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Author's Chapter Notes:

Author Note: While going through my old fics in search of something I might feel inspired to finish (at last), I found this lil' fic which was penned back in 2004. Somehow I had forgotten all about it, though it had been written as a second chapter/ follow on to one of my previous fics, Gradually Falling. I've reworked it so it can be read separately from Gradually Falling, and split it into a couple of chapters. I hope there's someone still out there in the fandom who might enjoy it. :)

Summary: Are Max and Alec on the edge of an epiphany? Or merely looking to scratch an itch?


Epiphany

By Sorrow

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"There's something about this bar that just doesn't do it for me, and it's not the music." Alec stared mournfully into his handle of beer before adding, "Or lack of."

Since the standoff at Jam Pony had catapulted Max and Alec into headline news, Crash was off limits, and until Alec could figure out a way to get a regular supply of alcohol into Terminal City, he and Max had taken to meeting their friends at a dingy little bar in Sector Nine, whenever they could smuggle themselves out of the radioactive corner of Seattle they now called home.

The place was a dump, but the merits to Sector Nine was that most people went out of their way to avoid noticing one another. Getting through the back roads was a risk, especially now that the sewers were under constant patrol and no longer an option, but they were willing to take a chance every now and then if it meant getting a moment's break from Terminal City.

"Well let's see Alec, could it be that the woman here aren't taken in by your baby-faced charm?" Max's tone was condescending. After a hard afternoon of arguing with Mole over the best way to step up their supply run, she wanted to sit back and enjoy a beer, not listen to Alec whinge.

"Could be." Alec drained back the last of the luke-warm liquid from his glass, then glanced at Max and grinned at her expression. "Hey come on, just because you've taken a vow of celibacy, doesn't mean the rest of us can't experience perfectly normal urges to get busy with a member of the opposite sex.." Glancing to Original Cindy, he added with a shrug, "or same sex, if that's your thing."

"Just shut up Alec." Max scowled into her glass and turned away, finding everything about her surroundings irritating tonight. The bar was hot and stuffy, and not surprisingly, Alec was getting on her wick more so than usual. With the way he kept making flirty-eyes at every girl who glanced in his direction - and she had to admit was every trashy hoe in their vicinity was returning his gaze – she felt like the only woman in the world impervious to his charms. Not saying that was a problem, but his words had irked her more so than usual. She didn't want to know about any of Alec's 'urges', she didn't want to be wasting her night thinking of Alec at all.

"Max!"

Startled, Max's head snapped up and she found herself confronted by the intense hazel eyes of the very man she'd been trying to pretend she wasn't thinking about. "What?"

"I've been saying your name for the past minute, and you're so lost in thought you haven't noticed. What's up with you tonight?" Alec's concern caught Max off-guard. Which only served to piss her off further. Why couldn't he just stay in his role of 'smart ass' and stop trying to break the mould?

"I'm fine!" The pitch of her voice raised to accompany the defensive stance. "I'm just thinking about supply runs is all."

"Supply runs? Huh." Incredulous, Alec lifted an eyebrow as he idly scratched his head. "Supply runs have you off in dreamland and all crankier than usual?"

"Yeah. It's been a long day." Max rubbed a hand across her face before continuing to tap a beat upon the table, suddenly awkward at the realisation that the two of them alone occupied the table. She glanced about in search of Original Cindy, and inwardly groaned as she spotted her chatting up a leggy blonde in a corner, completely oblivious to any attempt on Max's part to telepathically signal her back to the table so she wouldn't have to endure Alec on her own.

"Oh yeah I get it, you have those days every day Max." Alec winked at her, knowing the gesture would piss her off as he leant his head in to whisper, "if you weren't a transgenic, I'd figure you in a permanent state of PMS or something. I mean, you're like the Godzilla of –"

Alec stopped in mid-sentence when he realised Max wasn't paying any attention to his playful attempts to goad her into an argument for the sake of his own amusement. Instead she was again staring vaguely into the distance. Puzzled, Alec felt a moment's disappointment. Usually Max was up for a bit of banter – much as she liked to pretend it annoyed her – but tonight she just wasn't giving. Whatsoever. In fact, now that Alec stopped to think about it, she'd been indifferent towards him for the past couple days. Usually the verbal jabs he poked at her expense would at least provoke a thump on the arm, a faux scowl – even a laugh if he was particularly lucky. But all week long his jokes had fallen flat. Had he said something to push his friend too far?

Mentally playing back every conversation they'd had through the week, Alec tried to figure out where things had gone screwy. He hadn't told so many filthy jokes or witty recounts of his past lays in the presence of Max lately.. Maybe that was the problem? Maybe she liked having an excuse to be angry with him? Maybe the girl really was only happy when she had someone to harbour resentment against?

Dismayed at the thought of being forever cast in the bad guy role, Alec thought of how he'd comforted Max about Ben. That night, he thought something had changed in her eyes – that maybe he'd changed in her eyes. She had looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. Not the guy who wore Ben's face and who reminded her of the darkest hours of her life, but as Alec; the guy who could lend her strength when she needed it. The guy who she'd leant against when all her chips were down. The guy who's shoulder she had cried upon.

Maybe he'd been wrong in confronting her over Logan, and reminding her of the guilt she felt over deceiving him. Deceiving them both, really. Not that she'd cared for his feelings when she was letting Logan believe they were together. It was always about Logan. And he was always the one who'd come between them. Even when he wasn't trying.

He wanted her to look at him. To acknowledge that he had changed from the soulless 'smart alec' she had once judged him to be. To accept him as a friend. But she was still gazing into space with an expression on her face that bordered on wistful. He didn't know what was up with his friend tonight, but he didn't think it was the most efficient way to get commodities into Terminal city.

"Earth to Max?"

Nothing. Not even a blink. Alec stood from his bar stool and stepped in front of her, one hand laying overtop of the hand that was rapping out a beat on the table, the other lightly touching her jaw to tilt her face towards him. She jumped at the touch and looked to him in startlement, a blush rising quickly to her cheeks, which perplexed Alec even more.

"What do you want?" Pulling her hand out from beneath his own, Max's dark frown caused Alec to take a step back, realising he'd made the mistake of touching the girl who preferred to remain untouchable. Even to those who weren't in danger of catching DNA-targeted diseases.

"Look, you wanna get going? It's kinda pointless being here tonight, don't you think? And to be honest, you don't look so well."

"Oh, I'm sorry, am I spoiling your night?"

Max's voice was glacial and Alec bit back the urge to tell her to stick it where the sun don't shine. He was sick to death of her always making him feel like the bad guy, even when she was the one with the problem.

"Whatever Max. I'm sorry that I pulled myself out of my selfish one-track male mind long enough to care about whatever over-dramatised little problem you're dealing with today." See, there was his big mouth. Going off at her even when he was willing it to shut the hell up.

Max looked at him for a long moment, unsure whether to take their argument any further or let it go, knowing it wouldn't be playful banter this time. Instead she grabbed her jacket, told him not to follow her and headed for the exit. Leaving a flabbergasted Alec staring in her wake, an expression of surprise and dismay upon his features.

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"Original Cindy gives you two a bit of alone time, and ya chase away my Boo?"

Alec turned to see their Jam Pony friend standing behind him, and he looked at her quizzically. "Why would Max and I need 'alone time'?"

OC rolled her eyes and smacked her handle down on the table as she took at seat, her lips pursed in a manner that indicated she knew far more about Alec and Max's friendship, than Alec and Max did. "You two may be fooling each other, but you don't fool Original Cindy."

Alec paused, his mouth open and his eyebrows furrowed, perplexed as he tried to work out where the girl was going with this. "I really don't know where you're going with this OC. We're not fooling anyone?"

Smirking with satisfaction, Cindy tilted her glass in Alec's direction as if in a toast and merely replied, "My point."

Cradling his head in his hands, he sighed dramatically before rolling his eyes to the ceiling. "Woman! Why can I never get a straight answer out of any of you?"

"See now, that's exactly why I'm not straight – no one knows a woman, like a woman." Winking, Original Cindy patted her friend on the head, understanding the poor boy was a slave to his genes, as she'd said so many times before.

It wasn't often – if ever – that Alec was alone at a table with Original Cindy, and while ordinarily he would put Max's latest issue with him out of his head and move on, tonight he decided it wouldn't hurt to ask the one person who probably knew Max's mind better than any, what her dealio was. And why she'd begun shooting him down more vigorously than ever.

Cindy shook her head and laughed as he tenaciously broached the subject. "Boy, I'd smack you upside the head but your skull's so thick, you probably wouldn't feel it."

Alec's face fell, why was everyone so quick to brush him aside lately? "I'm worried about her, that's all. She's under a lot of stress and… well you know…" He faltered, personal heart to hearts relating to concern for another's welfare weren't exactly his specialty.

"Why do you care?" It could've been a simple question, or an accusation. By the tone of Cindy's voice, Alec wasn't too sure which. He opened his mouth to speak before glancing sheepishly down at his hands and changing his mind. What did it matter anyway? No one ever took him seriously.

"Oh no no no!" Sniffing out the possibility for some kind of confession, Original Cindy grinned and shoved Alec lightly. "You got something to say, so spit it out before I slap it out."

Her hand poised above his shoulder, challenging him to protest. Hastily, Alec decided invoking the fury of two females in one night would be outdoing his quota. "Okay, okay!"

The hand began to move away. "But there's nothing to spill." Wincing as the hand connected with his shoulder, Alec quickly revised his denial tactic. "I mean, you've noticed Max's acting weird lately, right?"

Original Cindy considered him for a minute, her eyes narrowing as she suspected he was still trying to deflect her. "Far as Original Cindy can see, you both been acting weird lately. Around each other."

Now her eyes narrowed further as a new thought came to mind. "Is there something going on between the two of you that this girl hasn't been made aware of?"

"No!" Alec almost squealed at her implication. "C'mon OC, you know we're not like that!"

"Like I haven't heard that before" Original Cindy muttered as she rolled her eyes. "Then correct me. What's going on? Or maybe I should ask, what's not going on?"

His shoulders slumping in defeat, Alec signalled the barman for another round. The glass in his hand wasn't finished yet, but he felt it was going to be a long night.

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Having made it back to her dilapidated apartment as quickly and inconspicuously as possible, Max now pushed shut the partially-hinged door behind her and leant her head against the frame before taking a deep and steady breath, and sliding down to the floor. She felt sick. Her stomach was squirming, her skin was flushed, and it was so hot - so hot in the room.

Briefly, she wondered if she should have stayed at the bar and waited for Alec. They were supposed to travel in pairs when beyond TC's perimeter. Rules she herself had insisted upon, following the fate of Biggs. But being around Alec was doing her head in. Always bugging her with his incessant babble. Besides, he would've ended up hitting on someone and leaving without her. Probably the redhead at the next table who'd been making eyes at him all night. She would've had to watch him charm her with his ‘sincere eyes’ and pouty smirk all brimming with ego. Watch him touch his hands softly to her back and trail them lightly down her spine before leading her out into the night... Leaving her alone. Untouchable. Celibate, as he so blatantly put it.

Not that she cared.

Why the hell was she thinking about Alec again anyway?

Angry and frustrated for no good reason, Max ran a hand over her face and found her palm covered in a thin layer of perspiration. A prickle of concern edged its way into her mind. She felt warm, tingly. Right under her skin. Her body was beginning to ache, but not in a bad way… Groaning aloud, Max hoped she was coming down with something. Transgenics rarely fell ill, but she wasn't gonna rule out the chance of Terminal City's toxic waste spill penetrating her high immune system and knocking her down with yet another incurable disease. Fat chance, but there was always hope. There had to be some other explanation for what she was beginning to suspect.

Rising to her feet, Max crossed the room to the tiny beer fridge on the opposite side of the room. Swinging it open, she grabbed a container of filtered water and pulled back the lid, swigging a few mouthfuls before splashing the rest over her. Shuddering at the chill, she realised it was perhaps a little early to be dousing fires. The symptoms weren't bad yet; tingly skin aside, she was hardly trembling with the desire to launch herself out onto the street in hunt of someone who could help her scratch an all-consuming itch. It was still early stages. That meant there was still time to escape Terminal City and find some kind of refuge. Away from transgenics who might pick up the vibe she was no doubt sending. Away from him.

Because she realised what her problem was now – why she couldn't get Alec off her mind. And it wasn't that he'd won her over with his endearing charm, his playful eyes, or the occasional tender expression her caught her off-guard with when he thought she wasn't looking. It wasn't because he'd proven himself to be a loyal friend and a trustworthy reliable kind of guy.

It was because three times tonight, she'd caught herself thinking about that day she turned up at his place to find him clad in nothing but a blue towel. It was because she'd spent the past few hours mentally undressing him further, even when he was standing right next to her blabbering away, oblivious to her thoughts.

There was no other explanation for it. She was going into heat.

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TBC…