A/N: This is the final chapter of this story. I want to thank everyone who's sent such fantastic feedback to previous parts - it's really encouraged me to continue writing. I hope this chapter meets your expectations!
Part Six: Beginnings
(Set three weeks after Alec gives Max the cure in Part Five)
On this unusually crisp and clear night, the stars twinkle like strings of Christmas lights and the full moon chases away the shadows from dark places.
From her vantage point on the flat roof of the tallest building in TC, Max can see clear across the city of Seattle. A few blocks away, the Space Needle stands starkly outlined against a backdrop of city lights. The Needle was once her refuge when life became too much to bear, and she's done some of her most profound thinking perched on the edge of its highest viewing platform. Now, she only risks going there when faced with a serious decision.
She was there last night.
She turns from the view to gaze down at her sleeping second in command. He sits propped against the wall near the entrance to the stairwell, arms folded and head turned to one side, snoring gently. Her eyes range over tousled dark-blond hair, strong nose and jaw, and long eyelashes shuttering eyes that can be brown or green, depending on his mood.
She'd looked for him in Command and in his quarters, and when she found that no one had seen him for hours, she knew where he'd be. This roof has become the new refuge for both of them. It's an unspoken habit -- until recently, anyway -- for them to meet up here when the day's work is done. Sometimes, they discuss how to deal with the constant needs of a rapidly growing community. Occasionally, they dare to think ahead to what the future may hold. Often, they simply sit in companionable silence.
He looks tired. He's set himself a grueling pace over the past two weeks, personally leading several missions that someone else could easily have handled and getting involved in the combat training of some new arrivals.
She knows he's been avoiding her and she understands, because she's been avoiding him, too. But that's about to change. Her mouth feels suddenly dry and a small knot of tension balls in her gut as she squats beside him, laying a hand gently on his arm.
"Alec?" she says softly.
He stirs, and his eyelids open half-mast. "Hey Max."
He smiles at her, the first proper smile she's seen from him in days. Then he comes fully awake, and the warmth in his eyes fades, replaced by the shuttered look she's come to dread over the past few weeks.
He springs lightly to his feet and she stands with him, noting that he takes a few steps back, casually distancing himself from her.
"Something wrong?" he asks.
She shakes her head. "Nothing's wrong. I just thought we haven't talked in a while. I kinda miss ending the day up here."
She looks forward to these times as a welcome break from the stress of her responsibilities. Alec is good for her. She knows she can be too serious and intense, and he makes it his job to help her lighten up. No matter how bad their day has been, he always comes up with some amusing story to make her laugh. She sits and listens to him ramble and decides that maybe things aren't so bleak after all.
His expression is neutral. "Yeah, well, I guess we've both been busy the past few weeks."
They haven't met on the roof since that night three weeks ago when he handed her the cure for the virus and walked away – not just out of Command, she realized later, but pretty much out of her life. When he's been around, their working relationship has continued as usual, but the easy camaraderie has gone.
She misses him desperately.
"Alec, I…" She pauses, unsure now where to start.
She was so shocked that he'd actually found the cure that she let him walk away without a word. But maybe that was for the best, because back then she was confused.
She should have been ecstatically happy. She had the cure, which meant that there were no longer any barriers to stop her and Logan from being together. But that very fact forced her to admit that the virus wasn't the only barrier between them. There was one more, a very important one. And it was standing right in front of her.
Two nights ago, she risked paying Original Cindy a visit. She didn't get to see her best friend too often. It was still unwise for Normals to be seen in the company of transgenics, and Max's face had been plastered over the news often enough that it was only safe for her to visit at night. But she needed to talk things through.
They sat for hours, talking and drinking coffee, and finally OC told her that she should try imagining how it would feel if either man suddenly disappeared from her life, and then to follow her heart.
She spent the rest of that night alone at the Space Needle and thought about OC's advice. She was surprised by how quickly everything became very clear, and by morning she'd made the biggest decision of her life.
Alec speaks into the sudden silence. "Training went well today. The new group's starting to shape up. Another few months, and we should be able to use them on low-risk missions."
"That's good," she says distractedly. "We need all the trained soldiers we can get."
They lapse into an uncomfortable silence, and after a few moments, Max can no longer stand the tension.
"I never got to thank you properly for finding the cure. Mole told me how it went down." She pauses, then goes on bluntly, "It was too dangerous, Alec. You shouldn't have taken such a risk."
He looks past her, out over the Seattle skyline. "Well, that's me, Max. Reckless Risk Takers Inc., no mission too dangerous." He shrugs. "Anyway, Mole's exaggerating."
"I don't blame you anymore. You know that, don't you? For the virus, or for losing my chance of getting the cure."
He looks at her, his expression slightly mocking. "So you're saying you don't still wish you'd let my head explode when you had the chance?"
She flushes as her harsh words come back at her. "I never did," she says quietly. "I was just really mad at you."
He shrugs. "Yeah, well, I seem to bring that out in you."
There's a long pause. She wants him to know that it isn't like that any more, but she can't find the right words, so in the end she just says, "So, anyway … thanks."
"You're welcome." He clears his throat. "Must be pretty cool, huh, being to touch old Logan without worrying he's gonna keel over and die?"
She nods. "Yeah. It's kinda weird, though, after so long."
She should just come right out with it and tell him that she's made her decision, that she knows where her heart lies. Sitting up on the Needle, she imagined a life without Logan, and the idea was painful. But imagining a life without Alec was beyond devastating. She knows that this has been true for a while, but she's been unable to admit it. And now … now she's afraid. Three weeks ago, she was sure of his feelings for her, but now she wonders if it's too late, if Alec has decided he's not prepared to wait any longer for her to see the truth. To see that they belong together.
How could she have been so blind?
There's another awkward silence, and again, Alec is the one to break it. "So, um, I guess now you and Logan are together—"
"We're not together."
He frowns. "You're not? But… I don't get it. The virus was the only thing holding you back."
She shakes her head. "Not the only thing. We talked it through, and we decided that actually, we didn't want to be together after all."
That's a somewhat abbreviated summary of the three hours she and Logan spent together earlier today, but the details aren't important. Only the outcome matters.
He's quiet, clearly trying to work out the implications of what she's told him. Then she sees hope begin to break through the confusion in his eyes, and it gives her the courage to go on.
"Logan's been seeing a lot of Asha, and he thinks he might have feelings for her."
"Oh. Okay, I get it. Max, I'm sorry."
She sees the hope quickly fade from his eyes, and understands why. He thinks that Logan's broken up with her because of Asha and that she wants a shoulder to cry on.
She rushes on. "It's not like that. Logan and I … we've grown apart. I think we've both known it for a long time, but we never really talked about it. All that time when we couldn't be together, I guess neither of us was ready to let go, either. But we both know it's time to move on." She pauses, searching for the right words. "It's not that I don't love him. It's just… it turns out that we're not in love."
Before she can catch his expression, Alec turns and walks to the edge of the roof, standing dangerously close to the edge as he stares out into the darkness. He says nothing, so she takes a deep breath and goes on. She needs him to understand because she doesn't want him to think that this is a rebound thing. She won't have him thinking he's second best.
"I told him we couldn't be together before he told me about Asha. I said I couldn't be with him because…" She hesitates, and then goes on boldly, "Because I'm in love with someone else."
That gets a reaction. He swings around to face her and his eyes widen a little. "You are?"
She nods. "Yeah. I guess I have been for a while, I just… I was too afraid to admit it. Or too stubborn."
His face creases in a smile at that final admission. "Too stubborn? That's not like you, Max." His expression grows more serious. "So … is this guy anyone I know?"
"Yeah." She takes a deep breath, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on his. "I'd say you know him better than anyone."
She thinks she sees the uncertainty in his eyes turn to understanding and then to joy and her heart jumps.
"So, you think he's in love with you, too?"
She has to be certain, so she looks at him searchingly. "I'm not sure. I think so, but it's not like he's ever said anything, or made a move…"
"Maybe he isn't the kind of jerk that'd steal another guy's girl."
"No, he isn't," she agrees. "But … I'm afraid it might be too late."
He folds his arms and raises an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"
"I haven't always been very fair to him." She waits to see his reaction to this huge understatement, but he's silent, looking at her quizzically, so she goes on quickly, "I'm always too hard on him, blaming him for everything, even when it isn't his fault. I chew him out all the time."
Alec grins. "Maybe he deserves it."
She smiles a little. "Sometimes. But this thing with Logan and me … if I hadn't been so stubborn, if I'd been willing to admit that it wasn't working out between us, maybe I'd have seen it sooner."
"I think you're being a bit hard on yourself," Alec says softly. "And I can't speak for him, but if it were me, I'd say you were worth the wait."
She feels the knot in her stomach begin to loosen, and yet suddenly she feels shy. How stupid is that? This is Alec. She can be straight with him about anything – except, apparently, how she feels about him.
He smiles, a genuine smile of pure happiness, then, maybe sensing her insecurity, his face breaks into that familiar, cocky grin. "So, tell me about this guy," he says, taking a step towards her. "Is he handsome?"
The knot loosens even more. She cocks her head to the side, pretending to consider. "Very."
"Hmm." Another step and they're almost touching. "Well, is he sexy?"
She purses her lips in thought, and now her heart is thudding because he's so close. When he reaches out to push back a strand of hair from her face, his touch sends a shockwave of pleasure right through her.
"I think so," she whispers.
He puts an arm around her waist and pulls her tightly against him, until their lips are almost touching. "Guess he must be pretty irresistible, huh?"
The knot disappears completely, replaced by a warmth that starts in her belly and begins to spread outwards. She laughs and wraps her arms around his neck. "He thinks so." Then she stands up on tiptoes to whisper in his ear, "He's also an infuriating, wisecracking dumbass who keeps trying to get himself killed."
Alec grins. "He sounds perfect."
As his lips finally close on hers, she can't help but agree.