Disclaimer: Not mine. Just borrowing.
Summary: Max and Alec learn disturbing news that will affect all of TC. To make matters worse, a Familiar comes looking for help and they can't say no. Sequel to Loose the Hounds.
So… Fanfic retirement isn't working. A thought occurred to me and I decided I was an idiot for not thinking of it before.
For those of you who've stuck with this series all the way here (Loose the Hounds, Dogs of War, Dog Will Have His Day), thank you very, very much. For those new to this, a quick recap, so you don't have to wade through the others if you don't want to. Max and Alec are together, married. After a disastrous riot killing several of Max's team, the Transgenics have legally taken over TC and have formed a company that takes jobs from the government as well as companies and private citizens. At some point while still at Manticore, Alec was programmed that when given a set trigger, he would execute whatever command he was given. A Familiar learned of this and Alec shot Max. A crew of former Psy-Ops members deprogrammed Alec, but it was very hard on the poor guy. Max was then poisoned by the Familiars. To get the antidote, Alec was forced to retrieve a file kept in a government building. Alec found the file and saved Max, but they still don't know why the file's important…
Now… on with the story.
"I am never, ever doing that again," Alec growled as he strode through the doors to Command.
Max turned at his entrance and rolled her eyes. "You act like it was torture."
"It was," Alec snapped.
"It was a walk in the park and you know it," she replied evenly.
"Oh yeah?" He cast his eyes around the room to all of the others who were trying not to smile. "I didn't see any of you volunteering for the job, did I? No! When this job came up, everyone else was suddenly very, very busy and who's left?" He jerked his thumb at his chest. "Me."
Max walked up to him and patted his cheek, the action so condescending he wanted to start yelling. Instead, he gritted his teeth, and kept quiet, realizing he was just giving them more reason to laugh.
Alec couldn't blame them really. He knew they could all smell him and right now he smelled like baby formula and day old diapers. Freak, Inc. had taken a security contract to transport a big-time CEO's wife and her two small children. When it came time to actually do the job, however, the teams had all been suspiciously busy, leaving only Alec's team which was normally used for more dangerous or more involved missions.
Alec had no doubt Max was more than merely amused. She was most likely pleased and relieved to have him working a routine and relatively safe job. After the last few weeks of mayhem, an easy job was ok in her books, even if, for him, handling the kiddie jobs rankled.
Alec supposed he couldn't complain too much. Just the thought of Max stepping outside TC's walls was enough to have him nervously pacing and snarling at anyone who came near him. The last few weeks had been stressful, painful, and generally awful. Their physical wounds were healed now, however, and he and Max were working their way through the lingering worry and anxiety, sometimes with more success than others. He knew that he in particular had been moody and hard to deal with.
"Poor baby," Max cooed, further annoying him, although he couldn't help being slightly amused, too.
"Somebody better feel sorry for me," Alec grumbled, rubbing at his throbbing temple. It felt like he'd had a headache for days thanks to screaming babies and diaper changes, mixed in with bodyguard duty.
"Oh, I wasn't talking about you," she replied smoothly. "I was talking about the baby. Poor thing had to put up with you the whole way."
Alec shook his head. He'd walked right into that one. "Yeah, well, I didn't throw up on the kid, which is more than I can say for him."
Max wrinkled her nose and finally kissed him on the cheek, real sympathy in her eyes. "You did a good job," she whispered, so low only he could hear. "You know I needed someone I could trust with the babies."
"Yeah, yeah." He huffed, then said more loudly, "You find anything else on the Stephens file while I was gone?"
It was Max's turn to look annoyed. "We're still working on it. We just don't know why the Familiars were so hot to get it. Stephens is definitely dirty and he's tied to more dirty politicians and mobsters and every other criminal or amoral type you can think of, but we just can't figure out why that would mean anything to Kincaid or White and his buddies."
"Kincaid." Alec sighed. "The jerk's dead and he's still making our lives difficult."
"Pretty much." Max shrugged. "We'll keep working on it. At least Secretary Gordon's people are happy."
"Of course they are," Alec said cynically. "They've just been handed inside information on every underhanded mover and shaker in the country." The Homeland Security people were probably dancing around like it was Christmas.
"And then some. Stephens has contacts all over the world." Max's eyes narrowed. "Come to think of it, he's a bit like you."
"Hey!" Alec said in mock outrage. "What is this? Pick-on-Alec day?"
Max grinned mischievously. "I'm just saying that he seems to know everybody and his moral compass is a little… skewed."
Alec sniffed in annoyance. "See if I get you anymore chocolate this month." He stomped off toward his office, muttering the whole way. "Skewed, she says. I'll show her skewed." In truth, he really just wanted to change clothes. He still smelled like diapers and baby vomit. It wasn't doing his transgenic sense of smell any favors. Sewage had been easier to put up with and it had been a lot easier to wash off, too. For some reason baby vomit was worse than skunk. Once you got hit, it was nearly impossible to get rid of the stench. If he'd still been at Manticore, he was pretty sure the bio-warfare division would already have him isolated for study.
Alec's headache suddenly spiked and he wished like anything for a painkiller a Transgenic could use. He threw open the door to his office and headed straight for the cabinet where he kept an extra pair of clothes for occasions like this. Just as he was pulling a fresh black t-shirt down over his chest, the door opened and Max walked in, a faint quirk of amusement still playing on her lips.
She sat down on the sofa and without waiting to be invited, Alec sank down beside her wrapping one arm around her and pulling her close. Max immediately snuggled closer, resting her head on his chest.
Max let out a contented sigh that matched Alec's own. "Welcome home."
Alec kissed the top of her head. "Glad to be home. Even if you're mean to me."
"I'm not mean to you," Max replied, and Alec could hear the smile in her voice, even though he couldn't see it.
"Then what would you call it?" he asked wryly.
"Forcing you to live up to your full potential."
Alec snorted. "Exactly. You're mean. Not to mention bossy. Or maybe pushy is the word I'm looking for…"
There was a knock on the door, but neither of them moved. The people in Command were more than used to Max and Alec's tendency to be practically glued at the hip when opportunity allowed it. "Come," Alec called.
The door opened and a young woman walked in. She was visibly pregnant, although if Alec had to guess she still had a couple of months before she was due. Since things had stabilized, Terminal City had turned into a hotbed of people pairing off. After so many years of uncertainty, and temporary and usually forced partnerships followed up by forced isolation, the joy of a steady relationship was too tempting for many of the inhabitants of TC to deny.
"Hey, Stat. What's up?" Max asked.
Stat was their resident accountant. She hardly needed ledgers or a computer to keep their books up to date. She could simply do it all in her head. She was a walking calculator and absolutely vital to Freak, Inc.'s day to day operations. She was the one who made sure they got paid for the security jobs they took on and that their bills were paid now that TC was bringing in enough money that they could actually pay for the things they needed instead of stealing it all.
"Hi, guys. I need your okay on a couple of things. Dr. Peterson has asked us to buy him a few more pieces of equipment. I've checked around to see what I could find and have some options for you."
Max nodded and pulled away from Alec so she could sit forward and accept the papers Stat was holding. Dr. Peterson was their in-house veterinarian, a fact which still made Alec shake his head. The guy was decent enough, but it was just another bit of evidence that their lives were seriously messed up that instead of a doctor, they had invited a vet to make sure none of their weird bits of DNA caused them any difficulties. They'd been trying to buy things as needed for the guy so he'd have a proper "Doctor's office" for them to go to. Since they were constantly coming in from jobs with everything from broken bones to gunshot wounds, it was to their definite advantage to make sure the guy was well supplied.
"This looks good, Stat," Max said, still studying the papers. "Alec, you want to head up the negotiations? Equipment like this is going to cost a fortune."
Alec smirked. "Don't worry, Maxie. Before I'm finished with 'em, they'll be ready to donate the stuff."
"Thanks, guys." Stat rubbed a hand over her swollen belly. She looked down, smiling almost to herself. "Some of this is for pre-natal care and I'm hoping to get this deal going."
"When are you due?"
"Not for another twelve weeks as near as Dr. Peterson can guess." She shrugged. "It's all kind of a guessing game with our freaky DNA. That's why he's really hoping we can get him the equipment."
Max handed the papers back to her. "We'll make it happen," she assured her.
Alec gave Stat a confident smile. "I'll have the equipment before you know it."
"Thanks, guys. Really," she said. Tears had started to form in her eyes. She brushed them away in embarrassment and quickly excused herself from the office.
Alec shook his head. "Never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself."
"Stat. You'd never know she could shoot the wings off a fly from 1500 yards in the middle of a gale force wind."
"She was a sniper?"
"The best. Cool as a cucumber. Nothing fazed her. No matter what was going on, she could make the shot."
Alec looked back at Max and realized she was wearing an expression he'd unfortunately come to recognize. He saw it whenever he inadvertently mentioned something about their later years at Manticore. He'd told her things had gotten worse, but he'd never really told her how.
The expression she wore was half-curiosity, half-fear. She knew that some of their people still blamed her for leaving them behind, while others blamed her for how much more harshly they were treated because of the escape. To Alec's way of thinking, it was all best left in the past, especially since his deprogramming sessions had forced him to relive every bit of his time at Manticore in crystal clear Technicolor, which wasn't doing his current state of mind any favors.
Even as he thought of it, images began to flash before his eyes, vivid, gut wrenching images that made him want to beg for mercy. Ever since the deprogramming sessions had dredged up the memories, it was almost impossible to banish them. Things he'd tried so hard to forget seemed to pop up again and again. Still, he told himself, given enough time he'd pack it all away again. As for Max, she could just stay curious.
"So," Alec said, clapping his hands together, "any big new contracts come in while I was gone that are going to make us all filthy stinking rich?"
"Maybe," Max hedged. "You up for a meeting with a bigwig CEO type?"
Alec laughed. "It'll make a nice change from dealing with screaming babies or evil government types."
"True." Max smiled and Alec couldn't resist. He leaned closer and kissed her smile, threading his fingers into her hair, pulling her closer. "Didn't get to give you a proper hello before."
"Falling down on the job," she replied, with a frown of mock severity.
"Work, employees hanging around. It cuts into a man's opportunities to make out with his wife."
Max rolled her eyes. "Your life is so difficult."
"You think I'm kidding? I'm seriously considering putting out a memo."
"And you know how much Mole cares about memos."
As if the others knew they were being talked about, there was a knock on the door. Whoever it was didn't wait for permission, just opened the door. Mole stepped in, chewing on his ever-present cigar. "Good. You've still got your clothes on."
"Which is the only reason you're still breathing," Max snapped.
"Relax, sister. Nothin' I ain't seen before."
Max blushed deeply, no doubt remembering that Mole had been the one to bring the cure to her room when she'd been so ill, not to mention naked. Alec didn't really appreciate the reminder any more than Max did.
"What do you want?" Alec growled.
"Thought you might wanna know we've got a guy at the gate asking for a meeting."
Mole took his cigar out of his mouth. "So he's a Familiar. And he wants to talk."