shallowness: Five panels featuring pictures of different female characters based on my interests at the time. (Default)
[personal profile] shallowness
Title: Retrieval
Fandom: Dark Angel
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Max/Alec, past Jondy/Alec
Word Count: 3,103.
First posted: December 2005
Summary: Max didn't think; Alec is trying to protect himself.

Author's Notes: 'She Ain't Heavy' ended slightly differently. AU from that point on. With thanks to izabelevans, lusmeilti and FridayAngel for their betaing, all idiocies are my own.

Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and I make no profit from this fiction.


Retrieval: shallowness


He started when he saw her curled up on his sofa in his apartment's living room. He was sober, far from tired and not hallucinating. There had been no signs of forced entry to his door and so he assumed she'd got in through one of the windows. He'd always meant to strengthen the bars, just hadn't got round to it. Most of what he had that was worth something was kept in a lock-up in another sector completely.

His step was controlled, quiet, as he listened to her steady breathing, trying to see if she was faking it or really asleep. She had to be exhausted to not stir at his entrance, even to be sleeping at this not-so-late hour with her DNA.

He frowned as he shrugged off his jacket – this was all assuming it was Max. Could be her clone, and though she smelled like Max, with traces of her Kawasaki mixed with a dozen elements that were all too familiar, the only way of being sure was checking her barcode, which would wake her.

Worse, she'd be in a bad temper. Right now, letting her sleep was better; it gave him a chance to adjust to having a part of his Seattle life come find him in New York. A chance to pull up the shades and barriers he was going to need for what was ahead.

*

She stirred, dark brown strands of hair sliding over the lighter brown pleather. Alec had taken the apartment furnished, not caring about much more than having a sturdy bed and an operational fridge and boob tube. He'd struck lucky. It had turned out better than those basic requirements, so he'd stayed here.

He was seated on a chair turned the wrong way, watching her intently. He'd got a beer without waking her, which confirmed to him that she really was exhausted, and it couldn't be an immediate emergency, or she'd have stayed awake for his return. So he had sat watching, stretching silently every now and then. It was two hours since he'd let himself into his apartment and he hadn't even looked towards his TV set. Perhaps his head was still spinning.

He hadn't expected her or anyone to come after him. The instruments of law would probably never connect Alec Sands with Alec McDowell, too busy trying to work out what was up their asses. Alec was more concerned about those who operated differently – 'Feds' with cages like Ames White and the resources he commanded. After all, Alec had never promised more than a short-term fling to any of the ladies he'd, er, flung; Joshua had chosen the 'nomalies of Terminal City, none of whom were likely to take a road trip any time soon; Normal, OC and Sketchy would go on without him. As for Max, he'd always assumed that, like Logan, she'd be glad to see him go. Deep down relieved to be free of his kind of trouble.

Yet he hadn't been fully able to cut his ties to the old place. He was always making time to watch the national news bulletins, alert to any mention of Seattle. Ironically, the Pulse had stuck the eastern side of the States behind the west.

It was four months, his brain supplied too quickly, since he'd done Max one more favor, by arranging transport for her clone and said clone's family. Max hadn't thanked him, any more than she'd waited for him at Sandeman's or left a note. All he'd been left with was Joshua's map – the knowledge that one friend had chosen Terminal City and that the other friend wasn't his friend at all. He'd let himself believe – after the confessions, after the Needle – that at least he and Max were that.

But he'd sat watching her quietly for two hours now, and he could admit that he'd been hoping for more from her, and whether it was self-respect or an instinct for survival that had made him run, he hadn't run far enough.

She started stirring some more, sighing now, obviously waking up. He took a swig of all that the bottle had left to give, still barely registering the taste, his preparation for the interesting part of the night.

*

When Max woke, it was immediate, legs straightening, rising using her elbow as a pivot, and then she saw Alec. The tiniest flick of an eyelid, an even straighter posture, and that was it, her response. She was playing it cool, hiding the fact that she felt anything or that there was anything to feel. Manticore Survival 101.

"What time is it?" she asked.

Without much real amusement in his voice, her host answered,

"You really know how to exchange pleasantries, don't you? It's about eleven, Max. Been here long?"

"I guess," she answered, sitting up stiffly, wishing she hadn't crashed and made herself vulnerable. She didn't remember what she'd planned to say – snark about the decor? She looked up at Alec full in the face, and it seemed to set him off,

"So you just decided to swing by here for old times' sake? Thought you'd visit me in the Big Apple?" Alec asked. He didn't sound angry, somewhere between casual and sarcastic, she thought. "Strange thing is that I don't remember leaving a forwarding address."

She swallowed, looked at her creased pants to steady herself, and then glared at him.

"We kept expecting you to-"

"Come back?"

"-call. Send an e-mail! Send something. Joshua-"

"-is fine on his own in TC."

Had he always talked like this, she wondered. This sarcastic, this distancing? She missed the charmer inviting her in on the joke, suddenly. But she guessed Alec had a right to make this awkward, and turn the tables on her. She also knew that he wasn't designed to back down once he'd committed to something. He was just as much an X5 as her.

Max shook her head.

"-misses you." She looked at him then, soberly, her eyes taking in the light brown hair that was long enough to cover his barcode, the blueish-gray shirt, the details of his face that she'd taken for granted then tried to blur her memory of.

"He's painting again. I tried to get him to sell – he won't. And when I approached Rita-" she frowned. "Let's just say that that was a fiasco."

"Let's." He replied, and she felt rebuffed, because she'd given him an opening, she'd thought Joshua was a safe topic. Better, someone Alec might want to talk about, hear about. But his attitude was all shields up. "Would you like a drink?"

"What do you want me to say?" was her answer, ignoring the offer, trying to get at him.

"'Hello, Alec. The reason I came to see you now isn't actually that I'm looking for someone to broker a deal between Joshua and Seattle's Art Gallery,'" his eyes narrowed. "How did you find me? And why now? There weren't any electronic traces to hack into. How did you make the connection? Get my location?"

"You got beer?" she demanded, getting up and casting aside her jacket. Everything about her was definite, the movements and the rebuff – she'd obviously scoped out the apartment before hitting the sofa, because she was well on her way to the kitchen.

Perhaps because he'd watched another outline make pretty much the same movements in the same place, he made his own connections and let out a sigh of realization. "Your big sister found her way over to Seattle."

*

Max had allowed herself a quick glance over her shoulder, but Alec's face had told her nothing, and she hoped that he hadn't learnt anything from hers. Confirmation maybe, but nothing else.

It was strange, though, to be walking in the small kitchen, knowing that Jondy had been here, probably wearing nothing but a snagged t-shirt, if that, prowling for night-time snacks. Her big sister hadn't gone into details, but Max knew that she and Alec had been lovers. Even if Jondy'd said straight up that it had been more about finally having sex with no holds barred than a relationship, the word was 'lovers.'

"Jondy was different to you, different to Zack." Alec said softly, as Max returned with her opened bottle, moving cautiously as if there were an alarm just waiting to be tripped.

"You never knew Zack, not really," Max couldn't help but correct him.
Alec shrugged.

"I bought it when she said she was going back to San Fran. Shows how much I knew Jondy." Or maybe he'd been so relieved that she'd made it easy for him by leaving before they both had to admit that what they had wouldn't work for much longer. She'd said goodbye as casually as the state they'd worked so hard at achieving when they were together. He hadn't tried to read her beyond what she'd put out there. Ever.

"Said she wanted to see how I turned out with her own eyes," Max said, remembering Jondy's speech to that effect last night. They'd been sitting on a rooftop's edge, high, within spitting distance of Terminal City. Max thought now they'd both been glad that the night was cloudy when Jondy had spilled,

"He couldn't make up his mind if you were a bitch or an angel."

"Right. Alec said that?" Max had challenged her.

"Nah. He said you were all right, but he didn't sound as if he believed it. Told me some stuff about what you'd done – the set up here," and she waved her hands towards Max's new home. "I knew there was a lot he wasn't saying. And I'm part cat, I was bound to be curious about my little sis, wanted to see how you turned out with my own eyes." Jondy quietened, having made her report. But if they had been on a mission, it would probably have been too dark for Max to confirm a visual.

Max had hugged her again then, because Seattle was dangerous for freaks, even stunning redheads who passed for a tough-talking ordinary could be suspect. Especially when her basal temperature gave her away where nothing else would. She'd left her sister settling in on Oak Street, eyeing up the available X5s.

She'd left Jondy to come here...and found her all over again.

"What can I say? I'm part cat, I get curious?" Alec mimicked, getting the inflection down perfectly. Max stared at him. "That was always her excuse for everything. So, what do you have to say for yourself, Maxie?"

*

She didn't want to answer his question. Too open-ended, too much like the questions she hadn't begun to ask herself. Wanted to drink a whole lot more before she began to grovel. That morning, OC had told her to apologize. Max had wanted to know what Cindy thought she needed to apologize for.

"After all, he was the one who ran," she'd muttered. Cindy had just stared her down, not even needing to remind Max of the time she'd hugged her goodbye before Max had tried to do her own running. She'd hugged Max as she left for this journey, too.

"Bring him back," was all Joshua had said when Max had told him where she was headed.

Max wished she'd found room for either of them and their easy words on the back of her Ninja. If she'd planned this, she could have done, but as soon as Jondy had told Max that she'd known 494 in New York, the knowledge had fuelled something that had driven her here before she'd thought it through, talked it out or come up with a plan. It seemed as if she'd burned out all her inspiration on the way, though, because she couldn't seem to come up with a word now.

"Was I meant to just welcome you here? Ask what was up?" His voice was dull, as if he couldn't even find anger for her, and she shuddered. It wasn't hollowness – it was deliberate.

"You never explained why you left," she said hoarsely. "I asked everyone. You told Normal you needed to move on, spun Sketch a line about expanding your horizons. You picked your time to tell OC, me and Josh. And when we compared notes – what you'd said didn't add up."

"Remind you of anyone, Max?"

"I changed my mind, I stayed," she said defiantly, the nagging question of whether he'd overheard her speaking to Logan answered.

"No, you didn't," he said quietly. "You didn't wait for me," her back to the fridge door, her eyes went up to his, puzzled. "At Sandeman's."

Her eyes widened. "Joshua was- he left."

"You never got comfortable with the cell phone, didya? But let's not pretend that you even thought about finding a way of clueing me in about your movements." He rose up, a swiftness in the gesture that reminded her that he wasn't just an X5 like her, but had had years of training in addition. And in Terminal City she'd seen enough of other X5 who didn't have his reasons for holding back to know what that meant. He remained standing, his body language reminding her that this was his place and she was uninvited.

"Yeah, I'm a bitch," the flippancy was pained. It was close to an admission.

"Let's not mince words, Maxie, you're an ungrateful bitch. Hell, you're probably only here because you need me for something. Is it Logan? You guys finally neatly got a cure? Or is it a heist that only I'd have a line on? Are there some really, really bad people you wanna steal from? Or White? Do you want me to help you kick his ass?"

She flushed, then ground out, "I don't know why I came here, expecting you to be anything but a jerk."

He grinned, "Would you prefer a doormat? Because if you ever thought that's what I was, you were way off."

"I didn't-"

"What's interesting is why you assumed I'd be around to help out-"

"You owed me and you knew it!" She snapped, walking up towards him, every step vehement.

"Whatever, Max. Whatever it is, it isn't going to drag me back to Seattle." Brown eyes clashed with hazel. Both had been waving their bottles as they raised their voices. For them, they were breathing heavily.

"Out of interest, is this week's crisis Logan?" he asked.

"It's no one's crisis."

"Then what is it?"

"Needed to check up on ya," she muttered.

"I can look after myself."

She snorted.

"I'm not Joshua, or the puppy that you think he is, and you're not Zack, you don't have to check up on your unit," he said. "Really, that's it? That's why you came? You could have just got in touch for that, made a call, an e-mail. Jondy could have given you the details." She stared at him.

He raised his eyebrows, still hostile, leaning a little forward for emphasis. Making her answer.

"Needed to see for myself," she said firmly. "Okay, yeah, there's... there's trouble coming, but we're organized. Terminal City's ours, our place, and we're gonna be ready when it's attacked. Jondy's not the only one of us who found her way to Seattle."

He waved his free hand.

"That's the wrapping around the story. Gimme what's really happening."

"I've got lieutenants I can trust, CeCe, Mole, Biggs."

"Biggs?"

Max nodded at him, relieved that the news had shaken him back to being something like the Alec she recognized.

"You know him?" she asked.

Alec shrugged, and there was no reading the gesture, but Max thought that that was just him making up for letting his guard drop. Or maybe she hoped that's what it was.

"They work at Jam Pony like me, like you did. Well, not Mole, but the other two, them and the others who look human, we got passes and pay-slips for them, but there are gonna be laws coming in-"

"I know. McKinley." The low heavy tone of his voice implied he knew plenty. He probably even had plans, ones that involved running, probably crossing borders. "Can't Eyes Only find the dirty on him? With that much hate for us, there has to be something from his past."

Max's shrug was awkward.

"Logan says that McKinley's only one of the hydra's heads. His backers will put someone else in place if we get rid of him."

"You don't agree?"

"Tactically, I do. My gut wants McKinley down. But Logan's right."
Alec just nodded, took a sip and she found herself adding, "We haven't found a cure. He and I-"

"I don't really want to know."

"There's nothing to know," she snapped. "Okay?"

He looked at her, looking for something. She was pretty sure that her eyes had had much the same look when she rode into town.

And suddenly Jondy and all the other women didn't matter to her. It didn't matter that she hadn't actually said she was sorry. She'd thought that the mission had been retrieval, but now she thought she'd been too hasty, hadn't wanted to take the time to admit that she didn't want him back as was. And he was going to make her put it into words, she didn't have to apologize, but she had to be clear. Before he asked, the words came out,
"Come back for me. With me."

"But what's the crisis? What do you want me to haul ass back to Seattle for?" and his tone was light, teasing, like it had always been, and she hid the relief, but her words came easily,

"You're living in some rat-infested dump."

"Hey, on behalf of New York, I object to that."

"And if you stay here long enough, you'll pick up the accent." He rolled his eyes. "But even that won't be enough to get you out of jail when you get into trouble, and at least I know the layouts in Seattle."

"But you already have great lieutenants, none of whom would pull any crazy-ass stunts. Well, Biggs might, but it would probably be down to vodka. That's a free tip, by the way." He was chattering, but his stance was expectant, far from relaxed. She thought that he felt it too.

"I need you." And then she was going to take it back, because it was dumb, dumb, dumb to say such a thing, to put it out there, but he was already shutting her up well and good. And, stretching up to meet him, matching his every move, Max decided she was definitely going to bring this Alec back home with her.

Fin

Feedback is always welcome.

Author’s Notes 2: I probably would never have written this had I not read, Baloo's ‘Something like belonging’, Valjean's ‘Missed Chances’ and Scarlet's fics.

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