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Bill of Service

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They left their bikes hidden two blocks down the street, some half-dead foliage providing adequate camouflage, and walked the rest of the way on foot, silent as a pair of cats. Dressed head to toe in black, they stuck to the shadows. They might as well have been ghosts for all that anyone noticed them.

The mansion was huge, paid for by the blood of others, no doubt. This guy was bad news according to Logan, and Max had to remind herself that this was going to be a piece of cake. Alec had planned it to the last detail, and if there was one thing he took seriously, it was risking his own neck, so she was fairly confident that he'd accounted for everything. In and out, he'd said. 15 minutes tops, and they stood to make a tidy profit. Winter was fast approaching, and the chill in the air would make the others grateful to have the electricity back on. Max knew the first thing she would do when they had power again was take a hot bath. It had been months since her last, as it was a luxury she seldom had time for anymore. There was always some new crisis to avert, and fast, frigid showers had become the norm in Terminal City.

They paused at the gates, just under and to the left of the security camera, effectively in its blind spot. Once it started its slow turn to the right, Alec began scaling the fence. Up and over, he dropped silently to the ground on the other side. Max waited a beat, eyes on the camera as it slowly swiveled her way. As soon as it began to turn back, she spun and started to climb. One, two, three, and then she was over, dropping into a crouch beside her partner in crime.

He signaled her with two fingers. Something was coming. Shit.

Two large dogs walked up, growling low under their breath, and Max felt her own hackles rising. She growled back at them, hands clenched into fists at her sides.

Alec pulled something out of the sack he was carrying and tossed it to the dogs. They promptly forgot all about the intruders and pounced on it.

"You had steak?" Max hissed, glaring at him. "We've been rationing out our food for almost a month, and you had a whole steak just lying around?"

"I told you I planned for everything," Alec smirked, making her want to smack him on the back of the head. After a second's worth of thought, she decided it was a good idea.

"Ouch, hey!" he cried, giving her the wounded puppy look that had never, ever worked on her.

"C'mon," she whispered, moving past the dogs as they continued to fight over the meat. "We're on the clock."

They padded silently across the lawn, ducking behind trees and bushes as they went. As they neared the east side of the house, Max spotted a pair of guards talking nearby. Both were carrying guns, and she quickly gestured for Alec to take the one on the right.

As one, they leapt forward, moving so fast that the guards didn't even have time to shout before they were on top of them. A kick to the groin had Max's down in seconds, and she followed with a blow to the back of the head that sent him sprawling to the ground, unconscious. Turning, she was just in time to see Alec spin into a high kick that caught his target on the temple and left him on the ground next to his partner.

They drug the unconscious guards over to an outcropping next to the mansion's huge, vine-encrusted trellis and dumped them, effectively hiding them from casual view. Satisfied that they wouldn't be found for a while, Max turned to Alec for their next move. He cocked his head toward the trellis and arched one eyebrow, silently indicating that she should go first.

"How far?" she asked, placing one foot on the bottom-most edge.

"Third floor balcony."

Max nodded briskly and began her ascent. Soon enough, she reached the third floor and climbed over onto the balcony, Alec right behind her. The lock on the balcony door was child's play to pick, and they were inside the mansion in a matter of moments.

"Looks like a guest bedroom. Good thing nobody's using it," Max remarked as they moved through the darkened room to the door that led out into the hallway. She frowned at how well-lit it was, but thankfully the coast appeared to be clear. Alec gestured to the right, and they headed out.

"That's it," Alec informed her, pointing to a pair of large, ornately carved oak doors at the end of the hall.

As they passed a staircase on their left, the sound of voices from below made Max freeze. It sounded like at least 3 people, and they were definitely headed up.

Cursing under her breath, Max reacted on instinct, grabbing Alec by the back of his collar and pulling him toward the nearest door. Two seconds later, they were inside, and she pulled the door closed behind them silently. Not a moment too soon, either, as the voices got closer and paused in the hallway outside of their hiding spot, which, as luck would have it, was some sort of broom closet. It was tiny and cramped and not built for one person to hide inside it, let alone two.

The doorknob was digging into her hip sharply, and Max wriggled around, trying to get more comfortable. Alec shifted as well, trying to accommodate her, but there just wasn't anywhere to go. "God, why don't they shut up and leave already," she grumbled.

Alec had to hunch down to avoid hitting the back of his head on the shelf behind him, which brought his face down mere inches from hers. He shifted again, leaning forward and bracing his hands against the door frame on either side of her and spreading his legs so that she could stand between them, which definitely helped with the whole doorknob situation, but brought all new complications in its stead, because Alec, damn him, smelled really nice, and it had been far too long since she'd been this close to a man. She and Logan had been dancing in circles around each other for the past few months because of the virus, which left Max frustrated in more ways than one.

"I thought you said this would be easy," she muttered rebelliously, more as a way to keep her mind away from things she should not be thinking about, than out of any real anger towards him.

Alec shrugged. "I can't predict everything, Maxie. We'll just have to wait for them to leave." When he spoke, Max felt his breath on the side of her neck, and couldn't stop a shiver from running down her spine.

"Cold?" Alec asked, though he knew good and well that it was anything but cold in here, the bastard. She could practically hear the smug in his voice.

"Shut up," Max hissed, shooting him a glare, not that it did much good in the dimly lit broom closet. But still, it was the principle of the thing. Alec was annoying; Max glared at him. That was just how it worked.

He chuckled softly, and she could practically feel the vibration of it under her skin. "Logan's lucky I'm such a nice guy," Alec whispered, leaning in so close that the ends of his hair brushed against her cheek. "I mean, trapped in a closet with a pretty girl? Most guys wouldn't stick to just talking."

Max rolled her eyes and placed both hands on his chest, pushing him as far back as the tiny space would allow. "Remind me to kill you when we get out of here," she replied conversationally, using the same tone of voice she'd use when she was talking about the weather or gas prices.

Alec grinned, his teeth flashing in the darkness. "Always such a tease," he said, sighing as if he was being greatly put-upon.

Just then, footsteps could be heard outside and the voices faded away, heading back downstairs by the sound of it. Max waited a few moments to be sure the coast was clear and then eased the closet door open and slipped out into the newly deserted hallway. They made their way to the oak doors without further incident and quietly snuck inside, closing the doors behind them.

"There's the safe," Alec announced, all business once again.

It was a walk-in safe embedded in one wall, and for most people it would be close to impenetrable. Luckily, they were not most people.

Max knelt in front of the combination lock and pressed her ear against the metal. Three quick spins later, each one confirmed by the barely-audible click as the tumblers fell into place, and it was open. Had to love that Manticore-enhanced hearing.

Once inside, she noted the laser grid mounted on the walls of the safe and smirked. Piece of cake.

She reached out behind her, and Alec dropped something heavy into her hand. The press of a button later and the gas canister expelled its contents, filling the safe with smoke and illuminating the laser beams. It was a crisscross pattern that was fairly complex, but nothing they couldn't handle. Max did a cartwheel, hands landing squarely in the gaps between two of the lasers, and feet following into the next two clear patches. The next bit was a little trickier, and she did a one-armed handspring, bracing her feet against the wall and pushing off into a flip that landed her safely beyond the laser grid.

She stepped up to the small safe at the back and rolled her eyes. "A safe inside a safe? This guy isn't paranoid at all, is he?"

She heard the whisper of movement that signaled Alec's presence at her side, and noted that he'd left his bag outside while he navigated the lasers. Pointing at the small safe, she indicated the keypad. "Looks like he's gotten a little more high tech this time around," she noted.

Alec grinned. "Which is why it's a good thing I have the codes. Not that we couldn't crack it ourselves, but this way saves us some time."

Max was impressed in spite of herself. "How'd you manage that?" she asked incredulously.

"Now, now, Maxie," Alec replied as he bent down to enter the proper sequence of numbers on the keypad. "I can't give away all of my secrets."

Max rolled her eyes. "Whatever," she muttered.

Seconds later the safe door opened with a soft click. Max knelt beside Alec and reached inside. What she pulled out made her frown in confusion. It was a red, plastic stick with a Santa head on the top, packaged inside a clear bag.

"What the hell?"

Alec whooped with barely-contained glee and grabbed the Santa-stick out of her hand. "Haven't you ever seen a Pez dispenser before, Max?" he asked.

"You mean that crappy candy from before the pulse?"

"Yep." He reached into the safe and pulled out another one; this one was white with a snowman head on top.

"We came all this way to steal some candy?" she hissed angrily.

"Hey, don't knock it," Alec replied. "The entire set of original Holiday Pez dispensers is gonna go for big money on the black market. They're collector's items."

Max snorted. "I guess it's true what they say about some people's trash..."

Alec adopted a wounded look. "Don't listen to her," he told the snowman earnestly. "She doesn't know what she's talking about."

He reached back into the safe and pulled out a small box full of sticks of Pez candies. "You know, I bet these things are still good," he remarked, picking one up and quickly unwrapping it. "They have the shelf-life of plutonium."

Max gave him a doubtful look, but he ignored her and popped one into his mouth. And just as promptly spit it back out.

"Or maybe not," he amended, looking for all the world like the candy had betrayed him.

"Stop eating our merchandise," Max told him, slapping his hand and taking the box from him.

She began to gather up the boxes when the sound of a gun being cocked made her freeze. She turned slowly, and saw a big, burly man holding a gun on them both.

Well, shit. How the hell had he snuck up on them?

"Play time's over, kids," the heavy said nastily, indicating with the gun that they should stand up.

Max rose to her feet, already pondering their options. There wasn't enough room to maneuver in the safe, and he was at a safe enough distance to guarantee he'd get a shot off before either of them could reach him. Basically, they were screwed.

Putting on her most sultry smile, Max cocked her hips to one side and twirled a strand of hair around one finger. "It doesn't have to be," she purred, taking a step forward.

"Max..." Alec warned softly, but she ignored him, keeping her gaze focused on the guard. If she could just keep him off his game for a few seconds more...

"I don't think so, missy," he said with a smirk, before he fired.

Max felt white-hot pain blossom in her shoulder and cursed, stumbling to the side and running into the wall of the safe. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, trying to pull herself together, and felt a rush of movement. Forcing her eyes back open, she saw that Alec had taken advantage of the distraction she'd caused and was already twisting the guy's wrist, sending the gun falling to the floor from suddenly nerveless fingers. He kicked out and caught the guard's kneecap, the sharp, popping sound as it broke making Max wince, and then spun into a second kick that nailed the man in the chest and knocked the breath out of him before he could call for help. Not that it mattered, since the silent alarms had undoubtedly already been tripped by their tussle.

"C'mon, Max" Alec called, rushing back to her side and hauling her to her feet. He sounded genuinely worried, which gave Max a fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach that she couldn't explain. "You're not gonna let a little thing like this stop you, are you?"

She focused on walking, pushing the pain to the back of her mind as best she could. Halfway to the double doors that led out into the hallway, she froze, spinning around. "We forgot the damn candy!" she hissed in irritation.

"No time," Alec replied simply, pulling her along behind him as he practically sprinted down the hallway. Somewhere along the line, he'd remembered to grab his bag, though Max wasn't sure when. Everything was still a little hazy.

Two goons came barreling up the stairs, raising guns to fire, but Alec was faster, releasing her to lash out at them with fists and feet, sending them both tumbling back down the way they'd came.

"Fuck, come on!" he shouted, grabbing her hand and pulling her the rest of the way down the hall. He slammed into the door they'd come in through, leading her to the window and stopping just in front of it. "Can you climb?" he asked her, but she just shoved him back and began clambering through the window on her own. Fuck if she needed him to help her down a damn trellis because of one little gunshot wound.

He followed her down and soon they were sprinting back across the yard. They didn't see the dogs this time, which was a small blessing, but climbing the outer wall really sucked when all Max could think about was the way her shoulder was throbbing. Soon enough she was over the top, dropping to the ground on the other side. It wasn't her best landing ever, but she didn't fall on her ass, so she'd take it.

Once Alec was beside her, they ran for the bikes. He tried to get her to leave hers and ride with him, but she just scowled. Please, like she would ever leave her baby behind.

They made it back to Terminal City without further incident, but by the time they parked their rides, Max had gotten a better handle on the pain, and now she was just furious.

"This just figures," she fumed, stalking toward the medical center with a worried Alec at her heels. "We can't even steal some stupid candy right!"

"Hey, calm down," he called after her, having to jog to keep up with her frantic pace, even though he was more than a head taller than her.

"Calm down?" she repeated, getting angrier by the moment. She spun around, making him skid to a halt to keep from mowing her down. "Don't you tell me to calm down, Alec. I got shot, and you were the one who said this would be so easy!" She jabbed a finger into his chest to punctuate her words. "In and out, isn't that right? 15 minutes tops?"

"Jesus, don't take this out on me, Max," he replied, taking a step back. "It's not my fault things went south."

"Of course not, Alec," Max yelled. "It's not your fault. Nothing's ever your fault, is it?"

Alec froze, his face going completely blank. He managed a small, hurtful little smile as he shoved his hands in his pockets and took another step away from her. "Well, it sounds like you've got it all figured out, Max. Have fun with your bullet wound." He turned and walked away without another word, while Max's angry retort died in her throat.

Damn it. It wasn't really Alec's fault, after all. She was just mad. But oh no, of course he couldn't just let her vent, could he? He had to make her feel like shit about it. Well, too bad, she decided. She was the one who'd been shot here. She wasn't about to go apologize to him.

Turning, she resumed her trek toward the medical center, trying to put this entire wretched night out of her mind completely.


It was several hours before she managed to get back to her place. Everyone had fussed over her, Logan and Cindy especially. It was ridiculous. You'd think she wasn't a super soldier with revved up healing abilities by the looks on everyone's faces.

Once she closed the door to her room behind her, Max let out a sigh of relief. Her tiny apartment in Terminal City might not be much, but at least it was quiet. All she wanted now was a shower and some sleep, and not necessarily in that order.

She made her way to her bedroom and was about to flop down on top of her bed, jacket, shoes and all, but a package sitting next to her pillow made her pause.

"What the hell?" she wondered, picking it up. It had her name on it in handwriting she recognized.

Alec.

Opening it warily -- she was half expecting a bomb to be inside -- she was shocked to see a familiar box of candy and 5 plastic dispensers each wrapped in a clear bag.

Had he gone back? No, that was impossible. The place would've tripled their security by the time he could've made it back there. It would've been suicide.

Then she remembered his bag, and how it had seemed to almost appear at his side as if by magic.

"That little cheat," she breathed, a smile curving the corners of her mouth. "He had them the whole time."

She noticed a piece of paper sticking out from underneath the box and pulled it out, unfolding it to find several lines of text scrawled in Alec's messy handwriting.

These are for you, Max. But only because you asked so nicely.

And by the way, you totally owe me. I'll send you a bill.

Max rolled her eyes fondly. Of course, he wasn't getting a dime from her, and he knew it. But he had to ask; just like she had to say no.

It was just what they did.