It started with the hands.
Fingertips to be precise, gliding elegantly over a rickety old keyboard someone salvaged from the wreckage of what used to be a Biotronics R&D facility inside Terminal City. Fingernails clean and filed to the skin and slightly calcium-deficient, attached to insanely long, slender digits that barely faltered as they went about efficiently composing a letter to who knows who asking for who the fuck cares what.
Knuckles; had to be the knuckles. Alec just couldn’t take his eyes off the pale white knuckles. He could still see red bruises around a couple of them on each hand, souvenirs from their last encounter with the Familiars back at Jam Pony, no doubt. His breath hitched when the fingers paused, indicating their owner was taking a moment to gather their thoughts. The left hand’s index finger absently drummed the letter ‘S’ lightly, repeatedly, before the typing commenced again. Louder this time, and more purposeful, as if inspired by a stroke of sudden genius.
The slim and bony wrists were not what you’d expect on a tall man in the prime of his youth, not that they were delicate in any way, mind you. Hell, Alec had personally felt the strength of those hands as they’d gripped his forearm and hoisted him up to his feet just days ago. Subconsciously he reached with his left hand for that spot just above his right elbow.
He could still feel it tingle.
The way those wrists rested against the harsh edge of the keyboard, day in and day out, Alec wondered if there were permanent depressions at the base of those palms. He wondered what it’d feel like to touch them, those depressions. And if they’d be like darker patches of dead skin, unresponsive to his touch. Or if they’d be tender and soft and elicit helpless little gasps from the otherwise stoic individual who hardly ever made a sound he did not intend to be heard.
Alec felt like a soldier at the end of a hyper-charged skirmish (which wasn’t so far from the truth), seeking respite from the chaos in his head, the adrenaline still thrumming in his veins. What better way to escape it all but immerse himself in the absolutely mundane, the mind-numbingly ordinary? And yet something about this set of hands the war-weary soldier found incredibly, breathtakingly… extraordinary.
The X5 jolted out of his thoughts and turned to the very annoyed, high-pitched voice calling him. He blinked himself back to reality as if from a dream. Already the last catches of it were slipping away from him so he almost couldn’t remember what he’d been dreaming of. Almost.
“Why are you still here?” Max demanded, walking towards him. “Didn’t I ask you to double-check the perimeter reinforcements?”
Alec opened his mouth to respond, wide at first before bringing his lips closer in the shape of a tiny ‘O’ and still no excuse came to mind. Max tilted her head at him, calmer than she was a second ago, like she saw something in his face she couldn’t be angry with anymore.
Like she understood.
She followed his former line of sight down to the object of his obsessive (but she didn’t know that, maybe) fixation. They stood together at the mezzanine level of the command center. Below them on the first floor sat one of only three humans allowed inside Terminal City.
“What’s he doing?” she asked, not that she couldn’t have read the email from this distance herself.
They both had some eagle chromosome in their genetic cocktails after all. Might even be the same eagle, poor little bastard.
Alec quickly scanned through his photographic memory to piece together what he’d read. “He just wrote an email to some guy called Caleb, asking for a meeting. Said something about… not having seen the old house in Puget Sound in ages?”
Max crossed her arms, “Great uncle Caleb, from his mother’s side. Still one of the richest men in the world, if I’m not mistaken.”
Alec frowned. “You think Logan’s planning to ask him to make a generous donation to the Freak Nation Charity Foundation?”
“We discussed it, but I wasn’t sure. Looks like he’s going ahead with it anyway.”
“He forget you used to be a career thief, so were a lot of us? If push came to shove, we can always fall back on our… let’s call it resourcefulness. So what’s the big deal?”
Max sighed. “Transgenics resorting to crime is exactly the break White and our haters are looking for. We can’t afford to take any chances right now.”
Alec narrowed his eyes, looking back at the human as he went about his business, no idea he was being watched and discussed so intently.
“You really think he’d do it? For us? Come on, the all-mighty Logan Cale is way too proud to stoop to begging for alms, even I know it.”
Max smiled forlornly, studying Logan who’d taken his glasses off and was rubbing his eyes tiredly. “You’ve no idea of all the sacrifices this man has made for us, Alec.”
See you say ‘us’ but I think you kinda mean ‘me’, don’t you? Rhetorical, Alec didn’t want to know, really.
He watched Max as Max watched Logan. Something prickled at the back of his throat, something that had been blooming, burning, inside of him since the day Logan beat him in a game of pool back at Crash… something that yearned to tell Max (Logan’s not-girlfriend) to train her hungry eyes someplace else.
Good thing Manticore trained him well at keeping his mouth shut, and his emotions buried.
Max walked away, back to wherever she’d come from and not down to Logan where she obviously wanted to be. There was work to be done. No time for doomed romances as far as the fearless leader of the transgenic revolution was concerned.
Lucky for him, Alec had no place else to be.
“Alec!” Mac yelled from the door. “Perimeter?”
Alright, so maybe he did. Alec huffed and made to follow her out, but not before he turned to catch one last glimpse of the gorgeous pair of hands before they disappeared into pockets of baggy cargo-pants, two sizes too big, for the lanky frame of one Logan Cale.
Not that Alec should actually be noticing any of those things – not the hands, not the lankiness… definitely not the pants.
Stupid square jaw. It was going to be the death of him.
When Max and Logan were talking (arguing, more like) on the phone the next day, Alec pretended to be screening the security footage so he could be in eavesdropping distance. Two days later, when he knew Max would seek out an X5 who looked like an ordinary (but was anything but) to escort Logan, he dispatched all candidates who matched the description someplace far, far away from the command center.
And then when she turned to him, he pretended to be not at all enthusiastic about the task, but grudgingly accepted on the condition that he got to drive the car.
“It’s Logan’s car. You’ll have to take it up with him,” she said, glaring at him longer than he thought was necessary if she was just trying to impress the importance of this mission upon him.
Yes, he knew he was to escort Logan as his driver slash therapist slash bodyguard (kind of like some guy called Bling that Alec had never met).
Yes, he understood Caleb Cale was a highly paranoid octogenarian recluse who wouldn’t even trust his own nephew easily.
YES! He got why Logan would be pretending to still be in the wheelchair; to buy sympathy points from the old man. And because they couldn’t risk flipping him out with a long and complicated story about miracle transfusions.
And yes, he knew Max was basically forcing Logan into taking Alec with him. She wouldn’t have it any other way, which Logan wasn’t too happy about.
“Can I go now? Logan’s waiting for me.”
Max’s chest heaved a little. Then she jerked her head in a gesture that said ‘get lost’.
Alec took to the old underground tunnel that connected Terminal City to an old condemned building just on the outside a couple blocks away. It was Logan, in fact, who discovered it.
The army was still camped out all around TC, so far upholding their end of the tenuous truce with the transgenics. Their job was to make sure no one got in or out and that’s exactly the way Max wanted it for now – she was just as concerned for transgenics’ safety as the humans were for their own. NSA and Seattle PD were patrolling the rest of the city, rounding up any stray freaks and transporting them over to TC.
At least they hoped their kind were being transported to TC, not shipped in kennels to the DoD to be dissected like lab rats.
Either way, the ceasefire agreement made moving in and out of TC difficult, especially for the friendly humans in their midst – Sketchy, Original Cindi, and Logan. They couldn’t stay in TC forever anyway because unlike the freaks, they were not immune to the bio-hazardous spills that’d rendered TC toxic.
Turned out the condemned building and the Biotronics R&D facility inside TC were both part of the old Cale conglomerate. Logan made his new home (temporary hopefully, place was a dump) on the first floor of the outside building, far enough beyond the army’s perimeter but close enough that he could be there when Max needed him.
Personally, Alec was torn. He didn’t want Logan alone, vulnerable, unprotected. But he couldn’t keep him inside TC either. He didn’t want Logan out of his sight, but he didn’t want him in Max’s sight either. Not that it was any of his business where Logan stayed or what he did or who he saw or got seen by...
Lost in his circularly illogical thoughts, Alec walked until he reached Logan’s building. He leaned against the familiar black SUV outfitted for a paraplegic and waited. Ten minutes later, the door opened.
“About time, four-eye…” Alec looked up and the insult died on his lips.
So shocked was he to see Logan’s clean-shaven, exposed – nay – naked jaw… perfectly proportioned and chiseled by the hand of God himself… that his own dropped open and didn’t close until Logan was standing right beside him.
Logan smirked. “Yes, I shaved. Can we go now?”
Alec blinked. “I didn’t know you owned a razor. Hell, I didn’t know you owned a comb.”
Logan scowled then ran an insanely long hand through his nicely groomed (now ruined) hair. “Let’s go. We’re expected for dinner.”
He dangled the car keys in front of Alec, which Alec took with a big grin. It wasn’t often he got to drive a four-wheeler, and the kid in him couldn’t control his glee at the prospect.
“So I take it you’re okay with my cover – as your Bling?”
Logan missed a step on his way to the passenger side, but he didn’t respond. His head dropped and his smile disappeared. Alec bit his lip, not sure what he’d said or done wrong, but didn’t push.
Alec and Logan had never spent so much time together before, with nothing but each other for company. Even without his faux pas (whatever it was), Alec didn’t know if they’d have enough to say to each other. It was going to be a long two-hour ride.
And the jaw still kept throwing him off.
Logan looked so different – he was dressed in a nice black evening tux. No tie – that might seem like he was trying too hard. His slacks fitted him well, for a change, probably because he wasn’t wearing the exoskeleton underneath. The shirt was white and pressed under the equally pristine jacket, and tucked neatly in his pants as far as Alec could tell. The glasses were not smudged with greasy fingerprints for a change, but that didn’t stop Alec from still longing to reach out, drag them off the vigilante’s face and clean them with his own steel grey t-shirt. Like they said, you could always improve perfection, or wait, did they say the opposite?
But, damn, that jawline… no way could it possibly be any more perfect.
“Spit it out.”
“Huh?” Alec said, his control of the steering wheel wavering slightly.
Logan looked up from his laptop towards Alec. “Whatever it is, get it over with. What – is it the monkey suit? The hair again? You didn’t know my family was loaded? What am I doing here if my family is loaded? What?”
Alec cleared his throat. “No. I just… um,” wanna kiss you so bad right now, “didn’t get a chance to thank you, for your help a-at Jam Pony the other day…”
Logan went back to his research, answering absently, “Well, the exoskeleton did most of it.”
“O-okay, I should thank the exoskeleton then?” Lame.
“The exoskeleton is not here right now.”
“Can I leave a message?” Lamer.
Logan thought so too, and rolled his eyes. “Just drive.”
Alec let out a nervous breath, glad for having been shut up and spared from making a bigger idiot of himself.
The car revved and jerked annoyingly as Alec struggled to distinguish the hand controls from the regular ones. “Sorry, uh… they took my license for lack of hand-feet coordination.”
Logan just looked at him, until Alec stopped smiling and concentrated on the road.
A snorting sound startled him and Alec glanced sideways at Logan again. He found the older man take his glasses off and softly chuckle at the X5, before lowering his eyes back to his laptop.
Good Lord. Without the glasses and the stubble, Logan looked ten years younger. But when he smiled like that, he looked ten years of worldly burdens lighter, ten years of unspeakable horrors unseen, ten years of human tragedies unknown…
Alec resolved to be the biggest idiot in all of cyberpunk-America all the way to Puget Sound and back.
It was on Andersen Island that Alec got to touch… really, touch Logan. And then came the rabid obsessive compulsion that refused to let him rest until he’d touched Logan again. And again.
So okay, yeah, Alec was aware of how he was starting to objectify a man who was nothing more than a reluctant colleague, not even a friend really. But truth was, his feelings for Logan were quickly spiraling out of control and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it, them… whatever.
Ten minutes away from the Cale estate, Logan turned to Alec with a serious look on his face. “Alec, I wasn’t kidding about the old man being seriously off his rocker. So be careful, okay?”
Alec looked at him, getting a little worried by how nervous Logan seemed to be. “Don’t worry, Logan, I got your back.”
Logan smiled at him again. It was a short, tight little smile but it was there. And that was enough.
The main gate itself was a huge-ass security checkpoint. Three cameras turned towards them and their SUV, covering every angle possible.
“Every inch of the mansion is monitored. We’ll be watched all the time.”
“Even in the…?”
Logan grimaced, “Yep, there too.”
Alec tried to cheer him up. “It’s only a couple hours – I can hold it.”
That was the plan – stay for dinner, let Logan speak with his uncle and hopefully get what they needed (a big fat check to fund the survival of TC for a while, until they could get back on their own feet), then blaze. If Caleb wasn’t feeling very generous then he better tell them right away so they could be on their way.
“It’s not a big deal, right? Max still has a bunch of fences on her beck and call. We could always –”
“What – steal valuable American artifacts to sell to China? No, Alec. We can’t think like that,” Logan corrected him sharply.
Alec didn’t push, because while he had no personal attachment to pre-pulse US of A (hell, he didn’t know it), he trusted Logan to know better.
494 was trained for execution, pun totally intended, and wasn’t much of a strategist to begin with. That was Max and Logan’s area of expertise. His job was to focus on the task at hand. And in his expert opinion, no matter how today went, there wasn’t a whole lot to worry about.
He was dead wrong.
After they were buzzed in through the gates, it took them another ten minutes of driving to get to the actual house. Logan had called it a mansion; he might have understated it a bit.
The wheelchair rested folded neatly in the back. Logan glanced at it again with a world of distaste, obviously not looking forward to using it. Alec wanted to reach out and touch his hand, squeeze it just a little to reassure him. But he knew he couldn’t.
Hell, they were reluctant colleagues at best, they were not friends.
Three men in dark suits and an elderly woman greeted them at the door. One of the men reached out and opened Logan’s side of the door.
The woman tilted her head and smiled at Logan. “Welcome back, LJ!”
LJ? Alec made a note to ask him about it later.
Instinctively, Logan made to step out of the car. Alec quickly grabbed his nearest arm, tugging at his sleeve. Logan blinked, then, quickly gaining his composure, he smiled.
“Mrs. Nolan! How are you?”
While the two got reacquainted, a second man help Alec’s door open and greeted him. Alec nodded back and stepped out, fixing his black leather jacket that he often paired up with his favorite dark blue (clean for a change) jeans. The sky was starting to darken so he took off his shades and looked around.
They went through the planned motions. Alec pulled the wheelchair out from the back and Logan let himself be manhandled into it. Alec tried very hard to ignore the mild citrusy base of the cologne that clung to Logan’s neck when he got a little too close. He tried to suppress the thrill he felt, holding Logan around his slender waist, as Alec helped him into the wheelchair.
He also pretended the hand he left poised on Logan’s knee as he bent down to adjust the footrests was totally unintentional.
One of the men was a valet, apparently, even if Alec could clearly make out the contour of a shoulder holster beneath his jacket. He guessed their vehicle was about to get thoroughly frisked in the parking lot. They were led inside by the woman and the other two suits, Alec pushing Logan’s wheelchair though he didn’t need to.
The inside of the house, sorry mansion, was more majestic and decadent than Alec could have imagined in his wildest dreams. A part of him seethed at the injustice of it all, even as he was filled with a renewed respect for Logan and the choice he’d made leaving all this behind to do what he did.
Logan for his part looked as unimpressed by it all as he did with, well, pretty much everything else. He kept up the small talk with Mrs. Nolan who, it turned out, was the housekeeper. Chief Of Staff, as she liked to put it.
“Your uncle is waiting for you in the library, LJ. How about I take you there? Your… companion can wait here or perhaps freshen up in the guestroom if he likes.”
Alec stopped scoping out the place and spun back towards the woman. Like hell was he leaving Logan’s side and… companion? Just the way she said it, with that inflection in her voice, she might as well have raised her hands and made quoty fingers to go with it.
“Thanks, Mrs. Nolan. Alec? Do you mind?”
Catching the silent command on Logan’s face, Alec shrugged grudgingly. “Not at all,” then added with a sly grin, “LJ.”
Logan’s eyes half-glared then signaled him to wait right there in the outer… living room? Who knew what these people liked to call their eight hundred different rooms – Regency, Peacock, Solarium, whatever. He just nodded and halted in his spot, letting Mrs. Nolan wheel his ‘companion’ to another room.
Once alone, Alec started to look around again. To a layman he would seem curious and wide-eyed like a tourist in the Buckingham Palace, strolling past one magnificent piece of fucking history to another. In actuality, he was documenting every piece of surveillance equipment he could spot. He counted twenty-six bug-sized mics and cameras and he hadn’t even seen the library, dining area or the other four floors yet.
A few minutes later, the door to the library re-opened and two people came out: Logan on one side, and an older man walking beside him. Caleb Cale was in impressive shape for an eighty-year old. He was over six feet tall and still possessed a spine as straight as a man less than half his age. His hair was thin and all white, his lips were drawn into a thin line, and there was a sharp glint in his eyes uncharacteristic of a man his age.
Alec understood why Logan had opted for the monkey suit – Caleb Cale was one hell of a sharp dresser.
“And you must be Alec McDowell. Thank you for bringing my nephew out to visit us, young man.”
Alec couldn’t help but grin. He’d never been called that, and there was something almost ‘paternal’ about it. It was kind of… novel. Alec shook the extended hand and finally gazed down at Logan, who looked troubled.
“I hear you are a man of many skills, just like your predecessor. By the way, whatever happened to that other young man, Logan?”
Logan winced a little, just as he had when Alec had mentioned Bling before. “He had to return to New York, Uncle Caleb. Family matters.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Caleb said, not sounding sorry at all. “But it looks like young McDowell here is a highly capable replacement. Call me old-fashioned but I do appreciate a man with a last name.”
He smirked at Alec, and Alec had no choice but to politely smile and nod back, completely lost. Logan just looked away, folding his hands in his lap almost demurely. Alec didn’t like that look on his face – he was probably offended for his buddy Bling, which he obviously should be, but he also looked kind of sad… and disturbed.
“Well, Mrs. Nolan does not like to be kept waiting so… shall we?”
Caleb nodded at Alec, fully expecting him to take a hold of Logan’s wheelchair like he was a complete invalid. Alec complied, seeing how Logan made no move whatsoever to follow his uncle into the dining hall on his own.
“You okay?” he whispered, bending over the back of the wheelchair towards Logan.
The bespectacled man nodded quickly without looking at Alec. “Um, Alec, there might be a change of plans.”
“Uncle wants us to stay the weekend.”
In this luxurious hellhole that was making Logan so uncomfortable?
“What do you want to do?”
Logan sighed. “I want to get out of here, but we might not have a choice. The old man doesn’t get much company up here, so if… staying a couple of days helps us then… y-you don’t mind, do you?”
Alec felt that rabid urge to reach out and touch Logan again. Like maybe just put a hand on his shoulder, give it a little squeeze to let him know that Alec was here, right here. And that he still had his back.
But they were not friends, they were barely even… ah the hell with it.
Alec stopped pushing the wheelchair and came around to face Logan. He knelt by him so they could talk in whispers without the recorders catching them. He placed a hand on top of Logan’s left one and gently caressed a couple of just-starting-to-heal knuckles, wondering if he was imagining the slight shudders under his touch.
“I’m in if you are. However long it takes. But are you sure you want to do this?” Because there was clearly something off here, Alec just couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
Logan licked his lips and suddenly let out a deep breath. Then he smiled, truly smiled, at Alec. “I’m glad you’re here. Let’s do this.”
That’s all Alec needed to hear. He winked at Logan and stood up, and together they made their way to dinner.
His fingers itched to touch… at least the bars of Logan’s wheelchair again, just so they could be in the vicinity of Logan. But Alec suppressed the urges and walked beside Logan, who wheeled himself confidently towards their destination.