"Your hands are shaking," Max accused. She pulled the door of her locker open and started emptying her backpack.

"Are not." Alec shoved his fists deep into the pockets of his jacket, willing the tremors to stop. His hands had begun to tremble the day before, and not even a good night's sleep—for the record: alone—had helped any. In fact, he didn't feel so hot at all this morning, if not to say he was downright cold. But he'd be damned if he were going to show such weakness in front of Max.

"Are too." She slammed the locker and peered up at his face, examining his features intently. "Oh, don't tell me! You haven't kept up with your supplements. You moron!" The last came out in an angry hiss.

"What?" He was genuinely surprised, clueless as to what he had done wrong this time. Though judging by the look on her face, he'd definitely messed up somewhere. "What supplements?"

She sighed. "Don't screw with me, all right."

The combination of 'screw' and 'Max' made a smart remark pop up in his mind, but one glance at her made him swallow it. She didn't appear as if she'd laugh, and truth be told, he doubted he would be able to hold his own temper if she reverted to her customary shoulder-smacking or ass-kicking. Not with the way he felt: his knees threatening to give way and what promised to be a whopper of a headache slowly building behind his eyes.

"I wouldn't dare," he said instead, his expression honest. "I swear, I haven't a clue what you're on about."

She was quiet for a moment, still holding him with her gaze and he clamped down on the urge to shuffle his feet. "They never told you, did they?" she said. Her soft tone took him aback.

She turned to reopen her locker and rummaged around it in some. "Here, take these." She offered him two white pills. "My emergency stash. These should help tie you over until I can get you more."

"More what?"

"More tryptophan. Look, it's too long a story to tell right now. So, do yourself a favor, take these, go home, and wait for me there."

"Go home?" he repeated. His lips quirked up. "Leave Normal short-handed because I'm feeling a little under the weather? You know he'll have you cover my shift. And whom will you blame then? Good ol' Alec, that's who. No, Max, thanks very much. I'll be all right. I always am."

"Alec..." She looked up at the ceiling as if looking for guidance. "Just this once, do what I tell you. Or I will drag your ass home myself."

He opened his mouth to tell her no again, but something in her voice stopped him. He could have sworn he detected a note of concern beneath the exasperation. That, more than the threat to his person, made him give in.

"All right," he agreed, though with a shrug to show he was humoring her and not in the least intimidated.

"Have you got any milk at home?"

"Milk?" The change in subject bemused him enough to echo her words once more. He really needed to come up with a few lines of his own, but for some reason his mind failed to work properly.

"Yes. You know, white stuff, comes from cows? Oh, never mind, I forgot: you're a Scotch man."

"Hey, there's no need to get nasty." His own temper was slipping away from him. His migraine was increasing, and he thought he was running a fever—unless Normal had decided to no longer skimp on heating up the Jam Pony offices during the Seattle winter. He wasn't in the mood for batting words with Max, fun though it often was.

"Chocolate, then?" Max tried.

He smirked. "What's this? You offerin' to do my grocery shopping now?"

She jabbed a finger into his chest, punctuating each word. "Do. You. Have. Any. Chocolate? "

"Ow! What you doin' that for? Yes, I've got some candy bars stashed away." He winked at her. "Didn't know you had a sweet tooth.

She ignored him. "Good. Take the pills now, they'll get you home. And then eat those bars, stay inside, and wait until I get there."

She stalked away without waiting for a reply, muttering angrily below her breath. "Leave it to that idiot to run around 'til he keels over."

His sharp hearing picked up the words despite the distant ringing that had somehow begun to sound in his ears.

"And guess who'll get to pick up his pretty carcass?"

Pretty carcass?

Louder, Max called, "Yo, OC, I need a favor."

Alec started cramming his bag back into his locker; he wouldn't need it if he took the day off. He pricked up one ear to listen to OC and Max.

"OC, I need you to cover for me. Got a few errands to run."

"Sure, Boo. You got it."

"Oh, and tell Normal Alec's gone home sick."

OC shot him a curious look and he shrugged. Don't ask.


"Thanks." Max dashed off.

"Well, you heard the boss lady," Alec said with a quirk of his lips and a little bow toward OC. "I'm on sick leave."


The streets were filled with morning commuters making their way to work. Alec mulled over Max's words, absently weaving through the crowds. She really was a piece of work, wasn't she? Where did she get off to make it sound like it was his fault that he wasn't up to his usual witty, energetic self, or running a little fever and having a bit of a headache? She always managed to find a reason to say he'd screwed up, no matter what he did, and frankly, he was growing tired of it. He glanced up as it started to drizzle. Probably would get blamed for that, too.

Come to think of it, he was feeling quite a bit better already. Either those pills she'd given him worked real miracles, or it had been something he ate. Perhaps those three bags of pork rinds last night had been a bit excessive, even for a transgenic's digestion?

So, now the question was, would he be a good little soldier—obey Max's orders , go home, eat his chocolate, and wait for her to explain how he had mucked up this time—or should he do something more profitable with his unexpected day off?

It didn't take him long to decide. He'd be damned if he gave Max the idea she could make him dance on her strings—his name wasn't Logan Cale. And besides, he could still get to his apartment before she did, leaving her none the wiser.

He adamantly refused to admit the lack of logic in those two arguments.


He'd earned himself some good money hustling pool, making the rounds past several dockside establishments. Even during the daytime, the bars had been full with sailors on shore leave and stevedores skipping work on a rainy day. Easy pickings for a charismatic transgenic like himself. But he was growing tired. The tremors had returned with a vengeance, making it near impossible to line up a proper shot. It had taken all he had to beat his last opponent—a deckhand from Russia who spoke broken English and towered over him by a full head. He hadn't liked the way the man was eying him sideways when handing over his money, suspicion sharp in those pale blue eyes. High time to fall back.

Alec glowered up at the gray sky as he stepped outside. Damn, it was cold. It had started raining in earnest around noon, a chilly downpour mixed with sleet driven before a strong wind. He pulled the collar of his jacket up and hunched, hands in his pockets in an attempt to stay warm, before he began to walk away. The toe of his boot caught the curb, and he tripped, windmilling a few steps before he regained his balance. What the fuck was wrong with him? That sort of thing was not supposed to happen to someone whose genetic cocktail had been laced with feline grace.

The next instant, Alec found himself on hands and knees, palms scraped raw, without any idea how he got there. Water soaked through his jeans. His head pounded, and from the corner of his eye he caught odd lights streaking across his vision. He didn't think they were real.

Something was very, very wrong.

He shook his head, hoping to get rid of the buzzing noise, and tried to clamber to his feet. His knees were shaking so hard that they refused to carry his weight and they buckled, sending him right back to where he started.


He needed to get out of this rain so he could try to catch his bearings and come up with a plan B.

There was a small alley off of the main street and he stumbled to it. The cracked paving was layered with filth and he scrunched up his nose at the stink that hung cloyingly in the passageway. He crawled into the narrow space behind a dented dumpster and pulled a discarded carton on top of him. The cardboard wouldn't last long in the downpour but it kept the worst off for the moment.

Sheltered from the rain, he blew on numb, trembling fingers, attempting to restore some feeling in them. He didn't know what was going on, but he was quite sure he wasn't going to get home by himself. He'd have to call Max—assuming she was still willing to help his stubborn rear end. Fortunately, he was not above begging if the situation called for it. And judging by how his hands and feet tingled and the way his head felt about to burst, now was definitely a time when a little groveling wasn't too high a price to pay.

He pulled his cell from his pocket, squinting at it through narrowed eyes. The buttons danced and wavered, and he blinked to clear his vision. It wasn't easy to think straight, or to hold the phone in fingers that were shaking so hard he wouldn't have been surprised to hear bones rattling. Then, another seizure hit, more powerful than the last, and Alec's world imploded in agony.

The phone clattered from useless fingers.