Alaidh and catherderPairing:
A very shippy look at Logan’s family. Takes place some 13 years after Freak Nation.Chapter 1: Blessings
The Penthouse, Fogle Towers, early April 2034
Logan woke with a start. He put his hand out on the bed, to the place Max usually occupied, even though she slept very little. It was cold and abandoned. She had evidently been gone for some time. He looked over at the crib beside the bed, where the moonlight shone through the window, and sighed. He hadn't heard a thing, but Max obviously had. Casting a quick glance in the direction of the clock, then at the vacant space beside him on the bed, he made his decision. He quickly pushed up to a sitting position, dragged his legs over the side of the bed, and sat there for a moment to allow himself to wake up properly. He quickly transferred into the wheelchair and grabbed his glasses.
Wondering why he had woken, he rubbed his arms, suddenly feeling the chill of the night and finally realizing that was what had awakened him. He grabbed the sweater and pants he'd left hanging over the end of the bed the night before, and quickly pulled them on. He unlocked the brakes and quietly wheeled out of the room. Logan stopped briefly and looked into his son's room in passing. Eleven, almost twelve, year old Ben was spread-eagled across the bed, his dark hair tousled. Logan quietly entered and covered him. As with most kids, the bedclothes had headed for the floor through the night. His father often accused him of fighting tigers in his sleep. Ben stirred briefly and rolled partly over, but didn't wake.
Quietly rolling through the apartment, Logan thought he heard movement in the living room. Max occupied a corner of the sofa, and was gently dozing while baby Eva sucked at her breast. The silvery moonlight illuminated the side of her face and made her hair shine blue-black where it sprayed across her shoulders and neck. She cradled the baby in her right arm and her feet were curled up under the faded red bathrobe, one of Logan’s, to which she had taken a liking some years before, and which she had resurrected from the back of the closet. Her left hand rested on her knee. A stray beam of moonlight also lit the side of the baby’s face. Logan could see her mouth and the fingers of one hand moving as she suckled.
The wheels of the chair hummed on the floorboards as he approached the woman and the swaddled child He was, as always, entranced to witness this most intimate of moments. He drew as close as he could, hesitating, not wanting to spoil the moment and looked at Max critically. She looked tired and thin. The ancient red bathrobe emphasized the pallor of her skin. He gently adjusted the back of the robe where it had fallen down her back. He hadn’t realized how prominent the bones of her neck and shoulders had become, and frowned in worry.
"Hey," he whispered when she looked up at him. "Why don’t you go back to bed?"
"I will, just as soon as this little lady is done," she responded and gave a small smile.
Logan ran his hand through her hair, bringing their foreheads together for the softest of touches. "You look exhausted."
Max, for once, didn’t dispute it. She closed her eyes and drew one of her feet up even further underneath her on the sofa. Eva was a difficult, unsettled baby, and wasn’t sleeping well. Max was only partially recovered from the delivery, and had become much more run-down than she cared to admit, even to herself. The difficult pregnancy, her constant nausea throughout and bleeding in the later stages, had left her worn out. Her robust X5 constitution had taken a beating, and the lack of rest was hindering her normally phenomenal recuperative powers. She had lost a lot of weight, while Eva had thrived, but the lack of rest was starting to tell.
"Too much shark in her cocktail?" Logan smiled at her.
"Yeah, way too much," she wanly smiled.
"You need to rest."
"Well this little girl thought otherwise..." she caught the worried look on his face. "Don’t worry, I will, just as soon as she’s done." Max patted the sofa beside her. "Come and sit beside me."
"In a minute. You want a drink?"
She nodded, "Thanks."
Logan backed up and headed into the kitchen, returning with a large tall glass half-filled with water. "Here you go."
"Thanks," she said again and smiled sweetly. "Thirsty work." She took a long drink, closing her eyes as she did, and set the glass on the table, then nodded her head in the direction of the opposite end of the sofa. "Come on, keep me company." While Logan reversed and circumnavigated the coffee table, she slid in a finger and gently pulled the baby off her breast, which elicited a small cry of protest. She swung her feet round onto the floor and propped Eva up on her knee with a hand cupping her chin. Then she rubbed Eva’s back gently, giving a small giggle at the huge burp that erupted from the tiny child. While she was doing this, Logan, in a smooth, well-practiced move, transferred from the wheelchair to the other end of the sofa.
Max held the baby close and leaned back into him, swinging her legs up on the opposite side, and once again curling them up underneath the bathrobe. He gently wrapped an arm around the two of them. Eva turned her head in toward her mother, greedily searching for the other nipple. Max softly guided the questing mouth. She relaxed into Logan’s shoulder, her free hand finding his. He used his other hand to brush a stray hair out of her face, and smiled down at her.
"Mmm, nice," she said, snuggling harder against him.
"You are most welcome, young lady," he responded, sounding like a gentleman from a period movie.
They remained in a silence, broken only by the sounds made by the feeding baby, until even they ceased and the child slept. Eventually, Logan said, "Why don’t you go back to bed. I’ll take care of her. Go on."
Max slowly uncurled herself from his grasp and carefully handed the child to Logan. Eva, sated, barely stirred as her father enfolded her in his warm embrace. Max dropped a kiss on top of his head, crushing the rumpled, graying hair, then grabbed the tall glass of water and left him. She was soon asleep, while Logan, holding his sleeping daughter, silently awaited the dawn and pondered the changes in his life that Max and his two beautiful children had brought, still wondering what benevolent force had been working its magic to give him so many blessings.Chapter 2 – Changing the Guard
Max woke, feeling more refreshed than she had in weeks, to find the sun had hit the windows. Looking across at the clock, she could see it was after 8:00 am. Logan’s side of the bed was still empty, as was the crib, and she felt a little twinge of guilt at having slept so long. She emerged from the bedroom stretching luxuriously. Tying the red bathrobe around her, she took a quick peek through the door to Ben’s room and saw that he was already up, and had even made his bed.
Max paused as she entered the living room, enchanted by the tableau. Ben, already dressed for school, was lying on the sofa watching TV, with his head on his father’s leg. An empty cereal bowl and half a glass of milk were on the coffee table. Logan, still holding Eva, leaned slightly sideways into the arm of the couch, looking half asleep, as he watched a cartoon with Ben.
Ben waved briefly at his mother, not taking his eyes off the TV screen.
“Hey, yourself,” responded Logan. “You look better.”
She smiled in reply. “I feel better. Amazing what four hours’ sleep will do for a girl. What about you?”
“Logan, you’re not an X5...you need to sleep.”
“Yes, and so do you.”
Ben looked up at his mother, catching the sharp tone in her voice, and turned up the volume on the TV.
“Time for school, son,” said Logan, rumpling the boy’s dark hair with his free hand.
Ben sat up and started to go. “Dad...don’t forget about the play,” Ben looked at him expectantly, and Max again felt a twinge of guilt. Logan caught the expression on her face.
“I won’t. Just go.”
“Have a good day, sunshine.” She hugged Ben to her and kissed the top of his head.
Ben took his bowl and glass into the kitchen. He made a short stop in the bathroom to brush his teeth and hair, and collected his school bag. The door banged loudly as he left. Max looked in the direction of the door with longing.
“You want to go, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” she sighed. “Who’d a thunk?”
“So do it.”
“Go. I can take care of Eva, you know. Go on...take a break...I think I can handle this little Eyes Only assignment for that long.”
“Are you sure? I could take her with me.”
“But what if she gets hungry while I’m gone?” Eva, with perfect timing, started to cry.
“I’ll be fine, Max. You don’t have to go ‘til one anyway. Plenty of time to sort this little one out.”
Max smiled shyly and sat beside him. “What did I do to deserve you?”
“Unjust profits of a lifetime of crime.” He smiled, as she took Eva from him. “Hungry?”
“She sure is,” Max laughed as the baby immediately started nuzzling her, mouth open.
Logan laughed, “I meant you.” He transferred to the wheelchair. “Can I interest you in a Cale special this morning?”
“What’s a girl gotta do to get a meal in this joint?” she smiled.
Logan grinned and pushed off for the kitchen, but had second thoughts and turned back to her. “I meant what I said. If you want to go to the play, go. I’m quite capable of looking after Eva for a couple of hours. You can take the Ninja, clear the cobwebs...”
“Only if you feed me, then go and get some rest yourself. Can’t have Eyes Only conking out on the job. Deal?”
“And Logan...thank you.”
“For what?” He looked puzzled.
“For last night...”
“Max, we’re a family...it’s what’s supposed to happen.”
“But it doesn’t in most families, does it?” She hesitated, unsure of her ground. Her knowledge of family life was really only based on her own bad experiences with fostering, and what she had learned in her current existence.
“Sometimes I forget that you never had a proper childhood, no parents, only your siblings for companionship and to care for you.”
“I don’t. Not ever.” Her expression was grim. “Sometimes I hate them for what they did to us. But, then, I think about what my weird little life has brought me...the joys...you, OC, Ben, this little girl, and I think just maybe it was worth it.
“No one is more glad than me that a certain cat burglar dropped through his skylight. I would have been dead a long time ago, if not for you.”
Max’s stomach rumbled noisily, and she looked at him with a troubled expression.
“Let’s get you some food.”
An hour later, Logan was already asleep, catching up what he missed through the night and Eva, wide awake, seemed happy enough. Max had been cooped up at home for several weeks before Eva’s arrival and hadn’t had much opportunity to go out since. She was really looking forward to the afternoon excursion. The apartment, beautiful as it was, had started to feel like a prison. When Logan eventually surfaced just before noon, Max was curled up on the couch with Eva and a book.
“Hey. You look nice,” she smiled.
Logan had showered and shaved. His uncombed hair damply stuck out every which way, and his face positively gleamed without the scruff.
“Mmm...smell good, too.”
He laughed. “You good to go?”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” they asked simultaneously.
“Yes, Max, I’m sure.”
“’K then. Just allow me to worry a little – mother-love and all that.” She straightened up, dropped the book beside her, and sat Eva up on her knee, rubbing the baby’s back. “I’ll get her changed then go, okay.”
She stood to leave, then had second thoughts and came back to delicately sit on Logan’s lap, giving him a hug with her free arm. “Thank you.”
“For being you.”
“Hey, don’t go all soppy on me. I’ll think I got the wrong woman.”
Max gently clouted Logan’s head, which he ducked, and left the room.Chapter 3 – One Man and a Baby
Logan held Eva in place on the sofa with one hand while he felt for the damp washcloth. It was about 30 minutes since Max had left for the school play. Aside from anything else, it was a good chance for her to take the Ninja for a quick spin. Those opportunities were far too few these days.“Are you sure?” she’d asked him several times more before heading out.
“Max, just go. You’ve been pretty much cooped up in the apartment for weeks.”
“I won’t be long...promise.”
“Take your time. We’ll be fine.”
Eva squirmed and arched her back. She still didn’t like being unwrapped much – she was one of those babies who liked to be swaddled so tightly that she was as stiff as a board.
“Ugh, how can something so small make such a big mess,” Logan asked her, lifting her feet so he could wash her thoroughly. He had just grabbed the baby powder when the phone started to ring. He cocked an ear to the answering machine and heard the voice of one of his informants speaking.
“Logan, if you’re there, pick up! It’s Matt, I have something important for you. It’s urgent!”
Logan looked at Eva, torn in two directions at once, before picking up the handset from the coffee table and awkwardly jamming it between his ear and his shoulder.
“Matt, I’m here. What’s up?” He continued what he was doing with Eva as he spoke.
“Can we meet in about 15 minutes? This is really important.”
“Matt, I’m right in the middle of something here. Couldn’t it wait until later?”
“No, Logan, it has to be now.”
Logan sighed and looked at the squirming baby. “Matt, I don’t think I can make it...” He lifted Eva as she started to squall, and slid the clean diaper underneath, then fastened the plastic tabs on the sides.
“Logan, you have to. This is really big time, but if we don’t move now, it’ll slip through our fingers.”
“OK...Pub, Sector 5, in 30 minutes – that’s the best I can do.” He grimaced at the noise Eva had started making and wondered what Matt, at the other end of the phone, made of it.
“I’ll be there.” Matt severed the connection, and Logan put the phone back on the table.
“So, what do we do with you, missy,” he sighed, buttoning up her jumpsuit and proceeding to wrap her again. “Mom won’t be back for another hour...” He held her close until she calmed down, gently rocking the wheelchair with one hand, then set the baby on his lap, lengthwise, and picked up the phone again. He hit the number for Max’s cell phone, only to hear it ringing from the kitchen. “Damn,” he muttered. Next, he tried Original Cindy, but her cell phone was switched off and her home phone unanswered. Finally, in desperation, he tried Joshua. The big transgenic was still in Seattle and making a living of sorts as an artist, painting large colorful murals on schools and office buildings.
“Hey, big fella, it’s Logan.”
“Oh, Logan, what’s up?”
“Joshua, I need your help. You wouldn’t be able to babysit for about an hour for me, would you? Max isn’t here...”
“Sorry, Logan, I’m working down in Sector 12.”
“OK, sorry to have disturbed you.”
Logan grimaced, put the phone aside, and looked at Eva. “Well, kiddo, guess it’s up to you and me.” Eva clenched one tiny hand into a fist and waved it in the air. Logan headed into the kitchen with the soiled diaper, which he deposited in the trash. His next stop was the main bathroom, where he dropped the washcloth in the bucket, and washed his hands. The final stop was the bedroom, where he pulled the baby bag out of the closet and rummaged through it for a moment, and pulled out the carry pack, which hadn’t been used yet. He looked at Eva thoughtfully and gently brushed the soft brown fuzz on her head with his hand. He lay the baby on the bed while he put the front pack on and adjusted the straps. Unwrapping her, he slid her in carefully, feeding her legs out the two holes. At four weeks, she was too small for her arms to feed out the top holes, but once she was in, she looked snug and secure. Finally, Logan hung the bag of supplies from the back of the wheelchair by its straps, and headed out through the kitchen again, stopping briefly to add a bottle of sterile water to the bag. Max had made sure she was fed before she left, but it didn’t hurt to have something on hand just in case. “OK, let’s go, kiddo.” He picked up his keys and locked the door on the way out.
Eva’s eyes followed Logan’s hand as he reached for the elevator button. Logan caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and smiled to himself. “You don’t miss anything, do you, Ms Shark-in-her-cocktail.”
Once the elevator deposited them at the parking garage, he rolled straight to the car, unlocked the doors and carefully leaned in to free up the removable inner section of the capsule on the passenger side of the back seat. He dropped the capsule on the ground for the moment while he unfastened the clasps and removed Eva from the front pack. He carefully lay her in the capsule and did up the straps. Reaching up, he slotted it back into place and felt around for the belt blindly. After groping for a minute or so, he finally snapped the belt into place and leaned back, rubbing the shoulder he’d over-stretched. He quickly stuffed the bag and Snuggli front pack on the floor, and went around to the other side, where he transferred into the front seat, disassembled the wheelchair and loaded it into the car.
Logan drove out of the building and headed for the English style pub in Sector 5 where he had been meeting Matt Sung on a regular basis for more than 15 years. He thanked his lucky stars that Matt hadn’t suggested a dive like the old Steel Pole Saloon, which was still doing a roaring trade in the seedier part of Sector 9.
This was the first time he’d taken Eva out on his own. Eva had been a surprise package in many respects. No one was more shocked than Max to find herself pregnant again after so long. It had been a bad pregnancy. She’d been ill almost from day one, and it took a lot of trial and error and, at one point, some urgent medical attention, for severe vomiting and nausea, to figure out what she could and could not eat. Max was simply not used to being sick and had been unbearably touchy and irritable. With Ben, she had sailed through the whole process. With Eva, it was the opposite. Toward the end, she also had started to bleed, her blood pressure had gone through the roof, and she had ended up on bed rest. This had been an incredibly difficult time for her. X5s didn’t like sitting still at the best of times, particularly X5s who didn’t sleep.
The final straw was a baby who, even at the tender age of a few weeks, was not sleeping more than your average insomniac adult. It was no wonder Max was exhausted and in need of a break. Logan had been doing everything he could. He was increasingly worried about her because her legendary recuperative powers were taking a long time to kick in. Taking the early morning shift, and giving her the occasional break like this one, were the least he could do.
Right now, however, he almost regretted telling Max to go to the play. Coping with Eva in the apartment was one thing, but having to take her to a meeting with an informant was something else entirely. Other than Matt Sung, none of his contacts even knew he had a family. Even with Matt, it had been a chance meeting in one of the markets when Ben was a toddler. In a way, he was looking forward to the vicarious pleasure Matt’s reaction was going to give him.
Parking the bar, Logan reversed his previous procedure. Eva, like most babies, had fallen asleep for a few minutes in the car. Logan regretted having to wake her, but there was no other way.
Logan eventually rolled into the pub, five minutes late. Matt was already seated at their usual table with two beers in front of him, his back to the door. The years were dealing kindly with Matt. His hair was still shiny black and his face almost unlined. Chasing down crime seemed to agree with him.
“Hey, Matt,” Logan firmly grasped the detective’s shoulder as he came up behind him.
“Log...” Matt started to say, half turning to face him, then stopped, struck dumb for a moment. “Logan...” He seemed unsure how to continue – he was almost gaping. “I’m sorry, Logan, I didn’t know...”
“You weren’t supposed to, Matt. I prefer to keep my private life just that: private.” Logan pulled around to the far side of the table and locked the brakes.
“How’s Max keeping?”
“She’s good.” Logan hesitated for a moment, then took a sip of the beer Matt handed him. “Now, what was so urgent?”
“Thought you might be interested in these.” Matt handed over an unsealed envelope. “And I thought you might want to know that I’m going to be missing for a while...taking a vacation. First time in a few years.”
Logan opened the envelope and pulled out the documents within, quickly flicking through the pages. He looked over his glasses at Matt, then back down quickly. “Thanks, Matt. These are good,” he smiled, still looking through the papers.
Logan became aware that Matt was scrutinizing him closely and looked up. “What?”
“Nothing. Just surprised is all.” Matt paused as if trying to choose his words carefully.
“Ben. You were running the math, weren’t you.”
“And you waited this long?
Logan shrugged. “Just happened that way. Wasn’t planned...”
“No problem. Just...”
“Surprised? No one was more surprised than me. We didn’t think there’d be more after Ben, but funnier things have happened, right?”
“Yeah, right, like me taking a vacation after ten years.”
“So, why bring the baby here?”
“No choice. Max was out on an errand. I did try to put you off, if you recall.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Matt, thanks for this, but I really need to get back. Enjoy your vacation, and call me when you get back.” Logan backed up from the table and headed for the door.Chapter 4 – The Best Medicine
Max entered the quiet apartment pushing the motorcycle, Ben following close behind. Even in the secured building, she didn't trust leaving her sweetheart in the basement, instead parking it in the almost unused rear hallway behind Ben's room. The doorman had given up commenting, and as long as the Ninja didn't drop oil in the elevator, it didn't really matter. Max was puzzled at having to unlock the door – it was seldom locked, and, indeed, often wide open, when they were home.
Ben dropped his bag on his bed and made straight for the kitchen. Other than inheriting his mother's dark good looks (and his father's green eyes), he had also inherited her appetite and, like most boys, was always hungry when he got home from school.
"Logan!" Max called from the hallway, setting the bike up on its stand. The response was silence. "Logan!" she called again, thinking he may not have heard. Unconcerned, she wandered through to the bedroom. Max dropped her jacket on the bed and absent-mindedly closed the door of the closet. She cast a quick glance in the direction of the exoskeleton, strapped to its dummy, where it had been gathering dust for five years now. The whole left side was cracked and bent out of shape where it had been damaged from a collision with the stanchions of a bridge. Bessie had been totally written off in the high-speed smashup, and Logan would have died if Alec hadn't been there to pull him from the wrecked car before it exploded into flames. She fingered the cracks and bends, remembering the lengthy recovery…bones cracked like eggshells. It had taken hours of surgery to pin and plate the mess back together, if only for cosmetic purposes. Max shuddered involuntarily at the memory.
"Mom," came Ben's voice from the kitchen.
"Coming," she responded automatically, shaking off the bad memory. "Logan!" she called again, starting to get concerned. She walked through the kitchen, picking up her phone, and noted the unanswered call. The living room was also empty except for Ben, who had a plate of food and his homework on the coffee table. This is getting really annoying,
she thought. She banged loudly on the door of the computer room, then opened it and looked in.
"Ben, did your father leave a note or anything?"
"Damn, and I didn't have my phone…so where is he?"
"Mom, why don't you call him?"
Max gave Ben a blank look and hit Logan's number on the phone, which was still in her hand.
Logan pulled into the downstairs parking garage of Fogle Towers and into his allotted space. Eva was starting to complain. He quickly transferred into the chair and collected Eva from the back seat, once more inserting her into the front pack. As he was doing this, his phone started to ring, but unfortunately, he couldn't reach it because he'd stashed it in the inside pocket of his jacket before getting out of the car. He headed straight for the elevator with Eva still complaining.
Max came back to the living room still holding the phone and glaring at it as it rang. She sat on the end of the couch and clasped her hands around her knees, rocking slightly back and forth. She was getting a little worried. Eva was overdue for feeding and Max was getting distinctly uncomfortable.
Logan rocked the chair gently all the way up in the elevator, trying to quiet Eva. He was hoping that Max would already be back when he got there, as it fast became obvious what the problem was. He was a hands-on dad, but there was just one thing he could not do, and he was seriously hoping Max would be back to do it.
Arriving at the penthouse, Logan was relieved to find the door unlocked. He rolled straight through to the living room, looking for Max, who heard him enter and straightened up immediately. Eva still whined softly.
"Where the hell have you been?"
He goggled at her, taken aback by her vehemence. "I tried to call you – you forgot your phone."
"You could have left a note!"
Logan leaned back, stung by her response. "I'm sorry…I got called out urgently."
"Logan, you could have left a note at least…even left a message on the answering machine…anything."
"Have you checked the answering machine?"
"Well, no, but…"
Logan shrugged and started to undo the pack. "Here, she's hungry, I think."
"Logan, where were you?" Max accepted the proffered baby.
"I told you, I got an urgent call to meet an informant. He..."
"And you took the baby along for the ride?" Max raised an eyebrow at him. "Where was this meeting?"
"Look, I got a call from Matt and had to meet him. It was the only time he could make it. We met down in Sector 5. It was okay, really."
Max looked at him, suppressing a smile. "You took Eva to that pub in Sector 5? Logan!!”
"What?" Logan looked astounded at her reaction.
Max started to laugh. "Oh my God, Logan, you took her to a pub to meet an informant…with her in a Snuggli…" Logan started to look affronted at her obvious enjoyment. "Oh, Logan…" she gasped. "I'm sorry…but that's just…"
"What? What else was I supposed to do…"
"Don't get huffy on me…" she giggled, breathlessly.
"Dad, that's just so…dorky…" Ben finally spoke up from the armchair where he was still doing homework.
Logan cast a look in his son's direction. "Hey, what else was I supposed to do? I can't hold a baby and push the chair along the street, up and down curbs, at the same time, 'kay? Don't want her to fall on her head in the gutter. Look, Matt rang up, he had to meet me then or not at all - he's taking some time off. It had to be today…it was important!"
"Oh, Logan, how can you be so clueless?" Max rolled her eyes.
“I’m glad you find it so amusing.” Logan drew himself up straight, still upset that they were laughing at him. He dropped the front pack on the coffee table. “How was the play?”
Max gave one of her dazzling, broad smiles. “It was wonderful. Your son stole the show.”
Ben looked up at his dad, grinned, and shrugged.
“And you wouldn’t be biased, by any chance?” Logan’s mouth twitched into a half-smile.
“I’m totally unbiased,” she smiled back. “He’s been watching OC’s stand-up routine for so long that it’s rubbed off.” Max winked at Ben.
“And he doesn’t have any of that X5 reluctance to stand in the limelight, right?” Logan teased. They had never hidden Max’s roots from Ben. He knew her background and history.
“Dad, it was fun.”
“Well, don’t let it go to your head.” Logan reached around to pull the envelope from the back pocket of the wheelchair. “I need to make a move on this, so if you’re done laughing at me, I’ll go and do some work.”Chapter 5 – Cabin by the Lake
Logan glanced across at Max as she dozed with her head against the window of the Aztek. It had been a long day. They were headed north out of the city for a short break, now that the long summer vacation had arrived, and the traffic through Seattle had been a nightmare. The Cale family cabin beckoned. Bennett, Marianne, and their son, Jonas, would be joining them for the weekend, but in the meantime, Logan was bringing his family for a few days of quiet. They were all looking forward to the break. Even Eyes Only was packed away for a few short days. Logan had buried the laptop among the luggage, having faithfully promised Max that they would all be relaxing.
The car bounced onto the potholed dirt road from the highway. The jouncing of the vehicle woke Max and she stretched and smiled. “Are we there yet?”
“Hey, that’s Ben’s line, not yours,” Logan admonished with a smile.
“Are we there yet?” piped up Ben from the back seat.
Logan suppressed a grin. “Nearly, not far now.”
The SUV bumped up the ungraded road to the cabin. Logan pulled up at the rear entrance near the kitchen where he had arranged the construction of a ramp some years before. He killed the engine and gave a small, satisfied grin. “Well, folks, here we are. Next stop fun, games and relaxation.”
Max peeled herself out of the corner in which she’d been napping and walked around the back of the car to fetch the wheelchair. Logan quickly assembled the chair while Ben ran ahead to the door, key in hand. He opened the cabin up with a flourish and disappeared inside. Logan transferred to the chair in a quick, deft movement, rippling his well-developed shoulder muscles. Max, who was busily unstrapping five-month old Eva from the back seat, cast an admiring glance at her husband’s back, clad in a tight-fitting t-shirt. She grabbed the baby, shut the door of the car and, smiling, dropped into Logan’s lap, hugging him tight with her free arm.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For packing Eyes Only in a box and bringing us all up here.” She gazed deep into his eyes, drinking in their depths, almost nose to nose.
Ben thudded back out of the cabin and rolled his eyes when he saw his parents. “Gees, can’t you guys save that for tonight. Puhlease...”
Max laughed. “C’mon, let’s get the car unpacked and then we can relax.”
Ben had already taken his bag in and tossed it on his bed in the loft bedroom. He was now throwing open doors and windows to air the place out. Logan rolled through with a heavy pack over his shoulder and dropped it on the floor of the bedroom. He pulled the dust sheet off the bed, threw it onto the window seat, and flung the window open, wrinkling his nose at the musty smell of the room.
Max came in with a bag and dropped Eva on Logan’s lap. She sat on the edge of the bed, then flopped back, stretching luxuriously, an inviting strip of abdomen bared. Logan thought for a moment about tickling that inviting strip of flesh, but contented himself with gripping Eva with one hand and bending down to unpack the contents of his bag into a drawer with the other.
“Why don’t you guys go for a walk? I’ll get the rest of the stuff out of the car and make some dinner,” Logan finally said.
“Do you know, I was hoping you’d say that.” She half sat up, leaning back on her elbows and smiled lazily. “Ben,” she called. “We’re going for a walk.”
Logan, looking out the window a few minutes later as he packed Max’s clothes into another drawer, saw the three of them walking toward the lake at the back of the house, the light summer breeze whipping their hair. Ben had his arm around his mother’s waist, and Eva, supported on her opposite hip, had grabbed a handful of her hair and was pulling on it, hard.
Some hours later, with both children asleep, Logan and Max sat close together on the sofa and touched wine glasses in a quiet toast. The candlelight flickered, highlighting the planes of their faces. It reflected off the windows and Logan’s glasses, where they sat on the coffee table, and bathed the whole room in a soft glow.
“This place is really special, isn’t it?” Max said quietly.
“Yeah, it is.”
“Do you remember the first time?”
“The first time?”
“The first time you brought me here?”
“Yeah, I do. Gotta watch out for the downtrodden...”Logan, struggling for control, turned away and stared with unfocused eyes straight ahead, out the windscreen of the car. "I'll miss you."
Max fidgeted nervously in her seat, darting quick sideways glances at Logan. Her voice was small, hesitant, worried.
"…I have to go back. Someone has to watch out for the downtrodden. Blah blah, woof woof, right?"
Logan sadly watched Max walk away from the car, her brother Zack already inside the cabin, on the run again. Suddenly, she turned on her heel and came back to the car, leaned in through the window, and kissed him deeply. Then she fled to the safety of the cabin. He thought he'd never see her again.
“Walking away was the hardest thing...” She looked suddenly sad. “All in all, though, this place has some really good memories,” she smiled.
“Yeah, it does.”
“Hurry up,” Original Cindy said, putting the last- minute touches to Max’s hair. She checked her over one last time and stood back, satisfied. “The Justice of the Peace is here.”Max stood up from kitchen chair Original Cindy had placed in front of the drawers and flicked the creases out of the red evening dress, smoothing it over her abdomen, where she hoped the beginnings of new life didn’t already show. The last time she had worn this dress was at Bennett’s wedding. Now it was being worn to her own. “Will I do?” Max looked at herself in the full-length mirror Original Cindy and she had dragged out of the loft earlier in the day.
Cindy smiled her approval. “Go. They’re waiting for you.” Cindy stood back with her hands on her hips and admired her handiwork one last time. Max hesitated, suddenly shy. Looking at her hands, she could see they were shaking.
Logan was waiting for her in the living room with Bennett. The tux had come out of the back of the closet again, and was cleaned and pressed. He shuffled nervously, the exoskeleton humming. He had never looked so handsome to her...clean shaven, neat and tidy, glasses polished, hair combed...
Max swept into position beside him, a sweet smile lighting her face, nerves forgotten. She couldn’t remember any of the ceremony afterwards, not the words. All she could recall was the conviction that this was the right thing to do, and the firmness with which Logan spoke the words...and then the kiss...
The JP had left straight after the ceremony, driving off in his beat-up car. Bennett and Original Cindy only lingered to take a few snapshots, and then they were gone as well, leaving them to the candle-lit supper Logan had prepared.
“Do you remember...” Max asked softly.
Logan looked at her closely, green eyes almost black in the soft light and smiled. “Yeah, I do. Something about this place, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, there is...well...something ‘bout that big old four-poster bed, anyway,” she smiled.
“So when were we here last?” he asked, coyly. Max smiled back at him. Logan set his glass on the table and gently ran his fingers down the side of Max’s face and into her hair. “And...what about that big old four-poster bed?” he murmured.
“Shut up,” Max said softly and leaned in to kiss him.
A loud wailing suddenly emanated from the bedroom, disturbing the moment. Max sighed and stood up. “Don’t move,” she said, pushing one finger into Logan’s chest. She trailed her hand up and across his shoulder as she delicately picked her way past him, returning a few minutes later with the baby. She leaned back into Logan’s hard chest, her head tucked under his chin, and relaxed again. Eva, while still not adopting normal baby sleep patterns, had improved greatly from the early days. Max had made her a bed in the old basket that fitted neatly into the far corner of their room. It had been used by several generations of Cales at the old cabin. The basket had lurked under a sheet in the attic for many years until Ben and Jonas came along, and now had been put into use again. By Logan’s calculations, at least seven Cale children had used the old wicker basket, and no doubt there would be more to come in future generations.
“Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted...” she smiled. “Oh, I know, big old four-posters?”
“Yeah, big old four-posters...and what about the product of big old four-posters?” Logan smiled and ran his fingers down Max’s arm.
“And that would be?”
“Well, me, for one thing,” he rested his chin on her head.
“My mom liked to think I was conceived in that big old bed.”
“And what do you think?”
“I have no idea. I wasn’t there at the time,” he responded dryly.
“We haven’t been here for fourteen months...you wanna run the math on that one?”
“I know...” he responded, a smug look on his face.
They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the moment. Logan ran his hand up and down Max’s bare arm gently, until Eva reached up and grabbed his finger in one small, soft fist, squeezing it rhythmically.
“Mm,” Max sighed, breaking the companionable silence. Her pajamas rustled as she changed position slightly, swapping Eva around. The baby looked up at her parents and gave a broad, gummy smile before turning her face back to Max’s breast. “This is really nice, ya know.”
“You, me, Ben, Eva...Eyes Only in a box...I’ll be back in a minute...” Max quietly arose and took Eva back to the bedroom.
She returned a few minutes later, kneeled beside him on the couch, and smiling wickedly said, “Now where were we...”