And here is the last and final chapter! It picks up right before the beginning of Beautiful Day. I just want to say thank you so much for all the interest! I really appreciate it.
Sidenote: I do switch some things up in this. It could be little things, like clothing or the expression on someone's face in one of the photo booth pictures (cough Chloe cough), or something big, so keep an eye out!
"So, what does one wear to a carnival, anyway?" Amy asked, perusing the racks of clothes.
Chloe had had to work from the end of school until five, which gave her exactly an hour to get ready for the big date night.
Amy, it seemed, had started early.
"I wasn't sure either." Chloe admitted. "And Jasmine won't answer my inquiring text messages."
Chloe was honestly debating on sending I'M BEING ATTACKED! to get the girl's attention.
But she figured it was better not to jinx herself.
It was her and Alek's first official date, and she didn't want a single thing to go wrong. She wanted to see how compatible they were in a natural setting, outside of training or Uniter duty or any type of crises or pretending to be normal at school.
"Psh. The one time we need her to answer," Amy muttered, pulling out a silky yellow top, making a face, and putting it back.
"I know right?" Chloe asked, eyeing the new inventory boxes that needed to be priced according to Lana's standards and put up.
She really hated doing new arrivals.
Sighing, she stooped to her work and chatted with Amy as she hung the clothes up, marking them with out-of-this-world prices.
"Oh, wow! Look at this," Chloe held up the shirt for Amy to see.
It was made of dark blue cotton and was a halter top. A V shape lined in rhinestones split right down the middle of the front, revealing a lot but not enough to be considered too inappropriate by someone that wasn't a very strict mother or over the age of 39.
Amy gasped, clutching at the shirt. "Oh my God. Chloe, you have to get this! I will never forgive you if you put this on that rack."
Chloe pursed her lips and tilted her head to the side, considering. She wasn't blind. She'd noticed the way that Alek's eyes sometimes lingered on her body, and how they did so a lot more frequently when she was wearing something like this as opposed to, say, a band t-shirt.
She wasn't even going to deny liking it.
"I don't know… I kind of already had a shirt picked out for tonight."
She realized her slip and winced as Amy started squealing. Lana turned and glared.
"Oh my God, Chloe, Alek would die to see you in that! Seriously, his eyes would pop out of his head! Get it get it get it get it! You really need to put forth a little more effort than usual anyway, I mean, this is your first date, after all."
Chloe bit her lip, and then rung up the shirt for herself as quickly as possible, putting it on her tab to be taken out of her paycheck.
He was ten minutes early when he arrived at Chloe's house, and he nodded at the Mai on her roof, signaling that it was time for him to go. The warrior nodded back, and silently jumped from roof to roof as he left.
Chloe was blasting music, so he could hear it from the street with his enhanced Mai senses. It was some peppy tune that's extremely popular.
He didn't particularly like it, but the image of Chloe dancing around in her underwear to it was so funny he grinned like an idiot anyway before knocking on the front door.
Meredith answered it, beaming at him. "Alek! Hi! Come on in, Chloe will be down any second."
"Thanks," he said, and stepped inside.
"So you're going to the carnival?" Meredith asked casually, picking her rag back up and continuing to wipe down the island.
Alek took a seat across from her. "Yeah. We're going to meet Jasmine and her new boyfriend, Zane, and Amy and Paul."
Meredith's eyes lit up at the mention of Chloe's friends, and it struck him suddenly that they did the same thing when she saw him on her doorstep.
He wasn't entirely sure how to feel about that.
"Oh, that'll be fun! I-"
Meredith cut off as pounding footsteps come running down the stairs. Alek swiveled around, and there was Chloe, dashing down the steps in a worn t-shirt and faded jeans.
"Mom, have you seen my-" Chloe cut herself off when she saw Alek sitting there. "Oh. Hi. Sorry, I'm running a little late."
He gave her a small smile. "Actually, I'm running early. Don't worry, you have plenty of time."
She frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, definitely. I kind of want to give Jasmine and Zane some time to themselves, so we'll even walk slow."
The carnival wasn't too far from here, but for the first time he started to worry that perhaps he should have brought a car. That was standard first date protocol, wasn't it?
Chloe smiled though, at the mention of Jasmine, and shrugged easily. "Oh, okay then."
Meredith was smiling knowingly to herself. "What was it you wanted, kiddo?"
Chloe seemed to remember her mother for the first time. "Oh, I just wanted to know if you'd seen my-"
She cut herself off again, and turned a shade of bright red that couldn't have been healthy. Immediately, Alek was intrigued. What would she be ashamed to ask for in front of him?
"Never mind, I think I know where it might be." Chloe scurried through the room, and disappeared.
Meredith shrugged at him. "My daughter is so weird."
I could think of some better adjectives.
Chloe reappeared, carrying a basket of laundry up the steps. "I'll be right down!"
Alek decided he didn't really want to know.
He tuned into Chloe's noises carefully as Meredith continued to flutter around the kitchen; the sound of her heartbeat, her breathing, her hitting buttons repeatedly to turn her music down.
The sound of clothes hitting the floor.
His mouth went dry, and he began to ache all over.
He bounced his leg up and down, anticipation eating it's way through him. She was changing clothes? Why? And more importantly, why hadn't she invited him to watch? Or better yet, help?
She came down the steps much more calmly this time, and he had to remind himself not to let his eyes go green in front of her mother at the sight of her.
The shirt she was wearing clung to her like a second skin, and his eyes were drawn to the shiny V that left little to the imagination.
He found himself imagining running his fingers over the cleavage and skin inside of those rhinestones, and then his lips and tongue…
He jarred himself out of his reverie enough to catalogue the rest of her outfit; a blue jean mini skirt that left her smooth legs bare, and blue Converses that made the whole thing actually look casual.
Her hair was it's usual curliness, but she was wearing more makeup than usual, and he tried very hard not to stare at her lips because if he did, he would absolutely lose it right here, and that would not be good.
This was their first date. It had to be memorable at worst, and completely perfect at best.
While pouncing on her right here- in front of her mother, no less- would certainly be memorable, that wasn't the angle he was going for.
"You look amazing," he managed, and immediately felt inadequate. Amazing wasn't a good enough word. Stunning would have been better. Or gorgeous.
Chloe didn't seem to think so, though. She grinned and gave him a quick once over, and instantly he stood, and tried not to slump too much. "Thanks. Want to get going?"
Alek pretended not to notice Meredith's snickering at his dumb-struck expression. "Yeah, definitely. I won't have her out too late, Mrs. King."
"Yeah yeah. Have fun you guys! Take good care of my baby, Alek!" Meredith smiled and waved a little after giving Chloe a hug.
Oh yeah. He was definitely (finally) in the woman's good graces.
"Of course! Good night." Alek waved too, and took Chloe's hand when he shut the front door behind him.
He turned to her right there on the porch, unable to help himself. He stroked back a stray piece of her hair while she gazed up at him, and he had the feeling of getting lost in her eyes.
"You really do look gorgeous, you know."
She smiled, and leaned forward to peck him on the mouth. "I would say the same to you, but stroking your ego can be dangerous."
He wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Dangerous can be fun, you know."
Chloe rolled her eyes, and without even consciously deciding to do it, they both fell into step as they made their way to the sidewalk. "I was actually planning on avoiding danger tonight, actually."
"Then we better get a move on, or Jasmine will kill us."
Perceptive as always, Chloe asked, "Is she nervous about Zane? Thinking things are getting too serious?"
Alek sighed. "I think so. Maybe if she ever decides to stop being so tense and let loose a little…"
"Maybe tonight she will. I have a feeling she might."
Who was he to argue with the Uniter?
Besides, tonight, it was all about them.
Not Amy, not Paul. Not Jasmine or her new beau.
And certainly not about that human.
The thought left him breathless.
Chloe was seventy percent certain she was going to lose one of her lives to a heart attack. It would be physically impossible to consume this much grease and not die of a clogged artery or five.
This would be the third overly-large funnel cake she and Alek had shared in the last hour.
"Open," he demanded, holding up a piece, and she obediently opened her mouth and let him feed her.
"Whoops," he smirked, swiping his thumb across her lips. She felt the sticky white powder there, and swallowed faster so she could lick it off.
Alek didn't give her time to, though. "Might want to get that off."
And then he leaned in and kissed her.
Normally, Chloe wasn't one for public displays of affection. She could remember gazing (glaring) at couples in the hallway with Amy, or rolling her eyes at ones in the mall and muttering about how inappropriate they were acting to her mother.
If they felt anything at all like what she felt when Alek kissed her, she'd take it all back.
She pressed herself closer to him, feeling his strong body against hers, and opened her mouth a bit in invitation. Alek took the hint and traced the outline of her lips with his tongue, and she shivered so violently she almost jerked away from him.
He barked a laugh and pulled away, and she was about to retort in anger when she opened her eyes and saw him looking down at her in complete adoration, with that smile on his face.
Chloe looked to her right sharply at the hooting, and saw Paul and Amy standing there watching. Paul looked slightly embarrassed and was blushing and looking away, while Amy grinned like an idiot.
Jasmine and Zane emerged from their ride, breathless. Jasmine had the biggest smile on her face that Chloe had ever seen, and her windblown hair and glowing skin made her look beautiful.
Chloe was so happy for her friend she could have done a dance right there in the middle of the carnival.
She wondered if she looked that way when she was standing next to Alek.
"Ferris wheel time!" Amy sing-songed, skipping ahead of the entire group.
Alek felt Chloe stiffen underneath his arm, but decided not to comment on it.
She slowed down, falling to the back of the group. Alek adjusted his long strides accordingly and wondered what had gotten into her.
Zane pressed a kiss to Jasmine's forehead and led her to the wheel by the hand. Amy hopped on Paul's back and he staggered over to the nearest empty seat.
Chloe hesitated, tilting her head back to stare at the Ferris wheel, squinting against the last few rays of the setting sun.
And suddenly Alek got it.
"Chloe," he said softly, and figured he ought to hate the way his voice came out all soft. But he didn't.
She looked at him, then glanced away.
"Hey," he said again in that same tone that still didn't make him ashamed.
This time her eyes met his and held.
"I told you I wouldn't let you fall, didn't I?"
Chloe rolled her eyes, but he could tell she felt more calm. "Yeah yeah. Let's get on here before all the good seats are taken."
She threw her legs across his and laid her head on his shoulder, her arms wrapped around his waist.
He kissed her senseless when they got stuck at the very tip-top, and she thought of a whole new way to fall.
She wasn't sure which was the scarier way.
Underneath them, Amy squealed again, and Jasmine winked from behind them.
Amy and Chloe collapsed onto a picnic table, giggling.
"Oh my God!"
"These are so cute!"
And they were.
The picture booth had been a good idea.
"Adorable." Amy declared, staring down at her copies.
"What is it about photo booths that brings out crazy face?" Chloe asked, scanning all the ridiculous poses they had struck.
"You know, they're not all crazy." Amy pointed out, handing her the slip with the tiny picture of Alek kissing Chloe's cheek.
It struck Chloe suddenly how hot they looked together, and how sweet and loving Alek's face looked, and how peaceful and happy hers did as she glanced at him sideways, smiling in adoration.
There's love in my face, too.
She decided not to dwell on that.
"Annnddd, the plan comes together." Amy said.
Chloe looked up. "What plan?"
"This. Us." Amy believed way too much in fate. She could be so incredibly dramatic. "Me and Paul, and you and Alek. Life is going to be so much easier now that we're both a couple."
Chloe shook her head. "Yeah, because that's what was making my life so difficult."
She realized as she said it that it sort of was. Her personal life, anyways. Balancing the sort-of-kind-of friendship with Brian, and the tension with Alek, had been so hard.
Tonight had been so wonderfully easy.
"Besides… Alek and I are not a couple."
Her voice didn't make that sound as confident as she wanted it to.
Amy looked at her dubiously. "Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not on a date."
This was most definitely a date.
"Funnel cakes and Ferris wheels do not a relationship make." Chloe muttered defiantly.
"No, two people that clearly want each other make a relationship. And I think you and Alek definitely fit that bill."
"Yes! I like him, okay? There. I said it out loud, in public-"
"Couple." Amy stressed, turning the two syllable word into five.
A smile and a grimace warred on Chloe's face.
The smile was winning in spite of her.
Alek and Paul reappeared then. They had run off after the photo booth, and now Alek sat down beside her with a large, cuddly stuffed lion in tow.
"For you," he announced, handing it to her.
(Oh, her mother would have a field day with this one.)
"Awwee!" Chloe cooed, cupping the lion's face in her hands.
"Apparently I broke some sort of record or something," Alek shrugged, making a flippant move with his hand.
There was the cockiness back for a visit; probably a defense mechanism to cover up his very sweet action.
Chloe couldn't really say she minded his egotistical attitude. Everything he did these days sent a (very inconvenient) thrill rushing through her body.
That, and the way he had just said record, in that incredibly sexy accent of his.
"Resemble anyone you know?" Alek asked in an almost cautious tone.
"Hmmm…. There is a certain arrogant gleam in his eyes that seems familiar…" Chloe teased.
She didn't miss the gorgeous, amused smile he sent her at that.
She leaned forwards on impulse and kissed him. It was shorter than most of their kisses had been tonight, but it was electrifying, and she smiled against his mouth.
"And uh… I won this… for you." Paul handed Amy a little frog key chain, seeming embarrassed.
"Awwwee!" Amy giggled, taking the frog happily and pressing the button to make the light on it's throat glow. She showed it to Chloe happily, and Chloe smiled for her friend.
(She thought her prize was better, but she'd never in a million years admit it.)
"Maybe if you kiss it, it will turn into a prince," Alek suggested.
Chloe swatted his arm, and he winked at her, and she felt herself melt.
She was in big trouble.
"I already have a prince." Amy clutched at Paul's arm possessively, and leaned against him.
The boy practically broke his face in half, grinning so large.
"I just have one that is horrible at ring toss." Amy smiled, and fingered her key chain again.
"Yeah well, I'll unleash the monster at milk bottles!" Paul grumbled.
Alek rose his eyebrows. "Seriously?"
"I'll have you know, I'm a master." Paul announced.
Chloe would never in a million years admit that something inside her wanted to see Alek win out over Paul. It felt almost primordial, instinctual, and she shifted closer to him.
"Please. You'd be lucky to knock even one off."
Alek had a point.
"Think you could do better?" Paul asked in a lousy imitation of Alek's accent.
Chloe noticed the flash of competitiveness in his eyes as she and Amy "Ooh!"ed. She dug her nails into the under side of the bench to keep from pulling Alek's mouth to hers and jumping him right here.
Had absolutely everything about him always been so damn fine?
She felt really stupid for not noticing before. Or refusing to notice.
"Boys," she sighed as Alek and Paul stalked off to duel it out. "It's like watching a slightly sad nature special."
Jasmine appeared next to her, and slid into the seat beside her. "Cute!" She said, gesturing to the lion. "Let me see!"
"Oh," Chloe said, not wanting Zane to feel left out, "there's a hardcore cage match about to begin if you're interested. I believe it involves milk bottles…?"
"No, I think I'm good right where I am." Zane shook his head, and Jasmine beamed.
Then Zane's phone started ringing.
He huffed out a frustrated breath. "And, that would sound slightly more romantic if I didn't have to take this. Sorry." He pressed a kiss to Jasmine's temple and got up.
Jasmine turned to Chloe and giggled, and Chloe giggled back, even though she was starting to get a weird feeling in the pit of her stomach.
It was almost foreboding.
"Well done Miss Jasmine," Amy smirked.
"Thanks," Jasmine smiled. "He's sweet and sort of mysterious, which I kind of like."
Something about that didn't sit well with Chloe.
She figured she was just being stupid and over-protective over her new good friend. Jasmine deserved someone totally awesome. That was a pretty hard thing to be by Chloe's standards.
Alek was doing very well rising to par, though.
When he took her home that night, she carried her lion under one arm and held his hand.
She was so tired from the school day and from work and from the carnival that she was pretty sure her head wouldn't even have a chance to hit the pillow before she was asleep.
"Beorn will be here to watch over you tonight. He's been in all the raids with Valentina and taken out around two dozen Order members with his bare hands. I completely trust him with your lives, which is saying something coming from me, so you should rest easy tonight," Alek said, squeezing her hand and glancing down at her.
Chloe liked it best when it was Alek watching over her; he was, in every sense of the word, her protector, and there was no one she trusted more than him. She knew he'd asked to be taken off full-time Uniter duty, though, and tonight was still tonight.
Normal date night.
Absolutely incredible, fun date night.
And normal dates had a distinct ending, and she wouldn't rob them of that.
He walked her all the way to her front door before stopping and turning to her. Her heart started to beat louder and harder, and anticipation rushed through her.
They'd been kissing all night, and they'd kissed before, but this was The Official Kiss. It was a good night kiss; she'd never had one before, and she wondered what it would be like.
Alek didn't keep her waiting.
He took her lion and set it on the porch railing, then backed her gently against her door and pressed his body against hers. There was something intense in his eyes that she couldn't place, and they shown green through the night.
Instantly, hers changed to match his.
He leaned down and gently kissed her, cupping her face in both hands. She stretched up and against him, tangling her fingers in his hair and meeting his tongue halfway with her own.
He drew back only to kiss her again and again and again and again and again, over and over until she was dizzy with the sensation.
He left her lips swollen and her body aching and wanting more.
"Perhaps I could come by in the morning? Late morning, of course, you should sleep in. I'll make breakfast?"
The offer was made with his forehead pressed against hers and her body cradled against his.
How could she say no? "Sure. That sounds good."
He kissed her again, this time a little deeper, with a little more passion. His tongue pried her lips apart and she gasped. He took full advantage of that, running his tongue along her teeth and nipping on her lips.
She tugged harder on his hair and pushed herself closer, searching for some type of friction as desire coursed through her.
A throat cleared behind them, and they jumped apart to see a very large man at the bottom of the porch steps.
"Beorn," Alek nodded like nothing was out of the ordinary, but Chloe couldn't help but blush.
"Mister Alek. Miss King," he nodded at Alek and bowed a bit at Chloe. "I'll just… uh… go on up, then."
They all nodded and Alek turned back to her. He raised her hand and kissed every finger delicately, tenderly.
She smiled warmly at him.
"I had a lot of fun. I'm glad you came," he whispered.
"I had a lot of fun, too. Thanks for my lion."
"Night, darling." One last kiss against the back of her hand.
God, she really, really liked him. Really wanted him.
Closing the door on his retreating figure was one of the hardest things she'd ever had to do.
Her mother screeched louder than Amy ever had when she saw the stuffed animal.
"Alek, can we just hire you as our full time chef?" Meredith managed around a huge bite of made-from-scratch pancake.
Alek grinned. "Sure, if you can afford my rates."
Chloe rolled her eyes good naturedly, and sat down beside her mother, biting into her crispy bacon.
Her phone started vibrating loudly, and her mother grabbed it before she could, glancing at the caller I.D.
Her eyebrows shot up, and Chloe knew who it was without having to ask.
"Give me that," she said, holding her hand out. Her mother reluctantly handed over the phone.
"Hey," she answered, avoiding Alek's glare and moving out onto the porch.
"Hey yourself," Brian answered. "You feeling a road trip today?"
Chloe's curiosity was really going to have to learn to be disciplined. But that could wait for another day. "Intrigued… still listening."
"I think I'm finally going to go and check out that address."
"What are you gonna do, just run up and knock on the door?"
She could hear his breathy laugh. "Don't mock. It took me hours to come up with that plan."
This was quite possibly the most irrational, impulsive thing she'd ever heard, and that was counting all the crazy things she'd done herself in the past couple of weeks.
"You know this could be dangerous, right?" She asked, despite knowing that Alek could probably hear every word she was saying, if not Brian as well.
There was a smile in his voice when he answered. "That's why I'm bringing you along. To protect me."
Oh, if only he knew. "You laugh, but I pack quite the punch."
And the swipe of claws. And the roundhouse kick. And-
"Pick you up in an hour?"
"Umm…." She glanced back into the house, where Alek was steadily staring her down and her mother was chattering mostly to herself in an effort to defuse the tension. "Sure, why not? I'll meet you out front."
The last thing she wanted was Brian coming to the door and Alek opening it.
She hung up wincing, and instantly, Alek was behind her, shutting the door behind him.
"What. The. Hell, Chloe King?"
Instantly, she was put on the defensive. "What, are you suddenly allowed to pick and choose who I'm allowed to spend my free time with?"
He was quite intimidating when he wanted to be. He was so much taller than her, and she could see the outline of his clearly defined muscles through the white shirt he wore. He was positively livid, she could tell by the expression on his face, and his fists were clenched so tightly at his sides his knuckles were white.
"No, but I am allowed to tell you that running off to do something that could possibly be dangerous with that stupid human is not-"
"If it were Paul, would you still have a problem?" She demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.
She hated fighting with him. Why couldn't he just ask to pack her lunch and kiss her on the cheek before she left? Why did he have to be difficult?
"Yes, actually, I would, seeing as the dangerous part of the equation would still be there."
Chloe huffed out a breath and turned away from him. "I didn't mean that kind of dangerous. It's the normal kind."
"I don't like you being in any kind of danger, Chloe. And you're going far away today, I distinctly heard the words road trip, somewhere I won't be able to get to you-"
"You're not re-" She cut herself off, realizing she was wrong.
He was responsible for her, to a certain extent.
He stared at her before turning sharply and walking as far away as the small porch would allow, to stand with his back facing toward her.
She studied the way his shoulders heaved with his anger, studied the way he clutched the wood underneath his fingers furiously. She studied the tenseness in his muscles, the way he stood rigidly.
She imagined being in his shoes; if he was running off with a girl he had once had a severe amount of feelings toward to help her with something potentially dangerous, how would she feel about it?
The instant amount of emotion that thought up-heaved took her breath away, and she had to fight to keep from unsheathing her claws.
What was she doing?
Still, she couldn't leave Brian high and dry. He was her friend, and he needed her today.
Slowly, she walked towards Alek, noticing the way he grew stiffer. He was putting up walls again, and towards her, and it really sucked because she remembered the way he smiled.
She pressed herself against the back of him, contouring her body to his. They were like two puzzle pieces, molding together perfectly. She felt the butterflies in her stomach and the rapid beating of her heart at the contact.
She had made her choice, but that didn't mean she could go back on her word.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed, laying her cheek against his shoulder blade.
"I'm really sorry." She said so quietly it was almost a whisper. "But I can't call him back and tell him no. He needs me right now. It's not even anything to do with the two of us; I'm helping him through some family issues. I promised I would be there for him through this, and I will."
All the fight seemed to drain out of him, and he turned around and wrapped her up in his arms.
She could've purred from the feeling; she rested her head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat like she had that day in the square. The steady thumping rhythm soothed her. She could listen to it all day, every day, and be perfectly content.
"I'm sorry, darling. I just don't like the thought of you going somewhere without me. And I certainly don't like you being without protection at all. Valentina will kill me if she finds out. No joke. We still haven't found whoever was taking those photos."
There was a beat, and then he said, "Oh, and I absolutely hate that human."
Chloe couldn't stop laughing.
Brian was telling her about a grade-school field trip, and a mishap with spaghetti, and they had been driving for over an hour and she still wasn't bored.
It was foggy at first, and Chloe had to resist the urge to use her cat eyes to see more clearly. It would be so easy, to lose control around Brian and slip up…
It got sunnier as the day went on, though.
They stopped for a break on a large hill overlooking other large hills, and Chloe sipped at her drink as Brian rambled on about bands and she teased him for his awful singing.
Then her phone rang, and she looked down to see Alek's photo splayed across her screen.
She glanced awkwardly at Brian, but she had promised Alek that she would answer any time he, Jasmine, Amy, or Paul called.
("After all," he'd said, "anyone could send a text message from your phone. I need to hear your voice. And if not me, then Jasmine, or one of your friends, who can tell me they talked to you. They're all awful liars." Amy hadn't been happy at all about her going anywhere with Brian, and Alek had actually acted like he liked her for the first time.)
She hit the accept button and put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"Ah, good. You're still alive. Avoided a catastrophe with Valentina this morning; I told her you were out with your human, but neglected to mention the finer points, like, oh, I don't know, the fact that no other Mai is anywhere remotely near you?"
She snorted. He could be such a drama queen.
"I miss you too."
He sighed on the other end, not sounding happy at all. She'd really have to find a way to make this up to him. "Yeah yeah. Tell the human that if he lays a hand on you, I'll snap it off."
"Well, I will."
"Bye darling. I'll call in another hour. Well… maybe forty five minutes."
She didn't dare meet Brian's eyes when she hung up.
The big wrought iron gate loomed over them, tormenting them.
Had they really come all this way for nothing?
"If someone's home, they're not answering," Brian grumbled, pushing the call button one last time.
He came to stand beside Chloe. "I really wish I could see what's back there."
"Well," Chloe shrugged, "we came all this way. Let's take a look around."
She smirked and ran across the grass to the huge hedge. Brian frowned in confusion, but followed her.
"Give me a boost?" She smiled impishly at him.
He stood uncomfortably, hands in his pockets. "This has bad idea written all over it."
"Relax," she scoffed, "I took gymnastics until I was like, twelve."
Brian smiled in spite of himself and cupped his hands near the ground. She stepped with one foot onto them, and felt him push up. She jumped and arced across the bush, landing gracefully on the other side.
Sometimes, she really loved being Mai.
"Are you okay?" Brian called worriedly.
"All good," she affirmed, looking around. Grass, trees, driveway, the occasional flower… nothing that interesting so far.
She ran back over to the gate, where Brian was waiting. "I'm just going to go see what's up there."
"What, run up and knock on the door?" He sounded incredulous.
Chloe tried very hard not to let her annoyance show, but her voice was laced with sarcasm. "Someone once told me that that was a great plan. Don't worry, I'll be fine, two seconds."
She turned and only got a few steps before a giant dog came barreling out of no where, baring it's teeth and barking it's head off.
Chloe stopped and gasped, flinching back. She had never liked dogs, and there seemed to be a deep instinct inside her that told her to run.
Oh, my God, I'm going to lose another life and then Alek's going to slaughter me. I'll be down to, like, six, before the night is over.
Getting killed by a vicious dog was going to hurt, and she was going to get blood all over this outfit.
She was vaguely aware of Brian screaming her name behind her, and then just as suddenly as the dog appeared, so did a woman.
She was regal and tall, with unnaturally red hair and a cane. "Samson, enough!"
The dog stopped barking and immediately ran off the way it came.
Chloe was still in a state of complete shock.
"Sorry to frighten you, but it seems you're unclear as to the point of the gate. It's there to keep intruders out. Now, what do you want?"
Chloe didn't answer, just stood tensely, all of her senses on high alert. She couldn't believe how stupid she'd been, putting herself in deliberate danger like that.
She felt almost guilty, in a way.
"Grandma?" Brian asked behind her, and she wanted to turn and reach for his fingers through the metal, to offer some level of comfort and stability, but she was still rooted to the spot. "It's me, Brian."
It was almost time for Alek to call, so she hung back and let the grandmother and grandson have some privacy.
The house was nice; large, on spacious land, surrounded by flowers.
The Rezzas obviously had always had money.
She wondered around aimlessly, waiting for her phone to buzz.
When it did, she smiled, expecting Alek.
What she saw made her heart stop and her blood freeze.
IN SAN FRANSISCO. MEET ME TONIGHT. -DAD.
Her eyes widened and she hit the call button without really thinking about it.
"If he ever asks you to meet him, I want you to call me. I want to go with you."
Alek answered before the end of the first ring. "Are you a mind reader now, too? I literally just picked up the phone to call you."
He heard the urgency in her tone and grew serious immediately. "Where are you? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. At least, I don't think it's wrong."
"Dad just emailed me. He's in San Francisco, he wants me to meet him tonight."
Dead silence from the other end.
Chloe was seriously going to freak if he didn't say something soon. She was so glad she'd told him. So glad that she didn't have to deal with these awful/fantastic feelings alone.
"I don't know. He didn't say. He just said to meet him. I'm assuming he'll tell me the where later."
"And you want to do this?"
"…Okay. I'm going with you."
"I know. That's why I called."
"Well, that, and I'm sure you wanted to hear my incredibly sexy voice."
She couldn't help but laugh, feeling much lighter, much less serious. "Yeah. That, too."
"Message him back. Ask him where."
She did, exiting off the call screen and frantically typing WHERE? WHEN? CAN I TELL MOM?
After the blow up these emails had caused, she didn't want any more secrets between herself and her mother than strictly necessary.
"Okay. It's sent. I'll tell you when he replies."
"Okay. Be safe, Chloe."
She thought of the dog, and what could have happened. She winced. How would he have felt, finding out later that she'd been hurt by her own carelessness, and he hadn't even been around to save her?
A beat, and then the line went dead.
She found herself desperately wishing he'd told her he loved her.
She found herself desperately wishing he had so she could say it back.
She wondered when things had changed.
Olivia told the story of the falling out between her and her son.
Chloe noticed she had a slight, strange accent, and when she did, she felt eyes on her.
She turned and looked around, but there was no one there.
Still, the feeling didn't go away.
When she got up again, she got another email.
NEED TO TALK ALONE. WILL BE IN TOUCH. -DAD.
She forwarded the email's contents to Alek.
Fishy… very fishy. Like Brian's genitals, was the reply.
Chloe didn't know whether to scowl in indignation or laugh at his sense of humor.
She went for a Ha. Ha. :P And deleted it before anyone else could see.
As they were leaving, with promises to come back and visit soon (Chloe actually kind of liked the woman. What could it hurt? It was so quiet and peaceful here. Well, minus the vicious dog she had put in its place earlier. Alek wouldn't like the idea, though), Chloe buckled her seat belt and checked her reflection in the mirror in the sun visor over her head.
Brian pulled the car away, and Chloe noticed the flash of white reflected behind her.
An icy chill of fear shot it's way through her, and she tore her eyes from the visor to the rearview mirror.
Olivia stood with a tall, short-haired woman; the one she saw with Brian's father at the art gala, and one that was most definitely wearing a pure white outfit.
Both of the women were staring after the car, hard-eyed and menacing.
The Order had found her once again.
She was in such a haze of panic, she couldn't remember the rest of the ride home.
Brian pulled over next to a sidewalk.
It was almost dark outside now, and her phone was ringing again.
Alek would know what to do. Alek would help her take care of this.
When she thought of the danger she was in once again, and then the meeting with her father sometime soon, her head spun.
She glanced at Brian apologetically. "Um…"
"Thanks for coming with me today. You should take that."
"Bye," she said shortly and lurched out of the car.
"Hey," she greeted when she had hit the accept button.
"Why haven't you been answering? Where are you? Chloe, I swear-"
"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry!" She was finally able to break down. She was no longer in front of Brian, and she could trust Alek, and her heart was beating out of her ribs because she'd seen the look in the Order woman's eyes, and it resembled the one in Scarface's right before he'd pushed her.
"I'm sorry, Alek, I really am! But if I answered in the car, I was going to lose it, and I couldn't do that in front of Brian because he doesn't know, and-"
It struck her suddenly that she was still completely unprotected; completely on her own in the large city. Any of the people passing her right now could be assassins, and she was without Alek or Jasmine or anyone.
He was saying something, but she talked over him. "Where are you right now?"
"The pier, why?"
The pier wasn't very far away at all.
Chloe took off running.
"You're sure she was an Order member?"
After finding Alek (and launching herself into his arms, and him kissing her all over to get her to a somewhat-calm state), he had taken Chloe right back to the apartment, where Jasmine was getting ready for her date with Zane.
Valentina had arrived home not long after, and was now in full-on interrogation mode.
"Yes. I'm positive."
"And she definitely knew this Olivia?"
Chloe remembered the way they had talked, the shared menace. "Yes. And she knows Brian's dad, Olivia's son. She was with him at the art gala."
Valentina stiffened. "The woman was with Whitley Rezza?"
"Yes." Chloe's mind was racing. This was all too much to handle.
She still had her father to deal with.
"I know the woman he's working with. Her name is Simone." (Valentina had warned the man to stay away from Chloe and anyone involved in any plot to murder her. Still, the man had had a falling out with his mother and hadn't spoken to her in years. It was entirely possible that Simone was working with them both and Whitley had no clue about her involvement with his estranged kin. Valentina hated giving the enemy the benefit of the doubt, but it had to be considered).
"Don't forget the anonymous stalker photo guy. Where does he come into all of this?" Alek threw in.
Chloe was beginning to feel lightheaded and dizzy. Tears stung her eyelids, but she refused to cry. She was the Uniter. She could handle this. Somehow she could handle this.
"Simone and Olivia are definitely after one of my lives. Or all of them. Whatever. I could feel it." Chloe took several deep breaths and tried very hard not to let it turn into hyperventilation.
Then Alek slipped his hand into hers, and she felt their fingers intertwine.
She sighed in relief, her head clearing immediately. She leaned her head over against his shoulder, and he kissed the top of her head.
Valentina's eyebrows rose.
Chloe felt so much more calm and in control.
What was she really freaking out about anyway? It wouldn't be the first time that someone had come after her for some reason. They could handle it. Alek would protect her, and Jasmine was already on the phone across the room, informing other Mai in the pride to be on the lookout.
Everything was going to be fine.
"Alright," Valentina nodded sharply, clearly not as reassured as Chloe. "Jasmine, cancel your date."
Chloe was about to protest when Jasmine called back, "Already did, as soon as Chloe got here."
The corners of Valentina's lips twitched upwards, and Jasmine smiled widely back.
"Jasmine, I want you posted outside of Chloe's house, but not somewhere obvious, like in a tree or on the roof. Take a car, sit in the back with the engine turned off, and keep constant vigilance. Alek, don't you dare leave her side. I don't care what you tell Ms. King, just make sure she's not alone. Chloe, don't go anywhere near Brian. Don't answer calls or texts, and don't agree to meet him anywhere. As far as I know, Whitley has no idea what you even look like, and Simone probably didn't until today, which is why you weren't attacked at the gala, but there's still a very good chance of you being ambushed."
(Chloe knew better than to argue with Valentina when she was on a roll like this, and besides, she wasn't really in the mood to deal with Brian).
"That's all we can do for now, I suppose. We have to remain on the defensive."
Neither she nor Alek mentioned her father's messages, and she kept expecting her pocket to buzz the entire way home.
There were several knocks on the apartment door a few minutes after Chloe and Alek left. Assuming they forgot something, Valentina opened it only to find Zane.
"Um, hi. I'm here to meet Jasmine." He explained, looking somewhat nervous.
Valentina blinked. "She told me she canceled."
"Funny. I told him the same thing," Jasmine stepped out from behind the door and glared.
She had finally won her mother's approval over something, and he was messing it up. Big time. "I'm going to head on over to Chloe's."
She sidestepped him, and as loathe as he was to let her get away, Valentina was his main target.
Zane was thrown for a moment; he had been sure Jasmine would be out, so he could make something up about her sneaking out to meet him.
Well. No turning back now.
With a feral snarl, he lunged.
"Just go hide in my bathroom! Hurry!"
Chloe had heard her mother's heels approaching her room before Alek had, and she shoved him toward her bathroom door hurriedly, giggling.
Kissing him had quickly become her favorite past time.
She sat back down on her bed and fiddled with her phone.
Alek's two-second absence had become just enough time for her to be overwhelmed again.
Whitley and Olivia and this Simone lady and Brian… her dad.
It was all so much. Too much.
"Okay," her mother sighed when she opened the door. "I shouldn't be any later than eleven… Is Amy coming over?"
Amy usually always came over when her mother went out for the night.
Now, she was probably out with Paul.
"No," Chloe shrugged a little and resisted the urge to glance at her bathroom door. "Just me."
Instantly, her mother looked guilty. She tossed her clutch bag onto the bed and sat down beside Chloe. "I'm sorry about telling Amy about the emails from your dad, but come on. It's Amy. I just automatically assumed that she knew every micro-detail of your life."
It took Chloe a moment to comprehend that. "Wait, you did what?"
Meredith's eyes widened. "Oh. You haven't talked to her since… Oh."
"You know what, never mind. I'm just going to let that go and deal with it later." Chloe waved her hand dismissively. She had bigger things on her mind than Amy's hurt feelings.
Her mother pursed her lips. "Right… well, did you and Brian have a nice date today?"
Chloe was getting very tired of insinuations that there was more to her relationship with Brian than just friendship.
"It wasn't a date. We just went to visit his grandmother, she needed some help cleaning out her garage. I volunteered."
The lies came so easily these days.
"Awwe! How sweet. You really like him, don't you?"
"No! I mean, well, yes, but not like-"
"Then why don't you date him?" Her mother asked in utter exasperation.
"Don't you have an investor to meet?" She was not having this conversation with Alek standing a few feet away.
"Eh, the investor can wait." Meredith shifted on the bed, getting comfortable. "Dating is confusing. Especially when two boys like you, I get that."
"You're going to keep giving me advice whether I want it or not, aren't you?"
"I'm just worried that someone's going to get hurt. And it would break my heart if that someone were you."
Chloe wondered what her mother would say if she knew there had been several assassination/kidnap attempts made against her in the last few months.
Boys were the least of her problems. (But they were still on the list).
Meredith sighed again and shook her choppy brown hair out of her face. "You have to be honest about your feelings, kiddo. At the very least with yourself."
Chloe thought about Alek; how he'd do anything to save her, how he was always there when she needed him, how he laughed and how he teased.
Did she love him?
Was she in love with him?
And where did Brian fit in with all of this?
"I don't know what I feel!"
"Oh, I think you do. I think you know exactly how you feel."
Chloe thought of being sick, of Alek taking care of her and holding her, and of waking up from fainting to see him staring down desperately at her, and feeling nothing but relief. She thought of the Ferris wheel and the way he kissed her.
She was silent for several moments, warring with herself.
She'd completely forgotten the boy she was thinking so hard about was in her bathroom and could easily hear every word.
"I think… that while I was attracted to Brian…. The only reason we got so involved is because of the whole forbidden fruit complex. There were complications, and I knew I couldn't be with him, and I think that made me more stubborn. Made me want it more, you know?"
Meredith listened, thankful that her daughter was finally opening up after months of secrecy. She offered a neutral nod.
"And I think…" Chloe continued, "I think that I'm in love with Alek."
She sat there, shocked by herself.
Her mother didn't seem shocked at all. She smiled. "Sucks to be Brian, but… You love who you love."
Chloe sat there some more.
Finally, she said, "You should go."
"No, no, no! I can cancel," Meredith didn't want to let this moment pass. This moment with her daughter of complete honesty and openness, which rarely came around anymore.
"No way! It's important, and I don't want you to be late. Go. Me and my heart will be just fine."
Her mother reached out and placed a stray curl behind her ear. "They're both amazingly resilient."
She had no idea.
After the front door had closed, Alek reemerged from the bathroom, a slight smile on his face.
Chloe blushed crimson when she realized he had heard every word of that very private conversation.
What had she been thinking? Why hadn't she changed the topic?
"Don't be embarrassed." He smirked. "You love who you love."
"I was afraid I was making a fool of myself," he admitted sheepishly. "Sometimes it's not so bad, being wrong."
Chloe opened her mouth and closed it several times. She thought she must look an awful lot like a fish, and not even a cute one like Dory from Finding Nemo.
Boy, was this awkward on her part.
Alek sure seemed to be enjoying himself, though.
She thought about what Jasmine had told her once; that Alek deserved to be loved for who he was, and not as a replacement for who he wasn't.
"I…I just want you to know that I'm choosing you. I'm not just settling because I can't have Brian. I mean, we both know I can't be with him anyway, but my point is-"
Alek cut her off by kissing her.
She moaned into his mouth and kissed him back. She was done beating around the bush and being indecisive when it came to him.
He had been right before, when he said they were meant to be together.
There was nothing that would ever feel as right as this.
Something inside the both of them sort of snapped.
His hands slid down her back, over her butt, to the backs of her thighs, and she knew what he wanted her to do.
She jumped up and he wrapped her legs around his waist, his tongue still drawing amazing patterns on the roof of her mouth.
Somehow she ended up on her back on her bed, with him hovering over top of her. Gently, he tugged at her arms and placed them above her head against the pillow. Her back arched instinctually, and her eyes flashed green.
His eyes did the same in return, and when he kissed her again, the heat went up by about five notches.
She flashed back to memories of Nikki and Lilah, the way they had told her to act "primal." To let out her wild side that night. She remembered the seductive ways their bodies had moved.
She hadn't understood what that meant. But she did now.
That was how she felt. Primal. She'd been ignoring this thing with Alek for too long, and now it was making itself known with a vengeance.
He ran his hands down her body, lingering in all the right places like her cleavage and the inside of her thighs, and she didn't stop him. She kissed him wildly, and he kissed back.
They were grinding and licking and nipping and sucking, and it felt fantastic.
Chloe let her nails turn into claws, and didn't even stop to think about it. She reached underneath his shirt and ran her hand up his chest, feeling every muscle and ridge and groove.
He shuddered over top of her and rubbed smoothly against her. She arched her hips up to meet him.
He pushed his thumb underneath the waistband of her jeans and stroked the hot skin there. She whimpered.
Then her phone buzzed.
She ignored it, only dimly aware of it's existence.
Alek broke away from her lips to kiss her neck, nip at her collarbone and lick at the swell of her breast.
She gasped and rolled her hips against his.
Her phone buzzed again, as it was programmed to do when she had a message she was neglecting.
"Check the damn thing before I toss it out the window," he growled, and she was tempted to do so herself.
But then she remembered.
Her father was in San Francisco. He wanted to meet up with her.
She raised her hips for a different (much less satisfying) reason, and dug underneath her for the phone.
Alek was busy placing gentle, loving kisses on her shoulder and down her other arm. He didn't seem concerned at all.
She flipped it open.
MEET ME AT HANNAH'S LAST STOP. HERE NOW. -DAD.
Chloe's eyes widened and she lurched up off the bed. Alek made an irritated noise. "What's it say?"
"He told me where to meet him."
She practically fell into her desk, and her hands were shaking so much it took her three tries to wrench the drawer open.
She grabbed the colorful little book and opened it to the last page.
"WHERE THE CABLE CAR WAITS FOR THE NEXT MAGICAL RIDE" was written there in her father's blocky handwriting.
Her gaze slid to the drawing. A little yellow-haired girl and a brown-haired man stood holding hands and gazing at a cable car display.
She smiled a little.
She knew exactly where to go.
"You know," Alek grumbled, watching as she straightened her clothes and smoothed her hair as they went down the stairs, "some teenagers get walked in on by fathers. We get mysterious messages telling us to meet him somewhere."
Chloe rolled her eyes at him and grabbed her car keys.
He took her hand and squeezed it, noticing how jittery she was, and she smiled shakily at him.
She was going to be able to ask all of her most pent-up, burning questions soon.
She wondered how she'd feel about the answers.
She locked the front door behind them and rushed down the steps and to the sidewalk.
A car door opened, and Chloe heard her name.
Brian stood there, his car parked behind hers, and she whirled, staring at him in confusion. This was the last thing she needed.
He eyed her and Alek, their conjoined hands. "I thought you were staying in tonight."
"Um, yeah," she stuttered, then gestured to her and Alek's entwined fingers. "Last minute change of plans."
"I guess I'm a little late, I was going to try to convince you to have dinner with me." Chloe didn't miss the steely, distasteful glance Brian sent towards Alek.
She bristled. "Is everything alright?"
Brian's gaze returned to her, and he suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I, uh, had a blow-up with my dad. But, yeah, everything's fine. I just… wanted to talk to you about it."
Obviously he had misread her comment.
Still, she felt bad. "I'm sorry."
"Look, maybe… maybe you should go home."
Brian started, looking at her as though she was crazy.
"Just… talk it out, alright? He's your father, I'm sure everything will be okay. We really have to go." She walked backwards and tugged Alek's hand.
He got the gist, and let go of her to climb into the passengers seat.
Chloe got into the driver's seat and offered Brian a tiny wave, but he was already in his car and driving in the opposite direction.
She took a deep breath and twisted the key.
No turning back now.
(Both she and Alek failed to remember that Jasmine was across the street and watching. She pulled out behind them, cursing under her breath).
"I'm going in with you when we get wherever we're going."
"Good as time as any to meet your father. Might as well get these sticky introductions out of the way."
"Should I announce you, oh Mighty One?"
"Sure…But I prefer the title of Boyfriend."
"I dunno… Alek the Boyfriend sounds significantly less badass than Alek the Mighty One."
"I know, I know. It's just that… boyfriend doesn't seem like enough of a word to describe…"
"Just like girlfriend isn't enough for me. But it's more of a claim than I have now, no?"
"Well, it is."
"I know, I know…Do you prefer the term mate? That's what the Mai called something this… intense, originally. It signifies a stronger bond than your average courting terms, like boyfriend and girlfriend. Most tribes still use it, but Valentina frowns upon it. Says it's uncivilized. I think under those circumstances it's sexily rebellious, personally."
"Yes, like I'm going to waltz up to the father I haven't seen in ten years and say Oh hey there Dad, good to see you. Meet my mate, Alek."
"My mate Alek. Has a nice ring."
"My mate Chloe."
"…Oh, wow. Say it again."
"My mate Chloe."
"It's growing on me."
"You're mine, Chloe King."
"That one takes the cake."
"So walk up to him and say Oh hey there Dad, good to see you. I'm Alek's now. Stop interrupting incredible snogging, would you?"
Chloe laughed harder in the five seconds it took her to pull into the park's lot than she had the entire trip with Brian.
Everything was exactly the way she remembered it.
She could remember the fountains out front, and wondered if the pennies she'd thrown in so long ago were still in there. (The water looked different in the dark).
She could remember the detailed carvings above the doors of the theatre, and she used to think they looked like the icing that bordered birthday cakes. (Now they reminded her of shields and weapons).
Anxiousness overtook her, and she broke away from Alek's hand to run to the doors. She tugged on a few that were locked, but finally found one open.
He slipped in silently behind her, looking warily around. Their eyes glowed in the dimness.
Suddenly feeling intimidated by the monstrosity and darkness of the place, she reached for him, and he was right there, stepping up behind her to take her hand and press his chest against her back.
She relaxed a little, but her stomach was tying itself in knots and her heart was pounding so hard she was scared it would tire itself out and she'd lose another life from pure nerves.
She smiled a little when she passed the cable car display. (It looked the same as it always had. Even in the dark).
She stopped when she came to the room with the columns and the grand staircase. She'd never been allowed in this room when she was small. A giant chandelier hung from the ceiling, and the curtains were swaying in the breeze from the air conditioner.
"Come to the landing of the stairs with me, and then wait. He said to come alone, and I don't want to-"
"Okay. But I'm still expecting my introduction." He smirked, but it was forced. He stared down at her in worry as they climbed the stairs together.
She reached up and kissed his cheek.
When they reached the landing, he brushed his mouth against hers, squeezing her hand and wrapping his arm around her waist. He brushed hair back from her face. "I'll be right here."
She took a deep breath and nodded.
Chloe peered up the remaining few steps and tried to see through the doorway in front of them.
"Dad?" She called.
She jogged up the stairs and into the room. "Dad?"
There were several doorways in here, and she knew this was the lobby for the balcony seats in the many theaters. It was spacious and open.
She saw the outline of a man standing on the other side of the room, up a couple more steps, and sighed in relief. "Dad."
"I'm sorry," the man said, with a slight accent, stepping out of the shadows. He looked nothing like her father, and everything like an assassin. "I'm afraid you have me mistaken for someone else."
It was then that she felt the other two presences behind her, and knew she'd been set up.
Or maybe he'd been taken.
Anger consumed her. "If you did anything to my dad, you're going to regret it."
"Never laid eyes on him," the man shrugged.
Set up it is. Ouch.
She'd never had contact with Jonathan King. Not once.
She felt like her heart might just crack open with the pain of this.
Someone had played her deepest wound.
She wouldn't let them win.
"Our only job," the man continued, "is you."
"Well in a few seconds you're going to wish you were in another line of work." She snarled.
Both guys behind her shot forward at once.
Watching Chloe fight was extraordinary.
He'd never really had the opportunity before; he was always fighting along-side her, training her and dodging her, or (Goddess forbid) elsewhere at the time.
But as soon as she'd taken down one guy, whirled, and saw him running at the scene full speed, she'd hissed "They're mine!" and he'd stopped to simply…observe.
She spun around, she kicked, she chopped and punched and clawed.
Within a few minutes, the two initial attackers were out.
He smirked as he leaned against the wall, immensely proud of her. (And himself, as well. He'd trained her after all).
He tensed though when she growled "You're up!" at the big guy though. He was taller than Alek was by a few inches, and a skyscraper compared to Chloe.
Chloe swung first (BAD MOVE BAD MOVE BAD BAD BAD MOVE! What was she thinking? He'd taught her to always stay on the defensive, damn it!), and the man grabbed her fist, punched her stomach, then let go of her arm to swing low and knock her feet out from under her.
"Oh hell no," Alek sprinted towards them.
"No Alek!" Chloe's shout stopped him. He jerked to a halt three feet from her attacker. "He's mine."
Chloe got up, and the man pushed her, hard, and her body went flying backwards. She rolled (he'd taught her that, too) straight into a defensive crouch.
He winced, though.
It was taking absolutely every ounce of his self control not to pounce in between the two and rip the man to shreds.
"You sure you don't want Romeo over there to help you out? You're making this too easy."
"Well, allow me to fix that."
She always had been good at comebacks.
She blocked every attack he sent her way after that, and sent him flying headlong into a shelf full of expensive looking pottery.
Alek allowed himself to start breathing properly again.
She only got hit once more (he distracted himself from the urge to kill and protect by imagining kissing the bruise later) before she took the man completely down in a wild frenzy of moves he didn't even know himself.
Oh yeah. Chloe was pissed.
She stood there panting for a moment, mind racing.
Tears stung her eyes, but they weren't from the injuries she'd just received.
"Let's get out of here," Alek said, eyeing the men on the floor.
Jasmine rolled her eyes for the millionth time. What were those two doing in there?
She thought of the way they kissed, and touched, and the looks they exchanged. Maybe she didn't want to know.
So far, everything outside the theater was quiet.
She was debating on going to get a burger and a milkshake and calling it a night- Alek was with her, he was perfectly capable of Uniter duty, and Chloe wasn't exactly defenseless, either- when a flash of white caught her eye.
A tall woman in white clothes was slipping through the door of the theatre.
And she was carrying a handgun.
Jasmine bolted out of the car and wished she'd parked closer.
Chloe bolted past Alek and took off running. She wanted to be as far away from here as possible. He stepped on her heels a few times, right behind her, and almost caused her to fall down the staircase, but he reached out and grabbed her arm to steady her.
It was then that she noticed the woman.
"Simone!" She gasped, skidding to a standstill.
Alek yanked Chloe backwards, behind him.
The Order member raised her eyebrows. "Hm. We'll discuss how you know me the next time we meet."
She brought her hands from behind her back to reveal a gun. Chloe's blood turned to ice and her heart skipped several beats.
"Assuming of course, that you come back to life. Pity that I have to get rid of your mate, as well. He's handsome, for a despicable thing. Unless, of course, he stands aside…"
"Never." Alek snarled. "You'll never touch her."
Simone smiled cruelly, and Chloe saw her shoulders and arms tense, and knew what it meant. "Well, if you insist…"
She shoved Alek to the side just as Simone pulled the trigger.
Her mind registered several loud booms, and three white-hot bursts of pain erupted on her skin, inside her, spread to the rest of her limbs like a fire.
She felt her face crumple with the pain, and she dropped, feeling the bullets tear into her chest, her stomach, her lower belly.
She could hear Alek roaring something in anguish, heard running footsteps and a door slam.
Nothing was louder than the sound of her own breathing.
So much pain. Oh, God, it hurt.
She wished she could turn her head to see him, but suddenly he was right there.
She'd never seen Alek Petrov cry before. Weakly, she lifted a hand to wipe tears off his cheeks.
"Chloe, what were you thinking, huh? No, Chloe no." His voice broke.
She could feel it this time; feel her body shutting down. Her lungs weren't working right, and there was so much pain, and her heart was stuttering.
This was an awful way to die.
Her vision was blurring around the edges, and her hearing was fading. She knew the darkness that was coming for her this time, and tried to fight it a little while longer, for his sake.
She couldn't speak, couldn't do anything but shudder there on the theater steps and die. It was so horrible. So incredibly painful. The pain was so horrendous she wished she'd just hurry up and die already.
She'd do it again in a heartbeat if it meant he would live.
She last thing she saw was Alek's gorgeous face, and the last thing she felt was his lips against hers, and his breath in her ear as he whisper-sobbed things she couldn't hear.
And then she was gone.
It was the longest sixty seconds of Alek's life. It was definitely the most terrifying. His entire world was lying dead on the floor beside him. She wasn't moving. She wasn't breathing. Her heart wasn't beating.
She wasn't with him anymore.
The sixty seconds were the longest and the most terrifying.
They were also the most heartbreaking.
He couldn't stop whispering, and he couldn't stop crying.
On the sixty-first second, Chloe took the first breath of her third life.
"Chloe, I love you."
"I love you, Chloe, I love you."
"I love you, Chloe."
"Please Chloe. Please open your eyes. Oh, God, Chloe, I love you so much."
"Chloe please wake up. Chloe. I love you, Chloe."
"I. Love. You."
Chloe opened her eyes.
Alek was holding her; her head was on his lap, and he was stroking her hair and one arm was wrapped tightly around her waist.
She stared up at him, and his eyes widened in relief and amazement when they met hers. Neither of them had cat eyes any more.
His breath caught several times, and then he leaned down and kissed her.
It took her a moment to remember how to make her lips work again, and then she kissed him back, overjoyed at seeing him alive and okay and right there with her.
Jasmine burst through the door. "I took out Simone, and her getaway driver. Oh my God, Chloe!"
Chloe called her mom and nearly had a breakdown at hearing her voice, but managed to stutter out that she was spending the night with Amy tonight on account of a random but catastrophic fight with Paul, and not to expect her home until tomorrow afternoon.
The ride back to the apartment was otherwise completely quiet.
Jasmine's hands shook on the wheel, and Chloe was stretched out against a very emotional Alek.
She had to stop and get control over the pain in her torso several times when getting out of the car, and eventually Alek opted for just carrying her to the elevator and to the door.
The apartment was dark when Jasmine turned the key and let them in.
Valentina was sitting on the couch, in the dark.
"Mom?" Jasmine's voice was suspicious and confused.
Valentina didn't move.
Jasmine, Alek, and Chloe all exchanged worried glances.
Jasmine stepped cautiously inside, approaching Valentina hesitantly and glancing around anxiously. Her eyes glowed green. "Mom?"
She tapped Valentina's shoulder, and she slumped forward, falling to the ground.
Alek went rigid and Chloe gasped.
Then she dropped to her knees and started shaking Valentina. "Mom! Mom, wake up!"
Valentina didn't respond, and Chloe knew she was already gone.
Then she noticed the piece of paper on the fridge in the kitchen. The fridge that was always kept bare.
"Alek," she said, and gestured to it.
He frowned, and after listening intently and glancing around to make sure no one else was in the apartment, he sat Chloe down on a barstool, and ripped the note from the freezer door.
His eyes widened as he read it, and his face contorted into something unrecognizable, but clearly angry.
He thrust the note at Chloe, and she took it.
Psh. Some pride leader you've got here. Jasmine, I'm coming back for you, but not in the way you're hoping- it's over, babe. Tell the Uniter hello for me.
P.S: It was good to see you again, Alek. Brother. Up for some family bonding next time I'm in town?
Jasmine was sobbing on the floor now next to her mother's body.
"Jazzy," Alek said quietly after swallowing several times. "Jaz, come on. We've gotta go."
"W-w-where?" She managed.
"One of the safe houses. Come on."
Chloe walked to the elevator, and then to the car, by herself. Jasmine needed Alek's comfort more than she did at the moment.
She turned away, not only to give them privacy, but to hide the pain on her face that was coming from all different sources.
The tiny duplex was nothing like the apartment had been. It was tiny and cozy, in a nice quiet neighborhood, but very high-tech.
Alek had called Beorn on the way, and told him of Valentina. She would be taken care of.
Chloe took a shower, trying her hardest to ignore the painful bullet holes that were already slowly but steadily disappearing.
She, Alek, and Jasmine all shared one bed, with Alek wedged in the middle.
She didn't know how much sleep any of them really got, though.
It took seven hours to catch up with Amy and Paul. Seven hours to scrutinize and rehash every detail of everything that had happened.
None of it really made sense, even after the recap.
Chloe really hadn't expected it to.
Chloe and Alek went for a drive after the funeral.
They laid on their backs on a grassy hill and watched clouds float by. The sun warmed them up as they kissed languidly.
They were both so tired of worrying. So tired of grieving.
"Don't ever give another life for me again," Alek murmured against her lips.
She smiled slightly. "I have nine, Alek. And I need you in every single one of them. Sacrificing one for you was easy."
"I love you," he breathed.
"I love you," she breathed back.
They would be okay. They all would.
Looking up at the blue sky again, and the fluffy clouds, and feeling the warmth and Alek next to her, and seeing the green grass wave in the breeze, she decided it really was a beautiful day after all.
She wouldn't mind having a few more of them.
That's the end! Thanks so much for all the love and support aimed at this story. There MIGHT be a few upcoming drabbles based around this story. MAYBE. I promise nothing. But just in case, you might want to Author Alert.
And maybe review one last time while you're at it?