A response to the RH weekly prompt: "Thought when sober, said when drunk."

Life on the outside wasn't like they said it was.

Sure, it was filthy and infected, the people were hopeless, stupid sheep, and it lacked structure and discipline. And purpose, there was no purpose to any of it. And it exhausted him to think of all the poor souls out there that didn't have a plan for their lives, and it occasionally concerned him that he might be one of them.

But there were some good things Manticore had never told him about life on the outside. There was this remarkable phenomenon called free time, where you could do anything you wanted, even if what you wanted to do was nothing at all. Manticore never told him about freedom like that. They also never let him suspect the concept of sleeping in. Once he got a taste of that particular luxury, he was quickly addicted to it, and there were mornings when he never got out of bed at all. So there were little gems hidden in the pile of chaos that was life after Manticore.

But the best part about the outside was definitely Scotch. At least that's what Alec thought as he polished off his third double of the night. He loved Scotch. A smooth blend was good, single malt was better, and if he was really lucky, he could find a batch that was older than he was. Scotch helped him ignore the filthy confusion around him, and most likely killed off some of the germs as well. Drinking Scotch gave him something to do and filled that void in his soul where determination to complete the mission used to live. But the most beautiful thing about Scotch was that, if consumed in large enough quantities, it let him forget the things that hurt too much to remember and gloss over the parts of life that were too painful to think about. So Scotch was a very good thing, and tonight he was drinking a very good bottle of Scotch.

He had taken to coming to Crash on the nights he didn't have anything better to do. He liked seeing familiar faces; it kept him from feeling so lost. The fact that his presence seemed to annoy Max was just the icing on the cake. It was strange how familiar faces were almost as comforting as the Scotch. He didn't want to believe it was part of the routine of having a job. He reminded himself that he only worked at Jam Pony for the freedom of movement that came with his sector pass and to have a cover for his nocturnal side businesses; it had nothing to do with the comfort of knowing what he was supposed to do for eight to ten hours a day.

He casually observed those familiar faces gathered around the pool table. Logan had taken Sketchy's place at the table, Original Cindy was telling a story, and Max had just brought another pitcher of beer over to the group. It was with a detached sense of wonder that Alec remembered that these were his friends. Well, why not, they were good people, weren't they? Maybe he was transferring the loyalty he felt for Manticore or something. He wondered why else these people would be able to stir up any emotions stronger than indifference in him. He knew he should feel happy with the knowledge that if he went over there, they would probably welcome him, but for some reason, that idea just made him feel oddly uncomfortable. Until he figured out that feeling, he would stay where he was. Scotch was a better friend tonight anyway.

Alec watched them until the game ended and Max and Logan moved on to a table in the corner. He told a joke and she laughed and he looked at her like her laughter was the most beautiful thing he had ever known. Alec tried not to notice the way they stared at each other, as though they couldn't hear the blaring of the music or the buzz of the crowd surrounding them because they only had eyes for each other. The virus was obviously taking its toll. Alec sometimes worried that one day the strain of it would get to them and they would do something stupid and he would have to watch Logan keel over right in front of him. Like he didn't have enough to feel guilty about already…

Alec felt that little twinge in his chest that the Scotch hadn't managed to erase yet. He felt it every time he saw their desperate sadness, because he knew it was his fault. If Max hadn't bought his life instead of a cure, Alec knew that she and Logan would probably be sitting in a bubble bath together right now, happily licking whipped cream off of each other and having the best sex of their lives, instead of looking like two wounded pound puppies staring at each other from opposite ends of the table. Alec liked breathing and was happy they hadn't let his head explode that day, but he hated being reminded of how much it had cost them. And he knew that giving her a couple of grand wouldn't completely erase that debt.

Maybe Max would have let his brain go pop if she had known the truth.

The director had given him clear orders: allow 452 to think she was escaping, help her find a way out, put on enough of a show with the x-7s to make it believable, and follow her to the target's location. Alec wondered how an x-5 could fall for something that transparent, even with all the special ops training she had missed out on. He would never have been that naïve. Apparently Logan almost dropping dead had distracted Max from wondering how Alec had arrived at Eyes Only's hideout right after she did, and in the haste to save him and the confusing, not to mention destructive, fiery inferno that followed, she never put two and two together. Alec wanted to keep it that way, so whenever that nagging little voice in his head said he should confess, Alec drowned him in a shot of Scotch.

"Hey, Alec?" He had been so lost in thought, he hadn't noticed her approach, but now she stood next to him, leaning against the bar and looking down at him.

"Yeah?"

"You're pretty wasted."

"Yeah."

"You should go home. 'Cause if you pass out, I have no intention of dragging your messed up ass out of here for you," she added.

"Yeah, you're probably right," he agreed in a resigned sort of way. "Hey, Max…um…thanks."

"Whatever," she smirked with a roll of her eyes and a dismissive little shrug as Alec grabbed his jacket off the back of his stool and walked out of the bar.

There, he's said it! It felt good to get that off his chest. Maybe talking about feelings and expressing yourself was a good thing after all. He'd been carrying that guilt around with him for awhile now, and emotional baggage just wasn't his style. But everything was out on the table now, and he felt great. With a clearer conscious and an easier mind, Alec sauntered off into the night, feeling lighthearted and free from obligation.

It was amazing how a little Scotch could help a person express themselves so well.

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