Logan was acting oddly, even for him. Marie knew him well enough after all this time to know something was off. He was even more withdrawn and quiet than usual and for Logan, that was saying a lot. Although they had a connection, one that no amount of time or distance could sever, they weren't close. He hadn't called once or sent a single postcard in the two years he'd been gone.
If he found his past, he never said anything. He just returned one day out of the blue and carved out a place for himself here. Make no mistake, he'd always been an outsider and that didn't change, even in this place. She'd given back his tags and he'd accepted them without a word. It had been rough for her in the beginning, but after three years they seemed to have fallen into an easy coexistence - or rather, as easy as it could be considering the natures of the two parties involved.
No, they weren't close. Not like friends and certainly not like lovers. What they had was both something less, and something more. They had this strange sort of awareness of each other. Marie knew he was aware she still had some feelings for him. Even if he hadn't been able to read her like a book, her scent alone told him that. His awareness of her awareness was like some odd disjointed dance where everyone swirled around dizzily, but nobody ever really moved. It was a surreal reality, but one they had somehow become accustomed to; the art of not noticing.
She wasn't a child. She hadn't been one when he'd picked her up so long ago and she sure as hell wasn't one now. She hadn't stopped caring; she'd simply set her feelings for him aside. She was too old, too cynical, to hope for the impossible. She wasn't pining away like some lovesick schoolgirl. She was twenty-two and a woman grown. She'd held on to that dream long enough, until it had slipped, shimmering through her fingers and to come rest in some hidden place inside of her, along with all the other things unsaid and undone between them.
Everyone just assumed that when Logan returned and nothing happened between them, that Marie had grown out of her 'crush' and moved on while Logan was away. In her heart of hearts, she still harbored those terrible heady emotions and she knew he knew, even if nobody else did. He'd never said a word about it but it wasn't awkward between them. It was just something that was there, timeless, like the waves on the sand or the ceaseless ocean breeze through the dune grasses.
It lived on in her heart, dormant. Most days neither of them gave it a second thought, it lay buried, not forgotten exactly, but silent. There would never be anything between them. He wouldn't allow it. However, that didn't stop his head from snapping up when he caught her scent or watching her with heat in his eyes when he knew nobody would catch him looking.
For her part, she was never overt. She never made any of the others uncomfortable by casting longing glances his way. She never flirted with him the way she did casually with the other males in her circle. She didn't have to with him. He knew the instant she became aware he was close by. The lush change in her scent gave her away every time, but she was the only one to ever catch his knowing smile. Nobody else ever noticed anything and that was just the way he liked it.
Some things were not for him. He'd long ago resigned himself to that damnable fact. She was all that was good and pure and light. She was strong, but had a softness, a gentleness about her. Her warmth drew him like a moth to a flame, but he contented himself to stay at the outer edges, barely brushing against that beautiful heat, afraid his cold darkness might extinguish her sweet flame if he got too close. The light inside her was beautiful. Even he, beast that he was, knew enough not to taint her fragile innocence with his jaded touch.
But he wasn't a monk, far from it. His powerful animalistic drive was the same it always was. Living at the mansion, in her company, didn't change that. In some ways living with her only heightened that aspect of his nature. He neither bragged about, nor hid his nocturnal comings and goings. It wasn't in him to hide what came naturally to him. Sex was simply another part of life. He knew she knew, but she never said anything, just as he never said anything when she went out.
She'd been able to control her 'gift' for more than two years now. She went out, had fun, danced the night away, but never once in all that time had she ever come back smelling of another man. It was always just her scent, clean and pure. Sometimes he wondered why she never let them touch her, but it wasn't his place to ask and it never would be. So instead, he watched from the shadows and ignored the slow burn of satisfaction he felt each time she returned untouched. A double standard to be sure, considering he regularly returned to the mansion smelling of other women, but still, it brought him some small measure of peace.
And so it went on, a slow dance of subtle awareness and careful denial. It was the ebb and flow of their existence. Hours turned to days and days to weeks. Missions came and went. Mundane every day things went on the way they always had, punctuated from time to time by surreptitious glances or slow throbbing brought about by the sultry scent of a certain woman on the wind.
Until the last few days, that is. He'd withdrawn, becoming a dark shadow of himself. Even the others noticed, which definitely said something. It was akin to Scott noticing your lipstick was a new shade of red. Logan getting more surly was something to sit up and take notice of. Nobody else said anything. To them he was Logan, the one who always healed. Whatever it was he'd get over it, right?
Marie knew better.
It was early evening when he'd finally managed to get some time to himself. What he really wanted to do was lose himself in some untouched forest, but he couldn't, so instead he sought the quiet solace of his room, to think, to dream. He lay back on his bed, shirtless, dressed in a pair of school issue gray sweats. He'd tossed a blanket over himself and closed his eyes, wishing the sky was clear so he could watch the stars.
A soft knock at the door jarred him from his reverie. He identified the person knocking by scent, and gave a soft grunt of assent. He knew she'd come. She'd always possessed an uncanny sense of timing and an intuition that hit a little too close to home. The door opened and she slipped inside, looking for all the world like a scared rabbit. Her eyes were big and he could hear her heart beating a wild rhythm inside her breast. Months and years of waiting had come down to this one brief moment. Wordlessly he held up one edge of the blanket. It was up to her to decide.
Stay or go.
Without a sound, she closed the door behind her and moved gracefully across the room. The bed shifted slightly under her weight as she slid down next to him. His warmth clung to the sheets. His scent enveloped her. It was like being swallowed. For a long time neither of them moved. Pressed against him so tightly, he could feel the erratic beating of her heart and the uneven cadence of her breathing. Her scent was a strange mix of fear, apprehension and arousal. She didn't know what to do and he was leery of showing her what he wanted, but he was so tired of fighting this particular fight.
Her arms crept around him slowly; afraid he would push her away even now. He allowed her hold him close and caress his thick arms with her small, soft hands. She rubbed her satiny cheek against him and began to press tiny butterfly kisses to his wide chest. His large hand came up to rest possessively at the small of her back as he struggled for control and lost.
His eyes closed, not wanting to do anything more than feel, to bask in her softness just this once. He kept his eyes closed. He didn't want to see this. He felt enough guilt already. His sensual mouth was firmly set and he turned his head away from her slightly, as if by that small gesture he could deny his involvement in this. He was tightly strung, his entire body poised in exquisite tension. His lips parted and his roughly panted breaths sounded harsh in his ears at the feel of her open mouth on his flesh. She tasted his neck; the barest flicker of her tongue was agony and yet he remained still. The act, though small, was base and primal and spoke to him deeply. The urge to move, to pin her under his considerable weight was unbearable. His body shook with strain. It was the light scrape of her teeth on his throat that shattered the last of his iron resolve.
He knew he shouldn't, but his hand slid up her back and came to rest on her shoulder before exerting enough gentle pressure for her to understand what he wanted. He could feel and smell her surprise even as she slid down his body a few inches and her head disappeared under the blanket. He felt her resist slightly, a token protest, and he hated himself even more as he increased the gentle pressure on her shoulder. Desire raged at him, and he shuddered when he felt her warm breath against his taught stomach. He could feel her trembling and smell her apprehension but underneath it all was the sultry honeyed scent of her desire, and as wrong as it was, he was unable to resist.
In the warm dark cocoon of the blanket, Marie's emotions threatened to overwhelm her. This wasn't how she'd imagined it, but she couldn't resist the compulsion to touch his body. He'd made it clear what he wanted, but what she didn't understand was why. Why this way? She was afraid and aroused and nervous and wanting. Her heart beat a wild tattoo in her breast. Although she understood the mechanics, she didn't know exactly what to do.
She wondered how many other women had done this for him and how she would measure up. She was afraid everyone would somehow find out what she'd done and judge her harshly. She didn't want to be just another one of his countless nameless women, but his warm body and her desire called to her, whispering seductive secret things only heard by desperate ears straining in the dark.
She had resisted slightly, but despite that, she wanted this. She knew what she wanted to do. Maybe it would be the only chance she ever got and she didn't intend to waste it. She pushed aside her fears and doubts and released all those shimmering hidden feelings from the recesses of her heart, determined to show him this wasn't about sexual gratification, it was about touching someone with love. She intended to show him with each stroke, each caress how she felt. Just this once she would open her heart and take a chance and maybe, just maybe, he would respond in kind.
She pressed her face against his warm stomach and nuzzled him softly, learning his scent, his taste. There was no apprehension or nervousness now, just the desire to please the man she'd loved for so long. The touch he wanted was profoundly intimate, but she found she could deny him nothing and in her true heart of hearts it wasn't anything she hadn't dreamed of doing a thousand times before. Her hand stroked over his hip and her forearm brushed against him softly. His hips bucked lightly under her and his breathing grew more ragged. She touched him gently, reverently, with love, willing him to understand what she couldn't say with words.
Slowly, she pushed his sweats down just enough to touch him. He was hot and hard and smooth and he strained upwards under her light touch. A wave of heat travel through her, heralding the storm of fire to come. Her hand moved gently, insistently but still with tenderness, and with love. She could feel his heartbeat against her fingertips; all velvet vulnerability and leashed power. She pressed her face against him, breathing in the warm spicy scent of him that was so strong there. Her breath was hot against him and his hands clenched into fists, his knuckles white with strain. Overwhelmed by the feelings she was creating inside him, he could do nothing but lay there, lost in the sea of sensation that was Marie.
Finally, finally, he felt the first soft tentative touch of her tongue flicker over him. His breath caught and a low growl built behind it, escaping as her mouth closed over him. The wet heat was indescribable, unlike anything he'd ever experienced before simply because it was her. His body trembled and his eyes squeezed shut as his entire reality shrank to gentle softness of Marie and the sweet perfection of her mouth.
Abruptly, he tangled his fingers in her hair and drew her up beside him with a savage snarl. Throwing the blanket to the far side of the bed, he pulled up his sweats and rolled to his stomach, grimacing at the discomfort it caused him, but he endured it for her sake. This would look a lot better if he wasn't on his back and he knew what was coming. A second later there was a pounding on his door and it opened to reveal Scott. If he was surprised by the scene before him, he didn't say anything and to his credit his expression didn't change.
"It's time." His voice was heavy and he waited for Logan's nod before he closed the door with a soft click that was deafening in the silence.
Whatever fragile spell the darkness had woven between them was broken. He rolled away and stood up, his body tight with anger and unspent desire. He didn't look at her and he didn't say anything. He just stood there a minute and then began to get ready for the mission.
Her chest seized up and behind her lids her eyes burned. She drew in a ragged breath and pushed her disheveled hair back from her too pale face as she tried to restore what was left of her dignity. He stopped at the door and turned to face her. The look on his face was unreadable. He couldn't leave without saying anything but he knew he couldn't tell her the truth either.
"That was real nice."
And then he was gone, swallowed by shadows that smelled of tears and regret. The ache he'd left in her body paled in comparison to the terrible pain in her chest.
The tears burning her eyes welled up and spilled over. Real nice? The woman who'd never kissed anyone even after she'd regained control of her 'gift' suddenly felt used, ashamed, like she was just another woman among his countless many. Apparently the powerfully intimate experience had been one sided. For her, the earth had moved and for him it had just been 'nice'.
She worried Scott would talk and everyone would know what she'd done... and worse, that she'd embraced the chance with open arms. She thought what they'd shared was special. If she hadn't thought that, she wouldn't have done what she did. She wasn't built that way. It was impossible for her to touch without sharing her heart too. She thought he knew that. Marie brushed the tears away and pushed all those messy feelings back into those hidden places inside of her.
Gathering her courage for the impossibly long walk back to her room, she turned softly at the door and spoke softly to the empty space that seemed to still echo with his hollow unfeeling words. 'That was real nice.' Her whispered words came like a death knell, slow and broken as if the very act of speaking them was more than she could bear.
"No, it wasn't. But it could have been."
After a long night of much tossing and turning and a generous amount of self-beratement, but not much actual sleeping, Marie dressed and came downstairs. The mood below stairs was dark and somber and she knew what had happened. It was always the same, every time something went wrong on a mission. Only this time it was worse. The tension and anger radiating from Scott was almost palpable. Jean was only marginally better. All conversation stopped when she entered the room. For an instant she thought maybe Scott had talked, but the gravity here was much too severe, even for that. Nobody would look her in the eye and Logan's surly presence was notably absent.
Things had never been this bad, this tense. Finally she couldn't stand it any longer and she asked what had happened, seeing as how nobody had offered to explain his absence. At the sound of Logan's name Jean flinched visibly and Scott turned on his heel and stalked angrily from the room. Even Charles, who was usually so understanding and sympathetic, said nothing. Marie began to panic. What had happened? Was he captured? Injured? Dead? Her mind began to imagine all the possible scenarios, each one worst than the last.
Seeing her rising panic, Hank ignored the stern glare from Charles and pulled Marie to the side. Aware of the eyes boring into his broad blue back, he broke the news to her gently in his own soft quiet way. Logan was no longer on the team; in fact, their door was now closed to him. The mission had involved rescuing mutants from a lab, similar to the one that had held Logan so long ago. In direct opposition to Scott's orders, Logan had killed each and every person there, with the exception of the poor handful of tortured souls they'd rescued. The team hadn't been able to stop him. The truth of it was nothing short of Magneto could stop him when he put his mind to something. Scott might have been able to put him down, but he couldn't keep him down and after trying and failing twice, Scott had left Logan to his bloodbath.
Marie was beyond shocked, but Hank felt it best to get it all out at once. He quietly informed her that once Logan had coldly dispatched all the personnel, he'd told the rest of the team that he'd be blowing the place to hell and if they didn't want to get caught in the blast then they better haul their sorry asses back to the Blackbird, pronto. A ghost of a smile played across her lips at the words that were so obviously Logan's.
She just couldn't believe Logan would do that. He might shun society's rules, but he adhered to a strict code of self-imposed honor. Marie just didn't understand why he would do such a thing, but after last night she'd come to believe there were a great many things about him she didn't understand. Perhaps now she never would.
Hank also reluctantly told her that Scott intended to strip Logan's room of any sign he'd ever been there at all, and if there was anything she wanted to save she ought to act quickly. Mumbling a tearful thanks to her softhearted blue friend, she went directly to Logan's room. Regardless of what had happened between them last night, she owed him her life. The least she could do was protect his privacy from Scott's prying eyes. Especially now, when Scott was in his current frame of mind. She'd never seen their even-keeled leader give in to anger in such a rash way.
Marie opened his door and flipped on the light, wincing at the familiar scent of tobacco and Logan. She pulled his duffel bag from the closet and packed it with all his favorite things, wisely leaving out anything that was school issue or a gift from either Charles or Jean. He didn't own much and she finished with the closet and dresser in no time. The bathroom was a little harder. She'd never been one to feel comfortable going through other people's private things, but she knew Logan would rather her do it than Scott. She found his dop kit and threw in all the necessary items. The medicine cabinet was worse. Her face flushed as she saw the number of condoms in it. She added those to his duffel bag, mostly so Scott wouldn't find them.
Returning to his room, she tossed the dop kit into the duffel bag, reluctant to go through the rest of his things, but the thought of Scott doing it prompted her to finish the job. She added the box of cigars she found on his desk and the leather bound volume of Shakespeare she'd given him last Christmas. He'd never said anything about liking Shakespeare, but the 'Logan' in her head hinted that he found reading it relaxing when the nightmares kept him awake. If he wanted to throw that out later, fine with her. He should at least have the chance to keep it if he wanted to. Her quick search of his desk yielded nothing else so she moved on.
The nightstand was next. More condoms, big surprise there. She left those and the book he was in the middle of reading. It was from the school's library and she was pretty sure with what went down, leaving out any reminders of the school was probably best. She left the Playboy she found too. He could buy another one later, thank you very much. She took the slim glossy book of Japanese erotica. It seemed more revealing, somehow. More personal.
The second drawer was harder. He wasn't the kind of man that kept things, but apparently he'd saved some things in the past few years. She pulled out his wallet and keys, and removed the key to his bedroom and the key to the school before adding it to the pile. She knew he'd never be back here again.
God, this was so much harder than she thought it would be. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw he'd saved his ticket from the day they'd gone to a hockey game at The Garden. The cards she'd given him at each Christmas were there too along with the movie stubs from the only movie they'd gone to see together. There was a copy of deed to a piece of property in Canada and a worn photograph of her that looked as if it had been touched a thousand times. She fought back the tears as she added those items to the growing pile. The drawer stuck a little and her 'inner Logan' piped up. She pulled the drawer out farther still, and was surprised to find one of her small silk scarves jammed in the back corner.
Marie couldn't understand why on earth he'd saved all these things when he'd made it clear he wanted nothing to do with her romantically. She pulled the square of green silk from the drawer and added it to the pile. 'Inner Logan' still wasn't satisfied so she pulled the drawer all the way out. Taped to the back of it was an envelope with three thousand dollars cash inside. She added that to the pile as well, thankful her 'inner Logan' was once again silent.
She pushed in the drawer and gave the room a once over. The only place she hadn't looked was under the bed. She took a quick look. Nothing but a shoebox. Strange that it didn't have any dust on it. Knowing she was nearly out of time, Marie lifted the duffel bag to her shoulder, picked up the shoebox, turned out the lights and left.
Back in her room, Marie stowed his duffel bag in the closet and sat down on the bed with the shoebox. She lifted the lid gingerly, her heart pounding, afraid of what this box might hold. She was still in utter shock over what she'd found in his nightstand.
Marie took a deep breath and looked into the box. With shaking hands she removed the 'X' insignias that used to be on his uniform. A horrible feeling of dread built in her stomach. Why would he have removed them? She ran her fingertips over the cool silvery metal and set them aside. Underneath them was an envelope with one word written on it in Logan's distinctive scrawl.
Her breath caught. Inside were his tags. Oh, God. The hair at the nape of her neck stood on end. He hadn't taken them off since she'd given them back to him three years ago. Wordlessly, she slipped them over her head; enjoying the familiar weight of them as they settled back into the place they'd rested for the two years he was away.
The last thing the box held was five dog-eared journals, one for each year since he'd picked her up on that lonely stretch of Canadian road. Marie pulled out the oldest one and opened the cover. The pages were yellowed and smelled of Logan and the rich scent of cigar smoke. The words were written carefully in Logan's bold hand. Marie took a deep steadying breath and began to read. Four hours later, tears drying on her cheeks, she closed the last page on the fifth journal.
She'd been so wrong about a great many things - including last night. Last night hadn't been meaningless to him, on the contrary, it had meant everything. Her heart lifted. She stood up and began to pack.
He'd lost track of the number of times he'd had to do this - start over with nothing but the clothes on his back, but over the years he'd learned a few things. He had money and another ID stashed in a safe, accessible place. Scott and Charles had made it crystal clear he wasn't welcome at the school ever again. He'd be damned if he was going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him come back to get his things. Besides, there was only one thing of value to him there, and he was sure he'd fucked that up beyond repair last night.
How he hated himself for that weakness. He should have told her to go, but he found that he couldn't release her without experiencing the sweet warmth of her touch just once. He'd tried so hard not to touch her, urging her to touch him instead. He'd tried not to take anything from her, to let her be the one in control. He knew if he'd put his hands on her he'd have been lost. Her innocence was not for him. There was too much blood on his hands for that.
Idly he wondered if they'd read his journals and give Marie the tags when they stripped his room. He doubted it. Scott hadn't even let him explain before he'd started blasting away at him. Not that he was going to change his mind about what he was doing, but it would have been nice if the people that called themselves his 'family' had listened before turning their backs on him.
He knew they'd never understand. Scott and Charles looked at the world through rose-colored classes. No pun intended, Scott. They chose not to see the ugly realities of life. Some people could not be reasoned with. Some people would not ever 'see the light'. Some people were beyond saving.
No, even if they read his journals they'd never understand, but Marie would. She was like him. She looked at the world and saw the truth. Magneto had crushed her rose-colored glasses under the heel of his boot that night in the torch when he'd raped her mind.
What he'd done to those people in that lab - that wasn't anger or rage. It hadn't even been revenge. It was simply justice. Cold. Swift. Merciless. He'd found his past, every terrible bit of it. The lab that had experimented on him so long ago was still up and running, moving every few months to keep people - people like him - from finding it. The things those monsters had done were beyond unconscionable. Experiments, breeding programs, entire 'crops' of children culled simply because their 'research' deemed them failed experiments. All in the name of science. Men, women, children tortured and murdered in the effort to create the perfect bio-engineered weapon.
What he'd brought to them wasn't murder, it was justice, and when he was finished, he'd blown the place to kingdom come because there were things there that never ever needed to see the light of day.
He'd been biding his time at the school, watching, waiting for the perfect time to strike like the predator he knew himself to be. He'd used Charles and his connections to find the lab's current location. That deception lay heavy upon him, and his strict code of honor had rebelled, but he'd held fast to the course he'd set for himself.
He was one of the people who lived in shadows. He was one of the people who shouldered the darkness so it wouldn't touch others; so that they could live untouched in the light. So that they could afford to look at the world through rose-colored glasses.
Logan hung his head, all the fight gone from his powerful body. Maybe, just maybe, if Marie read his journals she would understand why he'd done what he'd done and why his honor had demanded he remove the 'X' from his uniform. And maybe, if there was a God, she'd get the tags and understand what they meant. In time, she might even find it in her heart to forgive him his weakness.
He closed his eyes and remembered the way she'd felt pressed so closely against him, her lush softness, her sweet scent, the sound of her heart beating. How he'd let go and pretended that he hadn't perfected the art of not noticing, because in those few stolen moments he'd noticed everything and imprinted each scent, each soft sound, each gentle touch on his mind so that the memory would never fade no matter how long he lived.
Logan hunched his shoulders against the freezing rain seeping into the back of his clammy leather uniform and started walking. The lab was remote. It would be hours before he was back to anything remotely resembling civilization. The heavy rain kicked up spray on the ground and it seemed to Logan like the entire world was painted in shades of gray. There was no rose in his world except when he looked at Marie.
Back in Westchester, Marie finished loading the two duffel bags in the back of Logan's truck, started the engine with shaking hands, and turned the truck north. Asking Charles to use Cerebro to locate Logan was out of the question and Scott had refused to tell her anything about the lab's location. A tactical miscalculation on the part of the fearless leader, to be sure. Marie didn't own any rose-colored glasses. He was caught completely off guard when she laid a hand on his arm and flipped the switch on her 'gift'.
The touch hadn't been enough to injure him permanently, but she'd gotten the information she needed. She knew where Logan was. She'd left without another word, knowing Scott's view of the world was definitely less rosy that it had been five minutes ago.
Six hours later, Marie had decided the art of not noticing was overrated. Up ahead she spotted a lone figure trudging ceaselessly through the rain. She pulled the truck up next to him and opened the passenger side door, offering him the same choice he'd offered her last night.
Stay or go.
Her eyes, warm and intense, met his. She wanted to be sure he understood. He'd offered her a night. She was offering him a lifetime. His dark shadowed gaze missed nothing. Not the two duffel bags in the back, not the presence of his tags around her neck, and most especially not the offer in her eyes. He searched her face, looking for condemnation or regret but found only acceptance and love. He decided if she could open her heart and take a chance on him, he could do no less. Everything he wanted was sitting in the cab of this truck and he knew this was his last shot. If he made the easy choice, the safe choice, she'd drive away and never look back. It was time. He nodded once and put his hand on the door.
She said only, "Be sure."
Twenty-four hours later, journals in hand, Scott stood in that exact spot and looked around with a gaze that was no longer rosy. All that was left of Logan and Marie was one torn up leather uniform with the insignias removed laying in a heap on the wet ground and a long empty stretch of black highway that smelled of fresh rain and second chances.