by Sorrow (Reminisce)
And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.
Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.
December 13, 2021
Five days ago Logan arrived at Max’s apartment in Terminal City clutching a bottle of pre-pulse champagne in one hand and a neatly gift-wrapped box in the other. Thus changing Max’s life in a way she never would have anticipated…
< --- flashback --- >
Max stood frozen in the doorway, uncertainty marring her features as her eyes met those of the widely-grinning man standing on the threshold.
A voice laughed behind her. “So Max, are you gonna stand there gaping or let the guy in?”
Logan's smile faltered as his gaze shifted beyond Max to fall upon Alec who stood in the middle of the room, his hand paused in mid-air before a large dry branch semi-decorated with crudely made tree ornaments.
“Hey Alec. Nice… tree.” Logan's words were clipped, his expression tight as he tried to hide his distaste at seeing the X5 in Max's apartment. “You're probably not aware of the traditions of Christmas, but it’s customary to use fresh pine or even artificial -”
“I’m aware of that Logan.” Alec’s reply was abrupt and Max turned towards him, watching how his jaw tightened in the effort to hold in a more cutting remark. “But these days, it’s just so hard for a transgenic to find a decent pine in the outside world, and strangely enough, the stores in Terminal City are all closed.”
Logan ignored the remark and slid past Max to the box of decorations, placing his champagne on the table as he picked up a painted matchbox and toyed with the attached string, eyeing the object critically as if he were trying to discern the random brush strokes that decorated it.
Max stepped forward. “Dalton made it. Joshua’s been taking classes.”
“Yeah.” Logan raised an eyebrow. “I can tell.”
“So what are you doing here Logan?” Alec took the decoration out of Logan’s hand and placed it on the branch.
“Actually, I’m here to see Max.” He frowned impatiently, annoyed at having to explain himself to the transgenic.
Alec shrugged. “Well buddy, far be it for me to stand in your way.” His gaze hovered on Max for a moment before he turned to pick another ornament from the box.
Realising Alec wasn't going to leave, Logan walked across to Max, eyes alit with excitement once more as he held the small gift towards her in two trembling hands.
“Max… I have the cure.”
As the words fell, all movement in the room froze, rendering the two transgenics in the room incapable of movement.
Unabashed, Logan opened the box and withdrew a hypodermic needle filled with clear fluid.
As realisation of his words sunk in, Max felt a smile spread across her face, washing away all efforts she’d made in the past weeks to put her ’relationship’ with Logan behind her. Blindly oblivious to the shock etched on Alec's face across the room, she wordlessly allowed Logan to inject into her arm the one thing she never thought they’d ever have - a cure for the virus that had kept them apart for so long.
Only when the fluid had passed into her veins did she recover her senses in time to notice Alec had made a silent retreat across the room and out the front door.
Somewhere in the back of Max’s conscience, a doubt came to mind.
--- end flashback --- >
For five days now, Max had avoided Logan. Instead she’d thrown herself into her work; going over combat manoeuvres with the X6’s (they had taught her a lot in the past couple of months), accompanying Alec on his supply runs (although their conversations had become noticeably strained during the past week), and avoiding Logan’s touch in the same manner she had been doing since the day she‘d infected him with the retrovirus. Only now, she had no excuse to avoid his touch.
Alone in her apartment, she sat on her bed and reflected upon the repercussions of Logan’s gift. She knew she had to confront him with some plausible excuse as to why she had been hiding these past few days. So for how much longer could she put this event off?
“Lost in thought there?”
Max spun around to discover Alec had stepped into her room, quietly closing the door behind him. The perpetual wry grin was shadowed by another expression, one she wanted to hide from nearly as much as she wanted to hide from Logan.
“Great. What do you want?”
She spoke in a tone that suggested she wanted his company the way she wanted to converse with an eel. Being that this was Max’s customary greeting, Alec was undeterred by her response. Rather than take the remark as a hint to leave, he chose to perceive it as an invitation to step further into the room and sit on the unmade bed beside her.
“What’s up Max? You’ve been acting weird since…” He laughed as he scratched the side of his head. “Well, ever since I’ve known you really. But even more so since Loggie turned up with Love Potion Number Nine. Care to share?”
She chose not to reply and instead wondered how she could get him to leave her alone, so she could wallow in her thoughts once more.
“Why don’t you go to him Max? There’s nothing stopping you now. The guy obviously loves you. I mean, he gave up a cool forty grand for the cure.”
The words left Alec with a bitter taste in his mouth. It was all he could do not to gag. But he had to try and make a show of good sportsmanship. After all, he could hardly expect her to choose him over the guy she’d been pining for since time immemorial. And besides that point, he was sick to death with all the moping. Someone in this god-forsaken place deserved to be happy. Even if it wasn’t him.
“Come on,” He gave Max a playful nudge with his elbow, hoping to break her stony expression with a smile - a grimace of annoyance even. “Tell Uncle Alec all about it…”
Max shuddered at the title Alec had given himself in jest, not understanding why the suggestion of him being of relation to her could be so vulgar.
“Please don’t relate yourself to me as family Alec.”
She threw the reply to him as one would throw a cat out a window. Cold and cruel. It wasn’t the tone she’d intended, but hearing him sit here and tell her she should disappear into the sunset with Logan tore apart her insides. She couldn’t understand the turmoil within her, she couldn’t understand why these were the last words she ever wanted to hear Alec say, and so she had lashed out.
She regretted this instantly when his playful smile died and he replied in a quiet voice, “Well I’m sorry Max - for ever presuming we’d come far enough together that you could consider me something more than your pesky uninvited sidekick.”
Max sat in silence, eying him warily, taking in his bowed head and look of dejection - waiting to see if this humility was merely part of some little game of his.
Finally Alec raised his head and looked directly into her eyes, searching them for some kind of response when it appeared she had no intention of using her voice to communicate. But she’d masked her face so well, her expression was unreadable.
Swallowing back a sigh, or perhaps a plea for forgiveness for every horrible thing he had ever unknowingly done to cause her hate, Alec pulled his eyes away and rose to his feet. He paused before the door, a grim smile on his face as he remembered the reason why he’d come to her room in the first place.
“Logan’s been driving everyone crazy asking about you.”
Her expression jumped to life at this, and Alec found the last five days worth of frustration rising to his throat like bile.
“Why Max? Why have you been with me these past few days and not lover-boy? Why have you been at my side on tasks I can perform by myself, rather than making up for lost time with Logan? There’s nothing stopping you two from getting busy now. We don’t need to carry out this little charade of being together - you don’t need me anymore.”
“Yes I do!” Max found her voice at last, and pleaded with him now to understand. A difficult task when she could barely comprehend her own emotions.
“I need you to help me Alec, while I work out some things in my head. Just give me until after Christmas please?”
She couldn’t believe she was begging but more to the point, she couldn’t understand why she was begging. The words had simply leapt from her mouth of their own accord, but it was too late to take them back.
“After Christmas? Gee thanks Max. It’s not enough to drag me into your little world of lies every other day so now you’ve gotta screw up Christmas for me too?”
He laughed bitterly. “Not that the occasion actually means anything to me. In fact, far be it for me to wish for one day when I can forget about the siege, forget about being hunted and forget that I’m totally and utterly alone - and actually try to enjoy my life!”
Max stood up and walked towards him but he held his hands up, signalling for her to come no closer.
“Quit it. Quit looking at me with pity. You’re just as alone and lost in this world as I am. The difference is, you seem to enjoy being miserable and apparently intend to drag everyone else down into your misery with you.”
He turned away but she grabbed his arm and held him in place, pinning him with her angry glare.
“What?” Max’s eyes were aflame but her voice froze him to the bone. “Do you think I’ve enjoyed having to shy away from the person I love all this year in case I kill him? Do you think I’ve enjoyed having to satisfy my need for human contact by turning to you and carrying on this little relationship game when I could in fact be indulging in the real thing?
“Yeah I do Max. I think you’ve enjoyed all of this.” He gritted his teeth to stop himself from revealing how much her words had hurt. “Because it seems that as long as I’m miserable - you’re happy.”
“Do you think you’re that important to me Alec, that I’d base my entire happiness on you?” Max regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. As soon as she caught the look of anguish on his face.
“I know I’m not that important Max. That’s just the problem.”
Pulling his arm away, Alec turned and pulled open the door, ignoring Max as she called out for him to stop. Ignoring the surprised look on Original Cindy’s face as she stood in the hallway, hand frozen in mid-air as she had been about to open the door. Wordlessly, his face set in a grim mask, Alec strode from the room and left gaping silence behind him
In the doorway of the rundown apartment, OC recovered over the initial shock of seeing Alec leave in such a storm and slipped quietly into her friend’s room. Max had sunk down onto the edge of the bed and was staring brokenly into thin air.
“Hey it’s okay Boo.”
Max made no attempt to acknowledge her words and so OC simply took a seat and waited for her friend to speak in her own time. She understood Max’s dilemma with Alec, more so than Max herself. But rather than broach the subject, she knew it was a realisation Max had to come to by herself.
Original Cindy just hoped her friend wouldn’t take as long to discover who was right for her as she had in accepting who was wrong for her. She didn’t want to have to put up with all this angst for yet another year.
December 14, 2021
The Ark was in full swing tonight. Every transgenic and his dog, as well as every dog-like transgenic were apparently making the most of the alcohol supply Alec had recently roped in.
Alec sat at the bar and smiled as he watched Original Cindy run over some dance moves with a couple of Nomolies. She seemed to have taken a particular affection to Sanderman’s first experiments, and they appreciated her attention. Nearly every transgenic held a childhood fear of the creatures that had existed in Manticore's basement, but OC looked beyond their frightening appearances and accepted what she saw within.
“Here’s your drink 49 - Alec.”
Alec turned to the redhead who had appeared beside him and took the beer from her hand.
“You know, I’m glad you convinced me to come out tonight Match. It’s good to have a friend here.” He stared belatedly into his glass. “However, it’d be even better, to have a friend named Scotch.”
Match laughed and punched him playfully, causing Alec to wince. Not from the punch itself, but at how she had resembled Max at that moment. “Hey, wipe that sad look off your face. I can change my name!”
Alec grinned and quirked an eyebrow playfully. “Sure. But can you turn yourself into a spirit and squeeze into a bottle?”
“Now Alec, are you wanting here? A bottle of alcohol - or a genie?”
“Hmm, good point.” The glass of beer paused before his lips as he considered this. “A genie grants wishes right?”
Match laughed, “Well so does the Scotch if you drink enough of it.”
“Depends on the wish.” Alec swallowed back a mouthful of cool liquid, his eyes staring sightlessly at the opposite wall.
“Well, what did you have in mind?” The redhead sidled closer to Alec and ran a finger provocatively along his arm, causing him to break his staring competition with the wall and turn his gaze to her. There was no doubting the invitation in her eyes as they slid hungrily over his body.
Shaking his head, Alec laughed softly and raised the glass to his lips once again, only to have the contents trickle down the front of his shirt as he turned to see Max walk towards the bar and scowl on face, Logan in tow.
“Max. Why do we have to come here?” Logan stepped around a group of dancing transhumans and struggled to keep up with the X5. “I have a perfectly good bottle of wine and penne back at Sandeman’s…”
Max ploughed on through the swarm of people and rolled her eyes to herself. Pasta. Like she hadn’t eaten enough of that to sink a boat.
“Look Logan, you don’t have to be here, feel free to go home and eat all the pasta you like. I promised Alec last week that I’d meet him here and I can’t just bail without warning.”
Logan bristled at the mention of Alec’s name - again. Why did she have to keep throwing him in her face? Oh. That’s right. Because he was her ‘boyfriend‘. Whatever.
Determined to claim Max back as his own, he grabbed hold of her hand and allowed her to lead him to the bar.
Max barely stopped herself from tugging her hand away as she felt Logan slip his warm fingers through hers. Months of fearfully avoiding contact for risk of transmitting the retro-virus had left Max with a sense of caution she still couldn’t quite shake, and the feeling of Logan’s hand entwined with her own remained an awkward sensation.
As she pushed forward through the crowd, the throng of people before her parted and she spotted Original Cindy returning to Alec’s side from the dance floor and signal for a new round of beers. Forgetting Logan attached to her hand, she smiled and made her way towards them. But as her mouth opened to yell a greeting, her gaze fell upon a redhead who was busy running a finger up Alec’s taut toned arm. Rolling her eyes, Max shifted her focus to Alec, who appeared to be lapping up the girl’s attention like a starved drooling puppy.
Suddenly provoked by their show, Max felt anger blaze from deep within and the hand that had lain so limply in Logan’s, now gripped him with fierce determination. Obviously Alec was wasting no time in reclaiming his standing among the free and single.
“What the hell are you doing?” Max spoke through gritted teeth as she came to a halt before him. “Is this the way we’re gonna end it?”
Alec’s jaw dropped in bewilderment as he looked down to Max’s hand - tightly clutched in Logan’s - and then back up to her face once more. Bewildered still. “Huh?”
“You and I - we need to talk.” Max wrenched her hand free and grabbed Alec roughly by the arm, hauling him towards the exit and out into the frozen night.
“What the hell are you doing Max?”
Alec’s voice and oxygen supply were promptly expelled from his body as she hurtled him against a wall, pinning him in place as she jammed her forearm against his throat.
“You said you’d carry out our relationship ruse until after Christmas remember? Now once again, I recall why I should never rely on you to keep a promise.”
“But I wasn’t doing anything!” Alec’s voice took on the tone of a wrongly accused child as he struggled to work out what Max’s problem was. Well, her current problem at least. “And if I was, would it matter? You’ve got Romeo back now so what do you care?”
Max bit off her next remark as she searched her mind for an answer to that particularly awkward question. No insight was forthcoming and so she covered up her uncertainty with a half-truth.
“It matters because now I have to face Logan and the rest of TC as the jilted ex-girlfriend! And like everything else that goes wrong in my world, it’s all your fault - jackass!”
Alec’s patience snapped and he pulled Max’s arm from his throat, swinging her into the wall and pinning both of her hands above her head as he leant in, his body pressed close to her own to restrict the possibility of an unwelcome knee to the groin.
“You’re jealous aren’t you Max? That’s the truth of it - that’s why you’ve been putting off Logan.”
Max tried to shrink back from the intensity within Alec’s eyes. His warm breath tickled her cheek and she became uncomfortably aware of just how snug his body felt against her own.
“You have no idea what you're talking about..."
Suddenly Alec closed in, his mouth crushed against her own, stealing any further denial as his lips worked against hers, his tongue slipping between her lips, demanding a response as he pressed his body closer, pushing her further into the cold concrete wall.
For a few moments, Max was unsure how to respond and so she stood like a stunned mullet as Alec’s hungry kiss caused shockwaves to reverberate through her body. His lips were soft, gentle, probing, but at the same time firm and persistent. Coaxing her to respond, her tongue probing against his own; hesitant at first, then with growing surety as desire began to overwhelm doubt.
The fingers that firmly held her wrists now relaxed their grasp and traced lightly down her arm, slipping under her ribcage to hold her waist. Alec’s breathing came fast and urgent as she shifted her body against him and entwined her arms around his neck, drawing him closer still until every hardened part of his body pressed against her.
But when realisation of what they were doing finally struck, it did so with the force of an electrical storm.
Alec found himself being hurled away from Max as she regained her wits and threw a punch that connected squarely with his face. His head rocked back as she came at him again, but this time he stopped her. Catching her hands as blood ran freely from his nose, he flipped her around so that she faced away from him, and held her struggling body against his chest.
“Stop it Max! Stop trying to run from the things you don’t want to face!” His voice begged but she struggled still, growling like a wild animal as she sought escape. “Why can’t you just admit you feel something for me and give me a chance?”
“Get you’re filthy hands off me Alec! You’re a slimy scumbag and I don’t wanna ever feel your lecherous lips - or any other part of your body - on me ever again!”
These words struck him harder than her fist, and he threw her away from him, taking up a defensive stance as he awaited further onslaught. He watched as she vigorously wiped the taste of him from her mouth. Eyes that had darkened with desire were now filled with rage as she glared up at him from behind the locks of hair which tumbled across her face.
“You and I were friends Alec. That’s all. We were never like that, and never will be. Get that into your twisted little brain.”
Without waiting for his response, she turned and disappeared back into The Ark, leaving Alec alone in the middle of the alley, mopping blood from his face. He had kissed her without thought of consequences, and she had returned his kiss - however fleeting it may have been. Unwilling to return to the Ark and see Max by the side of Little Logan Love-muffin once more, he turned to leave, his mind still spinning by Max‘s response to his kiss.
A female’s voice rang out behind him and he grinned as he waited for Match to catch.
Two could play at this game.