A/N: Thanks to Deb for helping me make this more coherent (and she reaallly had her work cut out for her this time. Don't you just hate those long-ass chapters?).


 
They Didn't Train Me for This

- Chapter 10 -

Alec had finally almost drifted to sleep for the first time in over thirty hours when Max slammed the brakes so hard he was jerked against the seatbelt with enough force, he was sure, to leave a lasting imprint of the narrow strap covering him from shoulder to hip.

"What the fuck!" he exclaimed, snapping to awareness faster than he'd ever had to during any of his missions. With wide-eyed disbelief he stared at the brunette who had, somehow, coaxed her way behind the wheel a couple of hours earlier. He still wasn't quite sure how she'd managed that… All he recalled was that one minute he was answering her something along the lines of "no way in hell", which she seemed to accept with, oddly enough, little protest. Then she was settling in for a nap…removing her jacket, which she balled up to use as a pillow, and stretching and wriggling into all sorts of positions in an effort to get comfortable, and –

Well, there she was. Driving. Or at least making one coronary inducing attempt at it.

The tires squealed as they fought for some sort of traction on the wet surface of the road, before the vehicle finally lurched to a stop, far from that "on a dime" point advertised by the manufacturer. Slowly Max turned in her seat, gazing at him with eyes large and calm.

"There's a tree on the road," she said.

Alec blinked. With remarkable composure, he turned his head to stare out the windshield. And true enough, there it was – blocking the entire road from one end to the other.

"It's really big," she observed casually, "I thought driving through it might not be a good idea."

Alec looked back in her direction and raised a single eyebrow at her remark. "And you couldn't have come to a more gradual stop?"

Max shrugged and looked away. "I didn't see it before."

Silence.

"You didn't see a thirty-foot long piece of log lying across the road?"

"Hey, it's dark," she said, her voice taking on a slightly defensive tone, "It was raining pretty heavy."

Neither of which should have made much of a difference with her night-vision and superior eyesight…but Alec displayed enough restraint not to mention that. Oh, okay, he didn't quite get a chance to display his restraint, because before he could mention it – or not – Max cast him a sideways glance.

"I was changing c.d.'s," she confessed.

Alec stared at her. 'She was changing…?'

Then he shook his head, deciding it wasn't worth the trouble of dwelling on it, and reached for the clasp of his seatbelt. By the time Max caught on and followed suit, he was already standing in front of the car, illuminated by the bluish-white glow of the headlights as he examined the obstruction lying across their path.

"Wait a minute," Max said, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket as she joined him out in the rain. "No freaking out, telling me how irresponsible that was? How I could've gotten us both killed, or horribly maimed, or…something?"

Alec kicked the tree lightly and glanced at her over his shoulder. "Nah, I figure you know all that." He shrugged. "'Sides, can't say I'd never do the same thing myself."

"Huh." Max paused, her expression mildly contemplative, as she muttered, "Logan wouldn't have let me get away with that." Well, he might not have freaked out, exactly…but he probably would've given her one of his mini speeches at the very minimum. Not that she would necessarily have listened…but she'd kind of gotten used to hearing it, at least.

"Sounds like a fun guy," Alec observed with an eye roll, his back toward her.

"He is," she answered, oblivious to his sarcasm, or opting to ignore it, "Well, sometimes…when he's not busy working and stuff." Of course, she would be hard-pressed to mention a time when Logan wasn't working, but that was only because he was so dedicated to his whole… operation. Max knew there was a fun guy lurking underneath that stiff exterior somewhere. She'd seen glimpses of him from time to time, and she'd been determined to bring that guy out to the surface – even if she'd have had to bring him kicking and screaming. The way she figured it, any relationship she chose to pursue with Logan would end one of two ways: he'd adopt more of the carefree, fun-loving attitude she'd molded over the years, or she'd develop more of the straight-laced crusader of the people thing he had going. And there was no way in hell she could see the latter happening…

Alec didn't reply so Max settled herself back against the hood of the car, grimacing slightly as cold rainwater seeped into the seat of her jeans.

"So," she said shortly, "what's the plan?"

Alec tested the weight of the tree, grasping it with both hands and trying to coax it a couple of inches forward while Max enjoyed the view. The very, very pleasant view, she had to admit. Those Manticore scientists really knew what they were doing…at least when it came to the aesthetics of genetic engineering. Finally, acknowledging that it wasn't about to give any time soon, he released it and stepped back, wiping his hands on the thighs of his pants.

"Well it's not moving so long as it's in one piece," he concluded.

Max slid down until she was sitting on the bumper and propped her elbows on her legs, placing her chin in her palms. "What if…we moved the car over the tree?"

Alec looked from the car to the tree, and back to the car again. "I really doubt that thing is any lighter than the tree."

"Yeah, you're right." Max glanced over her shoulder. "Damn sturdy German automobile. We should've stolen one of those ugly little hatchbacks with no leg room instead."

"You wouldn't let me," Alec reminded her. "Not once you saw this baby," he hooked his thumb in the direction of the Mercedes. "You wouldn't even let me look at another car after that."

"Can you blame me?" Max blinked up at him as rain fell into her eyes. "Look how nice and shiny it is. And it has leather – leather – upholstery. How many cars can you say that about these days?" Besides, if she was going to have to ditch her bike, her favorite mode of transportation, she sure as hell wasn't going to do it for just any old piece of rust and metal. Sentimental value was one thing…but she had the feeling she could become very attached to this particular beauty, very quickly. Too bad they were going to have to ditch it soon. She frowned unconsciously at the thought.

"Yeah, well. There's nothing to do about it right now," he informed her. "I'm driving," he added just by way of clarification, as he was already on the driver's side and reaching for the handle of the door by the time Max got to her feet. She rolled her eyes and sauntered over to the passenger side.

"Of course he was going to hold that whole almost driving us into a tree thing against me…" she muttered.

She flicked her damp hair back from her face, once inside the car, sending droplets of water across the interior. Alec blinked rapidly as a particularly large one hit him directly in the eye. He glanced over at Max, but she was oblivious, her attention absorbed elsewhere as she fiddled with the climate control. She'd been infatuated with the feature since they first jacked the car – "Dual side controls!" she'd announced, loudly, right in his ear while he was in the midst of hotwiring their latest acquisition – and had used every opportunity to fiddle with both sides…thereby essentially negating the usefulness of the "dual" part, in Alec's opinion…but hey, if fiddling with the little knobs kept her entertained, who was he to complain?

"Backtracking to the last major turnoff we passed is going to mean losing time and ground," she was saying as she settled back into her seat.

"Not if we don't go for the turnoff."

Alec threw the car in reverse, turning it on the narrow road.

"Okaay…and where are you planning on going?" she said slowly, as if speaking to a child…a particularly slow child. "Right through the trees?"

"No," he said in an equally deliberate tone, "but there has to be a house, or something, somewhere along the way. We'll just stop at the first one we come by, and borrow a chainsaw…or an axe…or a really big knife – whatever they have to offer – and get that tree out of the way."

"And when you say 'borrow', do you mean borrow, borrow? Or, you know, borrow, borrow?"

"Uh, lemme think," Alec scratched his chin thoughtfully, "which one of those is code for 'steal'?"

Max rolled her eyes.

"Call me crazy, but maybe we could actually try asking first." While she may have relied on cat burglary to support her extracurricular activities – i.e. searching for her siblings – she just didn't find the idea of robbing the common folk appealing. The independent heads of criminal enterprises, and people with generally too much money, fine. But everyone else was off limits. "Just ply on that charm I'm sure you have hidden away somewhere."

"It's not hidden away," he protested. "It just goes into…strategic retreat…whenever you're around. Not like it'd work on you anyway, right?"

Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that he got more enjoyment out of irritating her, than he would've from some inevitably fruitless attempt at making nice.

'Besides, a little friction only makes our relationship all the more interesting.'

Whoa, hold on there, where did that come from? Did he just call – well, think – what he had with Max a…relationship?

Alec shook his head, forcing himself to focus on what Max was saying.

"Well, give it a try," she told him. "It's better than going all Thelma and Louise."

Alec frowned. Maybe he wasn't quite as up to par on his pop culture references as the next guy, but… "Why Thelma and Louise? I mean, why not, say…Bonnie and Clyde?"

Max blinked and pursed her lips contemplatively. She inclined her head thoughtfully, her gaze trained straight ahead. Then, finally, she shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I just pictured you more as a Thelma than a Bonnie."

Alec rolled his eyes, "Cute, Max, really cute."

"Well I do try my very best," she replied as she turned her attention to the radio. She flicked through the stations rapidly, eventually settling on something random. The reception was a little poor, due to the weather, but soon the sound of soft music filled the interior of the car. It was something of a generic variety, but it worked just fine with the present ambience.

Max leaned back against the headrest and emitted a yawn.

"What happened to that shark DNA?" Alec asked.

"Still there." She rolled her head on the seat until she was looking at him. "Unfortunately, those Manticore doctors never came up with any DNA to combat boredom. At least not last I'd heard…but I guess you'd be more up to date on that sort of stuff anyway." She yawned again, covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "Road trips aren't nearly as interesting as they make them out to be in the movies."

"Don't worry. I'm sure we'll hit a moose, or something, eventually."

"Yeah, about that," Max began, sitting up a little straighter. It was a subject she hadn't been sure how to broach, her mind returning to it every so often, ever since they'd left Seattle. But now seemed as good a time as any…

"About hitting a moose?" Alec said, raising an eyebrow and earning a frown from Max in turn.

"About the 'eventually' part."

"Oh." Well, that made a tad more sense. For a moment there, he'd been worried that maybe she'd taken a little too much stock in those road trip movies she'd just mentioned. He liked TV and all, but he preferred to keep the line between reality and fiction clearly defined. Not that he had any idea what she was talking about now but, still, it was comforting. "Yeah?"

"Well, you know, I was just wondering," Max began awkwardly. And then she couldn't help the spark of irritation she felt at that. Since when did she have a problem being up front and speaking her mind? What was she afraid of, hurting his feelings? Yeah, afraid of hurting the feelings of a trained assassin – that was a real laugh. "How long are we doing this? Sticking together, I mean. I figure leaving Seattle together was strategic, or something, but we're gonna split up eventually, right? And, well…"

"You wanna know when?" he finished off.

"Right. Exactly."

"Well," he said carefully, "I figured until we were sure Lydecker wasn't on our trail any more." Cocking an eyebrow at her, his manner was lighter as he said, "You get yourself caught, and it could be my ass on the line too."

Max glared at him.

"Why do you assume I'd be the one he'd catch first? I've got way more experience than you with this whole being on the run thing. And," she continued, another thought forming, "I bet Manticore considers you a whole lot more of a liability than me or the rest of my unit. You've probably got the inside scoop on a lot of their shit."

"Hey, let's not forget the fact that I found you, so I'm sure Lydecker and his lackeys wouldn't have been far behind anyway."

"Yeah, you found me – but there's no way in hell I would've let you take me in."

Alec smirked as he suppressed a chuckle. "How do you figure that?"

Max mustered as much attitude as she could fit into her response; "I figure that because I would've kicked your ass if you'd tried."

He couldn't help it; this time he laughed out loud, and much to Max's mounting irritation. "I'm sure you would have," he said in a tone that only stoked the fire.

"If you don't believe me, you can pull over this car and I'll show you right now."

"You want to fight me?"

"What's the matter?" she said, tilting her head and peering at him through her eyelashes. But the sly grin that graced her lips made him think less about fighting, and more about…well, other things. "You afraid?"

Alec shook his head, dismissing the thought quickly. "You know what, forget it. It really doesn't matter what might've happened…because it didn't. You went into heat, and that's that." And then, because he just couldn't resist such a lovely opportunity, he had to tack on, "Unless, of course, that was just a part of your strategy…in which case, you can 'kick my ass' any day."

Max glowered and crossed her arms over her chest. "I cannot wait until it's 'safe enough' for us to go our separate ways."

Alec only laughed.

It was late by the time they pulled onto the stretch of gravel that led eventually to the first house along their way. The rain had eased up a fair amount, coming down now in a light drizzle. Max hesitated slightly as she reached the threshold of the modest-sized, what might've once been white building, wondering if they were going to end up dragging someone out of bed. She had decided to accompany Alec on the expedition, in case he decided to go for the whole "borrow, borrow" thing…or whichever it was.

Alec's thoughts were on a similar trail as well, but his were accompanied by the image of a trigger-happy, shotgun-toting hillbilly looking to protect his dirt farm. Not that there was much dirt to protect – just trees, more trees and now, mud. Of course, he was pretty good at dodging bullets…

He reached out, striking the door twice, rapidly, with his knuckles.

"Oh, right," Alec snapped his fingers, twisting to face her abruptly. "What's our cover story?"

Max turned toward him blankly. "Cover story?"

"Yeah, you know, something for if they ask questions…and in case anyone else comes by asking questions. To throw 'em off track." Just as the porch light flickered on, Alec said excitedly, "Oh, I got a great one."

The sparkle in his eyes left an uneasy feeling in the pit of Max's stomach, but with the door already opening, it was too late to do anything about it.

"Don't do anything stupid," was all she had time to manage, the words coming out in a low hiss. But the too innocent look on his face all but assured her that was exactly what he intended to do. Or he was just having fun at her expense…in either case she had a difficult time keeping her hand still at her side. It tingled with the overwhelming desire to smack him upside the head, until she balled it into a fist and forced away her disgruntled expression.

A set of pale eyes peered out at them, squinting from behind a pair of reading glasses through the partially open doorway. A slightly rounded, craggy face soon followed, backlit by a warm yellow light as more and more of the room beyond became revealed.

"You're not lookin' to sell me anything, are you?" the man asked, scratching his salt and pepper hair with one hand, a steaming mug held in the other. He was dressed in a pair of dark sweatpants and slippers and a robe that was struggling valiantly to encircle his generous waistline.

"No sir, we're not," Alec said, grinning brightly.

If Max wanted to see him work the charm, then he'd work the charm…like a snake. No, wait, like a snake charmer. Which, come to think of it, was kind of redundant with the whole "charm" thing, and he really should have gone with a different analogy…

The man nodded. "We don't usually get those door-to-door sales people out this far, but…I figure our luck'll run out eventually."

"Frank, who's at the door?" a feminine voice called out from within the house.

"I don't know, Maddie," Frank threw out over his shoulder, "I just opened the damn thing!"

"Well, invite them in, whoever it is! Can't you see how cold and wet it is out there?"

"I was just about to do that!" Frank shouted back. He turned back to his guests and rolled his eyes, sharing a look with Alec, as if to say "women".

Frank took a step back, opening the door the remainder of the way, "Well, you heard the woman…come on in, before she starts up with her screeching again." But there was a softness in his tone that belied the harsh words.

Max led the way inside, cocking an eyebrow when Alec stepped back with a gallant gesture of his arm.

'No Chivalry 101, huh…?'

Then she angled her body away from their host – whose attention was momentarily diverted – elbowing Alec, hard, in the stomach when he purposely leaned in too close just as she was passing by. His breath left him in a soft whoosh, hot air hitting the side of her neck in the process, and she stumbled somewhat ungracefully in the next couple of steps…as her foot somehow hooked on Alec's outstretched leg.

"Careful there Maxie," she heard him say in a low voice as his hands closed around her waist.

Frank turned back toward the pair just as Max was reaching for the offending appendages, ready to thrust them off of her body. Seeing his congenial expression as he observed the pair before him, she reluctantly settled for clasping Alec's hands in her own, and leaning back against his chest.

"I don't know what's wrong with me," she said a little breathily, flashing Alec a wide smile even as her eyes promised retribution, "I'm such a klutz today." Her heel came down on his toe, discreetly, to punctuate the comment.

Alec subtly pulled his foot out from under hers, widening his stance just in case she chose to attempt a repeat of that particular move.

"It's just all the excitement catching up to you," he told her, tugging her body back even closer against his. He buried his grin in her hair when she tensed against him, relishing the way she stiffened even further then. Especially because he knew what was coming next…

"Excitement?" Frank said curiously.

"Oh, no excitement, really," Max said hastily as she remembered Alec's "cover story" talk, and she scrambled to diffuse whatever, inevitably volatile, little scheme he had in mind.

But Alec would have none of that.

"Don't be shy, baby," he purred in her ear, "Remember you said this was the happiest day of your life, and you wanted to share it with everyone?"

"Happiest day of my life?" Max repeated.

"Suure…" he answered, drawing out the moment for dramatic effect…and to extend that pleasurable tingly sensation that coursed through his body at watching the horror dawn on Max's face the precise moment before he said the next words: "It's not every day that you get married."

Frank's face broke out in a beaming grin just as Max echoed, in a small voice, "Married." Alec eased his hold, taking a step back from his "bride", before she decided to do to him anything unbefitting of a newlywed.

"Married! Well congratulations kids," Frank said, delivering an emphatic slap to the younger man's shoulder. Then leaning in confidentially toward Alec, he continued, "And you snagged yourself a real looker there." Alec laughed and Max glowered at him from just outside Frank's peripheral vision, taking the opportunity to inch even further away from her "husband".

A plump, fifty-ish women entered the room just then, rubbing her hands on her dark green robe. "Now what's all the commotion?" she said, stopping at Frank's side as she looked their guests over.

"Maddie, these two just got themselves hitched," Frank explained, "I was just telling – " he paused abruptly, gazing back at Alec. "I'm sorry, I didn't even get your names."

"Alec," he replied, extending a hand, which the other man shook with the one that wasn't still holding the mug. "And this here," he said, stepping back to retrieve the brunette who had been, somewhat unconsciously, edging her way toward the front door. His hands firmly on her biceps, he pulled her forward and placed her suddenly unresisting form in front of himself, like some sort of sacrificial offering, Max couldn't help but think. "My lovely wife," he said that last word with great relish, while she merely blinked in response, "Max."

Max smiled wanly at the pair, neither taking notice of her discomfort.

"Frank Fuhler," the other man greeted, "and the missus, Madelyn."

"Call me Maddie," she said with a bright smile. "Well, I suppose I should say, congratulations!"

"Thank you," Max replied sweetly. Alec noted, with reluctant admiration, that the slightest tick in her jaw, visible only to him, was her sole tell. She was pretty good at handling those fastballs. Or was that…curveballs? Whatever. It was some sort of baseball pitch.

"So, if it's your wedding day, what the heck are you two doing out and about this late… and in this weather, to boot?" Maddie inquired.

Max glanced toward Alec expectantly. Hey, it was his crazy story…let him explain it.

"Oh, it's a long story actually," he began in a reluctant tone. The elder couple nodded encouragingly, and Alec continued shortly. "You see, our parents didn't approve of us getting married…" Maddie "aww-ed" in the background and Alec nodded.

"Actually, it was Max's parents who put up the fuss," he revealed, and Max arched an eyebrow. "Her father, really. Ol' Logan never did like me."

Max coughed loudly, disguising the loud guffaw that had instinctively escaped her mouth. Her eyes widened at Alec's nerve, especially when she felt a hand rubbing her back in a soothing circular motion.

'That aggravating, conceited, weasely son of a – '

But her silent tirade broke off abruptly as an idea struck her…and a devious grin curved her lips behind the cover of her hand. Slipping an arm around her "hubby's" waist, she plastered on a demure smile when he glanced at her in mild surprise.

"Oh honey, you know it's not you that he didn't like," Max protested, patting his hip affectionately, "just your prison record."

Inwardly, Max danced with glee as she saw from the corner of her eye, Maddie start instinctively at that revelation, while Frank raised a speculative eyebrow, trying to hide his own expression by lifting the previously forgotten mug to his lips.

Fortunately for Alec, he too was a quick recovery.

Appearing unfazed, he draped his arm over Max's shoulder, giving it a soft squeeze, and inclined his head apologetically.

"We all make mistakes in our youth," he shed a plaintive look in the elder pair's direction. "And I've certainly learned from mine. But still," he sighed, "I can't help but think that wouldn't be such a problem if you weren't from such a wealthy family, and me…well, my parents' inheritance was dwindled away on medical expenses for my poor, sick grandmother."

"Your parents are dead?" Maddie said sympathetically, and Max could have stomped her feet in aggravation. Apparently, the criminal record could be forgiven in the face of this new knowledge.

Max bit her lip on the pout that threatened to form. Damn, and she'd really thought she'd thrown him off with that last one…

"In a house fire," she supplied helpfully, "And Alec here was cleared of all charges."

Maddie gasped and raised a hand to her chest. Frank abandoned the cover of his mug, his shock now clearly written on his face.

"Maxie, baby," Alec said, chuckling awkwardly. He pressed her uncomfortably close to his side, his voice dropping to a pitch where only she could hear his next words: "We're trying to convince them to help us, not scare them into calling the cops."

Max ducked her head somewhat sheepishly and remained silent.

Then louder, for the sake of their audience, he explained, "Yeah, dad had this nasty habit of smoking in bed. One day he fell asleep before putting the cigarette out and…" he trailed off, gazing forlornly at some distant memory. "Well… you get the picture. But you know how those insurance companies can get when they have to pay out big claims – they see arson everywhere."

Their hosts nodded understandingly and, with the tragic air that continued to surround Alec, the tension in the room slowly dropped a few notches.

"Anyhow," Alec went on, clearing his throat, "we were on our way out of the state…figured we'd stop at the next town, find a motel for the night…but the storm brought a tree down across the highway a couple of miles from here, and we were hoping you might have a chainsaw or an ax or something that we could borrow, so we could get it out of the way."

Frank opened his mouth to answer, but Maddie cut in first. "Oh you can't go back out there to find some cheap motel now. The rain could pick back up anytime, and it's far too late for any more driving today…you'll be spending the night right here."

Max opened her mouth to protest, but the look the older woman gave her left little room for argument. And Max got the distinct impression that any attempt she made to turn down the offer would be the equivalent of a child trying to convince its parents to let it stay up past its bedtime. It just wasn't happening. Besides, it wasn't as if the idea seemed all that terrible…

She glanced toward Alec for his opinion, but he merely shrugged his shoulders unhelpfully with his arm still slung carelessly about her waist.

'Oh, so now he finally decides to keep his mouth shut.'

"Alright," she conceded, her expression still a little uncertain. "If you're sure it's not too much trouble…"

"Of course not," Maddie smiled warmly. "It's settled – Frank will help you with that tree come morning, but tonight you're staying here."

"That would be divine," Alec said cheerfully. He squeezed Max in against his side for the umpteenth time that night. His fingers were splayed boldly on her thigh, and precariously close to regions she firmly considered off limits. "Right baby?"

Forcing a smile to her face, Max edged her free hand discreetly toward his digits and nudged them away.

"Right honey."

Her other hand slipped beneath the edge of his jacket. The pads of her fingers grazed lightly over his t-shirt, causing an almost tickling sensation for Alec. Then without preamble, she embedded her nails in his flesh, the gesture safely concealed from the other occupants of the room by the cover of his coat.

Alec jerked minutely at the first abrupt flash of pain, biting down on his lip to keep the threatening yelp from escaping his mouth.

Max's smile deepened…and so did her nails, further into Alec's side.

That was why, so caught up in her brief victory, a moment later she had no chance to suppress her startled gasp when the hand at her waist slid down a few precious inches and retaliatory fingers grasped her ass, digging into the firm globe of flesh with an intensity just shy of being painful, but well within the region of discomforting. She found herself rising to her toes, her gaze snapping immediately to Alec's. Wide brown eyes met with green, the latter sparkling with amusement and self-satisfaction.

"Alright kids," Maddie cut in before Max could do anything that might both blow their cover and cause Alec some permanent physical damage in a single bound, "let me show you to the guest room. I'm sure you've had a long day and could use the rest."

"Rest?" Frank said incredulously, laying a hearty slap to Alec's back. "It's their honeymoon night. I'm sure they have more interesting things to do than sleep."

"I'm sure we do," Alec agreed enthusiastically, his smile turning positively beaming at the suggestion. Max wriggled subtly in place, attempting to dislodge Alec's hand even as her own nails clawed deeper into his flesh.

"If by 'we' you mean you and your hand…" she muttered through clenched teeth as she plastered on a sweet smile for the sake of their cover. Finally, as they followed Maddie up a nearby set of stairs, she managed to work free of his grip, which eased as soon as she terminated her own assault on him.

"Night you two," Frank called out after them, and Max mumbled back some response while Alec turned to give him a small salute, which the other man returned with a knowing grin.

They were led down a narrow hallway, where Maddie stopped just shy of the end, at the last door on the right. Flicking on a light switch just inside the room, she stepped back.

"There you go," she announced. "Nothing fancy, but it's clean, and already made up. We don't get many overnight guests around here, but we're always ready, just in case." She placed a finger thoughtfully on her chin. "There are towels in the bathroom, and the hot water should be working, if you want to clean up, or whatnot. Well then," she concluded, stepping back into the hall, "go ahead."

Alec walked forward then paused as he took in the older woman's expectant gaze.

"What?"

"It's your wedding night," she said, as if that explained everything. When both Alec and Max continued to stare at her blankly, she went on, "You have to carry her over the threshold. It's tradition."

"What?" Max fairly squeaked. Shaking her head quickly, she scrambled desperately for an out, "Oh no, we're not very traditional people. We don't go for that whole…" she wiggled her hand vaguely, "thing."

"Nonsense!" Maddie exclaimed, "There's nothing to it…it's just for good luck. Besides," she said, eyeing Alec speculatively, "you look like a strong young man. I'm sure you can manage with no trouble."

Alec bit back a laugh at her words. Hell, Max could carry him "over the threshold", with no trouble – strength was not a problem for either of them.

Max, however, clearly failed to see the humor in the situation. Which made it all the more apparent to Alec that he simply had to follow through with it.

"You heard her, baby: it's tradition."

He took a step toward her, which Max instinctively countered with a step back. Of course, she was already at the end of the hallway and had no more room left for maneuvering. Her back came up against the wall immediately, and Alec's expression took on a predatory slant as Max's eyes widened with the realization of her position. She shook her head minutely, as if in warning, but the gesture came off as less than threatening… with her resembling not so much the fox greeting its prey, as the defenseless little rabbit about to be devoured. The thought brought a wicked twist to Alec's grin and he licked his lips, causing Max's gaze to, if possible, widen even further.

"Come on, Max, it's no big deal," he told her, lowering his voice so only she would hear. Before she could offer any further protests, he grabbed a wrist and jerked her forward. Using her momentary surprise as a window of opportunity, he hooked one arm behind her knees, the other around her back and hefted her up with enough flair to earn a satisfied sigh from their sole spectator…and strode forth into the room.

Maddie bid them good night, closing the door behind her after ensuring they had everything they might require through the night. But not before adding that the walls were plenty thick, "For, you know…privacy." And Max had barely resisted the urge to bury her face in her hands…because they were, of course, lovingly draped around her "husband's" neck.

As soon as the sound of fading footsteps indicated they were alone, Max's gaze turned toward Alec as she delivered him a heated glare.

"Put me down," she demanded… quite predictably. So Alec responded in what he, at least, figured was an equally predictable manner.

He flung her onto the bed.

And true to his impeccable aim, Max hit the mattress dead center. Then she bounced up, and continued to fly through the air with the residual momentum, a disgruntled cry falling from her lips…until she hit the floor on the far side of the bed with a faint thud to indicate her landing.

'Oops.'

Alec's eyes widened and he stared, for a few long seconds, at the spot where Max should have been.

Then he blinked and launched himself, ass-first, at the bed, bouncing enthusiastically when he landed, to test out the springs.

"Nice," he declared, "Helluva lot better than anything at Manticore, or what you'd get in a cheap motel," he said as Max climbed to her feet, slowly, behind him. With one hand, she pushed back her hair, which had fallen in disarray in and around her face. Naturally, she was glaring at his seemingly oblivious back as if the force of her venomous gaze could cause him to, possibly, spontaneously combust. When that didn't happen, she released a small sigh and shrugged. She couldn't say she was all that surprised by what Alec had done, not from what she learned of him so far…and frankly, she was too tired to dwell.

"I'm taking a shower," she declared, trudging toward the bathroom instead. At least that hot water Maddie had mentioned would prove something of a consolation.

"Yeah, sure," Alec replied absently, still absorbed with his new toy.

Max shook her head, telling herself that she found the whole thing irritating, at the very best, even as a small grin quirked her lips. Actually, it was more of a smirk…so, really, it didn't even count. A smirk that read something more along the lines of "I find amusement at your expense" than, say, "I find your antics adorable and I have an overwhelming urge to shove my tongue down your throat". She wasn't quite sure what would denote the latter. But whatever it was, she wasn't doing it.

Sometime after Max left the room, Alec's fascination with the bed began to slowly dwindle away. When this happened, he flopped onto his back, his body spread-eagled as he stared up at the ceiling. This lasted for about a minute before he became bored. Actually, as he thought about it, he was feeling a little restless – not at all tired, as he should have been after more than thirty-six hours with virtually no sleep. He'd gone longer before, yes, but with a battle rush, that was relatively easy to do. Right now, he just felt…well, restless.

Propping himself up on his elbows, he gazed about the room, and discovered, to his disappointment, there was no television. Not that he'd really expected one, but…he sighed and flopped back onto the bed.

'How long has she been in that bathroom anyway?'

With that thought, he felt the telltale pressure in his bladder. 'Yeah, right, that figures,' he thought irritably as he glared down toward the general region.

It seemed that lately, his body was constantly defying that meticulous control he had cultivated over the years. First with that whole heat thing… and then with pretty much every other time he laid eyes on Max. Well, it wasn't entirely his body's fault – he blamed her too. She certainly wasn't making things any easier for him. Where did she get off being so hot? Yeah, sure, Manticore made them all genetically perfect and everything…but he'd never found any of the females back at Manticore particularly sexy. They were too soldier-like, too rigid to pass for sexy. He was sure they could probably act the part if they had to, for a mission or something… but it didn't come to them naturally. Not like with…her.

Damn, he couldn't even bring himself to refer to her by her designation anymore. Worse, he was thinking of himself in terms of the name she had saddled him with, rather than the three-digit number he'd known all his life. How could someone he'd known for such a short while change…everything?

Alec sat up, and in an attempt to draw his mind off of Max, and his bladder – which was, incidentally, annoyed at Max too, for hogging the bathroom – began to prepare for bed. He stripped off his shirt first, flinging it haphazardly across the room, then kicked off his shoes, following with his pants. Finally, just his boxers left in place, he fell back against the covers to, once again, wait. While he waited, his thoughts returned inevitably to the woman for whom he was waiting. And when she sauntered back into the room, a cloud of steam billowing out behind her, Alec had to work to suppress a groan. Dressed in just her t-shirt and a simple pair of blue panties that the short, clingy shirt did nothing to conceal, she walked out of the bathroom with her jeans and her jacket draped over one arm. She hung the items on a hook on the back of the bedroom door before finally turning on her heel to face the other transgenic.

Not wanting to be accused of staring, because that was exactly what he was doing, Alec leapt up from his seat abruptly.

"Damn, it's about time," he said instead, "I've been holding it in for like the past twenty minutes."

He felt ridiculous for his reaction. After all, he'd seen her in a lot less already.

'Okay, and that thought didn't help things any…'

Max shrugged as Alec rushed past her. "If you hadn't been so busy playing with the furniture, you could've had it first."

When the door closed behind him, Max breathed a sigh of relief. She could really do without seeing him in his present state of undress; it was bringing back all sorts of unwelcome flashbacks from their night together. Not that she could ever really recall the details of any of her heat-induced trysts…but she supposed it was only logical that with the right cues, of which she was getting plenty right now, she was likely to remember more than was usually the case.

Like the feel of a heavy body moving above hers, and green eyes flashing in the dark… Right then she'd realized there was more to this stranger than he'd let on; the look in his gaze as it clashed with hers under the blanket of night…there was no way he should have been able to see, not without night vision like hers. But he had seen, she could tell, by the way he held her eyes as he lowered himself, slowly, in –

'Stop,' she told herself sternly, briefly closing her eyes as she took in a deep breath of air.

No point in going there, because, Max decided, there were to be absolutely no repeat performances. They'd already acknowledged that they'd be going their separate ways soon enough, and with no possibility of a lasting relationship – which she didn't even want, so, really, she shouldn't even have to think about that – minimal involvement was best.

'Right,' she nodded.

She'd never really favored casual sex; it always left her feeling kind of cheap…unless it was because of heat. With heat, she could excuse whatever – whoever – she did, and trace the blame back to Manticore. But outside of heat…

Well, in any case, she'd vowed that was the only time she'd indulge in the no-commitment flings. And she was safe now, for the next four months or so, having already gotten that out of her system. Too bad that in the process she seemed to have gotten him in it. Not that anyone could blame her, what with him looking the way he did. It wasn't like superior genetics made her immune to the effects of a really – really, really – attractive male.

The toilet flushed in the background and Max was drawn from her thoughts with a start. She shook her head and pulled back the sheets on the bed, slipping into the far side, so at least she wouldn't have to look at him when he came back out. She supposed she could have been immature about it, demanding that one of them sleep on the floor – for decency's sake, or whatever. But then, judging from Alec's display earlier, she doubted that he would volunteer to be that one…and there was no way she was volunteering herself, not when there was a nice, soft, comfortable bed at their disposal. Besides, she thought, emitting a large yawn, she was just tired enough after the previous day's excitement to catch herself a little uncharacteristic shut-eye.

When Alec came out of the bathroom, he found Max already comfortably nestled in the bed. Still feeling inexplicably wired, he gazed down at her still form and wondered why she, with her shark DNA, appeared dead to the world while he – sans aforementioned shark DNA, and who had done most of the driving – was still wide-awake.

"Maybe 'cuz of all that coffee you guzzled earlier."

Alec jumped slightly at the sound of Max's voice, her words proving she was not quite as "dead" as he'd initially surmised. He continued to stare at her in surprise until she turned over on the bed, and fixed him with a steady look.

"You do realize you said that out loud, don't you?"

'Oh.' He blinked and turned away.

"Right," he muttered out loud, as his eyes sought out something to keep him busy. Spotting the mess of his clothes strewn about the floor, he crossed the room to gather them together. He tossed them on the dresser in a slightly more tidy…well, centralized…pile, before moving to the light switch and flicking it off. Then he turned toward the bed again, finding that Max had returned to her previous position, her back to him. He hesitated in place and watched her for a moment.

A small sigh sounded from the other side of the room before he heard the following remark, "You know, you're a lot more likely to fall asleep if you're actually lying down…and you're a lot more likely to let others sleep as well."

"I can't," he protested, "I'm all…wired."

"Just lie down, close your eyes," she said, her voice growing soft with impending sleep, "you'll be out in no time."

Alec walked to the bed and sat down on his side. "Well, actually, there is one thing that always manages to relax me enough to let me fall asleep…"

Max snorted. "Trust you not to think of anything besides sex."

"I was talking about TV, actually. But thanks for the offer."

Turning over sharply, she shot him a glare. "It wasn't an offer!"

"Hey, hey…relax. Just because I turned you down – "

"Oh please," she interrupted, flopping back into place, "like you would ever actually turn me down if I did offer."

Alec crossed his arms over his chest, pursing his lips. Well, of course. What kind of red-blooded male would he be to turn down an attractive female's offer for sex? But still…

"Well, somebody's a little full of herself," he muttered quietly.

The bed shifted as Max rolled over again. She looked up at him, her intent gaze cutting through the dark with ease.

"Alec," she said matter-of-factly, "do you wanna have sex?"

Alec blinked, returning her look as if considering the question.

"Um…that depends." Max raised an eyebrow, and he elaborated, "Are you actually offering, or are you just trying to illustrate a point?" She continued to stare at him, the silence stretching between them.

Finally, Alec gave in. "Okay, yes."

Max rolled her eyes, and turned her back again.

"Damn," he muttered, slumping further down on the bed.

Long, long minutes passed and eventually Max's breathing evened out, indicating she had indeed fallen asleep. Alec continued to stare up at the ceiling, his thoughts running in random directions.

Okay, so they had Lydecker on their trail now… but then, the guy had been chasing down the '09s for a decade now, with little progress. He hadn't even brought a single one in, in all that time. Maybe Alec didn't have much experience being on the run, but he'd still been taught by Manticore in keeping a low profile. Besides, if a bunch of prepubescent runts could do it, there was no reason why he couldn't. Especially when he had one of those "runts", in grownup form, with him. And damn, had she grown up nice…

Alec flipped onto his side restlessly, and found himself looking at Max's dark hair. His movements spurred her to shift as well until she rolled onto her back, her head falling to the side. Her arm dropped limply across the bed in the process, her hand coming to rest on his pillow. She sighed then, a soft release of breath, and Alec found his gaze drawn to a stray lock of hair that had tumbled across her cheek, the end of the curl stopping just at the corner of her mouth. Before he even knew what he was doing, his fingers were reaching out, brushing the dark ringlet from her face. On their return trip, they lingered on her cheek, following the gentle slope back to her mouth, tracing the curve of her lips with the barest touch. Watching her, his thoughts returned to the cover story he had concocted for them… What would it have been like, to have as their biggest concern, disapproving parents determined to keep them apart…rather than the reality of a secret military organization hunting them down to avoid exposure. Or maybe this could've been a road trip, a real one…a cross-country expedition about "finding themselves", or whatever all that shit was about.

Was that what had made the '09s run all those years ago? The thought…the possibility…of such a life? There was no doubt in his mind that any "normal" life they might have aspired to was merely an illusion, but it was the idea that counted, right? The hope, that had made them take the risk.

And Max was right. Whatever else he'd said before, he had to give her credit for staying out of Manticore's radar for the past ten years. True enough, he had found her, but he bet she could give him a lesson or two on being on the run.

The hand on his pillow twitched slightly, tearing Alec abruptly from his thoughts, and he pulled back sharply as the realization of what he was doing finally sank in. He looked quickly toward Max, but she was still deeply asleep.

"Fuck," he muttered as he jerked around roughly, putting her safely at his back. "Fucking feline DNA."

And that's what it all came back to…what had started the die rolling. He had to get a grip on things before it got him into any further trouble.