Thanks to Elle for betaing two of my chapters while juggling university at the same time. You're amazing! Also, thanks to BNTN for the awesome challenge idea. And thanks to emmadactryl, BNTN and ChristinaAngel for the wonderful reviews of Slave Fraud.
This is loosely based around this challenge:
Title: The Fight
Challenge: Two or more members of Alpha Force have had a (serious) fight. Write out the aftermath, preferably with one section from each characters POV. Don't write out the actual fight, not even in flashbacks, but you can hint at what happened.
I hope you like it!
It was getting ridiculous.
Alex turned away from looking at the ground and stared at the wall instead. There was nothing interesting about the particularlyblank spot he chose, but at least it gave him an opportunity to stretch his tired neck. The floor was still littered with the debris from attempting last night's physics homework, and he hadn't even bothered to try tidying up.
The thought occurred to him that perhaps this would be a good idea; if his mother came looking, she'd at least think that he'd given it a shot. Tidying was good for the mind, she said. It could clear your thoughts and help you to think plainly.
Alex didn't want to think.
Having thought this, staring at a blank wall was offering him a big chance to think. But thinking led to his current problem – the ridiculous one – and he didn't want to think about that right now. They should think about it themselves, and sort it out themselves.
Alex shook his head and flopped back down on his bed. Why were they bothering him anyway? They probably weren't calling Paulo, or Hex – who in their right mind would come to Hex for friendship advice, anyway? – just Alex. Alex, the leader. The one with all the answers. Alex scowled. No, that was his father. Alex toyed with the idea of giving him a call – what would you do? Alex scrapped the idea as quickly as it had arrived. His father was for proper advice; the 'what you would do if someone was pointing a gun at your head and you had one in your back pocket' kind of girls.
The phone rang.
Evidently, switching off his mobile was not sufficient enough to stop them.
Maybe if he ignored it, it would go away. He nodded to himself; this was a good plan. He rolled over and pulled a pillow over his head, thinking of nice, peaceful silence. Perhaps he was going mad. Trying to stop a phone ringing by thinking about it... the painful chimes stopped. With a jolt, Alex sat up and sent the pillow flying. Had he done that - ?
"Alex, the phone's for you," came his mother's voice, and he cursed under his breath. He wasn't in the mood, whoever it was. Gagging quietly to roughen his throat, he replied weakly,
"I'm not well..."
"Here. I've left the handset on the stairs." And her footsteps faded back to the kitchen.
He contemplated the idea of leaving the phone there until they hung up, but couldn't stomach the thought of being the cause of someone else's crippling phone bill. His friends' words echoed around his head, you're too nice...
Huffing, he swung his long legs from the bed and stood up, heading to the door.
The phone was, as his mother had said, on the stairs. Immediately, plans started running around Alex's head – he could 'accidentally' hang up, or drop it – no, just answer it. He picked it up, and doing his best to portray the image of utter exhaustion, he said,
"Alex? You took your time." Alex nearly dropped the phone. It was not Li, as he had expected; nor was it Amber.
"The one and only. I had an idea."
Alex bit his lip and momentarily shut his eyes as he started trudging back up the stairs. "Okay, tell me."
"Well, I figured that Amber and Li aren't really getting on too well at the moment."
Alex could think of too many ways to reply to this, so he chose to remain silent.
"And being at my ranch would probably be a lot more pleasant if they weren't with us."
"Go on," Alex sighed, already seeing where this was going. It was tempting, but he couldn't do that. He was pretty sure Paulo couldn't, either.
"So we tell them that we've cancelled, because –uh, there's been a flood – " Alex resisted the urge to point out the obvious flaw in this plan (Argentina?), "and we spend the two weeks camping and playing computer games and rounding up cattle. Guy things."
Alex waited a few moments for effect. "And maybe Li can come too," Paulo added as an afterthought.
The idea appealed to his sore mind immensely, but he knew it was not an option. Paulo had to know that too. "Paulo," he sighed, "Why did you really call me?"
Paulo sighed too. "In the hope that Amber and Li will quit using me as a messenger when they realise that my phone is busy."
Alex couldn't help the laugh that came to his lips. "So that's why they haven't called me in over half an hour – they gave up and tried you instead."
"So that means – "
"Never mind. It's his turn, anyway."
Alex sighed and flopped a hand dramatically over his face, remembering straight after that Paulo couldn't see him. Maybe that was a good thing – the gesture was entirely too Li-like and therefore brought Alex's mind back to the current problem.
While it was all very well for Paulo and him to laugh and joke about it, he was worried. In truth, he was more concerned for the welfare of Alpha Force than he let on to the others; if Li and Amber remained hostile, they would never have the unbreakable bonds that they had before; that had made them so invincible...
Alex shook the thought away and reminded himself to remain positive. One thing his father had always said was that things can always get worse. And be grateful that they are not worse before they get worse.
It was just a minor fall out. Amber and Li would make up eventually, and when they did they would cry and hug, while he would stand awkwardly to one side with Hex and Paulo.
But what if they didn't...?
"Sorry. Zoned out for a minute."
"Never mind. Well, the cattle calls. I think I'll leave my phone right here. See you later, Alex."
Alex mumbled a reply and hung up, throwing the phone down onto the bed and letting his body follow a split second later.
The bold 'Inbox' indicated that Alex had two new e-mails. The first was from Hex.
I've had more than my fair share of passing messages today – turn your phone back on.
The second was from Li.
Tell Amber that I'm not dropping anything until she admits defeat. Can you also ask her what time her plane gets in?
And turn your phone back on.
Alex shook his head in exasperation. Again. The movement seemed to trigger his thinly stretched patience, and he felt something snap. In anger, he brought up a blank message and addressed it to Li.
No, he wrote.
Feeling satisfied and more than a little pleased with his little rebellion, Alex clicked 'send' and closed his inbox. Whatever Li had to say, she could say it to Amber herself.
The expected pang of guilt came not a moment later. What if Li was offended by Alex's abrupt manner? What if it only made things worse...?
"Alex?" He looked up as his mother opened the door to his room, frowning slightly. He suddenly realised he was poised with the laptop in midair, undecided whether he should send another e-mail to Li to clarify his point. He opened his mouth to explain, but his mother got there first.
"Why don't you put down the laptop, and tell me what's been going on?" Alex sat dumbly, unsure of what to say. Surely he hadn't been that obvious...? Come to think of it, he'd been in his room virtually all day, mellowing on his problem and passing messages. He'd even been late to lunch, something that was never far down his list of priorities.
"Let me take this." Seeing Alex apparently unable to put down the laptop either way, his mother took it from his grasp and set it down on the desk.
It was getting dark, Alex suddenly noticed. The curtains fluttered from a chilly breeze that hadn't been there earlier in the day, and a few light papers were scattered around the room. Suddenly exhausted from the talking and trivia, he just wanted to go to sleep. He watched his mother pull the window shut and close the curtains, and stared up at her expectantly when she turned around to face him, arms crossed.
He nodded silently, too tired to argue.
She sat down next to him, and Alex saw her run her hands through her hair in the corner of his eye. "With girls?"
He nodded again. One of his folders was skewed on the desk, and he abruptly felt the urge to go and straighten it out.
"I thought so," his mother continued, "You've got that look on your face. Your father used to get it all the time when we were at college."
For the first time she had entered the room, Alex turned to face her. She was watching him intently, half amused, half concerned. Under normal circumstances, Alex wouldn't have associated those particular emotions, but he guessed this could be a pretty funny problem...
God, he was tired.
"Alex, you can talk to me."
For a long moment they merely looked at one another. Alex, the strong, individual man who kept his problems inside and dealt with them by himself. The dependable guy who had no issues. The one with all the answers.
And his mother, the woman who just wanted to release some of the pressure and help her son.
Alex sighed. "I guess you'd understand girls better. It's like this..."
"Prepare to be... annihilated!" The miniature Paulo's gun was raised on the left side of the screen, poised to finish off Hex's character once and for all. As fast as were Paulo's reflexes, however, nothing could match the speed and power of Hex's fingers, and Paulo's game was over not a split second later.
Hex flashed his open-mouthed friend a slow smile and dropped his handset, bringing his hands up to rest behind his head.
"And that," he said, while Paulo began examining his own handset, "is how it's done."
"Hex," Alex interrupted from the sofa, "I hate to burst your bubble, man, but even being the master of all video games does not make you look cool."
Hex looked past Alex out the window, trying to pretend he hadn't heard Alex and only looked in that direction to view the dark night outside.
"Well, that's that," Paulo said morosely, having secretly concluded that there was nothing wrong with the electrics. He began flicking through his highest scores, the top fifteen now belonging to Hex. "Alex, we didn't win anything. Not a single game. Not one – not one between us!"
Alex shrugged and stood up. "It's no big deal. Video games are not my life." Paulo laughed and Hex scowled. For the first time in days, Alex felt the tension in his shoulders beginning to mellow as he spent time with two of his best friends. After the phone call from Paulo, the idea of having a whole weekend doing macho things had proved itself too appealing, and he and Hex had agreed to come two days early while the girls went to Amber's to sort out their differences.
It had been his mother's idea. Give the girls a chance to work things out, face to face. Without any interference. Alex could only hope that it would work; they were due to arrive that evening and he didn't want the tight feeling to return.
"We might as well get the beds ready while we wait," Paulo suggested, suppressing a yawn, "It'll surprise the girls, at least."
Alex grinned. "What was it again, Paulo? Me, Hex and Amber in this room, so you can have the next one with just..."
"Ah, shut up," Paulo waved off the comments, "You're just jealous."
Alex couldn't hide his grin as the three boys found the sleeping bags and spare pillows under the stairs and dragged the lot into Paulo's living area. The space was divided into two sections: the smaller of which, the dining room, would be occupied by the two girls. Muscling the heavy wooden table to the side of the room and stacking the chairs on the top, they arranged two of the sleeping bags and pillows in the now vacated space and stood back to admire their handiwork.
"Job well done," Hex commented, eyeing the four neatly-placed items. Noticing a corner of a pillow was folded, he leaned over and straightened it out. He turned back to the raised eyebrows of his two friends. "What?"
"Wouldn't have taken you to be a perfectionist type of guy," Paulo replied lazily, "Not judging by the state of your room, anyway."
Hex shrugged. "It's not my room we're dealing with."
He missed the amused glance that passed between Alex and Paulo. "Don't worry," Alex said, "We'll make sure Amber gets that bed." He indicated the one that Hex had perfected. Paulo hid his snort.
Hex's reply was cut off by the sound of a sharp tap on the door. Immediately Paulo's face lit up and he bounded to the door like a puppy, Alex and Hex following in his wake.
"We brought cookies," was the first thing Amber said as she stepped into Paulo's house, shrugging off her wrap and slinging it over the door handle. Li ducked in beside her and shut the door.
Alex watched them apprehensively for any sign of discomfort, but both girls seemed content.
"Excellent," Paulo grinned, rubbing his hands together. He seemed oblivious to the fact that not days before, the girls had refused to speak to one another, "What type?"
Alex glanced at Hex somewhat awkwardly, and was satisfied that Hex returned the look with a bemused one of his own. Alex considered mentioning the disagreement, so at least he knew where the two girls stood, but dismissed the thought. His mother's advice had been clear: try to avoid getting involved. Just push them gently into working things out.
"Double chocolate chip," Li returned, playfully punching Paulo on the shoulder before wrapping her arms around his neck and squeezing his big frame against hers. Was that a good sign...?
"Great," Hex enthused, a little too brightly. Alex could hear the cogs whirring in his head as he tried to come up with the best approach to the situation. "How are you, Amber?"
Amber gave Hex a flat look before shaking her head at his black t-shirt and jeans. "You haven't changed, code boy. I'm fine." Amber's face broke into a grin and she sidestepped Paulo and Li to stand between Hex and Alex. "How was your weekend?"
"It was fine, you know. We camped and played computer games and rounded up cattle. Guy things." Alex raised his eyebrow but didn't comment at the familiar sentence, as the unspoken question made itself known in the silence that followed. Paulo and Li finally separated, and the five found themselves standing in a sort-of circle.
Everyone looked at Alex.
"So... uh... how was your weekend?" He asked tentatively, adding a shrug at the end to imply that he was merely being casual.
There was silence as Amber and Li looked at one another. Then Li grinned.
"You guys are so sweet. It was fine. Everything's fine." Alex let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and he saw Hex visibly relax. "And you can all stop looking at us like we're bombs about to explode." Paulo laughed fondly, and the sound of it broke the tension immediately.
They broke off to chat with one another, and Amber shuffled closer to Alex. "Alex," she began, and he began to fear that she would tell him that actually, could he ensure that she didn't have to be too near Li...
"I wanted to thank you. You know. For persuading us to meet up and sort things out. Like, I mean... if we hadn't, we'd still be not speaking, and that would be, uh, not good." It was strange to see Amber stumbling over her words. Alex guessed that she was not used to these kinds of conversations. "So, yeah. It was a great idea, really sensitive." Amber shrugged and smiled awkwardly, which Alex returned. He thought it best not to mention that it had been his mother's idea.
"That's OK. I'm just glad everything worked out fine."
"I hope Hex hasn't been too antisocial this weekend?"
The laughter was nice, Alex thought. While the last two days had numbed the apprehension and anxiety, it hadn't stopped it from flooding back when the girls showed up. The laughter was the release: a valve had been opened and the pressure seemed to just disappear. As Paulo led the group back to the living area to show the girls their housework, he reflected that the weight seemed to have gone from his shoulders and he was looking forward to whatever the world threw at them next.
Just in front of him, he saw Amber nudge Hex.
"Computer games, huh? Who's idea? No, don't tell me. My psychic abilities are giving me an answer... someone... his name begins with an M, and it ends in N..."
"Shut up, Amber..."
Paulo was holding open the door for Li with a big, happy grin on his face. "Ladies first," he said, in his thickest Spanish accent and quickly adjusted his lopsided smile to a more appealing one.
Li muttered something under her breath as she passed through, closely followed by Amber and the boys.
He remembered talking to his mother all that time ago. He reflected on what she had said – that at the time he had dismissed as being nothing more than comforting words from a mother – that disputes only make friendship stronger. Now, as he watched the pillow fight beginning to unfold, he could see that she had been right.
It was going to be a great holiday.