Chapter 5 -
"Make her stop! Goddammit, make her stop!"
Logan issued the ultimatum through gritted teeth. "Right now, Chuck, or I swear to God I'll play gut-the-slut in front of the entire school!"
For the briefest of moments, Xavier considered what might happen if he allowed Logan to satisfy his thirst for revenge. He envisioned Jean, flayed beyond recognition, her dead green eyes staring sightlessly out of a claw-ravaged face.
His first reaction to the mental picture shocked him. Not revulsion, as he'd expected. Not even sadness.
The kind of lightness of being that follows setting down a great burden after carrying it too long. The feeling was startling, yet somehow familiar, as though some part of him he didn't dare acknowledge secretly longed for the day when he could let down his guard and relinquish his rigid control over Jean's dark side—a control that she had learned to recognize in recent weeks, and to a dangerous degree, overcome.
Instantly, guilt swamped him. He didn't wish her dead! He didn't! He didn't want her killed, any more than a parent who tells an obnoxious child to 'shut up and go away' actually wants them to disappear forever. It was only a terrible impulse, born of frustration and sorrow over how his former pupil, a woman he once loved like his own daughter, had destroyed an innocent girl.
He'd broken his own cardinal rule that night several weeks ago when he'd entered Rogue's mind uninvited, but he'd had little choice. The young woman was in agony, unable to sleep or eat and certainly incapable of concentrating on the techniques he'd been teaching her to control her mutation. Finally, he'd asked her point-blank what was troubling her. "Nightmares," she'd answered, a little too quickly. He didn't have to be a telepath to know she'd been deliberately vague, hoping he'd assume she meant the nightmares that she'd suffered so often over the years she referred to them as 'same old, same old.'
But he'd known there had to be more to it than that. He'd wrestled with his conscience for the rest of the day, but by that night he'd struck a deal with himself. He'd wait in the vacant room across the hall from Rogue's and listen - with his ears, not his mind - for any sign of nocturnal distress. If none came, then he'd roll quietly away, but if she actually cried out...well, he had a duty to protect her, didn't he? Even from her own subconscious, if that's all it was.
For the first three hours, all was quiet, but just after the grandfather clock downstairs struck two, he heard a whimper...
He could still see the horrific images, the twisted lies Jean had used to poison Rogue's heart and mind against Logan. It killed him that he was too late to undo the damage. Jean's projections had been expertly crafted. The emotions built into them were so real, so deeply embedded in Rogue's mind, that only the professor's knowledge of the true nature of Logan and Rogue's relationship kept him from believing what he was seeing were actual memories of real events. But they couldn't be real, because Logan would not be capable of bringing such harm, let alone such humiliation to his mate.
Xavier watched Logan pacing between the door and the desk and wished for the millionth time that he'd discovered that truth sooner, before Jean had gotten her claws into the Wolverine. He stifled a humorless chuckle at the irony. God help him, he'd never have guessed hers would be the more dangerous weapons, or that she would use them so savagely against someone so innocent.
Clearly, he was losing control; she was growing stronger every day, nudging the boundaries Xavier had installed years ago in her mind, back when she was a brilliant but troubled teenager. In those early days, Jean knew she could scare most people with her powers, but she had no idea she was the singular Level Five mutant on the planet, or that she could, with a mere thought, reduce that very planet to dust.
What he wanted more than anything was to have the old Jean back, the brilliant doctor, the loyal friend and colleague, the devoted wife. Scott was her anchor to that side of herself and now that he was gone, her primal instincts - sexual conquest, domination, survival - were storming the gates that he'd so carefully built. He couldn't let them win, or the Jean he knew and loved would disappear and what remained would be too powerful to fight, let alone destroy.
So he had come up with a plan, a way to bring Jean back —or at least, as much of her as would be left when all was said and done. He made a mental note to tell Henry McCoy that the tests on the new serum would have to be completed more quickly than they'd originally planned. Time was of the essence now.
But first, he had to soothe the savage beast whose size thirteens were pacing a path in his Oriental rug while he growled angrily about how 'no payback could be bitch enough for that bitch', or words to that effect.
"Logan, please, calm down. I understand-"
"The hell you do! It ain't you shovin' your dick into that red-headed she-devil now, is it? Holy Christ, I'll admit I've fucked some sorry cunts in my day-"
"Enough! Honestly, Logan, get a grip on yourself or so help me I'll shut you down like the maid switching off the vacuum cleaner."
The feral's fists clenched as his body stretched across Xavier's big mahogany desk. His eyes narrowed.
"You could try."
The professor didn't back down an inch. One corner of his mouth hitched into a half-smirk.
"As you wish."
And just like that, Logan dropped like a sack of rocks, cracking his skull on the edge of the desk and passing out cold on the floor.
When Logan came to he was in the exact spot where he'd fallen five minutes earlier. The gash in his head had mended, which was more than could be said for the split in the corner where his head hit the desk, but it still took him another few seconds to remember what happened.
"You double-crossin' son of a bitch!"
Xavier glared first at his wounded desk and then at Logan in a credible impersonation of the feral's trademark scowl. "I admit to keeping mum about that particular feature of your 'head gear', as you call it, but this morning proves the need for just such a measure. I can't have you rampaging through the mansion, disemboweling everyone you believe to be a threat to Rogue."
Logan got to his feet slowly, like an elephant shaking off the effects of a tranquilizer dart.
"Not everyone," he corrected. "Just the person terrorizin' her, makin' her think I'm the one who hurt her." Logan flopped heavily into one of the high-backed leather chairs facing Xavier's desk. "I still think I should tell Rogue the truth about us-"
"No," Xavier interjected. "Perhaps if you'd told her before Jean's treachery, she might have believed you, but..."
Logan winced at the implied blame in the professor's remark. If you'd told her sooner...If you'd only done the right thing for once...
"Don't go putting words in my mouth, Logan," Xavier scolded, but his eyes lost their hard glare. "I don't blame you for any of this. How could I when you didn't know the truth yourself until it was too late?"
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Logan had known there was something different, something special about his feelings for Rogue, but he thought it was because of what happened that first night in the mansion and again on Liberty Island, a connection rooted in the mingling of their mutations. What he didn't know was that their bond was forged before she ever touched him, even before he first saw her. Their destinies became entwined the day she was born.
But thanks to Stryker and his evil cohorts, Logan had lost his innate ability to recognize her for who she really was-his one true mate.
During the preparations for Logan's conversion from a natural born killer to a scientifically-enhanced one, Stryker had seen to it that his mating instinct was shut down. They couldn't have their walking weapon falling in love, now could they? Thoughts of home and family couldn't co-exist with the level of bloodlust their creation required, so they short-circuited his mating instinct, leaving his sex drive intact, but deleting any need to connect, to belong, to commit to another with a bond so strong it could only be broken by death.
Still, Stryker's handiwork could not entirely silence the ancient call of her blood to his. Now and then, faint whispers of the truth would reach him, usually in the form of her scent. He would find himself following it with an urgency he could not explain, desperately, breathlessly searching the mansion until he located her, only to realize he hadn't a clue why he'd needed to find her, much less what he would say to her once he had.
In the end, it was another scent entirely that proved to be the key to unlocking the mystery...
About two weeks after the 'dirty doctor' session, Logan came home unexpectedly and caught the unmistakable smell of day-old sex in Jean's room—and he'd been gone a whole lot longer than a day.
Standing alone in her room that afternoon, surrounded by the combined aromas of Jean's lusty arousal and LeBeau's gumbo-flavored stench, he waited for the possessive rage to overtake him, but it never did. He wondered briefly how she could be so clueless about his feral nature. Had she forgotten about his amazingly sensitive—and outrageously accurate—sense of smell? Out of curiosity, he lifted two of the decorative throw pillows from her bed to his nose and discovered that Bobby and St. John had been there, too.
Been there. Did her.
He carefully replaced the pillows and left the room, a little angry, but even more confused by his own indifference. Why didn't he want all their heads on a platter?
Needing a quiet place to puzzle out his feelings, he made his way to the roof, to the bench where he and Rogue used to sit on warm evenings and talk, or sometimes not talk and just share the sunset. He didn't realize until he sat down there how long it had been since they'd done that, or how much he'd missed those talks.
He tried to focus on Jean and her broken promise, even popped the claws just to see if that would stir him up any, but it didn't. He closed his eyes, thinking that if he could conjure the image of Jean and, say, Bobby, fucking in the bed she was supposed to share only with him it might incite him to action. And so a picture formed…
A bed, two bodies, a blond man on top of a dark-haired woman, her long, silky legs wrapped around his hips as he slides his cock into her again and again, her gloved hands grasping his shoulders as she moans and begs —
Gloves? Since when did Jean wear—
There it was, the volcanic, possessive fury he'd been searching for. But it wasn't Jean who'd inspired it.
Ho. Ly. Fuck.
It was Rogue...
"Dammit, Chuck, Rogue's my mate and she's in pain. And instead of lookin' t' me for comfort, followin' the natural order like things ought to be, she's upstairs right now in the arms o' that Cajun thief, probably wishin' me dead. You have no idea, Chuck, no fuckin' idea..."
"Yes, actually, I do. I know what she means to you. I'm not a fool, Logan. I know what I'm asking, but you agreed to follow my timetable on this and then proceeded to ignore my instructions completely."
"But nothing!" Xavier scolded, his legendary calm veneer cracking suddenly in a burst of exasperation. "I told you not to come back for another week, that Rogue needed more time. I warned you that your presence could escalate Jean's behavior. This will set Rogue's progress back at least a week, maybe more. She's worked so hard. She doesn't deserve this—"
"You think I don't know that? You think I wouldn't give anything—any goddamn thing—to spare her this?" Logan growled, angry enough to ignore the risk of invading Xavier's personal space again as he leaned once more across the damaged desk, his breath making Xavier's pale blue pocket square flutter against his dark gray jacket.
Again, Xavier held his ground, but his expression softened considerably. "Of course you would. You allowed me into your mind, Logan. I know that went against every survival instinct you possess. I also know there is no one else on earth for whom you would have made that sacrifice, no one but Rogue."
It would never have happened under any other circumstances. But he'd done it because the professor had convinced him it was the only way to guarantee that Jean wouldn't detect how he felt about Rogue—or about Jean and her infidelity.
Initially, Logan knew Xavier expected he'd have a harder time quashing Logan's feral need to hunt down and kill each and every one of Jean's partners, not because he still cared for Jean, but because they threatened his Alpha male status. Had Logan followed his instincts to the letter, the X-team would have been decimated. As a feral - and an Alpha male - Logan was honor bound to neutralize any and all competition for his chosen female's sexual favors. Whatever female he claimed was his and his alone for as long as he wanted her, whether that was a few minutes, a lifetime, or anywhere in between.
But when the professor had probed the part of Logan's mind where those urges should have been snarling and straining to be let free, he made a rather astounding discovery.
According to one memory Xavier accessed, even Logan was surprised to learn that his feral possessiveness no longer centered on Jean. Instead, he saw that it rested squarely with Rogue-and Logan had no idea why. The only way to find out, Xavier had insisted, was to launch an expedition into the depths of Logan's psyche, something he later described to him as 'more gut-wrenching than an archeological dig through every battlefield that ever felt your boot or tasted your blood.' Several grueling mind-mining sessions later, Xavier unearthed Logan's muzzled mating instinct and, after offering up a silent prayer to never regret what he was about to do, he set it free.
But by then, Jean had already wreaked havoc in Rogue's mind...
"I'm trying, Chuck. It ain't like I care anymore who Jean fucks." Logan's voice coupled with his customary profanity brought Xavier back to the present. "Hell, as long as she's spreadin' her legs for the whole school—"
Logan saw Xavier stiffen at his vulgar description. "Sorry, guess you didn't need to hear that, but it ain't her screwin' around that makes me sick. If nothin' else, she's keepin' the rest of these horny bastards from wantin' to get their hands on Rogue. But turnin' Rogue against me, makin' her afraid of me-that's what's makin' it harder and harder to separate myself from the urge to rip Jean's throat out every time I see the sleazy bitch, let alone touch her…or let her touch me."
Lately, the only way he'd been able to accomplish the deed was to think of fucking Jean as a sort of enhanced masturbation that had nothing to do with Jean herself. It was purely a means to an end, involving only his body and its urges.
But waking up to Rogue's screams shot all that psychobabble bullshit all to hell.
Right now, he just needed the pure, uncomplicated satisfaction of killing something and a redheaded slut was definitely the prey du jour.
"No, Logan, you're right," the professor acquiesced; his tone deliberately moderated to stroke the feral's nerves. "I can't imagine what it's like for you. I won't even pretend to try, but I do know that having Jean's blood on your hands is no way to begin your life with Rogue. Surely, you can see that, too, can't you?"
Much as Logan hated to admit it, he knew Xavier was right. Rogue couldn't stand the sight of him as it was. How much more would she loathe him if he killed Jean, a woman who, as far as Rogue knew, Logan still—shudder—loved?
And that was part of the problem. On the surface, nothing appeared to be wrong with Jean. She was still seen by everyone else as an excellent teacher, a caring physician and even a valued member of the X-Team, although she'd been on very few missions since Scott's death and even then she was there only to provide any necessary medical assistance.
No one would ever believe she was capable of inflicting such unspeakable cruelty on another person. Even Logan wouldn't have believed the story Xavier told him if it hadn't been Xavier telling it. But the utter disillusionment and despair in the professor's voice that night had been unmistakable; he had to be telling the truth.
Six weeks earlier…
"Logan, I…I have something to tell you, something…awful…"
Logan's stomach dropped to his knees. The hand holding the cell phone clutched it tighter against his ear. He had never heard Xavier sound so rattled before, not even when he'd called to tell him about Scott. Whatever had happened was way, WAY beyond even an X-man's definition of 'awful'.
"What happened? Is it Rogue? Is she…hurt?" He couldn't bring himself to voice the alternative.
"Yes, it involves Rogue…and Jean, but she's not hurt…Rogue, I mean…well, not physically…"
Again with the stammering from the smoothest talker Logan had ever met. Charles Xavier at a loss for words was like the Wolverine ordering a well-done steak; it never happened.
"What the fuck does that mean?" Logan barked, his concern masquerading as anger.
"It means I know why she was so afraid of you, why she ran from you…"
Xavier's voice broke, but Logan couldn't hear him. All his focus suddenly turned inward as he relived a moment more terrible than any nightmare he'd ever endured, more devastating than any enemy he'd ever faced…
Three days before Xavier's call...
As Logan made his way along the path from the garage around the side of the mansion, he saw Rogue sitting on the edge of the fountain, reading a book. His breath caught at the sight of her.
God, she was lovely. Her long hair was swept back into a ponytail that cascaded in a mass of chestnut and platinum waves down her back. Her soft brown eyes were devouring her book with the same quiet intensity that she brought to all her studies, allowing Logan to go unnoticed and simply drink her in.
She wore a long-sleeved white peasant blouse with a lacy ruffled collar that billowed like white clouds around her shoulders. A silver concho belt was wrapped around her slender waist, pulling the flimsy fabric of her blouse tight across her full breasts. Covered in second-skin black jeans, her legs seemed to go on for days, finally stopping at a pair of well-worn, light gray, suede cowboy boots that matched her gray satin gloves.
Holy shit, she had more curves than the Pacific Coast Highway. He'd known she would grow up-eventually-but when did she go from gawky and gangly to hotter than Satan's backyard barbeque? He'd only been gone two weeks since the last time he'd seen her, but he had to admit he hadn't really been paying her much attention ever since he and Jean hooked up. She'd blossomed right under his nose and he'd missed it-until today.
Her beauty was out of this world.
His arousal was instantaneous and total. He couldn't remember the last time Jean had that effect on him.
The low growl unfurling in his chest wasn't meant to be audible, but Rogue must have heard it, because her head suddenly jerked up like a fawn alerted by a snapping twig.
And like a hunted animal, she froze, at first, her eyes wide and wary, searching peripherally for an escape…avoiding the predator's hypnotic gaze, lest she be helplessly pinned in place by that stare…
Instinctively, the hunter in Logan reacted in kind and he stilled where he stood, every muscle at the ready, every sense on high alert.
He was close enough to hear her heart thudding furiously against her ribs, to smell the bitter scent of her adrenaline-spiked blood. Realizing that he must have startled her, he relaxed his stance a bit and started to apologize.
"Hey, kid, sorry I—"
In that instant, she looked directly at him. He saw recognition dawn and then watched, dumbfounded, as raw terror twisted her pretty face into a grotesque mask of unrelenting pain.
He was still reeling from her shocking reaction to him when he was stunned yet again to see her spin on her heel and run from him, legs pumping, hair flying, and the gut-wrenching scent of fear flowing like a vapor trail behind her as she sped toward the French doors leading into the kitchen.
She was terrified—of him!
Over the next three days, that question ate a hole in his guts the size of Cleveland.
He'd started to follow her toward the mansion, but the memory of her horrified expression stopped him. Whatever caused it, he couldn't knowingly strike that kind of fear in her, nor could he bear to have her look at him like that again. Not her, not his Rogue, the one person on the planet who had never been afraid of him, even when she'd had every reason to be.
So, instead of following her, he'd gone straight back to the bike and tore hell for leather down the highway until the gas tank idiot light flashed at him, forcing him to stop and try to figure out where he was.
Not that it mattered. One smoky roadhouse, one crusty motel was as good as any other. He found a bed and a bottle and set to work trying to erase her fear-filled eyes from his mind. Two days and a dozen bottles weren't enough to do the job, so on the third day he'd asked the motel clerk if there was a distillery within a hundred miles. Shot glasses were for wimps. Bottles were for pansies. Wolverines drank whiskey by the barrel. Or maybe they'd have a vat he could drown in…
The heavily tattooed clerk just shook his head and went back to thumbing his tattered copy of Biker Ink.
Damning his healing factor and his now fuckin' iron-clad memory all to hell, he figured maybe he could stay drunk if he didn't eat, but the feral in him couldn't ignore the smell of steaks grilling in the diner across the street from the motel.
He'd just cut into his third very rare T-bone when his cell phone rang…
"You know? How do you know?" Logan hadn't told a soul about what happened, which meant the professor must have talked to Rogue.
At last! Now he would know what he was up against; now he could apologize, assure her that whatever he had done it would never—never—happen again.
But Chuck was hesitating again.
"Dammit, Chuck, what did she say?"
"Logan where are you right now?"
"Answer me, Logan. Tell me exactly where you are at this very moment." Xavier's voice had regained its quiet authority.
Logan choked back a string of curse words and answered in a clipped tone.
"Some diner just south of Providence, Rhode Island. Why?"
"You'll have to leave there before we can talk further. Find a secluded, rural area and call me back." Click.
Logan threw some cash on the table and exited the diner, all the while fighting to keep his claws sheathed beneath his skin. Behind the diner was a wooded area that stretched for about a mile before the land dipped down into an embankment with a highway at the bottom. Logan trudged through the trees for several hundred yards and checked to make sure he still had a cell phone signal out here in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere before hitting the speed dial code for Xavier's cell phone.
"So I've done my Little Red Riding Hood thing. Now tell me what the fuck she said!"
"Normally, I'd want to tell you something this…this serious…in person, but under the circumstances, I think this way will be safer for all concerned."
"Holy fuckin' God, Chuck, I swear if you don't quit pissin' around—"
"She thinks you raped her."
"—just spit it…WHAT?!" Logan roared, nearly skewering his own head as his claws shot out uncontrollably from both hands while he was still holding the phone to his ear.
"She thinks you raped her. Repeatedly. At least, that's what she believes—"
Logan's voice boomed with explosive feral rage.
"I DID NOT AND I WILL KILL THE MOTHERFUCKIN' SONOFABITCH WHO DID!"
He felt himself giving way to the animal within. His whole body shook with the effort to keep the beast at bay while his ears took in what Xavier told him about Rogue's ordeal and Jean's part in it. He had heard the words, but it would be hours before his mind was capable of processing any of it into anything resembling rational thought.
And then he just let go. The phone fell to the ground, the call still connected.
Back in Westchester, Xavier listened as the howls of an anguished soul and the violent snap and crackle of falling trees told him he'd been right to break the news from a very long distance.
"OK, so I can't skin the skank alive," Logan said, "But can we at least tell Rogue the truth? Can't you and your super mental mo-jo make her see that it never really happened?"
"You, of all people, Logan, should know that it isn't that simple when it comes to the workings of the human mind," Xavier replied. "Jean's projections provided the outline, but she used Rogue's own subconscious to fill in all the details. At this point, it would be impossible for me to separate the images in Rogue's mind from their source without doing irreparable harm to her psyche in general."
Logan cringed inwardly at the implication that on some level he was partially responsible for Rogue's pain, that the way he had treated her had made her susceptible to Jean's suggestions.
"So where does that leave us?" he asked, refocusing on the real problem instead of his own self-recriminations. There'd be plenty of time to beat himself up later.
"Well, as I said, I cannot undo the damage, but Rogue can-with your help."
Logan gaped at the professor. "Me? She won't get within fifty feet of me. What can I do?"
"Be the man she loves, not the one who hurt her."
Logan was about to protest that he damn well did not hurt Rogue, but then the professor's meaning sunk in.
"You mean, show her that she can trust me, prove to her that I'd never do what she thinks I did?"
"Exactly. You must present her with an alternate reality. Give her a reason to question what she believes. Once you do that, her own memories, her own feelings-and presumably the you inside her head-will be there to help her reject the lie and embrace the truth."
"And how am I supposed to do that? Especially with Little Miss Mind Fuck still on the loose?"
"For one thing, you must take Rogue someplace beyond Jean's reach. I have a place in mind..." Xavier picked up a pen and began to write on a small notepad. "This is the address and the name of the owner. Ask for her when you arrive; she'll provide you with anything you might need during your stay."
Logan took the offered note and read it, one eyebrow quirking in approval.
"Don't get me wrong, Chuck, the idea of me and Rogue in a seaside resort is pretty damn exciting, but how do I get her there? Hog-tie her to the back of the bike?"
Logan smiled in spite of himself at the mental image his comment conjured-a belligerent Rogue, arms and legs flailing, trying to land a blow to his crotch while he worked to subdue her with all the finesse of a man trying to stuff a live octopus into a burlap bag.
Then the significance of the address in his hand dawned on him and his heart skipped a beat-or two.
"Hey, uh, does this mean what I think it means?" he posed. "Um, 'cause...it's August...and...um, I mean...you wouldn't send her there at the height of summer if she couldn't...if she still had to-"
"Yes, Logan, she's done it. We finished that part of her training just yesterday morning, in fact."
Xavier wore a faraway look as he replayed their last session in his mind. "You'd have thought someone had just handed her the keys to Heaven itself," he mused aloud as he looked out at the brilliant blue sky.
Logan felt the connection open between his mind and Xavier's and then he saw Rogue's positively triumphant smile as she'd exercised complete control over her gift, switching it off and then on and then off again at will.
"Oh, Professor, it's...amazin', isn't it?" Rogue gushed joyfully. "Now that Ah know what to do, it seems so simple. Makes me wonder why it took so long to figure it out. Ah can't wait to show Lo-" He knew the exact second that her happiness collided with despair. Her face crumbled like an imploding skyscraper. Something in her eyes shattered and Logan knew that it wasn't the first time she'd had to remind herself that he wasn't who he used to be.
As painful as it was to watch her come undone like that, Logan found himself oddly optimistic for the first time in weeks. If sharing her victory with him was still her first thought, even after all Jean had put her through, then the professor's plan just might work after all.
"Thanks, Chuck, for sharing."
When Xavier didn't respond, Logan reached out and gently touched his shoulder. "Professor?"
The wheelchair spun around so fast it nearly cut Logan's legs out from under him. Xavier's face had lost all color.
"You must go, Logan. Now! Rogue is almost-"
An exceptionally brief knock was followed by the door swinging open as Jubilee's customary greeting announced her presence.
"Hey, professor, you decent?"
And where Jubilee went, Rogue was sure to follow. Holy shit! Logan gave a second's thought to jumping out the window. Broken legs he could handle, even without his healing powers, but his heart couldn't take another shredding. He couldn't stand to have her look at him again with all that fear and hatred in her eyes. It was desperate and cowardly, he knew, but as Rogue's scent wafted into the room, Logan turned his back to the door and braced himself for the scream.