disclaimer/author's note: this chapter is ridiculous. I mean it, it is completely sugary, almost sickeningly sweet! borderline cheesy. Okay, it's complete fluff. So much that I would title it 'MA fluff-fest' if not for the fact that this has been a serious fic all the way through and I'm not going to kill that in the ending!

Now all of that having been said, I really enjoyed this chapter and I hope all of you do, as well! Even though its fluffy nonsense, I think we pulled it off. That's right, 'we'. This chapter was co-written, hence the looooong delay (so sorry about that, btw, I honestly hate doing that to people!)

so special, and by that I should say huge thanks to Christique for co-writing this with me so it could be that much better! And I'm gonna shut up now and let you read the ending...

Chapter 8

We don't have to put anything off anymore…

Alec felt her words with every part of him, captured by their openness and meaning.

He didn't realize he'd grabbed her toward him until he felt her tiny frame allowing him to guide her closer. Her arms wrapped around him as his held her, their bodies melding into one form.

He felt his breathing synchronize with hers into one rhythmic beat as he closed his eyes and inhaled her scent that was still just as intoxicating as ever. They stood there in each other's arms, unable to speak. This has to be a dream, Alec thought. Max is here, in my apartment, in my arms! I must be dreaming…

But when he opened his eyes cautiously, she was still there. He stifled a sobbing laugh of joy as he held her closer, hazel eyes shining at the ceiling. I don't know what I did right to deserve this, but I sure as hell am glad I did it!

Alec looked back down at the gorgeous woman snuggling against his chest, and his heart swelled. His hands moved gently from her waistline, following up the curves of her body, until they caressed her chin, asking her to meet his eyes. His heart had so many things to tell her. Everything burning inside of him shook his mind, tugged at his heart, swirling together into something so powerful, he didn't know where to begin other than breathing her name. "Max," he spoke softly.

Her eyes shone into his with a smile as she gave him a coy grin. "I should have known you wouldn't be able to keep your mouth shut."

Alec laughed lightly, an action that he hadn't had the luxury of doing in such a long time that it took him a moment to recognize the sound as his own. And that was when the realization hit him- the memory of a dream that he once lived.

Everyone searches for happiness. It's what the world wants, when it has the freedom to ask for it. And Alec knew where his lay- in Max. Being with her and making her happy was all that he needed to keep his smile in place forever.

He smirked and shrugged at her. "I can't really help it. It's a thing…" he teased casually.

Max smiled back. "Well I sure did miss you and your thing," she admitted to him.

Alec nodded slowly. "I missed you, too." He paused and sighed. "I just…can't believe I had it all wrong," he admitted.

"You always were too sure of yourself," she joked.

"I know," he replied softly, "You always tried to keep me in check."

"Well, for what it's worth, I didn't exactly help you get it right…" she said seriously.

Alec chuckled softly and shook his head at her. "Naw, Max, it wasn't all on you. We were both so young and immature, I doubt if I would've believed it myself."

Her eyes looked distant again, a hint of regret threatening to ruin the innocence of the moment. "Max, what is it?" he asked her.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking about things," she told him. "The past… decisions I've made… people I pushed away." Her eyes met his again. "I didn't ask you to stay."

"Probably 'cuz I'm such a pain in the ass," Alec replied lightly in a teasing voice.

"But I wanted you to stay," she told him, not allowing him to brush off the seriousness or need for her to tell him the truth. "And I never told you. I wasted three years…"

Alec watched as the emotion she'd kept bottled up threatened to burst out all at once. Her eyes fluttered ever so slightly as the guilt and sadness of her life's choices became too much for her.

He quickly pulled her into an embrace again to stop her from feeling any more pain, least of all because of a regret for him.

It didn't matter any more, anyway, now that they were here, together.

The realization in his mind brought him courage and happiness and he found himself wondering why he still hadn't taken her up on her open statement. We don't have to put anything off anymore…

Alec reached up and cupped her soft face in his hand. His eyes met hers, and suddenly the world was so simple, so easy. There was nothing to complicate the moment, nothing to ruin it and make either of them run away. It was just Alec and Max, and nothing else mattered. Her warm body in his arms was all that mattered.

Alec felt her silken skin as he brushed her cheek with his thumb gently. "It's okay. I can stay now," he whispered, trying to memorize her face in his first moment of true happiness.

Her gorgeous brown eyes swam with unshed tears of joy threatening to spill at the touch she'd been missing for so long. No, it wasn't a dream anymore.

Alec leaned his head towards her, and the earth spun. Suddenly, the only thing that really existed was his mouth on hers.

The gentle kiss seemed to start a slow-burning fire, and Alec lost himself in the feel of Max's soft lips. He tasted her reverently, as if he wanted each second to make up for one moment they'd been apart. All of the years, all of the months, the long days and the lonely nights- all of it melted away and left the two of them locked in a lovers' embrace.

Max broke away with a small gasp and looked up to stare adoringly into Alec's eyes. "You're really here…" she whispered brokenly as a silent tear slipped down her cheek. Her watery eyes sparkled at him.

Alec's face showed concern, and he wiped the tear away from her face gently. "I didn't realize all these years without practice would make me that bad of a kisser," he half-teased cautiously.

Max laughed. "No, its – You're wonderful. It's just… Part of me thought I'd never see you again, and all of me's been wanting to kiss you like that for weeks," she admitted.

"Just weeks? I've been wanting to do that from the moment I met you!" he said lightly with a smile.

Max closed her eyes and laughed genuinely. She looked down at the ground and stood silently for a moment, steeling herself for what she would do next. But as she did this, she realized she didn't need to. There was nothing to brace herself for. Alec's kiss melted away any lingering shadows of doubt, if any had even survived her first sight of him earlier.

With renewed strength, Max's brown eyes locked with Alec's hazel ones and she spoke with a quiet strength the words she'd feared he would never hear.

"I love you."

She smiled as she watched Alec's eyes widen and take on a new light, sparkling and dancing in the rays of sunlight pouring through the window. He swallowed a few times, and his lower lip trembled. The broad chest she was still pulled against heaved with deep breaths. His handsome face, for all of its matured manliness gained in his absence, was the very image of a little boy's.

Max let her smile widen at his speechless reaction. It made her love him even more. She broke the full smile only to speak again. "I said, 'I love you', Alec. I think deep down I always have. It just took me a while to see it. …And then it took me even longer to stop fighting it. …And then it took me even longer still to admit it to myself out loud."

"You- you mean it? You..?" he trailed in disbelief. Okay, now it would simply be cruel to have this be a dream, he thought in a daze. Not even in his best dreams of Max had she ever uttered those sacred words. It probably had something to do with his plan of staying away from her and then something to do with his poor self-esteem when it came to Max, but he simply could never picture her saying that to him. Not ever.

Yet here she was, turning his world and realities upside-down again.

Alec's thoughts were interrupted by Max's laughter. "Of course I mean it. You of all people should know me well enough to know how hard it is for me to say stuff like that." She pulled his head down for another quick kiss and continued breathlessly, "I love you, Alec. I really do."

Alec quickly recovered from his shock at the abrupt kiss and gasped out, "I love you, too, Max. I know deep down I always have. And I always will. And I'm never gonna leave you again."

Alec held onto her delicate frame as he lovingly placed light kisses on the top of her head.

Her arms wrapped around him even tighter. The tingling going down her spine at his touch seemed to bring her to life. She took a moment to stare into his eyes again, and this time she noticed her own shining back at her with a happy glow that had been missing ever since the last time she'd seen him at Terminal City.

"You know you're a liar," she said teasingly, still holding onto him.

"I guess I can accept that," he told her lightly. "I mean, I've been called worse by you. Lucky for you that you didn't name me 'Dick' after all. That would kinda suck at parties, right? 'Hey guys! This is my boyfriend, Dick.' "

Max punched him teasingly in the shoulder. "I'm serious!" she insisted, despite the playful glare she was giving.

"Okay," he conceded. "Why am I a liar?"

"You told me you were going to give me flowers."

The memory of Max laying in his arms after the raid flashed through his mind for a moment. "I did say that, didn't I?"

"Um, yeah!" she half-joked.

Alec suddenly grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door.

"Woah, what are you doing?"

His face was lit with pure happiness. "Well I think I owe you some flowers, don't I?"

"Yes," she agreed before pulling him toward her again. "But I think we can worry about that later." She pulled him toward her and slid her lips over his for another kiss.

Alec couldn't help falling into the moment.

But as soon as she pulled away breathlessly with a satisfied grin, he continued to head toward the door.

"Alec!" she protested.

He motioned for her to follow him. "Come on, Max. This won't be long. Trust me." This time, he waited for her to grab onto his outstretched hand.

Max eyed him suspiciously. What could he be planning? Part of her wished she hadn't teased him so much. Right now, the desires that had been suppressed for so long didn't want to wait a second more to finally be with the man that she'd fallen in love with.

But as she stared at his eager face, her lips couldn't help but twitch upward. He was positively beaming. She slid her hand into his as she answered him, "Of course I trust you."

Alec's smile lit up his face as he opened the door and rushed down the street, dragging along a laughing Max.

After following Alec through a complex series of twists and turns through parts of the city she didn't know existed, Max found herself standing before a rusted gate. Alec had stopped his hurried half-walk half-jog and now turned to face Max, his apparent excitement shining through and making Max laugh in spite of herself. Alec was too adorable for words.

Max glanced around curiously. Beyond the gate was a dirt path that must have led to a small park before the Pulse had virtually eliminated any desire to frolic in a park on a sunny day. Sunny days almost didn't exist in Seattle anyways.

The grass beyond was long and thick like a head of unkempt hair that needed washing. A few moths were white specks lost in the forest of glossy green as they rested on the long blades. Weeds popped up randomly throughout the untamed field.

There was nothing really spectacular about the place. Max turned back to Alec with confusion evident on her face.

"Um…" she trailed in speechless puzzlement.

"Go on, open the gate!" Alec said enthusiastically.

"I thought you were leading the way," Max said coyly.

"And I thought you said you trusted me," Alec returned smoothly.

Max laughed softly to herself. Alec was right; she did trust him. Even though the place he'd led her to looked more than unpleasant, she took his word for it and tugged at the gate's latch, letting the thing swing with a small screech as its rusty hinges worked to give the pair of transgenics entry.

Max picked her way carefully along the dirt path, keeping off of the grass and focusing on taking in the strange and isolated place. She heard Alec's steps behind her and his presence reassured her as she went further on, the scenery darkening as the trail led into a thick forest.

Max entered the forest with Alec right behind her and marveled at the outburst of life. It was just an ordinary forest, but the trees loomed around her in a surreal way. The fact that she was taking a sort of nature walk with Alec after so many years gave the experience all the more a feeling of enchantment.

They walked on for what seemed like forever, and whenever they came to a split path, Alec pointed out the right way but still made Max lead, the smile still lingering on his face. Max looked back at Alec suddenly.

"How much farther is it?"

"Is what?" Alec asked playfully.

Max frowned in thought. "I don't even know. Where are you taking me?"

Alec laughed now. "I'm not taking you anywhere. You're walking of your own free will, Max."


"It's not much further, Maxie. Trust me."

He keeps saying that! she thought in slight frustration. That phrase couldn't help but make her keep on without questioning him. It made her realize, once again, just how much she'd grown to love this man.

Alec was true to his word, though. The trail went on for only about one more minute before Max stood at the trail's end and gazed in wonder at the sight that greeted her eyes.

There was a clearing that let sunlight in to splatter lovingly over what appeared to be a beautiful little flower garden. There were bushes and trees that were decorated with bunches of perfumed blossoms in all sorts of colors and shapes. Max's jaw slackened as they went further into the corners of the clearing. It was absolutely gorgeous!

She turned to face Alec with eyes shining in awe. "What - ? How did you - ?"

Alec laughed out loud at her reaction. "It's a garden. Josh and some of the other guys at Terminal City started working on it, and Josh led me here right before I left. He told me I was always welcome to come and water the flowers or whatever. If I ever wanted to. I remembered the place and sorta came here after a couple of years of being away from you… It was kinda like the source of beauty in my life when I was feelin' down, since I couldn't see you every day…" Alec trailed, realizing how cheesy he must have sounded.

Max's eyes widened at the news. "Josh made this?"

"Well, and some of the others. They were out on a heist one day and got caught by a couple of the more persistent groups of Ordinaries who wanted to get on the news by ridding the world of a few more freaks. They chased 'em 'til they reached the forest edge, and Josh and the guys naturally took to the trees. Then they found this. There were a few flowers already here, and our lovable dog-boy wanted to turn it into another sort of art project." Alec chuckled lightly. "And the others agreed. They've tended it as a kind of secret garden. It's no Eden, but it's pretty incredible anyways," he finished, looking around him in open admiration.

"It's beautiful," Max mumbled as she joined Alec in admiration.

After the lingering pause as the two took in their surroundings, Alec broke the silence with a quick intake of breath. "So. Which one do you want?"

Max snapped her head around to face Alec again, her own face crumpled in confusion. "What?"

Alec spread his hands as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You said I owed you flowers, right? Well… pick one! You can have any flower you want."

"Oh, no, I couldn't take some of Josh's flowers…," Max said softly, shaking her head.

Alec gave her a level look. "Max. I helped out here, too. I don't think they'd mind if I gathered some flowers for a worthy woman." He flashed her a charming smile.

Max stared at him long and hard. "I can really have one?" she asked seriously.

Alec chuckled again. "Yes, you can have one. You can have flowers, stars, oceans, motorcycles, or anything else you want from me," he said joyfully, waving his hands dramatically and beaming at her once more.

Max laughed at his antics. He was so goofy! And she loved him for it. She took another look around her at the closest thing to paradise she was likely to find in this world. She leaned into one of the bushes and inhaled deeply, letting her smile widen at the sensations all around her. The flowers were so beautiful, the scent they emitted so enticing, the feel of the petals as she gathered them around her so soft and caressing. They were truly wonderful.

But they weren't perfect. Something was missing…

Max turned from the flowers and looked up at Alec lovingly. The sight of Alec smiling at her in the sunlight was gorgeous, his scent intoxicating, the feel of his arms around her and his lips on hers soft, warm, strong, and safe. Max smiled at her thoughts. She knew exactly which flower she wanted.

She walked up to Alec, her gaze locked onto his face and a smile spread warmly on her own. Alec's smile faltered as Max approached him. His eyes lit up with desire.

"I can have… anything… I want?" she asked quietly in a low, husky voice as she closed the gap between them.

Alec swallowed and stared deep into her eyes. "Anything."

Max stopped moving when she was only inches away from the man she loved. She reached up and laid a gentle hand on his cheek. Alec leaned into her touch and let his lips part so that Max felt his quiet breathing against her palm.

"I want you," she said with a conviction that made Alec smirk.

"Well, you've already got that. You've had it for about four or five years," he said with a grin.

It was Max's turn to smirk then. "No, Alec. I want you. All of you."

Alec quickly glanced around at the tree-enclosed clearing and back at Max in slight confusion. "Wha – Now?" he stuttered.

He was nervous… The knowledge made Max give him a full-blown smile. He really was too adorable for words. "Why not? We've waited long enough, I think."

Alec's smile slipped again and he looked seriously at Max. "Are you sure?"

Max's grin stretched across her face and allowed her teeth to show, white and gleaming. She didn't feel nervous at all. In fact, she felt a happy giggle try to escape her. Max never in a million years thought she'd ever feel happy enough to giggle, but she'd found the happiness she'd been missing all along when she stood looking up at Alec. Her eyes danced in the sunlight and she practically glowed with joy.

"I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life," she said honestly.

Alec leaned in and kissed her long and hard. All the passion between them found release as the pair lost themselves in the taste of each other. Max felt her knees literally weaken as Alec practically kissed the life out of her. She couldn't keep a moan of pleasure from escaping her as Alec deepened the kiss and managed to somehow lift her up off of the ground at the same time.

Max's feet dangled from his arms as she continued to kiss him in his arms. Alec paused to lay her gently down on the soft grass. He pulled his shirt off over his head and laid down next to her. Max purred appreciatively at the hard-muscled body of a grown man he'd acquired in their time apart. As soon as he was within reach, Max pressed against him to steal another kiss.

Alec broke the kiss suddenly and gasped for breath. He looked at her with longing and desire, and his heart swelled once more with a fierce love for this amazing, incredible woman. Max just looked at him curiously, a few petals from the fragrant white flowers above them clinging to her dark hair.

"I love you, Max. I love you so much," Alec gasped out.

Max let a smile decorate her face for about the millionth time since she'd reunited with Alec. "I love you, too, Alec. Now shut up and kiss me."

a/n: as always, thanks so much for reading! you all know how I appeciate reviews.