Disclaimers: Characters courtesy of Dark Angel; no profits made.
A/N: Yet another "first Christmas, early M/L" story, just because. Canon-safe, I think. Merry Christmas & (belated) Happy Hanukkah; all best wishes for happy holidays and a prosperous and healthy new year to everyone.
May everyone find their soul-mate in this short, brutal life...
The Christmas Gift
December 24, 2019. 11:54 p.m.
It had been a long day at Jam Pony, with Normal tripling runs and barking orders over the chaos of the holiday. Last minute deliveries were interspersed with a table full of food brought by the crew in a wildly disorganized pot-luck, impromptu carols, and admittedly generous tips all day...
Even though long, the day had been nice, in a way. Hectic, but fun. This, however, was just sad: the crowd at Crash was only about a quarter of its usual size, quieter, more subdued, peopled only with those losers like herself without family or traditions to run off and join...
"Later, guys..." Max stood suddenly, realizing at the surprised looks she'd received from Herbal and Sketchy that she must have interrupted right in the middle of their deep conversation about Christmas and Jah and the meaning of the meaning, their rambling philosophic debates far harder to take when Original Cindy wasn't there to cut them short when needed. "Sorry. I gotta jet. You two have plans for tomorrow, right?"
As Sketchy nodded, Herbal reminded her, "my home is yours, my sister, should you want to take a seat at our table..."
"You got plans too, right, Max?" Sketchy tried.
"Yeah – gotta go get ready," she pulled up a breezy smile for them. "See you guys Thursday."
"Merry Christmas, Max."
She stopped at that, for some reason stricken by the sincerity of the sentiment amid the gritty surroundings, the hustle and stress of the day ... and the loneliness she suddenly felt as she faced the thought of returning to a cold, dark, empty apartment ... she barely turned as, even so, she managed a wide, carefree smile and tossed, "you guys, too..."
She took the stairs quickly and walked out into the moist, cool evening.
She'd left her baby back at her place, riding over to Crash with Druid and declining his offer of a ride when he'd left. Gas was especially hard to find in the past weeks, and she wanted to save what she had, in case ... well, in case. This evening, she was just as glad; the emotions of the holidays as always having their effect, reminding her that she was apart, different, that what family she had was lost to her and elusive. Why be in a rush to get home when there's no one there? she reasoned with herself. Besides, lots of people don't do Christmas, and they don't fall apart. You can find something to do ... you always do. She thought of the many exceptional targets available this evening, all the baubles and trinkets and ready cash that might be lying around just asking to be liberated. But the idea of lifting someone else's Christmas just because hers was a dud just didn't sound right anymore ... gee, thanks, Logan, she smirked to herself, even that little pleasure is now wrecked for me...
She wondered what the great Eyes Only was up to this Christmas Eve – dining with the Cales? Sucking it up to attend one of the several galas she'd seen noted in invitations scattered on his entry table? He hadn't seemed at all pleased to be remembered, telling Max that they were sent more from some whack social duty than friendship, or, worse, from some twisted desire Seattle's chosen had to publicly one-up or humiliate others in their rarified circle ... He said something about Christmas dinner at his aunt and uncle's place ... even that sounded deadly. Knowing Logan, he's probably got his eyeballs screwed to the screen, saving the world and plotting landing coordinates for Santa Claus while sipping pre-Pulse wine and scribbling poetry...
The streets were largely deserted, no one out in public view, but to Max's sharp ears, the night air around her brought the sounds of the city's homeless, trying to bed in for the night, shuffling around in a deserted warehouse nearby. The snapping crackle and sharp scent of an oil drum bonfire came to her too, with the voices of more souls, huddled close, sharing stories...
'Peace on Earth,' the carols say. Wonder what these people say about it...
...what does Eyes Only say?
Max walked along the darkened streets, not sure if she was enjoying the solitude, given her thoughts, or if she was reacting to it, making her mood worse. Nearing a corner which opened onto a wide street, both lighted and visible across an open plaza facing it, she heard an odd set of soft sounds – a rhythmic movement, like fabric against fabric, a soft, almost-scraping sound... and a quiet voice, humming...
She slowed to ease her way around the corner and saw, not far down the block ahead of her, a scrawny, gangly male of about fifteen, standing on a rickety crate and working diligently at the brick wall with both spray paint and brushes. Another tagger, Max grunted mentally. Maybe Christmas cards on the wall save him postage... Coming up on the kid from his side, quietly enough that he didn't see her 'til she was almost on top of him, Max saw the startled look in his eyes at her appearance. He hesitated only the briefest moment before dropping his things and scrambling off the crate to run.
Not much of a thug, Max snorted at his retreat. The kid had the sweet look of an innocent, not the hardened street punk look she'd expected. And he ran from a girl, a pretty nonthreatening-looking one at that. Curious now, Max came nearer to where the boy had been and crossed out past the curb to take a look back at his efforts...
...and found herself almost gaping at his work, nearly done...
It took Max only a moment to shake herself and run after the boy, having never lost track of the sound of him, his noisy flight growing louder as he panted harder. Her burst of speed overtook him easily and she slowed the last fifty feet, so he wouldn't be more scared than he was already.
"Hey– hey, wait; stop..." Max laid her hand on his shoulder as gently as she could, while still exerting enough pressure to get his attention. "Wait – don't go."
The boy wasn't strong; thin, probably undernourished, he was easily winded and knew he was at the end of his resources. Panting heavily, he half bent over, hands on knees to suck in more air, looking at her in fear, clearly wondering if he caught his breath he could make another escape attempt.
"You have a name?" Met only with wary silence, Max nearly smacked herself, knowing what a dumb opening that was in the circumstances. "I'm not a cop. My name is Max. Look – I didn't mean to scare you." She took a closer look at the artist, really not all that much younger than she was. She tried a soft smile. "Why don't you go back and finish it?"
Gulping air, the boy first look surprised, then skeptical. "Why, so the cops can get here and catch me?"
"No – so it gets done, as it should be. It's good." The kid wavered, and Max added, sincerely, "I think you're speaking for a lot of people. You need to finish it."
He seemed torn, obviously wanting to make a statement with his work, but apparently rattled by the ease with which Max had gotten close to him. "They'll throw me in detention if I'm caught. Or worse."
"What if I stand lookout for you? I'll let you know if someone's coming in plenty of time for you to get off the street." As he continued to look at her, wavering, she added, "I'm good at this night ninja stuff – I'll get your back." She tried to get him to relax a little by adding, "I sneaked up on you pretty well, didn't I? "
He stood rooted for another few moments, breathing starting to slow. "What's in it for you?" he dared, still skeptical.
"If I could paint like that I'd do it myself, but I can't, so you ought to finish it." She looked him straight in the eye. "It's perfect. And ... I think I can get your message out to the right people. I have a friend who would like this." She shrugged, and finally smiled, "my present to him, showing him your work."
The kid looked at her for another moment or two, then nodded. "I was almost done."
"I know." Max's smile began inching up, and she started a slow turn, back toward the plaza. "So... you coming?"
The boy's shoulders dropped a little from where they'd been hunched, stiffened in apprehension. "Yeah." He began to move, and fell into step alongside Max, walking beside her, silently. And after crossing back the six blocks to find his paint and brushes where he'd dropped them, the young Rembrandt again brought his attentions back to his art, his efforts overseen by his magically appearing guardian angel...
December 25, 2019. 1:17 a.m.
"Logan? You awake?'
I am now, he thought blearily, squinting at the clock as he shifted the phone to his other ear. One ... what, seventeen ...? "Max ," he forced his voice through a scratchy throat. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, Logan, I'm fine, it's just ... there's something you need to come see. Now."
"Max; what...?" Logan tried clearing his muddled thoughts. Not so late as to be unusual for Max, but the only times he'd heard from her after midnight were the couple times she said she'd just been driving by and dropped in, having seen his lights still on. Calling? And she sounded -- different. "It's late..." he tried, lamely. Not the greatest time of year for him since his parents died, and Christmas Eve in particular had always been painful. This year, the addition of the chair just made everything all the more difficult to face, and by 8:00 p.m. he had crawled into bed with a double whiskey and had tried to leave it all behind, escaping into sleep. Now all he had left was a headache, a sour stomach ... and Max wanting an adventure... "tomorrow, maybe..." he tried, his eyes closing again.
"What's wrong with you, Logan? You're never in bed before 2, so I'm not buying it now." She paused, a worried note suddenly sounding there. "Look – you are okay, aren't you?"
Concern – genuine concern -- from Max... he swallowed the emotions raised by her sudden caring, amid all the other competing images of the season, and managed, softer now, "yeah – I'm fine." He sighed, centered his thoughts a bit better, and groped around for his glasses. "What's up, Max?"
"I need you to come see something. Eyes Only needs you to check something out. Don't know if it will make it 'til tomorrow."
He closed his eyes, this time another emotional bump in the road, as he found himself hoping Max wasn't suddenly just screwing around with him. I can take a joke any other time of the year, he assured himself as he implored her silently, just not now. Please... "If you say it has to be right now..."
"It does. I swear. Look – I'm not far from your place. How much time do you need?"
Logan let his head fall back on the pillow, lethargy threatening to swallow him whole. Anyone but Max, I'd tell them to take a flying leap off the Space Needle... "Thirty minutes?"
"You can have fifteen..."
"Max..." he pleaded. She is screwing with me...
"Okay. Twenty. I'll let myself in." The line went dead, and Logan held the phone in his hand, unmoving for the moment.
He sighed. Anyone but Max, I'd tell them to shove it, and just hide under the covers and ignore them 'til they went away ... He lay there only another moment before pushing himself up, away from the pillows, head bowed with the inevitability of the evening. Anyone but Max would go away. Max, however, will storm in here and drag my ass with her, one way or another. He sat up and moved to shift his legs over the side of the bed, pausing again before moving into his chair. So you might as well try to do this as much on your own terms as possible... With a heavy sigh, he shifted into his chair to cross on into his bathroom, grabbing toothbrush and toothpaste, stabbing briefly at his unrulier-than-usual hair with his fingers...
So when he heard the door open a precise eighteen minutes later, he was at least dressed and only mildly bleary. He dutifully followed her, neither of them saying much, into the elevator. As the door closed shut and Max punched the button for the ground floor, she turned to face him with a sniff, and frowned. "You've been drinking the hard stuff?"
"Manticore souped up your olfactory sense, too?" Logan grouched, irritated at her manner.
She rolled her eyes. "Even a standard nose can tell when someone's been drinking whiskey," she accused.
He shrugged. "One drink. Over five hours ago. No one else would still smell it over toothpaste and mouthwash. Besides," he added, a bit of defensiveness surfacing, "I'm over legal age."
"Should you drive?" Max asked, apparently still unconvinced about his condition.
He snorted, muttering as he looked away. "Driving, I'm okay. Maybe you ought to ask me if I should be out running around in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve."
Max looked back at him, hearing the edge in his voice that had she had never heard from him before the past couple days, not even in the worst of times. Those first times it appeared, it had been saved for the mention of his family and their holidays plans and expectations. Now it was associated with Christmas itself...? Another casualty of the season, she realized. Is there anyone left who even likes this whole Christmas thing, after all? She shook off the thought, trusting that she knew him at least this well. He'll see. He'll be glad he came. This will make a difference... "I don't have to ask. You should be," she promised. "But if you want me to, I can drive."
She saw his jaw, tight in his defensiveness, relax a little, and he even looked a bit contrite for his griping. "Either way," he capitulated. He waited for her to precede him out of the elevator as the doors opened.
"Logan, I think you'll think it was worth coming out. And if not..." she looked at him, trying an encouraging smile, "you can be mad at me."
At the warm look she showed him, full of hope and a youthful enthusiasm not usually revealed by the street-wise Max, Logan felt the darkness inside him lighten, even if only a little. As he looked into the deep brown, sparking eyes, he knew that, over time, and even that same evening, he'd been frustrated and irritated at Max, but at the moment he wondered how it had ever been possible. Relenting under her winsome gaze, he finally sighed, "I suppose, given the 'errands' you've done for me over the past few months, I owe you."
"Exactly." Her smile was a miracle...
Behind the wheel of his Aztek, Logan followed Max's directions to cross two sectors, aided by Max's intimate knowledge of which sector crossings had the least officious cops, and by her growing familiarity with many of them. The second crossing was much like the first. "Hey, Charlie," Max called out as the officer came to Logan's window.
"Max, that you? You okay in there?" The officer, suspicious only because of his genuine concern for the messenger he recognized, flashed his bright beam into Logan's face before casting it into the car, down and away from her eyes, to look at Max.
"Oh, yeah, Charlie; this is Logan. I was out of gas so he was running me home, after a Christmas party. We went on kind of late," she apologized prettily.
"Eh, that's what the holidays are for, right?" He lifted the gate to let them through. "Have a Merry Christmas, you two."
"Merry Christmas, Charlie. Hope you get to sleep in tomorrow." Max called.
"I plan to," the cop chuckled. "Be careful out there."
As they pulled away, Logan glanced over at the woman beside him and began to grin, in spite of himself. "I'm starting to understand how you're able to come and go on a messenger's pass so much more easily than I can even on an all-sector, class one pass."
"Girl's gotta get by," she agreed, turning in her seat to look around at the block in front of her. "Okay... we're almost there. Two blocks up, then take a left and the next right." They crossed the distance in silence, and after the last direction, on taking the right, Max spoke again, her voice softening in anticipation. "At the end of the block, there's a pedestrian plaza. Just drive alongside it 'til you see what's at the far end."
Logan glanced at Max, a mild question there, but continued to follow her directions ... and as he paralleled the plaza, darkened in the late hour, the building on the other side of the next street came more slowly into view than it would in daylight. But even in the streetlight, as he neared, Logan began to see the sprawling mural across half of the brick façade facing them...
The familiar red and white crawl was frozen in the stillness of paint, the blue border framing it, just like in the hacks, capturing the deep, intense eyes reproduced there ... the original green ones moved quickly over the mural, the Aztek coming to a stop before it. The familiar on-screen image floated far larger than life over the deserted streets and walkways, as if watching out for Seattle here, just as he did from local video feeds...
Above the mask was written the legend, "The only free voice left in the city." Underneath were the words, "To Eyes Only, with thanks, from Seattle. Merry Christmas."
Max watched closely as Logan took in the familiar image and the simple words, eyes growing wide as he read. He sat, unmoving, before he found his voice, his appreciation obvious. "Wow." After another moment he cleared his throat, and added, the sound roughened slightly by emotion, "whoever did this was taking a pretty big chance ... if he'd gotten caught in the act, it wouldn't have gone too well for him..."
"Maybe he was thinking that the same is true for Eyes Only..." Max suggested, gently. "Part of why he wanted to do this."
Logan glanced to her, as if looking for something, maybe to make another comment... but in the next moment turned back to admire the work, wordlessly, for another long silence, before observing, his own voice low, "they'll obliterate it in a few hours, cover it over."
"I know," she agreed, softly.
"It's a shame, because it's damn good."
She looked up again to the image that had come to mean so much to so many, then back at the green eyes that inspired it, still taking in the tribute before him, and said, "at least he got his message to the person he wanted to see it most."
At that, Logan turned back to the woman at his side and smiled quietly. "With your help. Thanks, Max."
"Merry Christmas, Logan."
He continued to look at her, long, as if weighing competing thoughts, before finally relaxing into his smile. "Merry Christmas, Max." He drew a deeper breath, seeming to break the spell wrought by the painting before them, and asked, his mood still quiet, but considerably better than before, "ever finalize those Christmas plans of yours?"
She glanced away, offering only a tough guy shrug. "Yeah. You?"
His eyes never left her, watching her carefully. "Yeah, but I think I've changed my mind. Too nice a day to spend it putting up with assholes." When she looked back up to him in muted question, he tipped his chin up a bit in a sort of challenge. "Want to change your plans too, and play hooky with me?"
Max looked back up to see his face, now carrying a look of hope and of promise, and her own smile threatened to grow. She covered her reaction with a cynical smirk, and challenged, "got anything special in mind?"
He shrugged broadly, his smile widening to hear that she just might relent and admit she was alone, too. "Oh, I dunno ... Christmas day, the local stations throw on a lot of old movies, end to end ... all the sweet old sappy ones, stories about Christmases you and I never knew." His expression and voice weren't dark or morose at the thought; far from it – his brow had cleared, and he was actually poking her with a bit of humor at the fact they shared a dysfunctional upbringing, even if widely different in the details. "Jam Pony won't be running, and maybe Eyes Only can dial it back for a while on Christmas Day." He glanced back up at the all-seeing eyes, still watching them both from the wall in front of them, and confessed, ruefully, "of course, it won't be a nine course dinner like at the Cales'..." He was quiet a moment, then turned back, his voice taking on a serious note. "Max – you know, if you'd like to go and have a big fancy dinner like that, we could both go –"
She considered him. "I thought you didn't want to deal with them."
"I don't." He admitted immediately, then paused, and with another shrug confessed, "I just thought if you'd like to dive into a big, elaborate meal, it wouldn't hurt me to go."
Max felt an emotional tug at her chest, that funny, unfamiliar feeling she got when Logan looked at her just right ... when he spoke in a certain way ... when he did something to get under her skin. Not ready to acknowledge it, she pursed her lips, as if considering it, and tried, "Hmm. Well, what's in your 'fridge?"
His eyes held hers as he processed her words for the moment, and the sentiment behind them, before he snorted a soft laugh and grinned softly, wryly. "Not much," he confessed. "It could be a bit of a challenge to manage even one or two courses. No contest."
She pretended to weigh her choices, seeing him relax again into his smile, surprised that it pleased her so much to see him find his way back to some comfort in the situation. "Maybe not..." she finally allowed, "but we probably wouldn't be watching old movies at your family's house, would we?"
"No way." He shook his head decisively. "They would never admit to ever watching TV."
"And they'd probably think it was odd if I started eyeing their shower..." She felt another wave of satisfaction to see his smile return to its earlier, humored look. "All in all, Logan, I think playing hooky at your place might be better all around." The smile she saw actually dimpled in reply, which made her tummy do a funny little flip... She glanced away again and shrugged, "guess I should run on home and let you go back to finish your night's sleep."
Logan nodded, considering, then drew a breath and began, not looking at her, 'you could... or... we could sit here and look at this a little while longer, enjoy it while it's still here. And then when we're ready, I could drive you home. In fact..." he dared, "if you wanted to get whatever you needed, you could just come back with me, and stay for the day. The guest room's all made up, the water heater is full and who knows how early the movies will start." He smiled, a shy hope leading his words. "I don't think I'll be heading back to bed for a while, anyway... not after seeing this."
"I'm pretty wide awake, too." She settled into her seat, the smile crossing her face a perfect reflection of the turn the evening had taken. This is Christmas, she now understood. A gift from an anonymous fan, a brave act of thanks both simple and profound, has the power to give Logan joy and hope, amid his own demons ... one nameless kid's gift had become hers, for Logan, and in turn he offered her food and warmth, comfort and company, where she had none...With a happy sigh, she looked at the mural, glad she'd gone the extra mile to follow the boy after he'd finished, through his dank and rundown neighborhood, just to make sure he made it home safely. "And it might be fun to try out that guest room for a change," she allowed. "It's about time I find out what you have on your breakfast menu."
She looked over to see him turn from the mural and meet her eyes, delighted with her decision to come back home with him. "I've got a few things that might interest you," he grinned.
"I'm counting on it." She looked back up to the Christmas wish offered to the man beside her, and her voice softened again as she repeated its message, softly, "'To Eyes Only, with thanks, from Seattle. Merry Christmas.'" She looked back, and added in all sincerity, "from me too, Logan. Merry Christmas."
He looked over and wavered, finally admitting, "my Christmas took on a whole new spin about ten minutes ago – thanks to you and my secret admirer." He took one last look at the stunning display, and, his face settling into a wide, happy smile, started the car engine again. "What do you say we get your things?"
"Good plan," she nodded, and they pulled away, leaving the painted eyes on the wall to watch over Seattle for the next day and night as Eyes Only and his favorite field commander drove off to start their own celebration of friendship and trust and giving...
...and have yourself a Merry little Christmas, now...