Disclaimer: Don't own Dark Angel
A/N: Thanks to Lisa for her ongoing cultural education, in particular for accustoming me more deeply with the tale of the Grinch.
This is my Secret Santa story for Aurora, trying to fit her preferences:
You Don't Want to See in Your Story:
1) Depressed, whiny Logan – hopeful, happy Logan instead – what about depressed Max?
2) Scenes from 15 years down the road, I like my ML fresh – fresh and winter-frozen
3) Joshua/monsters from Season 2/White – resisted the temptation to smuggle them into the crowd
A mission or other significantly compelling
reason that forces them to make out/cuddle/touch in an appropriately
amusing and/or hot way - tried
2) Logan discovers a good deed that Max has done (past or present) that is non-Eyes Only related and embarrasses her (I'm getting elaborate so feel free to cut) - yep
3) Max or Logan glimpses some random third party stealing (or trying to steal) a kiss under the mistletoe – I think so
4) Normal's heart suddenly grows four sizes bigger (Grinch reference) – unless literal, yes
5) More ML fic up on fan fiction (needed to make one easy) – M/L for world rule!
Logan's scent – real soap and a hint of cinnamon from his Christmas baking – reached Max even before her eyes found him in the surprisingly disciplined line of people having gone without a shower for too long.
Sitting there in his warm, new down jacket and spotless leather gloves, he should have looked out of place, an intruder among those worrying about tomorrow's food. Logan, however, seemed to be completely at ease, never fearing for his wallet as he chatted amiably with the old guy beside him.
As soon as he saw her though, his smile beamed up to her expectantly, barely waiting until she was in normal conversation range. "Max, hey… Glad you could make it, I really wanted you to see this."
Puzzled by his oddly relaxed mood, Max questioningly looked around at the 'this'. For all she could tell it was just an ordinary food bank with its ordinary assembly of homeless, family fathers picking up some supplies and a whole gang of neighborhood kids.
Not getting his point, she turned back to Logan whose knowing smirk fed her suspicion that this was just another attempt to acquaintance her with world-bettering Christmas spirit. "Look, Logan, this is a truly heartwarming display of altruism … but now I'm going to miss Sketchy ruining his bike with doing the triple table-bouncing in his Santa costume…"
Then she heard it.
"Stay in line, people, no jostling back there, Mister… And you over there… yes lady, I'm talking to you… bip, bip, bip, move on, you're holding up business!"
"Normal…?" Brain slow to process the familiar orders, Max took a step to the left, craning her neck around the crooked Christmas tree to see the beginning of the line.
And sure enough, there was her boss, wearing his oddly checked jacket and familiar sour expression as he handed each person an accurately packed box together with the order not to eat it all at once. Stepping back into the tree's cover, Max quizzically lifted her eyebrows at Logan, as if he was the key to understanding this suddenly so charitable Normal.
The calmly amused grin still on his face, Logan was happy to do her the favor. "Yep, it's Normal, live and in person, taking over a food bank… I discovered him per accident - or more per his voice – on my way back from meeting an informant… I didn't want to embarrass him, so stayed back here… But Ferdinand here," he tipped his head towards the old man still standing next to them, "can even tell you how it started..."
Wrapped into his creatively patched-up wool coat, Ferdinand clearly had seen better times. His voice, however, creaky as if not used for a while, lacked that tough, bitter street attitude as he was just simply pleased with becoming part of their conversation.
"You have to know, Miss, that I've been coming here for years. It's a good place, but a bit chaotic sometimes. And this guy… It was last Monday night, the first day of their Christmas charity when they give out all the extra food and clothes and even toys. And just like every year it was horribly crowded, people blocking the whole street, pushing and elbowing to be first, afraid that the next person will have more. You know how it is, people would trample their neighbor for a can of corned beef."
Max patiently listened to Ferdinand's meandering story, contemplating that with his white beard and gently wrinkled face he would make a good Santa if there wasn't the half-toothless smile and slightly under-nourished appearance.
"Anyway, this guy was just passing along, not looking left or right and trying to mind his own business. And then…," he squinted at Normal who was just scaring away a guy trying to sneak back for a second helping, "when he was just stuck there in the crowd, he started to order people around, arranging them in neat lines until he himself was standing behind the counter… and there he simply stayed, lecturing the volunteers that they shouldn't be sloppy just because people are poor."
"He…" Ferdinand's winded voice threatened to be suffocated by his wheezing cough that caused Max to exchange a worried look with Logan. "… he… came back the next day and has been here every evening since, handing each child an apple and vitamin pills. He claims that in times like these they shouldn't be spoiled with candy."
Ferdinand's pale blue eyes rested on Max, eagerly expecting her to reward his tale with the appropriate words of surprise and appreciation. Max, however, still didn't know what to say, both amazed and amused with this unquestionably Normal way of displaying his humanitarian streak.
She was saved from having to say anything by the squeaky voice coming from the inside of an over-sized winter jacket. Feeling save to reveal her four-year old's wisdom to the world while clinging to her father's leg, the little girl next to them pointed out the obvious simplicity of Normal's metamorphosis: "His heart quadrupled, just like the Grinch's."
Logan snorted, his amusement so uncharacteristically light and unconcerned, that it took Max a second to notice that his reaction was mirrored in the grinning faces of the adults, the open giggling of the children around. With just an innocent remark, the atmosphere had gone from the usual self-centered fight for food to that blissfully nostalgic mood taking possession of everybody around Christmas – seemingly even of Normal.
Having no memories of happy family gatherings and silly work parties, Max was left out, unable to connect with this strange, all-encompassing gratefulness over nothing. She felt it everywhere, in Kendra and Cindy planning their family visits, in the market vendors offering over-prized spices and candles, in the old ladies wishing her happy holidays when she delivered her parcels…. The worst, however, were people her age, her coworkers and friends who had been only children when the Pulse had hit. Their giddy voices sharing another memory Max would never have, their faces took on a far-away expression when they remembered those magnificent Christmases of their childhood where there had been lights and presents and so much good food, so much candy and cookies that people eventually threw them away.
"Surprising, isn't it?" Logan's voice next to her was empathetic and intense, so soft that at first she didn't realize how he wasn't just talking about Normal anymore. "But then… I like to think that there's a soft heart in everybody. In Normal … or in that girl who doesn't believe in Christmas but can't walk past that little boy selling fruit outside of Fogle Towers."
Max froze, not daring to face Logan and for the moment not caring whether he'd seen her himself or maybe knew from one of his chats with the all-knowing doorman. Then she reacted as she always did in exposing confrontations: Pretending not to understand as she tried to blend in with her surroundings, even though she knew only too well that her strategy wouldn't work with Logan.
The boy, maybe nine or ten years old, had simply shown up on a chilly, windy Wednesday some weeks ago. He'd positioned himself in front of Fogle Towers, his vendor's tray scarcely filled with a few apples and pears probably stolen from the market. Max didn't know why she noticed him at all in the army of homeless, neglected kids populating Seattle, begging and stealing their way through life. Maybe it was his bare head that caught her attention, exposed to the cold with that brutally short hair cut supposed to keep children from catching lice.
Maybe it was the memory of another little boy's shaved head that made her take a closer second look, reminding her of one of those siblings she'd left behind. Slowing down, she was halted by the pale blue eyes, the bluish-white, almost translucent skin stretching over his cheeks and shining through the light blond hair, as if some strange artist had tried to picture the poverty in porcelain. Eyes stubborn and cool, he did everything not to seem like the fragile victim, the vulnerable child they all had been.
And suddenly Max was unable to look away and hurry on as she was forced to do dozens of times each day. Her rational, cynic side muted, she pulled out her latest tip, sharing it as she would keep doing every Wednesday on her way to Logan.
They never talked, the exchange of three, four dollars for a shriveled apple going on in silence as Max sensed that the every word would insult the boy's defiant pride in being more than only a passive beggar.
Even there on the street, there had been a semblance of privacy in their encounters, a mute balance that now had been disturbed. Max didn't really mind Logan knowing, assured that he of all people would understand… and yet, this had been something only between her and the boy whose name she didn't know. Still thrown, she could feel Logan's eyes on her, calm and not expecting any of the explanations she considered offering him.
Startled out of her thoughts, Max's eyes followed those of the same anorak girl, her triumphing sing-sang voice blurting out her discovery. And true, there, in between the torn, weather-beaten decoration, a solitary mistletoe twig gave the place another glimpse of Post-Pulse Christmas spirit.
And she and Logan were standing right under it.
Max didn't need an explanation for this particular custom. Three Christmases ago Kendra, in her ongoing mission to find Mr. Right, had invited every halfway suitable male in the neighborhood after having generously decorated their apartment with mistletoe greenery. Unfamiliar with the implications, Max had missed the opportunity to flee in time, finding herself faced with the hordes lining up for a kiss from Kendra's gorgeous friend. It had been like being trapped in a twisted version of that story about the princess kissed awake by her savior.
If she was honest with herself – more honest than she usually cared to be – Max wasn't in the least opposed to kissing Logan, had actually even allowed herself to daydream about this very thing every now and then. In her fantasies, however, these scenarios had always taken place in the private candlelight of his apartment, quiet and undisturbed and most certainly not in front of a choir of ragged children now chanting "Kiss, kiss, kiss!"
As Max and Logan gaped at each other helplessly, more and more ogling faces turned around, in their bored waiting hungry for any kind of entertainment... Anxiously peeking over to Normal, Max figured that it was only a matter of seconds until her boss would notice her, angry and embarrassed as he anticipated of one of her smartass remarks.
"Do something," she hissed, figuring that between her and Logan it was up to him to handle any culturally challenging situations. "If Normal sees me he'll be in a bad mood all week and make me his favorite victim for runs in the rain."
Staring at her blankly for a moment, Logan indeed did something, although she would never know whether triggered by her plea or because of seeing how one of the lanky teenagers had started to inch closer to Max and the mistletoe, intending to make good use of the kissing-opportunity. In one smooth movement, his arm wrapped around her waist, efficiently pulling her onto his lap and out of Normal's vision. And before she could protest, his other hand reached for the softness of her hair, bringing her head closer until his lips were on his.
There was no hesitation, no insecurity in his kiss, as short as it was. Firm and determined, it told her more about Logan than she'd learnt in months of carefully negotiating each other's emotions.
Recovering from her eye-fluttering shock, Max's petrified ogling knew no other focus than Logan's eyes, frustratingly curtained by his lashes… until the crowd's jubilant cheering and applauding brought her back to reality. The reality where Normal was craning his neck to see what was going on over there, muttering to himself that the end of the world had come if people weren't even interested in free food anymore.
Overwhelmed by too much enticing closeness and a reluctant urge to escape, Max shot up, carefully keeping her back to her boss and her eyes to the ground. "Gotta go, have to keep Sketchy from killing himself."
Her excuse was thrown at Logan without looking back once as she pushed her way through the knowingly smiling crowd away from her obliviously grumbling boss… leaving behind a self-consciously smirking Logan.
Two very sweet stories from me in under a week. I blame the season.