Alexis nuzzled just a bit closer to Ashley after her dad walked out of the room (still a bit shocked from her Stanford announcement.) Ashley smiled and pulled her just a bit closer to him. "You'd really give up Stanford for me?" she said, still surprised by this fact. "A great school, an amazing opportunity- and you'd give it all up to be with me?"
"Alexis," he said, "as long as I'm with you, it doesn't feel like I'm giving up anything." He kissed her and, down-to-earth girl that she was, she could have sworn she saw a long future unwrapping between the two of them.
SEVEN YEARS LATER
Altaira Rodgers sat in the middle of her bed, trying to stretch the last remnants of an ancient bottle of nail polish enough for a manicure. She reminded herself to buy more the next time she was out- whenever that was. Since her father's death she hadn't felt safe outside. Altaira heard the knocking on her door, but made no move to answer it.
Insistence- more than she'd expect from a neighbor wanting to borrow a sugar. She didn't expect it to be someone intending to harm her, either- he would have just broken down the door at this point. Still, life had taught her never to take anything for granted, so she grabbed for her Glock 17 before she went to answer the door, blowing at her nails as she did so.
She glanced through the peephole. Then, groaning internally, she unlocked the door and opened it without undoing the deadbolt. "Go away, Ashley," she said over the chain. She tried to shut the door, but he'd stuck his foot in it.
"Alexis-" Her eyes popped open wide. "Alta, will you please just let me talk to you?"
"It's too risky," she said, but her voice didn't sound convincing. Despite all the walls she'd put up, all the lengths she'd took to push him away from her, she really did want to talk to him. "Why are you even here?"
"Because I care about you," he said. "And I know you care about me, otherwise we'd still be together." She bit her lip, fighting the sudden wave of emotions.
"Fine," she whispered, glancing nervously at the hall behind him before unbolting the door and letting him in. "You can come in, just-"
"Stay away from the windows," he completed her sentence. "I remember." He locked and bolted the door behind him and followed her to her bedroom, the place she felt safest when in her apartment because it was windowless and only had one entryway. "Your hair looks nice," he said once they were seated cross-legged across from each other on the bed.
"Yeah, well," she said, tugging on a strand of it, "I used to always want to go brunette." There was an unspoken word there- before. It was a childhood dream, a thing she'd put behind her until the brown hair became a necessity, before she'd felt the need to hide her red hair, any link to her true identity. "How did you find me?"
"I knew your new name," he said. "And I knew roughly where you would be."
"It's too obvious," she sighed. "You shouldn't have been able to track me down. I knew Rodgers was a bad idea." For the first time since he'd knocked on her door she was beginning to lose control of her cool. "I'll have to change it," she said, tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks. "My hair, my name… what other part of myself do I have to lose next?"
She looked at Ashley like he had an answer, but he really didn't. All he could do was try to keep her in his arms long enough to calm her down. After a few moments, she'd relaxed enough to speak again. She sniffed and brushed her dark hair away from her face. "You heard about my mom, didn't you?" she said. "That's why you came."
"Yeah," he said, trying to tread carefully. "I'm so sorry."
"Just got the call last night," she said. "I'm officially an orphan." It was the easy, matter-of-fact way Alexis said it that broke his heart even more than the crying. That she seemed so acceptant of the awful turn her life had taken was truly upsetting. "I'm next," she sighed, not looking at him. She was looking down at her arms, at herself, as if she wanted the image of her own body locked into her memory before a bullet was shot through it. "I know I am."
"No." He said it like he was defying God. "You're going to be okay."
"Ash," she said, meeting his eyes. If he was going to come all this way to see her, she wanted him to understand one thing very clearly, a point she'd tried to make to him the last time she'd seen him. "I won't be okay. I'm not okay, really, I haven't been okay, not since Detective Beckett…" She didn't want to complete the sentence, and she didn't need to. She was talking about the shooting at Captain Montgomery's funeral, the beginning of the end. The point at which one tragedy escalated to two, then three, then dozens.
"I won't let that happen to you," he said, beginning to tear up as well. "It won't happen to you. The police, the feds… they're on this guy, they're going to catch him. They're going to stop him."
"No, Ash," she said with a bitter smile that was really more of a grimace. "Don't you get it? Those same people who keep saying they're going to catch this guy, they are 'the guy'. I know it's someone high up, and he's pulling the strings." It was the same old conspiracy theory she recited to herself every time the government told her they would arrest the man responsible for her dad's death, and her grandmother's, but she knew it was true.
"Hell, I should be dead right now," she said, scratching a chip of nail polish off of her gun. "Only reason I'm not is because I was lucky, and there were other people willing to die for me. So many people, Ashley," she said, looking up at him. "Anyone who ever came in contact with Detective Beckett, anyone who might have any reason to want this monster taken down. So many people." She used to say their names every night before she went to sleep, but as the casualties increased she found herself staying up later and later.
"I'll keep you safe," he promised, trying to pull her in closer to him. She batted his arm away, shaking her head.
"I don't need safe," said Alexis. "I'm as safe as I could be. I don't look like myself, I've got a different name, I never interact with anybody, I stay away from the windows." She wiped furiously at her eyes as she started to cry again. "I just want this to be over."
It was like having a disease, she thought. A terminal disease that there was no cure for- eventually she'd just be killed just like everyone else. No point in creating relationships if they'd end just as quickly, no point in trying to keep up old relationships. It would be better for everyone concerned if she just phased them all out so they wouldn't have to be there when she died- or worse, so they wouldn't be there to take a bullet. She was the Angel of Death.
"Ugh," she groaned, realizing something. "I'm only twenty-four and I'm a spinster. I can't ever get married." It seemed like a trivial thing, and yet it still bothered her.
"You want to get married?" asked Ashley. "We can do that tomorrow."
"No," she said.
"I'm serious," he continued. "I will buy you the most extravagant dress you want, and we can go have an amazing short-notice wedding. And then we can dance all night long." It was a fantasy, and rationally she knew that, but it didn't keep her stomach from lifting in hope. She had always imagined herself marrying Ashley.
"I couldn't put you through that," Alexis argued. "You'd be right in the line of fire-"
"Hey, I met Detective Beckett, too," he reminded her. "I'm in just as much danger as you are."
"Your family," she started, thinking of the way she'd had to cut herself off from relatives and friends. "I can't let you give all that up."
"Alexis," he said, repeating the words he'd said to her years ago, "as long as I'm with you, it doesn't feel like I'm giving up anything."
There were a thousand and one reasons to force him out the door right then, most of them concerning his own safety. But he was right- he was in danger too. And life was short- hers especially so. If she was destined to be assassinated early on, she might as well enjoy life up to that point. "Okay," she said. "Okay." She didn't know quite what she was agreeing to- getting married, allowing him back into her life, or just deciding to try to be happy.
"I love you," he said. It was this that brought the tears back.
"I love you, too," she said. It was a relief to be this open, to let her emotions instead of her survival instincts make her decisions for once. He pulled her in close, and she let him. Against his chest, she saw their future unfolding once again. It was short, and filled with worry, but he was there, by her side, throughout all of it. As long as she had someone by her side, she realized, she'd be able to get through everything else.