Title: THE MISSION (Chapter 16)
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/Angst/Action]
Notes: This is the end, dear readers. Thanks for coming along for the ride and for all of your reviews. I appreciated your questions, your comments, your insights and your suggestions. You helped shape the story (some of you even made cameo appearances in it). Hope you enjoy the finale. I dropped the pieces on fanfic today (the two final chapters of this story and a complete but brief Supernatural fanfic). I had to because I really need to get back to writing my second novel and did not want to leave any of you hanging and waiting. My word is my bond and I vowed to you I would finish this, so I did. Thanks for all your reviews and private messages. And a HUGE thanks most especially to those who have picked up my novel and are giving me encouragement to finish the sequel. I hope to return to the fanfic world in a few months with something new once my manuscript hits to copyright office giving me so real free time. Until then, namaste, friends.
# # # #
OC ran her hands through her hair again, giving it a frizzy and vertical look as she waited for Max to disconnect from her latest call to Joshua. She had been in a frantic dialing mode since OC returned home from work that evening. Her explanation that Alec lost his mind and ran away didn't make sense to OC either, but what in Max's little love triangle did anymore?
Against Max's wishes, OC called Logan and gave him the rundown. To his credit, he did not crow with glee at the news of Alec's departure. Sure, there was a hint of victory in his voice, but it was dampened quickly by OC's sternly cleared throat. Thereafter, he expressed some genuine concern. If Alec was fleeing, something might be wrong. OC didn't think that was the case, at least nothing big and bad anyone need to worry over. She figured the only thing Alec was running from was Alec, but putting Logan on alert just seemed wise in case she was wrong.
She then waited for Max to disconnect from her call to Joshua.
"What did doggy dog say?" OC asked, handing Max another tissue to mop her tear stained cheeks. "What did he tell Alec that spooked him?"
"I don't know," Max shook her head. "I don't know what happened. They were talking about Joshua being the nanny, and then Joshua said he reminded Alec that I needed to put the baby first now and not worry about him and Logan."
"Is something a little curdled in sugar man's pudding from his beat down a few months ago?" OC asked. "Alec's been following you like wolf on the trail of his dinner. Why he gonna up and bug out now? Because Joshua told him something he already knows? Makes no sense. What did Alec tell you?"
"He said he wanted me to be happy," Max replied, blotting her eyes before blowing her nose. "He said he screwed things up for me and Logan, and he was doing this to fix it."
OC relaxed suddenly and nodded. She sighed and shook her head as she sat on the couch.
"Oh," OC said knowingly. "That's it."
"What?" Max asked. "He hasn't cared if he messed things up for Logan me all this time. He actually wanted things to stay messed up so I wouldn't choose Logan. What changed?"
OC laughed and looked at Max. She stopped her chuckling but continued to stare at Max because the reason, as far as she could see, was obvious.
"You about to make him a daddy," OC observed. "Or Logan. Either way, the baby is gonna be here soon. Seems to me Alec got freaked. Don't you see? He got scared, Boo."
"He's known the baby was coming for a while," Max disagreed. "It isn't news to him."
"He knew, but was it real?" OC asked. "He bolted because his head is weaving him some nasty stories his heart isn't able shout down because of how he feels."
"This is Alec being scared?" Max scoffed. "No, when Alec gets scared, he attacks things. He only runs away to save his own neck."
"He don't see it that way this time," OC replied. "Max, he loves you, and it scares him. He doesn't want to hurt you, and his head is telling him that he is hurting you so he wants to protect you."
"By leaving?" she asked. "Joshua has cell phone. No one can find him. He's gone to ground. That doesn't seem like love to me."
"It does if you think about it for a minute," OC said. "Alec loves you, and he loves your baby, but he doesn't know why since it might not be his. So he doubts that he actually has those feelings. See? The feeling is the same, love is love, but Alec don't know that. He knows how to kill a man a thousand different ways; he knows how to break into the most secure building and get out undetected. He knows how to hide and survive with a price on his head, but he doesn't really know anything about love. He may even feel a little guilty about how he hooked up with you; in his mind, he stole Logan's girl. That don't make you really his, so he's got doubts."
"Because I won't choose between them?" Max sniffled and shook her head. "Am I really supposed to have all this sorted out? Now? I'm sort of busy with the whole gestation thing!"
"Don't be barking at a sister," OC said firmly then patted Max on the back. "I know you're at your breaking point. Alec shouldn't have done this, not now, but I can see what he's going through, Sugar. He sees you under all this stress, and he thinks it's his fault. The boy loves you, comes here ever day to see you and make sure you're okay. He wants to make everything better for you, so what did he do?"
"Made everything worse," Max choked.
"Not in his mind," OC soothed. "He thinks he's the problem, so he solved the problem. He fell back on what he knows, what Manticore taught him: remove the threat. I'll give the brother this: He's come a long way from his solider boy days. A few years ago, that kind of thinking might have had him killing Logan, but that's not what he did, is it?"
Max nodded. As cold and insane as it sounded, not committing murder was actually impressive and a huge improvement
"So instead, he cleared the way for me to go back to Logan," Max shook her head, understanding what OC was saying.
"Exactly," OC said, stroking her hair comfortingly.
"Do I get a choice?" Max asked. "I don't even know what I want to do. Why did he choose for me?"
"That's why he made it simple," OC replied. "You told me about his first girl, Rachel. He loved her and what happened? He got her killed. Well, what he felt for that girl was nothing compared to what he feels for you. He doesn't want to hurt you, Max. He's afraid he won't be good enough for your baby, and he knows she means everything to you. So he did what he did to try and let you and her be happy."
"How can he be so… stupid?" Max growled.
"Well, he's being kind of noble," OC observed. "It's crazy-stupid, too, but he gets points in my book for chivalry for falling on his sword like this."
"Chivalry is leaving me like this?" Max asked. "Doesn't what I feel matter?"
"And how is he supposed to know what you feel?" OC remarked her. "You ever told him what you feel for him? He knows you slept with him, but have you ever told him that you want him, that you need him or that you think he's worth something to you? 'Cause I gotta say, if he thought there was a future for him with you, he wouldn't have left."
Max sat sullenly. She hung her head as she wiped her eyes then shook her head.
"You got any future with him?" OC asked. "Do you even how you feel? I know you care about Alec. You got the magnet for him because he's pretty, but is that all it is? You said you didn't want to hurt him if you choose Logan, but that isn't the same as love. You love Joshua like family. What is Alec to you? You hated when you first met him. Then you got a little randy for him and your lust got you into his bed. Is that all it is? An itch that you like the way he scratches? You had your big tortured romance with Logan, but Alec came into the picture like lightning. Is he more than that, or is he just an intense flash with nothing but smoldering remains afterward?"
Max sighed sullenly and thought for a moment. She couldn't think straight lately. Everything was hectic and on her nerves. If it wasn't making her angry, it was making her hungry or making her cry. She shook her head, unsure how to answer as all she felt at that moment was mixture of sorrow at Alec's departure and anger with him for picking this time to bail on her. OC looked at her, waiting patiently for a response. Max shrugged as she contemplated how she actually felt. Then suddenly, as if unwilling to wait to hear the answer, the baby gave her a vicious jab in the side and then bounced on her bladder forcing her to hurry toward the bathroom.
# # # #
Ames White slid his van into the empty lot behind the 10 story slum building. His recently intercepted phone call brought yet another smile to his face. He hadn't bothered to call Renfro. He was going to take care of this on his own. It was going to be easier than he imagine, too. He watched cautiously as the lesbian roommate left the building. From the canvas bag tucked under her arm, she was heading to the market on the corner. From the phone call he overheard, that mean her newly discovered roommate should be exiting the building shortly to rendezvous with loverboy… Correction, subject one in her male-harem.
It only took 10 minutes until she appeared, her full-figure silhouetted under the guttering street light. She was to be waiting on the corner for Cale to arrive and pick her up to give her solace for the night and help her figure out where her other sex toy might have rabbitted to for the night.
He waited for the light to change and the street to empty as he pulled up to the curb just behind her. She was on the phone, leaving a message from the sound of it, when he grabbed her, slamming shut the phone. He held her tightly with one arm then clouted her soundly on the head with the butt of his gun. Her knees buckled instantly although she did not lose consciousness entirely as he held up against his chest and pressing his gun at her swollen belly.
"Aw," White cooed as he grinned menacingly. "I tot I taw a putty-tat. And look, two for the price of one, you little slut."
Max struggled clumsily. Her ears were ringing and her vision was blurred. Her arms and legs felt disconnected from her body, but when she registered the voice snarling in her ear, her blood ran cold and she froze. She felt the muzzle of the gun, pressing hard into her stomach and trembled.
"You so much as twitch and I'll put a slug right through your kitten," he hissed. "It'll die instantly and I'll still have you to carve up for my own pleasure."
"Don't," Max said groggily.
"Fucking with someone's kid isn't so much fun when it happens to you, is it?" he sneered.
# # # #
Dawn was breaking in the east as the haggard crew gathered around the table in the house that had once belonged to the Sandeman family. Joshua sat in the corner, holding his arms around himself and rocking as he emitted soft growling and whimpering noises.
He broke with Alec's plan and now Max was missing. When he heard the man's voice over the call when he was talking to Max the previous night, his instinct was to call Alec, but he had no way to do that. So he turned to Alec's phone. There were many numbers in it. One of them was Logan's. He called and gave a frantic report. Now, hours later, Logan had summoned help. Colonel Don was in the house and had made some of his own phone calls. Joshua did not know who he called, but when he finished talking, Logan did a great deal of typing and pictures appeared on his computer screen. Colonel Don was drawing out a map of a building and pacing. They were waiting for someone. Joshua did not know who, but whoever it was, they hoped he would help them find Max in the building Colonel Don kept talking about.
"And you're sure?" Logan asked for the countless time.
"Cale, trust me," Lydecker said. "We've had it under surveillance for some time. We just don't have the men to go in an do anything. The good news is, they aren't around either. For some reason, they all bugged out a few days ago. My sources say nearly all of Renfro's men took off toward Portland in a hurry."
Logan sighed and rubbed his eyes. He was weary and worried and at his breaking point. He didn't want to think what might be happening to Max. If Lydecker was right, she was at the mercy of a man who did not know the meaning of the word. Lydecker's fury with Ames White was palable, but he wasn't pleased with Logan either. The little matter of Max's medical condition had taken him aback. Logan considered asking him to shift the blame in part to Alec as he was the one who had certainly been deceiving the colonel, but in that instinct, Logan felt a fraternity with Alec. He was glad the man kept Max's pregnancy a secret.
"So you think we can do this?" Logan asked. "I'm willing to try anything, but I don't want do anything that gets her killed. So, what I'm asking is: Is this our best option?"
Lydecker nodded. His assault team consisted of himself, Cale and Lydecker's driver at the moment. They needed at least one more and he had been waiting several hours, since his phone call just before midnight, for the final component to arrive. The sun was growing too bright signally the operative was late… or not coming.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess" Logan sighed resignedly.
"Not always," Alec said flatly as he appeared in the doorway.
"Alec?" Logan spun around to stare at him. He was surprised but glad to see him.
For as much as he hated to admit it, Max needed the kind of help Alec could provide right now—assuming he was all hopped up on his Wheaties again. Of course, even if he wasn't, she needed all the help she could get. If his speed and strength were no greater than a normal human's, he still possessed more combat, recon and infiltration experience than Logan did. The look the cyber journalist gave him with genuine relief.
"You don't agree?" Logan asked, watching him enter the room with a cagey stance as he eyed Lydecker.
"Not right now," Alec said in an eerie calm. "Some desperate situations call for thinking things through and coming up with a better plan so we don't fuck it up even more."
Logan nodded at that and felt oddly reassured by it. So he was dealing with the cool, mildly psycho-pathetic and deeply strategic part of Alec's personality. Or, if he was honest with himself and what he truly believed, the part of Alec that had been and always would be X5-494. Before this moment, that aspect of the transgenic's character was the root of why Logan felt he could not trust Alec. Now, he was never so pleased the wild creature was still up and kicking despite all that had happened to him in the last few years. Logan was reminded that, regardless of putting the moves on the woman he loved, Alec had also gone to Siberia and survived a sinking ship to bring him back his only hope of being with the woman he loved. That Alec managed to still possible steal her from Logan was a matter to settle another day. Right now, finding Max was the only issue on the table.
"You're late, soldier," Lydecker said, looking up at him with a critical eye.
"I'm here," Alec replied. "And I'm not your soldier. I suggest you stop calling me that or when this is done, I'll make you regret it."
"What were you heading out to do when I called?" Lydecker asked.
Alec turned his attention to the drawing on the table and studied it.
"Kill you," Alec replied as smoothly as if he had been asked what time it was.
"Take a little more than you've got right now to snap my neck, kid," Lydecker said without sounding offended or insulted.
"I know," Alec replied and laid a 10 mm Glock on the table. "That's why I was going to shoot you."
"Okay, school reunion later, guys," Logan said quickly. "Now is the time for a plan. Do you have any suggestions, Alec? I mean, something better than my offering of 'I don't know what to do' but we need to find her and Deck's suggestion that we go in guns blazing?"
"I'm with Deck on this," Alec nodded. "Question is: Can you stomach it?"
"Stomach what?" Logan asked.
"Doing exactly what it takes to make sure they can't touch her again," Lydecker replied.
"Neutralize the threat," Logan nodded, but Alec shook his head.
"Eliminate it," Alec corrected him. "It won't be easy or pretty, and you'll probably never sleep soundly again for the rest of your life because what you're going to have to do is going to stay with you."
"Look, I get it," Logan said. "This is not a game."
"How many people have you killed, Logan?" Alec asked.
His voice was devoid of emotion as was his face. His green eyes were cold and looked through Logan, as if slicing through him with surgical precision.
"None," he shook his head. "I never had a reason. I've defended myself, but…"
"Not the same thing," Lydecker said. "These people aren't after you."
"Well, they aren't after you either," Logan argued. "Enough with the strong solider crap. Okay, I get it. I may have to kill someone."
"Not may," Alec shook his head. "Will. You have to kill every single person who stands between you and Max. Every single person who crosses your path. Every single person you put your eyes on that is not me or Max."
"Or me," Lydecker offered and looked sideways at Alec.
"Jury's not in on you yet," Alec offered, his eyes still cold and unwavering. "Look, what you do today, it'll make you something you aren't right now."
"A murderer?" Logan asked and did not sound particularly bothered by it.
"A killer," Alec corrected him.
"The difference is a fine line, but it's what keeps you from putting a gun in your mouth," Lydecker added.
Logan thought for a moment and was reassured by the determination in Alec's eyes. He nodded back at the transgenic.
"Just point me in the right direction," Logan said.
# # # #
The quartet headed out just as the city was waking for the day. They sent Joshua, for his own safety, to Sam Carr. If they did not make it back, Carr's place would be a good hideout until Sandeman got curious about the lack of contact. He knew about the physican and would likely check with him for details.
The drive to the abandoned muffler plant an hour away was done in silence. Logan stared at the road. Lydecker nodded to some cadence in his head only he could hear. Alec stretched in his seat, arms folded across his chest, legs crossed at the ankles and head resting on the side window with his eyes closed. Logan wasn't sure if his calm was enviable or troubling. His own nerves were making him jumpy and feel like throwing up.
They arrived at a tree line a few hundred yards from the structure. Only one car, a van Logan had seen on a hacked traffic cam feed the previous night, sat near one of the large, metal doors. Lydecker's driver, someone Alec addressed with the name Poison but who Lydecker referred to as Lt. Muse, did a quick recon and reported back that there were only four armed men visible inside. With an almost telepathic precision, the soldiers in the group nodded. Lydecker jerked his chin forward, sending Alec and the driver off in their assignments. He then ordered Logan to fall in behind him.
Logan never remembered crossing the field in a crouch. He did not remember crawling through the pried open window. He did recall the quick bursts from Lydecker's gun and the and the two men at the end of the first hall they came to falling in heaps and not moving.
"You, that way," Lydecker said as additional gunfire echoed in the building. He pointed down the darkened hallway and to the left.
Logan scurried on trembling knees in the direction he was ordered. The hall was dark and had at one time been some sort of storage lock up. The various bays were dingy and dank with large openings wide enough to drive a forklift through. As he approached the end, having peered into each bay without any discoveries, he heard a woman's voice.
"You're worth more to me alive," the woman said. He could hear the odd click and clack of high heels on concrete as she spoke. "But I have to say, dead isn't a deal breaker and I can just cut your little half-breed out of you. That'll probably make up the difference in my losses for your lack of breathing."
It was the cold and vicious tone of her voice that brought up Logan's gun hand. He heard Alec's words in his mind again: You have to kill every single person who stands between you and Max. Every single person who crosses your path. Every single person you put your eyes on that is not me or Max.
He began firing even before he was over the threshold. He did not look to see who else might be in the room or if someone might be firing back. He just emptied the clip, dropped it as he was taught, and slapped a new one into its place, but there was no need.
The woman with white hair, the one who had threatened to carve up Max, lay on the floor, oozing fluids and not moving. Logan stared at her, amazed and horrified at what he had done. He swallowed hard and felt like gagging, but stopped as Max's voice carried to him over the pounding of his heart in his ears.
"Logan," she gasped.
He looked to the far wall to see her, sitting on the grimy floor with her legs splayed and her arms chained above her. Her face was swollen; she had been beaten. Her cheek was puffy. One eyes was swelling shut and her lip was bleeding as was her nose. Her breaths came in frantic gulps an sweat dripped off her chin.
"Are you hurt?" he asked and wanted to kick himself.
# # # #
Alec limped slightly as he picked up his gun and replaced it in the waistband of his jeans. His ankle was twisted, but it barely registered as pain. His skin felt hot, like his head might suddenly erupt into fire. His arms and legs tingled with pins and needles pricking him all over. His heart raced and his chest felt tight. He had been shot. He could see the blood dripping off his arm, but like his ankle, it was an annoyance more than anything. He looked at his partner, Lydecker's driver. The man's head was twisted 180 degrees and looking up at the ceiling despite his chest resting on the floor. The cause of that was, however, now chained to the wall like the animal he was.
Alec approached him and reached down for the K-bar strapped to his leg. He pulled the knife from its sheath with fluid grace. His limbs and joints felt loose and he was almost enjoying the taste of the blood in his mouth from being struck in the face by White's foot—that happened just before he caught the man off balance and was able to wrestle him into his restraints.
"This is a little embarrassing, I gotta say," White chuckled as he coughed and spit blood on the ground. "I gotta tell you, 494, I blame myself for this. I should have killed you when I caught you the first time. I should have listened to my father."
Alec approached the man and showed him the knife—not to scare him or threaten him, just to inform him of the work they would be doing shortly.
"Dear old Dad," Alec said. "What a guy."
"Yeah, I read all about you in his notes before I broke your dog friend," White said. "The old manyou're your wrong. Of course, he knew that. Took pity on you the last couple months, I guess. Seems to me that he never thought too much of you. You just didn't seem like the leading man type, not even in his pathetic little drama. I was surprised you even made the cut and were allowed to live past childhood."
"Oh, I can make lots of cuts," Alec said coldly while holding the K-bar menacingly in his grip. "Where would you like me to start? White meat or dark meat?"
"You won't do it," White shook his head. "I know you, 494. You're an opportunist, not a sadist. You're a killer, but you need a reason."
"You've given me enough reasons," he seethed as he approached the man in a deadly and deliberate fashion.
"You're not your psycho brother," White said confidently. "Yeah, I read all about him, too. Your twin, your clone, in fact, the freak with your face. He killed because all he could feel was fear. Are you like that? You lash out because you're a scaredy cat?"
His voice echoed off the tin walls and bounced off the concrete. The anemic light from the fluorescent bulbs high above cast the room into an eerie and sickly light.
"Oh, I'm not afraid of you," Alec said plainly and shook his head slowly.
"Well, I'm not afraid of you either," White smirked. "See, your file was pretty detailed. Manticore's green-eyed assassin. Turns out, if you don't fear it, you won't kill it. So, I gotta wonder, if you're not afraid of me, then in order to put me down, that would mean I must be threatening you. Am I threatening to you?"
"You threatened my family," he said darkly and simply while cocking his head to the side in a predatory pose. He remained loosed limbed as he stalked closer, like a jungle predator.
"So, you've gone native living on the streets, after all," White sneered. "From what I've learned, you never thought of the other X-5 kids as family. You always thought you were different from them—better than them. They were nothing to you. You never wanted a family—didn't even care you had a brother other than to be angry with him for escaping and landing your ass in Psy-Ops. You knew that other than 493, you had no real family. Those other kids, they were what? Schoolmates at best, most of them not even ones you liked very much. So what changed? What made you suddenly start feeling fraternal to your so-called siblings? So all that crap from 452 finally rubbing off on you? Must be proximity to her raging Mommy hormones messed with your programming."
Hearing him call her by the cold, numeric designation shot adrenaline into Alec's system. He instantly pounced forward with the agility and speed of a jaguar. Catching the man by surprise, he threw his forearm across White's throat and pinned the man there with a primal grunt and vicious snarl.
"She's not a number," Alec said, stabbing the knife quickly through White's palm and pulling it back as White grunted in pain. "Her name is Max."
"Max, it is then," White said, his chest heaving unevenly. After a moment, his tone changed to a more calculating one as he relaxed a bit. "Let me save you the trouble and help you back away from this. It's all just a fog in your brain. None of what you are feeling is real or necessary."
"Shut up," Alec warned through clenched teeth.
"I get that it was out of your control," White said quickly. "Her pheromones have brainwashed you. All that primal, dirty animal DNA makes you weak for that sort of stuff. I'm surprised you didn't know that. Didn't you ever pay attention at Manticore? Surely you must have noticed how Renfro set up that travesty of a breeding program. It was destined to fail, but she got one thing right. She kept the females separate from the males once they were impregnated. You should realize why, especially now. It's because, deep down, you're animals, and she knew she couldn't control the male's behavior; he might bond with his assigned partner or the child they produced. Couldn't even risk letting any other male get near her for fear that the souped body chemistry would do what exactly what has happened to you."
"What should concern you right now is what I am going to do to you if you don't tell me who Renfro works for," Alec growled.
"Not concerned where Max is?" he gasped.
"She's here," he said. "Logan or Lydecker will have her by now. If they've killed the white-haired bitch, I can't cut the information out of her, so that's why you're still alive. So speak and I'll end this quickly for you."
He slid the knife slowly but deeply along the man's side several times, filleting several of his ribs, exposing the bones. Blood began to slowly seep, for they were surgically strategic and not lethal cuts (not yet), through White's shirt. He drew a ragged breath as his voice began to quaver.
"Giving in to your wild side, huh?" White chuckled. "How does that feel? Losing control, letting those parts of you that make you a freak take over what little humanity you have? See, this is why you all have to die. Those little specks of animal DNA you carry make you extra dangerous. You've also got human reasoning and strategic thinking. Renfro knew the urge to protect and attack anything that comes near a male's offspring could be devastating. You're proving her right, kid. Oh, you don't know how happy you would be making her right now! Hell, you don't even realize it, but you've been given the ultimate roofie. Your knocked up little friend's body put the 'protect me' whammy on you, but it's not really your job, 494. Is that what you've been reduced to? Is this really your purpose? That your mission?"
"Who does Renfro work for?" Alec demanded again as he leaned harder into him, placing the knife at the top of his collar bone, preparing to thrust it through so he could see the impalement. "Tell me. Now."
"I gotta say, I'm surprised the chemicals still have your system all haywire like this," White gasped, his coloring going white and green. "They weren't experimenting with breeding when my father was with the program. Didn't need to, of course, because they still the lab to cook up you freaks. You really do need to thank 452 for all this. Don't worry about it. This will wear off soon enough, and you'll go back to being the same selfish, cold, spectacular loner they cooked you up in the Manticore microwave to be in no time."
Alec shook his head and quickly backhanded White, shattering his nose and sending blood cascading to the floor as the man choked on it briefly.
"You have five seconds to tell me where before I really start carving," Alec said. "I'll be precise and control the rate of the bleeding so you'll linger, fully conscious, in agony, as I decide what part of you to remove next. If you read our files, maybe you saw that I was very good at interrogation. Always had top marks."
Sweat began to drip from White's brow. It cascaded down his cheeks and dropped off his chin, racing with the blood dripping from his wounds.
"So, during that time on the in your toxic hellhole you developed a crush on that naughty little kitty, huh?" White said, straining to breath under the pressure on his chest and throat. "I don't go for that kinky interspecies perversion as a rule, but I guess can understand the attraction on the surface in normal circumstances. She sure was a hot little pussy cat when I first saw her. Not so much now; maybe the human part of your brain will see that, too, once your system clears of her pheromones. At the very least, you gotta agree she's not worth all this trouble to you. Man, she chose an ordinary human as her mate, and she's squeeze out his mutant any day now, if she lives. You simple minded mongrel, that alone is a sign you need to walk away."
"You'll never walk again when I'm done with you," Alec said, sliding the knife along the edge of White's knee, severing muscles, tendons and ligaments.
"Okay, okay, you've got a killer crush on her," White rasped, sweat pouring off his face. "I get it. You have a hard on for you own kind—fine with me. Make you a deal: You step back right now, and I'll see what I can do about giving her back to you."
Alec did not move. He did not press forward but he also did not lower the knife. White took a steadying breath as he saw his words registering.
"That's right," he continued. "Be smart about this and listen to me. You let me go, and I'll give her back. I can get her away from the conclave. I can. They don't need her anymore. The baby she's carrying is more important; that's what they want. It'll have her DNA and won't be half the trouble she's been. We'll keep her critter and let 452 go."
White groaned as a sudden, sharp pain bit into his chest. He heard and felt three of his ribs break as Alec buried his fist into the man's side.
"No," Alec said. "No deal. You keep no one."
White chuckled deliriously until he saw Alec's pupils contract and felt the added pressure across his neck. His words were causal and spoken without any hint of distress. It was only the murderous look in his unwavering and unblinking eyes that told White that he was deeply in trouble. His mind frantically analyzed the situation. He exhaled slowly as the realization dawned on him.
"Oh, so that's it," he said. "It's not Cale's, is it? Max's baby? It's yours. It's not a mongrel; it's a pure-blooded freak."
Alec didn't know for certain whether it was true. He knew he wanted it to be true, but wanting and knowing were vastly different territories. The child was Max's and that was enough. As confused and sad as she had been in the last months, he knew she loved the child. She feared for it, felt guilty for the life she was afraid it might have, and was uncertain she could care for it the way it deserved, but she loved it all the same. Whether it was his or Logan's did not seem to matter as much to her as the baby's health and welfare. For that reason alone, its survival (like that of its mother) was Alec's only mission.
"Who does Renfro work for?" Alec asked in a cold tone as he pressed the knife tip into the man's throat.
"I would have never guessed," White slured. "I mean, you and 452? That is a surprise. I thought she was a climber, trying to crawl out of the gutter by hooking up with a real man, but all the while she was also catting around the barn with the rest of the animals after all. That's funny. Your beloved little Maxie really is just a slutty little kitty after all, isn't she?"
The screams emanating from the room filled the factory. Logan looked up from his search of Renfro's corpse. He was sifting through her pockets in search of the keys that would free Max from her handcuffs. Max was quiet, panting and trying to remain calm. Her head and her back and pretty much all of her hurt after being knocked unconscious and thrown into the room where she was currently chained to the wall.
Logan's hands were clumsy with adrenaline and nerves as he stripped the key from the dead woman's jacket. He shook has he fitted into the cuffs and released Max's hands. She dropped her arms gratefully but with a wince around his shoulders as he freed her.
"We're gonna get you out of here," he promised as he helped her to her feet.
They heard feet slapping on the concrete outside. Logan lifted his gun, his hand shaking as he did so, and pointed it toward the door, but he dropped it instantly.
"Alec wasn't serious when he left me off the list of people not to shoot," Lydecker said, holding up his hand to Logan.
"Alec?" Max repeated.
"Yeah, he's here," Lydecker said. "He… finishing. Can you walk?"
She nodded slowly and put her foot hesitantly forward. Lydecker nodded and said he would bring the car around to the door, but that they should hurry. He didn't say why, but no one asked for any further explanation. Logan and Max shuffled slowly toward the hallway and were greeted by Alec, some blood spattered on his shirt but from his demeanor, none of it appeared to be his. He rushed quickly to Max, placing a steady and warm hand on her cheek.
"Are you okay?" he asked, searching her face intently for signs of distress or injury other than the superficial marks he could see.
"White is…?" Logan asked hesitantly, surveying the blood Alec was wiping from his face.
"Not going to bother anyone anymore," he said and peered into the room where Max had been held and Renfro's body lay still and forgotten. "Neither is his employer, I take it?"
Logan looked sickened but shook his head. Alec murmured something about giving Deck some hunting of his own to do, but did not elaborate. Instead, he placed himself on Max's other side, and wrapped his arm around her as her body shook with pain.
"How badly are you hurt?" Logan asked in a desperate tone.
"The baby," she said through clenched teeth.
"It's going to be okay," Logan said, exchanging an urgent look with Alec. "We'll call Sam. He's standing by. He'll check you out and make sure both of you are okay."
"Hurry," she gasped sharply. "The baby's coming."
"What?" Logan gaped.
"Now?" Alec blurted. He quickly elbowed Logan out of the way and barked an order at him as he scooped Max up into his arms. "I've got her. Get the door!"
Logan nodded and sprinted down the hall to the heavy door at the end and held it for them until they could exit. He did the same with the van as Lydecker arrived in screeching wheels.
"You came back," Max said breathlessly, holding on tight around his neck, as Alec carried her to the vehicle.
"I told you I was unreliable," Alec quipped hoping his voice did not reveal his fear. "I said I was leaving forever yet here I am. You just can't trust a guy like me, can you?"
Max's arms tensed as her muscles locked. She gripped Alec tightly as she looked at him with a sigh of relief caught in her throat.
"You helped Logan find me," she said in a strangled tone.
"Yeah, turns out he and I make a great scavenger hunt team," Alec said, sliding her quickly yet gently into the vehicle. "We're talking about turning pro. Maybe they'll put us on TV."
She choked out a small laugh as he body shuddered through the pain of the contraction. Her face pulsed a deep shade of red and perspiration beaded at her hairline. Alec maneuvered her carefully into the back seat and climbed in beside her to hold her as Logan slammed the door and jumped into the front just as Lydecker gunned the engine.
"Hang on, Max," Logan said over his shoulder as he pushed the accelerator to the floor.
The car tore down the empty freeway, topping 100 miles per hour. For a drive that took much longer on arrival, the departure appeared to be over in half the time. They arrived in Seattle and tore through the empty streets, taking corners on two tires. Alec cradled Max in the back squeezing her hand and speaking softly to her as he pressed his cheek against her temple.
"They wanted my baby," she winced as tears streamed down her cheeks.
"I know," he said. "It's over. You're safe. It's gonna be okay, Max. It's all okay now."
# # # #
Alec carried Max into Carr's clinic and brought her to the room where he was prepping for her arrival. Alec looked up in surprise and worry to see Sandeman waiting for them. After gently releasing Max onto the table, he yanked Carr aside, gave a terse order, then charged at Sandeman.
"Out!" he said throwing his hand wildly at the door. "Your psycho son was going to carve her up. You can get the fu…"
"Father?" Joshua called from the doorway, beckoning him calmly. "Please."
Sandeman nodded and walked away. Alec breathed hard through his nose, willing his heart, which had not stopped racing since he grappled with White, to slow down. It was making him dizzy and feel a bit like he was floating. It was Max's pained gasp that dragged him back to his sense. He turned around and went to her side.
Outside the room, Carr finished scrubbing his hands in the sink and snapped on his gloves. Considering the grim and blood on everyone else in the delivery room, it seemed like a pointless gesture, but he liked to observe the formalities. He looked at Logan and took a breath before speaking to him quietly.
"Logan, when we go in there, I think you should stay back," Carr said awkwardly.
"Sam, that's my…. Could be my child," he said. "Why do I have to stay back?"
"Because Max could hurt you," Carr replied. "Logan, she's strong enough to break bones on a regular day. The pain and adrenaline of child birth could make that lethal. I'm not saying you can't be in the room, just keep your distance for your own safety, okay?"
"He's staying?" Logan asked, seeing Alec by her side offering some comfort. "You going make him stand back?"
"Not my call," Carr remarked. "She can't hurt him, not like she could hurt you. And, let's be honest…."
"The baby could be his," Logan nodded sorrowfully. "Yeah. I know."
Carr offered him a consoling look.
"Just keep it calm in there and relax," he said. "She might be a super woman, but she's having a baby. She doesn't need any extra stress or drama, okay?"
"I hope you going to tell him that, too," Logan sighed as he turned to enter the room.
"Actually," Carr offered wistfully, "Alec's the one who reminded me."
# # # #
Max panted and grimaced as the contractions wracked her body. She gripped Alec's hand tightly and tried to catch her breath. She looked at him with her one un-blackened eye and shook her head at his contemplative expression.
"What?" she asked.
"I think I'm changing my mind on which of us is tougher," Alec said lightly.
"Yeah?" she said red-faced as she panted. "Just figuring that out?"
"I'm a slow learner on some things," he replied with an easy shrug as he dabbed her face with a damp cloth.
Max's body shook and she groaned and gasped painfully. Her face twisted into a mask of agony.
"How are you doing?" Alec asked, trying to keep his voice even as he watched her writhe in pain.
"I'm in pain, you moron," she whined through gritted teeth.
"Yeah, I can see that," he replied as he stroked her cheek gently. "I just meant can you handle it, but never mind. You'd say you can regardless so, I'll just believe you… for now. Hang in there, Max. You'll get through this."
She caught her breath as the pain abated for a moment. She could see Carr and Logan talking near the doorway. She offered Alec a scared expression.
"Don't leave," she said in a tight and shaking voice.
"I'm right here, Maxie," he assured her. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I mean, even if… after…," she huffed.
"You want me to stay?" he asked.
Max nodded quickly as a tear slipped out of her eye and mingled with the sweat glistening on her face.
"Then I'm staying," Alec assured her. "Just know that if you start yelling and telling me to get out, I'm going to remind you that you asked me to stay."
Max smiled weakly then and grit her teeth as another powerful contraction shook her body.
"The baby's Logan's," she wept through a whisper.
"You don't know that," Alec said, but he could feel the lump in his throat that told him he feared she was right.
"Makes the most sense," she said. "Don't be mad if she is. Please. Just don't… leave."
"I'm not going anywhere, Max," he said. "After this is done, I'll… be wherever you need me."
"Promise," she gasped.
"After everything, you still don't trust me?" he grinned while brushing the drops of sweat from her forehead.
"You left the other day," she recalled as she winced again with the contraction. "You ran away."
"I didn't get far," he replied then sighed apologetically. "I'm sorry about that, Max. I… thought it was the right thing to do."
"I know, but you were wrong," she told him. "Don't be wrong like that again."
"Okay," he nodded. "I swear to you on… my own very precious neck that I won't leave even if… anything. Alright?"
Max relaxed a bit and offered him a tired smile.
"Why are you never this agreeable and supportive normally?" she said breathing hard.
"Probably because in normal circumstances, I have the luxury of being an egotistical, selfish, opportunistic jackass," he shrugged. She glared at him. "Hey, I'm answering truthfully. I can be a jerk, but don't generally lie to you just because I can. I've omitted the truth in the past, but I don't usually outright lie."
She smiled, mostly with her undamaged eye, as she breathed through another contraction.
"So once this baby is born, you'll go back to being… you?" she wondered.
"Let's not worry about me right now," he said as she howled in pain and dug her fingers deeply into his hand. He then called over his shoulder. "Hey, doc! Are you ready? Because the lack of circulation in my hand tells me she is."
"No," Max shook her head. "I'm not ready for this, Alec."
"You don't have a choice, Max," he said.
"I know," she snarled as she wept. "I'm sorry. Everything is such a mess; I'm… a mess and this is… This hurts, and I'm scared."
Alec leaned forward and briefly kissed her forehead.
"I know you are, but you can do this," he said then whispered in her ear. "You're the bravest person I know. You can do anything. Remember that."
The doctor arrived with Logan in tow. Logan met Max's eye and received a weak but awkward smile from her. He smiled back supportively and kept his eyes from crossing over to Alec. Logan was appreciative that Alec had helped in finding Max, but he was jealous of Alec. Max was supposed to be keeping them both at arm's length until she had made her decision. She claimed she hadn't done that yet, but Alec appeared to have a free pass to break the rules; however, Logan reminded himself this was not the place or the time to have that discussion… or challenge Alec to a duel.
"Alright," Carr said as he finished examining Max. "Okay, well, it should come as no surprise that you're about to have a baby. You ready?"
"No," she shook her head quickly.
"You're going to be fine, Max," Carr assured her.
Whether what followed was 10 minutes or an hour, she did not know. She knew it was more pain that she ever felt before and drained more energy from her than any other activity ever had—including being electrocuted by a cattle prod. When she thought about it later, the cattle prod hurt less, too. However, none of that really mattered and faded into a distant memory as soon as she heard the wail of her baby's first breath.
"Congratulations," Carr said as the infant began to howl.
"Is she okay?" Max gasped, straining to sit up and see the child. "Does she have a barcode?"
"Uh, no barcode, but she is a he," Carr reported, handing the sticky, swaddled child to her. "It's a boy, Max. You have a son."
"A son?" she repeated, quickly unwrapping the blanket to see for herself. She sniffled and chuckled tiredly as she looked at him. "You're a boy."
Alec looked carefully at the child's face. The lack of a barcode did not mean anything. Some transgenic children, even those with both transgenic parents, were born without them… although not all. He focused on the child. A knot formed in Alec's chest as he recognized some of the features. The shape of the nose and the set of the eyes. He looked from the child to Max as his hands shook for a moment with what he recognized was fear. He looked next to Logan, who was also surveying the child's face. The cyber journalist looked at Max and whispered the word "congratulations" before fixing his stare on Alec.
# # # #
Alec heard buzzing in his ears as Sandeman pulled he needle from his bicep. The final injection was supposed to calm his over active heart. The stitches in his shoulder from the removal of the bullet were bandaged now as well. The scientist regarded him with a thoughtful look.
"I cannot apologize enough," he said. "The answer was so simple. So obvious. It eluded me."
"Who knew nearly getting killed was a solution," Alec quipped.
"I had synthetic adrenaline in the lab," Sandeman said. "A single dose could have saved you several painful treatments."
"I'm just glad I get my superpowers back," Alec said, hopping off the table. "I didn't want to turn in my letter or my cape."
Sandeman chuckled. He looked again at the test results, rudimentary though they were, the answer was clear. Alec's body temperature was up again. His white cell and red cell counts were increasing rapidly. His enzymes, the ones that signaled the enhanced strength and agility of his muscles, were on the rise. The healing in his wounded arm was evidence already. The sudden jolt of adrenaline his body produced during his brief battle with White had rebooted his DNA and got the pistons firing again.
"I will need to see you again in the near future to verify you are maintaining," Sandeman said as Alec drifted toward the door.
# # # #
Max held her child, the boy was currently sleep, and gazed down at him with a touch of fear but a great deal more wonder. Logan sat beside her bed, also looking at the child with a vacant expression that matched the fatigue filling his brain.
"I never meant to hurt you with any of this," Max said to Logan.
"I know you didn't," Logan replied then swallowed hard as his voice grew shaky. "You love Alec don't you?"
"I loved you, too," she said.
"I know, but that's not what I asked," Logan continued. "Do you love him?"
Max rested her head back on the pillow for a moment and felt her throat get dry and tight. She inhaled slowly then nodded as she shifted her eyes to meet Logan's.
"I didn't want to; I never meant for it to happen," she said. "I didn't go looking for it. You were all I wanted and then… Things started to change. I tried to stop it, but I couldn't. I fell in love with him. I don't know what happened."
"Life," Logan said simply. "That's how it usually works. You're busy making other plans and… life takes over."
"I'm sorry," she sniffled.
"This is the part where he," Logan began and nodded toward the hallway where Alec stood talking to Carr, "would offer up a tired movie line about how love means never having to say you're sorry. I never understood that line until now."
"I loved you, too, but…," she shook her head as her eyes filled with tears. "With Alec, it's different."
"Hey, no don't; no tears," Logan said, brushing one off her cheek with his thumb. "Not today. Remember, today is a good day, a happy day. You got to finally meet this little guy."
He gently stroked the sleeping child's cheek with the back of his finger. The child wiggled in her arms. She kissed the top of his head and adjusted his position in hear arms as he settled back into his peaceful sleep.
"He is beautiful, Max," Logan continued.
"He is," she smiled sadly at him. "He deserves a better life than this one."
"Better than what?" Logan asked. "Having the world's most beautiful and loving mom? Having a father who is willing and able protect him from anything that would try to harm him? That's really not such a bad life."
Max looked at him with questioning eyes.
"I saw the look on Alec's face; I heard what he told me about what we needed to go to get you safe," Logan replied. "Finding you, protecting you, was all that mattered; he didn't care if he got hurt or even if he got killed. He didn't even care if you chose me at the end. He had one focus: Find you and get you to safety. It was humbling, to say the least. I mean, I can get pretty obsessed, but he…. The words man on a mission do not do it justice."
"Careful," she sniffed. "You sound impressed."
He looked out to the hallway to where Alec stood watching but keeping his distance, but also keeping a watchful eye on the room.
"Satisfied," Logan said. "I don't have to like the guy to see that he loves you. He can protect you both in ways I can't; he understands you and your life better than I can."
"It was never a competition," she said.
"I know," Logan shrugged. "I mean, it was, but I know why I lost. It's all those things that make him… who he is rather than who I am."
"You're not exactly total opposites," she said. "You have more in common than either of you know or admit."
"Well, good looks and charm aren't unique gifts," Logan smiled. "I didn't think anyone could love you more than I do, but somehow, he does."
"I really did love you," she said.
"I know," Logan replied with a tight throat. "You just… you love him more."
He blinked hard several times and took a steady breath to keep from breaking down. It didn't feel manly or brave, despite the unbelievable pain in his heart telling him he shouldn't care about such things. He shook his head and forced a smile onto his lips.
"It's okay, well, it's not, but in time it will be," he said. "Besides, I gotta figure when this little guy here has some serious tantrums at age two, his dad will be able to withstand the kicking and flailing arms better than I would."
Max chuckled sorrowfully then kissed the top of the baby's head.
"Alec's not the same guy you first met," she said. "He's a better man than you know."
"I'm learning that," Logan nodded.
He bent down and kissed the top of her head briefly then walked to the doorway. He stood, facing Alec for a second then held out his hand. Alec looked at him questioningly then took the offered palm.
"Congratulations," Logan said. "Your son's a good looking kid."
"You're leaving?" Alec asked.
"Yeah," he nodded. "I should give the three of you some… family time. Besides, I got a report to work on about a lead on a dangerous cult that has infiltrated some high government posts and is manipulating congressional inquiries into focusing on federal funds for secret bio-weapons factories that don't exist. Oh, I'm also arranging for a car to get the three of you and Joshua out of the city. I've got a safe place near San Francisco. They're a little more accepting of outsiders there."
Logan nodded wearily then turned to head down the hall. Alec stopped him, placing his hand on his shoulder, prompted him to turn around.
"Thanks," he said. "I owe you."
"Just take care of them and we'll call it even," Logan replied. "But you know, if ever I'm in need of a family of superheroes, I might give you a call."
"You never give up the good fight, huh?" Alec observed with a rueful shake of his head.
"Not usually, but I know when I'm beaten," Logan said. "I appreciate you abstaining from making a remark about the better man winning here."
"That's because I'm not sure he did," Alec replied.
"Yeah, but I am," Logan sighed and clapped him on the arm as he turned to depart. "You should trust me on this one, Alec. After all, Eyes Only doesn't lie, and he is the only voice of truth left in this city."
# # # #
The light was dim in the small room. The child lay curled up in his mother's arms sleeping. Max was awake with Alec, sitting up beside her, one arm draped sheltering over her shoulders and the other resting protectively on his son's back. A look of unabashed awe on radiated from his face.
"Are you going to tell me what Logan said to you out there?" she asked quietly.
"What do you think, he challenged to me a duel?" he replied. "He just made me promise to behave and look after the both of you."
"He said that?"she asked.
"It's what he meant," Alec replied. "He didn't seem too worried."
"Are you?" she asked.
Alec paused and thought for a moment. The truth was yes. For someone who had done precious little worrying in his life, he found that in the last hour or so, he had begun to do little else other than worry. It was frankly exhausting. He was glad his transgenic abilities were returning or else he wasn't sure he could handle this whole parent gig.
"I was," Alec admitted. "When I saw this little guy and knew he was mine… I… got a little freaked. I started shaking even. Of course, that might have just been the last dregs of my adrenaline rush."
Max rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"How about now?" she asked, looking down at her son, amazed still at how much he resembled his father.
"I'm good, I guess," Alec shrugged. "Oh, you mean with the freaking. Well, I figure you'll just kick my ass if I even think about screwing up, so that should keep me in line."
Max chuckled softly as the infant squirmed and repositioned himself and sighed contentedly.
"He's a restless sleeper like you are," she noted.
"Well, he got kicked out of his pad earlier, then he winds up stuck in this crappy town surrounded by strangers," Alec observed with a smile at both of them. "He's had a hard day. Cut the kid some slack."
"We can't keep call our son 'him' or 'the kid'," she said as she held their child tighter and nestled herself closer to Alec. "I never thought up any boy names. I thought he'd be a girl."
"Take note of this, son," Alec whispered to the baby. "She never admits when she's wrong; this is the closest you will ever get to that."
"Alec," she said sternly, then softened he gaze as he grinned. "Any suggestions for a name?"
"More than once you've decreed that I'm not allowed to name anyone, remember?" he chuckled.
Max rested her head on his shoulder and yawned. Alec pulled up the blanket to cover her and the sleeping baby.
"He needs a name," she said sleepily. "Having a name is important, Alec."
"Agreed, but I didn't have one for 20 years or so," he said softly. "So, there's no need to rush or stress about this, Maxie. We've got plenty of time. "
Alec, she thought with a frustrated smile as she sighed.
"No, don't give me the Alec sigh," he counseled, softly kissing her forehead as her eyes slowly closed. "Worry about a name tomorrow. For now, just enjoy the moment and then get some rest. You just had a baby. Your job is done for today, alright? Mission accomplished."
# # # #
A/N: Thank you so much for following along and offering up the reviews. I have appreciated all of your support and interest. I am now off to finish my second novel (due to the publishers later this fall—see my author profile for details on book #1 and follow up for the sequel). I hope you enjoyed reading The Mission as much as I enjoyed writing it.