This story is my response to a challenge made by Anna on Dark Angel Archives. The challege itself isn't addressed much in this chapter but will be in the ones to come.

Challenge #9
Submitted By: Anna

Challenge:
Someone decides they can get rich kidnapping and exporting poor or homeless
women and children from the US. Think of a modern slavery ring or of kids shipped
off to be adopted in richer countries. Does Max see one of her friends kidnapped or a
child taken? Does she stop the entire operation or only get it moved from Seattle?
Does she let herself get taken?

Disclamers-I don't own Max or Logan and owe the people who do my undying gratitude for giving me worthy daydream material.

Thanks:To all my lunch bunch friends who threatened to kick my ass if I didn't finsh this.

Not graphic on violence or sex, a few four letter words but nothing worse than the series. Doesn't contain any big spoilers I don't think. Now without further ado.



Stronger Together Than We Are Apart

Things started off hazy, kind of fuzzy around the edges and as she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes she found that her hands were cuffed to a post above her head. She felt like she was trying to swim through concrete. She couldn't move, she couldn't breathe and unfortunately the last thing that she remembered was working an undercover modeling job to expose a sex slavery ring for Logan. She ignored the pounding in her head and began to examine her surroundings. The room was small only about six feet wide, eight feet long, and seven foot high.

Not a lot of the comforts of home, the cell was unfurnished with a heavily reinforced door. Well this shouldn't be too difficult. She just got the cuff off one hand and was quickly working on the second one when she heard a hissing. She'd only taken one breath and recognized it as a fast acting knock out gas. She tried to hold her breath, but the drugs already in her system weakened her and soon everything went dark.

When she woke up again she was in a much larger room and a slightly more comfortable position. She had a few random images flashing through her mind of bright lights and tinny sounds of multiple languages in the background. Well whoever bought me is just going to have to be disappointed, cause I sure don't plan on hanging around. She was handcuffed again, this time to the headboard of a large bed, in a state of undress that would prove damn embarrassing should anyone walk in anytime soon.

She jerked her hands trying to rip the chain holding the cuffs together, it was a little more painful that the normal way of bending the cuffs out of shape and sliding her hands out, but it was faster and something told her that she didn't have a whole lot of time here. Nothing happened the first time that she tried it so she tried again but it wasn't doing any good. She tried the slower way of bending them but the metal was hard, and unyielding.

Damn it, the stuff they've given me is either screwing with my system or knocked me out long enough that I need a triptophane fix. Neither of which is a good thing and I really am spazzed, I'm starting to sound like Logan. Before she could think about it further there was the rattle of a key at the door and the grinding of it slowly sliding open. She fought back her rising panic at being helpless for the first time that she could remember. I'll be alright, I might not like it but I can handle this, I will not break down damn it. As her new 'owner' entered the room the first tremors of a seizure overtook her and she allowed her mind to drift away.

Logan wheeled himself into the room that the guard had led him to, thankful that he'd been tipped off in time to keep Max from being shipped out of the country. The room was constructed so that the girls could be observed without being able to see their observers. He stopped to look at her disheveled state before the fact that she was clad in only her underwear and handcuffed to the headboard registered with him. He called the guard back in, "What the hell is this?" he demanded. "I didn't ask for this to be done."

"It's standard operating procedure sir, most of our clients like to…" the man paused. "Examine their purchases for flaws before they leave, this makes things go more smoothly."

"Well I appreciate the consideration, but that won't be necessary. I'd like the keys for the cuffs and some clothes for her, now."

"I'm sorry sir, but I don't think that will be possia--" Logan slipped a few bills into the man's hand. "I'll see what I can do." The man came back in a few minutes holding a key ring and the clothes that Max had been wearing when she was taken. He handed them to Logan and looked at him nervously.

"Sir if you don't mind me asking is there any reason that you're…" the man shifted uncomfortably. "Dissatisfied with your purchase? Anything that we can help with?"

Logan looked at the man quizzically. "What makes you think that I'm dissatisfied?" The man was silent a moment, looked Max up and down looked at Logan and then back at Max. "Let me guess you thought that because I didn't come running in here like a hog to the trough that I was unhappy with your product?" The man nodded. Well she's going to hate me for this later but I've got to come up with a plausible cover story.

"On the contrary, I'm quite satisfied with your merchandise, I just know exactly what it is I bought. You see the lady and I have an agreement. I take care of her, shelter her from the big bad world and keep the wolves from her door and in return she takes care of me in all the ways that matter if you catch my drift."

The man smiled. "I see, I see, but I must admit that I'm curious. If you two have such an amicable agreement how on earth did she end up here?"

"We had a small misunderstanding and she decided to prove to me that she could make it just fine without me. As you can see it didn't work out quite the way that she'd planned." The man nodded satisfied with the explanation that he'd received and turned to go as Logan wheeled himself into the room.

Logan lifted himself up onto the bed beside Max and smoothed the hair away from her face. She's so beautiful, and there's a part of me that wishes that the story I told the guard was true. At least that way she'd let me care for her, love her, protect her, but I know that isn't going to happen. The only time that she'll even let me get close to her is when she's sick or hurting too badly to be able to resist needing comfort.

She started shaking and he uncuffed her, but as the tremors got worse found that he couldn't get the pills open and keep her from hurting herself too. He called the guard in and got him to help hold her as he tried to slip the pills into her mouth. She struggled weakly against him and the hands that held her.

Well I guess I'll have to make it look like she's a drug addict too. Boy is she going to hate me for this in the morning. "Shh hush now baby girl it's alright. Daddy's here and I've got your candy just be a good girl and don't fight me…You'll feel better real soon.." Upon hearing his voice she quieted and he was able to slip the pills into her mouth.

Fortunately the pills were fast acting and in only a few minutes the seizure had leveled off enough for her to be able to think again. "Logan???" She asked groggily half expecting it to be a game that her mind was playing with her. She'd expected to wake up to hating, hurtful hands if she woke up at all. Instead she felt the soft familiar touch of Logan's hands, smelled the scent that was uniquely his own, and heard the gentle calming lilt of his soft voice telling her that everything would be alright. Nope that's too good to be true I must be dreaming.

Max curled her self up into a ball and lay her head down in Logan's lap, allowing the sound and feel of him to comfort her. If this is a dream I don't want to wake up, not to what I know I'll face. I think I'll just stay here. I only wish I'd told Logan how I feel instead of being a good little soldier. If I had maybe I wouldn't be in this mess now.

Having decided that even if this was a dream if felt too good for her to wake up and leave it for the harsh reality of the world; she curled into a small ball and rested her head in Logan's lap enjoying the warmth and comfort she found there. She felt something warm and soft wrapping around her, and she let her self drift off amidst his softly whispered reassurances and gentle comforting touches that he'd offered.

Logan was suprised when she cuddled up to him, and even more so when she laid her head in his lap and held on to him like she'd never let go. You know she'll probably be embarrassed if she wakes up like this. Reluctantly he shook her and said "Max, wake up." She groaned and burrowed closer to him and amidst her mutterings he could have sworn that heard, "I don't care if it's a dream, I don't wanna wake up." Her knew from what he'd read in her file that she was trained to sleep only in the presence of her sibs even when she was injured, because they were the only ones she could trust. That she trusted him enough to relax this easily in his presence was more than he ever hoped. Maybe it isn't hopeless maybe there is a chance that she feels the same way.

There had been numerous reprimands in her file starting when she was three and stretching over a period of almost four years. Then they lapsed for a year and then one final heartbreaking entry was written, 'Subject has adapted and no longer exhibits earlier signs of weakness.' There written in cold clinical black and white were the words symbolizing the breaking of an innocent, caring child into a broken but efficient soldier. Logan cursed the ones who had done this too her, and as he pondered what could have been he wept.

He'd never really stopped to question how he felt about Max. He only knew that that when she was near his heart was lighter. She was the one who gave him the strength to regain the use of his legs, and the one who gave him the hope that kept him in the fight. He'd never thought that she might have the same feelings for him, but now he wasn't so sure. Maybe it is possible that she does care for me and she just buries it under that bio-engineered, military-issue-armor-plating of hers?

Before he could think further on this amazing and possibly life altering event the object of his thoughts started stir. Max groaned and through an arm over her eyes to shield them from the industrial lighting that the room was equipped with. "Ah god, is this what a hangover feels like? What the hell did they do to me?" It was obvious that she didn't realize he was there so he cleared his throat to draw her attention. Her eyes darted over to him and upon seeing her dream hadn't been a dream at all felt an odd mixture of shock and even a little bit of fear. "Logan? Well I guess it wasn't a dream then, where are we?"

He leaned in close to her and whispered, "The room is bugged and they think we're lovers. I had to tell them something so please play along." He continued loudly enough for the cameras to pick up on this time. "You got kidnapped from that modeling job baby girl. When are you gonna learn to just let me take care of things? You could have gotten hurt, and you know that neither one of us wants that."

Max mentally rolled her eyes but nodded meekly, whispered something about being sorry, and hung her head hoping to look properly chastised. Logan gave her one of those 'I'm the man and I know what I'm doing, you just sit there and look pretty, smug type of smiles.' Logan if I didn't know you were just acting I'd kick your ass for that. "That's my girl, now are you alright? Do you need anything?"

She shook her head, I might as well play it up for the cameras. "No…" She paused and then continued hesitantly "Please hold me?" Logan's jaw dropped but he took her in his arms without protest. Max leaned up and whispered in his ear, "What name are you using?"

"Just call me Logan…I was into much of a hurry to worry about an alias." Max started at that. He was in too much of a hurry to get to me to create an alias? By coming here without one he lost his story, wait a minute does this mean that he thinks I'm more important than one of his stories?

"Doesn't this kinda kill your story?" she whispered into his ear.

"What can I say you move my furniture Max."

Seeing that he was freaking and fixing to say something that would totally ruin the moment she smiled. "Logan, just shut up and kiss me."

It took a moment for what she was asking to sink into his mind, but once it finished processing he smiled. He brushed a stray curl from her face, looked into those deep brown eyes that set fire to his soul and pressed his lips to hers in a kiss as gentle as the softest breeze. They pulled back and knew that everything was different, he wasn't just a way for her to get information about her sibs, and she wasn't just someone to help him with 'Eyes Only'. Then if they really were honest about it hadn't been that between them in a long time, but still the realization was scary and thrilling all at the same time. They had each other, and the world suddenly seemed brighter; Max had finally found her home and Logan the other half of his soul.

They lie in each other's arms for awhile taking in all the changes that had happened what seemed almost instantaneously, but had been building ever since they met. "Max, are you ok? With all of this I mean…because I'd never want you to think that I'm trying to push you into anything that you didn't want or…"

"Logan, you're babbling, and as cute as that is I'd really rather do this." Max pressed her lips to his in a more passionate kiss that continued until Logan's air supply ran out. Max smiled and said, "So that's what all those damn romance novels Kendra's always reading were talking about."

"Really?" Logan looked at her curiously; he'd never been told that being kissed by him was of romance novel proportions. "What do you mean?"

Max placed a finger on his lips cocked her head as if listening to something and then reached over onto the night stand and took a small electronic device off the back of it. With a squeeze of the hand the bug was reduced to excess circuitry and wires. "Bye -bye bugs. The rooms clean now by the way. They didn't exactly cover romance and love in Manticore. Sex was something to be used as a weapon, and as long as it didn't mean anything a way that we were allowed to sate our cravings as they called it once we hit puberty."

Logan rubbed his hand over her back in slow, easy circles to comfort her. He had the feeling that there was a lot more to come, and didn't want to say anything until she'd let all the years of hurt feelings and anger out. "Some of the others were older than me, and a couple of them started experimenting. They kept trying to get us to join in, but something about it just didn't seem right you know? It was like I knew that it was supposed to mean more than that. And even though it was stupid I always thought that just maybe…"

Max trailed off and her eyes grew sad as the memories of her childhood flashed through her head. Lydecker had never missed an opportunity to tell them that they wouldn't be accepted or understood by outsiders. They'd always been taught that to love was weakness. Phony sentimentality as Zack had called it, and according to everything that she'd been taught it would only get her killed, but she'd never wanted anything more.

Logan could see that she was drifting away from him, off into painful memories of events that he could never change no matter how hard he tried. Despite his earlier promise not to interrupt and let her talk herself out, he couldn't bear to see her in pain any longer so he interrupted her. "Though maybe what Max? What was it that you were wishing for?"

"I just thought that maybe someday, somewhere, somehow that it might be possible for somebody to love me. That despite the fact that I'm a moody, genetically- engineered freak someone might actually love me. Ok, there you have it my stupid, naive dream that's never gonna come true, cause I guess that it's just too fucking much to ask ok." During her outburst she pulled away from him, and now after she'd laid it all out in the open she turned away scared to face what she might see in his eyes. Loathing, contempt for her weakness, or worst of all pity. If she really took the time to think about it she knew that it wouldn't be likely for her to ever see those things in his eyes, but a lifetime of running when the heat was on left her too scared of what might be to think of that.

Logan looked at her incredulously, how could it be that she really didn't think that it was possible for anyone to love her? "Max…" He slid over to her, tentatively put an arm around her shoulders, and pulled her close to him. He saw the trails of tears on her face and realized that he would give anything to be able to make it so she'd never have cause to cry again.

"What?" She asked brokenly, wanting nothing more than to be left alone so that she could fall apart without any without any witness to her despair. Over the last months it had been this more than anything else that she'd cursed Lydecker for. She cursed him with every fiber of her being not for setting her apart from the rest of humanity but for making it impossible for anyone to love her. Lust and passion she could find with no trouble, but love was illusive, and no matter how hard she tried to convince herself that it didn't matter, she was finding more and more that it did.

"Max…it wasn't stupid, or naive to want someone to love you. That is a very natural thing, all of us want that. You're special Max. I never want you to forget that, and please don't think of yourself as a freak. You're beautiful and smart, and it's in no way, shape or form impossible for someone to love you."

His voice lowered to the point that had she not had such special hearing she'd never have been able to make it out. "It's not impossible for someone to love you Max, I already do." Max couldn't believe it, it was all that she'd ever hoped for and more but she had to be absolutely sure.

"What did you just say?"

Logan gulped. Uh oh she wasn't supposed to hear that, but she did. I have to tell her the truth I can't lie to her, not about that. "I said it's not impossible for someone to love you Max, I already do." This time it was Logan who turned away not wanting to risk seeing the emotions that he was sure he would face if he looked at her.

Max reached up and gently turned his face towards her. She kissed him hoping that actions would speak louder than words but when she pulled away she still saw doubt and hesitation in his eyes. "Logan, I…" She swallowed and closed her eyes gathering the strength to say what was in her heart. "I love you too Logan, I love you but I'm scared."

Max buried her head in his shoulder waiting for the reaction that she'd always received before when she'd shown weakness or fear. She was prepared for rage or anger, but not the gentle care and concern that Logan showed her. "I know what you mean Max. I'm scared too, but even though I'm scared of losing you or having my heart broken again I wouldn't trade these feelings for anything in the world. What are you afraid of? Tell me and I promise I'll do whatever I can to make it better."

Max sniffled and gave one of those 'isn't life ironic' grins. "It's stupid really, it's just that Lydecker always told us that if we gave our hearts away that we'd only get them broken. That they would leave us when they found out what we were or the enemy would use them against us. No matter how hard I try to forget that, I can't seem to, and the harder I fight it the more scared I get that it's true."

"Max I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm going to say here." He looked deep into her eyes and with careful enunciation on each and every word said. "I love you, I have since the day I met you. I'm not going anywhere, and I'll be with you for as long as the fates allow. Now this next part is very, very important so pay real close attention, if I get hurt because I'm with you it's not your fault. I made the choice knowing all of the risks and dangers. You're my sunshine Max, I love you in ways I didn't even know were possible, and being with you even for a moment is worth all the risks and dangers in the world."

Max was overcome with emotion; she'd never let herself believe that she'd find love or that she deserved someone as wonderful as Logan. Tears came to her eyes again but this time they were tears of joy. "Logan, I…" Just then the door burst open and several guards carrying guns rushed in. "Would someone please tell me why every time I try to have a nice normal conversation it turns into a fight? Just when I was starting to think I might get through the day without having to kick anyone's ass! Hold that thought, this is only gonna take a second."

As a general rule Max didn't lose her temper, she'd learned the hard way long ago that when your a genetically engineered killing machine that it wasn't the best thing to do. Occasionally she did however, no matter how ill advised it was, and when she did it was never pretty, and this was definitely one of those times. She turned to face the guards, who possessing any sense at all would have run for the hills seeing the look on her face, but hired muscle as a general rule didn't have a whole lot of gray matter and these boys were no exception.

"First off…. I'm really pissed, not only do ya nab me and shoot me full of some drug cocktail that gives me the hangover from hell, then ya interrupt a very important and meaningful sensitive chat that I was trying to have with my guy over there. Then to make it worse you have to bring guns into the mix. I HATE guns. Give me one good reason not to kick your asses from here to San Francisco!"

"Yeah as if you could." One of the guards stupidly leered. She glowered at him in a way that would have made any sensible man back away clutching his hands over the vital parts of his anatomy. Sensible these men were not however and one of them laughed so hard that he curled over. "Yeah back down darlin…. You're gonna break a nail."

"All right, that's it!"

Logan grimaced at that tone, Oh they so totally screwed up. The guards who'd made the last crack didn't even know what hit him as she threw him into a wall. Ouch remind me not to make her mad, but then she's really sexy when she fights. The other handful were barely enough to make her even think of making her break a sweat, much less a nail. Stepping over the unconscious forms she moved to help Logan into his wheelchair.

"You know Max, I think that we might have just worn out or welcome."

"Really…I thought it was a nice way to redecorate. Move a few walls, a couple of security guards to spice things up? But maybe you're right I think it might be time to bounce. " She started wheeling him from the room, and they heard the sound of the guards' backup arriving. Max kept wheeling Logan with an attitude of nonchalance that mystified the guards. The collective thought seemed to be: Who is this girl? We've got big freaking guns and can kick her as. Why isn't she afraid of us.

One of them closed in behind her and grabbed her, "Stop, no one said that you could leave yet." Spurred on by their comrade's show of bravery the men circled Logan's wheelchair. Max gave a what's a girl to do look, shrugged her shoulders, and motioned for Logan to duck. She pushed herself up on the bars of the wheelchair and spun herself around in a 360 move that would have impressed even the best of martial artists.

"Now that that's out of the way, let's get out of here." Not knowing when to accept defeat another group of guards came rushing towards them. "Logan, do you trust me?

"Of course I do, why?"

"Good." She picked him up and leapt fifteen feet in the air, where she'd spotted a nice out of the way place where he wouldn't get hurt during the fight. Luckily the rafters of the building met the wall forming a nice, relatively secure place for Logan to sit while she took care of the baddies. "Stay here, I'll be right back and we'll finish that talk of ours."

Logan gulped as he made the mistake of looking down, but nodded mutely. "Sure. Ummm ok, there isn't really anywhere for me to go, so I'll just stay here while you kick butt."

She jumped back down to the floor feeling slightly guilty for leaving Logan where she had knowing that he was afraid of heights, but she really hadn't had any other options at the moment. But then I'll make it up to him later. That thought brought a grin to her face, which in turn unnerved the guards. After all what kind of person went into a fight one against twenty with a smile on their face? "Captain something doesn't feel right about this."

"So the chick's loco. Doesn't mean anything, ya shoot her she goes down, it's really that simple." Max heard what the man said and the response that he got. If you only knew asshole. Max proceeded to show the guards just how painful a Manticore op could make a lesson in respect.

When Logan looked down he saw Max surrounded by a circle of unconscious, battered former guards. When she turned her back on them one of the guards leapt up, grabbed Logan's wheelchair, and swung it at her head. Max felt the air shift and ducked, sending the man barreling into the wall. Unfortunately Logan's chair got caught between the two. "Ah damn, there goes another one."

She leapt up to where she'd left Logan and cradled him in her arms like she would have a child and dropped effortlessly back to the floor. "Piece of cake, so what next?" She helped Logan into a more comfortable position standing beside her, with his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist so that it would look like they were merely walking very close together instead of her carrying him.

A long walk out of the compound and a short cab ride later found them back in Logan's apartment. They hadn't spoken much on the way, or on the elevator ride to Logan's penthouse. Likewise they were silent as Max helped him in to the spare wheelchair that Bling had thankfully left just in case. Both seemed to realize that the up coming conversation was going to have painful topics for them, and that they'd be better off waiting until they were somewhat comfortable. Well as comfortable as you can be when your heart's beating like a timpani drum and you're scared to death anyway.

The emotional rush from earlier had started to fade, leaving each wondering how the other felt about their confessions. Max stood at his window looking out into the dark Seattle night. It was almost like he could feel her distancing herself from him. If I don't handle this just right, I'll lose her forever. That thought scared him more than anything in his life had before.

He rolled over so that he was slightly behind her. He cleared his throat, and she looked up at him. "Max, we really need to talk about this." This was said in quiet voice, that rocked her to the bottom of her soul. Oh God, this is it. He's going to tell me that he didn't mean it, and I don't think I can take myself back to just be friends. He means too much to me for that.

"Max, look at me please?" Does she regret it that much, so much that she doesn't even want to look at me? "I meant what I said earlier Max. I love you and nothings going to change that, but if you're not ready for this or it makes you uncomfortable I still want to be there for you. I can still just be your friend, if that's what you need."

Max turned finally and looked at him, then sank to her knees in relief in front of him. "You're right Logan, I do need you as my friend, but I need you for more than that. Never even in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I was going to find anyone as wonderful as you, but now that I have there ain't no way I'm letting you go."

Logan felt like a weight the size of Mt. Rushmore had been lifted from his chest. He smiled and had that wonderful look of I'm in love and all is right in my world. "I wouldn't have it any other way. Now that we've both gotten through our moments of doubt, I think that we could both use some rest."

"You know normally I'd disagree with you, but for some odd reason I could use a nap right about now."

Logan shook his head at that in baffled amazement. "Max in the last twenty-four hours you've been kidnapped, pumped full of all sorts of drugs, had several major seizures, beat up on twenty something guards, and hauled my butt for three or four miles. Cut yourself some slack here, of course you're tired. Besides I was really hoping you'd agree with me."

"Really? Why is that?"

"Because at this moment I can think of nothing I'd rather do than fall asleep with you beside me, and wake up with you in my arms."

"Me neither." With that she pushed him into the bed room and helped get him settled, then she crawled in beside him and lay her head on his shoulder. Good nights were whispered, I love you's were spoken, and they fell asleep to the sound of each others heartbeats.