PART TWENTYFIVE

"What the hell are you doing here?!" Alex demanded angrily. Inside, Annie recognized the boy's voice, heard her younger sister's subsequent outburst, and motioned to everyone to remain seated. She rushed to the door to see Alex's ex-boyfriend Hunter Reeves standing on the front porch. "Alex, just give me a minute to explain .........." he stuttered as Annie arrived. "Alex? What's going on?" she asked. Alex's thoughts suddenly appeared her head. "You're about to see if I can put a man on Mars is what ..." rang Alex's telepathic message.

"Alex, please just give me a chance ........" he begged again, only to be interrupted by Alex. "Explain what Hunter?! How I walked into Study Hall to find you making out with Libby Flanders? A girl who hates my guts?! Is that what you want to explain?!". Annie was becoming concerned that Alex's temper may accidentally trigger her powers. Alex had not yet turned off her telepathic link with her sister and 'heard' Annie's concerns. Taking a deep breath and quickly composing herself, Alex turned to her sister. "I'll be alright Annie" she said in a calmer voice. "Just ... just go back inside, o.k.?".

Annie looked at her, and Alex's pleading eyes convinced her. "O.k." she conceded quietly, giving Hunter a dirty look before going back inside. "If you need me, I'll be right inside". Annie softly closed the front door behind her, leaving Alex standing alone face to face with Hunter on the front porch. Her gaze burned into him as she crossed her arms. "You have a lot of nerve coming here Hunter ........" she said coldly.

"I didn't know what else to do Alex. You've blown me off half a dozen times at school when I've tried to talk to you ...". Alex stared straight through him. "......And you still didn't get the hint?" she quipped. Hunter held his hands up in defeat. "Alex, arguing isn't going to solve anything. We have to talk about this; about what happened last week" he answered, trying to reason with her. Alex turned and began pacing in a small circle, tossing her arms up in a futile gesture.

"What's there to talk about Hunter? You totally humiliated me in front of the entire school; with my enemy to boot! What else could there be to talk about?!". "Alex, I ... I didn't mean for any of that to happen, and I certainly didn't mean to hurt you".

"Well Hunter, you 'did' hurt me. You hurt me a lot, more than you could ever imagine" she replied crossly. Alex stopped pacing, leaned against the jamb of the front door, and peered back at him. "Talking about what happened isn't going to change that. It happened. What else is there to say?".

"Alex" he sighed. "I'm sorry for what happened, I ... I really am. When Libby showed up in study hall that day, it caught me completely by surprise".

"No need to explain Hunter, I KNOW the feeling ..." Alex interjected sarcastically. "O.k., o.k., I deserved that" he admitted. He stepped closer and Alex tensed slightly.

"Alex, I still care for you, but ... but it wouldn't be fair to you if I denied that I still have unresolved feelings concerning Libby". Alex could feel the powerful feelings of remorse and sincerity emanating from Hunter. She side-stepped him and walked to the other end of the porch to get away from the emotions starting to flood her system. She was so happy her powers had returned, but these types of situations caused her great alarm. She knew Annie was worried that emotions could cause the accidental triggering of her powers, but she was determined to deal with this weakness by herself.

From what little she sensed from Hunter, she knew he was torn two ways inside, and that he really meant what he was saying, but to Alex, it just wasn't good enough. No, if Hunter really cared for her as much as he said, then he wouldn't have done what he did; especially with Libby Flanders. Alex's world was entirely different now, and it's time she started looking out for herself.

She plopped down onto the porch swing, crossed her arms again, and gazed harshly upon her ex-boyfriend. Alex suddenly recalled an evening several weeks ago very similar to this one, when she and Hunter had been on this very porch and he was explaining to her why he never showed up to pick her up on their first date.

His explanation about Dave Watt approaching him that night with news about the possible answer to his father's death was good enough to convince her to forgive him, and those cute, brown, sad eyes and soft voice of his didn't hurt either. But not this time.

"I know the whole story about you and Libby" Alex countered with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I've heard it enough at school the past week; how you and her were an item when you lived in Seattle. I also know how you two never really broke up ....". Hunter stepped closer to her. "It's just so hard to explain Alex".

Alex's eyebrows furled in irritation. "What was so hard about being honest with me in the first place Hunter?! You should have told me you never broke up with your girlfriend!".

"Alex, I had no idea that you and Libby were enemies. I didn't know anything about what happened between you two back then" he replied, referring to the time when Libby tried to take advantage of Alex's friendship three years ago. Hunter too, had heard the entire story of the two girls' past at school.

"That doesn't matter Hunter!" she fired back angrily. "You shouldn't have kissed Libby in the first place if you cared about me!". Hunter only stood there unable to say anything, his hands held up again in a futile gesture. "But it doesn't matter anymore I suppose ..." she continued, her eyes lowering towards the porch floor. "...because Libby finally got what she wanted; that witch finally got her revenge against Alex Mack".

"Alex...." Hunter tried to begin, but she cut him off. "Don't even try defending her to me Hunter. It's what she wanted! She 'planned' this! Ruining our relationship is 'exactly' what Libby hoped to accomplish to get even with me, and now ......", tears began to well up in her eyes. " ..... and now she has you". Hunter placed his hands on his hips and looked downwards, guilt all over his face. "And the only reason she has you now, is because you .... you still love her after all this time".

Hunter couldn't look up, and it was enough to convince Alex. "You know something Hunter?" she asked, trying not to cry in front of him. "I know you're really not a terrible person or anything, but I also know what kind of person Libby Flanders is. She's a manipulator. She 'takes' what she wants and she doesn't care who gets hurt in the process, and you've fallen right under her spell. And if you've allowed yourself to fall under her spell so easily, then there's nothing else to talk about. If you came here seeking forgiveness, your timing couldn't be worse". Hunter remained silent.

"I want you to leave now Hunter ..." she continued in a trembling voice, seeing Hunter offering no defense. " ...and I don't want you to come back. Nothing you can say, no explanation you can offer, is going to change how I feel right now or change anything that's happened. Just ... just go". Hunter's eyes also began to well with tears as Alex slowly stood and walked by him towards the front door. She didn't even offer him another glance. He tried to say something else, but Alex sensed it in advance and wouldn't let him. "Just go Hunter ..." she said, closely facing the front door, unable to look at him. She could smell the faint scent of pine from door and concentrated on it to remain calm.

Tears were freely flowing down Alex's cheeks now, her eyes squinty and red, but she fought to keep her voice level to prevent Hunter from knowing how upset she really was. After several seconds, she heard Hunter slowly spin on his heels and his footfalls on the front steps as he descended them. She listened as the scuffle of his tennis shoes on the front walk faded into the distance. She squinted her eyes hard and a river of tears flowed from them, and when she knew Hunter had left, she turned to look out at the night. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she stepped to the front edge of the porch. The cold night wind whipped against her face.

"Goodbye Hunter Reeves" she whispered to the very first boy she had ever loved, but only the wind heard her words.

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Vince pulled his jeep onto the narrow country lane north of Paradise Valley, and shut off his headlights as soon as they glinted on the windshield of Samuel Cook's Mercedes parked fifty feet away. It was midnight, and Vince was right on time for his planned rendevous with Danielle Atron's unscrupulous lawyer. He coasted up beside Cook's car and peered down from the open window of his jeep. Shutting off his engine, Vince listened to the sleek, electronic whir of the Mercedes' electric window as it descended.

"Good evening Mr. Carter" Samuel Cook said professionally. "Prompt as always I see". Vince nodded in acknowledgement before beginning. "Let Danielle know that phase one of 'Dearborn Way' was a success. The FDA's evidence storage facility has been completely eliminated".

"And phase two?" asked Cook steadily. "Phase two will proceed once things have calmed down some. I suspect Gino Lawless and the FBI are already looking for me with warrants for questioning".

An evil grin spread across Samuel Cook's lips. "Don't be too concerned about any questioning Vince, as I have received assurances that no warrants or charges have been made against you for the events that occurred last night. Just go home and continue to play Mr. Lawless and the remaining FBI agent for the fools they are, and things should move along nicely". Vince cocked his head at Cook's words. "How do you know there's only 'one' remaining FBI agent Cook?" he prompted. The ex-Navy Seal admired the cold, calculating nature of Danielle Atron's lawyer, but nevertheless, he still didn't trust him. Vince didn't trust anyone. Samuel Cook wasn't the one in Paradise Valley with operatives keeping tabs on the FDA's and FBI's activities, it was Vince, and it raised his suspicions considerably. "And how can you be so 'assured' that I'm in the clear?" he continued. "Is there something you're not telling me?".

Cook chuckled confidently. "Nothing of any importance at this time Vince. Just believe me that your intrests are being protected by certain ..... allies". Vince decided not to push the topic anymore with Cook, as he always believed 'silence was golden'. He wasn't sure how he felt about anonymous people 'watching his back', because he only felt at ease when using his own precautions and contacts.

The main thought echoing in Vince's mind was he could eventually wind up being a scapegoat for Cook, and he didn't intend to let that happen. He knew Cook realized Danielle could implicate him in dozens of illegal schemes when he was Head of Security at PV Chemical, but Vince wasn't about to let some sleazy lawyer bury him either. Vince quickly decided that playing along with Cook right now was the way to go. He wished he could deal with Danielle directly, but he knew Cook was the only way to communicate with her for now. He gave a quiet nod of faked appreciation to the lawyer. Cook seemed to buy it, and in turn, picked up a large, thick manila envelop off the front seat beside him and suddenly tossed it to Vince. He reached out with cat-like reflexes and snatched the envelop from mid-air.

"Twenty-five thousand... for 'expenses'" indicated Cook with a crooked smile.

Vince only nodded in silence again.

"I'll update Ms. Atron when I see her tomorrow" the lawyer added. "She and I have to meet with Federal prosecutors in the morning due to new...... how should I describe it? ...... 'holes' in their case against her. She will be very pleased with your progress so far, but Vince, she is growing extremely ...'restless', being incarcerated. Phase two must begin soon".

"Understood" answered Vince, cranking up his jeep and putting it in gear to leave. "This time, Dave Watt won't be so lucky, and neither will the Macks".

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Nine A.M. Monday morning had an overcast gloom to it as Gino Lawless of the FDA and agent Grace Lasky of the FBI stood on the front doorstep of Vince Carter's house. From behind her dark shades, Grace silently grimaced as Gino pounded fiercely on the front door. Grace and Gino came by the house yesterday evening looking for Vince, but he wasn't home. This morning, his jeep was parked in the driveway.

She was trying hard to hide her nervousness from Gino about the confrontation which she knew was about to occur, and she was doubly concerned about the several unreturned calls left on her cell by her Field Director. She felt completely alone, and her instincts also told her there was something more to this case than met the eye. There was enough suspicion to take action against Vince, or at least issue a warrant on him for questioning, but her Field Director refused.

Just as Gino finished his second barrage on the door, it suddenly swung open to reveal Vince, in khaki shorts and a light blue t-shirt. It was obvious he'd been sleeping, because when he glanced at both of them, he failed to notice Grace at first. Grace winced at his sudden appearance, and then it happened; Vince squinted the sleepiness out of his eyes and instantly recognized her.

"Tired from your 'exertions' the night before Vince?" Gino asked accusingly. Vince stared right through her dark shades at her, practically ignoring Gino's comment, but amazingly, Grace didn't feel apprehension anymore. Upon seeing Vince after an entire year, she felt something else; courage. "Mr. Carter, I'm Agent Lasky of the FBI" she began, stepping closer and flipping her badge for him to see. "Mr. Lawless and I would like to ask you some questions as to your whereabouts recently". Her voice didn't waver and Grace couldn't believe it! Upon seeing Vince after all this time, an intense hatred for him flowed through her and bolstered her confidence.

For some reason, she just didn't care anymore. An incredulous look appeared on Vince's face, but he quickly composed himself. Vince didn't rattle easily, and if he did, it wasn't for long.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't my old partner Grace Lasky" he sneered at her, intentionally hoping to expose her in front of the FDA man. He secretly guessed Gino had no idea about their former partnership. "It's been a while 'Grace'. Finally made FBI agent I see". Before Gino could lay into Vince, his eyes widened in surprise as he looked from Vince to Grace. His ploy worked.

"What?!" he asked Grace, stunned. "'Old partner'?!".

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The hallways of Danielle Atron High after final period were busy as usual with the bustle of students dying to get away from school after yet another arduous Monday of classes. Alex and her friends Ray, Louis, Robyn, and Nicole finally managed to wade through the sea of teens to their lockers and gather the books they would need for their homework assignments.

Even though her friends seemed in good spirits, Alex had been quiet and solemn all day. "C'mon Alex" Ray said, gently poking her with his elbow as she dialed the combination on her locker and opened it. "You've been quiet all day. You didn't even say anything during lunch. How about livening up a little bit?". Alex only shrugged and buried her face in her locker.

"Yeah Mack" added Louis, looking from his locker four doors down. "You've been quiet ever since Hunter came over to your house last night. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that's what's bothering you". Robyn and Ray flinched at Louis' brutal forwardness, but amazingly, Nicole did not. As much as she disliked his uncensored honesty most of the time, she thought he made a very good point this time. She didn't like it when Alex kept everything pent up inside of her. It was time for her to talk about what happened the evening before after Hunter left. When Alex came back in, it was obvious she was upset, but she refused to say anything and stayed quiet the rest of the evening until everyone left.

After enduring her silence during their walk to school this morning and throughout the entire day of classes, Nicole decided it was time for Alex to talk to her friends. It's what they were there for.

"Louis is right Alex" she pointed out matter-of-factly, startling Ray and Robyn with her words. Rarely did Nicole and Louis ever agree on anything. "Keeping everything bottled up inside isn't the answer. You sulked all last week over Hunter, and doing it again is only going to make it worse. You're among your friends. Talk to us". Nicole placed her hand on Alex's shoulder, and she sagged in defeat. Alex retrieved a history book, closed her locker door, and turned towards her friends with deep, soulful eyes.

"O.k., o.k.!" she gave up with a loud sigh. "Last night, when Hunter came over, he admitted to me he still had unresolved feelings about Libby, so I told him that it was completely over between us. End of story". Alex waved her hand in front of her in a dismissive gesture trying to emphasize what happened was completely trivial.

None of her friends bought it of course, but they were relieved she had put an official end to Hunter Reeves. After what he did to her, they couldn't stand him. Alex was their friend, and they didn't want to see her hurt.

"Good" stated Robyn loudly and surely, clutching her books tightly in her arms. "You and Hunter needed closure. I was so worried that you were going to wind back up with him after what he did". Alex cocked an eyebrow at Robyn. She wasn't mad at her for what she said, just a little surprised that she was so forward. "Thanks ..." Alex replied with a frown. "I think". The group began to make their way down the hall to leave the building.

"Robyn's right Alex" Ray interjected as they , placing his arm around her shoulders as they walked. "I know you cared a lot about Hunter, but it's for the best. I mean, 'Libby Flanders' of all people?". Alex offered Ray a glance and a sad smile. "Thanks for reminding me" she said sarcastically.

"Alex, we care about you is all. Don't blame us for that" Nicole added. "I know, I know..." Alex deadpanned. "I don't blame you guys for anything, I ...I blame myself. I shouldn't sulk and then force it on you. I know I've been doing it a lot lately since Hunter did what he did, but you're right. It's time for me to get over it and move on and that's what I intend to do".

"That's my 'puddle girl'" gushed Ray using his favorite nickname for her as well as his disarming smile. He hugged her tightly with the arm still wrapped around her shoulders. Alex rolled her eyes and couldn't help but grin at her best friend's animation. "That's more like the Alex we all know and love" Nicole emphasized, trying to provoke Alex into a giggle. It worked, as she smiled broadly and chuckled. Louis and Robyn laughed too.

Ray removed his arm as they turned a corner in the hall that led to the front doors of the school, and without warning, Brad Patterson came racing around the corner from the other direction and collided into Alex!

"Oof!" they both exhaled as Brad instinctively grabbed Alex by her left shoulder with one arm and then braced his other one against the wall to keep them both from falling. Once he prevented complete disaster, both were able to recover their balance. Alex took a stumbling step backwards as Brad's face turned crimson.

"Alex!" he stuttered apologetically. "Oh wow! I am so sorry! I forgot a book in my locker and came back to get it, and I was in a .....". Noticing no response from her, he suddenly stopped trying to explain. Alex was simply standing there looking up at him with wide eyes and her mouth slightly agape. The rest of the group looked on, not knowing how to react at the puzzled expression on her face. Baffled, Brad glanced at Ray and the others then looked back to Alex.

"Alex?" he asked with a tone of concern, his eyes staring deeply into her's. "Are ...are you alright?". Unknown to Brad and the others, the abrupt surprise of their collision caught her completely off guard. Upon direct physical contact, Alex's empathic powers had channeled the intense emotions of the moment into her and she was being overwhelmed while her brain processed them. But surprise was not the only emotion she was sensing from Brad at the moment; there was another one, a very powerful one, emanating from him.

"Alex?" he asked again. Ray took a step closer, but was relieved when his best friend finally blinked in recognition. "I'm, I'm o.k. Brad. Just ...fine" Alex assured him with a sweet, soft voice. Brad smiled in relief, but had no time to react to what she did next. Alex suddenly reached up with both hands and grasped Brad by the shoulders. Pulling the tall, athletic boy towards her, she kissed him firmly on the mouth. Brad's eyes ogled in astonishment as Alex continued to kiss him with a passionate fervor, and he began to return her kiss. Other students passing in the hall looked on with curiosity while Ray, Robyn, Nicole, and Louis watched in complete, jaw-dropping awe.

Alex let go and stepped back, leaving a dazed Brad Patterson standing in front of her. She looked as confused as he did, and she could feel the beginnings of the warm flush flowing into her face which always resulted in a bright, golden glow.

"I'll uh .... see you later Brad, o.k.?" she said unsteadily, quickly side-stepping him and making her way down the hall towards the exit. Sharing glances with each other, Ray and the others promptly set off behind Alex. Brad turned to watch the group disappear through the heavy glass doors of the front entrance. "Wow" he whispered quietly, thinking of Alex's kiss.

As he turned to make his way towards his locker, Brad passed by a pretty, brown-haired girl standing in a doorway who had seen the entire incident. Libby Flanders' face was twisted in anger.

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