Alec parked his motorcycle in the back parking lot next to a couple of muted-tone, boring four door sedans and walked into Seven Minutes in Heaven, a busy bar outside of Seattle. The building was split into two big rooms, joined by a big bar. One room was a pool hall with multiple tables lit by hanging lights, a jukebox, and darts; the other room was more conducive to a club, with its tall tables and dance floor. He assessed which room was darker.

As he headed into the club area, he inched his way through the crowds of sweaty dancers and overzealous people trying to hook up, and sat at the bar. He shrugged his jacket off and hung it on the barstool back.

"Hey Dave, two fingers," he greeted the bartender. Dave started on Alec's request with a nod.

Immediately, a short little brunette approached the bar and squeezed between Alec and the guy on the stool next to him. "Two appletini's, please," she said as Dave set the drink in front of Alec.

Alec looked toward her, annoyed by her too-effervescent voice. She was probably wearing the most uncomfortable push-up bra he'd had the privilege of seeing in an attempt to get free drinks. He reached for his scotch and the woman smiled at him as she waited for her drinks. Alec shot her the obligatory smile before turning back to his drink and taking a generous gulp of the amber alcohol.

He'd come to Seven Minutes to relax, not to be on the prowl for the next girl, the next town. He hadn't really been able to relax in the past couple of months. Just wound all the time – and Max wasn't helping, constantly asking, no, demanding his help with her missions for Eyes Only. He hadn't really had a night to himself in weeks.

Alec took another gulp of the liquid, letting it linger on his taste buds a little longer before swallowing it. He motioned for Dave to refill his drink, and Dave brought the small brunette's appletinis and left. He returned with the bottle of Scotch, which he set down in front of Alec's glass. "One of those nights, huh?" the bartender asked. Alec nodded.

Before the brunette could pick up her 'Tinis, Alec turned his body toward hers and grabbed her arm.

"Excuse me!" she nearly shouted, her smile quickly turning to a frown. "Get your hands off me!"

Alec smiled, again the obligatory one. "Sure, I'll let go when you give me my wallet back."

The girl's face turned bright red. "I don't have your wallet."

"Bullshit, sweetheart," Alec said. "Can't con a con-man." He reached into her purse and grabbed his wallet. He opened it and counted out twenty, which he then promptly handed to the bartender. He returned his attention to her. "Now that I've bought you and your friend a drink, can we please cut to the chase?"

The girl's eyes lit up. She showed both excitement at his response and embarrassment at getting caught. She leaned into him, her breasts brushing against his chest, and he bent his head down to whisper, "I'm not interested." She scoffed in response, grabbed the drinks, and floated away.

He could at least be someone's story.

"What's his damage?" he heard her friend ask. Transgenic hearing could be a gift at times. This was not one of those times.

Alec grabbed another forty from his wallet and laid it in front of his glass. "Keep 'em comin', Davey." Dave obliged.

Alec was a full bottle in when Dave returned from the pool side, grinning and with another bottle in hand.

"I don't know about you, man," Alec began, "but I'd give my right nut for the ability to get drunk and stay drunk. Just for a little while."

Dave laughed. "If you can't really get drunk, why do you drink?"

Alec pondered. "I like the taste."

Dave nodded. "I bet I can get you toasted," he challenged.

Alec's brow rose. "Oh yeah? And what if I don't have that kind of money?"

"How about a little wager?"

Alec nodded. "Name the stakes."

Dave wiped out a clean glass. "Don't ask me what the drinks have in 'em. If you leave here stone cold sober, I'll buy your drinks."

"And if not?"

"Can you really put a price on the bliss of being drunk?"

Alec laughed. "Okay, you're on."

Dave smile and walked through the bar to the pool hall side and out of sight. He returned with a tumbler of some brownish liquid. He plopped the tumbler down and waited.

Alec looked at the glass. "Is this shit?" he asked, holding the glass up toward the light, unable to see anything through the opaque, muddy liquid.

"I said no questions," Dave reminded. "Smell for yourself."

Alec brought the rim up to his nose, suspecting someone to be playing a joke on him. It surprisingly did not smell like feces. "This smells like rocket fuel," he said.

For a split second, the pool hall side of the bar erupted in a collective 'oh' that drew the bartender's attention. He turned back to Alec, whose lips hovered close to the rim of the glass. "What's going on over there?" he asked Dave.

"Oh, some poor sap's getting his ass handed to him in pool."

"Must've been a good shot," Alec said. He suddenly tossed the drink into his mouth as if it were a really tall shot. He gulped the contents of the tumbler down, returning an empty glass to its pristine napkin coaster.

"Fuck, man! Is this rocket fuel?" Alec shook his head, feeling the drink's strength shoot down his throat and into his chest like wildfire. He cleared his throat loudly, and then looked to Dave. "Are there drugs in here?"

Dave grabbed the glass. "That's three times you've broken my number one rule." Dave disappeared around the corner. While Dave was out of sight, Alec heard another collective 'oh' followed by clapping. Dave then returned with another glass of the brown muck. "Here you go, buddy."

"To my good man, Davey," Alec toasted, and then slammed the second tumbler as quickly as he had the first. Retuning the glass to the bar and looking up to Dave, he said, "Should I be taking this slower?"

Dave didn't answer – just grabbed the glass and returned to the pool hall.

Alec was almost tempted to round the corner when he heard another round of applause. Before he could, Dave reappeared with another glass. Without hesitation, Alec slammed this one, too.

"Alec, take it easy. You in a hurry?"

Alec finally had a clue, even if it was beyond vague, as to a hint to the question to the mystery that was this drink. "Oh, should I not be drinking the Rocket Fuel so quickly?"

Dave chuckled and returned to the pool hall. While Dave was on the other side, Alec again heard a couple of "oohs" and clapping. Curiosity tugged at his feline DNA. Dave finally rounded the corner with another full tumbler. Alec cordially chuckled at Dave's smile. Clearly what was happening on the other side was really interesting and held most of the pool hall's attention. Dave set the tumbler down.

"Where you getting this stuff? From the other side?"

Dave smiled.

Jesus, he's not going to tell me a damn thing! Alec thought.

Another round of applause broke out from the hall. "What the hell is going on over there?" he asked.

"This fine chick is whippin' a couple-a dudes in pool. It's pretty ridiculous. She's just taking their money!"

Alec raised a brow at this, thinking he might just be in the mood to separate a fool from his money. Dave recognized the look on his face. "Al- man, give it a break," Dave said. "The money you take from them – it doesn't make it to me. If they lose their money, they can't drink."

Alec almost couldn't argue with the man. "If this chick is whoopin' ass, their money's not makin' it to you either, Davey."

Dave huffed. The man had a point.

"How about I'll play winner, and when I win enough, I'll stop playing and pay you for this shit," he said, holding up the glass of Rocket Fuel.

Dave took this in, but with apprehension. "I would say okay, but she'd probably still win." Dave knew this would egg Alec on. Nothing like a little motivation. "And I think you'd get distracted."

Alec began to round the corner with his Rocket Fuel, talking to Dave as Dave passed through the interior bar's passage. "Doubtful," Alec said.

Now on the pool hall side, Alec noticed a crowd of people surrounding one pool table near the middle of the room. There was a tall man whose head Alec could see over the crowd. He wasn't a transgenic, that's for sure. No barcode. He couldn't see the girl, though.

He tried to make his way closer through the crowd. He heard the unmistakable crack of a pool cue against a ball. The crowd cheered again. The man hung his head and grabbed a couple of fifties and handed them over. As the man got ready to leave the circle and some people started shifting, he heard the balls being put back on the table in preparation to be racked.

The guy received a few pats on the back. Before he knew what was happening, another guy in the crowd said, "Alright, let me show you how it's really done." The next challenger, Alec thought. This time it was a shorter dude with sandy blonde hair.

The former challenger reached the bar and sat at a stool a few away from Alec.

"Solid effort," Alec acknowledged.

"I barely got to play. She's really good." The guy looked down and, to Dave, said, "Hey can I get a water?"

Alec almost grumbled. "How about a brew? Since you just got snaked for your drinkin' money, I'll cover it."

The guy accepted Alec's offer. "'Preciate it, man. Victor." The guy shook Alec's hand.

"Alec," he introduced himself.

"Hey thanks." Then after a pause, "I'd buy her a drink if I hadn't just lost all my dough to her."

"Yeah? She hot?" Alec prodded.

As the new challenger walked toward the inner circle, people separated at some invisible seam and revealed the backside of a petite, long-legged brunette. Alec looked her up from foot to head. He started at her calf-length slouchy suede boots, moved to her forever-long toned legs, then up to the tiniest black miniskirt he had ever seen. From there, she wore a brilliant blue ruched top that floated almost effortlessly over her small frame. Her long dark hair fell straight against her back.

Alec gulped. Then his mouth went dry as she bent over the pool table, collecting the balls and dropping them in place in the triangular frame. Alec's head tilted involuntarily as he stared into the darkness of the space where he legs met the miniskirt.

"Yeah, she's a bit distracting," Victor admitted.

The girl finally turned to meet her challenger. Alec couldn't believe his eyes.

It was Max.