This was written for Insane Troll Logic for the Blah Blah Woof Woof Secret Santa Challenge. She asked for zombies, she got ghosts. Which is kinda close. Also, for the purposes of this story, the events of Hello Goodbye happened a few days before Christmas. Just suspend your disbelief and go with it, okay? Merry Christmas.
A Dark Angel Christmas Carol
Bah freakin' humbug! Max wandered the chilly streets of Seattle, scoffing at the twinkling lights that adorned the occasional window. It pissed her off that people would waste precious electricity on something so frivolous. It pissed her off that people were cutting down trees for no good reason. It pissed her off when people sang those annoying songs about goodwill towards mankind, because they obviously meant the 100% human DNA sort of mankind and not whatever the hell she was made of. It pissed her off that she was getting slammed at work with all the extra deliveries, it pissed her off when people smiled at her and wished her a Merry Christmas, and it really pissed her off that there was a gasoline shortage that prevented her from jumping on her motorcycle and riding the hell out of town where she could get away from all this damned Christmas cheer.
Her life sucked hard enough without having to add a major greeting card holiday. No wonder so many people offed themselves at Christmas time.
Max kicked a piece of garbage out of the street and took stock of how screwed up everything was.
The situation with White was completely out of control.
New transgenics popped up all the time, always in need of rescuing, and no matter how hard she tried to help them all, it was never enough.
So many questions that seemed like they would never get answered: breeding cults and government conspiracies and missing persons and enough stupid, unnecessary drama to make her head swim.
And Logan…she didn't even want to think about how screwed up things were with Logan. He didn't exactly take the break-up well. And how do you break up with a guy that you aren't even really dating anyway? It's not like you can have a serious boyfriend/girlfriend relationship when the girlfriend is poisonous and can kill the boyfriend by standing too close. She was doing the guy a favor!
He didn't seem to appreciate her magnanimous gesture though. According to Logan, he would rather just risk it, and he wasn't exactly pleased at being left out of the decision making process. But Max wasn't willing to take that chance; she had enough on her conscience already and she didn't need to add a dead cyberjournalist to the list, no matter how badly he wanted to hold her hand through mittens.
At least her pager was quiet that night. In the days after she had lied to him about hooking up with Alec, he had called her. A lot. Looking for answers, trying to talk to her, trying to make her explain the things that just didn't make sense. But he hadn't tried calling her at all since yesterday. She spent the day reminding herself that that was a good thing. That was the objective, wasn't it? To get him to leave her alone…Right?
Max sometimes wondered what it would be like to have regular problems. Ordinary people didn't have worries like hers, that was for sure. They worried about keeping their jobs and buying their kids the right Christmas present and whether or not their girlfriends were stepping out on them, not about saving an entire subspecies from persecution from secret government officials and accidentally killing the man she loved with her toxic, genetically altered cooties.
Max was beginning to think that she wanted those regular problems. For the first time in years, she didn't want to be 'Max' – she didn't want to be anyone. She wanted to blend into the scenery and not have any of this crap come back to find her anymore. She didn't want to be an individual, she wanted to be another face in the crowd, and as she kicked another piece of trash off the road, an idea occurred to her.
What was keeping her in Seattle anyway?
For so long Max had fought to stay there, to make it her home. She had defied all her training, and had risked a lot to make a life for herself. Lydecker exploited it, Zack thought she was crazy, but she always dug her heels in and fought to stay.
But why? Seriously, for what?
For a crappy job delivering packages? She could do that anywhere. For her fabulous apartment with the exposed wiring and occasional electricity? She could find another place. (After all, home was where you parked your bike, right?) For her friends? They would get along fine without her. In fact, they would probably be better off without her now that she had White on her ass and all. They were just at risk by knowing her. And Logan? Logan would be better off if she took her pestilent self as far away from him as physically possible before she lost her willpower and showed up on his doorstep again, searching for a home cooked meal and a game of chess and the emotional calm and acceptance that always kept her coming back to him. There were only so many times she could make the poor guy face his own mortality because of her.
Logan would be better off if she was gone. They would all be better off with her gone.
By the time she reached her apartment, Max had almost convinced herself that leaving Seattle was the best option for everyone. Her problems made her weary in a way she wasn't used to, and the idea of escaping looked better and better by the second.
She flung herself onto her bed and started making plans. She needed to score some gas…maybe she could do that first thing in the morning. She would leave most of her stuff behind, too many possessions would just slow her down. Too many memories would slow her down too – better to just take the bare essentials. And maybe it would be less hassle if she didn't say goodbye to anybody. She could send word from the road…or she could just keep going and never look back.
With her brain full of plans to hit the road and her body worn out from work and stress and break-up drama that Manticore had never trained her to deal with, Max closed her eyes and turned towards the wall. She knew she was pitiful if she was drifting off to sleep at 11:30, which might have been a new record for her, but she just couldn't help it.
"Max. Max, get up. C'mon, let's go." A man was sitting on the foot of her bed, shaking at her shoulder trying to wake her up. Max jolted awake and was about to attack when she recognized her strange visitor.
A glance at the glowing numbers of the clock beside her bed told her that it was exactly midnight.
"Bling? What the hell are you doing here?" Logan's former trainer was wearing workout shorts and a tight dry weave t-shirt, and he had yards and yards of bright gold chain draped across his shoulders and around his neck. He was also a little bit more shimmery than Max remembered, but otherwise he looked exactly the same as the last time she has seem him.
"Actually, it's 'The Ghost of Bling' – not like it really makes that much of a difference. I'm trying to wake you up; what does it look like I'm doing? And before you give me some tough-ass attitude about how I'm taking my life into my hands coming into your bedroom in the middle of the night, I reinvite your attention to the fact that I'm already dead, so we don't have to waste any time on that."
"Wait. What do you mean, you're already dead?"
"Max, where do you think I've been all year?"
"I thought you just got another job or something. How did you die?"
"Lifting weights. I accidentally crushed myself to death. In retrospect, I probably should have had a spotter before I tried to bench 300 lbs. Live and learn, eh? Well, so to speak. And I gotta say, Max, it hurts a little bit that you never noticed I was gone."
"So…is that why you're playing Casper in my bedroom? Are you here to haunt me or something?"
"No, I'm here to help you, Max. You're about to make a really bad decision, we've got one night to try to stop you. See these chains, Max?" he asked, indicating the bright gold wrapped around his neck.
"Yeah, you're pretty pimped out, there, Bling."
"Well, they're heavy as hell. Each link is a regret that I have from when I was alive, and now I have to carry this load around through all eternity. And I've lived a pretty Zen life, but you – your chains are going to bury you if you don't make some changes and face up to reality, Max. Your whole life, you've been running away. You run from your problems, you run from the people who care about you, and you're building up one huge pile of regrets in this life. We want to help you get things figured out. Tonight you'll be visited by three ghosts…"
"Wait! Are you telling me I'm freakin' Scrooge in this scenario? This is a dream, right?"
"You've got a lot of messed up stuff in your subconscious, Max. It's real if you let it be. C'mon, get up; I want to show you some things." The ghost of Bling grabbed Max's hand and gave a little tug. She immediately felt like she had been doused by ice water before stumbling into new surroundings.
"What the hell? Where are we?" she sputtered, but she didn't need the answer because she recognized one of her favorite hangouts. She was at Crash. The music was blaring and someone was doing tricks up on the bar. Max spotted Original Cindy carrying a pitcher of beer but jumped out of the way when Cindy almost walked straight through her on her way back to the pool table.
"Nobody can see us," Bling reminded her.
Cindy passed the pitcher to an eager Sketchy who happily filled his glass while Alec set up the table for another round. "Where's Max tonight?" she overheard him ask Original Cindy.
"Girl did not feel like partying. Said she just wanted to go home." Cindy shook her head.
"She having relationship issues or something? A girl that hot should not be having relationship issues." Sketchy looked like he was about to philosophize further about Max's love life when Alec cut him off.
"Just leave it alone, man. It's complicated."
"All that matters is that Max is our girl, and we've got her back," Cindy reminded them before they started up a new game of pool.
"You've got some good friends," Bling said to Max as she watched over the pool game. "They really love you for who you are, and they would miss you if you just took off. They think of you like family, you know."
"That's all the more reason that I should go," Max reminded him. "They're at risk just knowing me."
"Yeah, but they've made it this far alright. In fact, some would argue that they made it this far because you were here looking out for them. How many times have you bailed them out when they got in too deep? There's some serious danger in this world, Max, and they need you. Here, I want to show you something else."
He grabbed her hand again and Max was once again surrounded by the ice water feeling before she stepped into an office building, face to face with Ames White. White had a map of Seattle spread out over his wall. It was covered with markings where transgenics were sighted and where they were apprehended, and Max was alarmed to see that there was an awful lot of information on that map. White had managed to spot patterns, and Max knew that he was even more of a threat than she had suspected. It was obvious that this guy had resources.
"He's dangerous, Max. You know he is. Are you going to leave everyone behind to take care of themselves when this guy has declared open season on you and yours?"
"I can't stop White. All anybody can do is outrun him and try to stay alive. At least if I take off, he won't have any reason to come after my crew."
"Right, because nobody we know is going to go after White…C'mere."
Bling grabbed Max's hand again and she found herself in Logan's apartment. It was the first time she had seen him since that awful night when she had told him that she couldn't do it anymore, and she was immensely grateful that The Ghost of Bling Present made it so that Logan couldn't see her. He was in his office in front of his computers, working furiously (Max tried not to die of shock) and Bling wandered up behind him, looking over his shoulder.
"Let's see what Mr. Workaholic is up to tonight, shall we? Ah, look, he's investigating Ames White. C'mon Max, you know he's not going to let it go. Logan is going to go after anyone who tries to hurt you, whether you're here or not. Doesn't matter what you do, he's always going to love you, and don't give me that 'we're not like that' crap. I didn't buy it when I was alive, so I'm not about to believe it now. He's not going to give up on you, Max, no matter where you go or what lies you tell him." Then Max felt Bling's chilly hand on her shoulder and everything went black.
"Max," a soft voice sing-songed as she was gently nudged awake. "Maxie, time to wake up." It was exactly 1 o'clock.
"Kendra, you're not dead too?"
"Yeah! Where do you think I've been all year? God, didn't you even miss me a little bit?"
"How? What happened?"
"It's sort of embarrassing. Let's just say that when a guy wants to play around with sexual asphyxiation, it's smarter to say no. Seriously, even if the guy is cute, it's generally a bad idea."
"Why don't you have any chains around you? No regrets?"
"Oh sure, I have regrets like everybody, but I've given the whole bondage thing up for good. Turned out it was so not worth it. And I'm trying not to accessorize as much, keep the emphasis on me. But we're more worried about your chains, Max, so let's go take a little trip back in time and try to get you straightened out before it's too late, okay?"
"Aren't we doing this whole thing out of order? I thought it was supposed to go past, present, and future."
"Yeah, I know, but I had a date and I couldn't get here any sooner. You get it all one way or another though, right? We need to get you remembering why you're supposed to be here. You know, all the good things that made you want to stay in Seattle in the first place. Ready to go?"
Max emerged from the chilly grip of the ghost to find herself back in her apartment. It was still cold and dark, but this time there was laughter in the glow of many candles. A living version of Kendra sat of the sofa with Original Cindy, getting her nails painted while they had a spirited discussion about something silly. "This was Christmas two years ago," Kendra reminded her.
Max jumped out of the way and died a little bit from shock when she saw herself burst through the door, carrying a bundle of parcels, one of which was mysteriously squishy looking. "Honeys, I'm home. Let's get this party started."
"I liked your hair so much better like that, by the way," Kendra's ghost whispered into current Max's ear while past Max announced that she brought a turkey.
"Turkey? I thought those ugly birds went extinct it's been so long since I've seen one. Where did you manage to score that?"
"Hey, I know people who know people, but you two have to help me figure out how to cook the thing."
"We had fun that year, didn't we?" Max reminded Kendra's ghost with a smile. "I remember that we ended up barbequing that turkey since we couldn't fit it into the toaster oven. Good times."
"Yeah, we always had good times. We were really good friends, Max. You know, even though you never actually noticed when I died…just kidding…we always had a good time. You don't get friends like that when you move around too much, you know. You have to stay put and let people into your life. Are you sure you really want to give all of this up?"
"I don't know why you guys are making this so hard on me. Yeah, we had some fun…but I have real problems to worry about. Things like this aren't important in the long run, Kendra. All that really matters is surviving."
"God, you are so stubborn! Come with me," and the ghost grabbed Max's hand and hurled her into the ice again.
They emerged in a cold, grey room with concrete walls and a dozen children sitting ramrod straight at their desks while they listened to their commanding officer give a lecture on tactical exposure and necessary risk.
"Man, Max, your childhood was so screwed up."
"Tell me about it."
"What are you guys doing here?"
"Lydecker was teaching us survival tactics. Never stay in one place too long, never let yourself become vulnerable, don't get too attached, always keep your mission the number one priority, blah blah blah."
"And you spent ten years trying to fight everything he taught you, to look for something more, something worth taking a risk for. Why do you want to give all that up now? If you give in, Manticore wins."
"Manticore is gone; I burned it to the ground. That didn't make anything better. I've still got baddies on my ass and a majorly screwed up little life. Makes me think maybe old Lydecker was right the whole time. Was any of this really worth it?"
"Seriously, Max, you're depressing me now. Lighten up! I'll show you something worth staying around for."
Before Max could answer she was gripped by the biting chill that she had begun to associate with a ghost's touch and she found herself in the woods, on the shore of a small lake. There was a cabin near the shore and a grey SUV pulling up in front of it, and at this point in her night, Max wasn't even shocked to see herself sitting in the front seat.
"Do you know where we are, Max?"
"Yeah, Logan's uncle's cabin. I was on my way to Canada." Max watched as Zack walked out, leaving her alone with Logan. All she could think about was how sad Logan looked. Had he really looked that sad the first time? She had been so caught up in her own emotional turmoil at the time, she never fully appreciated how defeated he looked when he told her to just go.
Max watched herself walk away from the car, only to turn back to grab Logan for one final goodbye kiss, where they both poured out all of the emotions that they could never put a voice to.
"You have to admit, that was a pretty hot kiss," The Ghost of Kendra present whispered into Max's ear. "Why did you go back, Max? Why did you go back to Seattle after that?"
"I just felt like he needed me."
"You mean because you love him, don't you, Max? You're way past feeling guilty at this point, it's not about quid pro quo anymore. You love him and you didn't want to be away from him in case he needed you. You two are so romantic with all your starr-crossed lovers stuff! You always want to go back to him, Max."
"What I want doesn't figure in anymore! Manticore infected me with a virus targeted to Logan's DNA. If I get too close, I'll kill him!"
"Well, there are ways around that, Max. You could have phone sex…and there are toys…and you could probably figure out something with scuba gear if you got really creative…"
"Said the girl who died from sexual asphyxiation."
"My point is that there are ways to be together. You just can't give up. Remember that he loves you. He loves you for who you really are. Just think about it, okay? We're out of time; take good care of yourself, Max." Kendra enveloped Max into an icy hug and then everything went black.
The aroma was just too familiar. Max looked at the clock (exactly 2AM) and she knew who it was before she even heard his voice.
"Max! Rise and shine, my sista. We have much to see and Jah has given I and I the great task of teachin' you your own importance this hour."
"Herbal, you're dead too?"
"Max, where you tink I and I been for the last year?"
"Let me guess, you're here to give me the chills and show me how sad and alone I'm going to be if I leave Seattle?"
"Girl, you gotta be less hard in da head if you want to find your happiness. Jah knows life is hard right now, but you must keep believin' things can get bedda. I and I am going to show you what could happen if you go."
The Ghost of Herbal Thought Future took Max's hand, and pulled her through an icy fog. They emerged in a sterile, white doctor's office, and Max saw Logan standing with Sam Carr. He looked older, quieter somehow, but there was still an earnest fire burning in his eyes as he looked at the injection that the doctor was holding.
"Well, if all the research you dug up is correct, then this is it, Logan. The cure. But let's be realistic; this is medicine like we've never seen before. We've never tried to mess with DNA markers until now. There's a good chance that you'll have an adverse reaction, there's even a slight but very real chance that it might kill you. Max is gone; she has been for awhile. Are you sure you want to risk it?"
In answer, Logan rolled up his sleeve and didn't show any hesitation as he offered his arm to the doctor. "Just in case," he said.
Max was gripped by the cold darkness before she had a chance to see what happened.
"Hey! Herbal, why did you take me out of there like that? I didn't get to see if he was okay!"
"Aha! An' why do you care so much? Could it be that you have strong feelings for dis man and want to make sure than he don' come to no harm?"
"I just wanted to make sure it didn't kill him or anything. I have a feeling that his croaking because he tried to cure my stupid virus would have involved a lot of guilt or chains or whatever. He was okay, right? It worked out okay?"
"The cured was all good, Max. It was only a madder of time before the evilness of the virus was done away wid, even Babylon couln' keep dat goin' for much longa."
"So it did all work out okay in the end even though I left!" Max gave a defiant glare at her ghostly guide. "So maybe you could just drop me off back at my place on your way back to the spirit world, 'cause I have some packing to do."
"Max, you tink you can go on about your bizness, like you don't mean nothin' to the world. My sista, I and I will show you what this world really be like with you not in it."
Some cold darkness later and Max found herself in inside of a cage. Herbal was nowhere in sight and Max started to take her surroundings very seriously when she saw Ames White approaching. "Bring him in," White ordered. Max saw Alec, handcuffed and beaten, being dragged in by a small army of White's men. He was bruised and bleeding, but Max was immensely relieved to see the hint of defiance on his face.
"The elusive 494. We have been looking for you for a very long time. You know, you were starting to get a reputation around here, the fish that got away, the one that was this big. But in the end you got caught, just like all the other misfits that got caught. And now you get to live in a cage like the freak that you are…until the lab boys are all done with you, that is. Then you just go out with the rest of the trash."
The cage doors locked, White walked away whistling, and Max watched as the defiant glare in his eyes slowly faded away.
"Alec? Alec, can you hear me? I'll get you out of here, just hang tight, okay? Alec, c'mon, look at me! I'm going to get you out!"
"You cannot help him, my sista. You could not help any of them. Remember dat you are not here to fight any of this badness."
An icy wind rushed around Max, and she suddenly found herself outside. The sky was overcast and drizzling rain, and she stood at the edge of a cemetery with neat rows of concrete headstones covering the slightly overgrown lawn. A patch of dirt at the end of the row indicated a newly dug grave.
"What? In the future I'm dead? C'mon! Seriously, Herbal?"
The ghost just pointed.
Max stomped over to the new headstone, prepared to see her own name like in some cheesy movie. She wasn't prepared to see the name Cynthia McEachin chiseled onto the marker. "Original Cindy?" Max asked in a small voice.
"Yes, our beloved sister was robbed and den killed on her way home not long ago. She din' have anyone there to look out after her."
"But…but you're telling me that if I never leave Seattle, I'll be around to save her and everything will end up alright, right? If I just get over it, everyone will be okay? This isn't funny anymore, Herbal! I want real answers about how to fix this, not just cryptic ghost messages about chains and possibilities!"
"Max, only Jah alone know what will really happen, des are only da pictures of what might be. You must decide what you want da future to be. It's only up to you, my sista."
"Max, wake up!"
She opened her eyes and looked at the clock: 7:43. "O.C.?"
"You ever gonna get up, Sugah? Normal is going to can our asses if we don't get in to work on time."
"Cindy? Are you okay? What day is today?"
"Fine, boo. It is the day before Christmas and we are late on the one day that Normal might get so freaky and drunk with power that he actually follows through on his threats to put us all out of work. We need to leave in ten minutes. You drink too much last night or something?"
"Something," Max muttered, climbing out of bed and looking for something to throw on. She still felt chilled and her brain felt fuzzy, which was strange because she had slept more in one night than she normally did in a week. She also felt overwhelmingly happy to see her roommate alive and well and glaring at her to hurry her ass up.
She was back; she was really back! If it was a dream it was the most vivid dream she had ever had in her entire life. Maybe her plan to leave Seattle had been too hasty. She might be able to fix things.
She was as safe in Seattle as she was anywhere, and she could keep an eye on her friends here. They needed somebody to watch their backs. And Logan…well, she would talk to Logan later. Maybe go wish him a Merry Christmas. Or maybe a Happy New Year…it might be a little easier next week...but soon. Maybe she would even try holding his hand through mittens.
"Boo, I'm leavin; now, with or without you!"
"I'm coming!" At least for today, Original Cindy wasn't taking off without her, not quite yet. And she'd talk to Logan before the New Year. She'd even call Alec and make sure he was alright whether he liked it or not. Because even if it had all been a dream it was hers, and as the man said, the future was hers to decide.
She stepped out into the chilly Seattle morning and smiled up at the dismal, cloudy sky, aware that Cindy looked at her oddly as she did. Seattle. After all, home was where she parked her bike…and her bike was here.
Special thanks to Shywriter for holding my hand when I started to panic and finding the time to read through everything on Christmas Eve. God bless us, everyone!