“What the fuck do you want?”
“I… I need help.”
“Go bother somebody who actually cares.”
Blind eyes, shining silver turn slowly towards the sound of her voice. Nostrils flare and she knows he’s taking in her scent. His face is turning to a grimace and he takes a big gulp from his beer before turning his wide back at her. She can see the tension in his shoulders through numerous jackets and shirts. She knows the best thing to do would be just to leave him alone and find somebody else, but she doesn’t have the luxury of options. There are bad people after her, and she needs the best to shake them off from her tail. She reaches with her hand, swathed in dirty and torn glove and grabs his arm to get his attention.
“Please… I already asked from others. They said I should find you. Find the Wolverine.”
He seems to consider her words for a moment, then sighs and turns to face her. Grabs the collar of her cloak and pulls her closer, leaning down from the stool he’s sitting on, those silver eyes reflecting her own desperate ones like a mirror.
“I don’t give a jack shit what other people are telling. From the smell of it you need a fucking miracle to squirm your way out of the shit you’ve gotten in to.”
“I don’t need a miracle.”
“No? I may be blind, but I’m not stupid. You fucking reek of the lab.”
“I don’t need a miracle. I need the best there is…”
“…At what I do? Right?”
“I don’t know what kind of bullshit you have been listening to, but obviously something has escaped from your ears. In case you haven’t noticed I’m fucking blind. It’s a good day for me when I’m able to tell the difference between light and dark, and even those days are getting far and fewer. So why don’t you take your little dilemma the fuck away from me before I…”
She raises her palm and tries to slap him. He grabs her wrist in mid-swing, his grip nearly crushing her delicate bones. His brows knit together and his eyes narrow to tiny, silvery slits, his lips drawing to a grimace.
“As I said… I’m blind, not stupid. Now, why don’t you take a hike…”
He doesn’t get to finish his sentence. She doesn’t get a chance to try and argue with him some more. Hail of bullets, like angry bees pepper the bar, and suddenly she’s crushed between the filthy floor and considerable weight of the Wolverine. More bullets whistle over and she can hear glass shattering. Something wet rains on them. Booze. And something warm and sticky dribbling down her cheek. She can hear Wolverine grunting, spewing out a string of curses, and suddenly he’s gone and she can breathe again. There are no more bullets flying in the air that is suddenly filled with screams and stench of blood and fresh guts. She rolls in to a ball, hiding her face against her knees when she hears enraged growl and wood shattering. Something snaps, and sharp scream ends to gurgle.
“You have a car?”
“Yes… Yes, It’s outside…”
“Get up. You’re going to give me a lift.”
She scrambles to her feet, trying not to look too closely the bodies littering the floor and tables. She can hear Wolverine chuckle. He’s walking towards the door, stumbling a little when his foot gets caught in to open ribcage on his way. He stops at the door and turns his face towards her, silver eyes gleaming in the dim lights, his head slightly tilted.
“Move your ass. I’m not planning to stick around and wait for the back-up team to arrive.”
She’s driving. Wolverine sits next to her, his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his jacket, and he keeps shifting and grimacing every now and then. His blind eyes drift back and forth, as if trying to find a spot to fix on. He’s looking paler every passing second. And suddenly she’s very aware of the growing stench of blood. Instead of diminishing as the splatters on him start to dry it keeps just escalating until she can actually taste it at the back of her throat, and she has to open the window to let in some fresh air.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Just keep driving.”
“You don’t look alright.”
“You should keep your eyes on the road. There’s a motel coming soon. Just ditch me there and we’re even.”
“I was doing just fine until you came around and dragged those bastards in. Give me a ride to that motel and get the fuck away from me, and we’re even.”
She sees the bright neon sign at the side of the road and turns the car to the parking lot, steering it right in front of the rickety building marked as ‘office’. Turns off the engine.
“Here we are.”
Wolverine is just sitting there. Fluorescent light of the flickering sign above them colors his face in turn green and red. There are small beads of sweat trickling down his forehead, and when he leans forward to grab the door handle he lets out a small moan. His hand closes around the handle and that moan turns in to a strangled sob, and now she can see the source of blood. The hand grasping the plastic handle is swollen, skin stretched taut over black and blue flesh. Thick and sticky globs of clotted blood squeeze out from between his knuckles when Wolverine tries feebly to open the door.
“Sit. I’ll go and get a room for you.”
For a moment he looks like he’s about to protest, but then he just flops against the backrest, closing his eyes and shoving his hands back in to the pockets, his jaw set stubbornly.
“My wallet’s in the breast pocket.”
Denim jacket and shirts underneath the leather, as well as the leather jacket’s inner lining are soaked through with dark blood. She zips up the jacket and squeezes his shoulder reassuringly, unable to put her hand in to that mess.
“You’ll pay me back later, okay?”
She glances herself from the rearview mirror, wipes off the trail of blood from her cheek and checks her purse. There’s not much left, but probably enough for few nights in a roach infested room with a scent of sex and cigarettes permanently imprinted to the furniture. She shivers already from the mental image, but shrugs it off. Beggars can’t be choosers.
The man behind the desk at the office doesn’t even look at her twice, just takes the money and hands her a rusted key. For her inquiry about ice and food he shoves her a small bucket, telling that there’s an ice machine and a snack vendor just round the corner, and then promptly returns to the backroom. She can hear the sound of a TV filtering through the door the man closes behind him.
“Can you walk?”
“Yes. Just point me to the right direction.”
She parks the car as close to their room as possible, but she still ends up practically carrying Wolverine those last steps it takes to close the gap between the car and the door. She pushes him against the wall, urging him to lean on it while she jostles with the bucket and the key, trying simultaneously to keep him upright rather than just let him slump down to icy asphalt. He’s shivering and his breath escapes with hot, ragged huffs from the effort of trying to stay quiet and conscious. Finally she manages to open the door, and Wolverine stumbles in, falling face first to the carpet, his hands still deep in his pockets. He groans and rolls on his side, nostrils twitching and his eyes scanning the room, probably more out of a habit than anything else. Once the inspection is over he relaxes a bit.
“I’ll go and get ice and something to eat…”
She backs away from the room, turning her back and closing the door, unable to face the sight of him trying to claw his way to the corner where a lone recliner sits under the window. As an afterthought she cracks the door open and fumbles the side of the wall until her fingers brush against the light switch. She turns it on. She can hear a surprised grunt, then something reminding a ‘thank you’ before she shuts the door again and leans her forehead to it. She has spent the last month trying to track down the legend, and now it looks like that’s all she has found. Beaten up wreck of a man, former champion gone bad and useless. And now there’s nothing standing between her and them, but she’s rather standing between him and them.
She takes her time in the vendors, trying to figure out the best way out of the mess. She can’t very well just abandon him. There are all the possibilities that the people chasing her come after him as well. Wounded and blind he’d be easy pickings for them. She punches the buttons angrily, grabbing the energy bars from the slot and filling the bucket with ice, dropping it and filling it again.
He’s in the bathroom when she returns. Door is open. He’s peeling off his blood-soaked clothes, layer from layer with quite un-cooperative and shaky hands. She throws the snacks to the bed, walks in to the bathroom and plunks the bucket to the counter, then starts helping him.
“What the fuck are you still doing here?”
“I don’t want your fucking charity…”
“Can you, or can you not get out of those clothes by yourself?”
He grunts something intelligible but finally relents and lets her pull off the last bits of clothing. There’s a small red dot on his back, just below his left shoulderblade. There’s no matching exit wound on his chest. She probes the scar gently and he flinches. That’s where the blood came when she lay under him at the bar. She finds the exit from his right side, large blotch of aggravated, raw skin, and ghosts her palm over it.
“You’re damn lucky woman. That slug ricocheted from my sternum. Had it gone through you wouldn’t be standing there.”
“Yeah. Real lucky…”
She’s unable to mask the disappointment in her voice. She can see from the look on his face that her attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed. There are grim lines etching over his features.
“I didn’t offer to help you. You came to me by yourself.”
“I know, I know… It’s just…”
‘Sorry, I was expecting something more’ doesn’t sound appropriate, not after he has taken a bullet meant for her and slaughtered a bar full of people for scaring him. Yet there are no more apt words, so she stays silent instead and turns on the shower, adjusting the water temperature. From the corner of her eye she can see Wolverine standing by the sink, clenching and unclenching his fists, more blackened, sticky blobs smacking on the white porcelain and oozing towards the drain.
“I thought… They said… Why don’t you heal?”
He lets out a snort, something between laughter and growl. His eyes flicker to the mirror, silver on silver.
“I heal. Used to heal a lot faster. Then this fucker that calls himself Magneto got a hold of me. Jostled me up for good. Fucked me up. There are so much loose bits of metal floating in me that it’s a fucking miracle that they haven’t clogged my brain yet. That’s why I have so pretty eyes. Those bits float just fine in bigger veins but get stuck in to smaller ones. And they’re poisonous. Takes about every bit of my healing just to keep me up and going, don’t have much left to spare for injuries.”
“Yeah. You came looking for the best there is. I still am. Just not as durable as the legend goes. If I were you, I’d skip the ship before it sinks. They’re probably coming after us.”
“But what about you?”
“I can get a lift. There’s no problem…”
He turns his head, silver pools avoiding her gaze and steps in to the shower. Grimaces when the hot water sluices down his forearms and hands but stands there, letting it dissolve the blood and grime from his skin. Gaping slits between his knuckles are slowly knitting shut.
“I brought some ice for your hands.”
“What’s your name?”
He turns face to face with her, those silver eyes narrowing. His fingers comb back strands of wet hair that’s plastered over his forehead.
“What kind of a name is Rogue?”
“I don’t know… What kind of a name is Wolverine?”
He grunts and shrugs his shoulders, water cascading over taut muscles in pink and crimson rivulets, then turns his back again and she retreats from the bathroom, closing the door. Sits on the bed and unwraps one of the energy bars and starts munching it. She’s still chewing the last bits when shower stops and door opens.
“Still here? What part of the ‘get the hell away from here before they catch you’ you didn’t get?”
“I’m here because you’re here.”
“You said it yourself. They’re after you as well. You helped me back at the bar. I’m helping you now.”
“I don’t want your charity.”
“Then lets call it a mutual profit. You get the hell away from them, and I get to tag along somebody who knows what to do when something happens.”
He doesn’t answer, just shuffles carefully to the bed, nudges the comforter from under her and curls on his side, shoving the rest of the energy bars down to the floor and spreads the comforter over his nude frame, closing his eyes. She can see the pulse ticking on the side of his neck, just under the flawless skin. Erratic. Nervous. He’s feeling uncomfortable, and doing his best imitation of not caring.
“I’m not stupid either.”
“Sure could have fooled me…”
“When they come you’re as good as caught. You got lucky in that bar because it was packed full and they couldn’t get away from you. What happens when you’re walking down the side of that road hitchhiking and they come? They can shoot you from the distance, then just wait for you to keel over and shackle you.”
“I fucking know that.”
“Then why can’t you come with me?”
“I’d only slow you down. You don’t need a blind man as an extra burden.”
“You’re right. I don’t need a blind man. But I need the best there is. I need Wolverine.”
“You don’t need me. You need my instincts. My memories. Most of the shit just happens when I need it. When there’s a room full of armed men after my ass… It gets blurred. Everything happens so fucking slowly, there’s blood and shit everywhere and then I wake up somewhere far away from where I last remember being. I can’t… I can’t teach you something like that. I can’t teach or explain something that I don’t even understand myself. Trust me, you’re better off without me.”
“Fine. Be a jerk…”
She glances out from the window. There are several hours left before dawn. She could probably afford a brief nap before leaving.
“Do you mind?”
“Sharing the bed? I’m tired.”
“Just don’t hog the covers and we’re good.”
She settles on to the bed carefully, leaving a good distance between her and Wolverine. She lets out a surprised squeak when his hand closes around her and pulls her flush against his large frame. One hand slithers under her neck, other curls around her waist and she can feel the hard outlines of his body through the thin comforter.
“Do you mind?”
“Uh… This is kind of a sudden, and…”
“Stop fucking stuttering. I just need something to lean against. I think I pulled a muscle from my back when I took that hit.”
“Oh… Go ahead, then… I guess…”
She can feel him relaxing a bit. His legs tangle with hers when he shifts his knee, bringing his thigh resting partially over her hip. He shifts a little more, almost crawling completely on top of her, then lets out a relieved sigh, and suddenly it feels like he practically melts there, every tendon and muscle turning lax and heavy as led.
At least she can still breathe. But there is no way she could get out from under him unless he’s willing to let her. She can feel small muscle on his stomach ticking slightly against her lower back. Little twitches and jolts here and there. He’s still healing from the inside. And falling asleep quickly. Breath evening out. Vice-like grip from around her waist loosening until she moves a bit and there is the heavy band of his arm again, pressing her back against his stomach and chest almost as if he were trying to pull her in to him right through his skin. She rubs her right shoulder; thankful for the small lump of the inhibitor she can feel underneath the skin there. He’ll be safe from her mutation. At least one good thing has come out from her imprisonment at the lab two months earlier. She closes her eyes and tries to relax. She’ll need all the rest she can get later.
When she comes to, she’s struggling against heavy weight upon her, fighting for her life against them because they are holding her down and cutting in to her, parting skin from flesh, trying to find the mechanism behind its function. She is screaming and scratching and biting, and there is utterly confused and groggy Wolverine on top of her, trying to get away as fast as possible and falling from the bed with a hard thud.
“Oh, for fucking shit…”
His pained voice tells her that he probably hurt his back again, but she can’t bring herself to care. She flees to bathroom, kneeling in front of the toilet bowl just in time when her stomach forces out bitter bile and saliva, aftershock from her nightmare taking over and leaving her to trembling heap on to the cold and hard floor. She can feel something wet and warm trickling down her back and sides. She curls around her knees, trying not to think too hard how long it will take this time from the tender skin of her back to knit back together again after being torn open from her struggle in dream. It will heal. She’ll just need some time, and it’ll heal. Eventually it has to.
“Hey… You hit your head or something?”
Wolverine, standing at the doorway, his nose twitching, blind eyes scanning the thin air futilely. He walks in and crouches stiffly next to her, his hands cradling her face first then sliding lower.
“What the fuck… Tell me this is water, Rogue.”
“Jesus. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought it was better already… It wasn’t hurting anymore…”
“You weren’t hurting because what ever this shit is, it’s infected. There’s so much puss and shit that your nerves are all clogged up… Fuck. What the hell happened to you?”
“They took away my skin. Cut it all off from my back. Then put it back on again when they couldn’t figure out how it worked…”
“Hmph… They did a bang-up job while stitching you up.”
“I thought it was already healed!”
“It isn’t. And it’s not going to heal like this. We have to get this cleaned up…”
She can feel his palms smoothing over her back and grimaces when she feels the loose skin shifting, blood and puss dribbling from between the torn stitches on her sides and shoulders. He helps her to sit up and starts to unbutton her shirt with clumsy but efficient moves.
“How long ago they cut you?”
“Couple of months ago…”
“Okay. Listen. I need you to stay still. Don’t move a fucking inch. You understand?”
“I’m going to cut off this shit. There should be new skin underneath already. Since I can’t see what I’m doing, you have to stay still. I don’t want to poke extra holes in you.”
She hears a soft screech, as nails on a chalkboard, and she can see from the corner of her eye Wolverine’s left hand, fingers curled to a loose fist, one metal claw extended, blood already oozing from the base of it. Fingers of his right hand skim over the row of bulging stitches. Left hand moves, and she can feel the cold claw sliding over, thin metal wires that held her skin together parting without resistance at its wake. She’s holding her breath, trying not to move. Wolverine is holding his breath as well, fingers skimming over stitches over and over again, memorizing the path before the deadly extension of his left hand follows it.
“There… I think… I think it was the last of them… I think…”
There’s a hitch on his breath. His fingers slide over the edges of the flap of dead skin once more; plucking out cut stitches and discarding them to the floor. Everything that had been brewing underneath is dribbling down her sides. She’s nearly gagging from the stench of it. She can only imagine how awful it must be for his enhanced senses.
“Tell me if it starts to hurt, okay?”
She breathes deeply, trying to brace herself when he starts to peel off the skin she has been so carefully guarding for two long months. She’s waiting for the inevitable stab of pain, the feel of tearing and burning, but there’s none of it. Just heavenly feel of weightlessness when the last bit slides off from her back. Small snip just above her buttocks, and it’s over.
“Sorry about that. It had started to grow back from there.”
“It’s… It’s okay. How does it look?”
She bites her tongue, intending to apologize, when she feels his fingers sliding over her back. Carefully, touch as fleeting and light as a feather.
“Feels like there’s real skin. But you should be careful with that still. You don’t want to tear that one as well.”
He starts to stand up from his kneeling position, one hand braced against the brim of the bathtub. For a moment he wobbles, then manages to find his balance and turns on the shower.
“Has to be. Any warmer and you’d burn your back.”
“It’s too cold… I can’t…”
“You can and you will. You reek like shit. Get in.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sakes…”
He’s under the cold spray, pulling her in there as well, making sure he isn’t hurting her back when she fights against him. She’s screaming all the way through it, but when it is over and he turns off the shower she thanks him, her teeth chattering.
“Grab a towel. Don’t rub your back, just pat it dry. Then go back to sleep.”
“I’ll clean up this mess. Just go to sleep.”
She towels her hair dry and watches as Wolverine cleans up the bathroom, wrapping the horrifying evidence of his improvised surgery to a towel and throwing it to the trash bin, tying the plastic bag tightly around bloodied rag. Next he rinses the floor meticulously, making sure that none of the blood and other fluids stick to the plaster between the white tiles. He shuts of the shower, straightens his back and cracks his neck, then takes a whiff, nodding slightly. Wraps a towel around his waist, grabs the trash bin and gathers his clothes and heads towards the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Taking out the trash. And wash my clothes. There’s a Laundromat out there.”
“You sure? Do you need me to…”
“There’s always a Laundromat. I could smell it when we arrived. And I need you to shut your mouth and go to sleep. We have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow, and since your back is already fucked up… Sleep now when you can.”
“We? Didn’t you say you’d only slow me down?”
“It’s starting to look like you don’t know even the basics of running. Your pace can only get better from here, no matter what happens.”
On the next day she finds out how right Wolverine has been. She has slept on her stomach, waking up to a wonderful feeling on her back, she can actually feel it, feel the skin stretching along her movements, and for a moment she’s been more contended than she remembers ever being. Then she puts on her clothes and sits behind the steering wheel. Soft cloth of her shirt feels like somebody has replaced it with burlap. Soft and tender skin of her back, still aggravated from the infection is still stretching, but from all the wrong places, and it doesn’t feel very nice. It’s itching. It’s burning. Her muscles start to cramp after an measly hour because she tries to sit straighter than usually, and at the end of the second hour she would kill for the possibility to stop and strip off all of her clothes and step outside for a roll in the crisp white snow. And Wolverine is having none of that.
“Yeah. And you can scratch it raw, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are people after you. After us. Keep driving.”
He has tilted his seat backwards and lies on it on his side, grimacing when she accidentally hits potholes on the road.
“Where are we going?”
“Nowhere. Just keep driving. Turn when you feel like it. Turn when I tell you to turn.”
“They had you. They had me as well, many years ago. They know how we think. They know where we are going to go. If we take random turns and stop at random places, take turns choosing them… Who knows, maybe we can fuck up their scenarios.”
“They had you?”
“Where the fuck did you think I got all this hardware in me?”
“They put… How?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Can’t remember a thing about it. Probably cut me open and poured it in.”
“Hey! Why are you slowing down? We can’t stop yet!”
“I’m going to be sick…”
“Hey! Rogue! Get back in the car!”
There’s nothing for her stomach to force out. It doesn’t stop it from trying. She stands a long moment on the curb, clutching her sides, trying to will the nausea away. It leaves a sour taste in her mouth, but finally she’s able to return to the car. She sits down carefully and shuts the door. Then turns to look at the man sitting next to her, his silver eyes seemingly watching her.
“Next time you feel like puking… Just suck it up.”
“Well excuse me if I’m feeling a little queasy after witnessing you slaughter few people and butchering my back…”
“You asked for it. Step on it. I have a feeling that our company is getting closer as we speak.”
“You have a feeling?”
“Yeah. And that feeling has never been wrong. Hear that?”
She strains her ears. After a while she can pick it up. Small whining noise in the distance, getting closer every passing second.
“What is that?”
“It’s a jet.”
“Step on it! Or should I drive?”
“Jesus! I’m driving! I’m driving!”
She lets out a shaky breath when black, sleek jet whoops over them and lands smack dab middle of the road in front of them.
“I don’t think we’re going anywhere. At least not straight forward…”
“You’re aware that every average vehicle has a reverse as well? Fucking use it!”
“I can’t! There’s two SUV’s parked and they’re setting up a road block.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Tell me about the jet.”
“The jet! What does it look like? Is it armed? Are there lots of people there? Are they armed?”
“It’s just standing there. I can’t see people. And it doesn’t look like it’s armed…”
“Step on it. If it’s as pricy as it sounded, owner will move aside rather than let us crash it.”
“Do you need me to drive?”
“Are you insane?”
“Yes. I’m sure I have it written on a paper somewhere. I can show it to you later. Drive!”
Her heart is hammering against her ribs, and she has driven last kilometers numbly, her leg pressing the gas pedal, hands clutching the steering wheel and her eyes staring the road ahead, not even really seeing her surroundings.
“I think you can relax a bit. It seemed like that jet wasn’t their buddy. It attacked those SUV’s.”
“So… Enemy of my enemy…”
“That’s bullshit. Just because they like to beat up people who are after us doesn’t mean that they’re our friends. For all we know they might just be some private corporation, looking for something they can sell to the government for hefty profit.”
“Oh, God… I think I need to slow down…”
“Go ahead. They trashed that jet when they landed it on top of those SUV’s. I think we can afford to go slower for a while. But keep driving. More space we get between us and them, better chances we have to loose them from our tracks for good.”
“Can we stop soon?”
“I’m hungry. I need to eat before I keel over. Aren’t you hungry?”
“I could eat. We stop at the first diner we find.”
“Is that a good idea?”
“They expect us to keep running. If we stop now for a while it’ll throw them off-course. At least it should. Makes it harder for them to calculate where we are going to show up next.”
Wolverine is out of the car and walking confidently towards the front door of the diner before she has the time to pull the key from the ignition. She can’t help wondering how he manages to swerve past randomly parked cars and not to stumble over small banks of snow when he can’t see them. She has to run to catch him. In the diner he walks straight past the counter, and chooses a small booth from the furthest corner, his face turned towards the door, picks up the menu and gives it once over before shoving it to her.
“I can still smell and hear things. Don’t care to advertise my little handicap.”
Arrival of the waitress interrupts her further questions. Woman gives them a radiant smile, pulling a pencil from behind her ear and a notebook from her pocket.
“Welcome to Mickey’s! What can I get you?”
Wolverine prattles down his order. Ordinary breakfast, something you can expect to have from pretty much everywhere. Waitress writes down his order, stealing glances over the notebook, then turns towards Rogue.
“I’ll have the same.”
Again the woman scribbles something, then turns to look at Wolverine again.
“Cool contacts. Where did you get them?”
“Custom made. A friend of mine is in the business.”
“Wow! I wish I had friends like yours!”
“No, you don’t. The guy is an asshole…”
Wolverine turns away from the waitress, clearly annoyed from the attention, his eyes taking the slow and tedious journey, trying to find Rogue’s face. She reaches with her hand over the table and places her palm on his cheek and guides him, a false caress to keep up the pretence.
“But I like your eyes, honey…”
“And I like yours darling…”
Wolverine is leaning closer, and just as it’s starting to look like he’s going to kiss her the waitress turns on her heels, her interest in them completely gone. Rogue can hear the sharp clicking of her heels in the background, but her whole attention is directed towards the man sitting in front of her. His face only few inches from hers, blind eyes staring at her like he could actually see her through those silvery discs, his nostrils twitching slightly.
“What color are your eyes, anyway?”
“Your eyes. What color?”
She swallows and licks her lips nervously, lowering her hand that she has forgotten on his cheek and tries to find the right answer to his question. For some reason it’s very hard to remember the color of her own eyes.
“Uh… Br… Brown.”
“And your hair? Brown as well?”
“Let me look at you…”
She squelches a startled yelp when his right hand rises and his fingers ghost over her features. Over her brows, down her nose, trailing along the curve of her lips and jaw.
“Pretty. They didn’t mess up your face? Just your back?”
“Yes… Yeah, just my back…”
“You’re young. How the hell a kid like you ended up in to the lab?”
“My parents… They needed money.”
Wolverine’s hand falls from her face and angry frown settles over his features.
“At least I have nobody but myself to blame. I think so. I think I volunteered. But what kind of fuckheads sell their own child to those bastards?”
“People who think their daughter is possessed. They would have probably turned me in for free, but they needed the money for their congregation.”
“Congregation? They’re some sorts of yahoos?”
Arrival of their breakfast interrupts them, and for a moment they just sit and eat. She can’t remember the last time she has seen this much food, let alone warm and not dug up from some garbage pail. The little money she has had left she has been preserving for life-or-death kind of situation. Wolverine eats heartily as well. She isn’t even half way through her meal when he polishes off the last bits of bacon and gulps down the coffee.
“We should get back on the road. We can play twenty questions while you drive.”
“Oww… Do I have to?”
“Unless you want me to take the wheel…”
“Okey-dokey! Ready to go… Oh… Could you take the check? I’m…”
“You’re broke. I kind of noticed that when I took your clothes to wash up last night.”
“You snooped my pockets?”
“It was either that or toss your wallet in to the machine. Don’t worry about it. I have enough for both of us. For now.”
“But it isn’t fair to…”
“It’s fair from me to force you to give me a ride, but it isn’t fair to pick up checks along the way?”
“You didn’t force me in to anything.”
“I would have, if you hadn’t asked me first.”
“But I asked, so it doesn’t matter! But we have to find a way for me to make some money. I can’t…”
“You can’t make money. Well, there’s few ways, but most of them require you spreading your legs, and I think you’d rather live on me than…”
“And how the hell would you know what I rather would do?”
“Fine. If you want to start whoring, who the fuck am I to argue. Just drop me off at the next motel, I’ll find a new ride for me…”
“Can we just stop this? You can pay the checks, if… And only if you let me pay you back as soon as I get some money.”
They fill their gas tank as well though it’s only half empty before they hit the road. Wolverine is dosing off, his head resting on the backrest and his eyes closed, looking definitely more comfortable than what he looked just last night.
“You think I’m beautiful?”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“What was that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you’re not drop-dead-gorgeous. But you’re pretty.”
“Hmph. Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“No. Just a fact.”
“Well, I guess that has to count for something. Even if it comes from a blind guy. Pretty sounds much better than ugly mutie freak.”
“Hey! I haven’t always been blind. I know what I like in a woman. And pretty… It’s not a bad thing. I just think you look… You look nice…”
“Keep it going. Why don’t you kick me for the good measure while you’re at it?”
“Fuck. Just forget it. Wake me up if something happens, okay?”
As she drives she keeps stealing glances from the man sitting next to her. Earlier, when he had been rigid and hunched from the pain he looked much smaller. Now that he lies on the seat relaxed, lines from his face smoothed out by dreamscape he looks big. Very big. And safe. Like the favorite teddy bear you place on the floor by your bed to scare off monsters lurking in the dark corners when you sleep. Except that your favorite teddy usually doesn’t come equipped with razor sharp claws and truth to be told quite annoying attitude. Nor has it as broad chest and narrow waist as Wolverine has. Even when she was on her way to unconsciousness on the previous night in the bathroom she found his body pleasure to her eyes. And now it’s starting to become pleasure for other parts of her as well.
“Stop ogling and keep your eyes on the road.”
“How could you tell I was… I wasn’t ogling!”
“You were. I can smell you.”
“Just keep your eyes on the road. I promise to strip for you at the next motel if we get in there in one piece, okay?”
And he has the nerve to smirk and wink at her. She swats his arm and turns her gaze back to the road, wincing when her back protests the sudden move. Her breath escapes with a loud hiss when a small muscle on her lower back starts to cramp.
“No, it’s okay…”
“Pull over. You’re hurting.”
“Okay. Suit yourself…”
Half an hour later she has to give up and stop the car. Wolverine helps her to turn down the backrest of her seat and she lies on it on her stomach, unable to move because every muscle and nerve in her back are tingling and cramping from the tension.
“Do you mind?”
“What? Oh, cigar? No. This isn’t my car anyway… Stole this when I run from the lab.”
“You did change the plates after that, right?”
“Well, duh! I’m not stupid! I have been changing them at least once a week. Oh… Crap…”
“Well, it really isn’t my business, but shouldn’t you go and find a doctor?”
“Yeah. Can’t be healthy for a baby when you can’t eat or sleep properly. And who the fuck knows if that infection from your back has spread…”
“A baby? What fucking baby?”
“You didn’t know? You’re pregnant.”
“Pregnant. Knocked up. You’re going to have a baby.”
“Ha-ha. Fucking-ha. Good joke.”
”Not a joke. You really didn’t know?”
A baby. Not possible.
“I can’t have a baby! I’m only seventeen!”
“Honey, if you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to have babies. Simple fact.”
“But I haven’t had… I’m… I’m not…”
She can’t stop crying. Wolverine is patting her arm awkwardly. He doesn’t say a word, just lets her grab his hand and hug it for all her worth until her screams and sobs subsides.
“H… How do you know? Are you sure? What if.. If…”
“Smelt it on you back at the diner. I thought you knew already.”
“I didn’t… They must have done it when I was unconscious. I was that a lot. Unconscious.”
“You said that you escaped couple of moths ago. I’m no doctor, but… Want it or not, you’re going to have that baby. It’s too far along for ab…”
“Just shut up!”
“Shutting up now…”
She straightens her back and raises the backrest. Wipes her cheeks and turns on the engine. Turns the car back on to the road. She isn’t thinking about them after her. She isn’t thinking how her back is itching and hurting. She isn’t thinking about the baby. None of those won’t exist before Wolverine says it’s okay to stop, curl up and die.
Scenery flies past at rapid pace. So far she has been choosing the directions, but suddenly Wolverine clears his throat.
“Take the next turn to left.”
“But what if it is just…”
“I don’t care what it is. I want to go to the right, so it’s probably the best to take the left road.”
“You always do what you don’t want to do?”
“Not always. Just every now and then. And stop fucking arguing with me! I’m tired of it!”
“Well, excuse me. We pregnant women can be a pain in the ass…”
“Hmph… It’s not like I knocked you up.”
“Sorry. I’m not usually this bitchy.”
“I believe you. Do you think you could keep your evil bitch twin under the hood until we stop for the night? I have just about had it with this shit.”
“This! Stop fucking arguing and questioning me! How the hell am I supposed to take care of you when you keep talking back at me no matter what I say?”
“Take care of me? I was under the impression that it was a certain handicapped individual that was just dying for a ride…”
She doesn’t get to finish her sentence. Wolverine grabs the steering wheel with one hand, the front of her cloak with the other and gives her a good shake, wrenching her to face him.
“I may be little out of it, but you’re out of line. You came looking for me. You dragged me in to this mess. You need a fucking hero. You need somebody to pick up the bills. You need a doctor. You need food and shelter. You need taking care of, and at the moment I’m your best shot at getting all that. If I were you, I’d think more carefully what comes out of my mouth.”
She releases her foot from the gas and presses brake, stopping the car. Wolverine is still ‘staring’ at her, those silver eyes blazing from anger. Again she could swear he can see right through her. From this close she can see almost non-evident gleam on his skin. Same silver as his eyes, dusted over his cheekbones. In time his skin will turn in to rigid metal she realizes. She lets her fingers graze over those microscopic speckles, marveling how warm and alive he still feels. His eyes narrow and he wrenches his head back, shoving her away from him.
“Keep driving. We’ll stop at the next motel. You need to eat and sleep. That back of yours won’t heal if you sit behind that wheel all day.”
She starts the car with shaky hands, thankful that he can’t see her burning cheeks. She can’t mask her scent, but she hopes her nervousness will cover the underlying twinge of lust she felt when she touched him. She knows it’s a false hope. Nobody with as keen sense of smell as Wolverine would ever mistake the heated flush that ran down her spine to anything else but what it was. But to her relief he lets it slip. Doesn’t throw in a cocky remark, doesn’t keep sniffling, just leans back and closes his eyes, telling her to wake up if anything happens. And when she finally parks the car in front of a motel he takes her wallet and goes to pay for the night.
“I took two beds. We both could use some space.”
“Oh, that’s… That’s good. So I did hog the covers?”
“No, you didn’t. But I have a bad habit of hogging the whole bed for myself. You wouldn’t be getting much sleep next to me.”
She resists the urge to correct him. She didn’t sleep next to him at the previous night. At first she slept under him, then alone as he went to take care of the ugly mess in the bathroom. When he takes the bed by the window she flops on to the other, her back turned at him, face turned towards the door.
“You should go and take a shower. And let me have a look at that back. You’re better already, but I can still smell…”
“Fine. I’ll go and have a shower. God forbid me from insulting your sinuses.”
She gets up and walks in to the bathroom, slamming the door shut. She has the time to take a step backwards before the door is wrenched open, small metal bits of the lock scattering to every direction. Wolverine looks absolutely furious, standing there, one hand still clutching the door handle, other combing through his dark hair.
“How many fucking times I have to tell you? Stop that fucking bitching! It may, or may not make you feel better about yourself, but me… I’m not the most patient man to hang around with.”
“I’d stop if I could! I’m so fucking afraid all the time, and you keep scaring me even more, and I have nothing! Nowhere to go, no means to get anywhere, nobody I could turn to… I have nothing!”
Wolverine grimaces, lets go of the door and steps in to the bathroom, cornering her between his body and the brim of the bathtub. He grabs her shoulders and narrows his eyes.
“I know you think it isn’t much, but for what it’s worth, you got me. I’d rather kill us both by myself than let those bastards cart you and that baby you’re carrying back to that lab.”
She snorts and short, nervous laughter, unsure of how she should react. Licks her lips.
“You sure know how to make a girl feel comfortable…”
“I’m not trying to comfort you. I just wanted you to know, that what ever happens, there’s a way out for you. You don’t have to go back there, ever.”
“If that means that you’re going to kill me, I’d rather live, thank you very much.”
“You will live. But if the worst happens and we get caught, you don’t have to worry about them hurting you anymore. I promise.”
“That’s all you have to offer? Death?”
“There’s a hell of a lot more I have to throw at them before that. But it’s fucking hard to keep running and keep you safe when you keep fighting me every step we take. You have to trust me, or else this won’t work.”
She shuffles her feet, stares at her toes. She knows he’s right. She came looking for him. She came and asked for his help. She hasn’t made it easy for him to help her. She turns her gaze upwards and sees her image reflecting from his eyes. Small. Tiny and slightly distorted, swimming on the silvery surface. Wolverine doesn’t look angry. Just tired and serious.
“I can’t… I was going to hire you. Then I ran out of money. I can’t pay you…”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re in this together now. They’re after me as well now that they know I’m with you. Come on… I’ll take care of you.”
“Yeah. I promise.”
She lets him strip her clothes and check her back. He tells her that he doesn’t know what’s going on, but that her scent is improving, and she can see from the mirror that the skin is still red, but already getting paler. He stands up from where he has been kneeling and she turns around, wrapping her arms around him little hesitantly, the zipper of his jacket cold and hard against her bare skin and nipples. He rubs her arms quickly and clears his throat, then guides her out of the bathroom and tells her to choose a bed.
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Your back… Is… Does it still hurt?”
“It’s fine. Just go to sleep, Rogue.”
“Marie. My name is Marie.”
He nods and sheds his jacket, throwing it to a chair in the corner. He doesn’t miss. Jacket lands neatly to the armrest. He spent first minutes they arrived shuffling around in the small room, skimming his fingers over surfaces, memorizing everything. Now he heads straight to the bed closest to the door. He lays on it, on top of the covers, fully clothed, his back turned towards her. She sits on her bed, trying to decide if she should follow his suit and put her shirt back on. She decides not to, but puts it to the foot end of her bed. Just in case they have to leave quickly, she doesn’t want to squander precious seconds it would take to find it in the darkness.
“Good night, Marie.”
Half an hour later she can’t take it anymore. Wolverine keeps tossing and turning, beating up his pillow and shuffling back and forth. Just as she’s falling to sleep his silent curses wake her up again. She pulls on her shirt before she sits up and turns on the light.
“You’re not alright.”
“I’m fine. Sleep.”
“I can’t when you keep muttering and grumbling. It’s your back, isn’t it?”
“Bullshit. You’re a lousy liar. It was better when I slept with you, wasn’t it?”
She scoots down from her bed and stretches next to him. Turns on her side and grasps his hand, bringing it over her waist, urging him to lean on her.
“You know, this would be much easier if you helped me out a bit. You’re kind of heavy to jostle around…”
Wolverine grabs her, tucking her half under his frame again, now mindful of her back and lower abdomen. He folds around her like a warm, living blanket, one leg curling against hers from behind, other bent and thrown over her thighs.
“It probably snapped a ligament… It doesn’t usually take this long to heal.”
“Is this better? Can you sleep now?”
“Yeah… Much better… Thanks.”
When he moves slightly she can hear faint scratching sound from inside of him. Metal grating against metal. She’s quite sure that sounds like those aren’t everyday sounds.
“Are you really going to get better?”
“I always do. I have gone through worse.”
“But what if…”
“Hush. Sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”
When the door opens Wolverine is up from the bed, metal claws sliding out from his hands and locking in to their places with sharp, metallic snap. She can see blurred, black figures standing at the doorstep, then Wolverine blocks her line of vision, moving between her and the threat, charging forward. Bright red flash pierces the darkness and Wolverine gasps, flying backwards, crashing heavily against the bed frame and falling to the floor unconscious. There’s a smoking hole smack dab middle of his broad chest, bleeding profusely.
“Grab the girl!”
“They’re almost here, we have to move fast!”
“Somebody take the girl, I’ll bring him!”
“We have to move fast!”
Everything is a blur. She’s screaming, grappling and flailing, kicking and biting. Dark figures are struggling, trying to subdue her. She can only see Wolverine, unmoving, dark pool spreading slowly but inevitable around him where he sits, his head slumped forward. She can see only him, and hear the weak whistling sound of air filtering through the hole on his chest. Then she’s on her feet, dragging his lifeless body across the dark parking lot, wrenching open the passenger’s door and pushing Wolverine in. Crouching and hiding when dark SUV’s speed past them towards the motel room, towards the dark figures she left lying unconscious, maybe dead.
“Don’t try to talk. There’s a hole big enough to stuff a fist through on your chest.”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know!”
“Shut the fuck up! I don’t fucking know anything! I just know that you’re really hurt, and we’re screwed!”
Wolverine tries to grab her arm, but his hand flops down from midair, landing on her thigh instead. She can feel his blood seeping through the denim of her jeans, warm and sticky. It sparkles brightly when streetlights reach the interior of the car. Fingers dig in to her thigh; Wolverine starts convulsing, then suddenly goes rigid as a board, his head snapping against the backrest. She knows he’s probably dying, but there’s no way she can stop now. Not when they’re this close. She grabs his hand and pries off his fingers from her thigh. She’s going to have bruises later, and she’s going to hate herself for not letting him to have the comfort of holding on to something at his last moments, but she’s going to need both her legs if she’s going to get out of this alive.
“Don’t leave me.”
“I won’t, just hang on. It’ll be alright.”
“I’m dying… Don’t leave me.”
“I won’t leave you. And you’re not going to die, you hear me? Nobody’s going to die. We can pull over soon and I’ll tie up that wound and…”
“Already dead… Don’t fucking… Leave me.”
“Stop talking! You’re not dead. You’re hurt, but you’re going to be just fine, you’re going to heal and… Wolverine? Wolverine? Wolverine!”