Chapter Nine

"Your call, Max," Alec said solemnly.

"What?" Max turned toward him, her brow wrinkled in confusion.

"Do we go after Ming or leave them to the security in there? Hopefully, the mayor's gone. Ming won't get his target."

Her face cleared in understanding. "Ming will either kill his way to the mayor's office, or they'll get themselves killed. I don't want either, so let's go."

Alec closed his eyes briefly in resignation. Until that moment, he'd had the last vague hope that they weren't going to have to go into City Hall or have to talk down their own people. As usual, his hopes, no matter how big or small, went up in smoke.

By the time Alec opened his eyes again, Max was already moving. As surreptitiously as possible, they hurried across the open areas, moving from shelter to shelter until they reached the door they'd seen Ming disappear through.

Once inside, they found they were in a poorly lit corridor that was most likely used for maintenance. Alec could hear the heavy whirring and groaning of the heating system and smell the musty scent of the furnaces.

Max carefully worked her way down the corridor and Alec followed. Without warning, an arm reached out. In a blur, Max was whipped around and locked in place, a knife digging into her neck. At first, Alec only saw the blood, but he quickly focused his attention on the man holding the blade.

"That isn't really necessary, Ming." Alec forced himself to remain calm and steady. Max was desperately holding her head up at an awkward angle trying to keep the knife from slicing further into her skin. Ming's hold on her had her completely immobilized and Alec had memories of training sessions on how to do exactly what Ming was doing. They'd also been given lessons on how to extract themselves from that particular hold, but Max had been gone for years by the time they'd had those training sessions.

"It isn't necessary?" Ming hissed. "Tell me you two aren't here to stop me and I'll let her go."

"We're here to tell you that the mayor's already been moved," he replied evenly. "You're walking into a trap and we all need to get out of here."

Ming's eyes narrowed and the hand holding the knife at Max's neck dug in a little deeper causing her to gasp. "And why exactly was the mayor moved?" Ming demanded.

"Because there are only a handful of us left and you're about to get your whole team killed which is exactly what the mayor wants," Alec replied steadily. "Not to mention, I don't want to be one of those Transgenics who murdered Seattle's mayor. I want to be one of those poor Transgenics who's a victim of circumstance, or one of those poor Transgenics who survived the massacre that's all over the TV right now." He looked him in the eye. "Just once, I don't want us to be the bad guys and you're about to make us the bad guys permanently. More importantly, though, I want us all to live, and this plan of yours is going to get us killed."

"Who cares what they think?" he spat. "They're going to murder us no matter what." His eyes narrowed dangerously. "I want him dead for what he's done and he's going to die."

"Are you willing to kill one of your own to make that happen?" Alec demanded.

Ming's grip on Max tightened and her eyes widened in panic, pleading with Alec to do something. It took everything he had not to shoot Ming where he stood. Alec might understand where Ming was coming from and even agree, but if he hurt Max one more time, Alec would take him out and just work on the guilty conscience later.

"This is pointless," Alec said angrily. "The mayor isn't here and we need to go. Radio your people to fall back before it's too late."

"Oh, it's already too late."

Max, Alec and Ming all turned at the sound of the voice. The leader of the black ops team was standing only a few feet away with a gun aimed directly at Max. It looked high enough caliber that it would go through Max and hit Ming as well.

His movements a blur they were so fast, Ming pulled the knife from Max's neck, flipped it and threw it at the gunman. The knife buried itself in the man's neck, just above the edge of his body armor, and Alec couldn't manage even an ounce of sympathy. Ming might want the mayor's head, but Alec would be just fine to see this one dead at his feet.

Rather than wait to see if the knife had done the trick, although Alec knew Ming had been aiming to sever his spine, Alec blurred forward and punched the man hard enough to put down an elephant. The gunman crumpled to the ground and didn't move again. Alec kicked the gun out of his hands and hurriedly turned back to Ming and Max.

Unfortunately, he turned back to find Ming with a gun in his hand. He shoved Max toward Alec and then leveled the gun on both of them. Alec almost smiled at the furious look Max turned on Ming. The guy better hope Max never caught him when he was unarmed.

"This isn't over," Ming said through gritted teeth. He used his free hand to hit the transmit button on his radio and ordered the others to withdraw. "You can't watch the mayor 24/7 and it only takes one bullet."

Alec rolled his eyes. "Yeah. I took the same classes you did, Ming. I know the drill."

"Then you should know better than to let an enemy get away," he snapped angrily. He moved toward the fallen gunman and retrieved his knife, absentmindedly wiping the blood off on his pants leg.

"I just want to make sure we get away," Alec replied.

"You two idiots need to stop talking," Max cut in. "The rest of this guy's team must be in the building. We have to go."

Now that he focused, Alec could hear the sound of approaching feet. The goon squad definitely went for the pack mentality. Simultaneously, he heard the exterior door they'd used to enter the building being opened.

"Crap, they've got us surrounded." Alec looked around them for the best choice of cover while Max did the same.

"You two do what you want," Ming said. "I'm not running from them again." He turned toward the exterior door and raised his gun.

Alec didn't wait to see the rest, although he heard the shots being fired plain enough. As one, he and Max turned the other way. They had both spotted a door within easy distance. Max led the way and Alec was close behind. The sound of footsteps was close and there were only seconds to spare when Max snapped the lock home.

"They're in there," Alec heard someone say, followed by the distinct jarring of a boot slamming into the door.

"Leave them," another man ordered. "That room's a dead end. One of you stay and shoot them if they come out. Otherwise we'll deal with them later. The rest of you find the other rats before they get back into the sewers."

"Great," Alec sighed. "Just great."

"We're alive, aren't we?" Max replied.

"For now." The problem was that whatever room they were in was pitch black. There were no lights and only the dimmest bit of illumination was coming from under the door. "Find a switch or something," Alec said. "If we're going to die, I'd kind of like to see it coming."

"What do you think I'm doing? Working on a dance routine?" She banged into something and muttered several unladylike words under her breath.

Despite the swearing, Alec could hear the slight amusement in her voice and was puzzled. "Why are you happy about this?" he demanded. "We're stuck in here and probably gonna die."

"But the mayor's ok and Ming's crew will probably get out. Maybe not Ming," she didn't sound too broken up about that, "but his crew will."

Alec rolled his eyes even though she couldn't see it. "Yeah. Super. They'll get out, change their plan and kill the mayor tomorrow or get themselves killed tomorrow. I am so happy."

"And I thought I was the bitchy one." He heard her sigh. "First things first. Find a switch. We need another way out of this room."

For several minutes, they both fumbled around in the dark until finally Alec heard Max make a small sound of triumph, followed by light coming from a bare bulb where she'd found a string hanging down in the middle of the room.

They both took a quick look around and saw that the gunman had been correct. They were in a large walk-in supply closet. It had shelves lining the walls which were piled with old bits of office equipment as well as boxes of every kind of office supply imaginable. It had everything needed except for a second exit.

As soon as Alec came to that conclusion, he did the only thing he could. He promptly half-fell, half-sat on the floor with his back to the shelves. His ribs and shoulder hurt so badly, he wanted to sit there for a week and not move.

"You ok?" Max asked.

"Why wouldn't I be ok?" Alec gave her an incredulous expression. "I've had the stuffing beat out of me, I've been shot, I've been dragged here against my better judgment and now we're about to be shot like fish in a barrel. It's like Christmas!"

Max didn't reply. Instead she huffed out an annoyed breath and walked over to him. She sat down by him and Alec couldn't help noticing how loose-limbed she was. He wondered if the blood loss was giving her problems. Knowing Max, it probably was and she was refusing to give in to any weakness.

"You know we're gonna have to fight our way out of here in a minute or two, right?"

"Yeah," she answered simply. "Just give me a sec."

For Max that was practically an admission of being nearly at death's door and he felt bad for whining about his own issues. "Ok."

They fell into silence and unlike earlier it wasn't completely awkward. He didn't know why. After what he'd said to Max in the sewer, it really should be, but for some reason, the knowledge that he'd finally just laid it all out there for her was somehow… freeing. Granted, he still wasn't sure how Max was taking it, but for his part, that was the only thing that had gone well that day.

Alec gave Max a sidelong glance and immediately forgot about what he was going to say. The wound on Max's neck was oozing blood. He pulled his t-shirt out and ripped a strip off the bottom. Without giving her a chance to protest, he turned and pressed the bit of cloth to her neck, using his other hand against the opposite side of her neck to steady himself.

"Hey! I can do it myself," she protested, but Alec swatted her hand away.

"You can't see it. Just let me." The idea of being able to touch her without getting punched for it was a pleasant side effect. He could feel Max's pulse under his fingers and the knowledge that it sped up at his touch was also a nice thing to find. She might still have Logan on the brain, but that didn't mean she wasn't affected. "You sure you're ok?" he asked.

"Fine," she said through gritted teeth, unable to look him in the eye.

Alec sniffed. "I may have to rethink my stance on not killing Ming."

Max shrugged it off. "It's not that bad."

"Maybe I don't like seeing you hurt," Alec admitted, making Max give him a sidelong glance of surprise. "Maybe it pisses me off."

Her lips twitched in a half-smile. "Well, I'm not exactly thrilled about it."

Alec pulled the bit of cloth away and saw that the cut had stopped bleeding. He hadn't been kidding about killing Ming. The wound was deep. If she'd been a normal human she might have been in real trouble, and it wasn't like she had any extra blood right then to spare.

Alec used the cloth to try to clean her neck up a bit. Max held her breath while he did so, still not looking at him, but clearly as aware as he was of how close they were, and that Alec was touching her far more than was normally allowed.

Once he'd done the best he could, Alec tossed the cloth aside and reluctantly pulled his other hand away, letting it slide from her neck a little slower than was necessary. Max noticed it too. She let out a tiny gasp through her parted lips.

"You should be all right," he told her. "Just don't go ripping it open again. I think he was trying to gouge his way through to the other side."

Max nodded, still refusing to look at him. "Hopefully it'll hold long enough for us to get out of here."

"Right. You ready?"

Max pursed her lips. "As I'll ever be."

Alec rose first, groaning at the strain on his overtaxed muscles. He then held out his hand and Max took it, once again letting him know just how much Max was still affected by the blood loss.

"Let's make this quick," Alec said, taking the lead since he was the one who was armed.

Together, they walked to the door and without warning threw it open. Alec was already firing before he crossed the threshold. He put the waiting gunman down without a second thought, then stopped and listened.

"Something's going on upstairs," Max whispered.

Alec heard it too, the sound of fighting, of suppressed gunfire. The radio the black ops guy was wearing crackled to life. It was an earpiece, but he and Max heard it nevertheless.

"Converge on the third floor. They got past us. Don't let them get to the mayor!"

More soon…