Title: Alexander's Addendum: Mid-Air Collision
Word Count: 4113
Pairing: Alex/Pam, Miles/Kacee (not really a romance fic)
Summary: The Mahones are in hiding in Waterloo, Ontario. So are the Franklins. Unbeknownst to Miles and Alex, the women and children become fast friends and set the old enemies on a collision course.
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, I'm just screwing with them. If they were, people like Lang, Alex, Sullins and Pam would get a lot more screentime.
Notes: Spoilers up to the end of season 3.
There were two... no, three customers ahead of Alex in the grocery queue. He had resigned himself to waiting, resorting to the perusal of the tabloids’ screaming headlines. Waiting made him restless, made his fingers climb like spiders over every available surface. Made him physically itch. He was waiting for the cashier, who was new to the job and could barely navigate the uncharted waters of the cash register. He was waiting for the woman second from the front, who was unloading her groceries onto the conveyor belt with the care and precision usually reserved for applying calligraphy to grains of rice. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he was waiting for Pam.
Alex’s wife, Pamela Mahone, had ducked out of the line ten minutes ago to pick up some dry cereal for their son Cameron, Alex’s wallet tucked in the back pocket of her jeans. Rice Krispies, Cheerios, Frosted Flakes... doesn’t matter, surprise me. But ten minutes is far longer than it should take anyone to choose a box of cereal.
"I guess your wife is missing in action," the man ahead of Alex commented, grinning. The man had a rusty-red beard and an impeccably bald dome. The corners of Alex’s mouth tightened in his best imitation of a smile, though the man had managed to combine two of Alex’s pet peeves in one off-hand remark: prying behaviour and military analogies.
Lately, Alex had been plagued by nervous thrills of disorientation whenever he looked around and found that Pam wasn't right there beside him. He'd certainly deny it if asked, but now that he'd taken up his role as full-time father and husband, anything else made him feel like a photograph torn in two. Waking from one of his old nightmares, he might grope around in the dark until he found Pam's bare shoulder. On Pam's part, she made sure that her shoulder was always there.
It had been like this – suppressed paranoia and a knee-jerk distrust of strangers – since the Mahone family had decided to flee the country. The Company had long since been reduced to fiery ruins, but it wasn’t wise to stick around, in case the wreckage was inclined to violent combustion. Or, dispensing with all metaphors, in case a resentful agent of the conglomerate decided that Alexander Mahone needed silencing.
Still, though. They were in a grocery store. Nothing could happen in a grocery store.
The woman who handled Brussel sprouts like they were delicate china was waved through to make way for the man with the russet beard, who quickly paid for a bag of milk and three boxes of Kraft Dinner. Then it was Alex’s turn. Alex, who had no cereal, no wife, and no wallet. Alex, who now faced the embarrassment of having to extract himself from the queue. He mumbled something under his breath about his wallet, his wife, his... cereal, yes.
"Sorry, sorry," he breathed, maneuvering his cart around into the empty grocery lane to the left. Sorry. Goddammit, when had he become so polite? There must be something in the Canadian air, that makes a person believe that an apology is the key to all social situations.
"Hey, Buddy!" Ah, a more continental belief: that every male outside of one’s personal acquaintance is called ‘Buddy’. The voice came from the belligerent youth standing behind him. "Try not to take all day, all right? Some of us have lives, you know!"
Alex turned to face the speaker. The man had a long neck and short, bristly hair, and his polo shirt bore the insignia of a nearby community college. He quailed slightly under the former FBI agent’s stare. Some escaped convicts, not currently among the living, might say that he had good reason to quail.
"Some of us do, yes, but clearly you don’t fall under the category, considering your... purchases." Alex glanced pointedly at the man’s cart, which was nearly empty, save for... "Ibuprofen and feminine hygiene products? Looks like it’s your time of the month. Those cramps must be a bitch."
The man’s facial expression staggered.
"Oh, yeah?" he managed.
Alex smirked. "Yeah," he said simply, and turned his grocery cart out of the check-out area.
Well, Pam couldn’t have lost her way in a ten-aisle grocery store, he knew that much. Alex found her in the cereal aisle, speaking with another woman. Her errand had been thrown off course by the distraction of conversation, and her hand was resting on a shelf, just short of a box of Mini-Wheats. So close.
Ditching the cart, Alex sidled up to the pair without their noticing his approach and took two boxes down from the shelves.
"Pam," he said quietly, placing a firm hand on her shoulder. She glanced back with a smile, and he returned it weakly. Every time she smiled at him, it was like the day he worked up the nerve to ask her out for the very first time. Every time, it felt as though she had plucked a guitar string in his chest, sending vibrations up and down his spine. "Hah... your chariot awaits?" He gestured to the grocery cart, abandoned at one end of the aisle.
"Have I held up the check-out line?" Pam said innocently. "Look at us, we’ve been chatting like old friends for hours," she added to the woman. "Leslie, this is my husband."
Turning his attention on his wife’s new friend, Alex reached around Pam to shake the woman’s hand.
"Alex...," he started by way of introduction, grasping the woman’s hand in his. She had light brown skin and shoulder-length brown hair, and a dimpled, heart-shaped face. Striking, really. Her whole face distorted into a smile as she beamed at him expectantly. A tiny flame of recognition flared in the back of his mind. This woman was unmistakably familiar. How had he known her, and when?
"Alex Oakes," Pam finished smoothly. She caught the look of consternation her husband was giving "Leslie", and filed a due remark for later on. "I’ve just been telling Leslie here that I’m having trouble getting the school board here to enroll Cam in elementary school. Sorry, what was your last name, Leslie?"
"Campbell. I’m Leslie Campbell," the woman answered with an obliging smile.
"No, you’re not," Alex blurted. He knew where he’d seen her before. Flipping through a fugitive’s file, he’d seen that same face staring up at him from a picture, blurry and splotchy because it had been blown up to three times its original size, but still recognizable. What was Franklin’s wife’s name? Kacee, that was it. Not Leslie Campbell.
"And if you don't, I will have Kacee arrested again..."
"... I swear to God, I will ruin their lives..."
"I’m not Leslie Campbell?" Kacee, or Leslie, or whomever she was, laughed. "My bad. Who am I, then?"
Alex held her gaze a moment longer. Was he looking too hard for it, or did she look nervous, sweating under the interrogatory spotlight? He then attempted to smile disarmingly.
"No, I mean about Cam," Alex said, swallowing. A desperate save. "He’s making more fuss about starting at a new school than the school board ever has. He’s worried that he will have trouble making new friends." Alex let small talk spill from his lips as his mind raced. "He’s a quiet boy, always has been."
"Sounds like my daughter," the woman said. Did she sound relieved? "She’s shy, very shy. Though I think she’s improved since we – since we moved here."
"You moved here, recently? From where?" asked Pam, curious.
Alex wasn’t listening. What were the chances of two principle players from the Fox River Eight manhunt turning up in the same country, same neighbourhood, same grocery store... entirely by coincidence? Slim to nil. No, this was an orchestrated conjunction, and yet Alex was completely sure that Kacee hadn’t recognized him. Not only had they never met face-to-face before – Alex had only ever seen her face in the newspapers and in Franklin’s file – but he had learned in his line of work to read people, and there was no hint of recognition in her expression. No fear, which would be an appropriate reaction, all things considered.
Then... oh. Oh, damn her. Lang.
Ever since Alexander’s disastrous court appearance in Panama, Agent Felicia Lang had grown too cocksure for her own good, every day treating Alex less and less like her superior and more like a... friend. Except that in Felicia’s eyes, a friend was someone whom you could trick into helping you move. A Tom Sawyer sort of friend, in short.
Christ, thought Mahone, his anger rising. Lang had sent him and his family up here to... to what, make friends? With the family whose lives he had threatened to destroy? Oh, boy. What a treat.
"Greece! That’s incredible. What were you –"
"Pam," Alex interrupted, his voice clipped and impatient. "Let’s not keep Leslie here from completing her grocery shopping. Remember, Cam is waiting to be picked up from the babysitter’s." He put a slight stress on the word Leslie, watching for any signs of discomfort. "So if you’ve exchanged phone numbers and astrological signs or whatever it is that you do, we really should be going."
Pam took his advice literally and scribbled her cell number on a scrap piece of paper, which the woman promptly tucked into her jean pocket.
"He must like you, Leslie," Pam said conspiratorially. "Normally he would have said something much more colourful."
As they parted ways with Leslie Campbell, Alex slid his hand into his pocket to wrap his fingers around his cellphone. He took it out, flipped it open and dialed a number familiar to his thumbs. The harsh, tinny ring sounded, and his footsteps carried him farther from that face that had stirred up a cloud of faint, unpleasant memories...
And he felt his confidence seeping away. Was he positive that it was the same girl? After all, he had always had difficulty telling Kacee Franklin and Maricruz Delgado apart; who was to say that this wasn’t another dead-ringer? The evidence against this woman being Kacee piled up: he’d only ever seen Ms. Franklin in blurry, unflattering pictures in newsprint and technicolor pixels. Also, if the escaped convict had displayed any competence while on the run from someone who had threatened his family, he surely would have made certain that his wife and child would be able to recognize that threat.
He hung up before the call could go through.
"Who was that?" Pam cut in on his thoughts, watching Alex’s cellphone slide back into the pocket of his pants. She was a naturally suspicious woman, Alex knew. She had to be, or she would have lost her grip on her husband long ago. As such, she had refused to run off with her college sweetheart without answers.
And answers she had received. All of them – well, nearly. She knew the highlights. She knew, for example, that the man she was currently arm-in-arm with had committed a handful of cold-blooded murders. She knew about the death of the serial killer and rapist, and the ruthless mob boss who had been gunned down when he had a raised a weapon to fire on a federal agent. At the same time, she knew about the mentally fragile man whose dream it had been to sail to Holland on a raft, plummeting to his death; and she knew about the boy whose only crime had been the theft of a baseball card. She didn’t accept his word that most of those acts had been in the name of defending her and their son from harm. That didn’t balance out. But she did know that she loved him, helplessly, all the same.
"Nobody." Pause. "Lang," he admitted.
They had paid for the groceries, had passed through the automatic doors, were walking through the parking lot. A pimply boy in a gaudy baseball cap was trailing them with their groceries, three bags on each arm.
"Lang... Felicia Lang, you mean? Your old FBI colleague?" Pam asked, and Alex nodded. Pam fell silent for a moment as she unlocked the trunk for the boy carrying the groceries.
"I noticed the look you gave poor Leslie," Pam berated her husband playfully. "Do I need to worry about wandering eyes?"
Alex wrapped his arm around Pam’s shoulder and planted a kiss on her hairline.
The dense mound of paper was three feet tall and just as wide, and was threatening to fall off the desk where it was perched and create a devastating avalanche over the tiled floor. From beneath all this compounded literature came the pitiful whine of a cellphone on vibrate, struggling to free itself like some acrimonious insect.
Agent Richard Sullins plunged his hand into the pile and resurfaced with the sputtering phone in his grasp. He glanced at the caller ID: one Andrew Oakes, nobody he knew.
"La... eh, Felicia. Phone," he grunted, handing it off to Felicia Lang’s outstretched hand.
Lang grinned as she accepted the phone. The terms of a truce: she wouldn’t call him ‘Dick’ – a nickname she’d picked up from Alex and a surefire way of getting under Richard’s skin – if he obliged in calling her ‘Felicia’. She was trying to get the ornery agent to loosen up a little, and... well, baby steps, right?
She set down a box of papers and pinned the cellphone between her shoulder and her ear.
"Hello? Uh, Mr. Oakes?" Lang said, watching carefully as Sullins retreated into Wheeler’s old office. It had once been Mahone’s office, but Adam Wheeler had taken over once the news got out that Alex was incarcerated in Panama.
She listened for the familiar sound of Alexander Mahone’s voice on the other end of the call, but it didn’t come. No answer.
Lang tossed the cellphone into the cardboard box with the rest of her assorted belongings. With each of the Fox River Eight either dead or beyond United States borders, the task force assigned to their capture was finally clearing out headquarters. All the desks were emptied, all the personal effects packed away, all the tiny holes in Agent Mahone’s wall painted over. Lang was the last to clear out. She looked around at the room, disturbed by how empty it seemed; the stillness was jarring, all the busy clamour of rapid-fire conversation and ringing telephones silenced. This unit had been her big break. Now she was onward and upwards to Internal Affairs with a flattering word from Agent Sullins. He had even taken a break from being a total hard-ass to help her move out.
Said hard-ass emerged from Wheeler’s office carrying a small brown package.
"Who’s Andrew Oakes? New boyfriend?" he asked with a half-hearted stab at social curiosity. Lang looked around at him, amused, knowing he didn’t really give a damn who Andrew Oakes was, though by all rights he should. If he ever knew that Alex had escaped from that Panamanian dump, he would sic the Mounties on Alex’s ass or, barring that, book it up there himself to arrest the former special agent. Never mind the fact that the Mahone family was no longer within federal jurisdiction.
Richard abandoned his pitiful attempt at conversation and brandished the brown parcel in his hands. "This was left in one of the drawers of Agent Wheeler’s desk. FedEx delivery. Have you seen him?"
Lang shook her head. "No. Hasn’t he already cleared out?" Adam Wheeler had also been offered a position in Internal Affairs. His refusal to accept the position had surprised Felicia; in her opinion, he fit the job far more than she did. He might as well have been working for the IA for the entire month leading up to Alex’s arrest in Panama, as he had continually passed on information regarding the movements of their unpredictable boss. On her part, Felicia had never been unduly bothered by the fact that the Fox River Eight seemed to be dropping like flies.
Sullins made a noise of agreement and dropped the parcel on top of Lang’s belongings.
These days, each call Lang received on her personal line could be filtered into one of three categories: calls from her mom inquiring about her stalled love-life, nagging requests for cash from her useless brother, and miscellaneous calls from Alex. As such, she was enormously grateful for Richard’s dependable disinterest.
Andrew Oakes was the name at the top of each of the personal identification papers Lang had given Alex when they had last met. She was first contacted by her former boss shortly after she heard through the grapevine that Mahone had tagged along with Michael Scofield on his latest prison escape. Felicia had needed little persuasion to arrange new identities for him and his family. After observing the extensive process of creating a new identity for a protected witness at her new IA position, it was a simple matter to paint the idyllic portrait of Andrew Oakes, a highschool math teacher, and his wife Charlotte Oakes, an interior designer, who lived in suburban Waterloo, Ontario with their six-year-old son Cameron Oakes. Square house indistinguishable from its neighbour, white picket fence, barbecue and patio set in the backyard. And, of course, a birdbath. For the birds.
Or at least, that had been the idea. Pam had instantly taken to her new profession, which gave her the chance to explore her natural gift for interior designing; Alex, however, had barely been working at the local highschool for a week before he quit, citing the overwhelming idiocy of teenagers. Following her husband’s lead of inflexibility, Pam had objected to their new names, Charlotte and Andrew. She claimed the need for new identities was overestimated and needlessly melodramatic.
She didn’t object to their new last name (it had been Pam’s suggestion, as it was her maiden name) so they quickly fell into the identities of Alex, Pam and Cameron Oakes.
Lang wondered what Alex had wanted; perhaps he’d finally realized that that his new home was literally a couple of blocks down from where the Franklins had set up camp. The situation owed itself to her own manipulation, and she was the only one who held all the puzzle pieces -- not only the knowledge of where former fugitive Benjamin Miles Franklin was in hiding, but also the exclusive information regarding the location of ex-FBI golden boy Alexander Mahone. It gave her a puckish thrill to be playing God with such volatile ingredients. She told herself that’s what it was – a mischievous trick – but part of her also felt bad about the way things had fallen out between Alex Mahone and Miles Franklin. If she tilted her head and squinted, they were eerily similar in some respects. Both men were intense personalities, capable of frightening rage one moment and tenderness the next; they were family men with military pasts, both forced by circumstance to do things they’d quickly regretted.
"Richard," Lang blurted. Her fellow agent looked up from a log of Maricruz Delgado’s recent phone calls, a scowl gracing his hawk-like face. Lang continued as if she hadn’t noticed. "Have you heard from the Franklins recently? Last I heard, Benjamin Miles was having some sort of problem with a tourist...?"
She trailed off carefully. It wasn’t, of course, the last she’d heard from the Franklins. She was quite well-informed in that respect. Felicia could tell from the dogged look on Sullins’ face that she’d pulled the right lever; the matter of the Franklins’ witness protection was a particularly sticky can of worms, and therefore one of Richard’s favourite topics of one-sided discussion.
"Have I heard from them," Richard repeated, his voice a rueful moan. "Oh, only every day. Only every time Franklin can get his hands on a telephone. Woke me up at four in the morning last week to tell me that some guy at a strip mall looked at him funny. Paranoid pain in the ass," he added under his breath, shaking his head.
Lang could only nod sympathetically. She was afraid that if she spoke, she wouldn’t be able to contain the grin that was tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"I must have told you... after moving them to Greece, I pulled their protection," Richard continued. It wouldn’t matter now if Lang was listening or not. He was on a roll. "As soon as we got back from Panama. You can see my reasoning: Mahone’s stuck in that anarchistic hell-hole, and he’s not going anywhere so long as he’s not able to string two sentences together coherently. Not exactly a threat to the Franklin family, in or out of prison. I can’t figure what could have happened to the bastard."
Richard sat down at a desk in the middle of the room, an uncertain frown knotting his brow. Lang understood his confusion; it had been jarring to see her former boss, once so powerful and commanding, crumble into a sparking pile of frayed nerves.
Lang looked over and spotted Richard rub his wrist vaguely, and knew that he was recalling the disastrous testimonial hearing in Panama, when Alex had unconsciously begun to scratch viciously at the insides of his wrists. "And the tourist?" she prompted, anxious to get Sullins off the subject of his old rival.
He started at her interruption and plunged his hands into his pockets. "As you say, that damn tourist. It was a one-in-a-million coincidence, honestly." Lang filled in the gaps herself, since Richard seemed unwilling to reiterate: a month or two into the Franklins’ stay in Greece, a hawk-eyed American vacationing in Athens had recognized Franklin from the old wanted posters. The man hadn’t believed his own eyes, so (and this is where the story gets ridiculous) he had approached Franklin to mention that, hey! You look an awful lot like one of those Fox River Eight guys back in the States. Smart guy, Lang thought to herself. "So Franklin calls me up to get his family moved again, and what am I supposed to say? We don’t have unlimited resources, we can’t afford to finance a whole new life for his family over the suspicion of some hyper-vigilant schmuck. Especially since their protection had already been pulled.
"But, I dunno, I don’t think Greece agreed with Franklin. Guy spent the bulk of his life back and forth between Chicago and Iraq, it’s bound to be a culture shock. He told me if we wouldn’t help, he’d relocate without our assistance. So he’s in Canada now. Ontario."
"Good choice," Lang commented, as if this was all news to her.
"That’s what I said. The great thing... well, the thing about Canadians is that for the most part, American hysteria rolls right off of them. I’m sure they hear about the Fox River Eight up there, because for months our media wouldn’t shut up about it, but the Canadians, a story like that doesn’t get their shields up. They didn’t memorize the faces in the newspapers, they didn’t stick the posters to their refrigerators so that they’d be reminded of a pedophile on the loose every time they wanted a glass of O.J. Even an infamous mug like Franklin’s would never be recognized up there. But the man won’t stop calling."
Sullins stood up and straightened the chair he had been sitting in. Taking his cue, Lang bent down to pick up one of the boxes filled with her belongings. She handed Wheeler’s parcel to Richard.
"So, if you’ve pulled the Franklins’ protection, have they gone back to their old identities, or how does that work?" Lang asked, pushing the door open with a free elbow. This was the most she’d ever heard Richard speak before, and she reflected that, like her, he was only ever comfortable in conversation when the subject at hand was connected to work.
"Well, not entirely. I’ve tried to convince Benjamin that it’s perfectly safe to begin the transition back to their old names. He’s going by ‘Miles’, now, I think. The wife is hanging on to her new name."
He passed by her into the hall and headed down the stairs. Lang paused in the doorway, then ducked back into the field office, feeling that she’d left something behind.
It was just that old feeling of having forgotten something, and it would probably bug her for the rest of the day. Every desk was bare, every drawer was empty, the floor was swept clean. There wasn’t even a scrap of paper clinging to the walls. The only trace of the Fox River Eight manhunt was a single crumpled coffee cup in the wastebasket, and an infestation of tiny tack holes in the walls.
Bathers bobbed uselessly in the water, splashing and tossing beach balls back and forth and wondering what the hell they were supposed to do in gritty water that only came up to their waists. Reaching the peak of a sun-scorched sand dune, Alex felt like a spectator on the top row of a set of bleachers, surveying the listless sport from above. He and Cameron were taking a day trip to the beach. Pam was currently meeting with a client, but Alex expected her to join them soon.
Cameron had been left behind at the base of the sand dune. Alex could see him fine from where he stood: the six-year-old boy in bright blue bathing trunks was sitting just short of the shore, raking the sand with his fingers. Cam had chosen the spot carefully – not so close to the water that the waves would wash his creations away, but close enough to the breaking foam that the sand was damp and easy to sculpt.
Alex struggled briefly with a breeze as he flung his beach towel over a likely-looking spot on the dune's peak. From the family's beach cooler he took a white t-shirt and pulled it on over his head. Then he settled in to supervise his industrious son.
Again, it was not in Alex Mahone's nature to wait – normally he would have divided his attention with music, or a pulpy beach novel. Nor was it in his nature to be responsible for the safety of another person. It was why he had left Pam and Cameron in the first place: better, he thought, to abandon his wife and son to keep them from harm's way than to stay and endanger them. Ensuring their safety by standing close watch was another concept entirely, and it could not afford distraction.
So Alex sat and watched, as Cameron set about digging a hole in the sand with an expression of grim purpose on his young face. His sculpture began to take shape, starting with a long, rectangular head and stubby lumps of sand for ears.
Out in the water, a skinny African American girl with a long plait of hair down her back ran into the waves. The dark-skinned girl was only slightly older and a couple inches taller than Cameron, and it wasn't long before the strength of the incoming waves buckled her twig-thin legs at the knees. She stumbled, fell, spluttered in indignation. She waded farther into the water until the waves' crowns tickled her chin and threatened to bowl her over. Frustrated, she began hollering for her father in a pitch so particularly grating that Alex diverted his attention for a moment to watch her howl at the undeserving surf.
Thankfully, the girl gave up quickly and splashed back to shore in a huff. Back on the beach, her reliably short attention span kicked in when she noticed Cameron, now etching zig-zag patterns down the sand creature's torso with his finger. She bent down and, with a brief comment to Alex's son, began to arrange tiny shells around the end of the creature's forelimbs. Claws, Alex realized. He hadn't yet figured out what Cameron's creation was supposed to be, but it seemed as though this girl had taken one look at the thing and identified the genus and species without hesitation. Perhaps all children hold the enviable gift of being able to instantly identify their peers' artistic conceptions.
The two children conferred with sober faces on the topic of the sand beast's tail. Cameron's new friend then made a trip back to her family's set-up and came back bearing an impressive arsenal of beach toys. Watching them, Alex had the strange feeling that he was witnessing something that wasn't meant to be seen by parents.
“Dad! Hey, Dad!” Cameron ran barefoot up the dune to his father. “Come see,” he panted. “I made a friend and she's helping me make an alligator outta sand. Come on!” Pam once remarked that the ability to give orders that leave no room for disobedience was a trait inherited down the line of Mahone men. Walking down to the water with his son running along in front, Alex thought there might be something to it.
An alligator! Of course, Alex could see it now. The long, flat head with triangular ears and white pebbles for teeth, the stubby limbs with pearly talons lining the extremities, the zig-zag patterns down a long, thick torso that turned into a curving tail and tapered to a point.
“That's really good, big guy,” Alex said, admiring the alligator from all angles. He clapped his son on the shoulder. “You must've got your artistic chops from your mom, Cam.”
Cameron shook his head. “My artist chops came from me. I got them all by myself.”
Alex watched his stubborn son's expression for a moment, and smiled.
“You sure did,” he said quietly. Alex squatted down in the sand and pointed at the alligator's claws. “I like what you did here with the shells.”
“They're talons,” Cameron informed him. “My friend thought that up. But I made the teeth, see? Little white rocks for teeth.”
“Yeah,” Alex breathed. He couldn't remember a time in the last three years when he'd smiled so often, and so wide. He wondered if he'd paid enough dues that he might be allowed by fate to stay in this moment forever. Sometimes, it seemed almost too good to be real. He gingerly traced the zig-zag pattern on the alligator's back. “Have you thought about using some seaweed, Cam? You could put it along here and -- ”
“My new friend went to get some in her bucket. She has lots 'n lots of toys for the beach. Hey, there she is!” Alex looked over his shoulder to see the skinny girl come bounding up, swinging a bucket filled to overflowing with seaweed in her fist. She swooped in beside Cameron as if she was sliding into home plate, and dumped the contents of the pail in a heap beside the sand creature. Alex sat back, feeling a bit intrusive.
“I got lots of different kinds, Cameron,” she said, sorting through the mess with slippery fingers. “See, there's this bright green leafy stuff and this stuff that looks like rope, and these big darker leaves and – is that your dad?”
“Yeah! Here, but –”
“Hi, Cameron's dad!” The girl beamed at him, and Alex caught his first clear glimpse of the girl's face.
“Hel...” Alex's response was cut off when his breath caught in his throat.
“Gotta let him go, honey. Honey, you gotta let him go.”
It was undeniable, unmistakable this time.
“Dede,” he blurted. Alex cursed silently as soon as he'd let the name slip out, but she didn't seem to have noticed. She looked up and smiled sweetly at him.
“Yes, Mister... Mister Cameron's dad?” Dede dissolved into giggles, and Cameron joined in, stamping his feet in the sand.
“My last name's not Cameron's dad!” Cam crowed. “My last name is Ma...”
“Oakes,” Alex managed, still reeling. So it had been Kacee Franklin at the grocery store last week. The implications of this spun through his mind like a drunken fly. If the wife and daughter were here, chances were good that Benjamin Miles wouldn't be too far behind.
“Moakes?” Dede repeated, confused.
“Oakes,” Cameron muttered. He looked at his father and, misinterpreting Alex's obvious bewilderment for anger, blushed in shame. Alex patted his ankle, a voiceless gesture of reassurance.
Alex cleared his throat. “How are you doing, Dede?” he asked. He remembered the last time he had seen her, too tired to even open her eyes and pale, pale like a cup of coffee with too much milk stirred in. He wondered fleetingly if she had been allowed to keep the teddy bear he'd given her – in Franklin's position, Alex would have conveniently misplaced it, apologized and replaced the tainted gift with a new bear.
“'m good,” said Dede, and she was. Happy, strong and healthy, and busy at work placing bits of seaweed at strategic positions just so. Alex stood up and brushed the sand off his damp bathing trunks.
“You kids keep... er, working, I'll be up on the dune. Okay, Cam?” he said, and Cameron nodded without looking round. “You're both doing a great job, keep it up. Maybe when your mom comes she can take a picture of your alligator, how does that sound?”
Cameron may have answered, but Alex was distracted, scanning the area for Dede's parents. There was Kacee, some ways down the beach, dozing on a towel with an open book splayed out over her stomach. Alex remembered Dede's howls and looked to the water, where a distant shape was cutting through the waves with a practised breaststroke, a ways out from the shore.
As he made his way up the hill, Alex wondered why why he was feeling so uneasy. It wasn't as if the Franklins posed a threat, it wasn't as if he had any reason to be worried about Cameron's safety, or his own. He just... he didn't want to go back to before, in any capacity. The Mahones' new life was, up until now, blissfully free of any traces of... of any of it: Shales, the Fox River Eight, Sona, the Company, all that mess he'd left behind. And Alex would give anything to have it stay that way.
Alex forced himself to calmly pack away all the food into the cooler and roll up the beach mats as if nothing was wrong. He wouldn't ask Cameron to leave, he couldn't do that; but it would be better, safer, to stay up here, away from Dede in case Kacee woke up or Franklin...
Franklin was coming into shore.
Dede yelped and went splashing into the water to meet him, waving and gesturing back at the sand alligator. Come look, come see what we made...
Alex took a couple steps down the hill, and hesitated. He was being pulled forward, to Cameron, and backwards, to run like he'd been running since Bill Kim had given him that plane ticket to Panama, all at once. Between the two, he was immobilized.
It was Pam, trudging up the other side of the dune wearing her favourite flip-flops and Cameron's Finding Nemo beach towel slung over her shoulders. She was carrying a beach umbrella and a small duffel bag.
“Pam!” Alex folded his wife in a clumsy hug and kissed her quickly. “Thank y-- I mean, I'm glad you're here.” His thoughts were screaming at him to bolt. He ran the heel of his palm against his temple, trying to calm the fight-or-flight instinct. Running wasn't as easy as it used to be; looking out for number one was no longer the only thing on the agenda. “Did you, ah... did you bring the camera?”
“Yeah, it's right here,” Pam replied, patting the duffel bag. She tilted her chin up to look her husband in the eye, and frowned. “Is there something wrong?”
I know this isn't anywhere near done, but I decided not to finish this fic since [SPOILERS]. Hope you enjoyed this story -- or at least the beginning of it.