Hacking had been paying off for a while, but the the first hack that actually paid probably saved his life.
He'd been staying with Nana for ten months, an amazing stretch, really. She was warm, kind; she paid attention and she loved. She was also enough of a con artist to trick Alec into passing ninth grade. All it took was the promise of a computer in his room at the end of the school year was his promise that he'd stop cutting classes to hang at the arcade.
He'd barely been surviving. Wasn't sure he'd make it at all.
Alec was tall enough to play ball, but too blind and uncoordinated to go anywhere near the court. The harder he tried, the harder he failed, and harder came the punches in the locker room. The taunts grew louder, more creative. If he had to be at school at all, it was better when he didn't have his glasses. Easier to ignore what he couldn't see, no need to wrestle the heavy frames back from his classmates. He tried leaving his glasses at home, in his locker, even forgetting them on the bus. Only to have them returned the next morning by the well-meaning driver, much to the loud, biting amusement of the overfull bus.
Classes that day had been only a temporary refuge. By the time his stop had come up after school that afternoon, it had boiled over.
But he didn't miss any more classes; he wanted to deserve it. Wanted to deserve her.
She didn't deserve what her genes were doing to her. Alec found out one week before summer vacation, listening from the hallway as she sat talking with the two workers from social service. All he'd really understood was the fear in her voice as they discussed options. Or, more importantly, the lack thereof.
By the last day of school, he knew everything there was to know about sickle cell anemia. By the end of the week, he'd figured out a plan.
Halfway through the second, he'd pulled his first big hack. She was going to be able to keep the house. Alec and the other kids were going to be able to stay.
It was the happiest day of his life, maybe, though it presented its own new set of problems.
He was staying. He'd be going back to the same school in the fall.
Alec's jaw still popped uncomfortably when he yawned, thanks to his classmates, and probably always would. Nana didn't know about the missing molar, and it would come out when he got dragged into the dentist next month. There wasn't anything to be done for it.
But it didn't mean there was nothing that Alec could do.
Another few hack- smaller, this time, but enough for what he needed- meant that he was able to take himself to the eye doctor for the first time in five years.
The contact lenses arrived in the mail six days later.
There was still a month and a half before the school year started, and a hoop in the parking lot that nobody else used much.
The things he liked were going to stay the same, and everything he didn't like? He'd change it.
They're probably fake, Alec thought, the first time he saw them.
Eliot Spencer wore glasses on jobs, sometimes, usually because of the role he was playing. Another minor misdirection that would come in handy, later, if anyone was asked to describe him. A focal point to draw and distract their attention.
They weren't on a job, though, right now. This was just prep work.
Eliot had been watching the presentation with his usual scowl, though as far as Alec could tell, nobody had even said anything to irritate him yet, though that would change once Nate started going over their exit strategy. But then Eliot had gone digging in his jacket pocket and extracted the navy blue case. He was leaning forward, now, and it wasn't that he was interested in this part- it was because he was trying to focus on the screen. Through glasses that didn't look to familiar from any of their jobs.
Guessing, Alec blew up the spreadsheet just a little bit.
It wasn't enough to diagnose him, but Eliot wasn't the type to answer direct questions, especially if his vision was a sore spot.
Alec caught himself wondering what the world looked like to Eliot, wondered what was more problematic, trying to focus on the eyes of an attacker coming in too close, or picking out snipers from five hundred yards.
Alec wasn't sure why he was doing it. Why he was hanging onto this like it mattered if they had anything in common. Nearly a year into working together, he should've been able to come up with something better by now. But Eliot was Eliot and Alec was Alec. But Parker was Parker, too, so the day inevitably came that she decided to swipe Eliot's glasses from his pocket. They were sitting behind her cereal bowl, next to the sink, and Eliot probably didn't even know they were missing yet.
Alec listened to the others talking in the conference room, his fingers twitching. When he tried them on, the world was slightly blurred. Again, it wasn't enough for a diagnostic, just told him enough to guess that Eliot's vision probably wasn't anywhere near as bad as his own.
Three hours later, Eliot was bitching about a headache and searched for his glasses with increasing frustration. Parker denied all knowledge. Sophie found them in the kitchen. Alec didn't say shit.
Worst of all? Props, shades, reading glasses, it didn't matter. Eliot could make Elvis shades look good. He could probably walk into Alec's high school reunion wearing Alec's old coke-bottle monstrosities, and have his pick of whoever he wanted, no problem.
Then again, maybe it had nothing at all to do with the glasses.
It shouldn't have been such a surprising epiphany.
They were the last ones at McRory's. Parker and Sophie had disappeared hours ago, and if Alec listened closely, he could probably hear the tenth step in the stairwell creaking if he concentrated hard enough, and honestly, he really wanted to try.
But he was distracted. This thing that he'd been telling himself he'd been reading wrong- Eliot laughing more with him than at him, these days, or hugging him like it was something they did- was coming to a head.
"So look," Eliot glanced at him over the top of his glasses, sidelong and fleeting, the neon of the Budweiser sign reflecting off the lenses. "This," he gestured between the two of them. "Am I reading this right?"
Alec didn't know whether to sigh or hold his breath, but his lungs wanted to do something, apparently deciding to suck in more air so that he sounded nervous and insecure when he answered.
"Yeah." It should've been embarrassing. Would've been, had Eliot been looking at him straight on instead of putting his glasses away. From the angle, it was hard to miss the blush creeping up his neck, though maybe it was only the light from the beer signs. The grin on his face was much more irrefutable.
"Cool. So. Can I see you some time?" Frowning, he waved a hand up to indicate the bar, the room, or maybe the entire building. "Not here, I mean."
"Yeah." Distracted by trying not to crack a joke involving vision and corrective lenses, it's all he could come up with.
"You're really not all that eloquent, are you?" Eliot was glaring at him, now, but his eyes were laughing.
It was two in the morning and Alec wondered, not for the first time, if this was why they were able to get it together. Maybe it was just some grownup manifestation of childhood instinct. Closing one's eyes to make the monsters disappear. Or maybe it was because there were no rough edges, like this.
Eliot was blurry- everything was blurry once Alec took his contacts out, even this close up. There was a swath of hair, and he could just make out eyes and smirk, but it was the shifting on the couch, more than anything, that told him Eliot was moving in again. Eliot hadn't been startled by Alec's hands coming up to his face, or his neck hair to get his bearings, not for weeks. Not even that first time. He'd just gone with it.
Eliot hadn't ever asked, but he'd noticed the bottle of contact solution in Alec's medicine cabinet, and a few days later, a similar bottle had found its way into Eliot's bathroom.
They were starting to get good at this. Feeling each other out in the dark.
Maybe, Alec realized, they were just on an even footing when the lights were out.
Alec was tired of having to choose. He could sleep in his contacts and wake up in the morning with his eyeballs screaming dry and gritty- the sensation would last all day- or he could miss seeing Eliot, punchy and muttering nonsense because they hadn't slept in days and had possibly forgotten how, or fighting to stay awake until Alec was settled first.
Sure, Alec could feel his weight on the mattress, it was as familiar as the warm heavy press of his arm over Alec's hip. Sometimes, Eliot's head crashed against Alec's shoulder or neck. Sometimes he could feel him breathing. But he could never see it.
He always missed the first five minutes of detail in the morning, too. Most of the time, Eliot was a quick blur, already up and dressed by the time Alec raised his head. It was always more about sound, with him; if there was a job on, he'd grumble irritably about how they were going to be late. If there wasn't, he'd be shouting impatiently up the stairs because breakfast was ready, or Alec was out of coffee filters, or did he want to come along to the farmers' market?
Once in a while, though, Eliot would still be in bed when Alec woke. There'd be a smirk in his tone, teasing, as he yanked Alec's hands where he wanted them, or he'd mutter something about morning breath as he avoided Alec's face and kissed his neck instead. These were the easiest mornings, maybe Alec's favorite. But even with the sunlight streaming in through the window, he was never exactly sure what a sleep- and sex- roughed Eliot looked like.
He felt damned good, though. Either way.
But once a month or so, Eliot would still be in bed because he was too sore or exhausted to move, leaving Alec to discern the severity of either via the degree of roughness and annoyance in his voice, or any sudden halts to his movement as he shifted or stretched on the mattress. These were the mornings Alec needed to get up first, get some distance before Eliot woke up enough to start getting his shields up. If Alec asked, the arguments and sniping could last all day.
But Eliot was actually able of being lazy. He'd wake up loose and pliant sometimes, especially if the rain was pouring down on one of their days off. Maybe Alec would read off the scores from last nights and the day's headlines, or Eliot would start muttering about what he wanted to throw in the back garden, or talk about canning tomatoes. Random, small topics that didn't really mean much of anything. But they'd stop as soon as Alec got up to put his contacts in. Eliot would be on his feet, getting dressed, or shoving past him into the shower, and no, Alec didn't mean to disturb him, wasn't trying to hurry him, he only wanted to see him like this.
They were leaving Nate's at three in the afternoon, and for the next half hour at least, Alec would still be able to see Eliot clearly. There wasn't a nuance in his scowl that he missed- surprise, wariness, and the mild irritation that Alec supposed was always just there, needing somewhere to go.
Alec's announcement was apparently a good enough reason to let it out.
"Yeah. Going in next month." Grinning easily was the best way to get Eliot on side, so he tried it as they started down the stairs. "Might need to hit you up for a ride. I'm not going to be able to drive for a day or so, after." Never mind the mess that would start tomorrow morning, when for the first time in a decade, Alec wouldn't be putting his contacts in. Doctor's orders, so that his eyes were ready for the surgery. The glasses in his jacket- not as heavy as his old coke-bottles, but heavy enough- would get him by until the surgery, but the glare off the lenses made computer work nearly impossible.
Suppressing a shudder, Eliot shrugged and pulled back his hair. "That's fine, but. You're going to have lasers shot into your eyes."
"I know," Alec agreed. "How cool is that?"
"Depends." Eliot hit the remote for his truck as they drew near, but didn't finish until they were seated and he was starting the engine. "How many things can go wrong?"
"It's not like the technology was invented yesterday," Alec pointed out, easing the seat back since Parker had been the last one riding with Eliot, speeding out before the police arrived earlier this afternoon, another job well done. "Besides, I did my homework. It's cool."
Another confused shrug. "You've been wearing contacts for ages, right? So why now?"
"Because I've been wearing contacts for ages," Alec parroted, because it was easier than explaining that right then, the Eliot who was still dressed like a construction worker, down to the bright yellow safety vest, wasn't the only real Eliot. Not that the two were separate, but there was this other one, just as real, who Alec only knew from half guesses, blurs of motion and shifts on mattresses.
Eliot shook his head distastefully as he pulled into traffic. "I don't know, man. Getting your eyes sliced open? That's fucked up."
An hour later, Eliot still couldn't stop staring at him. "Those glasses are really somethin' else, man. Your eyes look all wrong."
He was trying to be polite. It was mostly working, but he wouldn't be stifling the laughter for too much longer.
Alec glared at his reflection in the darkened television set across the room. They weren't as bad as the ones in the pictures from high school- not that they existed anywhere but in old yearbooks owned by strangers or a frame in Nana's hallway, but they were bad enough. Thick lenses, again, and thick frames to support them, heavy enough to pinch as they slid down his nose, tight enough to dig in behind his ears. He hated them.
"Believe me," Alec groaned. "As soon as I'm done with the surgery, these things are gone."
The frames cut out too much of his peripheral for him to notice what Eliot was doing until he heard the click of the camera.
"I hate you. You know that, right?"
"Love you too. Four eyes."
Eliot had been glaring at the receptionist and nurse an hour ago, but what expression he wore now, Alec had no way of knowing. The dark glasses weren't doing enough to stop the light coming in, and his eyes were tearing up something awful. The anesthetic was wearing off, and he was off balance and heading for a headache, fast. Narrowing his eyes to slits, though, he was able to make his way out behind Eliot, get back out to the car.
Back at the house, he retreated to the bed, his eyes mostly closed as he got caught up on podcasts, or listened to Eliot's shed construction project down in the back yard. Dozed off, once in a while, maybe. It was hard to tell.
That night, though- it was still a bit early, but the sun had gone down a while ago- Eliot poked his head through the bedroom door, without turning on the light. Asked what Alec wanted for dinner, offering to throw something together.
His hair was a little messed up, windblown strands coming loose from his ponytail. He had dirt under his fingernails and a scratch on his neck that he probably wasn't aware of. His brows were raised as he peered intently at him, eyes wide. Curious, calmly concerned. There was none of the irritation from this morning at the doctor's office; there were no defenses at all. He was completely unselfconscious.
Maybe he wouldn't have been, if he'd had any idea how awesome this was.
Alec could see him perfectly.