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by Craig Rettig

Seven-thirty a.m. always came too quickly for Alex as he reached up and shut off his alarm. As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he leaned over against Rachel.

"Wake up, sleepy-head," he cooed sarcastically.

"Hmmmm? ..." Rachel rolled over onto her back and opened her eyes. Alex leaned forward some more and gave her a kiss.

"Eww...Back! Back from the pit that spawned ye and your morning breath!" Rachel screamed as she put her hand over her face and rolled over, burying her face in the pillow.

"Hey, you ain't exactly in the running for Miss Hygiene right now either," Alex prodded, rubbing his hands through Rachel's hair, mussing it up some more. Alex then got up and walked to the bathroom. Alex ran his hands through his hair as he relieved himself. "Gee, I just wonder what dear-ol'-Dad's gonna think about this," he thought to himself as he remembered he had let the back grow about a foot since his parents had seen him last. "That and the earring. Ah, well..." Flushing, he turned on the shower, giving it about thirty seconds to warm up.

Alex dropped his undies the rest of the way and go in. As he let the hot water run over him, he could think of nothing better to get himself going in the morning like a good shower. After washing and shampooing, he combed through his hair quick, brushed his teeth, wrapped a towel around himself, and walked out. "All yours, m'lady." he said, bowing slightly.

"Thank you so much, sir," Rachel said back, bounding up to Alex in one of his Metallica T-shirts and kissing him lightly on the lips. "Mmmmm...much better," she smiled, walking into the bathroom and shutting the door.

Alex got dressed, choosing a more-suitable-for-home solid black poket T-shirt rather than his usual garb. Doug's mom will probably be surprised enough when she sees the hair, a Morbid Angel T-shirt'd probably put her in her grave.

Alex heard the toilet flush, and Rachel came out of the shower, dressed in her outfit from thenight before. She walked over to Alex, kissed him lightly on the lips and said, "Okay, I'm going to go home, change and pack a few things. I'll be back in about a half hour to pick you up."

Alex smiled back, "All right, I'll see you in hour, then?"

Rachel gritted her teeth and smiled. "You know, you're lookin' to get your self a one-way ticket to a long walk."

"Oh, I'm just kidding and you know it."

Rachel grinned. "Maybe YOU are."

"Did I mention how radiant you looked this morning?" Alex asked in a patronizing tone.

Rachel huffed. "That's what I thought you said."

Rachel gave Alex a quick kiss, opened the door, and walked outside, waving as she shut the door behind her. Alex was almost finished packing himself, starting while Rachel was showering. As he put the last few essentials in his overnight bag, he walked into the living room and slumped down in his chair, lighting up a cigarette as he did so. He then flipped on the TV, settling for some new cartoon called X-O Force.

About forty-five minutes later, Alex heard a car horn beeping from outside. He grabbed his bag and jacket and opened the door. He had to blink two or three times when he saw Rachel waving from a brand- new black Mustang convertible. "What the...?" was all he could muster out.

"Like it?" Rachel beamed, as she popped the trunk and got out of the car.

"Where did you get the money to buy this?" Alex asked surprisedly. "Wait...never mind. I don't wanna know."

Rachel leaned up against the door. "Just shut up, throw your stuff in, and get in the car," she smirked. "In that order."

Alex walked over and stuck his bag in the trunk. He shook his head as he shut the lid and walked over to the passenger side. As he got in, he noticed the interior was fully-loaded, including a Pioneer in-dash CD player. "Keep your mouth shut--Watch your words closely," he told himself. Finally, when Rachel got in, he managed to say, "Nice car."

As Rachel drove through Clifton, getting to the I-75 North on-ramp, Alex was trying to think of something to say, anything. As Rachel got all the way over in the left lane and turned on the radar/laser detector, she said, "Go ahead and ask it if it's bugging you that much."

Alex realized that it was a now-or-never situation. "So, what is it you really want from me?"

Rachel lowered her head slightly, only moving her eyes to check the mirrors. "Hmm...not the question I was expecting. What do I want?" Rachel thought for a moment. "Alex, let me ask you something. If the way I am bugs you so much, why do you still put up with me?"

"Because you're extremely good in the sack," Alex smiled.

Rachel deepened her voice, allowing a little ire into it. "This isn't the time to be joking around. All I want and all I ever wanted from you was a good time, especially when I saw you were an Omega. I'm a thrill-seeker pure and simple. Now...answer my question."

"I'm sorry...Look," Alex replied, "I'm not sure exactly what I feel for you or why. This all started out for me as a short-term 'I'm gonna be gettin' some' sort of thing. Then, the more I'm around you, the more I realize I'm falling for you." Alex let out a breath of air, realizing he put himself in a fairly vunerable situation emotionally.

Rachel looked over at him briefly, a serious look on her face with just a hint of a smile. "I think the same thing happened with me," she finally said. "Something just clicked between us that first night. I'm not sure what, but somthing was just...there. You weren't at all what I was expecting. Your outward appearance and your mannerisms had me thinking 'Okay, this'll be fun and I'll never see you again,' but you weren't what I expected. Despite the fact both of us were animals that night, there was a certain gentleness in your demeanor that made you stick out. That's the reason I was still there in the morning and didn't leave before you woke up."

Alex thought for a moment. "So what happens now?"

"I don't know Alex. I mean, let's face it, you and I are really two totally different people. You work and are still trying to get that Dvorak guy for what he did to you. Me, well, I'm supporting myself the only way I know how. It just seems to me like we're almost settling for the best thing to come along so far, and not necessarily falling in love or whatever. You've never told me how you feel about me, other than the occasional compliment which you often throw out almost sarcastically. I had to prod you right now to get you to tell me your real feelings."

"You're right," Alex said, realizing everything she was saying was true. "I'm not that good with these types of relationships. I mean, my record on a relationship so far time-wise is six months. Usually, I bolt when I feel a committment coming. But with you, there's something different. Something...I want."

"So do we take this relationship to the next level, or not?"

Alex looked into his soul. It had been a long time since he had felt this comfortable around anyone. Rachel did have a few idiosyncracies he wasn't sure how he felt about, but maybe it was time to drop the macho exterior and the wall he'd come to build around himself, allowing someone else in. "If you're willing, yes."

The ride had been silent now for about an hour and a half, save for the stereo. The Mustang's passengers were both happy and confused at the same time, anticipating what was to come in their relationship. Alex's thoughts, however, had moved to home. What was he supposed to do? There was no way he could move back home. Too much of his life had become rooted in Cincinnati, and he wasn't ready to give that up just to be his family's protector. Alex had run several scenarios through his mind about what he should do to his father. He had the power to kill or cripple him. In fact, it would probably be easy. But, dammit, it was still his father...

A little while later, Rachel jarred his thoughts.

"Hey, the Findlay exits are coming up, which one do we want?"

"Um...sorry...the first one. It should be marked as a hospital exit," Alex replied, coming back to the real world.

"Okay, yeah, there's the sign. Cool, it's marked the whole way to the hospital," Rachel said, mostly to herself, trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory.

They came up to Blanchard Valley Hospital and pulled into the visitor's lot. According to the sign, visiting hours had just started, so the two of them walked in.

Alex walked up to the front desk and said, "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me which room Mrs. Sandra Cox is in. I'm her son, Alexander."

The nurse at the desk checked her watch, then leafed through some files on her desk, finally pulling one out. "Yes. Mrs. Cox is in Room 147A. That's down this hallway, take a left, then take a right at the first hallway you come to. The numbers are on the door."

"Thank you," Alex replied, turning to Rachel. "Well, I guess you get to meet the better half of my family now."

As they began walking down the hallway, Rachel reached over and took Alex's hand, grasping it reassuredly.

Alex looked over at Rachel and smiled. "Thanks a lot for this. I really mean it."

Rachel just smiled and said, "Alex, I'd do a lot more for you than drive you to see your family. Hey, here's the room. Do you want me to come in, too?"

"Yeah," Alex sighed, "I could really use the emotional support."

Alex knocked softly and began opening the door. He was greeted to his mother lying on the bed, staring at the wall, one of her eyes blackened and puffy. Sandra registered that the door had been opened and looked up.


"Hi mom," Alex stammered, "sorry I didn't call first, but I heard..."

Sandra smiled and held up her arms, "Alex, come here and give me a hug!" As Alex embraced his mother, she said, "God, I thought you were dead. We never heard from you!"

"Yeah, isn't that the truth."

Alex stiffened when he heard the deep baritone from behind him. He slowly stood back up and turned around.

"Uh...Hi, dad."

Family Ties concludes!

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