In line with common sense and Amber's demands, a hospital was the first port of call for most of the group.
Li, Paulo and Amber arrived at the nearest hospital, to the shock of the staff that were working.
Given their threat status, police and higher agencies were immediately called and guards posted to their separate rooms.
While all three were being treated, events were unfolding for the rest of the world to witness.
Dental records confirmed the body of one Jonathon Usher, after his corpse was found abandoned on the doorstep of one of his rival news agencies. The incriminating evidence found on the man and further information uncovered in the hours following his discovery, revealed the full story for the public to see.
The guard was removed from the three Alpha Force member's rooms following what amounted to a full pardon from federal intelligence agencies. The team took the chance to reconvene as the injured were all moved to one larger room that was shut off from the public.
Under a drugged up Amber's lucid insistence, Hex finally had his arm examined and cast once more. The examining Doctor told him that his function would probably never fully return now, in light of the further injury it had recently sustained.
It was a sad truth for the young hacker to hear and in his stricken state he tried to distract himself by dividing his time between Amber and his most recent acquisition.
Hex and Alex had pulled a final sweep of Usher's mountain fortress before anyone else got a chance and it had paid off.
The criminal's personal laptop turned out to be an absolute goldmine in the talented hacker's care and the information flowed freely under his one working hand.
His eyebrows were lost in his hairline at the first major discovery; the doctor stitching up his split brow was not impressed.
Sifting through countless files, a screen name had jumped out at him. One that had been helping him since Solambia and one that he had long considered a friend.
NiteWatcher, he discovered was the online name of the hacker that had been under Usher's employment. The implications of this were huge, meaning that their greatest enemy had fingerprints all over Alpha Force's biggest two missions in the last few years.
While he was going through the detailed files on each of them and systematically deleting them, another name caught Hex's eye. With a cheeky smile, Hex dragged the small file in question over to his email and attached it to a short email to a friend.
The rest of the data he found, regarding overseas holdings and nefarious deeds he compiled into one folder and sent to his own media contact.
Showered and freshly bandaged, the group met up again two days later. It was the first chance they all had to sit down together without doctors, nurses or law enforcement officials interrupting.
Li, Paulo and Amber occupied a bed each in the bland hospital room. Across the hall, Alex's dad slept peacefully after his flight from Canada to be at the same hospital as his son. Alex was still glowing from seeing his dad again and he smiled happily as he walked back into the room.
Awkwardly with his slung arm, the hacker followed him and shuffled into the bed he had decided to share with his girlfriend. Considering the small size of the bed, her irritation may have been genuine and well founded.
"I think we are good." Alex announced to the group, pocketing his new cell phone after speaking to yet another international security agency.
"Just like that? We prove Usher was alive, behind the smear campaign and all is forgiven?" Amber confirmed casting a doubtful look over Alex and Hex, who had had been the only two members able-bodied enough to start addressing the situation.
"Well not quite that simple, but pretty much." Hex clarified.
"It seems like when the allegations and accusations died down many of the international groups we had worked with in the past jumped in to vouch for us." He explained, simplifying the complex matter for the sake of brevity.
"Nice of them to stick up for us earlier when we were labelled terrorists." Li grumbled.
"It is a harsh title and none of them probably wanted to acknowledge involvement with a group like that until they saw which way the tower would fall." Paulo dozily considered, using possibly the worst analogy he could with terrorism in mind.
He would later blame it on the morphine.
"So that's us off scot-free then?" Amber summed things up.
"Not quite," Alex frowned, "Still a lot of hard questions from some people pretty high up and a few corpses in our wake to explain."
"And Li won't be invited back to Japan any time soon." Hex winced, remembering the less then forgiving attitude the Japanese displayed over the phone.
"Meh no biggie, I never liked sushi much anyway," Li coolly disregarded her new status as persona non grata.
It was Paulo surprisingly who asked the question.
"So what next for Alpha Force?"
There was a long pause as each of the members considered the question.
"Not much use in the group for a one armed guy." Hex finally answered, trying to sound as bitter as possible about his situation. The miserable fact had been weighing on his mind since his further assessment by the specialist.
Amber rushed to reassure him, placing her arms around him and shooting a challenging look around the friends.
"Noone is saying that Hex," She declared, glaring at the others as if to dare them to argue.
The rest of Alpha Force quickly nodded their heads in a show of agreement under her scrutiny.
"Yeah, thanks guys," Hex mumbled despondently, still refusing to meet anyone's eyes.
"But I can't keep up with you guys or be out in the field with only one functional hand. I would be more of a liability then a help" He explained sadly, eyeing his unresponsive right hand that had betrayed him.
Amber squeezed him tighter on their small bed to let him know that she didn't think that would be the case.
There didn't seem to be a right thing to say that and the rest of the group fell into silence once more.
Amber broke it this time, hesitant and uncertain in a manner so unlike her.
"Uhh I don't know if I can keep doing this if Hex is not there anymore." She confessed softly; it had become more apparent over the years how much she relied on him for strength.
Hex lowered his left hand to her uninjured thigh and gave it a gentle supportive caress.
"Fair enough," Alex mumbled, it felt like he had to swallow a cricket ball to say it.
Li nodded in acknowledgement too, not quite ready for words again, but understanding their position.
"Maybe it is time I threw in the sheet too," Paulo concluded with a sullen smile to the remaining members.
"Towel Paulo, it is throwing in the towel," Li corrected his expression with a tiny smile despite the tears that threatened to fall.
"Whatever type of linen Li," He dismissed before moving onto his main point.
"I was never much for violence and I've got my career on the ambulance to think about." Paulo justified a little ashamed.
"So that's it? Alpha Force is over?" Li addressed the group as a whole, sounding more then a little upset with her friends. Her voice was raised and her face red with emotion.
"I guess so." Alex conceded having the last word in the matter like most things. His expression was not as downcast as the rest, in fact he seemed oddly positive about the news his group of best friends were calling it quits.
"But I think you guys are being a bit melodramatic," He accused with an easy smile.
The barbed looks Alex received from the girls seemed to indicate they disagreed with his opinion.
"Oh are we?" Li responded in a low dangerous voice.
"Yeah you are," Alex insisted, moving so he stood central to his friends.
"So we decide to stop doing missions together and retire from the international vigilante work to enjoy what we still have. Big deal, that doesn't mean we still can't all be close friends like always and hang out." Alex passionately explained like it was common sense.
"Yeah, but we are all going to be busy starting our lives around the world." Paulo countered darkly.
"When has that ever stopped us keeping in contact before? This isn't the bloody dark ages, we all have email, Facebook and cell phones." He reminded him, picking to pieces his friend's argument.
"What about all the people we were helping?" Amber put forward, thinking of her parent's commitment to the cause and feeling a little like she was deserting their memory.
Hex answered this one, gesturing to each of the group in turn as he mentioned their part to play.
"Well we will still be helping people just separately and in our own ways. Paulo on the ambulance, Li for Greenpeace, Alex in the army, you in the courtroom and me by developing new technologies with the DARPA."
After a lengthy conversation, Hex had been assured he still had a job when he returned.
Alex hid a grimace, as he remembered that he hadn't mentioned his actual plans for the future that extended beyond joining the military.
No time like the present, he thought resolutely looking around his friends, who looked decidedly happier after having hashed out their new situation better.
"Besides," Alex spoke up again, this time with a bit more enigma to his words. "I wouldn't say Alpha Force would be completely gone for ever either..."
"What are you getting at Alex?" Paulo asked him curiously.
The young Brit's smile crept slightly larger and he leaned in conspiratorially towards his comrades.
"Well I was thinking about how good Alpha Force was, for both us and the world in general and I asked myself; why couldn't there be more people like us out there helping others and standing up for the suffering on a larger scale?"
Li bit her lip on contemplation of what he was considering.
"What are you suggesting?" Hex cut to the point, having drawn a natural conclusion from Alex's words and wanting to see if their ideas married up.
"What I was thinking about was why not help build Alpha Force into something bigger? Think several small teams undergoing training or performing tasks to help people, simultaneously worldwide." Alex elaborated, his eyes shining with excitement.
"Isn't that basically what the United Nations tries to do with the allied nation's armies?' Li pointed out, unwilling to allow the thrill growing inside of her to escape without getting more information.
"It is," Alex conceded the point, but was already primed to explain. "But the difference would be that like the original Alpha Force, these teams wouldn't be confined by the boundaries of all the red tape and bureaucracy."
Paulo started to nod his head as he saw the picture that Alex was painting.
"And rather then relying on soldiers, it would consist of groups of international teenagers. It would empower the next generation to do something about the problems in their world and their age would make them more adaptable to situations, where they would also generate less suspicion then a group of adults." Alex continued, taking his lesson from their own experiences.
"Hmm I like the idea Alex, but it seems like it would take a lot of planning, training and financial backing." Hex pointed out.
"Yeah I had kind of hoped that maybe you guys would be willing to lend me a hand with the project when you were free." Alex sheepishly admitted to his friends.
"Quite presumptuous of you." Amber sniffed, turning to seek agreement from her boyfriend.
"I'm a busy guy." Hex replied casual and noncommittally.
"Eco-warriors don't get time off, Alex." Li responded with a straight face.
"I guess if there was some sort of hefty consultants salary." Paulo mused aloud, starting to break the façade of seriousness with his trademark giant smile.
Amber sighed loudly like it was a huge burden on her before speaking again.
"Well I guess we could spare a bit of fortune to help fund such a venture," Amber relented magnanimously.
"It would have to come out of Hex's computer game and hair care budget though." She decided with a phoney apologetic look to her partner.
"What?!" Hex exclaimed loudly, to everyone's amusement.
"Well that would be enough money to keep your project running for life." Paulo joked.
"Our project." Alex corrected happily.
"So where are you going to find candidates for this idea?" Li asked Alex once the laughter had subsided.
The slow Miller smile crept upon his face, before he answered her question.
"Well I heard about this ship called the Phoenix and I also heard they after a new Watch Leader or two.."
Three days later the group were at the airport saying their goodbyes, each had to get back to their own world.
Sitting in the small restaurant in the departure lounge they shared one last meal and a drink or two.
Alex's dad, Steve who was flying back with his boy, gladly joined them.
Setting his knife and fork together on the plate, Alex reflected on another adventure with his friends and what had been an overcooked piece of steak.
The rest of the group chatted amiably and he was content to just watch and drink it in.
Taking another swig on the Corona he ordered with his lunch, he almost did a spit take at the shenanigans that unfolded in front of him.
Li's face was distorted in an expression of sour disgust after finally caving to Paulo's encouragement and taking a sip from the ominously white, frothy drink he had ordered. The cowboy grin was in full force at her reaction and he hastily shuffled his chair back out of range to avoid the likely violent repercussions.
On the other side of the table, Amber had caught Hex in a sneaky finger lock after she had caught him trying to mischievously steal a French fry from her plate. The hacker was on the edge of his seat to try and remove the pressure from his fingers being bent back, while at the same time uttering frantic apologies. After making several extreme and graphic promises of how he would make it up to her, she released the painful hold and playfully ate the chip from his fingers.
Steve like Alex seemed to stand somewhat back from the group and elected instead to watch the son he had missed so much.
His son blew back a mouthful of beer back into his bottle and tried to cover his mouth and nose so the others didn't notice.
As usual though, the group was very observant when Alex made a fool of himself and they gave him a decent ribbing.
"Jeez Alex, drink much?" Li asked him sarcastically.
"Some hombre just can't handle their drinks." A mysterious member of the group noted in disappointment.
"Very suave, Mr. Bond," The other British lad commented.
"See? This is why we can't go nice places," Amber tutted.
Alex just grinned in reply to their jibes and raised the bottle to his lips again to re-drink the same liquid he had snorted up.
He had missed these people more then he physically thought possible.
Steve chuckled beside him and broke up the outcries of disgust from the girls.
"Our flights are leaving soon, we better get moving." He reminded the group.
Collectively Alpha Force finished their drinks, Li adamantly refusing to partake in anymore of Paulo's Pisco Sour, despite his protests that it was a traditional South American cocktail.
Clutching up their various bags, the group headed towards the final intersection before they split for their various boarding gates. Hugs were exchanged back and forth between members, with promises of keeping in touch and meeting up at Paulo's next month for a BBQ.
Paulo and Li split off from the others to head to their more Pacific destinations, Australia and New Zealand respectively.
The final four left behind started their slow journey towards the United Kingdom departure gate. It was slow because both Amber and Steve were confined to wheelchairs. Amber of course scowled at the babying treatment she was now receiving in her cast leg.
They finally reached Gate 21 where the father and son would be embarking.
A friendly flight attendant came out and wheeled Steve away to help the disabled man get boarded before the complication of other passengers. Alex gave him a small wave in promise that he would shortly follow.
Turning back to two of his closest friends, he noted their odd expressions. They both wore matching smiles with something else hidden too. Amber looked a little bit teary and Hex almost too cheery, it was an unusual combination for the couple to be presenting.
Alex almost raised his guard at this, but gave his friends the benefit of the doubt.
"Mate," He acknowledged, stepping forward to clap a firm handshake with Hex before they mutually pulled it into a manly one-armed hug. They shared a couple of firm pats on the back as the extent of masculine, brotherly affection before breaking apart.
Amber was less reserved and pounced in her chair, dragging the unprepared Alex down into her arms, where she ensnared him in a tight hug. He felt the dampness of stray tears pressing against his neck, which was followed by a friendly kiss on the cheek.
Escaping from her emotional clutches, he felt his face would tear open from the amount of grinning he was doing. Alex figured he must have looked like a blonde-haired incarnation of the Batman's Joker.
His two friends still wore their enigmatic expressions as they bade him farewell.
"See ya Alex," Amber practically yelled, possibly deafening another passing passenger.
"Catch you round mate," Hex said, ever the typical casual guy.
"Yeah later," Alex gladly agreed, shouldering his daypack and turning for the gate.
He missed Amber deliver a sound slap to Hex's arm and engage him with a stern non-verbal conversation with her pointed scowl.
"And Alex," Hex called, picking up on her message and stopping their friend before he could leave. At his name the blonde haired man turned back briefly to his friends.
"Check your email when you get home, I sent you something you might be interested in." The hacker revealed sharing a secret smile with Amber.
Alex took in the knowing glance that passed between the amused pair.
"Thanks." He called before turning for the gate once more, unsurprised that there was some shared joke between the couple.
The flight from America was long, but gave Alex a lot of time to just hang out with his dad. It was somewhat liberating for him to finally be able to talk to his father about his exploits in Alpha Force and Steve was just as eager to hear about them.
In what felt like no time, they finally touched down on British soil and Alex had made the long drive back home.
Walking back into his familiar family home and the pair's emotional reunion with Alex's mum felt long overdue.
After hours of sitting, talking with his parents and numerous cups of tea, Alex was finally able to cut away to his room for a bit of time to himself. It seemed both sad and pleasant to find his old room exactly as it was when he had left it over eighteen months ago.
Slumping down onto his familiar bed, Alex suddenly remembered Hex's parting words.
With a searching hand he fished his trusty old laptop from under the bed. It was a simple dated HP with a single sticker decorating the front; it read 'Who dares, wins'.
Booting up the old device he quickly opened his Gmail and was unsurprised to see he had over two hundred unread emails waiting for him.
Alex resigned himself to try and sort through them over the next week, but for now contented himself with opening the email that sat at the very top from a certain hacker.
The subject line of the email was worryingly empty, he noted as he double clicked on the message to open it.
It was a short message from his friend and contained an attached file;
Just a file that I found while digging through Usher's computer and I thought it might be of use to you.
Good to see you have stopped running, nice to have you back mate.
Alex smiled at the supportive message from his friend and with a sense of foreboding, double clicked on the untitled attachment.
It opened on his screen to reveal a short personal profile with an address and contact details at the very bottom.
His breath caught in his throat for a second, before he remembered Hex's words.
Yeah I'm finished running, he agreed reaching for the phone on its cradle beside his bed. Alex knew this was something that he had to face, something he had to do.
Double and triple checking the number, he slowly punched it in on the keypad as well as the corresponding international prefix required.
Alex's throat was dry and his hands so sweaty he almost dropped the phone, as the dial tone sounded.
He could almost imagine the phone ringing on the other side of the world.
Alex felt like he was running a marathon, with the rate his heart was going and the familiar light nausea in his stomach.
His guts did a little flip as the dial tone suddenly cut out with a click and was replaced with a voice.
"Hello?" A memorable, soft voice answered on the other end.
Alex struggled to breathe again and it took a concentrated effort before he could reply.
"Hi Camilla, it's Alex…
A/N- Woooooahhh finished :) What a mammoth effort, I hope you all like the ending and yes it is the end! Probably.
I can't really thank all my readers and reviewers enough; you guys are freaking legends and helped motivate me to finish the story. Massive thanks to all of you, some of which have been with me since the start of the journey.
It feels like too many of you to name but I'm going to give it a damn good go:
Optomistic Emo Kleptomaniac, The Emerald' Charmspeaker, DammitimmaD, Moonhera, wildchild17, Julia, Elledreamer.
Emmadactryl; Whom I recommend reading her stories and keeping an eye on in case she decides to release something in the not to distant future to trump my stories ;p You go girl!
Last but most certainly not least; the amazing I read not write, a constant inspiration..
A couple of points here before I sign off;
-Yes I have a couple of AF oneshots in the works so keep an eye peeled for those in the not so distant future. Also a new original short story, completely different to my other sappy one and with a bit of action in it! Like the other lame one it will be up on Fiction Press under this same pen name by the end of the week. I call it Returns.
-If I can think of an idea for a survival guide, I will tack it on the end of this story so note the complete classification is with the exception of that. Open to suggestions on that front too, so let me know if there is anything you want to learn about. Failing that I could do a second part to my self-defence one.
-I realise there are a few grammatical errors within my works, especially Aid Conflict (Jeez what was I thinking?). So I will be heading back over the next month and trying to fix those.
-Apparently I'm still a Beta-reader so happy to lend a hand if you are writing your own fic, just flick me a message.
That's about it (Jeez Grey, you author notes are about as long as the damn epilogue itself!)
Until next time.