To Run In Circles:
If Ororo had been there, they could have relied on her to darken the night, like spilling ink over penciled script. The jet would have been cloaked in fog, wrapped as one bundles an infant. They settled for an ambiguous midnight and a grove of generous pine trees. Risky, still, but they hoped the authorities would arrive long after the thrum of the jet's engine faded in the air.
The metallic bird did not strike, but grazed the yard's downy grass with the expertise of its namesake settling on a telephone wire. Scott was a much better pilot these days. Logan couldn't quite recall when this change had come to be.
Jean pulled her hair into a ponytail; the curls sprang from the band like the flame from a rocket's tail. She rechecked the laces on her boots, twice. Her lips were tight, eyes dark, and when her husband brushed her hand in reassurance she snatched it away. When it came to separating one's emotions from the necessary mind-frame of battle, Jean was cold in a way even Logan envied. The other, moderately newer team members feigned bravery with tight chins and stoic silence, or overly nonchalant jokes. The faint, hairless wobble of the first and the absence of laughter at the second betrayed both
But as Scott went over the strategy a final, exasperatingly needless time, Logan was staring at her. At Rogue. Not that invisible, untraveled distance his eyes usually fixed upon--the place of darkness that the animal in him sought like a spark yearning for its mother flame. She distracted him, distracted the monster from its violent meditation.
She'd never gone with them before.
He heard Summers say that Rogue would not deboard, that she would remain until "after". Logan did not pause, did not stop to wonder at the fact that all of Scott's obsessive, anal attention to detail and the sum of his instructions to her was "after". He heard, but it was still a shock to see the legs of the team descending the metal steps while hers remained firmly planted.
He stood, cracked his neck, glared at her long enough for Jean to screech for his immediate haste. She seemed relaxed, sitting not on the edge of the chair but deep into the stiff cushion of its back. Guns awaited those under even her delicate age just down those steps, and she continued to sit there, calmly. Breathe, calmly. Stare back at him, calmly--and if those level eyes were wet, they were tears enthusiastically overlooked.
"Noncombat," she said, in a voice that tried to be loud and steady but failed at both.
He grunted, or growled, or both, and turned sharply away. What did she have to smell so frightened about?
A bloodbath. A bloodshower, sideways because there were few taller than Logan. Flesh his soap, cartilage his sponge. Scalps, misshapen and fuzzy rugs. He licked the liquid copper from his lips again and again. This was a good one. Fourteen--no, fifteen, there's one hiding behind that table--bodies, or what used to be, meshed together like a particularly thick soup.
Though part of him--the part that screamed in the night while the other popped its claws, that tried to drink itself into oblivion while its brother self never stopped seeking the enemy--was saying enough; it was too much, too much; he was getting carried monstrously away, the animal was rejoicing. Able to release some of the energy kept chained for so long, too long.
He'd been given the main halls, the front of the building. A colossal distraction, his presence absorbing the focus and resistance these...Strange, Logan couldn't quite recall who it was they were attacking. The rest of the team had split upon entry, scurried down obscure side passages to converge at some point he remembered as little as he was interested. He'd been told the objectives of the mission, of course. Repeatedly. All the details of why this carnage was necessary and what catastrophe it would avert had been discussed in briefings, in lectures both official and not, in breathless tones over quick dinners.
But the vapor of death could blur the mind as much as the eyes. These looked like FOH, he thought, or had before their recognizable features had been so thoroughly removed, but what did he know? What did it matter? Does a bullet hesitate once it's aimed and launched from the gun, because of the name of its target? Even catastrophe becomes dull with repetition.
Logan breathed in the fumes of what he had done, watched particles only he could see swirl, a dance just for him. His heart was pounding, a furious, fleshy beast, the determined engine of a ship in turbulent water. He drew his forearm across a weather-beaten, a time-beaten, a pain-beaten face, but as both were equally filthy the action did little good. He told himself it didn't matter what he could and could not remember. The blood would be the same.
She was brought in after a tidal wave of voices on the COMs had swept over the static ocean. After most of the team had spilled from the branching corridors to the base of the trunk, clutching boxes and folders with coded tabs like prizes from an exceptionally boring carnival. After Scott had pushed--with more care than he might have were the animal more dampened in the other man's eyes--a stack of the former at Logan. After the so-called leader muttered, 'come on', glanced with a sharp eye toward his wife but a deliberately glassy one to everything under his boot.
Jean's back--partially hidden by the ringlets that had escaped their band--moved out the door, but she was back before they reached it themselves. The files that had been cradled in her arms more attentively than any child had, supposedly, been left on the Blackbird, but she's substituted them with Rogue. Like an unwilling shadow, like a child helplessly following a stranger in the woods, like a calf following its kin into the butchery, she trailed after Jean.
She was a bizarre vision in this atmosphere, and something in him stumbled as if it had misjudged a step on a unforgiving staircase. He'd been angry at the idea of her thinking she could be spared from fighting when no one was, anymore. But now the sight of her scratched at him. She shouldn't be...she shouldn't....
Logan's gaze touched the 'V' between her eyebrows, the hands clasped at her waist like a schoolgirl or an inmate. The contracting in her neck as she swallowed, again and again. The too-pinched fabric at her breasts and the too-loose fabric at her hips--who had the uniform originally belonged to? The glossy leather in the crease behind her knee. And the gaze might as well have been the brush of fingers. Rogue looked at him as they passed, and in her face was the kind of plea men fall over their own blades to answer. A sentimental cliche, but Logan found his foot moving forward obligingly. Unexamined instincts sparking to so direct a look, like the sighting of a rescue boat to the drowned--though for which of the two this analogy applied is unclear.
But then her eyes fell to his wrist, to a surprisingly large clump of someone's hair that had snagged on a button, to an arm limp and owner-less on the floor. Its fingers still clutched the gun it had weilded so earnestly half an hour ago. And that expression turned to one that struck the animal like a stone, required it to clamp down on the restraints of that so distant and buried man--a strange and rare reversal of roles.
Rogue blinked, her lashes bearing too much unhappy moisture to uphold. A tremor ran across her shoulders like the most concentrated of winds; she followed Jean down one of the thin halls without another glance toward Logan or anything else.
"Let's go, Wolverine. Time to reboard."
"What is she doing?"
"Her job," Scott told him, curtly. But as that had never and would never be an acceptable answer to give the Wolverine, he amended, "Helping us gather intel. It's what she's here for."
Her eyes were bloodshot, like the most devoted of students or alcoholics. So pale that when her teeth dug into the bottom lip--nervously, or convulsively--only the faintest pink appeared before the white returned. Logan wondered absently where all the blood went when it was so fearfully drained from a girl's face.
They had been loading the files onto the jet, shoving them into a metal cabinet that had always reminded him of a bread oven. His palm left a smear of browning red on the steel, and this may have been connected to the violent hitchings of some of the less deadened team member's stomachs.
Normally this time would be of utmost importance. Normally the air would be thrust from his lungs with barely enough a pause to let any in. Normally he would hardly be in a state of mind to help the team with such menial tasks, to do anything but sit in a corner and restrain himself from popping his claws at the people an ignorant person would call his friends. Normally every gram, every liter, every inch--whatever it was measured in--of willpower would be called on. To get himself under control or at least under one well faked; to move and speak as if every instinct awoken were not the bloody ones of animals; to convince himself that sharp saliva was not welling among his gums and that his darker urges has been sated. Normally all surroundings and post-mission events would turn foggy and pale in comparison to these tasks. Normally, but this time....
When he caught sight of her, the team was dutifully strapping themselves into their seats and Scott was manipulating the buttons laid before the pilots seat like a special feast, pressing the Bird into life. Jean must have sent him a signal to do so, she was the one person Scott would never even prepare to leave without--but not one of the COMs spoke.
They came stumbling across the grass--or rather, one of them did. Rogue tripped and weaved like a ten year old unused to the more dizzying of amusement rides, a civilian in a war-zone who's just watched an ivory explosion turn his home into dust, brick crumbs. Her hair--though it had been cold inside the building--had become sweaty, plastered to her face like overboiled noodles. Jean hovered behind her, asking worried questions, hands fluttering in the region of her arm, her waist without actually coming to land. As if the strength of her desire to help were equal to actual aid.
Neither of the women carried a box, or a file of documents.