July 28, 2006: Sorry for the delay. I wanted to finish 'Getting Away From It All' before I continued here. J

My continued thanks to Alaidh, the Almighty Beta. I value her assistance on this difficult mission. :D

In case I haven't mentioned this - and in case anyone was wondering - any properties described in this story are fictional. There might be similar businesses that exist in our time in the areas indicated but they are in no way related to the ones in this story.

I'd like to thank all the folks who read and those who also take a minute to review. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. J

August 3, 2006: This chapter is a bit longer than I thought it would be. Finally getting this off to Alaidh. J

September 6, 2006: This took a while to get organized. Life intervened, but doesn't it always? Sending this off to Alaidh for another round…

November 28, 2006: Well, I now have the chapter back and I'm going to post it as soon as I can. At least it's a long one. My thanks to Alaidh for Betaing through adversity and computer hiccups.

If anyone still remembers this story, I hope you continue to enjoy. ;)

Thoughts in the Dark

Chapter Eighteen

"And now, I believe your ride is here," Clive says casually, as if they've just spent the evening as his guests and he wants to see them safely home.

Logan guesses a vehicle has entered the parking lot outside. He notes Max is looking through the tinted windows of the garage door and wonders what she sees.

"Uh," Logan starts, uncertain, wishing he didn't need to ask for help but well aware that now is not a good time to be stubborn. Another reminder that I can't even do the simplest tasks anymore. "We have some… things that need to -"

"Gents!"

Clive has a voice that could penetrate a soundproof room.

The other three mechanics stop their work on the Cadillac and converge on the Aztek. Clive moves quickly to help Max lift the garage door. Logan presses his lips together in thought. How would the burly mechanic react if he knew Max could lift him without breaking a sweat?

He realizes the other men are patiently waiting for some direction.

"Uh, right." Logan clears his throat. "There're a couple of bags, a case of water…" They open the doors and efficiently, respectfully, retrieve the items as he speaks. He notes their curious looks as they have their first close view of the pole that skewered the vehicle, but they don't ask any questions. Absently, he wonders what sort of damage is considered unusual for them, wonders how he's going to retrieve the Aztek once it is ready - and how much the repairs will cost.

Wonders if Max has recovered from her head injury sufficiently to drive.

Logan sighs. A little late to think about that now.

He opens the passenger door and stares at the remnants of the glove compartment. Reaching inside, his fingers locate a cord and he tugs it out: the charger for his cell phone. He peers at it: intact. Good. He tucks it between his thighs. He finds the bent frame of his sunglasses: missing a lens. Not so good. He tosses them back into the vehicle and doesn't note where they land.

Lucky your back-up cash wasn't destroyed, Cale. Count your blessings.

He senses one of the mechanics has returned but he doesn't look up. Instead he says, "There's a removable cooler between the front seats. Could you pull it out and just…" He glances into the drizzle and sighs. "Give it to me," he finishes, patting his right thigh. It's still strange to watch his hand touch his leg and not feel anything at all. The mechanic - who is possibly still in high school given how young he looks - steps up, kneels on the seat and tugs at the cooler. Logan can hear things shift inside it: the rustle of plastic, the clatter of CD cases. Other than half of his sandwich, he honestly can't remember what else is in there.

He does remember very clearly when he had the vehicle converted to accommodate his new status. Bling was with him, supportive of Logan's need to 'get on with it, already', though he'd received the Eyebrow of Disapproval at his reasoning.

"Eyes Only can't be crippled," Logan had said bitterly.

"You'll need to get around for things other than meets with contacts," his friend had commented quietly.

"Like what?" Logan had snapped. "Taking someone on a date? I guess if they like the drive-in…"

Bling had refrained from responding to that outburst, which was probably just as well.

Logan had hated the vehicle for what it represented. For the rest of his life, he was destined to rely on things with wheels in order to get around.

Then he'd loved it for the freedom it provided, and for a chance to feel the wind howl around him once more. On his first trip alone after the conversion, he had lowered all the windows and taken the Aztek through her paces in the Washington countryside. It might have been a waste of fuel but he didn't care.

Bling hadn't commented on the layers of mud that covered the vehicle or the chunks of grass on the front bumper. Logan had asked his friend to arrange for someone to give it a rare cleaning. He'd felt some guilt and it was the least he could do, especially since Bling occasionally drove it as well. The physiotherapist had caught the keys tossed at him and provided one of his big, gentle smiles. Logan had responded to the smile but only after he'd left the parking garage.

He pulls a key off his key ring and gives it to the young man, who accepts it solemnly.

With one last look at his ride and a silent promise to do whatever it takes to make her better, he murmurs his thanks to the mechanic, balances the cooler on his lap and wheels into the night to find Max.

A young woman is approaching from a red Chevrolet Uplander. The sliding door on the passenger side is open so their belongings can be loaded. The woman is casually dressed in jeans, a sweater, hiking boots and a rain slicker. Her dark, curly hair is pulled back loosely from her face. Logan notes the glasses and the smile.

Sebastian has been hiding all sorts of things, it would appear.

The woman sweeps her gaze over both of them, lingering on him for an extra few beats. He gets the impression she is checking out the design of his wheelchair.

"Hi, I'm Nicole," she says, and energetically shakes both their hands in quick succession, "and this is your ride. Hope you like it." She continues to speak but Logan finds himself zoning a bit. Lack of sleep, stress and only instant noodles, chocolate pudding and half a sandwich in his stomach over the last ten hours is taking its toll.

Oh, and the bleeding, he adds wryly to himself. That might have something to do with it, too.

The 'gents' have placed their belongings on the back seat of the Uplander and are returning to the dryness of the garage. Nicole tosses Max a set of keys and the action draws him back to the conversation. "Nice catch," Nicole says, and he wonders how much Sebastian has told her. "Clive?" The mechanic straightens. "I need a lift back home, please."

"Of course." The burly man shakes Logan's hand once more. The strength evident in the grip makes him think that, given sufficient incentive, Clive could probably crush his fingers. "Best of luck with whatever it is you're doin', lad."

"Thanks for everything."

Clive smiles. "Anything to help those who help Eyes Only."

I'll have to remember that, Logan thinks, and files it away for future reference. He's glad his alter ego is echoing beyond the downtown core. Maybe he is making a difference -

Clive shakes Max's hand, winks at her, and walks towards one of the cars in the lot.

"Well, gotta go. It's been brief but fun." Nicole smiles and more handshaking ensues. "Maybe we can get together when this is over and chat? I'm a big fan of 'EO' and when Sebastian got your message I was so there to help out."

"Sure," Logan says, though he has trouble envisioning the four of them sitting around, discussing the weather over canapés. He discovers he's gripping his wheelchair for support, hoping the feel of the rims cutting into his palms will help ground him. He can't rest yet, not yet, not until they're safe.

Whatever 'safe' means.

He tries to focus and says the first thing that comes to mind. "Have you known Sebastian long?" He regrets asking it immediately. It's a personal question and he isn't comfortable with personal questions himself. He is curious, though, and hopes it doesn't sound like he's asking because he feels socially obligated to ask something.

Why can't the question just be as innocuous as it is? Why do I feel intrusive? He tries to find the reason. Nicole is an attractive, vibrant female and she's hanging out with Sebastian, an attractive, brilliant quadriplegic. Why should this be an issue?

Too close to home, Cale. He skips any further analysis.

Nicole doesn't seem to mind the question at all.

"About two years now, I guess." She looks upward and appears to be thinking. "Yep, two years." She returns her gaze to Logan and smiles. "Go on, I know you wanna ask."

He manages a tired but genuine smile in return. "How did you meet?"

"Would you believe at a conference on Synaptic Function and Plasticity?" Yes, yes I would. "I'm a psychologist and physiotherapist, particularly interested in the treatment of folks like Sebastian."

"Cool," Max says. Logan doesn't look up at her but he can tell she's absorbing all the information implied about Nicole's relationship with Sebastian and suspects he'll be hearing about it later. Of course, that assumes she's thinking what I'm thinking -

"He's waiting on me to restart the movie."

"Movie?"

He hopes Max can explain to him later how movies entered the conversation.

Nicole laughs. "We'd just finished dinner and were watching 'Die Hard', again. He has it on pause while I'm out."

No doubt missing your company. "'Die Hard'? Bruce Willis, right?"

"Action flicks and computer puzzles, that's my baby."

'My baby'? As in, Sebastian is her -

"Nicole?"

"Sorry, Clive. Coming!" Clive has started one of the cars on the lot, a shiny black Corvette that gleams as the rain beads on the hood. "Bye!" she calls over her shoulder then jumps into the passenger seat and, with a wave, they're gone.

Max and Logan exchange a look. He swallows.

"Sebastian's girlfriend?" he asks tentatively.

"Could be," Max replies. "Could be they're just friends." They silently move towards the passenger side of the Uplander. Logan lifts the cooler onto the floor behind the front seat, retrieves his phone charger from between his thighs and shoves it into the top of the cooler. His hands slip a bit on the wheels as he manoeuvres in the drizzle but he manages to open the passenger door and transfer into the vehicle without any intervention from Max. He's slow and it irritates him but he lets her help him break down the wheelchair. "They might not be… 'like that'…" she continues. Logan pulls his door shut and glances at her. She raises an eyebrow but he isn't sure what she's trying to say. His heart starts to speed up as panic slips into his new world with Max, and he hopes he doesn't look like a kicked puppy.

Is she teasing me? Joking with me? Have I misinterpreted the last four hours?

Max abruptly shoves the final part of the wheelchair into the back seat and leans into the window of the passenger door. The grip she has on either side of his head is strong and firm and her kiss is thorough and reassuring.

Logan shouldn't have doubted her - he knows that she won't let him retreat from this change in their relationship. He's seen her love for him in her eyes, knows her touch and knows how she tastes when they kiss. He doesn't want to hide from her anymore.

Not ever again.

Then his hand is in her hair and he's lost to the feel of her lips.

When they pull apart, she swallows, her eyes drinking him in as if he were a fine Merlot. There is something in the way she's holding his head, stroking his hair that says love and lust and he isn't sure how to react to either one beyond instinct.

Instinct that tells him this is going to be a long night of trying to resist his desires.

"We'd better get going," Logan says, his voice rough.

"Yeah." She slides the side door shut then hurries around the front of the vehicle and gets settled behind the wheel. "So," she continues casually, starting the engine and putting the Uplander into gear. "Where, exactly, are we going?"

He smiles. "You'll see."

Max activates the headlights and presses her foot on the accelerator.

Logan raises his window and provides some directions. "We're headed for Sector 37. Take the I-5 north and turn off at exit 169. Its about four miles." She glances at him but he doesn't say anything more. He's trying to figure out the steps required to reach their goal. At least they're comfortable. The vehicle appears to be in perfect order. The wipers work, the heat is on and the engine runs. That's all he asks for; the rest is gravy.

As they approach the freeway, he decides that her driving is just fine, the turns executed with an almost military accuracy. He assumes Max and her siblings weren't driving at the age of nine but, with Manticore, anything is possible.

Several of his informants have a military background and claim they have left it behind. He can tell that they haven't in the way they stand, the way they move and the way they inevitably sit with their back to the wall so they can see the door. Without exception, they consume the meal he buys for them with the same precision they use to operate their firearms.

He firmly believes that for those who have experienced that kind of training there is no way to deny the influence it has had on their day-to-day lives, but that they can choose what they do with the skills they have learned.

This applies to Max, whether she realizes it or not.

Logan pulls down the visor and uses the small mirror there to study his face. He hasn't seen himself since before the explosion. He stares, turns his head slowly from side to side, his eyes remaining fixed on the mirror. He looks like he's been mugged and drowned.

Repeatedly.

He drags a hand through his hair once, just to see where it falls, and then wishes he had a hat to conceal the mess. No such luck, of course. No, that would be too easy. Heaven forbid anything in my life these days should be easy. He doesn't usually care much about his appearance but he's trying for a certain look, one he's established over the last eight months and is attempting to maintain.

You never know when you might need a bolthole -

He sighs and drags both hands through his hair rapidly, as if his fingers were a comb, then studies his image again. Max is watching cautiously. He can feel her eyes on him, even though he knows she's focussed on the road. He thought he could multi-task, until he met her - she adds new meaning to the word. Perhaps she's wondering if he's finally snapped.

"I need a drug store," he announces suddenly. Before the Pulse, there was a drug store located at every other intersection. But now -

Logan realizes that he might as well be asking for gourmet coffee, especially at this time of night on a Sunday.

There is a pause before Max says, "Oh-kay…"

He looks at her. "Do you trust me?"

She nods, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Yeah, I trust you."

"Good. We're going for concealment here. I'm usually prepared but…" He shrugs. You play the hand you're dealt. "On second thought, never mind about the drug store."

"'kay."

He hesitates then says, "Do you have something to pull your hair back with, maybe?" She slides him a look as she changes lanes. "Just to make you look a little different, you know -"

"I get the idea," she states firmly, grinning to soften her interruption. "I've done this before, remember? Like somethin' outta that spy show, what's-it-called?"

"Uh…"

"Got it: 'Mission: Impossible'."

"Sure. Yeah, that sounds right." He knows she sometimes watches television when she's over at his place and doesn't need the sleep. He can only imagine how many programs she has absorbed. "I'm already in clean clothes," he muses aloud, rubbing his hand absently over the slight stubble on his jaw. "Did you grab any clothes for yourself?"

"A few things."

"Good. You'll need to change before we get there."

"Change into what?"

Logan suddenly finds he can't remember what options he has available. Did he specify any relationships when he was there last? Does the I.D. indicate anything? His previous trip was about one month ago and he was due to visit again in two weeks. He hopes they won't mind if he moves up his reservation. Minutes pass before he realizes he still hasn't answered the question.

"Change into anything you want," he replies, preoccupied with the evening ahead. Considering the state he's in, it is the best he can do.

At least the key is always with me -

"Here we are." Max steers to the right at exit 169. "Where to?"

"Go west on N. Northlake Way until you're almost at Gas Works Park. There's a small mall on the left with a parking lot. We can stop there to straighten ourselves out."

"'kay."

The North Union Mall is easy to find. Max pulls into the lot and stops the car in front of Olsen's. It's an amalgamation of several rental units that is a pharmacy crossed with a hardware store and a few other retail functions thrown in for good measure. In the post-Pulse world, it pays not to specialize. Logan vaguely recalls that it also carries a section for rare, high-end items that isn't open to the general public. It's closed.

She turns off the engine. They sit for a moment, watching the headlights dim in the dark store windows. There are two other vehicles in the lot. The van looks abandoned but the Buick is rocking and Logan doesn't have to think very hard to imagine what is going on inside. To the right of the mall is a stretch of scraggly vegetation along a shore reinforced with concrete walls. Lake Union is there and beyond it Gas Works Park, brooding in the rain. They watch silently as a patrol boat moves through the water, its searchlights sweeping for illegal activity.

He doesn't know how much longer he can keep going without food, painkillers, sleep or any combination of the three. Better get this over with. He turns to her, catches her chewing her bottom lip as if she's struggling with what to do next and feels he needs to say something to boost both of their spirits.

"We'll get through this, Max." It isn't brilliant but he hopes she finds it reassuring. Logan places a hand on Max's shoulder and gives it a quick squeeze. She leans into his touch and he's startled when her head turns and her lips graze the back of his fingers. He swallows and knows there's a hitch in his breathing.

"Uh, let's sort out our story," he manages to say, retrieving his hand. He can't look away from her and feels like a rabbit caught in the middle of the road. Max is regarding him intensely, her eyes raking his body from head to toe as if he's the only person in the world who matters, the only one who can satisfy her -

He can feel his skin flush, and if he had the nerve, he'd grab her and kiss her so hard even someone with her physical advantages would be gasping for breath. No words are spoken. His face must convey his reaction because she grins cheekily at him. Emboldened by the evening they've had so far and protected by the dark, he gives her his best wolf's grin in return.

She arches one eyebrow. "So, what story do we need? I'm your assistant or something?"

"Yeah, something like that, I guess."

"That isn't much of a story."

"You could be my girlfriend if you'd prefer."

There. It was out of his mouth before he could squash it. They stare at one another, each momentarily uncertain how to react. Max speaks first.

"Those my two options?"

"You want me to think of more?"

Max stares at him a bit more then slowly nods her head. "Okay. I'll be your girlfriend, if that's okay."

Logan smiles. "That's fine," he says. It's more than fine but he isn't going to think about it too much right now. He doesn't have the luxury of time.

"Why're we going to the hotel?"

"We wanted a different view?"

She laughs but says, "That's lame, Logan."

"It's tired and I'm late," he replies, intentionally getting the order of the sentence wrong.

"I bet you say that to all your dates."

Logan shakes his head and sighs. They are exhausted, on the run, desperately seeking to evade the bad guys while finally accepting they're more than just friends - and flirting?

Unlike the occupants of the Buick, however, they both know this is neither the time nor the place to be testing the shocks of the Uplander.

Max sits back in her seat and pulls an elastic from one of the pockets of her jacket. She combs her hair back with her fingers to pull it into a ponytail. Giving him a lazy smile, she says, "Be right back," before suddenly flipping herself into the backseat.

He has no idea how she actually managed to do that, but he isn't surprised that she's capable of it. If anyone can do the impossible -

"Don't look," she whispers seductively, "I'm changing."

He resists the urge to turn around but catches a flash of movement and flesh in the rear-view mirror while Max locates a top in one of the bags, removes her jacket and black sleeveless t-shirt and then pulls the fresh top over her head.

Their eyes meet in the mirror and she smiles, letting him know she's aware he's peeking - and that it's okay.

Logan clears his throat and says casually, "Nice top."

"Thanks." She rummages through the bag of clothing and pulls out a sweater. "I won't change my pants right now, but the rest of me will look different - and clean."

"Great." She flips back into the driver's seat and Logan wishes he had a stop-motion camera so he could replay the move and find out how she does it. "Red suits you."

The top more than suits her. It has long sleeves and a V-neck with a simple collar and only two buttons. She hasn't done them up but she doesn't really need to: there is nothing exposed. The colour is a rich blue-red and he's reminded of wine and cherries. The material looks like cotton or a cotton blend and he wonders if it is soft to the touch. Wonders if the sweater she has placed in her lap is cotton.

Wonders if he'll be able to keep himself in check until they have some privacy.

Max pulls the sweater over her head, pushes the sleeves up to her elbows, and turns to look at him while she starts the car. Despite the damage to her left temple - which Logan notes is mostly healed already - she looks young and beautiful. He wants nothing more than to take her in his arms and demonstrate how much he loves -

Get real, Cale. You're on a mission here. You need to find out who's doing this to you and keep Max out of harm's way.

Pushing his concerns to one side, Logan removes his glasses and slides them under the top of his sweater, tucking them into his shirt pocket. He checks himself one more time in the mirror - hair wild, glasses off and his face in need of a shave - before flipping the visor up and giving her a nervous smile in return.

"It's gonna be fine, Logan," she assures him as the Uplander backs out of the spot and heads towards the road. "Just tell me where I'm goin' now."

"One block to Burke Avenue, two blocks north then three blocks west on 35th Street," he says quietly. "Not far."

Max smirks. "Are you gonna give me the name of this place or do I have to torture you for it?"

"You're already torturing me." His eyes widen. Did I just say that out loud? He glances at Max, at her face lit by the dashboard lights, and instantly knows that he did. She opts not to tease him.

"The name?"

"The Marietta Hotel."

The Uplander brakes hard just as they are about to turn left out of the parking lot and onto N. Northlake Way.

"Say what?"

"Oh, you've heard of it?" She smacks him in the arm. "Hey!"

"You know I've heard of it," she hisses. "I've told you some of the best pickings can be had at places like The Marietta if you know how to get through security."

He doesn't pay much attention when she hints at her other activities, but she doesn't discuss them very often. He'd rather not know anything about a potentially lucrative heist. When he reads the headlines, he doesn't want to picture Max's face behind bars. If she's ever caught -

He shakes his head. Some of the stuff I have her do is more dangerous than a simple theft.

When he glances at her, he notes that her eyes are focussed on a different place and time. "Though she's a tough one to crack," she mutters.

He must've missed something this time. "Who?"

"The security," she says patiently, "at The Marietta. With a name like that, how can the hotel be anything but a 'she'?"

"Uh, right."

"Well," Max says, then turns into the street.

When she doesn't say anything else, Logan adds, "Their room service is excellent."

"I wouldn't know about that. I haven't stayed there."

"Just… visited? Hey! Stop hitting me, Max. I'm sore enough as it is."

She looks contrite. "Sorry." She sighs. "Stop baiting me." The corners of his lips quirk upwards slightly, and she catches him. "Ah-ha! You are baiting me. Stop it, or I'll -"

"Yes?"

"I'll -"

"You'll what, exactly?"

He leans closer to her. He knows he's playing with fire and finds he doesn't give a damn.

"Are you flirting with me?" she asks coyly and turns left onto N. Northlake Way.

Max is being coy. I must be doing something right.

"Yes."

He can tell she wasn't expecting him to answer, or at least not provide such a direct, unwavering response.

She laughs lightly. "What took you so long?"

"Nerves." His reply is immediate and without hesitation. The truth is liberating.

"Why now?"

"Stark fear."

She glances at him as they approach the first set of lights. "We still playin' 'Truth or Dare'?" She sounds slightly wary.

He shrugs. "If you like."

Max purses her lips and focusses on the driving.

Guess she didn't like that answer.

They turn north on Burke Avenue when the light changes. Uncertain what to say, he leans back in his seat and stares out the window, watching the buildings pass. 35th Street comes up quickly and Max silently turns the vehicle west. Sector 37 is not unlike Sector 9. It has recovered well from the Pulse, considering, and in some areas the only reminders that things have irrevocably changed are the price of fuel and the permanently dark sections of the city you can view from your luxury apartment. There is money here.

Money makes the world go around -

"So -"

Their voices overlap and they both stop.

"You flirt all the time when you're terrified?"

"Only with you."

Max smiles then. "Good," she murmurs but he hears her just fine.

The Marietta Hotel opened for guests in 1933 and it has remained a Seattle landmark with varying degrees of success ever since. Several owners and a few alterations later, the building stands proudly in an area where businesses have returned and prospered. The arches of the front portico have been repaired many times but the Art Deco design is intact.

Logan loves the architecture, inside and out, and he isn't the only wealthy patron to frequent Marietta's famed hospitality. He remembers it from better times, when he was a kid and his parents would have friends visiting the city. He'd ride in the elevator for hours when the adult conversation became boring, which didn't usually take very long. The staff had always been good to him.

A lifetime ago.

The Uplander signals and turns into the semi-circular driveway, coming to a stop at the edge of the pavement. A raised walkway leads to a set of large steel and glass doors with a stylized floral design. Logan knows they aren't the original doors. Vandals destroyed those sometime at the end of the Twentieth Century. These are the finest reconstructions possible.

"Nice," Max says appreciatively.

"I thought you said you'd been here before."

"Hey, it's been a while. I'm allowed to comment if I want to."

"Of course." He figures that if she has managed to penetrate the security here, she probably hasn't entered via the front doors.

"She's a pretty lady."

At least now Logan understands Max is referring to the building. He smiles, gazing up at the structure and thinking fondly of The Marietta's place in Seattle's glamorous history.

"Oh, yes she is."

"Hey." He turns at the sharpness in her voice. "You aren't supposed to agree."

He raises his eyebrows, completely confused. "I'm not?"

"Not if I'm your date, Logan."

"Mr. Carter!"

Their heads swivel simultaneously. An attractive blonde in a navy-blue uniform has emerged through the glass doors and smiles as she approaches the car.

Something clicks into place. Max obviously saw the woman before he did. He looks at her once more.

"I thought you were talking about the hotel."

"Sure."

"Max -"

There is a knock on his window. He sighs heavily.

"Smile," Max encourages him sweetly.

"I'll get you later," he growls before finding a polite smile and turning towards the blonde woman.

Showtime.

To Be Continued…