Disclaimer: I don't own Dark Angel

A/N: The following is a very late, mixed reply to the Christmas-challenges at BBWW and DAR, set somewhere early in S1 and involving
- Christmas songs (thanks, Mia, for providing me with an assortment of American classics:-)
- Moriania's puddles
- And Blueangel's fog (There even is a dark-haired, stealing girl, but that's complete coincidence)

Biggest thanks to Shywr1ter for the amazingly fast betaing!!! Sending you a huge chunk of the Zentis-marzipan-nougat-log I got today:-) All remaining mistakes are mine…

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23. December 2019, 14:30 PM, Logan's Penthouse

Logan leaned back in his chair, absentmindedly staring at the thick, white fog outside of his windows as, in a rare moment of forgetting all the misery and corruption awaiting Eyes Only's attention, he contently hummed along to the melody of 'Rocking around the Christmas Tree'. In front of him, looking slightly out of place amid the high-tech equipment of his apartment and surrounded by screwdrivers and diverse other tools, was Mrs Moreno's old record player, now working again after a thorough once over. The old lady had brought it down earlier, buckling slightly under its weight as she'd hesitantly knocked on Logan's door to ask him if he maybe he'd be so kind to have a look at it…

And so, instead of looking into the connection between some of the town's hospital administrators and the drug mafia, he'd spent the last hour bent over the circuits and loose parts of the decade-old gadget, fascinated by the rather simple mechanism that nevertheless had seen an unexpected comeback after the Pulse.

As he absentmindedly watched the steady, calming turning of the disc, filling the room with an assortment of Christmas classics, Logan's mind wandered to Max as it often did these days. For no apparent reason or outward cause the thought of what she might be doing would sneak up on him, corrupting his formerly so single-minded concentration with the image of her sitting perched on his desk, making him brood about whether there was even the slightest chance that she might be thinking of him, too… He hadn't seen her at all for the past week, something that irritated, even concerned, him, although he'd calmed his overactive worrying with the assumption that her time simply must be sucked up by endless holiday deliveries or maybe even with Christmas preparations of her own… Nevertheless, he missed her company, the distraction and laughter she brought into his narrow world of hacking and informants, the excuse her presence offered for taking a break from his eye-straining work to cook her a 'Cale special'….

Such moments, when she was occupied with friends and work and he couldn't find a good reason to call her, were an unpleasant reminder of the fact that she had a life beyond his penthouse, had friends that were so much more interesting than he and his obsession with making the world a better place. It was at times like this that the thought crept up on Logan that, one day Max, might get sick of his endless requests for her cat burglar abilities, that sooner or later she simply might become bored with his company and would just stay away, without any further explication…

Maybe some day it really would happen… Today, however, she'd once more decided that he was worth her time, and must have entered unnoticed at exactly the moment he was entertaining those sullen thoughts. Even if he'd wanted to, Logan couldn't have suppressed his big, goofy smile as he saw her silhouette behind the frosted panels of his wall-dividers, announcing her presence that, until then, had gone unnoticed because of the music and her usual stealth.

He still smiled when she appeared in the doorframe an instant later, acutely aware that he should hide his enthusiasm over her visit… but at the same time some unreasonably optimistic part of him hindered him from even trying, daring him to hope that she would answer his happy expression with one of her own.

Max, however, did no such thing. She didn't smile, didn't look at him, didn't even seem to notice his presence or anything else in the room except the record player that now was midway through playing 'Silent Night"…

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She should have heard it before, this damned tune that floated through the otherwise quiet penthouse, children's voices singing that sweet melody she remembered from so many years ago and had avoided ever since. No doubt her oversensitive ears had registered it as she'd crossed the few steps from the elevator to Logan's door… but she'd been preoccupied, thinking about what Logan might be up to, pondering if maybe even the ever-serious Eyes Only might have been infected by the Christmas spirit… possibly even had decorated the penthouse… At the mere idea of him framing his screens with greenery in uncharacteristic playfulness, or allowing his steely, cool kitchen to be invaded by plush Santa Clauses a lopsided, amused smirk sneaked onto Max's face, the mental picture reminding her of the few times she'd seen Logan relaxed and at ease with himself and the world.

She'd been so wrapped up in her musings that the music had hit her completely unexpectedly the moment she opened the door… It drew her in, teased her to come closer to find its source, and she, in her slightly dazed, state, let it happen, didn't work full-force to resist the melody's hypnotic effect. She followed the soft strands of voices, moving almost like in a trance, until, finally, she was standing in Logan's living room, facing an old-fashioned record player. The melody it was playing threw her years back, to a different Christmas…

It was months six after the Pulse, and if anybody had asked Max if there was anything special about this day she couldn't have given any answer other than what she'd remembered from watching the sun and the stars: that it must be around the winter solstice.

Not that she'd talked with anybody at all over the last two months, not that there was anybody to talk to, here in the empty forests where she lived now, all on her own. She'd fled the cities, avoided the civilization, confused and frightened by the chaos and riots that were so typical for those first months after the Pulse. Before the attack she'd managed to get by, had slowly figured out the intricate workings of the world Manticore had declared to be evil and corrupted. But just when she'd started to understand its intricate ways, everything had changed, leaving only a chaos that was utterly terrifying to her, she who had been raised in a place in which everything had its fixed order and place… its designation.

She had left her foster family as soon as they'd stopped providing the most basic food, trying but failing to talk her stepsister into coming with her, and from then on bruised by the feeling of having abandoned another sibling.

For two or three months she went from one town to another, like a stray dog hoping to find a place to stay, but things were the same everywhere… people hid in their houses, terrified to go out, while others with less scruples took advantage of the situation, all of them afraid of the military trying to obtain control and having no qualms about shooting at anybody who seemed suspicious.

Life on the street had become hard when even the people with houses and families didn't know where to find food and shelter anymore. Of course she could defend herself, was more lucky than those around her, but her abilities would quickly raise suspicion if used too often. So she fled into the forests, vast lands untouched by civilization where it still was possible to escape the civil war that had gripped the rest of the country.

There she lived from the hand to mouth, eating fruits, berries or those little animals she could hunt, lived more like the deer that surrounded her than the human being which her features claimed her to be. She survived, but it was nothing more, only mere survival.

Having a real life was something else completely, something that came with having a place to stay, friends, a few, dear belongings… a home. It was all the things she had possessed at Manticore. Sometimes, when a whole day of searching for food hadn't resulted in anything but a few handfuls of fruits, she couldn't help wishing that they hadn't escaped. At least Manticore had given them food and shelter… at least then she wouldn't have been separated from her siblings.

Now that she was back in the familiar territory of her childhood, woods exactly like those where she's spent excruciating days of drills, she missed her brothers and sisters even more. Often, when there was an unexpected noise in the surrounding bushes, she imagined one of them coming out from the thick under-brush, telling her that he or she had been there all along and watched over her... Maybe Ben, who would make her laugh with one of his stories, or Zack, their leader, who would tell her what do to and comfort her at night when she couldn't sleep because of the hunger and cold. But nobody ever came. She was alone.

She never stayed long in one place, slowly moved south as winter came and generally avoided settlements except for an occasional improvement of her menu and for new garments when hers had become shaggy rags.

Then, over a few days the temperature had sunken rapidly, the icy wind freezing her breath into steamy little puffs and making it terribly hard to find anything edible. So she'd gone looking for an opportunity to help herself out of her desperate state, deciding against a little town and a well-guarded village, until, one evening she found a single farmhouse, the only settlement for miles and miles.

There was something strange about it, something about which her instinct and training told her to turn and run away... but she was starved, hungry not only for food but also for human contact. She yearned to see another face, to hear a friendly voice, even if it was only from a distance.

There were those lights, a whole row of them marking the outline of the roof, while others, forming stars and deer, seemed to be scattered randomly over the house's front . They made her wonder why anybody would be so stupid to waste precious fuel like that, only to make one's home a target for marauders… they made her suspect if perhaps this little, innocent-looking farmhouse was some kind of military base, with the lights used as a signal of sorts.

But it looked so peaceful and quiet… and so she sneaked closer, slipping from tree to tree as if this was one of the many missions under Colonel Lydecker's command. Quickly she picked up a noise, blurred and unidentifiable at first. Soon though, by the time she was near enough to see the silhouettes of several persons through a dimly-lit window, she identified the sound as voices, rhythmically working together to form the slow, calming pattern of a song.

By the time she had approached the window, her curiosity had outweighed the immediate goal of finding some food and clothes, her intrigue to find out what was going on stronger than the caution that had kept her alive so far…

Inside, sitting around a large, wooden table, was a group of people, three adults and five children of varying age. A family. She'd picked up that word very early, when, about three weeks after their escape, she'd been picked up by a group of concerned but prying social-workers asking about her about parents or other relatives. She hadn't known what to answer. She hadn't known it could be like that.

One of the children played a violin, in oblivious concentration and with his eyes half-closed as he provided the tune for the others to sing along, not always in-key, but with a silent joy that made up for the occasional slip. She'd never seen people lost in music like that.

Music had been a rarity at Manticore, had been only been a device like any other to train their extraordinary hearing, one that like all the other dull exercises left no room for enjoyment.

The family just looked at each other with relaxed, carefree smiles, as if there was no world outside their window, no brokenness or destruction. Nobody seemed to keep vigil, protected their little group from intruders or enemies. Didn't they know how important it was to have a guard who made sure that those who were jealous of everybody with even a little bit of happiness didn't intrude?

Involuntarily, Max's face had come closer to the window-glass until her nose almost touched the cold surface, fascinated, strangely touched by the scene in front of her. She knew she should turn around and search for the things she needed… but she just wanted to watch a moment longer and dream about what it would be like, to be in there in the warm, candle- lit room, belonging to these amazingly happy people, with their food waiting on the table, and that funnily decorated tree in the far corner of the room…

But then, suddenly, as if she sensed the presence of a stranger, the woman looked up, directly into Max's eyes. Her formerly so contented, friendly face grimaced with alarm and fear as she pressed the child on her lap closer in a protective gesture while her other arm pointed to the window, alerting her family that there was somebody, a danger, a threat…

It took Max only a split-second to react and sprint back into the safety of the woods, her legs carrying her away from this strange house with superhuman speed while her mind was occupied with the oddly thrilling idea of being the child on the woman's lap, and feeling her arms around her like a promise of security.

She ran and ran, wanting to put as much distance as possible between her and this unsettling place where she'd almost been caught, nearly had been lured into forgetting what she was by a picture of peace and normalcy. For days after she didn't dare to come near any human settlement, preferring to starve and hide like the outcast she was. She functioned on her last reserves and the few things she could find in the frozen winter-forest, feeling a hint of sick gratefulness towards Lydecker for having trained her for exactly those situations.

Only years later, by observation and cautious questions, she learned about the meaning of the lights and the decorated tree. She never got used to that song however, it gave her the shivers every time she heard it, and it forcefully catapulted her back to those days in the forest, even now, after having spent several Christmases together with friends in the warm feeling of belonging.

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Logan didn't know long how it took for 'Silent Night' to end, but it felt like an unnaturally extended period of time in which he did nothing but closely observe Max, trying to find out why she hadn't reacted at all to his raised eyebrow or the curious "Hey" he'd thrown her way.

She simply stood and stared, not even moving as the song ended and another one started. He'd seen her lost in thought before, always feeling an inkling of pride that she trusted him enough to drop her guard, but she'd never spaced out like that, so beyond any connection to her surroundings. As he watched her for long minutes it was as if with every passing second she looked younger, more childlike, as if all her carefully constructed identities were falling apart to give him the extraordinary, thrilling privilege of seeing the real Max. It was a sight that made him want to hold her, to protectively take her onto his lap and enclose in his arms… but he knew that it would be too much. Their relationship didn't allow for the intimacy of such comforting.

The one thing he finally did was carefully lift the needle off the disc, abruptly ending the chorus of Jingle Bells that sounded inappropriately loud and cheery.

The sudden quiet was enough to rouse Max from her haze. With a sharp jerk her head went up, her eyes fixing him with the slightly disoriented, glassy eyes of someone searching for orientation after waking up from a bad dream. Her stare was intense, an odd mix of vulnerability and thoughtfulness that he hadn't seen from her before, couldn't have seen because she hadn't allowed him to come close enough.

Logan wanted to tell her that she could feel safe with him, that, whatever it was, things would be okay… but he was afraid that his words would sound stale and awkward… and so he just looked at her, trying to put as much comfort in his gaze as he could with the distance between them.

Then though, after another second, the connection of their eyes was broken as she abruptly averted her gaze to stare down at her feet, where a tiny puddle of dirty water had formed under the soles of her sneakers. A hushed, contrite "Sorry" made its way out of her mouth, mumbled in a voice that wasn't quite back yet to its normal, self-confident steadiness.

Logan merely shrugged, not sure if she referred to her odd behavior or the footprints she'd left, and, anyway, in this moment not caring in the least about the state of his floor. He didn't ask what had thrown her so much, or if maybe she wanted to talk about it. He'd seen the lost, troubled expression on her face, and was aware that the chances of hearing one of her childhood memories were higher if he didn't press her. He knew that some memories were better held in a safe back-corner of one's mind until the time came to release them.

Instead, with a soft, warm voice that eventually caught her attention, he offered her another kind of comfort, one that was less emotionally involved… He offered her an easy way out. "You know, you came just in time to test my home-made gingerbread"

He'd made them earlier that day, from an old family recipe of Mrs. Moreno's which she'd shared with him, seemingly feeling obliged to offer him some kind of payback for his efforts with her record player. At first he hadn't intended to test the recipe, not wanting to go through the effort of holiday baking just for himself. Then, though, he'd thought of Max, wondering if she'd ever had real home-made gingerbread and imagining the wide, childlike smile she always flashed when he announced a special meal…. Now, as he saw how Max's face had lit up with exactly that smile, Logan decided that spending the morning in the annoying hunt for rare ingredients had been well worth it.

He held her gaze for moment, simply enjoying the sight of her, back to her normal, food-craving self. Then, as she flopped down on his couch, carefully stretching her dirty boots away from his expensive carpet, he reached under the table where he'd stashed the cookie tin in anticipation of her visit.

"So… what are the big Eyes Only's plans for Christmas?" Her question caught him unawares as he held out the tin for her, addled him with its casualness that left him unsure whether she was really interested or only was making small talk. Like every time she flippantly addressed him as his alter ego, Logan couldn't help but cringe a bit, never sure exactly how much sarcasm was behind her words. Each time was a reminder that her opinion indeed mattered to him, that he wanted her to appreciate his work. His answer, though, didn't show any of those insecurities. It was smooth and nonchalant, with exactly the mix of banter and seriousness that was so typical for their conversations. "Oh, you know, the usual… chasing some corrupt politicians, bringing down the Mafiosi of the week..."

It was the truth, the fact that he would spend the holidays alone varnished only by his reference to altruistic motives. He didn't tell her, didn't want to tell her, that he'd obligatorily denied the dutifully extended invitation to the Cale family dinner, just as he'd done for years. And just like the years before he'd work at Christmas, preferring the company of his computers to the excellent food and high-prized amusement of his uncle's house.

Yet, there was something in the way she mockingly lifted an eyebrow, a badly hidden question mingled with a trace of disappointment, that let him believe that there was another opportunity here, one he hadn't dared to suggest before and now offered with a sharp tingle of nervousness. "Or, who knows, I might find myself in the kitchen, cooking dinner for a certain transgenic bike messenger…"

Even as he said the words, Logan already steeled himself for her to decline, resolved to take it in stride and without any outward sign of his hopes. She surely already had better plans for Christmas, probably including her friends and a noisy party at Crash…

The smile, however, which was her only reply, was all he needed to know. It was pleased and surprised, warm and curious… and even the tiniest bit shy, as if she was embarrassed about her blatant reaction. It was the best present he could have gotten. The promise of her presence suddenly awakened his dormant holiday-spirits, made his mind spin with all the different options for dinner and the impossibility of finding her a decent present on such short notice. It was a feeling that only was deepened by a short, timid glance over to Max who quietly ate what must be her third or fourth gingerbread with a silent contentment that infected him in an intensity which he'd thought to have lost long ago and tickled a wide smile onto his face. He would have a nice Christmas after all…

………… the End…………