When Bling heard the distant sound of guns, echoing in the stillness of the night, they were already out on street, finally on their way to get Logan into medical care.
He cringed, yet at the same time increased the pressure of his foot on the accelerator, knowing they couldn't go back for help, hoping that Max's siblings were okay.
A short peek into the back-mirror confirmed that Max was having the same thoughts. Her conflicted expression told Bling quite clearly that if she wasn't holding Logan, she would try make him stop the car and go back to the fighting.
Logan ,however, looked far too untroubled for someone who had several painful injuries. From the slightly awkward position in Max's arms in which Bling had positioned him earlier, he had somehow managed to wriggle back into a position that under different circumstances would have made them seem like a happy, sleeping couple. Otherwise this would have been a welcome sight to Bling, now it just made him speed even more, scared by the fact that Logan's body shut down like that. Bling just hoped that it was just his mind's way of blocking out the pain, not the ongoing effect of his concussion.
Luckily only two checkpoints separated the airport from Metro Medical and these were passed quickly with the discreet use of some of the stack of cash Logan kept in the car for emergencies like this.
Arriving at the hospital, Bling decided to forego the waiting lines of the emergency room by using his employee's key card allowing him direct access to the garage. Telling a concerned-looking Max to wait for just a moment, he jogged toward the elevator, at the same time pulling out his cell phone to alert Dr. Carr of their arrival.
Only five minutes later he was back with two nurses and a stretcher on which they placed a still unconscious Logan. The bulky hospital wheelchair Bling brought in case the sonic device also might have thrown Max's sense of equilibrium was rejected with a disdainful glare as she started to stagger after the nurses carrying Logan away.
Sam Carr may have been shocked at the state he found his patient in upon arrival, but he maintained his calm professionalism as he assessed Logan's injuries. He even managed to stay focused and objective when Max barked the sharp order, "No records!" in his ear and insisted Logan be kept out of public areas. He had long ago stopped trying to figure out what kind of investigative reporting came with so many gunshot wounds. He simply moved him into an operating room with no windows or gallery and went to work on removing the bullet from Logan's leg.
Max had refused to leave his side, and because she looked as though she would violently clobber anyone who dared to quote hospital policy at her, she was allowed to remain. She kept a silent vigil in the corner, her gaze focused on Logan's face and her thoughts racing violently, at odds with her still demeanor, anxiously observing while Dr. Carr and his assistants did their work.
After what felt like thirty years but was in reality probably closer to thirty minutes, Dr. Carr paused and approached Max. He ordered her to sit down, then asked a nurse to order her a large breakfast tray with a pitcher of orange juice.
"I'm fine, just worry about helping him," spat Max, wondering just how hard she would have to beat the man before he made Logan's health his top priority.
"I am worried about him," the doctor explained. "Very worried. He's lost a lot of blood, Max. More than we have stored here; his blood type is too rare to keep in stock. He's not going to survive without a transfusion, and I know that you can do that for him. But honestly, you look like you've been through hell and back today and I'm not sure you can spare any in the shape you're in. So sit down, eat something, and don't waste all your energy fighting with me. We'll get him through this." And with the reassuring smile that only a physician can pull off, Dr. Carr returned to his patient.
Max obediently sat down and drank the large glass of water the nurse brought her, grateful that Zack had given her enough revved up Manticore blood that she could afford to share a few pints with Logan.
"Dr. Carr, you can go ahead and start the transfusion; I'll be fine and I can eat as soon as it comes," Max insisted. "If he needs blood..." She was interrupted by a technician entering the surgical suite, pushing a large machine.
"He'll be okay to wait a few minutes, Max. I have a more things I need to do first, and Bling said that within the last few hours, you had a mysterious virus, and got zapped with some sort of sonic neuro scrambler a couple times." He shook his head in amazement as he worked, muttering almost to himself, "when we get Logan past all this and you feeling better, I want you to sit me down and remind me to not let my children become journalists – or their sidekicks."
A new thought occurred to her. "Do you think the virus will mess up the blood transfusion?"
He shook his head. "The antibiotic you took will follow along and we'll hope for the best. It's worth the risk, Max," he told her as he saw her worry. "We'll give him some more of the antibiotic as a precaution and we'll be alright." Max watched as Sam, almost silently, directed the technician to move the machine around an unconscious, bare-chested Logan, watching as he moved back up to take a closer look at his shoulder, then moving down to touch the vicious purple bruising over his ribs. "What did this, do you know?"
"A boot, covering a sadistic foot. Are his ribs broken?"
"We'll see in a minute. We'll do CT scans of everything, to be safe. Given that all this started with a collision, and then he was bashed around, who knows what all may have been injured."
Her breakfast arrived almost immediately after they started, and Max dutifully drank two large glasses of juice before diving in to the double-order breakfast that had just been delivered to her, barely tasting it. Almost afraid to ask, she tried, "do you think ... other than the blood loss ... he has any serious injuries?"
Sam frowned. "I don't like the fact we haven't been able to rouse him," he admitted. "But it hasn't been too long yet. And maybe that premium blood you'll give him will help things along." He managed to lift his frown back to a hopeful look, and pushed surgical bed up beside Logan's. "Eat up, Max. I'm about ready for you."
Bling couldn't help but smile as he looked in at Max and Logan. Max had forgone the second bed that Sam had arranged for her and was curled up beside Logan, her head resting on his shoulder. A faint smile had appeared on each of their faces; no one seeing them like this could doubt that they were deeply in love.
"They look sweet together, don't they," said Sam, coming up behind him. "I wondered the first time around if she was his girlfriend."
"If either of them heard you say that, they'd deny it," replied Bling with a grin.
"Those two are so far in denial, they're bringing back tacky model pyramids."
"Really? Huh. Then I wonder why they're both smiling like that."
"Your guess is as good as mine, Doc."
Max found herself in a place she'd been once before. She smiled, in anticipation of what was going to happen next as the familiar strains of Sibelius swelled around her.
The elegant dress clung to her curves as she descended the stairs to where Logan waited for her, that same smile on his scruffy cheeks.
"Is it just me, or have we been here before?" She asked.
"I'm definitely feeling déjà vu," Logan replied. "But in that good way."
"Then I guess we should follow the script." She held out her arms. "Dance with me."
Logan's smile widened and he rose from his chair, sending it rolling backwards out of sight. He stepped into her embrace and they began to dance.
"Don't let go," said Max, pressing her face into his chest, inhaling his scent.
"I won't," Logan replied, squeezing her hand.
"Logan…" Max said, meeting his eyes, beseeching, their lips so close now. "Don't leave me…"
He leaned down to kiss her, but just as their lips touched a sound shattered the dreamworld around them. She felt a fine, warm spray across her face as Logan jerked in her arms, and went limp.
Max caught him, supporting his weight. "Logan! Logan, can you hear me?" She lowered him to the ground and cradled his head in her lap. "Logan?"
The brilliant eyes were staring at her, strangely empty. And then she saw the hole the bullet had made as it passed through his temple. For the first time, she saw that her hands and dress were covered in blood.
"Logan… No… No, Logan, please, you promised… you promised me…" Max began to cry as she pressed her face against his neck.
"I tried to warn you, Max," said Lydecker, stepping towards them, gun in hand.
"Emotions are weakness; and soldiers can't afford to be weak. Too bad he had to pay the price."
"Why? Why, damn you?!" she demanded through her tears.
"He was a liability. He made you vulnerable. And now you're safe." Lydecker gave her a sick little smile and walked away, leaving Max on the ground clutching at her dead love's body.
The smile Sam and Bling saw on Max's face suddenly contorted as her body seized and she shook with a sudden, violent tremor. Both men rushed to her side.
"Sam, her seizures have never been this abrupt, or violent," Bling began.
"Get her over to the other bed – " Sam quickly detached the tubing connecting the two during the transfusion, "she's either going to crack another few of Logan's ribs or start his leg bleeding again, at this rate. Any medication allergies that you know of, for her?"
"No–" Bling bore the still thrashing Max, her seizure not quite as strong as it was initially but still taking her over, onto the other bed. He glanced at Logan, whose color was decidedly better – after twenty minutes with Max's blood going into him, his own body was being given a boost, yet again.
"And she said it's from a serotonin deficiency?" The doctor asked.
"She either doesn't produce it or doesn't produce enough," Bling admitted. "She self-doses with tryptophan, which usually quiets the symptoms within thirty minutes or so."
Sam just grimaced, shaking his head, and he called over a nurse, reeling off a series of medications and dosages as he looked at Logan's readings. "Damn it, why didn't they just tell me about that before?" The doctor clearly didn't look too concerned about either of them now, Bling realized. With a final check of Logan, Sam glanced over at the therapist to add, "well, at least while she's here we can get her stabilized."
"The seizures?" Bling asked, surprised.
"Sure – and the serotonin production. We can get her on a couple meds that will clear all that right up. Hell, you know as well as I do, Bling – if something can be fixed pretty well with home remedies – we ought to be able to knock all of the problems with a prescription or two." He even smiled a little. "Maybe within all this mess, a little good will come of whatever this was, after all."
Logan drifted in and out of consciousness. His body ached with soreness and his eyelids were too heavy to lift. Traces of his favorite dream washed over him and he remembered holding Max close and leading her out on a dance floor. He remembered his hand on the small of her back as they moved in perfect sync with each other, they way she looked up at him with so much emotion in her beautiful eyes, the softness of her lips as he leaned in for a precious kiss. Then his mind had pulled away from the bucolic fantasy, swimming through a dense haze to suddenly resurface, disoriented but finally somewhat alert.
He knew he was lying in a bed of some sort, but he didn't know where, and his eyes still refused to open. He felt stiff, the dull burning in his shoulder threatening to mask all other sensations. As he slowly became more aware of his surroundings, he recognized a gentle weight on his chest. He felt soft hair graze across his throat, and knew Max was beside him. She smelled like dirt and blood and gunpowder and sweat and strawberries and orange blossoms and sunshine and hope. Everything would be alright now.
He felt Max suddenly stiffen, gasp and jerk away from him. He wanted to bring her back to his chest again, to keep holding her, but he still couldn't manage to make his arm move. He could feel her trembling in seizure but he couldn't do anything about it in his weakened state. As she thrashed against his gunshot wound in her helpless frenzy, he felt a sudden, painful, almost-overwhelming-but-strangely-welcome stinging in his leg.
Lydecker, Zack, Syl, Zane, Jondy and Tinga stood outside the warehouse, leaning back against their SUV. The flickering fire illuminated their faces in a warm, orange glow.
Between them, the weakened Zack and Lydecker had gone through the warehouse with ruthless efficiency. Each enemy had received a single bullet to the head and then been piled up in the centre of the hangar and doused in airplane fuel. Renfro's X5s alone had been spared; they were tied up in the Red's truck.
When the area had been cleared, Lydecker tossed his lighter onto the pile of bodies. The fire would cauterize the site; and no one who hadn't been there would ever know exactly what had happened.
"Logan is going to be pissed when he finds out about this," remarked Syl.
"It was necessary. Next time, the South Africans will think twice before they try to come after Manticore transgenics," replied Lydecker, matter of factly. "Including Max."
"D'you think Manticore will go after Logan?" Asked Jondy. "Renfro knew who he was."
"Doubtful. That bitch always liked to keep useful information to herself; she probably killed the techs who found him as soon as they gave her the news."
"Wow; for once, Renfro's sadism is actually good for us. Who'da thunk?" Said Zane.
Lydecker stood up straight and stretched a little.
"The authorities will be here soon," he said. "And the mission is complete. Let's move out."
"Woah, woah,woah," said Jondy. "This was a one time deal, Lydecker, to get Max out of trouble. We're not gonna be your personal hit squad any more."
"I'm not asking you to. But I will need your assistance in breaking Manticore's control over our prisoners. Unless you want to have to kill them too."
The X5s all instinctively looked at Zack.
"You're a devious son of a bitch, Lydecker," he said.
"Thank you," the Colonel replied. "Now, come on, back to base. I'm sure Max has her hands full with Cale's injuries."
Before Max was even aware of her surroundings, she ached; heartbreak throbbed at the core of her being as she felt before she thought, tears stinging her eyes...
A sob escaped her throat as in her despair, she knew she couldn't deal with this anymore, with the pain she brought those around her ... the pain she brought him...
She was dreaming. He'd lay in her arms, lifeless and still, she remembered; the voice was his but there were no such thing as ghosts...
His voice was more insistent now, and Max fought the fog to open her eyes and see him, Logan, in a bed across from hers, his initial look of concern quickly giving way to a wide, winning smile as she stared at him, blinking her disorientation.
This was still a dream ... wasn't it? Logan, battered and bruised, the skin that wasn't discolored, scraped, parts that weren't scraped, swollen... yet he beamed at her as if it was a day at the beach, happy and carefree ... almost an obscenity, that smile of happiness on a face so abused...
She fought her way up and found an IV line in her arm, which she pulled out. Get out now, before anyone else dies. If Logan is dead, there's no reason to stay; if he's alive ... leaving now might spare his life...
"Max, no; wait ... what are you doing? You can't leave yet; Sam said you need ..."
On her feet she was unsteady, the worried voice working to hold her from escaping. She grabbed the bed rail and straightened, forcing herself to take a few deep breaths and keep her eyes off the man she'd nearly destroyed, lying in the bed beside her. Without a word, she pushed herself toward the door.
"Max!" His voice, forceful and full of worry for her, stopped her in the doorway, where she clung for support, not sure if it was more physical support she needed, or the strength to leave him behind and not look back. "Max, please..." She wavered, and tried pushing herself into the hall, but the image of the bruised but happily beaming man, calling to her, wouldn't let her...
"Max–" he spoke again, working on her battered emotions. "Look, I have one good arm and no wheels." There was only a slight pause before he continued, his tone teasing lightly, in his hope she'd listen, "it's not fair to use your special super-hero powers to escape..."
Not fair, Logan? Not far to say it like that, to make me feel guilty... She slowly started to turn, to be so cute and charming, even after being so abused... Involuntarily, her eyes rose slowly to see his green, magical ones watch her in worry as he held out his hand to her.
"Please. Don't go," he was saying. "Not yet..."
"Logan..." she said, resolve weakening. "You died ... in my arms..." She didn't move.
"No, I didn't," his smile softened in sympathetic understanding, "I'm right here. And you're all the way over there."
"I saw you ... unless ... it was..."
"...the dream," he finished for her. "It was, Max. I'm fine."
"It could be real, next time. Next week ... tomorrow..."
"No..." his smile grew again, softly. "No way." He saw that although she was still scared, eyes wild in the throes of her imagination, she was relaxing a little as the images sifted away from the reality around them. "C'mon, Max, come sit here, with me. They keep coming in every hour and making sure I'm awake ... something about a concussion. Of all the times I could use the company of someone who doesn't sleep..."
It was the smile, his charming smile that took no prisoners, that distracted her from noticing that she crept back up to his bedside. His smile widened as she gingerly took the hand he offered, and he drew it to his lips. "That's better," he lay back, looking content. Shoulder tucked close in a sling, white adhesive bandages peeking out across his hairline, purpling skin darkening the scruff along his left jawline, Logan again looked to Max as if he was a part of another surreal hallucination. "Look at you, Logan," she fought her tears, "Lydecker was right, even if he was just a dream. I'm a soldier ... if I give in to these emotions, what can that do to you?"
"Nothing, now. I'm invulnerable."
Max frowned, looking at him closely. Had the concussion scrambled his brains that completely?
Logan saw her worry and urged, "something magical happened out there today, Max. Amid everything else, I finally got the nerve to tell Max Guevarra I loved her. And she didn't run away. Not only that ... she said she loved me too. And I got one hell of a big kiss out of the deal." His smile by this time was positively euphoric, and he watched her carefully. "And there's more," he baited.
She finally started to give in, a little, to believe that this was reality, the other the dream. A small smile dared to begin as she asked, "what if I don't ask?" she teased.
"Well, then I'll just have to show you." He nodded toward the bed, and when Max glanced down, in only another moment, she saw his right knee flex, at least an inch off the bed. Her eyes went wide and she looked back to him, afraid that yet again, she might have unwittingly set in motion something that would only hurt him. His wide, happy smile broke her heart...
"Logan," she whispered, "is it because..."
"The friendly folks at Manticore again," he nodded. "Pretty quick this time, though, isn't it?"
Her brow clouded, and she tightened her grip on his hand unconsciously. "It might all happen again, Logan, like before, we can't know..."
His look softened for her, but he didn't break. "Maybe so. I know it may just be temporary, – but I won't waste it this time. Besides," he shrugged his good shoulder, "neither of us knew this was coming back when you told me you loved me. In fact, I was flat on my ass on the floor. If you love me like that..." his hopeful grin made her start to trust that he believed his own words, "just think of how much you could love me when I clean up a little." He looked into her eyes, deeply, and urged, "it will all be fine, Max."
She looked at him in concern, looking for some sign that he didn't really believe what he was telling her. Finding none, she finally began to smile again. Leaning in close, she held up suddenly to say, "what was it you said, 'just one arm?' What about your lips?"
Impossibly, his grin went even wider. "I think they might have a little life left in them." Max leaned over his bedside to kiss Logan warmly, sweetly, no hurry or desperation this time. When she straightened again, he tugged gently on her hand. "C'mon back up here, with me." He could tell that, at the thought, she remembered their shared nightmare once again, and urged, "Hey–" When she looked back at him, he promised, "only good dreams from now on, between us."
The strength of his belief drew her even closer, and gingerly ... carefully ... Max crawled into the narrow bed, beside Logan.
The Very Happy End
That's so much for reading. We may bring you a sequel someday, since we had so much fun with this one. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
A prelude to Part II...
Bling hurried into the room, waking both Max and Logan from their pleasant doze in one another's arms.
"Bling?" Said Logan sleepily. "What's wrong?"
"I hate to interrupt you two lovebirds, but Logan, you really need to see this." He switched on the small TV in the corner and a snowy news report of a very familiar scene met their eyes.
"This was the scene at Wharton airfield late last night as a fire ripped through the main hangar," said the unrealistically blond anchor, as the picture changed to an obviously amateur video. The whole building was a fireball; flames reached hundreds of feet into the air, illuminating the overwhelmed firefighters who had given up trying to put it out and were simply trying to stop it spreading.
The screen cut back to the anchor, standing in front of the still smoking ruins.
"The causes of the fire are not currently known, but police and firefighters have not yet eliminated arson. This morning, there are unconfirmed reports that fire investigators made a grizzly discovery at the site in the form of human remains; it is possible that the building was torched to cover up evidence of the crime. There are believed to be at least ten bodies, perhaps many more. We'll bring you more details on this horrible incident as we get them. Police will be giving a press conference later today to confirm these details. I'm Stacey Johnson, at Wharton airfield for Channel 21 news."
Bling turned off the TV.
"The others..." said Max, fearfully. "We heard the gunfire; how could we not go back?"
Logan, too shocked and appalled to speak, simply met her eyes, watching as they filled with tears.
"We'll find them, Max," he promised. "And if anything's happened to them, we'll catch those responsible."