A/N: It's actually legit crazy to me that this is finished. It is now 80 pages in its totality… I never thought I would write anything this long, because obviously I'm bad at working on chapter fics heh… All I can say is
To everyone that has read this at any point since its inception. You're all wonderful, so I hope you enjoy this final installment.
Don't Get Lost in Heaven
Chapter Six: "Press 'Yes' for Fearless"
By: Icecubey (TIW)
The slowly dying light in the living room cast a shadow over everything, making Amy stand close to the glass to feel closer to the cheerful lights of the city. The day had passed too quickly and already they were at the threshold of another day. There would be no more running, no more pretending they could ignore their predicament. Tomorrow, they would rejoin society and give up the temptation of living as young, reckless recluses.
The Midfielder regarded the city thoughtfully, one arm crossed over her chest and holding the elbow of the other as she held her chin, tapping her lips. What was to be done really? They couldn't return to the way they'd been; too much had passed between them. If anyone had suggested it (and Ms. Satomi had tried to), she would have none of it. She refused to go on without Alex, and equally refused to remain shut-up in fear, no matter whose residence it was. She turned toward the loveseat where Luca, thoroughly content, dozed quietly. His eyes were closed, but every so often his tail twitched; it meant that he was dreaming, and probably of something good. Amy smiled at her dearest friend, thankful that he'd come to stay with her on her last night of peace.
Sensing the presence behind her, the Satomi pilot was prepared when she felt calloused fingers slide beneath the hem of her shirt, lifting it as they skated her cool skin. She shivered, letting out a strangled sigh at the feel of a hot mouth closing on her throat. She tilted her chin up, her head resting in the crook of her assailant's neck. She covered the roaming hands that slid sinuous over her breasts and down her hips with her own, gripping them tightly.
Alex scraped his teeth over her skin, heat spreading through every inch of his body. It was hard to resist Amy in any capacity now, especially when she was standing so unguarded and beautiful before the entire cityscape. He tugged her back against his bare chest, loathe to let her out of his grasp. He forced himself away from her throat, holding back a groan as he buried his face in her hair.
"I can see this is going to be a problem."
Alex's ears pricked at the humor in her voice. He tilted his head down and to the side so he could see part of her expression, which was smiling somewhat haughtily.
"What?" His own smirk surfaced, arms tightening around her.
"You'll never win back your title now; all I need to do is corner you before a race and you'll be too preoccupied to beat us." Amy's voice was quiet, conscious of her sleeping partner. Though soft, there was an expectant confidence in her tone.
"Going to play dirty, eh? I can play better than you in that department." Alex spoke smoothly, voice husky with the promise of impending delivery of his threat. His mouth sought her neck again, biting.
"Maybe, but I'm a very attentive person. I learn rather quickly." Perhaps it was the stress, or the new freedom she felt with him after the previous night. Whatever it was, she was surprising even herself with the sensual warning. She pulled herself from his teeth, turning on him. She set one small hand to his chest, pushing lightly.
He needed no hint; Alex pulled her by the wrist, stumbling around his coffee table backwards in his urgency. The moment he felt the couch stop his movement, he tugged her over him into his waiting lap, leaning back to look up at her. She had risen on her knees on either side of his legs, hands gripping the back of the couch as she loomed over him, eyes clear with intent.
Amy felt time stop for the briefest of moments. She took stock of their situation, noting how predatory she must have seemed; it was downright weird. She blushed, though her expression seemed fixed, her lips parted to pull in quick breaths and her eyes curved down, narrow as she took in her Ghost's needy expression. She'd seen it the night before, and realized that she'd made a disturbingly quick 180-degree turn from the naïve child-prodigy to a normal, hormonal teenager. And that realization made her narrow eyes widen a fraction and a grin curve her moist lips. This was normal; why had it taken a stupid tabloid scandal to make her realize that Alex was the first person to make her feel like she was a regular girl, entitled to all the feelings a 16-year-old was bound to have.
Her nimble fingers slid into his mop of unruly hair, pulling tightly at the tufts in her hands, forcing his head to lean back and face the ceiling. He growled, but the guttural noise was silenced by the crush of their mouths. Her frantic digits clutched his head, shivering at the feel of his large hands vice-gripping her waist.
The muscles in his neck strained, as if he was using extreme effort to hold his position. And he was; his rational mind told him that there was going to be a bed this time. And of course, though it was a bit ludicrous without context, they couldn't completely unravel when Luca was sitting right near them. At least, he figured she would worry about that. In Amy's mind, Luca was nigh human, separated from them only by body and inability to use his vocal cords and articulators for human speech.
Of course the complete ecstasy of the moment could not last. Only moments after their passionate lip-lock, the Forward felt the telltale vibration of his phone closely followed by the obnoxious ring. The only thing that actually made him tear his mouth from Amy, though he couldn't take his wide, wild eyes from her, was the fact that his ring-tone was 'Night on Bald Mountain' which meant only one thing: Sir Hamgra was on the other end.
"Shit. . . Amy." Alex gasped, tearing one Velcro-hand from her waist, rubbing his face, trying to snap himself out of his euphoria.
Amy said nothing, lowering herself into his lap with all the calm she could manage. She wedged her bottom between the arm of the couch and his legs, calves draped across his thighs. She watched him with hooded eyes, lips red from their hasty kissing. She moved her legs down towards his knees to allow him to grab his phone from his pocket, trying to bring down her buzz so that she could let him focus. Though she did, it was not without extreme effort.
Alex took a deep breath, giving her a look of incredulity mixed with accusations, cursing her ability to be so calm. He rubbed his face again, coughing and answering his phone before it could hang up on his couch, voice shaking off its huskiness.
"Cunningham. I thought you'd be pleased to know that I'm at the police station now to make sure the scum messing with Stapleton's mail does not get bail."
Alex sputtered, leaning forward quickly, making Amy jump. "Wait, what? They found him?"
"Yes. The idiot thought no one would catch him intercepting the letters and getting paid for it. The tabloids are probably going to face legal action as well for letting it happen without report. You won't need to worry about anymore hate mail."
Alex turned wide eyes to Amy, who was leaning forward in her own urgency, holding onto his shoulder to keep her upright. She looked between the receiver and his eyes, desperate to know what was happening.
"Sir, that's… very good news. Thank you."
"Of course it is. The sooner people forget about this nonsense, the quicker we'll get back to training you for the IGPX."
Leave it to Sir Hamgra to think of beginning training a mere two weeks into the summer intercession. Alex stifled a chuckle, the relief making his muscles loosen.
"I look forward to it sir. Is anything required of me?"
"No. I wouldn't even reveal that you know, the paparazzi would just hound you more. You can tell that Stapleton girl that we've taken care of the criminals; I'm sure it'll put the child out of her misery."
Alex winced at his coach's words, biting back his immediate reaction to correct Sir Hamgra. Of course that wouldn't get him anywhere, so he gritted his teeth.
"I have nothing more to tell you. I expect this to come to an end soon, so you should act accordingly. Report back to me if necessary."
"Yessir. Good night, sir." Alex breathed out a pent-up sigh as he shut his cell phone. It didn't take Amy long to pull his attention back onto her, eyes pleading.
"Tell me what's happened! Who was found?"
Alex puffed up his cheeks, a quivering hand pulling a tuft of his hair, tugging on his scalp. He didn't look at Amy, widened eyes staring blankly ahead of him, trying to order the information in a sensible way that wouldn't come out as an excited jumble of words.
"They got the guy. The guy – the one who's been giving all the tabloids those goddamn letters about you. Sir Hamgra is at the police station and raising hell so that the asshole doesn't get off easily. We got 'im." Alex finally grinned at Amy, watching the light that entered her eyes as she tried to sit up in her enthusiasm.
"Really? Oh thank you, thank goodness." Almost as soon as she'd straightened up, she slouched again, pressing her face into her hands as she felt tears prick her eyes. So much relief, in such a short instant, was overloading her senses, swarming her blue eyes with moisture.
A victory, amidst so much tribulation and hopelessness, an end to at least some of the harassment, and a solid sign to the world that what had been happening wasn't right, and was not going unpunished. Amy smiled tremulously as her tears striped her cheeks, and pressed her face into Alex's shoulder at the feel of his protective arms encasing her, rejoicing and supporting quietly. There was a brief moment where the solace of his solid form pulled away from her and she looked up with almost petulant confusion, but then Luca was filling her vision, pressing his nose against hers, mewling, making sure that he was not being left out of this small celebration.
Amy giggled, twitching as the normally-refined Luca licked her salty tears, his sandpaper tongue leaving warm spots on her skin. Alex chuckled, seeing Luca's veiled attempt to be Amy's strongest supporter; after all, Luca was a jealous animal and would not rest without giving the Ghost ample reminder that he was not the only man in Amy's life. With the feline clutched in Amy's arms, flush to her chest, Alex swathed them both in his embrace, laughing with Amy and sharing a brief embattled glance with the animal in her clutches.
The diminutive Midfielder sniffled, clearing her throat, but her voice was still thick with happy tears and emotion. "Tomorrow, I'll wake up knowing something good has happened. I don't feel like the whole world is working against me anymore, at least a little bit. I'm so glad." Once more leaning her head against his squared shoulder, she squeezed her eyes shut, reveling in her jubilation.
Cunningham drank in the sight of his girlfriend so purely happy after so much time of her hooded expressions and closed-off aura; rather than appearing the victim, Amy seemed to be her old, hopeful self again. He lifted his gaze to the ceiling, letting out a deep breath as he squeezed Amy and Luca to his chest; it felt like he'd been holding his breath for days. There was freshness in his next inhale, and inspiration in the gaze that returned to Amy.
Leaning his head down towards hers, he pressed his forehead to her temple, whispering with confidence and vigor into her ear. In her lap, Luca watched as Cunningham's words ran the gamut of emotions across Amy's face: it started as excitement, then morphed into caution, then trepidation, the briefest twinge of doubt, but then slowly escalated back to solid and firmly-seated joy and contentment. She nodded slowly, processing each of these emotions that were maybe just now only passing through her mind. She squeezed Luca once, helpless to bottle her bliss, and turned her face into Alex's. Over Luca's head, they kissed sweetly, cemented in their resolve and absolute trust in each other.
Tonight ended the running and hiding from the world's prying eyes. Tomorrow marked a new road, a new approach to their hopelessly muddled situation, the one that their loved ones had warned them so strongly against, and not a person in IGPX City was going to stop to them.
Ms. Satomi lifted the steaming mug to her lips, foot twitching anxiously as she watched the television screen. It was late in the morning, but never too late to enjoy a cup of coffee. Under regular circumstances, she would've already gone out for the day, but on this particular weekday, she'd felt it pertinent to stay home.
The evening prior, after leaving Cunningham's apartment, she had ridden back to the team's headquarters with her other two pilots and River as twilight approached. It had been impossible not to speak about the topic at hand, wondering if there was anything they could do to help their teammate. They all felt guilty, relatively unburdened by this "scandal" as Amy and Cunningham absorbed the brunt of a bored public's prying eyes and misplaced judgments.
Off handedly, River had commented that what they really needed was a person of repute on their side, to turn all the gossip in their friends' favor. After all, all of them had ended up in the racing-obsessed town's gossip columns at least once. The only thing that set those incidences and this one apart was the distinctly negative angle the press had taken.
River's comment had set Mitsuko to thinking about who could aide their plight. Ironically, she'd realized that if anyone could help to turn the tide in their favor, it would be the man who'd unwittingly started it all.
Which was why she found herself tuning into the IGPX Network's version of a soap opera, the daily program "Track Gab". Whilst other networks used this timeslot to air several womens' guilty pleasure programs, the IGPX Network used it to offer an entire two hour block of gossip and speculation about everyone connected to the IGPX in the off season. After making a call to Benjamin the prior evening, he had assured her that he would try to help in whatever way he could conjure. An email in her inbox this morning had advised her to tune into today's "Track Gab".
She perked as the commercial break ended and the show's title card flashed across the television. She unmuted the sound and set her mug down.
"Well ladies and gents, we have a very special treat today! Our beloved IGPX newscaster Benjamin Bright is here today to talk everything IGPX as our offseason gets into its third week. Let's give him a warm welcome!"
As the audience applauded, the always-effervescent and singular Benjamin Bright walked onto the set, waving and smiling to the live-audience and cameras. He gave the perfunctory handshakes and hugs to the hosts and then sat in the high set chair to their left.
Mitsuko chuckled as he made a show of climbing into the chair with his relatively short stature.
"Benjamin it's fantastic to have you" The host paused as he responded, his wit drawing a laugh from the audience. "I know that the off-season must be a little boring for you seeing as you get to enjoy the action of the IG-1 up close!"
Benjamin shrugged, nodding noncommittally. "Yes well that's true. But I must say that for being the off-season, there is a little too much excitement brewing lately!"
"Oh?" The hosts leaned in with interest as the audience began to murmur, quietly after a moment. Mitsuko leaned in too, knowing where Benjamin must be going with his segue. After all, it was his entire reason for his manager arranging for him to appear on "Track Gab" that morning.
"Well of course. Now I'm usually more than willing to discuss team gossip as much as the next person, but knowing all of those kids as I do, I hate to see any of them vilified or given poor reception."
"You're of course referring to the recent scandal involving Amy Stapleton and Alex Cunningham?"
The audience grew so quiet that Mitsuko swore she could hear the faucet in her kitchen dripping.
"Now there's the first problem with this whole debacle. When did it become a scandal for two young people to go out on a date?"
Although the hosts were clearly prepared for this discussion, neither of them seemed to know how to respond. One host rose to the prompt as the other turned her gaze to her cohort.
"Now this isn't my personal opinion, but the pictures that turned up in tabloids a little over two weeks ago have made some fans wonder about Alex Cunningham's intentions. There is after all an eight year age gap between the two."
Mitsuko cringed, sick of hearing the awful accusation she'd been fielding for two weeks. Over and over again, naysayers and misguided supporters of Team Satomi had been voicing their distrust of the older pilot's conduct. It seemed to her that they were trying to make Cunningham out to be some sort of rapist, when he'd never done anything to suggest that his intentions were impure.
"Now really! I want you to hear me on this particular "theory"." Mitsuko leaned in as Benjamin began to speak again. "I have had the pleasure of knowing both Alex Cunningham and Amy Stapleton since they entered the sport. I can say without hesitation that whilst the IGPX is filled to the brim with wonderful people, these two in particular really occupy the top 10% in my book. The both of them are incredibly genuine, talented and kind people. Alex was a bit of a ragamuffin when I met him," He had to pause as the audience laughed. "But he's really cleaned up – haircut not withstanding – in the years since he entered the IG-2. And Amy is truly an angel. I have never met a sweeter girl in all the years I've had the esteemed honor of presiding over the IGPX tournaments and been involved in the sport. She is wise beyond her years, let me tell you. I have a hard time remembering that she's still a teenager more often than not. And you know, Alex is really just a big kid at heart. So if you ask me, the two were made for each other."
There was a buzz in the audience as the hosts smiled and nodded in accord with his words. Mitsuko felt her cheeks warm as a smile split her lips.
"It's really saddened me to see what the public has put those kids through these past two weeks. Believe me, I understand being bored without the sport, but what's happened in the wake of that unfortunate tabloid article is really just ludicrous!" Benjamin waved his hands animatedly, and the hosts were too enthralled by his "expert opinion" to interject with the usual talk show banter. "Knowing both of these kids the way I do, I can tell you without a doubt that neither of them are happy with what certain fans have been doing in their names. A healthy fan base may be a sign of success, but some of the things being carried out in their "honor" are just downright despicable. I know that this morning Sir Hamgra has had the distinct pleasure of seeing the person tampering with Amy's mail put behind bars. I'd be truly surprised if he stopped there with persecuting the people who have been harassing his pilot and Amy to be completely honest with you."
Mitsuko smiled as Benjamin dropped the planted information smoothly. She had called him the night before to beseech him to speak up for both Amy and Alex and try to redirect the public's energy concerning their relationship. She'd suggested that it couldn't hurt to put a little fear into the fans as well, if it would change their minds at all.
This seemed to be news for most of the studio audience, and the hosts backtracked to explain the latest arrest and development in the tabloid fiasco. Once they had finally quieted, they redirected their questioning and attention to Benjamin.
The lively sports newscaster fixed his bowtie, crossing his legs. "Now I don't have to remind anyone here about some of the simply awful things that have happened. What I'd really like to see is the fans turning a new leaf and maybe feeling happy for them! Neither of them have really had any romantic press since they've come on the scene, although maybe in Amy's case that's a good thing!" He chuckled, and then cleared his throat. "Really though, I can't see any reason for the particularly strong reaction to their dating. They're just two great kids, and I think it's a wonderful match."
Mitsuko almost jumped up and cheered as some of the audience started to clap and then slowly drew the entire audience into a round of applause for Benjamin's words. Benjamin too started to clap with them, encouraging the positive reaction.
As the hosts segued into asking Benjamin about other IGPX gossip before his time ended, Mitsuko muted the TV again. She sprung to her feet, feeling giddy and energized by the successfully positive press Benjamin had just splashed across the airwaves. If this new morsel spread as quickly as every other development in the "scandal", maybe it would be no time at all before everyone realized that two pilots dating was really not all that noteworthy.
Picking up her coffee cup, Mitsuko left her sitting room, resolving that now, she could begin her day.
Outside of the rather boring apartment building, one very hungry cameraman perked up as his associate approached him from down block. He lowered his camera to the floor of the van, sitting in the open space created by the open side door. "It took you long enough, I'm starving!"
His coworker waved him off, handing him the fast food bag. "The place had on "Track Gab" and Benjamin Bright was talking about Cunningham and Stapleton. He was defendin' 'em and saying all this nice stuff. The rag is definitely gonna want pictures of them now so they can print up stuff about the talkshow."
"Yeah as if." The man snorted as he started to unwrap his cheeseburger. "If they ever stop playing hide and seek. They're pretty boring celebrities if you ask me."
"Holy – pick up your camera!"
The man's head whipped up to the entrance of the building as two figures emerged, and he was almost agog. They had had no idea that Amy Stapleton had been in the apartment building with Cunningham.
Amy's step hesitated as the photographers waited for them, just as they had predicted. Alex felt her trepidation as her grip on his hand kept him from walking ahead too quickly. He looked back at her, knowing that they were still at a safe-enough distance that the cameras wouldn't be able to pick up their expressions.
"We can do it babe."
There was a plaintive mewl behind them and Amy turned back to see Luca's bright, expressive face peering up at her. She looked between her two boys and found her footing again. She smiled at Alex and pressed to his side, nodding.
"We can! Together."
Alex grinned as he pulled his hand from hers and draped it across her shoulder. If they were going to "come out" to the public, they would look confident and good doing it. It wasn't a secret anymore, after all. Amy, spurred by his assurance, lifted her other hand to clasp his fingers holding her shoulder, walking with her usual poise and a newfound spring in her step.
As they advanced down the walk, the two photographers present crossed into the street with cameras up and the clicking of shutters filtered to their ears. One of them lowered his camera to let it hang by its strap around his neck and palmed a tiny notepad from his back pocket. As they turned onto the sidewalk from the front of the building, they heard one of them call to them from the street.
"Hey you two, finally showing your faces. Where ya going?"
Amy wrinkled her nose at the rather crass photographer, hearing the shutter click again as they moved to keep up with the three pilots. Amy glanced up at Alex whose face had taken on a somewhat arrogant sneer. Clearly he didn't have a high opinion of the men either. Still, she saw him turn his head to face the street.
"To eat lunch like normal people!"
Amy couldn't help but giggle and she heard even Luca yowl in his version of a laugh.
She didn't know how long it would be like this. There was really no way to predict how long people would care about their every move – if Cunningham liked her for her school girl looks, if she liked the "danger" of dating the enemy – if they were doing it for publicity, or if they genuinely liked each other.
Of course what she had discovered in the last few days – when she'd reached the end of her rope, and someone, finally, had been there just for her – was that she didn't much care what anybody else thought. Though it might be some time before the press would stop stinging quite as much, she found that she could keep her head up, with Luca, and the team, and Alex at her back. They could say – and print – whatever they wanted.
She lifted her eyes to her Ghost's face, examining his smug profile, and after a moment, he turned to meet her gaze.
Amy shrugged, smiling serenely, her dangling arm bending so that her fingers could crawl along his lower back and rest around his hip.
"Nothing. I'm just happy."
Alex smiled, his boyish face lighting as his eyes crinkled and his mouth cocked on one side. "Me too."
Then Amy slowed and pulled on his hand, tugging his upper body down. Alex was afforded one moment of pleasant surprise before he abandoned any lingering concerns and lowered his head to catch her upturned mouth with his. Against her lips, he muttered, "How do you think they'll caption this one?"
"Hush up and kiss me properly."
"Yes ma'am." And he did.
This would be one for the tabloids.
A/N: It's been a treat. Take care everyone :)