Alex stops eating a week after Ellen dumps him. And by dumps him, he means both he and Ellen came to a mutual decision to break up. And by "he and Ellen came to a mutual decision to break up", he means his heart was ripped out from his chest and he's never going to be okay again.

Point is, he's lost weight.

"Honey I know it's been hard on you," Elyse says, reaching out to rub her son's back even as he buries his head in his arms at the kitchen counter. He's just so tired. He doesn't even want to think anymore. And for Alex, that's like not wanting to breathe. "You've got to start taking care of yourself. You're not sleeping and you're not eating and we're all really worried about you. Your sisters too."

Alex somehow doubts that, and makes a noise of protest at the idea. Elyse smiles and strokes his hair. It's the first sign of life he's shown for a while now.

"Mallory offered to take you shopping." She says. Alex rolls his head to the side and peaks out at her from between the fingers covering his eyes.

"Mommy," he says, voice mock-serious and little rough. Not because he's trying to be but because he hasn't used it properly for enough days to matter. He gives her a look, one Elyse has come to know well. Her son is a handful, but even in the throes of his wallowing he still makes his opinion known. You've got to be kidding me.

"She just wants to help, Alex. Now I think it's a great idea. Spend a little brother-sister bonding time together. What do you say?" She expects him to wave her off, to moan and groan and comment about the apocalypse coming, so she's a little surprised when he closes his eyes and doesn't pout as much as she had been expecting.

"I could get some new ties," he murmurs and Elyse smiles and scratches his head. "So I can hang myself." He adds miserably. Elyse doesn't miss a beat.

"That's the spirit." She says, and leans forward to kiss his forehead. She knows her boy, his sarcasm, his wit, his nerve, him. The point is he's going to leave the house, bicker with Mallory, and come home a little bit more put together than when he left. That's all she wants for him: to be whole again. Whole and pompous and ready to take on the world. Alex P Keaton, her smart and foolhardy boy.

"Pick up some ice cream too, will you? That ought to cheer you up." She stands up and lets him have his last moments of self-pity. Alex watches her go with an air of disappointment, which is odd considering he's spent the last 168 hours feeling nothing at all.

Yes, he's still good at math when he's depressed. The thought comforts him more than it should.

"Alex you've been moping around all week it's time to get up and go see the world!" Mallory declares. Alex opens his eyes and glares. He doesn't remember falling asleep at the table, but he vaguely recalls somebody poking him and a voice (he suspects Jennifer) muttering, "Do you think he's dead?"

So maybe there are worse ways to wake up, he agrees, and he manages to sit up properly to watch as Mallory checks her face in a compact.

"Mom say's we can't be gone too long since dinner's in a couple hours and Andy's already getting fussy. But I told her, "You can't rush the mall, Mom" and I think she won't mind if we get back later. I really wanted to check out the new skirts at Macy's. They have these really cute---"

"Mallory," Jennifer says. Alex is a little shocked it wasn't his voice that interrupted her. "Come on, I need a new backpack for school. Do your make-up later." Mallory sighs and says alright and Alex feels a hand on his shoulder.

"Up and at 'em," Stephen says with a grin. Alex gives a half-hearted smile meant for nobody and follows his sisters to the car.


The mall isn't like he remembered. Sure he argues with Mallory, tries to haggle down prices, and has an intellectual debate with Jennifer about the advertizing effects on consumerism while Mallory picks out shoes, but that's not the part that's different.

It takes him a little bit to notice, but he suspects he's the part that's different.

After a few hours, everything becomes a little brighter here. When Alex comments on it, Mallory just smiles like she knows everything and tries on a pair of earrings. "That's because it's the spirit of the Mall, Alex." She says.

Alex decides not to question it.

They buy Jennifer's backpack second, right after Mallory tries on three perfumes she couldn't afford to pay half the price on and sprays Alex with the forth when he tells her she smells like Skippy's basement in the springtime. Alex smells like Jasmine for the rest of the trip. He hates it.

In the back to school aisle, Jennifer points to a backpack and says, "I kind of want the purple one." Alex tells her the red one has more pockets, better storage for pens, room for an extra notebook, and a lock combination that would guarantee nobody ever got into her business. "I just want what's best for my sister." He says. Jennifer gets the purple one, and Alex buys it for her anyway.

They end up at Macys after the first hour and Mallory couldn't be happier. She's trying on skirts and shoes and a blouse Alex remembers Ellen owned. It's got Picasso on it. It's colorful and frilly. Ellen loved it.

"What do you think?" Mallory asks, smiling bright and spinning. Alex slouches in an armchair.

"It's great, Mal."Alex says, voice flat. Jennifer watches him curiously.

"I liked the yellow better." His younger sister pipes up, and Alex glances at her. Even if Mallory forgets, Jennifer's always understood Alex a little better. She notices things-- even if Mallory does remember Ellen's clothes like the back of her hand.

"Really?" Mallory says, looking back in the mirror. "You're right, me too. Okay definitely the yellow one."

Alex is a little too tired to say thank you, but he offers up a smile he hopes is grateful. He could never hate Ellen, but it would be only too easy to lose his mind if Mallory started wearing her clothes. Jennifer smiles back.

They pick up ice cream afterwards. In fact they pick up two kind of ice cream: chocolate chip and butterscotch. They're both Alex's favorites and even when he argued just for the butterscotch, Mallory and Jennifer agreed they were in the mood for chocolate chip as well. He isn't even suspicious until he thinks about it. And even then he just smiles doesn't question it. Life's too short.

"Welcome back kids. You guys have fun?" Stephen asks as Alex sets down the tubs on the kitchen counter.

"Jennifer got the wrong backpack." Alex volunteers, voice haughty but with a teasing grin, "And Mallory took two hours in the dressing room." Both of his sister's glare at him.

"Who smells like Jasmine?" Elyse asks as she stows the chocolate chip in the freezer.

"Alex." Jennifer says while Mallory sniggers.

Alex scowls, grabs the tub of butterscotch and heads to the table.

"I thought I told you two to be nice to your brother." Elyse says. Mallory shrugs and the girls share an identical grin.

"We were, mom. Don't worry." Mallory tell her. "But he's doing a lot better and we decided that wasn't necessary anymore."

"You know Mallory," Alex butts in, waving his spoon. "If we all stopped doing things because they weren't necessary then your brain would shrivel up from lack of use." Mallory raises her eyebrows at her mother.

"See what I mean?"

"I'm entitled to an opinion." Alex insists, raising his arms before anybody can protest. Elyse shakes her head, sits next to her son and borrows the spoon for a scoop of ice cream.

"I missed you honey." She says, handing the utensil back to him. Alex grins, knows he's not in trouble and leans back easily.

"I know. And so did the economy. I really wasn't working to my full potential while I was gone. I could have lost us thousands of dollars. What kind of contributor to society would I be if I let this keep up?" He has another bite of ice cream. Elyse is pretty sure he'd said something similar when he was five and explaining the economic disadvantages of naptime. She pets his hair fondly.

"I love you honey. Don't fill up on ice cream." Alex grins back at her. Sometimes, he thinks, only his family will ever really understand him. And if nobody else in the world does, well, he's still thankful for what he has.