EPISODE SEVEN – CHAPTER FIVE

Disclaimer: All things Dark Angel belong to James Cameron and Charles Eglee and maybe FOX. No copyright infringement intended.

Spoilers: Season 2, Medium is the Message.

Rating: PG-13.

A/N: I'm back...FINALLY. Sorry it took me so long, everyone. I was going through a bit of withdrawal myself. But I hope the results of my absence will be worth it when you all read our Virtual Season 3. =) You can find our Dark Angel Virtual Season 3 website through Phoenix Virtual Television at www.pvtonline.com. We "premiered" September 10 and Episode 2 (of which I am a co-writer) debuts next Tuesday, September 17. Hope you'll "tune in".

I'm just getting back into the swing of things here, so it might be a little boring, not sure. I haven't thought about where to go with this at all during the past month...so no different than my usual. ;-) I was going to write more on this – didn't want to end it here – but I figured I'd go ahead and post, since it's been five weeks. I just started to get back into a groove towards the end, though, so bear with me. Oh, and it hasn't been betaed, so ignore typos as best you can.

Yes, I've been thinking about October 12, when ff.net will remove IAFYDS and S2S since they are both rated NC-17. I've had to post this as a separate entry, since S2S is completely frozen as far as I can tell – unavailable even for edits. I haven't made a decision about what I'm going to do, but I am going to continue writing. A friend of mine and fellow ff.net DA writer, Denise N. Rodier, helped me this weekend to upgrade my website, www.willowsdarkangelfic.freeservers.com – I'm thinking about starting to post there instead and am hoping to set up some kind of review function. (Thanks, Denise!) Take a look at the site and let me know what you thought.

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"I think you mighta missed something," Max said with a smile.

Joshua looked up at her questioningly, and when she nodded he eagerly grabbed the canvas sack from where he'd dropped it and started pawing through with enthusiastically. Max looked up at Logan, then over at Tricia, and all three of them shared a smile.

Triumphantly Joshua plucked a box from the bag and read the words on it, then held it to his nose and sniffed hungrily. "Little Debbies . . ." he breathed happily. "Joshua loves Little Debbies."

Max giggled. "I know, big fella. That oughta keep you happy for a couple days, at least." She looked at the pile of goodies at his feet. First, some new clothes that she'd gotten from a thrift store, hopeful that they'd be big enough for the hulking transgenic. They were as much for Max as for Joshua, because he wasn't schooled in the art of laundry and thus generally reeked of body odor. A radio, so he could listen to the news and keep up with the outside world. That one had confused him at first, but before long he'd been playing with it like a new toy. Brand-new paints and a sketchpad completed his present haul, and she'd also brought an new easel for him that they'd stopped by her apartment to pick up. It was already standing proudly in a corner of the living room where Joshua had set it up so he could paint and look out the window unobserved.

As Logan and Tricia talked with Joshua, Max got up and wandered idly through the house, thinking how Joshua was really turning the decrepit old structure into a home. The thought made her happy, and almost erased the trepidation she'd felt when they'd brought Tricia with them up the rickety wood steps that evening. Joshua had met them at the door, and Max had hesitantly introduced her, fearing Joshua's reaction.

"No, not Tricia," he'd said, confused, a look of awareness spreading over his gentle face. "Alex. Joshua remembers."

Tricia nodded sadly. "I had to change my name, Joshua. I'm Tricia now, but I still remember Alex and Manticore . . . and you. I'm . . . I'm sorry I had to leave you," she added softly, her eyes pleading with him to forgive her.

"Why did you leave?" Joshua asked, the hurt and anger creeping in. "You didn't say good-bye."

"I know. I was scared. Manticore . . . there were a lot of bad people there, and they would have hurt me. So I had to go. But I thought about you a lot."

Joshua nodded. "Joshua thought about Alex – I mean, Tricia, too." He stepped back then and swung his arm back to encompass the house. "Come in and see Father's house."

Tricia gave Max a sideways glance then they followed him inside. "Sandeman is Joshua's father, and we think he lived here a while ago," Max explained.

They crossed through the doorway into the living room. "Father's house," Joshua said emphatically. "Father's books. Father's walking stick. Father's house."

"Yeah, I know, big fella," Max replied. She remembered that tears had welled up in her eyes as she'd seen the sweet innocence in Joshua's face as he'd excitedly shown them around the house. She finally climbed the stairs from the basement and returned to the living room, where Logan was showing Joshua how to string popcorn to hang on the scraggly tree Max had brought him a week before. She smiled and then laughed at them, happy to see two – no, three, she thought, shifting her gaze to Tricia's soft face – of the most important people in her life enjoying each other's company so completely.

"Hey, why didn't you get a tree?" she asked Logan as she plopped down on the floor in front of where he sat in an overstuffed chair. "Thought that was a big tradition for you WASP types."

He looked down at her upturned face and shrugged. "Haven't gotten one in years. Too much trouble for just one person, I guess."

"Well, it's not just one person this year," Max pointed out, then looked over at Tricia and Joshua, then back up at Logan, who raised his eyebrows questioningly. "If I know you, you know four Christmas tree salesmen ready to sign over their whole lot."

Logan laughed. "I don't know about that," he objected. "You really want a tree?"

Max shrugged. "Might as well go all the way if we're doing Christmas anyway, right?"

Logan smiled. "Yeah, I guess." Then it was his turn to look from Tricia to Joshua. "You guys wanna take a ride?"

"Joshua has to stay inside, away from people," Joshua said hesitantly.

Max smiled gently. She could see the longing in his eyes despite his obedient words. "I bet you have something with a hood around here. We were gonna take you with us back to Logan's tonight, anyway." She stood up and went over to Joshua, putting her hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to stay inside at Christmas, Joshua."

"Really?" he said hopefully.

"Really. Let's go."

Joshua and Max searched through his belongings until they found a hooded sweatshirt and large winter coat that everybody agreed would help to hide Joshua from prying eyes, and the four of them headed out to the Aztek. "You know where to go? No way we're gettin' out of the city tonight, 'less you got some passes up your sleeve," Max said, eyeing Logan from the passenger seat.

"Nope. But I have an idea," Logan said mysteriously.

As they drove through the city streets, Max stared out the window, noticing how quiet they were: very few people out and about, which was strange for a weekday evening, even on a cold night like that night was. Seemed that even ten years after the United States experienced the biggest cultural and economic shock of its young life, people still held tight to their traditions, like staying at home on Christmas Eve. For many, tradition was the one thing standing between them and utter despair. That phenomenon was strange to Max, always had been. The "traditions" that she'd been raised with hadn't exactly been ones to cherish, and even as she began to understand and assimilate into normal society, cultural traditions and their importance still often eluded her. Of course, since she'd known Logan, some of his love of country and culture had rubbed off on her...thinking of their recent Thanksgiving, Max smiled into the darkness.

After several more minutes, Logan pulled off the road into a gravel parking lot, and Max realized he'd driven them to what had been Seattle's largest city park. Technically, it was still a park, but in name only. Now it served as a refuge for the homeless and drug-addicted, trying to evade the long reach of the dreaded sector police. The government had long since given up trying to maintain the green space, and it was wild and overgrown. This was the kind of place that mothers sternly warned their children to avoid at all costs, hearing rumors about the park involving gang warfare and strung-out junkies looking for a quick mug. "So what, the new fad is crack Christmas rocks hanging from the branches?" Max joked.

Logan rolled his eyes. "Gimme a break, will you? You wanted a tree. Lots of trees here, last time I checked." He looked into the backseat. "Tricia, maybe you should stay here. And Joshua, maybe you should keep lookout. You know, just in case."

Max snorted. "I think we'd all be safer together. Plus, way I figure it—" she grinned crookedly and jerked her thumb towards the dark forest outside the car, "—anyone in there gets a look at Joshua, problem'll take care of itself."

Logan sighed, lifting a hand to her cheek. "You're the expert. My girlfriend, the cat burglar and killing machine. Whatever you say."

She lifted her chin and grinned at him again, then looked in the backseat and cocked her head at Joshua to let him know he could go with them. The canine transgenic made sure his hood was pulled over his head and shadowing his face before he left the safety of the car before stepping out.

Logan went around to the back of the vehicle and popped the hatch, rustling through his toolbox until he found a small handsaw. "Looks like we'll have to make do this with this," he apologized to Max, who had come around the back to meet him.

"No big dealio. I've used smaller tools for bigger jobs, trust me." With a wink, she turned, and he was left smiling at her back.

Max took the lead and Joshua took the rear, both unconsciously trying to protect the two ordinary humans between them from whatever might be awaiting them. Max found a dirt path, partially obstructed by bushes and weeds, and they waded into the forest like kids on a scavenger hunt. There were a few streetlamps still stuck in the ground along the path, but only a few had working light bulbs, and even those were dim. After just a minute, Logan reached out to Max, trying to find a handhold on her slick leather jacket so she could lead him as though he were blind. That was how he felt, since he couldn't see the path in front of himself very well and was nervous about tripping and falling flat on his face. Max seemed to understand his need for assistance and slowed her steps, making sure that she knocked loose sticks and rocks out of the way as she walked.

At the same time, she was using her enhanced vision to scan for potential targets, and soon enough she spotted a clump of fir trees – small and runty, but they'd work, she figured. Then they could get the hell out of there. Even if she wasn't big on Christmas, she sure as hell didn't want to spend it in a natural garbage dump filled with the scum of human society.

As she led the group towards their destination, they heard a rustle in the bushes off to the side of the path, and then jumped when a man emerged into the clearing just ahead of them. He was old and obviously homeless, dirty and unkempt, wearing tattered clothes and a heavy winter coat that was torn in several places. In one hand he held a glass liquor bottle, not even having bothered to cover it up with a brown paper bag. For a moment, he stood, swaying, and stared at them, as if they were apparitions caused by his alcohol-induced state. Max stared back, and he must have seen the ferociousness lying beneath her pretty features, because after another second, he continued stumbling across the path and disappeared again into the night.

"Everything's an adventure with you two, isn't it?" Tricia said, whispering for no real reason and finishing the statement with a nervous giggle.

"Max is an adventure," Joshua agreed.

Finally they arrived at the stand of trees. "All right, have your pick and let's get out of here," Logan told Max.

A strange, raspy voice came from out of the shadows behind Logan. "Aww, don't want to leave before the fun starts, do ya?"

Logan felt himself shoved forward a little, and knew that something hard had just been pressed against his lower back where he couldn't feel it. Max looked over and saw the shiny, glazed eyes of a junkie standing there, a drug-induced grin on his face. "Don't you know it's Christmas Eve?" she asked him exasperated. Her gaze darted to Joshua, and their eyes met, then she flicked hers toward the junkie.

Suddenly Joshua threw back the hood of his sweatshirt and snarled in all his full dog-like glory. The junkie screamed and stumbled back, pushing off Logan so hard that he fell forward onto the dirt. As Joshua covered himself back up, glancing warily about, Max jumped over Logan and grabbed the guy by the collar, snatching the gun she now saw he held in one hand.

"Not exactly Kris Kringle, now are ya?" she asked him sarcastically. She tossed his gun down to Logan, who had sat up, and he caught it, then got gingerly to his feet. She turned back to the druggie and shoved her knee up into his stomach. He gasped as the air rushed out of him, and as he bent over, she let him go and he fell heavily to the ground. "Watch him while I get our tree," she told Logan. "Probably some serious cosmic ramifications to killing someone on Christmas."

Tricia, terrified into silence during the short scuffle, inched closer to Joshua for protection. Awkwardly, he reached around her with one big arm, as if to comfort her. Quickly, Max chose a tree and turned on her super-speed to saw through the small trunk, catching it as it started to topple. "Big fella, help me out with this," she said over her shoulder.

Joshua picked up the five-foot tree as though it were a bonzai, and hoisted it over his shoulder. As they started to leave, Max put her boot on the shoulder of the man still lying motionless on the ground. He looked up at her, still unable to speak and gasping for air. "Merry Christmas," she said cheerily, and they continued on their way.

As soon as the tree was loaded onto the roof of the Aztek, they took off for Fogle Towers. "Uh, sorry about that," Logan said to everyone in the vehicle. "Probably not the best idea I ever had."

Tricia giggled again, her fear beginning to ease as they increased their distance from the park. "Hey, but we got one hell of a tree."

***

Once safely back inside Logan's penthouse, the four of them released a collective sigh of relief. Logan switched on the lights throughout, and Joshua threw back his hood as he carried the tree inside. "Where does the tree go?" he asked.

"Ah, just put it in the living room for now, Joshua. Near the sofa, against the wall," Logan told him. He'd have to go through his storage closet to try to find a stand for it, although he was fairly sure he didn't have one. He hadn't even considered having a Christmas tree since his parents had died fifteen years before.

First thing Logan did was head to the bathroom in his bedroom, and when he was done there, he stripped off his sweater, tee shirt, and pants. After walking around in the wilderness, he felt like another shower, but he settled for a new tee shirt and, after switching off and removing the exoskeleton and transferring to the wheelchair, a pair of sweatpants and some socks. Max came into the room as he was tossing the dirty laundry into the hamper. "Making yourself comfortable, I see," she teased.

"It's Christmas Eve," he replied. "No better time."

She laughed and stripped off her own jacket and kicked off her shoes. "Mind if I join you?"

He smiled back. "Not at all."

She got a pair of drawstring pants and a loose-fitting top from his top dresser drawer, her standard nighttime attire, and changed while he waited. When they returned to the kitchen, Tricia had also changed into a tee shirt and sweatpants, and she was wearing fuzzy, pink slippers on her feet. "Nice slippers," Max told her with a smile.

Tricia smiled. "Hey, they're comfortable, so no making fun."

Logan wheeled over to the refrigerator and peered in, thinking that they all probably needed some comfort food right about then. "The only stuff in here is for dinner tomorrow. Ah-ha. How about some Cale family recipe egg nog, heavy on the whiskey?" he asked them over his shoulder.

Max wrinkled her nose. "Egg nog's whack. Sketchy made me try it last year at some lame party he dragged us to, and I almost lost it all over the carpet."

Tricia laughed and Logan just shook his head and lifted one corner of his lips. "Well, why don't you give mine a try, anyway? In all modesty, I'm betting my egg nog might change your mind."

"Yeah, okay." A shadow crossed Max's face then, invisible to anyone except Logan. Their eyes met, and she forced a smile. "Actually, I'm going to go to the bathroom. Go ahead and pour." She turned and left the room.

Tricia turned to Logan, who sat holding the pitcher of egg nog balanced on one thigh. "She okay?"

He looked up at her and smiled. "I'm sure she's fine. Here, take this, and I'll get the glasses." They ended up at the dining room table. "Where's Joshua?" Logan asked, suddenly remembering his other guest.

"He found the television in your office and I taught him how to use the remote control. He was watching a used-car commercial when I left him." Tricia giggled at the memory of Joshua's mouth hanging open as he stared, transfixed, at the screen.

"Hmm..."Logan frowned as he began to pour the creamy white liquid. "I'll have to check up on him in a minute. "Leaving him around my computer stuff is kind of like leaving a bull to browse in a china shop."

"I can't believe he's so turned out so gentle and happy after living his entire life in a basement," Tricia remarked. "I still feel guilty, but a little less so knowing that he's well-adjusted and now has Max to look after him."

"Yeah, but things can't stay this way for long," Logan replied. "He's already getting restless, having to stay in that house 24/7. If he doesn't go crazy first, someone will eventually find him in that house." He took a sip of the egg nog and set it down on the table, thoughtfully sliding his finger along the rim of the glass before looking back up at Tricia. "I just wish Max didn't feel so responsible for him and all the other Manticore refugees. She's . . . different, since she came back. Like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. And I don't know how to fix it."

Tricia covered his hand with hers. "You guys can get through it together," she assured him.

Suddenly they both heard a thump, like something hitting the floor, and Logan looked around. The bathroom. He glanced at Tricia, then unlocked his brakes, backed up, and swiveled around to head to the bathroom. When he got there, he realized Tricia had followed him and was pushing him anxiously. "Um...I'll go in," he said, looking back and up at her. He half-expected what he'd find, and Max wouldn't want anyone to see. "Wait out here." Tricia nodded and stepped back, to the side of the door.

With that, he slid open the door and went in, sliding it shut behind him as quickly as possible. Max was lying on the ground in front of the sink, seizing violently. The bottle of tryptophan he kept stashed there was on its side on the countertop, its contents spilled across the marble and onto the floor. Logan moved to pick up the pills from the floor and gather the rest into the bottle. "Tricia?" he called. "Max is okay, just slipped. Go ahead and check up on Joshua for me. We'll be out in a second."

"Okay." Tricia's voice still projected concern, but Logan knew she trusted him and would do as he asked. Once he heard her footsteps recede, he wheeled right up to Max's head as she lay there, her long hair spilling over her face so that he couldn't see if her eyes were open. He locked his brakes and pushed his feet off onto the ground, sliding forward on the seat, and then transferring to the ground beside her. He noticed one of his legs was pressing up against her shoulder, and the seizures were strong enough to rock him back and forth slightly. He straightened his leg and bent over her head, brushing her hair back from her face.

"Max?" he said softly, rubbing her back, unable to do more but wishing he could. Slowly she opened her eyes. He wasn't sure if she'd been knocked unconscious by the fall or by the seizures, or if she'd simply been trying to disappear into the bathroom tile. "Come on, sit up and take some more of these." He shook the bottle, and the two of them worked to raise her convulsing body to a sitting position, leaning back against the cabinet. Bypassing her shaking hands, Logan fed her three of the pills. "Need some water?" he said, looking up past her to the sink. "Should have thought about that before I got down here."

"N-n-n-no," she managed, swallowing determinedly. "Just . . . give me a minute."

"Where did they come from?" he asked her, scooting backwards to lean his shoulder against the cabinet beside her. "Don't you usually see 'em coming?"

She shrugged, but the shrug was hidden in the seizures, so she forced her voice through her chattering teeth, hurrying the words out in the small pauses between convulsions. "Sometimes. And . . . sometimes it hits me out of the blue. N-no warning. U-u-usually I'm on my bike in the . . . middle of the street, though," she added, and let out a shaky laugh.

Logan smiled tenderly. Even when she was at her worst, she didn't lose that dry sense of humor. Another thing he loved about her. He couldn't joke for the longest time about his own physical failings. Still winced inwardly sometimes when he did, for that matter. "Hey, now you have another reason to drink my egg nog," he told her. "Absolutely full of tryptophan."

"I . . . don't want to go out there," she said quickly. "Not till...the pills have a chance to w-w-work. Don't want to spoil the party, you know." She flashed him a flippant grin as her small frame continued seizing.

He knew better, and said so. "Tricia probably already knows about the seizures, Max. She worked at Manticore, remember?"

She avoided his gaze, and reached for the bottle in his hand, but her hand was so clumsy she knocked it away from both of them and across the floor. "Nice," she scolded herself, starting to push away from the cabinet.

"Relax, I'll get it," Logan said, restraining her. This was one time he was probably stronger than she was, he thought, and he intended to take advantage of it. Awkwardly he twisted around and scooted across the floor backwards, because it was easier that way. When he reached the bottle, lying near the shower, he stuck in the waistband of his sweatpants and made the return trip back to Max.

When he reached the sink, she immediately stuck a hand down his pants, lingering on the soft skin of his abdomen after finding the bottle of tryptophan. "If you kept a bottle here all the time . . . I'd never have a seizure," she said with a lustful tone clear even with her voice shaky and weak.

He laughed, and they were quiet for a moment while she stuck a couple more pills in her mouth. "What can I do?" he asked softly, remembering how he'd felt the first time he'd witnessed her seizures. He still felt the exact same way: utterly helpless and frustrated.

"Just hold me," she said, and he scooted even closer to lean against the sink again, then take her carefully into his arms. She leaned her head over onto his chest and he rubbed her back and arms as best he could. "I . . . don't want her to see me like this. I . . . just don't."

"Yeah . . . I know," Logan said, pressing his lips against her hair. They sat there for another long while, maybe fifteen minutes, although it felt like longer. But eventually, the seizures started to subside a little. Logan released her and transferred into the wheelchair, then helped her up off the floor and into his lap. He wished he could carry her in his arms – much more romantic, and comfortable for her, he thought. She was still trembling too much to sit sideways with her legs bent up close to her chest – too much coordination required. So she sat facing forward and leaned back against his chest, her feet on top of his. He slid open the bathroom door and peeked out. No Tricia in sight, so he headed out and down the hall to the bedroom, wheeling up to the bed so Max could climb off and get in under the covers.

"Great Christmas present, huh?" she muttered as she lay her head on the pillow.

Logan traced her lips with a finger, smiling down at her. "Nah, you were actually more like an Easter present . . . but it was still the best one I ever got," he replied.

"Over-the-top flattery will get you everywhere," she said with a smile of her own, closing her eyes briefly. Seizures always zapped her energy, and she'd been tired before they'd even started. It'd probably been four or five days since she'd slept for more than two hours at a time.

"I'm going to go get you some egg nog. Tricia's going to want to see you," he told her.

"Just a few . . . more . . . minutes," she said, yawning. Her body still shuddered slightly, but the large, quaking convulsions were gone, much to Logan's relief.

Bending over as far as he could go, Logan brushed his lips across her cheek. Her eyes remained closed, so he backed up and turned to go. At the door to the bedroom, though, he looked back. A swath of light from the hallway shined into the room and across her face, illuminating it against the darkness of the room. His breath caught in his chest as he thought how beautiful she looked, how angelic. He sat there for another second, transfixed, then left the room.