxie. I mean, I never wanted you to get hurt before, but now, the thought of it…" Alec shivered, and Max kissed his neck softly. "Max, just the thought of it makes me feel the need to keep us locked up here for the rest of our lives. Either that, or go and take out every threat." He laughed a little at the absurdity of the idea.

Max smiled, but she didn't laugh with him. Instead, she just shifted closer to him, if that was even possible. "Well, you can't do either, so we're just gonna have to figure out how to function when either of us could be hurt. I'm all for my instincts helping out now and then, but they're crippling us when we need them to help the most."

Alec shrugged, and Max got the idea he wasn't all that unhappy, just a bit overwhelmed for the moment. She didn't call him on it.

They lay there for a while longer, wrapped around one another. Once the sky had completely darkened, thought, Max sat up. "Come on, up we get," she said, attempting to pull away from Alec.

He didn't let her go, though, and pulled her back down for one last, searing kiss. When he released her, Max wasn't sure which way was up and why she had wanted to leave. Alec grinned at her, nudging her to the side so he could slide out of the mess of blankets they'd been in.

"All right, yeah. We should probably go now," he said, searching for his clothing.

After another few seconds of collecting her thoughts, Max shook herself into action. "Right."

Their clothing was, at least, easy to locate. Making themselves look anything but completely debauched was a lost cause, however.

As they walked back down the stairs, Max looked their location over a bit more. "When did you set that place up?"

"When I figured I'd be spending a lot of time here. It was just in case I needed to crash for whatever reason." After a pause, he continued. "I'll get you a key tomorrow."

He said it so casually that Max almost let it slide without comment. In the end, she couldn't. "Would it be smarter for us to move closer to command? Or is there something I'm missing about the building besides its lack of water?"

Alec smirked at her gripe. "We can have the water issue fixed, I'm sure. And I looked high and low, Max. That place is sound and defensible. If you want, we could see what else there is, but it's not that far."

Max nodded. "If you like it, it's fine. I wasn't in much mind to look the building over when we came in." She smiled up at him as they exited the building, and he shook his head.

Neither of them said anything else as they made their way to command. Max could feel eyes on her and knew that there was more than one transgenic peering at them curiously. It seemed that news of their entrance had spread. She was sure gossip on their state now wouldn't be far behind.

Mole, Biggs, Dix, and Luke were huddled around a table when the two of them walked into command. Max purposely ignored the looks that Mole, Biggs, and Alec were sharing and looked down at the map on the table. She knew that the three males were having a silent conversation, one she could probably understand if she really tried, but she figured it didn't much matter.

"Why do you have blue prints for Harbor Lights?" she asked instead.

"We need more medical supplies. This is the only place we know that carries most of what we need," Luke said.

"Hmm. Can I see the list?"

Luke handed it over, and Max looked at it. "I don't know about the last three things, but you can get the rest from a medical supply center over in Georgetown, in sector 7. Way less security, less people, and it won't interrupt the city as much."

She looked up to find the five guys in front of her, as well as the rest of the room, staring at her. "What?" she asked. "I've needed supplies a few times."

Alec raised an eyebrow. "Will they be looking out for us, then?"

Max shrugged. "It's been since before I was back in Manticore. And even then, I only took low level junkie stuff. Transfusion kits, a little O Neg, a little antiseptic. Needles. Nothing large scale, and not a lot of any of it. I don't know if they even noticed, tell the truth."

Alec grinned at her. "Well, guess we need a new set of blueprints."

Max grinned back. "I have them over at my place. Actually, I guess I should bring all the blueprints I've… liberated here, just in case we need them." She looked down at the Harbor Lights prints, running her finger down a few hallways. "I'll make sure to tag them with what I did with them so you'll know if they'll be on the lookout for a break-in of some kind."

Luke and Dix thanked her before moving away to start re-planning the mission. Biggs eyed her a moment or two longer before he looked back at Alec. Max took the hint and turned away just a bit so that Alec, Biggs, and Mole could have their conversation. She picked up a pen and started marking rooms on the hospital blue prints, putting down what she knew was where and what had changed.

"You all right, Alec?" Biggs asked.

She couldn't see Alec's face, but she knew he had to be making one at Biggs. He didn't say anything.

Biggs laughed a little, but it was strained. "Yeah, yeah. I know. You're always all right. But you don't react like that every day."

Alec let out a frustrated sigh. "Believe me. I know. I don't know how to help it, though. If anyone knows anything… this is getting ridiculous. I know, in my head, that she took care of herself for ten years without me or anyone, but whenever there's any kind of danger, I can't help but react. I don't even have a chance to think about it. She doesn't, either. And she's reacting to me just as much as I am, and she's not sure about it, either."

Max wasn't sure she'd ever heard Alec tell anyone besides her anything like that before. She felt a little insecure with the idea of that kind of information being talked about, but something inside of her was okay with it if Alec was. Instead of feeling up against a wall and nearly betrayed by Alec's actions, she was just a little ruffled, and the feeling settled when she looked back at Alec.

Max wasn't sure what to do with these feelings and instincts. So far, she and Alec had pushed through everything to come out with some semblance of okay, but she wasn't sure how long they could wing it and come out on top. Not with so many other transgenics relying on them, not with so much riding on them not getting into trouble.

Biggs and Mole didn't seem to know what to do with the knowledge Alec was giving them; neither had any insights or profound statements to make. Finally, Mole pulled his cigar from his mouth. "Wanna meet the jungle unit now?"

Alec nodded, and Max looked up and over at them as Mole left. Alec tilted his head, and she came over to stand by him, fidgeting a little. He put a hand in the small of her back and she relaxed.

Mole returned a few minutes later with two transgenics. They appeared to a have a little jungle cat in them, maybe something else. "The rest are gonna come in after we talk," the male told them.

Alec nodded and assessed the two. Max stood beside him, eyeing them warily. In her mind, she could see cats in an alleyway or two packs of stray dogs meeting, hackles raised, no idea how to react to one another. It didn't make her relax any.

Eventually, the two new transgenics looked away, and Max relaxed just a little. Alec seemed to as well, though both were still a bit tense. "I'm Alec," Alec told the two. "This is Max."

Max could hear the implied and this is mine in his voice. She didn't say anything, just nodded to them.

"I'm Tex. And this is Rook," the male said, nodding in the female's direction. He kept his eyes over Alec's shoulder, purposefully not meeting his eye again after the failed challenge. Rook just nodded to them, and Max couldn't help but feel as if she was taking her cue from Max.

"Your whole unit made it here safely?" Alec asked.

Tex shook his head. "One didn't make it out of the compound."

Alec nodded, understanding, and he relaxed some. When he did, so did Max. She still didn't say anything, even though ten years on the outside told her to make a comment about being sorry. Her instincts told her to shut up and watch Alec for her cues, though, and at this point, she needed to just watch.

And her instincts were right. It seemed as if the jungle transgenic couldn't stay quiet any longer. "You're an '09er," Rook said to Max, his eyes accusing.

Max cocked her head, and when Alec tried to rise to her defense, she subtly shook her head just once. He nodded just as subtly and let her fight this battle. "I am. I'm also the one who brought Manticore down."

She could remember the look on Sam's face when Alec told her that, the surprise and the grudging respect. Nothing would ever replace that in her mind, the moment when someone from Manticore who wasn't Alec—who, for some reason, even when they first met in her cell seemed to have a weird respect for her—looked at her like she wasn't a deserter. Someone who hadn't abandoned the rest of her kind to save herself.

"You did that?"

Max shrugged. "I made sure the broadcast got out, and I went back and overrode the compound lockdown."

She could see that same respect blossoming in both of the new transgenics' eyes. Only once they had averted their eyes did she allow herself to smile. "Welcome to Terminal City."


Alec and Max decided against leaving TC that night. With the attack on the checkpoint nearest them stirring up the guards, they both agreed that it was probably best to stay in TC. Max located some bottled water, Alec found them some food, and the two of them retired to the ramshackle—but safe, according to Alec—apartment for the night.

Max was jittery, unsure of something. She couldn't pinpoint what was making her feel that way, but something was. Alec came up behind her where she stood at the window, looking out across the streets of TC.

"Something wrong?" he asked, touching her back.

Max shrugged. "I don't know. It might just be leftover adrenaline from the meeting with the new transhumans."

Alec nodded, rubbing her back slowly. "How'd you know to say that?"

Max looked back over her shoulder. "Remember with Sam? When you stood up for me, told her that she should be grateful to me?" Alec nodded, so she continued. "I'd never seen that look before, not on another transgenic. I figured it worked once—it could probably work again. And I thought it would be best if I stood up for myself, so people didn't think I just hung on your status."

Alec smiled down at her. "That's my girl." He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her back against him. "Let's get some rest, huh? We have to leave early if we don't want to be too late to work."

Max laughed at that, but she followed Alec into the bedroom to their nest of blankets on the mattress.


While Max was out on a run for JamPony a few days later, she came across an opportunity to score some gas for TC. She took it. It wasn't too dangerous, nothing more than a little B&E on some poor shmuck who thought that leaving his gas locked up meant it was safe enough.

When she was dropping it off in command just 37 minutes after having seen him lock it up, a call came in about a transgenic on the run a few sectors over, with White on the way.

She only grinned at Dix when he gave her the news. "Yeah, well, my men are on the way, too," she told him, already making her way out of the building back to her bike with Mole and Luke following her out. "Call Alec. Tell him and Biggs to get their ass to the checkpoint, and I'll meet them there," she yelled at Mole over her shoulder as she climbed on her bike.

Mole nodded, but Max didn't wait for a response. She was sure Mole would do it, and not just because he wanted to. She was gaining confidence in herself as an alpha, especially with those she and Alec worked closely with. She hadn't seen anyone who frequented command turn to Alec for reassurances on any of her intel in awhile now.

Max raced through town on her bike, going faster than she probably should have. As she came down the backed-up line of cars at the checkpoint, ignoring the people yelling about waiting in line, she couldn't help but grin at the sight of Alec and Biggs waiting for her ahead.

"You boys ready?" she asked.

"I'm always ready," Alec told her, his familiar smirk in place.

Biggs grinned. "Funny, that's what Lola said."

Max raised an eyebrow, but there wasn't any time to question anyone on just who Lola was. Instead, she pulled ahead of them and pulled out her sector pass. "JamPony Messenger. Pickup at Harbor Lights."

The guards exchanged looks but let them through. There was no way they wouldn't, not when a pickup from a hospital could be life or death for someone, and besides, how much trouble could a few little messenger kids be?

Max smiled to herself as she gunned it out of the gate.

If only they knew.

The three of them were successful in the pickup and made it back to TC without a lot of issues. It wasn't too hard for three X5s to get around undetected when they tried, and while a popsicle stuck to the back of one of their bikes didn't make their task any easier, it didn't make it too hard, either.

When they rolled back through the gates of TC, Max wanted to smile at the organized group that met them, but she didn't. Instead, she stood beside her bike, a regal ice queen, and nodded to the people around her. "Welcome to Terminal City," she said for the second time that week.

Alec came up beside her as the cold division transhuman was led away to be debriefed and laid a hand in the middle of her back. "Nice job, Maxie."

Max looked up at him, and this time she didn't stop the smile that spread across her face. "Not so bad yourself. You get clipped at all?"

Alec shook his head. "Nada. You?"

Max shook her head, too. "I'm good. We okay to get back to work? I'm sure Normal is trying to fire me as we speak."

Alec shrugged. "We'll just tell him all the checkpoints were tough, which I'm sure they are. So we'll just have to avoid them, huh?"

Max laughed then, nodding as she rolled her Ninja into a safe parking spot. She eyed Biggs, who was talking to another X5. "You okay to make it back, Biggs?" she called out.

Biggs nodded to her. "Yeah, thanks, Max."

Max eyed him a minute longer, then turned back to Alec, who only raised an eyebrow. It didn't take much more than that before the two of them took off like a shot, racing each other to the perimeter.

Max couldn't help but grin as she heard one transhuman they passed mutter about the absurdity of X5 foreplay.


Max had noticed that Alec touched her more now, and not just after they'd been apart, like they had felt the need to do straight from the beginning. No, this was something more, something in how no matter how long they'd been in the same room, he still went out of his way to brush behind her and touch her back or slide a hand across her knee.

It was strange when she first noticed. Not because the actions themselves felt strange, but mostly because it had taken her so long to notice. She was in command, outlining something for a unit that was going on a recon mission that evening, and Alec stepped up behind her for just a moment.

His hand trailed across her back, and then he was gone, off to the other side of the room from where he had been. None of the other transgenics looked even a little bit surprised by his presence or the actions, which made her think this was not only SOP for mates but for them as well.

After she'd dismissed the unit and taken a set of files over to the couch someone had thought to put against what was now considered her wall, she thought about it again, and realized it really was SOP now.

Alec always made it a point to touch her whenever he could, and not even in a sexual way most of the time. Not that he didn't try and get a rise out of her often enough—he did, and he was damned good at it.

Still, she wondered if he had realized just how often he did it. She didn't do it as often, didn't go out of her way to do it, but when the opportunity was presented, she found she took it.

The knowledge didn't frighten her. It didn't make her mad or upset. She just wasn't sure how long it'd been going on without her noticing.

Someday, when they weren't running an off-the-cuff nation out of a toxic waste dump and organizing a rebellion against the US government, she would sit Alec down and ask him. For the moment, though, she settled for letting it be.


After Logan's place in Foggle Towers was destroyed, he took up residence at Father's. Why he tried to keep up a pretense that he wasn't actually Eyes Only with the transgenics, Max didn't know, but she wasn't getting involved. She'd help Logan get some gear, stuff that he probably couldn't find on his own, but she wasn't getting in the middle of anything.

Not again.

When she and Alec located some equipment in a building not too far from their apartment, Max didn't stop Alec from volunteering to be the one to take it so she didn't have to. She might have wished it was someone else entirely, but she was more just glad it wasn't her.

"Be careful," she told Alec, kissing him quickly as he went to go.

"Always, Maxie. I'll meet you at Crash later, okay?"

She nodded and watched him go. When she turned around, there were a few transgenics she'd never met before watching their interaction with more interest than she really liked. "What?" she asked, nearly growling.

They immediately looked busy, their eyes leaving her faster than she could see. "That's what I thought," she said with a sniff, turning away to finish up with what she had to do.


At Crash that night, Cindy stayed with her until Alec showed up. She knew the minute he walked into the building, and she tracked him as he went up to the counter and ordered a scotch. That didn't bode well for his trip to Logan's.

Cindy stood and greeted Alec when he came over, then abandoned them for a girl she'd been making eyes at. Max watched her go for a second before turning concerned eyes to Alec. "What happened?"

Alec shrugged. "He's not too sure you made this decision without undue influence on my part, I don't think. Also, I'm supposed to take care of you, as if you can't do it yourself. And like I don't already."

Alec was glowering into his glass, and Max reached out to grab his hand. He grabbed hers first, though, and turned her wrist over. "What the fuck is this, Maxie?"

Max looked down at her arm just in time to see markings appear on her arm, tattoo-looking markings that were appearing on her. Ones that could, if she squinted, be a writing form of some kind.

"I.. I…" Max didn't know what to say. "I don't know what these are."

Alec looked concerned. "Come on. We're going to TC. We need to figure this out."

Max nodded. She waved off Cindy when her friend started to get up and come over and followed Alec out of the club. She'd made her way there on foot, but Alec hadn't. He loaded her onto the back of his bike, throwing her a worried look over his shoulder when he climbed on in front of her.

When they got back to command in TC, there were still a lot of people around. It didn't take much more than a look at Alec, leading Max in, for most of them to decide that they needed to clear out.

"Dix, Luke, Mole. Up in the vid bay," Alec snapped. Joshua followed them, and Alec didn't bother to tell him to leave. "Get Logan on the line," Alec told Dix. He then pulled Max's coat off. "Anyone seen these before? Anywhere?" he asked, his voice low and dangerous, in full-on protective mate form.

None of them had. Dix got Logan on the screen, and Alec stood in front of Max, just for a moment, his eyes meeting Logan's. The threat was clear—mess with Max in any way, and the friendly conversation from earlier was going to be completely forgotten. Alec would make Logan understand just what it was to deal with a pissed off X5 who was protecting his mate.

When Alec stepped to the side and pulled Max up with him, he showed Logan the markings on her wrist. Then he turned her arm so Logan could see the ones on her upper arm.

"Are there any more?" Logan asked.

"Yeah. I'll take pictures and send them to you," Alec told him. Logan opened his mouth to say something, but Alec cut him off. "No. I will take pictures of the rest of them," he growled, his eyes flat and his stance tense. Max could see the way Alec's face closed off.

She slid behind Alec, touching his back and keeping herself out of Logan's line of sight. She didn't say anything, though. One of these days, Logan would figure out how to not set off every self preservation instinct the transgenics had, but for now, she figured she'd let Alec deal with it his way.

Eventually, they closed the call with Logan. Dix handed Alec a camera. "You should take pictures now in case they change." He nodded to an office to the side.

Alec smiled at him and nodded, wrapping an arm around Max's shoulders and leading her over. She didn't fight him. When they got into the office, Alec shut the door and Max turned to face him. She looked him over, a little concerned.

Alec cocked his head to the side. "Why do you let me do that? With the growling and the posturing and the protecting?"

Max smiled at him. "'Cause you need to. And I kinda like it," she told him, motioning him forward. When he'd stopped in front of her and pulled her against him, she continued, "Plus, it's kinda hot."

Alec laughed then and leaned down to kiss her soundly. He didn't let it go any further than that, though, and pulled back eventually. "We need to do this. Get it over with. Then we can go home."

Max nodded and started to pull off her tops. They found more on her back, one right under where Alec had bit her, which made her blush. The bite mark wasn't fading like other injuries, partly because Alec had bit it again since then. Max couldn't explain the slow healing process otherwise. She wasn't too worried, though, because she wasn't seeing any other signs that something was wrong. She healed just fine from everything else.

There were a few on her hip, one on the inside of her knee, four across her stomach, and two on her upper chest. "Jesus," she complained. "How many of these things are there, and what do they mean?"

Alec didn't say anything back, just finished taking the photos. When they were done, she put her clothes back on, and they went back into command.

"Hey, Max!" Luke called from across command. "Did you eat or drink anything weird in the last few days?"

Max shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I drank a bottle of something called Tattoos from Within." She paused, then continued. "No. Nothing strange."

The others looked back down, but Max could see smiles on their face at her snarky comment. Alec grinned down at her, then nodded over to the others. "I'm gonna go give them the photos, and then we can take off, 'kay?"

Max waited there for him, watching as he gave Dix the photos and said a few words to Mole. Luke asked him a question then, and another X5 came over and asked some questions. Max cocked her head to the side when Alec shook his head, but the other X5 didn't look too upset, so she didn't head over.

Another X5 she didn't know came over to her then. "Max?" the female asked. Max nodded. "I'm Tei. I was wondering… can I talk to you?" She looked worried.

Max nodded and motioned her towards her wall, into an out of the way corner. Once they were there, she turned and faced Tei. "What's up?"

"I…" She looked at Max, a bit lost, and Max just waited her out. "How did you choose your mate?"

Max raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "It was a heat decision. I didn't really think about it, but instead of wanting everyone and everything, I only wanted Alec, and he wanted me in return. Neither of us really knew what was going on, so we weren't really prepared for it. We still don't know what's going on, really," she told Tei, a bit rueful.

Tei sighed. "I know I'm due for a heat soon, and I… I don't want to mate."

Max cocked her head to the side. "Then you don't have to. Do you need a safe place to go?"

Tei shrugged. "I'm okay with the sex part. Just not the mating part."

Max nodded, looking thoughtful. "Well, how about… when your heat hits, call me, okay? I'll come over, and we'll talk. If you're thinking about just one person, we'll get you somewhere safe. If you're just horny, we'll let you loose." She paused, looked at the other X5. "You think that will work?"

Tei looked relieved. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. Thank you so much, Max. Seriously."

Max smiled at her. "No problem. If anyone else needs me, tell them to call me, okay? Anytime, day or night. If I don't respond to a page right away, tell them to call Alec, and he'll catch me, okay?"

Tei nodded and took off, glancing back only once on her way out the door. Alec came over once she was gone. "What was that about?"

Max shook her head. "Just girl issues. If any of the females from TC call for me, get me right away, okay?"

Alec nodded, an eyebrow raised, but he didn't say anything else on the subject. "Ready to go?"


Alec showed up to JamPony the next afternoon with a cell phone for her. "And TC already has the number," he told her.

She smiled gratefully at him, knowing this was a response to her conversation with Tei the day before. Before anything more could happen, breaking news came across the TV screen in the longue, something about a transgenic and a chase in downtown. Then they saw the face of the suspected transgenic: Biggs.

Max's heart stopped. She couldn't even breathe for a second or two. She looked at Alec and saw him frozen, too, and then she shoved him to the side. "Go. I'll get backup and meet you there," she told him, already running towards the back.

Alec was on his phone as she left the building, and she could only hope they got there in time.


They did, just barely. Biggs was going to need some recovery time, and they'd torn him and his stuff up pretty bad. Alec's distraction of gunfire to the side had given him time to slip to ground, though, and Max's backup had come in time to break the crowd up.

When Max got back to TC, the whole of it was in an uproar. A medic unit was treating Biggs, who sat in the middle of the room being debriefed by Mole. When Max walked in, Mole stopped and stepped back, and others stepped aside to let her through. "You okay?" she asked. When Biggs nodded, she looked around at everyone else. "What do we know?"

A flurry of information was thrown at her, almost too fast for her to process. She was questioning a small transhuman named Ava who was designed for data processing when Alec entered.

Command got quiet for a second when he came in, but they didn't stay quiet for long. They all returned to what they were doing as Alec made his way across the room to where Max and Biggs were.

Alec didn't bother to ask Biggs how he was doing, just looked between the two. "We figured anything out yet?"

"We got a lot of chatter about a heat sensor," Max told him. "Some sort of goggles or something."

Alec sighed. "All right. We find out where they came from, and we get to the source. We need these to be as limited as fast we can. We obviously can't change our body temp or get the ones on the street gone, but we can stop it before White spreads them around."

Everyone in the room became even busier then, and Alec nudged Max, eyebrow raised. She gave him the slightest of smiles, just enough to reassure him that she was fine, before she resumed her talk with Ava.

It was a long night.


Alec took his unit out on a run into Sector 4 around one am a few nights later. The raid was set to be two and a half hours long and was going to bring back a lot of basic supplies from an outdoor supply and military surplus warehouse.

Max knew it needed to happen, and she also knew she needed to stay behind. She and Alec were working through some of the more quirky mate issues, but they were nowhere near ready for her to be out there with his unit—alone, they worked together fine, protecting only each other. But when others got mixed in, they tended to muck it up, what with Max and Alec ignoring the rest of them and doing what was best for their mates and not the rest of TC.

If she found herself in a situation where she and Alec were in danger, Max didn't think that she would just up and abandon anyone with them. She knew she could fight the instincts. She just didn't want to have to if she could help it.

So she stayed back while Dix and Mole manned the comms and command. There was another unit ready to deploy if necessary, this one lead by an X5 named Travis. Tei was in Travis's unit, and after a while, she wandered over to where Max was making an attempt at looking busy on her couch.

"None of us are fooled, you know," Tei told her by way of greeting.

Max looked up and gave her a slight smile. "Maybe not, but I'm hoping to fool myself into actually doing something other than acting like a worried sea-widow."

Tei raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar term, but Max waved off the question. "Sit down if you plan on hovering," she said, shifting files to the floor and the side table.

Tei did as she was told. "Is being away from him making you this jittery, or is something going on that I should tell Travis about?"

Max sighed. "Nothing's wrong. And I'm usually okay when he's out, but anything that requires a full unit…"

Tei nodded at the sentiment. "And there was that first op…"

Max shuddered at the reminder, and she could feel Tei's eyes on her. She wondered if it had been a test, if everyone else was watching for her reaction, too, and her hackles rose a bit. Something in her growled at the idea of these people, all of whom she outranked, testing her, so she raised an eyebrow and schooled her face into the most impassive Manticore mask she could. "There is that."

It was obvious that Tei realized she had misstepped. Tei slouched down a bit, scooting back, and Max realized it was a reaction to her projecting her status as an alpha. She could sense the rest of the room watching them now, if they hadn't been before, and noticed fleetingly that even an ordinary could have heard a pin drop.

After a long moment of silence in which Max stared at Tei and Tei looked at the floor, Max looked away. She glanced around at the others, meeting Mole's gaze with a nod and Travis's with a cool, raised eyebrow. She could see his need to protect his unit member, but also his need to obey Max's desire for him to mind his own business.

When he dropped his gaze down, Max turned back to Tei. "Please don't bring that up again."

Tei nodded, albeit a bit jerkily. "Sure, Max."

Max looked away again, trying to settle herself. As she relaxed, she could feel the rest of the room start to breathe again and a few conversations pick back up.

The two of them sat in silence for awhile. Eventually Tei shifted, causing Max to look back at her.

"Max…" Tei trailed off, and Max could sense her nervousness. She didn't say anything, though, just watched her. Finally, Tei sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think…" She trailed off again.

Max shrugged. "It doesn't matter."

Tei struggled a bit, but she continued on despite that. "Yes, it does. I wanted… I thought maybe it would be nice to have a… have a friend. I didn't mean to challenge you."

Max raised an eyebrow, more to herself than at Tei. She hadn't even really thought of Tei's statement being a challenge, though she had obviously taken it as such based on her reaction. "I know. I didn't mean to go all alpha on you, either," she told her, relaxing even more. "And I think I'd like to try the friends thing, too."

Tei smiled at her, just a small smile, and Max smiled back. They didn't say anything else that night, but they sat next to each other on the couch in a comfortable silence.

When Alec and his unit returned, laden down with supplies, Tei followed Max out to greet them, almost like a bodyguard would. Two more of her unit fell into place with her as they went into the open area that the others were offloading the haul into, and though Alec raised an eyebrow, he didn't say anything about them as he greeted Max, nodding to them before he pulled her to him, a sure sign he approved.


TC had gotten pretty good at going out and extracting other transgenics from tight spots. So good that, a lot of the time, they sent transhumans when it was going to be routine.

Which, of course, would come back to bite them in the ass.

No one asked, during or after the standoff at JamPony, how the accident had come about. The fact that there had been an accident, and the fact that Mole, Joshua, a pregnant X5 named Gem, and an X6 named Dalton had gotten stuck in the open, was just accepted.

Joshua's misguided use of Max's instructions didn't help, but if there was one thing every transgenic knew, it was that sometimes, you just had to roll with the punches and accept that some things happened.

Which was what Max found herself doing as she rode a hover drone into the window at JamPony, successfully outing herself to the crowd inside and out. She took a quick glance around the room and figured that everyone already knew who Alec was.

The others might have been safe for the moment, those who hadn't outed themselves, but they wouldn't be for long, nor would the humans be once White took control of the situation.

"Anyone call for a pizza?" she asked as she sauntered towards the crowd. Mole rolled his eyes, and Cindy flashed her a brief smile, and the X5 in labor nodded to her, but Max was distracted by the sight of some unknown X trying to patch Alec up.

Alec had been hurt.

"What's this?" Max asked, very still. She wasn't sure that, if she moved any closer, she wouldn't snarl and fling the kid in front of her away.

He seemed to get the hint, and his eyes darted from one of them to the other as he slowly backed away. Max took over bandaging Alec as he responded to her inquiry with a smart-aleck crack about a hole from a bullet.

Max spent a few extra seconds touching him when she was done with the bandage, just making sure that that was the only injury. Alec relaxed a little under her touch, but he didn't look any less serious. "Check the news, and I'll go check on the situation, yeah?" Max asked, deferring to his judgment even as she suggested the plan.

Alec nodded and pushed off from the column he'd been leaning against, heading over to the TV. Max looked at Mole, and he started to rattle information off to her. She just nodded to him and turned, taking off up the stairs to where Cece was looking over the street. "Sitrep?" she asked from the top of the stairs.

Cece didn't even look phased by the fact that she hadn't been there before. "Quiet, but it looks like they've got snipers on the roof."

Max nodded. "Good. If you get into contact from anyone outside, see if they can take them out. I'm gonna see what Tei can drum up."

Cece nodded and turned back to the window as Max went back downstairs. "Joshua, Dalton, make sure that we know anything that happens out front. Mole, you hear anything from the back, you let me know."

They all nodded as the rest of JamPony stared. Max looked around, noting that all the other transgenics who were working there were out on runs.

"Alec, call Mary and Fuz and see what they can find out outside. I'm calling Tei to get a unit onto the rooftops to take out the snipers they've got," Max told him as she pulled out her phone.

Alec nodded, looking a bit surprised by the speed of the deployment of snipers.

"Tei, I need you and a unit on the rooftops around JamPony ten minutes ago," Max snapped into her phone. "Take out all the snipers you can find and install yourselves. Make sure to bring a backup unit. I have a feeling things are gonna get real ugly."

She didn't wait for a response because she already knew what it would be. Cece yelled down that command reported White was on his way, and Alec raised an eyebrow. "Fuz has got a lock on six snipers. Mary hasn't seen White. They're waiting for Tei to come, and they'll hook up with her unit."

Max nodded, looking at the three standing watch down there. They shook their heads. Max sighed and looked around, noticing the absolute shock on Normal's face at the way that she was acting and the way everyone was responding to her.

"We are so not ready for this confrontation," Max said to Alec. "There's way too many humans here."

Alec nodded, flexing his arm. Max eyed the injury worriedly, but Alec nudged her, distracting her from it. "Hey, no worries. I'll be fine. And if I get a little banged up, I'll have you to take care of me, right?"

Max smiled at him, despite her worry, and leaned into him enough to take a bit of comfort from his presence. "I don't want to lose anyone, Alec. Transgenic or otherwise. Every person in here is one of my people, and I… I never wanted this day to come."

Alec nodded, leaning into kiss her temple before he pulled away. "I know. So let's make sure that we don't lose any of them."

They were interrupted by Alec's cell ringing. "It's Logan," he told her with a little bit of surprise. He answered it. "Logan? What do you want, man? We're in the middle of something at the moment." Alec's face showed a little bit of amusement at whatever Logan said to that. "No, thanks, I think we got it covered. Yeah, I know they put snipers up, and yeah, I have a plan to take care of them. Yeah, I know White is on the way. No, you getting in the middle of this will just cause more havoc. Don't worry, man. Max and I got this one covered, okay?"

Max raised an eyebrow at the side of the conversation she was listening to. If she'd really wanted, she could have probably heard the whole thing, but between the noise inside and outside of JamPony, she didn't have the concentration without really trying.

"He wanted to help," Alec told her when he hung up.

Max rolled her eyes. "Just what we need—another human in the mix."

"That's what I told him," Alec said.

The JamPony phone rang then. Max raised an eyebrow, and Alec motioned for her to pick it up. "Hello?"

"This is Detective Clemente with the Seattle PD. Who am I talking to?"

"Why don't you just call me 452."

"All right, 452, here's what we need. We heard there's women and children in there—"

"Yeah, and your cops shot right into them, almost hitting the pregnant girl. Also, you've got snipers on the roof. So here's how it's gonna work. You're gonna get a bus, and you're gonna pull the snipers back, and then we'll talk."

She hung up and turned around, frowning.

"Max," Sketchy called out. "Could we go through the tunnel?"

Max rounded on Sketchy. "There's a way out of here, and you know it?" She didn't stop to berate him for not saying anything earlier, just moved on. "All right, you're going to get as many of these guys down into that tunnel as you—"

Max's eyes widened then, and she turned to stare at the door. She cocked her head to the side, listening. "Never mind. Everyone upstairs into the old office. Now," she barked. She turned to look at Alec. "They're coming."

Alec didn't question her. "Let's move, people, everyone upstairs. If, at any time during this, you can make a break for it, you follow Sketchy through the tunnel."

The messengers around them nodded and hurried to do what they said, keeping a good distance between themselves and the transgenics, though a few helped Gem, the X5 in labor, up the stairs.

Max opened her cell, calling Tei. "What do we got, Tei?" she asked as she made sure everyone was getting tucked away.

"We got the snipers gone, but there's something new. I don't know what they are. But they're with White."

Max cursed under her breath. "Look, we're gonna make a stand, and then, once we're through here, we're taking a set of tunnels out of here. They end…" She looked at Sketchy, and he mouthed the location. "Under the viaduct, by the old aquarium."

After that, it was a waiting game. It was her, Alec, Cece, Mole, and Joshua, with a little help from Dalton if he could, against White's people.

There was a close call with Alec and his hurt arm, but Mole was able to knock the familiar on him to the side and give Alec the upper hand again. Joshua kept White busy while the rest of them took care of the dwindling number of familiars. While they couldn't feel pain, it turned out they could be knocked out.

They won, in the end. Max hadn't doubted that they would. She was just glad that it hadn't cost them more. It almost had as it was.

When they finally had the special ops tied up, Max ordered them stripped. "The uniforms will be useful."

The only one not tied up with the others was White. Alec ordered him knocked out again, bound, and gagged. "He can't stay alive," Alec told them. "But we aren't leaving a body here."

Max didn't say anything against him. She grabbed one of the bags that had a uniform in it and helped Gem, who had delivered a baby girl during the fight with assistance from Normal, to her feet. "You good? We can see if Josh can carry you, if you need."

Gem shook her head. "Not yet. I might, but not yet. But… would you carry Hope for me?" she asked, looking down at the new baby girl.

Max was floored by the request and nodded her head. "Sure. I'd be honored."


A unit was there to meet them when they crawled out of the tunnels. Part of the unit set off with the messengers, taking them home in groups, and the rest was there to escort the others into TC. Max normally would have fought at the idea of an escort, but she didn't this time. A small part of their escort broke off with orders from Alec, taking White with them.

When they got back to command, Max handed Hope over to Dalton, who took her off to Gem in an apartment someone had scrounged for her. Max waited until the kid had cleared the building before she slumped down into a chair. Alec was standing in the middle of the group, questioning them.

Max just watched him until Tei and her unit came in. "Tei." Max smiled slightly, standing to greet her. "Nice job. What happened after?"

Tei smiled. "Confusion. The police have no idea where you went or what happened, and the special ops ain't talking. And White mysteriously disappeared with you, so they think he might have been working for us."

Everyone listening snickered at that thought.

Eventually, everyone was as debriefed as they were going to get that night, and Max and Alec started to leave for their TC apartment.

"Hey, Alec!" Luke called out. "We got the water and electricity turned on in that apartment complex you guys have been staying in. There'll be neighbors soon, I'm sure."

Alec nodded and smiled his thanks to him, then kept Max moving out the door. Thanks to the electricity, they even had hot water waiting for them at their apartment. Max groaned in near ecstasy when she stepped under the spray.

Alec joined her, but the shower was as quick and to the point as people who'd been fighting like they had could take. Eventually, the two of them fell into their bed, curled around each other.

"You know they know we're here in TC, and they're gonna make a point to tell us this tomorrow, right?" Max asked, sighing at the thought.

Alec nodded, then leaned down and kissed her softly. "But that's tomorrow. Right now is today. Let's get through this first, yeah?"

Max smiled at him, closing her eyes as she settled into him more. Alec was right. They'd figure tomorrow out when it came.

notes the second: I need to thank lithiumdoll because without her this idea would have never spawned. her video, to the mattafix song that inspired this can be said to be directly responsible for most of this fic.