part 1 Coeur qui soupire n’a pas ce qu’il desire
part 2 Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée
part 3 Goutte à goutte, l’eau use la pierre
part 4 A`cœur vaillant rien d’impossible
Exasperated, Max turned around, rolling her eyes as she did and hissed back at him between clenched teeth, “What what? You heard me.”
Alec rocked on his feet and tilted his head. A small smile ghosted his lips because, seriously, he couldn’t have heard correctly. Max had to be kidding, right? Alec laughed nervously as he asked, “Maxie, you’re not serious?”
Max’s lips tightened into a grime line. A deadpan stare followed and long seconds passed, confirming Alec’s fear. “You can’t expect me to…” he eyed the items in her hand like they were poison.
“Can and do,” Max sniped back, thrusting the offending objects towards him. When Alec just stood there gaping at her she added, “I don’t get it, what’s the problem?”
“Problem?” Alec responded angrily. “The problem is you’re expecting me to go in there…” His voice choked off and he gestured towards the bar with his chin.
Max crossed her arms impatiently, and patronizingly asked, “And?”
Open mouth, Alec just blinked, still not willing to believe Max would ask him to go in there. Not dressed like that wearing a collar.
“What? You’re trained, right?” Her tone was nothing but condescending. From day one you’ve lorded that fact over my head; that you and the others stayed, were trained… That you were specially trained to handle unconventional challenges like this? Or is this too challenging for you?”
Alec just stood there swallowing, baffled by Max’s attack.
Unable to stop herself Max just sneered, “Fine!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone shoving it in Alec’s face. “You tell him.”
Alec just stared at the phone and slowly shook his head. He already knew Logan had been trying unsuccessfully for months to make contact and collect critical data from this particular informant. He hated the thought of going in there alone and unattached, wearing an inhibitor ID collar that not only signified him as an X5, but also fucked with his genetic code. Though he couldn’t let Logan down. This was too important.
He batted the offered phone away from his face and looked towards his intended destination. The building itself appeared harmless. Not that you could tell from the outside, but the club stood one floor below ground level, undetected behind a plain unmarked door; an old school SM fetish leather gay club.
Resigned to his decision, Alec slowly took off his jacket and gloves. He knew Max expected him to walk in there wearing only that tee she had brought with them, his jeans, and that damn collar. He was more than a little irked. What should have been a simple covert job to collect Intel instead had him going undercover showcasing his attributes; the least she could have done was share what the hell her plan was in the first place—give him some time to come up with alternative. Sadly, he had to concede that was probably the point.
Alec knew how it was. He was the reason Max and Logan weren’t together. Not intentionally, of course, because he had just been following orders. If Manticore had ordered him to out-right kill Logan he would have. Hell, he was gonna put Logan out of his misery before Asha stopped him. No, Manticore’s alternative to directly killing Logan, had been to order him to get Max to go after Logan, where she’d unknowingly exposed him with the retrovirus they had injected and coded into her DNA. Thankfully Logan didn’t die and eventually, to a degree, both had forgiven him for his part, putting the blame on Manticore where it belonged. Though it didn’t change the simple fact that Logan loved Max and Max loved Logan, and if the retrovirus wasn’t in place Alec never would have had a chance with Logan.
In the beginning, he and Logan had been nothing more than somewhat reluctant associates, more or less forced to work together against Manticore with Max as a hesitant mediator. As time and circumstances changed he and Logan became friends and then gradually, their relationship turned into something more.
It wasn’t exactly easy, but both swiftly recognized that they were involved in something that was a hell of a lot more than just getting busy as ‘fuck buddies’. Not that they had any long drawn out discussions, because they didn’t, but one night instead of taking off in the early predawn, Alec had slept cocooned within Logan’s warmth and that had turned into a morning of lounging in bed, both too tired to do more then enjoy the body next to them. It soon led to another then another and before long Alec was openly living at Logan’s.
Although none of them ever discussed it, Max clearly had issues with the situation. Not that she ever did or said anything in front of Logan. Yet when it was just the two of them or when they were out in the field, Max had a way of needling him—lately more so than usual.
He took most of it in stride. Simple fact was, Alec knew she still loved Logan, and for that matter, Logan still loved her, just they couldn’t be together. Even within the space of Max’s three heat cycles and Logan’s two failed relationships before Alec—Max and Logan still maintained a close friendship. But as his relationship with Logan had changed from friends to sex partners to something more, as their relationship had changed, Max had changed, and distanced herself away from everyone. Even now, Alec knew Logan still missed and longed for the space Max had vacated. Truth was Logan wasn’t the only one; Alec missed the fierce snarkiness that was Max, the person he initially met, the one he grew to care about, respect, the one who introduced him to the concept of what a ‘real’ family was. However the Max standing here waiting impatiently for him, this wasn’t that Max. This Max was unrelenting, cold, and distant—not his Max at all.
Without further preamble, he pulled off his own tee and snatched the one Max was holding. Trying not to think as he struggled to stretch it out enough to get it on. When he finally got it over his shoulders and pulled it down he was dismayed to see where the ripped sleeveless tee stretched and stopped nearly at mid-drift, leaving his stomach bare. “Fuck is this yours?” Alec’s fingers still gripped the bottom hem, pulling and stretching in an abortive attempt to cover the large gap of exposed skin.
Almost flippantly Max answered, “Not anymore.” Steadily her hand stretched out holding the collar.
Alec glanced at it with disgust; he hated the damn things. Fortunately he knew what to expect since he had previously worn such a collar. Though he’d had no ill effects from the device, it didn’t change his utter repulsion. Snatching it out of Max’s hand, he examined the setting.
The collar was one of several concessions written within Terminal City’s treaty. Government, backed by the general public, had deemed their bar codes too easy to hide. Their acceptable alternative had been the collar, a device made specifically for Manticore’s X series. Not only did it identify someone as an X series, but it also locked into place for an extended length of time and was literally used as a visible, acceptable legal pass anywhere outside of Terminal City. The intention was to warn ordinaries of their presence, but the collar also inhibited an X’s abilities and strength—basically to quietly encourage all Manticore freaks to stay within Terminal City’s walls that now bordered the city. Ironically it was the anomalies that had more freedom; their presence outside TC was tolerated for short periods of time due to the fact that they couldn’t hide their features. Meaning they were not required to wear collars as they were easily identifiable within the regular public population.
Each device had various time settings unless one wanted to petition for lifeship—a process which, if granted, allowed a designated X series to receive a very surgical permanent collar with no time settings. Four years later, and still no one had ever petitioned for one.
The lowest setting on the collar Max had handed Alec was for forty-eight hours. Silently he cursed her. There was no point arguing, or asking why. He got it, even if she didn’t. Max was jealous and angry. He wasn’t a throw away like the others Logan had been with. He was the only one to actually move in and stay longer than a weekend, an X-5, an every-day reminder of what she’d lost, of what she’d never had with Logan. It was clear she’d set him up. This whole thing was to somehow humiliate him, make him reliant on her. Unfortunately, it didn’t change the fact within that club was a chance to retrieve vital information—information Logan had been trying for months to obtain.
Still, Alec hesitated before clasping the collar in place. He caught Max’s gaze with his own, his stare boring into her, trying to read her mind, to find the Max he remembered. Unable to find a shed of comfort there he tentatively asked, “You won’t leave me?”
Though Max’s eyes widened in shock, Alec didn’t back down. His unconditional trust was for a Max that wasn’t here—this Max didn’t invoke the same loyalty or confidence.
Silence stretched, the implication clear, Max only nodded.
Alec sighed, closing his eyes. He wasn’t exactly satisfied, but he was unable to do anything about it without abandoning the mission and hightailing it out of there. For Logan he wasn’t about to do that. Nearly holding his breath he placed the metal collar around his neck.
A soft click echoed as the collar locked in place. Beneath his lashes, reflected in Max’s eyes, Alec could see the red light blinking, indicating the collars’ internal clock and inhibitor pulse had started.
Fingers itched to rip the damn thing off, instead he curled his hands into fists at his side.
Inhaling, one then two deep breathes before his shook his hands loose, relaxing his entire body as he did. Relaying on a lifetime of old techniques, training he had received from Manticore to get into character.
Twenty, thirty seconds later he was ready, without a word Alec turned and started walking toward the club.
Half way there he almost stumbled as Max desperately called out, “I won’t, …I won’t leave you.”
Hesitantly Alec stilled, then cracked his neck to one side then the other before he took another step—ready for the battle. It was the only way he could move forward, to go beyond just strategizing about what he might have to do once he was inside—to not think about Logan or what he might think or say once he found out.
Max was right about one thing; he was specially trained and did handle unconventional challenges like this. She just didn’t know how specific and how specialized Manticore had trained him.
He only hoped she’d never find out.