Disclaimers: Characters courtesy of Dark Angel; no profits made.
A/N: Even in a slowly evolving relationship, there is that moment of no return, when the world changes and things will never be the same...
Time: Not long after Flushed.
It had started, as it often did now, with a page and a call. "Hey," she said.
"Hey." Nothing more, just "hey."
Max rolled her eyes impatiently and turned her back on Normal, who was waving a package at her and starting a new chorus of bips. As she did so, she saw Original Cindy watch her movements and lift a suspicious eyebrow. "You paged me," she prodded into the phone.
"Right." Logan sounded distracted. "Can you stop by today?"
"Yeah," she shrugged, her curiosity stirring. "What's up?" Before Logan came into her life – or more accurately, before she'd dropped into his – she'd been able to convince herself that her life as a messenger was a relatively entertaining one, given the variety of places she was sent and people she encountered. But once she'd been recruited for Eyes Only's projects, she found herself waiting from call to call to see what adventure he might have for her. All the fun of escape and evade, with an Eyes Only officer's commission and the Logan Cale seal of approval.
"Tell you when you get here," he was saying.
"Okay." The Logan Cale seal of approval, she considered again. Since when did someone's approval matter, Max? She glanced back toward Normal and at his glare, turned away again to add, "not sure how soon I'll make it – unless it's an emergency."
"No emergency." Finally, Logan sounded like Logan – there was the sound of a smile in his voice. "I'll be here."
"'kay. Later." She replaced the phone's handset and half turned to see Original Cindy planted before her, a grin slowly working across her face. "What?" Max demanded...
Logan thumbed the disconnect button to end the call, and dropped his hand softly to his thigh, still holding the telephone, feeling an adolescent nervousness now that he'd asked Max to come by. He glanced over at the table again, where the distinctive, elegant bag lay, its contents giving it a gently swelling silhouette, as he worked to convince himself he could still change his mind, despite the fact that if he did so, he'd need a pretty fancy excuse for calling Max. The bag's signature shade of pearl-silver and its striking, recognizable logo was long familiar to him, from his mother, from girls he'd known in school, his own girlfriends, even Valerie. It was such an institution with the elite, it had taken the store less than half the time it took others to get up and running again after the Pulse. Logan's first reaction, years ago, when he'd heard about their reopening, was contempt, offended that the wealthy were so self-absorbed that they could still worry about the latest fashions when so many worried about eating.
... but then, there he was, the previous week, 'in the neighborhood,' and with one glance inside the store had seen a splash of color that had so moved him, on another day not long before...
It had been an otherwise uneventful moment, Max appearing in his doorway just as always, but when he looked up at her, she looked radiant, extraordinarily beautiful, even for her. Cheeks flushed with the color of her health and the cool Seattle air, hair tumbled, all set off by the rich, burnished claret of the thick, soft turtleneck sweater she wore ... in that moment, Max caught him unprotected and she took his breath away...
"Hey," he'd managed. "New sweater? Nice." Nice? 'Understatement of the decade, Cale' he'd berated himself.
"Oh– this..." She'd sounded almost apologetic. "I got caught in a downpour and Original Cindy is better than I am at keeping a back-up in her locker, for weather or after hours..." Logan watched as Max glanced down at the sweater now, too, her motions seeming to slow a bit in her own appreciation. A soft smile growing, she lifted her right arm to stroke the soft, rich yarns of the sweater on her left. "It is soft, though ... I've never had anything so..." She'd glanced up at that, as if caught, and finding him watching her closely, actually colored self-consciously. "Impractical," she finished. "The yarn would catch on everything. All sorts of fibers to trace if a girl tried using it for B & E..."
They'd managed to shake it off, managed in the next moment to shake themselves back to their casual, arms-length relationship, light and non-committal...
But he hadn't. Not really. And he might be fooling himself that she ever felt anything more than a casual affection for his refrigerator and an appreciation of a warm meal. But he felt more. He didn't dare give in to it but with all the time he had alone to think, to imagine and dream, he knew he'd been rattled by Max in a way no one had ever rattled him before – ironic that it would be now, when such a life, with such a woman, was such an unreasonable fantasy, he'd thought – and the only escape he could manage was to throw himself into his work until he could consider nothing else...
...but he'd been in the middle of work, after a meet, when he passed the windows of the upscale clothing store and saw, inside, a sweater surprisingly like the less pedigreed one Original Cindy had lent to her wet co-worker. The deep burgundy color and the whisper-soft touch of it had drawn him inside and drugged him into buying it before he really considered...
A gift was one thing ... but something so personal as clothing ... what was he thinking? He could never give this to Max; they weren't like that. What would she think of him – hopeless? Pathetic?
It was bad enough it was clothing –but from an expensive, designer store. Would she know the name? Would she despair of how elitist it was?
And how had he gone from talking himself out of it, as he had in the days after he'd bought it, to asking her to make a special trip just so he could give it to her?
Hopeless. He just hoped he wouldn't run her off, for good...
Max saw her chance when Original Cindy caught a package from Normal that was across four check points and at the far end of town. As Cindy grimaced, Max stepped over to take it from her. "I've got it, Normal. Original Cindy is trying not to let this cold she has knock her out, so she won't lose any days riding for your precious owners. Least you can do is keep her closer to home in this weather."
Original Cindy barely gave Max a glance, picking up the charade right on cue. "Thanks, Boo," she threw Normal a dirty look as she affected a scratchy voice. "Wouldn't want to let Normal down."
"Oh, Cindy calling in sick instead of you? That would be a novelty." Normal was filling out forms as he griped at Max. "I don't care who takes what, as long as you both move – now!"
The women rolled their bikes up the ramp and Cindy glanced sidelong back at Max. "Not that I'm complaining, you snaggin' that cross-town delivery for me – but what's up?"
"Gotta run an errand. I can buy myself some time across town with some speed and short cuts, do my errand, and whatever extra time I need on top of that, I tell Normal I get held up in distance and checkpoints."
"I'll get five or six tips to your one, Boo. I'll get you next time." Outside, Cindy stood with her bike at her side, not moving yet.
Max waved it away. "Just get the next pitcher at Crash," she laughed, starting to get on her bike.
"So what's the big errand?" Original Cindy's eyebrow went up again. "Not this boy of yours, Logan..."
Max grimaced. "He's not my boy." She wouldn't make eye contact with her friend.
"Coulda fooled me. You forget I sat vigil with the boy when you were locked up in Langford, without your pills. You and he may not think he's your boy – but he is. You could do a lot worse, Boo."
"Whatever," Max dismissed the speculation. "He said he thought he could get me a steady, safe source for tryptophan; that's probably what he was calling about."
"Knew he was your errand." Original Cindy grinned. "Tell him 'hey' for me. And I got you covered if things run a little late..."
"Just the pitcher of beer will be fine," Max rolled her eyes.
"We'll see." Cindy smirked. "Later."
Max pulled her collar up against the mist and set off toward the harbor, looking for back alleys and untraveled areas where she could put on speed. Cindy's just got an overactive imagination, she argued with herself. She hasn't seen yet that Logan obsesses over everyone and everything...
But as she raced across town to make her delivery in record time, her friend's words – and impressions of Logan's concern for her – continued to dance across her thoughts...
As she had been doing more and more often, Max let herself into Logan's front door and wandered back to find him, as usual, at his computer. She'd managed to get there less than three hours after he'd called. Curling around the room divider to stand in his doorway, she looked at him expectantly. "Hey," she tried.
He blinked up at her. "Hey." An awkward smile slowly lifted across his face.
She shrugged in silent question, finally prompting, "you said to come over."
"Oh. Right," he nodded, sounding distracted, looking self-conscious. "How's it going?"
Her eyebrows went high. "'How's it going?'" she repeated. "You could have asked me that on the phone."
He actually colored a little at that. This was a bad idea, he decided...
But at that moment she shifted from one foot to the other with that swagger, that 'toughest-kid-on-the-block' physical attitude that Logan had begun to believe Max wore to hide the fact that deep down, she didn't always feel as tough as Manticore told her she should be. It was that Max he'd seen that led him to this ... to call her, like this.
He felt his cheeks warm again, but knew now he still wanted to do this. "Something for you," he mumbled, unlocking his brakes to roll backward, away from the computer, a couple feet. Looking across the hall into his dining room, seeing the crisp, creamy bag still lying untouched on the table, he lifted his chin toward it, directing her glance that way. "On the table."
Max turned to look, her expression shifting into an uncertain one. Glancing back at Logan in surprise momentarily, and seeing that he had looked away, affecting indifference but clearly waiting for her to investigate, Max turned back, wavering only a bare moment before walking over to the table.
As she did, Logan looked back up to watch her, unconsciously holding his breath. He saw her look at the bag and blink in recognition – just surprise at a gift? Or does Max know the store, too? Had she ever been in the pricy shop? She looked back up at him, in question, maybe, and he did his best to look noncommittal. It was a bad idea, he stewed again suddenly, but it's too late now...
Max reached out and opened the bag, the crisp paper crackling, and slowly drew out the rich, burgundy sweater folded inside. Her eyes grew large, and involuntarily she glanced up again, a question there, a heartbreaking, vulnerable look, making him wonder what in the world would have happened to her, that a gift would give her reason to mistrust...
Almost as quickly, her control slipped back into place and, although the uncertainly remained, she was ready to handle whatever it meant ... and once again, Logan found himself cursing the world that had done this to her... "What's this?" she asked. She'd tried for cocky – but her voice was too soft, too awed, to achieve it. She cringed a little as she knew he'd hear it, too, but her exposure was nearly forgotten in the sudden wash of emotion at this unexpected gift–
"For you." He repeated. "I saw the color, and thought..."
...and she saw it now, too, remembered that day, and the effect it had ...
It had been an otherwise uneventful moment, Logan looking up at her appearance in his doorway, just as he had moments ago, but when he looked up she saw him looking at her, seeing something new. Cheeks flushed with whatever was going on in his thoughts, eyes carrying something deep and unexpected into hers, he seemed to shake himself momentarily before he'd found his voice.
"Hey," he'd managed. "New sweater?" He'd dropped his eyes for the moment, seeming to regroup from his earlier awkwardness, trying for a casual shrug. "Nice." Nice? Logan Cale, seeing her as ... as what? As more than a handy machine for his errands? As another human on his planet? Even, maybe... as... a girl? A woman...?
"Oh– this..." She would be casual too, even as she felt a small disappointment in herself that his reaction still wasn't entirely something she could create on her own. "I got caught in a downpour and Original Cindy is better than I am at keeping a back-up in her locker, for weather or after hours..." 'And at having beautiful, soft, feminine things, so foreign to me that even Logan noticed and was surprised ...' She had been drawn to the luxurious softness of the synthetic weave against her skin, and now again found herself stroking its soft, rich yarns. "It is soft, though ... I've never had anything so..." Glancing up, still exposed in that moment of wonder, Max saw a look in Logan's eyes that made her feel embarrassed, caught... vulnerable... "Impractical." she declared, writing off that side of her. "The yarn would catch on everything," she criticized its design, derisively, and sought to distance herself from Logan using that part of her life of which she knew he still disapproved, "All sorts of fibers to trace if a girl tried using it for B & E..."
Logan watched as Max blinked away the memory just as he had, drawn back to the present by the beautiful, soft sweater of deep claret, even in her hands warming Max's cheeks and hair, lips and eyes as she looked back up to him ...
... the look Logan had seen in her eyes in that first moment, before she'd torn them away again, spoke of so much: Max looked needy, aching, desperate to trust in a gift meant merely in affection and care for her, without strings; desperate to believe he saw her as human, desirable as a woman but for all of her, for her mind as well as her body... desperate to believe he knew who she was, deep down, all of her...
...the look Max saw in his eyes in that first moment, before she'd looked away again, spoke of so much: Logan looked needy, aching, desperate to trust in her demeanor around him, that she could act in affection and care for him, as if there was no chair between them; desperate to believe she saw him as still intact, desirable as a man but for all of him, his body as well as his mind ... desperate to believe she knew who he was, deep down, all of him...
But they both had seen their own hopes, mirrored in the eyes of the other. And with just that fleeting, brief sight, each of them relaxed. Trust was given ... belief, intact ...
Max lifted the sweater closer and, as she had before, let her fingers brush its soft yarns. No attitude, no mockery ... and no retreat. "It's beautiful," she whispered, looking to him again, a sincere smile lighting her features. "Thank you," she offered.
He simply nodded, his own smile beginning in return. After a moment, all the explanations and excuses he'd rehearsed dying unneeded, he shrugged and offered, "I could find you some lunch, if you're hungry..."
Her smile lifted a little more as she shook her head. "I've got to get back." As he nodded again, Max brushed her hand over the sweater one more time and regretfully slipped it back into its sack. She lay the bag back on the table and took a step back from it. "Logan ... do you mind... if I left it here, at least for now?"
His smile fell only slightly as he imagined a myriad of reasons why she wouldn't take it. "No, if you don't want..."
And she understood. She looked at him, her eyes still soft, and explained, "the only bag I have on my bike to put it in is dirty, and would smudge anything I put inside. And anyway..." Her smile took on a wistful shade as she admitted, "it's too pretty for ... out there. It fits better up here, where it's ... nice." He would have given his fortune to know her thoughts at that moment, what darkness he let her escape, up there in his fortress. "At least for the first time."
If nothing else, escaping from the world below was something he was good at doing. "Maybe with some dinner," he suggested. "Especially since you can't stay for lunch."
The smile he saw in return lit the room ... lit his soul. "Dinner," she nodded. "Just what I had in mind."
"Say about 7:30?"
She grinned, equilibrium returning, and she bounced toward the door. "7:30," she called behind her. Near the end of the hall, however, the distance safer, her handle on the situation a little greater, she turned back and met his eyes one more time. "Logan... thank you." She began. "No one's ever..." She hesitated, stopped. Too much, she decided, not yet... "Well. No one's ever." She shrugged, knowing he'd understand even more than she felt ready to share...
But this was Logan. And his knowing was somehow right...
Logan nodded once more, and his dark, graceful angel was gone with a pirouette and a flip of her curls. As if a fresh breeze had curled though his place, as if a beam of sunlight had permeated the gloom... He had offered her a personal, intimate gift and she had been pleased ... she had been moved. And whatever was ahead of them from this point on ... things would never be quite the same...