DECEMBER 31, 11:32 p.m.
Every good superhero will tell you that she puts her life on the line every day saving the world, rescuing mankind, ridding the world of evil, blah, blah, blah.
To be honest, most of the missions I went on when I first became a junior X-Man were cake. I'm sure they planned it that way to ease us newbies into the job. A little surveillance, some intel gathering, the occasional ass kicking (my personal favorite), things like that. We'd been on several "missions" that simply involved hooking up with mutant kids like ourselves and inviting them to Xavier's school.
Those were the best and the worst. The best, because every time one of the kids said yes, we knew that was one fewer runaway mutant on the streets or -- though we never said so -- vulnerable to the variant attractions of the Brotherhood.
It was the worst because every one of them had that wary, old look in their eyes. They were just kids, but they'd already seen too much, done too much, in their short years. It was a look I saw in the mirror every day, and it reminded me of too many things. In my past and in pasts that didn't belong to me.
But still, even collecting the runaways was fairly easy. They said yes or they said no, and we were on our way. Aside from the occasional scuffle with a kid who misunderstood our intentions, these missions were more boring than anything.
But eventually, as happens to every superhero, it was my turn to save the world, rescue mankind and rid the world of evil.
But I didn't do it for the world. As far as I was concerned, mankind could take a flying leap and evil could have itself a big ole coming out party.
I did it for one person.
I did it for Logan.
I did it for love.
It was my life or his. I knew which one he would choose; he'd done it before. But this time it was my choice.
I know, I know, I'm being a drama queen, but I think I have the right. After all, being electrocuted isn't a pretty way to go.
Logan came back to Xavier's when I was 20 years old. I was going to college, studying English and creative writing, and training to be a full-fledged X-Man.
He'd been gone for three years, and I was the only one who ever heard from him while he was away. In the early days, when I still resented Jean and his feelings for her, I would feel smug and superior that he had called me, not her. That I had gotten an actual postcard from him, and she had heard nothing.
She wouldn't have had to be psychic to know what I was thinking, but --as usual -- she was extremely gracious about the whole thing. At first, that was just another thing I resented about her, but now, it's something I admire. I try sometimes to remember if I was always such a hothead or if that developed after I absorbed a bit too much of Logan, but my memories of "before Rogue" are too blurred.
Logan returned on a Sunday morning about five minutes before I got home. I'd been up all night, and if I even saw the motorcycle out front it never registered with me. As I pushed the front door open, I heard his voice and froze in shock.
"What do you mean, she's not here?"
"She had a date last night," Jean said calmly.
"And you just let her stay out with some guy all night?" he growled.
Smiling, I shoved the door all the way open. "Logan!" With an admittedly girly squeal, I rushed to hug him, ignoring the scowl he sent my way. Despite being miffed, he hugged me back tightly and kissed the top of my head.
I pulled back and smiled brightly. "It's so great to see you, sugar. I missed you."
"I was worried about you," he said grumpily, trying not to smile back at me.
It was at this point that Scott entered the conversation. I suppose I should mention that Scott had become something of an older brother to me over the years, and while I could certainly do without his ultra-protective streak, I loved the guy. The fact that he loved me like a sister was one of the bright spots in my life, and I could usually count on Jean to keep him out of my way when necessary. We girls tended to stick together.
I got a brief flash of what my life would be like with both Cyclops and Wolverine "protecting" me all the time. I might as well become a nun.
I could see from Scott's face that a lecture was on the way. I quickly decided I had to nip this overproctectiveness in the bud, or I'd have no chance at a social life until I was 40. Maybe. I glanced at Jean, and I could see she'd picked up on my line of thinking, either through telepathy or because she knew me so well.
"You were with Russell," Scott said, frowning.
I should also explain about Russell, I guess. Scott hated him; in my opinion, he'd never given Russell a chance. At first, he'd tried the age argument, since Russell was 12 years older than me. That didn't fly, once I pointed out that the age difference between himself and Jean didn't seem to pose problems for them.
Then he tried to tell me that Russell, being older, would "expect certain things" from me. So I had to embarrass him by pointing out that I lived with two experienced older men and a horny teen-age boy in my head all the time, and I doubted anything Russell would "expect" could surprise me that much. He actually blushed. It was cute.
Then he played dirty. He knew I loved Logan, he told me, and I was just trying to find a replacement for him. It was unhealthy for me to fixate on him, I needed to move on, I should try dating someone my own age ... you get the idea.
OK, I admit it. I never completely got over my "crush" on Logan. Would you? And perhaps there was a little bit about Russell that reminded me of Logan. He was a former Navy SEAL, so he had that whole badass tough-guy thing down pat, and he wasn't afraid to touch me the way most people were. Even other mutants were hesitant to touch me, even when I buried my lethal skin behind layers of clothing. Russell was human, but he knew a lot of mutants, and even after I explained my mutation to him, he would put his arm around me or hold my hand. He was careful, but he was never afraid.
But let's get real. Like I said, he was human. He never growled. He smiled all the time. He certainly didn't have a metal skeleton, and I never saw him get mad and pop some scary-looking claws out of his knuckles. And, most of all, he never thought of me as a kid.
Nobody but my friends Jubilee and Kitty knew the truth. Russell and I had started dating a year before, but somehow our relationship had developed into a really close friendship. I loved him, but I wasn't in love with him, and I knew he felt the same way about me. So, when he was in town, we spent almost all our time together, and when he was gone, most of the other men would consider me off-limits because I was "taken."
I never stopped to consider why I found this relationship so convenient. I told myself otherwise, but I suppose I was always just waiting for Logan to come home.
"Yes," I told Scott, "I was with Russell." My tone of voice told him to drop the subject, but I knew he'd ignore me.
It was pretty unnerving, having both Scott and Logan stare at me suspiciously. Even though Logan didn't know Russell from Mr. Rogers, he'd obviously picked up on Scott's less-than-thrilledness about the guy.
"What were you doing?" they asked at the same time, exchanging a startled glance before looking back at me. Jean clapped a hand over her mouth, holding back her laughter.
I edged toward the stairs, not looking directly at either one of them, or at Jean. I didn't want to ruin everything by laughing. "Oh, I got lucky," I said breezily. I tried, but I couldn't resist glancing at their faces, and the twin looks of shock nearly broke me.
"WHAT?" Again, they both spoke at the same time, in an identical tone of voice. I heard Jean coughing, trying to cover a laugh. I sent her a thought: Well, we always said they were more alike than they would ever admit.
"I got REALLY lucky," I said, as innocently as possible.
"You ... Russell ..." Scott choked out. "You ..."
"Me, Russell ... his brother Don ... his best friend Trent." I sighed. "We were up all night, and now I'm just exhausted."
Scott gasped, and Logan growled, popping claws on both hands.
Jean gave up trying to hold back her giggles, and I got a slight break as both men turned to glare at her. But it was only a brief reprieve, and I nervously climbed onto the top step.
"Marie, what the HELL is going on?" Logan's tone told me he was one step away from skewering somebody, so I decided to give them a break before someone -- namely, me -- got hurt.
"Poker, guys," I said. "Get your minds out of the gutter. We were playing poker. Not even strip poker. Although, we should have," I mused. "Then I could literally have beaten the pants off 'em."
Uh-oh. Fun as it was, I could see neither of them was as amused as Jean and I were, so I decided a hasty retreat was in order. "Like I said, I'm exhausted, so can you yell at me later?" I was halfway up the stairs before they could answer.
"Count on it," Scott said grumpily.
"Um, Logan?" I called down the stairs.
"Hmmmph?" He didn't sound -- or look -- too thrilled with me.
"You gonna be around a while?"
His face softened. Sort of. I amused myself by thinking I was probably the only one who could tell. "Yeah, kid."
When I got to my room, I dropped to the bed, sighing. I wondered dramatically if every good thing had to have a bad side to it. The good, of course, was that Logan was home and was planning to stay awhile. The bad thing was, he still thought of me as a kid.
And I cared. I cared a lot.
I had nightmares. A lot of them. Every night.
That probably sounds worse than it is. In fact, it's something you get used to. Mostly.
Erik's nightmares are of dark and cold and mud and pain and loss and hatred. They've given me an understanding of him that I didn't want. I don't approve of his actions, especially the whole "killing Rogue" thing, but at least now I understand where they were coming from.
David's nightmare is of being chased by a giant hamster. OK, maybe that doesn't sound too scary, but you try running and screaming with a King-Kong-sized rodent breathing down your neck, and see how rested you feel when you wake up.
Of course, I have my own nightmares. The worst one is a repeat of what happened on the Statue of Liberty, only in my dream, Logan doesn't survive. I dream of kneeling on his grave, digging the soil with my hands and trying to bury myself with him, and I wake up unable to breathe.
But Logan's nightmares are the worst. In them, I'm in his body, I'm tied down, and I can't move. There are men with cold eyes that stare at me like I'm a lab rat, and they hurt me. There is terrible pain and fear, and so much of what happens is a blur that I can't remember when I wake up. Those dreams leave me shaking and crying. When Logan left, I had them for a week straight, followed by a week of caffeine-induced insomnia because I refused to allow myself to sleep. After that, they eased, only popping up now and then when I'm seriously stressed.
Three days after Logan returned, I had his nightmare.
I hadn't seen much of him since that first day. I'd been busy with school and training, and I had the feeling that he was avoiding me, though I wasn't sure why.
It was just after 2 a.m. when I woke up, gasping and crying. I knew I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, so I followed my usual routine. Rangers sweatshirt: check. Fluffy pink polka-dot elephant slippers: check. Favorite purple and green blanket: check.
I had one more essential ingredient to fetch. I shuffled out the door, trying to be as quiet as possible, since not everyone appreciates being awakened at 2 in the morning. I don't mind it myself, though I would've preferred another method of waking up. I've always been a creature of the night, and there are few things I find as relaxing as soaking in the utter stillness of the night and watching the stars.
I flipped on the light in the kitchen and gathered my supplies, never noticing that I'd been followed. I nearly dropped the milk when I heard Logan's voice.
I gasped and turned, holding my free hand to my chest and shakily setting the milk down.
"Geez, Logan. I'm too young for a heart attack."
He smirked, all the apology I was going to get. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Making hot chocolate. Want some?"
He tilted his head. "Why don't you just get one of those little packets and nuke it?"
I sighed. "Logan, have you ever had real, homemade hot chocolate?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"Sit," I ordered, pointing to a kitchen chair. Surprisingly, he did, his eyes never leaving me. "My Momma used to make this for me," I explained. "Whenever I couldn't ... or wouldn't sleep."
"You havin' trouble sleepin'?"
"I have nightmares," I said, pouring the ingredients into a pan. "Some of them are pretty bad. Some ... well, I can't go back to sleep or I'll just have them again."
"What are they about?"
I stirred the hot chocolate, wondering if I should tell him the truth. "Well, tonight I had yours."
"The experiment," I said. "What they did to you. I dream of it."
"Dammit. Kid, I'm sorry you have to see that." He stood up and started to put his hand on my shoulder before he realized it was bare. I wasn't used to having anyone else around on my late-night jaunts, so I hadn't bothered to cover up. Jubilee had given me the pajamas on my last birthday. The pants were lightweight cotton with little hearts on them, and the top was deep pink with only spaghetti straps. There was no reason, she said, that I had to cover my skin when I was sleeping. As long as I was sleeping alone.
I jumped back, banging my hip into the counter. "It's not your fault. Don't apologize for it. I'd say having my life is worth a few nightmares."
He was still staring at my bare arms and shoulders, and my breath hitched as his eyes moved to my chest. I waved a hand in front of his face. "Hello? Earth to Logan?"
He cleared his throat. "You still have it."
It took my fogged brain a moment to realize he was talking about the dog tag he'd left with me. I was momentarily embarrassed to be caught wearing it like some starry-eyed schoolgirl with a crush, but I only nodded.
"I don't--" now I had to clear my throat. "I never take it off."
His eyes darkened and he stepped closer to me, I was already against the counter, but I pressed back into it as though I could suddenly phase through objects like Kitty could. I wasn't sure what he was thinking, but he almost looked ... possessive. Or was that wishful thinking? My vision started to get blurry until I remembered that breathing was actually necessary to life.
I moved to the side and grabbed my sweatshirt off the table. Yanking it on, I said lightly, "It's my lucky charm. And a reminder." No sir, I was really saying, no pathetic-potential-stalker-Lolita-wannabe here.
With the killer skin out of view, the moment passed, and he returned to the safety of his chair. "A reminder of what?"
"Well ..." I laughed a little bit, determined to show him how grown up I was, and how I hadn't given a second thought to how his tight gray T-shirt showed off his amazing chest, and ... where was I? Oh, yes. I was pretending to be all mature and everything.
"When you first left, I had this raging hormonal crush on you." I glanced at him and laughed again. "Oh, you're BLUSHING! How cute. I made you blush."
He didn't say anything, he just glared at me. At a guess, Wolverine had never been called "cute" in his life. I knew I was probably the only person on the planet who'd get away with it. The smug feeling returned. "So anyway," I continued, "In typical dramatic teen-age girl fashion, I had to wear it all the time to remind me of you until you returned to me. And even after I grew out of that --"
"Grew out of it?" He sounded insulted, and I suppressed a smile.
"After I grew out of it, I still wore this all the time to remind me how much I owe you."
"You don't owe me anything," he said gruffly.
"Logan." I waited until he looked me in the eyes. "I owe you everything. You ... and Scott, Jean and Ororo. Professor X. All of you. I don't even know what would have happened to me without you. I don't like to think of it."
I snagged two mugs out of a cabinet. "You want marshmallows?"
He looked startled, and I grinned. "You can't have hot chocolate without marshmallows. I won't tell anyone. Your badass reputation is safe."
I handed the mugs to him and grabbed my blanket, leading him to a door in the corner of the kitchen. The stairs behind that door led to my favorite spot at Xavier's, a bench on the roof surrounded by a mini flower garden. Since I'd taken to coming up here on my insomniac nights a few night-blooming plants had suddenly appeared. I knew Xavier was responsible for that, and it was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for me.
Despite the fact that it was mid-November, the temperature was pretty pleasant, and Logan and I settled on the bench with our hot chocolate, my blanket tucked around us. I propped my feet up on a giant flower pot and sipped my drink.
Logan quirked an eyebrow at my slippers. "Cute," he said snidely.
"Do not mock the elephant slippers," I warned. "I've been practicing hand-to-hand combat, and I might have to kick your ass."
He smirked. "That'll be the day."
"Well, everything I know I learned from you."
"You know, when you touched me, I got a big dose of Logan up here." I touched my head, and he nodded. "A lot of it faded. But on my first day of physical training, these ... instincts were just there. I knew when to hit and where. How hard. When to duck. ... Everything."
I nodded. "Had to be. I never fought a day in my life. 'Less you count the time I pounded Billy Douglas on the playground in second grade. I got sooooo grounded for that." I batted my eyelashes at him. "Nice young southern ladies do not use physical violence."
Logan grinned. "I can't wait to see you in action."
"I'm telling you, I kick ass," I said smugly. "All over the place."
"Fun, ain't it?"
We didn't talk a lot after that. He noticed me shivering and wrapped the whole blanket around me before pulling me into his arms. We leaned back and watched the stars, and pretty soon, I fell asleep.
I didn't have the nightmare again that night.
The sound of screaming, laughing children is not my preferred alarm clock. Actually, if it were up to me, mornings would be illegal and everyone would get up whenever they felt like it. And those kids were just about on my last nerve. I'd warned them time and time again about running screaming through the halls at the crack of dawn when SOME people were still trying to sleep. If they made me get out of my nice, warm bed ...
It was at this point in my mental rant that I realized my nice, warm bed was moving. It was breathing, actually. With a yelp, I sat straight up, meeting Logan's equally startled eyes.
"What?" he mumbled.
Groggily, I looked around, wincing at the light. We were still on the roof, but now it was bright and sunny. "I fell asleep," I said.
I've never heard Logan say the word "duh," but that's what his expression said, anyway. "We both did."
"Yeah -- no, I mean, I fell asleep. I didn't have the nightmare again."
He groaned as he stood up, stretching. "That's a good thing, right?"
"It's great," I said, grinning. "You make a good pillow."
"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow and smirked, and I felt myself flushing.
"Um ... yeah. But I guess it wasn't that great for you ... erm, being a pillow, I mean." I knew my face must be bright red, so I walked casually to the side of the roof and watched some of the kids having impromptu races around the yard. In my opinion, it was cosmically unfair for Logan to be able to make me this tongue-tied with one little word and a smirk.
I felt him come up beside me, but I didn't look at him.
I sighed. He was the only one who called me by that name, and most often, he called me "kid." In my fantasies, he always called me Marie, in a sort of breathless growl as he ... Dammit, Rogue. Mind. Gutter. Out.
OK, where was I? Right. There was a long pause as he waited for me to respond, but I couldn't seem to find something witty to say, and I definitely didn't want to say anything too serious.
Finally he said quietly, "I haven't slept that well in years."
Shocked, I looked at him, and we stood there staring at each other. I don't know, we might've stood there all day if we hadn't been interrupted.
"I've been looking for you," Scott said. I watched as he took in our appearance. Rumpled hair and clothes, me in my pajamas and elephant slippers and Logan in sweatpants, a T-shirt and no shoes. We must have looked ridiculous, but Scott didn't laugh. I wasn't psychic, but I could feel his disapproval all the way across the roof.
I cleared my throat. "Well, you found me. What's up?"
He stared at us for another moment before he spoke again. "Could you take over my lit class today? Jean and I have some things to do in town."
"Sure." I went back to the bench and started folding my blanket.
"Did you get enough sleep?" Scott knew about the nightmares. When he was my teacher, sometimes he would send me out of class on an "errand" for him so I could go take a nap.
"Yes, Dad." I glanced at Logan, who was staring strangely at Scott and I, and I grinned. "More than usual, actually."
That made Logan smile, a cocky grin aimed at Scott, who (despite his glasses) somehow managed to glare back.
I rolled my eyes. "I'll just go, and let you boys get out the measuring stick," I drawled, walking away as they stared at me with twin expressions of shock. If they kept that up, was going to have to start calling them Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
It wasn't a bad way to make an exit.
Logan and I were eating lunch together a few days later when he finally asked me about Russell. I had expected to get the third degree before then, but I still hadn't decided what to tell Logan.
"Tell me about this guy."
I knew who he meant, of course, but I wanted him to say it. "You'll have to narrow that down for me a bit," I said.
"Your ... boyfriend." He growled that with enough disgust to make me giggle. It also prompted me to be honest with him.
"Russell isn't my boyfriend," I told him. "He's just a good friend."
"But One-Eye said ..."
"Everybody assumes that we're an item, and I just let them think that," I said. I didn't like the look on his face, so I rushed to continue. "When he gets back, I want you to meet him. He's in London right now, doing ... work of some kind. I don't know, he works for the stock market, or at the stock market, or doing something financial, and --"
"Wait," he interrupted. "Why do you let everyone think he's your boyfriend?"
"Well ..." I shifted in my seat. "The thing is, even though my skin is dangerous, there are still guys who are interested in me."
"I've seen that Cajun bastard sniffing around you," he said.
"Logan! Keep your voice down," I gasped, looking around. Jubilee, at the next table, waggled her eyebrows at me and smirked. Kitty, next to her, looked shocked. Everyone else was pretty much ignoring us.
I turned back to Logan. "Remy -- as you so charmingly put it -- sniffs around all the women. It's just the way he is. It doesn't mean anything." He started to say something, but I spoke over his protest. "Some of the guys scare me."
He scowled. "Who? Dammit, Marie, what'd they do to you?"
"No! No, not like that," I said hastily. "They scare me because they're not careful. About my skin. When I first came here, I dated a boy for a while. Bobby. And he wasn't careful. He touched my arm once, just for a second before I could pull away. He was in the med bay for a week."
"Do I scare you, too?" he asked quietly.
Boy, was that a loaded question. But I answered it in the context he was asking. "Logan, you've survived Rogue's Touch of Death twice. I think I can trust you, of all people, to be careful around me. Besides, I'm used to having you in my head. If you touched me, what would I get? More nightmares ... a stronger craving for cold beer and cigars? At least there wouldn't be this really scary fantasy involving me and a ..." I trailed off, deciding for Bobby's health I probably shouldn't continue that sentence.
Much to my shock, Logan was all flushed. He looked a bit ... embarrassed. I would've paid a fortune to know what he was thinking. My fingers itched to touch him, just to peek at what was in his head. But, of course, it would be wrong to do that.
Sometimes being a good girl sucks.
We fell into a pattern for the next few weeks. Despite the fact that we were both busy, we spent quite a bit of time together during the day. We ate all our meals together, and he would let me hang out in his room doing my homework. He told me a little bit about his trip. He hadn't discovered much of anything, and he didn't like to talk about it much.
I had several more of the really bad nightmares, and each time, he would show up in the kitchen right after me with a couple more blankets and a pillow. We would go to the roof with our hot chocolate, and even though Mother Nature had finally realized that December was supposed to be cold, we were always plenty warm wrapped up in the blankets and each other.
Sometimes we would talk, but mostly we just sat. And we always fell asleep there. A week before Christmas we woke up surrounded by snow, and it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
I never asked how Logan always knew when I'd had a nightmare, but he never missed one. I started to forget what it was like to be on that roof by myself in the middle of the night.
I tried not to dwell on how well everything in my life was going. Call me superstitious, but when I get that close to being perfectly happy, it's a sure sign that disaster's on the way.
The first hint we had of trouble was when Ororo went missing.
I hadn't seen her around the mansion for a few weeks, but I didn't think much about it. Ororo sometimes took off on vacations to exotic places by herself, and frankly, I was too busy obsessing over Logan to notice much of anything.
Jubilee, Kitty and I were decking the halls in preparation for Christmas and discussing what Jubes called my "Logan Issues" when the professor called me to his office. When I walked in, Logan, Scott and Jean were already there.
It was unusual for me to be included in a meeting with the "real" X-Men, so I wasn't sure what to do. Logan smiled slightly and motioned to the empty chair next to him. As I sat down, Professor X got right to the point.
"Storm is missing."
Logan and I exchanged a look and waited for the professor to continue. "I sent Ororo to a small town in Ohio two weeks ago to investigate some reports of strange electrical storms. Of course, at this time of year, such storms are rare, and they have occurred nearly nightly in a fairly small area of the state. The authorities contacted me because they believed the storms were manmade. Or, rather, mutant made."
"Another mutant with powers like Storm's?" Scott asked.
"We believed so," Xavier said. "Ororo was attempting to contact this person, but she wasn't having much luck."
"Maybe they're shy," Logan drawled.
Xavier smiled faintly. "Ororo had similar thoughts, Logan. She had planned to put on a little lightshow of her own to draw out the other mutant. That was two days ago. I haven't heard from her since."
"What about Cerebro?" Jean asked.
"I used Cerebro, and as far as I can tell, she's still in the area, but beyond that I get nothing." He sighed. "She's alive, but I believe she is injured."
Jean sucked in a breath, and Scott reached over and took, her hand. "We'll find her," he said confidently.
"Has there been any other strange weather, or just thunderstorms?"
"That's a good question," he said, and I felt like I was back in class again. Gold star for Rogue. "The reports said severe lightning. No rain or thunder, and no other phenomena."
Professor Xavier looked at Scott. "I want you four to take the Blackbird and find Storm. Rogue, I know you're wondering why you're here. We've been impressed with your training and performance so far, and I thought this would be a perfect time to send you out." He smiled faintly. "I don't expect this mission to be dangerous, but I knew Logan wouldn't let you out of his sight, so we'll let him tag along."
Scott laughed, prompting a half-hearted growl from Logan. As we filed out of the office, he bumped me with his shoulder. "Hey, kid. Ready for the big leagues?"
I sighed. "We'll see."
Cedar Hollow was a tiny farming community with a population of 20. OK, I'm being sarcastic; I'm sure there were at least 50 people living there. The sign said 200, but unless they're counting the cows, I'd say that's false advertising.
We decided to forgo the X-Men uniforms, since most farming towns didn't have many leather-clad strangers prancing around the streets. We were bound to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb anyway; there was no reason to make it worse.
Scott landed the jet outside of town, where Xavier had somehow managed to have a forest green SUV waiting for us. Never underestimate the power of a rich, psychic genius like Professor X.
We drove slowly through town, past the tractor store, two churches, a sports bar called The Cheap Seats, a diner called Abigail's, and ... well, that was about it. There were a few houses, but I assumed most of the people lived on farms in the area.
"So ..." Logan mused. "How 'bout we split up and check out that bar and the diner?"
Scott nodded. "Good idea. Why don't you and Rogue check out Abigail's, and --"
Logan interrupted. "How 'bout you and Jeannie check out the diner. Rogue and I got the bar."
"Rogue shouldn't be in a bar," Jean said. "She's not even 21."
Logan snorted. "Honey, we MET in a bar, and she was only 17 then."
I guess that information wasn't widely known. When I came to Xavier's, I told the professor everything, but apparently he hadn't shared it with Scott and Jean.
"What?" Scott sounded so horrified, I had to laugh.
"Yep," I said, putting an arm around Logan and grinning. "I picked him up in a bar. Or he picked me up. Not sure."
Scott sighed. "Never mind. I don't want to know."
Logan and I headed for The Cheap Seats, which was just like any other sports bar on the face of the planet. It was 3 in the afternoon, so the place was pretty deserted.
There was an old man at one end of the bar, staring into a drink and talking to himself. The music from the jukebox, some country tune, was mostly drowned out by the trio of men screaming at the big screen TV in the corner, which was showing a basketball game.
Logan and I sat at the other end of the bar.
"Buy you a drink?" he asked.
"A beer'd be great."
"You're underage," he said gruffly.
"I got the taste for it from you," I said.
"Look, I don't care what you drink, but One-Eye'd be pissed if I--"
"Ohhhhhhh," I said, smirking. "So you're worried about what Scott would think?"
"Marie," he whined.
I could tell he was weakening, so I titled my head and gave him the puppy dog eyes.
"Shit," he muttered. The bartender came over and Logan sighed. "Two beers."
The bartender checked me out and smiled. He probably knew I was underage, but he didn't card me. He looked to be in his late 20s, not bad looking, with dark hair and a Tom Cruise-esque grin. He wore a flannel shirt over a faded R.E.M. T-shirt and a baseball cap turned backward.
I looked at Logan, who shrugged and sipped his beer. "Hey, you're the X-Woman," he said softly. "I'm just taggin' along, remember?"
I took a gulp of beer and put on my most helpless face. We Southern girls can do "damsel in distress" better than anyone on earth. "Excuse me?" I said, laying my drawl on think and leaning on the bar, flashing what little cleavage I had. Couldn't hurt, right? "Could you help me?"
The bartender almost tripped rushing over to me, and Logan snorted into his beer.
"What can I do you for?" the bartender asked, eyeing my breasts.
OK, flashing cleavage was not my greatest idea. It was kind of gross, actually. I sat back and restrained myself from rolling my eyes. Barely.
"I'm lookin' for a friend of mine, sugar. She was here in Cedar Hollow for a couple of weeks, and I haven't heard from her in a few days." I pulled out a photo of Storm. "This is her."
The guy stared at the photo for a moment and then frowned. "Um, yeah. She was here. Listen. ... I'm sorry to tell you this, but your friend is dead."
Logan had to lead me out of the bar; my entire body felt numb. The bartender's words echoed in my head. "Your friend is dead." Yourfriendisdeadyourfriendisdeadyourfriendisdead. ... A part of my brain that still possessed some logic told me not to believe Ororo was dead until I could see her body, but that didn't help me feel any steadier.
Logan dragged me to the diner, where we met Scott and Jean leaving. Jean was crying, and Scott had his arm around her. She looked at me. "They said ..."
I reached out and took her hand in my gloved one. "I know."
"I don't buy it," Logan said.
"Me either," Scott agreed. "It doesn't feel right. And the professor said she was alive."
"That's right," I remembered. "The bartender said she died two days ago, but Cerebro located her just this morning."
"OK." Jean brushed tears off her face and nodded. "Let's think about this."
"The bartender gave us directions to the sheriff's office, next town over," Logan said. "He would've investigated any ... death."
"Right," Scott said. "Let's go." He hugged Jean close for a moment before heading for the SUV.
Logan put his arm around me. "She's OK, kid."
He just sighed and steered me toward the vehicle.
Sheriff Rodney Jacobs' office was pretty deserted, too, and we had no problem getting in to see him, especially when Scott told him we were looking for information on a missing person. Logan and I sat in the tiny lobby across from the receptionist, while Jean and Scott talked to the sheriff.
I picked up a 3-year-old copy of Redbook and pretended to look at it, while Logan shifted and fidgeted at his end of the ratty brown couch.
The receptionist was staring at us suspiciously. I don't know what she thought we were going to do -- steal the ancient magazines or the truly ugly still life off the wall? I mustered a fake smile for her, rolled up the magazine and smacked Logan with it. "Settle down, Logan."
"I hate waiting," he said, scowling.
"They'll be done soon. You're worse than a toddler."
I leafed through the magazine and silently prayed that Ororo was all right.
I sighed. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Pretending to read that magazine."
"Well, why don't you pretend to sit still and let me get back to my pretend reading." He started to say something else, but I cut him off. "Be still, or I'll have to give you a time-out."
He sat back and sulked. A moment later, he started fidgeting again.
Before I could say anything, the door to the sheriff's office opened, and Jean came out, smiling. I stood up, dropping the magazine. Logan stood next to me and grabbed my hand. I knew he wasn't naturally a touchy-feely kind of person, but he'd been doing things like that a lot since he'd come back. I tried not to put too much hope in that, but it wasn't easy.
Jean came over, while Scott finished talking to the sheriff. "She's alive," she said breathlessly. "She's in the hospital, but she's alive."
"But ... why did they tell us she was dead?" I wondered.
Jean's smile changed to a frown. "A woman did die, but it wasn't Ororo."
"Who was it?" Logan asked.
"They don't know," she said. "The body was badly burned, and there was no way to identify it. Ororo was found in the same area. She had no identification, so they couldn't contact us."
"But she's OK?" I asked.
Jean sighed. "She's in a coma. They don't really know what's wrong with her. I've got to call Professor Xavier and arrange to bring her back with us."
"Wouldn't she be safer in the hospital?" Logan asked.
"Actually, the professor can probably help her more than they can," Jean said solemnly. "At least he can find out what's wrong with her."
"OK," I said, tightening my ponytail. "I'm ready to -- oomph!" I found myself flat on my back, staring at the ceiling in the gym. "Well, that was uncalled for."
"The enemy ain't gonna wait for you to fix your hair," Logan growled.
"Duh," I said.
Since we'd brought Storm back to the mansion two days before, Logan had been acting strangely. Faced with an enemy he couldn't identify, much less fight, he was on guard all the time, and he'd gotten it in his head to train the junior X-Men to fight. We were already being trained in martial arts, but Logan wanted to do things his way. Since he had a protective streak a mile wide when it came to me, I got the most of his attention. Lucky me.
"Are you just gonna lay there all day?" he asked.
He sighed and offered me a hand. Using my hand and one foot, I flipped him back over my head and got to my feet. I twisted around, but he'd already gotten to his feet. "How did you --" He rushed me, and I jumped to the side.
"Logan! Rogue!" Jean rushed into the gym. He turned to her, and I took that opportunity to tackle him. Sitting on his chest, I grinned down at him. "The enemy ain't gonna wait for you to stare at a beautiful woman."
The other kids laughed, and Logan almost smiled. I stood up and stepped back, but I didn't offer to help him up.
"What's up, Jeannie?" he asked.
Jean beamed. "She's awake. She finally woke up."
It was the best Christmas present we could've asked for.
Ororo managed to tell the professor what happened, and a few days after Christmas she told the story to all of us. All the X-Men, including the trainees, met in the conference room to hear what she had to say.
She had gone into a field and called up a thunderstorm. A few minutes later, she was joined by a woman named Erin Nabors, who worked at a school like Xavier's on the west coast. Erin had been tracking the same reports of electrical phenomena. She was certain the mutant was a teen-age girl from Cedar Hollow named Shana Howard. Erin believed the girl had the power to absorb electricity and turn it into lightning or transfer it to another source.
Her gift could be turned into a powerful weapon, and the head of Erin's school feared the girl would be contacted by the Brotherhood. Ororo and Erin waited for hours, but Shana never showed up, and there was no other lightning activity in the area. They decided to try again the next night, and if that failed, go straight to the girl and her family.
The second night, Shana was waiting for them. She attacked with bolts of lightning, and Erin was killed instantly. Ororo's mutation apparently protected her physically, but the shock of it overwhelmed her system and sent her into a coma. The professor was able to help her come out of it, but she was still weak.
"We have to find her," Ororo said. "I think she attacked because she was afraid of us."
The professor had uncovered information about Shana. She was 18 and living on her own. Her parents were killed when she was a child, and she'd grown up with an aunt and uncle. Apparently, they weren't close, and she'd been legally emancipated at age 16. I felt a wave of sympathy for her. I left home at 16 because my own parents didn't want me. I'd been lucky enough to find Logan and end up at Xavier's. Not everyone was as fortunate.
"But how do we find this girl?" Remy asked.
"I've located her in New York City," the professor said. "But she's moving around often, and I'm not sure how we can pin her down."
We tossed around ideas of how to find her and what to do with her once we did, but nothing was really decided. The professor asked us to think about the situation overnight, and we would meet again the next day.
Logan and I headed for the kitchen without really talking about it. I started to mix up the hot chocolate, and he grabbed the bag of marshmallows. It made me laugh.
"What?" he said. "You can't have hot chocolate without the marshmallows."
"So I've heard," I said. We were quiet for a few minutes. I could feel him staring at me, but I wasn't sure how to say what was on my mind.
I poured the hot chocolate into two mugs, and we sat down at the kitchen table. "We've got to find this girl," I said. "I feel like ... well, she could be me. I mean, what would've happened to me if I hadn't found you?"
"Hey," he scooted his chair closer to mine and brushed his hands over my hair, tilting my head up and looking me straight in the eyes. "You'd have been fine. But I'd have been lost without you."
Coming from Logan, this was akin to a full-out-shout-it-from-the-rooftops declaration of love. I couldn't stop the tears that started to form. "Logan ..."
"Hey," he said again, putting his arm around me and holding me close. "It's OK. You don't have to say anything. I mean, it's OK if you don't feel the same way. I just wanted you to know, so --"
I gave a watery laugh. "Logan, you're babbling."
He frowned. "I don't babble."
"You were babbling," I repeated. He started to argue, but I interrupted. "You didn't give me a chance to tell you --"
I sighed as the kitchen door burst open. It was impossible to get a moment alone in this place.
"We found her," Jubilee said breathlessly. "Hurry."
We followed her to the rec room, where the big screen TV showed a building in flames. It looked like it had been bombed.
The reporter at the scene said the building, which housed several state governmental agencies, had been empty at the time of the explosion. The two night watchmen had been knocked out and dumped a mile from the site. Firefighters were trying to stop the blaze, but it looked like the building was a total loss. They'd be lucky to keep the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.
The station switched back to the main anchor, who said new information revealed that a mutant calling herself Spark had claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Spark?" Logan asked. "Who comes up with these names?"
Scott shushed him, and Logan quieted. According to the news anchor, Spark had drained the electricity from the block and sent it back into the building, causing all the circuits to blow and much of the building to catch fire. A witness at the scene said he saw a woman flying off the building before it blew.
Spark was demanding $10 million by noon December 31, or she would make sure the citizens of New York had a "very unhappy New Year."
"She's doing it for MONEY?" Kitty asked. "How tacky."
Her appalled tone set off laughter, however inappropriate, throughout the room.
"So," Scott said once we'd all gotten under control. "What does she mean by a 'very unhappy New Year'?"
"She has to be planning something on New Year's Eve," Jean said. "Someplace with a lot of power."
"I know were I'd go if I wanted lots of power and people on New Year's Eve," Jubilee said. She and I were on the same wavelength. We looked at each other. "Times Square."
I don't like crowds, and there were approximately a gazillion people in Times Square by early evening. The other X-Men formed a little shield around me, keeping people away, and I had worn my old hood over my uniform.
We got a few strange looks as we made our way through the crowd; but this was New York, after all. People seemed to mostly take our strange outfits in stride.
Professor Xavier had warned city officials about the danger, but they refused to cancel the celebration -- or even to warn the public of the risk -- so he had sent us here to search for the girl. Logan might have been the only one to voice his opinion of the "wild goose chase," but I can guarantee he wasn't the only one with those thoughts.
Scott had earlier divided us into teams of two, and we all split off from each other to search the crowd for Spark. The professor had obtained some photos of her from high school, and Storm said they were still fairly accurate, but none of us really knew where to look. Storm, who was paired with Remy, thought that she would be able to find the girl. For the rest of us, though, she was a needle in a huge-ass haystack.
A little after 11, Logan and I were leaning up against a building, letting the crowd push and shove around us. Neither one of us feels comfortable around that many people, and I for one was feeling claustrophobic and depressed. I knew there was little we could do to stop Spark, but that didn't stop me from feeling almost nauseous from worry.
I leaned my head on Logan's shoulder and looked up at him, and he smiled tiredly. He'd spent most of the night trying to keep people away from me instead of looking for Spark. Both seemed to be losing battles anyway.
"We're not going to find her," I said.
Logan stared at something in the distance. "Maybe she'll show herself," he said slowly. "Rogue ... what do you see?"
I followed his gaze. Two buildings along a side street nearby were dark. As far as I could remember, they had been blazing with lights when we'd walked by a few minutes before. "Let's go," I said, grabbing his hand.
He plowed a path through the crowd. It's not as hard as it sounds; even the really drunk people tended to get out of his way when he was scowling like that. People packed in like sardines suddenly found room for us when he growled at them. I grabbed the mini communicator that was clipped to my belt and hollered into it. "Cyclops!"
If he answered, the noises of the street were too loud for me to hear. I switched to the open channel that would contact all the X-Men and yelled our position into it. "We've got a blackout!"
A couple of women rammed into me, and the communicator flew out of my hand. Logan kept charging through the crowd, dragging me along for the ride. I just prayed my message had made it through.
We skidded to a halt in front of the buildings just as the entire block went dark.
I scanned the block and pointed. A huge banner across the front of a theater at the end of the block advertised the Governor's Fund-Raising Gala. "If she's looking for a high-profile place to blast ..." I said.
Logan nodded, and we headed for the theater. We were stopped at the door by a tall, thin man in a tux. "Invitation?" he asked wrinkling his nose at our uniforms.
"Here's your invitation, bub," Logan snapped, waving metal claws in his face. We pushed our way through the people and disappeared into the theater.
I couldn't see anything, but Logan apparently could, since he never faltered. I could smell 20 different kinds of perfume, and I imagined all these high-society women in fancy dresses with bare arms, waiting to brush up against me so I could drain the life out of them. I pulled my hood tighter and wrapped my arms around Logan's waist, burying my face in his back. It slowed us down a lot, but I wasn't going to risk losing him in this crowd or accidentally killing someone who touched me.
Theater employees, all dressed in tuxes, appeared with flashlights, trying to calm the nervous crowd. Logan snatched a flashlight out of one man's hand, silencing his protest with a growl. He managed to find a door that led backstage, and we raced through the halls, searching behind every door. All we found were two empty dressing rooms, a closet and a prop room.
We left the prop room and ran straight into a security guard.
"What are you doing here?" he asked unsteadily. He reeked of alcohol, and I realized he'd been celebrating the New Year a little early. "You can't be here," he said slowly.
Logan grabbed him by the collar and hauled him up on his toes. "Breaker box."
"What?" the guy choked out, and I sighed.
"Logan, you're scaring him. Let him go." Logan eased his grip a fraction, and I smiled at the guard. "We need to find the breaker box. It's an emergency."
The guard looked uncertain, but apparently the alcohol -- combined with Logan's glare and grip on his neck -- was enough to convince him. "Roof," he gasped, and Logan dropped him back on his feet, where he swayed slightly and braced himself on the wall. "You c'n get there from the balcony, but you need a key."
"No we don't." Logan grabbed my hand again, and we left the guard standing there, rubbing his neck. He probably called the police two seconds after we left, but that was fine with me. The more, the merrier. We went back out into the crowd and pushed our way up the stairs to the balcony. By now, the employees had lit candles all over the place, and the party was going on as if nothing had happened.
Logan spotted a door in the corner. Despite what the guard said, it was unlocked, and Logan looked a little disappointed that he wouldn't get to slice and dice it. I rolled my eyes and shoved him through the door and onto the stairs.
"What're we going to do?" I whispered.
"I'm hoping we can surprise her," he said. "Then ... I don't know. Try to knock her out?"
"Before she electrocutes us?"
Logan shrugged and crept silently up the stairs. Not that it mattered, really; the music had resumed downstairs, and it sounded like the party was in full swing without electricity.
Logan eased open the door at the top of the stairs. I waited behind him, nervously tapping my fingers against my thigh as he peeked out. A moment later, he leaned dangerously close to my ear and whispered. "Two security guards ... unconscious. Still breathing. There's a little shed to the left. The door's open, and someone's inside. Wait here."
I grabbed his arm. "Why?"
"I'm just gonna check it out."
"Logan," I hissed. "You're no safer than I am with her. If she zaps you, all the healing power you've got won't save you from being a Wolvie-kabob."
He looked blankly at me, and I sighed. "Metal skeleton? Electricity? Bzzzzt! Bad?"
Logan scowled. "Just wait here."
He pulled his arm away and slipped outside. I moved up to the door and watched him move silently toward the shed. The professor had counted on Storm being the one to find Spark, and we were supposed to contact her if we found anything. I remembered, too late, that Logan also had a communicator, and I cursed myself for that mistake. It could get a lot of people killed.
I stared at the two security guards knocked out nearby and I prayed that Scott -- or any of the X-Men -- had heard my call for help. Heck, I'd have even been thrilled to see someone from the NYPD.
Logan was at the little shed, claws out, and I gripped the doorframe and held my breath as he disappeared from view. There was a bright flash, and Logan came flying out the door, landing in a crumpled heap nearby, twitching, his hair sticking up even more than usual.
I think my heart stopped for a second as I watched him in horror. I saw him breathing, but he was unconscious, as far as I could tell.
So, I guess you're wondering. Did I immediately rush to fight the bad guy -- or girl, in this case? Hell, no. At that point, I could care less if Spark blew up the entire city, I just wanted to get Logan out of there. Selfish, I know. So sue me.
I shoved the door open and started toward him when she came out of the shed.
We stared at each other for a moment. She was beautiful in a fairy-tale princess kind of way, with a heart-shaped face and golden hair that fell just past her shoulders. She was dressed in black leather pants and a deep blue, shimmery top. She was about to blow up a big chunk of the city, and she looked like she was on her way to a party. She glanced at Logan, still on the ground a few feet away from me.
"Awwwwwww," she said, her voice like honey. She tilted her head and smiled brightly. "Did I hurt your puppy?"
Before I could answer -- I was planning to say something clever like "you bitch!" -- Logan hauled himself to his feet, swaying slightly. "I was just restin'" he said tiredly.
Spark laughed and raised a hand toward Logan. "Sorry, handsome. I don't have time to play today."
Logan braced himself, and I knew he was going to rush her. I also knew he wouldn't be able to take another jolt of power; it was a miracle he'd survived the first.
So that was it. My life or his. I knew which one he'd choose; he'd done it before. But this time, I wasn't unconscious, and I took the choice away from him.
Taking a deep breath, I looked at Logan. "I love you," I said, and he stared at me, stunned. I don't know how he could have been surprised, but his shock gave me the time I needed.
I ran toward Spark as fast as I could, slamming into her. As I felt the jolt of her power and mine connecting, the momentum carried us both over the edge of the roof.
My idea of heaven has always been a little different than everybody else's. Instead of a bright light and fluffy clouds, I imagined the gentle light of a full moon and stars, surrounded by quiet snow and wrapped in the warmth of Logan's arms.
But I was wrong. There was a bright light, so bright I refused to open my eyes. And there was pain. I did a mental check, and it seemed there wasn't an inch of my body that didn't hurt. It was horrible, but I couldn't seem to find the strength to cry. Maybe I wasn't in heaven, I decided. I tried to be good, but maybe I ended up somewhere else.
Then I heard the low voice. "Please, Marie. Don't go. Please. I need you." It was Logan, and I wanted to smile, though I couldn't seem to make myself do it. I sighed instead.
"Marie? Kid, please. Open your eyes." I wanted to, I really did. But the light was so bright. I knew if I opened my eyes, the light would burn them right out of my head. And I was afraid that if I opened them, I'd find out that Logan was just a figment of my imagination. Or, even worse, I'd find that he was dead, too.
Then I felt it. Logan was holding my hand. My bare hand was clutched in his. Skin to skin.
I opened my eyes.
Logan was there. He looked terrible. Sick, tired and more scared than I've ever seen him. But very much alive.
"Marie," he breathed, pulling my hand up to his lips and kissing it.
I was wrong. I was in heaven after all.
When I woke up again, I was alone. I stared at the ceiling and tried to remember what happened. A few minutes later, Jean came in.
She smiled. "Rogue. How are you feeling?"
"Like I got run over by a truck," I rasped.
Jean poured me a glass of water and let me sip from a straw.
I smiled gratefully and eased back into the bed. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?"
I closed my eyes. "We were on the roof. Spark was going to kill Logan. I... I shoved her off the roof."
She reached out and ran a hand lightly over my hair. "You BOTH went over the roof. You don't remember?"
I thought back, and while I vaguely remembered sailing into empty air, I couldn't recall what happened after that.
"It doesn't matter," Jean said. "You're OK now."
"He's fine," she said softly. "He's sleeping. You were out for four days, and he wouldn't leave your side. Once you woke up, we finally got him to get some sleep." She wrinkled her nose. "And a shower."
I laughed, then groaned. My entire body hurt. But I was alive, so I laughed again.
Logan was mad at me.
He came in to see me later that day, but once he confirmed that I was going to be fine, he left before we could talk.
Jean came back in again. "It will be fine, Rogue," she said. "You just scared him. He's not used to it."
"Jean," I said. "I know I was pretty out of it, but I thought ... Logan was touching me."
She sat on a stool beside my bed. "Spark's power changed you. Or him. We're not sure which. Once you're back to full strength, we're going to run some tests. But yes, Logan is safe from your skin."
Like I said, my memories of New Year's Eve were murky at best, and everyone had a different version of what happened. We got something resembling the truth when we all assembled in the professor's office a few days later. I hadn't been able to leave the med lab, and Logan hadn't been to see me again. As soon as I was well again, I was planning to kick his ass.
Jean led me into the office and sat next to me on the couch, and Logan sat in the chair next to her. He didn't say anything to me, and when I stared at him, he looked away. Yep, I decided, I was going to have to beat him into submission. That set off a whole different line of thinking, and I felt myself blush. I sure hoped the professor wasn't doing any random scanning of thoughts. Since I'd found out I could touch Logan, my fantasies had been keeping me pretty entertained, but that didn't mean I wanted to share those thoughts with Professor X.
The professor came in then, followed by Scott, Storm and Remy, and he asked for our report. I let Logan talk, and he was doing pretty well, up until he got to the actual attack. Then it went something like this (edited for content).:
LOGAN: I had things under control.
LOGAN: Can I finish telling the [expletive deleted] story?
LOGAN: That [expletive deleted] Spark was about to attack me again, when Rogue tells me she [expletive deleted] LOVES me ...
SCOTT: (laughing) She WHAT?
LOGAN: Shut the [expletive deleted] up, One-Eye. That's between Marie and me.
ME: Logan ...
LOGAN: Then she runs toward Spark, and there's a bright flash, and they both fly off the [expletive deleted] roof. [A string of expletives of uncertain origin and meaning deleted]
PROFESSOR X: Logan, please. Rogue is fine now. What happened next?
ORORO: Gambit and I got there just as the women went off the roof. The three of us ran to the edge, and we saw Rogue and Spark. They were hanging onto a banner that hung across the front of the building. We managed to pull them up, but they were ...
REMY: Stuck. Together. Like magnets or somethin'.
ORORO: We pulled them apart, and they both passed out. Logan tried --
LOGAN: I touched Rogue, to try and give her my healing power. But ... nothing happened. I thought ... I thought she was dead.
Logan stood up and let the room. I wanted to follow him, but I also wanted to find out what had happened to me. I looked at Jean, who shook her head, and I stayed put.
Apparently Jean and Scott had shown up right after that, and Jean pointed out that I was alive, though unconscious. Nobody was entirely sure what had happened, but Jean theorized that my body chemistry had changed when I absorbed Magneto's powers years ago, and that change had somehow protected me from Spark's power.
She also believed that Logan was the only one who would be able to touch me, although nobody else had tried so far. As soon as I was feeling better, we were going to test out that theory.
Spark had also been affected by our connection. She was in some kind of coma, only she hadn't come out of it yet. When she did, they were keeping a nice customized prison cell for her, much like the one Magneto was enjoying.
The meeting broke up, and I went to find Logan. My brain must have been a little fried from my encounter with Spark because it took me 20 minutes of searching before I realized where he would be.
He was sitting on our bench on the roof. It was freezing outside, but he wasn't wearing a coat. Luckily, my scattered brains had remembered for both of us.
I sank down on the bench next to him and handed him his jacket. "It's, like, a degree out here," I said. "Put on your coat."
He put it on, staring at me but not speaking.
I sighed and sank back into the seat. My little search had left me absurdly exhausted, and that weakness just pissed me off more.
"So," I said, when it was obvious he wasn't going to speak. "You wanna save me the trouble of kicking your ass, and tell me exactly what's going on?"
"You scared the hell out of me," he said quietly.
"No. You don't know." He growled and stood up, pacing. "What the hell were you thinking? You could've been killed!"
"Let me finish!" he ranted. "You wanna know what's going on? Fine! You were just going to throw your life away! You're not even 21 years old, and you were going to throw your life away. For what?"
He stopped dead and sighed. He walked back and sat next to me again. "For me. It's not worth it," he said, quiet again. "I'm not worth it."
I laughed. "Logan, you did the same thing for me before you even knew me at all. How could I not want to save you? I love you."
He stared at me for a moment, then smiled. My heart sped up as I saw something I'd never really seen in Logan before. Hope. "Say that again."
"I. Love. You."
Gently, he reached out and trailed his fingers over my cheek. I closed my eyes and sighed. "Well," he said. "That sounds a lot better when it's not followed by you jumping off the roof."
"You know what makes it even better?" I asked, grinning. "When it's actually ... returned."
He cleared his throat, and I swear he glanced around the empty roof to make sure nobody could overhear him being all mushy. That's my Logan. "I love you, Marie," he said, in that breathless, growly kind of voice that I heard in my fantasies.
He leaned in and brushed his lips across mine, gently, as though I might break from the contact. I thought I might. I slid a hand into his hair and tried to pull him closer, but a second later he was standing with me in his arms.
"You're exhausted," he said, carrying me down the stairs and through the kitchen. "You've got to get some rest so we can start experimenting on your skin."
"Yeah," I sighed, leaning into him and rubbing my face against his neck. "Jean has a whole list of tests she want to do when I'm feeling better."
We entered the elevator, and Logan grinned at me. "I'm not talkin' about Jeannie's tests."
"Then what ...?" Like I said, my brain was kind of fried. It took me a second. "Ahhhh ... well, Dr. Logan, I'm afraid those tests are going to be extensive. And time consuming."
"What can I say," he told me, brushing a kiss across my forehead. "I'm a slave to science."
And they say laughter is the best medicine.