Alaidh and catherderPairing:
A very shippy look at Logan’s family. Takes place some 13 years after Freak Nation.Chapter 31: Midnight Wanderings
Logan groaned and rubbed his eyes, wondering for a moment what had woken him. Then the sound came again – the thin cry from the far side of the room. Reaching a hand across, he found that Max’s side of the bed was cold and empty, and for a moment he felt a sense of loss. He thought he remembered a tickle of hair and the murmured words, “…on my sweetheart”, but he couldn’t be sure. He hadn’t really been awake at the time.
“Max,” he said softly into the night, knowing all along that if she had been in the apartment, she would have heard Eva long since. The only response was a creak as one of the bedroom drapes strained against its hook in the breeze, and another restless movement and cry from Eva.
Logan pushed himself upright, then shook his head to clear the fuzziness of sleep. He looked at the clock briefly and sighed before lifting his legs over the side of the bed. His t-shirt was a crumpled grayish-looking pile on the seat of the wheelchair, barely visible in the unlit room. He pulled it on quickly, further rumpling his sleep-tousled hair. The clumsy, half-asleep transfer almost resulted in him falling to the floor as he tilting the wheelchair alarmingly, only putting a hand out to save himself at the last minute, and steadying himself against the chest of drawers as Eva gave another loud sob. “I’m coming, sweetheart. Hang on.” He lifted his bare feet onto the footrest and rounded the bed. The side of the crib dropped down easily and he lifted her out, cuddling her. “Come on, sugar, what’s the matter?” She snuffled and scratched with sharp fingernails. Logan became aware of the dampness along his arm. He settled Eva on his lap for a moment and rolled back to turn on the light. They both blinked at the sudden brightness in the room then Eva gave a sudden, equally blinding, smile. He changed her diaper and clothes, and dropped the soiled ones in the bucket in the bathroom before making his way through to the living room.
Logan took up his favourite position in front of the big picture windows, staring out at the night-lights along The Esplanade. He hummed softly as he rocked his daughter back to sleep.
Max walked out onto the domed roof of the Space Needle and stood at the very edge looking out. It was more than a year since she’d been there – the night she’d found out they were pregnant again. She’d been unsure of her emotions then, not sure what to say to Logan, or how he would react. Her hormones had been racing like mad, confusing her thoughts, so she had come here. The Needle always gave her the clarity of thought she needed. To look down on the ordinary people with their ordinary lives somehow put some of her problems into perspective. She knew she’d never be that “ordinary girl” she’d craved to be for so long. That was as far out of her reach as the moon. Her very existence was extraordinary in itself. The Needle had seen all of her hopes and fears, confusion, and annoyance. Here was where she annually toasted the escape from Manticore in February ’09 – only missing this year because of her advanced pregnancy and all the complications that had gone with it. She had been confined to barracks, and much as she may have wanted to come, it wasn’t worth incurring Logan’s concern. She hadn’t been sure she could make the climb, anyway.
She cast thoughts into the wind for Zack and Jondy, Syl, Krit, Jace, Zane…Brin – wherever she was – all the others. The ones she knew hadn’t made it – Jack, Eva, Ben, Tinga. Poor Ben, the confused boy with Alec’s face, who had so hated the outside world that he tried to recreate Manticore. Sandeman. Lydecker. The Year of the Virus – in her mind it was always capitalized, like the Year of the Cat or…whatever.“Here I am, on the edge of the world,”
she thought, the wind blowing the hair from her face. She stood solidly, feet apart, enjoying the buffeting. The footsteps behind her made her roll her eyes. She spoke without hesitation. “What’re you doing here?”
Alec gave a wry grin and sat down next to her. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
Max grinned and sat beside him.
“Saw your bike,” he said, by way of explanation.
“So you thought you’d come and annoy me?”
“That wasn't my intention – well, not really.” He shrugged. “Just wondered what you were doing here. I mean, shouldn’t you be home with Mr Eyes Only and the rug rats?”
Max gave him a sharp look and then ignored the comment.
Alec continued, “Just think, Max, if Manticore had had its way, it would have been you and me and the rug rats.”
“That’s sick, and you know it.”
He grinned at having made her bite. “So…why are you out here on the edge of oblivion?”
“Like it’s any of your business?” Max asked, suddenly annoyed at the intrusion. “I just needed some air, if you must know.”
“What, no air in the ivory tower?”
Max looked away, gazing out over Puget Sound, the water and sky both equally black, pinpointed with stars, and the lights of an occasional ship.
Alec sighed. “Guess I’m intruding.”
“As a matter of fact, you are.”
Alec grinned for a moment, until Max, now on her feet, cuffed his ear, and not too gently at that. “Hey, what was that for?!”
“For being a smart Alec,” she responded curtly. “I’m outta here.”
“Later, Max…” he said, giving a half-salute.
She waved an impatient hand behind her. “Yeah, later, Alec.”
Max walked into the apartment shut the door quietly behind her. She jumped, hearing Logan’s soft, “Hey,” from the living room. She walked through, stopping on the way to cover Ben, who had been fighting tigers in his sleep – the bedclothes were in complete disarray and most of them were on the floor.
“Hey, yourself,” she finally said with a smile, studying him carefully, hands on hips, head to one side.
“How was the Needle?”
She grinned for a second at his astute guess. “Peaceful – until Alec showed up.” She rolled her eyes. Logan changed his position slightly, easing the shoulder that held the weight of the now sleeping child.
Max studied the two of them fondly. Eva, asleep, half-wrapped in the small blanket from the crib, was serene. Her eyelashes cast long shadows on her cheeks, and she made slight sucking movements with her mouth – Obviously dreaming of food,
Max thought. She curled into her father’s body, supported by his strong right arm.
“I guess he would
kinda ruin the solitude,” Logan responded with a wry grin. “All that yapping and breathing and…”
“Let’s put it this way – he kinda wrecked the mood.”
“Get dressed in a hurry, did we?” Max suddenly asked, plucking at the reversed seam of Logan’s t-shirt.
He shrugged. “The ladies in this house have no patience at all.”
“And you have?”
“Well…maybe not,” he admitted.
He looked down at Eva’s peaceful face and brushed her soft hair with his hand, for a moment taken back to another night more than a year ago.“Hey, you, what’re you doing up?” Max asked, strolling in after parking the bike.
She unzipped her jacket and took it off, leaving it slung over the back of the chair beside her, then stood at the window looking out, one hand on her abdomen and the other holding back the drape. Logan studied her, noting how tired she seemed, unwell,l even. Max gave Logan a watery smile, feeling queasy and unsure.
“I’m…I’m fine,” she said, hesitantly. She abruptly turned away from the window, walking past him toward the kitchen, but then stopped and turned back.
“Yes, Max?” He rolled toward her, bridging the gap between them.
“What would you say if I told you we were pregnant again?”
Logan looked at Max with a dumbstruck expression.
“Logan? Say something!”
He smiled then – a broad grin of sheer delight and wonder. “How? When?”
“I rather suspect in the usual way,” she responded sarcastically. “That wasn’t golf we were playing at the cabin.”
He’d pulled Max into his lap and given her a kiss that she’d felt all the way to her toenails, so she said later – a mind-blowing, breath-stealing kiss that left her flushed and aroused and wanting more. When he eventually backed off, he had looked deep into her dark eyes and said, “Did I say enough?”
“Most eloquent, Mr Cale,” she replied huskily, and relaxed into his body, leaning her chin on his shoulder. “I’m beat…” she sighed.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” she smiled.
Logan looked up at Max, smiling at his thoughts. "I don't know about you, Max, but I'm beat."
"Sounds like a plan to me," he smiled.Chapter 32: Hoops
Logan followed Ben and Jonas down the street in the direction of the community center. He had spent the early part of the afternoon on maintenance on his sports wheelchair and was now in hot pursuit of the two boys, who had made off with his backpack, snatching it from the back of the wheelchair in a moment of cheekiness. The sports chair wasn’t ideally suited to everyday use and it was slowing him down. The smaller casters tended to be easily obstructed and misdirected by pavement cracks, bumps and stones, but it was fast and maneuverable on the court. The red paintwork had prompted someone on the basketball team to christen it the Ferrari, and that name had stuck. Right now, though, the Ferrari was having to live up to its name in more ways than one as Logan tore after the two boys. It was all part of the game and a regular occurrence on training nights.
The community center was only two blocks from Fogle Towers. Logan had considered it a waste of resources to use the car while the weather stayed fine. Besides, Max was planning on swinging by on her way home from another day at Sublime.
The two boys were already shooting hoops when Logan finally arrived. They’d dropped his backpack on a bench and had taken possession of one end of the court for themselves. They were the only ones there, having arrived early, which gave time for Logan to do some extra practice on his own with the two boys.
Logan grabbed the backpack and pulled out his water bottle, dropping one of the straps for his legs, which he wasn’t wearing yet, on the ground in the process. He took a quick sip of water and replaced the bottle in the bag before bending down to retrieve the strap.
“Hurry up, Dad,” called Ben, impatiently.
“Just a minute, Ben,” he responded automatically, and muttered about “slave driving eleven-year-olds” under his breath.
“Dad, I heard that!” came the response.
Logan grinned, and closed the Velcro fastener on the leg straps securely. He considered his legs briefly. Considering that he’d spent most of the last 15 years in a wheelchair, they weren’t in bad shape. Max was regular as clockwork in helping out with range of motion exercises, and she also ensured that he made regular use of the FES bike as a part of his workouts to stimulate and work the muscles. This not only helped his cardio-vascular fitness and circulation, but also helped to retain and even build muscle tone. His legs looked normal, to all intents and purposes. Logan rubbed his hands on his thighs, briefly, feeling the rough fabric of his sweats moving against his fingers. The friction pulled back the open ends of his bike gloves, the warmth of the limbs underneath. For a moment, he felt a sadness. He would never give up on seeking a cure, but it wasn’t the be all and end all any more. Logan quickly shook off his melancholy mood, and after doing a couple of stretches, he rolled out to join the two boys before the Wednesday evening training session.
Max winced as Logan collided heavily with the steel post. The collision knocked his glasses askew and left a red welt down his cheek that would probably result in a bruise. She was always amazed that Logan would do this to himself without money changing hands, but it was so much a part of his life that she no longer commented. She sat on the back of a bench to watch, tended his injuries, which were frequent, massaged his stiff muscles and was bored to death when he talked to Ben of tactics and skills.
It was two games into the season, and Bling had brought Steve Hallsmith to watch the game. Steve had already lost his hospital pallor. Bling had had him outdoors at the rehab center working on his wheeling skills in the grounds. Bling had also brought him to the mid-week training session, where he watched and listened with interest to the post-training gripe session. Max could see the sense in this, but couldn’t help wondering if Logan had been so amenable. It was an education in life after catastrophic injury.
"Guess they should've moved the post a little to the left," commented Steve.
"Yeah, go figure," Max responded, settling Eva more comfortably on her knee. A few moments later, she watched as Logan quickly "rimmed" a dropped ball and fired off a quick throw at the hoop. The ball ran around the ring before dropping through.
The final whistle blew, and after a round of backslapping, Logan came over to Max smiling, his face shining with sweat.
"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary," Max commented, amused.
Logan gave her a cock-eyed grin. "Nah, just the guy who shot the winning basket."
"Looks like you busted a wheel. Hop out. I'll take a look."
Max gave him a stare. "No, tomorrow."
Logan gave her a resigned look, then released the leg strap and transferred onto the wooden bench. He took off his glasses and tried to straighten out the frame, bent out of shape by the collision with the post as a way of avoiding Bling’s eyes.
"Logan…" Bling had concern in his voice.
"Bling, it's only for a few minutes." Bling shook his head, and reached down to grab Eva as she crawled off in the direction of the court.
"Ben, look after your sister," Max said sharply, not looking up.
"Ben?" This time, she looked away from what she was doing and smiled sweetly at him.
Ben sighed and walked around to take Eva from Bling. He flopped down beside Logan on the bench and watched his mother critically.
"Okay, I think we’re good to go here,“ Max said, standing up as Logan put his glasses back on.
Logan nodded. "What’s up?"
“Nothing much. Fixed,” she replied.
Steve suddenly spoke. "You always play that rough?"
"No point in playing if you don't give it everything you got."
Max stood up, and dusted off her hands.
"How's your head?" asked Scott, rolling up to join them.
"Throbbing." Logan put his hand to the lump on his cheekbone, wincing at the contact.
"Remind me to order the rubber posts for next week," Scott grinned
Logan gave a wry grin in response then looked up in surprise as Ben suddenly handed him Eva.
“Wouldn’t they bend?”
“Maybe,” Scott acknowledged, “but at least you’d bounce off.”
Ben sat down in the wheelchair and eased himself back in the seat, the chair rolling back slightly until the hill-brakes caught. Logan had removed the other brakes, as he tended to jam his fingers in the mechanism – a common problem with court chairs. Ben’s feet barely touched the footrest. He swung his feet back and forth, wriggling in the seat experimentally. Logan looked at him curiously for a moment, then turned his attention back to Scott.
“Rubber posts…hmm…think I have a contact that could help with that,” he grinned.
Scott laughed. “Right, man. You got contacts everywhere.”
“Hey, look at how my cousin’s business came to the rescue.”
“Sure, we have no reason to complain about Cale Industries. They’ve been great. Bennett really came through. Thanks for that.”
“No, man, seriously, finding sponsors is hard. The club was really struggling to get going this year and Bennett’s donation has really helped. I mean, look at this place: new everything.”
“What’re family for…”
“Annoying the hell out of you, most of the time,” Max responded, as Ben took off across the blacktop in Logan’s wheelchair. “But Bennett’s a good guy.”
“Yeah, what she said,” Scott added and, after a quick look to gauge Logan’s reaction, he executed a standing 180 turn and chased after Ben.
Max shrugged and walked round to sit next to Logan on the bench. “Looks like we’re gonna be late for dinner at Joshua’s,” she said, resigned.
Logan shrugged, grinning as Ben neatly eluded Scott. The wheelchair was a mile too big for him, but Ben had all that X5 DNA enabling him to give Scott a run for his money. “I don’t know where he gets it from – certainly not from me,” Logan sighed.
“What, you blaming me?”
“If the cap fits…”
“Um, Logan, I seem to remember…”
“Max, if we’re to get to Joshua’s some time today…”
Steve was laughing. Ben was leading Scott a merry dance, but Logan was starting to get concerned. It was still only their closest friends who knew of Max’s background. Even years after the event, people were still suspicious and scared of the transgenics. Max couldn’t help her face being known, and she was recognized from time to time but it didn’t do to advertise. Steve would surely question how Ben was able to out-maneuver Scott if it went on for too much longer.
“Ben, enough!” The distraction of Max’s yell was enough for Scott to catch up and grab one wheel of the chair, effectively holding him in place for a moment.
“Listen to your mother, young man,” Scott scolded laughingly. He added softly, “It’s not a good idea to give away what you are to strangers.”
Ben looked at Scott in some alarm, not having realized that Scott knew. “You know?”
“Yeah, I do. But I’m not telling anyone.”
“I’m a grown-up. It’s my job to know things.” Scott grinned. “Race ya back!”
“Uh-uh. I don’t think so.”
“Okay. Next time you wanna do something this dumb, make sure no one else is around. I wouldn’t want to see you or your mom or dad get hurt because of some stupid prank. Deal?”
“Deal.” Ben grinned at Scott. Ben slid out of the chair and started to push it back, walking beside Scott. When they got back to the bench, Ben pushed the chair straight over to his father. “Sorry, Dad,” he said, although his dancing eyes belied his contrition.
“That’s okay, rascal.” Logan grinned and tousled his hair. “But we need to get moving if we’re to get to Joshua’s today.”
“Okay, Dad.” Ben held the chair steady as Logan transferred.
“Catch ya later, guys.”
“Yeah, later,” echoed Max.Chapter 33: Dinner at Tiffany’s
Max drove the Series 3 right up to the front steps of Joshua’s house and flicked the lever to open the trunk so she could get the wheelchair for Logan – his everyday chair, this time. They had left the sports chair at home, having made a brief pit stop for Logan to shower and change out of his sweaty clothes. The net curtain on the front window twitched slightly, and then the front door opened. Joshua stood at the door expectantly.
The big transgenic’s excitement was obvious. He hadn’t seen Max for a few days and he missed her. Max, Original Cindy, and Gem, with the occasional visit from Alec, saved Joshua from the isolation that had been his lot in the past. While he did venture out from time to time, most adults were scared of his fearsome appearance, although children soon overcame their fear. Still, he spent a lot of time alone, and he craved human – or transgenic – company. The artwork he created on buildings and schools was mostly created after-hours – on weekends or at night – when it was quiet. Working at such times meant there were fewer distractions, but also less companionship. Even after all this time, he still tended to create a stir in public. It saddened Max – Joshua had so much to give. His gentleness belied his appearance.
It had started to rain as soon as they left the apartment. The clouds that had hung around all day had finally resolved into drizzle. Logan, preparing to transfer, looked at the wet front steps of the ramshackle house with distaste and surrendered to the inevitable. “Max…do you think just this once…” He let the unspoken question hang in the air for a moment.
Max looked at him with the faintest of half-smiles and handed Eva and the sack of groceries she had bought for Joshua to Ben.
“Joshua, wanna give me a hand here?” she called.
“What’s up, little fella?” Joshua was by her side in a moment.
“Logan doesn’t wanna get his feet wet going up the stairs.”
Joshua gave a barking laugh. “Sure, dry feet for Logan.” Joshua reached down and grabbed hold of the rear frame of the chair with both hands, while Max took hold on the front.
“On three, big fella.”
“One – two – three.”
They lifted Logan easily and gently set him down on the porch. Joshua held the screen door open and Logan popped a wheelie over the doorstep and passed inside, saying, “Thanks, big fella.”
“No problem, Logan.” Joshua dropped a long arm over Max’s shoulder and they walked in together. Ben, of course, had gone ahead, and when the rest of them entered the living room, he was standing in front of a huge canvas painting on an easel in the corner, comparing it to the photo propped on the mantelpiece. It was a painting in a style not usually adopted by Joshua – a nearly perfect photographic rendering, rather than abstract. Ben barely moved as Max took Eva from him and dropped her casually on Logan’s lap.
“Hey, Joshua!” Logan called. “This is really good. Where’d you get the photo?”
“OC convinced Sketchy to give it to me.”
Logan studied the scene in the painting carefully. It was all so familiar to him…and yet, it also had an air of unreality as well. He was taken back to that cold morning in April 2021. The transgenics and their three non-transgenic friends had gathered on the rooftop of Terminal City for the flag raising. Sketchy had somehow managed to bring his camera into Terminal City – God only knew how he’d hidden it in his stormtrooper uniform, stolen from one of the phalanx members involved in the attack on Jam Pony.
Max put a hand on Logan’s shoulder. “I’d forgotten how tall you were,” she said, simply. She smiled, seeing the profiled group in the foreground – herself, Logan, Alec – watching as Joshua and the others raised the hand-painted flag on the roof of the tallest building in Terminal City – an act of defiance against the combined forces of government, police, and Ames White and his cult. It had been a grim, gray morning, three days into the siege of Terminal City. Despite the virus that still hovered over them like a specter, Logan and Max were clasping gloved hands. Original Cindy had taken the photo with Sketchy’s camera – no one had trusted Sketchy not to mess it up.
“Joshua, do you still have the flag?”
“Yes, little fella. Sure.” Joshua looked a little sad. “Sometimes I think it was better at Manticore. People are still afraid.”
Max turned around and hugged the big transgenic. “I’m sorry, Joshua. I wish it could be better for you.”
He hugged her back. “It’s okay, Max.”
Logan turned to face them.
“What happened to your face?” Joshua asked suddenly.
“He had an argument with a metal post,” Max responded.
“Ah, basketball,” Joshua nodded knowledgeably.
Logan shrugged. “We’re going to the cabin tomorrow – probably the last time this year. Wanna come?”
Joshua just grinned. “That’d be great. Joshua would like that.” While Joshua’s speech had improved out of all recognition in the years he had been out of Manticore, sometimes, in moments of stress or excitement, it lapsed back to earlier patterns.
Logan turned back to the big canvas. Ben had already wandered down to the basement, where he was tinkling the keys of the piano – now badly out of tune and suffering from disuse. Alec had never gone near it since that first occasion at Joshua’s dinner party.
Max reached down and grabbed Logan’s hand, entwining her fingers with his, much like they were in the picture. “Whatcha thinkin’?”
“It doesn’t seem real any more, does it? Did it really happen? Was that us?”
Max gave a snorting half-laugh. “It was real, all right.”
Logan looked at their entwined fingers – no longer protected by latex and leather. He ran his thumb over hers and smiled up at her. Joshua had come to the kitchen door, but he backed away on seeing the look they were exchanging, mumbling something about Max and Logan and gettin’ busy.
“It’s all good, now,” Max said softly.
“All the time,” Logan replied in an equally soft voice.
“Ba-da-da-da,” burbled Eva, kicking her feet, and effectively breaking the mood.
They exchanged glances and laughed. “Joshua, it’s safe to come out now,” called Max.
Joshua came to the doorway hesitantly, carrying a steaming baking dish.
“What’s for dinner?” asked Logan.
“Mac and cheese and little hot dogs,” he replied. “What else?”
Logan stared out the window at the nighttime view. The sky was heavy with clouds, although the forecast was for it to clear the following day. Max quietly padded into the room on bare feet. She had changed out of her clothes and was ready for bed, if not sleep. She leaned against the window-frame thoughtfully, also staring into the night.
"So, we're going to the cabin tomorrow?" she asked, still slightly amused at Logan's spur-of-the-moment invitation to Joshua.
"Sure, why not?"
She nodded thoughtfully. "I wish he had a better life."
Logan chose his words carefully before replying, "Unfortunately, while we know the Joshua within, most people only see the Joshua without." Logan sighed deeply and rubbed his shoulder, circling his arm to ease the stiffness. "I am definitely not the man I was," he groaned, instantly lightening the mood.
Max suppressed the laugh that threatened to erupt. "Come on, old man. I'll give you a massage." She straightened up, turned and left the room, pausing only once to give a saucy look over her shoulder at Logan, who grinned, shook his head, and followed her out.Chapter 34: Family Ties
Logan leaned back in his seat and tapped the steering wheel with impatience. An hour after picking up Joshua, they were still stuck in traffic on the outskirts of Seattle. Logan inched the SUV forward again as the beat-up pickup ahead of them moved infinitesimally. Joshua, sitting in the back seat, was in his element as he played a never-ending game of "I Spy" with Ben, and kept Eva entertained.
The traffic surged ahead a few more feet. Logan wound down his window as they came alongside a motorcycle cop parked on the shoulder, and waited for him to stop speaking into his two-way radio.
"What's going on, officer?"
The cop looked up at the unexpected voice. "Truck overturned. Driver's trapped in the cabin."
Logan frowned grimly at that statement.
"Where you headed?" the cop asked, and when Logan responded, he said, "Take the next exit and follow the road for about five miles, then make a left. Road's not that good, but it'll get you there."
"Ah, this thing can handle it. Thanks."
The vehicles ahead moved forward again, inching up the highway. The exit was in clear view a hundred yards ahead when the motorcycle started up and roared off. Logan looked at the shoulder of the road, which was quite broad at this point, and wondered whether he should make use of it as well. He checked the rear mirrors before looking at Max, who nodded her agreement. The road they turned onto was paved, but only just. It was deeply potholed in places, with crumbling edges, but Bessietoo handled it with ease. It was only a few miles before they would be turning onto the dirt road to the cabin.
Max fiddled with the buttons on the radio, eventually locating a news station. Reception was patchy – they were among thick trees and seemed to be getting close to the limit of the broadcast’s range – but it was adequate.
“…warning for anyone heading out of town to stay…area due to a truck accident…overturned on a bend …”
Logan, without so much as a glance at Max, pressed the CD button, cutting off the broadcast. In its place, the sounds of 30-year-old rock music filled the car.
After a quick lunch, Logan found himself alone in the cabin since Joshua had insisted on accompanying Max on a walk. After cleaning up the kitchen, he headed into town to spend some time with Jack and Rose.
Max, on the other hand, took Joshua on a long, rambling walk around the lake. Joshua happily carried Eva, laughing when she pulled his long hair or scratched her nails on his face. He loved babies and took pleasure in the company of Max and Ben. He was also enjoying having the freedom to walk outside in daylight hours.
By the time they returned to the cabin, darkness was starting to draw near and the scent of something filled with tomato and spice wafted from the kitchen. The living room was illuminated only by a small fire that Logan had lit to take the dampness from the room. He emerged from the bathroom as they entered, his hair damp and sticking out everywhere. He was clad in comfortable sweats and a well-worn t-shirt, having just showered.
“Mmmm, something sure smells good. I see you’ve been busy,” Max said, approval written all over her face.
“Starving,” she smiled.
“Good. Go washup and I’ll have food on the table by the time you’re finished.”
Ben was yawning when Max chased him upstairs to bed. He had helped her clean up the kitchen after dinner and then pulled out a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. They had spread it over the rug near the fireplace, giving them space to work and had made a good start when Max sent Ben to bed, promising to leave him some to do in the morning – if they managed to get that far.
Joshua was laughing at something Logan had said just before Max entered the room. She elegantly crossed her legs and sat down beside them. Joshua sat cross-legged across from Logan, who was sitting on the floor on his seat cushion. Logan leaned forward on one hand, getting a closer look. Joshua’s spatial perception was almost as good as Max’s. They both had an uncanny skill for finding exactly the right shaped piece from a pile of similar pieces. Ben had the same ability, although, in his case, it was still developing.
They quietly studied the puzzle, which was a picture of a family group of dolphins in an ocean at sunset – a haze of blue, purple, and mauve.
Max quickly tired of the activity. The skill factor in putting together the puzzle was too low to keep her attention for long. She scooped up Eva and sat in one of the armchairs, which she had turned to face them.
“What’ll we do tomorrow?” Joshua asked Max.
“Do you think we can persuade Logan to take us on a picnic…if the weather is nice?” Max answered, settling more comfortably in the chair.
“Would you like that, Joshua?” Logan asked. “This is your weekend, you know.”
Joshua looked between one and the other, his head tilted to one side. “I would like that…very much,” he said quietly. Joshua turned his attention back to the puzzle while Max and Logan exchanged smiles.
All that remained of the fire was a pile of glowing embers when they finally gave up on the almost-complete jigsaw puzzle. Logan had been yawning and stretching for some time, trying to give Joshua a hint that he was ready for bed. Finally, he pulled the wheelchair closer and transferred into it. Disappointment was written all over Joshua’s face, but he kept silent.
“Joshua, I think it’s time for bed.” Max’s tone was firm. She emphasized the point by standing up to put Eva to bed.
“Okay, Max.” Joshua uncurled himself from the floor and started up the steps to the attic bedroom. He was sharing the room with Ben, occupying one of the spare bunks. “Goodnight, Logan and Max”
“’Night, Joshua,” responded Logan.
“I’ll come up and tuck you in,” said Max, half-smiling.
Logan made use of the bathroom and generally prepared for bed while Max went upstairs with Joshua and checked on Ben. Ben was deep asleep as only a child can be. His hair was a tousled mess and he lay spreadeagled across the lower bunk, the blankets half on the floor, as usual. “Kids, huh?” grunted Joshua, carefully setting his heavy boots on the floor beside the other set of bunks.
“Yeah, big fella, kids.”
Joshua sat down on the bed, ducking his head to avoid the upper bunk. It was a tight squeeze for him to sleep on the bunk. His feet hung over the end, poking out from under the blankets.
Max leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Night, Joshua.”
She covered Ben, turned out the light, and went back downstairs. Logan had stripped off his sweatpants and was transferring onto the bed. He sat there smiling at her until she came across and tilted his face to look at it in the light of the bed lamp. The bruise on his cheek was more prominent than it had been the previous evening, forming a broad line along the line of his cheekbone from the level of his eye downward. There was even a darker impression where the arm of his glasses had been forced in.
“It’s a wonder that cop didn’t arrest you when he saw this,” she mused, gently running a finger down the mark.
Logan flinched away from the touch. “Ow, careful.”
She leaned in and held him in a light embrace, only to find that her first touch had triggered spasms in his calf muscle. She knew that such spasticity was a common, if annoying, side effect of spinal cord injury – a result of the nerve cells below the level of injury being disconnected from the brain, thus causing an exaggeration of normal reflexes. The spasms could be triggered by almost anything, although some things made them more likely. More severe spasms were often caused by infection and injury. Sometimes they could be caused by sitting incorrectly, an irritation, or even a touch. The best treatment was preventive range of motion exercises. Logan preferred to steer clear of medication, as nothing he had tried was completely effective and everything had side effects. The exercises had the additional benefit of keeping his joints working properly and preventing contracture. Max also added in some work on pressure points, which relieved stress, despite the fact the he couldn’t feel what she was doing.
“Damn, knew I shouldn’t have been sitting like that for so long,” he said, as Max bobbed down and tried to massage the spasm away.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she said lifting his legs up onto the bed, while he lay back. A few minutes of massage took care of the problem. “There you go, all better now.” She smiled.
Logan sighed. “You’d think after all this time…”
“Logan, honestly. What is it Sam keeps telling you? The spasms are useful. They help with muscle and bone strength and circulation. Don’t knock it, okay? Now, hold still. Let momma take care of you.”
“You’re not my momma,” he said with a wry grin, “Thank goodness.” Logan looked up at her indulgently as she ran through the various stretches, gently moving the joints and holding each for a count of ten. As Max worked through the routine, there was a noise from the other room – footsteps and then the sound of water running in the kitchen. Joshua looked in curiously, frowned and backed off. "It's okay, Joshua. You're not interrupting," said Max, frowning at Logan. For his part, Logan blushed bright red.
"What're you doing?"
"Range of motion exercises."
"Ah, I read about them in a book at my house."
“Really? Then you know why I’m doing this as well.”
“Yes. Night again, Max.”
Max finished the stretches and climbed into bed beside Logan. More often than not, the exercises made him sleepy or relaxed, but this time he felt energized. He rolled onto his side and pulled Max closer. A tentative first kiss quickly took on a deeper connection, which soon led to Max helping him strip. Then she knelt beside him on the bed, looking at him intently, as she unbuttoned her satin pajamas, performing a tantalizing striptease of her own.
“Now, where were we?” she asked, lying down and pulling up the covers.
“Ooh, let me think,” Logan responded with a sexy smile. “I think round about…here…”Chapter 35 – Beware of a big surprise
Logan, as was the case more often than not, woke to find himself alone in the bed, although upon reaching a hand across to touch Max’s side, he found that her side of the bed wasn’t yet completely cold. He pushed upright and sat on the side of the bed, gazing out into the soft light of a fine morning. Looking through the window, he could see Max walking around the lake with Eva on her hip. Every now and then, she bobbed down to pick up a stone, sending it skimming across the surface of the water before it sank from view.
"Flat, round stones are better, like this one," he said, handing her a round pebble from the lakeshore. "You need a hard, low, flat throw, and flick your wrist a bit so it spins; that way, the stone will bounce along the surface.""Like this?" she pitched the pebble, which immediately sank.
"If you do it right, it can put your elbow or shoulder out." Logan grinned and reached for another pebble, the exoskeleton whirring as he bent his knees. "More like this," he said, skipping the stone across the water, 4, 5, 6 times, before it dropped with a plop.
She scanned the ground at her feet and pounced on a rock, "Ah ha!" This time, Logan took her hand, molding his body to hers, the two of them moving as one. The projectile bounced, and again, and one more time before dropping into the lake. Max turned to face him, looking up, eyes shining. "How'd I do, professor?"
"Not bad. You're getting the hang of it," he smiled.
A few minutes later, Logan wheeled out onto the porch, a bowl of cereal in his lap. Max was slowly headed back. He couldn’t help grinning as she miscued a stone, having it sink from view at the first bounce. She must have sensed his eyes on her, because she turned, smiled, and waved. He returned the gesture.
The sound of boots trudging down the stairs signaled that Joshua was awake. The lighter patter from Ben’s sneakers followed soon after.
Logan turned to face them as they came outside. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Logan,” Joshua responded in his strangely clipped speech.
“Plenty of cereal in the kitchen if you guys’re hungry.”
“Aren’t ya gonna make us somethin’ special, Dad?” asked Ben, disappointed.
“Not today. Gotta do some shopping if we’re going on a picnic today.”
“’Kay, Dad. Can I come?”
“Don’t you wanna finish that puzzle?” Logan said, raising an eyebrow, and half-smiling. Why would anyone stay indoors on such a sparkling morning,
he mused, forgetting how many such days he missed when submerged in his work.
“Got all day for that.” Ben gave a bright smile and a wave on seeing his mother slowly walking back. He ran down the ramp to meet her.
Logan and Joshua exchanged amused looks. “Kids,” they both said together and laughed.
Logan slowly pushed his way down the cramped aisles of the market, a plastic basket in his lap. He had already selected a bag of crisp rolls and a plastic container of strawberries. They had brought the ingredients for salad with them from home, and he’d bought a cooked chicken from a fast food outlet down the street, intending to strip the carcass and add the pieces to the salad. He stopped in front of a display of wines, trying to decide what to buy. Unfortunately, the better vintages were on the top tier, away out of reach. He sighed and gazed up at the top shelf in frustration.
“Do you need some help?”
Logan turned his head in surprise. He hadn't heard anyone come up behind him. He saw a solidly built, dark-haired young man dressed in black trousers and white shirt. “Yes, thanks,” he said, gratefully. “Top shelf, third bottle across.” He backed out of the way, allowing the young man access.
“Okay.” He handed Logan the bottle with a flourish. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“I think I’m okay with the rest. Thanks.”
Logan nodded, thinking, Manners aren't dead, after all.
Once upon a time, he'd have been offended by that kind of offer of assistance. Max had eventually beaten some sense into him, rightly pointing out that there were more important things in life than getting upset because someone wanted to help.
Max handed Eva to Joshua. "Can you take her for a few minutes? Something I gotta do."
She went up into the loft, banging around in the storeroom for a few minutes before she found the cooler and the picnic basket, covered by a bag of old clothes. She came back downstairs, grinning in triumph, and walked through to the kitchen. "Logan'll want these when he comes back," she said to Joshua, who had followed her from the living room, trying to gently pry Eva's fist from his hair. Eva was pulling with all her baby might. Max dumped the basket and cooler on the table before turning her attention to rescuing Joshua from Eva. "Come on, baby, let go of Uncle Joshua. You're hurting him," she said gently.
"Thanks, Max," he said, relieved, when Max had managed to get the baby to release his hair. He reached his other hand round and pulled it back from his face. "I forgot what little babies do to hair," he laughed, a hoarse, barking sound.
"Yeah, they sure like to try and rip it out."
Logan carefully added the last few items to the picnic basket and shut the lid. Max had already loaded the cooler full of wine and other drinks into the back of the car and then settled herself in an armchair to feed Eva. Ben and Joshua were outside kicking a ball around in a never-ending game of soccer. Logan balanced the basket on his knees and, as an afterthought, grabbed the novel he'd been reading from the kitchen table and set it on top. He smiled at Max in passing before rolling out to the car.
The ball came flying from behind, whacking Logan hard on the shoulder as he pushed the basket in. "Hey, you! Watch where you're kicking that!"
"Sorry, Dad," called Ben. "You okay?"
"Yeah," he said, rubbing his shoulder. He muttered half under his breath, "…attacking mere mortals from behind…" and pushed the basket further back.
"Max, we're ready to go," he called.
"Give me a couple of minutes!" she called back. "Logan, is there a blanket in the car?"
Logan pushed himself back up the ramp. "Nope, forgot it," he said, popping over the step to go inside. He went over to the linen closet and peered inside at the lower shelves. "Must be up top," he said. He checked that the brakes on the wheelchair were locked and, oblivious to the fact that Max was watching in appreciation, grabbed the sturdy upper shelf with both hands and pulled himself up. "Ah, there it is." Max couldn't help grinning. The navy blue ribbed turtleneck Logan was wearing emphasized his well-developed shoulder and arm muscles, and owing to the oblique angle, she was being treated to a very nice view of his ass. He pinched a corner of the blanket under his fingers and lowered himself back down, finally pulling the blanket from the shelf and dropping it in his lap. Logan finally felt the eyes boring into his back. He unlocked the brakes and spun around to face Max. She still had a lingering upward curl on her lips. "Were you watching me?" he asked suspiciously.
"Hey, can I help it if I think you're sexy?" She stood up, adjusting her clothes, one handed, before walking to the door. She stopped and saucily cocked her left hip in Logan's direction, holding Eva on her right, and winking at the same time, gave a hoarsely purred, "Rowr," before stepping out the door.
Logan nosed Bessietoo out onto a grassy hilltop and killed the motor. “Will this do?” he asked, turning to look at Joshua.
Joshua smiled and nodded. “Yes, this is good.”
Logan turned back and surveyed the scene. A light breeze ruffled the grass and swayed the branches of a small clump of trees. There was a wide level area, abutted by a sharp slope, that he knew led to a small stream. He’d been coming to this place on family picnics and other outings for as long as he could remember. It was scenic and secluded - a good place for private family gatherings.
Joshua and Ben were first out of the car. Joshua wandered to the edge and looked down at the stream, while Ben started kicking the ball around. Max brought the wheelchair around, then released Eva from the child restraints.
One of the reasons Logan had chosen this place was a single large rock that protruded from the otherwise nearly smooth hilltop. Logan flicked the blanket out in front of the rock, while Max and Joshua followed with the basket and drink cooler. While Logan slid to the ground and settled himself on his seat cushion with his back to the sun-warmed rock, then shoved the wheelchair back out of the way, Max and Joshua set the food and drinks within arm's reach. Max set Eva in the middle of the blanket with a couple of toys, where she sat very straight and looked around, her eyes huge and dark in her face, and sucked hard on a wet fist. Content to keep an eye on his daughter, Logan reached for the basket of food and started shredding the chicken into a large round container, already partly filled with chopped lettuce.
Eva crawled closer to her father and sat beside him, watching the movement of his hands. Logan stopped what he was doing, moved the container aside, wiped his greasy fingers on a towel, and picked her up, standing her on his legs and letting her dance up and down while he held her. She was a strong, active baby, stronger even than Ben had been, and also very strong-willed. Logan picked her up and held her in the air, laughing as she reached for his glasses and always tantalizingly keeping her just out of arm's reach of the frames. She wriggled and laughed. Eventually, he sat her on his lap, her back curling into his belly, where she sat drumming her heels into the tops of his legs and trying very hard to pull his fingers into her mouth to chew. He picked up the novel with his free hand and started to read.
Max came and sat beside Logan after briefly joining in the never-ending soccer game with Ben and Joshua. She flicked him a quick smile, which he reciprocated before turning his attention back to the book.
"Ah, this is nice," sighed Max, snuggling into Logan's warm shoulder. "It's all so…ordinary."
"Okay, so…define ordinary for me," Logan said as he placed the book face down on the ground beside him. A half-smile played on his face as he turned to look at her.
"You, me, the kids, Joshua. Having a picnic on a sunny Sunday in Washington."
"Hmm…sunny in Washington – that's not ordinary," he quipped. Logan pursed his lips, thinking. "So, ordinary is the paraplegic cyber-journalist, his wife, the escaped X5 campaigner for transgenic rights," he grinned, "their two half-transgenic children, and said wife's…brother, the half-dog, half-man."
"Oh you," she punched his leg and rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know. And you're right. This is all kinda ordinary…normal…and that's nice."
"So ordinary girls aren't so bad?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Who said you were ordinary?"
Max looked down at Logan's feet and grinned. "You know, your shoelace is undone. Wouldn't want you to trip over it or anything."
Logan gave her a sidelong look, put Eva on the blanket beside him, and pulled his leg up to tie the lace. He left his leg there, hands interlocked behind his knee, as he leaned back against the rock and closed his eyes to the sun.
Max's head shot up as she heard a roar from the engines of a couple of SUVs. A moment later, the two vehicles shot into view, pulling to a stop near the Aztek. Joshua immediately turned away and adjusted the hood of his jacket so it shaded his face. Ben drew close to him, looking concerned, as two heavily armed men got out of the lead vehicle and walked across to where Max was slowly getting to her feet. She straightened, casting an alarmed glance at Logan, and in a deceptively innocent gesture, dusted off her behind.
Logan straightened and put a protective arm around Eva, restraining her. He shot a glance at Max, then looked up at the two men curiously as they approached, restraining himself from putting a hand out for the wheelchair. If push came to shove, he wouldn't have a hope of getting into it in time, but like a security blanket, he needed to know it was there. Max, her instinct sensing they weren't in direct danger, bobbed down to pick up the baby, holding her loosely on a cocked left hip, and then donned her most charming smile. "What's up, boys?" she asked sweetly.
"'Scuse the intrusion, ma'am. We're looking for an escapee from justice – broke out of jail last night. Very dangerous."
"Oh!" Max's eyes rounded in surprise. "Well, as you can see, he's not here."
"I can see that, ma'am. But he was last seen headed in this direction. You folks might want to pack up and have your picnic somewhere…safer." The deputy cast a pitying look at Logan. Logan instantly bristled and Max had to smother a smile, sensing his reaction.
"Well, we'll think about it, but we're really just a family having a picnic. No one could possibly want to do anything to us."
"You folks take care, now."
"Yeah, have a nice day," said the other, who had remained silent until then.
Max smiled sweetly again. "Good luck with your search, gentlemen." The first man gave a salute with his rifle, before turning and heading back to his vehicle.
As they drove off, Max looked at Logan, who returned the eye contact, relaxing again now that they were gone. "Nothing like a visit from a bunch of armed men to ruin the quiet of your day," she said. "So, we stayin' or goin'?" she continued.
"Well, what do you think the chances are?"
"Oh, 'bout a million to one."
"We're here," said Joshua firmly. He had joined them as soon as the vehicles were out of sight. "Might as well stay."
"Good, 'cause this girl's hungry."
"Ah, now that I can fix," replied Logan, smiling. He pulled the basket closer to her and opened the lid.
“Hmm…decisions, decisions,” she said, selecting one of the crusty rolls and the spinach dip. Logan turned his attention back to the salad as she broke apart the roll and dipped it in, then took a bite. “Mmm….”, she said, and offered him the second half. She held him with a sultry look. Logan took that as an invitation and accepted the morsel, licking the last bit from her fingers. There was a promise there that he fully intended to follow up on later.
Joshua grunted, reminding them that he was there.
“Help yourself, Joshua,” said Max, handing him the rest of the roll.
“Save it for later, you two,” said Joshua, quoting Alec.
Max laughed at that. “Hey, we won’t do it in front of you,” she said, causing Logan to blush.
Joshua joined her with a harsh laugh of his own. “I-I wish I had…”
Max looked at him seriously, “I know, big fella,” she said softly. “Life’s a bitch when you’re different.”
Logan packed the last items into the cooler and checked to see that there wasn’t anything else on the blanket before he transferred into the wheelchair. Nothing remained of the meal. Even Ben had scarfed down every last bit of the salad on his plate, not protesting at having to eat rabbit food. The strawberries had been especially sweet and the wine beautifully complemented the food. Ben had protested loudly at only being allowed Coke while everyone else had wine or beer, but his parents had stood firm. “You’re under age,” had been his father’s firm response, and in the end, he had stopped grumbling.
Max had taken Ben and Joshua down to the stream and rinsed off the plates quickly, leaving Logan to pack away everything else while he kept half an eye on Eva, who sat in her stroller, confined but happy for the moment. He felt among the folds of the blanket for the corkscrew, noting that it was missing from its place in the picnic basket, then froze as something sharp was pressed into his neck. “Don’t move,” said a cold voice next to his ear.