The unconscious form that lay on the med lab bed had an ugly yellow-purple bruise spreading along his left temple. It had been almost three hours and gambit had failed to wake from his concussion. Sitting to his right was Storm. A white cast stood out in bass relief from the dark skin of her left arm. As she settled into her chair, she had to stifle a groan. She supposed that she should feel grateful that she had not landed on her head when she fell, but the myriad bruises on her along her torso made it rather difficult.
She and Remy had suffered the worst injuries. Scott had received a small burn on his right temple, the only other evidence of the battle except. . .Ororo counted the faces around her. One was missing. She could almost see the gruff woodsman leaning indifferently against the wall. She smiled sadly as the ghost scent of tobacco whispered her nostrils. Could it be true? Could he really be gone?
"What happened?" Xavier's quiet voice shattered the silence.
"You know what happened, Professor. You felt it yourself," Jean Grey answered. The shock had worn away and been replaced by grief. She leaned heavily against her husband.
Storm herself had missed the end of the fight, and was glad. It seemed that Logan's pain had been so great that it had sent shockwaves across the psi-plane. Telepaths across the globe were witness to his final breaths. The mansion had been bombarded by phone calls from those offering condolences and their services, most of whom had never met Wolverine and didn't even recall how they knew which number to call. More than half of the messages were in a language other than English. Or perhaps, thought Ororo, watching the red head, it was Jean who amplified and sent out her grief?
Scott ignored his wife's comment and answered Xavier. "It was a set up. The girl was bait for Wolverine. She ambushed Logan and the Dark Riders overwhelmed us. God, it was all my fault!" His eyes were haunted, voice stricken. "I went in overconfident and he paid the price!"
"No, Scott, don't," Jean murmured, stroking his face. "If it's anyone's fault it's mine-"
Stop it sent Xavier tersely. For a moment, Ororo thought she saw tears form in his eyes but he quickly controlled them. His voice quavered when he spoke, but still held authority in abundance. "If you start with that then we might as well dig a grave for you, too. Succumbing to our guilt and grief will help no one. Logan is dead. Nothing will change that. This is not the first time we have lost someone, and probably won't be the last-"
A shrill cry of denial tore through his words and Storm ran towards the door, slowed by the bruises. The others beat her there.
The site that met their eyes was a disheartening one. Beast had forgone the meeting with hopes of locating Jubilee. She had gone rollerblading as was her wont when under stress or just plain bored. Ororo could sympathize with her; she found the same comfort in her plants.
The teen had obviously come home to find Henry keeping a look-out by the open door. His calm voice tried to soothe her but to no avail.
"That's not possible! You're lying!" Her face was a snarl of anger, so reminiscent of Logan it gave Storm a chill.
Jubilee realized that she had attracted an audience of those she overheard and turned to regale them as well. Something in their faces must have stopped her though; the rage quickly crumbled along with her face.
Ororo dimly noted that the Beast's fur was matted with wetness on his cheeks.
"It can't be true." A single tear trailed her face. And I'm gonna prove it's not. . ." Her voice was very quiet. "Wolvie always comes back when I need 'im. . .Always. . ."
Storm wanted to go to the child but was beaten there by Rogue. The Southerner drew Jubilee into a big, protective bearhug. Tears streamed down her face.
She spoke for the first time since the Blackbird had landed and responded to what Xavier had last said. Her voice was smooth and harsh. "How can ya be so cold? Yah tell us to move on and forbid us to even mention Wolvie's name in this house again. Then you'll go an' put his face in that shrine on yah desk!" She addressed the others in her firey gaze. "Ah'm with Jubilee. And if ya'll'd think for a minute you'd be, too!"
Ororo remembered seeing the picture frames on the Professor's desk one day. Intrigued, she had asked if she could look. He handed them to her everently, as if afraid to break them. Some were of faces she recognized, others unnamed. Some wore the bright costumes of heroes, and others wore the plain clothes of men. Some smiled, some scowled, but all had been filled to bursting with life at the time of the picture.
Scattered about his desk, they oversaw all that Xavier did, their faces giving judgment when they themselves could not. There had been at least half a dozen then. Storm knew their number would be one stronger by morning.
"The child is right." Storm added loudly. She called on every ounce of courage and will power within her to keep her voice and body steady. Remarkably, it worked. "This assault occurred too easily. Granted, the Dark Riders could not have known that the telephone pole would crash under Rogue and Remy's assault, but something of that nature had to be planned."
"The dreams," Xavier whispered.
"Does no one else see how strange it is that the rest of us received only glancing blows as Logan lay there dying? They held back until just the right moment. When we were out we were completely at their mercy. Goddess, they could have killed us as we slept! But why didn't they? My friends, there is something larger at work here.
"And what of his body? If we are completely wrong in our assumptions than there is still that. Goddess knows what profanation's the Dark Riders and their master are planning?!"
Jubilee pushed away from Rogue. Her face and eyes were red but dry; she had not cried more than that once. Ororo knew she that she must be strong for Wolverine, as he had been for her countless times. Oh, child! She thought. For your sake I hope we are right.
Jubilee's voice was strong and adamant. "We have to bring Wolvie home. No matter what."
"Well that settles it. Anyone who wants to come, meet in th' hangar in a half hour." With that, Rogue turned back into the med lab and shut the door.
* * *
Rogue sighed and leaned heavily against the door. The tears she'd held in check during her "fairwell performance" welled in her eyes and a sob escaped her lips.
What was she doin'? Rogue had felt Logan's pain as Storm and Jubilee had not. The eerie sound replayed every time she closed her eyes, his blood tattooed on her eyelids. She knew that Logan was dead . . .
. . .And yet part of her insisted that he was alive. She felt it, deep inside. A strange rumbling in her throat when she talked; the phantom smell of cigars on her breath; a bizarre itchiness all over her body. These were all tiny things, easily ignored and discarded, but there was a wrongness about it that made her wary.
As she knew Logan's death in her mind, she felt his life in her soul.
It reminded her forcefully of the times that she had been exposed to his flesh. As much as she hated it, a part of her subconscious mind relished that side of her vampirish nature. Those brief contacts chilled her and thrilled her. The sensations were twofold with Wolverine. His senses were so intense that she became aware of every little detail around her. Every scent intoxicating; every sight luxurious; every touch so erotic as to almost be sexual. Thinking of the pain it would cause them both was all she could do to resist the temptation. She had no idea how Logan lived experiencing the world that way without succumbing to his senses . . .
Much as she felt now, only slightly. . . fuzzy.
Or maybe Ah'm loosin' mah mind, she thought with a false levity. There had been no touching. Of anyone.
She crossed the room to where Gambit lay sleeping. Settling down next to him, she rested her cheek on his covered chest and stroked his face and hair with a gloved hand.
"Oh, Remy," she whispered. "Ah don't want ta go off an' leave ya, not like this. But. . .Ah have to. It's for Wolvie. Ah know ya'd help if ya could. He is your drinkin' buddy after all." She closed her eyes and listened to his smooth heartbeat. "And when Ah get back you'd best be awake, Cajun, else Ah'm gonna punch ya so hard you'll wish ya really were in a coma."