A/N: The Dark Angel universe still belongs to someone else, no infringement intended.
Sorry, it took me so long. I can only offer some lame excuses but (as always) I promise improvement. ;-) Thanks for all your great reviews for chapter one! You guys seriously rock!!
And a huge bear-hug to Maria for the beta. Thanks, boo!
Hope you enjoy!
Deep concern was etched into Logan's features as he bent over the beautiful dark haired girl, now bedded on his sofa. He held one of Max's hands, stroking her palm with his thumb. "It's going to be alright," he murmured softly, hoping against hope it would really be, cold fear reaching with icy fingers for the core of his soul.
This seizure would pass, sure. Everything was going to go back to normal for Max, eventually, at least for a couple of weeks or even months. And then? They had to do something! (He had to do something!) He couldn't bear the thought that Max never got the chance to leave Manticore behind for good. And he didn't even know if those seizures weren't going to get worse one day or if the seizures would get Max in a moment when she couldn't afford being slowed down by physical weakness.
Max was pale, incredibly pale. Some strands of her dark hair framed her face, sticking damply to her skin. Her violent seizures had eased a bit, turning into weak quivers, showing how exhausted she was. And it hurt him almost physically to see the strong, vibrant girl so weak.
Max had cracked her eyelids open about half an hour ago, squinting into the soft candlelight, shaking violently. Strong emotions had been reflected in her eyes: fear, confusion and pure relief when she'd finally recognized him. She'd whispered his name as if he was her savior, her dark eyes closing again, a tiny tear escaping the corner of her eye. Then she'd drifted off into her own world again.
"You are safe here." Logan's voice sounded soothing, convincing.
He could see the rapid movement of Max's eyes behind closed lids, and somehow he knew instinctively that he had to keep talking. He told her about the breakfast he'd prepare for them in the morning, when she got better; he described every ingredient, every detail, his voice sounding like rain drumming softly, steadily on the rooftop.
He wouldn't let Manticore drag her away in one of those seizure induced flashbacks!
Max has come to me for help, Logan thought, a warm feeling building in the pit of his stomach. She trusted him enough to show her weakness, turned to him for protection. A wry smile crossed his face. And she knows I have always a stack of Tryptophan handy and a bottle of milk in my fridge … especially after Cindy and Kendra had gotten rid of her meds and had unknowingly landed her in Langford three months ago.
The hackles on the back of his neck rose as he thought about the fiasco. It had been a close call. They'd had to smuggle Tryptophan into the prison, and Lydecker had suddenly busted in full force, his men crawling all over the place …
Deep inside him Logan knew Max trusted him. She'd begged him to stay with her during her last seizure. The tough smart-mouthed ex-super-soldier had been gone then, showing the hurt 19-year old girl inside. He couldn't even begin to imagine how helpless she felt during a seizure, how frightened she was when her past suddenly caught up with her, how much pain she had to endure.
… Logan … don't leave me … she'd pleaded in his dream, touching his soul.
"I thought a lot of you lately," Logan suddenly admitted with a faint smile, tracing her hairline with the tip of his index finger, wondering how he could dare to confess something like this, even if Max wasn't able to hear him. (Or was she?) A soft blush crept over his cheeks and he unconsciously rubbed his right hand over the back of his head, his left still holding Max's hand. His green eyes shone with intensity, and despite his embarrassment he added: "There's this dream … that feels just so real …"
Logan exhaled the air in a rush. He couldn't help but feel stupid, telling Max about the dream. They weren't "like this" after all. They'd drawn this invisible line, and it was essential they didn't overstep it. Wasn't it? Their "quid pro quo" was what held them together – he helped her locate her siblings and Max … Max risked her neck for him in his Eyes Only crusade.
Not exactly something to keep her safe, Logan thought guiltily, his eyes taking in the beautiful face in front of him, the sudden urge to protect the girl awaking inside him.
Knight in shining armor – yeah, right, Logan thought. It's more like guy in a wheelchair, trying to save the world. And Max? She is an X5, a genetically engineered super-soldier. She doesn't need your protection.
But at the moment she does, a stubborn voice inside him insisted. Logan shook his head, not willing to deal with this tonight. He stroked her forehead, noticing with a start how hot her skin felt.
"Whenever there's a quiet moment the dream seems to lure me in," he carried on. He couldn't seem to stop.
"Everything is tinted in warm, orange light and 'Sibelius' plays in the background. There are tiny light bulbs scattered about the room, and you … you wear this beautiful white evening gown." He smiled softly, feeling himself slip out of reality, again. Time drifted away, unnoticed, as Logan let himself be captured by a world of orange.
Damn, he thought with a start, not sure how much time had passed. Seconds? Minutes? He forced himself to focus. Max needed him! He wasn't going to let her down.
Logan noticed that her slight tremors were changing into more violent seizures again.
"I'm sorry, Max." His voice was raspy now, tinged with emotion. "I just hope we'll find something to get rid of those damn seizures." He felt her grip around his hand tighten and whispered: "Just hold on. It's gonna be alright … I promise."
Max felt weak, incredibly weak. Her legs were as heavy as sandbags and her knees felt like rubber. Each step was a new challenge and as much as she pushed herself, she didn't seem to move. She was marching uphill through knee-deep mud. Each tiring step was followed by a gurgling noise. Gunfire sounded behind her, and she could hear awful cries in the distance.
Up … up … up …, an insistent voice inside her dragged her forward, and she could do nothing but obey and put one quivering foot in front of the other. She was breathing heavily and her heart was beating out of her chest, cold sweat forming on her forehead. Every muscle inside of her protested against the movement, arms and legs burning in exhaustion. But still, she knew, she couldn't allow herself to stop.
Glimmering orange light was shining enticingly on top of that apparently invincible mountain. That's what kept her going … and the cold, all consuming fear of the darkness that lingered below, licking with an eager tongue for her, reaching out with its bony fingers.
"No", she screamed and stumbled forward. Her whole body was now shaking violently as a new wave of seizures hit, her pace changing into wobbly staggering. An icy breath of wind met the back of her neck. It smelled rotten. She had to hurry. Up … up … up! –Into safety, where the orange light glimmered, and where a soft voice was calling for her … away from darkness and condemnation.
"Coward, traitor, deserter," a cold voice whispered behind her, and once again the rotten smell met her sensitive nose. Max wanted to clasp her hands over her ears, but she couldn't. She needed them to keep her balance, to grab a brush when she was struggling and to steady herself when she reached one of the rocks that were scattered like obstacles on her way upwards.
Why was everything so gray? Had so many rocks blocked her way before?
Her heart seemed to drop.
"You'll never leave Manticore behind, 452," the voice was back again, rattling through the cold air like gunfire. "We've ways to treat your seizures," the voice was carrying on, ingratiating now, filling her head. "You can always come home."
An icy chill crawled through her body.
Up, up, up … Max wanted to run. She couldn't give in. But the way seemed endless, the morass weakening her with every step she took, the steep ascent slowing her down. Max clenched her teeth. She used the yellow-gray wisps of grass and weeds to drag herself out of the mud. Her shoes and jeans were wet and dirty, and her fingernails were already splintered.
"It's going to be alright," a soft voice told her from the top of the mountain.
Max tilted her head. The heaviness of her legs eased a bit and she managed a few fast steps upward, warmth spreading out inside her. UP, up, up, her mind yelled at her. The orange light was waiting for her … and the voice … (she knew that voice).
"You are safe here," it now promised soothingly.
A few rocks that seemed to have blocked her way upward miraculously vanished, and the ground got a bit harder. New energy pulsated through her. And the voice was still echoing through her head, dragging her forward like an invisible rope. The first rays of light met her face, and Max breathed a silent sigh of relief. She just had to keep walking.
"I thought a lot of you lately," the voice made her dizzy. She wanted to contain those words, wanted to stash them somewhere in a secret corner of her mind. Max urged the voice to keep talking. She longed desperately for the next words, and finally it spoke again: "There's this dream … that feels just so real …"
The dream … yeah … she knew about the dream. Max felt a soft smile touch the corners of her mouth. They'd been so close … dancing … and all this orange light had been glimmering about them.
She had to lie down for a moment she decided, when a new bundle of warm light met her face. She just wanted to make sure she didn't miss a single word the voice was saying.
"Whenever there's a quiet moment the dream seems to lure me in," the soft voice carried on, enveloping her like a protecting blanket.
The earth beneath her was dry now, the grass creating a comfortable bed for her. It felt good to stretch her hurting legs, orange light tickling the tip of her nose. Birds were chirping in the distance and the steady hum of bees filled her head until the voice pushed every other noise aside … easily.
"Everything is tinted in warm, orange light and 'Sibelius' plays in the background … there are tiny light bulbs scattered about the room, and you … you wear this beautiful white evening gown … "
Max could hear the smile that accompanied the voice. She could see the scene quite clearly in front of her inner eye, and slowly the dream began to lure her in. She felt so relaxed, so tired. Never waking up again? Fine with her.
But a small, dutiful part inside of her knew that she had to get up. She couldn't afford dreaming. Up, up, up, the annoying part of her urged, trying to drag her up.
And suddenly a first whisper of cool air met the back of her neck. Max shivered, her eyes snapping open again. The orange shine was gone. Only gray twilight remained. The birds had fallen silent and everything seemed lifeless and deserted. Dark clouds covered the sky, and the temperature was dropping within seconds to a freezing coldness.
Max jumped up, her throat dry. Fear was crawling through her, and she shivered again, teeth clattering.
"You are a soldier," the cold, rough voice was back again. "Fear accomplishes nothing!"
Max swiveled around, dropping into a fighting stance.
The scenery had changed again. Snow was covering the ground and dark firs surrounded her. Gunfire sounded in the distance, and the loud hum of snowmobiles approached. The last bit of light had been sucked up by an all consuming darkness.
Max's heart was hammering against her ribcage. After a few long seconds she loosened her stance and turned around. Her bare feet were almost numb from the snow, and the hum of the snowmobiles got dangerously close. Here and there a stream of their headlights already penetrated the darkness. And finally Max started to run. She blurred from one tree to the next and tried to avoid bigger clearings.
She was fast. But the noise behind her got louder with every elapsing second. The rotten smell threatened to take her breath, and once again exhaustion overwhelmed her. Dogs barked in the distance and angry orders were yelled.
She had to run. Wasn't there a tiny beam of orange light in the distance?
And suddenly the woods cleared. Max was moving in a zigzag now, mobilizing all of her strength, crossing the dangerous area at impossible speed. She needed some kind of cover … and she needed it fast! Tiny light points already drew a wobbly pattern on the white blanket of snow that covered the ground.
Hurry up, Max! The girl thought wildly.
And abruptly a loud crack echoed through the air, silencing every other noise. Time screeched to a halt.
Max felt herself falling … like in slow motion.
She crashed through the ice into icy cold water.
This couldn't happen – again!
Max closed her eyes. She tried to steady her racing heartbeat, fought to block out the numbing coldness.
There are no limits. What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve, her former mentor's voice told her with conviction.
"Just hold on. It's gonna be alright … I promise." Logan's voice chimed in ... softly …soothingly.
Max opened her eyes again and noticed two men above her, both reaching out a hand through the cracked ice to save her.
xxxxxxxx To Be Continued xxxxxxxx
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