Title: "Cartoons"

Author: Kat

Spoilers: 411 on the DL (thanks to Kyre). Pre Virus and the sexy Jensen Ackles in any incarnation.

Summary: A real fluff piece this time. Max and Logan adjust to their feelings. Histories are explored.

Notes: English spellings.

**

He can remember when Sunday afternoons were the end of the universe. When the sun setting, his mother's apron pulling at her hips, late night television blaring from their ancient set all meant one thing; destruction, end of the line, big inky full stop.

He can remember, too, the way his brother would sit up in the den, way after it was simply just "late," looking tiny in his replica leather jacket, crying a little, smoking cigarettes even though Dad would be able to smell them in the morning - Monday morning - and he'd get the belt for it, or the back of a hand, or something.

He can remember watching cartoons on Monday morning - just before school, in the years before he lived at school - and laughing and joking with Isabelle, his sister, and throwing his pencil crayons at her, and sometimes even crying when mom announced it was "time".

Now, years later, he's watching cartoons again. Watching cartoons with Max, who's curled up like a cat on his sofa, and grinning.

Max likes cartoons. The bright ones, the ones that last three minutes and end with a pat 'True Meaning of Christmas' ideal. The ones that are repetitive, and maybe even a little crass - the ones with the explosions where characters emerge from piles - and piles - of rubble without so much as a scratch. Max cheers - kid in third grade kind of cheering - when Road Runner outsmarts Coyote for the eighteenth time that afternoon, and a small smile curls her lips whenever Bugs Bunny pops up to chew pen and ink carrots.

Yeah, you could say that Max liked cartoons.

What he didn't know was whether or not he liked cartoons. He'd found the old box of tapes - coloured with purple wax crayon and inscribed with the words 'These are Logan's, touch and you die!' - in storage, right beside little Bella's rocking horse, and his father's gun. He'd dusted them off carefully, and stacked them neatly on his kitchen table, before alphabetising them and thinking about re-labelling them with little stickers he'd found in a drawer. He was just about working up the courage to burn them - after ruling out dropping them from his window, and throwing them into the garbage - when Max outsmarted his new perimeter security system and waltzed on in.

"What's this?" she'd said, with all the subtlety of a refuse truck hurtling down the street at 3AM, before fixing him with a buoyant smile.

He hadn't replied - really - just motioned to the TV with a quick nod of his head and been sort of pleased - through the frown, and the old librarian 'huff' that he'd let out - when she'd bounded forward and pushed the first tape - A Bugs Bunny Compendium - into the right slot.

Four hours later and they were still watching - and he was still trying hard not to think about his father - and outside, it was still raining big on Seattle. Large, heavy raindrops pouring straight from the impending curves of his "building" and onto the tops of constructions people were normal enough to call houses. Exactly how the world should be, exactly how he likes it.

Max yawns a little, turns over, maybe even looks up at him before staring back at Pepy Le Peu and focusing on the poor French skunk's amorous intentions for that poor cat. Logan can remember a time - a time when his mother was well enough to bake cookies for them in the kitchen - that he'd revile this cartoon based purely on the knowledge - hard earned, school fees knowledge - that there were no skunks in France.

"You know," he says, "there really aren't skunks in France."

She stirs a little at this, looks up at him with what appears to be a lopsided grin but could, with the merest of flicks, become something more like a frown. "Yeah. May not have the Degree and everything, but kinda aware that the Gallic nation doesn't play host to Pepy's kind."

"Yeah," coupled a nod, because he doesn't know what to say next, "yeah."

She laughs, because Pepy is diverted into a perfume factory and the lady cat - whose name Logan can't remember - is diverted into a cheese factory. She's laughing, because now the smelly skunk is all rose-water and Channel Number Five, and because Miss Prim is all Camembert (which they do have in France) and smelling of Seattle's fine sewer system.

He doesn't know what to think about. He can't reconcile the images in his head with normal Sunday-living, those force-fed images of watch-with-mother. Searching, he turns to familiarity and a thought he's been having regularly for a while.

Sex with Max. Sex with Max where she flashes her bright smile at him and kisses slow and then fast. Sex with Max's lips, and his hands in Max's hair, and his thumbs on her cheekbones, bringing her on. Enjoying it now, watching the way her stomach curves around a small blue cushion, and the slight sensuality of the skin her T-shirt rises to show.

He remembers the first girl he ever slept with - there were boys before that, at school, but those aren't the stories he's going to tell Max now- and the way she was a little overweight, and grubby, and leant over the counter at the local coffee shop with a little too much zeal. He remembers she had chubby fingers that smelled of nicotine and smoke and fiery red hair that seemed to stick to her face. He remembers her being quite unremarkable, and quiet, and very thankful. Yeah, just running high on the gratitude.

Max turns. Looks up at the ceiling. "Some guy plaster that?" she asks.

"Um," angling his head so that he can look up also, "I imagine there was...like...a team of guys."

"I used to live with a plasterer. Nice guy. I mean," looking down from the ceiling and moving about on the cushions so that she can face him. "He didn't try anything. All I ever deal with are guys "trying" things. And I can handle myself. We know this, right? So it just makes it more sad and kinda pathetic when they...you know...try things."

He smirks at her. Its the wrong thing to do, and if he was some galpal of hers he knows that now he should break open the Ben and Jerry's and celebrate men being brainless thralls to sex, but he can't.

Just can't. Because, underneath, he's one of those men. He's tried things. He's organised lunches. He's consulted Bling on what flowers she'd like. He's made excuses. He's phoned her for no reason.

"So you haven't found Mr Right, yet?"

He's asked her thinly veiled questions about her sex life.

"No." A thoughtful look on her part, worlds away from the girl-child who giggles at cartoons. "But - and you've got to promise not to fucking laugh at this - I thought I was in love once."

He wheels toward her, knowing exactly how vastly awful the sound is that his wheelchair makes. He's lost all stealth. He can't hide either. And he used to be so good at hiding.

"But then, I guess, you can't laugh" she continues, " because you loved your utterly charming wife, didn't you?"

"My utterly charming wife," he mimics, "I was never in love with."

Her response to this will be, "Then why marry her?" Which was his mother's response from her hospital bed, and what dainty little Isabella had screamed over the phone. Patrick, the elder brother, and marginally bigger screw up, had coughed weed smoke at him, and laughed like he had stones in his chest.

"Then why..." stopping, screwing her eyes up tight, "you said...alcohol...fuck," a pause, opening the big brown eyes wide, "was it pity?"

They'd always called him the martyr at school. Ready, willing to cover for someone, to take the blame and smooth around the edges, to be the fall guy. To save the world.

"No, it wasn't pity."

"Sex, then?"

"Not the sex, either."

She turns up to look at the ceiling again. "Well, it definitely wasn't her personality..."

A snort before he looks away, checking the half prepared chillies and peppers on his work top, all neatly laid out according to grades of colour, and wondering how to tell her they didn't come out of the packet like that. "I don't really want to..."

"...talk about this?" She's on her back. "Do you want to hear about the boy I was in love with once?"

A shrug. "Sure."

Please God, thinking, Please God whom he doesn't believe in, let the love of her life not be Zack. Let it not be him. Please God, Gods, plural, covering his bases on deities whom he doesn't bankroll, Please let it not be him.

"I met Original Cindy, way before she was all 'Original' and just plain old Cindy at this joint just West of Stapleton." Shifting on the cushions, her delicate fingers playing with the curls of her hair. "And there were all these - whaddya call 'em - slot machines?"

He nods. "Slot machines."

"And there was this boy, called Sam, who used to empty them every Sunday afternoon and - heh - wear the tightest jeans, and grin at you and stuff...Stuff. Yes, I'm saying stuff. Fuck."

"How old were you?"

"Fourteen."

Having to remind himself that she's only nineteen now. Despite the way she speaks, the slurring that's become a part of her, and the odd cigarette she'll steal off that blonde roommate of hers. He remembers being fourteen, and being cocoooned at home, and doted on, and told that his brother was useless.

Fourteen. Watching his brother being beaten by "Dad" back from Hong Kong or Budapest, and quoting - fuck - inane cliched bullshit as he beat into his own damn son's thin, weed-smoke cracked ribs. Not "hitting" nothing as prosaic and simple as "blows," a beating, in front of him, on the white carpet his mother imported from India.

Fourteen. Pouring his mother drinks, pulling the Margarita mix from the refrigerator and then sitting at her knee as she applied pink foundation that smudged like dirty brown. Letting her spray him with perfume, and helping to draw her eyebrows on.

Maybe Fourteen wasn't so damn cocooned.

"You been in love? Like, ever?" she asks.

Sometimes, he's in love with everything. Moments, days of the week, her shallow breathing and other sentimental crap, like rose petals, and the colour orange, and Saturday morning coffee in the city, and maybe even watching cartoons with Max.

"Of course," she starts, "being in love with me doesn't count."

"Huh?"

She grins at him - impishly - and somehow he expects her hair to smell of Ribena, and her fingers to be covered in paint like some insatiable child. "Come on. Who'd ya love?"

" Max," he says sternly, looking down his glasses at her. "I've got to go cook."

"What we having?" she says languidly, stretching out across the sofa. "Cos I don't think I have the energy to move...or help...or do anything...useful." She yawns and rolls on to her side, her hands tucked small beneath her head despite the lavish pillows and cushions that surround her.

"Stroganof."

"Ooh, classy," she mocks, before yawning again and closing her eyes.

"Cartoons make you tired?" he asks as he begins to wheel away, filling his mind with measures and weights and wishing it wasn't so late already.

"I don't get tired. But normal people get tired. It's like that thing about serial killers...put all the suspects in a cell and the one who falls asleep first, that's your man." Her eyes are still shut.

"So what's that got to do with..." he prompts.

"So...oh," her eyes flicker open, "the guy who's guilty figures he'll get some sleep now, save for when they're parading his ass around the cameras like he was some prize fish."

"And the others?"

"Oh," she runs a hand through her hair, "they don't sleep because they can't, not with the worry of it all. What if they put me in prison, they think. What will my wife think? I'll be a disgrace at church! Will I ever be able to shower again? They're practically buzzing with the injustice of it all. No man could sleep against that mountain of noise. It's like...physics or something."

"Well, not exactly physics..."

She sits up quickly. "But you know what I mean."

"Yes," he nods slowly, looking her in the eyes. "I know what you mean."

"So I sleep because it makes me look normal. I'm not the one guy - girl - not sleeping, and so no-one can say "You don't sleep! You freak! You must be a super-soldier!" Sleeping is safe. Good and safe."

"Are you going to go to sleep now?" he asks, jauntily, catching the alive look in her eyes and smiling back at it. Thanking it for being beautiful and strange, and so very wild compared to the chrome lines of the apartment.

"Nah," she says, turning to smile toward him. "What would you do then? You'd just sit about - la la la - Max is asleep - la la la my Stroga-thing is getting cold."

"Point."

In mock celebration she raises her arms in the air. "She shoots. She scores."

Lifting herself from lying to sitting a spark lights her eyes. With her left hand she reaches across and grabs a small red pillow he remembers being expensive and belonging to some ancient great-grandmother. She moves closer to his chair. "So...huh..." she throws the cushion up in the air and catches it effortlessly, "what am I going to do with myself..."

He grins in return. "...oh I don't know..." He turns away from her. "I have some great crochet patterns around here somewhere..."

"I'm thinking not crochet," she says deeply, advancing on him.

"Oh. Um," he stifles a laugh, pushing his glasses higher up his nose. "So, say, something a little more energetic?"

"I was thinking like, a lot energetic. Sweaty even."

"Sweaty." He gulps theatrically, loosening his collar. "You know, I don't think I can handle sweaty..."

She lets out a half-screaming giggle and throws the cushion down at his chest. He blocks her awkwardly and wonders if all that inert watching has just gotten her itching to hit something - anything - anyone. Trying for another blow she raises her arms over her head, giving him just the split second needed to catch her arms and hold them steady. She pauses then for a second, watching him, her long curls settling back around her face. It's an easy move, breaking his grip as though his hands were paper, and bringing the cushion back down against his chest.

"You fold?" she asks.

"Ah. Didn't really think the fight was fair."

She leans closer. "Really?"

He moves in a little, making sure his profile is strong. Kinda ridiculous, he thinks, some cripple trying to make out like he can actually take on an enhanced wonder-soldier, but he has to try. Has to do something to impress her, let her know that he's not beneath her, despite the literal and genetic implications of such a statement.

"Yeah," he says first, and then "Yeah," again to reassure himself. "Not gonna win this time Max."

"No?"

The cartoons are still blaring in the room, and the shadows shift as the sun ducks around the other tall apartment buildings.

She's the kind of girl who should have had many brothers, he realises, watching the late sunshine ripple over her hair. The kind of girl he should have picked up in his Dad's truck. The kind of girl he should have waited on the porch for, hearing cries of, "ready in a minute." The kind of girl who should have gotten ketchup on her nose from the fries they shared. The kind of girl he should have pushed the shapeless sports jersey from, to reveal a neat lacy bra, and skin dappled with the bruises from the touch-game they played. The kind of girl who should have had a normal life, and normal cushions to throw about, and a dusty pink room that she hadn't re-painted since she was fourteen.

The kind of girl he should have known a long time ago.

"Yeah. No win. Strike out."

"Why?"

"Um. The lady wants to know why. Okay. Let's see. Because you always win Max. Because you're used to it. Because you really like it, maybe even too much. Ehhh..." he looks down, brushing the cushion to the floor from where it landed on his lap. "Because you look sort of beautiful when you're all anguished like that."

"Sort of beautiful?" she counters, eyebrow raised.

He nods. "Sort of beautiful. Definitely, just sort-of-beautiful."

For that, he gets a playful slap on his chest, and a small smile before she jumps up to sit on his lap, her head against his chest, her legs hanging over the arm rests of the chair.

Her heart beats faster than his does.

He wonders what his life would be like if he'd never met her. He thinks she'd maybe not be as happy as she is with him, here, in the now. But he also thinks such an assumption could be eight parts ego, one part actual observance.

He wonders if this is the best it'll ever be. He wonders if sitting in the chair with her could be the top of the world.

He wonders when he'll stop thinking. Wonder when it'll stop hurting not to think, not to wonder...

She begins speaking long before he starts to hear her. "I fucked around with Sam. You know, Sam?"

"Sam the slot-machine guy," he murmurs, wishing he could reach the remote and turn off the repetitive noise of the television.

"Yeah. Sam. But you see the thing about Sam...well, what I was saying earlier, about being in love..."

"About being in love with Sam." He's playing with her hair.

"Well, yeah, being in love with Sam. And that was okay, because I was - I mean - I was in love with Sam. Until, well, he told his friends about me. And I tried to tell them, that I only really loved Sam, and it was only Sam who could pick me up after work and take me to one of those abandoned tele-communications offices...and this is hard... but, you know."

"Telecommunications? The ones out near East Zone?" He knows he should be listening harder, but he's heard this all somewhere before, maybe spilled like blood from his own mouth.

"Yeah, I think I liked them because they were pretty. Attracted to shiny things..."

"That explain the fascination with the Space Needle?"

She nods, smiling slowly, before moving her tiny hands to straighten the collar of his shirt. It's only when she's close like this he can fathom how small she really is. If you didn't know her, hadn't watched her kill three men without so much as pausing for breath, you'd say she were almost fragile.

"So...I'm going to tell you." Her bare feet are brushing rhythmically against the side of the chair.

"About Sam?"

"Yes."

He kisses the top of her head, and wonders about this Sam, and if Sam knew what he had, and if Sam was the kind of dickless wonder who ended up pushing, or mopping floors at correctional facilities, or both.

"Yeah...so okay...tell me about Sam."

"Sam was special, you know? Sam could make you feel everything at once, make you hum, make you dance, make you want to do crazy things you shouldn't tell your mom about." She pauses, "What I didn't realise, then, because I convinced myself that other things were true, was that Sam and me were really wrong...really out of fucking control..."

She's really small now, and light, and her eyes find some middle-distance to appraise. "And when Cindy found me, and she was barely legal herself, I was dirty, you know - dirty - and it hurt, and I didn't really know who I was."

He yawns, maybe because he's tired. "So we find him?"

"Huh?" she's so far off in her own world her voice is faint.

"Find Sam. So we can..." he trails off.

"So we can what?" she shoots back at him, suddenly alert. Her eyes are wild and her hair won't sit right at her face, as though she was suddenly running on electricity, and her hair was wired with static.

"I don't know...make him pay, do the usual stuff?"

"Because that's our business, is it?"

"I'd help you," he says rashly, and then breathes in quickly to store the words away, somehow.

"You'd help me kill him? Or what, just give him fifty dollars and send him to get corrected or summin..."

"If you don't want my help then why bother involving me?"

"To teach you."

"Teach me what? Teach me exactly what, Max?"

"That I was fourteen. Fourteen. Didn't know any better. Because, despite what you may think, I fuck up all the time. I got you hit. I've lost friends. I've killed people who didn't deserve to die. Because I'm nineteen now. Because I got my surname from a sheet of encyclopedia paper they were using at the sanitary depot..."

He doesn't know what to say. Wise old-young man who digs himself in so he can't fall...

She taps her head and sighs, " Look, I'm sorry. Maybe the cartoons blew a fuse or something because I really shouldn't be telling you this..."

"No, really" he says. "It doesn't matter."

"I just had to tell someone. I just had to tell you. So that you'll know. So that I told you. So that you can say you know me. So that somebody can say they knew me."

"The story of your life," he says, quietly.

"Exactly," she affirms, before her voice loses a little colour. "Exactly..."

Max's heart beats faster than his does. Maybe she should know.

Suddenly, inexplicably, stupidly he wants to tell her everything. Why he hates cartoons, why he sold that painting of his mother's, why he lays out the chilli peppers so correctly you could only fault him for his perfection.

And inexplicably, suddenly, it all starts to come out.

"My brother was in a car accident. He was doing one hundred twenty on an interstate because my Dad had disinherited and disowned him. Two years after that he died..."

"My mother was deeply unhappy, almost as unhappy as I was, but if she was here to tell you - which she's not..."

"I used to play Raquetball. Didn't know that, did you? I was good, too. I looked into there being a disabled league. And then I remembered that the world had ended and there wasn't an ATP to sponsor the events anymore...so, yeah, no, there isn't a disabled league..."

"Didn't actually die until two years later, of related injuries they said, found in some rat-infested little shit-hole on the coast. And I asked just before if he wanted me to leave too, leave the money and Dad, and he said 'no,' said that he didn't want me 'shitting all over the inheritance..."

"And after that I married the first woman who told me she loved me."

"Ahhh." It's the first sound she's made in a while. "So you did marry her because you loved her."

"No," he says, snaking a hand up to bring it down between her tangled curls. "I married her because she loved me. And because she didn't think I was weak, or small." A loaded pause. "Or fake. Yeah, definitely not fake or compensating for something. I married her because she said she'd never leave me. No...actually, I married her because I believed she'd never leave me."

Max stirs. "But she did, I mean, she did leave you."

"Yeah," he laughs a little. "Because life's a fucking uncontrollable mess. And the more you think something's a sure thing, the more you stack your chips, the more the house'll win. It always does."

"You don't believe that."

"Maybe I do," a thoughtful look around the place. "Maybe I do believe that, thinking it while telling myself not to. Maybe, it's all a matter of time. Maybe I'll get tired soon and not be scared of the things in the dark. Maybe I'll shut my eyes and it'll all go away. Maybe I don't like the fight."

"But you keep fighting?"

"Yeah. Because it's better than not."

"Not fighting?"

"Yeah...because if you're not fighting..."

She catches him in a look and finishes his sentence. "Because if you're not fighting, everything that you're fighting will make you dead."

They share the look for a moment. Before, carefully she mouthes the word "Yeah," making him nod in agreement to her call to arms, her encapsulation of the nature of them. "Yeah," he says, reaching his hand out to trace her lips, "Yeah." And she breaks into one of the most beautiful smile he's ever seen, and he says "yeah."

In a moment it'll be sunset, and if he could stand he'd take her to the window and show her the world. And if he could stand he'd pick up her slight frame in his arms and tell her that everything would be okay, and that he could be strong, and that he could protect her. If he could stand he'd kiss her slowly and move his hand under her bra straps and teach her denial, and hate, and repression and everything else adult he's picked up along the way, everything designed to make life a little easier.

Instead it's Max who shifts her whole body to face him. It's Max who leans forward, silhouetted against the ageing sun, and it's Max who kisses him slowly, and tenderly. And it's Max who leans back to take off that tight-fitting black top, and it's Max who leans down and kisses him again, opening her mouth a little and making him forget - some - what their world is really like.

It's Max who breathes heavily against his cheek, and carefully plucks his glasses from his nose. And it's the slight quirk to Max's face he sees as the sun sets and the light goes hazy, and dark. "This is probably really unprofessional," she says, serenely, as the light only shows him her cheekbones and the hollow of her eyes. "But that's okay," continuing, unclipping her bra, "because I don't give a fuck."

He leans in and kisses her, and says "Really?" into her skin and hears no reply. He moves his hands over her breasts and then down to her hips and she moves slowly against him, kissing him and swaying a little. "Really?" he says again, kissing the intricate bones around her neck.

"Yeah," she kisses him back, slowly, slowly, before opening her mouth fully against his and stifling anything he has to say. Quite possibly, it's better that way.

It's dark now, but maybe it always has been. He's letting her kiss him, but maybe it's always been that way. He sort of loves her, and maybe that's all he needs to know.

They're very similar, and maybe that's everything.

"Hey," she says, running a thoughtful finger over her lip, "It's Monday tomorrow."

Maybe if they shut their eyes all this will be normal.

"Yeah...Monday. I think I like Mondays."

Maybe they don't need to.