'Christmas in July' Challenge – A Gift for Mari

July 15, 2007: Her requests were brief: no virus and "S1 or if after something in S1-style". Really, you left it wide open for me, boo. I hope you like it.

Random angst and fluffiness, no particular episodes referenced that I'm aware of though set in Season One, and probably canon smashing in content. Some of you will roll your eyes, as it harkens back to the style of my first 'Dark Angel' story ever: The Morning After. I hope you'll forgive me…

Not Betaed so I apologize if I've messed up grammar, spelling or major continuity – not that I'm paying much attention to the latter here. I proof all my stuff, several times, but things slip through regardless of my diligence.

And there's food, 'cause I can't seem to write a DA story without including some sort of food. ;)

Cheers!

Oh, and Merry July, Mari… ;)

August 1, 2007: Still can't access FFN. Drives me spare, it does. With any luck, my e-mail is working and I can at least send this to the ever-patient Mari and the Usual Suspects. J

So sorry it's late.

Mouse

August 11, 2007: I'm going to try to upload the story again today and see if FFN will let me. I haven't been able to connect with anything FFN related for almost a month now, I think, with the alerts the last thing to go. New equipment has been installed at my end so with any luck, FFN and other troublesome sites won't be a problem anymore.

At least I was able to e-mail my Christmas present to the intended recipient, mostly on time. J

And in case anyone is wondering, I haven't given up on any of my stories. Life's been a zoo and the Internet connection/FFN problems have been very frustrating. With any luck, it'll be back to the routine shortly.

Cheers!

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Waiting for the Sun

By lilmouse

"Love comforteth like sunshine after rain."

- 'Venus and Adonis', William Shakespeare

It was raining.

Again.

As usual, Max thought sourly.

If the West Coast had anything in abundance other than rain, it wasn't sufficiently obvious to grab her attention in the years she'd been out here. Concrete? Maybe that didn't qualify because it was man-made. Mountains? Idiot drivers?

Trees qualify, she decided. She steered her bike to dodge a woman with a partially broken umbrella, a woman who wasn't really watching where she was going. Yeah, trees. If you get far enough away from the city. The mangy ones in the parks don't add up when compared with the amount of rain we get. No competition. As she rode through the streets and the trash and the darting pedestrians, Max quickly realized that she couldn't focus properly on anything other than her soaked clothing, the hiss of her tires on the wet pavement and the sound of the rain tapping rhythmically on the brim of her Jam Pony cap.

She took the corners carefully, not interested in wiping out. Preventing such an event would also mean she wouldn't be providing the public with a demonstration of her X-5 agility. Exposure would be a bad thing. She spotted another hover drone and turned down an alleyway to avoid detection. That's the third one today. She sighed. What is with those things, anyway? Didn't have that problem yesterday -

A vehicle passed her, traveling through a puddle that the ever-so-courteous driver didn't swerve to avoid it. Her legs were soaked. She gave him the finger in his rearview mirror and changed course when the vehicle screeched to a stop and started to reverse. Ah, road rage. She grinned, deciding she didn't mind the chase, but it didn't last very long, just a few blocks. He couldn't keep up with her. Girl on bike can go places big car can't. She lost him near the market. He leaned out his window and yelled at her but his curses were quickly muffled and then drowned out completely by the sounds of the neighbourhood.

That lightened her mood a bit but it didn't cancel the fact that she was still wet.

Her schedule had been a nightmare from the get-go. Several members of the crew were 'sick', though she suspected most of them just didn't want to be stuck in the crappy weather all day. Sketchy, in particular, was on her Bad List at the moment. One of his buddies had confided to her that the lanky messenger had been out late the previous night, doing bike stunts at Crash in a contest to win some cash. Apparently, he hadn't been doing too badly until his eighth beer. She sighed. Moron. He is so dead when I see him next -

As a result, the remaining messengers had hit the ground running first thing in the morning and never stopped. Original Cindy had crossed her path twice but only long enough to wave and share a few words of encouragement as she sped by.

Max hadn't been able to stay anywhere long enough to get dry all day. Outside was wet and cold and her brief visits indoors were either hot and cloying or cool and giving her a chill. Being genetically more resilient to pesky things like weather didn't mean she was happy.

"JamPonyMessengersignhereplease."

Basically, she thought, swinging her leg over her bike and pushing off from the streetlight where she'd parked it, it sucks.

She wove her way through sector after sector and eventually found her knapsack empty of packages. She glanced at the window of a pawnshop that she checked out on a regular basis and noted that the brass mantle clock was still there and still working. It was just before four in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it meant she had to return to work and get more deliveries, as it was too early for quitting time. Sighing the long-suffering sigh of the ever put-upon, she peddled harder.

At least she'd be indoors for a bit.

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He watched the rain pour down the glass like rivers being channeled through a chasm. It hadn't been this bad in the morning, but now the sky was black and the thunder made his windows vibrate.

Logan Cale sipped his coffee and wondered, not for the first time, why some people found rain so romantic. When it fell this hard it flooded the sewers and stirred up the bay. The following morning might see sunshine but the smell would be terrible. The wind always left trash stuck to the fences and the potholes were even more difficult to judge when filled with water. It made things more awkward and frustrating. The sun would try to woo him but he'd just growl and thrash through the day, and find himself parked at the window at night, trying to remind himself why he continued to bother.

Rain didn't always affect him this way. His moods, however, had become less predictable since his injury. Perhaps it was the brooding quality, very reflective. It made him think of all the things he'd never quite managed to fit into his hectic schedule.

And now it was too late.

He didn't want to dwell on it but he couldn't seem to stop. Travel was such a pain and outdoor activities more a challenge than a joy, and oh, the rain beat on his windows as the 'what ifs' beat against his skull. What if he'd listened to Peter and let somebody else escort mother and daughter to the courts? What if they'd chosen a different route, or had more guns, or hired more guards to protect them? What if a young Manticore soldier had agreed to help?

Damn, damn, damn.

Given her circumstances and obvious need to remain hidden, he hated thinking that last part. He could dissect the other scenarios until he had a headache for his efforts, but always circled back to this one, leaving him angry and guilty and wanting to scream. How selfish of him, how ruthless, how thoughtless -

Maybe staying in Seattle had been a bad decision. Maybe he needed a break from the familiar so he wouldn't recall all the things he used to do or encounter all the people who knew him before his injury. He wouldn't have to go far, just far enough. The 'countryside', as such, would only be worse due to even less accessibility for the wheelchair -

Logan closed his eyes and took another sip of his coffee. Why did he sit in his living room, in the growing darkness, only feeding his dark thoughts? No, he needed to focus, needed Eyes Only, needed to be in Seattle in order to make a difference, to make it matter.

To have a purpose -

The sound of his cell phone ringing made his eyes snap open. He put his empty mug in his lap, unlocked his breaks and reached the coffee table by the third ring.

"Yeah?"

"Hey."

One word. Just one syllable, at that, and he found himself holding his breath. Logan wasn't sure why she had this affect on him or when it had started, but he strongly suspected that the answers were 'she's Max' and 'the first moment we met', in that order.

"Hey." Brilliant dialogue there, Cale. You're a journalist, right? Or did you get that piece of paper from a Cracker Jack box? He swallowed. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah." She sounded tired and a little down. He didn't know how he could glean that much information from one word but he guessed it came with the territory. Journalist, detective, whatever -

He glanced outside and made a logical assumption. "You've been riding in the rain all day, haven't you?"

A sigh. "Yeah."

Logan checked his watch - five forty-three - and did a quick mental inventory of his fridge. "When do you get off work?" Did that sound too forward? Nah, just friendly, no pressure, not a date or anything and she can easily get out of it if she wants -

"Seven. You got leftovers?"

He blinked at the speed of her answer but confidently managed, "I've got better than that."

"Is that an invitation or are you just toying with me?"

He frowned slightly. Are her teeth chattering? "It's an invitation," he said firmly. "Get here as soon as you can and I'll have something hot waiting for you."

There was a pause that made Logan wonder if he'd just said the wrong thing, but her next words halted any concern in that area. "That'd be great." He heard someone holler in the background and recognized the tone of her boss, Normal. "Gotta go."

"Later."

"Yeah," she said, and hung up.

Logan held the phone in his hand as he disconnected the call, having the vague feeling that he had missed some subtext of that conversation. He shook his head, placed the phone in his lap and wheeled to the kitchen.

He smiled. There was a hungry woman coming to dinner and he wasn't about to disappoint her.

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Max was beyond frustrated.

She'd wanted to at least change before going to Logan's for dinner but the routes Normal gave her were nowhere near her crib and by the time she was done, she was closer to Sector Nine than home.

Fine, she thought grumpily, dismounting from her bike and pushing it through the lobby of Fogle Towers. The storm had let up a few times during the course of the day but never stopped. Her shoes squished with every step and a trail of dripping water followed her path. Mud was also part of the package. The elderly man behind the front desk stared at the floor with an expression Max associated with despair.

"Sorry," she muttered, and waited for the elevator to swallow her.

It took its sweet time reaching the lobby, though.

She'd swung by the market first and scored a few items she thought might add to the evening or at least contribute to meals that might occur in the next few days. It was the least she could do. She kept dropping in, frequently unannounced, and he continued to not kick her out on her ass. It seemed to be a mutual thing, an unspoken invitation on his part and a silent acceptance on hers.

Max figured if they didn't talk about it, maybe they could just continue as they were and she wouldn't lose that contact she'd become so used to -

The elevator doors opened with a melodic 'ping'. She parked her bike next to Logan's door - who the hell was going to steal it in this place? - and hesitated before trying the knob. He hadn't locked it so she didn't have to pick the lock or knock. Well, she could knock but where was the fun in that? Not that she wanted to startle Logan while he was cooking and have him burn himself or anything.

So, just what were you thinking might be fun, Max?

She stood just inside the apartment and closed the door. She leaned against the back of it, contemplating the answer. Did she hope to catch him at an embarrassing moment, like coming out of the shower? Nah, that wouldn't be nice. As if I don't invade his privacy as it is -

The image of him exercising popped into her head, unbidden, and she took a moment to relive the scene. Bling had been putting Logan through his paces, and Logan was doing his best, looking all hot and sweaty in a tank top and a pair of shorts -

"That you, Max?"

His voice startled her from her thoughts. She realized she must have made a noise, something that had alerted him to her presence. He seemed to be in the kitchen. Damn. Focus, girl.

"Hey," she managed, placing her knapsack on the floor. Brilliant dialogue there, Maxie. You've got an IQ that exceeds that of the average Joe and that's the best you can come up with? "Yeah, I'm here." As if he hadn't already picked up on that. State the blindingly obvious, would you? "I'm wet," she added, as if that explained why she hadn't moved any further. Which, in a way, it did.

She heard the whisper of the tires before Logan appeared, stopping a few feet away from her. He was wearing a burgundy turtleneck and khaki cargo pants. His hair was still damp from a shower and she could smell the citrus shampoo he used. He hadn't shaved but she liked the scruffy look, anyway. He gave her a tentative smile, and that's when she realized she'd been staring.

"So," they began in unison. His smile widened and Max couldn't help but smile back. His smile was like the sun coming out on a gloomy day. If only he'd do that more often -

"You're soaked," he stated. "You should get out of those clothes -" He stopped and his face reddened slightly. "I mean, I put a pair of track pants and a sweatshirt in the bathroom, if you wanted to change, if you'd like to change. Thought you might like to… do that." His smile slipped and he looked down at his hands. "Just… leave your coat and… stuff here and go on through."

"Sure. Thanks." She removed her jacket then remembered the item in her knapsack. "Oh, here," she said, and dropped to one knee. She removed the grapefruit and offered it to Logan with both hands, as if it were a sacred goblet. He seemed uncertain what to say, so he accepted it with both hands and placed it in his lap.

"Thank you," he managed. A small smile crept out again. "We'll have it for desert."

Max pushed her sneakers off using the 'toes against the heels' method. "What's for dinner?"

At that, Logan grinned. "Something hot, as promised."

Max had to give herself a mental shake when her mind drifted to the other item she considered 'hot' in the room. He seemed oblivious to her expression or if he did notice, he was too polite to inquire.

"Great," she said, pulling a small package about the size of her palm, wrapped in butcher's paper, from her front pant's pocket. She held it out for him. "I also scored some cheese."

Logan took the package, shaking his head. "You shouldn't have -"

"Hey, I eat here, too," she retorted playfully. Those words hung in the air between them, warm and comfortable for a few heartbeats, then Max bolted for the bathroom. "See you in ten," she called over her shoulder.

"Right."

The last thing she saw before closing the door was a rather bemused Logan, lifting the grapefruit and sniffing it.

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Logan grated some of the cheddar cheese Max had brought and left it in a bowl on the counter beside the oven. He'd sprinkle it on top for the last five minutes of cooking.

He did a quick check of the ingredients for the evening meal. It wasn't fancy but he hoped it would be capable of feeding a hungry X-5. Salad? Done. Garlic bread? Set on a cookie sheet for a quick few minutes under the broiler. Wine poured into nice glasses, set on the table? Done. Macaroni and cheese? He inhaled deeply. Smelling good and should be ready by the time Max emerges from the bathroom. He chuckled. Assuming she only takes ten minutes. He made sure the tin foil was ready, in case he needed to keep it warm for a bit.

He could hear the shower running and was glad she was taking advantage of the hot water to take off the chill. He'd waited in the Aztek for hours in cold weather for informants and the like, but never been stuck in the elements for twelve hours straight. Did Max have an edge when it came to doing a job like this? Probably, but that didn't stop the others from pulling long shifts in nasty conditions. Maybe she didn't need to take as many sick days, though, due to her genetic resilience to illness.

And it was certainly a job for the young.

The shower stopped after about five minutes. Logan added the cheese to the top of the dish and set it back in the oven. At the ten-minute mark, a more relaxed Max in the comfortable, dry clothes he'd laid out for her sauntered towards the kitchen. She'd combed her wet hair and pulled it back into a ponytail. For a brief moment, she looked like any other young woman on the cusp of twenty.

He knew he'd been staring at her a bit too long when she waved a hand across his line of sight and said softly, "Earth to Logan?"

She was radiant like the sun, grinning at him, apparently relaxed and refreshed and looking forward to an evening with a broken man in a wheelchair. It didn't make sense to him but he wasn't going to argue. Not tonight. Tonight he was going to enjoy her company and try not to let the rain pull him into the darkness.

"I'm here," he replied, pursing his lips and looking up at her over the rim of his glasses. "Could you help me get all this food to the table?"

"Wow," Max said, picking the bowls of salad first then coming back for the creamy dressing and toasted cubes of bread. "Hail, Caesar?"

"Something close to it," he said. "Couldn't find any anchovies so I improvised." He pulled his oven mitts on and lifted the glass dish of macaroni and cheese onto the stovetop. "I used some of the cheese you brought," he added, calling over his shoulder. He adjusted the setting on the oven and slid the cookie sheet of garlic bread onto the top rack. "These will just take a few minutes to crisp up, and the mac 'n' cheese needs to rest for a bit before we serve it."

Max had moved closer to the pasta dish and was leaning over it, inhaling deeply. "God, that smells amazing."

He grinned. "Told you I'd have something hot for you."

She raised an eyebrow. "So you did."

Logan watched the bread so it didn't burn and Max poked at the crusty bits of cheese around the edge of the pasta pan, "evening out the sides", she said. They were so relaxed and comfortable it was as if the worries and stress of the day had been washed away by the weather, leaving them free to enjoy themselves.

"Thanks for coming over," he said, not wanting to lose their momentum when it came to conversation. He pulled the cookie sheet out and placed it on the counter, switching off the heat.

"Thanks for inviting me." Max pulled a large plate down from the shelf next to the sink and gingerly transferred the bread from the sheet. "I had nothing in the fridge and I think only a few tins of tuna in the cupboard."

"Old Mother Hubbard."

"What?"

Logan cleared his throat. "It's a nursery rhyme. 'Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard to give her poor dog a bone/When she got there the cupboard was bare, so the poor little dog had none.'"

Max just stared at him. "They made a nursery rhyme for kids about a woman and her starving dog?"

"Not exactly," he replied, and started to cut the macaroni and cheese while Max took the bread to the table. "I mean, it's a rhyme kids say but it's actually a political thing about a Cardinal named Wolsey back in sixteenth century England."

"It is?"

Logan shook his head. "I'm full of useless trivia."

"So, it's an analogy?"

"Sort of." He raised an eyebrow at her as he passed her the plates of food. "Do you really want to know?"

Thunder clapped hard in the sky over their building and the lights snapped off like a switch had been thrown.

"Sure," Max said in the dark, smirking. The elevator will be out and he won't want me to have to take my bike down the stairs so maybe I'll have to stay over if it doesn't come back on in time -

Whoa. Getting ahead of yourself there, girl.

"Dinner's on the table," she said, putting the plates down and reaching for the matches. "And I'll have the candles in a sec."

Logan sighed, letting himself smile. "Thanks." The elevator will be out and I don't want her to have to carry her bike down the stairs - not that she isn't capable or anything - so maybe she'll stay over if I ask nicely and promise her breakfast, no strings attached, if the power doesn't come back on in time -

Whoa. Let's not get crazy here.

"As I understand it," he continued as Max moved around the apartment, lighting a path of candles as she passed. "The rhyme refers to when Wolsey displeased King Henry the Eighth by not arranging for his divorce from Katherine of Aragon. He wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. So the king is the 'dog' and the 'bone' represents the divorce, and the cupboard is, apparently, supposed the represent the Catholic Church."

Max had circled back to him by this point and was holding one of the candle stubs from a previous blackout. She grinned. "Really?"

He smiled back. "Believe it or not." They moved towards the table. Max used the stub to light the candles there then blew it out and set it down beside her plate. "Nursery rhymes," Logan continued, "can be a bit odd, though some people try to find deeper meaning where there's really just a game. Like 'Ring Around a Rosie' being about the Plague. It isn't, but someone thought it had to mean something more."

"I know that one," she said, picking up a fork. "The Plague, huh? That's a morbid thought."

Logan shrugged. "We all deal with things differently. Humanity can put all sorts of spins on the news to make it more bearable." He reached for a fork and looked at her across the table. His mouth went dry and he swallowed. God, she's beautiful - "We all figure out ways to deal with a harsh reality." His voice sounded rough, a bit husky. He reached for his glass of wine and took a deeper sip than he intended. "Well," he added, clearing his throat. "Dig in."

Max didn't need a second invitation.

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After dinner, they tidied up as best they could by candlelight and started telling stories of other times when there'd been a power failure. Logan poured more wine and Max suggested they move to the living room. When he agreed, she was slightly surprised but pleased he hadn't come up with something of earth-shattering importance that required his attention. Of course, with the computers being down, Eyes Only had the night off.

They sat on the couch together, pillar candles lit at points of the room around them, and watched the rain pelt against the windows. The power had been out for two hours and forty-seven minutes, not that Max had been counting. She'd just finished telling a story of a blackout at Jam Pony the previous month and Logan had smiled at all the right points and seemed to be enjoying himself. They lapsed into a contented silence.

Max sipped her wine and alternated between looking out the window and looking at Logan. He really was a very handsome man. Striking, even, if she understood the term correctly: arresting, remarkable, out of the ordinary. His eyes and that smile -

He slid his gaze to her and caught her watching him. Unlike other times this had happened, she didn't look away.

"Something on your mind, Max?"

She sighed. "There usually is, you know. Hard to shut the brain down. Just as well I don't need much sleep." He continued to hold her gaze, a small smile curling his lips. "Oh-kay," she said, and placed her glass on the coffee table. She leaned against the back of the couch, turning her upper body so it faced Logan, one foot tucked under her thigh. "I was thinking this was -" romantic "- nice, sitting in the dark -" with you "- watching the rain -" and your face "- you know?"

He put the glass to his lips, tipped his head back, drained the last of his wine and reached over just enough to set his glass on the coffee table next to hers. Then he stretched his arms lazily above his head and let them rest on the back of the couch. His left arm was coincidently behind her now. Smooth, Max thought. He smiled. It was dazzling.

"I was thinking something like that, too," he said quietly, and glanced at her lips before looking into her eyes again and leaning towards her.

Max had a fleeting moment to think, "We've never been here before", and then his lips touched hers. Any chill she had remaining from her day in the rain fled. Warmth flowed through her. His skin smelled incredible. She laced her hands behind his neck and returned the kiss with a growing passion. One of her fears with Logan involved the fear of rejection, because she was different, because he was different, because they didn't have time to indulge in anything even remotely fragile. Not in a post-Pulse world. Not with the lives they led. She'd let her guard down before and it had been a mistake.

Maybe she'd been wrong about that. Logan wasn't like anyone else she'd been attracted to. He was friend, irritant, cook, detective, broken, giving, brilliant, handsome, frustrating - lover?

Maybe she should seize the moment, because the moment was now.

As his arms wrapped around her all she could hope was that the warmth was real and that this time, she wouldn't get burned by the sun.

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