author: victoria p. [musesfool]
summary: "Why are you really here, Max?"
word count: 3,727 words
Thanks to amberlynne for hand-holding.
Said the Joker to the Thief
Alec always has a bag packed, is always ready to go on a moment's notice. More than once, he's accused Max of being good at running away, but it's a skill he mastered a long time ago, though in his case it manifests a little differently. Cut and run--it's what they were taught to do when a mission went sideways and couldn't be salvaged, and over the two years they spend waiting for the siege to end, waiting for the Familiars to start the apocalypse or whatever the hell it was they were planning to do, Alec has pulled the bag out from under his makeshift bed more times than he'd like to admit. He finds it comforting when things have once again gone to shit and they can't get ammo, formula, tryptophan, food. When Max rides his ass about his supposed screw-ups. When she's mooning over Logan. When her heat's over and it's back to business as usual between them, and he can still smell her on his skin and taste her on his lips for days.
He always keeps a sizeable amount of cash in his wallet, though there's nothing to buy in Terminal City, and officially, he's never supposed to be beyond its gates. It makes him feel better, like he could walk away at any moment and never need any of the stuff he's leaving behind.
It's not the stuff that holds him there, though, and he knows it. Knows Max knows it, too, because she's not afraid to use it against him whenever she gets an inkling that he's unhappy. Well, unhappier than usual--nobody's jumping for joy these days. Sometimes, he thinks it's because she actually needs him, Alec, not just his connections and his ability to talk almost anybody into nearly anything.
Two months after the siege ends, two months after the transgenics save the world from the Familiars' crazy snake venom virus, Alec pulls the bag out from under his bed. They're citizens now, and he can go anywhere, do anything. He stares down at it for a long time before he shoves the bag back where it belongs. He's not ready yet--there's still a lot to be done. At least, that's what he's telling himself this morning. He gets up and gets ready to start the day.
Max shows up as he's toweling his hair dry. "Hey."
"I don't know anything about your missing pop-tarts," he says.
"My pop-tarts are missing?" She cocks her head, eyebrows drawing together in a puzzled frown, and crosses her arms over her chest. He knows her well enough now to notice that the expected amusement in her eyes is missing.
"I don't know anything about it." Alec shrugs and grins. He drapes the damp towel over the one chair he owns (and now, according to the US government, he does legally own it, and not just because possession is nine-tenths of the law) and mirrors her posture. They've become friends over the past two years, but he still gets a huge kick out of baiting her.
She doesn't rise to it this time, just stands there with that frown on her face and a weird, sad look in her eyes that means something, somewhere has gone wrong and she wants him to fix it.
"What?" he says, grabbing a t-shirt, because it never pays to go off to the rescue half-dressed. "What happened?"
Alec tenses, pauses in the middle of pulling his shirt on over his head, and forces himself to school his expression while she can't see him. Max knows him better than anyone and he doesn't want to give himself away. He can hear her move, feel the heat of her body, but he's still not expecting her to yank down on the t-shirt, forcing his head to pop through the neck hole.
"I can't talk to you with your head stuck in there," she says. "I'd have thought you would've learned to dress yourself by now."
"I'm better at undressing," he says with an exaggerated wink, tucking the shirt into the waist of his cargoes (a habit he's mostly broken, and it's kind of disturbing that he's spun enough to revert) and then pulling it out again with a frown. He's glad she didn't put any holes in it. It's his favorite t-shirt. "What's up with Logan?"
She starts pacing, playing with the cuffs of her sweatshirt, which, Alec realizes, is his sweatshirt. "He found the cure."
Alec's stomach drops to his toes. He ignores it. "That's, that's great, Max," he manages, his mouth suddenly dry and tasting of fear. It is great. He knows that, knows how much it weighs on her that a single accidental touch from her could kill Logan.
"Yeah." She smiles. "He's asked me to move in with him."
Alec shoves a hand into his pocket so she can't see the way it's clenched into a fist. "Awesome. Have a glass of wine for me."
He hates that reproving tone, the one only she seems able to put into his name, the name she gave him. "I have some news, too," he says, walking over to the bed and pulling out his bag from underneath. "I'm leaving."
She doesn't have a shirt to hide behind, so he sees the split second of shock on her face before she closes down. "What?"
"Gonna take a road trip, now that we're allowed out of this cage." He shrugs a shoulder. "Figured I'd get out and see the world."
"You're lying." He looks down at the bag in his hand, drops it on the bed and opens it up. She stares at the contents--most of his clothes, a couple of his favorite DVDs, the latest issue of Guns and Ammo, a package of Twizzlers, all neatly packed--and says, "How long?"
"How long have you been planning to go?"
He figures there's no reason to lie now. "Since the first day I got here."
"Alec." There's real hurt in her voice, which means the anger, never far from kindling with Max, is going to arrive soon.
"It's the truth."
"And you just decided to leave now?"
He zips the bag shut, rougher than he needs to be, the sound loud in the icy silence between them. "Your point?"
"Why can't you be happy for me?"
"Who says I'm not?"
"Alec." She says it again and it cracks like a whip, demanding a truthful answer.
"I am happy for you," he repeats. "I just," he pushes a hand through his hair, "I can't be happy for you here."
He can see it in her eyes, the moment she figures it out. "Oh."
"Yeah." He gives a short bark of laughter that has absolutely no humor in it. "Oh."
She bites her lip, and this is the part he wanted to avoid, the awkward let-down, the pity. He reaches for his leather jacket and stops when she takes a step forward and wraps her arms around him.
"Good luck," she says, hugging him. He breathes in the scent of her hair (the expensive shampoo Logan supplied her with during the siege), of her skin (the cheap soap he's provided to every resident of Terminal City through his own connections), and tries to block out the memories of the nights they'd spent together, because even Max couldn't fight heat in the end, and maybe he was designed to be a chump after all.
He pulls back, presses a kiss to her forehead, as friendly--brotherly, even, though he's never played that role and she's never asked him to--as he can make it. "You, too."
"Keep in touch," she says, moving away before the embrace becomes uncomfortable, turns into something it's not.
"I will." He's pretty sure they both know he's lying, but that's okay.
He's at the door when she says, "Stay safe."
"I will." This time, he means it.
Alec waves to the woman behind the counter in the post office as he opens his mailbox. He doesn't get much mail--only Joshua and Mole have this address--but there's a couple of magazines, a letter from Joshua folded neatly around pictures of his latest painting (sold for a cool nine thousand, and who would have ever guessed that Joshua would be the big breadwinner of Terminal City?), and a packet containing information about an auction taking place at the Bellagio in a week.
Alec flips through the catalogue and whistles softly. He doesn't know how he got on the mailing list, but whoever put him there would probably get fired if they knew he was planning to rob it.
He tosses the junk mail and pockets the catalogue and Joshua's letter. He hops onto his bike and heads west. He's got a lot of ground to cover if he wants to get there in time.
It's easy enough to scam his way into a luxury suite at the hotel. His Russian is flawless and he flashes enough cash that nobody questions his less than fashionable attire. Most of the country still looks like Seattle--some places are way worse--but Vegas was up and running within a year of the Pulse, a cooperative effort between otherwise warring factions of various mob organizations to keep the money flowing. The casinos have their own generators, their own security forces, hell, with the chips and drink coupons and room comps, they have their own currency, a rich little kingdom sitting in the middle of a country still trying to drag itself back up out of chaos, fear, and poverty.
Alec spends some time in the casino, wins enough cash to feel more secure in his bluff, but not enough to draw the attention of the staff. Then he heads upstairs and settles into the suite. He raids the mini-bar, turns the TV on, needing the noise and, though he hates to admit it, the companionship. He'd been solitary for so long; after his first stint in Psy Ops--the result of the escape in '09--he'd been selected for training in solo ops. Most of the twins were. Nobody wanted to take the chance that they were genetically predisposed towards having feelings or bonding with their unit mates or actually behaving like human beings. After that, Alec had never really had a unit, and he'd grown to believe he didn't need one. Hooking up with Max and Joshua after Manticore burned down had proved him wrong, but he would never admit it. Not now, anyway.
He'd spent a few months on the Canadian cage-fighting circuit after he'd left Terminal City, right up until he discovered he wasn't the only genetically empowered government experiment looking to stay off the grid. Then he'd headed south, bright lights of California beckoning. A run-in with the LAPD sent him running across the border. He spent some time in Mexico, losing himself in dark-eyed girls who were never the one he really wanted. Made his way east, to see that things weren't any better on that coast, just snowier. It made him miss things he shouldn't have missed, shouldn't have wanted (shouldn't have had, he thinks, on the really bad nights) in the first place.
He wonders if this is just another defect, this propensity to always want what he can't have, or if it's a natural result of Manticore's fucked up child-rearing philosophy. There's not enough scotch in the mini-bar (in the world) to give him an answer.
After a long hot shower--still a luxury he doesn't take for granted, even after nearly fifteen months away from the chilly, communal showers of Terminal City, housed in what had been a gym in the basement of one of the many biotech companies whose failure eventually gave the place its name. He falls asleep on Egyptian cotton sheets with a ridiculously high thread count, and dreams about diamonds.
He's not a heavy sleeper--none of the X5s are--though unlike Max, he still needs four or five hours a night, and he gets cranky when he doesn't get it. He doesn't know what wakes him--a shift in the air, or maybe a familiar scent--but he has a gun out and aimed before he's even blinked the sleep out of his eyes.
A shape coalesces in the darkness--slim, curvy, dressed in black.
She takes a step closer, disbelief written in the lines of her face. "Alec?" She looks around the room in confusion.
"You were expecting someone else?"
"I--Yeah. There are some high rollers in town for the auction and--"
"You thought I was one of them."
She huffs, cocking her hip and folding her arms across her chest. He grins at the familiar pose. "This suite costs four grand a night, Alec."
"I'm well aware of that." She continues to glare at him, and he'd thought he was over it, but instead of intimidated, he just feels warm and content. He basks in it for a moment or two, then, "It's not like I'm planning to pay for it." He tucks the gun back under his pillow. "What are you doing here, Max?"
Alec shakes his head and takes a step forward. "It's too risky. You're the face of the transgenics, the leader of Terminal City. If you got caught, it would ruin everything we've worked for." He doesn't even realize he's said we until it's out there. He keeps going, hoping she didn't notice, and takes another step towards her. She takes a step back. "Why are you really here, Max?"
The darkness is no impediment to his vision; he can see the stubborn set of her chin. "There are a lot of mobsters in town for the auction," she repeats doggedly.
The short burst of warmth disappears in a sharp chill, which manifests in his tone. "If you're here on an Eyes Only mission and you need my help, just say so."
She blinks, clearly surprised. "What?"
"If you need my help--I'm guessing you sent me the catalogue?" He takes another step, closing the distance between them, and this time she doesn't step back.
She tilts her chin up and meets his gaze squarely. "I told you, there's a lot of ready cash on display here, just asking to be stolen, and Terminal City's always running short. We might be legit now, but it's not like the government's making it easy on us. Which you would know, if you hadn't left."
He doesn't let himself get distracted by the surprising bitterness of that last sentence, the inverted echo of something he'd once said to her. From what Mole and Joshua have told him, she's been even more tyrannically bitchy since he's been gone. Which he hadn't actually thought was possible.
"What's the matter, Max? Life with Logan not as satisfying as you'd hoped?" He doesn't even bother to block the punch she throws at him. He knows he deserves it for that one. Hurts, though. It's been a while since he's been hit by someone with transgenic strength.
She reaches up and brushes at the corner of his mouth, where her punch has drawn blood. "Logan and I broke up months ago," she says, looking down at his blood on her thumb before she wipes it off on her jeans.
Alec tries to tamp down the hope surging through him. "Why are you here, Max?" He bites the words off slowly, sharply, afraid of the answer but needing to know.
She reaches up and curls her hand around the nape of his neck, drawing him down into a kiss. His lip stings and he tastes blood, but then her tongue is in his mouth and he discovers he really doesn't care. It's different from the rough, devouring kisses they've shared during her heat, doesn't have the same frantic edge, but there's still a hunger to it that makes his breath catch in his throat and his blood flare hot under his skin.
They stumble to the bed, not breaking the kiss (thank Manticore for transgenic lung capacity, he thinks vaguely), and he presses her back against the pillows, laughing against her mouth. She pulls away long enough to shuck the black turtle neck she's wearing, her black wool cap coming off as well, dark against the pale sheets, rough beside the silk of her hair.
He licks at her swollen lips, dips his tongue into her mouth, groans when she bites his lower lip.
She mutters, "Sorry," and he shakes his head.
"S'okay." He ducks his head. "Feels good." He doesn't mind a little pain. She strokes a hand down the side of his face, pulls him in for another long, heated kiss.
Alec takes his time, slides his mouth along the perfect curves and hollows of her throat and chest, easing the straps of her bra down before she reaches around to unhook it. She smiles up at him, unfamiliar and beautiful from this angle, her hands smoothing circles over his shoulders and back, holding him close.
He reacquaints himself with the warm weight of her tits in his hands, under his tongue; with the salty taste of the sweat that sheens her skin, pooling in the hollow of her throat, on the undercurve of her breasts. Scattered runes still mark her skin, the prophecy and legacy of her role in stopping the apocalypse, and he presses kisses to all of them like he's saying hello to old friends.
He eases her jeans and panties off, licks at the long muscles of her thighs, noses the creases where her legs join her body, fingers tightening on the flaring curve of her hips as he licks at her cunt, salt-sharp and velvety against his tongue. Max's blunt nails dig into his scalp and her fingers pull his hair as she pushes up against his mouth, soft, half-choked syllables of his name spilling from her lips when she comes.
His hands tremble when he smoothes on the condom, his dick hard and aching. He takes a deep breath, squeezes the base of it to keep control. As he pushes inside her, he's aware of a fluttery feeling in his chest, like maybe his heart has grown wings and is beating them against his ribcage. Max is still riding out the aftershocks of her orgasm, and her body clenches tight around him. It's the best thing he's felt in months, and he forces himself to go slow, to make it last, just in case it's some crazy one-time thing, like she's in heat and somehow neither of them know it and tomorrow it will all be over. She hooks her legs around his hips and presses up as he fucks into her, her eyes fluttering open to gaze at him, all dark and hazy with endorphins and something he wants to believe is affection.
He slides a hand down between them to rub at her clit, loving the way her breath stutters and gasps as she comes apart again, her cunt tightening around him and pulling him down after her. Pleasure burns down his spine and hollows him out. He's boneless and lighter than air as he slumps against her, mouth pressed to the side of her throat, which is slick with sweat. She brushes a hand through his hair, and he can feel the curve of her smile against his forehead before he dozes off.
He doesn't sleep for long--it can't be more than ten or fifteen minutes before he's ready for round two, and she rolls them over so she can be on top this time. He wraps his arms around her, cups the back of her head with one hand, the other tangling in her hair.
"Bossy," he murmurs into her mouth and she laughs.
"It's how you like me."
"Okay, that's true." His laugh turns into a moan when she rolls her hips. "You're gonna hold it against me, aren't you?"
She rubs her nose against his. "You bet I am." She nips at his bottom lip and then licks away the sting.
"I'm surprisingly okay with that."
She grins, a flash of white teeth in the darkness. "I thought you might be."
They don't talk much after that, beyond whispered encouragement (her) or soft murmurs of her name (him).
After, they both fall asleep.
Max is sitting cross-legged on her side of the bed when Alec wakes up. "Hey."
He blinks sleepily at her. "Not a dream, then."
"Awesome." He leans over, pulls her down into a kiss, which he breaks more quickly than he intended when he tastes coffee on her tongue. "Coffee?"
She hands him the white mug, still warm and smelling like heaven. "I love room service."
"Only the best for Mr. Andropov."
"Yeah, about that." She looks distinctly uncomfortable, and Alec tenses, wondering if this is where it all falls apart. "You know we can't steal the Heart of Eternity."
He snorts. "I know."
"But I did kind of promise you a snatch and grab job."
"I think last night counts," he says, because it's totally worth taking a punch for, "considering I did grab your--"
"Alec!" Max whacks him with a pillow, which is definitely better than her fist, and she laughs while she does it, which is the best thing of all.
"And anyway, the correct terminology is smash and grab. What the hell kind of cat burglar are you?"
She holds up a small velvet bag and spills three diamonds into the palm of his hand. "Only the best."
She grins in a way he's never seen before--light and happy and girlish. His heart does that fluttery thing again, and he kisses her, imagining he can taste the sweetness of her grin over the coffee.
"Say it," she says, pulling back far enough to hold his gaze without having to cross her eyes.
"You're the best, Max."
"Damn straight. Now we need to get out of here before anybody notices they're missing." She disentangles herself and stands. Her hands tug at the hem of her turtleneck, and there's a familiar wariness to her expression that makes him tense up as well. She holds out a hand and says, "You coming?"
Alec exhales in relief. He stands up and takes her hand. "Yeah," he says. "I am."
Note: I combined elements from four of the five prompts:
1. Max/Alec, when you come back to me
2. Max/Alec, freedom to love again
3. Max/Alec, amnesia
4. Max/Alec, Vegas
5. Alec, the end of the war
Sadly, I couldn't work the amnesia in. Title from Bob Dylan.
Feedback is always welcome.