Spoilers: Up to and including "Dawg Day Afternoon"
Summary: When Alec's little slip-up sends Joshua out to seek vengeance for Annie's death, it's up to Max and Alec to get to him before White does… and not kill each other in the process. M/A
Disclaimer: Yes, that's right, not mine.
A/N: I know it says "humor" in the description, and this chapter isn't all that humorous… but Annie's death was really upsetting and I just don't know how to deal with that part lightly. Don't worry, it'll brighten up soon enough.
Chapter 1: Dawg Day Life
The old house was dark. The general lack of light was no surprise; after all, it had been that way from the beginning, since Joshua had moved in and made it home. But there was more to it now, not just a lack of illumination, but the mood as well. Where once there had been a lively atmosphere, of hope and occasional laughter and of companionship, there was only pain and empty silence. It wasn't a place to lie low and to meet up with friends any longer. It was a place to nurse open wounds and cradle broken hearts.
Max stood, watching helplessly as Joshua sat in the corner of the small room in front of the tiny window, gazing out into the sullen gray sky. It wasn't even longing in his eyes as he observed the world he couldn't be part of, the world that wouldn't welcome any of them for their differences. That desire to belong had been lost along the way, lost as the nightly news played on, oblivious to his pain and his regrets, lost as he waited the following day, from dawn to dusk, hoping against all logic that perhaps they were mistaken and the promise that had been made down there, beneath the broken city, would be kept.
Around him rested his paintings, a half dozen at least, the subject of each the same, a brown-haired, green-eyed girl with a gentle face and hesitant smile. One blank white canvas sat in the middle of the reverent mess, untouched and unnoticed. He hadn't painted anything, not since that night before the whole sordid adventure began. He hadn't even touched a brush, picked up a pallet. The only acknowledgement he made of his art was when he would turn to those pictures, and stare, just stare at them with that defeated slump to his broad shoulders, long scraggly hair falling into his face, hiding his expression from her, and from the world that wouldn't even have stopped to look before beating him down in the name of some perverse sense of justice.
"How's he doing?" a voice inquired softly at her side.
Max shrugged, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her coat. Her eyes didn't stray from Joshua's large frame. "Same as he's been doing for the past week. Barely holding on, and only because he doesn't have any other choice." She sighed heavily. "Poor guy. I can't imagine what he's going through."
"I can," Alec replied quietly, so quiet that even with her enhanced hearing she almost didn't hear it.
Max turned toward him, surprised by his slight admission. But his face was closed off, his eyes uncharacteristically dark and giving away nothing. For just an instant she let herself study his profile as he watched Joshua, oblivious, too caught up in his own memories to really see him. Something made her want to reach out, to ask him about that, but something else kept her from doing so. Then she turned her gaze forward once more.
"I've tried talking to him, but all I can get out of him is a word or two. Yes, no, I don't wanna talk about it." She paused for a brief moment. "Anyway, I don't want to leave him alone, but I have to get to work. I can't miss another day again so soon. Normal's already riding my ass about the last week."
Alec, who had snapped out of his daze, faced her. "Don't worry about it. I'll stay with him." At her questioning look, he explained, "It's my day off." When she continued to stare at him, he went on, "I don't have anything else planned." Still she remained unconvinced. Alec sighed in exasperation. "Really Max, I don't mind. As difficult as it might be for you to believe, canine boy's really grown on me." He shrugged his shoulders without elaboration. "I consider him a friend."
Max took a deep breath and shook her head. "I know Alec," she finally replied, letting her tone sound just a touch apologetic. "You've been looking after him pretty good these past few days, and I don't mean to imply that I don't believe you…"
"But I just have a hard time dealing with you playing the part of the shoulder to cry on. You're doing it so often now," she forced a smile to her face, wanting to lighten the mood and divert the conversation away from any potentially dangerous topics, "Well, I'm tempted to ask who you are and what you've done with my Alec."
Her efforts were rewarded with the familiar cocky grin. "Your Alec, am I? And when exactly did you take ownership?"
Max rolled her eyes and held up her closed fist. "Well, let's review, shall we?" She extended one finger. "I named you"—second finger—"You followed me home"—finger number three—"And no matter what I do, I can't seem to get rid of you"—number four—"And, you're constantly hanging around, mooching off whatever food I bring by." She dropped her hand to her side and gave him a smug half-grin. "Let's face it, I might as well slap a collar on your neck and get you neutered."
"Woah, Maxie," Alec quickly replied, taking a giant step backward, hands raised in a defensively. "Let's not be so hasty there." He dropped his hands and shifted his pants somewhat, a grimace marring his features. "You've already made me re-experience puberty. It took them over a week just to drop again after our last altercation."
"Alec, that's disgusting!" Max exclaimed, giving him a look to that effect.
"It was painful too," he remarked, unrepentant. "And you never did apologize for that."
She paused and gave him a blasé shrug that would have done Original Cindy proud. "Cuz I'm not sorry. I did what I had to do. And I did give you an out, but you and your greed chose not to take it."
He matched her look with a glare but didn't respond. Finally, when their little staring match lost its appeal, he spoke, "Anyway, didn't you say something about leaving?"
Raising an eyebrow, she answered, "I'll try not to take offence, because I know you didn't mean it the way it came out." Turning, she left him and walked into the cozy living room.
"Don't try too hard," the words floated over to her, not loud, but more than loud enough for her ears. Max ignored him.
"Hey big fella," she said softly, crouching down before the windowsill, resting one gloved hand on his knee. Joshua glanced over at her with mournful eyes. Inwardly, she cringed at the raw pain evident there. She was so used to people covering their pain with well-wrought masks that it was almost overwhelming to see that turmoil so naked and revealed. Max swallowed the lump forming in her throat. "I have to get to work, but Alec's gonna stay with you. Alright?"
"Alright," he replied, his attention returning to the window.
Suppressing another sigh, she raised herself to full height. "Take care big fella," she whispered, and after a moment's hesitation, headed toward the door.
Before she could leave, the mumbled response made its way to her, "Take care little fella."
Max stopped, hand resting on the frame of the open door. She glanced toward Alec. "Take care of him." He answered with a solemn nod.