You and your museum of lovers
The precious collection you've housed in your covers
My simpleness threatened by my own admission
Bathwater – No Doubt
Just another typical day in Command. Every inch of her desk was crowded with papers. She sighed deeply while she tried to put them in order, failing once again. An entire forest must have died to produce such amount of celulose.
The sounds of people coming and going outside her office filled her ears, humming like working bees, trying to compel with whatever they had to do. Shutting the door wouldn't solve anything, wouldn't even muffle the noise. Privacy didn't exist in TC —superhuman hearing and all that jazz—, so there was no point in pretending. Besides, the well aged wood and the rusty hinges weren't responsible for any of the problems of the transgenic community nor the incredibly large amount of people who came bearing those problems. No need to submit the door to all that extra work, right?
Feeling exhausted, she sat on the chair behind her desk, wiggling restlessly to that particular sharp edge which always poked her ass. Alec had found it in a dumpster just as pretty much all of the furniture adorning HQ, and it's not like she could go ahead and buy a new chair.
She remembered that particular afternoon, a couple of days after the siege started, when Alec had snatched her arm without previous notice. She'd shouted, demanding him to let her go, but all she got in response was his trademark grin and a mischievous glint in his eyes. Scowling at his rudeness, she let herself be dragged upstairs to a medium size room with some office equipment in it. She was about to ask who and how when she turned to face Alec and saw the almost boyish smile playing on his lips. She couldn't help but to smile back. It was a very rare view, a real smile from him and maybe, just maybe that was the reason why she kept her mouth shut about the uncomfortable chair.
Now, months later and after last night difference of opinions —it wasn't an attempt to engage warfare actions, no matter what Mole said— she couldn't avoid thinking that her SIC had managed to annoy her even when he wasn't present at the moment.
Ass, she thought while her mind got filled with the remembrance of his cheeky grin and carefree attitude.
Last night, all she'd wanted was to relax a bit. The week had been long and full of forever-lasting phone calls with politicians, half-assed and mind-narrowed politicians. Most of them petty, oversized ego owners. Yeah, the worst kind. Were some rations and med supplies too much to ask? They seemed to think so. So on with the raids it was if they wanted to stay alive.
On top of that, the full moon had apparently encouraged four of the pregnant X5's to give birth on wednesday night. And because her life as CO was getting too easy and boring, on thursday afternoon, Lucy and Marley went into heat in the middle of the gym.
She was still sporting some of the bruises she'd got trying to separate a couple of guys who were fighting for dominance over the females.
Naturally, when friday night came along and despite her obligation to returning to HQ on saturday morning, she went to The Hole, their best attempt as a nation to a bar.
Just a beer and some time off, maybe even a bit of chat with Joshua and checking he was doing fine. Then early to bed. Yes, she had her badass shark DNA, but hell, she needed sleep at least one night out of four.
The Hole was, as usual, quite crowded. After all, there wasn't that much of a choice. She sat at the counter and asked for that long expected beer, conveniently forgetting Alec's contraband lines. As she was about to take the first sip, someone tapped her shoulder. Sighing, Max turned around.
Charlie was staring at her. Hard.
The voluptuous X5 was well known between the male population. She carried pure determined blue eyes and red long wavy hair. Everybody were more or less aware of her strong personality and her rank approaching at the top of the alpha females. It was no secret that she could have practically any male she wanted. The subject wasn't at all of Max's interest, but that was about to change.
"Charlie, what can I do for you?" she asked sarcastically, not liking a bit the way the redhead was eyeing her.
"I'd like to have a word with you," Charlie answered, crossing her arms under her prominent breasts. Max forced herself to remain impassive. "I want to know why you haven't claimed Alec."
Okay, so small talk was out of the table. Max concealed her shock at the weird —not to mention, unnerving— question and instead, raised an eyebrow pretending nonchalance. She could feel she was cruising on dangerous waters here and she couldn't let something like this get in the way with her position as leader.
"Let's pretend for a moment that the subject's any of your concern," Max started, and when the other woman tried to interrupt, she raised a hand imposing herself. "What is it to you if I claim Alec or not?"
A while back, Alec had explained her how things worked between the X5's. Most of them had feline DNA, which made them prompt to mate, to find that other person who would fill their lives and all of that sappy stuff. He had also given her the cues of the ranks they were on, how both of them were alphas, which Max thought was a whole load of crap. She had never been an alpha, at least not with her original unit, her family. She didn't even know what it meant.
At the face of her desbelief, Alec had shrugged and said he was just telling her what his instincts told him. He had seemed really serious about it, but Max couldn't help think she didn't have time for such nonsense.
Now however, an ice-cold blue stare pierced straight through her and she promptly remembered that mating did matter to most of the transgenics. Those eyes were studying her, daring her. The realisation that this woman was ready to fight her over Alec hit her. Clearly, Charlie wasn't joking.
"Well, when we got to TC, you two were dating and even though the Ordinary is always around, I haven't seen Alec with other women," the redhead explained in full petulant mode, not backing out a single inch.
Max gritted her teeth at the mention of Logan. No matter what she did to rectify the fact that he had a name, the denomination "Ordinary" stuck trough out the inhabitants of TC. Anyway, it was better that being called ape or monkey by Mole. There was no lost love between Logan and the scaly man.
"Charlie, Alec is my friend and SIC, but no more," Max said, surprising herself by the friend title she had given him. Sure, he was good at what he did, always backing her with her decisions. True, they spend a lot of time together, some of it even out of Command, but that was pretty much it. Did that make them friends? "We sort of dated for thirty seconds and that was almost a year ago."
That was kind of a lie, they had never dated, just pretended to date for the sake of keeping Logan away and safe. But when the siege began and her life went completely FUBAR, she had to put things on the level with Logan. She told him about her charade with Alec and explained her reasons. As the months went on and her relationship with the cyber journalist rapidly deteriorated, she was forced to make a decision: she couldn't keep up with their 'hot-cold' sort of relationship. She just didn't have the time nor the energy to do so. Anyway, that was water from another river.
She had bigger issues right now, soap opera issues. Max resisted the urge to snort and turned her attention back to the girl standing in front of her.
Relief passed trough Max's mind and Charlie's face as she nodded. Both women knew what a mating war meant. Nothing pretty, that's for sure.
"Thank you for coming clean to me. With all the rumours running around, I didn't know what to think."
Max's eyes narrowed.
Dread cursed trough her. What was coming weren't good news and she could almost smell it.
"It's just that there's been a lot a talking lately about you two..." Charlie looked at Max and could see just fine how the anger was building up under the surface of their fearless leader, so she took a tactical retrieval. After all, she already had her answer.
Max was left alone —finally— and concentrated on her beer, trying to figure out if it was more or less watery than the ones she used to drink at Crash. Ah... The good old days, when she was nobody but a low life bike messenger and she had very few responsibilities.
That's why she didn't hear the whispers around her, but she felt the stares at her back alright. Probably Charlie'd let slip bits of their conversation and the rumour mill had started operating again.
After her third bottle, Max succeeded at calming herself enough but she couldn't help wonder where the hell did those ideas of Alec and her being an item had come from. How long had this been going on? It wasn't a shock she didn't know about it. Even though she had many friends among the transgenics, she wasn't a people person all the way. But Alec was. So he must have known. That bastard.
"Maxie, really humane of you to join the populace."
Speaking of the devil...
Max turned to face him and tried hard not to erase that ridiculous grin out of his face with a punch. Instead, she had to settle for sending a deadly glare and perhaps give him the chance to explain himself.
Alec didn't seem to notice he was seconds away of being murdered if he didn't choose his words carefully.
"Aw, c'mon Maxie, what's with the grumpy face?"
He took a seat at her right as he asked the bartender, a transhuman with several pairs of arms, for a scotch. A playfull snort of laugh scaped him when he noticed the way she was looking at him and that skyrocketed her wrath.
"Don't call me Maxie," she grunted trough clenched teeth.
"Please, enlight me Maxie, what exactly got your panties into a knot?" Alec grinned even wider, if that was possible, pronouncing her name with special care; letting her know that yes, he'd heard her, but he'd decided to ignore it.
Max forced herself to calm down, he was not getting the best of her. Not again. She wouldn't play his game this time.
"Maybe you can help me, Pretty Boy. I've heard some... interesting rumours."
"Have you? I didn't know you were so into the gossip. Care to share?"
Alec played with his glass, avoiding her stare and that gave her the cue she was going by the right track.
"Apparently, the entire city believes you and me are together," she said. Proud, she congratulated herself for not letting any of the embarrassment she felt crept into her voice. She kept staring at him, waiting for a reaction, something. Hopefully, outrageus desbelief, but possibly he would only laugh about it, brushing it off.
Instead, nothing. Absolutely nothing came from him and she could see the fake indiference. What the...
"Do you know anything about that?" she pushed. "Alec?"
All this misterious crap was really getting to her. She could feel the anger rising again, couldn't help it. Max grasped his shoulder and made him look at her. His face was still concealed, but his eyes... God, there was so much emotion whirling inside those eyes that she forgot about her hand touching him. There was something tempestuous lying within the hazel green and Max could not put a finger on it.
"I kind of started the rumour," he said all over sudden, like there was nothing wrong with that.
"What?" Max gasped. "Why?!"
"Remember when Rob's unit came along, about two months ago?" he asked pulling away from her, as if he couldn't stand the sight of her brown gaze. She just nodded. "Most of the females were mated but Liz, the SIC, wasn't. So I asked her out. I didn't know for sure if there were other females interested in me too, I didn't pay attention. Turns out there were..."
Yeah, right, she thought sarcastically. Women practically begged for landing on his radar and he very damn well knew it.
"Yeah, I kind of got that about twenty minutes ago when Charlie came on to me demanding to know why I haven't claimed you yet," her voice sounded dangerous while she sent her hands to her hips to emphasize her point.
"No way..." It wasn't he didn't believed her, he did; but the thought slipped away out loud.
She threw him a severe look and he rectified. "I'm sorry, Max. I didn't think it would go this far. I said we were going out to avoid the fight between them."
"Bullshit, Alec. You just took the easy way out."
The feeling of being no more than his cover story formed a lump down her throat, jeopardizing the steadiness of her voice and she barely managed to control it. He'd used her as an excuse and a few minutes back she'd called him her friend... She had made peace with Alec's antics and motions through life —mostly— and she trusted him more than she ever considered possible. Then, something like this came up... Was she ever going to learn?
"You know what would've happened..."
"Yes, one of them would've won and then claimed you. But you also had a choice. If you didn't want neither of them, you could have said 'no'. It's not an obligation to mate with the winner. So do me a favour and spare me the crap, Alec. You just didn't want to be the bad guy."
As she finished her rant, she noticed how much her heart rate had speeded up, something she hadn't felt in a really long time, the rush caused by the possibility of a fight. She couldn't decide if it was good or bad.
"So what if I didn't?" Alec dared. But despite his cocky response, he was getting restless in his seat, which was uncommon in him. His stance was always cool and controlled, but not tonight, not with this subject. Something inside Max roared in pleasure when she realized she was unnerving him.
"So what?! I got to be the bitch of the tale, that's what! You could at least told me about it!"
That was it, her voice rose and he lost the last of his grip as well. He stood up and exited the place in haste, not looking back.
Max followed, catching up with him as he was crossing the street. She grabbed his arm and pulled, forcing him to look at her.
His face was hard. The stony expression he wore made Max make a double take. She waited a few moments, not knowing what to do until he found his voice.
"That's rich, Max, coming from you... Remind me again how it was I learnt about our relationship," he said in a low tone, though it screamed warning.
"That was completely different and you know it. Besides, this has nothing to do with Logan and me. It's about you, tomcatting your way trough life! Hell, I don't even know why I'm suprised. It's not like it's a new behaviour in you. All you care about is getting in the pants of a girl and once it's done, you move on to the next one. Typical."
And with that, she left. A shy voice in her head told her she hadn't been quite fair with Alec, but she pushed the thought away.
She got home burning in anger and disappointment, scolding herself for being such a stupid, believing he could change, that all of this long months had meant something and somehow they were reaching some level of friendship.
Of course, she didn't sleep at all.
So, a few hours later and after a quick shower, Max headed to Command to fulfill her duties, hoping she could get distracted in her work.
That had lead her here, to this moment; to her sitting in that damned chair, feeling uneasy with pretty much every aspect of her life and not being able to stop thinking how Alec could easily fill a complete building of TC with his lovers.
Sure, the man was attractive. Every single X5 was. Yeah, he could seduce women by sweet talking them. Again, nothing special. He kind of had this anti-hero aura going on, maybe that was what made him so... inviting. Or maybe it was the alpha in him, she thought.
Nevermind, she was wasting precious time in things that would take her nowhere and sure as hell, were none of her business.
Max shook her head as she lifted from her seat, wanting badly to be able to rest. She exited the office and HQ to get a cup of coffee from the Mess Hall. It wasn't very good but at least it had caffeine and it'll keep her going until tonight. Half way down her cup, her cell phone rang loudly in the almost empty place. She took it out from her pocket, eyeing the display.
She considered not answering, but then she thought something might have happened concerning TC. Taking a deep breath, she pressed a button.
"Well, good morning to you to, Max. God, you're such a b—"
"Is there a reason why you called or just felt like insulting me?" she interrupted.
"You didn't let me finish, I was going to say 'beautiful person'."
She could sense that damned smirk on the other side of the phone. Jerk.
"Whatever. You have ten seconds to tell me whatever it is you want."
She wasn't kidding. He was among her least favourite persons on this Earth right now.
"Okay, okay. A pipe broke down on Oak Street, almost at the Fifth. It's a main one, so there's water everywhere. Already sent two teams to take care of it. Thought you might wanna know."
"I'm on my way."
"No need, I—"
She didn't catch the rest of the phrase because she cut off the call. She drank the rest of that tinted water that the people in charge of the Mess wanted make people believe it was coffee and run for it.
She was ten blocks away from the site, so she blurred.
Alec didn't lie. There was water all over the place and what seemed to be a geiser rising from the middle of the street. The water was freezing, something to be expected at the end of december and somehow, it helped her to take de edge off, even taking to account Alec's presence there.
A couple of hours later and a near hypothermia experience, a quarter of their city didn't have water, but they had isolated the troublesome section of the pipe. In two or three days it would be a problem from the past.
Like your former breeding partner, only he's not so in the past.
Alec is not my mess to fix, she rectified herself. He's a grown man. He could do whatever he damned well like, or whoever for that matter. She did not care at all. She didn't.
Max drag herself out of Command at the end of her shift, silently thanking all higher powers because she didn't have to come back until monday morning, unless of course, all hell broke loose. Mole said his goodbyes with a grunt, as usual.
She got home and took a deserved hot shower, lingering under the spray until her toes properly wrinkled. The moment of solitude only made her mind race toward certain transgenic with hazel eyes, the one she had to thank for the water heater. Green entwined with flashes of gold. Eyes which slightly changed colour according the mood of their owner. How did she know such thing scaped her grasp.
At first, all she saw when looking at them was the shadow of her brother, Ben. But that'd been a long time ago. Ben and Alec were nothing alike. Ben had been kind and sweet —at least, during his childhood—, always taking care of her no matter what. When she got the shakes, Ben was there telling her stories to calm her down. When her shark DNA took hold, he would stay awake with her, even when he much needed the sleep.
Alec was all about witty remarks, sarcasm and full time tease. It often got to the point of annoyance with him, as if irritating her was his goal in life, and he was quite good at it. But then again, he always had her back. Of all of those Eyes Only missions he'd tagged along, how many would have gone south if he hadn't been there, with her? Despite her anger and killer instincts towards him, she couldn't let pass by the only thing Alec probably shared with his twin: he always took care of her.
Alec most likely thought she didn't notice it —and for a while, she hadn't—, but she knew what were his reasons for riling her up all the time. It was his way to cheer her up. For all his screw ups, he did know how to make her laugh.
That voice in her head which spoke about unfairness rose again and this time, she had to admit it. Alec was more than just a womanizer.
She'd almost finished dressing and was still wandering in thought when she heard a knocking on her front door.
As Alec materialized at her doorstep, she suddenly remembered why she was so mad at him.
He made you look like a total heartless bitch in front of everybody. Not that it was much far from the truth, but still.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, feeling exhausted and emotionally uncapable of anything. After that big fiasco with Logan and the virus, she had shutted down. Pure defence mechanisms combined with a ton of work to do kept her shielded, safe. Logan'd told her he wouldn't give up on a cure, but being honest, she wasn't sure she cared anymore. She wasn't sure if she could feel.
"Can I come in?"
Alec was soaked from head to toes just like she had been half an hour ago and by the same reasons. His face was bland, but then again his eyes were another story. Just as last night, masses of emotions flew trough them and it was all too much for her new discovered incompetence to manage her own feelings, not to mention other's. She was just too tired.
Max tore her gaze away as well as her body, letting him pass. She shut the door and without thinking about it, she hugged herself.
Alec noticed it. She had been doing that a lot lately and he didn't particularly enjoy it when it was him she was protecting from.
"There's still some hot water. Go and take a shower. That's why you're here, right?" she said pointing her head at his backpack. She sounded bitter and exhausted.
"No... Well, yes," he said, absently scratching his barcode. "There's no water at home, but that's not the only reason I'm here. I wanna talk to you."
That was another thing that fascinated Max about him: he could change moods in less than a second. In a blink of an eye, Peter Pan was gone leaving behind a serious young man.
"I talked to the girls, you know, Charlie and Liz. I told them the truth and I think they're okay with it. Although they did punch me before they left."
Max saw the red spot around his right eye. It was starting to bruise. A small laugh scaped her mouth as she shook her head and searched trough the freezer for some ice. She wrapped it up in a cloth and gently pressed it on the top of his cheekbone.
He winced a bit and she retreated her hand.
"It's okay. It doesn't hurt much," he said, taking her hand in his and back to his face.
"I'm still mad at you," she announced, locking her eyes on his for the first time since he had entered the room.
The moment felt charged, the air in the room suddenly got thick as they held each other's gaze. After what seem to be ages, she lowered her hand and he let go.
Max left the ice pack on the kitchen counter and snuggled on the couch under a blanket. They fell back into their easy routine of banter and sarcasm until Alec went to take that shower.
She chuckled when she heard him half hum, half sing a song.
So what if women threw themselves to his feet? Sure, he could have a shred of decency and clean after himself a bit more carefully. Still, Max knew most of those girls didn't mean that much to him. Most of them didn't know anything about Alec, he always kept them at arms length. Suddenly, she felt privileged. There was still times when Alec shut himself up but it wasn't that often. Maybe she didn't really know him, but she knew him better than a lot of people.
So yeah, that's why she thought of him as her friend. They had found a way to sneak up in each other's lives.
"Well Maxie, I gotta say looking at your bathtub I can see the appeal of those long bubble baths of yours. Will you let me try it sometime?"
Alec sounded hopeful and she hid the smile that wanted to surface.
"Maybe, if you behave."
"I'll be a good boy. Just wait and see..."
He grinned widely, his eyes loaded with intention. He would not be Alec without that sexual innuendo always creeping out of him.
Max rolled her eyes thinking he was a lost cause for that matter.
They shared a couple of chicken sandwiches sitting on her ratty couch, talking about trivial stuff.
And then, when Alec woke up next morning with Max's head on his shoulder, he couldn't help feel warm in a way that seemed new to him. That couch was a nightmare to sleep on, as his neck reminded him; but it was worth it.
He didn't waste time trying to figure out what it meant. He just knew Max was a big part of his life and that was enough, at least, for now.