Sequel to: Heat
Rating: PG - Gen (Ratings subject to change)
Disclaimers: DA & characters are owned by their respective creators.
Alec was dreaming again.
He didn’t have to touch a door to know if there was fire on the other side.
The desperate men that hunched over lab sinks soaking their white jackets to cover their mouths gave him no notice. There were too busy scrambling to the floor where the smoke was weakest, heading for the exits they should know by heart from the weekly drills. Alec stood and watched them calmly, knowing this place buried deep under the ground was already in ashes. He was just a phantom this time. A visitor in his own mind that played his memories back like poorly edited film. All the colors were too vivid for his enhanced retinas, the sounds too faint to be a reality for his hyper aware senses.
The walls flashed brightly with the crackling orange of fire. Smoke roiled thick and oily across the ceiling, rushing down to cover his face. It filled his lungs, heavy and burning, choking him as each breath became harder to draw in than the next. Reaching out in detached curiosity, he expected his flesh to meet and wither in the scorching flames hidden by the smoke. Instead, he felt his hand pass sluggishly through water. The blistering darkness receded rapidly until the light that once roared red with flame was now cool and blue.
He refocused in the blurred water that was tainted pink by his own blood.
Ice seeped in a fine network of lace over his skin, the weight in his lungs turning into a flood of frigid liquid. Pushing his hands outwards he found only solid walls on every side. His mouth opened, reflex sending a bubble drifting above his head, catching whatever faint light it could from the distant surface. But there was no bottom to his prison, and scrambling for purchase he felt himself sink and sink, the black below swallowing him until there was nothing left but the slowing uneven beat of his heart—
Alec opened his eyes to the cracked plaster overhead.
For one horrible moment he was the same as he had been all those weeks ago, alone in the stifling half light of his room, slick with a cold sweat and his chest heaving. Reassuring himself with the feel of his own sheets and the sight of the four walls, he steadily had to remember that the heat had long since burned out. His mind had been tempered back to what passed for his normal. If he allowed himself to breathe he could do it without the fear that the world would rush up relentlessly against his vulnerable senses. Checking a hand to see if it was shaking, he frowned when he saw that it was trembling more than just a little. Making a fist, he flexed and released it until it went away.
He turned towards the open window and the soaked wooden pane that had slowly collected the night’s steady rain fall. A humid stray breeze breathed through the frame, meeting his face and stirring his damp hair. The familiar echo of the early morning traffic seemed too far away.
Alec rubbed his face and slowly sat up.
Glancing at his clock he saw he had woken up exactly 14 minutes later than he had intended. He had never had to worry about over sleeping before in his lifetime. Not like he did now. His body demanded more rest than it ever had. It was still dark outside the window, dawn over an hour away. Unwilling to linger in the dark of his quiet apartment he got up quickly and searched for his clothes.
Catching sight of his side in the mirror, he briefly studied the pale blotchy patchwork that had smoothed over his swiftly vanishing scars. In a few weeks there would be even less to look at. A few more after that and no one would ever know that a couple of bullets had almost ripped him in half. For the first time, Alec was glad that the proof on his flesh wouldn’t stain for life like anyone else. He pulled his shirt on and let himself experience the pleasant warmth it provided on his chilled skin.
Another look at the hour made up his mind. He might as well make a good impression at work by getting in early. Even though he’d been back for a while it still didn’t quite feel like it.
Nowadays it felt like every morning was his first day.
Normal didn’t say anything when he pulled up the corrugated steel door and saw Alec standing there leaning against the wall.
Alec wordlessly followed his boss back inside, the overhead television on with a low murmur of the beginning of the day’s traffic disasters. The roster screen flickered to life as Normal punched on the computer behind the dispatch desk. Pulling the top off a steaming cup of coffee, he took a seat and gave his peculiarly prompt employee a look.
Alec shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Normal nudged forward a grease stained container of donuts while he grabbed a chocolate glazed one for himself. Perking slightly, Alec selected a plain unadorned roll to stash in a jacket pocket and then took the messiest fried glob leaking jelly for his immediate breakfast use. Half awake, Normal sipped hot caffeine and brought up the day’s schedule. Alec looked up at it and scanned it quickly for his name.
“Uh, I’m not up there—“
“I was wondering if you could go to Sector 7 today.”
Alec felt his eyebrows rise. No one went around there unless they wanted to score and if they wanted it that bad they went with a loaded weapon. It wasn’t that he was specifically opposed to that part of town but it just wasn’t a place that usually demanded services of the courier business. Normal, over the course of Alec’s employment, had noticed an ability and willingness to deal with situations and neighborhoods he couldn’t pay the other riders enough to take on.
It made Alec think of the run he had done a few nights back out among the isolated sprawl of the city’s elite.
“If you don’t want it, I can hand it over to Max—“
“No, no. Hey, Sector 7! I love Sector 7.” Alec rubbed at the back of his head. “I was just wonderin’ about that call out to 12?”
“What about it?” Normal paused on the last of his donut.
“Did someone ask for… for—“ he suddenly stopped, feeling like some suspicious freak. “It’s nothing. Never mind.”
Normal adjusted his headset as the phone bank started to light up even though they still weren’t officially open yet.
“Customer made a big deal about asking for my fastest guy.” Normal said as he watched the automatic holding system tidy all the red hectic lights to a mellow green. “That happens to be you.”
Alec slowly sorted through the packages on the counter that were marked for him. He set the tone of his voice as casually as he could.
“Max is as fast as me.”
“It was her day off.” Normal glanced up at him with that look again. “Is there a problem?”
Getting back up on his bike, Alec balanced his bag with his weight before the brief steep departure up the rusty ramp. A glance at the clouds told him more of the rain that had drizzled all night long was still on its way. He didn’t mind. Weather in any kind of extreme had never really bothered him much. If anything, after a few good hills a nice down pour would be downright refreshing. His thoughts turned worriedly towards whenever it would be that he would be able to pause long enough for lunch.
As long as that donut stashed in his pocket stayed mostly dry, then he really had no problems at all.
Lucky Sector 7 reminded Alec of the limited amount of monitored television they were allowed to view while back at Manticore.
In the early years there had been a lot of care to show what the temptations of the outside world truly had to offer exceptional and privileged children such as themselves. The men and women in the white coats never used those particular words of course but they made it very clear. Everyone on the outside was rotting somewhere on the spectrum of humanity’s disease. There had been a comfort sometimes when the horrific video streams were shut off and the lights turned back on. There had been small shared looks exchanged with his assembled peers of some kind of relief. They would never be like those wide eyed bloated children who stood with blank stares out in the streets. They would never age a decade in just one summer by saturating their bloodstream with the cheapest narcotics they could find. They had been chosen and protected.
That was the spin anyway.
Sparing only a thread of his concentration on his bike’s path, he caught sight of a busted stop light almost too late to do much about it. Failing to see a four way intersection was stuck in a permanent green position he had to bank hard on the curb edge to avoid rolling right into traffic. Nearly being flattened by a truck hauling a badly hitched wrecked car woke him right the hell up. It also made him realize that he had arrived right at the corner street required.
It was kind of a famous street for a lot of bad reasons. The long list of the individuals gunned down along the sidewalks were a real who’s who of the city. Or at least they had been when they were alive.
Alec didn’t bother chaining up his bike outside the recessed entryway. When he saw the impatient man inside waiting at the counter, he had to grin when he saw what it was that he had been sent all this way to retrieve. Especially on one of the few streets in all of the city that the police didn’t even visit unless they had an armored convoy. Even on his more conventional runs Alec didn’t always see flowers.
Trying not to smash his new delicate parcel, he held them to his face to feel the soft petals more than to catch the pleasant smell his senses already received in full volume. The soon owner of the Queen Anne’s lace and assorted daisies was only a few blocks away. When he looked around to see if his bike survived the five minute absence, he stopped in his tracks.
“Thanks.” Alec smiled.
Feeling gregarious, he pulled one from the bunch and offered the stray miniature sunflower to the tall barrel chested man with double fisted pistols.
“Where you been?”
Alec knew he would run into some old friends around this block. It was inevitable. He just didn’t think he’d run into the one and only guy on the planet that didn’t owe him money. In fact, this gentlemen was owed quite a substantial sum which Alec had once upon a time been on his way to making good on. But at the moment this thug with his twenty word vocabulary yet razor keen accounting skills had been the furthest thing on Alec’s mind.
He decided to play dumb.
“I think you got me confused with someone else you see I just moved here over from New York and—“
“Heard you were back.” The man interrupted, glancing down at the beat up bicycle and the worn strap on his backpack. “Heard you were back up on the Pony.”
So much for feigning incognito. Why the hell did everyone who was owed a few thousand grand always seem to remember him so well anyway? One of his instructors long ago had once quietly mentioned in passing to another handler that Alec had been very forgettable. At the time the doctor had used a series of numbers and not a name, but Alec had felt some pride at the observation. The offhanded compliment had been one of the first he remembered ever being given by anyone at all. The undistinguished could slip by. The unnoticed could walk in and out and no one would give them a second glance. Anonymity was powerful. With the tasks they had given him it was as vital and important as the weapons he carried. However, ever since he had been set loose in the wide world he started to get the impression that that was just another one of those facts his makers had no real reasonable grasp on. Because all he ever seemed to do these days was smack right into people that couldn’t seem to shake a single fact about him.
“Okay. Yeah. I’m back.” Alec set aside the special expression he used for sincere befuddlement and went for natural. At the moment natural was heartfelt supplication mixed with frayed panic. “So what do you want? Spang? Andy? Maybe some of that new hybrid sticky coming over from Amsterdam—“
“I want my money.”
Alec had no interest in feeling any more bullets tearing through his body again any time soon.
“You got it.” He answered from behind clenched teeth. “I can have it out on the first of the month—“
“I want it next week.”
“That might be a little complicated.” Alec’s grip on his handle bars tightened, hoping his steady smile would buy him some leeway. “I-I just got back into town and my network kinda scattered without any strong supervised guidance if you know what I mean. Most of those guys that were pushing my stuff are nowhere to be found but just so you know I am currently accepting resumes from anyone with 24 to 48 full hours of distribution experience—“
“I want it next week with interest.” The guy idly scratched at his bare shaved temple with one of his semi-automatics. “25%”
“All righty.” He figured he might as well know what his options were. “What happens if I don’t have anything on Friday?”
“I’ll kill you.”
“Yeah.” Alec sighed. “I figured you’d say that.”
“So, a horse walks into a bar…”
Alec didn’t have to look sideways to know Max had taken the stool next to him. At least it didn’t appear she was taking up any permanent long term residence, her empty pitcher slid towards the man with the tap. She let her gaze sweep over her shoulder. It was a move like anyone else plausibly checking out the midnight crowd but Alec knew what she was doing. It was a cursory and practically involuntary gesture. She was checking the crowded entrances, blocked exits and the guy that stank like spent gun powder that had walked in eleven minutes ago. None of it ever switched off no matter how many years you could brag about hiding your barcode.
He finished what was left in his glass and acknowledged her waiting expectant smile.
“… and the bartender says, why the long face?”
She nudged him in the side to punctuate what sounded vaguely like a joke.
“That’s a good one.” Alec said even though he didn’t get it. “I’m the horse right?”
He wanted to tell her all about it.
Alec wanted to tell her that after all the things he’d been through that he was right back into another mire of his own unfathomable making. Sort of. It wasn’t completely his fault that he hadn’t been around much to baby sit the business ventures he’d been cultivating carefully in various hubs of the sectors. It wasn’t entirely his fault that he had been fucking dumb enough to keep drinking tainted tap water provided by a government that wanted him dissected on a wax tray. Alec cracked the knuckles in one hand before he irritably twisted the refilled glass on the bar top. Playing the blame game didn’t really matter at this point. This time he was almost in as much trouble on the street than locked up away in those mountains. The hell Ames had made was just one of the many layers under the real world most people walked around in.
The men that lived the very basic code of the street ethic had a few things besides uncomplicated motivation on their side. The subversive system of the black market had the actual resources to thrive underneath a city like this one. Its vast and faceless array of enforcers could be much more of a threat to Alec’s existence than even Agent White hoped to be. The staggering amount that had to be turned over into plain cash was astronomical. Alec was so unbelievably screwed with the sum of money he’d have to produce in a matter of days that he wasn’t even sure that rushing to heist anything major would work. Even if he stumbled upon an unguarded truck filled with diamond encrusted gold bricks, he’d still have to fence it all off to someone else. That kind of job took time so the municipality bank network didn’t get any blips on their screens. Better yet, the specialists who were the only ones that could make it happen would take one look at his impossible deadline and slam the door in his face.
“Did Logan tell you anymore about whatshername?”
“Gaboriault.” Alec automatically supplied.
But Max’s easy question threw him off his tracks. It made sense that Logan would have mentioned Alec’s strange inquiry to her but it bothered him anyway. It was a small meaningless mystery made up of his paranoia that he wanted to forget having. So much for all that privacy the guy was always so up in arms about. Next time maybe Alec would just stick to the street hackers that didn’t talk to anyone but their paying clients.
“Asked a guy I know that mows lawns out there…” Max tossed down a few bucks for her pitcher. “The place has a brand spanking new AxiumIII system on it.”
“Sounds shiny.” He murmured into his glass.
“Yeah, a defense system like that won’t let even someone like us get real far before the automated artillery kicks in.” Max said. “I was just thinking that if you are planning on robbin’ that joint that you might want to know—“
“Now why would I wanna go and do something stupid like that?”
Max studied him for a moment before she shrugged.
“Have a good night, Alec.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Alec was getting pretty tired of feeling out the extent of his woes in the shower.
He didn’t plan it or count on it but there was something about the time alone that got him thinking down deeper than he usually liked. He also didn’t want to admit it but the stark blind of the overhead florescent on the white tile still reminded him of another place. There hadn’t been a whole lot of moments in his former life that Alec had equated with peace and relaxation but this brief span of his day had been one of them. Even standing in a crowded row of open showers under the cameras he’d always felt some measure of respite.
The turning whine of the old metal nozzles plunged the bathroom into silence.
Alec froze as he realized his front door was being opened. His mind mechanically eliminated the list of possible people that would do something like that. Max’s recognizable tread wasn’t crossing his floor. His landlord’s unmistakable clumsy gait was not what settled to a stop in front of his window. All that simmering fear he’d been patting himself on the back for not keeping him under a blanket all day long came surging up hard enough to make him physically sick. He’d had it. Hands shaking on the sink, he decided he’d had enough of feeling like some kind of pent up prisoner even under the open sky. He wasn’t going to be afraid if he didn’t want to be. Without even a towel, he flung the door back and decided to face whatever it was that had waltzed right into his living room.
But the person by the broad window wasn’t a stranger at all. In fact, it was the woman Max had just asked about a few hours earlier in the smoky noise of the bar. She was dressed almost exactly as he’d seen her the last time in the street. A smart fitted suit that looked like it cost something. Knee high boots and some designer bag clutched up under her arm. Alec found his voice again to raise his rightful demand over the intrusion. It came out a little less enraged than he’d hoped.
“What-what is this?”
He stepped backwards and felt his anger rise again when his back met the wall. She was some whack job from the pretty side of town and obviously had some kind of mental problems. He felt his mind slide down into its natural defenses, the blank wall of training that let him consider opening up that window to give her the real view—
“Why didn’t you accept my gift?”
He blinked in surprise at the honest question. His startled wary thoughts suddenly shifted to his trip out to her compound in Sector 12. The long bike ride up the closely watched meander of her private road. The package with the set of keys in it. The brand new import sitting in the raked gravel driveway that was there for the taking. All that hassle really had been meant for him?
Alec watched her take a seat in his one and only chair. She took a deep breath and crossed her legs. Her fancy coat and perfectly lacquered nails were out of place with the tattered furniture, shabby rugs and chipped paint on the walls. The meeting with her on the street in front of Jam Pony had been closer but brief, his attention totally scattered with the bewildering gift of his former job back in his hands. But he could get a good look at her now. He could see her true age was masked by a few expensive operations and a regiment of chemical peels. However, the fine lines that creased down around her eyes and mouth betrayed the decades she was trying to conceal. The tired set watery gaze aging her even further beyond that.
“I only want to talk to you.”
Alec realized there was a certain fragile waver to a voice of advanced years. Something delicate as the fine bones under thin skin, the knuckles of her hands pronounced as the nervous flutter in her throat.
“Talk to me?” Alec repeated, his gaze going behind him, waiting for more people to appear silently at his door. There was nothing in the corridor outside but silence. “You came here just to talk to me?”
Alec studied her in confused frustration, his hands working on his stomach as he became painfully aware of how exposed he was. He also noticed how she wasn’t diverting her eyes in any way. Alec wasn’t a modest man but recent circumstances had left him with a new found requirement for some strains of personal space.
“All I am asking for is some time.” She moved a hand into her purse. “I would like to ask you some questions.”
If she was Manticore she wouldn’t have come here all alone like this. Even if she had some armed driver downstairs she would know he could disable her without even trying. Any other possible affiliate would have sent a legion of suited men with tasers and a cage without ever even getting their hands dirty. Showing up and politely asking to have a talk over some coffee just wasn’t how that operation worked. Nothing about her even hinted a thing about the government organization. She was bizarre and different in every sense of the word.
Alec looked her tall frail frame up and down again.
He had heard of women like her he supposed. Sometimes he even saw them drifting in the clubs. Women with too much money that liked something a little bit younger and more malleable at their sides than the overbearing grayed gentlemen that had divorced them for some of the same. But Alec wasn’t one of those well dressed society types these women usually found as escorts. Those kind of guys didn’t live in co-ops one step up from organized squatting. They didn’t wear the cheap clothes he did, and they didn’t actually work for a living.
Alec was enough of a realist to recognize that he wasn’t so appealing to deserve this kind of attention. An extremely wealthy woman like this one could have just about anything she wanted. But maybe she was one of those types that liked to slum it. Show off how she liked to wallow in the city’s dirt for fun. Maybe not even to show off at all. Maybe this was her dirty little secret that she liked a boy that hadn’t seen the inside of an ivy league school and wouldn’t get anywhere or get much of anything within the span of his lifetime.
Whoever and whatever she wanted, the whole thing turned his stomach.
“You got some pretty lousy timing mam.”
“Look lady, not that I’m not flattered? In fact, if you caught me about a month ago this would all be a done deal, but I don’t hustle for cash—“
“Let’s try not to be disgusting.” Her jaw twitched as she swallowed.
The fresh crisp clean stack of bills she causally placed on his coffee table made his next protest die in his throat. Alec pulled on the boxer shorts that were sitting on his bed. The jeans came on next. With a sigh, he sat down opposite her on the sofa and held out his hands.
“Just want to talk huh?” Alec heard the defeat in his voice.
She smiled and the pleased warmth of it took a few of those barely hidden years off of her face. There was also some satisfaction behind it that was as odd as every other comfortable nuance of her body language. His gaze flickered back down on the wad of cash. Alec knew enough to know that nothing quite that substantial came simple. But this woman wasn’t exactly the brightest bulb on the branch. She had walked into one of the shiftiest buildings on the block with probably nothing but a can of mace in her bag. Alec had seen the privileged move around with an extraordinary faith that the decent didn’t get a fist to the jaw just for the chance to get at a nice watch. Maybe playing along would be just what it looked like. A ridiculous game she could play because she had the disposable cash to engage in any crazy recreation she wanted. He watched her pull out a small electronic notepad and flip it on.
“First, tell me your name.”
That was an easy one.
“Alec.” He sat back and crossed his arms self consciously over his bare chest. “That’s with a C, not an X.”
“Your full name?”
“That’s all there is.” He responded more curtly then he intended.
She didn’t question it like he thought she might have. Should have. Instead she just quickly typed something into her notes. He fidgeted in his seat, wondering what all the extra typing and silence was about. Briefly, he entertained the gratifying notion of making all her slum dreams come true by standing up and knocking her and the compact electronic device onto the floor.
The idea of the possibilities all within his realm of control made him relax a little.
But it didn’t take a genius to know that this was all a terrible idea. After everything that had just happened he had no business getting messed up in whatever the hell it was that this weird nosy lady wanted. Nonetheless, next week was coming up fast and Sector 7 wasn’t under any current city planning ordinances for demolition. Alec looked back at the heap of money and sighed. Whether he liked it or not, he had one bitch of a pressing deadline to meet.
It just so happened that as usual, his choices never felt like much of a choice.
Cross posted to jam_pony_fic
Cross posted to darkangelfic
Cross posted to x5_darkangel_x5