A/N: My beta, Lisa, deserves a gold star for this one. Not only did I asked her to read it multiple times, but she pulled off some last minute, lightening fast reads this afternoon. By far, the best beat ever.
Episode 4 – Like That
The scene opens with a close up of Max's face as she attempts to stifle a yawn. As the view pans back we see that she is seated at a table in crash with a jubilant group of her friends - Original Cindy, Sketchy, Herbal, Sky, and Kurt – all laughing and chatting around her.
Max voice over:
I love my friends. Before I met Original Cindy, I'd never had anything like them or this before – joking, hanging out, drinking. They're a big part of the reason that all the hiding and scrapping by, dealing with Normal's screeching and Manticore's plotting is worth it. For this – nights spent doing nothing but chilling.
But every once in a while, when I've spent one too many nights at Crash, I find myself getting restless. Like if I hear one more story about Sketchy screwing up, or Original Cindy finding some girl, or Normal blowing his gasket - my super-charged brain is going to melt down into an unused pile of liquid mush…
"I'm telling you there can't be more than a few hundred jelly beans in that jar…" stated Sketchy as he picked up a large container in the center of the table and shook it.
"You trippin', wiger, because I'm saying there are at least a thousand different beans in that magic jar," Original Cindy replied confidently.
"You say what you want, OC, but I'm the one that's gonna win the night of free pitchers." Sketchy responded.
"The Almighty says we should not gamble on material goods," Herbal added smiling, hoping to distract his friends who had been bickering all day.
"We're not gambling," Sketchy countered, "We participating in a business opportunity."
"An opportunity for me to beat your ass, again," Original Cindy added.
"I say we put another bet on it to keep things interesting," Kurt responded as he joined in the fray. "How 'bout ththttttthhe person who's the furthest from the actual number buys the table a pitcher?"
Murmurs of assent arose from around the table, except from Max who was seemingly distracted.
Leaning toward her, Kurt whispered, "What you say, Max? You in?"
"Hey, I'm done buying beer for the next two weeks at least. Isn't that right OC?" Max pointedly inquired, raising her eyebrows at her friend.
"Damn girl, you should at least let me enjoy some of my winnings!" Original Cindy responded, but when Max's eyebrows went a bit higher she quickly relented. "…or I could just keep buying you I'm sorry beers for the next few months."
"That's what I thought, Boo." Max smirked, enjoying the subdued Cindy who has been making up for her previous actions since the scene in Jam Pony.
"Come on, Maxie!" Kurt entreated, "at least join in on the betting."
Finally allowing her eyes to slide over the jar, Max immediately responded: "Two thousand, seven hundred and thirty-two."
A small break in the commotion of the table ensued as everyone turned to stare at her.
"Give or take a few," Max added, attempting to cover her slip.
"That's my girl… the math whiz," Kurt teased, attempting to pull her in for a light kiss on the lips.
Max endured the caress, but her posture was stiff, nearly impersonal, and she immediately broke it off under the pretense of checking on some noise at the bar. When her eyes glided back to the table, they encounter a knowing look from Original Cindy who own gaze was lit with concern.
"Listen. I forgot I had this errand to do," Max ambiguously stated, directing her words at Kurt. "Can I catch up with you tomorrow?"
"Are you sure you don't want any help with your errand?" he asked, a suggestive gleam in his eyes.
"Nah, I'm good. But are we still on for dinner tomorrow?" Max asked as gently as possible.
"Dinner, a movie, then there's this club opening that I've been dying to go to." Kurt smiled.
"Sounds great," Max returned his smile, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Late."
Before she was able to get to the door however, Kurt's voice stopped her.
"I know you're not into public displays of affection, but how about I escort you to your motorcycle?" He winked, wheeling quickly to reach her side.
Max riding her motorcycle….
I don't know what's wrong with me. I mean every time I get into a relationship I get this overwhelming sensation of being caged. Maybe it's my feline DNA, but this girl definitely likes her independence.
I mean usually when I'm not in the mood for Crash, I can just bail, but with Kurt there I have this obligation to go. I should probably just tell him I don't feel like it, but he's always so excited to go out, and he really seems to enjoy my friends. Which is a good thing… right?
I mean it's not natural for a girl to want to abandon her friends and boyfriend to go sit on top of some abandoned city landmark. It's just ain't right to feel lonely when you're with a bunch of people. Or bored when all you've been doing lately is partying.
If I didn't know better, I'd think I missed doing Eyes Only missions. How twisted would that be?
Knocking gently as she let herself in, Max called to the darkened apartment…"Logan! You here? Logan?" But not even the tap of computer keys greeted her. Frowning as she pondered where he could be on a Thursday night, Max crept farther into the apartment, wondering if she could glean any information from his belongings.
She noticed that there were no dishes drying in the rack like there usually were when he cooked, which probably meant he'd had dinner elsewhere. She also noticed the faint smells of aftershave, a sure sign that he'd actually given in to the ever present scruffiness of his face and attempted to tame it slightly.
An unwelcome thought began to swirl in Max's mind, and deciding she didn't want be there if Logan decided to bring some honey home with him, she turned to leave. She'd only made it a few paces when the ping from the elevator signaled an arrival to the penthouse floor. Briefly, she considered hiding, but dismissed that thought as beneath her – it wasn't her fault if her presence ruined the mood.
Hearing the gun Logan often carried cocked, the unlocked apartment door signaling some sort of invasion, she called out to him. "Put the gun away. It's just me, Logan."
"Max?" Logan's tall form suddenly made an appearance and he smiled at her. "Sorry. Can never be too careful. What brings you here?"
"Just stopped by to see how you were doing." Max stated, her eyes briefly sweeping down over his form, noticing the less casual dress wear. Feigning nonchalance she asked: "So where were you?"
"The better question," he said, as he gracefully walked from the foyer into the kitchen, setting a Styrofoam container on the counter. "would be where haven't I been. This afternoon's travels have taken me to sectors 4 through 9 and many places in between."
His mood was light-hearted and playful, the way he'd been down by the waterfront that day that now seemed like a life-time ago.
"Here." He said, pushing the container in her direction and taking a fork from the drawer to give with it. "This is for you."
She couldn't help the pleased smile that spread over her features; she loved surprises, "What's this?"
"A little something to persuade you to help me," he answered, a twinkle in his eyes as he noticed her pleasure.
"And how, Logan Cale, did you know that your genetically enhanced cat burglar would be here to bribe when you got back?"
"I didn't. But I was going to page you, and figured I needed something to compensate for pulling you away from Crash…" and Kurt. The last part went unsaid, hanging between. A fact they both studiously ignored.
"Mmm… a cherry tart." Max murmured as she peered down at the pastry. "So what's the price tag for this?"
"Well…it just so happens I went and had a visit with one of my friends from the basketball games, Joe."
Max looked at him with interest, aware that Logan had avoided contact with anyone who'd known him in the chair since his miraculous recovery. The visit was one of a few signs indicating the change in attitude she'd sensed come over him in the past few weeks. It was like he was finally making peace with some inner demons.
"Anyway, it got me to thinking about how selfish I've been with all this. I mean, here I am, walking around without the use of the cane I brought with me to make it seem like I was still recovering, and he's done nearly 15 years in the chair."
"Your situation was unique," Max reminded him, a little anxious for where this was headed.
"No, you're unique, Max. And I'm just the lucky guy who happens to know you," he smiled down at her, causing Max's heart beat to speed-up. It reminded her of when he'd first stood for her. Clearing his throat, Logan pulled back from the intimate gaze and continued. "But, I thought about how the technology that helped me get back on my feet isn't. Vertes said it herself; the technology wasn't new. It came out of the last decade."
"And it required a Manticore blood transfusion to work." Max repeated, trying to put a cap on his enthusiasm.
"I know, but still, we have an invaluable piece of information. We know it works!"
"For people who've been in the chair for less than a year. Logan, remember that with spinal cord injuries the first year is critical. Recoveries that seem miraculous can occur after people think the damage is permanent, which is why people believe that you could still recover naturally."
Logan couldn't help but notice that her words were further evidence that Max had researched his condition, that at some point she'd cared enough to look into it. Doing his best to push that thought aside, along with all the other dreamed of implications, he continued: "Only people who didn't know it was a full break. And it was, I recovered from a fully severed spinal cord injury."
"Think about it Max. I know the methods, at least in the generic sense, that Vertes used. We also know that stem-cell enriched blood regenerates the spine. If Manticore had the technology to make human beings, surely the technology to manufacture blood… or stem cells, can't be far off."
"And you always have a transgenic blood-donor if the need arose," Max added, sure that this was where he was headed.
"No. We don't." his voice was surprisingly sharp. "That's not what I needed you for. In fact, I don't want you anywhere near where I'm going with this Max."
Surprised washed over her features, and Logan determinedly pushed on: "I want to set up a foundation, sponsored by Cale Industries and headed by Sam Carr that would look into spinal cord regeneration. I've already spoken to him and he's agreed. Uncle Jonas, after some threats about using my shares to vote against company policies, as well as a promise that most of the funding will come from my part of the trust, has agreed to lend the family name. We can use what we know about the process, as well as Sebastian's connections into the scientific field to put together a small group of researchers who know the actual story behind my recovery."
"And I need to stay away from this why?" Max inquired, crossing her hands in front of her chest.
"Because I don't want any hint of transgenic involvement getting back to Manticore. We need to do everything we can to make this seem like any other foundation, set up by a rich playboy, who had a brush with paralysis."
"And how exactly are you going to keep Vertes from blowing the whistle on you? She's not going to be too happy about you passing off her research as your foundation's."
"Tough. The woman can't come forward without drawing a Manticore bull's eye on her forehead, and she knows it. This information is way too important to keep it from the public. Think how many live it could change!"
Pausing a minute to process that argument, Max went over the logistics again attempting to come up with any foreseeable issues before finally conceding.
"I have to admit, Logan, I'm pretty impressed. You might just do something amazing with this."
He grinned at her, pleased by her compliment. "Well let's not get ahead of ourselves. While I might have some idea what the chemical compounds she used on me were, I have no idea what the percentage breakdowns of those chemicals are."
"Hmm… and you're sure I can't get involved?" Max teased, glancing up as she put another spoonful of cherry tart in her mouth.
"Photographic memory… remember?"
"You know what she used?"
"Let's just say after the trick with Jace and the rat, I wasn't about to let her pump you full of drugs unless I knew what they were."
Her concerned actions touched him and before he could help himself, Logan stepped forward, closing the personal space between them and reverently murmuring, "God, Max, you're incredible!"
For a few heart beats they continued to stare at one another, the body heat being exchanged between them going up a few degrees, before Max finally had the sense to step back and shrug. "No big dealio. So what was it you needed me to do in addition to writing down the chemical compounds?"
Swallowing down his emotions, Logan's voice returned to its usual pitch, "While Sam has most of my medical records, and the electronic one's I can change myself, there are probably some paper copies stored at the emergency room I was treated at. I want to clean up any potential loose ends before we begin, and so I was wondering if I could impose on you to grab them for me."
"I think that can be arranged." Max smiled, pleased to be in the loop again. "So, do-gooding without the Eyes Only mask? You'd better watch out otherwise who you might give Jonas cause to think of you as more than a free-thinking bum."
Rolling his eyes, Logan reached up to grab a glass to fill with water. "I think he'll manage to find a way to keep his good opinion of me."
With his eyes distracted, Max shifted uncomfortably, taking a great interest in the counter top, before stating, "So… you need those files tonight or can we hang out or something?"
In a surprised, but pleased voice he responded, turning toward her: "No rush on the files, but I figured you'd be anxious to get back to Crash."
"Nah… nothing really going on tonight, unless you count a contest to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. Was kinda in the mood for a game of chess."
Giving her a curious look, Logan agreed: "Sure. I'll go get the board."
"I mean she's great, don't get me wrong," was Kurt's drunken comment as he talked to an equally as inebriated Sketchy and Original Cindy. "It's just sometimes I feel like she can't cut loose and relax."
"I would advise you to let it go, man" was Sketchy's comment. "Many before you have tried and failed to understand the mystery of Max Guevara."
"Ain't nothing wrong with my homegirl," OC slurred. "Ssshe just mysterious."
"And smart," added Sketchy. "Good thing you entered her guess."
"Mmm… here's to Max," Kurt stated as he raised his glass, "a woman able to make a night complete, even if she isn't here to share in the free beer."
"Here, here," yelled Sketchy, who managed to dump some of his beer down his shirt. OC was barely able to lift her glass.
"She answer her pager?" Kurt asked.
"Nah, but girlfriend is usually out of touch when she goes to see Logan."
Kurt let out a short laugh of disbelief, "Should I be concerned that my girlfriend is spending the night with a rich, good-looking male-friend and that she apparently didn't feel the need to tell me about it?"
"I'd put my foot down, if I were you." Sketchy mumbled before laying his head down on the table.
"Don't take it personally, boo." OC attempted to temporized, realizing she'd probably just jammed her friend up. "Max probably didn't even intend to head to hotboy's pad tonight; she usually just ends up there to talk philosophy or some such nonsense."
"So they're platonic?" Kurt asked, revealing a level of soberness that neither Sketchy nor OC was able to match.
"Yeah." OC chuckled, drawing a deeper frown from Kurt. "I'm serious. Max has always held ss…steady in her 'we're not like that' definition of their relationship. Even if she's the only one who believes it."
Registering the undertones of that, Kurt stared thoughtfully at his beer, refraining from sharing his thoughts any further.
Soft music played in the background, as Max let out a triumphant laugh, "Check mate."
"Do you get any challenge out of this at all, Max? Or do you just enjoy the thrill of battering around my fragile male ego?" Logan kidded, as he leaned back and stretched his arms behind his head.
Neither his words nor his actions sat comfortably with Max.
She did find their chess games mentally stimulating – if predictable in their outcome; far more so than any of her conversations in the last few days and his words reminded her of that.
The stretching was a different issue. It made her awkwardly aware of his physical presence. There was something about Logan's movements ever since getting out of the chair that seemed more limber – and self-assured. Like before he'd been holding himself in such tight control that one could see it in the lines of his shoulders, but now he was growing more and more relaxed with each passing day.
"Beats listening to how Sketchy accidentally got his fingers stuck in his bike lock. I mean how many ways can the guy do something stupid before its yesterday's news?"
"I can see how that'd get old," Logan acknowledged.
"Tell me about it. And not just Sketchy either. It seemed like tonight was a rehash of the same three conversations we've been having for the past two weeks. How many times do we have to discuss which Seattle club plays the best music? I love my friends and one-on-one they're great: OC is insightful about people, Herbal is spiritual, even Sketchy has his moments of wisdom… or at least not idiocy. But when we're all together this general sense of repetition seems to settle over us."
Logan smiled at her, but didn't offer any words. He'd be happy to listen to her vent, but criticizing the way her friends spent their free hours wasn't exactly his place.
Feeling a bit unsure about her thoughts, Max asked: "That ever happen to you? You get bored, I mean, with doing or talking about the same stuff all the time?"
"Ha. I grew up with the Seattle elite whose idea of dinner talk was about money, who's dating who, money… and did I mention, money. What do you think?" Logan teased.
Max smiled at his words, but decided to rephrase her question: "I mean with your friends. Before you got too busy saving the world, did you ever… I don't know, find yourself fed up with the usual diversions?"
Logan eyed her carefully. Every once in a while, Max would ask a covert question or make a self-directed barb that had to do with her insecurity with her own humanity. It had taken Logan a while before he'd realized that the genetically enhanced killing machine comments weren't just jokes to her, that they sheltered a deeper anxiety.
"Yeah. You could say that. Not too many of the frat boys at Yale were interested in art or classical music. It may come as a shock to you, but I did use to hang out at the local pub a lot, playing pool and hitting on pretty women." Max smiled at that. "But sometimes I'd get tired of it; go work on an article, read a book, be by myself, or even hang out with one of my friends who wasn't a part of the east-coast ivy league culture."
"Did you ever date someone like that? Someone you got bored with I mean." Max asked as casually as possible.
Logan tried to keep his tone light, knowing she'd never discuss what was bothering her in anything but the abstract. "I dated this girl once. Now, what was her name…"
Max gave herself a private smile, secure in the knowledge that no matter what life brought them Logan Cale would never begin a sentence like: 'There was this genetically enhanced girl I once knew. What was her name?'
Max guessed being normal did have a few drawbacks.
"Tara. No wait. Mara. That's right, Mara. Anyway, I started dating her right after Daphne broke it off. She had this care-free, seize the day, attitude about her that was very appealing at the time. Every night we went out and did something. Go to a new club or restaurant. We often ended up doing something spontaneous: like drive to Canada or go to a tattoo parlor…"
Max's eyes quirked up in disbelief, even as she felt the tiny flickering of jealousy in her gut.
"She got the tattoo, not me." Logan clarified. "Anyway, it was a lot of fun at first. But I don't know… it started to seem trivial or…"
"Shallow?" Max offered, refusing to meeting Logan's penetrating and knowing gaze.
"Yeah, that would be a good word. We just weren't connecting, so I broke it off despite my fellow guy friends challenging my masculinity."
Answering the question in Max's eyes, he explained, "She was attractive."
"How'd she take it?" Max asked.
"Surprisingly, she was pretty upset. I thought I was just a good time to her, you know the rich boyfriend who paid for everything. Turns out she thought we had something special." He shrugged. "It wasn't my intention to hurt her."
Max nodded, processing the words.
"Wanna talk about it?" he asked. Logan wasn't totally sure he could handle this conversation. That he could be the 'friend' she needed, but he'd try, for her.
In reply, Max got up and walked to the window, staring out at Seattle.
Softly she started: "I've been accused of being a female fog bank. That I can't let anyone get close to me."
Logan didn't say anything, but waited for her to continue.
"Thing is. They were right. I am. The second I feel someone breaking down the barrier, I run. Most of the time I don't even give someone the opportunity to get close enough to try."
"Hard to tell someone about your origins."
"Yeah. Easier to just lose yourself in things you know won't work."
Logan thought he'd been following the conversation up until this point. He was fairly sure Max was trying to tell him that Kurt and her were getting closer and she was debating telling him about Manticore. But now he wasn't so sure. He wanted to turn her, so she'd look him in the eyes. To see if she meant she was purposely sabotaging her relationship with the other man, or something else…
"Max…" he began, fully intent on getting some further clarification, when she abruptly turned to him with blank eyes, her defenses up.
"Anyway, I got blaze. Thanks for dessert. I'll get those files to you ASAP, and we should probably set up a meeting with Sam so I can tell him what I remember. Late."
And just like that, she was gone. If he didn't know better, he'd say she ran.
With moody eyes Max surveyed the fruits and vegetables in front of her. The market rang with activity as people all around her attempted to barter, sell, buy, and steal – the usual workings of the Pre-Pulse society. However, Max's thoughts were far removed from the traffic, instead focusing the handful of scenes that had played out in the last twenty-four hours.
Last night was supposed to be a date-night for her and Kurt. Dinner, movie, a club or two. He'd been planning it out all week with an eye for detail that the free-loving young man rarely bothered with. It was one of several clues that led Max to believe he'd intended the night to move them into the next stage of their relationship. A move that was, perhaps, long-overdue given the amount of time they'd spent together.
However, things hadn't gone as planned, and for that, Max knew, she was at least partly to blame. Although Logan had told her there was no rush on the medical files, Max had felt the need to get them yesterday, a task she had put off until an hour before she was suppose to meet with Kurt.
She should have known it would take longer, and perhaps on some level she did, but when she'd showed up to dinner an hour late – after a surprisingly close call with hospital security – Kurt had been less than thrilled.
For ruining that part of the evening, Max had acknowledged her culpability, and apologized to the best of her X5 ability, knowing that Kurt was still suspicious of her undefined "errand". However, her lingering sense of guilt had soon turned to annoyance when Kurt had announced they needed to rush dinner in order to get across town to a club, where he'd promised to meet one of his many friends.
The situation wasn't unusual. Most nights they went out, Max found that Kurt had arranged to meet up with someone or attend some event, it was his thing. But on this night, Max had been looking forward to a more private, quiet evening together. One where they could actually talk, and Max could try and figure out what she felt for the guy who everyone called her boyfriend.
If Kurt sensed her irritation, he didn't comment directly, but had done his best to be lively and outgoing when they'd reached the club, where they had lingered for hours. It had occurred to Max somewhere around 1:30 a.m. that Kurt was planning to stay until last call, and that if she had been the regular girl that Kurt believed her to be, it would have made her 6 a.m. wakeup call for work the next day a bitch.
The thought had irritated her, as she knew Kurt fully intended to come over to her place when they were done. It was what had fueled her resolve to approach him and say, "Listen I've got work early tomorrow so I'm gonna bounce."
She had fully expected him to respond with his usual jovial cajoling, asking her to stay for just one more drink, ten more minutes, but the words never came. Instead, he'd asked casually, "You actually heading home, or heading over to Cale's for late night conversation?"
His tone wasn't angry, it was insinuating, as if he was telling a good joke. It was, however, more than enough to send Max's defensive system on high alert.
"Excuse me?" she had bit off sarcastically, a warning tone to anyone who knew her.
He had laughed outright at her annoyance. "That's where you go sometimes, right? It's where you headed the other night and didn't bother to tell me."
He was drunk, Max realized, and upset, though he was attempting to hide it through his humor. He'd probably been ticked off with her since the other night at Crash, and today's events had only added to his frustration.
"Nothing is going on with Logan," she finally responded.
"So I hear. You're not like that. Although I'm not completely sure what "that" means, Max. Care to enlighten me?"
Max didn't answer, perhaps couldn't answer, and after a moment or two of her silence Kurt pressed forward, apparently more upset by her lack of explanation.
"Does that mean physically, Max? He's not taking you to bed, but you two can spend all night mentally screwing each other?" Kurt inquired pointedly. "Cuz we are supposedly like that, but as far as I can tell, the only thing we've got going on that's any different than what you're not doing with Cale is some time spent making out on your couch."
His actions bewildered Max, who under normal circumstances would have told him to take a dive off a high building. However, her own confusion – over both him and Logan –had her second guessing herself. She knew Kurt was a good guy, even if his current words seemed to contradict that notion.
Max didn't have a legitimate reply, so she did what she did best, replied with confrontational sarcasm: "You know what?" she bite off. "I'll leave you to ponder out the meaning of that little puzzle. This girl is going to go home and get some shut eye before her 6 a.m. wake up call."
It was easier to run than to answer the questions Kurt had asked her. And in truth, Max was more than just angry, she was also hurt. She'd been trying hard to be what Kurt wanted, to give herself a normal life, and to let go of whatever Logan and her were. But apparently, it hadn't been enough.
She'd turned to go then, feeling the signs of defeat and frustration, when suddenly Kurt's hand clamped around hers.
"Listen, I'm sorry. I'm just not used to having to try so hard for a girl, Max."
When Max finally looked him in the eyes, Kurt had continued, "It's like I'm only getting part of you, and I guess I'm just worried Cale's getting the rest."
Max looked down into her supposed boyfriend's eyes and noted the sincerity amidst the alcoholic blur. Preventing herself from letting out the sigh of frustration she had felt building, she instead responded, albeit stiffly, "It's fine. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
It was a line she'd heard many fighting couples at Crash utter. A phrase that seemed to fix everything, at least temporarily; although, Max had never seen the point in it. Tonight, however, she understood as the words had the desired effect.
Kurt nodded in agreement before tugging her down for a quick kiss on the lips. "Okay. We'll talk tomorrow." Giving her a slight smile, he turned and disappeared into a crowd of friends, the anticlimactic conclusion to a melodramatic build up.
Although Kurt didn't know it, he'd managed to do something few others had. Through the quick turn of events, he'd stunned an X5 into immobility.
Is this what regular girls do? Max had asked herself as she watched him go, her eyes wide and her mind turning furiously to process the stream of illogical data.
If so, it was exhausting.
So now, as Max's eyes scanned the crowd for her intended target, she was simultaneously processing two lines of data. On the one hand, she was noting the usual haunts of her affluent associate – looking to see if he was anywhere amid the array of fruits and vegetables, meats and proteins, herbs and spices, needing to remind herself that she was no longer looking for a familiar shiny chair, but a tall, leather clad back. On the other, she was noting the various interactions between the couples that met with her gaze, paying particular attention to the way they related.
All shapes and sizes, colors and combinations, met with Max's gaze – and they all seemed to blur together in a cacophonous rainbow. Too variegated even for her processing capacity, Max needed to separate individual twosomes from the masses.
Using her heightened vision, Max decided to zoom in on several different pairs who caught her eye, recognizing the patterns of human interaction that she had qualified long ago.
Over by a booth selling beads was a curvy woman in her mid-thirties leaning seductively over the counter to barter with an older, stammering man who was in possession of the object she wanted. That association to easy to classify, Max thought, she'd seen the exchange of sexuality for material objects all her life and had often been propositioned to take part in it.
Over by the fish monger, was a young couple, holding gloved hands and whispering in one another ears' as they debated the wares in front of them. To Max, they represented a symbiotic being – two halves that fit into a larger whole. For many years, this type of relationship had fascinated her, coming closer to the interaction between her and her siblings than anything she had seen. However, the risks inherent in such a connection were easily discernable. Even as she watched, the nondescript man gestured toward a particular variety of fish in the corner, seemingly unaware of the woman's scrunched up face and reluctant acceptance of the proposition. It was obvious what the woman had done… compromise. Compromise of self, of person, and in Max's case – what would ultimately amount to compromise of safety and anonymity. It was a price she'd never been willing to pay, despite the attraction this state of being held for her.
As her as flittered over to another couple, this one slightly older and bickering, unable to maintain the compromise exhibited by the other, Max wondered if this – their problem - wasn't her own.
Not just an unwillingness to compromise with the information about her origin, but also an unwillingness to part with that sense of self that dictated her own actions. In other words, her freedom. Manticore had screwed her up but good, and Max couldn't help but wonder if her problems with Kurt didn't stem from an inability to give up what had once been an unattainable yearning.
Her need for freedom was something Max had never been able to express with words. It came out in her passion for her motorcycle, her love of high, remote places, her sardonic attitude toward those who got in her way. It was intrinsic to her being, and necessary for her survival. And yet, it was also something Max was beginning to suspect would make it impossible to connect with others.
At least most others.
Friends seemed able to understand, to comprehend that her pursuit of space was not an insult directed at them. Original Cindy, despite her curious nature, respected Max's need to be in her own head space. Neither Kendra, nor the other Jam Pony gang saw her biting attitude as weird or aberrant.
It was only the few men with whom Max had crossed the friendship barrier who seemed offended by her distance. As if her autonomy was a personal affront to their claim of ownership. As if sleeping with them bound her to some contractual agreement that she hadn't been aware of making. It had always smelled too much like the direct proprietary Manticore had exercised over her and her siblings to ever sit comfortably with Max.
And she suspected it was what was upsetting Kurt now.
Max sighed in frustration. She was all too aware her relationship with Logan had fit none of her previous paradigms. He was neither totally friend nor business partner. He wasn't completely platonic, but nor was he her lover.
Logan, the guy who not only seemed to respect her decision to watch the world from a distance, but to also to share a similar desire for solitude and space, had tilted her world on edge. And beyond his ideology, Max had to admit, there was something about the man that had drawn her in. Something about their interactions, their banter, the way they worked and fought, which left her wondering if people born of very different circumstances, and with two very different compositions of DNA, might somehow be alike enough to form a real connection.
It was that thought which kept her watching as the middle-age woman snapped at the man what looked to be the word "fine". A huffing 'fine' that seemed to signal the end of their fight, and the ultimate failure of two people's merged worlds, a word that signaled anything by what the syllables actually dictated. A year ago Max would have turned away with wry amusement, aware of the world's seedy underbelly, but today she continued to watch as the man pointed out to the fishmonger, not his choice, but his wife's. Max noticed the small smile that crept up on the woman's face and saw as she added another set of directions to the annoyed shop-owner. Max didn't need to wait long to see what had been said.
Two different types of fillets, very small, were chosen that day. Of little significance to the world of Seattle commerce, but an unlooked for symbol of hope to one woman contained within its borders.
Maybe, just maybe, Max thought, it wasn't about compromise, it was about someone willing to let you buy your own type of fish…
Max wasn't the only one struggling with her identity or groceries that day. A few booths over, Logan Cale gave the woman behind the counter a smile he hoped conveyed a polite disinterestedness.
Since turning down the advances of the salesgirl after the momentous morning in Jam Pony when he had come face to face with the "evidence" of Kurt and Max's relationship, Logan had studiously been avoiding his favorite grocer's stand, hoping to avoid an awkward meeting with the young woman in question.
Not that he thought his rejection would be a big deal to her, it was just that her amorous advances coupled with the earlier encounter with Max had brought to light a plethora of realizations that Logan wasn't eager to reflect on. Most notable among them had been his newly exposed feelings for the cat burglar in his life.
Odd that it had taken something as common as a flirtation to make him come to grips with so many extraordinary and disturbing events over the past few months. Perhaps all he had needed was a trigger…
When the woman had begun to flirt with him that day, Logan had needed to bite back a scowl, sure that she had chosen him as an easy mark for some sort of scam. It wouldn't be the first time he'd dealt with such individuals since landing in the chair, and after the events in Jam Pony, Logan was even less willing to grin and bear it the way he had Max's growing relationship with another man.
It had taken a few minutes for Logan to recognize that his presumption was, obviously, false. It took even longer for Logan to place the lingering glances and sensual smiles that the woman was sending him. He had felt like his brain was surfacing from an extended period underwater as it slowly processed the signs of sexual innuendo. When the woman had casually mentioned she'd like to take him to dinner, Logan's reaction had once again been instinctive - a stammering 'no' followed by a partial explanation "I'm with someone", followed by a wave of guilt at having mislead the woman into thinking he was interested.
It had taken two hours in front of his picture windows before he'd recognized the truth in his words. He was with someone. She just wasn't with him.
The night he'd met Max, a powerful jolt of awareness between them had left him scrambling to shove her into one of few boxes he had left for women in his life. Logan had chosen the box labeled for Eyes Only – unable to justify a sexual relationship that he was, nevertheless, not opposed to starting in the distant future. His actions had mimicked his callous attitude, even as a small part of him had called out a note of warning.
It had taken a few months to recognize where the warning had come from. Max's vulnerabilities were well hidden, but apparent to an observant eye. And despite his denials, Logan knew that the unique and inexplicable bond existed between them – one he would have liked to explore in every sense if only his faculties had not been impaired.
It was but one of the many attitudes Logan had attempted to break recently. If he was ever going to be with Max, even theoretically, he needed to get his own internal house in order. She'd had enough of turbulence and chaos and leftover scraps of broken things – she deserved more. And currently, that faculty which was impaired was not his legs, but his heart – and he wanted to be damn sure that if Max ever decided to take what he offered, he could hand her something whole in payment.
Since that day, Logan had spent his time as wisely as possible, making amends to his internal demons by forcing himself to concentrate on those things he had avoided. He had gone back to the basketball court, albeit on a day he knew Kurt didn't frequent, greeting his wheelchair bound friends with a shame filled humbleness that soon gave way under their heart-felt well wishes and subtle hints that many recognized he hadn't been adjusting well.
He'd later spent time examining his guilt and found the source to be both his shame at his own disability as well as the Manticore discovered treatment that he'd utilized. He couldn't take either of those things back, so he did what he did best, found a way to help others through his own resources.
On a personal level, he'd tried to stop reproaching himself, even as he found himself sitting in front of his window remembering the hardened look in Max's eyes as she'd explained the way her seven year old self had ruthlessly had leg broken in the name of research by the very woman manipulating his body into healing. He couldn't comfort the child Max had been, but he could give the adult she become space to explore her relationship with a young man who seemed to make her smile.
And after Max's visit two nights ago, he had also realized he could continue to be her friend – providing her with the occasion cherry tart, listening ear, and willing victim of her chess strategy.
It would be enough for him, Logan had determined, even has he had made his way back to this his favorite booth under the message that Don had scored some porcini mushrooms that would allow him to fix a dish one of his specialties for Max.
Facing the woman behind the counter was, Logan determined, just one more hurtle that he needed to face. It was time to remember the young man he'd been, the one who didn't mind spending a afternoon harmlessly flirting with a pretty face. Like most things, Logan figured it was just another aspect of his life that he was determined to regain.
"So what can I do for you?" the woman behind the counter asked with a smile, breaking into his thoughts and removing the need for an opening line.
Logan smiled back, grateful for the breezy casualness of her address.
"Don tells me there are porcini mushrooms to be had," he responded, stepping fully up to the counter.
"Personal call from the boss? You must be quite the customer," she replied, running a hand through her blond spiral curls to push them off her face.
"You could say that," Logan stated obliquely.
She paused for half a heart beat as if waiting for more of a response, before looking down below the counter, presumably where the mushrooms were located. It reminded Logan once again how inept he'd become at interacting with other people and how he needed to reassert himself if he was going to regain his rapport with women.
Logan attempted to break the pattern by adding, "He knows I like to cook."
The small statement drew another smile from his sunny cashier, who straightened up and leaned forward, as if speaking conspiratorially, "And apparently, don't mind waiting around for the finer ingredients."
"Well, I suppose everyone has their own indulgence," Logan offered, smiling gamely.
"Hmmm… that we do," she stated lowly, giving him a slight wink before straightening up and asking in a normal tone. "So what are you planning on making with this particular indulgence?"
"A take on a vegetable Bolognese sauce, I found some mascarpone cheese at another counter," he shrugged, this was one realm he felt totally comfortable in.
"You know if you wanted to forgo the vegetable part, I hear the booth four down has some beef under the counter," she confided.
"Really?" Logan asked playfully, adding a note of disbelief to extend their conversation.
"Cross my heart," the woman dutifully returned.
"Well…" Logan paused.
"Caroline," she supplied on cue.
"Well, Caroline, I just may have to look into that. Thank you," Logan didn't know it, but the smile he gave in return was the type of wide, brilliant grin that had caused many a lady's heart to speed up in turn, drawing attention to his handsome features.
Unknowingly, it hit the unintended mark.
"That dish sounds sinful…"
"Logan." She acknowledged, winking at him. "So…how exactly does a girl angle an invited to such a delicious meal, with such a handsome man to cook it for her?"
Logan chuckled wryly, amused despite himself at her forthrightness. "I suppose you'd need to be my intended target for that sin," he bantered back.
"Hmm… and I suppose that would depend on your mysterious girlfriend still being in the picture," the woman flashed back, continuing to smile even as she scrutinized his reaction.
Again, Logan found himself impressed with her style, a willingness to make him slightly uncomfortable to gain her objective. It reminded him of another female of his acquaintance.
"Girlfriend would be a bit strong. We're not exactly like that," Logan confided, unsure of why he did so. Perhaps, he was simply interested in seeing what would happen, he had forgotten how fun flirtation could be. "But she is my intended victim," he acknowledged.
"So is she willing to share?" Caroline asked seductively, making sure her double meaning was crystal clear.
"Sure, sweetie, just don't expect me to drink out of the same glass," Max quipped, stepping up to the booth and into their conversation.
Market, five minutes prior…
Max's annoyed eyes scanned the crowd one more time. What would Lydecker say now if he knew his million dollar prize soldier had trouble finding her target in the produce section? she wondered wryly.
She'd been to all of Logan's favorite haunts, but had yet to locate him and it was beginning to try her patience. How many places could he be?
Adding to that was the overload of primate relationship data that she was currently suffering from. Once she'd become aware of the different types of couples populating the market it felt like she couldn't get away from all the lust and love crowding into her head space. Even now, she couldn't help but notice the teenage boys over by the cement wall, showing off for the crowd of girls by the flower booth – all parties having obviously ditched school. Or the guy with the hair plugs asking out the woman with the pink scrunchie over by meat stand. Did bad hair accessories mutually attract? Or even the attractive blond shop girl working at Don's place, whose body language bespoke real interest in the hoodie wearing customer she was talking to.
Drawing closer to the Logan frequented place, Max finally heard something that did interest her.
"You know if you wanted to forgo the vegetable part, I hear the booth four down has some beef under the counter."
Now that was the kind of information Max could do something with. She almost felt sorry for the chum who'd gotten the intel. She planned to be long gone and on her way to Fogle Towers before he could get anywhere near the contraband.
The flirtatiously toned reply came, literally stopping Max in her tracks. She knew that voice.
"Cross my heart,"
"Well, Caroline, I just may have to look into that. Thank you,"
Max snorted disdainfully to herself as she watched Caroline literally preen with delight at his compliment. The woman could bat her eye lashes all she wanted, but one way or another it was Max's stomach which that beef was going to make its home in.
"That dish sounds sinful…"
"Logan. So…how exactly does a girl angle an invited to such a delicious meal, with such a handsome man, to cook it for her?"
The laugh that Logan gave the woman's audacious comment made the tiny hairs of the back of Max's neck stand up and she felt a small growl gather in the back of her throat.
"I suppose you'd need to be my intended target for that sin."
"Hmm… and I suppose that would depend on your mysterious girlfriend still being in the picture."
"Girlfriend would be a bit strong. We're not exactly like that."
"But she is my intended victim."
Damn straight. Unless, this Caroline chickie kept trying to get between her and Logan's cooking… then she'd be Max's victim.
"So is she willing to share?"
Max had had enough.
"Sure, sweetie, just don't expect me to drink out of the same glass," she quipped, stepping up to the booth and into their conversation.
"Oh, hey Max," Logan nodded to her, far too use to being snuck up on to let it bother him for long.
Giving the woman who was watching them with keen interest what could only be described as a fake, fast smile Max, nodded off a fast "hey" before turning her attention on Logan.
"Almost didn't recognize you," Max replied, letting her questioning eyes, walking down his sweat-shirt clad body, do the asking.
"Yeah, well I just on a run when I remembered Don had some new items in," Logan supplied.
"So this is you after a work out?" Caroline choose to contribute, interested in regaining her footing in the discussion. "The showered version must be impressive."
The glint in Max's eyes and the bent of the conversation, through Logan Cale off enough so he needed to clear his throat before responding.
"Caroline, here, was just recommending an addition to a dish I was hoping to cook tonight. Interesting in coming by?"
"Well, I kinda had plans for tonight… so…" she didn't exactly, but Max was in the mood to draw out one of Logan's accommodating offers to postponement, the type that he'd been giving her ever since that first night with Vertes. A small part of her wanted to give this girlie behind the counter a show and let her know whose territory she was stepping on.
It was the same instinct that had her setting Cindy on Daphne during Logan's cousin's wedding. In Max's mind, purely a feline thing.
It was a respond that she soon regretted as she Logan's expression darken slightly in disappointment, before opening his mouth to give what Max assumed would be the obligatory response.
Instead, what came out was one, slightly harsh word: "Kurt?"
It wasn't quite a question, but nor was it just a statement.
Max found herself unsure of what to say, the look in Logan's eyes was more than simply friendly interest, they nearly burned with an acute intensity, an intensity that Max, despite herself, felt drawn to.
"So you two aren't dating?" Caroline, jumped in, having obviously been following the conversation.
Both Logan and Max blinked it sudden surprise, temporarily forgetting they had had an audience. Again, Max felt the words stick to the roof of her mouth, refusing to come out. Of course her and Logan weren't "like that." They both knew it, and so she should have had no problem articulating that to the woman in front of them. But still, the look on Logan's face as he instead turned back to her, waiting for her to answer rather than doing so on his own, left Max reeling.
"I'm seeing someone," she finally replied, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the next.
"Kurt?" the woman echoed.
"Kurt." Max affirmed.
"Well, in that case," Caroline replied, her voice taking on an extra shade of cheerfulness, "I love Italian food."
Neither Logan nor Max replied to the obvious come-on, too wrapped up in their own ambiguous staring contest.
It was only after an inappropriate few moments had passed that Logan turned to the woman, aware that she deserved an answer. He never got the chance. Seeing Logan open his mouth to the woman made something inside Max snap – and she found herself responding to Caroline with a fake peppiness that startled the cyber journalist.
"Really? Because so does Kurt. I mean he loves Italian food and company," Max bubbled, smiling at the woman, even as a spark of predatory sport reflected in her eyes.
"That is so great," Caroline babbled back, sensing an opening in the game. "The four of us should get together sometime. Perhaps, go to this great Italian place down in Sector 3 I know. But, in the meantime…" she turned her eyes to Logan, "if you want…"
"Oh, I'm sure the restaurant is unnecessary. What do you say, Logan? Up for feeding two additional mouths?" Max interrupted, not bothering to stipulate who the additional mouths were.
"Max, I…" Logan began.
"Great. The usual time? 8 o'clock?"
"I…" the one abbreviated word reflecting all his bewilderment
"Where?" Caroline asked Max.
"Sector nine, Elm Street, Fogle Towers, penthouse."
There was no mistaking the smile of satisfaction that shone on Caroline's face, and briefly, Max wondered if her spur of the moment plan to… to. What had she been trying to accomplish exactly?
Oh, she remembered… get Kurt to see Logan was no threat, show Logan they could be just friends again, and get blondie here a good meal she seemed so antsy for while simultaneously watching Logan's back, was perhaps not as well-considered as planned.
Still as she said her lates, the shell shocked look on Logan's face did much to cheer her up. Wasn't every day, Mr. Eyes Only was shocked speechless.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXStopping the beta here – I think that was the only new stuff, right? Let me know if I missed anything.
Fogle Towers, 1 a.m.
How the hell had this happened, Logan asked himself for the hundredth time that day. How the hell had he managed to end up on a double date with Max, Kurt, and a woman he barely knew? He was fairly certain he hadn't wanted to do this.
Rubbing his temples, as he continued to lie sprawled out on his couch, Logan thought back to the events that had led to ill-fated dinner party he had just experienced. He remembered the conversation back at the market, as well as a poorly timed bout of possessiveness that had welled up inside him when Max had declined his offer – despite his better intentions.
However, he had no idea how that had someone morphed into an invitation for Caroline and Kurt to his place that night. Something about Italian food…
It hadn't gotten any better from there. He'd found the promised beef he had already been sold – and had needed to work on his original variation, only this time trying to substitute in enough side dishes to make sure everyone had enough to eat.
He'd then had to make fast changes to his apartment, needing to hide away the various advanced computer equipment behind altered and locked sliding opaque doors, and to restructure the other room layouts to once again make them as wheel chair accessible as possible.
Twice he'd cut his fingers while prepping the vegetables, a rookie mistake that had left his left hand ring finger with a conspicuous white bandage. The plus side was he had been so busy with preparation – baring managing to take a shower and dress before the first buzz from down below came – that he'd had little time to consider the actual company.
The fact the buzz was a half an hour early did little to calm him. Still, even as he waited for Caroline Linely to make her way up to penthouse, Logan had cautioned himself against rudeness. The training of early Cale etiquette was still firmly implanted in his head, and even if this "date" wasn't his idea – he knew the woman in question wasn't to blame for the situation she was walking into either.
So, he smiled graciously when she knocked on his door and did his best to ignore the blatant gapping stares the woman made as she walked from the foyer into his kitchen.
"Sorry, I just need to finish up a few things before everyone else gets here. Can I get you anything? A glass of wine perhaps?"
"Sure," she had smiled, a perfectly acceptable answer, and still Logan had felt uncomfortable by her presence.
"So, Logan, what exactly do you do?" she questioned, making him internally wince. Again, a perfectly acceptable form of small talk, but one he usually liked to avoid.
"I'm a journalist," he answered. "A big contributor the Pacific Free Press, when it was opened, and now a freelancer."
"Ooo, have you written for the Seattle Times?" she asked.
"Not exactly, I find their political stance a bit… repressive," Logan intoned, taking the opportunity to raise his eye brow and look at her directly as he said it. Old habits were hard to shake, and figuring out this woman's political leanings was like second nature to him.
"Yeah, definitely," she agreed, but gave no further comment. A sign she was more interested in appeasing Logan than in political discussion.
Logan sighed and continued with their shallow small talk, until the bell buzz at 8:15. Unusual for Max to be late to dinner, but he was just grateful he wouldn't be forced to give the tour of his apartment Caroline had just requested.
The second Max and Kurt had entered his place, the room had burst with energy as Kurt had given a hearty shake and a loud: "Cale, buddy, how's it hanging? Found anyone new to hit the courts with?"
Logan frowned up at his ceiling, remembering the way he'd admired the young man's liveliness and brash attitude, even as he ignored how beautiful Max looked that night. For a few short moments, he'd actually been glad to see his old basketball buddy, remember the teasing comments on the court and the way, Kurt had once explained how to do a certain maneuver in his chair. The guy seemed at ease in every situation, and Logan knew that someone like that would be good for Max.
He'd kept that in mind for about five minutes, long enough to hang up coats, and beginning to lead them toward the kitchen, when he noticed Kurt nonchalantly reach up and grip Max's hand, nothing inappropriate, just a short squeeze followed by a light caress that forced Logan to grit his teeth as he went to introduce Caroline.
That had been the start of the disaster. Caroline had, of course, been able to see the new arrivals from her perch in the kitchen, but she had done nothing to hide her disbelieving face at Kurt's wheelchair as she looked from Kurt to Max. It was something all three of them noticed, and it did nothing to add to the mood of the festivities.
Her reaction was more ironic than she knew, Logan thought, as he let out an amused huff that did nothing to improve his headache. He'd spent the majority of his time in the wheelchair, avoiding people like her. The ones who looked at you with pity and morbid fascination, who assumed you couldn't have a normal life, and normal relationship, once you wound up in the chair. He believed those looks more than those of people beside him, the ones like Max and Bling who showed with their every gesture that it didn't really matter. He deserved to be sitting here tonight with Caroline, rather than Max – even if every part of his body screamed out at the way Kurt constantly touched her.
Had he not had the rules of etiquette rigorously engrained in his head during his childhood, he may have even taken a perverse pleasure in the way Caroline was trying to impress him with her idle chatter. Instead, he had remained solicitous of her needs, pulling out her chair, keeping her wine glass filled, asking if she wanted seconds. As natural as breathing, and far more encouraged by his Uncle Jonas.
Still, it seemed to annoy Max, who took every opportunity to make a double edged snarky remark to either Caroline or him. The only difference between the two being Logan understood her double meanings. It was something he refused to look more closely at, reminding himself that she was annoyed with Carolien's reaction to Kurt, not Logan's reaction to her.
Though that didn't seem to explain why she felt the need to cut down every one of Logan's comments.
As the night wore on, Logan hadn't been able to control his responses to Max and had allowed his own frustration to bubble through. They had become engaged in a type of debate conducted entirely through subtext…
"The club was awesome… loud music, great lights, high-class liquor. Seattle must be in a recovery," Kurt had enthusiastically explained.
"Did you like it Max?" Caroline had asked, as if Kurt's word couldn't be believed.
"It was nice," Max had replied. "Not, overflowing with sugar-daddys if that's what you're asking, but nice."
"Nice?" Logan had clipped, recalling their conversation from long-ago.
Max had raised an eyebrow in challenge and Logan had let it drop, but not before telling her, "That place is financed by Steckler's funder."
"Are you sure?" Max had asked, surprised and obviously slightly ashamed by that information.
"Logan, I didn't know…"
"It's okay, Max." Logan had immediately interjected, embarrassed that had made her feel bad for enjoying her night. "I was just letting you know."
"Who's Steckler?" Kurt had asked, a thoughtful look on his face after watching Max and Logan's interactions.
Logan had looked down at his plate and let Max gently reply, "The mayor."
"Oh," Kurt replied, a bit embarrassed in his own right. "Well, who can keep track of all the crooked politicians today? Might as well enjoy the good time!"
Max had given him a wan smile before taking a large sip of her wine.
Conversations like that had punctuated the evening, drawing out each of their mutual discomfort until Logan had made an excuse – not entirely unjustified – of an early meeting. Caroline had nearly pouted as she left, using every trick in her considerable arsenal to get some kind of future commitment from Logan.
Until Max stepped in. "I hear they only have enough power to make these elevators go all the way up and down twice after midnight. So, you'd better ride down with us before you end up stuck in it all night."
Logan had barely been able to repress the laugh that had threatened to break out at the obvious lie, even allowing a small smile to make its way to the surface as Caroline had agreed in panic. Max had been the last one out of his apartment, giving him an odd look as she softly closed the door.
Space Needle, 1 a.m.
Max stared down at the city below her and let the cool wind and familiar view soothe her nerves. Tonight had been confusing, an oozing pot bubbling over with jealousy, repressed sexual tension, mix-matched perspectives, unspoken opinions, and unspoken anger. And Max wasn't exactly sure which emotions belonged to whom.
The only thing that Max knew for sure was that when Kurt pulled up short before entering her apartment, she had been okay with what she knew he was going to say.
"Max, I both care about you and respect you."
Both good phrases, much more convincing then the 'Max you know you're hot.' Or the "Baby, it's me not you,' that she'd heard in the past.
"But I think you and I are looking for different things."
Again, she gave him credit for accuracy.
"I'm not doing this because I think something is currently going on with Cale. But, I do think something has been going on with him since probably the two of you first met."
Astute. Kurt may not have been aware in the Logan sense of the word, but he was a good reader of people.
"Anyway. I want us to remain friends. I think it would be better that way."
Max had expressed her non-verbal agreement as she had leaned in and kissed him goodbye, grateful for the insight their relationship had given her.
Sitting up here now, Max reflected on what she'd learned.
She would probably never be a regular girl, but maybe, just maybe that was okay too…
With as certain amount of apprehension, Max entered Logan's apartment, peering around the corners as she attempted to gauge what was going on as the phone rang incessantly in the background. For months now, she had come and gone as she pleased in the upscale building, coming to know each of the guards by name as she entered at all times of the day or night. They never stopped her or bothered to ask her about her business, and after time they'd treated her just as one of the building's residents.
That was until today. She'd entered through the parking garage and had just pushed the elevator button for the penthouse, when a blinking of the compartment's lights had signaled that she wasn't going anywhere. Instead, a voice a boomed over the speakers, "The resident on that floor is out, please come to the front desk and state your name and business."
The unexpected occurrence had immediately put Max on her guard, as visions of Lydecker having found Logan's apartment filtered through her head. Body on the alert, she'd tipped toed toward the front foyer, looking for any signs that this was a setup.
Instead, she saw nothing but Andy, one of the many watchmen who'd Max become familiar with, watching a monitor as he sipped his coffee. An additional check later, and Max stepped up to the desk, only to be greeted by a smiling watchman who'd told to her the message wasn't for her and that she go ahead and head up to Logan's.
It was all weird enough to keep her on her toes, as she quietly closed Logan's door and peaked around the partition as the phone continued to annoyingly scream out for an uncharacteristically long time. Usually, Logan was efficient in answering.
It made her believe that perhaps he was out, until she checked the area of his office. There she saw Logan seated at his computer, rubbing his temples with a harassed look on his face.
"Gonna answer that?" Max asked, surprised when he didn't jump.
"Hey, Max." he stated with an uncharacteristic weariness to his voice. As if in answer to her unspoken question, Logan responded, "Told the front desk to buzz me with new arrivals."
"Ah," Max stated, figuring that was one answer to a series of questions. Gesturing over slightly to the ringing phone, she lifted her eyebrow and waited for an answer to her first one.
"The machine will get it," was Logan's enigmatic reply, as indeed it did just that.
Soon a female voice filtered through the apartment, as Max watched the frown on Logan's face continue to deepen.
Hey, Logan. It's me again…Caroline. Sorry to call you again, but I was going to be in near your apartment this afternoon and thought we might get something to eat. Unless you want to cook that is… a flirty laugh flittered over the answering machine… maybe I'll just stop by, see if you're around. Anyway… hope to see you soon.
"She liked you." Max observed, doing her best to stifle her amused smile.
Logan crossed his hands in front of his chest, glaring at her.
Max couldn't hold back a small grin, "How many calls?"
"Eight. Now, nine."
Max smile widened, furthering Logan's chagrin.
"Got to admire someone with persistence," Max offered. When Logan didn't respond, she asked, "Persistence the reason for the Fogle Tower's lock down?"
Logan nodded, answering wryly, "Benefit of living in a secure building."
Max couldn't contain her amusement any longer as her shoulders began to shake in silent mirth.
"This is not funny," Logan deadpanned, but as Max continued to laugh her shoulders shaking harder, an answering smile emerged from Logan's harried face. "Well… maybe slightly. For you, anyway."
Max finally paused, long enough to wipe the laughter inspired tears from her eyes, and state in a voice approaching contrition, "Sorry, Logan, didn't know she'd go all female stalker on you."
Mock glaring at her, Logan responded, "She left cookies at the front desk this morning."
Another irrepressible smile broke over Max's features, "Really, really sorry?"
"They were shaped like hearts."
When her chuckles subsided again, Max responded, "Hey, well at least she likes you. I got dumped after our double date."
A two beat pause greeted her statement.
"What? Kurt decided he wanted someone more like Caroline? Prejudice, gold-digging?" Logan bantered, a distinctive glint in his eye as he processed this information and determined Max didn't seem upset by it.
"Hmm… something about wanting someone who could relax. Guess genetically engineered soldiers weren't on his list of people who he could chill with."
"You okay?" Logan asked, searching for any form of avoidance.
"Yeah. I mean he wanted someone more normal, and I guess that's the one thing I couldn't give him," Max replied, realizing she truly was okay with that.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better I think we can safely assume that 100 percent human DNA in a woman doesn't guarantee normal. Nor does it guarantee basic decency," Logan responded, getting to his feet and walking to stand beside Max, searching her expression for sadness. What he saw was curiosity at his words and so to clarify he added. "I'm fairly certain that we can attribute Caroline's persistence to my last name and its implications of wealth."
As if to punctuate his remarks, the buzz of the front desk could suddenly be heard from the foyer.
"Mr. Cale, just wanted to let you know we told a young lady by the name of Caroline Linnely that you were out. She said she'd try back later."
Both smiling at the timing, Logan turned the subject, "Speaking of stuff that isn't normal. I've got an Eyes Only meeting this afternoon. Want to sneak out the back with me and act as body guard?"
Park outside Fogle Towers…
The cold breeze filtered past them as they shared an awkward smile.
The meet had gone fine and Matt Sung had passed off some important information regarding the establishment of Logan's foundation. But now, with their objective complete, they had no distractions from one another's presence.
Despite the light hearted mood that had prevailed in Fogle Towers, both were distinctly aware that they had yet to deal with their underlying issues. Even this casual moment, two acquaintances walking through a park together, served to remind them both of how different things were now, Logan with his revitalize legs and Max with her reaffirmed cynical heart.
It also created an odd parallel from one of their first meetings, when Logan had ambushed Max and crash and the two and found their distrustful attraction to still firmly be in place. It kept them both silent, even as they both realized this was the first time they'd been truly alone – without the nearby presence of Vertes or Kurt standing between them.
Finally, in a voice the drawn from the soldier, Max stated: "She was just using you, ya know? Wanted something from you and didn't mind trying to get it through manipulation."
It took Logan a second to process Max's words and to realize she was referencing their earlier conversation about Caroline. It took him less time to understand that her words weren't really about the other woman.
"She wouldn't be the first person," he ventured, determined to understand what Max was trying to tell him.
"No, and she won't be the last." Max stated firmly, the traces of anger beginning to show around the edges.
"I suppose not."
Rough to be wealthy and supposedly-flawless," Max bite off, sarcasm pervading her voice. "Makes you wonder if anyone's in it for person."
Ignoring the sarcasm, Logan waited for the second half of her thought, as he threw out his obligatory response, "Key being supposedly."
Her answer came in the form of a one-liner.
"At least you know Bling cared," Max joked without humor.
"I hope he still does," Logan responded, conveying his own meaning about who he wanted to care about him.
Ignoring his answer, Max replied seemingly off-handedly, "Two-way street, manipulation. Caroline might have been using you, but you could have used her right back."
Logan swallowed down the emotion that her comment engendered. Looking her in the eyes, he willed her to believe what he said next, "I'm done manipulating, Max."
Never wavering, Max shot back, "Maybe that's because you already got what you wanted."
Logan shook his head, remorseful that Max thought that of him, "I haven't."
"Then you'd better go chase her down. I think she's hiding behind the newsstand over there," Max abruptly snapped, pointing behind her even as she walked away from him in the opposite direction.
If she thought Logan would pause at her remark, hesitate over where to go, then she underestimated her opponent. He was right there with her, reading the subtext and giving chase before she'd managed to disappear.
"Max!" he called, forcing her to turn around and look at him. "She's not the one I want something from, but we both know that, don't we."
"I don't have anything left, Logan." Max replied, a sadness creeping into her voice before she she ruthlessly pushed it down with her sarcasm. "No more magic cure-all cells or super hero abilities from this girl. Guess, you'll have to find someone else to lay your next golden egg."
"And what if it's something I need from you, Max. Not 452, just you. And not Eyes Only, either, just me."
"Yeah," Max bit off, "and what exactly would that be."
The two of them had been standing at a respectable distance from one another. Close enough to talk, but far enough away not to given an impression of intimacy. All of that changed as Logan stepped forward, closing the distance so that their bodies touched lightly.
"Max?" Logan asked, a confused but not unwelcoming look in his eyes.
Even before she spoke, Max felt Logan's hands settling automatically on her hips, holding her steady. It sent a shiver of awareness through her even as she stated in a low voice: "Logan, what are you doing?"
Before she could say anything else Logan's eyes suddenly dropped down to her lips and Max felt as his fingers threaded through her hair as he tilted her face up to his bending form.
With a gentleness that was both startling and erotic, Logan brushed his lips lightly against hers, allowing her to feel the texture of his parted lips as a small breath escaped them. Without thinking, Max let out a small gasp as she wrapped her arms around his waist and followed his movements as he temporarily leaned back. Whatever he saw must have satisfied him, because he entwined his fingers more firmly in her curls and reached for her lips again, this time with slightly more pressure.
His kiss wasn't static, but nor was it rushed either. His lips moved over hers with an assured passion that began to generate a low burning deep in Max's belly. Simultaneously, Logan's hand massaged her scalp with his fingertips causing small shivers to run up and down her spine and Max parted her lips without even realizing it. Gradually, Logan deepened their embrace, allowing one of his hands to slide down her shoulder, onto her back, coming to rest just before the curve of her backside, using it to pull her closer into his warm heat and hard body.
If Kurt's kiss had been champagne, Logan's kiss was a rich, complex wine that pervaded Max's senses and made her forget everything else. A wish, Logan seemed more than ready to comply with as he sensually touched her tongue with his own, an action that caused Max to tremble and Logan to groan lowly, deep in his throat as they both shifted closer.
It wasn't until she was literally knocked from behind that Max surfaced from the sensual fog she was enmeshed in. The push was strong enough to cause both Logan and her to stumble backwards slightly, as the passing figure of Caroline snapped out an angry: "Opps." A word that held no remorse, only callous anger. With a flick of her hair and an over-exaggerated sway to her hips, the woman kept walking, attempting to radiate an air of attitude and indifference that succeeded only in emulating a satiric take on a woman scorned.
Max couldn't contain the small chuckle that burst forth at the woman's antics. A chuckle that became a full out laugh when the woman "casually" looked back at the two of them to see if her performance had had any effect. The feigned glance of aloofness was immediately replaced with one of indignant anger when she noticed Max's amusement, and the X5 did her best to seem penitent by covering her face and turning back toward Logan.
She turned her smiling eyes up to his to share the moment, only to be stopped short by the burning look that seemed to never have wavered from her. It caused her laughter to die in her throat and a small surged of heat to fan through her face. Gone was the pensive, refined Logan Cale, cyber-journalist. What stared back at Max was pure, intense masculine awareness, directed toward her.
She could feel the want roiling off him, even before he stepped closer and slid his gaze down to her mouth, his eyes almost feverishly bright.
Her own reaction was immediately and utterly ambivalent. Her gut tightened in anticipation and desire, while her heart boiled over with anger and resentment. A mixture so potent that her stomach clenched as her pupils dilated and her breath increased – sure signs of two things – passion and rage. Which of the two was currently the predominating sentiment was anybody's guess.
Max's flashing eyes lifted to meet Logan's, eyes that revealed the turbulent mixture of emotions beneath much of which was rooted in pain. It stopped Logan in his tracks, bleeding the lust from him almost instantaneously as he realized how far Max was from reciprocating his feelings. In fact, if he was any judge or character he was reading that Max was seconds away from flattening him against the pavement.
Despite the imminent danger he was probably in, Logan chose to remain at his current distance, daring her to tell him what she was thinking. He was done with side-stepping their issues.
Max stood there, in front of her former humanitarian touchstone, and waited for his eyes to turn from heated pools of greenish blue to clear orbs of thoughtful grayish- azure, from Logan Cale to Eyes Only. Waited with a stillness that unnerved him and forced him to steel his resolved.
Finally, one word, hard and definite slid from her lips: "No."
Without backing off or lowering his gaze, Logan nodded his head in acknowledgement, "Okay."
Even as he said it, Max felt her gut twist in foreboding. He'd never do that again, if she left it at that. Which was what she wanted… right?
"It's just…" Max wavered, unsure of what she wanted to say. Logan made no move to interrupt, but waited for her reply.
"Not anymore, before…" she couldn't go on.
"When I was in the chair?" he pressed.
It was the admission that finally made his eyes drop and color rise to his cheeks. The final proof of what a blind ass he had been. It was that look of insecurity of shame, even, that touched Max most. Almost enough to make her reach out and touch him… almost.
"Friendship?" Logan finally asked, looking her in the eyes.
"Logan…" Max started, horrified that he could think otherwise. "There's never been anyone else like you in my life."
"Is that a good or bad thing?" he joked, attempting to lighten the mood.
"I get it, Max. Really, for the first time in a long time, I'm beginning to realize how much I had wrong."
"Can I get that in writing?" Max quipped. "Logan Cale, personal messiah to Seattle, wrong about something."
"Not a chance. So..Dinner tonight?" Logan pushed.
Max wavered, unsure, when he pressed, "I owe you."
She wasn't the only one who could use pretext to convey alternative meanings. It had been lightly said, but his eyes let her know that he considered that debt in regards to things far deeper.
"Eight o'clock?" she asked.
"Seven forty-five." Logan replied, giving her the smallest hint of a smile.
It was the last thing she saw, before she turned and lost herself in the crowd.
It was their first real dinner in a long time, since before Vertes and Jace; Caroline and Kurt; and all of the emotional baggage that had accumulated between them during Logan's treatment. It was something they were both conspicuously aware of as the oppressive silence continued to mount between them, making both painfully aware that although there were candles, wine, and a genuine Cale culinary miracle, there weren't the breezy, bantered filled exchanges that had mark their previous interaction. No, this dinner was occurring after too many painful words had been said and events transpired.
They tried to fix it, with small talk and awkward smiles and half-met glances. But nothing seemed to be working. In fact, as the night drew out, it seemed to become painfully apparent to both that their strange little relationship was indeed broken. It shouldn't have come as a shock. They had both known it had been fragile, a ticking time bomb of sorts; however, neither expected it to end like this – with comments about the weather and half-hearted complaints about sector check points.
As the night drew on, they found themselves having opposing responses. Logan tried harder, every now and again letting his frustration peak through his amiable façade; Max became more despondent, as if resigned to their lost connection.
Almost gently she turned down the dessert, coffee, and chess that Logan pressed upon her, determined not to let her go until they'd fixed this.
Carefully, she repeated her well-worn phrase: "Need to blaze."
Again, Logan protested, using transparent excuses about the lateness of the hour, the amount of food prepared, the loneliness of the night after she left. It seemed to bounce off marble, as Max's face remained impassive, his words seemingly having no effect.
Sighing in exasperation at the situation, Logan ran hand over the back of his neck, his eyes looking up to meet Max's once again as an unspoken plea seemed to call out to her. The gesture did what nothing else had, it reminded Max of their connection as she recalled dozens of times he'd used the same motion during difficult Eyes Only cases.
Signifying a type of concession, Max asked: "Walk me out?"
That request had never been uttered between them, even during the earliest stages of their interactions, and briefly Logan panicked, sure that Max might be foreshadowing an even deeper break in their already mangled relationship.
It caused Logan to consider something desperate, a mad attempt to reconnect with the physical where the psychological had failed, to attempt to kiss her into submission. It would be a suicide mission, Logan knew. This afternoon had been something special, a moment that allowed unusual events to transpire, and perhaps a building block for future liberties. That was before it went so unexpectedly downhill. To attempt it again, however, would be viewed as one more attempt of Logan manipulating her; of that he was sure.
Nevertheless, he began contemplating it again as he watched Max disappear through his office and enter into the foyer.
Fortunately, she chose that moment to pause, refraining from moving or speaking until Logan came up beside her. It was the spot where one of Logan's most prized painting once hung, a bequest from his grandmother that was sold to pay for the treatments that restored his legs.
Long seconds followed as he allowed an almost reverent silence to build, content to wait now that he knew Max was going to tell him something in that roundabout way of hers.
"I miss that painting," Max finally offered, standing in front of what was now an empty space.
"Me too, it was one of my favorites," Logan responded, coming up to stand beside her, both of their eyes facing forward.
"When the Vertes thing first happened you said you got tired of it."
Logan paused a moment, gauging her statement and realizing now was the time for truth.
"I was trying to hide what was going on from you, Max."
"Why that painting? I mean, you're loaded. There are plenty of other items you could have sold – or you could have just taken it from that never ending trove of Eyes Only fleeing witness supplies. Why this one? That you loved?"
Seeing her wry expression, Logan attempted to answer. "I guess I felt guilty even then that I might be able to walk while thousands of others couldn't. I felt like it should cost me something precious."
Max paused a second, weighing her words before she finally admitted: "You want to know something funny? I identified with that painting when all that was going on, when you stood me up for the game, seemed like you didn't have time to spend with me. Felt like you were tired of me, too."
Logan gave a mirthless chuckle: "No, Max, quite the opposite. I thought I was getting closer to you by walking. Though you're right, I was keeping you at a distance. I think I knew even then that I was doing something you wouldn't be able to forgive me for, no matter how necessary it was in my own mind. And I was right about one thing; walking did cost me something precious...."
He left no doubt as to his meaning as his piercing eyes stared into hers.
"I'm still here, Logan."
"No, you're not. Not like before, Max. And I know that it's my fault."
"It's gonna take time," she warned, turning her eyes back to the spot where the painting use to be, unable to meet his burning gaze.
"How much?" His tone was low and earnest, and sent shivers of awareness down Max's spine.
"I don't know," her own voice sounded surprisingly unsteady. She felt relieved when, through the corner of her eye, she saw him nod and turn to look at the now blank wall.
A few moments of silence passed between them, as they both stared at the emptiness, feeling the oppressive gap, when in a subdued tone, Logan stated: "I'll wait."
Fade to black…