Alex felt the rumbling through the door as the handle turned. His heart was slamming in his chest, demanding an explanation. Why would he agree to trust this… being… enough to not kill him or maim him as soon as the door was opened? He scuttled back a few extra feet (which only succeeded in getting him 6 inches further from the door) and landed backwards on his behind for his troubles.
That’s how Celeste came to find him when the door was open; sitting on the tile, looking pale and shaken, and probably more bruised than before. He swallowed shakily. She was still so close. And her gaze was far too familiar, like high school all over again, only this time, she was the one towering over him. It was eerie.
The woman claiming to be Celeste settled back on her heels, her knees bent and feet tucked beneath her.
“Are…. Are you ok, Alex?” She sounded absurdly shaken for someone in such a position of power. Alex’s fear came at him again in a wave; he hated sitting on the floor though, giving Celeste any more height over him than she already had, and he stood on shaky legs with his hands quivering to keep him balanced.
“No, I am not ok! It’s been five years… what the hell is going on?? Why on earth would I trust you—it shouldn’t even be possible for you to be here!” Alex’s yelling surprised Celeste, and she lifted her hands, palms out, like she was trying to comfort someone. Alex flinched backwards, and her hands dropped again. She looked over her shoulder at Neilson, but David was just standing on the counter, with his arms crossed tightly over his chest, watching. So she plunged on ahead.
“I don’t suppose you remember the IBA…” She searched Alex’s face for any recognition, but his features were too small to determine for sure. Damn, it was hard to read his face. Except for the fear; that was always horribly apparent. “I was basically drafted for the agency out of high school. You might remember the ceremony…. Anyway,” (Why the hell did I say that? ) “The Bureau was following the kidnappings, and then agent Neilson was taken—“ Here she motioned to the man on the counter—“and they implemented a really risky plan for retrieval; the injections for rapid growth and cell division wasn’t tested on humans very well. But… I messed up. I wasn’t supposed to get anyone else. The success of this was going to determine if more rescues would be attempted.”
Alex took a moment to process what this meant, all while staring at the floor. But when he looked up again, he looked hurt, and angry.
“Are you saying that… if it wasn’t for an agent being kidnapped… that everyone that was taken would still be here?” His voice shook; he was livid. “Why don’t you just dump me back at that pet store, huh? No point in keeping me now! Right? If it hurts your mission!”
Celeste stared at him. But she’d had enough of this tiptoeing around, and trying to speak differently to him because of his situation. If he were of normal size, she would have put her hand on his shoulder, stared him in the eyes, and explained the situation to him calmly. But that was just too impossible right now, so she did what she could.
Without warning, Celeste extended her arms, pushed her feet out behind her, and lowered herself to her stomach, directly in front of Alex. His heart was scrambling up his throat and his stomach was in his toes. Her face was way too close. He felt exposed, but found himself unable to walk backwards and distance himself. She leveled her gaze with his, and it was like he couldn’t see anything except her eyes. She spoke to him then, in such a quiet, and rather calming voice that he doubted that even David could hear her. He could feel the vibration of her voice through the floor. The effect made him wonder if this was what it felt like to be hypnotized with one of this swinging pocket watches.
“I rescued you for that shop, Alex; despite the limit for new shoppers, and everything else. And I’m not going to let them have you back. We’re all going to get out of here, and that is a promise.”
Alex was speechless. His knees buckled a little, and he stumbled backwards, but Celeste’s hand was right there to catch him. He hadn’t even seen her move. He stared up at her in shock.
She eased her hand from his back so that he would fall over, and slowly straightened back up to give him his space.
“Now… I’m guessing you don’t want to be on the floor anymore?”
Alex realized what she was saying just as he saw her hand in front of him, palm up. He swallowed, the gulp of anxiety getting lodged in his throat. She was giving him the choice, and it was something that he was definitely not used to. At his normal size, he had never worried about anything where his choice would be question; he was a young man, and athletic. But the sudden removal of his free will had broken him. And now, Celeste was giving it back, in a way. With a deep breath, he climbed on to her hand.
This time, the experience felt very different for the both of them. Alex was far more aware of Celeste’s pulse through her hand, but he was sitting up, and with his back straight while he balanced. Celeste’s finger curved up a little bit out of reflex, but she tried to give Alex as much space as she could while walking him back to the counter. He climbed off and cast a wary look at Agent David Neilson.
Alex frowned, and keeping one eye on David, spoke to Celeste.
“You said that you got me out of that… pet shop… despite limits for new owners. How exactly did you get me out?”
“Maybe you don’t remember everything… you were kind of out of it when we got you out. Don’t you remember who carried you out of the pet sto---“ Celeste stopped mid-sentence and stiffened, her eyes widening in realization.
Alex looked as pale as a sheet when he remembered the young face that had stared at him through his cage at the shop. His eyes met Celeste’s just as a very, very soft knock sounded from the outside of the hotel door.
David regarded them both from his spot on the counter, with his arms cross. “Yeah… I was wondering when you two would remember that.”