Cape Haven Challenge – Rules set by Sam: 'Love is a laugh. Seriously.'

"Use this quote to come up with a story. Must be over 1500 words. Considering this group I'm assuming the pairing will be M/L, but it doesn't have to be. It does have to be a romantic pairing though. You have until November 10th."

Okay, Sam. You asked for it. Romantic M/L - one might say 'mushy', even – and a bit more than 1500 words. Set somewhere between Virtual Season Three and Virtual Season Four.

I send many, many thanks to Alaidh for the super Beta. J

Oh, and there's food, as usual. And angst.

Seriously

By Mouse

3,030 Words

"Experience shows us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Prologue

Love is a laugh. Seriously.

Right now, if I don't laugh, I'll cry and that's not a very Manticore thing to do. 'Course, neither is laughter when it comes right down to it. Soldiers. No emotional attachment to anyone. Obey orders. Don't look left or right. Die for the cause. Might as well be robots in a bad sci-fi flick.

So here I sit on my favourite perch, wondering who designed the Space Needle so that no one could crawl over her skin, where I am now, and feel the wind as it tries to scrape me from the surface. Naturally, the average guy wouldn't be able to withstand being out here in weather like this: a storm is coming towards Seattle. It's exhilarating, having your clothing tugged and hair whipped around your head. Wild. Sky started going dark around noon, and it's gonna be a long night by the looks of it. I'm watching the clouds thicken like layers of crumpled cotton over the water, building in the west. The storm'll probably cause blackouts in the city, which has a tenuous grasp on power at the best of times. People will be plummeted into darkness and anyone still depending on electric heat will be fighting for warmth. Hospitals will be scrambling for their generators so that surgeons can finish delicate operations, paying black market rates on fuel if necessary to keep things running. Law? It's here, sure, but when you're desperate

It isn't fair and it isn't right. Welcome to the west coast of North America, November 29, 2022.

Logan's building might lose power, but if it does, I know they have a backup generator that usually works. Still among the privileged, he is, despite Cale Industries going belly up. Wonder what blondie would say if she knew her money was now supporting the Eyes Only she was so desperate to destroy?

Actually, I can imagine her reaction. I tip a mental hat to Lydecker. Thanks to him, Logan's in the pink.

And so am I, since I'm living with him.

Damn. I wasn't going to think about us until later. It stings, like a scab you keep picking at so it won't heal.

I needed the fresh air to clear my head, and boy, did I get some. I lift my face to the wind and wonder absently how long it'll take to get the tangles out of my hair when I get down. Guess I won't worry about it until I've finished traveling on my bike, going home or wherever it is I'm going.

Where would I go if I didn't go home, to warmth and security, to Logan?

I have no idea. Well, I could visit Original Cindy but she'd want the skinny on why I wasn't with Logan. I could visit Joshua, but he'd wonder the same thing, despite, no doubt, appreciating my company. I'm not ready to leave the Needle yet, though, not ready to remove myself from the isolation and freedom it provides. Odd combination, but that's what it is to me. I really missed coming up here when we were stuck - with the odd exception – in Terminal City. It would've been great to escape the tight quarters, tense situation and unwanted responsibility.

Whatever. Old news.

I passed a poster of myself on the way to the base of the Needle. I'd stashed my bike in one of the usual spots and walked from there. The poster was thoroughly secured to an old lamppost with clear packing tape, which is probably why it had survived this long. Someone had actually fixed the light, 'cause I don't remember when it last worked. And there I was, astride one of those annoying hover drones, long hair streaming behind me as I headed for Jam Pony and a hostage situation. Seems like a long time ago and yesterday simultaneously - a lifetime and a heartbeat away. It wasn't a wanted poster, but a plea of freedom for the 'freaks'.

I studied it like it was some kinda alien artefact for about forty-two seconds then bolted for the stairs and my safe haven.

I can't seem to escape the past. It's disturbing me more than it probably should.

Logan is my best friend, and I'm in love with him. He is the cause I'd die for. If only love was an easy concept to deal with. If only I didn't still have these stupid tattoos. If only he wasn't so stubborn about this Eyes Only stuff, and would let me help more often. If only he didn't still try to protect me by keeping trouble so close to him that I can't see it properly, until it's almost too late. If only he didn't worry so much about his stupid legs not working right. I thought we were beyond secrets and white lies.

If, if, if.

Love is a laugh. Seriously.

I laugh into the wind and it smothers my voice.

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He must've decided to start dinner early due to the storm, Max thought as she slipped into the apartment and let the door close quietly behind her. The roast was on. Small potatoes she had cleaned and cut earlier would cook underneath in the juices. Carrots would be eaten raw and served with a homemade dip. The delicate aroma of sautéed mushrooms added to the sensory parade that wafted from the kitchen - a perfect dinner for a cold, blustery day.

She removed her shoes, listening for sounds of human life: a spatula against the pan, a cupboard opening and someone rattling around inside it for something. The mushrooms sizzled in the oil, which she knew had been flavoured with sage and rosemary months before by Logan himself. He took pride in his cooking. If she had been a 'normal' girl, she'd have gained weight by eating here.

But I'm not normal, she thought, her heart racing a little as she recalled the words they'd exchanged heatedly earlier in the afternoon. I'm not normal, never will be normal, and we've got to stop wasting time and find Sandeman if I have any hope of being as close to normal as I'll ever get.

Before someone tries to kill the old man. Again.

It wasn't fair, really, that she could just up and leave in the middle of an argument.

And he couldn't follow her.

At the time, she hadn't given a rat's ass.

Max hung her jacket in the hall closet and silently covered the distance to the kitchen. Her socks were damp and cool against the wood. She wondered how long he'd sat there, staring at the door, before he'd decided to start cooking. Hastily combing her hair with her fingers, she stepped forward.

The chef was facing the stove, his back to her. He was in the wheelchair, which she had expected. He sometimes used the 'power armour' when he cooked, but the negative ramifications of wearing it were outweighing the positive ones, or so she thought. The further degeneration of Logan's spine was frustrating but not as critical for Max as it was for him, as their argument had illustrated.

The same old circle had begun when he'd revealed news of another surgery that had flared hope for him to walk again. Someone named Christopher Reeve had started a foundation in the nineties for quadriplegics or anyone with spinal injuries, and many had benefited from this financial support before the Pulse. "Superman to the rescue", Logan had said. She wasn't sure what that meant. All she knew was that an archive of information, gathered by this foundation, had been rediscovered, and the possibilities were very exciting. She could blame Dr. Carr and Sebastian for sharing this with Logan. His life would be at risk, as with any major surgery, with no guarantee for a successful outcome. Was it worth it? She didn't think so. How long had he known about it? Almost a month. Why hadn't he told her? He was still considering his options. Wasn't this a decision they should both have a say in?

Words she chose not to recall followed and she'd run for the door. Fled like someone being pursued by the devil, like she used to do before Manticore had recaptured her and introduced the virus and all hell had broken free of its restraints, away from Logan and the feelings he stirred in her. But they were a couple now, and this was where she belonged. After a few hours on the Space Needle, she'd decided that running away from home once was enough for one lifetime.

"Hey," she said quietly. He diligently continued to stir the mushrooms and turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder. As a result of having to look up to see her, he peered over the top of his glasses. His green eyes didn't judge her.

"Hey," he responded, somewhat non-committal, as if she were one of his informants stopping by. Or Alec, she thought, knowing his patience was frequently strained by the attitude of her fellow X-5. Logan had the air of someone who didn't want to wade too deep or he'd be baited.

"Smells good." Max found a portion of the counter that wasn't occupied with the cooking process and gave a little jump to sit on it.

"Hmmm." He returned his focus to the mushrooms.

Say something about the fight, her Inner Commentator insisted.

Like what?

Apologize. Phrase it in a way that sounds like you accept the blame. He'll go for that, and then you can eat without feeling guilty.

No, he won't go for it. He'll know what I'm doing and he won't like it. I'm not gonna lie to him. I'm pissed off. We have to talk about it.

Your funeral.

Shut up!

"- Thought we could start that conversation again, keep a level head -"

His hesitant voice penetrated her thoughts. She hadn't been fast enough to organize what she wanted to say; this time, he was the first one to offer the olive branch. Max gave a mental shake. "Be honest with each other," she interjected quietly.

He stopped stirring and glanced at her again. A smile curled at the corners of his mouth. Did he know she'd missed the beginning of his apology?

"Yeah," he said, and removed the pan from the burner. Max watched in admiration as the muscles in his upper body tensed and flexed while he tipped the mushrooms into a warming dish and scooped chopped onions into the recently emptied pan. He made it look so easy, but she knew it wasn't, especially for him. Especially living with a perfect physical specimen, as she could be categorized. The pan returned to the burner. Something sizzled in the oven. Max tipped her head so she could see through the window. The interior light was on and the roast looked succulent silhouetted there.

"I'm tryin' not to drool here," she commented, wanting to maintain the positive mood.

"The roast is a good cut. Bling really outdid himself finding it for us."

"I'm not talkin' about the roast."

He turned from the onions at that and gave her a level stare. It was a dead sexy level stare, Max decided. She was glad he had shaved his scruff this morning.

Jump his bones, her Inner Commentator said.

I don't want to have make-up sex without talkin' first.

Your loss.

Max kept her voice quiet and sincere. "I can't help it. You're lookin' fine tonight. I mean it." She slid from the counter. Logan adjusted the position of the wheelchair in anticipation of her arrival in his lap and he wasn't disappointed. She sat sideways, legs dangling; she wrapped one arm around his neck, and rested her head on his right shoulder. He swallowed. Max watched his Adam's apple bob with emotion.

"I love you," he whispered. "My beautiful angel."

"I love you, too." Max sighed and focused on the most important part of her argument against surgery. "And I want you to be happy. I'd love you to be able to walk again. I know you really want it. But I don't want to lose you." She pressed her face against his neck and kissed his warm skin. "I'm scared."

They sat for a few minutes, safe in each other's arms, while the onions sizzled beside them. Logan finally had to break their embrace. He gave her a quick squeeze and kissed the top of her head. Max moved so he could stir the onions and prevent them from burning but didn't make any effort to leave his lap. She let her left hand play with the fine hairs at the nape of his neck, revelling in their softness. He glanced down at her and smiled.

"I'm afraid I'm gonna have to evict you eventually."

"I know."

When the onions were ready, she climbed back to her feet. He added them to the mushrooms, saying, "I'm scared, too. That's why I waited so long to tell you about the procedure."

"You laugh or you cry, right?"

Logan busied himself with the thermometer, sticking it into the roast, calculating when it would be done. The blast of heat when he opened the door reminded her how cold she'd been on the Needle. With her genetics, the weather didn't usually bother her much, but this cold hadn't been an external thing - she'd felt cold inside. With Logan, everything was just right.

"Yeah," he said, not looking at her.

"I'm with you, all the way. No matter what."

He retrieved the thermometer and closed the oven door, reaching out with his free hand. She closed the distance and took it firmly in hers.

"I know." He gave her a quick smile and released her hand so he could continue with dinner preparations. Max knew one of the reasons he enjoyed cooking was his delight in quality foods. It was also something he could still do without assistance, and it had certainly given both of them a reason for Max to keep him company during that first year, when they needed an excuse to be together.

And sometimes, it helped him… not think about other things. It provided a welcome distraction and something tactile on which to focus. When things were really tense, Max was amazed they didn't end up with a twelve-course meal. She performed a hasty assessment of the accumulated foods and was relieved to note only two appetizers: mushroom caps stuffed with spinach and feta cheese, and Caesar salad.

"I know you… we want to have a family." His voice was so quiet; she was lucky she could hear it even with her Manticore advantage. "I know that's important to you. I know we need to sort out the tattoos and find out when we can start." He turned to her, his face solemn. "I didn't mean to snap at you about that. I guess I was just so focussed on finally telling you about the surgery…"

"And I was all wrapped up about needing to talk with you about Sandeman…"

They shared a smile of understanding and apology.

"We'll figure it out, Max."

"Together."

"Always." Logan cleared his throat. "I know we still have to deal with these things, but could we wait 'til tomorrow? I'd kinda like to relax with you right now."

Max felt her smile widen. "I'd like that."

"We're gettin' mushy, aren't we?"

"Yeah, but that's okay." Max settled in his lap again. "When'll dinner be ready?"

Logan shrugged slightly. "Maybe another forty-five minutes."

"You didn't waste any time after I left, did you?"

"Nope." He sighed and wheeled the two of them from the kitchen. It took a few seconds to get the momentum going, as his arms compensated for the extra weight, but he navigated around the couch and made it to the window in pretty good time.

"Show off," Max muttered.

"Hey, either you got it or you don't."

The sky was black now, laden with clouds, darker than night. The window afforded a wonderful view of an ominous, uncontrollable entity.

"Have we got enough candles?" Her voice sounded small in the space. Nature rumbled across the city and made the sheet of glass before them vibrate.

"Yep. All stocked up after the last one."

"Hope it holds off for another forty-five minutes."

"Me, too." They kissed tenderly, then Max placed her head on his shoulder once more. "I've got a joke for you," he said suddenly.

She lifted her head and regarded him warily. "Yeah?"

He grinned. "Why was six nervous of seven?"

"Uh-"

"Because seven eight nine!"

Max smacked him on the arm. "Hey! You didn't give me time to answer!"

And Logan laughed. "It isn't even a very good joke."

"No, it isn't, but you coulda given me a chance."

"Okay, okay. Here's a pun for you."

"Why do you torment me with these things?"

"Hey, Christmas is coming. It's almost seasonal." Logan winked. "A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories - something you would appreciate-"

Max rolled her eyes. She did tend to beat Logan at chess. "Oh, get back to the pun."

"Right. After about an hour, the hotel manager came out of his office and asked them to leave. 'But why?' they asked, as they moved off. 'Because,' he said"–At this, Logan wiggled his eyebrows. "'I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!'"

Max didn't know if it was her indignant expression or her mock anger – or that he knew she hadn't made the cultural connections to a pre-Pulse Christmas song – but something made him laugh again, laugh until tears were threatening at the corners of his eyes and he had to remove his glasses and wipe them with a shaking hand.

Love is a laugh. Seriously.

And I'll do everything within my power to see that this laugh is never silenced.

And that another generation of Cales will hear it, and smile.

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End