I don't own Dark Angel. Shocking, I know.

This is a Christmas story for Mia, who asked for a different setting, a peep show, Max having a very human reflex, and romance. I appreciate her not asking for an intricate plot as well, since they're just way too time consuming for me lately.

Mia, if this is too angsty for your taste, there's a gift receipt taped to the back...or you could always re-wrap it and give it to someone else.

Thanks to Shy for the ultra-rapid detox beta. Any remaining errors are obviously the result of me foolishly ignoring her sound advice.

Close Call

The motel room was ugly. Seedy and dirty and cheap. Its only redeeming qualities were the quiet back alley that kept Logan's vehicle out of view from the main road and the fact that the oily manager was willing to accept the folded wad of bills Logan handed him without asking any questions. It was the sort of establishment that frequently rented rooms for cash, sometimes by the hour, so the proprietor merely passed him a key and gave him an understanding leer. Logan valiantly tried to ignore it, knowing he should be grateful that the sleazy clerk was more focused on the sway of Max's hips than on the bloodstain that was beginning to seep through her clothing.

As soon as they reached the sanctuary of the room, Logan bolted the door and took one last look out the window to assure himself that they had not been followed. Max sank down onto the bed and gingerly removed her jacket, wincing as she tried to avoid touching the gunshot wound on her side.

She lifted the side of her shirt and craned her head to examine the injury. The bloody gash on the back side of her ribcage was turning bluish, and her skin looked sickly pale in the shadows cast from the neon sign outside their window. It hadn't really hurt until she looked at it, but once she caught a glimpse of the blood running down her flank, she felt chilled and light headed.

"Let me help you," Logan said, moving to her side.

"It was just a graze," Max said through chattering teeth. "I can take care of it."

"You can't even reach it," Logan pointed out. "I'll just wash it and put some medication on it." He pulled up the tacky polyester bedspread and carefully tucked it around her lap for warmth before opening the bag of first aid supplies he had carried in from the car. He rummaged through it, lining up what he thought he would need. He hesitated for only the briefest moment before he asked, "Can you take off your shirt?"

"Most men at least buy me dinner first," she quietly teased. "I thought you were a romantic, Logan."

"Nope, not me. I'm just a guy willing to mop up the blood. Now strip. I promise I won't look," he assured her with dry sincerity as he played along and tried not to show his concern about the waver in her voice. He left her side to fill the motel's ice bucket with warm water from the sink, mixing in a few drops of sterilizing liquid and soaking a cloth from the small pile of mismatched linens stacked in the bathroom.

"I think I should be insulted," she replied. Max carefully peeled her top away and Logan returned in time to help her gently pull it over her head. She shivered more violently and Logan pulled the blanker higher, over her chest and shoulders, covering her exposed arms bet leaving him free to see the injury. He gave her good shoulder a reassuring squeeze through the blanket before gently raising her bra a few inches and washing the blood away.

"You always keep all these first aid supplies with you?" she asked, mostly to distract herself from the uncomfortable procedure she knew was coming.

"Yeah, you never know when somebody is going to shoot at you. I learned that the hard way. Max, are you sure you don't want a doctor?"

"No. Doctors have this annoying habit of calling police when they see gunshot wounds. It's a turn-off. Besides, I heal fast."

Her bravado was disproved when Logan began to rinse out the wound, causing her to hiss sharply through clenched teeth. "I'm sorry. I'm trying not to hurt you," he said, his voice low and soothing.

"I know," she murmured softly. Logan repositioned himself behind her and Max closed her eyes, calmed by his proximity and gentle hands as he worked around the gash. A small sigh escaped her, his touch was so calming, taking away all her pain, lulling her into a state of contentment. She couldn't remember when she had ever been this close this long to Logan, and knowing she could depend on him in times like this gave her a comforting, relaxed feeling. She allowed herself to finally submit to the weariness that had threatened to overtake her since the attack and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder as he carefully cleaned and bandaged the wound.

Logan responded with a small, thoughtful smile that he knew Max couldn't see and leaned to the side so she could rest against him while he worked. He was touched by the amount of trust she put in him. It was so rare that Max allowed herself to depend on anyone, and for a brief moment he allowed himself to feel the calm happiness that went along with being needed.

It almost erased that dread he'd felt when he heard the gunshots, the absolute terror as she flung herself into the backseat, clutching her side with her hands drenched in blood, screaming at him to go.

"You were lucky, this won't even need stitching. A few more inches and it could have gone right through your heart. You had a close call tonight, you know."

Since their getaway, the realization of just how close that call could have been was at the forefront of Logan's mind. All the action and their perilous getaway had caused a lot of emotions to resurface; emotions that Logan had buried shortly after his own near fatal meeting with a bullet. The fact of the matter was that the idea of anything happening to Max was gut wrenching. Thinking about what could have been made him very aware of Max's proximity, her being here with him, leaning against him, very much alive and starting to warm up as she rested against his chest. Her hair was soft against the side of his face as he moved to bandage the cut and the feel of her bare skin under his fingers as he took care of her made Logan very, very grateful for her continued presence.

"There," he said softly, with one final feather light touch that was as close to a caress as he dared. "All better."

"Thanks," Max said, her voice barely above a whisper, turning her head and smiling her gratitude into eyes that watched her intently.

Logan nodded, unable to respond. He tried desperately to force himself to breathe evenly.

A thousand emotions raged inside him: the need for the woman who had so miraculously dropped through his skylight and into his life, the fear for what almost had -and still might- happen to her, the guilt that somehow he had brought it on. He knew it was so wrong to want her the way he did, but it still took all his will power not to run his hands over her body, to hold her close so he could feel her melt against him.

His lips were mere inches from hers, so inviting. He was caught in an aching desire to touch her, to finally connect and wordlessly communicate all the fire and longing that he could no longer suppress, so he leaned a little closer.

Max looked up into his face and saw a flash of raw need in his eyes before he looked away, making her breath catch in her throat. But she didn't move away from him. Her head tilted slightly upward.

Logan continued to slowly close the distance between them, all the while knowing this was probably a bad idea but no longer caring. All that mattered right now was she there with him, alive and kicking and so near. Everything else would sort itself out.

Probably.

Maybe.

As her lips came close to brushing against his, concern was the farthest thing from his mind.

Just before he kissed her, he was startled by a loud noise and Max violently jerked away from him. His gaze shot up to her face and he registered her look of shock and surprise. Then he heard the noise again.

Hiccup!

Max's look of shock turned to embarrassment as it happened a third time, and Logan couldn't help but grin. "I didn't think a genetically enhanced super soldiers could get the hiccups," he said.

"We don't…Hiccup…usually."

"Do you want some water?" he volunteered, and Max nodded frantically, holding her breath. By the time he returned with the glass, she was sitting straight up on the bed with her legs crossed and the bedspread wrapped tightly around her. He handed it to her and she gulped it gratefully.

She looked distinctly awkward, he had a blush lingering on his cheeks and the back of his neck, and they both avoided eye contact with each other.

Logan suppressed his emotions while Max suppressed her hiccups, and by the time she finished drinking, they were both under control. Both remembered the need to preserve the delicate balance of their quid pro quo relationship, and the reckless moment of carelessness was gone.

But it had been a close call.

Remember, Santa puts coal in your stocking if you don't leave a review.

Merry Christmas!