Summary: AU – Where Sam (453) had never shown up, and Max did end up leaving Seattle... Logan isn't the only one upset that she left without saying goodbye.

A/N: I've delayed the appearance of Max's runes by a few weeks, just because it works out better that way.

Eternal thanks to my beta, BHG. This bullet's for you, girl! (aren't they all?)

Something Like Belonging

by baloo

Friday. Finally. It seemed to Max that she'd been waiting forever for this particular week to end. To be able to walk into her apartment, toss aside the ol' work duds and not have to think of the source of her paychecks for two whole days...she was mentally salivating at the thought.

Honestly, a girl had to make a living by any decent means necessary and all, but sometimes she found herself longing for her bike messengering days, when Normal hovered over her shoulder like some demented hawk, screeching "Bip, bip, bip!" with every other breath.

Not that her new job was all that terrible, but still...something seemed to be missing. Maybe it was just the company? Yeah, that had to be it. She missed being able to work with her friends.

She missed her friends, period.

Of course, it was her decision to leave, so she couldn't go lamenting that now, could she? And at the end of each day, she had to admit she'd made the right one. As difficult as it had been, and as often as she thought about returning...leaving Seattle had been the right thing to do.

She recalled her words to Original Cindy, the night she left: "I've stayed too long. I need to go somewhere new, where nobody knows who I am and I don't have to worry about anybody but myself."

It turned out to be a lot easier said than done. Though she'd promised herself she wouldn't make the same mistake twice—that she wouldn't build the same sort of attachments here as she'd had back in Seattle...that was exactly what she'd gone and done in the end. Leaving behind her friends had produced a void in her life that she'd instinctively taken to filling by building new acquaintanceships. By the time she'd realized what she was doing, she'd already found herself accepted into a small, tightly knit group of individuals who didn't appear ready to let her go anytime soon. And Max hadn't fought all that hard to convince them otherwise. She couldn't deny that it felt nice to...belong.

With a sigh, Max unlocked the door and let herself into the apartment she'd been sharing with her two roommates over the past few weeks. With three full bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, dining area and living room, she had to admit her new place was a lot nicer than the last. And a lot more expensive. But splitting the rent three ways made it pretty manageable. And they actually had a rent to pay here, rather than the bribes they'd been dishing out to the sector cops back ho...back in Seattle. Not squatters, but legitimate tenants.

She dropped her bag by the front closet, telling herself she'd pick it up later, and knowing she'd probably forget to. Then Kate would come stumbling through the door sometime early in the morning, stub her toe on the obstruction, and curse Max out in half a dozen language. After hopping about for a minute or so, she'd take the bag to Max's room, and drop it on the floor from enough height to deliberately create a resonating thud.

Knowing all this still didn't prevent her from leaving it there in the first place, thus setting the whole chain of events into motion. It was kind of nice to have a little predictability in one's life.

Max heard a feminine voice coming from the direction of the living room, and followed the source down the brief entryway.

"Hey Stace, I'm—"

Max froze, mid-sentence when she saw just who her roommate had been speaking to.

"Hey Max," Stacey replied with a bright smile, pushing her long bangs out of her eyes as she stood to greet her. "You have a guest," she announced, though it was hardly necessary at this point.

Max gaped dumbly at her "guest", still firmly rooted to the floor where she'd stopped.

"Hi Max," Alec greeted with a pleasantness that commonsense told her had to be merely for Stacey's sake. He'd gotten up too when her roommate had, and now his much larger frame seemed to dwarf the petite blonde standing across from him.

Stacey glanced from Max to Alec, and back to Max, her smile disappearing slowly as uncertainty clouded her blue eyes. Obviously, this wasn't the greeting she'd anticipated when Alec had introduced himself as an old acquaintance of her new friend.

"You do know him, don't you Max?" she asked, a small frown turning her mouth.

"Yeah," Max breathed, finally finding her voice, "I know him. Hi Alec."

"Okay. Good." Stacey smiled again, her perpetual cheerful expression regained, and the previous moment of doubt quickly forgotten in face of the confirmation.

Max raised a self-conscious hand to her hair, smoothing down the short brown locks discreetly as she took a step into the room. She'd finally gotten around to lopping it off a month back, sick of the hassle of wearing it so long...and of having her friends tease her for its lack-luster state. Now it reached just the nape of her neck—long enough to comfortably cover her barcode, but short and manageable so she'd actually been able to work some life back into it.

The way she'd figured it, moving to L.A. had been all about change. The hair had been one of the first things to go. The predominantly leather and black wardrobe had been the first. Not that the stuff she'd left back in her closet in Seattle—telling OC she could do whatever she wanted with it; it wasn't as if she'd be able to lug it around with her on her ninja—was remotely wearable in California weather this time of the year anyway. So that was one change that had been kind of imposed on her, by circumstance. Not that she'd minded. At least not until now.

Max hugged her bare arms, feeling somewhat vulnerable in her casual white sleeveless top. It was no more revealing that her usual tanks, but those had made her feel tough, reassured. Especially when she donned them with her leather jacket and biking gloves. Oh, how she longed for her leather jacket and gloves right about now. Instead, she felt more Melrose-y or Beverly Hills boutique-ish, with her snug mid-shade blue jeans, sunglasses propped up in her hair, and her high-heeled boots.

High heels, for fuck's sake! When had she ever before worn high heels unless they were required for some undercover gig? Two inches of empty height, courtesy of fashionable leather contraptions applied to her feet.

She half-expected Alec to burst out laughing any moment now. Where was tough-girl Max now? Dearly departed, thank you very much; a casualty of the Los Angeles fashion scene. But girly-girl Max would most definitely be pleased to make your acquaintance in her stead. No, don't let her cowering behind the lampshade or her mad lunge for the front door in her girly-girl boots turn you off. She's just a little shy.

Well, she still had her ninja, if that was any consolation to Max's bruised ego (and it kinda was, but not as much as she would've liked). And she managed to continue riding it even in her new boots. So there.

"Um, I'm supposed to be meeting Jimmy in about an hour," Stacey was saying, looking back and forth between the silent pair, "so I have to go get ready."

Stacey dismissed herself with a grin, and Alec made some sort of reply with one of his characteristically charming smiles that almost made Stacey—Stacey, who was never shy around guys—blush. Max had to fight the urge to remind her friend that she had a very steady boyfriend who loved her and whom she, in return, loved very she should just roll her tongue back in her mouth and be on her merry little way.

Damn it! That Alec was always bringing out the worst in her.

Max watched Stacey's retreating back until the blonde was completely out of sight. Only then—and after an additional few seconds of hesitation—did she turn back to the man standing in her new living room.

He looked good. Too good. Better than she remembered him looking. Obviously, being away from her agreed with him.

Max frowned.

So then why the hell had he come here looking for her? Maybe just to rub it in...she wouldn't put it above him. He was fiendish like that. Just look at the way he was dressed!

His dark jeans hugged his thighs, leaving little to her imagination. The imagination. The, the, the! Her imagination would not, in a million years, have anything to do with Alec, his thighs, and regions close to—but not quite so innocuous as—his thighs. Not unless she was under the influence of some powerful, mind warping—note, mind warping, not merely "mind altering"—drugs.

He wore a black leather jacket and what she presumed was a black t-shirt underneath (that was, she imagined, the only way he could have survived the current weather in the outfit; only air-conditioned buildings, and the L.A. nights were kind to leather at this time of the year).

She was staring. Max flushed slightly when she realized it, and tore her gaze abruptly from her inspection. Of course, Alec was openly doing the same, and he hardly seemed embarrassed about it.

Max cleared her throat, but Alec was the first to speak.

"You didn't cover your tracks very well."

She hesitated briefly, thrown off course a bit by his choice of opening lines.

"I had no reason to cover my tracks," she said matter-of-factly. "I wasn't running, just leaving."

"Without saying goodbye? Sounds like running to me." His voice sounded deceptively neutral, but one glance at his expression killed the glare she'd been about to send his way before it even formed.

Instead, she fought to keep her own tone level and calm. "It was better this way."

"Better?" he said, walking casually around the room, taking in the many facets of life contained within its walls. He paused to give her a look over his shoulder. "Or easier?" Max didn't answer, and she didn't meet his glance; she just kept her arms crossed over her chest, hands hugging her biceps. "Yeah, I guess in your little world, easier is better."

Max bit her lip on her retort, telling herself that she deserved to take a little without giving any back, this one time. That he had a right to be at least somewhat angry over how she'd handled things. She knew she would have felt the same way if he'd done it to her... She'd never been proud of how she'd left, even though she knew she'd have done it the same way if given another chance. OC had been the only one she'd had strength enough to say goodbye to. Maybe because she knew that the other woman was also the only one who'd have understood her need to leave, and let her go without putting up much of a struggle. Not because she didn't care enough, but maybe because...well, she didn't know why. All she knew was that at some level, the prospect of saying goodbye to Alec had been even worse than for Logan.

Alec shrugged out of his jacket, tossing it over the back of the nearby couch that was also much nicer than the one she'd had back in Seattle (not a single tear or stain, unidentified or otherwise, on it).

And there was the black t-shirt. Oh boy.

"I had an interesting conversation with Logan a few weeks back," he began conversationally. "When he came around, asking me where you'd taken off to. Told him I didn't know...and he thought that was really strange—that my girlfriend would leave town without telling me first."

Max's eyes immediately widened, and she looked up to meet his heated, hazel ones. Damn, she'd been baited! She wasn't supposed to meet those suckers directly.

"Oh. Yeah, about that..." she began, feeling trapped in place as she struggled not to squirm under the weight of his gaze.

"Don't worry, Max. I kinda pieced together the puzzle on my own."

She swallowed her pride, and even managed to ignore his condescending tone.

Max cleared her throat (wondering if the irritating obstruction in her passageway was perhaps the pride she had thought she'd nobly swallowed), and tried to use the pause to collect her thoughts.

"And, um...what'd you tell him?"

Alec looked at her for a long while before answering. "I told him I'd never claimed to understand you, and that he'd known you a lot longer than I had, so maybe he was the one who should be explaining it to me."

"Listen, Alec, I'm sorry—" she said, beginning what would necessarily be a severely inadequate apology. Still, she felt a need to at least try.

But apparently Alec didn't agree with her sentiment, as he interrupted.

"About what? Using me as a buffer between you and your non-boyfriend? Not having the decency to tell me about it afterward? Skipping town without an explanation, or even a 'so long, nice knowin' ya'? Being a hypocrite for going on about never abandoning your unit, and then turning around and abandoning everyone who cares about you? Or not calling, even once, in the two months you've been gone, if just to say that you're okay and still alive?"

Max hung her head shamefully, feeling about as low as the floor and unable to meet eyes with anything beyond it.

"All of it," she answered softly.

"Not good enough," he ground out from between tightly clenched teeth. "Saying you're sorry for 'all of it' is just. Not. Fucking. Good enough."


"No. You don't speak. You listen to me."

Max winced at his tone, and fought the urge to take a step back when she instinctively raised her head and was greeted by his hard expression. It was like looking into the face of a stranger.

"Do you have any idea what it was like explaining to Joshua why you'd left? Especially when I didn't have a fucking clue either why you'd done it. Maybe if you'd given me something to work with..." he shook his head in frustration. "He kept thinking it was his fault, because he'd moved to T.C. when you told him not to. Great timing with that, by the way."


"Shut. Up."

Max's expression must have been comical, with the way her mouth gaped open and her eyes widened to unprecedented proportions. But Alec had to have left his sense of humor back in Seattle. Apparently along with Max's characteristic fiery temper, since she found herself unable to respond to her treatment with any anger of her own. Only surprise. And shock. And a teensy bit of that emotion that made one want to tuck one's figurative tail between one's legs and run in the opposite direction of that which was the cause of this feeling. What was that called again...?

"And you might as well have put a big 'guilty' sign around your neck, leaving the way you did with the whole Jam Pony thing. Everyone's dead sure that you're a transgenic, and that's why you took off without a word. And everyone's giving OC a hard time about it, seeing as she was supposed to be your best friend."

Max felt a knot form in her stomach at his words. She'd figured leaving would have made OC safer, not more vulnerable...

She shook her head fiercely.

"What do you want me to say? I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought everyone would be better off if I just left!"

"Fuck that!" Alec shot back. "You left because of you. Not because you were looking out for anyone else."

"No one needed me!"

Alec paused abruptly, midstream, confusion melting some of his anger. A ripple passed through his brow. "Needed you?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands in exasperation. Like a teacher whose pupil had just stumbled upon the pivotal point, but still stubbornly managed to teeter on the edge of incomprehension. "Joshua was moving to T.C. all on his own, Logan was safer without me being around to accidentally touch him and kill him. I couldn't go back to Jam Pony because everyone had me pegged for a transgenic...and I was putting everyone I knew in danger, because White and his buddies want me so bad over this stupid. Fucking. Perfect. DNA!"

His confusion set in deeper, and he shook his head in disbelief. "Are you saying you stayed in Seattle all this time because you were needed? What about before Joshua...what about before the virus?"

Max raked her hands through her short hair, a habit she'd acquired recently, and turned away. She took a few steps toward the other end of the room and tried to regulate her breathing.

"Were you always needed?" Alec prodded further.

Spinning on her heel, she sent him a vicious glare. "Yes," she hissed finally, as if he'd torn some deep, dark truth from her. "Yes, I stayed in Seattle because I was needed. If not, then I would've left a long time ago—at the first hint that my position had been compromised."

She paused, waiting for him to say something, but he didn't. So she continued.

"I left once, with Zack, when Lydecker caught my trail. He kept telling me it was the smart thing to do, and I knew he was right." Her gaze grew a little distant as she recalled the day. "I even got so far as going over the border, into Canada...but then I called Logan, just to check up on him. And it turns out he was sick. He was in the hospital, and he was dying. So I came back. I gave him a transfusion, he got better, and everything was alright after that."

"He needed you," Alec said quietly.

She sighed, her answer leaving her in a long breath, "Yeah."

"And you don't think it's worth staying if you're not needed."

Max gave him a tired look. "I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs."

Her energy seemingly tapped by her tirade, she dropped limply into the nearest seat, which happened to be the couch on whose back Alec had tossed his coat. He stayed where he was, silent, just watching her.

"Go back to Seattle, Alec." She sighed and buried her hands in her face. "Just...leave me alone, and go back."

"Fine!" he growled, walking over to where she sat and dropping suddenly to his knees before her.

The action was so unexpected that Max started, drawing up rigidly straight in her seat, hands splayed on the cushion, on either side of her, drawing as far back away from him as she could. If he'd been on one knee, instead of two, it could've passed for a marriage proposal. Albeit, a somewhat angry, frustrated marriage proposal, but still... The thought was enough to earn her "deer-caught-in-the-headlights" look as she gaped at him in open astonishment.

His hands dropped onto her knees, and Max realized that her legs had automatically parted to accommodate him in this position. Crazy legs! What were they thinking? There should be no accommodating going on!

Max nearly "eeped" in shock when Alec pressed down, applying a slight pressure to her knees...and a strange heat spread through her body. She found herself pressing back into the couch as if she might somehow push herself right through it. Which she wasn't sure she could manage even with her transgenic strength.

"I need you!" he told her fiercely. His eyes held such a depth of sincerity that she found herself unable to look away. "I need you."

For a moment—a long, long moment—Max just stared at him. She stared at him so long that she was sure she knew the exact number of green flecks in his hazel eyes, and the precise length of his eyelashes, down to the very millimeter.

Then she blinked, and the spell—whatever voodoo magic it surely was—broke.

Tossing his hands off her with lightning reflexes, Max pounced over the edge of the couch and to her feet, in a stunt that would make her feline ancestors shed tears of pride. She hauled herself a few nice, safe meters away from this alien who had come to her disguised as the cocky, smart-alecky transgenic known as X5-494.

"Alec! That's not funny!" she shouted, her voice sounding slightly shrill to her own ears.

Alec frowned and rose slowly to his own feet. "It wasn't supposed to be."

"Of course it was. You need me," she scoffed. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? You don't need anyone." She crossed her arms over her chest, finding some of her initial surprise giving way to irritation and a small amount of—dare she admit it?—disappointment. "You're Alec; you do just fine on your own. No one knows what you are. You've got your job, your gig at Terminal City, your—"

Alec interrupted with a shake of his head and took a step toward her. "That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it."

Max dropped her hands and practically leapt backward, her back coming up, hard, against the wall. "I don't know anything!" she exclaimed.

Alec paused, cocking his head at her. His eyes sparkled with amusement in a way that was not only familiar but also suddenly very comforting. That was the Alec she remembered and knew (somewhat) how to deal with.

"You know, there was a time when I'd have sworn those would be the most satisfying words I'd ever hear come out of your mouth."

But then the humor disappeared just as quickly as it had come.

"In that whole explanation you gave earlier, you never said anything about me." Max blinked in surprise, and he continued. "Joshua doesn't need you, Logan's better off without you, you can't go back to Jam Pony. And you at least gave OC a goodbye. But what about me?"

Alec leaned in toward her, stretching out one arm before him, palm flat on the wall by her head, and Max realized that she had nowhere to go now but sideways. And, somehow, shimmying her way across the wall didn't strike her as all that dignified a retreat. She refused to cower before him...anymore than she already had, of course. And boy had she done a lot of cowering in one day.

"So White's on your trail—he's on mine too. I bet he wants me dead just as bad as he wants you. So where, in all your reasoning, does that leave me?" He ducked his head down slightly so they were eye-to-eye. "Well?"

Max's mouth dropped open slightly, and she floundered for a response.

His pupils were so dilated from focusing at such a short distance, that that was almost all she could see. And staring at him from this close up was doing strange things to her perception, because it actually looked like he was getting nearer...

A throat cleared to Max's left, and she took the opportunity with Alec's momentary distraction as he glanced to the source, to pull away from both him and the wall without appearing like a complete coward. By the time he returned his attention to her, she was well outside his grasp.

Something like a smile graced his lips as he met her eyes, and Max jerked her gaze away desperately, turning her focus instead to her roommate, who stood in the entrance to the room.

The knowing smile on Stacey's face wasn't much of an improvement.

Max glowered at her, sending a look that told her whatever she was thinking was not true, and she had better keep it to herself.

Stacey's grin widened.

And then she turned toward Alec. "Hey, Alec, if you're planning on hanging around for a while, you and Max could come out with us. You know, have some drinks, play some pool, and just chill."

"It's okay, really, Stacey," Max interjected. "We wouldn't want to mess up your plans or anything. Besides, I'm sure Alec has to be on his way—"

The blonde beamed at her friend in return. "You wouldn't be messing up anything," she assured her.

'Except your face, later,' Max promised mentally as she caught the not-so-innocent look in the sparkling blue eyes.

"And Mouse is gonna be with us. You know he's gonna feel like the third wheel if it's just me, him, and Jimmy. You two would be doing him a favor." She turned back to Alec, "Whaddaya say? Can you come?"

Alec gave Max a slow, measuring look before smiling widely back at Stacey. "Well I don't have any other plans. I'd love to join you guys."

"So then it's settled," Stacey surmised, and Max fended off the urge to stamp her boot-clad foot on the ground.

Yes, it was settled. By the end of the night, Max was going to have at least two dead bodies to get rid of.

Meeting Max's friends was not the horrifying experience she'd seemed to think it'd be. In fact, everything was going pretty smoothly. Until, of course, Mouse—the six-foot-five, blonde haired, blue-eyed behemoth—took Alec's hand in his own thick-fingered grasp and loudly declared, "Ah, I always knew there had to be someone back in Seattle who our little Max had left her heart with. I mean, why else would she always be turning down a fine catch like me?"

Not that he'd meant that last part as anything more than a joke; despite his perpetual flirting, it was readily apparent to Alec that the loud, jovial hulk fondly known as Mouse (a.k.a. Clarence Edwards) thought of her more as a younger sister than a potential love interest. But still, it made for one hell of an awkward moment on Max's part as she sputtered and scrambled to explain that there was no such relationship between her and Alec. And of course the incredulous looks she received from her trio of supposed friends did not help the situation. Nor, for that matter, Alec supposed, did his smirk. He didn't have to be from Psy-Ops to know just how much she probably wanted to slap it right off his face.

Then sensing her need for pacification, he had swooped in for a belated rescue, assuring the others that he and Max had indeed never been more than friends. Certainly less sometimes...but never more. And Max sat back in her seat, arms crossed over her chest, expression fixed in a deep, possibly permanent, scowl.

"What's the matter with you, Princess?" Mouse inquired, rubbing her head playfully. "You seem real antsy today. The guys at work still giving you a tough time?"

Max batted away her friend's hand, and Alec noted both the nickname and the question with the slight arc of an eyebrow.

Smoothing her hair with her fingers, Max seemed to come to a mental decision to survive the night in the only way possible for her to do so without killing someone—by simply ignoring Alec's existence. Well, Alec avowed to strike a balance with his own counter-goal: he was simply going to have to tax Max's "turn the other cheek" philosophy to its utmost bounds. After all, he was still rightfully angry over her whole disappearing act.

Even now, he felt a sting of pain at the thought...but he decided to take the grin and bear it route. Or smirk and bear it, since that seemed to piss Max off the most. And damn, she looked really good when she was pissed off.

"No, no one at work's giving me a tough time," she said, answering Mouse's question.

"Work?" Alec chimed in, curious. He couldn't help but wonder what bigger and better things his dear Max had moved on to after Jam Pony.

"At the construction site," Mouse replied for her.

Stacey, who was seated on Alec's other side explained, "Mouse is a foreman at a site for this big construction company, and he got Max a job there."

"You work at a construction site," Alec said, turning toward Max.

"Yeah, it sounds strange, doesn't it," Mouse admitted, gazing down at his little Princess, "but Max here is pretty strong for someone so small." Alec coughed to conceal a laugh, amused at the thought of just how unknowingly true the large man's words were. Mouse took a chug of his beer, finishing off half of the drink in a single dose. "'Course, the other guys were giving her a pretty hard time 'bout it at first. I thought they'd laid off with it already," he said, shedding a concerned look in Max's direction.

"They have," she assured him, rolling her eyes. "I told you, I'm fine."

Alec watched the interplay with interest. It seemed to him that Max was the group's "baby", the one everyone pampered and worried after. Which was an almost startling transformation from the role she'd played in Seattle, as Joshua's surrogate mother, and the trangsenics' self-appointed protector. Maybe that was why, in the two months since she'd left, many of the shadows around her eyes had disappeared, and she looked more relaxed than she'd appeared since he'd met her.

"Hmm." Mouse clearly didn't sound entirely convinced. "Sometimes being the foreman sucks. I wish I could be around more to look after you."

Max folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. "I don't need 'looking after'. I can take care of myself."

Alec raised his mug, hiding a smile behind his drink. "That's for sure." Before Max could reply, undoubtedly with some remark that Alec would be no poorer for not hearing, he turned his attention back toward Mouse. "So...why 'Mouse'?"

The others laughed preemptively, even Jim, Stacey's quiet, reserved boyfriend. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, he was the only one at the table (and, according to Stacey, one of only two people in all of L.A.—the other being Kate, the absent third roommate, who worked the graveyard shift and wouldn't be home until early into the morning) not sporting a deep tan. Of course, Max's complexion was just a natural caramel hue, but Mouse and Stacey were Californians through and through. Jim had explained with a rueful grin that no matter what he did, he just seemed physically incapable of tanning. Ironic though, because his half-Hispanic heritage should have made the reverse true.

Stacey chose to answer Alec's question. Her cheeks were already flushed, and her laughter slightly off-kilter, a sure sign that she was not a heavyweight drinker.

"It's a joke," she said, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. "'Cause Mouse is so damn's like calling a really big guy 'Tiny'. Which we considered too...but it was just so done."

"Ahh," he nodded in understanding.

"So, Alec," Stacey declared abruptly. Alec placed his glass on the table, raising his eyebrows inquisitively. "What do you think of Max's new do? Quite an improvement over that shaggy pile of straw she had on her head when she first got here, don't ya think?"

"Hey!" Max protested.

But Alec captured her eye, and whatever more she'd been about to say was immediately forgotten. Of course he'd noted the change the moment she first walked into the room, back at the apartment, though it had been only part of a larger metamorphosis. It had been jarring, that first moment of their little reunion; somehow, he'd come here expecting to find the same Max he'd patiently endured over the past year. Mopey, temperamental Max, who used fists and insults to pave her way through life. The Max he'd found instead was a far cry from the girl he'd come to know.

It was amazing what a haircut and a change in wardrobe could do. But the biggest change of all, he could see, was something else, something deeper.

Or maybe the most disconcerting thing of all was seeing a Max who realized there was a life beyond the bounds of her non-relationship with the almighty Logan.

Alec smiled slowly, and put a little something darker into his expression, enjoying the way her cheeks flushed slightly and she turned to break the gaze.

"I like it," he said conclusively, and she ventured another glance in his direction, chewing on her lower lip as if trying to gauge his sincerity. Finally, she looked away again, and Alec sat back, returning the knowing grin that Mouse sent him over her shoulder, with a smile of his own.

Max led the way back into her apartment, clutching the keys tightly in her hand as she stopped a safe distance away from him. They'd been relatively quiet since parting ways with her friends. Stacey had gone home with Jim; apparently, the pair usually spent their nights together, at either his place or the girls'. This week it was his.

Max had asked him if he had anywhere to stay, and he'd silently shaken his head. Her apartment had been first on his list of stops as he'd reached L.A.

"You can crash in my room," she said, pointing to one of the half-open doors.

Alec cocked an eyebrow, giving her a small grin. "With you?"

She returned his expression with a glare, looking more exasperated than offended. "No. I'll take Stacey's, since she won't be needing it." Clearing her throat after a pause, she took an uncertain step back. "So, um...goodnight."

"Goodnight, Max."

Hesitating for a second before she nodded, she headed toward the farthest bedroom. Alec waited until he heard the soft click of the door before he moved toward the room she'd indicated.

He shook his head wryly as he stripped down to his boxers and climbed under the sheets. It was strange how life worked out sometimes; he never would've imagined that he'd end up sleeping in Max's bed on this trip down. Of course, she was sleeping elsewhere at the time, but...still. Those were some hefty bragging rights.

However, as it turned out, there was not much sleep to be had in Max's bed—and not at all in the context that he would've hoped to be able to say that. His mind kept drifting along various thoughts, no matter how valiantly he tried to just shut it off. Eventually, around dawn, having caught only a wink here and there, he gave up entirely and dragged himself to the kitchen for something to drink.

He was propped up against the open door of the refrigerator, still clad only in his boxers, and bathed in the yellow light of the large appliance, when a throat cleared behind him.

"Well here's a sight I could grow used to coming home to," a voice observed with mild amusement.

Alec turned in surprise, a container of orange juice still trapped in his hand.

The woman before him was tall and thin and pale, possibly even paler than Jim. Her hair was short and black, though he wondered if it weren't dyed, and her eyes some obscure color in the dim lighting...maybe gray.

"Uh...hi," Alec greeted, still feeling slightly off that he'd been caught completely unaware. Not that he'd been watching out for intruders or anything, but it was still disconcerting. "You must be Kate," he said, twisting around completely to face her. "I'm Alec, Max's friend." He left the door open, as it was the only source of light in the room. And although he could still see pretty well without it, he was sure Kate would rather not stumble blindly through the dark while they held their conversation.

"Ah," she nodded in comprehension. "So you're the Alec."

He raised an eyebrow and gazed at her with interest. "You've heard of me?"

Kate smiled briefly. "Your name has come up, briefly, in casual conversation."


"Hmm," she murmured. "Too casual, if you ask me."

"Just a bit on the cryptic side, aren't ya?"

She grinned full out suddenly, and gave him a reappraising look. "And you cut right through the bullshit. I like that. I can see why Max likes you."

Alec scoffed there, shaking his head. "See, now I know you were just faking it with that whole 'I know all about you' vibe you were trying to put out. 'Cause if you knew anything about me from Max, then 'like' is the last word you'd use."

"Oh come on," she replied, clearly not buying his argument for a moment. "You're here, aren't you? Followed her all the way to L.A., and she didn't kick you out on your ass for it. And I know for a fact Max didn't want any part of her old life carrying over into her new one."

Alec frowned. "So? I'm a part of that old life. By your logic, she shouldn't want anything to do with me."

"Yeah, she shouldn't." Kate cocked her head and sent him a meaningful look. Then she yawned and turned away. "Anyway, sun's about to come up. I better get to bed." She gave a small wave over her shoulder, heading out in the direction of the bedrooms. "It was nice meetin' ya Alec. Treat my Max good."

Max awakened to a light touch on her leg, and peeked one eye open, glancing at the clock. Seeing the time, she groaned and rolled over, fists rubbing both eyes.

"Shit, Kate. You know I don't sleep much...I can't believe you'd wake me up this earl—"

She cut off suddenly and lurched straight up into a sitting position.

"Alec! You're up early," she greeted, running a smoothing hand self-consciously through her hair. Ah shit. Knowing her luck, she probably had the worst case of bed-head in the history of...well, hair...going for her right about now.

Then she noticed Alec's appearance and forgot all about her own. "You're not leaving already, are you?" she asked, her heart beating slightly faster as she observed his fully dressed state, complete with his jacket in place.

Alec shook his head, and Max's shoulders dropped a little, spilling a tension she hadn't even realized was there. "I have to meet someone," he said. "You know, business. I had to have a good reason for coming all the way down to L.A.; if I just took off without explanation, people would've gotten suspicious." He paused and shrugged. "Didn't wanna blow your cover or anything." Max continued to stare at him, and he misinterpreted her silence. "Don't worry, it's a straight little deal—no room for complications, and no transgenic escapades showing up on the local six o'clock news."

"Okay," she replied. "Well, will you be back by lunch?"


"Yeah, sure. I thought maybe we could go out, and then I'd show you around town. Granted, there'd be no hookers or strip clubs on this particular tour," she sent him a teasing smile, and a slight shrug of one shoulder, "but I'm sure I could find enough to keep your interest for a few hours."

Alec gave her a slow, appraising look...starting, it seemed, from her very toes and stopping as he met her eyes, but lingering deliberately along the way, on the tank top and shorts she'd donned for her sleep. Max felt a heat pour through her body in response to the naked invitation in his gaze, and she was suddenly too conscious of the fact that her sheets had been kicked to the foot of the bed sometime during the night, leaving her feeling exposed and vulnerable. Funny, she thought, her eyes carefully trained on him. Vulnerability, when it came to members of the opposite sex, wasn't something she'd ever associated with herself—not before she'd met him.

Max fought off the two conflicting desires that swarmed through her in that span of seemingly endless seconds: to retrieve those aforementioned sheets and bury herself in their protective cover...and to forget the sheets, damn all consequences, and launch herself into his arms. She succeeded, just barely, on either account.

She swallowed hard at the intensity of his gaze, as he finally drawled, "I'm sure you could."

There was a pause the length of a single heartbeat. And then suddenly Alec grinned—an expression that was positively buoyant compared to his last look—and broke the tension.

"Alright. See you then."

Max shook her head as he headed for the door, marveling at the abrupt change. She raised a hand to comb her fingers through her hair once more, stopping when Alec paused once more before leaving the room.

"And Max..."

She looked up, catching the direction of his glance as it swept up over her body once more, bringing another brief heat wave with it.

"Nice P.J.'s."

Max flushed and picked up the nearest pillow, flinging it directly at Alec's head. He ducked out of its path in a blur of motion, and it landed somewhere out in the hallway. His laughter trailed behind him as he exited the apartment, leaving a smile to settle on her full lips.

"Something tells me you don't deliberate your wardrobe this much when you're just gonna hang out with any of us," Stacey observed idly as Max pulled back out of her closet with a new shirt-pant combo, for the unknown numbered time in the past half hour.

"That's because none of us look like Alec," Kate said quite confidently from her place on Max's bed, situated amidst a growing pile of clothes. Even among their combined wardrobes, Max still hadn't found the "right" outfit.

Stacey nodded in concession. "I know if I did, I'd be walking around naked...all front of the mirror."

"Oh please," Max scoffed. "That's like when a guy says that if he were a girl, he'd play with his boobs all the time. Besides," she continued, changing direction, "this has nothing to do with Alec. It's just this strange weather today...I can't figure out what would be comfortable."

"Strange weather?" Stacey echoed incredulously. "It's hot and muggy. That describes L.A. about three hundred and sixty days a year."

Kate rolled over in place and picked up a discarded shirt from the pile next to her. "And I'm sure this couldn't be considered 'comfortable' under any sort of climatic conditions."

Max glared at them both. Finally deciding on a pair of jeans and a sleeveless top she decided was not too casual, and not too obvious (and not too far a cry from the "old" Max), she clutched the clothes against herself.

"Okay, you two have been most tremendously unhelpful. Get out so I can change."

"You get out, so I can sleep," Kate retorted, rolling onto her back again.

"This is my room," Max pointed out.

"But I'm tired," the other woman explained, closing her eyes. "And you dragged me out of bed to help you—"

"I did not. That was Stacey. I told you both to stay away."

"Either way...the only way I'm leaving anytime soon is if you pick me up and carry me out of here."

Max exchanged a look with Stacey.

Twenty seconds later, Kate was lying on the living room floor, watching her friends' retreating backs.

"Obviously, sarcasm escapes you if you take everything I say so literally," Kate called out after them.

A short time afterward, Max, who had just finished dressing, was walking right by the phone when it rang. She answered it with a fair idea in mind of who it could be, and rolling her eyes when her suspicions were confirmed after her initial "Hello".

"What's wrong?" she said quickly, her back straightening and her body tensing. Kate, who was still lying on the floor where her friends had left her, glanced over at her tone. "What? Where are you? Okay, I'll be there in fifteen."

"Something wrong?" Kate asked after she'd hung up.

Max shook her head, and returned to her room to grab something, before heading for the door. "Don't even ask."

Kate shrugged and remained on the floor.

When Max stalked into the empty warehouse where he'd chosen to await her arrival, Alec noted that she looked almost like her old self, for the first time since he'd run into her again. Hell, if it weren't for the hair, he would've sworn he'd just walked (hobbled? crawled?) through a time warp. The "I'm so gonna kick your ass" expression was firmly in place, with not a trace of sympathy for his present condition to be found anywhere.

"Thought you said it was a 'straight little deal'," she mimicked his earlier words, dropping a first aid kit on the ground beside where she knelt. "'No room for complications.'"

He'd started to get up, but she pushed him back into the crate he'd been leaning against, her hands aiding his as they eased his jeans down away from the wound, leaving only his boxers in place. His eyes squeezed shut as she examined his upper thigh. The slug had caught him in the fleshy area of his leg and passed right on through. Fortunately, this meant there was no bullet to remove, and the injury wasn't too serious, since bones and arteries had been completely avoided. Unfortunately, it also meant double the mess, since there was now both an entry and exit wound.

"Turns out, my contact didn't like the idea of dealing with a 'trannie'." Alec peaked an eye open, leveling his gaze on Max's face. "Did you know that even low-brow goons have standards?"

Her expression was tight with contained anger as she poured the alcohol onto the gauze and applied it to the injury. "Seems to me, that's something you should've figured out before you went to the meet. Moron," she tacked on the last part in a low mutter, though they both knew he'd hear it easily.

Alec grit his teeth against the pain and mentally rolled his eyes at Max's rough treatment. Mentally, because doing so physically would've required too much effort.

"Yeah Max, I love you too," he ground out through a clenched jaw. "Can you ease it up a bit there?" The pain subsided somewhat after the initial sterilization, and he panted heavily between words. "If I'd known your bedside manner was this terrible, I'd just have gone back to the guy who shot me and asked him to put me down for good."

There was a long pause while she labored over his leg. Finally, he continued, going back to her previous comment, "Anyway, how was I to know he'd figured out what I was? Must've been due to my stunning good looks," he mused. "Had ta have known that no human being could be this perfect without the aid of genetic engineering."

"God, don't you ever shut up?" Max exclaimed, shaking her head. Glancing up from her task, she gave him a look. "Did you at least get whatever you came for?"

Alec gave her his familiar cocky grin, patting his jacket, right over his heart, with one hand.

"Don't I always."

Finally, Max finished wrapping his leg and moved to help him pull up his pants. Alec had to bite his lip, hard, to keep from making any remarks about that. She was pissed enough at him already without him adding to the mess.

Then she took one of his arms and draped it over her shoulder, letting him lean some of his weight on her as they climbed to their feet.

"Where's your car?" she asked.

"Don't have one."

Alec shifted his weight slightly, trying to carry as much of it on his own as he could.

"Then how'd you get to L.A.?" she puzzled, leading the way out of the building. "And don't tell me you hitched the whole way. Even your cute ass and sexy little sashay couldn't have gotten you that far.... Unless you found yourself a really friendly trucker."

Alec blinked hard and frowned. "I think the blood loss is starting to get to me now...I could've sworn I just heard you use the words 'cute' and 'sexy' to describe me." He stopped them both briefly as a sharp stab of pain traveled through his leg, breathing hard in the process. When it had subsided somewhat, he continued. "Let me rephrase my answer. I did have a car. I had several, in fact. Just none that legally belonged to me."

"Damn," Max muttered. "That means we're gonna have to take my bike." She peered up at him, one hand supporting the arm across her shoulder. "You think you can manage that?"

"Sure," he drawled as if deliberating the question carefully. "But I might have to hold on to you real I don't fall off, of course." They reached the ninja, which she'd parked just in the alley, and she moved to help him onto it. "So don't get all huffy on me now," he cautioned.

Max rolled her eyes, making sure he was properly situated before getting on herself. "Just so long as you watch what you hold on to."

Alec grinned widely. "Max, I thought you'd never ask."

Max took them both back to her place, despite Alec's protests. "What're you gonna tell your friends?" he'd asked. She'd told him not to worry about that.

Kate was in the shower when they got back, and Stacey was watching T.V. in the living room. As Max carefully guided Alec to the couch, Stacey's eyes widened at the sight of the bloody bandage on his leg.

"Wow. That must've been one helluva tour," she said. "You didn't take him to Compton, did you?"

"We didn't get that far into the plans. In fact, we didn't even start on them." Max stood back, looking down on her patient, and shook her head. "Nope, Alec did this all on his own—without me."

"Next time I get shot, I'll be sure to bring you along," he promised her, closing his eyes as he leaned back into his seat.

Max glared at him—even though he couldn't see her—but the expression softened as she noticed his pale, tightly drawn features. Well, she supposed she could overlook his stupidity just this once, and muster some sympathy for his condition.

"Jeez, your pants are a mess," Stacey observed. She clicked off the T.V. and stood abruptly. "I'll go get you a pair of Jimmy's. They should be a close enough fit."

Max gazed after her, biting her lip thoughtfully. When she turned back toward Alec, she was surprised to find him staring intently at her.

"What?" she asked, finding his attention slightly unnerving.

"You look nice," he said. "Really...nice."

Max shook her head, feeling slightly embarrassed and taken off-guard by the oddly timed compliment. "I'm covered in your blood."

Alec shrugged as if there was nothing strange about that. "Just your hands."

She decided to concentrate on arranging the cushions comfortably around him. "And I'm guessing my hands are not what you're concerned with."

She caught Alec's grin from the corner of her eye. "No, well, it depends on where you put them."

Max stopped her motions and turned a glare on him, her face mere inches from his. "How about around your neck?"

"Actually, I was thinking lower," he said. "A lot lower." And his voice dropped to parallel his words.

Leaning in toward him, Max found a smile curving her lips, dangerously. Her own words sounded husky as she purred out, "Really? Because I have this reflexive twitch in my fingers, that when I grab something," she paused, her smile growing deeper as Alec's breath became noticeably shallower, "I tend to just squeeze. Really. Hard."

"These should be good."

Stacey's voice caused Max to slowly draw away from Alec. But her gaze remained trained on his face, and she saw him blink suddenly, as if rousing himself from a daze.

"Here ya go."

The pants landed in Alec's lap, and Max glanced down with a sly grin, knowing just how well timed that must have been for him.

"You can change in there," she told him, hooking a thumb in the direction of her bedroom.

Alec raised himself carefully from the couch, and limped over to the room. He paused in the doorway and turned, cocking his head. "Isn't anyone going to help me?"

"Sure," Stacey stated enthusiastically, starting to follow him.

"Stacey!" Max grabbed her friend by the shoulder and yanked her backward. To Alec, she said, "I'm sure you can manage on your own." He gave her a small shrug, his eyes sparkling mischievously, and turned away. When the door pulled closed behind him Max turned to her friend with a frown.

The blonde blinked back at her unapologetically. "What? Don't tell me you didn't want to say yes."

Kate, clad only in a terrycloth robe, had come out of the bathroom, chased by billows of steam, and subtly raised a single dark eyebrow at the scene before her. Alec could almost make out the mental shrug she gave after her momentary pause, before continuing on to her bedroom to get dressed.

Alec was feeling much better by then, thanks to Stacey. She had approached him, hand extended flat, two small, pale yellow and green pills in her palm.


He'd glanced questioningly from her proffering, up to her face.

"I use them for my cramps," she'd explained.

"I don't have cramps!" He had looked positively scandalized at the suggestion.

"They're painkillers."

"Oh." His alarm immediately disappearing, he'd sent her a beaming smile in its place. "Well why didn't you say so?"

It wasn't until lunch, when the four of them were seated around the kitchen table, that any further inquiries about the events leading up to his present state were aired.

Stacey took a sip of her coffee and gazed at Max and Alec over the rim of her mug. "So," she said, finally turning to Alec to ask the question, "are we gonna get a full story on this, or just something vague and cryptic like Max usually handles things?"

"I vote for vague and cryptic," Max declared, not glancing up from her meal. Her friends seemed to have gotten used to her ferocious appetite, since they consumed their own comparatively meager helpings without comment. Which was surprising, since even Alec, who was quite familiar with transgenic metabolism, found himself marveling somewhat at the sight. Where the hell did all that go?

"I have to second that," Alec said, following suit as he looked over.

"As much as I'd like to know what happened," Kate began slowly; she sent a secretive smile in Alec's direction, which he returned, "how can I ever turn down something cryptic?"

Seeing that she was easily outnumbered, and not entirely surprised by the outcome, Stacey sighed. "Fine. Forget I even asked." She rose from the table and placed her dishes in the sink. "Anyway, I'm outta here. Got plans with Jimmy."

"When don't you?" Kate replied dryly.


"Utterly green with envy."

Stacey smirked. "Well, it's a welcome change from your usual pasty white."

Kate frowned at her, clearly more puzzled than upset. "Now, I don't understand how you can make fun of my complexion when you're dating Casper."

To that, the blonde said, "Who said I had to be consistent?" Then sticking out her tongue, she made for the door, grabbing her keys and purse along the way. "Hope you feel better soon, Alec."

"It's a gunshot wound, not the flu," Kate muttered, shaking her head. Finished with her meal, she gathered her dishes and stood as well. "I gotta blow, too. I told Keith I'd pick up a shift at 'Stains today."

Max glanced up. "But you worked last Saturday too."

"Yeah, well," she shrugged. "It's his daughter's graduation, and he couldn't get anyone else to come in." She turned to Alec, explaining, "Ink Stains. It's a tattoo parlor down on Melrose, east of Fairfax. You ever want one, just drop by; I'll hook you up real good."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Alec replied with a private grin. "I'm trying to keep the permanent body markings down to a minimum."

Kate shrugged, unperturbed. "Your choice."

Her attention fell suddenly on Max, and eyes narrowing, she leaned forward. Max started in surprise as the other woman grabbed her wrist and pulled her arm up off the table.

"What the hell, Max? If you were gonna get a tat, you could've at least come to me. I'da done it for free."

Swallowing a mouthful of toast, Max gave her roommate a funny look. "What are you talking about?" She noticed the source of Kate's interest and snatched back her arm abruptly. "What the fuck is this?" she demanded, rubbing her index finger over the small, dark marking on her inner wrist.

Kate glanced uncertainly from Max to Alec, and back again. Her own indignation faded quickly at her friend's reaction. "You didn't get a tat?"

"No!" Max abandoned the remains of her lunch and raced to the sink, running her arm under the spray of the water. "Oh my god, there's more!" she exclaimed, noting additional markings on the other wrist.

Alec got up cautiously, watching Max momentarily before turning to Kate. "You should get to work. I' her with this." When she made no move to leave, Alec softened his voice, adopting a more reassuring tone, "It's okay."

She hesitated a while longer, before giving a reluctant nod of her head. "Alright. Alright, I'll see you two later. But if you need anything—anything at all—call me at work. Max knows the number," she told Alec.

When she was gone, Alec headed over to where Max was still fiercely scrubbing at her skin, and gently took her arm in his hand.

"Max," he said, pushing her other hand out of the way. Then, louder, "Max."

She froze abruptly and looked up at him, her face an expressive blend of bewilderment and fear. Her lips parted, but no words came out. It was just her dark, wide eyes that blinked up at him, captured his and held them in place, entreating him for answers he couldn't possibly provide.

She let him turn off the water, and guide her away from the sink. He dried her off, patting down her skin lightly with a towel he retrieved from the bathroom, his gait a little stiff as he made the trip.

Finally, he pulled her hand toward him and examined the markings from up close.

He frowned briefly, running a thumb over the slightly reddened flesh, noting how the design seemed to be bleeding toward the surface of her skin, its origins clearly from within. "Looks like some sort of from some ancient alphabet," he muttered, half to himself.

"Maybe it is time you came back to Seattle," he said quietly. He glanced up to find Max watching his fingers on her wrist too, her teeth drawn lightly into her lower lip. When she realized his attention had shifted, she looked up and met his gaze. "Somehow, I get the feeling this has something to do with Sandeman and that special DNA of yours that White's always going on about."

Max sighed, having calmed considerably in the last couple of minutes. A look of resignation took her features. "What is it about that place that whenever I try to leave, it pulls me right back?"

Alec gave her a wry grin and lowered his eyes. "I've asked myself the same question many times."


"You'll call, right?" Stacey clung fiercely to her arm, looking for assurances. Max squirmed a little in her tight hold, sure that she was going to have permanent, finger-shaped indents in her flesh once this was over.

"Yes," she answered, for perhaps the tenth time in as many minutes, trying not to let her impatience show.

"And you'll visit, sometime?"

"Yeah, sure. And you could come visit me in Seattle."

"Right." The petite blonde frowned, her lower lip jutting out. "This sucks. Stupid tattoos." While she didn't know exactly what the significance of these tattoos was, she'd heard a bit from Kate about Max's panic episode the other day.

Kate, who was standing right by her, raised an eyebrow and sent a meaningful look over Max's shoulder. "I don't think the tattoos are all we have to blame."

Max followed the line of her gaze, becoming distinctly uncomfortable at the insinuation.

"Stupid Alec," Stacey muttered half-heartedly. Alec, who Max knew no doubt would have heard the remark thanks to his transgenic hearing, smiled brightly at the trio. Stacey immediately grinned back at him; apparently, she just couldn't hold a grudge against him.

Max crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. "We are not like that."


"Kate!" Max cried indignantly, rubbing the side of her head, where her friend had just hit her. She heard Alec laughing in the background, but she was too incensed at the woman before her to bother with him. "What the hell?!"

Kate shrugged unrepentantly. "I just got the feeling someone should've done that a long time ago."

"Princess!" Mouse exclaimed, stepping forth to pull Max into a rib-crushing hug that raised her several inches off the ground. "You'll come back to me one day, won't you? When you've come to your senses and gotten sick of that rapscallion."

Max was wheezing for breath, but her instinct to deny was just too strong.

"Alec and I aren't—"

Kate shot her a warning look, and Max stopped abruptly.

"Yes," she said instead.

"I knew it!" Mouse said, celebrating the tiny victory as he placed her back on the ground.

Jim gave her a small hug, bidding her a quiet goodbye, Stacey clung to her neck like a monkey until Mouse finally managed to pry her off, and Kate gave her a final kiss on the cheek. And then it was time to go.

"Come on, Princess," Alec called out, smirking slightly at the nickname. "Your carriage awaits."

Stacey, having gotten loose of Mouse's hold, tried to launch herself at her again, but Alec quickly stepped in and guided the startled Max out of her path. They bid a final wave to the assembled group before heading across the street, where Alec had parked.

"My bike—" Max protested suddenly.

"Relax," Alec interrupted. "I got it all packed up." He patted the side of the SUV before opening the passenger side door and ushering Max inside. Max secretly suspected his chivalrous mood was just to ensure she wouldn't try for the driver's seat, but she accepted the gesture graciously (by only elbowing him lightly in the gut as she passed by; and by the look on his face, he didn't seem to mind all that much, since it caused him to instinctively bow forward, his face coming within inches of her own).

Max settled in, glancing over the interior of the vehicle while she waited for Alec climb in behind the steering wheel. "Don't tell me you stole this thing," she said.

"I didn't. I bought it. All legitimate-like."

"And where'd you get the money?"

"You know how I said before that my business associate decided he didn't want to do any dealings with transgenics?"


"Well being robbed by a transgenic isn't the same thing as doing business with 'em."


"He had me shot, Max!" Alec protested, suspiciously close to whining. "I figure it was adequate compensation. You can't tell me—" He stopped abruptly, and peered closely at Max. "You're smiling." It sounded almost like an accusation.

"Am not," she returned, trying to sound dignified.

"Yes, you are. You are so smiling." He grinned brightly, and it was so infectious that Max didn't bother trying to hide her own mirth any longer. "Well, well, well. Your two-month vacation seems to have been well worth it if you've relocated your sense of humor. There just might be hope for you yet—"

"Alec," she interrupted, leaning back in her seat, smile still held firmly in place. "Just shut up and take us home."

- the end -

Yep, that's it. Sequel? Maybe. Until then...

Lemme know what you think.