Two Solitudes: Parts 1-6
by ElizabethElizabeth

E-mail: [email protected]
Summary: AU fic. This is an answer to Kielle's Elseworld Challenge--sort-of. I've taken the movie universe and moved a few things around, which wasn't exactly what the challenge asked for. Can you tell that in school I was the kid who always got in trouble for not following directions?
Rating: R
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.
Distribution: Please ask.
Thanks: To Molly, for the encouragement. To Kaelie, for not giving up on me. To Dani, for the title and the quote. And to Mare--thanks aren't enough--I'm gonna have to build you a shrine for your help with this one.
January 5 2001

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.
-- Ranier Maria Rilke


She didn't scream when they brought her in.

It was enough to make him notice and he resented the distraction. He wasn't like the rest of the freaks wandering around the place, desperate for amusement and diversion, desperate to lash out at anything or anyone. He was interested in one thing and that's the only reason he stayed. He would put up with anything to find answers.

Mystique and Sabretooth dropped a bundle--large, human-sized, wrapped in what looked like an enormous laundry bag-- on the floor and he noticed because it didn't shriek. They always did--shrieked or bellowed or sometimes cried. The criers were the worst--two of them hadn't even made it past the door, so to speak. Mystique wasn't one for tears. She said they needed to be stopped and she'd peel back the layers that covered them, a tender curve to her hands. And every time the person she said that to looked up at her hopefully, thinking she'd make everything better. Then she'd pull out their eyes, laughing the whole time, and there wasn't anymore crying. Just screaming. And Sabretooth couldn't handle that, and well...that was that.

Toad appeared, moving in for a closer look, poking at the bundle with a foot. "Dead?"

Mystique shook her head and her scales rippled. Logan watched the ripple travel down her body and she caught his glance, smiled. He looked away. Been there before, no desire to go again. She always wanted to battle and he'd gotten tired of fucking being a war. He got tired of being wanted for the destruction he could give. "Resting. She...ah...hit her head. Repeatedly."

Sabretooth laughed and shoved Toad away from the bundle. "Quit kicking it. Need the brains intact on this one. Orders, you know."

Toad wandered off, shouting insults as he did--he was good at that--and Sabretooth followed, eager for a fight.

Mystique turned to him. "Where is he?"

"She is?" He gestured towards the pile of cloth.

She tilted her head to the side a little, yellow eyes gleaming, and pointed to the bundle. "A mutant. Don't touch her. She absorbs."

"Absorbs?" *She* sounded like a sponge. The thought was almost enough to make him smile. She'd fit right in then, wouldn't she?

"Everything. Drains you of your memories, your energy. That's why she's here. I'm only going to ask you one more time--Wolverine." She smirked when she said his name. She'd told him, once, that it was weak. He was still interested in battling her then, and he'd attempted to prove her wrong. She'd laughed as she came and it occurred to him that maybe she wasn't so wrong after all. "Where's Magneto?"

He let her challenge go. "In the back. South hallway, I think."

She saw that he wasn't going to respond beyond that and her scales rippled again. But all she said was "Good" as she started to leave.

Logan looked at the bundle still on the floor, called after her. "What do you want me to do with this?"

"Toss it in a room."

So he did.

Walking down the hallways, her head--or her feet-- kept banging into the space under his shoulder blades. Whoever she was, she was definitely out. He'd thrown the sack over his shoulder, wincing as what felt like a pair of boots, or maybe a head, caught him in the stomach and there hadn't been any movement, not even an involuntary one. He wondered, briefly, why Magneto wanted a mutant and then dismissed the thought. It wasn't his concern.

He found an empty room at the far end of the upper hall. He wasn't allowed to wander at will--Magneto was beyond paranoid --and so he only knew his way around some of the hallways.

He pushed the door open and rolled his shoulder back as much as he could, letting her weight shift a little. Something hit him in the stomach again and he cursed, leaned her against the wall. He hoped she wasn't resting on her head. Sabretooth and Mystique had wrapped her in so much cloth that it was impossible to tell which end was which.

He started to leave but then curiosity got the better of him. Magneto had been making veiled remarks about powerful mutants and how almost everything was in place and it was hard to believe that a bundle of flesh was going to set everything in motion. He pulled the cloth down a little bit, expecting green skin or fur or something. Maybe sponge-like skin--that thought made him smile.

All he saw was hair. Ordinary hair, and his smile faded. Dark brown hair, thick. Everywhere--it was long. He started to push it back with a hand and then remembered what Mystique said, frowned. He finally let his claws out, a little, and pushed her hair back.

A girl. That was all, just an ordinary girl. And she was young. Really young--he was bad with ages but he figured she couldn't be more than twenty. Her face was pale and smudged--at first he thought it was with dirt but after a moment he could see it was with the print of bruises, spread out like a fan over her skin. He'd seen that before.

She opened her eyes and he flinched. Imperceptibly, just the barest movement. But he knew he'd done it.

"It's just my skin," she said. She had an accent, a strong one. A Southern one. She was a long way from home, he thought. He couldn't figure out what she was talking about, but then he looked at his hand. His claws were still resting in her hair. He pulled them away. A few strands clung to them.

"It's just my skin," she said again. Her eyes closed and he realized that she probably had a concussion.

He let go of the fabric he was holding and she slid down the wall, landing in a tangled heap of limbs and fabric on the floor. Again, he flinched. Stronger this time and it made his claws slide out all the way.

He wanted to leave the room as fast as possible so, of course, he didn't. He stayed, pulled the rest of the cloth she'd been wrapped in away. She muttered but didn't open her eyes again and he squatted down next to her, just looking at her for a second. So damn normal looking.

She shifted and her head rolled to one side. There was a dark streak behind her ear that ran down her neck, under the collar of her shirt. He stared at it till he realized it was blood. It made him feel guilty for some reason and that made him mad. He left the room and didn't look back.


Magneto was in an almost jovial mood that night. That mood was the worst, as far as Logan was concerned, because there was a quality to it that made him think of unpleasant memories that he couldn't quite remember. But he didn't say anything because it would have been pointless and because he could tell that he was finally going to get what he'd been promised.

He'd met Magneto in North Dakota. Logan stayed as far north as he could--fewer people, fewer questions, and he liked open spaces--but he went down to the States once in a while. He was buying supplies or to be more accurate, he was trying to. The guy in front of him had started an argument with the clerk and Logan was getting mighty tired of waiting.

That's when the guy waiting behind him started talking. Logan figured he was just another of the typically lonely trucker types that were always on the same roads he was, but he knew he was wrong about that after about ten seconds. For one thing, there was the way the man talked. He sounded like a politician.

And then, when Logan finally turned around, planning on shutting him up and then turning his attention to the guy at the counter, he got a look at his eyes. They were--not assessing, really--but knowing. No understanding, just acceptance.

"You look like a man," he said, "seeking answers. Am I right?"

Logan shrugged. Knowing eyes usually belonged to those who were trying to sell religion or insurance, in his experience, and those were two things he had no need of.

The man smiled then. It was a wintry smile, and consisted mostly of teeth. No seller of anything except maybe death smiled like that. Logan respected the honesty of that smile. "A moment of your time?" the man asked.

Logan looked up at the counter. The guy was still arguing and the clerk's face was turning a dull red color. He could smell a fight brewing. It was tempting, but he'd been involved in a million fights just like it before. "Maybe."

The wintry smile flashed again, and the man raised a hand up, just slightly. The metal sign ("No Shirt. No Shoes. Come on in!") fell off the wall, hit the clerk in the head. He dropped like a rock. Then the sign turned--turned, Logan couldn't quite believe it--and slid into the other guy's neck. He fell over the counter, vocal cords still wheezing insults through the gurgle of his life ending.

"As I said, you look like a man seeking answers. And I happen to be a man who excels at finding them."

"Yeah? Maybe I'm not interested in answers from someone who runs around murdering people."

"Then you'd be a liar, wouldn't you?"

He reckoned he would. And calling anyone a murderer left a bad taste in his mouth. It was a label that fit him well enough, after all. He let his claws slide out anyway.

The man smiled at him, and this time his smile was almost kind. For the first time in a long time, Logan felt the tingle of fear run up his spine. The man moved his hand to the side--just a little--and Logan felt his claws stretch, sliding upward and outward, trying to leave his skin.

"You see," the man said. "I'm just like you. Brother."

The man was, of course, Magneto. And standing inside the store he'd neatly summarized what he figured Logan's problem was. "You're a mutant, probably captured by the government at some point. Those claws don't look like something from Mother Nature. And you don't remember much about what they did to you. Am I right?"

Logan shrugged. "I don't remember much of anything from before, either."

"I can help you with that. I'm getting ready certain officials in the United States Military. Officials that have knowledge of mutant experiments done over the past twenty years or so."


The wintry smile returned. "And I'm always looking for people who are willing to help the mutant cause."

Christ, Logan thought. The guy is selling something after all. "I've got no interest in the "mutant cause." I just want answers."

"You've misunderstood me. My cause is all about finding answers to problems."

He knew it was a bad idea to agree. But he did it anyway, because no one else was offering to help him, and because he could understand what it was that made that wintry smile so cold.


He grew tired of Magneto's "celebration" after an hour. Sabretooth and Toad fought the whole time and Mystique alternated between egging them on and clamping herself to Magneto. They all talked about what they always did--how humans were weak and cruel to mutants (a charge Logan agreed with, for the most part, but he still got tired of hearing it) and a rant about something called the X-Men. Logan was really sick of hearing about them. Apparently the X-Men were mutants too, but wanted to plant flower gardens and heal sick children with their time. As far as Logan was concerned, any group that named themselves after the worst letter in the alphabet wasn't worth his attention. He tuned out whenever the talk turned to them and Magneto never asked him to do anything about them (or to them) so he figured they weren't his problem. His problem was currently sitting in a cell on the bottom floor of Magneto's fortress, locked up behind a solid steel door that Logan wasn't allowed to have a key to.

That pissed him off. Because behind that door was a man he recognized. Behind that door was a three-star general in the U.S. Army, and Logan knew his face. He knew it from his nightmares, from the only memories he had of what had happened to him at the hands of the government. But he wasn't allowed near him. Magneto said he had "something special" in mind. Logan had been just about ready to say fuck off to Magneto's "special"--he was not a patient man under the best of circumstances-- but apparently things were finally going to start happening. That was good because he was ready for answers. He wasn't good at staying anywhere for very long and Magneto's world was wearing real thin.

"Soon," Magneto was saying, "soon we'll have the perfect way to show humanity that mutants are not to be trifled with. Soon our voices will be heard!" He said more, but it started to sound like a sermon and Logan stopped even sort-of listening. He got up and left the room instead. Toad shouted something at him as he did so, but he ignored it. Sabretooth would be more than happy to hit Toad for him anyway.

He went down to Hamilton's cell. He could hear sobbing through the closed door and it made him smile. Hamilton bellowed threats and curses when he'd first arrived but that had stopped soon enough. Logan had been to see him once--mostly to make sure Mystique didn't kill him at first (the sobbing thing again) and maybe to let Hamilton know that mutants didn't appreciate being experimented on. Hamilton had claimed not to know him, to have no knowledge of anything having to do with the government and mutants, but he'd stunk of lies and Logan told him so. He might have gotten somewhere with the bastard if Magneto hadn't come in and warned him off with a "Wait" and a raised hand that made Logan's whole body shudder a little, the metal within him buckling ever-so-slightly.

There was a tiny barred window in the door and he looked through it. Hamilton (Logan refused to think of him as "General"--the very title made his skin crawl) was sitting on the floor, his face turned towards the wall. When he heard the screech of the window opening he turned towards the noise and the faint light of the window caught his face, cast shadows of light and dark.

Logan's vision tunneled for a second and then expanded, opened. He wanted what he was seeing to be a hallucination but he knew better. The cast of Hamilton's features, partially revealed and partially hidden, was just like in the dreams--memories--he'd had every night for the past fifteen years. They were always the same. He'd dream (remember) opening his eyes he lay totally trapped, immersed under water. He needed to breathe but he couldn't and every time his oxygen-starved body tried to, water started to seep into his lungs. Leaning over him was a man-- most of his face hidden in shadows, the medals covering his green uniform gleaming. He was pointing and Logan forced his eyes down, noticed that there were lines drawn over his body. He tried to inhale again and more water slid into his mouth, down his lungs. He looked up, around, searching for an escape, for air, for anything, and saw only the smile of the man standing above him. His mouth was all bright lights and shadows; things partially revealed and totally hidden and Logan knew he wasn't going to die. He knew something much worse was going to happen to him.

"Help me...please!" Hamilton's broken voice. He would never have said that then, he would never have sounded like that. And when Logan thought that, the water around him fell away and his vision turned dark again. He shook his head and pulled back a little, opened his eyes and stared at the window he'd been looking through as it came back into view. He leaned against the door, trying to find something in listening to the sobs that started up again.

Nothing. He pushed away from the door and wandered back down the hall, suddenly weary. He thought about going back to the "room" Magneto had given him (in reality a slightly warmer and bigger cell) but dismissed the thought as soon as he got to the hallway. He could smell Mystique and he didn't feel like dealing with her. Killing her, maybe--but Magneto wouldn't like that. He had a soft spot for her. So Logan wandered down hallways instead, thought about walking till he was outside, till all he could smell was fresh air, free of the scent of death and fear. He had a feeling that he knew where he was going and kept going anyway.

He opened the door of the girl's cell--someone had been there after he'd put her inside because there was a key resting on a ledge by the door. There was a bottle of water there and he grabbed that too. She was awake--her head turned towards him as he came inside.

"Professor?" she said. Her voice was a little stronger but more hesitant than before

He almost laughed. Him, a professor? Yeah, that was a good one. Mystique must have really bashed her head. "No."

She sat up a little bit, pushing off the wall. "Where am I?"

He wasn't quite sure what to say, so he settled for the vaguest thing possible. "In a room."

"I thought...I thought I saw the Professor. He came in and asked me some questions and told me to rest..."

He squatted down next to her, resting on his heels. She looked at him and he could see, even in the dim light, that her pupils were enormous, fully dilated. She did have a concussion. "I don't understand why he kept asking me about Magneto," she said. "He knows more about Magneto than I do--why did he keep asking me if anyone had told me where he was? Why did he keep asking me if he'd told me anything?"

Not that bad of a concussion, he realized. Magneto must have sent Mystique in as the Professor person in order to find out how much the Professor knew about Magneto. She moved again and he got a glimpse of her neck, of the dark line of dried blood that ran from her skull to under her shirt collar. It made him remember lines on his own skin and he looked away from her. "Do you want some water?"


"Water. You thirsty?"

She made a noise and he looked back at her. She was looking at her hands. "My gloves," she said. "My gloves. Where are they?"

Now he was starting to get impatient, and he welcomed that. "Do you want water or not?"

"My gloves!" she said. "I have to find them." She started pawing at her legs and it took him a moment to realize what was going on.

She was terrified. It made something twist inside him and it hurt. It hurt so much that it made his skin crawl. It made him feel alive in some strange new way and he didn't think he liked it. But he wasn't quite sure.

"I've got them."

She stopped, looked at him. "You do?"

"Yeah. I'll give them back to you in a little while, ok?" He twisted the top off the bottle and put it on the floor in front of her. "Drink some water."

She picked it up and drank. Her eyes closed as she did and he watched her swallow till he felt his face burn and then he looked away. Again, there was that feeling. "What's your name?" he said quietly, facing her again.

She stopped drinking and when she looked up at him he could see the wet curve of her mouth even in the dark of the room. He knew he didn't like that. "Rogue."


She nodded. "What's yours?"

He hesitated. "Wolverine."

"That's not a name." He smiled when she said that and she must have seen the flash of his teeth because a brief answering flash crossed her face.

"And Rogue is?"

She titled her head a little to the side and then back up, let out a low sound of pain. "My head really hurts. Is the Professor coming back?"

He leaned forward a little then, and a lock of her hair brushed against his hand. "No," he said, speaking far more gently than he ever thought he could. "He isn't."

"Am I going to die?"

He pushed back onto his heels fully and looked at her, startled. She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her head. "Never mind," she said. "Thank you for the water." She put the bottle back on the floor.

He looked down then, suddenly, fiercely ashamed. She'd thanked him for the water, for the nothing gesture he'd offered her. He stood up, knocking over the bottle in the process and he watched water spill out, spread over the floor. He felt--actually felt--the pain of her question to him. It reminded him of himself, reminded him of dream-tinted memories of laughing men standing over him as he drowned and looked at marks on his skin.

He felt like he wanted to do something. That was bad. But even worse was knowing the something he wanted to do. He wanted to help her. He wanted to make sure that she didn't suffer. He wanted to save her.

The fear he felt then was the worst he'd felt in years. He left her cell quickly, pulled the door shut behind him so fast that he heard the hinges squeak in protest. They sounded like a thousand tiny screams. He went back to his own room and when Mystique glided down the hallway later that night he let her open his door, found oblivion from himself by being the animal she wanted him to be.

Part 2

 "Wake up, peaches."

Logan rolled over, glad he was alone, and looked up at Toad blearily. Ordinarily, being called "peaches" would have made him, at the very least, extremely annoyed, but he was used to Toad. He still didn't want anyone else to hear him though. He didn't quite get Toad--he seemed like a complete dimwit and Sabretooth's punching bag most of the time, but once in a while he'd say something or do something that didn't seem all that goddamned stupid to Logan. So he was willing to cut Toad some slack. Also, he was tired.

Toad's greenish features assembled themselves into what Logan supposed was a smile. It was hard to tell, given that Toad had his usual assortment of Sabretooth inflicted marks on his face. "It's startin'," he said. "The thing with that mutie they brought in. Got that general you're so keen on up there as well."

Logan got up the second he heard that. Toad made what might have been an appreciative glance in the general direction of his ass but he ignored it. Hamilton was waiting.

When he turned around, pushing his arms through the sleeve of the shirt he'd grabbed, Toad was gone. Logan swore under his breath and headed out the door, tried to guess which way "up there" was. He finally headed right after a faint amphibian smell reached his nose from that direction.

It was a lot easier to find everyone as he got closer. He could smell Mystique--she had a sort of feral flower scent--and Magneto--who smelled like metal, of course, but also of regrets, which Logan had always found interesting--and then Toad and Sabretooth (nothing but dead animal stench on that one, he was about as subtle as a tank).

And then, when he stepped into the room, he smelled two other people. The first was Hamilton, and he was sitting in a chair, giving off a smell of fear so strong that it brought a smile to Logan's face. The other was the girl, Rogue, and there was a sharp, almost bitter odor coming off her and he realized that she was beyond fear. She was just waiting to die.

That feeling--the one he'd had before, thinking about her-- nagged at him but he was able to push it away easily. He'd been waiting fifteen years for this moment and all the big sad eyes in the world weren't going to do anything to stop him. He walked over to Hamilton and leaned in close enough to whisper in his ear. " ready to die?"

Hamilton made a mewling noise and Logan watched his arms strain against the restraints that kept him in the chair. "I'm sure it won't be too painful," he added. "I mean, for me to watch and all. In fact, I'm kind of looking forward to it."

"I...I..." Hamilton was stuttering, terror making him incoherent. "I know about the experiments," he finally said in a rush, the words pushing against each other. "Just don't let them kill me"

Logan leaned in, pressed his mouth close to Hamilton's ear, pushed his knuckles against the side of his throat, let his claws slide out just enough to break the skin. Just enough to make Hamilton bleed, just a little. It was the best moment he'd had in a long, long time. "Talk."

And then Rogue screamed. Screamed like nobody Logan had ever heard, except in his own dreams. She screamed like she was dying too slowly for anyone to bear. Hamilton's focus had shifted--Logan could tell, could feel the tendons in the man's neck moving away from his hand and he turned to look.

Magneto had taken her up to the top of the big steel globe that dominated the room, was pressing his hands to the sides of her face. It looked, oddly enough, like he was trying to bless her. She yanked back, away from his hands. "Stop!" she cried. "They'll find me, you know they will, why are you doing this?" And Magneto chuckled and patted, actually fucking patted her on the head like she was a dog. " Don't you live in a school? Haven't you seen the lights outside your window? The Aurora Borealis, my dear. It's beautiful to see, isn't it? And it also creates disturbances in the atmosphere. The kind of disturbances that make tracking someone using telepathy very difficult." He placed his hands back on the sides of her face. "And you know why I'm doing this, don't you?"

She started screaming again and Logan turned back to face Hamilton. His gaze swept across Mystique as he moved and he saw the smile that stretched across her face. Toad was standing beside her and his head was tilted a little to the side, as if he'd never seen anyone in pain before.

Logan looked back at Rogue. Her eyes were open wide and she was staring, sightless, at Magneto in front of her. He had a moment--a strange, terrifying moment--in which he could see himself running forward, grabbing her away from Magneto and running. Running as far and as fast as he could, running till those eyes of hers focused again. He shook his head once, hard, and turned away.

She kept screaming, even when he leaned back in towards Hamilton, even as he said, "Talk, and I'll let you live."

Silence fell and it was total, absolute. Logan looked again, saw that she had been placed against two posts that rose out of the globe, her hands splayed over their tops. Magneto was leaning back, his head bowed and Mystique ran towards him. Then light, as intense and as strong as sunlight, pooled under Rogue's hands, spread outward. She tried to straighten up and then fell forward. Her eyes opened and looked down, right to where Logan was standing. He heard the hitch of his breathing as it shifted, felt the skin around his fingers rip open as his claws came out. The light got brighter and stronger and it filled the whole room, and Logan turned back to Hamilton just in time to see him scream and then fall forward in the chair that held him, his eyes rolling back up into his skull.

He turned around again, watched the light as it faded backwards, rushing towards the girl that stood slumped forward, her hands twitching on the metal she was attached to. Magneto was standing up--Mystique was by his side, her arm around him, supporting him--and he was smiling. He cast a quick look at Hamilton and then turned to Mystique, bent his head towards her and whispered something.

The light died and Rogue twitched, fell forward on to the floor. There was a soft but unmistakable sound, the sound of flesh ripping as it tore.

That's when Logan knew. Knew that he was as much of a pawn as Rogue was. That Hamilton was there for a lot of reasons, but to provide answers for him was not one of them. Was never one of them. Magneto climbed down from the globe, Mystique watching him with veiled eyes. Rogue lay motionless where she fell. Again, he had a moment--saw himself going to her, picking her up, and walking out of the globe, out of the room, out of Magneto's world. Saw himself doing something that might make him feel almost alive again.

And he didn't push the thought away. Instead, he watched as Toad went and pulled Rogue free, threw her over his shoulder and started back down the hall. He watched them walk away, watched the way her hair trailed onto the floor. Saw that there was a white streak in it, a long curl of pallid, death-colored hair. He felt along Hamilton's neck then, felt the erratic beat of a pulse. He waited to feel encouraged. He waited to feel something.

He didn't feel much of anything.

In the end, he went and walked the halls of Magneto's world, wandered up and down corridors. He did it, his mind full of vague ideas that he knew he wouldn't ever follow through.

He still looked for exits.


He went to see Rogue later. He took food, told himself that he would have done it for anyone. He knew he was lying and still went to her cell anyway.

She was lying on the floor, curled up into a ball. She twitched when he opened the door, but that was it.

"Hey," he said. He placed the food on the floor. " need to eat something."

She lifted her head up and opened her eyes slowly, moved her legs down from where they were resting tucked into her stomach. "I know you. Wolverine. Got...claws." Her eyes fluttered closed.

"Logan," he said, and her eyes opened again. "My name is Logan."

"No one knew that," she said and surprise was evident in her voice. "I didn't know that, and he," her voice dropped to a whisper, "he didn't know that either. He wants to know why you're telling me."

"Who wants to know?" He looked down at the floor. She sounded like she'd suffered some sort of brain damage or something. He thought, again, of the streak of white in her hair, of how it shone so starkly, like the whiteness of bones. Of death.

"Magneto. He 's in my head. He put himself there. He thought I would die this time, but he's glad I didn't. He's got lots to do," she sing-songed the last part and then said it again, pushing the words into some sort of upper-tempo cadence. "Lots to do. And I can do the work for him. He's so happy!"

Christ, he thought, and rubbed his hands down the legs of his jeans. She absorbed, just like Mystique said. Magneto took her because she could absorb his energy, his powers. She could kill herself doing what he wanted to do. And she got him--his memories, his plans, all kinds of shit like that--too. "Fuck," he muttered.

She shook her head so hard that he heard a thud as it landed against the wall of her cell. "That voice," she whispered. "Oh god, why won't it stop? I can't hear anything." She leaned forward suddenly, her hands sliding across the floor towards him. "I can't hear myself!"

He could see lines around her wrists. Red, purple, blue, green--colors of blood and bruises. A map of what had been done to her, a reminder of what was to come.

"Tell him," he said. "Tell him to shut up. Tell him that if he doesn't, you'll bash your head against the wall till he does."

She inhaled, a sharp sound that cut through the room. "What?"

"Tell him. He doesn't want you dead, I don't think. Remind him that he's got a plan and that it won't work if you're dead."

She moved her hands back and sucked her bottom lip into her mouth. He looked away from her, suddenly afraid. She didn't speak for a long moment. "I think....I think it worked." she finally said. "He just sort of got quiet."

"Good," he told her and was surprised to find out that he meant it. He pushed the plate of food towards her. "Eat, ok?"

She looked up at him and gratitude shone from her eyes. He wanted to wipe the look off her face. But more than that he wanted to beg her to tell him how to keep it there forever.

He left, looking back at her as he did. The white streak in her hair gleamed at him as he closed the door to her cell. He walked down the hallway, headed towards where he thought Hamilton might be. Answers, he reminded himself. Answers.

Hamilton's cell was open and he knew what had happened as soon as he saw the door resting back against the wall. He looked inside anyway; saw what was left of Hamilton in a pile on the floor. His skin looked like it had been turned inside out and the stench was unbearable. That's what was left of his answers. And it was fucking unnecessary, that death, because Hamilton would have talked, was going to talk. He just didn't get a chance.

Logan walked down to the end of the hall, pressed his fists against the wall, let the red rage that clouded his vision clear, just a little. His answers--his goddamn answers--gone. He exhaled, so sharply that it sounded almost like a whistle. He pushed himself up, inhaled and let his mind seek out the scent of metal.

He found it, and walked off down the hall.


Magneto was in one of the cavernous rooms that he liked to sit in--it had a view of the lights he was so fond of, and of the ocean, which butted up next to the walls of his fortress. He'd chosen a good location, Logan had to give him that.

Of course, Magneto was waiting for him. "Ah," he said and there wasn't surprise in his voice, rather a kind of pleasure. "Wolverine. Found the general, did you? A shame, that. And Mystique missed seeing it--she's gone off to play at being Hamilton for a while. I think that might work out well for us. I'll have Sabretooth take care of the body unless you'd rather do the honors?"

"No. What happened?"

Magneto shrugged. "The device that was used today emits radiation. It doesn't affect mutants, but it changes human genetic structure, forces mutation. It was supposed to turn the general into one of us. What better way to make our voices heard than to make those in power our brothers?"

"I don't give a fuck about that. I wanted to know what the government did to me." Logan could hear his claws come out and a familiar rage slipped over him. He'd been there--ready to kill, ready to act--many times before. He didn't know much about his past, but he knew that.

Magneto smiled then and his hands flexed a little by his sides. Instantly Logan felt his claws begin to shudder and shake. It hurt, hurt bad--it made his hands white-hot with agony--but he continued to stand there. "As I was saying," Magneto continued. "What better way to make our voice heard? Next time--" he caught Logan's gaze with his own, "Oh yes, there will be a next time. Did you think that only one man guided the military, guided its projects and plans? Do you know nothing of governments?" He shook his head slightly. "I suppose not. But there are always more men, Wolverine. Always. Next time, it will work. And then you can ask all the questions you'd like."

"Why would it work? Hamilton's about as dead as they come."

"The girl. She had too much power this time. Did you see what happened to her hair, by the way? Quite extraordinary. We just have to reduce her power--and well, today did that. Less strength means less power, which means that those frail human bodies will stand a better chance of surviving the radiation. Today was just an experiment, nothing more."

He left. He could have killed Magneto, or at least tried to, could have leapt over the desk and sunk his claws into Magneto's throat so far that they would have emerged out of the other side of his neck. He wanted to. It would have been easy. It was something the Wolverine would do. It was something that Magneto probably expected him to try.

He wanted to. But he didn't. He thought about the way he'd pictured himself earlier, the way he'd thought, just briefly, about saving Rogue. Setting her free. He thought about how maybe he could be different. And then he remembered what he had lost, and what he could gain if he stayed just a while longer.

He left, went back to the grim little room that was his and thought about the only thing he'd wanted through the limited amount of time that was his to remember. Answers -- about his past, about who he'd been once, about how he came to be what he was. He thought about those answers and how badly he wanted them. And then he thought of a girl with dying eyes, thought of how looking at her made him imagine that maybe there was more to him than what the government had made.

He got up. He didn't question it, just got dressed and went out into the hallway. He walked towards her, and every step felt right. Felt good, in a way he hadn't felt in years or maybe ever.

He turned down the hallway that led to her room. It was the smell that reached him first. A wet, mossy, moldy sort of smell. "Toad."

A giggle, and Toad emerged from the shadows in front of him. "Wolverine. What're you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?"

Another giggle. "I'm going to visit someone."

"Oh yeah?"

Toad moved a little closer and the expression on his face was totally at odds with the giggles that Logan had just heard. It was a look of almost pity and it made the hackles on the back of his neck rise. "Look," Toad said and his voice was nearly serious-sounding, which made Logan's hackles rise more. Toad was never serious. "That mutie in there, she's dying. And she's one of the brotherhood and all, right? Ain't that what Magneto says? That we're all brothers?"

Logan nodded.

"So I figure, it's not fair. To let a brother suffer like that. And she'll suffer. He's got grand plans you know, figures that eventually he'll mutate someone human. And all that screaming..." he trailed off. "I can't take it. It's too loud, you know?" And then he giggled again. "So I'm going to give her a little kiss."

Logan heard something emerge from Toad and he jerked his head to the side, watched as a pile of Toad's...slime was the only word he could think of...landed on the wall beside his head. "You're fast," Toad observed, and his expression shifted again, became sly looking. "And you never answered m' question. What're you doing here?" And then his face shifted and he began to laugh. A real laugh, long and deep and so hard that he leaned forward, his hands on his knees. "I know," he wheezed. "You're gonna save her. That it? You're a hero now?" He straightened up and his face dropped into seriousness again. "I can't let you do that, you know. Killing her is one thing, can look accidental like, but letting her leave....he wouldn't like that."

Logan's claws slid out. "Yeah," he said. "I know."


He opened the door to her cell, ran his hands down his arms one last time, making sure that all of the slime was off him. He could still hear Toad's voice, laughing. *You're a hero now?*

She was lying on her side, her hands folded in front of her. "I'll get you out of here," he said and watched as her eyes opened, as she looked at him.

Part 3

"I'll get you out of here."

She looked up at him and even in the dim light he could see that her eyes were shadowed, bruised, her pupils almost lighter than the skin under her eyebrows. She didn't speak for a long moment and he felt his chest clench in fear. He wanted to help her, wanted to see her safe---he remembered so little about his life, about who he was, but he knew that she made him wish to be things that he'd never be.

"How?" she finally said and he heard himself exhale, shakily. He didn't know what to do with her belief, but he still wanted it.

"Trust me," he said.

She didn't laugh, though he felt like she should, like he should, as soon as the words had left his mouth. Trust me, the person who watched you suffer. Trust me, the person that let you bleed. Trust me, because I need you to.

"I do," she said. "I'm just afraid that I'm too weak, that I'm too..."

He knelt down next to her and rested his hand against her hair for a moment. Her face was turned up towards his, the dim light hiding the full extent of the damage that had been done to her. He'd never really believed in souls or redemption or in any of the crap that people tried to sell him over the years. In his opinion, God didn't give a rat's ass for men or mutants, and anyone who claimed to believe in souls or in goodness was a fool. He'd seen inside more hearts than he ever thought possible--that was one of the few things he knew about himself. He'd seen everything that men and mutants had to offer and most of it was nothing worth seeing again.

But Rogue trusted him. Here, now, in this room, inside Magneto's world. After everything. And even knowing the very little that he did about himself--even after all that, her trust still made him feel things that he never thought he'd know. He wasn't sure how much he liked those feelings, but they were there and real and it was something.

"I'll take care of you. I promise." After all, she'd convinced him, made him think that maybe there was something good inside him. Almost, anyway. For moments, just a few shining seconds spread out over a period he wished he'd forgotten already, he'd thought that maybe there was more to him than the wolverine.

She smiled at his words and shifted forward, onto her knees. "I'm ready." Her voice was thin and reedy and he tried not to remember what had made it so broken. Tried not to think about his role in it.

He wanted to say something to her--something, anything. Instead he watched his fingers rest in her hair and listened to her breathe. It was the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. After a moment, he slid his hand down, rested it under her arm and then gently pulled them both upward.

She let out a slight hiss of pain as they both stood and he could feel himself changing, slipping. Falling.

He could feel the reality of their situation, of her, slipping away and suddenly he was back in a time where all he wanted to do was survive. When he didn't care who or what he hurt, when all that mattered was making sure that he lived to take another breath.

He pushed her away, not wanting her near him, and stumbled back against the wall, watched his claws slide out and embed themselves in the metal of the room around them. It hurt. He could feel his flesh straining as the talons embedded in his hands caught fast in the wall. He remembered how easy it was to slide those talons into flesh, how easy it was to hang his hands down, watch blood drip off. He could hear screaming and he wasn't sure if it was him, his memories, or his wishes.

That's what scared him the most.


He pulled his claws free, felt the pain of them tearing loose from the wall all the way up his arms. Shock waves rippled through his flesh, the metal within quivering in reaction. He pressed the heels of his palms against his forehead. Him and his grand plans. How could he save her when he couldn't even think, couldn't go five seconds without his past and who he was looming in front of him, ruining him?

"Logan," Her hand rested against his for a moment and the surprise of that contact was enough to move him. Even covered in his own glorious failures, in the blood of his own memories, even with her power stinging him, her touch called to something inside him. He pushed back, away from her hand. "I'm alright. We've got to hurry."

Her face puckered into a frown and he knew he'd hurt her, that she thought he was afraid of her power, afraid that she'd hurt him. He felt fury rise within him again, howling, screaming, and it would have been so easy to let her go, it would have been so easy to remove himself from the one situation, the one person that made him wish, that made him want to...No, he told himself. Keep your promise to her. You said you'd take care of her.

He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pressing his hands into the fabric of her shirt, keeping his eyes away from her face. If he started trying to apologize now, they'd be dead before he reached a point where he could stop speaking. Instead he pushed the door open and walked out into the hallway, hoping that she didn't look too far into the gloom and see what was left of Toad.

It was cold in the hallway and he knew that she must be freezing. He could hear her breathing behind him and the sound was soothing. He was doing ok. He was keeping his promise. He led her down one corridor, then another, carefully focusing his mind on the map he'd laboriously built through glimpses he'd gotten, conversations he'd overheard. The map he'd managed to construct through the three times he'd wandered the hallways on his own, thinking that he could just leave and go get help, that he'd come back and save her.

He knew himself a little better now, thanks to Magneto, and he couldn't lie to himself anymore. If he'd gotten away before, he wouldn't have gone back for her, would have just vanished and let her become a memory that he was afraid of.

He stopped, letting go of her wrist. Not now, not now, he thought. He couldn't afford to forget what he'd learned about where they were; he couldn't waste time on hating all that he knew. Outside, he could get her to safety; outside, he could get her to some sort of better place, he could get her to someone better than him.

He turned to look at her then and watched her watch him. Don't look at me like that, he wanted to tell her. Don't look at me like I can save you. Don't look at me like I'm some sort of hero. She looked away, glancing back towards the room that held her and he felt his breath catch. He wanted to save her. That was his whole problem. She made him want to play the hero. Who knew he could be so goddamn noble?

"We're almost out," he told her. "It's just a little further."

She looked back at him and for a moment, he thought that she would tell him that she'd take her chances, that she didn't need him. That she really saw him, that she really knew what he was. But instead she smiled at him, her mouth trembling. "Ok."

And so they traveled down corridors and hallways and then they were outside. It was dark and cold and he headed towards the woods, hearing her footsteps behind him.

"Hold on a second," she said and he stopped. She looked back at Magneto's fortress, his world, and he watched her mouth open and close once, then twice. The moon caught the side of her face and he saw the strain etched on her features, the bruises under her skin. The rage he felt then was welcome. It's who he was.

She slid her gloves on, pulling them out of the pockets of her jeans. "Let's go," she said. "I don't want them to..." Her voice cracked.

His rage slid abruptly into fear. "Don't cry," he told her. "I'll keep you safe."

She folded her hand into his and he carefully wrapped his fingers around hers as they walked into the forest.

Part 4

 He inhaled, checking to see if he could smell anyone following them, and got only the scent of snow and woods. That was a good sign. He started walking forward again.

"I'm cold. And it seems like we're walking in circles."

He almost said 'So?' The word hovered on the tip of his tongue and he actually wanted to say it. But he didn't, because he knew who was responsible for the way her teeth were chattering. And he knew where they were going and hadn't told her. He dropped her hand and turned around to face her. "You want my jacket?"

"Yes." At least she didn't act reluctant, like he was half afraid she was going to. He wasn't good at negotiation or convincing or even conversation and although he wanted her to be warmer, he wasn't sure of exactly how he'd get her to wear his coat if she'd had said no. He didn't feel like he could just grab her and stuff her arms inside it.

"You look angry," she said. "Did I...Are we...?"

He took his jacket off then, sliding it down his arms as fast as he could. "Here. Put this on."

"But...uh..." She slid her arms inside his coat, zipped it up, and then shifted from one side to the other.

"Come on. We've got to keep moving."


"What?" God, he was no good at this kind of stuff. What the hell had he been thinking ? What kind of person dragged a beaten girl into the frozen woods, and then asked her to walk for miles, anyway? That thought made him mad, and then he started wondering exactly what kind of girl trusted someone like him, and that made him even angrier. And then he hated himself for his own logic. It was so easy for him to blame everyone and get angry. It was so hard for him to actually do anything, much less something worthwhile.

"Where are we going?"

He turned away from her then. It wasn't about the coat at all. He was such a jackass. She thought that he'd changed his mind and was going to take her back or...who knew what she thought. He ran a hand through his hair, exhaled. "North. Magneto will figure out we're gone real soon and he'll send someone out after us." Sabretooth, to be exact. And while Logan didn't respect Sabretooth's intellectual powers, he did respect the guy's fists.

"Ok," she said. And she leaned towards him, rested her gloved hand on his arm.

He stared down at her for a moment, looked at her pale and bruised face, looked at how pitifully she was protected from the weather. She was wearing sneakers, jeans, and his jacket, which wasn't even much of a jacket. It occurred to him that she might die before he ever got her to safety. The skin at the base of his hands cracked open, just a little bit. He ignored it and started walking again, heard her footsteps behind him as his flesh healed over, closed.


Now what? "Yeah?"

"Where are we?"

"You don't know where we are?"

"How could I?" She sounded almost challenging when she said that, and he smiled.

"Alaska. There's a town near by--Hooper Bay--we'll be there soon." Luckily, he'd been through it. Once. He hoped it was still where he remembered it being.

"I always wanted to go to Alaska." Her voice was wistful. "Not like this, of course, but when I was little..."


"You really wanna hear this?"

He thought about it for a second. Did he? Usually he stopped listening the second anybody tried to tell him personal stuff. What did he care about another person's past when he couldn't even remember his own? But he heard himself say "I do," and was surprised to find that he actually did.

She laughed and it didn't sound much like her. He turned back and looked at her for just a second. "What?"

"Magneto. He thinks that you wanting to hear about me is funny."

"Well, tell him to shut up and start telling me about you and Alaska." He hadn't fully realized all the implications of having her with him till then. It wasn't just her with him. Magneto was there too, inside her mind, and was going to be there for god knows how long. "Wait a second. How long does this absorption thing last? And can Magneto make you do something you don't want to?" God, he really should have thought his half-witted idea out more. What if they'd come this far only to have her signal Magneto or something like that as soon as she got a chance?

"I don't know. A while, I guess. It's real strong at first, but it fades away over time. And it's not like they control me or anything, I just sort of...borrow them for a while. Their memories and powers, if they have them."

"So you've got Magneto's powers?" He knew he sounded skeptical.

"Yeah." He heard the skin around his claws rip open a second before they came out. It startled him, to see the metal emerge as answer to someone else's will, and he turned around and grabbed her shoulders, shook her. "Don't do that again. Ever."

She nodded and her eyes were wide, frantic. "I'm sorry, I really am, I was just..." She sounded terrified.

He dropped his arms away from her as fast as he could and he walked a few feet away, felt his claws slide back into his hands. She'd sounded like she did when Magneto was talking to her--afraid, horrified.

She was afraid of him.

It hurt, that realization. But it was so, so easy to act like he always had. His body was still stiff with rage. He was a piss-poor savior, and he knew it. But he swallowed, forced himself to speak. "You ok? Did I hurt you?"

He could smell her fear as she lied to him. "I'm fine. Really."

He let her lie stand, and they started to walk again.


"So tell me about Alaska." He finally trusted himself enough to speak again. They'd been walking in silence for several hours and he'd finally managed to shove all of his worries away, at least for a while.

"I was born in Mississippi," she said. "And you know, it's always warm and stuff, for the most part. Anyway, when I was about six or so, we had a snowstorm in January, which almost never happens. I still remember waking up and looking out the window. Everything was gone, totally covered, and the sun was hitting the snow and it was so bright...I don't know. I just thought it was pretty. And it was so different. So I started thinking that maybe one day I could go somewhere where it was different like that--cold, lots of snow...and I guess I finally have. It's not...uh..."

He could hear tears in her voice--he could practically smell them getting ready to fall from her eyes--and it made him feel panicked. He said the first thing he could think of. "You still live in Mississippi?"

She took a deep breath. "No. Not for a while. I live in New York now."

"They get snow there."

She laughed and she sounded so delighted and so surprised that Logan stopped. She bumped into him. "Sorry," she muttered.

Don't be, he wanted to say. Do it again. But all he said was, "It's ok," and started walking again.

"They do get snow," she continued. "But it's not like the snow I remember. It's always gray in like an hour or two and it just gets plowed over or piled up and everyone acts like it's a nuisance and nothing more. It's forgettable. I don't know-- it's just not like I want it to be. It's not everywhere."

He looked ahead and saw nothing but woods and snow. "Got your wish then, didn't you?"

"Yeah," she said sadly. "Guess I did."


The town finally came into view mid-morning, just when he'd almost started to worry. Rogue let out a little sigh when she saw the first house and he gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

"Now what?" she asked.

"Now we try to figure a way to get some warmer clothes and a ride to another town."

He looked over at her and almost wished he hadn't. He couldn't believe she'd made it all the way through the forest. "You did good," he muttered.

She smiled and it somehow changed her face, made all the bruises fade back, made them matter less. "Thank you."

"Yeah. Let's get going."

They walked into the town and he tried to figure out how he was going to get her a real coat--and how he was going to get them a ride to another town, a larger town. And then there was food was a lot easier when he only had himself to look out for, that's for sure.

"I've got a credit card," she said. She made it sound like it was a really big deal. Her voice was more animated than he'd ever heard it.

"That's great."

"No, no, you don't understand. We could use it."

"And have Magneto find us in about thirty seconds."

She shook her head. "No. He wouldn't. He doesn't think you're stupid enough to let me do something like that. He thinks you'd rob an orphanage or something like that instead. So he's going to watch for reports of stolen property. Vehicles, especially."

It kind of galled him to know that a). Magneto thought he'd steal from orphanages and that (even worse) b). Magneto knew him well enough to know that he would, if he needed to. He looked over at Rogue again. She had her hands in her jean pockets and started carefully emptying them out. She pulled out a flat piece of leather, along with a few coins and, what looked like, an old movie stub. He watched as she turned the piece of leather in her hands, opening it. He saw what he thought was a driver's license or an id card in a plastic frame. She reached behind it and pulled out a credit card, looked at him and smiled. "Got it."

"Ok," he said. "Let's go be stupid."


They were able to get her a coat in Hooper Bay's grocery store/general store/bait and tackle shop. The whole thing was maybe the size of a very small house, but every inch of the floor and even the walls were packed full of stuff. He could tell Rogue didn't like the green color of the coats they had and that sign of normalcy, of her wanting something prettier or maybe in a different style--he figured that was a good sign.

They also bought a backpack--just one, he figured she didn't need to carry one as well --and a bunch of what were supposed to be energy bars.

"Get the chocolate ones," she told him.

"It won't matter--I've had these before. They all taste like dirt. Every flavor."

"Ok. But get the chocolate ones anyway."

A couple of bottles of water completed their purchases and Logan walked out of the store feeling marginally better about everything. They'd done ok so far. "Let's get a ride."

Ten minutes later, he'd downgraded his assessment of the situation. There wasn't a car to steal, much less get a ride in, in the whole town. Every vehicle they'd passed was either up on cinderblocks in a front yard or on jacks in the back. "We'll have to find a highway of some kind and hope that someone will stop and pick us up," he finally said.

She nodded and finished eating the energy bar he'd given her. "What do we do?"

He looked over at her and let out an exasperated noise. "Pretty much what I just said. First we've got to find something close to a road. Then you'll stand next to it and wait till someone stops. When they do, get in the car and tell them you're going where they're headed."

"And you? Where are you going to be?" Her voice had gone curiously flat and high-pitched and the smell of fear was suddenly rolling off her in waves. It perplexed him.

"Waiting. People'll stop for a single woman more than they will for a couple. Once they stop and you start to get in, I'll show up."

"Oh, ok." The smell disappeared abruptly and he looked at her, curiously. Then it hit him. She was afraid he was going to leave her. It made something inside him go almost frighteningly soft.

"Don't worry," he told her. "You're stuck with me for a while, Rogue."

"Marie," she said, and the smile on her face was bright enough to make him wish that he was half as wonderful as she seemed to think he was. "My name is Marie."


They finally found what appeared to be a highway after another hour of looking. The time they'd spent in town was starting to worry him. He was sure Magneto had found Toad and discovered that they were gone by that point, and he had no desire to be found. Sabretooth would have assumed that they'd wander around the forest, heading east towards Anchorage, but that wouldn't buy them much time at all because Magneto would figure out what was going on soon. Despite what she'd told him, Logan wasn't so sure that Magneto thought he was stupid enough to drag himself and a girl through a forest in the middle of winter. But maybe that was ego.

He told Rogue--Marie--when was the last time he'd called someone by their real name, anyway?--to let her hair fall forward so it would cover her face (and all the bruises she had on it) a little. She asked him where he was going to be about a million times and he ground his teeth together, reassured her every time. There was actually something about it that got to him--someone wanted him around and not because of what he could do with his claws--but he still found it fairly irritating.

"Just stand there, stick your thumb out, and hope that someone stops, alright? Cause if this doesn't work I don't know what we're going to do. I'll be right over here, by this tree, like I've said, oh, about a million times now."

She nodded then, ducking her head down. "Don't be such an asshole," she muttered.


"You heard me," she said and a smile flashed across her face, briefly. It was worth putting up with all her crap to see that smile, he thought and then called himself a sentimental loser.

It was still worth it, though.

A car finally stopped after about forty-five minutes and she walked towards it. He waited till she'd started to get inside and then walked out from behind the tree, heading for the car. He went towards the side that faced the road, opened the back door and slid into the seat. The driver was still looking out the other side, talking to Marie. She was leaning into the open door, one foot on the floor by the passenger seat, like she was just waiting to be convinced.

"Where're you headed?" the driver asked her.

"Where're you going?"


"Me too!"

The driver smiled as soon as she said that, his face creasing into a network of lines and wrinkles. Logan figured he was about fifty or so. "Well, looks like I'll have some company for the next couple of hours then, won't I? Hop on in, sit down. What's your name?"

Logan watched as she smiled at the man, sat down in the car. "Thanks. I'm Rogue." They pulled onto the highway.

"I'm Harold," the driver said. "Who's your friend in the back?"

"Oh." She sounded slightly taken aback. Logan realized that she thought that maybe she'd get to pull a fast one on the driver and that he'd be a surprise she could reveal. He looked down at the floor to hide his grin. "That's Logan."

"Hey there," Harold said, looking in the rearview mirror. "You always make the girl wait by the road while you stand back by the trees?"

"Pretty much."

Harold laughed, his face creasing ever more. "All right then." He turned on the radio and started humming along. He seemed to be pretty tone-deaf, as far as Logan could tell. But that was all right--he knew he'd heard things a lot worse than some guy humming off-key (and loud) enough to wake the dead. They'd gotten supplies, and a ride, and that was pretty damned good. He pulled a cigar out of his jacket pocket and bit the tip off, thought about tossing it on the floor. He figured that someone who'd recently decided that he was going to start saving people shouldn't do stuff like that. He threw the tip out the window instead.

He lit the cigar, inhaled, and let out a sigh. In front of him, Rogue--Marie, he reminded himself-- let out a little cough. "You ok?" he asked her.

"Fine. It's just...smoky. You know?" She turned around and gave him a look--a more than slightly aggravated look. "Maybe you should have asked before you started smoking," she whispered.

He shrugged. "Maybe."

"A man of taste," Harold said. "always smokes cigars, my dear. That's what my father always said, and my father was a wise man. So don't you worry about the smoke, Rogue." Rogue gave him one last look, her face turning bright red, and turned around. Harold continued, "Logan, right? You wouldn't happen to have another one, would you?"

"Yeah, it's Logan. And sure." He fished another cigar out of his pocket and passed it up front.

Harold bit off the tip, rolled down his window a little bit, and spit it out. The car wobbled when he did that, crossing the center line and then heading back onto the right side again. Logan smiled. Anyone who liked cigars that much had to be ok.

Marie turned around again. She looked a little worried till her gaze met his. She saw his smile and he watched as her face softened, as an answering smile curved her mouth. He realized she had a beautiful smile, a beautiful mouth

He realized what he'd just thought and sat up straighter, turned away from her and looked out the window. She turned back after a moment; he heard the rustle of her clothes as she moved, heard the artificial brightness of her tone as she started talking to Harold, and he stared at the passing scenery till his vision blurred.

Part 5

They got to Anvik after dark--Harold drove into town, pulled over to the side of the road by a bright blue house. "Here we are."

Logan got out of the car, happy for the chance to finally stretch his legs. They'd stopped once the whole time, just to get gas. He was grateful for that--the more miles between them and Magneto, the better.

"Thanks again for the ride," Marie said. "We really appreciate it."

"No problem, it was nice to meet you. Good luck to both of you--and Logan, thanks again for the cigar." Harold rolled the window up and headed back onto the road, away from the town.

Logan watched him leave, thought about where he and Marie could stay. He'd thought the town would be small--most towns in Alaska were, but it was not a good sign that he couldn't see any lights at all, other than the light from the stars and a few faint lights from a series of scattered houses.

"Wait a minute," she said, interrupting his thoughts. "He got back on the highway. He didn't stop here--he said this was where he was going!"


"So he just didn't want to take us any farther? Is that it? He just picked the nearest town or something." She kicked at the ground. "I thought he was nice." Her voice was wistful, disappointed.

Logan grunted. Maybe Harold had seen the bruises on Marie's face and figured she was in trouble. Maybe he'd guessed that he and Marie were in trouble. Maybe Harold wanted to help them out a little or something like that. Maybe Logan knew he'd have never done anything like that himself. He looked over at Marie and amended his thought. Never had done anything like that--before.

She sighed.

He waited for the questions to start. He'd never met anyone who didn't have a million of them and he could tell she was upset by what she thought Harold had done, would want some sort of reassurance.

She didn't say anything.

He looked around again, squinting into the distance. No patches of bright light anywhere, which meant no bar, nothing . That wasn't good. He'd have killed for a beer and finding some place to stay would have been easier in a larger town. He was sure she'd say something, maybe ask what they were going to do or what his plan was. It would irritate the crap out of him. He hated it when people asked him questions he didn't have answers to--it reminded him of all the questions he had no answers for about himself.

She still didn't say anything.

He finally looked over at her. She was sitting on the ground, eating one of those cardboard tasting energy bars. "What are you doing?"

She looked up at him. "Eating. I'm hungry. What are you doing?"

"Looking around."

"See anything?"

"Not much."

"Yeah. That sign we passed on the way in said that the town was up to eighty-eight residents. Up to? I think there were eighty-eight people living on my dorm floor. I didn't know we could classify that as a town."

He shifted a little bit, almost startled by how calm she was. Almost, he told himself. "Dorm?"

She shrugged, put the wrapper in her coat pocket. "At school."

"Right." He didn't have anything else to add to that line of conversation. Schools, most definitely, held no interest for him. "So you think we can find a place to stay?"

She looked up at him and smiled. There was a smear of chocolate by the corner of her mouth. "I trust you."

"Oh," he said and turned away. He was glad it was dark.

He didn't think he'd ever blushed before.


They took a quick look around town anyway, even though Logan figured there wouldn't be much point in doing so. Anvik seemed to consist of a few sections of houses separated by roads that looked like they'd last been paved about forty years ago. She stumbled in one of the larger potholes and let out a muffled "Umph!" He went over to see if she was ok, and while she was telling him that she was fine, he noticed the sign.

It was tiny, hand-painted, and nailed to a telephone pole. He could barely make out the words, but he was pretty sure they were 'Campground, 2 miles.'

"Let's go," he told her. "I think I might have found something."

They walked down the road, for what Logan guessed was two miles, and didn't find anything. He let out an exasperated breath and looked over at her. She was staring at the trees that were standing where the campground should have. He wasn't sure what to do at that point--try to find a house with a shed behind it, maybe. He'd certainly slept in worse places.

"You know," she said, "maybe they meant two miles in the other direction."

He felt his face heat up again and cursed. Twice in one night? He knew this saving people thing was a bad idea. "I was just thinking that" he lied. "But I suppose you can take credit for the idea, if you want."

She smiled--he could see the flash of her teeth, just barely. "Right. Thanks."


"This is it?"

He was thinking the same thing, but he didn't say it. "Yeah. This is it."

"Oh. It looks closed."

"Probably is. Tourist season doesn't start till May or so." Not that the place looked like it ever got much business at all, as far as he could tell. The campground, such as it was, was a series of about ten tiny wood buildings with a larger one in the center.

There wasn't even a fence around it, which he figured could be either a good sign or a very bad sign. He didn't mention that to her though. "Come on."

She nodded and he felt her hand brush along his arm. Her night vision was a lot worse than his--in part because of his mutation, and in part, he was afraid, because her eyes were starting to swell up from the bruises. She rested her hand in his and they walked over to the buildings.

The lack of fence was a bad sign, he decided. A very bad sign. The buildings actually looked abandoned, but at least they hadn't totally fallen apart. He figured they might as well try the largest building first, since it was the closest.

He heard her teeth chatter. "You cold?" He figured the heavier jacket they'd bought her, and the time spent inside a relatively warm car, would have helped her recover from all those hours of walking through the woods. But maybe he'd thought wrong.

"No-o-o-o," she said slowly, each letter punctuated by the sound of her teeth clicking together. "It's just that...I don't know. It doesn't even look like that--room--in Magneto's...but still. I just sort of realized that he's, um, out there."

They were at the building and he looked at the door. At least it was locked, which, all things considered, could be a good sign. "Is he talking to you?" He looked back at her, briefly. Her teeth were still chattering as she nodded.

"Well, put him to use." he told her. "See what you can do to the lock."

"But you could just..." she started. And then he saw the flash of her teeth again. "Keep him busy, right?"

"Yeah. Something like that."

She moved forward, stood beside him, and put her gloved hand on the lock. She started to bend the lock--the air around him felt charged somehow and he could almost hear the metal embedded inside him vibrate in response to whatever it was she was doing.

"Got it," she said, and held up the lock. She'd turned it into some sort of blobby-shaped object--he couldn't see exactly what it was. Rogue turned towards him and he was close enough to see that the gleam in her eyes wasn't hers at all, and then she pressed the object into his hands.

He looked down, traced his fingers over the metal. It was round--and something was on it--words. He followed the outline of them with his finger and then cursed. Wolverine. U. S. Army. He reached up towards his neck automatically, checking to make sure his tags were still there, resting against his skin.

"What is it?" her voice was silky soft and he heard a whisper of amusement. "Don't you already have that answer? Too bad it might be the only one you ever get, yes?"

He dropped the metal and grabbed her wrists. "You," he said to her, "can go to hell. Marie, can you hear me?"

She jerked her hands away from his. "I hear you." And then, after a moment, in her own voice, "I'm sorry. He's just really mad about you leaving with me--he's upset that Cha--I mean Xav..." She broke off and took a deep breath. "Uh--I just--you know it wasn't me that did that, right?"

He pushed the door open and went inside. "Yeah. I know."

He knew it. It still didn't make it better. Or easier.


Once they got inside he told her to wait while he went and looked around. She said "Ok" and he was sure he'd heard the relief in his voice when he said "Good." He knew that she couldn't help what had happened to her, couldn't help having Magneto stuck inside her head, but it still bothered him. Logan wondered how much she knew about him and knew that he would never ask her. He didn't want to know that she knew exactly what he'd been doing at Magneto's and what a willing participant he'd been.

The building was mostly empty, but he found some old blankets in one room and grabbed them. It looked like whatever furniture had been there before was gone--probably sold or chopped up for firewood. He also found what had probably been a kitchen--the wood floor had linoleum over it, and he could see faint outlines on the floor where appliances had once been. There was a bathroom as well. It was tiny and cold--the window in it wasn't sealed properly; he could see faint edges of sky around the edges and he wondered if the campground had ever been opened or if it had been built and then abandoned for some reason. Next to the bathroom was what had probably once been a maintenance room. There was a toolbox sitting on the floor--empty, of course, and all that was left was the water heater. It was rusted and had a dent in one side but the pilot light under it sputtered when he held a match to it and Logan let out a low whistle. The owners had probably gone broke having gas lines put out to the place.

He finally ran out of rooms to wander through and went back to her. She was lying on the floor, her head resting on the backpack.


She sat up and he saw Marie rub her face with her hands, gloved fingers sliding under her eyes. She'd been crying. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, hoped that she was done. He didn't know what he'd do if she cried. Run away? Hold her? Both options made him feel ashamed and nervous at the same time. "I'm fine."

He didn't say anything to that, just sat down on the floor near her and pushed the blankets towards her. "Found these."

She shuffled her feet across the floor a little bit. "Is there uh, know?"


"A bathroom." She sounded so embarrassed that he laughed.

"It's in the back--just take a right and go down the hall."

She got up and walked off and he grabbed the backpack and fished out a couple of energy bars, still smiling.


She came back after a few minutes and he could smell hesitation on her. "What is it?"

She sat down and started fingering the blankets. "There's a shower in there."

"Yeah. There's also an unsealed window in there. What about it?"

"Is there water?"

He sat up a little straighter and finished the energy bar he was eating. "Why?" All he could see was the outline of her hands resting on the edge of the blankets, her fingers tracing circles.

"I want to take a shower."

"No way. The water, if there is any, is probably freezing. And you're already cold enough."

Her fingers kept moving over the blankets and he fought down the urge to grab her hands and keep her still. Her movements made him nervous for some reason. Her whole attitude was making him nervous. She smelled different--afraid, somehow.

"I..." her voice broke. "I just really want to take a shower, ok? Please."

"I said no."

She stood up then, so abruptly that he heard the sound, the swift shift in the air around her. "Look," she said, walking over to the far edge of the room. "It's not that I'm not grateful for what you did. I am, ok? It's just that I...I can still smell that place on me, and every time I inhale all I smell is metal, and it's making me..."

"Stop--just stop ok? I mean--" Oh hell, he thought. He was no good at this. "It's ok. You can take a shower," He thought of her wrists, of how he'd seen them, of how her skin had been covered with dried blood and bruises. He thought of the noise her palms made when she'd fallen away from the machine. He knew he didn't want to hear anything else, didn't want to think about what had happened to her, what he'd watched happen to her. "Let me go see if I can light the water heater."

"Thank you."

He shook his head and went down the hall. He burned his finger lighting the pilot light under the water heater. When he went back and told her to go ahead she brushed by him and he caught the smell of relief. He sat on the floor and ate another energy bar carefully; listened to the water run and wondered why he cared about how she felt.


The water stopped running after a while but she didn't come out of the bathroom. He waited for a few minutes, figuring that she was doing some sort of complicated female thing. But she still didn't appear and he finally started to worry. He got up, figured he could blow out the pilot light and then knock on the bathroom door to make sure she was ok.



"You ok?"

The door opened and he swallowed. She'd gotten dressed again but her hands were bare. Faint light, star light, was seeping around and through the bathroom window and she looked cold and lost. It reminded him of how she looked when he'd stood in front of her and told her that he'd take care of her.

He'd promised that he'd take care of her. "You ok?" he asked again.

She was looking down at her hands. "I just stood there," she said. "Under the shower, for the longest time, and I couldn't figure out why my hands weren't getting clean. And then I realized that it wasn't dirt on them, it was blood." She turned her hands over, her palms facing up.

"Damn." Her palms were dark colored, the flesh around them infinitely lighter. She'd torn all the skin off her palms and he wondered how she'd managed to walk for all those hours with her hand wrapped in his. It must have hurt like hell. And below her hands he could see her wrists, just faintly, the tops of them showing around the edges of her shirt cuffs. They too were lined, dark with dried blood.

"I washed out my gloves," she continued. "I hope they'll dry. I'm sorry I don't have another pair but I was just walking into town when I...when Jean came up to me and asked if I wanted a ride back to school."


"Someone I know. But it wasn't her. It was Mystique, I guess. That's what Magneto calls her, anyway. He knows about her and..." She trailed off.

He was still looking at her hands. He wondered how long it would take till they got infected. It wasn't even a question of whether they would or not, at that point. "You know about my mutation?"


"My mutation. Has Magneto said anything about it?"

"No. I know you have the claws though. Is that what you mean?"

"No." He lifted his own hands up a little, hesitating. Did he really want to do this? He looked up, away from her hands.

Her eyes were wide and dark and he could see the pale curve of her cheek. She looked a little like a ghost to him, somehow. He thought of the terror in her voice when Magneto spoke to her, telling her that she already knew what he was doing. He thought of the look in her eyes when they got to the edge of the woods, of the way she'd looked back to where they'd come from.

He remembered her saying, "I trust you," and the way those words made him feel.

He put his hands on top of hers, his fingers resting on her palms.

She let out a choked noise, her hands automatically coming up to push him away. He tried to say something, but couldn't.

He'd been hurt before. He healed fast--it was his mutation, he'd always figured that it was what made him so attractive to the government. He was probably the only person alive who could have survived what they'd done to him. He'd lived through having metal implanted all over his body. He'd woken up from that in more pain than he ever thought possible. He sometimes thought he'd imagined how bad that pain was.

He hadn't. Touching her reminded him of the truth of that pain because that's what touching her was like. It was just like memory, it was that excruciating. It felt like everything inside him had been rubbed with a red-hot iron. Every muscle, every nerve, every part of his body felt like it had been twisted, pulled apart. He would have screamed if he'd been able to.

And then it stopped. The burning in his fingers numbed and that feeling raced up his arms, through his body. He thought he heard someone saying "Ohgodohgodohgodohgod" but wasn't sure because it was as if someone had stuffed his ears with cotton. He looked down at the floor and it seemed much closer than it had before. Almost at eye level, in fact.

"Logan?" Something wet and very cold brushed across his face and he moved away from it, instinctively. "Logan?" Something brushed against him again and he looked up.

Marie's wide eyes met his. "Are you all right?"


He watched as her face came into focus. She was biting her lip. The wet and cold thing brushed against him again and he pushed it away. She let out a little noise of protest.

That made him sit up. "What?"

"Nothing. It was just a towel."

He looked down at her hands. She was rubbing one wrist--a towel covered wrist-- with her other hand. "Did I hurt your hand?"

"No." She shook her head and moved the towel away. "It's better. You did it." He started to reach for her hand and very quickly stopped that thought. "Let me see."

She raised her hands up towards him, palms up. The dark centers were gone and all he could see was the pale tint of her skin. "That's what your mutation is," she said. "Healing. Why did you do it? You know what my skin can do."

He shook his head, trying to clear it. It felt like his brain had swollen to twice its normal size and his head ached. "I don't know. You're the one that absorbs people, so why don't you tell me why?"

"You shouldn't feel guilty," she told him. "You saved my life. You don't owe me anything even though you seem to think that you do."

He looked up at her. Shit, he thought. She'd absorbed something of him. To hear his own thoughts, in her voice--it was too much. He stood up and his legs threatened to buckle. He ignored them and walked away from her, went back out into the other room.

She came out after a while. He heard her gather the blankets up, practically felt her look over to where he was standing. He was pretending to gaze out one of the front windows. "What?"

She let out a little sigh. "I don't mean for it to happen, you know."

He turned around and looked over to where she was standing. "I know."

She wrapped a blanket around herself, then sat down on the floor. "You weren't going to tell me how cold it can get at night, were you? I wonder if my hair will freeze."

He started walking towards her, then stopped. "It's not a lot of fun to hear my own thoughts coming out of your mouth."


He started walking again, sat down next to her. He gave her another two blankets and kept two for himself. He lay down next to her--not too close, but probably not far enough away. He wondered if she knew what he was thinking and figured she probably didn't. He didn't even know what he was thinking.



"You know those X-Men that Magneto's always talking about?"

"Yeah." He gritted his teeth together.

"Maybe they could help you. Find out about your past, I mean."

"How much did you see? About me?" He tried not to sound angry. He was pretty sure he failed.

She sat up. He could see the outline of her, vaguely, through all the blankets she was wrapped in. "Is that...?" She shook her head--he could see the blanket move back and forth. "All I got from you were just flashes--that's all. I swear. Magneto is the one who told me about the X-Men. He knows that you got bored with all his talk about them."

He didn't say anything. He was wondering exactly how much Magneto knew about him. The guy certainly had his own secrets, that was for sure.

"Pro...I mean Xavier--he's the leader of the X-Men--he could maybe help you." she said. "He's helped a lot of mutants."

That explained where the x in X-men came from, he thought. "You know this guy or something?"

There was silence for a moment. "Maybe."

Now it was his turn to sit up. "Are you an X-Man or whatever they call themselves?" Christ, if she was, Magneto would never let up. He was obsessed when it came to them.


He laid back down on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. After a while, he heard the floorboards creak as she moved closer to him. He let out a sigh and rolled over in her direction. "You cold?"

"A little."

He reached out and pulled her blankets toward him, the curve of her head resting close to his shoulder. The blanket had slipped down a little and he could see the line of her scalp. "I don't remember much about who I was. Before the government, I mean. Magneto said he could help me find answers."

"Who you were? Is that what--I saw you sitting in the snow somewhere. You didn't know where you were."

He swallowed. "Yeah. That's the first thing I remember. The claws--all the metal--the government put it there."

"Oh." And then, after a moment. "Does it hurt? When they come out, I mean?"

"Every time."

He heard the rustle of her blankets shifting and then she rolled over, looked at him. "That guy that was there--the one I--"she paused, "mutated--he knew what happened to you, didn't he?"



"He died. His body couldn't handle the mutation."

"But Magneto was going to bring in more government officials. That first one, he was just a test." He heard her inhale. "You knew that? That there'd be more chances for you to find out what you want to know?"

He closed his eyes. He didn't want to talk anymore. He didn't want to examine his motives for helping her, didn't want to think about why he left, just wanted to believe that he'd done it because of some -- maybe misguided -- notion that the girl in front of him needed saving.

After a moment, he heard her roll back over, away from him. He inhaled. She smelled like sleep and some other elusive scent he couldn't quite place. He moved a little closer to her, listened to the sound of her breathing, deep and even.


He didn't remember falling asleep but he remembered the dream starting. He was outside Magneto's fortress, standing in the snow, and Marie was walking towards him. She smiled and the ground beneath him shifted, melted. He opened his eyes and saw water around him, felt the burning pressure of it working its way into his lungs. He could see Hamilton hovering over him, just out of reach and he strained forward, searching for answers. And then he saw his own arm; saw the marks on it, long black lines showing where metal rested inside him. The red-hot pressure in his lungs spread upward and filled his vision and he was drowning..."Logan!" A hand grabbed his shoulder, shook him and he tried to push it away. "Logan, wake up--it's just a dream."

He woke up abruptly, gasping. His claws shot out right away and he heard a shriek, then a thump.

Oh shit, he thought. Oh shit. What had he done? "Marie?" He pushed the blankets off and reached out across the floor, towards the shape of what he thought was her. If he'd been the kind of man who believed in prayer he would have been offering them up then. But he wasn't that kind of man and so he just hoped he hadn't hurt her.

"Hold on a minute," she said. "I'm all tangled up in this blanket."

He heard movement and then her head emerged from the pile on the floor. "Marie?" he said again and reached towards her. He pulled back away almost immediately, the sight of his still bared claws reminding him that he could have really hurt her.

"I'm fine," she said softly. "I was just startled, that's all. And when I rolled over--well, this room isn't that big and the wall isn't that far away. The walls feel pretty sturdy, in case you were worried about them falling down or anything. Are you ok?"

"Shit." He let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. She was fine. She'd asked if he was ok. "Shit."

"Logan," she said again and that's when he realized that she was the voice he'd heard at the end of the dream.

He got up in a rush, the blankets falling around his feet. He left her sitting on the floor behind him, and went outside.

The Northern Lights were brighter than usual that night and the entire sky was filled with light. He cursed again and rested his hands on his knees, willed himself to stop shaking. He'd finally seen that what he was doing was stupid, really stupid. He could have killed the person he was trying to save, would have done it without meaning to--but still would have done it. It was just luck that kept him from doing so. "Shit." he said again.

He heard the creak of the door opening behind him. Go away, he thought. Just go away. He didn't want to even try to talk to anyone, much less her, right now.

He heard her footsteps stop next to him. She didn't touch him and it made him miserable that he wanted her to, that he wanted her gloved hand resting on his arm, wanted her voice to tell him that it was ok, that she forgave him.

She didn't say anything and he eventually stopped shaking. He stood back up and glanced at the bright sky again, wondered if he should say something to her.

"It's beautiful," she said. "I've seen it in pictures before. But's beyond words. I wish I had a camera."

He looked over at her. She was staring up at the sky--he could see the line of her profile peeking out from the blankets she'd wrapped around herself like a shawl.

"I'm fine you know," she said. "I'm mostly just embarrassed that I rolled right into the wall."

He looked back up at the sky and blinked hard, tried to make the stars focus. "You're really ok?"

Her hand touched his arm then, her fingers--her bare fingers--resting on his sleeve. "If it wasn't for you--for what you did for me, for how you got me away from Magneto--I wouldn't be able to see the sky like this. I wouldn't be here. I just want you to know that I know that and that I don't think I can ever thank you enough."


They went back inside after a few more minutes--he could tell she was starting to get cold. Plus the way she was making him feel was starting to scare the hell out of him. She rearranged all the blankets and he watched her cocoon herself back inside them. "Ok," she said. "I've got myself all covered. Except for my face, but I'll lie away from you so that should be ok. Right?"

"Yeah. It'll be fine." He grabbed the blankets she'd put on the floor for him and lay down, thought about facing away from her and then decided it didn't matter if he lay facing the back of her head. He could handle that. He was going to handle that.

"Goodnight," she said and yawned.

He figured he could allow himself one question. "Why'd you trust me?" He looked at the back of her head as he spoke; looked at the way her hair spilled out over the top of the blanket she'd wrapped herself in. He could see a little of the white streak in her hair and he couldn't even think of a possible answer to his own question. He wasn't sure why he even wanted to know.

"I knew Magneto wanted me dead. I mean, I guessed before, but after know--I knew. So when you came and told me you'd get me out of there--I figured that if you were going to kill me you'd have just done it. So I took a chance. I didn't want to die."

He couldn't say anything to that. He closed his eyes instead, wondered why that answer wasn't enough for him, wondered what answer he wanted to hear. He listened to her breathing, heard the gradual shift as she relaxed, fell into slumber again. He listened to the noises she made, listened to the gentle rise and fall of her breath and finally fell asleep once more himself.

Part 6

Whoever was next to him smelled better than his usual company. That was his first thought. Usually the women he slept with smelled like hangovers and sadness in the morning, and Mystique...she was always gone well before the morning came, which suited them both just fine. But this woman smelled nice, sleepy and relaxed. If he rolled forward just a little, he could put his hand right on the curve of her hip and slide his fingers up. He moved a little closer and knew she was awake. He could smell the change in her, smell sleep falling away and something almost like anticipation build.

And then he remembered. It was Marie next to him. Marie. The person he was supposed to be taking care of. He forced himself to keep breathing, forced himself to stay right where he was, poised near her, but not touching her. Not touching, he reminded himself. After a few minutes he moved back and got up, went outside and looked longingly at the road. He could be gone before she was ready to go, he was sure of it.

He ended up smoking a cigar instead--it was too early and he didn't feel like it, not really--but it gave him something to do, something other than going back inside. He wasn't a coward but he had a feeling she could turn him into one.

She came outside as he was putting out the cigar, grinding it into the ground with his boot heel. She'd been watching him, waiting for him to finish. It made him feel uneasy but strangely pleased at the same time. No one had ever really noticed what he did in the mornings before, other than to request that he come back to bed or to shut the door when he left.


"Yeah?" He turned around to look at her. Her face was bright red and she looked down at the ground. That's when he knew that maybe she might have known what he was thinking about, when he first woke up.

He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, wondering if he should say something. He decided that if he just ignored it, she probably would too. "We should get going."

She nodded and glanced up at him. Her gaze was a little more knowing than it should have been and he felt himself tense up. She'd definitely absorbed something from him. Something more than the "just flashes".

He went inside and grabbed the backpack. He decided against taking the blankets. He didn't feel like carrying anything else and wasn't sure if she was up to it. He went back outside and tossed her an energy bar and one of the bottles of water. "Let's get going."


They walked back to the highway. Yesterday he hadn't stood next to her while they waited and he didn't think anything of it. But now--now he couldn't help but wonder if he wanted that distance between them, if he was trying to escape from her, from his own thoughts. And she probably knew that, knew all of it. She probably knew everything he was thinking, had it rolling around inside her mind. He ground his teeth together and drank some water.

"Why are you so angry?" She sounded genuinely confused.


"Angry. You're angry. I can...." she paused, "smell it. What's wrong?"

"You can smell it?"

"Yes." Her voice was very hesitant.

He looked away from her and concentrated very hard on not piercing the water bottle with his claws. "I thought you said that you only got flashes from me, Marie."

"I...I absorbed a little of your powers too. Not a lot." The last part came out in a rush, the words all falling on top of each other. "Just a little. And you're mad. You've been mad. I just want to know why."

"I thought you knew everything," he muttered. "Don't you have metal man in there too? Why don't you go talk to him for a while?"

A pause. A car drove by and he watched her arm extend out, her gloved thumb (he guessed her gloves had dried after all) lifted upward. The car kept going. He couldn't smell anything on her and it made him strangely nervous. The water bottle was still in his hand and he concentrated on feeling the shape of it. "It's because of Mystique, right?" she said, and her voice was flat. "You thought I was her this morning, right? And then you remembered I wasn't, and you remembered everything you gave up to help me."

"What?" He looked over at her then.

She was staring straight ahead at the empty road as if it was the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen. "Mystique. Magneto knew all about you and her and...the two of you. She just did... it ...with you to make him jealous, you know. He loves someone else but she loves him cared about her."

He couldn't help it. He started to laugh. "Mystique? This is about her? Really?"

"It's not funny," she replied, her mouth in a grim line. "You remember how she found you in that room one time--the one up on the top floor, by the back wall?"

That made him stop laughing. How the hell did she know about that? "Yeah."

"Well, she did that because Magneto was watching that room, testing out some sort of camera equipment. She was trying to make him jealous."


She turned towards him then. "So? But you....her...." She blushed again, her face turning bright, bright red. It made her bruises look bizarre. "You were mad this morning and I thought it was because you thought she was there and then realized she wasn't...."

He went ahead and let his claws puncture the water bottle. How was he going to explain--he sighed. "Look. Long story short--Mystique wasn't anything to me, ok? And I'm not mad at you." Just at himself.

"Oh." He heard her inhale as another car came into view and then exhale as it drove right by them, like they weren't even there. "Magneto said..."

"Maybe you shouldn't listen to everything Magneto says." His voice came out a little sharper than he intended.

"Maybe." Another car went by--it was actually a truck--and it slowed down for a moment, then picked up speed as the driver noticed there was someone standing next to Marie.

He opened the backpack, tossed the empty and ruined water bottle inside. "You want another energy bar?"

"No. They don't taste very good."

"I told you they all taste like dirt."

She looked at him and smiled. "Yeah. You did."

He turned towards her for a moment and got caught in the light of her smile; glad she didn't know why he'd been in such a bad mood earlier. It was nice to know that some thoughts were still just his. And then he realized what she'd said about Magneto. "Wait a minute. You said Magneto loves someone else. And that Mystique knows that."

She nodded.

"Magneto loves somebody?" God, he thought. Poor somebody. He could just imagine what Magneto's love was like.

"It's not like that Wolverine." Her hand grabbed his arm, twisted it just slightly. He could feel the hum of metal under his skin. His tags rattled, rustling against his flesh. "You should not mock what you could never understand."

He leaned forward, the metal inside him humming louder. He hoped his ears wouldn't start bleeding or anything like that. "Marie," he whispered into her ear. And then he said her name again, just because he liked the sound of it. "Marie."

She took a breath and he heard a muttered "Interesting," that sounded like something Magneto would say. But then Marie pulled back away from him and he saw a blush on her face, knew she was back. "Sorry." she said.

"It's ok."

Another truck drove by and he stuck out his thumb. The driver rolled down the window and spit as he drove by. Logan contemplated chasing after the guy, but a fight was the last thing he needed. He didn't feel like killing anybody and he knew that there was a really good chance he would. He was that on-edge.

"Professor Xavier."


"That's who Magneto loves." she said. "Xavier. He...they were together for a long time. But Charl....Professor Xavier didn't agree with what Erik--Magneto--thinks about humanity. So they ended things." She continued, in a softer voice. "I didn't know that. Professor hardly ever talks about Magneto and when he does, he never mentions Erik...I kind of wish I didn't know all this."

"I kind of wish that too." The words came out before he could stop them and he felt bad as soon as they did. But he didn't apologize, even though he wanted to. He had no idea how.

Another car drove by and they both held out their thumbs. The car slowed down and Logan allowed himself a smile. Thank god, he thought. Now they could stop having this very awkward conversation. They started walking towards the car.

Marie put her hand on his arm right before they reached the car. "Logan."


She didn't say anything and he looked over at her impatiently; ready to say 'What?' But the word died as soon as he saw her eyes. "I could--I could get to somewhere safe from here. By myself."

He could tell she was serious. She was offering him a way out. He could watch her get in the car and walk away, his responsibility to her over.

He leaned in towards her, close enough to see that she had tiny freckles on her face, sprinkled across her nose and over her cheeks. Freckles. Stupid, beautiful freckles. "I'm sorry. I'm going to take care of you, just like I said I would."

She stared back at him. He'd never apologized to anyone before. Ever. He wondered if she knew that.

"Hey! Do you want a ride or not?" The driver sounded exasperated, ready to leave.

She opened her mouth, just a little bit and he knew--knew--that he could have kissed her. That he wanted to kiss her. And he knew that he should have left then--told her that it had been nice meeting her or some bullshit like that and walked away. But he didn't leave. He just looked over at the driver and nodded, signaled that they were coming.

She sat next to him in the back of the car, one of her legs touching his just slightly. After a while, she fell asleep and her head fell back across the divide of the seat, rested against his shoulder. He let it stay there, watched the way her hair curled around his arm, binding him to her.


"We're getting out here," he told the driver. They were right outside Flat--it was early in the afternoon, but he knew they needed (and that he wanted) to get out of the car. He moved his shoulder out from under her head and she woke up with a start, stared at him sleepily for a moment. "Where are we?"

The accent was thicker than usual in her voice and the driver--Agnes, who was not big on conversation--she'd spoken exactly twice during the five hours they'd been on the road, both times to ask him for gas money--looked in the rearview mirror at the two of them. "You're not from around here, are you honey?"

Marie shook her head and shot him a look, so fast that he almost missed it. But he caught it in time and shook his head at her, just slightly. He didn't think Agnes was a mutant but the grim set of her eyes and the desperation-etched lines around her mouth told him enough. Agnes was only interested in taking care of herself--a lesson probably learned after a lifetime of bad luck and problems--and she'd be more than happy to tell anyone who asked her all about them in return for a few bucks or even as a means to avoid a beating. "Did that sign just say Flat?"

Agnes glanced away from the mirror and out at the road. "Yep. We're in Flat. You sure you want to get out here?"

Again, Marie gave him a brief look. He rolled his stiff shoulder back--Marie's head had gotten mighty heavy about three hours ago -- and answered for them. "Yeah. Thanks."

They got out of the car and Agnes took off in a cloud of exhaust fumes after asking for twenty bucks for gas. Logan glanced at her when she asked him and the lines around her mouth pulled tight for a moment. "I was just askin'," she said sullenly.

In the past, he wouldn't have given anyone like Agnes a second thought. The world was full of people like her--tired, angry, bitter people full of resentments over a million different things. He knew they didn't care about his problems so he didn't care about theirs. It was an arrangement that had suited him just fine.

But apparently Marie's head resting on his shoulder had caused some sort of nerve damage because he actually--just for a second--felt sorry for Agnes. And so instead of telling her off or letting his claws out to frighten her just a little he merely shrugged and walked away from the car.

Marie was muttering to herself behind him--he could hear her as he took a look around.

"Flat. What kind of name is that? We're in the mountains for heaven's sake and even the dirt is lumpy here and ooof!..." There was a pause and then the muttering continued again. "Stupid rocks."

He smiled at that. "You ok?"

"I'm fine. I'm just not awake yet. Why did we stop here anyway?"

"Because we have a better chance of finding a ride to Fairbanks here." A total lie-- their chances of finding a ride were about the same in any town in the Kuskokwim Mountains. Minimal. But he'd wanted out of that car--partly because Agnes seemed like the kind of person who'd happily sell them out to Magneto. And mostly because he'd found himself wrapping strands of Marie's hair around his fingers thirty miles or so ago. And there was no way *that* was going to continue.

"Can we get something to eat?" She had increased her pace and was walking next to him now. "I'm pretty tired of those stupid energy bars."

"Sure. Just pick one of the restaurants around here--go ahead, take your time." He gestured at the road, which was bare except for a few houses and what looked like a school of some kind.

"There's a truck stop around here somewhere. Didn't you see the sign? We passed it a while back."


"Well, I did. So can we eat there?"

"I thought you were asleep till about a minute ago."

She looked at him and then looked away just as quickly, her face flushed. "I was resting. I'm tired."

He hoped she hadn't been awake when he'd been playing--playing, for god's sake--with her hair. "Yeah, we can eat there."


The truck stop was small--a dot of a building nestled inside a huge lot filled with gas pumps and tractor-trailer trucks. Logan felt at ease as soon as he saw it--he'd been in a million places like it before. They'd be able to find a ride without a problem.

Before they went inside he told Marie to pull up her jacket hood. She did and he looked at her, tugged the fabric down over the edges of her face as far as he could. He stuffed the trailing ends of her hair inside the fabric too. She gave him a look but didn't say anything and he wondered about her past.

It was the first time he'd ever really thought about anyone else's past.

Inside the truck stop, she started towards a table in the middle of the tiny restaurant but he grabbed her arm and steered her towards one by the door. "I used to always..." she said and then stopped, folding her hands together and sitting down. "Do you think they have menus?"

He shook his head. "No. And used to always what?"

"I did some... traveling once. And in places like this, I always sat at a table in the middle of the floor. So no one could--umm--grab me, you know?" She picked up a sugar packet from the holder and stared down at it, tugging on the edges of it with her gloved fingers.


She tugged on the edges of the packet again and they broke, sugar spilling onto the table. "After I found out I was a mutant I--ran away, I guess you could say. There was a boy--David--and he ended up in a coma. I left after that happened."

He rubbed his forehead with one hand, wanting desperately to look at her and away from her at the same time. In the end, he stared right at her because he really wanted to see her eyes. "And you ended up in New York?"

She glanced up at him then, obviously surprised. Everyone must have always asked about the boy, he figured. But he certainly didn't care about some kid in a coma. He'd done worse things to others and had a feeling that she hadn't meant to hurt David. He couldn't say the same for things he'd done.


When he didn't say anything in response she cleared her throat and looked back down at the table. "So we're going to Fairbanks?"

He nodded. "There's an airport there--you can get a ticket back to New York. We should be there in a couple of days."

The waiter showed up then--a tiny, shrunken old man with the yellowiest nicotine-stained hands Logan had ever seen. He said "We're out of everything but the special and coffee." He put two mugs down on the table and left, calling out "Food'll be out in a few," over his shoulder

Marie cast a quick look at the waiter's departing figure and then glanced over at Logan, eyebrows raised. There was a smile playing around the edges of her mouth as she took a sip of her coffee. "Ugh."

He watched, fascinated, as she added six sugars to it. He took a sip of his own--it was strong and beyond bitter but to tell the truth, he liked his coffee that way. He was used to it. "That's better," she said as she took another sip.

Their food showed up in a few minutes. It looked like some sort of meatloaf and was garnished with instant mashed potatoes and a few generous ladles of what he hoped was some sort of gravy. He figured Marie would eat a few bites and then ask for an energy bar.

But she ate all of her food--in fact, she ended up eating some of his. He watched, teetering between annoyance and fascination, as she reached across the table to eat most of his potatoes after she'd finished hers. "Hungry?"

She grinned at him. "I love mashed potatoes. You don't mind do you?"

He smiled back and shook his head, finished drinking his coffee. After she finished all the potatoes, she pushed back into her chair, sliding down a little, and closed her eyes. "You think they have any pie?" There was a smear of gravy on her chin, tucked under her lower lip.

He leaned forward, angling his fingers towards her face, towards that little spot of gravy. "Probably not."

Her eyes flew open and she jerked back, moving her face to the side. "Don't!"

His feelings were hurt. Stupid--beyond stupid, actually, and into absurd--but they were. And that made him angry. "What?" His tone was low, deadly soft.

"You can't touch my skin." Her eyes were wide, frightened.

And then it was his turn to be frightened. Because he'd forgotten. For just a second, he'd forgotten everything. Forgot where they were and how they'd come to be there, forgot who he was, forgot who she was. Forgot everything but that there was someone sitting across from him that he wanted to touch. "I was just pointing," he said slowly. "You've got something on your chin."

She relaxed a little bit, one gloved hand coming up to rub across her chin. "Oh."

"Yeah." He started eating his meatloaf with a vengeance, staring at her. Challenging her. He hated feeling stupid or frightened or any of the things, he wasn't quite willing to admit he was feeling, and he reacted the way he always did--letting the Wolverine out to glare and snarl.

She tiltled her head to the side but didn't say anything, just went back to drinking her own coffee. After a while, she spoke again. "Seriously--do you think they have any pie?"

She sounded so hopeful that he couldn't help but grin and that broke the tension. "I hope so, if only so you'll quit asking about it."

She smiled back and when the waiter returned to whisk the plates away, she did ask about pie. The waiter rolled his eyes at her but sure enough, a piece of some sort of pie appeared on the table a few minutes later. "Here," the waiter said and then glanced in Logan's direction before he looked back at Marie. "Should put some ice on those bruises, girl. It'll take the swelling down. And maybe you should take a minute and think about who you're traveling with. Someone that beats you...."

Great, Logan thought. Now he'd have to fight with some old guy over the girl he was risking his ass to save. And sadly enough, he was almost looking forward to it.

But before he could say anything Marie pushed her hood back a little, just enough for her eyes to be fully visible. "I know who I'm traveling with and you don't," she said firmly. "Can we have the check please?"

He waited till after the waiter was gone to speak. "I don't need you defending me."

"I wasn't...."

"I mean it, Marie."

She looked down at the table, resting her fork across her empty plate. "Fine. Next time I won't say anything." Her voice cracked a little bit. "I was just trying to..."

He curled his fingers into fists, then forced himself to relax his hands. "I know. But don't. I'm not worth it."

She looked up at him then and he was startled to see tears in her eyes. "Yes," she said. "You are."