A/N: This is the first installment in a series entitled, "The High Place". While working on "Chained", I began considering the idea of a prequel. A prequel expanded into two, then three, plus add a couple of sequels and... voila! You have yourself a series. The theme's pretty simple... all are centered around M/A conversations set in the same universe (though some are several years apart), taking place atop the Space Needle. Right now, there are set to be six parts... this is the first; "Chained" is the fourth. Seeing as this is a prequel, you don't have to read "Chained" to understand this one.
It had finally come. The day that he'd dreaded, yet had always expected. The one that had become inevitable, a mere matter of time once the virus had been cured…
Knowing had not made it any easier. Expecting had not made it any less painful. Running away had not made it any less real.
And run he had. Harder and faster than he'd ever run before. With no regard for his own safety, no concern for the strain he was putting on his body. He'd run and run and run, like the devil himself - if such a creature existed, though he doubted it - was on his heels, chasing him through the wet and filthy streets of Seattle. Run like his life had depended on it, though it had not… but maybe his sanity, what little precious amount he had left stored. Run until his chest felt like it was going to explode, his lungs as if they'd collapse, his legs as if they'd turned to rubber…
Until he'd found himself at the base of a familiar refuge.
And still he'd continued, up the stairs, round and round the spiral length, never pausing, never slowing down, and no, not ever stopping. Not until he'd taken that first step onto the inner circle of the tower, did his movements finally slow to a pace a "normal" person could actually have kept up with. Then he'd made his way to the open windows, where once, long ago, many years before he'd had his first taste of freedom and of loss, there had been barriers that kept the visitors from stepping out onto the saucer shape of the outer stretch. Now they were gone and he'd walked on through.
And he'd climbed down sloped surface to the very edge, not carefully but not entirely without care. He'd stumbled only once before finally collapsing at his destination.
Legs shaky from the exertion, heart thundering in his chest, throat sore from the strain of all he'd kept inside - he'd let his body crumple into a heap of defeat and pain.
Then nothing. Silence. Stillness.
He didn't know how long he'd sat there - how long he had been sitting there - utterly motionless and quiet. His mind, his body entirely focused on one goal. He would not break down… not now…
The sinking sun disappeared. Blackness descended, a moonless, starless night greeted the city. His body grew stiff, his legs and back ached from the lack of movement. And still the lump in his throat would not go away. The telltale burn behind his eyes threatened betrayal, and he squeezed them shut.
A shift in the air and he knew he was no longer alone… footsteps behind him confirmed it moments later. Still, he didn't turn around.
"Alec." A soft voice carried over through the stillness of the night. He didn't reply.
Hesitant steps toward him and finally she sat down, softly, beside him. He opened his eyes and stared straight ahead.
"I was looking all over for you." An awkward pause. "You took off before we had a chance to talk."
"Talk about what, Max?" His voice was only minimally hoarse with the strain of all that he was still trying to keep in check. They both did an admirable job of ignoring it.
"I don't know... That was a pretty big announcement we made back there. I was hoping you might have something to say about it, at least."
"Like what… congratulations? Merry wishes? Good luck to the both of you?" Sarcasm made his words bitter. Or maybe the bitterness made him sarcastic. Either way, what did it matter?
Beside him, he felt her stiffen slightly in anger, and then she rose to her feet. "Well I guess it was too much to expect you to actually be happy for me."
Turning, he finally looked at her. He had to crane his neck to meet her eyes. "No, it was too much to expect me to actually be happy for you and Logan."
The fire in her gaze ebbed slightly, and she seemed suddenly uncertain. "And you know why, Max, you have to know why. No one, not even you, can be that blind."
"I… I don't know what you're talking about," she said as she turned and took a few steps back up the tower… fleeing. But there was something in her expression, something he saw before she glanced away, that betrayed her words.
He rose to his feet, ignoring the protests of his cramped muscles. He shouldn't have sat so long, so still… "Then why are you here? Why are you checking up on me to see how I'm taking the news, when you should be back at TC, with Logan, celebrating?"
She didn't answer but kept her back to him, arms crossed over her chest. From where he stood, it looked like she was hugging herself, as if sheltering herself… But she always was, from something or another, in some way or another.
He found himself walking toward her and he didn't stop until there was maybe two feet between them. "Max, you know the truth," his voice was quiet. "You know how I feel. I - "
She turned back abruptly, cutting him off with the sudden movement. There was a hint of desperation in her dark eyes as they gazed up into his. "Don't. Just… don't."
"Why not?" he demanded. "If we both already know it, what difference will it make just putting it into words?"
Something sparked in the depth of her eyes. Desperation mingled with anger. "You know what difference it'll make. And you know it won't be anything good, so just stop." She made as if to leave.
"Max." He grabbed her; both hands on her upper arms before she could even turn away, and forced her still. His own anger was rising now. Reflexive to hers, and in response to the day's developments and the emotions he'd been storing within himself ever since that terrible announcement. What right had she to tell him to deny the truth? He was not a coward. He'd said it himself once - put your heart out on the line, if you want something…
"I love you."
She slumped slightly in his grip, as if the fight had been sucked right out of her. He forged on. "And I know somewhere deep inside, you feel something for me too. No matter how hard you try to deny it - "
" - and it's just this overwhelming sense of loyalty you have towards Logan that keeps you from accepting those feelings. It keeps you from even considering the possibility - "
"Alec." She squirmed a little, trying to free herself from his hands.
He held her tighter. His voice was a fierce command disguising a desperate plea. "Max, just admit it… admit that there's something here between us."
She paused in her struggles and met his gaze with her dark eyes, the tumultuous pools of liquid emotion that haunted his dreams at night and his waking thoughts during the day. Her lips parted slightly as if to speak, but she didn't have the words to complete the action.
All he needed was for her to see, to open herself up to the truth…
And suddenly, without warning, he dove forward, capturing her mouth with his, using his hold on her arms to pull her toward himself, to close the remaining distance between them. It was a hard, fierce kiss, of nearly bruising intensity, and it conveyed every emotion he was feeling… his despair, his anger, his hurt, his need, want and desire… everything she wanted to deny and everything he couldn't ignore…
And just as suddenly, there was nothing but cold, empty air and a sharp sting as his face jerked to one side. His eyes popped open. Surprise. She'd slapped him.
He faced forward slowly, met her eyes in partial disbelief. Rage darkened her features. Her lips were slightly swollen, her cheeks tinged with red, fists balled tight at her sides to keep from performing the encore. But the hardest blow of all didn't require the use of fists…
"I love Logan," she spat out. "Not you. I'm marrying him."
He realized then he wasn't breathing… hadn't been breathing since he'd barreled into that doomed kiss. Maybe he'd never breathe again. Sounded like a good idea… it certainly sounded better than the alternative.
Then he blinked rapidly as she let out a sigh. Her anger seemed to seep away without reason, without warning, her stance relaxing gradually. Her hand, the same hand that had delivered the blow, rose to his burning cheek, grazed the flesh gently. The fury he'd witnessed only moments earlier had been replaced by something else, something new and more horrible than anything she'd shown so far.
"You're just confused," she said, in a voice horribly kind and far too understanding. "This, what we have between us, it isn't… love. At least not the kind that you're thinking of."
He pushed her hand away. Rough, because her anger would have been better than this. Having her look at him with disgust on her face, hearing her tell him that she hated him and never wanted to see him again… anything. Anything but this.
"I know what love is. I've felt I before."
She shook her head. "You've felt one kind of love… just because you care about someone, care about what happens to them and want them in your life, it doesn't mean that you're in love with them." She looked so certain, so suddenly sure of everything.
"Max…" he whispered, not trusting himself to say more. Not trusting that lump in his throat that had arisen once again.
"And even if I'm wrong… even if… it doesn't matter. Because I don't feel that way about you. And I never could." She raised a hand, reaching for his shoulder, but thought better and dropped it. She sighed again. "I do care about you, Alec, so please, try to understand."
She waited, watching him for a few long seconds, maybe expecting him to say something. But he had nothing more to say, no more words to give her, to convince her… to have thrown back in his face.
Finally, she ended it with, "I'm sorry." And she left.
When he was sure she was gone for good and not coming back, he let himself slump to the metal surface for the second time that day. He'd been wrong after all… she didn't love him. And she never would, not now. Not now when she had Logan and she could touch him. Not now that she was marrying him.
Polite rejection. It stung worse than the wound on his face that was bruising already.
She was sorry?
He was pitiful. He really did always go for the ones he couldn't have.
A choking noise escaped his lips and he told himself, fiercely, that it was not a sob. He was not about to break down. His vision blurred and he insisted those were not tears. He was not about to cry. And why should he be? Because he'd been rejected? Because he'd been turned away for another? That was nothing - he'd been through far, far worse in his time… he'd lived and survived through more.
Knowing that didn't make it any better.