Title: THE MISSION

Synopsis: The cure for the virus keeping Max and Logan apart may still be out there. Alec is sent on a mission to recover it, but will his mission change everything in ways no one ever anticipated? [Alec & Max: Romance/Hurt/Angst/Action]

Notes: Just scribbling/typing some DA fic to stave off the writer's block for my next actual novel (don't tell my editors ). I was completely inspired to jump back into fanfic after reading other DA stories. I loved the show and sorely miss the characters, so here goes. Not entirely sure where this is going, but I do love suggestions from readers so post 'em if you got 'em. [Updated to fix the worst of the typos]

# # # #

Terminal City: Six months after the siege began

"Max?" Mole growled around the wet stump of the cigar clenched in his teeth. "Ralph reported in. They got the medical supplies. They're taking them in through the north tunnel."

"Right," she nodded and ground the heels of her hands into her eyes. Shark DNA or not, a few minutes of sleep each week was still necessary; it just hadn't happened this week.

She was hoping to crash on the lumpy sofa in the ramshackle room that had become her office. The latest supply run was the biggest sortie on the agenda for the week. Mole's report confirmed all went well. No mention of casualties meant a lot less chaos to follow—assuming none of the sterile supplies got dumped in the drink as the team humped the boxes through the tunnels that were usually flooded with rancid rain water filing through a disbursement system teeming with toxins that kept the Ordinaries a safe distance from the transgenic/transhuman outpost.

They were mostly at a détente with the authorities. News reports still insinuated that alleged spikes in crime or the occasional violent protest in Seattle was the work of the Manticore alumni, but (often through the Eyes Only InformantNet) the truth usually proved the allegations false. Usually.

They were not saints, Max knew. They did their fair share of stealing and could use force to get what they needed. They were not savages; they were survivalists. They only did what they needed to do in order to see another day and see that their fellow genetically enhanced brethren could do the same.

Most of them, anyway.

There was always an exception to that rule and more often than not that exception had but one name attached: Alec.

The former assassin, former cage-fighting champion, former slacker of a bike messenger had remained a hustler. Not that Max particularly minded all the time. His skills at finding the un-findable, brokering the seemingly impossible deal and (yes, sad yet sinfully necessary) stealthy skills at locating and heisting high-end objects to fence so they could buy the hard to get items like medicines were admirable. To a point. That his living quarters in Building Four was the only one with a large, plasma screen TV, comfy leather furniture, reliably hot water and a refrigerator that nearly always contained (in addition to the simple rations and food stores allotted to all residents of the TC) a cold six-pack, fresh apples and even ice cream, was something she had words with him over more than once. Each time, he offered her his trademark so-practiced hurt and shocked look that never convinced her of his innocence and always left her wanting to smack the back of his head a little harder.

"Max, you really think I'm running some scam on the side?" he would gasp. "I got what you asked. I didn't sell any of it on the way back. I didn't take a cut at the expense of everyone here."

"Then explain how you've got the makings of a party in your fridge," she countered.

He would shrug, unconcerned, and answer her. His words she knew to be the truth but they still lacked in helpful details.

"I know a guy," Alec would say.

But he hadn't said that in a while. Not to her anyway. Not to anyone in TC, in fact.

Alec was gone.

# # # #

Four Months Earlier...

A few weeks after the standoff at Jam Pony, the Eyes Only InformantNet hit on a cache of research documents in an underground bunker discovered 50 miles north of Seattle. Included in the sea of nearly incomprehensible files was a listing of scientists from around the world who had been under contract with Manticore. It was unlikely most ever knew who was employing them or what precisely their research would be used for, but their guilt was not the issue. The issue was what they knew and whether they were still alive. Logan Cale, the street name and face of the secretive Eyes Only, knew better than to get his hopes up, but he felt at first that there was real promise in three of the leads.

He presented his report to Max over the satellite feed a few days after he received the files. She was insanely busy setting up the compound that was turning into the only refuge for the former Manticore soldiers. He hated cutting into their survival preparations with something so seemingly insignificant, but this was something they both wanted and (he convinced himself) something that might help her understand what the mysterious Sandeman had done to her that was now spawning cryptic tattoos on her body. Learning that might help them neutralize Ames White and the Familiars from the fanatical breeding cult currently seeking to eradicate Max and her troops from the planet.

"There's three of them that shouldn't be ignored," Logan reported over the feed that day. "Brezhinski, O'Connell and Meinke. O'Connell and Meinke should be easy to get to-they're both in North America. One is in Southern California and the other is in Toronto."

"Are they protected?" Max asked. The last thing she wanted to do was send her people out on a dangerous mission just so she could let her boyfriend cop a feel once the seige ended.

"That's the best part," Logan said without being able to hide his grin. "They're just regular doctors now. They're not being watched as far as I can tell. They're not in any protective custody. One works as a medic in a factory and the other is an ER doctor. Looks like they both fell on hard times in the last few years. That alone tells me Manticore forgot about them so they should be easy to contact."

"Or they're nobodies and that's why Mommy Dearest didn't use the coat hanger on them," said an expected voice behind Max.

She turned to see Alec standing in the room, hands in his pockets and rocking on his heels.

"You don't knock?" she asked.

"Not usually, no," he shook his head confidently then flashed his naughty, impish grin at her to let her know he wasn't sorry for his intrusion. "What's going on?"

Logan bristled at that. Getting Max to have a private conversation with him was hard enough. She was devoting all of her time to the TC and getting it up and running to meet her people's needs. Taking five minutes to chat with him was asking a lot. Alec interrupting, apparently for his own childish pleasure, did not sit well with the cyber-journalist.

It wasn't that he was jealous of Alec precisely. He knew now that Max had lied about a relationship with him in order to push Logan away. She had done that to protect him and give him a chance to move on. It hurt him when he saw the two outside her apartment that morning. Logan's relationship with Max was always complicated as there were so many things working against them, then Alec arrived and everything got worse. In fact, Logan was certain there was something in the guy's DNA cocktail that required him to mess up everything he came into contact with. Knowing Alec could see Max anytime he liked, which did seem to be rather often in Logan's experience, bothered the crusading journalist. The guy was a loner and a scam artist. He was a self-preservationist and an egomaniacal, happy-go-lucky sociopath. What he was doing staying with the people at TC was a mystery to Logan. Alec's motives, at all times in Logan's opinion, were suspect.

Not that he didn't like the guy. On some level, it was hard not to admire a few things about him. He was creative when it came to his schemes, and he was quick on his feet. Being an alpha transgenic, bravery was part of the standard package, but he was not the go in guns blazing type. He was the sort who would willingly walk into a guns-drawn standoff and ask (quite calmly while fighting the hints of a confident smirk): "Is there a problem here? Everyone sees a tad upset."

Still, he looked out for number one first and foremost. Sure, he did stick up for his fellow Manticore creations, and he was (relatively) loyal to Max. Overcoming more than two decades of indoctrination and training to be a covert operative with hidden agendas and stone-cold assassin's skills was not going to be undone by a rallying speech from Max.

"Logan has a lead on some Manticore doctors who might be able to...," she began to explain but stopped as Alec cut her off.

"Take the whammy off you so you two can...," he raised his fist and pumped it forward a few times then nodded his understanding. "Very nice. Glad that's on our priority list still. Um, while you're working on curing Logan's libido issue, I'm going to take Bullet on a run for supplies."

"Wait," Max said, turning her attention away from the monitor. "We just did a run yesterday. What did we miss?"

"The new walk-ins who showed up this hour," Alec said matter-of-factly, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to gesture to the complex outside her door.

"How many?" she asked.

"Three girls, all trailing toddlers in need of something other than mildly radioactive water to drink," he replied.

"Six more people?" Max repeated. "The kids, they're all...?"

"Final exams from their breeding partners, yeah," Alec nodded as he grinned and tossed her a lecherous wink. "Good thing you and I didn't follow those orders, huh? You'd be about ready to pop by now, too."

He cocked his head to the side and a sly grin played on his lips. What his precise thoughts were she did not know and did not care to know. Instead, Max glared at him. The firm line of her mouth was sufficient reprimand to make him throw up his hands in temporary surrender. The glare just encouraged him to continue smirking as he sauntered out the door and yelled for his one-man backup to assemble.

Max shook her head, sighed and turned back to the monitor with a half-guilty, half- apologizing look.

"Sorry," she said. "Alec is..."

"There, yeah," Logan grimaced. "I know."

Max heard the resentment in his tone and tried to ignore it. There was always a little tension between Alec and Logan. Alec did not understand Logan's big-picture altruism. Logan thought Alec an amoral jerk a few burned brain cells shy of being a psychopath (something she suspected Alec would take as a compliment); to his credit, Logan was usually glad Alec was on their side. He just envied his proximity to Max. Logan's recent sour attitude to Max's fellow transgenic was mostly her fault. Her lie about a relationship with Alec hurt Logan deeply. Rather than plow through that minefield again, she trudged on with the conversation at hand.

"So, you think these doctors have some answers?" she asked almost listlessly. There was nearly no point in getting her hopes up about any of it-a cure for her and Logan or the mystery of Sandeman's puzzle in her DNA.

"I think we'd be fools not to find out," Logan said cautiously. "Of course, we'll need some..."

He did not get to finish what they needed because there was noise and another voice behind Max, stealing her attention.

"Max?" Gem questioned, grave concern filled her eyes.

She entered the room pressing Eve, her infant daughter into her shoulder while patting the fussy baby's back. The child, born during the standoff at Jam Pony and altercation with White's strike force of Familiars, was growing fast in Max's estimation. She was fortunate, no barcode had yet appeared on the child's neck. The reason for this was still unknown. It was both a sign of worry and relief to the child's mother. The relief was that her baby might one day live free of the prejudice and fear the transgenics faced currently; the fear was that she might not have the transgenic makeup, thus leaving her vulnerable to the toxins that kept the Ordinaries outside the perimeter but that the transgenics and transhumans were immune to. So far, the child was not fairing badly, but the concern was etched in Gem's face every time Max saw her.

"Is Eve okay?" Max asked instantly.

"Just fed her," Gem said. "She's gassy and won't give it up."

"Oh," Max shrugged, knowing next to nothing about babies other than there were a lot more in TC that day than when they started.

Controlling the population was yet another issue she was tackling. Not surprisingly, Alec volunteered for that assignment: sex control. He suggested offering sex passes (complete with condoms) to those who did the best work (judged by him no doubt) and thus stem the tide of any sudden baby boom caused by transgenic females in heat being so close to, as he put it, a ready supply of virile and willing transgenic males with nothing productive to do each evening except pace, check ordinance or screw. As expected, he managed to look shocked when his offer to dole out sex passes (something Max would never allow, but was sure if she did, he would find a way to keep a ready supply of approved slips for himself either for personal use or to sell on his personal blackmarket) was declined.

"What's up?" Max asked, shaking memories of that loud and (at the end physical) refusal/altercation with Alec aside.

"About Alec," she said. Max sighed and hung her head wondering what he had done now, "did you okay him to bogart a herd of goats?"

"A herd of...?" she stopped short. "I didn't okay him to do anything."

She replayed their brief discussion in her head. He said supplies. He said he and Bullet were making a supply run and then linked the need to several newly arrived toddlers who would do better on milk than water. The hijacking livestock part of the plan was not mentioned. Max never even approved the artfully-crafted innocuous mission nor had he asked for such approval. Still, the rules were that no one left without express consent from command. That Alec considered himself part of command was expected; that Max hadn't automatically realized he was only giving lip service to her rules was an error on her part and evidence of how chaotic things were at the TC. She ground her teeth together and stood with an explosive sigh.

"Where is he?" she demanded.

"He and Bullet were moving fast," Gem replied as the infant continued to resist the efforts to burp it. "Probably outside the perimeter by now."

Max turned back to the screen with a suffering look.

"I have to go," she told Logan. "We'll talk later."

"Yeah," he said, trying to make it easier on her. "I still have a few things to look into; you go deal with... goats."

The connection terminated. In a sector across the city, Logan stared at the blank screen and sighed regretfully then trudged over to the battered couch. He wanted to be with her, to help her, but the virus kept them apart in many ways. She feared accidental exposure and kept her distance. He did not want to be an impediment to her taking command of the troops, who were more like refugees at this point. Not that he could help anyway. The toxic dump they were calling home would kill him as much as the virus would, only at a slower pace. Then there was the other problem: Her wayward shepherd and resident trouble-finder.

It frustrated Logan to watch Alec and his schemes and plans. The guy had scientifically assigned talents and skills. His choices in how to best employ them, however, were often flawed. He had a heart, Logan supposed, somewhere inside all that bluster, muscle, and hustling, but he was an opportunist. Again, something that Logan suspected was partly the result of engineering. Who knew precisely what was in Alec's cocktail. Certainly there was feline (and Logan suspect a good dash of a jackass strain), but there was also something reptilian—not in the way of Mole or the other transhumans; probably something more along the lines of a chameleon. Alec could blend himself to many situations and fit in, hiding in plain sight. That was his greatest weapon in Logan's estimation and his greatest detriment. He could con people easily with his charm, his smile and his looks. More often than not, he used those gifts for one-night stands with women whose names he only recalled due to his enhanced memory capabilities rather than any interest in remembering them at all.

Still, Logan thought as he eased out of his exo-skeleton and relaxed more completely, Alec was a good soldier. He knew how to take action. He wasn't easily intimidated or stymied by doubts. When he had an objective, he focused on the mission and executed it with precision. He was useful and, much as it pained Logan to admit it, Max needed him. She had the skills of a soldier, but her training ended when she was 12. Alec had a decade of training and battle experience that would be invaluable to her now, if he would stick around and be a team player. So many of the other transgenics who escaped when Max burned the Manticore facility to the ground did not adapt to freedom. Alec, as usual, was an exception. He blended in quickly. Again, the chameleon.

Logan did not like that Alec had such easy access to Max. He prodded and teased and taunted her in a way that was suspect. The man flirted with nearly any woman he met, so it wasn't so much that Logan felt threatened. It was that he was jealous. He doubted Alec capable of caring for Max in the way he cared for her-he loved her for God's sake! Still, Alec was an alpha. He was competitive and those traits in his DNA kicked in when the right triggers were in place. Max had told Logan as much when her brother Zac was last in town. It was Alec who suggested Max's brother/unit leader had more than brotherly feelings toward her. Why Alec picked up on those was a mystery. Original Cindy said he appeared hurt when Max rebuffed his concern. Logan thought, at the time, that it was merely posturing. Zac was an alpha in the classic sense-one that Max recognized as one for he was her unit's leader before they escaped. Alec was a different sort of alpha. He was the loner. He was not a team leader; he was his own kamikaze squadron. He'd also been hauled clear off his feet by the throat by Zac and nearly had his windpipe crushed like a beer can in the process. Alec was strong, no doubt, but for sheer, brute, physical force, he (like most other transgenics) was not match of the behemoth Zac. Logan thought it must have hurt the guy's pride a bit, especially as he got tossed around like a child's toy in front of Max by the guy.

Max.

It came back to her too often for Logan's liking. She was unconquerable territory and that was like a flame drawing in a moth to someone with an ego like Alec's. She was a challenge for him. That's why he kept coming back. Logan doubted there was any newfound conscience or sense of purpose in the conniving commando. Talking to Max was not something he could do much lately, but he wanted to tell her that he was sorry he ever jumped to the conclusion that she had hooked up with Alec. He was insecure about how they were drifting apart and, having just recovered from another accidental contact with Max, he was surprised when she didn't visit him in the hospital. Joshua's transfusion helped, but what he wanted most was to see her, to tell her he didn't blame her. Instead, he saw her, leaving her apartment early in the morning with Alec's arm around her. He thought for a moment that there was something intense and intimate about their interaction that morning, as if something had changed. He felt silly now. The more rational and likely explanation was that Alec was trying to con her, hit her up for a loan or pawn off a delivery on her. That his arm was around her and she didn't seem to be recoiling from it was harder to explain, but Logan now wasn't sure what he really saw. He was still recovering and he did not have a transgenic memory.

# # # #

"Goats?" Max bellowed as three raced around the warehouse adjacent to the building where dozen transgens and transhumans had taken up residence. "Why are there goats here, Alec?"

"Because putting them in your office would be distracting and completely unnecessary," Alec answered.

Bullet, standing at attention beside him, broke his composure briefly and chuckled. This told Max three things. One, the X-6 she and Alec helped rescue from White was finally adjusting to life as not exactly a soldier. Two, Alec's cult of personality likely had a new follower; and three, he had openly considered stashing to goats in her office for a laugh. Why he changed his mind wasn't relevant at the moment. She was just glad he had done so.

"Alec, goats?" she asked again.

"The milk, Ma'am… I mean, Max," Bullet responded. "They're smaller than a cow and they'll eat anything so feeding them helps take care of the garbage problem a bit."

Alec snapped his fingers, pointed at Bullet and nodded as if this was precisely the answer he would have given. Max did not look satisfied.

"The children," Bullet continued, his shoulders still at attention, but his words were slightly less barked than if he was answering a commanding officer while in ranks. "They need something other than water. We can milk the goats. As long as we filter their water and keep them in this quadrant, they should live for a while."

"You're on dairy duty," Max said to Alec with a cold stare. "Next time, ask before you start a farm."

She turned to leave but was caught by the arm.

"I told you what I was doing," he said and felt the full force of her displeased stare. "In a manner of speaking. I said we needed milk. I said I was making a supply run with Bullet. I gave you a briefing, a high level briefing, but that's one of the things about command you need to learn, Maxie. You don't get to have all the details all the time. You need to trust your ranks. They take care of the heavy lifting and you make the big strategic decisions. You needed to know we had new people, they had a need, and we were sending a team to get the supplies. What those supplies were precisely and how we were getting them is not a detail that needs to cloud the thoughts of our fearless leader."

He pet her hair softly, almost patronizingly, as he spoke the last sentence. Her hand flew through the air and smacked the back of his head a millisecond after he stopped stroking her locks.

"There is a protocol in place," she said. "You get permission for a mission before undertaking it. You don't brief me on what you are going to do. You request and are given permission for what you are allowed to do."

"Ah, feels a little too restrictive for me," Alec said shaking his head. "I need a little more freedom than that."

"Freedom?" she repeated and pointed at Bullet and the goats. "Well, there's your team for now. Feel free to offer them as many or as few restrictions as you can handle. You have this whole warehouse to yourself."

"I don't do goats," he shook his head.

"Who is going to care for them then?" she asked and watched as he turned his head dramatically toward the younger transgenic.

"I know goats, Max," Bullet smiled and held up his hand.

Alec nodded proudly and threw an arm around her shoulders.

"He knows goats," he smiled.

Max shirked off his then scoffed and walked away. Alec waved a hand at Bullet, putting him in command of the four-legged charges, then hurried to catch up with Max.

"It's a good idea," he explained. "It'll help the kids and will help our already taxed food supply a bit. Look, we were talking and it seemed like a quick, if possibly temporary, solution. The kid knew where there were goats so… I went with it. No danger. No problems. No one even saw us."

She sighed with resignation as she kept her arms folded, plodding along back to command central. He was right, which was something that jabbed at her, and he wasn't goading her about it, which struck her as odd. It felt almost… responsible. That he had broken the rules to do it was minor in the grand scheme of Alec generated chaos. Her thoughts were muddle on this and she wasn't sure if that was entirely Alec's fault.

Things had changed between them, or within her at least, the night she sprung him from jail where he was being held on murder charges. She had believed he did it when she first heard of the arrest. Alec killed someone? Sure. Not hard to imagine. Brutally murdered them? Definitely possible. The skill and strength were there. The mental state to pull it off? Without a doubt; the guy was a trained, stone-cold assassin with more than a few notches in his belt.

Her rage was boiling over into near delight at the thought of White's team coming for him. Then Alec was brought into the room to see her and he pleaded with her to believe him. He genuinely could not understand why she didn't believe him. It was as if he was shocked she could think him so low and depraved. He was hurt by her certainty that he was guilty. It was when she heard the details of the crime that the knot in her chest turned from a ball of angry fire into an icy knife slicing into her soul. Alec was honestly revolted as he told her about the teeth ripped from the head of the victim and adamant he could never do such a thing.

That was the answer, and it sprung the guilt trapped in her heart. Ben. The culprit was Ben, not the fast-talking, wise-cracking, pain in the ass who looked so much like him.

It was hard to think of Ben as the cold-blooded killer. She knew he was. He had admitted it to her and told her the reason why. His poor, tortured mind twisted in pain and anguish. She had put him down, killed him with her own hands, to save him and end his misery. In her memory, Ben was always strong and capable. He was the one who gave her hope when they lived in that prison camp, training to become deadly weapons. That she was the one who delivered his fatal blow was hard. Having to look into his face and hear his voice everyday from Alec was a form of torture; it was her punishment. Only, she wasn't the only one pained by it. She took out her guilt and her anger on Alec for the simple reason that she could. He was there. Hurting him, pushing him away, battling with him, made the pain easier to ignore. He wasn't Ben. He was nothing like Ben. He was… better.

When forced to state cold, hard facts, she had to admit Alec was a better man than Ben, if only because he wasn't a serial killer. He was not saint, either, but who was? Alec had a good side to him. She had seen it and felt it, despite her reluctance to admit those observations. Alec, the younger and brasher of the twins, was capable of something other than his trademark, brazen self-preservation. She saw the first hints of it when he chose not to kill her to save his own life when Ames White placed a booby trap in his head. It was hardly a magnanimous gesture, but it was a sign, a first spark, of a soul capable of more than selfishness. He may have killed Joshua that night if the transhuman had sported a barcode, but much of that was fear driven behavior. Still, she held the possibility of it against him for a long time. Joshua didn't, of course. Alec apologized and Joshua felt certain he meant it. Of course, the recently freed soldier who jumped them that night wasn't really Alec yet. He was still X5-494. That man and the one who raised his hand to follow her when she assembled their group after the Jam Pony standoff were not really the same. X5-494 was gone. He had changed, somewhat. He had become Alec.

Not that the man followed orders well. He still shuffled off assignments on whoever he could whenever it pleased him. He jockeyed himself into the best position possible when it came to living quarters and amenities. She knew he was still running a betting pool of some sort and his gambling winnings were still spent on any number of unsavory pastimes to include illegal contraband and strippers. If she heard in the near future that he was opening a secret nightclub at TC, she would not be the least bit surprised. She only hoped that he would have the good sense not to run guns, drugs and hookers out of it at the same time; although, that was a restriction he would surely argue about as well. Reprobate was often a fair assessment of his character.

That was why it struck her as odd that he followed her back to her office with the suggestion that she summon Logan on the satellite feed.

"You want to what?" she asked him again.

"I want to hear more about these doctors he tracked down," Alec replied. "If he's onto something, we need to check it out. Look, we don't know everything about who and what we are—you least of all. Rule one of any mission: gather the intel. Well," he threw his arms wide to gesture to the whole complex, "this is a pretty far-sweeping mission we have here. Knowing more can only help us in the long run, right? Maybe we can learn something that will help us with White."

"You know that the point behind any mission to talk to these guys is…," Max began and looked at him with guilt-riddled eyes.

"Yeah, a heat-seeking injection to neutralize that virus," he nodded. "Bonus for us. You get your rocks off with lover boy and maybe you stop riding the rest of us so hard."

She looked at him, feeling worse still. She was tough on everyone in TC; the times needed it, but there was no one she was tougher on than Alec. He withstood her tirades well, knowing (she suspected) that he often deserved them. He would be flip and glib with her in front of those she trusted most. He never put her on the spot when the majority of the troops were in the area. He was, she reluctantly admitted, her second-in-command, although Mole was vying for that post as well. Between the two, she did trust Alec more, if only because she knew his tactics.

They entered her office but she did not automatically turn on the laptop to summon Logan.

"Logan wants to go after the doctors, to talk to them, to see what they know and see they can kill this virus," she said, dropping wearily into her chair.

"And anything else they know," Alec nodded. "Win, win, Maxie."

"No," she said. "We can't send any of our people out there right now. Hell, we can barely do covert runs for food. I'm not risking any of their lives just so…"

"See who's willing to volunteer," he suggested, sitting on the edge of her desk. "You'll get a handful. Guarantee it."

"Why?" she asked suspiciously. "What are you planning?"

"I'm hurt," he said, pressing his palm into his chest and gaping at her. Then he grinned quickly and shrugged. "Actually, I expected that. Truth: Nothing. I just can't stomach the thought of living in this hell hole for the next few weeks or months and only being allowed outside the wire at night for surgically planned runs. Feels too much like being back at home-crap-home Manticore. Seriously, Max, I'll lose my friggin' mind if I have to stay here without any shore leave. "

"Are you saying that because I vetoed your request to be the TC pimp?" she asked.

"Nah," he shook his head. "Sex police isn't my thing, really. I mean, who am I to shatter hopes and dreams of trans on trans lovemaking in the heart of the…"

"Shut up," she snapped and held up her hands. "So, you only want to look into this thing for Logan because you need to roam?"

"No," he said. "We all need answers and this is an opportunity to maybe get some. The chance that, if all goes well, you can finally get some too is merely a bonus that should indebt you to me for, oh, let's say, a year or two—depending on whether Logan makes your toes curl, I guess."

She glared at him. He was rude, crude and incorrigible. He was also, possibly, one of her few hopes, which in itself, made her feel a little more hopeless. That Alec might be her last chance to be with Logan seemed wrong deep in her gut, but she wasn't sure why. He certainly was a capable operative when his head was in the mission. He was a good fighter and a quick thinker. He did (at least lately) follow through when he said he would (assuming there were no insurmountable objects in the way, like getting locked up for murder based on mistaken identity).

"You know we have to check it out," Alec cajoled her. "One way or another, someone needs to talk to those doctors."

She nodded and turned on her computer. It took several moments for the connection to establish. When it did, Logan was seated in front of his screen, smiling eagerly at her. He appeared delighted at her getting back to him so quickly. He had expected the interval to be days rather than a few hours. His joy was evident in his face and his voice.

"Wow, two chats in one day," Logan beamed. "I'm honored."

"You should be," Alec said, standing in front of the desk so he was not seen on screen but could easily be heard. "We're really a sought after bunch."

Logan's face faltered for a moment at the sound of the trangenic's voice. Alec was there. Naturally. Max made the call, but her problem child was in the room preventing the adults from having a real discussion. Logan tried to keep his features frozen in a composed expression.

"Alec," he said through a plastered on smile. "How are the goats?"

"Surprisingly willing to be co-conspirators," he said, finally leaning on the desk and craning his neck so he could see the monitor and be seen by the camera. "You should get one. Joshua said something about giving them obedience lessons. Could be the new hot thing."

"I'll keep that in mind," Logan said. "So, what's up?"

Max figured she had let the two of them dance around each other long enough. She cleared her throat and looked straight into the camera.

"What can you send us about those doctors?" she asked.

Logan offered a litany of details and began typing, firing off an encrypted email that contained various attachments of documents from the files his network brought to him. They discussed the two North American doctors at length. After some checking, Logan had people willing to reach out to the one in Toronto and send him their findings. Max agreed, with pangs of worry and buckets of reservations, that she could seek a volunteer or two from her ranks to pay a visit to the one in California.

"What about number three?" Alec asked. Logan stared into the camera with interest. "I was eavesdropping on your earlier conversation. You said a third name. Brezhinski. Where is he?"

"She," Logan corrected him. "Dr. Svetlana Brezhenski. She's a little further. I was actually checking with folks on her when you called. That one's probably out of reach."

"Dead?" Max asked. It seemed the likely answer. Figures, she thought, she was probably the one with the most useful information.

"I'm not sure," Logan replied. "Her last known address is in Siberia."

"I'm guessing it's too much to hope that there's a Siberia in Southern Florida," Alec wondered then grimaced as Logan shook his head.

"Middle of Russia," he said.

"Ah, Siberia," Alec sighed. "Skol'ko let, skol'ko zim."

"Which is what?" Max asked. "Hey, sweetie, how much for an hour?"

"Close," Alec nodded and smiled wistfully. "It means: How long has it been? Or how many summers, how many winters? Which to them is the same thing."

"And you just thought you'd drop that on us because…?" Logan began.

"Because saying moio sudno na vozdušnoy poduške polno ugrey, while fun, just isn't appropriate in this circumstance," Alec shrugged then translated. "It means my hover craft is full of eels. You know, you'd be surprised how often you have to say that in some locales."

"Bottom line, you speak Russian?" Logan ventured suspiciously.

"Da," he nodded then offered a little more insight. "When you need to pass as a native, it helps to know the language, you know?"

"You did an Op in Russia?" Logan asked.

"Several," he replied. "Where in Siberia? It's a big place. This lady doc might be hard to find. Brezhinski isn't exactly a unique name."

"No, it's not, but I have a lead," Logan replied. "It'll take at least a few days to see if it pans out."

"You have an Eyes Only contact in Russia?" Max asked, impressed at the width and breadth of his network.

"Sort of," he said. "It's a loose affiliation. We're not the only ones fighting corruption. The distance makes it more difficult to make contact, but I may have someone. I haven't talked to her in a long time, but her family was good friends with my parents. Business associates. I haven't talked to her in a long time, but we did bat some email a few years back so I'm not completely without hope."

"Transport?" Alec asked, not caring much about Logan's network of informants enough to want details at this stage.

"Well, that's obviously going to end this little excursion," Max sighed and slouched in her chair. If the contact was still talking to Logan and if she could find the doctor, and if the doctor was still alive there was still the matter of an ocean and thousands of miles to cover in a nation as strapped for gas and supplies as the ailing U.S. was.

"Shipping freighter, cargo hold," Alec said with a casual shrug. "One puts into port every few weeks. Fake papers shouldn't be any trouble; throw a chunk of greenbacks in my pocket to grease any reluctant wheels and it's a go. Then, a week or two on the water and feet dry. Ruck in-country, on foot if necessary, but probably just steal whatever auto I can find. Not a bad time of year to cross the terrain. Another month or two and it would be hellish. You get me the approximate coordinates and I'll find your doctor."

"You're not going," Max said automatically.

"Why not?" Logan and Alec asked at the same time. She looked from the monitor to the operative now perching on the corner of her desk.

"Because… because, it's insane," she said. "The whole world is freaking about transgenics; I'm not sending my guy to Siberia and hope the Russians are somehow more civilized and understanding."

Logan scowled at the "my guy" pronouncement, but let it slide. She was the commanding officer. All her brethren were her guys. That Alec was willing to take off for another country, another continent, to help was as suspicious as it was pleasing to Logan. He wasn't sure he could or would trust Alec on his own. The offer might be a ploy to simply get a new identity. Max quickly tabled the discussion until Logan could get a more precise location on Dr. Brezhenski.

She expected that would be the last she heard of this plan.

She was wrong. A week later, Logan was in her office with a map and many more details. Alec was there as well, pouring over the offerings, showing the first signs excitement in a long while.

"It's not so much of town as a… government camp," Logan revealed pointing to the mark on the map.

"That's about what, 100 miles west, northwest of Khabarovsk?" Alec nodded.

"115," Logan said stiffly.

"Ah," Alec grinned and pointed at the map. "Your scale is off."

"Right," Logan replied flatly. "Sorry. So, she's either the doctor is in charge at this camp that the Russians deny exist or…."

"Or what?" Max asked. "Or she's a prisoner? Great. Now we're considering jail breaks for foreign criminals."

"Hardly the first time," Alec said in an amused whisper. He looked up to see both staring at him. "What? It's not. Why do you think I know Russian in the first place?"

He scoffed as if they should have put that together themselves.

"Look, not everything in my past involves killing people," he said. "Some of them were rescue missions. Granted, I might have been rescuing Dr. Mengele, but hey, he's probably a relative of the guy who cooked me up in the test tube in the first place, right?"

He grinned back at them, his happy-go-lucky approach and attitude about something so horrific stunned Logan and exhausted Max.

"Anyway," Logan said, clearing his throat and moving on. "Two plans. First, and preferred option, we snag the doctor and bring her back to the states. I'll send you with papers to try and make that easy. Second, fallback plan, you get everything out of her that you can and do what you can to set up a communication link for me to talk to her. I can't send you with any equipment to get that done. You'll have to improvise."

Alec winked and clapped him hard on the shoulder as he grinned.

"What I do best," he said.

"I won't be there to save your ass so improvise carefully," Max replied.

The queasy feeling was returning to her stomach, as it had the previous two times they discussed his mission. This wasn't a mission to sustain them. This was selfish undertaking. This would benefit her and only her, if it benefited anyone at all. She could listen to Logan and Alec justify it in big pictures terms all she liked, but it came down to her desire to be with Logan. This wasn't even a sure thing. Logan's contact couldn't confirm Brezhinski was at the camp, only that she had been several years ago. It was too much a of longshot and she'd allowed the two dominate forces in her life to convince her it was more than that. Logan's motivation was obvious: his life was at stake. Sure, he could place substantial distances between him and Max to guarantee his safety, but that's not what he wanted. He wanted a relationship with her that didn't require a satellite link to communicate; he wanted a life with her.

Alec's motivation remained a mystery. She heard his claim that this might help them with White and the breeding cult. She just didn't buy it. No matter how many ways she twisted it in her mind, no matter how often she grilled him a more rational answer, that's all she got. Something was missing. He was holding out on her; she was certain of it. When he left the office after their meeting, she expressed as much to Logan.

"I think you need to accept what you've been telling me since you guys dug in here," Logan said,. "Alec's a changed man… somewhat. He's trying to help, Max. He feels he owes you for all the times you've saved him in the last year. He's a grand gesture kind of guy. Plus, you have to remember what he is."

"Collossal pain in the ass, dipped in pool of braggadocios and rolled in a tray of ulterior motives?" she replied. "Yeah, that's what is worrying me."

"He's a warrior, Max," he said, resisting the urge to reach out and comfort her. He wouldn't even touch her on her clothing for fear of an accidently brush with her skin. It ached to be so close to her and still so far there could be no contact. "He was literally built for this kind of thing. His cocktail wasn't mixed for him to run with a unit. His training taught him how to cope within one, but Alec was created as a loner. Trust me."

She looked at him with questioning eyes. First, she didn't like the tone in his voice. He spoke about a fellow transgenic like he was a thing, not human, a robot perhaps, but certain not a flesh and blood person. Next, his confidence in understanding Alec, something she as the person closest to him on the planet had a hard time doing, was suspicious.

"The files," Logan admitted. "I wasn't sure if I should tell you. Some of them are the genetic profiles—the basis for the formulas anyway—of the X-5's and X-6's. Not all of you. Some of the records were damaged or not there, but the X5-490 series was there."

"How many others?" she asked.

"Uh, most of the 200's, none of the 300s for some unknown reason," he said. "Maybe a quarter of the 400. You're not there. The 450 series is one of those that is missing. A few 600s and nearly as many 700s. The 800 through 900's are there, but those were all… destroyed."

"How do you have them if they're destroyed?" she asked.

"No, not the records, the… you know," he said with an uncomfortable shrug.

"Oh," she nodded. "The people. They killed the kids."

"Some didn't make it to delivery and there are a lot of notes on what went wrong with the pregnancies," Logan explained. "Others were still born or had genetic defects that were considered sufficiently undesirable so they were… terminated."

"So you got a lot of the records?" she asked. He nodded. "Must take a lot of time going through them one by one."

"I have specialists who are doing that," he said and saw a flare of anger in her eyes. "I am going to turn all that information over to your folks. I am. You were so busy here with getting set up that I didn't want to add to the chaos, Max. Honest."

"Thanks and that's not my issue, not my first issue anyway," she said. "What the hell were you doing checking into Alec? That's kind of invasive, Logan. What right do you have to know more about him than he does about himself?"

Her anger surprised him. He expected a little truculence at his delaying in letting her know about the records, but defending Alec's privacy was a shock. The man strutted around like he was the universe's gift to all. He liked attention and parading himself as a specimen to behold. Anyone who ever watched him work the room at Crash knew that. He was an exhibitionist. He would probable want to post his cocktail specifics on an Eyes Only broadcast as a dating foray.

"I was just… you work with him and he's…" Logan began but couldn't explain.

Yes, the second he got the records and realized what they were, he first looked for a file on Max. Finding none, he started looking at the series numbers he did have. Seeing that the 490s were intact, he did go automatically to the one designated 494. Nothing in it surprised Logan. Feline—a combination to two in fact, the cheetah and jaguar. There was some aspect of a bat and a jackal, plus and a few other things that most X-5's had. Much to Logan's surprise and dismay, there was no jackass in Alec's cocktail. Apparently, that was his choice in personality traits rather than a DNA imposition.

"He's doing us a favor the size of which I'm not sure you get," she seethed. "This is above and beyond the call, Logan. He doesn't have to do this. This is a risk—one I'm not sure he should be taking."

"It's his choice," Logan said with finality.

"Not if I don't approve the mission," Max replied, folding her arms petulantly and offering him a sour, displeased look.

"He'll go anyway," Logan shrugged. "Just so you know, that's not me talking, that's Alec. He told me so before you got into the room. He said you were getting antsy about the mission, but he'd made his choice. You say no and he'll light out on his own."

Max nodded. She wasn't surprised. She wasn't pleased. She hoped that after a few weeks of acting like a command structure her de facto second in charge would begin to accept her leadership for himself rather than merely expecting everyone else at TC to do. She didn't want to think how things might turn if one morning everyone woke up and word got around that Alec bailed on them. As annoying as he could be with his antics, Alec could keep up morale like no one else. His energy level alone, that impish naughty grin and infectious laugh kept spirits up and hope alive for a lot of folks who simply need just a single reason to go on each day. The X-7s were known to follow him around, which creeped him out at first, learning individual social skills from observing him. The X-6's were impressionable teens looking for a role model. Many remembered him from Manticore and felt comfortable knowing he was a part of this venture. The remaining X-5's were also familiar with him, some having served with him on missions, may others having trained with and against him at the facility in the mountains. He was one of them. They knew what he endured at the ends of the Psy-Ops team and respected his resilience to bounce back from it. Whether it was helping sneak in food and supplies, telling a dirty joke, scheming for the day when they could (perhaps) roam the streets freely again or merely showing a kid the ropes, Alec touched the TC in ways that Max, as the head of the operation keeping all the parts moving and strategically safe, could not. In short, she needed him.

There was also the matter of her personal needs. He was good for her. She knew that. He annoyed and harassed her. He made her job 10 times harder some days with his antics, but he was the only one who talked to her like she was still Max, the bike messenger. He respected her, she knew that. He liked her even; she could sense it in the way he would smile at her sometimes or roll his eyes to get a grin out of her when Mole was on a tear about the lack of order and discipline and the need to fight back rather than cower in the corner. Many nights, on her way back to her quarters, she often paused at the top of the hall leading to his room. The urge to knock on the door to see him, just to decompress from the day, was strong, but she always hesitated. Sometimes there was no light under the door, signaling he was either off roaming (doing who knew what) or that he might have an afterhours visitor (doing who knew). She wasn't aware of any hook ups with fellow transgenics, but that didn't mean he wasn't. Interrupting him with a woman in his room would not improve her evenings.

Or, if the light was on, she could hear other voices in the room fairly often. Alec's place was a popular hangout—not only because he had food and drink not found in the mess, and one of the few working TVs in the entire complex. People went there because he was fun. Alec was social. He liked people. He liked noise. He liked action. For someone who was such as loner, solitude did not appear to be his style.

"Is there something more going on here?" Logan asked as her silence lengthened and he spied a different sort of worry in her eyes.

"I worry about all my people," she said coldly. "He's a pain, but this place needs Alec."

"This place?" Logan repeated.

He was tired as well. This siege was not easy on him either. Granted, he wasn't the one with a gun trained on his house directly, but he understood the mentality. He had been Eyes Only longer than Max had been in Seattle. He knew what it was like to feel hunted as well. It was his apartment White destroyed in his pursuit of Max and her fellow transgenics. Everyone had sacrificed for this cause. Logan considered pointing out all those things he'd loss in the process, been forced to give up (including Max) to let her know she wasn't the only one hanging on by a thread some days, but he stopped. The angry look in her eye was directed at him. Accusing him of not trusting her.

"Sorry," he said. "I just… Sometimes… I know you're not… I'm just tired. We all are."

He wanted to reach out and hold her or even touch her hand, offer her some comfort, but the virus prevented it. The virus. That was the root of so many of their problems. That microscopic organism that could fell him in seconds flat. That tiny terrorist living in her blood… the one Alec assisted, at least in an oblique way, in putting there. He might not have delivered the organism into her blood, but he was part of the treachery that did. It was true that he was just a soldier then, not a free man, but that didn't change things for Logan. If part of Alec's willingness to tackle this mission was to help undue what happened, then that was just karma playing itself out in Logan's mind. The universe, sometimes, believed in justice.

"Look, the boat leaves tomorrow night," Logan said, dropping a thick envelop of papers on the desk. "That's everything he'll need, if he goes. If he doesn't, let me know. I'll… I'll think of something else, I guess."

Logan turned to leave. Max stared at his back as his exo-skeleton whirred and hissed with his steps.

"He'll go," she said. "Like you said, it's Alec. If I say no, that's half the incentive for him to do it."

"You really think he'll get on the boat and do this?" Logan asked, his one pulsing and remaining fear near the surface. "You think he's not scamming us? Get the new identity docs and a wad of cash so he can blow this town and go someplace else? You don't think there's a chance he'll be sipping Mojitos in Haven next week on my dime?"

"Nah," she shook her head taking the envelope in her hand. "He's not a Mojito kind of guy. He prefers Scotch."

# # # #

Alec's duffle bag was open on his bed as he tossed his few meager belongings into it. He would be travelling light. Only one weapon, two extra clips. If he needed more than that, he'd probably be dead, but he wasn't worried. His speed alone was a solid defense against most weapons. Despite his eagerness to get into the field again (or to get anywhere that wasn't TC), he was having pangs of regret for taking this mission.

Leaving Max alone to run things so early in this endeavor felt wrong. She needed friendly faces and voices to keep her from going too deep into her head, to snap her out of her bitchier moods or at least draw the fire when they hit.

Of course, she wouldn't be completely alone. Dudley Do-gooder would be there with his civilized tone and smart little glasses and whatever the hell else he had that made him turn her head his way. Okay, so Logan had class. No denying that, but where was the man's passion? Sure, he cared of justice, but what set him on fire (other than the virus in Max that would kill him—a thought that still could bring a slight guilty grin to Alec's face). He didn't wish the guy dead, but he wasn't sure he liked having him as a fixture in TC either. The way he would look at Alec sometimes was so supercilious; Logan the hero passing judgment on Alec, the ne'er do well con artist.

Okay, he'd earned some of his lumps. He'd pulled a scam or two that had gone sideways. Still, that didn't make him trash or subhuman. That's was really bothered Alec. He was the same as Max in many ways; he was one of her kind, but it was Logan who caught her eye. She was hot, even for a transgenic, who were (by and large) supposed to be cream of the crop for eye candy. That's what he told himself for the first half of the year. Her looks, her chemistry, were what drew his eye. He could have, and had had, many other women, but those were a distraction to pass the time. None of them were worth a second shot. Rachel, of course, was different. She was the one who showed him what affection, real affection, felt like. He'd made a mess of that because he'd been honest with her. If he'd just set off the bomb a few seconds early, before she got to the car rather than going to her, telling her the truth… Being honest about his feelings hurled her into her destruction. He was a smart man, genetically confirmed genius level IQ, so he learned quickly. That was a lesson he would never forget. Never put your heart on the line again; never open up to anyone should they pierce his armor.

Max was a practiced study of his rules so he would never tell her how he felt. Not that he was all that sure he felt anything. He was attracted to her (who wasn't?), but there was something else he felt. It wasn't toward her so much as it was about her. She made him want to be a better person. Not that he always succeeded. In fact, he knew he usually failed. Still, something about her made him always want to try harder again. That was rare and precious in his mind. His heart, too, if he was willing to be honest with himself. Yes, Max actually made him recall that he had one of those—not just the muscle that pumped his blood through his body, but the part of him that felt emotions so deep, so strong there were times he couldn't find the words to even speak to her. Instead, he would just look at her, feeling his face unconsciously draw itself into an archaic grin. That she thought it was a mocking expression was fine. It saved him the trouble of explaining that he was developing feelings for her. Feelings he was not supposed to have.

She was taken. She was a done deal. Her love for Logan was one of those tragic and epic things they made movies about, back when they made movies worth watching. They were unrequited and desperately searching for the cure. Literally. Now, they may have found it.

Alec did not consider himself a romantic at heart, but he knew enough about pain and suffering to know that if there was something you could do to stop the person who meant so much to you from that sort of agony, you do it. If he could have saved Rachel from the pain he caused her, he would have. He couldn't do that now; she was gone and it was history. But Max was here now, and he could take action. How he would feel if the cure was found was his own burden to carry. Luckily, they were on the verge of war. While most might not think that a good thing, Alec was certain it would be a sufficient distraction for whatever pain and anguish losing Max to Logan forever would cause him. It certainly would be helpful now, he thought. She was with Logan in spirit and soul; that the body part had to wait didn't prevent Alec from laying awake some nights, wishing she'd have a change of heart. He'd turn out his lights more often than not and stare at the ceiling, imagining her coming to his door, not weepy or crying over losing Logan, but confident, strong and firm in her decision that, cure or no cure, Logan was just not right for the person she had become. Maybe he was right for her when she first met him, but she'd matured beyond that. She's taken down Manticore and found herself, her real self, in the process.

It was foolish, he knew, something out of the countless hours of bad television he'd watched. Still, it got him through the tough, lonely, dark hours. His dreams were rather fulfilling as well. They were alternately primal and precious, always pleasing until the dreary gray light of morning pushed his eyes open to let him know the fantasies had to go away for the day. No more Max, in a raging heat, arriving at his door and venting her animal instincts and urges on him. He would wake, still certain he could feel her teeth biting his neck passionately as the rest of her melted into him. His heart would be hammering and the rest of him whipped into a fever, his head wet with sweat as the power of the images left him feeling tired and nearly weak for the first few seconds of consciousness.

He shook his head and would make a conscious effort not to have those sort of dreams on the mission—particularly on a ship of gnarled and crusty Russian fishermen. There was no way that would end well for anyone.

He was zipping his bag closed when there was a crisp knock on his door followed by the latch opening. Privacy was not something most in TC received or sought. Doors were more of a courtesy so that those passing in the halls didn't want to look at whatever was inside the rooms they passed. There was no point in waiting for permission to enter any room so most folks never did.

"Alec?" Max called to him.

He was not surprised it was her. He picked up her scent the moment she crossed the threshold. One of the many perks of being a potpourri of wild life DNA was the amazing gift of super sensory organs.

"Canceling my plans, boss?" he asked as he sauntered into the room. He folded his arms and leaned causally on the frame of the door leading to his bedroom.

"Handing you the roadmap to your demise, most likely," she retorted and held out the thick envelope to him. "If you're playing us and take this money just so you can jet, I will hunt you down and kill you myself."

"Oh, Maxie," he grinned thumbing through the envelope. "It makes me all warm and tingly when you get mushy like this. Control those emotions or people might start to think you're sweet on me."

She rolled her eyes and she offered him her best flat and sour expression.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked abruptly.

"Because this is how we talk to each other," he replied, walking by her and jostling her shoulder.

Not touching her when they were so close was nearly impossible for him. She usually squirmed away or responded with some physical abuse, but contact was contact, and he'd take what he could get while he could get it. He was, after all, an opportunist. He'd let his mind play with the memory of the contact later, doing what it could and creating a wildly more exciting experience in a dream from the lingering sensation he got from her skin. He found it ironic that Logan, who loved her, had to shy from her touch whereas he, her foil and punching bag, reveled in it and sought it, in a childish and naughty fashion usually, whenever possible. Again, the mind of a transgenic was a powerful creating force and the dreams and sensations it could conjure from even minimal stimulus was likely enough to send an Ordinary to the ER thinking he was tripping on an exotic drug.

"I mean," she scoffed, "why are you doing this? This mission? What's in it for you?"

"Job satisfaction," he nodded.

"Liar," she said.

"Relief from claustrophobia?" he offered.

"You don't get claustrophobic," she said.

"I'm tired of you chewing my ass all the time and Siberia seems like the only place on the planet currently that will get you off my back?" he ventured.

"Not buying it," she said, but there was a tone of guilt and sorrow in her words.

Alec realized there were only two tactics that would work here. Something open and caring or something aggravating and confrontational. Strategy was big in his world. He chose the easier option: confrontation.

"Bullet's bunking down with the goats now, just so you know," he said in a hairpin turn of the conversation that he knew would get her hackles up. It would help him set her up for the burst of anger that would end their evening conversation on a note he could live with.

She offered him a "so that's how it's going to be" expression. To his eternal relief, her displeasure and disappoint shot from her eyes and the hard line of her mouth like buckshot.

"Hey, we never finished our talk about the goats," he shrugged as if surprised at her reaction. "I'm just reporting in. We started this discussion earlier today. I'm just closing the loop, Maxie."

"Don't call me Maxie," she scoffed.

"Right," he winked at her and stepped close to her. " That really galled you today, didn't it? What I said earlier about being breeding partners?"

She glared at him and the stupidity of the question. Of course it offended her. The entire concept of an assigned breeding partner made her little more than livestock. That Renfro had a twisted sense of humor and decided to assign her Alec of all people only made it worse. She had done it, no doubt, because he was Ben's twin and the sick bitch knew how and why he died.

"I wasn't going to do it, you know?" he said off-handedly.

"Do what?" she asked.

"What?" he laughed lightly. "Are you that far gone from that part of your life because your do-gooder boyfriend can't even swap spit with you? Sex, Max! It's called sex. Do I need to show you how…?"

He gestured willingly toward his bedroom without any real hope she would agree. Her response let him know he was gauging the situation accurately. She threw her hands up and pushed him hard in the chest, sending him stumbling back a few steps. The quick hit did nothing to remove the superior look on his face. He continued to grin at her.

"Just offering, Maxie," he shrugged.

"Stop and stop calling me Maxie," she said flatly with her arms folded and her hip jutting to the side in an attitude filled pose. "You wouldn't have done what?"

She was grouchy, grouchier than normal, but she was also a bit lonely. She had constant contact all day with people, her people, but they were needy. They only came to her when they needed something. Everyone, that is, except Alec. He never seemed to need anything—even when he did need something (like permission). He would drop by, harass and annoy her for no apparent purpose, then disappear either to take care of an assigned task or find someone to pawn it off to so he could be doing something else. As much as she hated to admit it to herself (and she certainly would never do so to anyone else), she had come to rely on those moments of mayhem courtesy of Alec to break the pressure of the day and make life at the top bearable.

"Wouldn't have followed my orders," he said. "Renfro, sent me in there to see if you were broken yet. She didn't think you were, but she had to try. You threw a false positive."

"I did what?" she asked.

"The tests they did," he said with a smirk. "The tests showed you were in heat. She figured you had an escape planned and my job was to find it, gain your trust, and… well, you know the rest of that. You being in heat was just an added bonus. They gave me a few extra shots that morning to increase the swimmers motility so that when the time came, impregnation would be a guarantee."

"I wasn't in heat," she shook her head.

"I know," he grinned. "How do you think you got a false positive?"

"How?" she asked, then recalled the exchange he made with the guard at her door. "You paid someone?"

"Not all the lab techs were happy with the boss," he shrugged. "Frankly, you could buy them off pretty cheap sometimes—cheaper than the guards, that's for sure. Look, I was being groomed for a different mission when you arrived. I didn't have time for this latest round of drama they were cooking up, but they gave me some downtime and were testing me, I guess, to see if I really was their good little soldier still. I figured, two birds, one stone and all that. Follow their damn orders, get cleared and get the hell out to do something that didn't come with a babysitter or a bitchy attitude."

That sent the flames burning in her eyes. He grinning quickly then shrugged and walked across the room, continuing his tale, stoking the anger he felt radiating off her.

"They briefed me on you," he said. " I had watched you from some video feeds and then they told me what I would be doing as soon as you were ready. I figured it would be best for one and all if we got things over with quickly."

"You had no intentions of…," she began and looked shocked and disbelieving, then shook her head and adopted a surly tone again. "What? Afraid you couldn't perform?"

"Not my type," he shook his head.

Her eyes pinched again in disbelief and a hint of a sting.

"I mean, a chick half broken by Renfro's re-indoctrination plans just isn't my idea of a good time," he said. "I wasn't ever part of the breeding partner's program. I was exempted from that class. Tested out, I guess you'd say."

Max scoffed. Only Alec would see his exclusion from a program designed to pass only the best DNA couplings as a compliment and twist the obvious slight into evidence of his perceived superiority.

"You sure it wasn't because they didn't trust you and didn't want to pass on your proclivity toward failure to the next generation?" she asked.

"If they were worried about that, they've have never made you a candidate for the program either," he offered in a salty tone.

"They knew you didn't… that you lied when you said you'd been successful?" she asked.

"No," he shook his head. "You were supposed to be in heat. Failure really isn't much of an option there. I mean, I've heard of guys who did, but they were a little light in the cocktail, if you catch my meaning."

Max ignored this. She had always wondered what his thoughts were about that first interaction, but never wanted to ask. He certainly had initially behaved like he expected her to submit. Whether that was part of the act, she did not know. She was better, now at least, of knowing when Alec was scheming and trying to play her. She believed she was immune to what passed for his charm, but she remained wary. Things had been different, better, since she off loaded some of her guilt about Ben to him. He took it well, better than she expected. His interest in Ben, and the way he spoke of him like he was a person and not just a creature whose actions landed him in PsyOps for further testing and investigation, touched her. He had no emotional connection to his twin; never even saw him with his own eyes. They were very different men. Ben had been sensitive and a soulful boy who needed answers; when he could not find them, he created them from his scared yet compassionate mind. That the world then twisted his softest and most human traits on him and turned him into a monster was yet another reason to hate Manticore, but it wasn't the genetics powerhouse who felt Max's anger and resentment about that. It was Ben's twin who, for once, was actually innocent of the crimes she assigned to him.

"So are you expecting me to thank you for not raping me?" she growled at him. There were times when his ego was nearly too large to fit even into a building the size of the abandoned factory they were using as their headquarters.

"No," he said sincerely.

This was not where he meant the discussion to go. The look of hurt on her face and the disgust he saw there were not the parting images he was hoping to have. He fumbled with his thoughts and his words.

"That's not what….," he said. "I meant, I just… You should know that I would never have done that to you."

"Why do I need to know that?" she asked, taken off guard by the earnestness in his tone. "You trying to prove yourself now? I know you have no love for Manticore, Alec. You're like the poster boy for freedom—as long as no one reads the fine print of what you did with a lot of that freedom."

He grinned, taking the dig as a compliment, which if pressed Max would admit was partly accurate.

"I don't know," he shook his head and spoke without thinking. "I guess I just wanted you to know that I'm not the kind of guy who would go to any lengths to be with you. I like the chase, but I don't stalk. We have animal DNA, but we're not animals, right? We make choices. Some choices are harder than others, but you make 'em."

She looked at him with a lost expression. She was not sure what he was talking about, but it didn't feel like the topic was Manticore any longer. He cut his eyes away quickly, as if she could read his thoughts. He swallowed hard and slapped the thick envelope from Logan on his palm loudly.

"Better make sure I remember to bring this," he said departing for his bedroom. "See ya around, Max."

He shut the door and stood in silence in the room. He waited several moments then heard the latch on the outer door catch. She was gone. He reached up and smacked himself in the head and whispered the word "dumbass."

Max stood in the hall feeling odd. I like the chase but I don't stalk? What the hell did that mean? We make choices? Some of them are harder than others?

His words echoed in her head the rest of the night. She meant to catch up with him the next morning, but a review of the perimeter action from the night shift told the story. Alec left TC an hour after Max left his room. Logan confirmed that he boarded the frigate as planned and then nothing more was heard for three weeks until Logan linked into her laptop with the terrible news.

The ship went down in a terrible storm 80 miles off the coast of Vladivostok. There were no survivors. The news hit Max like a sucker punch to the solar plexus. She felt the pain, felt the breath get sucked completely out of her chest and felt her knees turn sufficiently to jelly that she was glad she was sitting when she received it. Like the way he left TC, he'd slipped away without her noticing it happened. Hearing the news, she felt both prickly tingly and numb in the same instant. It wasn't possible, but Logan had confirmation from three reliable sources on the ship and crew's fate.

Alec was presumed dead, lost at sea.

AN: You know it doesn't end there. I should confess, I do love cliffhangers. More to come. Stay tuned. Review if you feel the urge. I love suggestions for where to take it next.