Chapter 35: Exquisite

"So…" Max said shyly with a coy grin. The situation, including their attire, made her laugh. It seemed neither one was sure what to say first.

"Are you laughing at my expense, Maxie?" he asked her with a laugh of his own.

"Just…look at us. This isn't really standard for me," she admitted. Both transgenics were dressed elegantly. The establishment had a strict dress code. Max hadn't considered that fact earlier when she'd suggested the place. She was only thinking of the great meal she'd be getting for free. It was only when she'd mentioned the plan to Cindy that she was reminded she needed to dress for the occasion.

Max felt amazing, really. She had been worried it would be awkward, that she wouldn't know what to say or how to get him to understand. But she felt so comfortable and at ease just sitting across from Alec, in spite of everything weighing on her mind.

She enjoyed seeing him wearing a nice tuxedo with a tie. He had this adorable sheepish grin on his chiseled face. His expression didn't take away from the class of his outfit, though. Max tried to bring to mind a word that described Alec's appearance at the moment. He looked…

"Exquisite," a waitress said out of nowhere.

Max looked up with wide eyes. It was like she'd been reading Max's mind! "Pardon?" Max asked her, shocked that the woman knew what Max had been thinking.

"How is it?" The woman repeated.

Max laughed at her own thoughts that were clearly getting the better of her. "Delicious," she returned before laughing some more.

Alec gave Max a questioning stare as the waitress walked to another table.

"I'm not used to this!" Max tried to explain away any questions he might have of what was causing her amusement.

"Eating a meal?" he joked.

Alec stared into Max's eyes with a quiet calmness in his own. He couldn't help it, staring at her the way he was. He felt truly happy even if it wasn't a real date. Not that he was the dating type anyway. It was just good to get to sit across and stare at a happy Max. The last time they were in this position, he had been the substitute set of shoulders for her to figuratively, well, and literally, cry upon.

The thought reminded him of how she'd stared at him before. She'd been searching him for Ben, his psychotic twin brother, who for all they knew was still free somewhere, doing whatever it was that psychos do. He wondered if Max would rather be enjoying this meal with Ben than himself.

Max couldn't help smiling in response to his usual sarcasm as she rolled her eyes. "Yes, that's it! Thank you for sharing the joys of eating with me!"

Alec continued to be less than serious. He wouldn't bring up Ben unless Max's eyes again called him to be her lost brother instead of her...well, whatever it was that she allowed herself to consider Alec and what he was to her. "Well, I'm sorry that this is the best I can do, buy you a meal. I'm not a good cook…that I know of. Come to think of it, I've never tried my hand at cooking."

"What are you trying to say, Alec? You have absolutely no shortcomings? No weaknesses?" Max couldn't help asking.

"Maybe I have one," he admitted, giving her a knowing smile. But he didn't make any further indication as to what exactly his weakness was.

Max felt a tingling go up her spine. Part of her could guess what his weakness was, but she didn't dare say it.

"You like your meal?" Alec asked her, once again saying just the right thing. She couldn't handle any more conversation regarding whatever it was that made Alec lose his cool.

Max nodded as she took a small bite. It really was delicious. She didn't often eat truly great food. No one did really ever since the Pulse. Only the wealthy.

"You look stunning, by the way," Alec couldn't help complimenting her. She was wearing an outfit Cindy had helped put together at the last minute. It was a plain black dress that was very elegant but still complimentary to her figure. It flaunted her tiny frame while still holding up her breasts. The neckline was low, but it was set off slightly by a silver necklace she'd taken the liberty of borrowing from a shop window she'd passed on the way to the place. Her long raven hair was straight and flowing with a healthy shine all the way to where it ended, at the top of her chest.

Max usually didn't take compliments well. She tended to blow them off, along with their sender. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate it or anything. It was just that she'd done nothing to deserve her looks. They were only given to her because she was designed to be more attractive and thus easier to have an advantage or get what she wanted given the right situation.

However, when Alec said it to her, there was something more to it. She could tell in his stare and the way he held himself together when he'd said it. He hadn't meant her outfit or figure. He clearly was noting her attitude and the smile she had spread across her face, the light shining in her eyes as she allowed herself to have a happy evening with him.

"Alec," Max began, finally getting to the point of the evening, at least, the reason she thought she'd planned this whole thing. "So, there's something we should discuss."

"How we're paying for this?" he joked, pretending like he didn't have the money to cover it.

"Very funny!" she told him. Great, she thought, so typical. Just when I want him to be serious, he goes and starts joking around again.

Alec noted the seriousness in her eyes. "Whatever you want," he told her. Words she enjoyed hearing all too well. They reminded her of her thoughts that morning when she'd wanted to claim him as hers. She suddenly felt that feeling run through her again, and wondered why she was fighting kissing him again. Would it really be so horrible?

"I want you," she blurted in response.

Alec's eyes widened at her confession. He couldn't be hearing her right. "Max?" he asked her in confusion. He could tell that she wanted him. Just like from earlier. He'd seen desire enough to recognize it head on. He knew that if he planted his lips against hers right then, she wouldn't fight it at all. But he held back. Even though he wanted it just as badly, he wanted something else more. He wanted her to choose him, consciously, without letting her desires take over her thoughts. He wanted not only her desire and passion, he wanted her heart and mind as well.

Alec's own selfish desires helped him to hold his distance and actions. He felt weakened by her. It was a bittersweet love he'd seemed to find in Max. He wanted her more than he'd probably wanted anyone else before. And yet, she brought out a vulnerability that he'd never had to succumb to before. He wasn't whipped, but just knowing that Max's happiness was starting to mean more to him than his own wasn't exactly easy to accept.

"I want…to talk to you," Max tried to correct herself, again feeling a burning sensation heating up her skin, especially her cheeks. But it wasn't so much out of embarrassment anymore. It was out of her thoughts of what she'd just said. She wanted him. She really did.

"Listen, something is going on between us," she admitted, hoping he would figure out where she was going with this and save her the trouble of having to say it out loud.

Oh, God, no!, he thought hearing her words. She wanted to have 'the talk'. The 'we're ruining a good friendship' talk? Well, they'd never really been the best of buds, had they? So maybe it was the 'I didn't mean what happened last night' talk. Or maybe, 'You took advantage of me you cheap bastard'?

But the worst one of all was the most likely. The 'let's talk about our feelings because we're both so confused and caught up in the passion between us' speech. Alec had seen enough glimpses of cheesy romance movies to know where this was headed. Although he had it in him to give her one of his lines, he really didn't want to. He was hoping that maybe he'd been wrong about this whole thing, that she didn't plan on dressing up and eating at a nice place to discuss this. Of course, it didn't seem like Maxie to ever plan on dressing up. Come to think of it, the last time he'd seen her in a dress, she'd told him that he would never again find himself in the position he was right now- seeing Max wear a dress.

"I thought you said I'd never see you in a dress again," he tried to tease her. His response was a stern and serious look from Max. Clearly, she wanted to talk about whatever was 'going on' between them. Alec tried not to groan out loud or visibly show the mood killer that she'd just hit him with, and instead stared at up at her with a face of as much anticipation as he could muster up given his true feeling of what she'd just said.

Max eyed the sudden tension that had clearly come over Alec. It made her suddenly uncomfortable as well. What the hell is he all bothered about?, she wondered.

"Well?" she said to him, beckoning him to respond. Damnit! He can't shut the hell up half the time, and now that I want him to say something he won't open his big mouth!

"Right," he said, pretending to understand and agree with her completely, though he wasn't sure what he was agreeing to exactly. "Something is going on between us," he repeated with an unreadable expression. He started to nod, thinking of what to say next.

"Don't you notice a connection?" she continued, trying to get him to help her figure things out.

Oh, hell no!, he thought to himself. Here it goes! Alec knew that he'd been trained to give people what they wanted, but for the life of him, he couldn't think of what to say to her. "A connection," he repeated with a nod. Again he was drawing a total blank.

"Exactly!" Max said, relieved that he apparently understood. "So what's the deal?"

Alec continued his nodding. "So what's the deal," he repeated.

"Alec!" Max said, suddenly realizing he had no idea what she was talking about.

Alec gave her an innocent look. "What?"

Max threw her hands into the air in frustration. "Nevermind."


"Nothing. Just, I guess I'm going crazy!" She shook her head at her own bizarre feelings. She had thought that Alec felt the same way. Apparently, she was only imagining his reactions. He was just like any other guy. There was nothing more to it. She stood up abruptly, apparently about to leave.

"What?" he asked again, totally lost with what had just happened. This woman is driving me nuts!, he thought. One minute she was giving him the googly eyes and kissing him and more. The next she was abandoning him in the middle of the night! Then she asks me out on a date, but I'm the one paying, then when I think she's finally having a good time, she gets up to leave! It was seriously insane. Max was probably the one woman that he just couldn't figure out for the life of him. He had thought that a kiss would completely take her, but now it seemed kissing him was the furthest thing from her desires at the moment.

Alec reached up without thinking to grab her arm as she stepped away to leave. She immediately turned to his touch and stared at him again with eyes of desire.

What the hell?, Alec thought, seeing her reaction. "Max," he said in a serious tone. "What is going on?"

"What do you notice about me?" Max asked him, a question that seemed altogether too insecure to be coming from the Max that he knew. It wasn't an insecure question at all, though. Max was wondering if his connection to her was like her own to him, something that seemed too strong, sudden, and out of character to be natural. Something that Max suspected Manticore had somehow planted into the 2 of them.

The thought had crossed Max's mind more than once, noticing both transgenic's reactions to the other. Max for one didn't believe in 'soulmates', so how else could she explain what was going on? She knew the idea was crazy, though. If Alec didn't see things the way she did, she would be resigned to believe she had totally lost her mind.

Alec swallowed, trying to think of an appropriate answer. She would surely leave if he opened his mouth again. I'm a guy, what the hell do you think I notice?

"I mean…" she continued, noticing that he didn't quite know what she wanted to know exactly, "Why did you come tonight?"

"Because you asked me to," Alec answered honestly.

"And why did you break out of Manticore?" Max asked him. It was the 2nd time the question had been thrown at him.

"Because…" he started, trying to remember what he'd been thinking that day. "Because…" he paused. He wanted to tell her it was because he wanted to be free, enjoy making his own decisions. But he knew that wasn't the truth. He found himself asking the same question, if he hadn't broken out to be free, then why the hell had he? "I really don't know," he admitted, "I just did it."

"But why?!" Max repeated, trying to find some answers.

"Because… I don't know!" he repeated, "I… saw you, and I just, I don't know. I wanted to find out…" he trailed off, realizing that what he was about to say would make him sound like a stalker or something. Am I a freakin stalker?, he thought worriedly, knowing that whatever chances he had with Max would surely be ruined if she thought he had some unexplainable obsession with her.

"Alec," she began, latching her hands into his for focus as well as the comforting feeling it gave her, "I can't stop thinking about you, okay. I'm wondering if Manticore did something to us."

Alec had to take a moment to process her theory of what was going on between the two of them. He didn't want to accept it, but really, it made sense, the only thing of the whole day that seemed to. But he didn't want to admit it. If his concern and need for Max was something Manticore did to him, it meant that he'd broken out for nothing. He was still their dutiful little soldier. Even his desires weren't his own, if what she was saying were true.

"Like what?" he asked, "You escaped when you were 9. If that's the truth, they had to have been planning this for a long time. And for what purpose?"

"Alec, they were creating an army of soldiers. Is it any wonder they would have wanted us to…help them create that army?" she forced herself to say.

"What?" Alec asked, "Like, we were paired off? Part of our DNA includes the purpose of...breeding?"

a/n: Yes! An ending is finally in sight! I apologize for making this story ridiculously long with regard to the number of chaps! What can I say, it was my first real fic, so I didn't quite grasp the concept of chapter lengths and also I admit I put a few unnecessary plot twists in there that could have taken less chapters than I used.

Thanks so much for reading this, sticking with it, and your thoughts and reviews! Even if you have an argument or something that didn't strike you as realistic or true to the character, or it just rubbed you the wrong way, I appreciate you telling me... how else could I improve my writing for next time? I don't put demands on people that I won't update without a set amount of reviews, but they certainly do help to motivate me!

See you next chap!