Disclaimer: See previous chapters.
Huge thanks to Shywr1ter for finding mistakes and preventing this from becoming a long rambling something. All remaining mistakes are mine.
I'll eat a broom if anybody remembers this story. Sorry for taking so incredibly long to update. Probably all you need to know is that Max and Logan ended in an embrace which is where this chapter starts…
Logan's Penthouse 12:05 AM
As Logan gradually relaxed against her, finally giving in to their embrace that at first had been tentative and awkward, the calm and comfort missing between them in the past few days returned, offering Max a thrilling sense of belonging she had hardly ever experienced before.
Even in the usual, comfortable warmth of the penthouse he felt cold, chilled like somebody long gone to the place where nothing mattered anymore. His icy fingers were dead weight on her back, conjuring a ferocious image of how the day might have ended: Logan with the gun in his hand, limp, hollow, eyes broken. It made Max press him closer, needing to feel his reassuringly steady breath, willing to share her body heat as if it was the medium for all the other things that were so hard to say.
But for once so much had been said already, soothing the tension and worry that had torn them apart ever since Logan's legs had started to fail again. It lent the silence between them an almost peaceful air, at least for this short, undisturbed moment when neither of them dared to think of the future.
Finally, not bothering to lift her chin off his chest, Max spoke, calm and slow as she eventually found the resolution to voice the emotion niggling at her every time she'd seen him lately. "I'm so sorry Logan. You know that, right?"
It was what she had wanted to tell him ever since the moment she'd learned that the cure wouldn't last, that soon he would be back in the despised chair. But Logan had shut her out, refusing all help in getting through the pain which the failure of her blood had caused.
For all Max knew, 'I'm sorry' were the appropriate words for his situation… but even she, with her limited knowledge of human relationships, was aware that they could hold so many different meanings. No matter how sincerely she meant them, those words could be heard by Logan as nothing but minimizing pity or a polite, empty formula. Every time 'I'm sorry' had been on her lips in the last week, Max had held herself back, afraid that Logan in his stubbornness and hurt macho pride would have been unable to see her words as genuine empathy and honest concern.
Now it was different. For a few seconds there was no reaction at all from him, not even a flinch, making Max wonder if he'd even heard her. Finally a deep breath filled Logan's chest, bringing him even closer for a second, before her statement was acknowledged with a soft, murmured "I know," his warm breath tickling the top of her head.
Then they drifted back into their silence, unwilling to break their embrace and go back to normalcy. Once more adjusting her breathing pattern to his, in avoidance of everything that might startle him away, Max pondered how easily Logan had accepted her words. Before they had always been a breach of his personal space, touching something upon which she wasn't allowed to comment.
She had said it before, the "I'm sorry," that first time she'd visited him after the shooting when she'd observed him sitting among his computers. He looked like a different man now than the one she'd encountered three month earlier.
All flirting playfulness was gone, his work his only focus, the only thing legitimating his existence. His alter ego had taken over, an oddly controlled person whose only purpose was saving the world, a man who now welcomed her with only a barely visible shrug, that dangerously boyish smile seemingly having died from disuse.
Max had almost turned to leave that moment, feeling like an intruder unworthy of his time... unworthy even of his cheap, over the top flattery showered on her before. However much she'd disliked his arrogant cockiness and manipulations, it had been better than this lifeless, subdued determination that concentrated on everything but his own life.
She was sorry that he had been so severely injured, sorry that she hadn't been there to prevent it, sorry for the emotional damage almost as evident as the physical one… and without thinking she said it aloud, hoping that one single term could carry all these emotions… afraid that it would reveal too much.
Logan dismissed her cautious display of empathy with another shrug of noncommittal casualness, pretending things were okay and even had a higher purpose, when his whole bearing spoke of the contrary.
Somehow, inexplicably, Max wanted to call him onto it, irritated by this contradiction between his words and other, more subtle signals…. but she didn't. It would have established a level of intimacy she'd never had with anyone before, an intimacy Max didn't want to have with this stranger, whose motives were so contradictory to all the things Manticore and life had taught her. And so she held back and watched him struggle, stubborn and alone.
As Logan lectured her about the lost pleasures of better times – seemingly unaware that she never had a chance to experience them – Max was left wondering what his mother would think if she saw how her son used her words as a shield from the world.
There had been so many moments since, when she had wanted to reach out to him… when his usually calm manner became sharp and rough, almost violent, betraying his frustration about Max doing the errands he couldn't perform anymore, when he snapped at Bling for reminding him of his reps, when at first it seemed that her transfusion wouldn't work… But any words of regret and compassion had been made impossible by her knowledge that Logan would misunderstand and hate her for reminding him of what he saw as his failure. And so Max hadn't said anything, not until this afternoon when, with the knowledge that she had brought death to the one person who could keep him on his legs, the "I'm sorry" had just slipped out. And again she'd been dismissed, Logan pretending to be okay while probably in the same instant already knowing that his life wasn't worth living anymore.
Max had forcefully intruded into his desperation, taking the risk that he would just kick her out for prying his anxiously guarded fears from him in a way only possible in his emotionally battered state. Yet somehow things had worked out, their issues acknowledged and accepted… and here they were, ready to go back to normal.
Max knew that she should just stand up, should retreat to their usual distance allowing no other physical contact but a rare, accidental touch or an occasional brush of their hands. She felt guilty for enjoying the pressure of his chest against hers, was aware that being in his arms shouldn't feel so good when he was tired and exhausted and had just lived through an attempted suicide.
She knew that Logan wasn't in a state to make a sensible decision, that she shouldn't do anything both of them would regret later… and still Max's hands left their safe, chaste position on his back to slowly wander upwards, inching up in a slow, hesitant movement. For a moment she could feel the rough wool of his sweater scratching her fingers, then it was replaced by the warm, smooth skin where his clothing ended. Her right hand sneaked up his neck with just the lightest, strangely electrifying touch until finally her fingers encountered the first strands of short, soft-free hair …
For a moment Logan tensed against her, breath skipping in surprise. Then, suddenly, his lips were on hers, hers on his, neither of them knowing how it started. It didn't matter anymore. Now all that counted was the roughness of Logan's stubble-covered face, the softness of Max's lips, tasting the other in a kiss that in its intensity resembled their first. It was strong and demanding, full of lingering questions and a prickling newness that lacked the quiet indulgence of a long-grown familiarity or the playful seduction that came with being sure of the other's reaction.
It wasn't the longest kiss in the world, nor the most spectacular – but it was theirs and it felt as tender and mind-numbing as both remembered. It was enough to let Max believe maybe fairy tale ending was possible even for a transgenic fighting machine, long enough for Logan to start believing that the state of his legs really didn't matter to her.
Of course they were interrupted, just like every time they had gathered the courage to let the other in a bit more. However, this time it wasn't a brother in need or Max hunted by the whole city of Seattle, just simply the noisy growl of their bodies simultaneously announcing the long-neglected need for food. Max could feel Logan's lips twist into a smile as he pulled away from her. He even laughed, a calmingly deep, delightfully sparkling sound reminding her of his surprising giddiness in the short time his legs had been working.
He didn't give Max any opportunity to further study his reaction. Instead – head bowed – he immediately turned his chair to slowly move into the direction of the kitchen. As the feeling of Logan's warm skin waned into a memory, the only thing left to Max was antsy insecurity… until finally his voice filled the room, strong and warm, matching the teasing yet distant tone that had been theirs for all these months. "So… seems like you're hungry?"
Now there was something else in his voice, a hint of light, carefree boyishness. It was only a trace … and yet it was enough to let this new kind of relationship seem almost as natural as the before, allowing Max to answer in a tone that matched his exactly. "So, I guess you'll feed me…?"
Then she followed him, telling herself that the only reason for this strangely fluttering, lightheaded feeling came from having knelt beside him for so long.
Their meal was an unsettling mix of calm and awkwardness, nerve-fluttering tension mingling with the usual comfort of preparing food. Any eye contact was carefully avoided, as if a single look would shatter their new, brittle togetherness. Only once their hands touched, sparking an electrifying tingling that would have to serve as a poor substitute until they dared to share another kiss.
Logan still didn't watch her as they finally sat down to eat. Max, however, observed him closely, anxiously looking out for every little sign, any indication that he might be falling back into his former depressed state. Knowing Logan, she didn't trust this outward calm, knew that some talking and a kiss wouldn't just dissolve the emotional baggage of decades.
However, there were no signs to make her worry. He simply seemed exhausted, his hands lacking their usual swiftness as they performed the routine moves. Now, as Logan finally allowed himself to relax, the exhaustion of the last days finally seemed to catch up with him – hour after hour without proper rest, first kept awake from excitement and cherishing every moment of newfound sensation… then by the nagging fear that even in the short time span of a night all functionality in his legs would be gone.
And still, even in this extreme situation, it had never been his physical exhaustion that had Max concerned in first place. Unlike his confusingly intricate tangle of self-hatred and feelings of unworthiness, a long night of good sleep and some restful days would fix his fatigue. It was something easily taken care of. And so Max felt herself smile gently, watching Logan chew with the deliberate concentration of someone too tired even for eating, wondering if he would just fall asleep during their meal.
Finally he had finished his sandwich, staring mindlessly at his empty plate. Max observed him for another moment, swallowing a faint smile together with the last bite of bread. Then, without further thinking, she suggested the obvious. "Go to bed, Logan."
He looked up, seemingly as surprised as Max was herself at her quiet, softly caring voice. Always before this tone had been reserved for her siblings. It hadn't been used in a long time, sounded almost like the voice of somebody else.
At first it seemed as if Logan would fight her, his narrowing eyes telling her in effective wordlessness that he considered the idea of being sent to bed like a little boy – like an invalid – to be an insult to his dignity. His gaze rested on her for long seconds, surprise changing into cool, appraising contemplation of her motives. Then his expression softened, with a sigh morphing into something like quiet understanding as he just turned around and without a word disappeared into the direction of his bedroom
As soon as the door had closed behind him, a fidgeting nervousness overtook Max. The task of getting Logan to eat and rest was accomplished, her work here done, and with its completion came the insecurity of what she was supposed to do now. As she busied her hands with cleaning the kitchen there was only one thing of which she was sure: she didn't want to leave. She didn't want to take any risks by Logan being alone tonight. Moreover, intuition told Max that leaving now might endanger the fragile beginnings of their relationship, would give them another opportunity later on to once more downplay their feelings as an embarrassing emotional outburst.
Unable to stand still, Max started to prowl through the apartment, all the while listening to the muffled sounds of Logan getting ready for bed from that part of the apartment she busily avoided. Nevertheless, a good while after the sound of his shower had stopped, she ended up at his bedroom door, fixing the handle with a glassy stare as if its shiny metal would tell her what to do. She hesitated to go in, just as she had earlier that day when she had stood before the Penthouse's door, unsure what she would find. It just didn't seem right to go in there, as if his bedroom was a room like any other and act with a familiarity and intimacy they didn't have… yet.
Finally Max willed her fist to knock, her knuckles connecting with the wooden barrier with more force than necessary. Upon his quiet, husky "Yeah", coming almost immediately, she hesitantly entered.
Logan was in bed, still with his glasses on and the comforter just barely covering his hips, as if he'd just settled in and was about to make himself comfortable. Unsure of his reaction, unable to formulate her wish to see him in a way that wouldn't sound silly, Max concentrated on all the little details around the room, everything but him. There was the humid scent of soap, matching the special rosy glow on his face, making him look healthier than he had in days, the bright white of his shirt contrasting with the slight tan of his bare arms on which the faintest traces of goose-bumps had started to form as he cooled down from his shower….
But she couldn't just stand there forever and so eventually, with another rush of tickling nervousness, Max lifted her head to meet Logan's even gaze, somewhere in the back of her mind noticing how much younger he looked now that he'd shaved off his stubble.
He seemed insecure, even embarrassed, at having her in here, gaze flickering down quickly as if he had to guard his fidgeting hands from doing something stupid.
Max understood. He had willingly opened up every aspect of his life but this, giving her a growing familiarity of every corner of the penthouse except for his bedroom. It was as off-limits as were her romantic little fantasies.
And still, despite knowing this, and respecting his need for privacy, Max wanted to stay. She wanted to be in here where it was warm and cozy and where she had the calm company of someone who would understand if only she wanted to talk. As Max starred at spiky silhouette of the Space Needle, mocking her from the distance, she wondered when exactly the evening had become about more than just keeping Logan away from his gun. Somehow, in this instant, all she could think about were the consequences the last hours might have on her own life. She could just go back out there, slipping into another night of cold, moist solitude that lead into another day of hiding her true self behind the façade of someone less bright and able… or she could be here, with Logan, the person who accepted her just like she was, never failing to seeing the human in her despite all the abnormal traits setting her apart. It was a decision that, deep down, had been made a long time ago, slowly growing into conscious knowledge over the last months. And now, finally, she had found the courage to act upon it.
"Would you mind…", Max stopped at the slight echo of her voice, suddenly overly aware that this was the first thing said since the few words exchanged during their meal. "Would you mind if I just sat there for a while?" She nodded to a wide armchair standing halfway between his bed and the window, looking comfortable and worn-out and somehow out of place in between his otherwise new, well-chosen furniture.
Logan seemed surprised at her query, squinting at her with a mix of confusion and silent amusement, as if she was a riddle he couldn't quite figure out. Then, however, he simply shrugged his consent, even added a hushed "sure", together with an inviting wave of his hand when she didn't move immediately. As she settled in the chair, the corners of Logan's mouth twitched upwards with something that resembled the beginning of a smile before it broke apart into a tight, nervous grin.
No more words were exchanged, other than a quiet, almost timid "Good night" while Logan settled down to lie on his side. His back was to her, as if he needed some kind of distance after all the emotional upheaval of the day.
So they drifted away, Logan into what looked like genuinely peaceful sleep, Max losing herself in pondering observation of the soothingly familiar pattern of lights outside.
Only after a good while, when his deep, slow breathing and steady heartbeat assured her that he was fast asleep, Max dared to turn her head into the direction of the bed. Sinking deeper and deeper into the armchair, as its comfortable softness promised to swallow all her worries, she watched Logan for a long time, feeling like she never wanted to leave this place again.
He was on his back now, his face halfway buried in the soft pillow and framed by one arm bent over his head in a gesture of complete relaxation. Max smiled softly at the picture, feeling the urge to just reach out and touch him. Logan, the person who had blocked her with a harsh 'We're not like that', now trusted her to see him at his most vulnerable. This alone was so much more than Max had ever hoped for when coming back today. All she had wanted was some kind of promise that he would stay away from the gun, only to make him see that his failing legs hurt her only because it hurt him, that the chair didn't change her feelings. Now it seemed like there could be more, that they might share something resembling peace, maybe even a bit of happiness. It might not be forever, might end as soon as tomorrow from enemies catching up with Eyes Only and the transgenic super soldier, or just their over-sensitive personalities crashing over some minor issue and recoiling in hurt…
It would not be forever, might well be shorter than she hoped… and still, Max would take it for however long it would last.
With this thought she stood to walk over to the bed where, careful not to wake Logan, she curled up at the far end, her tender gaze taking in every part of him as if seeing him for the first time. Then Max closed her eyes and for the first time in her life just stopped worrying.
------------------------ The end-----------------------------