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FIC: End of Summer [1/2] R, post-X2, L/R, ensemble

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  • Macha
    TITLE: End of Summer SERIES: Every Purpose Under Heaven AUTHOR: Macha (macha at healthyinterest dot net) SPOILERS: X2. Movieverse. RATING: R. ARCHIVE:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2003
      TITLE: End of Summer
      SERIES: Every Purpose Under Heaven
      AUTHOR: Macha (macha at healthyinterest dot net)

      SPOILERS: X2. Movieverse.

      RATING: R.

      ARCHIVE: Yes to WRFA; everyone else, please link to the html version, which lives here: healthyinterest.net/macha/fic/eos.html

      DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Marvel, Rupert Murdoch's little corner of the right wing media cabal, and Brian Singer; also to the wonderful actors who brought them to vibrant life.

      SUMMARY: Post-X2. 'the summer ends and we wonder where we are.' First of four stories -- and you thought the MRA was bad. (Logan/Rogue, ensemble)

      THANKS: To Em, Lulu, and Philateley for incomparable beta services. And more love to Em for coming up with the perfect series title.



      Every Purpose Under Heaven: End of Summer
      Macha



      Four days after the attack in the Oval Office, one day after Magneto's ploy to kill all the humans, President McKenna hesitated on live TV. Shaken, he sucked in a breath and went off script. He began to speak of opportunities, of unique moments in history, of chances that should not be squandered. Even without prefabricated rhetoric from his speechwriters, the president managed to convey a sense of righteous determination.

      True to his word, Logan was watching.

      Unfortunately, so were 435 shocked and angry members of the United States Congress.

      Still, Xavier's plan worked, so far as it went. As he spoke, McKenna kept one hand on the blue folder lying on his desk. Xavier and the others -- they'd managed to convince the most powerful man on earth to do the right thing. They forgot about the rest of the world -- cable news push polls and spittle-spewing pundits and angry citizens calling Capitol Hill gave Congress the backing it needed to pass the Mutant Registration Act in a patriotic flurry.

      But McKenna refused to sign it, let it die on his desk as the Congressional term expired. Instead of disappearing for their summer breaks, Congress went into special session, and this time, it wasn't the MRA. This time, McKenna used the tattered remnants of his political clout to veto the Humans United against Mutant Aggression and Neo-Ascendancy Act outright (and seal his fate as a one-term president), but it wasn't nearly enough. Congress retaliated with a landslide override vote.

      The HUMAN Act was far, far worse than the MRA, and the next time the government came after Xavier's kids, it wasn't a full frontal assault.

      ***

      Logan yanked the cigar from his mouth and blew out an irritable stream of smoke. "Excuse me?"

      "I can't allow you into the United States," the border guard repeated. He wasn't terribly young or terribly bright or terribly memorable, just an average guy in a uniform who thought he could keep Logan from crossing the border.

      Damn fool Americans. Logan managed to keep that to himself. "Why not?"

      "You've been in and out of the country quite a bit," the guard answered.

      Logan narrowed his eyes and considered his options. Clearly, this guard was lying. Numerous entrances and exits to the States weren't a problem; Logan's suspected mutancy was. Fed up and running on too little sleep, Logan gave a mental "fuck it" and fixed a menacing grin on the guard. "I'm a traveling salesman."

      True enough, even if the guard did give Logan's beat up truck a skeptical once over. "I'm afraid you'll have to hawk your goods somewhere else, buddy."

      "Got a date to keep with an old friend," Logan retorted, mentally reviewing his options. He wasn't a cable-news kind of guy, but he read the Toronto Globe and Mail and occasionally even the New York Times. He'd known things in the States were growing worse even before Scott called. He'd been thinking about taking Marie back to Canada, because he'd be damned if he'd let her be harmed during the States' anti-mutant hysteria.

      "There's a pay phone over there," the guard said. "Maybe you should call and cancel."

      Although he momentarily considered pounding the guard's face into a bloody pulp, Logan instead threw the truck into reverse and floored the gas before letting up on the brake, leaving the guard with the stench of burnt rubber. Logan swung the wheel, shifted into first, and took off, cursing impressively.

      He drove northeast, out of Darlingside, attempted to get into the States again at Narrows, a smaller crossing. Same result. He tried the next town over, still no go, and each guard gave him a different reason. Apparently Logan's passport was flagged for no-entry.

      Logan roared into a gas station parking lot and screeched to a halt. He called the mansion from a grimy pay phone, requesting transportation of some kind on the other side.

      "What's wrong with your truck?" Ororo asked.

      "I'm gonna pay someone with a boat to bring me across. Closed the borders to suspected mutants, looks like."

      Ororo gave a thoughtful hum, then asked, "Would you prefer to hold on, or call back? I just need a couple minutes."

      Logan hung up and retreated to his truck. He grabbed some essentials from the back and repacked his duffel bag, storing the rest of his few possessions behind the bench seat. When he called the mansion a second time, a familiar voice answered. "Logan?"

      "Marie?" Despite the situation, Logan found himself smiling at the sound of her voice.

      "It's gonna take me a few hours to reach you. I'm sure Goose Bay has a bar."

      Logan blinked. "You're coming?"

      "Yup," Marie confirmed, and he could tell she was smiling. "You're stranded in the great white north and you need a lift. I like the irony."

      He shook his head a little, but he was smiling. "This is hardly the great white north, Marie."

      "Close enough," she shot back. It disturbed Logan that he could perfectly picture the little smile and the half shrug she'd give him. "There's a place called the Whiskey River on Lawrence Road. No cages, Logan. Sorry."

      She sounded far too amused. He growled, "Go get in the car, Marie. Drive carefully."

      "I always do."

      ***

      Rogue made good time as she traveled north. Probably because Scott wasn't there to tell her to slow down, the speed limit is 55 all over the state, and, no, just because the car *can* go that fast doesn't mean it *should.* It was just her and her music, windows down, gloves tucked into the bag sitting on the passenger seat, warm air whipping her hair around. Heaven, Rogue thought.

      Relatively, anyway. The tension at the school was inescapable, and it was too damn quiet for Rogue's tastes. The constant chaos had bothered her when she first arrived, paranoid as she was that someone would accidentally touch her. But now that the ranks of the school were dwindling, the big mansion felt... wrong.

      She pulled into the parking lot of the Whiskey River five and a half hours after Logan called and groaned. The place was a dive, just like she'd expected from the name. She wondered idly if they played the Willie Nelson song a lot, and then groaned as the damn thing lodged itself in her head.

      With a sigh, she climbed out of the car and stretched, squinting up at the sun. "Now you're all I got to take care of me," she absently sung under her breath. Good time, she told herself, wasn't even late afternoon. They wouldn't get back to the mansion until after dinner. No doubt Logan would make some comment about speeding. Course, he'd probably do it with a grin, and he was hardly one to talk.

      As she walked towards the entrance, she frowned down at her bare arms. It had to be in the mid-80s and humid, plus it wasn't a particularly good political climate to go around announcing oneself as a mutant. On the other hand, she didn't want a drunken bar patron to jostle her and end up dead. And another unwanted resident in her mind.

      With a little shrug, Rogue crossed her bare arms tightly to her chest, inching her fingers up under the material of her sleeves. When she edged into the bar, she blinked a few times in the sudden lack of light, looking around for Logan. She needn't have bothered; he was already up and moving towards her, a bag slung over one shoulder.

      "Where are your gloves?"

      Rogue gave him a smile. "Nice to see you, too, sugar."

      If he'd been anyone else, he'd have had the good grace to look embarrassed. Because he was Logan, he merely grinned down at her and pulled her into a brief, one-armed hug. She'd forgotten how solid he felt, how comforting. Logan tilted his head in the direction of the door. "Let's get out of here, kid."

      She trailed after him, appreciating the way his jeans hugged his body. She used to wonder idly if she'd ever see him in anything other than jeans or the leather uniform. Now she didn't much care, because Logan in jeans was a delicious sight. Plus she had kind of a thing for that giant belt buckle of his, and he probably wouldn't wear it with a pair of khakis. Not that she could actually *see* him in khakis in the first place, and why was he--

      She stopped ten feet away from the car and crossed her arms. "No way."

      Logan turned to look at her, one hand already on the driver's side door. "What?" he asked, honestly puzzled.

      "I'm driving, Logan."

      "Marie--"

      "I've got the keys," she pointed out reasonably.

      His eyebrow went up, and she could tell he was trying not to smirk at her. "I could rectify that situation pretty quick, Marie."

      She rolled her eyes at him, and shifted her weight, cocking one hip out to the side. Let him just try. "It's my car."

      Logan studied her for a moment, then shrugged. "Fine."

      When he circled around and slid into the passenger seat, Rogue considered it a small victory and a rather large display of trust from him. She hopped in, twisted the key in the ignition, popped the clutch, and pulled out, silently pleased that he buckled his seatbelt without any heckling from her.

      "Speedin', Marie?" he asked.

      She glanced over, and sure enough, he was grinning at her. "Speed limit's just a suggestion, really." He gave an almost-chuckle and turned to stare out the window. She reached over and poked him in the shoulder. "Any good fights lately?"

      Logan cut her a glance. "You're cheerful."

      Rogue heard the question underlying his words and sobered a bit. "Not -- not really. It's just--" She shrugged. "It's nice to be away from the mansion for a little while."

      "Been bad," Logan surmised, looking out the window again.

      "Yeah," Rogue confirmed, matching his low tone. She flipped on her blinker and turned, accelerating up the entrance ramp. "So they closed the borders?"

      "Tightened 'em up, more like," Logan answered. "Should've had the professor get me a new passport."

      Startled, Rogue glanced at the man beside her. She'd met him in a bar after he kicked the shit out of all takers. He'd been shirtless and sweaty and a sexual magnet. Didn't seem like the Wolverine should have to deal with something as trivial as a passport.

      Logan caught her surprised expression and chuckled, pulling out a slim blue passport and handing it to her. Rogue held it against the steering wheel, stealing glances as she drove. She'd never actually seen a picture of him before, and those muttonchops on the tiny, unsmiling Loganface pasted into a passport -- it was just... too weird.

      "James Melvin Lawrence?" she read, laughing. "*Melvin*?"

      He shrugged one shoulder. "Guy who made it for me has a sick sense of humor."

      Still chuckling at the thought of what Logan would do if someone actually addressed him as Melvin, she glanced at the rest of the information and did the math. "Age 35?"

      "Memorize that," Logan ordered quietly. "And come up with your own. I'll get you a passport."

      Rogue glanced over at him. "What are you--?"

      "It's getting bad, Marie," he answered. "If we have to disappear, we'll need different identities."

      Rogue wondered who, exactly, was included in Logan's "we," but didn't have the courage to ask. Her short-lived buoyancy fled, leaving her disconcerted. "We won't need to disappear," she said with forced cheer. "There's a lawsuit challenging the HUMAN Act. The Fourteenth Amendment--"

      "Marie," Logan interrupted, resting his fingertips on her knee. "Tell me why Scott called. Tell me how bad it is."

      She pressed her lips firmly together, and focused on the white lines zipping past. "Mutants are going missing," she answered finally. "We think the government kills some of 'em, but some--" Rogue glanced over at him and away. God, she didn't want to be the one to tell him this. "There are experiments."

      ***

      Logan woke from a light doze as the car slowed. He opened his eyes and took in the familiar sight of Salem Center.

      He could feel Marie's warm gaze. "Nice nap?"

      "Been moving pretty quickly," he said by way of answering.

      She nodded, but didn't say much else. Logan's attention drifted back to the town outside. Looked the same, except maybe a little less lively. Not many tourists wandering the streets, darting in and out of those annoying little shops. Logan drew in a sharp breath when he saw a handwritten sign in the window of a café that said, "Humans only."

      As they approached Xavier's, Logan frowned. No longer the sun-drenched utopia of his first visit, but the mansion was still impressive. But it was so... quiet.

      "A lot of the younger kids went home to their parents," Marie explained, seemingly reading his thoughts. She was pretty good at that. He glanced over at her, and she gestured vaguely towards the mansion. "After."

      Made a lot of sense, Logan admitted. What decent parent *wouldn't* take little Jesse home after his boarding school was attacked by a hundred black ops troops? "What about the kids whose parents--?"

      "Don't want them?" Marie interrupted, gloved hands tight on the steering wheel. "This is our home." She parked and flashed him a brittle smile. "Let's go. The professor's waiting."

      Logan wanted to say a choice word or two about Marie's parents. He wanted to point out that her home was with him. Instead, he slung his bag over one shoulder and followed her inside, looking around a little warily. Place was too damn quiet.

      Rogue led him to Xavier's study, where Scott, Ororo, and the professor were waiting.

      "Welcome back, Logan," Xavier greeted.

      Ororo gave Logan a quick hug, and Scott nodded.

      "Nice to be back," Logan answered, belatedly wondering when the hell he'd started mouthing platitudes. Sure that Marie would be giving him a knowing smirk, he glanced over and was surprised to find her hovering uncertainly just inside the doorway. She was looking at the professor, not Logan, and twisting the fingertip of one glove. Logan thought he understood the source of her unease -- she was no longer a student, but not yet a regular visitor to the inner sanctum.

      Logan opened his mouth to tell her to sit down, but the professor beat him to it.

      "Rogue," Xavier said, "please stay."

      "Sure," she acquiesced, flushing slightly.

      Logan dropped his bag on the floor and moved to the couch, amused and a little bit pleased that Marie chose to sit beside him. Logan stared impassively at Scott, whose lips were pressed into a tight line, until the younger man took a seat.

      "It seems," Scott began, "that mutants are disappearing."

      Logan nodded once. "To government labs. And you want to bust them out."

      Ororo smiled. "We'll probably try to use more finesse than force, but... yes, essentially."

      "You want my help."

      "Yes," Xavier acknowledged with a dip of his chin. "In the rescue missions, but also to find the labs."

      Puzzled, Logan asked, "Why can't you use Cerebro?"

      "They're drugged," Scott explained. "Their mental..."

      "Signatures," Xavier supplied.

      "Right. They're undetectable when their signatures are suppressed by the drugs."

      Logan chewed on that for a moment. "So you want me to -- what? Wander until I sniff out large groups of mutants?"

      Xavier exchanged a look with Ororo, and Logan knew he wasn't going to like whatever came next. "No," Xavier said. "We want you to track someone who is captured. Someone who lets herself be captured"

      Logan could feel the anger rising. "Who?"

      "I have volunteered," Ororo answered softly, her expression serene. "But my mutation is not immediately obvious."

      It took a moment for the implication to register.

      Motherfucker.

      "No," Logan bit out, his gaze shifting to Marie, who'd frozen beside him at Ororo's words.

      "Oh," Marie said, eyes wide, her gloved hands locked tightly together. "I -- I guess I could--"

      "No," Logan interrupted fiercely. "No you fucking well couldn't." He wheeled on Scott. "Why don't *you* volunteer, Cyclops?"

      "I did," Scott answered shortly.

      "It's too dangerous for Scott," Xavier said. "His--"

      "It's too fucking dangerous for *Rogue.*" Logan was shouting at this point, his hands clenched into fists, knuckles itching.

      "No," Marie said softly, her understanding gaze on Scott. "If they took his visor, he'd be blind."

      "Or a killing machine," Logan countered coldly, turning to the younger man. "More than capable of blasting his way out."

      "Without the visor," Scott said, and if Logan hadn't been so focused on his own anger, he'd have noticed the bitterness in Scott's voice, "I have no control. None. Innocent people would die. The mutants we're trying to save would die."

      "So let loose a blast and I'll come *get* you out," Logan retorted, exasperated. What the fuck were they thinking, suggesting Marie -- eighteen-year-old, untrained Marie -- should get herself captured by the people who poured molten adamantium into his body?

      "Logan," Xavier said patiently, "be rational--"

      "Fuck rational. Rogue is--"

      "An adult, Logan," said Marie herself. Her voice was steely, a tone he'd never heard from her before, and she had that damnable look of determination on her face. "The professor's right. We've been hearing about holding cells. Cells specific to the mutations of their occupants. They'd surround Ororo with metal. They'd blind Scott. I'm --"

      "No." Logan didn't hear the others, didn't care that they had opinions, didn't really give a shit about the good of mutantkind. "No way, Marie. I'll let 'em take me and then fight my way out."

      "Logan--"

      "It's decided, Marie." He was using his hard voice, the one that sent more than one cage-fighter scampering away like a scared little squirrel. He should've known it wouldn't faze Marie.

      She pushed at his shoulder with one hand, clearly frustrated. "They'll drug *you*, Logan, and none of us can track you."

      He shrugged stubbornly. "So I'll get out when I come around."

      "First of all, who says they'll ever *let* you come around?" Marie answered, her tone scathing, her cheeks flushed with anger. "And secondly, you're missing the point,"

      "I don't fucking care."

      Her eyes narrowed. "My mutation can't be controlled. Not like Scott's or Ororo's."

      "I'm going," Logan said with a small, careless shrug, considering the argument over.

      "No, you're not." Damn it all, but she sounded as determined as he did.

      "They'll wrap you in a fucking straightjacket, Marie. They'll strap you to a metal fucking table and they'll run their tests until you lose your goddamned mind." Logan realized he was standing, now, towering over her and shouting. Dimly he heard Scott's ineffectual pleas to calm down and kept right on ignoring them.

      Marie didn't look worried or upset. Anyone who didn't know her well wouldn't be able to read her anxiety in the tilt of her head, in the tightness of her shoulders. Still, she stared up at him with those trusting eyes and said, "You'll find me."

      Logan couldn't handle it, didn't deserve such blind trust from her. There was no way in hell he would agree to this. No way he could watch her walk away from him and towards danger. No way he could merely follow behind, trailing her scent, while they fucking tortured her. "No," he answered shortly. "I won't." Logan tossed a glare at Xavier. "Send in a fucking telepath, Chuck."

      He had one hand on the doorknob when Ororo's soft voice froze him in place.

      "They're killing the telepaths outright, Logan."

      ***

      Logan avoided her for the rest of the evening, disappearing on his motorcycle, and Rogue knew better than to follow. He was still reeling from the idea of her playing the role of bait, still fighting the never-ending battle between his instincts and his common sense. Rogue would be the first to admit that they were extremely short on attractive options, but she also know that Logan was the kind of man who made decisions from the gut. His instincts kept him alive -- kept her alive sometimes -- and right now, they were screaming at him to stop the madness. Probably he was battling the urge to toss her on Scott's bike and flee to Canada.

      As much as Rogue knew she'd have to have another discussion with Logan about the plan, she needed time herself. She was having some trouble drowning out her shrieking sense of self-preservation with the cold logic of necessity. To soothe her mind, she headed for Ororo's sanctuary. Rogue's gardening skills quite frankly sucked, but Ororo's green thumb had provided the mansion with some impressive gardens. They were beautiful on sunny days, a riot of color and scent, but Rogue preferred them at night, preferred the cool silence of sleeping flowers glowing softly in the moonlight.

      "Trouble sleeping?"

      Rogue turned and gave Ororo a smile. "Haven't tried yet."

      Ororo nodded, turning her attention back to night sky. "You should rest. It will help ease your mind."

      Rogue grinned and joined Ororo on the stone bench. She wasn't surprised to see 'Ro there; it wasn't the first time they'd run into each other at night in the gardens. Ororo wasn't one for overt displays of emotion, but Rogue knew her well enough to know that this situation was troubling 'Ro. And she, too, considered the gardens a refuge.

      "You know," Rogue said, "I really admire the faith you nightmare-less people have in the power of sleep. Some nights I'd rather be locked up in a room with Sabretooth."

      Ororo's placid expression never wavered, but she glanced over at Rogue with a gaze that was somehow deeper, more focused. More concerned. "Rogue--"

      "I'm sorry. Bad joke."

      Ororo dipped her chin slightly, still watching Rogue. "Please don't apologize. I was going to tell you that he's in his room. I thought you might be waiting for his safe return."

      "Been there a couple of times already," Rogue answered with a grin. "He usually comes back in one piece."

      "Physically," Ororo said, and Rogue had to look away. She couldn't bear the thought of Logan's emotional turmoil, not yet. She hadn't completely worked through her own. Ororo's voice was soft and soothing. "Logan has several good points. This is a very dangerous plan."

      "I know," Rogue admitted. "I understand that, but it's not like we can sneak into some government office and print out a list of where the mutants are being held." Rogue had a fleeting thought of Mystique -- that particular mutation would be damn helpful right about now.

      "It will have to be one of us," 'Ro agreed. "The men have neither the patience nor the ability to cower convincingly in the face of danger."

      Rogue attempted to conjure an image of the Wolverine cowering at the feet of his captors and stifled a laugh.

      Ororo gave her an answering smile, then said, "Before you decide on irrevocable course of action, keep in mind that I am willing to go myself." Ororo rose, resting her hand briefly on Rogue's shoulder, then departed with a soft, "Good night."

      "G'night, 'Ro." Rogue considered Ororo's point, but dismissed it. It had to be Rogue -- she was the logical choice, and she felt a responsibility. She needed to do it. She couldn't bear doing *nothing,* even if the plan had some serious drawbacks.

      Like the possibility that she'd be experimented on. With needles.

      Rogue shuddered, rubbing her hands briskly over her arms as she rose to move inside. She made her way up the stairs, and found herself, predictably, outside Logan's door. The nightmares will plague him tonight, she thought, and sure enough, when she pressed her ear to the thick wood, she could hear the incoherent muttering.

      With a sigh, Rogue ignored the sense of déjà vu and pushed his door open. To be safe, she stopped a few feet from the bed and said his name. She really didn't need a fresh dose of his nightmares, and he really didn't need another helping of guilt for hurting her.

      No response from Logan, just more groaning.

      "Logan." He twitched, his arms moving beneath the sheets. She wanted to get closer, wanted to wrap him in a soothing embrace and wake him with a gentle touch. For once, it wasn't her skin that was the problem. Or at least not the whole problem. "Logan, please wake up."

      His entire body tensed, the claws released, and he was sitting up on the edge of the bed, eyes wide. She'd sprung awake countless times in a similar posture, momentarily shocked to look down and see bare knuckles instead of inches of metal.

      "Logan," Rogue said firmly. "Logan wake--"

      "Jesus," Logan managed, breathing heavily. He retracted the claws and moved, reaching for her hand. "You shouldn't come in here when I'm having nightmares."

      Rogue allowed him to pull her closer, stumbling to a stop between his knees. She froze in surprise when he wrapped his bare arms around her midsection, pressing his face against her rib cage. He was still shaking a little, and it was the most natural thing in the world for Rogue to cradle his head against her with one hand, and rub soothing patterns on his back with the other. "It's okay, Logan."

      "No, it's not," he told her stomach, his voice still rough around the edges from sleep and something else she couldn't quite name. "I've had just about all I can take of self-sacrificing women."

      Rogue blinked, caught somewhere between pleasure that he'd expressed the sentiment and petty resentment that it was still all about Jean. Rogue hated herself for envying a dead woman, a woman she'd cared for and admired, no less. But Jean still owned a piece of Logan that Rogue would never have.

      Rogue tugged gently on his hair until he looked up at her, resting his chin on her sternum. Momentarily, Rogue lost her train of thought at his nearness and the solid feel of him in her arms and those beautiful, bottomless hazel eyes. "I'm pretty attached to being alive, Logan." His arms tightened around her, and she tripped a little over her words. "I really don't *want* to die."

      He closed his eyes, his mouth twisted in anguish. "You can't die."

      She smiled. "Well, I *can* die, I'd just really prefer not to."

      Logan pinned her with his gaze. "I can't take care of you if you go running into danger."

      "I owe it to the professor," Rogue said. "He's done so much--"

      "You owe it to *me* to stay alive." Logan pulled back, his arms sliding away, hands landing on her hips to hold her in place. "When you save someone's life, you're responsible for it forever. I'm responsible for you, Marie. That doesn't stop because you turn eighteen and decide you want to be bait in a poorly constructed trap."

      Unable to summon any sort of response, Rogue merely nodded.

      "Then don't--"

      "I have to," Rogue interrupted, cursing the tears blurring her vision. "I remember the camps, Logan. Kids squashed into boxcars with their parents and hundreds of strangers, dead bodies decaying right next to them. No water, no food, no toilets." Her mouth twisted into a grimace. "I can smell the furnaces. I can taste the ashes."

      Logan stared at her, eyes wide. "Marie--"

      "I remember what they did to you," she told him, one gloved hand pressed against his cheek. "I know what could happen to me. But I also remember that last time around it happened to six million people." She shrugged and gave a watery chuckle. "I don't want to die, Logan, but I can't close my eyes and pretend this will go away if I ignore it."

      Logan let go of her hips so abruptly she took a step backwards to recover her balance, and then his hands were on her upper arms, jerking her closer, pulling her down to his level. Without thinking, she shifted, straddling his legs so she could meet his intense gaze full on.

      "What if I fail?" he asked in an odd, choked voice.

      "Then you keep looking until you find me," she answered simply. "I trust you, Logan."

      Their gaze held, and the air around them shifted. From anguish to something akin to desperation, and Rogue was suddenly keenly aware of their relative positions. Very aware of Logan's fierce gaze. Especially when it dropped to her lips.

      She inhaled sharply, her hands coming up his biceps to steady herself.

      "Marie," he said, a warning and a plea and a supplication.

      He sat there, unmoving, waiting for her to decide. She'd always wanted him, always wanted this, and maybe she could handle it if he only wanted her for the night. Maybe it didn't matter.

      "I can't--" She swallowed, tried again, willing him to understand. "I can't stop it yet, only slow it down."

      Logan met her gaze, held it for a long, burning moment before capturing her lips with his. He moved quickly, brushing his lips against hers again and again until she was shaking with the effort of controlling her skin. Controlling herself.

      And then his lips locked onto hers, his tongue thrust into her mouth, and she felt the tingle of his thoughts, heard his small noise of protest.

      Rogue jerked back, assimilating the taste of his aggression, his fear, his longing for her. Logan recovered almost immediately, burying his face in the crook of her neck, using her scarf as a barrier to press kisses to her throat.

      She was still shaking, her fingers clutching his strong arms, and it definitely wasn't her attempt to control her mutation that was making her tremble. It was Logan. Always had been. She didn't even care that he was in love with a dead woman, didn't care that this was probably some twisted sense of duty for him. For tonight, it was enough that he wanted to touch her. If she could just have one night, she could handle whatever came afterwards.

      Rogue didn't even realize she was crying until Logan pulled back and looked at her. "What's wrong?"

      "I'm sorry," she managed, swiping angrily at her cheek, brushing away the tears. "I just -- I wanted -- Just once, I wanted this." She gestured to the air between their bodies. "One time before--"

      "No."

      Rogue bounced once on the mattress before she realized that he'd moved away, tossing her aside and bolting from the bed. Hardly a new occurrence, she thought bitterly, though she'd somehow expected more from Logan.

      He paced the floor angrily, clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms. "We can't do this."

      Rogue nodded, not quite able to look him in the eye. "I know," she answered, wishing that her voice wasn't bleeding with hurt and shame. She understood why he was rejecting her, she really did. She was an inexperienced girl with deadly skin, and he was in love with a dead woman. She was disappointed that he'd stopped, but not surprised. What puzzled her was his anger.

      "No, you don't," he shot back, stopping in front of her and waiting until she met his gaze. "I won't let you tell me goodbye."

      Rogue blinked, stunned. "Logan--"

      "No," he said again, then turned and walked out the door.

      ***

      A muffled curse woke him, and Logan opened one eye to find Scott framed in the doorway looking guilty.

      "Sorry," Scott said, one hand still on the doorknob. "Didn't know you were in here."

      Logan pushed himself upright with a groan. Xavier's leather couch was quite comfortable for reading the paper while conveniently avoiding the teenagers swarming around the mansion. It was not, however, nearly firm enough to sleep on comfortably. "S'okay," Logan managed, twisting and shifting to get his back into proper alignment once more.

      Scott hesitated, clearly deciding whether to brave the company of just-woken-up Logan or forego whatever it was he'd wanted. "Out of curiosity," Scott began as he pushed the door the rest of the way open and ventured inside, "Why *did* you sleep in here?"

      Logan briefly considered telling the truth -- that he'd fled his room because he couldn't keep his hands off Marie much longer, and if he'd gone back to a room steeped in her scent, he'd have gone stark raving mad. Might be worth it just to see Scott's head explode.

      "Long story," he said instead.

      Scott moved towards the bookshelves. "Just please tell me it doesn't involved sharp metal and antique wooden furniture."

      Logan glowered at the other man's back, wishing now that he'd gone with his first instinct. "It doesn't."

      Scott paused in his search and glanced over his shoulder. "You okay?"

      "Rogue's planning to run headlong into the warm embrace of your hysterical anti-mutant government. The same government that just passed the damn HUMAN Act. The same government that poured hot metal onto my skeleton and gave me fucking claws. I'm great."

      Scott turned back to the shelf, and Logan thought for a moment that he would be on the receiving end of a lecture about the uselessness of sarcasm. Instead, Scott observed, "I never knew her name."

      It took Logan a moment to catch up. Marie would always be Marie to him, though he made a concerted effort around the others to call her Rogue. She'd never volunteered her name to the others, as far as Logan knew, and he liked having that small part of her to himself. Must've slipped up last night, though. "Yeah," he answered belatedly.

      "Pretty name," Scott commented, running his fingers along the spines of Xavier's books. Logan opened his mouth to unleash a sarcastic remark, but Scott kept speaking, his tone still conversational. "It's hell being the one left behind. Sheer hell. It's much easier to be the one charging into danger."

      Logan sat frozen, mouth open slightly, as Scott selected a title and pulled the thin volume from the shelf. "But it's her decision, and if she's going to do it, she has to be confident. She has to know we're all behind her." Scott stood there, facing away from Logan, book clutched tightly in his hands. "This is a situation where it's possible to save her. You have the opportunity to let her--" Scott paused, swallowed hard. "Let her sacrifice some, let her do what she needs to do. But then you can bring her back. Safe. That's a rare opportunity," Scott continued, stronger now. "Don't fuck it up."

      Still not quite sure how to respond, Logan gave a curt nod when Scott turned.

      He held up the book. "Fitzgerald. Pulls you right in, even when you're too stressed to read much of anything."

      Scott was at the door when Logan found his voice. "What if I fail?"

      Without turning, Scott answered, "Then we'll look for her until we find her."

      "What if we can't find her?" Logan choked out.

      Scott drew an unsteady breath. "Then I'll have a bottle of whiskey waiting for you," he answered. It was the only time he'd ever referenced the night of Jean's funeral, the night Logan had waited in the small conference room with a bottle of gin, knowing Scott would show up. They'd shared nothing but alcohol and silent tears that night, no words.

      That was probably the night that Logan started giving a damn about Cyke.

      Scott opened the door to leave and Logan managed a gruff, "Thanks."

      As the door closed, Logan wondered if he'd just received Scott's blessing. He'd likened Logan's relationship with Rogue to his own with Jeannie, which would seem to indicate that he'd accepted the possibility. It surprised Logan to realize that he cared what Scott thought.

      It also irked him to admit that Cyclops had a decent point. Marie was nothing if not stubborn. Short of locking her up in his truck and driving until they reached Argentina, Logan didn't think he'd be able to stop her from -- He still couldn't really think about it. She already had to suffer through images from his nightmares; he couldn't bear it if she experienced such horrors in real life, couldn't bear to see her skin marred by scars he could've prevented. He wouldn't let her be tortured, not if he could help it.

      Which was precisely the problem, because he *couldn't* stop her if she wouldn't let him.

      Logan growled and vaulted off the couch, prowling Xavier's study. Didn't help. He should know by now that it was impossible to outpace the horror show in his mind. With a grunt, he shoved the door open and headed for the kitchen. Marie and Ororo looked up, startled from quiet conversation by his abrupt arrival.

      Ororo recovered first. "Good morning, Logan. There's coffee."

      He nodded his thanks and glanced at Marie, who was staring at her half-eaten toast. Frustrated with his inability to put his bone-crushing fear into words, to make her understand why he was so dead-set against her little plan, Logan busied himself with the coffee. Didn't take long, since he drank it black, but when he turned back, Ororo was frowning and Marie was gone.

      "Damn it." Logan dropped his mug on the counter and headed for the still-swinging door.

      "Logan."

      He jerked to a halt. "What?"

      "She's determined to do this with or without your support," Ororo said. "But she will be terrified if--"

      "I'll be there," Logan interrupted, his voice low. "I can't stop her, so I'll be there."

      Ororo nodded. "I am calling in reinforcements. None of us could bear to see her hurt, Logan."

      "Good." He knew that, he really did, but he also knew that the intensity of his protective streak was much more formidable than, say, Chuck's. Xavier would protect Marie as much as possible, but if she died for the greater good, he would mourn her and move on. Logan would tell mutantkind to go screw themselves, pour as much of his healing energy into her as she needed, and disappear with Marie.

      He followed Marie through the hallways, not bothering to track her, because he knew where she'd go. The small room in the east wing that housed the baby grand piano.

      Sure enough, she was sitting on the elegant wooden bench, gloves forgotten beside her, playing scales. Logan stopped in the doorway to watch. She was so beautiful, biting her lip a little in concentration, her bare fingers dancing over the keys.

      "I heard you in the hall, Logan," Marie said after a few moments, never breaking her rhythm. "C'mon in and say your piece."

      "I can come back."

      She struck a loud, discordant combination of keys and then swiveled on the bench to face him. "I've already made my decision."

      "That's not what I'm here for."

      Marie blinked. "It's not?"

      "No." Logan took a couple of steps closer, hands on his hips. "I'm here to apologize."

      Her mouth opened, but no sound emerged.

      "I'm sorry about last night," Logan said, watching her closely.

      Marie gave him a wary look. "What about last night?"

      "I was..." he shrugged. "Abrupt."

      She seemed to accept that, her expression nearly blank. "You were upset."

      "You're not understanding me, Marie," Logan said, holding her gaze, willing her to understand. "When you and me go to bed together, it'll be because we want it and we need it. Not because you have one last item to take care of before you die."

      "But--" Marie stopped, shook her head. "It wasn't--"

      "It was. It would've been." Logan closed the distance between them and sat beside her. He couldn't hold her bare hand, so he placed his palm on her thigh. "You're not going into this thing with your affairs settled." He nudged her leg with his, managed a grin. "You want me, you come back and get me."

      She was still staring at him with wide, wide eyes, and her baffled look was damn near irresistible. Logan leaned in and pressed a fleeting kiss to her lips. "Got it?"

      A slow, sweet smile. "Not yet." Marie leaned into him, kissing him a little longer, then pulled back and studied his face. "I'm catching on."

      Logan reminded himself that hauling her off to his bedroom would be counterproductive, and that once he touched her, there's no way in hell he would let her walk into a trap. With an audible groan, Logan squeezed her thigh and stood. "I know this was Chuck's bright idea, but I'm taking over the planning."

      Marie gave him a tentative smile. "You mean you're--"

      "I still think it's dangerous, Marie. There are about a hundred things that could go wrong. But I'll be two steps behind you the whole time."

      "You promise?"

      "I promise."

      ***

      [end 1/2]

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      ***

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