(or, A Lesson in Humility)
Alec was mortified. It wasn’t simply the fact that Max was standing beside him, holding Logan’s hand. Hell, if she wanted to play those kind of stupid games with the man who couldn’t come within a foot of her without all but donning a full body condom, that was her dealio. Who was he to stand in her way? He’d warned her enough about the risk in letting Logan remain in her life; her choice if she wanted to disregard his sound advice.
But to give her shining paramour the impression he was seeing Max, to have the man think him the bad guy, to grow used to wearing that kind of false name and get all comfortable in the kind of smug satisfaction it provoked… And then go and hold Logan’s hand and kick start the poor man’s false hope all over again?
Worst of all, have the residents of Terminal City think Loggie Wonder-Legs had won a girl away from the Marvellous Monty Cora! Now, that hurt.
Not that anyone outside of Original Cindy was aware of their false relationship, anyway.
“Saw Logan with your girl back there.”
Alec groaned inwardly as Mole’s gruff and slightly patronising voice caught him on the stairwell. “She’s not my girl.” He picked up his pace a little, in no mood for having to explain himself - or Max - to anyone else right now. Hell, he was having a hard enough time trying to explain the situation to himself.
“Coulda fooled me.” Mole chuffed, “Gotta be a slap to the ego, huh?”
“Nope.” Wincing at Mole’s bulls eye remark, Alec forced casual indifference into his voice. “Like I said, she’s not my girl.”
It was true, wasn’t it? Max may have conveniently used him as the scapegoat for her failed ‘relationship’ with Logan, but it was only a farce. A ridiculous charade they had awkwardly acted out in Logan’s presence for the sake of keeping up appearances. Like he would confide any of this to Mole.
“Well, I wouldn’t stand for it if I were you.” Mole’s persistence was setting Alec’s teeth on edge. He gritted them and pushed open the ground floor door, half hoping it would slam in the transhuman’s face and shut him on the other side.
“Hey!” Mole’s shout from behind caused Alec to stop and make a slow turn, turning his eyes skyward in exasperation.
“I’m just tellin’ ya this in the hope you’ll grow some balls and stop lettin’ the girl make a fool outta ya. Just tryin’a help is all.”
Alec opened his mouth to reply, but saw Max appear in the stairwell behind Mole, Logan in tow. Shrugging indifference, he turned and strode across the shattered foyer, out into the street. A stiff drink was out there, with his name on it.
The Ark was full of transgenics celebrating their stand for freedom. Alec sat alone at a corner table, feet on the stool opposite and leaning against the wall as he toyed with his glass of scotch. Across the room, Max laughed alongside Original Cindy and Sketchy, while Logan stood behind her, a bewildered smile on his face at a joke missed. Alec rolled his eyes and began to rap a beat upon the table with his fingers, his irritation mounting.
At the table to his left an X5 brunette glanced periodically in his direction, a smile of invitation dancing upon her lips whenever he turned his head towards her. Alec considered the temptation to cross to her side and whisper a suggestion in her ear, but something about her appearance was putting him off. Perhaps it was the bone straight dark hair. Reminded him too much of the source of his vexation.
Besides, what could he do? Take her home to the apartment he shared with Max? Right. Max may have held Logan’s glove-clad hand today, but until he had confirmation she had told Logan the truth, he didn’t want to appear the guy who had not only stolen Max from under Logan’s nose, but proceeded to cheat on her under her roof. Frustrated, Alec rubbed a hand across his forehead and winced at his own newly-developed conscience. Why should he care anyway?
But he did. And he was angry Max had put him in this predicament. Unable to even pick up a one night stand because she had wanted a quick exit from her ‘relationship’. A lost-cause relationship she now seemed all too happy to resume again. In it’s hands-off-unless-gloved, ‘we’re not like that anyhow’ kind of way.
Mole was right. She was making him look the fool.
Well, he pondered smugly as he watched Logan exit stage left to use the Gents. Two can play that game.
“As I recall, you and I are meant to have a thing going on?”
Max felt her skin tingle (with irritation of course) as Alec’s whisper caressed the nape of her neck. She ducked her head away, frowning as she bent further over her drink. “Uh-huh. And your point is?”
Alec stopped. He’d been prepared for her to tell him their deception was over, and that he no longer had any weird kind of moral obligation to keep his hands off other girls in Logan’s presence. But no, she was still maintaining the lie of this false relationship, while leading Logan along like a little puppy on a leash. It was enough to make a guy sick.
“My point is, sweet cheeks, we have a ruse to maintain.” Alec slipped an arm around her waist as he saw Logan approach from the corner of his eye and leant in closer. “Don’t we?”
Max stiffened as Alec’s insinuation sank in. Then she became aware of Logan, likewise frozen, three steps away.
“Logan buddy!” Still with his arm around Max’s waist, Alec flashed a cheerful grin to the cyber-journalist. “Didn’t realise you were still here. Maxie and I were just talkin’ about heading home for an early -”
“You know Alec, how ‘bout you head home?” Max cut in as she disengaged herself from Alec’s embrace, a tight smile clenched between her jaws. “I’m not really tired, so I’ll catch up with ya later.”
“Oh?” Alec raised his eyebrows in surprise. “But honey-puff, you just as good as told me you were keen for a quick get-away and a slooow -”
“Go home Alec!” A slight sheen of perspiration had broken across Max’s forehead, and with her back to Logan, she mouthed silent pleas.
Alec chuckled at Max‘s discomfort and opened his mouth, but his words were replaced with a small yelp as Max gripped his arm and dug her fingers into muscle, steering him towards the door. “Here, let me walk you out.”
Plastering an endearing smile across his face as he patted Max’s white knuckled clasp, Alec allowed himself to be turned away from the table, winking at Logan as they passed. Once out of earshot, Max hissed, “what the hell was all that about?”
Disentangling himself, Alec brushed at the invisible talon-marks on his sleeves and adopted an innocent fašade. “What d’ya mean Max? I’m just doing my bit with this whole fake relationship ruse you sank me into a couple days back, remember?”
As they broke out into the cold air, Alec stopped at the doorway and turned towards Max, leaning in closer as he spotted Logan across the bar, watching their exchange. “Figured it best we show some affection towards each other. I mean, we don’t want Logan realising he’s been duped, right?”
“I don’t think it’s necessary Alec.” Max scowled and began to step back, but Alec caught her about the waist and tugged her closer, his eyes cool. “Oh, I do sweetie-pie. Affection’s an integral part of any normal relationship. Or so I’ve been told. So I think it’s gonna have to be necessary if you wanna keep Loggie-boy from staying on in Terminal City - gettin’ himself all lovesick and toxic-chemical sick in the process.”
“Why do I get the feeling there’s an ‘or else’ heading my way?” Max pushed against Alec’s chest in effort to escape his so-called ‘embrace’ and let out a grunt of impatience as he refused to let go.
“You’re right Maxie!” Catching her hands between his own to stop her from fighting - and to play out the parody of intimacy for their one person audience - Alec could barely contain his gleeful smile. “See, if you’re not willing to carry on playing this game you started, you’re gonna have to tell Logan you lied to him. About us.”
Max glowered, at loss for words as she realised Alec was trying to force her into telling Logan the truth at last, knowing she’d never agree to ’play along’ with their relationship ruse. Damn that boy was good.
“Why the hell are you doing this Alec? Can’t you just let things be as they are until…”
“Until what Max? Until the cure for the virus is miraculously found? Until Logan’s dead?” Alec’s expression was incredulous. “I mean, how much longer do I have to pretend to every damn soul in this place that I’m with you? How long will you deny me the opportunity to have a relationship of my own?”
Max looked away, ashamed at the realisation of the sacrifice she‘d asked Alec to make for her sake. “Fine. I’ll tell him the truth.”
“Good.” Alec released Max and turned her towards the bar, pushing her forward slightly. “Now run along and do it quick before the girl who making ‘come hither‘ eyes at me leaves with someone else.”
“What?” Alec groaned and leaned against the door frame. “For Pete’s sake… What now?”
“Give me a day to prepare myself.” Anxious, Max tugged at Alec’s arm as she spotted Logan making his way through the crowd towards them. “Just one day okay? I need to think about how I’ll tell him.”
Alec rolled his eyes skyward as Logan reached the door and stopped two feet from Max’s side. At once he switched mood - or appeared to - and stepped forward to envelope her in a quick hug. “No worries sugar-cake. I’ll give you some time to think about my proposition.”
Releasing Max, Alec gave Logan a friendly slap on the shoulder (which left the man still rubbing it five minutes later) and added, “Don’t let sweet-cheeks stay out too long. I’ll be waiting up for her…”
Logan waited until Alec had turned the corner out of sight before asking in a worried tone, “What’s this about a proposition?”
“Don’t worry.” Grimacing, Max stepped carefully past Logan and back into the warmth of the busy bar.
The anxious inquisitor turned tail and followed. “And what’s with the cheesy pet names?”
Tomorrow. Max told herself. I am definitely going to sort this all out - tomorrow.
Meanwhile, she intended to spend the night draining The Ark of it’s precious beer supply.