The Alpha Fights
She swirled the liquid in her mouth, letting the bitter taste numb her tongue. After all, if she couldn't feel her tongue, she wouldn't be able to talk. And hopefully, if she spent enough time not being able to talk, she'd forget what words were. And without words, she wouldn't be able to think, to remember, to feel.
Tell me a story.
No. No stories. No thinking.
Make the pain go away.
Pain. Pain. She could hold onto the pain. She could let the pain kill her. She could let the pain seep through the tips of her fingers, light each joint aflame as it stabbed her forearm and shredded her shoulder. She could let the pain engulf her, until slowly there would be nothing left, everything she knew to be her drifting to the floor, no more than a pile of ash.
Please, it hurts so bad.
She knew it hurt, though she had never been in the same circumstance. It was amazing when she thought about the kinds of torture she had already been through in her short life. After all, torture was not an everyday experience for most of the population.
The human population, at least.
She had tried. She had done everything she could. She had almost drained herself dry, hoping a transfusion would be the answer. But the poison in her system had moved too quickly, attacked too fiercely, and there was no saving her. There was no antidote, no reverse agent, and no stalling.
She couldn't save her.
Make it stop.
And she had. She could still feel the bones fracturing under her fingers through flesh that was flushed and sweaty, even as she brought the cold glass to her lips. She took another mouthful, swallowing the liquid and relishing the burn. She deserved the burn. The pain. The punishment. She deserved it all.
Make it stop. Please, just make it stop.
He walked through the door slowly, closing it softly behind him. Their building was empty, every apartment open and dark. It was amazing what they, their population, did for them without being asked. He didn't know when they had left, whether it had been that morning or after she had gotten back, but he appreciated it to no end that they knew she wouldn't want to be seen like this.
Resting his jacket on the top of their coat rack, he looked at the kitchen counter, taking note of the bottles everywhere, some half melted ice dripping over the edge and puddling on the floor.
"Clean glasses in the sink," he heard, turning his head to find her in the living room. She was sitting on the floor under their window, ice clinking against her glass as she lowered it from her lips. "Bring me a bottle."
"Which one?" he asked, eyebrows creasing as he pulled a glass from the sink. There were four bottles on the counter that were all half empty, along with three that were bone dry and tinged red.
"All of 'em."
He grabbed them by the necks and settled them on the coffee table before sitting back on the couch, his glass empty. She stared at him for a moment, her eyes glazed over until she blinked a few times and stood, moving to sit on the floor across the table from him. She dropped some of her ice cubes into his glass, grabbed the bottle closest to her, and filled their tumblers. He didn't move.
"It's not your fault, Max."
"You did everything you cou-"
"I said don't, Alec."
"But nothing!" she screamed, glass slamming down on the coffee table. He didn't flinch. "It's my fault she's dead, Alec, end of story. I'm to blame. I didn't save her."
"I didn't save her either." Alec watched her pause, saw her eyes darken. Her lip trembled as she picked up her drink, her breath fogging the cool glass. "Why am I not to blame?"
He leaned forward, settling his elbows on his knees when she didn't answer him. "C'mon, Max. Blame me," he murmured, choosing his words carefully. "I constantly fuck things up anyways. Little bit more blood on my hands is nothing."
"Don't you dare," she growled, springing up and grabbing a bottle from the table. She settled on the windowsill, back angled to him as she rested her head on the pane. "Don't you dare say that."
"Why not? It's what I am. Everything I touch I screw up. You always have to swoop in and save me because I cant do anything right."
"Don't you dare think that."
"If I can't think that about myself then why can you think this about you? Listen to yourself, Max. You can't take the blame for this."
"I didn't even know she was missing," Max whispered, taking a pull from the bottle. He watched her grimace in the reflection of the window, not knowing if it was from the liquor or her confession. "I didn't notice, didn't think that I hadn't seen her around in a few days."
"You're a little busy most days," he said lowly, knowing she'd hear him no matter how loudly he said it. "Running a city and all."
"A city full of people I'm supposed to protect." her voice was bitter, to the point where he could almost taste the self hate in the air. The misery was potent enough as it was.
"We're supposed to protect." Alec waved at her, snark out in full force when she turned to face him over her shoulder.
"You aren't drinking." she pouted at him, and if she wasn't so clearly heartbroken and torn up he might've kissed her lips until they were swollen, but he had other plans. Plans which really just consisted of breaking her out of this depressive episode so he could have his violent Max back in place of the current I'm-a-horrible-person-and-everyone-should-hate-me-as-much-as-I-hate-me Max.
"You didn't leave much for me," he said instead, gesturing at the half empty bottles on the table. He figured she'd go back to sulking, since he had called Original Cindy before coming home hoping for some quick insight to help him form a battle plan, but instead Max stood up and moved towards him. She moved slowly, hips swaying, and stepped on top of the coffee table, forcing him to sit back against the couch when she straddled his lap and settled to sit on his legs. She took another pull from the bottle before fisting her hand his hair, pulling his head back and giving him his own mouthful. "What is that?" he asked, half coughing half gagging, completely unprepared for the burn that followed the liquid down his throat.
Cindy had told him Depressed Max's liquor of choice was usually vodka, and that was most definitely not vodka.
"I dunno," Max shrugged, ignoring his coughing though the hand in his hair went from a death grip to scratching behind his ear. "Mole said it would get me drunk and keep me drunk. I think he makes it in his bathtub."
"You're drinking something that may or may not have been made in Mole's bathtub?" he asked incredulously, watching her turn to settle the bottle on the table and grab a different one. She took a small sip, and he watched her keep it in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. When she offered him the bottle, he looked at her skeptically, but he felt her fingers tightening on his hair again and took the bottle from her.
"He makes different flavours," she said, watching him drink. He kept the liquor in his mouth as she had, more prepared for the burn than he was the first time, though it only lasted a second. It slowly faded, something rich and decadent coating his tastebuds before he swallowed it. "He just doesn't label them, and they're all terrible in the beginning."
"So you already finished the good ones?" he asked, nodding his head back at the empty bottles in the kitchen. She took another swig from the bottle, straightening up on her knees to peer over his head into the kitchen. When she sat back in his lap, she had a slight blush to her cheeks.
"Those ones were cherry."
Alec couldn't keep the laugh back, knowing Mole had given her those for a reason. Any cherries around Max were nonexistent within seconds. "What's this one?" he asked, taking another swallow. He felt like his tastebuds were still off from the first sample.
"Chocolate and caramel," she said, pulling the furthest bottle off of the table. She had to stretch further than the last time, and her shirt had inched up, exposing more and more skin that Alec had to forcibly tell his eyes to ignore.
They didn't do the greatest job.
"Try this one." Max demanded, shoving the other bottle at him. His right hand was itching to rest on her hip, and he irrationally felt like he hadn't touched her in weeks, but he took the bottle instead, settling for the fact that her hand hadn't left the back of his ear yet. He took a sip, letting the liquid settle on his tongue again, trying to concentrate on the tastes through the numbness he was experiencing in his tongue, the cold glass in his other hand, and Max making herself comfortable in his lap.
"It's bitter." He watched her eyes light up suspiciously, the taste still prickling his tongue. And honestly, it was. He didn't like it, and he saw her grin grow as he felt his face twist more. And why was his face twisting? He didn't move his lips into a deeper grimace, they just kind of moved on their own, as if he wasn't in control, at least not completely, and her grin kept on growing, getting more and more sinister, and oh god no-
I need to talk to Mole.
"You don't like it," she supplied, somehow settling more into his lap, slinking even closer to him, her arm bracing her against the back of the couch, over his shoulder. He knew he was blinking owlishly, and was trying very hard to stop, but then her nose was brushing his, her eyes so close he could tell where they looked like melted chocolate and where the golden sparks of mischief sparkled on the rims of her irises. "Thats okay," she said, her mouth just ghosting over his. He could smell the cherries on her breath.
"You drug that one?" he asked, his head falling back against the couch when her teeth grazed the underside of his jaw. She moved her right hand, the one holding the bottle, to his left arm, the cold seeping through his sleeve. It was a drastic change from the heat she radiated in his lap.
"Nope," she said slowly, drawing out each syllable as she nuzzled his collar bone. He felt like he had no control over his body at this point; everything was in an overstimulated and out of control haze. "It hits you hard and fast," she continued, drawing back and settling on his lap again, taking another pull from the bottle in her hand. He felt like shivering, not having her pressed up against his chest, but he suppressed it the best he could. "It'll even out later."
"How later?" he asked, slowly moving his gaze from her chest to face. She was breathing more heavily than normal, and the rational part of his brain was saying he was just noticing that fact. Every other part of him knew the lie in that.
"Does it matter?" Max countered, her hand slowly moving from his shoulder to his collar bone, to the buttons down the center of his shirt. She flicked her fingers, the barest of movements, and he heard the button hit the wall to his right, bounce off of the bookcase near by, and land on the carpet below. He held his breath, the bare minimum he had control over, as she sent his next button to the left side of the room.
Something clicked in his brain, and he said "If it gives you more time to dodge, it does," rather than the "Not at all" his body really wanted him to say.
"When did you get so chatty?" she demanded, her hand poised over the next button. He tried not to look down, the temptation to watch her slowly undress him far too strong, but something in the back of his head kept on reminding him of her needing help. The memory of her gnawing on her lip to keep tears in check sobered him.
"About six hours ago." he said, and if looks could kill, Max had them all in her repertoire. But the look she gave him, the gut wrenching look that only lasted between blinks, was worse than all of those put together. That look made him feel like he was burning in hell.
That look made him realize what she was feeling under the haze the liquor provided.
Slowly, she moved her hand away from his chest, settling her body more solidly on his knees. She tipped the bottle to her lips, drinking slowly and swallowing immediately before finishing it completely and letting the bottle drop to the floor. He kept his hands at his sides, one gripping a bottle, the other resting on the cushion.
They stared at each other for what could have been an hour, maybe only a few minutes, before Max grabbed the bottle from his hand. She took another drink, growling as it burned down her throat, and he watched her resolve break down around her ears.
"I killed them all," she said, her hand appearing over his mouth before he could get out a syllable to contradict her. "You don't get it, Alec," she sighed, and he could hear her heart breaking in her chest, the reverberation of the implosion shaking her words. "Everything's my fault."
"Then explain it to me," he pleaded, holding her wrist gently as he drew her hand away from his mouth. "Just lay it out, Max."
"We didn't cut and run because we couldn't handle the training, Alec," she said, looking at anywhere but him. "We loved it. We revelled in it. We grieved when Syl caught Champ in a training exercise, but we knew that was a hazard," he felt himself nodding, remembering losing a few soldiers from his own unit in their first live ammunition exercises. "What we didn't understand was that we were expendable. When Tal collapsed during roll call, we didn't know what to do other than stand there and watch them drag him off. He hadn't had the shakes until that morning, and even then, he was just complaining of a tremor and feeling weak. We thought he just needed an extra serving for breakfast. We had already planned on how to sneak more onto his plate from ours, but then," his heart stopped beating when her voice wavered, "then Jack started to get them, and we knew something was wrong."
"The seizures," he said, moving his hand around to grip hers. She took in a shaky breath and had another drink before offering him the bottle. He let the liquor burn it's way down.
"We tried to hide them. I can't tell you how many times Zack ordered him not to let them show. Ben," she said quietly, "Ben fell during roll call once, to keep the handler's attention away from Jack."
He looked down at their hands, enter twined on top of her thigh. She gripped his hand tighter, and he looked up at her, her words shocking him into silence.
"He would've liked you, you know," she gripped his hand tighter, and for a moment he couldn't force his body to breathe. "You two are opposites. He needed answers, and when he couldn't get them, he-"
"Max," he said, letting the bottle drop to the floor to wipe the tears from her cheeks, but she shook her head, grabbing his hands.
"He's on my hands too, Alec. I didn't save him. I broke his fucking neck."
"You did what you had to do, Max," he said firmly, wanting nothing more than for her to stop tearing herself apart. Her body shook as she moved away from him, standing on legs that didn't look like they would hold her up, and he felt like he was losing her. "You know he'd forgive you."
"They'd all forgive me, Alec," she swayed to the window again, leaning her forehead against the window pane. "When they took away Jack, I followed them. I watched them rip him open, so I ran back and told Zack and Eva. Reported like a good soldier, straight to my superiors. So when I started to get the shakes, they decided that we needed to leave. As a unit we couldn't fathom losing another person, so we put the plan into action. I lured in the guard just after shift change, broke his neck, and Eva took his gun. Zack and Zane memorized the camera's rotation, Ben took the guard's side arm, and then I had my first full blown seizure."
The glass had fogged as she spoke and Alec watched, detached, as she drew perfectly straight lines through it.
"Zack took point, told Zane and Krit to pick me up, because they weren't going to leave me behind. I think we got through three cameras before I heard someone crying," the next line she drew was vicious, cutting sharply through the others, her breath starting to fog them over again, "It was me. I was in so much pain that I couldn't keep quiet, didn't even know I was making noise. I alerted the guards. So we started running, but we turned a corner and there was Lydecker with half of the platoon behind him. He told us to go back to our bunker, but Eva stepped forward, and told him we were leaving. That they weren't going to dissect anymore of us."
Alec dropped his head into his hands, feeling as though his stomach was three floors below him.
"She was so perfect," she sobbed, the earnest tone more ground shattering than the tears that were still falling from her eyes. Because he knew, without a doubt, that Max was back in those halls, shaking, in pain, being held up by her brothers, and watching her sister fall on a loop. "She was the best out of all of us. All she wanted to do was protect her unit, it was all she wanted."
"He killed her."
She wiped away the fog, falling to the floor again.
"He didn't even blink."
"You still got out," he whispered, not knowing what else to say. "She didn't die in vain."
"Tinga did." She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand before drawing her knees up to her chest. "Tinga was happy. Tinga had a husband, a son, a really family."
Alec's attention had been on her from the moment he entered the apartment, but now everything was fading into the background of his awareness. All he could hear was her voice, her heart beat, the ragged breath she drew in as she continued.
"She had to run to protect them, but she wasn't running from Lydecker. She was running from some new crazy fanatic. They caught her, strung her up, started testing her DNA, and when they couldn't find what they were looking for, they let her drown."
"Bingo!" Max threw her hands up and brought them down slowly, placing them on her knees. He watched her eyes become unfocussed, staring blindly at her open palms. "Renfro was looking for an anomaly that she knew was in the X5's, but didn't know which one. And since she had scanned all of the bases, her last chance to find the one was to hunt down the 09ers."
"She was looking for you," he said, so much of her life falling into place right in his lap. "She was looking for the unit without junk DNA."
"Not the unit," Max whispered, still not raising her eyes from her knees, her hands. "The X5. Me. I'm the freak of Freak Nation. Tinga died because they thought she was me."
He felt the air seep from his lungs as he watched her turn her hands over. He knew what she was seeing. He knew why her eyes dilated further, her pupils completely banishing the chocolate colour of her irises. Alec looked down at his own hands, the familiar feeling of something slick and thick covering them, caking and hardening under his nails. He tried to blink the vision away, but it did not fade quickly.
The blood on his hands was always warm. Too warm, almost hot in temperature, his conscious using the heat to remind him of how many he had killed, how much blood he had soaked himself in.
He had lost count ages ago, but a part of him knew. There had been hundreds of marks over his many missions for Manticore, but before that there had been the training exercises, convicts and runaways Manticore had had at their disposal. Then there was the collateral damage to consider, and the bystanders that had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. But for the longest time, Alec had chalked it all up to orders, and his orders were always to ensure the mission objective was completed at all costs. It was his scapegoat, because he had to be a good soldier that followed orders to the last dot on the page. He had to be above reproach, because if he wasn't, Psy-Ops had a table with his designation on it.
He couldn't fathom what Max felt like, sitting on the floor, staring at hands that always looked so clean compared to his.
He stood slowly, waiting for her to move, to say something. When she didn't, he took a step around the coffee table, and then a step towards her, and still nothing. She didn't blink until he was kneeling in front of her, his hand slowly moving towards hers. He didn't say anything when her right hand moved, middle and ring fingers convulsing inwards, thumb pushing forward. His own hand had the same muscle memory, years of training making the movement second nature when taking down an opponent. He kept the reflex at bay, grabbing her hands gently and bringing them to his lips.
She tried to pull her hands back, but he growled at her and tightened his hold, kissing each and every knuckle, nail and pad. He kissed her palms, her wrists, and pressed his lips into the back of her right hand for an extra beat before looking at her again.
"What do I do?" she asked, her voice soft.
"You give it to me," he rubbed his thumb over her left hand, bringing her right hand to his lips again. "I can take the pain," he kissed her knuckles, rubbing her palm, "I can take the guilt. You don't have to do this by yourself anymore, Max."
When she pulled her hand away, he let go, and was surprised when she used it to cup his cheek, her thumb sweeping under his eye. He watched her head tilt to the side, her eyes finally refocusing.
"You've changed." Max announced with a clarity she hadn't had all night, and then she smiled the saddest smile he had ever seen her wear. She repeated herself, ghosting her lips over his, and all he wanted to do was grab her and hold on, but she stood and blurred around him before he could.
By the time he turned around she was already gone.
She poured the drink slowly, not really knowing when to stop. She felt a little out of her depth, since she really wasn't one for drinking, but then she heard a sigh from her couch behind her, and she knew she could suck it up and deal for his sake.
Turning around with the two glasses in her hand, she walked slowly and set them carefully down on the side table beside the arm of the couch. She subconsciously told her face to stop heating up in embarrassment, thinking about how dingy her apartment was compared to everyone else's. Her couch was small, and looked even smaller underneath him, and she didn't have a television or any books. Her kitchen was stocked with snacks, and her bedroom was light tight and covered in blankets and pillows and everything else she could ever want, but her actual living quarters? Threadbare and spartan. She knew that all of the other bat nocturnals were the same, since they really only used their apartments for sleeping during the day, but having him sitting here with a glass of scotch in his hand really made her wish she had the gift of foresight and at least had a vase of flowers on the table or something.
He glanced up at her as she took her glass, and gave her a slight nod. No smile, no witty comeback, and she felt her heart sink for him as she stepped around him and settled onto the other side of the couch.
He had come to her door, tired and looking absolutely defeated, and had asked if she liked scotch. She had lied, and she knew he knew, and said yes while opening the door so he could enter. She had taken the bottle from him, and he had sat on the couch, and now here they were, and she had no idea what to say.
She knew the general gist of what had happened, as well as anyone within Terminal City did. Three days ago sector police had found another transgenic holed up in a random building that had been condemned years ago. They had radioed Detective Sung, who had then contacted HQ, and Max and Alec had had Zane and his team suited up and out of the gates in under three minutes. The officers on scene had identified themselves and told the transgenic, who was huddled in the corner, shaking, that a transgenic extraction team were on their way to bring her to Terminal City directly.
That was when everything started going downhill.
The reports that Zora had very obviously read over Dix's shoulder stated that once the transgenic was told about the incoming extraction team, she had become excessively aggravated, and had pulled a knife. The officer then pulled his weapon, safety off, when Zane arrived and lowered the gun, telling the sector police to move out and keep the perimeter secured. It was then that the transgenic had rushed the two, and Zane had caught her by the throat, slamming her back into the wall and twisting the knife away.
The transgenic was described to be a smaller female in her early twenties who appeared to be exceedingly malnourished and abused. She had multiple lacerations across her arms, and her ankle was twisted unnaturally. She had bruises across her chest and face, and it looked like some of her red hair had been ripped out from the roots. Only one blue eye was visible, the other one completely swollen over.
It was Jondy.
The report detailed that she had continued to be combatant, though even the sector police knew something was wrong, since she was gasping for breath and shaking. Zane had pinched the nerves at the base of her neck and knocked her out for transport, since she had been adamant about not going back to Terminal City, and the sector police had escorted them back to the gates.
Max put the City on lockdown.
Alec took over the interrogation.
Mole took over all other operations, his cigar constantly lit.
Doc had the medbay buzzing day and night, bringing in any nocturnal that could operate a microscope to help with shift coverage.
X6's were added to patrols.
Zora had felt like she was in a dream, her duties constantly added to as their leaders were indisposed. She didn't complain, she was a solider, she could handle her own, but for as tight nit and gossipy as their population was, there was no information coming out of the building on the far end of Terminal City.
She hadn't even known if Zane was there or not, but by his demeanour, there was no doubting he had seen everything that had happened.
"She's gone," he said quietly, taking another swallow of the scotch. She brought her own glass to her lips, though she couldn't bring herself to sip it. "She'll rest easy now."
"The transfusions?" she asked, that being the only knowledge she had. She had seen Max once, over the past three days, and she had been paler than she'd ever seen her, rubbing at her arm while Dalton tried valiantly to force some food down her throat. Max, being the stubborn woman she was, had denied the food and kept walking. Dalton, not being able to keep up with her longer strides, had turned around and reentered the medbay, mumbling about stubborn adults.
"Didn't work," Zane shook his head, explaining that the avian antibodies had been in her body for too long. They had destroyed too many of her red blood and stem cells; nothing they did could keep up with the damage. Jondy's fate had been sealed long before they found her. "It was him though."
Zora nodded, not needing to have him explained. The more days that passed, the more they discovered that Bane was a one trick pony with a one track mind. That mind being destroy Max in every way possible. Two weeks ago Detective Sung had come to Command with articles from San Francisco and Los Angeles, detailing the mass murder of several groups of people, all of whom had been tattooed with a single barcode and injected with an unidentified antibody. Cale had been the one who had first came across the news stories and had alerted the Seattle PD, who had shut down the stories before they could spread outside of the cities, but Sung had needed the connecting factor between the three groups of people, since they had not been able to find any connection on their own. Max had told him that she had done some jobs with the groups before she came to Seattle, and when he had asked her if anyone knew about her past before Seattle, she had shook her head in the negative.
Zora knew Max was still trying to figure out how Bane knew so much about her past.
Zane finished his drink, his eyes downcast as he placed the glass back on the table beside his arm. Zora wanted to say something, but she really had no clue what to say. "It's okay, you know," he said, making her jump. "I've lost more than half of my unit. I'm okay."
She didn't believe a single word of that, but she didn't say anything.
"I'm more worried about Max."
That she did believe.
"She's got Alec," Zora said, watching the light play off of the amber liquid in her glass. "She'll be okay."
His laugh was bitter, and he still refused to look at her. "When I settled in Kansas, I didn't know that that was where I was going to stay," Zora put her drink down on the floor, settling into the back of the couch. She didn't know much about Zane's past, and she suspected that not a lot of other people did either. "My car broke down outside of a town called Lawrence. It was pretty run down after the pulse, like everywhere else, but the locals weren't as wary of outsides as some of the other towns were, so I found a mechanic. He was a good man, gave me an honest price on the repair, and was about to send me on my way when we heard a shout from the back. He bolts it back there, and I mean bolted, faster than any Ordinary I've seen before, and there's six kids on the tree line four yards away, all picking on one kid. They start kicking him, throw him to the ground, and before the mechanic can start yelling at them, one kid rushes them all, scares them off, and picks up the one that was getting beat on."
"Pretty brave of him." Zora said, leaning to the side, trying to get a look at Zane's face, but he shook his head and kept it turned away from her.
"Brave and stupid. Turns out they were the mechanic's sons, and the younger one, who was getting beat up, gets bullied all the time because of his size. So I interrupted, and offered to show him how to roll away after being pushed, sweep their feet out from under them, and give him some more time to get away." he picked up his glass again, running his finger around the edge. "I wanted to help them, and at that point I didn't know why. I hadn't made any real connections in the other places I stayed in, aside from some fences I was loyal to in New York. But these kids, these brothers, I felt like I had to help them."
"So you stayed?" she asked, watching his lips quirk up a little bit. It eased her heart a bit, watching him think about something that made his depression fade.
"Yeah, I stayed. Taught them all I could to keep them out of trouble, watched them grow up," he paused, running his hand down his face. "John and I, the mechanic, were working on a car one day. A snake had crawled into the engine block, owner turned on the car, and then all hell broke loose. So we're cleaning that out, and Sam, the kid that was getting beat up, starts yelling at us to get in the office. So we walk over, and my heart sinks the second I see the screen, because Max, and who I thought was Ben, are all over the screen, taking hostages and backing out of a building and reporters are calling them freaks and saying the military was getting involved."
"You must've freaked out." Zora said, because she remembered the anxiety she had felt, watching 494's face being tossed up on all of the television screens in the bar she had been sulking in. She had been in Arizona, an hour away from the Nevada boarder, and had taken all of five minutes to think, finish her beer, and then pack up her motel room and high tail it to Seattle.
She jumped when Zane laughed, an actual laugh, and felt her eyes widen. He was laughing, and crying, tears falling over sharp cheek bones, but laughing all the same.
"I did more than freak out," he said once the laughing subsided, but he kept his turned his face away form her again. Zora watched as a tremor ran its way through his shoulders. "I put everything down and stalked out of the shop. Switched solider mode on, packed up my bag, opened the door to my apartment, and there's Dean, the older brother, scowling at me with everything he had, waving his phone in my face," the laugh came back, but it was weaker. He didn't do anything when she moved a bit closer to him on the couch, "John had called him, told him I was having some sort of freak out, and this thirteen year old punk that I've been training for three years sizes me up, shakes his head, and tells me I'm not going anywhere. I laugh, put my hand on his head to move him out of my way, because all I'm thinking is that Max and Ben are in trouble, and Dean takes me down. Hard. Knocks me out, and when I come to, I'm back in my apartment, listening to Dean and John argue about Dean knocking me around, Dean sassing back that John had told him to keep me from skipping town, and how else am I supposed to keep his viking ass here, he could flick me with his pinky and I'd go flying, and Sam's rolling his eyes at them, trying to keep a hunk of frozen meatloaf from falling off of my forehead and making sure Loki doesn't make off with it and eat it in the corner, because Thor had already gotten the bag of peas. And they got the TV on, and it's just going on and on and on about the hostage situation going on in Seattle until it completely cuts out, and not just the broadcast, every channel available went blank."
Zora froze, trying to think if she had still been in town when the channels had cut out, but she was pretty sure she was on the road by then. After she had left Arizona, she hadn't stopped driving until she hit the other side of Nevada and was about to pass out behind the wheel. After that, she had driven at a more sane pace, but hadn't seen another broadcast until she tried to get into Seattle.
"Of course," Zane says, his voice bitter, "that just made me freak out all the more, and before I know it I'm telling them everything that I can, because Max and Ben are in trouble, and I'm their big brother, and I have to go save them," the next breath he took racked his entire body, and Zora moved closer still, her chest tightening. "So they let me go, they take in Thor and Loki for me, and here I am, to protect my baby sister, because I'm her big brother, and if there's any of us that deserves it it's Max. I've known this whole time that everyone was okay, but Max was on her own, and Zack kept her on her own, and I cant even do right by her for all the mistakes I've made. What kind of brother am I?"
His glass shattered the second it hit the wall, the glass shards exploding out and glittering in the light on their descent to the floor. Zora reached out, laying her hand on his shoulder as he scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands.
"Alec did everything he could to keep her comfortable. He asked if she wanted her ankle reset, wrapped her in blankets when she became cold, but she was dying before our eyes, Zor."
"I spoke to Mole earlier," she said, slowly moving her hand up and down his arm. "He said she didn't have a chance."
"She didn't," he sighed, wiping his eyes. "It was almost like radiation poisoning. Her hair was falling out, she was losing finger nails, and she kept on saying that it felt like her blood was boiling. One minute she was sweating, the next she was shivering. And she just kept on asking for Max."
"Max wasn't there?" Zora felt her stomach twist, her hand stilling on Zane's bicep. Slowly, he turned his head to look at her, his face a combination of pain and sorrow. Her next sentence was abrupt, and in hindsight she cringed that she had asked, but she couldn't help it. "Why wasn't Max there?"
"Max was on the line with Sung when we got through the gates, and when Alec saw who we had picked up, he had sent Rodger to keep Max busy and Allen to grab Doc. I backed him up, because I didn't want Max to see her like that either, but by the Blue Lady, Zor, I thought we could save her."
"But she knew she was dying."
"Yeah," he turned away from her again, his body shaking. Zora felt like she was going to be sick. "Jondy knew. So once we did everything we could and Doc said it wouldn't work, Alec told Mole to go get Max, and Max didn't even hesitate to grab her. She wrapped her up in the blankets and brought her down off of the chair and onto her lap," he couldn't stop the tears anymore, and Zora couldn't hold back hers. "Jondy kept on apologizing, saying it was all her fault, that she shouldn't have slipped out of the sewers. She hadn't meant to run away, she just needed room to breathe, and Max just rocked her back and forth the entire time. And then Jondy asked Max to tell her a story."
There had been one night, months ago, when Zora had had the night off, and had spent the night at the nursery with Max and some of the other nocturnal mothers. There were quite a few more nocturnal children than there were mothers, so Max had started helping them keep the children entertained while the mothers who needed their rest got as much as they could, and on that night, Max had spent the entire time telling stories. The kids had become sick of the children's story books they had long ago, so Max told them stories about a group of princes and princesses. Zora had been captivated the whole night, listening to Max with her full attention right along with the children. The princes and princesses had been brothers and sisters, and they grew up together, but then they had to run away from the evil king and became separated, and Max had told the separate stories of each and every one of them, with the exception of the last, leaving it up to the kids to make their own stories for the youngest princess. The kids had loved it, crawling into their beds and trading their own stories with their friends, some of them deciding that the youngest princess grew up to be a strong and brave warrior like her older brother, or that she grew up and found the love of her life like her older sister, and had a family of her own. It hadn't hit her until later, when she was wrapped up in her own bed, that Max had been talking about her own unit and their escape from Manticore.
She remembered waking up the next night and feeling sad. Sad because she knew, on some level, that Max had those stories in her back pocket because she had told them before, and Zora couldn't shake the image of a young Max huddled up in the cold somewhere, telling herself that her siblings were happy and safe while she fought and kept moving, never knowing what her fate would be while wishing such bright futures for them.
"Did she?" she wasn't sure if she wanted the answer, but she knew he needed to say it.
"Max told her about the Blue Lady," he leaned back against the couch, shaking his head. "About how the Blue Lady remembered us, and always looked out for us because of the strength we gave her. She told her about how Ben would be so excited to see her, because Jack was absolutely horrible at shadow animals, and Tinga was a full blown mom now, and was going to help Eva make sure they went to bed on time for once."
When he looked down at her, his eyes rimmed red, she felt her heart break and shatter into more pieces than the glass that littered her floor.
"And then Jondy smiled, and Max snapped her neck."
Alec held his breath, moving as stealthily as he could. He had followed her scent after she left their apartment, which was a feat in itself since she took off on foot and went through the sewers. He had taken the route on instinct more than anything, praying to anyone who would listen that she would go to her old apartment, wake up OC, scrounge up some ice cream, let OC work some best friend magic, fix Max, and then send her back home. He had been right on the first count, since once he had scaled the building beside their apartment building he could see Max in their old apartment, but OC wasn't sitting in the living room with her. He watched as she did something on the coffee table, his vantage point across the street restricting him to what he could see through their window, which was half blocked by an old TV. He had watched quietly, his heart splintering, as she moved from the room, becoming a visible shadow in the next room, Cindy's room, where she sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her friend's hair.
After a minute, she kissed Cindy's forehead, and Alec dropped out of the window, ready to intercept her on her way out of the building and bring her back home, but after waiting a few minutes, he realized he lost her, and kicked himself.
Of course she would know he's following her.
He had stood there for a minute, mentally yelling at himself, until the wind changed, bringing a mixed scent of rain-dust-paper-oil-cherries-leather-Max with it, and followed his nose around the back of building, and down several back alleys.
When he lost her scent again, he recognized the building as Sketchy's, and was about to circle around to find somewhere high enough to see into his friend's apartment when he heard something soft land on the concrete around the south wall, instinct telling him to follow the noise.
Now he stood downwind of her on the disk of the Space Needle, watching the wind whip her hair around and praying, with everything he was, that she would take two steps back, because he felt like his heart had stopped beating an hour ago and he didn't know what was about to happen but he knew that if she took a step forward, he'd be following her within seconds.
They had been up here so many times he couldn't care to count, and never before had he thought that she might jump. But after this weekend, after Jondy begging her for death, after realizing the weight she made herself carry, he wasn't sure what she was doing up here.
He tried to breathe shallowly, not wanting to give her any reason to turn, because what would he do if she lost her balance? Part of him scoffed, she was an X5, they didn't just lose their balance, but every nerve in his body was going haywire, his mind calculating the speed of the wind, the distance she stood from the edge, the distance to the ground, the angle he'd have to jump at to grab her and maybe curve them back to the metal structure, how many bones he'd break on impact, how he'd have to angle his body to make sure he didn't crush her, the best way to grab onto the scaffolding to stop their fall, the distance they'd be able to survive landing from, the-
"You have to stop following me, Alec."
Her voice was like a bucket a cold water crashing over his head, silencing all of the voices shouting at him about angles and velocity and foot holds. She was sitting now, where she always did, with her knees brought up to her chest, like she always did, looking at him, with a sadness that he never wanted to see again.
"You can't follow me when I leave."
The hell I can't, was what he thought as he stalked over to her, dropping himself onto the metal beside her before choosing to growl and glare at her instead. Her silence was unnerving as she looked out at the city, and he felt the nerves in his arms start to burn, the urge to grab her and drag her back to their apartment overwhelming.
"I need you to take care of everyone while I'm gone."
He felt the air seeping from his lungs, slow and painful, his throat filled with glass shards as he blinked. His brain was still calculating the speed of the wind, which had changed direction slightly, giving him a better chance to swing them back towards the Space Needle if she jumped, but he would have to jump at a wider angle, and he knew she was sitting, that they were side by side and he would have a better chance of preventing everything, but his brain just wouldn't shut up.
"I'll fix this."
"Killing yourself isn't going to fix anything, Max."
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.
"You stop off at Sketchy's and OC's to say goodbye after breaking down and drinking your day away today, what am I supposed to think?"
"Alec, look at me."
"I get it, I do, and if I could have kept you from having to see Jondy like that I would have, Max, but I can't let you do this."
"Alec, look at me."
"I'm not letting you jump, Max, and you can try and fight me off but if you make a single move I'll stop you, and if I can't stop you I'm following you down because I'm not gonna survive this fight without you so don't you dare make me try-"
"Look at me, Alec."
The growl was commanding, and he felt his head move in her direction, her eyes boring into his.
"I am not jumping, Alec."
He felt a weight lifted from his chest, his lungs finally able to expand, the shards in his throat dissolving.
"I'm going to hunt down Bane."
The new information made his world lurch on a forty five degree angle; not nearly as bad as the thought of Max jumping off of the Space Needle, but still nauseating. He vaguely listened to her, his mind switching from angles and velocity and foot holds to Max wandering through the state, if not multiple states, on her own. She wouldn't want to keep in contact and would pull Sam from whatever rock she was under to keep up appearances, because that was the strategic thing to do. She'd travel light, one pack and a different motorcycle, since their's were way too iconic. But her face was known everywhere, she was the leader of Terminal City, so how would she keep on the down low? Cut her hair? Not big enough of a change. He doubted she could gain sixty extra pounds to round everything out and change her stature since their metabolisms were so high. The two of them had only started to gain the weight they had lost during the beginning of the siege, since they had decided that the younger generations needed whatever food they had had way more than they did. Being on her own meant that she'd eat less, lose more weight, and with the weight loss she'd lose muscle, all of which she'd need to beat a battle model like Bane. Being on her own meant that he wouldn't be there to back her up, and being on her own meant that he wouldn't know if she needed help. He'd have no idea where she was, what she was doing, if she was sleeping enough, if she was safe enough to sleep.
"You're not listening to me, are you?" he heard her, her eyes still staring into his, and he wanted to laugh. He wanted to laugh and laugh and laugh, because this girl, this stubborn, caring, and absolutely insane girl was so adamant that this was what she was going to do, because she refused to burden anyone else with responsibilities that she deemed were hers. Terminal City, her siblings, every transgenic under the sun, his sorry ass, all of it fell under the Max category in her head; he could see it now, and knew that she refused to put anything in anyone else's categories.
"No," he said, trying to keep the smile he felt creeping up at bay because he knew that would only piss her off more. The breath she let out was warm across his face, and he could hear her teeth grinding, the smile getting that much harder to fight off. "No, I'm not listening, because I'm not letting you do that either."
"Let me?" her tone was indignant, her eyes sparking in the way they did when she was about to launch into some sort of rage fuelled rant, but he grabbed the back of her neck and crashed his lips into hers, making sure she didn't have the chance to say anything else. She responded instantly, her hand grabbing onto his jacket, pulling him closer has he threaded his fingers through her hair. He pulled her hair and she purred, and if there was anything sexier on the planet he hadn't come across it and he didn't care to. He pulled her down until he could settle completely on top of her, moving his other hand under her shirt and jacket to run his hand down her spine. She tried to arch her back away from his hand, and he laughed into her mouth when she growled and nipped at his lip, not enjoying how cold his fingers were. He ran his teeth across her neck, the shudder that ran down her body as her growl returned to a purr driving him crazy.
"I let you do tons of things, Max," he spoke into her cheek, his nose, lips and teeth skimming across soft skin. "I let you wear my t-shirts when you know I'm going to be running around all day and wont see you at Command, so you can feel like I'm nearby," she gasped when he pulled her ear lobe into his mouth. "I let you take baths at midnight on Thursdays, because I know it's when you can get the most hot water in our building, and that's what you love about baths," there was something mesmerizing about the column of her neck and how it connected to her shoulder, the definition of her collarbone, how her shirt clung to her body. He bit down on the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and the noise she made sounded like heaven. "I let you oversee my combat training sessions, not because you want to make sure I'm keeping up on the Eight's and Seven's training, but because I know you like watching my ass in combat fatigues," he kissed her again, revelling in the feel of her lips kissing him back, her teeth pulling at his bottom lip, the pressure she put in telling him she wasn't happy about his comment, but he didn't care, because it was the same reason he checked in on her training days with the Sixes. "I let you do tons of things, Max, but I can't let you decide that Bane is your responsibility," he kissed her nose, settling his forehead against hers. "We'll get him, Max, together. He'll pay for everything he's done."
"You promise?" she asked, her voice wavering, and for a moment he remembered how she had touched his face, telling him he had changed. He had changed.
"I promise." Alec nuzzled her neck, swearing to every god he could think of that he would make Bane pay, not only for every life he ended, but for every second of pain he had caused Max today. Because if there was one thing he knew with every fibre of his being, it was that he would do everything he could to keep Max safe and happy, and no one would stand in the way of that.
"Could you do one more thing for me, Alec?" he smiled against her shoulder before kissing the underside of her jaw, not needing to see her smile to know it was there when she wrapped her arms around his back. "Can you take me home?"
"Yeah," he said, kissing her soundly one more time, knowing he'd never be able to stop now. He pulled her to he feet and she stood on her toes, giving him one last kiss before tugging on his hand, leading him away from the edge. "Lets go home."
Long time, no see, I know, but hey! Big chapters make up for that, right? Hope you enjoyed it.