[disclaimers, etc., in part 1/2]
Five days of hell.
Three days of planning, as Scott and the professor tapped every source they had, while Logan disappeared into the seedy underside of the city to gather information from people who wouldn't say a word to the likes of Scott or Xavier. Every evening, they'd meet and exchange information -- the stories of those whose loved ones had simply disappeared, court papers filed pleading with the government for information and the government's denials, even rumors that a friend of a friend saw mutants getting snatched from the streets. They hashed it out, tried to understand the complete picture with only a few fragments, and eventually came up with a plan.
For five hellish days, Rogue dangled herself fetchingly from the hook, wearing several layers despite the heat and tugging nervously at her gloves whenever she felt a curious gaze or noticed a surveillance camera. She could feel Logan watching her while she was in town, she even caught him a few times, but she suspected he'd let himself be seen so she'd know she was safe.
But she wasn't safe. Not really. None of them were anymore. Almost every store in Salem Center displayed shiny new posters urging customers -- *human* customers, anyway -- to turn in mutants.
"Don't keep it to yourself!"
"If you see something, say something!"
One Orwellian slogan after another, all accompanied by pictures of happy, healthy, laughing human families with an ominous, shadowed, humanoid shape lurking in the background. A dark shape with yellow eyes, which always made Rogue wonder if they knew about Mystique.
Mostly, though, the signs infuriated Rogue, reminding her of older signs in other languages. They scared her, too, because she remembered in searing detail how it turned out last the last time around. Which made her ever more determined to get herself captured.
Rogue played on anti-mutant sentiment, running endless errands into stores, buying suspicious combinations of goods, hoping someone would report her to the government. She took great delight in asking a pale, trembling librarian to set up an inter-library exchange so she could take out *Darwin's Children,* *The Gift of Evolution,* and *Mutant Power: The End of the Human Era.* The HUMAN Act, after all, deputized librarians into the fight against mutants, urging them to report suspected mutants to the government's newest branch, the Department of Human Security.
On the fourth day, Rogue lifted her chin and sailed into the hardware store with the "humans only" sign out front. The proprietor refused to sell her a hammer, peppering his refusal with slurs and telling Rogue in detail where mutants should go and what they should do with themselves when they arrived. She left, head high, and for the entire drive home, she wasn't sure if she needed to beat someone to a bloody pulp or cry.
She did a hard half hour in the Danger Room, then sobbed in the shower. When she emerged from the locker room, Logan was waiting in the hallway. He didn't speak, just walked with her up to her room, and then folded her into a quick hug at her door.
The worst was the waiting -- the unbearable tension, her increased startle response, the measuring looks from the others. Scott was over-attentive and always underfoot, Ororo kept trying to feed her, and Xavier merely watched her with the slightest bit of worry in his expression.
Logan was distant for the most part, cold eyes on her every time she looked his way, and Rogue wondered if she'd dreamed up his frank admission days earlier. She told herself it was just the stress, just the waiting, and she kept going into town every day and dreaming in Technicolor horror every night.
Other mutants arrived to join the vigil. Some, like Bobby and Jubilee, were former students; others, like Hank McCoy and Remy LeBeau, were friends or acquaintances of Scott's or Ororo's or the professor's. All the new arrivals were treated to a soft greeting by Rogue, and the silent treatment by Logan, who spent more and more time in the Danger Room working off his impatience.
The waiting got so frustrating that Rogue considered driving into Manhattan and waltzing into the FBI building. She'd plead with them to just arrest her already if it would end this damn waiting.
Rogue spoiled the few kids left at the school, turning some of her nervous energy to baking. Chocolate chip cookies. Key lime pies. Angel food cake. She took a can of Pledge and a handful of dust rags and attacked the large banister in the foyer. She spent an hour each morning in the Danger Room, and another at night. She painted her toenails blood red and her fingernails maroon. Mostly she waited for the damn trap to be sprung.
Even though she wanted to be captured more than anything, five days into it, she still yelped when the tranquilizer hit.
Rogue thought she'd be terrified once the waiting was finally over, but mostly she was indignant that they'd dared to attack her *here,* on the grounds of Xavier's school. She was in Ororo's garden clipping fresh flowers for the table, and then she felt the sharp, sudden pinprick and the dizzying burn.
*Professor,* Rogue projected. *It's time.*
A moment of fluid silence. Watching in wonder as the flowers fell from her grasp and floated, floated, floated down. Turning in a slow circle, looking for the people who shot her.
*Logan is on his way, Rogue.* The professor. In her head. *Be safe.*
Laughing inappropriately. Safe? With these guys?
The world tilted, shifted, glittered as she fell to the ground. Fatigues and face paint and she remembered them and why wasn't she inside?
Later she would remember motion and maybe a truck, the sound of men talking and the smell of sweat. But as rough hands pulled at her, she was too dazed to pay attention to detail. Her only thought was, *Where's Logan?*
His voice, his safe, chocolate, gruff voice in her head. *I'm right here, Marie.*
He paused midswing, nearly getting clobbered for his efforts, and hollered the stop command. The simulation ceased immediately, leaving Logan breathing hard and a little disoriented. "What?"
Xavier somehow opened up a link between Marie and Logan, and suddenly Logan could hear her voice in his head, could see the drug-glazed nightmare faces looming above him. Above her. It was very confusing to see two things at once. She was scared and relieved and indignant, and he was suddenly shaking with adrenaline overload.
Logan was already running for the door, stumbling a bit with the onslaught, with the odd, foreign sensation of Marie being dragged to her feet. She was fading, though, being pulled under by drugs. Tranq dart, probably. He recognized Ororo's garden and took the stairs two at a time.
Why the hell had he left her alone? Why the hell had she gone wandering around the damn grounds without someone watching her?
He jerked to a halt when the Marievoice in his head said, *Where's Logan?*
God. His own vision blurred and he tried to project as much confidence and reassurance as possible, "I'm right here, Marie."
She... blinked out, fell into unconsciousness, and Logan understood, suddenly, what Xavier'd meant when he said he couldn't track mutants when they were drugged. One moment, Marie was there in his head, and the next, she was gone, leaving him oddly bereft.
He kept on, nearly colliding with Ororo at the top of the stairs. She held out a towel and Logan grabbed it, swiping it over his chest and tossing it away.
"She was in the gardens," 'Ro told him.
Logan jerked his head into a nod, accepted his shirt, keys, and a comm device, never once slowing down.
"We're ready whenever you call," Ororo said, stopping at the garage door.
This next part was his alone.
"Thanks," he said belatedly, sliding into the driver's side of the nondescript grey Nissan the professor had purchased for this purpose.
Logan drove right over the manicured lawn toward the garden. He thought he would have panicked when they came for Rogue. He thought he would've lost it, torn her captors to pieces before they dragged her two feet away from him. Instead, he was fiercely, quietly, coldly enraged. Fear so deep it was inside his bones, but no white hot anger to blind him, to make him screw up.
He'd never done anything quite so important in his life, and he could not lose her trail. Still, it wasn't easy tracking her like this. He'd hoped they'd snatch her off the streets of Salem Center so he'd have a visual lock. Hell, he'd quietly hoped they didn't snatch her at *all,* mutantkind be damned. But they had, and they'd gone and done it when he was nowhere around, so he had to sniff the air in the garden, follow her scent to the street where they'd parked. He could smell her fear and her irritation, and he could smell the walking dead men who'd grabbed her.
Logan paused at each intersection, each turnoff, to make sure he didn't lose her scent. Once he reached the highway on ramp, he allowed himself to speed up. The tire tracks were from a heavy vehicle, probably a truck or an SUV, and he methodically drew close to each one on the highway until he found it. Black, nondescript Explorer with government plates. Tinted windows.
He got as close as he dared, not wanting to lock onto the wrong vehicle and lose her. When he put the Nissan directly behind the Explorer, he could smell her *and* those fucks who had her.
Rage tingled along the edges of his consciousness, but he pushed it back. Not yet.
He drifted back, letting the SUV gain a sizeable lead. Impossible to tail effectively in one car. Way too obvious. But he'd be damned if he'd lose sight of Marie's captors.
Another hour and the Explorer veered suddenly down an exit ramp.
Logan cursed and slowed down. Either they were nearing the containment facility or he'd been spotted. He eased down the ramp and rolled to the stop sign, looking both ways. There. Half mile to the left and traveling slowly.
Fuck. He couldn't very well sit at the stop sign all damn day, so he flipped on his blinker and pulled out.
The Explorer accelerated rapidly, picking up a little too much speed for the winding, two-lane road. Logan followed, cursing colorfully. He grabbed the comm device off the seat beside him and clicked it open.
"Logan?" Scott sounding worried. "Where are you?"
"They spotted me," Logan answered grimly, gaze locked onto the Explorer's bumper. "I'm flat out chasing 'em at this point. You're gonna want -- God! Jesus! No!"
A black-shrouded, human-shaped form was unceremoniously tossed out of the fast-moving SUV, tumbling down the slight incline beside the road. Logan floored it, needing to get to her right now. Could be a trap or a decoy, but somehow he just *knew* that was Marie lying there. Unmoving.
"Logan? Logan!" Scott was yelling.
"Fuck," Logan muttered. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
The Nissan shuddered to a halt and Logan was out and running for her, the scent of Marie and blood nearly overwhelming him.
"Get here," Logan barked into the comm device as he ran. God, she'd tumbled too damn far. The SUV'd been moving too goddamned fast. "Bring the doctor. They tossed her out of the car."
Logan dropped to his knees beside her, heart pounding erratically in his chest. Motherfucker. Those sick fucks put her in a body bag. He figured it was to protect them from her skin, but what if she'd woken up? What if she was --
He realized he wasn't breathing and let out a shaky breath.
"Marie," he said over and over. "I'm right here."
Shaking hands tugging at the zipper, sliding over thick black plastic. He opened the bag, exposing her pale face, her neck, her chest. She was breathing. Thank God. She was alive. He wanted her out of that fucking body bag. Logan popped one claw and went to work, slashing the black plastic and tearing it away from her in strips.
She lay there in a crumpled heap, one arm twisted underneath her torso. Logan retracted the claw to run his hands carefully down her body, sliding along her sleeves, her pants, checking for broken bones before he moved her. He winced when he felt the blood on her leg, sucked in a breath when he saw the jagged shin bone jutting out of her skin. Compound fracture. Fuck.
Would she heal correctly if the bone wasn't set when he touched her?
Fuck. He never really had to worry about that with the damn metal soldered to his his bones.
Logan fumbled with his gloves, pulling them on and touching her again, more slowly this time. Her arms didn't seem broken, just twisted oddly underneath her. He knew enough about traumatic injuries to keep her still, despite how much he wanted to straighten her out, move her from that uncomfortable position.
"C'mon, c'mon," he muttered, listening intently for the whine of the Blackbird. "You're gonna be fine, Marie. I'm right here." He needed her to wake up and smile at him, but he didn't want her awake for the pain.
There. The Blackbird. He recognized the engines.
He didn't look up from her form, knew they'd be able to locate him. Scott and Ororo could put that thing down in the field across the street, and fuck all the gawking townspeople. Logan didn't particularly care if the story of a black jet and leatherclad mutants made the six o'clock news.
"Logan," Scott shouted. "What happened?"
Logan glanced over, relieved to see the furry blue doctor at Scott's side. Both men had bright red first aid bags slung over their shoulders, and Scott had a large, unwieldy backboard tucked under his arm.
"Fuckers tossed her out of a moving car. Dunno how fast they were going, but she--" He stopped, clenched his jaw, gestured towards the road. "She tumbled a good distance."
Hank nodded and dropped to his knees beside Marie. "Compound fracture of the tibia." He examined her quickly and efficiently. "Any other obvious injuries?"
"Didn't feel any other broken bones," Logan answered shortly. "Didn't want to move her."
"Good choice. Contusions, possible sprains, probable concussion." Hank glanced up at Scott. "Neck brace, please. And the backboard. We'll need to stabilize her leg before we move her."
"Can you set her leg here?" Logan asked.
Scott handed Hank the plastic neck brace and gave Logan a frown. "No, Logan. We'll need your help--"
"I would've done it already," Logan interrupted, "but I didn't know if it would work on her leg."
"Oh," Hank said with a nod. "Your mutation and hers work together in harmony, allowing you to transfer your healing abilities to her. I've heard the story, but I'd like to discuss it with you at a later date."
Logan just nodded, eyes on Marie's pale, pale face. There was a patch of reddened skin on her cheek, and he knew it would blossom into an impressive bruise by morning. Unless he healed her first.
"Logan--" Scott started.
"Save it," Logan retorted.
"I'm afraid," Hank said as he cut Marie's pants away from her injury, "that this discussion is all academic at this point. Fascinating, don't get me wrong, but her bones will have to be realigned. I'm afraid I can't do that by the side of the road. Did she pass out, or is she drugged?"
"Has she come to at all?"
Logan shook his head. "No."
"Hmmm," Hank said, and Logan didn't like the sound of it one bit. "Well," Hank continued, "nothing for it but to put her in the plane and get her back to the medlab. Scott?"
Scott reached down to grab one end of the stretcher, pausing as Logan involuntarily growled. Scott looked at him for a moment, then moved aside. "Anything you need from the car?"
"Screw the car," Logan answered, lifting the stretcher with Hank and carrying Marie's inert form toward the jet.
A slow climb towards consciousness.
Dull, throbbing in her head. Sharp pain in her leg. Aching wrist. Beep of a heart monitor. Acrid smell of antiseptic.
Rogue remembered fatigues and rough hands and, God, why did she agree to become a lab rat? She supposed it was too late to back out now, even though she really wished Logan would get here and bust her out.
And then she recognized his hand tangled in hers, recognized the feel of the leather and the intensity of his touch. Logan. Logan was here. Logan's gloved hand was holding hers tightly, and she couldn't possibly be in a government lab.
She dragged her eyes open, sluggish with drugs, her mouth dry.
He moved into her line of vision, those hazel eyes staring down at her. "Marie?"
Rogue grimaced, trying to swallow. "Logan."
The relief on his face staggered her, and his hand tightened on hers. She wanted to say more, wanted to ask what had happened, but then the blue doctor -- what was his name? -- appeared above her.
"Ice chips?" he inquired pleasantly.
Rogue started to nod, groaning when it amplified the throbbing in her skull.
"You have a concussion, Rogue," Hank said, one gentle hand holding her head still. "A broken leg, a sprained wrist, and various bumps and bruises. I know that you're in pain, but it is imperative that you be awakened periodically throughout the first twenty-four hours. We'll need to monitor--"
"Marie," Logan interrupted, taking the small cup of ice chips from Hank. He had to let go of her hand to feed her a chip, and she wished he'd let Hank do it. "Don't worry about it. I'm gonna touch you."
Alarmed, she swallowed the ice chip hastily, choking a little as it lodged in her throat. God, coughing with a concussion? Not fun. Every spasm moved her leg and sent pain shooting through her body.
"Marie! Shit. Sorry, baby. Try to breathe slowly."
She gave him her best annoyed look, wondering if it had any effect at all when she was flat on her back and crying from the pain. "No touching," she managed, cursing the tears flooding her vision.
Hank hovered, frowning worriedly down at her. "Try another ice chip, Rogue. Let it sit on your tongue this time. It should soothe your throat."
"You're in pain," Logan said, ignoring the doctor entirely. "You don't have to be, Marie. I'm perfectly willing to--"
"I'm not." Dry throat. Dry, dry, dry. She turned pleading eyes Hank's way, and he reached over to pluck the cup of ice chips from Logan's hand. Movements professional but somehow gentle, Hank selected a small chip and placed it against Rogue's lips. She let it slide into her mouth, closed her eyes as it began to melt. Her eyes snapped back open at Logan's growl. He was glowering at Hank, and Rogue reached for his hand. "Stop."
Logan met her gaze again, and the anguish there left her speechless. "Marie. You're hurt."
"Shit happens." She smiled when he rolled his eyes. Didn't think she could handle full sentences with nouns and verbs and objects and subjects, but she knew he'd understand. "Don't want you to hurt."
He leaned closer. "Exactly."
"Logan. I'll heal." Wow, a whole sentence. She was pretty impressed with herself, considering that she still felt kind of like she was underwater. What the hell was in the tranquilizer dart, anyway?
"This way you'll heal faster," Logan countered.
"Don't need to." Her eyes were sliding closed again. She really just wanted the pain in her head to stop. Stop, stop, stop.
She opened her eyes and their gazes locked. He looked like hell, guilt radiating from him. One gloved hand smoothed her hair, almost petting her. It felt surprisingly good. She considered. It'd be nice not to feel like a punching bag, but not if it meant *Logan* would feel like, well, like the life had been sucked out of him. "Logan..."
His expression shifted, and she knew that *he* knew she was wavering. "Please, Marie. Let me do this."
Twice. He'd asked twice. Pleaded, really. She studied his face, read the determination in the lines of his body, and decided she'd really like for the headache to stop. "A little, Logan. Just a second."
He smiled down at her. Beamed at her. The sight kicked her heart rate up a notch, and she forgot the rest of the warning she'd been meaning to give him. Something about he should sit down first. Something about the easiest way to do this so he didn't get hurt.
But he was leaning closer, expression serious now. "Close your eyes."
"Logan." Rogue narrowed her eyes, wondering if he was really stupid enough to -- Shit!
He kissed her. Kissed her with serious intent for a few moments, his tongue sweeping into her mouth to tangle with hers, and she responded, deadly skin be damned. And then her mutation kicked in, and he froze, and she tried to push him away, but she had a sprained wrist and he was too damn heavy and, God, it hurt almost as much to heal as it did to just deal with injuries.
And then Rogue heard the improbable exclamation "Stars and garters!" and Hank was there, pulling Logan away, supporting his limp form before he hit the ground.
Rogue sat up, breathing hard, flexing her wrist. Sprain was gone. Head didn't hurt anymore. Leg still felt funny, probably the bone hadn't knit all the way together yet. Fuck. Felt Logan's swirling fear and rage and pain and... love?
Rogue blinked, trying to make sense of Logan's chaotic thoughts and memories and feelings. This was always the part she hated, just afterwards. She had to function on two levels -- dealing with the aftermath of the touching, and dealing with the aftertaste of whoever touched her.
Hank manhandled Logan onto an exam table and glanced over at Rogue. "Any particular side effects of which I should be aware?"
She rolled off the table, not putting weight on her injured leg, and hopped to his side. Logan was unconscious, breathing evenly. She sighed with relief. "No. He should be fine in a few hours. The idiot."
Hank nodded and reached for a nearby heart monitor. He unbuttoned Logan's shirt and attached the leads. "He wanted to do this by the side of the road."
Rogue frowned. "The side of the road?" That didn't sound promising. In fact, she thought she vaguely remembered the feel of a car moving quickly. Had there been an accident?
Hank paused, glancing at her. "May I examine your leg? You may still need a cast."
Rogue nodded and allowed him to help her back up onto the table. "My wrist feels fine. So does my head. I don't feel any soreness or tenderness, so I assume the bruises are gone."
"Yes, yes. It seems that way."
"The side of the road?" Rogue prompted, worried now. What if they'd failed? What if they went through all that trouble, what if she'd all but painted a big "MUTANT" on her forehead, and they'd managed only to injure themselves?
"Your captors," Hank said, snapping on a fresh pair of latex gloves and reaching for her leg, "spotted Logan following them."
Fuck. Rogue groaned, "Before they got wherever they were going, right?"
Hank nodded sadly. "So they..." He paused, seemingly searching for the right euphemism. With a shrug, he said, "They tossed you out of a moving car."
Rogue's eyebrows jumped up. They'd thrown her out of a *car*? Ouch. Thank God she was drugged for *that.* "And Logan was--?"
"Following them closely at that point, yes. He called us immediately and waited with you by the side of the road. Your injuries were serious, Rogue."
Rogue's gaze shifted to the unconscious man. She couldn't imagine how she'd react if the tables had been turned, shuddered at the very thought, even though she knew from experience that Logan would hit the ground, lie there a minute, and stand back up fully healed. But she wouldn't, and he knew it, and his idiotic gesture made a lot more sense, suddenly. "God."
"Quite." Hank glanced over at Logan. "He exercised quite a bit of patience waiting until you woke up."
She nodded glumly. "Now I have to be patient until he wakes up." Hank looked at her curiously. She shrugged. "So I can kill him."
Logan woke up in the medlab, heard tuneless humming nearby and groaned. He still felt like someone had taken a two-by-four to every inch of his body, but his mind was catching up. Fuckers tossed Rogue out of a car, and he'd healed her. Got it.
"Oh, good." Hank appeared beside the exam table. "You're awake. How do you feel?"
Logan ignored the question. "How's Rogue?"
"Quite well. She just left to shower. Takes a bit longer with the cast."
"Cast?" Logan forced himself upright, cursing under his breath as his body reacted sluggishly to his commands.
"It was a serious break, Logan, but it's nearly healed. I thought we should take the precautionary measure of fitting her with a lightweight cast for a week or so to keep her from reinjuring herself."
"But she's okay." Logan let out a relieved sigh when Hank nodded. He slid off the table and stood, working out the kinks in his muscles. He briefly considered looking for a shirt, then gave a mental shrug. "I need to talk to her."
"By all means," Hank answered. "Though I would like to speak with you at some later date about the interaction between your mutation and Rogue's. Fascinating interplay."
"Sure," Logan agreed absently, striding out the door and down the hallway, the stiffness in his body fading the more he moved. He stepped into the elevator and used the time to stretch, touching his toes, twisting at the waist, rolling his neck. When he emerged in the upstairs hallway, he headed directly for Marie's room.
He turned to face Ororo. "You seen Rogue?"
Ororo smiled. "She's in her room. It's good to see you up and around. The professor would like to speak with you both."
Logan nodded. "Later."
Ororo's smile took on a knowing tilt. "Take your time."
Logan thought he should probably say something in response, but didn't have the patience to come up with an appropriate answer. "Whatever."
The sound of her soft laughter followed him down the hallway. He reached Marie's door and paused, hearing muttered curses. Knocking softly, he called out, "Marie?"
"Oh, hell," she said, sounding irritated. "Hang on."
Logan's eyebrows lifted, but he resisted the temptation to open her door and see what the hell she was doing in there. He couldn't figure it out from the disjointed sounds -- plastic wrinkling, soft curses under her breath, and if he didn't know better, he'd think she was hopping around on one foot. Surely they'd given her a damn crutch.
The hopping sounds drew closer. Marie wrenched open the door and hell if she wasn't standing there on one foot with a thoroughly disgruntled expression aimed his way. She was wearing a dark green robe. Just a robe.
Logan swallowed and concentrated on her face.
"Hi," she said, waving him in.
Logan blinked. "You're okay?" he asked, moving to her.
"Yeah. My leg is still a little gimpy -- and don't you even *think* about touching me," she snapped, eyes narrowing as he reached for her. She probably would've swatted his hands away, but she didn't have her gloves on. Didn't, in point of fact, have anything but that robe on.
Logan grinned. "I was going to help you sit."
"Oh." She studied his face for a moment. "Okay."
Logan slid one arm around her waist, enjoying the sensual slide of the fabric against her skin, and lifted her entirely off of her feet. She snorted, but didn't comment, allowing him to settle her on the edge of her bed. He crouched down in front of her, inhaling her scent. "You're really okay?"
"Yes, Logan. I'm fine." She brushed her fingers along one muttonchop and gave him a small smile. "I assume the professor's waiting for us?"
Logan let his gaze drop to the neckline of her robe. "You planning on wearing that?" Her pale skin flushed in response, and Logan was caught between a chuckle and a groan. When he dragged his gaze back up to her face, she was frowning. "What?"
"I wanted to take a shower."
Marie scowled at the cast on her leg. "Can't get that damn thing wet. It's too awkward."
Logan glanced over at the plastic bag in the middle of the floor. Answered that question. "You know--"
"You are *not* touching me again," Marie interrupted fiercely.
He let her words hang in the air for a moment, then said, "I was going to say a bath might be easier. With the cast."
She stared at him, her eyes wide. "Oh." She dropped her gaze to her hands for a moment. "I'm sorry. Just--" Her gaze pinned him in place. "You scare the hell out of me sometimes, Logan."
"*I* scare *you*?" he sputtered. His hands circled her upper arms, holding her still. "Somebody threw you out of a *car* today, Marie. I--" He stopped, shaking his head a little, unable to find the words.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her fingers running up his biceps, across his shoulders. "C'mere." She pulled him closer, and he dropped to his knees to slide his arms around her waist, pressing his face against the soft material of her robe. "When you touch me -- to -- to heal me," she explained quietly, "I'm terrified you're going to hold on too long. I could *kill* you, Logan."
His arms tightened around her. "I don't want you to be scared when I touch you."
Her hands, which had been making lovely designs on his back, stilled. "I'm not scared of you, Logan."
He pulled back slowly, savoring the thrill of anticipation, and met her warm, dark eyes. "Good," he murmured, leaning closer, closer--
"Hey, Rogue -- Oh."
Logan froze when he heard the door open, but it didn't matter. Their position was damning enough -- he was kneeling between Marie's thighs with his arms wrapped around her. And she was wearing a robe. *Just* a robe. Logan suppressed a groan, gave Marie an apologetic look, and glanced over his shoulder at the door as he eased out of her arms. "Bobby."
Kid looked like someone had punched him in the gut. "Um." He blinked a few times. "I was just -- Scott asked me to tell you they're waiting in the conference room."
Marie was sitting there, hands folded on her lap, an incredibly guilty expression on her face, so Logan stepped in. "Look, kid, she's still injured and she needs to change. We'll be down in a few minutes."
"Right." Bobby nodded, and Logan could tell the moment he decided to pretend that it didn't hurt to see his ex-girlfriend in a compromising position with someone else. "Jubilee and I are skipping the meeting. We're giving Remy the tour, so..."
Logan nodded his understanding, and Marie said softly, "I'll see you later, then, Bobby."
The door closed with a soft click, and Logan watched Marie carefully. "You need help changing?"
"No," she answered, not quite meeting his gaze. "Just -- could you give me a minute, Logan?"
"Sure," he agreed, curbing the urge to reach for her. "I'll be in the hall."
Ororo and Scott had the TV on when Logan helped Rogue into the conference room. Her leg didn't really hurt, it just felt weak, so she was using Logan like a crutch. A big, growly crutch.
Scott rose immediately and joined them, helping place an exasperated Rogue into a soft leather chair. "Thanks, guys, really, but I'm fine."
With a skeptical look, Scott retreated to the other side of the conference table. "You have a cast on."
"Precautionary," Rogue answered with a smile. She reached across the polished wood and touched Scott's arm briefly with one gloved hand. "Thank you, Scott." It still took some effort to call him by his first name instead of the honorific "Mr. Summers." He'd drawn her and Jubilee and Bobby aside after graduation and told them to please stop wasting syllables and just call him Scott.
Across the table, Scott tilted his head slightly. "Logan did most of the work."
Rogue looked back and forth between the two men, wondering why they seemed almost... friendly. She figured either the apocalypse was kicking into high gear, or they'd managed to find some common ground. God knows they had enough of it, which was probably the reason they rubbed each other the wrong way in the first place. Rogue glanced at Logan and quirked a questioning eyebrow. He stared back, impassive.
"Okay," Rogue said, mostly to herself. She caught Ororo's eye, and the other woman gave her an almost imperceptible smile.
The droning voice on television drew Rogue's attention, and she half-turned in her seat to watch the Secretary of Human Security give a briefing. He was talking in circles, refusing to answer the most direct of questions about where "suspected mutants" were being "temporarily detained."
"Asshole," Logan muttered.
The professor wheeled into the room, Hank's big blue form following close behind. "Rogue," said Xavier, taking his place at the head of the table, "I'm so pleased to see you relatively unscathed."
Logan bristled beside her, and Rogue laid a calming hand on his knee. "Thank you."
"Now I presume you've been brought up to speed on the events of the last several hours," the professor continued.
She nodded. "We failed."
The professor gave her a kind look. "We did not locate the lab, but you are back here with us, so it can't have been a failure."
Logan shifted impatiently. "What now?"
Ororo asked, "What do you mean?"
Logan gave her an incredulous look. "The government knows about Rogue's mutation, or at least suspects, and they also know that her capture was a setup."
Scott nodded and picked up where Logan left off. "Either they'll want to bring us all in to find out what we know about them -- and possibly put us into 'temporary detention' -- or they'll want Rogue back."
Ignoring the cold dread in her stomach, Rogue shrugged. "Too bad. They can't have me."
Logan cut her an amused look, while Ororo smiled and said, "Agreed."
"I'll take her to Canada."
Rogue blinked, turning to the impossible man beside her. "Excuse me?" she spluttered. "Were you gonna ask *her* if she has any desire to go to Canada?"
Logan met her gaze, his expression unreadable. "No."
"You could've been killed today," he snapped, his tone low and dangerous. "That car was going at least fifty. You could just as easily have broken your neck, Rogue."
Rogue increased the pressure on his knee, willing him to listen to her. "I realize that, but I didn't break my neck. I'm fine, Logan. And I'm not going to Canada."
"I won't run from this," she interrupted softly. "And you can't ask me to. I would never ask you--" She stopped, narrowing her eyes. "Wait -- you were going to dump me in some isolated cabin with a bunch of canned goods and come back here to fight, weren't you?"
Logan didn't respond, but the set of his jaw was answer enough.
She whacked his shoulder. "I'm not going anywhere." Rogue turned back to the professor. "What do we do now? How do we find the labs?"
Xavier looked unbearably sad. "I don't know, Rogue."
Momentarily silenced, Rogue glanced at the others -- Ororo's deceptively serene expression, the tension in Scott's shoulders, Hank's worried frown, and Logan's coiled energy. "But we're not giving up."
"No," the professor answered with a sad smile. "We're not giving up."
Rogue lifted her chin. "I'd like to help. I know I'm not really on the team, but--"
"You are," Scott interrupted, frowning a little.
"I am?" she asked, surprised. Sure, she'd worn the uniform that one time to the White House, but she'd just sort of assumed that was owing to special circumstances. She never stopped her training, but she hadn't been on any more missions.
"Yes," Scott answered, nodding. "You're on the team."
"I -- but--"
Scott grinned outright. "You think we let just anyone play the bait, Rogue?"
"Oh." Rogue nodded. "Okay." She glanced over at Logan, who was watching her with that damn unreadable look. She turned back to the professor. "Well, since I *am* a team member, can I suggest something?"
Logan growled softly beside her, and Rogue knew he'd guessed what was coming.
Apparently the professor did, too. "No, Rogue. We can't allow you to try again." He held up a hand to silence her protests. "Not yet." This time it was Logan's grumblings that interrupted Xavier. "I hope we will be able to come up with a better, safer method of acquiring the necessary information."
"Might I interject?"
Rogue was startled to hear Hank's pleasant voice -- she wouldn't have thought it was possible for an incredibly large, incredibly blue, incredibly furry man to blend into the walls, but she'd forgotten his presence.
The professor turned his chair a little and nodded. "By all means."
Hank sighed. "By all indications, this particular situation will get worse before it gets better. I propose that we -- and I include myself in a strictly non-combative capacity -- gather together as many scraps of information as possible and attempt to ready ourselves for whatever comes next."
Rogue sat very still in the ensuing silence, trying to ignore the foreboding of his words. She didn't doubt the determination of anyone in the room, but how could six people prevent what was coming?
Xavier gazed at each of them in turn. "I suspect," he began, sounding older and more exhausted than Rogue could ever remember him sounding, "that Hank is correct. I continue to hope for a peaceful solution." He paused, his eyes drifting shut for a moment. "But we must be prepared to fight."
Rogue shivered, and Logan's hand landed on hers, tangling their fingers together on his thigh. Logan's voice was low and intense when he spoke. "They're going to come for us."
The professor nodded tiredly. "Yes, I fear you're right." He seemed to shake off the melancholy. "But enough for today." Xavier gave them all a smile, then turned ahis chair towards the door. Slowly, Scott stood to follow, ushering Ororo before him.
Hank rose to his feet and glanced at Rogue. "You should rest tonight." He nodded at Logan and took his leave.
Logan squeezed her hand and stood. "Need a lift?"
Rogue managed a grin. "You're going to carry me to my room?"
"To your bed," he corrected, sliding one arm around her back, the other under her knees.
Rogue flushed at the vivid imagery his words roused. She leaned out away from the solid warmth of his body. Obviously, his proximity was interfering with her comprehension skills. "Excuse me?"
"So I can draw you a bath."
Rogue blinked. "A bath."
Logan. Wanted to draw her a bath. *Logan.*
He stepped into the elevator and glanced down at her. "I suppose you have that bubblebath crap."
A *bubblebath.* Logan. Bubblebath. Rogue tried very, very hard not to let her imagination run away with her. She noticed his expectant look. Oh. An answer. Logan wanted to know if she had bubblebath. For him to use while drawing her bath. "Yeah," Rogue answered belatedly, her voice sounding slightly strangled.
Logan stepped out of the elevator, carrying her easily down the hall and into her room. He opened the door, took four steps, and calmly deposited her on the bed. Rogue thought she might've actually squealed.
She watched, open-mouthed, as he sauntered into her bathroom, only to reappear with a plastic bottle in each hand. "Which one? Citrus delight or--" He frowned. "Johnson & Johnson Bedtime Bath, for fussy babies? The hell?"
"It's soothing," she answered defensively.
Logan gave a quick nod and disappeared again. Rogue listened to the incredibly normal sound of the knobs squeaking in protest as they turned, the familiar sound of water rushing into her bathtub, and tried to make sense of the completely surreal situation. Logan. Was running her a bath.
"Don't move," Logan ordered, marching out the door and down the hall. Rogue stared at the door until he reappeared, two flannel shirts in tow, and disappeared once more into the bathroom.
He gave her a curious look, holding a soft green glove in one hand. "The hell is this?"
"Spa glove," she answered automatically, mimicking washing motions. "For body wash. You take--" She shook her head, exasperated. "What the hell are you doing?"
The annoyed look on his face might've been intimidating if he wasn't holding a pastel green spa glove in one hand. "What the hell does it look like I'm doing?"
"Not quite sure, sugar," Rogue tossed back, a little less thrown now that he was acting all annoyed. She was quite familiar with Irritable Logan. It was Let Me Run You a Bubblebath Logan who was starting to freak her out.
"You couldn't shower," Logan answered impatiently, "so I'm drawing you a bath."
"Okay," she nodded. Made sense in a Loganish kind of way. "I'm not incapacitated."
"So?" Rogue threw up her hands, frustrated. "So you're holding my spa glove!"
"Hang on," Logan said, disappearing into the bathroom once more to shut off the water. "Take your clothes off," he ordered, walking towards her.
This time Rogue knew she made a desperate squeaking noise as she fought the insane urge to scoot backwards on the bed, away from that intense gaze. *Of course,* she thought crazily, *maybe he'll climb onto the bed after me, and who the hell needs a bath anyway?*
No, no, no, she told herself, giving Logan a glare and a "No!" for good measure.
Logan raised that agile eyebrow and crossed his arms. "You want to bathe with your clothes on?"
Rogue rolled her eyes and stood, using her injured leg for balance only. "Shoo," she told him. "I'll be fine."
"How do you plan to get into the tub?"
"I'll--" She broke off, frowning. "Damn." Logan took advantage of her distraction to scoop her up again. "Logan!"
He ignored her protests, settling her gently on the bathroom counter. "Take off your clothes."
"Marie, I'm going to put you in the tub," he explained, his voice softer now. "Then when you're done, I'm going to fish you back out." He indicated the two dry shirts he'd brought.
She gave him a suspicious look. "What's the third shirt for?"
The grin he gave her sent a wave of heat through her entire body. "In case you need any help bathing."
"Help?" she squeaked.
Logan nodded slowly, and she followed his gaze to the spa glove lying on the counter by her hip.
Of all the places and circumstances Rogue had imagined for this particular situation, in the bathroom with a spa glove was one she wouldn't have come up with in her wildest dreams. She gave him a wary look, still unsure of his motives. She'd started to make some sense of the latest influx of Loganmemories, and she knew he'd been blazingly terrified to see her crumpled by the side of the road. She *thought* maybe there was some love mixed in there, too, but she wanted to know the ground rules before she let Logan... use the spa glove.
She felt the flush on her cheeks and cursed her pale skin. "Logan," she began nervously. "What is this, exactly?"
He frowned at her, looking perplexed. "Whaddya mean?"
"You were scared before," she said with a shrug. "I understand. I know you want to take care of me, but you don't have to--"
"Marie," he interrupted, cupping her face in his gloved hands. "You came back. It's time."
She stared at him, uncomprehending. "Oh," she said, recalling their conversation. She flushed again, this time in anticipation. "Oh."
He grinned at her. "Yeah."
Rogue tried to keep her voice calm and suspected that she'd failed miserably. "So we're..." She gestured vaguely at the tub.
Logan studied her face for a moment, then backed off a bit. "Marie, we don't have to--"
"No." She grabbed his arms, not letting him pull away. She held his gaze, still a little embarrassed, but determined now. "You're right. I came back."
He nodded slowly and tugged on her sleeve. "You need to be wearing less, Marie."
"It's dangerous," she warned.
"I'll be careful." He tucked her hair behind her ear, caressing her cheek. "I don't want you to be scared of my touch. I won't hurt you."
She nodded, swallowing hard against the lump in her throat. "I know."
Logan held her gaze, his eyes burning with intensity and what she thought might possibly be love. "Trust me, Marie."
"I do," she assured him with a smile. Then she reached for the hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head.
Coming soon: Every Purpose Under Heaven -- Fall Back
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