November 7, 2005: I will try to be brief. No, really…

This story is another result of the writing challenge for the Vancouver Gathering in July - 'Echo' being the other. No, I have no clear idea which part of the challenge applies, so never mind. I've only just decided to consider posting it, as I have a bit done, and Alaidh, the Almighty Beta, has graciously agreed to work with me on this story as she has with many of my others. I am very fortunate. :)

This particular 'Dark Angel' universe was inspired by Virtual Season 3 and refers briefly to a short story I wrote titled 'Seriously'. Perhaps it should be considered AU from that point, as I don't know if it will relate to what is happening in Virtual Season 4 when it is complete. It isn't finished yet, but is a work in progress.

And for those who have kindly inquired, I'm still writing 'Getting Away From It All' and 'Thoughts in the Dark', but this story was just sitting there…

Enjoy. :)

Playing With Fire

By Mouse

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

- Nelson Mandela

December 10, 2022

Prologue: Max

It's been just over ten months since I moved in with Logan to share his Eyes Only Penthouse in fashionable Sector Nine. The Seattle skyline looks beautiful from here as the day winds to a close, hiding the poverty and blatant imperfections of the post-Pulse world. It rained earlier in the day - when doesn't it rain? - but the storm has passed in time for a brilliant pink and purple sky.

I'm standing at the huge living room windows, arms folded, brooding about many things. This is a favourite spot for Logan to brood, so I thought, why not try it? Seems to help him sort things out. Or maybe it just provides a distraction for him, something to take his mind off his troubles. I shift my weight from one leg to the other and sigh. The polished wood floor feels cool and clean beneath my bare feet. The window would be spotless if not for the small smear my forehead left when I rested it there for about fifteen minutes, changing my position just for variety.

At least the building has decent circulation. The air in here is fresh with a hint of mint. The mint lingers from a few hours before, when my personal chef prepared a special sauce for tonight's lamb dish, which is slowly roasting in the oven. The aroma is making me salivate. He let me peel and clean the potatoes and give the carrots a good scrub, but most of the work fell to him. Again. Still. There are days when I wish I could do more in the kitchen, but then I remind myself how much he loves to cook and how much he particularly says he loves to cook for me. At least I've managed to get the hang of sandwiches and I can handle opening a can of soup, an "emergency abomination", according to a certain source, but Logan can't be around to feed me 24/7, so what's a girl to do?

The smudge on the glass is starting to bug me so I rub it clean with the cuff of my sweater. I refocus from the sunset to my reflection and wonder, not for the first time, how I've survived so much and still managed to find a happy ending. My story is hardly finished - far from it, I'm sure - but I like where I am right now, and I like my prospects for tomorrow. The girl - no, woman - staring back at me is healthy despite much abuse to her body over the years and some weird tattoos that still need to be figured out. Maybe someday the code will be complete and it'll let us try to start a family…

I don't like the direction of my thoughts. They remind me of the child we lost due to my screwy genetics, and I think about her often enough without dwelling on it right now. I have other brooding to work through.

I liked where I was completely - until today.

Some keys jangle together, a lock clicks quietly and, after a moment, the front door opens and closes smoothly. The wheelchair is almost silent as he enters the apartment. I don't turn around. His reflection appears beside me, some distance back near the couch. He's looking at me, his face calm. The duffle bag holding his gear is in his lap. I note his hair is still wet from his swim and, despite wearing a jogging suit, he's shivering a little. I can smell the chlorine clinging to his skin like a coat of fresh paint.

"How was the water?" I ask, trying to keep my tone conversational.

"Great," he says. "You would've liked it."

"I don't do swimming for recreation," I reply, weary of the sharpness in my voice; it's been there all afternoon. I can't seem to stop myself from snapping, which is one reason I'm at the window, trying to clear my mind sufficiently to figure out why.

There's still so much about who I am - what I am - that begs to know the why in some of my actions and in the words that come out of my mouth. I could be at the window forever trying to make sense of it all.

"Maybe you'll want to give it a try in the New Year," he says, same casual, non-aggressive approach he's had since our blow up at lunch. He could just avoid me, but he remains persistent and annoyingly understanding.

Bastard.

"Maybe not."

"Think of it as a resolution, to prove Manticore doesn't still control what you do."

"Don't bring that place here," I respond tightly.

"It's about choice, really, isn't it, Max?"

"Shut up."

"Still won't talk about it, huh?"

"I don't know what the topic is so how can I talk about it?"

He stares at my reflection and meets my eyes there. "I think you know what the topic is," he states evenly. "You just can't seem to grasp why it's an issue."

"Oh, really?" I smile but it isn't pleasant. "Well, thank you, dear, for your wonderful insight, what would I do without it? How lucky I am to have such a compassionate man in my life."

I sound angry and bitter and harsh. Why won't I stop talking? What's wrong with me?

You're an idiot, my Inner Commentator declares.

Shut up.

Logan nods, almost imperceptibly.

"Dinner is about half an hour away. I'm going to have a quick shower."

"Knock yourself out."

He turns neatly and wheels toward the bedroom. I hear the muted sound of the duffle bag being tossed onto the bed then the chair moves quietly to the bathroom. The door closes, the water comes on, and I can picture him stripping and transferring efficiently to the seat in the shower stall. The image of him naked under the hot water is vivid and I lose myself for a moment, letting my thoughts dwell on the handsome, intelligent, sexy man who wants to spend the rest of his life with me.

Me.

Soldier. Genetic freak. Jam Pony messenger. Personal cat burglar. Saviour. Transgenic leader. Canvas for the Unseen Tattoo Artist. Friend.

Lover.

My Inner Commentator stirs again. Is that so difficult to believe, boo?

I'm not talking to you.

Maybe it's because things have been quiet for a change and we have a chance to think about ourselves rather than saving the world. Is it such a bad thing that we should consider our future? What am I afraid of? Logan still has his 'Superman' surgery as an option to pursue, but we never got around to discussing it again, not after the blow up we had twelve days ago. Maybe that's still lurking in the back of my mind. So many possibilities…

He could walk again. It could fail. I could lose him.

I sigh and gaze at my reflection, considering Logan's words. There are several things I could be brooding about, but I know the topic he's referring to, and I don't know why it's an issue with me. It's the logical progression, especially considering his background and romantic nature.

We were talking about relationships today - other peoples', not ours - and Logan brought up the topic of marriage, not exactly proposing so much as opening a discussion with me.

And I bit his head off.

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