Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel… and I don't own Bling's past either, but once more gratefully borrowed it from Shywr1ter's Bling-saga "Still Waters.
A/N: Many thanks to Mia for betaing, suggestions … and for the interesting information on tasseomancy:-) All remaining mistakes are mine of course.
Equally many thanks for the reviews:-)
Finally, the long-promised 'Bling on a bear-rug'-chapter for Maria. Nothing of relevance for anybody else, I'm afraid.
Flashbacks are marked with italics.
Bling's place, 7 p.m.
"Whatever your problem is, honey, this isn't tea, and I've never heard of anybody reading his fate from melted ice-cream."
Bling looked up with a contrite expression, Maria's voice – somewhere in between concern and amused exasperation – startling him from his absorbed observations of the sticky mess of what had once been a nice hot butterscotch sundae with whipped cream and walnuts. They were on the sofa, enjoying the dry warmth that radiated from the fireplace after a relaxing dinner. It was the picture of a perfect evening – and yet Bling's attention clearly was elsewhere, something bothering him as he brooded in untypical absentness. When not even her question really registered with him, Maria tried again, this time going with the first thing she could imagine as a possible reason for Bling's distracted behavior. "Is it Logan again?"
Logan Cale…the guy that could be easily described as Bling's most complicated patient. But he was more than that. He was a trusted friend and thus the care and concern Bling felt for him couldn't just be discarded like a coat in the closet after coming home and closing the door in the evening. Valued friend and complicated patient, those were two apt descriptions for Logan… and yet, there was still another incident that always came to Maria's mind whenever she heard his name. Logan was the man who had ended up in a wheelchair after risking his life for a women and her little daughter on a mission of Eyes Only, Seattle's own superhero whom Maria was only too happy to help whenever the knowledge and talents of a nurse were needed.
A musing expression on her face, Maria's thoughts drifted back to the day when she had experienced the spectacular shooting of one of the Seattle's Cales first hand…
…it was the end of a long, straining shift at Metro Medical's emergency room, when the arrival of two shooting victims was announced. This in itself wasn't unusual and the team prepared with seasoned moves for what had become an almost daily occurrence. The number of shootings had increased dramatically after the Pulse as for a while firearms seemed to be the only means that promised safety in a world turned upside down. Even now, ten years later, after the initial anarchy had yielded to the relative quiet of a military state, ongoing gang-wars and ruthless sector cops provided a never-ending parade of wailing emergency rides to Seattle's hospitals. While she checked supplies and blood reserves, Maria wondered who had gotten into the line of fire this time… A kid playing gangster, a young mother, an old man who hadn't been able to duck away fast enough when all hell had broken loose…?
All her gloomy ruminations were abruptly forgotten the moment they brought in the first victim, the one who had died on the ride. It was Peter, Bling's old friend Peter who like him was involved with Eyes Only. The shock of seeing the familiar form in a pose of irreversible lifelessness compromised Maria's even breathing into a short, ragged gasp, dangerously close to sobbing. Slowly it dawned on her that Peter hadn't been hit by a stray bullet in a random shooting – this must have been some Eyes only business gone astray. As she busily occupied her hands to keep her emotions down and to maintain a professional air, a disturbing thought sneaked up on her. What if Bling had been in this mission too? He'd been unusually tense in the last days but wouldn't tell her anything but that there was something big going on in the 'cause'. What if the other victim was Bling… wounded… dead? When the other man was brought in seconds later, Maria was half expecting to see Bling, unconscious and with blood-soaked clothes. However, already the first glance at the handsome man stretched out on the gurney proved her fears wrong as the tall but lean form and blonde spiky hair clearly didn't look anything like Bling. A wave of relief washed over her, only to be replaced a second later by shame and self-incrimination. She knew this guy, had seen him before when providing precious inside information on the cortodiazapine-case. He was one of the many in the army of helping hands Eyes Only had gathered around him. He had committed himself to a dangerous cause – and now he was lying here, motionless, his pale face scratched, body torn with what seemed to be a life-threatening gunshot wound to the back. Why hadn't he worn better protection?
Just for a splinter of a moment Maria stood back, shaken, as the team around her worked frantically to repair what they could on the damaged body. Frankly, at this point Maria didn't hold much hope for Logan surviving the next hours. Sure, they had done everything in their power to keep him alive – but with the depression affecting even the better-equipped hospitals 'everything' frustratingly often was a far cry from the best possible treatment.
But Logan survived, went through the painful months of recovery with the help of the never-relenting patience of Bling, who in Maria's not exactly unbiased opinion was the best in his field. However, it was a difficult recovery, less so on the physical side where Logan's young age and otherwise good health helped along, but with the more subtle matter of emotional healing, struggling with the all-but-easy task of finding a level of acceptance of his new life as a paraplegic that was necessary to move on without being eaten up by bitterness and depression.
Disentangling herself from the past with a slow shake of her head, Maria shifted her attention to the man beside her whose only answer to her question consisted of a wry, lopsided grin that didn't really ease her worries.
After a moment though Bling initially superficial smirk widened into a smile of genuine affection at the realization of how easily she could read him. This time however Maria was wrong. "Nope, for once it isn't Logan… It's Max", he added quietly after a second at her questioningly raised eyebrows.
He hadn't wanted to upset Max. Hell, knowing what the girl meant to Logan it was the very last thing he would do. The offending question had just been going around in his head for a while – in fact ever since learning about Max's unusual background – and Max surprise visit had seemed to be the perfect opportunity to finally pose it. Amused he'd observed how, after a distracted greeting, Max had fixed her gaze on Logan in an intensity that revealed all attempts at 'We're not like that' as being nothing but mere façade. Logan however had almost squirmed under such close scrutiny, unable to see it as the plain admiration it was. Bling had rolled his eyes at this impossible couple, feeling perfectly safe to do so as both seemed to have completely forgotten his presence in the moment they'd plunged into their own private Max-and-Logan-universe. What the both of them needed, Bling had thought with an inward groan, was a sound smacking-together of their stubborn heads.
However, Logan didn't pay him to play matchmaker… and even if he did, any kind of romance was unlikely to happen while Logan still was caught in this unnecessary embarrassment which caused his hesitation to transfer back into the chair while Max was watching. So, to give his friend the opportunity to do his move in safety, Bling had tried to distract Max's attention with the truly interesting question of how she was able to keep up her fighting skills. Just like Logan, he was worried about her safety, was afraid that Manticore might catch up with their long-searched-for escapee.
Max's reaction though, her cornered deer-caught-in-headlights-expression, should have been enough to make him stop right there. Yet, instead of listening to his instinct, he had carried on despite her obvious discomfort, not taking her reluctance too seriously as he was used to dealing with such hesitant behavior from his work as a physical therapist.
But Max wasn't one of his patients. Bling was aware of this and he hadn't meant to mother her with his suggestion. She was a friend and it was that simple fact which gave his lingering desire to help its unrelenting insistence.
Of course, taking on a Manticore soldier was something a mere ordinary only could dream of and – even though he wasn't in the worst shape himself – Bling knew that he couldn't compete with Max's superhuman speed and strength. But nevertheless, there was one area in which Bling thought to be ahead of Max: experience and knowledge of techniques. He had gone through years of training, both of the military kind as well as studying with some of the more famous names in the field of martial arts. Max on the other hand had quit her education at the age of nine and even though she probably had been forced to start training at an unreasonably young age she hadn't experienced a lot of schooling. Seeing things from this angle, it wasn't all that unlikely that he could show Max a move or two…
Then however things had gone sideways. In true Manticore-speed and faster than Bling could react in his baffled state, Max had been out of the door, leaving him with an equally baffled Logan who was short of giving his trainer an annoyed 'What have you done?'-glare.
Bling still didn't know what exactly he had done wrong, except for breaking the unspoken rule of not touching any Manticore-related subjects. Somehow the subject of martial arts must have touched Max's inner demons, which wasn't really surprising, as Bling had to concede in hindsight, considering she grew up in an institution where kids where trained to be deathly weapons.
Remembering Maria still was waiting for an explanation, he shifted his gaze from the slowly dying flames onto Maria's expectant face, smiling at her calm patience. It was one of the qualities he valued about her, that she never pressed him to talk when he wasn't ready. "I asked a stupid question."
That earned him a skeptic look. Maria just couldn't imagine Bling doing something as inconsiderate as 'asking a stupid question' or just being curious…yet with Max, Maria had observed, the level of sensitivity might be a bit lower than normal. The few times she had meet Max so far she had dodged all personal questions with polite glibness and a quick change of the topic, a behavior that with its a well-practiced evasiveness confirmed Maria's first impression of the dark-haired bike-messenger showing up at Metro Medical some weeks ago.
Not her stunningly good looks but the air of guardedness and constant vigilance was the very first thing Maria noticed about the young woman who came in behalf of Eyes Only to drop off a desperately needed bottle of high-tech antibiotics which was otherwise hard to get and even harder to pay – but seemingly for the local superhero the ever-inhibiting hurdles of availability and exorbitant prizes were easily overcome.
Later that day she learned from Bling that this had been Max – the young woman with whom Logan pretended to have a plainly platonic relationship – for reasons unknown to Maria since her obvious beauty was complemented by intelligence and character as Maria knew from various remarks of Bling. Pleased by finally getting to know the woman in Logan's life, Maria posed some casual questions about Max's background, her curiosity fuelled by the girl's demeanor. Voice quiet and for some reason hesitant with the topic, Bling told her that he didn't know more than, apparently, Max had lost her parents in the riots following the Pulse and afterwards had spent her youth in diverse orphanages and foster-families.
To Maria this explained it all, Max's cautious lone warrior attitude, the tough façade covering up for the pain of an early loss and seeing things beyond her years. Growing up in an orphan-home probably hadn't been a pleasure even before the Pulse, in the chaos after though, when even such basic things like nutrition supply had been unsteady and nobody cared in the least about the neglect of some abandoned kids, it must have been hell. Considering what Max must have gone through, who could blame her for not wanting to talk about her past?
While Maria was lost in thoughts about the craziness of the post-pulse world, Bling's attention once more wandered back to the afternoon. Damn. He needed to make amends, make sure his stupid lapse of judgment wouldn't result in Max avoiding Logan. After all, it was her who was usually responsible for his boss's inexplicable good moods, her who made him flash around those happy smiles speaking of a hope for a 'more' that was beyond the things Bling could provide with all the amiable comfort of their friendship.
His brooding though was once more interrupted by Maria who had come to the decision that, whatever Bling had said or done, he had given himself enough grief about it for today – what he needed now were some tender, caring female hands. Taking pleasure from the awareness that she was the only one who could pull through a 'no nonsense'-attitude with the master of 'no nonsense' himself, she resolutely took the completely melted ice-cream from his hands to remind him, with a nudge to his shoulder: "Bling, you know it yourself, those two surely are the most touchy people in the universe. You on the other hand are the most considerate, most patient guy I've ever known. If anything went wrong today it's because handling them is just like juggling eggs, not because you suddenly turned into a thoughtless idiot."
Then, in a more, intimate, sultry voice that was accompanied with a suggestive cock of her eyebrows she added "Now, get down on the floor. There's absolutely nothing one of my famous massages won't cure."
A wicked grin found his way on Bling's face as he forced himself to momentarily forget the intricate realms of Logan and his 'We're not like that'-friend, forget everything that wasn't Maria.
A moment later, after he'd taken off his shirt with a content sigh, he gingerly stretched out on the bear-rug that covered the floor in front of the fireplace, waiting for Maria's hands to work her magic.
...To be continued...
Now I have a tiny problem: Originally this was intended to be a one-shot and I added chapters without any idea of a bigger plot – plus found that I lack imagination / talent / knowledge to write such a sophisticated fighting-scene as it could happen between Max and Bling. So, embarrassing to say, I totally have no idea how to end this story in a reasonable way – but am open for all suggestions...