Dark Angel, Alec, his first indulgence outside of Manticore was a bed

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The Sign of a Free Man

It had taken a while, somehow it was too important to just steal for it. He knew it was stupid really, a foolish indulgence but somehow this more than anything symbolized the outside, the freedom he'd always denied he'd craved. He managed at first, slept in no-tell motels when he'd got the cash and just made do with whatever he could find the rest of the time.

But all the time he knew; he'd set his goal and he was going to achieve it, the world be damned.

He moved from slum to slum, never staying in one place too long, knowing that he needed to figure it out in his head. He needed a base, a safe retreat; that had to come first. He needed to infiltrate a community enough that they didn't look at him twice, didn't think anything of him if he was going to become a permanent fixture. He took heed of Max's warning about his barcode and let his hair grow longer at the back, less reason for people to look at him twice.

He staked out a few likely places, wondering, weighing the options and drawing a blank. When the opportunity presented itself it wasn't how he'd expected, wasn't a result of his planning at all. Brain! Seriously, he'd got a sweet deal set up as his apartment, okay, so most of it was second- or maybe even third hand but there was everything that Alec needed and more.

It left him able to concentrate on the goal, channel his funds accordingly. Food, rent and saving. That was it and he was willing to steal for the first two. He knew it would make no sense to anyone else why it was so important to come by the money through honest hard graft. Sense or not, he was determined.

It took time to accumulate the funds, time he spent looking, preparing, researching. This wasn't a quick deal, it symbolized too much. Manticore, he'd had no idea how everyone else lived then; naïve enough to assume that the world lived in barracks and slept on bare metal cots with thin sheets over a sparse mattress. He remembered the time when he'd strived for the top, the goal to earn the right to a cot in a room for two. He remembered when he and Biggs had achieved that, thought it was something. It just showed what they knew.

He remembered those early missions outside, the two of them working together undercover, discovering that what they'd thought to be a luxury was anything but out in the world outside Manticore. Beds there came with mattresses that were not paper thin, sheets and blankets that provided warmth and comfort. It had been a hard lesson, the first inkling he'd had that not everything Manticore said was the truth. To find those beds he so relished at first were not the best had only made him aim higher. By the time he'd been at the Berrisford mansion he'd been better able to hide his amazement at the sheer opulence but he'd been more determined to earn this. At first, he'd thought it was possible, that somewhere in Manticore was the chance to achieve this – they'd been told for so long to strive for the best, to aim high and they would reap the rewards, that it only made sense that this is what they must be aiming for.

Sure there'd been no indication of it but maybe that was the key, maybe it was on one of the other bases. That mission had changed so much. His first solo mission . . . the first time he'd slept alone . . . except he hadn't not the first couple of nights. It had been so strange, no rustle from a neighboring bed, no sounds of someone else breathing and he'd lain awake, unnerved by the new sounds around him, the sounds of the room, the creak of floorboards settling but no march of approaching footsteps patrolling the corridors around.

The mission had gone to hell, along with his chances of achieving anything. By the time they'd finished with him, he was lucky to be able to remember his own designation. It was months before he'd been trusted to even be with other X5s, the threat of the 'nomalies still enough to terrify him.

Now he was back on the outside all of that behind him, free of Manticore and this was his goal. He'd been in Brain's apartment, his apartment for almost two months and now he had enough money. He chose carefully, analyzing and rationalizing, coming to a decision and paying in cash. He'd had to contain the urge to threaten the salesman; this was a big enough store he reminded himself, that staff couldn't just pocket the cash and not have the stock delivered. Next step had been to go and choose the linen. He'd found himself almost overwhelmed by the choice – colours, textures, sizes, quality. He'd been tempted to retreat, out of his depth, but he'd been cornered by a saleswoman before he had the chance. She'd been sympathetic, seeming to understand that it was the first time he'd needed to make this purchases alone. She'd guided him through the process, simplifying it step by step, moving him along shelf after shelf as she asked questions calmly until he had a small pile to choose from at the end. By the time she'd done, she'd eliminated a number on size grounds, some saying that although high quality, they were high maintenance, very particular about how they needed to be washed, dried and ironed. She'd not selected what she called the too feminine colors and floral designs.

He'd walked away from the store with his purchases in his bag and gone back to his apartment to sleep for the last time in his third hand bed on his second hand covers.

Tomorrow things would change.

The day dawned and Alec was already awake, with the old bed stripped and taken apart. He'd take it to Joshua's. Joshua wouldn't mind storing until Alec found some place to sell it. He cleaned the room meticulously and now he was waiting.

The bed had been delivered and he'd watched avidly as the delivery guys had brought it in and set it up. Once they'd left, he'd tested it, prodded and poked at it like it might eat him. Then he'd got out the bag of purchases from the previous day. He'd laid each packet out before coming to a decision as to which sheets would go with which covers, which would be for today and then with military precision he'd made the bed.

He'd stood back to admire it, a sudden wash of emotion flooding him before he banished it as foolishness. This was freedom and that was a feeling he couldn't get rid of, didn't really want to get rid of.