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Repost: Probationer, (1-5/10) W/R, PG-15

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  • Alana Helbling
    Author: Alana Title: The Probationer, (Chapters 1-5/10) Rating: PG to NC-17 Summary: AU, ex-con Logan and Social-worker Marie. Fandom: X-men Archive: Just tell
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 13, 2004
      Author: Alana

      Title: The Probationer, (Chapters 1-5/10)

      Rating: PG to NC-17

      Summary: AU, ex-con Logan and Social-worker Marie.

      Fandom: X-men

      Archive: Just tell me where.

      Disclaimer: Of course, they are all mine, I am in fact Stan Lee, Marvel and Fox, all at once, am fantastically rich and own a purple elephant. Oh yeah – not.

      Feedback: Yeah, please, to Alana_helbling@...

      Authors Notes: Hurrah! Well, I’m back from the far reaches of the earth (or Mongolia and Korea, but you get my drift) and this damn thing that has been hounding me for ages is finished!!! So here are the previous chapters reposted, and a new one next. I’ll be posting a new chapter a week, or thereabouts, due to exams. Hope you enjoy!

      "Logan Roberts?"

      Logan slowly got to his feet and looked for the source of the voice. It came from a redheaded woman from across the room. He slowly made his way over to her, and sat opposite in an out-of-condition chair.

      "Hi," she greeted him. He answered with a grunt while giving her an undisguised once over. ‘Nice legs, ass and rack, babe – unfortunately, you know it, don’t you?’ Logan thought - he could see the clear gleam of overconfidence in her eye. That impression was confirmed when she next spoke:

      "Please pay attention to me – I need clear answers." She didn’t stop to see if he’d comprehended what was said, just carried on. "You have your own place of residence, correct?"

      He nodded, and she looked at him.

      "I need clear, verbal, answers please.


      "You have no job offer, or prospects for the immediate future?"

      "Yes, uh –no. I mean, yes, you’re correct, no job."

      She raised an eyebrow at him in a disdainful manner that was no doubt calculated to make him feel about three inches tall. It nearly succeeded.

      "Very well. My name is Jean Grey, and I’ll be your probation officer. You are on a new scheme, for which you have probably been told the details already but just in case, I’ll repeat. This scheme is introduced to give the both of us more freedom. You have been fitted with an electronic anklet that notifies us of your movements at all times. You are not allowed to drive, frequent a bar or be out of your place of residence between six o’ clock at night and five o’ clock in the morning for a year. You are not allowed out of the state for 18 months. If you break any of these conditions, a signal will be sent from your anklet to our headquarters, giving us your location, and you will be picked up, and brought before the board again – that probably means your probation will be revoked and land you back in jail. You are expected to meet with me once a week, but because of the band, these meetings will not be to determine whether you have kept the terms of your probation, but rather as a
      time for you to let out your feelings, and receive help if you want it – I am a trained physiatrist and will be there to help." Despite the words she said, there was no sympathy or compassion in her tone, and no pause in her speaking. At the end of this proclamation, she paused and looked at him.

      "Do you have any questions?"


      "Good. You have been signed on with an employment agency to help you find work, but until they do, you are requested to do four days per week volunteer work at the homeless shelter down town – a bus will pick you up and take you back as you cannot drive – and you will receive a weekly income from the state. Are you all packed?"

      The last question woke him out of his stupor, having been tagged on without warning and without interrupting her droning speech.

      "Uh, yeah. They made us. All here." He held up a duffel bag, half full, which contained what had been his material companions for the past eight years. Jean favoured the contents of his bag with a derisive glance, and Logan got the feeling that if she'd been able, she’d have wrinkled her nose and sniffed at it. Instead, she nodded. And gestured towards the door.

      "There’s a taxi outside – its fare has been paid to your residence. But no further. Your anklet is in place?"

      Her eyes, still bearing a contemptuous look, skimmed down his body to his ankle.

      "Yup," said Logan, shifting the hem of his jeans so she could see the metal band that balanced above the top of his right boot. She nodded upon the visual confirmation.

      "Good." She shot him a suddenly curious glance. "You do know any tampering, of any sort, alerts us?" Logan nodded.

      "Then you’re all set. I’ll see you next week, you’ll be told when and where at the shelter."

      She got up and walked away with out a backward glance.

      "Well, I guess I go out that door then?" Logan muttered to himself. Grabbing his bag, he swung it over his shoulder, and walked outside. A yellow cab rested outside, it’s driver using the moment’s peace to enjoy a clandestine cigarette.

      "Mr. Roberts?" The guy asked, jumping to attention as he saw Logan approach him.

      "Yeah," said Logan, "You been told where to go?"

      "Uh yeah," said the cabby giving the address, "You wanna go someplace else? ‘Cause you know, they only paid me a certain amount in advance, you know?"

      The repeated phrase caught Logan’s attention – the guy was really nervous around him. Sighing, he nodded, and slid into the back of the cab. Visibly relieved, the cabby got in and drove, silently, to his given destination.

      When they arrived, he didn’t wait around for the possibility of a tip – he knew there wouldn’t be one – he just drove off. Logan, not completely out yet, stumbled, and immediately turned to yell at the driver, raising a hand as he did so.

      "Hey," he yelled, then realising that the cab was already too far away for him to be heard, he resignedly dropped his hand, and muttered "thanks for the ride, bub."

      Slowly mounting the steps to the front door, it’s blue paint cracked and peeling after so many years of neglect. After much fumbling, he fitted the key to the lock, and opened the door with a hard shove, dislodging yet more of the paint. Walking inside, he gave a sigh of relief as he realised that the only thing that had changed was due to the accumulated dust.

      Not bothering to turn on the lights, he trudged up the stairs to his room, removing his shirts as he went. Reaching the bed, he kicked his boots off, slid his legs under the still in place coverlet, and closed his eyes. Falling almost immediately into a dreamless sleep, his tears of joy at finally being home only found release long after he had stopped being awake enough to notice them.

      "Yo babe, bossman wants to see you in his office before the newbies arrive." Jubilee, wearing her customary outfit of jeans, a pink T-shirt and yellow jacket, gloves, hat and socks greeted Marie as she walked into the administration office first thing that morning. Marie sighed. She had been looking forward to today. A chance to just sit back and watch the experts, without having to worry at what she would have to do.

      Jubilee and Ororo had been with the shelter ever since it had started, and were the most proficient in dealing with the unruly – something which Marie desperately lacked confidence in. When she’d first arrived five days ago, despite the fact that there were plenty of others around who were willing to show her around, they were the ones that had taken her under their shared wing. She felt better with them about, and today was the one day of the week that they were both in at the same time. She had wanted to get to know her new found friends better, so she hoped that Mr. Xavier wouldn’t request something of her that would stop that. Tentatively, she knocked on his door, and entered at the affirmative sound from inside.

      Closing the door behind her, she sat in the chair that was Mr. Xavier indicated to, looking at her superior with a question in her eyes. She didn’t have to wait long for him to answer.

      "Well Marie, we have a new batch of recruits arriving this morning, and I would like you to be in charge of their induction."

      Marie blanched. She barely knew the ropes herself. Mr. Xavier, someone she was hoping in time would become a friend, saw her look, and smiled reassuringly at her.

      "Relax Marie. That doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself – it just means you have to be the one overseeing the process. Ororo and Jubilee are quite ready to show them what to do in their respective areas, and I will give them the usual introductory speech. All you need do is check that they are behaving themselves, escort them to and from the rooms during the introduction, and then hand out the assignments ready for tomorrow. Most them, I believe, have shifts in the serving area, or supply rooms."

      Marie relaxed. That she could do – they were new volunteers; they wouldn’t cause all that much trouble. They all valued their probation too much.

      The shelter and it’s ‘regulars’ were never officially told where all the recruits they were presented with had come from, for fear of discrimination, but they didn’t need to. Although this was the first bunch she’d have worked with, she’d heard from the others it was easy enough to deduce where everyone had come from.

      The sound of a bus pulling into the drive was enough to startle her out of her inner monologue. Mr. Xavier, who’d been double-checking something on the forms he was always presented with that gave them the barest of information on their new colleagues, looked up and smiled at her. She smiled back, and they left the room, heading towards the doors at the front of the building.

      Logan was having a bad day.

      He’d been woken by the loud sound of a horn outside his window, and it had taken him a few seconds to realise that it was the bus horn, and his alarm must have failed him. He’d had barely enough time to throw on a T-shirt, jacket and boots, before hurling himself out of the house and into the great yellow contraption outside that had the indecency to call itself a vehicle. He’d then found himself sitting next to a bald-headed, tattooed guy who had no teeth, and breath that could crack steel. Teetering on the edge of his seat, and as far away from Mr. Halitosis as he could get, he realised he had forgotten his wallet, so having had no breakfast, he now had no prospects for lunch either. His stomach growled, and he winced. He could cope, but not without getting steadily more grumpy, and he desperately wanted to get through this without drawing any further negative attention to himself – and you couldn’t do that by acting grumpy with this crowd. The last thing he needed on his first day
      was to be accused of starting a fight.

      They pulled into the shelter half an hour after he’d gotten on the bus. A dull grey, three-storey building, it didn’t stand out in any particular way. As they drew to a halt in front of it, two people came out of its doors. A bald man in a wheelchair and a grey old style suit and a petite and rather pretty brunette. Logan got off the bus and stood with the rest of the passengers on the drive in front of them, looking at his feet. Mr. Halitosis seemed to be under the misconception that Logan was now his friend, because he stood next to him, and then immediately made his presence known by elbowing Logan in the ribs.

      "Hey," Logan felt nauseous as the man’s putrid breath flowed over his face, while the guy attempted to whisper in his ear. "Check out the babe. Wouldn’t mind giving her one, eh?"

      Logan followed the mans nod to the brunette in front of them. Up close, she was more than rather pretty, she was stunning. About half a head shorter than him, she had big chocolate, wide-spaced eyes, a fuck-me mouth if ever he saw one, and upon closer inspection, a streak of platinum partially hidden in her chestnut plait. His eyes travelled slowly downward, taking in the heartbreaking curves revealed by the figure hugging jacket, baby-tee and jeans. Black boots completed the ensemble. It was a mouth-watering sight.

      The man in the wheel chair cleared his throat.

      "Excuse me, if I may have your attention gentlemen?"

      Marie zoned out the professor’s speech and studied each of the men in front of her. Several of them were clearly paying as little attention to the man in front of them as she was. They were all men with an edge to them, and attitude that said they’d been through hard times and places, and they’d survived them. Three of them were leering at her. The first was a great hulk of a man, with dirty long blonde hair, a long suede coat and eyes so dark they appeared all pupil. His leer turned to a smirk when she met his eyes. Marie tried not to give away how intimidated she was and turned her attention to the next man.

      He was short, with no teeth and less hair. From the wrinkled nose of the man standing next to him, he hadn’t washed in a while. He was the one to look away when she met his eyes.

      The third was the man standing next to him, although she wouldn’t say he was leering. His gaze was far too intense for that. He was tall, and had broad shoulders covered by a black T-shirt and brown bomber jacket. His dark hair was wild, almost curving into two points on the top of his head, and travelling downwards into over grown sideburns on the sides of his face.

      And his face…Even the wrinkled nose couldn’t disguise the strength of his features, with deep hazel eyes that she could just feel herself getting lost in. They seemed to burn into her soul…

      Flushing she jerked her gaze away from his, just in time to hear Mr. Xavier say

      "This is Marie, another volunteer, who will show you around. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask."

      At this last pronouncement, a melee of lurid catcalls sang out, none of them terribly original. Marie merely raised her head and ignored them. The man in the bomber jacket was one of the ones who stayed silent, his eyes never leaving her. If Marie was honest with herself, she wasn’t feeling nearly as intimidated by him as she was by the others, which she found a little strange, but ignored it. Deciding it was probably best to follow Xavier’s example on how to address them, she called out

      "Right this was if you please, gentlemen." She was very pleased that you could only hear the quiver in her voice if you were listening for it. Unfortunately, someone apparently was.

      "Feeling a little nervous, sweetheart?" Asked the man with long blonde hair as he strode past her. Marie ignored him, and ushered them in the direction of the kitchen and Ororo.

      ‘Thank god for Ororo,’ thought Marie, as the serene woman surveyed the crowd in front of her without so much as batting an eyelid. She also had a commanding presence that meant the men shut up sufficiently quickly that Marie didn’t have to do anything. Marie gave Ororo a grateful look, and received one that clearly stated ‘calm down, you’re doing fine,’ in return. She sat back to try to learn how this woman could exact so much attention from a group of people that had been distinctly more unruly only moments ago.

      As Ororo began her talk, Marie looked around to see Jubilee grinning at her through the window of the staff door. As both she and the door were behind the group, and no one could see her, she gave a discrete wave. Jubilee made the ‘how’s it going?’ sign, too which Marie waggled her hand, meaning ‘so-so’. Jubilee grinned again, then running her eyes up the profile view of the man in the bomber jacket, waved her hand in front of her face, pretended to swoon and mouthed ‘phoar!’ at her. Blushing slightly, but having no idea why, Marie waved her away. Jubes gave her a big thumbs-up, and walked out of sight.

      Logan felt his head spin with all the new information he was trying to digest, and at the same time tried to ignore the growling of his stomach. He was sitting on a box near to everybody else as they dug into their lunches, he of course having forgotten his. He tried to think about the work that had been described to them instead. To tell the truth, he hoped he pulled shifts in the warehouse. The activity seemed reasonably concentrated so it had the possibility of tiring him out, but the down side was it didn’t seem too mentally taxing. Logan would have liked something that required him to use something a lot people didn’t credit him for having – brains. However, the few jobs of this kind meant a sizeable amount of interaction with the other ‘volunteers’ – something he definitely wanted to avoid. He started when a shadow fell over him.

      "Hey, do you want some lunch?" Logan looked up to see the brunette hovering over him with a concerned look in her eyes. What was her name? Mary? Marie? He wanted to tell her to stop looking at him like that, the last person who had done so had gotten hurt, but he couldn’t, so he just nodded dumbly.

      "Forgot your lunch?" She was now asking sympathetically, her southern accent rolling like honey over his ears. Logan had never been particularly bothered by accents – one way or the other – but this one seemed to make her even more attractive. "Me too. I swear, I’ve done it so many times, it’s embarrassing."

      At a loss of what to say, Logan nodded silently once again, feeling slightly frustrated. Why was he having difficulty getting a word out around this woman? He’d certainly never had this problem before. She interrupted his thoughts.

      "My name’s Marie, but you’ve probably picked that up already. What’s yours?"

      "Logan," Logan managed to grunt out, then desperately tried to think of something else to say as he felt conversation ground to a halt. He hit upon the first thing that came into his head.

      "How old’re you?"

      She gave him a curious glance.

      "Nearly 20. How ‘bout you?"

      "Turned 27 last week."

      "Oh, well, happy birthday for last week, then." Said Marie smiling at him brightly. Her words startled Logan into realising that she was the first person to say those words to him in nearly 10 years. ‘Hell,’ he thought, bemused, ‘even I don’t bother to do that anymore.’

      "Uh, thanks." He tried to return her smile, but feeling foolish, aborted the effort. "How long’ve you been working here?"

      "Only about a week. I was really surprised when Mr. Xavier asked me to show you guys around – I barely know the place myself. Ah, here we are," she pronounced as the arrived back at the kitchens, and pushed open the door to let themselves inside. Jubilee greeted them brightly.

      "Hey guys! Oh Marie – don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your lunch again?"

      "Yeah Jubes – so has Logan." Marie gestured to him, and Logan nodded hello. Jubes chuckled. "Ok, I’ll get you some grub. At least it’s not so busy you have to eat while sitting in the storeroom." She bustled off. Marie and Logan stood in a not-too-comfortable silence until she came back, both wracking their brains for something to say to each other. Shortly, Jubilee reappeared, and presented them each with a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread. Marie thanked her and led the way to a table. They sat down, and for the next few minutes concentrated themselves on eating. When her bowl was more than half empty, Marie slowed up a little, and looked at Logan again. "So, what do you think?"

      Logan looked at her, his mouth half full. Hurriedly swallowing, he answered her "About what?"

      "This place, the food, anything, I don’t mind."

      Logan gave her a confused look. "Uh, the place is real nice, real clean. Food is good too – but as to the help, no one should be able to wear that much yellow and get away with it." Marie started to laugh with a mouthful of soup, then began to cough. Logan watched her worriedly and offered her a glass of water when she was able to breathe again. "You okay?"

      Marie laughed lightly, whilst dying of mortification inside. "Yeah, I’m fine – went down the wrong way. God, what a stupid thing to do! Guess that’s just me that has the ability to drown in soup whilst sitting in a cafeteria." Logan frowned.

      "Hey don’t say that!"

      Marie looked up at him, puzzled. "Why not?"

      Logan than realised that he’d had such a vehement reaction to someone insulting her - even if it was herself – he was going to have a hard time getting out of it without sounding like a freak. He scrambled to give an answer that wouldn’t sound weird. "Because I do it at least once a month." They both chuckled, and Logan mentally high-five-ed himself for rescuing the situation. He picked up the conversation. "So, how did you end up working here?"

      Marie shrugged. "Was bored. Needed something to do. Wanted to help. My brother – he works with the links side with the state – he put me in touch with it." She shrugged again. "Kinda lame I guess. How ‘bout you?" she asked without thinking. Realising what she’d said, she tried to correct herself. "Uh, sorry, that was a really stupid thing to say. I, ah, don’t mean to pry. You don’t need to answer. Sorry."

      Logan made a dismissive motion with his head. "S’Ok. No secret." He tried to make it reassuring by smiling at her. He wracked his brain again, feeling a headache coming on. This was the most effort he’d made at social situations for years. "So your brother huh? If he works here what does he do?"

      Marie shook her head slightly. "He’s kinda a half brother, and he doesn’t work here, although Scott – another of my brothers – recently had his office moved here. Hank knew about this place because he used to help out, but had to quit ‘cause he didn’t have enough time."

      Logan nodded. "So your half-bro, huh? On which side?"

      Marie smiled. "My dad’s, but I didn’t live with him initially. I lived with my mom, but when I was still quite little, she died, and they sent me to live with my father. Hank was the only one who didn’t beat me up for stealing all the attention away – I was the only girl," she added in response to his questioning glance, " and my dad hadn’t seen me since I was born, so he always spoilt me. They got jealous – not only was I spared from doing all the ‘hard’ work in the warehouse, I was favoured more than they were. I still have a fear of heights from when Scott hung me upside-down by my ankle from a second storey window the week after I’d got there." She chuckled at the embarrassment of the memory, and, to his surprise, Logan found himself smiling along with her.

      "That was pretty nasty for a kid."

      Marie laughed. "To this day I’m amazed he didn’t drop me – he’s only two years older than me. If I remember correctly, he did it because I refused to tidy his room, and then told our Dad when he tried to force me. Oh I’m babbling." She blushed heavily, and Logan found it hard to decide which was cuter – the blushing or the babbling, and had an inane instinct to tell her his opinion. He firmly squashed it before replying "That’s Ok."

      "Thanks." The redness was gradually starting to fade from her cheeks, and Logan suddenly wanted to do something to keep it there. Firmly biting down on his tongue so he wouldn’t do anything to embarrass himself, he waited for her to be the next one to speak.

      Marie shot him a curious peek, edged with apprehension. "So, you got any siblings that loved to tie you in knots or vice versa?"

      Logan shook his head. "Sorry, no funny stories from me – only child."

      "Oh. Well – " Marie seemed as if she was going to say something else, but was cut off by a loud crash and a yell from the kitchen. They looked at one another.

      "What was-" Logan started to say but Marie was already out of her seat and bolting towards the kitchen. With a muttered word or two, Logan abandoned his food and headed after her. They reached the kitchen at the same moment, and ran in together through the double doors.

      Ororo was lying on the floor, unmoving. Jubilee was standing against a wall with her hands out in a calming motion, while the man in front of her waved a saucepan at her in a threatening manner. He turned to glare at Logan and Marie as they entered, and Logan recognised him as Mr. Halitosis from earlier. He bared his gums in a snarl at Logan, who was giving Marie a meaningful shrug towards Ororo. Turning his attention towards the shorter man, he began trying to reason with him "Look bub, why don’t you just out that down, no one wants any trouble." The man began backing away. Suddenly he turned and ran in an unexpected direction – the door that led to the washrooms.

      The door that Marie was standing beside.

      As he passed by her, the man swung at Marie, who fell to the ground. Watching her fall, Logan felt something inside snap, and went after him, moving with a speed that he hadn’t known he had. He caught the escapee before he was even halfway though the doorway. Slamming him back inside and up against a wall.

      "That," he near growled through clenched teeth at the terrified man, "Was a very stupid thing to do, bub." He wrenched the saucepan away from the man’s hand – and at that moment Xavier and two other men rushed in through the doors.

      “Alright,” began the one on the left, “just calm down. We don’t want any trouble here.”

      Logan turned away from the man he was holding slightly, while relaxing his grip on the neck so the guy could breathe.

      “It’s not me causin’ the trouble.” Logan replied, before realising that stating this while waving a saucepan around with one hand while his other was coming close to asphyxiating somebody probably did not do much for his plausibility. Throwing the saucepan to the floor he spun the other guy around in front of him, and shifted his grip from the neck to the arm. “That blame belongs to this guy.”

      All this got him was a raised eyebrow. ‘Fuck it,’ thought Logan, ‘this guy wouldn’t believe me if it had been his ass I saved.’ A quick glance had given Logan his lasting first impression – an inch or too shorter than he was, with brown hair, ice cold blue eyes and an _expression that told Logan that he was a grown-up boy scout with all the flexibility of a pane of glass.

      The other two men, meanwhile, had run to check on Ororo and Marie. A tall thick-set blonde man ran for the phone, with Jubilee close behind, while the Mr. X (what was his name?) guy continued to bend over Marie and Ororo.

      “I think she’s just knocked out,” said Marie, her voice shaken but clear. “I think he cracked her over the head with that pan.”

      “Aha!” cried the blue-eyed man, in what was possibly supposed to sound like righteous anger but came out sounding like childish glee.

      “Scott!” Marie’s voice was like the reprimand of a long-suffering parent over a continuously disobedient child. “Not Logan – him.” She gestured to the man Logan still had a grip on. Logan met the eyes of ‘Scott’ with a carefully neutral _expression.

      “Oh.” Scott seemed not the least embarrassed that his early pronouncement of guilt had been unjustified. He approached the men. “Sorry.” He looked Logan’s captive over with a practised eye. “You got a name sir?” Receiving no reply he looked at Logan again. “Maybe I’d better take him – I’m with the probation office.”

      Logan gave a sharp nod. “’Kay.” And pushed the man in Scott’s direction. Scott immediately grabbed the man with a grip similar to the one Logan had used, and tried to meet the man’s eye. He didn’t succeed, as the he quickly took in the almost catatonic _expression now residing on the man’s face. With a barely audible sigh, he gave the remaining inhabitants of the room a nod and frog marched him out of the room.

      Marie was beginning to fret about Ororo when she felt Logan’s presence join Mr. Xavier’s at her side.

      “Is she ok?” he asked gently. As if in response Ororo began to stir, and the three of them heaved a collective sigh of relief.

      “Yeah, I think she’ll be fine, but if she feels nauseous or gets shooting head pains it could be a sign of concussion. She needs to be watched for a while, I think.” She replied, wracking her brains to try and recall what she could of her first-aid lessons. The doors from the phone room swung open and the blonde man rejoined them.

      “An ambulance should be here shortly,” he informed them, his voice mid-range and with an educated-edge.

      “Wha..?” Ororo had opened her eyes unnoticed and was in the process of sitting up.

      “No, ‘Ro, don’t move. He hit you on the head and if you move now you might make any damage he’s done worse.” Marie pleaded.

      “Ororo,” Mr. Xavier broke in, “do you remember what happened?”

      Ororo nodded, and then winced. ” He came in, and started pushing me towards the cupboard, but when I cried out he grabbed a saucepan and hit me. Jubilee came in as I fell down – is she alright?”

      All gazes fell to the blonde man as the group realised she hadn’t returned with him. “She’s fine,” he informed them. “She wanted to pay a visit to the bathroom and then volunteered to meet the police and ambulance crew.”

      “Ambulance?” Ororo protested. “I do not need an ambulance.”

      “’Ro, you can’t sit up unaided,” argued Marie.

      “Ah,” said Ororo, suddenly looking abashed, “believe it or not, I had forgotten that, maybe I do.” A sheepish grin found its way onto her face.

      A chuckle went round the group, and Jubilee came in, followed by three paramedics.

      “That was quick” said Marie.

      “Oui, cherie” said one of them – a tall willowy man with red hair and a slight French accent. “We were returning after another call – a false alarm, thankfully – when we got yours, and decided to come straight here. So you’re the Ms. Munroe?” he addressed Ororo.

      Seeing Ororo was in good hands, the rest of the group began to head slowly back towards the cafeteria.

      “Well, Mr….Roberts, is it?” Xavier waited for the affirmative nod before continuing. “I must say, you’ve been extremely helpful. You know,” he continued with a somewhat sneaky look, “I was just about to ask if there were any requests for placements, but as you’re around already, maybe you’d like to get your request in first.”

      Logan held back a frown – this sounded too much like a bribe to him. Something must have shown through on his _expression though; Xavier spoke again.

      “Just as a small thank you for helping to calm down the situation, nothing more, of course.”

      Logan relaxed – that he could handle.

      “Uh, something in the warehouse sounded good.”

      “Of course,” he sounded pleased, “and you’ll be working with Marie.”

      Marie, at hearing her name, turned her attention back from watching the paramedics out of the corner of her eye to the conversation.

      “Yeah – welcome to the team sugar.” She said, looking him in the eye.

      Logan’s brain seemed to get caught and hang on the ‘sugar’. He could almost feel all the blood in his body pull a collective u-turn and head southwards. In an attempt to shake him self out of it, he turned to Marie, intending to say something back – what it was he was never quite sure – when he tripped and upended a pan full of washing up liquid all over himself.

      “Oh,” cried Marie, who immediately bent down to help him up, “are you alright?”

      “Nothing bruised but the dignity,” replied Logan, thoroughly disgusted with himself.

      “Well there are some spare clothes in the cupboard at the end of the hall for volunteers” said Xavier, with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m sure Marie will help you to find something that fits so you won’t be going home in soapy clothes, Mr. Roberts.”

      “Uh, yeah,” said Logan, getting to his feet, “that would be great, but, uh, drop the Mr. Roberts, ok? Makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong – just Logan.”

      Xavier looked pleased, as though Logan had paid him a compliment. “Of course. Now if you would excuse us, the police will probably want to speak to everyone, so myself and Dr. Summers here will go and see them first – could you come to my office once you’re done?”

      “Yeah.” Said Logan, and Marie nodded at the professor. Then she tugged his arm and headed towards a walk in cupboard at the end of the corridor. Marie unlocked it with a key on her belt, the walked inside and flicking on the light as she did so. Logan followed. Sheer chaos hit his eyes. Shelves and shelves of clothes in piles, black binliners or just all over the place in no discernible order.

      “There are some that here that need to go into the donation bin, but we haven’t had staff with the time to do it, I’m told,” said Marie sheepishly as she started rooting through the clothes. Logan immediately did the same, but it hadn’t been 2 seconds before Marie held up a pair of black slacks that looked approximately the right size.

      “Here you go,” she said, handing them over, “I think it’s probably best if you get out of those wet things as soon as possible. Uh, shirts and stuff are further back, theoretically, so if you put that on first and then, hopeful, I’ll have something for you when you get back?”

      “Oh, yeah, sure.” Said Logan, grasping the offered garment and slipping out into the hall and heading for the Mens.

      Marie continued to look through the stacks of t-shirts, sweater and shirts. She found a white wife-beater that looked about the right size, but there was no way he could wear just that. She finally found a flannel shirt that looked as though it would fit, albeit loosely, just as she heard Logan re-enter the cupboard. Grabbing a plastic bag for him to put the dirty stuff in as she turned, she went tot give him the items. The words she had been going to say only made it past her lips in a funny gargle-ing kind of sound at the sight that met her eyes.

      Topless Logan.

      Very nice topless Logan – Chiselled abs, washboard stomach, just the right about of chest hair. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was a mean-looking scar that ran from just under one of his nipples, past his navel and tapered out on his hip, but it didn’t make his body seem less perfect – rather enhanced the perfect-ness of what was there.

      “Marie?” Logan’s tentative voice broke through her mental drooling session. He was looking at her strangely. ‘Great’ thought Marie, ‘probably thinks I’m now mildly insane, dammit!’ Looking firmly at his face, and maybe enunciating her words a bit too clearly, she said “Here you go – these looked like they fit, and here’s a bag for your dirty stuff.” Swinging her gaze to her feet, being extra sure it didn’t sweep over anything else as she did so, and walked out of the cupboard, leaving a confused Logan watching her go.

      The pillows came rushing up to meet him, as Logan collapsed onto his bed, exhausted.

      Speaking to the police had been fine, despite all the unpleasant memories it brought back. Getting the bus home, he’d run inside, grabbed his wallet and jogged to the local store. He had to sprint coming home and threw himself and his groceries across the doorway to be back in time. This resulted in the breaking of two eggs, but he could cope with that. He could cope with anything, so long as he didn’t break probation and have to go back.

      Somewhere in the back of his mind it registered that he was slowly loosing consciousness and he should put away the groceries before he fell asleep. With a groan, he turned over and fell out of bed and onto the floor with a satisfying thud. With a grunt of effort, he hoisted himself to his feet, and headed over to the closet to change his clothes. He wanted wash the ones he’d borrowed in time to return them to Marie tomorrow.

      The image of her face when she’d seen his scar popped into his mind. He hadn’t been able to work out whether she’d liked or hated what she’d seen – he hoped it was liked. While he acknowledged the fact that he was attracted to her, there was no way in his mind that he would ever have a chance with her. But…it would be nice to talk to her every once in a while without seeing that revolted look on her face that seemed to appear whenever someone found out what the contents of his "permanent file" were.
      Pulling on a pair of sweats, he padded barefoot downstairs. Throwing the clothes into the kitchen sink as he went, he started to unpack the food and daydream about a certain brunette.

      "I mean, some that we have going through the system are animals, plain and simple. And, you can see that there’s no way they should be let out, but we just don’t have the money to keep them in."

      Marie gave another inaudible sigh and absent-mindedly twirled a strand of spaghetti around her fork with no real intention of eating it. She was trying hard not to listen as Jean lectured all who seemed even barely interested about the ‘Neanderthal monsters’ she worked with. She droned on about how nasty they were, how the prison system needed more money – not to help these people, but to keep them locked up for longer – and what a good person she was for working with these dregs of society. She tried to catch Hank’s eye, but he had a look that told Marie his mind was off and calculating something she couldn’t even imagine, while he was paying as little attention to Jean as she wished she could.

      Once again, Jean’s put-upon voice broke through her thought process. "I mean, have you seen the amount of time some of these men get off their sentences for ‘good behaviour’. Do you know what constitutes ‘good behaviour’ to them? Not killing someone!"

      Biting down on her lip, Marie desperately searched the expressions worn by the other members of her family that were seated around the table for someone that shared her opinion of Jean. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her brother’s fiancée. No, it was just that her arrogance and sense of self-importance was getting on her nerves a right now. Yet unfortunately for Marie, Scott, Warren, and her father were all watching Jean with expressions ranging from respect and near-awe to fondness and pride. Meanwhile, Hank’s contemplation of various theorems had now progressed to the point that he was scribbling on a napkin. ‘Well, no help from him then,’ Marie thought. She predicted it would be another five minutes, max, before he’d leap up, mutter something about a possible error in his results, or new angle, or not even saying anything at all, and rush from the table, headed for his lab in a blind hurry.

      "For instance, this week, I sent a convicted murderer out on probation over two years early, for good behaviour. The man is a total savage. He leered at me, he was barely coherent, and you could just tell from the way he carried himself that he was looking for trouble. When I checked with the monitoring facility just before we came to dinner, they told me they’d only just avoided calling me. Apparently, he’d been so close to breaking probation that they weren’t sure whether they shouldn’t go out and pick him up anyway. I told them not to bother. If he’s pushing the limits this early on, he’s bound to do something more serious later that will hopefully put him away for a more substantial amount of time."

      There were nods of agreement from around the table, and Marie did her best to look as absorbed as everyone else was by the conversation, when Jean suddenly looked at her.

      "Oh Marie, do watch out for him, won’t you? They sent him to your place, despite my best efforts, and I’d hate to see you get mixed up with him."

      Marie grit her teeth at the patronizing tone, and, making sure to use the sweetest, innocent-little-girl-voice that she could get away with, replied, "Well Jean, I’ll do my best, but you couldn’t give me a name or a description or something like that, could you?"

      "Well, you know I’m not allowed to give out names, but…" Jean looked around the table in a conspiratorial manner, which Marie found amusing. She remembered the numerous times that Jean had done this sort of thing to Hank when he was working at the shelter.

      "He’s maybe six or so inches taller than you, he has dark, unruly hair with overgrown sideburns, brown eyes, and the same shifty look as most low-lifes."

      Marie’s head and attention both snapped up. "You don’t mean Logan Roberts, do you?" she asked, tentatively.

      Jean looked part dismayed and part gratified that her concern was, apparently, justified. "Oh dear, you’ve had trouble with him already, haven’t you?"

      "No, I haven’t," said Marie vehemently. The idea that Logan was as worthless and untrustworthy as Jean was making him sound filled her with a sudden and inexplicable rage. "He helped out in a major way today, actually. He stopped a man from hurting two other volunteers, and myself, which is definitely not something that would be done by someone as ‘savage’ as you are describing. I also had a conversation with him, and he is a perfectly nice, coherent, sane, and as peaceful a man as I have ever met."

      Marie stopped abruptly, out of breath, and quite shocked at herself. The other members of her family were staring at her as though she’d gone mad, and a strange hush had fallen over the rest of the restaurant. She sat and starred at her plate, thinking desperately of something to say to break the tension that had fallen like a blanket over their table, when Hank did it for her.

      "But…that’s it, " he suddenly yelled, leaping to his feet with an ink-stained piece of paper clutched in one huge hand. His chair shot out from underneath him and into the back of an old lady at the table next to them, sending her face into her cream cake. Hank didn’t notice, trying, as he was, to make his apologies to the group, settle his bill, and leave all at the same time. He stumbled out of the restaurant thirty seconds later having paid too much for his meal, with his coat on inside out and someone else’s umbrella under his arm, which he proceeded to wave frantically in his efforts to hail a cab. A waiter caught up with him just in time to exchange said umbrella for the correct one. Meanwhile, inside the restaurant, Warren and Scott were apologizing profusely to the shocked elderly lady, who eventually agreed to be compensated by a large scotch and a replacement cream cake. Trying very hard not to giggle, Marie made her excuses to her father, paid her bill and left with
      significantly less fanfare than her brother had.

      The next day, Marie arrived early for work, and was met by Jubilee, who was grinning at her from ear to ear.

      "So, you just couldn’t keep your hands off him, could ‘ya?" she said.

      "Who?" asked Marie, although in truth, she had a good idea of where this was going.

      "Duh," Jubes rolled her eyes at her, "the hottie in the jacket from yesterday, that’s who. Man, I saw him walking back from the Men’s to the cupboard yesterday, and damn girl!" She paused for a breath and an appreciative sigh. "I certainly can understand why you snapped him up for your section. Soooo, info, info, info – what’s he like?"

      Marie sighed. She should have known that she couldn’t get this past Jubilee without some sort of interrogation. "His name’s Logan, he volunteered for my section, and…"

      "Uh huh, right chica, of course," replied Jubes, sounding highly skeptical.

      "He did!" Marie fought hard to keep her mind on the conversation and not on images of Logan’s naked torso. "Not that I’m complaining, I think he’ll be a good addition to the warehouse grope." Jubes shot her a sideways look and cracked a grin again as Marie realized what she’d said. "Oh God, I meant group, Jubes. Don’t look at me like that."

      "Uh huh, sure," said Jubes, sounding enormously pleased with herself. "I’m sure you did."

      Logan walked into the shelter that day looking more than a dishevelled from lack of sleep. His dreams had been full of either flash-backs triggered by his encounter with the police officers, or erotic dreams of Marie, at which he would wake in a cold sweat, and telling himself to snap out of it – he should stop dreaming of what was never going to happen.

      As fate would have it, he didn’t see much of Marie that day, as she was covering for Xavier’s secretary, who had called in sick, and. So, another volunteer, one with an annoyingly nasal accent, was supervising the warehouse. He felt surprisingly bereft of her company. Having had only one lunch with her, he found this very strange. Standing in a patch of sun, he told himself he didn’t need a beer, or her company, and allowed his eyes to slip closed while his thoughts wondered.

      “Why don’t you just go and talk to him?”

      Marie was jolted out of her admiration of Logan’s profile by Jubilee’s voice. “Huh?”

      “I said, why don’t you just go and talk to him? He looks kinda lonesome out there, all on his own. Betcha he’s just hoping you’re going to go out there and invite him to have lunch with you like you did yesterday.”

      “Well, for one thing my lunch break isn’t for another hour, and Xavier wants these papers filed by then, And for another, how can I invite him to have lunch with me, when he’s remembered his?”

      “You’re just making excuses, girl. I recognise that look on your face when I see it.”

      “Yeah, well, so do I, because all I have to do is mention a certain brother of mine, and you get the same one.”

      Jubes gave an gasped, outraged. “That has nothing to do with it, and it’s mean of you to bring it up.” There was a pause.

      “So…how is Hank anyway?”

      Marie smirked and walked purposefully away, leaving a frustrated Jubes running after her.

      “Hey Marieeeee.”

      Marie had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. It had been a long day, and she was tired, but Jubilee hanging out of the store cupboard at that angle wearing that saucepan would’ve gotten a laugh from anyone.

      “You’re going to worship me.”

      “I doubt it Jubes, especially not while I’m wearing a skirt.”

      “Yeah, you are, skirt or not.”

      “Oh really. And why’s that?”

      “Guess who forgot his wallet…”

      Marie groaned. “I thought I saw you near the coat rack just before they left. You did this on purpose!”

      “Maybe a little, but he really did forget it if he didn’t check his pockets and then ask about it.”

      “I don’t believe you.”

      “Yeah, well there’s only the two of us left, and it’s going to have to be you that drives over and gives it back, since I have a hairdresser’s appointment.”

      Casually tossing it on the desk in front of Marie with a mischievous grin, she strolled away.

      “71, 72, then…87?”

      Marie huffed in exasperation. She’d been up and down the street that Logan was supposed to be living on five times, and still had not found the elusive number 83. Deciding she’d better go it on foot, she pulled over into an empty space left on the corner. Getting out, she grabbed the wallet, and locked the doors.

      Pulling her coat a little tighter around her in an effort to keep out the chilly night air, she started walking. She soon discovered why she hadn’t been able to find the house – the missing numbers were located down a slip road. Number 83 was part way down, with peeling paint on the front door, and separated from its neighbours by alleyways on all sides.

      Climbing the steps to the front door, she knocked, timidly at first, then harder. Receiving no response she decided to see if he was in the garden – all she had to do was walk around the side. Entering the alley, she looked for a gate or even something she could stand on to see over the top of the fence. Her eyes had made out a latch in the dark, and she headed for it, but before she reached it, a filthy hand slammed down over her mouth and a sour voice rasped into her ear. “Hello, little darling.”

      Logan gratefully nursed his Molson in the welcoming darkness of his back yard. His eyes could make out dim outlines in the gloomy night, since a little light filtered over and through the fence. He was doing his best to ignore the moans coming from the next door neighbour’s open windows, but all it did was trigger visions of Marie in various positions and attires in his head. He kept pushing them back – he knew he’d never have her, and pretending would only make him miserable.

      The sounds finally stopped and Logan sighed appreciatively at the stillness that descended over the area.

      It was shattered with the crash of what sounded like several trashcans falling over. He put his beer down on the grass, and headed for the garden gate to see what was going on. He didn’t quite make it before a woman and a man, apparently intertwined, came crashing through the gate and onto the lawn.

      “Get off me!!” cried the woman. Logan broke into a run towards the pair.

      “Hey!” he yelled. The man looked up, saw him and ran back out of the gate. Logan went to follow him, when he was hit with the realisation that he couldn’t leave his own property while he was wearing that damn anklet - it was after 6pm. He turned to the woman, still on the floor, and helped her up.

      “Are you ok miss…?” he asked as he reached for her hand. She turned a tear-streaked face towards him, and he caught a glimpse of her in the shaft of light that made its way through the open gate. “Marie!”

      She smiled, very slightly, as she grasped his hand, and he pulled her to her feet. Once standing, she staggered a little, and when Logan stretched his hands out to steady her, he somehow found her in his arms, face buried in his shirt while he cradled her to his chest. The only thing that kept running through his mind was how right this felt. He had to hold himself back from crushing her body to his, and to keep his hands from running over her body to check for and soothe any injury she might have.

      “What…?” he finally managed.

      “You forgot your wallet.” She replied in a shaky voice. “I came to give it back. And your house is hard to find.” He fought a chuckle.

      “You hurt?”

      “No, just a little shocked, but I’ll be fine.”

      He nodded. “Come inside – there’s no way you’re going home in this state.” Keeping an arm around her, he steered her inside into the kitchen.

      “Are you ok?” he asked, as they entered the room.

      “Yes,” she replied, still hanging onto his hand. “Would it be ok if I used your bathroom?”

      “Yeah, of course.” He showed her the small room, then headed back to the kitchen and started to work on the small mountain of dirty dishes left in the sink from his dinner.

      “Would you like a hot drink or something?” he called, as he heard Marie emerge from the bathroom.

      “Yeah, that would be great,” came the reply as he filled the kettle.

      “Here, let me help.” She said, as she saw the enormity of his task.

      “Don’t bother, “ he said running his eyes over her form. “You should be sitting down or something. And we should probably call the police about what just happened.”

      Marie shook her head.

      “I’ll report it tomorrow. I’d rather help, it’ll give me something to do.” she said, grabbing a drying cloth and starting on the clean crockery.

      “If you’re sure.” He said. She gave him a reassuring smile.

      “I am.”

      There was a pause.

      “So… how was your day?”

      She smiled at him. “It was…ok, apart from just now, of course.” He smiled back, then frowned.

      “You’re sure you’re ok?”

      “Yeah, I’m fine. Uh, sorry for abandoning you on your first day, it’s just that Xavier needed someone who could find their way around that office, and everyone else is kinda indispensable in their current roles, so I kinda got stuck with it.”

      He made a dismissive gesture with a hand that was covered in soapsuds. “That’s ok, we were fine.” Then the thought of another day with nasal-guy hit him.

      “But you’ll be back tomorrow, right?”

      She laughed lightly. “Yeah, I will be.”

      There was another pause.

      “Are you getting on ok at the shelter?” asked Marie, hoping she wasn’t going to sound patronising. Logan looked up from the sink, frowning.

      “Yeah. Why d’ya ask?”

      “It’s just that I saw you having lunch today, and you weren’t really talking to anybody. You do know, if you’re uncomfortable, you can move.”

      “Yeah, I know. It ain’t that I’m uncomfortable, it’s just that, people only seem to expect us to talk about ourselves. And, if we don’t, they assume we don’t want conversation at all. I’m just not good at volunteering information.”

      Marie nodded agreement. “Finding it hard to trust. I’m like that, kinda.”

      “What d’ya mean, kinda?”

      “Well, I, uh…” Marie let out a huff as she tried to collect her thoughts into some semblance of order. “I suppose the thing that really annoys me, isn’t that I don‘t know how to trust. It’s that so often, I’ll sit there blabbing about myself for ages, and then realise that I’ve nearly told someone who’s name I barely know my entire life story. I kinda think that trust should be a two-way thing. They ask a question, and then I ask a question…” Marie finished with Logan nodding in agreement.

      “I feel the same,” he said.

      “The blabbling thing or the tit-for-tat thing?” replied Marie, half-smiling.

      Logan had to smile to at the idea of him running his mouth off. “That trust should go both ways.” There was a pause.

      “You know, we could do that.” He said hesitantly, heart beating fast at the thought that she might agree to have an intimacy of sorts with him.

      “What?” asked Marie.

      “Try to, you know, trust like that. Take it in turn to ask questions, answer them honestly.” Marie cocked her head as though considering.

      “Alright.” Marie heard the word leave her mouth before she gave it permission to. He smiled at her, and immediately fired off his first question.

      “How’d you get the white streaks?”

      Marie glanced upwards for a moment as if she could turn to see them and then smiled ruefully.

      “It happened the same day my mom died. A policeman and my teacher took me out of class. I don’t remember what happened, but they tell me when I was told that she was dead, I grew hysterical and ran off. They saw me run out of the gates and into the road. I dodged a car and fell – cracked my skull on the edge of the pavement and knocked myself out. Amazingly, I just split my scalp, no real damage was done. So, they stitched me up, but ever since the hair growing out of that spot has always been white.” The rueful grin returned. “When I started high school where my Dad lived, it triggered a trend of dying in streaks, and I spent most of my first week explaining to the teachers that I couldn’t go home and wash them out – mine were real.” Her grin became contemplative. “Where did you grow up?”

      “New York City, although I managed to avoid picking up the accent.”

      Her questioning glance prodded him to provide more details. “Oh, so you want the whole story then?” she smiled and nodded. He let out a huff of air. “OK – I was found on the street at maybe two or three days old. Spent my first six months in the hospital trying to recover from the bronchitis. I got transferred from orphanage to foster home and back again. I think the maximum amount of time I ever spent in one facility was 9 months. Switched schools every time as well, which meant I didn’t have any friends, so all my phychological profiles always had ‘loner’ stamped all over them.”

      “When I was thirteen and a half, I ended up in an orphanage that was originally supposed to take those with mental problems, but had started taking in norms as well. Several of the staff were abusive fucks, got off on causing pain, but of course no one listened if we tried to tell. The night of my fourteenth birthday one of them left the window unlatched. I took the opportunity and ran. Best birthday gift ever. Hitched a ride to where ever the driver was going. Made it as far as the Alberta Province in Canada before I turned around and started heading south again. Crossed back over the city limits exactly a year after I’d left them.”

      “Got caught by a lady after I tried to lift some food off her café. She didn’t turn me in – she took me in. Gave me a place to sleep, a regular meal schedule and the occasional odd job – she was an absolute Godsend. I stayed with her until I landed in prison, ‘bout two and a half years later.” He let out a big sigh, and then looked at her with a bemused _expression.

      “Dammit, you’re just too easy to talk to – if that wasn’t blabbing I don’t know what is! I’m gonna have to make the next question count.” He fell silent, his eyes staring into the distance as he thought. Meanwhile Marie was in an inner turmoil. No wonder he found it difficult to trust! Her heart felt like it was going to break when she thought about the lost little boy that Logan Roberts once must have been. She renewed her inner promise to be brutally honest. He deserved that from her if he was trying to trust her.

      Logan’s grin had turned wicked.

      “Describe your first orgasm.”

      Marie gaped and gasped as she turned tomato red, which Logan observed with amusement and more than a little desire.

      “Ummm…,” she looked at her shuffling feet, turning an even deeper red. “I was thirteen, and, uh, I was in ballet class…”

      A barking laugh broke out of Logan. “Tell me this isn’t going to turn into the description of a lesbian orgy – although I wouldn’t mind hearing about one of those that took place when you were a little older…”

      She gasped in indignation, and lightly slapped his arm. “No! It definitely didn’t happen like that.” She took a deep breath. “We were doing stretches. We had to sit on the floor with our legs together in a line in front of us, and our toes pointed at the ceiling. Then we had to stretch our arms over our heads towards the ceiling and try to hold that position while we bent at the waist and touch our toes. Then we’d do it over again. Every time I did it, there was a pressure and a heat that I could feel building in the small of my back and my, uh, parts,” her blush that had began to fade suddenly returned with a vengeance.

      “It felt nice, and I also found that if I held the position longer and tensed my muscles it built faster so I did that.” Her gaze was still fixed firmly on her feet, and Logan shifted around just a little so he could see more of her face.

      “Soon, the heat began climbing up my spine, and I felt warm in more, uh, places than before. Pretty shortly after that, it felt like something gave inside, and I felt really tingly all over, and I couldn’t stop shuddering for, like, a full five minutes, which earned me some funny looks. But I just know it felt good, although I didn’t know what it was for like years afterwards. So there it is.”

      She looked at him with a sudden minx-ish look in her eye. “Now you describe your first orgasm.” She proclaimed. Logan gave her a sheepish smile.

      “Wasn’t conscious when it happened, sorry darlin’, men, and wet dreams and all that…”

      Marie gasped. “That’s not fair – you didn’t give me a real answer, I get to ask another!”

      Logan gave a shrug. “Ok.”

      Marie looked him over as she considered her next question. Her gaze took in his well-muscled physique, as what Jean had said yesterday at the restaurant slipped into her ears and the question she really wanted to ask lingered at the back of her mind, but she wasn’t sure how to phrase it. The first form that came into her mind slipped out of her mouth before she had the chance to edit it.

      “Did you ever kill anyone?”

      Logan regarded her with such intensity, she almost wished she hadn’t asked.


      Nothing more. No explanation. No defence.

      “Want to call Scott over here and tie me up while you can call the cops?” he asked with unconcerned blandness.

      She ignored his sarcasm. “Tell me about it.”

      Again his eyes bored into her, emotions playing across his face so clearly she could almost read his thoughts. ‘Are you for real? Do you really care or is this just pity in disguise? What will you think of me when you know?’ And the most poignant – ‘will you believe me?’

      “It happened over a woman named Jade.” He paused, and she knew he was expecting her to make a comment such as “Isn’t it always?” Or perhaps “What else is new?”

      She stood up, straightening her skirt, more to relieve the dampness on her palms than to smooth out any wrinkles. She pushed aside some of the clean saucepans, and perched on the edge of the counter, bringing herself closer to him. The need she felt to reassure him felt almost overwhelming.

      “Logan, I’m not a judge, a jury or even a curiosity seeker. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s all right. I’m not going to push.”

      His eyes narrowed, but she saw the fury in them. Not common anger, but a deeply felt rage that made her see suddenly that Logan Roberts could kill if he had to. Strangely she didn’t feel frightened by that sudden enlightenment.

      In a monotone voice, he began. “The bastard had a knife and he’d been doing some drug. You know the type – young, rich, and fearless because of Daddy. Thought he owned everything. I’ve no idea what he was on, but LSD was the drug of choice at the time. Jade was sitting at the table doing her accounts, trying to stretch what she had to pay the month’s bills with. I was clearing away some of the tables for her when the guy walked in, and started demanding…well, I don’t have to tell what young drunks start demanding from pretty women.”

      Logan was speaking with an almost cold neutrality, as if it would make the story easier to tell. He hadn’t paused in his activities either. But his movements had taken on a slightly wooden edge, as though his limbs weren’t working quite as he told them to.

      “I stood out there, scared – God, was I scared – while this spaced out bastard waved a knife at Jade. She didn’t move, and if I didn’t know her so well, I would have thought she faced guys with knives pointed at her throat everyday. There were a couple of others in the room, and they beat it into the kitchen in the back as though their butts were on fire.”

      Marie’s thoughts staggered while trying to grasp the implications of what he was telling her. “You tried to help Jade?”

      “She was all I had,” he said with such quiet, intense emotion that Marie felt an abrupt ruthless hatred for the knife-wielding intruder. “The only person who ever gave a damn about me. Yeah, I wanted to gut him. I grabbed a fistful of dirty forks and went at him.” The plate in Logan’s hand clattered loudly, raising the tension in the room, rather than dissipating it. “But he got me first.”

      A picture of the scar on his chest that she had glimpsed on that first day that seemed so long ago now ran through Marie’s mind. Before she thought about what she was doing, she crossed over to him, and felt for the scar through the material of his T-shirt. When her fingers found it, she allowed them to linger, as she met his eyes. They confirmed what she had deduced.

      “You could have been killed.”

      “The guy thought he’d killed me.” His laugh was dry, without humour. “Jade was all over him. Screaming and swearing – and he kept yelling for her to get off. He slashed out…” He swallowed hard. “There was so much blood. He must have realised what he’d done immediately – his grip was slack enough that Jade knocked the knife out of his hand as she went down. But she was still yelling, for help, for him to stop – I can’t remember by that stage. It quite possibly could have been both. Then he was screaming for her to shut up, kicking and hitting her at the same time. She was getting quieter and quieter, and that wasn’t because she was stopping.” He paused.

      “You got the knife.” Marie was still looking at him, although he’d long ago switched his gaze to her hand on his chest, and his hand that had come up to anchor it there at some point. He nodded jerkily.

      “He wouldn’t stop, so I grabbed it and went after him. A knife in his belly eventually convinced him.”

      “He died?”

      Logan nodded again. “Later, in hospital, due to an infection. Sufficiently later that the police had been able to take his statement – which conclusively named me as the perpetrator. According to him, he’d been in the café getting a cup of coffee before he went home for the evening, when I’d wondered downstairs, drunk, and started demanding he get out. When Jade intervened, I’d grabbed a knife and lashed out at them both. There were a thousand holes in the story – how come the knife was his, for a start – but he was a daddy’s boy, remember? So Daddy forked out for the best lawyer available, and he died with a clean rep’, and I lived with 12 years.”

      Marie frowned. “But what about Jade? Her story must have backed up yours?”

      Logan shook his head. “She never got the chance to tell it. The guy hit an artery. She died on a cold café floor, and she shouldn’t have done. If I’d have been quicker I could have saved her…” He trailed off, lost in guilt and remorse, his grief written eloquently over his face.

      “It wasn’t your fault,” Marie tried to reach him, but he wouldn’t listen, she could see it by the way he turned his head away. “It wasn’t.” She seized his jaw, and turned his head, forcing him to look at her. “It wasn’t. He held the knife, not you. You fought for her, not against. Do you really think that she’d blame you?” The last question made him stop, and look at her.

      “Do you know, I’ve spent the last ten years trying to answer that question? At times, I desperately wanted the answer to be no, because I couldn’t have born the guilt. Other times, I wanted it to be yes, because I was sure the injustice of what had happened to me would drive me insane if I was truly innocent. And I’m no closer to the real answer now than I was on the day that I woke up in hospital and they told me she was dead and I was a cold-blooded killer.”

      Marie swallowed, her heart aching for what he had been through. Her voice croaked when she next spoke. “I can tell you. She’d say to stop beating yourself up over it – that you’d done what was right. That it wasn’t your fault. That you should forgive yourself, because, in truth, there was nothing you needed to ask forgiveness for.”

      As though suddenly coming out of a dream, Logan looked at her as if he hadn’t realised she was there before. Shrugging off the hand that still rested on his jaw, and releasing the one that he’d been holding over his chest, he turned away. “What is it to you?” His voice was harsh, as though he was close to tears, although she couldn’t see his face. “Another pity party? The anger in his tone hit her like a slap around the face, but somehow she couldn’t find it in herself to react at that mo<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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