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.
Allright then. I'm afraid y'all are bored out of your gourds by now, so let's get this puppy done…
"Mob? What mob?" Alec looked to her in confusion and Max hurried to explain.
"A rumor started going around that Transgenics are infected with a virus that will kill everyone. Then word got out that we were here." She waved vaguely toward the outside of the building. "The crowd's been getting bigger ever since."
Alec's eyes widened in alarm. "We have to leave." He scooted to the side of the bed and Max rushed around to help him.
"Take it easy," she ordered.
"Max, a mob is about to overrun the hospital." He stood and wobbled slightly. "We need to leave and it needs to be very public so they'll follow us away from here."
Max's heart immediately started beating a mile a minute and the blood was rushing loudly in her ears. Alec wanted to leave the hospital. He wanted to go out into the crowd. It would cause a riot.
"We can't go out there." She knew she sounded panicked and she had no way of controlling it. She was panicked. Bingo, Polo, and Yankee were all dead because they'd been pushed out into a mob just like the one outside the hospital. She could still feel the hands on her snatching at her clothes, trying to rip her limb from limb, beating her, tearing her hair out, with no way of escape until the others had surrounded her and given their lives so she could get away.
Alec was immediately in front of her. "Whoa, Max. That's not what I'm talking about," he said, instinctively understanding what was going on with her. He knew that she still got nervous in big crowds, and went out of his way to keep her out of situations that might set her off. "We're gonna get the sector police to give us a very, very public escort back to TC. They threw you to the wolves last time and caused the riot. They owe you."
Max focused on slowing her ragged breathing. "I don't think the cops really care about a do-over."
"Sure they do, Maxie. They're closet Freak supporters. They love us."
She put her hands on her hips. "Have you lost your mind?"
Alec smirked and she realized he was purposely being ridiculous to distract her. He was very good at it, and if she wasn't so annoyed, she'd kiss him for it.
"Has Clifton already held his press conference?" she asked instead.
"Not yet," Fred replied. "They were just getting ready a few minutes ago, when the mob outside got even crazier."
"Get them," Max ordered. "And get us an escort. We're all going to TC and we'll hold the press conference there. We can give our statements about the shooting there, too."
"Done." Fred turned and he and Barney left the room at a run.
Max realized the situation must be quickly deteriorating to have them hustling like that. "You ready to go home?" she asked Alec.
The crowd wasn't just pressing on the fence around Terminal City. They were clamoring to get in. They were screaming their threats, vowing destruction, promising vengeance for the plague the Transgenics had brought down on them. The sector police were standing just outside the city trying to keep the crowds at bay while Transgenic guards watched from inside the fence making sure no one broke through the line and got into the city.
As had become their habit, one camera crew had been allowed into the city with the understanding that their footage would be shared with the other stations or that particular reporter's channel and crew would never be spoken to again by a Transgenic.
Three chairs were sitting side by side opposite the reporter, who was fussing with her perfectly coiffed blonde hair and if Max wasn't mistaken, shooting glances at Alec that said she had more than just a reporter's interest. She was beautiful and Max might have even been slightly threatened if Alec's fingers hadn't chosen that moment to intertwine with hers.
"Hello, Diana. How are you?"
The woman looked very pleased that Alec knew her name, practically preening. "I'm fine. Thank you so much for asking us to come."
Alec held out his hand to the woman, but apparently word of the impending plague put a slight damper on how much she actually wanted to touch him, despite her longing looks.
"Don't worry," Alec smiled, and Max knew this entire performance was for the cameras which were definitely already rolling. "I promise there's absolutely nothing for you to catch. That's why we invited you in."
The woman hesitated for a second longer, but Alec kept his hand out-held, refusing to let her off the hook. Finally, she relented and gave him her hand. He raised it to his lips and placed a very polite peck on the back. He winked for good measure. "Now stop trying to get me in trouble with my wife, Diana. We came here for business."
Diana smiled at him, her eyes shifting a bit nervously toward Max. Her smile faded a bit when she realized there was actually a third person in the room who was taking a seat beside Max and Alec.
"Dr. Clifton?" she said in surprise.
"Yes," he replied simply.
"We heard a rumor that the CDC was looking into this incident," the reporter said.
"It is not a rumor," the doctor replied. "The Transgenics contacted us about a particular threat and we gladly responded."
The reporter straightened in her chair, apparently deciding it was high time their interview became more formal.
"All right, we're speaking with Max and Alec, who are representing the Transgenics and Dr. John Clifton, head of the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Clifton, can you tell us why you're here?"
"I was contacted because several of the Transgenics were purposely infected with a virus by a man, a human," he emphasized. "This doctor was a virologist. He created a virus that was made to target anyone with an extremely rare gene sequence, perhaps one or two people in a million in the general population. Almost all of the Transgenics, however, have this gene sequence. This virus is deadly and once the Transgenics were infected, we at the CDC were immediately contacted for assistance. The infected patients were already quarantined when we arrived and we have been working diligently to help them."
"You're saying this virus will not harm anyone in the general public?" the woman asked.
"The odds are extremely, extremely low to begin with and the only infected patients have already been quarantined, mostly for the sake of the rest of the population of Terminal City," Dr. Clifton clarified. "This virus is no garden variety virus. It is not one already found in the population and has no effect except on those with this particular gene sequence. This was a targeted assault."
"This doctor intended to kill us all," Max stated plainly. "He knew the general population would remain unharmed. We were the ones who would die."
"Who is this doctor?" the reporter asked.
"His name is Cabot. His license was revoked several years ago," Dr Clifton offered, "but he was working for an unregulated lab outside the militarized zones."
"The lab was performing human experiments as well as developing the equivalent of a biological warfare program. This virus was very purposely weaponized."
"And where is this doctor now?"
"The lab has been shut down, and all of the employees are in federal custody."
Max glanced at the doctor, impressed with how easily he had side-stepped Cabot's murder. She was also grateful for his willingness to keep it quiet in the first place. The public didn't know about the cult and it would only muddy the waters. The people were already on edge and ready to string the Transgenics up.
"The CDC will be very carefully dealing with samples remaining on site," Clifton continued, "and decontaminating the site as well. The substances are deadly and must be disposed of appropriately. We will be conducting an extensive investigation into this incident as well as anyone who assisted these people. Federal law enforcement will, of course, be assisting us with this investigation."
To be honest, Max was as interested to hear the details as the news crew was. They had immediately informed their contacts in the Homeland Security Office as soon as Alec's team cleared the building. Apparently, they'd sent the troops in to clean house.
"Have there been any deaths?" the reporter asked.
Max wanted to smack the woman. She looked almost hopeful. Deaths made for a better story.
"No. We currently have five infected patients who are receiving treatment. They are responding as well as can be expected and we hope will make full recoveries."
"What about the rest of the Transgenics? Will it be safe for them?"
"Luckily, we were able to quickly ascertain how this virus was spreading and a mechanism by which it could be stopped. Although the virus is contained, a nearby CDC laboratory is preparing inoculations that will be given to the rest of the population to protect them. Now," Dr. Clifton stood, "if you will forgive me, my colleagues and I have a great deal of work to do."
The man left and the reporter turned her full attention on Max and Alec. She looked expectant and Max wished she knew what to say, but honestly she was never very good in front of the cameras.
Alec squeezed her hand and glanced at her, and finally, for the first time in what felt like forever, it was there, that connection between them, that unspoken feeling that they were in this together and they would get through it together. His eyes and the tiny quirk of his lips told her so.
"Our main concern," Alec said, turning back to the reporter and the cameras, "is that the people of Seattle know they are absolutely safe. This virus was not introduced into the public, although even if it had it would be a non-entity. For us, however, five of our people were caught specifically to be used to see if the virus would kill them. The doctor was hoping to infect the rest of us, but these five actually quarantined themselves before that could happen. They knew they were dying and they still protected us, and they protected the people of Seattle."
Alec was impassioned. He was earnest. The camera loved him. She loved him for selflessly leaving out how much he had suffered as well. She hoped that every single person in Seattle was watching this and deciding that maybe tearing down the fence and killing the Transgenics was a bad idea. They'd set up screens outside and even now she could tell that the sounds of the crowd outside had started to dwindle.
"I could say something about the mob outside," Alec said, sadness sneaking into his tone, "or I could talk about the death threats, or all of the newscasts calling for us to be dealt with appropriately, but I don't want to." He shook his head and looked down, troubled. "I have five very sick friends, five friends who were targeted, not because of anything they'd done, but because of who and what they are. They are all I care about right now."
"They're getting better?" the reporter asked worriedly, and Max knew that Alec had them. He had them eating out of the palm of his hand. It would take time, but once the reporters were on board, they would spin it their way. They wouldn't want to kill Transgenics anymore. The people would want to comfort them, and punish those who'd hurt them.
Max knew how the woman felt. Max hated to see Alec hurting above all else. Alec was beautiful, inside and out, and should never be in pain. These were his closest friends, his handpicked team. She grasped Alec's hand and pulled it closer to her chest, wanting to reassure him, and it wasn't just for the camera's sake.
"Yes, they're getting better," Max said. "It was very, very close, but they're getting better." Alec gave her a tired, grateful smile, urging her to go on. "We're asking the people gathered outside Terminal City to return to their homes. You're safe. We just want to be safe, too."
Max opened the door to their apartment and led Alec inside by the hand. His eyes were half-closed and his feet were dragging, but Max matched Alec's shuffling pace as they entered. He stopped momentarily and looked around the room as if he hadn't seen the place in months and it struck Max that maybe he hadn't. If he'd been in constant pain, facing flashbacks that had progressively gotten worse, then she wondered how well he'd actually been functioning and how much he'd been hiding. Now that she thought of it, she remembered little moments when he'd zoned out. She'd been angry at the time, assuming he was ignoring her. He was too well trained at hiding things, and she'd been too ticked to pay attention.
Abruptly, Alec grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face him. They stood in silence while Alec studied her face, wearing a look of intense concentration, as if it had been too long since he'd seen her, too. He raised his hands and set them on either side of her face. He ran his thumb across her cheek, tenderly relearning her skin, and whispered, "So beautiful."
Finally, he pulled her forward and Max closed her eyes in anticipation. Alec surprised her by placing a feather-light kiss on each of her closed eyelids. He kissed one side of her mouth, then the other, still just a ghost of a touch. Only then did he kiss her lips. There was nothing light about his kiss then. He dropped his hands from her face and wrapped his arms around her, crushing her to him. He kissed her as if he'd been saving up for a rainy day, desperate, breathtaking, wonderful, and everything she'd been missing since the deprogramming sessions.
At last, Alec broke the kiss, but he didn't break away from her. He kept his arms around her, and Max gladly remained in his embrace. She set her head against his chest and felt Alec kiss the top of her head, then set his cheek against her hair.
Max wasn't sure how long they stood there, with Alec gently rocking her back and forth. The quiet, the repetitive motion, the soothing lull of his steady heartbeat all combined and for a moment she thought she might have actually fallen asleep.
As if sensing it, Alec gently pulled back and once again their eyes met. He smiled, a sweet, genuine smile that she so rarely saw.
Max laughed. "Hi." She grasped his hand again and pulled him toward the sofa. She sat down and Alec tumbled down to sit beside her. He put one arm around her, and with the other took her hand again, lacing their fingers back together.
"I'm so proud of you, Maxie."
Max frowned in confusion. "Why?"
"You haven't hit me yet. I think you're really growing as a person."
"The day's not over," she stated flatly.
Alec smirked knowingly. He leaned over and rested his head against hers, pulling her closer and comfortably snugging her to him.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked softly.
"Didn't want to worry you," he answered at the same volume. "Wasn't anything you could do about it anyway."
"I called Tipper," she countered. "I did do something about it."
He squeezed her shoulder. "Yes, you did," he said on a sigh. "I knew there was a reason I married you."
"Still should have told me, Alec." She wasn't going to let this point go. It was too important. If she were honest, she couldn't say she wouldn't have done the same thing, but she still didn't like it.
"The headache wouldn't go away," he said. "It started right after the second deprogramming session. I thought it was the price I had to pay."
The words to keep you safe were left unspoken, but she heard them loud and clear.
She bumped his head lightly with hers. "You can't keep me safe if you're a mess, ya know." She could look after herself, but that wasn't the point. It hurt her to think that Alec had been willing to bear a lifetime of pain if it meant the deprogramming had worked and he wouldn't follow orders again. It hurt her even more that he'd been willing to suffer alone and in silence.
"It got worse and I thought I was going crazy," he whispered. "I thought they had to scramble my brain to get rid of the programming."
Max's grip tightened on Alec's hand. "It'll be better now. You've been descrambled."
Alec huffed. "Never liked eggs much anyway." He yawned and she felt his head growing heavier where it rested against hers.
"Sorry I got so weird about the breeding partner thing," she whispered.
"I didn't help, did I?" he responded wearily. "Who knew we were both such drama queens?"
Max snorted. "According to Mole, everyone knows. They do hear us yelling a lot."
"We're not yelling," Alec corrected. "We're discussing things around people with overly sensitive ears."
They fell into companionable silence and Max had almost decided Alec was asleep when he asked, "Any word from the fertility gurus?"
"They're working on it," she said. "They don't seem to think it's hopeless. And Stat's still holding on."
"Good," he said, although he sounded halfway to dreamland. "That's good. Not crazy… maybe babies. Life's good again."
He sounded so content Max almost hated to say anything else. She couldn't not say it though. "You know we'll be ok… Even if we don't… if we can't…"
Alec drew in a breath, pulling himself back awake. He sat up so he could look at her. His arm tightened around her and he pressed a tender kiss to her lips. "Max, if we do, if we don't, it's ok. We've got a whole city of problem children to take care of. Mole is practically a full time job." Max smiled as he'd intended, but it quickly faded under Alec's intense gaze. "I love you, Max. And you and me?"
Max smiled again, knowing just where he was headed. "Yeah, Alec. We're always all right."
Fair warning. If you want another story, speak now or forever hold your peace. Been a pleasure. Thanks for reading!