Chapter Eleven

A/N: Thanks to Tiffany, Sonam and Blake for suggestions, corrections and settlement of nerves (mine!) And thanks to Fee for her beta assistance! Even when she's terribly busy she manages to fit me in J I don't know if this chapter would have been finished without their help!

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Will I wake up feeling half of you
Has been stripped or torn in two
To kill a young man's point of view
Is to kill his only friend


~Blue October – Tomorrow
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"What man, what is it?"

"Just answer this question and then I'll tell you," Axel replied.

"Alright, shoot."

"Tomorrow," came the irritated and sleepy voice of Mena. She stood in the living room doorway; hands planted on her hips and a scowl on her lips. "It's only a few short hours away."

"But-"

"But nothing," she stated firmly. "You," she pointed at Axel, "Should be resting. Get your ass back to bed, now. And you," she glared at Alec, "You shouldn't be encouraging him! And I didn't appreciate the wake-up call, either. You two can finish this in the morning."

Axel obediently rose from the couch, wincing slightly as he straightened his body. He sent an apologetic look towards Alec and slowly made his way to his mate's side. He paused before exiting the room.

"Tomorrow, Alec. You'll be here, right?"

"I'll be here. I'm curious about your lifestyle choices, after all," he added with a smirk. Looking at Mena he asked, "So, how did you handle learning that Ax here was gay?"

Mena looked between the two men, Alec grinning and Axel blushing scarlet and scowling.

"I'm not gay!" Axel muttered.

"He's not gay," Mena stated.

"Oh, honey, if that's what you need to tell yourself," Alec said with a chuckle. "Axel, we'll keep the male on male bonding session between us, then?"

Axel grabbed a hardcover book from the counter, and threw it at Alec who ducked. The book sailed over his head and cracked the window pane, making Alec laugh and Axel scowl deeper as Mena slapped him upside the head for his irresponsible behavior. The couple exited the room with Axel's colorful mutterings trailing behind them.

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The aggressive pounding at the door woke Alec from fitful slumber. He threw his legs over the side of the couch and sat up. Running a hand quickly through his unkempt hair, Alec stood up. He started for the door, yawning, when recognition hit him and his breath froze in his throat.

Hailey.

He wasn't ready to face her yet, but if he didn't open the door, Axel and Mena - who, by pure luck or just sheer exhaustion had not come stumbling down the hall in a fury - would. Alec didn't want to deal with his friend's angry mate.

And he really didn't want to deal with Hailey right now.

His eyes shifted between the door to the apartment and the closed door at the end of the hall and back again uncertainly.

Alec had just decided to deal with his lying, so-called mate, when Mena slipped out of the bedroom, hastily tying the sash of her robe and rubbing a hand over bleary eyes. She squinted at Alec and then glared.

Seeing her mouth open to - most likely - berate him for his inconsiderateness, he shook his head wildly and pressed a finger to his lips to signal her silence. Mena cocked her head, studying him quizzically.

Alec mouthed his - Hailey's name, pointed to himself and wagged his finger. Mena understood immediately, waved him down the hall and waited until he noiselessly closed the bathroom door.

The knocking increased. Mena threw open the front door and glared at the unwelcome visitor. Visitors, she corrected silently, eyeing the sleepy child snuggled into his mother's neck, thumb in mouth and blinking slowly.

"Where's Alec?" Hailey asked, trying to push past Mena into the apartment, eyes searching out her wayward mate but she couldn't see him. Mena gaped. The audacity of the woman! She blocked the other woman and stepped forward and into her personal space. Her jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed in annoyance.

"He's your boyfriend."

"Funny," Hailey sneered.

Mena didn't budge; she stood and stared with arms folded across her chest and fire in her eyes.

Hailey craned her neck to try and peek over Mena's shoulder.

"I know he's here. I can smell him."

"He was here earlier, talking to Axel. But we went to bed hours ago. I know where my mate is, Hailey. If you can't keep track of yours, that's your problem. Now, get out."

"Look, I need to find him and I can't take the kid with me. I need you to watch him." She held the boy out, ignoring his whimpers of protest as he removed his thumb from his mouth and clung to her shirt with small fists.

Mena took a step back without opening her arms to accept the child. "We're not a babysitting service! It's the middle of the night. Your son should be tucked safe and warm - in his bed, not dragged around Terminal City like a ragdoll!"

"It's none of your business how I take care of my son," Hailey huffed indignantly. "Don't-,"

"Not my business? You make it my business every time you dump him on my doorstep because you're too busy to be a mother. And you wonder why Alec's never around."

"Why, you-,"

"Honey?" Mena turned with a sigh as Axel came into view, limping stiffly towards the door. "What's the racket?"

Mena smiled tightly, an expression that didn't meet her eyes, and replied, "We have a visitor."

"Oh?" Nearing the door, Axel caught sight of Hailey and Kaie, the boy once again clasped to his mother's chest; nose buried in her shoulder, but decidedly less happy than he had been earlier.

"Hey there, little man," Axel greeted. Kaie raised his head and slowly smiled. "You come to visit your uncle Axel?"

He reached past Mena and took Kaie, the boy's arms immediately winding around his neck, his chubby cheek resting against Axel's stubbly one.

"Good, that's settled." Hailey nodded absently. "One of us will come get him later."

Mena stare slack-jawed as the other woman disappeared round the corner and out of view. She then turned to her fiancé in annoyance.

"He should be with his mother, Axel! By taking him in every time you give her the impression that it's okay to just drop him off whenever she feels like it. It's bad for her and unhealthy for him," she ranted, nodding at the small boy nestled in Axel's embrace, once again happily sucking his thumb.

He sighed. She was right, after all, but in this particular instance taking Kaie was the right thing to do.

"His father will take care of him, Me."

That was Alec's cue to exit the bathroom, striding purposefully down the hall towards his friend, a smile blooming on his face when he saw his son.

"Da!" Kaie shot up straight, eyes widening and grinned a toddler grin, a thin thread of drool dribbling from his plump lips to his wet thumb. Pudgy hands waved excitedly at his father. "Da!"

"Daddy's here, Kaie. Come to daddy."

Kaie leaned out of Axel's arms and wriggled, opening and closing his little hands and grunting as he rocked forward. The boy's antics made all three Transgenics laugh and Alec scooped the squirming child into his arms, hugging tight.

"Look, Mena, I'm sorry about-,"

She shook her head. "Don't be. I understand. But if it's all the same to you, I'm going to bed. Again." She tugged at Axel's t-shirt and pulled him along with her. "Good night."

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Max slipped into Terminal City just as the sun rose above the Seattle skyline, tinting everything in pink-gold hues.

She hadn't been able to sleep, not that sleeplessness was anything new to her. But her mind was still tumultuous as she sorted through her feelings. Guilt, regret, sadness… Anger was the predominant feeling at the moment. Anger at the man who she had once loved and had believed she would always trust, at his betrayal that cut so deep and at the woman who should have been faithful and loving to Alec.

Hailey was supposed to give him the things she couldn't, dammit!

The muscles in her stomach retracted and tied themselves in knots and she could practically feel the blood boiling in her veins.

Max was so fucking angry.

She knew that it was entirely possible that the person she intended to confront might not be alone; that he might be there with her, but Max didn't rightly care. If necessary, she would take him down until she'd accomplished what she set out to do.

Single-mindedly, Max threw open the building's double doors, sending the frames crashing into opposite sides of the entryway with such force that they shattered. Taking the stairs two at a time, Max came to a halt outside of one of eight wooden doors. She was vaguely aware of the other doors on the floor cracking open, other tenants wondering at the intrusion to their quiet, peaceful morning.

"Nothing to see here," she hissed when she sensed a figure emerge from the apartment at her back. "This is personal business."

The Transhuman faltered, torn between wanting to duck back into the safety of his home - thereby allowing Max to go about her business as she saw fit - and daring to suggest that she settle whatever business she had planned at a later hour. The Transhuman was no coward, however, and he took a step forward into the hall.

"Maybe you should wait until Princess gets home or talk to him in Command later?"

The corners of her mouth lifted minutely upon hearing that Alec hadn't yet returned. At least she wouldn't have to deal with anyone other than the bitch behind the door. She turned slowly to face the reptilian mutant.

"I'm not here for Alec, Mole."

The two shared a brief look as understanding flickered in his eyes and a slow smile stole across his face. He nodded and slipped back into his apartment, closing the door quietly behind him.

Max whirled around and kicked Alec's door in.

"Hello, Hailey."

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"'Morning," Alec greeted Axel, slipping his still socked feet into his shoes.

Axel grunted his acknowledgement but didn't raise his head. The man was seated at the dining table reading a dog-eared book while a very alert Kaie sat beside him in a highchair – borrowed from someone? He wondered – and stuffing his mouth full of sliced bananas and apples.

"Hey, big guy! Having fun makin' a mess?"

"Dada!" The boy grinned, banana mush leaking from the corners of his mouth. "Nah-nas!"

Alec chuckled and ruffled his son's hair. Kaie giggled and clapped his sticky hands together before returning to his fruity feast.

Alec slapped Axel lightly on the back of the head.

"Hey! What's that for?" he grumbled, rubbing the back of his neck more for show than to ease any pain. He frowned at his friend and wrinkled his nose.

"Man, you stink."

Alec laughed. "You try sleeping in whisky and wearing the same clothes for days. You wouldn't smell like roses, either." He raised an arm and sniffed his armpit, making a face and giving Axel a wry smile. "Okay, so I do kinda smell. Shower free?"

Axel laughed. "You've got to be kidding me."

"What?"

He chuckled again. "You live with a woman; you know what it's like."

Alec's face closed off and his features grew unreadable. Axel realized his mistake.

"Sorry, man, wasn't thinking."

And not for the first time, Axel wondered about his friend's relationship. Even though he knew Alec had only stayed with Hailey to do right by his child, he had still hoped that his friend had found some happiness with her. And the thought that he hadn't and wouldn't…

Axel patted Alec on the shoulder regretfully. Pulling away, Alec shrugged it off made his way to the kitchenette where a pot of coffee was brewing. He poured himself and Axel a cup of coffee, straddled his seat and grasped his mug in his hands, enjoying tantalizing aroma and the warmth against his palms.

Axel joined him and the two sat in silence for a while, enjoying the hot beverage and awaiting Mena's appearance so they could share breakfast.

"Are you ever going to tell me why you were feeling me up last night?" Alec asked finally.

Axel snorted. "I was not feeling you up."

"Sure as hell felt like it," Alec insisted with a shrug, though a hint of a smile tugged at his lips.

Axel glared at Alec and poured himself another cup of coffee. "Just let it go, already," he muttered.

"Fine," Alec agreed with a smirk that suggested anything but compliance. "So, what exactly were you doing, anyway?"

"Right," Axel bent over the table leaning heavily on his elbows. "Okay, so this is a little personal and I know we've never really talked about your relationship with Hailey...well, aside from the whole 'doing the right thing' bit, but go with me here... With your real feelings for her at the time, what was the mating like?"

Alec's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"The mating, man. Gimme a blow-by-blow account," Axel said with a smirk.

Alec's face bore an incredulous look. "You want the details of my sex life with Hailey? Ax, I'm not telling you that."

Axel laughed. "C'mon, Alec! You used to tell me everything about your conquests and escapade, from the color of their hair down to the size and style of their unmentionables. Hell, you even described the look in their eyes when they came! Now, spill!"

Alec frowned. "Dude, that's different. Those girls didn't mean anything..."

"And neither does this one," Axel pointed out. "You said it yourself; you had to, because of Kaie. So at least tell me what the mating was like."

"Why the hell do you wanna know?" Alec asked, working up a temper and thoroughly uncomfortable with his friend's probing.

"Just trust me, okay?" Axel insisted. "What happened?"

Alec muttered something that caused Axel to grin but he wouldn't desist. "Well?"

"Fine. She told me she was pregnant and I...suggested we be a family. That's it."

"Uh huh," Axel said, "And…?"

"You honestly want to know what we do when we have sex?!"

Axel sighed in exasperation. "No, Alec. I don't really care what you and Hailey get up to in the bedroom. I want you to tell me the steps of the mating process."

"The mating process," Alec echoed blankly.

"Yeah, the promises, the markings, you know."

Axel watched on in satisfaction as the clueless look on Alec's face never faltered. Axel's smile grew as comprehension dawned in Alec's eyes.

"Marking? You're telling me that it's more than promising to stay together and be faithful..."

Axel knew his question had been answered with that statement. He full out smirked at Alec.

"Al, man, when you truly find your mate and the two of you make that conscious agreement to be together, your mating will be more than words, I assure you. You'll know you've mated when it happens. It's..."

Axel's eyes took on a faraway look, reflecting happiness at a special memory that sent a twinge of jealousy through Alec.

"It's something you'll never forget, man. Ever."

However, some things still needed clarification.

"But this still doesn't explain the touchy-feely-sniffy thing you had going on last night," Alec argued, still reeling from the revelations and confusion that swarmed within him.

'I am not going to hit him, I'm not going to hit him,' Axel chanted under his breath, something which brought a broad grin to Alec's face.

"Wipe that look off your face or I won't tell you," warned Axel.

Alec quickly composed himself, once more serious but intrigued.

"So the whole..." he waved his hand indicating his neck and shoulder, "Was you looking for a mark?"

"Yeah."

"How could I not know this?" Alec wondered aloud.

"I know what you're thinking, man. I didn't know it either, not until it happened. It's not something the guys talk about. It's one of those, you know, intimate things you like to keep between you and your mate. Whoever's gone through it knows that it happens, but we don't talk about it." He paused before adding, "And we'd kill anyone who thought of our mates...being marked."

The goofy grin and blazing eyes were enough to tell Alec that the mating process was something explosive, hot and deeply personal between the couple. And it was even more obvious that he had never mated with Hailey; he'd never...connected with her that way.

Alec wasn't just acknowledging that the one relationship that should have been the most meaningful in his life wasn't, but he was accepting the truth. And it left his gut churning and acid burning in his throat.

Seeing his friend's despondent face, Axel hurriedly continued his explanation. "I already told you about mating and how personal, how private it is. We don't discuss it; we don't go looking for details. We observe a couple and when we see they've made a commitment, we respect that. The rest of it is between the two of them. But with you," Axel took a breath, "All the signals were wrong - and have been for a very long time."

"And that's a reason to grin like an idiot?" Alec's disbelief was apparent from his tone and the look on his face.

Axel appeared confused. "What?"

Alec leaned into his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "When you were looking for that mark," he fairly snarled. "You grinned. I don't see what you find so funny about my life being a lie."

Axel reared as if slapped. He could sense Alec's anger and resentment, could almost feel the hurt that surrounded his normally genial friend. He was excited to have discovered what he did but still feeling unbelievably sad and sorry for his friend. He leaned forward and steepled his hands on the table and nodded solemnly at Alec.

"I'm sorry, man, that wasn't it at all. And so, maybe that wasn't exactly the best reaction, but you have to understand. Like I said, normally we don't go looking for the signs, Alec, but there are signs if you know what to look for, if the couple has truly mated. Yours aren't there. There's nothing. No scent, no marks, not a single indication. I guess I was just happy that you weren't really tied to her, that you weren't trapped like you thought."

Alec sat in stunned silence for a few minutes, processing – or trying – everything his best friend had just told him. He was now enlightened, but he almost wished he wasn't. Sometimes, ignorance really was bliss.

Axel sympathized with Alec. His entire life had turned upside down, bonds had been proven fake, connections that should have existed, didn't. It was a lot to take in, in such a short period, but one thing was certain; his friend needed to understand what this meant. That after all the pain and heartache, he was truly free.

"Al," Axel laid a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder, "You don't owe Hailey anything. Kaie will always be yours but his mother doesn't have to be."

Mena sensed the tension rolling off of Alec before she stepped foot in the kitchen.

"Good morning, boys," she greeted, sweeping into the room and trying to change the subject, "Breakfast?"

"Thanks, but, "Alec heaved a sigh, "I'm not hungry," he replied distantly. Axel shook his head and stood up, squeezing Alec's shoulder before leaving the other man to his thoughts. He knew Alec had a lot to think about now that he knew he had options.

There was a series of sharp, frantic raps on the door.

"I'll get it," Alec offered, crossing the room. "Alright, alright! Just a sec!" he called to the insistent visitor on the other side.

Throwing it open, Alec was surprised to see...

"Dalton?"

The teen's chest was heaving and his breath coming in gasps. He tried to calm himself enough to speak.

"Alec...quick," Dalton panted, the words almost a wheeze, "Fight...your...apartment." He stopped to take another, deeper breath, "Hailey...Max-,"

Alec didn't wait to hear the rest.

to be continued.