It had been a particularly easy day at Jam Pony, except not for Original Cindy and Sketchy, which is why Alec and Max had offered to buy them a couple beers at Crash. Incidentally, that was about the same time Original Cindy's luck had turned and she met Brie, a sweet and sexy blonde that had been avoiding all men since she had arrived.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Sketchy, who bravely had attempted to hustle pool and had consequently lost his paycheck. He tried to shake off the disappointment and had left around midnight.
Which left Max and Alec, alone, with each other and beer as company.
The conversation was relaxed, probably for the first time since they'd met. Alec had told her about one of his missions with Biggs, back when they were kids, and Max had laughed genuinely, no preconceptions or pressure or worry that anyone might have said how worthy she wasn't of happiness.
Outside Crash, Max zipped up her jacket and turned to Alec, stuffing her fists in her pockets.
"Where's your bike?" Alec asked, looking for her black Ninja and coming up shy.
Max looked up toward the unusually clear sky. "I walked here tonight. With a night like this, how could I not?"
Alec looked up, too, taking in the serenity of the pinhole stars so far away. "Can I walk you home?"
Max smiled. "What about your bike?"
Alec shrugged. "It'll still be here tomorrow. Besides, it's not safe for a beautiful woman to walk home alone so late at night, unarmed."
Max turned her body and tipped her head toward the direction she was walking, wordlessly accepting his invitation.
At first, their walk was quiet, both just enjoying the predominant silence of the city. Soon, the quiet would become uncomfortable, so Alec broke their silence. "Bet you never thought you'd have an armed bodyguard walking you home."
"Never thought I needed one, but it's nice of you to offer. What with all the guys with guns out here," she joked, calling attention to the loads of people that were nowhere in sight.
"Who are we kidding?" he started. "It was just an excuse."
She noted his truthfulness and peeked at him as they continued. She smiled again.
"You should do that more often."
He relaxed in his gait, which came across as confidence, after which Max found she couldn't not smile.
They pushed forward, sneaking glances at one another, turning corners.
"You're always drinking at Crash. Have you ever been drunk?" From all the stories OC and Sketchy had told her over time, she was trying to imagine a drunken Alec, slurring and getting touchy-feely.
"Nope. Best I can get is teetering on the edge of buzzed."
"Hmm," she seemed to answer. "So why do you keep drinking? Isn't Scotch expensive?"
Alec jerked toward her, surprised. "You know my poison?" His question was met with just a smile. "I like the taste," he divulged, watching her upper lip as she unconsciously moistened it.
They continued for another minute. "How about you?"
Max watched his face. "Nope. Beer doesn't do anything for me. But," she sensed his follow-up questions, "sometimes it tastes pretty good, and besides, Cindy and Sketch like to unwind, so I figure, blend in."
"Ever tried Scotch?"
Max lifted an eyebrow. "Not yet."
"Next time we're at my place, I'll pour you a couple fingers."
She took a big breath. "Well, we're here."
"Already?" he asked, disappointed she didn't live just a little bit further from the cycler's bar.
Max toed the step with some anticipation.
"I was kinda hoping to talk a little more," Alec ventured.
Max backed off the step and looked up to her floor. It was dark. Maybe OC had gotten lucky. "I think I have some vodka if you want to come up. OC's probably out for the night." Max did not wonder what the hell she was doing. They'd had a pretty good night so far and she wasn't eager for the carefree feeling to end.
Vodka wasn't really his thing. "Sure," he said. "I'll tell you all about Biggsy's time with Lola."
Upstairs, the transgenics tossed their coats to the kitchen island. Alec peered out her window as Max pulled some glasses and a bottle from the cabinet. He took a deep breath. "Can't you smell it?" he asked.
Max poured the liquor into a couple of tumblers and walked toward him. "What? The rain?" she asked, slipping the tumbler in front of him. "Yeah, it'll downpour soon. Good thing you came up."
Erotic images of a drenched Max knocking at his door crossed his mind. Erotic images of making love to her in the rain crossed his mind. He closed his eyes on the off chance that they might spill out of his pupils.
Accepting the glass and looking down to it, Alec realized he was now holding a glass of Scotch. He smiled appreciatively, knowingly, and stared at her pupils as he brought the ale between them. "To the rain," he toasted.
Max smiled and clinked glasses, raising her glass to her own lips while holding Alec's stare. She accepted some of the amber liquid and tongued the roof of her mouth with it.
Alec waited for her response. She smiled, brought the glass down, and nodded.
"Before I chicken out," Max began, "I wanted to say thank you."
Alec sipped at his Scotch, savoring he flavor and letting it wash over his tongue. "What for?" he asked, certain that she hadn't needed an escort home, so her gratitude couldn't have been for their short walk.
Max shyly avoided his stare as she headed back to the kitchen island. "For everything."
Alec followed her back, surprised when Max set the tumbler down, pulled off her sweater, and draped it on the back of her kitchen stool.
"When I first met you, I thought you were just this oblivious Manticore perfect soldier with narcissistic overtones and no moral compass."
The sting of her words picking at his skin, he looked to his drink. If she was going to keep listing his faults, he was going to need way more Scotch. He gulped the remainder of his glass – taste be damned.
She hesitated. "But you've really stepped up. You're always there when I need you." She busied herself pouring them both a little more than a shot's worth of his favorite intoxicant. "I know I call on you a lot for missions, and whatever you're doing, you always come help me. I really appreciate that."
Alec swept the tumbler up to his lips. He wondered what happened to her that she was being suddenly overly nice.
"And." Again, she hesitated.
Alec drank a sip from his glass and walked around the island. "You okay?" he asked, when the silence had threatened to take over.
"Yeah," she said. "I just… wanted to say thank you for always listening."
Prior to tonight, he'd always feigned not listening because he liked the urgency with which she said his name when she thought he wasn't, and the most memorable time they'd both shrugged off the pretenses and connected was when she'd told him about Ben, so he was partly shocked that she had thanked him for 'always' listening.
Alec's voice carried some sadness. "You know I'll always listen to you."
Max nodded. "It means a lot to me and I'll never forget it," she promised.
Alec pulled her into a warm hug. "Doesn't mean I take orders," he said, trying to lighten the mood.
Max smiled and slapped him gently in the stomach, pulling away from him. She drank the contents of her tumbler.
Alec made his way back to the living room and took a draw from his glass. He settled himself on the couch, looking out into the city. Max followed him to the couch, bottle in hand, and just as the downpour began, the power went out, leaving them both in the dark, illuminated only by the bits of moonlight reflecting off of the rain. He watched as her silhouetted figure approached.
"Did you ever notice how some things are better in the dark?" she asked. "Like when you close off one sense, all of the others are heightened."
"No," he said flatly. "That's just the mind's projection, propagated by poets and musicians. You know as well as I do that our senses are perfectly sharp no matter how many of them are accessible at any given time."
Max scoffed. "I'll prove it," she said, taking a swig from the bottle.
Alec mirrored her, swishing the remainder of his Scotch and setting his glass down on the coffee table. "Are you challenging me?"
Max stood playfully still and smiled. The moonlit rain danced on her skin.
"Alright. I'm up to it."
As she tongued the rim of the bottle, Alec's eyes grew wide. "You sure?"
Suddenly, he was parched, but managed to cough out in agreement. His pupils dilated and he suppressed a groan.
"Okay, close your eyes," she instructed.
"What? I'm enjoying the show," he protested, looking from her eyes to her lips. The bottle was no longer held captive at them, yet he still felt entranced.
"Close your eyes," she pushed.
"Fine." Scooting forward on the couch and folding his hands like an apt pupil, he let his eyelids flit closed in some sort of defiance, and waited.