Summary: In Max's world, emotional distance is a finite resource.
Fandom: Dark Angel
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers for all aired episodes, heatfic.
Title, Author and URL of original story: The Hubbert Peak, by musesfool
Notes: Thanks, as always, to the Squad for their speedy beta pass.
"Heat," Logan said. For the third or fourth or maybe fifth time. She'd kind of stopped counting when she got distracted by the way his Adam's apple bobbed up and down when he swallowed.
Max shrugged. "Thought it was just the heat wave. Then I had a dream last night involving several hot, inexplicably half-naked, sweaty policemen. Patting me down. Thoroughly. Hands-free full body cavity search thoroughly. And this morning, I caught myself licking my lips while Mole put his guns away."
"That's... Max, why are you here?"
Because she was an idiot with too much faith in her own self control? She shifted her weight from left to right and back again, trying to fidget her way back into something like status quo, fingers curling into her palms. "Figured maybe one of your leads on the virus might know something." God, he looked so adorably rumpled.
"Ah, yes. The virus. That pesky little thing that will lead to my swift and painful demise if you touch me." The sharp edge of the words brought her attention back to reality.
"Guess I should have just called, huh?"
"That would have been the safer, wiser option."
"Sorry. Wasn't thinking straight." The drafting table Logan had set up with his assortment of notes and papers made a convenient barricade. Max moved herself behind it, gripping the top edge hard enough to leave a dent. "So what about your leads? Can you call one? See if some mad scientist somewhere knows something?"
"It's not that simple. The Manticore scientists who are still alive don't make themselves easy to track down. Any of the ones I've managed to contact have probably been through at least three aliases since then. I know it's been a while, but you've made it through this before, Max. You can do it again. And if something happens, we'll get through it."
She shook her head. "It's not the same this time. Ever seen what happens when a tomcat gets a whiff of a queen in heat? Now take that cat and give it superhuman strength and military training. We had an X6 girl hit puberty a few months ago. It wasn't pretty. I can't take that risk."
Understanding dawned, written clearly in the sympathetic lines of his face. "Break curfew. Stay with Cindy."
"'Cause that worked so well last time. Might as well just find someone I can stomach shacking up with for a couple nights and get it over with, if that's the only option you can think of."
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but that might not be the worst idea."
"You've gotta be kidding me."
"Wish I was."
"So if you're giving me pointers on my sex life, got anyone special in mind?"
"I doubt you're going to like it, but one name does spring to mind."
"Max, you're the one who keeps telling me you trust him with your life."
She tightened her grip on the table, more satisfied than she should have been when the laminate made a cracking sound. "You know what I hate even more than the fact that you made this a serious suggestion? The fact that you're right." Fuck her life, and fuck Manticore.
And fuck the fact that suddenly, fucking Alec didn't sound like a bad idea at all.
"No guilt," she muttered. Right, because that ever worked. She knocked, counted to ten, and knocked again. If she made it to ten again, she was kicking the damn thing in before she did something stupid, like going down to command and jumping Mole.
Alec opened just as she was getting to seven.
"To what do I owe--" She watched his eyes widen and his face flush as his brain caught up to his senses. "Oh. Oh, shit."
"Yeah." She stepped inside without bothering to wait for an invitation, kicking the door shut behind her. "Looks like you're about to get lucky."
Or maybe not, from the tight, cautious way he said her name. "Max?"
If Alec had suddenly developed a case of scruples, she was going to kill him. "Don't talk." She shifted closer, hand going from his cheek to the back of his neck, breasts pressing into his chest as his arms closed around her, scruples or no.
"Are you sure?"
That she wanted him to stop talking? Yeah, she was sure. But Max knew that wasn't what he meant, so she forced herself to focus long enough to explain. "You're the safest choice. Logan and I talked about it."
He opened his mouth like he was going to say something. Whatever it was could wait. She had better uses for his tongue than conversation right now.
She tugged at his zipper. Better uses for, oh, all of him. The sooner, the better. Alec's apartment was the opposite of large, his bedroom five steps max from the door. Too far. They landed on the bed with a dull thud, Max on top.
Alec pulled his mouth away, breathing heavily. "Just a sec--" It said a lot about her mental state that her response to Alec twisting over to pull out a condom from the top drawer of the ratty file cabinet by his bed was to whimper in frustration at the delay, even while the remaining shreds of her reason gave thanks.
A fever breaking gave the sufferer relief. When heat broke, all it usually left behind was embarrassment if you were lucky, remorse and recriminations if you weren't. Max looked at Alec sprawled out asleep in the sweaty tangle of his sheets and wondered which one she was this time. She pulled on her underwear, hissing slightly as the fabric hit her still-tender flesh. Maybe somewhere in between.
He woke up while she was buttoning her pants, pushing himself up on his elbows as he watched her finish dressing, his expression carefully, politely blank. Not sure what to say, Max forced her mouth into something she hoped was a smile and let herself out.
Two years and a whole lot of making nice had made it so they were tolerated, if not accepted. Turned out, people were willing to tolerate a lot if it meant having able bodies around doing the kind of dirty work even the most desperate non-transgenic wouldn't risk his or her health over. Alec had told her early on that the trick was going to be getting the corrupt fat cats she and Logan used to try to take down to see what was in it for them. He hadn't been wrong.
Alec's charm and her and Logan's dirt hadn't got them full rights or citizenship yet, but it had got them the opportunities to get jobs complete with special transgenic sector passes, good for getting from Terminal City to wherever they had you cleaning up toxic sludge or hauling noxious chemicals by hand. Or, if you happened to be named Max or Alec, "filing" paperwork for one Reagan Ronald.
"'Working' for Normal is just as much of a pain in the ass as working for Normal." Who, once again, had begged them to fill in for some lazy, no-good, slacker who clearly didn't want this job--his words, not hers.
"Cheer up, Max. At least he waited until the day was half over to ask. Unlike yesterday."
"Whatever." She tossed her packages in with Alec's. "These are on your way. Don't forget to get a signature."
"Gotta prep for the meeting with City Council. Unless you want to take over?"
Alec wrinkled his nose. "I'll leave the subterfuge and intrigue and breaking and entering to you and Logan."
"Please. If there was breaking and entering, you'd be all over it."
"What can I say, Max? Digging through boxes and boxes of pre-Pulse public records in search of a connection between one possibly crooked council member and a long-defunct Manticore shadow corporation is too much excitement for me in one night."
"So I guess you won't be showing up at Crash after our 'shift' ends? What with you not being up for any excitement and all." She raised her eyebrows and tried to keep the grin off her face.
"Hey, I may not be up for cross referencing photocopies of deeds of sale or articles of incorporation, but I am always up for a pitcher of beer and a game of pool."
"See you there. Try not to get into trouble all by your lonesome. Last thing I need is to have to save your ass 'cause I let it out of my sight."
"I promise, Max, any trouble my ass needs to get into will just have to wait until we can get into it together."
The pause was halfway to awkward before she found her tongue. "Tell you what: you buy the first round tonight, I'll pretend you never said that."
He agreed with haste. "Deal."
The records were a bust. Too much was missing to piece anything together. Max waited until she was back down by her bike to flip open her phone and call Logan with the bad news. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself. Find anything interesting at work today?"
"You better hope that lead on a data backup in Ohio turns out to be the real deal. Nothing."
"It's like they always say: you win some, you lose some."
"You sound remarkably cheerful for a guy who just found out the puzzle's still missing a few critical pieces."
"Well, I've got a few new leads that look a little more solid than a disgruntled ex-city employee in Cincinnati." She heard the faint creak of springs indicating that he was settling into Sandeman's moth-eaten old armchair. "Beside, it's always good to hear your voice. We don't get as much time to talk as we used to."
She'd called him the morning after she'd left Alec's place to let him know she was okay. That had been two weeks ago. Everything else they'd called each other about since was work related. Outside of his cable hacks and her news conferences, they hadn't even had a chance to see each other's face. That needed to change. "Bunch of us are getting together at Crash after work. Why don't you leave that musty old dump you call home and come join us? First round's on Alec for being an ass."
"Do I even want to know?"
"You can tell me at Crash."
"See you at 8." She flipped the phone shut, a faint smile still playing at the corners of her mouth.
The smile lasted as long as it took her to remember her jacket was still back at her apartment in Terminal City, Seattle still in the grip of the heat wave. The tank top and low-slung cargo pants that had seemed sensible in the morning now felt like a deadly biohazard accident waiting to happen.
What the post-Pulse world lacked in boutique shopping in made up for in unlicensed, unregulated, ongoing street markets and bazaars. Max made her way to the nearest of them, pushing through the racks until she found a thick red turtleneck and well-worn jacket that was equal parts duct tape and black leather. The seller wanted an arm and a leg, but paying too much was a small price for the ability to relax with and not worry about brushing up against Logan by accident, so she forked over the cash, took the new additions to her wardrobe, and headed into an alley to change.
Crash was crowded when she got there, the open windows no match for the thermal energy of a hundred or so people crammed together in a small space. Max spotted Cindy and Alec by the bar and headed their way.
Alec gave her outfit a pointed look. "I see Logan's joining us." It looked to her like he was going to say something else before something, or probably someone, halfway across the room caught his eyes. "Excuse me for a second, ladies."
"You and Hot Boy OK, shugga?" Cindy grabbed the pitcher and poured a glass for Max and a refill for herself.
"Why wouldn't we be? It's not like things between us have to change, just 'cause he's had his dick inside me."
Cindy shuddered, threw Max a dirty look for the overshare, and took a long swallow of her beer. "So you're cool with him hittin' on anything that moves in this place?"
Max glanced over to where Alec was busy chatting up an especially busty bottle blonde, her hot pink tank top riding up just enough to show off her pierced navel, her fingers with their matching hot pink nails holding Alec's wrist in place as she wrote her number on it. Alec looked up, flirtatious smile briefly freezing in place as he met Max's eyes.
"None o' my business," she said, hastily looking away. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Max didn't give a rat's ass what Alec did for recreation, so long as he kept out of trouble and she didn't have to clean up his mess. 'Cause ninety-nine percent of the time, she was able to stick what they'd done away in the necessary evil compartment, assign the blame to Manticore where it belonged, and put it out of her head The other one percent, like now, some look on his face or dumb-ass comment would take her mind right back to the part where maybe she'd had a little too much fun. Times like this, she wasn't sure how she felt.
"Is this seat taken?"
Max smiled up at Logan with relief, gladly derailing her unwelcome train of thought. "Alec's abandoned us for bigger game. It's all yours."
She'd been so focused on Logan, she hadn't noticed Alec walk up behind her. "Max, don't sell yourself short. Her enhancements are all surgical and chemical. Yours are genetic. She's low hanging fruit, not bigger game."
Cindy muttered something about men and pigs and Max smacked him lightly on the arm while she jerked her head toward the pool table, where Sketchy was, as always, in danger of getting taken. "Speaking of low hanging fruit, how 'bout you make yourself useful and keep Sketchy from making more of an ass of himself than usual?"
"It's like old times," Logan observed. "Almost as if the transgenic revolution never happened."
"Same old, same old," she agreed. "Normal even got in a few bip bips this morning."
Same old, same old, just with the added fun of running Terminal City and keeping White and his goons off their backs in between runs for Normal and projects for Logan and her and Alec's regular illicit runs for revenue, ammo, and supplies. Some weeks, she could almost fool herself into thinking maybe some day, it would all be all right. Joke with Cindy and Logan, sometimes Alec, about the absurdities of her life. Think about the possibility of a cure and a future outside of Terminal City. Pretend it wasn't all some last-gasp pipe dream while everything else piled up.
Other weeks, there wasn't even a chance to breathe between each job she had to pull, decision she had to make, life she had to save.
"Why am I in charge again?" she groused to Alec as they waited for the security guard shift change in the broom closet of a warehouse off East Marginal Way. They'd intercepted a report about two transhumans being held there earlier in the day. Not White's men, just your run of the mill scumbags looking to make a quick buck.
Yesterday, it had been stealing the original Stanley Cup from the mob boss who'd stolen it for his personal collection back in 2015, meeting with the mayor's office, fencing the trophy and using the proceeds to buy a month's worth of tryptophan for the X5 population. Normal was probably about ready to fire her again.
"That's easy, Max: because making a stand was your bright idea in the first place." Alec was silent for a moment before adding, "And you're good at it."
"Helps to have a good second in command." She hated to admit it, but some days, she wasn't sure what she'd do without him. "Okay. Shift change. Let's bust them out." Just another typical day.
Same old, same old, except for the part where everything'd changed.
She was strong enough to admit that. Sometimes.
When Manticore's not-quite quarterly gift rolled around again, no cure for any of Manticore's nasty little presents even remotely in sight, Max didn't hesitate. Four months had shown they could be adult about this. Friends with occasional benefits. There were worse things. She broke into the paltry stash of cash she kept for emergencies, picked up a box of condoms and headed to Alec's place.
She didn't bother to call first, but he took it in stride, quirking his head and greeting her with, "What's a few orgasms between friends?" and a shit-eating grin.
"Shut up." Max worked her way out of her shirt, somehow managing to keep hold of her backpack while she did it. "I even brought a gift this time." She dug into the pack's front pocket and pulled a strip of condoms from the box, tossing them in his direction before letting the bag drop to the floor.
They made it through most of the strip before they made it to the bed.
"You don't have to go." Alec's arm was heavy across her waist, his face warm against the back of her neck.
She squirmed out from under his arms and rolled so they were face to face. "I have a lot of work to catch up on. So do you." They always did, even when they hadn't lost a couple of days to their screwed-up biology. Too much on their plate, and not enough hours in the day.
"You could stay. We'll get to it in the morning. I'll get Joshua to make pancakes or something, while Mole gives us the rundown on whatever we've missed."
He interrupted her before she even knew what she was going to say, the words quiet and sincere. "Come on, Max. Sleep for a little while. You could probably use the rest."
She brushed her fingertips against his cheek and extricated herself from the bed. "I don't sleep."
"Sorry," he said, voice flipping back into glib, like he hadn't just tried to convince her to stay. "You look like such a normal, warm blooded girl, I keep forgetting I'm swimming with a shark. Some of us still need our beauty sleep."
Max gave him a quick smile and made good her escape.
In spite of what she'd said about catching up on work, she didn't go back to command, at least not right away. She took a ride to clear her head, and wound up at Original Cindy's place.
"A'ight, girl, spill: what's got my Boo pulling a long face and waking me up at 3 a.m.?" Cindy bit back a yawn and pulled an afghan Max didn't recognize around the both of them.
She fussed with the frayed edges of orange and green acrylic yarn of the blanket's fringe, resting her head on Cindy's shoulder. "It's complicated. I dunno. I guess my life's just destined to be a mess."
"Complicated like, didn't even bother stopping back home to change complicated? Been scratching yo' itch and now it's all weird complicated? Boo, I know you, and you're wearing your man trouble face."
"He asked me to stay."
"Mmm-hmm. And this surprises you why?"
"Because it's Alec. He doesn't work that way."
"You sure about that, Boo?"
Max pulled her knees to her chest, and said in a small voice, "No."
Winter was as cold as the summer'd been hot. Sometimes, it felt like her life revolved around scrounging up two things: fuel and food.
"There's a diesel shipment coming in Thursday night. The owner owes us a favor, and if we can get the guy five hundred by tomorrow, we can get enough gas for the generators for the rest of January." Max stared at the columns of Terminal City's official ledger, the one they kept to give the appearance of coming by things legit. When glaring at them didn't fix the fact that they were operating in the red, she looked at Alec instead. "Bad news is, five hundred's about as realistic right now as ten large."
"Do you want the worse news?" He delivered it without waiting for her answer. "We're out of formula and diapers again. Plus we're low on tryptophan."
"And paint," Joshua's rumble came from behind the storeroom door.
"And paint," Alec added.
"I'll get right on that."
Flooding on the rail and highways and avalanches in the mountain passes knocked out all land routes into Seattle for a week in late February. Between power outages that took out huge chunks of the city-wide supplies of frozen and refrigerated foods and nothing new coming in, the city was crippled by food riots.
She thought she'd been busy before. It had been a cakewalk compared to this. There were new curfews to worry about as the police cracked down on the citizen unrest, and more chaos outside meant more chances than usual that White would stage an attack against them. If she wasn't directing people on how to get to work and back without accidentally provoking a military action, she was working with Alec and Mole on fortification of their alarm and defense systems, or working with Alec on supply runs.
Normal didn't even bother asking if she was going to make it in on the days he had her on the schedule, and finding ways around the food shortages didn't leave much time to help Logan out with his Eyes Only projects. It didn't leave much time for Logan, period.
"Hey," she said, balancing the phone between her ear and shoulder while she sorted usable dumpster salvage from useless.
"Hey, yourself." Call and response, not much more than an echo of what could have been. "How are you holding up?"
"Managed to find some flour today with only a few weevils in it. Nobody got attacked or arrested. It's our best day this week. How 'bout you?"
"Finally got the dirt on our corrupt councilman. He refused to budge his position on Terminal City, so Eyes Only will be spreading the word tonight."
"Score one for the good guys."
"Has to happen sometimes. Just thought you'd like to know."
"Thanks. Look, Logan, I gotta blaze. Have to do perimeter patrol. I'm sorry. I wish--"
"Me too. I know. Take care of yourself, Max. Say hi to Alec and Joshua for me."
She stared at the empty phone, and told the dead air. "I will."
The waters receded, the roads reopened, and things got back to normal, more or less. February gave way to March, Terminal City struggled on, and the estrus bitch came back a few weeks before Easter, right on schedule.
Alec was looking at blueprints when she showed up. She tossed her jacket and gloves onto the couch and went over to take a look.
"The Russians won't go to the cops, and we've got enough firepower to take them on." Thanks to Alec and Mole's stockpiling of weapons during the riots. "But I think we can convince them it's the yakuza. Word on the street is they've been having a lot of trouble with Matsumoto's crew lately."
Smart thinking. Not that she expected anything less, not anymore. "We play our cards right, we can steal from both, let them blame each other."
Alec grinned, finally giving up on the shallow breathing he'd been doing since she'd come in. "That's the plan."
She pushed him back in his chair and crawled into his lap, slipping her hands under his shirt. "I've got a better one for right now."
His fingers made quick work of the hooks of her bra. "Sounds good. Why don't you tell me about it."
"I think I should show you." And she kissed him, hard.
If he asked this time, maybe she'd stay. But before it got to that point, she was pretty sure she wanted to fuck him on every available surface in the house.
They got to most of them.
She watched Alec sleep for the better part of an hour, trying to make up her mind. Like Joshua'd once said, Alec only fooled Alec. He could try to hide it, but she'd known what he wanted for a long time. The real question was who, exactly, was Max trying to fool?
The answer to that one, she didn't know. But she wasn't going to figure it out if she left now. He hadn't asked. That didn't mean she couldn't stay and find out.
Max woke up alone in the bed, sunlight streaming through the cracked and dusty glass of the window panes. Alec hadn't gone far: he was at the foot of the bed, pulling a pair of sweats up over his hips, a pensive look on his face that vanished the second he realized she was awake.
"Thought you said you didn't sleep."
"I don't sleep much. Guess I was finally ready to take you up on the offer."
Alec disappeared through the doorway that led off to the kitchenette. She listened to the rattle of cutlery and dishes as he dug through the drawers, no doubt looking for the mugs.
"Bottom right," she called out. Wasn't her fault he hadn't been paying attention when she'd cleared his countertop last night. Well, maybe a little her fault for insisting he go to the freezer to grab the ice.
"I'd offer you cream and sugar, but it hasn't been the greatest month for the kinds of supplies we get legit."
He came back in with a mug in each hand, setting one down on the file cabinet and holding the other out to her as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "What happens next?"
Max pushed her hair away from her face before reaching out to take the proffered mug. She held it under her nose and inhaled the burnt tire scent of the steam until it overwhelmed the stink of sex. "Dunno. " This part she'd never been good at. "I haven't planned much past not throwing on my clothes and claiming I gotta blaze." She took a sip of the coffee and gave him a tentative smile. "But maybe after we're done with the casino, we could go back to my place."