Chapter 8

"Well that was borderline awkward!" Alec commented.

The pair was standing in the middle of Alec's kitchen. He was sitting in the same spot that he'd been in earlier when Max had served him purposely ill-tasting pancakes.

"Borderline?" she asked him, her anger getting the better of her. "That was absolute chaos!" Not to mention mind blowing, she added in her mind. Or should I say shattering. She was fully aware of just how confused she was, and she blamed him entirely. If he had never insisted on having stakes for what should have been just a simple game at Crash, she wouldn't be feeling so worked up right now.

If he hadn't had the nerve to purposely throw her off balance for every minute of the day that she was forced to hold her tongue, she wouldn't have had to bottle it all up to the point where her emotions threatened to explode.

If he hadn't slipped his shirt off while her stare could only leave his direction if she wanted to lose the game, she wouldn't have had the image of his naked chest burning in her memory and desires.

If he hadn't been such a smart-ass in asking her to lay next to him all night, only to steal a chaste kiss on her cheek with his soft lips, then his scent wouldn't have surrounded her, falling into her memory and touching her desires with their intoxicating waves as they engulfed her while she lay beside him.

If he'd hadn't been so damned insistent on having a massage (as if a genetically engineered killing machine needed their muscles 'soothed'!), she never would have had to realize how powerless she was at the touch of his gleaming muscles.

And she never would have had that imagery running through her head all day if he'd just put his shirt back on instead of using the entire night as an opportunity to taunt her desires.

And that sneaky move he played earlier… she thought, recalling how she'd wanted him to take her lips with his own when all he was doing was flipping his egg.

Ass! she yelled in her mind, but not out loud. 'Cuz today she wasn't allowed to be herself. Unless of course Alec, in his generosity, decided it would really be nice of Max to tell him how she really felt right now.

"You're kidding yourself if you think that wasn't total insanity!" she told him, her tone aggressive as she found her control to keep being 'nice' slipping in the overwhelming frustration she was feeling.

"Okay, usually, I'm the dramatic one," he replied, hoping to ease some of the tension she was clearly feeling. "Come on, let's just relax."

"Oh, that's real easy for you to say! Now that you got what you wanted!"

"What are you talking about?" he asked her, his lips closing together as he looked at her with slight confusion.

He has to ask? How convenient the day had been for Alec, everything working out in his favor, right in line with plans. Meanwhile, Max found her every futile effort to somehow not be miserable just turn into more confusion. "This is all pretty fortunate for you, Alec. Don'tcha think? Somehow, after all's said and done, not only did you get your meal, you got your massage, too!"

Alec eyed her as he studied her face to figure out what she was so upset about. "Well, I thought we had a bet. And I won, didn't I?"

Max narrowed her glare at him. What an ass! As if he had to ask! Like she could forget that her entire day had been ruined, courtesy of Alec alone. "By some horrible twist of fate," she complained.

Alec couldn't help finding amusement at how serious she was being. "Look, it's not the end of the world! Come on, you know the only time you were really nice to me today was when you gave me that massage. And you couldn't even do that without beating on me first!"

Max glared at him. He had the nerve to complain about her efforts to be nice to him? After the day was ending up to be one of her worst ever? You ass! she thought again, growing tired of keeping it to herself.

I'll humor him, she decided, again! She was sick of playing his game, but she was also curious to see how he would somehow put the day out of his favor.

Max didn't deny or accept his account of the day's events. "What's your point?" she asked.

He shrugged before continuing. "Maybe I just think it's kind of funny. Seeing how difficult it is for you to be nice to me." He finished with a cocky smirk.

Max rolled her eyes at him. She knew she wasn't being nice to him anymore. It was beyond her at this point. Now she was just trying to see how far he'd been planning on taking this. "Let me guess. You have another special request? Kind of like the massage? Let's hear it. I'm in the mood to laugh."

Alec let out a light laugh. "I sense some sarcasm," he remarked before giving her a cocky grin.

She rolled her eyes again. "Really, whatever gave you that clue?"

As Alec again gave her his smart-ass grin, Max was finding more difficulty in resisting the urge to slap him. Attractive or not, his self-assured grin was too much to put up with on top of everything else. Max was hating the whole charade of being nice to him.

Which made her question herself again, much as she had when he'd first brought up how hard it would be for her to be nice to him, before they knew what the outcome of their game would be. Why was it so difficult for her to be nice to him? She frowned inside, the self-doubting bringing one on the outside as well in her frustration.

Alec gave Max a disappointed look to return her menacing glare. "Tsk tsk, tsk. Max…You know, I can't help feeling like you're not really giving this your all!"

Max parted her lips in an instinctive response, about to tell him off, when she remembered, yet again, the stupid bet. She wanted to give up with every part of her. Except the one that refused to allow him to prove her wrong. Her competitive side gave her just enough strength to hold back the venomous words at the tip of her tongue. But she couldn't contain the furious daggers she was sending him with her eyes.

As she continued to stare at his smirk, that feeling came again. The one that told her this was all too much. As much as she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of fulfilling his expectations on her ability to be nice to him, or rather, lack thereof, she was feeling overwhelmed and she just couldn't take it anymore. "Why are you doing this?" she blurted at him, to her own surprise just as much as his.

Why is she asking me that? "Talking?" he played dumb, as if he didn't realize what she was referring to.

"This whole bet. You know that it's driving me crazy!" she admitted to him.

"What are you talking about? I was just giving you a hard time, like always. Come on, you've already got one day down. Only two more to go." He spoke encouragingly.

But Max wouldn't hear any of it. She'd made up her mind. She had had more than enough. This little game was over. "Screw the bet!" she snapped at him.

Alec gave her a challenging stare. He knew her reasons for giving up. But he wasn't so sure that she did. He wondered if she could admit it. "Why?" he asked her simply, his tone low and void of his typical light nature.

"Because!" she answered lamely. Her lips pulled into an angry pout before she confessed her struggle to him. "I - can't do it, okay! Are you happy? You were right. I can't be nice to you." She swallowed as she realized how weak she must appear right then. He would surely never let her live this moment down for as long as she knew him.

"And I don't know why," she finished, her voice quieter and more revealing. She turned her stare away, wishing that she were alone right now to sort out all of her confusion. A good session atop the Space Needle sounded like heaven right then.

But first she had to stand there and take the insults that he was sure to send her way for not being able to keep up her end of the deal. She was ducking out of their 'agreement' (if you could call it that) early, and she knew that hearing him out was the least that she owed him.

His eyes held hers in such an intense stare that she couldn't turn away. After studying her for a moment, he pulled that familiar smirk back onto his face. "Come on, Max. Where's your competitive nature? I'm not so sure you're even trying."

Max glared at him again. "Of course I am! What the hell do you think I've been doing all day? Cooking and working for you out of the kindness of my heart or for the sheer pleasure of it? 'Cuz as wonderful as it was handing you all my tips, it's really not my style."

"I don't know, Max," he argued, though calmly. "It really seems to me like you've been fighting our bet this whole time, like we're still playing the game."

"I am so over that stupid game! You have no idea!" she protested. "The truth is, I don't like to lose, okay. Big deal! I like to win. I wonder where I get my competitive nature from? Probably something to do with my genes." He should understand that, she reasoned. Both of them grew up learning the shame that came with failure.

Alec let out a light laugh at her response, but it was clear he still wasn't satisfied. "No, that's not what I mean. You aren't fighting that you lost. I mean, that was pretty clear for everyone in the bar." He illustrated the point with his trademark smirk that she'd seen too many times within the past 24 hours to count.

Max narrowed her glare at him. It wasn't her patience that allowed him to continue. It was her curiosity. Where is he going with this?

"You're fighting something else," he finished, leaving Max to guess at his meaning.

Max didn't waste time trying to figure out his cryptic comment. "What else?" she demanded in a fury.

"Unless I'm wrong…" he trailed.

"And wouldn't that be so difficult to consider!" she remarked, her eyes rolling.

"Max, do you remember anything from our match?" he asked her.

"The part where I was kicking your ass? Or the part where you signed me up for this shitty day? Or is it the part where you were trying to show off? Wait, my bad. You do that one every day!"

Alec grinned at her. "Oh, was I the only one putting on a show?"

"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked him.

He flashed her a cocky grin as he continued, which was easy given the visual he was recalling from their intense match. "It just looked to me like you were a bit preoccupied trying to pull my attention toward you instead of the game."

Max rolled her eyes again. "Whatever. So I know you're a guy and I tried to use it to my advantage. What's your point? 'Cuz from the fact that we're standing here, I guess my plan didn't work."

"That's the thing, Max," he told her. "You didn't need to do all that. Although I really appreciated the extra treat of taking in the sight of you while I was winning." His cocky grin was firmly in place.

Max finally told him what her mind had been screaming to let out all night long. "You are such an ass!" she spat at him through a glare.

"Again with my ass, Max! Don't you get it?" he asked her, still more than amused.

"I think I've made that clear on several occasions, Alec," she replied. "You know, the ones that end with me calling you an ass. Which by the way, just wanted to let you know that that was extremely gratifying. I've been waiting to call you that all day!"

"Is that the only thing you've been waiting to do, Max?" he asked her.

She cocked her head this time as she looked at him. He must have been playing some kind of angle with these weird questions. "What are you getting at?"

"I think you've been wanting to do something else ever since the match, Max. Well, part of you. But the other part is fighting. 'Cuz you're feisty and too damn stubborn to admit it."

"Okay, was that a compliment?" she asked him with a dramatic face. The question was more to point out his rudeness than seeking any real clarity on his comment. "All right, fine. Nice observation, I've got an attitude. Again, what's your point?"

Alec finally showed some hesitation of his own as he swallowed before continuing. He didn't want to do it like this, spell it out for her or ask her point blank. But apparently, she was too comfortable with the habit of denial. He'd have to be the one to put himself on the line. As if he wasn't already! He was fairly certain that everyone at Crash was well aware of his regard for Max. There was nothing more damaging to his Pretty Boy image and pride and reputation with the ladies than to be visibly smitten with a woman that only paid attention to him when she was slapping him across the face or telling him what an idiot he was.

But that's not how she acted when she was giving me that massage, he reminded himself, cursing inwardly at the bittersweet thing that is hope. If he was only getting his hopes up just to be let down…

But you didn't imagine her reaction, he reminded himself. No, her feelings were clear during their game, and they had been appearing through her façades, much to her distress, throughout their day as their proximity increased more than it ever had.

"Okay, fine. I'll make you a deal," he offered.

Max looked up for a moment to shake her head. I cannot believe he's still playing these stupid games with me! she thought in a combination of annoyance and frustration. "Gee, I wonder where this is going? What are you gonna make me do this time?"

He still managed to hold a grin on his face as he continued. Despite how terrifying the feeling of vulnerability could be, standing in front of Max wouldn't let the smile leave his face. "I'll drop this bet early, which you've sucked at so far, by the way."

Max hated that something in the cute grin following his rude comment caused her lips to almost twitch upward into a light smile. It took conscious effort to not give him the satisfaction right then of knowing that somehow, the comments that used to bring a slap across his face now were part of the details of Alec, and thus something that brought a smile to her face.

The glare that followed his comment suddenly seemed unnatural to her, but she didn't know any other way to react given her feelings of frustration and confusion that still remained from Crash and were only continuing as she realized how mixed up her feelings were right then.

Max shrugged. "Guess I wasn't genetically engineered to be nice," she remarked.

Alec nodded with a light smile. He loved Max's attitude. He couldn't help it. It was the first thing he'd noticed about her. Well, right after appreciating that Manticore had assigned him a hot breeding partner. He had eyed her once upon meeting her, and he couldn't help eagerly anticipating his assignment, once he'd more than approved of his match.

But as soon as she realized he wasn't her dead brother, that mouth of hers that he'd stared at so many times, burning into his memory and desires, opened to reveal a woman that would end up turning his world upside down.

Before Max, he was more than satisfied with life. Sure, he was being handed orders, but when you're being ordered to have a good time, is it really so horrible? At least, that was what he used to think. Aside from his time in PsyOps, Manticore had provided him with an easy lifestyle, free of responsibilities. Plus, he'd been able to go on solo missions so often that he didn't feel trapped at all.

But then Max came along, with her determination to get out, and her 'morals', and that damn responsibility of hers. She had connections to people, something Alec had always looked upon as a weakness, something to tie you down. He'd mocked her incessant need to find and help out her 'family', a concept he didn't see the point in.

He'd still gone through with his mission, making sure she made it to Logan. In his mind, he'd told himself that he was still just a soldier, free of responsibilities and emotional connections.

But the truth was, even then, he was done. 494 quit existing the day he'd met Max. One day of having her attitude and heart thrust in his face, and the world as he knew it had ended.

Alec smiled at Max as he considered that unique spirit of hers. "Seriously, I'll drop it. If you do one thing."

"One thing?" Max asked him, her eyes showing her disbelief that he would let her off so easily.

"That's it," he replied. "One thing, then it's all over."

Max nodded, but still didn't look like she believed him entirely. But like she'd been doing all day, she decided to humor him. "Okay, Pretty Boy. Spill it. What do you want?"

At her words, the image of Max laying in his arms immediately flashed through Alec's mind, threatening to ruin his plan before he'd even gotten it out.

He quickly shook his thoughts away. He had to focus to keep a confident face as he told her his offer. "Kiss me," he told her simply.

But there was nothing 'simple' about it. Max's breath was trapped in her throat as she took in his request. Her eyes immediately drifted to the soft lips that had warmed her cheek with their touch the night before. Even if only for an instant, the pleasure that those lips could bring had quite an effect on her that she wasn't soon to forget.

Max forced herself to hold a confident face to show that she couldn't care less. "That's it?" she commented, brushing his request off like it was nothing. But as she felt her heart racing at the prospect of taking his lips in a kiss, she knew that the moment would be a much bigger deal than nothing.

"And mean it," Alec finished, his voice lower than she'd ever heard it.

Max swallowed. He wants me to kiss him? All other thoughts seemed to escape her, though, as she found herself staring at the lips that she already knew were kissable.

Her voice was softer, and more serious as she answered him. "You can't make someone mean that kind of thing, Alec. That comes straight from the heart."

The stare that he gave her following the comment sent a chill up her spine. His hazel eyes were intense, and held a golden twinkle of desire as they focused on hers. She recalled his comment during their game, 'My eyes are only on you'.

Something in his eyes showed her, yet again, that he wanted her. But she could tell that he wanted her for more than simply her looks. The deepening stare of someone in love was a sight she was all too familiar with, from Logan.

But Alec's stare didn't hold so much possession and necessity as her old lover's had. Alec's eyes were different, shining with hope, dedication, and… admiration? Max wondered if she was reading too much into a simple stare, but she couldn't stop her thoughts and desires from running at the proposal he'd just made.

As Max stared further into Alec's eyes, she knew. She could finally see the main reason why she'd become so attached to him, not throughout the bet, but throughout every sparked moment that she'd had with him so far. It was his heart. And it was staring at her through his hazel eyes.

Alec nodded in acceptance of her point. "Well then, humor me, will ya? I think you're pretty good at pushing away how you really feel, don't you?"

Max again felt the breath inside of her rush together in her throat, captured by his words. He knows, she realized. Alec knows that I want him.

"Yeah, I am," she admitted to him before holding a hand up to gently hold his face to attention, as if his focus was anywhere else at the moment. "But something's been keeping me from doing that lately," she told him.

Alec tried to hold his heartbeat steady as it raced with the familiar feeling of Max's touch. His eyes shuttered for a moment as his thoughts were briefly taken away by her affection. "What's that?" he asked, his voice deep and revealing.

"This stupid bet," she told him, not with aggression this time, but with a teasing overtone.

"It's drivin' you crazy, huh?" he joked, the casualness of their conversation killing him as she held his desires inches from his face.

"So I can get back to normal with just one kiss?" she asked him, her breath so close that the words tickled his nose.

"Yep," he barely let the word escape his lips, afraid that any more would reveal the pain she was putting him through. Having Max for one day was enough to ignite all the desires inside of him. He didn't want things to go back to 'normal' after today. Because nothing would ever be normal again for him, now that he'd had Max as his for a day, even if it was just pretend.

"Good!" she said simply before sliding her lips over his.

His worried thoughts quickly fled him as his world spun until the only thing that he could sense was Max and the taste of her lips. His tongue traced the small opening between her lips without thinking, and she didn't hesitate to open them so that she could suck at his tongue with her own.

As she nibbled at his lower lip, he couldn't stop expressing his pleasure in a low, quiet moan.

Her arms moved around his waist as she held onto him.

"Max…" he breathed her name, one hand reaching for her hair while the other wrapped around her tiny frame to pull her closer.

But she pulled away. At least her head. Her arms still held onto him as she took a deep breath, staring at him. A solid smile spread across her face while she looked into his eyes. He noticed her cheeks were flushed, the involuntary expression of her pleasure.

"I've never kissed another transgenic before," she confessed to him.

Alec couldn't stop himself from grinning at seeing how taken she was with the action. He'd certainly kissed other transgenics, but none had left him feeling weak in the knees as he was now, like a storybook romance.

"You can certainly hold your breath longer," she continued, her grin indicating her approval.

Oh, God, Alec couldn't help thinking. She's comparing me to every other guy she's kissed! Couldn't she wait to do that later, when I'm not inches from her face?

The silence that had fallen over the room was deafening. "You know, our stamina's pretty good, too," he commented with a smirk, the action meant to cover his true vulnerability in the moment. "If you wanted to check that out, too."

She actually bit her lower lip to keep herself from expressing the excitement it gave her, knowing the possibilities of being with Alec.

"I've no doubt about that," she managed to say.

"Well!" she continued. "I guess our bet's over! I'd say it's been a pleasure, but…"

Alec nodded, his face tight. His fears were coming true. "You've been miserable," he finished for her. He knew his eyes were probably a dead giveaway. As good as he'd once been at hiding his true emotions, Max had a way of breaking through everything. "Back to normal…" he trailed.

Max laughed at his disappointed reaction.

Now she's going to laugh in my face?! he thought, distressed. Max will be the death of me, he thought to himself dramatically.

"Here's something I never thought I'd say to you," she began. "You need more confidence!" she told him.

Alec's lips parted in confusion as he considered her statement, but before he could respond, Max chased away all thought by throwing her arms around his neck and pulling him toward her for another kiss. This one wasn't as long. It was more meant to serve a point that, despite his forlorn stares, she had made a decision, and it was Alec.

Alec's heart felt lighter than he'd ever imagined as he stared at her happy, revealing face. His mind worked through a fog. She'd kissed him a second time… But I said she only had to kiss me once… Her actions could only mean… She wanted him. And she'd finally come to accept it.

"I thought I had the cocky thing down," he joked to her as he held her close. Her tiny frame enclosed in his arms, having her heart beat against his, felt more right than anything else had all day.

"Oh, you do!" she said with a grin as she looked up at him.

"You know, for a minute there, I thought you were gonna walk out that door," he admitted to her.

"Call it… just a little payback for personally handing me the most frustrating day of my life."

"A little?" he asked her, his eyes wide. "You had my heart hanging by a thread!"

"Well aren't we being dramatic?" she teased him.

"Hey, I told you I was the dramatic one."

"Well, like I said, I was a bit agitated. Didn't you notice at Crash?" she asked him sarcastically.

"Y'know, it took everything in me not to pound those guys," he confessed. "But coincidentally, I know a really good way to work out your agitation and stress." He wiggled his brow suggestively.

Max rolled her eyes but still smiled as she spoke to him. "Let me guess… it involves me… and you… and your bedroom?"

"Have you ever been with a transgenic?" he asked her with a cocky grin.

Finally, the slap that had been itching to come out all day hit him across the face, though not nearly as hard as she'd been wanting it to be earlier. "You ass!" she said to him through her grin.

"Ow!" he mocked being in pain as he reached to rub the sore spot.

Max again rolled her eyes, before looking at him more seriously. "Well, since we're in the line of making confessions, there's something I'd like to tell you."

"All right," he said with a quiet grin.

"Nothing's going to be 'back to normal' after today."

"Yeah, I'm getting that feeling…" he trailed before looking at her in mock-seriousness. "You okay with that? 'Cuz something tells me I'd be okay with that."

Max let out a light laugh. "I think I can manage," she replied.

"Oh, and since we're letting it all out, like you said," he continued, "I wanted to tell you that you definitely look better in my blue towel than I do."

Max laughed at his comment. "So Pretty Boy admits that he's been beat?" She mimicked true shock at his words. "Wow! I never thought I'd see the day."

"Well, we all know who won the game," he reminded her smugly.

"But you let me quit the bet early. What kind of a winner does that?" she teased him.

"Ah…" he trailed, at a loss for words. Max renders me speechless… again!

"What's that?" she continued to tease him. "I don't think I heard what you said."

"Ha ha, Max. That's cute, you know that." His hazel eyes smiled into hers.

"So I look better in your blue towel," she repeated.

"Yeah, I'd definitely say that," he answered, as the image of Max wearing his blue towel filled his mind momentarily.

"Well then…" she trailed as she pulled him in the direction of his bedroom, her brown eyes holding a certain mischief that he'd been seeing more of lately.

"I think I'll need a second opinion on that," she finished.

"Meaning?" he asked her. The action of being led into his bedroom by Max had a way of seriously hindering his ability to put two and two together.

"Let's see that blue towel on you!" she answered.

He grinned, finding immeasurable satisfaction in the moment. "Okay. I'll make you a deal."

Her eyes rolled, this time out of true annoyance. "You are kidding me! What do you want now?!"

"I'll showcase the blue towel… if…" he trailed, taking the moment to appreciate how worked up he could still make her. "…You kiss me," he finished, repeating his earlier request.

She smiled up at him. "And mean it?" she asked, as if she didn't know his response.

"Yep," he answered simply, this time at a loss for words out of anticipation rather than disappointment.

"That's it?" she asked before pulling his face toward hers. "I think I can do that," she told him as she slid her lips over his.


a/n: Well, that's all folks! I want to express a huge THANK YOU to everyone for all of your lovely reviews throughout this fic! This one has been so much fun for me to write, in no small part thanks to your kind and encouraging comments! I really hope you all enjoyed this all the way through to the very end! I'd love to hear your thoughts from this last chapter. Thanks again! Maybe I will see ya all in another fic ;P ---Dooski