Melancholy Flavored Euphoria

by

Samantha Herrington

***Italics Indicate Flashbacks***

SEPTEMBER, 2022

                Max Guevera lay unmoving on the hard bed, her glassy eyes focused on the white ceiling of the room she had secured for herself in Terminal City over a year ago.  Back then, no one -- especially Max -- had guessed the war would last so long…or be so bloody. Her naiveté and her foolish confidence in their genetically enhanced skills had cost everyone dearly. She was the one who had convinced them to stay and fight, to make a stand against an enemy they knew nothing about.  She'd convinced them the cause was worth the lives they would lose.

                Why?

                Because, in the end, they'd have the one thing they'd never even known existed at Manticore -- their freedom.

                A tear seeped from the corner of her eye. Renfro had been right. She was poison to everything and everyone she touched.  Yet she was the one chosen to lead a people.

                And she failed miserably.

                She knew there would've been no way to prevent what had happened in the past two days -- she never believed White could or would've been *that* insane?  And he probably wouldn't have been, had he not been seeking revenge.

                An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.

                Gooseflesh pricked her skin as she remembered the events in the control room twelve hours before.  The first sign something was wrong had been so small…

*~*~*

                ....Max strode toward Alec and gave him a warm smile in greeting.  He returned it with one of his own and motioned for her to take the seat next to him.

                "So, how you feeling?" she asked, sitting down.

                He rubbed his thigh absently.  "Considering I had a bullet rip through my flesh last night…not bad.  In fact, I've become quite used to that kind of thing." 

                She raised an eyebrow.  "That's nothing.  I've died before. When you can beat that, come ask for my sympathy," she smirked

                "Always the one-upper, aren't you?"

                "I can't help you're such a wuss."

                He spluttered incredulously.  "Wuss?  WUSS?"

                "Hey, I call them as I see them, pretty boy."

                "Hmph!  Making fun of an injured man.  Have you no shame, woman?" 

                Her eyebrows came together, jovial mood turning serious.  "You could've died, you know.  You almost did." Her voice cracked as she spoke.

                "Now Max, better be careful.  I might start to think you care."

                "I do," she stated simply.  Pleasure lit his features and their eyes locked.  When the silence became a bit too awkward, she cleared her throat.  "So, how many times is this now?"

                He sighed.  "Too many, as far as I'm concerned.  When do I get to save your ass?  A guy could get a hero complex around you."  She chuckled and Alec was grateful.  Max hadn't had too many things to laugh about this past year. The deaths of Logan and Original Cindy had weighed heavily on her.  Though she never spoke of it, Alec knew she thought of them often.

                "How's Joshua?" she asked, changing the subject. 

                "Oh, he's great.  He's sleeping now. Last night really tired him out."

                "Hmm," she said as she worried her lower lip.  Even though Joshua had been going on missions for over a year, it always bothered Max.  From the time she'd met him back at the basement of Manticore, she'd always felt so protective of the transgenic. 

                He'd been so innocent, so childlike then…Suddenly Max whipped her head around.  "What was that?"

                Confused, Alec followed her gaze. Transgens of all types buzzed around the room.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.  "What was what?" he asked, but Max didn't seem to hear him.  After a moment, she opened her mouth as if to speak.  Then she heard the noise again. Judging by the expression on Alec's face, he had too. 

                It was so ordinary, the sound that had made Max stop in her tracks. Not something  people would stop, notice and question.

                Unless you were a transgenic – because transgenics don't sneeze.

                Max abruptly stood and crossed the room. The young blond girl who'd sneezed looked up at Max, confusion filling her eyes. "What the hell was that?" she questioned her leader...

*~*~*

                …Half an hour later, the girl and five other X's were dead.  What had started with sneezing had quickly transformed to coughing, then vomiting, an extremely high fever and throat swelling. 

                The unfortunate had died from asphyxiation in an insanely short amount of time, and no one had been able to help them.  The disease was rapidly spreading throughout Terminal City, and everyone was panicking. 

                It had been the beginning of the end and the arrival of The Coming.

                Young Ray White had spoken of it when she'd rescued him from the Conclave.  The tone of his voice had been chilling and sinister, but Max would never have guessed The Coming would be that deadly.

                She shuddered.  Who knew Ames White would've been that sadistic?  Max had always knew he was obsessed with her…but remembering the look in his eyes the last time she'd seen him absolutely frightened her.  He hated her with every fiber of his being…

*~*~*

                …"You can't go see White alone!  What if something happens? You'll be outnumbered!" Alec yelled.  Max ignored his concern and mounted her bike.

                "If something happens to me, you can oversee things here.  I don't have a choice -- I'm going.  Maybe I can find out what's going on…otherwise, there may not be a 'here' to look after. I don't intend to let these people keep dying -- and I don't have time to argue with you about it, either."

                Alec looked unconvinced but knew that she was right.  Transgenics were dropping like flies and they needed to act quickly.  Who knew how much longer either of them had?  "Alright.", he said, swinging his leg over the back of the motorcycle and settling firmly behind her. 

                She looked at him incredulously. "What in the hell do you think you're doing?"

                "What does it look like?  There's no way I'm letting you go alone, so now you've got a partner in crime.  Now don't argue with me, we don't have the time for it," he said, using her words against her.

                Max looked as if she were about to protest again.  Instead, she started the bike and simply said, "I'm not guaranteeing we're gonna even get out of there alive."

                Alec nodded, as if this was what he'd expected to hear. "I'm always up for another adventure.  What's the plan?"

                "I don't have one yet."

                "Ah, the ol' Max Guevara 'Wing and a Prayer' special.  Haven't done one of these in the past week."  Though the words were sarcastic, there wasn't any punch behind them.  Max knew that Alec needed to be involved in her questioning of White. She'd seen the sadness on his face when the first transgen had died. 

                And she'd also seen the anger.  It had been a brief but bright fire in his eyes.  Alec may be acting cool and collected, but underneath he was seething. Max sighed heavily -- he wasn't going to let her go.  It would be pointless to argue any further. "Fine.  Have it your way --- but I'm not responsible if something happens to your ass"

"You really love my ass, don't you?"  he joked.

"Yeah, especially when I'm kicking it," she answered.  Before he could reply, Max revved the engine and sped out of Terminal City.

*~*~*

                "Damn it, Max.  Don't kick my face again!" Alec whispered, trying to reach his hand up to the spot where Max's foot had connected with his cheek.

                "I didn't mean to. You know, this isn't exactly a picnic for me either."

                He sighed. "I knew I should've gone first -- OW! I said quit it!"

                "Crawling through the air conditioning ducts was your idea, smart ass!"

                "And it was a great one until I started having your shoe shoved into my face  every five seconds!"

                She rolled her eyes.  "Quit your bitchin --," Alec began, but Max quieted him with a wave of her hand.  "Shhhh!  We're coming up on a vent!" She crawled toward the caged opening and looked down through the grate.  Beneath her, she could see her favorite NSA agent sitting behind his desk.  He appeared to be reading a newspaper article, but his head prevented her from zooming in on it.  Soundlessly, she lifted the grate and set it aside.  She looked up and gave Alec a few hand signals and he responded in kind. 

                "Go ahead and come down, 452.  I've been expecting you," White said suddenly.  Alec's eyes flicked to Max's, whose expression betrayed her shock.  

                "I've got a bad feeling about this," Alec warned, keeping his voice low.  She nodded in agreement. Then, without a word, she swung herself through the small opening and onto the floor of White's office. Alec followed suit, and soon they were both facing the man who'd made the past year of their lives a living hell. The man made no motion to look up from his paper, and the silence stretched uncomfortably.

                "So," Alec began, clapping his hands together.  "Max and Ames together again -- it's a family reunion!"

                Ames eyes rose at that, but only to settle on Max.  It was as if he didn't see the male X standing by her side.  His eyes were red-rimmed and wild, seeming crazier than she remembered.

                It almost looked as if he'd been crying.

                "Nice of you to drop by," White greeted.  "You even brought a friend.  Long time, no see, 494," he sneered. "Got any barcodes for me today?"

                "Sorry, we'll have to save the' witty-banter-with-bad-guy' stuff for another day, Ames," Max broke in and stepped forward, placing the flat of her palms on the agent's desk.

                White smirked and leaned back in his chair. His nose was red and puffy. ' What in the hell is going on here?' Max wondered.

                "Oh, I believe I know exactly why you are here, 452." Nonchalantly, he opened the coat of his pinstriped suit, revealing a gun that lay in the holster at his side.  The threat was clear to Max and Alec.  "Terminal City isn't feeling too hot, is it?  Is there a bug going around?"

                Alec's jaw tightened as he came to stand beside Max.  "What in the hell did you do, you sick fuck?"

                Once again, White ignored him.  Instead, he pushed his chair back and stood, grabbing the newspaper clipping as he rose.   He circled the desk, coming to stand eye to eye with Max. For a moment he simply searched her face as if he were looking for something. She forced herself not to take a step backward.  Behind her, she felt Alec's hand rest on the small of her back, silently letting her know he was there.

Without warning, White sprung and slammed a fist to Max's mouth.  Blood spewed from it as she flew backward into Alec's arms.  She felt him coil into attack mode, but Max threw a hand up to stop him.  Right now, they needed to find out what the hell White had done to Terminal City, and if Max had to take a couple of punches in the process, so be it.

                "Hurts, doesn't it, 452?" White taunted, his voice reflecting his hatred of the girl. " Hurts, but not as badly  as the death of Logan?  Or how about your friend, Original Cindy?"

                "Shut up," Max commanded in a breathless voice.

                "What?  You think I didn't know about them?  I keep up with the news.  Such irony, don't you think?  Dying the way they did…an apartment fire.  How sad.  Helping you with your 'war' and surviving…only to die in such a natural way."

                "You fuckin-"Max began, advancing on the agent.

                "Oh, you don't think I had anything to do with it, do you 452?  Hell, I wish I could claim credit!" he sneered.  "However, it really was a freak accident.  If it were my doing, you would've known six months ago when it happened.  I have no reason to keep it from you.  I'd want you to know that you were the cause of their deaths," he sneered maliciously. 

                Max studied him for a moment, her expression murderous.  The reminder of Logan and OC's untimely death always hurt.  They'd been her two best friends. Even after Logan and her had called it quits – for good – they'd remained close, eventually finding the virus cure.  It had allowed them to be friends without worry for his life

                Original Cindy had been Max's first real friend –her confidante…the first and only person Max had ever willingly admitted her past to.

                 When Alec had broken the news to Max that cold February morning about the fire at Logan's apartment building -- and the deaths that had resulted from it -- she'd broken down.  The following days had passed in a blur of grief.  Thankfully, Alec and Joshua had been there to offer their comfort and support.  Max didn't know what she would've done without them.

                "Don't you find it a bit odd, 452" White began, breaking off her thoughts.  "That those around you always seem to meet an unfortunate end?  You're poison to everyone you touch," he said, repeating the words that Renfro had spoken to her so long ago.  White paused, dark eyes swirling with hate. "Everyone," he spat venomously.

                Max's gaze narrowed.  "What the hell are you talking about?"

                White threw something at her feet and turned his back to her.  Glancing down, Max realized it was the newspaper article he'd been reading when she and Alec had first entered.  She bent to pick it up. 

                The black, bold headline read 'Overnight House Fire Kills Three" The article was dated March 11th.  That was almost six months ago.  Confused, Max skimmed further.  On the right of the story was a picture of the family that had perished.  A young couple stood in front of a somber looking little –

                "Oh my God," Max whispered.

                "Max, what?" Alec demanded, moving to look over her shoulder. " What is it?"

                "Ray White.  He's…he's  dead."

                White spun on his heel and glared at her, eyes bright with unshed tears.  For a moment, Max felt pity for the man.  But then she remembered the dying X's – ones who were getting sicker as she stood here. 

                "I got that in the mail almost a week ago.  My son is dead.  You killed him. If you never had taken him from me, he'd be alive.  You bitch," he spat, face contorting in contempt.

                Guilt briefly panged Max's stomach.  He was probably right.  Logically she knew she'd had no idea that something that horrible could've happened to the boy.  She'd only been trying to protect him.  The fact that he'd died in a fire, in a manner so similar to Logan and Cindy, unsettled her.  She couldn't afford to dwell on that now, though. Not when her people were dying.   "What the hell did you to us?"

                At that, White let out a laugh.  It was raspy, phlegmy and …evil sounding.  It sent cold shivers down her spine.  "Oh, what did I do, you ask?  What did I do…well, I suppose there's no harm in telling you now 452.  You'll be dead soon enough anyway.  All of you will."  Her face blanched, and she felt Alec place a shaky hand on her shoulder. "The Coming.  The Coming has come – "he broke off, coughing fitfully.  Max's eyes widened.

                "Oh, God -- it's killing you too, isn't it?" she whispered.  He waved his hand nonchalantly and for the first time Max realized just how off his gourd he was.  The man had truly gone insane.

                "Small price to pay.  I'd rather die knowing you and your mutant freak friends were going to straight to hell."

                "But what about humans?  Other Familiars?"

                "Unfortunately, humans are immune to this type of virus.  We've been working on it for a while, trying to get that little kink out." He rolled his eyes dramatically.  "Unfortunately, even the best scientists in the world have some trouble with certain things.  As for other Familiars – well, everyone has to make sacrifices."

                "You're fucking crazy," Alec whispered.  For the first time, White looked at him, giving him a sickly smile. 

                "Maybe.  But you're dead…and that's enough for me."  The agent's hand began toying with the gun in his holster.  Alec tensed, preparing to pounce if necessary.

                "Oh, don't worry 494.  I'm not going to kill you. But you will die…very shortly.  He turned his back, dismissing them.  "Maybe you two should leave.  Time is short, and your people are suffering," he coughed again, the force of it racking his body. 

                Max decided to change tactics.  "Look, is there some sort of antidote?  We can take it in time and –"

                "I'm not afraid of death, 452.  I welcome it," he said and shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks.  "Now leave.  You can exit through the front door.  I can assure you no one will harm you.  Whomever's left has greater concerns on their mind than you."  A dark cloud passed over White's face, though neither of the X's saw it as his back was still turned. 

                Max forced the bile down.  There was nothing they could do.  Her  people were dying and she had no way to save them. 

                They turned numbly and exited the room, walking into a narrow hallway.  Offices lined the sides, but they were all empty. The computers were still on and papers were strewn across the desk, as if the occupants had left for lunch or a quick smoke break.  But Max knew better – White had made it abundantly clear.

                He'd sacrificed his own kind just to get his sick and twisted revenge on her.

                She turned and looked at Alec, whose eyes were wide and shocked, still absorbing the same information she was.   She felt lost and confused, and more scared than she could ever remember feeling… from the look on Alec's face, she knew he did too.

                "Alec," she said, her voice breaking as the tears came.  He said nothing as he took her in his arms.   She leaned into him, needing to feel the comfort he provided.  He hugged her tightly to him with a desperation that matched her own. For a moment, they simply stood together, grieving the things to come.

 

                An earsplitting blast from behind interrupted their silent reverie and they jumped apart.  Alec raced back to White's door with Max right on his heels.  He turned the knob and flung it open.  He stopped in horror at way lay in front of him.

                On the floor lay Ames White.  Blood splattered the cherry wood furniture and beige carpet around him.  His unblinking eyes stared up at the ceiling… and the gun he'd used to take his own life still rest in his open mouth…

*~*~*

                ...After that, she and Alec had gone back to Terminal City, broken and waiting to die.  They'd watched as their friends and colleagues rapidly succumbed to the illness.  At first, they'd had to deal with hysteria from a few transgens, and then everyone seemed to accept their fate calmly.  It was eerie, actually, the way no one seemed to question their impending deaths.  It was almost as if they were expecting to die eventually anyways…as if they'd always known something like this would happen.  

                So she'd just watched everyone die, sometimes one by one, most times in rather large groups.  It was the most horrific thing she'd ever seen.

                Then Joshua had fallen ill and it nearly killed her…

*~*~*

                …"Hey big fella," Max said thickly, covering Joshua's body with another blanket.  He lay on a cot, shivering forcefully from his extremely high fever. 

               

Joshua coughed, blood pouring over his lips as he did so, before he answered.  "Hey li'l fella.  Joshua not feeling so hot."  His neck was black and swollen; snot ran from his nose.  It wasn't pretty at all, but at that moment, Max thought he was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen

                But he was dying and she could do absolutely nothing to save him.

                She swallowed, the action burning her throat.  She felt her eyes welling up and she closed them tightly.  "I know, Joshua.  I know."

                 

                "Big fella not going to get better, huh Max?"

                She opened her eyes, a tear finally winning the battle and spilling over.  "No Joshua," she croaked. "I don't think you are. I don't think any of us are."

               

                He sighed, which was a bad idea.  It sent him into another round of coughing fits. Max propped him up against her chest and hugged him until they abated. 

                "Li'l fella will be fine.  Li'l fella special."  The door to the small room opened then as Alec stepped inside.  He took in the scene and his lips thinned. Max's eyes were overbright with tears and Joshua was…sick.  Very sick.  The air of death permeated the room, waiting to take its next victim.  Alec wanted to turn and run out of the room; out of Terminal City.  He knew this moment would haunt his dreams for a long time to come.   

                Joshua smiled at him in greeting.  "Hey, medium fella." 

               

                "Hey Joshua," said Alec, his voice deeper and thicker than usual. He grabbed a chair and settled beside the bed. 

                "Medium fella has to protect Li'l fella when Joshua gone," Joshua breathed, looking pained.

                Alec gave him an odd look and glanced at Max, who was crying openly now.  She brushed Joshua's hair off his sweaty forehead, trying to provide him comfort.

                "Yeah, Joshua.  I'll take care of Max."- if I don't die too, Alec added mentally.

                "Good.  Li'l fella special --"  he coughed again, the fit lasting longer this time. 

                "Shh, Joshua, you need your rest," Max said as she smoothed his cheek.  Joshua began convulsing and gave three loud, lurching gasps.  Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.  Joshua lay unmoving in her arms.

 

                "Joshua?" Max said softly, shaking him and getting no response.    "Joshua?" she repeated, louder this time and fraught with panic.  She shook him harder…but it was useless.

                He was gone.

                Alec dazedly placed one arm around Max's shoulders and the other across Joshua's chest, hugging both to him fiercely.  A feeling of déjà vu swept over him as he remembered the night Annie had died; the way he and Max had attempted to comfort a grief-stricken Joshua... 

                Now, they were trying to comfort each other. 

                Max buried her face in Joshua's hair and sobbed uncontrollably   Alec's own eyes stung, but he wouldn't allow the tears to fall.  Not yet. He couldn't, because if he did, he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to stop…

*~*~*

                ...Max sighed and rolled over on the bed, lost in her thoughts.  There had been days when she'd wanted to get on her motorcycle and leave Seattle but she hadn't wanted to desert her people.  She should've -- everyone would've been much better off without her.   She'd done nothing but bring death and destruction to them.   If only she'd known what The Coming was; if only she'd been able to figure it out before White had set it loose.  She could've prevented all this if she'd only tried harder, done more.  But she hadn't. 

There was so much blood….all on her hands.

                Literally.

                Max raised her arms in front of her and looked at the crimson stains. She was crusty with dirt, as well as being battered and bruised. Hunger pains stabbed her stomach, her body protesting the lack of nourishment.  The thought of food, however, simply made her nauseous. How could she even think about eating when Joshua would never again call her 'Li'l fella'?  When Gem and her baby would never experience the things a mother and her child should? When Mole could never enjoy another one of his cigars?

                When nearly every goddamn occupant of Terminal City lay cold and lifeless on the ground?

                Why had she survived?  It wasn't fair. Too many others had died. She bit down hard on her lip, drawing blood, punishing herself for living  Damn it!  She was supposed to have been their leader, their *messiah* -- but she'd been unable to save them.  The sheer number of deaths was staggering. White had succeeded quite well.

                And she'd been able to do absolutely nothing to stop it.

                Alec had survived, too.  She couldn't understand it.  Everyone else had died but her and Alec.

                And they'd shown no signs of getting sick – in fact, they both seemed fit as a fidd-

                "Max!" A deep male voice resonated, penetrating her musings.   She jumped, startled.   Speak of the devil - Alec. "Max, are you okay in there?"

                She said nothing, hoping he'd just go away. She couldn't face him right now. She listened as he pleaded with her, not giving in to the obvious pain in his voice. She didn't dare say a word. A minute or so later, after more ignored pounding and pleads, she heard his footsteps retreating in the hallway. .

                Once again, she was alone.

*~*~*~

                Alec sighed in exasperation as he pounded on the door.  "Max, I know you're in there. Please, let me in."  He paused, waiting to see if she'd respond. When she didn't, he continued, "Max, just talk to me. Just say something. Please."  His voice cracked with emotion.  A minute passed and still nothing. He let out another sigh, this time in frustration and turned from the door. 

                He was worried about her. He knew the guilt she must be feeling, the horror, the sadness. It wasn't her fault, but she was bound to be holding herself responsible. It's just the way she was. He waited a bit longer, thought briefly about picking the damn lock and busting in, but decided against it. She'd talk when she was ready. That's the one thing he'd learned about her in the past year.

                They'd finally stopped wanting to kill each other … or rather *Max* had stopped wanting to kill *him* -- the night they'd discussed his twin.  Not long after, the struggle of their small nation began with the hostage situation at Jam Pony.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  They started spending more time together after that -- plotting, planning and strategizing the war effort.  Eventually they weren't merely discussing their cause, but about life in general.  Alec began to trust her with his most intimate secrets -- he'd even shared the story of Rachel.  Max had shocked him when she offered him a shoulder to cry on.  He surprised himself more when accepted.

                She became his best friend…in many ways his only friend.

                And somewhere along the way, he'd fallen in love with her.  

                Of course, Max had no idea he cared so deeply.  There was no reason for her to.  God knew their lives were already complicated enough.  Over the past year she'd had an ex-boyfriend and a best friend die, she'd been responsible for leading a people to freedom, she was trying to keep a psycho Familiar from killing her…and then today...

                Oh, God.  Today.  So many people died today. 

                He didn't want to think about today.  It revolted him.  It made him want to cry in agony and scream in frustration. 

                Why in the hell had he survived?  He could figure Max -- she'd unknowingly been tagged 'special' since the day she was born -- but why him?

He couldn't understand, and it left him unsettled to no end.  Two people had survived The Coming, and he knew he shouldn't have.

He knew it.

                Alec glanced at his watch.  It was one in the morning. Just a little over twelve hours ago Terminal City had been a lively place. He'd been chatting it up with Max.  Others had been milling about, most of them preparing for a routine weapons raid on a nearby army facility.

And then wham!  In less than two seconds, with one tiny sneeze, his life changed for ever.   An unseen enemy --a deadly one.

The certainty of his own imminent death lingered around him all day.  He'd watched his friends die  -- his family -- one by one and he'd been unable to do a damn thing about it. 

He should've died with them, but he hadn't. 

He knew he should be thankful, but he felt guilty. 

 If he'd believed in a heaven or a God he might have called it a miracle…but he didn't.  He was just fucking lucky -- and even luck was a hard thing for him to swallow.

Could he have prevented this somehow?  He had the sinking feeling that he may have been able to, if only he'd known more.

                He couldn't allow himself to dwell on the guilt.  It would accomplish nothing.  It wasn't even an option  -- he simply didn't function that way. 

                He sighed and flopped down in a chair.  The TV was still on and there was a special news bulletin.  Already the media was reporting rumors that Terminal City and all its occupants had perished in by some strange illness, film at eleven.  Damn, they were quick.  What were their sources?  However, their story was only partially -- well, mostly --right. 

The military would soon be sending people into TC to look at the bodies of the dead ... the freaks ... poking through them with cold calculation. The thought revolted Alec.  Forcing down the bile in his throat, he wished he could prevent it, but knew he didn't have enough time or power.   He may be genetically engineered, but he was no good as an army of one.

He'd already buried Joshua; Dalton and Gem and her daughter were next.  Then he and Max would hightail it the hell out of here.  He had no idea where they'd go, but as long as they stuck together they could make it.  He could watch over her, protect her, and with each other's support they could figure out the next step. 

Hell, after today, they might very well be the only two transgenics in the world.

The thought absolutely frightened him.

*~*~*~*

She'd need to leave soon.  She brought nothing but death and pain to those who'd trusted their lives with her.  And now…now all she had left was Alec.  The thought of something happening to him chilled her to the bone.  As long as she was around, he'd probably be in danger -- even if her nemesis was dead.  Being around her in general was just very, very bad. 

Hell, the death of an entire race was on her hands.

Alec had almost died once in the past forty-eight hours. Thank God she'd been able to give him a transfusion.  He'd lost a lot of blood, but Max guessed a bullet would do that to a person.  Two millimeters to the right and…and it would've been his artery.  What if…? 

She couldn't bear to think it.  He'd survived last night and somehow, he miraculously survived today.  That's all that mattered.  And she'd rather go to her grave knowing that he was alive than have to lose the last person who was important in her life. 

If that meant her leaving, so be it.

Max moved as if she was in a dream, not allowing herself to think anymore, about anything.  It was all too painful, too fresh, too surreal.  Her world had shattered in less than twelve hours. If she thought anymore, she'd go insane. Instead she focused on stuffing a few articles of clothing and necessary toiletries into a large duffel bag. The smell of death permeated the room and a wave of nausea overcame her.  She wobbled on her feet and she had to sit down to regain her balance.

After a few minutes, Max felt strong enough to stand again.  She exhaled heavily and grabbed a pencil from her desk.  She quickly scribbled a note for Alec, hoping he'd find it in his heart to someday forgive her and realize that she'd done what was best for both of them.

                Max ignored the tears that rolled down her cheeks and her screaming heart.  She was putting her feelings aside for once and doing the right thing…but the right thing was so damn painful. 

*~*~*

Alec,

                Thank you -- for everything.  I wanted  to

Just be careful.

Max

He stared at the letter, words blurring together as he read and reread it over and over.

                She was gone.

She was gone.

                He wanted to cry.  He wanted to throw up.  He wanted to scream at her.  He didn't know what he wanted.  He just knew that he was …scared.   And angry.  Just like her to run when she couldn't solve a problem by kicking ass. 

                He sighed.  That wasn't entirely fair – the girl was hurting deeply now.  Probably more than he was…but goddamnit!  He was in pain, too. 

                And he needed a friend…he needed her.

                This hurt.  Badly.

                He'd find her.  He'd have to.  He wasn't letting her run away from this, from him --

The Space Needle!

Yes! He shoved the paper into the pocket of his bloodied jeans. No doubt Max would go there before leaving.  He'd stop her and convince her to change her mind.  He'd convince her that they werenbetter off sticking together -- sticking with their own kind.  He'd convince her to not go and leave him alone… 

Alec exited the back door and hopped on his motorcycle.  He started it up and revved the engine, the sound echoing in the late night.   He split the darkness like a demon hell-bent on death. 

He had to hurry.

 She had to be there.

That he might already be too late was simply unthinkable.

*~*~*

Max looked out over the sparkling lights of the city.  Behind her, the moon cast an angelic glow around her.  She was haggard, tired and blood still marked her hands. 

                Hands that held people as they lay dying in her arms. 

The wind whipped hair into her eyes, stinging her retinas. She didn't bother to brush it away.

This was the last time she'd sit atop the Needle pondering her life and the universe. She found Ben up here.   She'd been so torn between being happy to see him again and the knowledge that he was a cold-blooded serial killer. 

She remembered bringing Logan up here before that doomed raid on Manticore -- the night before she'd died'.

Alec had become a regular up here, starting with the night she'd let Logan falsely believe she and Alec were an item. Though she had never admitted it, Alec had made her feel better that night just by being here.  He didn't press her to talk, he'd just offered his silent support and an ear. 

Eventually, she began opening up to him and shared her thoughts and feelings -- both about life in general and Terminal City -- a moan caught in Max's throat and the floodgates opened.  Sobs racked her weak body, straining muscles. She cried tears of regret and loss, mourning everyone who'd died both today and the past year. Logan, Cindy, Joshua, Gem, Dix, Mole and even Ray White.

She wept for the city she would never see again, the only place she'd ever been able to call home.  She grieved for Max Guevera, the girl who'd lost any innocence she'd had left today.  She could never be her again. That girl had died along with the others.

After tonight, she was a changed woman with a future as black as the distant ocean.

The tears subsided after awhile. Max stood up slowly, her throat scratchy and eyes swollen. Her night was just beginning, however.  Maybe she'd head south. California could be nice.  Maybe LA, or San Fransisco.

With one final sweeping look at the city, Max turned her back. She needed to get going. The road was long and the journey would be tiresome.

It was time to start her new life.

*~*~*~*

Alec rushed up the stairs of the tower and climbed quickly through the broken window. Holding his breath, he looked out and--

Nothing.

She wasn't here.

With numb legs, he made his way to the end of the Needle and looked down. It was a long way to the ground.  Dizziness washed over him and he swayed forward.  For a moment, Alec wondered what it felt like to fly…

He quickly backed away and felt his legs give way beneath him.  He crumpled into a kneeling position and stared blankly out into the clear Seattle night.

Gone.  She was gone.

He couldn't believe it.  She'd left.  She'd left him.  She'd run.

Again.

Far below he could hear the distant sounds of the few cars that were on the streets at this late hour.  The wind carried the splash of the ocean softly to his ears. His mind threatened to get away from him. The last thing that had kept him sane during the day had been the thought of at least having Max, knowing she was okay.  But now...

Max was gone.

So was everyone else.

He was utterly alone.

                Alec clenched his jaw and balled his hands tightly in his lap.  His shoulders sagged as he bent his body forward, resting his forehead on the frosty Needle floor.  He gasped for air, throat raw and lungs burning from the effort.  Suddenly he slammed a fist onto the metal ground beside him.  The force splintered his bones but the pain barely registered.   Instead, he focused his energy on maintaining his last remnants of control.

It was a futile effort.

The tears he tried so hard to keep in check fell anyway.

*~*~*~*

ONE WEEK LATER

People buzzed about Orient Express picking up packages to be delivered, yelling out directions or making plans for the after hours.  Jim Watson was paying attention to the exceptionally loud television in the corner.  The news was reporting another death from the mysterious illness that had killed all those freaks in Seattle and a few humans across the country.  Apparently, Senator McKinley out in DC had contracted it and died yesterday.  Oh well.   Jim had never cared for the poor bastard anyway, nor did he give a damn about those mutants.   He sighed and turned the TV off as a young blond girl walked through the door.  She paused for the briefest of seconds, taking a deep breath, before continuing on toward him.

"Can I help you, miss?" Jim asked as she approached.

 She leaned against the counter and nervously licked her puffy lips. "I'm here about a job...?"

Jim cocked his head to one side. She was pretty enough, though she looked like she could use a decent meal or two. Her short, messily cut hair -- had she done it herself? -- hung limply around her gaunt face.  Her skin was too olive for her to be a natural blond, and she had a smudge on her cheek.  The poor thing didn't look like she'd showered in days.  He guessed her to be about twenty-one or so, but her almond-shaped brown eyes held a deep sadness that belied her age.  He felt a tug on his heartstrings and offered a warm smile. "Have you had any experience as a messenger before?"

"Yes, I have," she answered softly. 

He felt that pull on his heart again. Whatever her burden, it was indeed heavy. "Well, let me go to my office and get you an application, Ms…?" he trailed off, waiting for her to fill in the blank.

The girl looked thoughtful for a moment, raising a thin eyebrow and biting her full lower lip.

"My name's Sara," she finally answered. "Sara Rutherds."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Special thanks to Valjean and Skeed for beta-ing.  You may recognize some similarities between The Coming and Stephen King's 'The Stand'.  I hope you'll forgive this – I always envisioned The Coming to be like his superflu.

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