Disclaimers: Characters courtesy of Dark Angel. No profits made.
A/N: A slightly belated Christmas lagniappe... Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't try a little Christmas story with our favorite couple... even if it's S2! Would very much like to hear what you think...
Many thanks to Mari & Griever for reading a rough draft as this was being patched together. Merry Christmas and all holiday joy, everyone!
Santa's Little Helper
18, 2020, 5:22 a.m.
Rural King County, Washington
He'd had to clear off the road in a couple spots, seeing it was probably unused for many months, and the fallen branches were too large for non-enhanced types to move, anyway. He pulled up in front of what had to be Cale's cabin, by location and description, and saw that from the outside it didn't look too bad.
But the inside ... just as trashed as Logan's penthouse had been, but with broken furniture and shredded upholstery rather than busted up computer parts and confetti'd electronics. Alec sighed, and got to work cleaning up the place.
He thought about the past year as he worked. So they'd finally gotten rid of White and his crew of whacked-out culties ... so they'd finally managed to outlast the wild-eyed fear and prejudice Seattle had for his 'kind,' and had settled into an uneasy acceptance on both sides, the more 'normal' of them like himself and Max and her X-5 escapee-siblings leading the way to let the city see they were just ordinary people, trying to get by...
Well, okay. Not so ordinary. But trying to get by, to fit in, to just have a shot at making a life. Pretty universal a desire...
Yeah, no shit, universal. Something they'd not gotten rid of – the damn Manticore-planted virus that permeated the whole of Terminal City when they'd all been stuck there, affecting them all, even if only indirectly. It vibrated in the air every time Max was around, especially near Logan. Maybe only Logan would actually get those weird hives and end up dead from it, but it reached out to affect them all, because, whether she wanted it or not, Max was and always would be their leader, the prodigal child who returned to set them all free. They owed her that much, as their original C.O. on the outside, to respect her position as their commander. They drew from her strength – but suffered with her pain.
And the virus was killing Max, breaking her heart in tiny stages, every day ... killing Logan in the same way, which in turn made it harder on her...
Crap. All this angst, their ache for each other... hell, you could practically feel it in the air; it oozed out of them and brought everyone down, weighing down every transgenic as if they were all plague carriers, too... It had sucked Alec right into things, from Max's using him as an excuse to avoid Logan, making the poor guy think she was doing him,to making him the reason they were apart when Max had to spend the researcher's money saving his damn fool ass...
Or, more precisely, his neck...
Alec worked off his anger at Renfro, at all of them, for fucking up the one thing Max wanted more than anything in her life, by clearing out the ravaged cabin and scrubbing it down in a burst of Manticore-given speed. Well, maybe it will finally be over, he allowed himself to hope. If it works, at least they won't have to face another dead end ... and if does, maybe they'll overlook how they got there...
Two hours and six loads of trash later, he again surveyed the cabin, grudgingly admitting to himself the place looked pretty good, if a bit emptier. Maybe I do this right, they'll let me borrow the place. Could work for a little R & R with the right company...
22, 2020, 11:41 a.m.
Fogle Tower Penthouse
Logan heard the sound of his front door and guessed it was Alec. Harder to tell anymore, with so many of Max's siblings at ease with letting themselves into his place, at all hours. Still, their visits allowed him an extra connection to Max in these days when, sometimes, being around her was almost more painful than not...
"Hey." The familiar, cocky smirk appeared around his recently-repaired divider. "How goes the fight?"
Logan snorted, a weary smile following soon after. Alec was okay ... Logan realized that much of his earlier antipathy for the guy was based on his own frustration and some ... misunderstandings ... that weren't Alec's fault at all. "Plenty of work for anyone who wants to go into the whistle-blowing business." He looked at the transgenic, who, though fairly friendly these days, still rarely came around unless he wanted something. "Something you need?"
"Oh... no, not really ... unless you have some more of that left-over ham..."
Logan rolled his eyes, but he smiled faintly, nodding toward the kitchen. "I do, but no idea how, with everyone dropping by. And I got some pears this morning, at the market. They look pretty good..."
"Thanks." Alec's voice was perfectly light, but he was focused on the refrigerator and went to check the contents, looking closely –
The cranberry juice he'd brought Logan, with his label "For Logan only – Merry Christmas," was the perfect delivery system. Logan had bought into the idea that even his trangenic-repaired spinal cord might be a bit dodgy, still vulnerable to infections more typical of SCI patients, so he still made a habit of drinking cranberry juice as often as he could get it. The large jug was now nearly empty, and Logan seemed healthy and fit – and ready for phase two. Alec quickly made himself a sandwich and came back to where the cyber-journalist worked at his computer.
"Oh, look, I almost forgot." Alec had been well-trained in the art of deception, but for strangers, missions -- not for someone he had started to think of as a friend. He focused. "Doc Foster wants me to get another little blood sample from you – he's testing everyone again, to see if there's any remaining toxic effect from Terminal City. You were there probably longer than anyone outside of the Manticore crowd and your blood levels..."
"Yeah, yeah; I know..." Logan pulled his eyes away and looked up to Alec, again looking as if events were beating him down, even as the situation had in general been improving on all fronts but the virus. "Is there any future in it, really? So what if they decide Terminal City is inhabitable again?"
"Well, as squatters, we might be able to restore the place and end up selling it, or renting it out, or develop the area somehow. A little cash flow..."
Logan considered the idea, smirking at the thought. "Sure, why not? If they force you into the place, you ought to be able to enjoy whatever you can get out of it." He rolled his shoulders tiredly and asked, "so, what do you need? Another vial?"
"No, just the stick – got it right here." Alec pulled out a small blood test probe, still in its sterile paper wrap, and cracked it open. Without saying anything, Logan got up and went down the hall for a moment. On his return, Alec could smell the lingering scent of rubbing alcohol where Logan had swabbed his finger, now well used to the process. Alec flipped off the tip of the mini-syringe and quickly jabbed the tip of Logan's ring finger, allowing the tiny vial's capillary action to fill it with just enough blood for the tests needed, and almost immediately, Alec pulled the slim tube back out and capped it, sliding it back into the paper sleeve before slipping it in his jacket's pocket. "All for the cause, eh?" he tried, hoping that this would be the last time for this ritual. Logan shrugged, again offering a wan smile, not speaking, and Alec was struck with what all this man had borne in recent years, not complaining, most recently risking his health and adding to the danger he faced as Eyes Only by joining in the transgenics' cause in Terminal City...
With any luck, that too might change soon – but until then, Alec had a mission to complete. "I better get back to work. Thanks for lunch – and for the blood; Doc would have killed me if I forgot again." Alec hoped that his reputation for being irresponsible would cover his asking for the sample now, after just saying he'd come by to mooch lunch.
Logan nodded, but for the first time since Alec had been there, his attention focused a little more closely on the man and he said, as he always did when Alec was leaving, "when you see Max..."
"I will," Alec nodded, not needing to hear the rest. He turned quickly to leave. He found himself hoping more fiercely with each visit that the fucking virus could be destroyed, once and for all, before it destroyed Max or Logan one way or the other. Closing the door behind him, Alec turned away from the elevator and eased down the hall, out of sight from anyone who might appear from either the elevator or Logan's front door. Checking to see that the sensor for Logan's security system was still as it was when he rewired it temporarily, he quietly slipped inside the small service room, where the penthouse heating and air conditioning units were tucked away for easy access. Once again lifting off the large vent he'd discovered which allowed him a convenient back way into the place, its sensor also for the moment rerouted so as not to give him away, Alec settled in for the thirty minute wait, craning his extraordinary hearing to focus on Cale's movement and breathing. As of yet hearing nothing amiss, he checked the time as he waited. Forty minutes left before he'd be expected back from lunch ... plenty of time for this, and then for one last stop before heading back...
24, 2020, 3:51 p.m.
"Max – hey, Max..."
She'd no more gotten in the door from her last run when she heard – then saw – Alec threading his way through the bottleneck of messengers circling the table of food in the back, moving her way, to bear down on her. "Oh, no, Alec, whatever it is, no –" she squeezed her eyes shut and held up a hand, as if to hold him off. "We're almost done for the day, I've been going nonstop both here and Terminal City for the whole damn month, and for once, for once, I want a pass so I can just go home and have a long, hot bath..."
"Logan needs our help."
Her eyes flew open to see Alec, looking sober and focused, and she was immediately filled with worry. Her weariness evaporated and she was alert and ready for battle. "What's wrong?"
"He didn't say – just that he needed some back up. He should be at his family's cabin any time now..."
"The cabin was trashed when his penthouse was. He left it like that, and no one's even used it as a safe house since then. Alec, why would he..."
"Max, can we continue this on the road?" Alec actually grabbed Max's upper arm and started walking her back outside. "...'cause I'm thinking that even if you don't 'approve' of his going out there, that's where he's headed, and I don't want to be the one to have to explain to him why we're late..."
Alec was tense, almost angry, trying to get Max moving, and his apparent worry caused Max's to spike up even further. "Alec, what did he say?" She matched his stride as she asked, heading toward her bike as Alec reached his.
"Nothing – but we ought to move, Max, so we'll get there when he does." Alec saw Max glance back inside Jam Pony as an afterthought, clearly wondering about saying something to Normal, and Alec interrupted before she spoke, "look, I cleared it with Normal. Let's just go..."
Max paled at his demeanor and efficiency, merely nodding curtly and revving up her bike. In minutes they were tearing down back streets and winding their way between the friendlier sector checkpoints, and cleared Seattle within fifteen minutes. The sound of their engines vibrated against the overcast sky as the pair streaked out of town, weaving around the slower, family-filled cars dotting the highway. Hating what it might mean, Max found herself more driven, alert and focused than she'd been in many, many long months...
24, 2020, 4:12 p.m.
Rural King County, Washington.Cale Family Cabin
When they neared the cabin, Max saw that the reliable old Aztek was already there, parked at the side of the cabin. Feeling a new wave of nerves, she stopped her bike several hundred yards away in the hope that their engines hadn't alerted the wrong people, and blurred toward the front porch. Although she understood the wisdom of waiting for Alec to join her, so they could go in as a united front if needed, it felt like hours before the two of them made it up the porch steps and peered into the windows...
...Nothing was moving; they saw no one. Alec catching Max's eye, he nodded once and grabbed the doorknob. Trying it once, and finding it open, he slowly opened it and slipped inside, followed immediately by Max. In only a step or two, however, Alec stepped on the throw rug in front of him and as a sound crackled through the silent room, they each reacted by dropping into a defensive-attack posture, ready for any threat – until they realized it had just been something under the rug – some paper or kindling, something hastily hidden to make a warning noise if someone came in.
... and at that, Alec decided to make his move.
"Logan!" he called.
Max's head whipped around to stare at Alec, eyes wide in her angry disbelief that he'd do something so stupid. Darting to the room's perimeter, back to the wall, Max started to edge on further while keeping a furious eye back toward Alec – but for only the moment. Almost immediately, the tall, lanky figure of Logan stepped out, slowly, into the front room from the hall. He held his pistol, but lowered, no longer needed as a defense. "Hey," he began, uneasy himself, then looked to Max, looking surprised. "Max..."
He seemed not to have expected to see her there. "Logan, what's going on?" she asked in her worry, moving closer to him, still cautious. "Are you alone here?"
He nodded, "yeah, Alec had said not to expect anyone else 'til about 5:00."
Max's eyes narrowed and she again looked to Alec. "Alec said?"
Logan saw her reaction and now shared her uncertainly. "Yeah, he said he had an informant who could open up the Mayor's files, with proof that he started working on a plan to shut down Terminal City when we first moved in, starting with falsified readings of its toxicity..."
"Alec said that...?" Her anger erupted, and she strode back to get in Alec's face. "Well, what he told me was that you suddenly needed back up here, no details but we needed to drop everything and get here now to get your back..." Her words, though directed at Logan, were spat full force into the handsome trangenic's face. "So spill it, Alec! What scam are you running now, that you had to make up all this shit to drag both Logan and me up here?"
Alec wavered only a moment, looking at Max's flashing, angry eyes, and wondered in that brief instant what Max would look like if she were happy ... or content ... or at peace. His mouth curled into a small, ironic smile. "A Christmas scam, I guess. A Christmas gift." He allowed his smile to creep a little wider, and he reached to take Max's hand and slowly peeled off the leather glove she wore. "I think this is something you have been waiting for, for a while..."
Her eyes carried confusion, but in the desperate, shattering thread of hope he saw developing there, Alec knew Max understood. "It's a Christmas gift for all of us. Max ... Logan ... with the two of you so damn unhappy, we all are. We all feel it. And it's worse when you both try so hard to deal with it, and do so much for everyone else..." He turned Max around to face Logan and began walking backward toward the hall where Logan stood, drawing Max along. "So, finally, we'll all be happy. Merry Christmas, Max..."
She stopped walking abruptly and snatched her hand away from Alec, pain filling her face. "How do you know, Alec? How can you be sure? This far from the city, if you're wrong, it would take too long to get Logan back for treatment..."
Alec's expression hardened imperceptibly, stung by the idea that she though so little of him, that he'd risk Logan's life so cavalierly. "Yeah, Max, like that didn't occur to me?" he snapped. In the next moment, though, he understood it was less about him, and more about the strain under which they'd been living, and Max's continual fear that she'd slip and destroy the man she loved. He relaxed slightly to say, "he's been exposed three times now – all verified and no effect registered, even on the cellular level. The 'testing' Dr. Foster's been doing has not only been for the effects of Terminal City's toxins – it's been testing the treatment he's been giving Logan..."
Max's eyes darted to Logan, who also looked stunned and shrugged his surprise to her. When Alec saw it, he when on.
"... a low dose, progressive treatment which started with the inactive virus then increasing amounts of active virus added to his system, to innoculate him..."
"That was tried," Max shook her head, "and didn't work..."
"Not long enough, or gradually enough, and not with the live virus. And not with the treatment Dr. Foster provided to you to weaken the strain..."
"Alec, how were we treated without our knowledge?" Logan finally spoke.
Alec turned to face him. "You – most recently with the stash of cranberry juice I brought you. Max, Dr. Foster did a couple targeted treatments on you when he called you in for samples..." Alec saw they were both stunned, riveted, still unable to quite yet believe. "Logan, the last couple blood tests also injected you with some of the virus. Not even a sniffle."
Max stared at Alec again, almost as if she was afraid to look at Logan, and asked, "are you sure it's the same, not coming directly from me?"
Alec nodded. "Checked out several different ways. Look, you think I wanted that on me now, too, Logan drops dead out here and you blame that on me too, for all eternity?" He tried for humor, dark as it was. "Trust me ... this time..." his wry smile lifted, again reaching for Max to draw her closer to Logan. "It's over."
Alec thought he was ready for it, but even he was moved by the sight of Max's large brown eyes as they turned to look achingly at Logan, and the change in them as Logan smiled in his disbelief and took the remaining step between them, lifting his hand to gently cup her cheek in his palm, unprotected, skin to skin. Max's eyes held all fear and hope and wonder as they finally spilled over a full minute after he touched her, his smile growing ever wider, and she finally breathed again in a hiccuped laugh. The kiss which came immediately after was long, hungry ... predestined.
Alec watched for another moment, studying them with a certain satisfaction and relief, and pursed his lips. "So I was thinking," he interrupted. "You'll probably need someone to mind the store while you and Max are getting reacquainted up here..." At his words, Logan and Max slowly pulled apart, only far enough that Logan could turn to the transgenic with an expression of happiness and gratitude. "...so, I can hang out at your place, pick up the newspaper, water the plants, watch for the Bat-signal... I'll give you a call if something comes up I can't handle... or," seeing a humored skepticism appear in Logan's eyes, "if it sounds important, I'll call."
Logan's smile gently widened as he drew Max closer in his arms. "Alec ... that sounds like a terrific idea."
"Good." Alec turned to go, crossing to the front door, feeling the warmth of what had just happened spilling over him from the besotted couple. "Oh – and there's some food in the fridge, and wine in the cupboard. Nothing as fancy as you're used to," he grinned to Logan, "but you'll figure out something."
"Alec..." Logan wavered, and Max turned to look at the transgenic as well. "Thank you..."
"Thank you Alec." Max said softly, smiling, her eyes still wet. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, you two," Alec smiled. And with that, he stepped out and pulled the door closed behind him. As he stepped out on the porch, he listened to the quiet around him, breathed in the sweet lake air and looked at the clear, dimming sky. "Ho ho ho," he whispered to himself, quietly.
...and with a final, relaxed grin to himself, he bounded down the steps and walked across the crisp, dried grass to his bike...