Because you demanded it!
Thanks to everyone who already has, or who will read A Force of Nature. Special thanks to those who took time to comment. You know who you are.
MidLifeCrisis has written a companion piece to A Force Of Nature covering Logan's missing time. 72 Hours is Dee doing what she does best – medical drama. While the story is ostensibly a collaboration it is very much her baby. All the research, all the hard work, is hers. My major contributions were a bit of writing, some helpful background gubbins and a big bunch of serial headaches (for poor Dee). :0)
Lyrics written by Lita Ford and Ozzy Osborne ©1988.
Chapter 16: Bare Essentials
Far away, maybe a hundred miles, maybe a hundred years, a tiny roseate light bleeds through the fabric of oblivion, slowly condensing into a baleful, throbbing mass. It hangs in the darkness like a threat. It casts no shadows, no reflections. It just is. It's a grotesque, disembodied heart, beating with the remorseless intensity. Every pulse gives off coruscating beams of light the colour of anaemic blood which probe the darkness like needles. Some pass through me, searing and hateful, a scourge to my soul, imbuing me with a cataclysmic awareness I want to run screaming from. I shrink from the assault but there's nowhere to hide.
There's never anywhere to hide.
With awareness comes sound, at first a faint whisper like flesh against silk, building slowly into a distant, near silent crescendo. It's the sound of a still, dark night. The sound I hear when I look up at the stars and strain to hear them slowly wheel across the sky. Like an illusion it surrounds me, everywhere yet nowhere, ebbing and flowing like a phantom tide. Gradually I begin to pick out lilting almost-words that fade in and out with the pulsating light. Barely impinging on the edge of my perception the music, for that's what it is, is hauntingly familiar. Curious I move closer but not too close. Proximity coalesces the semi-random sounds into a focused whole; the voice of a grunge angel singing.
Sometimes it's hard to hold on
So hard to hold on to my dreams
It isn't always what it seems
When you're face to face with me.
If I close my eyes forever
Will it all remain unchanged
If I close my eyes forever
Will it all remain the same?
I want to do that. Close my eyes forever. Turn my back on the misery people gleefully describe as life. That fucking song might've been written for me. I could close my eyes, turn my back, but nothing would change. There would still be the pain. The fear. The hatred. The blood. All I have to hold on to is nightmares and I cleave them to me like grim fucking death because that loathing, that appalling cruelty, is all I have left of my previous existence. It's all there ever is for me. I'm nothing but a walking curse. Everything I touch either dies or turns to shit. My whole stinking life is nothing but a heap of reeking excrement.
So here I am, caught in a holding pattern, circling the light like some existential fucking moth. Too gutless to venture out of the shadows encompassing my mind, too stupid and pig-headed to let go and fall into the eternal abyss of death. Oppressive weight settles on me, an invisible anchor dragging at my soul, wrapping its cold chain around my heart and crushing it to dust. Bound by the darkness I feel it stretch, a subtle movement, as if flexing the muscles and joints of limbs kept too long immobile. I think the limbs belong to me but the sensation's too disconnected to be certain.
The movement catalyses a nova. The light explodes into sickly, flesh-coloured fire, burning away the sheltering darkness, exposing my putrid core. I hurtle towards it like a doomed comet caught in a gravity well of despair. With all my being I claw the space around me trying desperately to find some leverage, a solid surface I can cling to, something to halt my plummet towards reality. Of course there's nothing. Nothing will stop the inevitable. Am I screaming? I can't tell. All I can hear is the roar of imploding isolation and the inrush of desolation.
As I open my eyes and embrace harsh reality more than light comes flooding in. Visions of thrashing around in a pool of my own fetid blood, my guts and brain full of acid and broken glass pour into my head. Summers! Fucking asswipe put me down, nixed what was left of my healing factor and plunged me into a seizure. Reflexively clenching my hands into fists, the claws spring out, an involuntary action triggered by rage. Accepting the pain as a thirst-crazed man accepts water, I release my rage in a feral howl of defiance. Only in nightmares crawling with images of molten metal, slashing claws and spurting blood have I been so pissed off.
Sitting bolt upright I give vent to my fury.
"Where is he?" I roar, my voice a portent of murder. "Where's that cum-for-brains, numbnuts motherfucker who put me down like some mangy mutt?"
The music that lured me back to consciousness suddenly cuts off. "Dinnae yeh ever get tired o' picking fights?"
For the first time I take notice of my surroundings. I don't need the stench of drugs, chemicals and medical grade cleansing agents chiselling into my sinuses to tell me I'm back in the dungeon; back in fucking med-lab. A slim figure in a white lab-coat stands several feet away, face pale and drawn, red hair dull and dishevelled, arms folded across a chest heaving with stress and not a little fear.
"Moira!" The name's not an acknowledgement, it's an accusation.
A bitter clarity settles over my anger, seeping into the cracks of my fragmented psyche and crystallizing it into a devastating whole. Summers betrayed me as surely as if he'd stabbed me in the back. He didn't enter that room as the objective leader of the X Men going to the aid of a team member. He went in to pull the fucking trigger on the guy who put the moves on Jeanie and put a dent in his skull. Sure he played the concerned commander to perfection. Had to look good in front of Elf didn't he. Had I been 'Roro, Elf or just about anyone else, would he have been so fucking dedicated to turning out my lights? I don't think so.
"Sheathe the claws, Logan. Yeh've nae need o' them today."
And that's when I realise the bandages on my hands are gone. There's blood around the base of my claws, more than I'm accustomed to, but it's already coagulating, the flow stanched. Retracting the claws I watch the wounds seal into livid, puckered scars that don't fade to smooth skin. My healing factor's functioning but it's still fucked up. Is that why I'm still attached to IVs and the cardiac monitor? Making a move to lever myself from the bed my action is halted by a weird dragging sensation in my groin. The IVs ain't the only thing I'm attached to. Throwing aside the covers I discover a tube snaking from me, across the sheet and off the side of the bed. I lean over the side to confirm the evidence of my eyes. Hanging there in all it's crude glory is a piss bag.
"Fuck!" Eyes narrowed into a rage filled glare I expose my teeth in a snarl.
Moira breaks eye contact, stares at some spot on the floor, sweeps back an errant strand of hair behind her right ear and says, "Let's get this over with then maybe we can move on to a more civilized level of conversation."
The gloves are off which suits me just fine. "I distinctly remember telling ya no fucking catheter."
Pulling up a nearby chair Moira shoves her hands into the pockets of her lab coat, drawing the garment around her hips before sitting. There's no grace in her movement, just the efficiency of fatigue. I got little sympathy for her. She was the one who gave Summers the opportunity to fuck me over and finish the job Reyes started. "So yeh did," she agrees.
"So which part of no fucking catheter did ya have a problem with?"
Shrugging, she replies, "Frankly, all of it. It's a lot less bothersome than changing diapers."
What the hell? "Diapers?"
"Yeh've been in a coma for four days. Nearly three of those spent fighting for yer life. What did yeh expect me tae do, put yeh across my knees and powder yer backside?"
Four days? Four fucking days? "Well I'm awake now so get the damn thing outta me."
"There's still blood in yer urine which indicates yer kidneys need a little more time tae heal. The catheter should remain in place for at least another twelve hours. Naturally, yeh nae gonnae listen tae a damn thing I say."
I'll pull on a dress and call myself Caroline first. "Healing factor's kicked in, I can feel it going to work which means I'm walking the fuck out of this dump just as soon at the tubes are pulled." I start plucking electrodes off my chest, ripping out hair in my haste, and throwing them aside. The beep has been turned off but the scanner flatlines very nicely as the asshole machine lights up like a Christmas tree. "Either you're gonna remove the dick tube right now or I will. Choice is yours sweetheart." Don't fancy the idea of the collateral damage I could inflict on myself but the tube sure as fuck ain't staying where it is.
Moira's heavy sigh draws my attention to how tired she looks. The years hang heavy on her, their burden concentrated in deep lines and shadows beneath her eyes, in the pasty, unflattering colour that has replaced her usual fair complexion. Those green eyes have a hunted look I'm more accustomed to seeing in the mirror.
"I don't suppose yeh interested in what happened?" she enquires without conviction.
"I know what happened. Ya told that dicksmack diva Summers to put me down and I bled out like a son of a bitch as a result." My guts shrivel at the memory of my ultimate humiliation. One-eye saw me shitting blood; watched me go into seizure and writhe in my own filth and bodily fluids. Witnessed my weakness and loss of control. Him and Elf both. I ain't ever gonna forgive that.
"I'll take that as a no then."
The canula in the back of my hand is the next to go. Ripping away the surgical tape holding it in place I pluck it free and treat it with the same disdain as the electrodes. Blood wells up from the tiny hole forming a small red bead before the wound closes.
"I'm running outta tubes, Moira."
"So yeh are." Shoulders slumped, her face wan and resigned, Moira hauls herself from the chair and tugs a couple of latex gloves from the dispenser before rummaging in the cupboard for a flat, white something sealed in plastic. She also produces a large plastic bowl from another cupboard before placing everything on a trolley table and dragging it across to the bed. Her body language is wary, almost flinching as if expecting me to strike her yet she resolutely closes the distance between us.
Thrusting her hands into the gloves she snaps the cuffs tight around her wrists.
"Yeh'll experience some discomfort but I'll work as quickly as possible, all right?"
"Whatever. Just get on with it will ya?"
"There will be some seepage. I'll just put a protective layer underneath yeh." Pulling open the plastic package and removing the contents Moira unfolds a padded sterile towel backed with waterproof material. "Can yeh just raise yersel' please?"
I comply and she slips the towel into place. How much more humiliation can I take? Maybe I should yank the fucking thing out myself. Moira closes a valve on the bag before unhooking it, detaching the tube and placing it in the bowl I can't help scowling when I see the cloudy fluid sloshing around.
Taking me in one hand, her fingers blood warm, Moira begins to tug gently on the tube. Normally just thinking about a woman's hand on my jock would elicit a hard on and an actual touch would have me standing to attention with the tenacity of an iron pole. But this is a first for me. The mere sight of the tube burrowing inside me like some giant parasitic worm has traumatised me into flaccidity. I can feel its caustic friction, an unpleasant, drawn-out dragging sensation, as Moira, head bent over my groin – Jeezus even that ain't eliciting a response – continues with the removal operation. With what's left of my tattered rep at stake I think dirty but I remain limper than a plate of noodles. Not even the image of Jessie, naked and rubbing herself up against me helps. Hellish visions of injection tubes pumping molten metal into my body ain't helping none either. All I want to do is shrink.
"Can ya be done already?" The horror of the situation stresses my vocal chords and the demand emerges as a strangled squeak. I cough to try and disguise it but immediately wish I hadn't. Muscles clench and grip the tube making it's movement even more corrosive as it scrapes along sensitive tissue.
The last of the catheter tube is removed in a small gush of piss despite my best effort to hold it in and Moira straightens up. "All over."
"Yer fucking right about that." I'm outta here. I've had more than enough of this shit. "Where are my clothes?"
"I know I cannae prevent yeh from discharging yersel' but at least let me examine yeh before yeh leave."
"Ain't gonna happen sister so back off. Now for the last time, where are my fucking clothes?"
"I'll arrange for some to be brought down. While yer waiting I can…"
"Shove ya stethoscope where the sun don't shine. I said back off and I mean back off." Swinging my legs off the bed I carefully lever myself upright. My legs feel weak but they support my weight well enough. "The 'phone's on ya desk. Ya gonna use it?"
"Logan this is madness please don't…"
"Ya ain't gonna? Then I'll just hafta get 'em myself. See ya around, toots."
Arching her eyebrows almost to her hairline Moira says, "Without a stitch on yeh? Yeh wouldnae dare!"
I ain't got any hang-ups over nudity but I got an almighty downer on people who piss me off for no good reason. I'd give her hell over it but I got overriding priorities: a hunger for food that's driving me crazy and a compulsion to see Jessie that's bordering on obsession.
Giving Moira a fuck off and die snarl I turn on my heel and throw her a defiant, "Watch me!" as I leave.
I want outta this claustrophobic metal box so I make directly for the elevator a little way along the hall. The door slides open the moment I press the call button, something I'm grateful for. As the door cycles closed I glimpse Moira rushing out of med-lab clutching a towel in her hand. She's too late to catch me and I'm too bloody minded to let her. Feverish and bone weary, the shambling wreckage currently masquerading as my body grows unbearably heavy as strength drains from me like water on sand. It leaves me gasping, my legs wracked with painful spasms as muscles cramp. Slumped against the metal wall of the elevator for support I close my eyes and will myself into the state of locomotion necessary to carry me where I'm going. The wall feels like ice against my hot skin and I welcome it's coolness. Stuff's mending inside me but it's taking its own fucking time and, in the absence of solid food, feeding off my own body to do it. The healing factor's a mighty useful thing to have but it turns my body into a furnace when it performs its mojo and right now the fever ain't helping me think too clearly. How else would I be naked, in a lift, in a school for Chrissake?
I stink too. Of sweat. Of piss. Of sickness. Of the drugs expelled from my body through my pores. There's still blood and worse matting my hair although someone obviously made an attempt to clean me up. First thing I'm gonna do is throw myself into a hot shower and scrub away the remnants of the last week even if I hafta lose a few layers of skin to do it. Then I'm gonna throw on some duds, pack my few possessions into a bag, grab Jessie if she's of a mind to tag along, steal one of Charlie's Jeeps and get as far away from this fucking hell hole as I can.
The elevator draws to a smooth halt and the door slides open revealing the hall of the main wing. Pity the damn thing don't go to the upper floors. No one about but judging by the mouth-watering smell of food and the racket coming from the dining hall, I guess everyone's sat down to lunch. Though I'm naked as a jaybird I ain't an exhibitionist so I cut down the hall towards the kitchen and the back stairs. Less chance of running into anyone that way.
The stairs are close by and I can hear and smell Maggie doing whatever she does in her kitchen. Gonna pay her larder a visit before I leave. Need a lot of honest food inside me to fuel the healing process. When did I last eat? What day is it? Monday? Tuesday? Haven't got a fucking clue. Putting on a little speed to avoid any confrontation I collide with her as she exits the kitchen. The tray in her hand crashes to the floor and I yelp, leaping aside to avoid the scalding coffee splashing everywhere.
"Goodness gracious! Logan, are you all right? I didn't expect to see you…" Then her eyes grow as round as saucers as she takes in my appearance.
Shock is replaced by a more subtle emotion. Okay, subtle might be stretching it. I wouldn't describe the arched eyebrow, lopsided smile and blatant interest on Maggie's face to be in any way matronly. The twinkle in her pale brown eyes borders on wicked and there ain't no arguing where her bold stare is fixed.
"Logan, you're stark bollock…erm you're not wearing any clothes."
So she does know how to use cuss words. I was beginning to wonder. "I'm not?" Feigning puzzlement I make a show of checking. "Damn, you're right." Recalling the conversation I had with Moira about using my feral emotions to fool psi-sensitives I try for a little animal anxiety and confusion.
Amusement morphs into concern. Wandering naked along the hall of a school ain't a normal thing to do, not even for me. For Maggie, out of character means there's a problem and now she's reacting to my faux distress. Very interesting.
"Are you feeling all right, pet?" She takes me by the arm. "You're burning up. Come on. The suite's nearby. Let's make you comfortable and I'll find Moira."
I just woke up from a four day coma and she thinks I got confused and wandered off while Moira's back was turned. I look down at the floor to survey the mess. "Someone might cut themselves."
"First things first, pet." I let Maggie lead me to the suite. I'm more'n halfway there anyhow and it's closer than my room on the second floor. There's a shower and likely some sort of clothing so I don't mind being diverted. On reaching the suite she opens the door and I get assaulted by the most appalling stench, worse than the one created by the renovations.
Stumbling backwards, my hand clamped over my nose and mouth in an attempt to fight nausea, I choke out, "Ain't going in there." Jeezus fucking Christ! The stink of shit, vomit and blood mixed with industrial strength cleaning agents hits me in the face with the force of an adamantium coated two by four. Choking for air I step back, away from the assault to my senses.
Pushing past the startled Maggie I make for the back stairs only to find Moira blocking my path. Thrusting the towel in my face she instructs, "Take this and make yersel' decent."
"Gerroutta my way," I growl, desperate to put distance between me and the squalor of my degradation. I feel myself getting flushed with more than the fever of healing as rage triggers an adrenalin rush.
"Logan…" Her hand snags my wrist and she tries to halt my escape. Snatching my arm from her grip I pop my claws and brandish them in her general direction.
"Stay the fuck away from me Moira."
The colour drains from her face leaving her skin the colour of diseased putty. She backs off but only a little way. "Logan, yeh feverish and yeh nae thinking straight. Yeh need tae…"
"No! Ya've done enough damage. No more advice. No more fucking needles and tests. I'm through with all that shit! I'm through with you!" To emphasise I mean what I say Moira gets a close up of razor edged adamantium.
A smothering blanket of tranquillity falls over me as Maggie's empathy gears up. Her shock brings about an overkill of soothing emotions but she forgets that I can shake off her benign influence like a dog shakes off water. Recoiling under the onslaught of my own anger Maggie quickly gathers her wits and tries a different approach.
"Logan, Moira has only your best interests at heart. Your claws are scaring her and they are absolutely terrifying me, so I'm begging you please, please put them away."
The quietly enunciated plea sinks into my heated brain like a blade of ice and delivers the cold logic of reality. Moira and Maggie aren't my enemies yet I'm threatening them with deadly force. Hating myself for losing control I look at both of them, at their determination to do right by me. Dropping my hand to my side I allow the claws to slide quietly from view.
"The hell with both of ya," I grunt before turning and loping off towards the stairs.
I can feel their despair, their shock, dogging my footsteps. Makes no difference any more. I'm quitting this mausoleum and I ain't coming back. If Jessie consents to come with me all well and good. If not…well I'll deal with that too. Inside my head my animal howls its approval.
Fate hurls another obstacle in my path as I make my way outta the south wing hall. This time it's Rogue shaped and she has her regular entourage of Mister Frosty, Casper, the Chinese Firecracker and Metal Guy in tow. The five of them are staring at the smashed and splattered contents of the tray littering the floor. They musta come to investigate the racket.
Firecracker notices my approach before I can backtrack and get the fuck away from them.
"Oh. My. God. Guys, get a load of mister tall dark and naked will ya?"
For fuck's sake! Shout it a bit louder will ya kid? Someone in Australia didn't hear ya. Ain't no speculating on where her gaze is settled. Her dark, almond shaped eyes are alive with fascination and undisguised…whatever. Where the fuck did she learn be so brazen? Most likely the same place she gets those brainless look-for-a-fuck quizzes from. At least I hope that's all it is. I'm wishing I'd taken that stupid towel from Moira now.
Speak of the fucking devil. Maggie and Moira are hunting as a pack coz here they are, right on cue. Moira wordlessly hands me the towel. This time I take it and wrap it around my middle. Ain't much but it hides what it oughta.
A figure breaks away from the group and hurtles towards me. Throwing her arms around my waist and almost dislodging the towel, Rogue envelops me in a bear hug.
"Hey, kid," I say, putting a comforting arm around her. "Easy on the goods will ya? Breakages hafta be paid for ya know." Making a conscious effort not to flinch from the real possibility of making skin to skin contact with her I take her gently by the shoulders and hold her away from me so I can look into her eyes. She's crying, her tears sparkling like stars in twin chocolate skies.
"Ah've bin so worried about ya, Logan. Hardly slept a wink since they took ya back down ta med-lab. Ah…Ah though ya was dyin' on me," she snuffles as the snot begins to run.
"Hey, better people have tried, kid." I smile but it gets lost between my lips and my eyes. She's like my kid sister but I don't need this right now. With the adrenalin quickly being metabolised I can feel my strength waning and curse myself for the weakness. "I'd love to chew the fat with ya darlin' but I gotta go clean up."
Wrinkling her nose Rogue replies with a wicked smile, "Ah'll second that. Ya stink like a wood full a skunks. Scratch that. Ya stink worse than alla Canada's skunks combined."
One of the things I love about Rogue is her honesty. I'm gonna miss it. I'm gonna miss her. She's the only thing about this fucking place I'll regret leaving behind. This time my smile is genuine. "Thanks." Kissing the top of her head I say, "Gotta go now, darlin', 'kay?"
"Sure Logan. See ya later?"
"Yeah." The lie comes easily but settles like lead shot in my gut. It cosies up to the shame I'm feeling over springing my claws on Moira.
I catch the daggers Mister Frosty's stare is throwing my way. He ain't never been comfortable with what me and Rogue have but that's too bad. The fact that his girlfriend is embracing a near naked man is pissing him off. Hostility and jealously bleed from him like a pestilence and those eyes of his are colder than a fucking glacier.
The fact that Rogue is completely unselfconscious about my not wearing hardly a stitch ain't lost on me. How much of my personality did she absorb and how much of me is still polluting that pretty head? I'm so sorry little girl. Sorry ya hafta carry my shit around inside ya.
The Firecracker's edging closer, too damn curious for her own good. Her clothes are louder than her personality and that's saying sommat. The combination of bright yellow and chewing gum pink ain't so much a fashion statement as an all out declaration of war.
"Yer staring, girl. That ain't polite," I warn her.
Completely unfazed, her upfront gaze unwavering, she pops gum and says candidly, "I must've missed the paragraph about prowling around the school textile-free in the school rules. Which page was it again?"
Kid's gotta smart mouth. Before I can reply Maggie beats me too it. "That's quite enough of that young lady. I'm sure all of you young people have somewhere else you need to be."
She emphasises that last word with an empathic push that's an undisguised motivation to depart. Does she really believe I'd hurt them? Hurt Rogue?
"Yeah, c'mon Rogue, let's get out of here already." Bobby cocks his head at Rogue, a tacit plea for her to leave with him. Rogue looks at me and I nod.
Reluctant to oblige despite Maggie running interference, Rogue snags Jubilee's arm and drags her friend to where the others are waiting. Milling around a little uncertainly the kids begin to head back in the direction of the dining hall. As they disappear from view they're talking quietly and heatedly amongst themselves save the Firecracker who's raucous exclamation of, "But did ya see the size of him chica? If that guy did a stud calendar they'd have ta like, spread him over three consecutive months! Know what I'm sayin'?" The decibel output alone must've jolted the whole of Westchester out of any lunchtime apathy it was enjoying. Damn motormouth kid.
Acknowledging neither women I stride purposely toward the stairs, intending to divert to the kitchen and snag some quick eats to appease the aching void in my belly. I actually manage a coupla yards before the vulture of fate shits another obstacle. This one wears a visor, an expression born of chronic constipation and is coming from the direction the kids have just disappeared. And I just know he heard what the foghorn on legs said. No matter. Makes no difference to what I'm gonna say and do to the cocksucker. A fresh, more critical adrenalin rush drives out my hunger and replaces it with rage as I accelerate to intercept One-eye.
"I got a few choice words I wanna share with ya you slot-eyed wanker."
"Logan, what are yeh doing?" Moira enquires, fearful of my intentions. She's right be. "Is it wise tae go looking for trouble in yer present state of mind?"
"None of yer fucking business. Stay outta this, Moira. You too, Maggie."
The air is percolated with the stress hormones streaming off these two. Hearts pumping like a pair of race horses thundering along the home straight they ain't about to give up nipping at my heels like terriers.
Maggie's up next, barking out her worried plea, desperate to divert my attention from One-eye, afraid to physically restrain me with a touch. "Logan, Moira has a point. The animosity I can sense you projecting at Scott is unjustifiable. Scott has done nothing to harm you."
Not bothering to break my stride or turn my head I dismiss her claim. "Really?" My voice is unforgiving, guttural. "You certain of that are ya?"
The other half of the double act pounces. "Listen to me, man." The apprehension in Moira's voice borders on panic. "Yeh've just awoken from a deep coma after a brush wi' death that was too close tae call. Yeh're burning up with fever and it's affecting yer judgement. Persist with this irrational behaviour and someone is gonnae get hurt or worse. Think about what yer doing, man."
I'm thinking, woman. I'm thinking ya should shut the fuck up.
"Logan," Summers greets me, uncertainty giving his voice a hesitant edge. "You're on your feet. That's good. But don't you think your attire is a little inappropriate? This is a school after all."
"Scott, don't…" Maggie begins but I cut her off.
"Inappropriate? You talk to me about what's fucking inappropriate ya shit-witted little prick?"
"…antagonise him. He's traumatised, bordering on feral and I sense he's fixated on something he believes you did."
Shit! Maybe I shoulda projected about making daisy chains to throw her off the scent.
In direct response to Maggie's statement One-eye halts and raises both hands as if surrendering. "Hey, I'm not looking for a fight so back off right now mister."
I can smell it coming off of him. The confusion; the sudden realisation I'm too close for comfort. My proximity has him worried and it shows. Good.
"Ya think I don't know what ya game is? Why ya put me down? And ya call yerself a fucking leader?"
Realising his passive stance ain't defusing the situation Summers initiates his Fearless Leader mode, straightening his shoulders, drawing himself to full height, slipping on the mantle of command, transforming into the personification of Roger fucking Ramjet.
"Logan, look at you. You're dead on your feet, man. Get the hell back to bed where you belong. Whatever is eating you up I promise you we'll discuss it later, okay?"
The feral bomb in my head detonates, fracturing my slender control over the animal. Drunk on distilled fury my darker, wild side oozes through the cracks in my mind and bares its fangs. Seizing One-eye by the throat I slam him into the panelled wall with enough force to splinter wood. It's all I can do to stop myself snapping his neck. "So ya concerned for my health now are ya? What changed?"
Rank fear, as concentrated as acid, radiates from him yet he remains passive, not attempting to access his visor controls. He does go on the defensive though, gripping my wrist with both of his hands in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his throat.
"What?" His voice is a hoarse whisper, his larynx squeezed by the strength of my grip. "What th'hell you raving about?"
"Ya want me to spell it out for ya asshole?" Ya want me to describe my degradation? That's gonna cost ya.
His eyebrows meet in a deep frown. "I don't understand. What is it I'm supposed to have done?"
"Why'dya do it, bub? Why'dya pull the trigger? Ya get a kick outta watching me thrash around in my own mess didja?" Raising my right hand I make a fist and spring the claws.
"No!" The terror forcing the simultaneous shrieks from Moira's and Maggie's throats is so palpable I can taste it. It's bitterness bites into my throat and sours air already thick with their fear and my venom.
"I was trying to save your life you maniac!" Summers manages to choke out, his face turning puce.
"Trying to save my life. I see. That a euphemism is it? Ya think I'm fucking stupid?"
Sweating profusely now, One-eye's lips writhe as he struggles to find enough breath for his next salvo. "I think you're delirious with fever, Logan. You're radiating heat like a Thanksgiving turkey."
These idiots all singing from the same hymn sheet? "Wrong answer dickcheese." I pull my clawed fist back and slam it into the wall a hair's breadth from his ear. Splinters explode like scattershot, some embedding themselves in One-eye's face and neck, others leaving superficial red trails across his jaw and cheek.
"Oh my God! Logan, this is madness. Let Scott go."
Wassamatta Maggie? Suddenly discovered yer growly pet ain't so nice and cuddly after all?
Moira steps into my peripheral vision, well within the danger zone. Her hands remain in sight, arms hanging unthreateningly at her side. "Are yeh insane?" she demands, struggling to keep her voice even.
Sure, Red. Why not? Who wouldn't be fucking unhinged after surviving being dipped in a smelter and thoroughly mind-fucked by the psycho division of the US military only to be almost taken out by what amounts to friendly fire?
"Are yeh really prepared tae let the sick and angry wolf in yer head ruin everything yeh've achieved over the last few months?"
As I stare at Moira like she's grown a second head Maggie steps up, standing shoulder to shoulder with her friend, the women unified in their attempt to calm the enraged beast. "Please, Logan. Just think what it is you're doing."
Sounding as desperate as he smells, Beam Boy squeaks out, "What the hell do you want me to say? You were in shock and bleeding to death. You threatened to rip apart anyone approaching you. You were talking gibberish. I was sent in there to get you out. Fast! And you think I got off on watching your agony? What sort of monster do you take me for, for Christ's sake?"
"Your words, fuckface. You tell me?" Tearing my claws out of the wall I tense my arm for another strike. Maybe this time I'll give him more than splinters to worry about.
"Logan, stop this insanity! Get a grip on yersel', man, before some real harm is done." Moira steps closer, concern for Summers overriding her common sense.
"Back off, Moira. I ain't gonna warn ya again."
"Do as he says," Summers gasps out. "He's out of his mind and capable of anything."
"I cannae do that, Logan. I cannae let yeh do this." She takes a step closer. And then another. "Will yeh hurt me too? Gouge me wi' those terrible claws? It's the only way yeh'll stop me."
The intensity of her words cuts through my rage, pushes it back and for a moment there's lucidity. I don't wanna hurt ya darlin'. I just want answers. Then the flimsy barrier of reason is torn down and the animal exerts a stronger hold. Why the fuck are ya doing this? Ya tired of living?
I catch another scent. Wild, hesitant. Someone else is here. Rahne. I can sense her feral emotions kick in, hot, visceral and alarmed to the point of wolfing out. Adrenalin's pumping through her small body and I can smell the hormones of stress; I can taste her apprehension; I can hear the swift beat of her inner turmoil. Indecision and panic roots her to the spot. This ain't a good thing. Combined, these two emotions can lead to blind stupidity and in her case it comes attached to big teeth and claws.
I don't wanna hurt ya kid. Please don't ya do anything we both might regret.
Rahne's emotional tension snaps and, in a sudden explosion of action, she's hurtling towards me. Amazingly I can't smell fur or hear the gnashing of fangs. What's more she's running on the balls of her fee, not loping on paws. I brace for impact, sheathing my claws to fend her off while tightening my grip on Summers.
"Mummy, no!" she screams and, faster than I would believe possible, she streaks past me and cannons into Moira, using her momentum to swing her mother beyond my reach. In my peripheral vision Moira sprawls on the ground, landing untidily on her ass, legs akimbo, the breath knocked from her lungs.
Summers takes advantage of the distraction and attempts to twist himself out of my grasp so I re-introduce him to three reasons why he should think again. Smart boy gets the message real quick.
Fighting for breath Moira demands of her daughter, "What the hell? Rahne?"
"Mummy, don't. M…Mister Logan doesnae wannae hurt yeh but his wolf might." Clinging tightly to Moira, Rahne effectively impedes her mother's attempts to stand.
Instantly at her friend's side, Maggie chips in with, "The child is correct. There's a see-saw struggle for dominance going on inside Logan's head. I can sense the conflict within him."
I grin nastily at Summers. "They're so immersed in analysing me they seem to have forgotten about ya. What say I put ya back on top of the agenda?"
Grimacing his discomfort Summers has another stab at cogent rationale. "Logan, you are making a very big mistake. Whatever it is you think I'm guilty of let's at least take it somewhere more private. Or better still, save it for another time. For the sake of the civilians if nothing else."
Moira, disentangling herself from Rahne's protective embrace, is also thinking along similar lines. "Listen to what Scott is saying, Logan. If you have a grievance there are better ways tae express it. Will yeh nae put a stop to this nonsense now?"
Maggie steps up. "I know your healing factor needs sustenance and there's all the food you need waiting for you in the kitchen right now, pet. I'll throw something tasty together for you. You'll feel better for it."
Appealing to my more basic needs, particularly one that is in urgent need of appeasing. Nice move Maggie. "What about beer? Ya got beer?"
"You know I have."
Uttering a humourless laugh I give One-eye a close-up of my fangs. I'm betting my breath is even less pleasant. "And for this I'm supposed to let go the postman's leg and follow ya home like a dumb mutt? Doggy be good and ya'll get a treat? Is that what ya think?"
Actually, her shrewd psychologist's logic has hit the mark. I'm ravenously hungry, capable of eating a horse and it's fucking rider. But the raging thirst I'm suffering is a more urgent priority and needs to be slaked. And it will be if only these bastards would stop pressing in on me, trying to corner me, harrying me like dogs baiting a bear. Why won't they back the fuck off and give me room to think?
"Rahne, go and find Mister Wagner and Miss Munroe and ask them tae come here as quickly as possible. Under no circumstances do yeh return here yersel'. Are yeh clear on that?"
Sending for the cavalry, Moira? Like it's gonna make any fucking difference at all?
Although I can't see the kid I can smell her defiance, her stubbornness. She ain't going nowhere. Oddly there ain't no anger in her, just concern for her mother and a weird, indefinable emotion that seems to be directed at me.
"Ganging up on him will only make his wolf more angry. I can smell it growling louder."
"Rahne, I understand why yeh wannae help but yer just a wee lassie. Logan's current state of mind makes him unpredictable and dangerous and I dinnae want yeh anywhere near him right now."
"I'm sorry, Mummy. I cannae do as yeh ask."
Unwilling to watch the minor drama playing out behind my back I glare into One-eye's visor, daring him to make a move.
"Oh my God, Rahne, no!"
Light footsteps pad towards me. Rahne is making no secret of her approach. She's offering no threat so I let her come on.
"Waddaya want, kid?"
"No! Please Rahne. Come away at once. Logan…"
The pint-sized feral insinuates herself between Summers and my clawed fist. She studies the gleaming blades for a moment before turning her gaze on me. It's guileless, unchallenging. Everything about her demeanour, her scent, is submissive, docile. She's taking a hell of a risk. She knows it. I know it. I'm damn certain that Moira and Maggie know it. I can't help thinking One-eye ain't worth it.
The hall falls eerily silent, the only sound is faint birdsong filtering in from outside. It seems that the whole world and his wife are holding their collective breath. Keeping a strong grip on Summers' throat, certain that the Boy Scout in him won't try anything smart with a kid so close, I glare down at her, a snarl twisting my lips. Those green eyes bore into me with an honest intensity only kids can muster. She ain't moving and, although the pheromones she's releasing indicate she'd rather not be doing this, she's holding her ground. Taken aback by her actions I lower my clawed hand.
Her shoulders visibly relaxing Rahne says, "Yer silver's coming back, d'yeh ken?"
"Yeah, I know." Why the fuck am I having this conversation with a half-pint?
Beneath my hand I can feel Summers stiffen, sense confusion welling upwards and displacing some of his fear and anger. "Silver?" he croaks. "You said something about that. Said it was gone or dying." There's a ghost of doubt gnawing at him. A creeping suspicion that's tapping him on the shoulder with it's scaly claw and whispering in his ear.
Dragging him towards me I say, my nose almost touching his, "It's how the kid sees my healing factor. But I was raving and outta my head at the time so what do you care, bub?"
Is that a whiff of guilty conscience I can sense? Yeah. Un-fucking-believable! There's a pinch of dawning realisation adding piquancy to the melange of scents he's venting. What's more I can detect a pallid flush spreading beneath the puce of partial strangulation as the new information sinks in. Well, well, waddaya know! The dumb fuck actually believed he was doing me a favour. Ain't so cocksure now though. When I slam him back into the woodwork I do it with a little more care than before. But not much. He still pulled the fucking trigger.
"Oh god. I didn't know…"
"Ya didn't wanna know," The venom in my voice makes him flinch.
"Rahne! Come away, lass," Moira pleads. She's advancing once more, her movements slow and deliberate, reaching out for her daughter's arm, one hand raised in supplication. All she wants is the kid and she's no intention of trying anything stupid. Maggie is astute enough to realise the job don't take two and stays where she is, projecting a subliminal calmness in small waves, like ripples on a shore. Maybe she trying for gradual erosion of my feral anger, water dripping on stone. She should live so long.
Rahne's a complication I can do without. "This ain't no place for ya, darlin'. Do as yer mother says and beat it."
Maggie transforms my order into a mild compulsion, gently working on Rahne who shrugs it off like a pro. Guess me and the kid have more in common than a retrograde feral nature. Maggie's frustration rises like steam and I just know her lips are pursed. Life's tough.
Gently fending off her mother's attempt to pluck her to safety, Rahne presses closer to me. I can feel her breath, warm and moist on my arm and chest. Her heart's beating fast but it's not from fear or close proximity to me. She's torn between her love and respect of Moira and the guilt of disobeying her and causing her anxiety. Moira is in full view now and I can see the pleading in her eyes. She genuinely fears for Rahne and that shames me. Inside the animal howls at the injustice.
Not a child.
Never a child.
What sort of fucking animal d'ya think I am?
I stare at her, imbuing my expression with the damage her tacit accusation has raised. She halts, transfixed, eyes wide and brimming with fear. And again, I'm racked with shame. I wanna scream but my throat, like that of Summers, is too constricted to issue anything louder than a whisper.
"You think I'm capable of that?"
Of course she does. I got Boy Scout by the throat don't I? I threatened him with my claws. Threatened all of 'em.
The compulsion to scare the shit out of Summers melts away along with the last viable remnants of the adrenalin surge. Releasing my grip, I stagger away from him, my strength ebbing, no longer augmented by anger. Wretched and full of self loathing, I seek the support of the wall, intent on putting as much distance as I can between them and me. I'm unfit to be in civilised company; too great a liability to have around, particularly in a school. Don't get very far coz my fucking legs decide to up and quit on me. Back against the wall, I sink to the floor, head bowed, arms resting across my bent knees like limp pivots. I'm radiating heat, burning reserves I ain't got. All I want to do is curl up, close my eyes and return to that safe dark place. This time forever.
I'm running through a forest of contorted and decaying trees whose naked limbs pierce the sky like petrified broken screams. The stink of their corruption permeates the air, eating into my skin like acid, breaking me down, a chemical crucible warping me into an animated version of themselves; twisted, putrid, diseased. Beneath my feet the blighted ground comes to life, snagging my feet, impeding my flight, consolidating it's hold with every step I take until I'm held fast like an insect in molasses. Caught fast, I try to free myself but the more I thrash around, the more crushing the grip becomes.
The sky overhead is swollen and gangrenous, a writhing ceiling of pendulous, rotting paps. One of the paps parts forming a gaping maw from which projects an incredibly bloated and oddly scabrous lightning bolt. Is it possible for an electrical discharge to fester? The zombie bolt strikes a nearby tree and I go small, protecting my head with my arms, bracing myself against the explosion of superheated wood that's gonna come flying my way. It don't happen. Curious, I peer through a curtain of gnarled fingers. Ain't quite sure what I expected to see but it ain't this. Not lightning but a fucking weirdass arm whose skeletal fingers curl almost lovingly around the tree's trunk. As I watch, the fingers tighten like a noose, pulping the rotten wood, turning it to greasy brown ooze. The surface of the arm ripples as the limb jerks skywards, uprooting the tree. An agonised shriek rents the air and I search for its source only to discover it's the tree screaming. Roots snap and flail, curling in pain as the tree, locked in this bizarre struggle with the arm, desperately clings to the ground with its remaining roots. The outcome is never in any doubt. With an enormous crack, like bone snapping, the tree is torn free and flying skywards leaving behind it a gaping wound in the ground. Fuming sap, the colour of decaying blood, wells upwards and quickly hardens, sealing the hole with a giant, smouldering scab through which protrudes broken roots.
Another pap bursts open to disgorge a festering arm which reaches down to seize a tree close by. The shrieking penetrates my skull, drilling deep into my brain, the vibration sending excruciating shockwaves bouncing around inside my head. More arms reach down; a hundred; a thousand. Wood shatters; roots snap; a tempest of mindless, shrieking pain fills the air and my head, drowning out all other sound. Closing my eyes and clapping my hands over my ears I try to shut out the madness, making myself as small as possible in the hope that I am not noticed. After an age there's silence. It falls like a shock and I take stock of my surroundings, head ringing from the ghastly assault. Uncurling from my crouch I stand and survey the desolation. The trees are gone, leaving me isolated in a field of steaming scabs that stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. Directly overhead, a pap gapes wide and an arm reaches down one last time…
"Logan? Are you feeling all right, pet?" Female. Motherly. No relation.
Spell broken, the scene wavers and blinks from existence. Was it a nightmare? A hallucination? Am I still caught in it? My eyes are open but all I can see is a pastiche of colour, texture and living form, an animated impressionist painting seen through the bottom of a thick glass. Three figures, their outlines smudged, their features blurred and absurdly lumpy, stand in a loose semi circle before me. Their scents are familiar and with olfactory memory come names: Moira, Maggie and Asshole. Beyond them a smaller other paces fretfully, her pheromones anxious, her scent feral. Rahne.
I'm outta my fucking head. Only explanation.
There's a scent of drying blood. Not much but enough to tell me it's fresh. Asshole cut himself shaving maybe? There's a stronger smell infecting the air. Rancid; a mixture of sweat, sickness and the sewer. God, it's me. What the fuck have I been mixing with?
"Logan?" Same voice. Maggie.
"I…" What the fuck do I say? I don't feel all right. It ain't a natural state for me. Sure, I have my moments but they are few and far between. Instinct tells me this ain't one of 'em. The fact I'm sitting on the floor, scrunched up like a discarded concertina, tends to confirm that view.
The emotions they're projecting settle upon me like molasses, cloying, smothering. I'm drowning in their concern. Choking on their fucking pity. Why can't they leave me alone? Don't need their help. Don't want their help. Never asked for it.
Half-pint is hovering in the background, agitated and twitching with pent up anxiety, a blur of khaki, black and red.. I can hear low, almost inaudible growls escape her throat and her gaze darts from adult form to adult form but never quite falls on me. I can see her more clearly now. As if she's more real than the others.
"Logan?" Female. Different. Moira. "Yeh cannae stay here, lad. Here take my hand and we'll…."
"No!" Lashing out I slap away her hand, hard enough to sting but not break bones. Ain't going anywhere with her. Not after last time. Hand quickly withdrawn, Moira's shock registers in my nose. What the fuck did she expect? Rahne's pacing grows fretful, her growls louder, more resonant, after my hand connects with that of her mother.
Hunkering down to my level is Asshole. That red contraption across his face looks like he's been censored. "Hey, take it easy, man. We just want to help."
Vague images of his 'help' stir inside my head; hard to discern, like turds floating in a mud pool. I identify enough to tell me the memory ain't pleasant.
"Like last time?"
Maggie's up next. All calmness and reassurance. Why is she so fucking reasonable all the time? It ain't natural. "No, not like last time, pet. We won't make that mistake again."
Ya got that right.
They're crowding me. Pressing in. Overwhelming me with their emotive stench. Cornered, sick to my soul and being consumed from within by fevered nightmares, I'm transported back to that scabbed plain. The sky is still an evil, bloated purple and a thin band of wan light marks the horizon all around me, separating sky from earth. I seem to be standing at the epicentre of the devastation; ground zero. The entire place is one giant lesion. A massive cancer. And it's inside me. I know it like I know there ain't no cure. And why should there be? Ain't nothing worth saving.
I can feel myself disintegrating; dispersing into the landscape molecule by molecule. Far away there's a voice calling my name; gentle; motherly; reassuring. It's holding me together somehow. Preventing what's left of me from flying apart. As it pulls me back to the other place, an invisible force envelops me; reinforces my failing strength; becomes a bulwark against the encroaching horror. It's coming from Maggie.
"This isn't good." She's closer now, her voice strained. She's sweating too. Through exertion this time. "Logan's slipping away from us, receding somehow. There's been a radical change in his emotional output. I'm barely registering any output at all other than a faint echo of terrible anguish."
"Only in a metaphysical sense. Something inside him is broken. It's as if the foundation of his soul is crumbling and he's slipping through a fissure."
"What the hell does that mean? You telling me he's sinking into a berserker rage? He's going insane? What?"
"Whatever it means we cannae let it happen here. We need tae get the laddie back tae med-lab stat. Rahne, we need Kurt here as quickly as possible. Off yeh go, lass."
Med-lab. That's a bad thing.
"No!" Unsheathing both sets of claws reinforces the message and the pain brings greater clarity, gives all of them a more solid outline. "Gut the first one who tries."
Déjà vu. Vague recollection of being here before and it didn't end well. Why the fuck don'tcha all leave so I can crawl into a hole and topple a mountain over it?
The appallingly familiar talons of rage are tugging at the edges of my mind. They rend and tear the fragile fabric of my humanity, scoring it deeply. The animal advances and I can't stop it. Too much devastation. My will, my strength, reduced to ash and despair.
"Rahne did yeh nae hear what I said? Get gone, hen."
"Ye cannae send him back down there! D'yeh nae ken his wolf will fight tae stop yeh?" Kid's stressed out. Why the hell is she doing this?
"We've nae time for this nonsense, bairn. Maggie, please take Rahne and locate Kurt. If he's nae in the dining hall it's highly likely he's in one o' the greenhouses with Storm."
"No! I'm not leaving." Rahne again.
"What the hell's wrong with you Rahne? Do as your mother asks right now, young lady."
Beam Boy's in full on teacher mode. For what fucking good it's gonna do him. Kid's got a mind of her own and she understands. Lay off her, asshole.
Feeling offset from reality only part of me is following this surreal exchange. The kid's the only one fighting my corner. How fucking weird is that? The surroundings grow murky, the people mere shadows. Can't seem to focus. Not sure I wanna. Seems to be some sort of struggle going on. Half-pint squirming free from someone's grasp. White coat tells me it's Moira..
"I'm sorry, Moira, but while Logan is responsive I'm not leaving him." Ain't a shred of compromise in Maggie's voice as she takes charge of the situation. "We need to keep him responsive. At this juncture I do not believe reasoning with him is a viable option." Summers snorts but says nothing. "He possesses a confrontational disposition which is easily stimulated. Scott, he sees you as an antagonist. Talk to him."
"You want me to provoke him after what he just did? Maggie, tell me you aren't being serious"
"I'm not asking you to put yourself at risk. I'm asking you, please, just talk to him."
"What the hell do I say?"
"Whatever you feel will work. I know you two spar verbally when the fancy takes you which means you are fluent in basic Wolverine. Just keep him focussed."
"Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?" Summers opines.
No, you ain't.
A shadow tears itself away from the other two and hunkers down well beyond spontaneous lunging reach. He ain't taking any chances. "You heard the lady you crazy son of a bitch. You need to keep focussed."
Moments pass. Birds sing. Anxiety fills the air. People hold their breath. Somewhere a mouse farts but I could be imagining that.
"No smartass come back? C'mon, Logan. You're not all big-badded out are you?"
"You know, I've a dartboard hung in my room."
Happy for ya.
"Your picture's pinned to it. Do you know why your picture's pinned to it?"
Don't give a fuck.
"Because I couldn't find an effigy ugly enough to want to stick pins in."
That's almost funny. I laugh; a strangled humourless noise; clotted blood swirling down an abattoir drain. Sheathing the two outer claws on my left hand I flip him the adamantium bird. The view improves but everything is still in soft focus.
Stony faced, One-eye says, "Classic."
"That's good, Scott. You've engaged his attention and I can sense his emotional responses stirring." Maggie giving encouragement. The verbal kind.
"You'd think a man with blades like yours would learn how to shave."
One-eye's beginning to enjoy this. I can tell. "Says the dumb shit with the razor burn."
"What?" Summers looks and sounds confused. Now I am too.
"Allow me to interrupt for a moment will you, dear?" Maggie moves to Summers' side and motions him to step away. Straightening from his crouch he does as asked and Maggie takes his place. I notice she's keeping a healthy distance too and that bothers me. Maggie's one of the few people I can call a friend and I know the blades make her nervous. Retracting the remaining claws makes her smile.
"I'm going to ask you a question that may seem pretty stupid but I want you to humour me and answer it. Will you do that?"
I shrug. "'Kay."
Again the smile. "Good. Now, pet, tell me what you were doing ten minutes ago."
"Uh…" Dreaming I think. No, having a nightmare. So how did I get here? And why am I dressed in a towel? "Shit! Was I sleepwalking?"
"Before you arrived here, what is the last thing you remember?"
Moira and that fucking tube. "I was in med-lab. I left." And now I'm here.
"And after that?"
"All of you standing around me and then Beam Boy's bullshit stand-up routine."
There's an explosion within One-eye. He's bristling with a mixture of outrage and disbelief. Wonder who just rammed a burr up his ass?
"I'll tell you what's bullshit, Logan. You pretending you can't remember what you just did!"
What the fuck's he talking about? "What the fuck're you talking about?"
"I'm talking about this!" He points to the grazes on his cheek. "And this!"
Pulling the collar of his turtleneck jumper away from his throat reveals a distinctive set of bruises with the pattern of the fabric clearly imprinted into them. I stare at the marks unable to drag away my gaze. I did that? How come I can't remember doing something I've been itching to do since I hit this dump? And since when have I been a demented somnambulist? I'm burning up. Was I delirious with this damn fever? Is that it?
"A few minutes ago I sensed Logan experiencing what I believe to be a partial retrograde fugue state. If this is indeed the case, his confusion, like your bruises, is genuine."
Come again? She calling me a psycho?
"But…" Summers begins, wanting to air his beef. Moira ain't giving him the chance.
"Take Maggie's word for it, lad. She's an authority on such matters."
"Not now, hen," Moira tells her daughter in a gentle voice.
"But…Maggie's right. Mister Logan is different now."
"I'm sure yeh're right, lass."
"Look, can we take this somewhere else? I need to eat." Ain't got a fucking clue what's going on. And I don't care. I'm feeling woozy and with my fever raging outta control I swear I'm gonna spontaneously combust unless I give my healing factor some fuel other than me.
Unfortunately, One-eye ain't diverted so easily. "Maggie, I've read about fugue states and Logan being able to remember things he did before he so conveniently lost the last few minutes of his life doesn't add up."
"Scott, I'm convinced there is a very good explanation for Logan's behaviour but I need to consult with Charles to confirm my suspicions. Since he's visiting Hank we will all have to wait until he returns. Meanwhile, this is neither the time nor the place for speculation."
"Tell you what," I growl. "You lot can thrash this out 'til the fucking cows come home. I'm gonna go eat." Getting to my feet proves to be a minor struggle but I manage it without denting my self esteem too deeply. The towel is riding a little low so I tighten it around my waist. Kitchen's close, Maggie keeps her larders well stocked and the lingering smell of lunch is driving me crazy. A beer would be nice. Sounds like a plan.
Barely two steps into my determination a small figure detaches itself from the group. Wordlessly, Rahne takes my right hand and holds it in a tight grip. She ain't letting go any time soon.
"Rahne?" The concern in Moira's tacit question is painfully evident.
"She'll be fine," I assure her. Without breaking stride, I gaze down at the half-pint feral. "You hungry too kid?" She nods. "Then let's hit the galley and chow down."
Another figure breaks away and grasps Rahne's free hand. Moira. She's worried. Can't say I blame her but she's too professional to kick up a fuss over it. "I'll join yeh. I've nae had lunch yet and someone needs tae ensure yeh dinnae gorge yersel' first off. Yer've nae had solid food for several days, remember. Yeh need tae take it easy Yeh go against doctors order, yeh get tae clean up the mess."
"Sure," I grunt out. Don't she ever stop being a fucking doctor? Behind me a scene begins to play out.
"That's it? You're going to let that lunatic wander around the place? I know you like the guy but is this wise?"
Sounding disappointed Maggie addresses Summers. "You believe me capable of compromising the safety of the school because Logan is a friend?"
I can smell the bastard cringing. Serves the fucker right. "I didn't mean…of course not. I'm sorry if I've cause you offence."
Mollified, Maggie continues, "I sympathise with your concern, especially considering the knocks you've taken. But please remember I possess a personal insight to Logan's current emotional state and I can assure you the conflict I sensed in him is no longer manifest. Some mechanism inside his mind resolved it."
"But it could happen again?"
"The possibility remains."
"That's just great. Two feral time bombs with short fuses on campus and we're expecting one to train the other not to explode? Only at Xavier's would this pass as anything approaching normal." And he actually laughs. It's a weak, almost stillborn noise but recognisable. Maybe there's hope for Captain Anal yet.
"It's good you can remain philosophical and open minded in this business, petal. It's one of the qualities that makes you such an excellent leader and a first class teacher. Charles is confident all will work out for the best in the end and he's rarely wrong. Come on, I have a pot of coffee percolating. I think we could all use a little caffeine to steady our nerves."
One-eye verbally accepts Maggie's general view of the situation but he smells neither happy nor convinced. Like I give a fuck. He accepts Maggie's offer of coffee but only to keep his beady little visor on me. I just know it. The persistent itch between my shoulder blades ain't simply down to sweat.
The towel's been replaced by a worn set of sweats Maggie found. Fever's still raging and I'm almost too weary to lift a hand but at least I've got food inside me now. Moira's insistence I eat moderately has taken the edge off my hunger but the emptiness ain't been satisfied. After Moira departs the kitchen with Rahne in tow I try and wheedle more food out of Maggie. I quit arguing about it when she plonks an AOT in front of me. Must be one of the bottles Jessie said she'd brought with her.
"Your kidneys are still delicate so make the most of it," she advises.
Guess the beer's rationed too. Wonder if she's aware how potent this particular brew is? I aim to put it away before she cottons on. After wrapping my lips around the business end of the bottle and taking a good, long chug, I ask of no one in particular, "How come Jessie ain't here? She over at the Auger?"
Maggie and Summers look at each other and then at me. Maggie's the one who replies. "No. Jessica flew home three days ago, pet. She promised to return as soon as she can but that may be quite some time."
"Did someone upset her?"
Glaring at One-eye only gets me a blank look. Can't smell guilt on him so what made her leave? Did she run away because she thought I was dying?
"Why'd she leave?"
Again it's Maggie who fills in the details. "Her father suffered a serious heart attack. He's scheduled for an angioplasty some time tomorrow or the next day."
"Jeezus!" I gotta go to her.
"The poor dear has been 'phoning several times a day for updates on your condition. She was terribly distressed about having to leave you at such a critical time but I'm sure you…"
"Understand, yeah." I finish off. Maggie's face breaks into one of her special smiles.
"I expect she'll be 'phoning for an update soon. The news of your recovery will cheer Jessica up no end. The poor girl has been given little reason to smile recently," she adds.
Ain't waiting. I need to hear her voice right now. "She leave a number?"
"I have it right here." Maggie unlocks a drawer and pulls out a piece of paper. There are three 'phone numbers including one I recognise. There's an address too. Gotta be the Commeau place.
"I need a 'phone."
Maggie to the rescue again as she fishes a cell out of the same drawer. "Here you go, pet."
"Thanks." Kitchen ain't exactly private so I shut myself in the dry goods pantry. Tapping out the numbers I learn that Jessie's cell ain't switched on. I try the two other numbers but no one picks up. Damn! Gonna hafta wait for her to contact the school after all. I return to the main kitchen, narrowing my eyes against the sunlight shining directly through the tall window.
"Did you reach her?"
I shake my head in reply to Maggie's question. "Jessie and her folks are probably at the hospital or something. When she rings I wanna talk to her, 'kay?"
One-eye's slouched on a stool, nursing a half full mug of coffee, face as rigid as a toilet seat. Posture's too stiff to be casual and it's evident he ain't no happy camper. Could be the marks on his face that don't look so bad now Moira's cleaned them up. Wonder if that's the source small but fundamental conflict of emotions going on within him? The jumble of pheromones contain mostly anger and grief with a smattering of less prominent baggage. There's guilt there too, ebbing and receding. Right now it's reached a small peak. Wonder what the fuck that's about?
Raising the cup to his stern lips he gulps down a coupla mouthfuls of coffee. Turns out it's a bit of Costa Rican courage. "Tell me, Logan. How the hell did a beer swilling, degenerate hoser like you win over a sweet, intelligent girl like Jessica Commeau?"
To an untrained ear the words might sound like friendly banter but he ain't a friend and he can't hide his bitterness from me. The smile on One-eye's pan is pained and now there's a faint whiff of envy underlying his mixed emotions. What the fuck is this? He got the hots for Jessie? If this is true it ain't compatible with his continuing good health. He's waiting for the dumb Canuck to give him a reply. Well I got one for him.
"Animal attraction and a mutual interest in good beer and kicking ass." The mind-blowing sex is a detail I'll keep to myself. As for the rest, the way I feel when I'm with Jessie, that's none of his fucking business either.
One-eye chokes on his coffee. "Well I was pretty certain she hadn't been dazzled by your acumen, immaculate grooming and sophistication."
"Guess that puts you outta the running then, huh Cyke."
I grin nastily, enjoying the irony of the situation; how our roles have been reversed. Then I remember the expression on Jeanie's face the instant before thousands of tons of water crushed the life from her and my satisfaction crumbles to ash.
Maggie's gaze is flicking between One-eye and me, following the verbal tennis match. She ain't comfortable with this line of conversation. The empath in her must've picked up on Summers' emotions so she knows that I know he's gone sweet on Jessie. Forehead creased by a worried frown, her gaze settles on me.
"Well doesn't time fly. It's almost time for your next class, Scott and I really must begin the preparations for dinner." She wrinkles her nose. "And I'm certain there's something important you intended to do, pet." This time her smile is diluted by anxiety, her empathic projection is politely suggesting Summers and I leave.
One-eye, his attention focussed on me, ain't listening. "So is this the part where you tell me to stay away from your girl?" His lips twitch into a ghost of a smirk.
Gonna wipe that fucking smirk off his face. "My girl? Ya think I own her like she's some fucking dog? That's your bag, Beam Boy. Ain't mine."
"Logan, is there any real need for such language?" Maggie's aiming to distract me. I flick her a shut the fuck up glance and turn my attention back to Summers.
Spine now ramrod straight, body bristling with resentment, One-eye puts his cup on the counter. "What's the matter, Logan? No stomach for commitment?"
That the best he can do? Is the mighty Fearless Leader so fucking clueless he ain't discovered that underestimating the opposition gets a chunk bitten outta his ass?
"What do you care? She's just some slut I picked up in a bar ain't she? Just a lowlife piece o' tail whose no good ass ya was plain itching to kick off the premises not a few days past. So tell me Cyke. Explain how come all of a sudden ya think she's too good for me?"
Damn, that stonewall expression of his is good. Pity about his body chemistry though. It'll betray him every time.
"You remember that conversation do you?" he sneers. "And to think I was worried your selective amnesia might have been too selective."
Diversion. He's on the run. "Your point being, asswipe?"
"Enough!" Maggie proclaims loudly as she launches herself to her feet. "Stop this right now. Your stupid peeing contest has created enough atmospheric testosterone to put hair on the chests of the entire female cast of Desperate Housewives. And then some!"
I look at Maggie, amazed by her outburst. She watches that crap? "I wanna know how exactly Jessie's status got elevated from gutter-trash to homecoming queen." Turning my malevolent stare on Summers I demand, "C'mon, Beam Boy. Enlighten me."
"Logan, no one believes Jessica is a slapper. Scott was merely concerned about the risk to security she posed. Frankly, after what happened with Stryker, it's wise to be cautious."
"Don't give me that, Maggie. You of all people. Until he checked her out he thought any broad eager to get wild with the Wolverine had to be the type any decent guy'd climb trees to avoid. Ain't that so, Cyke?" I take another deep draught of beer without breaking eye contact with Summers.
"You're imagining things. I never said that."
On the defensive. Good. Now let's see ya twitch.
"My nose don't lie, Summers. Yer contempt was oozing through yer pores like sweat. Not only that, ya said my mind was clouded by her fuckability, not a description ya'd use to describe a sweet, intelligent girl like Jessica Commeau. What's clouded your mind, jerk-off? A good zip code and the fact her family's moderately well off?"
"Can you believe this? The man who openly tried to steal my fiancée has the gall to question my integrity?"
That's it. Squirm ya little shithawk. Since arriving in this dump two wonderful things happened to me. I met Jeannie and then I found Jessie. Ya made damn sure one remained outta my reach and now ya wanna put moves on the other?
"Ya call that integrity? Her family having money suddenly makes her less of a whore in your eyes? Ya knock a few points off coz she and I already got up close and personal? Didja? How about I knock something off of you?"
One-eye's on his feet, tensed for action. "That's your answer to everything, isn't it? If it gets in your way or pisses you off you smash it to a pulp or rip it to bloody shreds. Sooner or later Jessica is going to get sick of your knuckle-dragging caveman attitude and what then, Logan? When the inevitable happens and she walks away are you gonna smash her too?"
Ain't pissed. I'm way beyond pissed. Clarity, born of an icy calmness, guides my actions and I lash out, sinking my fist into One-eye's gut. Displaced abdominal organs put pressure on his diaphragm, squeezing the air out of his lungs with an explosive whoosh tainted by a fetid mixture of coffee and mouthwash. As he doubles over and falls back onto his stool I kick it from under him, toppling him to the floor like a sack of shit, where he proceeds to curl around his agony while attempting to fill his lungs with a series of very shallow inhalations. Tears are leaking from beneath his visor and dribbling down skin turned florid by his suffering.
Bend, don't break. Discipline, conditioned by years of cage fighting, ensures that Summers ain't damaged, just bruised and winded. He's lucky I didn't pulp his fucking liver for what he said. Reaching down I grab two handfuls of retro-prep Abercrombie & Fitch and haul the bastard to his feet where he hangs limply, his weight sapping the last of my strength. Desperately enervated, it takes all my willpower not to pant from extreme exertion. Ain't showing alpha-dick any weakness.
"Guess what, fuckwit," I hiss between gritted teeth. "This is me living down to yer expectations. Now gimme a reason not to break yer heroic fucking jaw."
Springing to alertness he snaps out, "How about this?"
Lightning reflexes bring his hand up to his visor and a concussive optic beam smashes into my chest with the force of a runaway train. Time slows to a crawl as I somersault across the kitchen, the world tumbling crazily around me. Maggie's screaming something but my ears are ringing too loudly to pick out anything coherent. My unscheduled flight is cruelly and very suddenly halted. With a dull clang my head strikes a sharp, unyielding metal edge with enough force to make me see stars. Falling to the ground in a tangled heap of limbs I lie there stunned, my vision growing alarmingly dim. I can smell blood. Mine. It's trickling warmly along my scalp from the point of impact. I want to test the lump but my arm won't work. Nothing does.
I can't believe this is happening. I shoulda seen it coming; shoulda read his body language, sensed the electro-chemical trigger firing his muscles into instantaneous action. Must be losing my fucking touch.
The sound of footfalls is heading my way, too heavy to be Maggie.
"Guess what, you shambling Cro-Magnon creep," One-eye's voice is wheezing, a deliberate effort to talk no matter how much it hurts. "That was me living up to your crack about being a one trick pony. Got anymore brilliant observations?"
"This is insane," Maggie screeches. "Stop this at once." A second set of footfalls heads my way. "Logan! Oh my god…"
She's interrupted by a loud and very feral snarl. As the world fades to black I catch a quick glimpse of something angry and very hairy cannoning into Summers.
"Don't," I manage to croak out. "He ain't worth it..."
The pillow cushioning my head is damp with sweat and smells of Jessie and a miasma of less pleasant smells, including bamf stink. Her scent is oddly muted, like it's had time to fade yet her warm body is entangled with mine.
I have a vague feeling that something's wrong, that I did something incredibly stupid but the details are fuzzy and refuse to come into the light of reason. More immediately, I realise that something ain't quit right. The person snuggled up to me neither feels nor smells as she should. Fully awake my senses go into overdrive. My arms are wrapped protectively around a warm body but the tousled head nestled next to my chest ain't Jessie, its…
In my haste to back away I tumble off the bed. My bed. In my room. Disoriented I scramble away, crabbing across the floor until I reach the solid reassurance of a panelled walled which I slump against, my heart bashing against my ribs like an animal trying to break free from it's cage.
What the fuck have I done?
What the hell's the kid doing in my bed? Moira's gonna kill me. Maybe it's better if I just kill myself.
Moira's voice! Close. Very close. In here! With me! With Rahne!
I start guiltily, fighting the urge to beat down the door and run screaming into the distance. "I…I didn't," I choke out. My nose twitches, testing the air for a certain incriminating scent, mercifully finding nothing. "I wouldn't!"
"I know." Moira, looking tired and dishevelled, makes a face as she eases her legs from underneath her. Looks like she's cramped from sleeping in the chair.
The figure curled up on the bed stirs and blinks sleepy green eyes. Smiling, she stretches languorously, smoothing the kinks from her muscles with a feral grace. She's relaxes and there's a sense of a job well done. She ain't nervous about being in my presence. Well there's a surprise. I sniff her suspiciously. The last time I saw her she was going for Summers. Can't smell blood, just satisfaction. Looks like she's discovered control.
Don't answer any questions though. "What the hell's going on? Why's the kid here? For that matter why are you here?"
Moira don't answer straightaway. She takes a few moments to compose herself before settling more comfortably in the chair. Finally, "Scott demanded you be placed in restraints. Rahne decided that wasnae gonnae happen and refused tae leave yeh side. Maggie arranged for Kurt tae 'port yeh both here and Rahne and I have both kept watch over yeh. Yeh relapsed intae another healing coma eighteen hours ago and yeh fever broke in the wee hours o' the morning. I'm thinking yer internal clock set the alarm for breakfast time."
She looks at Rahne, her expression a complex mask of emotions. I smell reproach warring with pride. I wait, expecting her to expand on her explanation but nothing else is forthcoming. Looks like I hafta accept the micro-abridged version for now.
I look at Rahne. "Ya did all that for me, kid?"
"Aye, and I'd do it again," she says defiantly. I catch a disapproving gleam in Moira's eye.
"How are yeh feeling lad?"
Dog tired but I ain't about to admit that. Ain't too pleased about getting my ass kicked by One-eye but let's not go there, huh? Got a vague headache like I've been beaten about the skull with a baseball bat wrapped in a pillow. I probe for the lump but my healing factor has dealt with it, the only physical proof it was there is the blood matting my hair. I know I gave Summers some minor internal bruising so I reckon he's wishing he had a healing factor right now. He got off light.
"Like I lost an argument with a domestic appliance. Hope my head didn't cause any lasting damage or Maggie'll kick my ass all the way back to Canada."
"I can give yeh something for the pain."
"No need." A memory rises to the surface. The cause of the fight. Oh shit! "I missed Jessie's call."
"Dinnae fash yersel' about it, lad. I spoke tae the lassie yesterday and told her yer on the mend. There were a few tears of relief and she sent her love and promised tae see yeh as soon as possible. Her father will be undergoing the surgery very shortly so she'll give yeh a call when it's all over."
Jessie sent her love? She said that? "Thanks, Moira." My head feels clear for the first time…in how long? My belly is a deep and empty pit that craves food but the need to shower has become urgent. How the hell the kid could stomach being near me all night is beyond me. "Ya wanna do me a real big favour, Moira?"
Smiling she replies, "Maggie's waiting for my call. I take it yeh want the works?"
Am I that transparent? Or has she found a talent for reading minds? She's right on the button of course. The works is what Maggie calls a full English breakfast. "Make it a double order. No triple."
"I've seen the size of Maggie's works specials, Logan. Yeh'll make yersel' sick so let's not overindulge just yet One portion will be more than enough for now."
"Whatever," I growl. Climbing to my feet I head for the bathroom. Washing ain't the only urgent function I need to perform in there.
"It's best yeh eat up here for now so I'll arrange tae have a tray sent up. Come along, hen, let's leave Logan tae his ablutions." Taking Rahne by the hand the two head for the door. Just before she leaves, Moira halts and looks back over her shoulder.
"We need tae talk."
"It can wait." Won't make a speck of difference. Ain't got the heart to tell her that as soon as I've eaten I'm quitting this fucking madhouse. My first stop will be Arlington. After that…who knows?
The story continues in Full Metal Anarchy – coming soon!